lunes, 17 de enero de 2022

Review of the RuneQuest Starter Set

6 comentarios

If done well, starter sets are great, as are free quickstarts. The reason is that the most well known RPGs are usually big books, brimming with information to absorb, both in terms of rules and, often, setting. Starter sets then break the big book into smaller, digestible pieces, and summarize them so they are easier and quicker to learn. On top of that, they tend to include everything you need to start playing, including dice, pregenerated characters and beginning scenarios. Also, they are decorated with appealing art and maps, to make absorbing the information much easier and getting started faster. In short, they are ideal for new players. They are perfect also for a first taste, before you commit to the bigger and more expensive core rulebook.

For all this, it is fantastic that the RuneQuest Starter Set exists. Before its publication I kept finding many threads in forums and social media posts from people asking what is the best way to getting started with RuneQuest or Glorantha. Since starter sets are specifically tailored to help newcomers to the hobby or a particular game, now the answer to these questions is obvious: the RuneQuest Starter Set. But how good is it? Below you can read my review of this boxed set.

>>>Puedes leer esta reseña en español<<<

The RuneQuest Starter Set box cover by Ossi Hiekkala


Starter sets usually go overboard with art, as they are the gateway for new players, and the RuneQuest Starter Set is no exception, because it is profusely illustrated with top-notch art. The box cover by Ossi Hiekkala is a stunning, dynamic piece depicting a tense combat between some of the example characters and a Chaos monster (a krarshtkid). This is as brutal as RQ combat: the monster has just smashed Vasana's shield, while possibly Vostor is lying unconscious on the forefront. It shows the omnipresence of magic in the setting, as all characters are using magic: Vasana is casting a Lightning spell, Harmast is casting a healing spell on his wounded chest, while Nathem has just shot an arrow with the spirit spell Multimissile on it, and Yanioth may be summoning an Earth elemental. Finally, it sets the tone for a Bronze Age setting as Glorantha, with the ruins and the red moon on the background. Aside from this, it is a tribute to the iconic cover of the 1st editions (see here).

The covers of the individual booklets are also stunning. Book 1 is by Andrey Fetisov and shows four of the example characters walking as bad-asses do along a city street. The attention to detail on each character is just awesome. Book 2 is by Hazem Ameen, who also has other wonderful and similarly colorful pieces in The Red Book of Magic. Here the scene is the terrifying Dragonrise event of the recent history of Dragon Pass, possibly as witnessed from the city of Jonstown. In Book 3, Eduardo Gutiérrez goes full epic scale with a cavalry charge led by Vasana on her bison, while menacing spears await her. Finally, on Book 4 Andrey Fetisov, the artist of the cover of the core rulebook, depicts again some of the pregens arriving in Jonstown, the city described in the book. I love art that you can show to your players in the course of play.

Covers of the four books in the Starter Set

The interior art by several other artists is also awesome, as are the maps. I find the portraits of the non-player characters in book 2 by Anna Orlova particularly outstanding, as they capture well their personalities. The map of Jonstown by Olivier Sanphilippo is amazingly detailed (as he did with Clearwine in the GM Pack), and the Sartar maps by Matt Ryan are incredible. Some of the art are pieces taken from the corebook and supplements. The aerial view of the city of Nochet that graces the back of the box and book 2 is one of my favorites, as it clearly conveys the fact that Glorantha is a setting strongly inspired by Antiquity. I wish I knew who is the artist of that one. Finally, the pieces by Mark Smylie and others in book 3 are wonderful.

A Battle Ritual, illustration by Hazem Ameen for Book 3 of the RuneQuest Starter Set


A set of bronze-colored dice (obviously not included in the PDF version!). Although veteran roleplayers already have their own sets of dice, it is great the box includes one, because it makes the game more directly accessible to beginners in the hobby in general. The set includes a D12 that has no use in RuneQuest, but the rules in the Starter Set suggest using it to keep track of the strike ranks, like the one Q Workshop sells. Maybe they could have included a hit location dice, but contents sit so tight in the box that there is probably no space left for it.

14 pregenerated characters in separate folios or leaflets including cool character art, description and all the needed stats. They include a healthy variety of adventurers: several warriors, a bandit, an apprentice priestess, a hunter, a noble merchant, an apprentice shaman, an adventuring scholar, a stealthy tattoo artist, and a pacifist healer, each of them of a different cult. The set offers no orientation as to what characters are best for the included scenarios, but I would recommend picking up a good mixture of warriors and magic specialists. I guess for veteran players, the Eurmali and the Chalana Arroy initiate are particularly appealing and challenging to play (they are my favorites). All are interesting and include tips on how to play and roleplay them, which is extremely useful, especially for beginning players. They also include a list of the common Rune spells they can cast, so you don't need to print a handout to keep them in mind. I also find particularly helpful that each spell includes the page reference where it is fully described. Seven of these player characters are also included in the core rulebook and the GM Screen Pack. You can download all the pregens here. Finally, a blank folio is also included in case you want to use this format instead of the usual character sheet. Oh, and soon there will be pregenerated non-human characters free to download from Chaosium's website.

Back of one of the pregenerated characters' folios: Mago the Fierce, warrior and Storm Bull initiate

On the negative side, these folios do not include all the skills, so new players may not think of using the missing ones. On top of that, some choices look odd to me, like the fact Narres' Rune spells all use the Illusion rune, but he only has 50% in it. Also, some typos slipped past the proofreaders, such as Nathem's Life rune at 45%. That is a pity, because typos can confuse beginning players. Luckily, Chaosium has already announced on their official forum that they are fixing them all on the PDFs and future print runs.

The meaty part is in the 4 booklets or thin magazines.

Book 1 : Rules

With the rules contained in this 64-pages-long booklet you can play RuneQuest for a long time, and they are more than enough to play the included scenarios and some more. Quite obviously, it does not contain all the rules found in the core rulebook. For example, it does not include character generation. That would have probably taken too much space and besides, the 14 varied pregens are more than enough. If you still wanted to do character generation anyway, you can use the quick and dirty process on the RQ Wiki combined with this RQ background generator. Easy as pie. Another omission are the shamanic powers, while the sorcery rules are only described in passing, even though one of the pregens knows a bit of sorcery, as well as several NPCs described in book 2, but they are not really that necessary. The missing piece of information that will be the most necessary to play a longer campaign are the detailed cult descriptions. Therefore, the core rulebook is still the next obvious purchase for newcomers who want to get serious about playing RuneQuest.

First pages of Book 1: Rules

The rules are well explained and summarized, and the book contains a couple new examples of play that will prove helpful for beginning players and GMs. On the negative side, it would have been great to use this booklet as an additional source to look up rules during play, but the fact a few details of the rules have been slightly simplified or modified means it can potentially confuse players when they find out the core rulebook contradicts them. For example, the combat results chart is different in the Starter Set. Later on it claims skills must be naturally over 100% so they can reduce an opposing skill, but the corebook contradicts it. Of course, this is only a problem if you also own the corebook. I hope Chaosium will fix these little changes soon via updated PDFs and in future print runs.

Book 2: The World of Glorantha

This 64-page-long booklet starts with a 24-page-long introduction to the setting: Glorantha in general and Dragon Pass in particular. It is long enough to give a good round-up of the world, but hopefully short enough to make the reader interested in knowing more. It beings describing aspects of the world in broad strokes. For example, it defines why it is similar to Earth's Bronze Age (city states, temples, cults), but also how it is different from it (gargantuan monsters, epic landscapes, details on metals). Then it focuses on the runes, the cosmic powers that define Glorantha, with details about what they can each influence. The everyday nature of magic is also dealt with, and of course, cults. Since they are a central part of the game, it briefly describes around 20 important gods and goddesses in Dragon Pass, along with their runes. Then it stresses some other unique features of Glorantha, such as the importance of community, ideals and heroes, and briefly describes the main homelands in and around Dragon Pass, such as Esrolia or Prax. Finally, it also includes a brief history of the world, finishing with a section on the liberation of Sartar that sets the stage for adventuring in this region. It is hard to know how much information will be too much for new players and GMs, but these pages seem the right amount.

First pages of the introduction to Glorantha in Book 2, with an illustration of the city of Nochet

The other 40 pages offer a description of Jonstown, one of the cities in the Kingdom of Sartar. This encompasses its history, surrounding tribes, inhabitants, main areas, important places and important people (NPCs), with detailed stats. This city works perfectly as the most immediate piece of the setting new players will experience, and you do not need to know much about Glorantha to play adventures in it, as all cities have many things in common. In fact, the 3 scenarios in book 4 (see below) are set in Jonstown or its environs. A city is also a good place for adventurers from different backgrounds to meet, and to recruit new companions. Additionally, the information about Jonstown is one of the reasons veteran RuneQuest players like me have bought the Starter Set, as the city had never been described in such level of detail before! It is interesting to see how an Orlanthi city works, especially such details as the food distribution, the City Ring, and the concept of citizenship. The NPC stats are also helpful, as they cover from common people to high-ranking runelords and high priestesses, each with distinct personality traits that you can also glean from their runes and passions. On the negative side, not all the places mentioned in the gazetteer of Jonstown are pointed on the otherwise gorgeous map. For example, the house of the Maboder tribe.

A couple important NPCs from Jonstown, complete with stats and portrait.

By combining the most general information about Glorantha and Dragon Pass with a specific example of a Gloranthan community, this booklet manages to give you a pretty interesting "bare minimum" to get started. With the first half you get an overview of Glorantha, its general basic points, and with the second one you get a street-level, playable example of what to expect in a RuneQuest campaign. The information about Jonstown is great for creating adventures, and as a base to start exploring the world. One of the most common pieces of advice for getting started in Glorantha is "start small" and Jonstown is great for precisely that.

Part of the incredible map of Jonstown, drawn by Olivier Sanphilippo

Book 3: SoloQuest

This is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of book, with the RuneQuest rules on top. It is designed to teach you the rules as you go, starting with simple skill rolls, later combat, etc. At the same time, you get a street-level feel of the setting. It is a cool idea for various reasons. First, it lets gamemasters learn the rules on their own, starting with the basics and adding layers of complexity step by step. GMs can also lend the SoloQuest to future players so they can also learn the rules by playing on their own even before the actual game starts. Secondly, the SoloQuest takes you through a decisive battle in the setting (year 1625): the Battle of Dangerford where an army of Orlanthi tribespeople tries to stop an army of Lunar soldiers on their way to reconquer the capital of the Kingdom of Sartar. Right there, at the start of the Hero Wars, full epic mode on! It is well made, as it includes plenty of options and ramifications, and the actions of your character (Vasana, one of the pregens) determine the outcome of the battle. Of course, you can also use this book to create a full-fledged scenario for your players with little extra work. There is also an online version you can check out and play! And if you want more, there are other SoloQuests here (for RQ2, though).

One of the illustrations by Mark Smylie for the SoloQuest in the Starter Set

Book 4: Adventures

I have not read them, as I intend to enjoy them as a player. But I know this 84-page-long booklet includes 3 scenarios of increasing complexity, so beginning GMs can start with an easy one, and then continue with a more demanding one. Their titles are "A Rough Landing", "Fire in the Darkness" and "The Rainbow Mounds". This last one is a new version of one of the first dungeons ever published for RuneQuest, back in the day, and takes place in some caverns near Jonstown, with new surprises for veteran players. It is also a good thing the book includes some extras at the back, like a list of rumors and a couple adventure seeds (as in the GM Screen Pack), a city encounter table, and a Gloranthan calendar to keep track of the days and seasons of the year. There is also a useful but brief section with pointers for other RuneQuest publications you may want to purchase after the Starter Set. The first one on the list is the RuneQuest Quickstart. If you are looking for more ideas to run adventures after playing the 3 in this book, I recommend listening to the God Learners podcast Adventures in Jonstown, where 3 fans brainstorm plenty of ideas for further scenarios. For example: the nearby Maboder lands are up for grabs. How are the other tribes going to settle who gets to keep which lands?

Encounter tables for Jonstown at the end of Book 4

Maps: The Starter Set also includes 2 big maps printed on both sides. One is a wonderfully clear and detailed map of central Sartar. Extremely useful for placing the city of Jonstown within the Kingdom of Sartar, but also to spark ideas for further adventures, as some of the names on the map are enticing. On the other side there is the Jonstown map, perfect for placing it on the table when the characters arrive in the city. The other map depicts the colorful caves of the Rainbow Mounds, one side for players (although the GM will need to limit what players can see), and the other with added markings for the GM. The latter is rather impractical in print, as the GM won't be flipping the map during the game to check what every room is.

A small piece of the map of Sartar included in the Starter Set, drawn by Matt Ryan

Play references: Finally, the Starter Set includes several useful handouts to have on the table while playing. Of these, the Strike Rank Tracker is particularly useful, as keeping track of strike ranks is sometimes challenging even for experienced GMs. You only need to make your own tokens to place on top. Before the Starter Set, such a tracker was only available in plastic from Infinity Engine, but it's great to have it available on paper. Other references include the ability results table, a summary of the augmenting rules, together with what each rune can influence, the resistance table, the list of common Rune spells, and the attack, parry, and dodge results. In short, everything you want to have on the table for quick reference. But wait for it: Chaosium has set all these handouts as a free download!

Four of the handouts included in the RuneQuest Starter Set

Wrapping up

So going back to my initial question: Is this a good starter set? Definitely yes. It shows the Chaosium team has researched the market and used the best aspects from existing successful sets from other companies. It is focused on teaching the rules to new RuneQuest players and gamemasters, as well as showcasing the world of Glorantha in an accessible way thanks to the introductory book, setting information, and scenarios. Thankfully, the information about Jonstown, the SoloQuest and the handouts are also valuable for existing RuneQuest fans and this material makes the set useful even after having played through the scenarios. Yes, there are some bits and pieces that could be improved, but the good parts far outweigh the not so good. So if you are curious about RuneQuest and Glorantha, it has never been easier to get your feet wet, and if you are a veteran player, perhaps you'll want two boxes: one to keep and another one to give as a present! Finally, the fact that Chaosium has made a big part of this material freely downloadable (handouts and pregens) or accessible online (SoloQuest and RQ Wiki) is proof of their commitment to making RuneQuest more well-known and easy to get started in, and that is a commendable effort. Good job, Chaosium!

Things to love

  • Excellent value for money: only 30$ for a lot of playable material.
  • It is still useful after having run the 3 scenarios, thanks to the background about Jonstown, the maps, and the play references.
  • Makes RuneQuest and Glorantha much more accessible.
  • Awesome art throughout the contents.
  • Useful reference material, in particular the strike rank tracker.

Things to improve

  • It could perhaps have included a hit location dice such as the ones Q Workshop sells.
  • The rules book would have been great as an additional way to look up rules during games, but its slight simplifications over the core rules makes it less useful once you have the core rulebook.

One of the impressive pictures by Mark Smylie in book 3 of the RuneQuest Starter Set

The RuneQuest Starter Set is available from Chaosium's website for 30$ or 26,40€, with the PDF included, or 15$ for only the PDFs. If you buy from Chaosium the PDFs first, you can ask for a coupon and get their price discounted when you later buy the physical product. The PDFs are also available from DrivethruRPG. Did you like my review? Have you already run or played these scenarios? Let me know in a comment below, please!

6 comentarios:

  1. Thanks for the review, it's clear you liked it! I'm not a big fan of starter sets, because I feel I'm buying the same thing twice. But this one doesn't look bad at all! Besides the rules, it has a lot of content. Shame you didn't read the adventures, I would have liked to read your thoughts about them. Regarding the emplacement of the adventures I think it's consistent with the content of the Rule Book and it will be useful for most of the people who likes to play in the default proposed setting.

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment! :-) Yes, the amount of content is wonderful and the adventures can be linked to those in the GM Screen Pack with little effort.

  2. Perdón por el comentario en castellano, pero estaba pensando en comprarme la de RQ en Glorantha nueva y me da algo de pereza... ¿Crees que es mejor que espere a la inevitable traducción de esta caja de inicio? Porque la verdad es que pinta profundamente guay.

    ¡Gracias por todo!

    1. Uf, no tengo tan claro que EDGE vaya a publicar esta caja en español (¡ojalá!), pero tampoco es que se esté dando mucha prisa en publicar los suplementos de RuneQuest. Creo que si no quieres esperar varios años a que salga traducida (si es que llega a salir), yo me compraría la caja en inglés directamente.

  3. Really detailed review! Thanks for sharing it.

    The set does come with a D20, so the hit location die isn’t really needed. Getting used to using the D20 has the added advantage of easily adjusting hit locations for things that have different hit location values.

    Your point about not all interesting locations being marked is one I’ve thought about too. There’s a tricky sort of balance to be struck. On the one hand, some folks will want to know precisely where everything is and who everyone is and things start to get carved in stone. On the other hand, flexibility allows other folks more room to treat the setting like a sandbox. There’s room for a gm to manipulate the setting to suit their players/game.

    Also, the more fixed in place things become, the more rigid some people’s mindsets become. You run into people who say “you can’t do x, because on p. 111 of this publication it says y.”

    And… to be honest, the more cluttered a map becomes, the harder I find to use it. I say this as someone who often wants to put every tiny detail on a map.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comments! I basically agree on all the points you make. Now that I think of it, I might have been looking for aspects to nitpick, just to compensate a little for so much goodness. 😝

      BTW, if you are the same Erin who was interviewed on the God Learners Podcast, I enjoyed listening to that interview!


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