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What are the limits of in-game common knowledge?


Wheel Shield

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One thing that I've always wondered about is how much the people of your average Sartarite clan know about "big picture" events in world history. Please bear with me, as I'm a Gloranthan novice and I'm not digging out sourcebooks but just going from memory. And when I refer to 'Sartarite clans' I mean a relatively small community and not a big tribal kingdom (which might see far travelers or have a Lankhor Mhy sage with access to a library). Finally this doesn't really have to be about Sartar but most places in Glorantha. Sartar is just a place where I have a frame of reference.

 

Let me give a few examples to put the question into context. "Filthy god learner," seems like a very common epithet for somebody meddling with things they shouldn't. The reaction feels like, "You're doing something weird and I don't like it. GOD LEARNER!" But do they know they were a western sorcerer kingdom? Do they know they came from Jrustela? Malkoni? Abiding Book? Sea on fire? OMG, Dormal the Sailor Man? I peruse some campaign starters for Sartar and I get the impression that some clan folk have never even seen the ocean. Many depictions of heortling  communities depict them as generations of dutiful cow guards (and part time cow raiders). I'm not denigrating the setting, I just wonder if most people even understand the implied curse words they're leveling. 

I (the real world me) doesn't even know if the Closing is blamed on the actual God Learners, or does anyone differentiate the GL's downfall from the Syndic's Ban.

Another example: The Lightbringer's Quest is a challenging but not uncommon heroquest. Do clan elders teach about Harmast Barefoot? Do they share Arkat's admonition that it should be done with respect (and therefore explain who Arkat was). This leads us to a daisy chain on whether the cautionary aspects of Arkat's legend are shared, and therefore the mention of Gbaji, Nysalor, and the World Council(s) of Friends? The Council convened in Dragon's Pass, but a looooong time ago. HeroQuest Glorantha tells us the cautionary story of Nysalor is common, although few know the whole story. I'm picturing a clan performing the Lightbringer's Quest to address a problem or strength and/or bring good fortune to community. Does the Ring or godtalker skip telling young adults about the "birds and the bees" and instead have a sit down about Arkat and Gbaji?

I'm not looking for specific answers to those questions, although that could certainly be a fun discussion (so don't let me stop you). I'm trying to reconcile culture's where people devote a significant amount of time and old fashioned work to their community (cattle herding and farming) and just a relatively small part of that time in what could be considered 'adventuring.'  Citing Andrew Logan Montgomery's depiction from Six Seasons in Sartar, and I think Ian Cooper did a similar portrayal.

And as a side note, I do see why some lore is commonly known or conversely unheard of; for example the Lunar Empire is proselytizing and Mostali are very secretive.

 

I love Glorantha's lore, along with all of you, but I think these thoughts when I consider introducing Glorantha to a new group of players who have no prior knowledge. You know? How and when to dole out the big picture. I often look at what the actual PCs would know.

 

Thanks in advance, happy to be here.

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1 hour ago, Wheel Shield said:

One thing that I've always wondered about is how much the people of your average Sartarite clan know about "big picture" events in world history. Please bear with me, as I'm a Gloranthan novice and I'm not digging out sourcebooks but just going from memory. And when I refer to 'Sartarite clans' I mean a relatively small community and not a big tribal kingdom (which might see far travelers or have a Lankhor Mhy sage with access to a library). Finally this doesn't really have to be about Sartar but most places in Glorantha. Sartar is just a place where I have a frame of reference.

 

Let me give a few examples to put the question into context. "Filthy god learner," seems like a very common epithet for somebody meddling with things they shouldn't. The reaction feels like, "You're doing something weird and I don't like it. GOD LEARNER!" But do they know they were a western sorcerer kingdom? Do they know they came from Jrustela? Malkoni? Abiding Book? Sea on fire? OMG, Dormal the Sailor Man? I peruse some campaign starters for Sartar and I get the impression that some clan folk have never even seen the ocean. Many depictions of heortling  communities depict them as generations of dutiful cow guards (and part time cow raiders). I'm not denigrating the setting, I just wonder if most people even understand the implied curse words they're leveling. 

I (the real world me) doesn't even know if the Closing is blamed on the actual God Learners, or does anyone differentiate the GL's downfall from the Syndic's Ban.

Another example: The Lightbringer's Quest is a challenging but not uncommon heroquest. Do clan elders teach about Harmast Barefoot? Do they share Arkat's admonition that it should be done with respect (and therefore explain who Arkat was). This leads us to a daisy chain on whether the cautionary aspects of Arkat's legend are shared, and therefore the mention of Gbaji, Nysalor, and the World Council(s) of Friends? The Council convened in Dragon's Pass, but a looooong time ago. HeroQuest Glorantha tells us the cautionary story of Nysalor is common, although few know the whole story. I'm picturing a clan performing the Lightbringer's Quest to address a problem or strength and/or bring good fortune to community. Does the Ring or godtalker skip telling young adults about the "birds and the bees" and instead have a sit down about Arkat and Gbaji?

I'm not looking for specific answers to those questions, although that could certainly be a fun discussion (so don't let me stop you). I'm trying to reconcile culture's where people devote a significant amount of time and old fashioned work to their community (cattle herding and farming) and just a relatively small part of that time in what could be considered 'adventuring.'  Citing Andrew Logan Montgomery's depiction from Six Seasons in Sartar, and I think Ian Cooper did a similar portrayal.

And as a side note, I do see why some lore is commonly known or conversely unheard of; for example the Lunar Empire is proselytizing and Mostali are very secretive.

 

I love Glorantha's lore, along with all of you, but I think these thoughts when I consider introducing Glorantha to a new group of players who have no prior knowledge. You know? How and when to dole out the big picture. I often look at what the actual PCs would know.

 

Thanks in advance, happy to be here.

The tribe members would have chatted to ancestors returned from the dead every sacred time, so they would have a good knowledge of what happened to their tribe, stretching back to the greater darkness. They would be very aware the skill they used to survive great upheavals.

They would know about Lokamaydon, the traitor who sided with Gbaji.

 I don’t know if they would be aware of everything the god learners did, they were enemies, sorcerers, evil magic.

The Empire of the Wyrms Friends memories might be confused, a lot of knowledge was ripped from people’s minds by dragons.

Theu would know about the first dawn, how Orlanth and the lightbringers saved the world.

The Lunars - some tribes are friendly, many hate them. Everyone knows they use chaos and a weird form of sorcery, which is a huge challenge to people who hate chaos and sorcery. But they are too powerful to challenge openly.

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So there are three basic approaches we can take to this question of knowledge. I'll start with what I'll call a modernist perspective. We can imagine that most people in Glorantha have the same kind of knowledge someone in our world before mass literacy and dedicated historiography would have of the past. Which is to say, Arkat and Harmast were 11-1200 years ago. So knowledge of them would be like someone in the days of Julius Caesar or Octavian Caesar and their knowledge of the Trojan War. And the EWF and God Learners were about 600 years ago. So we're looking at that same person in the days of Julius Caesar and their knowledge of the Greco-Persian wars and the founding of the Achaemenids and the poetry of Sappho. And the rising of the Red Moon was four hundred years ago. So we're looking at the Pelopponesian War and knowledge of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens. 

Which is to say, people in that time knew of the analogies I am drawing. But in this framework, they knew events and stories and didn't have much context about the material or social characteristics of the time, and much of what they knew was false or spurious. So in this approach, people would have little "real" knowledge of Arkat or the Middle Sea Empire, but would know the basic stories and interpret them and add other stories in to use the stories to express their contemporary concerns and beliefs. 

I call this the modernist perspective because it treats Glorantha as a naturalistic/materialistic cosmos where people behave like they do in our world not just in outward social behaviors but also in embedded social behaviors like historical awareness. 

Another perspective is what I call the premodernist one. In this approach, knowledge is transmitted accurately. It might be lost, but it can be found. There are demigods and immortals and long-lived people and spirits and gods of secret knowledge, and there are truths and falsehoods in the Otherside. So while you might have limits in your knowledge, the basic truth can be transmitted and is preserved even against failures of mortal memory. So when people talk about Arkat, they are limited in their knowledge because their connection to Arkat has been disrupted magically, and this is unusual. 

The third approach is what I call the postmodernist one. The gods are pluralistic entities. People can wildly misunderstand the nature of the universe for hundreds of years. False proofs can be made, and the truth does not out on its own. It is possible to learn things about the universe, but there are so many conditionals and underlying theory-laden aspects and exceptions that surety is a rare thing indeed, and those who go without doubt go unarmored and with their scabbard empty. And in all that mess, what was "actually" so is far less important than how it is understood now and by whom. 

Between all of these three, you must mix them together in proportion to what you want to do in and with Glorantha. Do you want to dig out old lore and discover forgotten secrets sandals on feet and sword in hand? Do you want to tease these things out through great intellectual effort? Do you want to embrace deliberate anachronism and small-c chaos? 

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Eight Arms and the Mask

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In game, I generally require a Lore role for players to know more than the potted histories of their area PLUS the mythos and history of their cult. So an Orlanth initiate gets the Secrets of the Storm Voice section in the Cults Book and the Mythos and History section of the Orlanth cult. They learn of the Lightbringers Quest. They learn that the Broken Council age birth to the new god Gbaji and that Chaos returned, and that Harmast Barefoot was the saviour of the Orlanthi and that Arkat betrayed humanity to his troll alien. They learn of the Empire of the Wyrms Friends and Alakoring. And that sort of stuff. Largely at that level of detail. A few famous names and stories and that's about it.

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2 hours ago, Eff said:

So there are three basic approaches we can take to this question of knowledge. I'll start with what I'll call a modernist perspective. We can imagine that most people in Glorantha have the same kind of knowledge someone in our world before mass literacy and dedicated historiography would have of the past. Which is to say, Arkat and Harmast were 11-1200 years ago. So knowledge of them would be like someone in the days of Julius Caesar or Octavian Caesar and their knowledge of the Trojan War. And the EWF and God Learners were about 600 years ago. So we're looking at that same person in the days of Julius Caesar and their knowledge of the Greco-Persian wars and the founding of the Achaemenids and the poetry of Sappho. And the rising of the Red Moon was four hundred years ago. So we're looking at the Pelopponesian War and knowledge of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens. 

I don’t think it’s directly comparable, our world doesn’t have the power to summon ancestors who lived through those times to answer questions.

In “Orlanth is Dead”, after the divine storm magic fails the first thing the tribes do is summon hordes of ancestors to ask their help figuring out what is happening.

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In my games, I will outright tell my players any lore they need to know what's happening (see The Duel at Dangerford on Arkati Shadow Guardians for a worked example, plus alternative ways of doing this). I take a little time out from my normal narrative mode to say, "Right, here's something you need to know about Glorantha," then I reel it off.

Sometimes I will read a paragraph or a page of myth or history direct from the Gloranthan Sourcebook or King of Sartar. I don't expect my players to know as much weird Gloranthan trivia as I do, and I enjoy showing them how "everything connects" -- that I'm playing around creatively with Greg Stafford's magnificent fantasy world, not just pulling random shit out of my ass to confuse them. (Although I do that too).*

I usually skate over any misleading information that will only waste their time, unless I intend to confuse them or encourage wild speculation, in which case I'll revel in it. And I'll shut down questions that don't lead anywhere interesting (for me), because I don't want to waste everyone's time exploring stuff that has nothing to do with the game session. ("I thought the Colymar worshipped Elmal...?" "Not now, Kevin.")

Those marvellously well-informed Ancestors are just the Old Man from the Tavern, reskinned. They give you information that's reliable enough to get you to the start of the scenario: they will be no help at all with the details, because your heroes are Big Damn Heroes facing unprecedented perils and doing deeds nobody's attempted before. 

* This is why there are all those detailed footnotes in my Gloranthan scenarios. It's not that you have to own and re-read every source I mention to play them (you utter dork) -- it's so you can see how much fun I have playing around with the existing material, and how many liberties I'm willing to take to amuse my players.

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Thank you everyone! That was a great range of advice and perspective. I especially appreciate Jeff's advice, because it was so simple and pragmatic. When the Cult Book comes out, trust the contents of the appropriate cult chapter/section to guide the PCs in-game knowledge once they become initiates. You can't get much simpler and direct than that.. But everyone gave me something good to think about, and you have my thanks. 

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For context, Startar isn't actually a backwater although we joke about them being a bunch of hicks up in the hills. There are hicks up in the hills, but an awful lot of Sartarites live in towns and cities, see foreigners on the streets almost every day, can talk to people who speak the same language from Esrolia, Heortland, Tarsh and Saird pretty much whenever they want if so inclined. Many of those people are co-religionists and will come to worship in the same local temples. Fighting in wars can also involve travelling quite a bit. I'm guessing it's not unusual in particular for Ernalda worshipers to go on pilgrimages to Esrolia. There's plenty of news and opinion available for those so inclined, so it's more about time and interest than access. If you want to play a character that's very well informed just throw some points into the relevant skill.

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There are two ways I think about it:

1. Some base of information is necessary to get the scenario rolling and to have it be in Glorantha.  Having the player roll for Sartar lore (or Peloria lore or wherever)  is the way to pass that information out and have the players not feel force-fed.  Then on with the game.

2. Some history and some cult lore will be known to almost everyone.  Figure that the cults will have worship ceremonies which lay members attend, and that they will even bring their children.  Including harvest ceremonies and Sacred Time ceremonies.  I also assume that some time before you are initiated, you will get some formal instruction.   These will teach stories that everyone will know:  Just as all Real World Christians know the story of virgin birth in a barn, baby in the manger, all Orlanthi will know the story of the Lightbringers Quest.   It's basic to the Gloranthan setting. This is the background on the cult that you just give to the players when they roll up characters or their characters are initiated, if the players haven't already read it. 

Much more lore and history will not be easily recalled by everyone, or nor known at all by many.  How many RW Christians can recite the theses that Luther nailed to the church door, or even recall how many theses there were, or where that church was?  (I can't - you probably can't - just google it!).  But some can, and even I, who do not claim to be a christian but went to religious schools and have read a lot of history,  can give a thumbnail summary of one or more of the theses.  Anyway, if it's important to the adventure - this is the stuff they get when they make the lore roll.  Maybe mixed with stuff that is NOT important to the adventure. 

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On 9/6/2021 at 1:16 AM, simonh said:

For context, Startar isn't actually a backwater although we joke about them being a bunch of hicks up in the hills. There are hicks up in the hills, but an awful lot of Sartarites live in towns and cities, see foreigners on the streets almost every day, can talk to people who speak the same language from Esrolia, Heortland, Tarsh and Saird pretty much whenever they want if so inclined. Many of those people are co-religionists and will come to worship in the same local temples. Fighting in wars can also involve travelling quite a bit. I'm guessing it's not unusual in particular for Ernalda worshipers to go on pilgrimages to Esrolia. There's plenty of news and opinion available for those so inclined, so it's more about time and interest than access. If you want to play a character that's very well informed just throw some points into the relevant skill.

The lifeblood of Sartar ,and the foundation of its strength, is trade.  It is *THE* great crossroads, both N/S and E/W.

By necessity, the cities that cater to the traders are pretty cosmopolitan.

There are places in Sartar where it's mostly "hicks in the hills," but that's only a "majority" of Sartar if you judge by the area; the orchards and flocks and herds and such cover the landscape & thus the kingdom, but the PEOPLE cluster in the steads, the towns, and the cities.  And the majority of the people aren't hicks.

(But there's plenty of room for the naive rural farmer backstory, if desired; it's just not required (despite the landscape))

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I have had a player who insisted that his characters know as much as they did about the world about them. Let me tell you what a pain in the ass that was! I felt I needed a PHD just to keep up and all the joy in running the game oozed out of it! Normally I like the extra work of being GM but... No, I like role-players who do not insist on knowing everything!

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... remember, with a TARDIS, one is never late for breakfast!

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Since the mid to late 1990s virtually all "knowlege" about Glorantha is said to be subjective. So the player who wants the character to know what they, the player, know, may end up thinking their character "knows" many things that are contradicted by objective fact or other subjective beliefs in the Glorantha that their PC is inhabiting.

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