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Out of the Suitcase #50: Games Workshop's RuneQuest was a cracking good read

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 26th May 2024

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

-- The softcover (1989) and hardcover (1987) basic RuneQuest rulebook -- 

Chaosium President Rick Meints shares stories from a life-time as a collector of all things Chaosium.

I recently read a post asking about Games Workshop RuneQuest 3rd Edition's use of color art. The post featured some covers of other GW publications, such as the first Citadel Compendium. This got me to thinking about how rarely these RPG books ever get mentioned, especially outside of the UK. 

RuneQuest 3rd Edition was originally produced by The Avalon Hill Game Company. In the UK it was available through Games Workshop in their catalog and stores, along with various other FLGS. However, the initial response to the launch of the game in 1985 centered around price shock. The imported Avalon Hill RQ3 Deluxe boxed set had an eye-watering retail price of £39.95 (equal to £150 today), which was about $60 USD ($225.00 USD today). Suffice it to say that sales suffered for several years, and many players stuck with their out-of-print RuneQuest 2nd Edition rules.

Fortunately, Games Workshop soon acquired a license from Chaosium and Avalon Hill to produce their own version of the RQ3 rules and some of its supplements. 

The Games Workshop version of RQ3 repackaged the three AH booklets from the Deluxe set (Players, Magic, and Gamemasters) into the RuneQuest and Advanced RuneQuest books. The Monsters book largely equates to the Avalon Hill Creatures booklet, but it also includes all of the Gloranthan creatures found in booklet 5 (Glorantha). 

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

-- You really wanted Advanced RuneQuest to have a complete ruleset. The Monsters book includes the Gloranthan creatures from Book 5 in the Avalon Hill RQ3 Deluxe rules --

In 1987 five RQ3 hardcover books debuted in the UK over the course of the year: RuneQuest, Advanced RuneQuest, Monsters, Land of Ninja, and Griffin Island. Their cover prices, ranging from £7.95 to £12.95, were welcomed by the fans. About 7,000 of each book were printed, and whilst initial sales were ok, they tapered off quickly. Only the RuneQuest basic rules were reprinted in 1989, and in softcover.

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

-- Land of Ninja and Griffin Island had additional artwork created for each of them, but none of it is in color --

The layout was redone for the series, with new cover art and additional color art added to the first three books – some examples below:

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

Games Workshop's version of RuneQuest 3rd edition

Some additional content was added to Griffin Island in particular. I document all of the differences in each of the books in the MIG3 Meints Index to Glorantha

While the Games Workshop versions were visually superior to the Avalon Hill edition, the production quality of the binding is appalling. You can hear the glue crack upon opening the book, and pages are very likely to begin coming loose and fall out. My friends who bought them when the books debuted in 1987 said they were always like that, even when brand new.

Games Workshop supported RQ3 for a while in some issues of its White Dwarf magazine (mainly in 1987 and 1988). Unfortunately, between RQ3's lackluster sales numbers and Games Workshop's desire to only support their own IP and not do licensed games any more, 1987 was the high water mark for RuneQuest 3rd Edition in the UK.

I cannot remember even hearing about the existence of the Games Workshop versions of RQ3 before I moved to UK in 1995. They were never sold outside of the UK. In the 90s you could easily find them for sale on the used games market, and some shops still carried them in bargain bins. I think I paid maybe $5 each for them. Regardless, they are an interesting chapter in the overseas licenses issued for RuneQuest, and they bring back some fond memories of the years I lived in the UK, and the friends I made there.