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What the Shaman Arkati Trickster Taught Me
by John Hughes

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Heys Folks,

Guy Hoyle asked, "If you were going to create a new campaign setting, what lessons have you learned from Glorantha that you would apply to your new setting?"

I started thinking about this when I read Nick Brooke's 'Ten Things I Hate about Glorantha' web article, so my response is a bit of a mix of the two threads. Subject to the usual disclaimers and biases, here are two dozen lessons I've learned from Greg and about ten thousand other people who've helped define the big square inside our heads.

Glorantha has a wonderful mix of three elements: an all-pervasive mythic structure, an elaborate and lovingly (co-) created history and culture, and a wacky sense of fun. Try to keep all three. Though vary the mix.

1. Mythologic is Everything

There are other models for building worlds (strict analogue, trad fantasy-derived, literary, spiritual, linguistic, masturbatory ('Duck Fornicators of Gor')...), but Glorantha's rich mythologic is unique in both its depth and its relevance to game structures and the everyday life of its inhabitants. (This point is obvious, but worth stating explicitly). The price and reward?

a) Relativism is an Absolute: there can be no certainties. There are at least four and a half correct explanations for anything. Everything you believe is only a prelude to initiation into gnosis. Arkat made but half the journey. Only Baboons know the truth, and only Lunars are aware of this. Godlearner documents are memic land mines. Epistemology and ontology consciously arise only when cultures clash (and twice on Godsdays). Choose your errors consciously and wisely. Praxis before Doxis.

b) Cultivate Wonder: Mystery is a value in itself. Not knowing is a path to liberation. Enjoy the magical, the mythical, the mystical. Surprise yourself at least once per session.

c) Your created world is itself a myth; fluid, open to many interpretations, semiotically charged and awash with possibility. Get in there and start hacking your own memes. Never be afraid to kiss the trickster.

2. Reality Is

There are general principles. Map them broadly, map them early.

If, for example, you're going to fiddle with the seasons and with time, state clearly its effects on aging, gestation, pregnancy. Unique seasons mean different plant and animal processes, with effects on migration, growth, breeding. (One personal pet Gloranthan hate: "squeeze and stretch" seasonal conversions from earthly calendars.) Define your basic ecologies, not just the weird hit-point monsters. Think seriously about plants that bloom in Dark Season, about the 'armoured' blooms that arise in Storm. Etc. Etc. Etc.

3. Home Sweet Stead

Start with one small area (your pc base).

Spending eight months detailing Lunar-Uz brothel architecture in pre-conquest Tarsh is wasted if your Praxian campaign lasts two sessions and then becomes a Babylon 5-CoC crossover cause 'all this detail is just too weird man'.

4. Demi-Birds For Courses

Consciously choose your subgenre.

Is your campaign Pythonesque, MGF (loud or subdued), monster-bashing, romantic, problem-solving, storytelling, or some mix? Is it the traditional 'a duck, a trollkin, an uroxi, two humakti and a Malkoni sorcerer named Bruce' on a ten day Cook's Tour of Genertela (with two days in Jolar cause we was geased) searching for The Big Widget™? A stead-based mud and cattle dung lifequest where you have clan splits over the turnip crop? A trading mission into strange new lands? 'How I became the real Argrath and freed my homeland from the Lunar spit yoke'? Each of these campaign types and playing styles require developing very different types of background. Glorantha has to accommodate all of the above: individual campaigns don't.

5. Eight Uses For Trollkin Urine

Keep your vision broad, but love the fiddly bits.

[The title is a reference to a longish thread that once ran on the Gloranthan Digest. The main use for trollkin urine is apparently in creating highly coloured inks, but some of the responses.... amazing!]

6. Nurture Creativity

Nurture creativity both individual and collective. Listen to co-creators (they're also called 'players'). Put out half-baked ideas onto the Digest, and be overwhelmed by the response. Also, celebrate the individuality of your own campaign and vision, of your Glorantha.

7. Ordinary People, Ordinary Lives

Focus down on what's important. Concentrate on two key areas (subject to Point 4). For me this means;

a) The myths, rituals and beliefs that impinge on the everyday life of your chosen group. Creation myths, eschatology. Myths that define the relationships of the sexes and the appropriate life paths. Birth, initiation, marriage and death rituals. Trading and gifting rituals. Folk tales and creche rhymes. The life events of the important gods.

b) The everyday lives of ordinary people. Men and women. And children. What they eat. Where they live. How they work. What their families are like.

Spirit and Rune magic is not primarily about battle, whatever the rules suggest. Concentrating on everyday lives and everyday people is the best corrective to the whacko-basho viewpoint that some rule sets cultivate.

We waited nearly fifteen years for Report on the Orlanthi. That was too long. Remember trolls before Trollpak? They were mindless monsters, rather than those unique and beautifully detailed creatures whose society we know and, err, despise today. After twenty years of Lunars, what do we really know about the everyday life and family arrangements of a typical (say) urban Pelorian? Not nearly enough!

8. Analogues Aren't

Don't be afraid to name your analogues. Steal widely. Read deeply. Analogues are a tremendous help in summarising a culture, but there's a tendency to take them much too literally. Make sure that people understand what an analogue means. (Oh that a definition could be writ large across the top of every Digest.) As a rule of thumb, I'd suggest that a cultural analogue might describe something like 60% of the technology and society of a given group, and perhaps 20% of its historical development. Nothing more.

Cultural evolution is non-deterministic. Ideational realms can branch in a multitude of different directions. So your analogue culture is vaguely Anglo-Saxon. Should this preclude you introducing say, individualistic Amerindian type spirituality? No! Especially if it's an isolated frontier area with few temples or priests. Just make sure you visualise and follow through the consequences into other areas of everyday life.

And once in a while, dump the analogies completely and just do the whole damn thing from scratch. Analogues can turn you into a researcher rather than a creator. That's not what it's all about.

9. It's Magic Stoopid

Glorantha is a magical world. Before introducing any custom or artefact, think about magical alternatives, and follow through the effects of such alternatives.

10. Don't Get Too Comfortable

A follow-on from Point 9. Take nothing for granted. Let the alien nature of your world surprise and delight you. And yes, the sky is a dome. With moving holes in it...

11. Beware Technology Creep and Untimely Worldviews

Orlanthi use a Norse/Anglo-Saxon/Celtic barbarian analogue, right? But today let them use buttons. Tomorrow let them brew beer using hops. Next week we'll give them spinning wheels. And printed, scaled maps. And mounted cavalry tactics. And mixmaster slice & dice milk churners. We'll give them C20 western ideologies that emphasise excessive individualism, communal neglect, material greed, abstraction, reductionism and sexual preference-based identities. Very soon we end up with barbarians that we're likely to meet at the local video store - in other words, SCAers. The Horror! (This is far too common a trend).

12. Bury A Godlearner Today

Give your examples from within the framework of a given culture. 'Universal' Godlearner cult writeups: JUST SAY NO.

13. No Bloody Elves!

Use traditional (i.e. stereotyped) fantasy elements sparingly. Beware elves, dwarfs and dragons. If you have to have them, re-invent them. (For the record, I have never, ever featured mostali in my campaigns. They never grew on me. I wasn't made for it. Doubtless you will have biases of your own. See Point 16.)

14. Eschew Linguistics

If you can't do it properly, don't do it at all. And if you do it properly, it will be too complicated for people to want to absorb. "Anyong ha shimnika?"

15. The Hero Has Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Other Faces

If you meet the Monomyth upon the road, (a) call it to adventure, (b) tempt it with refusal, (c) confront it with a threshold guardian.... (z) kill and bury it.

Greg's thinking introduced many of us to Joseph Campbell, and to the richness, power and beauty of mythology. We're grateful for that. But too rigid a Campbellism, especially with regard to the monomyth and the journey of the hero, can blind us to other ways to herodom, other paths and other strengths. A hero doesn't have to carry a sword, and the greatest courage can be the courage of compassion. The Orlanthi recognise this. We should too.

16. Ducks and Trollkin: The Sad Truth

Include at least one race that epitomises nobility and endurance in the face of suffering and the cruel futility of existence (ducks) and one silly throw-away race that everyone thinks is a stoopid joke (trollkin).

17. Hit Me!

Include lots of Maidenstone Archers and multi-hitpoint monstrosities left over from CoC campaigns. (Irony? I can't even spell the word...)

18. The Only Good Lunar Is A Dead Orlanthi

And vice versa. Now roll for Illumination.

19. Ethnic Humour - Not!

If your intended audience includes non-Californians, go easy on the wacky Californianisms.

Richard the Tiger-Hearted. King Brian - before or after the respelling ("He's not the Liberator, he's just a naughty boy"). Leonardo the Scientist. Puleeeese.

Thankfully, traditional Orlanthi greetings don't include, "Save the whales".

(Equally applies to wacky Brit schoolboy humour, Strine Attacks and Seattle farm jokes).

20. Gregged. Nicked. Mobbed.

If your name is going to be turned into a verb, try to decide ahead of time what its going to mean.

21. Yelmalio Doesn't Exist

And neither does Elmal. Never underestimate the power of muddy thinking.

22. Digest It

Establish a mailing list where every point above can be argued against, reinterpreted, and shown to be complete bollocks.

And finally...

23. It's Your Glorantha

There is no, there cannot be, a One-True Glorantha. No matter how much we recognise and strive to achieve the values of consistency and coherence, we have to recognise that myths just aren't like that!

Myths are by definition multivalent. They never have a single interpretation, or even a single authoritative version. And Glorantha is a myth. It's also your own personal shamanic journey, your own inner-world. The treasures and truths you discover and return with are yours, to be shared with your co-creative community.

So never be afraid to tinker. Official ain't necessarily best. You can't keep a good idea down. (Just look what happened to the cult of Vinga...) Cast your threads upon the electronic waters, and in seven days four Digesters will have told you why you're wrong and six dozen will have silently adopted your idea into their own thinking.

Which leads me to the most important point of all...

24. Follow Your Bliss

You're here to have fun. So have it. None of us are in this for the money. Glorantha is neither a work of art, nor an excuse for a personal jihad/crusade. It's a ramshackle, living, breathing group experiment, a cauldron of creativity and community. Love it.

(So this point contradicts Point 19? Naturally it does! They're both true (see Point 1a)). The course of MGF never did run smooth...

There we go. As Arkat taught us, learn the roolz well , then break them. Me, I'm heading off to contradict myself on Point 14.


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Glorantha, HeroQuest, Hero Wars, and Issaries are trademarks of Issaries, Inc. The contents of this page are copyright by John Hughes, 2002; any material derived from Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha is also copyright by Greg Stafford. Glorantha is the creation of Greg Stafford, and is used with his permission.

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