Sunday, 7 December 2008

The End of Tentacles

I did say that when the official announcement about Tentacles came through, I'd post about that. So here we are.

Tentacles was a great gaming convention held in scenic Schloss Stahleck overlooking the Rhine in Germany. From my perspective, it was particularly significant as a convention specifically dedicated to Glorantha, Call of Cthulhu, and other related games. The location simply can't be beaten, to be able to game in such a beautiful place must have been the highlight of the year for many attendees. But the 2009 gathering will be the last.

I can understand their reasoning; it has become increasingly difficult in recent years to get sufficient Guests of Honour from America to attend (this was particularly noticeable last year, and reading between the lines, they anticipate similar problems in 2009). Of course, we can all have good fun without the Guests, but it's going to be increasingly difficult to keep the convention at a sufficient stature to fulfil the organiser's legal contract with the owners of the castle. As they've said on the website, they don't want this to turn into a Bachelor Beer and Karaoke Quest, and I can see how that might be the fate if they drag it on too long.

All good things must come to an end, and Tentacles will most certainly be missed by the Gloranthan community (and Cthulhu fans, etc., for that matter) . I only managed to attend twice myself, with the difficulties of getting to Germany, but I do hope to attend their one last hurrah. I wish I had been able to go more often, because the experience is truly wonderful, but such is life.

But Glorantha is bigger than this. We're not a dying community - yet.

(And, yeah, as I predicted, that 'by the end of 2008' schedule for publication of Heroes of Malkion is looking pretty shaky, isn't it?)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Heroes of Malkion Update

The latest update on progress on Heroes of Malkion indicates that artwork is still in progress. Moon Design hopes to have it out by the end of the year, which indicates that it will probably be out before the new edition of HeroQuest. (Nonetheless, it does duplicate a lot of information in the main HQ1 rulebook, in order that it can be used by those who only have access to HQ2).

Personally, I'd take the 'end of the year' estimate with a bucket-load of salt; these things are always statement of hope rather than any definite publication deadline. But... well, hopefully by Tentacles, eh?

In the meantime, here's a wordle from chapter 2 of the book (for the uninitiated, a wordle is an artistic representation of which words appear most frequently in a piece of text):

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Death of Pyramid Magazine

I've been reading Pyramid magazine ever since issue #1, which I believe was about 15 years ago. It's a gaming magazine, published by Steve Jackson Games, and focussing on GURPS, which was the basis for the homebrew system that I played in those days. (The rest of the homebrew system came largely from Pendragon, but the stats were easy to convert, and the ideas fitted what I wanted back then).

Around 10 years ago, it switched from dead-tree format to webzine format and, with a little reluctance, I continued my subscription. I'm glad I did; there has been a lot of good material published in Pyramid over the last decade. I've even contributed three articles to it myself, two on Glorantha, and one on, of all things, astrophysics. Subscription also got me access to playtests of SJ Games products, and, in particular, I helped out with the testing of the Vehicle Design software, and of GURPS Cops. Perhaps best of all, at least in the long term, were the NNTP discussion forums that the magazine ran for subscribers, where I have had all sorts of cool discussions with a wide range of people.

As of today, the Pyramid webzine ceases publication.

Oh, the magazine will continue as a monthly PDF release, with slightly less content for five times the price. But, oddly enough, that's not much of an issue for me. Because, over the last couple of years, since I no longer play GURPS, the NNTP forums were my main reason for paying the annual subscription anyway - everything else was an added bonus. Since those forums are being closed down, I will be cancelling my subscription forthwith, to claim the refund for the rest of the year. It's understandable why they're closing, of course, at least from SJ Games point of view. For myself, I don't really understand why NNTP is no longer popular as a format - it's so much more flexible than the message boards that seem to have replaced it. Sometimes, newer isn't better, and, while message boards are great for some things (hence the MBRPG I help to run), general discussion isn't one of them. A lot of functionality has been lost in the name of progress - but isn't that often the way?

So I'll miss those discussions... but change goes on, and one can't blame a company for closing down something that just isn't profitable for them. A fond farewell to Pyramid, then, and on to something else instead...

(Addendum: If you're wondering why I'm mentioning this, but not the more Glorantha-relevant news from Germany of a similar nature - I'm waiting for the official announcement before commenting on that).

Monday, 20 October 2008

If I were a cat...

One of the players on my MBRPG posted to say that if I were a cat, I would look like this:

(You probably have to know about LOLcats to know what this is actually a picture of... but still, I thought it was rather cool).

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Valind's Tale

As promised, the third audio file of my Vadrus stories is now up at my website. It will appear in text form at Mything Links later.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Voice of Vadrus

Or, at least, the voice of me channelling Vadrus.

As promised some time ago, I have posted two of my Vadrus stories in MP3 format to my website, where you can hear them in all their glory, as they were meant to be heard. (Warning: contains naughty words!)

A third story will be following shortly

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Wizard-Knights update

This morning, I finished the first complete draft of Lords of the West 3: Wizard-Knights. As I write this, the draft has been submitted in full to Moon Design for editing. Obviously, this book will not be available for a long while yet, but it is out of my hands now!

Like the other books in the series, this will be 100,000 words, which is the same length as Blood Over Gold. It covers the Kingdom of Loskalm, describing its society, government, religion, and magic in unprecedented detail. It includes a large gazetteer of the Kingdom, and a chapter describing the fractured realm of Junora that lies immediately east of Loskalm. The sketch maps I used to create the gazetteer will be available on my website, and the Issaries website, as soon as enough details have been confirmed to render that a worthwhile exercise.

I have also submitted revised drafts of Heroes of Malkion and Kingdom of the Flamesword, complying with the new rules in HeroQuest 2. The last I heard, HoM is still the next book scheduled for publication by Moon Design, although, presumably, they will have to re-do the layout to fit the new text.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Magic in the West

You may recall that, at Tentacles and Continuum, I (among others) said that Heroes of Malkion would work just fine with HQ2. You may also recall that, in this blog, I was unclear as to how that would be the case. Well, it turns out that it isn't the case; the rule sets are not really compatible at that level. (This, incidentally, doesn't mean that, for example, Blood Over Gold or Thunder Rebels can't be used with HQ2 - just that you'll also need a copy of HQ1 to make full sense of the rulesy bits).

But, fear not! I've spent the last weekend going through the draft of HoM, making sure that, when you get to see it, it is fully compatible with the new rules. There was quite a lot more to be done than at first appeared to be the case. This is because the HQ2 rulebook has very little information on Glorantha and its workings - understandably, because it's a generic rulebook, not a worldbook. There are a lot of things about the West, and Glorantha in general, that were in HQ1, but won't be in the second edition. All of that information had to be repeated, for the book to be stand-alone with the new ruleset.

However, all of that is now done, and what I suspect many people will be interested in is how Western magic works with the new rune-centred approach of the second edition. Here's the quick run-down:

  • Knight, noble, and to a lesser extent, commoner heroes, typically gain their magic by following a saint. This gives them access to one rune and one grimoire (spell book) associated with that rune. For example, a follower of Saint Xemela has the Harmony rune, and a book containing healing spells.
  • Members of the clergy practice their magic through holding religious services. This gives them access to one rune, and a set of community-based spells contained in one or more holy scriptures with that same rune. For example, a Rokari vicar has the Law rune, and uses the communal blessings and curses found in the scriptures of his Church. Bishops, incidentally, can further boost their magic by accessing the total devotional energy of their diocese.
  • Professional wizards use exactly the same magical rules as followers of saints, but they have up to three runes, and at least one grimoire for each rune.
  • It is generally possible to follow more than one saint, or be both a clergyman and follow a saint; but you cannot have more than three runes in total.
  • The majority of non-heroic people gain magical benefits from the blessings of the clergy, and use individual spells learned from folk wisdom, or the like. They usually don't have specific runes.
Note that 'adept' and 'mage' are now magical levels, not professions. Whether you're following a saint, a scripture, or a school of wizardry, you're still an adept - and, with study, you can become a mage. Your Church might not want to let you do this, of course, but the option is there. Basically, the same rules apply to everyone, and those of you confused by the first edition wizardry rules will hopefully find these easier to follow.

In short, quite a lot of work for me, in updating it all, but the end result should be simpler magic rules that are easier to use.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Continuum Podcast

A podcast from Continuum is now available online here. I'm on for around five minutes out of 90, and there's probably not much new here, either. But the podcast is generally worth listening to, as an update of what the HeroQuest writers are up to as a group. Kudos to Darran Simms for producing this.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Post-Continuum Post

Over the last three days I attended the glorious collection of gaming fun that was Continuum 2008. I didn't seem to have as much planned for this year as usual, but I still managed to enjoy myself, and get quite a few things done. And quite large quantities of cider[1] were consumed, including some Weston's Old Rosie, which was certainly a pleasant change from the usual draught stuff. Aside from Glorantha and related matters, topics ranged through Doctor Who, prog rock, some stuff about computers that I really didn't understand, and cricket. Some of which, at least, just goes to prove that we're thoroughly British! And even just socialising, there is definitely something to be said for a place where someone can not only use the word 'chalcolithic' in casual conversation, but where everybody present knows exactly what it means...

I spent much of the first 24 hours answering the question "when is Heroes of Malkion coming out?" which at least confirms that there is definitely interest in this! On the Saturday morning, I took part in a panel on the future of Glorantha, in which all the books currently planned for the setting were discussed. My own segment was relatively short, and added nothing that is new to readers of this blog, but you will be able to hear a recording of it all online soon, courtesy of Darran Simms. I'll post a more specific link once it's available.

The biggest announcement in that respect was the new magic system. For those of you who don't know, HeroQuest v2 (or whatever the final title will be) will be a generic rulebook, with only a few pages of Gloranthan material in the back. So, although there will be a brief summary of magic included in that, the full system will debut in Cults of Sartar. It's a simpler system than the old one, although largely compatible. Obviously, CoS will focus on theism (pfft! damn pagans!), as practised by the Heortlings. Which means that I don't know exactly how it will affect the wizardry that is the focus of my books. Because HoM, in particular, is already well past the 'final draft' stage, it will use the existing magic rules. I'm assured that this will not have any effect, and that the old and new versions are fully compatible, so far as the cult write-ups are concerned, although I have to confess to not being entirely sure how this is so.

It does, however, turn out that the maps and annotations for LotW3 that I've been working on for the last two months will have to be redone, possibly from scratch. Nuts.

Sunday morning, and I just managed to get to "Murder at the Greydog Inn" without falling asleep. A freeform at 9:30 in the morning? Hmm. I was playing a dodgy Sun Domer trying to smuggle drugs into the Lunar Empire. Unfortunately, my contact was rumbled early on by the Lunar officials, so, while I did try to warn him, we were under too much observation to get much done in that regard. Doubly unfortunately, he turned out to be the murderer, and gave me up to the Lunars after an Ernaldan (of all people) threatened to use a red-hot poker on him if he didn't. Which I guess would convince me, too.

Because the game wrapped at that point, I'm unclear whether I died in glorious battle against my cross-dressing commanding officer, or whether I got arrested and sentenced to one of those Retirement Towers that they have in Sun County. A word of advice to the organisers, though, if they're reading this: for at least half an hour out of the three hour game, non-clan members have nothing to do, except sit about in a corridor twiddling their thumbs while everyone else goes off to resolve the plot in a closed room. Although the rest of the game is great fun, you might want to fix that if you run it again.

Later on, I took part in a tabletop game run by Ian Cooper, although, sadly, exhaustion was catching up on me towards the end. We used the new system for resolving extended contests, which I'd previously tried out at Tentacles, and is, to my mind at least, a great improvement over that in earlier editions. Once again, I played a Healer, which meant a lot of use of the new "Assist" rules, especially since this game was fairly combat-heavy (or at least was before I became to exhausted to continue... I imagine that Ian had rather more planned).

And then, in the evening, came the Storytelling, which got a good audience, having been relatively sparse in recent years. I couldn't match Malk Williams' ballads for quality and sheer inherent coolness (what a pity that this wasn't recorded, like the seminars... although, as a non-expert, I'm unsure whether the sound quality of podcasting equipment would be sufficient to really bring the effect across or not). Anyway, I had the unenviable task of following Malk's first ballad, and performed my new Vadrus story. It needs a little more work, I think, but it went down well, and I'll post it to Mything Links when I have the time. Technology permitting, I may also figure out a way of recording it and posting the sound file, since, as with all Vadrus stories, it's far better to hear performed out loud than simply to read as a text file.

With a little time left over, I received a request to reprise "Enkoshons the Dragon", which I have performed at a number of cons over the years, ever since I first did so (to a shocked audience!) at Scotscon in 2003. Even those who had heard it before seemed to appreciate it, and I had some very positive comments from those who hadn't. The Storytelling concluded with a new (to me, anyway) Griselda story by Oliver Dickinson, who inspired so many of us to get involved in Glorantha in the first place.

Following that, and the obligatory Closing Ceremony, there was much more cider, plus an impromptu barbecue laid on by Charlie Krank. During that, I got into a conversation on my coming books with Michael Cule. He had a few valid concerns that, I fear, the books won't address, so I'll try and do so in coming blogs here. Even so, it was an interesting and worthwhile discussion. Or so it seemed at two in the morning, when you're full of cider and roast pork...

All in all, many kudos to the organisers, and I'll definitely be back in 2010, for what will be the 18th anniversary of the convention (counting Convulsion, but not the earlier event in Cambridge). If anyone is reading this who hasn't been, and who enjoys roleplaying, I'd recommend that you do the same.

[1] If you're American, and are thinking, "oh goody, Tibble's is a fine teetotal chap that only drinks cloudy apple juice," then... yes, of course I am. (Nods unconvincingly). :)

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Voip Gaming

I ran a HeroQuest game over VOIP tonight. We had originally planned this to be the opening session of a Men of the Sea campaign, but most of the players had to pull out at the last minute. I managed to dig up a copy of the scenario originally included in an early draft of the Men of the Sea book, but I only had an hour to look it over before the start of the game. As a result, I was left floundering in places, trying to remember what was supposed to be happening. It didn't help that, while the original scenario has the characters heading to Corflu, I needed to get them to Noloswal, where we'd agreed to start the campaign proper. This meant I had to make adaptations, largely on the fly.

I'm not sure how well it all worked out, although as a prelude to more involved adventures, it was probably fair enough. It left them with mysteries to solve (not least because the original scenario doesn't explain them, either), which I will now try and work into the ongoing campaign. There were only two players, one a relatively inexperienced roleplayer, which also made things a bit strange. Nonetheless, while not a lot actually happened (in the usual HeroQuest community rivalry way, or combat, for that matter), everyone seemed to have fun enough. We'll just have to see how it all turns out in the future...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Women in the Gloranthan West

One of the biggest problems I faced while writing Kingdom of the Flamesword is that we know, from previously published material that the Rokari are a pretty patriarchal lot. The default assumption in role-playing games these days is that your character's gender really doesn't matter. What matters is that you're a paladin, or a wizard, or whatever it may be, and nobody will react in the slightest if you happen to be a female paladin or wizard.

Many cultures in Glorantha follow this principle - it's particularly true of the Heortlings, for example, who perhaps are the best described of all the cultures of the world in the existing publications. But it's not true of the Rokari. Now, granted, the Rokari rationale for this is that women 'are more perfect' than men, so they shouldn't be risked in combat... but that doesn't help much in an RPG, even if we accept it at face value.

There is a section in the book about role playing women in Seshnela, and outlining some of the options open to them - there's even a way for them to lay about themselves with swords, contrary to Rokari norms. One of the tools I used to get across Rokari culture is to have three people talking about what's important to them (if you've read by "Voices of Loskalm" piece in one of the Continuum fund-raisers, you'll know the sort of thing); one of the three is a woman, who at least gets to be quite snide about the men in her life. And, if you're happy to play a power-behind-the-throne sort of character, there should be no problem.

But, let's be honest, women in Seshnela don't get the same sort of equality that they do in Heortling lands. Of the NPCs described in the book, the great majority are male. The only exceptions are two members of the royal family, two healers, and one that's a little harder to describe. Now, all of these characters have potential scenarios around them, and two of them are powerful magicians. But, at the end of the day, Seshnela is a male-dominated land, and that's going to come across in the book.

Given the setting, there isn't a lot I can do about that, although I've tried to alleviate it here and there. I've set things up so that you can play a female character doing anything that a man could do - but not so that they can do so without people remarking on it, or devout Rokari looking askance at her if she oversteps the bounds of "propriety". If that worries you, you might want to use the book as a source of enemies to fight... or you might want to wait for the later books in the Lords of the West series.

Loskalm, for instance, is sexually egalitarian. They have female wizards, female knights, female wizard-knights, women at the highest echelons of government, and so on. In Loskalm, women can be whatever they want to be - which is all part of its utopian nature, of course. Further down the road, my view of Jonatela is that women are more or less in the same situation as men. Which is to say, female peasants are just as thoroughly stuffed as their menfolk, while Nemuzhik women get to be just as obnoxious as their brothers. Which makes sense, given that the Jonatings were Orlanthi not so long ago.

Personally, I like this variety. Glorantha is a big world, and it doesn't all follow exactly the same tropes. If you want to explore the pitfalls of patriarchy, the opportunity is there and, more importantly, so is the opportunity to go somewhere else and not worry about it. There are even parts of the world where being male is a disadvantage, after all...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Made in Sartar from Gyrdas

(Appalling pun stolen shamelessly from Stu Stansfield).

As I write, there is currently a debate on the World of Glorantha mailing list about, essentially, whether anybody else can understand a word we're on about. Or more precisely, how difficult to understand are books about Glorantha, and, if the answer is 'very', should we care anyway? The debate began when someone questioned whether the word 'gyrda' (meaning, if you ask the people I've been writing about recently: "some pagan bint that claims to talk to false gods") should be used as is, or replaced with something more easily understood[1].

Myself, I'm inclined to use the simpler term, if I can get away with it. The late Ken Bulmer (who I had the privilege of gaming with for a number of years) used to say, of made-up names in science fiction, "if you can use the real world word instead, do so." I think this is pretty good advice. It doesn't take away from the richness of the world, but it does make it easier for other people to understand.

Of course, there's more to the approachability of a book than the author's choice of words. Not to mention that are many words in any fantasy world that won't have an even approximate equivalent in English - "Rokarism" and "broo", for example. And then there's a whole bunch of proper nouns. So, making allowances for all of that, I wonder how comprehensible my books are, and if they are readily comprehensible, whether that means they're too dumbed-down to get across the richness of the setting.

Some have singled out Thunder Rebels as a book that's too complicated for newcomers to understand. I can't say that I felt that myself, and I think it's a great book, but then I'm not a newcomer. At any rate, whether it is or not, I would have guessed that LotW1: Heroes of Malkion is about on the same level. Which means that if you didn't like the former, because of its level of detail, you aren't going to like my next book, either. So fair warning to you on that front.

This is partly because LotW1 covers a lot of ground. It's not that I didn't try to make it readable (obviously), but the subject requires a lot of detail, and, even then, it's going to be obvious that there's a lot more detail out there beyond that. Which is why there are other books in the Lords of the West series at all, of course.

However, LotW2: Kingdom of the Flamesword is written much more for the beginner. Now, it's not totally self-contained, because there are certain details, especially of the rules, that you'll need LotW1 for. But, as a description of the culture, I think it's fairly comprehensible. It may help that the West is easier to understand than the Heortlings, because it's closer to our own society, and the generally weirder culture of Loskalm may make LotW3: Wizard-Knights a more difficult proposition.

But then, again, there is a lot of detail in it. And there's not much in the way of ready-to-play scenarios, which may not help. It's a culture book... but I'm not sure it's any more complicated than, say, this (which, for all I know, sunk like a stone - but was at least published by a company with a pretty good track record for selling RPG books that people want to buy).

So I don't know, really; I tried to make the book easily accessible, but I'm not myself in a position to know whether I've succeeded. Or if, in so doing, I've wiped out the depth that makes Glorantha as interesting as it is. But I do generally think that the balance of detail and usability of recent HQ books has been about right, and I'd point to Blood Over Gold as a case in point. The Stafford Library series is a different case, but it doesn't pretend to be an easily usable gaming resource in the way that the other books are. To be honest, if I can be on a par with Blood Over Gold, I'll be pretty happy. If you were looking for something more like the old Apple Lane book, with its keyed locations and scenarios, you're probably going to be disappointed with most of what I write, anyway.

[1] Such as, say, "some pagan bint that claims to talk to false gods". Or you could use "wise woman" or "god-talker", I suppose.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Wizard-Knights Saints list

A full list of contents will appear at the website in due course, but as an illustration of what I have been working on, here is the list of new cults described in the book so far:

  • Saint Erivies - patron of servants
  • Saint Gerid - patron of farmworkers
  • Saint Menena - patron of housewives
  • Saint Neuteboom - patron of generosity
  • Saint Raigarn - patron of artisans
  • Saint Sestercian - patron of merchants
  • Saint Bertorl - patron of missionaries (brief write-up previously included in Masters of Luck and Death)
  • Saint Carpattia - patron of guards and protection
  • Saint Merwyn - patron of those who work with animals
  • Saint Shalara - patron of peace
  • Saint Taralda - patron of justice
  • The Artificers' School - wizards of sacred architecture
  • The Order of the Companions - common magic
  • The Holy Office for the Protection of the Faith
In addition to these, the book will provide more information on the following Loskalmi saints already included in Heroes of Malkion, and in the current core rulebook (many of which are more directly adventure oriented than those above - it made sense to do them first):

  • Siglat, Elleish, Falerine, Hasterax, Herigian, Jenerin, Josselyne, Kipperly, Kyria, Lenderyn, Ongaring, Palenna, Talor, Xemela, Zemuron
Finally, although I haven't written these sections yet, Saint Tomaris the Apostle will also be included, along with at least two other non-Idealist cults relevant to the region.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Myths for Malkioni

One of the many things I discussed over a beer at Tentacles this year was ILH-2: Under the Red Moon. If you're a Glorantha fan, there's a lot of useful information in this book about the workings of the Lunar religion and so on. Like my upcoming book, Heroes of Malkion, a fair chunk of the book consists of descriptions of the local cults. Now, on the whole, I was pleased with this as a set of cults, providing, as it does, a whole bunch of character options, and giving us an idea of who the Lunar gods are. The rules implementation seems a bit overly complicated to me, what with trying to merge theism, animism, and wizardry into one seemingly randomly assorted whole, but what cropped up in our discussion were the stories behind the various Immortals.

How could we make such stories interesting and entertaining? We have a good idea of many of the theist myths, and where to take their inspiration from, but the stories of most of the Lunar Immortals are rather different, since most of them used to be living people in historical time, not Gods from Before the Dawn. And, of course, the same question arises with the Malkioni saints. Where to get ideas from, without falling into the trap of endlessly repeating "Saint X was a carpenter/librarian/crocodile-wrangler who was very holy; now he is the Patron Saint of carpenters/librarians/crocodile-wranglers?"

Malkioni hagiography is rather different from the tales of Heortling deities and the like. And where better to get inspiration from it than real-world hagiography? The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have many, many saints, and they provide plenty of good ideas for how the Malkioni saints might work. The Patron Saints Index is a very useful online source, here, and one that I have often perused. There is a rich seam of mythology to be mined from Christian and other monotheist stories, and, on the whole, they have not been used much in Glorantha.

That is not to say, of course, that you should lift the story whole from Catholic canon to Malkionism - the religions are very different, and we are trying to create fiction here, not to rip off a real-world source. But the themes can be very helpful, and we can put them into a Gloranthan context. This, hopefully, is what takes a saint cult from "hey, we need a saint for heralds" to something more interesting that feels a living part of Glorantha. It also allows us to show differences between different sects by having different types of story for saints with outwardly similar roles. For example, I made Saint Falerine, the patron saint of noblewomen in Hrestoli lands, very different from Saint Deelia, her Rokari counterpart. Falerine is more pro-active, with romantic elements in her story that fit the Hrestoli mindset, while Deelia is content to do as she's told, attaining sainthood through purity and duty.

It's also the case that quite a lot of Catholic saints, especially the early ones, died quite horribly. This too, is to me an interesting source of stories, with brave Malkioni worshippers fighting against the wicked Brithini, or whatever other enemies present themselves. There is a problem here, unfortunately, in that canonical Glorantha requires that Saints must have been powerful heroes in life (to forge the link with the hero plane), even if their eventual fate is martyrdom. So, none of those truly inspiring stories where someone becomes a saint precisely because they were willing to be martyred despite not being uber-powerful. But such is the framework that we have to work with when writing in what is, ultimately, somebody else's creation, and there's still plenty of room for some great stories of other types. Especially if, like Saint Deelia, the hero path that you took didn't involve the traditional smiting-of-thine-enemies.

Another point to remember is that they are saints; they have to be virtuous from somebody's point of view. (This is less of a problem for the Sorcerous Founders, of course). Just as Orlanth and Yelmalio and all the rest show the virtues of the pagan cultures, the Malkioni saints should do the same. Now, there's no reason why you can't have, say, a Patron Saint of Thieves. Christians do - he's called Saint Dismas, and even if you don't recognise the name, you'll recognise his story. (There's good old Saint Nicholas, too, but he's more of a Patron Saint Against Thieves). Indeed, Saint Osni the Penitent, in Kingdom of the Flamesword, is a patron saint of criminals in just this sense.

Hopefully, the saints described in Heroes of Malkion, and the further ones in the later books, provide a range of stories, from inspirational heroism, to romance, to miraculous deeds that showed new ways of living. My hope is that, after reading Heroes of Malkion, you'll not only remember that Saint Avlor is Patron Saint of Lost Causes, but remember why. Whether I'll succeed... well, I guess we'll find out later this year...

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Zemuron, Hasterax, and All That Jazz

A significant part of Heroes of Malkion is taken up with the various cults of the West. Each of the 'big three' Malkioni cultures - Seshnela, Loskalm, and Jonatela - has five specific cults described, and many smaller ones have two or three cults. In addition, there is quite an array of cults that are widespread throughout the Western cultures. You can find the full list at the Issaries website, if you're interested.

You'll note that many are new to print (although, in fact, several of the saints originally came from the fertile mind of Sandy Petersen). So, how did I go about designing all these new cults, and making sure that they fit in the Gloranthan mythos? The first step was to find a niche that needed filling, especially if it was one useful in-game. Some niches may be useful as background material, but can be left out of a book with limited word count - for instance, Saint Jandaris, patron saint of glassworkers, gets a mention in LotW3, but he doesn't have a full write-up. (Perhaps he will, some day, if somebody really needs such a thing, but he wasn't a high priority for me). We need saints and schools to cover entertainers, merchants, scholars, and a number of other special professions, such as heralds. There has to be a good variety of warrior saints, because warriors are a popular character type, and similarly for wizardry/sorcery schools, where there are all sorts of concepts one can play about with.

And, personally, I like healers, so there are quite a number of healer cults in the book, too. Not as many as warriors, maybe, but putting people back together can be as varied an art as taking them apart in the first place, so there's a good range; Saint Falerine is fairly light and fluffy, while, at the opposite extreme, Saint Anazieta is positively scary.

The classic example of me mucking about with character roles is, as many of you probably already know, a certain pair of warrior saints. Chaos isn't quite as big a bogey-man for the Malkioni as it is for, say, the Praxians, but it's certainly well up there as a major foe, being opposed to Law and all. So we need a cult of specialist Chaos-fighters. But the last thing we want is a clone of Storm Bull, so... well, what is Chaos, really, from the Malkioni perspective? Chaos is about the breakdown of society, failure to respect the law, of allowing your baser nature to control your rational mind, replacing Logic with the obsessions of the Id. It therefore follows (said Saint Zemuron) that any move in that direction is a move towards Chaos. The result? A cult of wine-sipping, quiche-eating, frightfully polite chaps who do their best to maintain decorum. And happen to be deadly with a sword and lance, and will hack the tentacles off a charnjibber as soon as look at it.

Of course, as soon as I'd written them up, that rather left the niche filled by Storm Bull/Urox among the barbarians empty. Sometimes you just want to go nuts as a player, and not have to worry about maintaining your composure and writing clever poetry about it afterwards. If you're the sort of player who thinks that all this chivalry stuff is a bit nancy, and just wants to lay about you with an axe... for you, we have the cult of Saint Hasterax. And most of Jonatela, to be fair, but Hasterax is more widespread. Hasteraxi are single-minded nutters, and sometimes that's just what you want in a game.

OK, so now you know that you need a saint for Love, Romance, & Fluffy Bunnies, or whatever it may be. Now what do you do? I'll return to that later...

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Gaming in a Utopia

I recall a couple of online discussions with Peter Metcalfe, co-author of Introduction to the Hero Wars, about Loskalm. In one, he suggested Nazi Germany as one of the models for Loskalm - at least, as the Nazis saw themselves, creating a brave new age of blond blue-eyed heroes, rather than a bunch of rabid thugs. In another, he suggested that Loskalm maintains itself, at least in part, through conducting blasphemous rituals of indescribable horror out of the view of its citizens. Given my last post, it probably won't come as a great shock to learn that neither of these options fit with my own view of the country.

I mention this, not to criticize Peter (since there's no doubt that these two options could provide interesting gaming situations and conflicts), but to illustrate the point that, if some of us have difficulty seeing monotheist churches as genuinely virtuous, it's perhaps even harder to accept the existence of a Utopia that actually works. There has to be something wrong, surely? And, if there isn't, what exactly are we supposed to do with the setting? Sitting around sipping imported Kralori tea and discussing how happy everyone is doesn't, as a rule, make for a very exciting game.

There's a long tradition of this, of course. This very word 'Utopia', coined by Sir Thomas More way back in the 16th century, means, roughly, 'No Such Place'. In many science fiction stories, an apparently idyllic and perfect society turns out to have something rotten at its core. Indeed, the biggest problem any Utopia would have is that it still has to be inhabited by human beings, who tend to be fallible.

But I'd suggest that the main driving force in Loskalmi games is likely to be the clash between their high ideals and the reality of the outside world. The Kingdom of War is the ultimate embodiment of that, of course, but other groups, such as the Jonatings, also provide for a similar (if less extreme) contrast. I'll say more about this, and how to game in Loskalm, in the book, since it's an important question. For the moment, I'll address the question as to what exactly I see the limitations on Loskalm's perfections as being.

By the standards of the West, Loskalm is a very enlightened society. They believe in equality of opportunity for all men, and have a very liberal attitude towards women's rights. Loskalm has female knights, and that's not just the Kyrians (the knights-healer who will debut in Heroes of Malkion). Similarly, there are female wizards, and some high-ranking nobles. Indeed, in the current draft of LotW3, one of the principle candidates for the throne, should Gundreken suddenly die, is a woman - although not, admittedly, the leading contender.

But equality of opportunity does not, in my view, mean that the great majority of knights have parents in the commoner class, nor that half the knights are women. As Greg has said "biology always wins", and the same thing goes for human psychology. The children of knights are likely to aspire to follow their parents, while the children of prosperous and happy farmers and artisans (and most of them are happy and prosperous in Loskalm) have less reason to want to risk their lives by taking the path of knighthood. Many of them will follow the ideals of their country, and aspire to the higher ranks, and many of them will succeed, but most simply won't bother. Nick Brooke has some good points on this topic on his website, so I won't repeat them here.

And there are some downsides to the Loskalmi obsession with justice and chivalry. For one, they can be terribly self-righteous, lecturing those who don't match up to their own high ideals. In D&D terms, its like a whole country full of paladins! For another, they have a strong belief in conformity. An example of this is the existence of recusancy laws, something that is very far from our modern idea of what a Utopia should be. Freedom of religion is something enshrined in the US constitution and the European Bill of Rights, but its something quite alien to the Loskalmi. After all, why wouldn't you want to attend Church every week? Those of you who have read my Voices of Loskalm piece from a few years back will recall that one of them is from the perspective of a non-comformist, whose experience is rather different from that of her fellow citizens.

Of course, the Loskalmi don't beat you up or do anything similarly gauche when they find that you don't meet their standards. They're terribly polite about it all, and the worst you can generally expect is for your community to ostracise you. But, in Glorantha, ostracism is a pretty nasty fate, and a self-imposed exile to some community that will accept you is generally a much better option.

In general though, it's important to note that Loskalm generally is a very peaceful and pleasant society. So long as you do turn up to church once a week, it's probably just about the best place to live on Glorantha. There are public libraries, opportunities for social advancement regardless of your status or gender, a very low crime rate, enlightened and just rulers, and a healthy economy. Earlier publications about Loskalm have tended to make it sound a little more militaristic than I think it should do, so, while the military is still the standard method for social advancement, I have created other options to add to that in LotW3.

All of which hopefully makes it worth the heroes protecting when they venture off to face the dangers that threaten its continued existence.

Heroes of Malkion Update
I received notification from Simon Bray yesterday that directions should be sent to the artists some time this week. So things are definitely moving on that front!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Brides of Rokar

Hmm... well, I wasn't intending this to become a daily thing, and I don't suppose it will stay that way for long, but here we are again. I'm going to post some thoughts on Loskalm soon (honest), but it struck me today that there's something in what I've already done that's kind of relevant, as it shows my approach to things. I'm referring to Seshnela, and the perennial question of "where do baby wizards come from?"

To re-iterate the problem, the existing published material on Seshnela, and its dominant religion, Rokarism, makes two statements (though not, it has be said, next to each other):

  • People always belong to the same caste as their father
  • The wizard caste is celibate
The question, obviously enough, is how to reconcile these two statements. A few years back, somebody (and I'm sorry, but I forget who) posted on one of the discussion lists, proposing a solution that ended up being called the 'Brides of Rokar' theory. It seems to have become sufficiently embedded in the thoughts of the fan community as to be what is sometimes called 'GAG', or Generally Accepted Glorantha. I hear it all the time, whenever I discuss Rokarism with other fans. It runs like this:

There are places in Seshnela where women are brought up in more or less closed communities - nunneries, essentially. And, while the great majority of wizards are, indeed, celibate, a small number have the duty of having sex with as many of these women as possible, keeping them pregnant to keep the supply of new baby wizards flowing.

Now, I don't much like this theory, and have used a different one in Heroes of Malkion, with further elaboration and explanation in Kingdom of the Flamesword. I'll not go into it here, since I wouldn't want to give away everything in the book, but what might be useful is an explanation of why I ditched what it seems a large number of people take to be the truth.

Firstly, of course, it's not a retcon, since the 'Brides of Rokar' theory has never been officially published as canon. But that's not reason enough in itself to stamp on GAG, especially if a number of people like the existing explanation - as it seems they do.

But, well... it just doesn't sit right with me. Firstly, what are these places actually going to be like? Quite frankly, they strike me as being rape camps. The women don't get any choice in what they do, because the implication is that they are the daughters of the previous generation of Brides, raised from birth in the closed community, for the sole (or, at least, primary) purpose of making babies. Now, I could see the Fonritians doing that - it's not so different from a harem - and maybe some other cultures, too, but the Rokari?

See, the Rokari place a really big value on celibacy. The wizards, in particular, are not supposed to be corrupted by thoughts of lust. Yet some of them, apparently, get to have sex with dozens of women on a fairly regular basis. Sure, they're probably not supposed to enjoy themselves doing it, but let's be realistic! At the end of the day, what the theory is saying is that, ultimately, the Rokari system is based on hypocrisy. They preach celibacy, while relying for their own survival on its opposite.

Now, you might say, "well, what's wrong with that?" But I wonder if people would propose the same thing for the Heortlings - that Heortling society, for instance, depends upon some of the Storm Voices actively worshipping chaos, or practising secret murder? Not that this happens from time to time (as it surely does), but that Heortling society will literally fall apart if a small minority of the priests don't regularly murder their opponents or bow down to Ragnaglar. I doubt many people would propose such a thing, yet they're happy to have Rokari society based on something directly opposed to what they espouse. (The Rokari, incidentally, have nothing against murdering their opponents; it's a strange sense of priorities they have...)

I think it's a 'familiarity breeds contempt' thing: we find it easier to believe that monotheistic religions are somehow fraudulent or hypocritical than polytheistic ones. But I don't think that this fits. For one thing, the Rokari are rather more scary if they actually believe what they're doing is right (and a lot of it isn't very nice, let's be honest). For another, they're a mainstream - perhaps the mainstream - Malkioni religion. One of the big ones, a major culture, on a par with the Heortlings or the Dara Happans. Of course they practice some hypocritical beliefs, since they're only human, but their whole system shouldn't rely on one. If there are cultures that that's true of, they're probably marginal - Ramalians, Borists, and so on, spring to mind. But for a major culture like this, I think their beliefs should be consistent. If it's important that your wizards be celibate, then, dammit, they should be celibate. Some of them will fall from the path, but, on the whole, they follow their own religion.

Why should they be different, just because they're monotheist?

So, yes, when writing Kingdom of the Flamesword, I have tried to look at things from their perspective, and to make sure that what they do is justifiable in their own eyes. The Rokari religion is not particularly pleasant to 21st century eyes, but it should at least be consistent, and not rely on something that denies its own truth.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Starting with an Update

So... if you know me from the internet (or many other places, come to that), you may know me as 'Trotsky', 'Professor Tibble', 'Anaxial'... or, well there's probably some others I'm forgetting. Amazingly, none of these are my real name. I mean, who'd guess that, eh?

I'm actually called Jamie Revell and I'm a gamer, skeptic, writer, and various other things too tedious to mention. Which means I'm likely to fill this up with thoughts about what I'm writing and/or gaming, plus general wittering on about things I know little about (which is the main point of these things, isn't it?) To begin with... here's an update:

The chances are that, unless you're related to me, anyone reading this knows me best through my game writing for Issaries and Moon Design. You can find a list of what I've already had published here. None of it is currently in print, so far as I can tell, but you can get it in PDF form by following the links provided. But, anyway, this you probably already know. What's happened with my newer projects? Well, there are three currently in the pipeline, all with suspiciously similar titles:

Lords of the West 1: Heroes of Malkion
This is currently in layout. The cover art has been completed, and the interior art is currently under way. The cover is by Simon Bray, and at least some of the interior art is (so I gather) by the fine, fine chap that is Rolland Barthélémy. Which is something to look forward to, I think you'll agree. Moon Design originally hoped to have this out in August, but I'm guessing it will be a little later than that, publishing schedules being what they are.

Lords of the West 2: Kingdom of the Flamesword
As announced at the Issaries website, this is the book that described the Kingdom of Seshnela. The idea is to describe the nation in such a way that somebody who'd never even heard of the nation before could still pick up the book and get a pretty good idea of what it is. Rules aside, it assumes as little as possible. You can see a pretty detailed list of the contents at the Issaries site, so I won't repeat all that. But the good news is that I have completed the text on this, and handed it all in to the publisher. It is now waiting a slot to go through all the editing and such like that it doubtless needs - don't expect to see it before 2009.

Lords of the West 3: The book with some other title
Something to do with 'wizard-knights' probably - I'll think of something later. But, anyway, whatever it's called, this will cover the idealistic and utopian Kingdom of Loskalm, some way north of Seshnela. Rick has confirmed he wants to publish this, but we're still at an early stage. Having said this, the book is already about half written, not least because I did an earlier version back in the day for Hero Wars. This probably means that I'll be musing about Loskalm a lot in these posts to begin with, since that's what I'm working on. Plans exist in my head (but not yet Moon Design's in-tray) to extend the series up to a Book 7... but that's something for later discussion.

So, not so much an update as rampant self-promotion. But that's blogs for you, eh?