Runequest in Glorantha: Home-brewed

With the launch just this week of RCQ – Runequest Glorantha – the “true” successor to the much loved Runequest 2, many of my geeky chums are once more venturing to Genertela to explore the deep mysteries of the cults, runes and deadly combat from back on the day.

So what better time for my dear friend Stephen (@smginnessuk) , GM of our Runequest 2 campaign, to share his house-rules for elevating an aged system for a more enlightened gaming age…

Introduction

I played my first game of Runequest in 1978.  I played it almost exclusively until it made it to third edition.  My lack of enthusiasm for the new edition, the stuttering publication of that edition along with a distancing of the game from Glorantha, and several life events meant that I rarely played the game between 1987 and just a few years ago.  That did not mean I stopped reading stuff or buying almost everything Glorantha that I could put my hands on.

I did play a lot of other games, including a variety of other Gloranthan related systems: Mongoose Runequest, Design Mechanism Runequest, Hero Wars, HeroQuest.  When I came back to RQII I fell in love with its simplicity all over again but there were things that rankled me, especially when I no longer had the copious amounts of free time to play, or to manage the detail of the second edition. Not to mention having been spoiled by modern systems that accommodate narrative gameplay and give agency to the players.

Now Chaosium just releasing a successor to RQII, I thought before I read the shiny new PDF that this would be a good time to show others how I adapted RQII and imported things from other iterations of Glorantha to allow me to play Runequest now.  This is my first real attempt to do this and it will change and adapt to my players responses, its inability to cope with at the table situations and new cool ideas that I come across.

The main changes I’ve made fall into three categories:

  • Character design
  • Running the game
  • Heroquesting

The latter two will follow in a day or two. But, to kick things off…

Character Design

Characters are rolled and written up using pure RQII, just like I did it in 1978. Statistics, modifiers, spells and skills. I add the the previous experience rules to get more experienced starting characters, but that is as far things go there.

I do not use the old character sheet, but have designed my own, one based on the Heroquest way of doing things and designed to put the key information front-and-centre in a way that really supports play at the table.

Gundrig-RQ1-page-001

Skill Groups

This is where things start to change a little. Skills are organised into three key skill groups.  This is often narrative background things like “Pavis born and bred”, “Initiate of Orlanth” or “Experienced scout” with all of a character’s skills organised underneath those.  Each group is then assigned a skill level based on the best five skills in the group.  The skill groups have threshold numbers: 15%, 30%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 120% which I assign the titles used in the Robin D. Law’s King of Dragon Pass game: Fair, Good, Very good, Excellent, Reknowned and Heroic.

All skills that fall into the group are then treated as operating at at least the threshold skill level.

The upshot is that a character with Good “Pavis born and bred” can tell the GM at any time that someone born and bred in Pavis’ dusty streets should be able to find a decent short cut to Gimpy’s and use 30% as a chance for that.  The player might then list “Pavis backstreets” at 30% on the sheet and, if successful, give it a tick for later experience checks.  It is a way of providing a broad base to skills and allowing players to more effectively play the character they envisaged without having to think of every little skill they might need.

Gundrig-RQ2-page-001

The other aspect of skill groups is that once five skills within the group have advanced beyond the next threshold, the threshold goes up and so every skill goes up to the threshold.  E.g. a Good “Initiate of Orlanth” has just raised his broadsword attack to 70%.  Within this skill group, he already has Spot Hidden at 85%, Riding at 80%, Evaluate Treasure at 70% and Camouflage at 75% (all skills the player and GM agreed fitted within this skill group).  As broadsword attack was the fifth skill in this group to get to 70%, the skill group is now Very Good and all skills within it – including any new skills the player comes up with in play that fit within this this group – will be at 70%.

This reflects the idea that during down time, when they are living their lives rather than adventuring, characters maintain and update the skills associated with that life.  Initiates of Orlanth will find themselves using skills that such initiates use on a regular basis.

Next-up: Running the Game (coming soon!)

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Xeno-Hunters

I’ve always had a soft spot for D&D 4th edition. Sure, it never felt like D&D for me, but the core engine was just so unlike anything we’d seen before in table-top RPGs.

My previous efforts to convert D&D4e into a fast-paced dungeon-crawl boardgame were documented on here some time ago, an experimental project which showed some promise but perhaps not quite enough to keep me interested.

However, a tweet from Dungeon World co-author, Adam Koebel (@skinnyghost), got me all a tingly again. Another bit of Dice Mechanic tweakery was on the cards…

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Creating Xeno-Hunters

Aim: to create an X-Com or Aliens themed game, based on the D&D 4th edition rule-set.

Methodology: I wanted to prove Adam’s thesis to its fullest extent. I knew I could house-rule and tweak 4e to make a sci-fi game – however, if I was to do this, I wanted to make it as close to vanilla 4e as possible. Reskinned but not house-ruled.

Browsing the Player’s Handbook, it wasn’t too difficult to start to equate different character classes to equivalent sci-fi roles. In 4th edition, Fighters are very much the tanks and blockers of the game, taking the hits and holding up the enemy so their colleagues can deal the killing blows. To me, the immediate image that came to mind was a power-armoured Space Marine struggling to hold back a scuttling mass of insectoid aliens. Wizard’s area effect spells are just magical hand-bombs. Ranger sharp-shooters are clearly 4th edition’s Snipers. Easy.

I decided to make the characters at Sixth level: this gives them a few more powers and feats, a few magic items and allows me a wider range of opponents straight out of the Monster Manual to match them up against.

Results: I’ve created six characters, almost 100% 4th edition compliant, and absolutely sci-fi through and through. I used standard character generation rules, races, powers, feats and equipment. The four relatively minor changes were as follows:

  • Feats: I accidentally gave characters one Feat too many. I spotted this on the 4th character, but by then I was committed and couldn’t be bothered to go back 🙂
  • Weapons: I created a custom weapon for the Assault Trooper, as nothing quite fitted. But I still think it’s broadly balanced in the context of 4e weapons. Everything else is a standard 4e weapon (though there’s a Bastard Sword and a Superior Crossbow in there if you can spot them)
  • Magic Items: the game does have rules for giving magic items to characters created above 1st level. However, instead, I calculated how many items an equivalent party would have earned through play and then shared them out.
  • Sniping: the 4e Player’s Handbook clearly says that Crossbows can be used for Sneak Attacks, but looking online it seems that may have been errata’d to just “Hand Crossbows”. I figured spending a Feat to broaden to all Crossbows wasn’t unreasonable, based on the precedent of the Elf’s Treetop Sniper feat.

The only change I made from my original vision was that, on studying the abilities a bit closer, I decided to make the Close Assault Trooper the Ranger, and the Sniper is a Rogue. It was pretty interchangeable, both classes have great abilities to cover both of these roles.

The Salvageers

After all this, here are the six characters: Salvageers, private contractors making a living by clearing out alien bug infestations from abandoned space wrecks.

I’ve re-designed the character sheet to completely mask it’s origins. I decided if I was going to re-skin things, I was going to re-skin everything. I tried to give it a sci-fi feel and also bury the abilities granted by Race, Class and Magic Items into themed power-sets.

Cleric / Commander: Warlord might be the obvious example for the Leader of this gang of XenoHunters, but Warlords don’t have ranged powers and I wanted to change as little as possible. I think the Commander makes for an interesting and effective character – and probably the only character in the party that is absolutely essential to make the party work.

Fighter / Power Trooper: a Goliath with a good spread of defensive-focused magic items and here you have it, a walking juggernaut who is probably the sole melee combatant as often as not.

Ranger / Assault Trooper: makes the most of the Ranger’s Prime Shot ability and range of move-and-attack combinations to be the group’s scout. And yes, he’s a halfling, but don’t hold that against him.

Rogue / Sniper: with a number of stealthy assassin-type feats in one of the later 4e character books, I was able to create a very effective ranged character. Indeed, in comparison, I feel like the Assault Trooper is a little hard-done-by

Sniper

Wizard / Grenadier: the basic powers were easy enough, but I had to exercise some creativity with the utility abilities a wizard has. I think it works pretty well, a bit fragile but a fun character to play.

Warlock / Psychic: an absolute loony-tunes of a character, with a range of very deadly attacks and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I decided to make the psychic abilities Encounter and Daily powers only, as I didn’t feel a constant flurry of psychic blasts fitted the sci-fi psionic aesthetic.

Psychic

I’d love to hear your thoughts / comments, either on the feedback below or via Twitter.

Next up: XenoHunters: the scenario. You’ll be amazed how a simple name change and bit of colourful description can turn a D&D standard into a scuttling alien menace…

The Belgarithon

I started it with a couple of not-entirely-favourable tweets on my reading of David Edding’s “Pawn of Prophecy”, first of the famous fantasy quintet, the Belgariad.pawn-of-prophecy

It ended with a group of UK Twitter geeks committing to reading (or re-reading in most cases) the entire sequence of books in a kind of virtual geeky bookclub. All five of them. Or perhaps ten. Or maybe fifteen. It really depends who’s counting.

Anyway, if you’re of a geeky bent and want to join in, just follow #belgarithon on Twitter. And read Pawn of Prophecy by the end of February.

We’ll probably discuss it. Somehow. And then read the next one. I think it’s Rook of Destiny. Or King of Fate. Or perhaps Knight to Queen’s Bishop of Doom. Something like that…

Forth #Belgarithon!!!

 

 

Torchbearer character sheets – for newbies

Will be running a short try-out of the Fantasy dungeon-crawl RPG Torchbearer in a week or two. It’s a wonderful game, full of complex interlocking game mechanics that support rather than replace role-playing – at least that’s the theory. It puts a lot of pressure on the GM, both in terms of system mastery and improvising when character’s rolls don’t quite go as intended.

Invariably, I create new character sheets for every game I run. I find most default character sheets are messy and over-written, so I try to emphasise the key features while removing unnecessary detail for players who don’t know the system.

This is my first effort to do this for Torchbearer – the level of mechanical crunch that players directly interact with make it hard to strip back to the level I’d like, but what I have been able to do is only retain the elements that players will directly interact with in their first few sessions.

Unusually for me, I decided to do this in Powerpoint rather than Excel. Sssh, please don’t tell. Both .pptx and .pdf versions can be downloaded using the links below.

PDF version (non-editable)

PPTX version (editable)

My contribution to Grogzine #1: Star Wars RPG, West End Games

A story that certainly echoes my own. Very few RPGs I’ve ever felt such visceral love for as much as WEG Star Wars, a true classic and one of the best and most influential RPG designs of all time.

Asako Soh - speaking to the kami

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. 1st edition, 1987, West End Games.

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We didn’t go on holiday when I was growing up, and there were no gaming shops in my town.  A trip to the exciting metropolis of Birmingham, and the delights of Games Workshop and Virgin Megastore, offered the rare outlet for my RPG addiction (now serviced all too easily by Kickstarter and on-line stores).  However, in 1987 I found myself as a teenager on a somewhat surprising and surreal holiday – a trip to York to the see the recently opened Jorvik Viking museum, but with my mum, sister, and my former infant school teacher and her husband.  Wild times.  I recall a dingy B+B, with all my family in one room, and a bathroom shared with the other guests on the rest of the floor.  In addition to the stomach-churning smells of the museum (is it still…

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Torchbearer Excel Utility

Recently, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Burning Wheel’s “Torchbearer” RPG.

It’s an intriguing, gritty reimagining of the classic D&D dungeon crawl. The characters are down-at-heel adventures, the sort of desperate individuals who would seek their fortune delving in dark and dangerous holes. But adventuring takes its toll, you can only carry so much, and sometimes it’s tough to decide between the extra rations and the gilded cup you’ve just found. Exhaustion strikes, fear sets in, and before long – if you’re not true to yourself and who you are – you’ll be worn down by the constant grind.

If you make it out, well, those townsfolk saw you coming, that treasure is enough to get you back on your feet and maybe buy you a fancy new sword, but before long your only recourse is to get back out there and dungeon crawl some more.

Torchbearer is a very clever, mechanically complex game. It’s blatant about the need for players to develop system mastery, and it has numerous inter-linked mechanics that are at times more reminiscent of a Euro boardgame than a traditional RPG.

Anyway, as is my wont, I looked at all those juicy mechanics and thought “what they really need is an Excel spreadsheet”. So here it is. It started as an Excel version of the default Torchbearer character sheet, then I added an alternative character sheet, then a character generator, and more, and more!

So if you’re a fan of Torchbearer, I hope this is useful.

DOWNLOAD HERE!

And if you’re not, I strongly recommend taking a look. It may not be your thing (hell, I haven’t played it yet, so it might not be MY thing!) but it’s certainly the most interesting and damned clever RPG I’ve read in a long while.