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The God Learners Podcast Episode 5: Biturian Varosh's Travels in Prax part 3 - Pavis, Sun County and Corflu


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Episode 5 of the God Learners Podcast is out, returning to the travels of Biturian Varosh:

https://godlearners.com/episode-5-the-travels-of-biturian-varosh-part-3/

Together with our guest Drew Baker of Jonstown Compendium fame - QAD Quick And Dirty series (e.g. the Pimper's Block omnibus), the Rubble Redux books Insula of the Waning Moon and Insula of the Rising Sun, and Alogo's Caravan - Riding Beasts of Dragon Pass - we read possibly too deeply into the sidebar text of Cults of Prax, exchanging observations, misunderstandings and weird theories about these three stations of Biturian's quest for profits and into bankruptcy. (Links to Drew's publications available in the show notes.)

Before we get into Prax, we catch up with some of the news.

We also announce a new series of interviews that we plan to put out alternatingly with the regular podcast episodes. Keep tuned for more announcements.

 

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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Here's a picture to liven up the thread 😄 

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If you're new to podcasts, here's a "how to" page.

By the way, people, don't forget that we also post occasional fiction, lore, or articles on RuneQuest rules. For instance, here's a small collection of local spirits, and here's part 1 of a 3-parts series on experience checks in RQG (all 3 parts are available). You can subscribe to our RSS feed directly, or subscribe to The Journal of Runic Studies, our weekly newsletter.

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Thank you for another enjoyable episode and for further delving into Biturian Varosh’s travels. I’ve enthused about Biturian’s Praxian travelogue before. It has always loomed large in my own understanding of the tone of Glorantha and my personal attachment to Issaries, the cult of my own favourite character.

The subject of slavery was vaguely touched on a couple of times in the podcast. Ludo might have ironically suggested in the summary of Biturian's previous encounters at the beginning of the podcast that there was no problem with slavery in gaming material in the 70's. I think there's more to it than that. I don't think the subject of slavery should automatically be taboo in gaming and I don't think it was dealt with off-handedly in Cults of Prax....quite the opposite.

It’s something I have had to deal with in game. For players new to Glorantha I have referred them to Biturian’s travels as the perfect introduction to the feel of the setting and important in informing my vision of Glorantha. At least one of my players expressed shock and outrage at the depiction of slavery in the travelogue and in Glorantha in general and this has required me to talk about what it means and how we would handle it.

This is a fraught subject and treacherous to bring up, but I think it’s worth discussing. My personal opinion is that it is handled appropriately in the travels of Biturian Varosh and can be managed in game, if GM and players have a shared understanding of how to do so.

Glorantha is an analogue of our ancient world and slavery was endemic not just in that ancient world but through to modern times. We study and are fascinated by ancient Greece and Rome. There is a tendency to celebrate their achievements in politics, law, art, literature, philosophy and architecture as foundational to the development of the modern Western world, while conveniently ignoring the uncomfortable truth that these civilisations were built on imperialism, warfare and enslavement on a horrifying scale. Not only was slavery ubiquitous, it was accepted as normal. There wasn’t the innate revulsion to the institution that we believe is self evident today (except possibly for those enslaved), nor was there any widespread idealistic zeal to abolish the practice. The great Aristotle’s writings on the predestined and innate inferiority of the slave are particularly invidious and indicative of the mindset of even the supposedly philosophically enlightened in the ancient world.

I believe that to study the ancient world and ignore its dark side, particularly slavery, is to grossly distort our perception and understanding of history. If we don’t face it and shine a light on it we don’t learn from it.

Glorantha is not our ancient world and so does not have to include slavery. However, as an analogue of our world, it is not out of place either and its inclusion contributes to the authenticity which draws so many of us to the setting. I think it can be managed well and sensitively and incorporated in a way that helps us face the fact of its prevalence in our own history, if GM and players share a clear understanding of how it is to be handled. My approach is that it is part of the world and accepted by many of Glorantha’s cultures but my guarantee is that it will not be treated casually. This is not to say that any of my games would be focused on the topic or provide opportunity for a principled crusade of mass emancipation, because this would break suspension of disbelief. On the other hand I would not feel comfortable with callous and thoughtless slave ownership by player characters.

I think the best approach is to offer each individual the opportunity to come to terms with slavery on a personal level. The most important key to this is to make every encountered enslaved NPC a fully realised and developed person, rather than a faceless stat block with no more personality than a players character’s horse. This requires players to confront the humanity (or elder racedness) of the enslaved and to come to terms with it at an intimate, interpersonal level. A prerequisite for institutional slavery is the dehumanisation of the enslaved. When a rational, moral person is forced to acknowledge the humanity of the slave, then they cannot themselves be enslavers.

IMHO this is handled perfectly in the travels of Biturian Varosh, and I directed my affronted player to go back and read all the excerpts, not just respond with a knee-jerk reaction. Biturian is a man embedded in the social mores of his world. He is a merchant and purchases slaves as trade goods. He constrains their physical and spiritual liberty with magical slave collars and bracelets and he beats Norayeep to enforce his authority over her, as he would a recalcitrant pack animal. No points in the plus column for Biturian so far. Yet as his adventures progress and he gets to know his slaves, he is forced to deal with them as people. He starts to feel paternal concern for Morak and eventually goes to some lengths and personal cost to ensure his welfare and safety (I know his motivations were discussed in the podcast but that’s my reading). And of course he falls in love with Norayeep and frees her.

Biturian is no anachronistic enlightened man of the future, preaching general manumission, but comes to accept the humanity of his slaves on individual terms. What I love most about this is that it is also central to his own inner journey, an extension of his revelation about his relationship with his god. He does not acquire to selfishly possess, but to release and pass on. Above all he realises that while he can physically own Norayeep, he cannot possess what he most values in her, her spirit and her love.

“Here I see you, seeking nothing for yourself but sharing in all the dangers of a cursed kin. And I recognize your love and nobility. I did long ago, and sought for a time to own it. I cannot do so, nor should I by my cult vows. Yet I wish to share in it.”

So this episode is also a confrontation with Biturian’s own humanity and spirituality. So deftly managed. It addresses my desire for the subject of slavery to be depicted with authenticity and not whitewashed, but also satisfies my modern morality. It also provides a template for managing slavery in Glorantha in a credible but sensitive way.

Another example of Greg’s magic.

Brent.

 

 

 

 

Edited by BrentS
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On 11/9/2021 at 12:56 PM, Beoferret said:

Just finished this episode a few hours ago. Good stuff. More please!

Thanks 😄  There will be more indeed!

 

On 11/12/2021 at 9:07 PM, BrentS said:

Thank you for another enjoyable episode and for further delving into Biturian Varosh’s travels.

Thanks too 😄 

On 11/12/2021 at 9:07 PM, BrentS said:

The subject of slavery was vaguely touched on a couple of times in the podcast. Ludo might have ironically suggested in the summary of Biturian's previous encounters at the beginning of the podcast that there was no problem with slavery in gaming material in the 70's. I think there's more to it than that. I don't think the subject of slavery should automatically be taboo in gaming and I don't think it was dealt with off-handedly in Cults of Prax....quite the opposite.

Yeah my remark was more of a joke than any indication that I'm unhappy with that aspect of Cults of Prax (which I'm not). I definitely agree with some of your points, but honestly I haven't thought or researched this particular topic enough to say more. But thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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Thanks Ludo. I realised your statement was irony. 

Sorry, my post had turned into something of a treatise. We've obviously had to wrestle with this issue and I've needed to process it. It's one of the elephant-sized mules in the room when talking about Biturian Varosh's travels and Glorantha in general. It wasn't just your mention of it at the start but also discussion of Biturian's motivation for seeking answers to Morak's nature and his reluctance to sell Norayeep's slave collar and bracelets that drew my attention to a problem I was already wrangling with. As an aside I'm confident Biturian didn't sell Norayeep's valuable collar and bracelets, even when insolvent, because he was already in love with her. He couldn't risk the chance of losing her, even if he had not yet received the revelation of his relationship with Issaries and realised that he could not possess by force what was most precious to him.

I should say that my position on how I want to deal with this is not a universal statement on how I think everybody should approach it (it may have come across that way). We're fortunate that among my friends and family we don't have direct personal or ancestral heritage of slavery (not that my country's shameful history is free of it, it's just not as overt as it was in some other countries). If there was a player for whom any representation of slavery would trigger personal distress, there is no question that it would be shunted out of the world and the narrative.

The same is true of other confronting issues in Glorantha, such as the mating habits of broo. I don't think I could ever bring myself to have it occur to sentient characters in game, such as in the RQ3 River of Cradles campaign, but among mature players I don't feel I need to censor out the knowledge and implied threat of it, as it forms part of the background menace of a violent and dangerous world. However, if even the vague potential of sexual violence put any of my players at risk because of their own the life experience, it would be right out of our Glorantha. 

It comes down to the same principle each time. I think it's best to discuss potentially triggering topics as adults before play and ensure that everybody is comfortable and can agree on an approach to managing them, even if that means eliminating them from the world. You can't account for all issues that may crop up and players should know that they're free to stop play and let everybody know if something makes them uncomfortable. I can just foresee that these two subjects are obvious pit traps to be addressed ahead of time.

None of this surfaced in our teenage romps through Glorantha. I'm ashamed to say that it didn't even occur to us. We weren't monsters but we didn't have the maturity to understand that these were potential issues.

Brent.

Edited by BrentS
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