Greg Sez: Heroes & Immortals (2005)

Published 10th July 2005

Question from Charles Corrigan, answer by Greg Stafford.

Q:I am quite interested in the topic of very powerful people (and others) who are not apotheosized, but who are still operating, as themselves, in the mundane world. Examples are Heroes (Broyan and Kallyr), Superheroes (Jar-Eel and Harrek) and Demigods (Cragspider and Ralzakark).
A:These six beings are all superhuman, though different slightly in the source and manifestations of their powers.
  • Broyan and Kallyr are both heroes who are content to get their powers from an established source, Vingkot and Rigsdal. But both have also explored and expanded upon those powers, hence their unusual abilities and magnitude of magic.
  • Harrek was an extraordinary individual who went to extraordinary lengths and obtained supernatural powers (the living skin of an immortal) that he was able to control. [The bear spirit would normally have taken over the man, much as Nosebiter’s Ax does.]
  • Jar-Eel is a demigod, being the child of a mortal and an immortal, and hence inherited a tremendous magnitude of power that she has to learn to control.
  • Ralzakark is a chaos being who is also able to control the tremendous power that he has access to.
  • Cragspider’s origins are forgotten in the prehistoric myths, but she too has obtained control of her huge power.
Q:I see that there are two obvious differences between these examples and other “normal” people. Most obviously, they have large groups of followers that (to at least some extent) worship them. And, or course, they have some personal powers that are widely recognised to be beyond human levels and therefore Heroic.
A:None of these beings are actually worshipped at this stage of their lives. They do have extraordinary power, manifest as unusual magic; and they may also have taught this to some followers who have established a link with magic dependant upon the individual; but they are not actually worshipped. To make sacrifices, offerings or a grimoire based upon them would acquire no actual benefit at this stage of life.
Q:But, in addition, there usually appears to be more – some intimate connection with an otherworld. Kallyr has the gem in her forehead and the implied connection to Rigsdal. Ralzakark seems to have multiple bodies. Cragspider controls the Black Dragon. Harrek has the White Bear skin.
A:To be come immortal and worshipped, an individual must have a link with the Otherworld that was established by their actions. However the things you list are not that link, but all of them are manifestations of the power.
  • The gem is a sign of Kallyr’s personal connection with Rigsdal (the “unmoving star on the face of the world.”)
  • Ralzakark’s multiple bodies is a common manifestation among gods (like Orlanth, for instance, who is present in the Great Wind, specific winds, in temples and in the Otherworld all at once), but for Ralzakark is a sign of his inherent chaos.
  • Cragspider conquered the Black Dragon but it did not make her an immortal (and in fact, her conquest of it diminished its massive potential).
  • The White Bear skin is the part of a living being that is manifest, a sort of supercharm.
  • To complete the list, Broyan has the Sword and Helm of Vingkot and JarEel has the Harp of Six.
Q:What other ideas do we have on how these entities operate in general? For example, can they offer magic to their followers? If so, how?
A:Yes and no. That is, an individual who is going to be worshipped has to have access to some specific, unique power. They must have earned it the hard way: gone into the Gods War or into an Otherside and gotten it. This act must be reproducible, so someone else could go and get the/(a) Sword of Vingkot or the/(a) living skin of the White Bear spirit. And, if they become worshiped, this act will become a key part of their worship. Thus if Broyan were to be worshipped then his worshippers would have the Sword of Vingkot Feat as part of the Broyan Affinity, or Kallyr’s might have the Starbrow Feat.But while the being is alive then they do not grant this magic. They can teach it to others who must then undergo the test for themselves to obtain it. This is different from doing what a worshipped being does, for Broyan’s actions will not have altered the Hero Planes until he becomes worshipped. His actions will not have forged a path upon which the others can walk, and thereby gain his presence and power on that path, until after he has obtained permanent residence on the Otherside as himself.
Q:How does the number of their followers affect their personal abilities or the amount of magic they can offer?
A:While they are living, none at all.
Q:Once they reach a certain level of power, does the hero become the guardian for the followers?
A:No. Not while they are living and embodied. And, after departing their mortal coil, there is a difference between being a Guardian and being a worshipped entity. The main difference is that the latter is able to grant magic while that can be used while it is not present, the former must be present.
Q:Does the Hero incur any penalties for replacing the old guardian? What happens to the old guardian?
A:After immortalization a being can replace an existing Guardian, but only with a struggle. If Broyan were to become the Guardian for the Volsaxings, for instance, then he would have to remove the current one and replace him. This would probably be performed as a duel on the God Wars plane, probably through arms since this is a warrior society, but using whatever means is appropriate for the type of entity involved. So a new candidate for the Jonstown Library wyter would engage in a knowledge contest, a healer for the Great Hospital in a healing contest. etc.THUS, in short, there is a identifiable difference between living beings and worshipped beings.
Q:Are there still Heroes and SuperHeroes (as in White Bear & Red Moon) in your Glorantha? Are they different to Immortals? From your previous answers, I guess yes and yes but, for a while, I was conflating and confusing Heroes with the Hero-cults of Immortals.
A:Heroes are absolutely different from Immortals.The word “hero” is used in several different applications in the book and has generated confusion. For instance, every player character in the game is a hero, used here as in the literary sense that the main character in a story is called a hero. This would be synonymous with protagonist.Then there are the Heroes, who are characters of superior performance, fame or position such as Kallyr, Broyan and Argrath. These are individuals of much greater than usual magnitude who are capable of performing world-changing deeds and who are keys to the larger, epic plots.

 Superhero was a term from WB&RM that designated the individuals with off-the-chart powers. We could still use the term to designate Heroes of superlative power, of semi-divine or divine magnitude since both JarEel and Harrek (for instance) eventually surpass Heroic level in some of their abilities. That said, they are still Heroes, though Superior, in that they are not gods.

Finally, there are the heroes of Hero Cults. These are immortals, for they live in the Otherworld and they have maintained their individual identity, and they receive worship. This is a very unusual status even for famous and powerful people.

Q:It appears that some mortals become guardians (King of Sartar p. 135 – “Hauberk Jon was the first mayor, and afterwards the protective spirit for the city, which was also named after him”). Is this the same as becoming an Immortal?
A:Yes, but with some differences. Yes, in that they receive worship and maintain their individuality, but the Guardianship status is different in that they do not generally provide specific magic for their worshippers. Their magic is not separable from them and so worshippers can not use it. Instead, the Guardian itself has to be present to apply it.

Update by Charles, June 2013: See Bearded Storm and Hagodereth for a more complete answer to this question, albeit discovered much later. This answered the discrepency between the stories and the rules that I was trying to unearth in my questions.
Q:Do some Immortals get to have it both ways, i.e. they have completed their quest for divinity, have their own place in an otherworld and yet remain in the mundane world?
A:Since there are always exceptions to everything, the answer is yes. But these are exceptions, and have to be addressed individually, and with an understanding of the reservations that they have.
Q:Examples might include Teelo Estara,
A:Teelo Estara is more than a human who becomes a Goddess (though she is that too.) But she does obtain immortality and remain in the world for a long time until her Apotheosis. But whenever we speak almost anything about the Red Goddess Sedenya, and her avatars, incarnations and aspects, we have to keep in mind that it is exceptional and can not be used as a rule for anything except the Lunar Way.
A:Nysalor seems like one primarily because the thousand years since his life have accrued many mistakes and misconceptions about him that are accepted as fact. But during his life Nysalor may have been worshipped by the ignorant, but he never game them magic in return. Nor does he give magic now.And of course, the Lunars now consider Nysalor to have been an earlier incarnation of Sedenya.
A:I do not know of Arkat having been worshipped by anyone in his lifetime (although as always, there would have been mistaken and useless worship of him by the ignorant.) After he returned to Ralios he completed his purification and Apotheosized, and he did live in the world for a short time between his obtaining Immortality and his apothesization. During that short period different people still perceived him differently, adding to the confusion of his subsequent worship.
Q:and/or Ethelrist (parts of his History of My Black Horse Troop are grimoires if I remember correctly).
A:One need not be immortal to create a Grimoire. Ethilrist is not worshipped.
Q:If so, do these Immortals in the mundane world continue to learn/grow?
A:Nope. They can not. They have done away with that by being Immortal.
Q:Can a person be worshipped before they become an Immortal?
A:As the above shows, they can. But they won’t grant any magic. It would be an error to worship living beings.
Q:(Godunya might be an example)
A:Godunya is Adored by most in his realm, but he does not return any magic to them except the link that may take their souls to the Otherside when he goes to the Sunset Lands.
Q:Does either side (worshipped or worshippers) benefit and how?
A:No practical or useful benefits are gained by either member of a team where a mortal is worshipping a mortal.

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