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Glorantha is Myth... right?

Started by Christopher Kubasik, April 20, 2005, 04:38:24 PM

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Christopher Kubasik

Hi all,

The really long Glorantha thread has so much going on in it, I thought I'd step over here and check something out.

In the HQ rules, and source material, Gloranths is defined Myth? Right?

Whenever I review the material, I always assume that I'm stepping into a world very much like the Homeric Epics or Le Morte D'Arthur or Beowulf. And even fairy tales from around the world.

And these worlds of these stories are simply not real. They aren't our world with magic added. And the logic of the magic could not possible be squared with how our world would really work if our world had magic added.

It isn't a "primitave" state of reality. It's a state of fiction that we (or, at least, some of us) enjoy because the world exists outside of a world we know -- similiar in some form, very different in another.

If anyone were to try to push the logic of these tales to rational limits ("Well, if there's one giant in the clouds, there's got to be more -- where are they?" or "If there's a Holy Grail and the Christian God rules, who the hell's the Lady of the Lake and why is she handing out swords to men chose by God to rule?" and so on...) the tales would quickly fall apart. Because that's not the job of these tales.

I understand that a lot of imaginative (and most modern) fiction does try to push rational implications to the limits. Good. I wouldn't want to deny anyone their fun. In the same way, many people want a cohesive, objective reality to play from. And, again, good.

Certainly Glorantha can be played this way. I'm not saying anyone should play it one way or another.

I am saying the text says, "Glorantha is Myth." And to play that way means to step into a certain kind of fiction.

This fiction is at its heart poetic in its logic. The fantastical events and magic are reflections of the needs of the characters and the story. Yes, there is a larger society at stake. But these tales do not depend on a world that "works."

I understand that this kind of matter has been debated on Glorantha lists (or something like it -- I've only heard the rumors of it), and I'm not wishing to rip the issue open again here.

I'm simply positing a point of view.  If the characters live in a world like the Homeric Epics or Le Morte D'Arthur, that is, a specific story where the issues and the logic of the world matter far less than the characters' choices, experiences and journey, and the Players focus on creating the logic of a tale and not a functionig world, I think a lot of issues of how Glorahta works will fall away.

In other words, what matters is the orbit of events around the PCs. The world is there to draw on (or not) as needed to keep the that orbit around the PCs imaginitive, poetic, and compelling.

Are there compelling stories that doe focus us on the logic of the world? Yes. And most of the 20th centuries Science Fiction was often about that. (Often, for this reader, at the expense of the kind of story I would like to read.)

Nothing I'm written is written to suggest that in Glorantha things simply happen higgeldy-piggeldy.  Like the pre-enlightenment stories referenced, Glorantha as Myth will have a logic and consistency for the events being created by the group in active play. That's the reference point that matters for some players -- not all of Glorantha, but the experience of the PCs, as the protagonists of a fantastical tale.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

James Holloway

Well, that's one way of looking at it. Historically, however, and still today, there's a lively trend of highly-detailed, nitty-gritty stuff about how the different peoples of Glorantha live. Sometimes this can clash with the mythic theme that's recently been being emphasized, other times they work together surprisingly well. I think the computer game King of Dragon Pass is an example of the latter -- a very interesting, challenging strategy game about keeping your clan alive in hard times, making alliances, fighting wars etc. while still maintaining a strong mythological, sacral element.

For me, I'd say that actual play in Glorantha is more saga than myth, but I think it supports a mythic approach well enough.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi James,

Fair enough.

I'm not concerned with the term "Myth" though. After all, I referenced fairy tales, and I have no idea if anyone would actually consider the Homeric Epics and Le Morte D'Arthur "myth". I was simply quoting the book.

I am suggesting one way of playing HeroQuest is with the idea of saying, "In Glorantha, you're PC is in a story. A specific kind of story that relieves the story tellers of a certain kinds of things (a concern for an uber-logic for the whole world being one of these things).

We often approach RPGs with the idea that, "Yeah, it's fictional, but we want it also to make sense like it were real." (I think this has a lot to do with needing to make an appeal for credibility when we want things to go our way. There are more grounds for appeal these days -- like, "But it would make a cooler story if we do it this way...")

I understand that Glorantha has a long -- and shifting history. And I'm aware many people can play the game very different ways. (If I didn't make that clear in my first post, I apologize.)

What I'm trying to lay out is a historically-not-very-common way of approaching RPG play -- that the players assume they are making up a story, with the focus not on making up a coherent world the PCs move through, but instead creating and respecting the logic of a world that meets the needs of the PCs for the tale.

In most stories, you want just enough rational for events, just enough detail to ground the tale -- but put too much in and it becomes something else -- not good, not bad -- just something else.

Again, the notion is that the session is PC-centric. The needs and the logic of the world are secondary to the events, experiences and actions of the PCs.

And, again, Gloratha (and RPGs in general) have along tradition of world-buildings and tossing around unified field theories for fictional worlds and such. I wouldn't want to deny anyone their fun.

I'm just saying that in PC-centric sessions a lot of this world/logic stuff falls away.

I am saying that one way of looking at the HQ rules and the Glorantha environment certaily encourages this way of playing.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield



I am a newbie when it comes to Glorantha. That said, my perspective is that of someone who has not been indoctrinated with the canon, who has never read nor played RuneQuest, and whose only exposure to HQ is the rulebook and some discussions here.

And I would play the game the way you describe. I was happy to read the rulebook and see that mythology is at the core of it. There's a reason that HeroQuesting can work out in many different ways, with vastly different stations--it seems to me that there's a good hint that stories vary, that it's the meaning of the story, not the details, that matters. Heroquesting seems to be a metaphor for all of Glorantha.

So, as you said, to each their own. I am just personally excited that I could play a game that distinctly allows me to mend things and put meaning and story before details and "realistic causality."

Christopher Kubasik

Oh, one more thing James....

I see no contradiction in terms of "nitty-gritty" with what I've written.

I think it all falls under "enough detail to ground it enough."

Le Morte D'Arthur isn't just airy-fairy magic fluff.  Malory lists the costs of eqipment, how much this item is worth, the value of this piece of land vs. another. It's just that these items lend color to the tale -- he's not trying to make us undertand the whole economy of the society his story is set in.  It's just enough to help us understand what is of value -- and that one piece of land (or whatnot) is of more value than another. Or that a castle is really valuable. And so on.

Same with the Homeric Epics. Details about rituals are given and so on. There's no harm in this. What I'm discussing is a matter of focus and the use of these details. Playing one way they become the fun by putting a lot of focus on getting them right, thinking through the implications and so on.  Playing another way, they are one more color on the palette to choose from to heighten elements fo the tale.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
What I'm trying to lay out is a historically-not-very-common way of approaching RPG play -- that the players assume they are making up a story, with the focus not on making up a coherent world the PCs move through, but instead creating and respecting the logic of a world that meets the needs of the PCs for the tale.

Isn't the danger here that if you make normal Glorantha too mythic, you lose contrast with the 'other side', heroquesting, which was always supposed to work that way?

You also would seem to make it rather more difficult to tell low down, gritty and cynical stories, which are sometimes fun in their own way.


Christopher Kubasik


Apparently I'm explaining myself poorly. I don't think this is a danger from what I've posted above.

Let's look again at the stories I'm referencing:

The Homeric Epics, Le Morte D'Arthur, Beowulf, and I'll add The Mabinogion, The Lord of the Rings. There are others. These I know well.

None of these float off into unground airy-fairy cloud land.  They are rooted in a reality. There is an otherside.

More over, there's plenyt of nitty gritty cynicism in the actions of the characters in all the stories mentioned. I'm seeing no contradiction at all.

(Please, folks, don't get caught up on the word "mythic" meaning some sort of "really crazy shit that happens willy-nilly." I'm referencing specific, commonly shared stories as illustration for the kind of stuff I'm talking about.)

The key point I'm trying to make is the point of view of being within a story during play. A lot of RPG play has depended on building the objective, cohesive, logical world independent of the PCs.

I'm saying that to think within a story means not always sweating out the biggest implications of pushing any odd logic too far. Because pushing the logic isn't what the stories (and this kind of play) are about.

What matters is the PCs, not the world. And the PCs need to be grounded enough that their stories make sense, are compelling and understandable.

A final point: someone can find a passion for rooting about deeper into Greek Culture, burrowing through JRR's notes for Middle Earth and so on.  That's fine. (And its very much in the tradition of Gloranthan Freemason Thinking.)  

But the stories work fine without all this extra stuff. That's my point.  That extra stuff is extra.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

James Holloway

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik

I see no contradiction in terms of "nitty-gritty" with what I've written.
No, you're absolutely right. And that's very much the style of play I'm shooting for in my game: the setting detail is there to place the deeds and dilemmas of the characters in context rather than the point being the exploration of the game world. The published material can really serve both ends.

In fact, if I recall, one of the early inspirations for RuneQuest was given as the Islendingasogur, which if you're not familiar with I think you'd have a blast reading. That's my ideal vibe for a HeroQuest game, and I think it's actually very well served by the material.

Now, that being said, there are other ways to play the game -- the setting-focused history-and-anthropology vibe you get over on the Glorantha Digest seems to suggest a style of play different to the one you suggest. But as far as "epic" or "legendary" play, I'm with you.


Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
I'm saying that to think within a story means not always sweating out the biggest implications of pushing any odd logic too far. Because pushing the logic isn't what the stories (and this kind of play) are about.

I think you would probably get unanimous agreement that pushing things 'too far' is bad. If your play sessions become 3 hour arguments about how many sheep your clan 'realistically' should have, or the symbolic interpretation of the relationship of yelorna to yelm, that's probably not good.  

I suppose the interesting question is whether, for a particular group, there is such a thing as failing by 'not going far enough'.

One other thing: it does seem to me that, for all the examples you gave, the authors put rather more thought and work into coherency and self-consistency than any sane person will ever put into a rpg session. Contrast with, say James Branch Cabell, or Jack Vance, who were clearly making stuff up as they went along.




"Amen", man. I grok it. In fact, this has been one of my major gripes about and pushes towards in fantasy setting creation: mythological worlds, not (a)historical or realistic "we coulda lived there" worlds.

I see too few of the former, and far too many of the latter -- both in fiction and gaming -- and enough that I am simply uninterested in any setting that touts itself as a "complete, detailed, realistic world!" Etc. Etc.

That's not the point of play for me. Myth is. Exploring myth. Living out mythological tales, creating them and interacting with them rather than reading them out of some dusty old book (not that I have anything against those dusty old books).

Creating a new mythology that is personally and experentially meaningful to both today's culture and me myself as a living human being. That is the function of myth, after all, whether it is a thousand years old or twenty days old.

Of course it isn't all in the setting -- that sort of thing has to be directed mechanically as well, or you get ICE's Middle-Earth, geared more towards Simulationist expression and understanding of M.E. than the underlying mythic elements that inform the setting's progress and unfolding.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Christopher Kubasik

I Soru,

I'm pretty much willing to admit now that I suck.

I'll make my few las stabs at this, and let it go.

Would this point of view find unanimous agreement? I think not. A majority? Yes. But over on the Syncretism thread, there are at least a few voices that think you should be able to push all points until a coherent metaphysics for all of Glorantha in all situations is found. I am arguing specifically against that.

And independent of the uber-rationalists, there are people who love arguing around the theological and social and historical issues and find great enjoyment in trying to squre them.

I am saying each group that's playing within the context of a story (not a "world"), will build their own coherence in actual play.  And that the logic they find in that story is the logic that matters. Much like one author's take on the Trojan War would be very different than another's.

Which touches on another point. I'm not suggesting the works I've refenced are not coherent and self-consistent. Just the opposit. Within themselves, they're fine. My point is that in terms of an actual world beyond the story there are flaws -- or, at least flaws if people want to dig deeper and call them flaws:

Where is there any religious ritual in LotR? What societies, even those with dissenters, ever existed without some section of the populace acknowledging through ritual something larger than themselves?

Where does Merlin get his magic? If it's a Chrisitan universe (sometimes it sure seems to be!) isn't magic the devil's handiwork? This makes no sense that Arthur keeps this guy around. Unless he's not using the Devil's magic. But then... What is it?

Do the gods actaully control the Greeks on the beach of Troy -- or merely tempt them to one action or another? An arguement could be made for each. But for the purpose of the story it doesn't need to be nailed down either way.

Of course, someone could come in and start making a very clear aguement about any of these points by referencing material outside the story.  And that's my point -- they'd be arguing the point outside of the story. The story itself has a slippery story logic that is not completely rational.

(By the way, I'm not saying the Players shouldn't (or wouldn't) have opinions about the above issues. Nor that their characters wouldn't have opinions or thoughts or percieved notions about what's "really" happening when Merlin uses magic. I am saying a story can, but need not, nail these matters down into "what's really going on." Some people would feel comfortable with this, others would not.)

I'd also suggest that what many people fear is "not going far enough" is further than some groups would need (according to their Creative Agendas) and that in RPGs in general we've often assume a bar higher than it needs to be.

Finally, keep in mind that what I'm discussing here is not a simple matter of degree. I'm touching on issues that are debated about HQ all the time, and that are at the heart of a lot of discussions about RPGs right now.

Is a Strenght 17 an objective rating in the world, or only a metric so we know where the worlds items and events stand in relation to the PC?  People argue both points well.  I don't care who's right. (They both are, really -- depending one what makes sense to you.

I do care that one point of view over another opens up a whole bunch of implications of what game play, player point of view, and purpose of play and Glorantha "logic" is going to be about.

I hope to god I've made it clear I'm not arguing for a lack of logic or a concern for making the details of the world matter. I don't know how else to say it anymore. But this: the reason HQ as an abstract Wealth is because the details of the Wealth don't matter. (Or, at least, as James will soon rush into clarify again -- to some of us!).  What matters is the relative wealth between the charcters, the reward of the deed done, or gained for murdering some clan leader -- or something.

For some people, this is too little detail. And so they come up with new systems of Wealth. For some people the slipperiness of theological issues is too much to bear so they try to find the Unified Field Theory of Magic and Faith.

But what I'm offering -- specifically as a response to Syncretism thread (from my reading of HQ -- without several decades of Glorantha under my scalp), is that HQ isn't about building a world that "works." It's about building stories. That, again, while self consistent, exist as discrete units independent of the rational requirement of an "objective" viewer of real life -- whether modern or primitive.

Looking at the game session (not the world, but the session) this way relieves one of all sorts of mental gymnastics to get on with play.


PS cross posted with greyorm -- maybe I don't suck!
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Perhaps "Romanticised" is a better word than "Mythic" for this useage.

What you're saying about Glorantha (unless I'm misreading you completely) is pretty much the same rationale that would be applied to the "Wild West".  Movies, novels, and RPGs set in the "Wild West" aren't really about the actual U.S. Western Frontier as it existed circa 1830-1890.  It about using a romanticised version of the west as a back drop for telling various morality plays.

Glorantha doesn't need to "sweat the details" in order to work any more than having a burgeoning town with insanely wide streets in the middle of a desert for no apparent reason needs to be justified in order for a Fist Full of Dollars to work...any more than it matters which bridge in what state got blown up in The Good The Bad and The Ugly, or why all of the farmers clothes are spotlessly white after a hard days work in "The Magnificent Seven".  These details are so irrelevant to the purpose of the story that to waste time pondering them is to miss that purpose completely.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Ralph,

And just because I'm a bastard on this point...

Remember that before Don Quixote came along, almost all stories were romantic.

I've finally come to terms with the fact that, for whatever reason, even though I was raised into the 20th century, stories written long befor my time seem completely normal to me, whereas the novel -- with all its obsession on getting the minutia and logic of daily life correct, seem quite peculiar as a form of storytelling.

Thus, for me (and perhaps only me), it's less a matter of "romanticizing" Glorantha, than letting Gloranth breath easily as it wants to breath. The extra stuff seems to me to be when we try to make it work by the contemporary standards of a secular rational that removes ambiguity, mystery and poetic impression.

My point is I seem to be looking at this matter (like greyorm, like xenopulse) from a natural position at the opposite end of the telescope than is normally used by contemporary folk.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Quote from: Valamirwhy all of the farmers clothes are spotlessly white after a hard days work in "The Magnificent Seven".  

Thing is, that one in particular, maybe some of the others, does count as a thematic mistake, something that will makes some viewers think of the whole thing as an artificial set-bound Hollywood formal exercise of possible historical interest, instead of a dramatic story that could possibly be real somewhere. I really don't think it has a deliberate symbolic or narrative purpose: sometimes a wardrobe malfunction is just a wardrobe malfunction.

It's all a question of what different people are willing to let slide. Some people will throw away a book because it has clumsy prose, wheras if you go by the fantasy best seller list, I suspect 99% of authors waste time completely unnecesarily even getting the grammar and punctuation right.

Of course, sometimes an author will deliberately do things wrong, but that's kind of a pointless exercise if his audience can't tell what 'right' is.

To return to HQ, the rules as written can lead to distinctly strange results, that would be visible and noticable as an inconsistency to the characters in the story (for example, A being taller than B and B being taller than C, but A being shorter than C). This bugs some people, some people simply don't see it because they don't think in that way, and others see it but don't mind.

None of those groups is right or wrong. However, in theory none of those groups would be made worse off were those contradictions removed (e.g. as in the 'very simple contest' thread), so on the whole it seems productive to fix those contradicitions where possible. Especially if the alternative is to tell people 'you must ignore the flaws in my art, and if you can't bring yourself to do that, then you are an inferior person'.


Christopher Kubasik

Just because I'm protective about having people lay crap at my feet, no one in this thread said anythig about anyone being 'an inferior person'.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield