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Technology in Glorantha


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I'm really new to Runequest, and still trying to get my head around the setting. One of the things that's giving me some trouble is understanding the technology level of Glorantha. I know it's 'Bronze Age', but I also see a lot of things that would be anachronisms-heavy horse, two-handed swords, crossbows, heck some of those clothes dyes probably wouldn't have been around until the 19th century! I'm as ready to accept differences in the march of science in a magical world as anybody, I'm just curious if there's somewhere to start so I know what is and is not available in this world. Thanks in advance, any help is much appreciated.

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Me, "Well they look like bronze, but it's really the bones of dead gods" Player1, "Cool. some weird mythical metal mashup" Me, "Yes, there are also other metals that look like gold, silver,

I mean, in the real world, pure iron is something of entirely specialist interest, mostly in the laboratory. Steels begin with a 0.002% or higher carbon content, and terms like "wrought iron" exist pr

I think vertical windmills make a kind of sense - they're vastly simpler than Dutch windmills. And Old Wind canonically has sacred windmills, I think?

There’s a constant tension in the worldbuilding between how it’s described as bronze age but often looks more like classical antiquity. That said, it’s often better than it seems - non-metal bow crossbows are old, the better ones are mostly dwarf-only (and dwarves have renaissance level technology), some horses are magical (and heavy cavalry can be bison), who knows what colours you can get from troll insects, and so on.

I removed the Greatsword, because it also a bit too good.

Edited by Akhôrahil
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"Bronze Age" is a label, and it is more applicable to the social levels of the world than to its technology.

Any immediate association with the Fertile Crescent and its neighborhood is bound to be faulty, too. And people in full hoplite armor aren't Bronze Age but Iron Age or classical antiquity.

 

In our world, farming is a Neolithic technology that remained largely unchanged until the modern age, with powered tractors and synthetic fertilizers overturning long-accepted truths about manpower and beast power.

The use of concrete predates the knowledge of smelting in our world - Catal Hüyük has terrazzo floors...

We don't know much about the availability of textile dyes beyond purple and woad indigo. Textiles require quite extreme conditions to survive the millennia. Egyptian mummies, ice mummies (from Kurgans, or the notable Oetztal individual), finds from the Hallstatt salt mines or findings on bog mummies are among our best sources, and all of these have been subject to chemical degradation of some kind. Preservation in salt has been the least corrosive form. I have seen a wide range of wool mordants in the Iron Age research park of Lejre (outside of Roskilde, Denmark - a must visit, alongside the Viking ship museum in Roskilde if you happen to travel there).

Glorantha's technology has bronze as its everyday metal. Gloranthan bronze varies between your expectations from terrestrial cast bronze and superior material hammered and welded from Godsbone. Iron is know, it is (anti-)magical, rare, and hard to work.

The mostali of Glorantha are the source for much of the technological anachronisms like crossbows, but there were other Godtime civilizations with quite advanced materials and if not technologies then magically produced processes, too. The Glorantha you encounter is a post-apocalyptic world, in the grasp of apocalyptic cycles, and another of those cycles is close to its culmination.

The heavy horse is one of many giant-sized animals. There are people riding the backs of oversized hawks in the lands of Balazar, and you react "Ok, this is fantasy." There are herds of very large horses from the magical lands of the west where they were bred by immortal humans. The descendants of those humans have lost immortality, but some held on to the huge horse breeds, the likes of the Thessalian breeds ridden by Alexander and his companions.

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1 hour ago, egyptian said:

I'm really new to Runequest, and still trying to get my head around the setting.

Welcome and I hope that you enjoy it.

1 hour ago, egyptian said:

One of the things that's giving me some trouble is understanding the technology level of Glorantha. I know it's 'Bronze Age', but I also see a lot of things that would be anachronisms-heavy horse, two-handed swords, crossbows, heck some of those clothes dyes probably wouldn't have been around until the 19th century! I'm as ready to accept differences in the march of science in a magical world as anybody, I'm just curious if there's somewhere to start so I know what is and is not available in this world. Thanks in advance, any help is much appreciated.

Welcome to our world ...

There have been pages and pages of debate about this in various forums.

  • Some people rigidly stick to "We can only have Bronze Age technology"
  • Some people prefer "We have ancient technology that can be Bronze age, iron Age or early Greek technology"
  • Some people prefer having medieval technology

All I can say is that Glorantha has iron weapons for the elite, gunpowder, canons and flying machines.

What I would recommend is to think of Glorantha as having a broadly Iron/Bronze Age technology with some things that come from later periods. 

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1 hour ago, egyptian said:

I'm really new to Runequest, and still trying to get my head around the setting. One of the things that's giving me some trouble is understanding the technology level of Glorantha. I know it's 'Bronze Age', but I also see a lot of things that would be anachronisms-heavy horse, two-handed swords, crossbows, heck some of those clothes dyes probably wouldn't have been around until the 19th century! I'm as ready to accept differences in the march of science in a magical world as anybody, I'm just curious if there's somewhere to start so I know what is and is not available in this world. Thanks in advance, any help is much appreciated.

Start with the two short intros on page 11 - Keeping it bronze age and Keeping it fantastic. Look at the artwork in the books, it's not just there to be pretty, it's there to inform the setting.

Then generally speaking use the real world cut off date of the fall of 1st century BCE. Any more modern technology should be one-offs, extremely rare or confined to a small region or people (although the text may not actually limit this). 

Greatswords in my world are rare and teachers are found only amongst the Humakti.

crossbows, black powder, other mad stuff have a dwarf origin (see Dwarf weapons in the bestiary page 59)

Usual dyes - Fantasy plants, animals and materials (keep it fantastic).

A good example of of this kind of technology is cereal grinding. The rotary quern only appeared around 1 BCE, so glorantha is a saddle stone world. Except of course where there are dwarf mills! (Bostrop: This clan is famed for their dwarf-made water mill, which grinds grain into flour in Lismelder tribal lands and it causes all kinds of problems).

Likewise there are no windmills to power mills, but water mills have existed since 3rd century BCE, so what do do. Well, gears are a dwarf invention in my mind... 

When using pictorial resources with players, aim for bronze and neolithic stuff, I tend to avoid any roman or medieval stuff. Keep it sword and sandals.

 

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3 hours ago, egyptian said:

I'm really new to Runequest,

Welcome aboard.  RQ in Glorantha is amazing.

3 hours ago, egyptian said:

One of the things that's giving me some trouble is understanding the technology level of Glorantha. I know it's 'Bronze Age', but I also see a lot of things that would be anachronisms

Actually, I more look at the Bronze Age as a feel, rather than a strict technology level.

Primarily for me, it’s the Golden Heroic Age, and has the feel of the epics about that era.  It’s the actions of a few great heroes that drive history.  For example, *for me*, it’s Queen Lieka’s personal feelings for clemency or revenge that will drive what happens to the Lunar survivors on Colymar lands, rather than inescapable, faceless socio-economic forces.  And, *for me*, the roleplaying is the interaction with the Colymar Heroes (described in the adventures book of the GM screen), rather than with nameless political forces (such as clan rings).

Also, there’s the feel that armour is easily punctured and weapons readily break that makes combat so exciting.

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1 hour ago, David Scott said:

Likewise there are no windmills to power mills, but water mills have existed since 3rd century BCE

Agreed.  

However, I wouldn't worry too much if someone depicted Old Wind as a windmill.  If someone wanted to argue it's the kind of technology that could have existed in the bronze age if the technology advanced cultures were in regions where wind were a reliable energy source (and indeed worshipped), I'd believe them.

 

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46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

Then generally speaking use the real world cut off date of the fall of 1st century BCE. Any more modern technology should be one-offs, extremely rare or confined to a small region or people (although the text may not actually limit this). 

The Roman roads of Sartar are such a borderline case.

 

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

Greatswords in my world are rare and teachers are found only amongst the Humakti.

Greatswords in my Glorantha need to be hammered from sufficiently sized pieces of godsbone. Cast bronze won't do, only the lost limbs of (usually lesser) Storm Gods.

 

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

crossbows, black powder, other mad stuff have a dwarf origin (see Dwarf weapons in the bestiary page 59)

The ancient Malkioni had a quite high-tech urban civilization right next to the Mostali, and acquired quite a few technologies in trade or imitation, or parallel development. Including crossbows and opus caementitium.

 

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

Usual dyes - Fantasy plants, animals and materials (keep it fantastic).

Who came up with boiling murex snails by the pound to get purple anyway? This is already a quite fantastic endeavor. What other beasts would be hunted or fished for dyes or other essences (like Ambergris)?

 

 

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

A good example of of this kind of technology is cereal grinding. The rotary quern only appeared around 1 BCE, so glorantha is a saddle stone world. Except of course where there are dwarf mills! (Bostrop: This clan is famed for their dwarf-made water mill, which grinds grain into flour in Lismelder tribal lands and it causes all kinds of problems).

Wikipedia says that the saddle quern "were superseded around the 5th to the 4th century BC by the more efficient rotary quern." In Scotland, not the Mediterranean.

The stone-wheel oil mill appears to be a quite ancient design:
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Frantoio_Ipogeo.jpg

Typically drawn by donkeys. This kind of mill would be able to crush grain into groats, too - if most of the grain goes into porridge, that is all that is required.

 

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

Likewise there are no windmills to power mills, but water mills have existed since 3rd century BCE, so what do do. Well, gears are a dwarf invention in my mind... 

Water mills provide vertical rotation only. But that can be used for hammer mills, which offer another (terribly loud) method for crushing or flattening stuff. I have seen a hammer mill used in preparation of mash for alcohol, and for fullering and felting wool. Removing the linen fibre from rotten flax involves a crushing step, too.

(But then, a lot can be said about the idyllic crushing mortar scene in the first minutes of "Amok", or other such "documentary" "anthropological" shows...)

Other than gears, belts may be used for power transmission. The fire drill is an ancient example. The leather strip on professional war javelins is another such example.

There are pumps working on this principle, whether as bucket chains or by pulling knots through a pipe.

Speaking of irrigation, you don't need transmission on a water wheel with attached buckets pouring out their water at the highest point. It doesn't have to be a water screw, although that was known and used in the Second Age.

How are the potter's wheel or the wood-turning axis put into circular motion?

Leonardo's pedalcopter must have some form of transmission, too. Maybe not the bicycle chain one might imagine when hearing the word, though.

Gears may be more in the realm of precision transfer of motion than in force transfer.

46 minutes ago, David Scott said:

When using pictorial resources with players, aim for bronze and neolithic stuff, I tend to avoid any roman or medieval stuff. Keep it sword and sandals.

Avoid anything from maritime cultures unless you are dealing with one, too. River boats, even on a mile-wide river, aren't quite the same as ships on open waters. (Fjords and bays aren't quite the same as open sea, either.)

 

A lot of Neolithic stuff on non-irrigation plow farming will look pretty much like Anglo-Saxon or Viking stuff. Think Aztec Tenochtitlan when you hear Neolithic for the upper limits of what is possible. A culture that impressed the Spaniards who had already been exposed to formerly Muslim Spain's grandessa...

RQ3 used the term "Barbarian" for the various cultures of non-urban free warrior farmers it depicted, inside as well as outside of Glorantha. The Orlanthi are also known as hill barbarians. This doesn't (necessarily) mean the fur-loincloth fantasy barbarians of Hollywood B-Movies or Arnie's Conan movies with their blatant anachronisms, however much fun watching them in a slightly inebriated state may be.

 

Stuff you aren't likely to find in Glorantha (at least mine):

  • chainmail (outside of mostali manufacture), especially in bikini shape (plate armour is a different story, though)
  • boots with heels (geta-like plateau boots are an option, though, and in all likelihood as practical as high heels)
  • nailed-on horseshoes
  • modern saddles
  • buttons and buttonholes (outside of Kralorela and Seshnela)
  • flat roof gardens in area with heavy rainfall or snow fall
  • farmers or hunters requiring specialist crafters for everyday non-metallic tools of their trade
  • potato farming (manioc or similar tubers in tropical environments still possible)

 

Technologies which should be rare and involve sorcerous knowledge:

  • non-alchemical smelting of metals (transformation of ores into metal)
  • manufacture of clear glass

 

Anachronistic stuff you will find (occasionally) in (my) Glorantha (some of this only as forbidden knowledge of earlier ages):

  • stirrups
  • pairs of short ski for downhill gliding for giggles and bragging
  • woodcut printing, clay and wax tablets with long text seals imprinted
  • flint and pyrite for firestarting
  • gem-cutting
  • water screws
  • scissors
  • geared calculators
  • armored turtle galleys spewing fire (possibly even napalm, aka Greek Fire)
  • ship-building traditions able to build 200+ foot long huge sailed galleys and sea-going pleasure barges
  • transparent glass manufacture and glass blowing
  • non-fractioned distillation, spirits and essential oils
  • caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, mate)
  • concrete structures
  • viaducts, aqueducts, sag pipes, syphons
  • hydraulis (water-pressure-driven pipe organ)
  • huge cast-bronze items like bells
  • polytonal harmonies (music) and notation for that
  • kites
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I m not sure it is a good idea to compare earth technology and history with gloranthan.

Remember that iron is not iron. bronze is not bronze. gods are everywhere and everyone see them (sacred time ritual), and everyone can talk to them and expect answer (divination spell) There are dragons and walking dead/tree/stone, and speaking fishs...

So of course with so much difference with earth, the technology tree cannot be the same.

I m even not sure there is a technology tree in glorantha during the first three ages.

Are we sure that except fashion, people were able to inovate ?

 The gods teach the human how to build an house, how to cultivate, how to eat, don't they ? the gods invented sword, music, tool... Is there anything created by mortals after the great compromise ?

Of course there are those who tried, as god learners and clanking city (where are they now ?) but my view is when mortals are too far than their gods, a great cataclysm occurs and brings a true revolution to go back at the initial situation and a new age happens.
 

Maybe what Argrath did is this change. Now mortal can innovate, they are not focused on gods reenactment, as they cannot hear gods anymore (well I m not sure that is what Argrath did). They can create their future, so their technology tree

 

 

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9 hours ago, egyptian said:

I'm really new to Runequest, and still trying to get my head around the setting. One of the things that's giving me some trouble is understanding the technology level of Glorantha. I know it's 'Bronze Age', but I also see a lot of things that would be anachronisms-heavy horse, two-handed swords, crossbows, heck some of those clothes dyes probably wouldn't have been around until the 19th century! I'm as ready to accept differences in the march of science in a magical world as anybody, I'm just curious if there's somewhere to start so I know what is and is not available in this world. Thanks in advance, any help is much appreciated.

In fact Glorantha has surpasses the Bronze Age in technology, but that was in the past.  During the Second Age there was a group of extremely influential world conquerors called the Jrusteli Empire, also known as the God Learners.  They had flying ships, and bronze ships, steam-punk magical prosthetics and even a mechanical god called Zistor.  Through hacking rituals and hero quests the God Learners even warped the Gods themselves to be more to the liking of the God Learners.  Eventually they broke the Great Compromise and the Gods came down on them like a ton of bricks and they ceased to exist within a couple of generations.  Much of their tech was also stolen from the Dwarves, who have a lot of tech that is forbidden to non-Dwarves.  This includes cannons, muskets, robots, and alchemy.  The Dwarves actually regard Glorantha as a great machine that is broken and they are trying to fix it. 

The main reason Glorantha is bronze age is because Iron is rare and thus expensive, and bronze is found in a naturally alloyed state in rocks, which never happens IRL.

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I view it as "Bronze Age" in that the predominant metal is loosely equivalent to terrestrial bronze, but so far as technological level is concerned it's very much an "anything goes" world. In many ways the crazy tech mixture of a Final Fantasy game may be a better yardstick. 

That's not to say that there aren't some cultures that look, feel, smell and taste (and sometimes even quack) like terrestrial Bronze Age cultures, but there are likewise more primitive and more advanced cultures too. 

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On 1/22/2021 at 8:29 AM, Joerg said:

The Roman roads of Sartar are such a borderline case.

 

As are the 6 magical bridges of the God King—Belintar.

 

On 1/22/2021 at 8:29 AM, Joerg said:

Who came up with boiling murex snails by the pound to get purple anyway? This is already a quite fantastic endeavor. What other beasts would be hunted or fished for dyes or other essences (like Ambergris)?

 

Beaver privates, anyone?

 

On 1/22/2021 at 8:29 AM, Joerg said:

Wikipedia says that the saddle quern "were superseded around the 5th to the 4th century BC by the more efficient rotary quern." In Scotland, not the Mediterranean.

The stone-wheel oil mill appears to be a quite ancient design:
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Frantoio_Ipogeo.jpg

Typically drawn by donkeys. This kind of mill would be able to crush grain into groats, too - if most of the grain goes into porridge, that is all that is required.

This is well in the verboten iron age, I would think. Of course anachronisms r us. Jus ask Steve and Ray and Greg!

 

On 1/22/2021 at 8:29 AM, Joerg said:

A lot of Neolithic stuff on non-irrigation plow farming will look pretty much like Anglo-Saxon or Viking stuff. Think Aztec Tenochtitlan when you hear Neolithic for the upper limits of what is possible. A culture that impressed the Spaniards who had already been exposed to formerly Muslim Spain's grandessa...

 

You have pointed out and I have found in further research that implantation of a new age does not make obsolete or irrelevant any older tech (the ending of the neolithic did not mean the end of stone tools) Epochs overlap in odd and wonderful ways is my thought. To which you can also add my addendum that new tech may take 100s of years to be implemented broadly...if at all. 

 

On 1/22/2021 at 8:29 AM, Joerg said:

Leonardo's pedalcopter must have some form of transmission, too. Maybe not the bicycle chain one might imagine when hearing the word, though.

 

Paddles pushing gusts of wind...sylphs?

 

On 1/22/2021 at 10:32 AM, French Desperate WindChild said:

I m not sure it is a good idea to compare earth technology and history with gloranthan.

 

It isn’t, it is the Grognard equivalent of counting angels on the head of a pin. But it can be fun, briefly. 

 

On 1/22/2021 at 10:38 AM, Darius West said:

In fact Glorantha has surpasses the Bronze Age in technology, but that was in the past.  During the Second Age there was a group of extremely influential world conquerors called the Jrusteli Empire, also known as the God Learners.  They had flying ships, and bronze ships, steam-punk magical prosthetics and even a mechanical god called Zistor. 

Thanks Darius. My Mostali are still Steam Punk, by the by.

 

On 1/22/2021 at 10:38 AM, Darius West said:

The main reason Glorantha is bronze age

I would have thought the canonical reasons would be

  1. Cool
  2. Not Medieval like...

 

Edited by Bill the barbarian
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1 hour ago, Bill the barbarian said:

As are the 6 magical bridges of the God King—Belintar.

Don't think there's any borderline with these.  In my view, these are Over the Rainbow type bridges (all Magic, no Tech).

Now, the Conquering Daughter's roads on the other hand are very much in the Roman style - Pont du Gard being a key model there (and as shown now on the cover of Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass).

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10 hours ago, Psullie said:

for me the whole concept of 'Glorantha is Bronze Age' is just shorthand for it is not a Tolkien/D&D inspired game world but rather an ancient world vibe. It's more of a style guide rather than a timestamp 

Yup. It’s an easy way of saying this is a sword & sandal, Conan, Sinbad movie kinda setting. Don’t read too much into it.

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First off, thanks for all the answers. I didn't quite expect so many responses to what I thought was a pretty innocent question!

 

re: The Greatsword Thing-from my admittedly limited research it seems like we don't see evidence of bronze swords of more than about 100cm, and most are 60-70. The one one bronzeworker who I heard comments from said that the 'leaf swords' which we find in abundance were near the limits of bronze's mechanical strength. I'm sure magic would let you make more impressive weapons, and in a magic-pervasive world it's certainly reasonable, but it would probably make that base cost we see in the rulebook a couple shades higher.

 

Maybe it's enough to just have some expected technologies missing. No flint and steel obviously, and characters will probably want to keep a firepot so they can carry a glowing coal from one campfire to the next. No book bindings, but scrolls are everywhere and can be flipping massive (look at some of those Torah scrolls!). No horse collars mean that horses are for transportation, and oxen for work. No potatoes means that everyone knows there should be something else in the stewpot, but they don't know what...

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49 minutes ago, egyptian said:

Maybe it's enough to just have some expected technologies missing. No flint and steel obviously, and characters will probably want to keep a firepot so they can carry a glowing coal from one campfire to the next. 

Note that every single Ernalda initiate receives Ignite for free, so firestarting will often be easy.

Edited by Akhôrahil
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20 hours ago, Joerg said:

potato farming (manioc or similar tubers in tropical environments still possible)

 

11 hours ago, egyptian said:

No potatoes means that everyone knows there should be something else in the stewpot, but they don't know what...

???

Why? It's merely the luck of the draw that Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia didn't have potatoes as a native species. And Glorantha is Glorantha - it's not any of those other continents.

Tubers were very normal foods to consume otherwise.

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35 minutes ago, Shiningbrow said:

 

???

Why? It's merely the luck of the draw that Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia didn't have potatoes as a native species. And Glorantha is Glorantha - it's not any of those other continents.

Tubers were very normal foods to consume otherwise.

Earlier Gloranthan material had the Seven Mothers cult passing out free potato bread to the poor, so potatoes were a kind of cheap surplus grain. Now that role is more or less filled by maize, (and by implication, the Seven Mothers pass out free tacos) for reasons that haven't been spelled out in detail. I can think of several potential reasons, but I don't want to present them as authoritative when they're very much not so.

 

(The specific phrasing is that potatoes aren't known in Genertela, so they may well exist elsewhere.)

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4 hours ago, Shiningbrow said:

???

Why? It's merely the luck of the draw that Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia didn't have potatoes as a native species. And Glorantha is Glorantha - it's not any of those other continents.

It’s not even an Old World/New World thing - Glorantha has chilli peppers, tomatoes, and yes, corn.

Are there turkeys in Glorantha?

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