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We've all heard the stories. The unbelievably chaste Sir Prancealot having the strength of ten men. The undefeatable members of the Kung Few, equal to any five hundred lesser mortals. The frankly amazing feats of the 299.5, who held off an army of 20,000 until they were betrayed by some bloke with a herd of goats. The legendary Hercufleas, who single handedly defeated the god of all cats in mortal combat...

Clearly people like these are exceptional, capable of feats that make normal human beings look paltry and sad, and any one of them would make a king or kingdom that could lay claim to their loyalty a global superpower able to crush their neighbours and potentially bend even the gods to their whim. Even a single relatively puny 'legendary warrior' could completely turn the course of a major battle, assassinate a rival king or destroy a town single handed.

Given a world of roughly 300-200 BC in which mythological gods (limited power but still big enough to seriously mess with someone's day), beasts, demigods and monsters abound, how can we go about creating a situation that such a power doesn't lead to one state overpowering the others with the might of their 'legendary hero'?

Please note: The same question can be expanded out to any timescale and/or world and is fundamentally 'How can I, as a world builder, establish a balance between many powerful states and many weaker states', but for the purposes of this question please focus on how generally applicable world-building concepts can be used to resolve the 'legendary hero' problem (to avoid this question being far too broad in scope).

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    $\begingroup$ why do you think some countries are bigger than others? $\endgroup$ – Mark Gardner Mar 17 '17 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ Politics and tactics (and maybe tropes). Sir Prancealot would lose to 20 men. Kung Few are subject to conservation of ninjutsu so they are easy to overpower and imprison if you remember to avoid killing any of them. 299.5 only managed to hold so long because they picked the spot very well, had they been forced into open, 898.5 would have been enough to take them down. Hercufleas is very weak to cedar oil and some alchemical concoctions. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 17 '17 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @EnigmaMaitreya Of course not. What I'm saying is that everyone has a weakness. Someone strong as 10 men will be overpowered by 20. Ceasear, and extraordinary general was backstabbed. Napoleon ended fighting a massive coalition and eventually lost. For every threat, there is a solution. Employ politics to build coalition against. Play extraordinary beings against each other. Use bribery. Made up codes of "honour". Use subterfuge and black ops to take out those you can't build coalition against. You don't have to be the strongest nation, if through politics you make attacking you unprofitable. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 17 '17 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @EnigmaMaitreya Kryptonite is both a weakness a Macguffin and in a way a deus ex machina. I don't call for any macguffins. I call for politics, tactics and subterfuge. It's not kryptonite when you pick muddy battlefield to bog down enemy cavalry. It's tactics. It's not kryptonite when you ally against common enemy. It's politics. it's not kryptonite when you fake an attack to cover real attack elsewhere, it's misdirection. It's not kryptonite when you employ spies to know enemy plans, it's subterfuge. Kryptonite shallows the entire idea to rocks which do whatever the writes want them to. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 17 '17 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @EnigmaMaitreya en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kryptonite for me this reads like "Oh my god! We wrote ourselves into a corner! How do we handle this week's crisis?" "Why, just pick random colour and say it solves everything!" Weaken hero, weaken villain. Doesn't matter. It's terrible writing at it's lowest. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 17 '17 at 20:38

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Dune provides a pretty good model here, and so does the Cold War - balance your heroes against one another.

In Dune you had several powerful groups, each with their own type of power, balancing one another out. The Emperor had the most effective military in the galaxy in the form of the Sardukar, extremely well-trained and disciplined soldiers who could defeat any other soldiers in the galaxy. The noble houses had their own individual military forces as well as atomic weapons, and while no one house could possibly hope to defeat the Sardukar, if they all banded together against the Emperor they could have taken him down. And the Spacing Guild had little or no military at all, but they controlled all FTL travel.

This is what you need in your world. The Kingdom of Greatbigistan is home to the Legendary Hero Bill, who could defeat any other man in single combat, but the neighbouring lands of Notasbigistan, Midsizeia, Reallysmallland, and Smallbutstrategicallylocatedsburn each have their own heroes - not Legendary Heroes, perhaps, but at least Folkloredary Heroes. Individually, none of them could defeat Bill, but if Tom, Eddie, and Sarah all teamed up they could at least break even against Bill. The King of Greatbigistan thus needs to maintain good relations with his neighbours, and his neighbours need to stay allied to ensure their buddies will come to their aid of Bill attacks.

You can also add an element of Mutually Assured Destruction. Bill of Greatbigistan is powerful, but Sam of Reallyrichtopia is equally powerful. If Bill and Sam ever really went at it with one another, they'd kill each other - and probably everyone around them as well. Of course, if Bill teamed up with Tom, Eddie, and Sarah...

This is the exact same situation we had in the real world during the Cold War. Individually, the US could have defeated any Warsaw Pact nation (except perhaps the USSR); individually, the Soviet Union could have defeated any NATO country (except perhaps the US); and the US and USSR could have wiped each other off the map, at the cost of their own existence.

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  • $\begingroup$ ...Folkloredary heroes. And, oh, the country names. I second @Secespitus, your names are things of wonder. :D $\endgroup$ – Megha Mar 18 '17 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ Can I move to Reallyrichtopia? $\endgroup$ – Brendon Dugan Mar 19 '17 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ There is an entire branch of mathematics called "Game Theory" which deal with this scenario. $\endgroup$ – Aron Mar 20 '17 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ @BrendonDugan You couldn't afford it. $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Mar 20 '17 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Shawn Drat. I was hoping to move there and find a wife. Well, another one. Preferably one who's OK with my current wife sticking around. $\endgroup$ – Brendon Dugan Mar 20 '17 at 2:17
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Well, why does the US with their massive military not conquer the entire world or at least the Western Nations they have a cultural affinity with? I mean there are several reasons, mainly their population would object, their opponents would rally together and politics.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world at the time. Sure he stopped because he died but there were plenty of issues. Mostly in communication. How do you govern a realm when your decrees take months if not years to reach your subjects?

You don't need to stop them from conquering, they'd never manage to hold such a realm. With time after several failed attempts people will learn. Except for that one asshole of course but you just let a goat herder betray them ;)

A single hero can only be in so many places at once. Same reason one super space ship is a bad strategy. It will be a death by a Thousand cuts. Invading barbarians, corrupt politicians, civil dissent, language barriers etc.

If this isn't enough, what about a lack of ambition? It's unlikely China will police the world in the same capacity as the US has done. Not because they will lack the power in the future, but because they have no desire to do so. They wish respect, total power of their own backyard. As long as we accept them with the respect they desire they don't care about the human right violations that would happen in Spain or Ireland. They simply lack the ambition to go police us. So that too could be a reason. Do the heroes even want to conquer the world?

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    $\begingroup$ "Sure he stopped because he died" :D $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 17 '17 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Same thing happened with Genghis Khan. Great conquests tend to fracture after the death of the conquerer. If the realm has a large delay in communication so local leaders can claim their own realms. A rumor of death could be enough, look at Marcus Aurelius. Rumor of his death created quite the civil war. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Mar 17 '17 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is interesting, but I think it could do without the jingoism. $\endgroup$ – isanae Mar 17 '17 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if I understand you correctly. What jingoism? The part about China? I don't give an opinion on if it's better or worse then what the US does. My point is culturally China shows less of a desire to police the world. If anything it paints the US as arrogant. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Mar 17 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ You didn't read "Pax Romana" specifically WHY it lasted. Absorption of a culture does NOT require subjugating the culture. It, in its own way, proves that adapting yourself (in this case culture) to include desirable aspects of the other culture reduces the conflict as only the purist :) will resist. $\endgroup$ – Enigma Maitreya Mar 17 '17 at 20:45
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"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."

If each country has a king with a certain number of Great Warriors, and each country expands as far as their heroes can push, there's still plenty of practical limitations. For example:

  1. travel times are high in pre-car civilisations. A nation of human/bear hybrids might conquer less land than an army of weaklings riding war-emus, just because they can't lumber to the battlefield in time. Until the world-builder needs the bear-men to expand their territory, at which point they just invent unicycles or something

  2. even the mightiest warriors are tethered by their supply line. The great hell-beast Qorn might squish any that tread in its path, but it's fed by the souls of virgins and won't so much as squish a fly if you can't get a steady stream of virgins to sign the disclaimer

  3. countries with few heroes will rapidly expand then contract. One moment they're pushing the bear-men around like matches. Then Sir Prancealot pulls a hammy, the Kung Few come down with the kung flu, and the 299.5 get each other pregnant and become the 449.25. Suddenly this all-conquering nation is defenceless and due to be taught a lesson

  4. conversely, countries with no heroes can suddenly expand if one turns up. A little boy sees his parents pecked to death by war-emus, and the next thing you know there's a barbarian with an unexplained Austrian accent rampaging through the countryside

Given the number of things that can go wrong, the God Emperor's holy beancounters will often recommend the legions of doom stay home and use their talents to ensure taxes get collected. They might leave a few provinces unnecessarily unseized, but they'll have more resources available when they suddenly discover Godzilla mooching around Tokyo again.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice continuation of the humor used by OP. Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you got questions please take the tour and visit the help center. Keep up the good work and have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 18 '17 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ and the next thing you know there's a barbarian with an unexplained Austrian accent rampaging through the countryside => made my day! $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Mar 19 '17 at 11:48
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The Legendary Hero, having proven herself during the initial war, becomes the greatest remaining threat to the leadership of the country they just saved. She has a greater claim to the crown than any who have ever, or are currently, wearing it.

So the unwritten epilogue to every hero quest you've ever read, involves the hero being betrayed, beheaded, imprisoned or banished from the realm. Only by swift action can a mere mortal king defend his throne from a hero.

And once the hero has been neutralized, the balance of power between the kingdom and the surviving surrounding nations returnsto normal.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, betrayal. An oldie but a goodie. You've just got to make sure you do it right first time though, generally heroes of myth don't take too kindly to people they trust trying to kill them... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 17 '17 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ What happens when the hero is already royalty? $\endgroup$ – Kys Mar 17 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys nobles rise etc. $\endgroup$ – chx Mar 18 '17 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ @TylerH, I've never liked the Hero vs Heroine distinction. Why are the highest and best of women acknowledged to be a drug, while the finest of men are just sandwiches? I prefer to be gender agnostic in my title granting, and since most male egos are too frail to find honor in being called a heroine, I dub all great souls, "hero". $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 18 '17 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Kys, check out the hero quest/hero's journey. To gain the sympathetic support of the reader, most heroes start with humble beginnings. Beyond that writing standard, there is an issue with believability, when you claim that a king or high-noble has enough spare time to maintain superhuman combat capabilities while administering to the needs of a major kingdom. There is a reason why Bruce Wayne is the son of a business tycoon and not the tycoon himself. There is only so much talent to go around. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 19 '17 at 0:10
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Asymmetrical powers are entirely normal in international relations. Here are a few things that make this work in (our) reality.

A Balance of Power

One strong nation can be balanced out my a large number of smaller nations opposing them. This isn't always a military content, but it can be. Even a single very strong nation can be deterred when they realize that they will have to deal with many smaller opponents. This is touched on in many, if not most, of the other answers.

Power is Multi-Dimensional

Power should not be understood on a single dimension with weak nations on one side and strong ones on the other. In reality, a nation may be very strong in one area (religious authority) but very weak in another (economic power).

A theoretical legendary hero may be most important because they embody the important beliefs and values of their society, making them an incredibly influential figurehead on important issues. However, they might find that they can't effectively do much because they lack legal authority, law-making power, wealth, or a variety of other things. Things which their enemies have.

Political Institutions

Institutions are the formal bit of politics. Today, we would typically think of laws, legislatures, the executive (President, Prime Minister, King), courts, etc. There are also international institutions (laws or customs, international agreements or alliances, rule-making or problem-solving bodies).

A single strong hero may or may not have access to these institutions. They may or may not be friendly. In practical terms, these institutions can mitigate the hero's power. Domestically, they may not be able to lead a nation or raise an army - they don't have the legal ability to authorize the funding, or the political authority to recruit soldiers (and more). They may find that parties within their country oppose them - and that those parties are way better at politics than the hero!

Internationally, there may be important agreements or customs that prevent the hero from being successful. The nation of the world may have already established agreements preventing their use in civilized warfare. There may be strict consequences, even from nations not otherwise involved in the conflict.

Political Culture

Culture is the set of values a people share. Most people share sets of values about the appropriate use of authority, force, legitimacy, etc. - these are political values. In reality, a government has a nearly infinite range of possible actions, but the vast majority will never be considered because they are not acceptable (or conceivable) to their culture.

Perhaps in the fictional culture it is not appropriate for the hero to involve themselves in politics, either because politics is "dirty" or because the hero is above it all. Perhaps they have a limited range of things they can use their divine-gifts for.

Then again, the heroes themselves may have a set of customs. Perhaps heroes teach other heroes what is okay and what isn't, and so they have an informal agreement that they should not interfere in these events.

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They are legendary heros.
They are not legendary soldiers -- the don't take orders; or even work well as part of a team.
They don't serve a country, they serve a higher cause; or they serve a lower cause (off having their own personal adventures)
Even the ones who are infact soldiers, are not part of any nation's army; they serve their own causes (exceptions may apply see bottom).

I suggest looking at Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. This world has many god and demigods wandering around (Ascendants). It has off the top of my head at least 4 warriors so great that no-one could stand against them. Several races of eldar beings, who's few surviving member are certainly in the legendary warriors category. It even has 2 immortal armies of great warriors (T'Lan Imass, and the Crimson Guard.)

The real trick comes down to the fact that the world is big. Heros are simply so rare, your average person will never see one, and your average kingdom would have trouble tracking them down.

  • Earth has 148,940,000 sqkm of land.
  • Lets say there are 500 such legendary heros in the world.
    • Counting any Armies etc as a single hero, since they will stick together.
  • this means if uniformly distributed each hero has 297,880 sqkm

Obviously assuming uniform distribution over land area is not good; that isn't how people move about. But that are heros, many are notable for exploring lands no-one has been to before.

What else are they up to?

  • Some only want to reclaim/defend their homeland. This is a good thing for an army of heros to be at (Your 299.5). It is probably fairly compact in area. Woe, onto anyone who tries to take it from them; but they are not expansionist -- because that it not the genre convention.
  • A great deal are probably engaged in hunting demons and dragons and legendary rogue heros villain terrorizing the common folk -- or even the nobility.
  • At any point in time, probably X% have sworn to retire; never to do violence again.
  • A surprising number are fighting in the underworld to find their lost loves etc. (if this is an option).

Some remainder is willing/able to participate in a nations conflict. Probably, not because that nation has earnt their loyalty; but because it aligns with the hero's own goals.

We have to divide these into two types: Solo heros, and hero army's.

Solo Heros can't win wars -- only battles. Cross-reference: In what war would one modern military vehicle make a difference? Your heros are no more powerful than a Challanger battle tank. Notice that a lot of the answers to that question rely on the fact that they are sending it backwards in time and so have perfect intel as a bonus -- not something your chronoically-regular hero has. Notice that many of the others rely on the face that the tank can destroy nearly anything within a 2.5km radius of its position -- most heros can't do that.

So there are strategies to deal with such things. - The enemy army goes around him (particularly if the hero is slow -- honorably taking prisoners rather than brutally slaughtering everyone). - The war it fought on many fronts -- the hero can't be everywhere - and good counter-espionage could trick him into being in the wrong place. - Blackmail, Bribery, pleas for reason, and other manipulations may be employed to convince the hero to sit this fight out. - obviously countering with your own hero - Who many infat be drawn into the fight soley because the first hero was deployed; perhaps as a chance to take on a long time rival - and given there are a lot more free heros roaming the country-side on their own quests; they are probably much easier to draw into a fight for the under dog this way

Now lets think about what happens in a battle with the hero:

  • If he can be defeated by numbers; then he will be defeated by numbers
    • If he is worth 100 other men then that is piddling change in an battle of 10,000s. If he is worth 1,000 men, then he will probably not survice a battle with 100,000s (say 60,000 each side). If he is worth 10,000 men he should perhaps be considered unable to be defeated by numbers. See next point.
    • I suggest that heros that are merely great men, like the heros of the Trojan War; who barely more than human, and the ones most likely to be in a war, rather than adventuring alone.
  • If he can not be defeated by numbers, then he will kill so many, so so many.
    • One day he will look out on a battle field from a top a mountain of the slain. He will see the thousands of dead enemies -- who he knows are people too -- dead at by hand. If the battle was hard fought, he may be the only one left standing, his allyies all dead. (Afterall, you can't send him alone, or the other side will simply go around him, see above.)
    • This will surely break him.
    • Either he decides he likes it, and develops a bloodlust that will eventually devour his own -- making him a villain (to be hunted down by heros, see above)
    • Or he swears off violence and retires (see above: this is why so many heros are retired).

The other side is the Army of heros; again assuming they are willing to take part in expansionist wars. They will conquer until they can not conquer any more. Obviously this limit comes before the entire world, or your setting would not be one with multiple nations.

  • There may a barrier they can't pass. This is up to you to work out, there are plenty of options.
    • Maybe their kind can't cross water, so are bound to a continent.
    • Maybe their power is geographically isolated. Their power coming from the spirits of their ancestors on their ancient lands; or only working will in sight of the great mountains high world tree. Or to stay strong they need to drink water gathered within this moon-cycle from the sacred spring.
    • Maybe their continent is just too isolated -- the oceans are too great to transport an army across.
  • Or they grow until there empire can not be organizationally maintained.
    • empires can only be so large before they break down due to shear size, and organisational difficulties.
    • Perhaps the expansions stop at that point (unlikely)
    • Or the empire crumbles from within; heros end up fighting each other, as their home provinces war. Or have to be divided up so sparsely as nations try to secede in all corners of the empire.

In short, Legendary Heros don't normally fight in wars. They have much heroic things to be doing. Those that do: One man can not change a war. He can only be in one place at a time. A army of such men is unstopable by others, but will still not be able to grow without bound.

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    $\begingroup$ 'A surprising number are fighting in the underworld to find their lost loves etc.' +1 just for the casual way you said that. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 20 '17 at 9:01
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I think in lore the primary reason this doesn't happen has a lot to do with personality. When the 'legendary hero' is good, they may consolidate power or support someone, defend their kingdom or attack an enemy kingdom. However, they don't just take all the power they can as fast as they can.

'Bad legendary heroes' on the other hand, seem to always be looking for ways to expand their power, and end up being betrayed (as many other comments mention) or take on too much to handle and fall short of their goals (death by a thousand cuts al-la @Mormacil's answer).

The oldest English written work is expressly about a legendary hero who does consolidate power, but stops when it's at the point it benefits his people the most. Beowulf is a classic, specifically about maintaining balance of power. He defeats great evil, builds a kingdom, then defends his realm and his people by being stronger than the rest.

It might be that the best balancing mechanism you could have is larger == unwieldy and/or less powerful per individual while smaller == more skilled and/or powerful per individual.

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For anything, there is no benefit to attacking something when you gain less than you loose. From a game theory standpoint, a country expending resources to conquer another country to encapsulate their populace doesn't benefit the people of country which attacked, unless enough resources were plundered to be worth the attack, or if there is increased respect/expectation of the country fighting in response to some action. The same rules apply to individuals and smaller groups. The other factors at play are social, like nationalism and stigmas against stealing from others, which don't necessarily make sense from a game theory standpoint, but are clearly things that appear in humans and could in any fantasy scenario in any capacity (e.g. It is forbidden for a god to threaten any other).

The resources expended vs gained in conquering might also be too risky or catastrophic in nature. This is how you might describe mutual annihilation via nuclear weapons. So perhaps two gods from two fantasy civilizations might not be equal in terms of power, but they could both threaten to destroy at least half of the other country before the other one could do anything about it, which would ensure both of their safety if both civilizations have their own existence in their best interests and social interactions are negligible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! I like your usage of game theory to explain the scenario OP described and the limitations you put on that. Way to go! If you got questions you can ping with @Username, take the tour and visit the help center. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 17 '17 at 21:09
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In virtually any mythos, the gods and heroes are brought down by some weakness (generally hubris, and this applies to other pantheons besides the Greeks).

Yes, your mythological hero is capable of great feats of strength, cunning, day trading and mixing martinis "shaken, not stirred", but gradually this goes to their head, and they stop looking at the important things. Achilles arguably did more damage to the Greek army by sulking in his tent in a dispute over honour than the Trojans did in the previous 9 years.

Alternatively, fate has already decided against them, so the answers the 3 witches gave don't mean what the "hero" thought they did.

enter image description here

That isn't what the three witches meant?

So the heroic deeds of your dragon slayers, kings and knights of renown, sous chefs who can defeat Gordon Ramsey in a cook off and others are eventually done in by karmic balance. That is the real reason that these heroes don't take over the world.

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I think there are actually two things here. One is "why aren't they rulers in their own right?", and the other is "why don't those they swear allegiance to use them to dominate their competition?" I'll answer each in turn.

Why aren't they rulers?

Not all heroes are good rulers, and many don't even want to rule. Prancealot is devoted to his religion moreso than he desires to be a ruler. The Kung Few have always been treated well by the Emperor and have no desire to upset that status quo. The 299.5 are soldiers, not administrators - and besides, 299.5 people trying to co-lead a nation would run into disputes over the best way to do things - and Hercufleas mostly just wants to retire to his farm.

Why doesn't their sovereign use them to conquer?

In addition to the points others have made about the balances of power (that is, other kingdoms have their own heroes and other heroes could band together, etc), there are reasons that the heroes may not be able to be swayed by even their lord to use their skills for their own gain. Prancelot's religious convictions make him want to defend the innocent, not conquer. The Emperor is wise enough to know that the Kung Few have a good point that their already impressive empire doesn't need to conquer the smaller states around it. The 299.5 recognize that their situation was unique and they don't want to push their luck. Hercufleas still just wants to be left alone to his farm.

Now, a clever king could persuade even these heroes. "Prancelot, bring your religion to the heathens", "But the Kung Few, this nation over here has the temple holding the ancient scrolls of the Kung Many", "299.5, you are soldiers, what else are you going to do?, "Hercufleas, if you don't I'll burn down your farm." These things tend to end poorly for almost everyone involved, of course, because myths are usually Aesops.

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But they do overpower everything. In story you just close them in geographically region so they don't clash with other superheroes (as in we ignore their existence).
For example king Arthur dies when fighting with someone equal from his story, no Vikings or Arabs.
Samson is unbeatable until his hairs are cut by treason not by fight with Greek heroes.

But your main problem is solved by a person from myth about a demigod Hercules/Heracles. You just send the guy to do some chores one after another. And yes, he may be changing the history it took 20 years for somebody else (Troi) but it's not your concern. Of course if you are the king of Troi then it is your problem. But hey, it's not like it never happened before. Because you know, people fought over that damn city multiple times.

What you must remember is that if gods meddle with mortal affairs they act like mortals. So they change sides, aid different people and so on. And if you have demigods and beast they don't live forever. So after 50 years things get back to normal. By normal I think "people fight they own wars".

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    $\begingroup$ Labours as a method of keeping overpowered mortals in check? Nice. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 17 '17 at 16:33
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That's not the nature of heroes.

A hero doesn't want to rule; he wants things to be right. That things which should be done, are done, and things which should not be done, are not. He makes it so. He doesn't think he is special. Talk with any real-life hero and you'll always hear it: "I only did what anybody would do." The hero would like to just be ordinary and competent, and live in peace, never even thinking about whether there is a king somewhere, but things keep coming up and he has to deal with them because, well, that's what you do when things come up.

As for the ruler who wants to use a hero to conquer the world, he runs a grave risk: the hero may ponder his orders and decide that his king has become evil, and thus sadly the hero must now destroy him.

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It's hard to address all possibilities why Heroes or state of Heroes wouldn't rule the world. To point some of them:

  • Power of state is not sum of heroes. Not all heroes will dot on the state. By nature they would like to live their life along with their ambitions, be it peaceful farming or government. As long as there will be no propaganda involved, only a few of them will be controlled by or in state and the degree of said control will vary. Saying so, any war will mobilize heroes from whole area to stop the threat for peaceful life of others.
  • Weakness exploit. Weak have wits and will use any weapon at their disposal especially at desperate times. For any measure there exists counter-measure. Even weak goat herder may bring Hero to his fall.
  • Power play. States with Heroes will be more interested in breeding more powerful heroes or at last try to match-make some of them to produce more heroes. Government will attempt to create social and legal measures of control over Heroes to control them. They might be so focused those actions that they effectively cannot rule they world.

Possibly the best Heroes compete on some kind of Olimpics to demonstrate who has the most powerful Heroes? In this case sports competition would have drastic effects on diplomatics and reversely, some heroes would be instructed to perform below their capacities.

  • Raging beasts. Heroes under control of state are more involved into "pest control" of monsters. States would not be able to really use heroes for invasions, more over to maintain peace it would be necessary to use big garrisons, as Monsters are able to easily trash feeble lives of citizens.
  • Power Divided, geographically Heroes are normally dispersed or their "power" or "mana" is taken from their location. If even some state is able to gather Heroes, they would become weak due to division of power between Heroes in location. Saying so, heroes couldn't be used in normal army and could be overpowered by normal people.
  • One for All, one Hero (unless some cloning will be applied) may be only in one place at once even if he's able to teleport or use some quick transportation. No sane state would risk war in which such a famous Hero would have to be sent for invasion as their loss would heavily hit morale. Heroes would be rather used as guardians, reserved for representative purposes or propaganda and that's why duels of Heroes would be legendary. Saying so, in such setting duel of heroes would mean decisive battle when it's necessary to unleash everything at one's disposal.
  • No synergy, Heroes are bunch of individuals. They simply to not cooperate just because they are told to do so, have different relationships with others and ways of dealing with "troubles".

As for nation made of superpowerful beings their ability to expand/invade would be restricted by their ability to cooperate and communicate as well as numbers and reproduction rate compared to normal humans. As long as they could be killed and were a deadly threat people would develop methods to deal with them as in "Weakness exploit". To prevent that state of supernaturals would have to get involved into politics and that the real world logic would be applied with usual problems like:

  • Social schism, in every society there are different opinions on EVERY matter even if not spoken loud.
  • No interest on weaklings, due to fact that weaklings outside do not matter, inner struggle for position becomes most important. State does not take action outside borders of Supernatural State.
  • Economics, condensing power is cost-ineffective that's why supernaturals may discover ways to easily profit working between weaklings and disperse in search for equally easy life which probably could cause at first some side-effect economical quakes in neighboring countries but prove beneficial to both sides (mind 'Power play').
  • No motivation, why Supernaturals would be interested in world domination? Most probably they already feel superior and that's why they don't really need to prove it to others unless they are not properly respected. They may have also other goals like "live untroubled" or "pursuit for knowledge".

In my opinion:

As for using Heroes to slain armies, for any normal human war makes shattering experience. Using heroes this way would provide the quickest way to lose them by psychical wear off or death. Due to the power of heroes it would be too much risky for most states to employ such strategy. More over tragedy of war could quickly mobilize or create many powerful heroes on the opposing side or provoke retaliation of other countries.

As for rule of Heroes, powerful entities would rather not be interested in politics and bureaucracy or be effective leader of the world which would for the most part depend on maintaining control. Single Hero would be easily opposed and as for gathering other heroes they would most probably have different agendas like it normally takes place, there would be also differences of characters. Such situation would need more social skills than just supernatural (excluding mind control or some other ways of "persuasion") which would need Hero already less oriented towards combat. There would be also problems of cooperation between Supers and Normies which at some moment would have to interact.

By nature there is no balance, it is just that there are more satisfying, more profiting and less risky options that are used by "more powerful" ones than destruction of opposite party. This is why they stay "more powerful" than other parties and maintain "balance".

As for more simple minded answer: It's not like legendary heroes cannot rule the world. It's just that they would need appropriate means (like tech) wits (not necessary own, trusted group of specialists or crafty friends will do the trick) time and structures at their disposal to maintain it.

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They can't be.

If they would be balanced, it would mean that the weaker state isn't weaker.

There are various possible reasons, why a more powerful state doesn't conquer the weaken, we could talk a lot about non-military power, soft power, technical development, strong religion, and so on, but all of them results that the "less powerful" state isn't really less powerful.

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  • $\begingroup$ A few sentences or a bullet point about each of those reasons you just provided would be great. Otherwise this is really short for an answer. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 17 '17 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus The essence of my post, why all these reasons are invalid. I agree that it is short, but it is because it is highly focused, and not because of it would be LQ. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 17 '17 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ Your answer's length isn't the main problem, short answers CAN be ok. The main problem is it doesn't do anything but refute a point the question made. Generally speaking the scenario in the question should be accepted and an answer appropriately written unless the question is logically inconsistent. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 17 '17 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ @James It refutes the point of the question. The point of the question is "how to balance asymmetrically powerful states". My point is that "if they can be balanced, they aren't asymmetrically powerful". For example, the ancient Spartan army wasn't really lesser powerful as the Persian one, because they compensated the numbers with their heroism. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 17 '17 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ The question is directly analogous to: 'How can I balance a scale with different weights on each side?'. Your response is 'If the scales can be balanced at all then they weren't unbalanced to start with'. If you want to, then by all means talk about non-military power, soft power, technical development, strong religion and so on and explain how they bridge the gap between 'asymmetrically powerful' and 'balanced'. That would probably be a very good answer. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 18 '17 at 13:29
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Well, quite often they do - look to history, when our forebears were knights in armour that could kick the ass of any number of peasants armed with pointy sticks (I guess the closest analogy we have to the supernaturally powerful)

They ruled like a different class. In some countries the peasants were considered property. And these powerful guys banded together to ensure their dominance.

In the UK, it took the black death to break this system - when the peasants all died, the landed nobility found there was nobody left to make their sandwiches and were forced to change the system. Similarly, the first world war changed the established practices of a ruling class for a similar reason.

In a fantasy setting, the only thing stopping them are other powerful entities (via war or invasion) or themselves (because they can't be bothered with the boring task of ruling, or they have different interests like the wizard who can command armies of undead simply prefers to play with his books)(note some of these guys will simply get a steward or chancellor to do the boring ruling jobs instead and he sits around as figurehead for the glory)

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Short answer: its not safe.

Igor the Invincible decides to go full evil and starts burning out peasant houses with the families inside it. Unfortunately, around house one hundred he starts burning the house of Mary the Blacksmith's wife, formally Mary the Marauder, who is truly upset about trying to murder her family. I guess the Holy Handgun of Smiting is coming out of the jewelry box...

Not to mention that Mr. Bigger-Than-You, protector of the realm could eat Igor for breakfast. It's his town and he likes it nonviolent.

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protected by Serban Tanasa Mar 21 '17 at 17:27

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