I did say this would be my next entry in an earlier one but the MVP one jumped the queue...I couldn't hold it in any longer. 🙂
I've called this one Limitations of a Ruleset but the subheading would be Challenges and Opportunities.
I've split it into two parts because it's too long, probably still too long but if you perservere and read to the end, thank you for indulging me.
Before ranting a bit about Heroquesting in one of my previous blog entries I suggested that you probably didn’t buy RQG to do story telling. You wanted the ruleset one presumes to have the framework for gaming with variable outcomes and for some consistent fixed outcomes relevant to the setting (a setting which you are probably not an expert in, in either a real-world analogy or Glorantha itself). You want someone to have created all the mis-en-scene and how they operate to save you the bother of researching and compiling the things and places a character can interact with.
To be fair, on reflection, that second aspect of the rules would be equally useful to story-telling so clearly you know better than me! 😊
No rule set can describe every specific situation that can occur in your game world though. None. No rule set will accurately represent all the possibilities in equivalent things in the real world. Rules are an approximation. A simplified coding of things that are often not simple. Sometimes the rules as written (RAW) don’t reflect very well how things work based on our own experience. Now as I blogged previously this might be by design – Glorantha is not Earth so things will not always be the same – or it might be oversight – games designers can’t possibly have researched in depth all the things that rules need to cover. For one reason or another the rules will not satisfy you on occasion. You will need or want to create a rule, extend or embellish an existing rule or adapt a rule to a novel context.
That said, I think the basic roleplaying rules and RQG do a really good job of having rules that can be applied to unique and unwritten situations. I think that is why for me they have endured as a go-to ruleset. I’ve played Call of Cthulhu and Runequest extensively over the years, more so than all the other games I dabbled with over the years put together. Partly it must be said is because of the rich setting in both cases but the rules system played a considerable part too. But I digress…
Rules (IMO) are also guidelines, not laws. If you don’t follow the RAW no one outside of your gaming group cares. The Chaosium police will not be smashing in your front door and impounding your table top, banning you from rolling dice for 12 months. What you do in the privacy of your own home – with respect to RQG – is fundamentally up to you.
When the RAW don’t give you the answer in black and white what is a GM supposed to do? Let me take you through the process I go through.
Consider the following example and how I went about solving it.
If you read my soulless hack at a Heroquesting rules mechanic in a previous blog, as a newbie you could be forgiven for wondering how on earth did I even come up with that? To be fair, although I did literally write that in 10 minutes on a whim, the research I had done prior to that was not inconsequential. I already have a longer form version that I use in gameplay. Although that hack did include new things that were not in my longer form rules. Anyway, as a new GM you may not have had time to build up that bank of knowledge yet. You might have only bought the starter kit last week and haven’t even finished reading book 2 yet.
So, the first question I ask myself before I get carried away writing or extending rules is “How important to my game is the outcome of this rule?”
If it’s really important then it is worth some time and effort to make the mechanics fun and reasonable.
If it’s not important at all then I don’t bother with a rules mechanic at all. I just decide the outcome.
If it’s sort of important then I do just the right amount of work on formulating the rule. What is the right amount? Don’t you hate advice like that? Your mum advises you not to eat too much cake. Her idea and your idea of too much cake are probably poles apart!
The right amount of time depends on how much time you have and where creating RQG rules comes in your list of life priorities and where this rule comes in relation to the all the other rules you feel you need to work on. The right amount of time depends on how detailed you want the rule to be. I’ve a blog to come about Just Enough Enrichment, which covers the idea of how much you can enrich the rules with detail / colour / depth of detail. It covers when to settle for less and when to strive for more. Spoiler though - it doesn't give you the answer because the answer is within you.
Writing rules is not very high on my list of life priorities any more – I wrote a complete RPG for my GCSEs back in the day but now I’ve too many other things I want or am bound to do. That’s why I’m a rules hacker (or I throw money at it and buy rules). A roughly knapped flint axe is all I need for this hacking job. I don’t need a master-crafted magical Iron axe. Someone else is going to make that for me (I hope) and I will pay for the privilege. If you want the top drawer tool before the master crafter has made it then you've got to invest in some serious personal development.
So, anyway, I decided I really wanted to have my characters do Heroquests. With no official rules published - and conflicting and incomplete opinions on the forums - I decided to take the cheap (and nasty) option and work it out for myself.
My basic principle is keep it simple. If you need a degree in metaphysics to understand it then most of your player base won’t get it. Ok, most of my player base. I cannot speak for your player base at UCL or MIT...
My next question was “What do I already know? What supporting evidence is there elsewhere in the official material? In the unofficial material?”
Heroquesting is mentioned in various places in official RQG sources. I think the explanations so far have been really good. They have given me enough to produce a thing of use. Not a thing of beauty. Not a thing of amazing mythic resonance. But I can use it. I do not craft rich, elaborate mythical experiences – except by accident once when I surprised even myself. I don’t even always write or use actual myths. I’m not very good at it and writing myths isn’t important enough to me to spend lots of time researching, studying and practicing writing myths. Yes, there is plenty of Gloranthan mythology published and a rich seam of Earth mythology to lift from. That is a good place to start. The myths themselves don’t really give you a clue to the mechanics though.
This is a really good explanation from Jeff: https://basicroleplaying.org/topic/12515-jeffs-fb-notes-on-heroquesting/ - it stops short of giving the mechanics. It’s nice background but unplayable. There is a reasonable exploration in :
But at the end of that thread you do not have a set of rules.
My reading of what is published told me some key things:
1. You have to know a heroquest. You need a ruling on how characters know it.
2. You have to start the heroquest. On whatever plane the heroquest occurs you need a mechanism for starting it.
3. A heroquest has one or more challenges to overcome. You need a mechanism for resolving the challenge(s) (sometimes called stations).
4. There are rewards to be gained – so you need rules for defining what the rewards are and under what circumstances they are awarded.
5. There should be a cost – you need to decide what the cost should be and whether it is a consequence of failure or whether there is also a cost just for going on the heroquest.
Next, I decided whether I wanted to roll for each of those steps or just simulate the whole thing with a single roll. I opted for separate rolls as I think that gives a more satisfying level of enrichment and narrative. But by all means distill it into a single die roll. Or even not make a roll at all. You might say anyone with Worship Orlanth 50% or higher can simply succeed at this mundane Heroquest.
You might have Heroquesting as a skill in its own right. Augmented by a relevant Cult Lore or Rune perhaps. I mean as simple goes it doesn’t get much simpler than that!
I’ve decided to do multiple dice rolls for the heroquest.
I looked at each of the steps and thought about what existing rules might cover them. Characters knowing things is typically covered by Lore skills. Which Lores would have information about Heroquests? I figured Cult Lore because heroquests are related to the actions of the gods so the Cult Lore would cover information about those myths. Seems simple and neat to me.
Next you have to decide how easy that is. Will a lay person with 10% cult lore know the heroquest? This is a lot more subjective, and the answer is complex and multi-layered as far as I can tell. But I’m aiming for simple so I would go for something along the lines of a modifier to Cult Lore based on the obscurity of the myth and the level of the benefit. Everyday life affecting heroquests (ones for the harvest say) or the most common stories about the god will be more available to characters (i.e. they don’t need such a high skill) than obscure rarely talked about myths or ones that bring you the Queens of Magic Items. Hidden myths could be the source of adventures (and heroquests) in their own right.
I assume characters know the absolute basic heroquests for their deity and give a modifier to skill from say +50 for common ones to -75% for obscure ones. To be fair, I say that, but I haven’t actually played anything other than common ones yet!
There are at least two more layers of detail you could get into just on this topic alone I would say. But not today.
Starting the Heroquest or Crossing Over is next. A liminal ritual. We need a rule to cover doing a liminal ritual. You could create a new skill or spell perhaps that does the trick. Or you could see what already exists. Do we have anything that covers religious rituals? Worship Deity. Let’s make it a modified Worship Deity roll. Which deity? Whichever deity the heroquest relates to and if there are multiple deities then any of them. I’m oversimplifying here I hope you realise and probably making lots of wise eyes roll. Again, there are several deeper layers of thought we could apply to this. But I don’t need those layers to determine the outcome for our Sacred Time harvest and time is short. Move on.
Again, how easy should crossing over be? No idea but they are Heroquests so let’s assume that 16 year old novices probably ought to have a tough time crossing over on purpose. Why did I qualify that with “on purpose”? Because you can get drawn into other people’s heroquests and tyou cn accidentally enter heroquests. But my simple rule is going to ignore that for now. Let’s cover deliberate heroquests for now and not get drawn down a tangential rabbit hole.
To limit general access to the heroquest - they are for heroes only right? - there are several ways to skin that cat. Set a minimum skill level needed. Apply a modifier and make them roll. Again the modifier needs to reflect the benefit at stake. Easier for minor boons and harder for major boons. Set other pre-requisites: You need an Air Rune affinity of at least 90 to cross over into this heroquest. State they must know the Ignite spell (although with an ingenious heroquest you could let the hero acquire the Ignite spell during the heroquest). Combine things. Whatever you like – be imaginative.
The challenges (or stations). What are they and how do you do those? Well, if you are following a specific myth as opposed to doing an abstract one you apply challenges that fit the story of the myth. Orlanth’s first contest with Yelm– a dance contest. Ernalda gives birth to Snakes, a Fertility challenge perhaps. There’ll be a skill or spell or characteristic that you can test. If it seems more abstract (or you want it to be less worldly and more esoteric) then apply a Rune to the challenge and test that. I’m working on a heroquest based on the real-world folk song about Magpies. Each of the seven magpies represents a different rune and the heroquester has to oppose them.
If you’re doing an abstract heroquest you pick whatever challenges you like. After constructing the abstract version you could weave a story around it to give those arbitrary choices some meaning, engineer the myth from the abstract heroquest mechanics. You want the first challenge to be dodge skill. Perhaps Orlanth was approaching a mountain and boulders fell or were thrown at him. So then he does a Scan to see where they came from, climbs up and beats the shit out of whatever threw/pushed them. It’s not the greatest myth that ever was written. 😄 It probably doesn’t even adhere to the rules of myth, I don’t know. My Mythology Lore skill is in the amateur region (novice perhaps). How much you care about that determines how much you should care about doing a great job vs a good job vs a good enough job. If heroquesting for you is all about getting the Boon then focus on the mechanics. If experiencing the myth is the most important bit then you have to do your homework around that. There are no shortcuts to brilliant.
There ought to be a consequence or cost of heroquesting too. You’ve got to have a stake in the game. Admittedly, buggering up the harvest for the clan is likely to have social repercussions. What if social relationships don’t play a big part in your campaign? There ought to be a consequence that matters. A few dice rolls and you come away with the Sandals of Darkness is not very heroic. The heroes have to put their necks or something else on the line. What consequence on the character’s material world existence will result from failing the climb roll, being killed by the Troll or being consumed by fire during the heroquest? A simple way would be to treat it like an inspiration. A fail is a negative modifier to something – the challenge ability or the opposite of whatever boon they were questing for. You lose the fight ? Your melee skill suffers a negative modifier either temporarily or permanently depending on the duration of the boon being gained.
Maybe if the challenge was combat and they were killed or disabled then there is a lingering injury that afflicts the character for longer than normal or maybe even permanently.
Say you enter a heroquest that included the myth where a Ernalda gained her ability to bless pregnancies. If you failed in the heroquest you might make the character’s Bless pregnancy spell unresponsive for a period of time or until a certain criteria was met or permanently.
What you pick as the consequence doesn’t really matter (not to me). As long as the characters know the potential consequences. As long as you all agree it’s a fair risk or if it’s a horribly unfair risk the players know up front. As long as the players or characters have free will to proceed. Killing your characters who fail the Harvest heroquest would feel a bit harsh to me. But it’s your game! 😊
In terms of a cost - you could have the liminal ritual require Magic Points or Rune Points. Again the bigger the benefit the bigger the cost. Something that affects a whole clan? Demand a number of magic points that the character party could never generate on their own. They would need members of the clan to support them.
Now, I know this isn’t perfect. It’s probably not even “good”. It doesn’t cover all the nuances of heroquesting by any stretch of the imagination. It may not even align with all the published or canon material on heroquesting. But it didn’t take me very long to write. And that is how much time I have for writing heroquesting rules: not very long. The bottom line is that I’d rather do bad heroquesting than no heroquesting. See my blog Constipation and the MVP.
I hope this illustrates how you could write your own rule adaptations to suit your needs.
In Part 2 I will give another less thorny example and try to sum up so that I can move on to the blogs that will deliver against the mission of this blog.