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This post will actually extend beyond just the communication skill of Art and cover the broader topic of art in Runequest. For me art is split across three aspects:

  •         Knowledge
  •         Production
  •         Aestheticism

Knowledge includes theory, history, analysis, identification.

Production is the ability to work with the medium and need not be limited to craft skills.  Artistic medium can include words (both the spoken word and written word), music and elements.  

Aestheticism covers the somewhat subjective and intangible essence of artwork. The part that stirs the emotions in people. I don’t propose to get into a big debate about what art is. Although I think it would make for interesting roleplay as two opposing schools compete for patronage of the local thane.

Where do the skills fit into all this:

Knowledge I cover with Art Lore (05).  With this skill the user understands current theories of art (for example perspective, colour composition, styles). They can identify origins and likely age of artwork. They can identify known professionals and forgeries from trademarks (be they literal or figurative).  They know about the collectability of certain art types. They can know the history of styles, mediums and individual pieces. They know personal information about famous artists. They can analyse artwork to understand (or makeup!) the intent and imagery and techniques used.

Production can use skills such as Craft (Masonry, Pottery, Painting, Tattooing, Weaving, Dressmaking, Jewel Cutting, Makeup, woodcarving, Dyeing, metalsmith, Calligraphy, Perfumery, etc etc), Play musical instruments, Sing, Dance, Speaking, Writing… 

The mediums of elemental runes also provide for interesting and resonant art for Runequest. Making art from air, fire, darkness and water would require ingenuity and affinity.  Streamers or airborne particles making artistry of the wind. Water features in gardens. Experiments in darkness, light and shade. Although on planet Earth fire performance is not historically linked to the bronze age there is no reason it couldn’t be in Glorantha (or is there?).

In the Rules as Written (RAW) Art skill covers the technical aspect.  I have shifted that out into Art Lore and the appropriate production skill.

For me, therefore, Art skill covers the aesthetic element.

When producing art the basic mechanism I use is this:

1.       Roll for production of the piece. 

You might augment with Art Lore if attempting a specific style or type of art that falls outside cultural norms or trying to forge / copy a particular artist.   With a success the piece is as intended. A statue of a horse looks like a statue of a horse. A painting of women collecting reeds in a marsh looks like women collecting reeds in a marsh.

2.       Roll for the artistry of it.

With an Art success the item also captures some aesthetic element that connects with the perceiver in a way that is greater than the sum of its parts.  That functional pot becomes a thing of beauty.  That horse statue inspires movement and freedom. The level of success dictates the level of emotional impact (and potentially value although the value of art is truly in the eye – or ear, nose -  of the beholder).

If neither roll succeeds the item is neither use nor ornament!



Master works are covered in Runequest Roleplaying in Glorantha (in the Craft skill section. Basically if you roll a critical) and Weapons and Equipment (if you don’t have this I strongly advise you get it – it’s so much more than just a bunch if weapons and equipment!)



The Use of Art in Play


Suitable pieces of art can:

·         be very valuable

·         provide bonuses to worship either through inspiration or sacrifice

·         provide bonuses to runic or passionate inspiration

·         give prestige and status to individuals or communities (e.g. temples)

·         raise CHA

·         help with other communication skills by creating an appropriate emotional response (e.g. insult someone or make them angry, make them feel proud, happy…)

·         can be used as funerary goods – again providing prestige to the memory of the deceased

  •          Provide game clues





Religious art is particularly relevant to the Bronze Age. Cult Lore or Worship can be used to augment the production and the appreciation/analysis of such pieces. Imagine writing songs of worship or painting and carving temple/tomb decorations. Holy vessels for sacrifices, ritual oils and such.  All with cult imagery and maybe even secret messages codified in.

Homeland Lore can be used to add geographical expertise or lack thereof particularly when analysing or identifying art.

Perceptions skills can be used as an augment - really sensing things, whether that be sight, hearing, taste, touch or smell. Any skill related to the subject matter can too. Art is what transforms it from something functional to something poetic and uplifting.

Evaluation of art might require an augmentation from either Art Lore or Art. Many an art duffer must have unwittingly sold a valuable piece for a fraction of its real worth.



Quality of materials will make a difference and artists will often develop their own and guard the secrets thereof (part of the relevant production skill). I would suggest no more than -25% to +25%.

If creating a representation of someone or something specific the familiarity with the subject will affect the outcome.  From completely ignorant (-75%) to having the subject available as a model for the entire production (+25%).

Experimental art: when playing around with new ideas of what is aesthetic I am inclined to force an augment (not inspiration, note) with the Movement rune affinity. Success does not mean everyone will get it though. Acceptance of “modern” art into mainstream art is probably beyond the scope of a Runequest campaign but if anyone wants to explore that further I am happy to do so.

Muses: Aside from the actual mythological idea of gods and goddesses (muses) who inspire the various arts I think it is also possible to have a real-world individual act as an artist’s muse. I see this working as a passion.



Adventure Seeds:

I wanted to write a scenario that made full use of one of the characters’ skill and interest in Art. Linking it to other campaign themes I wanted an art treasure that would be sought by dragonewts. I know that Dragonewts use obsidian a lot and after a two-minute internet search on “obsidian used in art” I had found obsidian mirrors as a candidate. These have, amongst other things, links to ritual and magic including scrying and in dealing with spirits.  See how quickly that initial art theme spread into something with great Runequest potential?

Provide treasure or trading goods that are pieces of art that would fetch the best value from a specific sort of collector. Knowing that it is even collectable requires Art Lore. The best buyer might be someone hostile to the characters.

An art treasure or painting or whatever has been damaged just through being so old or however. Repair as a spell is not enough to fix it – to restore its mythic powers it must be repaired using Art and the associated craft.

Art could hold clues to all manner of adventuring enigmas from hidden treasure, lost lore, Heroquest pointers, magical properties, ancient codes or celestial movements.  Interpreting the clue would require Art (or Art Lore) skill success. And perhaps there is some danger associated with the clue which would only be uncovered with a special or critical. Sure the opening to the Underworld is identified in a symbolic map on an intricate blanket but they failed to notice the clue about the monsters guarding it….

Creating, trading or gifting artworks can build relationships and lead to patronage and rivalry. And of course the greedy and jealous will covet great art work and commission thievery or sabotage.

With an increasing reputation an artist will be sought out by influential and wealthy people to commission the production or acquisition of important pieces.  They might equally be sought out by wannabe apprentices. They might be criticised and dismissed by rivals. They might be subjected to art heists or religious zealots who disagree with their mythological artistic interpretations.

An artist is experimenting with some new styles of art and causing quite a stir.  Those with high Stasis Affinity condemn and criticise. Those more forward-thinking Movement types give it more of a chance. Does it divide the community?

It’s a bit cliched as a trope but the gathering of special materials for the artwork can always involve some challenge and maybe even danger. I’ve had characters scaling cliffs and being eaten by cliff toads in order to get some especially pure materials for body paints to be used in an earth ritual.  The expensive purple dye used by the Romans came from certain snails. Perhaps in Glorantha there is a pigment that only comes from dragonsnails? Of course, purging it of chaos might not be worth it – but what if it was? What if someone industrious and imaginative could productionise that?

I note that in one of the Jonstown Compendium Pavis books (which I have not got round to buying yet…) there is an adventure set around an art gallery. I imagine Art (and Art Lore) could feature in that.

All manner of intrigue and drama can revolve around an artist’s muse.  They go missing. They might betray or steal from the artist. They might become possessed by some spirit that suppresses or antagonises their arty emanation.



Even if you use Art to cover everything as the RAW I think it is safe to say that there is a lot of opportunity to bring this skill into play in a meaningful and fun way.

Edited by glarkhag


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