Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Retrospective: Big Rubble

Big Rubble is a companion piece to Pavis, a boxed set extensively detailing the ruins of old Pavis -- 25 square kilometers contained within the walls of a formerly great city. Like its predecessor, Big Rubble was written by Greg Stafford and Steve Perrin and published in 1983. Also like its predecessor, it includes three books and a map. Big Rubble differs from Pavis in that it's much more adventure-oriented. That is, the player and GM guides are much shorter in length, while the scenario book is much longer. This is to be expected, since Big Rubble details the closest thing that old school Glorantha had to a megadungeon. Even so, all three books contain a fair bit of background and cultural details, in keeping with the tendency of RuneQuest products from the era.

The "Common Knowledge for Players" book is the shortest of Big Rubble's integral volumes and provides players with basic details of Old Pavis and the surrounding area. One of its longer sections is devoted to the cult of Yelorna the Starbringer, which is influential in the region. Amusingly, there are several Lunar Empire-issued government forms included in this book, such as the "Freelance Adventurer Registration Form." I adore little props like this, both because they're simply fun, but also because they provide a practical primer in the Lunar mindset, which is vital when adventuring in Prax. The "Guide for the Gamemaster" is longer and devotes most of its pages to describing the Big Rubble itself. The book highlights the most important areas of the ruins and their likely inhabitants, as well as discussing how to get in and out of the ruins. Of equal utility are the encounter tables and pre-statted collections of NPCs, such as Lunar patrols and Chaos gangs. Special encounters with unique NPCs are likewise provided.

As I noted above, it's the scenario book that is the heart and soul of Big Rubble, offering nine different adventures for use by the GM. These adventures vary greatly in length and scope, with some being quite extensive (and a bit railroad-y), while others are barely more than short encounters in a specific locale. All include stats for NPCs and, where appropriate, maps. Reading through them again, I found myself struck by a couple of things, the first being just how much more space is required in a RuneQuest adventure for stat blocks than is the case in a D&D adventure. Indeed, there are often entire pages consisting of nothing but stat blocks. The second thing that struck me is the level of detail provided for many encounters, far more than I am comfortable with these days. It's not for nothing that RQ adventures have the reputation for demanding much from the referee.

In the end, Big Rubble is something I like more in theory than in reality. The idea of a boxed set describing a huge ruined city as an above-ground megadungeon is quite compelling and it's one that appeals to me on many levels. Unlike Pavis, though, this boxed set provides fewer tools for the referee, instead giving more attention to pre-designed scenarios. While that might make Big Rubble more usable immediately (though that's a relative thing when dealing with RQ material), I think it also limits its long-term utility, at least compared to Pavis, which I think does a much better job of presenting a locale that referees can make their own.

None of this is to say that Big Rubble is a bad product, because it's not. On the other hand, I find it a lot less satisfying than other RuneQuest products of similar vintage, such as Griffin Mountain or even Borderlands, which is a shame, as the idea behind it remains an excellent one that could really benefit from the kind of treatment only a boxed set can offer.

22 comments:

  1. I don't like the name "Big Rubble". I don't know if there's a less evocative name for a dungeon that I've ever heard.

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  2. Big Rubble sounds like mafia character from the Flintstones.

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  3. One of the problems more traditional RPGers have with RuneQuest is the style of play. RQ is deeply rooted in the epic mythologies of Mesopotamia and Greece. Rooting around in old tombs for cast off goodies is not the primary drive.

    The Big Rubble was an attempt, I think, to attract a more mainstream audience to RQ. Sort of a "Look! We have mapped places of mystery with programmed encounters too!" effort. IMHO, it wasn't that good.

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  4. I like names like "Big Rubble" simply because they're the kinds of names average people (soldiers, adventurers and the local populace) would tend to come up with. In our world, even the most exotic sounding place names tend to translate as something simple in their original tongue. Real people don't come up with names like "Grimfell" or "Bloodshade". At least not very often.

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  5. The Big Rubble was an attempt, I think, to attract a more mainstream audience to RQ.

    Pavis/Big Rubble were just the published versions of Steve Perrin's campaign, which was one of two of the equivalents of Greyhawk/Blackmoor for RQ.

    I always assumed that it's "mega-dungeonness" rose more out of the fact that it had it's roots in an OD&D variant--and the style of play--at that time than a marketing decision.

    Personally I love the setting, despite its dull name (a common shortcoming of Glorantha,really) FOR it's more D&D-like (and thus stealable) elements.

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  6. Though it has whimsy, I was awed by names like Big Rubbgle in RQ as a kid. It just added to the mystery somehow, even though the name was so obvious. As mentioned above, it's the type of nickname numbnuts soldiers of old would give something like that.

    I have a PDf of Pavis/Big Rubble book. Is it pretty much the same material as the separate sets?

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  7. I loved Big Rubble and used it in my campaigns but I agree with you. It also had far too many really interesting looking spots on the map that were described with only a line or two or not at all. It really needed at least a couple short paragraphs for *every* location depicted on the map. Sure, a good GM can just make stuff up from a lone name but if you're trying to stay vaguely Gloranthan (as I was) even some little hints would have helped.

    Another thing RQ always needed was some vastly simplified way to handle monsters for combat. Detailed stats are great for players and major NPCs but the "orcs" needed something closer to just AD&D's hp and ac. I tried various solutions over the years back then but never really settled on something.

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  8. I love my old copies of both these products, and paw through them frequently. While we certainly played more D&D than RQ back in the 80's, I still really enjoyed the setting and the game.

    Of course, P/BR played a part in the inspiration for Lesserton & Mor, but even without the work we did on that, I still love looking at the maps and write-ups from the old box sets.

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  9. I like names like "Big Rubble" simply because they're the kinds of names average people (soldiers, adventurers and the local populace) would tend to come up with. In our world, even the most exotic sounding place names tend to translate as something simple in their original tongue. Real people don't come up with names like "Grimfell" or "Bloodshade". At least not very often.

    I agree. I personally find "Big Rubble" very evocative.

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  10. I also find "Big Rubble" evocative. It reminds of terms like "Bloody Meadow" (just about every small town in the UK near a battlefield has a "bloody meadow" or something similar nearby). As the character Grim in the otherwise forgettable Doom movie states sagely, "they're soldiers, not poets".

    Hence one part of Glasgow is the town of Battlefield, Iraq was known to US Marines as "The Suck". WWI trench veterans named local landmarks as "Muddy Ditch", "Hun's Head Crater" and "Steeple-Fall-Down" based on memorable events or features. So "Big Rubble" really seems quite apt.

    And I still love those supplements (Pavis and the Big Rubble) to this day. Although as I recall they did release one other "Mega Dungeon" ruined city as well. El Dorado, I think it was called.

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  11. > El Dorado, I think it was called.

    That would be "Eldarad - The Lost City", a late RQ3 product. Non-Gloranthan, which may be a plus or minus depending on your taste, but definitely of lower production values and much more poorly written. Rather lackluster and unimaginative to me.

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  12. @ Brunomac:

    "I have a PDf of Pavis/Big Rubble book. Is it pretty much the same material as the separate sets?"

    I have the printed book from Moon Design Publications, which basically a one-volume reprinting of the combined boxed sets. So, if your copy is from Moon Design, I imagine it's the same.

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  13. When I first took a look at Big Rubble, I was hoping Chaosium was going to do their own take on the "big dungeon" setting like Undermountain or Tegal Manor, but they didn't. Mostly because most of the adventuring PC's are expected to do is more above ground then below and the few "dungeon delving" elements in the supplement are just a handful of small tombs and shrines. None of that of course is bad and there's a lot of neat stuff in Big Rubble, but I felt a bit cheated and know Chaosium could of done better.

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  14. There was another Gloranthan megadungeon: Snake Pipe Hollow. This was a cave complex out of which Chaos creatures seemed to be generated.

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  15. Thanks oakfed. I'm terrible with names. I never did manage to pick up a copy of Snake Pipe Hollow.

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  16. I wouldn't call Snake Pipe Hollow a megadungeon. It was just a more traditional subterranean adventure module, like D&D fans would be familiar with. If you can't find the original, the AH (RQ3) version was a pretty faithful reprint, unlike some of their other materials. You can probably get it for ten bucks or so on ebay.

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  17. @crowking Big Rubble wasn't quite a megadungeon, as Glorantha, as a generally gritty down to earth sort of setting, isn't really megadungeon territory for the most part. (Unless you want to get into hunting down Trolls and Dwarves on their home turf, a bad move.)

    But what the Big Rubble did have was a nice post-apocalypse vibe. The Apocalypse it had suffered was a crazy magical disaster rather than a nuclear one, but the bunkers, the mutant survivors, biker/nomad gangs, the streetwise scavengers and so on were all there, with plots played out among crumbling streets filled with reminders of the lost glories of a more civilised past. Then you could see it as a bit Indiana Jones with the players chasing earth shattering maguffins the Lunars/Nazis would like to get their mitts on for their own nefarious world conquering purposes. With Pavis added on it can all get a bit Film Noir, hard bitten adventurers going into the underbelly of Manside and the dank regions beyond looking for the truth.

    RQ Megadungeon? Who the hell needs one when you got all this going on?

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  18. I bought both of these box sets back in the '80's and sold em both to pay rent sometime in the '90's. Wish I could have em back now :P

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  20. @ Bert,

    I know quite well Chaosium beats to its own drum and would never try and replicate a D&D motif with Runequest. but I was hoping with Big Rubble they were going to do their own unique take on a Castle Greyhawk like dungeon (or even better )some sprawling ruined megalopolis like the one in Dwellers of the Forbidden City. So when I picked up a copy I felt a more then a bit disappointed that Chaosium didn't go with that direction. As I'm sure most people do with any sourcebook or module, I always look at the maps, so when I noticed they were less less ancient ruined metropolis and more of a big empty plot of land, I wasn't too happy with that arrangement cause if you take away the four walls surrounding Big Rubble, it really is not too much different then any other part of the landscape. Except, for a few more spots for the PC's to dig about.

    Like I said in my previous post, there' s a lot of neat stuff in Big Rubble. I dug all the weirdos and bandits roaming about and Pavis on it's own was very well done. But I was hoping for more, something on a grander scale, something big! Like some war-torn, hell hole, mega size Ankor Wat eaten away by the hordes of chaos over the years with people of all types fighting it out like a Glorantha version of Stalingrad! How cool that would be I said to myself before I opened the box…

    I was disappointed. What can I say? ;-/

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  21. "...some war-torn, hell hole, mega size Ankor Wat eaten away by the hordes of chaos over the years with people of all types fighting it out like a [fantasy] version of Stalingrad!"

    I wanna see THAT boxed set!

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  22. I have GM'd RQ and the big rubble several times. The game is hard work on GM's (Foes help) but is very rewarding to imaginative players who are not focused on the search for items in dungeons. It was also nice the way the NPC's interacted and responded to each other and threats as well being open to negotiation instead of streight dungeon hacking

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