So, I finally got a chance to read Skyrealms of Jorune after semi-lusting over it since I first saw the advertisements in Dragon magazine all those decades ago. For some reason I own most of the FGU boxed sets, but never pulled the trigger on Jorune, which has a cover twice as evocative as most of the contents of most of the FGU sets I have.
This game DEMANDS a quality rewrite.
It manages to be boring. Really really boring. It’s like reading the appendices in the Lord of the Rings boring. But so much of the boring is soooo cool.
It’s a setting after my heart – a post-science-fiction setting that’s firmly and solidly fantasy instead of sci-fi. It gives you a huge variety of odd races running around (although you can only play the three human variant races, there are stats for a dozen more, including many “furry” races… wolf-folk, bear-folk, cougar-folk, lizard-folk even earwig-folk and preying-mantis-folk), hints at high-tech stuff, a solid social environment that encourages adventuring, and even awesome excuses for megadungeons and why they are unexplored and why you should explore them.
The game is called “Skyrealms of Jorune”. And yet within the main books the whole skyrealms thing gets a passing mention when describing the weird geography and minerals of the setting. It’s not until the sample adventure (in its own book) that we get a good description of skyrealms and how they come into existence and what happens on them. Except for the footnote that this one detailed skyrealm is not much like the normal skyrealms.
Further, the sample adventure COULD be an epic little sandbox crawl on a contained area (the skyrealm) with a timetable and invading enemies and then large scale politics. But the skyrealm itself is given fewer than a half dozen points of interest. Not even that. It has THREE points of interest – a tunnel, some stones, and the thing in the middle of the lake. It’s really weak. The best part of the adventure is the material leading up to that – getting to the skyrealm. And there is the option to skip all that stuff right at the beginning of the adventure too.
Given to a modern writing team, this setting could be written into something that would grab you and play fun games with your brain. Instead it still has a lot of coolness and potential, but it’s buried under boring writing, third-party exposition, and weak adventure design.
I think the setting is brilliant. I would run a game here in a heartbeat. I love the controls over old Earth-Tec hardware built into the game, the races, the politics, the whole setting. Hell, the races aren’t presented as monocultures – that’s huge for an 80’s fantasy RPG, it’s still big news in a modern fantasy RPG.
If we ignore that the magic system feels like a weird “hadouken” system, I find few faults outside of the writing of this game. I’m really glad to own it and look forward to tearing all kinds of awesome ideas out of it for other games.