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The Turquoise Tree

Gaming Philosophy

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Our Gaming Philosophy

 

 

    We try to work within the system without being hidebound by it; we play to enjoy our gaming, not to follow precise 'rules'. Nor do we attempt to recreate a perfect Glorantha (I'll leave it to Greg Stafford and the others to do that, they seem better qualified than me for such a task).

    We like an good element of roleplay, cultural interaction etc, but none of us are actors, or from Glorantha, and most of us were not experienced roleplayers when the campaign started, so we are reasonably relaxed about the whole affair, having a good laugh with friends is why we play. Besides, as the campaign has developed, players have learnt more about Glorantha, think more in character anyway, and have gained an increasing attachment to the setting. Our group aims for a good level of roleplaying and ‘realism’, trying to play characters with goals, relationships, beliefs, and who by and large want to stay alive, prosper and develop, while also getting to have a good scrap and a bit of a laugh every now and then. All of us took at least some effort to learn more about Glorantha, we found that our enjoyment of the campaign increased as we became more involved with it

     The campaign has been a good example to us of why it is so vital that players start with at least some understanding of the world in which they are playing, especially the culture of their character. It not only enriches the gaming experience for the player but also invariably helps the GM as well; less explanation in game time, more player driven game sessions, it allows the GM to involve more of the world, and allows them to use many types of encounters, scenarios, and hooks, in the campaign. 

    The absence of this knowledge in players can be a fundamental flaw in a campaign, and can limit it to little more than a force-fed collection of hack and slash gaming sessions, ultimately as boring for the players as it is for the GM. We all like a bit of hack and slash (although Serenity prefers thrusting apparently) but it gets boring fairly quickly and roleplay is much more fun when you get into it.

      None of us however, want to end up like the gamer we met at a recent convention. He was six foot tall, bearded, heavily built, and bemoaning a roleplaying system that he believed was insufficiently realistic to roleplay well in. Any game is what you make of it, not just rules which cannot be amended or ignored if that is what you want. Besides, his character was a five-foot tall, slim, elf maiden who was a mage and priest, how realistic is that?

         A good GM incorporates realism into the campaign through description and interaction; game mechanics are his support, not his holy book. The rules system should be used to help determine constraints on a characters actions, or the success of those actions, providing a framework for the GM to work from and helping to increase consistency in decision making and character action resolution.

 

The Group

 

      The main characters are now what would be referred to as high-level in other systems, but it has taken a long time to get there and the results are just beginning to show. They started out as adventurers but have acquired more responsibilities and relationships as the campaign has progressed. The characters are in the gap between ordinary folk and true heroes, involved in some of the great events of the times, but also still connected to the struggle of most folk to survive and prosper. Now they are in a position to help others, Pete has been able to change our character’s struggle to pay the bills and survive, into a struggle to help their kin, friends, and clan pay the bills and survive. The group can never quite relax, probably the best part of the campaign.          

       Pete has done a good job of with the campaign; providing decent rewards for our activities, interesting NPC’s, entertaining adventures, and a sense that our characters were a part of the setting and got results, not merely there to allow him to be master of his own little world. Our Glorantha lives in its own way, and has provided much enjoyment.

     We believe that any setting that you play in, is, on a certain level, yours, and that the most important part of any RPG is to enjoy it and create your own experience and memories.

 

 

 

Hero Wars vs. RuneQuest

 

We use RuneQuest  for our games, modified by bits and bobs from elsewhere, notably the net and Hero Wars/HeroQuest. Pete has also run a PenDragon version of Hero Wars and is currently running a Hero Wars campaign as well (set in Sartar c 1613).

The Hero Wars and HeroQuest publications by Issaries provide excellent source material, but are a bit too ‘glossy’, we prefer the slightly less ‘heroic’ style of RuneQuest. The storytelling style has its advantages, but we don’t really need it, roleplaying our characters has always been part of the campaign. The open-ended nature of these systems also means that players tend to become involved in far more arguments about what can be attempted/done with a given feat, ability, or secret, a waste of game time and a frustrating exercise for the GM (many feats are fairly specific but still open to interpretation).

The group liked much of the Hero Wars material, but in the end we decided to stick with RuneQuest. The reasons are outlined below in rough (we are not the kind of players who spend much time discussing game philosophies). Any comments, either in agreement or disagreement are welcome (use the guestbook); we do believe that others can inform our views, and if they make our roleplaying a more enjoyable experience, then we welcome them doing so, even if we do have to undergo the (minor) embarrasment of public condemnation/criticism. We don’t like criticism, who does, but that doesn’t preclude us gaining from it. In the words of Winston Churchill.

 

Personally, I am always ready to learn,

although I don’t always like being taught.

 

The Reasons Why

 

We feel that precise definitions of spells and abilities help both the players and GM. Players have a good idea before taking action, of what their character can accomplish. It tends to discourage speculative risk-taking based on players optimistic interpretation of what their character’s feats can do, an interpretation which usually differs from that of the GM. One thing that we have noticed about roleplayers is that most are reasonably clever and well educated, but from a mixture of different backgrounds, a situation likely to produce a group with a variety of attitudes, perceptions, and interpretations of loosely defined material.

Stricter definitions of spells and skills can also give the GM some guidelines as to the limits of player character endeavours, helping them to plan challenges for the group with a great deal more accuracy (although this is still no help when the players outwit you, a scenario made more likely if they can use a broad range of powers in unusual and or innovative ways).

As one player has pointed out, the imprecise nature of many feats means that they could potentially be used in a huge variety of ways in any situation in which a character faced a challenge; cool from a players point of view, but rather overpowered.

The Hero Wars and HeroQuest systems also place a lot of pressure on the GM to make quick decisions on the use of feats/affinities, something that is not always a consistent process, and can lead to disagreements. I’ve seen one GM try to tell a player that her character, who had a disturbingly high Ride skill, could not hang down by the side of a horse unless it was standing still, despite the fact that she was an experienced horsewoman and four of the players present had seen her doing what she was trying to get her character to do. The GM simply didn’t know enough about riding to make good call in this case.

The Hero Wars and  HeroQuest feats/affinities system requires the GM to have a clear idea of the limits of an individual feat/affinity, and make consistent judgements about the use of these abilities. This is not necessarily a problem, what is however, is conveying the GM’s perception/understanding of individual feats to the players. If the GM does not do this from the start then players will be left with plenty of knowledge about their characters place in society, their cultural background and religion (from the Hero Wars write-up) but precious little idea about what they can actually do with their abilities and skills (other than using the name of the feat as a broad guideline). 

This would seem to be a complete reversal of life; I would for example, struggle to define/describe English society in a way that I would be happy was even vaguely accurate, let alone my place in it (despite being a historian with a good understanding of England’s social history and current society), and I would defy anyone to explain the ‘truth’ of any religion. What I can be fairly certain of however is what I can do. I know that I can run a mile in just over four minutes, read quickly, sing badly etc. I would find it far harder to quantify social factors in anything other than a broad or highly specific way; the rich tapestry of life is just far too complicated.

I suggest that players and Gamemasters alike would do well to look at modern and ancient religions to see how much different sects of the ‘same’ faith disagree about the ‘true’ path to heavenly virtue. Over the course of recorded history the true nature of the divine has been (and still is) an object of mystery. Even when allowances are made for the comparatively close relationship between divinity and worshipper in the Glorantha setting, it still seems unlikely that a character should know more about the inner mysteries of their god than they do about their own abilities.

There have been many instances when I have undertaken tasks when I have known my skills and abilities did not meet the grade (I had a brief, if edifying, obsession with ‘danger’ sports in my youth for example). In almost all cases it has been possible for me to adjust how I go about the tasks at hand, or choose not to try if there was a substantial risk involved; i.e. make an informed decision about what I was doing (something I feel is vital in RPGs, when many character decisions are effectively life or death matters). It seems harder to do this in Hero Wars than RuneQuest (this may well be because I have yet to play Hero Wars for any length of time).

This topic could be debated for eons though; the issue is by no means simple (especially when one considers that many people have an inflated picture of their own abilities, unlike the world of RuneQuest where you either know or have a good idea about your percentage chance of success).

The limits and capabilities of feats/affinities therefore need to be defined somewhat before play begins; given that this is the case, it seemed easier for us to use RuneQuest and not Hero Wars. RuneQuest was the system that the characters were created under and converting them to Hero Wars seemed pointless additional work (if we were also going to have to outline the limits of feats) when we could simply retain the characters largely as they were, incorporate cultural elements from the Hero Wars material, and convert the feats we liked into RuneQuest spells (much of which had already been done by Simon Phipps and Nikk Effingham). It also meant that all of the players did not need to master a new set of rules.

We also did not like the concept that initiates in the Hero Wars and HeroQuest systems have the same magical abilities as a priest of the cult, virtually from the point of initiation (even if their capacity to use them is lower than that of priests). We believe these systems hinder character development in some ways, lead to a uniformity of characters, and can diminish the number of player-sourced adventures. In our campaign, we have had at least 200 hours of sessions resulting from PC attempts to gain/learn their subcult spells (It has taken Serenity over eight years, and a lot of effort to learn/acquire most of the spells of her cult; something she would have gained, together with several other cool abilities, immediately upon initiation in the Hero Wars system).

Initially, players under our system have to earn most of their spells and abilities in game play, and then improve on them. This is unlike Hero Wars where characters start with a full range of abilities, and then have to improve them. The Hero Wars system naturally favours players who are vocal, and good at arguing or persuasive (although in fairness they tend to do well anyway).

Keeping the campaign as a RuneQuest campaign had one other great advantage; Luck, but not too much of it. The element of chance, as manifested in dice rolling to ascertain the success or otherwise of an action, is a vital compnent of any role-playing game. In Hero Wars there is never a 1% chance of success, the d20 roll produces 5% increments and in our campaign 5%+ critical chances are the province of experienced initiates and runelords/priests, not starting characters. Luck is still a factor, but players have a greater chance of heroic success at skills they have little competancy in, than they do in RuneQuest. This fits in perfectly with ‘heroic’ games but is less good in the slightly grittier worlds we like to play in. It is true that there are numerous examples from literature, film, and life where the underdog has won or luck has changed the course of history (the chance of which is far higher under the Hero Wars system), but the most skilled opponent will generally win a contest.

The single dice roll system is also problematic. If a given player seems to always roll badly (yes it does happen, I know several), then basing their character’s success on a single dice roll can often prove detrimental to them, mainly in combat (I certainly do not like the idea that my characters actions in any given period depend almost entirely on a single roll). Having to roll multiple times to resolve combats can take up quite a lot of game time (this diminishes as soon as players know what they are doing), but Hero Wars takes much the same amount of time when you allow for the inevitable discussions and calculations that accompany all combats/challenges in the Hero Wars system.

One failure of the RuneQuest system is that it has no inbuilt mechanism to reward good role-playing, relying instead on the GM to encourage such player actions in other ways. This is an easy enough task, if you can’t think of ways to encourage them to roleplay well, then discourage them from playing out of character instead (denying them stuff, spirits of reprisal, social condemnation, NPCs refusing to deal with them, etc). By no means should the GM attempt to dictate how a character behaves (their perception of the character will almost certainly differ from that of the player) but they should ensure that the game world reacts appropriately to the characters actions, this will usually be a sufficient sanction.

In our campaign, the characters of The Company of the Turquoise Tree have expended as much of their time and money on others (mainly their friends, relatives, and allies) as they have on themselves. This is because the characters share a common belief; they adventure to help themselves and live a great lifestyle etc, but have a determination to help those that they care about.

This attitude extends to magic and magic items. Several of the characters have good selections of spells and rituals to help the clan (obtained at the expense of other, more ‘interesting’ spells); those that don’t are the Humakti and Uroxi of the group (as you might expect). Many of the magic items found, taken, or stolen in the campaign have been given to NPCs; this is not just to equip their followers either, most of the items found are of potential use to one or other of the characters (unlike the spare +1 sword that a high-level ADD character has found and uses to equip his henchman with); almost any of the players could find a use for the 12 MP stored in a matrix discovered on an adventure, but it is more likely to end up with one of their minions, friends, or allies who needs it, and for whom it would represent a considerable advance/bonus.

Personally I feel that the 1980’s preponderance of Roll-playing (as opposed to role-playing) has led many players and GMs to erroneously assume that a system in which rolling dice determines success is somehow less of a role-playing system, and that the less dice that you roll, the more role-playing you do. The role-playing element of any campaign comes from the setting, players, and the GM; it cannot be infused into a campaign by using one game system instead of another.

 

 

In short, we like the material and style of Hero Wars and HeroQuest, but have reservations about the game system and mechanics, ultimately the main reason that we still use RuneQuest rather the newer systems.

 

 

Cults and Magic

 

It should be noted that characters (both PC and NPC) have a better/wider range of spell access in our campaign than in ‘standard’ RuneQuest. This is mainly because we have incorporated the feats etc from Hero Wars into our game in a fairly wholesale fashion, giving each cult a much wider selection of magic than before (within the limits of their mythos).

What we do not have is the same level of access to magic that characters in the Hero Wars system get. At least in RuneQuest characters run out of MPs if they go around using magic all the time (they tend to avoid running around fighting all day, and always try to conserve their spells, even though our campaign is considerably more generous with magic than a standard RuneQuest campaign).

Glorantha is a magical world, but one almost gets the impression that in Hero Wars nobody does anything without first calling upon their god to bless their actions. We do this in our RuneQuest campaign, but there it is a decision based on piety, not because we want magical help.  Again it’s ‘heroic’ style vs. ‘gritty’, and it depends which style you prefer (both are good in their own way).

We understand Nikk Effingham’s reservations about easy access to spells. Clever players could indeed use this to obtain some pretty good combinations of spells, and, if they play their characters well enough, perhaps they deserve to do so. They should not however, be allowed to join cults simply to access spells or abilities; these things must be appropriate to the character and campaign; no Zorak Zorani with Vingan magic, or easy-going Orlanthi joining Mitchuinn MoonHater just to get an edge against any Lunars they meet.

A range of spell access and different subcults helps to reflect the diversity in mythic practices and traditions said to operate on Glorantha (see the Questlines website for an excellent write-up on myth and its interpretation).

Some cults/characters have access to a broad range of magic through their cultic associations but this is more limited than it seems. It would take a considerable amount of effort, time, money, and travel to join more than one or two subcults or hero cults, something that puts this beyond the reach of most characters. Many of the spells can only be accessed through heroquests, and many of the people most capable of surviving such adventures, the priests, are those with the least spare time for travel and new obligations.

It should be pointed out that the real issue is not access, but accessibility, a factor entirely controlled by the GM.

Cult membership should not be a casual thing undertaken to learn magic, it should be a matter of genuine belief/faith (character, not player belief). My observations suggest that good players do seek to ensure that their character has good spells, but that by and large, they don’t take the piss. Most like to play in character, not just to create killing machines (and even if they do, you as GM should simply stop them). Most good players will not grab everything and anything that makes their character better; they will attempt to deal with the situation as their characters probably would.

As GM, you are in effect God of your own little world, and you define the limits of that world. If you don’t like something then change it, make it difficult or impossible to obtain etc.

Too many GMs fail to use what are often the most useful tools in any GMs armoury; social, geographical, and cultural constraints on character actions, within the context of the campaign. In other words, insist that players at least attempt to play their characters properly and not role-play as if it were some sort of cost-benefit analysis exercise.

Many GMs also forget the basic purpose of roleplaying, enjoyment and fun. Use whatever style of game suits you and your group.