My history with RuneQuest. Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog posts where I give you my understanding of RuneQuest and Glorantha.

I’m a long time RuneQuest and BRP fan and I’ve followed Gloranthan writings for many years. Still, I’m no Gloranthan scholar in the sense that everything has to be ”canon”.

My concerns are mainly that gaming using RuneQuest in Glorantha should be fun and accessible to people interested in the game and setting. I think that the sheer vastness of Gloranthan lore and the sometimes condescending ”tone” of what I call the Gloranthan Scholar is damaging to the hobby, as new recruits are prone to leave the game for a more accessible game world.

This first article will discuss my history with RuneQuest and Glorantha. It’s also extremely subjective.

 

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Early times – RQ2

In the beginning there was RuneQuest. Games Workshop’s iteration of RuneQuest 2 to be specific. For me and my buddies at least.

I bought the purple box at Bosses Hobby in Malmoe sometime in 1982 or so, and we had some great times with it. We played it much like a skill-based version of D&D. No cults or gods or myths.

This was because I couldn’t afford the extra books (such as Cults of Prax) back then. Instead, we played in my home-brew world mixing Glorantha with The Known World (B/X D&D) and other fantasy sources. And it was great. RQ and it’s world Glorantha wasn’t all that serious back then. But it was fun.

What put an end to RQ back then was however economics: the RQ books were quite expensive, much more so than TSRs D&D and AD&D, so over time, we gravitated back to the cheaper and to our young mindset more appealing D&D and AD&D. And RQ was forgotten.

 

 

 

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The Lean Years – RQ3

In 1987-1988 I was quite fed up with D&D, and started to look for alternatives. RuneQuest came up, but was now into the 3rd edition (RQ3). And those boxes were even more expensive than RQ2! I remember paying over 500 SEK (that’s about 75-80 USD) for the Deluxe Box. And this was back in -87! I remember the cool cover pictures of the box and the disappointment when I saw the flimsy booklets inside.

And Glorantha was gone. OK, it was briefly introduced in the Glorantha booklet, but still it was disappointing.

And disappointment were to follow. Avalon Hill was not only slow to release stuff for the game. They also released crappy quality books. Flimsy covers and bad, bad interior art. (Anyone remember Dobyski)?

Content-wise, the supplements were much uneven. Some were good, others yet abysmal – (”Daughters of Darkness” – I’m looking at you…)

Anyway, the 90’s was a time of waiting. For supplements that were never released. And for new stuff. Because what AH did, was to re-release RQ2 stuff converted to RQ3. Some things were awesome, but most items were quite bad quality.

Those were sad times for a RQ/Glorantha fan. Still, we got a few games going, mostly using old RQ2 stuff that i managed to borrow.

But not all was misery. Fanzines like ”Tales of the Reaching Moon”, ”Codex”, ”Adventures in Glorantha” and so on kept the flame alive. And while being important for the survival of Glorantha, it was also there that the ”Gloranthan Scholar” dudes first showed up – more on them later…

 

 

 

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The RQ Renaissance – RQ3

In the second half of the 90’s Ken Rolston got the rudder at Avalon Hill’s RuneQuest department, and finally things started to happen! New quality titles like ”Sun County”, ”River of Cradles” and ”Shadows on the Borderland” saw the light of day. It finally felt as RQ/Glorantha might actually come back, and there were rumours of a new RQ Adventures in Glorantha (RQ4) being worked on.

The demise of RQ3

But alas, something happened and Avalon Hill lost the rights to Glorantha, while retaining the rights to the RQ rules set, so now we had a Glorantha without a rules set and an RQ3 without Glorantha. At that point we didn’t play RPGs anymore, as everyone was busy with life – careers, university studies, houses, kids etc. I had continued buying and reading RQ/Glorantha stuff anyway, but then I packed my books in boxes and put them away. However I read that Greg Stafford was working with adapting Glorantha to a new game called Hero Wars (later Hero Quest).

 

 

 

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The dead years – HQ

I had a look at Hero Wars/Hero Quest, but I quickly decided that it wasn’t for me. Still, some cool supplements were published during these years for HeroQuest.

I think that the real turn-off for me was (at least what I perceived) as HQs focus on ”cultural gaming” (or that’s how I perceived it anyway). I want adventure, not information on what food Orlanthi eat in this or that clan, or what materials they use for their clothes.

I’m sure that HQ has evolved since these early days, but I’m a RuneQuester, so sorry if I’m trampling some HeroQuest toes here…

 

 

 

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Back from the grave – MRQ

In 2007 Mongoose Publishing released a much changed version of RuneQuest – Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ). As the rights to RuneQuest had been reverted to Greg Stafford in 2003, Mongoose now had an Issaries license to publish RuneQuest and Glorantha again. And as Glorantha now had two rules systems attached to it, HeroQuest was to publish supplements for 3rd Age Glorantha, while MRQ was to publish 2nd Age stuff. At first I was utterly unimpressed with MRQ, but I then decided to give it a better read, and there’s a lot of good things there actually. There were some extremely dorky things with MRQ – for example the concept of physical Runes to be found by adventurers, or the extremely messy magic systems (Folk magic, Rune magic, Divine magic, Sorcery, Shamanic magic, Draconic magic, Alchemy magic, Mechamagic).

MRQ was intended to be setting agnostic, but a great deal of 2nd age Glorantha stuff was published. Some good, some less good, but in my opinion much better than most of the RQ3 stuff. As a matter of fact I quite liked MRQ, despite some things being dorky, and I think what I appreciated most was that they re-introduced a sense of adventure and wonder – even into the Glorantha books. I bought a lot of these books and during this time I actually decided to return to ren and paper gaming again…

And don’t forget – if it weren’t for MRQ, there wouldn’t be no MRQ2 or OpenQuest or Renaissance or RQ6…

 

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A second RQ renaissance – MRQ2

In 2010 Mongoose released a much revised version of Mongoose RuneQuest – MRQ2. At first I was angry – I had already invested in the previous version, and now a new one? But after seeing the gorgeous new gold on leather look, and reading the new book, I was sold – this version was what I’d been waiting for!

I started designing a campaign set in 2nd age Ralios, and started working over my old gaming buddies to start gaming again. And then Mongoose announced that they’d stop publishing MRQ2 and 2nd age Glorantha material, and instead publish the rules as Legend and use non-Glorantha setting stuff. Disappoinment.

RQ dead again!

I lost interest, shelved my RQ books and we started playing OSR games and Call of Cthulhu instead. So the good thing was that it inspired med to start gaming again.

 

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The future – RQ6

Soon after, the authors behind MRQ2 announced that they would publish an updated version of MRQ2 under the name RuneQuest 6 under their own imprint – The Design Mechanism. And that’s where we are now. I have the book and it’s excellent stuff. Truth to say, I think it’s 95% similar with MRQ2, but there’s some differences too. It most decidedly feels like Loz and Nash and their Design Mechanism are the right people to keep the RQ flame alive. They understand the game and most importantly – they play it. So, despite having invested in no more than 4 previous versions of the game I’ve decided to support them and RQ6. I can easily say that RuneQuest and Glorantha is the game that has given me the least ”bang for the buck”. I have lots of expensive gaming material,, but we haven’t played for real for a long time.

Still, I hope to return to Glorantha further up the road – a matter I will cover in a later blog post.

 

 

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The alternative – OpenQuest 2

For people that like simplicity over complexity there’s another option now – OpenQuest 2 (OQ2). Published by D101 games, OQ2 is based on the MRQ1 SRD, and as such works as a lighter variant of those rules. The author has also been inspired by rules from other d100 games such as Stormbringer. The game is much simplified, in comparison to MRQ2 and RQ6, and actually feels a lot like RQ2 when I read the rules. The rules are not tied to Glorantha in any way, but it should be quite easy to convert any RQ adventure on the fly. I like it. A lot.

 

 

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To conclude

I think that the biggest problem with RuneQuest through the years has been a discrepancy between the publisher’s vision of the game and the expectations of the fan base. There’s RuneQuest the game and then there’s Glorantha. Two very different entities, but somehow intertwined.

Many RuneQuester’s are also Glorantha fans. But not all. Some people love RuneQuest, but would never play in Glorantha. And some Gloranthaphiles prefer HeroQuest’s more loose playing style over RuneQuest’s more traditional and gritty style. So we have RuneQuester’s, HeroQuester’s and Gloranthaphiles. It’s a hard task to make all fan variants happy.

Also, with games publishers like Avalon Hill and Mongoose (during the first edition of the game) it felt like they never quite understood what they were publishing.

As of now, both RuneQuest and Glorantha are in very good hands – RuneQuest being published by The Design Mechanism, and Glorantha by Moon Design Publications. And for the people that want a good, simpler RuneQuest experience there’s OpenQuest 2

I seriously hope that this will continue, and actually there’s some great Glorantha books coming up soon!

Below is a little summary of the games I’ve been talking about…

 

 

Summary:

Name

Publisher/Setting/Time in print

Notes

RuneQuest 2 (RQ2)

Chaosium/Glorantha 3rd age/1981-1983

Simple, incomplete, loads of attitude and flavor

RuneQuest 3 (RQ3)

Avalon Hill/General/1983-1987

Better rules, no flavor at all, bad quality

Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ)

Mongoose/General/2007-2010

Clunky rules, great flavor, sometimes weird, not always canon

Mongoose RuneQuest 2 (MRQ2)

Mongoose/Glorantha 2nd age/2010-2011

Superb rules, good writing, excellent book quality

RuneQuest 6 (RQ6)

The Design Mechanism/General/2012-present

As MRQ2, but even more streamlined. In press.

OpenQuest 2 (OQ2)

D101 Games/General/2013-present

Based on MRQ1, simple, RQ2 feel, excellent

Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 – ”Why I hate Glorantha” and ”Why I love Glorantha”

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