Author's Note: The following is a very HeroQuest Glorantha specific piece. Most of the ideas can easily be converted to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha however. To help with that, I am including a link to a much older essay I wrote on heroquesting that is RuneQuest specific...unfortunately it predates the latest edition and is based on the classic RQ2. Still, between this article and that, RQG players should fine ideas they can mine for their campaigns.
HQG players might want to peek at the other article too!
WHENEVER POSSIBLE, I prefer to have my players write their own heroquests. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, there is a fundamental difference between a heroquest and your standard role-playing adventure. An adventure, by nature, is a venturing into the Unknown. Player characters do not know what threats they will face, what challenges they will encounter, what obstacles they will overcome. In a heroquest, however, the player characters are reenacting a myth. Like actors, they are assuming roles and following a script. In many cases these are stories they have grown up on, that they know backwards and forwards. Bear in mind we are talking about “Established Heroquest Paths” here, not “Creative” heroquesting (see HeroQuest, p. 200). Since the player characters are fully aware of what is coming (or so they think…GMs will insert their own twists and turns into the players’ narratives), there is no harm in letting them write the script.
Second, by nature a heroquest is a textbook example of what for decades they have told gamemasters not to do; i.e. railroad the players. As a heroquest is a script, and as deviating from it brings penalties and possibly disaster, there is a danger of players feeling a bit like their characters are simply jumping through hoops. I’ve found that players are far more inclined to stick to the script if they themselves wrote it. It might be a railroad, but they laid the tracks and are driving the train. And when the GM intervenes to insert his or her own changes to the script (more on this below), the surprises seem more jarring and exciting.
Finally, Glorantha is a shared narrative. Over decades Greg Stafford and many others have contributed to the tale, and it falls on the individual gamemaster to orchestrate his or her own vision of it. Players contribute the protagonists, the heroes that move and breathe through the world. Allowing players to write their own heroquests lets them contribute on the world-building side; their own myths will become part of Gloranthan reality for the campaign. Players are always co-creators…this just ramps that up a little.
Over the years then I have used various formulas and guidelines to enable the players to do this. I adapt and change these when new models come to my attention (over the last few years HeroQuest Glorantha and 13th Age Glorantha—both of which devote entire chapters to heroquesting—have been influences on me). The guidelines I provide here will point out those sources when they come up. As a final note before we begin, I should also stress these rules are for an ongoing HeroQuest Glorantha campaign. They can be used in either 13G or RuneQuest, but some tinkering will be needed. I have a few suggestions in those areas as well.
I DON’T USUALLY allow my player characters to start heroquesting until they have become Rune Masters. This goes all the way back to my RQ2 days. There are two obvious exceptions; I usually run them through their adulthood initiations at the start of the campaign, and later initiation into a cult. Both of these events I run as heroquests. They enter myth, reenact the deeds of their gods, and come back transformed (as adults or cult initiates) with new powers (access to basic magic and later Rune magic). I design both these heroquests. Their initiation into Rune Master status I let them write for themselves, and any heroquests they might like thereafter.
This “training wheel period” is meant to let them have ample time to get used to their characters and the world they move in. I encourage the players in this time to become as familiar with their cultures’ myths as possible (the Stafford Library is invaluable for this). I like them to read the chapter in HQG or 13G on heroquests before they start as well.
Step One: The Myth
Players start by asking themselves What boon am I looking for? and What myth am I using to get it?
A boon is a power, a treasure, or some other tangible or spiritual benefit. In my HeroQuest games, attuning to a new Rune or gaining a new Feat both require heroquesting. If you want to allow cult initiates to heroquest before reaching Rune Mastery, you could require heroquests for break out abilities for Runes (like lightning spear for the Air Rune). I tend to view such things as Rune spells (as under the RQ rules) and let initiates sacrifice or worship to gain specializations like this.
Another excellent type of heroquest boon is a to bolster community ratings and cement those benefits (see “Gloranthan Communites,” p. 119, of HQG). Communities have ratings in Wealth, Communication, Morale, War, and Magic, and a heroquest could be performed to improve any one of these. For example, a heroquest could be performed to bring a mythic weapon back for the clan, boosting its War attribute, or an artifact for the cult that increases the Magic rating. Such quests can also repair damaged ratings. A clan whose Wealth has been lost through cattle raids or disease could have its heroes quest to boost the rating, bringing greater fertility to the herds the next spring.
Pick a Boon
- New Rune
- New Feat
- New Magic Specialization
- New Ability (ally, weapon, power, skill, etc)
- Community Rating Boost (War, Morale, Magic, Communication, Wealth)
Now the players need to decide what Myth they will enter to gain that Boon. Either an established Myth can be borrowed and adapted, or an entirely new Myth can be written. If a pre-existing Myth is used, the players should be encouraged to change it (with reason) to suit their needs. If a new Myth is written, don’t worry about great prose or thrilling drama...what matters is consistency. The Myth should portray the gods involved in a manner consistent with their deeds in other Myths.
When picking a Myth, keep in mind the cultures of the characters and the gods they worship. Entering the Myths of your own gods is easier than those of other cultures and pantheons. An Orlanthi could enter the Myths of Orlanth or other members of the Storm Tribe with comparative ease; entering the Myths of the Darkness Tribe or the Fire Tribe would be considerably harder. The GM will take this into consideration when assigning difficulties to challenges in the heroquest (see below).
Example: A Vingan character wants to boost her clan’s War rating. While reading Vingan myths in The Book of Heortling Mythology, the player notices and is struck by the line “Vinga again cast her wind-fed javelin” (p. 72). She decides her character will enter the Myth seeking to bring back “the Wind-Fed javelins” for her clan.
Example 2: An Orlanthi character wants to achieve the same thing as in the previous example. He has the break-out ability “Lightning Spear” on his character sheet, and thinks “wouldn’t it be cool if the fyrds of my clan could fight with crackling, electrified spears!” He decides to create a Myth, “How Orlanth Won His Lightning Spear” and enter it. He doesn’t know any Myth like that, but surely a lightning spear is something Orlanth would have so it is consistent.
Now that you have a Myth, or have decided to make one, it’s time to map it out.
Step Two: The Hero’s Journey
Traditionally I’ve used Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” as the basic template of a heroquest Myth, but considerably streamlined and cut down. I encourage players to have the following stages;
- The Call to Adventure
- The Road of Testing
- The Abyss
- The Return
The Call to Adventure is simply how the god or goddess gets involved in the Myth. This is where the heroquest begins.
Example: Reading the “Wind-Fed Javelin Myth,” the player decides the Call to Adventure is when Vinga is all along at the stead, Orlanth, Elmal, and all the Thunder Brothers absent, and Mahome is frozen by the encroaching power of Valind. She must take up arms and defend the stead.
Example 2: The Orlanthi character’s player likes the idea of a young Orlanth hearing about the King of the Umbroli and his amazing weapon, the Lightning Spear. Orlanth decides he will see out the king’s hall and steal it.
The Road of Testing is the main body of the Myth leading up to the Climax. It consists of making allies, fighting lesser foes, passing tests and surmounting obstacles. 13G likes to call these events “Stations,” and I have adopted the term (like the “stations of the cross” it is perfect, and it gives me the added joy of hearing David Bowie in my head every time I think of it).
I recommend to the players three or four Stations here. There are three types of Station to chose from;
- Facing a Foe
- Making an Ally
- Beating a Challenge
These can be selected any number of times and in any combination. Your Myth could have you facing three foes, making four allies, or beating two foes and two challenges. It’s up to you. Note however that while you dream up these Stations, the gamemaster will be the one to assign difficulties to them.
Example: The player pours over the Vinga myth. She decides on three Stations from her reading; 1) Vinga shields Mahome with her cloak against Valind’s icy winds (Beating a Challenge), 2) she runs across the tree tops when Valind covers the earth in deep snow (Beating a Challenge), and 3) she drives Valind off by hurling her wind fed javelin at him (Facing a Foe).
Example 2: The Orlanthi’s player decides that 1) Orlanth first goes and asks Yinkin for help (Making an Ally), 2) then must scale a steep mountain to reach the King’s Hall (Beating a Challenge), 3) has to sneak his way past the three-headed giant guarding the door (Beating a Challenge), and 4) steal the Lightning Spear from the Locked Strong Box (Beating a Challenge).
Each Station should be a Simple Contest. Keep track of the cumulative Benefits of Victory and Consequences of Defeat at each Station to apply to the next stage, The Abyss.
The Abyss is the Climax, the final confrontation. It involves the protagonist coming face to face with the ultimate challenge or antagonist. Often this antagonist is the antithesis of the protagonist, a dark reflection of an opposite. It is always an Extended Contest, and the accrued Benefits and Penalties from all previous Stations are applied here. The Abyss results in a transformation to the protagonist, a change of state.
Example: The Myth of Vinga and Valind ends with Valind running off and Vinga chasing him to the end of the stead’s border and hurling a javelin at him from a mile away. The player decides to make this more epic. Vinga pushes him to the edge of the tula, and as he rains snow and ice on her she keeps hurling her javelins at him as he flees farther and farther away, until final hitting and defeating him from a mile off. This is an Extended Contest, Valind is her mythic antithesis (he is the Invader, she is the Defender), and she emerges from the encounter transformed (the Thunder Brothers return and acknowledge Vinga at last as a warrior after she single-handedly saved the stead).
Example 2: The King of the Umbroli air spirits is Ohorlanth. The player decides he is a brutal, barbaric shadow of Orlanth, an Orlanth lacking all the god’s nobler aspects. For the Abyss of this Myth then, the King catches Orlanth red handed and tries to wrest the Spear back from him. This leads to a titanic battle between the King of the Umbroli and the future King of the Gods. If Orlanth is victorious, he is transformed, now HE is the Thunderer, not Ohorlanth.
The Return is a scene that “closes he circuit.” The protagonist returns transformed to the awe and wonder of his kin or peers. It is an important part of the Myth. This does not need to be a struggle, and if it is leave it a Simple Contest. It is more symbolic. In the examples above, the Thunder Brothers come home to the stead and are in awe that Vinga saved Mahome and fought Valind alone. Orlanth comes back and awes his brothers with his new weapon. This scene is the end of the tale.
Step Three: Preparation
Now the player has a clear objective (Boon) and a Path to follow (the Myth). There are still some requirements to be met. The player character needs;
- The Right People
- The Right Place
- The Right Time
- The Right Tools
A heroquest is a ritual. It requires qualified people to perform it, an auspicious location from which a doorway into the Otherside can be opened, an auspicious time when the proper Runic energies are aligned, and the right ritual instruments. The player needs to think about all of these elements, and the characters must assemble them before the quest can begin.
The Right People can mean several things. Few heroquests are done alone. For starters, people will be needed to assume the roles of the mythic protagonist and his companions. Ideally these people are Rune Masters of the same cult as the god they are portraying. An Orlanthi playing Orlanth, a Eurmali playing Eurmal, etc. Conditions are seldom ideal, however, but you want to get as close to perfect as you can.
For example, a Storm Tribe cultist (Orlanth, Urox, Barntar, Vinga, etc) can step into the role of any member of the Storm Tribe with minimal damage to the Myth. Likewise a Lightbringer cultist could play the role of any of the seven Lightbringers. An Orlanthi playing Ernalda, or Yelmalio, or Zorak Zoran...that would create a deep Mythic dissonance (all actions performed would be a “stretch” in HQG terms).
Second, unless you have traveled to a part of Glorantha that has an opening into the Otherside, you need someone to open the way for you. This means Rune Priests. Even if you are a Rune Master you cannot open the way for yourself, as you are the one passing over. Lengthy invocations must be performed, sacrifices offered, rituals observed, and the way must be kept open for the questers to come back. So unless you are jumping into the Hell Crack, Magasta’s Pool, or someplace like the Gates of Dawn and Dusk, you need a community to assist you. Usually this is your cult or clan (tribe, etc).
Finally, you need companions. True, the Vinga myth has her fighting alone...but surely she has shield maidens and people to carry her extra javelins for her. When designing a Myth, unless you plan on a one-on-one session with your GM, look for roles for your who group to play.
The Right Place. To open the way into the Otherside, you need to be at a place sacred to the protagonist of that Myth. This is illustrated by the Windstop. When the Lunar Empire conquers Whitewall and the last Orlanthi holy place is defiled, all connections to Orlanth are cut off. Sacred places are where the power of the gods bleeds into the world.
It is possible to migrate from one area of the Otherside to another, but this is best left for a later discussion on Creative Heroquesting.
The Right Time, ideally, is the High Holy Day of the protagonist of the Myth, or even better, his or her day in Sacred Time. In a pinch a Holy Day will do. Failing that, a day aligned with the god. In the case of Orlanth, for example, Windsday/Movement Week/Storm Season is best. Failing that, Windsday/Movement Week of any season. Failing that, any Windsday. The GM would be well in his or her rights to increase difficulties of actions within the Myth the less auspicious the time is. Other conditions might be auspicious, such as an Orlanth heroquest begun during a storm, a Yelmalio one performed at noon, or a Kyger Litor one at midnight.
The Right Tools. At the bare minimum the questers should be costumed as the gods they are portraying. They should be armed with the deity’s weapons and symbols. These do not need to be real weapons...just props. They will become real on the Otherside.
More often than not the sacred space needs to be “dressed” with symbols that reflect the Myth. Sacrifices must be offered that are pleasing to the god. Such things can be costly and hard to find.
Once you have completed Steps 1-3, you have a finished Heroquest ready to show your GM. He or she might suggest changes. Once approved, it is ready to run.
Step Four: Performance
Now it is time to address you, the Gamemaster. But stick around players, so you can get the full picture.
The player has brought you a heroquest and you have agreed to run it. For starters, unless they have traveled to a physical opening to the Otherside, they need to meet the ritual requirements to open the way. If everything is ideal, like being at a Sun Dome Temple on his High Holy Day to enter a Yelmalio Myth, give opening the way a Low Difficulty. If things are mostly right, make it Moderate. If things are about half right and half wrong, give it a High Difficulty. Mostly wrong, Very High. Anything worse than that is Nearly Impossible.
In any case the roll to open the way is made by the lead character (the central protagonist in the Heroquest), but uses the community’s Magic rating. They are the ones opening the way, after all.
Devious GMs might also want to test the community’s Wealth attribute unless the player characters have financed the ritual themselves. Sacrifices are costly.
If successful the way is opened and the heroquesters begin to pass over. The chanting, the incense, the possible ingestion of hallucinogenics (an Indologist at heart, I like a soma component in all my heroquest crossing overs), starts to send the characters into a trance state. The world fades and the Otherside grows brighter around them. They are no longer costumed and painted performers but genuine images of the gods. The props they carried are real. Of course they still have all the abilities and personalities of the player characters.
Now you need to set the difficulties for the Road of Testing. If the protagonists are all “well cast” in their roles, start with a Moderate Difficulty. If you feel they are badly cast, make it High. Don’t be any more punitive than that unless they are flagrantly miscast, because already they are suffering a stretch for playing the wrong roles. From their I like to let the Pass/Fail cycle guide things. YGWV (your GAME will vary).
As they play through each Station, keep track of the Benefits and Penalties they accumulate. These are cumulative and cancel each other out. The better they do on the Road, the better their chances at the Abyss.
After the Abyss, the prize is won or lost. After this Extended Contest be sure to use the Climactic Scene Victory Level table. Heroquests are high stakes and not for the faint of heart.
Now. The most important thing. This is the PLAYERS’ script, GMs, NOT yours! No heroquest goes as expected. Remember, a Myth is really just a human record or perception of truth. Myths can be wrong.
Don’t be punitive with this, but play with it. Maybe a Station or two pop up out of order (God Time is not linear). Maybe an unexpected ally appears (Eurmal is always a good candidate). Maybe the group stumbles a cross an entire Station that the Myth forgot. Maybe they run into other heroquesters (maybe even enemy heroquesters trying to stop them). Once, I dropped an insane God Learner who had been lost in a Myth since the Second Age into the middle and all hell broke loose. The goal here is to give players a few twists and turns, a curve ball or two. Don’t actively try to ruin the quest.
Even if things do follow the script, feel free to insert new elements. Do you have a story you are running next session that you want to foreshadow? Have the lead NPC from it appear briefly in the heroquest. Does the character have a dead lover? Sibling? Parent? Have one of the beings in the Myth wear their face or form. A classic option is to have the chief antagonist appear as an antagonist from the Mundane world. The Hero Plane is a reflection of the Gods Age muddled by human perception. Time does not function here. Dreams become flesh.
Once you are running their script, it’s yours too. Keep them on their toes.
When all is said and done, the characters find there way back. Unless you feel things were too easy for them, just allow this to happen. They return with their prize or their failure and deal with the consequences. Otherwise, introduce a complication…another foe appears, there is an obstacle, etc.
I also allow another possibility: the Great Change. That is to say, the Heroquest (and this can only be undertaken by a very powerful Rune Master / Rune Priest or repeatedly with success by regular Rune Masters with common intent) aims to alter the Gods' story.
If successful, it does not merely convey the immediate benefits of the change (say, the tribe/religion gains something of immense power), it - at least locally - *changes the actual history*.
That is to say, it is not merely that the story is changed henceforth, it is that *it has always been this way*.
The Gods shape Glorantha; Glorantha shapes the Gods.
Obviously, the kinds of magicks that could prevent the Crimson Bat from ever having existed, or could infect Orlanth with primal Chaos, would be far beyond mortals - unless they could unite the whole of Glorantha in one all-consuming ritual. But it is (in my game) possible to change well-known minor aspects of a story.
Love it! Jeff Richard is supposedly doing something similar for the heroquest rules in RQG, according to the rumours I heard at the Kraken 2018...ReplyDelete