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Hesitance towards Glorantha as a Setting

Started by doubtofbuddha, January 22, 2004, 12:55:47 AM

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AS you may know (See my City of 10,000 Magicians thread), I am working on starting a Glorantha HeroQuest game.

Last night a player of mine brought up so concerns he has over it, and tonight we had a discussion about it.

I am not sure exactly how to handle it. A transcript of the conversation (posted with his permission) is below. Any suggestions?

Player: Don't get me wrong I want to try the HeroQuest game.
Player: But to be quite honest, the setting is not very appealing.
Player: What I'm hoping is, I can work past my problems with the setting and have fun with my character.
me: ok.
Player: Yeah
Player: So we'll see how it goes
Player: I need to at least give it a chance. =)
me: So what exactly do you dislike about the setting?
me: if you sent anything I missed it...
Player: Sure hold on
Player: Player: I don't know, it just doesn't interest me very much. It seems like a lot of mythological fluff with only a bit of real substance behind it.
Player: Whether or not that's right, it still feels that way.
me: what do you see as substance?
Player: Stuff that makes me feel like this is a place that actually exists.
Player: Politics, economy, culture, etc etc.
me: erm
me: Thats all in the Imperial Lunar Handbook...
me: the two-page write-ups are brimming with cultural stuff
Player: Yeah, but even when I looked at the Darjinni..
me: and it talks all about economy and politics in there
Player: It was just like "Well yeah that's kind of cool...but eh"
Player: I don't know.
me: I mean myths are discussed a bit, but thats because they are important to the politics, economy, and culture.
Player: I really wish I could better explain to you what's bothering me.
Player: =/
Player: But I'm not even sure I completely know.
me: hmm.
me: Yeah
me: I wish I knew too.
me: :-P
Player: One of the things that did throw me off though is that when you told me about how Dragonnewts became a Dragon by shedding all their personality traits and everything
Player: And it kind of made me think "Well there's another thing about this world that is going to make me adjust the way I want to play my character to have any semblance of achieving my goals"
Player: I like the idea of doing things my own way, carving out my own path.
me: "The life of a dragonewt consists of always bettering himself, mastering his emotions and reactions to events so that he may advance to the next stage of being. Each stage of dragonewt development requires that the dragonewt constantly strive to master specific emotions and personality traits. The goal of every dragonewt is to react with conscious deliberation at all times."
me: That is a more thorough explanation of it.
Player: What emotions and personality traits am I supposed to master?
Player: That's still rather vague.
me: Crested Dragonewts: The crested dragonewt must master his Aggressive-Passive, Brave-Cowardly, Energetic-Lazy, Stubborn-Docile, and Unreliable-Dependable personality traits. These are the most primitive traits and emotions that the dragonewts must master.
Beaked Dragonewts: To advance to the tailed priest stage the beaked dragonewt must have mastered his Curious-Apathetic, Leader-Follower, Impulsive-Cautious, Nervous-Calm, and Suspicious-Trusting traits.
Tailed Priest: The goal of the tailed priest is to become a full priest of the dragon religion. To do this he must be able to take the form of a dragon, and have mastered these personality traits that allow him to deal with the outside world: Honorable-Dishonorable, Greedy-Generous, Impatient-Patient, and Extrovert-Introvert.
Full Priest: The full priest strives to complete the mastering of his personality traits so that he may begin to learn to master the world around him. The traits that he must master include: Clever-Dull, Innovative-Conservative, Optimist-Pessimist, and Constructive-Destructive.
Player: And what do you mean about by "master"
Player: Does that mean eliminate?
me: " The goal of every dragonewt is to react with conscious deliberation at all times."
me: And I am explaining to you how dragonnewts do it.
me: You are already not doing it their way.
me: However, the thing is what you are seeking to accomplish will eventually require heroquests
me: Probably multiple ones
Player: And that's cool. But I was getting frustrated because it just seemed like the already established world stuff was getting in the way of me doing what I wanted to do.
Player: Like "You do it this way or you get crap"
me: They are difficult to begin with..trying to do obscure ones are even more so.
me: Well see the thing is...
me: This isn't like D&D.
me: Culture and society actually matters
me: You can make your own way...
me: Its just that much harder.
Player: I'm not worried about culture and society. I can work past those. That's conflict.
me: Its like deciding you want to, by yourself, not only become the ruler of your country but ignore your culture and the members of it on top of it while at the same time ignoring traditional revolutionary tactics entirely.
Player: What I was getting the impression is to make my "acension" I had to do it the DragonNewt way. Which went against my original character concept even further because for some oddball reason they don't use "Dragon Magic" because it keeps them from following the path to becoming a dragon, which makes no sense to me.
me: "A seeming irony of their life is that the dragonewt regresses, become weaker and less suited for advancement every time that they use their powers. Each use of their immense magics gets the dragonewt more and more enmeshed in the problems of existence by creating debts which must be paid before passing onto perfect draconic being."
Player: Yeah. I honestly don't like the concept of that.
me: Well see the difficulty I am having is this...
Player: And I don't want to give the impression either that I'm expecting to become a Dragon in a skip and a heartbeat.
Player: But I don't want to have to take one clear path to do it.
Player: I want to be able to carve out my own way and have it be possible, because when going into this game I thought that was the premise.
Player: It's a game of possibilites that isn't bogged down by a rule for everything like D&D
me: hmmm....
me: ok.
me: Thats fine.
me: Let me think about this for a bit.
Player: Ok
me: see if I can come up with a solution
Player: Because even in D&D, if I wanted to create my own Kingdom, there are a million and one ways I can go about doing that.
Player: Everyone of them possible, but none of them assured.
me: see
me: This isn't quite the same as conquering a kingdom.
Player: I understand that.
Player: But this is a goal oriented game.
Player: That is, your character is trying to achieve a certain goals.
Player: But if they only way to achieve those goals is through set methods already established.
Player: Then that's not fun.
me: Its more along the lines of saying "I want to become a god in the Forgotten Realms but I want to ignore the fact that gods need worshippers"
Player: But see that's different, because many Gods have cheated their way into the position and then gained followers.
Player: Look how Cyrick did it.
Player: Not very traditional, don't you think?
me: He got his position because Ao gave it to him.
me: If the worshippers didn't accept him he would have shrivled up and died.
me: how about this...
Player: I thought he became a God because he killed Leira and someone else, and stole their portfolios during the Time of Troubles
me: no
Player: Eh, nevermind then. I must be thinking of someone else.
me: He killed Leira after he was already a god.
Player: I know someone cheated their way into Godhood.
me: How abotu this? We start over from the beginning. Your character isn't a reincarnated dragonnewt. He wants to become a dragon. He doesn't have any dragon magic.
Player: Ok, what type of magic does he have?
me: up to you. Common, Theistic, Animism, or Sorcery. But you have to realize that, except for common magic, that all of it requires you to follow some sort of divine being. And common magic won
me: won't help you when you with your heroquests.
Player: Again a conflict with the mythology, heh.
Player: I suppose the Dragon Spirit could work for that.
me: Its where magic comes from in Glorantha
me: eh.
me: How about I just ask the group if they would rather play in a different world?
Player: Not just on my account.
me: maybe others feel like you do?
me: ::Shrugs::
Player: You could ask them.
Player: But if they don't.
Player: Then I'll cope.
Player: Seems to me, that I'm the only person that minds heh
me: Brian's complete and total indifference annoys me.
Player: The problem I'm having with all of this is instead of a DM plot motivated game, this is a PC plot motivated game where you try to achieve your goals. But instead of being able to try to create exciting and creative ways of accomplishing those goals, it seems so restrictive.
me: Well, how would you like to achieve these goals?
Player: I'd like to discover that in game.
Player: Research, explore, find out new things, new avenues
Player: Sweat for it, think hard about it.
Player: And then feel like I accomplished something when and if the plan I created and designed actually turned out to work.
Player: Not the assurance of success. But merely the possibility of well thought plans working and not "Oh well, that doesn't exactly fit with any cultures/mythologies perspectives or beliefs, so sorry"
me: hmmm
me: As you know I frequent a message board that talks about HeroQuest and glorantha and the like
Player: Which is why HeroQuest so sounds so awesome.
Player: But Glorantha turns me off.
Player: Right
me: Would you mind if I made a post about this and included a log of our conversation with our screen names removed?
Player: Sure
me: Cause I want to ask for advice
me: and I would rather use your words than try to convery it.
Player: No problem.
Player: I want to try something new. And I like the sound of how HeroQuest runs and the objectives of the game.
Player: But I look at the setting and it almost completely neuters the very essence of what I like about it.

See my problem?
Jesse Dean

Games: Arcana Unearthed, D&D, Hero Quest, Exalted

AIM: doubtofbuddha
Yahoo: jessedn


Hi Jesse,

It sounds like your player thinks he has to fit in to some sort of pre-determined path set forth by the Glorantha material.  In fact, that is not what Heroquest is designed for.  

Instead, when a player asks "so what emotions am I supposed to master?"  Consider saying: "What emotions do you think it would be interesting to master?"  And when he asks "What do you mean by master?" you might respond: "You can define that in play."

I hope that's useful.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:


QuoteInstead, when a player asks "so what emotions am I supposed to master?" Consider saying: "What emotions do you think it would be interesting to master?" And when he asks "What do you mean by master?" you might respond: "You can define that in play."

Or, similarly, ask him what emotions he thinks he needs to master or increase to become a dragon? What exactly is a dragon to him? Does he need to suppress some emotions and enhance others?

Also, if he doesn't know the answers to these, tell him that's fine, part of the fun will be exploring Glorantha to find them. The City of 10,000 Magicians may be built on top of a true dragon (though that has never actually been proven), so start searching for it. In Kralorela is a true dragon that sometimes awakens to prophecy for whoever comes to it. Sounds like a good place to start. At least three true dragons live in Dragon Pass, he should look for draconic experts to guide him. And look, The Servants of the Almighty Dragons (in Masters of Luck and Death) includes a whole passle of experts on dragons.

You should try to convince him to dwell on the many theories about dragons that abound in Glorantha, rather than letting him dwell on the belief that there is One True Way. Even the earliest documents about dragons make it clear there is no one true way.

Hope this help.



Well what other theories about dragons exist?

About the only one I am familiar with is the dragonnewt one....
Jesse Dean

Games: Arcana Unearthed, D&D, Hero Quest, Exalted

AIM: doubtofbuddha
Yahoo: jessedn


You must keep in mind that Greg's original Dragonewt information was written up in terms of Pendragon-style personality trait pairs. This needs tweaking to work in HeroQuest, especially as the basis for Dragonewt behavior is mystical refutation of the material in favor of the transcendant. They gain draconic powers, but the use of these powers is contrary to the tenets of their brand of mysticism and entangle them further in the world they wish to transcend.

This is difficult (at best) to model using any game system, which is why the Mysticism rules from Hero Wars were dropped; they failed to convey it properly. Honestly, your player's hero sounds like a follower of the Path of Immanent Mastery, better known among the Kralori as the False Dragon Way. The Path was an experiment created by the Godlearners in an attempt to harness draconic power to their will. However, without the wisdom of draconic detachment behind it, the members of the Path could not transcend to dragonhood, became monsters and were destroyed.

Perhaps the hero's aim is to find the bridge (or perhaps he or she is the bridge... a very mystical concept, that) between the Path's teachings and the True Dragon Way.


Can you tell me any more about this path?

If it seems like there are a number of options available to him it would seem that he would be more likely to find it palatable.

Of course this leaves me with no clue what to do about the guy who is tried of fantasy settings....

Jesse D.
Jesse Dean

Games: Arcana Unearthed, D&D, Hero Quest, Exalted

AIM: doubtofbuddha
Yahoo: jessedn

Ron Edwards

Mike Holmes

I have the same objections that your friend has. I don't play in Glorantha, because I don't want to learn it, and have to abide by it's canon.

Now, the faithful will say either that A) the canon is worth it, or B) HQ allows you to ignore the canon. Personally, I'm not interested in A, I want to discover more of the world in play than that mode allows. I['m sure that if I were a Gorantha wonk that I'd feel differently, but I'm not. Maybe someday, when I have lots more time...

As for B, the problem is the same as with any world that has lots of canon. Which is what's true, and what's not? I'd rather not have to have the "worry" of wondering what I'm messing up. I'd actually rather know that the information that I was making up didn't contradict something else. Less is more here. Hence why I'm using Shadow World. It's lack of addressing these cultural issues in such detail is precisely it's strength for this purpose.

So, as I see it, you have two good options. Get to know Glorantha and love its detail level, or play somewhere else. For the player in question, the problem is that he learned just a little about how to become a Dragon, but missed many of the salient details. That means that he had some time to form his own opinion of how this might work. Then he found, to his dismay, that it's all laid out in the texts and it's not like what he thought. If he'd known all the details before hand, he would maybe have had a different opinion of whether or not it was something that he wanted to do.

Well, at that point, the only way to please him is to just change how things work so that he likes them. But if we're going to do that, if I have to Vary My Glorantha because the players (and myself) aren't invested in the canon version, then it's easier to use another setting. Where we all know that we're just going to be creating these things on our own, and never have to "read up" to "get it".

Hope that I'm shedding some light, and not projecting too much.

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Ian Charvill

Whilst it's worth thinking that a character will be embedded in their culture, there's no reason the player cannot control how that culture works.  Much canon Gloranthan stuff was made up by fans - i.e. by the players.  Why should some guy on a mailing list ten years ago get to set cultural parameters in a way that some guy in your group doesn't?  Cause your guy hasn't read enough 2nd Ed Runequest books?

Unless Greg Stafford is actually part of your gaming group, Greg's views about Glorantha are less important than the views of the least well informed guy at your table.

To be clear, I'm saying: Greg is wrong about how Dragonnewts work - your guy is right.  Work with him to make Glorantha fit your group, don't work with on your players to make them "fit" Glorantha.
Ian Charvill


To join the chorus with Ian: Issaries already have the money from the book. They don't care overmuch how much of it you use, and there's precious little "official" dragonewt stuff out there, especially for HW/HQ, so they can't exactly push mush more on you to... to be mercenary about it.

And why not ignore canon? It seems most of the writers do in their personal campaigns, where it clashes with what's in their games.

And just one little point.. I seem to remember from the Q&A transcripts I've seen, whenever Greg is asked a question about the Dragonewt, or "true nature" of dragons, he always steps in with "No-one can know the truth about dragons! They're beyond human comprehension!"

So, I think it'd be very hard for anyone to use Greg or cannon to "prove"your answers to the nature of dragons "wrong..."
Pete Darby


As a glorantha wonk, I'd say:

That's the orthodox position for dragonewts native to Dragon Pass. There are at least 6 more or less organised heretical views in the region, and dragonewts elsewhere (e.g. Ralios, Kralorea) are almost completely different.

Whats more, there are several hundred different human mystical or pseudo-mystical groups which claim to know the secrets of draconic incarnation. Some of them are not completely wrong. No sourcebook ever could describe all of those secretive societies, and certainly I doubt one will ever contain the statement 'This is a complete list of all such organisations. None others exist'.

And finally, this is the Hero Wars, this is the time in which religions get started. If your characters can prove he is right about how to become a dragon, then he is right, and the fact that nobody ever did it his way before is irrelevant.

Which is not to say anything goes, nothing is defined. With Glorantha, you not only have creative freedom where you want it, you also, even more usefully, have constraints on your creativity, if you choose to accept them. For example:

- given the orthodox dragonnewt religion, dragon-pass based draconic heresies you make up should be recognisably in opposition to that. What cool variants can you come up with?

- dragonewts from elsewhere will probably still believe something compatible with their 'biology', if they are actually dragonewts and not some similar reptilian race. What kind of world view would make sense for a physically-reincarnating self-upgrading race?

- I don't think human mystical-transformation societies are currently politically dominant anywhere big outside Kralorea. How do they relate to the local powers that be? Do they have political ambitions?

And so on. Glorantha is fractal, every time someone states something as a rule, take that as a cue to create 7 local deviations from that rule.

You can define all this in advance, or, often best, just set it up as a 'cool ambiguous reference', to be worked out in detail in play.



These were all great replies and were very informative and useful in "general", not just for this particular situation.

I showed some of your points to the player and he agreed with me on their informativeness. In the end though, the player decided that he wanted to go with another character concept (which I think works for both of us pretty well). For this one though, I am letting him create the culture that he is from as well as the unique little aspects of it that will allow him to mold it completely to match his concept.

Thanks very much though. :)
Jesse Dean

Games: Arcana Unearthed, D&D, Hero Quest, Exalted

AIM: doubtofbuddha
Yahoo: jessedn

Kao Nashi

DoubtofBuddha, your player seems annoyed by the restrictions on his character. However, any creative enterprise requires restrictions. It is in the interplay between law and total freedom that creation happens. More concretely, it is in the tension between, say, traits like "Traditional/Bigoted Barbarian 17" and "Striving for a Better World 17" that players get to make interesting choices and find out who their character is. That said, a Dragonnewt is so utterly weird it's a very tough starting point.

For those who feel overwhelmed by the Canon (and I've had a few bruising encounters with it  and its self-appointed guardians myself), I'd just say that 1) the comment on restrictions and tension applies, and 2) the Canon at least provides a reference point against which to rebel and supply your own ideas.  If there is a part of the Gloranthan Canon that appeals to you, read up on it, use what you want, and add your own thoughts. But of course the bottom line is if it doesn't appeal, then why bother.


Keep in mind that Greg does not want people to be bound by Gloranthan canon, which is why the entire "Your Glorantha Will Vary" issue exists as a tenet of the HeroQuest rules. There is a vast body of accumulated lore, to be certain, but most of it has been distilled into either HQ itself or Glorantha: Introduction to the Hero Wars. Before the publication of Thunder Rebels, there had never been a more comprehensive look at a major Gloranthan culture (although Trollpak covered the Uz in great detail). Thus, most "canon" tends to be very general.

Mike Holmes

I just erased a huge rant. I'll summarize. Everyone knows that YGMV. Consider that, maybe, that doesn't solve the problem in this case. It doesn't do anything for me, for instance, and I'll bet that it won't for the player in question either.

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