Unsuccesful Runequesting leads to successful play

This is my first post at Adept Play, so a little bit of background context may be in order. I’ve been exposed to roleplaying games since elementary school, made several tentative attempts to play them, ended up developing my understanding of how to play them slowly, starting in university and continuing to this day. I became exposed to Glorantha media objects with King of Dragon Pass in high school, then the version of Heroquest with the orange cover (and the sweet magical duel on said cover) in university, and then I learned these things were connected. By 2019, I moved from passive fan activity (purchasing, reading, quietly writing private bits of prose) to a less oxymoronic type of fan activity, and then in 2021, my partner wanted to know more about this Glorantha thing because I was posting, in an active game, etc..

There was some hesitation on my part, I think because I was aware of the process of thinking around the areas of the media property I didn’t like without rejecting them. But they (my partner’s pronouns are they/she, and I will be alternating them to refer to the same person throughout) were my partner, and we shared a fair amount of media tastes, and she was hooked in a fairly critical way. The image for this post was cropped by them and sent to me with the caption “sacred ground”, and then she and I had a back and forth about this zany fantasy setting. Then a few months later, they asked if I could run a game of Runequest (the one with “: Roleplaying in Glorantha” on the cover) for her, one-on-one. They wanted to experience this (never having played a tabletop roleplaying game before, nor having more than marginal familiarity with the cultures of tabletop roleplaying discussion) because she wanted to be able to forestall any gatekeeping attempts based on them never playing any official RPG for the setting.

We sat down on a call one Saturday to start the process of reading through the rulebook and creating a character. She had some simple principles- they didn’t want to play a game where her character was required to engage in lethal violence, or ideally any violence at all, to achieve said character’s goals. Violence as an option rather than a feature, you might say. They then, after reading through the character creation chapter, decided on a premise that she wanted to play through- their character would be a courtier (specifically a jeweler) to the Demivierge of Rhigos, an established backdrop sentence in Glorantha who exists halfway between a joke (her fancy title is just “half-virgin”) and a kind of accelerationist take on the sword-and-sorcery genre figure that I always associate with Queen Yishana from the Elric stories. Oversexed, soft-domme, with massive harems of lovers and an interest in the protagonist, quite easy to read in psychosexual terms, and then the Demivierge does this all while still being a virgin. Rhigos, for its part, is a city marked as being in Glorantha’s country of Esrolia. 

Examining the Family History, we realized very quickly that the options for Esrolian characters all looked northward and all focused on events relevant to the metaplot exploits of the character Argrath. My partner had somewhat less than no desire to interact with Argrath, so we decided not to use the Family History and went with the shorter version in one sidebar. She was enamored with one of the deities described in the 90s-era books Greg Stafford put out as explorations of the deep mythology of the setting, the figure Entekos who gives her name to the fourth of these, the Entekosiad. Fairly obviously, there was no writeup for any version of Runequest for this goddess, nor for the games in the Hero Wars lineage, nor did any fansites emerge from searching, for this was the one among these texts that had a fandom reputation of being both obscure and irrelevant, an exploration of weird deep time that didn’t make much sense. 

So I said we’d start from the Orlanth cult and modify it from there, and cursed the lack of any guidance on how to make your own cults in Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, not thinking about the Runequest (with the woman fighting a large lizard on the cover) pdfs I had which would, on a close read, prove to have such guidance. But at the moment, that was that. We determined that we wanted to start off a few years before RQ:RiG’s presumed start date, and that this character, Topazine of Rhigos, was a lead figure in a secret Entekos cult that had emerged in Esrolia from prolonged Lunar contact and cultural exchange, figured out a few goals she might have, and then concocted a basic situation. 

She was going out to the countryside to investigate a site that might prove to be a lost temple of an ancient goddess of the air. I prepared this as a rough dungeon-like object: no firm map, but a basic set of spatial relationships, some entities to interact with, and a variety of paths to the top. I also had rather a lot of backdrop in my mind that I thought might prove to be backstory. What happened instead? Well, my partner immediately started flirting with the Wind Child (winged human) I’d put on the outskirts. I realized that the general trend of Glorantha fandom and Gloranthan branded products had lied to me- that obscurantism when it comes to playing with myths is a frustrating, subtractive enterprise. And play happened. At the end of it all, Topi had won the blessing of the earth goddess Ernalda and of the tutelary spirit of this temple, she had confronted the god of winter and tricked him into trying to freeze the unfreezable, and she had entered into the sanctuary, where she met her goddess… and then had sex with her for a month (in fairyland time, or Godtime as you’re supposed to call it in Glorantha). 

And then we realized, separately, that this was all very resonant to a metaplot event scheduled for the year we’d set for the game. The Windstop, where the storm god Orlanth dies locally and this causes a horrific winter that lasts for a whole year or more. The only solution in the metaplot was to free Orlanth and return him from the dead. But what Topi had done was to establish contact with an alternative to Orlanth and drive away the winter through trickery. So. What happens? 

The first-order consequences were quite simple- the Windstop effect just… stops in most of Esrolia, thanks to this new temple of Entekos. But the second-order consequences quickly established the rhythm of play. Firstly, the Runequest rules didn’t seem to fit with what we were doing, so we progressively discarded them and started improvising our own set. Secondly, we needed to split up sessions of play into two types- sessions where a standard set of character advocacy (partner as Topi, myself as… everyone else) prevailed and where Topi would do things and take actions, and then sessions where a looser set of character advocacy prevailed and where we attempted to game out the effects of Topi’s latest set of actions and interactions. And then thirdly, we had a methodology brewing to address the interesting questions of play.

These improvised rules- this “systemless” (really a system that’s inarticulate but also proceeds by its own very strong rules) game- are nearly entirely devoid of Fortune or Karma resolution. (We have done some brief experiments and they have not been incorporated going forward.) So it’s very much Drama-primary, it has rules that are not articulated but very strong, and so- where is the bounciness coming from? What makes these questions answered or explored through play, rather than through taking turns at being a “storyteller”?

I think that at least a strong part of it comes down to a division of authorities and character advocacy that’s not as typical in published games but is fairly characteristic of how kinky “scenes” tend to be set up, particularly for kinks in the BDSM space. There’s a modal shift between “planning the scene” and “doing the scene”, and even if you’re doing the “GMing”, the work of framing the scene while in the planning mode, that has no intrinsic connection to your role within the scene. So in the “planning mode”, I have one set of authorities in setting up the constraints and defining the characters who will be present in the “scene mode”, and in the “scene mode”, I have an entirely different set of authorities in playing out the character and their actions. And the advocacy that’s expected of me in the two modes is aligned but distinct.

And so since the situation is “fixed”, in that neither of us is deploying outcome authority at the same time as situational authority, or can deploy such, by the unarticulated rules, there is that unpredictable quality of play as the characters are disassociated from the players and any and all of the players can advocate for the character they are playing in a given scene to the hilt without that effecting the overall situation. (With the additional, essential but also unarticulated rules for when “scene mode” must be suspended or ended and the authorities switch over to “planning mode.”)

I doubt this specific system is easily generalizable, of course, because the social context here is one that makes it easy to know when to drop out of the scene and go into planning mode or vice versa but not as easy to explain this to anyone, and I think, on reflection, that there’s also a degree to which this method can tangle IIEE and produce a slow, snarled resolution process. And beyond that, twosie play obviously makes it difficult to have scenes with more than two people being relevant at a time, and there are difficulties in kink scenes, especially in text-based ones, with having more than two people interacting at once. But I do think that this form of play had a very useful personal effect, beyond the delightful pleasure of it in itself, in making all that language, IIEE, authorities, character advocacy, immediately meaningful and clearer, because the received vocabulary of roleplaying games was immediately inadequate. And then beyond that, the developed methods of kink/erotic roleplay and scene-setting are an area I’m finding interesting to analyze and compare, in particular the way safety techniques are used and conceived of.

This is where the comment that prompted the decision to turn this into an Actual Play post (“the use of Glorantha as a metaphorical playground for exploring delicate or nuanced real-world problems”) finally becomes relevant, because through the next sessions of play after the first, Topi would return to Rhigos, and we began asking questions about that place and its ruler, digging through the various “deep lore”/published working notes on Esrolia and various bits of fanwork and fan interpretation to try and discern the themes at play, the directions the signifiers point, and the like. And one of the components we discovered was, of course, various roots of the Goddess Movement working through the soil, along with a great deal of fan interpretations which, to us, seemed clearly rooted in anxieties about implicit lesbianism. Both of us are explicit lesbians, so we took an explicitly campy approach. We decided that rather than a “cynical” interpretation- that the Demivierge was “technically a virgin” in a manipulative way- that our Demivierge was explicitly questioning what virginity meant and had worked out a compact with her backdrop pure and chaste goddess Delain whereby she ceremonially refrained from the receptive position in penis-in-vagina sex only and performed any and every other sexual act (including topping in penis-in-vagina sex) frequently and deliberately. So from that assertion of it as a deliberate, transgressive, magical-with-a-k act, we then began building out Rhigos as an ideological posture. Again, in a campy way with low-register and high-register elements- ha ha, the decadent fleshpots have little fired-clay tablets you wear to indicate what kinks you’re into, there are guides to safe words, but also consciously attempting to develop it as an alternate position or locus of power within Esrolia as an imagined polity.

This methodology, of offering a low-register, provocative statement and then a higher-register one alongside it, allowing the tensions between them to spin out meaning like sparks, continues forward. People assume that Esrolia, a country ruled by women, is bad at traditionally masculine tasks like warmaking because they oppress men in some fashion, feminizing them symbolically? Let’s drag in the real-world asinine conspiracy theories around phytoestrogen-containing foods like soy, yams, and so on and suggest that some food grown in the Esrolian soil has high quantities of “phytoesrolians” that can literally feminize people, that there’s some Bene Gesserit gender anxiety literally happening, and then let’s blow up the binary of this gender struggle by making the explicit offer of phytoesrolian magic/food products a part of Topi’s method of diplomacy.

So to a very strong extent, the underlying questions being explored here are “How can ‘we’ (deliberately loaded term) interact with mythology and cultural heritage if we’re people who have been excluded or sharply constrained within it?” and “Should ‘we’ interact with it? To what extent?”. Glorantha is a very useful tool for this exploration, simply because it already asserts a dialogue between the different “Gloranthas” you can make, a shared language with which to engage the real-world mythology being cribbed, a set of pre-existing transformations of that mythology, and the explicit acceptance of critical tools and postmodernist playfulness within its space. There are a number of questions that can come up with, say, trans women and transfeminine people identifying with Inanna/Ishtar from passages in the popular understanding of Mesopotamian culture and Inanna’s Descent, especially related to race and cultural appropriation, which certainly can clog up the question of “what about Inanna’s signifiers makes her appealing? What can I get from interacting with her as a cultural and mythical entity?”

And with Glorantha, you can point at the Red Goddess and say, “You get to be the Ishtar now. Let’s see what you’ve got.” ‘We’, in the loaded sense, had a couple of things to explore with queerness and queer-adjacentness- lesbianism, transness, nonbinary transness, asexuality and aromanticism, assorted forms of kinky sexuality, polyamory- along with neurodivergences, mental disability or illness, stuff that’s relevant to myself or my partner or both. But the method, I strongly think, works beyond those categories.

The game is still ongoing, though once we reached a climactic point of arranging a four-way sacred marriage that cosmologically united opposing powers and restructured the setting on the level of changing its base color symbols, the two of us moving in together and adjusting to cohabitation put it more or less on hold from about June of 2022. It’s now restarting, getting back into the swing of things, and I can’t wait to see where the process of play takes us next.

This is a fairly broad post, so I feel it would be best to leave the field for questions and comments open, with the caveat that my memory is of course imperfect and I was not actively analyzing play with any developed critical language until after that long break starting in June of 2022, which will inevitably limit the details I can offer in that area.

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13 responses to “Unsuccesful Runequesting leads to successful play”

  1. Now we’re talkin’. I’m not sure if you’ve read my account of our Thed-centric game using the original Hero Wars, but it is right in line with this thinking and these aesthetic principles which you’ve presented.

    I think this is about play itself as a radical artistic experience, and, I submit, about sharing it in open dialogue as a radical act.

    • I’ve read that account, and it was actually an early Gloranthan text for me. My partner then read it substantially later, in the course of playing this game. It has an interesting synchronicity- we ended up Xing out broo as a component of play, primarily because of the narrow range of options presented for interaction by default and our relative lack of interest in engaging in the interpretative and creative work needed to open up more options. But related topics became immediately relevant once we plonked the Gunda the Guilty doll on the table. Funny how that happens!

      I can’t disagree with that characterization, hah! But yes- the conscious radicalism of interpretation was very much on my mind and our minds at the time, but in retrospect there are some interesting artistic statements about play being made in all that, aren’t there?

    • Absolutely. The two which jump up for me are (i) whatever on earth you two did in terms of resolution, including when it was applied vs. when it wasn’t; and (ii) the ease, as I have experienced, with which social and situational content blossom given very few – although strong – kernels of content.

    • I actually kept notes during our most recent session (on Sunday) to try and disentangle the resolution system. I’m not sure I was totally successful, but it seems fairly clear to me that there’s a specific method of invoking the resolution system, it proceeds essentially as a process of building consensus through dialogue between the two of us as to what’s both consistent and appropriate, and that while I couldn’t articulate what the hard line of enforcing an outcome is from that session alone, there very clearly is one buried in our assumptions/unconsciously produced system. I guess I’ll have to keep taking notes and thinking about it!

      It really is amazing just how much can blossom from a few kernels. Things build on themselves very very easily from a few established backdrop lines being taken seriously and explored as they play out.

  2. My first attempt at playing in Glorantha was inspired of an explicitly queer read of Orlanthi gender norms. You had two primary gender roles, and a broad acceptance (Orlanth says “one in seven or so” fall outside norms in Thunder Rebels) of variation within them and outside of those.

    My spouse is agender (they/them), and I’m nonbinary (they/them). The game group at the time was all queer non-men. So we all brought different perspectives on gender, sexuality than most fantasy worlds assume. Having a world be inviting to exploration, while not being fully permissive is something we found intriguing about Glorantha.

    While sadly the game did not get going due to a mix of scheduling and an unhelpful/obtuse text (Heroquest Glorantha – 2015). I am still inspired and want to dive into the myths and cultures to express a unique Glorantha (whether serious or irreverent) with folks too. Reading about games that dive into this space, the cultural and philosophical side, is what keeps drawing me to playing with Glorantha.

    I have a couple questions. How did you both go about selecting what was inspirational and provided fixed components for play versus what was to be ignored? Has this become part of the process during play (hey, I read this cool thing I think would be neat to brought in)?

    • Oh wow, that sounds like a heck of a concept for a game. Shame it didn’t get a chance to fly!

      So the process there was initially (and I must stress initially) a matter of “Let’s read the lore texts and see what we can do without explicitly contradicting them”, which was promptly exploded by us merrily and unintentionally ignoring the deep Caladraland lore in order to posit a political realignment after Belintar’s death where the Caladra cult established dominance within the Twins cult and over the Lodril cult, headed by a butch trans woman with a proto-nationalist attitude. So once we realized this, my partner said, “OK, this character killed the canon guy by crushing his head between her thighs” and we moved on.

      What’s developed then has become straightforwardly part of the process of play- we have developed these facts so far, we have run into a situation where we need to know more about the inner workings of the Blue Moon ninja assassin cult, we may take a look at backdrop or lore texts, “fan” or “official”, but the primary defining feature is that this Glorantha is contiguous and things which are not contiguous are adjusted.

      Another example of this would be a recent session, where the group were making their way northward into the Lunar Empire and had stopped at Filichet for a meeting of the provincial kings. We stopped for a moment when going through the list of important Lunar Provinces figures and noted that Ralzakark is technically one of those subject or tributary rulers. But there are no broo in our Glorantha, so we sat down and discussed it and finally resolved that this Ralzakark was an elf woman with a fake unicorn horn on her forehead, while retaining the shady-and-puckish, somewhat malevolent aspects, as we then discovered through play.

      So almost all of it is coming from “what has the previous transcript pushed us into contact with? What can we do with that?” at this point.

  3. Thank you for a really wonderful post, Effy. Damn is it good to hear that there are other weirdos in the world mixing Moorcock, mythology, and Runequest into their own local hallucinogenic brews.

    On “real-world asinine conspiracy theories” and “offering a low-register, provocative statement”…I think you’ve described something that I love in fantasy: the ability to be unconstrained, wild, and, well, fantastic. There’s a generosity toward characters and content in this “explicitly camp approach” that you describe, one that I encounter in lots of fantastic literature; it opens the participants to being actually provoked by those “low-register” provocations, and it (in my experience) can lead to far more interesting results than if the participants only seriously engaged with the “high-register” content. I love how you highlight that this approach avoids the “cynical” (and unbelievably boring) posture of so much contemporary fantasy media. What a breath of fresh air compared to the neverending bullshit trumpeting of ‘This fantasy isn’t adolescent wish-fulfillment’ or ‘These are superheroes for grownups’ that makes up so much nerd-dom.

    I resonated strongly with your approach here, and I want to think alongside your post both as appreciation and to offer some realizations it crystallized for my own play…I’ll post more soon.

    • Thank you! So, a minor autobiographical note about me: I never really read much of the big 90s fantasy bricks, either as a kid or afterwards, and a lot of my perception of fantasy fiction was filtered through, besides Tolkien and Pratchett, somewhat older works like Roger Zelazny’s output, along with a little Moorcock, some Leiber, some oddities, etc.

      And Zelazny, of course, was a massive smartass in his writing, putting in groaner puns about “the fit hitting the Shan”, mixing and matching quotes from “La Belle Dame sans Merci” with the idiomatic American phrase “Hell of a way to run a railroad, though”, the quote from *Doorways in the Sand* about “everyone knowing’ that if an object travels faster than the speed of light it turns into a pumpkin. Which has definitely shaped my understanding of what constitutes “acceptable” fantasy techniques- you can do things that break “suspension of disbelief” or “immersion”, you can joke about the fantasy conceits at play, and you can do this while taking them seriously at the same time. Which is tremendously liberating across a variety of artistic media.

    • I’m going to be selfish here and start with polemic. The rather harsh realization that your post crystallized for me: Setting a game ‘in Glorantha’ as conceptualized by Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is setting oneself up to fail.

      RQG crams an abundance of ‘backwards compatible’ content, and pretty much every sub-system from the Chaosium’s design history (Opposed Rolls from Hero Wars, Runes from Nephilim’s astrological charts, Passions and lifepaths from Pendragon, every random table from every Stafford scenario pack that they could fit) into a single product.

      However, the logic of synthesizing these disparate materials is not the logic of living, passionately practiced play. It’s a logic driven by a promise (and a lie): This is the game of which the legends are told. This is Glorantha. You really can get ‘the whole thing’ onto your table. Shamans. Argrath. Chariot combat. Sorcery. It is all here. It is all real. And it is yours.

      Producing materials through living, passionately practiced play does not result in fantasy encyclopedias or sci-fi gazetteers. It results in texts whose purpose is inspiration, not reference. I have come to see projects like The Glorantha Sourcebook as a process akin to nationalization — the innumerable local cultures of Runequest play becoming subsumed into a single entity, and being erased in the process.

      RQG as a text is instructive because of how hard its procedures fail in play. The Cult write-ups are inspiring insofar as they may lead one to Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror. The Passions are workable — provided one does ‘design at the table’ to bring them up to the quality of Pendragon’s system. The Magic and Combat systems can sing — because they are lifted fairly intact from 1978 Runequest.

      To provide a contrast to the encyclopedic instinct, there are a range of materials across Adept Play that provide inspiration, not reference. Sorcerer and Champions Now center this demand in the very first session. The People & Play course exposed me to Paul Czege’s A Viricorne Guide, which is a sterling example of how textual backdrop can be designed for play (GMing the game with Discord open in one window and the PDF open in the other, finding a perfect mix of constraint and inspiration among its pages) is one of my favorite gaming memories of 2022. When playing D&D 4e, I think I was quite successful at selecting a subset of inspirational material from a very large volume of content (three Player’s Guides and two Dungeon Master’s Guides).

      So how do these textual critiques apply to actual play? I think you and I encountered the same challenge: The oversaturation of backdrop lore available for Glorantha.

      In the game I played between 2021-2022, this led to ‘situational murk.’ The moves we made didn’t lead to changes in the situation; they led to new elements being introduced into the situation out of the oversaturated backdrop. Our game was afflicted by an inability to actually resolve events. I rarely felt the sense of absolute surprise and absolute inevitability that characterizes successful play. Instead, we sort of imposed outcomes after the fact by looking back at the gestalt of a bunch of inconclusive-by-themselves events. When I play Runequest again, it will be Glorantha, but not set in Glorantha (with a lot of reference to the art, the most inspiring-to-me content in the RQG line).

      We were using RQG’s textual procedures. It seems to me that, faced with the same challenge, you and your fellow player developed a system that enabled you to drill down to the inspirational material, and to honor that material with actual outcomes in play. I’m interested in these procedures, even though you note that they may not be “easily generalizable” to other groups.

      Could you talk a bit more about how these procedures work, in a specific scene from the fiction? When a situation reaches a point of uncertainty such that it’s more fun to use a procedure instead of ‘just saying what Topazine does,’ what do you two do? How did you arrive at the inspiring content (like those clay kink-badges?)

      Also! Simon Petersson’s Hantverks posts may be interesting, if you haven’t seen them already: https://adeptplay.com/2021/08/19/hantverksklubben-5-horror/

    • I think you’re more or less dead on there. I tend to describe this (when talking to other people who’ve gotten sucked into the Glorantha subcult[ure?]) as Glorantha being deliberately incomplete- if you’re going to play a game in Glorantha, you will run into big gaps and you’ll have to take the leap of filling them in with your own creativity. I haven’t actually dared to go further and say, “It’s not that your Glorantha will vary, it’s that there is no Glorantha to vary from. Your Glorantha is as much Glorantha as anyone’s.” But your phrasing is better.

      I think that my specific phrasing there is conditioned by the way in which I found the Backdrop/lore specifically misleading in its presentation- the implication is that there’s something *behind* these Important Backdrop Sentences, and there are enough cases where there was, at one point or another, in Sandy Petersen’s culture of play, or Greg Stafford’s, or some people in Seattle’s that centered on a Pendragon hack, that you can believe, especially if you limit yourself to the officially presented material, that this is so.

      And there simply isn’t. This carries an important deconstructive implication- because everything is so thin, it is very easy to rip out individual pieces and use them inspirationally without any fear that something will break, but at the same time, there’s a definite dichotomy of stultifying backdrop, buttered thickly with lore, and then behind that- nothing, the void, a space where the referents point to other nothingnesses. And I think I’m just describing situational murk there- you can’t produce real outcomes because going too far outside of the lines puts you in a realm without meaning, you can’t get play happening because there’s not really a logic that can produce absolute inevitability and absolute surprise together.

      So with that said… procedures of play. God, these are hard to articulate. I took notes during a session and I still don’t have a good phrasing of how they work. This is already a fairly lengthy comment, so for the sake of clarity and organization, I’m going to write a second comment and go through a fictional event from the most recent session, about as annotated as I can make it from my notes, so that perhaps the thing-in-itself might be helpful.

    • So, this is taken from a session played 14 days ago, on January 22nd (in my time zone). Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling under the weather for the last week or so, which delayed this response. What’s the backstory? There’s quite a lot of it, so I’m going to try and boil it down (with the caveat that if you’re interested in any expansions or further details I’d be glad to talk about them, probably via some other channel) to the necessary context. The most important context here is that Topazine and her friends, lovers, etc. reached a culminating point where they orchestrated a sacred group marriage between representatives of the Red Moon/the goddess Sedenya (there’s a complicating factor here I’ll skip right over for now but which I think probably is relevant to our method and procedures), the earth/the goddess Ernalda, the storm/the goddess Vinga, and the calm air/the goddess Entekos, and what this did was cause a cosmological shift, changing the Red Moon to a more apricot shade and the constellation Orlanth’s Ring to be mostly pink.

      We then took a break, while she moved in with me, etc. and we then decided that the next thing we wanted to explore was- what does that color change mean? How does this complicated new divine polycule affect the Lunar Empire politically? This, in turn, has led to Topi receiving an invitation from a family of the Lunar high nobility and the secretive Blue Moon cult, inviting her to the city of Torang, where the Red Goddess was originally a street urchin etc. She made it there, she got formally adopted by the divine ancestor/patron of this family, the Taran-il, and it all happened in time for the celebration of the holiest holiday of Sedenya (we haven’t bothered to secure a name for it) and a dinner to be held in Torang, where certain important figures will be attending.

      A key technique that we use for drawing inspiration out of backdrop/lore is to take a relevant text (usually something Greg Stafford wrote in the 1990s or 2000s), do a close reading of it, and pry open lacunae, crux words, areas where the text just doesn’t make sense, and then we start playing. Not much of that happened in this session, but a fair amount of this from the previous session is immediately relevant and I will highlight it.

      I’m not going to attempt anything close to a full transcript of the session, so I’m going to instead present the first thing decided upon in the session, because it carries some key context for the main fictional event where I think resolution procedures defined the outcome, and then that main event.

      The session opens up with:

      PARTNER: So, who all is attending this dinner? We’ve got Topi, [divine patron and minor Lunar tutelary goddess] Flower Poem, [Topi’s wife and Babeester Gor Axe Maiden] Svanhild, [member of the Lunar high noble family, the Taran-il] Valerian, Jar-eel…

      ME: Shouldn’t Matrissa [the Red Dancer of Power, minor or demi-goddess, head of the Etyries mercantile cult and the Lunar minister of finance and trade] also be there?

      PARTNER: Yeah, and Great Sister [Lunar demigoddess who the Lore talks up as important without ever giving a sense of what she does or how she acts in the world] is also there.

      ME: I think that’s probably about it. Red Emperor wouldn’t be there, Thalia [Blue Moon agent] isn’t high enough rank to be here, Bellex Maximus [general-in-chief of the Lunar Army]?

      PARTNER: Nobody should ever have to play Bellex Maximus.

      Through play, we had determined that the Etyries cult and overarching goddess was interested in a more peaceful way for the Lunars to interact with the people to their south, and this had played out with the Red Dancer of Power becoming an important ally of Topi’s. We had also determined that Flower Poem was herself somewhat apolitical, willing to back Topi up but not much more than that.

      What this section finalized was that there were no definite representatives of the pro-war voice present. Jar-eel and Great Sister were, at this point, somewhat ciphers- we had determined that Jar-eel was at least dissatisfied with the current conditions of Lunar politics and open to conversation, but Great Sister was mostly a blank spot on our conceptual map.

      Things then proceeded through some opening light conversation, a bit of Jar-eel being courteous and then cautiously returning Topi and Svanhild’s dual flirting, a bit with Flower Poem, and then it came around to this; Jar-eel had just made a joke about a Great Sister Lore Fact: her “just say NO to gin” campaign, which you can probably guess was created by British people in the 1990s as a joke.

      This was a crystalline Authorities moment, in retrospect. I was responsible for advocating for Great Sister, and it was up to me and no one else to say what Great Sister would say and do in response to this. Mostly in retrospect, it’s very clear what the “stakes” were in this moment- would Great Sister be at odds with Jar-eel or not? Was she going to come to the foreground or stay in the background for the next little span of play? This was all symbolically wrapped up in “would Great Sister laugh at herself in this situation or not?”

      We had, in the last session, spun out an interpretation of the Great Sister backdrop material, along with associated other bits of background material, and determined that her conjunction between “representing the interests of the common people” and “overseeing the legitimacy of schools of illumination” and “oppositional counterpart to the Red Emperor” pointed to her having a functional role in the Lunar Empire’s mytho-religious “economy”. The Lunars, we concluded, had historically only been able to incorporate new peoples as fellow Lunars rather than oppressed subjects by accepting redefinitions of the Lunar religion through the acclamation of new Lunar deities- the Twinstars, the Conquering Daughter, Hon-eel, etc. and their incorporation into the mainstream of Lunar religion. Great Sister was a regulatory agent in this system, imperfectly acting to define the space of possible redefinitions and to enforce acceptance of these redefinitions on the state authority.

      So what happened next had to be consistent with what had been determined before. We had also concluded that what was going on with Topi and Entekos (in the lore a cult only present in the Lunar heartland) was an extension of that principle beyond its defining logic- now non-Lunars are 1) proposing to redefine parts of the Lunar Empire that aren’t explicitly associated with the Red Moon, 2) rejecting the need to accept the Lunar state authority wholeheartedly before becoming Lunar, and 3) had already done it with their cosmic dyejob. This, too, had to be taken into consideration.

      I looked at my partner.

      ME: I think Great Sister is skeptical that this implicit proposal can change anything but wants to defend what she sees as Lunar identity.

      PARTNER: *nods*

      ME: I think that this means she defers to Jar-eel at the moment.

      PARTNER: Yeah, I buy that.

      ME: So Great Sister opens her mouth and says,

      I cannot for the life of me recall what I had her say as a rejoinder. It was definitely joking back with Jar-eel by poking fun at her too. And it was decided through that process that the rest of this session would be about the back-and-forth between Topi and Jar-eel, which was 90% in-character dialogue about Hannah Arendt’s distinction of power versus violence and much more unwieldy to present. And this is about where I’m at with articulating the procedures of play. I hope that this fairly raw presentation is helpful even as it stands.

    • ********************************
      This was a crystalline Authorities moment, in retrospect. I was responsible for advocating for Great Sister, and it was up to me and no one else to say what Great Sister would say and do in response to this. Mostly in retrospect, it’s very clear what the “stakes” were in this moment- would Great Sister be at odds with Jar-eel or not? Was she going to come to the foreground or stay in the background for the next little span of play? This was all symbolically wrapped up in “would Great Sister laugh at herself in this situation or not?”

      We had, in the last session, spun out an interpretation of the Great Sister backdrop material, along with associated other bits of background material, and determined that her conjunction between “representing the interests of the common people” and “overseeing the legitimacy of schools of illumination” and “oppositional counterpart to the Red Emperor” pointed to her having a functional role in the Lunar Empire’s mytho-religious “economy”. The Lunars, we concluded, had historically only been able to incorporate new peoples as fellow Lunars rather than oppressed subjects by accepting redefinitions of the Lunar religion through the acclamation of new Lunar deities- the Twinstars, the Conquering Daughter, Hon-eel, etc. and their incorporation into the mainstream of Lunar religion. Great Sister was a regulatory agent in this system, imperfectly acting to define the space of possible redefinitions and to enforce acceptance of these redefinitions on the state authority.

      I wasn’t sure what to expect from this reply, except for trippy awesome cosmic fantasy (which your description delivered in spades). I love the process you describe of prying texts open and using critical reading as a creative fuel.

      What was cool is how familiar this description is from my own roleplaying. In employing outcome and narration authority when uncertainty reaches a critical point, there’s a very nuanced process of working from the “known fictional materials” to create “the new Now.” I describe it to myself as surveying the situation and seeing what fictional entities ‘volunteer themselves’ to respond to what has just happened. Employing outcome authority is the practice of honoring each of those entities’ responses, whether they are extreme (like a person taking some kind of irrevocable action) or apparently inconsequential (like the wind being suddenly audible in an awkward pause in a conversation). It seems so simple in the moment (we’re just talking through what happens, after all), but whenever I look back I’m amazed at how much fictional input goes into this.

      There’s a vast space of rewarding creative freedom here, and also many pitfalls. In my own practice I’m always trying to “be a beginner” and ask myself whether I was too lax in honoring the fiction’s responses, or on the other hand too harsh, imposing dramatic energy or finality on outcomes that don’t really warrant them. The RQG game I rather harshly described above was definitely on the side of ‘too lax.’

      It’s very interesting and confirmatory to see this process/practice at work within a very different set of procedures (where the uncertainty or possibly Bounce comes from your partner taking a key action, and the outcomes are defined entirely by, “it was up to me and no one else to say what Great Sister would say and do.”) The closest I’ve gotten to this is playing The Pool, which exposes these practices in a uniquely instructive way.

  4. “I realized that the general trend of Glorantha fandom and Gloranthan branded products had lied to me- that obscurantism when it comes to playing with myths is a frustrating, subtractive enterprise…”

    This line of your writing was especially clarifying for me, Effy! I look forward to meditating on it further; the RQRPG post I made earlier today in Actual Play reflects this approach, especially the idea that I shouldn’t ever conserve mythological info from the players, but share it with them freely like water so they can be as inspired as me!

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