The Sixth Action

From there we came outside and saw the stars.

GURPS Glorantha: Magic (Heroforming)

HeroForming

Heroforming is the process by which a magically powerful individual becomes a channel for a divine[1] entity, and in some cases becomes entirely inhabited by it. In gross terms, Heroforming is accomplished when a mundane individual acts so like a divine being that he manifests it into the material world.

In general, a hero may attempt to assume the identity of one of three classes of being, as listed below. The categories so listed are general guidelines for the GM to create his own, and each cult will have its own identities available to it; see the cult write-up for details on the abilities granted by the heroformed identity, on the rituals necessary to achieve it, and on the behavior required to maintain it.

  1. A god: (-8)
    1. Attribute Modifiers: Increases two by +8 and two by +6
    2. Secondary Characteristics: Increases one by +8 and one by +6
    3. Advantages: Provides four advantages
    4. Disadvantages: Inflicts two disadvantages
    5. Skills: Provides ten skills/spells at 24 or at +8, whichever is higher
  2. Demigod: (-4)
    1. Attribute Modifiers: Increases two by +4 and two by +2
    2. Secondary Characteristics: Increases one by +4 and one by +2
    3. Advantages: Provides two advantages
    4. Disadvantages: Inflicts one disadvantage
    5. Skills: Provides five skills at 22 or at +6, whichever is higher
  3. An ancestor: (+0)
    1. Attribute Modifiers: Increases two by +2
    2. Secondary Characteristics: Increases one by +2
    3. Advantages: Provides one realistic/non-cinematic advantages
    4. Disadvantages: Inflicts one disadvantage
    5. Skills: Provides two skills at 18

A heroform is knowledge of how to channel the divine energy through a hero’s person and as such is represented as a skill which can be improved like any other. For a hero to activate it requires a successful Religious Ritual skill test followed by a test of the heroform skill that the hero is attempting to adopt.

These rules use a ancestor heroform as a baseline, and also assume that a hero has sufficient time to prepare and complete his ritual, and has the appropriate regalia to support his heroform. Each element missing of the latter two imposes an additional -4 penalty (cumulative) to both his Religious Ritual and heroform skill roll.

Heroforming is a fatiguing process, and requires one Fatigue Point (FP) to maintain each minute it is in effect.

Heroforming is also a risky process, and requires that the hero continue to act in a manner in accordance with the divine identity. Each time the hero fails to do so, he loses one FP and must succeed at a heroform skill roll or fall out of the heroform, suffer 1d of additional fatigue, and be Stunned.

If a hero is heroformed during combat, he loses one additional FP when combat fatigue is normally lost. The hero also loses one FP each time he takes damage, and must make a heroform skill roll with a negative penalty equal to the amount of damage taken. On a successful roll the hero maintains the heroform; if he fails he falls out of the heroform, suffers 1d of additional fatigue, and is Stunned for one round.

[1] In this context, the term divine refers only to a being which has a permanent presence in the Gloranthan Otherworld, rather than a god.

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GURPS Glorantha: Magic Update

A quick update on the use of prayer in Glorantha. I know I said that this project was pretty much over… but I had the thoughts rolling around in my head, so I figured I’d post them. I have a couple more additions on funerary rights and on Heroforming which I might finalize soon.

Prayer

A prayer is a quick, verbal plea to the god for attention and succor. This is worth a single Rune Point on a successful Religious Ritual roll, and can be performed once per day.

A more powerful but indirect use of prayer is in sending aid to a community’s heroes, and can be used to augment the capabilities of a hero by temporarily manipulating his game statistics. This is a direct transaction between the man praying (the supplicant) and the hero; a deity is not involved.

The actual benefits which a hero may accumulate from prayers are as far-reaching as the GM wishes. These rules essentially allow prayer to provide temporary Character Points (CP) such as those used during character creation – with the removal of all restrictions. Prayer thus allows heroes access to advantages (such as Damage Resistance or Extended Lifespan) or inhuman attribute and skill levels that would normally be banned during character creation. It is important to note that these CP are spent by the community for the hero, and last only as long as the supplicants continue to pray.

Each person praying for the hero provides the equivalent of one GURPS Character Point, which can be “spent” to improve the hero – the way in which these points are spent is determined by the supplicants. A hero may ask his community to pray for his strength or his skill or whatever else he likes, but it is ultimately their decision – the GM should be forgiving in this regard. This improvement lasts for one day, and can be extended for as long as the supplicants continue to pray for the hero.

Such prayer can be augmented using any of the below methods of worship (sacrifice, ritual, location, and time) and provide a number of CP equal to the number of RP they would normally provide. If this occurs, these RP are not concurrently generated for those carrying out the worship – they are directly converted to CP for the hero and are lost to the supplicants.

GURPS Glorantha

After the initial burst of activity, I haven’t completed much more work on this project. I will soon be leaving the country for a few months, and will therefore be unable to actually put any of this to use, or to continue its work. A further drain results from the fact that by the time I return, the new edition of Runequest will most probably have been released. And while GURPS does have my affection, I doubt the amount of work needed to convert cults, beasties, and magic would really be worth it. I will most likely restrict myself to throwing in some options from GURPS’s combat system to augment Runequest’s.

Rather than let this fallow in my harddrive, I thought I would post it here so that someone might use the work I’ve done to kickstart their own effort or to bolster their own campaign. If you do, please let me know! I’d love to hear about it.

 

GURPS Glorantha: GM Sheet

GURPS Glorantha: Prologue Adventure

GURPS Glorantha: Prologue Obstacles Sheet

GURPS Glorantha: NPC Sheet

GURPS Glorantha: Magic

GURPS Glorantha: Orlanth Cult

Path to the Sea: Fiction in Glorantha RPGs

I was recently privileged to read the short story/excerpt “Morden Defends the Camp” – which I understand to be only a part of an unfinished novel by Greg Stafford. It made me wonder again, as I’ve wondered before, why there seems to be such a small amount of fiction for Glorantha. I’ve been reading about and following Glorantha for several years now, but for the first time I felt like I intuitively understood the way the world functioned; I understood what it was to be a hero in Glorantha – something that several years of reading Gloranthan books and playing Glorantha games had failed to instill in me in as visceral a way as had this story.

Let’s face it, Glorantha books read like reference texts – this observation is not meant as criticism, but as a statement of fact: two of the last three major releases for Glorantha are explicitly reference works. The Coming Storm and The Guide to Glorantha are both catalogs of setting detail, and while there’s nothing wrong with this, it does beg the question of what about these books will draw in a new player or a casual reader. The art, perhaps, and there are people for whom lore is sufficient, but I think those people are rare. Some games have the advantage of universal themes (or no themes at all), which require little explication (or obviate it completely). Glorantha, with its (in)famous depth, is not one of those games. It needs a hook, a guide, a lead-in to its world. Do not throw the casual reader into the ocean and say “swim!”; they will rebel. Draw them in first to the shallows – teach them to love the water, then show them the sea and they will dive in of their own accord.

Fiction provides that hook. Good fiction establishes the mechanics of the world it occupies. It creates structure. The events of its narrative, the characters peopling it, and the world surrounding all of it give context to teach the reader what the world is all about. A good piece of fiction arms the reader with an innate grasp of the physics of the world; in an RPG, the player may then immerse himself in the setting with the faith that he has some familiarity with what his character should be, and what his character can be.

The Heroquest RPG rules are somewhat analogous to this structural problem. In fact, Heroquest was for several years the only experience I had with Glorantha; it was the rule system for the first two Glorantha campaigns that I ran, and though I enjoyed its free nature, and the way it could scale up or down to encompass many different levels of play, and how “Sneaky Like an Alynx 17” was a useful skill, Heroquest was not the game for me, nor for the three groups that I have run it for. For each of the groups, the problem was always the same: what do we do? And: How do I know what my character can do? And: What does my magic look like and how does it work? Perhaps this is my failing as a GM, but I would submit that the mechanics for a game should support the function of the game’s world.

Perhaps the most explicit example of this comes in the “Dwarf’s Armring” adventure from the Sartar Companion. I love this adventure, as it rewards players for acting with suitably Orlanthi distrust of foreigners (by not trusting the dwarf, blame for the dragon’s attack falls on others), and can be the germ of a great quest to either Tink or Old Wind, where the players may encounter strange and bizarre Gloranthan secrets. One thing has always bothered me about the adventure though, and this is the acquisition of Orlanth’s Dragonbreaking power at Old Wind Temple. What does the Dragonbreaking power do? What does it look like? What is it, even – and how does it work? How does the hero acquire it, and how does he change once he has? The adventure does not cover this, and I as the narrator had no idea how to frame it other than as a new ability which now allows the hero to kill the dragon. Here, the description of the Dragonbreaking Power would inform our understanding of the world – instead it is simply another bland ability on a character’s sheet. As the GM, I could make something up, but it’s a missed opportunity to explore Gloranthan myth and legend.

Glorantha is long on facts about itself, but it has less to bring those facts to life. The world, the peoples, their history and myth are the things we love about it to the point that the term “scholars of Glorantha” is often used. I am no different in my love of these things, but I contend that there should be a greater focus on the individual as a player character. Tell us about the heroes of Glorantha; tell us about their spirit guardians, and how they are bound to their masters; tell us about their magic, how it looks and feels; tell us how they use and acquire it. Show me what I can be, then use the rules to tell me how to be it.

Seshnelan Crusade Campaign Frame

I’ve been recently working on a new campaign set in Glorantha, centered around four Seshnelan knights going into exile with Rikard the Tiger Hearted in his search for the fabled city of Malkonwal. My hope is that this will be a regular and long-running game, as opposed to my previous attempts in Glorantha.

What follows is my initial attempt to formulate a general outline for what I envision the campaign to involve: primarily warfare, politics, and land management. We will see how cooperative my players are and how interested they are in the various sections of the campaign to be.

Also included is a relationship diagram for Rikard’s army which outlines the four “battalions” constituting it, listing their lords, captains, and wizards. My intention is for this to help drive the political side of the campaign, allowing the insertion of new characters and displaying graphically the interconnection between the many different party groups.

Campaign Outline Relationship Diagram v2

Imperial Characters

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few months, and haven’t really had time to organize or continue the Heroquest Glorantha campaign I had been running. Things should be calming down here in the next month or so, and I’ve been doing a little work in anticipation of that by setting up a one-shot scenario to get myself and my players back in the swing of things.

I’m attaching a set of four characters I’ve created for the scenario, and I’ll try to get the actual adventure written and posted by mid-March at the latest. I make no promises as to the balance of these characters or their adherence to the creation rules in Heroquest — and, as always, YGWV.

Let me know what you think if you have a few minutes to comment below. I’d appreciate the input.

Imperial Characters

Lunar Son

The sun dawned as it had always done, spreading its warm and yellow rays across the land as it rose from its eastern gates in the lands of Vithela, arching up in a single glorious movement to encompass the world in its tread. Below it, refreshed and renewed from the death-sleep of night, all the world breathed out in a silent but visceral relief that the darkness had indeed been banished once more from the sight of the living.

Watchfires were allowed to die, or for those in which the land still lay chill and cold they burned on, warming the huddled men who stared out into the paleness of the still-shadowed lands, waiting for the things which lurked outside to come and claim them.

Spearpoints blinked and gleamed like witchfire in the tender and as-yet unstrengthened light of the sun, arrayed like talismans against the dark, standing like a forest of limbs serried and ranked against the things beyond their sight.

The dawn rose, changing into day, bringing sunstarts to the rivers and seas which lay distant and untouched under its dominion. Prayers and white knuckles greeted it, sacrifices and acclaim sustained it, and fear and hope accompanied its demise. Fear for the coming darkness, and hope for the coming dawn—a certainty that was not a certainty, a hope that was not fully seen as foregone.

Perhaps once, it was said, the sun had not died, and each day had blended into the next in a single unchanging rhythm of life: perfect and without marking of the troubles of time. Perhaps then the sun had hung in the sky as it does at noon each day, great and hot and full of fiery life: a great flame against an azure sea. Then, surely, there had been no fear, no loss, only the great warmth suffusing every limb, the soft and regular beat of the sea on the sand, even the wind in the trees and through the sheaves of the grain that called them and shaped them into great golden waves across the earth. What a time that was not a time that must have been.

Was it like it was at noon, when Yelm seems to halt his march across the sphere that marks his course? A trick, perhaps, or a long-remembered dream, but the time at noon seemed to have captured some of that old magic, wrested it from the past and brought it firmly and undeniably into the present, crashing down against the darkness and declaring that here, now, the sun had dominion as it did in ages past.

It was in this shape that the thoughts of Marcus Vitonius found themselves on the day of his departure. Behind him, cropping at the long green grass of the field outside his home, his horse waited patiently, or at least contently, in the unhurried way of animals who feel themselves secure in their surroundings.

He moved, twisting the unfamiliar weight of the metal covering adorning his body, the bronze scales rustling and whispering like water over rock, the burnished metal grown hot with the sun’s embrace. Below him, in the shallowness of the valley, faint sounds and calls carried on the wind, bearing with them tidings of change and unfamiliarity, the prospect of a land cold and harsh and unforgiving, of peoples filled with anger and resentment, and of death alone and unmissed far from his home.

The tiny masses of men, grown small with distance, moved and shaped themselves according to barely-heard commands, officers mounted on their horses directed and supervised as the great column readied itself for march. Ahead, at the front, stood the proud banner, the bifurcated moon ascendant over the symbols of Carmania.

The heavy weight at his side thrust itself into his awareness, the dead thing lying against its sheath like an adder frozen in rigor. He rested his hand on the hilt of the long and curved sword, trying by that slight contact to master the unease which coursed through him at the reminder of it. Touched by the hand of the Red Emperor it was said, a badge of office and a tool of death—a thing of death: made and forged of its very essence.

The wind stirred again in the grass, carrying a loud shout with it and the cracking of bannercloth; Marcus held his helmet more tightly under his left arm as he felt its horsehair crest flutter in the breeze.

“Get you gone,” said a voice, “or you will be left behind—in this as in all other things.”

“I am going, sister,” Marcus replied, his eyes hazy and dim as he stared up into the great ocean of the sky, feeling a brief and instant moment of vertigo as he felt he stood on the ceiling of a great and rolling roof above a limitless infinity of blue.

“You will be left behind should you delay.”

“So you have said.”

“And I will say it again if you do not leave us in peace.”

He turned to her, taking in her cold and wretched beauty, the anger which lay so close to the surface of her half-lidded eyes turning her into something other than what he remembered.

“Aye, I will go,” he murmured, setting his fine bronze helmet on his head and lacing the cheek-pieces together. “I will not ask you to kiss me.”

“That is good,” she spat, “for I have no love to send you.”

He walked silently to his horse, the long grass rustling softly against the leather laces of his tall sandals. The flesh was warm and firm under his fingers as he patted the animal, feeling the life and breath and powerful potential which lay beneath it. Soft and gentle eyes regarded him expectantly, the sweet grass momentarily forgotten at the unexpected contact. “Will you light a candle for me, sister?” The voice which spoke was barely his own, sounding small and sad and full of doubt.

“I will do no such thing,” she whispered, her back now to him, unseeing of the way his head nodded slightly as he pulled himself up onto the smooth leather saddle of his mount.

“Then I bid you farewell, my sister,” Marcus replied softly, “And if you should have a thought or care to send my way it would be welcome.”

Livinia turned to him, her eyes flashing fiercely in the sudden hatred which had marked her so distinctly in these later days. “Why should I have a care for you, brother,” she spat, “you who have paupered us, disgraced us: neither wife nor child do you have, nor deeds to your name, nor credit to your memory.”

The tired words washed over him like an acrid wave, and his closed eyes did nothing to diminish the sting.

“Go,” she spat again, “stare at the sky and think your maudlin thoughts. We have no care for you here.”

He raised his left hand in joined surrender and salute, the silence settling over him, wrapping him in its warm color.

The scoff which split the air lowered his hand. “When you lie dying at the foot of some painted barbarian, think on your life: the woman you might have had, the children you might have sired…” she paused, relishing the twist and tug of the final barb, “…the father you might have pleased.”

“I have not—” he stopped himself, biting down on the tired words that tried to force themselves from his lips. “I wish you a better life without me, Livinia,” he finished quietly.

“That would not be difficult,” she hissed, “Now go—for the last time: go.”

The inclination of his head rocked the hairs of his crest, and the cold glint of his dark blue eyes sparked in the sunlight. Marcus glanced upwards, feeling once more that awful sense of vertigo, of insignificance, and saw that no longer did the sun dwell in its perfect noon above him: now it had begun its long and ceaseless decline towards darkness and death in the west of the world.

A tossed head and racing heart brought him back to the present: the great and lively animal beneath him; the cold and silent woman who once ran to him for comfort and safety, all scabbed knees and wild hair; the army which lay like a great and nascent beast in the valley below.

Sensing, perhaps, with some indefinable quality of its own, his horse turned and began the slow progress away from the expansive home Marcus had known all his life. He turned back, reflexively, breaking the solemn vow he had sworn himself and saw for a moment the eyes of that little girl with the scabbed knees and wild hair; and then the eyes closed and the moment was gone. Her husband’s arm slipped around her waist, and her face soured and darkened, and Marcus turned away with a black and empty hole in his heart.

How long and how dim
are the threads which bind
and the stars which shine
upon us, each alone and wanting.

The words ran through him like a knife, the memory of those moments spent at his father’s knee, listening rapturously to the poetry of ancient days wash over him, cleansing him of the dissatisfaction which ate away at the very core of him.

As he approached, shoving away the thoughts of home and of his sister that trailed behind him, the tiny shadows below him gradually resolved, one by one, into men, armed and armored and arrayed for war: great shields and stabbing swords, bright mail and high helms, colored banners blowing bravely in the breeze—a sight fit for a song.

Old tales flooded back to him, of great battles fought on the foothills of a mountain which touched the sky, of wild men whose breath swept armies before them, of great dragons and strange mystics, the clash of empires and the ambition of men.

Marcus shuddered despite the warmth of the sun, feeling as if a chill wind had blown up and over him, and he pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders. He looked up into the sky, taking comfort from the still and silent orb which arced above him, shining as it always did in its long and slow descent.

The leather gloves of his hands brushed the hard and warm metal armoring his torso, the bright disks of bronze shining like tiny suns in their fixtures, steady and solid, warding him against as-yet unset blows.

He set his hand back on the hilt of the death lying at his hip, gripping it tightly, forcing down the revulsion which welled up inside him and the sympathetic response which lurked deep within him in the place he dared not look.

Out in the east the road snaked out and away towards their destination, marking in its course the inevitability of what they were about to embark upon. Marcus wondered if it had been like this even in the time when the sun had stood still: things must have happened even without that marker to guide their memory, things must have changed from one moment to the next.

The knuckles in his hand cried out, and Marcus quickly relaxed his grip on the wooden hilt, thrusting aside once more the feelings which arose deep within him. He swallowed forcefully and looked down the shallow slope, his eyes questing for and finding the small corner which held his command: his banner—his men.

One thousand men, or thereabouts, including cavalry and auxiliaries: they would collect a company of archers from Tarsh as they passed through on their way to the conquered land of Sartar. Marcus did not much anticipate the prospect of armed barbarians joined to his proud Carmanian company. Yet Tarsh had been converted to the Lunar way, or so it was said: another Orlanthi kingdom fallen to the Goddess—may she be praised.

And Sartar was only the latest to fall, and nearly the last, leaving only the fragmented Holy Country to resist the long and inexorable march of the Lunar armies to the sea.

The sea. What was it like, he wondered. How did it smell in the morning as the sun rose above it?

A shadow passed over him and Marcus looked up as a sound of thunder cracked through the air.

It began to rain, though the day shone bright about him, and Marcus could see the tiny droplets of water come crashing down, shining like tiny stars.