As discussed earlier, I started a Gloranthan Solar System campaign recently, which obviously means that I needed to put together at least a preliminary crunch landscape for the thing. This is actually massively indimidating job – Glorantha is a deep setting, and better minds have spent a lot of time figuring out how to represent it in a roleplaying game. It’s not really very likely that I’ll be happy with whatever we cobble together initially, but luckily SS as a game system is very retcon-friendly; we’ll just put together enough at a time to play the game, and then expand and revise as necessary, thus hopefully approaching something good.
The premise of the “What My Father Taught Me” campaign is that the player characters are bog-standard heortling youths of a Sartarite clan readying for their initiation and living the life of the clan, all the while seeking for their place in the world. The campaign begins on the brink of the initiations and follows the lives of the characters until they’ve figured out who is their chosen god – and consequently and interchangeably, what is their place in society. Heortling initiation procedure takes a couple of years to go through and involves not only a heroquest or two, but also all sorts of other stuff, especially when the presumption is that the player characters are far from the everyday members of their society.
I basically only need to have rules for playing teenaged Orlanthi, but in practice I’m a systematician, so I’d rather have an understanding of how to latch the specific campaign focus onto further developments as necessary. For example, players have lots of control in this game, and it’s technically possible that we breeze through all this initiatory stuff in the next session and go on to follow the adventures of adult Orlanthi warriors travelling deep into the Lunar empire for some esoteric purpose; I’d rather not rework the game mechanically just because we need to introduce new elements of the setting to stay true to the direction of the story.
As regards the wider cosmological viewpoint on Glorantha, I’ve written a bit about how to present the setting in Solar System before, and I’m still reasonably happy with the basic ideas there. Still haven’t read the new Sartar book, which associates tell me is a very true-to-Glorantha and elegant treatise on how to represent the setting in the Heroquest rules; should probably get that into my paws before long to progress further in this.
As described in that earlier thread, player characters basically have five Pools in this SS crunch landscape, three of which are magical aspects of the character’s nature. Like so:
Experience is basically a Pool that represents a character’s immanent nature, his skills and abilities in the inner world, as a natural being of mixed nature that people are in Glorantha. (The name of the Pool is ass, we’re constantly getting confused about whether we’re talking about experience points in the rules system or Experience Pool points.) The passive Ability associated with Experience is Guts (E), representing a character’s will and stamina.
Community is sort of an external Pool, the opposite of Experience; a character can have Abilities such as his Reputation (specify), Wealth, and various relationships both to individuals and communities under this heading. I’m a bit uncertain about whether there even is a Passive Ability under this Pool (this would be unusual in SS, but not necessarily problematic), but so far we’ve assumed that the Passive Ability here is called Social (C), representing a character’s outwards identity and capability of understanding and perceiving social matters.
I should note here that this is actually a rather weird Pool set-up for Solar System, usually the Pools are much closer to traditional RPG abilities. I can’t say yet as to whether it would be better to go back to something more conventional, but at least this is an interesting experiment. The magical Pools push the envelope even more, being as how they represents aspects of a character’s being in a way that Glorantha roleplaying games usually shy away from:
Soul is the main magical Pool for the Orlanthi, who are theists by nature. Theism is the magical worldview that reifies “gods”, anthropomorphised cosmic principles that are basically made of soul stuff and interact with the Soul part of a mortal worshipper. Gods are present in the world immanently (as opposed to localized as a being) or as distant but supernaturally observant things. Soul magic is about controlling the power of the gods by perceiving the world in the terms of the individual god’s mythology, emulating the god and perceiving his actions in the world. Typical forms of soul magic are sacrificing to encourage the god to perform his cosmic function, and internalizing a god’s superpowers by becoming more alike to the god and thus duplicating his nature and capabilities yourself. The Soul Pool is refreshed by engaging in sacrificial worship which is the proper form of addressing gods.
Spirit is a distinctly secondary Pool for the Orlanthi, but their culture acknowledges the place and legitimacy of the spirits as something external to the community at least, if not something that resides within the individual himself. There are even facets to the society where spirit worship is primary instead of theism, albeit this by definition is a specialty function and not a basis for any Orlanthi community. Be that as it may, spiritual magic is about dealing with “spirits”, insubstantial but temporally present supernatural beings that reside in the nature of the world; for a spiritualist the supernatural is not somewhere far away to be contacted, but rather immediately present as long as you have the eyes to see. Typically spirit magic is about associating with individual spirits and convincing them to see to your needs, but it’s also possible for the spirit magician to become a spirit himself via shamanist practice to get things done more direct-like. Spirit Pool is refreshed by engaging in extatic worship that allows the spiritist to perceive the spirit world properly via an abnormal state of perception.
Essence is a somewhat demonic thing from Orlanthi viewpoint, but even they have this facet to their being just like they have a soul and a spirit. The Essence of a human is basically like a Platonic Ideal, a form that is instantiated by the material world, possessed by every thing that is materially bound and qualifiable; essential magic is about understanding the basic nature of various essences and manipulating the rules of their interaction. Typical essential magic concerns esoteric knowledge that essences of various things answers to, although the practice also involves enhancing the magic by manipulating external sources of energy, such as tapping different planes of existence or the essential energy of human worshippers. Essence Pool is refreshed by the practice of veneration, meaning the intent observation of the essentially unified transcendental nature of reality, also known as God.
Those three Pools share a Passive Ability called God/Spirit/Essence Sight which basically just represents a characters perspiracy in perceiving and understanding the supernatural realm as it unfolds before his eyes.
Common Abilities for the Orlanthi
I made a list of typical Abilities for our campaign. I tried to keep it compact just to prevent a descent into madness in a world where the Orlanthi are really just a small slice of the full picture. These all associate with the Experience Pool, as do all proper skills and such.
Farming is used for everyday farming work.
Animal handling is used to take care of the animals.
Poetry is used for fancy speaking.
Feasting is for showing hospitality and drinking boisterously.
Magical rites is for understanding general magical practice; it’s not supposed to actually do anything magical by itself, but it helps in setting up rites and such.
Then there are of course some Abilities that are mostly practiced by men:
Skirmishing is useful for spear-throwing and such soft warfare, including raiding.
Melee is for decisive martial encounters, close range and full of murderous intent.
Sporting is how men show how manly they are to other men and women.
Hunting is for wilderness survival in general, as well as stalking, setting traps and so on.
And of course, women:
Housework is a catch-all for running a successful stead, including everything from cooking to child rearing.
Handcrafts is not just for women, but they have to know how to weave and make the household implements.
Female viles is used by women in matters of procreation and handling men.
Finally, there is a wide bunch of abilities that are mostly of cultic consern – you can have these even if not a member of these cults, occasionally, but most people don’t need to.
Tallying is for math and accounting.
Literacy is for reading and writing.
Healing is for serious medicine.
Smithing is for making tools and such by these arcane arts.
Music also covers other artistic performances.
Law is for ruling and legal cases.
Lovemaking is for courting and making partners happy.
Trading is for making deals.
Rookery is for stealing and such dishonest work.
It’s supposed to be a pretty simple list, so if I get any inspiration, I might even prune it further. One could go in the opposite direction easily enough, too, but much of that important cultural color can come out via the Ability specialization rules and other such nuances – you can present your spear-specialized fighter easily enough as a character who has a skirmishing specialty knack for that sort of thing, no need for a separate Ability.
I could also go into the Secrets and Keys here, but this post is getting a bit long in the tooth, so I’ll wrap it up for now. Later for the rest, the campaign doesn’t seem to be going away in the foreseeable future.