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?