Skyrealms of Jorune, 2nd Edition

Copyright 1985, Skyrealms Publishing, Inc.

Conceptual design: Andrew Leker, Miles Teves, Amy Leker, with assistance from Mark Wallace, David Ackerman, Darren Champlin
Written by: Andrew Leker, with contributing authors Amy Leker and Mark Wallace
Game system design: Andrew Leker, Mark Wallace, with assistance from David Ackerman, Darren Champlin
Art direction: Miles Teves, with contributing illustrators David Ackerman, Alan Okamoto, and Brian Miller

Box (9 1/4" by 12 1/4" by 1 1/2") containing

Jorune 2nd edition box cover

29-page Tauther Guide
56-page Player Manual
68-page Sholari Guide
20-page rules update (8/87 revision)
Two double-sided combat summary reference sheets
Four 4-page character booklets (with much of the space taken up by skill tables)
16- page adventure module, The Skyrealm Kolovisondra

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“Burdothians of noble spirit, read on...

Tothis is an intent chosen by people of all ages. It is a stage on the way to becoming a citizen of Burdoth...”

With these opening lines, the world of Jorune began to cast its spell upon the reader. A fringe game, Jorune never found a large audience, although it's likely that any reader of Dragon Magazine from the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's had heard of the game...and probably dismissed it as too weird. That was both the glory and the pity of Jorune. An original, well-developed, and unusual setting for science fantasy gaming, Jorune suffered for its individuality.

Mechanically, Jorune was not too different from other games on the market (save for the isho rules, the game's replacement for magic), but there was a thick barrier to getting to know Jorune, in the designers' liberal sprinkling of the world's vocabulary into the game text. (For example, the referee is a sholari, the shanthic term for “priest.”) While this succeeded in giving the game an otherworldly feel, it also served to drive casual readers away.

 

The Setting

It is hard to do justice to the game's setting in a few words. It is an alien planet, in the far future. Jorune was colonized by humans who soon lost contact with earth and fought a tragic war of mutual destruction with the shanthas, Jorune's native intelligent inhabitants. It's taken over two thousand years for humanity to rebuild a civilization. Jorune features unusual ecologies, unique aliens, a mix of low and high technology, and a science fiction equivalent to magic: a unique energy called isho that can be manipulated by psychically gifted races. For more information on the setting, click here.

The world was well-designed for adventures. There were dangerous wildernesses with all kinds of fierce creatures to battle; underground shanthic ruins full of mysterious isho-artifacts; lost caches of Earth-Tec; and skyrealms, islands that float in the air on currents of isho. Warps permit easy, although somewhat random transportation to far locations. There is a healthy political ferment around Ardoth, enough to keep parties of adventurers engaged for years without needing to leave the relative safety of the city.

 

Becoming Tauther

The designers seemed to recognize there was a high barrier to getting to know the game. To help players, they included a very clever game-framing device that made it easy for beginners to learn about the world and get engaged in it. Although Jorune did not use D&D's class and level-based system, the tauther mechanism provided referees with an easy carrot and stick that supported a “novice to expert” approach for the campaign, and helped players become acquainted with the world gradually.

Beginning characters were assumed to be country bumpkins, who travelled to the city of Ardoth in order to become drenn, or citizens. To become a drenn, one had to follow the process of tothis, which meant you collected the signature marks (copra) of other drenn, signifying their approval of you. One obtained copra by impressing drenn with your worthiness—which usually translated into “go on this mission for me, and I'll give you my copra.” This provided an excellent reason for parties of characters who didn't know each other to be assembled on a series of missions, and gave the group a goal to aim for. Further, all beginning tauther were given a guidebook, the “Tauther Guide,” an introduction to the world—at least the Burdothian view of the world. The tauther guide was book one of the boxed 2nd edition: you could pass it around to your players, and they and their characters would know everything that was in the book.

 

The Tauther Guide

The Tauther Guide was 29 pages, copiously illustrated. It was written “in character,” talking to the character, not the player. Most sections were written by different Jorune NPCs, in different voices. The bulk of the book was a description of the various intelligent species of Jorune, followed by brief chapters on the hazards of travelling in the wild, a history of the world, a sketch of world geography, and some cultural notes, including descriptions of isho use.

 

The Player Manual

The second book, the Player Manual, was more conventional, containing the bulk of the game rules. It had a very short introduction to role playing, and gave a brief sketch of Jorune's history from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. The book contained rules for character generation, combat, isho use, some information about Burdoth's social structure, and a glossary defining the Jorune vocabulary (or more properly, Entren vocabulary) scattered through the book. Oddly enough, there was also a section that gave human history on Jorune and some details about shanthas that would be better placed in the sholari's book, out of player hands.

Character Generation

Second edition Jorune permitted only three PC races: humans, boccord, or muadra. There were nine characteristics generated on 3d6, divided into three groups. Players could swap scores among characteristics within groups. Group 1 was Constitution, Social, and Color; Group 2 was Strength, Education, and Isho; and Group 3 was Speed, Agility, and Aim. Players also rolled a bonus die for each group, and could assign the result to characteristics within the group as he saw fit. The theoretical maximum stat was 24, but there was no real benefit above 20. There was also a tenth characteristic, Learn, generated by 1d6+7, which could not be modified.

The Isho and Color characteristics were needed to use the Isho powers of the setting. Isho was a measure of one's raw power, while Color was one's understanding or skill in isho use. Notice that the 1987 rules supplement says that Color was a proxy for an intelligence score, which was otherwise subsumed in the Education and Learn stats.

Jorune was a skill-based game. A character's Education characteristic defined how many skill points they had to spend. One could have up to ten levels in a skill, and skills were characterized by their difficulty or complexity (scored from zero to four). Skills were collected into fourteen groups (such as Fighter, Range Combat, Languages) and limits were set both for how many skills within each group and how many levels could be purchased at character generation. Characters could also spend skill points to learn the group as a whole, which gave a bonus for using any skills within the group.

To use a skill, players rolled d100 against a target number, trying to roll below it. The target number was determined by the combination of their level of mastery and the complexity of the skill, but there was no formula: instead, players looked up the target number on a large table on their character sheet.

The Player Manual had a chapter for detailing characters, including a brief list of places where a character could be from with a few background notes, a very brief buying list and a description of some common things characters could buy, pay for, or interact with, including domesticated creatures, foods, and businesses.

Experience

Skills improved through practice. Each time a skill was used in an adventure, the player marked it on his character sheet. At the end of each game week, the player rolled 3d6 for each mark. If a result was less than or equal to the character's Learn skill, the character gained an Education point for that skill. Five Education points in a skill could be traded in for a one point improvement in the skill level. The die roll was modified by the sholari: points would be subtracted from the roll if the character demonstrated exceptional discretion or was very successful in the skill, and points would be added if the skill was a difficult one. Whether the roll was successful or not, the mark was erased from the character sheet.

Characters could develop new skills as well. For every six months of game time, or for every five increases in a skill level, the player received five free check marks to place next to any skill he wanted, including skills he didn't have. Once checked, skills would be tested for improvement using the regular experience system.

Combat

Combat was a complex process with many die rolls. The basic structure had players roll a d20 for Advantage. High Advantage characters went first. Attackers rolled a d20 against their attack skill target number while defenders rolled d20 against their defense skill target number. If the attack succeeded and the defense failed, the attacker had a potential hit. She'd then roll 2d6 on the hit location table, then 2d6 on the armor penetration table, if necessary. If the attack got through the armor, then the attacker would roll 2d6 one more time on the appropriate damage table to obtain a descriptive wound result: superficial, minor, major, or critical.

Advantage. More than just an initiative roll, Advantage determined the character's range of options. A poor roll (5 or less) meant the character could take no action at all this round. A roll of 10 or better was needed to attack, and a roll of 16 or better permitted an attack and defense. Characters with high skill levels for their weapon gained bonuses on their Advantage roll, up to +5. While this was an interesting approach to emphasize differences in skill and to simulate tactical advantages due to position and so forth, it must have been extremely frustrating to be unable to take action, even defensively, as a result of a series of poor Advantage rolls. We note that high skill levels in a weapon gave bonuses to the Advantage roll, so that more skilled characters were rarely unable to act.

Ranged combat worked in a similar way, with a different Advantage table, making it easier to be able to attack. The to hit number was determined by the weapon and the range, with the attacker's skill modifying the to hit number.

An important feature of the combat rules was weapon length. Combat occurred at the distance of the longer weapon. If a character with a shorter weapon wanted to close, the Advance combat maneuver was needed. The closer needed to succeed on his Advance skill without being hit by his opponent in that round. Similiarly, to open up the range or disengage from melee, the character used a Withdraw skill.

As if combat was not complicated enough, there were optional rules for a variety of attack moves, including called shots, thrusts, lunges, and overhead swings. These generally modified the armor penetratration and injury rolls at the cost of reducing a character's Advantage roll in the following round.

Incidentally, although Attack skill and Defense skill with a weapon may not have been identical, they were learned as a package. One might have 5 levels with a weapon, but the attack target number was different from the defense target number. This modeled the idea that some weapons are better for parrying than others.

While the combat system was slow and complex, it provided interesting options to players, and had a realistic feel. Without bonuses, a sword wound had about a 50% chance of being at least Major, meaning a single solid hit could take an opponent out. Further, the game took size and mass into account, which gave boccord and other large races more durability in combat and small races like the muadra a disadvantage.

Damage could be healed by rest, the services of a healer, or manipulations of isho by skilled muadra. There were also isho crystals and medicines that speed healing, and for the very, very lucky, ancient earthtec healing devices could be found.

 

Isho

While in the crudest sense, isho is the Jorune equivalent of magic, it is far more important to the game than that. Isho not only gives firepower to the muadra characters, but is an energy field around the planet that is responsible for the skyrealms, it is the medium that native Joruni creatures use for their primary sensory ability instead of visible light, and it is the basis for shanthic technology. Isho has seven different varieties, termed “colors,” and these colors are linked to the seven moons that orbit the world. Each color is also associated with different effects and feelings. Isho weather (the changing ebbs and flows of the energy) are a concern even for those beings who are relatively insensitive to it, such as humans.

The rules for isho use were more detailed than most game's spellcasting rules. Muadra are the only PC race that can fully use isho, although the other two have some limited abilities with it. Not all muadra are “isho-literate”: those who can wield isho are called caji. A caji weaves isho into orbs or bolts, called dyshas. Each dysha was a separate skill to learn, and a roll was required to see if the dysha was successfully woven. Once the dysha was woven, it could be thrown using the standard combat rules. Unlike magic, dyshas were a two-round affair: one round to weave it, and one to throw it. The defenders could see the dysha being formed, and guess from its color the type of danger it represented. Further, there were defensive options: you could take cover, or try to undo the weave. There were two ways to do this: Caji learn an Unweaving skill, and boccord and humans learn an interference skill. Unweaving was more difficult, but the caji was likely to be more sophisticated about it, and possess enough isho points to be able to do it more often. Intereference was easier and cheaper, but humans and boccord rarely had enough isho to do it often.

Other isho abilities included the caji's Tra-sense, which allowed them to perceive other beings by their ripples in the isho. At low levels, this merely allowed for detection, or a rough guess as to how much isho the being had stored, but at higher levels a caji could tell what dyshas one had learned, the target's basic personality, and so forth. Boccord also had special isho abilities, mainly centered around signature skills. Signature is the distinctive ripple in the isho that a creature gives off. Boccord could identify creature types by their isho and could even attempt to disguise their own signatures to fool the tra sense or signature skills of others.

A naull orb; precursor to a dysha

The Sholari Guide

The third book began by introducing the designers' feelings about how the game should be run. They clearly wished to de-emphasize combat and guide players to a more social game. They advocated that player behavior be controlled by NPCs, instead of sholari pronouncements. Rather than forbid players possession of heavy weapons, the guide emphasized that NPC reactions to heavily armed and armored characters would be negative, and that players who relied too much on murder as a means of dealing with problems should be quickly entangled with the police and the military. The designers also recommended guiding players so that their main goals were social ones, rather than the accumulation of wealth and power.

Corundun

A corundun, a fearsome predator

The book provided all of the tables a sholari might need. There was a weather table and an isho-weather table. There were a series of nested encounter tables, so that a sholari could not only randomly generate the type of creature encountered, but also what they were doing, why they might interact with the party, and personality quirks, too. There were two chapters on inhabitants of Jorune, intelligent and non-intelligent.

Intelligent creatures were well-described with physical details and notes on their behavior. Non-intelligent creatures were less detailed, but still sufficiently outlined to make the creatures come alive. Besides the obvious stats, non-intelligent creatures were rated for “reaction,” a measure of how they will respond when encountered. They could be Manic (almost always attacking), Dangerous (sometimes attacking), Obnoxious (will attack if harassed) and Apathetic. There was a response table for each level of reactivity, to determine what a randomly generated creature would do when encountered. Most of the creatures were beautifully illustrated, a real help for visualizing the bizarre inhabitants of this world.

Chapter five was called “Items,” a catch-all description of weapons, armor, beasts of burden, and valuables. Jorune players must be prepared to deal with the familiar (including the futuristic Earth-Tec, because most players will know what to do with a blaster pistol), as well as the more unusual items used on this metal-poor, low tech world. Some necessities are manufactured from vicious creatures, such as shanthic blades crafted out of the deadly claws of the dhar corundon. There are also limilates, a selection of drugs that can do various things. Arrigish is a healing limilate, hilc helps humans to digest Joruni food, daij improves Tra-sense, even for those who are normally isho-insensitive. (Special police in Ardoth use daij to track down muadra who are using isho illegally.) Isho crystals can be used to unleash an isho-effect. It is in this chapter that we discover one of the primary advantages to being a human in the game: many Earth-Tec goodies were safety locked to human fingerprints. Only humans have access to some of the more devastating goodies. Finally, the last chapter of the Sholari Guide described important places on Jorune.

 

The Kolovisondra Skyrealm

The Kolovisondra Skyrealm was more than just an adventure module, as it included more background information about the world, and plenty of details useful for inspiring beginning sholari in their own adventures. Briefly, the characters are hired by a pair of adventurers who have discovered a skyrealm in the West Trinnu Jungle Lands. There is a large source of the illegal limilate shirm-eh to be found, and greedy people of questionable morals can make a fortune selling the stuff to the ramien, or to the middlemen who serve them. (Ramian, another sapient species, heal injuries very slowly without application of shirm-eh. However, the ramian are truculent and warlike, and nearly all intelligent races forbid trading shirm-eh with them for fear of enhancing their war-making capabilities.) Unlike many introductory adventures, there is no telegraphed plot to follow, and PCs may well end up being minor figures in what happens on the skyrealm. As such, it requires some work on the part of the sholari, and may not be the best introduction for inexperienced gamers, although it works well for experienced gamers who are new to Jorune.

 

The Rules Supplement

While workable, the game design was clunky, relying so heavily on charts that player character sheets were four pages long to accomodate them all. The designers updated the rules by adding an short booklet to the boxed set. Apparently two different versions were released, one in 1986 and the definitive update in 1987. According to the designers' notes, the changes were supposed to make the game more intuitive and less numbers dependent. The most visible change was the adjustment of the skill system. Skill levels were clumped into four named levels of mastery: inexperienced (levels 0 - 1), familiar (levels 2 - 4), experienced (5 - 7) and seasoned (8 - 10). The ten levels of mastery, and the die rolls needed to succeed in a skill were unchanged.

Character generation was modified in an attempt to force players to flesh out their non-combat abilities more. The unmodified 2nd edition rules permitted a bonus die for each group of characteristics, and the resultant points could be applied to any characteristic in the group. In the revision, characteristics could not be increased above 15 in this way, and 18 was the upper-limit cut off for all characteristics. Two new characteristics (Spot and Listen) were added, and formed a fourth characteristic group with Learn. All three scores in this new group were generated by 1d6 + 7, plus the bonus die for the group.

The supplement changed how skills were chosen into a three-stage process. In the first stage, players bought groups of skills or occupational skills. The only individual skills bought at this time were dyshas by muadra players. The groups were the same as in the unmodified rules, but occupational skills were a real help for players. By choosing a profession, the character got a collection of skills from different groups, all of which were relevant to that character's background. In the second stage, players invested in individual skills out of the groups that they had already bought. In the third stage, players could boost Practical Knowledge skills, most of which had no combat application. The skill descriptions were well fleshed-out, with descriptions of what the various levels of mastery meant for the skill. There were changes to how one improved skills, and the non-dysha isho skills were modified from basic 2nd edition, too.

The supplement also detailed the process of tauther a bit more. Characters now had a set goal of how many Drenn points were needed to apply for Drenn status and end the tauther process: 50 points for a human, 60 for a boccord, 70 for a muadra. Each copra by a Drenn was usually worth 1 - 6 points. Once enough points were accumulated, the player announced their intention to seek Drennship. The sholari conducted an in-character interview with the PC, going over each mark they earned, and then there was a 3d6 check against the character's Social characteristic. The sholari could fudge the roll a bit depending on how the interview played out.

 

Summary

The second edition rules were awkward but workable. One can see the influence of Chaosium's Basic Role Playing system (see our review of Runequest) in the combat system, skill system and particularly in the experience system, although Jorune's system tried to take more factors into account and was more complex as a result. Jorune's descriptive wound system was all its own, though. We appreciate the designers' introduction of complexity as a way to model a more realistic simulation of the world, but the result appeared to be slow to play and complex to follow. On the plus side, the encounter tables provided plenty of detail and could quickly generate any number of encounter seeds. Combat involved many options, and should have led to increased player involvement in their tactics.

As a package, the 2nd edition was a beauty. The components were sturdy and very attractive. The tauther guide operated as a wonderful introduction to the world, and provided players with a relatively painless way to become accustomed to the strange vocabulary, inhabitants and customs of Jorune. There was a nice balance of cultural information, rules, and scenario seeds. The cover art showed Jorune was not a standard "hunt the monster, grab the treasure" type of game, but one for simulating a world with a rich culture and history.

As noted elsewhere, Jorune was not a terribly successful game, but it acquired a cult status for its small pool of fans. There are those who still swear by the 2nd edition as the best rules to play, and have even used them in other settings. Should one wish to experience the setting, this edition is an excellent place to begin.

We directly compare the second and third editions here.

Personal Note from the Curator

I came to Jorune relatively late, and started with the third edition. While the third edition has many features that I appreciate, I wasn't able to grasp how the system worked until I'd read the second edition. I'm also a sucker for boxed sets, and that makes it look especially good to me. I usually reach for my 3rd edition for reference, if only because it's easier to grab the single volume than to pull down the boxed set. But I still value the 2nd edition highly, and I consider this a prized part of the Museum's collection.

—RAD
May 12, 2007

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