Gaming As Mythic Exploration: Gen Con Audio and Transcript

Kenneth Hite, Lillian Cohen-Moore and I discussed how to explore myth through roleplaying games at Gen Con 2014. For us, this is the very essence of the hobby.

Greg-GenCon

Kenneth: It’s time to start the panel. We’ll introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about the topic, but I think the plan is to sort of see what you guys want to explore. 

Lillian: I’m Lillian Cohen-Moore. I’m a writer, editor and journalist. Most of the journalism I do is about games, specifically tabletop and (inaudible). I’m part of a dying breed. 

Kenneth: I’m Kenneth Hite, primarily tabletop role play designer. Titles like Trails of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Day After Ragnarock which is probably my most mythically infused setting. Lamentations of the Flame Princess plus many, may more. 

Greg: My name’s Greg Stafford. I have done a bunch of tabletop games, best known are probably Runequest, Pendragon…maybe some others. But they’re all mythically inclined in any case, so…here we are. 

Kenneth: Lillian, I think you were the person thinking the most about this panel beforehand, right? Do you have a set to set us off?

Greg: Define what “mythically inclined” means. Define what “mythic explanation” means.

Kenneth: “Mythic Exploration," I think.

Lillian: Define “mythic exploration”? All right. I was thinking about this on the airplane out here. Mythic exploration can be more on the literal end where we’re thinking about Arthurian myth or myths specific to different cultures and tribes. I think that time periods also fit into that since Victorian era, both World Wars both have as much mythos about them as actual historic detail. 

Kenneth: I would say that, to sort of build on that notion, that you can drive things not just from the specific details of the story or the legend, you can also use roleplaying as a way to illuminate or explore the themes that are raised by the myth. If you’re doing a Norse inspired roleplaying game you might want to examine themes of fate so you might want to say your characters are going to have fated ends that are going to happen. You’re not going to be in the position where you’re in that sort of Yankee Capitalist, open—ended “anything can happen to my character” mode that we have as our American mythology. When you’re creating or running a game of mythical exploration, your game will become stronger, rather than just taking the hammers and the darts and the arrowhead and the lightening, you know…you’re also asking “what are the stories about”, not just “what are they telling people about” but also, “what are the myths about”, what are the moods, the themes..the answers that those philosophies came up with and how can you put that into your game play rather than just making it, “I must be in Greek myth because I’m fighting a centaur”. Why are you fighting a centaur? What does a centaur mean? What do the Greeks think centaurs meant? Does your game make the players feel the same way that the Greeks might have felt? There’s a reason that they put wars against the centaurs all along the wall of the Parthenon. That was a big friggin’ deal with them. The triumph of reason over chaos. So, the Greeks, holding on as they were by their fingernails sometimes, thought it was a pretty important thing to remind themselves. 

Greg: For me, we are all mythological creatures. We all have some part of ourselves that we’re not aware of and mythology is a language. It’s like a sense like sight and smell and sound. Unfortunately, we’ve lost most of it these days. It’s been learned—out of us. But, to me, mythology is a…the role playing games are a way to interact with that. We have an unconscious ability to deal with myths. They have meaning. They have meaning that we don’t understand. They have intuitive meaning. They have obvious meaning. They have storytelling medium. A good game is one that taps into all of these things. I think every roleplaying game in which you make up and create an imaginary character activates that mythological self. The best games are the ones that fulfill that hunger within us. 

Kenneth: So, there you go. Class dismissed. Does anyone have any initial questions or do we go back around on another set of war stories at the table? 

Q: On the subject of required reading, would you each like to recommend a book that explores some myth—meaning or some particular set of common myths, either historical or (inaudible).

Greg: Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. 

Kenneth: I would recommend reading that last, not first. You read it first and you can wind up putting a lot of things into those slots that don’t quite fit in my understanding of it. But I will recommend another book that is also insane. Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, which begins as a (?) of all of the different versions of Greek myth. We pick up from Bulfinch or whatever…that there’s one origin story for Cupid or one way that Ares and Hephaestus fought while there’s a bunch of different ways because Greek myth evolved over two thousand years through five separate cultural streams. Graves assembles them all and then comes up with absolutely bananas theories to explain them all based on — what was in 1910 — sort of neopagan anthropology that is now basically crackers. But, what it is when you’re reading it, it’s a self—consistent, reinforcing way of looking at the world that also — because Robert Graves is one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century — like Greg said, intuitively tapped into meaning even though the bricks from which it builds it’s house of meaning are crazy bricks. But, the structure that he puts together is as compelling an as convincing a parallel under—myth to the Greek myths as you’re going to find. I think that the way you can look at that book…it’s a two—volume set but you can usually buy it in one big, thick volume…the way that those two sets of mythologies — the Edwardian mythology of mythologies and the Greeks mythology of themselves and the Romans mythology of the Greeks slide together and reinforce each other and create this inner space. I think it’s one of the most powerful and expressive things you can do. I accidentally read The White Goddess first which I don’t recommend doing cold because that will drive you crazy. I would say start with the Greek myths, especially if you think you have a good working knowledge of the Greek mythology already. Reading that is going to blow your mind. 

Lillian: I can’t remember the guy who wrote this book. Constantine’s Sword. It’s a history of the early Christian church and it’s relationship with the Jews. I can say, as a young Jewish reader, it completely blew my mind in college. I had no idea that there was all this history that I was missing even though I grew up with parents who were armchair theologians. I thought that I had a pretty decent handle on history. I did not. I think with the shear amount of history that he covers…there’s a lot of themes in Jewish literature that I didn’t realize where it was coming from, especially with medieval lit. 

Kenneth: I think I want to briefly offer some examples of how have used these sorts of things — both the concrete sources that we’re talking about and the theoretical structures — how we’ve put those into games that we’ve designed or created or run. 

My game Day After Ragnarock…the schtick is, Adolf Hitler according to the OSS — they were trying to figure out what was going on with this guy — they wrote that the Nazi mythology requires a (unintelligible). What that means is, taken in the language of the war, that means that Ragnarock is a Nazi war aim. Rather than the OSS’s attempt to explain that Hitler is going to go down to the last other guy and burn Germany alive rather than surrender, what if that’s real? What if that’s an actual war plan? Of course, because they’re Nazis they do it wrong. So, when the Midgard Serpent comes zooming up out of the Indian Ocean and across the continent of Africa and smashes across Africa and comes back up out of the Atlantic, Harry Truman orders the Trinity Device loaded onto a B29 and flown into the Midgard Serpent’s eye and kills it. The serpent then falls across Europe and smashes the continent, killing millions of people. 

This is where the myth begins because, first of all, you’re saying we’ve got the myth of Hitler, we’ve got the myth of WWII…those having now mythic resonance for us, but once you’ve started that log rolling, you say, “what happens next in the myth?”. Thor kills the Midgard Serpent, but he staggers back nine steps and dies of it’s poison. That means that when the bomb goes off, the serpent has emitted a huge cloud of toxic venom that falls down as fallout onto the United States. Monsters boil up out of it’s venom like in Greek and Norse mythology and start pouring out of everywhere and destroying the United States. Also, there’s a trillion tons of serpent that just fell into the Atlantic, so there’s a mega tsunami that pours across and drowns the East Coast. Once you start saying, given that we’ve got Ragnarock, what else do we need? We need Ice Giants. Where are those guys gonna go? You need a bad guy in the new world. How does Stalin survive being behind the world’s two-hundred-mile tall rain shadow? The Jotunheim come and help with their Ice Giant magic because again you can say the Ice Giants are the haters of the gods. The titans…also the haters of the gods. Prometheus is bound up in Caucasus by the will of Zeus. 

The parallel has been drawn by other mythological scholars…there’s a guy named John Colarusso that parallels the Jotunheim and Prometheus to the Narts in Circassian mythology. So, I have that element and I can pour that in. Everything that I put into the universe, it seems arbitrary and ridiculous, but it’s fed specifically by the requirements of the mythic structure that I’ve decided to launch from. Things that do not fit that get taken out of the mythic structure. So that sort of structurally or formally…I built a setting that feels like it has that mythological background and you try to reinforce the savagery of the devastated Europe or the devastated North America. You try and reinforce the fact that America is fundamentally doomed. There’s no coming back from that. They think they’re gonna come back in Texas and California, but you can look at the map and say, “No, that’s never going to happen.” No one is going to win. It’s all going to end in tears and shame. That’s the theme of the book and then you can…what are the touchstones for that? For fantasy gamers of course that’s Robert E. Howard with the Cimmerians, the doom of Atlantis. How do I make it feel like Robert E. Howard? That’s my transformer to broadcast to fellow nerds what I’m doing rather than just quoting a whole bunch of pages of various (inaudible) or Ellis Davidson’s analysis of Norse myth. I can do Robert E. Howard and then there’s sword fights in it  and it’s more interesting. That’s basically how I did what I said I did. 

Lillian: I think the most recent thing, earlier this year I was writing a fate adventure for Iron Edda which is a Tracy Barnett game that sort of takes steampunk elements of (inaudible) except there’s frost giant bones and it’s really weird really quick. I had no idea what I was going to do for my adventure and I’d been kicking around (inaudible) and wondering, “I wonder if the Norse have a variation on Bonny Swans, which is where an older sister murders her younger sister because she’s totally into the dude that’s into her sister and (inaudible) and turns her into a bone harp and strings it with her hair. It’s really, really creepy and morbid and she plays about her murder in a feast in honor of their marriage. It’s really twisted and I was delighted to find that there’s a Norse version where she’s turned into a flute, which is slightly less creepy, since bone flutes are common and most of them are not made out of murdered girls who were knocked off by their older sisters because they were into their boyfriends. I sort of grabbed onto that and then I pulled out from some of the Iron Edda, the war of the dwarves and I kind of pushed them together and I found a happy medium between the game’s myth and the myth that I really wanted to speak to because I wanted to do something very local and family oriented…certain definitions of family oriented…

Greg: I have a couple of games that draw heavily on mythology. I’ll start with Pendragon first. King Arthur is one of the best-known heroes in the western world. I’ve heard he’s the second best-selling character after Jesus and Yayweh. But, those are part of the King Arthur myth as well. My purpose in creating Pendragon was to make that mythology come alive. One of the characteristics of mythology is that it’s abstract. It’s not always real. It deals with idealism while there is a physical aspect of it, like the Midgard Serpent. At the same time, the ideals of chivalry are an important thing. That’s a legend. A myth. And King Arthur’s the manifestation of it. So, I wanted to make sure that the game had that manifestation of it in the play. You can have it as part of the background, but there’s no reason to do it if it doesn’t reward your character. 

I wanted the mythical themes to reward your character. So, if you’re chivalrous, I had to make up a system that quantifies chivalry. But, if you meet those quantities, then you get the Chivalry Bonus. But, the legend is more than that. It’s about knights and castles and the Holy Grail and all of those things, so I had to create the system to integrate those in a game system way without alienating the system or the setting. It’s generally agreed to be a pretty good resolution to those problems. 

The other one that I’ve done is Runequest, the world of Glorantha, which has now been published for 37 years and is still on it’s run and hasn’t run out yet. One of the things I had learned by the time I started publishing games was the variety of mythological themes. There are contrasting themes in everything. Sometimes the darkness is good and the light is bad. Sometimes the sun god is good because he keeps us warm and sometimes he’s bad because he makes our land a desert. In the Gloranthan setting, all of the different mythologies that I could differentiate and imagine are set in there with a way for their mythological influence to affect the game play. In mythology, in my understanding, it’s not really true mythology if it doesn’t mean more than one thing. That’s part of the them of Glorantha is that there’s an on-the-ground, physical level at which it means and then there’s a mythical level at which it’s on a larger scale—”Hero questing”, we call it. It affects a larger sphere of influence. In Glorantha, just about any mythology you can imagine has a manifestation there and a way to work it into the game, which is through magic and Hero questing in that system. 

Kenneth: If you guys have some questions, this would be a great time.

I’m not entirely sure there is a difference, but is there a difference between a legend and a myth?

Greg: Yes, there is. People who study this have different definitions. Myth is generally involved with gods, and a legend is involved with super-human heroes. So, Sigfried is a legend. Ragnarock is a myth. Hercules is on the borderline because he’s one, but Thesius is a hero and Zeus is a god. The third level that they often add on is folklore. The significant point is that you find the same stories in folklore, where the characters generally…they don’t even have names. It’s the princess and the daughter and the second son. The same story is found in legend, and the same story is found in mythology. They like to differentiate these, but they’re not as clear—cut as a lot of people would like to make it. 

Kenneth: I think that the other shadow of that is that a myth differs from a legend in how you use it. A myth is explaining something or intuitively revealing something about the universe or about yourself. If it exists more in the world of entertainment or intellect…if it’s an historical trivium or a neat story, then you’re using it as a legend. We can read the Greek myths of the Norse myths and, because they are remote from us, or if we remove ourselves from actually engaging in the full mythical significance of it, you can treat Ragnarock as a legend and say, “what is this in relation to the explosion of Mt. Heckla”. If you can treat a myth as a legend, conversely I think you can gain mythic knowledge from legend. You can look at something like the legend of Spear of Destiny, which was created by a heroin addict in 1973. You can draw mythical significance from it and use it as a doorway or a pointer into everything that a spear has ever symbolized or shadowed or meant. You can use a legend mythically. A lot of it is content, like Greg was saying, and a lot of it is intent…how you’re going to approach it. You can suck the life out of anything. You can put life into anything. 

Greg: I would disagree a little bit and just say that the legend and the myth and the folklore all have those components integrally within them. As Ken said, it’s which one you choose to select. Imagine in the old days before electronic communication and the only entertainment was people setting around the fire talking. If you’re talking to simple people or children, you tell the folklore. If you’re talking to people who are curious, “what is that castle up on the hill and why don’t we use it?”, you take the adult, legendary aspect. A lot of myths could only be told at specific times. They were not just for entertainment. There’s people who may only be able to draw the entertainment value out of it without understanding the meaning. Legends…you can talk about anywhere. Folklore — if it’s not a myth that ’s been worn down and has all the edges rubbed off so that there’s no more names — but, even if it is that, you can tell it anytime. It’s “why you don’t pick a skunk up by the tail” type of things. It’s got a simple surface level. The deeper levels are there if you wish to investigate. 

Kenneth: Any other questions? 

What sort of techniques might you use in a game to keep the mythology in it? We can get mired down in tactical considerations…what we’re talking about here has a much deeper resonance. What you guys are talking about is something that can be experienced on a much deeper level. Ideally, it’s the opportunity to participate in a myth. 

Kenneth: I think that’s what Greg means when he said that role playing games are inherently myth-making activity and myth-experiencing activity because you are immediately saying, “I’m inside this story and it’s affecting me now”. 

Q: But, as opposed to getting too bogged down in the tactical aspects of a game, how can we keep the mythological themes at the forefront? 

Greg: I would say it depends on the game design. As a game designer you want to choose on what the focus of the game design is and if you want it to have mythical resonance you make sure that that’s in the character generation, in the themes that you have and in the subject matter so that it’s built in there. A lot of games have no interest. They treat mythology as if it’s a physical reality or a psuedo-science or a monster manual. You don’t get the mythical resonance because it’s not built into the game. 

Kenneth: I think at the table, and this can be a matter of research in that you go back and find out what the Greeks thought centaurs were or you can decide in your own personal symbology as a game master..what are centaurs. You make sure that when the characters meet the centaurs that you are sending signals on every level that that’s what they mean. Even the tactics may be different if you’re saying, “these centaurs represent chaos, they shouldn’t be moving in a phalanx with lances”. They should be firing lots of tiny little arrows or they should have bees that they release out of their bags that attack us and drive us mad. You should be calling for fright checks around things that are symbolizing the shadow and the other side and badness, not just with things that are a physical obstacle, like an angry dwarf. 

At the table, do all of the things that you would normally do to invest a scene with significance. Describe it deeply, in a more felt way. Use emotionally laden language. As opposed to “he’s flanking you on the right — what are you going to do,” you say, “His shadow is falling across you as he moves forward, blotting out the sun. What do you do?”. It’s the same thing, but one is sending a different signal. Make sure that you’re sending those signals at the table. If you’re building a mythical story arc, make sure that you hit your beats. Give them a chance to realize what they’re in and, if they don’t, you can move it forward. 

I have run games in Nephilim, in Unknown Armies, in Call of Cthulhu and I’ve run the Orpheus legend in all of them. A bunch of characters, they’ve gone down into Hell to get one of them back, they’re heading back up out of Hell…every time, someone looks back. There’s a level at which, if you’re in Orpheus, you’re gonna look back because that’s what happens in Orpheus. If you can find the thing in you that let’s that happen at your table and take away everything that gets in the way of that, then it’s going to be what your individual GMing style is and I’m not going to be able to tell you that anymore than I could tell me how to do it. 

Q: Earlier on, somebody had said something about the lack of myth in the modern American culture. I think that there are, but they’re hidden. I probably spend plenty of time around even prosthelytizing atheists who will still say “knock on wood”. There’s something sort of weird about somebody who gets excited about…something happens, they feel a little “uh-oh” and then they say “knock on wood”. Do you know of anyone who is looking into or collecting that?

Greg: Just myself. Just to give you an example, one of the things that’s true about living mythology is that it’s underground. You don’t think about it. You’re not aware of it even though it pervades all of your existence. You pay homage to it. It affects you every day. A couple of mythologies that we live in right today are the myth of progress, the myth of Capitalism, the myth of democracy. These are myths. There’s no physical reality that makes these things true. They’re true because we imagine and agree that they are. A dollar bill is not worth anything, except that we’ve made that agreement to make it so. Our ideals of democracy…they’re not a natural force. They’re something that we have agreed on that’s better than any other things we’ve met before, but it doesn’t exist by itself. It only exists in our personal context and support of it. The same with Capitalism. These guys are out of control. They believe that money makes money. Money doesn’t even exist. That’s something that we’ve all agreed to without knowing it…without even acknowledging it. These, I believe, are the modern myths of our times and they will change. Progress says that every change is better, that we’re moving ahead in a direct line from a dismal, neanderthal existence to a better shining future. In my understanding, there’s never been a scientific solution to a problem that didn’t create an even bigger problem down the road. This is bullshit. Progress is made up. It’s not a given force that’s going to go on forever. We’re going to run out of stuff. We’re going to have too many people. It’s going to come crashing down at some point. There will be a Ragnarock event when all of these things fail. That’s my opinion. 

Kenneth: I would say that the way to interrogate the myths that we’re in…what Greg was talking about…virtually everything I think about myth is informed by Greg. It’s like I’m the Hesiod to his Homer. The way that Arthur codifies everything that western Christendom thought…the Matter of Britain becomes a central line from which you can see every aspect of that culture and that mythology and that belief. I think if you’re living in America, you can look at what we see to be the Matter of America. You can argue that it’s Star Wars or the Civil War or, whatever…I happen to think that the Western film as the myth that we created to explain ourselves to ourselves. How did all this land miraculously become ours? Do we have to kill each other over it? The Western exists to explain why we are the way we are when we instinctively understand that there’s no reason. It’s not like God physically put us down here…

Greg: Manifest destiny…

Kenneth: Manifest destiny, right? And the Western is part of that. So, if you interrogate the Western…there’s a guy named Slotkin who is an historian of the western and has written three or four books that are excellent history…interesting but wrong film criticism, but a pretty good mythography. There’s also a guy named Alan Barra who is a western historian who has just written a history of Wyatt Earp that is every way everyone has ever looked at Wyatt Earp. The name Wyatt Earp, if you’re an American of a certain inclination, you already know who I mean of Wyatt Earp. You read this, you recognize which one of the Wyatts you got. That’s the way to interrogate the myth in one sense. He’s like our, maybe not Arthur, but our Lancelot so, what is his role and what has it been since we keep retelling this myth? Like Greek myth, the way we tell the America myth keeps changing because America keeps changing. You can watch westerns that are made in 1910 and you can watch westerns that are made two years ago. They’re going to tell the same myth in different ways, in ways that the creator doesn’t intend because he’s working inside the mythic culture and he can’t distance himself from it. I don’t know, maybe if a Malaysian could make a western…

Greg: Actually they have. I’m trying to remember the name of it. It’s just off-the-wall. It’s fantastic. 

Kenneth: I saw a Kurdish western at a film fest last year which was tremendous because there’s Amazons in it. 30% of the Kurdish freedom fighters are women and have been since the 60s and 70s, so now that Amazon character had to be in their mythology or else it won’t explain themselves. 

Greg: Which is one of the things that’s going on now that’s really interesting is how our western myth is changing. Who loves Xena, Warrior Princess? Everybody does and women love her. That is so much against the standard archetype of women. We can talk about the Scythians and the women warriors and the Amazons and everything…but in fact…who is the African king who had a thousand women warriors as his body guards? Our world is changing in ways that are defying our standards of thought. The idea of the woman warrior now is very important because women are no longer required to make children and raise them. We have options available and this is a viable option that women undertake. It changes from a theoretical, mythical reality of…women have the warrior inside just like men have the mother inside, mythologically speaking…the manifestation of that mythology into reality means that we have women on the front line. As an anti-war guy, I’m sorry for all those women on the front line (unintelligible) to take my place. 

Q: Since role playing games are such (inaudible) cooperative storytelling, i wonder if you guys have any suggestions, going back to the table, how do you encourage your players to become co—creators instead of just passive receptors (inaudible)

Lillian: I’m actually co—editing a game right now that does that. It’s everything I love about D&D and everything I love about playing Siv and they live in the same game because it’s done in six eras and at the end of every era you’re dead and you don’t get to play them the next era. There’s hundreds of years between you and the next era. You can lift some of the design element to turn those into table management to encourage more co-op playing and co-op narrative. 

Kenneth: I think one of the important ways to is to just ask your players and then do what they say. So, when the players are there outside the dungeon you say, “Everyone tell me what one thing you have to do in the dungeon to live with yourself when you come back out”. Make it a real question, not “what do you think is in the dungeon?”. You have to say, “what’s the thing about yourself that you have to kill”. There’s a game called Dread that has some broken resolution, but the character gen is great because…”why did you kill those cheerleaders” is something that’s on your character generation sheet. They’ll answer, and their answer will be worse than anything you could have thought of. That’s part of their character and they’ve created that part of the universe. Or ask them, “why doesn’t anyone go in that castle?”. “You’re the elf. What do your people say?”. Make them provide the myth. They may provide a lame, sucky myth. “Because there’s a bunch of otyughs in it?” What necromancer put them there? Dwarf, what did you hear from the demons when your uncle talked to them?”. “He said that the necromancer put the otyughs there to guard the ruby that will unmake the world.” You as GM have to say, “Yes. Absolutely there’s a ruby that will unmake the world. There’s a demon that has an interest in it and he’s friends with your uncle…” Now, they’ve built that in. The innate nature of gamers is that they’re going to be playing one-upmanship games with each other. “I can screw the party worse than you can screw the party.” You are co-creating, building this myth of what a desolate castle means in your character’s heart. You can do that with any game. With Call of Cthulhu it’s probably a wasted effort because it’s already worse than they can possibly make it. But, even with Call of Cthulhu you can say, “what was your nightmare about?”. Asking the players is a powerful, underutilized tool. 

Lillian: (inaudible) our GM asked us to each provide three things that were true about the world and three things that may or may not be true and are probably way worse than what you think it is. That really helped bring us all together in that first session. 

Greg: As the Gamemaster, work with the players. You can see archetypes come out in your players. This is the guy who just wants to kill things. This is the guy who just makes up stories to get out of trouble. You know your players and you never say no to your players. One of the rules in HeroQuest is if your player asks something, always say “Yes, but…”. There’s something attached to it that they’re not quite prepared for and it really makes a cooperative effort. I remember playing some Runequest games where…it was an intense fight game…and the next week I told everybody, “No drinks on the table. Everyone of you spilled it last week and I had to spend 45 minutes cleaning up the floor.” They all said, “No, we didn’t”. Nobody actually remembered what was happening in this world because we were all so concentrated and intense on what was going on. That was in large part because of “yes, but…”. 

Q: (inaudible) something like Song of Ice and Fire where the author populates that world with folktales and legends. Do you think that those types of layering are necessary to build (inaudible) and not just a manifest kind of form…

Greg: It’s not necessary but it will make it easier for your players to identify and recognize and see the themes. I use all those themes in Glorantha. They have different names and they may be subtly changed. So, people aren’t familiar with it. It has to resonate consciously or they have to just play it. It helps, but it also turns out to be very trite. How many games are you going to have Jack Frost and Santa Claus in? 

Kenneth: I think that it will nourish the game if it is there. But, you can choke yourself by trying to do it all beforehand. The  number of people who come to Westeros or come to Lord of the Rings and say, “Obviously the most important thing here is all the appendices…”. I love those people. I was those people, but that’s not the way to run Middle Earth or Westeros or Glorantha. You tell the story…you can do it mechanically, like…every three sessions I’m going to introduce a superstition or a legendary character every five sessions. Or, you can say this is going to be the story and we’re going to do the story of (?) and I’m not going to tell them. Every so often I’m going to add another story beat and see what happens. If you start by saying you can’t run a world until you have all the myth and all the folklore…a) you’re never going to get the game done and b) no one’s going to play it because they’re going to see that giant tome and say they really have no interest in doing homework for this. This is why I usually cheat and run all my games on earth. It’s easily the second most developed world after Glorantha…and the maps are now just as good. 

Greg: And I invite everyone of you to come to the booth and buy the new 800-page volume encyclopedia of Glorantha. I’m not kidding you, actually. 

Q: Are you going to carry it to my car? 

Greg: Nope. It’s also part of the Health in America program. 

Q: When you talk about things having mythic resonance, is part of that getting people to look at things a little differently and not just experiencing the story for pure entertainment and thinking about something that maybe they wouldn’t have. Like Pendragon, it’s the only game I know of where I can sit down with a bunch of disillusioned agnostics they’re excited about role playing Christians. They’ve shifted their world—view somehow and I don’t know of too many games that have the ability to get people to look at the world differently. That’s the thing I’d like to hear you talk about and I don’t know how to make a question out of it…

Kenneth: Part of the reason that Pendragon does that and no other game does is that it’s one of the only games — 30 years later — that still tries to do that. So many games are “I’m going to play an orc”. There’s nothing different from you being an orc to you being you. You can only eat raw food. You hate sunlight. You have to break the bones of anyone weaker than you. Whatever orcish philosophy exists… there’s no active thing that’s going to act as the paddles in the pinball game of life. 

One of the many great things about Pendragon is that it offers that. +2 for being Christian. Every gamer in the world will say, “I’ll take a +2. Thanks, Jesus”. That’s really all it is in a lot of cases. People that sit down at a gaming table with any kind of good intention want to play the game before them or else they’d be doing something else. If the game supports that and has a mechanical system for it, or if the GM has introduced some sort of reward in a game that does not have that, then the players will play that way. If there were any games as good as Pendragon, your agnostic players would sit down and be playing Buddhist if someone had done a really great Legends of Thailand game, but no one has because Greg is magically unique, apparently. But, that’s what Pendragon does. It does it mechanically at the table but you could do that same thing in D&D just by stealing that part of Pendragon and saying, “this is how you have to be an orc”. But, by the time you’ve bought Pendragon and open it to that section…just run Pendragon. It’s so much better. 

Greg: The way I describe that is that the objectives of the setting are built into the game system. It rewards you for doing this and it rewards you more for doing that. 

Kenneth: In general, I have a…this is more game design than myth…if you say your game is about something and there are no rules for that, you’re lying. You’re lying to yourself probably, and always to your customer or player. If you say, “this is a game about love”…what mechanics make love happen? You just play but it’s about love. No, that’s not it. Call of Cthulhu is about going crazy because there is a freaking ticking time bomb on your character sheet called your Sanity. It keeps going down and it doesn’t go back up. You are looking at that clock and thinking, “I only have four more books and two more houses until I’m insane. What can I do to maximize the good I can do for the world in the 37 points of Sanity I have left on this earth?” That drives that ideology that Sandy built on Lovecraft’s bones to create Call of Cthulhu. But that’s because there’s a mechanic for it. You can take all the monsters and all the Necromonicons and put them in D&D, and nothing would happen. It would not be a game about going insane. If I say my game is about myth, myth had better come into the mechanics because the mechanics are how you and the game and the players meet. If you don’t have an actual +1 somewhere, a die role or something, players aren’t going to have to meet there. They can go around you. 

Lillian: This is where I get to sound like a shill for my loved ones. MythEnder (?) (unintelligible)…I haven’t watched a single session of it without…about the halfway point…everyone looks at each other and realizes the terrible, horrible, destructive power inherent in myth and gods. I don’t think their soul dies, but I think a little part of their innocence before they sat down at that table dies. It’s not as exciting as watching our agnostic friends be “Yeah, Jesus!” for Pendragon, but I’m a terrible person and I like to watch people realize terrible things (unintelligible) which is probably why I’m a GM. 


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