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Saturday, 10 November 2018

RuneQuest VII

It is with sadness that the passing of its creator, the late Greg Stafford, came just as his first great creation was published by Chaosium, Inc. and released to the public at large in an all new edition which successfully combines his classic mechanics with a ‘holy’ original setting which has been a fan favourite for the last forty or so years. The mechanics are at their core RuneQuest 2, recently reprinted as RuneQuest: Classic Edition, along with additions from roleplaying games such as Pendragon – Chivalric Roleplaying in Arthur’s Britain and HeroQuest Glorantha. The setting is Glorantha, the second great setting to come to roleplaying. It is a Bronze Age land rich in myth and legend in which heroes enter into strong relationships with their gods via the Runes—the fundamental building blocks which the universe and Glorantha are constructed from—that these deities embody. Then through these Runes they continue to embody and confirm the legends and stories of the gods by enacting them in great Hero Quests. The new roleplaying game is RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, in which the players will roleplay these heroes at a time of great change.


RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is set in a specific time and place. It is the year 1625. For years, the region known as the Dragon Pass has been rent by rebellion and unrest as the nation of Sartar and peoples of Old Tarsh attempted to drive out the occupying troops and proselytising red priests of the Lunar Empire, which views them as being home to barbarians. The conflict has escalated and spread, involving the Lunar client state of Tarsh, the neighbouring matriarchal nation of Esrolia, the nomadic tribes of Prax, and others. It has come to a head with a heroquest which saw the successful summoning of a True Dragon under the Temple of the Reach Moon just as it was about to be consecrated. This event, known as the Dragonrise, disrupted Lunar efforts in Dragon Pass and triggered an uprising across the region and the beginning of the long foretold Hero Wars. It is this conflict that the player characters will set out to join as Heroes.

RuneQuest always was original, both in terms of its setting and its mechanics. As a roleplaying game, it was the first fantasy roleplaying game to eschew Class and Level, opting instead for mechanics that focused on skills. Characters were not confined to what skills they could learn and what weapons they could wield, and magic was such a fundamental part of the setting that anyone could learn to use it. The combat mechanics were detailed and brutal, involving individual hit locations and Hit Points, armour was worn location by location, and it was possible lose limbs and suffer impalements. As much as magic was woven into the setting of Glorantha, so too were the gods and the cults devoted to them. It was expected that player characters would become initiates of one or more of these cults and perhaps advance enough to become Rune Lords or Rune Priests of these cults. Unfortunately, the information about the cults, how to join them, the duties required of being members, their aims, and how they interact was not always readily available nor was information about Glorantha and Dragon Pass itself.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha not only very much retains this originality, but it builds on it. At its core are the same solid mechanics more recently seen in RuneQuest: Classic Edition. It remains a skills focused system with detailed rules for combat and characters being allowed to learn what skills they want, cast what magic they want, and wield what weapons they want. It remains set in Glorantha, but it integrates the world that the characters will adventure in into the rules, tying character and family background into the setting and its recent history, giving characters ready access to magic—both Spirit and Rune magic, and adding new rules for Passions, Reputation, and Runes, augmentation of abilities of abilities with Runes and Passions, and both Sorcery and the Spirit World.

It should be made clear though, what RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is not. It is not a complete roleplaying game in the sense that it does not include a bestiary or advice for the Game Master. Primarily, it introduces the world of Glorantha and the region of Dragon Pass, provides rules for character creation, cults, magic—Spirit, Rune, Shamanism, and Sorcery, with spell listings for all four, and a season-based campaign structure. The character generation rules are humanocentric and highly Dragon Pass focused, with players being able to create characters from Sartar, Esrolia, the Grazelands, Prax, Lunar Tarsh, and Old Tarsh. Gloranthophiles will have to wait for rules to create characters from other regions and of the Elder Races (as well as Ducks). It is also tightly focused on a setting and a time period—the run up to the Hero Wars and 1625—and it is also no longer a ‘generic’ fantasy roleplaying game. Changing either of these may be something of a challenge for the Game Master.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha begins with an introduction to both RuneQuest and Glorantha, emphasising what makes it different, before going into more depth about Glorantha and the Runes which are its building blocks. This is quite a light introduction, more information being available in The Glorantha Sourcebook, the systemless supplement which supports HeroQuest Glorantha and 13th Age Glorantha as well as RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. That said RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha does include some background on the various homelands in Dragon Pass that a player can select from during character creation.

Character generation in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is an eight-step process. It begins with a player selecting a Homeland for his character, which suggests common Occupations, Cults, and Passions, and Rune affinities. Then he creates some history for the character, his parents, and his grandparents, rolling on series of tables which will determine their involvement in events in Dragon Pass from 1561 until 1625, shortly after the Dragonrise. The character at this point will be twenty-one years of age and from this history will know whether his grandfather was at the Battle of Grizzly Peak, if his mother was involved in the Second Invasion of Prax, and if he himself actually saw the Dragonrise. The process will add more Passions and may add skills, reputation, and even some loot.

The third step is to create the character’s connections or Affinities to the Runes. These enable a character to use magic, join a cult, and so on. They also affect a character’s personality and physical build by adjusting his attributes slightly. Runes are divided into two types, Elemental Runes and Power/Form Runes. The Elemental Runes—Air, Earth, Darkness, Water, and so on, are separate Runes, but Power/Form Runes are arranged into pairs such as Harmony/Disorder and Fertility/Death. Now where the Elemental Runes have their percentile values, the Power/Form Runes percentile values are paired and must total one hundred percent for both. If a character has Harmony 45%, then its opposed pair, Disorder is 55%. When one changes, the other also changes. This reminiscent of the personality traits in Pendragon – Chivalric Roleplaying in Arthur’s Britain.

A character’s attributes—Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma—are rolled on three six-sided dice to get a result between three and eighteen, apart from Size and Intelligence which are rolled on two six-sided dice to which six is added, plus modifications from a character’s Homeland (if any) and Rune Affinities. Various characteristics are derived from these attributes, including skill modifiers, damage modifier, spirit damage modifier, and so on. Skills and skill bonuses are granted by a character’s Homeland and Occupation, being added to their base values. Choice of Occupation also determines a character’s source of income, standard of living, and equipment as well as suggesting appropriate cults. It also suggests a suitable ransom value should your character ever be captured—a viable alternative given the lethality of the combat system. Some seventeen Occupations are listed, from Assistant Shaman, Bandit, and Chariot Driver to Scribe, Thief, and Warrior. They include mundane Occupations such as Farmer and Herder as well as oddities like Philosopher, which actually turns out to be the equivalent of a sorcerer.

The last major step is to choose a cult devoted to a particular god. A characters needs fifty percent in one of the Runes associated with the god and cult in order to join, for example, Earth, Fertility, or Harmony for Ernalda. (A value of ninety percent in a Rune Affinity is required if a character to become a Rune Lord or Rune Priest in his cult). As an initiate of the cult—and every player character in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha begins play as an initiate of a cult—a character gains further training in cult related skills, but more importantly he gains access to both Rune and Spirit magic related to the cult. These are separate and where a character will find himself casting Spirit magic on a regular basis, once Rune magic is cast, a character will need to participate in cult worship and ceremonies, often supported by sacrifice, in order for it to be granted again.

The end result of the generation process is a character with a decent array of skills and typically two or three high value skills as well as high Rune Affinities. He will be tied into the setting via his and his family’s history and the magic and myth of the setting via his cult. The process is not complex, but it does take some time and it does result in quite a dense character sheet. The result though, is more readily and far more capable than beginning characters in previous iterations of RuneQuest, reflecting an empowerment of the player characters to prepare them for the coming Hero Wars.


—oOo—

Oriane
STR 13 CON 13 SIZ 15 INT 09
POW 11 DEX 17 CHA 16
Hit Points: 14 Move: 8
Dex SR: 1 Siz SR: 1
Runes: Air 70%, Earth 60%, Darkness 20%; 50% Harmony/Disorder 50%, 10% Stasis/Movement 90%, 50% Truth/Illusion 50%, 50% Fertility/Death 50%, 10% Man/Beast 90%
Rune Points: 3
Rune Spells: Bear’s Skin, Bear’s Strength, Claws.
Spirit Magic: Detect Life (1), Heal (1), Mobility (1), Speedart (1)
Magic Points: 11
Passions: Love (Family): 70%, Loyalty (Clan): 60%, Loyalty (Shaker Temple): 70%, Passion (Honour): 80%, Loyalty (Queen Samastina): 60%, Devotion (Odayla): 80%
Reputation: 24%
Ransom: 250 L.
Damage Bonus: +1d4
Spirit Combat Damage: 1d6+1
Healing Rate: 2
Armour:
Skills: Agility (Bonus: +10%); Dodge 44%, Ride (Horse) 25%; Communication (Bonus: +05%): Dance 20%, Orate 20%, Sing 45%; Knowledge (Bonus: 00%): Animal Lore 60%, Battle 30%, Cult Lore (Odayla) 20%, Customs (Tarshite) 25%, Farm 25%, Homeland Lore (Old Tarsh) 40%, Peaceful Cut 55%, Survival 30%; Magic (Bonus: +05%): Meditate 10%, Spirit Combat 40%, Worship (Odayla) 30%; Manipulation (Bonus: +10%): Conceal 25%; Perception (Bonus: +00%): Listen 60%, Scan 25%, Track 70%; Stealth (Bonus: +05%): Hide 25%, Move Quietly 40%
Languages: Speak Own Language (Tarshite) 55%, Speak Other Language (Tradetalk) 25%

Oriane’s Attacks
Dagger 25%, 1d4+2, SR 6, HP 6
1H Axe 35%, 1d8+2, SR 5, HP 8
1H Spear 15%, 1d6, SR 4, HP 8
Broadsword 20%, 1d8+1, SR 6, HP 6
Composite Bow 70%, 1d8+1, Rate S/MR, HP 7
Javelin 20%, 1d10, Rate 1/MR, HP 8
Medium Shield 30%, 1d4, SR 5, HP 12
Large Shield 25%, 1d6, SR 5, HP 16

Hit Points: 14
Left Leg: 5, Right Leg: 5, Abdomen: 5 Chest: 6, Left Arm: 4, Right Arm: 4, Head: 5

Standard of Living: Poor.
Base Income: 40 L.
Equipment: Bow, 1H Axe, Shadowcat, snares, furs worth 120 L., ancient gold serpent armband (two point spirit magic matrix) (worth 900 L.), 

History
Homeland: Old Tarsh
Date of Birth: Air Season, Beast Week, Wildday
Grandparent: Grandmother, Durlindia (Warrior)
Parent: Father, Arim (Farmer)
Family History: The family is descended from Oriane, a famous member of the Odayla cult for whom Oriane is named. Oriane’s grandmother, Durlindia fought at the Battles of Grizzly Peak and Alda-Chur in 1582, before retreating to the foothills of Mount Kero Fin. She came forth again to fight in the Boldholme Campaign of 1602, but was forced to flee to New Pavis for two years. Resettling in Old Tarsh again, she would die in a skirmish with the Lunar Tarsh in 1608. Her son, Arim, Oriane’s father, a farmer, died in the Grazeland Campaign of 1615. During the second year of the Great Winter, Oriane fled to Esrolia where she participated in the Civil War, famously fighting the Red Earth Assassins targeting Queen Samastina. At the 1623 Siege of Nochet she served alongside King Broyan with great glory and then again fought with distinction at the Battle of Pennel Ford in 1624. Returning home she witnessed the Dragonrise and the Shakar Priestess appointing the new king, Unstey, at Wintertop.


—oOo—

Mechanically, as with previous iterations of the roleplaying game, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a percentile system, with a character’s skills, Rune Affinities, Passions, and Reputation all being rated between one and one hundred and a player rolling against them on percentile dice. Rolls can also be made against a character’s attributes which are multiplied depending upon the difficulty. A roll generates five results—Fumble, typically 96% or above; Failure, a result above the skill value; Success, a roll equal to or under the skill value; a Special Success, a roll equal to one fifth or less; and Critical Success, a roll of one twentieth or less of the skill value. Of these, a Critical Success provides a better outcome, for example, a Noble might exhort more members of a crowd to action with a Critical Orate roll, a Farmer might have a more successful harvest with a Critical Farm roll, and a Critical roll ignores armour when rolled in combat. These results are also important in opposed rolls where a better result trumps a worse one, typically using the familiar Resistance Table.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha adds two interesting developments to these core rules. First, it handles skills of more than 100% a simple fashion. It is impossible to roll more than 100% and as rolls of 96% or above are always failures any excess value over the 100% is instead deducted from any skill or ability opposing it. Second, a skill, Passion, or Rune roll can be augmented by another skill, Passion, or Rune roll. This generates a one time bonus which is added to the skill to be checked. 
For example, a farm near Oriane has been plagued by wolf attacks and she sets out to drive them off. Her player decides to use her Track skill of 70% to locate the wolves, but will augment it with a roll against her Beast Rune Affinity of 90%, explaining that this is her innate connection to the animal world. Her player rolls 02—a critical success, which means that Oriane is granted a +50% bonus to her Track skill, which is now 120%! Instead of attempting to rolling this, the Game Master deducts excess the 20% from both Oriane’s skill and the Stealth skill of the wolves which are trying to avoid the huntress. Oriane’s player now rolls against a temporary Track skill of 95%, whilst the Game Master rolls against the wolves’ Stealth skill, which is now 40% rather than 60%.
This augmentation mechanic—taken from HeroQuest Glorantha—does two things. Obviously mechanically, it allows characters with lower value skills to be temporarily better, but in terms of roleplaying it enables a player to colour his character’s actions with Passions and Rune Affinities. To explain what his character is doing because of how he feels and because of his connections to the universe via the Runes.

Like the pairing of the Power/Form Runes, Passions are drawn from Pendragon – Chivalric Roleplaying in Arthur’s Britain. They include Devotion—to a deity, Hate, Honour, Loyalty, and Love, and like skills and Rune Affinities, they are percentile values. They represent how a character is feeling and can be used to influence a character’s behaviour and actions, as well as to augment his actions. Another new mechanic is Reputation. Again, a percentile, this indicates how well known a character is. It is improved by great deeds, such as swearing an epic oath or defeating an enemy of divine nature.

Combat in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is designed to be detailed and deadly. Distinctly simulationist in design, it is handled in twelve second rounds broken down into twelve Strike Ranks, with a character acting according to his own Strike Rank, determined by his Dexterity and Size, whatever weapon he is wielding, and what action he wants to undertake. In general, wielding longer weapons, such as spears, mean that a character can attack first. Although a character has a pool of Hit Points from which all damage is taken, damage is also taken from individual locations which have their own Hit Points. In addition to these locations taking damage, a Special Success on an attack roll means that they can suffer impale, slash, or crush effects, depending on the weapon. A Critical Success is even worse, because it means that the attack roll ignores armour before the impale, slash, or crush effects are applied. As a consequence, armour is important for stopping this damage, as is learning the Dodge skill, parrying with weapons, and blocking with shields.

Offsetting this though, is the common availability of magical healing. Spirit magic healing is fairly common and many cults provide access to better healing spells. In extreme circumstances, it is possible for a character to appeal for divine intervention on behalf of someone who has been recently killed, but this is not without its consequences and it can take time for the deceased’s spirit to return… Alternatively, knowing when a fight is going against you and surrendering yourself for ransom is sometimes a wise decision. Overall, combat will be familiar to anyone who has played RuneQuest before. True to its Bronze Age milieu, it includes rules for mounted combat—important for many of the Praxian nomads with their riding beasts, chariots, and fighting in phalanx formation.

Magic has always been a part of RuneQuest and characters have always had access to magic in form or another. In RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha there are three types of magic—Spirit, Rune, and Sorcery. (Note given the focus of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha upon playing characters antithetical to the Lunar Empire, Illumination is not mentioned or covered in these rules). As initiates, player characters have access to the first two through their cult and begin play with the basic Spirit and Rune spells known to their cult. Spirit magic involves communication with the spirits in the world’s natural energy currents for simple effects like Bladesharp, Detect Life, and Heal. In game terms, they require nothing more than a focus—typically an item or tattoo, a POW attribute check, and the expenditure of Magic Points. In general, Spirit magic is straightforward and easy to use.

Whilst Spirit magic is taught by both cults and shamans, the latter are deeply committed to Spirit magic, combining it with a knowledge of both spirits and the Spirit World. Primarily concerned with the spiritual protection and knowledge of their kinsmen, Shaman regularly journey into the Spirit World from the Middle to deal with spiritual threats and bargain for spiritual aid and services. As well as rules for Shamanism and becoming a Shaman, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha covers Shamanic abilities and spirit combat, explores the nature of the Spirit World and even presents a couple of spirit cults, including the notorious Black Fang Brotherhood!

The third type of magic is Sorcery. This is designed to be a flexible, logical approach to magic, with a sorcerer not only being able to cast spells, but through Techniques can manipulate the intensity, strength, range, and duration of these spells. A sorcerer attunes himself to not just the Runes, but also six Techniques—Command, Combine, Separate, Summon, Dispel, and Tap—which when combined together form the logical formulae that allow the sorcerer to cast his spells. So the spell, Finger of Fire, which produces a tendril of fire that the sorcerer can move around, requires him to be attuned to the Fire/Sky and Movement Runes and the Combine Technique. On the downside, as flexible as Sorcery is, it takes longer to cast—whole rounds rather than in terms of Strike Ranks within a Round.

One issue with Sorcery is its availability. Culturally, Sorcery is a tradition followed by monotheistic cultures—the Malkioni and the Aeolians being given examples, but neither are detailed in the homelands presented earlier in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Alternatively, initiates of Lhankor Mhy are taught a limited amount of Sorcery, but can learn more. In general, Sorcery is the hardest type of magic to learn and master in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha—in game and out! Given the focus upon God Learners, cults, gods, and Rune magic in the game, Sorcery feels a bit of an afterthought.

The second type of magic—and the most significant addition to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha—Rune magic. As the fundamental building blocks of the universe, Runes lie at the heart of all magic, but Rune magic not only specifically enables an initiate to use the power of his chosen deity and act like that god, it also allows the god to act in the confines of Time. This fulfills RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha’s description of magic as being… “(T)the interaction of mortals existing within Time with the timeless and eternal powers of the God Time.” This though, requires sacrifice upon the part of the initiate, represented by points of POW, enabling him to forge a link with his god. These points of POW are converted to Rune points which form a separate pool of points used to power the Rune spells which each cult teaches their initiates. By sacrificing yet more POW as Rune points, an initiate can learn more Rune spells, and further, by becoming an initiate in an associated cult and sacrificing POW points, he can learn the Rune spells of that cult too. These new Rune spells are separate, as is the pool of Rune points used to cast them, that is, an initiate of multiple cults maintains a pool of Rune points for each cult. Once a player declares his character’s intent to cast one of the Rune spells, a successful roll against one of the Rune Affinities associated with the cult is required to cast it.

Unlike Spirit magic, which powered by Magic Points can be cast from one day to the next because they regenerate, Rune magic and Rune points are a limited resource. Once an initiate has cast a Rune spell and used Rune points, they do not regenerate. They can be replenished though, this requiring the initiate to participate in an act of worship at a temple, sanctified area, or other holy place on a holy day. This is for initiates though, and Rune Priests and Rune Lords of a cult can lead religious ceremonies and make sacrifices to more readily replenish their Rune points. What this means is that Rune magic is a powerful, but finite resource and should not be readily squandered.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha presents some twenty-one different cults, from Argan Argar, Babeester Gor, and Chalana Arroy to Yelm, Yelmalio, and Yinkin, including the Seven Mothers of the Lunar Empire. Their descriptions include their holy days, requirements to become an initiate, cult skills, Spirit magic, and Rune magic, as well as enchantments and associated cults. There is of course, much more to be written about each and every one of these cults—at least for these new rules—but there is more than sufficient information here to ground a player and his character into the cult and put said character on the path to becoming either a Rune Priest or Rune Lord, should that be his wish.

Behind all this are the Runes themselves. Besides powering a character’s Rune magic, Runes—the Elemental Runes—have a strong influence upon both character and game. They influence a character’s personality, so that a character with a high score or affinity in the Air Rune is “…(P)assionate, violent, proud, and unpredictable.”, all common personality descriptions of natives to Sartar because of their worship of Orlanth. They also augment particular skills, in this case, the Sense Assassin, Sense Chaos, and Smell skills, as well as the Manipulation skill category and the Sword skill. Each Rune also has colours, organs, metals, and animal types associated with it, though these are more for roleplaying purposes than direct mechanical benefit. Particular Runes are also required to join particular cults—for example, Harmony and Movement for Issaries, the God of Communication and Trade and Air and Beast for Yinkin, the Shadowcat God, and then once a character is an initiate, the associated Runes are rolled to cast Rune magic.

Lastly, besides equipment, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha discusses what a character can do between adventures. This is not a game or world in which a character is necessarily going to be going on adventure after adventure. They may perhaps adventure once per season, with like the Winter Phase in Pendragon – Chivalric Roleplaying in Arthur’s Britain, period when the characters have a chance to rest, reflect, and undertake other duties. In Glorantha, this is the Sacred Time at the end of the year. Mechanically, a player will be rolling for his character’s Experience Checks for Skill, Rune, and Passion rolls made on adventures throughout the year, but the character will be participating in holy ceremonies, collecting the harvest, attending to family matters, awaiting the omens for the coming year, and even going on a Heroquest. The latter though, is the subject of another supplement. It is also the time when mundane skills like Manage Household and Farm come into play—as well as those other skills key to a character’s Occupation—as they help determine the family income for the year to come. These rules serve to push a campaign onwards, to give it and the world of Glorantha the sense of Time which separates it from the Gods.

Physically, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a well written, easy to read set of rules. There are lots of rule examples throughout the book, but as we move from chapter to chapter, rule to rule, the game is brought to live by Vasana’s Saga, a first-person telling of the Hero Wars, as told by Vasana Emaldoring, a Wind Lord companion of Prince Argrath. Famously, RuneQuest 2—or RuneQuest Classic—did this through Rurik Runespear, but Vasana’s is a longer tale, more involving and enjoyable. Plus, they do an entertaining job of showing off the rules too.

In terms of presentation, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is an imposing book right from the start with the cover, which depicts Vasana and her companions in the company of Orlanth himself! Inside though, the art direction is somewhat uneven. Some of the older, black and white art looks a little out of place, but the full colour illustrations are excellent, nicely conveying the fact that the world of Glorantha is anything other than that of Western Europe—in places it feels Ancient Greek, in others Middle Eastern, and in others Indian. The artwork also does a nice job of depicting both the magical and the mundane, as well as showing how people accept magic as part of their world. Unfortunately, there is the matter of the book’s cartography, which though pretty, is often indistinct and difficult to read. Hopefully, a future supplement will rectify this with better maps.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha feels as if the designers have gone back to the source—in this case, RuneQuest 2—and developed it, updating it and presenting it anew into RuneQuest 2.5. Their labour of love has thrown out over thirty years of RuneQuest history whilst still incorporating some of the better advances from its design descendants and associated family of games. The result is that unlike in previous iterations of RuneQuest, where the objective of the game, often implied rather than explicit, was to quest for Runes and so gain access to the gods, the objective in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is to quest with Runes and to confirm and strengthen the existence of the gods. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is the definitive set of mechanics for playing ‘RuneQuest’ and using its Runes to explore both the myths and world of Glorantha during the Hero Wars—and it is great see it at Chaosium, Inc. where it began.