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Sociological storytelling in Glorantha


jrutila

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I stumbled upon to this: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-real-reason-fans-hate-the-last-season-of-game-of-thrones/

The article (if you don't want to read it) talks about sociological (vs psychological) storytelling. I googled a little bit more and found out also this youtube video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1-vPQKwXbY

Now, I always mirror these theories to Glorantha and RPGs (the stories we tell) about Glorantha. In Glorantha, I think it is easy to think sociologically. My usual example is about Sartarites and Lunars. From Sartarites point of view (well, most of them) the Lunars are evil and suppressing them. The Lunars, on the other hand, are there to free and civilize the barbarians and have to do some necessary actions to save them. These sociological reasons cause the Lunars to act as they do. Other example are gods. Why did the trickster pee on the potatoes that were served at the feast. It is not that he is mean (well, he might be), but the sociological reasons in his religion and god.

So, this was just my observation that I have done before and now finally found a term for it. Do you have other examples from your games about sociological storytelling? And, is the evil of Chaos sociological (so, caused by the environment and establishment) or psychological? Is there absolute evil in Glorantha in the form of chaos?

 

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39 minutes ago, jrutila said:

... Is there absolute evil in Glorantha in the form of chaos?

To me, "evil" requires awareness & intention.

A lion killing and eating me isn't "evil" because the lion hasn't enough awareness to realize that "I" exist (except as a not-yet-caught meal, for which a fresh bit of roadkill is an adequate (less fun, but much easier) substitute).  It has no intention to "hurt" me, because "I" -- as an entity commensurate with the lion itself, capable of pain -- do not exist.  The lion may be dangerous, may be terrifying, etc.  It isn't "evil."  That doesn't mean I won't fight it if it comes for me, even pre-emptively kill it if I think it will try to take me.

A person intending to kill me, for whatever reason, is much closet to "evil."  In fact (unless they're insane and (like the lion) unable to grasp that "I" exist as another entity) I will place them entirely over into the "evil" category.

"Chaos" isn't itself capable AFAIK of that kind of awareness or intention, so it isn't "evil" in the same way.  HOWEVER, a great many of the AGENTS of Chaos (Gbaji, Wakbaoth, etc) are indeed "evil," possessing the necessary awareness and intention.  But -- even though it isn't "evil" -- that doesn't mean I won't fight Chaos however it comes for me, even pre-emptively strike to neutralize it, if I think it will try to take me.

 

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1 hour ago, jrutila said:

So, this was just my observation that I have done before and now finally found a term for it. Do you have other examples from your games about sociological storytelling?

It's intriguing. The fundamental act of Gygaxian roleplaying is, IMO, I play my character based on my understanding of what they would do in the situation. Sometimes this is called Actor Stance. This equates, for me, very much to psychological storytelling. By contrast with sociological storytelling the conflict is more important than the characters, so I would expect to see a lot more Director stance, where the player makes decisions for their character based on what is best for revealing the themes of the story.

I used to be big on director stance and shared narration, but of late I have grown colder on it, believing that Gygaxian model is fundamentally more enjoyable. That may make me a heretic but at some point I think that Director stance is too far into Shared Storytelling over Let's Pretend which ends up a different thing.

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2 hours ago, Ian Cooper said:

I used to be big on director stance and shared narration, but of late I have grown colder on it, believing that Gygaxian model is fundamentally more enjoyable. That may make me a heretic but at some point I think that Director stance is too far into Shared Storytelling over Let's Pretend which ends up a different thing.

I think the real strength of RPG's is the ability to blend different stances, to wander within the space, sometimes hewing close to an Actor-stance (or any other), sometimes straying further... Author stance, Director, GNS, what-have-you.

I think the biggest weakness of that whole RPG-analysis movement from RGFM & TheForge &c was the tendency to try to "solve" or "answer" the "problem."  Particularly the effort to come up with "the" answer, or "a best" answer, or even "a better" answer in any general sense.

Play the game(s).

Have fun.

Done.

(if someone at the table ISN'T having fun, then sure... whip out the ol' analysis tools, and the pop-psych101, and the interpersonal skills, and whatever; figure out what's going/gone wrong, change it... 'til everyone's having fun again!  Done.)

 

Edited by g33k
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I agree that a mix of style in any one off or RPG campaign most often creates more enjoyment. I would reccomend that any narrator, and certainly  writers of RPGs read the following:

Vogler, C. (2007). Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Journey-Mythic-Structure/dp/193290736X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Writers+Journey%3A+Mythic+Structure+for+Writers&qid=1558598672&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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Definitely Pop-psych101 is a Damoclean curse and easily can drag any fun out of the whole experience (and that's after all why we play the game in the first place).

In my experience if it's all "Actor Stance" the GM is likely having a less than optimal time. Likewise if all "Director Stance" the players are probably getting bored.

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On 5/22/2019 at 9:37 PM, jrutila said:

An interesting read, thanks for sharing it! 

For Glorantha, as long as you can apply this multifaceted truth that George Martin applied: "The hero of my group may be the villain of the enemy group (and viceversa)", you're on the right track. But I guess a lot depends on to what extent you can identify with the self-rationalized goals and justifications of every Gloranthan culture. For example, can we really see the good part of the Kingdom of War? The Ompalam priests? The Kralorelan exarchs?

Even if we could understand them, which I'm sure we do, would we really enjoy playing those characters in a game?

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Read my Runeblog about RuneQuest and Glorantha at: http://elruneblog.blogspot.com.es/

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18 hours ago, Martin said:

I agree that a mix of style in any one off or RPG campaign most often creates more enjoyment. I would reccomend that any narrator, and certainly  writers of RPGs read the following:

 

Martin, I will give that a look and may I recommends in return The Language of Night Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursala K. LeGuin

This volume organizes 270 pages of gold by Ms LeGuin that should be read by authors of spec fiction and RPG game designers alike, and GMs as well. Sorry to sound like a should bite but if I don't keep it brief I could end up gushing a little bit too much about one of my heroes.

Cheers

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

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7 hours ago, Runeblogger said:

A For example, can we really see the good part of the Kingdom of War? The Ompalam priests? The Kralorelan exarchs?

Even if we could understand them, which I'm sure we do, would we really enjoy playing those characters in a game?

It should be possible to play a "Black Company" style game of a warband of sacred mercenaries hiring on with Lord Death on a Horse and remaining oath-bound honorable. It's not like the self-righteous Loskalmi don't make good villains.

Ompalam priesthood: no worse than Yelmic priesthood, if you are of the Renewed ("tsanyano") faction rather than the brutal Oldster ("bolgaddi").

I am a bit puzzled why you place the Kralori exarchs here, and not for instance Rokari watchers, or Alkothi priests and rune lords. They are functionaries in a hierarchy, not ravening dragons demanding to be fed virgins or infants.

Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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You can roleplay practically anything. And in Glorantha the concept of Evil, with a big E, isn't that useful a one in general (and is culturally subjective, just as it is in our world) - even though Wakboth is literally moral evil incarnate, there are still a few who Gloranthans who reject the concept (eg the Vadeli, I expect). 

But cruel, tyrannical, sociopathic, brutal, disgusting, destructive, nihilist, abusive, morally corrupt, etc are all relevant terms that modern players might use to describe various Gloranthan beings, and you might rightly find them not fun to play. FWIW, I do think most Chaotic beings have parts of them that are intrinsically awful and destructive, but just being awful doesn't preclude playability. 

The World of Darkness games, for example, variously required playing characters like pure nihilist destructive Spectres, necessarily predatory vampire, beings who might easily slaughter every human near them in Rage or Frenzy, beings in revel in serious body-horror territory. Some players enjoyed that. Some players found it not to their taste as all. But you could certainly run a game that got into that sort of territory in Glorantha if you wanted. Though RQ rules might not be your ideal rules set. 

And trolls are the obvious sort of go to example here. They eat trollkin, who are sentient, and their own relatives. They deal with beings that look pretty much like scary demons all the time. Zorak Zoran worshippers in particular are horrifically violent and ruthless. They are also fun to play, and have their own moral code that makes lots of sense. 

Sociological storytelling gets at something else, though. I don't think it is to do with Actor vs Director stance that much either. I think it is more about having social institutions, which inevitably centre around cultural factors, driving your narrative, rather than conflicts between individuals. FWIW, I think a large amount of sociological storytelling is more or less the Gloranthan default. Take the way Sartar: KoH starts with your clan creation, and Eleven Lights plot is driven by the clan and tribal politics. A good way of telling whether something is using sociological storytelling vs a more traditional personality based narrative is whether you could take individual characters out and retain most of the narrative, vs stories that you can radically change the setting of and mostly retain. You can do either in Glorantha, but we tend much more towards sociological stories than most other RPGs do - even when games have a lot of interpersonal conflict, it is often driven by social institutions (eg cults). 

 

On 5/24/2019 at 12:08 PM, Joerg said:

It should be possible to play a "Black Company" style game of a warband of sacred mercenaries hiring on with Lord Death on a Horse and remaining oath-bound honorable. It's not like the self-righteous Loskalmi don't make good villains.

I've had the idea of a Black Company mercenary warband inspired game for years, though I always wanted to put it in the Seshnela/Ralios area, and make much of the action about first the Seshnelan invasion, then the various Arkats. But if you wanted to stick closer to the plot of the early Black Company books then making them part of the KoW would work. 

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