Re: Magic, Sorcery, etc.

From: Nick Brooke (
Date: Tue 28 Oct 1997 - 12:00:26 EET

Jean had a lovely piece on magical ecology, which I crudely summarise:

        Wizard This is just a carrot.
        Priest This is a fragment of the Carrot God.
        Shaman This is the host body of a carrot spirit.
        Mystic I am the carrot.

Mark asks about the cover for RQ4:AiG.

> It showed the awakening of the dragon that destroyed the Temple of
> the Reaching Moon in Sartar, and IMO it was beautiful.

Mine, too.

> Is there any chance at all we'll get to see this somewhere, either
> on Chaosium's Glorantha: the Game or on Avalon Hill's RQ4 (assuming
> that the latter is even still in the works)?

I'd like to hope we'll see it some time, somehow. It's rather unlikely
AH will use such an explicitly Gloranthan cover for a completely non-
Gloranthan edition of the game; then again, it wouldn't be the first
time they'd been stupid.

I believe RQ4 *will* happen, and *won't* look much like previous games
called "RuneQuest". At this point, AH are more interested in the name
"RuneQuest" (which they own) than anything else, inc. backward compati-
bility, established fan base, etc. etc. Not very surprising, as they
don't have Glorantha any more.

Magic, passim

The argument that POW and MP are "flavoured" at source, then given yet
a further spin by the cult you join, and finally by the specific spells
you learn or sacrifice for, seems unnecessarily complex. I cannot see
any great game joy arising from this approach. It seems safer to treat
POW/mana/life force (cf. Gloranthan essays past) as a universal constant,=

equal in value whether generated by a troll, human, hippopotamus or what-=

ever. What you can *do* with your POW is then determined by culture and
cult membership.

Although the idea of making spirit magic "common" to all the major forms
of religion has the virtue of simplicity, it has the vice of inaccuracy.
It is fairly well established (though I cannot find the quotes right now)=

that in the West, magic is deliberately concentrated into the hands of
specialists -- the Wizards/Sorcerers -- and that peasants are *not* meant=

to have access to the same degree of contact with the otherworld -- read:=

spirit magics, fertility rituals, etc. -- unless this is "mediated" by a
Malkioni priest/wizard.

Now, you *can* run this by giving Malkioni peasants the same type of
magic used elsewhere in Glorantha, but just not giving them so much of
it (for cultural reasons), and/or by differentiating between the casting
chances or effects of magic based on its origin ("Is that a Sorcerous,
a Divine or a Shamanic 'Disruption' you're casting?"). I understand
this is the latest "Folk Magic" proposal, and agree it *could* work --
though it'll need work checking the provenance of anyone's spells.

Or you *can* do it by giving them a magic system that makes low-skilled,
un-manipulated Sorcery spells pretty much useless, so they have crappy
magic. "Peasant spells" are then those which inherently last a long time
without Duration or have a useful effect without Intensity -- you'll find=

one of these in Tales #13's Hrestoli sect writeup. Naughty peasants may
learn more effective "pagan" spells, and can be persecuted ruthlessly if
caught employing these ungodly magics (which look and feel different).

The latter, of course, is the current RQ approach. It's not perfect --
we all have problems with Sorcery, and Sandy's proposed new rules are a
great leap forwards in many regards. But it *does* have the advantage of
not being arbitrary, and of presenting the distinctively different flavou=
of magic in the West.

My own biggest problem with Sorcery is the lack of cultural and social
context. As presented in RQ3, Sorcery is something loners get up to in
remote towers, assisted by their apprentices. As we know from Glorantha,

Sorcery is the magic of the mainstream religion of the West, complete
with cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and
participation by masses of believing peasants and townsfolk in great
clerical rituals.

But why?

Until we get the sorcerous equivalents of "Bless Crops", "City Harmony",
"Summon Worshippers", etc., it is hard to see how being able to animate
bronze, or fires, or the undead, plays a great part in everyday life.

My own theories run along two tracks.

One is that great Malkioni rituals act to "damp down" other forms of
magic in the vicinity: this could be a mile around a village chapel on
God's-Days only, or say a dozen miles around a cathedral at all times.
The effect would be a negative percentile chance (or increased cost,
or other disadvantage) applied to *all* non-Sorcerous magic use within
the radius of Wizardly blessing. The Gloranthan explanation is that
worship of the Invisible God, by reinforcing the rule of natural Law
(as manipulated by Sorcery), prevents the incursion of non-sorcerous
magics. (I freely confess that this is lifted from the "Ars Magica"
mechanic of the Dominion of the Church, though with the interesting
twist that the Wizards here are the beneficiaries of this effect).
I suggest damping-down other magic rather than souping-up their own
(a la Glowline) because it's a better way of annoying non-Malkioni
in the West; the rationale would be similar if you chose to go the
other way and reinforce Sorcery-use in Malkioni lands.

The other is that Malkioni congregrations power great ritual spells,
in a way similar to that performed by other temple gatherings. And we
don't have rules for this among the Rune Magic and Spirit Magic using
cultures, beyond the requirement for a certain size of congregation
in order to summon spirits or obtain Rune Spells. Here, a "social"
Wizard with a loyal congregation will perform magics to regulate the
seasons, the weather, the harvest, the piety and loyalty of the flock.
This is perhaps the most important contribution Malkioni religion can
make to the lands of the West, and it's a shame we have no idea how
it works there or elsewhere in the present rules.

Another couple of thoughts, unrelated but corroborative. It's been
established that the "greyness" of Arolanit (cf. Genertela Book) is
because the pervasive presence of Brithini sorcery has (in some way)
Tapped the ambient environment. And in one of Greg's early Gloranthan
stories, the companions of a Wizard riding forth on a quest volunteer
to have their life-force drained if this will help power his magics,
after he has exerted himself on their behalf.

And I'd love to see suggestions for a noun/verb runic Sorcery system,
filched from Ars Magica. Nouns: element or form runes (Fire, Man,
Spirit); verbs: power runes (Move, Grow, Destroy); cf. Ars Magica for
the rest, and ask someone who plays that game how the system works in
practice -- I've only seen it in books.

(And, while I'm sorcery-ing -- doesn't it seem odd that "reliable",
"scientific" defensive sorcery has to use the Resistance Table to =

ward off damage/magic/spirits, while "clunky", "back-woods" spirit
magic equivalents are automatically effective?

On spell naming, a practical point. I agree with everyone who says,
for all the right reasons, that it's fun to rename spells with more
appropriate names for different cultures, cults or users. (My own
character Big Hralf had his Big Shout, a rather impressive Demoralise).

*BUT* please remember that out in GM- and supplement-land, all spell
variants (however interesting and colourful) are going to have the same
name, similar mechanics, and be easily recognisable in print. We can
write essays about how to soup up the background colour of the magic
rules, but we can't usefully get to a stage where the GM has to work out
what the colourful, cultural and apposite spell-name some author has
grafted onto a character-sheet actually *means*. This is something we
players can do for fun, and GMs can do in their own campaigns for all
the right reasons, but there has to be a checkpoint -- I'd suggest the
cult and character-sheet writeups -- where the weirdness is stripped
away and the spell name is given. Albeit with an alias, if preferred:
I liked the list of Basmoli spell-effects in Tales #13, and have always
enjoyed seeing Ironclaw, Clawsharp, Furstiff, etc. for our furry brethren=

Stephen asks:

> How else would humans have survived so long through the Gods War and
> Chaos Wars, unless they were intrinsically magical?

Repeat for all other Gloranthan species, objects and phenomena, until
you realise that Glorantha is intrinsically magical.



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