In today's post I offer you the review (and something else) of the sixth edition of the role-playing game RuneQuest, originally published by The Design Mechanism under Moon Design Publications license and published in Spain by Runa Digital after the succesful patronage I took part.
It's not the first time I hold in my hands a copy of RuneQuest, in fact some years ago I bought the basic and advanced manuals and the referee screen which were published in 1988 by the now dissapeared Joc Internacional (as can be seen in some of the photos of this review), being at the same time the translation of the third edition carried out by Avalon Hill 31 years ago right now...
During these years RuneQuest went from having a definite background, represented by the world of Glorantha (as explained in this post of La Frikoteca, collecting posts about that matter), to be a generic fantasy ruleset allowing referees and players to create adventures in any fantasy world, wether its your own or an adaptation of your favorite histories and sagas, also its basic rules had been incorporated more or less in classic games like Call of Cthulhu.
This isn't the first review of the sixth edition, in fact when it was published in English in 2012 La Frikoteca reviewed it in detail (first and second part) and recently by Mundos Inconclusos among other role-playing blogs, but it's not an obstacle for offering my thoughts about the new edition.
The nearly 450 pages of the manual of RuneQuest are divided in 16 chapters and an appendix about the following matters:
Creation of characters encompass the first three chapters introducing basic aspects like:
The concept that the player can have about his character (with examples like fierce barbarian hunter or young and naïve wizard).
How to calculate his defining characteristics (with dice throwing or point allocation), tipically those of the games based in RuneQuest mechanics (therefore you probably know about them):
- Strength (STR): Measuring the physical power of the character.
- Constitution (CON): Measuring his health and vitality.
- Size (SIZ): Measuring his mass, helpful for determining aspects like weight and height.
- Dexterity (DEX): Measuring agility and reflexes.
- Intelligence (INT): Measuring learning capacity and reasoning.
- Power (POW): Measuring of his inner force and magical capability.
- Charisma (CHA): Measuring his capability to interact with other people.
The possibility of having access to some Standard Skills and some specific Combat Styles modified or determined by the background of the campaign setting where the referee develops his adventures.
This background is extremely important in RuneQuest regarding his culture of origin and social environment (which is precisely one of the issues that most caught my attention and I liked when I know about this game first time), these cultures are divided in the following generic types:
- Barbarian: Barbarians are grouped in tribes and live in small settlements, they usually shun all contact with civilised nations (examples of barbarian cultures are Celtic tribes oposing Roman Empire invasion of Gaul or Cimmerians by Robert E. Howard).
- Civilised: Inhabitants of civilised nations had developed a lifestyle regulated by laws, complex social codes and an intrincated burocracy, tend to feel superior to other cultures due to cultural achievements that have reached and their amazing cities, temples and other infrastructures (examples of civilised cultures can be any of the great Ancient civilizations, like Egypt of Pharaohs or the Chinese Empire, or inhabitants of the Gondor Kingdom by J.R.R. Tolkien).
- Nomadic: Nomads, usually dedicated to transhumance, move towards those areas in which they can get food for themselves and their cattle and can seek new territories to expand or make seasonal migrations (examples of nomad cultures can be Mongol riders or Northamerican Sioux tribes and Dothraki by George R.R. Martin).
- Primitive: Primitive peoples are in the first stages of human organisation, where tecnology begun to develop and the only tools used are made of silex or other primitive materials, the society core are big family groups of hunter-gatherers living in caves or other natural shelters and really simple huts, they don't have any written language yet and make simple pictoric representations (examples of primitive cultures are Australian aborigines and picts, both real and those that appear in works by Robert E. Howard).
Leaving aside this cultural division, already appearing in the third edition of the game, now you also can decide other aspects of the character environment to improve him, like Background Events, details about the community where he lives and his social class, as well as his family and other people he can know about (allies, contacts, rivals and enemies). All these details can be randomly chosen in the relevant tables or decided with the referee, optionally Passions can also be used (desires, prejudices and other character emotions).
After determining the character's cultural and family environment comes the time of seeing which will be his Career skills and How many points he has in every one, this will be given by the cultural background and how many years old he is, so it's possible to play from a teenager beginning his career to an old character who has traveled the world and experienced a lot of adventures.
In this section also can be determined the initial equipment of the character and the option of knowing about magic and belonging to a cult or brotherhood.
Fourth chapter is dedicated to explain The Skills of the game and offers a list of them.
Skill points are determined by percentages equal to the sum of its initial value (determined by points of one or two of the character's characteristics) and accumulated points by his cultural background and his career.
To know if the character will be successful using them will be necessaty to make a d100 roll (a ten-sided dice to determine tens and other one for units) and compare the result with the Skill rating (that can also be modified by derived circumstances of the ruleset use):
- If the outcome of this roll is equal or less the action will succeed (get a result of 60 if the skill has a rating of 80%).
- If the outcome is higher the character will have failed in the action he intended to carry out (get a result of 85 if the skill has a rating of 80%).
- If the outcome is from 01 to 05 the character always will be successful.
- If the outcome is from 96 to 00 (ie 100), the character will have failed without his ability rating being important.
- If the outcome is a tenth of its value including the ability modifiers received (for example a roll of 08 having a rating of 80%) the character will have achieved a Critical success, meaning he will achieve what he intended to do having an important advantage in his favor.
- If the outcome is a natural 99 or 00 (ie 100) the caracter will have fumbled, so he won't achieve what he wanted to do and badly failed with not very good consequences.
Regarding Skill types hese are divided basically in:
- Standard Skills, common to every type of character and representing what anyone can do at any time.
- Professional Skills, more specialised and relying in the cultural background chosen and its careers.
Fifth chapter deals with matters related with equipment and living standards of the characters, with descriptions of different equipment pieces they may buy, including weapons and armour, tools and other services and devices.
There's also rules for bartering and haggling and notes about eras when it's possible to find various items listed in the chapter, from Prehistory to 18th century (although you won't find firearms and similar devices, if you want to explore this option you can access the corresponding free supplement available at at hte download area of The Design Mechanism website).
Sixth chapter offers rules for managing situations arising in a gaming session not directly dependent on the use of Skills or combat mechanics.
Here the referee will find details about matters like time management (for example time required to travel a certain distance), how the environment can affect characters (either falls, the effect of diseases, injuries and old age or other circumstances) and use of gaming mechanics like fatigue due to physical effort or Luck Points that, as in similar games, allow characters to positively influence their success chances and, for instance, repeat any roll or reduce the severity of injuries.
Seventh chapter is dedicated to combat management and to carry out it uses mechanics one way or another have been used since the birth of role-playing games like initiative to decide which character begins combat and its division in cyclic rounds.
A novelty that those who already know the third edition of RuneQuest is the use of new elements in the rules of combat:
- Combat Styles: Each style is a combination of various related weapons of the culture of the character, his career or his relation with a particular group, so characters will be specialised in them from the beginning and may obtain advantages for use in certain situations.
- Combat Actions: Combat Actions are all those that can be done in combat spending 1 Action Point; these are divided in Actions (attack, move and ready a weapon for example), Reactions (like evade and parry) and Free Actions (like talk, drop a weapon or spend a Luck Point) that not spend Action Points.
- Special Effects: Combat is conceived as not confined solely to give and receive blows, it also offers the possibility of detailed fighting and even to win them without having to kill the enemy; to check whether it is possible to apply an effect (how to bring down an opponent or force his surrender) is necessary to see the difference in success between the attacker and the defender (so for example if the attacker has a Critic and teh defender a Fumble the attacker gains 3 Special Effects to apply).
- Optional Rules for Non-Player Characters: To make it possible to imitate heroic fantasy combats optional rules are offered allowing chracters to face enemy hordes without complicating or slowing combat resolution.
Chapters eigth to thirteenth are dedicated to talk about magic use in the game and the application of its different varieties.
First of all there's the description of runes as source of magic and how them can be used as inspiration for designing a magic sistem for the background of a campaign (although there's no mechanics for unsing them in-game) and there's also some points to consider when we want to do it:
- The origin of the magical energy that will use the characters (which is represented by at mechanical level by Magic Points).
- How Magic Points can be regained (which is related to the origin).
- Who can access magic (magic is common or is restricted to a particular group?).
- Folk Magic: It's the least powerful magic and, at same time, the more used, its spells often are used by witches and minor wizards.
- Animism: It's the magic related to spirits, its users (like shamans) obtain their power interacting with them, so the book offers the rules needed to regulate it and properly create these manifestations.
- Mysticism: It's the magic consisting in channeling the internal power of the individual, so its users have Talents to improve their own capabilities or even have ones that will allow them to do actions over normal human possibilities.
- Sorcery: It's the magic that allow sorcerers to understand how reality mechanisms works and use them repeatedly to control it using spells.
- Theism: It's the magic based in godlike beings worship guaranteeing their followers the use of miracles.
Fourteenth chapter introduces the rules necessary to manage the cults and brotherhoods in the game environment.
Cults are organizations dedicated to the study of magic or worship of entities allowing them to access these knowledge and use it, therefore it is divided according to the different types of traditions as seen before :
- Mystical Orders.
- Sorcery Orders.
- Spirit Cults.
- Theist Cults.
- Companies: Groups of people with a common goal (street artists, mercenary companies).
- Colleges: Academic associations or those seeking specific knowledge (like the monks in charge of a library).
- Gangs: Small or local organizations led by a dominant member (a union, a youth band or a group of vigilantes who are dedicated to protecting a certain area).
- Guilds: Organisations dedicated to practice a particular profession or teach it (a guild of thieves).
- Regiments: Military organizations whose identity is based on the presence and capabilities common to all members (an elite bodyguard unit).
Fifteenth chapter is devoted entirely to animals and monsters with which the referee can populate the adventure, he can find a description of the set of capabilities that can be used and advise of how to use them in the game and even design new creatures if the referee so wishes.
Finally, the chapter offers a list of creatures (indicating which may be suitable to be used as non-human intelligent adventurers by players) and the other of spirits who, though not as extensive as those of basic and advanced manuals of the third edition, offers good examples on which to work.
sixteenth is dedicated completely to the game referee offering advice for anyone who wants to run a role-playing game for the first time (something that may seem superfluous to veteran referees but it is always good to remember after years of doing it) together with a review of the use of specific aspects of the rules introduced in RuneQuest, such as the use of Pasion, the system of magic or cults and Brotherhoods.
Finally the ruleset offers appendices devoted to subjects as diverse as the following:
- The implementation of a system for tactical movement if the referee wants to carry it out in a somewhat less abstract in combat.
- A table that allows to randomly decide which chaotic features creatures can have (a similar table already appeared in the third edition of the basic manual).
- Tables for location of impacts in combat for not humanoid creatures.
- The character sheet created specially for this edition.
- A control sheet to manage combat.
Leaving aside the book of RuneQuest the patronage also offered other extras, like the referee screen, exclusive to the Spanish edition and ilustrated by Barcelona artist David Benzal, a set of 3 exclusive ten-sided dice (2 with the runes of dragon and magic replacing number 10 and the third one with runes of power replacing all the numbers), a copy of the booklet with the most important tables for use by the referee, a block of printed character sheets and the map of the Mythical Mediterranean campaign (which will be available for patrons to be downloaded in pdf).
RuneQuest in its sixth edition is a magnificent game that rectified many of the shortcomings that had the third (I know there have been other previous editions to the sixth, but I take as a reference the edition which may be more familiar to Spanish players) and has managed to preserve and improve the characteristics that drew my attention at the time.
I know that a it's a game that can be a bit complex for novice players and referees concerning rules, but as it is organized is easy to decide which parts begin to use and incorporate the other ones as they go playing as recommended in Runa Digital.
With the release of new games always appear adventures and rules variants created by publishers, so here you have you have a list of these resources:
The downloads section of The Design Mechanism, providing multiple pdf files with optional rules, adventures and character sheets in English.
Adventures for the third and sixth edition offered by Sinergia del juego de rol.
Portal of RuneQuest 6 created by Spanish fans.
Fanzine Portal de los Mundos available for downloading from the blog Mundos Inconclusos.
The unofficial supplement for Glorantha for RuneQuest 6 prepared by the blog RoleQuest.
The supplement for creating samurai characters by Runeblog.
The rules compendium Mordheim for playing in the Warhammer setting prepared by the blog Con D de Dados.
Advise for simplified character creation to quickly begin to play made by Mundos Inconclusos with El héroe bárbaro, the modification carried out by Con D de Dados a Lobo Solitario y Dúo Heroico para Runequest 6.
Finally, and due to the inclusion of the runic dice in the patronage, the fans have thought of some ways to use it in order to randomly decide elements of adventures as you can see in this post of portal of RuneQuest 6.
What I've seen has encouraged me to create a game aid which makes possible to use this dice to randomly decide career, social class and magic cult belonging of non-playing characters according to their cultural background (civilised, barbarian, nomadic and primitive) that can be downloaded from the links below, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
"This [website, free form, or whatever it is] uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Moon Design Publications LLC, which are used under Moon Design Publicationsís Fan Material Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This [website, character sheet, or whatever it is] is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Moon Design Publishing. For more information about Moon Design Publications and Moon Design Publications products, please visit glorantha.com"
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