Here’s a snippet from a discussion I am having elsewhere that I think is of broad general interest:
I think for almost everyone heroquesting falls into one of two categories:
1. We do what we have always done. We stick to the path and don’t leave it. There’s strong societal and cult pressure to do that for everyone. Orlanthi, Lunars, Praxians, Malkioni, whoever.
2. We dive in deep. This is for the desperate, the lost, the mad, and the would-be-gods. In other words, for the heroes. There’s strong societal and cult pressures against that for everyone – even if successful, what you experience may change things dramatically.
Until relatively recently, the door to category 2 was generally closed. Sure we can name the Red Goddess, Red Emperor, Belintar, Hwarin Dalthippa, Hon-eel, Feathered Horse Queen, Sir Ethilrist, Sartar, and a few others. But they are rare – usually no more than one or two such people a generation.
The Hero Wars are terrifying because we open wide the door to category 2. Argrath and the Red Emperor both encourage this. We have scores of people doing deep dives into the Hero Planes – including player characters. We have heroes that have gone so deep they are rewriting the strands – Jar-eel and Harrek. And with this, the Lunars really don’t have much of a comparative advantage.
Although the Lunars have had several phases of wild experimental heroquesting (particularly in Wanes 0-5), they generally stick to what they know. Admittedly, they have explored some areas that others have largely ignored, but within that framework, usually stick to what they know.
I think heroquesting is even more widespread in the late Third Age.
Category 1 heroquests more or less just reinforce what we already know. And the boons are usually along the lines of existing cult magic and abilities. That’s useful and good, and you can end up with cool powers and curses like those of Hofstaring Treeleaper or Vamastal Greyskin.
But it is Category 2 where the real excitement happens.
What boons did these two guys end up and what was their curses? Vamastal Greyskin received his distinctive skin color and also is half-mad from his experiences.
What I see raised so often in discussions – “oh how do I fix some aspect of my cult that I don’t like” – occurs so rarely as to be a statistical blip. Heroquests change cults, but almost never because someone sets out to do that. Instead, cults change because heroquesters are directly interacting with the mythic realm and have different experiences than the received lore. And sometimes those new experiences result in very useful magic or insights – which then gets taught to the cult. And in that manner, cults change even if the gods do not.
And this brings me to the backwards reasoning that a lot of people apply when discussing heroquests. They assume the boon and the experience was planned. That’s usually the case when the heroquest stays within the path of what we have always done.But the bigger quests – where the heroes dive deep into the realm of myth – the boons and experience result from that deep dive into the unknown. They aren’t planned beyond a Hail Mary pass. Alakoring was desperate in his war agains the EWF and he traveled previously unknown paths that had him fight against the Dragons and win. In the process he became divine Rex, changed the cult of Orlanth (which also undermined the EWF), and gained terrible powers against dragonkind in the process.