Would you believe more freakin’ original RuneQuest? And this time, not that teenfic evilmurk setting that I worked on so hard. (Yes, that’s still in active development; patrons know about it.) This time, it resulted from a request for a “proper” role-playing game at Spelens Hus, you know, with beweaponed adventurers and adventures in a rugged place. I could have chosen any of a zillion games for it off my shelves, but time & other considerations led me to this one.
We’ve played three sessions, and I’m posting the first two as I edit the third. Point #1 is that you don’t “do RuneQuest” without either abandoning its potential or developing it, so we seem to be doing the latter after starting with a treasure-hunt fight.
Point #2 is more social. We began with me and two players, then added two more players for session 2 – and one of them didn’t mesh with what we’d developed so far. You can assess that for yourself in the recordings. So you know, the two of us got together afterwards and talked it over, and you can look forward to a third session that broke all land-speed records for engaged, exciting, social, mystic, and violent fantasy adventure.
I’d like to run through a bit more about my exact procedures in setting this thing up: what I provided at first, what I did with it or found in it during play, then what I did or provided or changed for the next session, and now, after three sessions, what I’m setting down as a partially retroactive and partially forward-looking minor text to be our “rules.” It’s a very interesting sequence which strikes me as a useful set of instructions in a game book some time.
Despite all the play for this rules-set, I have realized just what I’ve been leaving out or doing poorly for a while, including but limited to the parrying rules. I’ll be happy to talk about that in the comments if anyone’s interested.
26 responses to “Fast fun adventure with swords and magic underground”
3rd session and reflections
This is turning into something. I think you'll be impressed by what I guess, if anything, qualifies as "real role-playing," allowing for the rules I keep screwing up. I've put it into the same playlist but the direct link is here; the latest two videos in it are my reflections.
I've enjoyed watching the videos. Having decided on Runequest for some "proper" roleplaying what have you found working well and less well to deliver that, perhaps compared to other systems, e.g. D&D 3rd edition? I'm recalling you described the teen-fic evil murk games playing into the systems strengths and maybe that's somewhat less the case here?
I had to wrap my head around
I had to wrap my head around the question a little and realized more information is necessary. First, that I prewrote the characters without any dice rolling and extremely arbitrarily. They don’t look rolled-up at all; they look prefabricated. The small person was also the quickest, one of them had straight 12’s all through the characteristics, they have a nice range of Intelligence, Charisma, and Power across them, et cetera. Second, that I used the briefest possible skill list, from the core book only and even collapsed them a little, and treated everything else as characteristic-multiple based rolls. Third, that I extremely arbitrarily assigned higher skill levels for everyone, thinking in terms of 45-50% as a baseline and giving everyone some competence with outdoor stuff like Hide and Ride as well as pretty good weapon skills.
This has system-dampening effects that may be ideological rather than anti-function. I never feel great about increasing a RuneQuest character’s skills from the default beginner levels, because one of the system’s unique charms is that you build a character completely through use – if anything is above its beginner value, it’s because you made it go there and can point to a very specific instance of play that bumped it up. Oh, and the only framing device for play is for the character to be in hock to a temple and/or a guild in order to have skill training and some spells, so the point is, you have slightly higher capabilities than just being rolled out of the box, and to have those, you now have some social positions and obligations to collect some loot.
Now, given that convention play and probably a lot of other play prefers not to be bumbling around with 25% attack skills, and given that showcasing the setting requires characters who are good at what they do in it, and finally, considering that at least to some people it’s important to experience that BRP as a genre-customizable system, that also requires characters who are already good at genre stuff, I doubt that this RuneQuest-specific ideal of “build it from scratch through play” was very commonly observed, even way back at the time of publication. The rules in the appendix for aging and bumping up characters are probably there for these reasons. I think the only published adventure material I’ve seen that assumes absolutely starting-out player-characters is Apple Lane.
I may just be a purist but I get itchy when I arbitrarily set Attack and Parry percentages. How are those reasonably expected to look if you really built them through use? I can tell you, if I’m playing an RQ character at any level, you can bet that I’m parrying all the time. Shit, I bet I’d parry when told to make Hide, Ride, Oratory, language, or Scan check, let alone when someone was attacking me. I’d be a parryologist. Yet when I see the for-use and opponent characters in all the published adventure scenarios, Parry is always lower than Attack. Why is that? Is that really how they turn out from use? I bet not.
None of that is really answering your question but it’s important for getting there. If I’m to compare this experience with playing D&D 3/3.5 and to D&D 5, then we start with the point that I’ve already adjusted (or possibly borked) what the system does by ramping the characters into … oh, say 3rd or 4th level equivalents. So take that as you will, I’m not sure entirely what it means.
Qualitatively, this is much meatier that either. The combat is way more in-the-moment, the risks are higher, the battle magic has a “rip my energy out” feel, the spirit interactions are appropriately primitive-feeling and spooky, and the rune magic is earth-shakingly divine.
I’m very interested in damage as a play-experience, since this features a lot more fighting than the other RQ games I’ve been playing. One thing that jumps out in comparison to the other fantasy games of 1975-1981, is that you can faint and collapse without dying. You need to be tended to, but there’s a pretty reasonable buffer between “fall down, out of fight” and “you die.” This has happened to two characters so far and seems like an expected conclusion for many combatants, especially if they have enough armor to ensure that they aren’t decapitated or horribly maimed. It prefigures the later Cyberpunk in that you’re more concerned about what happened to that body part than you are about running out of hit points – kind of on the principle that if you’re worried about running out of your total hit points, then you probably have lost something important along the way already anyway, if not simply run through the lungs.
Another point has been mentioned to me by the current Chaosium staff, in reference to play, which is that people get very practical, in a fashion I associate with Circle of Hands. You fight only when you really, really want to, or if you have been bushwhacked, and frankly, you become quite ruthless, setting up bushwhacks of your own and ganging up on people if you can. The current players have found that “Gee, let’s go into the tomb and see what the GM has set up for us to fight, how bad could it be,” resulted swiftly in, “You know, let’s come back here with a whole lot of people helping us out.” And that’s for a fight in which they did pretty well, meaning, “Oh fuck, we almost died,” but no one really went down hard.
Well, those are my thoughts at the moment. I’m not sure how strong they are.
Here’s another thought: that
Here's another thought: that weapon-specific damage is probably the most wildly variant element of the system, and not necessarily enjoyably. That's because it's independent of how well you hit, whereas most of the rest of the fight mechanics are absolutely about how well you hit: hit location, impales (and their optional equivalents like slash and crush) and criticals.
All of those makes a lot of sense when weapon-specific damage is not too variable. This is typically the case man-to-man, with pretty ordinary armor, with weapons whose damage is restricted to a couple of dice, and with reasonable chances to attack and parry. You'll get most-likely outcomes of one or the other combatant fainting in shock from a badly hurt body part, or killed by an extreme shot, with most of the literal actions to that point dictated by the rolls' outcomes, especially when you add fumbles into the mix. You can almost just roll your way through a fight and enjoy what the "choreographer" comes up with via the dice. Even the justification for hit location makes sense if you define it as the opening you spotted.
Then, in man-to-man combat, it is a reasonable role-playing experience, in this highly randomized/risky sense of fighting, to hope for a "good hit" through the above variables and to fear receiving one. That seems sensible and dramatic especially because grinding one another into low total hit points through dinks and dabs is a very risky proposition; RQ characters do not bulk up on total hit points and even a super-Rune-hoo-ha person is about as tough, on this level, as anyone else.
However, adding the weapon damage roll, or rather, a widely-varying one, to this gets confusing – even annoying. It's a whole 'nother angle or way to get in a really shitty or really good hit, and it's numerically disconnected from all the other ways, which are themselves nested as probabilities and causes. There's no way to explain or understand what this roll even means.
The same topic is also aggravating in terms of scaling that roll up, i.e., when the given weapon gets some ridiculous damage roll just because it's "big and cool." That means it will deliver so much damage that all those other variables get washed out; all the choreography and "how well you hit" are simply bypassed as any hit will basically deliver a critical. This is less likely for people using practical weaponry in the context of travel and weight considerations, but it's very, very likely when fighting almost any of the nonhuman opponents, who are extremely well-equipped with damage dice.
Thanks for such detailed
Thanks for such detailed responses, really interesting although they do make classic runequest sound a bit intimidating to try and run. The bit about damage and how it scales, or rather doesn't scale well, is interesting. It strikes me this is something that lots of systems struggle with and try to fix in different ways, with the emphasis on try!
Having watched the actual plays the other thing that jumps out about these "leveled up" characters is that they seem less emeshed in the cult context that equivalent characters who had been through play cycles would be – inevitably since that's where lots of the fun of play seems to be and that really has to come from decisions and evolving relationships in actual play.
I’ve had to be sort of
I've had to be sort of "inside" each player-character's head regarding cult status and relevant actions or knowledge. "You belong to a Chaos cult, so you get a roll to notice XYZ," as opposed to the player having internalized this material so much that they are properly the person to know about this capacity and to act upon it in play. Since all of them have welcomed this activity and are at least starting to feel close to their characters at this degree, I expect them to become more proactive about it. Certainly Helma has no problem arriving at the look and feel for the Woods Woman cult, and Sandra is positively gleeful (as you'll see in the upcoming video) about Erko's religious license to be insanely curious.
I've also started to make cult writeups using the template in Cults of Prax for their cults, starting with the Buried Dead. If past experience with RuneQuest applies, then the players will get pretty assertive with their cult interactions and the related character improvements.
A plan to do this kind of campaign
As I wrote in the discord, watching the three first sessions and reading all the posts linked to this campaign made me want so badly to play this kind of campaign: a campaign of adventurers in a high fantasy settings that is building through play.
As I said, I feel like an undergraduate student attending a high expert seminar, or a cow watching a train (you guys are the train), so I ask for patience and kindness in your answers. As a non-native english reader, sometime I don't understand very well the meaning of specific comments (something any translation software can't help with), be it specific figure of speeches or sometimes finding myself wondering if the author is actually advocating or criticizing a specific. I also have never played or read Runequest, or Glorantha-related stuffs. Maybe sometimes something is clear in the video, and I just didn’t understand it, so don’t be surprise if I ask.
Now, I want to play this kind of campaign. Please this as the fundamental goal of any of my subsequent interactions. I have thousands of questions and remarks and I’m going step by step.
What I like and want to keep:
What I understand:
Now, I would have those questions:
There’s an interesting point
There's an interesting point in here about Cults.
The in-play definition of Cults raises some questions about how they relate to the societies in which they function.
Are their members "outsiders" coming into a community, or are they members of that (or a related) community? If the former, where do they come from – is there a place where they are not outsiders? What ritual/religious practices are followed within the community instead?
If the latter, what does the PCs' statuses within their cults imply about their statuses within that/their communities? What happens socially when they advance within the cult?
Obviously the answers can differ between games and particular cults within them.
Defining Cults contributes to defining the societies in which they operate. That's obvious, if a little hidden in the "outsider" case. It can also potentially result in some weird societies, which is a good thing.
Grégory, see my responses
Grégory, see my responses below. I will respond to your second comment later.
Hi Alan, here’s my video
Hi Alan, here's my video reponse.
Runequest: RP in Glorantha
Runequest: RP in Glorantha does indeed refer to them as Rune Cults. I don't have my older book handy to know how it compares to that.
Responding to Ron first:
Responding to Ron first: Thanks for the reply. Personally, I am familiar with the terminology you outlined, because I've always been a "make societies/economies work properly" kind of person. But of course, that's not a majority approach amongst gamers. It's likely to be relatively common amongst RQ players, for example, but is rare amongst, say, D&D players. And, sadly, it's rare amongst Traveller players, whose resulting "Science Fiction" often suffers from an inability to imagine societies that basically aren't the present day USA "in space!"
I'll also add that I actually forgot what you originally said/wrote about how you established the cults in your game in the first place. So I was talking gibberish in the precise context of this game.
That said, I was responding to arakn_e's comment about "Players are outsiders coming in a community that is experiencing a “crisis”", by pointing out that their outsiderness is not a necessary feature of the game. I suppose it's a bit like Dogs in the Vineyard, where the PCs are outsiders in the sense of not being locals, but very far from being outsiders in terms of the local, well, Cult.
Alternatively they could be outsiders in both senses, not sharing the local cultic practices, or at least not entirely sharing them.
An outline of available cults is one of the necessary preparation items in most RQ games, although it might be interesting to have them more player created, with potentially weird results that could take things off into very strange fantasy indeed. But even there guidelines would need to be provided in order to prevent the players from sitting there and looking blankly at the GM.
I think the "outsiders arriving" concept is receiving too much emphasis, in that these apply only as an accessory to "out there somewhere having adventures."
I'm contributing to a separate over-emphasis on "town in crisis" in my preparation, which probably arises from my para-Glorantha presumption that the overall culture is undergoing a philosophical/military transition or possible catastrophe. It's kind of hard to have an "Age of Legend" without that going on or potentially so. The point of such things – from a creative fictional standpoint – is to see the pressure that they put on communities, and the troublesome or provocative shapes or explosions that emerge locally.
You can see it clearly in the second and third session sequence, as well in the later Headwaters sequence. However, there are several instances where there's no such local problem, as you'll see in the Vomiter adventure and at the Temple of the Buried Dead.
Sorry I’m not easily
Sorry I'm not easily formulating my questions as I want to.
Session 3 has lots of discussions with informations about the world. What was decided before? What was made up during this discussion?
I understand that you redesign the skill system as needed through the experience of play? For instance, you give a Herb knowledge to Helma during the discussion? I have thousands of questions about the skill list, and I know you discuss lots of them on other posts, I'm trying to have a clear understanding of what you exactly used at the beginning and you tweaked (hoping to get a sense to do it myself).
Also, about this comment:
What do you use for weapon damage as an alernative?
In session 3, when you say
In session 3, when you say “discussions,” do you mean my presentations to the viewer, or conversations with the players during the session? Also, have you seen the reflections videos that I made after playing session 3? I think most of what you are asking is covered there.
Frankly, I will not re-live my process with the skills as a conversatio with you, both as rules and as a step by step process through this game. I describe it as well as I can through the posts and comments, and you will have to follow any useful process of your own.
Just keep in mind that there are three separate resolution systems in these rules, and what action is placed into which system is not conceived well at all. Decide for yourself which system any action should be placed in, and put it there, ignoring whatever the authors (mis-) chose to do.
I did not replace the damage roll based on weapon with any other system. We continued to use the rules as written.
In session 3, when you say
I meant the conversations with the players during the session. I've seen the reflections videos after posting this, it answers everything.
Yeah, of course! I have lots of questions about those skills and your comments because I didn't understand everything, but I'll catch those discussion in time when I've seen everything.
Responses to Grégory’s first set of questions
This question seems to me to reveal something strange. Your “why” regarding the characters and the specific situation makes no sense to me at all. It even suggests to me that you have been imposing this question on yourself in your preparations for play, all these years, which is terrifying to contemplate because it is nothing but a trap that has closed on your foot every single time. If I’m right, then it explains (and is the only possible explanation) for all that strange pre-play agony you’ve experienced with Sorcerer & Sword.
My only possible response is “why in the name of God would you ever ask anyone (but more importantly, yourself) this terrible non-question?”
I can be more helpful with the other questions.
The original half-page character sheets are gone because I edited them into full-page sheets after the first two sessions. I don’t think the gods had runes at that point, or maybe just a couple of them. The cult/god names are original, i.e., I made them up, with an eye toward “something different” from the Gloranthan pantheon, working from the Rune Magic section of the rules, as I have done several times beginning all the way back in 1980. In this case, I liked the idea of Light and Stasis being essentially pre-cosmos and inimical to “regular” reality.
Here are the sheets after that edit. Some of the cults’ runic combinations you see here were changed in the later full cult descriptions. Since no one chose Imzha or Itzi, I did not use them in the game, although I re-purposed the latter name and the shamaness role for an NPC later. In other words, the Imzha you meet in play is not this character and doesn’t use this sheet.
You are not going to be able to detect the skill system from them. Originally I pulled about five skills per character from the existing list in the book and maybe a couple from Cults of Prax, but I also informally knew which character actions would be handled by characteristic rolls or the Resistance Table instead of the listed skills.
The main context for what was on the sheets were the maps, mainly the big continental map so I could show them “the south” and “the north” along the western edge of the whole continent, and point at the northern island chain where play began. The gods had no content beyond my intuitions at this point, they weren’t much more than names on the sheets.
As you can see, the characters have no goals or behavioral descriptions listed at all. I provided the context that Jovahn was seeking ancient knowledge for political purposes down south, that Zort had been his bondsman from the start, that they had been joined by Erko in the north, and had ‘hired’ (the right word) Skava as a guide or at least somone who could negotiate or manage travel into lesser-known areas.
For preparation, I had Dyson Logos' smaller island map as well as the big one, the picture used here as the lead (which I’d used as well in my announcement post at the Spelens Hus Facebook page), and one of Dyson Logos’ tower maps, which I conceived as embedded into a cliff face (as per the lead picture) rather than standing free.
I also chose which monster descriptions I’d use for the beings I conceived were there – the Tusk Rider characteristics + the Wind Children hit locations + a chaos feature or two for the bat woman, and a slightly diminished Walktapus for the weirdness down below. Given my concepts for them, the Hawk Seer corpse seemed like a logical addition as I made notes on my map of the tower.
I did not specifically plan for the emergent “first kind of god” to convert anyone, and the situation could have simply been a semi-walktapus fight with some surreal components (e.g., the split in the characters’ perceptions) and a glimpse of strange runes. However, by default, I conceived such an entity simply to “be” a focus for worship, perceived by humans as an offer, so when Helma played Skava as opening up to it, that was not a “plan” or “challenge” I’d prepped as such, but role-playing the qualities of the entity.
As you will see in the later posts, after the third or fourth session, I decided we needed a proper player handout, which is the first time I pulled all these details into a (vague) whole, including the developed metaphysics.
Regarding RuneQuest as such, I think I see the most important thing I can say, which underlies all the different questions you’re asking about it. You will see it presented in later videos, but briefly, the original rulebook does not present a generic rules-set with light Glorantha material as examples. That is a mythology created by the later writing and release of Basic Roleplaying.
Instead, the original rulebook provides material for constructing your own bronze age fantasy setting, or rather, pantheon, using concepts common to Persian, Mesopotamian, Arabian, Turkic, Grecian, and Egyptian mythology dating to about 1000 BCE. This is not a mash-up because these regions are all connected. The runes are presented as a construction set for you to create your own pantheon of gods along the same lines as this inspirational material.
The content also includes significant Nordic, Manchu, and Native American components for shamanism, which are folded into the ecstatic and hallucinatory components of worship in the region I mentioned above. One would almost think that this entire construct was authored by a hippie anthropology student given the discipline’s content as of 1969! … which of course, it was.
Although no one could be blamed or even criticized for being distracted and seduced by Glorantha, it is also a shame that this beautiful toolkit for embracing these inspirations to use for oneself was lost to the collective understanding within the hobby. I will even point to your own reading, which wrongly perceives a generic system + Glorantha, when the actual text you’re looking at absolutely explicitly states what I’m describing, in terms of what you as the user of the text should do.
Oh – I forgot to answer your
Oh – I forgot to answer your final question in that comment, which is partly because it also makes no sense to me. I also think I provided a full answer in the videos.
However, guessing what you might mean or want, I have to say that the Hero Wars vs. (this) RuneQuest was not relevant to my thinking and did not present itself as a choice. My concept was "proper hit points, fighting exotic monsters, pulp fantasy." The titles I considered were (this) RuneQuest, Darkurthe Legends, Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes 1977), Powers & Perils, and repurposing DeGenesis to a more magical-fantasy concept. I chose the one I did due to stress and time constraints, i.e., the one that I knew best at the moment.
Having chosen it, I worked toward its strengths as described above.
I can fairly say that if I owned an easily readable version of Ysgarth, rather than the reduced-size version, preferably the original pamphlet style production, then I would have used that.
Thanks for those answers.
Thanks for those answers. Please consider that I feel a profound gap between what I'm trying to ask – which feels banal and easy in my introspective world – and the questions coming up in the discussion, to my own disarray.
My total non understanding of your reaction is so deep that I think I have to stop to reflect on this, hoping the discussion is not frustrating you, as I believe those moments of communication are generally proper to unsettle deeply rooted self evidences . Could you tell me what seems so strange?
Some things ticked by watching this campaign to me (I just finished session 3) but I'm not sure at this time to know what, and I'm sorry my questions feels weird and strange. What I like is becoming sometimes more clear through discussion and watching : it's not just how the settings is built through play, but also the simplicity of the campaign "let's just play a game" with the excitation from actual play leading to some prep, and how the system is adapting to the campaign, for this specific campaign of this specific group. I really want to do this, even if I understand that no magic GM or rule system can lead to it, it's a group-related excitation thing, but I'm looking to how not ruin it if this thing happens.
I thought you had watched
I thought you had watched more than that. I think this discussion will benefit if you watch at least the reflections following session 3, and perhaps drive on to the next post and its videos.
As for our apparent duel of incomprehensible "whys," perhaps we should discuss it by voice.
Good, thank you! Easier to deal face to face sometimes.
Ron, I'm a pulp fantasy illiterate. If I ask you 5 books that inspired you as "pulp fantasy" (you can give more, but not too much) as source material for the game or for this kind of runequest game in general (with its potential for bronze age mesopotamian take), what would be your answer?
Would it be the same list that your source review in Sorcerer & Sword (from which I introduction to the idiom)?
Would it be the same list
Read: "… (which served for me as an introduction to the idiom"
The bibliography in the RQ2
The bibliography in the RQ2 rulebook that you have is carefully compiled, so I'll talk about that.
The fantasy authors are Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. If you investigate these, I strongly recommend avoiding the later writings of the latter two, with the cutoff for Leiber being about 1970 and for Moorcock, distinctly 1977. This is not based on personal tastes but on their relevance to RuneQuest.
Tolkien is included too, which might seem off-message until you remember that the trilogy was enthusiastically adopted by the 1960s counterculture. So "hippie Tolkien," if you can manage to imagine that (I can, because that's how I encountered it).
The historical and military sources try to focus on Greece and early Rome, but for many details they lean "Asian," and to my eyes represent a struggle to keep out of western Europe but without proceeding fully into China and Japan – the extensive references for the latter include disclaimers toward that end. European medieval arms and armor are significantly absent.
The literature is a little harder to parse as it includes the Nordic sagas (and in related publications, the Ulster Cycle) and Le Morte d'Arthur, and I think they were hampered by lack of materials regarding Persia. I could speculate that they wanted to avoid The Arabian Nights but had little else to go on. I'm a little surprised they didn't include the very popular (at the time) re-presentations of Mediterranean and pre-medieval myth in literature, e.g., Robert Graves, John Gardner, and Mary Renault.
Because we are already on
Because we are already on some general fantasy ideas… Perhaps this isn't the most appropriate spot, but I should write it down at some point.
I've had an old concept that I've never done anything with for the last thirty-something years. Clarke Ashton Smith had something to do with it, and so on.
Anyway, the idea is of the game being based on very early civilisation. Not necessarily Bronze Age, but "ancient".
Since then I've accrued some concepts like the "Oldest Map in the World" – Google that ("Imago Mundi") which covers maps of ancient fantasy worlds. Add to that, the Champions Now concept of the Two Statements.
What would a fantasy game look like according to the Two Statements? Well, this afternoon I came up with the following ideas:
1, One Sun, Many Sun Gods.
(This is actually part of a problem I have never been able to solve – who actually does drive/pilot/ride the Sun chariot/boat/'beetle pushing a giant ball of shining dung"? Obviously, it should be solved by players.)
2. Clans, Tribes and Cities in an Ancient World.
This is good, but it doesn't cover the "what are the PCs supposed to do?" question. Should there be a Third Statement, or should these two simply be stuck together as just one, and add "what do the PCs do?" as a second one.
If you need an example, just check out the Biblical texts about the wars between Elam and the five cities led by Sodom.
Everything is better with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Some typos there, but it does
Some typos there, but it does kind of reflect what I had to say.
What WAS I doing when I was young? I can't imagine.