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My experiences with running Rune Quest

Started by ffilz, November 01, 2005, 09:24:21 PM

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Ok, I was about to post on this subject when Rob Alexander referenced this thread.

I am again at a crossroads of trying to decide whether to run Rune Quest or Cold Iron, and my players favor Rune Quest, but I'm not confident of my success. Cold Iron I know will be pretty pure gamism (and I would avoid the confusion I created with my Tekumel Cold Iron game).

The post referenced above is my only recent Rune Quest experience, to get more, I have to dig 12-25+ years into the past.

My most enjoyable Rune Quest game was about 12 years ago. One of my caver friends (Ken) who knew I was a gamer had met a friend  (Richard) in college who was very interested in Rune Quest and my friend approached me about starting a campaign. I recruited an old college friend (Craig), and my caver friend also recruited one of his old caver friends (John). We got together and everyone rolled up characters (John might have come in on the 2nd or 3rd session - I don't quite remember). Ken created a female worshiper of Lankhor Mhy (basically a sage character), I forget exactly what Richard's character was (it might have been a Humakti worshipper - god of death). John created a Stormbull (rabid anti-chaos fighters). I had an NPC or two (hmm, Craig might not have been there at the start either). One NPC, a Duck, had a treasure map and recruited the other PCs to join him in finding the treasure. So they set off. The first thing they came upon was some burial mounds. Ken, playing the inquisitive sage type, and not yet down with the mythos, decided to enter a tomb to find out what was there. This would initiate a campaign long tension between Plenna "tomb robber" and the Humakti. That tension fueled Ken's desire to engage the world.

Ken and Richard were the most constant players. Craig played in most of the sessions for half the campaign. John turned out to be a once in a while player, but brought such wonderful energy when he came that he was a positive addition to the campaign (and his Stormbull was easy to play as an NPC when he wasn't around).

The reason I think Craig wasn't there at the start was that he created a character who made one of the NPCs redundant. The PCs that session (our 2nd) were at a small outpost. I staged a raid on the outpost and during the raid, I had the redundant NPC captured. Ken demanded the PCs try and save the NPC. I did apply one piece of force here, I made sure the raiders got away with the prisoner. But I also acknowledged the player desire to CARE about the NPC. Eventually, I think when Craig was dropping out of the game, I brought that NPC back, and filled in some of what had happened to him.

The PCs never actually got to the dungeon on the duck's map (the map was purely something to give the PCs an initial direction to travel). I had another encounter with an injured woman that they had to rescue and bring to a lake. Once that mission was accomplished, the party was well established, and I allowed the players more freedom as to where to go. I did lean hard a few times to get them into modules, but much of the play was just wandering about. Ken spent a lot of time out of session talking to me about the world.

After about a year, I got some new players into the game. One of them was another RQ old hand. He created a baboon and there was some struggle over how to play that out (he wasn't very welcome in towns and the PCs were spending a fair bit of time in town - needing training is a big driver of that).

The campaign eventually started to falter when I got them involved in dealing with a vampire, which may have been a bit over their head. Shortly after that, I got the Doraster campaign module and decided to try starting a new campaign. The Doraster campaign was a disaster. The PCs are basically Lunar troublemakers conscripted to "volunteer" to settle Doraster, which of course is dangerous. When the PCs arrive, they are sent off to investigate why some distant homesteads have not been heard from. The PCs discover the homesteads have been raided, and basically everyone is dead. The PCs are granted one of the homesteads. The setup totally deprotagonized the PCs. They had no chance to save the settlers. They had little choice as to where to go. That campaign quickly died (fuelled by Richard's impending thesis defense, Craig's move away, and the newer RQ old hand lived an hour and a half away and had an unpredicable schedule).

Ken and I still occaisionally talk about that campaign. He has pointed out that the exploration of the world wasn't just driven by looking for interesting things on the map. Each city had different temples and such that people would seek out for training, or just for information. Another thing that we talked about as being important was that my NPCs which accompanied the party and were sort of my "GM Player Character" were not soley defined by me. The players contributed to those NPCs definition.

I'm not quite sure what CA was in force here. It sounds like it might be simulationist, but there were definitely lots of combats, and they were run hard, you had to use tactics and strategy. In a recent conversation with Ken, he pointed out that players had to be clued in to the importance of POW very quickly. He also pointed out how he strategized the XP system (instead of the rules as written, where you got one XP check for every skill that was successefully used, I rationed out skill checks, you might get 6 for a session, which had to be used on skills you succeeded with, so you had to balance how likely you were to gain XP against the fact that some skills could only be improved with XP [and most skills could only be improved with XP when they were high enough]). There's some pretty gamist talk.

I'll talk about my older experiences in a separate post.
Frank Filz


RQ is the first game that I realized, albeit distantly, that dysfunctional play existed.  Back in the dawn of time when I was in high school, a friend of mine let me into a RQ game of his where he and another player (also a person known to me) had been playing for a while.  The other player's character was uber.  His main weapon skill was something like 125%, and so was his shield skill, and he had several other skills hovering near 100%, not to mention an elaborate list of spells he had access to, and magical equipment such as an unbreakable sword and shield.  My character was a totally starting RQ character.  Needless to say I felt terribly deprotagonized.  My character, theoretically a warrior, was wholly overshadowed by this hero.  When a fight started, he'd finish it off while my character was still fumbling for his ax, if you know what I mean.  And when I complained about it I was told that those were the rules, suck it up, and that my character would improve far more swiftly than the other guy's character.  I asked how long and was told, "Oh, maybe a year."

I found something else to do, hehe.  At the time, I just didn't even have the language to talk about how I felt deprotagonized as a player, and how in a game like RQ the competence had a high correlation of narrative importance especially in a very travel and battle Chaos sort of game -- where, furthermore, the direction of the game was decided wholly by this other player without any input or consultation for me.  It was very frustrating.

This isn't an indictment of RuneQuest, because I know my problems with the game had little to do with the rules or setting.  I know the GM and the other player were at fault.  But I thought so long as we were sharing stories.  ;)
-- Chris!


So what about older RQ play?

I first picked up RQ about when it hit the shelves in 1978. I don't remember very much about early play. I did run Apple Lane and Snake Pipe Hollow. When Cults of Prax came out, we got more into the religions. All of this was in my high school years.

In college, I ran RQ two separate times.

The first time, I think we played one session. About all I remember was a big scrap up with the PCs against trolls and the PC Chalana Arroy looking across the field at the troll Chalana Arroy, and noting that the PC was closest to a troll, and the troll CA was closest to a PC. They exchanged a glance and proceeded to heal their respective "opponents." At the time, I thought that was really cool, but since then, I've come to really dislike the idea of Chalana Arroy PCs. I just don't see them adventuring, and thus opens one of my love hate relationships with RQ. On the one hand, it's really cool that the religion is more than just the name of a god and a suggested alignment that was the norm for D&D at the time. On the other hand, it seems like very few of the cults are actually suited for the (to be a bit honest) "hack 'n slash" combat/looting style of play I tend to favor.

The second time, I ran a few sessions with the Cold Iron crew. These players were looking for hardcore gamism. They pointed out they would push me hard, they would expect to "min/max" their experience (at that time, you still got an XP roll for each skill you had successes with, but you got a bonus to that roll for additional successes). They would indeed switch weapons in the middle of combat (to get XP checks in more skills) if it would pay off to do so. The game didn't last long, though I think I did establish some credibility with the players so that a few months later when I got into Cold Iron myself, I was able to recruit players from this crowd (and launched a pretty successefull run of gamist Cold Iron play).

So now I have two things I'm struggling with for RQ:

The first is that I'm just not confident the players will show enough interest in the setting to satisfy me. I'm not sure RQ as a system will survive hard core gamist play, even with the little drifts I have made.

The second issue is that I have come to strongly dislike random character generation. That old RQ campaign with Ken was sort of the last straw. Oh, the campaign was pretty enjoytable, but I did observe something that I had also observed in my college Cold Iron campaigns - stat inflation. As the campaign progresses, I notice the stats of PCs slowly creeping up. I'm not sure all of what drives it. I used to think it was mostly my setting higher standards for what was a keeper character until I ran my first Arcana Unearthed campaign where you got ONE set of rolls, and if you didn't like them, you used a point buy. In that campaign, out of the first batch of 12 characters, one (maybe two) PCs kept their rolls. At the end of the campaign, something like half the PCs were keeping their rolls. That sure wasn't me changing standards. There was an objective, unchanging, standard. I know part of it is that if better stats lead to better survivability, then "evolution" will suggest more PCs at the end will have the better rolled stats. Another factor is that I allow players to swap out characters, so they can choose to discard a character with poor rolls. But even if you don't explicitly allow that, players can still "discard" characters by suiciding them, or just subtly not caring as much about them.

So now I want pure points build. But the RQ skill bonuses don't work well with point build. INT is important for almost every skill. And it's one of two attributes that can't be increased in play. So taking less than maximum from a hard core gamist perspective is pretty stupid (unless one keeps the points such that you can choose between one attribute at maximum and everything else mediocre, or something more balanced, and even then, I'm not sure the INT 18, 8 in everything else wouldn't be the best choice). I've been trying to come up with a new skill bonus system and point buy system to fix this, but that gets into what I'm not really interested in right now - brand new game design.

And then I hear a new edition of Rune Quest is undergoing playtest right now, for presumed release next summer. I'm real inclined to just wait and see what that is.

Frank Filz



Your experience is not uncommon to gaming in the 70s and 80s. This mode of play originated right at the start with D&D. Every PC in D&D started at 1st level. There were no rules for starting higher level PCs. And at the time people felt you had to "earn" your way into the game. Some people would run starter sub-campaigns to get new players up to speed. Other games did let you bring in characters from other games (which did allow a way to "create" a higher level PC - I myself once created a character for a game this way).

These days, most gamers recognize that there has to be parity between the players. In gamist kill and loot games, this needs to be parity in character effectiveness. In simulationist or narativist play, this needs to be parity in effectiveness in those modes.

But outside of my issues with parity of attributes, this isn't much of an issue for me. I might not start later PCs at exactly the same power level (like I do for D20), but later PCs won't start out without any ability to contribute.

Frank Filz

Christopher Weeks

Quote from: ffilz on November 01, 2005, 09:49:37 PM
So now I want pure points build. But the RQ skill bonuses don't work well with point build. INT is important for almost every skill. And it's one of two attributes that can't be increased in play. So taking less than maximum from a hard core gamist perspective is pretty stupid (unless one keeps the points such that you can choose between one attribute at maximum and everything else mediocre, or something more balanced, and even then, I'm not sure the INT 18, 8 in everything else wouldn't be the best choice). I've been trying to come up with a new skill bonus system and point buy system to fix this, but that gets into what I'm not really interested in right now - brand new game design.
If all the players understand the system then you could establish a market to determine the value in "Character Points" (or whatever) of the various stats through some kind of auction mechanism.  I don't know RQ at all, but is there a substantial hurdle?


Hmm, not sure how an auction would work. I understand the Amber system uses an auction, but doesn't that only allow one character to have any particular valyue for each stat (i.e. only one character can have an 18 INT). RQ's stat range might be too broad for that, and there are complications with non-human races. And then there's the question of exactly how that would interract with improving stats in play, and how new/replacement PCs stats would work.

Don't want to dismiss the idea, though specifics of such a system are probably something for RPG theory.

Frank Filz

Christopher Weeks

Yeah, maybe with a non-finite resource it doesn't work.


Of course in one sense the resource isn't unlimited. If it's truly unlimited, then it should be ok for everyone to have an 18 INT. Since that isn't ok, then an auction could still be used to set an initial price. The GM could be a little wishy washy as to exactly how many 18 INTs he wants. So maybe he just starts offering a bid, and everyone who wants an 18 INT for that price raises their hand. If that feels like more than the GM wants, he raises the price and trys again. When it feels right, he stops. And then goes on to the next attribute. Set a minimum bid for each attribute point, and when people are mostly out of points, just let them pay for the other attributes at this minimum bid. Record the price for each attribute. Interpolate costs for intermediate values (say you had 2 people interested in an 18 INT for 50 points, and 2 for a 16 INT at 20 points, then a 17 INT costs 35 points. If a 10 INT will normally cost 0, then an 11 would cost 3 or 4 points (I'd be inclined to distribute the 2 extra points for a 15 and 16 making the cost 11=3, 12=6, 13=9, 14=12, 15=16, 16=20, 17=35, 18=50). If a new PC is about to be introduced and the GM feels like the attributes he's choosing are causing too many 18 INTs (perhaps because in play, the value of an 18 INT has been recognized as worth even more), the GM might slowly bump up the price (hmm, that would be another way to do it - if a new PC is coming in, and wants an 18 INT, and he isn't replacing a PC who already had an 18 INT, then the price of an 18 INT goes up, if people aren't taking 18 INTs anymore [because 50 points is actually too much], then the price goes down - i.e. run a crude supply/demand economics).

In one sense, that sounds like a lot of work. On the other hand, the value of attributes will be determined by market forces rather than by a designer just trying to guess how valuable each attribute is.

Clearly the increaseable attributes will be worth less, though the more game effect they have, the more worthwhile it would be to take a high initial attribute.

Non-humans could be handled by scaling. Your race goes up to a 24 DEX? Well, You bid for an 18 and get a 24, you bid for a 15 and get a 20.

One possible issue with my current group: I can't imagine the young wife participating meaningfully in this auction - but maybe I'm totally wrong, I wonder if an auction like this would actually get her out of her shell?

Frank Filz


Ok, so the latest reward cycle thread over in GNS got me to put two and two together...

The fun RQ campaign was definitely simulationist. The reward cycle was not the character advancement (by itself), but the celebration of setting, which does include the character advancement (because the character advancement is driven by setting - your cult influences your character advancement). What pumped us all was not: "Boy, we kicked butt in combat, and next week we're going to come back and kick some more butt!" (which totally defines the Arcana Evolved campaign I'm finishing up), but: "Hey, we learned something about the setting, and we're going to come back next week and apply that!" This campaign is also a prime example of why you need to look at a sequence of play that is long enough to show the reward cycle. If you dropped into the middle of a session and watched a combat, you might come away thinking: "Boy that's a gamist game if I ever saw one."

My Tekumel campaign did horribly because it was sort of trying to be simulationist, or maybe gamist. I wasn't sufficiently invested in the simulationism (though I thought I wanted to be), I got frustrated at players who created characters who couldn't fight.

And I see now why I'm not all that excited about Rune Quest right now. First off, I'm looking at the system with a gamist eye, and imagining how it won't work for "kick butt, and come back next week and kick some more butt." I'm also not seeing the players enthusiastically embracing the possibilities of the setting (not that I've done a very good job of trying to sell it). Ok, fine, save that for later.

Looking back, I see another simulationist campaign in my favorite Traveler campaign. Again, the reward cycle wasn't kicking butt, it was celebrating setting etc.

Frank Filz