sábado, 24 de junio de 2017

A review of RuneQuest Quickstart

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On Free RPG Day, June 17th 2017, Chaosium offered free of charge some copies of the RuneQuest Quickstart, a 50-page booklet including a scenario ready for play and a summary of the basic rules of the by then still unpublished game RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Below I'm reviewing these rules and the scenario (from the point of view of someone who has been running and playing RuneQuest since his teens).

---Puedes leer la reseña en español en este enlace---

The rulebook that was summed up and compressed in the RuneQuest Quickstart was finally published on June 1st 2018 and it is the 7th edition of the legendary roleplaying game RuneQuest. This edition is different from many of the previous ones mainly for incorporating the fantasy world of Glorantha as the default setting of the rules, which had not happened since the second edition. On the other hand, the adventure included in this free publication is the first official scenario ever published for RuneQuest set in Glorantha's Third Age since 1994, back when the scenario book Strangers in Prax was published for RuneQuest 3rd edition. Be aware, that makes it... 23 whole years waiting for an official adventure in Glorantha's Third Age. (N.B.: the Third Age is the canonical «now» in Glorantha and I point this out because Mongoose Publishing did publish some scenarios and campaigns for its 4th and 5th editions of RuneQuest, but the setting for those was the Second Age). Now let's get back to the review.


This booklet is 48 pages long plus colour covers in nice plastic cardboard. It's saddle-stitched and the cover art is by Andrey Fetisov. This is yet another tribute to the first and second editions cover by Louise Perrin. «Yet another» because the cover on RuneQuest 6 shows another version of the same warrior against the lizard, though the one on the RuneQuest Quickstart is perhaps closer to the original, since the bold warrior is almost on the same pose as in the 1978 edition.

The inner pages are black and white with two exceptions: the elegant golden section titles and side decoration, and the beige background of tables and boxes. The lay-out follows the same style as the new supplements for HeroQuest Glorantha since The Coming Storm. That is, double column, same font and headings, the vertical Greek-looking cool motives on the edges, a parchment-like background and the air rune here and there. The art by Andrey Fetisov is really good, and it all makes for an attractive look, it lets you read the text easily and it contributes to reinforce the idea of Glorantha as a Bronze Age world.

The RuneQuest Quickstart, penned by Jeff Richard and Jason Durall, contains rules, scenario and player characters ready for play. It follows almost the same pattern as another famously free Quickstart by Chaosium: Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start. In this review, I will focus on the rules and then I will briefly review the scenario without giving away anything, to finally finish it off with my personal opinion as a conclusion.

The rules

The rules section fills 24 pages and it's a brief summary of the rules that are strictly necessary in order to play the included scenario. According to Jason Durall, this Quickstart includes the rules as they were on April 2017 when they assembled the document, but since then the rules were tweaked further as new playtests offered new insights, so these are not 100% the ones that are to be found in the final RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha rulebook (read the review!). But more to the point: the rules section kicks off claiming that the scenario is intended for 3-6 players plus the GM. Then you can find a brief introduction to the fantasy world of Glorantha, which starts as follows:
Welcome to Glorantha, a heroic, mythic place of heroes and gods, where people hold allegiance to tribe, city and cult, not to abstract alignments or ideologies. Although humanity is the dominant species, their dominance is due only to the quarrelling of the Elder Races, who still rule large parts of the world.
Next you can find a column about how to read the dice, as in «2D6» and how to roll a 100-sided dice. It is somewhat strange that this is explained for newbies without any explanation of what is a roleplaying game as they did in the Cthulhu Quickstart. Because, if someone does not know how to read 2D6, most probably they won't know what is a roleplaying game either.

On the next pages the game system is described. To begin with, the seven characteristics defining characters are described, which are the same as in every other RuneQuest edition: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power and Charisma. At this point you can already notice that this is a return to RuneQuest 3rd edition, since Size and Dexterity determine strike rank, which in turn determines initiative in combat. As I already posted here, the action points mechanic of RuneQuest 6th edition has been abandoned. Also, Charisma is understood as leadership and force of personality (like in RQ2) rather than looks, a change already present in RQ6. This philosophy permeates the whole rules: RuneQuest 3 as a base (and RQ2) with some innovations already included in the 6th edition (now called Mythras). Some of these innovations were already present in previous books by Chaosium like King Arthur Pendragon and HeroQuest Glorantha, though. On the other hand, some RQ6 skills like Insight, Brawn and Endurance, go back to being a characteristic roll multiplied by five, which emphasises characteristics a bit more. For example, if you want to move a big rock, you roll STRx5. And in order to pit a characteristic against another, the Resistance Table is back. For instance, an arm wrestle between two characters is solved by crossing their Strength values on the table. If both have the same Strength, their chances of winning are 50%, whereas if one has 12 and the other 10, a two point difference, the chances of the strongest are 60%. Even if they already told us that this edition was going to be very similar to the ones previously designed by Chaosium (I talked about this in this long post), it still surprises me that they have kept the Resistance Table. Especially since The Call of Cthulhu, a roleplaying game with rules derived from RuneQuest, does not include it any more in its 7th edition.

This table brings an old-school feel to the game.

Then you have skills, again a long list on the character sheet as in RuneQuest 3 and these are no longer divided into standard and professional like in RQ6. Special successes are also back, meaning a result in the D100 equal or less than a fifth of the original score. And critical successes are again a 20th of the normal skill score. On the other hand, new skills have been added like Farm, Herd or Manage Household, which I like a lot, because they hint at using the game for creating stories much more centred around the communities of the heroes, following the style of the videogame King of Dragon Pass or the minicampaign included in the excellent old supplement Dorastor: Land of Doom. There are also other newcomers like Intrigue or Intimidate and these make me wish that the final rules include some sort of social combat mechanic. What's more, I've found three skills that seem inspired on the RQ6 list: Survival, Customs and Insight. Most of them have a set base chance, for example: Move Quietly (10), as in RuneQuest 3rd edition, but two of them stand out by basing this base chance on Dexterity. For example: Dodge (DEXx2) as in RuneQuest 6.

In order to oppose skills the same mechanic of HeroQuest or RuneQuest 6 is used, in turn derived from Pendragon. That is, the best level of success is the winner and if both rivals get the same level of success, the highest result is the winner. As I claim in my post about non-violent conflicts, this is a much better mechanic than the old one included in RuneQuest 3. There is also a brief section dealing with opposed skill rolls over 100%. And the mechanic is the same as in RQ6, meaning: the % score over 100% is subtracted from the opponent's %. Unfortunately, and somewhat weirdly, the final rules in RQG reverted to the mechanic in which only success degrees matter, not the actual result of the dice roll.

Aside from skills, the new RuneQuest includes two other abilities: runes and passions. Passions work in a similar way to RQ6. They help define characters and let them improve their chances of succeeding in other skills under certain circumstances. These can be Loyalty (Tribe), Hate (Lunar Empire), Honour, Fear, etc. For example, if your character has Love (Family) you can use this passion when you roll for Search in order to find your lost brother in the woods. However, the mechanic is the same as in Pendragon. In that Greg Stafford's game, players need to roll a D100 to determine if a particular passion manages to inspire their character. Depending on the success level, a different bonus is added to the skill roll you wish to increase. But you also need to be careful here, because if you fail the roll, you get a negative modifier instead! Even worse, if you fumble it, the effect is very adverse. Normal skills and runes can also be used like this, but the fumble effects are different in every case. For example, if you were using a skill to increase another one, you get a -50% decrease on the skill for your next roll! However, fumbling a passion or rune means losing some permanent score in that passion or rune! While in Pendragon player characters can go mad if they fumble a passion roll, in the RuneQuest Quickstart rules they despair for a period of minutes or even days as decided by the game master. This inherent risk to the roll means these augments are only going to be used in play when they are really necessary and you have a good score in the rune, skill or passion. And I love that because it has a logic sense to it, since only big passions or runes are going to affect often the main characters in the story.

The runes and passions of Harmast, a Gloranthan character who follows the god Issaries.

Then we also have runes, the best thing ever for a roleplaying game called RuneQuest. Even more so in this new edition where the world of Glorantha is the setting ingrained in the rules. Runes also have a score like skills and, as mentioned before, they can be used to augment other skills as if they were passions. Runes are associated to a group of personality traits, so they can also be used to decide what a character does if you as a player can't decide. First and foremost, though, runes are used for magic. They are like the runes in HeroQuest Glorantha (a mechanic also included in the never-published Adventures in Glorantha), and although characters can have more than three, they usually have only high scores in three or four of them. Gloranthan cults are associated to one to three runes. For example, Orlanth, god of storms and wind, possesses the air, movement and mastery runes. So in order for their followers to use his powers, the rune associated with a spell must be rolled. For example, in order to cast the runic spell Leap, an orlanthi character must roll under his score in the movement rune, whereas to cast the spell Lightning she needs to roll under the air rune. The RuneQuest Quickstart includes a list of runic spells and their runes, but this is limited to the spells known by the player characters included (see further down). So yay! Runes are finally key in RuneQuest! It was about time!

I almost forgot a very nice touch: runes have a dark side... That's right, when a character goes over 80% in one of her runes, her strong connection to that source of power begins to make her lose her free will, since she starts behaving always according to that rune's nature. This is what happens to gods, they embody a rune so much, that they are incredibly powerful, but at the expense of not being able to act out of the scope of that rune. In terms of play, when a player wants to do something with her character that contradicts the nature of the rune she has over 80%, the game master can ask her to roll under the opposing rune to see if she really manages to behave against the rune dictates. The same happens with the strongest passions. Of course, you can also let the character do whatever she wants, but then she will lose all the score over 80% if she acts contrarily to the high rune or passion. I just love this! It's not only a very Gloranthan touch, but it also helps reign in the power level of player characters.

Four of the runes described in the RuneQuest Quickstart and their associated traits and gods.

What about the combat rules? Again, combat is very similar to RuneQuest 3, with only minor differences. For example, there is no rolled initiative, actions points or combat effects as in RuneQuest 6 or Mythras, but strike ranks (SR) and negative modifiers to do special attacks like aiming to the head. Every round is divided into 12 SR (like in RQ2) and every action costs a certain amount of SR. For example, to ready a weapon costs 5 SR and firing an arrow often costs 3 SR (depending on the archer's Dexterity). So, for instance, a normal archer with his bow ready could fire an arrow (3SR), reload the bow (+5SR) and fire another arrow (+3SR). It's a simple logic system, and I like it because initiative does not depend on luck or a dice roll.

The first character to attack is the one whose attack costs the least SR and her Dexterity and Size, as well as the weapons length influence that, although the RuneQuest Quickstart does not include these details because the PCs included already have these precalculated for you. When you receive a mêlée attack, you can choose whether to parry with your weapon or shield, or to dodge using that skill. Every weapon's damage is determined by rolling a set of dice plus the damage modifier and you roll 1D20 to determine where exactly the blow lands. Parrying an attack successfully blocks as many damage points as hit points the defending weapon has. The rest are subtracted from the hit points of the defending character, both from the hit location and from her general hit points. Moreover, every parry after the first one in a round has a cumulative -20% (I think this is from Stormbringer). Dodging, on the other hand, allows you to avoid all damage, but you need a critical success to avoid a critical attack, whereas a normal success while parrying still blocks at least part of the damage. As always, armour also blocks a certain amount of damage.

It must be pointed out that the RuneQuest Quickstart rules allow for weapons and shields to be broken after suffering many attacks. For example, weapons always lose a hit point when parrying an attack, but they reduce the success level of the attack if the parry roll is a critical or special success. Special attacks inflict double damage and a critical does maximum damage and ignores armour. The rules for the additional effects of a critical and special attacks have been simplified for the Quickstart, but they are slightly more detailed in the full rulebook, with different effects for slashing, piercing or smashing weapons. The rules for breaking weapons and shields were also tweaked in the full rulebook of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. For example, after a successful parry, the parrying weapon only loses a hit point if the damage suffered is higher than its hit points.

Finally, as in RuneQuest 3rd edition, the rules specify what happens to every part of the body when it suffers damage equal to its hit points, double its hit points or three times its hit points. Since damage not only reduces the hit location hit points, but also the general hit points, characters can die after suffering many different injuries.

The rules also make a point of warning of the brutality and lethality of combat, so six pieces of advice are included to help avoid death. These are common things like being ready for fleeing, using armour, using protective magic, etc. There is also a text box recommending which healing magic to use depending on the severity of the damage suffered. I think this is a big help for newbie game masters and players. It's necessary as well, since the rules do not include any «hero points» or «luck points» to save the characters from bad dice rolls. In this way, the rules have a very old-school feel and they seem to project the idea that: «if you die, you die, so be careful and use magic if all else fails». It's also a very Gloranthan touch that the authors tell you what happens to the soul when the character dies, with the trip to the Underworld, the Judge and the Afterlife.

Now we get to the magic section and here two kinds are described: spirit magic and rune magic. The spirit magic in the Quickstart is limited to those spells available to almost anyone in Glorantha, magic familiar to any RuneQuest fan, such as Bladesharp, Countermagic or Demoralize whose effects are almost identical to the 3rd edition. For example, every spell point of Bladesharp increases damage by one point and the attack skill by +5%. The chances of success are equal to Power multiplied by five, their effect lasts for two minutes and magic points are spent.

Three of the 20 spirit magic spells included in the Quickstart.

However, there is also space for some interesting improvements over past editions. For example, the spell Mobility doubles the distance you can run in a round, but it also reduces the SR by one. These small changes in some spells make all spells really interesting and they make them easier to use at the same time.

As for rune magic, in the Quickstart it is limited to the runic spells known to the player characters included. This is the divine magic of the Gloranthan deities and as I already have mentioned, you need to roll under the corresponding rune in order to use it. This roll means the character is imitating the deeds of her god or goddess and channeling their power by doing so. There are spells that will be familiar to any RuneQuest fan, like Shield, Heal Body or Mindblast, but there are also some very interesting new ones. In general, rune spells last longer, are cast faster and are a bit more powerful than spirit magic spells. However, their use is more limited, since you need to spend runic points to cast them. And these are gained by sacrificing points of Power to the deity. These runic points can be recovered by participating in worship rites and during holy days at temples, but in the RuneQuest Quickstart there aren't any further details about this because while playing the adventure it is not possible to do so. All the pregenerated characters have three or four runic points. However, they can cast any spell of their cult as long as they have runic points left. While this makes rune magic very flexible, I would limit the access to some spells a bit more. For example, I would perhaps rule that every point of Power you sacrifice gives you permanent access to a new spell. I would also limit the more powerful spells like Flight, Sever Spirit or Resurrection to the higher ranks in the cult: priests and runelords. UPDATE: On the Chaosium official forum, Jeff Richard commented that there will still be some runic spells only available to runelords, which I think is cool, but now I'm very curious to know which ones are these going to be!).

The RuneQuest Quickstart describes around 40 rune spells.

Offensive spells need to overcome the magic points of the target in the Resistance Table. Besides, you can increase your chances of success by using the new skill Meditate, which can also be used to regain spent magic points more quickly. And so much for the rules section.

UPDATE 2: The extra downloadable PDF with the 6th PC includes 2 pages with the basic rules for shamanism. These deal with the Spirit World, shamans and their fetch (very similar to RQ3's), and also with how spirit combat works. Unlike RQ2 and RQ3, in the current edition everyone has a Spirit Combat skill to fight off spirits when these try to possess them (in fact, all the pregenerated characters have a pretty high skill ranging from 40% to 95%!). In addition, there are now 3 more skills for shamans: Spirit Dance allows you to quickly disengage from spirit combat. Spirit Lore is knowledge about all kinds of spirits and Spirit Travel is the skill discorporate shamans use to navigate the spirit world. These skills were already in the old unofficial rules for shamanism by Sandy Petersen. As I commented on this other post, one can only suppose that the full rules for shamanism will also include the cool fetch powers of those rules. Spirit combat is done like in RQ6, that is, by opposed Spirit Combat rolls, with special damage for special and critical successes. It is a big step forward from RuneQuest 3rd ed, where this kind of combat depended solely on pitting the two POW characteristics on the Resistance Table. Now however, shamans and everyone who trains in this skill will be able to face spirits whatever their POW, which makes more sense to me, and rewards investing time and money in this particular skill. The text also offers glimpses at spirit armour, which will make these combats so much more interesting. Finally, the rules also specify how to defeat spirits for non-shamans and how physical combat interacts with spirit combat. By the way, it looks like the amount of spirit magic one can know is now limited not by Intelligence, but by Charisma.

The adventure

The scenario is called The Broken Tower and is 17 pages long. It includes two small but well done maps and all the game stats for the non-player characters. It is a simple yet interesting adventure, perfect for a session of play and recommended for 3-5 players. It begins with two brief texts the game master can read aloud to the players, first to introduce them broadly to the world of Glorantha and the second one to introduce them to the adventure at hand. The scenario is designed to introduce the rules little by little and it is full of recommendations for the game master. Players will first have to roll simple skill rolls, then there is a bit of social interaction, some simple combat and then the final confrontation. It begins with a mystery that needs to be investigated. This helps build up the suspense until you reach the climax, where players will need to think and act quickly.

I like it because it introduces the world of Glorantha under a premise very easy to understand: thieves have stolen part of the herd of your clan and you need to go bring it back. Although it is set in the orlanthi lands of Dragon Pass, it is not necessary at all to know anything about Glorantha to either run it or play it. In fact, it could be set in almost any part of Glorantha and even in other fantasy worlds. At the same time though, the themes it introduces are very Gloranthan. Moreover, the gorgeous art and the maps are really good. I love in particular one of the pieces on the last pages (I haven't included it in this post so as not to spoil the fun for anyone). I just wish they had done two things: that the maps could have a version to be shown to the players and some more advice on how to run one of the non-player characters of the final confrontation. Anyway, the climax is really interesting because even if the beginning of the scenario is very railroady, and that's not a bad thing for a demo scenario, the final scene can end in many ways depending on the actions of the player characters. I have read some of the experiences of several GM who ran this scenario during Free RPG Day last June 17th and while some games ended with three deaths among the PCs, others had all their characters survive and finish the problem very quickly. So anything can happen.

UPDATE 3: On Chaosium's webpage you can find some serious advice on how to run this scenario. Among many others, there are some pointers as to how to run the character I mentioned before and the rest of the encounters in the adventure. A nice piece of advice is also the names of the pregenerated characters that will be most useful for the adventure, in case you have fewer than 5 players around your table. It looks very much like the people at Chaosium have read the opinions of the game masters who have already run the adventure, and that's a good thing.

What might be this man's problem?

Player characters

Finally, the last seven pages are for the five player characters provided for the adventure. These include all the needed stats and also the stats for mounts and air, earth and fire elementals some of the characters can invoke. Using these magic beings may complicate somehow the game, but players may also feel powerful when using them successfully and thereby enjoy the fact that anyone in Glorantha can cast powerful spells. I think it's great the rules have to pages explaining the character sheets as this makes them easier to understand and use. Every character comes with a small portrait and their backstory and personality, which helps immersion and introduces details about the world of Glorantha. I especially like that part of these texts is written in first person, so if the players need to introduce their characters to the rest of the group, they just need to read the text aloud. Another positive aspect is the backstory of every character includes the relationships between the characters, so this explains why the characters know each other and are together.

It's also great that three of the five characters are women and that all five have different personalities and backgrounds. Actually, I think they've been designed so that every one of them can shine in a part of the adventure. It all depends on the actions of the players, though. The characters are: Vasana, a veteran mounted soldier who worships Orlanth, god of storms and who has a Praxian bison. Yanioth, apprentice priestess and initiate of Ernalda, goddess of the earth. Vostor, an infantry soldier who betrayed the Lunar Empire and joined the orlanthi ranks while still worshipping the Seven Mothers. Sorala, and adventurous scribe from Nochet and initiate of the god of knowledge, Lhankor Mhy. Harmast, thane of the Colymar tribe, follower of Issaries, god of commerce. It's curious how all characters have high combat skills even if they're not all warriors, between 70% and 100%, and that helps them be important in any combat. The exception to that is Yanioth, who «only» has 55% in Battle Axe. As she is a character centred in other skills aside from combat, and an apprentice priestess, I thought Yanioth would have more runic points than the other characters, but she only has four, one more than the rest. This is a bit strange, but that's how it works in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. However, in this particular adventure Yanioth can be very useful, especially during the final scene, and not just thanks to her good healing powers. I also find interesting that characters can have followers in this edition (as in HeroQuest). For example, Vishi Dun has an intelligent baboon armed with a spear as his «Boon companion» and his name's «Cousin Monkey». Cute.


RuneQuest Quickstart is a good product to start learning the rules of the new RuneQuest and the world of Glorantha. It accomplishes its goal by far and Chaosium's initiative of promoting the game in this way is commendable. Not only is good value for money (it's free!) but releasing the quickstart so in advance of the final rulebook will help polish some details of the rules according to the feedback of the public in general.

As for the rules, the new focus won't come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the designer notes published in the official blog of Chaosium (I compiled them here). In a nutshell: it's basically RuneQuest 3 with some notable improvements mainly taken from other games such as Pendragon, Stormbringer or HeroQuest. This may be a bit disappointing if you like innovative mechanics in new rulebooks, but it will undoubtedly be a nice surprise for people who want to go back to playing RuneQuest after many years or for people who don't quite like the rules of the 6th edition (now called Mythras). In any case, if you like to play in Glorantha (or are interested in trying it) with realist looking rules with a tad of old-school but with some new touches like passions, this is your game. I think it's awesome to have the Gloranthan background interspersed among the rules. And most of all, I like seeing the Gloranthan line for RuneQuest in the Third Age resurrected at last. I'm already looking forward to reading the next campaigns and adventures planned for the start of 2018. On top of that, soon there will be three different rulesets to explore Glorantha, so it is clear this mythic and fantastic world is coming back in force to tabletops everywhere, whatever their favourite style of play: narrative with HeroQuest Glorantha, dungeonistic with 13th Age Glorantha and realist old-school with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

I must confess that, even if I knew very well beforehand, I was surprised to see how similar are this rules to the third edition on my first read. However, then I realised these rules will be very appealing to that part of the group who have never played any RQ edition beyond the 3rd. So when the time comes for me to start running again my campaign in Prax and Pavis, I think my friends and I will decide together what sort of «frankenstein» we build taking rules from different editions. For example, I would tweak the runic magic rules as I have mentioned earlier and I would allow the use of RQ6 combat effects for special and critical successes. As for augments, I would perhaps erase the critical and fumble effects, as they look too extreme to me. And perhaps I will keep using the Luck points from RQ6 because in RQ3 we already houseruled a very similar mechanic. This is after all one of the best advantages of the different RQ editions, you can always use the rules you like the most from every edition, as well as all the adventures and campaigns.

What do you think? If you want to have your own opinion, you can download for free the RuneQuest Quickstart from Chaosium's website. Don't forget to also download the 6th player character, a Praxian assistant shaman that includes the basic rules for shamanism and spirit combat. So what's your opinion of the rules and the quickstart? Have you read the full rules yet? You can now read my review and personal opinion.

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