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Ranking the most interesting cultures of Glorantha

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The Guide to Glorantha was my first introduction to the setting. I thought the early section on major cultures was a good way to start the book, and it made a strong impression on me. Right away I had a good sense of which cultures I would be interested in playing, or organizing a campaign around. In fact, pretty much as soon as I had finished that section I had them all ranked in my head from most interesting to least. Once I had finished the Guide, I had a much deeper understanding of each culture, but my rankings didn't change much. My criteria for a culture being "interesting" include:

  1. Playability - How easy would it be build an adventuresome campaign around a community in this culture? 
  2. Diversity - How much does the culture vary in different areas, or is it monolithic?
  3. Uniqueness - How cool and weird and different from our historical cultures are these people?

Please note that I actually find all the cultures of the setting fun and interesting, way more so than most other fictional worlds. I just think it's fun to make lists. So, here is my ranking for the 8 cultures presented in the Guide, from what I see as most interesting to least - 

  1. Western - The Westerners are definitely my favorite, and I think they win for being the most unique. I love their strange religion with it's Neo-Platonic roots, and their humanistic worldview which is not shared by any other people in Glorantha. The different sects of the Malkioni faith make for some interesting diversity within the culture, as does the caste system for the Seshnelans. It's hard to say how "playable" Westerners actually would be, since there is very little material provided for playing them as written in the Guide. However, I feel like there is plenty of opportunity for adventure and epic conflict in the West, especially around Loskalm and Ralios. Definitely would not try to run a Brithini campaign though. 
  2. Hsunchen - Upon first reading the early section on the Hsunchen, I found them interesting, but not overly exciting. As I continued to read the Guide, I realized that the Hsunchen are probably the most diverse Gloranthan culture. Each totem animal has it's own associated tribe with wildly differing lifestyles and traditions. Even though they are all classified as "primitive," some are basically herders, some known for being powerful magicians, and some of them build empires. I also love how weird some of the different tribes are, including mammoth herders, hyper-sexual skunk people, and blood-drinking were-bats. I think the Hsunchen lifestyle is also naturally inclined towards questing and adventure, although maybe not too far from the home range. 
  3. Orlanthi - Although the Orlanthi are sort of Glorantha's "default" or "vanilla" campaign option, I really do think they have a lot going for them. Tribal cultures are, in my opinion, the most playable. The instability of their political system, and their traditions of heroism, make it really easy to build adventures around this culture. And while they might at first seem to be a cultural monolith in Glorantha, a closer look reveals that this is not at all true. Even within Sartar, the different tribes can have a very different feel to them. It's also hard to deny just how deep and well-developed Orlanthi culture and religion is, since it has basically been the main focus for Runequest and Heroquest material for the last few decades (and continues to be a major focus in RQG). 
  4. Praxian - I just really like the idea of warlike nomads that ride anything that's not a horse. But beyond that, I feel like the Praxians are very diverse, playable, and plenty weird enough. They also benefit from having tons of stuff written about them over the years. 
  5. Doraddi - I like the Doraddi for many of the same reasons that I like the Orlanthi, in fact I think they have a lot of similarities. Their social structure is vaguely similar, many of their gods have similar roles to one another, and it's easy to create stories out of their many cultural minutiae (feuds, taboos, rituals, quests, etc.). They also have enough diversity between the major plains regions that they stay interesting. I do think however that southern Pamaltela is not as well-developed in the Guide as it could be.
  6. Pelorian - I wasn't terribly impressed with the Pelorians in the early section of the Guide. I think they are, in some ways, the least playable culture (at least the Dara Happans). This is due mainly to their staunch conservatism, arrogance, and patriarchal tendencies. However, once I read the Lunar Empire section and read up on all the other cultures that are technically "Pelorian," I grew much more enamored with them. You have the Rinliddi, Pelandans, Alkothi, Darjiini, the list goes on and on. I also think the Solar pantheon is arguably the largest and most complex of all the theistic religions, and that scores them some points. 
  7. Fonritian - I love many things about the Fonritians, but the overwhelming focus on the tradition of chattel slavery is a big turnoff for me. There are plenty of fascinating things about their religion, history, and culture as written, but I just don't think I would ever find a group of players who would want to explore a setting where the most brutal form of slavery is so normal and accepted. In other words, I find them basically unplayable. 
  8. Kralori - I rate them lowest because I feel like they lack much of what makes the other cultures exciting. Pretty much all of the others are a blend of different historical groups plus "a whole lot of weird stuff." To me, the Kralori seem to be basically a fantastical version of Han China. My criticisms mostly center on Kralorela and Vormain, I actually find the Kingdom of Ignorance, Teshnos and the East Isles to be quite fascinating. 

I'm curious to hear what other people think, or to see how other people would rank their favorites. I also acknowledge that there are many other cultures that don't fit neatly into the "Big Eight," like the Pentans, the Yggites, the Maslo, and many others that deserve honorable mention. I just figured it would be easier to focus on the major ones. 

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Is there a reason why you limit this to human cultures? The uz are traditionally a popular and playable culture, too. Ducks, Newtlings, Beastfolk (Centaurs, Minotaurs, Satyrs, Fox Women), Baboons, Morokanth and Wind Children are quite playable, too. While sharing some aspects with neighboring human cultures, they all have their special twist and habitat to make them somewhat interesting.

Tusk Riders with their demonic cult may be a bit problematic, in the same way that playing Fonritian slavocrats is, but then people have played Melnibonean or Pan Tangian sorcerers in Stormbringer with gusto while those cultures effectively the same problem.

The Orlanthi or rather Theyalan culture is way more than just the well-explored Sartarite storm worshipers or the Grandmother-cowed Esrolians. Sun Domers have their great RQ3 sourcebook for the Praxian branch, Caladralanders and their Porthomekan and Dwarf-controlled offshoots are quite different, and the Pelaskites, Ingareens and Kitori of the Holy Country/Kingdom of Night are sufficiently alien to deserve separate investigation, too. Quite multi-flavored, or at least "vanilla and ..." flavored.

Pelorian cultures are different, and apart from the Lunar Way or mixed forms of Theyalan, western and Pelorian influences probably less suited for RuneQuest games that appear to assume Initiate-level involvement with personal magic. There are such people in the Pelorian population, but they are unusual in the same sense that D&D adventurers are different from NPCs. (But then, the Western culture has the same problem with regard to sorcery, and personally I am disappointed about the "they just use spirit magic and theism" for the main portion of the population. Fine for mixed regions like Carmania, Ralios, Esvular, Umathela or Jonatela, less so for the purist Malkioni in Seshnela and Loskalm.)

I have somehow stopped to regard Kralorela and Vormain as China or Japan with the serial numbers filed off. Vormain is the survivor of Imperial Vithela, now limited to former highland sites. Most of the Eastern mythology in Revealed Mythologies applies to them, and their color-coded pantheon and the Joserui genii loci (which appear to be different from the Parondpara of the East Isles don't bear that much similarity to Bushido/Land of Ninja). Kralorela is first and foremost draconic, second and below that it is former Hsunchen (many of them draconic) adopting Vithelan civilization and ceasing to be Hsunchen (something paralleled in the West) while retaining some of that in their military (or rather martial arts - again, paralleled in the West). Then there are other external influences - antigod horrors (not limited to the Huan-To) and demonic presences almost integrated into normal life in a vast number of places. Cthulhu mythos balanced by draconic consciousness or sorcerous discipline of the bureaucrats. It lacks the Warlord episodes except for the Shang-Hsa and Seleric occupations - both corrupted draconic practices leaning on Adpara (antigod or demonic) magics and foreigner auxiliary going native.

Teshnos may be Fire worship meets Mohenjo Daro meets Tibet meets Myanmar meets Angkor Vat Khmer, with the latter's tiered caste system inherited from Brahmin India. Melib and Trowjang add two quite different expressions of Tolat influences that are weaker on the mainland. The inheritance of external conquerers may be less purged than in Kralorela, with Middle Sea Empire (Eest) and previously Zaranistangi stuff still present. While Teshnos was subject to Antigod conquests, too (Keltari, Sekever, Seleris), it was also saved by those foreigner antigods that fought one another.

I am quite intrigued by the various Thinobutan cultures, five of which survive (two in Maslo, one on Kimos, one in Thinokos in Fonrit and one on the Fonritian-controlled Kumanku archipelago), with another one in Loral mysteriously disappeared, and Teleos ("Agimori by race") undecided between Pamalt-Agimori and Thinobutos-Agimori origin in the sources. They have been shaped by lots of hostile contact (antigods from the Vithelan conflict, IMO including the Gorgers on Kimos, Chaos-infested Artmali, equally evil Vadeli, hostile Sea pantheon) and one significant friendly contact with Sendereven Outer Gloranthan culture which gave them their distinctive double-hulled ships.

The Artmali struggle and the Melibian quest for the Sword of Tolat ranks fairly high on my interest scale. The resurgence of the Blue Moon people, and Gebel possibly even reaching Zamokil before (or after?) making his way to Loskalm and back is a very interesting campaign premise, and intersects with many other Hero Wars major events (White Moon and later Sheng Seleris in Peloria, returning Arkats in Ralios while potentially tracing the steps of the Loper army, the Kingdom of War in Fronela, the disappearance of Kresh Wagons in Zamokil).

Sheng Seleris may also affect all of the East again - while he disappears from Argrath's borders after being defeated by the Six-armed goddess of Saird and the horse nomads move eastwards, that doesn't mean that he or his disciples are gone for good. The Pentans in the Hero Wars may be quite interesting, too.

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1/Baboons

2/Uz

3/Ducks

4/ Morokanth

5/ Humans: Lunars first, then Praxians. Somewhere far away Orlanthi.

Edited by Iskallor
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8 hours ago, Gallowglass said:

I'm curious to hear what other people think, or to see how other people would rank their favorites. I also acknowledge that there are many other cultures that don't fit neatly into the "Big Eight," like the Pentans, the Yggites, the Maslo, and many others that deserve honorable mention. I just figured it would be easier to focus on the major ones.

1) Lunar/Pelorian: I was always partial to the Lunar/Pelorian culture and its mix of underlying cultures.  My original setting was Imther (Edge of Empire) and ran there for many years.  The Redline History in the Glorantha Sourcebook provides a lot of material to work with.

2) Vormaino: with their odd distinct deities, their isolation (about to break), and proximity to the East Isles, I always thought it would be fun to develop a game here. I had sketched out the ideas for a starting campaign, but have never found the time to run.

3) Maslo: yes, I put together background to try an HQG campaign there some time ago. Odd little part of the world - felt it would be fun mix of seafaring, dealing with elves and mermen, and of course the Mother of Monsters.

4) Ludoch!: if I was doing a non-human culture, this is the one I'd be interested in exploring.

5) Orlanthi/Esrolian: current campaigns all centered in this area, though Orlanthi were never really my favorite.

6) Praxian: probably the most distinctive, but I've never been as interested in the nomadic cultures.  But always liked the Pavis setting.

7) Kralorela: if it can break out of the pseudo-Chinese mold and into something distinctive, this could become quite interesting.

8)Western: never grabbed my attention in the way other cultures did. Hopefully it has a chance to develop in new and interesting ways.

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7 hours ago, Joerg said:

Is there a reason why you limit this to human cultures?

That's probably worth it's own post, but I do have my favorites among the Elder Races.

7 hours ago, Joerg said:

The Orlanthi or rather Theyalan culture is way more than just the well-explored Sartarite storm worshipers or the Grandmother-cowed Esrolians. Sun Domers have their great RQ3 sourcebook for the Praxian branch, Caladralanders and their Porthomekan and Dwarf-controlled offshoots are quite different, and the Pelaskites, Ingareens and Kitori of the Holy Country/Kingdom of Night are sufficiently alien to deserve separate investigation, too. Quite multi-flavored, or at least "vanilla and ..." flavored.

 

I would say that every "Orlanthi" culture definitely has it's own thing going on. I've spent a fair bit of time investigating the traditions of Oranor and Jonatela for example, and after a while they start to feel very different from Dragon Pass Heortlings. I think the "Major Cultures" section of the Guide is basically describing those Holy Country/Sartar Heortlings as an illustrative example though, and I still find them interesting in spite of the fact that they are somewhat overplayed at this point. 

8 hours ago, Joerg said:

 Pelorian cultures are different, and apart from the Lunar Way or mixed forms of Theyalan, western and Pelorian influences probably less suited for RuneQuest games that appear to assume Initiate-level involvement with personal magic. There are such people in the Pelorian population, but they are unusual in the same sense that D&D adventurers are different from NPCs. (But then, the Western culture has the same problem with regard to sorcery, and personally I am disappointed about the "they just use spirit magic and theism" for the main portion of the population. Fine for mixed regions like Carmania, Ralios, Esvular, Umathela or Jonatela, less so for the purist Malkioni in Seshnela and Loskalm.)

 

Fair point about the Westerners. I think among purist Malkioni, Loskalm is a better region to build a campaign from, at least if your players are Men-of-All. With Seshnela I was actually under the impression that all castes can use sorcery if a person is semi-literate, it's just that the teaching and research of new spells is heavily controlled and restricted by the zzaburi.  

 

8 hours ago, Joerg said:

The Artmali struggle and the Melibian quest for the Sword of Tolat ranks fairly high on my interest scale. The resurgence of the Blue Moon people, and Gebel possibly even reaching Zamokil before (or after?) making his way to Loskalm and back is a very interesting campaign premise, and intersects with many other Hero Wars major events (White Moon and later Sheng Seleris in Peloria, returning Arkats in Ralios while potentially tracing the steps of the Loper army, the Kingdom of War in Fronela, the disappearance of Kresh Wagons in Zamokil).

 

Right with you there, if I ever did run a campaign in Fonrit, it would probably be centered around Gabaryanga's uprising. Although, again, it kind of bothers me that the official Hero Wars plot for everything related to Fonrit is, "decadence, corruption, Chaos, slavery, everyone dies horribly, etc." 

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1 hour ago, jajagappa said:

4) Ludoch!: if I was doing a non-human culture, this is the one I'd be interested in exploring.

 

Among the Elder Races, these are the ones I've put the most thought into for running a campaign. You could set up some good sandbox adventures in either the Marthino Sea (war with the Malasp), or the Mournsea (lots of sunken ruins to explore). Also, the Sea Pantheon is huge and has a lot of cool mythology associated with it. Much of it is grim and depressing but I appreciate that about it.

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1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

You could set up some good sandbox adventures in either the Marthino Sea (war with the Malasp), or the Mournsea (lots of sunken ruins to explore).

Yes, those are the two areas I'd likely target.  Possibly could do something around Jrustela (discovering hints at a fearful dwarven plot) or sunken Seshnela too.  But it is like a whole different world.

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A friend of mine is running a Ludoch campaign next to the Edrenlin Islands. He started with all the PCs as children.

Edited by Runeblogger
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3 hours ago, Gallowglass said:

I would say that every "Orlanthi" culture definitely has it's own thing going on. I've spent a fair bit of time investigating the traditions of Oranor and Jonatela for example, and after a while they start to feel very different from Dragon Pass Heortlings. I think the "Major Cultures" section of the Guide is basically describing those Holy Country/Sartar Heortlings as an illustrative example though, and I still find them interesting in spite of the fact that they are somewhat overplayed at this point. 

Orlanthi worshipping "Eurmal, Friend of Men" and "Vorthan" (who appears in Dragon Pass as an enemy deity named Jagrekriand) and putting way more weight on bull traditions than the shepherders of central Genertela are bound to be somewhat different.

Quote

Fair point about the Westerners. I think among purist Malkioni, Loskalm is a better region to build a campaign from, at least if your players are Men-of-All.

I agree - Fronela appears to be a lot easier to handle, with resident Orlanthi, Malkionized Orlanthi, and initiate-to-Rune Master people rising from the population.

Quote

With Seshnela I was actually under the impression that all castes can use sorcery if a person is semi-literate, it's just that the teaching and research of new spells is heavily controlled and restricted by the zzaburi.  

That used to be the case when Seshnela had (Castle-Coast) style Men of All rather than Rokari style military Talars, although there used to be a significant overlap between Talar-caste nobles and Men of All. The short passage in the RQG rules suggests that the Horali use Hykimi beast magic, possibly variants of Hsunchen shape changer magic adapted to Malkioni soldiery, taking on magical but not bodily aspects of that change.

 

Quote

Right with you there, if I ever did run a campaign in Fonrit, it would probably be centered around Gabaryanga's uprising. Although, again, it kind of bothers me that the official Hero Wars plot for everything related to Fonrit is, "decadence, corruption, Chaos, slavery, everyone dies horribly, etc." 

That's why I would play this from the perspective of Gebel and his quest for the Sword of Tolat, making Gabaryanga his tragic at first noble then more and more corrupt ally (or possibly losing control over his more and more corrupt followers). It doesn't have to stay that bad.

 

 

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The Ignorants and the Iradgenderi are fascinating to me. And since they haven't been described much, it leaves ample room for YGWV treatment.

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Places I'm actually considering placing my next Glorantha campaign more or less in order (already done Sartar, Pavis, Lunar Empire, & Dorastor)

1. Esrolia/Caladaraland (Civil War)

2. Lunar Empire again but the revolt against Sheng Solaris

3. Fronela, War against War

4. Ignorance as a horror/Western

5. Fonrit but still haven't figured out the campaign hook

Things I look for:

1. A clearly defined central conflict with a strong antagonist or group of antagonists

2. A wide variety of possible player cults/archetypes/origins

3. A community for the players to help/protect/get invested in

 

 

 

 

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These are the most interesting cultures to me:

1. The Lunar Way (not so much the Dara Happan Way)

2. The Hsunchen (see my article on the tiger hsunchen back in the day that Trotsky hosted: http://web.archive.org/web/20000304064925/http://members.aol.com/ttrotsky/hsunchen/tigermum.htm)

3. The Kitori

4. Beast Folk in general

5. Pelanda/Doblian (the Entekosiad cultures)

The order is mutable.

I like cultures that challenge our conceptions of what is true and normal, and have a strong spiritual element, particularly tied to the Green Age. I like cultures that don't value violence per se but are sensible to the world as a otherworldly space. I like these things because I want to find a story I would and my friends would enjoy being a part of, but also one that would face us with challenges in the stories that we would tell.

 

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20 hours ago, jajagappa said:

4) Ludoch!: if I was doing a non-human culture, this is the one I'd be interested in exploring.

 

This made me smile as that was my thoughts a few years  back and I ended up writing a vast amount of text on all merfolk but never got round to the campaign matertials on the undersea war and fire berg, MoM stuff

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1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

I would say that every "Orlanthi" culture definitely has it's own thing going on. I've spent a fair bit of time investigating the traditions of Oranor and Jonatela for example, and after a while they start to feel very different from Dragon Pass Heortlings. I think the "Major Cultures" section of the Guide is basically describing those Holy Country/Sartar Heortlings as an illustrative example though, and I still find them interesting in spite of the fact that they are somewhat overplayed at this point. 

Orlanthi worshipping "Eurmal, Friend of Men" and "Vorthan" (who appears in Dragon Pass as an enemy deity named Jagrekriand) and putting way more weight on bull traditions than the shepherders of central Genertela are bound to be somewhat different.

1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

Fair point about the Westerners. I think among purist Malkioni, Loskalm is a better region to build a campaign from, at least if your players are Men-of-All.

I agree - Fronela appears to be a lot easier to handle, with resident Orlanthi, Malkionized Orlanthi, and initiate-to-Rune Master people rising from the population.

1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

With Seshnela I was actually under the impression that all castes can use sorcery if a person is semi-literate, it's just that the teaching and research of new spells is heavily controlled and restricted by the zzaburi.  

That used to be the case when Seshnela had (Castle-Coast) style Men of All rather than Rokari style military Talars, although there used to be a significant overlap between Talar-caste nobles and Men of All. The short passage in the RQG rules suggests that the Horali use Hykimi beast magic, possibly variants of Hsunchen shape changer magic adapted to Malkioni soldiery, taking on magical but not bodily aspects of that change.

 

1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

Right with you there, if I ever did run a campaign in Fonrit, it would probably be centered around Gabaryanga's uprising. Although, again, it kind of bothers me that the official Hero Wars plot for everything related to Fonrit is, "decadence, corruption, Chaos, slavery, everyone dies horribly, etc." 

That's why I would play this from the perspective of Gebel and his quest for the Sword of Tolat, making Gabaryanga his tragic at first noble then more and more corrupt ally.

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I'm seeing a lot of interest in the people of the Holy Country (Caladralanders, Kitori, Esrolians). This is definitely one of my favorite regions simply because it so densely packed with weird cultures that would each play very differently from one another. Hopefully we'll see some RQG material in the next few years that gives it even more depth. 

On the subject of the Kitori, in our campaign my PC's recently liberated some Ergeshi slaves from the Sambari tribe. These are Kitori who have been isolated from their kin for generations, so now they want to be adopted into the PC's clan rather than return to the Troll Woods. The players haven't made up their minds if this is a good idea yet, but I hope they go for it because then I'll have various excuses to make trouble for them later. 

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On 5/20/2019 at 9:57 AM, Martin said:

This made me smile as that was my thoughts a few years  back and I ended up writing a vast amount of text on all merfolk but never got round to the campaign matertials on the undersea war and fire berg, MoM stuff

I just wanted to say this friend of mine I mentioned was running a Ludoch campaign just ended it (sadly way before the intended conclusion). You may want to read his chronicles (using Google Translate, perhaps, since it's written in Spanish):

The Saga of the Yotojoro (1st chapter)

Final chapter

Musings about breathing underwater

 

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On 5/19/2019 at 12:21 PM, Gallowglass said:

I'm curious to hear what other people think, or to see how other people would rank their favorites. I also acknowledge that there are many other cultures that don't fit neatly into the "Big Eight," like the Pentans, the Yggites, the Maslo, and many others that deserve honorable mention. I just figured it would be easier to focus on the major ones. 

That's a very difficult but interesting question.I would have a hard time top rank them (so much good stuff). Among those i like, in no particular order,  are Lunar/Pelorian, Dara Happan, Carmanian, Sartarite/Esrolian/Pavisite, Seshnegi/Loskalmi/Salfester, Rathori/Basmoli, Fonritan, Praxian and definetly Uz.

Some I have less affinities (Some more because of lack of depth) like, Pentan, Kraloreli, Teshnan, Vormaino, Morokanth.

Some I have no interest in, Durulz (and for the record, I despise the Donald Duck look).

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On 6/1/2019 at 6:16 PM, DreadDomain said:

 Some I have less affinities (Some more because of lack of depth) like, Pentan, Kraloreli, Teshnan, Vormaino, Morokanth.

 

I feel much the same way about these, although I like Teshnos as a setting. I think the idea of Solar worship transplanted to a different place and culture is neat, and I find the Zaranistangi connection interesting. 

One reason I didn't include the elder races in my original post is because I feel like there are actually several different cultures within each species, as among humans. They just aren't as well-explored. When people say they like "Uz" for example, I feel like they are usually referring to the Dagori Inkarth trolls that venture into Dragon Pass and Prax. But after reading the GtG, and skimming the old Trollpak books, it's clear that there are fundamental differences between the different troll "nations," especially since they tend to exist in isolation from one another. This is also probably true of the Ludoch. The Aldryami seem to diverge culturally across their different sub-species, but otherwise display a lot of continuity across a wide geographical area (part of why I find them kind of boring). The Mostali have their various heresies and sects. All in all, it seems like classifying an elder race as a monolithic culture is kind of selling them short. 

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5 hours ago, Runeblogger said:

What kind of cultural differences exist among Genertelan trolls, for instance? I don't remember any right now.

I feel like the differences are implied mostly by their religion. Dagori Inkarth and Halikiv are probably both very similar. But in Guhan the trolls revere Arkat, and I think are actually descended from his trollish followers. In the Shadow Plateau, Argan Argar and the Only Old One are likely much more prominent, along with the usual deities. I also get the sense that Holy Country trolls have better relations with humans around them. Nochet even has a troll neighborhood.

The most divergent are probably the Blue Moon Plateau trolls worshiping Anilla, or the Kingdom of Ignorance. They either ally with or rule over humans, and worship gods that are weird even by troll standards. 

If you consider Snow Trolls to basically be the same as regular Uz, they represent another divergent lifestyle, worshiping Himile and living together in big sacks. 

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1 hour ago, Gallowglass said:

If you consider Snow Trolls to basically be the same as regular Uz, they represent another divergent lifestyle, worshiping Himile and living together in big sacks. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono are Snow Trolls.... this is beginning to get very strange...

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3 minutes ago, The God Learner said:

Imagine there's no heaven. Above uz not even Sky.

 

Oy, that's pretty good mate, Want to join me bawnd? (said in a very bad Liverpudlian accent, one so bad it could cause a war!)

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