"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Monday, September 23, 2019


To join in Chaosium's celebration of the life and work of Greg Stafford (1948-2018), #WeAreAllUs and running from October 10 to the 31st, the gang and I will be revisiting his classic The Cradle adventure, adapted to our ongoing HeroQuest Glorantha campaign.  Though you will have to wait until October for the actual episodes (both will be posted after well play here on the blog), to whet your appetites and as a mini-tribute to this scenario I am posting this preview of the Introduction.  


THE CRADLE, Parts One and Two, revisits Greg Stafford’s classic RuneQuest adventure of the same name.

I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that the original Cradle was the definitive RuneQuest adventure.  Appearing in 1982’s Pavis set, there was simply no other adventure out there for any game system even remotely like it.  The entire premise was pure Glorantha; in ancient days giants put their babies in massive ship-sized cradles—laden with magical secrets and artifacts—so that these infants could sail downriver to the sea and down Magasta’s Pool into the Underworld.  Now, for the first time in centuries, it is happening again.  The Lunar Empire (ever so ready to make the same mistakes as the God Learners) wants the cradle.  The player characters will try to stop them from taking it.  I call all this “definitive” because it was so redolent with mythic echoes; even at 12 I was put in mind of Moses given to the Nile, of Karna, son of the sun god Surya, who was put into a basket on the Indus for the same reasons, or of Kal-El of Krypton.  There was also a whiff of Noah about it, King Ziusudra, and Utnapishtim.  It was just so insane to me, so far removed from the “you are hired in a tavern to go explore these ruins over here for treasure” scenario so common in the day.  The only rival to The Cradle in my mind was Marc Willner’s Temple at Feroda, in which you were literally hired by a fish (as a side note, the way Marc wrote that scenario stuck with me for four decades…I still use dramatis personae and acts like he did).           

But you are probably waiting to hear about this version.  We are all used to reboots, remakes, retcons, and the like these days.  Mine is a “re-imagining” in this vein.  The original tale—like almost all the old Pavis and Big Rubble stories—assumed a party of mercenary sellswords hired out of Gimpy’s Tavern fighting for coin (it was collected here in Moon Design’s Pavis & Big Rubble reprint), Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser style.  The adventure was known for its lethality.  Like a pack of cigarettes it came with a warning that it could kill up to 80% of the player characters!  

All this was in keeping with the spirit of classic RuneQuest, which offered the ultimate, grittiest sandbox play of its time.  Classic RuneQuest is not RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha however, and has even less in common with HeroQuest Glorantha, the system this present version has been adapted to.  Today’s RQG is more specifically “Gloranthan” than its illustrious forebear, and GMs seeking to adapt the original Cradle to the new game will probably want to play up its mythic and magical elements, its place in the coming Hero Wars, and motivations for the characters based on Honor, Loyalty, Devotion, or even Hate.  Hopefully this HQG adaptation will lend some inspiration in that direction.

HQG is of course a very story-driven game.  While RQ stories strive for realism, in the spirit of ancient sagas like the Iliad or the Ramayana, HQG tales aim at meaning.  Thus, while the original story presents the simples facts of a giant’s cradle floating downriver, of the Lunars trying to capture it, and of the PCs defending it, this Cradle wants to understand why the cradle is coming down the river, what the significance of this is, the motivations of the characters involved, and of course most importantly how participating in this moment changes the lives of the player characters.  Just as Starbrow marked a major turning point in the lives of the protagonists back in Book One, The Cradle presents a major turning point for Book Two.  

What this means for you, dear reader, is that to adapt this version of The Cradle to your own games, you will need to strip out the moments specifically written for my player characters and replace them with yours.  To try and make this easier, these passages will be presented in italics like this.  

Thursday, September 19, 2019


VILLAIN OR HEROINE, satan or savior, the Red Goddess is one of the most compelling figures in the rich tapestry of Gloranthan mythology.  Born inside the mortal world of Time in 1220 ST, she was the result of a ritual undertaken by seven conspirators in direct violation of the Compromise that separates the realms of the divine from the mundane.  Beginning life as a mortal girl, she would later ascend into the heavens wrapped in a massive ball of stolen earth, a living goddess contained in the newly formed Red Moon.  In her wake she left a spreading empire, a demigod son, and a new form of magic whose nature has led some to embrace her teachings and others to despise them.  At the heart of her controversy lies the ancient terror of Chaos.

Yet what does this all mean?  What is the Red Goddess trying to do?  In HeroQuest Glorantha, Jeff Richard writes;

Lunar magic was created by the Red Goddess and so can only be summoned by those with the Moon Rune. Her devoted followers say it is the fourth form of magic, a healed syncretic expression of the old ways of magic. Her vociferous enemies claim that Lunar magic is Chaos disguised with a glamour.  (HQG p. 179)
I would like to suggest that both opinions are true, and to make sense of this, we need to get into the metaphysics of Gloranthan Chaos.
Chaos erupted into the world—Theyalan mythology tells us—during the Gods War.  As Glorantha’s deities fell to fighting and killing each other, the Order that held the cosmos together was threatened.  The Unholy Trio, a conspiracy of gods that some might suggest foreshadow the Seven Mothers who opened the way for the Red Goddess to enter the world, worked together to bring Chaos into creation.  It came in the form of Wakboth, known as both the Devil and the Doom of the World.  Wakboth was the living embodiment of the Chaos Rune, which is associated with “entropy, evil, corruption” (HQG p. 18).  He nearly undid the whole of the cosmos until a last ditch effort by the surviving gods bound him—and them—in the Web of Time.
Since then, Chaos in Glorantha has been a source of unspeakable horror.  Woven into the fabric of Time alongside all the other Runes it brings mutation, madness, rot, and taint wherever it manifests.  The cults that embrace Chaos are amongst the world’s blackest, and most sane people shun it.  The Red Goddess, however, chooses to embrace Chaos alongside all of the other Runes, and in doing so claims she is “healing” the world.  How could this be?
The answer lies in what came before Glorantha.  We are told that everything started with the Elemental Runes, each of which emerged from each other.  Darkness emerged first, Water from it, then Earth from Water, Sky from Earth, and Air from Sky.  The other Runes all appeared in the midst of this process.
Yet assuming that there was no Element before it, what did Darkness emerge from?  The answer is intriguing;
The most ancient Rune, the First Born, the Waker from the Void, from whom all other Elements were born or descended. Darkness was the first Element to arise out of the Primal Chaos.  (HQG p. 14)
The implication here is that all of the other Runes emerged from Chaos, which naturally makes little sense.  Chaos is the primary force of annihilation and corruption.  It doesn’t make, it destroys.  The “Devil is in the details,” if you pardon the pun, and the phrasing here is significant.  Darkness is the Waker from the “Void,” and emerged from “Primal Chaos.”  This equates the Void with Primal Chaos, and suggests that “Primal” Chaos and Chaos are not the same thing.
Among our own world’s most ancient scriptures, the Rig Veda tells us;
In the earliest age of the gods existence was born from non-existence…in that age their was neither existence nor non-existence, no realm of air, no sky beyond it… (Rig Veda, Mandala 10)
The Torah mirrors a similar idea in telling us that in the beginning the world was תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, tohu wa bohu, “without form and void.”  This Void, neither existence nor non-existence, is identical with Glorantha’s Primal Chaos.
To wrap your brain around this concept, and how a universe could possibly emerge from nothingness, lets do some simple math.
Zero is “without form and empty,” yet it is also the only number you can reasonably call “infinite.”  Think of Zero as the sum of all paired opposites; -n + n always equals it.  Any number, added to its opposite negative number, is Zero.  Genesis goes on the talk about God creating the world by separating things; light from darkness, night from day, the waters above from the waters below, etc.  If we were somehow to add these things back together—light plus darkness, day plus night—we would arrive back at Zero again.
Primal Chaos, the Void, contained all the Runes and all the world in a potential state.  It was Darkness and Water, Harmony and Disorder, Life and Death.  It was a nothingness that hadn’t been separated yet.  The Rune we know as “Chaos” cannot possibly be the same as this Primal Chaos, because Chaos must exist in opposition to Order.  Entropy and Corruption cannot exist without something the break down and corrupt.
Illumination is central to the Red Goddess’s teachings.  Long condemned by its detractors as “Chaotic,” Illumination is actually association with the Infinity Rune (HQG pp. 203-204).  As pointed out above, Infinity is by definition synonymous with Zero, Primal Chaos, the Void.  “Nothing is eternal.”  “Nothing lasts forever.”  Illumination liberates the individual from all dualities and all opposites.  An Illuminate could master the powers of both the Life and Death Runes, Truth and Illusion, etc.  Again, this is because they are attaining the “zero” state in which all opposites come together. In this way we can see Gloranthan Illumination as something similar to the extinction of self in Buddhist and some Hindu traditions, in which there is no longer any division between subject and object. 
This is the object of the Lunar religion, and its Sevening Rites lead the initiate to Illumination.  Yet you cannot reach Illumination—a state of Primal Chaos that enfolds all dualities—without embracing Chaos, the entropic and corruptive force.  From the Lunar point of view, there is a distinction from mastering Chaos in this way and in being corrupted by it.  This is made clear in the Lunar religion’s deepest secret, the Quest of the Red Goddess. When the Goddess first enters God Time she encounters Wakboth the Devil and he defeats her.  Later, she encounters Nysalor (the deity who taught Illumination in the Second Age) and is Illuminated by him.  When she next encounters Wakboth, she conquers him.  The Lunar Way is drawing a distinction between being the victim of Chaos and its master.
The ultimate goal of the Lunar Way then has to be the attainment of a state of consciousness of Primal Chaos.  Embracing Chaos, like any and every other Rune, is a necessary part of this.

COMING SOON: In honor of Chaosium’s #WeAreAllUs celebration of the life and work of Greg Stafford (running from October 10 to October 31st), my group and I will be running back-to-back game sessions revisiting the classic “The Cradle” scenario, rewritten for the campaign.  The new version will appear in two blog posts here.  And stay tuned for my upcoming Jonstown Compendium contribution, Rites of Passage, which will look at adulthood initiation rites across several Gloranthan cultures.  This will include guidelines for designing your own as well as several ready-to-play examples (Orlanthi, Esrolian, Dara Happan, Uz) for both HeroQuest Glorantha and RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha.   

Thursday, September 5, 2019


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;

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. The Road of Testing
  3. The Abyss
  4. 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.  

Sunday, September 1, 2019


Heroquesting is a key characteristic of stories set in Glorantha.  Glorantha heroes can journey to the mythic realms and bring back some of the magic of the Gods Age.  Heroquesting is a magical act wherein the quester can transform herself, her community, or even her gods.  It is the source of the most powerful Gloranthan magic...

Jeff Richard, HeroQuest Glorantha


MANY OF US already know the story.  The people of Jrustela followed the teachings of the prophet Malkion, who taught that there was only a single, transcendent God, and that this being set in motion a universe that conforms to immutable and impersonal laws.  Understanding those laws, and applying them, was the basis of their sorcery.  During the imperial Second Age, the Jrusteli ruled the Middle Sea Empire, dominating the costal regions of both the northern and southern continents.  This brought them into contact with a wide variety of cultures, most of which had either animistic or theistic worldviews which the Jrusteli considered both primitive and ignorant.  

One of the many paradoxes of the Jrusteli then is the sobriquet they became known by; the "God Learners."  

It is impossible in Glorantha to simply dismiss the presence of gods and spirits.  The Jrusteli knew they existed, but saw them more along the lines of plant and animal life.  Such beings were merely products of the immutable laws of the universe, which were properly embodied not in the gods but in the Runes.  The storm god Orlanth, for example, was passionate, proud, violent, and impulsive for the same reason a human being attuned to the Runes of Air and Motion would be.  All things in Glorantha were bound to the Runes, they dictated the shape of existence, not the deeds of petty gods.

The Jrusteli then came to see gods and their myths as another form of flora and fauna, specimens to be studied, quantified, catalogued, and ultimately used.  Here they earned the name God Learner, for every culture they encountered they would delve into the local myths.  Their ultimate goal--like 19th century scholars of comparative religion in our own world--was to form a unified theory of myth, a "monomyth," if you will.  Glorantha being Glorantha, however, the God Learners did not confine themselves to mere philosophy.  They tested their theories out in the field.

The most infamous example of God Learner experimentation was the "Goddess Switch."  By God Learner thinking, if this goddess had the Runes of Earth, Fertility, and Harmony, and that goddess had the same Runes, then local mythology aside they must in fact be the same goddess.  They were interchangeable.  The analogue would be saying that Osiris and Christ were really the same figure, because they were both resurrected gods, or that Loki and the Native American Coyote were the same.  Yet the God Learners tested their theory and "switched" the goddesses, making the worshippers of Dendara worship Ernalda instead and vice versa.  The results were catastrophic.  In one region, all marriages started to fail.  In the other, trees stopped bearing fruit.  Widespread famine occurred.

To finish this cautionary tale, the whole of Nature eventually rose up against the God Learners.  Jrustela was shattered and sunk beneath the waves.  The oceans of the world were closed so that no ship could sail upon them.  The God Learners had played with fire and ultimately gotten burned.

We need to ask ourselves "why?"


To answer that question, we need to sink into a bit of our own God Learnerism here.  We need to postulate our own sort of unified field theory.  Unlike the Jrusteli, we do so fully aware of the "Your Glorantha Will Vary" principle, and emphasis this is just a possible answer.  A model, if you will.

I started thinking about this as a graduate student two decades ago.  It was a sort of thought experiment to integrate what I was learning with something I loved (Glorantha).  At the time I was studying under two mentors who were perfect for Gloranthan thought experiments; Alf Hiltebeitel had studied under Mircea Eliade--whose ideals had tremendous influence over Greg Stafford--and Seyyed Hossein Nasr was (and is) one of the foremost Perennialists in the world, meaning that the Gloranthan world view was not a thought experiment to him but an actual reality.  From Alf I got a very clear idea of Eliade's work, and from Nasr a first-hand look at someone who accepted the notion of a divine or sacred plane that informed the reality of our own.  

The model that best explained to me then the "sin" of the God Learners, and how Gloranthan reality might work, was ironically a very God Learner one.  It came from Hebrew Kabbalah, which would have pleased the followers of Malkion immensely, I think.

Essentially, Kabbalah postulates four worlds or "planes" of existence.  Each of these correspond to one letter of the Divine Name YHVH (Yahweh).  

The highest world is Atziluth, which we might call pure potentiality or being.  This is the "stuff" of existence.  Shapeless, formless, without conditions or definitions of any kind, in Gloranthan terms we might call this Chaos (though the Dragonewts and Kraloreli might prefer "Silence" or "the Void").  

The next world down is Briah, the world of Archetypes.  These are the building blocks that start to shape and define the pure essence of Atziluth.  Kabbalah put the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet here, because in the Torah God "speaks" the world into existence.  If Atziluth is pure Mind, Briah is Language, the ability to form thoughts as words.  In Glorantha, the Runes clearly fall here.  We have several stories of how the Runes emerged from Chaos, and how in doing so began to shape the world.

Yetzirah comes next, and this is the plane of Formation.  Atziluth is pure mind, Briah provides the mechanics of thought, but Yetzirah is where the actual thinking occurs.  This is where the Runes interact, combine, and make shapes. In Glorantha this is the Gods Age.  The interaction of the Runes establishes the patterns of the mundane world.

Which brings us to Assiah, the physical world.  The world we see around us.  It is the product of the three realms above it.

Let's illustrate this with an example...the article you are reading right now.

I possess a mind, and had the potential to write anything I wanted...a love letter, a poem, a cookbook, an article on Gloranthan metaphysics.  That is all Atziluth.

I possessed a symbol set to shape my thoughts.  In this case, the English language.  That is Briah.

I sat down and organized by thoughts, used letters and words and grammar to shape them, and spent a morning sitting here typing them.  This is Yetzirah.

You are reading this finished article.  It now exists, brought into existence by the steps above.  That is Assiah.

The simplest analogy is to regard Atziluth as the blank page, Briah as the letters on that page, Yetzirah as the writer writing on that page, and Assiah as the final written product.

In Glorantha, Chaos is clearly the origin and author of all being.  The Runes emerged from it.  What makes Chaos dangerous on the Mundane level is that it is undefined.  It exists with rules or definitions.  Thus, when Chaos bleeds into the world bypassing the two middle planes it destroys shape and order.  It recreates the undefined potentiality of its pure state.  

The Runes emerged from Chaos and form the language by which the world can be expressed and defined.  The Gods Age, "myth," is the process of defining the world.  The Inner World of Time is the finally result, what was created through that process.


Let's imagine the mundane Inner World of Glorantha as a Wikipedia article.

The article "as is" is what everyone experiences and sees.  Heroquesting is, in a sense, going in and editing that article.  Even if you go in an change the wording of s single sentence, but keep the same meaning ("He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20" to something like "Born in Pella, 356 BC, at just the age of 20 he succeeded his father Philip II to the throne"), the fact is you have now participated in the article, changed it, and been changed by it.  Reality has been altered.  The world just shifted a fraction.  Heroquesters do this by going in and following the footsteps of the gods.  They are not changing the meaning, just the "wording" by their presence there.

The more radical heroquests are when you go in an deviate entirely.  Say you change Alexander's birthplace or age when he succeeded his father to the throne.  This is a radical departure and you have just made a major change to reality (this is the whole current plight of out society and "fake news").  The difference between our world and Glorantha is that by entering the Gods Age and re-editing, you can potentially alter Alexander's birthplace.  You've changed the world.

To shift arenas for a moment, let's consider Hamlet.  If you are an actor, taking on the role of Hamlet means following the script.  You embody Hamlet and your own performance alters the role.  You yourself are changed by the experience (some of Hamlet is now part of you), and the world has been changed (your performance added to the interpretations of the character out there).  This is the standard heroquest.  The God Learners, on the other hand, went in and switched Hamlet with Romeo thinking it would remain the same play.  

This is the mistake of the God Learners.  They understood, correctly, that the Runes are the foundation of reality.  C and A and T makes "cat" in the same way Earth and Fertility and Harmony makes "Ernalda."  But they failed to understand that usage and context matter as well.  "Minute" might be spelled identically to "minute" but one means sixty seconds of time and another means a small quantity of something.  Ernalda and Dendara might indeed have been composed of the same Runes, but their myths (usage, context) rendered them quite different.  They are not interchangeable.  

Malkioni sorcery, by skipping the entire "Yetzirah" level of the gods and going straight to the Runes, can indeed produce similar magics to Ernalda by manipulating the Earth, Fertility, and Harmony Runes, but the fact remains that Ernalda's deeds during the Gods Age "wrote" the world and defined what it is.  You cannot go back and change her deeds without changing what is "on the page."