Making peoples' minds up with magic

From: Cian Dorr (ciandorr@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Mon 27 Mar 2000 - 08:25:14 EEST


I came back to Glorantha recently after many years' absence to play the
game King of Dragon Pass. The game got me thinking about the kinds of
things one can expect to achieve with magic in Glorantha.
It treats the
thoughts and actions of other people---other clans, and other races---as
partially random phenomena, no more or less easy to affect by performing
sacrifices and other magical deeds than the weather, or the outcomes of
battles. In some ways this is a compelling vision of life as a
barbarian,
huddled inside your tula facing a world of unpredictable danger,
sacrificing to the gods in order to sway the odds in one's favour.

On the other hand, though, there is the idea that to influence the thoughts
and actions of others using magic is abominable witchcraft, the kind of
thing that one does only when all else fails, and that if found out would
make any right-thinking person fear and hate
you. And this does seem
reasonable, when one considers what it would be like to be affected in this
way. My sworn enemy does an 'Issaries the Conciliator' heroquest, and
suddenly I am willing to forget my determination to revenge his latest
outrage; I turn up at his doorstep bearing gifts and asking to end the
feud. How strange! If I found out that my change of heart was not after
all due to myself, but rather to my enemy's trip to the God Plane, I must

say I would be enraged, and would immediately resume the feud with
redoubled ferocity. And if I didn't, those who knew me would have to
conclude that I was no longer myself, but had been taken over like a
puppet; if they were wise, they would lock me up and continue the feud,
confident in the knowledge that they were acting as my TRUE self would wish
them to. Is the magic so mighty that they, too, are prevented from acting
in this natural way? Then it must be mighty indeed, mighty enough to turn
an entire clan into puppets. A world in which such magic was common would
be a world in which no-one had autonomy or free will.

'King of Dragon Pass' presents a world in which such activity definitely is
common. Not just heroquests: everyone is always engaging in
rituals to enhance 'diplomacy' and 'trading', and these seem to work as
advertised. How can that be so, and known by everyone to be so? Who, for
instance, would agree to deal with a trader whose powers to convince one
knew to be magically enhanced?

So my question for you assembled sages is this: is this really an accurate
image of Glorantha, or is it a mere artifact of the computer game
system?
'Runequest', from what I remember, is compatible my image of a world in
which magic to affect peoples' minds is a rare thing, whose targets would
certainly not be happy about it. On the other hand, what I have seen of

'Hero Quest' tends to go the other way: the devotees of trader gods run
around performing the feats 'Convince buyer' and 'Convince seller', the
devotees of gods having to do with leadership have feats for getting their
way in negotiations, and so on.

I can imagine nothing more alien to my modern Western mind than the
psychology of a person who would not be concerned to learn that their
feelings and actions were under the direct influence of the magic of
others. Perhaps that's the whole point: they do after all say that the
valuing of autonomy, psychological coherence over time, and so forth is not
universal, but rather a distinctively modern preoccupation. (Although I'd
be inclined to think that some of it goes back at least to the ancient
Greeks.) Is Glorantha then a world in which people really don't care about
these things? Or is there some way of squaring the prevalence of this
kind
of magic with the kind of attitude towards it which to me at least seems
overwhelmingly natural?

Cian Dorr

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