Greg Stafford, Steven Perrin, Jeff Richard, Jason Durall, and friends1’ 2018 RuneQuest – Roleplaying in Glorantha (RQG) is the latest2edition of the venerable roleplaying game, RuneQuest (RQ). My review of the 2nd edition can be found here.
And how does this version of the pioneering game stand up, forty years after the first edition saw print?
The first difference that veteran RQ players will notice is a significant upgrade in the cover art. Then they may note that this edition is hardcover, as opposed to perfect bound … and that it’s big . It weighs in at 445 pages to RQ 2nd’s 120.
Bad stuff first: most of the maps are virtually unreadable due to poor choices in patterning, colour, font size, and styling (colour, italicization, and text effects), to mention just some of the issues. To quote an art historian I consulted “All bad, all the time.”
Otherwise, it’s an impressive effort. RQG returns to its 1st and 2ndedition roots, with a system firmly planted in Greg Stafford’s Bronze Age fantasy world Glorantha, specifically the Dragon Pass region. (Notable for its diversity of cultures, which offers player characters a wide range of choices.) Character generation is more involved than it is in the 2nd edition (players begin by outlining the lives of their character’s grandparents and parents!) but the rulebook does a good job of guiding players through the steps involved. As with earlier editions, characters are defined by their culture, religion, and family. RQ is not a game for people who like to play wandering murder hobos who exist outside civilized society.
The essential game mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played RQ or any RQ/Basic Roleplaying Game-derived RPG. Existing magic systems have been expanded, and fans familiar with the … less than stellar 3rd edition will be relieved to know that while sorcery joins spirit magic, rune magic, and shamanic magic as an option, this version of sorcery is not egregiously broken (which it was in the 3rd edition).
If you’ve not played a BRP-style game before, the text takes care to explain how the elements old and new (specifically, rune and passion mechanics) fit together.
An aspect that stands out now more than it did with early editions: RQG has a curious mix of utilitarian magic and a gritty combat system in which death is always a very real possibility. In the background, there’s a mythic setting where demigods and epic destinies are everyday phenomena.
(In theory every player can aspire to becoming a hero of legend and religion, perhaps even ascend to godhood! In practice, the odds of surviving such a bold career path appear quite remote.)
There is a danger when updating venerable systems like this that people who have spent decades mastering the minutiae of the game will expand and complicate the game into unplayability. I will refrain from providing examples, although readers may feel free to do so in comments. RQG appears to have sidestepped this trap. There is a lot to keep track of (the character sheets are four-pages long!) but I believe the game should be playable. (I haven’t yet fully tested it.)
Although Chaosium offers a number of RQG supplements, one should only need this text, paper, pen/pencil, and dice to play RuneQuest – Roleplaying in Glorantha.
Now for all the glorious details!
An outline of the bare essentials of the game. It includes oddly detailed directions on how to read dice, which suggests that Chaosium is targeting a wider audience, not just grognards like me.
A compact overview of the setting and its cosmology.
How to create player characters. The assumption is that most characters are twenty-one, but it is possible to generate younger or older characters.
What it says on the tin. This is useful both to further demonstrate what finished characters should look like and to provide characters for use by players not up to generating their own.
Descriptions of the geography, climate, and cultures of the various nations in the general vicinity of Dragon Pass.
An overview of the game mechanics.
More on skill-related game mechanics.
More on combat-related game mechanics.
Players may be surprised and delighted at how easily character lives can be snuffed out with but a single weapon thrust.
More about runes, metaphysical symbols that shape reality and hence the characters and game mechanics.
The role of runes is much expanded (or at least it’s far more explicit than in the editions I played).
Passions & reputation
Passions are what motivates the characters. Reputation is how others view the character.
How magic works in the RQG system. An overview.
Utilitarian spells that can be used by any character.
How religion works in RQG. As with early editions, religion is a key part of the world, not merely a convenient source of cure light wounds . Cult in the context of RQG does not have the negative connotations it may have in other contexts.
Magic that can only be used by characters of high status within cults.
Shamans deal with the many spirits that roam Glorantha.
Spirits & the spirit world
The non-physical, non-divine entities to be found in Glorantha. Note that just as humans can aspire to mythic status, so too can ambitious spirits.
How to use sorcery, which works because it depends on the underlying structure of the world, not on gods and spirits.
Equipment & wealth
What it says on the tin.
Managing the lives of your characters between thrilling excursions.
How to convert material from previous editions to this version of RuneQuest .
A perfectly serviceable seven-page index.
A full-page ad for several RQG products: the 800-page Guide to Glorantha , the Glorantha Sourcebook , the Glorantha Bestiary , the RuneQuest Gamemaster’s Pack , and RuneQuest Gods of Glorantha . The last seems not to have been published at the time of writing. A full-page ad for Chaosium’s cosmic horror RPG Call of Cthulhu .
RuneQuest – Roleplaying in Glorantha is available here.
1: The full credits are as follows:
By Jeff Richard, Greg Stafford, Jason Durall, and Steve Perrin
With David Dunham, Steve Henderson, Warren James, Sven Lugar, Chris Klug, Rick Meints, Michael O’brien, Sandy Petersen, Neil Robinson, Ken Rolston, and Ray Turney
Front Cover Artist: Andrey Fetisov
Back Cover Artist: Bernard Bittler
Editorial Review and Consulting: Lynne Hardy and Sarah Newton
Proofreader: T.R. Knight
Art Direction: Jeff Richard
Project Assistance: Sven Lugar and David Scott
Design & Layout: Simeón Cogswell and Malcolm Wolter
Cartography: Olivier Sanfilippo, Darya Makarava, and Colin Driver
Artists: Rick Becker, Bernard Bittler, Simon Bray, William Church, Miguel Coronado, Gene Day, Andrey Fetisov, Piotr Foksowicz, Lisa Free, Merle Insigna, Tomasz Jedruszek, Kalin Kadiev, Roman Kisyov, Rachel Kahn, Jennifer Lange, Rhonda Libbey, Michelle Lockamy, Juha Makkonen, Mike Mignola, Christine Mitzuk, Luise Perrene, Kevin Ramos, Roger Raupp, Jakob Rebulka, Alex Ries, Naomi Robinson, Simon Roy, Olivier Sanfilippo, Luoto Sari, Tobias Tranell, and Cory Trego-Erdner.
And a special thanks to Petersen Entertainment, for creating The Gods War and allowing us to use art from it, and to A. Sharp, for creating King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages , and allowing us to use art from those games.
2: Let me see if I get this right: The versions of Runequest of which I am aware:
Mongoose RuneQuest I
Mongoose RuneQuest II3
The Design Mechanism
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha
3: Reworked into Mongoose’s Legend.
4: Reworked into The Design Mechanism’s Mythras