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Magic and nature


Minlister

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Some time ago, we had a discussion on demography (I honestly don't remember why or where, probably in some thread that had initially nothing to do with it, that's the beauty of the forum).

Someone, I think it was @Qizilbashwoman argued for a stronger demography in Glorantha than in the RW because of magic (not only thanks to healing magic for humans but thanks to better crops, herd blessing etc). Now in the RQG section, someone mentions the fact that "Every field will be blessed (Bless Crops), Every breeding animal will be blessed (Bless Animal).

So my question would be the following:

how do you envision the relation between natural process and magic in Glorantha?

Should we admit that nature works the same as in the RW and magic improves these results. Or should we consider that there is no (or a less efficient version of the) natural process and that magic is necessary to reach the RW results. 

So does a Gloranthan field produces the same harvest as its RW bronze age equivalent, and then we add the effects of magic; or does the Gloranthan earth yields very little without the proper rites?

My own take would be the second proposition as it is more satisfactory from the point of view of the internal logic of the universe and because it allows us to continue to use RW analogies to supplement information found in the rules and background.

But I am curious about other opinions on the matter.

EDIT : Eurmal made me do it!! I took the opposite side I intended to!! I just corrected it in red ! Sorry, Ian!

Edited by Minlister
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I think it's almost impossible to disentangle Glorantha's magic & myth, and figure out how it "would be" without those.

Take Prax & the Wastes -- that stuff gets to a level of inhospitable that far exceeds even the worst places on Earth; and it is (courtesy of ancient mythic events) the "permanent" steady-state, without any added magic.

But I assume that for MOST of Glorantha, the default (with no magic for good or ill... if you can find such a place...) is somewhere close-ish to our Real-World.

Yes, the "Bless <XXX>" spells will lift it to much-better; but then along comes Mallia -- or just frikkin Eurmal -- and your field is throwing up thistles, and your cow is dropping a calf with a third eye, and -- overall -- you are usually better-off than a corresponding Real-World Bronze-Age farmer/herder/etc... but not always, and certainly not if you don't have your cousin's wife, the Adventurer, who comes to deal with the problems cropping up.

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30 minutes ago, Minlister said:

Should we admit that nature works the same as in the RW and magic improves these results. Or should we consider that there is no (or a less efficient version of the) natural process and that magic is necessary to reach the RW results. 

[...snip...]

My own take would be the first proposition as it is more satisfactory from the point of view of the internal logic of the universe and because it allows us to continue to use RW analogies to supplement information found in the rules and background.

I share this position as well, and I meant to add it to my list of "How Does Your Glorantha Vary?" in another thread.  In my Glorantha, the laws of nature mirror those of our world on a more or less Newtonian, or at least Aristotelian basis.  Magic is the exception to the rule in something of the same way that nuclear or quantum physics are the exceptions to everyday science in our world.  For instance, a village burns to the ground because it was built of tinder and a cow knocks a lantern over, not because the hearth spirits and Lodril are angry with the villagers...necessarily.  In other words, on a daily basis, people accept the simpler explanations for things at face value, and only go looking for higher reasons in times of crisis -- essentially how most of us rely on the sciences.

So, when it comes to the productivity of fields, yeah, a field will produce more or less regardless of religious attention.  But perform the Bless Crops rites on your fields -- which happen to involve ritualised forms of crop rotation, fertilisation, and soil amendment -- and they produce better than on average.  Where it differs from our world, is that there really are gods and spirits that you can entreat or offend for exceptional effect.  Most days it goes unseen, though, and the people simply operate on faith that "that's just how the world works," just as we count on loosely-understood concepts of physical science to hold our world together.

This little exchange from The Venture Bros just came to mind...
https://videosift.com/video/Science-Vs-Magic-Venture-Bros

!i!

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1 hour ago, Minlister said:

Someone, I think it was @Qizilbashwoman argued for a stronger demography in Glorantha than in the RW because of magic (not only thanks to healing magic for humans but thanks to better crops, herd blessing etc). Now in the RQG section, someone mentions the fact that "Every field will be blessed (Bless Crops), Every breeding animal will be blessed (Bless Animal).

yeah, it was my suggestion was that women would have fewer children than in the real bronze age in a conversation about room for roles for people with wombs other than "have babby"

because, essentially, medicine exists

someone else pointed out the parallel with crops and herds

Edited by Qizilbashwoman
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@Ian Absentia

Sorry I made a mistake in the first post. My own take would be opposite, I prefer to admit that magic is necessary for the smooth running of the natural order, perpetually mending what was broken during the God wars and Great Darkness. It feels more "Gloranthan" to me and, as I say, I can still use what I know of the real world as magic produces an equivalent, not an improved version of RW bronze age. But I see your point. Thanks!

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4 minutes ago, Qizilbashwoman said:

yeah, it was my suggestion was that women would have fewer children than in the real bronze age in a conversation about room for roles for people with wombs other than "have babby"

because, essentially, medicine exists

someone else pointed out the parallel with crops and herds

In that infant and childhood mortality rates would be a lot lower with magic availability? High fertility rates are really tied to high pre-adult mortality rates, so with a more secure assumption any given child is going to live long enough to start their own family, the "womb bearers" would be under a lot less pressure to all be pushing out as many babies as possible. This allows for all women to spend less time pregnant, and for women who "go Vinga" during childbearing years to not seem like a threat to the future of the household/clan. Higher adult male mortality rates don't matter as much, particularly without taboos around widows remarrying.

Also, a lot of the cultures seem like they're somewhat at Malthusian equilibrium, in that famines happen periodically that kill significant number of people. So it's not like tribes are trying to outbreed others unless they are also aquiring more farmland at the same time. I'd expect that households that already have a lot of kids relative to the adults and resource availability probably discourage everyone trying to get pregnant at once for a while.

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2 hours ago, Thaz said:

...

heck I know people wishing for gloranthan level health care NOW

Oh hell yeah, absolutely!

OTOH, also realize that every Chaos-Priestess of Mallia is equivalent to today's terrorist ... with today's bioweapon-lab in their back pocket!


Ya win some, ya lose some.

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This might be an unpopular position, but I think I prefer to keep it vague and in a grey area. I fear nailing down the specifics of yield pre- and post- blessings per square meter per inch of rainfall or whatever might lead us down the path of making Glorantha less approachable and more of a hassle to write for.

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17 hours ago, Minlister said:

how do you envision the relation between natural process and magic in Glorantha?

Should we admit that nature works the same as in the RW and magic improves these results. Or should we consider that there is no (or a less efficient version of the) natural process and that magic is necessary to reach the RW results. 

Your question is basically whether human expenditure of magic via ritual or similar means is required to yield anything near what the natural processes in our reality provide.

This is not really limited to fertility (childbirth, health, herds, crops), but includes the continued existence of the universe (aka Sacred Time rites).

 

There are vast parts of Glorantha which have little or no human investment into the magical ecology. As far as the Elder Races are concerned, all but the aldryami may be treated like humans in this regard. These are usually in the care of genii loci or herd (wyter) entities, such as the Protectresses of the Beast Riders, the Lady of the Wild (e.g. in Kerofinela or Balazar), or the sessile aldryami (dryads, great trees).

Let's consider the Creek-Stream River. Ever since the Dragonkill, the human worshipers of Engizi had been confined to south of the Crossline. That meant that the humans would no longer take their toll on the ecology of the River by taking out their share of surplus life, but neither would they contribute to the magic for re-birthing that life. But then, the River had a population of non-human Orlanthi supporting him which had stayed in place - the Ducks and the Beastfolk, plus the Newtling bachelors roaming the river. (The Zola Fel cult makes it clear that the human fisherfolk there are just one of many groups contributing to the spiritual renewal and support of that river.)

During the Resettlement of Dragon Pass (starting with the Grazers), the rivers were full of riverine life (minus the Salmon whose migration to the Seas had been disrupted by the Lead Hills).

17 hours ago, Minlister said:

So does a Gloranthan field produces the same harvest as its RW bronze age equivalent, and then we add the effects of magic;

The RW Bronze Age had highly different periods of productivity, and a collapse of productivity is suspected as one reason for the Bronze Age collapse (and the phenomenon of the Sea Peoples). You may toss in the Neolithicum, Chalcolithicum and the Iron Age without changing the means of agriculture much, as already neolithic farmers had mastered irrigation where (and when) required.

I assume the late Fertile Crescent/Mediterranean Bronze Age productivity with the onset of failing crops, and that mitigated by magic.

17 hours ago, Minlister said:

or does the Gloranthan earth yields very little without the proper rites?

IMO Gloranthan Earth yields quite a lot in its natural state, without agriculture or gardening, but these activities extract yields beyond the immediate needs of its inhabitants - something first instituted by civilization, and since the Gods War necessitated by seasons. (The Golden Age is annoyingly vague about harvest cycles and the need to store harvested food.)

Human (and Elder Race) activities beyond extensive gathering will make a dent in the productivity, and will require magical recompensation.

 

Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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@Sir_Godspeed Yes, of course, I do not intend to produce statistics about yearly yields by terrain type. My interest lies in the in-game consequences of the various options.

If magic really adds to a natural process otherwise similar to the RW, then human density should be far greater with distinct social consequences, for example. And if agriculture is tied to sacrifices and devotion, then reversion to wild lands when humans leave an area would be faster. An enemy disrupting holy days, or targeting the Earth or Barntar priesthood could provoke important economic problems, even famine. In the RW, destruction of crops and trees, especially olives and wineyards, was perpetrated to achieve this goal, so we would have a "magic world" equivalent, for instance. Similarly, in the process of the Resettlement, the importance of the Earth cult would have been even greater, with potential implications on the power balance in Sartar on the long run. Nothing revolutionary obviously, but this is the kind of aspects which are of interest to me, not a strict concern for economy. 

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@Joerg said 

Quote

Your question is basically whether human expenditure of magic via ritual or similar means is required to yield anything near what the natural processes in our reality provide

yes, that was my question. Indeed your point about the non-human populations and genii locorum is very good, but non-human worship is still worhip. And in the case of the Lady of the Wild, for instance, would she be able to help with agriculture? Or would there be some kind of conflict between her and the cult of Ernalda trying to tame the wilds, otherwise unfit for agriculture? Should the growth of, let's say wheat and barley, be seen as a "natural thing" or only as a bounty of Ernalda/Esrolia, a secret given to mend the world after the Great Darkness?

We could also use cattle-herding in Prax as a parallel. If I understand correctly, and if I simplify a little, without the Peaceful cut the slain animals won't be able to return and in the end the herds would be depleted. So should we consider also that without proper Earth rituals, the land could end up "depleted"? And consider magic as necessary to "tie the loop" of growth, death and rebirth?

Once more, what I am interested in is opportunity for writing gaming situations and background for scenarios.

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1 hour ago, Minlister said:

@Joerg said 

yes, that was my question. Indeed your point about the non-human populations and genii locorum is very good, but non-human worship is still worhip.

So, the trees in an aldryami forest are worshipers, and so are most other inhabitants.

In the rivers, the sapient fish are just the representatives for all the non-sapient ones (who still may have something like a collective entity powered by them simply living).

The Praxian herds generate their own wyters, manifestations of the Eiritha species protectress.

Worship through being.

But when agriculture comes, the load for the land to bear increases greatly. Not so much for making hay for the winter, but for extracting the earth's nourishment into the (overly rich) grain (compared to natural grass or pseudo-cereal seeds).

 

1 hour ago, Minlister said:

And in the case of the Lady of the Wild, for instance, would she be able to help with agriculture? Or would there be some kind of conflict between her and the cult of Ernalda trying to tame the wilds, otherwise unfit for agriculture?

The latter, really. The Lady of the Wild is what sends the wild boars to uproot your harvest, the deer to nibble away your grain before it has ripened enough for the harvest, and all the pests and weeds that harm your crops. Pig herding works within the Wilds of Balazar as they do pretty much the same wild boars would.

 

1 hour ago, Minlister said:

Should the growth of, let's say wheat and barley, be seen as a "natural thing" or only as a bounty of Ernalda/Esrolia, a secret given to mend the world after the Great Darkness?

That's actually a good question. How much are the Gloranthan crop grains cultivars of more primitive wild forms, how much were they created that way?

In real world pre-history, creating the cultivars of the wild grains with increased seed count and size was a major cultural and biological achievement of the neolithic farmers. In Glorantha, these developments or discoveries are part of the pre-Solar Empire Golden Age (called Green Age by some).

And yes, I do think that worship of the goddesses of these plants and special gift offerings may have led to edible but in comparison somewhat sparse amounts of seeds to thicken and multiply, with the goddesses guiding the breeding of these cereals.

In the Green and earliest Golden Age, smaller amounts were a lot less of a problem as the proper songs, dances or petroglyphs would multiply them and/or increase their size. The ambient creative energy would have been concentrated in these foods and would have made them feed many people. When the Golden Age became frozen in rules, this transformation worked less and less, and cultivars evolved instead.

These cultivars would have come out of worship, so their continued well-being is likely to require worship.

1 hour ago, Minlister said:

We could also use cattle-herding in Prax as a parallel. If I understand correctly, and if I simplify a little, without the Peaceful cut the slain animals won't be able to return and in the end the herds would be depleted. So should we consider also that without proper Earth rituals, the land could end up "depleted"? And consider magic as necessary to "tie the loop" of growth, death and rebirth?

Entekosiad has a myth about harvesting with straight hunting knives, and how that harmed the earth, and how the sickle for harvest mitigated that harm. The Orlanthi have a myth about plowing, applying Death to the fertile Earth to prepare for the next crop.

 

1 hour ago, Minlister said:

Once more, what I am interested in is opportunity for writing gaming situations and background for scenarios.

King of Dragon Pass had a series of encounters with a talking fox as representative of the Wilds, forcing the player to make concessions to the wild or suffer bad magical luck. Something like this can be used.

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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1 minute ago, Minlister said:

Thanks Jeorg! Very useful stuff! I never manage to keep in mind the Entekosiad. I always thought that the plow allowed for the mating of Orlanth and Ernalda through the opening of the Earth to the Air.

Now that's a concurrent myth you should take into account, and probably many more. Some in accordance with what our world's science and agricultural practice would suggest, some completely out of the blue.

Carbon or fiber in the soil, water and nutrient retention, water permeability, evaporation, nutrient donation through application of calcinated chalk, dung and other stuff our world categorizes as fertilizers... An equivalent to nitrogen sequestered from the air as as a nutrient along the lines of "Storm's fertility bound into the soil"? Or possibly sending stale portions of the air into the soil for regeneration (never mind photosynthesis)?

The factoid that lightning creates nitrous oxides which then fertilize as nitrates is completely non-gloranthan, but Storm seared by Lightning might bleed some fertility into the soil anyway. Lightning is one of the conquered weapons, and may very well take its toll from the breath of the wielder whenever utilized, donating the result to the soil. Heler's rains help purify Storm from those minor scars. All real world chemistry removed after suggesting a cause-and-effect chain.

Now, why do excrements - especially after Darkness things had their way with them (fungi, insects, worms) - result in increased fertility? What is it about pee and poop that makes the soil better? Myths, please. Don't be afraid to involve Eurmal, but please explain why farts don't contribute. (Or have a new trickster feat, the fertilizing fart - may not smell of roses at all, but may cause flowers to blossom even out of season.)

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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