LAYOUT AND ARTMy favourite thing about this book and most powerful sensory experience is the quality, variety and integration of the art throughout the whole of the book.
There are some minor quibbles with the dietetic elements. I fantasise about an epistolary world and
this attempt is imperfect, but still noble and good.
Firstly, this book is BRIGHT, which I very much appreciate and which fits the tone and feel of the world it describes.
As someone who has been quietly disappointed in Games Workshops slowly dulling aesthetic and not really happy with its art or the way it integrates image, world-building, infographics and DIFFERING STYLES of art within the same world window;
THIS IS HOW YOU FUCKING DO THAT.
THE DIVINE INFOGRAPHICS
My favourite part of the book is these repeated family trees of the divine hierarchies for the different cultures and celestial courts. Since the superstructure of Glorantha is all about divine powers, these are essentially cosmic maps of the setting.
They are tremendous fun, and very well made. They also feel 'real' or sub-real, they have a pleasing harmony of pseudosense
THE INTEGRATION OF STYLES
There are many different artists throughout the whole of the book but the sense of them as a whole, as representing the same reality, though seen through different eyes, is sustained throughout.
This feels more like the kind of book where the artists have been allowed to draw the bits they find most interesting and then space has been found for it, rather than the other way round.
The fact that there is no absolute, crushing 'Gloranthan House-Style' means it feels like the art as a whole, across the book, can breathe. There is a pleasing range of variety of methods and approaches within a loose but cohesive whole.
This fudges the diegesis somewhat. Some elements, like the bas-reliefs at the start of the book,
or this vase on page 160,
seem highly diegetic, as if they are literal artefacts which have been transcribed directly onto the page from the imagined world.
Other pieces have an un-specific diegesis, pictures from inside the world, but with no particular named artist or exact in-world point of view.
We could regard this as imperfect in the abstract but in function, as the book is read, it works fine. The human mind can deal quite easily with this mixture of levels of diegetic and less-diegetic elements, as we do when we are children, and the concept of the book never leans on that structure so heavily that the differences become a problem.
Simply - these images speak in different voices, but they all feel like they are talking about the same thing.
THE TEXT - THE AMERICANNESS OF GLORANTHAIn both its world-concept and in its writing style, Glorantha feels to me, really intensely American.
This might not make sense initially as, in its subject and its openness to influence, I think it draws hugely from a staggering range of real-world religions and cultures. There is a shitload of Hinduism in there for a start, but there is a lot of Everything in there.
I'll begin with the language
This is really hard to define, and none of it is intended as a criticism. There is a quality here I think of as 'plains English', which, by imagination or not I tend to associate with the middle bits of America. Friendly bearded protestant men with Hawaiian t-shirts and Tiki collections who go to church every Sunday. People who's grandfathers probably spoke German or Dutch.
"Then a great dark spot rose into the sky upon the net. This huge bloated shadow flickered with a smoky glow. The shadow crept across the face of the sun, blotting it out and making all the world cold for a moment. A snapping moment of terror pierced the world, then the dark sky-web vanished, and the edge of the sun crept past the shadow. The shadow disappeared and the sun brightened, but everyone thought it looked paler than it had before. Some said it moved differently, too.
In Pamaltela, the heat strengthened the many spirits of that realm. They entered the jungles, plants, and elves, and combated the rot in their fibers."
There is certainly nothing wrong with this and it does its work. There is something in it that reminds me of American ticker-tape just-the-facts prose. Americans, I believe, do not like compressions of meaning, or elisions. They like a word to be a word and a phrase to be clear, to be linked directly to the next phase and for its meaning to be what it plainly signifies itself to be. They also seem to dislike strong euphony and intensification of rhythm. There is a Germanic tendency there that its better to extend a sentence than to potentially leave any element of it open to inconstant interpretation. Brandon Sanderson is a bit like this in some of his things I've read. It is very clear, democratic, rather Methodist-bible language.
The simple fact that Glorantha takes from so many different world religions and the combination of its very open-hearted and very open-handed attitude to them, along with the simultaneous access of knowledge and systemisation of that knowledge, speaks itself, in the nature of the intellectual work done, of a particular time and place.
This kind of mingling together of influences would not have happened in this way at many other times.
A little earlier in Anglo-diaspora history the 'foreign' bits would probably be more foreign, more orientalised. A lot earlier and the knowledge either wouldn't exist or the originating religion/cultures that make it up either wouldn't be in conversation with each other or wouldn't get on.
Post 2000's, I think most millennials would probably feel bad about taking aspects of IRL cultures and religions from different real-world ethnicities and just jamming them together anyhow. It seems like the kind of thing someone would get upset about.
So this reads to me as very much a product of the 1960-1990-s era of relative liberalism. And the willingness to systematise the whole thing (though the diegetic elements of the world itself do remark that there is no absolute systemisation of divine order from within the world, only differing interpretations arranged around a wide but fuzzy 'general knowledge).
This is from what I think of a "Cultural Lego Times". Innocent times when a bunch of nerds could just reach out to grab elements of different cultures and fantasy elements and just jam them together like a child making something, without a great deal of angst or drama.
I do not think we live in Cultural Lego Times any more.
The Fantasy Elements
Glorantha has humanoid Ducks in it. Literally they are only in a few pages BUT THEY ARE ON THE COVER AND THEY ARE CANON. So, this is the kind of highly developed fantasy world where it has its own divine hierarchies but clearly at some point Sandy Petersens best friend or someone really wanted to play a humanoid duck, and while they haven't really gone deep on the duck thing since then, they are still in there.
My broad point here is that the genesis of the integration of fantasy elements, with trolls (but different), elves, dwarfs etc (but different) and not hobbits (but we have ducks), again seems to me to come from a particular time and place. The post-Tolkien 60's-70's boom. (Much of Glorantha feels very 70s to me). It has that slightly gauche summery tactile 70's vibe.
On the mid-20thC Paracosm-boom scale, it’s very clearly cooler and edgier than Greyhawk or Blackmoor, and more coherent than Coventry, but not quite as cool as Tekumel, which is like Gloranthas edgy brother who plays in a band and won't let Glorantha into their room.
So all of this makes me intuit that, though Glorantha is, very nobly, a combination of a vast range of influences and has many highly original elements and aspects, the range and origins of those sources, and the manner of their integration and expression, make it feel very American to me.
GODS IN GLORANTHA
If this is about anything it’s about the integration of a coherent Theogony as a magical, moral, cosmic, historic and philosophical superstructure for a fantasy world. If you want to play a game where there are lots of religions and where religion matters then this is for you.
Gods in Glorantha play a dozen roles.
Gods as Aircraft Carriers.
Their simplest is as tanks or artillery divisions in battles. Every culture has a god or godsquad and when they come into military conflict whoever has the strongest god(s) and can get them to intervene more effectually will win battles by having them lend power or simply turn up on the field.
So Gloranthan military engagements are actually 5th dimensional affairs in which ritual and spiritual elements can transform into simple military materiel and visa-versa (a little like 40k).
Gods as Culture-Leaders
Gods incarnate, visitate and reincarnate a whole bunch and this can lead the centre of any culture an effectively-immortal warrior/teacher/prophet/lawgiver who acts not only as a private superman but also as a kind of cultural and moral library and judge.
It’s a little like the British Sovereign is almost meant to be in law, a magical source of power, and a little like if George Washington could reincarnate on each death, but with all knowledge intact, and if all George Washingtons children might be born with a few grammes of divine Washington power. And if you want to invade America successfully, you need to find and permanently kill the reincarnating George Washingon, but once you do that, the rest of the place goes down pretty easy.
Or simply as if all that Eurasian stuff about bronze-age God-Kings was pretty much accurate and literally true.
Gods as Magical and Philosophical Superstrucure Soap-Opera
Since the gods are definitely real, though mainly outside time, and since there is a big library of gods and their exact relations and histories, learning magic, philosophy and history is really learning about this big divine Soap-Opera and trying to get close to, and understand, one or more of the characters.
Magical and divine power in Glorantha is so integrated, and so total, trying to understand it is one of the few useful things you can do. Societies and cultures that gain technological or philosophical dominance, don't do it necessarily by prioritising technology and science, but by getting close to a highly rationalist god or god-philosophy that releases these capacities in them.
God as Atom Bombs
You can basically smash any problem if you can get a big enough god on it.
There seems to be a theme in Glorantaha of Godwars and gods punching each other to pieces leaving holes or damaging reality so that the grainy sinister 90's CGI of Chaos can come through. Since its a D&D world where becoming a demigod is the last rung of promotion and since its quite and agonistic world where adventure needs to happen, this adds an element of tragedy; your super-adventure might end up punching a hole in the Real and bringing Glorantha closer to DOOM.
FOR PEOPLE WHO PLAY IN GLORANTHA
How the fuck do you play in Glorantha?
I'm waaaay into Warhammer 40k, to the extent that I have opinions on the different _voice actors_ for the Audiobook Readers in the Horus Heresy series.
Reading this Glorantha sourcebook is probably as close as I can get to what it must be like to be introduced to 40k for the first time. Holy crap this is a fucktonne of stuff to be slammed over the head with.
Even as someone who is generally into pseudohistories, and this being, essentially, part of my job, bit parts of Glorantha were a real slog to get through. There is just a huge, HUGE amount of highly specific history here. Staggering levels of detail, highly specific and, due to Gloranthas close integration of divine order, magical power and temporal culture, highly consequential information.
I know there are a huge amount of playstyles and cognitive/world-engine preferences out there very different to mine and this is probably exactly what a bunch of you are specifically looking for.
People who play in Glorantha, specifically, people who are introducing new players into Glorantha. How do you do it? Is it a loremaster thing where the DM is just deeply read in the pseudohistory and drops it on the unknowing as things go on? Do you need a bunch of experts on Glortantha to play?
From my personal biases, Glorantha is so dense that its virtually unplayable as a game setting, but I know most are not like me, so what are you doing?
Where did Glorantha Come From?
I know there must be a forum somewhere purely about this, and with its own scandals and schisms, are we at the point yet where anyone can summarise 40+ years of paracosm development in a blog comment or medium article? Probably not.
How much of the legendary background is stuff that happened in some game back in the 70's? Or in some wargame? Very large amounts of this read like legendarification of someones play reports, specifically the oddness of the pseudohistories which come off very much like some player-character stuff.
Or am I wrong and its all designed-in? Or did it evolve over multiple books over different eras? Has anyone written the historiography of the creation of Glorantha? And then helpfully done the condensed version because I probably don't have time to read the whole thing.
THE COMMENTS ON THIS ARE REALLY INTERESTING IF YOU WANT TO SEE TRENT DO A DEEP-DIVE ON GLORANTHA AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF