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Friday, 16 June 2017

Free RPG Day: RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure

For all of its forty-year history, RuneQuest as a roleplaying game has been intrinsically linked to the setting of Glorantha. Even if not quite so effectively as the recent republication of RuneQuest Classics proved, but for many of those four decades, that link has not been as strong as many think, and arguably in several cases, not even present at all. In much of that time, RuneQuest has been a set of rules to which the setting of Glorantha can be added and in the twenty first century, only the roleplaying games, Hero Wars and HeroQuest: Glorantha have combined both mechanics and setting. That all changes with the latest incarnation of RuneQuest, recently returned to the bosom of its original publisher, Chaosium, Inc.. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha once again makes Glorantha intrinsic to RuneQuest.

Although 2017 is going to be a good year with the release of both 13th Age in Glorantha from Pelgrane Press following a successful Kickstarter campaign and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha from Chaosium, before we see either, we will be given a taste of the latter with the release of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure. This is for Free RPG Day, the annual event for which various hobby gaming publishers supply an array of titles and paraphernalia intended to support or introduce their games—now in its tenth year. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is designed to do the latter, introducing the new edition of the classic rules, as well as elements of the setting and a scenario that can be played through in a single good session, if not two.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha can be best described as Classic RuneQuest with bits of HeroQuest—or rather, bits of King Arthur: Pendragon—set during the Hero Wars. Or at least it does from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart and Adventure. Long time Gloranthaphiles and RuneQuesters will recognise many elements of this game that date all the way back to the original game. It remains a Basic Roleplay System roleplaying game, which means that characters have seven attributes—Strength, Constitution, Size, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, and Power—which range between three and eighteen; individual skills are percentiles, including weapons; everyone has individual hit locations which can be armoured for better protection; and everyone has access to Spirit magic—or Battle magic; in combat, order of action is determined by Strike Rank; and when rolls need to be made between characters, NPCs, or objects, then the GM needs to refer to the Resistance Table. Similarly, in terms of the background, the period in which RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is set, that of Dragon Pass during the Hero Wars of the 1610s and 1620s after the Sartarite rebellion that threw out the occupying Lunar Empire, will be familiar to both Gloranthaphiles and RuneQuesters.

What sets RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha apart from the previous versions of RuneQuest are two obvious changes, one minor, one major. The minor change is to the combat rules—there is no Defence value, no value intrinsic to a player character, NPC, or creature which makes them more difficult to attack. Instead, the emphasis is moved to active values, essentially parrying with a weapon or a shield, or dodging. The major change is the inclusion of Runes—Elements, Powers, Forms, and Conditions—and Passions—commonly Devotion, Hate, Honour, Love, and Loyalty—that are used in various ways. Runes represent affinities with the gods and the fundamental building blocks of the world. Passions are how a character feels about the world, what he believes in, and how strong his ties are to his community and other groups. Runes are rolled against when attempting to cast Rune magic, but like Passions, a player character can take inspiration from them to guide his actions and invoke them to augment his actions. Like skills both Passions and Runes are represented by percentage values and when rolled against, they can provide a modifier that will augment the player character’s next action.
For example, a Sartarite farmer whose parents were killed by the invading Lunar Empire and is confronted by a squad of Lunar soldiers might invoke any number of Runes and Passions in order to determine his next course of action and then augment that action. Or his player might roll against his character’s Passion of Hate (Lunar Empire) 80% to determine his next action and when attacking with his spear might invoke his character’s Rune (Air) 80% to potentially augment his next action. So the player rolls 27% and in comparing that to the character’s Hate (Lunar Empire) 80%, it is clear that the character will attack the Lunar captain. The character takes up his spear and leaps from his mount intent on stabbing the Lunar captain with his spear,  calling upon Orlanth to aid him and invoking his Rune (Air) 80% as he does. His player rolls 30%, indicating a Success and a +20% bonus to his spear attack, which goes from 90% to 110%!
 Alternatively, the player might have decided that his character wanted to talk to the Lunar soldiers and the GM asked him to check against his Passion. Or the player might have just decided that his Passion was enough and invoked that for the attack roll. However they are used, what Runes and Passions are in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is both a means to tie the player and their characters into the setting of Glorantha and to both enhance and enforce their roleplaying.

After a quick introduction to the setting of Glorantha—an introduction that will be familiar from previous supplements—RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure runs through the rules and mechanics in good order, including various spot rules as necessary. They are clearly organised and will be familiar to anyone who has played RuneQuest. Understandably, there is a particular emphasis placed on the Passions and Runes, the former because they are an element new to RuneQuest if not to the Basic Roleplay System and the latter, whilst not new to RuneQuest, how they are used is.

In terms of magic, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha offers various types that will be familiar to both Gloranthaphiles and RuneQuesters. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure though, focuses on two—Rune Magic and Spirit magic and does not include either Sorcerery or Spirit Combat as they are too complex to cover in the few pages on magic in the booklet. Of the two, Spirit Magic will be the familiar to most, being like the Battle Magic of previous editions, with spells like Bladesharp 1, Demoralise 3, Healing 2, and so on. These are spells that anyone can learn and cast, needing no more than Magic Points and a roll versus the character’s Power. Rune magic consists of spells that are only taught by the various cults that worship Glorantha’s many gods. They require the expenditure of Rune points—which are gained by the permanent sacrifice of Power and then replenished through proper worship of the gods—and then making a roll against the player character’s Rune affinity.

So for example, having delivered the initial blow against the Lunar captain, the Sartarite farmer might take a moment to cast Bladesharp 2. This requires the expenditure of two Magic Points and a Power check, a roll against the character’s POW×5, which is 60%. The farmer’s player makes the roll and the head of the farmer’s spear glistens with sharpness, adding a total of +10% to the farmer’s short spear skill and +2 to its damage. This increases the farmer’s Short Spear skill from 90% to 100% and its damage from 1D6+1 to 1D6+3.  
Alternatively, as a devout worshipper of Orlanth, the Sartarite farmer knows the Lightning Rune spell and casts it to bring down the wrath of Orlanth on his enemies, in this case, the Lunar captain. First, the farmer’s player rolls his affinity of Rune (Air) 80% and succeeds, then expends two Rune points. The farmer’s eyes flash with lightning and with a crack of thunder, the lightning strikes the Lunar captain in the right arm. Unfortunately, he fails his Resistance roll and he suffers 2D6 damage which ignores any armour he is wearing. An average damage roll will incapacitate the Lunar captain and a good damage roll will maim or blow the arm off… The situation looks poor for the Lunar captain.
Of course, having expended those two Rune points, the Sartarite farmer is unlikely to be able to cast Rune magic as powerful in the short term. He will need to worship at a proper shrine or festival in order to regain these, so a player character should never be frivolous in its use.

Half of the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure is devoted to the rules. The other half is devoted to a starting scenario, ‘The Broken Tower’, plus the five player characters. They include a noble farmer-warrior, son of the clan chieftain and initiate of Issaries; a cavalrywoman and initiate of Orlanth Adventurous; and an apprentice priestess of the Earth goddess Ernalda. All three are of the Ernaldori clan of the Colymar Tribe. The trio are accompanied by a revolutionary against the Lunars and scribe from Nochet, plus an initiate of Lhankor Mhy, as well as a heavy infantry soldier from Dunstop, in Lunar Tarsh, an initiate of Seven Mothers. All five are experienced characters and all have strong affinities in terms of Runes and Passions, as well as Spirit and Rune magic. Of the five, the only one that presents any difficulty in terms of play is the heavy infantry soldier from Dunstop, in Lunar Tarsh. For anyone coming to RuneQuest and Glorantha anew, the differences between playing a Sartarite rebel against the Lunar Empire and a renegade Tarshite Lunar soldier may be just a little too nuanced to roleplay effectively, let alone imparting that difference to those playing the Sartarites.

‘The Broken Tower’ takes place in an area known as ‘the badlands’ lying at the southernmost stretch of the Starfire Range of mountains. The player character are members or associates of the Ernaldori clan of the Colymar Tribe, assigned to track down some thieves who have not only stolen some of the tribe’s cattle, but also killed some of their tribe members. They chase the miscreants into the Badlands only for them to discover that the region is home to deadlier and much older foes than mere cattle thieves and murderers. It showcases the scope and some of the scale of the setting whilst keeping everything reasonably self-contained. The scenario includes opportunities for replaying and combat, though ultimately, what it does enforce is that combat is not the only solution and that the gods are very, very real.

Physically, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure is ably and tidily presented, though perhaps it is a bit too grey in terms of presentation. For players new to RuneQuest, the layout could have been better, in particular, the boxed sections, ‘Gloranthan Gods and Cults’ and ‘About Glorantha and RuneQuest’, really would have been more useful closer to the front of the booklet. The artwork is excellent, though of course it will no doubt look better in colour rather than in greyscale as it is here.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure is not really a product designed to introduce those new to roleplaying to the hobby as it does not provide that basic a starting point. That said, there is nothing to prevent someone new to roleplaying being introduced to the hobby as part of an existing group using the rules and adventure presented in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure. Those new to both RuneQuest and/or Glorantha, but not roleplaying in general will probably have no issues grasping either the rules or the basics of the setting, though no doubt the recently announced Glorantha QuickStart will likely make up for more than just the basics of the setting given here. For the long time Gloranthaphile or RuneQuester who has played RuneQuest in any form, whether RuneQuest Classics or HeroQuest Glorantha, then picking up and playing RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure will be ever so easy—and even easier if he has played King Arthur: Pendragon with its heavy reliance on traits and passions. In fact, for an experienced GM who is familiar with RuneQuest and Glorantha, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure is easy to use and ‘The Broken Tower’ is easy and quick to prepare. 

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure does exactly what it sets out to do and that is provide a good introduction to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It does this not just for a single Free RPG Day, but for the foreseeable future.