runequest

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 8: Review

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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.

The Rules

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.

Downsides

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.

Conclusion

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.

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!

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 7d: Sorcery

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Of the three kinds of magic available in RuneQuest, Sorcery is the one that isn’t involved in worship, but is deeply rooted in study and logic. By understanding the nature of the Runes that form the foundation of reality, an Adventurer who practices sorcery can achieve powerful effects, at the cost of a large amount of Magic Points and time.

Sorcerous Procedures

The act of casting a spell of Sorcery involves not just identifying the effect you’d like to do from a list of spells, but also setting the parameters: distance, duration and so on. While this makes Sorcery very flexible, modifying these parameters means spending Magic Points. This makes it very difficult to cast too often as even a single spell might end up draining you of your power.

Godless Powers

Sorcery makes for an interesting element in RuneQuest, given how it looks at the metaphysics of magic itself, separated from the need to worship a god or barter with spirits. As such it is also regarded with deep suspicion among people, and many keep their distance from Sorcerors… even as they acknowledge that power and versatility of Sorcery.

Further Mysteries

Among the three, Sorcery is the one given a bare-bones treatment in RuneQuest. This is because the art of Sorcery will be given more extensive treatments in other supplements, which will likely delve into the kind of depth that I’ve come to expect.

Still, I’m glad that Sorcery exists in RuneQuest. I’ll acknowledge that while having many magics tie into the nature of spirits and gods is amazing, the fact that there are other routes to power simply make the world more compelling as there’s always another mystery!

RuneQuest’s Sorcery adds another layer of mystery to the deepening metaphysical framework of the game. While not as fleshed out as the other two means, it’s presence is a nice touch as to make players understand that there is a much bigger world out there outside of the worshipful practices of magic and could be a neat way to introduce some culture clash in the game!

In our next (and last) entry in this Let’s Study series, I’ll wrap up with a review of RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha, and share my thoughts after having had the time to really sit down and chew through the book.

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!

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 7c: Rune Cults and Rune Magic

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Today we’re looking at the second of the three major magic systems for Glorantha: Rune Magic.

If Spirit Magic and Shamanism is essentially Animism, Rune Cults and Rune Magic is religion centered on the worship of Gods as opposed to Spirits. Gods are the most powerful being in Glorantha, existing outside the mortal realm and outside of Time itself.

Another difference from Spirit Magic lies in the way that Rune Cults rely on a hierarchy. The Gods respond to sacrifices offered to them in a ritualized manner conducted by the hierarchy. No mere member can compel a god to do their bidding, but the gods will respond to sacrifices done properly by their God-Talkers and Rune Priests when done correctly.

The Hierarchy

Glorantha is a deeply religious setting, and thus any self-respecting adult is a member of a cult. Their involvement ranges from being a lay members to initiates and Rune Masters such as Rune Priests, God-Talkers and Rune Lords.

Talking to divinity

With the use of Rune Magic, worship becomes a powerful force to importune the gods for acts of divine favor and divination. This is not an easy task, and even the most basic of Rune Magic involves having to sacrifice POW to a diety to establish a connection and obtain the Rune Points necessary to request for such acts of god.

Organization

Rune Cults have a strongly regimented hierarchy, and the chapter goes into great detail on what it takes to become an Initiate of a Rune Cult, and the steps necessary to become a member of the Cult’s Rune Masters. Each one plays a vital role to their community, and is discussed with such detail that it can power a story arc in a session in itself.

The Cults of Glorantha

The chapter rounds off with an extensive listing of the various cults of Glorantha along with their traits and special considerations. Some cults have restrictions on their initiates, such as ones that only accept women. Each cult also has a list of skills that they can teach at reduced rates. Futhermore, each entry has the requirements to join the cult as a Rune Master.

Rune Magic

The Rune Magic Chapter goes over the details of importuning the gods for their powers. Initiates and Rune Masters all have access to Rune Magic. The procedure for casting Rune Magic is straightforward, but a look at the accompanying list of Rune Magics makes it clear that the functions of such spells really are in the form of miracles.

For example, Bladesharp, a spell that improves the damage of a weapon is a Spirit Magic spell, but Accelerate Growth, a spell that makes a plant grow the equivalent of 1 year in only 15 minutes is a Rune Magic spell.

Rune Magic is an interesting layer to the worshipful practices of magic in RuneQuest’s Glorantha. The idea of worship as magic isn’t new (hello, Cleric!) but the way it was applied in RuneQuest is nothing short of amazing. I’m glad they took so much time to go into detail and make it so that each Cult feels like a distinct organization and that appealing to different gods can yield different results.

The idea that Rune Masters are powerful (and influential) members of their own organization is excellent and again goes back to the thesis of Adventurers being heroes that serve a purpose in their communities.

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!

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 7b: Spirit Magic, Shamans and The Spirit World

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I’ll be honest. I was blown away by how surprisingly thorough the treatment of Spirit Magic, Shamanism and Spirits is in RuneQuest Glorantha.

I’ve been pretty public about how much of a Mage: the Ascension and Awakening fan I am in this blog, so checking out the magic sections of RPGs is always something I look forward to. Most of the time I expect it to be a short paragraph of metaphysics then a long spell list, possibly tagged at points to denote which schools of magic can cast a certain spell.

Not quite the case here in RuneQuest, I’m happy to say.

Spirit Magic

This chapter centers on Spirit Magic, the most commonly accessible form of magic in Glorantha. The mechanics behind it are fairly simple and the chapter details not only the metaphysics involved, but also where and how to learn it.

As expected, the act of learning magic is a community affair, and ties neatly back to your cult as a source of learning. Shamans are mentioned here as well as Spirit Magic Specialist, and a much (MUCH) more thorough treatment is given in a later chapter.

The chapter goes into the mechanical aspects such as Spell Holding Limits, Spellcasting abilities, Resistance rolls and Strike Rank, but does so without neglecting to paint a vivid picture of the flavor of Spirit Magic.

The Spirit Magic spells are then described at the end in the honored tradition of the spell list.

Shamans

Shamans are given their own chapter, detailing the role that they take in the community and their nature as one that truly lives with one foot in the Spirit World. It becomes extremely clear that the nature of the Shaman is very different from just anyone who entreats the spirits with Spirit Magic as explained in the earlier chapter.

Shamans are treated as something of an “Advanced Class” so to speak, a role in the community that requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice. The entire journey of becoming a Shaman is detailed, and it’s a huge effort. In exchange, the Shamans unlock a host of abilities unique only to themselves and they gain insight only available to those who see into the Spirit World.

Of course, Shamans also work with Taboo’s that restrict their behaviors somewhat. Some are rather easy, like not eating bear meat. Others might make for a plot hook on their own, such as Making a pilgrimage to the Earth Camp in the Spirit World once per season.

The Spirit World

It would be remiss if RuneQuest didn’t go into the more esoteric details of the Spirit World of Glorantha and they certainly deliver. Starting off with a description of what Spirits are and how to negotiate with them.

There’s also a sizable section about Spirit Combat and how to resolve it. The Spirit World is a wondrous place, but it is also quite dangerous. Shamans and other characters that seek to meddle in it need to be careful and able to defend themselves should negotiations turn hostile.

Spirit Cults are an interesting detail as they revolve around religions that worship particular spirits as opposed to gods. This form of worship has it’s own benefits as initiates obtain Rune spells as provided by spirits.

RuneQuest’s treatment of Spirit Magic is flavorful, thorough, vivid and visceral. The book succeeds in being able to convey the significance of Spirit Magic in the daily lives of Glorantha. The mechanics are a bit involved, but that’s to be expected, and I’m starting to feel that the complexity of combat and magic in Glorantha is a means of highlighting the ritualized nature of both.

Next up, we’ll take a look at Rune Cults and Rune Magic!

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!

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 7a: Introduction to Magic

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If you have a setting where everyone has access to magic like Glorantha does, you’d probably dedicate nearly half the book to the subject too.

Types of Magic

RuneQuest has three different forms of magic:

  • Spirit Magic – Involves communing with spirits that reside in the Spirit World.
  • Rune Magic – Involves sacrificing living things or objects to a god to allow the supplicant to participate in the deeds of the god and gain a fraction of the god’s Rune power.
  • Sorcery – Is the direct study of the Runes themselves as laws of the universe and imposes the will of the caster upon the material world.

Magic Points

Adventurers use their own life energy in the form of Magic Points to fuel spells, and if they ever spend enough to use up all their Magic Points, they fall unconscious.

Rune Magic however, demands that the adventurer sacrifice points of POW to gain access to their cult’s Rune Magic.

Worship and Ritual

Spells aren’t easy to pull off and when you’ve got the opportunity, it’s best to have an adventurer try to improve their chances. This can be done by Meditation or ritual practices or augmentation with Dance, Sing, or other appropriate skill.

It’s a neat touch that lends credence to why spellcasters work so hard on long and complicated rituals to try and get the best possible outcome for their work.

Enchantment

Another function of magic is to Enchant objects (or creatures!) with magic in a way that permanently changes it. This has a cost in the form of the caster’s POW but for many the trade off is worth it.

As a fan of Mage: the Ascension, seeing such an extensive page count dedicated to magic warms my heart. That said, it is intimidating and I can’t shake off the worry that I might forget something. Still, the way that the basics of magic as described makes sense, and I’m certain that will go a long way in being able to keep track of how to handle magic rolls, given how important it is to the setting in general.

Given the size of the Magic Chapters, I’ll be breaking this into sub-entries. Next up we’ll be taking a look at Spirit Magic, Shamans and Spirits & the Spirit World.

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!

[Let’s Study: RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha] Part 6: Runes, Passions and Reputation

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Runes are the building blocks of Glorantha’s reality they affect everything from Magic to the personalities of the people who live there.

Mechanically, Runes are used for magic, augmenting skills with Runic Inspiration and for defining behaviors.

Rune Magic

Rune magic comes in the form of Rune Spells, and an Adventurer’s chance of casting a Rune spell uses their rating in that Rune.

Runic Inspiration

As described back when we discussed augmenting, Runes can be used to augment an adventurer’s rolls. Elemental Runes can be used to improve chances in a single non-combat skill roll as long as there is an association to the Rune’s influences.

Meanwhile Power/Form Runes can be used to augment any skill in accordance to the Rune.

Bonuses from Runic inspiration are pretty hefty, ranging from +20% to +50%, but a fumble in a Runic Inspiration check will trigger psychic turmoil which stops the adventurer from using the Rune and avoid acting in accordance with it!

Personality

An interesting aspect of RuneQuest lies in the way that the Runes influence behavior. The higher one’s rating in a Rune, the more the Adventurer embodies the traits of the Rune. In play a roll for a Rune can be called in particular decision points where a character acts in accordance (or against) their runes. The Experience Checks for these rolls help in showing the internal struggles of the character’s personality and how their experiences change who they are as people.

Passions

Passions are the next major component of an adventurer’s personality. There are common Passions to RuneQuest: Devotion (Diety), Fear (Type or Individual), Hate (Group or Individual), Honor, Loyalty and Love.

Passions as Inspiration

Like Runes, Passions can be used to augment a skill with the GM’s approval. and like Runes the bonuses range from a +20% to a +50%, but a fumble throws a character into despair.

It’s a neat mechanic and really comes into play when it’s time to make a tracking roll to find the person who kidnapped the person you loved.

Extremes

Runes and Passions with a rating of 80% or higher makes them staunchly-held beliefs that are taken very seriously.  At this point it becomes very difficult for the adventurer to refuse acting in a fashion in line with their Runes and Passions. This leads to being unable to set aside vicious animosities (Hate 80%) and possibly jeopardizing the peace process in doing so.

Reputation

As with any society, Fame matters. As an adventurer achieves deeds, they gain a Reputation score. Reputation is used for either identifying an adventurer or using it to brag about what you’ve done and impress people.

A neat mechanic here is that one can actually augment their Reputation with a creative use of a skill like Orate or Sing.

What I like about this is it’s not really a social combat mechanic per se, but it ties in neatly to the nature of people to respect (or fear) people with a certain reputation.

I’m thoroughly impressed by the Runes, Passions and Reputation mechanics of RuneQuest. In some ways, I’m reminded of Legend of the Five Rings’ Rings, Honor and Glory mechanics, and it wouldn’t take a lot for me to actually map them against each other and still come out with the kind of experience I want from both games.

I suppose this is one of the main reasons why RuneQuest clicked in my brain, the physics of the world and how people interact in it just makes sense. There’s no need for a social combat system because it’s all spelled out. Anyone with a lick of roleplaying skill can take this and make it work.

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!

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

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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.

Traditions

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.

Nasty.

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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