Old School Review: Skyrealms of Jorune
I was going through my old game collection when I came upon a game from the mid-1980s called ‘Sky Realms of Jorune’. I remember this rpg fondly. Back in 1985, I saw advertisements for the game in Dragon magazine, I then saw the box set at my FLGS with the illustration shown to the left. I purchased it that day.
The game had a lot going for it. The artwork was all done by Miles Teves who is currently a major Hollywood concept artist (www.milesteves.com). Up to that point, I don’t believe there was another game that had better art. Teves’ illustrations really brought Jorune to life. Also, the game setting was unique and very detailed. It even had it’s own vocabulary (though this may also have been a detriment, see below).
Skyrealms of Jorune had a “Sword and Planet” type setting. Humans had settled the planet Jorune 3500 years prior and had encountered a number of alien races including the Shanthas, who we were native to the planet and dominated most of the world. At first, the human settlers lived in peace with the other races on Jorune, but an apocalyptic war on Earth changed all that. Humans began infringing on Shantha territory in search of resources which precipitated a war. While the humans considered Shanthas to be primitive, the Shanthas were the masters of isho, the ambient radiation or energy that was produced by the planet Jorune’s crystalline core. The Shanthas were able to manipulate and use Isho to devastating effect. Both races engaged in a genocidal war that knocked the survivors back to a primitive state.
The game takes place 3500 years after the Shantha War. Humans have rebounded, creating a civilization that is fairly close to the Renaissance in technological and cultural development. There are a number of races that inhabit Jorune including human offshoots known as Boccord (think ‘half-giants’) and Muadra (smaller but can wield isho). There are also the Iscin races, these were Terran animals that had been ‘uplifted’ to sentience by a xeno-biologist named Iscin shortly after the Shantha War. This was done by Iscin so that the animals could both survive on a hostile world and carry on humanity’s cultural legacy. Other intelligent beings were found on Jorune when humans arrived: besides the aforementioned shanthas (who are not necessarily hostile), there are the thriddle (small beings with eyestalks known for their intellects and language mastery), the cleash (hostile insectoids banished to the far north by the Shanthas millenia before), and the ramians (tall, skinny stoics covered in exoskeleton, often hostile). And these are just the primary races! Jorune has a number of mysteries and backstories, and these different races are deeply involved in them. Most of these races are playable as characters, but humans have one big advantage over all of them – ancient Earth-tech only works when wielded by human hands. So if a blaster is found by a party, only the humans in the party can use it.
Characters normally started out in the main human realm of Burdoth. Their goal is to become a Drenn (citizen). To become a citizen, one must get a current citizen to add their mark to your challisk; in otherwords, you had to do something for a citizen so that they would sponsor you. Enough sponsors and you would become a citizen. Obviously, this created a good excuse for players to go on adventures. Jorune provides a good basis for many types of adventures: exploring sky realms, seeking out lost Earth tech, learning how to manipulate isho (Jorune’s version of casting spells), finding out what the other races were up to, investigating shanthic ruins, etc.
After reading the rules and background, I had my gaming group roll up characters and we proceeded to play 2 or 3 sessions. I remember liking it, but I also remember there were issues with both the setting and the rules. Our interest waned and we went back to D&D.
So what were the issues? The first and lesser issue revolved around the use of language. Jorune had it’s own vocabulary, often using setting terms in place of standard gaming terms. For example, in the game the gamemaster was called a Sholari, while players were referred to as Tauther. You see this throughout the game. In my experience, a little of this goes a long way towards helping players get immersed into a setting but if you use it too much your players don’t get immersed; instead, they feel like ‘fish out of water’.
The second, bigger problem was the rules for the game. They were needlessly complex. Take combat for example, it involved a lot of dice rolling. 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. He would then roll 2d6 on the hit location table, and 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. Not only was this overly complicated, combat itself was pretty deadly. It’s fine if a game wants to discourage combat, but when your setting emphasizes blasters, nasty aliens, and powerful offensive powers (dyshas – essentially spells using isho) combat seems an inevitable part of the game. Using ishowas even more complicated…
A third edition was licensed and published in 1992 by game distributor Chessex. This version was supposed to streamline the rules. I own this edition as well, though I’ve never played it. Looking through the book I notice there are charts for combat, something most rpgs had gotten away from by 1992. There are certainly still issues around language. While I’m tempted to give this edition a playtest, I have read that these rules were rushed into production and basically never playtested; hence, they are supposed to be a mess! Chessex put out some supplements after which the license was pulled.
In 1994, a PC version of the setting called ‘Alien Logic’ was released, but it didn’t do very well. Since several parties were involved in the PC version of the game, the rights to Jorune became murky. As a result, the game appears to be dead, which is a shame. That said, there does appear to be some fan conversions online, including a Savage Worlds version which appears to be complete. If you are interested in Jorune, you might want to pick up an old edition of the game and maybe try a rules conversion. There’s a lot to like.