I’ve been meaning to give this book a cover to cover read for a very, very long time. Skyrealms of Jorune was one of those games I used to see on the shelves when I was young, and not really into tabletop role-playing games. The images would suck me in and hold my interest. The art is amazing. If it had nothing else going for it, the art is fantastic enough to make it notable. It’s no surprise that the artist, Miles Teves went on to a career in Hollywood. This 1992 edition (the only one I’ve ever got my hands on) is, from what I understand, kinda thrown together. It definitely feels that way.
While Jorune is a fantastic and exciting setting, it feels like this book is purposefully trying to keep you from getting invested in things. A lot of this has to do with layout. It begins with random bits of ‘in-world’ texts. Pages and pages of stuff written by characters who live in this world, using lots and lots of in-world jargon. There are times when whole sentences don’t mean anything, because all the key vocabulary is made up for Jorune. As a first time reader, you aren’t going to know what those words mean. There is a glossary in the back of the book. And later in the book, things are explained (sometimes over and over again). However, when you’re trying to get started, it feels like reading something in a language of which you have only a vague grasp.
The rules seem OK, though I’ve heard they’re a bit rough around the edges, due to a lack of pre-publication play-testing. The most jarring thing is that the rules seem so …standard. They reminded me of Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing, which is, don’t get me wrong, a great system. Yet, for a setting so unique and strange, it’s weird to have such an…ordinary system. I would expect something a bit more out there, like Everway (tarot cards instead of dice? Madness!) or something more story/character focused and less number crunchy. The latter part of the book has a lot of stuff that would have been more helpful in the early part of the book. There are good write-ups on the setting’s history, on important peoples and locations, etc. There’s advice on how to slowly introduce new people to the complicated and strange world (that would have been handy at the beginning of the book!). And there’s a ‘mini-campaign’ designed to introduce players to the world.
I think the game has everything you need, but it is not set up well at all. I firmly believe it’s worth the work to unpack. Jorune is a world filled with potential for great storytelling, adventure, and imagination. Skimming through this 20 years ago, fed into my brain stuff that came out in my own setting, Conquest of the Sphere. Lessons I’ve learned from reading this book will, I hope, let me introduce my setting to readers in a more successful way.
By the time I reached the end of the book, where the setting was presented in a much more logical and helpful way, I was definitely coming up with ideas for stories and characters. I would love to visit this world, either running a game or playing in one. Sadly, for now, I think it’s going to join a pile of other great games on my shelves. Some day. In the meantime, I’m glad to see some folks are out there, keeping the flame alight.