Personal Horror in Glorantha

Glorantha is not  primarily a horror setting as such, but many of chaotic and some none chaotic elements of it would fit into a horror game with ease. However my intention  in this article is not  to address traditional horror but rather the slightly different theme of personal horror.

The difference between the two is in classic horror the pc’s are protagonists and the horror comes from an external threat to them and the world.

In personal horror the element of horror comers from what the players character could become and the wrestling of the monster within, or even more horrifically being blind to it and failing to see the evil which you become.

A number of facets of personal horror games are;

  1. Personal horror has a protagonist that stands on an edge between hero & monster
  2. The game is used not to escape from but to take a critical look at ourselves and those around us
  3. We use this as an opportunity to explore the darker side of our nature and that of those around us
  4. A characters struggle to retain humanity, morality or higher self despite internal and external pressures

There can be many facets to this. In white wolfs  World of darkness  games the themes of desire, violence, vengeance,  power and control are all examined. Differently in each game, but if played well the games can give us an often frightening insight into aspects of us that we may not wish to even acknowledge in the real world.  ( Played badly they too often often ended up being super heros with fangs )

As regards Glorantha, its tone can vary massively and it can be played in a myriad of ways.  Personal horror is a genre I like and  one that I think can fit Glorantha play with the right players and if you all enjoy that style e of play.

Gloranthan Personal Horror themes

To my mind there are a number of personal horror themes that can come through in a good Gloranthan game.

Power and Destiny vs Humanity

This is to my mind the greatest Glorantha personal horror theme and comes through in the Arkat Saga, there protagonist seems to lose himself and his very being to gain magical power in a crusade where the outcome is confused enough to believe he may have actually become what he hated.

As characters seek a mighty quest or great personal power it can threaten the characters very sense of themself.

The Cost of Fighting Chaos

The cost of fighting chaos is extreme not only in the terms of risk and body count but the personal journey of most chaos fighters. it is a dark road in which they are in danger of become unbalanced, dangerous and maybe even becoming what they fight.

The personal stories of worshippers of Stormbull, Babeestor Gor  and their ilk will very rarely be light and pleasant reading. These are people propelled into extreme courses of action, by extreme events usually through a personal life of isolation , fear, misunderstanding , excess to meet a dark fate.

Very few chaos fighters will grow old gracefully, surrounded by family and holding an esteemed place within society. The lucky will find a clean death in an unmarked grave, mourned by a few battle comrades before they move on again.

Betrayal of your People

In quest  of great significance loyalty to your clan, tribe and people often get called into question. Matters of what is expedient, what is right and what honour demands are often very conflicted. Arkat again is perhaps the greatest of the examples of this in Gloranthan mythos.

The betrayal or of betrayal by the players people is a theme that has been played out many times  in Glornathan History.

Blood on your Hands

Violence is frighteningly casual within Glorantha.  This is true of just about ever fantasy RPG i’ve played in, but Glorantha balances this with a strong sense of wider society and the players being part of ‘the people’.

This creates much richer contrasts to examine some of the beliefs of some of the cults and societies. “Violence is always an option” are the words of a sociopath. “Any chaos is all chaos” sounds very hollow and meaningless over the bodies of dead grantland farmers.

Glorantha is a relativist world in which many things can be justified including the outrageous and frankly evil violence. However in its core mythos death opened the door that brought chaos into the world, I suggest that despite the great compromise flagrant and excessive violence continues to do that, whatever the relativist justification by the culture, the cult, the players or the NPC.

Positive counterpoints to contrast excessive violence and natural consequences for it, start to make excessive violence it what it should be, truly horrific.

The Endless Feud

Endless and eternal feud is a gloranthan theme. Gods, heros and mortals are caught in old ways and eternal vendetta. Whether it be family, clan, tribe, kingdom, empire, cult, god or pantheon the concept of feud is integral to all forms of Glornatha Society.

Feuds bring nothing but destruction, in the real world ancient laws did not encourage them but sought to limit them.  The old testaments eye for eye was designed not as a demand for vengeance, but limitation that justice should be proportionate and not excessive.

Players getting caught up in feuds should start to see the futile nature of cyclic violence, that they win pyrrhic victories, that the ongoing cost is horrific and they are situations where everyone loses.

You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way.”

It is s a relentless cycle of violence that if we are wise should stay in the movies. The same spirit of it drives many gloranthan societies, let its consequences be apparent and let your players make choices.

Abuse of Power

Scared weak men are violent abusive leaders. Power greedy rulers are abusive leaders. Good people who have lost their sense of perspective are often abusive leaders. Glorantha is  full of abusive leaders who are not related to evil cults, societies or the bad guys.

They are disturbing times are when are when good men loose there way, and hero’s allies of yesterday become villains of today. It is most disturbing when the players suddenly realise they are becoming the abusive leaders as they have lost a sense of perspective.

I’ve spent much of my time in the last 30 years in and around the Christian church, and the most disappointing and poignant moments are when good leaders fail, or when I have failed myself and the people round me.

Look at plots such as the vindictive Chalana Arroy priestess who emotional abuses her apprentices, the rebel leader who becomes a worse tyrant than the one they overthrew, the hero driven mad by the death of a close family members or the highly devout disillusioned by failure all much scarier than out and out  bad guy villains.

Going  to dark places?

Very little of what i’ve covered is focusing on chaos, broos, vampire, Zorak Zoran death lords, because that horror is external . It is easily faced and it rarely asks any questions of ourselves.

But when the monsters can be players or the players friends, allies, lords and  retainers. very interesting moral questions can be raised by the games.

I don’t think  personal horror needs to go to dark places which exist in the Glorantha, I actually think it needs to shine some light and contrast on the themes which are already well established within the wider world.

The truth is an moral examination of most characters in most role-playing games would find them to be at best morally deficient, normally sociopathic, often psychotic. Glorantha is a great world in which to examine that behaviour.

Maybe the phrase ‘morality tales’ would suit some of you better than personal horror, but I like the phrase. This style of play doesn’t suit everyone and even if you like it becomes exhausting all the time, a little  light relief is very much needed in gaming sessions as well.

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