I walked in to this Let’s Study with a sense of trepidation. Much like Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest was a thing even before I was born, so coming into it now in a much, much newer edition meant throwing myself into decades of lore and myth and expectations that I knew nothing about.
But gods I’m glad I did so.
The new RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha by Chaosium is an incredible product. Blessed with fantastic artwork, lovely layout and writing that could only come from the heart of someone who truly, absolutely loved the setting, reading RuneQuest was a heck of an experience.
Myths and Stories
RuneQuest’s setting of Glorantha has seen many incarnations and rightfully so. It’s a land that feels like a real myth, and the practices of the people in the land and their magics and beliefs are so grounded in what could have been that simply exploring that could fuel me for entire campaigns.
It’s rare that I find a setting so well adapted to sandbox campaigns, where the point is to help your community see the next year with healthy children, a larger herd of cows and the blessings of your Gods. Gone are the traditional “Chosen One” and “Murderhobo” formats, replaced instead with the simple (but difficult) task of living.
As I Live And Breathe
Few settings are so well explored in terms of the daily lives of its denizens as Glorantha. I remember early on that I came to RuneQuest hoping that it could deliver the same sense of culture as Legend of the Five Rings.
Now I find myself praying that the new edition of Legend of the Five Rings can relay their setting with the same care and attention to detail as Glorantha was presented in RuneQuest.
Everything and everyone has a place and a role, and Adventurers are motivated and constrained by their role in their communities. It’s a beautiful social ecosystem that never feels contrived or made-up. And even in the absence of some world-shattering horror or Big Bad Evil Guy, there’s plenty to do.
RuneQuest is a product of an older era of game design, and it shows. It’s not quick, easy or narrative. The rules don’t fade into the background as you play, and combat determines the smallest thing from where you hit to how much damage it does, and if it harm’s the target’s armor. I see a lot of slow combat and plenty of rules look ups early on and feel a great need to own a GM’s screen.
And that suits me fine.
RuneQuest is a stellar example of a game that knows what it wants to do. Combat is detailed because we’re playing out a simulation that is ugly, dirty, and likely to leave everyone injured. Magic is detailed, and full of requirements and considerations and options for ritual add-ons because you’re entreating spirits or gods to show you favor.
The rules aren’t there to obscure the moment: they’re there to highlight it.
So while I won’t reach for RuneQuest for Fast! Furious! Fun! I will use it when I want to tell a tale of heroes that reads like the Literary Epics rather than a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.
Not everything is perfect though. RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is a fantastic product, but it does feel incomplete. Without a bestiary (a concern now addressed with the release of the book just a few days ago) the book itself is less of a complete experience.
Also missing are chapters devoted to teaching people to run RuneQuest. While there is no shortage of inspiration, I had hoped that it would include more advice on how to start and what kind of adventures one could run for it. I’m approaching this review as a GM who has run all sorts of games so what might be obvious to me may be a concern to new GMs who picked up RuneQuest only to find that there wasn’t enough support for them right out of the gate.
I know there’s a GM book in the works somewhere, but I wish that and the Bestiary came out at the same time if only to give the full experience.
RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is a glorious game, and much like reading the epics, is extremely rewarding if you sit down and put some effort into reading it. The rules are complex but fit together in the manner of a Swiss watch, and the setting only makes it even more impressive.
It’s not fast, nor narrative, nor does it want to be. It knows it’s place, and doesn’t try to reach out to other spaces when it completely dominates at what it is. I would highly recommend it to GMs looking for a setting that can sandbox extremely well, has a wonderful sense of mythic realism, and isn’t intimidated by the reputation it has.
Chaosium has wowed me consistently from day 1 with my experiences with Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, but RuneQuest is the one game that has knocked me off my feet and made me a believer.
Get it, study it, and fall in love with it.
I know I have.
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!