Retro Reviews: Sun County (The Avalon Hill Game Company)

Occasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here.  You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.

When Chaosium sold the publishing rights for RuneQuest to Avalon Hill back in 1984, a lot of people complained that the new RuneQuest had lost its lustre, that by separating the Gloranthan setting from the rules, the game had lost the uniqueness that made playing it worthwhile. Over the years, Avalon Hill has managed to reprint some older material, while adding bits and pieces to the Gloranthan setting. Even so, nothing completely new has been added to this extraordinary world for a good eight years. Sun County manages to overcome that mistake, and then some.

To the uninitiated, Glorantha is a world of magic wherein religion, or “cults,” play a definitive role in everyday life. The gods affect and are affected by their worshippers’ actions, and adventures are more likely to originate out of religious conflict than in other worlds. Sun County describes “a small, isolated province of light-worshipping farmer-soldiers, situated in the fertile River of Cradles valley of Eastern Prax, south of the City of Pavis.” For those of you familiar with the out-of-print Pavis and Big Rubble, the area is known for the great Sun Dome Temple, which is watched over by the arrogant, stubborn Yelmalio cultists.

The 125-page supplement starts out with a short introduction to the province, giving a brief history of the people, religion, government, customs, military and trade. Descriptions of notable personalities, along with RuneQuest statistics, round out a nice overview of the area.

The factual account of Sun County is supplemented by a personal one. “Jaxarte’s Journal” gives the account of a young Lunar official sent as an emissary to the area. This is one of the more inventive ways to provide background data; Lunar officials maintain an uneasy and formal alliance with the area, and the journal of someone who does not get along well with the local population makes for much more interesting reading than dry historical facts. It also breathes life and personality into the setting, and here is where Sun County delivers so impressively.

Four scenarios are provided, as well as guidelines for running an ongoing campaign. Of the scenarios, “Melisande’s Hand” is a real innovation. Centered on the main event of the Harvest Festival, the Garhound Contest, the scenario gives lots of opportunity for roleplaying while competing for the hand of the Harvest Queen. Intrigue abounds, but the center attraction is the Horse Race, wherein contestants must complete a harrowing sprint through a tough obstacle course. Also great fun are the “Wall of Death,” wherein participants must dodge slow-moving arrows, the “Intelligence Test,” a thinly-disguised excuse for lifting the tankard, and “Ladies Choice,” a chance to impress the fairer sex. Some old faces — Fleetur Nemm and Krogar Wolfheim — make cameo appearances as well.

“The Old Sun Dome” is like one of those haunted places you play in as a kid: an old quarry, an abandoned railroad track, a dilapidated shack. Under the dusty Gloranthan sun, it truly is a place full of ghosts, both real and imagined.

“Rabbit Hill Farm” is suitably complex, and when things like ironic twists and themes make their way into it, you’ve got a great scenario on your hands. “Solinthor’s Tower” has that human element we’ve come to expect from Chaosium. They always seem to be a step ahead when it comes to establishing character, depth, and maturity in scenario design.

We also get descriptions of the Yelmalio cult, the Sun Dome Temple, background on local militia, the “Shield Push,” a local sporting event sponsored by the cultists, and a series of twenty short encounters that, with a little imagination, could easily be shaped into full-blown scenarios or even a campaign.

It’s not perfect. Typos are sprinkled throughout the manuscript, and one sentence managed to get cut off half way through. The sentence structure is strange, and poor grammar continues to haunt RuneQuest products. Even so, there’s a certain charm to the convoluted style, something like putting together a puzzle. If this kind of thing bothers you, though, you may want to find a translator. The campaign resources section would be better placed after the scenario section. Personally, I find it easier to examine the smaller picture before making the leap to the larger sphere that a campaign requires. A minor thing, and other people may think differently.

The layout is fine, and I found almost everything easy to use and interesting to look at. The use of shaded boxes breaks the text up nicely, and I love the schematic diagrams for hit locations.

Overall, Sun County is an excellent RuneQuest addition and one of the best campaign packs I’ve seen in years. It’s easily one of the best supplements to come out since Avalon Hill took over the game, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in raising the quality of their fantasy campaign. At twenty bucks, it’s a bargain, considering it deserves a place on the shelf next to some of the old RuneQuest classics.

Sun County
by Gilbert Pili on 20/07/02
Style: 5 of 5
Substance: 5 of 5
A classic addition to Glorantha, and previously released Prax and the Big Rubble. Product: Sun County
Author: 20 credited designers
Category: RPG
Company/Publisher: The Avalon Hill Game Company
Line: RuneQuest
Cost: $18.95
Year published: 1992
Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 20/07/02
Genre tags: Fantasy

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2 thoughts on “Retro Reviews: Sun County (The Avalon Hill Game Company)

  1. gretch05 says:

    So, is Sun Country now available for online gamers?

    • gpili says:

      It’s actually only available in print for tabletop. Not sure something like this would translate over to an online game without a lot of work!

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