Power and Settings

During the “Playing with the pool” curriculum, we had a discussion about what “setting” is and is not. What it is: the effect of playing in-game situations. What it’s not: the body of lore written by various people outside of play. We discussed about the quality of having a rich and prodigious amount of content as inspiration for designing situation of play. But Ron pointed out that there is cultural tipping point where this amount of available elements becomes crystallized to the point that it socially stops to be that.

Here is something I saw a few weeks on the Chaosium discord server, in the Glorantha chan. Someone explains his prep to the chan, just for the sake of sharing it. He explains that the crimson bat (a famous and gigantic glorantha unique monster) has been wounded near Runegate (a city), and how he uses the blood pool for the bat as a lake and an ecosystem (who really was his situation in play). My own reaction was, “oh man, a village around a pool of blood from the bat, that is cool”. But the answer by some regular chatters there was: “the bat was not wounded in Runegate”, and the discussion followed up on that point. “The bat was wounded in Boldhome, Because [references to some material and other material].

It was only one instance of punctual discussions that arise in the chan. Those discussions are often discussed with a punctual statement “your glorantha will vary” (YGWV), but the content of most discussion is like that. “Of course, Your glorantha will vary, but the bat was not wounded in runegate”. So “YGWV” seems to be some mantra that you have to repeat. Kind of becoming both dogma and cultural identity (you have to say this if you want to be a member of the group, even if it’s never applied). Which reminds me an observation I made in a field I know, the nonprofit sector in health & social work: when an organization has a tagline or specific value, it considers to be its DNA, you may be sure that it’s the thing they embody the less. Because it became the institutional identity and a marker of value, and with generations of workers, it’s so embedded as an identity that the rigor of making it real in practice doesn’t seem necessary – thus the embodiment of the value in practice is absent.

This is generally “felt” by the employees and often leads to institutional crisis followed by collective reflections on that (or not). It’s not a fatality, but one needs a conscious methodology for this reflection (and often a re-appropriation of the values by a new guard – or just dissolution of the organization). In Brussels, there is an obvious trend for that as the 1968-1974 generation of charismatic leaders who created innovative institutions are going to retirement. And if the organization relied on charismatic personalities to embody the values that founded it, without any kind of institutionalization in its governance structure or methodological practice, you have that situation of “showing off values that are not embodied in practices anymore”.

The difference with RPG culture is that with RPG, you don’t have to be a practitioner to sustain the discourse, as the social group varies from institutionalized (the publishers) who have incentives for canon, to informal with both practitioners and no practitioners being able to control the discourse by the degree of relationship they maintain with the publishers. The good thing is that it doesn’t stop me to do what I feel I want to do and use the published material as “any kind of source of information”, such as Gianluca said. So, I expect that I’m not the only one. But the practice of trying to control is obvious and visible on the internet


8 responses to “Power and Settings”

  1. The Value and Comfort of Shared Experience

    It can be a struggle to enjoy Glorantha if you are not adept at tuning out the noise. There is a great deal of information on that world and others like it, some of which is has been canonical. Which, I think is only of passing use to us here as examples situation and setting rising from play. There are many Lunar players for instance and their passion for Glorantha can be felt in published works. 

    Middle Earth is another example, except the canonical work is much more strict. Your Middle Earth Shall Not Vary! I noted in an article today that Francesco Nepitello was talking about the new One Ring game and how that felt that resisting the pressure to add magic users to the game, made it better and more faithful to the source material. Which is great as long as that holds interest for you.

    There is a comfort level in a shared experience. We both read Moorcock or Butler. We both have played through Apple Lane or been to Pavis. And if I have signed an actual physical license to go into the Big Rubble, and you have not, this may create disonance when trying to get together and play in the same world. I admit to a bit of, frustration or exapseration (looking for a French term I think), that the newer Runequest: Glorantha is so heavily not-Lunar. But that is my issue, not an issue with the game or with play.

    But the shared experience can act as a shorthand when building situations in known worlds. As long as it does not overwhelm the situation or the players' contributions to those situations, I find it useful. And one could use it as a constraint in play and quite effectively I think. 

    • You're describing something positive, or at least feelgood if not particularly substantial. What I see in Greg's description – and in many similar cases that I've observed directly – is the probable absence of any such thing. It's certainly not in evidence regarding sharing anything with the hapless original poster.

      My take is entirely negative. Those responses are neither based on play nor about play, even abstractly. Nothing relevant to this person's game can be provided by any such commentary. Therefore these humans are absolutely not discussing "setting" as it applies to role-playing; it's logically impossible. They are indulging in connoisseurship regarding a body of texts, and nothing else.

      I'll leave it up to the academics to decide whether this kind of dialogue, united by little more than "we all post on this channel, and I know XYZ better than you," has some sort of shared cultural value. I'm focusing on this exchange specifically as it applies to role-playing, for which it is anti-intellectual, destructive to creative enjoyment, and straightorwardly abusive.


    • The way I see how the word and related material material use is :1.  Either the amount of existing material is socially treated as inspiration, a creative pool from which you can steal ideas, that you can use as they are, or modify as you wish. In this case, the "settings" is "this is what we have done, treat it as you wish, and let's celebrate what you did". Nothing is "set" in this case, it's just what people played, plus some suggestions for play. 2. Either the amount of of existing material is socially treated as a fixed lore. In this case "the settings" is not an amount of ideas for inspiration, it's crystallized knowledge that you have to respect. You can't alter it, modify it. You have to study it and reproduce it. If you do something else, it's socially treated as a deviation, and you are being corrected. In this case, correcting people while pretending to help them by showing them the "true knowledge" is just wrong. Socially wrong. It kills the inspiration cycle. My experience is that new group of players are generally really into 1. They don't know what to do, but they want to do it. They take any kind of RPG that inspire them, modify the rules as they wish, then take inspiration somewhere and do whatever they want. Treating material in inspiration. Player practicing RPG for a long time are generally more into 2. The meeting between 2 and 1 is destructive for the inspiration: either people quits RPG at all, either they socialize into 2. I think it's worth to point out.Sean, you're describing 1, and I suggest that it's how I want to be with people: not correcting them because "I know the setting better", but encouraging and celebrating what people do with existing material, and treating what they do not as deviation from canon, but as the enjoyable activity we do. About "your glorantha will vary", it seems to me that you can read this formula differently wether you think about Setting 1 or Setting 2. Two words can have different meaning: "Glorantha", and "vary" .Let's see "Your Glorantha Will Vary" #1. Glorantha is "whatever settings you create from the metaphysical assumptions of Glorantha and its cosmogony, during play and for play, as a response of the activity of your group" + "how you did it"; Varry from what? From whatever will be produced through the activity of another group. So Glorantha is the act of producing Glorantha through play, and the "setting" will vary, because the setting is the effect of play. In "Your Glorantha Will Vary" #2, Glorantha is "canon", the amount of officially sanctionned material by the publisher – either it has been played or not is not relevant. It's not the act of producing the setting that is Glorantha anymore, it's the official sanction. Varry from what?  From canon. Your varation of Glorantha is a deviance rather than a celebration.The whole notion of canon kills the notion of YGWV by changing its meaning. That's how the expression can still exists. 

    • Greg said: “Player practicing RPG for a long time are generally more into 2.”

      Please don´t take this as a correction–it’s not, and the vagaries of language more than likely mean we’re totally in alignment, anyway. This is just what struck me as I read the above sentence: I think the problem is not people who are long-term practioners, but rather people who are embedded in the hobby culture and have identities built around this, whether they actually play or not.

  2. Your Glorantha “May” Vary

    I have been running into the same behaviors during my time playing in Glorantha. It doesn't help that the text for Runequest Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha had little-to-no guidance on making your own adventures, possible situations, or anything to help Make Your Own Glorantha. 

    I feel this is a bit of a consequence of folks who made fanzines for years, now having keys to the kingdom. The current line feels very split between useful/inspirational flavorful material (Red Book of Magic, Beistary, Weapons & Equipment), and adventures/locations often tied to "the upcoming events of the Hero Wars, look forward the following Argath and friends on his adventures."

    Ron and Sean are right, this is no way helps the activity. I really think Runequest Glorantha can be a great game, if approached carefully. However, the roots of a meta-plot are built into Character Creation with a characters backstory mostly being about witnessing the Important NPCs do cool things.

    It's reminds me of when Star Trek started becoming about itself rather episodic adventures that dealt with political issues, big ideas or were a bit of fun.

    As far as internet control, myself and others have been shut down for even minor criticism of the current publications and directions by brand and social media managers. It's frustrating. Like, Chaosium Employees have stated they're looking for more ways to get new players into Glorantha Gaming, but there is still a lack of self-awareness ai feel.

    Then there is the whole "fan licensed publications" which is a whole can of worms and mixed feelings, but a side effect is creating social and financial incentives for expertise and playing to the community standard of discourse.


    • I found the ‘brush elbows with greatness’ approach in the Family History to be a fun way to introduce people to the very basic rudiments of the setting, but I can totally see what you mean about it easily being used to discourage individual group creativity around Glorantha.

      I wanted to expand slightly on what you said about the lack of GM direction on YGMV/YGWV – – frankly I don’t see ANY advice or rules or guidelines AT ALL for how to be a GM, and – I just checked – there’s literally no chapter in the core book about running the game. None!

      I personally found this to be weird but ultimately an asset – it puts forward the vibe that the GM’s role is distinctly less important than that of the players. The GM helps the PCs get through character creation, and since there’s no specific guidelines on how to run ANY kind of Glorantha campaign at all, it felt very natural for me to just kind of … pick a place for the players to start out, and see where they went with that. But if I didn’t have years and years of GMing experience under my belt (no experience whatsoever about Glorantha though), I would probably have been overwhelmed and kind of confused.

      (I have some thoughts on what Chaosium might’ve been trying to do with this enormous yet Narrativist-play-supportive mammoth of a rulebook, but that’s another conversation)

  3. Beyond Glorantha

    I think I'm in agreement with Ron that "the bat was not wounded in Runegate"/"The bat was wounded in Boldhome" is not-even-about-roleplaying commentary. For the game MY group is playing, how could that specific detail even matter? My (mostly second hand) understanding is that in Glorantha/Runequest reader/player culture, you can frequently run into this problem.

    My first hand experience of a heavy/rich setting is Talislanta, I was on the Talislanta mailing list for a good part of the 90's/early 00's, and … it was less of an issue there. People would ask "My players are going to Kasmir – has anyone run adventures there?" And there'd be general responses about how it went in a couple different campaigns. Or if there was a published adventure involving Kasmirans, someone might summarize details of what that revealed, but almost always in a "use this if you want" context, not a "this is OFFICIAL – vary at your peril!" sense.

    I can't say why, and 20+ years-old memory is perhaps not perfect, but … I didn't really see the maybe commonish to Glorantha issue of not-even-about-roleplaying. The Talislanta discussions were about exploring what might make sense and be interesting for play in Kasmir to focus on, not about what Kasmir HAD to be. That can be (I'd say) positive. A positive constraint, in the sense that there IS enough set about Kasmir that it's not just another fantasyplace for fantasypeople to go to and do fantasythings, but the details remain configurable (across some approriate range).

    Then again, when I've played Pathfinder we rarely prioritize any details that are Golarion (the Paizo campaing world)-based. So I haven't really seen/tried to replicate my self-labeled "success"…

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