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Presentation: Why Glorantha (and its games)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Department: 
Seminar
Attachments: 
PDF icon why glorantha.pdf

Comments

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

/ulf

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

Ron Edwards's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

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

Ross's picture

...so here are my thoughts on this. 

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

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

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

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

 

Sean_RDP's picture

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

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

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

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

Ron Edwards's picture

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

Eeeeeeyaaghhhhh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ulf

Ron Edwards's picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg's picture

Hi, I feel I'm exactly the target audience of this post.

I never played Runequest or Glorantha during my roleplayer "career", because it was just not much played in my social spheres. I remember very well the first time I encountered it tough, in one of those "24h of RPG day" that was organized in my secondary school. One of the guy was disguised and make a "in-character seminar" (those days were full of diy workshops, and games), talking about the metaphysics and mythology. The guy was funny and presenting that like some kind of crazy priest. For a long time, I confused Runequest with Rolemaster, just because of the names, and had no interest in Runequest. Most of my friends stil confuse them.

It's really on adeptplay that I understood my confusion and what Runequest was, and readings about the HeroQuest game. I must admit Glorantha feels like one of the best fantasy setting ever made. This post, and Ulf's article, is really helpful. This year, I bout a second-handed book of Hero Wars, with the narrator's handbook and the Thunder Rebels book.

Here are some naive questions and remarks about Glorantha to show you how I'm still a bit pushed off and looking for ways to get interested.

1) I have no idea how to fill notebooks and "binge" Tanith Lee and listening to prog rock. I love Tanith Lee, it's totally inspiring, and I'm not much inspired by prog rock - I come from a totally different culture. But I don't feel like the typical new generation. I took interest in fantasy only a few years ago, after a long and long time focused on contempory horror in all its dimension. One of the thing that pushed me off from historical-inspired fantasy was the need to have educated researchs on how people would live. This is generally not helped by handbooks with police-guards and motel-taverns.

2) Is Glorantha a good example for that? I don't know but I'm interested to explore. For the moment, I think Circle of Hands and the Thunder Rebels books are the most helpful books to help visualize how a village would work in this kind of settings, how to create a little part and not as an academic general statement but as "I have a good feel of how to portray it and play people" description. Also, not sure why, but S/lay W/Me is the most helpful game that helps me to get the "fantasy trip creativity". When I play it, it always creates some "Tanith Lee meets Ashton Smith" stories, with still some problems from my part (it often comes with epic escalading region-shaking events durint the match and the battle). I really think I "binge on Tanith Lee", to keep this expression, when I play S/lay W/me, and I play it for three reasons: (a) it's cool to play it, I really enjoy it a lot, (b) Its focus on framing techniques, sharing characters, going with what has been stated always helps me to play better for other games (c) It creates crazy fantasy stuffs, settings, stories, naturally, that are useful for further inspirations and games. I'll post about S/lay W/me in its own post to talk about this game. But I think it's relevant to write about in this discussion about "how to do fantasy".

3) Exploring Glorantha. I think it's worth to try, really. I think the setting is worth it and I understand better how to do it with this discussion. I have a better sense of how Glorantha is embedded in its cultural and regional real world origin, and why it was so good at that time. I can't answer if it is a good teaching tools, but I honestly thing it was the try and then reflect on it. My preference would clearly go for Hero Wars and I'm pretty sure I'll play it, maybe not in 2021, but at least in 2022. I'm thinking about it, reading about it. The main put off is this one. Where to start? The "default" start seems clearly, as stated here, a sartarian tribe in dragon pass with those three cults, then see. But :

a) what are the other interesting stuffs? My first reflex is to say, "ok, but there seems to be a whole interesting world, and all you can find is about a sartarite tribe against the lunar empire". So this big world seem to reduce to those two cultures when you try to open its door. Without having to "know" the setting, where could I look to have an overview of other parts of the world that is interesting. I've seen mentioned Black Horses County, but never seen anything about that before somebody wrote about it here.

b) How do you present this little part (the sartarite tribe) in other terms than the "barbarians against the empire", which does not seem very appealing to me ? 

c) What would be the best resources to read for a total beginner such as me, having read a bit (a bit of cults of prax, a bit of thunder rebels, a bit of herowars), but really not so much, what are the other "pearls", innovative fantasy of this setting for you, and where to find bits of it?

 

 

 

Sean_RDP's picture

My advice would be to not overthink it. Play is the thing and crashing into Glorantha is the best way. I certainly think it is worth it. 

But there are also a ton more places than Sartar and it has me thinking that would be a great intro game for folks not in that Lunar - Orlanth conflict. Lots of wonderful places to engage with the cultures.

Greg's picture

Thanks Sean, that's my plan. Still, I'm really wondering which sources I should read to start a game. I'm sharing here my experience with the difficulty to get into Glorantha - after reading this post, hoping it provides insights. I'm sharing here how I'm getting in contact with the setting as I read this.

First, it is very clear that my group would love to play hero wars. I've read the book fully now and it gets me really excited. But visually, I love the imagery of the new runequest - roleplaying in Glorantha. Both the Hero Wars/Quest system and the new Runequest art makes me want to play this game. And Ulf and Ron's presentations help to understand it better. But practically, it is still difficult to make choices.

The two advices here are : "just pick a spot and play in it", and "Orlanthi with the three main cults". I tried them and I got into new difficulties.

Firstly, which spot to pick? I'm starting out of nowhere, so it would be really cool to have a glance of the world - not a detailed description of everything - to see what spots could be cool. The Glorantha Sourcebook? Just go with the Hero Wars rulebook (but I feel, maybe wrongly and tell me if I does, that I'm missing all this richness of the setting we are talking).

Secondly, starting with Orlanthi with three cults to lower the cognitive loads seems to be wise but leads practically to the opposite for me. When I say to myself "let's play a game" and I look for Orlanthi material :

- I have the description of the Orlanthi in the Hero Wars rulebook, that points to the Thunder Rebels playbook. Great, I've found the Thunder Rebels playbook and I'm looking at it. I did not read it deeply but had a fast reading of the book for the moment. Two things catch up my attention: (1) there is something I really like, the framed write-ups p.18, 29, 47 etc that focus on one page of "what a clan looks like", "what a village looks like", "who do you pay taxes". It gives interesting information to portray a village without having a degree in archeology. (2) but it seems to be very focused on a "Orlanthi = Nortern Island" culture fighting the empire, at least in the visuals, which kind of pull me off. Am I wrong here?

- So I'm looking for sources for the Orlanthi and I find: The Sartar Companion, a three volume campaign "Sartar Rising", a two volume "Gloranthan adventures" Orlanthi campaign, King of Sartar, Sartar Kingdom of Heroes, the Sartar Campaign Pack. 

It is like Glorantha has an elusive quality, everyone writing about how it is rich, but all I can find is a set of different interpretations of what is an Orlanthi campaign.

Those difficulties could be summarize in the following question : What would be the narrowest list of source material for a GM and his gaming group, all new to Glorantha, to start a a few sessions with the Hero Wars system in a setting inspired from Mesopotamian/Mediterrenean bronze age civilizations (as opposed to Northern Ireland vs Roman Empire) ? 

The good news is that you all have given me to play and gm in this world, and to discover it!

Sean_RDP's picture

I would just stick with what is in the HQ Glorantha main book. It gives you enough information to play with and a sense of the conflicts. But it will be centered around the Orlanthi/Lunar conflict. 

You could also grab this. Typically when people want to play Glorantha, I recommend Apple Lane. This is a HQ version of Apple Lane (an iconic intro to Glorantha). 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/96472/Return-to-Apple-Lane--Demo-Scenario  

Ron Edwards's picture

Greg, I think you're chasing your tail. When you say, "It's so rich!" then you can't pick a spot, and when you say, "I'll pick this spot," then you keep looking around to other spots because it's so rich. You'll just wear yourself out if you keep doing this.

The fact that's blocking you is simple: nothing in Glorantha is really a setting. It was a crazy-quilt or kitchen-sink all the way back when it was just in boardgames, and people have hurled spaghetti at it from every individual play-table or internet debate. Dragon Pass began overly full and has only become more and more stuffed ever since, and everywhere else has been variously interpreted or described, and has therefore become incredibly contradictory, ever since. As I said in the video, if you're going by RPG texts, then the best conclusion is that everything after 1979 is fanfic, Stafford included.

Therefore you will never find a real gazetteer or "the dictionary," i.e., if you pick a spot, then a lovely detailed account of precisely what is there and what is happening. You will always have to decide or make up at least 50% and more like 90% of what's there and what's happening.

Recently, this has changed only for the very latest iteration, RuneQuest Glorantha, which seems fairly set upon establishing exactly the kind of gazetteer you're looking for.

Greg's picture

Thanks Sean and Ron. 

You will always have to decide or make up at least 50% and more like 90% of what's there and what's happening.

Oh, it's clearer. And better. I think we missed each other's point, I wasn't really looking for a gazetter.

There is two I think I would go with a glorantha campaign. 

a) starting with runequest 2nd + cults of prax, the map of Prax, and cult of terrors and makes things up from there. The interesting thing is that I think I would never arrive to the idea of a sartarite heortling such as described in hero wars for instance with this route (which would not be a problem), but surely something more like the runequest spelenhus game. That's something I want to do when I digest the magic rules of RQ2. In fact, that's the route I would go if I didn't read Hero Wars and felt it would really suit my group.

b) going with hero wars, the map of dragon pass in RQ2, and sartarite orlanthi, but I'm pulled of by the "viking/north ireland" presentation, so I'll need to work everything myself, and I'm really interested how anyone presents the orlanthi as something else than barbararian vs the romans to a group (Ron you mentioned that in another post). 

Seeing how it went, I would prefer to take this discussion in vocal when we find time and post it after, if it's ok? 

 

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