Originally published in 1981, Griffin Mountain has been called -- not unreasonably -- one of the best RPG products ever produced for any game. Subtitled "A Complete Wilderness Campaign for RuneQuest," it was written by Rudy Kraft and Paul Jaquays, with additional material by Greg Stafford and details the Gloranthan region of Balazar, which is to the northwest of Prax, where so many early RuneQuest products were set.
And the subtitle is no joke: Griffin Mountain really is a complete campaign in a single 200-page book. Within its pages, you'll find information not just on the history and geography of Balazar, which are pretty standard for sourcebooks of this kind, but also information about the peoples, beliefs, and locations of the place. So, each settlement gets a write-up, along with its leaders and inhabitants, as do various citadels, caravans, and points of interest. There are weather tables and dozens of rumors, in addition to reaction and encounter tables, maps galore, and of course plenty of scenarios. In short, it's the perfect toolkit for a Gloranthan sandbox campaign.
If Griffin Mountain has a flaw, it's that it may be too comprehensive and getting a handle on all of its details is difficult, even for an experienced referee. After all, it describes a nearly 800-kilometer wide area of wilderness, inhabited by thousands of barbaric humans and as many non-humans. Besides Griffin Mountain itself, there's the River of the Damned, Dragonnewt Plinth, Firshala's Prison, and many more significant locales, each of which gets a full description, including maps in many cases. There's also the fact that, set as it is in Glorantha, there are additional details to consider, those quirky bits of lore and context that make Glorantha the remarkable fantasy setting that it is.
But it can be overwhelming and to take full advantage of Griffin Mountain, one would need to spend a great deal of time reading it, taking notes, and preparing in advance. This is not a product that can be picked up and used without preparation, even if the book does handle some of the tedious tasks of refereeing RuneQuest, such as providing stats for all the humans and monsters the characters are likely to encounter. Griffin Mountain is thus very much a product of its time, which is to say that, despite its wealth of information and prepared scenarios, it's still not fully usable "out of the box." It demands that the referee pore over its pages and make it his own, a process that takes time, effort, and no small amount of creativity to do right.
Of course, the result is well worth the effort, as Griffin Mountain is a true masterpiece of the early days of gaming. It's a great example of a sandbox, filled with people, places, and adventure hooks to keep a party of characters busy for innumerable nights of adventure. Best of all, none of it feels heavy-handed or pre-scripted. Instead, what you get is a large canvas on which to create stories of one's own against the backdrop of one region of the world of Glorantha. It's hard to do justice to it in a few words and, even if I described its entire contents exhaustively, it still wouldn't convey just what it is that makes Griffin Mountain so remarkable. It's a pity that it's long out of print and difficult to obtain nowadays, because I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what sandbox gaming is all about. For that matter, I think some publishers could do worse than to emulate it. Nearly 30 years later, it still has few competitors.