Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #8 - RuneQuest

RuneQuest is a game I’d love to get a bit more time playing. The first version I picked up was the Avalon Hill-published, Chaosium-produced 3rd edition of the game. For many, if not most people, RuneQuest is equivalent to Glorantha, the default setting of the game. However, the 3rd edition took place on a fantasy version of Earth, with Glorantha detailed in a book in the boxed set.

My own experience with RuneQuest is in using it as the rules for a fantasy version of Earth, with the PCs being either Vikings or Lenape Native Americans, covering a fictional colony set up by Vikings in Manhattan around 1000 AD. It featured evil dwarfs, dragons, and lots of violence. It was a lot of fun. If it went much longer I think I would have thrown in some ninjas and dinosaurs... We actually used a fairly crunchy version of the rules, as designed by Nash and Whitaker for Mongoose Publishing, a set of rules that became the basis for The Design Mechanism’s RuneQuest 6th Edition and later Mythras. Chaosium, after a long journey, has the rights back to both the game and the rules and is in the process of producing a new edition, RuneQuest Glorantha.

What’s the appeal of RuneQuest? For me, it’s the skill-based characters. Without classes, you can make any character you want. With a simple percentile skill system it is easy to know how good your character is at something. And characters will rarely have enough hit points to guarantee surviving a single hit from a sword, combat is very exciting - lots of parrying and maneuvering. The Nash and Whitaker incarnation of RuneQuest greatly detailed the maneuvers possible, with characters getting additional options depending on how well they attack or defend. This was sometimes a little too crunchy for my tastes but it did make combat very exciting. From what I’ve seen, Chaosium appears to be throttling back on this a bit, going back to something closer to the 2nd and 3rd editions of the game. Still quite a few options, but not quite as crunchy. I’m considering RuneQuest to be a single game, unlike the different editions of D&D. Unlike D&D versions, RuneQuest character sheets from one edition tp the next look quite similar to one another, albeit with a lot more details as the editions go up. The editions aren’t quite as similar to one another as they are for its sibling, Call of Cthulhu. This is perhaps not too surprising considering the game has had four publishers - Chaosium, Avalon Hill, Mongooe, and The Design Mechanism. 

RuneQuest is also well known for its magic systems. The base game assumes that everyone is able to use magic, though for most this amounts to very minor magics like sharpening a blade. It is possible to become a dedicated priest in all of the editions and many of them also allow for sorcerers. Nash and Whitaker opened it up to shamans, divine priests, sorcerers, and mentalists. They also provided dials for how magical a world you wanted - you could,for example, take away the ability of everyone to use magic quite easily. It was also used by Mongoose for gaming in Lankhmar, though, truth to tell, I was a bit disappointed by those books. 

I’ve never gamed in Glorantha which makes me a bit uncomfortable commenting on one of its best known aspects. Glorantha is very much a fantasy setting. The gods in that setting are very real. The afterife is a very concrete thing, reducing fear of death quite a bit - and giving an emphasis on becoming legendary for one’s deeds. I like how it gets away from the default medieval fantasy of most games, going for more of a Bronze Age fantasy - and with a strong emphasis on different cultures, from the very primitive to empires. I’ve been giving some serious thought to trying out a Glorantha-based game of late.


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