Delurk, Babs, magic, reminiscences

From: Mr. Tines (tines@windsong.demon.co.uk)
Date: Thu 30 Oct 1997 - 22:00:47 EET


Delurk:
=======

Having by happenstance drifted back into the ambit of
matters Gloranthan under this nym (I departed from Henk's RQ
mailing list, to which I had subscribed under my wage-
slave account, when it became necessary to know what
an Antirius was in order to sensibly contribute to
the discussion), and spend a mind-altering few hours
scanning the last year or so of archives, I guess it's
time to stick my head above the parapet, and
venture some words on recent subjects

Babs:
=====

Mark wrote:
> From time to time people will complain that, say, the cult of
> Babeester Gor gets magic that is way too useful.

Every so often people make this claim, and I never
can believe it. Let's look at those spells

Great Parry - an entirely futile spell, if your Dodge%
exceeds your Shield Parry% : and a sucessful dodge also
means you're not affected by knockback. A waste of 3

permanent POW, if you ask me. [OK, the spell would have
been of use in RQ2, where the Dodge skill didn't
exist, and you could stack Defense with parry, but
the spell didn't get specified under RQ2. This spell
would also be a real bugger to simulate under any other
FRP with which I'm familiar]

Slash - for 3 points of POW, you can emulate Fireblade,
a 4 point battlemagic spell, with the following
benefits i) duration ii) doesn't come off your magic
resistance iii) flexibility of increment. All told, this

probably makes a fair trade, when compared with the
1 Rune = 2 battlemagic standard of Shield

Axe Trance - your axe becomes almost an unlimited level
Bladesharp matrix (you get twice one of the two benefits
of bladesharp for 1 battle magic POW). And here is where
we get to the stuff about magic that was being talked about
in the last week or so.

In my experience, and I'm talking about me here, not you,
prosthetic battlemagic POW has been rarer than hens' teeth;
and with characters not played beyond strong initiate (80-odd
percent in primary skills), rune magic has effectively
been an NPC-only thing. In that context, the lack at RQ3
of RQ2's 4-point-max stacking limit for Rune magic (which
would tame Slash), or the concept that 180-odd points of
battlemagic POW would enable Axe Trance to push your
Axe critical percentage to 95% were purely theoretical -
practice cut in much sooner. Heck, we didn't even
approach the de facto RQ2 limit of 6 points of battlemagic
in one casting, which would be a reasonable limit
to retain.

I played a BG warrior in times gone past, and in
that game, the GM's feeling was that the cult magics
weren't much to write home about - indeed we added
Silence and Invisibility to the list (based on the
material in Wyrms Footnotes - and reprinted in Wyrms
Footprints, page 32, last paragraph but one), to balance the
available repetoire *up* to comparison with the other
warrior cults.

As it happened, the only points of Rune Magic
sacrified for, under the "It's the High Holy Day, and
didn't you ought to be thinking about preparation for
your ordination, dear" persuasion of priestesses were
one point each of Worship and Slash, and those not
intended for actual use, POW being too precious for
casual expenditure.

> Logically,
> they'll say, every warrior would want to join this cult, but
> we know this isn't the case, therefore the write-up is wrong.

Taking your point in the general sense in which I think
you intended it, rather than following the Babsist digression
there are a number of points that can be drawn from it (or at least
different aspects of a central truth)

1) Game balance is in the eye of the beholder :
different playing styles will throw different
biases at different parts of a game system, and
the designer can't expect to cope with them. All
he can hope to do is cope with the style of his
players, and expect that different groups will
make some things more or less valuable than in
the playtest games.

2) Different people have different values :
not everyone wants to join the same cult for much
the same reason that not everyone wants to take
up the same career. This is as true of the players
as it is of the characters, even if we focus down
to the players who want to play warrior characters.
Even the simple trade off of power-now against
power-later (e.g. Humakti gifts vs Axe Trance and
buckets of magic points) will be made in different
ways, if you were to strip the other factors
away entirely.

Nick Brooke responded:

>Arguably, we do only have a short-form writeup of Babs Gor. When
>you see the full writeup (including cannibalism, self-mutilation,
>and the terribly constrained life the Holy Avengers must lead),
>you'd probably see better how it works.

It's fairly obvious that the Axe Maidens indulge in
major scarification, tattooing and other bod-mod; though
we never settled the issue of whether hair was cropped,
braided or just left wild and matted with mud.

But OTOH, BG is by no means the only cult that could be
interpreted in a fashion that would take all personal
freedom away from the initiate - a Sun Dome Templar
would be spending all his time squarebashing, for
example, if that was the approach you wanted to take.

One aspect that we played up was the connection with
Voria (ibid) : as well as time spent standing sentry
duty at the Ernalda shrine occupying time "at home",
the first thing to do on return was the ritual
purification from the Voria priestess, and being
on call to help in nursery duties (= changing nappies,
probably laundering them as well, and being clambered
over by small children - and having to put up with
it).

>Vingans, Humakti and Storm Bulls get more fun than Babs Gori. That's
>why their magic isn't as good.

Well, Vinga's name hadn't been uttered - or at least hadn't
seen print - back in '88 when that particular game began, so
really wasn't an available option. And as we considered the
magical advantage to be the other way round, then we could
argue that Babsi should get more fun. Besides, Humakti and
Storm Bullies are likely to be safe from nursery duty!

Magic (and what a new system might do):
=======================================

As we have seen above, two different groups playing from the
same set of rules can come to radically different
interpretations. Thus any one person's re-engineer and
rebuild, even if it preserves the overall effect for his
own use, is likely to cause major upheavals for others.

Over the years I've used the existing RQ magic system as
a touchstone to see whether other "generic" magic systems
can cope, and the results are usually not good. Point
systems find it difficult to cope with things like the
Humakti reusable Sever Spirit costing the same as other
death cults one-use version; or with trying to make all
the Transform Head spells come out the same (if they
can cope with them at all : the Telmor and Basmol versions
are easy, albeit usually costing different amounts, but
I've yet to see one that can cope with the Gorakiki-Bee
variant).

Personally, I feel that the current approach with its
game-world-relevant features - like the Sever Spirit
or Transform Head examples - is likely to be a better
starting point than Hero style modularity.

Reminiscences:
==============

Often, in Gloranthan matters, these days, I feel like one
of those characters lurking in odd corners of Glorantha who
can remember previous Ages, when Things Were Very Different.

I miss the good old days when, armed with RQ2's main
material, and based mainly on hints and the styles of
armour that it was perfectly consistent to model the
Lunar Empire as the Persians, the Sartarites as the Athenians
and their allies (with Orlanth=Zeus), the Sun Dome Templars
as Spartans, and the Praxians as Bedouin. That was certainly
how we played it when we used the Borderlands material - a
bunch of Sartarite Orlanthi (and one mad Humakti) with Greek
names, bargaining with unsavoury Arab types in the Horn
Gate bazaar still remain fondly lodged in my memory.

Does such thing as a bazaar even exist in the canonical
Horn Gate?

You could do that sort of thing back then and still
meaningfully communicate with other cognoscenti (I recall
one campaign in which the visualisation of Sartar was
based on Achaemenid Persia, for example, but from which
one could draw usuable - even if, as it turned out,
completely different saving the name from canon - cults,
locations and the like).

Even though my visualisation of what is a Glorantha and
the revealed canon have drifted apart[*] (though the camapign
in which I played the Babsi discussed above accepted that
Sartar was vaguely north-west European), to the extent that
I would now merely use elements of it in any fantasy game
I were to run [and not only because my players would
greet any suggestions to use it raw because i) they loathe
the random skill gain rules from RQ, as merely the most
prominent misfeature of the system and ii) they most
emphatically don't want to play Stone-Age barbarians
(Balazar) or Red Indians (Prax), and if they were interested
in celidhs, they'd go to one for real (Sartar)], it is still
a world to which I return to draw from again and again,
primarily for what it is not.

It is not a sink of cliches that were fresh when Tolkien
assembled them but which have been recycled via schlock
fantasy fiction and RPG commonplace in ever decreasing circles
(the "elves" aren't the standard issue Aryan Uebermensch,
for example).

It is not a round world subject to modern astrophysics
with magic and/or gods bolted on (a particular suspension
of disbelief destroyer for me, having been an
astrophysicist at one time). What really suprises me
is how many fantasy worlds do follow the "Copernicus
plus magic" route and the general lack of fantastickal
cosmologies in RPG settings. But then I guess I'm an
odd fish ; I'm much happier seeing a complete rewrite
of physics (indeed to the extent that the quasi-scientific
rather than outright mystical explanation of troll
digestion in the dissection page in the original Trollpak
disappointed me) than I am to see disregard for the
laws of economics.

[*] though I had some material in early issues of TotRM,
under my meat name, it soon became clear that the party
line and I had essentially no common ground left in which
I could pitch further submissions.
                
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