25 June 2016

RuneQuest 4 - First Impressions

So my friends and I were lucky enough to take part in the first worldwide open playtest of the new RuneQuest rules by Jeff Richard at Chimériades V.

The following is a modified and summarised translation of Grégory Molle's original French-language post about the new RuneQuest rules, with a few additional impressions thrown in.

At the last Chimériades convention, Jeff Richard refereed two games with the new RuneQuest rules. I played in the second game; I got to create a character, play a short two-hour game with four fellow players, and peruse the printout of the latest draft of the game.

RuneQuest 4 or 2.5?

By the way, what version of the game are we talking about, exactly? Jeff talks about RuneQuest 4, because he considers the game as a successor to the 3rd edition, the one that was created by Chaosium but published by Avalon Hill in 1984. This is tantamount to “erasing” the Mongoose editions from the 2000s and the one by The Design Mechanism a few years ago – not to mention the unpublished RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha by Oliver Jovanovic, Michael McGloin and Carl Fink that should have been published as a successor to RuneQuest 3.

This having been said, this new edition of RuneQuest is also sometimes referred to as RuneQuest 2.5. Why? Because it is sort of a step back from RQ3 that the new 2016 Chaosium consider crippled by now-obsolete rules (fatigue points) or clumsy ones (one-use rune spells, sorcery). The starting point of the new RuneQuest game is hence its “classic” version, i.e., the 1979 edition known as RuneQuest 2. The fans’ commitment to RQ2 has been showcased by the hugely successful RuneQuest Classic Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2015 that raised more than $200,000.

However, since RuneQuest is back in a Glorantha-specific version, and not as a generic fantasy role-playing system, we might as well call it RuneQuest Glorantha. The game credits the following people as its authors: Steve Perrin, Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, Jeff Richard, Ken Rolston, and Chris Klug.

Character Generation: Pendragon and HeroQuest to the Rescue

Character generation assumes the choice of a homeland and of an occupation that will affect the values of some skills. The skill categories have not changed since the 1980s: magic, agility, communication, knowledge, perception, manipulation, stealth. The homelands available in the game are Sartar, Esrolia, the Grazelands, Lunar Tarsh, Old Tarsh, and five Praxian tribes: Bison, High Llama, Impala, Pol-Joni, Sable Riders.

Characters are defined by the seven traditional characteristics (Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, and Power), by their magic points, hit points (with hit locations), strike rank modifiers (Size, Dexterity), damage bonus, and maximum encumbrance (beyond which you undergo negative modifiers). This will all look very familiar to RQ grognards. The Defence skill from RuneQuest 2 has disappeared, and a new ability, healing rate, has appeared.

Where it starts getting groovy is in the top right corner of the character sheet, where you can spot two runic diagrams! Oh yes, RuneQuest has at last deserved its very name.

The first diagram is about the six Elemental Runes – Water, Air, Earth, Darkness, Fire/Sky and… Moon! You choose a main rune whose score is set to 60%, then three others that respectively obtain 40%, 20%, and 10%. These are the basic scores: further modifiers may come into play, so that Branduan, my Sartarite character, ended up with 60% in the Moon Rune (OK, he was a Eurmali skald whose paternal grandmother already was a trickster, see below), 20% in Darkness, 10% in Water but 70% in Air (after adding two bonuses, +10% and +20%, to an initial score of 40%).

The second runic diagram is reminiscent of the Pendragon personality traits table since it opposes five pairs of Power Runes – Fertility / Death, Harmony / Disorder, Truth / Illusion, Stasis / Movement, and Man / Beast – whose values are linked: the sum for a given pair must be equal to 100%. I don’t remember the actual procedure but I know that, with the choices I made, Branduan ended up with two pairs of Power Runes having scores different from 50% / 50%: Illusion (95%) / Truth (5%) and Movement (75%) / Stasis (25%).

Whether Elemental or Power, the Runes can be used to improve, via a set bonus, the score of a given skill, sort of like in HeroQuest. A successful roll under a relevant Rune, e.g., the Illusion Rune for a thief who is trying not to be noticed by their victim, yields a 20% bonus to their Sneak skill score. However, should the roll under the Illusion Rune fail, the inability of the character to attune to that particular Rune at that moment in time yields a 20% negative modifier to the skill. I’m not sure at the moment if the modifier is always ±20% but it definitely seemed to be the default value.

Moreover, just like in Pendragon, the Power Runes can be used to influence the player’s actions; for instance, acting in a way that is in contradiction with a given Power Rune in which the PC has a high score might decrease said score – or prevent the PC from acting the way they are.

That’s more or less all with regard to Runes. We have used them a lot during our two-hour game, meaning they are not there as a fancy addition, they are really part of the core mechanics of the new RuneQuest game. One must really weigh all the options at character generation, in particular in order to avoid redundancy among the player characters. While I was perusing the printout of the draft rules, I’ve also noticed that the description of the Runes assumed a host of symbolic associations: personality traits, senses (sight, etc.), skill categories, arms, colours, metals, animals and… body organs [editor’s note: this is all very reminiscent of wǔxíng in Chinese cosmology]. For instance, Moon is associated with the pineal gland, which the Grey Sage Wikipedius tells us plays a central role in regulating the body’s biological rhythm (waking/sleep, seasons), which is really close to what we know about Lunar Magic and its cycles. This gives plenty of food for thought about using Runes in actual gaming sessions.

Yet another Pendragon legacy: passions. You get them while defining the background of the character (see below) – but I reckon you may also acquire them as-you-go (during play).

Branduan hates:
  • the Telmori
  • the Orleving Clan
  • authority in general

He also:
  • is devoted to his cult
  • loves his family
  • is loyal towards:
    • his clan
    • his tribe
    • Argrath (very present in the new game’s background since it’s been moved to 1627+!)
    • Erik (another PC, whose bonded trickster he is)

I realise now, by re-reading the character sheet, that all passion scores start at 60%. It’s maybe slightly too uniform, there should be more variety or randomness. This having been said, these scores will change during play via the skill check mechanism.


The next phase is the determination of the PC’s background, and that’s where you’re in for a ride. The new RuneQuest asks you to answer a long series of biographical questions, up to your player character’s grandparents. The game is set in 1627 – much like 13th Age in Glorantha – you must hence go back till the Battle of Grizzly Peak in 1582 to know what happened to your grandparents – at least for a Sartarite PC, because the events tables vary depending on the character’s culture.

A succession of tables will enable you to travel through Gloranthan time – re-read Pendragon, it’s the same concept – down to the present time. Are your grandparents still alive? There aren’t many probabilities that they all are, and it’s actually interesting to know what happened to them, because that will have repercussions for your character. There’s a family tree of sorts that unfolds. Regarding my character, I’ve discovered that his paternal grandmother was still alive in 1627, but that was kind of expected since a trickster is supposed to avoid combat rather than risk their life and amass glory like a nice Sartarite.

At some point, the story focuses on the character’s parents: one can witness the whole history of Dragon Pass and of Prax between 1608 and 1626. Then the focus shifts to the PC themself, and one may discover what has befallen them between 1623 and 1626. Branduan, left for dead during a raid by the Orleving Clan, eventually sought and found refuge in Pavis, where his skills as a trickster led him to being spotted by Argrath and to adventuring at his side before returning to Sartar and to his clan.

All in all, this biographical phase provides characters that have a detailed past while establishing a few points of reference for players who are not familiar with the world of Glorantha (it has actually reminded me of the clan creation in Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes). It’s also a fantastic way to create bonds between the various PCs. In our case there were clearly those whose background had been strongly influenced by clanic or tribal conflicts, and those who had simply wandered throughout Dragon Pass and who had serendipitously met Argrath.

The most spectacular consequence was that the character background generation phase strongly informed the adventure that we played. Jeff might have had some hidden agenda, I’m not sure about that, or maybe he deviated from it; anyway, he simply started the game by asking us: “What do you want to do?”. The answer that we provided was directly linked to the characters’ background. I’m not going to tell you all the details, but it had something to do with a revenge and conquest plan against the Orleving Clan, against whom our own clan bore an ancient grudge. This led to an encounter with Leika, the tribal Queen of the Colymar, and then – on the basis of the PCs’ background – we eventually met Argrath himself, who was busy conquering some former Lunar lands in the north of Dragon Pass, so as to involve him in our petty squabbles whilst promising him our allegiance in the future and feeling that we couldn’t fully grasp his innuendos. All this in two hours of play. That was far, far away from the usual introductory scenarios of our teenage years where we’d fight three broo and a half to defend our village!

a portion of the background part of the character sheet

And Also…

We didn’t use it during this playtest, but when I had a look at the rules, I found that a PC could have a family heirloom that was a “special” thing. Among the suggestions, there was “a small sentient animal” or “an iron object” – which is pretty cool.

I’ve also noticed there was a fast-track chargen, for people who wanted to start playing right away. It is something that was already present in RuneQuest 3, if I remember correctly.

I thought I’d read that the Resistance Table had been removed, but actually no, it’s still there; it’s just been removed from the Spirit Combat section.

There’s also a whole chapter devoted to Sacred Time, which (yet again) strongly reminded me of Pendragon. The new RuneQuest has been devised so as to enable campaign game, with long campaigns that entail one or two adventures per Gloranthan year. During Sacred Time, the background of the PC, or of the whole party, or of their community (or actually a little bit of each of them) is affected by some events. Based on my perusal of the draft rules, I remember titles such as “events”, “heroquest”, “omens from last year” (there’s something similar in King of Dragon Pass, with questions such as Did you take into account the omens from yesteryear’s Sacred Time during last year?), “raids”, “invasions”, “harvest”, “family”, or even “character income”, based upon their profession.

There was also a chapter about heroquesting but it was still a mere collection of notes, and there was a mention of a book of heroquests. Note: the other group of players did a heroquest during their introductory adventure, so it’s definitely not something only available to ‘high-level’ parties.

Voilà, you have an idea of the new RQ rules. Now let’s be patient until we can get hold of them!

Jeff has also blogged about family background in the new RuneQuest on the Chaosium web-site.

17 June 2016

Revolution D100 SRD

Revolution D100's System Reference Document (SRD) is on-line and it is free! You can find it here.

Since this new, crowdfunded D100-based system by Alephtar Games hasn't been officially released yet, the SRD is bound to undergo further modifications, in particular based on playtesters' feedback.