Table of Contents

This story of my trip to GloranthaCon VIII is so long that you shouldn't read it all in one sitting. Pick a couple of interesting topics from this list, read them, and then stop. That's right. Put down the mouse. Now slowly turn 180 degrees and walk away from the computer...

Pre-convention Influences

What happened before the convention?

Reasons for Going - LARP Idea

My fellow biweekly RuneQuest gamers Ian and Alison are enthusiastic convention attendees. They suggested in July 2002 that we should go to GloranthaCon VIII, since it was being held conveniently nearby in Toronto. That got me pointed to the convention web site and mailing list. They also recommended the Live Action Role Playing (LARP) session as the likely highlight of the convention. I still wasn't too enthusiastic. The addition of guest David Dunham, creator of the King of Dragon Pass computer game, added a bit of interest (one of my jobs is programming computer games), but not enough for a decision.

However, while walking along the Ottawa river in early January, I contemplated what would make it fun to go. Doing something silly would be fun, such as making the moon flash on and off every few seconds, rather than every week. That sure would change history, and annoy those disrespectful barbarians beyond the borders of the Lunar empire. I wrote up the details of "The Lunar Spin Cycle Faction" for our local group, and just for fun sent it on to the Con people, who asked me to send it to Mark Galeotti. He wrote back:

"This is cute. I do like this and think that I will add it in - one of the central aspects of the game is the competition between different people to fill the different 'slots' of the 7 Mothers, with the final form of the new Goddess reflecting just who her 'mothers' are. Teslo could certainly fill Irippi Ontor's shoes, and possibly even make a challenge for one of the other slots. Are you going to be attending? If you definitely are and want to play, I'll definitely work Teslo on (obviously details will vary from your version, but the basic idea stays) - do let me know."

Oops. Put my foot in it. Now I'll have to go to the convention!

Costume Preparations

[The Wizard Costume and An Evil Eye]Ian said that a good costume would help tremendously in the LARP; the clothes make the man. He suggested his old Quantum Mechanics overalls (they didn't fit). I thought a lab coat might work, particularly one with burn holes and dirt (a big factor in making Star Wars look real). I had noticed a small costumier shop in my walks through Mechanicsville (an old working class section of Ottawa), and had looked up several others in the phone book. Since it was within walking distance, and the other nearby one was oriented towards historically accurate military costumes, I tried calling them. Their number wasn't in the phone book, or any of our older phone books! I could swear I had seen it, right between two other costume shop entries. It must be one of those magical inter-dimensional shops that mysteriously appear only when they are significant to the story. Later on I found out that "The Pack Rat Costumier" was in the online phone book I had looked at, but not in the paper one. Sigh.

Wizard's Robe

[Soaring Crow with Beady Eye]Anyway, Pack Rat is run by a seamstress (she seems a lot like my aunt Nora), who also sells collectibles and naturally does sewing too. She had a lab coat, but didn't want holes burned in it. Instead, she had a really wonderful wizard's robe in her collection. I rented it, and explained that the purple robes (rather than the character description's gray) were made of enchanted magic absorbing cloth. The gold lining distributes the energy around (like superconducting material might do in the mundane world), so you don't get burn holes; instead you just get a nice overall warm toasty feeling. The back-story is that Neek had to stop his research program for a while to think about safety, and this was one of the results.

Crow Family Hat

[Neek Teslo's Fez-like Hat]I also commissioned a hat with the all-seeing bird logo, based on the Rinliddi bird gods (mentioned in the digest). The best image I found was of a crow soaring and surveying the ground in a Swedish web page about psychological problems. On the actual hat, the eye is a magic crystal with a farsee spell, and the source of many beady eye jokes. It turned out that the Rinliddi bird of knowledge is an Ibis. But the hat still looks impressive; I just explained it as being the family bird, and ignored the psychological problems.

Magic Wand

[Pulsed Magic Wand]Finding a magic wand should be easy, right? The obvious place to look (other than in the neighbourhood forest for a wand shaped stick) was at Toys 'R Us. They had several swords (an impressive set of Lord of the Rings ones), a Harry Potter kit with a wand that has an inflatable gold lamé lightning bolt on top, and some light sabre/sword combinations. I got the Cyclone Sword (tapered transparent plastic cylinder with a light shining down it from the handle, and 4 smaller flashing lights embedded in the metallic blue handle), though I was disappointed with the annoyingly raucous space ship sound effects it made.

[Light Streaks from Moving Wand]I kept on hunting, finally finding the SpinMaster StrobeFX device at Walmart. It's amazingly well engineered for a toy. Red, green and blue high intensity light emitting diodes are in the base of the sphere (the recent invention of high intensity LEDs gives you a lot of brightness at very high efficiency, so it will last for days before draining the batteries). The sphere is soft squeezable vinyl plastic so it won't hurt people or break. The tough flexible plastic shaft lets you swat it around without breaking it or poking people's eyes out. The handle provides a good grip and weight, and has just two high quality buttons - on/off and pattern. The internal logic switches the lights on and off at different times and speeds, up to several hundred times a second. When you wave the wand in a dark room, this leaves colourful streaks in the air, with the colours changing along the streak. The precise colours and streak (smooth gradient, gaps, dots) depend on the pattern. You can also use it as a strobe light to stop the motion of moving things. And if you know how to switch on the secret variable timing mode, you can even get seemingly solid colours.

A borrowed copy of the Hero Wars books was the final thing I obtained to prepare for one of the non-LARP games. At last I had everything I needed for GloranthaCon.

Travelling to Toronto

On March 7 2003, Friday morning, I had to pack very quickly to get a ride to the train station. My fellow traveller wanted to get there extra early to avoid the high school March break crowds. To add to the excitement, I couldn't fit everything into the big thick bag (all those gift boxes of chocolate) and had to rush to cram it all into two smaller bags (which coincidentally would now fit into the overhead luggage compartment and allow a speedier exit from the train). After all that, I got a place near the front of the lineup, along with Gilles the organist. We had lots of time to chat about Glorantha, organs, music conventions and sundry other talk. The lineup didn't get all that long, and it didn't matter since the pre-boarding people had taken all the good seats in the train car we were directed to. Grrr. That left lots of time to cram the Hero Wars rules and LARP background information. Even more time since the train was almost an hour late.

Rush to the Hotel

I managed to navigate the unfamiliar Toronto subway system in record time (not hard to do if it is the first time). A few minutes before 6 pm, the starting time of the opening ceremonies, I had managed to find the Colony Hotel (this link won't last long - the hotel is turning into a university residence in a couple of months). Fate (it rhymes with "late") intervened again and I had to go up and down the elevators to the 24th floor a couple of times in an attempt to get a broken room lock working, before the front desk would assign a different room.

At the GloranthaCon

[Convention Badge]Finally, I got to the registration desk, picked up a big brown paper envelope labelled "Alexander Smith (Neek Teslo)", the program guide and the badge for the convention. No, the GM in my name doesn't stand for Game Master, G is for George and M is for a secret Scottish clan name. I got to the Giovanni room and GloranthaCon VIII, at 18:20, just in time to catch the end of the opening ceremonies.

Friday Evening


I don't remember much about the end of the ceremonies, except that it ended in the hotel bar. Seriously, we reconvened there for drinks and snacks (chocolate brownies and ice cream for me, various specialty beers for the others, a surprisingly large number of them from Britain - both the beers and the people), and to prepare a small presentation for the icebreaker event. Our group of about 10 people were tasked to sing the praises of Irippi Ontor and his amazing academic knowledge cult. After much head scratching, we split into two groups.

A Play

One half worked on a small play showing the benefits which Irripi Ontor could bring to a pair of Orlanthi barbarians. The didactic dialogs sounded something like this - Chuck: I don't have anyone to fight, what should I do? Joe: Gee, I don't know, Chuck. Smug know-it-all: Irripi Ontor has the answer, here's the record of your clan history, including feuds from centuries ago; have at 'em! Joe: Chuck, how do we get to our enemies? Chuck: I got lost going there last year, I just don't know the way, Joe. Smug KIA: Irripi Ontor can help you out - use this map!

A Song

The other half worked on a song. The only one with lots of lyrics that we could vaguely remember (I suggested it because it was old enough for everyone to know) was Gilbert and Sullivan's Tit Willow (follow that link to find sites with the original words and MIDI music). Looking at my notes and the related web pages, I see that our memory master actually got the first section right and our music mind remembered the tune. I don't remember the actual lyrics, but it was mostly an insult song targeted at the other groups - Yanafal Tarnils and Danfive Xaron. I remember something about incriminating records in caverns deep and dusty, but there was much more. Dr. Moose has since dug up the lyrics and it's now available on Nick's song site. The lyrics were sung by our two best voices, with the pleasant sounding but meaningless "Irripi, Irripi, is On Tor" refrain sung by everybody.

A Competition

The presentation went okay. Though not as good as the Yanafal Tarnils military marching formation. They had an officer, sergeant (giving marching orders) and soldiers. The officer asked each soldier why he enlisted and where he was from, with humorous and informative answers. They also marched amazingly well for completely unprepared people (except for the one who had drill experience and trained them). The Danfive Xaron group appeared as a biker gang in 1950's style black cloths and sunglasses. They used rap music and sucker punches to explain their organizational goals to a couple of new recruits. After the recruits had gotten off the floor and changed to black, they all left - snapping fingers to a slow intimidating tune, and faded out into the distance.

Ride for Your Wife

The "Ride for Your Wife!" HeroQuest game after the icebreaker didn't happen. Instead I rushed over to the lore auction (forgot to bring my rolls of coins to pay, though I'd only be able to ask embarrassing novice questions anyway) and listened in on some interesting exchanges. Afterwards I spent the rest of the evening settling in and reading over my LARP character description to prepare for the next day.


After a very prompt and professionally served room service breakfast (service was excellent, only maintenance was a bit imperfect at the hotel), I dropped down 22 floors to the conference rooms to find the next event.


I wandered around the various rooms, looking for the Trollball game organizers, who were simultaneously running around looking for players. The net result was that I heard many stories of people carrying a white bear, but couldn't actually meet up with them. Finally, I spotted Alison (the organizer and supplier of trollkin - a stuffed white toy bear with Velcro attached limbs and head) by the registration table. Then Ian appeared and lamented the lack of players. However, a couple of other people showed up in winter dress, carrying an inflatable shark and a snake, and we rounded up a few other brave souls. We had enough Uz to field two teams of 3 trolls (each conveniently had a female troll to lead them - trolls are matriarchal) and one extra player to be the referee giant.

We found a nice little park outside a nearby building, with a diagonal path splitting it into two snow covered halves. The weather was fairly nice, around freezing and not windy. With much slow motion groaning and lurching, play began. The fiercely contested game had many fine examples of manoeuvering tactics, emergency magic (my favorite was the Jump spell) as well as simple bludgeoning (that shark hurts!). Whenever someone got hurt badly, they'd fall over into the snow and wait for the referee to get them some healing magic (Dorito corn chips). If they were only wounded, they could play on, with the affected limb held back. Various spectators passed through: a security guard came to see what we were doing, worker drones just ignored us, and a mother out for a walk with her little boy stopped for a while to hand out healing magic (fairly too, without overly favouring his trollish father).

The final score was mostly even. Though it's hard to tell, particularly when the players can't remember who is on which team (which was in character for some of us stupid Uz). My troll got kicked out of the game (literally, by the giant), after trying to insert the snowkin into the goal, piece by shredded piece. Apparently you're not supposed to kill it, and shredding seems to be fatal. It was a wet (from falling down into the snow so often) and fun half hour. The formerly white snowkin will be getting a well deserved bath.

Birth of the Goddess LARP - The Neek Teslo Story

[Neek Teslo Name Tag]I played Neek Teslo, described in the game's guide as "An inspired but irritating mage, once of Torang, now of Elz Ast." I'll try to describe the events from his point of view, writing about his past, in blue text, to make the writing more challenging for me. The game started out in Dark Season of solar year 1219, with the annual renewal rituals that had the Carmanian nobles doing rituals with their Great Shah (ably played by one of the spirit guides / referees).

The origins of the new Lunar goddess? I remember her assembly quite well, many years ago. It's a story about intrigue, battles, magic and confusion. Even love and marriage come into it, giving it that spectrum of flavours which all good stories have.

Dark Season 1219

There were all sorts of omens and much political activity in the bad old Carmanian empire, starting about a year before the blessed event. The Tearing the Veil rituals in Dark Season of 1219 (old solar time) sent the overlord Carmanians home to bow and scrape before the Great Shah's feet. The ceremonies here in Elz Ast, home to many Rinliddi expatriates like myself, were less imperial and much more friendly. We choose the noble, honourable, upstanding Golden Figura as our representative for the rituals.

Most of the time I was of course trying to do my research, experimenting with time and magic. Occasionally I'd be interrupted to handle trivial chores for my patron, Empiricon of Elz Ast, but the distractions were worth it for the security of having a workplace at his university. A typical example would be the visit of a warrior called Otrial the Stern. He was quite the novice, though at least he showed interest in learning about magic, gods and mystical things. I and Empiricon politely (even though it took time from our important research work) explained that he should start at the bottom level as a lay member of the cult of his choice and work up from there.

Visiting Rinliddi

[Secret Note]That Dark season visited my old Rinliddi homelands to find out what had happened on that prior disastrous afternoon in Torang. I also went there to investigate the Cossack situation for one of my patrons (looking back, it's amazing what I would do for funding).

The Accident

Ah yes, the accident. I was trying to make cheap and powerful magical effects by synchronizing the output of lots of little magic crystals. We had charged up about a score of them when one accidentally triggered and the rest went off. Boom! It proved that the power amplification by stimulated emission of magic method works, blasted the workshop wall into smithereens, and set fire to the neighbour's stable. Very shortly after the accident Deezola, the queen of Torang, unceremoniously and swiftly exiled me from the city, without time to even retrieve equipment from my destroyed workshop. I later found out that a quarter of the city burned down and that someone had gotten hurt. I was deeply sorry about that and wanted to find and make amends to that person, and sent a note to Deezola saying so.

Funding Round Trip
[Edasul, Teslo and Empiricon]

Left to right: Edasul of Diavizzi, Neek Teslo, Empiricon of Elz Ast.
Note Neek's magical defence reciprocating coil and the proof of concept light cycle wand.
Thanks to David Cheng for taking the photo.

I had started the trip by visiting Diavizzi and speaking to the city's properly flamboyant feathery glittery ruler, Edasul. He seemed obsessed with the threat of raids from the nomadic Pentan horse riders. I kept quiet about my other patron while looking out for Cossacks. I mentioned my troubles with the queen of Torang; he was quite interested in the destruction of a quarter of the city and wanted to know if I could do it again. I said I'd rather not because it was dangerous. He was still enthusiastic about my research, making me think at the time that he might help with the funding, though he never actually came through with anything.

Note: Nick Brooke, who was playing Edasul, wrote "Horse Peoples of Glorantha" describing the Pentan nomads. Could this be an inside casting joke?

I then encountered the famed Dara Happan exile warrior Yanafal Tarnils. He too was impressed by my tales of research gone wrong, though you'd think he would be a bit more sorry since he was then working for the Rinliddi (and perhaps Deezola).

Storm Season 1219

Wandering back over the Oslir, I found my way to Dara Happan territory and the cities of Raibanth, Orlei and Yuthuppa.

Dorkath Sex Hunt
[Darjin Sex Hunt]

Left to right: Back of Deromin the Beer Baron, Bisarashan the Bright with the beard, Bistuki Openhand, Golden Figura (secret alias Nightmare Spear) in the red cloak, Back of Lanvash the Fortunate with glow in the dark sun rays on his head, Neek Teslo taking notes.
Photo courtesy of Roderick Robertson.

I got there just in time for the Dorkath Sex Hunt. It's quite a fantastic festival. The whole city dresses up and goes out dancing and flirting with the opposite sex for several days. Very fascinating; I took notes and did a few sketches.

Military Enthusiasm

Back to the funding tour story. The Dara Happans leaders were happy, well maybe that's not the right word - militarily enthusiastic to hear tales of the destruction of a quarter of Torang. For some reason they all assumed that the magic had done the damage, when it was mostly the fire, even though I told them about the fire. Military optimism at its best! I also met with some of the Carmanian ruling class and had similar discussions, though I really was only sounding them out at the time since I was leery of getting involved with the conquerors of my homeland. How times have changed since then! Khasventos of Raibanth seemed most likely to hand over some funding, though he was quite a busy man. In retrospect, I should have visited him more often to get the money flowing earlier, before that series of unfortunate deaths.

On the way back home, I passed by Jakaleel the Witch in the wilds of Dara Happa, who seemed to be doing a lengthy divining ceremony. In case you don't know, she was using spirit magic, which has its interesting aspects, but isn't as easy to control as common magic or divine magic for that matter (unless the god is favourable towards you).

A Dead Sister

Back at Elz Ast, I received a curt reply from queen Deezola which explained a lot. Her sister had perished in the fire. I felt horrible; not only had people lost their homes, but one had lost her life too. I was surprised that she had managed to restrain her rage and merely exiled me. I immediately sent Deezola a letter of apology and sympathy.

Yanafal Tarnils then showed up with a bit of work for me to do. He had a small round sphere made by the Mostali, supposedly some kind of explosive device, which he wanted me to investigate to see if it actually worked as advertised. I was happy to oblige - after a bit of research I reported back that it would work.

I also took that opportunity to ask Yanafal Tarnils about military history, looking for cycles in the rise and fall of empires. It seems that most of them fall and then are forgotten before they might rise again. Perhaps if the cycles were faster, an empire could fall and then rise again within living memory. That would avoid the loss of knowledge about how an empire works, allowing it to rise easily and survive overall for a much longer time. For that matter, cyclical magic, like the sun, would be more useful if it was faster. A cycle of a minute rather than a day would be good - if you can hold off your enemies for a minute without resorting to magic, then you can blast them to bits in the next minute. Theoretically you could go even faster, but the Human mind wouldn't be able to take it. I still get the headaches which prove that.

New God Rumours
[Teslo's Ability Cards]

Teslo's Ability Cards.

My next trip around the local region was to find out more about those rumours of a new god appearing. Since existing gods are immortal and largely unchanging, they are resistant to new ideas. A new god would be more open to my latest idea for long distance magic power distribution.

Magic Power Distribution

Yes, that power distribution idea turned out to be the masterpiece of my career. I even lived long enough to oversee the construction of the first few temples of power, providing magical benefits to whole cities full of people. Each temple, usually in a city, with associated worshippers providing magic, was joined to the other temples by a grid of long distance pulsed magic transmission connections. Ordinary magic just can't reach very far, but pulsed magic can be sped up and thrown great distances with minor losses. When magic was needed in one location, the otherwise idle worshippers and priests in other temples could provide power beyond what was available locally. That's revolutionary enough, but a willing god could help by storing storing surplus power. Since the rumours often mentioned a moon god, I thought that it could most likely be done by spinning up the moon to hold the power, and releasing it in magic waves pushed by the rotation of the moon. Unfortunately that feature never got implemented. Maybe if I'd had more involvement with the creation of the Lunar goddess, things would have been different.

Sky Wave

Another advantage of a moon god is that it can touch the sky. There's quite a bit of tension between earth and sky. If I could set up a sky wave (pulsating resonant magical forces between sky and earth), then the power could be tapped by mobile units with the right sky/earth affinity equipment, so long as they were in resonance with the sky frequency. Of course, the air trapped between the sky and ground will be alternately squeezed and stretched as the waves go by, much like a jiggling blob of gelatin. I'd hate to be the air god! Thank the goddess, we were actually able to set up the sky wave in her name, along with the pretty glow in the air where the waveform collapses at the end of its range.

Moon Boats

We later made boats to ride on the waves, pushing down on the wave to stay in the air. With some fancy timing (my specialty) pushing a bit early or late gave you forwards or backwards motion, away or towards the origin of the waves. The first boats relied on conventional sails to move sideways. It was quite a thrill riding the original moon boat, not so long ago. Though we still need to do something about that nauseating up and down bobbing.

New God Hunt
[Teslo's Goods Cards]

Teslo's Goods.

Anyway, enough digressing. At the time I urgently had to find out more about those new god rumours.

My first stop was in Rinliddi lands to ask Irripi On Tor if he knew anything. He knew a lot, but nothing about an upcoming god. I told him more about my research than he told me! I had asked him to pass along a letter to Deezola requesting permission to visit Torang to see my relatives there. That was the stated reason, another secret one was to meet my mystery patron, which we had agreed to do during the upcoming renewal rites, before I had been exiled.

Jakaleel the Witch

I then decided that I should visit someone who might hear things about gods. Jakaleel the Witch had many contacts in the spirit world and was the obvious person to talk to. I tracked her down fairly easily despite her itinerant lifestyle. She was willing to talk, though she complained of hearing too much - too many spirits which just would not stop yammering at her. I can see how people think she is crazy, but she's merely distracted and lacking a good night's sleep. In retrospect I should have lent her my magic absorbing hood; it stops everything, which is so annoying that I wear it around my neck and only pull it up while doing dangerous experiments. But back then I was a callow youth, not caring about other people's feelings, so I did nothing.

She had heard lots of chatter about a new moon goddess, with visions of a pockmarked moon, light on one side and dark on the other. I got the sense from her that a time of great change was coming soon. I should have paid more attention and chased after the goddess or sped up the funding hunt. As it turned out, the rise of the goddess was a bit of a surprise to me, interrupting the sky/earth tension project I was working on for Yanafal Tarnils shortly before I would have finished it. However, that was a minor project compared to the related sky power grid I was later able to work on for the goddess, so it's just a minor regret.

Trokor Snow Hawk and the Descending Spear

On the way back to Elz Ast I ran into Trokor Snow Hawk, a supporter from the days when I was but a boy starting out. He was looking for the Descending Spear regimental charm, which had disappeared long ago. Embarrassingly, I had bought it from Irippi On Tor as part of my sky magic research, though I found it useless. I admitted that I had it, and he was kind enough to recompense me for it. I now had enough money to buy a bit of land and set up a workshop on the outskirts (away from flammable stables) of Elz Ast.

Magic Lantern Wand

I was finally able to get in a few weeks of pure undisturbed research and learned the dance of time. Yes, I had found the goddess of cycles and time, and communicated with her to find out more. That involved a lot of dancing, late nights, and sore feet. I don't know if I was getting better at dancing or if she was getting stronger as the rise of the Lunar goddess came closer, but the mysteries of cycles and speed became obvious.

I was able to build a proof of concept magic wand in my new workshop. It had three lantern spells, one of each of the primary colours (ask an artist if you don't know what those are) and the new cyclical magic to control them all. It can cast and extinguish the lantern spells very quickly and in a very precise order. Just try casting a spell a dozen times a second and you'll understand how difficult this is. Let alone making different patterns of colour. The wand was also very spectacular when waved around in the dark. Arashan the Unmanly, a Carmanian artist, saw one of my demonstrations and invited me to do the lighting for his new play, Pirates of Perchance. It sounded like a promising opportunity to show off the new magic and perhaps gain some supporters.

[Magic Wands with Labels]
Symbols from left to right: Ibis the Rinliddi bird of Knowledge, Balance/Moon/Cycles, Mobility/Change/Movement, Command/Mastery/Leadership, Magic/Enchantment/Rituals.
Meaning: cyclical high speed control of magic.

Sea Season 1220

I spent the Renewal Rites in Torang, visiting relatives. My mysterious patron didn't turn up. However, it was still a good place to be - far from the upheavals in Carmania, where the Great Shah doomed Takashkan of Orlei and his city. The Shah didn't actually execute him, so I later found him nervously wandering around the land, handing out his belongings (I wish I had taken him seriously). While in Torang, I also found Trokor and Arashan contemplating making a statue of Yanafal Tarnils shortly before Arashan left for Diavizzi.

Maybe Torang was not far enough from political upheavals. Trokor called up his armies, and shortly after suffered an assassination attempt. The Carmanian Bisarashan the Bright was there too, being friendly with Deezola. I always wondered what that was about.

Fire Season 1220

Fittingly for the season, it was a time of war.

Battles along the Oslir
[Teslo Taking Notes]

Teslo Taking Yet More Notes.
Photo courtesy of Tim Ellis.

I headed back to Elz Ast in a disturbing time. Armies were mustering everywhere. Khasventos of Raibanth mustered his forces. Others collected theirs, making it look like a big Dara Happan push into Rinliddi land was about to happen. Indeed, they lined up on the Oslir river, but then the Great Shah appeared and wanted to know what was going on - he hadn't ordered a war. Still, a bit of fighting went on with Yanafal Tarnils fending off Khasventos of Raibanth until the Great Shah got there. Much diplomacy followed, though I didn't follow much of it. I noticed that the Diavizzi forces were on the Carmanian side; Edasul had switched sides! Then the warrior son of the Shah, Bisodakar the Fervent, completed the rituals to be acknowledged as Emperor of Darra Happa.

Taborus the Trader

Around that time I ran into Taborus the trader, while watching the battles from a safe distance. He hated the war for disrupting peaceful commercial activities, though he wasn't above trading with both sides and the middle. After telling him about my look at long distance magic, his thirst for fast communication between cities (no doubt he was thinking of some commercial advantage) made me consider sending messages via long distance magic. The old sun mirror signalling code could be applied to modify pulse strength, so messages could then flow from a temple to points which were receiving magic (usually other temples). If the sky wave system was working, messages would go to all places within quite a large area. Ah, well, another idea which I didn't have time to develop. I left it as a topic for my future students to contemplate.

More battles occurred, this time the Nightmare Spear attacked Diavizzi. The Pentians were doing well when I last saw them, before I fled the area.

Earth Season 1220

Finally I made progress with the funding. Sadly, only the coming of war had made the assorted states consider the advantages that new magical techniques could bring. I'd be happier seeing pulsed magic used for commercial purposes, but when Raibanth offers you a sack full of money and slaves to help build a new laboratory, you take it. Research went about twice as fast with the new lab, and my feet got twice as sore from dancing out the fine details of flinging magic far away. The hills near Elz Ast took quite a beating until we improved our accuracy. In retrospect, the safety work after the Torang accident wasn't wasted; it paid off in spades for getting those dangerous long range aiming tests done quickly and without mishap.

[Soul Stars]
Soul Stars - Awarded for Accomplishing Goals.


I also left for a visit to Darjiin since I hadn't heard much from that part of the empire and thought they might have need of my services. I spoke with Bistuki Openhand about their troubles with generations of occupying forces, Dara Happan and later Carmanian, and their newly won freedom. I didn't see how my magic could help them, other than in the simpler ways of making ordinary life easier (better communication, border defences).

Conference Schedule

Back in Elz Ast, I checked in with the Empiricon, who was busy preparing to hold the Quinquennial Assembly of Chirurgeons, Savants and Sundry Scholars (QACSSS) at his university. I was eager to give a talk on my discoveries and managed to convince him to put me on the schedule. After setting up the lab I was flat broke, so I would somehow have to find money for the conference fee before it started.

Research Direction Choices
[Khasventos of Raibanth and Lanvash the Fortunate]

Left to right and soon to be dead: Khasventos of Raibanth, Lanvash the Fortunate.
Photo courtesy of Roderick Robertson.

Research went well enough that I was down to a couple of ideas for inventions that might actually work and please Khasventos of Raibanth and the Darra Happans. I followed the trail of Khasventos's army into Rinliddi lands to ask him which development idea I should pursue - the Oscillatory Coil or the Sky Capacitor.

The coil would combine the efforts of several magicians over time into one big blast, by rhythmically pumping up (timing is important) a spell bouncing back and forth inside the coil, until it is strong enough to break past the reflection wardings at one end (I remembered to paint the weaker warding with "point this end towards target" and hoped that the users could read). The sky capacitor brings the tension between earth (Lodril for example) and sky (perhaps Dayzatar) together to pull and push against other magics, thus doing useful work. However, it required some hard to find parts - a sky linked item (such as the Blazing Egg which Deezola and Edasul and several other people seemed to be chasing after a few seasons previously - I now wondered who had it) and a similar Earth linked item.

I managed to find Khasventos east of Diavizzi busy fighting the Pentan nomads, who were under the Nightmare Spear's command. Since I knew both sides, I stayed back until they finished. Khasventos didn't survive, though I expected him to rise again if he was a true sun worshipper. That left his next in command, Lanvash the Fortunate, as the person to ask. I headed back to Yuthuppa only to find Yanafal Tarnils and his Rinliddi troops slaughtering Lanwash's Darra Happan forces. Lanwash perished quite dramatically on the ground outside Yuthuppa, leaving me to wander over into Carmanian lands to talk to the new Emperor of Darra Happa, Bisodakar the Fervent. He was interested in the quick payoff of the Oscillatory Coil.

Pirates of Perchance
[Beer and Crime Lords]

Left to right: Deromin the Beer Baron, Danfive Xaron.

I kept on running into Deromin the beer baron in my travels, sometimes in Rinliddi lands, and then in Carmanian territory. He seemed to be there to help Arashan the Unmanly with his Pirates of Perchance play. I was nearby so I stopped to assist with the lighting. We only had time for a few preliminaries before time ran out and I had to leave for the QACSSS. I sometimes regret missing the performance; I later heard that it was quite memorable.


It was time for QACSSS but I didn't have the entrance fee. Fortunately Irripi On Tor was flush and lent me a bit of money. Etyries Farfooter was there to give a speech on the problems women face in the various different kingdoms, though she had to leave early. I of course talked about time and magic, demonstrated fine magic control with the light wand and roughed out the sky wave magic and transportation system. It went well. Afterwards, to make up for the loan, I gave a hands on tutorial to Irripi On Tor on how to make his own light wand. I had hoped that he would be enthusiastic about it in Rinliddi lands and that we could get a couple of allied city leaders to do a joint project - building the first two temples.

Another Project Commission

The Oscillatory Coil was finished a few weeks later and I presented it to Bisodakar the Fervent, who had recently taken on the mantle of Great Shah of Carmania from his father (natural inheritance or not, I didn't care). On the way back, I met Irripi On Tor and Yanafal Tarnils (now married to Deezola) and told them of my successes. They were interested too, and somehow had lots of resources, so I suggested that I work on the sky capacitor project for them. They eagerly dug up Lodril's tooth and the Spiraling Staff and I dashed off to start work.

Dark Season 1220

[The New Lunar Mothers]

New Lunar God Founders.
Left to right: Danfive Xaron, Irripi On Tor, Deezola Queen of Torang, Yanafal Tarnils, Jakaleel the Witch.

I didn't have time to do more than start work because the Rinliddi group raised their new goddess soon afterwards. Everyone chose sides, either for or against the new goddess. It took quite a while for me to weigh the alternatives. I could have gone with the Carmanians to make sure that no matter who won, the new time discoveries would be used (since Irripi had been trained and was already was taking care of spreading the knowledge to his faction). I finally picked the Rinliddi side because they were the one with the goddess open to new ideas, and because of my fond memories of growing up in joyful Rinliddi.

Now when I look up at the Red Moon I see the waving hands and dancing feet of Sedenya at work, as the goddess of cyclical time is now known. Making a god that can change behaviour (most are immortally static), done simply by cycling through aspects, is a triumph of her magic. I wave my wand and dance the dance of simple cycles, and wink at her, knowing that the very same magic that's in the wand switching between different coloured lantern spells is also up there daily changing between the seven mothers.

There were a couple of ideas I wasn't able to work in but which may be useful in future versions of Birth of the Goddess. One is using the previously mentioned continuously speeding up Greek Gaida (bagpipe) music with a spinning circle of dancers to raise the moon.

The other is to have several moons. A polyphase power system would have ideally three moons spinning in synchronization. That way Lunar magic would always be available at near full strength. Perhaps the next Neek Teslo could have the goal of promoting the raising of several moons. Is the phrase "The Three Sisters" in use yet in the world of Glorantha?

If you wanted to have a great variety of aspect combinations rather than power, each moon would need a co-prime number of founders. Ideally the pattern would repeat after one Gloranthan year, which is 294 days. 294 = 2 * 3 * 7 * 7. It's not pretty, one moon would need to have 7*7=49 mothers while the others would have 2 and 3. Forget that idea!

One final question - did Sedenya get stronger because of Neek's researches were waking her up or were there so many research results because Sedenya was waxing?

Lord of the Rings in the ConSuite

I spent the next couple of hours up in the consuite (a larger hotel room with a big TV and comfy chairs) watching Lord of the Rings. Most of the rest of the people were at the GTA banquet. Besides munching on chips, celery and carrots, the half dozen or so people there had fun chewing over the Lord of the Rings series of films. Things like Gandalf's impossible horse charge down a slope into set spears (though that would be the only way you could get horses to run into spears). Several of us considered King Theoden's hall and surrounding village to be the most Gloranthan-like part of the movies (it looks like real tribal class people live there and made the outside decorations of beaten metal on rough wood walls). One couple had brought their young daughter with them. She delighted in waving around my magic wand, explaining the possibilities of "on" and "off" to anyone within range. There was also a spectacular but short snow storm outside, with a couple of nearby thunderbolts lighting up the room.

HeroQuest Kickoff

The next event was the HeroQuest kickoff. This is the new set of rules and books that are coming out in a month or two to hopefully fix a lot of the flaws in the previous HeroWars series. For added entertainment, we had a webcam and text chat link to John Hughes, one of the writers (and wyter - guide spirit of the Con). It got off to a slow start (with tasty chewy gummi-bats to munch on while waiting) but got more interesting with details about what was happening with HeroQuest and other Glorantha development history. Though they never explained what made HeroQuest so special; presumably that was covered at the GTA banquet.

Story Telling

Finally a couple of dozen of us made it up to the consuite for a bit of fun. It was story telling time! Stuart told three of his stories, Nick told a couple of his, and Melanie did three madlib myths, and then it was time for bed.

Nick's Stories

Nick's stories were memorable because of his dramatic presentation and voice skills, and because he picked stories with repetition. Argrath the Stickpicker is the best example of both. His other memorable one (partly because I'd already read it) was Anaxial's Rooster.

Stuart's Stories

One of Stuart's tales was of the Light Bringer's attempts to get past Aranea, the mother of spiders. Each one failed in a characteristic way, such as Lankhor Mhy boring the spider with a lecture, until Issaries told a captivating story, mixing truth and fiction (like this web page). Another of his stories was I think written to explain the background of a clan. It was about an adventurer's encounter with Rosacanina (the spirit of the Wild Rose), a subsequent fight where the thorns of the rose came to his aid, and the later rituals and logos used by the clan to honor the wild rose. The third story was about Issaries singing to get a cave full of beetles to form a path out of the cavern. He says he will be publishing them in the fanzine YGMV (Your Glorantha May Vary) and on his web site.

Melanie's Madlibs

In-between stories, Melanie had the audience join in with her madlib myths. These are created by having the audience fill in words in a myth template, but without knowing what the template is - just that a noun is required here or an adverb there. One was about the lesser god Lysol and his great deeds. Another was the Quest for Jello, which was about Voriof's hunt for a new food group, ending up with an accident at the Black Oak clan's lands that lead to the creation of the god's new favorite food, Jello. We had quite a few laughs when Melanie read out the resulting myths. I can't tell you the details (I forgot), but Melanie will be publishing the madlib templates in an upcoming convention fundraising book.


After a high power jet shower and quick continental breakfast, I was prepared for a day of computer game demos.

Ken Rolston's Morrowind Demo

The first game of the day was Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, made by Bethesda Softworks. Initially I was the only person at Ken Rolston's demo, other than the guy setting up the projection screen, so Ken had me pull up a chair to look at his laptop screen directly. He had a large hand in writing the story material for this computer game, from character descriptions and locations, down to filling quite a few virtual books with irrelevant (to the direct gameplay) details about the lives of daemons and other topics in the game's bookstore. His official title is "Lead Game Designer of Morrowind", though he's also known for work with Glorantha and other RPGs.

He showed us (more people showed up later) facets of the game engine and interesting fragments of the world and its people. Engine things included the command console where you could change the time scale to make the sun rise rapidly. Swimming in water. Interiors and exterior scenes (underlying it is a cell based system). Miserable rainy weather. Ash storms near the volcano. Fireballs and moving lighting effects. AI characters that notice your status (gee, you look sick). Around 600 different quests to do (that's a lot of writing!). A nice level editor so you can make your own worlds and stories, which leads to a thriving third party source of new scenarios, equipment and rule bending effects (super strong weapons for example).

The characters and society are another large part of the game. There are silly ones like the mage researching flying spells who deterministically fell to the ground in front of us (the spell runs out after a while). The criminal element druggie who's giving you orders. An assortment of cults and societies - the AI characters often have a background story of their own. Some are supposedly like Lunar missionaries. Taking a book from the store without paying is a crime - with consequences. Cloths are changeable; you could spend a lot of time making fashion choices.

The locations are varied. You can walk where you want to, though some places are best left for later when your character is stronger. The architecture of each region is thought out in quite some detail, a mushroom town for reclusive sorcerers, imperial designs elsewhere, ancient lost civilization ruins somewhere else. There is a large variety of plant life, you could spend all your time collecting the different plants for alchemical uses. And of course a map so you can see where you've been. You can tell the amount of detail by looking at the credits - around two dozen artists, and three writers.

Sandy Petersen's Age of Mythology Demo

Sandy Petersen talked about the real time strategy (RTS) game Age of Mythology he'd been working on recently at Ensemble Studios (now owned by Microsoft). Inspired by StarCraft's innovation of wildly different competing races, and the previous series of Age Of games, they made this one about the people, heroes and gods of mythological times - Norse, Greek and Egyptian.

Most of his talk was about balancing the different sides. They started testing with a very early rough version, which helped a lot. They also had to balance it so that it would work for both ordinary players and skilled players (even though "elite" players only are a small portion of the sales, their voice is loud). For example, they'd find out that the fog of unexplored map areas was scaring off mom type people. Or they'd find that Zeus's lightning bolt would harm play by making people either save up for it and not do much else, or not use it at all - that was improved by giving the player the lightning bolt immediately for free, but making it usable only once in the game.

The meta-game is almost rock-paper-scissors. There are three general strategies: Rush - attack early before anyone else is ready to defend, though it makes your defence weak. Turtle - build up defences and an economy before going out raiding. Boom - run around conquering and grow big exponentially from the spoils of war, hopefully big enough to win. But if you already play RTS games, you'd know all that.

He also talked about all the cool effects and relationships. Things like the curse which turns your enemy into pigs, and thus food. The earthquake which kills as a side effect all the feeble monkeys. The Norse scout spy trick, which lets you see what a particular enemy unit sees as it wanders around.

The talk ended with a look at the future of RTS games (a Cthulu one is coming up) and massively multiplayer games (Hearts of Iron is a step forwards in that area). Will it be big expensive Hollywood style productions (like Age Of Mythology), or more community oriented development (like Elder Scrolls), or both?

David Dunham's King of Dragon Pass Demo

David was there with his Macintosh laptop to talk about King of Dragon Pass (KoDP), published by "A#". He had started off long ago with Pendragon Pass which was a game about the colonization of Dragon Pass. He was interested in a multi-generational (playing generations of families) game, unlike the more common life-and-death-of-a-character games (RuneQuest, Hero Wars, ...). At the time he was corresponding with Greg Stafford, and since they agreed on many points, they decided to do a computer game, and came to a licensing agreement (apparently Greg had to approve everything, but later saw that they were on track and that he was holding them back, so he just rubber stamped the work in advance and enjoyed seeing it progress).

Planning and Hiring

It was now time to plan the new game and find the people to work on it. They wanted a nicely illustrated game, and considered that it would imply a lot of art and story. David's policy is to hire the best. Coincidentally Robin D. Laws became available and got the job of writing all those little stories and big myths. Stefano Gaudiano, of later cover art and previous comic book fame, was also grabbed for a large chunk of the game art. Elise Bowditch helped keep things organized and did some programming. Their QA person Rob Heinsoo became another key team member. Their contract Windows programmer Shawn Steele did the right thing even though he wasn't ordered to. More of the main team members are listed on their team web site and in the game. It was a full time job for Mr. Dunham and eventually somewhere between one and two dozen people from around the world (and contractors from Seattle).

Quality versus Speed and Publishers

However, David felt a bit too much time was wasted on art for the graphical user interface (GUI), which got thrown out after testing. They needed to keep things looking pretty in order to shop the game around to potential publishers. From my experience, publishers either want something like something else that sold well previously, or want something new but can't describe it without going through daily lists of changes for half a year or more. They really like it when you can show them a finished product. The difficulty is that it takes funding to get a finished product, and that comes from publishers. So, having a pretty GUI makes sense, so long as it doesn't take too much work. In this case, KoDP had a statue of the clan's god that also showed the current status. If you added a Storm Bull shrine, the god would grow horns. Later on it was thrown out and replaced with the current rune stone obelisk, which also has the advantage of showing possible quests and active spells. Having prototype art rather than final quality art would have made that mistake cheaper.

They did a lot of pitches to potential publishers. A surprisingly large number of them also were RuneQuest players. However, that didn't help since the game also has to be sold to the big distributors, like Walmart, and they considered it to be a too small niche product. Another strike against the game was that it didn't use leading edge hardware, which is another facet that drives game enthusiasts.

In the end, shortly after submitting KoDP to the Independent Games Festival (where they later won the year 2000 prize for best visual art), they decided to self-publish.

Quality Assurance

[King of Dragon Pass Scene Completion Progress Chart]

Scene Completion Progress Chart.
Photo courtesy of David Dunham.

Quality assurance (QA) got rolling early since they had 500 different scenes to test. David showed us a nice chart of the number of scenes remaining to write, paint, test, with the horizontal axis being the date. It was mostly linear decreasing, though getting further and further away from the planned line as things slowed down. In spite of the QA delays, they managed to make it for the latter half of the Christmas market (game sales normally peak in November) and shipped the first copies on October 29 1999.

There was a fair bit of testing, and many things were done to make it more fun. Rob came up with the idea of adding Heroic Combat to give more vibrancy to the battles. A clan noble, which you know by name and who may be on the clan ring, has to make a decision in the middle of the action. Perhaps she sees a weak spot - should she dash in single-handedly or call for help? The decision affects the flow of the fight and maybe risks her life too. Due to budget limits, the battle scenes couldn't be animated so that compromise kept it looking good and fairly interesting to the player.


[King of Dragon Pass Paper Pile of Scene Texts]

Scene Texts.
Photo courtesy of David Dunham.

The game has 450,000 words of text in the scenes, which makes for quite a large pile when printed out. Robin Laws wrote most of that, doing four scenes each day, and very consistently did it every day. That's 125 days for 500 scenes, or a bit over four months of continuous writing. He wasn't the bottleneck. He also had to flesh out some undocumented parts of Glorantha, such as the Elmali and Vingan myths and related hero quests, which you don't see in RuneQuest and other Glorantha games since those cults aren't usually used for player characters. There were also a few stylistic changes, such as renaming the Grazers (annoying horse nomad raiders) to "Horse Spawn" to better reflect what the Orlanthi think of them.

Besides Eurmali comedic relief, there was a fair amount of tragedy written since that emotional conflict is what makes stories memorable. Things like the Kallyr story thread which starts with a baby girl presented for adoption on a shield by a stranger. She is raised by the clan (this is a multi-generational game so you see people growing up), and then many years of game-play later, dies a tragic death. The general aging and death of the people you meet in the game (including a David Dunham look-alike who ages to look eerily like his father) also has a large emotional impact.

More Testing

Testing all those scenes was difficult since the environment makes a difference (your clan's natural enemies, the current state, random factors) to the outcome of many scenes. Things could have been faster if the Windows programmer had been kept on a bit longer. The false queen scenario was the worst one to test, with 12 related scenes that have an explosion of alternatives. Most of the problems show up as an inability to progress to the end of the game.

Of course, the end of the game doesn't always end in kingship. Each traditional enemy (such as trolls, beast folk) has an apocalypse (literally meaning a revelation) of their own at the end of the game. Unfortunately it is too difficult to annoy the dwarves (Mostali), so some graphics will rarely be seen.

Graphics Production Pipeline

The graphics pipeline started with a thumbnail sketch based on the scenario from Robin Laws. Then a rough full size pencil sketch was done. The lines got refined by an inker (like comic books do), and then coloured in. Stefano would add the clan designs to the drawings (a subtle point - all the tattoos and other markings you see are significant - they separate people of your clan from foreigners). When it was ready, the image was scanned into the computer. Very little post-scan digital editing was done.


David then showed us the scripting code for one scene. It was the one about the tribe's men/women getting upset at their leader. "If" statements switched the questions depending on the chief's gender. Inline alternate wordings (part of the scripting language) were used, sometimes random and sometimes based on clan background (insert favorite enemy here). Special keywords would select the name of the current leader and that sort of thing. Another kind would test some ability against the highest rating in the ring (leadership in the example) to see if you were successful (at convincing the upset people to quiet down in the example).

There was another large code section for providing the advice from the different kinds of people on the ring. Some of the canned advice choices were based on rules that are a lot like Hero Wars - individual ring members have ratings like: Individual, Fearful, Arrogant, Matriarchal, and a final option for advice which advances the story. Bad King Urgrain was made up to give a context for a lot of the advice.

Music adds to the game, but mostly as a background emotional guide. There are twelve emotional categories, as well as a set of seasonal music pieces.

The Future

As for a sequel, that's unlikely since KoDP didn't break even. The standards (and expenses) would also have to be higher - animation (at least for the battles) rather than still pictures (though it wouldn't add as much as it costs). The audience suggested reissuing it for PDAs and cell phones, which are starting to get close to the video resolution needed. That could be easily done as a web server based game, in my opinion. David Dunham is now working on smaller games for GameHouse and doing Mac-OS programming.


After the King of Dragon Pass demo, I wanted to try out the Whose Scenario is it Anyway? session, since I liked the idea of group design of a scenario (some people are players, others are writers...). Unfortunately everybody was busy playing other games, so I wandered over to the auction.

I arrived at the tail end, missing the auctioning of some King of Dragon Pass artwork (I hear the final coronation scene didn't meet the reserve price). Besides some jewelry made by a famous writer, most of the things were Glorantha related books. French and German translation of rare Hero Wars texts, older RuneQuest material and the like. I left with a signed copy of Robin's Laws for Good Game Mastering for $15 CDN.

King of Dragon Pass Artwork

Still eager to get some King of Dragon Pass art, I was able to buy a couple of pieces directly, for $190 CDN ($75 USD each plus a 10% discount). Which two? Since there weren't any sheep ones (a running gag in our gaming group), I got a couple of the ever-fascinating duck pictures. With a bit of work, I modified part of an old Cleansed One scenario to make a story for the images:

Saisy Loyola, a duck who wants to do the Cleaned One river quest to get rid of a chaos taint, petitions the adventurers (who are Zola Fel river voices) for their help. She is from the Delecti Swamp in Sartar. The zombies of the swamp were a known problem; you just avoided them or invited the Humakti Death Drakes for a visit when they got too troublesome. Zombies weren't the only problem, the broo chaos invaders of the swamp assaulted her at an early age and gave her the taint which ruined her life and made her leave the swamp.

[Duck Tales of the Upland Marsh]

She spent the next decade growing up on a Lisemelder clan farm. During the Starbrow uprising in Sartar, she left her pottery career among the Lisemelders and joined up with her farmer friends (Humans) along with her brother to fight the rebellion, including torching a few Lunar sympathizer farms.

[Duck Saboteurs]

After the uprising, the Lunars put out a bounty of a year's free taxes on Duck heads (dead or alive), as a scapegoat for starting the war. Her brother was captured and executed. Saisy then fled Sartar with a few Lisemelder friends and went to the swamps in Prax (the Lisemelders joined the nearby Garhound people). Unable to farm, she took up fishing and boating and occasional pottery work, staying out of Lunar sight. Things changed when she met Jack Paddlefoot...

Of course, that isn't the real story for the pictures.

Sandy Sez

This seminar simply was Sandy Petersen holding forth on role playing games. When I walked in, he was talking about how to guide the players when you are the game master. When someone does a dastardly deed (stealing something from the bar) which you don't want to happen, you can ask the other players "Are you letting him get away with that?" It's even better if they know the bar owner as a good guy, which means having your NPC characters interact with the players over time.

Another way of getting players to do things is to have villains which they want to fight. One of the worst things for players is to lose something, which is what makes the tap sorcery (it reduces a player's strength or other attribute permanently) so scary that even a mention of its possibility scares the players. A good villain should be seen doing something bad rather than just telling the players he is a bad guy.

It's more effective if the players get orders (scenario hooks) from a character they respect. As an example, Sandy told the story of the time when his players had their game (a sabre toothed cat) stolen by another hunter and claimed as his kill in a hunting contest. They complained to the chief, and he believed them, saying that it was unlikely that the scoundrel would be able to do such a kill. After that, the chief could do no wrong in their eyes and they'd eagerly do his bidding.

He then told several stories from his campaign. One adventure was in the Clanking Ruins, where treasure is Dungeons and Dragons style impossible magical loot. One of the characters found the Girdle of Femininity, which turns the wearer into a woman, permanently. They turned that into a major political item by visiting the matriarchy of Esrolia to help the rebellious men change gender and gain power, leading to a civil war.

He also had a time travel scenario, involving the Atomic Explorers, who travel past the edge of the universe out into chaos and back. It was quite a long and fascinating story, particularly when they met an enemy who turned out to be their ancestor. My time travel stories usually end up very convoluted, with the players horribly, even painfully, confused. If a player says "I fire an arrow through the fog bank and then go around to the other side to see what came through." then I should reply "You find three arrows lying on the ground that look exactly like the arrow you shot."

How to Write a Freeform

Next up was a seminar on writing your own Live Action Role Playing game (also known as a LARP or Freeform). It had a panel of experienced LARP runners and authors including Sandy Petersen (King's Musketeers, Space Station Zanzibar, Tales from the Floating Vagabond, Café Casablanca), Ken Rolston (Space 1889), Mark Galeotti (Great Glamour Sit Down, Birth of the Goddess).

They talked about the difficulty in learning how to make and run a LARP; you essentially need to find someone who has done it before and learn from them. Part of the problem is scale - a typical LARP with 50 players has a correspondingly large number of character descriptions and plot lines. A team of writers is a common way to deal with that load.

However there are some basics. For the larger LARPs you need characters which can be played by tourists (people who drop in to play for a while), roles for regular players, and serious parts for fanatics. Casting is also important for the bigger roles.

The goals for the characters should make them interact with the other characters (that's the core fun of a LARP), and there should be enough goals so that the actor always has something to do, even after ignoring some of them.

I liked the King's Musketeers rules which neatly encourage interaction. In that game, everybody has a social status from 1 to 6, with the King of France (actually a tourist role, he doesn't do anything) at 6 and peasants at 1 (D'Artagnan starts at 1 due to his background, though most of the musketeers are at 2). You can only interact with people at your social level or one lower or higher. That means that the cardinal can't just kill D'Artagnan; he tells his minions to do it. Nice trick to get more people involved! To change rank, you have to marry someone and the pair then gets the higher overall rank. But to win a woman's hand in marriage (love isn't always involved), you have to do a number (equal to her rank) of labours of love, chosen by the one you want to marry, from a list specific to her (declaim a poem, defeat someone embarrassingly). Yet more interaction! Naturally, she (usually the man is doing the labours of love, it's a scandal if it is the other way around) can pick difficult tasks for suitors whom she doesn't love. Also, there is a public scandal board, where reports of scandals that don't get withdrawn within a set amount of time result in a loss of status. Quite an ingenious system!

One of the big problems with a LARP is having peace break out. People are just too willing to cooperate. Having scarce resources in demand by all sides is one way out of that deadlock (like seats on the airplane leaving Casablanca). Other games use widget collection, or money amassing (though there can be economic problems with too much of that - have the merchant characters raise prices to absorb the excess money). Often that fight over resources will also be the grand finale of the event: the airplane leaving Casablanca, lifeboats leaving the Titanic, or the goddess being formed from a set of seven mothers.

The seminar rambled on until 16:20, discussing ways to get idle players back in the game and otherwise enhancing the LARP experience.

Shadows of the Empire

The amazingly productive Mark Galeotti did a power-point presentation on crime in the Lunar empire. His real world job provided a lot of raw material which was converted to the game world fairly straight forwardly. Things like the different kinds of criminal gangs. How some have a hierarchy and can take control of an area, though are vulnerable to losing key people to assassination. Other more opportunistic cultures form a gang only to do one crime. He also talked about the influence of corruption on the government, and how really big crime organizations want a stable government (reminds me of Al Capone and the way he owned Chicago's government).

Convention Ending

I dropped in at the hotel pub for a bit of food and talk about what had happened over the last couple of days. After a few more stories, the closing ceremonies started. Awards were handed out, for such things as furthest conventioneer (from Australia) and other achievements. Thanks were given to the convention organizers, especially primal force Jeffrey Kyer.

Visiting Relatives

[Day Pass Front]On Monday, life in the real world resumed. I packed my bags and lugged everything over to the St. Patrick subway station. There I got the day pass, which was fortuitously good for two people rather than one since it was the March break holiday. More lugging of bags, a transfer between subway lines, some exploration of Toronto streets, and I finally got over to my brother's place on Bloor.

Brother's Digs

[Kitchen]Outside it's a real hole-in-the-wall dive, a century old house with cheap shops on the ground floor and apartments above. But further above, he has the whole top floor to himself, various Macintosh computers, and three cats. There's a nice big kitchen, with an industrial fire alarm system, a living room, bed room, office, storage room, and a back porch for plants and cats. A pretty good place, except for the street noise (doesn't bother him) and occasional homeless people sleeping in the stairwell if you forget to lock the entrance door.

I dropped off my stuff in his storage room, which has a convenient door you can close to keep the cats out. If you move the exercise equipment around, there's space for a futon on the floor. His girlfriend Sandra was there, so we had an excuse to take a few photographs (available to family members on request), including some of me dressed up as a wizard (I certainly got my money's worth from that costume). We then went down the street to a pub for lunch (they know literally dozens if not hundreds of places to eat, an advantage of living in a big city). Sandra talked about her archaeobotany job at the university; analysing old seeds from Orkney to see if the Norse were growing grain or importing it.

CN Tower

[CN Tower Ticket]Our early afternoon subway trip lead to the CN Tower, which my brother hadn't actually visited in all his years in Toronto, and I'd only walked around before. It was quite pricey, and once past the initial lineup labyrinth, souvenir photo taking and security (with air sampler door frames blowing puffs of air at you to check for something), we got a very fast ear popping elevator ride to the main deck. From there we took a second elevator to the Skypod, on the 147th floor.

Up there you get a really nice view of the city. You can see the clusters of high rise buildings, most are in the heart of the city, but also there are some odd blobs of pure apartment buildings in the suburbs. We spotted the university building where his classes are. I found the Colony Hotel behind the easily recognizable city hall. I had a good look at the railway system, trying to see Oakville, but all I saw were mostly empty tracks. My brother pointed out the old roundhouse below (a surprisingly large building, now a brewery), along with a mysterious cylindrical pit being constructed nearby (odd, no subway tunnel construction is currently scheduled). You could see the cars on the Gardiner expressway going slowly west at 15:30, and faster east. There was a two seater airplane landing at the nearby airport. A tug moved through the ice in the harbour.

Sheppard Subway

The next trip was to see the new subway line under Sheppard Avenue, and the big modern new style of station. Fortunately we were a bit early for rush hour so we were able to sit down on the newish Bombardier subway cars going north from Union station to Sheppard-Yonge. That line has a mixture of tunnels and outside tracks, and passes through the old end of line switching yard at Eglinton Station. We transferred at Sheppard-Yonge, a large modern station, with an unusual wide island between the track directions for staff rooms. If you look at the tunnel floor, you can see the automatic train-stop - a lever on the track bed that when raised up will hit a switch on the underside of the train and stop it. It is supposedly lucky to see one of the subway mice down there too, amongst the flying trash catching basket and other track paraphernalia.

Sheppard Tunnel and Signals

[Day Pass Back]I was able to sit at the front of the train and see where we were going. The Sheppard tunnel is a circular bored tunnel. There are occasional big yellow illuminated signs showing where the emergency exits are. Fluorescent lights illuminate the tunnel and track-side catwalk. Periodically there's a bright blue compact fluorescent fixture (incandescent in the older tunnels) to show the location of the sector emergency power cutoff switches. The vertical curved braces holding up the wires on the sides of the tunnel were so new and clean that they glittered goldenly with the reflection of the train's headlights.

The TTC signalling system has very closely spaced lights and I could usually see four or five signals ahead, if the tunnel wasn't dipping or rising. I assume they plan on running trains very closely spaced together when traffic increases. Incidentally, the rise before a station and dip afterwards are desirable to reduce braking and power demands, though that isn't so important with a modern regenerative braking system.

Train Controls

On the way back, I was also able to see the driver and her shift change relief driver operating the train, which was a pre-Bombardier model. The main controller is a descendant of ancient circular contact switches - a big lever with a knob at the end on a tilted control dashboard. Centered downwards towards the driver is the neutral position, clockwise is faster, counterclockwise is braking (which seems to be dynamic (using the motors rather than wearing out brake pads), possibly regenerative too in the newer trains). In general, the driver was trying to keep close to the point where the lights would change to full speed just as she reached them, though if she went too fast (or the dispatcher was too slow), she'd nudge the controls to slow down a bit. Oddly enough, there was always a burst of acceleration when pulling into the station (possibly because the station track is always level and straight and worth speeding up for), then heavy braking, with the controls cranked to the maximum for the final stop. Maybe they just like to make the passengers lurch around, though it's more likely done for efficiency reasons. I could also see the stopping point marker under the platform, usually a "6" referring to the place where a six car train should stop.

The GO Train to Oakville

[GO Train Ticket - Honor system
- Buy tickets in advance, stamp it with date yourself before boarding]After rushing back to pick up gifts (my brother carried the heavy chocolate) and costume, we headed out for Union station again to take the GO train to Oakville to visit my cousin and her new family. This train runs on the regular railway tracks, and is pulled by a regular diesel train engine. Still, the bright green and cream colours and unusual tall double level passenger cars (with subway train style doors and interior stairs to the upper level) make it stand out from regular passenger trains. It was packed full of commuters (though nobody had to stand since we were so late that we missed rush hour). The crowd was strangely silent, most of them reading or doing paperwork. The trip passed fairly quickly, though not as quickly as it would have if we hadn't caught the train which stopped at every station.

We got to cousin Maris and her husband Jim's place in time for dinner. I happily gave away the huge box of chocolate in exchange for a tasty chicken and rice with peppers dinner. Then while my brother had an adult after dinner conversation with Maris and Jim, I disappeared around the corner.

The Return of Neek Teslo

[GO Train Ticket Back]Only to reappear as Neek Teslo, research mage! Going along with the magic theme, I presented my other gifts to daughters Hannah and Fiona. I gave Hannah the magic wand with the crow family logo on the handle. Elder daughter Fiona got the one with the plain handle, and a roll of transparent tape so she could make her own label (she does a lot of art projects, and quickly dashed off into the kitchen to make something). Hannah had fun poking the wand into dark places and lead me on a trip of magical discovery (I stepped on what?) around the darkened rooms of the house. Along the way, Hannah discovered a few lost toys underneath furniture (something that's actually easier to do with the wand than a regular flashlight).

Fiona came back in her Halloween princess of darkness costume waving her new wand. I showed her the secret speed control trick for getting it to change colour fast enough to appear solid. Meanwhile Hannah dashed off too, and came back with her Halloween costume. Only the adults looked out of place now!

After a bit more running around and wand waving (and Hannah discovering the smushed up wand tip sphere trick), things quieted down enough for a few photographs before the kid's bedtime and my return to a normal appearance. A bit of tech support for Jim's ink jet printer wound up the evening and we then headed back to Toronto.

The GO train trip back was a bit more relaxed, with very few people and the conductor taking a humourous approach to announcements, such as the one for "Loooooooong Branch" station. The one odd coincidence was the sighting of an illuminated SpinMaster sign on the north side between Exhibition and Union stations. Now I know where those wands were designed!

Foo the Cat

[Foo the Curious Black Cat]When someone coined the phrase about curious cats, Foo the black cat must have been the role model. I was unpacking my stuff before going to bed. Every time I left the door open, he would come in to see what I was doing. I'd find him walking over my suitcase (wrinkling the CN Tower souvenir photo), and then I'd carry him outside. Then he'd zip back in and instantly wriggle in-between the pillows I had just placed on the futon. This went on for a while, until I got good at keeping the door closed. One advantage was that it made it easy to take a photo of Foo. Anyway, I was able to get some sleep that night in spite of the unfamiliar city sounds, and was greeted in the morning by Foo, waiting outside the door.

Travelling back to Ottawa

[Family Jacaranda Tree]Tuesday was the day for my return to Ottawa. After a shower (with low water pressure quirks) and some cereal, I took a photo of the old (1967) Jacaranda tree which had been handed over to my brother in 2000. It seems to be doing well.

I had a look at his computer workstation setup, a nice desk surrounded by windows, with a good view of the street. He's also got a new iMac, which I managed to almost crash by trying to open all his spam messages at once (the MacOS window manager bogs down exponentially when you have lots of windows open). It seemed like that would be a good time to leave, so I left, this time travelling the subway system in rush hour, which was a bit awkward.

I arrived at the train station in good time and had half an hour to read my science fiction magazine. The trip got off to a slow start, and got slower as time went on. Next time, I will remember to call ahead AFTER leaving Smith Falls, since the train stops there if it is so late that it has to let the Toronto train pass before it can go on to Ottawa. The next few days were anticlimactic - I turned in the costume, went through 336 e-mails and started writing this overly long story, which took an over a week long to finish. Hope you enjoyed it!

- Alex

Copyright © 2003 by Alexander G. M. Smith.