HeroQuest (role-playing game)

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HeroQuest Core Rules
Heroquest logo.jpg
HeroQuest Logo
Designer(s) Robin D. Laws
Publisher(s) Moon Design Publications
Publication date 2009
Genre(s) Multi
System(s) Narrative

HeroQuest is a narrativist role-playing game written by Robin D. Laws and published by Moon Design Publications under license from Issaries, Inc. (July 2009). It has its roots in Greg Stafford's fantasy world of Glorantha, but was designed as a generic system, suitable for, but not tied to any particular genre. The game's mechanics are focused on quick resolution; Contests are resolved by comparing the results of two twenty sided dice, each tied to a character ability chosen by players and/or narrator. After the die roll, the participants work together to interpret the outcome in story terms.

The game system

The (second) edition of HeroQuest has a firm narrativist basis and focuses on dramatic presentation and storytelling techniques:

Who Prospers?

It is an unavoidable fact that all roleplaying games favor certain player skill sets. Where some games reward memorization, an instinct for math, and the willingness to comb through multiple rulebooks for the most useful super powers, HeroQuest tips the scales for creative improvisation, verbal acuity, and a familiarity with the techniques and stereotypes of popular fiction. - Introduction, HeroQuest Core Rules[1]

The system is built around abilities and keywords. A Keyword is a broad term to sum up several abilities, such as a profession or a homeland or culture.

Character creation

There are three main methods to create a character: Prose, List, or As-You-Go.

In the Prose method, the player describes the character in a couple of sentences for a total of 100 words. The player then selects words and phrases from the description to be used as character abilities. Depending on the game setting, the description can include Keywords to indicate a character's profession, homeland, and other affiliations. Keywords can be used to imply certain abilities.

In the List method, the player starts with choosing one or more Keywords as appropriate for the setting, and then chooses up to ten additional abilities and up to three flaws.

In the As-You-Go method a player states their character concept and defines Keywords and abilities during play based on what they think their character would know.

Keywords and Abilities

Characters are defined by a list of their abilities. Keywords are an optional rule that allows abilities to be grouped together for simplicity. For example, a character might have a keyword representing their Occupation, and this is assumed to contain all abilities relating to that occupation. Other keywords might cover the character's background culture, homeland or magical tradition.

Abilities are given a level from 1 to 20, to represent how good the character is at using that ability to solve problems. Keyword ratings cover all the abilities within that keyword. For example, a character with a Warrior rating of 17 can reasonably be expected to be able to sword fight at that level. However, characters are further defined by adding points to abilities, and can raise the default levels above their starting point. If a Warrior is very good at sword fighting, then that ability would be raised. Once an ability is raised above 20, the character gains a level of Mastery (see the game mechanics section).

One of the main differences in HeroQuest's use of abilities, as compared to other roleplaying games, is that they are not limited to describing skills and capability, but may also describe areas of expertise, relationships, personality traits, magic spells, technological implents, superpowers and possessions, depending on the genre of the game being played. Each one is equal to the others. Sword Fighting at 17 is just as capable as Angry at 17. Both could be used to win a sword fight, provided the character is angry. Because of this, a character's personality and relationships are just as important as their skills. Abilities can also augment each other. In the example above, Sword Fighting 17 and Angry 17 could be used together giving a better target number. In play, this means that when players are pursuing goals in line with their character's abilities, they can be extremely capable and are more likely to see success than if they ignore some of those building blocks.

There are a few more types of abilities, such as equipment, followers, and magic. Everything is defined using the same system. The adaptability and ease of expansion of these basic concepts are what helped make the system popular for use in other settings and genres among its followers.

Game Mechanics

The resolution mechanic is built around a pair of twenty-sided dice. One die is rolled for the character's ability, the other for the resistance, a score chosen by the narrator. This can be an ability of a supporting (non-player) character or a resistance score of an impersonal obstacle or a force of nature.

In HeroQuest players do not compare the numbers thrown, but instead compare the implied results. Results rank from Fumble, through Failure and Success to Critical. A Success is scored if the die roll does not exceed the ability score, with a 1 indicating a Critical success. If the die roll exceeds the ability score, the result is a Failure, while a 20 indicates a Fumble (Critical Failure).

The two results are then compared to determine the level of victory (or defeat):

  • Complete - results differ by 3 levels (e.g., Critical vs Fumble)
  • Major - 2 levels (e.g. Success vs Fumble, or Critical vs Failure)
  • Minor - 1 level (e.g. Success vs Failure)
  • Marginal Victory or tie (When results are equal, the lower die roll wins)

In keeping with the narrativist philosophy of the game, the most recent version of the rules (Heroquest Core Rules, 2009) suggests that resistances offered by the narrator should generally not be chosen based on any objective assessment of the challenge to be faced, but should rather reflect the dramatic requirements of the story. A side-effect of this is that most published scenarios do not contain statistics for opposing non-player characters or other obstacles, requiring instead that the narrator chooses the level of difficulty that supplies the appropriate dramatic effect.

Most obstacles are dealt with via simple contest, requiring only one die roll. Important events such as the climactic end scene of the story may be run as extended contests, in which several simple contests are run with a score being kept of which side is ahead and which is behind.


Narrators may apply modifiers (bonuses or penalties) to target scores to reflect specific situational factors, such as hurt or impaired characters, characters overcoming more than one opponent, or the use of specialised or inappropriate abilities in a particular contest.

Players may apply augments (bonuses) to their target scores by using other abilities to boost their main one, or by having other characters render them some form of assistance.


Once an ability surpasses 20, it gains a level of mastery, noted by a rune (ш) and then drops down to 1. So instead of 21, the character would have a 1ш. This cycle repeats, so after 20ш you get 1ш2, signifying two masteries. The first edition book lists some godlike powers up to 12 masteries (ш12), as this system allows for limitless scaling without a huge burden of additional dice or complex math.

In a contest, masteries first cancel each other out. So a conflict between a 4ш and a 12ш is mechanically identical to a 4ш2 against a 12ш2 or a 4ш3 vs 12ш3, as they both resolve to a 4 against a 12.

When masteries differ, such as a 4ш2 against a 12ш, then the remainder gives the character with the higher mastery an advantage. For each mastery one has over the opposition, they can improve ('bump up') the result of their die roll by one step. (e.g. A failure becomes a success, or a success becomes a critical).

If the side with the higher mastery reaches critical and still has masteries to spare, they use the extra masteries to reduce (or 'bump down') the opposition's result down by one step for each additional mastery.

Hero Points

Hero Points are awarded at the end of successful adventures. Hero Points can be used to improve ability levels, or can be held in reserve and used to bump contest results, as with Masteries. Masteries are applied automatically, Hero points are a conscious decision of the player.

The use of Hero Points to bump up results represents the ability of fictional heroes to summon up reserves not available to ordinary people, to turn a difficult situation in their favour.

Early editions

Early editions of the HeroQuest system were published by Issaries, Inc., designed to be the RPG system of choice for Greg Stafford's fantasy world of Glorantha, effectively replacing the 1980s RuneQuest.

Hero Wars, 2000

The first-edition rulebook, Hero Wars, was published in 2000.

HeroQuest, 2003[2]

Designer(s) Robin D. Laws
Publisher(s) Issaries, Inc.
Publication date 2003
Genre(s) Fantasy
System(s) Custom

The game's extensively revised second edition was published in 2003 as HeroQuest; the Hero Wars products are highly compatible, and conversion guidelines are available online.
In 2003 Lance and Laser Miniatures developed a corresponding line of eighty miniature packs for Heroquest. Lance and Laser was sold to Armorcast LLC in 2009 and the miniatures are still available.

HeroQuest Tentacles ed., 2009

A special limited edition was distributed during the Tentacles game convention during Pentecost weekend in Bacharach, Germany.[3]


As of 2011 the full list of supplements released included:

Hero Wars, Published by Issaries:

  • Hero Wars: Roleplaying in Glorantha, containing the core rules (now superseded by HeroQuest). Out of Print.
  • Narrator's Book, containing advanced rules and sample adventures (now superseded by HeroQuest). Out of Print.
  • Glorantha: Introduction to the Hero Wars, world background (with no game rules whatsoever). Out of Print.
  • Anaxial's Roster, rules and myths for all sorts of creatures and races. Out of Print.
  • Thunder Rebels and Storm Tribe, two books describing the Heortling barbarians' culture for players and narrators. Out of Print.
  • Barbarian Adventures, Orlanth is Dead and Gathering Thunder, three adventure books for Heortling rebels against the Lunar Empire. Out of Print.

HeroQuest (1st Edition), Steve Jackson Games/Moon Design Publications, under licence from Issaries:

  • HeroQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, containing the complete rules and an introduction to the Glorantha setting. Out of Print.
  • Hero's Book: Playing HeroQuest, an abridged version of the rules and introduction to the setting. Out of Print.
  • Men of the Sea, describing sailor characters and nautical campaigns. Out of Print.
  • Dragon Pass: Land of Thunder, a gazetteer for the region (without rules material). Still in print under a new title.
  • Masters of Luck and Death, 27 Herobands from the Dragon Pass area, ready to be used in your game. Out of Print.
  • The Lunar Empire - Imperial Lunar Handbook volume 1, a high level overview of the Lunar Empire and characters that come from it. Out of Print.
  • Under the Red Moon - Imperial Lunar Handbook volume 2 provided an in-depth treatment of the Lunar faith. Out of Print.
  • Champions of the Reaching Moon, Lunar Herobands, related to each other in an association, ready to be used in your game. Out of Print.
  • Blood over Gold - Trader Princes of Maniria, a sourcebook for the region of Wenelia and the western Trader Princes campaign. Out of Print.

HeroQuest (2nd Edition), Moon Design Publications:

  • Heroquest Core Rules, contains a slimmed-down version of the rules, applicable to any game setting.
  • Heroquest Glorantha, contains the complete rules tailored to the setting.
  • Dragon Pass: A Gazetteer of Kerofinela, describing many places of note in the Gloranthan region of Dragon Pass. The same material as Dragon Pass: Land of Thunder.
  • Sartar, Kingdom of Heroes, a book of information and scenarios for games played in the Gloranthan kingdom of Sartar.
  • Sartar Companion, additional scenarios and material for Sartar-based games.
  • Pavis: Gateway to Adventure, a book of information and scenarios for games played in the Gloranthan city of Pavis.

In 2006, Mythic Russia, the first licensed game using the Heroquest game engine, was released.[4]

In 2009, Nameless Streets, a licensed game using the HeroQuest game engine, and based on supernatural horror in the modern US, was released by Alephtar Games.[5]

External links

  • Official site
  • Publisher Blog
  • Licensed Miniatures
  • Mythic Russia site
  • HeroQuest at DMOZ


  1. ^ Core Rules (2nd Edition) Preview
  2. ^ HeroQuest 1st ed.
  3. ^ Products Released at Tentacles
  4. ^ http://rpg.geekdo.com/rpg/1612/mythic-russia
  5. ^ http://www.alephtargames.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=40%3Afantasy&id=57%3Anameless-streets&Itemid=57
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