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Designing the new RuneQuest - Part 17

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 24th Jun 2017

By Jeff Richard

So last weekend was Free RPG Day and Chaosium provided 7000 copies of the RuneQuest Quickstart to be given away in game stores across North America, Europe, Australia and beyond. Thanks to the Cult of Chaos, some 70 volunteer GMs took hundreds of people through the Quickstart's The Broken Tower scenario on the day. Even better, scores of people gave feedback.

That nearly all the feedback was not only positive, but extremely positive, was not only flattering for the Design Team but reassures us that the general approach we are taking is the right one.

But Jason and I were more interested in how the hundreds of games helped us fine-tune a few of the rules—most particularly damage to weapons and shields, and how one gains use of special cult Rune spells.

Here are some of the refinements we're making, based on the Free RPG Day feedback:

Damage to Weapons and Shields

RuneQuest has always been different in the way it treats weapons and armor. Its design aesthetic was born out of actual combat reenactment experience plus extensive studies in pre-Iron Age archaeology, and as such, the realities of gear attrition are a feature of the combat experience. The rules have always had weapon damage and breakage as a possibility, and this iteration of the rules (hopefully) clarifies and makes things a bit more equal for all participants. Here are some of the primary changes:

  • Damage is always rolled and compared against a parrying weapon/shield’s hit points. If the damage exceeds the hit points, damage is carried over to the defender, and the parrying item is damaged: 1 point for a normal attack or the full amount of excess damage for a special or critical success.
  • Parrying weapons/shields can damage attacking weapons with superior rolls: a special or critical success parry vs. a normal success allows the defender to roll their parrying item’s damage and compare it to the attacking weapon’s hit points, potentially damaging it.
  • Shield and weapon hit points are now more reflective of realistic values, meaning that their likelihood of being damaged beyond use in combat is more likely.

Our early playtests with RQ veterans and complete newcomers demonstrated that bringing weapon and shield damage slightly more to the fore was a welcome move: players thrilled when a shield was shattered against a particularly fearsome attack, as well as when a desperate parry with a critical success actually hewed through the attacker’s axe-haft.

To offset this, Craft skill specialties such as redsmithing, bowmaking, leatherworking, and even carpentry can be used to repair weapons, shields, and other items so damaged. In the field, you can repair any item with 0 or more hit points. Sacred Time—the period between seasons and considered the down-time for adventuring—assumes that gear will be mended and repaired then, as much a part of that period as are healing and household management.

Gaining Use of Special Cult Rune Spells

The other issue that came up is that many new players were overwhelmed by the options they had with Rune magic. Some cults had 14 or more special rune spells - when you include the 15 common magic spells, that's nearly 30 Rune spells to choose from! Not surprisingly many people were overwhelmed.

And this is something that bugged me from the beginning. I love the flexibility of the new Rune magic system, but worried about the decision block and learning curve it created. The feedback we received cemented my concerns.

Fortunately, we've solved it. Now during chargen, your character starts with three special rune spells from your cult (and subcult if relevant): one for each Rune point you have. If you spent points of POW to acquire additional Rune points, you get to pick another spell for each additional point spent.

Your player can also use any of the 11 common rune spells. Most of these are either spells affecting magic (Dispel Magic, Extension, Multispell, etc.) or spells applicable to every cult (Divination, Sanctify, Warding, etc.). Heal Wound also remains a common Rune spell because it provides a way to potentially mitigate RQ's extreme lethality. Enchantments (Armoring Enchantment etc) only become available once you are a Rune master.

As characters gain more Rune points during the course of play, they get to select more special Rune magic from their cult (as long as more are available). 

This way, players are eased into using all special Rune magic available to their character. This isn't an issue of balance—that's provided by the spell cost in Rune points and the character's limited number of points—but of getting around information overload.

This also ends up making subcult and associate cult special magic easier to manage - and more meaningful!

BTW—if you missed out on getting a copy of the RuneQuest Quickstart on Free RPG Day, never fear! It will be available to download as a PDF free from July 1st at We'll also be offering a print version for USD$9.95.

Illustrations—RuneQuest Quickstart cover by Andrey Fetisov; Sartarites (draft concept sketches) by Roman Kisiev