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.

RQ2.png

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

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
I loved Glorantha and its lore. It was so refreshingly different and interesting compared with Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The world was large enought that I could imagine different bits having much more different unpublished stuff
I love it to. I just love the ability to easily use those mechanics for my own world setting instead of bronze aged mythic.
 

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TrippyHippy

Adventurer
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.
I don’t think of the mechanical conventions as disqualifying any ‘generic’ quality in the game’s application. Runequest, in its original and current iteration is specific to Glorantha and is intended just for that setting. D&D is generic, by comparison, because it isn’t tied to a specific setting - with multiple official and third party settings to choose from. While you could argue that D&Ds conventions only encourage a specific gameplay, even recent official D&D supplements (like Ravenloft, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Strixhaven) suggest a wide variety of gaming experiences within these parameters.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
D&D is generic, by comparison, because it isn’t tied to a specific setting - with multiple official and third party settings to choose from.

I disagree.

All the 'new settings' are just variations on a theme, as they all account for the race, class, and magic assumptions of the core D&D rules set.

Because heaven forbid that they are not fully compatible with the 5e PHB.

D&D from TSR to WotC; has traditionally done a very good job of convincing people into having its cake and eating it too. But fundamentally you are still playing a version of gonzo kitchen sink D&D, just with a different setting veneer.

Because the race, class, and magic assumptions of the core D&D rules set are actually very setting specific tropes.

The D&D genre of fantasy is just so prolific that for many, the 'genre assumptions of D&D' is what they think of when they think 'fantasy'.


While you could argue that D&Ds conventions only encourage a specific gameplay, even recent official D&D supplements (like Ravenloft, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Strixhaven) suggest a wide variety of gaming experiences within these parameters.

Ravenloft = Dracula with Elves Dwarves, halflings, etc,... And all the other Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. A total veneer.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Strixhaven = Still with all the Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. Another set of veneers.

But I will grant that WBW & Strix, are veneers specifically designed to allow players to bypass the most often used point of rules interaction and complexity in the D&D core rules: Combat.

I suppose if you want to call adventures played without any combat occurring: "...a wide variety of gaming experience." Sure, why not.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
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.
Ducks are in the Bestiary *along with all the other non-human races suitable for PCs). I would have liked to have had at least one non-human among the pregens, and a duck would have been most suitable imo.

I think it's a very good starter set, packed with interesting material and adventures. You'll still have to get the main rulebook for character creation rules. And I really think they should have put out a "Cults" book pdq after the core rules, it's one of the most important aspects of the system and still not very developed.

I suppose my biggest problem with the whole range is going back - again - to Dragon Pass and Prax as the core part of the setting. Especially since the expanded backstory in character creation means adding other regions is a lot more work for the GM. Hopefully it won't all be rehashed coverage of regions that have already been in previous books, but I suspect updating existing material is a lot more likely than entirely new areas of the world - and to be fair, Dragon Pass and Prax almost certainly have the advantage of people already familiar with them and liking much of it.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I disagree.

All the 'new settings' are just variations on a theme, as they all account for the race, class, and magic assumptions of the core D&D rules set.

Because heaven forbid that they are not fully compatible with the 5e PHB.

D&D from TSR to WotC; has traditionally done a very good job of convincing people into having its cake and eating it too. But fundamentally you are still playing a version of gonzo kitchen sink D&D, just with a different setting veneer.

Because the race, class, and magic assumptions of the core D&D rules set are actually very setting specific tropes.

The D&D genre of fantasy is just so prolific that for many, the 'genre assumptions of D&D' is what they think of when they think 'fantasy'.




Ravenloft = Dracula with Elves Dwarves, halflings, etc,... And all the other Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. A total veneer.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Strixhaven = Still with all the Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. Another set of veneers.

But I will grant that WBW & Strix, are veneers specifically designed to allow players to bypass the most often used point of rules interaction and complexity in the D&D core rules: Combat.

I suppose if you want to call adventures played without any combat occurring: "...a wide variety of gaming experience." Sure, why not.
Well, you are welcome to disagree, and Merry Christmas!

However, I think it rather boils down to how to choose to define ‘generic’. As I have said, just because a game has mechanical conventions, it doesn’t mean it cannot be generic. The D&D system, via ‘5E’ has been converted to so many settings these days that I think it is undeniably generic in application.

The ‘race’ aspect is a point of consideration, in comparison, to Runequest.

One of the features of Runequest, in its original ruleset was that players could, theoretically play any creature provided in the bestiary as the rules were more or less universal. However, in the more recent edition, the game has become more tied to the setting by providing background generation tables and more specific rulings about which creatures in the bestiary could be played. As such, Runequest has provided more limitations to what you can play over resultant editions.

By contrast, D&D/AD&D were originally limited to Tolkien-esque races to play but in 5E, there are now dozens of races you can choose to play. The game has become more generic, sourcing character types from a much wider source of fantasy inspirations.

To me, that is the key to what I mean by ‘generic’ - the ability to create aspects of the game from multiple, if not universal sources. The current 5E version of D&D does that, but the current version of Runequest, deliberately does not. And that is the sole point I am making.
 

reelo

Adventurer
All the 'new settings' are just variations on a theme, as they all account for the race, class, and magic assumptions of the core D&D rules set.

Because heaven forbid that they are not fully compatible with the 5e PHB.

The D&D genre of fantasy is just so prolific that for many, the 'genre assumptions of D&D' is what they think of when they think 'fantasy'.

Ravenloft = Dracula with Elves Dwarves, halflings, etc,... And all the other Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. A total veneer.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Strixhaven = Still with all the Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. Another set of veneers.

I really couldn't agree more.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
I think it rather boils down to how to choose to define ‘generic’. As I have said, just because a game has mechanical conventions, it doesn’t mean it cannot be generic. The D&D system, via ‘5E’ has been converted to so many settings these days that I think it is undeniably generic in application.

Actually I think that the mechanical conventions inform how 'generic' a given rules set can be.

Yes D&D has been adapted to different settings - but like I said in my post above; those adaptations have adapted all D&D's Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book. Making them nothing more than a veneer over D&D's standard mode of play.

It's only generic in the sense of : "Lets' play Raveloft/horror D&D." or "Lets play Magicpunk/Eberron D&D." Etc,.

They are all fully compatible with the 5e PHB. They are all D&D style fantasy.


One of the features of Runequest, in its original ruleset was that players could, theoretically play any creature provided in the bestiary as the rules were more or less universal. However, in the more recent edition, the game has become more tied to the setting by providing background generation tables and more specific rulings about which creatures in the bestiary could be played. As such, Runequest has provided more limitations to what you can play over resultant editions.

I agree that due to various reasons having to do with the absurd barrier to play Gorlantha lore presents, humans have become the norm for RQ more often than not.


By contrast, D&D/AD&D were originally limited to Tolkien-esque races to play but in 5E, there are now dozens of races you can choose to play. The game has become more generic, sourcing character types from a much wider source of fantasy inspirations.

I disagree.

If anything D&D has become more self-referential in its lore over the years.

And it was done on purpose because Johnathan Tweet said so:
Johnathan Tweet: 3e-and-the-feel-of-D&D
D&D 3E/3.5 - 3E and the Feel of D&D
“…one part of the process I enjoyed was describing the world of D&D in its own terms, rather than referring to real-world history and mythology. When writing roleplaying games, I enjoy helping the player get immersed in the setting, and I always found these references to the real world to be distractions."

Dragonborn, Genasi, Tieflings, Aasimar, and others are creations from D&D lore.

Once D&D leaves behind the fairy tale style Tolkien-esque paradigm, it's fantastical creations are based on almost entirely on self-referential D&D lore.

I'll give you the Harengon though. Peter Rabbit was a popular kids story back in the day.


that is the key to what I mean by ‘generic’ - the ability to create aspects of the game from multiple, if not universal sources.

Except that WotC doesn't do that.

It is all PHB compatible. Embracing all D&D's Race, Class, and Magic assumptions of the core book.

It is all just veneers.


The current 5E version of D&D does that, but the current version of Runequest, deliberately does not. And that is the sole point I am making.

Well, there might be reasons for that...

Non-human species detailed for use as player character adventurers. Play as one of the elves, dwarfs, centaurs, dark trolls or great trolls, as well as unique baboons and ducks, Morokanth, Men-and-a-half, trollkin, and minotaurs. Each playable heritage is complete with their unique professions, cults, and magic.

D&D uses the same D&D specific Class, and Magic assumptions for everything. Cue veneer...

D&D does the D&D genre of fantasy.

It offers some different veneers for that genre of fantasy, but they are all still very much within the D&D playstyle paradigm.

The adherence of WotC setting 'adaptations' to full compatibility with the 5e PHB enforces that.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Actually I think that the mechanical conventions inform how 'generic' a given rules set can be.
Well, that is your assumption, and frankly I’ve already stated my disagreement with that assumption, based on how we define ‘generic’.

‘Generic' simply means that something isn’t specific. D&D doesn’t have a specific setting you can play in - it offers several published ones - but draws from any given range of fantasy sources, many of which are actually cited in ‘Inspiration’ lists provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. You can use D&D, as written, to pick and mix any fantasy element from any source and create your own setting as you wish. This is a marked distinction to Runequest currently, as with the Classic game, that was specifically built with one setting in mind - Glorantha. ie: it isn’t generic by contrast.

You have the rules that determine gameplay, but this doesn’t dictate how you use the game. It depends on how you interpret them and, a lot of the time, it boils down to whether you view the systems used in an abstract sense or more literally.

The rest of what you are arguing is not worth the time for either of us. Merry Christmas.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Not just an unconventional fantasy setting. It gets downright esoteric.


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.


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

I agree when I first discovered an RQ adventure all the talk of Storm Bulls, cults, rune magic were quite mindbending for the teenage me, but also quite intimidating so I didnt play until many years later.

I think the briliiance of d20 though is that it is a D% based system simplified via 5% increments, for that RQ can be thanked.

Also while D&D isnt Generic, I do think that a lot of modern fantasy is influenced by it, D&D is the Hollywood of RPGs and it has been able to cram in and twist other genres to fit its mode to the extent that many people view traditional Fanatsy and even Mythic tropes through a DnD lens (which is both sad and impressive)
 
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Jaeger

That someone better.
Well, that is your assumption, and frankly I’ve already stated my disagreement with that assumption, based on how we define ‘generic’.

‘Generic' simply means that something isn’t specific. D&D doesn’t have a specific setting you can play in

This is where your underlying assumption is wrong.

D&D has always had been its own specific genre of fantasy.

Because D&D has always had a strong implied fantasy setting In the three core books.

Broadly speaking the implied fantasy of D&D has been the fantasy setting tropes first set forth in Gygax's home campaign of Greyhawk, (Which he created the game around) and now which the implied setting of the "Fantasy D&D Multiverse" carries the torch.

The available races and how they interact with each other is setting specific. Clerical Domains; setting specific. Great wheel cosmology is setting specific. The names of the classes are setting specific. How magic works is setting specific. The names of certain spells, the names of certain magic items, all setting specific.

All specific to the implied D&D Fantasy setting of the three core books.

It is no coincidence that you are able to pick up a published adventure for 5e set in the Forgotten Realms and play - with no alterations of any kind to the core classes, spell lists, magic items, the entirety of the monster manual, or default cosmology offered in the core books.



but draws from any given range of fantasy sources, many of which are actually cited in ‘Inspiration’ lists provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. You can use D&D, as written, to pick and mix any fantasy element from any source and create your own setting as you wish.

D&D drew from those sources, and combined them in a unique way to make the game.

D&D was not made to emulate those sources. They merely served as the inspiration for what the game became.


You can use D&D, as written, to pick and mix any fantasy element from any source and create your own setting as you wish.

Not RAW.

Not: "any fantasy element".

Yes, you can homebrew the core mechanic of 1d20 = mods six way from Sunday to get exactly "your own setting as you wish."

But if you discard clerical domains, the spell list, how spells work, how HP progression works, eliminate entire classes, and rework specific subclasses to get there; it can hardly be said you are "playing D&D" anymore.

If you want to be able to play in your "homebrew" setting while using the PHB as is, then: "your own setting as you wish." = so long as you are including all the D&D implied setting bits as written...


You have the rules that determine gameplay, but this doesn’t dictate how you use the game. It depends on how you interpret them and, a lot of the time, it boils down to whether you view the systems used in an abstract sense or more literally.

You can choose to talk in in vague terms all about the literal abstract parts of D&D, and interpret the game structure any way you need to so that you see what you want.

But the road this goes down is not worth the time for either of us. Happy new year.


Also while D&D isn't Generic, I do think that a lot of modern fantasy is influenced by it, D&D is the Hollywood of RPGs and it has been able to cram in and twist other genres to fit its mode to the extent that many people view traditional Fanatsy and even Mythic tropes through a DnD lens (which is both sad and impressive)

D&D has been a huge influence. So much so that it can be said that the game has been drawing inspiration from derivatives of genre tropes that it established!
 

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