Like Dungeons and Dragons, the RuneQuest roleplaying game has a long history, starting in the 1970s. As with many games with numerous editions and so much history, they can be a little daunting to start with. Last week I read an article by John Wick, The Deepest Dive, which reminded me just how much has been written on Glorantha – the main setting for RuneQuest. He also talked about good products to start your adventures with, which are coming to games stores in the next couple of months. This inspired me to put my own thoughts down about the game. It seemed like a good time to write about on getting started with RuneQuest and seeing if it’s a game for you.
Like John, Chaosium games were at the forefront of my early roleplaying experiences; Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer and RuneQuest. The rules and setting of these are imprinted on my brain to this day, the way I suspect only the games you played as a teenager can be. Having got out of the habit of running games in recent years, something that was hardwired into my skull seemed like the obvious solution to return to first – RuneQuest.
My big uncertainty was that the edition of RuneQuest I grew up with did not include the world of Glorantha whereas the new edition is very much intertwined with this famous setting. I had read a few Glorantha-based articles in White Dwarf way back when and it always sounded intriguing; Glorantha was definitely something I wanted to explore, but difficult to get a handle on. Definitely not your average Tolkienesque fantasy world. So, where to start?
RuneQuest: The Colouring Book
Perhaps not the usual route into an RPG, but what initially drew me back into RuneQuest after all these years was the RuneQuest Colouring Book. It’s got 24 black and white line drawings of scenes from RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, and is a great test to see if it looks like an interesting game world for you.
At the time of writing, this pdf is available from Chaosium free on DrivethruRPG. It captures the heroic, bronze age feel of Glorantha very well, while introducing the creatures, characters and cosmology of the setting. There’s also a few “what adventurers get up to” style pictures too.
Each of the pictures comes alongside a brief explanation of what you’re seeing, and gives you a sense of whether Glorantha is for you.
RPGs are increasingly making quick start booklets available containing the basic rules, background and a scenario to introduce gamers to their world. The RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Quickstart Rules and Adventure is a great introduction to the game which I thoroughly recommend. The hardcopy is available from us and good games stores, while the PDF is free from DrivethruRPG.
This easily-readable book gives you everything you need to actually get started playing RuneQuest. The core rules, some pre-generated player characters and a place to start introducing your friends to the game. The local setting for this book is an easy one to navigate without knowledge of Glorantha as a whole but still provides a good feel for the world.
The adventure it contains, The Broken Tower, starts with the simple premise of chasing stolen cattle. It then develops to show off the rich tapestry of magic in the Gloranthan setting. By the time a group has finished playing, they should have a good feel for how RuneQuest is different from generic fantasy roleplaying games.
So, How is RuneQuest Different?
What makes RuneQuest so different to other fantasy RPGs, such as D&D? Here are my thoughts on the main differences.
No Character Classes
This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two classic fantasy RPGs. There are no character classes to limit your Player Characters (PCs) in RuneQuest. Characters will have belonged to a profession which has determined their skills and experiences before they start adventuring; all characters are certainly not the same. However, any character can learn any skills they need, including combat skills.
No Character Levels
In RuneQuest, characters improve their skills and abilities as they progress and use them. There are no character levels, no points when a PC suddenly gets better at their specialities whether they’ve been using them or not. If you’re playing a soldier who has been instrumental on diplomatic missions, your Bargain, Fast Talk and Orate skills are likely to have risen whereas your weapon skills will not.
All characters can have magic
Just as all characters have the same opportunity to heft a weapon or find a hidden clue, so can they all use some magic. Glorantha is alive with magic and spirits, and so are its people. Simple Spirit Magic is available to everyone, and followers of a Cult will typically know some Rune Spells too. Like all areas of expertise, some will focus on it more than others. However, no one is denied the use of spells to augment their abilities.
Combat is Deadly
RuneQuest has a deadly combat system; you can easily find yourself killed or maimed during combat if you’re not careful. Trying to solve problems through other means is always a good idea in RuneQuest; not every conflict must be a fight to the death! But when you must fight, preparing yourself with magic, armour and tactics will generally keep you alive. Even so, there are no ‘safe’ fights and if things go wrong then running away is a wise option.
Roleplayers often make decisions and take action in games because of their character’s goals and feelings rather than just their own. However, surprisingly few games actually take the emotional engagement of a character into account when determining success. In RuneQuest, Passions track what a character is emotionally invested in – loyalty to a clan or patron, personal honour, or hatred of an enemy. Characters can invoke these passions to gain bonuses to their efforts to protect loved ones or stop a hated enemy.
Of course, there are many other aspects of RuneQuest that make it unique and special, but if the above concepts sound good to you then I’d thoroughly recommend you give it a try. If you’re still undecided, publisher Chaosium have a series of RuneQuest YouTube videos that you might like to see.
If Rune Quest is for you, then the core rulebook has all the information you need to play. While many RPG rulebooks increasingly provide only the core experience and provide supplements for the different aspects of the game, this is not something you’ll see often with Chaosium. That’s not to say that their supplements aren’t of the highest quality or usefulness, but they are definitely add ons. The next two books coming for RuneQuest both contain numerous ready-to-play adventures. This is something Chaosium have always done exceptionally well. Due later this month, The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories provides information about the South Wilds area and five adventures set in that area. Following in August, The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories contains seven adventures and details of a village to draw adventurers in and give them a home they care about.
Hopefully you’ve found this Getting Started article useful, and discovered enough to know if RuneQuest might be for you. Either way, let us know in the comments!