Paul StJohn Mackintosh

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A review of The Red Book of Magic

Written by Jeff Richard, Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, and Sandy Petersen
128 pages
Published by Chaosium, 2020

According to Chaosium, The Red Book of Magic originated as a spell catalog for the yet-to-be-released title Cults of Glorantha, which quickly grew into a whole undertaking of its own. You can see why. As the Introduction says, “this book contains every Rune and spirit magic spell known at the time of publication, including many otherwise unpublished spells.” For some RuneQuest fans who have come across the complaints that many seasoned and new RuneQuest players have made about the Sorcery magic system in new-generation RuneQuest Glorantha that coverage will come as a relief. The book concentrates on the classic RuneQuest magic known since the beginnings of the system in 1978: Rune Magic, and Spirit (a.k.a. Battle) Magic. Sadly departed luminaries like Greg Stafford who authored many of the spells are therefore still referenced in the credits.

So yes, this is a lavish compendium of new and familiar spells for RuneQuest. There’s over 500 in all, along with new details on Rune metals, healing plants, illusions, and other quirks and intricacies of magical lore in Glorantha. If you already have every previous edition of RuneQuest, and every magic-related supplement ever published, do you need this book? Perhaps not, but if you didn’t pick it up out of purely instinct, you’d still be doing yourself a great disservice. Let’s leave aside the fact that this really is probably the most complete single reference book to classic RuneQuest magic around, and therefore valuable to all but the total completionist fanatic. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and easily up to the standard of the current edition of RuneQuest Glorantha. Did the artists and designers try to surpass that benchmark? I wouldn’t be surprised, because the book is a visual delight and worth owning for the pictures alone. Glorantha, and its weird and wonderful denizens, have rarely ever looked more fully realized, and more dazzling.

Then there’s the new content over and above the spell listings themselves. The sections on how the respective types of magic appear, sound, and feel are certainly going to add greatly to players’ experience when roleplaying their spell casts. Special breakouts on particular issues, such as the very powerful and common Heal Wound spell, “the most powerful healing magic available to most adventurers,” may help settle some gaming debates, and certainly help nail down key points in the entire magic system. Solid guidance on devising new spells will help grow the corpus even further.

As for the spells themselves, there’s everything from familiar standbys to the gloriously obscure and arcane. For instance, Bless Woad “can only be cast by a Wind Lord of Orlanth during the High Holy Day of Orlanth upon a properly prepared pot of woad (a blue dye derived from the woad plant), and thus can only be cast once a year.” As a practical spell, it doesn’t go very far: as a flavourful detail of setting and culture, it’s delightful.

Of course there are other RuneQuest spell books and magic-focused tomes out there, both Chaosium originals and independent productions. Simon Phipps’s Book of Doom in the Jonstown Compendium offers a claimed over 600 new spells. Nonetheless, if there’s one single must-have magic book for the RuneQuest universe, IMHO, it’s now surely this one. RuneQuest’s rebirth in the hands of Chaosium is throwing up some delightful books, and this is definitely one of them. It makes me eager to see what comes next.

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