“Gloranthan” Esoterica and The Gods War

“Gloranthan” Esoterica and The Gods War

Glorantha: The Gods War is an asymmetrical strategy game at the end of the universe – or perhaps the beginning of a new one. Each player takes the role of one of the vast elemental powers battling to determine the fate of the cosmos. It features large, colorful painstakingly-sculpted figurines; lots of interaction, both diplomatic and aggressive; and uniquely different empires. For example, a player taking the role of Storm will need to play very differently from the Sun or Earth player.

Glorantha: The Gods War is set in the mythic realm of Glorantha, a setting first introduced to the world by Greg Stafford in 1975. Glorantha and its inhabitants have been featured in novels, art, and role-playing, board, and computer games. In my first full-time job as a game designer, in the 1980s, I was heavily involved in Glorantha’s development and expansion, which helped to launch my career. Now, with The Gods War, I have returned to this legendary setting. I have loved working on this game and I am excited to see it finally see the light of day.

How does Gloranthan “lore” figure in The Gods War? My goal was to keep it low-key – the players who care about it will see its effects, and the players who only care about the fun strategies will effortlessly sail past.

The best way to explain it is to use an example from other common war-themed board games. I play a lot of wargames, many of which take place in WW2. One of my pet peeves about WW2 games is when they strongarm the players into making only historically “correct” moves. Even when the reality was full of surprises and unexpected turnabouts.

For example, in the actual war, both Hitler and Churchill were quite concerned about Turkey’s position. Both made extensive efforts and concessions to get Turkey to join the war on their side and, clearly, both believed this to be a real possibility. But most strategic wargames don’t even permit this as an option when, plainly, it could have happened.

In one of my favorite games on the topic, Turkey CAN join the war. But it almost never does, because both the Axis and Allied players seek to pull them to their side, and this balances out, keeping Turkey neutral. So, the effect in this game is that Turkey stays neutral, just as in the other games. It’s just done in a different way, and feels more “natural,” rather than a constraint.

This is the policy I’ve tried to generally follow in The Gods War. Let’s take just one example – an important event in Gloranthan mythology is the Lightbringer Quest, which saved the Sun God, Yelm, from hell.

In the game, the Sun God starts in hell, and his faction wants his release. In theory, anyone could release him. But who is likeliest? Only units with a Combat of two or more can do this. The likeliest empire to release Sun God from Hell in most games is Storm (I would say at least half the time, Storm acts as liberator). Why?

Storm generally has his Champion out turn two, who can move super-fast, so he can reach Hell without delay. Also, since he can free his own units from Hell using Thunder King, he’s not as fearful of being stranded himself. This is actually what happens in the Gloranthan myths – Thunder King goes to Hell and lets out the Sun God.

Thus, the mythic reality is reinforced by the game reality. But not with clumsy rules systems. Why can’t Darkness or Sea free the Sun God instead? Well, the only Darkness unit with a combat of 2+ is her Greater Goddess. And Sea’s greater god has a Combat of one in the early game, and he doesn’t summon his hero (the Kraken) till later, due to other responsibilities.

So, in the game, these factions, actually foes of Sky in the legends, are the least likely to free Sun God from hell. Again, mythically appropriate but reinforced by the game. This makes it feel authentic to Glorantha fans, but not heavy-handed to most players.

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game.

In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including Theomachy, Orcs Must Die! the board game, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.