It's a right shame that Glorantha never caught on

I’ve been following a Let’s Play of King of Dragon Pass, and the one thing I’ve learned is that Glorantha is probably the best fantasy universe of all time. It has that Planescape-ish appeal of being “belief powered” (… usually), but with added oddities of causing retroactive history changes by doing quests to honor your gods wrong and mutually contradictory things being true at the same time. It’s also probably the most FUCKING METAL universe I’ve ever seen. There are very few bits of backstory that I’ve heard that didn’t make me just go “wait… what? That is the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard.” A common theme you’ll notice in that thread once people start posting lore is people saying “that is the best thing about this universe, except everything else which is also the best thing.”

You have very nice, logical departures from a lot of standard fantasy universes where instead of the God of Death being an evil bastard – he’s rather callous and cold, but most important likes to make sure things that become dead STAY dead. The god of death is the first and foremost hater of the undead. Killing your kin can literally cause the universe to basically start pulling itself apart. Going to the realm of the gods and re-enacting their myths (or just plain wandering around the Godplane and doing what you will, should you desire) is just (semi-)routine worship.

It was written by an anthropologist (primarily when he was a student) to explore different types of beliefs in the world. There are cultures to explore monotheism, polytheism, and everything else. It really intertwines the religion of each race with its culture, which is something that I feel like is missing from D&D where religion is almost tangential unless you’re playing a divine caster class (and even then for most players it’s just lip service in exchange for spells unless you’re RPing a complete zealot).

I’ll admit I’ve never even seen a rule book for the setting, maybe the rule systems set in it just absolutely suck and that’s why it isn’t very big, but I am now determined to find some way to host a campaign in Glorantha, because it is completely awesome.

[/nerd evangelism]

I first discovered it when I I downloaded Kingdom of Dragon Pass for my iPad.

I really like the empire builder/RPG aspect of the game, but was a little off put by the frequency/importance of gods. The strange collection of cultures too, was a little bizarre. For some reason my mind is more willing to accept neighboring lizard people than Native Americans and Mongols living side-by-side.

I should give it another try.

If you really hate religion and gods in fantasy universes then, yeah, you’ll probably have some issues. The entire universe is almost literally based around religions of various stripes. With the exception of a magic called “sorcery” (which you won’t encounter in King of Dragon Pass) basically all the magic in the setting is what in D&D you’d probably call “diving magic”, meaning that it’s granted by a god.

The thing is, I hate divine magic in D&D (except Druids, who I reluctantly tolerate). But in Glorantha I like the flavor, because the myths really feel like a part of the world. The whole conception of the Godplane and stuff is really interesting.

The key to KODP, though, is that to be successful you have to think like a Superstitious Magic Pseudo-Viking. The surest way to fail a lot of events is to try and impose your 21st century morals and logic onto their culture, you really have to RP. And you have to play enough to learn the traits of each god (and by extension, those who follow that god*). For instance, there’s an event with a bunch of Uroxi smashing shit in your clan hall by partying. One of the options is to ask them for compensation. It may seem like a bad idea to interrupt the uber-warriors who are drunkenly partying for change to cover their damages – but their god cares nothing for wealth, all it cares about it smashing Chaos in the face. It’s the right option because to them shiny trinkets are worthless and they’ll gladly give you shiny baubles to cover damages – it’s like asking them for pocket lint.

  • One odd thing about the setting that it important to learn is that since the world is shaped by belief, certain strange things pop up. One such thing is that Orlanthi essentially believe that your personality and the god that you worship is determined by your runes. This means that all Orlanthi without exception act almost identically to the god they worship (though they may not be quite as good at things as their god). So when confronted by a clan that worships X god or a bunch of Y followers it pays to ask “how would I deal with this god if they were doing it, based on the myths I’ve read?”

For various reasons (mostly involving the Dwarves, the status and availability of metal, and the stability of the universe) you have to remember that the setting is justifiably set in a roughly pre-Iron-Age setting – and cultures experience very little cultural change (especially Orlanthi aka pseudo-Vikings – which are what you play as in KODP). These cultures weren’t always next to each other, and in the future may very well not be next to each other anymore. It’s just that Dragon Pass is in a somewhat central location where a lot of these people migrated to for various reasons. They weren’t just plopped next to each other, they came into contact, and in fact the bulk of their races are pretty far apart. You’re essentially looking at South Africa and asking why there are Dutch and Africans living so close to each other.

I used to game with Steve Perrin & Steve Henderson, two of the designers of Runequest, and they were kind of bummed that D&D stole most of their thunder.

Interesting point. In the past what bothered me about lots of ‘god stuff’ in fantasy settings is religion is generally treated as background flavor, so being pushed into too much of it was like wading into geek fandom, akin to learning Klingon or the entire Gondor family tree.

But reading about the gods and myths, and them mattering in a decision making capacity, only because the characters in the story believe them is an interesting nuance. Sacrificing a cow to god X because he provides a plus to your horses in battle doesn’t need to reflect an actual magic power, but the decision your leader (who believes X exists) made. Making the existence of the god actually irrelevant.


All I know is that Glorantha has ducks as a player race. Somehow ducks don’t strike me as “fucking metal”.

Well, the ducks will completely fuck your shit up. Not to mention they generally worship the god of war and death.

Why not?

I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me. :wink:

The case it is rested, Hastings.
Plus as has already been mentioned, the Ducks are all Humakti worshippers who have made it their mission in life to destroy undeads wherever (and whatever) they are, and (in KoDP at least) will fuck you up quick two times if you ever get in the way of their zombie slaying. Or imply they’re not “real” warriors. Or try to enslave them.

Look, just be chill with the ducks if you know what’s good for you. Pissing them off is the last mistake you’ll ever make.

I was a fan of the pen and paper RPG “Runequest”, and Glorantha is an extremely interesting world, in which the game creator probably invested as much work as Tolkien did in Middle Earth (in fact the apparition of RPGs merely allowed him to find an use for the world he had been busy creating). It uses both most of the usual themes/creatures of medfan and the real cultures of Earth, but twisted them a lot. And myths (rather than exactly religion) that aren’t ever straightforward and cultural values are the central elements of this universe. This game, without a game master very conversant with the cults and people of Glorantha (which requires a lot of reading of the various editions of the game, supplements, material published in magazines, etc…) would lose most of its appeal or might even appear absurd or ludicrous. To give a random example, trolls are a complex race, with peculiar customs, social organizations, beliefs and goals. They’re ferocious and highly dangerous, but using them like a random “evil monster” in Dungeons and Dragons would be complete waste of the author’s work.

I could go on, but about the computer game “King of Dragon Pass” (that was commercially a complete failure) :

-The goal is to federate a tribe, and eventually a kingdom around your original clan in a strange area where you recently settled.

-It’s very original not only in content (based on the RPG) but also in form. There is exactly zero animations. Events are depicted by rather nice drawings. It’s part management (how to make your clan prosperous, managing trade, cow raising, neighbour raiding, and of course sacrifices to various deities), part role-play where you aren’t playing a single individual, but rather the successive important members of the clan’s council (and you come to be attached to this formerly promising young warrior, now a withered council member, and when he’ll die, it will sadden you, apart from wondering how you’ll manage to fare without him), part exploration, and part tale.

-The most important part of the game (assuming you don’t fail in management to the point of changing your clan into a bunch of starving beggars) is decision making. You’re presented with events and must choose a course of action. These events can be trivial (someone cheated on his spouse), a matter of life or death for the clan or just strange. In any case what have been said by other posters is true. Don’t try to apply your 21th century morals and cultural norms, you would fail spectacularly. There’s not necessarily a good choice and a bad choice, but seemingly innocuous issue might have long lasting consequences (a family vendetta that will haunt you for generations, a powerful ennemy…). Listen to your advisers (yes, even the guy who serves the trickster god, assuming you dared to give him a seat at the council), remember the values and traditions of your clan and the gods who protect it.

-Finally, the other peculiar feature, the heroic quests, consist essentially in walking in the steps of the gods by reliving events and myths associated with them. They are rare, but vital, and deadly. In this case there are good and bad choices. Make sure not only that whoever attempt them is the best of the bests but also that you have in mind all informations known about your myths. Deciding when embarking on such a quest and whom to send is a very serious matter.

I would highly recommend this game, if only for its originality. However I would note two things :

-The fact that I was already familiar with Glorantha’s world in general and the “Orlanthi” people depicted in this game more specifically certainly played a significant part in my enjoyment. I’m not sure how it will play with someone who isn’t.

-I have doubts regarding replayability. You certainly can pick from the get go a clan with different values, different goals and history, then make different choices so that events will unfold in a different way. Minor events will differ. Major ones will happen again. They will develop differently because you were in a different situation or made different choices. Your mortal enemies won’t be the same. But all in all it’s the same tale of the rise of your clan that will eventually give birth to the first King of Dragon Pass (it is to be hoped). And toward the end, all games are quite similar. Of course, it’s true for many games, and I know that some people disagree with me regarding replayability, but it has been the main issue I had with KoDP.

A last word : take good care of your herds. There’s an official patch that helps with sheep flocks who had a tendency to die off easily at the beginning of the game . I advise to download it if you intend to play this game.

I always thought of them rather as pseudo-Celts.

I have previously looked at this for my ipod but passed because I didn’t have much info to go on. This thread makes it sound interesting enough that I think I’ll give it a whirl. Thanks!

I thought the name was familiar; I see that King of Dragon Pass is available in PC form at GOG. I’m fairly familiar with Runequest but completely missed that KoDP is set in Glorantha.

My girlfriend just downloaded it from GOG and we’re taking a look. I don’t remember ever hearing of it before, but she knew of it.

Ah, Glorantha. So full of Awesome.

KoDP is an excellent game, both the PC/Mac version and the (improved and streamlined) release for iPod and iPad. I’ve had friends who are completely ignorant of Glorantha and Runequest who independently discovered the game tell me they had a great time, so I don’t think RQ background is required.

For the pen & paper version, the current steward seems to be Moon Design Publications ( They just did a big Kickstarter to print a massive atlas of Glorantha, so it still has life.