Notes on the Structure of Glorantha (2006)

Charles on “why the diagram is wrong”

Well, let’s start off by saying that the diagram is incomplete and even incorrect. I hope and believe that it is the best diagram to date, but it is still not as right as it could be.

The first reason that it is incorrect is that it does not match up to the picture that I have in my head. The diagramming tools that I have and my ability as a graphic artist are not quite up to faithfully reproducing that picture.

The second reason is that the diagram is my vision and not Greg’s.

The final and most important reason is that the diagram attempts to put a fixed mathematical structure on Glorantha. But Glorantha has Mythics, not Mathematics as its underlying structure. The myths contradict each other even within a single culture, never mind across cultures. Yet, Glorantha encompasses all of them. There will always be exceptions and get out clauses.

By Greg Stafford and Charles Corrigan

Published 11 May 2006

The Everything World

The Inner World

Also known as the Center, Middle and Mundane, the Inner World consists of the broken Earth Cube floating in the Ocean, with the Middle Air immediately above. Only the areas close to the center are truly Mundane – becoming increasingly extraordinary as one moves away from the center. Right at the center is Magasta’s Pool, which is entirely mundane at its surface (though extraordinarily huge) but as it descends, becomes decidedly not Mundane.

The Outer Worlds

Part of the Everything World but not Mundane, the Underworld is below the Earth Cube and the Ocean. Above the Middle Air is the Upperworld, or more commonly, the Sky World. The Red Moon is on the borderline between the Middle Air and the Sky World. The planets move through the lower layers of the Sky World.

Around the outer edges of Glorantha, the Underworld, the Ocean, the Middle Air and the Sky World meet. Wakboth the Devil was born at this border in the far north of Glorantha. Chaos armies occasionally boil up from this location to threaten Glorantha but the Altinelae have so far resisted these intrusions.

The Other Side

Outside the Everything World, there are the three (or possibly more) Other Sides. The Lunar Other Side is the surface and interior of the Red Moon, which is visible in the Everything World. Each of these Other Sides (including the Lunar) is present in, and links to, many areas of the Everything World.

Some areas of the Everything World have stronger links to a specific Other Side. For example Prax and its link to the Animist Other Side. Another exception is the Sky World, which, due to the victories of the Theistic gods over their enemies and over chaos during the Gods War, has fewer links to worlds other than the Theistic Other Side.

Each of the Other Sides (except the Lunar) partially overlaps and merges into some part of the Underworld. In these overlapping areas, there is no barrier between the Underworld and that particular Other Side.

At the start of the Hero Wars period, there is no direct connection from one Other Side to another.

The Hero Planes or Gods War

These are the ages of Mythic History of Glorantha. Each age of the Hero Planes is a specific aspect of the Everything World, with the Underworld, Middle World and Sky World included. These are, more or less, earlier “temporal” or “sequential” versions of the Everything World. Thus, the Other Sides link into the Gods War, just as they link to the Everything World. Note that the links are often to different places, and/or of different strength or weakness. In general, earlier ages have easier linkages between the various worlds of that age.

Each culture recognizes different mythical ages. These often correspond with each other, despite cultural differences, especially where the myths of the different cultures tell of their mutual meetings and wars. There are also fundamental and contradictory differences between the myths of different cultures and all these variations are in the Gods War.

The generally agreed definitions of the ages of the Hero Planes throughout central Genertela include (using the Orlanthi terms):

  • The Creation that no-one knows how to visit and could not survive even if they could get there;
  • The Green Age that is dangerous to visit, where differentiating events (the discovery of death, or sex, or suffering, etc.) mark the end of the Age;
  • The Golden Age, a stable (or static) period of peace and plenty, where many of the cultural patterns were set;
  • The Storm Age, a period of riotous change that is variously interpreted as being good or bad;
  • The Greater Darkness, where all things went wrong, especially the entry of Chaos into the Cosmos. The whole world broke down, all borders were erased (except some areas of the Sky World), everything became part of the Underworld and every being died.

The Orlanthi divide the Storm Age into the Early and Late Storm Ages. The Heortlings know of the Silver Age, after the Greater Darkness, analogous to similar pre-Dawn eras of some other cultures.

Navigation through the Hero Planes uses Myths to get to events, not maps to get to locations. However, the Myths are not objective reality, but subjective by their very nature. They are mutable and no individual can know all variations of even one Myth. Therefore, any visit to the Gods War will always bring surprises.

This means that it is not possible to perform the same HeroQuest twice. Every time a questor enters into the same myth, the Hero Plane is different. Some Gloranthans believe that the Gods War learns as much from the Questor as the Questor learns from the Gods War and uses this knowledge to put more personally tailored challenges on the second and subsequent quests through the same myth.

The Underworld

The Underworld is the illogical ancestress of known Glorantha. It precedes all that can be known, and thus cannot be truly known. It houses mystery, spawns mystery and is a mystery itself. Many Gloranthans think that all the worlds of Glorantha spawned from the Underworld.

Most people of the Mundane World believe that the Underworld is the source of their worst enemies, Death, Darkness and Chaos, though not all of these beliefs and connections are correct. The Underworld is also the source of Fertility.

The Underworld is not any one of the Other Sides, but has aspects of them all. For some cultures, most notably the Uz and the Aldryami, the Underworld is their Other Side.

Hidden deep underneath the center of the bottom of the lowest Underworld is the Chaosium, the Fount of Chaos, which spews forth both monstrosities and raw unformed “stuff” into the world. What no sane Gloranthan really understands is that, without this Chaos entering the world, everything would be locked into Stasis.

The mixing of magical “types” in the Underworld, whether magical systems, beings or physical elements, is more obvious and less structured than in the Mundane World. The Greater Darkness is a Hero Plane that is connected only with, and often the same as, the Underworld. These connections make navigation through the Underworld difficult.

Short Worlds

Short Worlds are regions of the Middle World, not of the true Other Sides. They are formed when a being creates a world outside of normal mundane reality, which occurs only in the Inner World. The created world has no direct external connection with any Otherworld, nor with a transcendent reality. Thus they are not directly physically connected to the Everything World, but are still part of it.