Skyrealms of Jorune (1985)

I was recently asked on the Tumblr version of Vintage RPG what the weirdest RPG I’ve ever encountered was. My answer: Skyrealms of Jorune.

Created for a high school writing assignment by Andrew Leker, he then used it as the basis for a roleplaying game built off Metamorphosis Alpha (Gamma World’s forerunner) and self-published it in 1984. This is the better-looking 1985 box set. Leker supported the game with an aggressive ad campaign – if you’ve read an issue of Dragon Magazine from the 80s, I bet you’ve seen, and been intrigued by, those ads. It being the 80s, though, distribution was a prerequisite for success – I’m not sure Jorune was ever on a store shelf.

I (and I suspect the majority of roleplayers, even those that admire Jorune) have never played the game. I got my copy a few years ago (after getting a run of Dragon Magazines and finally succumbing to those ads) and the system is needlessly complex (the gamemaster notes explicitly focus on roleplaying rather than combat…but then why have elaborate combat rules?). Making matters more difficult, the rules use a lot of in-world language, which makes for great atmosphere but frustrating reading.

The basic idea is that Jorune was an alien world colonized by humans thousands of years ago. A cataclysm struck, reducing the technology level to a medieval level. High tech weapons can be found, as can alien “magic,” making for an intriguing mix of fantasy and science fiction.

What Skyrealms of Jorune succeeds at, better than any other RPG setting, is a relentless alienness. Where D&D is familiar, drawing on fantasy touchstones, everything is Jorune is strange. A lot of energy was spent making the various societies and cultures seem cohesive, yet unlike anything genre conventions have prepared us for. The best I can compare it to are the animated film Fantastic Planet and maybe Barlowe’s Inferno. It is that bizarre. And much of that is thanks to the fabulous work of illustrator and co-designer Miles Teves, whose realistic style gives Jorune verisimilitude.

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