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Some Thoughts on Playing Fate Core in Glorantha

December 8, 2012

The Guide to Glorantha KickstarterWhen I wrote Legends of Anglerre, one of my playtest worlds was Glorantha, one of my all-time favourite fantasy settings. With the new Fate Core, Glorantha becomes even more viable as a venue for Fate-based adventure. Both Glorantha and Fate Core are running Kickstarters at the moment – the awesome Guide to Glorantha Kickstarter here and the Fate Core Kickstarter here – so I thought I’d blog about how you can use one to play the other.

You don’t tackle a subject as big as “Glorantha using Fate Core” in a single post – it’s more properly the topic of an entire book. But, to kick off the discussion, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts about what IMHO is the biggest issue when adapting any rules system to Glorantha – what to do about the magic. I’ll start by talking about my favourite Gloranthan gaming environment (and I know I’m not alone in this 😉 ): Sartar, Dragon Pass, and Pavis – home of the Theist Orlanthi and the occupation by their nefarious foes, the Lunar Empire.

Theism focusses on Runes. Happily, Fate Core can handle that exquisitely, and very simply. Here’s how: when you create your character (let’s say he’s an Orlanthi), select which Runes he’s going to have an affinity with. You could select up to 3 Runes, but as a beginning Fate Core character only gets 10 skills in total, I’m going to choose just two for my character – Air / Storm and Movement.

Now, depending on how I view my character, I can take these two Runes at anything up to Great (+4) in power. But what can I do with them? Well, Fate Core gives you the four actions you can do with skills: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, and Defend. Perhaps not all Runes are going to be equally useful for all four actions, but in our notional Fate of Glorantha supplement, we’d have a chapter on the Runes, giving their core uses. So, the Air / Storm rune would let you manipulate the powers of Orlanth (say) to summon winds, blast foes, blow away arrows, and so on.

The Fate Core KickstarterIn Glorantha, not everyone gets the same access to a god’s powers. In fact, it’s mostly determined by a character’s standing with the god – whether he or she is a lay member, initiate, devotee / rune lord / rune priest, or even hero. HeroQuest and RuneQuest treat these divisions slightly differently; in our notional Fate of Glorantha, we’d have to decide which vision of Gloranthan reality we’d go with. For now, let’s muse about the HeroQuest view of things.

HeroQuest says non-initiates can only use runes to enhance things they can do naturally anyhow. You can use the Movement rune to make yourself run faster, but perhaps not fly – that’s something for initiates to do. In Fate Core terms, that sounds very much like the Create Advantage action – or perhaps even a teamwork action, if you want to help someone else.

That means we can start with a limited use for Runes in Fate of Glorantha – perhaps restricted just to creating advantages, which you then exploit with a different skill (players of HeroQuest may notice this feels a little like an “augment”). Then, we can “switch on” additional uses – magical abilities – using the Stunt rules. So, we could have a stunt called “Initiate”; when you take that, you can now use your Runes to do overtly magical things – Run Like The Wind, Fly, etc (in HeroQuest’s view of Gloranthan reality, this might equate to “using Runes directly”).

Now this is where we have to make some decisions about “Gloranthan reality” – so help me out here, if you have suggestions. Here’s what we could do with stunts:

  • Each “cult hierarchy” stunt you take could “switch on” one additional skill action for every Rune you know. So, you could use your “Initiate” stunt to switch on the “Overcome” action for your Air / Storm and Movement Runes, allowing you to make miraculous sprint actions (flying through the air), force open doors and summon rains, etc. Or, if you were of a more martial bent (let’s say you were an Initiate of Orlanth Adventurous), you could instead switch on the “Attack” action for your runes, allowing you to smash into your foes at high speed, fling lightning bolts, and so on. Then, when you take your next “cult hierarchy” stunt (let’s call this one “Rune Lord”), then you can switch on another action, and so on. By the time you get to the top of the hierarchy (Devotee?), then you have all the available four actions switched on for all your rune skills.
  • Another way of using “cult hierarchy” stunts would be to have each one switch on one Rune in its entirety. So, your “Initiate” stunt could unlock all four actions for just one of your Runes – let’s say Movement. You could then make Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack and Defense actions for the Movement rune, but you’d still be limited to Create Advantage actions with your other Runes (in this case, Air / Storm), until you took the next cult hierarchy stunt.

You have to make a decision how you slice and dice the underlying Gloranthan reality. At the moment, I’m kind of preferring the second option above – it gives Initiates quite considerable power in a limited area, then broadens it as they advance up the cult hierarchy.

I’ll stop there for today. There are obviously so many things to look at when using Fate Core for Glorantha, even “just” for theism. For example, Feats look like they may make very cool Extras, or even just Aspects; allied spirits, etc, would be cool skill-based Extras, as would cults.

There is indeed a whole supplement (or several) possible for playing Glorantha using Fate Core. But for now – let me know what you think of this first rough treatment of Orlanthi-style theism using the new Fate Core rules. How would you do it? Also, if there’s anything you’d like me to post about next, let me know!



Don’t forget – you can find the Fate Core Kickstarter here, and the Guide to Glorantha Kickstarter here.

20 Comments leave one →
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  3. September 14, 2014 6:27 pm

    Sorry to find this so late…

    To me, one of the key elements of runes is that they are Aspects. Orlanthi men are flighty and emotional BECAUSE they have the Air Rune.

    Of course, they are not JUST aspects, since some people are stronger with the Air Rune than others. (Though of course these people are more easily compelled…)

    So they can’t be just a skill, and they can’t be just an aspect. An Extra might well work the best.

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  6. David Buswell-Wible permalink
    August 13, 2013 11:17 pm

    I have been struggling with Fate of Glorantha for a while now, so thanks for posting this! I feel like each cult has very personalized magic that is granted from each Rune. How can you emulate that? Maybe just by noticing it and saying what you are tying to do is or is not possible within your cult?
    There are a million other questions but I’ll end on: will you be posting any other notes on this? Or writing a book???

  7. Kevin McDonald permalink
    July 22, 2013 3:11 am

    Any progress on this? Is the conversation continuing somewhere else?

  8. December 9, 2012 12:04 pm

    Very cool comments, everyone – thank you! Likewise comments via Twitter and Facebook – awesome stuff.

    So, it’s looking like the following:

    – We’d want a given Rune to effectively be an Extra. That means it can be a mix of aspects, stunts, and maybe skills, but tailored to the needs of the rune and even the cult that has it (so you could have differences between Elmal and Yelmalio actually built into the Extra). Avoids the one-size-fits-all problem.

    – I’m thinking now that magic might better be structured a little more like the RQ6 approach, so for Theism (for example) you might have Devotion or Exhort skills.

    – Then, each Rune would be an aspect. You’d use that aspect to inform the form of the magic you use (Exhort to overcome, create advantages, attack, defend, etc), based on the Extra.

    – Your “power” as a worshipper would be represented by a form of extra; you’d have a stunt saying whether you were an initiate, etc, but also this would be reflected in your high concept, which can only change on a major milestone, ie a game-changing event. This would allow for the narrative sides of cult (etc) advancement.

    – Things like “feats” (or the game reality equivalent) could likewise be modified by a form of extra – basically a stunt, and / or an aspect. Allows for lots of narrative inclusion where necessary, plus mechanistic stuff via stunt.

    That’s starting to feel quite meaty – and sufficiently flexible that different cults could feel very different from one another, and also the separate types of magic (sorcery, animism, etc) could use *very* different approaches.

    Any thoughts?



    • turturin permalink
      December 9, 2012 8:46 pm

      I have played Runequest 3 and my own Cthulhu FATE (that’s how I got here 🙂 ). I think this last version of the mechanics for the Runes is really good. I would add a generic skill to shape the power of the Runes, and all the powers derived from the Extra (probably stunts in different levels depending on the cult hierarchy).

      Eager to see more on FATE + Glorantha! Thank you!

    • December 15, 2012 5:43 pm

      Only skimmed the new Fate Core but Extras do seem the way to go. But a radical idea (if you really wanted to go for ‘realism’ over game construct) might be to create the local expression of the religion as the Extra, and allow the various level character’s access to those resources. For example, a local Issaries Temple would allow the local initiates to use bargain enhancing magics and a runelord to create a warded market.

      It would be a departure from the current Heroquest way of seeing things where runes are a part of you, but I never bought that anyway, too neat and mechanical.

  9. Graham permalink
    December 9, 2012 1:00 am

    Love it Sarah.

    I’ve had a real surface look at Fate Core but will get into it over the next week.

    P.295 – Extra as a Skill. I can see each Rune with a page like that giving ideas on how to apply the Rune in play.

    I like the idea of Stunts upping the power level of the Runes you have an affinity for.

    Lay Member, Initiate, Runelord/Priest, Er something else.

    I like the Runelord name, cut me an RQ2 starter.

    • December 9, 2012 11:49 am

      Extra as a skill certainly makes sense, Graham. In fact, each Rune could well be an Extra in its own right – probably with an Aspect, and then optional Stunts, etc. I was just talking with David Dunham about Runes as Aspects, and it occurred to me you could model things a bit more like RQ6, and have skills like Devotion, etc, and Runes as Aspects, with Feats and Cult Ranks as Stunts… I wonder how that would work?

      • Graham permalink
        December 19, 2012 12:47 am

        Maybe, maybe. I certainly like the idea of Runes as Scene Aspects and Runes that you are affiliated with giving you personal Aspects too. If we’re tapping into the magic of a Rune, then I like the idea of having a skill in it, with Stunts upping the allowed power level.

        Lay member – Create Advantages only
        Initiate – Create Magical effects – overcome/attack/defend – One use before returnng to a temple? FP to activate.
        RuneLord – As above but multi use FP to activate

        Hmmm, dunno.

        I really need to finish Core. I’ll get on that tomorrow.

  10. Darran Sims permalink
    December 8, 2012 1:41 pm

    I would just make all FATE characters Rune Lords to keep it simple.

  11. December 8, 2012 1:25 pm

    I don’t know the Fate system at all, but from your description, the second option seems to be the closest to “reality”.

    It’s a tricky question, though. Most people experience Glorantha through role-play with rules, and “how it really works” is therefore constrained by the limitations of the rule system. Look at RQ2 as “true Glorantha”, and you only have two levels: initiate, and runelord/priest (the two last being about equal in status). HW and HQ, you get lay member (who basically can’t do anything), initiate, devotee, disciple. Also, you have different ability levels for your runes/affinities, it isn’t just a can/can’t switch. An experienced initiate can have a far higher skill in an affinity than a new Devotee.
    But that’s still just a rule system. A limited, cut-down, overly-restrictive view of “reality”.
    What happens in fiction, where you can describe what’s “really” going on? And here we hit the next problem – most Gloranthan fiction is written by roleplayers, and you can see quite easily which rule-set they’re using 😦 Penny Love uses RQ2, my more recent stories use HQ, and so on.
    Personally I think the emphasis on the rune, rather than on what you can do with it, is the way to go. You need to take action to get that control, probably through hero-questing, and if the god doesn’t grant it, you haven’t got it. On/off, success/failure. Do you wear that rune on your armour, RQ2/Penny Love style, or do you not?
    Once you’ve got it at all, how you use it, and how well, is another question, and one that isn’t on/off.

    • December 9, 2012 11:52 am

      Good points Jane. I’m starting to think now about modelling the cult ranks still as stunts, but maybe having Devotion, etc, skills and having Runes as Aspects. Runes as Aspects would certainly unpack their narrative focus nicely. In Fate Core terms, each Rune would then be an Extra, with aspects, stunts, skills, etc. This would also allow for a lot of flexibility between runes and cults’ views of them, which would stop us needing to shoe-horn the “narrative reality” into a one-size-fits-all game mechanic. A bit like the HQ “Rune-as-Keyword” approach.

      • December 9, 2012 12:04 pm

        Yes, flexibility is always good. Had you considered the problems of the gift/geas pairs? That “+5 to a skill” can be quite difficult to handle in some rule sets.

  12. December 8, 2012 1:20 pm

    I’ve not played a ton of Glorantha, but having the powers go up as you go up the hierarchy strikes me as a way to do it.

    I suppose you could also unlock it with Aspects and getting advantages and powers that way. This would cover mundane uses of the Runes to do things you can already do, better.

    It does sound like the skill system in Fate Core (which I really need to read through to see how it differs from earlier versions) does handle it as you have suggested.

    • December 9, 2012 11:55 am

      Hi Paul,

      I think keeping the cult ranks as stunts seems to be the way to go – but somewhere in there, there also needs to be a tie-in to the character’s high concept, which can get changed as part of a major milestone. I think I’d want to see the progress from, say, initiate to devotee / rune priest / runelord / whatever be something that’s a major campaign event, rather than a relatively mechanistic advance (which a stunt purchase can sometimes be).



      • October 31, 2013 2:33 pm

        That is the bit for the clever game designer type people. 🙂

        I’ve only read Runequest 2 – again today, actually, with the ‘must have five 90% skills and high enough POW to have a shot at getting to be a Runelord.

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