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Saturday, 4 February 2017

A RuneQuest Bestiary II

Originally published in 1978, RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos was the second sourcebook published for the seminal RPG. In 2016, it was made available again as part of The Old School RQ Source Pack, funded by the Kickstarter campaign for RuneQuest: Classic Edition, the reprint of RuneQuest II. The other parts of The Old School RQ Source Pack include RuneQuest Scenario Pack 1: Balastor’s Barracks, RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin, Militia & Mercenaries, and the previously unpublished Scenario Pack 3: The Sea Cave. Notably, Apple Lane: Two Beginning Scenarios - Gringle’s Pawnshop & The Rainbow Mounds (Scenario Pack 2) was not included as part of The Old School RQ Source Pack.

Just as RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin is by modern standards an odd product, the same can be said of RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos. Both are books of monsters, but not bestiaries in the traditional sense. Neither one is a Monster Manual, no collection of beasts, creatures, fiends, and more from a variety of environments and settings a la Dungeons & Dragons. Rather each is a collection of two types of monster particular to RuneQuest. Where RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin focused on Dark Trolls and Trollkin, RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos looks at two of the foes of the Trolls—Scorpion Men and Broos. The book contains the stats for some forty-five Scorpion Men and fifty-four Broos—in RuneQuest terms, the base creatures of Chaos. Like RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin, this supplement is part “...of a series of pre-rolled monster books, each monster different, and each generated by computer to eliminate any conceivable bias.” Similarly, there is no backstory, no context, no characterisation. Just the stats. This reflects a number of facts. First, how much RuneQuest individualises its monsters. Second, how the stunty Trollkin would die in droves. Third, how basic a supplement RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos actually is.

Yet RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos actually is more sophisticated than RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin. There are actual notes on how to use each of these types of creature which also describe how they are organised in the supplement. In particular, they are broken down into small bands suitable as foes for beginning player characters, then there are tougher foes with a leader, and lastly, particularly tough leaders. In each case, with both the Scorpion Men and the Broo, this provides a means for the Game Master to scale them appropriately as opponents for his player characters. It also points a little towards the mentality and activities of such creatures, collecting around sources of food and stronger leaders. With both sets of creatures, what gives them their edge is a chaos feature. Not all of them possess this, but others can absorb or reflect the power of spells, have a confusing appearance that aids their defence, thick skin, spit acid, regenerates damage, and more. These scale with the power of the creature.

Rounding out the foul chaos of RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos is an interesting piece of RuneQuest history. This is ‘Geedunk Dungeon’, which describes itself as ‘RuneQuest Scenario Pack #0’. Originally intended to be included in the RuneQuest core rules, it was not quite ready at the time of printing. What it describes is a set of rooms—just five—located within a larger complex. It has not been explored in some time, but is said to be the lair of some Trollkin. Now this is true, but what the interconnected rooms are also home too are Zombies, a Jack O’bear, and a Gorp. Which seems an odd conjunction of creatures in such a tiny space—Trolls and Chaos so close together? This was an issue in Balastor’s Barracks and so it is here. Another issue that ‘Geedunk Dungeon’ and Balastor’s Barracks share is that both are not written for beginning adventurers. They need to possess a weapon skill of at least 50% and more.

‘Geedunk Dungeon’ is however, almost too basic a scenario and feels unlike a RuneQuest scenario. It even goes so far as to explain what a ‘Scenario Pack ‘ is and how it is used. It is certainly unlike the more sophisticated scenarios that RuneQuest is better known for. Nevertheless, it harks back to an age when the only type of adventure was the dungeon adventure.

There can be no doubt that both RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin and RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos are very much period pieces and of their time. Yet the latter showcases a growing sophistication and with its few words of help and advice, it was better support for RuneQuest II.