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JonL

Fictional Parameters for Sorcery

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So, after plenty of reading, I've got a solid handle on the various ways a character can have grimoires and spells, the interoperation of the techniques and the runes to describe specific spells within a grimoire's theme, and so on. I'm good on the principles. What I'm really struggling with are the fictional capabilities the rules are trying to represent. I never played RuneQuest or HeroQuest 1, the only examples I have to go on are the examples in the HQ:G book and the historical things referred to in the Guide. 

Are there things that are particularly difficult or impossible for sorcery to accomplish? Things like instant communication from afar or teleportation have significant impacts when present within a setting, are those available? Are they easy? It seems like life extension must be difficult or impossible since people like Delecti or the Brithini have to go to such extreme lengths to achieve it. I expect ressurection to be off the table for Malkioni as they don't believe in the afterlife the way that the Theyleans do. Might a Lankhor Mhy sage develop a Seperate Death from Man spell though (even if using it might draw unwelcome attention from Humakt or Daka Fal cults)? Could a Combine Man & Air spell permit flight, or is the Middle-Air just for Air Rune Theists?

In the play examples, Magatheus & Orensulva both cast spells more or less instantly within the flow of the narrative, so there's a bit of a baseline there for things that a competent sorcerer can do on the go. OTOH, we also have allusions in the fiction for things that require groups, rituals, preparations, holy/astrologically-significant days, etc. Are those just augments or calling on a community's magic resource? What are things that a sorcerer would need to go to such lengths to accomplish that they couldn't do alone or quickly? Tapping is mentioned as a way to gain magical energy to empower one's spells, but without any detail. It it just a way to get an augment in the future? 

What about the magnitude of spell effects, do those play into the resistance one might roll against to cast them? Say a grimoire had a Banish Man from Your Presence(Dismiss Man) spell and a Force an Army to Retreat (Dismiss Man) spell within it. The caster's ability rating with this grimoire is the same either way. Should the former face Moderate resistance while the latter Nigh Impossible? What about Tapping Earth from a pebble vs a boulder?

(I have a similar struggle with what the bounds should be for things that a Theistic Initiate cannot do, but the Devotee level feats in the cult write-ups at least give some guidance there.) 

Ian commented on RPG.net the last week, "You only really need materials if they have a shared fiction that you don't all share or know." I need materials to provide this shared fiction, please. I know it's OK for my Glorantha to vary, but I really have no clue what the baseline is from which I might deviate. The examples in HQ:G and the Sartar & Pavis books are very few, while the Guide mostly mentions epic things that Zzabur or the God Learners did, which is a bit out of scope for typical PCs. I'm half tempted to hunt down old RQ & HQ1 books for examples, but with so much changed since then I don't know if that's really a solution.

 

Help, please?

Edited by JonL
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4 hours ago, JonL said:

Are there things that are particularly difficult or impossible for sorcery to accomplish? Things like instant communication from afar or teleportation have significant impacts when present within a setting, are those available? Are they easy? It seems like life extension must be difficult or impossible since people like Delecti or the Brithini have to go to such extreme lengths to achieve it. I expect ressurection to be off the table for Malkioni as they don't believe in the afterlife the way that the Theyleans do. Might a Lankhor Mhy sage develop a Seperate Death from Man spell though (even if using it might draw unwelcome attention from Humakt or Daka Fal cults)? Could a Combine Man & Air spell permit flight, or is the Middle-Air just for Air Rune Theists?

Yes, there are things that should be difficult or nearly impossible.  I'd work from the basic principles:  Summon/Dismiss things, Combine/Separate things, Command things, Tap things.  These principles are then combined with Runes (elements, powers, forms, etc.) to build up your spells.  Sorcery spells thus tend to be pretty specific, and I'd play them that way - anything much beyond the basic description is likely a stretch.

The ability to extend the duration, range, or intensity of a spell is something additional and could be played in various ways (augment with some Ritual skill, or with a Sorcerer keyword, etc.; or require an additional roll with a difficulty predicated on the time, distance, etc.; or even an Extended Contest that requires overcoming the targeted difficulty).  But this should be very difficult and still very restricted.  E.g. you could Teleport to some distant visible spot with a spell that Combines Movement with Air or Light, but going somewhere you can't see might require you to pass through the sorcerous 'nodes' instead (i.e. force you into what amounts to a Heroquest).  Lhankor Mhy works with Truth, so no his sages shouldn't be able to develop Seperate Death from Man.  But a sorcerer could Combine Man and Air into a spell that would allow some ability to Fly.

 

 

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Yes, there are things that should be difficult or nearly impossible.  I'd work from the basic principles:  Summon/Dismiss things, Combine/Separate things, Command things, Tap things.  These principles are then combined with Runes (elements, powers, forms, etc.) to build up your spells.

I'm good on making up spells within the framework, it's not that different conceptually from Ars Magica. The struggle isn't "What can sorcery do?" it's "What can Sorcery not do, or do only with extraordinary effort or support?" 

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Sorcery spells thus tend to be pretty specific, and I'd play them that way - anything much beyond the basic description is likely a stretch. The ability to extend the duration, range, or intensity of a spell is something additional and could be played in various ways (augment with some Ritual skill, or with a Sorcerer keyword, etc.; or require an additional roll with a difficulty predicated on the time, distance, etc.; or even an Extended Contest that requires overcoming the targeted difficulty). But this should be very difficult and still very restricted.  

In the HQ:G framework, we're not to stretch them at all. One of the play examples has the GM chide Orensuval's player when she tries to use "Locate god in the Monomyth" to identify more than one idol, pointing out that as the spell specifies "god" rather than "gods" it can only identify a single one with each casting.

What you describe sounds like a fine approach (I gather from other threads that RQ3 Sorcery worked that way, right?) but in the framework presented in HQ:G it seems like "Repel Foeman" and "Route Army" should be separate Dismiss+Man Rune based spells (and would also thus fail against monsters or anything else that doesn't embody the Man Rune, but that's another discussion). It strikes me that "Repel Foeman" should typically face Moderate resistance while "Route Army" might start from Very Hard or Nigh Impossible, but that's entirely conjectural. 

Going that route, completing a challenging ritual, calling upon a Community's Magic Resource, assistance from allied characters, and so on might all provide augments so as to increase your chances of success. Similarly accepting Pyrrhic Victory consequences could nicely portray a particularly dangerous casting. All the necessary pieces are there in the mechanics, I just don't know what fictional cases call for them to be applied based on what's presented in the current materials. Would getting "Middle Sea Empire" or something provide more insights?

I rather like your idea of using extended contests for big rituals, especially where there might be some sort of opposition from enemy magical forces

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E.g. you could Teleport to some distant visible spot with a spell that Combines Movement with Air or Light, but going somewhere you can't see might require you to pass through the sorcerous 'nodes' instead (i.e. force you into what amounts to a Heroquest).

Is that an abstract example or is that how teleportation has typically been portrayed in Glorantha? I'm grateful for it either way, I'm just really trying to get clear in my head what the fictional constraints are so that I can apply the mechanical abstractions appropriately. I can infer from the impact of The Closing on the Jrustelli and things like bridges in The City of Wonders being legendary marvels that teleportation is sufficiently effort intensive or difficult that it can't be implemented on a commercial or logistical scale by people less impressive than Belintar.  

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Lhankor Mhy works with Truth, so no his sages shouldn't be able to develop Seperate Death from Man

.

I'm not seeing the contradiction there. While a devout Grey Sage might defer such a challenge to a Devotee of Chalana Arroy as a matter of principle (or Law), that's not the same thing as being completely unable to do it. In any case, feel free to substitute Carmanian or Henotheist sorcerer for example's sake.

Reviewing the "Ressurection in Glorantha" section of Chalana Arroy's cult write-up in S:KoH, I imagine that a sorcerous parallel might entail an entire grimoire devoted to the subject, requiring several separate spells for the complete process. Combine Magic&Darkness to access the Underworld, Combine Trade&Death to bring back the shade of the deceased, Separate Death&Man to revive the body, and finally Combine Life&Man to return the shade to it's mortal coil. Merely separating Death&Man would merely create a mindless living body. (Hmm, perhaps a sufficiently blasphemous wizard might place something other than the original inhabitant in such a body. I could imagine Tap Man followed by Combine Chaos&Death being close to Delecti's zombie process.)

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But a sorcerer could Combine Man and Air into a spell that would allow some ability to Fly.

OK, thanks. I could see privileging a flyer using Varghast's Breath for having a more specific ability should they come into conflict in the air.

I realize that some of the "What Resistance?" questions can be addressed via plot needs and so on, but there is still a gap to my eye in fictional guidance on what sorts of effects are common/easy enough that you'd expect them to be in wide use in sorcery-friendly areas, and what sorts of things might only be attempted at great need because of their difficulty or cost. Like, should Seshnelan & Lunar cities and armies have the benefit of regular instant long distance communication thanks to their wizards, or is that something that takes a day of uninterrupted effort for even a brief message? That kind of difference can make a big impact on how stories unfold in the setting. 

Edited by JonL

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It seems I was wrong about Western Materialism precluding resurrection. The Arolanit section in the Guide specifically mentions the Brithini Zzaburi raising their fallen countrymen whenever possible, even the Dronars. That raises interesting questions about how they frame the process.

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8 hours ago, JonL said:

"What can Sorcery not do, or do only with extraordinary effort or support?"

Probably the question is "What can Magic not do,...?

Glorantha is magic rich.  From a Western perspective, in theory, sorcery should allow you to do anything, even break the world.  But only a sorcerer as powerful as Zzabur or someone like Malkion or a host of sorcerers acting in concert have been granted this level by the Invisible God.  But sorcery could allow you to bind a god to your will, or light the water on fire, or shatter the earth, or raise the Sun from the Underworld.

8 hours ago, JonL said:

All the necessary pieces are there in the mechanics, I just don't know what fictional cases call for them to be applied based on what's presented in the current materials. Would getting "Middle Sea Empire" or something provide more insights?

Revealed Mythologies had the most information on Western religion, though parts are likely to be superseded.  Some of it you can find in the Guide such as checking out the God Learner maps beginning on p.680. 

- the Mostali composed a huge spell to raise the land around Tharkarn and reclaim it.

- Dead Sea - This dead salt plain is all that is left when part of the Neliomi Sea was separated into matter and energy to power Vadeli spells

- Zzabur directed his ancient coterie of powerful Brithini sorcerers to create and execute a long and complicated ritual. It required large number of non-sorcerer participants, which they got from the peoples around the Neliomi Sea (who mostly worshiped Malkion alongside other deities). Despite their differences, the Brithini managed to lead rituals from many diverse peoples, including merfolk and Aldryami, to complete the spell and shatter Valind’s Glacier and end the Ice Age

- Zzabur sinking the central lands and giving them over to the Seas.

8 hours ago, JonL said:

I gather from other threads that RQ3 Sorcery worked that way, right?

It had pieces such as adding to Duration, Range, and Intensity.  But it didn't have the concepts down of Combine/Separate, Summon/Dispel, Command.  Tap was just a type of spell, not broken out as a concept.  You can see some further discussion of these ideas here: http://www.glorantha.com/docs/malkioni-sorcery/

8 hours ago, JonL said:

It strikes me that "Repel Foeman" should typically face Moderate resistance while "Route Army" might start from Very Hard or Nigh Impossible

Yes, both could be described by same/similar runes and concepts.  But different resistances.  And they will likely be very specific.

8 hours ago, JonL said:

I rather like your idea of using extended contests for big rituals, especially where there might be some sort of opposition from enemy magical forces

You can also develop an entire 'quest' around such a concept.

See my writeup here for an example (as well as the subsequent thoughts in the thread):

 

8 hours ago, JonL said:

While a devout Grey Sage might defer such a challenge to a Devotee of Chalana Arroy as a matter of principle (or Law), that's not the same thing as being completely unable to do it.

True.  And it may be one of the secrets of the Black Philosophers of Nochet (who definitely practice sorcery).  Or it might be a secret of Black Arkat.

But clearly this is a very dangerous path/spell for a sage to pursue to even devise/learn such a spell.  They would likely have to cross the River Styx and go to the Womb of Darkness deep within Hell, then find and separate Death from the Darkness, then defeat the powers of darkness (the Black Bat, Furies, etc) seeking to keep Death to themselves, then find the Trickster's crack to sneak out and Command the power of Death to their will.  Once they can Command Death, then they need to find Grandfather Mortal in another part of Hell (for clearly he is the first to Combine Man and Death) and Command the Man to stop (otherwise he will always flee the approach of Death).  Only then will they be able to Separate Man from Death and control Death once it has been separated.

That last bit is key here.  If they haven't gained the ability to Command Death, what happens is that if they Separate Death from one Man, it is immediately 'attracted' to another (i.e. the sorcerer) and kill him instead.

And that's just devising the spell.  As you note, there's all sort of other ritual activities needed to practice the spell.  Each of those may be extended contests or full quests including extended contests.

8 hours ago, JonL said:

there is still a gap to my eye in fictional guidance on what sorts of effects are common/easy enough that you'd expect them to be in wide use in sorcery-friendly areas, and what sorts of things might only be attempted at great need because of their difficulty or cost. Like, should Seshnelan & Lunar cities and armies have the benefit of regular instant long distance communication thanks to their wizards, or is that something that takes a day of uninterrupted effort for even a brief message?

Who do the wizards support?  The talars (kings/lords), the horali (knights), and the dronar (peasants).  What's common?  Sorcery spells to help each, which are likely not much different than basic magics to sharpen the plow or blade, dispel ghosts or spirits, clear the mind, dismiss illusions, etc. 

Should they have the benefit of long distance calling?  No.  Instant teleport? No. 

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What can Sorcery do? Pretty much anything that magic can do in Glorantha. Which is practically anything. I can't really think of anything that sorcery can't do, though obviously there are things that other forms of magic do easier. 

The question is now whether it can be done, but how hard it is to do it. Some things are difficult enough that they require large complex rituals. Some are more difficult still and are effectively heroquests. Teleporting to a place you have never been to before is possible, but it might be difficult enough that it is like a great ritual to get access to a magic road that will get you there (something like this is how the mostali regained access to Jrustela). Doing it with a simple spell might be possible only for beings as great as Zzabur, maybe not even then.

Think about eg the Luatha as presumably great sorcerous (as they are from the West?) beings - they are likely better than any mortal, but they still need boats to travel to new places. They can casts spells in battle, but appear not to cast spells over great distances. They can destroy whole nations, but take weeks and great magic tools and big rituals to do it. 

It might be possible to come up with a list of some magical Limits like those in Ars Magica, and there are a few things that are likely to be so hard that they are effectively impossible. Even then I think you could make the argument that they are only theoretically impossible 

The more common two questions that will come up in play all the time are whether you know how to do it, and whether you consider it right to do it. 

Very often not only will you not know how to do it, but your whole school will not know how to do it. You have to seek out the knowledge, which may come from seeking out ancient wisdom (often a heroquest in itself), trading or stealing it from others (sometimes a demigod or other non-mortal), or conducting research programs that may take years to lifetimes (and may be heroquests themselves). The God Learners showed that many many things that no one had previously known how to do were possible, but it took lifetimes of research by thousands of sorcerers. 

There is also the question of is it permissible. Even the Vadeli have things they will not do (in their case only because they do not wish to become mortal). But most Malkioni have quite strict lists of things they will not do, which may or may not variously include Tapping, using Chaos, violating caste laws, sacrifice, etc. In practice these are quite big restrictions for many. And there are probably lots and lots of rules about how to approach things that are not strictly forbidden, but are widely considered bad ideas both morally and spiritually - dealing with spirits more powerful than you can control, using pagan magic even indirectly, using sorcery learnt from sources considered to be morally suspect (such as Arkati or Vadeli). 

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Things that are so hard as to practically be impossible for any being in Glorantha by sorcerous means:

- Messing with Time. Breaking the Great Compromise. Anything else that would by opposed by the majority of the gods and great powers. 

- Changing the fundamental nature of reality (eg creating a new Rune) (though arguably the God Learners tried)

Or one could also argue that such things are against Law, and impossible to achieve with true sorcery, and so you would effectively be creating a new form of magic to achieve them, like the Red Goddess did. Messing with Time is probably one of the few serious limits, and even that is debatable. 

Things that are so difficult as to be normally beyond the realm of mortals, but definitely achievable by sorcery beyond mortal reach (but who knows what might happen in your game!):

- destroying a large chunk of a continent. 

Things that are astonishingly hard, but that we know have been achieved by mortal via sorcery (and we also know to not be a good idea unless really necessary):

- killing a god. 

- making permanent changes to the heroplane

- creating a god

From this we can pretty much say - there are few limits to what is achievable by sorcery in Glorantha

Things that are not possible with conventional sorcery, but are almost certainly possible with weird sorcery and/or heroquesting:

- Magic that directly combines opposing runes?

- Sorcery that deals directly with draconic or other mysterious powers. 

 

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Thanks for all the perspective.  I did find a reference to long-distance communication in the Guide. It in describing the Syndic's Ban, it mentions,

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"Even religious temples, normally capable of instant (although limited) communication with each other, could not contact their fellows inside the Ban."

So there's a point of reference. It presumably requires congregational and ritual support on both sides, thus requiring some degree of pre-planned coordination to carry out every Godsday or the like. I could see it being stepped up to daily dispatches between allied city-states during a war or something, but even so that would carry a cost in personnel participating the ritual rather than doing something else.

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I came across references to the Inherently Difficult Magic scale from HQ1. While the mastery scaling is quite different between 1 & 2 and 1 has lots of fiddly bits have been dropped between editions, is the IDM list still worthwhile as a point of reference for things that might warrant higher vs lower resistance when representing the fiction?

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6 hours ago, JonL said:

I came across references to the Inherently Difficult Magic scale from HQ1. While the mastery scaling is quite different between 1 & 2 and 1 has lots of fiddly bits have been dropped between editions, is the IDM list still worthwhile as a point of reference for things that might warrant higher vs lower resistance when representing the fiction?

I believe that it has some value.

Previous articles (RQ era) by Greg offered the opoinon that as Glorantha has secrets, it must be hard to simply extract them with magic. So Mind Reading, Mind Control, Invisibility, and Teleport Somewhere Never Seen are difficult and the preserve of special cults. Only the Blue Moon Trolls have decent invisibility magic for example. Whilst Detect Lie is valid in a Gloranthan context, spells like Compel Truth are harder, and only Lhankor Mhy is going to have Reconstruction to view the past.

I believe some of the inherent difficulty numbers reflect that thinking.

Other articles on creating RQ rune magic suggested that new magic should not affect more volume than an elemental, or do significantly more damage. Whilst that is RQ specific and thus less useful to HQ:G as a yard-stick, once you have a spell that the fiction agrees effects multiple targets, more than about 10' square, does more damage as a 30' fall etc. you start to edge into the area where you have a ritual that requires multiple individuals to complete. IMO multiple targets is a particularly good dividing line between 'ready' magic and something that requires time and effort to cast.

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Hi

coming into this late, is it possible to find a copy of the Inherently Difficult Magic scale. I had a quick look to see if HQ1 was still around without any success.

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2 hours ago, Aprewett said:

Hi

coming into this late, is it possible to find a copy of the Inherently Difficult Magic scale. I had a quick look to see if HQ1 was still around without any success.

Quoting from the old Issaries-era GameAids.pdf:

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Inherently Difficult Magic:

 Change own form: D+20

Read the thoughts of an Intelligent Being: D+20

Teleport by sight (to a visible place): D+20

Directed Teleport (to a predetermined spot): D+40

Change another being's form (willing or not): D+40

Force an intelligent being to follow a command: D+40

Become invisible: D+60

Become insubstantial: D+80

There was also a table of distance/duration/targets modifiers that ranged from  -3 for 100 yards/30 minutes/2 targets, through -20 for a mile/a day/10 targets, to -80 for 125 miles/1 year/1000 targets.

(Interesting that it had higher resistance for the former and an ability penalty for the latter. Resistance modifiers for both makes more sense, IMO.)

These numbers don't translate directly, as HQ1 was scaled differently in terms of masteries & resistance than 2, but give an idea as to what sort of things were thought to be pushing the limits. Also note that inherent abilities like shapechanging for Hsunchen or invisibility for Blue Moon Trolls didn't face the same difficulty bumps.

I think that moving away from such concretely mechanized things in HQ2/HQ:G was a good design decision, as it opens up much more room for flexibility between different sorts of magic and nuances like having ritual correspondences for distant subjects. However, absent the mechanically defined parameters, I still feel there's a dearth of fictional guidance in the currently published materials to guide players & GMs on the application of the general rules (the responses in this thread did help though).

As a relative newcomer to all this there still seems to be a great deal of assumed inherited context from Runequest as to what sort of things are supposed to be commonly achievable, possible with great effort/support, or the sole province of great heroes/demigods. 

Edited by JonL
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