Greetings! I’ve decided to once again revive the ol’ blog to get myself into writing again, and to share some thoughts I have about exciting new trends in tabletop gaming! It’s been about a year since I did the last post on Tekumel, the fascinating setting created by M.A.R. Barker. Since then I’ve continued to immerse myself in various old-school gaming experiences, while trying to stay abreast of the new ones. I am now a proud father, so my time for running and researching games is much more limited. Still, there is one setting in particular, along with its associated rule-sets, that has truly captured my imagination. This is Glorantha, the setting for the classic RPG Runequest (RQ).
I have actually played in a Runequest game before, but it wasn’t set in the traditional world of Glorantha, and my GM used the oft-maligned third edition rules from Avalon Hill, dating back to the mid-80’s. Through no fault of the GM, I didn’t have a stellar experience with the game, and I developed a bad attitude about the system. I didn’t think about RQ for years after that, except to complain every now and then about the games tendency to produce inept characters that were terrible at everything. What finally convinced me to take another look at the tabletop RPG was the release of a new mobile game, set in the Glorantha. This was called Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind.
Six Ages is an interactive fiction game, with a mix of RPG, strategy, and simulation elements. The artwork in the game was stunning, and I was very intrigued by what appeared to be a non-traditional approach to fantasy and world-building. I also checked out the prequel to Six Ages, King of Dragon Pass, which is a cult classic in its own right. Both are available on mobile platforms, and KoDP can be played in its original form on PC as well.
These are excellent games, and if I can find the time I would love to review them in more detail. But the focus here is on Glorantha itself. If you are looking to explore this fascinating setting, the two games are the perfect gateway into doing so. I would recommend starting with King of Dragon Pass if you are interested in tabletop Glorantha, because it takes place in a time and place that is much closer to the default setting in Runequest.
What is Glorantha? It is the setting that was “discovered” by Greg Stafford in late 60’s, and explored more fully after the founding of Stafford’s company Chaosium in 1978. You might have heard of Chaosium, as they are also the creators of the wildly popular and influential Call of Cthulhu RPG. Glorantha was the setting used in Chaosium’s earliest forays into game publishing, with the wargame White Bear and Red Moon, and the first edition of Runequest.
Glorantha is truly unique as a setting for its depth, breadth, originality, and quirkiness. If I had to summarize it quickly I would describe it as “mythic bronze-age fantasy,” and also probably mention its unusual historical influences, and the way magic and myth influence everything about the world, right down to the laws of physics. I think one of the best things I can say about it as a setting is that it is very non-Western (and non-Tolkien) in tone and flavor, and has very little to do with medieval European history or mythology. So many fantasy settings are, more or less, bastardized versions of our own world and history, and you’ll find very little of that in Glorantha. There are fictional cultures that have clear real-world analogues, such as Ancient China or Sub-Saharan Africa, but most of them are blends of different peoples, places and religions, with innovative twists.
You’ll find a decadent empire that is equal parts Roman and Persian, tied together by a transgressive feminist religion that glorifies life and diversity, but also dark magic and demons. There are tribes of hill folk (the default player characters in most Gloranthan games) that could be described as rugged individualist Greek/Norse/Celtic/American Settler barbarians, that worship the Old Gods. My personal favorites are the strange cultures of the Far West, which have the trappings of Classical Athens, Byzantium, and Ancient India, with a fractured humanistic religion that combines Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and Hermetic Magic.
It is a living, breathing world of its own, and immersing yourself in it can be overwhelming. Once I had dipped my toes in with the PC games, I decided to check out the book that is currently considered to be the most comprehensive source on the setting: the two-volume Guide to Glorantha. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one. This is a massive, 800 page tome that covers everything you could possibly want to know about the world, including mythology, history, cultures, and a detailed look at every geographical region featured on the above map (and then some).
I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it so far. I will say that it doesn’t make for the best introduction to someone that is “Glorantha-curious.” The sheer amount of information, while interesting, is totally staggering, and not always presented in a way that makes sense the first time through. There are a lot of references and name-drops that are not fully elaborated on, and some information presented is deliberately ambiguous, especially with regard to mythic events (the Yelmalio/Elmal controversy still confounds me).
I think a better way to get into Glorantha is to check out the recent material that has been released for Runequest. There is a new edition of the game called Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (RQG) that is being published by Chaosium. This game is generating a lot of buzz, and has received some stellar reviews. There hasn’t been a new Chaosium edition of the game since 1980, so that alone is exciting to lots of people. I like the new edition because it smoothly integrates the Glorantha setting into the old-school mechanics in a way that hasn’t been done before. There is also a nice, short, focused introduction to the world that would be an easier start for the casual fan.
I will hopefully be running an RQG campaign in the next few months, once I finish our current Unknown Armies game. I have a lot more I could say about Glorantha, Runequest or other associated games, but I will likely have to leave that for another post. I hope that I have piqued the interest of any readers. Exploring Glorantha is rich and rewarding, and I have found much joy into escaping there. I hope you can as well!