RuneQuest Starter Set: Played It Review of a Mythic World of Magic and Conflict

The RuneQuest Starter Set introduces GMs and players alike to a mythic fantasy world filled with magic and challenge. The introduction is important because the world of Glorantha is massive and the rules of RuneQuest are intricate and detailed and include decades of design. The starter set promises to help me not only ground myself in the setting but also be able to run adventures using the RuneQuest rules.

RQ1.png

A detailed designer diary is a good place to gain additional insight: RuneQuest Design Diary. My thanks to Michael O’Brien of Chaosium for sending me a review copy. This review is going to look at the box and contents itself and how both work from a GM’s point of view. Followed by details on how running the included adventure went.

What You Get​

The box itself is sturdy cardboard and slightly oversized to fit the dice in the top. It is stuffed with high-quality content. While I like miniatures/pawns and battle maps I appreciate the fact that this starter set doesn’t have them and so can include even more rules and setting info including maps. Even though the inside of the box lids are plain cardboard, there are other fun features. The backs of the four books form a giant map. The poster maps are large and double sided and the dice look great. Plus there are 14 pre-generated characters which is the largest number I’ve seen in one product before.

As a GM here is what I have to get started. In Book 3: SoloQuest I played Vasan, daughter of Farnan a warrior of Sartarite. My father’s body and soul were devoured by the Crimson Bat, an evil monster of the oppressive Lunar Empire and I am pissed about it.

I’m part of an Sartarite army about to fight an army from the Lunar Empire. My first roll ever in RuneQuest is a Scan skill (50%). I roll a 44% and pass! If I survive the upcoming battle I get to roll to try to improve my Scan skill.

The gods of my people include Orlanth, the Storm Lord, who skips along the river chanting our champions names and Humakt, the God of Death, sitting beside every warrior as they prepare to fight. I wield a lance and ride a bison into battle as part of the cavalry. I am also skilled in the bow.

As I wait for the fog to lift and the battle to start, I am faced with many options: talk to my leader, tend to my bison mount, pay my respects to my ancestors and the gods, and more. I make my Worship (Orlanth) roll and increase the Battle Result Total by +5. This increase will help swing the outcome of the upcoming battle in our favor. Detailed combat follows (pointing me to Book 1: Rules) with many of my character’s actions determining the outcome of the battle. And the decisions are not all easy. To help my leader fight in one on one battle thereby hurting her honor but maybe keeping her alive? Do I engage in one on one honorable combat or run down my foe, driven by orders to get somewhere quickly?

Playing one character is all well and good, but I wonder if I can run five PCs with differing backstories through an adventure. I read about the world first in Book 2. The starter set has the excellent idea of setting a campaign in Dragon Pass and having players create PCs from that area. Just human to start it looks like is the best option. That will make it easier on the GM.

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The Adventures​

Next up, I want to see how the adventures help. The rules and the world books are each a slice of the larger RuneQuest rules and a glimpse of one part of the immense world of Glorantha. And Book 4 contains the adventures themselves.

I ran the first adventure, which involves the PCs breaking up some rioting trolls and then being asked to travel to farms and rescue four farm families. I liked that the PCs stopped the trolls without resorting to combat and that decision had positive repercussions. I also enjoyed the battle at the farms and the final boss monster.

Glorantha came across as both a world filled with strange creatures and powerful magic as well as one of human beings just trying to survive and live a good life. This combination really shone through and I liked this approach. The world was not gritty and dirty and lived in, but it still seemed real with the scars of war and the loss of life juxtaposed against mythical monsters and works of magic.

The Rules​

The rules for RuneQuest also tie directly into the world of Glorantha. Rune affinity helped PCs succeed at tasks, Passions tried to sway them into making different decisions, and the PC who Feared Dragons was given constant grief about his fear. I did miss not getting to see any ducks however. I had heard that they are most often encountered in Sartar.

I also like the rules. Strike ranks in place of initiative really worked well. Parrying and weapons and shields taking damage made battles come alive and seem visceral and realistic. But spells were flying as well, which tied the magical directly into every bit of combat. A great mix of deadly danger and high magic. I played combat theater of the mind and that worked just fine, even with five PCs and several monsters.

I like Sartar and Dragon Pass. The location is a great place for a RuneQuest campaign. The solo adventure can continue to be useful later because I can hand it to a player new to RuneQuest and they can also play through it to learn the setting and rules.

Should You Get It?​

This starter set is outstanding. The main RuneQuest rulebook doesn’t really have a section to show GMs how to run a campaign. This starter set accomplishes that goal and provides ongoing tools GMs can continue to use. I recommend it highly to anyneo who enjoys fantasy RPGs and wants to try a long-lived unique setting and well tested rules.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody



Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I'm glad Glorantha fans are getting such amazing products. Unfortunately I was one of the early proponents of the idea of Runequest as a broader system (Avalon Hill's edition) focused on mythic earth, so I miss having that sort of support, though I guess Mythras has that covered, even if it's not quite the mechanical variant of BRP I wish it was. For me Glorantha has always been what felt like an interesting exploration of someone else's very specific campaign, and I would much rather devise my own. Maybe Chaosium will eventually reconsider taking BRP proper out of the attic some day.
 




Jaeger

That someone better
$30.00 plus shipping. Looks like it has a lot to get started and play through a few things. I saw on their site a link for several pre-generated PCs. Did not see a duck though.

It all sure looks good.

As for the lack of a Duck, I think many would consider that a feature, not a bug.


For me Glorantha has always been what felt like an interesting exploration of someone else's very specific campaign, and I would much rather devise my own. Maybe Chaosium will eventually reconsider taking BRP proper out of the attic some day.

Which it basically is.

The issue that I've always had with Gorlantha is the way it is always initially presented.

The cover art for RQ, and even the art for this starter set always evoked a bronze age sword and sandals setting. So My mind naturally went to the Iliad/odyssey Mythic Greece milieu. So you'd pick it up thinking of classic Ray Harryhousen films like Jason and the Argonauts, and The Clash of The Titans.

But when you read past the first paragraph of the setting blurbs... Gorlantha is NOT that.

As for taking BRP out of the attic...

In my opinion...

Chaosium will never push an alternate BRP fantasy game that could ever compete with RQ.

Magic world was and will, never be given more than lip service.
 

As for taking BRP out of the attic...

In my opinion...

Chaosium will never push an alternate BRP fantasy game that could ever compete with RQ.

Magic world was and will, never be given more than lip service.
I think the stated objection from Chaosium against having BRP used as a generic system, and by extension the critique of Magic World, was that they were bland.

I do note that there was more positive responses when it came to trying to win back the Stormbringer/Eternal Champion licenses from Michael Moorcock. That never seemed to come to fruition, so I’m guessing that Moorcock said no.

However, they did win the license to making Rivers of London RPG based on Ben Aaronovitch’s novels, and will also be doing another game based on Lords of the Middle Sea. So, I think more a case of Chaosium wanting specific titles that are interesting to them, genre notwithstanding.

I would also give a quick shout out to The Design Mechanism’s Lyonnesse, which is based on the Mythras rules (a BRP cousin) and the writings of Jack Vance.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
I think the stated objection from Chaosium against having BRP used as a generic system, and by extension the critique of Magic World, was that they were bland.

Well... Concerning Magic World; IMHO that is a situation of their own creation.

If they put 1/4 of the effort that's been put in Gorlantha, into a setting for magic world, things would be different.

That being said....

I think more a case of Chaosium wanting specific titles that are interesting to them, genre notwithstanding.

I believe this to be 100% true.

Chaosium is just not interested in doing anything remotely resembling a conventional fantasy game while they have RQ.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I'm glad Glorantha fans are getting such amazing products. Unfortunately I was one of the early proponents of the idea of Runequest as a broader system (Avalon Hill's edition) focused on mythic earth, so I miss having that sort of support, though I guess Mythras has that covered, even if it's not quite the mechanical variant of BRP I wish it was. For me Glorantha has always been what felt like an interesting exploration of someone else's very specific campaign, and I would much rather devise my own. Maybe Chaosium will eventually reconsider taking BRP proper out of the attic some day.
Glorantha was the main attraction for me, but I already had White Bear and Red Moon. An RPG set in that world was a major reason to get Runequest. The system was good, even if small combats took what seemed like forever (compared to D&D anyway). It was win-win for both setting and game mechanics. I haven't bought a Runequest edition since Avalon Hill's version which I liked despite the lack of Glorantha. I have picked up PDFs and reprints of the 2E Runequest to preserve my originals though.
 


Well... Concerning Magic World; IMHO that is a situation of their own creation.

If they put 1/4 of the effort that's been put in Gorlantha, into a setting for magic world, things would be different.

That being said....
I think in the case of Magic World, there wasn’t really enough time to establish it with a significant fanbase. It probably should be noted that Magic World was effectively the replacement for Stormbringer/Elric! when Chaosium lost that license - the system was identical with all the references removed. But it also took its name from the game found in Steve Perrin’s Worlds of Adventure (1982; along with Super World and Future World) which was otherwise, entirely unrelated. Steve Perrin himself was critical of this, and I’m not really sure it was ever 100% its own thing.

Chaosium is just not interested in doing anything remotely resembling a conventional fantasy game while they have RQ.
The irony here is that Runequest was originally seen as a very unconventional fantasy setting. It wasn’t just the Bronze Age feel, but also peculiar factors like Ducks, Cults not Classes, or Elves that were literal plants, etc. It was as if they looked at every aspect of D&D and cocked a snook at all its conventions in all the little details. Runequest was very exotic, by comparison to D&D.

Of course, the other main selling point in the late 1970s/early 1980s was that Runequest’s system seemed so much more logical than that provided in AD&D. Nowadays, D&D5 doesn’t have such arbitrary restrictions as Prerequisites for Classes, or limited Class levels for Races, stat limitations for female adventurers, complicated multi-class rules, and other Class & Level based restrictions. Rules regarding combat (remember THACO?), AC and HP are all explained better too. So D&D has moved on from what it used to be.

Back in the day, however, if you wanted to get a set of rules without all these oddities, then Runequest was it - the Betamax to D&D’s VHS if you like. Even though the original game was rooted in Glorantha as a core setting, I think a lot of gamers still liked to use the RQ rules as a way of building their own settings. I think that is how BRP-based games became such an influence on RPG design.

The problem Chaosium has is managing to communicate the differences and advantages of its system in the current era. D&D5 is arguably better at doing generic fantasy these days - despite things like Class & Level. As such, I think there is more emphasis in the current Runequest marketing on the setting and the sheer quality of product being made. In some ways, I wish was still seen as THE alternative fantasy RPG to D&D (as opposed to Pathfinder, say), but I feel these days are long gone. Still, can’t fault this Starter Box - it is excellent.
 
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Looks interesting and I like the concept for Book 3: Soloquest.

*But I love me the Ducks and their Death Rune affiliation. *

So I'm sticking to 13th Age Glorantha just for that. That and I'm totally combing its mechanics with 13th Age's mechanics.
 
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Good to see another 13G fan.

Similarly, I'm going to see what I can steal from this for a future 13G game.
To be honest, I'm just mining it for stuff to add to 13th Age games. like the ducks for example. So I plan on totally taking its various classes, Like the Hell Mother and Storm Voice, and adding them to the selectable options in 13th Age alongside with allowing both Icons AND Runes together at the same time.
 
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Jaeger

That someone better
I think in the case of Magic World, there wasn’t really enough time to establish it with a significant fanbase. It probably should be noted that Magic World was effectively the replacement for Stormbringer/Elric! when Chaosium lost that license

It's been out since 2012...

If they wanted to, that is plenty of time to establish a game line around it. (With a different name IMHO...)

It is what it was: a bone tossed to the people that liked the Stormbringer/Elric! rules set.

In my opinion you were 100% correct when you said: "Chaosium wanting specific titles that are interesting to them"

Chaosium, for various reasons is just not interested in making a BRP fantasy game line with a setting similar to what was done in Sweden for their BRP derivative games like: Trudvang Chronicles or Drakar Och Demoner.


The irony here is that Runequest was originally seen as a very unconventional fantasy setting. It wasn’t just the Bronze Age feel, but also peculiar factors like Ducks, Cults not Classes, or Elves that were literal plants, etc. It was as if they looked at every aspect of D&D and cocked a snook at all its conventions in all the little details.

Not just an unconventional fantasy setting. It gets downright esoteric.

Hence its continued limited appeal. (In comparison to D&D)

IMHO in their efforts to "fix" things they did not pay enough attention to what D&D got right.

Yes the underlying d100 system was more straight forward, but they then went and added system complications that nullified that for people new to the system.

I would go as far to say that RQ/Gorlantha benefits enormously from its early entry into the RPG hobby as one of the first-mover D&D alternatives that integrated system and setting. RQ/Gorlantha as a game/setting would go nowhere if it was introduced today. It's just too niche.


The problem Chaosium has is managing to communicate the differences and advantages of its system in the current era.

I'm not sure that they think about that overmuch - it seems that they are happy in their niche.


D&D5 is arguably better at doing generic fantasy these days

D&D is not generic fantasy.

D&D has too many baked in assumptions in its classes, class features, spells, how magic works, and the hit point scaling, for it to be "generic fantasy".

It is: 'D&D fantasy': a genre unto itself.

It is a very popular genre. But generic it is not.

There is nothing inherently special about the d20 system for fantasy gaming.

But D&D was the first RPG, and is the market leader. It's current system is 'good enough' for the majority of its fans.

That combination is all that is needed for it to maintain market dominance.
 
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Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
I'm glad Glorantha fans are getting such amazing products. Unfortunately I was one of the early proponents of the idea of Runequest as a broader system (Avalon Hill's edition) focused on mythic earth, so I miss having that sort of support, though I guess Mythras has that covered, even if it's not quite the mechanical variant of BRP I wish it was. For me Glorantha has always been what felt like an interesting exploration of someone else's very specific campaign, and I would much rather devise my own. Maybe Chaosium will eventually reconsider taking BRP proper out of the attic some day.
I got into it with Rick Meints on another forum about this. I don't think they'll budge on this sadly. It did make me go on eBay though and blow quite a bit of cash to snag all the Avalon Hill RuneQuest III box sets though. Lol He really pissed me off and I missed having them.

I told him the least they could do if offer them in pdf form or as pod. He didn't budge on that either really. I'm really starting to sour on anything to do with Chaosium honestly.
 


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