Glorantha Will be Overwhelming…
If You Try to Do It All at Once.
by Christopher Kubasik
There is a tradition in RPG culture of the GM making, and knowing down to every blade of grass, the world the Players play in.
I think the tradition comes from the love of Tolkien’s work on Middle-Earth, the rich fabric represented in Herbert’s Dune, and the way SF/Fantasy fans picked up on this “world-building” energy.
However, there’s no reason to bring this thinking into an RPG session, and a lot of reasons to avoid it.
Don’t try to master everything about Glorantha. Start with a general sketch of the world — and anyone’s first read through of Glorantha material will only provide a sketch of the world! — and then focus on one spot… The spot that will matter to the PCs (and thus the Players), is probably the way to begin.
The HQ rules and materials often focus on Dragon Pass. Dig around in there, and you’ll find enough to start a village, have some conflicts going. Wars, famines (that can be cured with a HeroQuest — just like the quest for the Grail to heal Arthur’s land) and so on, all can be run out of a small patch of land. As the adventures continue, the GM can keep expanding his knowledge (and the Player’s knowledge) of the world.
I know it removes the whole, “I am the GM — Come Explore MY World!” fun. But it introduces a different kind of fun — where the Players remain always an integral and intimate center of the world, the story, and the adventure.
It also removes the need to know all the interlocking parts of Glorantha at one time and have them down pat. Because, remember, in a moment to moment narrative we don’t know (and can’t care) about everything. We can really only focus on what’s in front of us (as audience members, players or characters) — and that’s really it.
Glorantha, constructed as a world of myth, is upfront about that parallel but different nature of all the stories that would be told by different groups. It isn’t a self-consistent reality in a bottle — like a game of World Sim City that everyone is playing at once — but rather, like the worlds of mythology of actual civilizations, a sandbox with lots of details that specific cultures, tribes, epochs or whatever picked up and played with to their own needs and ends to create their own stories.
But if the point of Glorantha isn’t to play out stories as if we’d all memorized a fictional encyclopedia and had to live by the facts it contained, what then do we do with the setting.
Well, especially with the rules of HeroQuest, the focus of the game is on the individual characters and their relationships with other people and institutions. But remember that basing stories on specific characters and relationships doesn’t necessarily mean small scale.
A whole adventure can be run off a PC wanting a girl. He and his buds make a plan and steal her from a family in a rival clan.
It seems too simple – but the Iliad, the Greek Tragedies, Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies are rife with the same web of relationships. It is these relationships that matter – and the tensions they place one each other that produce the next set of conflicts.
Religious demands conflict with each other when real choices need to be made. Religious demands conflict with family. With the clan. Clan conflicts with the family. Or the values or desires the character himself considers most important. Again, see Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Thomas Mallory, Tolkien (Aragorn and Sam both face lots of tough choices along these lines), Herbert’s Dune and others. The fact is, one can choose to focus on the world building in such fiction — or one can focus on the stories of the characters. The rich world of Glorantha is a trap of sorts. It can make players think it’s about the world. No. The rich background is there for the GM and Players to grab as needed.
What’s really going on is the need of the characters. Not because they’ve been given a mission. But because their faith, their home, their family, their leader, their own ambitions demand something. And these demands will run into other demands — of their own people, of other governments, of other gods — that will bring everything into rousing conflict.
So. Start small. You don’t need to know everything. As the Players have their PCs make choices they’ll be defining the world in ways much more important than a set of 20 sourcebooks on a shelf ever good.
Think of it like the tales of the Greek gods and heroes. If you’ve taken the time to dig around in them for a while, you’ll discover there are 14 versions of any heroe’s tale. Sometimes he’s married to the woman in the story, sometimes she’s his mistress. Different authors in different times took the basic material and shaped it to their needs. The same with the stories of the Arthurian Knights. The same with Shakespeare getting his “facts” wrong.
The “facts” didn’t matter. Because these writers were making stories. When Macbeth or Lear actually lived didn’t matter as much as the emotional drive and energy behind the story. Shakespeare got “details” wrong. But the story worked great. While the facts and logic of your group’s play has to be self-consistent, there’s not yardstick out there measuring your tale. Think of you and your group as a collective Ovid, or Mallory, or Euripides, or Homer — taking the base material of the story element you have (the setting), and coming up with your specific take on it. That’s all that matters.
Give your Players a full head of steam on where the story is going, give them compelling choices for their PCs to make, and let them struggle to find their way through a tale where the outcome is unknown and the final decisions will make their fellow players open wide with surprise — and no one will care or notice that you don’t know the name of the God of the cult 1,000 miles away.