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Premise in Hero Wars?

Started by J B Bell, March 16, 2002, 09:19:22 PM

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J B Bell

I'd like to know about Premise in Hero Wars.  Just from having read a good deal of the web material out there, the Narrator's Guide and main book, it seems the Premise is something like "in the battles that re-define the world and bring in a new age, whose side are you on?"  Of course "side" is pretty flexible and one can choose previously non-existent sides.

That's still awfully vague for playing with.  I'm curious what the sub-Premise & Theme of Ron's game were, particularly, but anyone else is welcome to chime in, of course.

It's slightly disappointing to me that the core books have a clear "Orlanthi battling the Evil Lunar Empire" bias, and it's not a bad default campaign to be sure, but I hope they rectify this somewhat in 2nd Ed.

"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes


I thought, or understood it to be about the crafting of new legends, becoming the new heroes/icons of the age. Essentially serving as latter inspirations of folklore of Glorantha (both cautionary tales "And then the Troll ate him.." and epic tales revealing the growth of the character.

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Sidhain,

Around here Premise is one of many tools used to help create Lit 101 type stories through RPGs.

Briefly, it's a thematic framework the GM and players use to focus the actions and choices of the characters, and establish scenes thematic motifs for the stories.

Its a sentence along the lines of: "Is vengance worth the loss of love?"

By having a choice between two appealing possible types of behavior or goals, and by allowing/forcing the protagonists to make choices as framed by the Premise in numerous ways during the course of the story, the characters "prove" their choice.

Thus, one character might prove that vengence is worth the loss of love, while another might prove that vengence is too costly for the loss of love, while a third my prove that love is too valuable to pursue vengeance at all.

The Premise for RPGs is drawn from Egri's "The Art of Dramatic Narrative," which is a book about playwriting (and is also practical advice for screenwriting).

Around here premise with a small "p" also refers to what you described -- the setting, the gizmos, the types of adventures and what characters are like.  From the context of JB Bell's post, I think he was referring to big "P" Premise.

For a thread that hashes out more details of Premise, click on this link:

(I know there must be a reason for the confusion of the two definitions for the same word, but I'll be damned if I know what it is.  Ron?  In the next pass of GNS could you change the term for small premise?  I nominate the word Conceit -- which is my screenwriting program's term for just this thing: a story or character or world element that is a springwell of unique scene entertainment.  It's what makes a screenplay stand out, seem fresh, offer a new spin on (undoubtedly) a well-worn tale and gets people excited about the project just on the surface.  Sounds very much like small "p" premise to me.)

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Well I thought that was what I was addressing that Christopher as closely as Hero Wars or any loosely focused game can.

In general many games cannot be narrowed down to a /single/ element, especially the games aimed at a broader audience. Hero Wars is not limited by setting to a specific capitol P -Premise-, instead it's a game with tools to create individual and distinct capitol P -Premise- that is fundamentally--the narrator and player create the capitol P -Premise-
within the context of the setting.

You could for example choose any of a hundred odd possible capitol P Premise motifs and center the game around that. That makes the asking about the Capitol P -Premise- a bit moot.

It's much like asking "what is the purpose of the real world we live in"

For example, I could play an Initiate of Yinkin, the Alynx God, who spends his time hunting in the wilderness and moving amongst Orlanthi settlements seeking lovers. The capitol P Premise that this is operating under could be "What price is hedonism?"

or "Can a hedonist rise to be a hero?"

or  "What does it take to serve ones Deity?"

This is very different from say "Little Fears" or PuppetLand, which have somewhat narrower capitol P -Premises- (Premisi?).

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Sidhain,

Sorry if I misunderstood your original post.  I thought you were replying to JB Bell's question: "I'm curious what the sub-Premise & Theme of Ron's game were."  Since your answer only touched on the "general" premise of Hero Wars, I thought I'd jump in do you some learnin'.  Sorry for repeating what you already knew.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

joshua neff

Actually, I think Ron has mentioned before that he feels there is a Premise-with-a-capital-P for all of Hero Wars. Just as Sorcerer has a Premise ("What are you willing to do for power, & what are you willing to do with that power?") that you can then expand upon & alter (my own Sorcerer run is built on the Premise "What are you willing to do for love?"), Hero Wars is built around a Premise (of Setting), which I think is pretty much what J B said--there's a big conflict brewing that will usher in a new age, & what side you're on & how you participate in it will determine how this new age develops.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Ron Edwards


Josh is correct in that I have stated my perception of the uber-Premise of Hero Wars, which I think is central to play regardless of one's character.

However, it is definitely not, "Which side are you on?" The sides in the various political conflicts in Glorantha are deconstructed through playing the game. The Lunars are not and cannot be totally right; neither can the Heortlings (to pick the most famous and central of the many political and religious clashes across the world). It is embedded in every one of the sourcebooks, every one of the recently-published adventures, that relying on your temple, or your clan, or your culturally-constructed place in the world is not good enough.

Sooner or later, you will be part of, maybe even form your own, Hero Band. Sooner or later, you'll be HeroQuesting. Both of these are political and magical statements that cannot help but override, redefine, and retool-in-practice everything you thought you believed and represented. By entering deeper into the Otherworldly side of reality, you alter it - you create and become myth, and your ethical choices in doing so replace, eventually, the old-school assumptions about good and evil, chaos, political boundaries, and everything else.

That's why playing Hero Wars is not the same as romping through Glorantha and playing RuneQuest. That's why it's not the same as "gain lots of superpowers based on what religion you chose at the start of play." That's why the setting, in this game, linked with both the relationship-mechanics and the magical system, provides Premise.

The Old World and its values is over. This is what I think we need to do now. What, for your player-characters, is the "This"?


Christopher Kubasik

Hi everybody,

A question then, to help the slow guy:

The phrasing of the Premise might be, then, "Is it time for the New Ways to supplant the Old," with the Game's Uber-Premise answering, "Yes," and all the PCs answering, "Yes."  Thus the tension of the Premise, both in action and theme, is the overarching conflict between the old and the new?

(I'm asking this because I've found that when I get the phrasing "right" for material I'm working on everything falls into place and works much better.)

Second question:

In Sorcerer, we all know what the stated Uber-Premise is, but it can be tweaked to deal with issues of Love, Revenge and so on specifically.

Are there tweakings of the Hero Wars Premise available, so that one story will have a different Premise than another?  (This, of course, brings us back to JB Bell's orginal question.)

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards

Hi Christopher,

I figured my final paragraph in the above post was pretty much The Question form ... or if you care to rephrase it, "What will you make of the New?"

In other words, the "The Old World is over" portion is not a question in any way; it's a given. The question is as re-stated above.

For your second question, my answer is, absolutely. Say that the characters have taken a hard-core Heortling rebel approach to the situation; they're skulking in the hills and raiding Lunar caravans, plus inciting clan feud against the collaborators, and so on. The focused Premise might be, "When do acts of revolution become acts of terrorism?"

Or say that the characters have taken a collaborative-Heortling approach to the situation - the focused Premise might be, "What does it profit you to gain wealth and power at the cost of your culture?"

And note that in either case, one might happily mix in all sorts of things - playing the oddball in the group, such as a Lunar liberal (e.g. worshipper of Selven Hara) or a troll who's been ordered to see what the Hoomanz are all fighting about. Each of these would operate as a second perspective or angle or even exacerbator of the Premise at hand.

Hero Wars is totally made for cross-boundary romantic tragedies.


Christopher Kubasik

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


Interesting discussion; my romance with HW has petered off recently as I find the world content insufficiently detailed to suit my simulationist mindset.  I like the contsruction above, but it highlights much of my growing problem with Glorantha: WHY is it a given?  Why is the world changing?  Why is this the time of the Hero Wars?  To me, this is metagame information, and insufficiently explained to my mind - I can't really start from that as a premise, its merely a statement.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Mike Holmes

I was going to at first protest that there certainly is enough to satisfy the Simulationist in Glorantha. But I see your point about the premise. I looked for it too. There is something about the end of the last (Storm) age, and I think something about how it ended means that the whole world is new. But I, too find even this explanation a bit fuzzy. There is a lack of detail. If they had even said that this was to promote player's eventually getting to define this (possibly most important) heroquest, then I might understand.

But as is, it seems like an oversight. But that might just be our Sim needs showing.

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Why is the world changing? Because it makes for a good story...

But from an in-world (or simulationist) POV, the most obvious factor behind recent changes is Sedenya. The moon goddess is such an affront to the natural order of things (the order established after the last major crisis, that is) that nature (i.e. the old gods) is revolting against her.

Looking back over Gloranthan history, the recurring disasters seem primarily caused by humanity's insistent meddling with forces they can barely understand, let alone control. At a guess, this is why Argrath kills the gods - or whatever it is he does. By weakening or cutting off entirely the links between mundane and mythical, he removes mortals' capacity for world destruction. Of course, he also takes away a large part of what made life meaningful for them. The operation is a success, but (a part of) the patient dies.

But as I understand it, these events are not entirely pre-determined. The upcoming supplement Orlanth is Dead states that "You Can Be Argrath". A player hero can fill those shoes, or at least exert a good deal of influence on which NPC does. They don't necessarily have to make the same decisions as in King of Sartar. On the other hand, if Argrath doesn't do it, maybe somebody else does and he gets the credit/blame anyway...

Ron Edwards

Hi Jonas,

I'm glad you resurrected this thread, because it reminded me of something that folks might be missing. Premise can either be content-driven or procedure-driven. When it comes to Hero Wars, both are available and people tend to mix them to taste.

Content first. There's a book, not exactly a novel, nor really a sourcebook. Greg Stafford wrote it a long time ago, before most of you li'l puckers were born (not before I was born, but not long after, either). It's called King of Dragon Pass and is currently available from Issaries. Most folks who are into Glorantha have read it carefully - well, you have to, it's written as a compilation from fictional sources and is necessarily dense and inconsistent as hell. But its main point is that Argrath's efforts to unify Dragon Pass against the Lunars actually fail, and that the cultures end up merging more than they end up warring (As one person put it, Argrath wins against the Lunars by becoming them), largely because the Old Gods are driven out of existence, and the world becomes mundane - the principles embodied by the gods now exist only as abstractions, only as elements of behavior, no longer as active entities.

Now for procedure. The material in the Narrator's Guide (to be integrated, I think, into the single text of Hero Quest) is very explicit about forming Hero Bands and setting them up as political, moral, and magical entities, to the extent of creating your own godling. That's what happened in my game, by the way.

So I think the Sim-ish folks will do well to check out King of Dragon Pass if they want deep, dense, very freaky (and deliberately slightly-opaque) Glorantha stuff to get into.



The book is actually King of Sartar, and I referred to it in my post. King of Dragon Pass is the computer game. Which is also excellent, but has a different scale.

"Argrath's efforts to unify Dragon Pass against the Lunars actually fail, and that the cultures end up merging more than they end up warring"

Hmmm, in the sense that his DP allies aren't enough to do the job and he has to recruit new ones from the Lunar provinces he 'liberates', absolutely. And using Sheng Seleris. Actually, the parallell between Argrath and Arkat is becoming clearer and clearer.

"As one person put it, Argrath wins against the Lunars by becoming them"

Arkat and Gbaji all over again. :-)

As for what happens after the Hero Wars, I'd say that's sort of outside the scope of the story HW/HQ can tell.

On the subject of KoS, if the rulebook's tagline of "The Old World is Over... and what will you do?" leads to a setting-driven premise, the older book's "How One Man became a God" implies one focused on character. To play it in HW, it's more like "How a Bunch of People became Heroes", but I'd say the conflicts and issues are the same.

Heck, every chapter in the HW rules starts with a "The Hero Wars are between..." quote that can serve as a premise...