This episode comes much later than anticipated, but this is Ludo’s fault! Apologies to all.
In this episode we welcome Kevin Jacklin and David Hall:
- Kevin has been writing freeform games for a very long time, and table-top role-playing games a little before that, becoming a huge fan of RuneQuest. Kevin names a fateful meeting with our other guest David Hall at a board-gaming convention in the West of England that had a big bearing on what happened afterwards.
- David Hall started producing a RuneQuest and Glorantha magazine by the name Tales of the Reaching Moon back in 1989. The magazine lasted until 2002 across 20 issues. David was also behind the Reaching Moon Megacorp which produced a number of supporting Gloranthan publications over the same period. Of course the Megacorp was not as massive as the name suggests, it was basically David working part-time out of a very small flat in Slough. Lastly, David was the organizer of the Convulsion game convention from 1992 to 2002, which continues to this day by the name Continuum. And it was at the first Convulsion in 1992 that David and Kevin ran their first freeform, Home of the Bold.
Ludo admits that he has no experience at all with freeforms but then asks Jörg when he first got into this form of roleplaying.
Jörg’s first exposure to freeforms was in the same year he met David for the first time, in 1993 when David visited our annual German RuneQuest convention. While it was not a Gloranthan freeform, it was a Call of Cthulhu freeform which saw Jörg wearing his lab coat chasing after a bird mummy and other stuff. Ludo asked whether there was someone actually dressed as a mummy, but that mummy actually was a prop – a desiccated bird carcass originally wrapped into linen bandages.
David sadly did not play in that freeform, as it was German language only, but we (the German RuneQuest society that had been organizing these conventions since 1990) remedied that language problem two years later at our convention near Berlin. The next year Jörg attended the second Convulsion convention in Leicester and had a role to play in How the West Was One, the second of the Reaching Moon Megacorp Gloranthan freeforms.
What is a Freeform?
David describes a freeform as a microcosm of fantasy roleplaying.
Home of the Bold is a fifty player game where each of the fifty players gets a pre-generated character. They get objectives they are trying to meet, they get a list of characters in the game who they are supposed to know, and they get a few abilities and spells to help them get along.
Effectively, the cast covers the Lunar administration, the Lunar military, tax collectors, spies, merchants, and on the Sartarite side it includes the city councillors, guilds people, merchants, the local underworld, city constables who look after the local underworld, heralds, and various members of the tribes who are in the city of Boldhome. Altogether a microcosm of the whole of Sartar and the whole of the city, and effectively what happens is that everybody talks to each other. As the directors of the freeform “all we do” is to write the characters, set up the scene, sort of coil the spring, and then just let it go.
By the end of the game, the directors will know a lot less about the game than the players will know because they will be living the game and they will work out what’s happening.
Kevin adds that it is very much a living thing. To be ultra-precise about it, this is not people sitting around a large table rolling dice, this is a large playing area. People will very often costume for this. It runs over several hours – Home of the Bold in particular is an eight or nine hour game, with a break in there – so it lasts pretty much for the whole of one day of the convention, and people can be caught up in it.
That is something that regular table-top roleplaying usually doesn’t do, you can actually become lost in the whole thing. This direct experience is one of the huge benefits of the whole freeform game.
Something like that is very taxing to write and organize, which is why you need a convention to support a freeform game. You cannot really run a massive freeform anywhere else.
The very first Convulsion had a big freeform game, and David brought Kevin on board because he knew a little bit about them.
Kevin’s experience with freeforms originated from a conversation with Sandy Petersen because he had written a Call of Cthulhu scenario. In the late eighties and early nineties Kevin got a chance to visit the Chaosium headquarters because the head offices of his company were situated in the Bay area, too, giving Kevin a really good excuse to go and visit Chaosium and see the folk at work there.
A year or two later, Sandy had moved to Microprose on the east coast of the US, and he told Kevin about a group of folks there who had started to write freeform games. This was something that had been going on mainly on the east coast and west coast of the US, something called Interactive Literature., which is in fact live action theatrical roleplaying or freeforms. Sandy had got into a group that included e.g. Lawrence Shick who had written for D&D. The group was called Cruel Hoax, and they were putting on a big freeform in a convention on the east coast, and because Kevin had accumulated lots of air miles, Kevin decided it would be a good idea if he and Dan Steel, a friend of his, flew over to take part in this.
The game was called Café Casablanca, effectively a mash-up of all the film noir of the late 1930ies and 40ies including Casablanca of course. Having taken part in this, Kevin thought this was a really cool idea (Details can be found on the Convivium convention website run by Kevin)
David knew Kevin, and when Kevin told him about Cafe Casablanca it sounded amazing. David showed off his costumes and everything, and David wanted to have one of those freeforms for the Convulsion convention he was setting up in Leicester for 1992, so they sat down to write one.
David says that had they known how much work it was to write a freeform, they might not have started that. Kevin remembers that it was not quite that straightforward – they had to convince the rest of the Convulsion committee that this was a cool thing to do. Because nobody had ever played a freeform, and because they needed how cool they really are, Kevin wrote one which he ran at his house for the committee. That was Adventures of Robin Hood, Kevin asks David whether there exist any pictures of him in tights, which David (quite vehemently) negates. Anyway, the committee seemed to like the concept, and the following year they introduced Home of the Bold to an unsuspecting public at Convulsion.
Ludo falls into his role as the newcomer to this kind of activity, and he asks about what to expect from a freeform. He has some idea about murder mystery games which have a inciting incident – the murder – and then people trying to get behind who did it, and that’s the big resolution.
David replies that there are always a number of plots in the freeforms. There are about ten or twenty plots in Home of the Bold, some bigger than others. There are probably murders that need to be solved, heists the underworld is trying to pull, but the main backdrop is the occupation by the Lunar Empire, so there is a big aspect of that.
The directors set this thing up, then it all depends on what the players do. There is no such thing as a right ending, but there is a likely ending.
Kevin adds that one of the things the directors do put in place is scaffolding which gives players something bigger than themselves to do. So for example there is an election, and it is in the objectives of some of the players to try and get elected, so you have to go around and persuade people, or blackmail them or whatever you want to do to vote for you. There is a chariot race, and there are prizes for people who win the chariot race. You have all of these things that people hang on to that are part of something that is really big, and that’s a cool thing about freeforms. Everybody does have their own objectives, but the trick with writing a character sheet is that if you need to go and find X, there is going to be someone who has got X or who has information how to find X.
Every player is the star of their own movie, things are happening to them. If you talk to the lowliest street beggar about what is going on in Home of the Bold, it is going to be the glorious rise of the street beggar, he probably doesn’t care about the Lunar occupation as long as he is getting a bowl of soup at the end of the day. The writers basically provide half a novel for each of the players and give them a bunch of objectives. The really good players are ones that make up more objectives for themselves, which is when things become self-generative.
David adds that the writers have another technique. Some player characters get an envelope which is to be opened when there is a life-changing event happening to them. When a certain triggering event happens, their whole objectives may change.
There are romance plots as well, you may end up sharing objectives with people who you may not accidentally fall for. There are all sorts of things that can send people off into a different direction.
There is one rule though that unless it is into the last hour of the game, you never make it a player’s objective to kill another player character. That is a big no-go in freeforms.
Ludo asks whether “except in the last hour” means that there is going to be a big blood-bath.
Kevin explains that some people spend weeks and months to prepare their characters for the game. There usually is a good mix of genders attending such a freeform. A lot of players like to do the costuming bits, some might have a different costume for every hour of the game. It is fantastic to see what the players bring to a freeform, it can be one of the satisfactions in preparing such an event. So what you cannot do is tell a character to go and kill character Y, because if you kill that player’s character thirty minutes into the game, that player is going to be terribly annoyed as all their preparation will have been for naught from that point onward.
However, a good public death scene is fantastic in a freeform, especially for a baddie, so the general rule is that yes, in the last hour of the game you can actually kill another player’s character.
Jörg interjects that there is one way you can kill a player character when there is a villain or victim who needs killing if you tell that to the player of that character beforehand and you provide them with the replacement character from the start.
David elaborates that yes, you can play a villain in the game, and often players will sign up for playing a villain in the game because they are fun and have a lot of agency. The thing about villains is that for 95% of the time they are a formidable foe of the heroes who are quite likely a bit incompetent, but in the last five percent of the time they need to fail. All this may entail imprisoning the hero, torturing them, telling them all of their plans, where they are going to be next week, and then the hero escapes, strangely.
The game is about creating a maximum game fun environment where the players know who the villains are.
The writers use very broad strokes that people know from movies or comics etc. Especially when people aren’t that familiar with the background you need to employ some well-known tropes that people can connect with. Glorantha as a background is a little specialized, and people playing Glorantha games usually know a reasonable amount about it, but the authors try not necessarily to assume that familiarity. You don’t have to be a gloranthaphile to enjoy any of the Gloranthan games Kevin and his friends have written. The character sheet will contain some necessary basic information about the background relevant to the character, and there are also booklets presenting the background of the game to the players that are handed out before the game.
With conflicts up to and including killing other player characters, Ludo asks about the actual rules mechanics that are used to resolve conflicts in the game.
Kevin observes the more he has written freeforms, the fewer rules he has actually put into the games. There are freeforms where the players actually carry around a little shaker with a die that will be used to resolve conflicts, but that doesn’t work all that well. Kevin’s best advice to players is to actually talk to other players to find a mutual way to resolve the conflict that is actually dramatically satisfying, even (or especially) if one of you loses. If there is no mutual solution, the players get to use stone paper scissors just to get a decision. David adds that a lot of the abilities and spells given to the players are built around that resolution mechanism, which especially in the last hour of the game should be used to get a resolution to their own objectives, too.
Taking the example of the chariot race featured in Home of the Bold, there are obviously going to be some rules around that chariot race, allowing people to feel that their skill or their special ability is going to help them to win that event. So there are some specific rules as well as some general rules.
Ludo asks whether that is also where as the game masters you go around the rooms and help people with that, to which David replies hopefully as little as possible.
The directors are always there to help, but they really try not to get involved unless they really have to be.
Jörg mentions that the directors tend to cheat a bit about that involvement, assigning some players a role that requires them to go around at certain times and announce a new event or similar. So the player how has the town herald gets the job to make the players aware of things happening.
David explains that there are some events in the game that are pre-set. To some extent, all the freeforms set in Glorantha are based on a historical (or prophesied) event in the setting, that tells how the Malani tribe was created and all sorts of things. But being things actually played out by players, the events don’t usually end up like canonical history has them ending.
Ludo then asks whether there is a post-game presentation of what everybody in the game was up to.
Often there will be a big event at the end, in-game. Actually it is very important to have a debriefing or decompressing session after the game. Sometimes people get really caught up in their game and their character, which can be a very emotional thing, so you need that time to allow people to understand that it wasn’t personal, that it wasn’t the other player doing bad things to you as a person, that it was their character doing stuff to a character whose role you took on.
Ludo observes that this can be a general problems at conventions where you play with people you don’t know, so you cannot be sure whether that other player is acting like an asshole because that’s how his character is set up or whether that person actually is an asshole in real life.
Kevin stresses the importance of having the opportunity after a freeform to get things off your chest, even if it is only to boast about things you achieved in the game, and talk about some of the plots you were involved in. Often someone will stand up and talk about a plot, and other people will chime in to clarify what actually went on (from their perspective), possibly across the other side of town in their experience of the game. Learning about events that you weren’t directly involved in actually is a nice thing as it gives you the feeling that you were involved in something bigger than your character.
Jörg mentions the two after-action write-up collections submitted by a large number of players in the game which were published as fund-raisers at the follow-up conventions and distributed to the contributors.
Kevin remembers that to have been a quite hefty bit of work, and they stopped producing those quite quickly.
A Few Famous Gloranthan Freeforms
Ludo then asks about the freeforms that have been mentioned to him, like Home of the Bold or How the West Was One.
David explains that Home of the Bold was set in Boldhome during the Lunar occupation. That is about as much he wants to say at this point in order not to give the plot away.
How The West Was One is set in the west of Glorantha, it is about an attempt to bring all the various Malkioni sects together at an ecumenical council with attending people wearing funny hats and working at not having too many crises of faith. These crises of faith had a nice mechanism (involving sealed letters being opened) where people would go off chewing scenery (pretending to whip themselves or other expressions of religious drama) and changing the direction of their characters and their goals.
Life of Moonson was set in Glamour. It was about choosing the new mask of the Red Emperor, featuring all the people you would expect in the empire like Jar-eel, Beat-pot Aelwrin, the Batman.
Ludo points out that that is the freeform that is available on the Jonstown Compendium. People get all the material possibly to run it on their birthday parties (or other events where there may be fifty people willing to spend a day on a freeform).
Fall of the House of Malan by Jeff Richard and Neil Robinson, produced around the way the Malani tribe was basically broken and the Lismelder tribe splitting off.
Another one by the same team was Orkarl’s Bull, with an epic cattle raid at the center of things.
There was People of Pavis (run at German RuneQuest Convention in 1997) during the Lunar occupation, there was Rise of Ralios (with The World’s Greatest Tournament the accompanying background booklet, run at German RuneQuest Convention in 1996) about the return of Arkat – five times, there was the Broken Council (at the San Francisco RuneQuest Con) about the birth of Nysalor, and there was Home of the Bold, the first bilingual freeform at the German RuneQuest convention 1995 outside of Berlin which was about the Lhankor Mhy temple of Jonstown having to pay a tribute to the imperial library in terms of valuable books.
Jörg adds a few other offerings the conventions had later on, like e.g. Harem Nights set in Fonrit, Griffin Mountain or Bust set in Balazar, and David adds even one set in the Grey Dog Inn, The Murder at the Grey Dog Inn. (A more extensive list is found in this blog post of Jörg’s.)
The very large freeforms sort of petered out about 2002-ish, becoming much much smaller since then. The reasons for that change in format were mostly practical ones as it is quite hard to find and then keep fifty people engaged for a whole day.
There were smaller ones like for instance Tarsh War (which got published by the Reaching Moon Megacorp).
David rightly mentions the original Gloranthan freeform which was Sartar High Council by Greg Stafford, published in Wyrm’s Footnotes #7 (and reprinted in Reaching Moon Megacorp’s Wyrm’s Footprints, a bit of a precursor to the Glorantha Sourcebook catching up all the good stuff from Wyrm’s Footnotes at a time when they were out of print).
David thinks that Chris Gidlow’s smaller freeform games come a bit more out of the table-top game. They are normally played around a table but have very strong freeform elements to them.
Jörg describes how the big freeforms usually prepare the gaming site indicating various in-game locations by associating features of the gaming site. These may include the temple of Boldhome, the royal palace, the thieves’ den, the market place where you can meet everybody, and some of these places have access restrictions, often enforced by some of the players. There is a bit of faction building simply by where your character can go in the game.
David describes the locations in Home of the Bold and their roles: The market place, where all people may gather and where the herald makes his announcements, the Lunar headquarters, Geo’s Inn where all the Sartarites may gather.
Home of the Bold 2024
Ludo mentions that David and Kevin are going to revive the tradition of having these freeforms at the Chaosium convention 2024 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, running what they call the Director’s Cut of Home of the Bold. The original game is for eighty players, but David says they could not get eighty players now, so they scaled it down to about fifty players. Play time has been shortened, too, from originally 10 hours to about 8 hours with a break.
Looking back at the original game, David says that it was really basic, wonderfully carried by everybody’s enthusiasm for the whole concept. He and Kevin have accumulated experience from writing and running a lot of freeforms since then, and they hope this one will be a bit more polished.
Kevin adds that Chaosium is very keen to have this freeform, they shared the layout of the convention ground to be able to set up the event. Chaosium is aware that this is a thing they can only do at a convention, something they cannot do normally.
In many roleplaying conventions you hardly see anybody because they are all in rooms, hugging their gaming tables, which is okay but is not hugely different from what you can do at home. Freeforms are one of these things bigger than you are, like also the legendary auction.
David and Kevin are expecting Jeff Richard to be in the game and are hoping for the other Chaosium people to be able to make at least cameo appearances. Chaosium is a business, after all, and the freeform will occupy some of the co-organizers for quite a bit of the time.
Kevin mentions some of the extra goodies they have done for all of their freeforms, especially for the first one where they did not know whether it would work, and that was to produce some memorabilia that the players would be able to take home even if the freeform may have turned out to flop.
One of these things was the Rough Guide to Boldhome, providing setting information and background. Greg Stafford put in his description of Boldhome, there is a list of all the major personalities (in the freeform, and major figures absent from this action), so even if the whole game crashed and burned (it obviously did not), the players would have a souvenir and something useful out of it.
One of the other things the directors did was actually mint some (lead) coins to use as currency in the game, giving one to each player at the end of the game. These coins represent Lunar coins.
Kevin remembers that he and David were absolutely amazed how the first run of the game turned out, with the players making the game far greater than they had expected. Basically they had been rookies at creating such an event, and they were still printing out character sheets at the morning of the game.
Kevin tried to warn Ingo Tschinke and Jörg about the things they were getting into with Heroes of Wisdom, and indeed Jörg was also printing out character sheets at the convention on the morning of the game.
Other Freeform Notes
Looking back, Kevin takes pleasure at how the freeform community took off in the UK, and how many people’s first experience was Home of the Bold. There is for example Steve Hatherly who runs a semi-professional murder mysteries outfit – confusingly called freeform games – where you can do freeforms at home, and Kevin has actually run a few of these as events at his workplace. Kevin was re-visiting the Continuum convention earlier this year, and it has a strong freeform track as one of its signature features, and does it very well.
Ludo asks about the re-playability of these freeforms.
David agrees that that is the case, although the directors usually have to change a few things between different runs of the game, like e.g. the hidden identity of key villains. As a general rule, these games are very re-playable – the original Home of the Bold has been run four times.
Advice for First-Time Players
One thing to keep in mind as a first-time player is that somewhere in that game there is going to be someone who needs something that your character has – a well-written game will always give the characters things that other characters need as that creates hooks for interaction. The really basic trick to get started in the game is to go around and start talking to people, asking them who they are.
Or you go to meet people that you are supposed to know (hoping that they know who your character is, too).
Ludo asks somewhat incredulously whether these freeforms are going to ask a bunch of nerds to engage in something like a social activity, and the answer is a resounding yes.
The character sheet will normally list people you are supposed to know, and if you are a little bit stuck about what to do you just go to people you know and ask them for help with one of your objectives. Or you might see something interesting happening across the room, and you might go and observe what is taking place there.
The big spectacles like the chariot race will have only a small number actively engaging in these activities, but the other players are encouraged to observe the event, cheer some of the participants or even bet on the outcome. David promises that there will be a bookmaker, and they will be taking in as many bets as the players may wish.
Ludo asks how he has to envision the actual thing happening in the chariot race, and David replies imagination.
Kevin explains that the directors have to run with imagination as the budget does not extent to having full-on chariots on site.
Jörg chimes in that it is advisable to make yourself recognizable in the game. Kevin confirms that you should stand out, and confesses that in some cases he enjoys the prep work for a freeform almost more than the actual play.
Players should make it clear what clan they belong to – Kevin recalls some Lunar players turning up in full Roman military gear.
Players who are less gifted in costuming should at least wear a significant hat. A good hat can say more than a million words.
Jörg tells about the time he was playing Vamargic Eye-Necklace, a bad-ass troll. His costume consisted mainly of a set of pingpong balls with eyes painted on put on a string around his neck and some grey face paint to produce a terrifying troll. Likewise Beat-pot Aelwrin will be recognized by the eponymous kitchen pot for a helmet, for practical reasons (people will bang on it) insert a piece of cloth in between and arrange it like a turban. With red cloth, the Lunar affiliation will be shouted out, too.
David recalls the costume of David Cheng at the Baltimore RuneQuest convention run of Home of the Bold. David was playing a wind child, and what he was wearing was basically a body suit with wings and a strategically placed cloud.
You definitely don’t have to costume like that – a hat would have been fine.
Jörg talks about the after-effects of these freeforms as means of world-building and creating fan canon. Not so much the actual outcome of the game, but the characters in it would become NPCs in many people’s games. Quite a lot of the characters from the original game actually are going to make it into the upcoming Sartar Book by Jeff Richard, while (having some early access to that book) several of the characters from the upcoming book are going to show up in the Directors Cut of Home of the Bold.
The set-up for the upcoming run of Home of the Bold will be fairly canonical, even if the outcome may be vastly different. For the background, they will be using some of the information of the new Sartar book.
And yes, that means that there will be a new background booklet for the players this time as well in case the game should crash and burn.
Speaking of crashing and burning, Jörg opines that he has yet to play or run a freeform where players did not crash or burn part of the setting. In games he ran and co-wrote, he has been surprised by players running off on tangents he would never have imagined.
And that’s perfectly fine, that’s an example of players bringing their own imagination to the game. As David said early on, if you want to know what happened in the freeform, don’t ask the referees, they often have no clue.
David recalls playing People of Pavis, and he made up an objective – he decided it was the Lunar governor-general’s birthday, so he had several of the other players aid him in organizing all sorts of things for the party, and then they had a surprise birthday party where the player of Sor-eel thought he was going to be assassinated.
Tales of the Reaching Moon
We talk a little bit about the fanzine that David and his co-conspirators produced back in the days. David shows up originals of the first and the last issue, the first issue being the classic A4 photocopied and stapled booklet you might expect from a fanzine, while the last issue has a beautiful colour cover and is professionally set and layout’ed.
Ludo points out that the magazine was massively influential at a key time in Glorantha’s publishing history.
David explains that the fanzine came out at the time when Chaosium had licensed RuneQuest to Avalon Hill, and what the fanzine did was it started a new RuneQuest Renaissance at Avalon Hill, starting with Michael O’Brien’s classic Sun County and Ken Rolston’s River of Cradles.
Jörg also points out David Hall’s role in kickstarting Greg Stafford again to produce King of Sartar from a meeting at a Gaelcon in Dublin. David confirms that Home of the Bold did owe quite a bit to the material in King of Sartar.
As David recalls, Greg Stafford had retreated largely from writing for Glorantha due to the detriorating situation with Avalon Hill publishing the RuneQuest boxed sets, and was concentrating largely on his magnum opus Pendragon at the time (the role-playing game about Sit Tomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Artur). Meeting fans enthusiastic about Glorantha, Greg started interacting with the setting again. In 1990, Greg held a convention seminar on heroquesting (that bit of Gloranthan gaming that had been promised for Next Year throughout Chaosium’s second edition of RuneQuest). The things explained at that seminar inspired Tales of the Reaching Moon issue seven which focused on heroquesting.
At one of the Gaelcons, it was just David, Nick Brooke, and Greg Stafford, and David thinks that Nick was in seventh heaven at the time.
Kevin mentions that one of the reasons why Glorantha was very big in the UK was that in the early 1980ies Games Workshop lost the license to reprint Dungeons and Dragons – TSR took it upon themselves to have a local office, so they could do it themselves – and so Games Workshop were looking around for another roleplaying property, and they alighted upon RuneQuest, which is one reason why it was very strong in the UK.
Games Workshop did a few reprints of the pink box of the RQ2 rules.
Ludo claims they ruined the cover when they used a scale-mail bikini-clad skinny female fighter rather than Luise Perrin’s sensibly hoplite-armored warrioress fighting off that rock lizard climbing up her shield.
Anyway, this policy of Games Workshop resulted in a strong followership for RuneQuest and Glorantha in the UK, and another reason why Tales was doing well was that by fortunate coincidence they managed to get the fanzine into UK distribution which meant that it got into all the major games stores over there.
Ludo asks whether this was unusual for a fanzine, and David confirms that it was serendipity at work again. When David and Kevin met at that board-game convention, Kevin’s best mate was in charge of Esdevium Games, and they would take 600 copies out of a total print run of about 1600 copies to retail. As a result, UK gamers got to see support for RuneQuest and Glorantha, which sort of pushed the effect of Games Workshop publishing a local edition.
David recalls that the original Tales 1 was around 290 copies, the second about 250, but by Tales 12 they were doing 1600.
Jörg adds that Tales of the Reaching Moon went global pretty soon – Michael O’Brien (aka MOB) chimed in with issue 4, which is how Tales conquered Australia very early on.
David says they got lucky very early on. Tales 1 started with David, Brian Duguid and Matt Tudor. Matt had plans to get into publishing and was using this for his professional kick-off, while David and Brian mainly wanted to do an A4 fanzine. They met through Greg Stafford, and then it was Jonathan Quaife who helped very much networking with Michael O’Brien, Oliver Dickinson, and all the other people that joined subsequently. Kevin points out that all of this happened before the internet. David remembers that they were writing letters to each other when this started. This gets Ludo wondering whether he ever sent a letter by mail other than Christmas greetings.
As soon as Compuserve and e-mail came came along, they went straight to that new medium.
Ludo asks whether Tales (or the UK in general) ever went through the APA style of self-publication of epistolary exchange. David says that that model never really happened in the UK. You rather created your own A5 fanzine, or a few A4 ones, some of which were pretty well known and almost commercially produced.
While the APA did not play a role in the UK, Greg Stafford himself was a prolific participant in the US APA scene, with his Son of Sartar offerings (that recently have been collected and published by Chaosium as The Stafford House Campaign).
Jörg claims that the APA format sort of carried over into the RuneQuest and Glorantha mailing lists. The original RuneQuest Digest started out in the late eighties even, mainly frequented by people with university access to email, but when it became the RuneQuest Daily in 1993 it exploded in volume and traffic. The archives can be found at: http://glorantha.steff.in
Jörg claims that Home of the Bold (and the Rough Guide to Boldhome and the after-action reports) really opened up roleplaying in Sartar, because before of that, we had Snake Pipe Hollow and Apple Lane as scenarios in Sartar (and the Haunted Ruins as part of Troll Pak), but that was it. All the other material was for Pavis, the River of Cradles, or the Elder Wilds.
David recalls learning a lot about Sartar from Jon Quaife when he joined his Greydog campaign, and then sort of introduced that campaign to his own players.
Ludo asks whether that played a role in re-centering RuneQuest away from Pavis and into Sartar.
David remembers that a lot of the material published in Tales was from that Lismelder campaign, but he also shouts off towards Jeff Richard’s Orlmarth campaign (just across the Starfire Ridges) in Seattle, where there was a lot of mutual bashing between the two rival clans.
Jörg points toward the big metaplot for Glorantha already having been published with the board game White Bear and Red Moon, and the sequence of the scenarios in that game. Right now we are getting this translated into roleplaying books for RuneQuest. Sartarites vs Lunars always was a thing, and for some weird reason nobody really played the Lunars.
David protests that they all played the Lunars – in Tales of the Reaching Moon they had to. While it may have been exposition with the name of the magazine, with Nick Brooke and Chris Gidlow they always had strong representation of the Lunar Way. “We (the Lunars) might not win the war, but we won the argument.”
Ludo points to our recent episode with Nick which was an exercise in Lunar propaganda.
Different Forms of Life Action Roleplaying
Ludo asks about the fair number of different labels for freeform gaming. There are for instance freeforms, murder mysteries, Nordic LARP, whereas tabletop roleplaying pretty much is what it is. So is there more of a segregation of the various types of LARPing going on than in table-top roleplaying?
David agrees that there used to be. They typically said they were not running around the woods whacking each other with rubber swords, that is LARPing, but he things that these rubber sword LARPs have taken on a lot of the aspects of freeforming in terms that they are plotted, that they are better created. Jörg mentions the far end of physical activity LARPing with organizations like the Society of Creative Anachronism or even HEMA (middle ages martial re-enactment).
Ludo asks whether the SCA actually does roleplaying, but they do take on characters in their get-togethers. Whether they actually have plotted games is a different question.
Ludo asks whether anybody ever created a Gloranthan LARP with rubber swords, and Jörg confesses to have accompanied one such as a (drafted) referee, with a group of trolls haunting the vineyards around Castle Stahleck on one German RuneQuest convention.
Kevin also points towards having met Life Action Trollball, which is a different kind of LARPing. David quips that it may be similar to the SCA taking on roles, but Jörg claims that Trollball actually evolved a lot.
Trollball, as played on Eternal Conventions, the inheritor of the location and date of the Tentacles conventions, now have a trollball league where the children in the teams get to play the great trolls and the adults (if you can speak of such in a pastime like this) are the normal trolls. There still is audience participation by tossing in harmless water bombs (at adult players), there still is the Xiola Umbar healer with the really messy healing by putting on flour, and the game still is played in slow motion, at least when it comes to movement across the field. The bashing of others happens in real time, at least as much as the very soft weapons allow.
It still is as extremely silly as it was when Jörg brought his experience from 1994 Convulsion home to a local convention in his hometown in Kiel. There was a reporter from the local newspaper attending the convention, and he was fascinated by the impression of grown up people bashing one another over the head with blow-up toys.
David remembers that MOB was very into Life Action Trollball (he was the one who brought it over from Australia, invented the slow motion rule, for the 1994 Baltimore convention and Convulsion in the same year) and will ask him about a chance to re-introduce this to Chaosium Con.
Jörg gives another shout-out to the rules of the Eternal Convention league as that offers the small attendees a chance to participate in Glorantha. Eternal Convention also offers freeforms for children – taking situations like a meeting of Disney princesses and having the children and some supporting parents playing this out for two or maybe three hours.
Kevin had not heard of that, but thinks it is a cool idea to run with a premise that requires little to no explanation of the setting and giving the children a chance to have a go at this kind of roleplaying.
Kevin observes that freeforming is a very broad church, encompassing a lot of everything. As people got a better understanding of what is going on, the range of topics and people you can draw in has expanded a lot.
Nordic LARPing can be very dark and very deep, psychologically very testing. They are aware that they are exploring something in a safe space, that you probably would not be able to do in another way. That’s a common feature in all forms of freeforming, allowing to explore things in character that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
Ludo talks about his limited understanding of how Nordic LARPs work, with referees approaching the players in game to confront them with a new, usually dark and disturbing new direction of their role, e.g. revealing that that other character is the person who murdered your sister, or a similarly traumatic twist.
Kevin agrees that some of the Nordic Larps can be pretty dark and deep, and some of the topics can be pretty dark. You really need to know what you are getting into before you run into one of those. They definitely have mature content warning on the cover when you are signing up.
Coming back to Ludo’s leading argument that table-top roleplaying pretty much is what it is, Jörg suggests that you can have tabletop roleplaying experiences going nearly as deep, like for instance Robin Laws’s Drama System, which doesn’t require any kind of typical table-top heroism. At one Kraken convention Robin and Kat Tobin from Pelgrane games presented a possible conflict in Drama system escalating from something like “you never put away the dishes”.
Kevin wishes that more people would write them so that he would get to play in more of them. He has played in a few when he went to conventions, but it would be nice to see more peeping up at conventions. David is hopeful that their return to Home of the Bold might encourage a few more people to write freeforms.
Jörg observes that sometimes you have to go to rather niche places to play a freeform, and traveling to many can be quite costly.
So the Directors Cut of Home of the Bold will be run at Chaosium Con in April 18th to 21st in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ludo recalls how a freeform prepared by John Wick for the first Chaosium Con had to be cancelled last minute because of Covid concerns.
Kevin is looking forward to seeing people and their hats, which Ludo remembers he needs to prepare over the next few months. When Jörg suggests that the newsletter might have to be resurrected for some pictures, the argument that taking pictures of yourself doesn’t work all of a sudden becomes a lot more attractive.
Kevin explains that when people sign up for the Director’s Cut of Home of the Bold, they will receive a questionnaire where they can jot down their preferences, and he and David will then use a very scientific method of allocating roles so you will know a few weeks ahead of the event which role you will be given, which means you can work on your hat. Kevin and David assure Jörg that the top AI algorithm is a little more sophisticated than die rolls.