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Presentation: Why Glorantha (and its games)

I've finally realized how regularly people ask me to explain RuneQuest, HeroQuest, the Chaosium, and Glorantha, specifically because they've bounced hard off the apparently extensive setting and apprently impenetrably insider-oriented fanbase. It's usually private, and they often present the question as if it's their last fatigued try at finding out what "there" is there.

After the latest event of this kind, I tried out some written work at the Patreon, then combined the result with some other material I had lying around from a past game. Then I asked some Chaosium people to look it over, re-wrote it, and then went to the social media haunts of people who say "Dagori Inkarth" or "Lhankor Mhy" as if that were normal, to get responses there.

The written version is attached and I kind of like it, although perhaps just a bit more sanding and slicing can reduce its length. Given permission for a little art, I might even put it out as a fan-love download. Since sanding&slicing can only do so much, I decided to try for a less-detailed but on-point video presentation too, for which the document would serve as the "full" version.

The video is still pretty rough, and I think of it as a work in progress for some later refinement, much like the Phenomenology presentation. Toward that end, I'd appreciate responses from people who fit the target audience: the "Glorantha-RQ-HQ curious," who may have been put off in the past by the apparent volume and detail, or by all-too-expert internet venues.

Gloranthaphile feedback is only partly welcome. Since the document has already been combed over by those same experts, I can assure you that I've "forgotten to include" nothing; if it's not in there, then I don't want it to be. What I'd love from this zone, though, is to see more accounts of play.

 

Department: 
Seminar
Attachments: 
PDF icon why glorantha.pdf

Comments

Love it Ron! I wrote an article in the latest edition of Escalation! fanszine more or less trying to break down the essentials of how to "get" Glorantha for beginners. It hits on a lot of the same points you do. I added that diversity and contradictions in the setting is a feature and not a bug. It gives you creative license to be different from published material and other player groups because; "Hey! It even contradicts itself!" I'll share a link to that article if anyone wants to read it.

/ulf

Page 61-66; The Severance - Escalation! Issue 7 - The Divine

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm not surprised we worked on this topic more or less simultaneously, because for me, it comes directly from our conversation about "today's Glorantha" on my back porch during your visit. You may recall that I was trying hard to ask, say, or understand something, and not succeeding very well.

In retrospect, I was wondering whether Glorantha is past its time. Not whether it's good or valid or meaningful today, but rather, whether it has any useful pull for role-players who aren't already familiar with it or who don't have personal reasons to care about any aspect of its system, setting, or publishing history. Maybe all of our aging-fanboy effort to "spread the word" is merely generational, and a little pathetic. Maybe Glorantha was a hump in role-playing-history, but we are now on the downslope, and there's no point grabbing younger people and trying to pull them backwards in time, up the slope to wherever one of us thinks the top of the hump is. Maybe even publications like the modern RQ, the modern HQ, Mythras, and 13th Age: Glorantha are nothing but pathetic nostalgia (old guys trying to be relevant by rewriting stuff written by an older guy) and ultimately rather cynical branding (pumping hot gas into a trademark). Maybe we should accept reality and let younger people create their own magnificent fantasy in their own way, and let the hobby activity do its own growing & developing, rather than trying to control it with our various personal claims to super-fan status for this particular thing.

So you and I apparently have been providing our answers or positions about that - which is good, because at the time of that conversation, I was feeling a little bit down about it.

Hmmm... a lot of different impressions flying around in my head that I need to try to structure here. I'm going to fail misserable but bare with me.

  • Are we just old and nostalgic and none of this is relevant anymore? 

I don't think so... I mean we are old and nostalgic, for sure but there is a quality to Glorantha that is still to this day, rare, and precious IMO. It is raw, naked and sexual without being sexist. It is tribal, colourful and ethnic without being racis. It treats all it's myth religions and cultures with respect even when some of them are percieved to be "bad". It celebrates diversity and the individuals right to break traditional bonds on the same pages as it talks about age old traditions and why they are the way they are. It is morally flexible in a lot of areas but rock hard when it comes to pure chaos. It mirrors us humans in a way that no other game to date (that I know of) has done.

I will take it one step further. I think in todays world where oposite extremes get more and more agitated with the existance of "the other"... maybe a game like this is even more important than ever? All the kids nowadays who mess around with their pronouns and gender identities, would proably find Glorantha SUPER welcoming and accomodating! In a way that leaves DnD tropes in the dust 20 years back.

I don't know if I managed to unpack that in a good way... there's more but I have to think a bit. :)

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

I agree! Your points may also be why I am now much more interested in playing Black Horse County, or perhaps a game set entirely among the inhabitants of (not visitors to) Alkoth, than the classic "good tribal guys fighting bad imperials."

Ross's picture

...so here are my thoughts on this. 

Section one is and understandable and obviously necessary overview but, and I can belive I'm writing this, maybe it could use a bit of detail about what and why people want to argue on the Internet and are driven to create new editions. I mean, I realise "gamers (eyeroll)"is probably the answer but it would be good to understand if there's something more going on. For example arguing about strap types on lunar armour based on pictures in a 30 year out of print source book would be different to arguing that culture x must be matrimonial because that's going to be so much fun as they rub against culture y and cults z and x and will help make actual play "better".

This links to my question about part 2, which also relates to your discussion with Ulf, which is basically "why this setting"?  Specifically what does it bring that I wouldn't get binging on Tanith Lee and then filling note books while listening to prog rock? I get that it's "proper" fantasy - as opposed to pink slime - but what is the Glorantha specific grit that needs chewing in play and ends up producing pearls? I realise this is maybe difficult to answer without being too prescriptive for newbies.

Final point, and also I realise a bit outside what you set out to do, but if I was thinking of setting up a game, as opposed to showing up at somebody elses table, what are good entry points, rather than trying to drink down all of Glorantha in a single go? And related,  what are good ways to intro players to the content - though I guess that's really the same question we've been talking about re. your non-Glorantha RQ game.

Hope these don't seem too critical / confrontational, I did find both the videos and the document really interesting.

 

Sean_RDP's picture

Final point, and also I realise a bit outside what you set out to do, but if I was thinking of setting up a game, as opposed to showing up at somebody elses table, what are good entry points, rather than trying to drink down all of Glorantha in a single go? And related,  what are good ways to intro players to the content - though I guess that's really the same question we've been talking about re. your non-Glorantha RQ game.

I don't know how others feel, but regardless of whether your interest lies in RQ, HQ, or 13A, I would suggest starting in Apple Lane.

Apple Lane is a fun set of adventures in a town called Apple Lane. The reason I recommend this for new people is that it is a light introduction into Glorantha. There is an interesting cult, Uleria, that is an introduction to how diverse cults can be. There is one adventure that introduces some of the creatures as allies and antogonists. And there is a bit of a more traditional that deals with a local troll that reveals how different trolls in Glorantha are. 

When bringing in players from other fantasy systems and worlds, it eases them into the differences in expectations. For completely new players, it eases them into what Glorantha can be. From Apple Lane you can tackle the more hard core Glorantha adventures or the HQ books or whatever 13A is doing. 

Ron Edwards's picture

maybe it could use a bit of detail about what and why people want to argue on the Internet and are driven to create new editions

Eeeeeeyaaghhhhh!

I aimed hard at the concept of non-linear editions, in the "spray" concept ... but also, I think the big culprit here is licensing. Technically, the original (counting nominal 2nd ed) was the only version ever made by the Chaosium proper. Everything else, officially published or not, is just fan-love or an outsourced assignment. I guess one could even say there are no editions of RuneQuest, just the original and a lot of user-base opinions.

Final point, and also I realise a bit outside what you set out to do, but if I was thinking of setting up a game, as opposed to showing up at somebody elses table, what are good entry points, rather than trying to drink down all of Glorantha in a single go? And related,  what are good ways to intro players to the content - though I guess that's really the same question we've been talking about re. your non-Glorantha RQ game.

Very common question! And always a good question. My advice is to make it simple. Start by taking stock of your group. Are they classic dnd types that usually play straight dungeon-delving? Or do they prefer/lean more towards PbtA type-games where your draw relationship charts etc before and during play? This will give you an idea on where to start.

If they like the second version here, I would start super small, by defining their clan and important people there. This should be done a group activity so that everyone has a say and can suggest ideas. And you (having read more than them, maybe) can guide them and make suggestions. Once you have some rough idea about what this clan is about and where they are located you can start to come up with trouble that threatens it, and presto! you have a game.

If they like more straight lines you can simple have the chief send them away on a mission... The Dark Tower in the in the center of the Uppland Marsh has been showing up in the visions of the clan Godtalker lately, something is brewing there. Get a Duck to guide you and go there to investigate!

And you can of course mix and match these as you go along.

In both cases I would focus on ONE culture, Sartarite Heortlings, ONE clan and preferable ONE place (on or close to the Clan Thula), and only a few CULTS... Orlanth, Ernalda and Humakt. Just to narrow down the cognitive load. Once these things become familiar to all of you, you can branch out.

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

Hey Ross, I realized I hadn't given your questions a fair shake and finally got back to this.

... it would be good to understand if there's something more going on. For example arguing about strap types on lunar armour based on pictures in a 30 year out of print source book would be different to arguing that culture x must be matrimonial because that's going to be so much fun as they rub against culture y and cults z and x and will help make actual play "better".

The most cynical answer is that a great deal of present-day Glorantha fanwank-and-rage was formed by and ultimately dominated by people who were jockeying for inclusion in the property as IP, for which “canon” is a stand-in and rather deceptive term. Therefore it became less about play and more about naked power and demonstrable social status, which again, in those specific period terms, meant controlling the narrative via internet-specific interations. Arguing about “what’s right” didn’t have much to do with playing the game for fun, or aesthetic preferences about the setting, but instead meant using those topics as a cover.

... "why this setting"?  Specifically what does it bring that I wouldn't get binging on Tanith Lee and then filling note books while listening to prog rock? I get that it's "proper" fantasy - as opposed to pink slime - but what is the Glorantha specific grit that needs chewing in play and ends up producing pearls?

One pessimistic view would be that today’s fantasy hobby culture has no idea how to binge on Tanith Lee (or any suitable author) and fill notebooks while listening to prog rock (or any suitable music), meaning, how to do those things so that you are driven to create a genuinely trippy-and-meaningful fantasy through play. Therefore it’s reasonable to suggest that Glorantha is one of the best we have so we might as well use it as the teaching model instead of trying to force people through a time-travel reboot to do it from scratch.

But accepting for the moment that perhaps that’s wrong, and that anyone of whatever age and generation could do it, then your question is pretty strong: why is Glorantha itself a good example of doing this? Since my own enjoyment of it is embedded precisely in the geography and era of its creation, I’m probably not able to answer.

... if I was thinking of setting up a game, as opposed to showing up at somebody elses table, what are good entry points, rather than trying to drink down all of Glorantha in a single go?

I agree with Ulf’s reply above and also refer back to my 2011 essay Setting and emergent story – briefly, that you don’t “learn the setting” at all, but rather pick a spot and have a great time with it. The better the time, the more everyone seeks stuff out and incorporates it.

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