RuneQuest character creation was pretty startling for me way back when. Tunnels & Trolls and Dungeons & Dragons were close relatives — sure, you swap out Luck for Wisdom but that’s not a huge change. RuneQuest retained the 3d6 rolls and had a reasonable seven stats, but what’s the bit where the ability to work magic (Power) is a primary stat? And where’s the conversation about classes? The previous chapter did not warn us that there weren’t any classes.
Oh, and adventurers are assumed to be human. There’s a note that elves, dwarves, and dragonewts will be discussed in the section on monsters, which doesn’t make them sound much like playable races.
We also meet Rurik, our sample character. He’s really interesting. It’s clear simply from the explanation of his stats that he’s going to be both engaging in combat and casting spells. I distinctly remember reading this the first time and going “Whoa.”
Next, there’s a section on abilities. Combat abilities first, of course. The system for calculating these is pretty straightforward; add percentage points up based on how high the controlling stats are and you’re done. In another little sign that magic is pivotal to the world, Power figures into almost every ability. There are nine abilities total. This system wouldn’t look weird if it came out for the first time today; maybe a little fiddly but not out of the norm.
We then divert back to characteristics for a moment, with rules on increasing them. There’s a cute little bit in the ongoing saga of Rurik: “Thus we see that if Rurik had the money, he could put 4000 L towards bringing his STR up to 16, and another 15,000 L towards building his DEX up to 21. Where would our hero get this money? That’s what the rest of this book is all about.” And I thought the point of the game was either a radio play or simulation of life! It does make a good segue into equipment rules… no, sorry, that’s just starting equipment. You get a list of things, and there’s no discussion of shopping.
A parenthetical: for the first time, an insert from Wyrm’s Footnotes appears. It’s charmingly old school to run into these little random Q&A sections from the pages of Chaosium’s house magazine. More indie games need house magazines, not even totally kidding.
The total chapter length is eight pages, and two of those are character sheets. Hm, there’s something new there. The abilities appear to have base percentages, and presumably you add the calculated modifications to those? But in the text on abilities, there’s no mention of a base. The boxed text detailing Rurik’s abilities doesn’t give us any clues and there’s no sample character sheet for him, so who can say?
I started gaming back in the early 80s. By “gaming” I mean “reading roleplaying books and wondering what it’d be like to actually play,” with a hefty side order of “running through Tunnels & Trolls solitaire adventures.” Tunnels & Trolls was my first RPG. I think RuneQuest was my third? Hard to remember exactly.
Chaosium just reprinted that 1980 edition after a successful Kickstarter. I backed it. I know that when I read RuneQuest the first time around, the weird world of Glorantha didn’t bewilder me at all. This is more than I can say for any subsequent edition, even the lovely hardcover Guide to Glorantha. I figured, hey, that relatively slim book made sense to me back in the 80s, so let’s check it out again.
Now I’m gonna read it and see what I think.
The introduction is five pages. Page 1 is the obligatory explanation of the nature of fantasy role-playing games, a description of how to use the rules, and so on. As I recall, this is the first use of the improvisational radio theater metaphor. Stafford kind of waffles between saying that you’re simulating life and that you’re telling a story; alas, nothing here will settle that age-old debate.
The second page launches us into the Gloranthaness of it all. The page and a half of history is not at all weird. Gods fight, empires rise and fall, dragons breathe fire. Nothing about the whole bit where heroes venture into the spirit world in order to rewrite the cosmology; it’s just another mythos. I am not surprised that my adolescent self found this digestible. It’s cool history, too.
I’m pretty sure I mentally skipped over the next bit, where Stafford explains that Glorantha is a Bronze Age culture. I remember being really surprised to find out that Glorantha was short on iron and steel later on in life. There’s a picture of an elf with a bow on that page, which is nicely grounding if you don’t know he’s actually a plant. I don’t know if this edition gets into the elven plant issue or not. Time will tell.
And then we get a map — I loved and love maps — and the world is a “slightly bulging, squarish lozenge.” This is another thing that surprised me later in life. I am beginning to suspect that one reason I wasn’t weirded out by Glorantha at the time was that I skipped all the confusing parts. There’s a little hint about visiting the worlds of the gods here, but it’s pretty subtle and you’d never know how important that kind of thing is. What’s heroquesting?
Finally, there’s a nice timeline for the Lunar Empire and Dragon Pass which is just full of hints of weirdness. I was definitely skimming this. “War between hill peoples of Dragon Pass and Ducks.” “God-King of the Holy Country disappears and the Masters of Luck and Death fail to bring forth a new incarnation.” Yeah, it’s all there if you just open your eyes and see.
Next time: character generation. How weird could that be?