Borderlands (1982)

When I post about RuneQuest and Glorantha, be prepared for me to ramble on about how brilliant the books are. The Borderlands campaign box set is no exception.

The premise is simple: an exiled duke is tasked with establishing a frontier settlement and civilizing the plains of Prax. He needs mercenaries to that. Enter the player characters. You can’t find a more generic hook than that.

The execution is something else entirely, though. Seven scenarios – missions for your mercenary group – tell the broad story of the development of Duke Raus’ domain over the course of about a year. Those seven adventures are full of daring rescues and plenty of dungeons, but they also wind up doing something special. They teach the players, naturally and organically, about the region of the world they are living in. Prax, has a rich and complicated history. By the end of Borderlands, players should have a working knowledge of it, along with a glimmer of the mysteries in the larger world of gods and empires, as they set off to Pavis for more adventure.

I can’t think of anything even remotely like Borderlands on the market in 1982. Certainly not something that accomplishes what it does so elegantly. D&D was still pumping out tournament modules – it would be five more years before Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms appeared. Even Griffin Mountain, a sandbox wilderness campaign released for RuneQuest the year before, doesn’t feel as well lived-in as Borderlands.

Other games have caught up over the years, but few seem quite as magical to me as Borderlands. Maybe that’s because RuneQuest was something I only knew of from rumor as a kid and is fresh and new for me as an adult. But for my money, the sum of RuneQuest’s Prax campaigns (Borderlands, Pavis and The Big Rubble for Chaosium’s RuneQuest and River of Cradles, Strangers in Prax, Shadows on the Borderlands and Sun County for Avalon Hill) make up one of the richest game settings ever to be created and possibly yet to be rivaled. We’ll get to all those, in time.

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