[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 5: Combat


Fighting isn’t something you get into lightly in RuneQuest. Combat is dangerous, and there’s a good chance that none of the combatants will walk away unscathed.


Let me get this out of the way first. I loved that the Combat chapter opens up with a quick bulleted list of customs of warfare in Glorantha before we get anywhere near anything resembling a mechanic. It’s immediately followed by a vivid description of just how brutal, confusing and ugly combat can be.

Phases of a Combat Round

Combat Rounds are discussed as a mechanical means to simulate the chaos of battle, and is broken down to four phases:

  • Statement of Intent
  • Movement of non-engaged characters
  • Resolution of Melee, Missiles and Spells
  • Bookkeeping

It feels quick, and I suppose it is once you’ve gotten the hang of it, but RuneQuest’s combat tends to be on the detailed side, and the statement I made when I wrote the last articles holds true: Every Hit Matters.

Strike Ranks

A mixture of weapon speed and an innate initiative score, Strike Ranks determine which attacks take place first in a melee round. Factors that affect this include the character’s SIZ and DEX scores, and weapon reach. Spears, for example have a lower Strike Rank modifier as opposed to knives.

No action or combination of actions may be performed in one melee round if the total Strike Ranks necessary adds up to more than 12. As such if a spell needs more than 12 Strike Ranks, it takes more than a single round to do so.

When not engaged, an adventurer can spend 12 strike ranks on performing various actions. But when engaged in melee, the adventurer must spend it attacking and defending. It makes sense in the context of what goes on once you’re already in the midst of the deadly back-and-forth of melee combat, where you’re busy both trying to get a hit in while avoiding injury at the same time.

Attacks and Defenses

Attacking is a basic roll involving the adventurer’s melee or missile skill. The Defender may try to avoid damage by parrying or dodging the blow, trusting their armor or through magic.

There are several tables that are consulted that deal with results on the outcomes of these rolls. There’s an Attack and Parry results table, and a Dodge Results table. Needless to say, the higher roll always has the advantage, but there are various effects that could take place. For example, should a Critical Attack be resisted by a Normal Parry, then the attacker inflicts maximum special damage and the defender’s parrying weapon HP is reduced by the damage rolled with any excess applying to an adjacent hit location, with no armor protection.


Subsequent attempts to Parry suffer a penalty to reflect the difficulty of being overwhelmed.

Passions or Runes in Combat

Both Passions or Runes can be used in combat as an Augment action. This takes no additional time to perform and is more indicative of a character drawing on their emotions or nature to provide a boost.

Special Damage

Because RuneQuest is just that kind of game, it’s not enough to just describe damage done by weapons. Instead, damage can become special. If the attack roll results in Special Damage then the attack is resolved according to the rules of the three types of Special Damage: Impaling, Slashing and Crushing.

Each one is handled differently, but usually has a doubled normal damage result plus extra effects. Impaling weapons, for example become stuck in the body of the target and need to be freed for further use.

Weapons and Armor

Weapons and armor are given a detailed look in this chapter as well with full details and descriptions for the weapons, and a detailed rundown of armor values and coverage for each piece!

Needless to say, having armor on majority (or all) hit loacations is a very good idea.

Special Rules

In addition to the standard combat, there are also rules for fighting while mounted, from a chariot or even in phalanx formation!

Combat in RuneQuest doesn’t read like it’ll be fast. But what it will be is descriptive, tense and deadly. In many ways, it fulfills the design intent of having a system that treats combat with the level of detail that it deserves, so that every fight feels more like something out of Grimgar rather than Dragonball Z.

Next up, we’ll be taking a look that the Runes and Passions!

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is available in PDF from Chaosium or DriveThruRPG for only $27.95

For those interested in the hardcover, I’d recommend buying from Chaosium as they’ll be issuing a coupon for those who bought a PDF to discount the price from the physical copy!

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