Why do we expect that a Gloranthan “Bronze Age” to be so similar to our own?

Within the RQ and Glorantha community, posts, forums and online discussions are often full of experts(many genuinely well informed and reasonably intentioned individuals) informing us that because it wasn’t like that in earths bronze age, Glorantha can’t be like that.

  • “2 handed swords didn’t exist in the bronze age”
  • “Stirrups were not invented till much later”
  • “The hilt on the sword wielded by the two-headed great troll didn’t exist until the late Roman period, so breaks my suspension of disbelief and Glorantha is forever ruined for me.”

OK, I may have exaggerated the last point.

I find the lengths that many would have us go to tie Glorantha directly with a period in our worlds bronze age history to be questionable, both in understanding the function of Glorantha and also as an exercise in believable fantasy world building.

Dealing with function first, Glorantha started off as Greg’s personal creation but has developed into a game world. This means the world building should support gameplay. If something from our bronze age damages the gameplay, we should question whether we should draw a direct analogy and have to see this within Glorantha.

I remember a discussion I had in which someone criticised the use of patrol sized units of lunar soldiers. Saying there was no earthly comparison and they should not be used as they are a much later development in military structure.

My response was clear. I want a reasonable power level encounter from my players, whatever happened in the “real bronze age” doesn’t matter, creating a game narrative that works is more important than adhering to military structures found in our world.

There are limits to this if you sacrifice too much ‘for gameplay’, the world may start to lose its internal consistency. But when considering whether something from our world’s development timeline beneficial in Glorantha a key question should be “Does it aid gameplay?”.

Now dealing with the question ‘Is a direct comparison believable?’, I quite clearly believe not.  The reasoning is as follows;

  1. Gloranthan metals are similar to but hold significantly different properties to their earthly equivalents, this means there many technical possibilities which were not feasible with the earthly bronze.
  2. Magic creates a significantly different way to working metals than was available to earth, so magical capabilities mean that metal can be used in ways that appeared in a different time period or have never been seen in our world.
  3. That there are significantly different threats with Glorantha than there are in our world. We never needed to develop weapons to deal with giants, dragonsnails, dragons,  rhino cavalry or other large and dangerous creatures. Thus even if Glorantha was governed by logical technological development like our world,  the environment differs significantly and thus results would also be radically different.
  4. That the methods of technological and social progression within Glorantha are completely different to those found in our world. The differences in the nature of time, myth, the spirit plane, Gods, tradition and cosmology means the scientific paradigm through which we interpret our bronze age is completely misplaced in Glorantha.It is not only the environment that differs radically but the process by which the world translates environmental factors into change is inherently different.

I believe the above makes any attempt to draw a direct line between out bronze age and a gloranthan bronze age completely redundant. Actually, with all of those factors, I would even surmise that it is totally unrealistic for Glorantha to be as close a parallel to our bronze age in technology and society as it actually is.

However if it needs to be not in terms of realism, I believe it does in terms of aesthetic and accessibility. As we discussed above Glorantha is a game world, and these games need to have hooks in which we can easily and clearly find things we can identify with.

To recreate Glorantha from the ground up without any real-world reference would be an immense task, to understand and access Glorantha without those common touch points would be also nigh on impossible. That Glorantha mirrors our bronze age at all is rooted in making the game accessible, not making it ‘realistic’.

I conclude that Glorantha should be a game world that carries an aesthetic from our antiquity, but is not bound by the history of our world in any significant way. It is beholden on authors, storytellers and players to hold to a spirit of antiquity but they should feel free to deviate from historical evidence if it improves their Glorantha as a game world

6 thoughts on “Why do we expect that a Gloranthan “Bronze Age” to be so similar to our own?

  1. Love it. Strikes me that there’s a venn diagram in play where “the gloranthan” and “bronze age” mostly intersect but are still two separate categories. Which you brush against when you point to the urge to make these categories run in parallel much of the time . . . but then you find it necessary to construct that marvelous intersection, “a gloranthan bronze age,” hinting that at least sometimes the categories describe different things. What a gloranthan non-bronze age or a non-bronze glorantha look like are tempting questions.

  2. Ok i’ve been pondering. Your Venn diagram idea id interesting, but I would take it somewhere else.

    I’d look at it as Glorantah being three circles of Bronz age world, game world and Mythic world.

    ‘Glorantha Gold’ is stuff that lies in the intersection of all three, stuff that applies only too one of those areas can be seen as much less important and maybe if it negatively affects the other aspects something that can and should be dropped.

    I may diagram or write that up.

  3. Some things do follow from others though
    Most of Glorantha as it was built used historical models as tropes to give people and idea of what to expect. over the years Glorantha has filled out but in many areas these tropes have not been explicitly denied – so many older players still use historical tropes as a baseline.
    Not having stirrups for example was a common assumption for a long time, then this was modified for the West in the 90s. For many people keeping up with the changes was impossible, especially in places other than the USA where the sources were hard to get, so the tropes remained the basic underlay.
    Luckily now with the net it is easier to get information, especially with the new edition of RuneQuest that is retconning many assumptions.

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