Glorantha Digest: Re Blank Balstor (long)

Re Blank Balstor (long)

From: richard (richard.develyn@nwpeople.com)
Date: Thu 29 Jan 1998 - 20:24:35 EET


This is, Im afraid, a very long post. I would suggest you try to answer
it as a whole, rather than in sections. Up to you, of course.

Introduction

There are, AFAIK, no hard and fast rules defining what a Campaign Module
should have in it, any more than there are rules defining what should be
present in individual scenarios. Different game worlds have set for
themselves different standards.

I have come to expect certain things from a Campaign Module. I dont
think my expectations are unreasonable and I think other people probably
share them. I cant be sure of this, but what I would like to do with
this post is:

First, describe these expectations and try to persuade you that they are
reasonable. If we get here then I would like to call these expectations
minimal requirements (a logical point you might argue with: "reasonable
widely held expectations" = "minimal requirements").

Second, illustrate how two Glorantha modules, "River of Cradles" and
"Sun County", may have failed to meet these requirements. I say "may"
because Im suspicious rather than sure. Please bear with me.

Third, if we get here, would be a feeling that I was likely to have my
requirements met by future Gloranthan publications. Im only really
hoping to get this by persuading the people in charge to be on my side -
Im not asking for any promises or assurances.

Finally I would like some help filling in the areas where requirements
have not been met.

My Expectations (using Gloranthan examples)

Things are rarely black and white and this is no exception. Im going to
define a measure which I shall call GM-friendliness, and Im going to
describe the sorts of thing which make a campaign module more
GM-friendly and less GM-friendly. I also want to give an idea of the
level of GM-friendliness which I think campaign modules should have, a
level which I hope youll agree with.

Let me stress now that GM-friendliness, as I am defining it here, is not
in any way the only, or indeed the most important, measurement you could
take. I do think its important enough that it should form part of a
requirement.

This is what it is: Im a GM, I buy a campaign module and I want it to
be friendly to me. What am I expecting from the thing?

Primarily, Im expecting it to give me sufficient information to be able
to run a campaign in the area (however large or small) that it covers.
However, it should not be so prescriptive that my PCs are unable to act
effectively within it.

Secondarily, Im expecting it to be part of a bigger picture, so that
any other campaign module or scenario that I buy will tie in with it.

This comes to three expectations: "sufficiency", "flexibility" and
"cohesion".

Sufficiency

GM-friendly modules dont hide important things from me.

They tell me about all the major personalities and locations in their
area. If the campaign includes a time-line then they tell me about the
major events that have happened there in the past, ones that are about
to happen, and how the major personalities / locations were affected and
are likely to be affected. I dont expect lots of detail, just the key

facts.

Omissions dont tend to "come out" until some later publication appears.
It causes problems and embarrassments. Some possible examples from
Glorantha:

"You know that sleepy little town Garhound where you had that Chaos bash
last month, well actually they have this enormous contest there every
year and it isnt like I described at all..."

"Youre floating down on this cradle thing past Harpoon and, erm, you
know some months back you managed to completely wreck their harpoon,
well, somehow, its all fixed now and theyre using it against you..."

"These travelers arrive in Pavis from Sartar. They tell you all about
how the Lunar empire has been pushed back and how it all started right
here with this cradle floating past. It was a really big event - you
mustve been drunk or something at the time."

"You know that thriving dwarf community, Dwarf Knoll, well, actually,
its an oasis with one dwarf statue on a hill, and those tunnels you
went adventuring in are sort of next to these other tunnels that you
really dont want to go into..."

Ok, you could say that Im deliberately making these problems as big as
possible, grant me license to exaggerate by way of illustration. Theres
no doubt that I could work around them in some sensible manner, however
GM-friendly campaign modules try not to trip me up this way.

I would like to ask you, BTW, not to treat the examples as the problem.
The problem is a general one. The examples illustrate my *suspicions* as
to where this might be happening with Glorantha.

It is possible to go too far the other way. This leads to...

Flexibility

GM-friendly modules have opportunities for characters to perform
significant deeds within them.

Im not sure whether this is a problem with Glorantha, since it is
possible to alleviate this by decreasing Cohesion. This is where my
discussions started, since I thought there wasnt much flexibility so I
started suggesting Blank Heroes / Events. People then told me this would
either cause too much Cohesion, or that there wasnt enough Cohesion for
this to be an issue. More on this later.

The important thing to note is that taking the Sufficiency argument to
extreme yields an Inflexible module, taking Flexibility to extreme
yields an Insufficient module (everything left to the GM to sort out).
My measurement of GM-friendliness means getting this balance right. It
doesnt mean I want to have my cake and eat it.

More on Gloranthan Modules

A little bit more discussion on "River of Cradles" and "Sun County".

If there are interesting things happening in the other River of Cradles
or Sun County locations I wouldve liked a sentence or two describing
them. There are lots of places mentioned on the map without a single
word of explanation inside. A recent post from Nick has done a lot to
reassure me about Sun County - again I need to revisit this.

I would have liked to have had a brief description of the Giant Cradle
scenario. Missing this out in River has singly been the most significant

cause in setting me off on these discussions.

The case with Arlaten in Strangers is interesting, in that I would only
have wanted to have known about him in River if he was a "notable"
character. An effectively random sorcerer form the West arriving in
Pavis is good scenario stuff, not necessary to know for a campaign. This
is true of all 3 Strangers scenarios.

The pirate ducks in Zola Fel is, on reflection, something I would have
liked to have known about, since I think it provides a significant
detail about adventures in that area. Its an arguable point, but I
think their effect goes beyond the scenario level.

Sufficiency / Flexibility Conclusions

If I was writing a campaign module which I wanted to be GM-friendly, I
would consider my target audience (GMs) and ask myself:

Have I explained enough about the area to convey true feeling of its
atmosphere? ITS atmosphere, BTW, not AN atmosphere (again, see
Cohesion).

Have I left any holes which are likely to mislead the GM? Have I omitted
anything which is likely to make him go wrong as far as the intended
flavor of the area is concerned? Have I omitted anything which is likely
to trip him up when future scenarios are published?

Taking these points to extreme would make campaign module writing an
impossible task. Writers are not mind-readers, they cannot imagine how
their writing will be interpreted. This, however, does not excuse the
writer from completely neglecting the questions above, it just indicates
that a judgment must be made. Getting that judgment right is the key to
GM-friendliness.

Please do not think that I am trying to impose my judgment on others. I
am trying to convince, not impose.

Writers are no more fortune-tellers than mind-readers, and I accept that
there may be areas within published campaign modules which they would
like to re-visit and embellish at a later date. It would be GM-friendly
to at least consider how a GM might have dealt with an effectively blank
area, if at all possible, when writing the new details. Life is made
easier still if some sort of clue can be given at the time the campaign
module is given out.

Cohesion

The best campaign modules, IMO, are ones which form part of a richly
detailed, highly believable, BIG PICTURE. This is just like the
Sufficiency / Flexibility points but taken across many modules. Again,
there are two extremes, and the GM-friendly modules are the ones that
are best at getting the balance right.

Badly cohesive modules can be either contradictory, incompletely or
tenuously linked or even not linked at all. Campaign modules "give up
the ghost" when they become just a grab-bag of ideas which you, as GM,
have to try to fit into your own world. Theres lots of ways around
this, and the number which have been suggested to me give the impression
that Glorantha has lost some of its Cohesion. Examples were:

Using a time or place where main events do not take place.
Treating campaign material as "questionable" (multiple Argraths, etc).
Choosing between contradicting events myself, filling in the gaps where
necessary.

This sort of thing makes me feel that nobody really knows whats going
on here, and its all a bit of a free for all. Unfortunately, what Im

trying to present to my players is a campaign that does make sense, so
the published material is less helpful to me because it hasnt taken
care of the big picture. I can work with it, but its less GM-friendly.

Overly cohesive modules are just as bad - and I wouldnt want to see
Harn style stuff either.

I always thought Glorantha was cohesive. Its only been brought into
question by my asking about sufficiency and flexibility. I feel Ive
been told time and again: "its no good trying to sort this out cos
its all a mess anyway" (a product of GSs neuroses, obsessions and
whims).

Well, if it is all in a mess, then I hope it gets sorted out.

Conclusion

I am not a GM who shirks his responsibilities in terms of working with
scenarios and campaign modules in order to provide for his players a
rich believable world full of exciting adventuring opportunities.

In order to help me achieve this I buy ready-written material for
campaign worlds, e.g. Glorantha. The best campaign modules are ones
which, among other things, are the most GM-friendly.

When I work with a GM-friendly module I am secure in the knowledge that
I have details of a section of the world which fits into a cohesive
believable and interesting BIG PICTURE (even though I may know little of
what happens outside my section). I believe that the people responsible

for publishing this campaign are working hard at building a rich and
beautiful world and are providing me with everything I need in order to
run adventures within my section. Theyre not going to tell me
everything, not even within my little section, but theyll tell me
enough to stop me committing some great gaff, and theyll tell me enough
to let me get a true feel for my section. Theyll also give me some feel
about how it fits into the world and a little bit of a feel about the
world itself.

When modules arent GM-friendly I have to work hard at making up for
their deficiencies. Im no shirker, I can do this, and sometimes Ill
enjoy doing this. GM-friendly modules dont force me to do this, and
leave me instead with time to follow other GM pursuits.

I sincerely hope I have managed to communicate my expectations across to
you. Now, you have to decide:

Is this reasonable?

Storm In A Teacup?

After this you may want to decide: does Glorantha satisfy my
expectations.

If you think it does then its just possible that this has been a storm
in a teacup. I feel in that case I need to defend why I have "gone off
the deep end" in this way, since Im sure I cant be the only one likely
to suffer from these anxieties:

First of all theres all the OOP stuff. I dont know whats in there and
Im suspicious. Im worried that I cant adventure in Big Rubble without
"Big Rubble". Im worried about adventuring in Pavis without "Pavis".
Your assurances to me have helped when Ive asked you specific
questions. However, I need some more general reassurance.

Quite often Ive had replies along the lines of "sort it out for
yourself". This has led me to think that there is little Cohesion in
Glorantha (Why am I allowed such freedom with such major issues).

Other times Ive had answers along the lines of "its no problem because
the Cradle can come down when it wants / Thanatars head affects nothing
/ Sog City can be sacked or not / etc...". These answers all seemed to
me to assume that I should somehow know this - and that has led me to
think that Im simply not privy to many of Gloranthas secrets.

The whole Multiple Argrath issue raises more questions than it answers.
Someone has to know what is going on, surely! Im quite happy to take

the idea that lots of stuff I read is legends, but I would like to know
what isnt. Maybe Im being told that Time never really did begin, and
Arachne Solara was killed off, before she could sort things out, by a
group of over-powerful PCs at the end of a Drow module (joke - Im not
sure if you like my SOH).

Some of the comments made in the Avalon Hill publications seem almost
deliberately antagonizing (dont touch places, people, or get big ideas
about HeroQuesting - latter in Sun County). However, I get the feeling

that that is recognized and criticized in the digest.

Still, I cant get away from the impression that this image of a
non-cohesive do-what-you-like-with Glorantha is a smoke screen hiding a
very beautiful clearly thought out logical cohesive Glorantha whos
details are for some reason unavailable to most of us.

Im quite willing to accept that Im just being paranoid, but I hope
Ive been able to explain what is driving that.

One last plea. In dealing with an area which is potentially critical of
Gloranthan publications I am aware that I am dealing with issues which
Im sure will be sensitive to many people in this group. I have tried
hard to make such criticisms constructive rather than derogatory. If I
have given anyone offence then please forgive me, it was not
intentional.

Richard

- --
_______________________________________________________________________
Richard Develyn Tel: (UK)-1732-743591
Principal Architect / Development Manager Fax: (UK)-1732-743597
Network People International http://www.nwpeople.com

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