RuneQuest 6th Edition – First Glance
First up, this post is NOT a review! That’ll come much later, when I’ve had chance to read and digest this weighty 456-page document. However, it is an attempt to jot down my first impressions after a 30-minute leaf through of the PDF of the brand-new roleplaying game, RuneQuest 6th edition – out today for pre-order from Moon Design Publications.
RuneQuest 6th edition has been written by RPG stalwarts Phil Nash and Loz Whitaker of the Design Mechanism, so has a great pedigree. For $25 (PDF only) or $50 (print pre-order + PDF bundle), you get the immediate download (woo-hoo!) of the new rulesbook right away, and the softback hard-copy as soon as it’s back from the printers.
First impressions: this is worth it. Every penny. For me, the RuneQuest roleplaying game was my first real RPG love. I began gaming with Tunnels & Trolls, Traveller, Metamorphosis Alpha, and White Box D&D back in 1980, but in later 1980 / early 1981 I got my first taste of the Glorantha setting and the RuneQuest game in its second edition, and my gaming life changed forever: there was something about the wonderful sword, sorcery, and sandal flavour of Glorantha, coupled with the “hero path” road-to-apotheosis semi-mythical feel of the RQ2 rules which just clicked with me, and for 20 years I never looked back. RQ2 was refined into a third edition, which was utterly state of the art – elegant, streamlined, scalable. And, of course, the mechanic now powers a large proportion of all RPGs which aren’t D&D: including Call of Cthulhu, Basic Roleplaying, Elric, Legend, and of course the mighty RuneQuest.
At one time RuneQuest looked likely to fade. From the mid-90s support for the game from Avalon Hill faded, and it and the Gloranthan setting stayed alive thanks to the fan community, of which I consider myself a member. In the very late 1990s the Glorantha setting officially switched rules to use the innovative HeroQuest system, now in its 2nd edition, again from Moon Design – a rules system I love, but one which is very different in flavour from the famously crunchy, gritty, and simulationist RuneQuest.
In the mid-2000s, Mongoose Publishing produced a new edition of the game. Those of us who’d been hoping for a thoroughly modern updating of the RuneQuest system to accommodate 21st century roleplaying ideas – narrative elements, social combat, “aspects”, “FATE points”, etc – were disappointed. Mongoose RuneQuest to me felt like a step backwards rather than forwards, although it was very well supported.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the Design Mechanism (Phil, Loz, and friends) regained the rights to the RuneQuest name and have finally published the edition I’ve been looking for since – ooh, 1999? It’s awesome. Here’s my first impressions:
The RuneQuest 6 core book is extremely exhaustive in content. Unlike Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying (which I write for, using my techno-fantasy setting The Chronicles of Future Earth), which many people might consider the new RuneQuest’s natural competitor, RuneQuest 6 does not aim to be a generic ruleset. It very firmly places itself in the fantasy genre, and even more specifically in the sword, sandal, and sorcery genre which the Glorantha setting initially kicked off in the late 1970s. RuneQuest 6 is deliberately not a Gloranthan game – but it very much lends itself to “ancient world” roleplaying: it’s a game of the bronze and early iron ages, of Celts, Germanians, ancient Greece and Rome, Persia, Babylon, Egypt, rather than mediaeval Europe, King Arthur, or the renaissance.
Saying that it isn’t a Gloranthan game is also perhaps a half-truth: although there is absolutely no mention of Glorantha in the game, it absolutely oozes with Gloranthan potential. Its bestiary has many critters which have direct Gloranthan analogues: Slargrs and Chaos Hybrids (broos, for those in the know) jumped out at me, but there are many others. Likewise, its magic systems pretty much tally one-for-one with corresponding Gloranthan magic: you’ve got folk magic, animism, sorcery, theism, and mysticism (the latter is quite cool as not even HeroQuest has dealt with that yet). Don’t get me wrong: you can absolutely play in a non-Gloranthan sword, sorcery, and sandal setting with these rules: go mad for Elric, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Jason and the Argonauts, Cu Chulainn, golden age Byzantium, Persia, Egypt, etc, These rules are perfect for that. But, equally, if you want a gritty, crunchy game which is absolutely spot on for gaming in Glorantha, then this book gives you that straight up, no customisation necessary. Grab hold of Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, the Sartar Companion, or Pavis – Gateway to Adventure from the folks at Moon Design, and you’re good to go!
The rules are very logically laid out. There are key ancient world cultures and occupations, with common skills; there are rules for “passions”; and even rules for “augmenting”, a la HeroQuest. This latter is using one skill or passion to provide a bonus to another; it’s something I’ve been using for a while as a houserule, and wrote an article on in Nick Middleton’s Uncounted Worlds, and have just written a version of for Chaosium’s upcoming MagicWorld Companion: the RuneQuest 6 rules are similar, but different, and a wonderful addition to the RuneQuest rules arsenal. Great to see them!
The core book also provides rules for organisations, very welcome: cults, gangs, guilds, etc, something for your characters to belong to and work within. They include rules for oaths, taboos, geases, and loads of examples. There are rules for social combat, and tons of GM advice. The critters chapter provides a very useful codification of special abilities, which reminds me of the D&D 3e Monster Manual – it’s awesome to see this appearing in RQ, and should make creating new critters a cinch.
The combat system is much more detailed than the BRP one, with lots of special combat manoeuvres, effects, and other actions. I believe it owes this to the Mongoose incarnation, but this looks a lot fuller and more tightly integrated into the rules. In particular, I’m going to be keeping a very close eye on how quickly combat moves, how skills in excess of 100% are dealt with, and how elegantly standard, special, and critical opposed rolls work out. These have always been thorny issues with the RuneQuest / BRP rules, so I’m interested to see how this new incarnation deals with them.
Other interesting features noticed in passing: luck points; siege weapons; bartering and haggling, group skill rolls; families; allies, contacts, and connections; combat styles; an appendix on tactical movement.
Things I haven’t found in the rules yet: treasures, rules for magical items. That doesn’t mean they’re not there – they just didn’t jump out at me in the quick glance through (this is a big book!). I’m expecting to find references to the old “magic crystals” and “enchanted items”, potions, etc, within the magic chapters when I do a close read. At this glance, though, I haven’t found pages and pages of magical items.
That’s it – the fruits of a quick 30-minute look through. Make of it what you will – I’ll certainly produce a more thorough review once I’ve had a proper read and probably a session or two (probably with the hard-copy). Because – yes! – I shall be playing RuneQuest 6, my first true RuneQuest session in over a decade. I’ll be using it for Glorantha – my intention is to play through the old Borderlands boxed set, for which it will be perfect.
There is a wee dilemma in my mind: I’m now torn between HeroQuest 2, which I love, and RuneQuest 6, for my Gloranthan gaming. They are very different animals: one is much more narrative, story oriented, to some degree abstracted; the other is much more traditional, tabletop, gritty and simulationist. They will produce very different play experiences. And I think the answer to my dilemma – which do I use? – lies in that difference. I think I’ll continue to use HeroQuest for my Sartar campaign, and start up a Prax campaign down the River of Cradles for RuneQuest 6, and play one or the another depending on mood.
Great book, Loz and Pete and friends, and a great job! I’m looking forwards to getting my teeth into it!