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Creating RuneQuest, Through Glorantha with Sword and Crystal - an excerpt

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 13th Dec 2015

The RuneQuest Playtest Manuscript book is a 250+ page hardcover book currently on offer in the RuneQuest Classic Kickstarter. It was created from high resolution scans of the original playtest manuscript, which has been lovingly kept in a binder for the last 40 years. The book also features newly written introductory essays by Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford.

Here’s an edited excerpt of Steve Perrin’s piece. His full account runs to some 4,500 words.

Excerpt from Creating RuneQuest, Through Glorantha with Sword and Crystal
By Steve Perrin

I first met Greg Stafford through his board game, White Bear and Red Moon. Greg independently published it out of a small house near the Oakland Airport. It portrayed a fantastic world full of wonderful concepts like the Red Moon’s variable power, Cragspider, Sir Ethilrist’s Black Horse Troopers, Dragonewts, and many others. The game concerned the efforts of the Lunar Empire to conquer legendary Dragon Pass and the brave barbarian warriors of the Kingdom of Sartar…

…Greg moved in the same science fiction fan circles I did but our paths had not crossed. I was mostly involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism, which was really just starting to go national at the time. Greg was not part of that group. So despite mutual friends and acquaintances we had not met.


Greg and I met physically at a D&D game a few months later. My friend and fellow wargamer Clint Bigglestone ran into him at a fan party and invited him to guest at one of our regular Monday night D&D games. Greg invited our group to come help playtest his Nomad Gods game, a sequel to White Bear & Red Moon set in the neighboring desolate Plains of Prax. I began to appreciate just how much creative energy he had put into these games, and the world of Glorantha they were set in.

Various members of our group, significantly Steve Henderson and Clint Bigglestone, and I helped with the playtesting of Nomad Gods. When Jeff Pimper and I conceived of All the Worlds Monsters, we went to Greg for advice on how to publish it, and he offered to take care of publishing it – taking some of the burden off of us and giving him more items to put in his catalog.

Meantime, Greg thought he needed a role-playing version of Glorantha and looked about for someone to write it for him. For a while Dave Hargrave of Arduin fame attempted to fit Glorantha into his style of game, but the result was still too D&D-ish for Greg’s liking. A trio of gamers in the area, Art and Ray Turney and their friend Henrik Pfeifer offered to come up with a game for him and he gave the go-ahead. After a couple of months, he thought maybe another viewpoint might be useful and he asked me and Clint Bigglestone to take a look at how things were going.

On July 4, 1976, as the United States of America celebrated its 200th anniversary, we were introduced to the first stage of “The Chaosium’s role playing game.” It looked a lot like D&D, with classes and experience points and saving throws, but it had one feature that I immediately picked up on.

Any character can do anything.

Fired up by this concept, I started working with this group…

Steve goes on to recount, in entertaining detail, such things as:

  • How the initial game evolved away from something with many D&Dish elements (including the character classes ‘fighter’, ‘mage’, and ‘thief’)
  • Why the game actually came to be called “RuneQuest”
  • What was it Luise Perrine (Steve’s wife and RQ illustrator) referred to as the “Ha Ha in the Basement”?
  • Early playtesting in Pavis, including the genesis of Rurik Runespear (and his sad and ignominious fate)
  • Why RuneQuest really has ducks, and what Marvel comics had to do with this
  • The story of Luise’s iconic cover – why the warrior woman is intentionally wearing bronze armor, and just what in Glorantha is that creature she’s fighting?
  • The frantic rush to produce the first edition in time for Origins ’78 - leading to a couple of unfortunate spelling goofs on the back cover (see if you can pick them out):

  • Finally, RuneQuest’s smash-hit debut at Origins ’78, turning the world of RPG design on its head.

In his conclusion Steve writes, “Since the debut of RuneQuest, and particularly the second edition, my life has been especially fulfilled. I established friendships that are still active forty years later and established a name in the game business that has held me in good stead for the whole 40 years. I am very pleased this new issuing of the RuneQuest 2nd edition makes available what many fans tell me is their favorite edition”.

This is a highly entertaining personal story of the genesis of RuneQuest by one of its principal authors, offering fascinating insights into the development of the game. The full account is available in the RuneQuest Playtest Manuscript, along with a similar piece by Greg Stafford.