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Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Character Creation as Play

I'm contemplating a game of Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. The core book alone is vast, a whole geography of world and system, and I have never played in Glorantha before.

I sat down to try character creation. It took me two sessions, over two nights. I was surprised by how intense and rewarding I found the process. The art in the book does an incredible job of communicating the wonder, strangeness and brutality of Glorantha—I'd tell prospective players to spend more time staring at the illustrations than studying the setting descriptions.

I thought I'd write about the 'lonely fun' of character creation as an actual play report.

Family History

I decided to go with the default Homeland of Sartar. RQG uses an event-driven system to generate a family history and knit your character into the history of the setting. You choose an influential grandparent and parent.

For my grandparent, I rolled "Philosopher" on the D20 table, and an older, somewhat absent-minded man emerged in my imagination. For my parent, I rolled "Farmer"—my mother, probably growing up on the ancestral farm, her father around for summer and harvests, away at court for the winter.

Looking at the map, I chose the town of Man Vill for the family farm—close enough to Boldhome to make the seasonal journey, far enough for the children to grow up separate from the intrigues of court.

For the first event (1582), the dice reveal my grandfather "died with great glory defending the king and queen." I imagine an older, peaceful man cut down trying to defend his queen, putting into practice the philosophy of selflessness he'd espoused his whole life. This event granted my character an Honor Passion and Loyalty to the Feathered Horse Queen, plus a slight reputation bump. 

The next event (1597) sees my 15-year-old mother, driven by grief and the fire of youthful patriotism, fighting the Lunars in the Holy Country and surviving. The early death of her father probably explains why, at the end of the character creation process, my character still cannot read. Five years later she is still with the army, witnessing the Lunar victories of the Boldhome campaign, surviving even as her companions' souls are devoured by Lunar demons. 

She survives the interim years (1603-1604). I decide she marries, possibly a fellow soldier, but swiftly loses her husband to starvation caused by widespread scarcity and feuding Orlanthi holding their resources close. This is the year of my adventurer's birth. My mother dies soon after in 1605, of illness exacerbated by hunger. With both my parents gone, it is time to start rolling for my adventurer.

Adventurer Creation

Continuing to tap the powers of chaos, I rolled for my character's profession ("Healer") and by 1622 she is following in her mother's footsteps, taking part in the Battle of the Auroch Hills. She witnesses the lost gods Orlanth and Ernalda rise, and she receives a random Boon—another Rune point for later in the character creation process process.

I decide I have a vision of Ernalda. Nothing that would elect me as a special representative for the god, but a personal (perhaps almost Calvinist?) experience that would leave me with personal devotion.

While writing up this report I finally settle on a name for this character: Dwura.

In 1625, I am present at the Dragonrise. I see the Lunar royalty and magi consumed at the moment of their greatest triumph, the hierarchy I and my mother and my grandfather have struggled against for generations erased in the space of a prayer ceremony. This experience does not leave me with a feeling of triumph, but one of fear. From now on, the thought of dragons fills me with Terror.

Because I know I want my starting cult to be Ernalda, I select Earth, Fire, and Air as my Elemental affinities, and Harmony and Fertility as my Power affinities. Between profession, cult and personal skill bonuses, I have high scores in Heortling Customs (65%), First Aid (80%), Plant Lore (80%), and Treat Disease (65%). From the Cult of Ernalda, I learn the Rune magics Heal Body, Inviolable, Summon Household Guardian, and Bless Pregnancy.

I imagine the secret cult power to "Bless Pregnancy" was a key logistical asset to the army, allowing our female warriors to continue fighting even after they conceive. 

Observations

One aspect I noticed about this process is that, while it left me with a character with connections to the geography, culture and history of Sartar, it did not leave me with relationships to individuals in a particular community. This is not a knock on the design, which I found incredibly engaging. It is doubtless exponentially more engaging when done as a group.

My sense is that the system built to give each player a manageable chunk of the setting they can immediately actualize through their character, while leaving the specifics of R-maps and communal crises up to each group.

I think Champions Now's idea of giving your character sheet to the GM like a gift would work really effectively in RQG. Dwura has so many potential threads connecting her to particular individuals and communities.

As a healer, she will be instantly drawn into the politics of any violent conflicts and feuds in the community. With her background in Farming and Plant Lore, she has the skills to make sure her people are healthy and fed. Does she have tension with her religious leaders because she has had more first-hand experience with the gods, the dragons and the other primal powers of Glorantha than they?

One fascinating thing I notice about this character is that, even though Dwura has lost her childhood to war, she does not have a Passion of hatred toward the Lunars. When she lost her parents, it was to hunger and disease, not battle.

Lunar colonists have probably been migrating to Sartar at least since the 1580s. And many are doubtless still there. As someone without hatred, driven by the Harmony Rune and equipped with skills like Farming and Plant Lore, will she find herself standing between the marginalized Lunar colonists and the now-resurgent (doubtless jingoistic) Free Sartar? How would this interact with another PC who survived the trauma of generational conflict with a different set of values? 

This is a question I'd want to gift the GM along with the sheet. The core crisis of the new game, for the Sartarites at least, seems to be "What will you do now you have your freedom?" Dwura is a character I would love to use to imagine my answer to that question.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

I think character creation for RQG is brilliant and maybe the best part of the newest version of the game. It comes with the downside that your character may not live in real time, as many minutes as it took you to make them. This is not new to RQ nor rpgs in general, but it is something to be noted. 

One of the excellent parts of the char gen process is that it creates a common language among the players. The events build up a history that can be compared and contrasted, often creating potential conflicts. Dwura might not feel the same as her countrymen about Lunars, but how a Lunar character feels about Dwura could reinforce or reverse that. 

noah_t's picture

Ha, I guess that's why the book goes to such great lengths to explain combat as a last resort, or at least as something to not enter lightly. All the professions have the potential for rich play outside of their more violent adventures. I'd love to see Dwura as a focus character, having to deal with the long-term fallout of raids, feuds and delves, while not directly participating in them. Or seeing what kind of Heroquests less militaristic individuals embark on.

I didn't even think about how the process creates a common language among players! Yes, I guess the system ensures that everyone shares some common experiences. And I imagine this primes the pump for R-maps and political differences later on.

I'm not sure if you've had the chance to play the new edition, but one thing I'm interested in seeing is how characters express the same Passions in different ways. A PC driven by Hatred of the Lunars might embody a more sinister and ruinous Loyalty to Sartar than Dwura, but that Loyalty will nonetheless fuel them through conflicts just as strongly as hers. And if they're both calling on that Passion in a head-to-head conflict, they both become representatives of something larger than themselves.

Sean_RDP's picture

The little bit I have run has been con games and short one shot stuff, so no one got too deeply into those passions. I would be interested in how the played out, especially with folks who are not already versed in Glorantha. An organic response if you will to those potential conficts. 

noah_t's picture

I'll post more if I get a game off the ground! I'm also really interested to see how players who don't know Glorantha make their mark on the setting. I think the new edition gives them a lot of tools to make it their own.

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