Down to Apple Lane We Go – A Review of Apple Lane [RuneQuest]

Apple Lane

Author: Greg Stafford
Publisher: Chaosium [1980]
Page Count: 32
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $3.99
2020 Print on Demand – $9.99
Original Print – Varies on Collector Market

Apple Lane is and has always been the “go-to” introductory module for the RuneQuest roleplaying game. The earliest versions feature two complete scenarios, “Gringle’s Pawnshop” and “The Rainbow Mounds,” and a mini-scenario, “Tribal Invitation.” All three are designed for new players and Gamemasters. The mini-scenario is specifically designed to introduce fantasy roleplaying to new players via an intriguing adulthood ritual. Upon the conclusion of the first scenario—”Gringle’s Pawnshop”—Apple Lane becomes their de facto base of operations for the second scenario—”The Rainbow Mounds”— and what will likely develop into an ongoing campaign.

I have played many different games over the last thirty-five years, and it was only recently that I got the chance to play RuneQuest—that foray included Apple Lane. I recently purchased the 1980 printing of Apple Lane, which has allowed me to review this iconic publication. Before I begin, let’s explore the history of this perennial RuneQuest introductory module.

The Publication History of Apple Lane

Apple Lane was first published in 1978 as a 42-page saddle-stitched book, billed as a scenario 2-pack, and was the second published adventure for RuneQuest. It was well-received, and a second printing was released in 1980, part of the RuneQuest 2nd edition boxset. This 32-pages  version has a white cover with the Chaosium logo in the upper right corner. RuneQuest was also published under license in the United Kingdom by Games Workshop. Their second printing version had a yellow cover and a differing logo in the upper right corner.

The Avalon Hill Game Company acquired the RuneQuest trademark in 1984, releasing RuneQuest 3rd edition. In 1987 they released the third printing of Apple Lan—an upgrade over earlier printings. It had grown to 40 pages and included a full-color cover, redrawn maps, new art, and a pullout reference section. This edition was translated into Finnish (1988), French (1989), and German (1993).

In 2009, Return to Apple Lane was published for HeroQuest 2nd edition. This free PDF module advanced the timeline by a few years, added new non-player characters, but retained the original 1978 art and maps. However, the scenarios “Tribal Initiation” and “The Rainbow Mounds” were omitted. Return to Apple Lane was later included in the Sartar Companion and again released as a free PDF demo scenario in 2011. The 2011 PDF is identical to the Sartar Companion version, including the Companion’s page numbers; they simply added cover, title, and credits pages.

Chaosium, in 2016, successfully Kickstarts their RuneQuest Classic Edition,” which included a re-issue of the original Apple Lane in both print and PDF. In 2019, they also included Apple Lane in what was then the new RuneQuest Glorantha Gamemaster Screen Pack adventure book—also available digitally—as “Defending Apple Lane.” Again, the timeline was advanced a few years to 1625 and still omitted the scenarios “Tribal Initiation” and “The Rainbow Mounds.” As with all RuneQuest Glorantha products, Apple Lane was given the new “Chaosium graphic treatment” with full-color art and a beautiful layout, in keeping with the rest of the new product line.

Finally, In 2020, Chaosium releases a Print on Demand version of the “Classic Edition” of Apple Lane, which is now available through their website. Some believe they may have re-issued the PDF in 2020, but there is no evidence to support that.

Apple Lane (1980 Version)

Apple Lane is neither large nor strategically significant. It’s a gathering of buildings, representing a typical borderland village—the closest large city is a several-day ride—comprising of a few buildings and outlying farms. Although of little importance, Apple Lane is a stopping point on the trade road where traders and travelers are more than happy to visit.

Visitors to Apple Lane find the hamlet idyllically located. It’s surrounded by apple orchards, from which it gets its name. The few buildings in the village center provide residents and travelers alike with some of the creature comforts of the larger cities—Tin Inn, several guilds, two temples, a smithy, and a pawnshop, to name a few. Some buildings are reinforced more than others to withstand the occasional skirmish. However, what makes Apple Lane interesting is its cast of non-player characters, who give the village life and personality and replacement characters should the need arise.

Apple Lane is like many of the early towns and villages we see in Dungeons & Dragons modules of this era. They are small, may or may not be on the frontier, more focused on serving as a base of operations, and usually have a host of interesting non-player characters. As mentioned above, three adventures appeared in this publication, “Tribal Initiation,” “Gringle’s Pawn Shop,” and “The Rainbow Mounds.”

Tribal Initiation

In this introductory adventure, youths, also called “not-adults”, are expected to prove themselves to their elders, who do not tolerate “armed” children running amok. The characters must pass a test to make the transition from non-adult to full-fledged adult. This test is one they have been training and preparing for, both physically and mentally. It is designed to ensure they know how to handle their weapons, possess a modicum of skill to remain alive, and bring credit upon their tribe, clan, and family. Each spring, herdspeople gather in Apple Lane for this annual rite of passage into adulthood. A ceremonial bonfire is lit, and non-adults take up arms against one another to test their mettle.

Gringle’s Pawn Shop

In “Gringle’s Pawn Shop,” its proprietor and namesake, Gringle, has a problem. A few days earlier, he took in a collection of exotic goods from an adventurer. Part of this collection included an item said to belong to a band of Baboons who fought ferociously to retain said item but obviously lost it as it is now in the hands of Gringle. The Baboons have tracked it to Gringle’s Pawnshop and have demanded their item back—the conversation didn’t go well.

Through divination, Gringle has determined when the enraged Baboons’ will return. In anticipation, he assembled a few heroes to help protect his pawnshop while he and Quackjohn, his manservant, attend to ritual obligations.

This scenario is a simple “castle defense” situation, whereby the characters hide the object and protect it throughout the night. Serving as an introduction to RuneQuest and possibly their first combat situation allows the players to explore a range of defensive and offensive options, including any magic available to them. If the Baboons successfully reclaim the object, the characters have failed but learned some valuable lessons. However, if they successfully beat back the Baboons, not only do they learn valuable lessons, but there are monetary rewards to be had—and reputation!

The Rainbow Mounds

A band of thieving trollkin has established a hideout in a nearby set of limestone caves. From there, they are wreaking havoc on the Apple Lane area. Instead of snatching the usual chickens and cows that have wandered off, this band of trollkin has attempted to carry off a farmer’s child, set a farmhouse ablaze in the small hours of the night, and stripped another of its possessions, killing an elderly woman in the process.

The sheriff of Apple Lane, following a hunch, performed divination and learned that Whiteye, a dark troll with a bad reputation, was in the area, instigating his trollkin followers. With this information, the sheriff raised a reward from the local farmers and assembles a posse to deal with Whiteye and his followers.

The Rainbow Mounds are a day’s ride from Apple Lane and are so named for the color-changing limestone within. While the posse, the characters, rides off to deal with Whiteye, the sheriff keeps a small force in the event of the posse’s failure and retaliation from Whiteye.

This scenario provides the players, via their characters, quite a few ways to further learn and explore the rules in an incremental manner. While at the same time dealing with a number of new challenges.

  • Underground explorations in a moderately sizable cave complex seeking out Whiteye and his trolling followers, where the darkness is pervasive. Tips are provided for torch and lantern use in and out of combat.
  • Natural and manmade obstacles will challenge their skills as they move about.
  • A variety of animals and creatures will challenge how they think about these encounters.
  • They may get the chance to encounter the Newtlings, a race native to the Dragon Pass. This encounter creates further roleplaying opportunities depending on their reaction and that of the Newtlings.

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this 1980 version of the Apple Lane, which also applies to the earlier 1978 version. First and foremost, this version of Apple Lane is a product of its time. It’s smacks of gender bias, which was not uncommon in most gaming products of their era. This is evident in the statement, “It will be clear from the reading that most of the women are all but useless in melee, though some of their magic could help.” Comparing the 1980 version to the newest RuneQuest Glorantha version from the Gamemaster Pack, no bias exists. In fact, women feature quite prominently in Apple Lane.

As far as the scenarios go, I have played this original version of “Gringle’s Pawnshop.” It’s fun, but for us, it was a brutal reminder of how difficult castle defenses can be and how, if the dice roll poorly, combat can drag on under the latest edition of the rules. “The Rainbow Mounds” seems like an interesting scenario that would allow new players to flex their muscles a little and further learn the original rules. However, some elements become obsolete in later editions of the rules or as the lore evolves, likely leading to its removal from future printings. Finally, the “Tribal Initiation” is boring at best. It’s simply a way for players to get a chance to experience combat before the game properly begins.

If you’re a collector or someone wanting to explore these early scenarios, I recommend picking up one of these older versions or reprints. However, if you intend to do so, keep in mind that this is a product of its time, and some of the material may not fit with your game.

~ Modoc

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