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...