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Witchcraft in Glorantha


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Over at d-Infinity.net I have written up the beginnings of Witchcraft and witches - a system of magic that is neither sorcery nor cultic in nature. Instead, witches make temporary pacts with eldritch entities such as spirit lords, Elemental Elders, even dragons, or demons, and gain magic from their pact of service or POWer. There are some ready advantages to having a witch PC in the group. Diverse magic, a charismatic face, and a constant source of quests (the witch's service) are among them.

But there would also be a downside: Witchcraft probably threatens the fabric of Gloranthan culture. Witches can gain power without continual prayer. This makes them outsiders of society, and charismatics ones at that. They might be driven out, they might be targeted for bigotry and violence, but they might also be tolerated because of their expertise in the unusual.

The write up so far only has the system notes, and a handful of spells. But I am intending to add to them over time.


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You may want to take a second look at shamans.

They meet and cooperate with a large range of otherworld entities, and can set up temporary/semi-permanent/persistent spirit cults.

In Orlanthi societies, Kolating shamans have a place somewhat close to what you dedcribe: a bit outside, strange, yet acknowleddged as powerful.

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Witches and warlocks aren't unknown in Glorantha:

Jakaleel the Witch was once a shaman-priestess of dark powers and as one of the Seven Mothers her cult explores the diverse horrors and solaces contained in the secrets of Dark­ness in its many forms. The term 'witch' is applied to other deities as well, such as Earth Witch who prepares potions. This reflects the Gloranthan usage, which often applies to an elder female shaman. 

The magicians of the Sartar Magical Union are called warlocks and they wield great magical power through meditation and other strenuous disciplines. Argrath taught them to perceive a higher consciousness through their inner eye; these teachings are very similar to those Arkat taught his companions but include some element of draconic communication.

Their meditative disciplines include dance, chants, breathing techniques, postures, and other rites. Some rites include elements of Auld Wyrmish, both spoken and danced. The warlocks belong to other cults as well as that of the magical regiment; Lightbringer cults predominate; some are Malkioni, shamans, and even Lunar cultists.

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2 hours ago, M Helsdon said:

Witches and warlocks aren't unknown in Glorantha

Also, the dark land of Spol.  As the GtG notes: Spol: "This bleak and gloomy region along the banks of the Poralistor River is notorious for witchcraft, black sorcery, necromancy, and cold, calculating cruelty."

Likely the witchcraft of Spol is a 'shamanic' variant.

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In this witchcraft I was specifically looking for an alternate usable magical style for a PC. Shamanism, while mechanically similar, has certain connotations of usage in the real world and Glorantha that were not what I wanted. The player of this character would never have considered a shaman, but is quite keen on playing this type of Witch.

The other witch and witchcraft references with which I was familiar (Jalakeel, for example) were either superheroes or vague references to a style, with no rules to support them: In the way that M Helsdon points out above - as referring to dark magic or mages. My interpretation is intended as playable magic that does a number of things:

1 - it provides an alternative to the Cultist, Shaman, Sorcerer, trio that are the main choices for characters.

2 - It makes for a character than can be an includable outsider to cultures like Orlanthi tribesmen. A witch might be off-putting, but would have appeal because of their charismatic nature, their spiritually cosmopolitan world-view, and their useful exotic abilities. At the same time they could be viewed with suspicion as not adhering to the dominant cultic system. Overall, their usefulness could outweigh the suspicion, but there would still be room for the traditional "witch living a league outside of town, that you visit for a potion, or unique magical advice".

3 - I love old school Spirit Lords. The Witch is a character built around the concept of treating with these entities, bringing them into a game more easily. 


Having said all this, I admit that my campaign is not a traditional Gloranthan interpretation. The heroes in my game have the potential to alter the course of events. The Lunars are not necessarily 'destined' to conquer all of Sartar, the Holy Country and the River of Cradles. I have made other changes that traditionalists would likely curse at. So this Witch is obviously not intended for completely canon campaigns.

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The notion of witches are well incorporated into the fabric of Glorantha already.  Jakaleel is a witch because she dabbles in nasty magic that other people are afraid of, and the same notion goes for Cragspider the Firewitch.  Much like a sorcerer, a witch is a socially transgressive magic user, outside the normative social order and morality.  Witches and sorcerers don't derive their power from sources that their respective societies feel comfortable with or understand.  Typically "sorcerors" in anthropology are people who are born with powers and wind up using them badly i.e. super villains, as opposed to your more typical heroes.  You might think of them a bit like X men mutants perhaps?  Probably a poor analogy.

I would have said that your classic Mallia (note double L spelling) Shaman would be your more classic Gloranthan witch.  Also, the notion that the witches described in the article would be subject to a lot of bigotry anywhere but Malkioni lands seems a little unlikely.  Orlanthi are prejudiced against sorcery, but that is probably because of the Jrusteli and Vadeli, and while shamans are odd, they are sort of understood and accepted, mainly they would hate "witches" because they were feuding with their clan.  The Lunar Empire is inclusivist, and they currently dominate the Solar pantheon (who are great bigots, but sort of have to pull their heads in a bit within the Lunar Way.).  I imagine the Kralori would simply sigh at yet another load of peasant superstition, and merely exile them to the Kingdom of Ignorance if they became a nuisance. That basically leaves the Malkioni to be all "burn the heretic!".

ANIMAL FRIENDSHIP - Hsunchen.  HURL FIRE - Lots of places. Casting firearrow on a rock for example.   CURSE OF BRITTLE BONES - Mallia.  UNRAVELING - Form/Set "Stuff".  BEAST SHAPE - Hsunchen.

What is written here http://d-infinity.net/game-content/runequest-thursday-103-witchcraft seems like an odd hodge podge of shamanism and sorcery, all half understood, forming something like a pseudo-tradition.  The sort of thing that would happen when a natural shaman stumbled into a sorcerous realm and bound sorcerous spell spirits.  For that reason I like it.  It isn't overpowered, and being an individualistic tradition non-reliant on a broader cult is interesting.  It could be fun to develop a campaign around these ideas.  I would probably set it in 3rd Age Ralios.



Edited by Darius West
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