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Wednesday, May 2, 2018


This is the second in a series of classic Runequest articles.

A common criticism of Runequest Classic was that it was too realistic to accurately model the mythic nature of Glorantha.  The great deeds of Heroes and Superheroes like Jar-Eel the Razoress or Harrek the Berserk, who could face down armies in games like Dragon Pass, were impossible to replicate.  After all, Runequest was designed to simulate reality; skill, luck, and strategy determined the difference between success and failure.  A single bad decision or false move could bring down anyone, even the most experienced character. 

When Heroquest came along for some it seemed a much better fit.  A primarily narrative-driven system, it concerned itself not with realism but with the needs of the story.  It was designed to tell mythic tales.  The system featured many mechanics—Mastery, Augments, Personality Traits, Personal Runes—that allowed the characters to be more larger than life, more Heroic.  

The following options adapt these mechanics for Runequest Classic.  

Why use them?  If you are like me, you like the brutal, gritty realism of Runequest, the way it models the deadly struggle from a common nobody to a Rune Master and then a Hero.  But maybe you also feel the game could use a bit of expansion at the high end of play, that characters who have lasted long enough to master their Runes should be just a little bit more Heroic.  That’s where these ideas come in.  

We’ve adapted the concept of Augments (and the good news is it looks like the upcoming Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha has too) in a way that will make beginning characters a bit more heroic, but allows the more experienced characters (who will have higher skills and traits and thus get far bigger bonuses from his augments) to truly shine.  We’ve added Personality Traits and Personal Runes but tied them to the traditional Runequest construct of joining cults to get them.  And we’ve added the Heroquest concepts of mastery and hero points…but as a Rune spell available only to those who have achieved Rune Lord status.  In short, we’ve taken ideas from Heroquest that make all characters more epic, and weighted them so that RQ characters will still start small but evolve into something more epic.  

Hopefully you will like this hybrid.  Read on!
A core concept in Heroquest is using one ability to boost another.  It can be a skill, a personality trait, or a Rune.  For example, an archer on horseback might use his riding skill to augment the bow attack roll, a warrior might use his Love (Family) personality trait (see below) to boost his combat rolls as he fights the man who killed his brother, or a worshipper of Orlanth might call upon his tie to the Movement Rune to increase his jumping skill.  

In Runequest Classic, augments follow these rules;

  1. Players may always call for a fixed augment.  This is equal to 20% of the augmenting skill, Rune, or trait.  If the Referee agrees that the augment applies to the situation, the bonus is automatically added to the target skill.
  2. Multiple augments are possible, but only one augment can come from each category (i.e. only one augment from a skill, one from a Rune, to one from a trait…two skills, two traits, etc. cannot augment the same target skill).  
  3. Players may invoke instead a pushed augment up to three times per session.  In this case, the augmenting skill, Rune, or trait is rolled against and the following  results are applied;   

Critical: Add the full value of the augment to the skill
                          percentage roll
Success: Add half the value of the augment
Failure: No effect
Fumble: No effect, and the augmenting skill, Rune, or
                          trait cannot be used as an augment for the 
                          rest of the session

Example: Lughar Moreksson is giving an impassioned speech to a crowd of Sartarite carls and cottars, trying to inspire them to take up arms against the local Lunar garrison.  His Oratory is 65%.  He also has a personality trait, Devotion (Orlanth) at 40%.  His player would like to use this as an augment.  He explains to the Referee that part of his speech will have a religious component…he will argue the Lunars have not just enslaved the Orlanthi people, they have put their very god in chains.  The Referee agrees.  Lughar’s player could chose a flat augment of +8 percentiles (20% of his Devotion trait), but decides to use one of his three pushed augments.  He rolls a 32, a success, so Lughar may add half his Devotion (20 percentiles) to his Oratory, raising it to 85% for the purpose of this roll.

Augments apply to only single die rolls, but flat augments can be applied multiple times.  For example, Lughar also has Hate (Lunars) 30%.  He could, therefore, reasonably call for a flat augment of +6 percentiles to each of his attack rolls while fighting a Lunar centurion.     

Augmenting with Runes requires a bit more dramatic license.  Players should describe some sort of minor otherworldly aspect to the augment.  Using the Darkness Rune to sneak past some guards should have the torches inexplicably flicker, or a shadow pass over the sun.  Using the Air/Storm Rune might come with the crackle of electricity, a sudden breeze, or a whiff of ozone.

 Personality Traits

A personality trait, hereafter just “traits,” describes an aspect of personality by giving it a percentage like a skill.  They work as a general guideline for roleplaying a character (Dondar is “Proud” 55% of the time), but can also have mechanical effects.  One effect is testing a trait.  This can be done if the player is uncertain about a course of action or how the character would behave in a given situation.  

Let’s say that Dondar, negotiating with an oily Etyries merchant encamped at an oasis in Prax.  The merchant has supplies Dondar badly needs, but his condescending attitude grates on Dondar’s nerves.  The player decides to roll against the character’s Pride; on a success, his Pride gets the better of him and he walks away from the merchant with a rude gesture, head held high.  If the Pride roll is failed, Dondar swallows his pride, ignores the insults, and continues bargaining.

Not that when a trait roll succeeds, that trait actually limits the player, deciding at least partially the character’s response for him.  When a trait roll is failed, the player has free reign to ignore the trait or not.  Note that when a trait roll succeeds, it is eligible for a 5% increase at the end of the session, just like a skill. Optionally, if a Referee feels the player has been portraying his character consistently with his personality traits, he or she can assign a skill increase whether the trait was ever rolled against or not.  All traits may be increased above 100%.

The Referee may also call for a trait roll.  In general, this needn’t be done until the trait is exceedingly high (90% or more), and should only happen when the referee feels the character is acting against the trait. If the player succeeds at a required trait roll, he or she must either play the character succumbing to that trait, or lose 5-20% percentiles from it (1d4 x 5%).

The second mechanical effect a trait may have is being used as an augment.  This makes traits a mixed blessing…the stronger they are the better they can help you when called upon, but the more they limit and define you.

Traits usually come from two sources; cultural traits and Runes.  Cultural traits are usually directed, meaning they have a focus.  An Alryami might have Hate (Trolls) or Hate (Dwarves).  A Heortling might have Hate (Lunars) or Hate (Chaos).  The Referee should provide beginning characters with a list of appropriate cultural traits  to reflect their backgrounds.  These directed traits are;

Devotion: A personal, emotional dedication to a specific deity.
Loyalty: Ties of allegiance and community.  It might be loyalty to one’s clan, tribe, or king. to an individual, or a guild or temple.
Love: An emotional attachment or attraction felt for another individual or for a small group, such as your family.
Hate: Hatred of a clan, tribe, individual, city, nation, or a species.

Characters begin play with at least one cultural trait (they may opt for more).  As CHA best represents force of personality, a new cultural trait begins at CHA x 3 (round up to the nearest 5%).  A character with a CHA of 8 would start with a trait at 25% (8 x 3 = 24, rounded up to 25).  

A characters other personality traits come from his or her Runes.

Personal Runes

Both Heroquest Glorantha and 13th Age Glorantha start the characters off with personal Runes.  This can be a controversial subject in Runequest Classic.  On the one hand, having personal Runes makes sense in a game called Runequest.  It shows the ubiquity of the Runes as driving forces in the world.  On the other hand, Runequest Classic characters start much earlier in their careers than in her sister games. Runequest is about earning your Runes, about characters seeking to become heroes.  In the other games they start as heroes, or nearly so.  Perhaps the best solution, then, is to split the difference. 

Characters in Classic Runequest can attune themselves to up to three personal Runes.  The first, the Cultural Rune, is chosen at character creation.  The other two Runes are Cult Runes, and can only be acquired by initiation.  When creating a new character, your Cultural Rune will fill the first box on your character sheet and the other two remain blank until you are initiated into a cult.   

The Referee will prepare a short list of three or four Cultural Runes for beginning characters based on their background.  Only one of these is chosen.  In most cases these will be Elemental Runes, signifying the pantheon worshiped by that culture.  Heortlings might have the Air/Storm and Earth Runes.  Characters from the Lunar heartlands might have Fire/Sky, Moon, and Earth.  Form and Power Runes might also be available, depending on specific cultural factors, but never Condition Runes.  For example, a character born and raised in Duck Point might select from a list of Air/Storm, Water, and Death.

When a character later is initiated into a cult in play, he or she has to take one of the deity’s Runes as a personal Rune.  Note this happens with initiation, not lay membership.  One of the god’s Runes must be taken, but the player may select two of the god’s Runes as well. This shows greater alignment with that deity, but limits further cult affiliations down the road.  Why? Because under these rules, a character may only join a cult if he or she shares one personal Rune with the deity.  In other words, an initiate of Humakt must have either the Death or Truth Runes, or cannot be initiated into his cult.  Please note that if a character’s Cultural Rune is already one of the god’s Runes, the player can choose to leave the empty Rune boxes blank for joining cults in the future.       

Example:  A Heortling warrior starts with the cultural Air/Storm Rune.  Later, he becomes an initiate of Orlanth.  Because he already has one of Orlanth’s Runes, he doesn’t need to take any others; alternatively he could add either the Movement Rune, the Mastery Rune, or both.  

When a Rune is chosen, it begins at the character’s POW characteristic x 3, rounded upwards to the nearest 5%, as a percentile.  For example, if the character’s POW is 11, he or she rounds from 33% to 35%.  In addition, the player must select one of the Runic personality traits associated with his choice.  This will have a value equal to the Rune’s percentage.

The next table shows those Runes which only become available by cult initiation or similar experiences;

The primary mechanical function of personal Runes is to augment.  As mentioned above, these augments are not exactly like augments from skills or traits.  They are supernatural, showing the character’s deep connection to the universal and primordial forces that govern Glorantha.  

A Rune’s percentage rating is always equal to the personality trait the player selected for it.  For example, a character with a POW of 15 gains the Truth Rune at 45% and selects the trait Observant.  This trait is automatically 45% as well.  To increase the Rune percentage, you must increase the trait.  In other words, you become more attuned to the Rune by acting in accordance with it.  Additionally, acting against the trait may result in losing percentage points from it (see above).  Runes may be increased above 100%.       

Runes bind everyone equally.  Even gods act according to their Runic natures.

Above the blank Rune boxes on the character sheet are the Runes Mastery, Magic, Spirit, and Law.  These represent Rune Mastery achievements.  When a character becomes a Rune Lord, Mastery should be circled.  When the character becomes a Priest, circle Magic.  A shaman would circle Spirit and a wizard would circle Law.  These do not have an mechanical effects beyond those already outlined in the Classic Runequest rules.  


Mastery adapts two HeroQuest mechanics to RuneQuest, “hero points” and “mastery,” in the form of a new Rune spell.  Again, mindful of the conceptual design differences between Runequest and Heroquest, not everyone is capable of Mastery.  It is something that must be earned by becoming a Rune Lord.

MASTERY 1 point
Range Self, Duration Instantaneous, Stackable up to 4 points, Reusable

Mastery is a unique Rune spell in that one must be a Rune Lord to sacrifice for it.  Initiates and Priests cannot.  It is the Rune Lord’s special connection to the Mastery Rune (W) that allows its acquisition, just as a Priest’s connection to Magic allows reusable Rune spells.  Note that Rune Priest-Lords and Lord-Priests may possess Mastery, and for them it becomes reusable.

A form of divine intervention, points of Mastery may be expended immediately after any characteristic or skill roll.  Each point expended “bumps” the results of the roll up one step.  In other words, a fumble becomes a failure, a failure becomes a success, a success becomes a critical.  4 points could be expended at once to change a fumble to a critical success.  The dice are assumed to have rolled the best possible result. This happens “after the fact” in play terms, but in Glorantha it is instantaneous; the Rune Lord is not changing a failure to a success, he simply does not fail.

There are limits on it use.  As noted above, Mastery may be applied to characteristic and skill rolls.  It cannot be applied to POW contests or magic unless the character is also a Rune Priest.  It cannot be applied to a Rune Lord’s Divine Intervention roll.

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