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RuneQuest Starter Set Design Diary #6: creating the Jonstown City Maps

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 27th Apr 2021

By Jason Durall, RuneQuest creative director

The Starter Set for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is coming! Between now and its release later this year, RuneQuest creative director Jason Durall's Design Diary will share insights about the development of this exciting new boxed set which will introduce the RuneQuest RPG and Greg Stafford's mythic world of Glorantha to all-new audiences.

Diary #1: What to expect in the RQ Starter Set
Diary #2: Cover Art reveal, and what's inside the box
Diary #3: The new adventurers
Diary #4: More about the new adventurers
Diary #5: Welcome to Jonstown, setting for the Starter Set (guest post by Jeff Richard)

This the second in a pair of guest posts from Jason's colleague and co-developer of the Starter Set Jeff Richard, Chaosium's guru for all things Gloranthan. Here Jeff shows how the Jonstown City maps were created, beginning with a rough sketch from Greg Stafford's Gloranthan archives.

Making the Jonstown Map

Olivier Sanfilippo, whose beautiful work you can see in the RuneQuest Core RulesGM Screen Pack, and other RQG releases, worked with us to create a rich and beautiful map of Jonstown. 

We started with a sketch from Greg: 

Greg Stafford's Sketch Map of Jonstown

From Greg's sketch, we worked out how many hectares the city covered and its population. I'm a big fan of imposing material restraints when developing a setting - how big is this place (and how does that compare to real world ancient cities)? How many people could live in a place of that size – again based on real world ancient cities? How do people live, eat, protect themselves, and so on. In short, how does this city WORK?

From there we sketched out its quarters, streets and markets, even temples.

Jonstown Quarters sketch map

Jonstown streets and markets sketch map

Jonstown Temples sketch map

Olivier took these crude sketches and made them beautiful! Here's the result, which we're delighted with:

Jonstown City Map by Olivier Sanfilippo

We then broke this map into neighborhoods, so you could get the effect of a City Travel Guide:

The Hinterland

But of course a city needs a surrounding hinterland to function – people to grow food, raise livestock, and so on. In Sartar, the cities are confederated with rural tribes; really petty kingdoms with their own history and politics, and rivalries. So I sketched out Northern Sartar and worked on the tribal boundaries to make sure it all worked together.

Jonstown Hinterlands sketch maps

Earlier this year we were fortunate to have acclaimed mapmaker Matt Ryan joined us as Chaosium's in-house cartographer. Matt had already been working with me on an amazing master map of Dragon Pass, so we zoomed in on the area around Jonstown and filled it with details.

Jonstown Area showing tribal boundaries

Some Unique Things About Jonstown

1. The Jonstown Library

In the RuneQuest Companion, the "Jonstown Compendium" served as a writer's device where snippets of lore created by Greg Stafford could be published without any accompanying "game information" - so little myths, kings lists, anecdotes etc. And with that the Jonstown Library was born – a sprawling temple-library to Lhankor Mhy built by the son of Sartar, with over 10,000 scrolls within.

I love the idea of this library being a great repository of knowledge in what is a largely illiterate rural society. Like Name of the Rose or Anathem or the Library of Babel, the idea of a great library filled with secrets greatly appeals to my sense of fantasy. 

*And of course on the basis it too is a wonderous assortment of Gloranthan treasure, we've named our community content program at DriveThruRPG as the Jonstown Compendium.

2. A place where tribes and city meet

Jonstown is where a half-dozen tribes meet to trade, worship the Orlanthi gods, and resolve disputes. Not all of them do so anymore – a pro-Lunar tribe seceded from the confederation, and the Telmori werewolves have turned their back on the tribes that hate them. But it is still an assembly place of many tribal groups.

Jonstown is also a place of merchants, crafters, healers, thieves, and scribes. You might have a session where the players need to discover lost lore from the Second Age, only to follow up with a monster terrorizing local farms. The scenarios in the Starter Set include a good cross-section of these to get things started, and the location of Jonstown makes it easy to continue from there.

This means there are lots of cults active in Jonstown and plenty of temples, even if you worship comparatively minor deities like Chalana Arroy, Yelmalio. Or even the Seven Mothers!

3. Baths!

In addition to libraries, crafters, and all that good stuff, there are also public baths in Jonstown! The largest of them is part of the Chalana Arroy temple complex: go to the bath, get your healing – clean body, healthy body! The players in my campaign make a beeline for the Chalana Arroy temple and its baths every time they come to Jonstown.

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