Sunday, January 8, 2012

Glorantha: the West is East

If you are not interested in Glorantha or in the ways that long-established gaming worlds grow over time, this post may not be for you.

The main thing that bugged me about RQ3 (way back in 1981!) was its introduction of the sorcerers and knights of the West. I was more-or-less OK with Kralorelan draconic traditions that borrowed themes from Japan & China. But the introduction of saints and knights and what felt something like a Catholic monotheism calling itself Malkionism didn’t fit my sense of Glorantha.

When I worked at Chaosium in the late 90’s, Greg was digging into a deeper vision of the Lunar Empire. He was heavily influenced by Indian mysticism, saying that you could find most every form of religious expression within Hinduism somewhere.

I bought into the Lunar conversion. I enjoyed its mysteries and the faces of the Goddess reflected in the cycles of the moon. Yeah, I still hold onto a few of the older visions of the Lunars, but that’s because early visual impressions are hard for me shake, the same way I have trouble remembering that the Normans of 1066 didn’t wear plate armor…. Because the first I ever saw of Normans was a Classics Illustrated Ivanhoe comic that put all its knights into late Medieval heavy plate!

Happily for Glorantha, the Western shoe has finally dropped. A recent post on the Moon Design blog explains how Greg (in combination with Jeff Richard and Dan Barker) now sees the West. It looks heavily influenced by the Neo-Platonists who proceeded the Greek Christians, as well as caste and military systems of India. The ‘knights’ aren’t just knights, the wizards aren’t saints… yeah, this makes me happy, particularly the crazy-ass area called Safelster where Western philosophy overlaps with abnormal Gloranthan cults, creating heresies and conflicts that reference RE Howard and the Etruscans. I can dig it.

It’s no surprise that Greg’s deepening explorations of his world have drawn more and more from India and now Indonesia. He’s a creator who absorbs all the primary sources, he started with Western sources and has branched out into other cultures. What's curious is that India and Indonesia are the territories that were also drawn on by the first game world to hit print: M. A. R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne.

Risking extreme simplification, Barker is concerned with mining the exterior forms. Stafford does well with the exterior forms but he also wants to detail interior experience. Barker’s focus has always been on the social structures and language forms and the external shapes of history. Barker’s world has plenty of gods, but enlightenment and mystic communion and spiritual paths, all hallmarks of Stafford’s blossoming Glorantha, are not something I associate with the gods of the Petal Throne.

Gaming cycles apparently take two or three decades to turn. Glorantha is in a good place. The West is now East, Heroquest is its own roleplaying game (instead of only a Milton Bradley boardgame box), Kingof Dragon Pass is successful on a platform it’s suited for, Gloranthan minis are about to hit the market again, and WyrmsFootnotes is about to serveup another helping of sense of wonder. I’d say the wind is up.  


  1. I, on the other hand, LOVED the West as it was portrayed in Genertela:CotHW, and it rapidly became a really key element in my enjoyment of Glorantha. Very, very, sad to see these changes.

  2. I've been a Glorantha fan since 1981 or so. I've found it fascinating to watch it evolve in that time. I'm always interested to see bits of it changing, and merging with Greg's new ideas and thoughts as it goes along. Watching this creative process unfold, and getting to be a part of it, is quite marvellous.

  3. Also, should mention to Jamie that I love his book on the West, even if it is 'non-canonical'. Lots of great material in there for people who want to keep it 'the way it was'.

  4. I wasn't familiar with the D101 Games stuff. Yes, Jamie, I can see how this development has kicked sand on your castle of glorious joy. The odds of writing extremely detailed Gloranthan material that Greg loves AND agrees with? Not good. It's definitely a case in which your Glorantha has to vary if you're going to unleash that type of creativity.

  5. Well, of course, it was originally written in cooperation with Greg, for publication by Issaries. But it's not so much that not being official that depresses me (kind of a bummer, to be sure, but, as you say, one has to be realistic), but what looks like the wholesale loss of the medieval-Europe-through-a-twisted-glass idea.

    I can live with it not being MY twisted glass, but a wholesale erasure of everything that made it cool and interesting in the existing material... yeah, not my cup of tea.