Runequest 6 – back to the future (Part One)

THE FIRST TIME

They say that you always remember your first time. It was a sun-dappled day in 1982 that we had our debut RPG game, we really should have been enjoying the fresh-air, but for weeks we had been pouring over the finer points of the RUNEQUEST rules. It was a massive conceptual leap to grasp the idea of a game without a board. Thanks to an article in Starburst magazine, which provided an example of play, we were able to work out the idea of ‘Games Master’. When combined with my 12 year old ‘God Complex’ it seemed a natural thing to do. The Games Workshop box set contained ‘everything you needed to play’ which at the time seemed slim pickings, but on reflection were a feast:

BRP

Basic Roleplaying: A pamphlet that provided the essential mechanics behind RUNEQUEST, which was later adopted by other Choasium games, most notably CALL OF CTHULHU. The idea of a ‘percentile dice’ being able to resolve most skill-based actions was fairly simple to grasp, as was the attribute vrs attribute resistance table to resolve tests of strength, willpower and agility.

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Runequest Rule Book: The cover, and the box featured an evocative painting by the wonderful Iain McCraig, depicting a boiled-leather-bikini clad woman battling with a horrible lizard monster. We would learn that the woman’s chances of survival were minimal if the tenants of the rules were followed. The rules introduced the rather baffling ancient world of Glorantha. Its a wonderful ancient-world setting, but overwhelming for a 12 year brain trying to get to grips with hit locations, three different variations of spells and ‘treasure factors’.

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FANGS: A collection of (much needed) pre-generated non-player characters. The best thing about RUNEQUEST is that the NPCs are as richly detailed as the PCs; the worst thing about RUNEQUEST is that you have to roll the NPCs in the same way as the PCs. It meant more work for the Games Master. This booklet provided characters ‘generated on one of those fancy computers that everyone is talking about).

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APPLE LANE: A card-backed booklet with a simple line drawing of a little fella being mugged by a goblin-like creature. Inside it provides the details of a small hamlet nestled in the mountains of Dragon Pass. There are three scenarios, the most significant was Grindle’s Pawnshop, where the adventurers are recruited to protect a building against an attack from a pack of baboons.

GRINDLE’S PAWNSHOP

The first game that we played on that summer’s day was Grindle’s Pawnshop. As the Gamesmaster, I had played the game a hundred times in my head before we actually sat down to do it. There had been weeks of painstaking preparation. The scenario suggested that the plans of the Pawnshop were mapped out on ‘butcher paper’, but I wasn’t sure what it was and the bemused heavy-metal lovin’ guy at Manchester GAMES WORKSHOP didn’t know either.

I compromised and drew the floor plan of Grindle’s Pawnshop on a sheet of graph paper. We’d been collecting Citadel miniatures long before we knew that they were connected to a game. In essence, we had created a board for a game that didn’t really need it. The first game was faltering as I was constantly consulting the rules to try an accommodate an action that the players had devised that didn’t fit the version that had been practised in my head.

Despite the sometimes clumsy session, it was clear by the end of it that we were hooked. The thrill of being in the middle of an epic combat with a group of bandits lead by a centaur was just too enticing. The ability to determine our own destiny in a fantasy world, when we were forced in to conformity in school, made us more determined to learn the rules and put the hours in to get better and better at it.

REUNITED – Runequest second ed.

Fast forward 32 years and our gurnard group is stronger than ever. We reunited several years ago to dust off the old supplements such as Borderlands and Griffin Mountain. As adults, we have been able to weave a more textured experience of Glorantha and have been willing to make the setting our own. When we were teenagers we were a bit too precious about upsetting the multi-layered game world with its countless cults, races, myths and convoluted history. There was always a concern that if a Games Master changed something, it would be later contradicted by a supplement.

Now we feel more at liberty to do what we like with the setting, besides there are so many supplements for Glorantha already out there, we are never going to read them all.

At first, we were rusty on the rules. Each of us remembered the rules for ‘special attacks’ differently. Was it full damage plus rolled damage? or, roll the damage twice? Either way, it seemed more deadly than a ‘critical’ that merely ignored armour. Could special attacks be parried with a normal parry roll, or did it need to be a special one? We had a number of different permutations  in the early games, which meant that combat was often broken with outbursts of “that can’t be right, can it?”.

Steven, our resident rules lawyer, studied the appendix of the second edition rules where the different effects of an impale, slash and crush, are described in detail, which explained the results of special attacks change, depending on the weapon. We realised that the rules that were in our memories were a conflation of STORMBRINGER and some house-rules we adopted back in the day, thanks to an article that once appeared in White Dwarf.

Since the 2nd edition rules were released back in the early 80s, there have been a number of iterations published. Thanks to the complicated exchange of rights and acquisitions since then, its has been difficult to keep up with what actually constitutes ‘Runequest’. Last year, The Design Mechanism solved uncertainty by deciding that the latest version of the rules were the ‘6th’ edition and they published a handsome rule-book to bring the game into the 21st Century.

It’s time for the these old gurnards to freshen up!

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