|Skyrealms of Jorune, 3rd Edition|
Copyright 1992, Skyrealms Publishing, Inc.
The third edition of Jorune was an eye-catching book. The cover incorporated many of the traditional elements of fantasy art: a muscular human, two nonhuman monsters, an energy weapon, and a scantily-dressed woman, all dramatically lit to advantage. But look again: the nearly naked woman is in a position of command, her face showing sternness; one of the nonhumans is protesting, possibly an advisor to the woman; the second nonhuman is a captive in manacles, with the muscular human serving more as a servant or guard of the imperious woman. The energy weapon is an incongruity, ignored on the floor. The caption is of little help to the uninitiated: "The capture of Chodi Dichi Coven: Salrough Gomo's plea to the Keshtia Saress Khodre." The second caption, visible in green against the dark blue background makes a promise that the book seems well-equipped to keep: "Leave Your World Behind." A casual flip through the book reveals a riot of amazing penciled illustrations of fantastic creatures and scenary unlike those of most gameworlds, copious charts and tables, and plenty of small typeface text showing that this is a meaty game, one likely to be worth exploring.
The center of the setting is the city of Ardoth, capital of the human state of Burdoth. The default scenario assumes that the player characters are seeking Burdothian citizenship through the tauther process, which means proving one's commitment and worth by laboring for the state, or by impressing prominent citizens. Burdoth controls a large cache of ancient Earth-Tec, which makes its armies the most powerful in the known world. Burdoth is balanced by a number of other powers, most of them non-human.
Players could choose an urban campaign, dealing with Ardothian street crime, politics, or simply acquiring personal power and connections. Should players prefer to explore outside of Ardoth, there are sea voyages to take or overland journeys to the desert of the Doben-Al, the jungle of the East Trinnus, the crystal fields of Temautro, or aerial voyages to distant Jasp. There are ferocious beasts to fight or avoid—yet Jorune is at pains to present these as natural predators, no matter how powerful or mysterious. Jorune does not have many random monsters intent on destruction. There are mysteries to solve. And if completely jaded, your party can be on a quest to find tasty recipies for preparing the vile durlig root, essential to human health.
Like most role playing games, Joruni characters will be armed with swords and bows. But if they're trusted by the Dharsage, they may also carry high technology devices as well. For more information on the setting, click here.
As a game mechanic, the tauther process serves players well. Characters are assumed to be from relatively isolated backgrounds, and as their characters slowly gain knowledge about the world, the players also learn. Information is gained in small, easy to digest pieces. The designers knew the world would be difficult to absorb and play in immediately.
The basic game mechanic was that players had to roll their skill rank or less on a d20. The referee (or sholari) modified the target number based on the difficulty of the task, and sholaris were encouraged to adjust target numbers freely to make tasks difficult or easier. Skills were defined numerically (as a rank, from zero to twenty), descriptively (unfamiliar, familiar, experienced, and seasoned) and by difficulty (easy, moderate, hard, and very hard). A descriptive level of the skill meant a different rank based on how difficult the skill was. For example, a character who is familiar with an easy skill has six ranks in it, while being familiar with a hard skill provides only four ranks. This system meant that one had a higher chance of failing with a hard skill than an easy one, even if one were seasoned in both skills.
A successful die roll meant different things depending on the character's familiarity with the skill. Each description of a skill listed what a success meant at each level of familiarity. This allowed the game to have an unusual critical success/failure mechanic. A roll of one was a critical success. The player rolled a second time, and if the second roll succeeded, the success would be as if the character had the skill at the next higher level of familiarity. Critical failures worked much the same way: a roll of twenty was an automatic failure; a second failed roll meant the character failed as if she had the skill at the next lower level of familiarity.
In the abstract, the system sounds very clever, but we suspect it required a great deal of rulebook flipping to adjudicate what success and failure meant for various skills, especially the less commonly used ones.
Like many of its contemporaries, Jorune's third edition rules had a fairly complex character generation system requiring a number of steps. Players chose their character's race, selected an occupation, purchased character skills, set up their energy (isho) abilities, bought their starting equipment, determined the character's background, and selected which skills would be improved by experience.
Race. The third edition permitted players to be human, one of the human sub-races (muadra and boccord), or one of the common iscin races (woffen, crugar, or bronth). (See the notes on the setting to have these explained.) Character races modified basic characteristics, had an effect on combat, and determined isho abilities. The rules provided detailed descriptions of the character races and their cultures, so that players had guidance as to how, for example, woffen were expected to act in a variety of settings.
Occupation. Many of the character's skills and their level of familiarity were determined by the player's choice of occupation. Occupation templates listed the basic skills the character had. For some, such as the various soldier and warrior templates, there were many skills. Others, such as the toth (commoner), had only a few skills. In general, the templates with fewer predetermined skills gave players more flexibility to pick optional skills later in the character generation process.
The rules provided for twenty three different occupations. In addition to a broad variety of combat occupations (soldiers, mercenaries, gladiators, and so on), there were many less adventurous options, such as merchants, inn-keepers, translators, or commoners. These latter were probably for building NPCs rather than player characters, but should a player choose to be something unusual, like an animal trainer, the possibility was there. Occupations had minimum characteristic requirements, so that players could arrange their characteristic scores accordingly in the next step.
Basic characteristics. Jorune had twelve characteristics, collected into three groups: Constitution, Social, Color, and Isho; Strength, Education, Learn, and Agility; Speed, Aim, Spot, and Listen. Each group had scores generated separately, so that scores could be swapped and modified within a group, but not across them. Players could generate scores using dice (roll 4d6, keeping the best three dice, and then roll a single d3 for bonus points to be assigned within the group as desired), or they could use a point-build system, where players had fifty points for each group, to be distributed as desired. If the sholari or players were in a hurry, each occupation included a sample character with scores pre-generated.
Skills. The precise number of skills one could purchase was determined by the character's Education score multiplied by three, minus the cost of the character's occupation. One point for a new skill purchased it at the Familiar level, and players could buy up to five ranks at this step. Since easy and moderate skills both provided at least five ranks at Familiar, that meant one could not spend more than one point on them. The system forced most players to purchase a wide variety of skills.
Skills were divided into fourteen different classifications, not counting isho skills. This was mainly an organizational tool: players could buy any skills desired using their single pool of points, and did so all at once. The skill list was fairly specific, and included a number of esoteric choices, such as philosophy (the rules admit this is a fairly useless skill except when meeting another philosopher), juggling, and sculpting.
Isho skills and abilities. The isho rules were quite complex and will be described below.
Finishing off the character. Character possessions at the beginning of the game were determined by rolling 3d6 for money, and spending it on a buying list to purchase equipment. There were also a number of tables that players could roll on to round off their characters: number of close friends, motivation for leaving home, randomly generated attitudes toward other races, the most exciting event in one's past life, number of siblings, age, height, and weight, and so on. The rules also suggest bribing players with d3 points to boost characteristics or skills in exchange for writing a detailed character backstory.
Experience and Character Advancement
Skills were improved by using them in the game, but only a small number of skills could be improved at a time. Players divided their character's Learn characteristic by three to determine the number of Focuses they were allowed. Players attached these focuses to single skills. When a focused skill was used in a game, players rolled a number of d6 to see how many Attainment Points were earned for that particular skill. The number of d6 rolled increased for each gaming session the skill was used: 1d6 for the first session where the skill was used, 2d6 for the second session, and so on.
To improve a skill, the player rolled a d20 against the matching characteristic for the skill. For example, interaction skills were matched to the Social characteristic. The player had to spend that skill's attainment points to roll the die. The harder the skill, the more attainment points it cost to roll. Further, harder skills had penalties to the die roll, making a success less likely. A success meant the skill was increased by one rank, and all unused attainment points for that skill were discarded. The player could keep rolling until she either succeeded in raising the skill or ran out of that skill's attainment points.
Players could also earn a few attainment points for unfocused skills: the sholari was to distribute up to twelve points for each player at the end of the session as a reward for good play.
Like the rest of the third edition, combat was fundamentally simple with a number of complexities laid on top. Characters had to roll under their skill rank with their weapon to hit. Melee weapon skills had their own category, instead of being easy/moderate/hard/very hard. This gave characters relatively high ranks at the low end, but lower ranks at the high end. Missile weapons fit under the regular skill system, either as moderate or hard skills.
Combat went through three stages.
The first stage was a roll for Advantage on a d20, which determined initiative and one's combat options for the round. A low advantage roll (one through five) meant the character could only evade. Progressively higher advantage rolls permitted defensive actions, a choice of attack or defense, both an attack and a defense, and on a roll of twenty, an attack and a defense, with a bonus of five for all attack and defense rolls. Notice that characters were allowed to attack even if their advantage roll didn't permit it, but at a hefty penalty of ten to all actions for the round.
From the lowest advantage roll to the highest, players announced their actions. Actions were then resolved from the highest advantage to the lowest.
The second stage was the roll for success. This followed the basic game mechanic: roll under one's skill rank on a d20. If an attack was unopposed, only the attacker had to roll. If the defender were defending that round, both attacker and defender rolled. The attack got through only if the attacker succeeded and the defender failed.
The third stage was determining the results of successful attacks. If the attack was successful, the attacker rolled a d20 to determine which part of the defender's body was hit, then rolled 2d6 against the defender's armor on that body part, trying to roll higher than the armor's protection value, which was found by cross-indexing weapon against armor on a table. If the attack penetrated, the attacker rolled another 2d6 on the damage table. The result was descriptive: damage could be superficial, minor, major, critical, or death. Assuming it hit and penetrated armor, a sword caused major damage or worse half of the time; instant death occurred on a result of twelve.
Special Attacks. Players could select from a number of different attack types instead of using a simple attack roll. Special attacks were generally more likely to penetrate armor and do more damage at a cost of a penalty to advantage on the following round. These special attacks were also directed at specific body areas of the defender at a hefty penalty. A hit meant that body area was hit; no random roll for body area was used.
Advance and Withdraw. Unique among games in our experience, Jorune used Advance and Withdraw as skills to close or open up the distance between combatants. Typically, combat occured at the distance of the longer weapon's reach. Should a character choose to close the gap to use a shorter weapon, that character rolled against his Advance skill, possibly opening himself up to being hit and not being able to defend himself. Similarly, the Withdraw skill was used to open up the distance for longer reach weapons, or possibly to flee.
Further embellishments. Aside from the usual tables of situational modifiers and character bonuses, there were rules on reducing character Stamina from the cumulative effect of wounds, knocking opponents off balance even if no damage were done in an attack that struck home, and special rules for two combatants against one. The designers advised players and referees to pay the most attention to the advantage roll. Since it largely determined one's ability to attack and could lead to important bonuses and penalties, players were advised to seek every advantage on the modifiers to the advantage roll that they could: surprising foes, attacking from the flank or rear, engaging where opponents have bad footing, and so on. We note that higher skill ranks in weapons granted that character an Advantage bonus, which could be decisive in combat.
Ranged combat used essentially the same system, although with a different Advantage table (characters were more likely to be able to attack with a ranged weapon), there were penalties to hit based on the range to target, and there were different penalties for hitting specific body parts.
Wounds were descriptive, but there was a table that indicated specific effects of these wounds on a particular body part. For example, a minor wound to the leg would knock the defender down; a major wound to the leg meant the defender had fallen and would be unable to rise. Wounds also meant penalties to one's Advantage rolls, and these penalties were also subtracted from the character's Stamina score as a way of tracking cumulative damage. When Stamina reached zero, the character fell unconscious.
The penalties for wounds, and the changes of serious injury or death from a lucky blow meant that combat was something to be avoided if possible. The designers emphasized this by pointing out that most combats were not to the death, and at the end of the combat rules, the authors noted the penalties for murder, which is what it would likely be called if somebody died as a result of a street fight in Ardoth.
Healing in Jorune tended to be fairly slow, although the healing dysha or medical herbal compounds (limilates) could speed things up. Lucky players could find charged green crystals, or even the ultra rare medical earth tec, which could rapidly repair even severe body damage or replace lost limbs.
As a physical feature of the planet, isho deserves and needs a great deal of attention. The designers put considerable effort into modeling complex features to this part of the game. The rules and detailing were part of what made isho feel very different from most fantasy settings' magic.
Isho had seven different "colors," which might be considered energy frequencies. Each of these are linked to one of Jorune's seven moons, although the exact nature of that relationship was never described. The different colors of isho are useful for different purposes: for example, the red Desti isho is best suited for destruction, while the white Tra isho is best suited for the creation of warps across space.
The different races on Jorune have different degrees of sensitivity to isho, although all are influenced by it to some degree. Many life-forms, such as the shantha, do not have conventional vision, and rely instead on their ability to sense the isho-currents. Objects create ripples and patterns in the seven-colored isho flow, and these are distinct for different species. These patterns are referred to as one's signature. For those truly skilled at isho-perception, one can read signatures to not only know the species of a creature, but its current emotional state and the types of isho energies it is capable of manipulating.
The isho flow varies in different areas of the planet, with some areas, such as the Gloundan forest, having typically strong isho currents, and others, such as the Doben-al desert, being weak. The isho strength also varies over time, and people refer to the "isho weather" to describe whether the energies are building or waning. There are even isho-storms, where there are rapid changes in the ambient isho. Isho storms influence most creatures, with the relatively insensitive ones showing strong emotional effects, and the more sensitive beings need to release excess isho lest they be overwhelmed by the energies and literally burn up.
Given these features of the setting, it's no surprise that the isho rules tend to be complicated and frequently confusing.
Characters start with two isho-characteristics: Color and Isho. These characteristics were used to derive three further scores: Color rank, Moon skills, and Maximum Isho. Each of these were created by multiplying the relevant characteristic by a racial value. The character's Color rank was described as one's "purity of isho," while the Moon skills were described as one's ability to manipulate the isho. Players divided their Moon skill score among the seven different moons (each corresponding to a different color of isho): Shal, Ebba, Du, Gobey, Desti, Launtra, and Tra.
A properly trained individual could manipulate isho to "weave" it together into a pattern. With enough experience, one could weave an orb or bolt of energy and direct it toward a target, creating an effect when the orb or bolt made contact. These orbs and bolts were called dyshas. While some other creatures could learn to weave one or two different dyshas, only the muadra characters could take full advantage of this skill and learn many dyshas.
At character generation, the player of a muadra character would probably choose the Caji occupational template. A Caji is a muadra who is skilled at dysha use (not all muadras can or choose to learn dyshas). Caji characters start with a number of dyshas and isho skills; the player could spend her leftover skill points to either boost the ranks of her known dyshas, or to learn new dyshas at the familiar level. Dyshas require a minimum number of ranks in a variety of moons: for example, to learn the Healer dysha, the Caji character needs five ranks in Launtra, three ranks in Shal, one rank in Desti, and one in Tra. How one distributes Moon points into the seven moon skills is therefore very important, as it will limit one's choices in dyshas throughout the game.
Should a Caji character choose to release a dysha upon a target, she tries to roll under her skill rank for the dysha to successfully weave it. Isho points are expended to power the weave, and the dysha is assumed to automatically fly and strike the target, assuming he is within range. There are three defenses one can use against a dysha. Since you can see it form, and guess as to its effect based on its color (watch out for red dyshas!), the easiest defense is to dodge or duck into cover. For a Caji on the defense, he can attempt to unweave a hostile dysha. To unweave, the defending Caji must select one of his moon skills that has the same color as one in the dysha's weave (colors other than the primary one are detectable using isho senses), roll under his skill with that moon, and expend isho points equal to the difficulty level of the dysha. This takes a lot of guesswork, and clever Caji can disguise their offensive dyshas by weaving extra colors of isho into it to make their true colors undetectable. Unweaving is a difficult trick, but a success means the dysha has been nullified.
Non isho-wielders can attempt to reduce the effect by interference. Described as a "rapid vibration of one's isho," defenders get a number of attempts (Color characteristic score divided by three), rolling against their moon skill rank for each attempt. The moon skills chosen must, again, be part of the dysha's weave, which can be tricky since most beings that use interference have no isho senses to detect any color but the primary one. Each successful interference roll reduces the strength of the dysha. Thus, all characters, even those who cannot learn dyshas, must have isho characteristics in order determine unweaving abilities.
There are other isho skills beyond dysha weaving. Caji and boccord characters may choose a variety of isho-sensing skills. Muadra mainly get tra sense, the ability to read the signatures of those around them (and see what colors of isho are woven into a dysha). Boccord gain the ability to read signatures, and to disguise their own, so that to those using isho senses, a skilled boccord may appear as any other creature he wants, or even to be isho-invisible.
Learning new dyshas
As intricate as the experience rules were for conventional skills, learning new dyshas was even more detailed, requiring a combination of role playing and die rolling. First, the character needed to have sufficient ranks in each of the moon skills required for the new dysha. Second, the character needed to obtain the services of a teacher. (This was the role playing part.) Under the instructor's tutelage, the character would learn the rough basics of the dysha. The player would roll against his Color Characteristic, with a penalty based on the difficulty of the new dysha. A roll could only be made once a day, and required the expenditure of some isho points. A success meant the basics had been learned.
Once the character had learned the basics, he had to successfully perform a "first weave" of the dysha. The player would roll against each of the requisite Moon skills for the dysha, needing to eventually succeed at all of them. Each roll cost a number of Color points as well as isho points, and no recharging of either characteristic was permitted during the First Weave process. When the character succeeded at all of the Moon skill rolls before running out of color or isho points, the character knew the dysha at the familiar level, although there were bonuses to the skill rank if the player succeeded quickly (with relatively few die rolls). Characters were encouraged to stockpile isho-charged crystals and use their stored energies to pay for the First Weave die rolls.
In short, learning new dyshas was a lengthy and somewhat risky process that could leave a character drained. Wise characters stocked up on charged isho crystals in advance; less prepared characters needed to obtain charged crystals to restore their drained Color score. In either case, Caji characters would need a ready source of crystals to learn new dyshas.
When the third edition was published, complex game rules were the norm, and the third edition fit its time. While the basic mechanic of rolling under one's skill rank was simple enough, the special cases and modifiers made this system rather complicated, and the need to look up what a success meant for each level of skill would have slowed the game considerably.
Combat in particular would have been tricky. While the level of detail was admirable, and the Advantage system had definite points of interest, the number of die rolls needed to resolve an attack could be daunting, a prospect relieved by the tendency for combats to be short. We note that there was no provision for hit location tables for non-humanoid beings, and if players were to avoid combat in civilized settings, then fights with creatures in the wild would be more of the norm.
As detailed as the combat rules were, the array of options for isho use were even more intricate. Caji could perform all sorts of manipulations with dyshas, from boosting their strength to hiding their true colors to even making them invisible to the naked eye. A defending Caji trying to unweave an enemy dysha would be engaged in his own guessing game to detect these subterfuges and neutralize them. The prospect of multiple interference attempts by isho non-users made even a simple isho attack require a series of die rolls.
Even the experience system required planning and die rolling. With the benefit of hindsight, the rules were often intrusive and included more bells and whistles than the world really required. However, we appreciate the level of detail in the isho rules. While they are rather cumbersome, we appreciate seeing how complex the isho phenomenon is that the designers are trying to model, such as the multiple energies involved in dyshas, the strategies and deceptions in an isho-battle between rival Caji, and the abilities conveyed by tra sense and signature skills.
To make matters worse, the third edition was poorly edited, with key rules scattered throughout the book. By necessity, sholari had to construct their own summary sheets in order to be sure that all relevant rules were collected in a single place. While this was almost certainly due to deadline pressures for Skyrealms' staff to have their product ready for GenCon of that year, it is very sad that the final published version of the rules were so badly mangled.
Did the third edition work as a game? Museum staff have little direct experience. But people did use it, so it must have appealed to some. Did the book do a good job of showing off Jorune? We say "yes." The world is appealingly presented in this book, and it included not only all of the information from the second edition, but a great deal of the various second edition supplements as well. We believe this book fulfilled the promise of its first impression—this is a portrayal of a truly unique gaming setting.
We directly compare the second and third editions here.
This book is my Jorune. After having my interest piqued by the advertisements in Dragon magazine, I saw the book on the shelf at my local game store, and every time I was there, I flipped through it. While I loved the illustrations, something held me back from buying it for at least a couple of years. When I finally broke down and purchased it, I fell in love with the setting, and have never looked back.
Like many of my treasured games, I have only played Jorune rarely. By the time I bought it, I did not belong to a regular gaming group, and Jorune has always been a back-burner project. I used the third edition rules for a scenario at a convention once, and while I thought the scenario was successful, the rules confused me. I've since cobbled together my own Jorune rules using Over the Edge, and I'm pleased with them although I've not yet playtested the isho rules.
The third edition is the book I'm most likely to consult first when I need some Jorune information, and it still piques my interest in the world like no other item of my Jorune collection. For all that the book needs some serious editing to clean up the rules, I still use the third edition as a world sourcebook, and I would recommend it to anybody who has an interest in this setting.