Days of High Adventure
Greg Stafford, Mythmaker

Allen Varney | 29 Oct 2009 17:00
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Greg Stafford - founder of Chaosium, creator of Glorantha (setting of the original RuneQuest roleplaying game), designer of the illustrious Arthurian RPG King Arthur Pendragon and 1987 inductee into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame - would, I think, make a good cleric. Though I know many RPG designers with high Intelligence (consistent, of course, with human racial maxima), I consider Stafford the wisest.

It might not seem "wise" to have started not one but three game companies, seemingly a folly to rank with the Maginot Line, TV reality shows and the Children's Crusade. But as every Dungeons & Dragons player knows, the Wisdom attribute doesn't imply prudence - or else priests would never walk into monster-ridden holes.

Nor is wisdom a superhuman ability to dodge trouble. Now 61, Stafford has endured life's ordinary vicissitudes: a broken marriage, family strife, business setbacks and recurrent bouts (only recently diagnosed) of clinical depression. Yet he remains good-humored, active, gregarious and curious - a seeker still.

Stafford is also, still, a writer. As a college freshman in 1966 he conceived - or, as he unfailingly phrases it, discovered - his fantasy world of Glorantha, and through stories and games he has developed it unstintingly ever since. He founded Chaosium in 1974 to publish Gloranthan board games. He established Glorantha as the setting for RuneQuest's first two editions, as well as for the later HeroQuest RPG and the 1999 King of Dragon Pass computer game. The early history of both Glorantha and RuneQuest is exhaustively documented online, and the setting has many devotees to this day. Some regard it not only as a backdrop for adventure but as, they might say, a tool for understanding.

In a galaxy of thoroughly developed campaign settings, Glorantha remains unusual and potent. Through it, Stafford treats of myth and the place of myth in our lives, drawing on his studies and his mystical experience in shamanic practices. (He's on the advisory board of Shaman's Drum Journal, "the leading magazine on experiential shamanism.") The heroes of Glorantha, guided by the gods and cults of myth, rise in power and ultimately re-enact these myths through their own careers.

Where Stafford's sense of myth permeates Glorantha, in Pendragon, myth works more like Fate, a hidden imperative that shapes eight decades of King Arthur's life. Whole families of knights vie for Glory across the years from the Sword in the Stone to the final days of Camelot. An innovative, all-embracing virtue system aids in roleplaying knights of the British Isles, Christians and pagans, Saxon and Byzantine warriors, even Saracens and Picts. Drawing from every source in history and legend, Pendragon presents a matchless totality, one of the rare roleplaying books that stands as genuine scholarship. The game's essential supplement, The Great Pendragon Campaign, is a breathtaking four-generation saga unrivaled in scope. Though he no longer owns rights to the game proper, Stafford now publishes his own line of licensed Pendragon supplements.

(Now the bad news: Stafford's masterwork is currently out of print! The rights belong to White Wolf Game Studio, now part of CCP, publisher of EVE Online. CCP, earn greater Glory by restoring Pendragon!)

Stafford has written of the virtues of roleplaying: fun, education, creativity, empowerment. "Roleplaying activates a critical human process that has nearly been killed by over-rationalization and materialism. Roleplaying is a way for humans to interact with our deep, hidden mythological selves. They are a way to feed our souls."

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