[Orccon][HeroQuest] In Glorantha, of all places!

Started by Christopher Kubasik, February 21, 2008, 12:34:25 AM

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Christopher Kubasik

I ran a game for three players at Orccon this past Sunday morning. (I ran two other games at the con: Primetime Adventures and Pendragon.  I plan on doing an AP for the Pendragon game as well.)

I had meant to prep a lot more for this game.  But a deadline on a project and a big investment of time getting the Pendragon game meant I was grabbing snatches of reading on Glorantha -- but nothing in-depth.

I had it in my head to walk in with an actual scenario, since this was a con game and time would be tight and I'd want to get things going, so I wanted to give the players a mission.  Like this:  A Heortling chieftain was going to have fallen in love with a woman from the Lunar Empire while she traveled through Dragon Pass.  You know, all Iliad-like.  And the PCs were going to have to get her.

I was up at 7 am that morning to grab more reading and write up notes for a 10 am game.  At 9:30 I surrendered. 

But I had nothing.  And my rule is, If you've got nothing, don't fake that you have nothing.  Make the players do the work for you instead!

So, this is what I walked into the room with:

  • I had familiarized myself with the rules

  • I had skimmed the core book and Thunder Rebels for as much Heortling info as I could grab (paying attention to details about the tension between the Lunar Empire and the Heortlings, and what the Lunar occupation has done to the Heortling tribes.  I was especially intrigued with the notion that some Orlanthi have turned to the Lunar gods)

  • I had made some decisions on what I wanted to focus on during character creation and introducing the game.

I remembered something Ron wrote that'd I'd tracked down while digging up threads on playing HeroQuest: "Flags are not enough, you need situation, too."  Well, damn, I suddenly thought.  I've got Heortlings, I've got the Lunar Empire, I've got an occupation. That's enough situation for me!  Let's rock this thing.  (I'm cocky that way when it comes to story stuff.)

And that's what I walked into the room with.

I had three players for the game: Chris, Scott and David.  Chris and Scott had never played HeroQuest before (just like me!) and knew nothing about Glorantha (almost just like me!) 

Luckily, David was terrifically familiar with both the rules and the setting and was the best wing-man a GM could ever hope for.  I repeatedly turned to him for color issues: "It would be really great if Scott's PC could be plugged into the secret revolt being planned," I might say, and David would respond with a quick break down of the Heortling rebellion and all the color details.  (Thanks David!)

So, I start laying out the world details, telling them about the Heortlings and the Lunar Empire.  The occupation.  The Heortlings, fierce, proud, blah, blah, blah...  The Lunars, dull, stifled, living in cities that might as well be prisons.  I tell them how the Lunars actually raised the Red Moon into the sky.  I tell them the Gods are real in this world. 

Scott asks, "It's called Dragon Pass. Are there really dragons?"  I say, "You see mountains from your village that were actually dropped by the gods to crush dragons."  I can see Scott and Chris looking at me like, "Nice story.  But what are we going to be killing?"  David tells Scott and Chris that the spine of a nearby mountain range is actually the spiny back of a huge dragon buried under the earth centuries ago. And I go, "It's true!! It's true!!  It's really true!!  This is the kind of world you're living in!!!"  And their eyes change and you see them start to get the setting.  "It's a world of myth!" I say, so happy to finally be running in a game in a world of myth.  "Everything in this world is magic!  The world is MADE OF MYTH!"

I tell them that some Heortlings are beginning to betray Orlanth.  "Up north," I say, "word is that some of your people are worshipping the Red Goddess!"

I start breaking out the rules.  It's going to be 100-word descriptions.  There are certain games, I think, that die if you give pre-generated characters.  I need to know, as a GM, that the players are getting to play what they are invested or interested in playing one way or another.  And so, for me, letting them come up with the details is really important.  Yes, we lose a lot of time doing.  But, yes, I consider it part of play -- a fun part of play -- so this is how I do it.

And they're looking down at their blank character sheets, and I'm like, "And personalities can be a trait, and relationships can be a trait.... And it's all about family and connections and your tribe, blah, blah, blah, Glorantha."

And Chris, who had never played before says, "Okay. How about if we're all family. Like I'm the father and you two are sons."

I jump in fast but calm: "Guys if you like that idea, cool. But we're just bouncing ideas.  Anyone can suggest anything, but if it's about your character, just so no if you're not interested and we'll keep moving on till you get what you want."

But Scott and David like the ideas of being sons, so we go with that.

Then the Chris says, "Okay. My guy?  His wife died a few months ago. And I'm already courting another woman."

Scott jumps in with, "And my guy, he really doesn't like that."

And David says, "And the woman, she's secretly worshipping the Red Goddess."

And Chris goes, "Great!"

And Scott goes, "And I'm in the secret organization getting ready for the revolt against the Empire and dad and my brother don't know."

And Chris goes, "And the new girlfriend I'm involved with -- she's already pregnant."

And I'm like trembling with an unexpected RPG con game orgasm.  I mean, how the heck did that happen?  I know we can't lose.  My players are, in fact, doing all my work for me.

They're underlining words in their descriptions.  We're breaking out Key Words.  We're adding new words as they start grasping the flexibility of the system.

Scott has Torkan, the younger son, and writes down "Rabble-rouser 13."

Chris has Alandres, the father and writes down, "Ashamed of Son 13"

Scott writes down, "Hates Father 13"

David creates Iskalli, a skal and devotee of Orlanth's aspect of Destor.

Alandres is courting Daleeta, who is both carrying Alandres' child, but also is secretly worshipping the Red Goddess.

Chris describes Alandres as melancholy and broken since his wife's death.  He's in mourning and it's going on too long.  He gives Alandres a Mourning Wife 13.

It goes like this.  We're laughing, having fun.  A couple of times the players start narrating out what happens when they found out about Daleeta, or how they'll react, but I go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa... Save it for play!"

So.... It takes an HOUR AND A HALF.  I got cocky.  My group on Saturday night had hammered out their Knights for the Pendragon game in 35 minutes and I didn't keep an eye on the clock.

But it was worth it.  David kept adding in details. These guys got a better and better grasp on the world. 

I ask the all to right down goals on the Goals line of the character sheet.  This is a new concept for a couple of them, but they're on it.

Chris writes for Alandres, "To get over mourning wife."

Scott writes down, "To spark the rebellion against the Lunar Empire."

David writes, "To protect and preserve the ways and worship of Orlanthi."

I'm like GREAT.  But then I don't know how to start, and I say, "We're going to write Kickers.  Just tell me where you are when something happens of significance that demands a choice."

Not every game needs Kickers.  Some games are ruined by Kickers.  But I know this games is waiting for Kickers.

Chris says, "I find out Daleeta is pregnant."

Scott says, "I find out Daleeta is pregnant."

David says, "I found out Daleeta is worshipping the Red Goddess."


And with that we started play.

More later.


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


Damn, Christopher, this almost gives me the confidence to run Sorcerer & Sword from scratch in a con environment.



Hi CK,

The write-up so far makes me very happy, even if it all goes downhill from here, so far its a text book example of how HQ can be used, and indeed how Glorantha doesn't have to be weighed down by the huge imposing library of material.

I await the rest of the report with keen interest, but will keep the questions that I have until you have finished.

Christopher Kubasik


Jesse and Jamie touched on a couple of issues I want to discuss before getting back to recounting the game.  (And Jamie -- just to blow all the tension, the game went great.)

Now, clearly, I was blessed with three great players who stepped right up to the plate in terms of creating conflict and story material.  I'd almost lay it all at their feet, frankly, since I got exactly what I wanted from the game, but didn't come in with a lot of prepped material.

Upon reflection, however, I realized that since I got exactly what I wanted, I probably did do something to facilitate that.  So I thought about how I framed how play was going to go, in terms of what I did and what I said to the players.

So, here's some things I said or did, in no particular order:

I always make people introduce each other at a convention table.  I set a tone by shaking hands and introducing myself to each person by name one by one.  Invariably, everyone else follows suit.  At many convention games I'd seen people hide behind their character for a couple of hours.  I'm not too fond of that.  I need everyone at the table feeling like we are about to do something together.  Hence the introductions.  Just names and a handshake.  I have no data that says that this is important, but it certainly can't hurt.  And the truth is, I think it's incredibly important.

I said a few things that got people in line with my agenda.  I'll list some below.  I tend to say these things at games I GM at cons.  Sometimes I'll mention them at the start of the game, other times I'll bring them up when I see someone get confused or fidgety or anxious. 

I should note that I don't say all the words listed below.    You're going to be reading all the phrases and sentences I have at hand in order to get the person I'm talking with to understand. 

I should add that I have no idea how the words are going to read on the screen, but the tone in actual conversation is warm, calm and encouraging.

Here's something I usually as we head into character creation: "Okay, now, as you make your character, here's the thing you have to keep in mind: I need you to make a character that touches on the interests and emotions and moral issues and themes that interest you -- the player.  Not the character.  You.  Your character is just a vehicle for something you want to address or explore in the game.  So where your writing stuff down on the character sheet, try to find the thing that matter to you."

Here's something I also often say at convention games: "Okay, you know how sometimes we often remember how someone said, 'Okay, I'm going to go upstairs,' and then a few minutes later a scene comes up and the person says, 'I'm there,' and then someone else says, 'No, no, you said you were going upstairs.'  Or we sometimes catch someone by saying, 'But you didn't say you were inviting Suzi along!'  Well, we don't do that here.  It's a kind of game of 'Gotcha!' and it's really not what I'm interested in playing.  Here's the thing.  If someone wants to retro fit a declaration or something they said, and it will cost us nothing to do the retro fit -- that is, if the previously declared action has moved any new story content into being -- I'm going to let the person do it.  We're not here to catch each other up by holding 417 pieces of fictional content in our heads that haven't had any impact yet.  I'm here for great scene content.  And anything that helps great scene content is having you guys involved with and saying what you want to participate in and do.  So keep in mind we're going to be kind of social here.  We're going to have some give and take on occasion as we generate ideas, shift things around a bit.  The first thing out of your mouth isn't the truth.  I'm not here to trap you with misspoken words.  We're hear to work together to inspire each other to great scene content."

Here's another thing I often say at cons, usually when I see a look of panic in someone's eyes early on as scene cut from one player to another: "Okay.  Look.  I know we're used to having parties, where everyone's in the scene together and everyone's 'on camera' together.  That's not going to be the rule here.  I know that might feel like you're not 'on' sometimes, that you're just waiting.  But that hasn't been my experience.  In my experience, because you guys built PCs with agendas and issues you care about, and because you can actually do anything you want with your character in terms of choices, you'll probably end up paying attention -- a lot -- to each other's characters, even when it's not your turn for your character to be 'on camera.'   That's what I've observed at least.  So give it a try and see how it works."  (This always pans out to this end.)

I laid out a quick, underlying "imaginative cue list" for the game.  As noted in the first post, I did a quick recap of Glorantha for the players.  While reviewing the setting materials, I picked out the following key elements that I thought would be good cues for situation and character elements for the Players to grab onto:

• the vital importance of community and family for the
• the fact that the gods are real and a vital part of every day life
• that the Heortlings are vital, freedom loving people
• that the Lunar Empire has moved into Dragon Pass and outlawed the worship of Orlanth
• that several tribes have submitted to the religious law of the Lunars
• that a rebellion is fermenting
• quick-sketch color descriptions of Heortling daily life: the long house, the farms, daily worship and activities

If you look back at the PCs above, you'll see that the Players drew all this into play when creating their characters.  In fact, their characters ARE everything on that list.

This is why and how a game where the  GM lets the Players create their own characters and come with their own agendas doesn't spin out of control.  I might not have an adventure in mind for the PCs, but I certainly laid down a LOT of parameters for the Players. 

A clear metaphor, for me, is that the list above serve as Strange Attractors from Chaos Theory, where we build a result that starts from the Strange Attractors, which constantly is drawn back to the Strange Attractors (that list above) to build a pattern (the resulting narrative play) that we could not anticipate ahead of time but still i structured and produces a satisfying and coherent pattern because of the Strange Attractors.  (Disclaimer: all references to Chaos Theory are used by a layman, and a writer to boot, who is often much more interested in metaphor than technical precision!)

I used GM authority happily and confidently.  A few years ago when I started playing Rags again, using all the wonderful new stuff that people had started designing.  From my readings of threads on The Forge, as well as the texts of the games themselves (as well as my own desires as listed in that Interactive Toolkit essay I wrote for  In phobia Magazine years ago) I really, really wanted to lay a lot of responsibility on the Players for creative content and control. 

Things went wrong pretty fast in play.  Because the Players, I believe now, had no creative force to push against.  I kept expecting them to do something.  And they, rightly, expected me to offer something to do something with.

Now, I knew I didn't want to hand them an "adventure" or "plot."  So it took a bit more time to sort out scene framing, Kickers, bangs and other techniques that put the GM in the driver's seat in many, many ways.  It was a couple of games of Primetime Adventures I ran at a local con last year that helped make this very clear to me.  When I didn't produce with a heavy hand -- CHAOS!  When I produced with a heavy hand -- COOL TV SHOW!

So what do I mean a heavy hand?  Well, quickly, here's what I don't mean: guiding the Players to certain choices or beats of story; dictating how things will turn out; cheating/fudging dice rolls to get a certain result; ignoring rules that might get in the way of "the story."

So here's what I do mean: Setting creative parameters (as described immediately above); guiding Players back to the tone and setting color if they start to stray; pushing toward elements that make narrative and dramatic narrative fun: conflicts, revelations, reversals, great color detail from players as they describe things.

Some examples:

Example One: One of the Players in the HeroQuest game created a "blacksmith."  Now there was a lot going on in those first few moments of ideas being tossed around when we started creating characters, and so although there was some part of my brain that said, "There are no Heortling blacksmiths -- this just isn't something these people do..."  But I ignored it because everyone was tossing out ideas.

Then, a few minutes later, he started adding detail about being a blacksmith and I finally remembered, "Oh, yeah... Metal is magical in Glorantha.  You need to use magic to harden metals into useful weapons... Oh, the hell with it, he's really invested in this, don't take it away from him." After all, it was a one shot, I couldn't imagine how blacksmithing was going to be a vital part of the story, and he was making the gesture of big shoulder and buff arms as he got into character.  He'd already claimed the idea and had been investing it in for several minutes, so I said, "sure."

Then, when he was sorting out some of his Personality Traits he said, "So, when we're all down at the tavern, I get everyone riled up at the Lunars..." and this time, realizing I didn't want him wandering too far from the creative parameters I said, "Remember, there are no taverns.  You've got the long house, with ten farms around that, and then another ten farms around that."  He goes, "Right, right."

But then, when we're framing the scene for his Kicker, he says, "So, I'm at the pub after work..." And I realize he's -- rightly -- grabbing at all the stuff he's used to playing from other games to set color context for scene framing.  But the hell I'm going to let him introduce a pub into the middle of a Heortling village.  So I remind him again, "There's no pub.  There's a long house... Grandmothers and Grandfather sitting around the sacred hearth.  Cats and kids padding around...."  But we end up framing it at his anvil and go from there.

So, for those of you afraid of chaos if the Players have any sort of directorial control, remember the GM has LOTS and LOTS of authority here.  The key thing is to know for yourself what your boundaries are.  For me, keeping a consistency of Heortling culture was important, so I felt free in setting up fences on suggestion and keeping the game firmly in the setting I wanted.  Other suggestions that fit on the creative plot of land could most likely be added without reservation.

Example Two:  We had had a bunch of scenes -- Kickers had gone off (to great effect) and we had played out secondary scenes where the PCs were beginning to confront each other or NPCs based off the Kickers. 

Chris had Alendras declare that there would be a big announcement at the long house that night (to announce his upcoming marriage to Daleeta).  David had Iskalli confront Daleeta after he found a small statue of the Red Goddess in her bag.  He says he won't tell her secret, but asks her to promise that she won't drag his father into her mess.  She blows him off.  And Scott has Torkan confront Alendras, telling his father how upset he is that his father has taken up with another woman and she's already pregnant.  Alendras tell shim to back off -- he's his father and Torkan should know his place. 

Okay, so we're pretty much ready for the long house meeting that night.  So I start framing the scene and Scott asks for a scene between Torkan and Iskalli.  I'm like, "Okay. Cool." 

So we frame up the scene and they start talking. And in seconds I realize there's no real conflict that's going to come out of this.  Now, normally this wouldn't be a problem.  Though I tend to drive scenes toward a conflict, I'm also willing to be really patient on this front.  But I also know we're playing in a convention slot and I've now only got another hour and a half to wrap all this up.  The way my brain was working was like, "Okay, we're losing light. We don't have the money for overtime.  What pages can we cut and still keep the story on track?"

And this scene, which seemed to be about exposition and a desire for screentime (the way I viewed it, because of the metaphors and experiences I carry round in my head) seemed an easy cut.  So I asked, bluntly but politely, "Scott.  Are we heading for a conflict?  Is there something you're going for that will lead to a roll?  Because if there is, I'm all for it."  Because if he said yes, I definitely would have let it keep going.  But he said, no.  So I said, "Okay, so can we wrap it up that the two brothers compare notes, as you've said, where you discuss the meeting in the long house tonight and assume that your father will be announcing his marriage to Daleeta?"  And he said, someone softly, "Well, I like to roleplay." 

So, wham, we have a couple of creative differences here.  And yes, because of time I was able to say, "I get that.  I respect it. But we're a little crunched for time, so I'm going to move us up the meeting that night."  But I want to fully cop to the fact that having a couple of characters just standing around talking to each other just doesn't interest me.  For better or worse, I was pushing my agenda on the table.  I don't feel bad about this, however, because I've learned (again, from Primetime Adventures) that when I establish the habit of playing toward conflicts the conflicts arrive pretty regularly and the Players have a great time.

But the truth is, I said, "My agenda is the one we're going with," and steered play in that direction.

I arrived with my agenda clear in my head, and my agenda is Story.  I think it's important to lay this out -- not because I think it will particularly startle anyone, but because what I'm about lay out probably informed all the decisions and actions I made.  I fully accepted what I wanted, and took actions to facilitate getting it.

A lot of this will be clear from the posts above, but I want to break out the over-arching agenda.

I love story.  I am a story geek. I love the twists and turns and revelations and reversals and drama and conflict of story.  I respond to story done well with the same visceral and physical pleasure that I get from seeing a great painting. It's not an intellectual response.  It causes pleasure for me in my nerves.

So when the Players hammered out those intertwined characters with those terrific Kickers, I was happy.  A hum of pleasure jingled along arms.

I also love great color and description.  Verbal details and color are part of my pleasure.  No.  Let me be specific.  They are the pleasure -- along with the revelations, reveals, and conflict of dramatic narrative.  So keep in mine that as I describe the session as a success, it's because these qualities were at the forefront of the game, and I worked to elicit them.

And the real fun -- the real, real fun -- is when players gather and encourage this from each other, tossing the ball back and forth as we create details and narrative content on the fly.  It's a performance challenge, and one I love.

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

Christopher Kubasik


Jamie, you wrote, "...so far its a text book example of how HQ can be used, and indeed how Glorantha doesn't have to be weighed down by the huge imposing library of material."

I wanted to share an essay I wrote that Stafford wants to put up on the glorantha.com site, which pretty much lays out how I approached Glorantha for this game:

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.

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

Christopher Kubasik

Oops... one more really important thing.

Mike Holmes has some excellent essays on running HeroQuest at glorantha.com

One of them is Narrator Advice: Not Heresieshttp://www.glorantha.com/support/na_heresies.html

I know I read it a while back, and it must have stuck.  Because when I looked at it two days ago I realized I did everything Mike suggested. (A few conversations with Ron helped me make choices along the same matters.)

In short, here's what I took from the HeroQuest rule book:

Anything to do with the setting of Glorantha
All the core mechanics and rules

That's it.

I ignored all the examples, as they suggested a goal of play I simply wasn't interested in.  (For example, in one of the examples the Players roll to see if their characters get across a river.  Now, if there's was some cool choices the characters had to make to get across the river -- do I save mom or my friend -- or something -- I'd buy it.  But as it stands, it's just a bunch of rolls to see who ends up upstream or a hundred years downstream.  It's simply not providing the kind of scene content (story content) I'm interested in.)  A lot of the example run counter to the spirt I see valuable about the rules and setting.

I didn't worry about looking through all the specifics of rituals and what-not.  I see those as, "Look! Here are some examples of how cool and flexible the system is!  Go at it!"

You can check out Mike's essay for more details.


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

Christopher Kubasik

Oh... and three posts back there is a sentence that reads: "...A few years ago when I started playing Rags again..."

That should be RPGs.  My grammar checker betrayed me when I wasn't paying attention.  (I'm sure one could make spotting typos in my posts a cool drinking game!)
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Moreno R.

Hi, Christopher!

Very good post, full of very useful advices. I took the liberty of adding a link to it in the Italian gaming forum of Narrattiva, as an example, I hope you don't mind (if you do, I can still remove it).

Remembering my last time in Glorantha (it was a lot of time ago: we still used Runequest II...), I didn't have a lot of problem in "starting small" in the geographical sense, as in the "mythic" sense. I really didn't know how to convey even a tiny part of the Gloranthian Myths to the players. I had them start as a little Praxian tribe in the Wastes (little tribe, little contacts, little knowledge of the world), but even then I had a lot of problems in trying to show, in the SIS, even the different cults of praxians and the neighboring states, and when the tribe move to central Prax with Lunars and Templars and all of that it unraveled quickly. How did you address this problem in a quick convention game? Even if you use as setting a very little village, they still have a rich pantheon of gods around.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Moreno,

First, thanks for the compliment.  And no, I don't mind the link at all. 

It's my hope that the thread is helpful -- whether one plays HeroQuest or in the setting of Glorantha or not -- in the same way Ron Edwards' Actual Play posts about Sorcerer, HeroQuest, Tunnels & Trolls, AD&D, The Pool, The Riddle of Steel and a gizillion others have informed my ability to now have all the fun I always wanted to have from RPGs that I didn't have in the past.  Whether or not I've played all the games Ron has played, and whether or not I have any intention to play the games is moot.  His explanation and example of how he played gave me perspective, techniques, and practical application of what to do with rules, with play, and with bringing out the best from myself at the table.

On the other hand, this is a thread about HeroQuest and Glorantha.  And I would be remiss if I didn't also give props to all the work Mike Holmes has done in breaking out the rules of HeroQuest for easy and practical consumption.  Go down to the retired HeroQuest forum ( http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?board=13.0 ) and you'll find Mike doing amazing work in teasing out and explaining the properties of the game.  The fun my game produced is due in large part to the work he did in those threads.

Second, this:

Quote from: Moreno R. on February 24, 2008, 03:07:23 AM
Remembering my last time in Glorantha (it was a lot of time ago: we still used Runequest II...), I didn't have a lot of problem in "starting small" in the geographical sense, as in the "mythic" sense. I really didn't know how to convey even a tiny part of the Gloranthian Myths to the players. I had them start as a little Praxian tribe in the Wastes (little tribe, little contacts, little knowledge of the world), but even then I had a lot of problems in trying to show, in the SIS, even the different cults of praxians and the neighboring states, and when the tribe move to central Prax with Lunars and Templars and all of that it unraveled quickly. How did you address this problem in a quick convention game? Even if you use as setting a very little village, they still have a rich pantheon of gods around.

This is a big topic, but it is part of what this thread is about, so I'm willing to make a stab at it.

Also, I can only speak about this topic from my point of view.  And my point of view is, essentially, being a Story Geek.  I love all things story.  RPGs are just another media for story for me.  Movies, sit-coms, fairy tales, theater, RPGs and so on.  I cannot stress the importance of this enough in terms of the discussion to come.  Many people see RPGs as very different from other story-telling media -- to the point where they don't want to draw any comparisons from other media to RPGs. I get that.  And that's their agenda.  But it's not mine.  So, as we proceed, keep that in mind.  And, by the same token, if I reference my reactions to games I don't like it's not because they're terrible, but because they're not what I like.  Yes, there's a preference there.  But it's not an a priori admission that I'm going rip copies of those games from the hands of players, kick down doors to destroy publishing efforts, nor murmuring Satanic rituals to ruin the lives of those who enjoy, design or publish those games.  (We're all clear on that, right?)

And, also... It's complicated.  We're talking about your experience years ago, vs. my experience last week.  We're talking about you using the Runequest rules, while I was using the HeroQuest rules -- a huge difference with concrete effects I'll discuss below.  We're talking about what turns you on about Glorantha as a setting and what you want to share with your players, vs. what turns me on about Glorantha and what I want to share with my players -- which may be the same thing, a different thing, or a thing with many differences and overlapping similarities.  And underlying all of it is what you want you want from RPGs -- what you expect them to be, to do, and what you want to get from them, which may or may not be similar to what I expect them to be, to do, and what I want to get from them.

So, let's unpack all that.  What I say might end up not applying to what you want, but it might give you some perspective to get closer to what you want. 

The Focus of Dramatic Narrative

Here's how story works.  There's a character.  There character is in a situation.  We follow the character through the low levels of intensity about the situation, to more and more intense conflicts about the situation, until the conflict is resolved.

That's it.

How much background/color/detail do we need?  Just enough to tell the story.  Just enough to establish the situation.  We might add more details as the situation's conflicts get more intense.  But that's about it.

Think for a moment about the movie Aliens.  How much do we know the culture of Earth?  How much do we know about the technology, the religions, the economy of Earth?  Well, nothing really.  We know nothing almost nothing about Earth.  How much do we know about the many, many worlds that we can infer that humanity has settled?  Nothing. Nothing at all.

Here's what we know:

There are corporations.
Corporations fund colonies and terra-forming.
Corporations own space ships.
Corporations make human-like robots.
There are space marines.

That is it.  Really.  I mean it.  We could infer a whole lot of material if we wanted.  We could sit down with a notebook and start spinning out notes for fourteen sourcebooks for the Aliens roleplaying game.  But the truth is, we don't know any of that from the movie.

How is that possible?  How can we watch a compelling story and know so little about the character?  Because we're not looking at the world. We're looking at the characters and the situation. That's what we're paying attention to.  The background, the world, that's just stuff behind the characters to give the characters a place to be.  It provides a substance for them to stand on and interact with that feels real enough to make their efforts to deal the situation have weight.  But that's it.

Take a look at other movies you love.  Pay attention to how much you don't know about what's happening in the world that's happening off-screen.  You know nothing about it.  Why don't you notice this unless you're really paying hard to pay attention? Because you're paying attention to what happening with the characters right and front of you on the screen.  What they say and do is what matters.

Now, some might say, "Well, what about a novel?  What about a hard SF, for example.  That will have plenty of background detail.  Pages and pages of it.

Yes.  Absolutely.  True.  And I don't think particularly helpful.  Let me ask you something.  When you play an RPG, do want the GM do read you five pages of detailed notes every twenty minutes.  Of course not.  You want to play your character engaged in situation, and you want to get caught up in other characters engaged in situation.  It's a roleplaying game.  We should be playing roles, not listening to the fourteen ways this culture crafts it's knives for each stage of a person's life during a 15 minute dissertation from the GM.  (Remember the knives; I'm bringing them back later.)

See, dramatic narrative -- that is, narrative told through the words and actions of characters -- is, I think, a terrific model to learn from to help build stories.  Does this mean I think there's a 1:1 correlation between the two?  Of course not.  But just as the cinematographer learns from oil painting, so we can learn a few tricks from other media.

And does this mean I think there shouldn't be descriptive passages?  Of course not.  RPGs are a verbal medium.  We relate details of the characters and the world through words.  So paying attention to how writers capture detail in words is a great idea as well.  Practicing communicating cool imagery and detail at the table is ever better.   

My point is to put focus on not giving description about the world.  My point is to ask, "What are we putting focus on?"  And I put focus on the Player's Characters.  In the events at the table, they are the focus of the story.  The world's narrative details revolve around them.  There may be other narrative details "out there" -- waiting to be mined.  But if the PC's don't need them, don't encounter them, or would be extraneous to the tale, they don't become engaged.

For example, as the movie Aliens continues, we learn more details about the world's setting:

People still eat corn bread.
People still have photos of people they love.
The space marines seem to be going through a phase of bad discipline.
Corporate guys still wear suits.
There's definitely a social pecking order (a tense one!) between the corporations and the military.

The movie didn't front load all of this.  It revealed details as it went, using these details to expand the world and -- most importantly -- allow characters to reveal behavior and choice about what they care about.

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

Christopher Kubasik


"But there's all this stuff!

Yes, there's a lot of stuff in Glorantha.  But that doesn't mean you can't unpack details as needed.  And only as needed.

For example, in the game description above, one of the Players in the game asked for a "tavern" or a "pub" three times.  Each time I corrected him -- there are no taverns or pubs in a Heortling village.  The last time, I broke out the description of the village's Long House.  I painted it with much more detail than I had before.  I wanted to give the player a fixed image of that Long House.  I wanted to make sure all the Players understood that the Long House, and especially the sacred hearth burning inside the Long House was the center of their community, the most important place of their community. 

We needed to clarify that.  Now, I could have made a big deal about this earlier.  But then, there's a million things about Heortlings and Dragon Pass and Glorantha I could have made clear earlier.  And we never would have gotten around to rolling dice!  So I gave quick brushstrokes of details, and as we needed to created fuller pictures I created fuller pictures.

Please note that rule I mentioned upthread about the group being able to "re-write" and retcon activities and ideas to make play move more smoothly.  The player who wanted the tavern wanted to go there and rabblerouse.  But when I made it clear there was no tavern, but there was the Long House, he decided it didn't want to go to the Long House, he wanted to frame his scene while being at work.  My guess is, he wanted a place where his scene would put him in direct conflict with village elders; he wanted a more casual environment. 

The point I want to make is this: I didn't say, "Oh, now you have to go to the Long House, because you were looking for something like the Tavern, and this is the closest thing we've got."  No.  I had added more details to the world he had been unclear about, and now I let him make a new choice about his PC's actions based on this new information. 

This give and take -- a casual and social approach to the establishing what becomes "real" in the fiction we're all creating at the table  -- is very important to my playing.  As a GM I really, really never try to play "Gotcha!" with my players. 

This allows me (and my players) to clarify ideas, add new details, and toss ideas back and forth to create the most satisfying details and fiction we can think of.  We're editing as we proceed.  We don't contradict what has  come before -- we build on what we've said before.  But we never get trapped in a "reality" that isn't as interesting as what we can make up in present moment with a little bit more discussion.

But, remember, my goal is not to create a self consistent world that would continue running without the PCs present. That's not what my game is about!  My game is about the Player Characters.  Moreno, I want you to really think on that.  Because it's pretty radical departure from how most of us build our game worlds.  But I really mean it.  I don't mean that I don't know what's over that hill just because the PCs have never gone over that hill.  I do mean that the enemy tribe over that hill will take action -- if it takes action -- that will have significance to the PCs (and thus the Players).  This story is the story of these PCs.  In the movie Aliens we can assume there are billions and billions of people living lives and having drama and so forth.  But we never know about them.  We know about 20 characters we meet in the film -- the characters that circle Ripley, because this is her story and everything is designed to throw her into situations and watch her make choices.

So, let's look back at how I filtered limited information to the Players.  In ALL OF THIS please remember what I said to the Players before character creation began:  "When you make your characters, I'm not looking for what your character cares about.  Your character is just a conduit for what you care about.  What do you care about?  What do you want this story to be about?  HeroQuest will let you do that."

So here's the list of details of what I told them about Glorantha religions:

• the fact that the gods are real and a vital part of every day life
• that the Lunar Empire has moved into Dragon Pass and outlawed the worship of Orlanth
• that several tribes have submitted to the religious law of the Lunars
that a rebellion is fermenting
• the Lunars worship the Red Goddess (bad! hiss!)
• the Heortlings worship Orlanth and Ernaldan.  Orlanth is the Storm God and the Father.  Ernalda is the Goddess of the Earth and the Mother

That's pretty much it.  Really. 

Then, during character creation I mentioned that there are aspects of the Gods -- specific cults of Orlanth and Ernaldan that the PCs could be members of.  We ran down the list so they could get a quick idea of what was possible:  Deemborth the Thief; Destor the Adventurer; Drogarsi the Skald.  Two of the Players decided to be devotees: One to Destor, the other to Drogarsi.  We tossed together a couple of color details.  Not much -- it was a con game, and the focus seemed to be about Darleeta, the fact that she was pregnant, and the fact that she worshipped the Red Goddess.  So, I didn't create fellow members of their cult nor NPCs that they would interact with.  Certainly I could have, and if our game had continued past the Con, I would have brought these details and NPCs into play to create new situations for the PC.  But right now, there was no need.

And what about the Lunars.  The Players knew almost nothing about them, nor the Red Goddess.  I was fine with that for now.  They knew them as the enemies of the Heortlings.  They knew they were invaders.  Notice that they knew the Lunars only from the Heortling perspective.  I wanted to keep it that way.  Greg Stafford's work (in both Glorantha and Pendragon is full of cultures and faith that are different and in conflict because they only see things from their own perspective.  So, just like I've been suggesting, I don't need -- or want -- the Players to be wandering around with a big, objective conceptual and theological map of how Glorantha works.  If they go off and read on their own, that's fine -- it's not a secret.  But in play what I care about is that a Player interact with the world from his character's point-of-view and that I feed them details and facts that hammer them at the level of their PCs.

So, let's say their PCs meet a Lunar.  Well, even if the PCs have met Lunars before, this is my chance to introduce Lunars to the Players.  I didn't have to say one thing about Lunar armor before this moment, and we might have played five sessions up to this point.  But this is the first time a Lunar is "on screen" -- and if the Players hadn't asked, this is my chance to introduce them "visually."  So I'll do a bit of a description -- talking about how the Lunar warriors look in contrast to the Heortlings.  I'll describe how the armor looks uncomfortable in this way or that way, because it isn't like the Hoertling armor.  I'll compare their weapons the Lunar warriors are carrying to the Heortling weapons.  I'll try to make a picture that makes the Lunar warriors look wrong -- not foolish -- but wrong somehow.  Because the Heortlings are proud of how they do things and that is how they view the world.

When it comes to the Lunar gods, again, it would be in how they interact with the world and with PCs.  They might find statues.  They might see a Lunar praying.  I would try to paint it from the Heortling's point of view.  I don't care the Player knows everything.  If the Player asks, I'll give any information he or she wants about source material -- I'm not trying to keep secrets.  I'm just trying not to get bogged down in source material.

So, remember, don't try to "show" more of the world than the Players need to know.  Be loose in the first couple of sessions, so that the Players can tweak their PCs early on as the Players get acquainted with the setting and the mechanics.  Introduce more and more of Glorantha's religions through the PCs interactions with the world and NPCs. 

The Rules Lead into The World

Now, you said you were working with Glorantha a few years ago, using the Runequest system.  That's going to have implications and complications as well.

Okay.  So, it's 1980.  I'm in the Compleat Strategist on 33rd Street in Manhattan.  At the time I've been playing AD&D 2nd edition, Traveller, and Bushido (the Phoenix Games edition that came out in '79).  I've also played The Fantasy Trip, Dungeons & Dragons, and read through other games -- but those are those three games are the active games.  The AD&D game is my main game.

I've had a great time running AD&D for my high school crew (a mix of guys and gals who all met up in a couple of English Lit and creative writing classes -- please note that last part about where we met -- important!). 

But the highlight of my gaming so far is the Bushido game my little brother ran.  I and the other players were three Ronin and Samurai who, in the climax to the adventure my brother made up, when we all decided to fight a dragon that rules wise we knew we could not defeat.  But we all made a choice to die trying rather than go home dishonored.  That sense of making a choice -- making a statement -- about how to have the PC behave was the coolest thing in the world.  I kept trying to port more of that into my regular AD&D game -- but it was tough.  I had begun stripping away so much of the rules to get stuff out of the way that I didn't quite know what we were playing anymore.

So, I'm at the Compleat Strategist, flipping through games, looking for a game that will give me more of that experience from the Bushido game.  I don't know about handling times.  I don't know about IIEE.  I do know there's something I want more of, and I know are there are some things I want less of.

I wander down the aisle and I see the cover for Runequest -- a game I've never seen before.  It's the 2nd edition, the 120 page book with the color cover on the staplebound book showing the woman warrior with sword and shield battling the green lizard kind of thing.  I pick it up.  I flip through it.  I see hit location charts.  I put it back down.  It's not what I'm looking for.

And that, my friends, is my first encounter with Glorantha.  I never saw it.

I would, in fact, not encounter Glorantha until I read Ron's panting review of Hero Wars in November of 2000.  (You can find the review here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/reviews/16/  You can find his review of Thunder Rebels for hero Wars here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/reviews/14/

Now, what happened there.  Well, no matter how cool Glorantha was as a setting, I was looking at rules that were going to prevent me from getting there.  How did I know this?  Well, intuition played a big part of it.  I mean, I'm looking at a game that had a combat system that by definition got down the minutia of hit locations, interrupted spell actions and so forth.  Ron's review of Hero Wars does a great job comparing and contrasting the two system and how they either support the rich environment of Glorantha -- or don't.  I'd really recommend reading it.

I'd suggest the HeroQuest rules are much better suited for playing in Glorantha.  Or rather, for the Glorantha I want to play in.

A few paragraphs back I was talking about how one can introduce facts to the Player via the PCs -- that the PCs are in fact the conduit for the Players to interact with the world about the things the Players care about.

The rules system for Runequest was primarily a pseudo-realistic combat simulation thing (as most RPG rules are pseudo-realistic combat simulation things).  But if you look at a HeroQuest character sheet that's been filled in you'll find a bunch of things like "Ashamed of Son 13" or "Devotee of Destor 17" or "Loves Family 17."  The system itself makes no claims to modeling combat.  It's a conflict resolution system where the Players roll dice to determine outcomes of conflicting interests.  And how do you get bonuses to win a conflict?  By adding in fictional color and with Augments -- which means that Love of Family and Ashamed of Son can both become bonuses in the middle of a fight.  That's because were building story here.

And I bring this up because some of the problems you had with the huge pantheon elements years ago might be mitigated by the rules system of HeroQuest.

Here's a thread that touches on some of these issues: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=13831.0

The HeroQuest rules connect the PC directly to issues of religion and family and relationships and society.  The key is the things on the character sheet is what the game and story is about.   

In a lot of games there's a thick, rich background with all this cool stuff (Runequest, Shadowrun, Battletech, Ars Magica, Fading Suns, and more.)  But when you look at the character sheet, what we see is tools for punching, shooting, and fireballing people.  There's not solid connection between the character sheet and this rich background. 

Before I go further, let me make a whole lot of qualifying statements:

• D&D didn't have a problem of not connecting to a big rich background because there was no big rich background.  The character sheet was perfect for what the game was about: kicking down doors and taking their stuff.  The big, rich background for RPGs came later, but the character sheet and what they covered stayed pretty much the same.  In my view, this was a problem.
• But it might not have been a problem for YOU!  (Whoever you are, you reading this right now.)  Plenty of people have successfully run Ars Magica, Shadowrun and so on.  Good!  I'm truly glad and wish you no ill-will.  I'm discussing my experiences and the experiences of other people where thing didn't work out so well.

Here's what I saw happen a lot of the time with these big backgrounds that didn't tie the characters in directly via mechanics:

The Players know there's this whole big world out there.  But they know the GM is in charge of the whole big world and that he knows which parts of that world environment matter and which don't.  We try to "get into" the setting, but it's so big that's it's like watching the movie Aliens while thinking about the nurse from Gateway and Jones the cat the whole time: There's all this setting details we're tracking that's spread out all over the place that sometimes obscures building a story right now.

But look what HeroQuest's mechanics do: They give a clear focus to what the story and session will be about: it's the stuff on the Character Sheet.  Yes, we have values for weapons skills -- because committing acts of violence is certainly an option in Glorantha.  But what else do we see?  We see a value for being Heortling barbarian.  We see a value for being follower of Orlanth.  We see a value for Ashamed of Father, Loves Family, Vengeful Against Lunar Empire.  We see a Goal: Spark a Rebellion against the Lunar Empire.  We have a situation: The Hero Wars have begun, mortals and gods are in conflict over specific issues.  Tribe turn against tribe.  Family turns against family.  Armies are on the march.  Gods will dies.  Others will be born.  The world will be different by the time the Hero Wars are over. 

And the story we're going to follow is isn't everything that happened in Glorantha Ever.  No. Instead we're going to follow the story of the Player Characters.  Imagine we're all sitting around a camp fire, and someone says, "Tell us the story of Glorantha."  And I say, "All right.  I'll tell you the story of Torkan and Iskalli, and their father Alanderes."  I don't give you a whole info dump on the gods and goddess of all the religions and cultures.  I tell you a story.  And a story is about specific characters in specific circumstances.  And that's how I run my RPG sessions these days.

So, to swing all this back to Glorantha and its plethora of Gods and Goddesses:

Notice that by using the HeroQuest rules, the world gets narrowed down fast.  With the Runequest rules we have the stats on our character sheet and the world is "out there" waiting for us to explore.  But with a HeroQuest character sheet, which parts of the world I want to explore (as a Player or a GM -- the GM sets the location and situation, the Player choose among those pieces to create a character).  Suddenly it isn't "all that out there."  The focus of the game is right here on the character sheet.

I can't emphasize enough how the two different games create expectations and patterns of behavior when it comes to interaction with Glorantha.  If you allow yourself, as GM, to work with the HeroQuest system, all that other stuff that might be a constant distraction ("How do I get them here to see this?  How will I explain all of that?") fades away.

The focus of the session becomes the PCs themselves -- the choices they make, the opportunities they seek.  Then game is no longer about showing off Glorantha.  It's about using Glorantha to show off the PCs.

I don't know if that helps, but that's the bet I've got.

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

Moreno R.


(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Christopher Kubasik


Better a meal of acorns among kin than a honey feast with strangers.
-- old Heortling saying

So, here's where we stand:

Chris is playing Alandres.  Alandres' Goal is "To get over mourning wife."  Alandres' Kicker is, "I found the woman I've been courting is pregnant.

Scott is playing Torkan.   Torkan's Goal is "To spark the rebellion against the Lunar Empire."  Torkan's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is pregnant."

David is playing Iskalli.  Iskalli's Goal is "To protect and preserve the ways and worship of Orlanth."  Iskalli's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is worshipping the Red Goddess."

A Kicker works is a moment or situation that demands a choice on the part of a Player Character.  It is Player authored -- which means, by definition, it is a moment or situation that the Player cares about. 

The GM frames the scene for the Kicker, using details the Player has offered in the Kicker, and then the scene is played out like any other scene.  The Kicker demands a situation, but there's no way to know which way the PC will jump or act until the actual scene begins in play.

A Kicker isn't a motivation, nor what I generally call a Plot Hook.  By Plot Hook I mean a bit of backstory or story used to hook the character into the GM's plot. When using Kickers there is no plot.  Instead of a Plot we have is a Player authored situation that demands a choice for each PC that demands resolution.  We keep playing until the Kicker is resolved. How the Kicker is resolved is unknown -- to myself and to the Players.  Only by playing out the game can we determine this.

I'm sure people have used the technique of a Player authored situation that demands an improvised choice and defines the scope of play for an open-ended narrative for years.  However, the technique was formalized in Ron Edward's Sorcerer and I credit the game for giving me such a useful piece of game play.  It is an integral part of the rules of Sorcerer and I've lifted it for my own purposes.  While the technique isn't useful for all games, it works -- I believe -- very well for HeroQuest.

An Old Tree, Dead, Stark Against a Blue Sky

We started with Chris' character, Alandres.  Chris said he wanted his character near the long house, but not in it -- even though he was a village elder.  He said Alandres had been despondent for months, ever since his wife's death.  He went into despondent slump, embodying how Alandres lacked all will or life.  He was, in essence, the complete opposite of a healthy Heortling man.

Picking up the cues Chris described, I said, "Okay, I got it.  Alandres is sitting under a tree.  An old tree, dead, stark against a blue sky.  It's near the longhouse, but apart from it.  And it's where Alandres has been spending most of his days.  Daleeta approaches him.  She has her hand on her belly...."

And then we played out a scene where Daleeta, very happy, tells Alandres that she's realized she's carrying a child.  Alandres is nonplused.  He accepts the news without joy or concern, and simply says, "Well then.  We will have to make an announcement of a wedding."

[For those of you much better versed in the ways of Heortling culture than I was the day of the convention game, you'll notice that we glided right over the customs of Heortling marriage.  I've had time to read a lot more of Thunder Rebels now, and if I were to continue playing in this scenario, we would go back and make decisions about which clan Daleeta had come from, about the relative status of Alandres and Daleeta, and about what sort of marriage the would be having.  I'd throw most of the decisions to Chris, since this would be a good chance for him to add more detail to Alandres and what sort of situation he wanted to have with Daleeta.  I think it's interesting to note that the scenario didn't require all these details hammered out at first, and that Chris' choices would be much richer after we played our session.  Gong back and establishing facts the maybe we "should" have established earlier wouldn't be a bad or confounding thing at all.]

Daleeta leaves, happy that she's going to be marrying Alandres.  She's an interesting character to me, because I really don't know who she is yet.  Because all the PCs are circling her for their Kickers, I'm willing to wait a bit to discover what the Players want from her for dramatic resistance.  I do decide this: she seems content to be marrying a man who seems broken.  I know he's an elder and so will have status and wealth.  What this means to Daleeta, how she sees him, what she wants from the marriage is something I have yet to discover.  I'm willing to play her as a gold-digger or as a woman who is looking forward to being around an older, worn down man for reasons I don't yet know (or both) is something I have yet to find out.

So, that's the end of the Kicker scene with Alandres.  From the scene we know that Alandres is going to establish a wedding contract with Daleeta and that he will announce it at the longhouse that night.  What will happen at the longhouse, what will happen with the marriage has yet to be determined -- I honestly have no idea at that point -- but that's where we're going.

We move onto Scott, who is playing Torkan.  He originally says that he wants to be at the tavern, but I point out there's no tavern in a Heortling village.  He decides Torkan will be at work, making weapons at his anvil.  I say, "Cool." 

Now, I didn't want to just dump his Kicker ("I find out Daleeta is pregnant") on Torkan as exposition.  Scott has made Torkan Angry at Father and Rabble-rouser, so I did decided to give him things to be angry and rabble rouse about. 

I have two village girls walk by him as he's working.  They're giggling behind their hands, and looking at him, and clearing coming to cause gossipy trouble.  In brief, though the scene played out a while, they taunt Torkan with the fact they know something he doesn't, dropping clues that ultimately make him realize Daleeta is pregnant.

What I liked about this scene was that the girls weren't really interested in the fact that Daleeta was pregnant per se.  What they were poking fun at Torkan about was that their father, currently broken and grieving, had knocked up a girl even younger than Torkan, and Torkan's father seemed as dazed as before.  In short, their cruelty was coming from the fact that Torkan's father wasn't in control of things.  That's what mattered to them.  And I knew I had found an angle into hammering Torkan if I wanted it.  Torkan was a guy who wanted to spark a rebellion against the Lunar occupancy; he was focused; he was trying to subtly get others onboard, even though his father and brother wished he'd just pay attention to daily life and not try to agitate people in their village.  So having a father that lacked focus, that wasn't even paying attention to what he was doing as a potential father and husband -- and how that would play in the social dynamic of the village and bounce back to Torkan -- seemed really cool.

Armed with this news, Torkan went off to confront his father.  He demands his father stop sitting around under the tree, start paying attention to his responsibilities and seemed emotionally motivated from the previous scene and everything Scott had built into Torkan.  And then Chris has Alandres snap back at Torkan: "I'm your father, know your place... stop causing trouble in the village..." and so on and tells his son to be at the longhouse for an announcement that night.  Alandres rouses himself just enough to smack his son around.

I thought it was a great father/son scene, with all the cracks that can come about in that relationship.  I go into detail about all this because it shows that we were getting good scene material that was good "role playing" but was still on the spine of the Kickers.  It wasn't roleplaying for roleplaying's sake, which I'm not very fond -- though it can be fun in doses.  Instead, we were building a dramatic spine off the Kickers.

No dice were rolled (and, in fact, no dice have been rolled at all yet).  Torkan, frustrated, relents, walking away, furious at his father, upset he seems to be dishonoring his mother's memory even as his father is caught up in melancholy grief.

Finally, Iskalli.  His Kicker was that he finds out Daleeta is worshipping the Red Goddess.  David and I nudge around some ideas, and then decide that Iskalli, a storyteller, has just returned home from traveling to another village.  I frame them scene with him entering his family's home and setting down his bag.  He sees Daleeta's bag there, but Daleeta isn't there.  (I see this as a way of Daleeta "marking her territory" -- moving into the family before she's officially been invited.)  Iskalli moves it out of the way, and as he does so, he sees a small, clay figure of the Red Goddess. 

David takes over now -- the Kicker is on the table and it's time for him to choose how to react to his self-authored Kicker.  He carefully, making sure no one else can see it, pulls it out to confirm it is the Red Goddess.  It is. 

Now, remember, I have no idea what he's going to do.  Nor do I have an agenda, a plot point, and action or a revelation I'm trying to maneuver Iskalli toward.  As with all the Kickers so far, once they're in gear, I'm just watching to see what decision the Players are going to have their characters make. 

For all I know Iskalli is going to go straight to his clan chieftain and tell him the truth about Daleeta.  Or he could go to his father and see if his father knows about this.  Or he could go to his angry, rabble-rousing brother and let him deal with it.  I have no idea what's about to happen -- just as I had no idea with the previous two Kickers.

Here's what David has Iskalli do: Iskalli puts the statue back in Daleeta's satchel, folds the satchel up, and heads off to find Daleeta.  That I did not see coming.

So, he's heading toward the village's main longhouse and sees Daleeta walking toward him.  She's got a light step -- she's returning from her meeting with Alandres and is happy.  But as they approach each other she sees Iskalli is holding her bag.  They meet. I still have no idea what David is going to have Iskalli do.

David has Iskalli ask if it's her bag.  (Iskalli already knows the answer).  And then asks if the statue inside is hers.  She goes pale.  He says, "I will not tell anyone what you are doing.  This is you business.  But I need you to make me a promise: You will not drag my father into what you are doing."

Okay, now it's time to roll some dice. 

Suddenly a lot of stuff about Daleeta becomes snaps into place.  She loves the Red Goddess.  In part because she values peace.  She doesn't want war and rebellion to tear apart Dragon Pass.  She wants the Heortlings to submit to the Red Goddess for the safety of those she loves.  She's now pregnant, so she really wants peace.  Her relationship with the broken and mourning Alandres makes sense to me now and has definition: she is planning on drawing him into the worship of the Red Goddess, hoping that his mournful state means he'll be weak enough to make into a convert.  He's a project: someone she might be able to build a safe haven for with for worship of this invading goddess. 

A lot of this makes sense precisely because it provides resistance to Iskalli's request, so I decide to go with it.  I say, "Well, this is a conflict.  Let's roll some dice."

Iskalli has his devotion to Orlanth.  He's a devotee of an aspect of Orlanth, so we toss that in as an Augment.  He's also got a Love of Family -17, so he gets a couple of points for that.  (I didn't know he had written that down, but now I do!)

[Augments: In HeroQuest all of your attributes -- relationships, skills, beliefs, personality traits, and more -- are quantified.  Not only can you use any of these in a contest, but you can use them as Augments.  This means you take the ability, divide it by 10 (.5 rounding up) and that gives you a point value to add to your roll.  So, if you're swinging at a giant spider who is about to eat your friend, and you have "Love Master Frodo" with a score of 25, you could add three points to your sword skill and do better than you normally would because your fighting to same a friend you love.]

She rolls her Devotion to the Red Goddess.  David's got the higher value, but my roll wins.  She's all like, SNAP!: "I'm marrying your father and I'll live with him the way I want."  She grabs her bag back and turns and walks away.

Iskalli is left standing there, having lost the conflict.  But I'm looking at David, and it's clear he wants more.  I say, "You know, you could spend one of your Hero Points and bump your result to a success and beat her."

[Hero Points: Hero points are a mechanic in HeroQuest that let you define your character's story for your character, as I think of it.  You receive three to start with, and another 1-5, at the discretion of the GM, at the start of an adventure.  And then a few more for doing cool stuff and wrapping up an adventure.  You can spend them to boost stats, add new stats, bump successes to your advantage when in conflict, drive down an opponent's success to really cream him, cement enchanted items or relationships to make sure they stay part of the PC's history.]

David says, "Yeah, I really want to win this conflict."

So, he erases a hero point, we back it all up and I say, "You see Daleeta look down at the ground.  Afraid. You've cowed her.  She gently takes the bag back and says, 'I promise.  I won't bring your father into this.'  She leaves."

Okay, so David has won the conflict.  Daleeta, who had very happy a moment ago is very upset, and in a few hours everyone is going to meet up at the longhouse for the announcement of the marriage.  Torak is pissed at his father.  Alandres is lost and confused, following the lead of a woman who is secretly worshipping his enemy's goddess.  At this point in the game I'm a very happy man.

Final notes for this part of the summary:  There's the potential here for a lot of inter-PC conflict.  I'm fine with this on five counts.

First, the Players jumped at the chance to establish this as a possibility when they made their characters.  If their willing to go there, then I'm not going to stop them.

Second, remember what I wrote about whom I was playing with back in high school: guys and gals from my English Lit and creative writing classes. This means that when I was getting my handle on RPGs I was playing with people who were, all at the same time, reading The Odyssey, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Poe, Hawthorne, Medea, The Trojan Women, McTeague, The Great Gatsby, and tons of stories that were about conflicts between characters, within families, and the social stress points that force lots of people to make choices about where their loyalties lie (their families, their gods, their society, their loved ones, and so on.)  So, I'm very comfortable with playing with this stuff since it's what I wanted all along.

Third, I still don't know if this is going to happen.  It's up to the Player.  If they don't want to do it, it doesn't happen.  I'm not expecting it, nor am I going to be engineering the Players toward it.

Fourth, it seems very much part and parcel of the setting of Glorantha.  We're playing in the time of the Hero Wars.  Families and societies will be torn apart.  How the Players choose to have their characters act -- even when this might mean that father turns on son, or son on brother -- is all fair game to me because it will produce great story content.  The Players at the table all seemed mature and able to hold their own.  Their characters could be in conflict, but the Players would be in cooperation in building a great narrative.  They all seemed to be on the same page in this regard.

And fifth, I really don't do the "party" structure anymore.  There are protagonists, and I cut around the table.  Sometimes PCs are in a scene together, sometimes they aren't.  But I've noticed that because the thematic content is rich, no one seems bored even if they're not "on screen."  The Players all want to know what's going on and pay attention, because they know the other players are feeding them material they can use for their next scenes.  Because there's no longer any "party unity" that needs to be maintained, conflict between PCs is simply cool narrative content, not a threat to a structure of the fun.

Next: All Hell Breaks Loose


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

Joel P. Shempert

Hi, Chris! This is a fascinating thread! I do hope you're planning on completing the next installment!

This thread is of particular interest to me because I'm planning on running Heroquest at a con myself (Gamestorm 10 in the Portland area) very soon. So I'm keen on taking any lessons I can from your experience to bolster my own endeavor.

For starters a bunch of red flags went up because I am planning on using pregens. I've got the Hero's Book supplement by Mark Galeotti, and I thought I'd come prepared with the sample Lunar and Heortling characters from the back of that book, but give players the opportunity to customize and make the character their own. I figured it basically amounts to figuring out the keywords for the players; the individuality (and story-driving elements) of the characters is up to them.

But after nodding along with this entire (enormous!) thread I'm having my doubts. My own instincts are to do chargen as a group, and I'm especially in love with the "100 word narrative" thing. I just got all skittish about running a con game (which I've never done before!) in a limited timeframe, with strangers, so I tried to compromise. I'm somewhat committed to the format of the game (I've already posted the description on Gamestorm's website, and gotten several signups). Maybe I'll have a bunch of mostly blank sheets with the Dara Happa, Tarsh, and Heortling keywords filled in, to speed up the process without designing the character for the players. Hmm. . .

I'm excited by your description of the kind of game you want and how you pursued it. I too am a huge fan of Mike Holmes' writings on Heroquest and how it can (not, for instance, by emulating the book's play examples) be used as a hugely potent engine for Story Now. I really want to tap that potential, hence my nervous rethinking of my approach in the wake of your posts. I think I've fallen into old gaming habits in thinking out this event.

So: I'm thinking, 100 word narratives are an important creative and cognitive step in creating player-invested, conflict-read, living breathing characters, especially for one-shot play. The book, in its "eh, everyone plays differently, just do what'chu wanna do how you wanna do it and the benevolent and wise GM will tie it all together and smooth over the friction and disconnects" philosophy, downplays the narratives as just one option, but that's the first thing that jumped out at me in HQ and screamed "This! This is cool and it's just what you've been waiting for!"

Doing "Kickers" (whether I use the word or not) sounds like a winner. I would've never thought of it for a con since I tend to associate Kickers with a longer arc of resolution. But now you mention it, it sounds like a natural fit, and perfect for propelling PCs into story-rich action.

Honestly, your whole thread, long as it is, is just dripping with sweet nectar of insight and ideas, putting into words what I want and how I feel in ways I'd never conceived. This is one of my favorites: "Imagine we're all sitting around a camp fire, and someone says, "Tell us the story of Glorantha."  And I say, "All right.  I'll tell you the story of Torkan and Iskalli, and their father Alanderes."  I don't give you a whole info dump on the gods and goddess of all the religions and cultures.  I tell you a story." I love it. Cuts right to the quick of so many of my issues with "setting" in a lot of the games I play, even the better ones with cool and engaged participants. I could go on and on about this stuff. I'm thinking of printing out a couple of your posts as essays on "what I want out of roleplaying and how to get it."

I recognize that you're standing on the shoulders of giants (hell, you've linked a lot of them), and I've stood on a lot of the same shoulders in coming to grips with roleplaying. But thanks for giving me yet another boost. :)

There's one thing that struck me, though, in reading your play account: you highlighted the wild, out-there nature of the setting--"the world is made of Myth!" and all that. Which is awesome, yeah. But then it seems to me like you shoved all that stuff into a matte painting for a backdrop, and in the foreground you just had this intimate little web of conflict that could take place in any community of pseudo-Norsemen, whether the mountain range yonder is a dragon corpse or not. Which is not to say your story doesn't sound wicked cool, but it doesn't seem to me that you brought out the Mythic-with-a-capital-M nature of Glorantha, which is something I'd personally love to figure out how to do. What are your thoughts on that?

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the reply!

I don't have a lot of time right now, but some quick answers and replies.

1) Yes!  It is long!  But I will be finishing it.  Just busy right now. 

2) Pre-generated characters or not:

First.  Listen, this is my obsessive preference.  When I ran a Sword & Sorcerer game at the con before this last one, we barely got into play before it was time to wrap.  So, there's a trade off.  Keep in mind that I had practiced with the Sorcerer & Sword game, and running Primetime Adventures which put a lot of solid, authoritative mojo into my GMing.  I know that in both the HeroQuest game and the Sorcerer & Sword game people enjoyed making their characters, so the fun was there.  Also, one of my goals is to show off the games -- and since character creation is vital to the games, that's the road I go down.

I can only suggest: whichever route you go for, commit to it.  Don't second guess yourself during the process.  As soon as you arrive at the table, whichever way you're going is the way and you will do that thing.  Do it not because you "should" do it one way or another, or you want to do it the way someone else did it.  Do it the way that excites you the most. 

Second, if I had had time, I would have had the Heortling Keywords on the sheet.  So I really recommend that.

Third, I'd really recommend NOT having the crazy eclectic cast of PCs from all over Glorantha.  I know the book kind of pushes for that, but it seems creaky to me.  If you have everyone from the same homeland, then all information you're giving out for backstory and setting applies to all characters equally.  See what I mean?  If you have to give details about different settings (and players will ask!), then each unit of time spent answering only helps one player at a time.  It's more time efficient if everyone is getting helpful info at the same time with one answer.

Fourth, family intimacy/ big myth.  Well, a few things.  Look at The Odyssey, The Iliad, the Greek Tragedies... they're all myth.  The Gods are involved in all of them.  But it's all about family.  In my view, it's the grounding of all the fantastical stuff in the mundane that makes the big stuff matter.  (Notice that the same explicit approach is used in Stafford's Pendragon, though the two games are very, very different.)

Also, the climax of the one-shot was a champion fight between a Lunar and one of the brothers, each representing a god in a fight over Daleeta.  So the big conflicts did come into play.  If we continued playing, I'm sure we would have had heroquests, fights with dragons and so on.  But the ke to me, again, is the weaving of choices of these people with actual lives in a world where how you live actually matters in the cosmic scale, just as the cosmic scale affects the daily lives of the people.

If you look at the myths, folk tales, or heroic movies, you'll see that the tellers of the tales often ground the narrative with mundane details.  This game could easily have been the first session in a game that lasted months.  We were just starting out.

But, this doesn't mean another con game wouldn't be about storming a god's home.  I went in with a specific agenda -- what turned me on -- to do a game that grew out of a simple Heortling setting.  But that was that four hour slot.  As I learn more about Glorantha, I'm sure I'll broaden the scope of possibilities.  You've inspired me to do so, actually.



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

Christopher Kubasik

More thoughts on the "We're From All Over Glorantha" group:

If a group is built "Star Trek"-wise, with people being from different nations, that often serves in an RPG to say, "Okay, this is how I'm different than you," and interesting questions often stop.

But if we're all Heortlings, we will, by definition, start looking for way to differentiate our characters.  Suddenly, the question, "What does it mean to be a Heortling?" is a live wire.  We're defined not by being alien to each other, but by being similar and yet different.  That produces a lot of tension to play with dramatically.

And since HeroQuest lets people write down really specific and dramatic and relationship based stuff to differentiate their characters, the Players, at least in my case, went to town.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield