Last Saturday, I ran a game of HeroQuest Glorantha in French for three friends of mine. Two of them had only briefly heard of Glorantha from me, and the third player used to run some RuneQuest back in the 80s and had kind of lost touch with the the setting.
After some quick character creation, I planned to have them undergo the Dead Point heroquest just after the fall of Whitewall. It was an adventure I had already started to run with another group and that came to a non-definitive halt halfway through with a side heroquest.
But with table everything went south. Instead of three pure heroes gloriously undergoing a tragic, dramatic dive into the darkest recesses of foul death, we had three deviant initiates who started to dabble in necromancy and awakened Nontraya, infiltrated the Undead Emperor Army and managed to solve the heroquest from the inside, and who came back both victorious and secretly guilty.
Alright, we had a fantastic time together, we played, we laughed, we had an adventurous break to pick up some pomegranates from my garden and came back all scratched, then we resumed our adventure, and they asked for more (which I’ll gladly oblige).
However, the mythic weight I so love in this setting was kind of missing from our game. Obviously, preparing my adventure differently would have helped, but actually, the characters’ actions were critical in the direction our game session took.
Then I started to think of YGMV (Your Glorantha May Vary), or, as said in the HeroQuest Glorantha rulebook, YGWV (Your Glorantha Will Vary). From the perspective of a native French speaker, I’ve got to admit that I had always understood the possessive article “Your” to be directed to a single person – i.e. a GM, a player, a reader, etc. – and not to a whole table of gamers.
As a storygame aficionado, I hardly ever say no to my players. “Yes, and” and “Yes, but” are the way I usually run my games, and it’s the way I love them. This also means that my players can get some tremendous freedom with a setting they either don’t really know or one they want to shape according to their own tastes.
So in this case, I discovered that not only “my” Glorantha varied, as it’s been doing since I first set foot on the lozenge, but so did “ours”. And we all loved it! I mean, as much as I wanted to follow what are in the books, all the fun we had was worth some improvisational modifications.
But in a way, aren’t what myths also are: variations of the same fundamental narratives and structures? By applying variations on a fictional setting that isn’t tangibly grounded on our histories and cultures, aren’t we also playing with mythic signifiers to appropriate them the way all civilizations and human communities have done since the dawn of humankind?
At a personal level, I love immersing myself in the canonical elements of fictional worlds I enjoy. But at the same time, I need to find some room to manoeuvre, some creative freedom within the solid framework of an established roleplaying setting. And with like-minded players, this can give some fantastic stories.
So, as much as I’d love to share my exploration of Glorantha and drag as many roleplayers as possible into it, I’ve come to understand that gaming in this world is a social experience made of and leading to a lot of individual footpaths. The plurality of approach angles also helps as there’s no “one good way” to get on with the setting.
The way myths are re-enacted and legends are born will depend much more on the gaming table than a set of rules and codes to respect. And on top of that, the impact the characters have on the whole fundamental structure of a setting will create many more memorable memories, than just the fixed adherence to an established setting that cannot be changed or acted upon dramatically.
Oh! Wait! I think I’m giving the definition of what a roleplaying game is…