Linear Warrior, Quadratic Sorcerer: the Action Point economy in Runequest 6

Fighter_Mage_Silhouette by qhudspeth

Fighter Mage Silhouette by qhudspeth (Deviantart)

One of my insights from running a Runequest game for a year, is just how important the Action Point economy is in the game. I’ll also add a bit at the end about counterspells.

The Basics

Runequest VI has as a basic premise, combat is a dangerous activity that is usually resolved in a few Combat Rounds. A one on one fight should take about three Combat Rounds to resolve.  A Combat Round is assumed to be roughly five seconds in time.  Within the Combat Round there is a sequence of Turns. Each Turn in Strike Rank order, each character with Action Points remaining can do one Proactive Action. Strike Rank is determined once at the start of the combat.

The menu of available Actions is pretty comprehensive. Proactive Actions usually involve the character initiating movement or an attack, but also includes delaying an action. Reactive Actions are usually defensive (Counter Spell, Evade, Parry) but also include Interrupts if you took a Delay Action in your turn.

There are also a number of Free Actions (making a Perception check if unengaged, dropping a weapon, signaling, a short phrase of speech, using a luck point) the most tactical of which is Ward Location. Ward Location allows you to change the location(s) being passively protected by a weapon or shield (shields cover 2-4 locations depending on size, with a human body having seven locations). Warding has to be done before attack rolls are made. Because passive blocks are always successful, warding is a useful way to protect a wounded location, or for low skill characters to improve their chances of defending themselves.

Runequest 6 employs differential successes in combat, which grant Special Effects (rather than the old school critical/impales). There is a large menu of Special Effects, depending on whether the skill roll was offensive, defensive, what the type of weapon used was, and whether or not the success was a critical, or if the opponent rolled a fumble. Crucially, if you make an attack on someone, and land a blow when they do not react to the attack with a defensive skill check, they automatically fail, granting you one bonus Special Effect.

Because you can get Special Effects when defending, it is usually worthwhile to Parry an attack, hoping to both mitigate potential wounds, and to use Special Effects to impair the future combat performance of your opponent. In Runequest VI RAW, an Evade defensive action leaves you prone on the ground. As it costs an Action Point to rise to your feet, and because being prone reduces your skills by half, parrying is preferred to evading. For my own campaign, as it features musketeers with firearms and almost no shields, I allow characters to remain standing after Evading with an appropriate Combat Style trait or if they have used the Acrobatics skill in place of the Evade skill.

So a common pattern is:

  1. Character A attacks Character B
  2. Character B parries the attack (both characters have now spent one Action Point)
  3. Character B attacks Character A
  4. Character A parries the attack (both characters have now spent two Action Points)

Old School

When I played Runequest II or III campaigns, characters generally got one attack per Combat Round, and could react defensively up to three times (one parry with a weapon, one block with a shield, and one dodge out of the way). Multiple attacks or defensive action required a skill greater than 100%. So if you ran into more than three opponents you were in a bit of trouble. In Runequest VI block is no longer a reaction against a specific attack, it has become a passive action against all incoming attacks.

How Many Action Points Do You Get?

Action Points are calculated during character generation, based on the combined score of the Dexterity and Intelligence attributes:

  • less than 13 = one Action Point
  • 13-24 = two Action Points
  • 25+ = three Action Points

If creating characters with a point buy system, most players will choose to make their characters competent by ensuring their Dexterity and Intelligence scores are average 13+.  If for some reason you choose a lower combined score your character will be substantially less effective in combat. If you only have two Action Points you will act one third as often as the other players, and your character is much more likely to be overpowered and injured.

There are a few other ways of adjusting how many Action Points a character gets to use:

  • Personal and Party Luck Points can be used as Action Points. Luck Points are a one use resource (in my campaign I allow Luck Points to refresh after the party spends time carousing)
  • The Swiftness Gift in the Cults & Brotherhoods chapter grants an increase of plus one Action Points (and should usually come with a commensurate taboo or geaes to influence the character’s actions. In my campaign I have only allowed the player who has eschewed the use of all magic to take this Gift)
  • the Formation Fighting combat trait, in situations where 3+ people are coordinating their efforts, reduces all of their opponents Action Points by one. My players hate this. They do not fight in formations or have this trait, so when they run into a formed unit, they suffer accordingly
  • Characters with the Mystic talent to enhance Action Points. This costs 3 Magic Points per +1 Action Point. This can be stacked up to Mysticism skill/10 (the number of available Magic Points is more likely to cap this than the skill is at high levels of skill). These bonus Action Points can only be used for defensive actions in combat (Parry or Evade). Note that while Mystic talents cannot be countered by magic, anything that disrupts concentration, such as a wound in combat, requires a Willpower check to maintain concentration on each Mystic Talent
  • Campaign House Rule, a Vordar (Dark Elf) gains one Action Point when they land a blow that kills an opponent (but may have to make a Willpower check to avoid a berserk rage).

I scanned the other magic chapters in the rulebook, but from what I can see no other spell grants bonus Action Points.

Situational Influences on the Action Point Economy

Charging into combat is a bit weird, because rather than taking one Action, it takes an entire Combat Round. So a character with more Action Points spends longer getting into action than the character with less Action points.

If you are surprised, you cannot defend until your turn, and cannot perform any offensive actions for the remainder of the combat round. Ouch, I only just noticed the round duration, I had previously thought that the prohibition against offensive actions only lasted for one action.

If you suffer a Serious Wound (reduced to zero hit points or below in a hit location) you cannot attack or cast spells for 1-3 actions.

The Outmanoeuver Action allows you to make an opposed Evade skill check with all of your opponents. So you spend one Action Point, and all of your opponents must also spend an Action Point. Any opponent who fails to beat the manoeuvering character’s roll cannot attack them for the remainder of the Combat Round (i.e. none of their Action Points can be spent to attack you). While its not a sure thing, this is an obvious action for a heavily outnumbered character to take. Further, if you beat all of your opponents rolls, you can choose to engage one foe for the remainder of the Combat Round, or Withdraw from the fight completely.

A number of Special Effects take the form of requiring the affected character to spend Action Points to recover combat effectiveness:

  • Disarm forces an opponent to either spend one Action Point to Ready another weapon, or one Action Point to pick up the dropped weapon, and a second Action Point to Ready the recovered weapon (the musketeers in my campaign will often have a secondary weapon like a dagger already in hand, and may choose to just continue fighting with that)
  • Stun Location, if a bludgeoning weapon hits the head, the character is insensible for a number of actions equal to the damage inflicted, while a hit to the torso staggers the character so they can only defend for a number of actions equal to the damage inflicted
  • Pin Weapon, requires an Action Point to attempt to free the weapon or shield that is pinned (with an opposed roll of Brawn or Unarmed Combat).

Linear Warrior, Quadratic Sorcerer

First, please take a quick look at this article which shows you where I got the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Sorcerer line from. This is something that goes all the way back to D&D.

In Runequest VI, sorcerer’s can shape spells by:

  • combining two or more spells together
  • extending duration
  • increasing range
  • boosting magnitude (which makes the spell harder to counter)
  • or increasing the number of targets

For every ten points of Shaping Skill you can do one of these effects.  So a Sorcerer with 90% shaping skill could cast the Wrack spell, use one point of Shaping to boost the range to 1m x Power attribute, and then use eight points of shaping to affect 9 targets. There are a few other sorcery spells in Runequest VI with one-off attack effects, that can usually be resisted. Wrack, however, is a lot like Emperor Palpatine’s purple lightning in Star Wars.

As a Combat Action the Sorcerer can attack the targets, using their Invocation skill for the spell as an attack roll. So if the Sorcerer above has a 90% invocation skill, they will hit more often than not. The only resist option is Evade, which requires expending a Combat Action, and may not succeed. The amount of damage done depends on the caster’s skill, at 40% its just 1d4 of damage that worn armour does not protect against, but at 90% skill its 1d10 damage (and enough to seriously wound most characters). At least the hit location is random every time!

As you can see, the Wrack spell breaks the Action Point economy of Runequest VI. For an upfront cost of around three action points to cast the spell, the Sorcerer can keep in every future Combat Action wrack all of their targets (if some of their targets die, they cannot switch to new targets with Wrack).

A warrior with a sword can stab one person at a time for each Action Point they spend, regardless of skill. Unless you get a critical hit (one tenth of skill on a d100 skill check roll) and take the Bypass Armour special effect worn armour reduces the damage done. If the lone target defends, they use one Action Point.

The sorcerer with can wrack multiple targets at a time for each Action Point they spend. Thinking of the example above, the Sorcerer will probably hit eight of their targets each turn. If the targets all have high Evade skills, e.g. 80%, then the Sorcerer will only harm one to two of the targets. But by spending one Action Point, the sorcerer has forced their opponents to spend eight Action Points, or collectively suffer roughly 44-45 damage. There is nothing else in the game that is as effective in combat as the wrack spell, short of perhaps the Theistic Earthquake spell, or a horde of Animist fetch spirits (see below). Some of the single target theistic spells are powerful, such as Sunspear which can nuke a single target for ((Skill/20)d6) damage in all seven hit locations, but they only get to do that once for the Magic Point/Casting time cost.

You can see why the reaction of the players in my campaign is to immediately attack any sorcerer they encounter, and to kill them dead, dead, DEAD as fast as possible. Any time a sorcerer is casting a spell, the presumption is that it is Wrack and it must be stopped at all costs. Doing anything else risks Total Party Kill.

If I were to reboot my campaign, I think I would prohibit or change the Wrack spell to be less horrific in potential effect on the action point economy.

…and the Animist’s Horde of Fetch Spirits

A skilled animist can have quite a few Fetches with bound spirits on them. These can be broken to release the spirits to attack the animists foes. Each spirit then has its own actions to attack a target. If you are not an animist, and if you do not have one of the small number of spells that defend against spirits, you defend with half Willpower. Its pretty trivial for a spirit to devour a low willpower character’s soul. A powerful Animist could release a dozen spirits in one battle, which is a huge boost in the number of effective attacks they are launching.

As you can understand, my player characters hate animists with a a passion. I have one as a recurring villain in my campaign.

A sorcerer can do something similar by Evoking an other planar entity, or by a Draw (creatures) spell.

For player characters, each fetch costs one XP to create per point of spirit intensity. So burning up your fetch spirits in combat is going to be a significant decision. I’m not aware of any other mechanic in Runequest VI where XP can be spent for a one use resource.


Runequest VI no longer uses a Resistance table for determining if something like one spell overcomes another spell. Instead the magnitude of spells is compared, with magnitude usually being based on one tenth of the casters skill. The spell then either completely succeeds or utterly fails.

The folk magic spell Avert can always be used to counter another folk magic spell, but has no effect on non-folk magic spells.

Sorcery has the Neutralise Magic spell, which negates a single spell or theistic miracle with an equal or less magnitude for the duration of the spell, or can counter an incoming hostile spell. Sorcery spells, however, can be quite weak, as the points of shaping that could be used on magnitude, are more often placed into shaping duration, range, and the number of targets.

Theistic casters may have Dismiss Magic, which eliminates a combined magnitude of spells equal to its own magnitude. Miracles will usually have substantial magnitude, as its equal to caster skill/10.  Can also counter an incoming spell.

So a magic user with 80% skill is not just relatively stronger than a magic user with 70% skill, they are absolutely stronger. The magnitude eight spell will always counter the magnitude seven spell. The magnitude seven spell can never counter the magnitude eight spell.

This makes my players terrified that their spells will be countered, and so anxious that their own counter spells will fail, that they prefer not to counter enemy casting at all due to the assumption that an enemy caster has a higher skill than they do, and so a much greater chance of having a greater magnitude for their spells.

Perhaps I should throw a small horde of low skilled magic using opponents at them next time. A GM should never be too predictable.


3 Responses to Linear Warrior, Quadratic Sorcerer: the Action Point economy in Runequest 6

  1. texarkana23 says:

    I missed the Enhance spell, which allows a Sorcerer to boost DEX/INT and thus get more Action points. To be fair, its noted in the rules that doing so unbalances the game. While you get +2 characteristic points per intensity, you cannot more than double your original characteristic score. A character that started well over the 25 breakpoint for 3 Action Points might get as many as 5 Action Points using this spell, but +1 Action Points for 4 Action Points total is more likely.

  2. Edward says:

    As discussed elsewhere, Enslave (Unbeliever) is one of the most powerful spells because if it goes off, then it will likely move 2 or 3 fifths of the party’s Action Points over to the GM’s side of the table (making a battle un-winnable). Enslave is also potent because it gets Intensity x10 Targets automatically, freeing Shaping points to be spent on Magnitude (and Range).

    Animism is nasty, but not all-powerful. A Spirit must Discorporate it’s target first (testing against full Willpower) in order to engage in spirit combat, and RAW only Death and Sickness-type spirits possess this ability. It’s also expensive for the Spirit, as successive Discorporate attempts against the same target cost +1 MP, so 3 failed attempts = 6 MP spent. On a random note, because characters from your flying cities possess Willpower as a Cultural skill, they are slightly more resistant to Spirits than Barbarians or Nomads.

  3. It’s also worth remembering that most magical traditions have only 5-6 spells/miracles/etc within them so the antimagic magics should be quite rare, as should the big gun spells like wrack, sunspear, sever spirit and the like. So anyone going up against casters with such powers should have some idea over what they are facing!

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