The Starlight Mage 24

Copyright 1990 by

Stephen R. Marsh

1401 Holliday Street

Union Square #316

Wichita Falls, Texas 76301


(Miscellaneous Comments)

(Version 2.1)


These rules are not in any way official or authorized by any game company.

This essay is Copyright 1991 Stephen R. Marsh, with all rights reserved, and permission to copy for personal non-profit use hereby granted as long as this copyright notice is properly incorporated in the text.

Any magazine (especially Tales of the Reaching Moon) is welcome to use this, and any other essay in this series, as the basis for discussion of the major elements that make up rules or to publish extracts from this, and any other essay in this series.

Given how busy I've been, any person desiring to publish, extract and/or edit any of this essay series is given leave to do so without final approval or review from me. Editors (especially David Hall) are given full leave and permission to edit and publish in any format (including 16 point reduced line printer).


This essay consists of miscellaneous comments, most of which are specific to my particular set of rules. Many are not related to heroquesting.


The God Plane would destroy most characters. It is the real mythic reality, a realm of great force and difficulty. While changes made there are more permanent, it is impossible for non-gods to do much.

One step removed from the God Plane is an area of strong mythic energy where characters can participate in the mythic acts without being consumed by them. This is the Hero Plane.

Note the general change in difficulty for acting on the various planes.


I run combat in pulses. There are three seconds to each pulse, six strike ranks to a second (or eighteen strike ranks to a pulse).

A character may act for as many times as the strike ranks allow (this allows all weapons to be used like RQ missile weapons).

Actions may be rushed, delayed and focused. One may also push.

Rushing is when one rushes an opponent. It reduces the SRs created by distance by 1 for every 10% added to target's chance to hit the rusher.

Order of hitting remains the same (the SRs are reduced for both rusher and target). Common examples of rushing would include a person with a knife who is unable to close and attack inside of the SRs allowed in a pulse.

Rushing may also trade off your chance to hit your opponent for reduced SRs at the rate of -10% to chance to hit for every SR reduced.

Delaying subtracts 5% and 1 SR to the opponent's chance to hit for every 15% and 1 SR delayed. (-- the melee equivalent of a fighting withdrawal).

Focusing adds 5% to the waiter's chance to hit for every SR waited.

Pushing combat does not change the SRs. However, it does increase both the chance to hit and the chance to be hit evenly. E.g. Assume both fighters in a melee are 50% to hit, 50% to parry. Under my unmodified rules they'll have a 0% chance to hit if they do not push.

Which is right. If you are of equal skill and of good parrying/blocking ability, you will neither hit nor be hit in a sparring match unless you increase the level of risk by pushing things.

Pushing is common in more advanced fighters. For general purposes I assume that all fighters push 50%. (Which means that in a normal melee, combat is a {skill + d100}% - {100% less 50% pushing} or d100% + <skill - 50%> rather than d100% + <skill - 100%>).

You may wish to allow pushing for other skills/situations and to limit pushing to the skill had (thus an individual with skill 30 could only push to 30). I do not.


A. The list I've given on trait relationships is my tentative one for Glorantha. I've divorced it from Glorantha in my examples to avoid treading on anyone's toes.

One might better call Rune Traits "Rune Potentials."

In a percentile system, the potential *10% is the skill limit on the skill. Given that the limit can be the rune or one of the control runes (mastery/luck/fate), the practical limit is generally around 200%.

B. Satisfying the Examiners.

"Satisfying the Examiners" is always an interesting time in a FRPG. All of a character's career, adventuring and future goes on the line for one toss of the dice.

There is an alternate that allows for more forecasting and less reliance on raw dice rolls.

Each god has five traits that connect the god to the worshipers. When the worshiper's five appropriate traits are at 15 or above, the god receives the magic points given in worship at 100%. For each trait below 15, reduce the efficiency by 20% (so that with no traits at 15, no effective worship is received).

["Waste" magic points can be used locally, to strengthen the channel and for a number of other matters -- they just do not flow naturally to the god.]

Satisfying the examiners should come down to the following:

1) does the candidate have the proper physical requirements (the five skills at 95%, the minimum power requirements, etc.)?

2) does the candidate have the proper background in the group (the background knowledge, tithes paid, service rendered, etc.)?

3) does the candidate have the right spirit inside them (the proper traits)?

When the total of the parts of the three areas passes a certain threshold, the examiners should accept the candidate. If the total falls below a certain level, rejection should be fairly likely. Chance should only come into play when a character is presented prior to being fully qualified.

In addition, a candidate that has the right traits and that comes close to the god should receive a slight amount of the divine power and presence beyond the "regular."

For a list of Gloranthan Gods & their traits/potentials, see David Dunham's excellent lists.

C. Misc. Matters

Generally, Dark overcomes Air, completing the elemental pentagram. "Of course" Orlanth overcame Dark, but then Orlanth obtained weapons made of fire (his spear).

Melds, derivatives, etc. are important for a conceptual understanding of runes. They can be ignored otherwise.

Rune Factors are usually gained by cult membership. A rune factor used to gain a mastery over a particular heroquest reward can be freed by giving up the power/ability, etc. tied to or controlled by the factor.


These are rules notes covering a limited portion of my house rules and an additional form of magic. This is only a sketch of a part of the rules covering wizardry.

Wizardry is a school of magic found in Shattered Norns that is related to the speaking of elemental languages of power. Each school of wizardry has a language, a form of incantation (the speaking of the language for magical effect), a patron (a leman of one of the Norns), and an affiliate race.

Most human wizards (and several other magic-using endeavors) use a form of magical matrix known as a spirit shirt. Wizards were the first to use them and spirit shirts are generally thought of in connection with Wizards in Shattered Norns.

Spirit Shirts


Most wizards use spirit shirts, also known as Elovare's gift. With a spirit shirt a man can work wizardry like one of the high kindreds. A spirit shirt has power bound into it and can also (with the use of magically enchanted threads) be used to bind spirits.

The basic spirit shirt is made of sea silk and often heavily embroidered. It covers an area about the size of a man's long sleeve dress shirt. To be effective it must contact a significant amount of bare skin and the potential five elements. Wizards are often conspicuous in bad weather for being protected from the rain or snow by nothing but a fancy shirt.

The spirit shirt is usually the gift of choice to an apprentice wizard at first initiation. The point of power and will to initialize the shirt must come from the recipient, the cost is usually repaid by the apprenticeship and the ritual is performed by the master.

Certain races do not need spirit shirts. The high kindreds and the couranth are natural magic workers. The Tiev are burned by the touch of the living enchanted silk (d3/sr). The fey folk can choose to become magically attuned (and vulnerable to x2 damage from iron), thus not needing spirit shirts.

Magically attuned fey folk have the benefit of not needing to be exposed to the five elements to work magic without penalties.


A spirit shirt extends the basic range of spells from a the "touch" range of one tenth of charisma (in meters) to a range equal to charisma (in meters). Charisma is determined by (POW + APP)/2 if Appearance and not Charisma is used in the campaign.

[In Shattered Norns, all spells have sharply reduced ranges that are brought up to around the normal RUNEQUESTIII ranges by the wearing of a spirit shirt,]

Spell durations are doubled and the basic spell cost is divided by a factor of five for a wearer of a spirit shirt.

A spirit shirt adds the POW bound into it into any POW v. POW struggle involving the wearer and has magic points equal to POW (the shirt is similar to a shaman's fetch in practice).

A spirit shirt is a personalized magical matrix that can be used by another only if freely given and renamed by the giver. It is an extremely rare gift and most wizards are buried in their shirts.

Basics of Wizardry

Wizardry is practiced by learning the relevant language, being dedicated the correct patron, being familiar with the element, and taking the affiliate race as a totem.

chart of basics

Element // Incantation // Patron // Affiliate Race

Air//aeromancy//Nial the adroit/Arens the Hunter//Eagles/Roc

Water//okeomancy//L'neara/Orman Ts'goth//sidh rishae

Earth//geomancy//Azeal/Kazedan the Stunted//Condors

Fire//pyromancy//Haran/Wakanda the Sun Spirit//Phoenix

Dark/skotomancy//Adeth/Neth Hadeth Reaver//Halcyon

description of spell elements

Spells are words made from magically resonate word fragments (roughly equivalent to consonants).

Each spell consists of a number of fragments equal to (spell percentage/10). The spell is cast by bringing the name to the center of the mind (a specific mental state), speaking the word, and then releasing the spell with the proper hand gestures.

Each fragment takes a strike rank to properly pronounce less one strike rank for every 20% of incantation skill. Thus a 9 fragment spell would take 9 strike ranks to pronounce, less one strike rank per 20% of skill (so with a skill of 100% there would be a five strike rank reduction in time).

A wizardling has an incantation skill equal to his knowledge of the specific language of power. She casts spells using the following formula:

Base chance of success = Incantation skill

+10% per extra strike rank spent pronouncing the spell

-10% for each strike rank omitted pronouncing the spell

-xx% (a percentage equal to the difficulty of factors that go into the spell). (See the discussion below).

Base range = .1 meters x charisma <(POW + APP)/2>

1 meter x charisma with spirit shirt.

Base cost in magic points = %tiles of difficulty

1 magic point/5%tiles of difficulty with spirit shirt.

Degrees of Difficulty

The following are the degrees of difficulty for the basic attributes of the various elements:

5% Feel/Emotion

10% Appearance/Illusion

15% Intuitive Attribute

20% Substance

25% Overt Attribute

30% Overt Emotion

35% Extension

40% Intensification

45% Shaping

50% Transposition

55% Animation

60% Meshing

65% Invocation

70% Quell

75% Retain

80% Banish

85% Bind

90% Hold/Enchant

95% Force

100% Reverse

105% Birth/Enchant

110% Countering

Spell Families

Seidh (Dark Magics)

Shaed (Air Magics)

Goefa (Water Magics)

Gipta (Earth Magics)

Waeil (Fire Magics)

Waeil is set out somewhat to provide an example. It is titled with the name of the magic, the language (both the analog that I use and the proper name), the patron, the allied race and the rote name of the magic.

Waeil // (Latin/flamespeach) // (Haran) Wakanda (the Sun Spirit) // Phoenix Kindred // Pyromancy.

The above was the title. Following are the degrees of difficulty for fire magics.

5% The feel of the element fire is a joy/warmth that enhances charisma (the APP attribute). Anyone who knows firespeech to 5% can feel fire at "touch" range. At 5% complexity one may increase charisma by one size point of feel (+1 to APP).

An increase of 5 to APP would be five size points of feel (or 5 x 5% = 25% difficulty).

The feel of fire lasts until one is covered by darkness or shadow.

10% The illusion/appearance of fire is light. A volume of light will illuminate (d6) x (touch range) in area.

For example, assume a three was rolled on a d6 and assume that the touch range established by charisma (the average of POW and APP -- 16 in our example) results in 3 x 163 or 12,000 meters cubed. In increments of 3 meters x 10m2 that is 40 ten meter lengths of hallway illuminated until the light is consumed.

The lengths will remain illuminated for d6 hours per volume (i.e. if the light is laid on "double thick" on a length, then the light will last for 2d6 hours, etc.).

15% The intuitive nature of fire is knowledge. Fire can be used to discern or to detect magical energy. The complexity of the detection and analysis is 15% + 5% per point of power bound into the item.

Thus an item with 3 points of power bound into it would require at least 30% of difficulty in the detection spell in order to analyze.

20% The substance of fire is fire. 20% is the basic level of difficulty in invoking a fire anywhere within touch range of anything ready to burst into flame (e.g. a prepared fire, kindling, lighter fluid, lamp oil). 25% for dry, but not prepared (e.g. dry fire wood, charcoal). 70% to start metals on fire.

If a material would not normally sustain a fire the fire started will go out after 2 SR.

25% The overt attribute of fire is heat. The magic effect using this principle is to summon flame. Anywhere within "touch," 1d6 (one size point) worth of elemental fire in the shape of flame appears and remains for two SR (doing 1d6 per SR, armor protects). That is twenty-five magic points (five with a spirit shirt), 25% complexity.

30% The overt emotion of fire is lust. Lust is an overpowering desire that is incapacitating in its aftermath. A volume of lust has 1d6 points. It lasts for 2SR and then incapacitates (similar to befuddle or fear in effect) the target for d4 SR per point. (i.e. 1d6 x d4 SR or about one melee round)

35% The extension factor is the same for all elements. 35% + (X-1)5% for X times to range. Thus, to triple the range (X = 3) is to add 35% + 10% or 45% to complexity (and nine magic points to cost if using a spirit shirt).

40% The intensification factor is the same for all elements. 40% + (X - 1)5% for +X volumes. Thus three volumes of heat would add 40% + (3-1)5% or 50% to the complexity of a summon heat spell. It would add 10 magic points to the cost of a heat spell to summon three volumes instead of one.

45% The shaping factor is the same for all elements. Shaping an element requires some of the element, space to shape it in and has a difficulty factor of 45% + (5% per cubic meter of substance shaped). A shape lasts until the energy is consumed by attrition (including violent attrition). Shapes have the appearance and feel of their element.

E.g. a wall of heat. 9 one meter cubes (for a total energy of 9d6) would have a difficulty of 90%, a cost of 90 magic points (18 if using a spirit shirt). It would last until it did 9d6 worth of damage, doing d6 per turn in "damage" to the general attritioning environment (more if a rainstorm, etc. makes contact with it).

50% Complex Transposition has the same factor for each element. Transposition turns one volume of raw, mixed elements (approximately six kilograms worth) into one volume of the chosen mode of the element.

For example, one could turn one size point of a man into one volume of charisma (the feel of the element) at 50% (the difficulty of transposition) + 5% (the difficulty of the feel of fire).

Use of the pure element consumes it. A man turned into charisma could waste away by charming people, a woman turned into heat could waste away burning enemies.

This effect can be reversed.

55% Animated Shaping is the same for all elements. This allows a wizardling to take volumes of the element and give them the power to move freely or at the wizardling's command. Unless given intelligence, a shaping will be mindless -- requiring direct command and attention.

The shaping complexity is 5% per cubic meter shaped, 5% per meter it may move every 5 SR, and a base of 55%.

Thus, to animate three cubic meters at 6 meters movement every 5 SR would take 55% + 15% (3 cubic meters) + 30% (for movement) or 100% complexity and 100 magic points (or 20 magic points if a spirit shirt is used).

While the wizardling concentrates he or she will see what the shaping could see and feel what it could feel, commanding it to move as they could their own body. When concentration is released the shaping will wander at random for d3 melee rounds and then attempt to return to the shaper.

All shapings attrition by contact.

60% Meshing with the element allows the wizardling to mesh with and pass through barriers made of the specific element and to move unaffected by the element.

The complexity is 60% + (5% per size point meshed) + (difficulty of meshed mode). Thus for a wizardling of size 6 to mesh with a wall of heat or walk across a volcano would be 60% + 30% + 25% or 115% total complexity.

Meshing lasts until the wizardling decides to unmesh.

65% Invocation invokes a spirit of the element into a volume of the element. Volumes of the mode must be prepared and the wizardling must concentrate. For each volume the invoked elemental spirit has 6 points of body or effect.

For a ten volume elemental spirit of heat it is 65% + (50% for ten volumes) + (25% for heat) or 140%. The spirit has POW of 3d6 and Int of 2d3.

An invoked elemental can follow one order per point of INT and each order given requires a POW v POW check to impose.

The elemental fire spirit in heat mode, given above, would be able to do 60 points of damage before it dissipated (6 points per volume of size) and would be a fearsome invocation.

70% Quelling is the dissolution of wizardry created by the weaker element. Fire quells dark, dark quells air, air quells earth, earth quells water, water quells fire. It is a form of counterspell.

For every 5% of difficulty in quelling, 10% of the weaker elemental magic is quelled. Thus by using a quelling of water, that 140% difficulty heat elemental in the above example could be quelled with a 70% difficulty quelling.

75% Retaining an element holds it in place for a longer period of time. To retain add 75% to the difficulty plus 5% per SR the spell is held. (Note that a spirit shirt doubles the amount of time a wizardry spell remains and that all retaining effects are also doubled/at half price using such a shirt).

Thus to hold an flame spell for an extra SR (two if using a spirit shirt) would take 75% + 5% + the complexity of the spell retained.

Retention is always a part of the spell as cast, not something grafted on later to a spell in progress.

80% Banishment

85% Binding elemental spirits

90% Holding power.

95% Applied force

100% Reversing

105% Rebirth

110% Countering

The above portion of the essay is still incomplete and parallels zines in The Wild Hunt published from 1980 to 1982 or so.


Serious play indicates that a few more trait pairs might be a good thing to use. I am collecting possible trait pairs, reducing ones that duplicate (dominant//passive is about the same as vigorous//slothful), and thinking the total over.

Rune related presence as a part of traits is important as it affects powers and abilities.


It may be time to settle on some basic trait packages. I have my elemental packages (reflected in the Wizardry rules). It seems that RUNEQUEST III generic packages would be the best starting point, tailored to fit particular pantheons, gods, etc.

David Dunham suggests the following for (Pen)Dragon Pass:


ARGAN ARGAR energetic, selfish, honest, indulgent, trusting

KYGER LITOR vengeful, selfish, cruel, proud, indulgent

XIOLA UMBAR forgiving, generous, just, merciful, trusting

ZORAK ZORAN valorous, vengeful, arbitrary, cruel, indulgent


ALDRYA modest, suspicious, lustful, pious, valorous

ASRELIA selfish, deceitful, temperate, worldly, modest

BARBEESTER GOR energetic, vengeful, valorous, cruel, suspicious

David has more (all the pantheons completely charted).


"What about Masters of Luck and Death?"

Masters of Luck and Death. I've seen artwork and advertisements for it. I've seen comments on the game and I've seen the promises for it to be commercially distributed. While it may not be for sale (and appears never to have been for sale), I have good reason to believe that playable versions of the game exist.

"Should it be Lunar Elementals or Moon Elementals?"

Cults of Prax, page 39 states "source of the Lunes of the pantheon." Page 43 "summon small lune." "Lunes are Lunar elementals."

My campaign does not have Moon as an element. Note that Moon or Lunar is outside of the classic Gloranthan elemental pentagram.

"Can Trait Packages be used for Religious Virtue Packages?"

YES!!! Trait packages are religious virtue tables.

"3d6 really isn't the same as d100% or d20 is it?"

%tage and d20 systems are linear. 3d6 systems are bell curved (normal). In many ways the systems differ. A 1 on a 20 is not the same as a 3 on 3d6. The one is 1/20. The other is 1/218.

However, the systems are remarkably translatable because of the presence of flattening factors. A +4 sword flattens the normal curve.

Also, in my personal system, I equate cautious approaches with increased normalization of results, aggressive approaches with increased flatness.

E.g. berserks would roll d20, normal fighters 2d10 and cautious men at arms 3d6. On a 1 and 20 klutz/critical hit a berserk has an unusual result one in ten times. A normal fighter one in 100 times. A man-at-arms never (he never rolls less than 3 or more than 18).

You can approximate these factors at almost every level. d6/2d3/3d2; d12/2d6/3d4; d20/2d10/3d6; d30/2d15/3d10; d50/2d25/ 3d12; d100/2d50/3d30; etc. With a calculator or more flexible dice it is possible to hit the factors right on the nose rather than using convenient approximizations.

"Isn't Drepnirquest hard to begin?"

Well, the two usual ways to begin Drepnirquest are:

(a) find an excuse to be admitted as a lay member of Yelmalio. Easy ones are serving as a scout for a mercenary Yelmalio company, seeking special training, and being in Sunland during a holy festival or celebration.

(b) get involved in the yearly or great (7th) year contests. This is easy, just dangerous.

"Can't people in most religions touch the infinite without a heroquest?"

YES!!! In most religious systems, mortals "take part in the infinite and supra-rational world" by means of sacred time rituals. That is the entire point of most sacraments.

But to touch the infinite and bring back power useful in a game setting -- now that takes a heroquest.

In any properly run experienced campaign, force points are unnecessary as the play run will controll force, player points, will, rune factors and the like. However, player points and force points are a useful concept when beginning a heroquest campaign if no skilled and heroquest experienced GM is available.

"Can you just use WILL/glory and forget about force/player points?"

YES!! Note that fixed, pooled and free expressions of runes differ by how much flexibility vs power each offers. (Fixed provides maximum power and minimum flexibility.

Free provides maximum flexibility and minimum power.)

Feel free to vary the amount of WILL a character starts with and the amount of WILL available from various activities to provide more (or less) will to play with.

"Do mundane activities lead to losses of WILL, Spirit, etc.?"

Not usually, except that in a player point campaign any and all character improvements (e.g. training up 5% in a skill, rune magic, etc.) cost player points.

"Who were the Red Goddess' parents?"

I never thought about who had that stillborn child. Probably a child of the Earth fathered by Chaos or Disorder? I don't know. The almost stillborn Blue Moon might give a clue.

"What about Pendragon in Glorantha?"

David Dunham runs a so-called Pendragon Pass campaign. Pendragon in Glorantha was my initial starting point for explaining Heroquests in this series of essays.

In fact, David Dunham is an excellent authority on a number of things Gloranthan and Pendragon.

"Who was the first heroquester?"

Some say Gilgamesh, some say "me" (lots of people think they are the first heroquester), but in Glorantha, the first true heroquester was Orlanth who began the Lightbringer's Quest. In it he sought to bind a pattern of power to his need.

He duplicated this feat when he tried to create the new god.

Amoung mortals, Arkat was the first to heroquest as the heroquest (rather than as ritual, etc.). He saw the patterns and the ways and conceptually put it together.

In addition, the God Learners combined agressive heroquesting with hideously irresponsible magic. They poisoned much.

The "mothers" of the Red Moon revived heroquesting from a lull as did Sartar, Harreck and others. The hero wars were the natural outcome of this revival.

The world was overrun with individuals braving the hero trail and reopening paths that had been dormant for an age. The gods (Orlanth and the old powers versus Yelm and the new powers) brought it all to a head with their conflict at Dragon Pass.

"Misc." Read Steve Maurer's rules. Reading and comparing the two sets of rules often helps individuals understand both.


This essay is really a catch-all. The current draft is very much a rough and ragged item, filled with spots where more information and more writing is needed. It is my intent to use this essay as a place to answer questions, add notes, include new or further rules and to update the previous two essays.

That way I can avoid massive changes in the material that is in final circulation form (HEROQUEST I and HEROQUEST II) while still improving and defining that material.

Unfortunately, while I had a lull and some free time and energy and I've used them all. This is it for a while.

///////// LETTER/HEROQUEST IV /////////

This letter can be considered an informal Heroquest IV essay in addition to Heroquest Essays I, II, and III and the sample Heroquest. Check the date of the letter to determine which edition of this essay you have.

March 18, 1991


The RuneQuest Magazine

21 Stephenson Court

Osborne Street




Attn David Hall

Dear Dave:

Thank you for the copies of your fanzine, TALES OF THE REACHING MOON, The RuneQuest Magazine. It is vital, alive, and up to the writing and editing standards of Different Worlds before that magazine ceased production. Given time, growth and cash flow, I have no doubt you'll surprise yourself.

I can (and will) gladly recommend you anyone interested in either Runequest, Heroquest or Glorantha. In fact, I took the liberty of forwarding the copies you sent me to reviewers and others I thought might have an interest in what you are doing.

That is because you are doing an excellent job of providing a forum for good Gloranthan materials. I do not know of any comparable forum. Looking at Ab Chaos, it appears that Chaosium knows of no other comparable forum. You are probably unique in both worlds.

Praise of your publication aside, this letter is a few comments about heroquesting, my essays and some fans and authors.



First, in design work, I think it would be hard to beat Sandy Petersen, Lawrence Shick and Scott Bennie. Unfortunately, all three currently are employed by computer game companies that pay them well. However, all three have had some exposure to the concepts and background on heroquesting -- especially Sandy.

If you can't talk to Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen seems, to me, to be the next best bet, followed by Steve Maurer. Phil Davis is also worth a try if you are in the Maryland area. John Sapienza, Jr. can not recommend him highly enough. Phil is currently running heroquests on a steady FRPG basis.



Second, my essays are very unformed. What happened is that after years of silence on the topic of Heroquesting, I decided to do a simple Heroquest system for use with the Pendragon rules. Not enough good things can be said about Pendragon, a system naturally aligned for heroquesting at every level. Most scenario packs for Pendragon contain multiple mundane level heroquests with good examples of branching and complex interactions.

In addition, Greg Stafford is going to do the Quest for the Holy Grail, a central western european quest equal to the Golden Bough for significance and import.

Anyway, having adopted heroquesting to Pendragon, I put my essay in The Wild Hunt (also known as TWH), a fanzine I used to participate in. I've gafiated from TWH, but still think of TWH fondly. The essay was short, but it hit the basic spots fairly well. I did my best to put the core rules into a terse, short essay.

Then, over October, December and early January (the traditional "slack" months for American trial lawyers), I corresponded with a few people over their comments and advice. It seems that several people had read the essay and had comments. The spare time, combined with the feedback I received, resulted in the current Heroquest I, II and III essays in the format that they now have.

Those essays are much closer to my own heroquesting system and far away from the Pendragon based system I derived and published in TWH.

In the final essays, I owe a great deal to both David Dunham and David Hall for their comments. In some ways I suspect that David Dunham can be assumed to know more about the essays than I do. His questions and comments made all the difference in the world and pointed out concerns and game areas that I had completely subsumed or overlooked.

***********answering questions**********

Third, in answer to some questions and analogies I've been shown, I have the following comments on the essays and what I understand of Glorantha. It is not much (I constantly misapprehended Gloranthan themes), but it is what I have to offer.

While the gods are self-modifying code, the runes are pretty stable. Stability is the point of having runes, change the point in RQ style gods. With that esoteric point (all my essays seem to have one) out of the way, I'll move on to the most commonly *??huh??* sections of my essays and the most common answers I've given to questions about those sections.

That is, I'll explain the derivative, meld, co-decant, descender, etc. business better. (That is the biggest of the *??huh??* points the essays seem to have). (I'll also explain other points).

That derivative, meld, etc. part was not intended to be esoteric. There are differences and reasons for the names. Conceptually I felt the details to be important.

Note that a sub-rune that is a meld of one rune is probably a co-decant of the other (the words, while describing the same thing, describe a different relationship of the derived rune to the parent, as important the difference in our culture between being a parent with custody of a child or just having visitation rights). In pragmatic, game play applications, this some times makes a difference (e.g. STEAM has the WATER bonus vs FIRE even though it comes from both families).

Here is my go at a better explanation. This explanation follows the chart I provided in the essay.

There is the Rune. (Also called the Primary Rune on that Rune's family tree). (e.g. FIRE).

The Rune has Aspects. Aspects are direct parts of a rune. E.g. FIRE's Aspects are Heat and Light.

The Aspect equivilent of an Aspect is a Descender. For Light that might include Color.

Things made from a Descender or an Aspect are Derivatives (they are derived). With Fire that is basically anything that fits under the Fire Rune, including the appropriate emotion, personality trait(s), etc.

Melds are Derivatives made with the Rune and another Rune(s) that fall within the domain of the Primary Rune. (Sort of like children of which the Primary Rune has custody). (In Glorantha, Ice is a Meld of the Cold Aspect of Dark and of Water).

Co-Decants are Melds of other Runes. Generally, the only Co-Decants on a Rune's chart are major ones that are close to Aspect level. Steam is a good example of a Co-Decant of Fire, a Meld of Water.

(Or Ice as a Co-Decant of Water, a Meld of Water. Note that Fire has an advantage against Ice {as a part of Dark} rather than a weakness vs Ice {as a part of Water}. The differences are real and important. The sunlight melts ice rather than being overcome by it; steam extinguishes fire).

That is what my chart attempted to portray. I had hoped that my picture would be worth a thousand words. It looks like fewer than a thousand words were necessary -- but without the chart.

Next, let us address skills, perfection and decimal systems.

In looking at the way my essays address these issues, you should note that I am greatly affected by the early RUNEQUEST editions.

Thus my rules refer to skill over 95% as a sort of limit or cut off point. That is a hold over from the 5% increment stuff. Over 95% = perfection (since 96-00 was always failure, regardless of skill, 95% was as good as it got). Feel free to modify that to fit the Runequest rules you use.

Next, what about personality traits, rune traits, etc.

It seems that I created some confusion with language. I did not mean to. I had hoped to make things easier to understand by using words with parallel applications for the meanings; that is, to use the same words for the rune rules as for the personality rules.

In a game sense, rune traits (better called "rune potentials") are things that compare in physical terms to the color of a person's eyes, the size of their muscles, the speed of their brain, all of which may or may not have a game impact.

Many rune traits (read "potentials") never have any significant impact on one character and, yet may have significant impacts on others. Mathematical ability impacts engineers a good deal differently from chess players or professional boxers. So it is with (for example) the fertility rune potential of a character.

High rune traits mean the capacity for high rune factors and for high related skills. They directly express magical relationships and limits. In this fashion they become necessary game mechanics. For the future, always call Rune Traits Rune Potentials. It is a better term and avoids confusing Rune Potentials with Personality Traits.

Rune factors point the way a character may go when exposed to heroquest situations. (Kind of like mathmatical training. Not very relevant to most hack and slash games, it is still an important factor about someone and relevant in the right circumstances). Rune factors tell you what the character has available.

In many campaigns, the GM may wish to keep all the personality traits, rune potentials and rune factors on his or her own records rather than letting the players have exact knowledge. Much of the Heroquest is self discovery.

The most common use of potentials -- calculating maximum skills.

To figure out the maximum skill (e.g. for sex {courtesan}), take the appropriate rune potential (fertility) and multiply it by 1 (for d6 systems) or by 5 or 10 (for %tile systems). Then you may add the active member of the fate/luck/mastery group. (Note that in a rune triangle only one member can rise above 10, both of the other members limit themselves).

Secondary point.

Yes, fate/luck/mastery.

There are three ways to relate to the world. They are fate, luck and mastery. Priests, Magicians and Fighters seem to follow those runes in that order, though there is no hard and fast connection. Dragon Pass was filled with Mastery oriented heros, the Holy Land with Luck guided questors and the Lunar Empire was often controlled by Fate.

Mastery overcomes fate. Fate swallows up luck. Luck conquers mastery.

The triangle element of the relationship aside, these runes are master control runes. That is, Mastery (control by self), Luck (control by random forces), Fate (control by outside forces), each dominant results and ability to act in the world.

All success or alteration in the world can be attributed to forces working in one of these three paths.

In game terms there are three ways to approach this concept.

First, you can limit any skill to the maximum of the appropriate rune potential or the highest control rune potential, whichever is higher. This limits mortals to relatively low skill maximums. In a 5% (potential x 5) system, most mortals will be limited at somewhere between 60 and 95% on most skills -- even with cultic affiliations. Even a 10% system leaves the characters limited.

Second, you can add the control rune limit to the rune potential limit (e.g. if Luck was the high rune, and if Luck was 12 and Fertillity was 16, then, in a d6 system, courtesan sex would be limited by a 28 rather than the 12 or the 16). This leads to higher limits.

Third, you can use the second method and you can also add the control rune's active factors to all skills. E.g. if Fate had 8 active factors, then all skill use would be at +8 for the results. This bonus would apply only on the mundane plane, with some limited application in the gray zone. Areas outside of time are also outside of Luck, Mastery and Fate to a great extent.

Note that many magician and other heroquest/godquest level boardgame units focused heavily on a control rune (e.g. Mastery). It's impact in results could easily explain that focus.

The Third option requires strong limits and controls on how control rune factors are activated or made available. However, it does explain the somewhat "universal" abilities heros seem to have on the mundane plane, while being limited on the hero planes.

On David Dunham:

Important works by David Dunham include his Pendragon Pass rules (running Glorantha as a Pendragon campaign rather than as a RUNEQUEST one) and his Twelve World's campaign. He has some interesting RUNEQUEST Cyberpunk rules, camera ready.

If you want a "magic returns," near future setting (and do not want to switch outside of Chaosium products), you can't go far wrong adding RUNEQUEST to TWELVE WORLDS /DUNHAM CYBERPUNK.

On copies and uses of my essays:

I have only 5½" MS DOS floppies available right now and not much time. I'd prefer not to mail any more floppies out. I won't mail out hard copy. If you can, please copy from a friend.


Anything from my Heroquest essays on a floppy is fair game to copy and distribute in any fashion or method you desire. You can print the floppy's contents in fanzines, cut out parts and use them for comparisons, make copies of the floppies and pass them around, or make photocopies.

I especially want the Heroquest essays passed around and will try to respond, time and my trial schedule permitting, to letters. This license to free copy is extended from this date to February 15, 1992.


Again, feel free to copy from anyone with a floppy or a hard copy of the essays.

Note that there are at least 15 different versions of the essays floating about. Some of these are heavily Gloranthanized, some are completely clean. Some are very Pendragon, some are not. Some are RUNEQUEST compatable, some are only in my personal d6 system.

I only have the latest versions (clean {i.e. non Gloranthan} ones) on floppy and no hard copies at all. The way to get the early versions and examples is to bum a copy from someone who has it.

If you've got a copy (and are that someone), feel free to share it!



Fourth, the essays are a work in progress. Lots of changes have been made between versions. Also, each essay supplements the one before it. Read the essays in order, looking for answers and for corrections.

Many things that look senseless, silly or crocked make sense or are explained in later essays or in this letter. Even this letter has had many versions(!).

*********about the competition**********

Fifth, anyone and everyone interested in this area of play should get as many different types of heroquest rules as they can find and compare the rules for insights. Steve Mauer has a set, Sandy Petersen has his own rules, I have mine and Chaosium will (some day) have official ones.

Phil Davis probably has his own rules and modifications and I think that David Hall is putting together notes on design it yourself heroquest rules.

Reading the different rules sheds a great deal of light on what each of the authors is trying to accomplish and what each author means.

There is an incredible amount of interesting stuff in the discards, prior versions, mistakes made, and wrong turns that each system went through. The rules bear reading, even the abandoned ones.

*************mining the fanzines********

Sixth, there is a surprising amount of old Gloranthan related materials floating around in old Judges Guild Journals, Quick Quincy Gazettes, The Dungeoneers, The Wild Hunt and Alarums and Excursions. They can be a gold mine and include Uleria cults and all other matter of minutia or divertia.

**********misc. inclusions**************

Seventh, the Wizardry rules section copied over into the HEROQUEST III essay, exhibits and demonstrates a good deal of analysis of the attributes and characteristics of the particular rune used for the example. My Shattered Norns campaign had extensive use of runes permeating all levels of reality (e.g. each constellation was a runic configuration).

If you can find copies of Views from Elaikases Tower, my old personalzine, there is a lot on runes -- much of it ten or more years old.

*****the inside information ************

Finally, Chaosium used to keep a Heroquest correspondence file from selected individuals. Anders Swenson said he learned more about Heroquest from reading some of the letters than from a year of play. If you can, get copies of the letter file or talk with people who have read it.



Thats the best advice I have. Not just to Tales of the Reaching Moon, but to anyone with more interest in Heroquesting.

With best wishes, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Stephen R. Marsh


///////// LETTER/HEROQUEST V /////////

This letter can be considered an informal Heroquest V essay in addition to Heroquest Essays I, II, and III, letter.001 (informal Heroquest IV essay) and the sample Heroquest. Check the date of the letter to determine which edition of this essay you have.

May 3, 1991

Greg Stafford, Publisher


950A 56th Street

Oakland, CA 94608-3129


Dear Greg:

Thank you for your letter of April 26, 1991. Reading your letter and talking with Phil Davis, caused me to reflect on some points that have been important to me.

First, as much as I hate it as an incurable mini-maxer, I enjoy game play the most when the mechanics are mostly hidden and my knowledge is limited to the same (or less) knowledge had by the average person in the milieu. Not having all the mechanics before the players seems to increase the sense of exploration and wonder that makes FRPGs worthwhile.

Second, in running most heroquests, the most important point for me has always been mapping the structure of the myth. The mechanics have always been the least important. However,

Third, in presenting the idea of heroquesting to others, the biggest problem/concern/bottleneck for their use of the idea is a lack of concrete mechanics that quantify everything.

To make an absolutely horrid comparison, in D&D the largest obstacle to "realistic" adventures was the difficulty the GMs had in quantifying the level of risk and reward. The strongest (only?) thing that dungeon crawling had going for it was the ease of controlling the levels of risk and reward.

Dungeon crawling thus became a great success while other types of adventures took years to become widespread.

Thus, my essays, wherein I attempt to take a break from esoteric and impossible to understand explanations that work only if you intuitively understand the principals in the first place -- and that have always been an unfortunate trademark of many of my prior essays.

I got started on the current essays playing PENDRAGON. Most good scenarios in PENDRAGON are low level, "mundane," heroquestish things. I decided to write a short set of rules to allow a GM to use PENDRAGON to run heroquests.

Then responses came in. The net result of answering questions, putting the answers into concrete "rules" terms, and (of course) adjusting it all to a RUNEQUESTish format is the essays I wrote.

As to your criticism of the vocabulary "making people think too much" I'm at a loss of any way to write the essays and communicate on the topic -- so that they make sense to normal people -- that does not involve building a vocabulary, defining all sorts of silly things, and providing easy levels of quanta for the reader.

Remember, I'm not communicating with people who grasp myths readily or who understand rituals with an ease born of long experience. I'm writing for people who have played RUNEQUEST, heard about heroquesting, and who are fumbling towards it as best they can. The sort of people who have always found my material incomprehesible because of the lack of vocabulary and definitions.

I am very much in the throes of a reaction to the problems I have had communicating the idea of heroquesting to others.

Only two solutions come to mind. The first is a heroquest tile or card game sort of thing. Somewhat like the quests in SHADOWRUN, except more colorful and mood oriented. (See pages 69 to 73 in the SHADOWRUN Grimoire.) The problem is that such quests depend completely upon the GM's intuition and knowledge to have any more flavor than a game of Bridge.

The second solution is a set of rules. The set of rules can either be a work book (a collection of quests, illustrating the points necessary again and again, teaching inductive reasoning from the many examples) or a traditional rules sorts of thing.

I've tried the work book approach by running a series of essays and sample quests. I had very few successes in the readers understanding enough from the quests to do their own. On the other hand, the rules I've done recently (with the example I provided) tend to get accross enough of the feel that people feel like they can run quests.

The real problems are two fold. First, GMs have trouble pulling the steps of a heroquest out of the myth. The rules and the illustrations explain the idea enough that people get the idea. Second, GMs have trouble with the level of difficulty and the degree of reward.

As I wrote Joanathan Tweet:

"A roleplaying game has to offer four factors: difficulty, challenge, reward and control. That is, the characters must overcome difficulties, the difficulties must challenge the characters, the characters must be able to obtain rewards and they need to be able to exert some control (by their actions) over the results.

At the lowest level, "dungeon crawling" offers all of these things, in a rather obvious and strict order. For comparison, a game where you go around and make friends would be possible, but would be hard to structure so that it contained the four elements. Compare your hypothetical game with a game where one builds chains of hotels, competes in the computer business, explores the universe to prevent a star from exploding, etc. (all of these are the themes to popular games with minimal hack & slash).

I will note that when I was in college, a computer game where you all you did was take actions that controlled taxes and bought grain was a real hit because it offerred all four of the important game factors."

The trouble with heroquesting is that other than those who have an intuitive grasp on the subject, no one can run a heroquest without guides on two things: the "terrain" (what kind of adventure makes a heroquest?) and the "mechanics" (how do you quantify difficulty, challenge, reward and control?)

People tend to do one of two things. They "wing" it, passing out rewards, writing myths, and making heros as the mood fits them. If you've played in an unstructured "we don't really need the rules" kind of storytelling campaign, you know what I mean. (co-incidentally, other than an occassional stellar campaign, these games tend to lead to "monty haul" resolutions and disaffected players faster than any other type of game).

Alternatively, they compulsively seek to expand the rules in the directions they are familiar with. Many of the Mauer converts have come as the result of those who tried to "wing" it and failed. They'll take anything rather than repeat free form FRPGs and the usual consequences.

I'm at a loss for what to do. I really like good exploratory myth-based games. To be honest, my interest in many games lasts until I run through the structure of their myths and the last of their mysteries. As a result, I could never get interested in Warhammer or the Giant Robot games and my interest in Superhero style games lasted as long as they were warped into another genere.

With heroquesting I've tried a number of approaches. When I can find someone who knows the myths and is a good intuitive storyteller, I enjoy even just reading write-ups of what happened. But I can't teach that and I don't have the heart to tell people who want heroquesting to take that approach. If they could have, they already did.

Wish you the best of luck. I think that it may be best to let it sit while you write your novels and let the ideas become reworked in your mind. You'll also get a large number of people who have experienced or run various mechanics and their feedback may be useful once you are centered again.

I appreciate your and Chaosium's decision to wait a while before tackling rules for heroquesting.

Take care. I want to read the novels you are writing that explore the same area. I think everyone with an interest in heroquesting will.


Steve Marsh

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