Tabletop RPG Review: RuneQuest: Quickstart Rules & Adventure

RuneQuest is a game that has remained both a familiar landmark and an alien territory for me since I first got into tabletop RPGs back in the mid/late 80s.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, I got started with Worlds of Wonder from Chaosium.  It used the same basic game rules (Basic Role-Playing) as RuneQuest, which for various reasons was then at Avalon Hill.  I definitely raided RuneQuest books for creatures and spells and such for my Worlds of Wonder games, but I never got into it specifically.  I never really got into Glorantha as a setting at all.  Heck, I didn’t even realize it was a Bronze Age Fantasy and not simply another Medieval European Fantasy game until I backed the Kickstarter for the reprint of RuneQuest 2nd Ed.

Over the last few years, with the publication of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, I’ve become much more interested and simultaneously much more intimidated by the game and the setting.  I grabbed the massive slip-case set and the Glorantha Sourcebook.  I own them.  I have stared at them and I have trembled in fear.  Where to start?  How to start?  Then along came this Quickstart Rules and Adventure, something more companies are doing and it’s a great thing.

You can download this free from Chaosium’s website, or purchase a print (on demand?) version for about ten bucks.  Forty eight pages long, the first half is a condensed version of the rules.  The second half is a beginning adventure with pre-generated characters to allow you to hop right in.

RuneQuest still uses a variation on Basic Role-Playing.  For folks more used to games like Dungeons & Dragons, there are definitely things that may surprise.  Of course, it’s a skill-based game, as opposed to a class/level based game.  But it also has an extremely deadly and brutal combat system.  This sometimes seems a bit odd in a setting like Glorantha, which is so wildly High Fantasy.  Literal gods walk among the characters.  Magic is common and wielded by nearly everyone.  Let’s not even get into the ducks.  The basics of Basic Role-Playing are very simple.  You have a certain percentage in a skill.  You roll percentile dice and if you roll your skill level or below, you succeed.  Simple.  You only have a chance of getting better at the skills you use.  Swing your sword in combat a lot?  You’re probably going to get really good at that.  Read a lot of ancient scrolls?  You’re likely to get really good at that, eventually.  Simple.  RuneQuest does make things more complicated.  Three different types of magic, a somewhat “crunchy” combat system with hit locations, wounds, and more, not to mention the extreme importance of family and clan.  In the full version of the game, the character sheet is four danged pages long.  I think Ars Magica is the only game I’ve played with so much content to a character sheet.

The scenario, The Broken Tower, seems pretty good.  YouTube RPG Zen master Seth Skorkowsky has already done a review of it with what seem like some solid suggestions for modding it to work a bit better.  But the scenario has some really good content and I think captures some of what makes RuneQuest special.  It is much more “Clash of the Titans” or “Jason and the Argonauts” than “The Lord of the Rings” or “Dragonslayer.”  And hey, one of the pre-gen characters rides a war bison.  So.  Yeah.

This was a taste.  I find some of the mechanics a bit tricky to wrap my head around.  This may be because I’ve been playing variants of Basic Role-Playing for so long (especially Call of Cthulhu) and it’s so close, but just different enough to throw me.  Perhaps it’s a product of trying to condense a massive rulebook down into 24 pages.  I’d definitely like to try my hand at running The Broken Tower and I very much want to dive deeper into Glorantha.  But I’d really like to play in a game run by someone who is already well versed in things.  I think this would be a nice sample for someone who is curious and doesn’t know anything about it.  It makes me really look forward to the Starter Kit they’re supposed to be releasing later in 2021 (I think). 

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