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!

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