Greg on Magic in Glorantha

From: Stephen P Martin (
Date: Sun 04 May 1997 - 02:27:10 EEST

To All:

Well, I said I'd post it, so here it is. I just wish I still had it on
disk, so I didn't have to type it all in. Note that this was written by
Greg in the fall of 1993, to be used in the Prospectus of Heroes of the
King. As such, it is not exactly official, but represents his feelings
about this at the time. I believe his main concern was to prevent the
stories submitted from being too much like RuneQuest adventures. Also
note that I am only including the two sections which dealt with magic and

Fictional protagonists may not be normal, everyday people. Nonetheless,
most folks are this mundane, and their composite average provides the
standard by which the unusual (your characters) are judged. So I give
some averages here.

The average Sartarite clansman or woman has three or four Enhancement
spells which are used probably every day. These are things for starting
fires, hammering, or whatever reperitive work is likely to be usefully
enhanced. Alternately, something which is usually chancey but likely to
happen only occasionally or quickly (shooting at a deer you've been
stalking) might have these normal Enhancements to them. Using these
everyday magics is almost always successful.

Most people have a secondary set of spells, too, which they are likely to
need but not every day. These are less likely to be successfully applied
(along with the work being done). (I.e., a First Aid spell applied while
binding a wound.)

These are pretty much personal things, done for oneself and one's family
and friends. They are learned upon initiation, and among the Orlanthi
clan community most useful spells are known by a few of the people.

Using any of those magics causes people to tire.

Miraculous spells are known by holy folk. Almost anyone who fits within
the community has something divine which touches them. Most people use it
only at the appropriate holy days, of course, to link up with their deity
and empower it with their personal attention.

People with particularly strong links to specific deities (godi, or
priests if full time) are capable of manifesting that deity in this
world. The precise form of the manifestation varies within certain
parameters for each deity. Thus, the Thunder God, the most widespread and
popular deity of the people, has a large number of potential
manifestations which range from a great wind which can pick things up and
move them, destroying lightning blasts, blessing gentle rains, and so on.

Holy people are judged by the magnitude and consistency of their divine
powers. Mere office holders are rare among the Sartarites.

Battle Magic: These spells are not always successful, nor simply based on
some statistic. They work more quickly and efficiently when they are used
often (thus, a Humakti's Bladesharp is probably more likely to work than
an Orlanthi's). They require some time to cast. They have visual effects

to people who can see the magical energies of the world.

Rune Spells: These all require some standard environmental settings to
work. Sunspear cannot work when the sun is down. Thunderbolt (blasting
down from the clouds) cannot work without dense clouds in the sky. Also,
ALL Rune Magic requires that the individual conform to cult ideals for
the spells to work. A gentle, non-lethal Humakti would lose access to his
divine magic.

Divine Intervention is far less accessible than in the RuneQuest game,
and cannot be used as a generalized "wish" spell. The gods can only do
what they do. Transporting folks from a disaster is not what most of them
can do.

It is not necessary to have specific spells, as in RuneQuest. In general,
priests ae dedicated to a single deity, whose supernatural feats can be
reproduced on a minor level by invoking their internal power. Orlanthi
can then use any of the listed Orlanthi "spells." The relative success
depends solely upon the dedication of the individual to the deity.
Someone who has spent years living an exemplary life will access more
powerful effects than a newcomer who is half-hearted. For instance, an
old faithful Orlanthi priest can summon up a huge wind, while a part-time
acolyte can get only a breeze.

Death is more common than in RuneQuest. Resurrection of individuals is
very difficult. Coming back from the dead is a big deal. Most folks do
not do it. The relative availability in RuneQuest is a game convention
contrary to my Gloranthan vision. In fact, many people who do come back
at all have the "Dead Sickness," which means they are listless and lost
in life, some part of them (perhaps) remaining dead after all. Others
join HUmakt afterwards, even if they had no inclination beforehand.

Finally, combat is as it happens on earth, not as in RuneQuest. Pain and
shock are real, and they will cause individuals to fall unconscious long
before their entire life force (Hit Points) are extinguished. Pain
interferes with successful combat and magic use.

Finally, magic requires more time than is apparent from the RuneQuest
game. Most personal magic casting requires a focus, spoken words, and
gestures. Even divine magic takes some time to prepare and cast. Magic
can not be cast in secret.

Well that's it -- I hope it fires the fuels of debate for some time to
come. And I'm sorry I didn't post it a long time ago, when it became
apparent to me that Heroes of the King was on hold, since it was
originally intended that this material would be incorporated into the
Introduction or some other part of that book.

Stephen Martin
- -----------------------------------------------
The Book of Drastic Resolutions


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