Your Glorantha MUST Vary

In which Berra says some stuff about the phrase ‘your Glorantha will vary’ and why her Amber always varies.

I am not a Glorantha GM

… But that’s OK. I’m a GM, and I love this world. I don’t identify with it enough to try to own it, though. I’ll fight you if you try to, as well.

The first RPG I ever ran was Amber Diceless RPG. In its various forms and settings, I have run a game of some sort from when I was about 13, for about 20 years. A big thing I learned was that I’ll have players coming back to new campaigns, and I need to keep it fresh. My first campaign was a long monster, and while arcs got finished, it eventually died creaking under the weight of history. I’d tried to keep things the same, and it was all a steady universe… and it was inaccessible. Most of it was useless, in the end, because it was not in the immediate scene being played.

Now, that’s fine, because the players were used to it, but then I started a new campaign, and I found I had so much old thinking I had to get rid of. I made a conscious choice to make a change in every campaign and mix it up.

For those who do not know Amber, it is a game about a royal family, and their terrible inter-personal relationships, and their lack of communication. It’s also ostensibly about massive multi-universe play, but a lot of it comes down to one castle on a mountain. I’d read a post on the Amber eMail list saying that a way to keep the game fresh was to randomly draw how these people were related to each other, and while I’ve never done that, I definitely would. So thanks to you, whoever that was. It’s been too long to recall, but it changed how I GM.

My favourite games after this have all changed something. Some have changed the cosmology, some have changed the family. One memorable one had Prince Benedict, the ultimate general and swordsman, die as a baby, when his mother died giving birth. The knock-on result was that his brothers, Osric and Finndo, never rebelled against their father, and Creepy Osric and his Pet Morgue were born. That game also gave me the correct collective noun for dragons; a disaster.

The Oberon who ate his children’s souls for power was also very good fun.

Which brings us to…

I’m not a Glorantha GM but I GM Glorantha

The new RQG is the only version of Runequest, Heroquest, or Glorantha I have ever played or GMd. This is a world, and a game, that has been in continuous development for 40 years, with literally thousands of people having ideas filtered in. It’s impossible to nail it all down, and while there is a canon, it’s big.

It’s also a suggestion. From the very start, I’ve been told ‘YGWV’. Your Glorantha Will Vary.

I get a bit salty1 when people say a thing must have happened, because it’s been written down previously. Glorantha is a game where we are positively encouraged to make our own path and explore our own way. Being afraid of changing the setting because someone else will pull you up on it means you’re missing out. But the good news is, they are wrong. This is YOUR game. YOUR Glorantha may, and will, and must, vary.

As far as I can see the ‘canon’ as written is this:

This is an old D&D werewolf. I couldn’t find the REALLY pixelated black and white werewolf against the moon I have on paper. It’s too old for the internet, apparently. I was given it by my first GM, back when I was 12. And…

It’s … not good. It was the best available at the time, and kudos to the artist, but objectively, compared to what we can print now, and the artists available, it’s not good. It’s got value to me because of what it means, but it’s a really limited bit of art, and if I stuck to that era, I’d be limited too. Games grow, and art gets better, and our setting also gets better, and we change and things are awesome that way. Ideas for history in RPGs also change. Thank heavens Uleria is being given her dues.

I like to think of different issues of RPGs as having different version numbers. You might WANT your software to work without updates, but it’s going to collapse as operating systems move on. A major change means you can’t rely on the whole thing working the same any more. A major change usually means that the software is better.2 Sometimes you need to break compatability to introduce a good thing, and that is fine. Rather than thinking about the now, and trying to defend it, think about the ten-years-from-now and how awesome it could be.

It could be this:

I can’t say it makes me angry that people love the game so much they love older versions of it; I’m far too lazy for that. However, I do want everyone to be able to play with a full-colour creative commons version of the game, and I don’t want them to have to fight their way past the black and white version to prove themselves. I can, if I like, choose to accept that there are multiple people called Argrath. I like that idea. But I don’t have to. It’s easier to fight my first werewolf if this is not the case, and then afterwards I can pick up that idea and laugh over it and go ‘that is so Glorantha’. But there IS no one Glorantha, so it’s OK if I also don’t do that. What there are is multiple possibilities, and every time everyone runs a campaign, perforce it will be different.

So… screw the notion of a canonical spine. Or don’t if you don’t want to. Your game, your rules. But if someone is telling you that you need to cling to their interpretation of the setting, and they are not GMing, they are wrong. Dictating what one game is like based on another game is weird, when you think about it.

You’re allowed to go along with it, but you’re also allowed to give them a flat stare, invite them to consider Genesis 9:73, or get them to roll on their Lore to find out if what they are saying is correct, and maybe even change it if they hit their roll.

But what you should probably do is make sure they know beforehand that this is YOUR Glorantha, and if they know things that are canonical, those might be wrong, and then invite them to explore the new place, together. The same Amberite family has given me 20 years of new, fresh RP, because I’ve mixed it up. That’s one family. One Clan, or one Kingdom, could give you just the same, and any things you think you learned along the way can be rumour, or hope, or an interesting story. If you let history dictate to you, then your games are sad, black and white werewolves in the snow. Be a coloured werewolf of glory. It’s a feature, not a bug, that Glorantha changes. It’s a feature, not a bug, that history is different in each game.

Perforce, your Glorantha will vary. Whether you’re a black and white werewolf afficionado, or currently building a 3D model of a werewolf, when it is your Glorantha, you get to be in charge, and when it is not, be generous about watching people with their colouring pencils. They are not taking away your game, they are adding to the world.

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