Maximum Game Fun
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In 1977, A game called Dungeons and Dragons was invented. Almost immediately after, a budding anthropology student and game designer thought he could do a better job. The result was a long-running series, the latest version of which is:
Runequest is a very interesting game from a design and history standpoint. A lot of the contemporaries of old D&D do interesting stuff, coming from before rpg design as a concept really existed. Although these things often don’t make any sense, are too complicated, or show a weird perspective on things, some of them succeed through having mostly good design, good settings and being fun to play. These contemporaries, like Talislanta, Tekumel and Runequest have been chugging along out of the spotlight, fueled by cult followings and Kickstarters as they refine the old game into something more modern. Sometimes it even turns out something good.
The introduction is mostly the game stating its case, going over the basics. There’s a summary of differences with D&D and similar games: There are no character classes or levels, the system is based on percentage rolls, using 2 ten-sided dice for skill checks, and being set in Glorantha. This edition is tailored a lot more to the setting, although it’s a very practical and approachable look that tells you what you need to know to play the game and exist in the setting without talking about the god learners for an hour, as I personally love to do. Unusually, the intro talks about the themes of the game: The mythic relationship between Man and God.
rq 4th edition posted:
Mythology is more than old lies and stories, pseudo-scientific explanations for natural phenomena, or hidden secrets of forgotten lore. It is a state of mind and a way of life. It has a sentience and life of its own: a power. RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha lets you experience that state of mind and explore that way of life through the mythic realm of Glorantha.
It also makes a mention of ‘Maximum Game Fun’, a principle where you should prioritise what the most fun option would be. It’s a good summary of what most games would encourage in some form, but I really question how much it entered the design. There are a lot of rules that really don’t match that philosophy
The end of the introduction is talking about the unique features of Runequest. They haven’t been unique for a while but they’re a big part of the game’s pitch, so I’ll sum them up here
- Violence has consequences: Combat is very lethal and shouldn’t be taken lightly, and there’s no Hero Points or easy out if you take a spear to the head. This is the first instance of maximum game fun going out the window.
- Everyone has magic: Magic and the gods are real and manifest in the world, at least indirectly. This lets you blast people with lightning
- Runes: Everything is made up of these cosmological building blocks. Some are elements like Fire and Darkness, others are concepts like Truth, Death and Harmony that are set up in opposition to another.
- Ideals and Motivations: Heroes in Glorantha are driven by strong Passions as well as their spiritual ties to the gods and their conflicts. These will get a bigger discussion later
- Heroquests: Your players can reenact myths and bring the god’s power into the mundane world. These are really cool but not actually discussed in the book so you’re out of luck.
- Emphasis on Community: In an ideal form the characters are tied to a community as a source of motivation, drama and fun. The book recommends stuff like playing as siblings, and there’s a great deal of mechanical support for this later
- Keep it Bronze Age/Fantastic: this is mostly about flavoring the game and characters. put limited literacy and wine stored in amphorae alongside giant mountains and flying monster bats. It acknowledges that your Glorantha will vary, but tries to keep it on a particular channel
Up next: Lorechat itt
Original SA post
Yo dudes, let's skip having Glorantha lorechat for the eighth time and go strait to mechanics before you get bogged down and distracted by minutiae (again)
this is true, basically everybody either knows this or won't know it from all the discussions. The Gods came, fought each other, fucked everything up, kind of fixed it and then time started, a lot of people had issues with Hubris, got fucked up then we get into recent history. I'll talk about the current state of play because it's baked in to the rules and actual game, but I don't want to say anything here I wouldn't say to a player in the first session. I like my reviews breezy and conversational anyway
there's an excellent tumblr from a while ago that did a lot of writeups of stuff here, go scroll around if you want specifics
the glorantha thread for everything that isn't relevant
Lets just skip ahead to Character Creation
The game gives us a particular order for character creation that I don’t think is very good.
Doing it in chronological order makes a certain kind of sense, but I’d probably do steps 4, 5 and 6 first, since they’re the most important for determining what your character does mechanically. To demonstrate the process, since there’s a lot of fluff, I’ll run a character through the process. Conveniently, most decisions have as many options as a common dice has faces, so it’s possible to randomly generate a character. They might not make sense or work mechanically, but it’s possible.
The first step to creating a character is to select a homeland. The game provides 6 sample homelands, all surrounding the region of Dragon Pass, like every Runequest thing ever made.
- Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, full of tribes of Storm-worshipping hill barbarians centered around royalty in an urban center. They recently threw off the rule of the Lunar Empire and probably just kickstarted an apocalyptic war. The canonical winners of the video game King of Dragon Pass
- Esrolia: A civilised urban matriarchy that worships the earth goddess and her many husbands, situated within a region called The Holy Country alongside a bunch of weirdo kingdoms. They used to be ruled by a magic asshole named Belintar, who disappeared recently.
- Grazelanders: Semi-nomadic Horse tribes with an underclass of serfs. They worship some Sun Gods and get fire magic
- Prax: Violent Nomads in a nearby wasteland who herd and ride strange animals, like Bison, bigger Llamas, Impalas and antelopes. There’s also some Sartarites who went there and ride horses like boring people. There isn’t anything on the Tapir People who herd non-sentient humans in this book, which is a shame.
- Lunar and Old Tarsh: It’s a lot like the Sartarites, except they got conquered by the Lunar Empire earlier and haven’t freed themselves, so their religion is a lot more ingrained. The Old Tarshites are rebels in the hills fighting a guerrilla war. Both worship the Earth Goddess’s Crone Mother, who likes Earthquakes and Dinosaurs.
Each Homeland gives 3 passions to start with, ranked at 60%. Their mechanical effects are discussed later, but for now they give a good idea of your character’s priorities. There’s also some skill boosts that give your character some of the basic cultural competencies and ordinary weapons of their people
I rolled somebody from the Impala tribe of Prax. They get a stat adjustment because they’re pygmies, which I should remember. It boosts a few skills, most importantly riding impalas, shooting a bow and Sprit Combat if I ever get involved in Shamany stuff. I also start with the passions of Hate (Chaos) 60%, Love (Family) 60% and Loyalty (Tribe) 60%. The Hate one is a big deal since it’s frequently applicable.
2. Family History
This edition of Runequest provides an extensive list of events in recent history that may have happened to your grandparents, parents and the PC, along with random rolls to determine the exact outcomes of people involved. Although I’ve heard a few complaints that it really puts the central conflict of Dragon Pass vs the Lunar Empire and the Hero Wars front and centre, it’s a very effective way to introduce a player to the setting and give their character some history. It does provide an alternative for people looking for quick starts that you can use if your campaign is in Ralios or something. Because I don’t think the thread wants to read 100 years of fictional history, I’ll run our Impala Rider’s ancestors through it and see what pops up.
- Their grandfather was a crafter, who helped the Lunar Empires attack the Sartar capital city and stole 600 bucks worth of mementos for the kids
- His Daughter, and our character’s mother, was a Priestess who died gloriously during the first Lunar invasion of Prax, giving the PC the Honor Passion and 2 points of reputation
- There was a Great Winter when the PC was 18, which lead to them joining up with anti-lunar rebels for support. They fought in the Battle of Auroch Hills but didn’t do anything interesting, giving us +5% to the battle skill
- the next year they killed someone from a nearby tribe, probably a Sable Antelope Rider since they like the Lunars, and got Hate (Sable Riders) 60%
- in the year before the game starts, our guy watched the Sartarite Mystic Argrath summon the Praxian Hero Jaldon Goldentooth, and pledged loyalty to him. They went to help liberate the city of Pavis from the Lunars, and nearly died after an attack from Moon Demons, giving Hate (Lunars) and +10% spirit combat. They also watched a Dragon eat a lunar temple full of important people, which was probably satisfying.
This does place your guy at a hell of a lot of different big events, which is reasonable for a would-be hero and gives a bit of introduction to the setting. Often there isn’t that much detail on what happened, although that would probably be overwhelming and you don't really need to know much.
3. Rune Affinities
Each character is connected to several runes as an expression of their soul and connection to the Gods. There’s a variety of mechanical and narrative purpose to these: They represent your character’s personality, and define their magic and connection to the Gods. The game lumps these into 4 main categories: Elemental, Power, Form and Condition, but there’s 2 different sorts mechanically. There are 6 Elemental Runes: Water, Air, Earth, Sky/Fire, Darkness and Moon. You start with 60%, 40% and 20% in 3 of your choice, and get a 10% boost in one based on your homeland. You get a lot out of Element Runes: They give a stat bonus, let you augment some skills and are important for Rune Magic. The other runes available at the start are the Power runes, which are set up in opposition of Harmony/Disorder, Fertility/Death, Movement/Stasis and Truth/Illusion. Man/Beast is also available at start for humans, although it isn’t technically a Power Rune. These runes are set up in opposition, so if you increase one, you must decrease the opposite by that much. These get used in Rune Magic a lot but are also for defining your personality. You get to assign two to 75/25, and there’s 50 extra points after all that to spread around.
I have no idea why this section is before characteristics and Cults since it’s so important to match these to your God and the stat boost is useful. The stats in this game are kind of dumb so you’ll probably tailor secondary element runes to them. More on that next time.
Characteristics. Can you believe these were originally designed in 1978?
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4. Characteristics. Can you believe these were originally designed in 1978?
Each character has seven different characteristics. The different categories of skills get a bit of a boost from high stats, some important things are derived from them, and they’re occasionally used as checks on their own.
- Strength gives your character bonus damage, carrying capacity and can give a bonus to Agility skills. HP tends to be pretty low overall so extra damage is a big deal, but there’s magic ways to increase that and not everyone will bother calculating encumbrance, so it’s importance varies.
- Constitution is mostly for determining your Health and Healing Rate. Having high HP is very important so hopefully you rolled high on this
- Size is a weird stat, and gets factored into a lot of things, like your Strike Rank (an initiative equivalent), bonus damage, hp and a lot of skill categories, sometimes negatively
- Dexterity is dexterity. It boosts a lot of skill categories but not much else
- Intelligence helps with knowledge skills and how many Sorceries you can memorise, so it does fuckall for most characters. It also cannot be increased by training for some reason
- Power is the God Stat that determines basically every Magic thing, from MP, advancement in a church, or in opposed checks in magic attacks. The only possible reason to have a low POW is if you’re really committed to being a mundane thief, or your Rune Magic is mostly self-buffs and you don’t want to advance in the cult
- Charisma is Charisma for the most part. It also has a couple of magic factors: It limits how much rune magic you can learn and how many spirit magic spells you can possess. Leadership stuff is probably more useful in Glorantha, with the focus on community.
The stats are determined by rolling 3d6 down the line, except for Size and Power getting 2d6+6, because Power is the most important stat in the game by far and the game doesn’t want heroes that are 4 feet tall. The book acknowledges that this is bad and recommends you mitigate this in multiple fashions, like re-rolling 1s or bad results, and says that the Game Master’s guide will have alternatives when it comes out because point buy or stat arrays are really hard. There’s a couple of extra modifiers based on your homeland for differently sized humans, and you can get a +2 or +1 in a stat based on your elemental rune affinities, which means that every PC is going to take at least a bit of Moon because that gives the POW bonus. Any rune can give a charisma bonus, if you want, so that's easy to increase.
These mostly function as a skill package, as well as providing starting gear, an option for a passion, income, the amount of money it would take to ransom or resurrect you, some suggested Cults to join, and sometimes some starting magic. Not all of them are equal, but they tend to have something to them and between your Homeland and Cult it's easy to have someone capable in a fight.
- Bandits get decent fighting abilities, stealth and wilderness skills but have no money. It's also probably legal to murder you in most places, so it's an interesting RP challenge.
- Chariot Drivers don’t get a chariot. That belongs to a noble or church. They’re good at driving them and get some extra battle skills and decent income. I’d only touch one if I was in a Mad Prax campaign though
- Entertainer is actually pretty good. You get a lot of cultural skills, alright money and the game frequently points out that you can augment spells with Music and Dancing easily. With the right cult and homeland you’d make a pretty good Bard or Trickster figure.
- Healer is mostly an NPC thing. There’s a healer goddess with a cult that’d make you popular around the table, but I can’t imagine it being fun.
- crafter, farmer, fisher, herder: who cares, I think these are for statting up npcs or for overly simulation-focused players
- Hunter: good at ranged fighting, stealth and wilderness skills, and fit nicely with a lot of cool cults. You also get a pet hound or Lynx Cat
- Merchant: A good option if you aren’t looking to be combat focused. Social Skills and lots of money
- Noble: A lot of Money, Gear and combat ability along with some token cultural stuff with no downsides except for a big ransom.
- Philosopher: is the only starting profession with access to Sorcery from the get-go, as well as a few Intelligence and Communication skill boosts
- Priests: Get a bunch of money, gear, social skills and get an extra boost on a skill from their cult. It’s a very good option if you make sure to boost a combat skill.
- Scribe: an Intellectual who mainly gets knowledge skills and decent money.
- Thief: you get a bunch of Stealth, social and utility skills as well as a minor boost to weapons. The main thief god isn’t written up but it’s a good base for a trickster.
- Warrior: is pretty self-explanatory. The game breaks them down into Light and Heavy Infantry and Cavalry, and they’re what you’d expect
Unlike the old Runequest Games, you start as an initiate into a Cult. Runequest doesn’t care about the modern connotations of the word and uses it to refer to any religious practice centred on a particular God. These give you a bunch of skill bonuses, including an extra 20% and 15% to assign as well as some basic lore and ritual stuff, some suggested passions and access to Rune Magic. The actual spells depend on the cult, but everyone gets some important basics like Divination, Heal, a basic counterspell and some anti-spirit stuff. As a guy who’s played D&D, everyone having magic that’s balanced-ish and flavorful is one of the best parts of the game.There’s 20 different gods so I’m just going to put up the most basic summary the book provides. There’s more detail in the book later but I can’t really discuss it without transcribing or taking forever with lore chat.
Next: The rest of Character Creation, and rolling up the Impala rider since this post is long enough
Skills and Finishing Off Character Creation
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Skills and Finishing Off Character Creation
The next step in character creation is assigning some extra points to your skills. You get an extra 4 +25%s and 5 +10%s to other skills to assign, after a Skill Category Modifier derived from having high enough in relevant stats, homeland, profession and Cult. There’s almost certainly something you want patched up, like making sure you have a good weapon skill, worship skills for better magic recovery and making sure other cult skills are good so you can advance in your religion easier.
This is probably a good time to show the list of skills.
It’s not entirely as bad as it looks. A lot of them probably won’t matter to your character, like occupational stuff that isn’t part of your profession, or knowledge skills that maybe one character in your party will have for the occasional advantage, and some are cult-specific like Sense Assassin/Chaos or Peaceful Cut. A lot of them are useful for Augments, like Sing, Dance and Meditate. Some will just be used for an income roll between sessions. That said, it’s a lot and can be really overwhelming, and there doesn’t need to be a difference between Scan and Search or separate Punch and Kick skills. Culture and linguistic skills are probably overemphasized for how much they’ll be in most games, aside from the occasional augment. Every character wants to be good in at least 1 weapon, important adventuring stuff like Dodge and some perception stuff, what they use to determine their income, Worship (your deity) and some other cult skills to advance faster (50% in worship and 4 other cult skills to become a Rune Priest, and 90% in 5 cult skills for a Rune Lord). If you keep that in mind and don't go too broad, you should be fine, although some skills are more important than they look from first glance, since they tie into a lot of resource recovery stuff. The system is a Roll-Under percentile thing, so it’s easy to judge how good you are in something, at the very least.
After you’ve finalized your character’s mechanics, all you need to do is handle the finishing flavor touches, like your character’s name, clan and tribe, some aesthetic touches and writing how much your character can Move in a turn for some reason. You get to roll for a family heirloom, mostly minor magical items, but also some fun stuff like a talking animal or having a famous ancestor. There’s a standard sidebar about setting attitudes towards gender and sexuality. The Orlanthi acknowledge people of different sexuality and orientations, although it does state that some cults are gender-restricted, mostly towards women only.
At the end of the section, there are a list of pregens you can use, with provided art and backstory. They aren’t really formatted like a standard character sheet so they’d be annoying to use in play, but they’re there if you need them. Overall, I like the Character Creation in Runequest. There's definitely issues with stat balance and rolling, the skills need a trim and the order you go through is wrong, but it's fairly simple in practice to pick a homeland, job and cult, take suggested rune magic from the cult's list, then pick up some appropriate Runes, go through the ancestry charts and then add everything together into a unique adventurer with a history, place in the setting and reasonable competency, without needing to know much about the setting or systems.
The next chapter is an overview of each Homeland in detail, with some interesting locations and places detailed. People aren’t super interested in Lorechat so I’m skipping it, but it’s a useful resource for players and gms alike.
So next time: the basic systems, if you could call them that
Rulequest: The basic systems
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Rulequest: The basic systems
When I read an explanation of the game’s basic systems that starts with a discussion of how Time works in both the game and the setting, I admit my eyes glaze over a bit, but there’s a few important things that should be a little later in the book. I’m pretty sure they already mentioned how skill rolls work but this is pretty bad for a reference.
- Campaign Time: The game generally assumes you’ll be doing an adventure a season, with the remaining time dedicated to your day job, religious services, community life and stitching your leg back on. There are 5 seasons in a year corresponding to the proper elements (The usual ones but with a rainy period after winter) and Sacred Time, where important rituals are done and you look at what’s coming up for your tribe. We’ll get to that later.
- Real Time: Some things take as long for your adventurers as it does for your players, like talking.
- Narrative Time: This is when the GM says several days pass, and they do. I don’t know why you need to tell me this, Runequest.
- Full Turn: 5 minutes or 25 melee rounds. I think this is mostly used for recovery stuff and some spell durations, although you’ll rarely do anything that gets to this long and it isn’t really a game where strict timekeeping is important, since the only game where it is is OD&D and nobody did it there.
- Melee Round: A melee round is 12 seconds long and is the basic unit of time for combat. 12 seconds is oddly specific, and I’ll be discussing it more in the actual combat section
There’s a list of how long it generally takes to do skills that’s mostly self-evident. The next section, before actually breaking down how skills work, is about the days of the week, and the different phases of the Red Moon that influence their magics. It doesn’t mention what these do yet.
After going over the concept of Time, the Game System chapter starts discussing the Game System. It mentions that simple tasks should be an automatic success and not rolled, and checks should be saved for anything interesting or relevant. At it’s most basic, your base chance to succeed at a skill is your rank in it, and you roll under it on percentile dice to succeed. You automatically succeed on a 1-5 and always fail on 96-100. Sometimes you’ll want to test your raw attribute, so when you test those, you multiply the stat by a number depending on the task’s relative difficulty and try to roll under that on percentiles. Mostly these are used for opposed checks, but sometimes you need to cross a rickety bridge or something.
There’s a little bit more granularity than just a pass/fail on the checks. You can get a Critical Success if you roll 5% or less of the target, which gives you an extra effect, a Special Success on 20% or less on the check that has some effects in combat and opposed checks but no extra effect, and Fumbles, where your seasoned hero stabs themselves if they roll 5% of the chance of failure. The system makes a lot of use of Opposed Checks, where two people roll at the same time and the winner is decided by the highest tier of success, so a special success defeats a regular one, and a crit beats that. The system uses these in some interesting ways, like doing opposed checks between runes and passions to handle internal character conflicts quickly. There’s a short section about handling scores higher than 100%: Subtract from the score until it’s at 100, then subtract the same amount from the opposing skill. You always fail 1/20th of the time, no matter what.
The book then finally explains Augments, which are probably my favourite part of the system. You can use your skills, runes and passions to give a bonus to whatever you’re trying to roll. They’re simple to use, you roll the augmenting skill beforehand, and the tier of success gives a percentage bonus to the main roll. A standard success gives you a 20% boost, which is a big deal. You are limited to only 1 augment per roll and you can only use each augmenting source once per session, but it’s a flexible and easy way to add character, pull off cool stunts, patch up important skills or have intense narrative beats. Augmenting another player’s check is up to the GM’s discretion for whatever reason, and it explicitly disallows augmenting other player’s checks with your own passions and runes.
There’s also Resistance Rolls, which are kind of like opposed rolls but against a static target. The formula for achieving these is [code]success = 50% + (active × 5%) minus (passive × 5%)[code]
which isn’t so bad if you have the stat times five written down somewhere, although they really should have been converted to percentages from the start and treated like skills, rather than use the different multipliers for checks. The only reason to have them in the 3d6 is for a couple of resources like Hit Points or Mana. There’s a table you can use for the roll, at the very least.
It's worth mentioning the art in the book is very good
Next time: Damage and Conditions
Damage and Non-Combat subsystems
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Damage and Non-Combat subsystems
Now that we’re through the core system, we start to move onto how Damage works, and then head through a variety of esoteric effects and minor systems before we reach Combat. Runequest is most famous for using Hit Locations, so limbs and specific body parts can be damaged with specific effects as well as reducing your total pool of HP. The effect of limb damage tends to be ‘You’re Fucked’. Losing all your leg’s HP means you can’t move and take 50% from your attack skills, and if an arm is damaged you can’t use it anymore. Anything else takes your character out of the fight. If you take double or triple the location’s current HP in damage, you’re effectively out of combat and will probably die if you aren’t healed. Since your hit points tend to be low with an average of around 5 per limb, it’s very easy to get fucked up by a single hit from a broadsword. Make sure you’ve got armor.
To ameliorate this, healing is accessible for most characters. A lot of Cults will have some access to healing magic and can re-attach a severed limb if they have enough magic points. There’s also a First Aid skill, which heals less and isn’t practical for combat, but doesn’t expend resources and can be taken by military professions that might not have healing magic. There’s also Natural Healing that gives you back a fifth of your HP per week. This isn’t so bad since there’s an assumed season between adventures, but even so. There’s also Resurrection in the game: The cult of the healer god Chalana Arroy have access to a raise dead spell, although it only works on people who’ve been dead for less than 7 days and haven’t fully passed onto the realm of the gods. For anyone past that, you must go on a Heroquest and get them out directly. There’s an amusing note about how Healers never charge for their services, but your cult demands a mandatory donation equal to your ransom as a thank you, which is achievable for most adventurers.
There’s also an encumbrance system, which could be worse. Instead of measuring based on actual weight, objects are measured by “Things” where 1 Thing is an object you could hold in 1 hand easily. For some reason your max encumbrance is the average of your Strength and Constitution, unless your Strength is lower for some reason. Runequest hates deriving things from a single stat, because it would be unrealistic for your Duck Hoplite to not factor in his hardiness and muscle mass. Going over your encumbrance reduces your movement and penalises a few skill categories. There’s a few times where Encumbrance is going to matter: They give an example where one character has to carry an unconscious person out of danger, and there’s a Flight spell that bases it’s cost on your ENC with a way for high-level Orlanthis to get around it. Everyone will keep ignoring it like they do with every game, but the simpler units are helpful if you do.
There’s a few smaller subsystems and obstacles that are worth looking at briefly.
- Chases: Use Ride, Drive Chariot or DEX opposed checks to get ahead, modified by differences between MOV scores. There’s a set of different zones where you’re considered to have got away, possibly needing to find the opponent again or can only attack via range. It’s a standard setup but it’s simple and effective
- Darkness: skills get penalised if it’s dark unless you have a way around it. There are very specific rules for how candles and lanterns work, including a random chart for dropping lanterns and starting fires. Darkness is an element in Glorantha so it’ll pop up a lot but the lighting stuff is too complicated.
- Diseases: Diseases come from evil spirits and chaos, and it can be a threat to your community as much as players, so having rules about it are more useful than most games. You test CON after getting exposed, and if you fail you keep testing CON until you succeed to see how severe it is. Then you keep testing CON at whatever rate the severity says and lose a stat point if you fail or get better if you succeed. Or you use magic. Some diseases just make you sneeze loudly.
- Drowning: More CON checks of increasing difficulty until you fail, then you start rapidly taking damage to your chest. If it’s a surprise you check POW to see if you instinctively held your breath, because POW needed some extra features.
- Falling: d6 damage every 3 meters, a successful Jump roll reduces the roll by a d6 and lets you specify a hit location
- Fire: Fire deals d6 damage per round to whatever hit locations are exposed. There’s a lot of sanity checks and protection: a POW check after a parry or dodge protects you from igniting, and the GM decides whether the surface is actually flammable or not, although flesh skin are explicitly not.
- Poison: Each poison gets a special stat called Potency that you test your CON against with a resistance roll, as well as determining damage to total hit points. It’s hard to heal against. There’s a breakdown of different sorts of poisons and relative effectiveness of different antidotes that is a bit much.
- Wind: There’s a table of relative wind strengths. If your STR+SIZ is lower than the wind’s power, you check STR each round to stay on your feet. Strong enough winds also penalise ranged attacks and visibility. Since your players probably have Wind Magic, this is more useful to use than you’d think
- Temperature: Weather that’s too cold or too hot damages your hit points. The hot weather threshold is listed at 40 degrees Celsius, which as an Australian doesn’t seem to deserve a check of CONx3. A Praxian would probably agree.
- Hunger and Thirst: Lose total HP if you don’t eat or drink enough. Probably won’t matter ever.
These systems aren't bad. They aren't too complicated or different than the main rules. The problem with a lot of them is that they aren't conducive to "Maximum Game Fun": Some are overly lethal and have a little bit too much maths, and you're frequently going to subvert them with magic or ignore them. I probably wouldn't change the systems themselves since they work fairly well, they just butt up against issues with lethality and random stats and I'd rather fix those.
No it's cool, I'll roleplay the convo out
Next time: Combat, and a defense of Strike Ranks
Combat: The Most Society of Creative Anachronism system ever made
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Combat: The Most Society of Creative Anachronism system ever made
This guy will probably die defending a big cube
The main mechanical difference to typical D&D combat comes from Strike Ranks. Instead of rolling initiative randomly and picking an action when your turn comes, you all declare your actions at the start of the round and each action’s Strike Rank determines how many seconds it takes to accomplish. Lower strike ranks take less time, so they occur earlier and you can fit more actions in, although you only get one attack per round most of the time. This is determined by a few factors, like your DEX and SIZ and the weapon’s reach. There’s also a few modifiers, like moving and surprise. Magic attacks work slightly differently: They don’t factor in SIZ and add an extra strike rank for each magic point used. Spirit Magic and Sorceries need an empty hand and putting weapons away can take a while, but Rune Magic always goes at 1 and only gets modified by adding magic points, not Rune Points, which makes offensive rune magic very powerful.
It’s not actually mentioned whether the game should be grid-based, and all the movements have actual distances given, but strike rank modifiers make it simple to run everything with Zones.
With how lethal Runequest can be in mind, they mentioned that most combatants won’t fight to the death and describes some common traditions of war. It mentions Challenges, where two characters will duel, and Skirmishes, where the two parties will exchange ranged attacks and pull back if victory isn’t certain. It also talks about how common retreating is and some mechanical aspects, like using the Battle skill or Passions to keep your npcs in the fight. There are some mechanics to help with disengaging: If you don’t attack in a round, you can disengage at Strike Rank 6 and move away, you can do a knockback attack that comes in at SR 12 and requires a STR+SIZ resistance roll against the opponent, or you can just leg it and lose your defending actions.
Each attack is a roll on the relevant skill, opposed by a defensive roll. You have a couple of options: If you want to target a specific location you must wait until the final skill rank and attack at half your score, which makes sense for ranged attacks but makes melee fighters look incompetent or game designers look confused about levels of abstraction. Defence is more complicated but also more abstract and doesn’t factor into the Strike Rank Economy. Your main options are to try parrying the attack with a weapon or shield, or to Dodge it. Dodges are the simplest mechanically: When you are attacked, you roll your dodge and if it succeeds, the attack misses. You need at least the same tier of success as the attacker to avoid the hit, so a special or critical hit on the attack needs an equivalent success with Dodge. You probably won’t be dodging much since it’s hard to get a high skill in it and it’s penalised by your Encumbrance, but if you don’t have a shield it’s the only mundane defence against ranged attacks. Parries are a little more complicated: You roll with your weapon or shield skill and the same breakdown of success vs success applies, but each Parry only blocks as much damage as the weapon’s Hit Points. If there’s more damage coming through it hits the defender. Shields get a modifier to the hit locations, so the arm is more likely to take damage. The object used to parry also loses a point of HP if there was any overflow. A better success at parrying counteracts better attacks and can deal damage the opponent’s weapon. There’s a helpful chart since it’s a bit to remember.
Each subsequent defensive roll has a -20% penalty, so having multiple attacks or ganging up on people is very powerful. You can get access to multiple attacks if you have 100% or more in a combat skill by splitting up your skill into different parts with a minimum of 50%. This can theoretically go on forever, but each attack comes in at the next repeat of its strike rank and it’s hard to mitigate those, so it’s probably just for Boss Monsters.
Every skill in a combat is augmentable by Passions and Runes if they’re relevant, and it doesn’t take any strike ranks to do so. These augments work a little differently, which I’ll discuss later, but the main takeaway is that they last for the whole combat. This is a lifesaver at early levels when skills aren’t super high. There’s no mention of skill-based augments being a thing or not, but they’d probably just work the same way if they do.
There’s a discussion about Special Damage that comes from special successes on attacks in combat. Each damage type gets its own thing: Impaling weapons deal double damage and can get stuck in people. You need to roll to remove it, either half the weapon skill for the attacker or a heavily penalised Con check for the victim. If it’s still stuck in you, it deals half damage each time the victim moves or rotates (despite there being no facing rules otherwise) from it twisting around or bumping into walls but they can fight normally because this game is a cartoon. Slashing attacks deal twice the amount of damage and hit locations are incapacitated easier. Crushing attacks get double the damage bonus you get from SIZ and STR. Critical hits get this effect and ignore all protection aside from parry mitigation. If you get critted, you’re probably fucked, and crits happen every 20th of the attack skill or on a 01. There are also fumbles on 100 or 5% of your chance of failing. There’s a chart of results that are mostly stopping you from acting next turn or accidentally attacking yourself or a nearby ally. These are terrible. You encounter a lot of attack rolls and have a roughly 1 in 50 chance of dying per roll in a combat that’s already lethal. Crits already have an in-game effect of trumping opposed rolls, they don’t need to make people’s heads blow off. The game talks about both being an epic fantasy where your heroes are dragged into an apocalyptic conflict between Empires and how the GM should encourage Maximum Game Fun, and then makes every combat a dumb gamble for slapstick death. The critical hit effects should explicitly not be for enemies or just let you pick a hit location, and fumbles should be removed entirely.
There’s a few smaller things aside from that after the main rules. There’s a list of weapons, mostly what you’d expect. Reach is a big deal because of Strike Ranks, but aside from that there’s nothing unusual aside from Pole Lassos, which let you basically grapple at range. Armor is just reduced damage that can sometimes penalise stealth. You want as much as possible. Riding a Mount caps your skill rolls at your Ride Skill, but gives you a charge attack, lets you use their movement and ignore movement penalties for ranged attacks. Untrained mounts have a few complicating factors but if you’re going to ride things you probably started with one anyway. Chariots work the same except they’re based on the driver’s Drive Chariot skill, gets penalized too much for obstacles, works as very good armour for legs and have a very lethal trample attack.
After that there’s a bunch of bad rules for minor subsystems: There’s also rules for fighting in a phalanx which nobody could give a shit about, a restating of the darkness penalties and Grappling rules that require separate checks for grabbing and immobilizing the limb. The rules for dual-wielding are awful: you make a left-handed version of a weapon skill that starts at 5% and knowing how to use it in your right offers no benefit, to get an extra attack at a different strike rank. It’s the most Maximum Game Fun choice over just adding extra damage, having a separate Dual Wield skill or letting you have half the base chance.
There’s a sidebar about how to be effective in combat: Use ambushes, wear armor and magic, and pick your battles. It’s not bad advice but I feel like it’s trying to counteract issues with the mechanics and doesn’t encourage barbaric heroism, just shows the tension between Bronze Age Epic, Maximum Game Fun and Lethal Combat.
As much as I dislike a few parts intensely, I really like the combat overall. It’s quick, flexible, keeps people engaged and not super complicated if you’ve got the attack vs parry chart somewhere and the players have their Strike Ranks written down. The things I dislike about it are common to other games and easier to work around than other balance issues. Random hit locations in melee are still dumb.
Next time: Runes
Runes, Passions and Reputation
Original SA post
I've had players complain about it being a bit too simple to get into too. Like they don't feel that their rolls have as much of an impact when they are just always rolling the same dice. I can kind of see where they are coming from.
It is really abstract and I think the opposed rolls aren't great, since a lot of the time it just comes up as Roll Highest on a d20. Looking back on it after this review the core of it looks like "lets cut back the rules of runequest as much as possible" and there's a few legacy things that are hard to explain because of that. Or maybe the rule section is just poorly explained. I'd probably just use FATE, to be honest. At least it doesn't use the same resource for advancement and roll-fixing.
Runes, Passions and Reputation
Runes and Passions are the mechanical representation of your character’s personality, and are very important for encouraging character behaviours, pushing the fantasy epic side of the narrative and helping with tough encounters. The most important use is as an augment for rolls. These are a little different to your standard augment rolls. Instead of being for a single check, they boost that skill for the entire encounter, or however long it takes to deal with the obstacle. Fumbles on these augments reduces its value by d10% and brings an extra effect depending on what it is. A critical miss with a Rune Augment gives you Psychic Turmoil that stops you from using the rune for a bit, but for a passion it leaves you in Despair, which stops you from doing anything but running and hiding. This is uniquely the only bad mechanic that belongs in Epic narratives, although the skill penalty isn’t a big deal since the values start high.
The element runes can only augment specific skills and concepts under their purview, which is a little bit limiting but since they’re fairly abstract it helps guide their use. Just make sure you’re using the appropriate weapon: Axes for Earth, Swords for Air, Bludgeons for Darkness, Spears and Bows for Sun, Curved Swords for Moon and Nets, Tridents and Whips for Water because water sucks. Other runes can augment anything relevant to their concept, both literally and metaphorically.
Runes and Passions can be rolled on their own for a variety of reasons. When you cast Rune Magic, the chance of it working is based on whatever Rune you share with the spell. This is mostly incidental because it’s easy to pump up Rune scores at the start of the game, but if you’ve joined multiple cults it could be an issue. Rune checks are often used in Heroquests and other magical challenges to see if you’re embodying the power you represent well enough. Sometimes it’s just a threshold though.
There’s an interesting section on using Rune checks to determine your character’s behaviour. The book recommends using Rune and Passion checks as a form of dispute resolution: If a character isn’t sure about what to do or there’s a conflict of personalities, the game suggests doing opposed checks to see who’s more passionate or motivated. Some of this, especially at high percentages, is called for by the GM, which I’m not sure about. On one hand it matches epic heroes who are under the sway of strong emotions and the cosmic forces of the Gods War, but on the other it’s the GM telling you what you do and what your character thinks, gets in the way of all that talk about combat preparation and picking your battles they talked about last chapter, and can fuck over a PC hard without much input. Maybe I’ve played too much Apocalypse World, but I think outright offering some XP works better. It also says to offer advancement if the player acts accordingly to their runes without prompting, so playing to type isn’t penalised by advancement being tied to usage.
this is not going to work out well for you
There’s an overview of basic passions. Most are self-explanatory, like Hating or loving something. For some reason Honor is penalized by doing dishonorable things, which leaves no room for hypocrisy unless it’s supposed to be an extra social stat for some characters, which it doesn’t state outright. Community-focused Passions are also used to see how much that community likes the character and if they’d pay off a ransom or follow the PCs to war.
One big issue with Passions is that they vary in value a lot. You might have Hate: (rival clan) but not really have anything to do with them for good chunks of the game but Hate: Chaos or Lunars is going to be constant. Most importantly, either Loyalty: (Specific Temple) and Devotion: (Deity) are part of advancing to higher tiers of your cult, which give neat benefits and you’ll want to do unless you’re a Western Sorcerer or focused entirely on Shamanism (although it’s not super hard to be a Shaman and Rune Lord at the same time). More on all that later, but it is very important to remember at character creation.
Reputation is simple but not important. Doing heroic, notorious or celebrated things gives you an increase to your Reputation, with rolls ranging from d3 for defeating enemies of roughly equal power, coming back from the dead or having a notable marriage, to 2d6 for heroic successes, becoming royalty or getting a crazy chaos feature. There’s also a boost for how local it is. The number is used to see if people recognise you or impressing others, mostly as an augment. It’ll take a while for it to get anywhere I’d want to roll it for that though, and really shouldn’t be random.
These rules are a welcome change from the grittiness of the combat and are very important to keep in mind, so the game feels like an epic and your players can actually succeed at things. A successful augment is +20% which can be a very big deal early on. The GM taking control isn't something I like, and would prefer more Carrot than Stick, but I don't think it would be a big deal most of the time and its all going in the right direction.
Next Time: the start of the magic section, stretching out Rune Magic until I figure out what the hell is going on with shamanism
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The art in this book is generally very good, but everything around the magic section knocks it out of the park
Magic got one of the biggest mechanical overhauls from the previous edition. I have no idea what they were before, but this iteration is very solid. It gives a short overview of how magic in Glorantha and breaks down magic into 3 categories: Rune Magic where people commit themselves to the gods and get their powers in return, Spirit Magic from direct and indirect interaction with the Spirit World, and Sorcery that manipulates the Runes as abstract laws defining the universe. Each character gets an allotment of Magic Points equal to their POW, which are used to fuel Sorcery and Spirit Magic and recover in a day. Initiates into a Cult get a different resource called Rune Points for each God they worship that comes from permanently sacrificing POW. POW is used for checks and resistance rolls for offensive spells, so there’s a balancing act between lots of Rune Points and Spells and all your Spirit Magic capability and defence. Rune Points are harder to recover, requiring a successful Worship roll after a whole day worshiping at a holy place. They give a short overview of some augments that help with Magic-related rolls, like Singing, Dancing or meditating, as well as just taking a longer time doing Rituals. Half an hour of preparation gives you a +30% bonus to a magic check, which is a massive deal for Worship checks or spells you don’t want to fail. Using skills to augment magic takes a little more time and stops you from defending, so you can’t shoot lightning better by dancing unless you’ve got some great bodyguards.
There’s an overview of spell syntax, but most of it is self-explanatory. The only things to keep a note of are Runic associations of each Rune Magic spell, which tell you what affinities you roll with. You can also add more points to the cast, which makes some spells more effective and helps you get past counter-magics. Enchantments also get discussed, which not many players will use since it requires a lot of POW sacrificing: 1 point per stat the spirit you bind has. You also need a Control Spell if it’s in an object, although if it’s in an Animal it just obeys your orders. There’s some basic enchantments that get outlines, like a magic point storage crystal and armor that defends against spirits. I’m not sure what the other ones actually do, so if someone knows tell me.
The book goes over Spirit Magic first, since it’s the simplest. You learn spirit magic from your cult from a list of associated spells and the fundamentals everyone should know, or a shaman can teach you any. Your range of known spells are capped at 1 magic point per point of Charisma, so a big spell might take up 3. It also requires a Focus like a rune tattoo or a bit of jewellery, although that’s just a flavor thing. Each spell’s strike rank is your DEX modifier plus how many magic points went into it.
I don’t want to go over every single spell. Most of these are utilitarian, with a few buffs and debuffs that can really help, and some shaman-focused spells for dealing with spirits. It hits the fundamentals: Every player is close to having the magical abilities of a level 1 mage and cleric and can mitigate bad odds easily. Some spells are holdovers from dungeon crawls, like Detect Traps, but it’s a good baseline that lets you take the cool shit in Rune Magic without worrying about effectiveness as much.
Original SA post
Before getting to the spells, the game gives an overview of Cults and Gods in Glorantha. Gods are self-explanatory, covering people like capital G-Gods like Orlanth and Yelm to prominent ancestors, local spirits and subsidiary gods normally treated as an aspect of another Cult. The word Cult doesn’t imply it’s all Charles Manson, it’s used to refer to all God-focused religions. Cults are organised in a hierarchy of the God, who provides power, a caste of priests who act as intermediaries and lay members who don’t get any magic or secrets. Every character starts as an Initiate, focusing their worship towards a single god. As well as Rune Magic, being an initiate has 3 major features. Members of a cult are expected to Worship the god, which involves getting to know a bunch of cool rituals and secrets and is used to recover Rune points and possibly advance POW. More interestingly, you get access to Divination, letting you magically ask your God about something. The information they give you can be very limited: They can’t read minds, they only really know about things related to their realm, and they don’t understand human motivations. The information you get can be very useful, and the constraints are fair for a mostly free ability.
The weirdest ability is Divine Intervention, where you ask for your God to help you not die, overcome a foe or increase a stat. It’s high-risk and high reward, although it’s a terrible proposition for initiates. It must be something under the god’s domain, can’t be used against worshippers of the same god and might not help non-members of the cult, but aside from that it’s quite broad. It probably won’t work as an initiate, and smacks of the designers not wanting you to do this. You roll under your POW on a d100. If it’s over, you get nothing and probably die. If you get under, you lose that many points of POW until the effect is over.
There are 3 higher positions within a cult you can aspire to. Rune-Priests are the heads of churches, with a stronger connection to the Gods. The requirements are steep but not unobtainable. You need to have a POW of at least 18 and 5 rune points in the cult, a Rune associated with your God at 90% and a Passion dedicated to the god or temple, 50% in the related Worship skill and 4 other cult skills and having to roleplay a job interview with the GM or make an overly complicated random roll of ‘(POW+CHA+(1/100 dollars donated to the church))x (5/3). The POW is the biggest gatekeeper. It’s not difficult to get close to most of the other requirements, but you effectively need 20 POW, and that’s determined by a random roll. It does come with some useful benefits: +20% to POW gain rolls, getting all your Rune Points back each successful worship, adding unspent Rune points to Divine Intervention rolls, free spirit magic and training in cult skills, access to church resources, ability to do enchantments and teach spells and potential access to allied spirits of the cult. You do need to tithe 9/10 of your money and time to the cult, but since you get access to their resources it’s more about the game ditching money as a mechanic. There are also God-Talkers, which are similar but without the resources and responsibilities in exchange for less tithes, which is a good setup for adventurers who don’t care about a temple.
Ernalda worshippers love to get they titties out
Rune Lords are the Paladins to Rune-Priest Clerics. They act more as martial representatives of the god rather than an authority focused on magic and spirituality. To become one, you need a CHA of 18 for some reason, 90% in 5 cult skills, a shared Rune with the god and a Passion about them or the temple. Some cults have special requirements, although they’re mostly ‘Have a weapon skill’. In older editions, people thought being a Rune Lord wasn’t an option for players since the requirements were so high. There’s no requirement about being a Rune-Priest already but it helps a lot since you can be both and you get free training in Cult Skills. The best one is getting Divine intervention rolls on a d10, rather than a d100. You also get a few benefits of being a Rune-priest again, some free magic gear you probably already have and always defend against spells with your maximum POW for your species. Not every cult has Rune Priests or Lords, but since there’s a baseline I’d always let people have that.
There’s a bit about Wyters, which are a special guardian spirit of a community people in positions of authority can use rune magic a connected priest knows and relies on the community’s worship for support. I don’t know if this is going to come up in game as a mechanical thing, although ‘The Wyter’s dead, go heroquest to get it back’ is a classic adventure.
There’s an overview of the 20 cults listed in the game that give you access to spells, skills and other resources in exchange for worship. I don’t really want to go over them all, but some have unusual features that are worth discussing.
- Babeester Gor, the avenging daughter and God of psychotic women with giant axes, has a way more accessible Rune Lord because they can take the passions Hate Oathbreakers and actually good skills like Track that will come up in play. Anything that encourages being a Feminist Berserker is a-ok with me
- Some of the Gods, like Daka Fal the judge of the dead, and Waha, the god-king of Prax, have Shamans instead of Rune Priests, which I’ll get into later. It’s a good deal to take. A Grazelander worshiping Yelm could theoretically be a Priest, Lord and Shaman under the same god
- The God of Death, Humakt, and the God of Light and twisted cosmic backstories Yelmalio get Geases from their gods in exchange for magical abilities. The more powerful the ability, the more geases you need to roll. Those either won’t matter, be an interesting roleplaying thing or fuck over your character, like “never speak to or help any Orlanthi, ever” or “Don’t wear armor over a particular location”. Maximum Game Fun
- Rune Lords of Orlanth Adventurous and Vinga get access to a spell that makes Woad, which is paint that acts as magic armor if it’s exposed to air. It’s never explicitly spelled out, but it lets you get around the weight requirements of the Flight and Leap spell, so you can just fly around with your junk hanging out and shoot lightning like Dr Manhattan. This kicks ass and should really be said outright. They're also honor bound to challenge Solar Priests to a riddle-off, obey an Ernalda priestess's request to fight darkness and gets a favor if they do, help representatives of related gods and challenge Chaos. They get a special verse for each one that's corny but would be really fun in the right game that probably isn't Runequest
- Most have associated cults listed that they can learn a single Rune Spell from. The spells are listed, but a lot of these gods don’t have a writeup, so unless there’s more information in later books, inexperienced players and gms could be puzzled. I know a bunch of glorantha shit and I have no idea what Ronance or the Three Bean Circus is
Rune Magic spells work like spirit magic spells with a few differences. You cast them with rune points instead of magic points, roll on a Rune score that you share with the spell and you get an extra point and learn another spell by sacrificing a point of POW. The spells are a lot cooler than the fundamentals you find with spirit magic. There’s a list of basics that most cults get, like an upgraded Heal, counter magic, some anti-spirit stuff and summoning cult-associated spirits. There are a lot of spells so I’ll cover fundamentals again.
- A lot of the spells are not really something a player is going to use and were included for verisimilitude, like blessing childbirth or creating a blessed market area. They might see some use for community focused games, but the hero wars are starting, and they need people to shoot lightning. As far as I can tell most cults get enough to work with, allowing you to summon elementals and have a lot of utility. The only shit ones are Enzigi the river god who gets Breathe Water and Bless Net, Erithia the Praxian animal goddess who gets a couple of animal blessings, Odalya the bear god who gets a couple buff spells, and Yinkin the cat god with whatever spells are associated with cats.
- Outright attack spells are rare. The formula tends to be 1d6 damage per Rune point invested in the spell, with a couple of conditions. There’s Lightning blasts for Orlanth worshipers, Yelm cultists can call flame from the heavens, and Maran Gor can open fissures in the earth. Moon Magic has a psychic blast, but it knocks people into a coma instead of dealing damage. There are lots of spells that buff offensive abilities, and they tend to stack. A worshiper of a war god can easily buff themselves to over 100% in a weapon skill and get extra damage.
- Illusions in Glorantha are temporary realities rather than falsehoods. They still target single senses unless you stack them, but there’s no roll to disbelieve, and illusionary substances still deal damage. I think this is because Greg Stafford is an actual shaman and believes the universe works this way. Tricksters can pull of some real bullshit if they want to.
- The rune system is very good at giving characters a niche while still remaining powerful. Truth magic makes you very good at investigating and discovering things, but you don’t have as much breadth as casters in other systems. Although the overall power level is low at the start, the system makes sure your characters have a niche while still being alright in combat along with other skills for occasional use, characterisation and support.
- its possible to be a pure healer through Chalana Arroy and Ernalda, since the healing spells are useful and you get some Harmony powers to support and spirit magic debuffs. I’d leave it to the NPCs but it can work.
There’s a short bit about creating your own rune spells. The main things to keep in mind is not to step on other god’s toes, stick to theme and focus on temporary effects with a limited target. It’s good advice and people customising Glorantha is almost always a good thing ask me about a Pythagorean math cult I spent 30 seconds conceptualising
Bad News for Broos
Next Time: Shamans are weirdos and excellent art
The Spirit Realm
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The Spirit Realm
The chapter on becoming a Shaman is above this in the book, but most of the mechanics of spirits are in this one, and I found myself saying “wait how does that actually work” a lot of the time when reading about shamans, so in the interest of clarity I’m breaking the sequence. Everything natural has a spirit, whether it’s an animal or a lake. When the spirit and corporeal form are separated, it dies. There are also a lot of spirits that don’t have a physical equivalent, called Discorporate spirits. Mechanically, they only have POW, CHA and sometimes INT, and can detect anything with POW within a limited range. The ones you encounter normally will have their own passions and motivations. You might meet the ghost of a king who wants his tomb fixed, or a Fire Spirit that loves to burn things. The most basic form of cutting a deal with spirits is to offer a Magic Point for each point of POW they have, and they’ll always act consistently with their Passions. You can also bind spirits into objects or animals, and use them as fuel or access their spells.
If you end up fighting with a Spirit, you’ll mostly be using Spirit Combat
. It’s used when two spirits are fighting, or a corporeal being is fighting with a spirit, or two casters Discorporate and have crazy spirit fights. Mechanically its opposed Spirit Combat checks, and you can’t do anything on the corporeal plane unless you succeed on an Intelligence check. Spirit Combat deals damage to Magic Points rather than HP, with the amount based off your POW+CHA with some bonuses for being a Shaman. If a spirit gets to 0, a Shaman can take control of it, and anyone can force the spirit to teach it a magic spell.
If you aren’t good at Spirit Fights, you can damage spirits with magic or enchanted weapons, although buff spells only deal the magical part of the damage, and there’s a spell called Distraction that forces spirits to engage with the caster, so your shaman can save you. Magic armour also defends with the magical part.
If a Spirit wins in Spirit Combat, it can Possess a corporeal victim and takes control. It replaces the victim’s INT and POW, has their baseline for skills and can’t recover magic points or heal. It’s not a bad deal if it’s an animal but it can’t really take over a person and be as powerful. There’s an option for covert possession, which doesn’t take control but has effects depending on the spirit. This is what you’d use for hauntings and diseases.
The Spirit World is a strange, subjective place full of life and beauty, but occasionally nightmares and horror. It doesn’t really follow regular geography or anything when you’re there. When you’re exploring there, you tend to start at your Inner Region, which is defined by your traditions and culture. A Praxian shaman is going to see a lush plain with plenty of their herd animal, for example. The further you branch out from there, the weirder and more indistinct it gets, with overlapping and shifting locations and strange spirits. It does have a symbolic overlap with the material world, and sometimes there are doorways between them, where you can push through the realms easier.
dont go looking for spirits in battlefields that had lots of lunar magic and chaos though
If a Shaman wants to track down something in the Spirit World, probably a specific spirit, they have to test their Spirit Travel skill. This gets modified by how powerful the spirit is, or whether you’re in a place that’s appropriate to the spirit, like ghosts in a graveyard.
There are also special Spirit Cults that worship a particular spirit a lot like a Rune Cult. They don’t really offer rune magic on the level of the Gods and use Shamans instead of Priests, but there’s often some good stuff on offer and it’s not a big investment. There are a couple of examples: The Black Fang Brotherhood, which is a criminal syndicate offering the very useful spells of Invisibility, Shatter and Shield, and Oakfed the fire spirit gives access to summoning Fire Elementals and creating Wildfire. The writeup feels designed for players to found their own, which would be interesting.
Next Time:Shamans kick ass
Original SA post
You can tell from reading the section on Shamans that it’s a passion project that one of the authors really got into. Mechanically, they’re pretty crazy, getting a lot of powers that circumvent the action economy and other resources. It can be a little confusing, but the general mechanics work out well enough.
There are 4 major skills a shaman needs to know to do their job properly. Spirit Combat is used to fight spirits on their level, and is the only one other characters will really care about. Spirit Dance is used to peacefully deal with spirits, escape from hostile ones or a few ritual purposes. Spirit Lore is a knowledge skill that can really come in handy, especially when hunting for new spirits to add to your collection. Spirit Travel is for getting around the spirit plane, and handily abstracts what would often be a solo adventure. Assistant Shamans get free training in these skills, and a few backgrounds and cults help out.
The path to actually becoming a Shaman is written pretty strangely. It first starts with a Calling to become an assistant Shaman that can be pretty much anything. The examples range from dreams of your ancestors and the chief’s horse talking to you to falling out of a sacred tree, but it encourages you to come up with your own. Assistant Shamans get a couple nice bonuses like a free point of spirit magic, an automatic POW increase every year and +1 to damage in Spirit Combat.
To actually become a proper shaman, you have to test whether the Shaman you’re assisting deems you worthy, with a random roll of your average between POW and CHA times 5. Rules as written you get one shot a year, and each year is 5 adventures. Maximum Game Fun. If you succeed, you get to go on a spirit journey to awaken your Fetch, a sort of extra soul and spirit self. The rules for doing this are enmeshed in an example and nowhere else. Every journey goes through the same rough stages, with names and features shuffled around.
The Shaman goes to a holy place to meditate and pray to a Greater Entity, like a God, Ancestor Hero or big-deal spirit. They get into a trance for 1d6+1 days (which is a completely irrelevant number) and eventually meet the Horned Man, the first Shaman. They discorporate and head off to the Spirit Plane.
The Horned Man leads the Shaman to a Frontier region, where the applicant has to sacrifice POW to the Greater Entity to show respect. These get used for the Fetch, so you want to sacrifice a decent amount.
The Shaman goes alone into the Cave, a metaphorical representation of the Shaman’s soul. The player is encouraged to describe it themselves, in an unusual touch for the book. They are hounded by spirits that challenge their views, asking questions about their passions and values. When that’s over and they get some alone time, the applicant rolls their Spirit Dance skill and awakens their fetch. In an incredibly stupid decision, the Fetch’s starting POW and how much the player gets to define it are based on this random roll, and its POW stat gets boosted by whatever you sacrificed. One in 4 or so Shamans playing the game can just suck it and deal with their weak class feature they dedicated their guy to getting, and even some of the better spirit dancers might roll the fetch’s stats poorly.
The Bad Man shows up and starts testing your resolve with Spirit Combat. There’s a minimum of 1d6 rounds, and it stops afterwards if the player says to or at 6, although the GM isn’t supposed to say what the minimum is. If the player wins, they get a Shamanic Ability. If they lose, they get a Taboo they have to follow. This is where I realised Spirit Combat is busted because Spirits don’t actually get a Spirit Combat skill, as far as I can tell. A note about converting old editions says that spirits should get a Spirit Combat of their POW x 5 so I guess they just do that. The Bad Man’s POW is listed at 35, so he has a 175% in Spirit combat and actually winning this is almost impossible unless they roll a 100. In opposed POW checks, you add your Fetch’s POW to yours, so maybe it was supposed to be an opposed POW check since that’s potentially winnable if you got a good Fetch before, but Spirit Combat runs off a skill so it doesn’t do anything here. I might be missing something so correct me if I’m wrong.
You’re fully united with your Fetch at this point, rejoin your body and celebrate with a party. You pick your abilities and roll your taboos, and define exactly what your fetch is if you got to do that. The other players put their phones down maybe.
The actual stuff a shaman gets to do is really cool, so it kind of balances out with how many random rolls and poorly explained things have appeared so far. Firstly you get a Fetch, which has a lot of purposes. It can act as a source of POW and Magic points if you need to use them. It doesn’t gain POW seperately but the shaman can give it to them. It can act separately from the Shaman in combat, going at their DEX strike rank (so really quickly). They can be targeted by magic if they cast at a corporeal target, but getting an extra spell each turn is a big deal. They run off their own stats but know every spell you do. They keep an eye on the Shaman’s body while they’re fucking off in Spiritland. Strangest of all, the Fetch can capture defeated spirits like Pokemon, binding them and letting the shaman use their spells, draw upon their magic points or release them to do tasks. Your total allotment of spirits is their total POW compared to the Fetch’s POW. This gives you massive breadth and lots of extra mana.
There’s a few other benefits to being a shaman. You can Discorporate and enter the spirit realm without a spell, always see into the spirit realm, and can bargain with the spirits their, trading POW for services and spells, and get an increased allotment for bound spirits from their Fetch’s CHA. They also get access to special Shamanic Abilities. You get some at the start of Shamanhood, but you can get more by sacrificing stats. The stat cost increases each time, but can be reset by taking a taboo. There’s a lot of these abilities. Some are just number boosts, but there’s also some very cool powers like getting to possess losers of spirit combat, having a spirit spell always be on, or get to cast multiple spells at a time. The Taboos are another d100 random chart of things that may or may not matter, ranging from Never eat Bear Meat to middling stuff like Make a Pilgrimage to a place on the Spirit Plane every year or big pains in the ass like Never Lie, wear clothes or Never Wear Armor. It’s not made with game design in mind. Some of the Cults get their own taboos, like the Yelm tradition that gets some weirdo horse ones that are a much better deal.
Shamans are an odd bunch, getting a bunch of cool powers in exchange for very strange mechanics. It’d be fun to play as one, but I’m not really sure if they actually work. I’d probably angle to play as one though, it’d be cool to play pokemon and it’s not as difficult to actually become one as a Rune-Lord since the skill gates are random rolls rather than targets.
Art is Dope though
Next Time: Sorcery
Original SA post
Shirts are restricted by caste
Sorcery isn't given as in-depth a treatment as the other systems of magic, mostly because the focus is on regions that don't really use it. The only starting avenues to it are through the cult of Lhankor Mhy and the Philosopher profession. It isn't difficult to pick up at a basic level, but the mechanics make it hard to pair with spirit magic, so characters will need to pick which avenue they'll take. In the fluff, Sorcery is the direct manipulation of Runes, without getting assistance from Gods or Spirits. It's most common among Westerners, who are monotheists worshipping the Invisible God, but it's found all over the place. Sorcery does have a couple of advantages over other forms of magic: you have access to widely different abilities compared to the narrow purview of Rune Magic, and it doesn't have anything to do with your own Rune Affinites, so you can mix and match domains easily. On the other hand, you'll have less spells known, and rely on an individual skill for each spell, so getting them to be reliable is difficult. You can bypass that with augments but that isn't quick enough to work in combat, so most sorcerers will have a couple combat spells rather than the broad spread your standard D&D wizard has.
Each sorcery spell can be broken down into a formula of Rune and Technique. Every rune is available, from the elemental runes to the more abstract Power and Form Runes. You only start with one Rune and Technique mastered, but that gives you access to related runes for an increased mana cost. If you've Mastered the Death Rune, you can do Fertility Magic at twice the price, which isn't a big deal for utility. Techniques are Sorcery exclusive, and determine how you can modify a rune to get an effect. There are 6 different Techniques, listed below.
- Summon: Conjure up a specific manifestation of a Rune. Used for many attack spells, as well as summoning
- Dispel: Dismiss a manifestation of a Rune. Most of the related spells are defensive or countermagic.
- Combine: This lets you combine two different runes to modify one with the other. Useful for longer-lasting effects
- Separate: The opposite of Combine. I don't think it has any examples given
- Command: Order something around. Very powerful, but limited if it isn't around.
- Tap: Convert a manifestation of a rune into raw magic, which you get as extra mana along with the effect. Tap spells are powerful and often have permanent effects, like Tapping the Man rune to reduce the target's Size and get mana. These tend to be forbidden among polite sorcerers, but some don't really care or allow it on specific runes.
Mastering a technique gives you more expensive access to the opposite, but Command and Tap are easily extrapolated from the other techniques, so you pretty much always have them at double price. This gives easy access to forbidden magic, which I always encourage.
Learning new magic is difficult, although manageable if your character is committed. To learn a new Rune or Technique, your character needs to roll under their INT+POW on a d100, although they can augment the roll with ritual practices. Learning Spells is easier, either paying 50 lunars for getting taught (more for big deal or cult-secret spells) or doing it yourself by succeeding on a Read/Write and INTx3 check. You can also create spells, which takes a while and requires an INT check of increasing difficulty based on how unusual the spell is. It's easier to learn a spell this way (it doesn't say whether you've memorised the spell if you create it but I'd assume so) but you need a mastery of the Runes and Techniques involved. When you've memorised a spell, you get it as a skill starting at 1d6+your Magic Skills category modifier, which is pretty low. At that point, it can be increased like any other skill. It's really too low for Sorcery to be reliable under pressure compared to other magic. The highest I could get a Sorcery at start was 75%, which involved stacking every single bonus, giving myself the maximum roll and only works for a single Truth/Command spell given by Lhankor Mhy. To compare, a standard Orlanthi can easily start at 80% in their Air rune and use it for everything. There are a few factors that increase the chance of succeeding at casting a spell, to help balance that out. Each day, week and season has a Runic affiliation that give a bonus or penalty to the check. I can't imagine paying attention to this most of the time, although it's neat for planning battles. Some locations are affiliated with a Rune and give a more reliable benefit, like Graveyards boosting death magic. The easiest is having an object affiliated with a rune, which is both easy to do and under the player's control. The Lunar Moon cycle only affects Cost, rather than chance to cast, so the bad guys don't get an easy out.
If you manage to cast a spell, you get to modify how powerful it is when it goes off. You can add extra mana to a spell up to your Free INT, which is your INT minus the amount of points of other spells you know. You add extra magic points to increase the spell's Damage, Duration and Range. You need to pump in a lot of points to have a very powerful effect, but you don't need much for basic attack spells or effects that don't need all the categories. It takes a big investment to get as much damage as most melee stuff, but it tends to get around a lot of defenses. They tend to be very slow to cast, coming in at the Dexterity-only Strike Rank plus twice as many magic points invested in the spell. Often this is going to wrap around into previous rounds if you're going for big effects
Sorcery is pretty cool overall, but it bumps up against the skill system and the low starting chances. It works very well as a utility system that gives a good breadth of abilities, but the low chances of success make it untenable for use in combat or situations where you can't augment it with other skills. It takes a lot to make the heavy investment in Sorcery compete with taking a bow and some basic spirit magic. That said, it's not really the focus of the base game, and I'd like to think later releases will give it some improvements.
Next Time: The Final sections: Money and Between Adventures
Wealth, Between Adventures, and final summation
Original SA post
stop antagonising Gunda the Guilty, you're lucky you kissed Argrath's ass 5 updates ago
Final chapters: Wealth, Between Adventures, and final summation
After a bit of reflection, I think the chapter on wealth is a lot more important than it is in other books. The guidelines on consumption and property are very helpful for establishing the bronze-age lifestyle of the setting, and feed into the community aspects very well. There are five given levels of wealth, ranging from destitution to being a Petty King, and it’s only at the nobility range we catch up to modern standards of living where you eat meat most days and getting clothes more than once a year. Higher positions of authority also increase standards of living due to greater responsibilities. There’s also a note on your basic hirelings and retinue, from scribes, tenant farmers to bodyguards. Family members are free, so if you aren’t interested in the upcoming town management stuff it’s worth giving your sister control of the family farm.
Farmland is abstracted to units called a Hide, which is enough to feed a standard family of average wealth. It gives a surplus of 80 lunars worth of goods a year, of which you tithe 20% to the main churches, as well as however much goes to the Cult you’re initiated in. Nobles tend to own multiple hides, and after the tenant farmers are finished they end up with 200 dollars, before tithing. Temples handle a lot of services most governments and business would in our days, like storing treasure and helping the community, so it’s not a total loss. If you’re getting them to cast spells for you, the cost tends to be $20 for each rune point expended. There’s an aside about the Healer Cult of Chalana Arroy: While they would never charge for their services, if they save your life, you’re culturally expected to repay them with a favor equivalent to your ransom, and if you don’t you get a lower priority next time the other characters cart your corpse back. Very wealthy people are often ordered to pay for public goods out of pocket, like roads or triremes, although players by that point are probably powerful enough by that point that their finances are all run through a cult or they’re globe-trotting and hard to find.
Each character has a Ransom, based on their profession, that determines how much someone needs to pay if they get captured. The game notes that this is very common, and pretty much only chaotic enemies won’t consider it. If you don’t have the money on hand, you can get your family to bail you out with a successful passion roll. Most of the time the character ends up with a debt to the community, and the book recommends players store some treasure in the local temple to handle this.
There’s a list of prices for things, which isn’t worth repeating here. There’s a bit on slaves but it mentions Orlanthi don’t do it aside from the occasional captive, so most of the discussion on slavery will wait until Fonrit gets a write-up. The whole thing isn’t bad as a flavor read if you’ve actually got the book, with listings of common clothes or how much it costs to get an insulting poem written.
The chapter on Between Adventures is a lot more significant, lumping together character advancement and community life. The experience system was one of the biggest departures from D&D, focusing on individual advancement of skills rather than using an abstract concept of levels. To put it simply, if you use a skill or stat, you check to see if you can upgrade it. After each season (the game assumes one adventure a season, if there are more adventures the gm can do more advancement rolls if they want) If a character has used a skill or ability once, they roll it and add the category modifer derived from their stats. If the roll is Over the result, they add 1d6 to the ability. If this takes a skill or passion over 100%, it goes over 100. A roll of 100 or more is always a success. If a player is feeling unlucky or is shocked at how everything in this game is random, they can add 3% instead. It’s also assumed that your character is doing what their profession and cult demand outside of the adventure, so players get to pick 4 occupational and cult skills to check as well unless the adventure has been long and the character wouldn’t have been able to get back to basics. There’s also an option for Training, which doesn’t require a test but only gives 1d6-1 points in the skill, is capped at 75% and maybe stops you from working, it’s a little unclear. You can also research on your own, which is worse than training and gives you 1d6-2, potentially reducing your skill. These alternate paths need a benefit, they’re treated like weaker forms of experience but with the cult and occupational skills you’re very rarely going to need to use them. They’d be better off as ways to increase very low skills quicker, in my opinion.
Stats can also be increased in a similar fashion. The most important and unusual version is POW, which is treated a lot like a skill. The advancement roll can be triggered by spirit combat or casting spells, using the Worship skill to recover spent Rune Points or training with an absurd price. The POW gain roll gets a strange formula where you subtract your current POW from your species maximum, which is the maximum and minimum you can roll (although they fucked up and wrote this before changing POW rolls to 2d6+6 from 3d6), then multiply that by 5 and roll under it on a d100. If you get that, roll 1d3-1 and add it to your POW. You can add 1 if you want. Higher-power characters like Rune-Priests get a 20% bonus to the roll, which is one of the biggest benefits. This isn’t so bad since POW is a currency for a lot of things, so it encourages spending it on character features. Strength, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma can be increased by training or research, with the stat gain roll as POW. Dex is capped at the starting score times 1.5 for some reason, and as an optional rule charisma can be increased by dressing fancily, heroic deeds or leadership. I think there’s a little identity crisis for the stat, but it’s helpful for getting people to the higher tiers of power.
Advancement is pretty slow for a lot of things, especially lower skills. The system works well at a particular range of power, but it takes a long time to advance a skill from the bottom since the gains aren’t better, so new sorcery spells, new cult skills and changing occupations. Stat advancement aside from POW is also very limited, due to how ineffective and costly training and research are. It really shouldn’t take up the whole season, or cost 500 lunars to get an increase. The lack of levels or consistent benchmarks makes it difficult to introduce new characters, or provide balanced encounters. There’s also a notable absence of seasons where a character might not be working, like a farmer in winter, that would be good for integrating training and research better into the game’s flow.
After advancement the book discusses Sacred Time and the health of the community. Story-wise, Sacred time is the end of the year and when every culture does their big rituals, so it happens every five or so adventures. It’s broken up into 7 different stages.
: The players help out or lead great rituals of their cult, testing their Worship skills and getting better benefits than usual. Higher-tier characters also get some free cult spirit magic.
: This is an optional step, and heroquests don’t actually have any rules written in this book so I can’t say much, but successfully heroquesting helps with the community’s harvest and omen rolls. Speaking of
: The harvest is a big deal, with most communities relying on agriculture. There are a few modifiers, like whether last years omens were good or bad, how much you’ve been raided and how good last year’s harvest was. You roll a d100 and the higher the roll, the better the harvest, which modifies most profession’s income roll.
4. Adventurer Income Roll
: Each adventurer tests their most relevant occupational skill to see how much money they made themselves before covering their standard of living. Failed rolls can be pretty serious early on if the adventures aren’t getting much loot from adventures. If you have people working under you there’s a special Manage Household Skill to see how much your peons leave as surplus.
: the game doesn’t wait until birthdays to check the effect it has. Characters are assumed to start at 21, and at the age of 40 they start needing to test if they lose physical stats. Characters can start older, but I can’t imagine most games go long enough for this to matter much.
: A family is a useful thing, and important for giving character breadth and position in the world. If a player wants it abstracted, they can test Charisma or Custom (local) to find a spouse, although roleplaying is encouraged. Characters can also become parents, rolling a d100 and checking against a chart to see if they had a kid. Male characters can test for each female partner they had. The roll can be augmented by the character’s Fertility Rune, or decreased by testing their Death Rune. A lot of people don’t like sex in their games, but this is abstracted and placed on a relationship/community level rather than as a creepy barmaid harassment thing most characters see, so I can’t imagine it causing many issues. There is a weird overlap with the gender-neutral language and queer adventurers, but it’s an obvious fix in play. The rolls for childbirth and survival are modified by the adventurer’s standard of living, for a real bronze-age experience.
There are also some charts for seeing what happens to your immediate family, like deaths, scandals and blessings, that can be fun.
: The game master either rolls for the next year’s incoming omens, or picks one to foreshadow upcoming adventures.
After all this there’s a conversion guide for old editions. There’s a lot of overlap with RQ 2 and 3, which I’m unfamiliar with so there’s no point checking out.
I’ve been pretty negative on the game, but overall I really like the whole thing. The core system is simple and effective, runes and passions are augmented really well into the rules and it fits a lot of the core themes of the game. There is a definite tension between the Fantasy and the Gritty realism that I don’t think has been resolved. Character generation is too involved to have very lethal combat, permanent stat penalties or slapstick fumble charts. A lot of the moving parts should really stay in 1978, and after the discussion of Maximum Game Fun at the start, the designers need to question whether the rules actually encourage it. If I was running the game, I’d make a few changes to the whole thing, although I think the core is strong enough that I’d do it without.
1. Stat arrays at character generation. This is going to be in the GM’s guide, so it’s not a big ask unless they fuck it up.
2. Increase the starting base hitpoints. This reduces the lethality of the combat, while still keeping it gritty. Death sucks, getting your arm fucked up isn’t as bad.
3. Change the combat over to movement Zones, where each zone acts as range for attacks and determines strike rank penalties for moving between them.
4. throw out special results for fumbles. The success tier system already found for special and critical successes works well enough. I’d consider replacing special and critical successes outright for Higher roll wins like in Heroquest, but that’s probably going to have unseen consequences.
5. Mention skill use as combat augments. I don’t think it says whether you can do that or not, but it’s a good way to handle stunts. It’s not like there’s much use for anything you’d use as the augment.
5. Let training increase a skill to 50%, no roll required. It’s too hard to get something up from the bottom, which hurts sorcerers or people changing in station a lot. You could even do it with all occupation skills, although that’s a bigger deal
6. Make Spear use a starting skill for Argan Argar cultists, it’s a cool as hell god and spear use is supposed to be a big deal for them, but it’s a terrible deal to start as a guy who gets to speak to trolls and conjure darkness. I get that they don’t want everyone to have access to combat equally, but it’s the most important skillset in the game and you can handle that distribution better with magic.
All that out of the way, I encourage people who are curious to check it out. It’s a great introduction to the setting and the system is pretty fun, with a few fiddly bits that mostly pop up at character generation. Go Kick Ass in Dragon Pass
E: if you are playing for the first time, the free quickstart rules are an excellent resource for figuring out the basics