Ethnicity in Glorantha

As part of my recent swim-about in the internets of Glorantha and its associated games, my friend Nick Brooke and I had the chance to mix it up a little! It’s regarding the long-standing interpretations of human ethnicities in Glorantha, including those which made it into published form

One of the setting’s claims to fame is that Greg Stafford was educated in anthropology and brought about as much mythic history and understanding of prior cultures into role-playing as anyone has managed to do – his only rival as such, I think, would be M.A.R. Barker with Tékumel. However, and especially given that perspective, one may ask why we don’t see easily-understood designations of ethnic forms in the setting.

Nick and I have differing but often-compatible views … well, I just realized, about everything … so we jumped at the chance to bounce ideas at one another. Now, this is a friends-talk, so we give each other some shit and a lot of the agreement or appreciation is understood rather than voice. Also, sometimes something that’s said doesn’t develop down a nice little five-item topics outline and eithe picks up later, or fell aside.

For maximum benefit and to make this worth your while, I suggest electing yourself to be a participant and throwing in your notions in the comments. Agree, disagree, throw some shade, pitch in.

It’s audio-only but I put in lots of pictures to make it viewable. I hope you like it!

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5 responses to “Ethnicity in Glorantha”

  1. Fun Adverse

    This was an enjoyable listen. 

    Just a few thoughts, which may or may not be interesting.

    I have always felt that Glorantha fits into the chaoskampf much more than just basic mythic fantasy. Whether that was intentional or not, or even relevent, I cannot say. Not having been in any of the creative discussions. My thinking is that we see Glorantha as a formed world where individual heroes occasionaly emulate past accomplishments of immortal beings to set the present on a particular course. But I don't think so. I think Glorantha is the world of Marduk vs. Tiamat. It is early Biblical texts. It is any number of possible Ur myths associated with the creation of cultures across the globe. The final form of Glorantha has yet to be decided. The final form of the myth of its creation is still to be decided. Third Age is not a post-mythological world. 

    So, what does that have to do with ethnicity? Well, and I admit this is only something I have thought about in the last few years, ethnicity is largely irrelevant. Now, it is very relevant to us as designers and players and to the RPG sphere, but to this unformed world, what you look like doesn't matter to anyone. At least, anyone in the fiction of the game.

    Culture matters, sure. In the US we still deal with the issues of racism and bias because of skin color, but one thing a southerner who is white and a southerner who is black agree on is that unsweet tea is garbage. That is their shared (for good or ill) culture. In Glorantha, what does a Sarterite look like? Doesn't matter. What they believe and the cults they follow are what matters. Especially in light of the existence of the elder "races". 

    That is what I would say to a new player. Your character can look like anything they want, really. What defines you is your beliefs and your cultural biases, not the color of your skin or the shape of your head. 

    • Elder Races – I realized that was an unfinished thought.Simply, the Elder Races, one might say "the better races" are where we see the kind of xenophobia and chauvanism one typically runs into in the fantasy tour. Trolls are great and largely live their own existence, free of Billy Goat Gruffs… unless you count the broo. But the elf and dwarf inerpretations, while interesting, don't seem to matter to the conflict at hand. Are they just observers? For the record, while I have no issue with Ducks, I don't know enough about them in Glorantha to have an informed opinion. But they too seem largely to be observers of the human nonsense that makes the world go.

    • What about Fronela?I realized that much of what we talk about is just the middle of the map of the upper continent. Do the people in Fronela care about the Hero Wars? I have no idea. Our cultural biases tend to have us focus on the center and ignore the margins, but the Malkioni don't necessaruly care about Dragon Pass. Again, is this relevant to the overall conversation? I think it is. 

  2. This was a little frustrating to listen to, because I felt like you kept trying to make points about play and Nick kept going back to the books and using fandom canon knowledge to justify things (it is increasingly becoming my opinion that canon as a concept wouldn’t exist in a good world, but let’s not go down that road).

    Anyway, the point about art in the early days reflecting, by necessity, the vagaries of time, place, access, cost, etc, and how that’s changed (specifically concerning Glorantha), with the publication of RQ: Roleplaying in Glorantha, made me go back to my books.

    I just the other day finished reading Runequest Classic (2016), a reprint (with changes) of Runequest (1980), so the imagery from that is fresh. Notwithstanding one Hittite-general-lookin’ dude, essentially it’s filled with what look to me like white American ren faire people. Again, not a moral judgement. And in any case Luise Perrin’s illustrations generally kick ass.

    The Roleplaying in Glorantha text was actually my first intro to Runequest and Glorantha, so I took it off the shelf and flipped through to look at every illustration–a pure pleasure.

    In answer to Ron’s at-the-table-answerable, non-morally-interrogative question “how white is your Glorantha”, this second text is “not very”. It surely founded my view of ethnicity in Glorantha. I see (in contemporary English-speaking societal terms, and just going off the cuff) Arabs, Indians, Jews, Chinese, Germans, Southeast Asians, Central Africans (though not many), Scandinavians, Native Americans, Mestizos, and indeed mixtures of all kinds. I will note that in the big full-page spreads the skintones tend to be on the lighter side.

    The only thing that remains to be said is: there are boobies galore in this book. So why can’t we have just one Orlanthi barbarian hanging dong?

    • The influences did include the Norse sagas and to some extent Howard’s Conan, and it’s not entirely atextual to think of the Sartarites as similar to the Icelanders and Cimmerians, respectively, hence possibly giving them a turn toward somewhat isolated whiteness. This effect shows up mostly as individual author perceptions and individual artist visual-space, per publication or even per illustration.

      However, I think the inconstant or muffled ambiguity most “takes sides,” in publication, with the big dose of Ulster culture and myth in the game King of Dragon Pass. A lot of people’s first and defining encounter with Glorantha comes from it. If I’m remembering this conversation correctly, I didn’t manage to “get” Nick’s own point of view or approach in play about it.

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