How Glorantha both inspired and frustrated my play.

Started by Web_Weaver, November 12, 2011, 04:46:30 AM

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Ron Edwards

I'm with you on that, Jamie, barring the film you mentioned which I have not seen. And I'm working up my reply to the thread so far as well, so let's see where we intersect.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

I think we're in agreement about most of this, especially since I went into a Narrativist-centric tizzy in one of my posts and raved a bit in a fashion better suited to this thread:

David wrote, in regarding to transforming humongous setting-level features via Narrativist play,

Or, rather, if we're being Narrativist, an endeavor to achieve that level of transofmration, with it's specific identity to be determined by play.  That sounds fucking great.

And I replied,

QuoteIt is great. It was one of the finest experiences of my role-playing life, to be GMing Hero Wars in just this way, buoyed by my youthful excitement and study of the Gloranthan material, newly transformed by my design and play of Sorcerer and other games, right in the thick of the heady early GNS debates, confirmed and supported throughout by one-on-one conversations with Greg Stafford, and allied with three mature, politicized, creative, and deeply character-identifying people for players.

As stated in HeroQuest (2003), just past halfway through the book:
QuoteMake Your Own Part
All heroes are extraordinary and destined for some fame in the world of Glorantha. This is guaranteed, since they are individually guided by a higher power: you, the player.
Your heroes will have the chance to be involved in the great events of the Hero Wars, such as [several colorful examples - RE]. Such events are not only for the super-powerful; they require the participation of your hero at whatever level of power he has achieved.

And near the end:
Drama in Glorantha often comes from the conflict between what is and what ought to be. Living up to expectations of cult behavior, for instance, is meant to be difficult and limiting. After all, religious requirements are not human ideals. [Wow! Talk about an Egri Premise! - RE] The intensity of the plot comes from the hero trying to fulfil these expectations while living with the everyday temptations and complications of life: a cow is missing, some of your clan died in a raid, your children are ominously ill, or neighbors are poaching the hunting lands. Add to this the imperative of the Hero Wars, where some things will happen no matter what the heroes do, and the heroes have to make difficult choices about what to do and who [sic] to aid.

I was able to find these quickly because they're the same text I quoted in my Narrativism essay, for reasons that I'm sure are clear.

Now, in Glorantha, there are several levels of setting, including the biggest most-mondo level of bringing the Hero Wars to the level of changing the absolute nature of reality (and as I understand it, ceasing to play, which is what we did anyway). But if we're talking about certain things like the fate of a province or the elevation/destruction of a given god, then yes, play does in fact impact the setting profoundly.

One of the ways in which Glorantha was "too big" for my essay is exactly what you're pinpointing: that it's built to break/transform both characters and setting. That's very big britches for any story, part of what makes it "epic" or "mythic" when it works. (Note that I have just finished watching all of Babylon 5 on DVD, last night.) I have two points about that.

1. My distinction between character-centric and setting-centric is not intended to be a full-on, definitional, "thou shalt not mix" distinction. It reflects the simple reality that most stories are not epic or mythic. The essay does acknowledge the possibility of designing toward more interlocking character/setting transformations, citing Trollbabe, which itself was deeply influenced by Hero Wars.

2. It is in fact the case that Hero Wars and later game designs for Glorantha have begun with a particular setting-first emphasis, insofar as (just as you say) making up an ordinary and not-especially-detailed guy at that particular location is designed to be functional, and indeed, by the logic of my essay, preferable.

I am now confused about your purpose, though, once we get past the impetus of fearing that Story Before would be mistaken for a CA and (horrors!) applied to Glorantha using HeroQuest. On reflection, that "horrors" is not sarcastic on my part. I do not personally writhe and suffer over that issue as you do in your blog, but I am very much in agreement with you for many issues you write about there. Anyway, I'm trying to say that I see your point about that, but neither David nor I have laid true groundwork for that mis-application of the ideas in my essay.

So once past that, what's the point of this thread? To enthuse about Story Now, particularly at this mythic level? I'm certainly with you there, although I've said what I needed to in Goddess of Rape. I don't see much room for discussion about that at this point, though, as you're basically posting an anthem.

If you're interested, I have an observation which could provide a basis for discussion, but it might be overly brutal and you might be angling toward your own point-at-issue at the end of the series of posts you're providing now. Let me know if you want me to bring it up.

Best, Ron
edited to fix quote format - RE


Truthfully, I am not up for 'Brutal' right now for personal reasons. I would probably just disengage, whereas usually I would roll up my sleeves and say let's do that. Any less than brutal questioning would be fine.

My initial fear has been quenched entirely by the directions of the surrounding threads.

My main direction, in continuing would be to detail the journey I did take in attempting to run a Gloranthan game with these aims in mind, which was twice with very different results, and reflect on what else is required.

I would certainly consider your Thed game as a model of what can be achieved, but I don't think it was a coincidence that it used the first version of the ruleset. I am also convinced from quite a wide experience of the Gloranthan community, (if you squint and know where to look some of my text appeared in the Sartar book), that rarely has that kind of experience resulted from play. Getting proactive with the mythology tends to be a quite standard climatic scene, or a quest for power with little transformation or 'symbolic translation'.

I am mindful that it could become blog like however, so I was aiming for one more post of "what I did" and possibly one post of reflection if the former gets too long. If that provokes no further comment the thread would then just naturally end as a reflective piece. It would serve only as a backdrop to the main discussion regards setting, which I have not engaged with, due to wanting to show where I stand first.

Ron Edwards

Hi Jamie,

QuoteMy main direction, in continuing would be to detail the journey I did take in attempting to run a Gloranthan game with these aims in mind, which was twice with very different results, and reflect on what else is required.

I'd love to see that. However, after all that old-campaign posting I just did, I am keenly sympathetic to how much "re-living" is required, some of it unwelcome. I am quelling myself almost daily from mentally composing lengthy rebuttals to ass-hat comments made to me in the pages of a print-only APA, 22 years ago! Complete with stress responses, sudden loss of temper, feverish poring over the old pages. So in the interest of your sanity and my desire to learn more about others' Glorantha-set games, I urge you to take your time.

Brutality switch off (click). My wish for some new version of Hero-fill-in-the-blank would be for your two posts about Ham to comprise the first paragraphs in the first chapter. I'm looking forward to learning more about what happened, or as I understand it, didn't happen but could have.

Best, Ron

P.S. I agree that the Hero Wars text facilitated my group's desires, and in my opinion the Narrativist potential of the setting, more than HeroQuest (2003) would have, if somehow that text had appeared out of the blue. I don't want to threadjack the topic into a Wars/Quest debate, so I hope this can be left as a P.S. without much comment. For the record, though, I will say that the earlier text received a tremendous amount of criticism that far outweighed its typographical flaws. I think a lot of that criticism was intellectually dishonest, claiming to be about organization for instance rather than identifying the real issue of Creative Agenda, and inappropriately entitled, as if Glorantha existed merely to serve anyone and everyone's gamer-identity needs. I also think a lot of it was taken too seriously for the design of the newer book, and aggravated due to the committee nature of that project, to the detriment of the game.


My experience with Ham was not just a time that I happened to engage with Glorantha in a Story-Now context, it was the first time I really understood what Story-Now was. I was one of those people that internalised the whole threefold model idea and the developed theories and then just saw it all as an outworking of different techniques within our more traditional style. So to suddenly see a whole other game style outside and beyond the game we were actually playing was a bit of a shock. Even though I knew it existed intellectually.

With that revelation in mind and after trying out a few other games that better supported Story-Now for us as a group, I attempted an experiment with a mash-up of Dog's in the Vineyard and Glorantha and offered to run it at a Gloranthan convention. This was deliberately provocative at the time because many of that community were downright sceptical about the whole Story-Now thing. But given that I knew I could GM Dogs and reliably get strong Story-Now play, from having run it a dozen times normally, I figured I could do this.

Initially it looked like no-one was interested but eventually a couple of the more experimentally minded guys at the convention approached me wanting to give it a shot, and I roped in one of my home group to make up an ideal three players. And it worked excellently. We had a two hour very intense blast that given the ability to continue in a more relaxed context had the potential to be some of the best gaming I had ever had the pleasure to be involved in.

And contextually this wasn't just because we were using the DitV rules, that are great at challenging the PCs, but because we were all very familiar with the strong setting and thereby had a good understanding of how that was also being directly challenged. The town creation rules (which were slightly adapted in the re-skin), were probably the main reason that it worked, and my main advice to anyone re-skinning Dogs since is don't throw out that vital part of the game.

Later back with my home group I ran it over a 4 week stint, but while still great fun with some exceptional moments it seemed to drift back towards a more conventional climax which wasn't where we felt the first game was heading. On later analysis it was still Story-Now so it didn't drift in a CA sense. Everyone was still engaged with the thematic content of "how do we deal with the ultimate evil of undead when it turns out to have entrenched itself in our own clan" but the story arc expectations for Gloranthan games within the group, led it to be mainly character challenging rather than also setting challenging. The resulting "lets kill her even if she is my mum" led to a surprisingly standard climactic fight scene. On the other hand that's as direct an adressing of premise as you can get so I cant complain.

So on reflection I am totally onboard with the notion that it is wholly possible to play Story-Now within a very strong setting. Even a setting that at first glance seems better suited to other agendas.

My choice of game gives away the fact that I don't find it easy to use HeroQuest to do this, but that issue is mainly to do with the fact that the people that I play with have very different expectations from a Gloranthan game, and for me that took a long and frustrating time to realise. I'm pretty confident that given the right group the same style of game could easily be run using HeroQuest.

It would require situated characters with strong ties to their clan and strong confrontational play by the GM, and judging by my second experience, an expectation on behalf of the players that the easy answers would only provoke further more challenging questions. And of course, a way of generating situation comparable to the town creation procedure.

That wraps up the main content of this thread as discussed in my previous post, but now spotting the cross post I am willing to delve into the Ham experience in more painful reflection if it's of interest, its not anywhere near as painful now. It wasn't where I was originally headed however.



Quote from: Ron Edwards link=topic=32424.msg289470#msg289470
I don't want to threadjack the topic into a Wars/Quest debate.

Luckily I got that out of my system in 2003/4 in the now closed HQ threads here at the Forge. So I will just nod.

Fixed quote format - RE


I just realised I neglected to explain how structuralism fits into all this.

Originally I was struggling to tie in the town creation rules form dogs into the Glorantha setting, and my solution was to complete a standard town creation with undead as the equivalent of the demons and then to map the town onto a structualist matrix, drawing in as much of the setting as possible to not just add colour but to make sure the situation was unreconcilable from a mythical perspective. Dogs ensures that the situation is morally complex but mythology is more than that, it is culturally complex, and Glorantha demands that level of detail.

If I can find my old notes I will try and add this matrix later.


OKm as the thread is eemingly wrapping up, I'll just get this response in briefly.

Quote from: Abkajud on November 13, 2011, 11:56:20 AM
If anything, I'd say that SBP is an example of play in which the "story" or "plot" is absolutely paramount (as, likely, one person took the time to write it up and then "install" the characters in it), and if you don't engage with the material as/when it's presented, it's like playing Pac Man by putting a quarter in and then walking away from the machine. There's an expectation that if you sit down for some Story Before that you at least broadly understand how it works; if you know this but choose not to act accordingly, you're ignoring the social contract of play. 

Thing is, plot isn't story.  So when I referred to story, I'm referring to a whole bunch of things that go way beyond just a structure of events that happen, or GM scene planning and so on.  I agree that SBP is likely to need active or tacit acceptance of such structure, but its unsafe to assume, for example, that this means that the GM is going to plan for, say, a specific address of premise, in the way that the author of a novel might.  This is what I mean by SBP not being about story in the way that Story Now is.  Personally, I'd rather refer to Plot Before, or something, rather than Story Before, which I feel muddies the waters.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Ron Edwards

Yeah, it's tough terminology. I am definitely feeling the pinch of constructing the terminology from within Story Now play. I have found that a given game text or even a discussion does best to work with a given CA as a single, present, suffusing thing, and did not intend for the Before terminology to jump ship over to other CA discussions. Now that it has, maybe the time has come, at long last, to work up some terminology unique to role-playing for things like story, plot, addressing Premise, character decision-making, adversity, and other things which simply have distinct identities in role-playing in ways that are perhaps more interlocked as well as invisible in other media.

Best, Ron


It sounds like we need a term for "pre-planned hooks that are a part of the setting, and the players can go explore them, or not, as they wish" (call it A for now).

This stands in contrast to "pre-arranged events of play, to be incorporated into the overall flow of play according to the GM's choosing." In this case, "pre-arranged events" means, very specifically, events that are scripted out in terms of the timing of events, the definite occurrence of events (no matter what the players do), and/or certain actions, ideas, or plans devised by the players are completely off limits (the prep text has hard rules on certain outcomes, such as "The king cannot be killed. He has enough guards surrounding him to kill the entire party, period."). We'll call this B for now.

Basically, if prep provides a scenario, rather than scenario+resolution, then it's an example of A. If it provides a resolution to the conflict or crisis that the prep itself introduced, then it's an example of B.

Arguably, a Story Now game could have A in the form of setting (like Hero Wars!) but it would be very challenging to give it B (it's probably been done, though. Maybe Until We Sink? Or Montsegur 1244?
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -

David Berg

My Plot Situation / Play Situation / Outcome breakdown here might be useful.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development