Glorantha is the mythical world developed originally by Greg Stafford and that has since been used as the background for many Role-Playing Games, especially RuneQuest and HeroQuest. The world is characterised by its complex approach to mythology, heavily influenced by the work of Joseph Campbell, its long and distinctive history as a setting for role-playing games, and among fantasy role-playing games, its relative lack of Tolkienesque influence.
History of the Gloranthan game world
Unlike Dungeons and Dragons, the other approach to fantasy role-playing which traces its roots back to the 1960s and which derives from the wargaming scene, the roots of Glorantha lie in experiments with mythology, storytelling, and recreation and blending of ancient societies. Unlike Tolkien, Stafford makes no pretense of being a linguist.
Stafford's first imaginings of Glorantha date back to 1966, when he began his studies at college, as a vehicle for him to deepen his own understanding of mythology by creating his own mythology, and also (so he says) as a way of getting to know girls. Stafford was greatly influenced by the ideas on mythology of Joseph Campbell, and echoes of Campbell's work are to be found in many aspects of Glorantha; for instance the story of the "God Learners" can be seen as an exercise on the implications of Campbells idea of a unifying monomyth, and the story of Prince Argrath an exploration of Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. More abstractly, Campbell's idea that myths are how we shape our lives deeply informs the picture of life in Glorantha throughout the game world's publication history.
The first game system set in Glorantha was the board game White Bear and Red Moon. Stafford first tried to sell the game to established publishers, but despite being accepted by three different game companies, each attempt ended in failure; eventually he founded his own game company in 1974, the influential Chaosium, to publish his game. The game detailed the rise of the barbarian Prince Argrath to defend his homeland of Sartar against the red tide of the civilised Lunar Empire, and filled out the area of Dragon Pass; since that time the game has undergone several reissues.
The next publication was also a board game, Nomad Gods, published by Chaosium in 1978, which detailed the raids and wars between the beast-riding spirit-worshipping tribes of Prax, a cursed land to the east of Dragon Pass.
In 1978 the first edition of the role-playing game RuneQuest was released. Several later editions were made; RuneQuest II in 1980, considered by some to be the apex of Gloranthan role-playing, and which introduced many sophisticated game aids, such as Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror, and highly polished game scenarios, such as Griffin Mountain.
In an attempt to leverage the power of a much bigger gaming company, RuneQuest III was published with Avalon Hill in 1984. This edition both loosened the connection between RuneQuest and Glorantha, introducing Fantasy Europe as a game world for Rune Quest, and much broadened the scope of Glorantha treated as a possible domain of play. Unfortunately, RuneQuest did not prosper with its association with Avalon Hill, and the relationship between Chaosium, who held the rights to Glorantha, and Avalon Hill, who held the rights to RuneQuest, finally broke down completely in 1995. A draft of the RuneQuest IV rules was written, but never found its way to publication.
During this period of breakdown, the evolution of Glorantha did not stand still: the advent of popular use of the internet caused a boom in fan creations in Glorantha, supported by some unofficial business ventures, such as Reaching Moon Megacorp, and a lively convention scene. Loren Miller proposed his Maximum Game Fun principle as a basis for gaming, which soon became a game system in its own right, David Dunham proposed his PenDragon Pass system, a nearly freeform game system, and several ambitious freeform games were played at conventions, such as Home of the Bold with up to 80 participants. The computer game King of Dragon Pass was released by A-Sharp, allowing the player to play an Orlanthi hero who seeks to unite the clans and tribes of Dragon Pass in a kingdom; the game features exceptional depth of coverage of the world of Dragon Pass, and featured the first compelling public view of Stafford's ideas about the heroquest. Also Stafford was at this time publishing material about the history and mythology of Glorantha in non-game form as books such as King of Sartar and The Glorious (Re)Ascent of Yelm.
Today, new official material is appearing for the HeroQuest game system, for a short while called the Hero Wars system. The game system, written by Robin Laws in collaboration with Greg Stafford, is radically different from RuneQuest in that it emphasises narrativist aspects of role-playing; in contrast, RuneQuest emphasised simulationist aspects. Because of this change in approach some RuneQuest fans found it difficult to adjust to HeroQuest. However other long-term fans felt that the game fitted Glorantha far better than RuneQuest.
The world of Glorantha
There are a variety of cultures in Glorantha that have strikingly different perceptions of their world, the magic that pervades it and the major events that have shaped it.
"Glorantha is an action-packed world of adventure. Gods and Goddesses struggle here, with nations of people nothing but their pawns. The stormy barbarians with their brutal but honest Storm God struggle against the Lunar Empire, led by the imperial Sun God and devious Moon Goddess.
Glorantha is an exciting world of heroes. Legends are being made by great individuals, many who are not even human beings. Some work with the deities, other heroes and heroines fight against them.
Glorantha is colorful and full of magic. Supernatural animals are found, ranging from unicorns to seven types of merfolk and the Goddess of Lions.
Glorantha is immense. If explored, it has different worlds and dimensions, whole realms where Gods, spirits and sorcerous powers come from. Unlike many fantasy settings, Glorantha emphasises religion, myth and belief to a level rarely seen in roleplaying or fantasy fiction elsewhere.
Glorantha shares some fantasy tropes such as dwarves, elves, trolls, giants, but has developed them differently to the more conventional versions based on the work of Tolkien. Dwarves are literally made of stone and exist as manifest rigid inflexible laws of creation, while elves are intelligent, mobile plants. Glorantha is full of surprises.
Glorantha is as deep as you want it to be, or not. Hackers and choppers have what they want, while scholars and mythologists have a vast playground of new stories, legends and myths to enjoy."
The world of Glorantha has various cultures analogous to Earth spread over two major landmasses and a widespread archipelago. The northern continent of Genertela has a feudal society of roughly medieval type to the west, an autocratic Oriental society to the east and a classical style bronze age culture in the center. The southern continent of Pamaltela is somewhat like Africa, but with many variants.
- Astinus, 1998. History of Role-playing: Part III - A golden age emerges.
- Peter Maranci, 2001. History of RuneQuest.
- Greg Stafford, 1997. Why Chaosium is. From Starry Wisdom #1.
- Lokarnos a community portal to Glorantha, based on slashcode.
- WhiteWall Wiki, a community effort to describe the events of the Lunar siege of Whitewall, an Orlanthi stronghold south of Dragon Pass.
Information about game systems based in Glorantha
- PenDragon Pass, the rules for David Dunham's system, which puts the Gloranthan world into the Pendragon Arthurian role-playing system.
- Maximum Game Fun rules for character generation, written up by Michael O'Brien.
- Eleven Years of "Maximum Game Fun" Retrospective comments by Loren Miller on the use of MGF in HeroQuest.
Original Wiki source: Wikipedia