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

July 11, 2015
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.

Paper-Scissors-Nuke

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.


13th Age Mechanics in Runequest

February 22, 2015

This is post is some thoughts I have been having about applying some of the concepts and mechanics from the 13th Age game system published Pelgrane Press to the Runequest 6 rules from Design Mechanism.  13th Age is a d20 system with mechanics to promote interesting storytelling, while Runequest is the classic d100 system that has realistic grit and crunch (Rolemaster may have more specifically gory criticals and Harnmaster may have the most realistic medieval combat system, but Runequest is my preferred system to design worlds with).

I first heard about 13th Age when I saw the promotion for the 13th Age in Glorantha kickstarter. I was intrigued, and after reading some favourable blog reviews decided it looked worth backing. Having now read the 13th Age rules, I wish I could have included a lot of these big ideas when I was designing my current campaign world (Tarantium: musketeers from flying cities versus agents of evil empires and cults of ancient horror).

One Unique Thing

Every player character has one unique thing about them that separates them from every other individual in the campaign’s universe. This defines both the character and the universe by exclusion. The intent is that it provides a special flavor to the campaign and can assist the GM in determining how your character can interact with characters and story in the campaign. Your character’s unique should not provide general practical value in combat. That is not the intent. The intent is to open up story arcs and fun roleplaying opportunities.

I love the way this empowers the players when they are creating their characters.  I like to say yes when my players have cool character concepts. When I had a go with picking a unique for a character in a one-off D&D 5E game I took the first thing to pop into my head “Raised by ghosts”.  There is a lot of scope for character concepts that are well developed at the start of play (e.g. “I’m the Emperor’s bastard daughter”) and leaving things open to be developed in play (e.g. “I have a mysterious birthmark”).

Not providing an advantage in combat should help with game balance.

In a Runequest game I would allow the unique to override campaign restrictions (e.g. no one in Tarantium has skill with animistic magic), allow people to choose weird and exotic backgrounds, or to play various sentient races that are not usually open to players.  The core of Runequest is the Skill system, so I would also consider any requests for a player to spend Skill points on Skills that would not usually be open to a starting character (e.g. I’m a thief with training in a school of sorcery).

Icons and Relationships

The 13th Age Archmage Engine supports the concept of icons. An icon is a powerful NPC (non-playable character) that has a strong influence on the world outside of your campaign, yet may indeed aid or oppose your character over the course of your campaign, depending on the relationship your character has with the icon. Icons have their own story, alignment, and personality. The general knowledge and history about them may vary in depth and accuracy; they may be well-known or mysterious. They have their own relationships with other icons, too, which may be friendly, tolerable, or acrimonious. Your character may have relationships with certain icons. This relationship, if it exists, can be positive, conflicted, or negative.

The descriptions for icons are usually for very powerful individuals, or a small number of closely aligned and powerful entities.  Most write ups have 13 icons, although I was reminded of the Major Arcana from a Tarot deck a lot when reading . I think icons are useful when world building, as they force you to focus your design on your best ideas (and you should be able to come up with 13 strong ideas for icons). A problem I have in running campaigns, is that while some original ideas fade into the background, the number of NPCs and factions tends to proliferate at a rapid pace, and the campaign can end up a little unwieldy as a result.

Icon relationships can be handled with the Runequest Passion skills. Just to differentiate them, I would call them Icon Passions, and any other passions would be Private Passions.  Roll as per normal at the start of each episode in the campaign, with a critical success giving an unambiguous advantage, and an ordinary success an advantage with some complications. I think I would encourage the party as a whole to have at least one common icon relationship, as this gives them a reason to be together as a group.  I would be tempted to rebuild the character sheet, so that the unique is right in the middle-top of the front page of the character sheet, and then immediately adjacent to the unique description are the character’s icon relationship/passions, and their private passions. Then you can figure out where to put the characteristics and skills. I would then place all of the combat related stuff on a completely separate character sheet.

Pelgrane have a short blog on creating new icons. This puts emphasis four things about icons:

  • Connections: all icons are social by nature (Dragon under a mountain is not an icon, Dragon overlord of a city state surrounded by zombies is an icon)
  • Goals: all icons want something, and pursue it by any means available
  • Geography: most icons have a centre of power somewhere, and this may reflect the campaign scale (a game based in a single city state will be very different from a game involving 1,000 star systems)
  • Falvour: does it help make the game interesting?

Magic item quirks

Every magic item in is alive, in a sense, and possesses a personality you have to interact with when you start using the item, establishing and maintaining a rapport with it. What that rapport means varies from item to item and is usually controlled by the GM. Some items talk with their user. Others communicate in bursts of emotion or slight motion. Each item has a personality that is largely defined by its quirk. What you can count on as a default is that nearly all magic items want to be used and used well.

A feature of roleplaying campaigns, is that players tend to always accumulate more stuff. So much stuff that when you cast Detect Magic at them, they glow like a Christmas tree. The quirk system essentially says, if you rely too much on magic items, then you sacrifice some control over your character.

This is also relatively easy to work into Runequest using the Passion system. So your magic bonus can be directly linked to the level of Passion you have for that magic item (i.e. if you have adopted your Magic Sword’s Passion for “Kill all sorcerers” at 60% then you can augment your Combat Style Sword by +12%, but at the tail end of the fight you need to make a Willpower check not to start attacking the party’s own sorcerers). I have noticed that most of the players in my campaign have sunk a lot of skill points into having a good Willpower skill. So I think that rather than doing a straight Willpower versus Passion check in conflicting situations, you can make the Willpower check Easy for people with just one magic item, and then increase the difficulty grade by one for each additional magic item carried. If playing at a high campaign tier (100% skills, Mastery and Infinity rules, then increasing the number of magic items allowed before the difficulty grade is increased makes sense).

Escalation die

The escalation die represents a bonus to attacks as the fight goes on. At the start of the second round, the GM sets the escalation die at 1. Each PC gains a bonus to attack rolls equal to the current value on the escalation die. Each round, the escalation die advances by +1, to a maximum of +6. Monsters and NPCs do not add the escalation die bonus to their attacks. If the GM judges that the characters are avoiding conflict rather than bringing the fight to the bad guys, the escalation die doesn’t advance. If combat virtually ceases, the escalation die resets to 0.

The escalation die is an explicit cinematic bonus for the PCs as a fight progresses, unlike the karmic death spiral of attrition to Hit Points and expenditure of luck points as a Runequest fight plays out.  It might be something to try, but its not going to fit every Runequest campaign.  A lot of other feats and special abilities in 13th Age are also tied into the escalation die reaching a certain level.  So you could rework various Runequest Gifts and special powers to tie in with the Escalation die, but it would be a lot of work.

A +1 in a d20 game is equal to +5% in a d100 game. Tracking 5% modifiers is a bit fiddly, but an eventual bonus of 30% is huge in Runequest, as not only will characters hit more often, but those attacks are more likely to overcome the target’s defences.

Stuff that does not translate so well

A lot of the combat abstraction for armour and weapons, levels and hitpoints, simply won’t go into a Runequest system without changing it into something unrecogniseable. Some of the various feats, race and class abilities can be retweaked into the Gift system (which Runequest is more sparing with in allowing characters access to, as they usually come with a concomitant geas, passion or other roleplaying limit).  The minimum damage rule, where any miss results in damage to the enemy equal to character level, makes a lot of sense in a D&D style mountain of hit points boss fight, but not so much in Runequest where both PCs and NPCs are likely to have very similar hit point totals.


Player Character Species for the Tarantium Campaign

January 2, 2014

Today I spent some time fleshing out sentient species that players might use for player characters in a Runequest campaign.  I know this is subject to diminishing returns, in that if I develop more species than players, some or most of them will not be used.  In my Dragon Age game, only one of my five players wanted to play a non-human at campaign launch, although we later ret conned one of the player characters to be a half-elf.  So one of the considerations for me is that each of the species I develop is something that helps explain my campaign world, and will provide NPCs and plot lines for me to use in the play of a campaign.

First Draft – Player Character Species for the Tarantium Campaign

Humans are the dominant race of Koth, both numerically – representing 80 per cent of the world’s population, and politically – ruling all the major Empires and most of the minor Kingdoms and independent enclaves. If you choose to play a non-human species, you should be aware that it is likely to have fewer legal rights than humans, and may encounter prejudice from merchants and officials.

If you wish to play a specific species of your own choosing not from this list, we can probably work something out. If its derived from classical mythology, then it may be a Courtly race, but if its from more recent fantasy, then its likely to be a Conquered species.  The Courtly Folk include:

  • Arani (a giant spider)
  • Brachi (a sentient crab)
  • Ghoul (a humanoid carrion eater)
  • Minotaur (as per classical mythology)
  • Sobek (a crocodile headed humanoid)

The Conquered Peoples include:

  • Alfandi (light skinned, dark haired elves, once farmed the fields of the citadels)
  • Telchari (hairless dwarves, once maintained the sewers in the citadels)
  • Vargr (bipedal wolves, pack creatures with chaotic governments)
  • Vordar (dark skinned, light haired, elves, once the wardens of the citadels).

Arani, Brachi and Vordar do not play well with others of their own species.  Only one PC in the party can come from each of these species.  Ghouls, Sobek and Vargr enjoy and actively seek out the company of others of their own species, unless they are insane or undertaking a ritual quest that requires solitude.

Arani

The Arani spider folk made a deal with the Taran family in the Founding Age, lending them the Arani matriarch’s oracle power, in exchange for protection and a place in society. Arani are respected in the Tarantine Empire, and feared elsewhere. Male Arani are by nature hunter-killers rather than ambushing or web-spinning spiders (which the female Arani are). They do not hunt in packs, and do not enjoy the company of other male Arani. They do respect knowledge, with many becoming scholars, and while not as adept at intrigue as the matriarchs, a few become skilled politicians.

In Tarantium, the male Arani are a bit like the younger sons of noble families, members of an important social class, but not terribly important in of themselves. Some descend to the ground in search of adventure and food, others work for the Empire in a number of roles, and a few just stay close to the Matriarch’s Court, even though this can result in an early death in the mating season.

Only male Arani can be played by PCs – the females are double the SIZ of males and too magically powerful to be balanced for a game. Young Arani males have dark brown – almost black – fur, which lightens to a tan brown colour as they mature. As male Arani age their fur slowly whitens, and the most dangerous elders reach a translucent white colour and can terrify almost any opponent. Male Arani have the following special abilities:

  • Adhering – as long as the Arani does not wear more than quilted/padded armour on its legs, it can move freely on vertical surfaces and ceilings
  • Combat Style – Eight Legged Horror (allows use of Grappling and Venom abilities)
  • Darksense – the eight eyes of the Arani are good for detecting creatures in complete darkness, the spider can make perception checks to detect prey within INT metres of its locations
  • Exoskeleton – an Arani has Armour Points in all hit locations equal to SIZ/7 (round down), armour can be worn over this but a full set of armour is likely to cost double what it would cost a human, due to the skill needed to allow freedom of movement for all eight limbs
  • Grappling – with a successful unarmed attack, you Grapple in addition to inflicting damage, if the attack was parried you gain the Grip effect on a limb, or the Pin effect on a weapon, use your Brawn skill to resist attempts to break free.
  • Improve SIZ – you can always spend experience checks to improve your SIZ, as long as you have consumed sentient magic-using creatures with SIZ/POW greater than your current SIZ/POW within the last lunar month
  • Intimidate – this ability is unlocked when the Arani’s SIZ reaches 20, opponents must make Willpower checks to stand their ground if you threaten them
  • Tool using – two of the front limbs are slightly shorter and have developed for manipulating tools, although Arani are clumsy compared to ten fingered humans they can wield weapons and shields, but they if the hilts/grips are not designed for their use they will struggle with them (make skill checks more difficult)
  • Venom – if the mandibles of the Arani are not impeded by a helmet, they can bite with a 1d6 damage attack anyone they have grappled, if this penetrates any armour, it paralyses the victim after 1d6 rounds (can be resisted) and then does 1 HP of damage per hour to every hit location thereafter as the venom liquefies the insides of the victim, the paralysis effect lasts for CON/4 hours.

Arani use a different hit location table than the humanoid races. See p.389 in RQVI.

Arani names: tend to be complicated and elegant, so much so their companions usually make a nickname for them.

Common Arani passions:

  • Loyalty (Arani Matriarchs)
  • Fear (Arani Matriarchs)
  • Love (Stalking Prey)
  • Respect (Teacher)
  • Loyalty (Tarantine Empire)

Note: Arani are more powerful than humans (although they lose some abilities if wearnig heavy armour), but much harder to roleplay, and there won’t be any casual sexual encounters in taverns.

Brachi

The Brachi are sentient crabs, known for their intelligence and curiosity. They feature in a few myths and legends, sometimes as a trickster figure, but often as a hapless companion of the hero who needs rescuing. They survived the Cataclysm by clinging to rocks and crawling into small tunnels for the ride down from the Moon and are now found throughout the world.

Brachi have a bad reputation for thievery, although they often quickly lose interest in the toys and shiny objects they make off with. If they have a favourite shiny object though, they will be very reluctant to part with it. While Brachi tend to talk/act first and think later, when they do think about a problem they often find solutions no one else thought of. Being smaller than most of the sentient races, they often prefer solving problems in non-violent ways, although if pushed around their claws can be dangerous.

If taught to read and write, Brachi make good scholars and engineers … although careful mentoring is needed to make sure they do not go off on tangents. Some Brachi also become good merchants as they love arguing and can haggle from sunrise to sunset to get the new shiny object at a good price.

Names: there is no logic or consistency to Brachi names, most are self selected and many are ludicrous.

See p.344 RQVI for Brachi hit locations.

Brachi abilities:

  • Burrowing: you can burrow through sand at your normal movement rate, and at quarter movement rate through earth, given enough time you could even work your way through stone
  • Crushing Crustacean Pincers: attack with two pincers doing 1d6 damage
  • Exoskeleton: Brachi have four armour points in all locations
  • Formidable natural weapons: can parry/defelct with natural weapons (claws)
  • Small: Brachi can be generated with a SIZ smaller than 8 if the player chooses this, a minimum SIZ of 3 is required, this can be an advantage in squeezing into small places, but it will disadvantage the character’s Hit Points and damage bonus

Common Brachi Passions:

  • Desire (Shiny New Thing)
  • Love (Learning New Facts)
  • Love (Arguing)
  • Respect (Best Friend in the Whole Wide World)
  • Hate (Thief of Shiny Thing)
  • Espouse (Pet Theory for Everything)

Note: this is the species to play if you want to annoy the hell out of everyone all the time.

Ghoul

The Ghouls first appeared in the legends of the Age of Rebellion, feasting on the corpses of the fallen. They are living creatures, not undead. Ghouls resemble humans in most ways, but are thinner, almost emaciated, deathly pale skin, their teeth are dominated by incisors for ripping flesh, and their fingernails are long and claw like. Ghouls require rotten meat to survive – they are carrion eaters – and normal cooked meat will make them vomit if they try and eat it.

Ghouls occupy a complex position in the margins of civilisation – they do the unpleasant jobs involving ritual pollution that other races prefer not to engage in. Ghouls are found as butchers, tanners, embalmers, executioners and soldiers. If its a filthy, disgusting job, they get to do it, usually for low wages. As long as Ghouls follow the appropriate cleansing rituals, pay taxes and obey the laws, they are left alone. The Tarantine Emperors have often intervened to prevent pogroms against Ghouls – “The coins they pay in taxes smell like those of any other citizen I have sworn to protect.”

Civilised Ghouls wear elaborate headdress and scarves that conceal their disjointed jaws, and gloves that hide their claws. Asking a ghoul to remove their clothing is a very offensive act, one that will alienate the local Ghoul community and could lead to challenges. Ghoul buildings tend to be a warren of tight one way passages and dead ends, and entry into them is considered a polluting act – few people would do it without good cause.

On the ground, some Ghouls have degenerated into feral packs, ambushing and devouring unwary travellers. These packs are hunted down ruthlessly, with fire and the sword.

Names: Arabic culture names are suitable for Ghouls.

Ghoul abilities:

  • Death Sense: a ghoul can sense the death of nearby living creatures, or the location of dead flesh, they have an instinctive feel for scouting out places of death, such as cemeteries, battlefields and abattoirs
  • Hardened Skin: one point of natural armour
  • Regeneration: if able to feast on large quantities of dead flesh, Ghouls can regenerate lost limbs at a rate of 1 Hit Point per location per week, damage caused by fire cannot be regenerated
  • Teeth and Claws: Ghoul teeth do 1d3+1d2 damage, and their claws do 1d4+1d2 damage, plus any damage bonus

Common Ghoul Passions:

  • Respect (Tradition)
  • Desire (Carrion)
  • Observe (Ritual)
  • Loyalty (Family)

Note: a good choice for someone wanting to play the aloof outsider.  Like a lot of choices I intend for Tarantium, its not evil, just a darker than average shade of grey. Its inspired by the Ghul in Amanda Downum’s novel The Kingdoms of Dust.

Minotaur

Minotaurs were bred for war by Mal, an unholy fusion of man and beast. Despite all attempts to compel loyalty, Mal found that Minotaurs were largely uncontrollable, although they could be corrupted to enjoy the blood rage of battle. Getting them back in line again afterwards was difficult. During the course of the Age of the Rebellion, many Minotaurs deserted or defected to join the rebels. Their hatred of Mal and his children, and their works and deeds, is deep and abiding due to the way they were used as expendable shock troops.

More than almost any other race, Minotaurs have embraced Koth. Most have migrated to the ground, where they survive by herding animals and trading for the fruits and grains that dominate their diet. Only a few families remain in the flying cities, where they have proven to excel in the various divine cults, hewing carefully to the old traditions.

Minotaurs have the following abilities:

  • Earthstrong: Minotaurs lose the minimum amount of Areté on failed Areté checks (unless they are deliberately seeking out Forbidden Lore in which case the normal Areté loss applies)
  • Horns and Hide: Minotaurs have three Armour Points in the head. They require custom made helms due to their horns. The Horns can be used to Gore for 1d8 damage.

Names: Ancient Greek culture names are suitable for Minotaurs.

See p.375-377 in RQVI for more information on Minotaurs. The Shaman profession is not available to Minotaurs, and Minotaurs do not have any language penalties.

Note: in RQVI RAW, Minotaurs have much better SIZ/STR characteristics than humans do. In Tarantium they do not get any bonus to characteristics, but the Earthstrong ability and lack of language penalty should compensate for this.  Areté is functionally equivalent to SAN in a Call of Cthulhu game.

Sobek

The Sobek are crocodile headed bipedal humanoids with scaly skin. In myths and legends they are encountered by rivers and other bodies of water, as simple hunter/gatherers, traders and explorers. When the Shining Court was established, many Sobek moved there to indulge in the delights of civilisation and to bask in the reflected light of the Palace. In the Age of Rebellion, the Sobek were the most loyal of all races to Mal, only turning on him when his defeat was clear.

Sobek both respect and desire power, but are often limited by their desire to enjoy the pleasures of life to the full, which includes late breakfasts and basking through the mid day sun. Sobek are often found in criminal gangs, happy to knife someone for a few coins or a cup of wine, or they may be hard-working and enterprising members of merchant guilds, cults, and other organisations … but always likely to be playing the long game of politics. Groups dominated by Sobek often experience prolonged and bitter struggles for power. If a Sobek does rise to undisputed dominance, they can command near fanatical loyalty from their Sobek underlings.

The most important Sobek rite of passage is the acquisition of a weapon. Thereafter a Sobek is never without a weapon – even if it just a small concealed knife. Because Sobek feel the cold more than other species, they often wear several layers of clothing and even wear furs in mid summer.

Of all the creatures of the Moon, the Sobek have most fallen in love with the Sun. Within the Covenant, the Sobek are the largest ethnic minority, after humans, and their ease with sun worship means they face less restrictions than the other non-human races. This has made life for those Sobek within the Tarantine Empire a little more difficult, as many of them are suspected of sympathising with the Covenant’s aims.

Names: Ancient Egyptian culture names are suitable for Sobek.

Sobek have the following abilities:

  • Tough scales: one point of natural armour in all hit locations
  • Bite: 1d8 attack from their very sharp teeth
  • Cold Blooded: Sobek do not need to eat frequently, only requiring one meal a week, but cold temperatures make them sluggish and torpid (they sleep through much of winter and stay awake through much of summer) – without warm clothing they lose six Strike Ranks and one Action Point in cold weather
  • Hold Breath: if prepared a Sobek can hold its breath underwater for CON minutes (halve this duration if swimming or fighting).

Common Sobek Passions:

  • Indulge (Decadent Vice)
  • Respect (Power)
  • Desire (Warmth)
  • Retain (Weapon)

Note: this is the Lizardman/Ophidian race for Tarantium. As sun loving creatures, Night Sense did not make much sense, so I swapped it for Hold Breath. The Bite attack damage has been increased, but Sobek don’t have a venomous bite.

 

The Conquered Peoples I am still working on.  The Vargr will be familiar to anyone who has played Traveller, as I loved playing them.  The other species are the standard FRPG cliches, with the Telchari being pretty much a straight import from my current Dragon Age game.  There will be other sentient races, but they will be almost universally hostile to humanity, and so will be unsuited for PC use.


The Red Eye School of Sorcery

December 31, 2013

Continuing with my campaign development over the holiday break.  My plan is to eventually develop five orders of sorcery, along with some religious cults and mystic orders, for use by player characters.  For this school of sorcery, I started with the Scholastic Order template on page 308 0f the Runequest VI rules and then modified it a bit.  The background is loosely inspired by some of the Odin myths, and I have subverted the standard trope of the reclusive nerdy mage, by making the order a bit more interested in the pleasures of the flesh.

The Red Eye School of Sorcery

The most obvious sign of a Red Eye mage, is that one of their eyes is missing, usually as part of a deliberate initiation ritual. A true master of the school can be recognised by the fact that both of their eyes have been removed! Note: the missing eye(s) cannot be regenerated by any magic means. Eye patches are often worn, and prosperous members of the order wear red coloured robes made from expensive fabrics, and for formal occasions a cloak of raven feathers. If they have a staff, it is usually white.

The first eye removed by this order is deliberately destroyed in a magic ritual that creates a charm for the sorcerer that makes them harder to be found by tracking or scrying (increase the difficulty level of such skill checks by one level). The loss of an eye makes all sight based perception checks one level of difficulty harder.

The Red Eye school originated in the Moon Age, a sorcerer known as Sarak of the Wandering Eye was exiled from Mal’s Court after making the mistake of propositioning all three of Mal’s daughters at a Ball. In the Shadowlands he was trapped by the Queen of Thorns (after mortally offending her in a botched seduction attempt) and impaled on the Whistling Thorn Tree. Trapped on the tree, with his life’s blood staining his previously white robes, and carrion birds circling around, Sarak endured pain and agony. Eventually the Raven flew in close and bargained with Sarak teaching him a song that would free him in exchange for a morsel of flesh. While Sarak felt tricked when Raven took his eye as the “morsel”, he was free to continue his wanderings, fumbled courtings, and led a long life of research and discovery.

Sarak’s book of knowledge is known as the Veiled Volume, and it is written in a language taught only to members of the order, and it can be read by people who are blind.

The Red Eye Order rose to prominence in the Rebellion age, when people rebelled against the tradition’s and restrictions of the Shining Court. Red Eye sorcerers were happy to share their discoveries of different ways of doing things, and quite happily broke with old conventions. It has largely retained a presence in the Imperial Court, apart from a period of suppression during the time of the Harem Emperor’s, and is responsible for tuition of the Imperial family and maintaining the Imperial library.

The order continues to be involved in significant research, discovery and exploration … along with some of the major court scandals. While scholastic, its members are not known for denying themselves the pleasures of the flesh, if anything they experiment with discovering its limits of endurance.

Magic Points

A Red Eye sorcerer regenerates magic points after the sun has set for the day.

Runes

Truth and Magic.

Skills

Insight, Invocation (Red Eye), Language (Blind)*, Lore (Any), Perception, Shaping, Willpower.

Spells in the Veiled Volume

Abjure (Pain), Evoke (Razantar), Eye for an Eye (Castback), Intuition, Mystic (Hearing), Perceive (Magic), Raven’s Song (Neutralise Magic), Raven’s Wings (Fly), Red Light*, Sense (Knowledge), Wandering Eye*.

Red Light Spell

This spell can be used to illuminate an area with a red light, emanating from a point chosen by the caster. The light is just sufficient to read by, but will not disrupt vision at night time (unlike a bright light). While the red light persists, the caster can augment their Seduction checks with their Invocation (Red Eye) skill.

Wandering Eye

This spell is used to animate an artificial eye crafted by the Sorcerer (as well as delicate cogwheels and mechanisms the eye usually requires wings from a small magical creature and a small ruby). A lens or monocle is also crafted to go with this. In use the spell is similar to Project (Sense), although the physical eye can be detected and destroyed, but the receiving view piece can be shifted between different people.

Gift – Summon Ranaztar of the Thousand Eyes

When the sorcerer is inducted as a full member of the Order, the masters will summon Ranaztar to oversee the ceremony. If Ranaztar detects disloyalty in the heart of the Apprentice, it will devour both of the Apprentice’s eyes, and then the Masters will expel the apprentice. Otherwise Ranaztar assists the Masters in destroying the eye the Apprentice will sacrifice. When the sorcerer becomes a Master, they can summon Ranaztar and sacrifice their remaining eye (which Ranaztar adds to their collection) in exchange for one of the following gifts:

  •  +1d6 INT
  • a Lore skill at 100% (this cannot be Forbidden Lore).

A master sorcerer of the Red Eye can attempt to summon Razantar at any time, provided they can gift it with the eyes of magically powerful people or creatures.

Duties

Novices and apprentices are required to assist higher ranked members of the order, and often spend long hours copying library manuscripts. Adepts and other high rank members are obliged to assist anyone who comes to them with a novel problem (although a gift is customary after the problem has been dealt with). There is an old Imperial Law requiring all children in the Imperial family to be tutored by a Red Eye sorcerer, although given the rate at which past Imperial tutors have been executed, exiled or imprisoned by the Emperor’s, this is not a popular duty. The order as a whole is hostile to the puritans in the Covenant, supporting imperial campaigns against them.


The Ghost Hands

November 20, 2013

Mucking around with some ideas for a Runequest VI campaign setting, one of which is that I want all the cults and brotherhoods that the players could join to have something questionable about them, even when they are socially accepted and seen as “good” for civilisation.

The Ghost Hand School of Sorcery

The most obvious sign of a Ghost Hand mage, is that one of their hands has been amputated, usually as part of a deliberate initiation ritual. A true master of the school can be recognised by the fact that both of their hands have been amputated! Note: the missing hand(s) cannot be regenerated by any magic means.

The amputated hand is kept and preserved, as it allows the school to track down any aberrant apprentices. Once the member is a trusted adept, the hand may be returned to them for animation as a familiar (with the enchant spell), the completion of which is one of the markers of the rank of mage.

The Ghost Hand school originated in the Moon Age, when an exile from Mal’s court known as the First Hand wandered the shadowlands and bartered the sensation of pain for knowledge from demons and other creatures of shadow. The first amputation granted him insight sufficient to trick a demon who had bound his soul.

The Ghost Hands rose to prominence in the Founding age, when mortality struck and people did not know what to do with ghosts. The Ghost Hands had some knowledge of the spirit world and were able to drive off or destroy the first wave of ghosts. While other ways of dealing with ghosts are now known, the order retains some prestige from this event. Nomad Shamans hate Ghost Hand sorcerers, and delight in continuing the amputation process if an unlucky sorcerer falls into their hands.

The order continues to research ghosts and spirits, and the methods for defending against them, and driving them off or destroying them. A few renegades have been found who used forbidden knowledge to dominate ghosts for their own nefarious ends.

Runes

Death and Magic, although the order refers to Death as the Shadow rune and tends to embellish it somewhat in the order’s manuscripts.

Skills

Invocation (Ghost Hands), Lore (Ghosts), Shaping, Willpower.

Spells

Banish, Bypass Armour, Enchant, Ghost Hand*, Mark, Mystic, Repulse (Ghosts), Spirit Resistance, Transfer Wound, Wrack (soul).

Ghost Hand Spell

This spell creates a ghostly hand, in the place of the sorcerer’s missing hand, that can pass through solid material, and is capable of manipulating objects. All apprentices are taught this spell after their initiation amputation ceremony is completed.  This spell is unique to the Ghost Hand order, and greedy apprentices who have tried to sell the secret have found themselves being choked to death by invisible hands.

Gift – Summon Karach 

Karach is the shadow demon who once enslaved the First Hand. This gift may be granted to exceptional Mages, but is more likely to be granted to Arch Mages who have proven themselves to be beyond temptation. Among other powers, Karach can cast Sculpt (Shadow). The first time he is summoned, the character must successfully bargain with him, trading the demon a permanent point of magic in exchange for knowledge (which can be represented by bonus experience rolls). This magic point is regained if the character amputates their remaining hand.

Duties

Novices and apprentices are required to assist higher ranked members of the order. Adepts and other high rank members are obliged to give aid to anyone who is afflicted by ghosts (although a gift is customary after the spirit has been dealt with). The order as a whole is hostile to nomads and their ghost wielding shaman, supporting imperial campaigns against them, and so as individuals Ghost Hand sorcerers are quite prejudiced against nomads

 


Runequest 6th Edition

September 8, 2013

The sixth edition of Runequest is a comprehensive successor to previous editions, and for me, comes the closest to capturing the look and feel of the second edition that was one of my favourite roleplaying games.  As well as looking at this new edition, I will also present my thoughts about the supplements and supporting material released so far.  I have played and run games with the second and third editions, looked at the fourth edition drafts that never went anywhere, and had the Mongoose edition – but for some reason I just never liked the they way they put the game together so I did not run any games with it.

tdm100-rq6-front-cover

Runequest VI is a hefty 456 page all-in-one tome.  Its available as a softcover & pdf bundle from http://www.glorantha.com/product/runequest-6th-edition/ or http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/products.php ($62), and in pdf format from http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?&manufacturers_id=4057 ($25).

A hardcover version has been funded through Indiegogo and should be out soon for backers and direct sales.  Runequest VI is primarily a set of rules, but provides examples of game mechanics through a backstory set in the bronze age city state of  Meeros and the aspiring female warrior Anathaym.  This is kept in the sidebars, and I found the story entertaining, like Rurik’s story in RQ II, but not too distracting from the main text.  Apart from the cover, which is a colourful homage to the RQ II cover, the interior art is black and white illustrations, and largely complements the overall mood and themes of the text.  More setting specific supplements are due for publication in the future, including:

  • Luther Arkwright (based on a time travelling secret agent character, apparently a big UK comic in the 1970s-80s)
  • Mythic Briton (after the Romans have left)
  • Shores of Korantia (based on Age of Treason, a fantasy setting that tries to capture the feel of a rising new Empire, where internal threats may outweigh external threats).

A number of free pdf downloads are available for Runequest VI at the Design Mechanism website, including:

  • A supplement for Firearms (and futuristic weapons)
  • A GM pack
  • Character sheets.

Two generic, setting free, game supplements are already available:

  • Monster Island (a “sandpit” jungle island)
  • Book of Quests (seven loosely connected scenarios).

Organisation and Layout

There are sixteen chapters, plus reference sheets and an index.  While the material is in a logical order, there will be a bit of page turning in character creation as people start with the process in chapter one, but may need to dive into the skills, equipment and magic chapters to figure out what they want their character to be like.  I had some confusion on first reading the rules, in that while skills are mostly explained in chapter four, some specific parts of skill use, such as haggling, are dealt with more thoroughly elsewhere in the text.  If I were running a game, I would want prepared material for the players with example combat styles, magic traditions, cults and brotherhoods for them to join.

  • Chapters 1-3, character creation, culture, community, careers and development
  • Chapters 4-7, skills, economics & equipment, game mechanics, combat
  • Chapters 8-13, magic systems
  • Chapter 14, cults and brotherhoods
  • Chapter 15, creatures
  • Chapter 16, games master.

Character Creation

Basic character creation involves the seven traditional characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma.  These can be rolled for randomly, or purchased with a point buy system.  Secondary attributes are calculated based on the characteristics: Action Points (number of actions per combat round), Damage Modifier, Experience Modifier (bonus improvement rolls, based on Charisma not intelligence, as you smile sweetly at your instructor…), Healing Rate, Height & Weight, Hit Points, Luck Points (one use per game session), Magic Points, Movement Rate and Strike Rank (initiative in combat).  There are some fairly significant break points in these attributes, for example your Action Points are determined by combining Intelligence and Dexterity, 12 or less is one action, 13-24 two actions, 25-36 three actions.  If using a point buy system, I suspect the temptation for players to have intelligence and dexterity summing to 25 will be strong.

Standard skills are available to all characters, most are self-explanatory (Dance, Perception) but Customs (of your community), Evade, Influence (persuasion) and Insight (into motives) will need a look at the rules to figure out what they are about. Evade is not quite the old Dodge skill, its more a throw yourself to the ground that leaves you prone to vulnerable to whatever happens next.

Combat styles represent a major design choice for the individual game master.  For a combat light campaign you could decide to just have two styles, one for melee weapons and one for ranged weapons.  For a detail rich gladiators in the arena campaign, you might have a dozen or more combat styles (spear and net, spear and shield, etc).  Deeper in the book (page 135) its explained how combat styles can have special traits, such as Formation Fighting, where a group of soldiers work together to reduce their opponents action points by one.  Quite nifty, and an obvious place for house rules for campaign specific chrome.

Four generic human cultures are presented: Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic and Primitive.  Each culture comes with a set of standard skills, combat styles, and professional skills.  Of these, I think the primitives are the weakest, but I just don’t find the stone age all that interesting.

A 1d100 random background event table is included. If choosing an older character, its suggested that you roll more than once.  I quite like 13 “You believe yourself to be suffering a divine or magical curse. Moan, groan and whinge at every opportunity, or remain completely stoic at every misfortune that befalls you in the future.”

Social class is an option, with as usual, the lucky nobles getting wealth, land, horses, weapons and armour. Personally, I like the idea of starting a campaign where the nobles start with equipment and hideously huge piles of debt.  One can keep rolling randomly for family, but for contacts, allies and adversaries you’re expected to use your brain and think of something.  The rules do provide a major incentive for the players to come up with a reason for hanging out together – Group Luck Points (tucked away on page 124) a pool of shared luck points anyone in the group can use, and you get one per player who has a good reason for being in the party.

The last section of culture and community is the most important from a roleplaying perspective: passions.  Passions are cool! Passions represent:

  • loyalties and allegiances
  • strongly held beliefs or ideals
  • emotion felt towards someone or something.

Passions are rated 1-100, can change over time, and be created or discarded in play.  Passions are described by a verb such as: comfort, desire, despise, destroy, espouse, fear, flee, forswear, hate, love, loyalty, protect, repudiate, respect, seek, subvert, torment, or uphold.

Over 20 generic careers are provided, offering a package of standard and professional skills for the player to spend points on for their character.  The careers are fairly broad, the Agent for example, is intended to include Agitators, Assassins, Detectives, Informers, and Spies.

An older character gets more skill points, and can spend them to a higher starting level.  Age penalties don’t kick in until 40+, so I see players being strongly incentivised to choose middle aged (200 bonus points) over young (100 bonus points).

Game Mechanics

Its the old 1d100, roll against skill level system, but with some developments:

  • 01-05 always succeeds
  • 96-00 always fails
  • A roll of 1/10 of skill is a critical success
  • A roll of 99-00 is a fumble.

Rather than providing an exhaustive list of modifiers to skill checks, the approach taken in Runequest VI is to adjust the skill level by fractions, e.g. for an Easy task, add half again to the skill value, for a Formidable task, reduce the skill by half.  Characters can augment a skill with one other skill, e.g. using local area knowledge to improve drive skill checks, equal to twice the critical success value of the augmenting skill.

For contested rolls, critical beats normal beats failure, but if two people have the same result, e.g. critical perception versus critical stealth, the character with the highest roll on the dice wins (i.e. a 13 beats a 7). Pro tip: because of the need to compare rolls you need to train your players to leave their dice on the table, untouched, until the roll is fully resolved.

Equipment

After that mechanic introduction the rules take off on a tangent for equipment, before going back for more mechanics.  Mostly familiar stuff with the traditional kitchen sink lists of ancient to renaissance era armour and weaponry. What I noted here was the armour penalty to Strike Rank (the average of Dexterity & Intelligence), which is determined by total armour encumbrance value divided by 5.  For a full set of plate mail this works out to a hefty -9 penalty.  This is also applied to the the characters movement.  I grumble about this, a custom fit set of plate armour can be easier to run in than a maille hauberk, but I can put aside the stickler for accuracy and recognise it for a game balance device that ensures some niche protection for those leather clad (or skyclad) character concepts out there.

Weapons have a list of combat effects they can do, for example the Glaive can inflict Bleed and Sunder (smash armour) effects, while the Rapier can Impale.

More Game Mechanics

Specific rules are given to handle: Acid, Ageing, Asphyxiation, Blood loss, Character improvement, disease, poison, encumbrance, falling, fatigue, fires, healing, luck, passions, wilderness survival, traps, visibility and weather. Phew!

Skill increase is familar, roll 1d100 and add 2-5% if you roll equal or greater than the skill, or 1% if not.  As a freebie, if you fumble, you get to add 1% as well.  Increasing characteristics is not easy at all, essentially you sacrifice experience rolls, both now and in the future, to boost a characteristic.  Stop making the sacrifice, and your characteristic goes back down to its natural level.  I think this is fine with a point buy system, but if using 3d6 rolls in the old school style, its very hard on the unlucky player.  An optional rule is provided for people like me who prefer something a bit more like RQ II.  FOr those with time and money, training is an option, allowing skill increases of anywhere from 1-2% to 5-10% depending on how much better than you your trainer is.  You can’t stay at school forever though, you have to spend an experience roll on a skill before you can work with a trainer again.

Encumbrance remains the rule most likely to be ignored by both players and game masters.

Healing serious/major wounds takes a very long time unless you have magic.

Luck points can be used to:

  • reroll dice
  • gain an Action Point
  • downgrade a Major wound to a Serious Wound (this is how player characters survive the brutal, gritty, Runequest combat system).

Combat

This is comprehensive enough for my re-enactor background, and complex enough to be intimidating – there is even an Android App for helping sort out combat effects!

Actions can be spent on proactive actions or reactive actions.  When you run out of actions you just have to suck up whatever hurt the bad guys are throwing your way. You probably want some tokens/counters to track this around the game table (and that might help with luck points as well).

Proactive actions include:

  • attack
  • brace
  • cast magic
  • change range (moving in closer or further away)
  • delay
  • dither
  • hold magic
  • mount
  • move
  • outmaneuver (make an opposed Evade check against a group of foes, those who fail cannot attack you)
  • ready weapon
  • regain footing
  • struggle.

Reactive actions include:

  • counter spell
  • evade (dive or roll clear, ending up prone – this is not the dodge of RQ II)
  • interrupt
  • parry (combining parrying, blocking, leaning and footwork to avoid the blow)

The detail about evade/parry is included as that seems to be one of the most common misapprehensions about how the combat system is supposed to work.  How effective your parry is depends on the size of the weapons/shields involved.  Equal or greater size mitigates all damage, one size less mitigates half damage. Two sizes down mitigates nothing. So if the giant is swinging a tree trunk at you, throw the buckler shield away and evade!

In addition to damage, you get special effects, potentially as many as three, if one side fumbles when the other criticals.  There are a LOT of special effects, too many to sum up, but I think its likely that players will choose things like Select Target (head) and Maximise Damage (instead of rolling one of the damage dice its treated as being at full value, so a 2d6 weapon becomes 6+1d6).  For those who want it though, you can do a lot more to your opponents than “whack, and I whack it again” which is where RQ II was it in 1980.

Shields are a passive block, not an active block, so you need to pick the locations being warded. A bigger shield can ward more locations.  As in past editions, weapon damage minus armour = hit points lost to a body location.  Damage and wounds are pretty horrific:

  • minor wound: location has HP left
  • serious wound: location has zero or less HP (this will put most people out of the fight very quickly)
  • major wound: location reduced to negative starting HP (this will kill most people without first aid or healing magic).

Magic

It is a joy to see all of the magic traditions in one rule book.  Each of them is quite different, and a game world might not have all of them present.  We get a primer on the runes too, as this is Runequest. What I would really like is a set of the runequest runes on some small tokens I could draw randomly from a bag for oracle type stuff in game sessions.  A quick web search did not find anyone with something like this for sale.  Maybe I’ll track something down later on.

Folk Magic – this is what we called Battle Magic or Spirit Magic back in RQ II, its fairly low power community magic.

Animism – dealing with the spirit world and its monsters, Shamanistic traditions.

Mysticism – warrior monk/Jedi enlightenment aiming for transcendence.  Potentially the most overpowered of the magic traditions as a skilled mystic can be very hard to kill and very dangerous in combat, not at all the glass cannon of your traditional RPG mage. Beware of little old men with brooms!

Sorcery – a complex system, potentially powerful but often very narrow in focus and difficult to use (but good for villains who need long rituals to be interrupted)

Theism – religious cult based magic and power.

Off-hand, not too different from past editions, but the GM should decide for the campaign how common magic is, how long it takes to cast a magic spell or ritual, and how quickly magic points can be regenerated and by what means.  A world where you only regenerate magic on the night of the full moon is very different from one where you get new magic points every sunrise.

The Rest of the Sixth Edition

The creatures, cults and brotherhoods and game master sections are all fairly straightforward stuff for world and adventure building.  On a second reading of the GM advice, it was better than the first time, and gives some good tips for using the preceding material.

How does it play?

This is not a convention friendly game, its just too rich and complex for people unfamiliar with the rules to get a lot done with it on the three-four hours you get.  The combat and magic systems, while powerful tools, are likely to confuse people at first.  It is much more a game system for running a long campaign with, and for people who love detailed world building … because you can always write up one more cult!  I am very much looking forward to running a campaign with it when my Dragon Age game wraps up.

The GM Pack

This 78 page free supplement contains two scenarios and charts and reference sheets for use with Runequest games.  Meeros Falling is a “prove the hero is innocent” scenario, and involves finding the conspirators/evidence and bringing this back to the authorities, with a potential earthquake to complicate things.  Has a deceased NPC called Mysoginistes!  The Exodus Matrix involves more action, monsters and magic and the plot involves stopping the bad gal from activating the matrix to do bad things in a temple in some post-apocalyptic post elder god intervention Earth.

The Firearms Supplement

Short, to the point, and free.  A few notes on myths about firearms accuracy and lethality, it has the tables you need for primitive and mdoern firearms, as well as blasters, flamethrowers, laser weapons and other far future oddities.  Does the job well.

The Star Wars Supplement

This free 47 page supplement was only available online for a short period of time before it was pulled.  If you search carefully, you may find it online somewhere.  The skills, equipment, vehicle combat, and homeworlds sections would be useful for any science fiction setting.  I quite liked the rule whereby the number of “magic points” spent in a session by a Jedi was the chance of the Emperor detecting them and sending off some assassins to hunt them down.  A useful mechanic for any setting with a Dark Lord and player characters who have special secret powers that can get them killed.

The Book of Quests

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I found this a bit disappointing.  Its generic and flavourless, which is not like the epic RQ supplements of yore.  In particular the opening scenario Caravan is weak, in that at its conclusion the players may feel like they have failed, as the merchant they are escorting will most likely scarper for safety rather than see their caravan through to its intended destination.  I also think players would struggle with the monster, which prior to their arrival had essentially acted as brute force deliver of a massacre, but now the players are present becomes a sneaky skulduggery murder in the dark.  The Curse of the Contessa is the diamond that makes this book worthwhile, an excellent city intrigue game with multiple factions, including a well portrayed demon.  Most of the other scenarios just felt a bit too linear, but this is one you could have a lot of chaos and fun with as the outcome is very open.

Monster Island

Wow. After the Book of the Quests, this is the sandbox pack to make you want more from the Design Mechanism!

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The main supplement is 298 pages, plus another 17 pages of companion material and maps.  It details a huge volcanic/jungle island, with mountains, ocean, highlands and ancient ruins and tombs.  It has a strong pulp theme, with shades of Mu, Lemuria, Skull Island, E. R. Burroughs, R. E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft coming through.  The main protagonists on the island are the serpent folk, found in both degenerate lowland villages, and the vestigial remnants of the sorcerous priest-kings who once ruled the island.  Other foes can be found in the bestiary. The rationale for packing lots of apex predators into the island is that there are magic gates which drag them here from other dimensions.  So you can mix dinosaurs, werewolves and tentacled aliens in powered armour if you wish.  Humans have a colony struggling to establish itself on the island, with the natives preferring the obsidian weapons over the rusty iron the traders have.  Everything is detailed to the level you would expect from the great RQ adventure supplements of the past, a good bestiary, some magic and cults, ancient gods and lore, some nice tombs and traps and a world with shades of grey that leaves the players free to decide who they will ally with and who they will work against. While this is not something I will run out of the book anytime soon, I will be pillaging its pages for a lot of its ideas in a future campaign setting.

Summing Up

I am very happy to have these game books sitting on my shelf and in my hard drive. While there are some bits I disagree with here and there, on the whole the Runequest Sixth Edition rules are clear and comprehensive and I look forward to sharing them with a gaming group in the not too distant future.  I’m torn between some kind of Star Wars/Lovecraft mash up, or a Byzantium/Spider Oracle fantasy setting.  Its good when a set of game rules unlocks my imagination like this.