White Bear & Red Moon – In Defense of Superheroes (1978)

by Greg Stafford

Originally published in Wargaming #3 (1978)

Comments on the Reality of Individuals worth Four Regiments

Some protest has been lodged about the value of Superheroes in the game White Bear & Red Moon [and thus Dragon Pass]. For those unfamiliar with the work, there are three Superheroes present in Dragon Pass during the game’s historical period: Harrek the Berserk, Jar-eel the Razoress, and Androgeous. These indivuals have a combat factor of 20 each, compared with a CF of 4 for normal Heavy Infantry, they require five “elims” rolled against them for death and removal from the game [this was changed in Dragon Pass]. They may not be harmed except by the most disciplined and experienced regiments, each other, the lesser heroes, Dragons, or the incarnate of several cults.

Naturally, I could not include all the details of every unit in the rules, despite their otherwise expansiveness. I take this opportunity to inform the reader of important details previously ommitted.

Firstly, Superheroes do not travel alone. Their overwhelming personal presence would make it seem so, but they are actually surrounded by a band of personal followers who are all working to become heroes themselves, and are well along their way. This is a standard mythological motif, and there is no reason to think it any different in Glorantha, where myth still lives. Viewing our own terrestrial mythology, we find Finn had his Fenians, Beowulf had his household, Herakles was accompanied by the faithful Hylas, Telamon, and others, and even Krishna had his friends about him in battle. The requirements for joining such a band were stringent. A Fenian was buried to their waist, shieldless, while each member of the warband hurled spears at the initiate. If he dodged them all he went on to the next task. Such a rigorous examination guarantees a hardy following.

Secondly, the Superheroes did not survive through their lives of adventure, quest, and curse without acquiring more than a few items to augment a mortal’s strength. For instance, Jar-eel the Razoress, Official Saint-Hero of the Lunar Empire and Warrior Priestess of the Bloodspillers cult, was normally armed with a sword forged by the gods, a magical living harp capable of several powerful spells, and charmed implements to protect her as if she wore armor.

The impact of such an individual and his following on a battlefield is enormous. Their fighting prowess is immense, especially considering that they are armed with magic weapons (a rarity in the world) and fighting against normal, superstitious men. Behavior is predictable for normal regiments when confronted with the personage of a giant barbarian wearing the living skin of a demi-god, growling to shake the sky, and singing a rune-song to his sword. Most will give way immediately, while even those regiments which are well-enough disciplined and experienced to hold their formation are in danger of being cut to ribbons in detail. The Superhero and his band more than equal any opponent, and their seeming lack of fatigue will allow them to cut their way through at their leisure.

More important than any of this is the simple presence and Being of the Superheroes. This, their individual souls, is what makes them worth regiments. To understand the rationale behind this it is necessary to make some basic realizations about mythology and magic.

Mythology is essentially the function of a people’s mass unconscious to produce the necessary models for their society. Living myth reflects the daily needs, world view, and morality of a people, defining the individual and his relationship with society and the cosmos. This is done through mythical archetypes adjusted to the specific symbol systems of the culture at hand. Thus, we find that all mythologies have the same essential cycles, motifs, personifications, and mysteries, although inevitably dressed up in the local clothing of the society they represent. In this manner a society creates its own living spirit, adopting and concentrating upon certain aspects of their subconscious which they find necessary for survival or comfort. The heroes of a culture are the crystalizations of the necessities and dreams of that culture, perfected beyond reality and realized fully in the mythical and magical world to act as permanent and deathless models of behavior.

Occasionally it is possible for a mortal being to actually fulfill such a position and attain the practical strength to become the hero incarnated. The later addition of more fantastic events in the person’s life is a natural growth of the mythological process to fully absorb the person into the unconscious. To take an example from Terrestrial mythology, Theodoric of Bern was a general and would-be emperor of the Western Roman Empire during the final fitful stages of its degeneracy. The strength of character which the king exhibited, coupled with the decadent mystery of the political intrigues he was a part of, have projected this person into the legendary realms forever. A more recent example would be Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, who would have been even more successful than the fictional Conan if he had been victorious at Stamford Bridge in 1066. The fact that there has been less subsequent encrustation of Harald’s life with mythical elements is the result of his relative lateness in history, since the written word severely reduces such an occurrence. This lack of later disguising, however, leaves the fact clear that Harald was able to harness the power of his position in his own lifetime, and did not gain any of his remarkable abilities from post facto additions to his story.

Obviously, the manifestation of such an individual is a fortunate event. It is not often that a people’s consciousness can produce a vehicle for their needs, thus creating a personage with the massed power of thousands of unconscious minds.

The significance of Dragon Pass lies in the fact that so many heroes had been realized at the same time. A comparable Terrestrial event would have been the meeting of Herakles, Beowulf, and Krishna all in one myth.

The Superheroes of Dragon Pass are personages whose presence fills the needs of many divergent societies. Heroes tend to be more local in character, while the Superheroes are cross-cultural. The presence and clash of these individuals during the Hero Wars period in Dragon Pass indicates that there was a very great need and an insurmountable psychic strain in the cosmos at that time which necessitated the birth of these individuals.

Whatever the case may be with cosmic mentalities, the reality of the Superheroes’ presence in the physical world is immense. Their magic factors are immense, for they are the perfections of the minds of their followers: of all who have feared or loved them, from near or afar. They are avatars, personifications of a million dreams, the hopes of all the futures rolled into one body. As such, they are immortal, whatever their physical states might be.

Viewed thusly, it is a wonder that they are worth only four regiments.

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