"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Friday, October 11, 2019


“...consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

IT IS A MAXIM that anyone who plays RuneQuest, HeroQuest, or 13th Age Glorantha knows; Your Glorantha Will Vary.  On one hand this is a natural and necessary component of a setting as deep, developed, and complex as Glorantha.  Permission has to be given to players and gamemasters--especially those new to the setting--to deviate from canon.  Asking anyone to commit to memory the 800+ page Guide to Glorantha, the Glorantha Sourcebook, and the entirety of the Stafford Library, and to stay strictly within the bounds of that material, is absurd.  

On the other hand, it isn't just about contradicting Glorantha...Glorantha consistently contradicts itself.  It has to.   It must.  If it didn't, it would no longer be a believable setting.  It would be plastic.  A cartoon. 

"Canon" refers to doctrines imposed by ecclesiastical authority; in its original meaning it is all about telling you what you must do and think.  It's the mental equivalent of a straightjacket.  Modern usage broadens the word somewhat, especially when applied to the science fiction and fantasy genres. The idea here is that enforced "consistency" makes fictional settings more realistic.  Of course nothing could be farther from the truth.

Expecting a character should always behave exactly the same way he or she has in the past is to assume people can never surprise you, that they are not complex, irrational, or impulsive.  Predictability is comforting, but hardly realistic.  Assuming history is correct merely demonstrates an ignorance of it.  It shifts and gets rewritten generationally the same way a beach is reshaped by the tides.  And assigning uniformity to a culture, language, or religion has been tried and has always failed.  Regional variations are the norm and always reassert themselves.  "Truth," the titular character in Mike Carrey's Lucifer asserts, "is a local phenomenon, like a microclimate."

Expecting reality to be consistent is a very modern Western concept, one shaped first by institutional monotheism and later by the scientific revolution. Natural law behaves consistently, but somehow this conned us into thinking you can use the same standards used by the physical sciences to the social.  We fell in love with our power to impose definitions, and then talked ourselves into believing they meant anything.  It even bled into how we tell stories.  In the days of oral traditions, stories were fluid, local, and mercurial.  They changed depending on who told them and to whom they were told.  Now we fix them on the written page and expect them to stay there like insects in amber.  Thus in the West we now expect the Iliad, not an Iliad.  It's a cultural conceit that confounded European scholars trying to translate the Mahabharata, because there is no such thing as a single definitive one.

None of these are illusions that Gloranthans labor under.  Your Glorantha Will Vary, but theirs does too.  It is a mistake coming at Orlanth as if he is the same Orlanth in every clan, every shrine, every region.  We have to assume the cult we see in the rules books is A) specific to Dragon Pass and B) a generalization.  The fact that we want to nail him down to a few-page-long definition doesn't mean that Gloranthans do.  The Greeks understood, for example, that Zeus Georgos, a farming deity, Zeus Agoreaus, who looked over the marketplace and ensured fair trade, and Zeus Tallaios--a sun god--were all masks of the same being.  We expect Zeus to be the same Zeus everywhere because centuries of an institutional church made us think gods must be consistent.  Again, Bronze Age peoples (like Gloranthans) knew better.

Thus, while players for years have struggled with the Yelmalio/Elmal business, but it is unlikely that their player characters would in any way be confounded by this.  Yelmalio, Elmal, Lightfore, Antirius, and Kargzant would all be recognized by a world traveller with little or no comment as aspects of same beings.  Do they differ?  Grant different magics?  So what?  Agoreaus would have granted trade magics and Tallaios solar ones, but both were Zeus.

In fact, it is probably a good idea for gamemasters to make cults and gods different from region to region.  You can probably expect relative uniformity among the Orlanth cult in Sartar, for example, because that is one of the first orders of business Sartar would have attended to founding his kingdom.  Part of the magic is establishing a nation would be to standardize the language and religion alongside building roads and making laws.  Yet the Orlanth worshipped in Old Trash should be different.  The Orlanth worshipped in Esrolia even more so.  And the Orlanth worshipped in Fronela strikingly so.  If we think of the Orlanthi in terms of the Indo-Europeans, for example, the Orlanth of Sartar--a sophisticated urban culture on the southern coast of the continent--might look a bit like Indra, depicted with four arms and a vajra.  The Orlanth of Fronela, positioned in the frozen northwest of the continent, might look more like Thor, with two arms and a hammer.  The Orlanth of Ralios might then resemble Zeus.  The point here, of course, is that trying to define the Orlanthi as Indian or as Norse or as Greek is a fool's errand.  Different Orlanthi would likely resemble all three.  Their Glorantha varies.  And an Orlanthi from Dragon Pass visiting Ralios would most certainly recognize Orlanth, no matter what his local iconography or name might be.  We've seen ancient peoples do this in the way the Greeks recognized Thoth as Hermes or the Romans saw Athena as Minerva.

It isn't just that Your Glorantha Will Vary, it is that it does vary and should vary.  This is what makes it believable.  It should be inconsistent and complex and confusing, because that is what the real world is.  The more we nail down definitions the closer we get to Deities & Demigods, where divinities end up mere collections of stats.  YGWV doesn't just give you permission to deviate, to forget things, to make mistakes, it makes your game a richer experience.  


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