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Intersection of thoughts

Hans began quite a conversation at Discord, which I think deserves to be imported here and continued. It goes like this!

HANS: So I'm reading the first adventure in the Starter set for Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (the latest RQ rules published by Chaosium). The target audience is new GMs and players. The first situation is compelling enough, if simple: the players walk into a bunch of trolls ransacking a market. The trolls are scary but have understandable motivations related to a war that ended before they arrived to profit from it, and the players can approach this situation in any number of different ways. So what does the text advise? If nothing happens, bring in a bigger troll and have a fight. Or, if you don't have a fight, and I'm quoting, "if a fight doesn't happen, things get tense until the guard arrives." Wait around until the cops come take care of it, super fun play. This is certainly not the only intro module I've read that does this sort of thing. What do these writers think is going to happen if they actually give people things to do that matter in a game? Do they think the book is going to explode and injure them? It just baffles me, this instinct to immediately remove all conflict where possible.

JAMES: I wonder if part of the problem is trying to write around players who either turtle up (due to inexperience, anxiety, or disinterest) and those who wanna monkey around with some other part of the scenario, leaving the presented situation unresolved?

JC: I have a lot less charitable things to say about the Starter Set (and Runequest Glorantha), but that adventure is the illustrative of Chaosium. Jeff Richard's (the Glorantha Lead) house campaign, The White Bull, was on YouTube for awhile. If you want to get a good view of how he has designed his Glorantha to be ran, check it out.

JESSE: I think there's layers. One layer is a problem with the expectations of a published scenario. The expectation is often, "Will do the majority of work for me". You could publish a dynamic scenario which would likely consist of something like a backstory, character profiles, and maybe some starting points. But the rest would be up to you. To a lot of people it would look "incomplete" because it doesn't tell you how it's "supposed to go". The second layer is that there's this old adage that goes something like "The power of a story is not in the tale but in the telling." which I think way way too many modules writers have bought into. They think they're providing an outline. it's an outline of scenes that tell you what happens but not how it happens because the "real story" is in the details. So the scene is "trolls attack and are defeated" but the "real story" is who gets hurt, who died, what sacrifices were made, what zinger lines got said at just the right moment. Okay now that the trolls are defeated there's evidence that ties them to the old hermit that lives on the edge of the town. Okay, so the next scene is investigate the hermit. But the "real story" is do you try to con him out of revealing his secrets? Do you kick in the door and beat it out of him? Do you try to uncover his secrets and blackmail him? Do you send your most attractive party member to seduce him? Okay well now that you know how the hermit is involved the next scene is about.... but the "real story" is.... It's a very commercial Hollywood blockbuster idea of storytelling. We all know how this type of story goes, we're just here to fill in the details differently this time because it's "the telling" that matters. And every table is a unique "telling" of that story and that's what's "supposed to" make it powerful and personal.

HANS: I wonder if part of the problem is trying to write around players who either turtle up (due to inexperience, anxiety, or disinterest) and those who wanna monkey around with some other part of the scenario, leaving the presented situation unresolved?

I have a suspicion that it's exactly these sorts of "intro" experiences that create these tendencies in players. You're told that this is designed to show you how this activity works, and then you're incentivized to either turtle up (because the cops will show up anyway) or dick around (because the GM's gonna force you to fight anyway).

JAMES: I am still trying to shuck off these tendencies in myself and I think they are learned behavior.

: I actually like the idea of Rune/Passion checks to get PCs in motion. How well it works in play, I don't know, but the idea is attractive to me on paper, perhaps because I am myself so often hesitant in play.

like, I was viewing it from the perspective of a player, i.e., "neat, a tool outside of simply my decisions to play my character," as opposed to a GM-control tool, which I suppose it could be used as.

JC: It has issues, beyond its use for GM control (which is its purpose from how it is used in adventure modules and the rules), I often had an outcome that's "well, you decide" which makes the mechanic pointless.

SEAN: So this thread has a small amount of conversation about Runequest:Glorantha that I ran at a con many ages ago.

In practice Runes/Passions have not been used (by me) to control anything. Quite the opposite. Reliance on their passions in that game drove character success, and they informed character actions in the fiction by reminding them what mattered to their character

Noah would likely be the one to ask as his experience recently is certainly greater than my own.

JC: I think my feelings are mostly about the text and not in how I used them. I can see them being okay for that, but I dislike the null results that happened far too often.

UMBRAL DRAGON: I play Mythras, which is the child of RuneQuest. I use passions as a fulcrum in my games. Players use them frequently, when the actions run close to their passions, as bonuses or I set them against the characters as moral dilemmas. I don't ever penalize them if they go against them. Passions can change and even be eliminated as the character develops. Hard to avenge a family member when the adversary is dead. That's just an extreme example.

JC: I would love to read a post about your experiences playing and running Mythras!

CHRISTOFFER: Me and some friends played Runequest with me as the gm, earlier this year. First time in Glorantha for all of us. My take on it was to just use the rulebook (RQ1/2) with it's background information and some cults from Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror. Built a situation from these things and then just play. Loved it, a great way to get into the game, get into our own Glorantha. We're all from Sweden and all of us had our first introduction to roleplaying through swedish brp-based games, so it was more a feeling of coming home, and to my delight to a home more functional than the one we were used to.

---------

Me again. Here is some relevant work at Adept Play, in addition to the link Sean provided above.

Q&A 3 parts 1 and 2 (directly for Hans) Q and A at the Patreon | Adept Play

Noah’s RQG game, beginning with Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Sessions 1-3 | Adept Play and following the game title tag to continue (there’s a lot).

A conversation between Noah and me about fighting and probabilities in the versions of the games we were respectively playing at the time: Probabilities and RQG | Adept Play

Department: 
Seminar
Tags: 
situation

Comments

JC's picture

There is a very curious aspect about a player character's starting Passions. You begin with a few standard passions based on one's culture - loyalty to family, and the like. However, more specific passions are gained from the Family History/Personal History steps of character creation.

During this part of character creation we learn about what specific historical events the player character, or their favored grandparent and parent took part in. The outcome of these events range from "and nothing happened" to gaining treasure or a passion towards Important Non-Player Characters.

As you go through character creation, you will find yourself asking "who is Jaldon Goldtooth, Harrek the Berserker or Argrath anyway?".

You are told events these NPCs took part in, but nothing about them of substance. There isn't a section of important NPCs, nope just some sentences here and there throughout the text about what the NPC has done and what they will do in the metaplot. Heck, you can gain passion for a character (or two) who we are told will canonically die.

I know the common refrain is "oh, you can do what you do will?" but that is ignoring an unstated point of the game. Your campaign must be about these Important NPCs. The events of the Hero Wars  will be sold to you in The Great Sartar Campaign. RQG is tied to this, as yet to be published, campaign book in many overt and subtle ways.

The designer has stated plainly that he wants to make a single true Glorantha of his design. Glorantha once a shared world of many, sometimes disagreeing, voices is now a locked down metaplot driven typical post-Shadowrun roleplaying game setting.

A lot of these details, I found out, are new by the way. I am relatively new to Glorantha, but in reading the heretical texts, I learned that Argrath (the most important person ever according to the metaplot) could've been three different people (including possibly a player character) but that isn't an option anymore. There is one Argrath, and you will run errands for him. Oh, one of those NPCs who dies had two conflicting dates of death in the original King of Sartar (now revised to fit the new canon, yes Greg Stafford's only novel got re-written in part), if she died at all. A lot that was left up to be discovered or played with is now spelled out in exhausting tepid details.

Runequest Glorantha as a game and product line is designed to be subservient to a Metaplot. Everything good about Runequest Glorantha comes from prior editions of Runequest and King Arthur Pendragon. It's a cynical, insular vanity project by some old fanzine writers who haven't been able to get a Glorantha game off the ground (numerous warehouse clearance sales don't lie) until they could capitalize on nostalgia for Runequest.

Ron Edwards's picture

I think it is true that a motivated person may well find a way. If I'm inspired (engaged, whatever one calls it) by the opening information, then I'll say "my guy is furious about this thing" or "I totally love that person," or whatever, and it is likely to blossom in play. 

... unless dozens of other contextual things about the information and the procedures gut any such effort. Specifically, for this discussion, when receiving the setting and scenario content as textually laid down somewhere is the high priority of play, i.e., "play" is supposed to consist of awed and excited audience response to that exact stuff. The GM is junior author or local theater director for the amazing script/story they've purchased; now the "performance" is here and the players are so lucky to be the recipients. That's been my experience with the early White Wolf games, with the Iron Crown version of Champions (4th and 5th editions, roughly), and many other examples. It's why I have no play-contact whatsoever with Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms content, or with the Third Imperium; as far as I'm concerned all of these destroyed their respective games.

Regarding your take on the latest RuneQuest, I agree with you, allowing for minor phrasings or angles of attack. What really baffles me is that "Your Glorantha may vary," a rather nice and good concept introduced with Hero Wars (2000), and which then became the even better "Your Glorantha will vary" and carried into the developing new RuneQuest ... seems to have been absolutely reversed. As in, totally, thoroughly: we are now to receive the One True Glorantha because one group of fans gets to play Canon Maker. Yet when I was talking with these same authors and publishers not even two years ago, they still espoused YGWV as a guiding principle. Were they lying outright? Are they somehow able to reconcile lip service to the idea with their products which flatly contradict it? What the hell?

I don't need answers or debates about that. Other people's problems/misdeeds aren't mine and I don't need to engage with it. What matters for us is what to do and how to play.

So we need to distinguish between:

  1. presenting content and context in some way that's destructive toward play vs.
  2. any and every other way to do it, conceived as a unit, varying among customizable to minimal to maximal amounts.

In other words, fixating on the volume (bigness) of the presented material is to miss the point. There may indeed be a degree that lets us know that #1 has been here and done its filthy work, but I'm not going to point at a specific threshold. It's more about the way rather than how much.

I've written, played, reflected upon, designed, and taught about this topic extensively, so we have a lot of ways to go in this discussion. I've found it's best to focus tightly: this game, these people, this content, these procedures. JC, can you identify a specific play-experience of yours which you think is a good subject (for good or ill)?

JC's picture

I wrote briefly about this Runquest in Glorantha campaign before, and that was a session before things started to sputter out.

(https://adeptplay.com/actual-play/runequest-glorantha-lets-duck-some-lunars)

We decided to start the campaign further back in the timeline from Runequest Glorantha's canonical starting date. We had more detail/solid *answers* to use, and wouldn't have to wait on forthcoming adventure modules. I wasn’t too afraid of sticking to canon at first, but the mechanisms pushed the game in other ways.

The initial situation about the Lunar Tax Collectors & Apple Lane came from re-mixing both Apple Lane adventures (one for Classic Runequest, the other from HeroQuest Glorantha). Our game was focused on The Varmandi Clan, who were local to Apple Lane and the player character’s passions were directed towards Starbrow and a failed Rebellion against the Lunars. We had everything, a place on the map, named NPCs relevant to the situation and local concerns too.

So what happened? After the fight with the Lunar Tax Collectors, it was uncovered that it wasn’t just Lunars but also Orlanthi from a rival clan. The Lunar and Orlanthi "tax collectors" were led by a Lunar Sorcerer, who wanted an artifact held by the local important non-player character, Gringle. There were some little fights, skill rolls, ambushes, lots of Passions and Rune rolls  - yet we found ourselves getting less enthused after each session.

Between sessions, I always kept a list of the passions at hand and the canon as guidance for my preparation. The history of the setting played into the character's background directly, I felt I should honor that.

I found out, to my surprise, the metaplot became more important each session. There was a marked shift in dynamics between us during play too. Usually, my partner and I's dynamic is punchy - like a sparring match where we try to bring the best out of each other. I have no idea what to expect and neither do they.

However, the ways Passions (remember these are assigned and specific, not created by players)  always bring the focus of the game to the metaplot, the larger narrative, over the immediate events of play just became infuriating. Even then, I'm doubtful Passions as used in RQG would be that much better if we had a freer hand.

Part of this is how mandatory behavioral tests work. In Runequest Glorantha, Passions and Runes over 80% or higher force tests which can dictate a character's behavior.

(Note: the Passion rules in Mythras are different, there are no mandatory behavioral rolls, and passions just add bonuses without an activation roll either.)

Say, you've got Loyalty to a Rebellion, that's  going to determine the direction a player character goes and who they take orders from. You are locked into a direction before play but unlike Beliefs from Burning Wheel or Spiritual Attributes from The Riddle of Steel. Passions serve as a way to "automate roleplaying" rather than creating a moment for a player to make an impactful choice.

There are two examples that feed into each other.

The Varmandi (the player character) brings proof of the conspiracy to Gringle, and wants to enact swift retribution. Gringle, trying to prevent a bigger conflict, makes The Varmandi swear to "find another way" and this forces a Loyalty to the Rebellion test (Gringle financed the rebellion in part). The test succeeded, the player had to find another way of dealing with the Lunars.

When The Varmandi confronted the Lunar Sorcerer, I played the arrogant Sorcerer to the hilt. The Lunar insulted the Varmandi and this created an Honor vs Loyalty check, both rolls failed. What does that mean? Well the player is free to act, however they choose.

I could feel all the tension drain out of the scene (this happened more than a few times). What should've been an opportunity for roleplay became just another die roll. I realized the purpose of Passions was to force the players to "play along with the story" rather than create situations. Players aren't making meaningful choices, it's just a glorified reaction check which is fine for NPCs but removes a creative voice from players. It doesn't matter who the player character is, passions built from a metaplot will follow it .

It wasn't creatively engaging, the game quickly felt like it was on autopilot, both of us got less enthusiastic about the game. We tried very hard to meet the stated purpose of the game. I didn't want to ignore huge swaths or texts or mechanics, and this was the result.

Could we have ignored the issues or changed gears? Of course, but then what was the point of sticking to the game - when it's clearly designed and written around playing to a specific series of events. It's there in character creation, it's clear from the campaign previews and adventures how Passions direct the players along a story. This was on top of other  mechanical and textual issues also arose during play, and ya - enough was enough. We set it down, and moved on.
 

Ron Edwards's picture

With that description/experience in mind, now I'm thinking about the literal answer to your thread title: the Passions come from Pendragon, as well as the Traits as they are called in that game. To my knowledge no one talked about using them for RuneQuest until the latter days.

I appreciate the presence of involuntary behavior in Pendragon, as it's based on Malory, and one of the primary, often central facts of Le Morte d'Arthur is that the knights are off their fuckin' rockers. Quite a lot of the drama arises from or is resolved by moments of low impulse control, spontaneous reversals from whatever the knight seeks to represent, entirely uncalled-for expressions of ideology, or even plain murderous fury. I see the fun in situations where we all know that this knight is bound to lose his cool and kiss the guy's wife / fall blubbering at her feet / swear fealty to her husband / decapitate her ... oh wait, it's not this knight, it's my knight who does it this time.

When I learned that these features were going to be in the new RuneQuest, I was puzzled at how that was supposed to match the earthy, more canny, rather grandly humorous literary and legendary sources I associate with Glorantha. Malory's knights are all twisted up over various forms of denial, whether by self or by someone else. Mesopotamian, Greek, and Nordic sources' heroes are deeply passionate but also earthy, at home in their bodies, full of hot fluids in comfortable use.

But I acknowledge that this may be a preferential reading. Going by King of Sartar, the various high-mythic gods and hero personalities are full of twisted-up denials and odd reversals, so I guess it fits ... although those are the legends of Glorantha and not its protagonists here on the ground, or so it seems to me. I'm very influenced by the pre-Hero Wars, rather human-level play of the earlier versions of the game so maybe I simply don't get it. From a design perspective the whole thing seems like a wrong road. 

Effy's picture

There are two things that have struck me with regards to Pendragon and Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and Passions: the first is that Pendragon's method of representing being overcome with passion is to have the player knight go berserk, and when they leave the field of play as a consequence, it means they have spent the next little while of time wandering in a "fit of madness" or fugue- but Runequest instead represents this by falling into a depressive episode. All I have are my own subjective experiences there, which are also tied up in Pendragon's stricter instructions on use of time, but in those subjective experiences, I found being taken out of play in Pendragon by a fumbled result on a Passion roll to be less annoying because it meant being out of play for the balance of the session rather than an indeterminate amount of diegetic time.

The other factor is that the Pendragon approach seems to almost recapitulate the process of Arthuriana folklore characters having different traits accrete upon them- when I played Pendragon and my PK wandered off in a fit of madness after fumbling a Passion roll while hunting a dragon, the GM and I decided that she had spent the rest of the summer hiding out in a coastal forest and trying to build seawalls against the rising sea, developing a fear and loathing of the ocean (I don't recall at this point what the specific Passion was), but it was an entirely off-the-wall element that nevertheless felt entirely Arthurian, as if she was taking her place alongside the one-off figures like the werewolf knight and the knight with a sword long and wide enough to use as a bridge who parade through lists of knights of Arthur's court. So there's an element there where the Pendragon rules are, I think, additive to the PK even in the "worst" failure mode.

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi Effy, and welcome. I think you are right on target with this.

Hans's picture

JC, if you'll indulge me, I have further questions about your game, related to this discussion on passions but perhaps tangential (I did go through and read your post on RQG that mentioned, among other things, an opposed Rune roll). As you said, passions weren't creatively engaging. What about runes?

Can you compare your engagement with the rune mechanic and any associated outcomes that you recall with what you've described here regarding passion rolls and their outcomes?

It looks on paper like runes have some of the same issues as passions--what does failure mean, primarily, although this would seem only to apply to Element runes as all the other runes have opposed runes such that success in one equals failure in the other and vice-versa--but also it seems perhaps that runes wouldn't have the issues you describe below regarding metaplot forcing:

I found out, to my surprise, the metaplot became more important each session. There was a marked shift in dynamics between us during play too. Usually, my partner and I's dynamic is punchy - like a sparring match where we try to bring the best out of each other. I have no idea what to expect and neither do they.

However, the ways Passions (remember these are assigned and specific, not created by players)  always bring the focus of the game to the metaplot, the larger narrative, over the immediate events of play just became infuriating. Even then, I'm doubtful Passions as used in RQG would be that much better if we had a freer hand.

Does the behavioral "forcing" feel similarly negative with runes as it does with passions, absent the metaplot connections? Runes would seem to be more open for interpretation as well as being more tied to character-personal and immediate-situation things like your magic and your cult. 

JC's picture

Ron says - When I learned that these features were going to be in the new RuneQuest, I was puzzled at how that was supposed to match the earthy, more canny, rather grandly humorous literary and legendary sources I associate with Glorantha. Malory's knights are all twisted up over various forms of denial, whether by self or by someone else. Mesopotamian, Greek, and Nordic sources' heroes are deeply passionate but also earthy, at home in their bodies, full of hot fluids in comfortable use.

But I acknowledge that this may be a preferential reading. Going by King of Sartar, the various high-mythic gods and hero personalities are full of twisted-up denials and odd reversals, so I guess it fits ... although those are the legends of Glorantha and not its protagonists here on the ground, or so it seems to me. I'm very influenced by the pre-Hero Wars, rather human-level play of the earlier versions of the game so maybe I simply don't get it. From a design perspective the whole thing seems like a wrong road.

I don’t understand this new direction myself. Rune Magic is *easier* to access than ever before! Character’s can easily start with weapon skills over 90%. However, despite this level of power, pc's aren't the Conans, Grey Mousers and Rustems anymore. I am not sure *who* they are supposed to be…but the game clearly doesn’t want the player’s to be Heroes.

Effy says - There are two things that have struck me with regards to Pendragon and Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and Passions: the first is that Pendragon's method of representing being overcome with passion is to have the player knight go berserk, and when they leave the field of play as a consequence, it means they have spent the next little while of time wandering in a "fit of madness" or fugue- but Runequest instead represents this by falling into a depressive episode. All I have are my own subjective experiences there, which are also tied up in Pendragon's stricter instructions on use of time, but in those subjective experiences, I found being taken out of play in Pendragon by a fumbled result on a Passion roll to be less annoying because it meant being out of play for the balance of the session rather than an indeterminate amount of diegetic time.

The other factor is that the Pendragon approach seems to almost recapitulate the process of Arthuriana folklore characters having different traits accrete upon them- when I played Pendragon and my PK wandered off in a fit of madness after fumbling a Passion roll while hunting a dragon, the GM and I decided that she had spent the rest of the summer hiding out in a coastal forest and trying to build seawalls against the rising sea, developing a fear and loathing of the ocean (I don't recall at this point what the specific Passion was), but it was an entirely off-the-wall element that nevertheless felt entirely Arthurian, as if she was taking her place alongside the one-off figures like the werewolf knight and the knight with a sword long and wide enough to use as a bridge who parade through lists of knights of Arthur's court. So there's an element there where the Pendragon rules are, I think, additive to the PK even in the "worst" failure mode.

Woah! That is a lot closer to what I hoped Passions and Runes would do. I wanted unique situations rather than what it was in practice. Pendragon is a thoughtfully designed game, and if the answers for discovering Glorantha were in there those mechanics would’ve been in Hero Wars (my two cents).

Hans says - Can you compare your engagement with the rune mechanic and any associated outcomes that you recall with what you've described here regarding passion rolls and their outcomes?

It was about the same, just a bit more negotiating and referencing the description of the Runes. There is far too much wiggle room and overlap for my taste. However, this might be related to my next answer...

Does the behavioral "forcing" feel similarly negative with runes as it does with passions, absent the metaplot connections? Runes would seem to be more open for interpretation as well as being more tied to character-personal and immediate-situation things like your magic and your cult.

This touches on something else that bugs me on a creative and philosophical level. I do not know if this will be helpful, but it is important to me.

*takes deep breath*

The relationship between People and Runes in both Jeff Richard’s Glorantha RPGs is fucking bizarre. In both HeroQuest Glorantha (HQG) and Runequest Roleplaying in Glorantha (RQG) people are defined by Runes. Every Person now has Runes on their character sheet. Player character’s come into the world with an imposed (by the author) understanding of the Runes. If I am strong in the Air Rune, I am like this - as are all beings who are strong in the Air Rune. To get strong in the Air Rune, succeed at using the Air Rune.

This wasn’t always the case. You had to “earn a Rune” in both Runequest and Hero Wars. One did this by sacrifice and deed. You gave of yourself to your god. You learn to act as your god and assume those responsibilities. As this mystic connection deepens, you only become more involved with your kith and kin. Your stature in both the material and spiritual world grows. Until you can literally change the mythology which defines existence. This journey is what defines your Runes. No two Death Gods are the same, neither are two Swords of Humakt (Humakti Priest).

I find how Runes are now positioned to be far less engaging for gaming, and as creative inspiration.

*exhale*

Ron Edwards's picture

Day-yumm, JC. (toast)

Hans's picture

I watched Q&A 3 as linked above, along with all the comments from the patreon and the site. At first, I thought, all well and good, I learned something about how to use Strike Ranks (follow those links for more on that -- the discussion is in-depth and very clarifying for RQ play, and what I'm about to say will only make sense if you know the ways to think about Strike Ranks), but it doesn't seem to have a ton to do with the discussion in this post. 

Then I considered for a bit. 

There's a sort of analogous or metaphorical connection* between "resetting" combat every round, making all the characters effectively stand around doing nothing for a fictional blip (that gets elided or ignored in play but never feels exactly right; I haven't played RQ and seen this but I have had similar experiences while in the "murk"), and the control or management of play that the adventure I discussed advises (and, frankly, assumes).

Conversely, there's an analogous/metaphorical relationship between using Strike Ranks to delineate a character's actions now and ongoing, in relation to what they want to do and what everyone else is doing, all at once (no fictional reset) and playing without one person or a group of persons (up to and including the entire group of persons at the table) controlling or managing play (which Ron bluntly says in the Q&A is not actually play).

I am looking forward to investigating Noah's and JC's RQG games.

*Originally I wrote a correlation instead of "an analogous or metaphorical connection", but that was stating things too tightly and perhaps even causally in an incorrect way, i.e., implying that if one uses Strike Ranks in a particular way one is or is not by definition using techniques of control.

Ron Edwards's picture

I went through a few of the Q&A's and thought to myself, wow, this one is definitely for Hans, as you see in the post ...

... and now, a couple of days later, I am saying, "what was I thinking?" So I'll begin by apologizing for making you guess; at the time I thought whatever it was would be totally obvious and immediately helpful, and now I don't know what it was! Let's see if I can recover that so I won't have to apologize twice, this time for wasting your time.

Your thoughts on the combat round (or rather lack) are all discussable. Although I think the initiative-bounded one-round structure isn't intrinsically "control friendly," I also think the strike-rank no-reset structure is certainly more "control un-friendly," so your metaphor holds or is at least useful. I wouldn't be surprised if that's why people who should have known better (Stafford and Willis first, historically, and certainly Laws for fuck's sake) kept shying away from it through iterations of the rules.

The key point related to what you wrote, I think (must have been), is that the no-actual-round strike rank structure is always asking "what do you do now" from the player, and there's no fixed point which can be retooled as an opportunity window to re-set what's happening at a whole-group level. So it's intrinsically unpredictable, and there is no way for the fight to be conceived as a transition to a known next step, unless it is really laid down in stone at the beginning, and maybe not even then.

It may be, too, that I was thinking about how combats of this kind tend to get out of hand, in terms of consequences, and they can't stop unless the player-characters actively stop. In your first comment at the Discord, which started the conversation, you're talking about the players being assumed or enforced to be effectively inconsequential, that the scene is basically canned to end a certain way and that's that. The fixed-round structure can be abused more easily toward that presumption by seeming to offer a "big GM action" step between rounds, e.g., to have the foes suddenly realize "hey, we have no problem here," or the police to show up and stop the fight magically.

Hans's picture

Regardless of any takeaways or lack of them here, watching the Q&A and reading the comments was certainly no waste of time (I've been meaning to work my way through all of them, anyway).

the no-actual-round strike rank structure is always asking "what do you do now" from the player, and there's no fixed point which can be retooled as an opportunity window to re-set what's happening at a whole-group level.

...

The fixed-round structure can be abused more easily toward that presumption by seeming to offer a "big GM action" step between rounds, e.g., to have the foes suddenly realize "hey, we have no problem here," or the police to show up and stop the fight magically.

Not having played no-round strike rank, I couldn't see this from just reading, but it makes good sense to me, and the ability of the GM to control (in some cases the felt pressure to control) a dynamic, physical, violent situation in "round-based" systems is something I am deeply familiar with. You can feel the pulled punch when it's been a tough fight and the beginning of the round starts and the GM has his characters give up because someone is close to dying, or there's been multiple exclamations about "unfair" results of rolls.

It also dovetails nicely with any prior expressed pressure on player characters (from the GM or other players) to act always and on first principles as a party. The round starts and we hash out what we're all doing, with jockeying and lobbying to get us to go this way or that: Matt argues we should stay fighting, Marisol that we have to be smart and run. One of them will win and we'll all do that.

 

Effy's picture

I've had a few interesting experiences trying to both play in and run Runequest Glorantha games. The first was an attempt to run the game as much "by the book" as possible by the GM, but which used entirely classic RQ2-era modules and third-party material from people relatively new to RQG as its source material for play. There, the GM control function of Passions/Runes went unutilized- I think entirely because those classic modules of exploring underground caves or playing Seven Samurai for some trollkin revolutionaries are completely disconnected from the metaplot, so the older GM relied on the RQ2/RQ3 system without the RQG control levers ever being engaged.

Running an RQG game came about because my partner (they/she pronouns, for clarity) got into Glorantha a bit and wanted to play Runequest just so they could have that experience under their belt to use against potential gatekeeping. They were completely new to tabletop roleplaying games, but immediately zeroed in on the GM-control aspect (embarrassingly, I flagged them as something like Flags when I read through the system and even playing in the prior game didn't disabuse me of that) of Passions and Runes. Strikingly, by asking the question, "Okay, so who's the entity mind-controlling my character if they have a Rune over 80%?" Obviously, there's no diegetic answer there.

She decided to make a character from one of the homelands in the core book, using one of the cities or sub-areas noted in the core book, and then we ran into a slight problem- none of the events in Family History offered any connection to people who would be relevant to this area. So Family History went by the wayside, and then Passions went by the wayside too because they wanted their character to have a relationship with a setting NPC (who "canonically" consists of a single sentence of descriptive text or so) that couldn't really be fitted into the Passions as they were laid out- a courtier and lover, a favorite but not an exclusive partner, someone who's not a social equal but certainly has influence. And then Runes had to be set aside because they decided to pick a goddess clearly of a particular element but diametrically opposed to how the core book lays out that element's Rune, and then by this point, (about three sessions of play in), we just tossed Runequest Glorantha aside and went into "systemless"/informal-system play that's been ongoing for a full year now, which has focused on engaging with the "big" setting elements like international politics and interacting with the gods directly.

So I think, based on these experiences, that the apparent intended play of RQG is one where the players move through the GM's predefined story and there are built-in levers to slightly mask the control, but the book does not communicate this well and leaves open a number of options that simply break those assumptions wide open if you take them.

Ron Edwards's picture

And that second apology to Hans is indeed forthcoming. The reference I was so excited for him to see was in Q&A 2, specifically Part 2. It's a response to the Questing Ace's (JC's) question about the scenario I wrote for the Issaries Inc publication Gathering Thunder.

Fortunately, given the heavy emphasis on RuneQuest in most of the Q&As, #3 included material worth discussing for this post's purpose as you can see above, but it wasn't the noses-on-our-faces this-matters content I had in mind.

Hans's picture

I watched it -- you talk about setting material described/marketed as something to be done with as the gamemaster wishes, i.e., "Your Glorantha May Vary", and then the actual text completely contradicts this. Very relevant to my contemporaneous thoughts from the solo gunmage game.

Ron Edwards's picture

I want to develop this a little. "GM's Glorantha vs. publisher's canonical Glorantha" is likely an effect of what I'm talking about in the video, but the direct topic, or issue in play, is much more concrete: what is this published adventure scenario-thing for, in terms of player-characters, and what are we doing in play?

From the publisher's point of view, a text like Final Days at Skullpoint is a movie. This isn't a GM issue; it's a whole-group issue: we are to be consumers of this story that they have provided, with the GM mildly elevated as deputy provider. They conceive the process of play and interaction with this text to be entirely transitive. They publish, GM reads and receives, GM talks, players listen and receive.

When they saw the text that I provided, it baffled them. They saw no movie to play "at the players" reliably. They had to add text like the hillbilly monologue I quoted and otherwise turn the thing into a widget with a crank that you turn and turn so the movie pops out.

I never was able to convey to them that my little bullet points per topic were not scripted plot beats, but examples of what might occur, among a nigh-infinite unlisted set which might occur instead and could not be known via text or indeed at all. At best, I got a nudge-wink from them: "yes, Ron, we know the the real magician never reveals his secrets, of course the story isn't scripted [wink wink] ... but write out all those bullet points in detail + a specific climax so the GM knows where to go no matter what happens."

This problem does tie to the "vary vs. canon" topic insofar as the publishers have provided this movie as part of their franchise, in service to perpetuating it, and effectively demanding loyalty (subordination) to it. The interaction is complex:

  • Technically, it doesn't matter whether the GM is fine with whatever Glorantha they see in the pages or toggles this-or-that detail to "vary," when play is effectively shut out of the picture in the first place.
  • But in practice, the more prescriptive the text in details and events, the more this activity (a cross between cinema and paint-by-numbers) becomes a vehicle for the franchise content, simply because altering it is work.

Reflecting on the experience of writing and publishing isn't very fun because now, in light of later events, I know what was happening among publishers, titles, IP, and persons. I hope it's helpful and makes sense for the topic you're addressing across these different posts.

Hans's picture

"GM's Glorantha vs. publisher's canonical Glorantha" is likely an effect of what I'm talking about in the video, but the direct topic, or issue in play, is much more concrete: what is this published adventure scenario-thing for, in terms of player-characters, and what are we doing in play?

Oh yes--exactly. This is how I have been thinking about the issue, even if I haven't described it so clearly. I'm not concerned with whether and how the published material conflicts with, accords with, or assists the GM to create a particular vision of a setting, but rather what you're saying: how does the produced text that the GM is supposed to devour impact play? I can see that I've been trying to have my cake and eat it too, devouring the text (not even the obvious railroaded adventures, but also the grand setting texts that set* every detail just so, and static), spitting it out, and hoping that somehow we'll get beyond "a cross between cinema and paint by numbers" (what an apt image).

This is helpful, so thanks for retreading stuff that may induce distaste or even disgust.

* Probably pure linguistic cheekiness with no other value, but in light of all this discussion I can't help but start to see the tomes of setting as "set-ing", like a jello, once plastic but handed over to the group fresh out of the mold, jiggling with promise but for all that firm in its form.

noah's picture

I am in agreement with JC’s cogent critiques of RQG. To add my two cents regarding Runes in RQG…Floating around the Glorantha-verse of blogs last year, I saw a scanned page from Stafford’s copy of Mallory. In the margins, he’d written [something like] “Lancelot fails his Passion Roll.” That was a powerful lesson, to me, in how intimately connected reading literature and designing games were, for him.

In contrast with the literary, even cultured heft of Passions in Pendragon, Runes in RQG are vague and murky…the equivalent of astrological signs, except without any of the shared cultural context that at least make astrological signs convenient/fun shorthand in everyday use. They don’t reflect a knowledge of Bronze-Age mythology or even of fantasy literature, just familiarity with the never ending flood of Glorantha fandom.

This shouldn’t be surprising, as Runes in the original design didn’t have fixed content: they were to be used as inspiration for creating one’s own cults and pantheons. When I play Runequest again, it will be through the Second Edition. If I attempt to graft on RQG’s Rune rules, I will be writing my own definitions of the Runes. The Runes as presented in RQG are just not, to me, functional or inspiring instruments for play.

Hans's picture

I appreciate your and JC's response. All of this discussion has helped me contextualize a bunch of things, and, I admit, enervated my desire to play RQG; when I first got the book and read it I bought into the marketing that the setting had been "now" fully integrated into the rules, and I was very excited about the Runes and Passions being a part of that, but having some more education on RQ2 as well as a more in-depth look at RQG play, I can see that it is probably not what I want it to be, and that RQ2 should be targeted for play soon.

Effy's picture

Yes. I think that for me the deepest problem is that RQ:RiG, while simultaneously presenting the Runes as deterministic definitions of who and what your character is, also underexplains them and makes it clear that you shouldn't be using basic metaphorical comparisons from the real world. Fire, for example, you might think is associated with heat, burning, purification, etc. but in Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, fire is associated with cold rationalism and asceticism, according to the description of the Fire Rune in the text. So when the text fails to give any guidance on how Water or Moon might determine your personality, (or how the GM might use them as control levers), I think the players are discouraged from simply importing their pre-existing understandings and associations, which is another instance of freezing out play.

Of course, in historical terms, this all comes down to the way in which these strange archetypal shapes had their limits defined by taking RQ2 and supplements cults like Orlanth, Yelmalio, Kyger Litor and Zorak Zoran, etc. as the delimiting point for what these broad concepts must be "in Glorantha", I think. 

Ron Edwards's picture

It's weird to have been so excited about RuneQuest and Glorantha, specifically the Cults supplement, as well as the original Stormbringer game, in the very early 1980s, then to have fallen out of touch. I had a couple of Wyrm's Footnotes and some other things, not much. I wasn't even been too knowledgeable about BRP. I knew nothing about the Avalon Hill version until 1993, upon its re-release, and didn't even know it was a reprint from many years before. I dipped in and out my texts and some play, but I followed nothing about Glorantha during the whole 1990s blow-up over content, IP, and publications. I picked up some of the older material here and there and enjoyed it for its own sake, e.g., Trollpak, but I didn't recover my active interest until Hero Wars was published, which I only discovered when it was right in front of my face, i.e., not due to promotion or hobby culture.

Oldish maundering aside, my point is that all of this talk is very strange to me. The runes as presented in the original game and as seen in the Cults books were extremely straighforward. It's not any sort of deconstruction or explanation - in fact there is no explanation at all, as why explain the obvious. Back then they were not psychological indicators of any sort either, so if that's supposed to be a new thing, well and good ... but somewhere along the way, someone decided to make things awfully special and complicated and ever-so unique or something.

Fire is easy: hot, fiery flames. I think I'm going to stay in my simple zone and not buy a huge expensive book, however colorful or ever-so-official, which tells me it isn't.

Greg's picture

Those Rune definitions are super weird and, reading you,  I realize I ignored it unconsciously while reading RQ:G, because I avoided the notion of "rune is like an astrological sign" and skipped those part. I think I've read that in HeroQuest Glorantha, and, I don't know, it feels deterministic without any good reason - it just doesn't fit the world (it's all about cults and their lore and Runes, but you "had this rune in you when you were born and determines your temper" ?). It introduces problems without any meaningful reason. But adding complex counter-intuitive psychology attached to their meaning really makes it unplayable.

Ron Edwards's picture

(to Greg) Objecting to all terms or concepts of this sort seems harsh to me. Plenty of games include personality indicators of one sort or another, and often quite effective as either starting-point or constrain. As a direct comparison, see the zodiac terms in The Mountain Witch, which serve well as rough starting sketches. 

The issue in this case is the strange off-brand meanings of such things as "fire" or "sky." Early RuneQuest used the runes as familiar indicators to anyone who knew even a little mythology or pop paganism, specifically Mesopotamian and Mediterranean, and borrowing from Celtic/Nordic, Native American, and Australian as well without any confusion. I agree that they weren't personality indicators in that game, but (without specifically recommending it) they could have been in the same sense as The Mountain Witch does and would have done no harm.

Perhaps the romanticized canonical existence of Glorantha led people to want it to be really an alien place, another-world, so that they feel some need to re-conceive such things as basic elements and symbols. I see "the lozenge" as similar in concept and function to ancient cultures' models of the world, and to let the very notion of what it "really" is float away, but that's not real enough, I suppose. Well, I can't be troubled to trace when this other kind of thinking came into effect in publication, but I don't think it's very Stafford insofar as that matters to anyone - as I recall, Hero Wars was quite standard in its runic meanings, similar to the original RuneQuest

JC's picture

I decided to check my copy of Classic Runequest and *carefully, ever so delicately* open my copies of Hero Wars. Both texts describe Runes in context with their possible gods and myths. There is no behavoiral, moral or set *thing* a Rune represents.

Runequest 2 is very brief and sketchy. You may get a single fact, a name or two for a god, a possible hint at a deed, maybe a connection to anothe rune and and sometimes downright delightful asides like with the Illusion rune.

Hero Wars goes even further by only ever describing runes in context of its many specific gods. I didn't see a "here are the runes" section, only the rune as associated with a god. I didn't see an Air Rune explanation, but I saw the air rune by the Storm Age and the air rune along with Orlanth's name..but then again the glue binding on the books is awful - so there is a chance I didn't see it on a scan.

Hans's picture

Inspired by JC I went to check in on RQG, as well. You make some good points, Effy, but I think they get taken too far in this:

RQ:RiG...makes it clear [with regard to runes] that you shouldn't be using basic metaphorical comparisons from the real world. Fire, for example, you might think is associated with heat, burning, purification, etc. but in Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, fire is associated with cold rationalism and asceticism, according to the description of the Fire Rune in the text.

According to the text Fire is explicity about the purifying flame that destroys pollution and leaves behind clarity. So while I do thinkg, for example, that making Air the "fiery", passionate rune is weird and counterintuitive, it's not totally strange that Fire is labeled as it is. And from my read Fire and Air are the only possibly weird ones in this regard, with all the others being fairly sensible in the terms Ron described (Water is mercurial and changeable, Earth sturdy and practical, etc).

This isn't internet one-upsmanship or anything (at least I'm not intending it to be), I just wanted to see what RQG said and based on what I see I just wanted to avoid any sort of dogpile of the "old good, new bad" sort.

Ron Edwards's picture

Stepping in as moderator: I think we've reached our point with 2 cents each, including details of different outlooks. That's a good thing but as this is - however I may hate the fact - the internet, it's the point where this stream of response should end. At least here and for a little while - there's nothing wrong with continuing thoughts later, especially in a play post. 

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