The farmer has a pitchfork. You have a sword and a suit of armour.
You need to get past them, cut through their field in pursuit of bandits.
They don't believe you. They’ve seen war. They think you're here to sack their farm.
The farmer has a pitch fork. They know how to use it.
The sword feels heavy in your hand.
What do you do?
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha subverts many of the tropes of both the fantasy and RPG genres. It makes you care about the world on a profoundly personal level. It makes you invest in your character's story so heavily that you don't want to risk their death. It evokes a sense of vulnerability that is reminiscent of Game of Thrones.
It's absolutely one of the games you need to try.
Like most teenage nerds in the 1980's, ENnie award-winning RPG writer Mark Morrison was playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In those early years of the Tabletop Roleplaying Game genre, many games were still establishing what exactly they were, rather than trying to emulate what was already popular.
'It's a funny thing,' Morrison says of the time he realised he was enjoying RuneQuest more than he was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 'I remember a night of soul searching, as only a seventeen year old can search his tiny soul. I really got switched on.'
For Morrison, the difference came in the visceral nature of the combat.
'Dungeons & Dragons is great fun.' Morrison said. 'The combat is a bit abstract. You do points of damage and the Dungeon Master will colour in the descriptions for you. In RuneQuest, I have a sword. I roll to hit- she rolls to parry! She gets her shield up, and I knock a chuck out of it! If I hit it again, it'll break, and then she'll have to parry with her spear- and I know my sword will break that!
'In RuneQuest, I know I'm in the fight, and I need to win it.'
I've played many Tabletop Roleplaying Games, and RuneQuest really is unique in the vitality of its combat. You can't just sit there on your phone waiting for your turn- you have to be switched on, ready to react at any moment.
It may sound like it's mechanically difficult to emulate that kind of intense back-and-forth combat, but it's really quite simple. The main focus is that when your opponent does something, you can react- be it to parry, dodge or flee. And the same goes for them.
The result is a hectic and visceral exchange of blows that sees shields splintered, armour dented and arms broken.
'In RuneQuest, the human body never gets more hit points.' Morrison said. 'You stick on armour and you get good at fighting. Every combat is vital. Even the smallest Trollkin can spear you dead if you're not prepared.
'The combat really matters,' Morrison went on. 'You do what you can to avoid it, and when you're in it you wanna kill the enemy quick. You're on the edge of your seat the whole time.'
But like all beloved Tabletop Roleplaying Games, combat is just part of what makes RuneQuest memorable, and why it's endured for so many decades within the ever-growing medium of games.
'RuneQuest is two things.' Morrison said. 'It's RuneQuest, and it's Glorantha. To me, they've always been one and the same.'
Glorantha is the signature setting of RuneQuest with a delightful depth of lore that allows RuneQuest fanatics to dive into a shared history and explore all kinds of aspects, while at the same time not overwhelming newer players who may just be exploring the 'surface' level of what the world has to offer.
'Glorantha is an extraordinary world that came to [Greg] Stafford -rest his soul-, in a drug-fueled haze sometime in the 60's.' Morrison said of the world of RuneQuest. 'Glorantha existed long before roleplaying games. RPG's were the medium that Stafford used to bring his world to life.
'It's a fascinating and fresh setting.' Morrison said.
Even by modern standards, where fantasy has exploded and exploded again, Glorantha still holds up. As I lay in bed over the past week, poring over the (albeit, beginner) history of the part of Glorantha known as “Dragon Pass”, I felt myself falling into the world in a way I hadn't done since I first read Vampire in 2005.
'Dragon Pass is a small portion of Glorantha.' Morrison told me. 'It was the first map in the first book. It's like our Waterdeep, or the classic place for the campaign to start. Then, Glorantha expanded.’
The reason Glorantha can sink its claws into you, is because the vastness of the world, and the cultures within, means that everyone will be able to find something to relate to.
'I would get straight to the part of this world, your cult, and what you believe in.' Morrison says of introducing new players -and their characters-, to the game. 'I'd introduce where you are in your tribes, who are your Gods, and what are their struggles.
'And then, the notion of Chaos, and it's destroying natures- how it's devouring our world and must be opposed.' Morrison said. 'There are these super weird and disgusting monsters in Glorantha. You're not fighting Goblins and Orcs here- you're in a totally different place.'
When making my first RuneQuest character, step one was to choose my Homeland. Attracted to the idea of a matriarchal society, I decided my hero was born in Esrolia. I flipped over to the in-depth pages about the history of the land, and within quickly latched onto the god Daka Fal, and a tribe that spoke to me on a personal level.
'The new edition is so beautiful.' Morrison said. 'The Chaosium team have brought Glorantha to life in living colour, beyond everything. I can't get over the vibrancy of the world.
'It's the best possible time to get interested in RuneQuest.'
People who play Tabletop Roleplaying Games like to feel unique. They want their characters to speak to them. That way, you're invested in their adventure. You're invested in their development and their progress.
The sheer number of Gods of Glorantha means that there is some aspect you'll be able to see yourself in. Some aspect you'll want to explore, that will inspire a character- and in turn, that character will have their own place in the framework of the larger world around them,
'RuneQuest is the Bronze Age and the actions of the gods and their cults are vital.' Morrison said. 'Glorantha is a great place to hang out.'
While RuneQuest has a storied and deep history, as well as a genuinely unique take on the Tabletop Roleplaying Game genre, players of other games need not be deterred by a wealth of backstory, and new rules.
The latest edition of RuneQuest very cleverly explains to you the pertinent world events of Glorantha during character creation, by letting you determine if and how your family participated in those events (which in turn give you mechanical bonuses).
This allows new players to jump straight into character creation, begin to see their world, and get an idea of where their adventurer may fit in it, before colouring in the pertinent details themselves.
If you’ve played Call of Cthulhu, the core mechanic of RuneQuest will be familiar. Using a D100, you'll roll against the score of the ability you're using. If you roll under, you pass, if you roll over, you fail.
It's really that simple.
While of course, a wealth of different spells (from three different schools), your characters cult (chosen from dozens of unique Gods), and their Passions (emotions brought on by elements of their backstory), serve to add depth and strategic alteration to the core mechanic, you won't be sitting there at the table at a loss of what to do or how something works.
'It's not just the drama of combat.' Morrison said of the mechanical elements that make RuneQuest stick with you. 'It's the percentile system; you never need to look up a rule and you're not restricted to your character class.'
Characters in RuneQuest have a starting occupation which helps determine their wealth and beginning skills. But this isn't like choosing a character class. Everyone can do anything in RuneQuest, so long as they can afford it, and they can find a willing teacher.
Finding a teacher is the biggest restriction, which keeps character from being masters of all aspects of the game. For instance, if you're chasing a spell only taught by a cult devoted to a God with whom you have no relationship, the trials and tribulations of worship can become a storyline in itself.
'When you play RuneQuest,' Morrison said, 'you don't feel like you're playing any other game. It's unique from the mechanics, through to the world. Other games tread the other paths, but RuneQuest is a mythmaking game.
'It's really a totally different feeling.'