Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Retrospective: The Gateway Bestiary

To my mind, RuneQuest is inextricably linked to Glorantha, Greg Stafford's incomparable mythic Bronze Age setting. For me, playing RQ means playing a fantasy roleplaying campaign in that setting, a perspective seemingly shared by Chaosium, since the current iteration of the game is literally subtitled "Roleplaying in Glorantha." 

However, this wasn't always the case. In the early days of the game, there was the concept of "Gateway RuneQuest." Gateway RQ was RQ played in a setting other than Glorantha. In 1982, Chaosium took a stab at supporting this concept with a boxed set, entitled QuestWorld, which presented a non-Gloranthan setting for use with the game. For whatever reason, QuestWorld received no follow-up support and Gateway RuneQuest more or less faded away. 

Two years prior to the release of QuestWorld, Chaosium published an entire book of monsters intended, at least in part, to support non-Gloranthan RuneQuest. Appropriately called The Gateway Bestiary, it's also Sandy Petersen's earliest credit for Chaosium. The 40-page book is a fascinating collection of beasts, illustrated by Rick Becker, whose work appeared in numerous RQ products in the late 1970s and early '80s. Each creature is given a description, game statistics, and a hit location table for use with the combat system. 

The Gateway Bestiary consists of seven chapters, each one devoted to a different type of creature. The first chapter describes giant anthropods [sic], which is to say, insects and insect-like creatures, such as crabs and spiders. The chapter also includes rules for hive minds. The second chapter treats "legendary beings" of the sort found in Greek mythology, such as fauns and gorgons. The subjects of the third chapter are "Celtic horrors" of the sort found in Gaelic folklore (e.g. kelpies, redcaps, voughs, etc.). 

The fourth chapter is perhaps the most interesting one in the whole book, since it details "H.P. Lovecraft Creations." Call of Cthulhu, also by Petersen, would appear a year later and give this subject a fuller treatment, so this chapter serves as a kind of "sneak peek" of what was to come. Perhaps the most notable thing about the chapter is that there are not yet any sanity rules associated with these entities. The fifth chapter provides a large number of "natural animals" like lions, tigers, and bears, while the sixth offers up a plethora of dinosaurs. Concluding the book are "miscellaneous types" that don't easily fit anywhere else, such as jabberwocks, mummies, and shark-men.

As monster books go, The Gateway Bestiary is a fairly good one. While it lacks the length of, say, the AD&D Monster Manual, it more than makes up for it by the quality of its entries. Many detail truly unusual and unexpected creatures one doesn't normally see elsewhere. Their impact would likely have been even more significant in 1980, when monster books of any kind were still relatively rare. For me, though, the real power of The Gateway Bestiary is its invocation of a time before RuneQuest was so firmly entrenched in Glorantha that the two had become synonymous, a path not taken by Chaosium that might have contributed to a very different history for the game. 


  1. By the time the Gateway Bestiary came out my RQ play was solidly entrenched in Glorantha, however, the bestiary is actually somewhat mis-titled. You need it for any RQ campaign including Glorantha for all the normal animals. The bugs and dinosaurs are also used though at least they are mostly reprinted in Borderlands and Trollpak.

  2. 'Death of a scam, birth of another' - sorry, I'm laughing along at today's market news.


    That cover is some of the most incredible and engaging art I have ever seen. Poster quality. Might even edge-out Thracia, and I didn't really think that was possible. Incredible.

  3. I rather liked the old Questworld box set, despite the rather debatably funny "humor" in spots. The cult writeups in Candlefire are particularly jarring, although I'll admit to having cribbed all of them with names changed for various campaigns over the years - mostly in D&D, though. "Panash" is a terrible joke but a cool concept, and I stole "Nik-El" basic concept for use as the patron deity of Las Vegas for an urban fantasy game.

    For anyone who's no idea what I'm on about:

  4. Also, it seems like Chaosium is taking another stab at the original Gateway proto-OGL/SRD concept with this very appropriately named Questworlds program:

    Nice to hear Worlds of Wonder mentioned again. Between this and the upcoming Lords of the Middle Sea RPG Chaosium must be feeling nostalgic lately. :)

    1. I really wish they had not named the new thing Quest Worlds because that confuses things. Quest World was a supplement for RQ2. Quest Worlds is the replacement for Hero Quest due to the desire of Hasbro to reclaim the Hero Quest trademark.

    2. True, I'd assumed it was for the BRP engine until I looked at the SRD. Not that I dislike the HQ system, but it's certainly not the first thing that comes to mind for Quest World or Worlds of Wonder, and even today I'm not sure it's all that good a choice to produce material for. Folks are way more accepting of non-traditional approaches to RPG rules than they were when HQ first dropped, but it still feels less accessible than good old BRP does.

    3. If I'm reading things right, you could used the BRP OGL to create your own "Worlds of Wonder" though not under that name. Maybe "Realms of Adventure", split into "Realms of Magic", "Realms of Space" and "Realms of Power."

  5. I always felt they missed the boat with the Questworld It felt like a control freaks version of a universe open to all. Should have just allowed certain game companies to create their own worlds and hoped that expanded the market.

  6. One of my favorite entries is the "Anthropophage". The inspiration for it is very obvious in the description. It was later adapted in RQ3 as the "Grue". That tangles up Alien and Zork into Glorantha, though localized in Pamaltela and so out of the way of most Glorantha campaigns.