Glorantha Material by Greg Stafford
The Design Mechanism
|Publication date||1978 1st edition
1980 2nd edition
1984 3rd edition
2006 Mongoose RuneQuest
2010 Mongoose RuneQuest II
2012 6th edition
RuneQuest is a fantasy role-playing game first published in 1978 by Chaosium, created by Steve Perrin and set in Greg Stafford's mythical world of Glorantha. RuneQuest is notable for its system, designed around a percentile die and with an early implementation of skill rules, which became the basis of numerous other games. There have been several editions of the game.
In 1975, game designer Greg Stafford released the fantasy board game White Bear and Red Moon (later renamed Dragon Pass), produced and marketed by Chaosium, a game publishing company set up by Stafford specifically for the release of the game. In 1978, Chaosium published the first edition of RuneQuest, a role playing game set in the world of Glorantha from White Bear and Red Moon. A second edition, with various minor revisions, was released in 1980. RuneQuest quickly established itself as the second most popular fantasy role-playing game, after Dungeons & Dragons.
In order to increase distribution and marketing of the game, Chaosium made a deal with Avalon Hill, who published a third edition in 1983. Under the agreement struck, Avalon Hill took ownership of trademark for RuneQuest, while all Glorantha-related content required approval by Chaosium, who also retained the copyright of the rules text. In an attempt to also have a setting they could release freely, Avalon Hill also supported a new "default" setting, Fantasy Earth, based on fantasy interpretations of several eras of earth's pre-modern history, including viking and ninja supplements. Later Avalon Hill published generic fantasy material.
A proposed fourth edition developed by Avalon Hill, titled RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha, was intended to return the tight RuneQuest/Glorantha relationship, but it was shelved mid-project in 1994 after Stafford refused permission, unhappy with Avalon Hill's stewardship of the third edition. In response, Avalon Hill, as owners of the trademark, began development of a mechanically unrelated game originally titled RuneQuest: Slayers. However, when Avalon Hill was acquired by Hasbro in 1998, the project was canceled despite being near completion. The copyrights to the rules reverted to the authors, who released it for free as RuneSlayers.
In Following the financial failure of the collectible card game Mythos, Stafford, along with fellow shareholder Sandy Petersen, left the management of Chaosium in 1998 (he remained a shareholder in the company). Stafford had formed a subsidiary company, Issaries, Inc., to manage the Glorantha property and took ownership of that company with him. He partnered with Robin D. Laws to publish an all-new game system set in Glorantha called Hero Wars in 2000. It was later renamed HeroQuest in 2003 after the rights to that name, along with the "RuneQuest" trademark, were acquired from Hasbro by Issaries.
Mongoose Publishing released a new edition of RuneQuest in August 2006 under a license from Issaries. This required that Mongoose recreate much of the function of prior editions without reusing the prior texts (the copyrights of which were retained by Chaosium). The new rules were developed by a team led by Mongoose co-founder Matthew Sprange, and were released under the Open Game License. The official setting takes place during the Second Age of Glorantha (previous editions covered the Third Age). In January 2010, Mongoose published a much-revised edition written by Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker called RuneQuest II, known as "MRQ2" by fans.
In May 2011, Mongoose Publishing announced that they had parted company with Issaries. In July 2011, The Design Mechanism, a company formed by Nash and Whitaker, announced that they had entered a licensing agreement with Issaries, and would be producing a 6th edition of RuneQuest. RuneQuest 6th edition, released in July 2012, is largely an expansion of the Mongoose RuneQuest II rules aimed at providing rules that can be adapted to many fantasy or historical settings, and do not contain any specifically Gloranthan content (though they do use the Gloranthan runes).
In 2013, Stafford outright sold the Glorantha setting and RuneQuest and HeroQuest trademarks to Moon Design Publications, which had published the second edition of HeroQuest under license in 2009; Moon Design maintained Design Mechanism's RuneQuest license. In June 2015, following a series of financial issues at Chaosium, Stafford and Petersen retook control of the company. They in turn arranged a merger with Moon Design, which saw the Moon Design management team take over Chaosium. Shortly thereafter a new edition of RuneQuest, subtitled Roleplaying in Glorantha was announced. It is planned to be based on the 2nd edition, drawing upon ideas from later editions. They also successfully raised funds through Kickstarter to produce a hardcover reprint of the 2nd edition as RuneQuest Classic. The new edition of the game, officially referred to as RQG for short, was previewed on Free RPG Day 2017 with the release of a quickstart module.
As with most RPGs, players begin by making a player character. Player characters are devised through a number of dice rolls to represent physical, mental and spiritual characteristics.
Characters in RuneQuest gain power as they are used in play, but not to the degree that characters do in other fantasy RPGs. It is still possible for a weak character to slay a strong one through luck, tactics, or careful planning.
Both combat and non-combat actions use a percentile roll-under system to determine success of actions. The game features mechanics for critical hits and fumbling. For example, if a character has climbing at 35% and her player rolls 25 on a D100, the character has succeeded. However, a nuanced range of results existed in every die roll. If a die roll was 1/5 of the necessary percentile roll or less, it was a special success, and if it was 1/20 of the necessary roll or less it was a critical success. Very high rolls (in the range 96-00) on the other hand, could be "fumbles" or spectacular failures if they were in the top 1/20 of possible failed rolls.
The game's combat system was designed in an attempt to recreate designer Steve Perrin's experience with live-action combat. Perrin experienced mock medieval combat through the Society for Creative Anachronism. The player rolls against the character's combat skill. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the character's skill level, they have hit their target. The defender has the chance to roll to avoid the blow or parry it.
The RuneQuest combat system has a subsystem for hit location. Successful attacks are allocated randomly (or by decision) to a part of the target's body. In RuneQuest, a lucky hit against a character's leg, weapon arm, or head could have specific effects on the game's mechanics and narrative. This was a unique part of the game's combat system and helped to separate it from the more abstracted, hit-point-based combat of competitors such as Dungeons & Dragons.
Rules for skill advancement also use percentile dice. In a departure from the level-based advancement of Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest allowed characters to improve their abilities directly; the player needs to roll higher than the character's skill rating. For the climber example used earlier, the player would need to roll greater than 35 on a D100 in order to advance the character's skill. Thus, the better the character is at a skill the more difficult it is to improve.
Characters in RuneQuest are not divided into magic using and non-magic using characters. At the time of the game's release, this was an unorthodox mechanic. Although all characters have access to magic, for practical gameplay purposes a character's magical strength is proportional to his or her connection to the divine or natural skill at sorcery. The exact divisions of magic vary from edition to edition, but most contain divisions such as Common Magic, Sorcery, Divine Magic, Spirit Magic, and Enchantments.
The RuneQuest rule book contained a large selection of fantasy monsters and their physical stats. As well as traditional fantasy staples (Dwarves, Trolls, Undead, Lycanthropes, etc.), the book featured original creatures such as the goat-headed creatures called Broo. Some of its traditional fantasy creatures differed notably from the versions from other games (or fantasy or traditional sources), for example, Elves are humanoid plant life. Unlike other fantasy RPGs of the time, RuneQuest encouraged the use of monsters as player characters.
With the exception of the third and sixth editions, which still offered it as an option, the default setting for RuneQuest has been the world of Glorantha. The well-developed background of the game offered a breadth of material for players and gamemasters to draw from. At a time when many RPG settings were cobbled together, RuneQuest offered players a vibrant living world, giving them a much more developed fictional world with established geography, history, and religion.
The Dragon Pass area
The original rules contained a map of an area called Dragon Pass, a region offered as the default setting for adventures. It is an extended upland, with not one but several passes through the surrounding mountains, each leading to different regions. This, together with the regional history, has led to a "melting pot" area, with unusually-high variety and concentrations of non-Human species, particularly for a largely-rural setting. The original RuneQuest game was set during a period of invasion, offering further opportunities for game scenarios.
One of the areas adjacent to Dragon Pass, touched upon in the original rulebook, was the Plains (sometimes called the Wastes) of Prax. It is an arid, even blasted region, hostile to all but the native peoples whose founding god, Waha, created the Survival Covenant by which they live. The tribes are Beast-Riders, each riding a different species (but none riding horses, which are taboo); the Great Tribes (most numerous) are: Bison, High Llama, Sable, Impala, and Morokanth (the Morokanth are an oddity -- intelligent Tapir-people, herding non-sentient humans). The Praxian tribes are inspired by ancient Mongol, Bedouin, Native American, and other tribal cultures.
Cults and religion
A key element of RuneQuest flavor is a character's affiliation with a cult (the default RuneQuest name for a religious group). Characters begin as lay members and progress through a series of membership levels, such as initiate or Rune Lord. This system offers narrative and mechanical benefits to players who chose to have their characters join a cult.
The basic rules described a handful of original and mythological gods. These were greatly expanded upon in the supplements Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror.
Dana Holm reviewed RuneQuest in The Space Gamer No. 19. Holm commented that "Since this game contains a logical system, almost anything can be added to the matrix it presents. A gem of a game. You won't be disappointed."
Greg Costikyan reviewed RuneQuest in Ares Magazine #1, rating it a 7 out of 9. Costikyan commented that "RuneQuest is the most playable and elegant fantasy role-playing designed to date. Its only drawback is that it does not cover enough ground for a full-scale role-playing campaign, and is, perhaps, a bit simpler than experienced frp'ers would desire."
Forrest Johnson reviewed the 1980 boxed edition of RuneQuest in The Space Gamer No. 35. Johnson commented that "An experienced gamer, who probably bought the rules separately [...] has no need of this edition. However, it might be of use to a newcomer."
RuneQuest was ranked 5th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time.
Jennell Jaquays comments: "After RuneQuest and Glorantha, detailed fantasy worlds would become the norm, not the exception. Dragon Pass paved the way for TSR's Faerûn, better known as the Forgotten Realms, and Krynn, setting for the Dragonlance saga. But few would ever achieve the elegant but approachable rules complexity of the original RuneQuest or instill a fervent loyalty in fans that would span decades."
Chaosium reused the rules system developed in RuneQuest to form the basis of several other games. In 1980 the RuneQuest system was simplified and published by Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis under the name of Basic Role-Playing (BRP). BRP is a generic role-playing game system, derived from the two first RuneQuest editions. It was used for many Chaosium role-playing games that followed RuneQuest, including:
- Stormbringer (1981)
- Call of Cthulhu (1981)
- Worlds of Wonder (1982)
- Superworld (1983)
- ElfQuest (1984)
- Ringworld (1984)
- Pendragon (1985)
- Hawkmoon (1985)
- Nephilim (1992)
Minor modifications of the BRP rules were introduced in every one of those games, to suit the flavor of each game's universe. Pendragon used a 1-20 scale and 1d20 roll instead of a percentile scale and 1d100. In combat, it used a single STR-based damage value where weapons only gave bonuses or penalties to the number of d6s. Prince Valiant: The Story-Telling Game (1989), which used coin tosses instead of dice rolls, was the only Chaosium published role-playing game that didn't use any variant of the BRP system.
In 2004, Chaosium released a print-on-demand version of the 3rd edition RuneQuest rules with the trademarks removed under the titles Basic Roleplaying Players Book, Basic Roleplaying Magic Book, and Basic Roleplaying Creatures Book. The same year, Chaosium began preparing the most complete version yet of Basic Role-Playing. This new edition of Basic Roleplaying was released in 2008 as a single, comprehensive 400 page book. The book offers many optional rules, as well as genre-specific advice for fantasy, horror, and science-fiction. It includes no Gloranthan content.
After losing the license to use the RuneQuest name and Glorantha setting, Mongoose Publishing announced the release of a new series of books under the title of Legend, which are designed to be 100% compatible with their RuneQuest II ruleset. Legend was released in late 2011 under the Open Gaming License. Mongoose titles for RuneQuest II were re-released as Legend-compatible books. Similarly, after the announcement of the Chaosium/Moon Design merger, The Design Mechanism announced that RuneQuest 6th edition would continue to be published under the name Mythras.
- Livingstone, Ian (1983). Dicing with Dragons. Plume Books. p. 81. ISBN 0-452-25447-7.
- "RuneQuest II News", May 23, 2011
- Press Release 20 July 2011
- Michael O'Brien (December 6, 2015). "Some Q &A about what's happening with RuneQuest". Retrieved December 8, 2015.
- *Kickstarter campaign for RuneQuest Classic Edition
- "RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Quickstart". Retrieved July 6, 2017.
- Holm, Dana (September–October 1978). "RuneQuest: A Review". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (19): 22–23.
- Costikyan, Greg (March 1980). "A Galaxy of Games". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (1): 34.
- Johnson, Forrest (January 1981). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (35): 24.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.
- Jaquays, Paul (2007). "RuneQuest". In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 261–264. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Chaosium's Arthurian RPG, Pendragon, can be considered to be the most distantly-related member of the BRP family; the connection is fairly tenuous (see the BRP review in the Side Notes section).
- Chaosium.com: News - Basic Roleplaying
- Sprange, Matthew (June 16, 2011). "Planet Mongoose - Post details: Wayfarers = December, Wayfarer = Legend". Mongoose Publishing. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
- "Classic Fantasy Preview". February 20, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2016.