Map of Glorantha by Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan
|RuneQuest, etc. location|
|Notable locations||Genertela, Pamaltela|
Glorantha is a fantasy world created by Greg Stafford. It was first introduced in the board game White Bear and Red Moon (1975) by Chaosium, and thereafter in a number of other board, roleplaying and computer games. These include RuneQuest (1st ed. 1978), Hero Wars (1st ed. 2000) and HeroQuest (1st ed. 2003, 2nd ed. 2009), as well as several works of fiction and the computer strategy game King of Dragon Pass. The Gloranthan world is characterised by its complex use of mythology, heavily influenced by the universalist approaches of Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade, its Howardian ethos, its long and distinctive history as a setting for role-playing games, its community development and expansion, and (unusual among early American fantasy role-playing games) its relative lack of Tolkienesque influence.
Stafford began imagining Glorantha in 1966 as a way to deepen his own understanding of mythology. He founded the company Chaosium to publish the board wargame White Bear and Red Moon in 1974 (other sources say 1975), which was set in Glorantha. Chaosium later published other games in the setting, including the critically acclaimed RuneQuest. Various later editions of RuneQuest, the narrative role-playing game HeroQuest (the first edition of which was published as Hero Wars), and the video game King of Dragon Pass were also set in Glorantha, as were several prominent fan efforts. Stafford has also explored the Gloranthan setting in the fantasy novel King of Sartar and a number of unfinished works published under the collective name of "the Stafford Library".
In Glorantha, magic operates from the everyday level of prayers and charms to the creation and maintenance of the world. Heroes make their way in the world, and may also venture into metaphysical realms to gain knowledge and power, at the risk of body and soul. In the more recent material competing magical outlooks, such as theism, shamanism and mysticism, exist to explain the world. Within each metaphysical system, adherents may also compete - such as when theistic worshipers of rival gods battle each other. The world is flat, with a dome-like sky, and it has been shaped in large and small ways by the mythic actions of the gods. The 'historical' world of Glorantha is in a more or less fallen state, having recovered only partially from a universal battle against Chaos in the mythic Godtime.
Humans are the dominant race, but other sentient beings abound. Some, such as the mystic dragonewts, are unique to Glorantha. Familiar nonhuman races, such as elves and dwarves, are distinct from their common, Tolkienesque portrayals.
Glorantha has been, so far, the background for two board-games (White Bear and Red Moon/Dragon Pass and Nomad Gods), two role-playing games (RuneQuest and HeroQuest), one video game (King of Dragon Pass), one comic book series (Path of the Damned), five novels or collections of fiction (King of Sartar by Greg Stafford, The Collected/Complete Griselda by Oliver Dickinson, Gloranthan Visions by various authors, and The Widow's Tale and Eurhol's Vale & Other Tales by Penelope Love), and numerous pieces of myth and fiction created by the Glorantha community, featuring in magazines such as Tales of the Reaching Moon. Several hundred gaming miniatures by various licensees and about a dozen plush toys have also been produced at various times.
History of the Gloranthan game world
Unlike Dungeons & 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.
Stafford's first imaginings of Glorantha date back to 1966, when he began his studies at Beloit 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 Campbell's 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 civilized Lunar Empire, and filled out the area of Dragon Pass; the game has undergone several reissues since that time.
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-worshiping tribes of Prax, a cursed land to the east of Dragon Pass. A French language edition was published by Oriflam under license from Chaosium under the name Les Dieux Nomades in 1994.
The first edition of the role-playing game RuneQuest was released in 1978. On the back cover of this edition, the game world was called "Glorontha" (sic). Several later editions were made; the second edition ("RuneQuest 2") in 1979 introduced many sophisticated game aids, such as Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror, and highly polished campaign packs, such as Griffin Mountain. Using materials such as Cults of Prax, players aligned their characters with any of several distinct religions, grounding those characters in the political, cultural, and metaphysical conflicts of Glorantha. Each religion offered a distinct worldview and cultural outlook, none of which are objectively correct. This approach of offering competing mythical histories and value systems continues in current Glorantha material. Cults of Terror focused on the worship of evil gods and adversaries, such as Vivamort, a vampire cult, and Lunar and Chaos cults.
In an attempt to leverage the power of a much bigger gaming company, a third edition, RuneQuest 3, was published with Avalon Hill in 1984. This edition both loosened the connection between RuneQuest and Glorantha, introducing 'Fantasy Europe' as the principal game world for RuneQuest, and much broadened the scope of Glorantha, which was treated as an alternative game world. 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 4 rules, called RuneQuest:Slayers, was written but never published. It has since been renamed RuneSlayers and released as a free download; it is not set in Glorantha.
During this period of breakdown, Glorantha continued to evolve. 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 eighty participants. The video 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 area of Dragon Pass, and featured the first compelling public view of Stafford's ideas about the hero quest. 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.
In recent years, Gloranthan gaming has been supported by two game systems: the HeroQuest game system, originally published by Issaries, Inc. and now available from Moon Design Publications, and RuneQuest, originally published by Mongoose Publishing and now available from The Design Mechanism.
The HeroQuest 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 fit Glorantha far better than RuneQuest. A rewritten second edition was published in Spring 2009 by Moon Design Publications, and is being supported with comprehensive Gloranthan sourcebooks: Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes (2009), Sartar Companion (2010) and Pavis: Gateway to Adventure (2012).
The RuneQuest game system was licensed to Mongoose Publishing by Issaries, allowing Mongoose to publish material concerning the little-explored Second Age of Gloranthan history. Their new fourth edition (Mongoose RuneQuest / MRQ) debuted in August 2006, with many Gloranthan supplements following. A fifth edition (Mongoose RuneQuest II / MRQ2) was published in January 2010, but Mongoose Publishing's licence for Gloranthan material lapsed in May 2011. The RuneQuest II game system has been retitled "Legend", and contains no Gloranthan material. A new company, The Design Mechanism, was formed by the authors of RuneQuest II, and ownership of the Gloranthan supplements produced for the "RuneQuest II" line was transferred to them (PDF versions continue to be sold). There are close links between The Design Mechanism and Moon Design Publications, with The Design Mechanism founders writing material for both companies. A new sixth edition of the RuneQuest rules, RuneQuest 6 (RQ6), was published in August 2012, but no Gloranthan material has yet been published.
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 role-playing 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 caste society of roughly Vedic 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 differences.
Specifically Gloranthan creatures
Broos are creatures of chaos. As a result of their ability to mate with anything, they have the body of a man and features of their animal parent, often deer, goats, antelope, cattle, and sheep. The animal parent normally dies with the child eating its way out of the host at full gestation. They worship Malia, the Mother of Disease, and Thed, the goddess of rape and mother of Chaos.
Scorpionmen are belligerent folk, who look like a sort of scorpion-human centaur.They are described as stupid, vicious and live in violent matriarchies with a religious emphasis on devouring. They are chaotic in nature.
Ducks or Durulz are large intelligent ducks with arms instead of wings (or men cursed with feathers and webbed feet, depending on your point of view). They reside around rivers, mainly in Sartar, and have an unexplained mystical affinity with Death.
Aldryami are Gloranthan plantmen, nature and sun worshipping—mainly worshipping Aldrya, deity of plants. Unlike Tolkienesque elves, they are alien, physically plant-like and often hostile to normal humans ("meat men'"). Like many other fictional elf races, they are excellent archers.
Mostali are a machine-like dwarf race, extremely xenophobic, orthodox and insular. Inventors of iron, which has many extraordinary magical properties in Glorantha, contrasting to the primary metal used bronze.
Uz, the trolls, are the race of darkness, large, intelligent, astoundingly omnivorous, with a very developed sonar-like sense (darksense). Their societies are matriarchal, and they worship, among others, a goddess of darkness called Kyger Litor, mother of the Trolls, and the more violent and sinister Zorak Zoran.
Dragonewts are a magical race who comprise several forms of neotenic dragons, engaged in a cycle of self-improving reincarnation. They are extremely alien with an incomprehensible mindset. They must have oral surgery in order to speak human languages.
- 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.
- Greg Stafford and Jeff Richard (2012). Sartar Companion 2nd Ed. Moon Design Publications. ISBN 978-0-85774-105-8