Home Forums Glorantha Glorantha Discussions A Question about the Mundane and the Magical

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    I’m not sure if I can phrase this post correctly, but here goes:
    I never read Runequest. I started reading about Glorantha with the publication of Hero Wars. However, from my understanding of Runequest the Glorantha of the game was a fairly gritty setting where normal people interacted with fantastic magic through runes. Even the source material for Hero Wars, with the Feats that the Gods inspired, suggested that most people were people and that magic was an extraordinary thing. At least that was my take on it. There was this big mythical past, and the connection with the gods weekend after the Compact, and people could tap the magic through myth and ritual… but for the most part, the magic (while common) wasn’t on the scale of the past.
    I’ve just finished the first 100 pages of HeroQuest: Glorantha (which I’m loving, by the way). Which means I just finished the Extended Contest examples. Which means I was reading about a Player Character opening up the earth beneath Lunar invaders.
    And I’ve hit point where I’m not sure exactly what the feel of Glorantha is.
    Now, of course, YGMV. But I’d love some discussion about some of these ideas:
    Did the nature of magic change over the course of the versions of the rules? (Outside of Glorantha’s in-fiction setting.)
    Has magic changed over time within Glorantha’s fictional settting?
    How do people address the tensions between mundane and magic?
    Or is there tension? Is the world just supercharged now and the notion of the mundane is sort of by the wayside?
    Do mundane details about every day life have a place in HeroQuest: Glorantha? And if it does not, did it once?
    How are you using the material in your games to build the mundane, the mythologically magical, and all points in-between?
    I just remembered that Jonathan Tweet addressed something along these lines in a blog post from over a decade ago.
    Here’s an excerpt:
    “Then, years later, Greg Stafford got Robin D. Laws to do Hero Wars, an RPG much more focused on Glorantha, with free-form mechanics that would allow the imaginative supernatural elements of the world to come to life. What’s more, tremendous details about life in Sartar were released to support the game: clan life, economy, marriage, class structure, etc. You even had stats for regular people in the clan, the folks with regular lives who take up spears and put on their helmets when Chaos and invaders threaten the homestead.
    “But those people are not what Hero Wars is about. It’s about the near-heroes that roam about the land on mighty quests, people that fly or make rocks sing.
    “Finally, the Sartar campaign information is here, with details about the lives of regular people. But it’s attached to a game that isn’t built to work on that scale. I love the Hero Wars support material and have had fun playing the game, but it’s sad to think that all this good stuff took so long to surface that it can no longer serve the purpose it once could have served.”

    I’m referencing this not to have a conversation about whether Jonathon was wrong or right. But to suggest: “This is a thing. What are your thoughts about this thing? What do you do with this thing?”

    Profile photo of Charles

    Opinion: It is a common mistake to try to work out the rules of Glorantha from the game systems associated with it. All of them capture some part of the flavour of the setting but none are complete. Jeff Richard spoke about this in passing during the interview with the Iconic Podcast at http://iconicpodcast.com/podcast/b17/

    My Glorantha is a place where everyone has access to magic, most of it to assist everyday living in small ways. Most people have little bits of magic from two or three of the great magical approaches and many have their own innate magic that is not possible to categorise. Quite a bit of this magic is trivial, such as the ability to change the colour of their cattle’s eyes.

    Communities can assemble greater magics to protect and preserve themselves. Each community appoints a few people to manage this magic, usually by merit but always conservatively. A community will not often knowingly court self-destruction by letting a talented young hot-head manage their war-magic, unless of course, the community is already actively at war.

    Everyone has the ability to become greater – but at high cost and even higher risk. Slaves can break free and run (metal is too expensive and magical to be used as chains except for the most valuable prisoners) but will have no resources to call on, except a few rags, in a hostile and possibly bleak environment. When they are caught, they know their punishment will be severe. And yet, Argrath was a slave of the Praxians and still managed to use that as yet another step up on his climb to god-hood. A farmer could give it all up to pursue a greater cause, but who would feed her family or indeed, would she even get a chance at family? All Harmast wanted was to be a farmer but was chased into becoming one of the great HeroQuesters of the Orlanthi.

    Some people are born to great position and, as part of their heritance, get the magic of the community that they will lead in due course. It very substantially helps that the community supports their lifestyle so they can focus on developing their magic – that developing could well be partying and hunting (and frequent rituals).

    Profile photo of Simon Phipp
    Simon Phipp

    > Now, of course, YGMV. But I’d love some discussion about some of these ideas:

    > Did the nature of magic change over the course of the versions of the rules? (Outside of Glorantha’s in-fiction setting.)

    No, the nature of magic has never changed, but the way different rules sets used magic has changed. RQ2 magic is different to RQ3 magic, in fact all versions of RQ have had differences in the way they treat magic, HW/HQ1/HQ2 all gave different ways of dealing with magic. Does that mean that the way that magic works in Glorantha changed because the rules change? Not at all.

    > Has magic changed over time within Glorantha’s fictional settting?


    When Time started, the way magic worked changed. When the God Learners were defeated, the way that magic worked changed. In the Hero Wars, the way that magic works is supposed to change.

    What does that mean in a Gloranthan campaign? Absolutely nothing.

    I would treat magic as magic and not bother about the changes in how magic works, unless it is important to the setting.

    When the Lunars killed orlanth, all orlanthi and Ernaldan magic stopped working. That’s a pretty major change for those cultists, but other kinds of magic worked just fine and when Orlanth/Ernalda come back, so does their magic.

    > How do people address the tensions between mundane and magic?
    > Or is there tension? Is the world just supercharged now and the notion of the mundane is sort of by the wayside?

    Glorantha has always been supercharged, believe me.

    In RQ2/RQ3, our campaign had Rune lords and Rune Priests wandering around, throwing fairly powerful magic around.

    HW introduced more cults, with more cult magic described. HQ has downplayed that slightly, but focusses on Runes instead.

    in Glorantha, almost everyone does magic, whether they are using little cantrips, common magic that their family has always known, magic that resulted from the droppings of the gods, or whatever.

    The difference is that mighty heroes use mighty magic. Cragspider the Firewitch can cause a pillar of fire to fall from the sky, the Shaker Twins can cause earthquakes, Oakfed can consume grasslands and forests with a mighty firestorm, Delecti can make your fallen comrades rise up and fight as his zombies. All that is pretty major stuff.

    PCs can use whatever magic they have. Are they mundane or magical? The concept has no real place in Glorantha, as everyone can join a cult, everyone can use magic, there is no mundane. The difference is that a crafter might use magic to create a nice saddle, so you would not realise that he is using magic, but someone who opens up a hole in the earth is obviously using magic.

    > Do mundane details about every day life have a place in HeroQuest: Glorantha? And if it does not, did it once?

    What do you mean by that?

    Do you want to keep track of PCs’ toilet breaks and whether they have run out of toilet paper? That is an inescapable mundane detail, but would you be interested in it in a game?

    If you are playing Orlanthi warriors fighting to drive the Lunars out of Sartar, then do you really care that Eloise from down the street has fallen out with her boyfriend? Maybe, if one of the PCs has a crush on Eloise, or hates her boyfriend. It all depends on the kind of game, the setting and what the plot interactions are.

    > How are you using the material in your games to build the mundane, the mythologically magical, and all points in-between?

    I have ongoing plots that can operate in parallel or interact. One might be a mundane plotline, one might be a magical plotline.

    So, the PCs might be trying to build up a business as a cover for their other activities, that would be a mundane plotline. They might also want to seek out the Dark Lord of the Sewers to gain magic from him, that is a magical plotline. Those two plotlines might never interact. However, they may have some things stolen from their business and might track the thief to the sewers, where they find clues as to the Dark lord’s whereabouts, thus linking the two plotlines.

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    Harald Smith

    THE thing that I loved about Glorantha (and all its rules incarnations) since DAY ONE was that EVERYONE had the ability to perform magic at some level (none of the: this character class has access to magic while this other class does not). The world is inherently magical and as Simon noted, there really is no separation of mundane from magical. There IS separation of the mundane (inclusive of magic) from the mythic (heroquesting into the Otherworlds).
    Within Glorantha, there have been major changes to how magic is accessed. The 2nd Age saw the rise of humans with the ability to use Dragon Magic. The demise of the Empire of the Wyrms Friends saw that knowledge lost (until now). Similar statements about God-Learner Magic and Lunar Magic. But all are variants in terms of how individuals can draw on the underlying magical nature of Glorantha.
    Within the game systems, yes, the approaches to describe how magic is used has varied somewhat, though I think quite consistently with the same basic intent over all the years and attempts to ‘get it right’.
    There are:
    Simple instant magics that most folk can use (RQ2 = Battle Magic, HQ1 = Common Magic, HQG = augments via Runes)
    Spirit magics that bind spirits to your aid (RQ2 incl. in Battle Magic, HQ1 = animism, HQG = spirit magic)
    Rune magics that allow you to ‘become’ like your god (RQ2 = Rune Magic, HQ1 = theism, HQG = rune magic)
    Sorcerous magics that allow you to command and manipulate the underlying runes/magics (not in RQ2, introduced in RQ3 as Sorcery, HQ1 = Wizardry, HQG = Sorcery)
    Lunar magics that allow you to bring together combinations of the above (divided somewhat by cult in older material, best described/presented in HQG)
    Mystical powers that allow you to refute the other magics (only presented so far in HW, but I don’t think it does so well – I think this awaits further elaboration when someone develops more on the East Isles/Kralorela)
    Illumination that allows you to transcend limits of the above approaches (various attempts at it previously, but well described in HQG)

    As for the tensions in society, and thinking about the approaches to magic, it’s not about mundane vs. magical, but about: 1) ‘this is how WE interact with the world’ vs. ‘this is how THE EVIL ENEMIES interact with the world’. The HeroQuest Voices are very good at capturing this flavor of the game. The Sartar books present this from the Sartarite view (vs. Lunars as evil).
    2) ‘this is how we always do things’ vs. ‘this is how trouble begins’. That is, what’s traditional vs. what’s exploratory/experimental and therefore dangerous.

    Hope that helps.

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    Peter Metcalfe

    IMO there will never be any mystical powers of the sort presented in Hero Wars for HeroQuest: Glorantha. Any magics in the eastern Isles can easily be presented in the terms of spells, spirits and affinities. In the specific term of sagely magics, Mashunasan and the like, their magics have the look and feel of spells whereas their grimoires would be the Vithelan holy texts.

    In terms of mysticism (as opposed to mystical powers), the Lunars and the Illuminates are mystics. Other traditions of mystics include the Men-of-All (following Hrestol) and the Storm-walkers. They may have a special insight into their magic but they will not have a distinct version of magic.

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    Olli Kantola
      Depending on your campaign, magic could have a very different feel to it! Compare the following examples:
      1) You are playing the Colymar campaign from the Sartar book. It’s epic story of heroes chosen by gods and fate to sway the path of, well, if not nations, then atleast tribes for a start! The PCs are pretty magical and special people. Magic is going to be big, colourful and perhaps emotional. The heroes live and breathe magic. They could also struggle to avoid being swept away by it. (Our campaign turned to tragedy because of this.)
      2) You are playing a campaign based on the Pavis book, except that you play small time criminals and lowlifes. So really gritty stuff. Magic is still going to be important and perhaps mystical, but also grubby or remote. It is still present in everyday activity in that the PCs are going to be muttering promises of sacrifices to their ancestors and performing small rituals in their daily lives, but the stuff that the priests and heroes do, is going to feel remote.
      Just as well, it’s going to be NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE to beat a lunar patrol in this campaign while in the first campaign it’ll be EASY or even auto-success even if you have Mercenary at 5W in both campaigns. Magic might be even more important in the second campaign, because unless you manage to gather up enough clacks (copper coins) to bribe the guard to let you in the Healers house, you might die of gangrene or something.
      RQ6 is the best iteration of RQ! I really love it. One of the differences between HQ2/G and RQ is that RQ pretty much hardcodes those genre and style choices that you have to take into account when playing HQ2/G. There is nothing in the HQ:G rules that states that you have to have contests about wounds getting infected. However, if your campaign is about criminals and their petty schemes in the gutters of Pavis, it might really hit the spot genre/style -wise!
      Magic is still important in both kinds of campaigns, it’s just that in the first you could be questing to resurrect a god long since forgotten and in the second you could be trying to scheme for a way past the guard so your friend won’t die of an infected wound.
      The magical abilities of the characters would be equally relevant in both campaigns too. “Has Drunk from the Cauldron of Ver” -ability from the first campaign could have effects of similar magnitude in its campaign than “The Charm Nicked from Griselda” in the other. The latter could be even more legendary in its context! (She was drunk and the character must be afraid to mention the origins of the charm, because that doll is someone you don’t want to mess with!)
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    I agree with the above – magic is going to be a tad different in power level depending upon where you want the begining PCs to start in the food chain. HQG will be easier to start out with more powerful characters due to the broad brush strokes of the game mechanics, and thus the magic is likely to be more potent as well.

    Personally I prefer the old ‘start down at gutter level’ approach that RQ has always encouraged. I prefer the powerful magics of heroes to be part of the colourful background of the setting, with the PCs starting out with minor augmentations to their skills, using the cantrip like spells of Common Magic/Folk Magic. My games tend to play like episodes of HBO ROME or History Channel’s VIKINGS series where folklore and magical practices are intermeshed with daily life, providing ongoing minor benefits.

    The presence of magic is certainly there, but more powerful magic is remote for the common person, and daily life magical practices are so intertwined with cultural practices that it is hard to see a difference. As the characters progress into Acolyte rank and beyond then the mythic connections strengthen and magic becomes more potent.

    High level games certainly have a ‘mythic superhero’ quality to it, but I like to reserve this for final stages of a campaign so there is a sense of progression and achievement for the PCs.

    HQ blew this approach away by starting PCs as much more heroic from the beginning, but I never really liked doing that myself.

    At the end of the day, magic is everpresent in Glorantha, but access to personal magic will depend upon how powerful the characters are within your setting.

    Just my thoughts

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    Some great posts and replies. Always fun to read everyone’s perspectives.


    Thanks for all the great replies.

    I’ve just started reading the Guide to Glorantha (I’ve caved and bought pretty much everything in the last few weeks!) and the introduction also covers this issue.

    My take at this point is that the Middle World is mundane, with bits of magic that astound. But that the heroes (the PCs), by definition of being HEROES, are exceptional. The tales made in HeroQuest play are their tales… tales worthy of being legend. And so they are much, much more extraordinary. But trick is to make sure to keep the tension and the difference between the fantastical heroes and the mundane world present.

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    Olli Kantola
      Your Gloranthan Will Vary (YGWV), but your campaign will also vary. I believe that you can run two campaigns that are just as faithful to the source material and emphazise the magical in the first and downplay it in the second.
      In my Glorantha (IMG), all Sartarite clans have magical secrets of their own. So I have secret groves, where magical berries grow, skipping stones, which let you cross a river if you know the right sacrifice etc. The landscape and the prehistory of Sartar is filled with magical peculiarities. I also like presenting the mundane as magical so that sacrifices, ancestors, prayers and such are present in everyday life and activities.
      I do get, however, your idea about accenting the heroic nature of the PCs by downplaying magic elsewhere. Literal interpretation of the HQ2/G rules would have you think that since most Sartarites are initiates, they are plowing with magic, building their houses with magic etc. I’m sure they are, but I wouldn’t present it as a Barntar initiate singing a magical song to animate his plow. Being a hard-working plowman IS Barntars magic and plowing is a sacred act recreating the marriage of Storm and Earth!

    I love this:

    “Being a hard-working plowman IS Barntars magic and plowing is a sacred act recreating the marriage of Storm and Earth!”

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