Re: Gloranthan Magic Systems

From: Joerg Baumgartner (
Date: Sun 12 Oct 1997 - 23:56:00 EEST

Chris Bell wrote:

> When I played RQ2 many many moons ago, I had always assumed that Battle
> Magic was a kind of "Sorcery" That was a common, easy kind of Magic that
> anyone could learn.

Too bad that this was changed in the rules of RQ3. A lot of trouble with the
Stygians and Lunar magicians would have been saved if we had kept one common
"low magic"...

Looking at Glorantha, it is sort of hard to find "pure" practitioners of
just one of the three paths (sorcery, shamanism, divine magic plus
temple-taught cult spirit magic). Large regions of Glorantha have varying
degrees of hybridization - Ralios, Maniria, Fronela and Peloria all have
some exposure to sorcery, yet use cults and their magic. Prax doesn't even
have proper theistic cults and combines shamanism with cult magic, and many
other primitive cultures in the regions mentioned above as well. Loskalm
would have pure New Idealist Hrestoli magic (80 years of isolation can do
that), but Junora would already be bastardized; Seshnela has an ancient
tradition of wise-women reaching back to Seshna Likita, and its Brithini
know to manipulate the elemental spirits (aka gods).

Oh so pure Sartar turns out to be a melting pot of God Learner, draconic,
shamanic, traditional and Pelorian notions...

> Back when I was playing RQ2, I
> came up with a 'Wizard' system that allowed western-style wizards to learn
> Battle Magic, make non-variable spells variable, and learn spells that
> were closed to non-wizards (it came out much like the system used for
> ELRIC! magic.) I'm not sure what effect allowing Sorcerors to manipulate
> Battle Magic spells with their Sorcery skills would have on game balance,
> but it's worth thinking about.

It's called "Lunar Magic" in Gods of Glorantha. The effects are gross, as
seems to be intended - after all, you have to become a Red Goddess initiate
first, about as much effort as becoming a Rune Lord, and illuminated.

> In regards to the issue of Magic and Fatigue, it seems to me that in the
> literature that Magicians only get tired from Spellcasting from major
> exertions, and only in 'higher' magics (such as when the legions of Lunar
> priests used their powers to overwhelm the defenses of the Cradle, in the
> Cradle scenario.)

This sounds dangerously close to a free lunch system where anybody and their
cat cast cantrips for nothing. While I myself don't like the magic point as
the atom (i.e. individable smallest unit) of magical energy, I still
maintain that the world's inertia needs to be overcome to work magic of any

In the literature, magic usually tires the magicians when they face some
sort of resistance. Especially when there is some active resistance, like
another magician... RQ3's spirit combat attempts to describe something like
that, but IMO fails because it doesn't offer a useful break-off point short
of slowly tearing away all magic points, of both participants (the victor in
a somewhat fairly matched conflict will be good for nothing after spirit

> If you need a skill factor involved, spells can be learned in discrete
> units, and each spell known can have a percentage attached to it, like
> Sorcery. Depending on what minor initations and HQ's an adventurer has
> performed, he may be very good at some versions of a spell, while crappy
> at others... For example, that Bladesharp 2 that Gunter learned from the
> Wind Spirit on his Initiation Day he may know at 90%, while the more
> powerful Sword Secret he learned while walking the Path of Foes and Death
> at a Humakt Holy site (Bladesharp 5) he may know only at 50%.

Because one spell is at his "cast Orlanth magic" skill, while the other is
at "cast Orlanth associate magic" skill?

One of the (IMO) better ideas tossed about in the RQ4-AiG playtest was to
limit spell knowledge for spirit magic (obtained from temples) with the
degree of initiation the character had. That way, Heal 6 was limited to
Chalana Arroy initiates or associate priests. Likewise Bladesharp and
Humakt, to cover the other spell no character seems to do without.

> Each level of a variable spell would be known as a seperate spell.

I'd hate to see the character sheet (or rather booklet) for this.

> While the best place to
> learn magic may be at Temple, Temples would know longer have a monopoly on
> Spell Teaching, and one could learn whatever special magic is appropriate
> to one's job (I can envision a small shrine to Gustbran in a smithy, where
> one can learn special smith magic, and a small assortment of scrolls
> where the foreman/priest can teach special smith secrets to Gustbran
> Initiates.)

I always thought that the guilds would have temple-like ceremonies to teach
guild magics.

> My advice for everyone is to dust off those old copies of RQ2. IMO, RQ2
> was far closer to Greg's original vision of how magic worked in Glorantha,

I tend to doubt that. Steve Perrin and Ray Turney told a bit about the
origin of RuneQuest on the rules digest (back when such a thing existed),
and it seems they included a couple of nifty ideas, and let Greg explain
them mythically. Like the magic crystals...

Also, when you look at the Sartar campaign note (Dragon's Past) in Wyrm's
Footprints, you might notice that the conception of how to roleplay in
Glorantha has shifted a bit from the mercenary-adventurer type towards the
functional member of the society (like in Pendragon).

That said, I find the Battle Magic concept in RQ2 preferable to the RQ3
shamanistic approach when dealing with civilized cultures (i.e. cultures
having great temples, and cities).

Looking at Greg's most recent publication on magic (Enclosure: Cults of the
Lunar Empire), it seems that he endorses three general approaches to magic -
materialistic, mystical, and religious. The Lunars practice all kinds of
combinations of these approaches, and their neighbours seem to do so as well.

Whatever new magic system will come for Glorantha, it should provide
outlines to cater for such combinations.


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