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Mortality in Glorantha


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A thread of conversation from rereading the “Women in Glorantha” thread was talk about mortality rates and demographics, basically a debate about whether or not all the various magical factors “balanced out” into something roughly synonymous with how things worked out in the RL Ancient World or not. I didn't want to speak up in that thread to revive an argument that was off-topic, so if you'll bear with me I'll give my thoughts on it here, instead. The argument for things more or less “balancing out” is, IMO, a flawed one, and at least IMG, the demographics and mortality rates would be different. I don't actually know nearly enough about demography to elucidate exactly how, but I'll at least try to explain why.

On the one hand, in Glorantha, things like faith healing and other medical practices that IRL stem from superstitions, or at least from incorrect assumptions about how things work like, say, Miasma Theory, actually do work and are at least partly correct, there's going to be a lot less malpractice based on ignorance about how things actually work, because in Glorantha the metaphysics really do tend to line up with how people think they work as a result of their religious beliefs. Not that misdiagnoses and hucksterism and the like wouldn't be found aplenty, but that can only account for so much compared to, say, people genuinely believing that drinking liquor mixed with mineralized arsenic sulfide (a.k.a. “realgar wine”) was not only harmless but provided protection from disease, poison, and evil spirits, and making its consumption a traditional part of a yearly festival. Things like infections, which were the big killers historically because no one knew how that actually worked or what actually worked for preventing it, are things they do have some idea of how they work and how to effectively counter them. Think of how much of a game-changer the invention of penicillin was; even if Gloranthan methods of preventing or treating infection aren't even half as effective, that's still a huge deal in terms of figuring out what mortality rates and demographics look like.

And on the other hand, the thing with expecting all the magical ways people can die – getting killed by trolls or Chaos monsters, or attacked by disease spirits and etc. – to balance that out is that these things do not simply add to the biggest killers of people IRL in the ancient world, but often replace them entirely (that is, there are not disease spirits in addition to the normal vectors for disease, and disease is the big historical killer in both war and peace, not guys with swords), and those, as I mentioned above, are things the people of Glorantha have a better understanding of and are better equipped to try to deal with than their RL counterparts were. I'm not sure I buy the argument that Gloranthan diseases are significantly more virulent, ubiquitous, and hard to fight than their RL counterparts just because they're caused by malevolent spirits, which they would have to be to have a similar death toll given that Gloranthans have actually effective ways of preventing and treating them.

Plus, even if they would balance out in terms of just the overall numbers and proportions of total population, the time and manner of death between various age groups and along gender lines and etc. would almost have to look different, because - at least to me - it would beggar belief that with these factors taken in account, you'd still have more than a quarter of newborns not living to see their first year and almost half of all children born in all dying before they can reach adulthood, and somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of all adult women dying from complications in childbirth. For the factors in favor of Gloranthans being much less likely than our own ancestors to die from a minor wound getting infected, or to die in childbirth, or to die in infancy or childhood, or to be decimated by plagues they had no effective method of diagnosing or treating – that is, if you want the demographics and mortality rates to more or less line up with where they'd be if the Sartarites lived on Earth in the years BC, the stuff trying to kill them would have to be almost ludicrously deadly to compensate for all that, and I just don't see anything to suggest that in the stuff I've actually read.

Again, I really don't know enough about how to factor all this stuff together to give any kind of coherent or meaningful idea of what the demographics and mortality rates would look like, but I really don't buy the argument that they'd look nearly identical to their closest RL counterparts in the rough time period Glorantha tends to go for in its setting.

Of course, feel free to explain to me where you think I'm in error or where (unlikely, but possible) I'm spot-on. And if anyone can make some educated guesses about what, if my conclusions are correct, actual mortality rates and demographics would look like, that'd be just grand.

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My own suspicion is that Glorantha has bigger population growth in the short term than the real world, but then has periodic apocalypses which basically negate a lot of that growth.  The end of the fi

I ain't anyone in authority, but I'm gonna ask y'all to please take your knives and arguments to a private message or at least another topic. This is getting increasingly away from the point and, from

Because we can read.

52 minutes ago, Leingod said:

 

Again, I really don't know enough about how to factor all this stuff together to give any kind of coherent or meaningful idea of what the demographics and mortality rates would look like, but I really don't buy the argument that they'd look nearly identical to their closest RL counterparts in the rough time period Glorantha tends to go for in its setting.

Of course, feel free to explain to me where you think I'm in error or where (unlikely, but possible) I'm spot-on. And if anyone can make some educated guesses about what, if my conclusions are correct, actual mortality rates and demographics would look like, that'd be just grand.

My own suspicion is that Glorantha has bigger population growth in the short term than the real world, but then has periodic apocalypses which basically negate a lot of that growth.  The end of the first and second age heavily trimmed a lot of populations.  

But it also flows differently - you don't have to pump out 8 kids to ensure 3 of them make it to adulthood and you have birth control, so you invest more in fewer kids but end up with the same results.  

 

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10 hours ago, Leingod said:

much less likely than our own ancestors to die from a minor wound getting infected

Infection in general also is less likely, it seems to me, due to healing magic. Systems =/= setting, yadda yadda, but Heal 2 is a pretty minor magic, a lot of cults offer Heal as cult spirit magic, and it's enough to cauterize a bleeding-out wound. Even Heal 1's probably enough for a lot of the little minor injuries possible during normal life which can get infected.

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10 hours ago, Leingod said:

On the one hand, in Glorantha, things like faith healing and other medical practices that IRL stem from superstitions, or at least from incorrect assumptions about how things work like, say, Miasma Theory, actually do work and are at least partly correct, there's going to be a lot less malpractice based on ignorance about how things actually work, because in Glorantha the metaphysics really do tend to line up with how people think they work as a result of their religious beliefs. Not that misdiagnoses and hucksterism and the like wouldn't be found aplenty, but that can only account for so much compared to, say, people genuinely believing that drinking liquor mixed with mineralized arsenic sulfide (a.k.a. “realgar wine”) was not only harmless but provided protection from disease, poison, and evil spirits, and making its consumption a traditional part of a yearly festival. Things like infections, which were the big killers historically because no one knew how that actually worked or what actually worked for preventing it, are things they do have some idea of how they work and how to effectively counter them. Think of how much of a game-changer the invention of penicillin was; even if Gloranthan methods of preventing or treating infection aren't even half as effective, that's still a huge deal in terms of figuring out what mortality rates and demographics look like.

Technically Gloranthan medicine is a lot better than modern medicine today.  Lost limbs are re-attached.  Wounds heal instantly.  The dead are resurrected.  There are no rules for infection, as the disease paradigm is different.  Even most instances of death in childbirth can be prevented with healing magic.

This magic makes even combat a lot more survivable.  As a result a violent death is the most likely for most Gloranthans, and they have a risk taking culture that supports this. 

One might even argue that it is population pressure that drives all the fighting.  Resources are scarce, and even the fertility of the land can be hijacked by an enemy clan. 

Starvation is a real threat too.  It is quite possible that when a growing population is faced with a spiritual requirement to curtail their growth and stop taxing the wilderness, that they can face a food crisis, and so too when magic steals the fertility of the land.  So too if they fail an Ernalda hero quest or the Long Winter comes, or the land is flooded by trolls etc.

Most diseases are a nuisance that decent healers can defeat, but not Malia's Plague Spell.  When that gets going it is a mass killer.

Esrolia is the best example of of a land where fertility magic is concentrated to an absurd extreme.

This all means that Glorantha has very odd population dynamics that are quite unlike the real world and very distinct from Bronze Age Earth.

 

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4 hours ago, Darius West said:

The dead are resurrected

I fully agree with you except here. Very few are resurrected

I found few month ago some evidence : https://glorantha.fandom.com/wiki/Argrath's_Companions

named companions, so important companions of the great Argrath (at least in the eyes of "victorious" historians) are killed and not resurrected. How one of the most powerful leaders of the world is not able to resurrect his best followers ?

what proportion of people we know were resurrected ?

there is an inconsistency between the spell in rules (so easy) and the sources.

Note that I understand this inconsistency from a gp perspective. players may consider hard to lose a character.

 

Edited by French Desperate WindChild
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6 hours ago, French Desperate WindChild said:

named companions, so important companions of the great Argrath (at least in the eyes of "victorious" historians) are killed and not resurrected. How one of the most powerful leaders of the world is not able to resurrect his best followers ?

Probably because they are "named companions, so important companions of the great Argrath". If you're fighting them you take extra precautions to make absolutely sure those bastards stay dead. You know who they are so you can set up particular, personal hells just for them.
They are actually strategic considerations and so worthy of a strategic response.

Edited by Rob Darvall
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6 hours ago, French Desperate WindChild said:

I found few month ago some evidence : https://glorantha.fandom.com/wiki/Argrath's_Companions

named companions, so important companions of the great Argrath (at least in the eyes of "victorious" historians) are killed and not resurrected. How one of the most powerful leaders of the world is not able to resurrect his best followers ?

what proportion of people we know were resurrected ?

there is an inconsistency between the spell in rules (so easy) and the sources

 

This presumes Argath actually cares if these people live or die; he strikes me as someone who throws you away the second you're no longer useful.

To be fair to Argath, most of the time, he is in total crisis mode and doesn't have a lot of free time to raise people from the dead.

(And we don't have an objective, clear-cut record to indicate if he did or didn't try to resurrect fallen companions.  Maybe he did)

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19 hours ago, French Desperate WindChild said:

I fully agree with you except here. Very few are resurrected

On the contrary, rich people in Glorantha get resurrected all the time.  Similarly anyone who a tribe values the skills of will be resurrected. Of course it isn't just Chalana Arroy who does resurrections either.  There are other cults that can bring the dead back, like Eiritha's access to Seal Spirit, and Daka Fal's version of Resurrection, to name but two.

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13 hours ago, John Biles said:

This presumes Argath actually cares if these people live or die; he strikes me as someone who throws you away the second you're no longer useful.

Why does Argrath get such bad press?  The population of Sartar is tiny in comparison to the Lunar Empire.  Argrath literally cannot afford to be profligate with the lives of his followers.  He would also understand the value of bringing people back, as it is already a Lunar tactic, and Argrath knows Lunar tactics.  Everyone presumes Argrath is some kind of scumbag just because Kallyr was incompetent, kept losing, and eventually died and left her throne vacant.  The only suspect thing about Argrath is his illumination imo.

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4 minutes ago, Nick Brooke said:

Because we can read.

Argrath stopped the destruction of the world, unless you think the world would have been just fine if the Sedenya achieved a total victory. That makes him a good guy in my books.

He did some pretty horrendous things to achieve this outcome, like the dragon rise probably resulted in the deaths of lots of people who hadn't done anything particularly blameworthy. And he summarily executed the Lunar assassin in Pavis without holding a trial. And those tax collectors - maybe his family owed the Lunars tax.

But nice clean victories rarely happen in real life. I love the way Glorantha embraces moral ambiguity and pragmatism.

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Something that's underrated here is that most dead people may not want to be resurrected. The majority of afterlives we know about are generally very pleasant places for the people who end up there. Hells are not, and we know that Heroes have a certain willingness to crawl their way out of the Underworld by any means necessary, but to be quite honest, most Heroes are people who would, on arriving before Daka Fal, receive a little card with "GO DIRECTLY TO HELL. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT 200 LUNARS" on it. 

So Argrath's companions may well have resisted any attempt to resurrect them, and the gods presumably defend the boundaries of their particular afterlives against unwanted resurrection in most cases. 

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The attrition of Argrath's companions is perhaps most easily explained by the fact that the Lunars are very well-practiced at making sure their most annoying enemies stay dead once they've been killed, as seen with Hofstaring, Belintar, Sheng Seleris, etc. If it's just a matter of preparing a spell while he's got the resources of Sartar to draw on (since no matter how much harder resurrection actually is outside the context of a tabletop game, it would be setting the cap arbitrarily high if even the Prince of Sartar/King of Dragon Pass didn't command the resources to have it performed), Argrath would have to be both a sociopath and a self-defeating idiot to pass that up whenever one of his companions bit the dust, since none of them are exactly ordinary people that can easily be replaced. And if Argrath's that much of a wasteful idiot given the situation he's in, that doesn't exactly say good things about the Lunar Empire's collective competence, considering they ultimately lose to him.

But on the other hand, if Argrath would have to embark on some major Heroquest that made the quest to free Hofstaring look like child's play because the Lunars are done with taking half-measures against these damn Sartarites? That'd be much easier to spin as Argrath not having the time and resources to devote to that in-between all the other stuff he has to do to fight the Lunars, and it fits the displayed magical competence and strategies the Lunars tend to show.

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Argrath kills millions of Pelorians by unleashing Sheng Seleris, snow hurricanes and chaos monstrosities to destroy them (sociopath), and goes on to liberate the Red Goddess to become an integral part of the Gloranthan cosmos by participating in her utuma ritual while literally throwing his entire pantheon into the maw of chaos in an “oopsie” (self-defeating idiot).

It’s all in this book called King of Sartar. Which we can read.

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Interestingly, for Free standard-of-living, the "5% annual child mortality until age 15" actually does come out to a reasonably historical 50% (although not nearly as slanted to the first few years). I think this makes sense, and gives the setting a feeling of reality - average of 4-6 kids per family, 2-3 survive to adulthood... that makes sense to me! If child mortality was dramatically lower, the whole social framework would look a lot different, and the situation would be even more malthusian.

(The other Standards of Living don't work out this well, though.)

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On 6/26/2020 at 1:30 AM, John Biles said:

This presumes Argath actually cares if these people live or die; he strikes me as someone who throws you away the second you're no longer useful.

My interpretation of Argrath is that he doesn't sacrifice his followers and allies needlessly, but definitely sacrifice them needfully. Nothing in the universe is anything except a tool for him.

23 hours ago, Darius West said:

On the contrary, rich people in Glorantha get resurrected all the time.  Similarly anyone who a tribe values the skills of will be resurrected. Of course it isn't just Chalana Arroy who does resurrections either.  There are other cults that can bring the dead back, like Eiritha's access to Seal Spirit, and Daka Fal's version of Resurrection, to name but two.

In RQ terms, anyone who is worth 3 points of POW can be fairly easily resurrected (assuming time-span, access to body, and so on) - even Ernalda can do that! With CA available, it becomes so cheap that one has to wonder why it doesn't happen constantly (my interpretation would be that CA cultists heal so much that they tend to be constantly low on Rune Points, and while healing is a religious duty, resurrection isn't, so it will often take the back seat).

Fun fact: While CA of course has usable Resurrect, when you really want someone back, Daka Fal shamans are more likely to manage to browbeat the soul to come back due to much better Spirit Combat. 

Edited by Akhôrahil
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21 minutes ago, Nick Brooke said:

Argrath kills millions of Pelorians by unleashing Sheng Seleris, snow hurricanes and chaos monstrosities to destroy them (sociopath), and goes on to liberate the Red Goddess to become an integral part of the Gloranthan cosmos by participating in her utuma ritual while literally throwing his entire pantheon into the maw of chaos in an “oopsie” (self-defeating idiot).

It’s all in this book called King of Sartar. Which we can read.

Sheng Seleris helped kill the Red Emperor, which critically weakened the empire. The empire was protecting chaotic horrors beneath a glamour of serenity, all Agrath did was weaken the glamour, to ultimately reveal the true monster empire beneath the lie, the monster empire was there all along.

When Sheng later turned to evil, Argrath helped kill him. Everybody makes mistakes.

The annual lunar quest to reinforce Kalikos' battle against the ice demons was described in KoS as "unnatural". Probably bad and wrong in some deeply metaphysical sense.

As for the Utuma, I doubt the goddess was the same being after having her physical form torn apart by dragons, being ripped apart by dragons is probably a life changing experience. Certainly her interaction with the world was very different after this event.

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36 minutes ago, EricW said:

Sheng Seleris helped kill the Red Emperor, which critically weakened the empire. The empire was protecting chaotic horrors beneath a glamour of serenity, all Agrath did was weaken the glamour, to ultimately reveal the true monster empire beneath the lie, the monster empire was there all along.

When Sheng later turned to evil, Argrath helped kill him. Everybody makes mistakes.

The annual lunar quest to reinforce Kalikos' battle against the ice demons was described in KoS as "unnatural". Probably bad and wrong in some deeply metaphysical sense.

As for the Utuma, I doubt the goddess was the same being after having her physical form torn apart by dragons, being ripped apart by dragons is probably a life changing experience. Certainly her interaction with the world was very different after this event.

There's a pretty strong tension between "weakened the empire" and "revealed the true monster empire that was there all along". If the Empire was at its apex under Phargentes the Younger, and the Empire has always been a means to tear down the fabric of reality etc., why does killing the Red Emperor accelerate the Empire's plan rather than delay it? There's always the possibility, of course, that Emperor Ralzakark or Ragnaglar or whoever actually is sitting in Glamour in the last days of the Empire is a product of sheer desperation- but then we must place some share of the responsibility for that desperation and its consequences for reality on Prince Argrath. 

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32 minutes ago, Eff said:

There's a pretty strong tension between "weakened the empire" and "revealed the true monster empire that was there all along". If the Empire was at its apex under Phargentes the Younger, and the Empire has always been a means to tear down the fabric of reality etc., why does killing the Red Emperor accelerate the Empire's plan rather than delay it? There's always the possibility, of course, that Emperor Ralzakark or Ragnaglar or whoever actually is sitting in Glamour in the last days of the Empire is a product of sheer desperation- but then we must place some share of the responsibility for that desperation and its consequences for reality on Prince Argrath. 

The dangerous abuses by the empire were occurring long before Argrath appeared on the scene as a major threat. In Orlanth is Dead, Lunars explicitly managed to recreate the conditions of the Greater Darkness by trapping Orlanth in the underworld. Who knows how close they came to liberating Wakboth on that occasion. Releasing the devil with all his power inside time would likely have caused the immediate end of the world.

No doubt desperation drove Lunars to commit chaotic atrocities. But I suggest an empire which had no qualms about dangerous magical experiments which risked the destruction of the world, just to defeat a bunch of rebels in a distant province, was already well on the way to becoming a seething chaotic cesspit, however well disguised.

Edited by EricW
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9 minutes ago, EricW said:

The dangerous abuses by the empire were occurring long before Argrath appeared on the scene as a major threat. In Orlanth is Dead, Lunars explicitly managed to recreate the conditions of the Greater Darkness by trapping Orlanth in the underworld. Who knows how close they came to liberating Wakboth, releasing the devil inside time would likely have caused the end of the world.

No doubt desperation drove Lunars to commit greater chaotic atrocities. But I suggest an empire which had no qualms about dangerous magical experiments which risked the destruction of the world, just to defeat a bunch of rebels in a distant province, was already well on the way to becoming a seething chaotic cesspit, however well disguised.

1) The point of the death of Orlanth and unintentional Windstop wasn't "just to defeat a bunch of rebels in a distant province". Ernalda didn't keel over in Esrolia when the Red Earth ruled, Waha is still alive in Prax while the Lunars are ruling it. The point was to bring about a cosmological shift in order to try and resolve the conflict in the Middle Air between Orlanth and Sedenya. EDIT: It might be going a bit too far to suggest that the Temples of the Reaching Storm exist as a consequence of the resolution of  this conflict, but that's a real possibility- that the cosmological conflict is resolved between 1621 and 1625 and after that it's all driven by mortals and demigods.

2) The Devil has already been running around inside Time according to Argrath himself. "Every six hundred years you have come..." and all that. 

3) That seems very debatable. Are the Kralori chaotic, because of their efforts to raise the Suam Chow? Was the EWF chaotic? Are Mostali and Aldyrami chaotic? How about the Uzhim and Triolini who are planning to block Magasta's pool? Magical megaprojects certainly don't appear to be inherently chaotic on their own, even ones that cause massive death and destruction as they are carried out. 

Edited by Eff
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