Thursday, October 9, 2014

The One Unique Thing in Glorantha

(How did this Lunar mage break into the blog? See Oriane's story below.)

Four days left in the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter, and I'm having fun writing up pieces that are new to one or the other of the game's audiences...

My second favorite part of 13th Age character creation is selecting my character’s One Unique Thing. My very favorite part of 13th Age character creation is helping players figure out their characters’ One Unique Things when I’m the gamemaster!

Choosing your class, race, and powers is fun, but that’s all stuff the game provides, you’re pretty much shopping from menus, figuring out how to best accessorize a dwarf commander. Your One Unique Thing is your first chance to tell everyone how your character is special and how the upcoming campaign or one-shot session is going to be different than all others! As a rule, One Unique Things don’t provide powers, but it’s extremely common for characters with One Unique Things they love to find ways of orienting their later powers around their unique. The same goes for the campaign as the GM cycles between the central stories of each character, using characters’ One Unique Things and backgrounds as plot hooks that matter.

I’ve had a couple people tell me that the One Unique Thing will be an extremely interesting addition to Gloranthan roleplaying sessions because Glorantha hasn’t done this before. I agree that it’s going to be INTERESTING in the all-caps-excellent sense of that word. But I’m not so sure that the One Unique Thing is new to Glorantha.

I’m not arguing the point about other RPGs set in Glorantha. You could absolutely add the One Unique Thing to the next RuneQuest characters you create, and you probably should, I think it would be fun! Heroquest’s freeform character traits come a bit closer to setting up characters who have de facto One Unique Things, but the traits are part of the game’s mechanical system, and that’s not what 13th Age’s version is about, not at character creation anyway.

No, it’s not the game experiences that we’ve shared in Glorantha that have already introduced the concept of the One Unique Thing. It’s the Heroes and Superheroes that Jeff and Jonathan and I have loved for the past few decades of our Gloranthan fandom!

Jar-eel the Razoress is a daughter of the Red Emperor and the culmination of a mystic breeding plan to create the perfect person: magical eugenics! And it worked!

Harrek the Berserk skinned his own god and wears it as a cloak. (It’s occasionally fashionable, since his god was a White Bear.)

Harmast, the Orlanthi heroquester who is the protagonist of several of Greg’s novels, was the last of the Kodigvari, a line of Orlanthi sacred kings in the God Time.

Beat-Pot Aelwrin wears a freaking pot on his head, fights with a cleaver, and was recruited from the Imperial kitchens.

Androgeus combines the worst of both genders into one infinitely powerful package.

Sir Ethilrist went to Hell, but came back as the world’s top mercenary and the unique owner of a Doom Hound.

Arkat? Well, Arkat the Liberator aka Arkat the Destroyer aka Arkat the Betrayer aka Gbaji (?!) had this shtick where he gained a new One Unique Thing every time he gained a level!

You see the pattern, and if you know Glorantha you can add the others! Greg created his major Heroes with a One Unique Thing, because that’s how the best sagas and myths did it.

My certainty that our 13th Age characters had to have One Unique Thing as part of their initial conception? Quite possibly inherited in part from the stories I love most from Glorantha.

Think of it this way: your character may not survive to become a Hero, but 13th Age characters are essentially defined as the type of people who have the potential to become Heroes. That’s what sets them apart from NPCs. Most of the NPCs in the world do not have a One Unique Thing. The PCs are special, and in the case of 13th Age in Glorantha, they’re special in a way that some people will recognize as the spark of power that Heroes possess. Dangerous people to be around, but these are dangerous times.

So when you are creating your first One Unique Thing, think about the type of story have you always wanted to play, but haven’t quite been able to. You may not get to play it all the time, but when the GM or the other players turn the spotlight on you, it may be plots and stunts and adventures related to your unique that shine out.

I can’t be sure how often I’m going to get to play the game myself. I end up being the GM, a lot, and as I said, I don’t mind that. But when I think about the stories I would love to try out in Glorantha, here are the first few that come to mind, and a couple one-liners that Jonathan came up with.

Kitson: The only dark troll ever born to human parents. Father was probably a Kitori tribesman, mother was an Ernaldan priestess powerful enough to keep him and herself alive. My character bridges the worlds as a multiclass Zorak Zoran berserker and Orlanthi Wind Lord.

Karvadi the Claw: (Jonathan’s one-liner, my version) An alynx changed to human form! Probably the consequence of some ancient heroquest playing out, or possibly has no idea what really caused the transformation. Not especially devoted to Yinkin, god of alynxes/cats, because really, you expect a cat to somehow be devoted to another cat? That ‘let’s-worship-Yinkin’ stuff is for humans!

Oriane: Oriane is a powerful but troubled Vingan warrior with an even more powerful Vingan aunt named Jareen. Oriane's troubles largely stem from the strange and disturbing fact that her magic seems tied to the cycle of the Red Moon, which is pretty much like saying that her prayers to the Virgin Mary only work if she burns black candles and sacrifices a newborn. A troubling secret. As the campaign begins, Jareen is dying. On her deathbed, Jareen tells Oriane about a Lunar mage who has come unaccompanied into the clan's territory once every seven years since Oriane was born. Jareen has slain the Lunar every time, but he comes back seven years later looking exactly the same, yet more powerful, and Jareen now understands that Oriane will have to face the mage herself, and perhaps learn the truth about . . . well, you know. Unfortunately Jareen dies without saying when the Lunar mage is due back, or what his powers are. (The GM says "Thank you.")

Yelarn: One day a week, she is possessed by the spirit of one of her ancient ancestors. She keeps the same abilities and some of her knowledge, but her personality and soul varies depending on which ancestor is with her. Often it’s useful, as if the ancestors send someone to help. Sometimes it’s a big problem, as if the ancestors wanted to get someone troublesome out of their ectoplasmic hair for awhile. Obviously doesn’t come up every session, but when it does come up there are sometimes lasting consequences. As Yelarn grows in power, it might just be true that her ancestors start rearranging the gods and goddesses she worships, but those pages have yet to be turned.

Harad Stoneshaper: Harad is a straight out normal 13th Age fighter who worships Orlanth. He doesn’t consciously shape stone. Stone just happens to come to life when he spends much time around it. Statues bend into new shapes, stone doors warp open, buildings tend to survive upright for a time, but if he were imprisoned in a stone structure for weeks? The building wouldn’t survive. This is an example of a unique that starts small but who knows where it will go. The dwarves, for example, are going to *hate* this guy. Unless, that is, they figure out that he is actually the missing piece of one of their broken world engines. Which would be another style of problem!

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