Thursday, May 11, 2017

Opening the Box

I will never forget the first time I saw Skyrealms of Jorune after getting home from Gamescape.

Mostly 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition in upper right. (Not my picture)
The original game was with three books (Sholari, Player, and Tauther Guides) and a fourth with a very different graphic desing, the module Kolovashondra. This box had the two primary supplements - Companion: Ardoth and Companion: Burdoth. I am a designer and these were beautifully designed and had one of my favorite techniques - black ink plus one color ink for each volume. The black was deep and saturated, not waters as many printers allow with their ink blankets - printed by someone who cared. The colors were not garish, but subdued. Like the box itself, the interior books had the feel of heritage to it. It felt like tradition.

I had seen other role playing game materials. There is a game with a similar flavor of unique alient splendor - Empire of the Petal Throne. Dungeons and Dragons had a firm stranglehold on the whole role playing market, but there was good competition with games like Traveller, Cyberpunk 2020, and Vampire. There were hundreds of little games put together by a few people with passion – dubbed "kitchen table publishers". The sudden advent of desktop publishing programs for home computers allowed anyone with the patience to put together a book, and prices were resaonable for publishing print runs as small as 2,000.

But the art for these games was erratic. There were some schooled artist, but for every properly executed fantasy masterpiece, there were fifty crappy comic book style illustrations that reeked of someone's high school three ring binder. Sometimes they were even published with the lined notebook paper showing.

They ranged from craftsmanlike to scribbles.

Jorune was different.  Miles Teves (TEH-ves) art was amazing. He specialized in graphite in those days and did in depth scenes of the different races interacting with the planet and it's varied flora and fauna. He lived up to the story of the game with a powerful talent built on classical European art.

His art supported the background. Jorune would have died without his blossoming eye and hand. He went on to design for films, carrying his Jorune legacy with him and building on that foundation. He carried thriddle into the joyriding alien kids in Explorers, the Ramian appered as aliens in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, his Earth-tec designs ruled the cult comedy Galaxy Quest, and I still think the Shantha were his source for the aliens in A.I.. He made a mark with his fat suits for Thinner and Big Momma's House, his gritty designs for Amistad and Shindler's List. I could give a whole entry on him, but he has provided a great gallery at Go there and run barefoot through his artwork!

The the pull of Jorune was not the cool graphics. It was the depth of the world.

Fantasy worlds never explained how so many races could be around at the same time. Jorune explained it and gave the world a special flavor. There was the native race, the Shantha, who had their own social structure, and history. They also had a technology based on a natural energy ocurring in Jorune - "Isho". They used isho to light their way, to levitate targets of their projects in the same way whole mountains were levitated over the surface - the "skyrealms" of the title. They healed. They built. And they could open warps to pass from one location to a mated destination elsewhere on the planet. Isho was the most obvious feature of Jorune and made it unlike any other plante.

Jorune had been invaded a thousand years before humans arrived and the would-be conquerors left their slave- and partner- races behind (Cleash and their servant Scarmis, Ramian, Thriddle, Corastin, Croid and a number of animals that provided them with labor or meat). Humans arrived and established colonies in terrirtories negotiation with the native Shantha.
Sholari James compares the size of races, human in the middle.
But Earth stopped all contact. We never found out what happened to our home world. The humans stranded on Jorune split into two camps - those who wanted to live peacefully with the Shantha, and those who had the fine old human motto - "Let's take their land." Humans moved into lands that had been forbidden them, and a war followed. Humans under the command of Karl Bomoveris engineered a virus to attack and kill Shantha and had started spreading it when Shantha came under the control of the war-maker ca-Desti masters of Red Isho to launch an extermination attack on the "hoomanzi", as they called us. There was an uncontrolled interaction between Human technology (probably atomic energy) and the war use of Isho.

Almost all intelligent life on the planet was wiped and. It was The Shyee - the Shanthic term for "The Dying Times".

A human scientist, Theodore Iscin, feared he might be the last human at his remote research station in the Gauss Valley, and he engineers whole new races from the expressed atavar genes of humans, creating races that resembled amphibian, canines, feline, and ursine traits build on basic human forms, creating more races to populate Jorune. These were (with their Terran sources) the Blount (amphibian), Woffen (wolves), Cygra and Cougar (varieties of cougars), Bronth (bears), and Tologra (lions). More races for the world and the game.

A small established human colony in what is now called Thantier flourished for the first thousand years, and the Shantha were seen so little it was suggested they had died off. But the alien races also wanted whatever they could get from Jorune and a more traditional war raged between the humans of Thantier and the Cleash, with their hordes of Scarmis, plus whole fleets of Ramian who attacked for the sheer pleasure of killing. Within Thantier factions jockeyed for position and power, while small human cultures developed in remote sections of the planet. They enjoyed the benefit of the last known caches of Earth-tec from the Colony, but were hard pressed to win their war against the Cleash from within their seige towers.

But during the time Thantier fought to stay alive, Jorune entered an "Age of Monsters" – mutations of all the races that rose and then vanished. But some muations survived and were around to this day. This gave the world human mutations, like the isho-using Muadra, the heavily muscled Boccord, the aquatic races - the fresh water Acubon and salt water Salu, and the blue skinned, primitive Trarch. Many other races are known to have existed but are unknown in the world as it stands. (Pocket populations might still exist, but that's for game masters to decide.) From the Ramian came the docile, craft oriented, and horned Thivin, who were only known to the larger world a few generations ago.

And the game begins 3,500 years after the Shyee.

And that's where the story began.


  1. This is great! Please keep writing. I am a rabid Jorune fan and it's nice to see this unique game get some attention. Good on you!

  2. Glad you like it. I've been digesting bits of Jorune for so long it has gotten into my bones. Maybe I can get it out through my words. And the new Return to Jorune stuff.