Aburdly Long HeroRant

From: David Cake (davidc@cs.uwa.edu.au)
Date: Fri 17 Jan 1997 - 10:37:42 EET

Trying to remain calm amidst an onslaught of Metcalfe, I discuss
HeroQuesting etc at stultifying length. Sorry all about the absurd

        And furthermore, in general Lewis Jardine said most of what I was
going to say better and more concisely. So I shouldn't really have bothered.

        First, the other heroquest discussion, the one about boasting, true
herodom etc. - I agree with Peter et al that the Gloranthan idea of a hero
denotes achievement not well-intended failure. To put it one way, one ideal
of the hero is the person who would rather be a dead lion than a live
jackal (or other small canine predator, obviously). But the Gloranthan idea
of the hero is the person who manages to remain a live lion (or at least
returns from the dead and defeats whoever killed them).
        Which doesn't mean ideals aren't very important in many ways - I
think you only actually get called something that translates to hero by
people who like you, which is presumably people who share some of your
values. And the truly successful Gloranthan heroquester is one who quests
with the right values in mind - and the more selfless quests are generally
the most effective and important. And many other reasons why being a hero
requires more than just toughness (even Ethilrist personifies some ideals -
but no one expects the ideal military commander to be a self-effacing
humble nice guy, least of all his troops who probably love him the way he
is). But nevertheless, its the results that really count (but its not just
anyone who can get results).

And a couple of other heroquest questions
>While in Q-mode, I would like to ask what the difference/relation
>between HeroPlane and GodPlane is? That you HQ on HeroPlane I have
>understood, but how is it connected to GodPlane.

        Well, IMO its just the deepest parts of the heroplane, the (known)
parts furthest from the mortal world (there are deeper parts than the
Godplane, but they are almost unknown to us). This isn't really what it
says in the Glorantha book in G:COTHW, but I never really understood why
that version was so damn complicated.

and powergaming
>Powe gaming has nothing to do with Power level

        I'll agree with that one - my housemate plays in an AD&D campaign
that plays at an incredibly high power level, but I wouldn't describe it as
power gaming in the classic sense. Its more like high level wargaming, with
some roleplaying thrown in, that just happens to be at an incredibly high
power level because they have been playing the same campaign for 14 years.
And I've certainly heard of RuneQuest campaigns that play at a very high
power level (Ray Turneys, for example) but that I wouldn't describe as
'power gaming'.
        I do think Simons campaign falls into the power gaming category
quite often though - bigger better faster stronger seemed to be pretty much
the order of the day, from what I read.

        Anyway, on to my discussion with Peter

        I'm going to try and make a few general points, rather than simply
defend my line in the sand.

        First, a quote from the Pendragon (4th edition) rules
'In general, trait rolls simulate situations in which a character is forced
to act unconsciously.'

Emotion/Reason - A False Dichotomy

        I think an important point is that in general dichotomies are
false, the emotional/ rational one being a prime example. I don't think
that normal people on a heroquest act emotionally, and I don't even think
Brithini heroquesters approach it without emotion in a spirit of pure
rationality. We play in a realm in the middle - where the players are
largely free to choose, but are expected to explain that in terms of their
characters emotions, if its important. I don't think that a heroquester who
is aware of the wider significance of their actions, and sometimes chooses
to act as they think they should rather than as they feel they would like
to, is unusual, or even particularly bad.
        In fact, I don't think the emotion/rationality dichotomy really
applies anywhere. There are elements of both emotional response and
reasoning in most aspects of behaviour.
        And I'll admit my bias, too - I believe this quite strongly about
the real world, as well, and am willing to argue this in depth. But I would
prefer to avoid doing so in this forum, as my arguments will rapidly get to
the point where I draw on philosophy of emotion and psychological data and
I bore everyone witless.

The Player is the ultimate interpreter of Character Personality

        Do people act in a more emotional manner on the heroplane? Probably
its a reasonable generalisation. But its up to the player to decide what
those emotions are, not the GM. Some of the aspects of his character happen
to be written down on the character sheet, but thats not the full story,
and nor can we hope for it to be. The GM is within his rights to require
some explanation if he feels an action is unreasonable, and to require a
roll at certain points if that is how the game works (from my brief
experience of the John Hughes style, he uses no rolls, but calls for
explanation and justification very frequently), but the GM should also
require rolls that override a players choice of action only very seldom.
The reasoning behind all this is simple - player control over the character
is important to MGF. Taking control away very occasionally is cool, just as
capturing characters occasionally is cool, but in general players like to
feel in control of at least their characters.
        But if a pretty common heroquest situation was the GM telling you
the situation, looking at your character sheet, maybe thinking about past
actions, getting you to make a roll, and then telling you what you do - it
doesn't sound like much fun to me. Yet, Peter, you seem to be advocating
something like this - that in heroquests, the character should be forced to
act 'in character', as the GM perceives it, should they fail a roll.

And Lastly, opposing your instincts and the momentary reaction

        After my railing against the idea that players should be forced to
give up their control over their characters instincts to a dice roll, I
admit there are situations where it is a reasonable call for a dice roll,
as Pendragon, Peter, and I agree. And that is when you are acting in a way
contrary to normal human instinct for emotional or calculating reasons (I
hasten to add that I reintroduce the term instinct in a different use to
the sense Peter was railing against). Failure of such a roll results in
succumbing to the instinctive reaction, success lets you choose to do so
and take the (usually in some short term way detrimental, but long term
hopefully good) consequences. Good examples include trying to stay awake in
a situation that is boring when fatigued (such as being on watch), trying
to jug scull 4 liters of Storm Bull beer, and attempting to stand firm in
situations where you are terrified and most of your instincts are telling
you to run like hell. Still, even in these situations, there should always
be a way for players to avoid or alter the test if they try to do so (in
Pendragon, frequently they are inspired by passions, for example).
        Now, maybe this is the whole source of my disagreement with Peter?
Perhaps he is thinking about situations that fall into this category, and I
am thinking about those that do not, and we are imagining that both of us
do not acknowledge the other. Perhaps, but my impression was that Peter
felt that something about the heroplane somehow made us react that way in
all situations - when meeting the Lion of Androcles, you have powerful
unconscious merciful or cruel feelings that you must overcome before even
being given the choice of a calculated response.

[acting in self interest and ignoring emotional response]
>The Illuminate
>or the Logician has an _easier_ time of it
[the implication being that other people can do it too, just less ably]

        I'm glad we agree on this. I don't think we really disagree too
much about the how a heroquest is likely to end up from the character point
of view, just in how that is played out. If a character chooses to act
against their 'true nature' on a heroquest, for some reason, how should
that be handled?
        Now, Peter, my understanding of how you would play out the
situation of a character choosing to act against their true nature (as,
say, written down in Pendragon traits) is that you would either
a) say that they'd obviously tried to avoid the test, and missed their
chance - the lion limps off
b) give them a roll of some kind (trait rolls if using those rules), and if
they do/don't make it, tell them what they do

        Is either of these a serious misrepresentation of your viewpoint?

        While my responses are
a) if they are going against a well known/ important characteristic, to
change the test so that it is assumed they will act that way - which
doesn't mean they can't act differently, but does mean they have to try a
bit harder.
b) to make sure I have some understanding of how they justify their
actions, making sure its justified in terms of character not player
knowledge - and explaining that their character is just trying to follow
the script for personal gain is a valid justification, just one with
consequences later.

        I think the relevent section of the Pendragon rules is the section
of the Pendragon rules of page 197 - opportunities to avoid trait rolls.
The example given is Sir Ambrut recognising his seductive hostess as Morgan
Le Fay, and announcing he will do all he can to avoid lustful relations
with her. As a result of this he gets a bonus to his chaste, a bonus large
enough (equal to his Love(wife) in the example) to bring his chaste well
over twenty.
        Now, apply this to the Lion example - a character recognises the
Lion as a test from a known myth, and says that he will do everything he
can to aid it. The GM might still require him to make a cruel roll is the
character was notoriously cruel - but should grant him a large enough bonus
that most characters with mild cruel or mild tendencies succeed

>>I think good theists do this all the time on their quests - they try to
>>ignore their human weaknesses, and do what their religion says they should,
>>in part because they believe that that way lies their self-interest.
>This is silly. They don't ignore their human weaknesses. A cowardly
>storm bull has virtually zero chance of success on the Berserkergang
>Path. Yet according to you, once he gets on the Heroplane, he 'ignores'
>his cowardly ways by acting in self interest.

        Try being the important word. It was obviously unclear that I think
there are certainly points where a test is in order. But if the cowardly
Storm Bull really insists that he is going to walk through the door, and
try and face up to the Bull of Terror, despite knowing what it is and that
he will probably be stomped into the mush, he can do it. Its just more
difficult for him to make it past that point.

>Most Theistic HeroQuestors have spent the better part of their _life_
>attempting to make themselves closer to their gods emotionally.

        Absolutely. We agree that a good theist should attempt to be like
their god, that their religious heroquests will test those qualities, and
those that really have those emotional qualities are at a great advantage
compared to those who are merely attempting to act that way. For a start, a
person with all the appropriate personality traits going on a heroquest
doesn't need to know whats going on in order to succeed, but someone
lacking in the appropriate traits has to have some idea of the course of
action desired if they are to succeed. Thats a big advantage already.

>But surely a cowardly Storm Bull who acts in self interest by doing as
>his religion says he should is acting out of character?

        And surely an extremely pious character who disobeys his gods word
just because he is scared is acting out of character as well? These little
character dillemmas and their resolution are part and parcel of roleplaying.
        (ok, its not a really great example - but you get the idea)

I said
>The character with a valorous of
>3 just will not stand up to the Zorak Zorani charge no matter how hard they
>try, unless they have a very good justification. But situations where a
>simple choice of action is offered is not the right time

and Peter crushed me with his superiour rhetoric thus
> Standing up to a Zorak Zorani charge
>is a simple choice of action (Fight or Flight!). Furthermore, the
>character has at least a 15% chance of standing firm, if he chooses
>to stand and fight. Yet you think it is okay for the GM to disallow
>the dice roll when the player announces that the character will
>find some spine for once in his miserable life? Who is disallowing
>MGF and free will in a PC now?

        Perhaps what I really meant by 'simple' was in fact 'calm', meaning
that while I think its OK (as outlined above) to say that the cowards knees
turn to jelly as the troll horde rushes him, even if he says he'll stand
and fight, on the basis of a mere die roll, I don't think situations like
the Androcles and the Lion inspire the same visceral reaction. A situation
where the character has a few seconds to think about a choice is not one
where they are forced to react unconsciously.
        And while I agree that I was perhaps a little extreme in my
description (OK, maybe they do get a small chance to act out of character
for no good reason except their desire to do so and a lucky dice roll), I
don't think either MGF or PC free will is served by reducing it all to a
simple percentile die roll except when the characters response is in
serious doubt.

>David, I have never said that a PC should be told that he couldn't
>do something that he wanted to do. I have always said that he had
>to make a POWx5 roll (or what have you) to _succeed_ in doing what
>he wanted toso.

        I was referring to after the roll. Giving your players a roll, and
then saying because they failed the roll, they can't do something they want
to do, because you don't feel its in character, ameliorates their anger
only slightly.

I think by your emphasis on succeed, you are talking aobut situations like
standing up to a charge, or sculling liters of Storm Bull beer, where a
character might attempt but fail when it comes to the crunch, Sure, but I
don't think all heroplane situations fall into that category.

[on my contention that a better mechanic is for the heroplane to assume
that you will act in a 'typical' way, and change the encounter accordingly]
>But then you are denying the PC any opportunity for _change_ while
>on the Other Side. What ever happened to free will?

        Nah, I just the think the Other Side is where your chickens come
home to roost, you reap what you've sown, etc. But you are free to try and
overcome the consequences of past actions, its just the consequences of
your past actions are free to try and overcome you, and only in the most
extreme cases should it really make things impossible either way.

[War magic vs healing/life magic]
>Like the Household of Death perhaps? Like those who fight against
>the Kingdom of War (remember the danger is that they can be corrupted
>into being a New Kingdom of War)? Like the Orlanthi War Clans (their
>fertility *plummented*)?

        Like Annstad of Dunnstop and Jar-Eel? Like Hon-Eel?
        Like Rama? Like Krishna? Like Tristram?
        Yeah, sure, spending your time on war magic at the expense of life
magic is a common pattern. But there are those who possess both ability in
warfare and love/life/healing.

        Its using mechanistic points of magic as a rough approximation to a
general mythic tendency appropriate to some cultures, then using that to
define a characters personality. Which is probably enough levels of
qualification to make it clear why it doesn't work for me.

>To say that the decision to cry "HAVOC!" and let slip the Dogs of
>War does not _affect_ the Hero because he acted with the interests
>of his community at heart debases the very concept of a hero.

        and that point should certainly be made. The war affects the hero
somehow. But in a way that deserves a rather more complex treatment -
reducing the complexity of all the reasons humans fight, and all the
responses they have to it, to a simple dichotomy is, well, simplistic.

>>Besides, the most warlike characters often accumulate masses of healing
>>magic, finding the most frequent use for it.
>But they will almost certainly accumulate _even_more_ masses
>of war magic than healing magic.

        Oh, its a definite correlation, but a very rough one. Is Waha, who
kills to bring life when it is necessary to survive, and allows only
Healing 1, really more unbalanced than Humakt, the ultimate death god who
actually grants Healing as a cult spell?

        Well, no. But you were just coming up with an off the cuff rules
which can not be expected to be widely applicable. Which is why it is not
surprising you came up with a good idea that doesn't work in practice very
well - but still expresses an important concept.

>Therefore those who feel compelled to pontificate about
>'unplayability' and 'flawed interpretations' can go jump in the

        Touchy, touchy, Peter. I really am trying to thrash out some
mechanics here, your contributions are welcome but not immune to criticism
any more than mine. And alas, pontification is pretty much the standard
digest mode of discourse, it seems some days - I admit my guilt, but hardly
think I'm the most flagrant offender.
        And I didn't say your ideas were 'unplayable', I just said I
thought it was difficult to play that way and still make it fun,
nevertheless I am sorry for any offence you took. I still feel that it is
difficult, but not impossible - but perhaps you have thought of ways of
tackling the issues I have not?

>> The expression of _self_ is why Heroes succeed on the Heroplane,
>> not what they 'do'.

        Well, yes and no.

        Which raises another Gloranthan issue, and one which I tend to
repeat every few months for some reason.

        The God Learners were ALMOST Right.

        The God Learners proved that approaching heroquests in a spirit of
calculation, manipulating myths to gain personal power, experiment, and
crush your enemies works well enough to keep your great empire alive for

decades and conquer an enormous chunk of the known world.
        Which doesn't mean its a good idea. Any more than biological
warfare, making gunpowder or amphetamines in your kitchen, or fascism are
good ideas. But things that are a very bad idea can still be damned
effective for a while, and so it is with God Learnerism.
        And the implications of this for heroquest rules are that if
someone wants to approach heroquesting in a God Learnerish spirit,
attempting to follow the rough outline of the quest and gain personal
power, they should be able to do so, and they shouldn't be arbitrarily

prevented*, but they should find it a technique that gains just what is
advertised - personal power, and a large probability of horrible
        And I know Peter didn't mean to imply that this was the case (God
Learners being a sub-species of Logician), but I thought I would make clear
a good Gloranthan reason why heroquesters are free to calculatedly and
callously rape and pillage if that is what they really want to do.

* Gift Carriers shouldn't appear as arbitrary prevention, but the GM is
free to make them the horrible consequences.

        Sigh - end of the giant rant.

        Sorry about that everyone, I get a bit worked up over these
heroquest things (there is another overlong exposition of heroquest play on
my web page, as well). Hopefully the fabled new rpg will resolve some of my
questions in some vaguely final manner.




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