While reviewing 13th Age Glorantha and the new Glorantha Sourcebook, I went back over years (decades, really) of my old Runequest files. In honor of these products, and the exciting return of Runequest to where it belongs, I will be publishing a series of articles here over the coming weeks culled from my files. Ideas on Heroquesting, adapting some Heroquest game mechanics to Runequest, and a full campaign are on the list. Stay tuned.
Today, let's talk Heroquesting in Runequest Classic. These rules started decades ago in the 80s, but evolved as subsequent rules and concepts (such as Heroquest's approach or the Stafford Library's Arcane Lore) appeared.
The mundane, everyday portions of Glorantha are those that exist within the Web of Time. Inside of Time, days go by, seasons change, men are born, grow old, and die. But this is not all of Glorantha; there are vast portions of existence outside of Time. There is no past here, and no future. Here there are no beginnings or ends. This is the God Plane, where the deities of Glorantha walk, where the universal and primordial forces that create and sustain existence are found. If the Mundane World were a wheel, the God Plane would be the hub. It is the center of existence around which the rest of the world turns.
Time—the separation of the Mundane World from the Gods Plane—is the result of the Compromise. Long ago, the gods of Glorantha fell to warring amongst themselves, and their actions nearly destroyed the world. Chaos bled in, threatening everything. To staunch the flow, Arachne Solara divided the world. Mortal and divine beings were to be separated, one confined inside of Time and the other locked outside of it. Mortals retained their freedom…they were still able to grow and change. But the gods, outside of Time, were frozen. Their deeds were fixed. What happened during the Gods Age would always happen. The Solar Emperor Yelm, for example, would always ascend to his throne in the Heavens, always be struck down by Death, and always fall into Hell. This cannot be changed. From the mortal perspective, inside the ever turning wheel of Time, this story appears to constantly re-occur. The sun rises and falls each day. Thus the actions of the gods in their bygone ages would be called myths, the deeds and tales that form the patterns of existence. They formed the foundation, the unchanging stability, upon which the ever-changing mortal world could exist. Without the myths, Chaos would claim everything. The separation of the two worlds was necessary to save them.
Mortals are not meant to venture outside of Time, just as gods are forbidden to enter into it. Rules, however, can be broken. Both Nysalor and Sedenya have walked in the Mundane World, and mortal Heroes and Saints have walked in the lands outside of Time. When mortals venture into the timeless realms, we call it heroquesting.
Types of Heroquests
Mortals—whose lives are short—yearn to walk in eternity. They crave glimpses of the timeless world beyond the mountains and seas. Myths allow them to touch that world to various degrees.
The most common type of heroquest is the “This World Heroquest,” the ritual re-enactment of myth. By ritually recreating the actions of the gods in myth, the curtain is pulled back a little and some of the divine realm descends. This sort of heroquest never actually leaves the Mundane World, but instead calls the Gods Plane down to touch the participants. Anyone can participate in such an event, and indeed this is the only sort of heroquesting most Gloranthans ever experience. It’s benefit is primarily religious; mortals can “touch” and feel the presence of their gods. These heroquests play a societal function, bringing a community together to commemorate important events or rites of passage.
Example: On the plains of Prax, a boy of the Bison Tribe turns sixteen and it is time for him to leave childhood behind and become an adult. His khan calls for the Coming of Age Rite. This is a re-enactment of the myth, “How Waha Became a Man.” The boy, stripped to his loincloth and given only a bow, seven arrows, a waterskin, and a knife, is sent into the night alone. He assumes the role of his god, Waha the Butcher, when Waha was just a boy like him seeking manhood. Other members of the tribe assume other roles from the myth, so along the way the boy will meet the Trickster who takes away his naïveté, the Sweet Earth Woman who takes away his innocence, and the Night Terror who takes away his fear. At the climax, just before dawn, the boy encounters his own father (or someone playing that role), whom he must wrestle just as Waha wrestled the Storm Bull. Overcoming his father, and thus his childhood, he becomes a man.
The next type of heroquest is entirely different, for here the participants actually cross over into the Gods Plane…or at least a portion of it. Between the Mundane World and the Gods Plane is something called the Hero Plane, a sort of interface between the worlds were the myths can be joined and followed. Here, the participant “becomes” the god they are portraying and attempts to repeat the same deeds. This is the “Hero Planes Heroquest.” The benefits of this heroquest are profound, both for the communities and the participants. By successfully re-enacting a myth, the truth that myth represents is reinforced. The participants become more like the gods they portray, and the community receives some sort of blessing.
Example: A drought-stricken Heortling village is desperate. The crops are failing. The livestock dies. Children weep with thirst. The chieftain assembles his clan ring and they advise a heroquest. Someone must take on the role of Orlanth Storm King and fight Aroka. In myth, Aroka the Blue Dragon swallowed the rain god Heler, depriving the world of rain until Orlanth cut Heler free. A Wind Lord of the cult of Orlanth volunteers. On an auspicious day, the clan ring assembles on sacred ground and the Wind Lord is stripped naked and painted with the blessed woad. The congregation starts singing the holy songs. The Wind Voices—priests of Orlanth—arm the Wind Lord with the Sack of the Four Winds, a vine representing the Upper Wind, a Klanth, and a leather rope representing the Lower Wind…the weapons Orlanth used to fight the dragon. No matter than these are just ceremonial replicas. Now the lead Wind Voice casts his Rune spell; the wind rises and howls, in a flash of lightning the Wind Lord is gone.
When he opens his eyes he is Orlanth. He is one with his god. It is a profound and transforming experience. Now he sets out to complete his quest. He know what he must face…he will have to best the troll Krakos, then Gargath the Left Blowing Wind. After that the Dark Woman will challenge him and he must seduce her. If he fails at any of these tests, the quest will end. Orlanth passed them, he must too. After he has succeeded, he confronts the monstrous Blue Dragon itself and fights for his life and the life of his village. He wins, slitting the belly of the beast open and setting Heler free…
There is another flash of lighting. He is himself, back on the sacred ground of his village, the priests and clan ring surrounding him. And from the night, a torrent of rain has started to fall…
While anyone can perform a This World Heroquest, a Hero Plane Heroquest is best left to professionals. By “professionals” we mean “Heroes.” While there is no hard and fast rule for what constitutes heroic status, we’ll use the term here meaning probably at least a Rune Lord or Rune Priest and optimally a Rune Lord-Priest. Characters should runequest before they heroquest. Having attained Rune Mastery, they are ready to turn their eyes towards greater things.
The final type of heroquest, the Otherworld Heroquest, is the most difficult and dangerous of all. Only the strongest and most experienced heroquesters would even dare to attempt one. This time the questers push beyond the Hero Planes even deeper, right into the God Plane itself. They are not re-enacting or repeating an existing myth…they are trying to create a new myth all their own. Instead of sharing in the power and majesty of a god or demigod, the quester is declaring himself their equal. This sort of hubris is usually fatal…except when it succeeds. The God Learners paid the ultimate price for trying to etch their own myths into Glorantha, their empire shattered and homeland swallowed by the seas. Others have been more successful…
Example: The Red Emperor, Son of the Moon, Imperator of the Lunar Empire, has been cursed by the Pentan shaman Sheng Seleris. He collapses, stricken by a gruesome and incurable disease. Nothing can be done. He dies.
This is not acceptable to him.
He decides to turn the tables on the horse nomads terrorizing his Empire. Already propelled to the Otherside—for the Underworld exists outside of Time as well—he begins a heroquest. He seeks out the Pentan Hell, the place reserved for the horse lords, and entering the underworld of his enemy searches it for the thing they fear the most. That thing is Gorgorma of the Two Mouths, Keeper of Secrets, Terror, and Eater. He faces the hag and wins her, braving even the second mouth that makes eunuchs of men, and from her breeds Yara Aranis, the Eater of Horses.
His purpose accomplished, the Emperor fights his way out of the Underworld and to his Mother’s Court in the Middle Air. She gives him flesh again, and together they descend into the capitol to the shock and rejoicing of his subjects.
And on the borderlands, a six-armed thing hunts like a spider, devouring entire herds of horses. Yara Aranis, the terror of the Pentans, has come to guard the Empire’s borders.
The ultimate benefit of the Otherworld Heroquest is that it fundamentally changes the world by adding something new to it (the error of the God Learners seems to have been trying to change what already exists). Yara Aranis was a whole new demigoddess, around whom a cult sprang up protecting the empire’s borders. A secondary benefit is establishing the immortality of the heroquester. Any action performed on the Gods Plane becomes a myth, like the rising and falling of the sun, eternally repeated and echoing throughout the mundane world. After death, a hero can rejoin his myth and become one of the demigods. Assuming he has worshippers, they might even be able to sacrifice to him for new Rune spells related to his deeds.
The best blueprint for a heroquest remains “the Hero’s Journey,” postulated by Joseph Campbell and others. Heroquests are not standard adventures, but rather heavily scripted forays that follow established mythic forms. Regular adventures can and do follow the Hero’s Journey, it is simply more important in a heroquest to make sure they do.
We don’t need to obsess over each of the 17 steps Joseph Campbell describes, though Referees are free to do so if interested. There is plenty of information on the Hero’s Journey out there. For these rules we will focus on a simplified pattern, shown in the accompanying diagram. To illustrate, we will follow the three heroquests we discussed above.
Every heroquest begins in the Mundane World of Glorantha, the daily life of the characters. They receive the Call to Adventure, something that necessitates the heroquest. The Praxian boy turns sixteen and must now take the journey into manhood; the village suffers from drought and needs supernatural aid; the Red Emperor is struck ill by a curse from the leader of the horse nomads terrorizing his empire.
Next, the questers often encounter a Guide and/or receive an Object of Power. In the first two types of heroequests, the Guide is likely a Rune Priest who prepares you and opens the way. The Objects of Power are usually sacred implements which recall the myth you are walking. Otherworld Heroquests are more difficult to predict, but should follow the same pattern. In the examples above, the young boy is brought before the tribal shamans and told the secrets of manhood in preparation for his initiation; a Wind Lord is chosen to assume the role of his god and instructed in the myth by his priests; the Red Emperor allows himself to die, but following his orders sacred items and treasures are gathered from temples and burned with him to take into the Underworld.
Prepared by the Guide and armed with Objects of Power, the questers now cross into the Hero Plane. The boy is stripped and sent into the wastes to face destiny; the Wind Lord is armed with the items his god used against the dragon and waits as the priests chant and open the gate into the Hero Plane for him; the Red Emperor lies in state until 33 goddesses come and prepare a funeral bier for him, sending he and his treasures into the Underworld.
Now in the Hero Plane, the questers face a series of Trials and Tests as they approach the Supreme Ordeal. While “This World” questers are not technically on the Hero Plane, once the ritual has begun, until it ends we must consider them to have “crossed over.” Indeed, throughout the quest they might catch flashes of the Otherworld, seeing signs and omens. Even the mundane events they encounter—scripted or otherwise, should ideally mirror the myth. Those on the Hero Plane are actually walking the myth, and will pass through the same tests as the god they are imitating. Otherworld Heroquests, again, are more open ended, but still must have mythic Trials and Tests. Above, the boy encounters the Trickster, Sweet Earth Woman, and the Night Terror; the Wind Lord encounters the troll Krakos, Gargath the Left Blowing Wind, and finally the Dark Woman; the Red Emperor seeks out the specific Hell of his nomad enemies, and fights his way inside it.
The Supreme Ordeal is now faced, the critical moment of the quest. The boy meets his father and wrestles him; the Wind Lord comes against the Blue Dragon; and the Red Emperor meets Gorgorma, seducing her to breed a demon.
The Ordeal past, the questers now collect their Trophy and fight their way back to the Mundane World. The boy has now been reborn a man and carries the rights and responsibilities of adulthood with him; the Wind Lord—as his god—slays the dragon and liberates the rain; the Red Emperor has bred Yara Aranis, the Horse Eater, a demoness to terrorize the nomad tribes.
Finally the heroquest ends and the quester returns. The rite comes to an end and the boy is officially re-introduced to the tribe as a man. The drought is broken and rain falls. The Red Emperor returns miraculously from death and his demoness daughter is now the scourge of his enemies.
For simplicity’s sake, there are two ways to cross into the Hero Plane. The first is to physically travel to one of the many entrances of the Hero Plane…the Gates of Dawn and Dusk, Magasta’s Pool, the Hell Crack of Pent, etc. The second, and by far the more common, is a Rune spell;
CROSS OVER (1 point)
range touch, duration variable, stackable, reusable
This spell sends a single individual, and his or her belongings, outside of the Mundane World and into the God Plane. 1 point sends one individual; additional points send larger groups. This is usually accompanied by a ritual, involving the spiritual support of a community and led by a Rune Priest (who actually casts the spell on the subjects going across). Duration is meaningless; once across the individuals are on a specific path, usually an established myth, and must follow that path to its conclusion. For them, any amount of time might seem to pass, but when the myth is concluded they return to the Mundane Plane moments, hours, or days after they left.
The benefits of the “This World Heroquest” are largely intangible. They exist, first and foremost, to sustain a community by rooting it in timeless and eternal truths. Performed annually, seasonally, or in some cases weekly, they give the community definition, focus, and purpose. They also help form a chain of continuity between the mortal community and the gods. In the example we gave above, the boy underwent the same initiation his father, grandfather, and ancestors did. He underwent the same initiation all the men of his tribe did. Most importantly, he underwent the same initiation his god did. This shared action unifies the people and the god.
Of course players will want something a bit more tangible. Aside from giving them ample opportunities to test skills (and learn from experience), and perhaps to find a bit of treasure (especially if they end up defeating foes along the way), consider the following;
- A +1 bonus to POW or CHA. Participating in this sort of heroquest allows one to reach up and touch divinity (hence the bonus to POW) and earns status or respect in the community (CHA).
- An automatic +5% increase to one or more a quest-related skills (this in addition to experience checks)
Greater benefits are attained by the “Hero Plane Heroquest.” For starters, these are never attempted lightly, and are usually triggered by great need. A community is threatened—by drought, famine, disease, enemies; a new chieftain needs to prove his right to rule; something vital to the community has been lost, etc. The key concept here is that the heroquest restores order by re-affirming the myth. It is not changing the world, it is reinforcing it. Accomplishing this sort of heroquest should cause the desired goal to manifest.
By taking on the role of a god, and walking on the Hero Plane, the Rune Lords and Priests who perform these quests gain a small measure of divinity themselves. These hero quests thus begin to confer real powers. One or more of these options is appropriate based on the difficulty and risk of the quest;
- +1 to one or more permanent characteristics (even above the usual species maximum)
- 1 or more points of “free” Rune spells (without POW sacrifice), reusable by Rune Priests
- +10% to two or three quest skills, or +25% to one skill, which Rune Lords may use to rise above 100%
- Magic crystals or an iron or Rune Metal item
The third type of heroquest, the “Otherworld Heroquest,” is game-changing. If the first type sustains and the second type restores, this type of heroquest is an act of true creation. Kingdoms are founded, empires built, cities raised, demigods born…all through quests such as these. In short, they should be reserved for only the most experienced characters (Rune Lord-Priests or Priest-Lords with plenty of “Hero Plane Heroquests” behind them). Completing such a heroquest makes the character an undisputed Hero.
Benefits are therefore hard to generalize. Kallyr of Kheldon went into the Sky World, defeated a god, and returned to the world as the Starbrow…a powerful magic gem in her skull. She later awoke a true dragon and rekindled the Flame of Sartar. Harrek the Berserk went into the God Plane, slew the White Bear God, and returned wearing its skin (with the spirit of the god still in it). And we have already discussed the red Emperor. The point is, the treasures and powers they returned to the Mundane World with are game breaking and unique.
And that’s alright. This is Glorantha at its most epic. Feel free to craft unique, powerful rewards;
- a horn that can be blown once a day and demoralizes a thousand men.
- a Rune spell that can be used at will as often as you please
- a pet Dream Dragon
- knowledge of a secret path from the Underworld so you can always return from death
- a massive characteristic boost, +3 to +5
Again, bear in mind the primary purpose of a heroquest—even at this level—is to benefit a people. The Red Emperor bred Yara Aranis to protect his borders. Kallyr became the Starbrow in her single-minded quest to liberate the nation of Sartar from the Lunar yoke. And Harrek, it could be argued, killed the god of his people so he could use its might to build another community—the Wolf Pirates—and change the world. Nothing a Hero does affects only himself or herself.
Generally, in all heroquests, I like to hand out one benefit for each Trial that is passed, with the largest benefit at the end for passing the Supreme Ordeal. A more “by the book approach” is to take the total Treasure Factor of the foes faced in a Trial, and roll against the Special Items column of the Treasure Table. With a success, a benefit is handed out at the completion of that Trial.
A very nice summary of the concept of heroquesting. I specially liked the examples of each type. I'm looking forward to read the rules of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. In the meantime, I'd love to read about some of the heroquests you have run or played with RuneQuest. ;)ReplyDelete
Excellent. I'm looking forward to the rest of your posts about this. I've always enjoyed the way your Heroquests have gone and not because of the nifty, neat stuff either.ReplyDelete