12 September 2016

RPG Review - Issue No.31

I have already blogged about the RPG Review, a most excellent free on-line Australian webzine devoted to role-playing games, with a good mix of game reviews, industry news, interviews, historical articles about our hobby, and short gaming aids.

The latest issue is an OSR special issue, and as such I believe it is of interest to readers of this blog.

I would particularly like to point out the following articles:
  • An interview of Ken Saint-André, the creator of Tunnels & Trolls and Stormbringer,
  • A long Tunnels & Trolls bestiary; unfortunately it is for the 5.5 ed.– I am sure the use of spite dice would have improved on the various special attacks of the monsters,
  • A RQ2 variant to add granularity to the results of skill checks,
  • A sneak peek on the upcoming John Carter role-playing game by Modiphius Entertainment.

Enjoy!

06 September 2016

Chaosium joins Bits and Mortar

Chaosium has joined the Brick & Mortar Initiative — you may read the full press release here. In a nutshell, this means that whenever you buy a Chaosium product from one of the participating game shops, you get the corresponding PDF for free.

Here is the list of the participating game shops across Continental Europe:

Belgium
Autre Monde (Liège)

Czech Republic
Mephit (Prague)

Denmark
Dragons Lair (Odense)
Fantask (Copenhagen)

France
Philibert (Strasbourg)
Trollune (Lyons)

Germany
Atlantis (Hamburg)
Brave New World (Cologne)
Fantasywelt Tabletopshop (Eckernförde)
Otherland Buchhandlung (Berlin)
Trollheim Medienvertrieb (Herzogenrath)

Greece
Papercut Cybercafé, Comics & Games (Heraklion)

Netherlands
Labyrinth (Utrecht)

Sweden
Alphaspel (Hägersten)
Collectors Point (Umeå)

For the UK and overseas, please check the online retail store locator.

29 July 2016

MoonQuest – A Teaser


I was intrigued (to say the least) when I saw the following announcement by Kyrinn S. Eis of Urutsk and Porphyry fame over at Google+:

“Using RuneQuest Classic, MoonQuest brings an alternate understanding of the canon of Glorantha while retaining its mythic relativism and unique flavour.
MoonQuest is a campaign add-on, a behind the veil look at the amazing and chaotic world so many have loved for decades. While usable as a stand alone setting, the more one knows Glorantha, the more this ... peculiar take will shake the established world view of the reader, and hopefully bring delight and excitement to the players.”

Despite my ugliest threats, Kyrinn wouldn't tell me more about MoonQuest, but  I have managed to have her answer a few questions for Timinits & Trolls:

Q: Kyrinn, I have stumbled upon your mysterious announcement on G+... “Using RuneQuest Classic, MoonQuest brings an alternate understanding of the canon of Glorantha while retaining its mythic relativism and unique flavour.”
A: Not really a question, but I suppose you want me to say more about this: I'll end up addressing each of these by answering your questions, but I will remain tight-lipped regarding the specifics, as it is too soon to show my hand; Glorantha was revealed incrementally in play, and tantalisingly few details were provided when the rulebook was released. If MoonQuest is taken on those same merits, it will have to be read in whole when it becomes available.

Q: “MoonQuest is a campaign add-on, a behind the veil look at the amazing and chaotic world so many have loved for decades. While usable as a stand alone setting, the more one knows Glorantha, the more this ... peculiar take will shake the established world view of the reader, and hopefully bring delight and excitement to the players.”
A: MoonQuest will, if I am successful, provide a new scope of adventure while still preserving the majestic sweep of Stafford's canon.

Q: Now, knowing your past work on science fantasy settings such as Urutsk and Porphyry, the first question that has sprung to my mind is: Is this some kind of science fantasy version of Glorantha? with space travel?
A: It is still RuneQuest in the Third Age, and all of the characters and creatures which have been created by Stafford (et al.) still exist as described from the given perspective of the Mortal realm regarding the Mythic powers as described in the RQC book. In later works, more information about the world opens up regarding how Glorantha functions, still (always) described to the PoV of mortals in their realm. The realms beyond the lozenge exist, but mortals cannot understand them without treading the Hero's path towards apotheosis. MoonQuest sheds light on this aspect.

Q: Are you just using Gloranthan tropes to give flavour to a setting out of your imagination, or are you really expanding on our beloved Lozenge, e.g., by adding a whole universe, with planets etc. or are you imaging something in the future of Glorantha (a 5th or 6th age?)
A: Glorantha isn't mine to create a 5th or 6th age. I am simply providing a different way of understanding the official canon; altering the mortal perspective to provide one way of understanding why we see places on a map mortals cannot access, granting an understanding of how both spells and chaos function, etc.

Q: Lastly, since this is an RPG, we all want to know about the ruleset you are going to use, and any modifications you are going to add to it.
A: RQC as just recently re-published via the Kickstarter; the very hardback I received in the mail not but a few weeks ago. As far as modifications: I hope to alter the flow of presentation regarding guilds and prior experience, so that they don't function as afterthoughts in the appendix, in other words, integrating them into standard character generation and training. Any additions will be clearly marked, as per the grey text boxes in the RQC edition. Existing characters and creatures will not be mechanically affected by MoonQuest, but their premise very well may be altered by the light shone upon the setting through this lens.

I think it is important to remind readers that the setting, history, and everything else mean different things to different cultures and each perspective, even while seeming paradoxical, are all equally true from the perspective of their holders: The Lunar Empire are terrible destroyers and subjugators of older cultures, but they are also peace-bringers and civilisers, etc.

MoonQuest is yet another, alternate, understanding to the established canon of the Third Age.

Thank you Kyrinn!

Note— If some of my questions sound completely stupid, it is because I sent all 5 questions before getting any of Kyrinn's answers!


25 July 2016

RuneQuest 4 - News From Chaosium

The latest news from Chaosium about the new RuneQuest are quite astounding. You may read them here.

For those of you who are lazy, in a hurry, busy– or who do not like to click links– or who are in a TL;DR mood, I have summarised them here in a nutshell:

1. Experienced game designer Jason Durall (he of the ‘Big Gold Book’ fame) has joined the new RuneQuest team to re-read the draft RQ4 rules and add “story of Rurik”-like game examples throughout the rules.

2. The new RuneQuest rules will be divided between three books:

  • The first book (the one whose draft Jason is reviewing) will contain the core rules, and in particular character generation and background, runes, passions, rune magic and cults (with almost 20 cult write-ups), battle magic, spirit combat, new shamanism rules, new sorcery rules (incl. notes on Malkionism, Aeolianism, and Lhankor Mhy sorcery)!
  • The second book is going to be a Gloranthan bestiary that will double as a sourcebook for nonhuman characters.
  • The third book is going to focus on rules for the referee such as heroquesting, Chaos, Illumination, Lunar magic, magic items, and on rules for advanced characters — in particular Heroes. It will also feature a few encounters, and three or four fully-fledged Gloranthan scenarios.

All in all, excellent news.

13 July 2016

RuneQuest Classic Edition Char Gen

RuneQuest 2 (henceforth referred to as RuneQuest Classic Edition) is my all-time favourite fantasy role-playing game. Its age, however, shows in some of its aspects, and in particular in how unorganised and convoluted character creation is compared to modern games: you have to go back and forth between several chapters to “get character creation right”, and some information useful at character generation is hidden within the sections about character improvement.

Also, we’ve been used to using “professions” and “cultural backgrounds” from later incarnations of the game and from its sister publications, and forgotten (at least it was my case) how deeply “Old School” the RQ2 char-gen was, with its focus on adventurers’ organisations and on repaying back debt by looting dungeons...

Anyway, I present you here for your enjoyment (and, hopefully, for actual use) a summarised RuneQuest Classic Edition Character Generation primer, perfected with the help of the jolly RQ2 G+ community.

STEP 1 – Characteristics

Roll the character’s seven characteristics according to their race (roll 3D6 for each characteristic for a human character; see Chapter VIII of RuneQuest Classic Edition for other races):
  • STR ⓘ
  • CON ⓘ
  • SIZ
  • INT
  • POW
  • DEX ⓘ
  • CHA

ⓘ: can be increased by training, see step 7 below.

STEP 2 – Abilities and other Derived Characteristics

STEP 2a – Abilities
Compute abilities according to section A of the Classic Handouts.
  • Attack (skill category bonus)
  • Parry (skill category bonus)
  • Defence
  • Hit Points (Total HPs + Hit Points per Location using the table in section A of the Classic Handouts)
  • Damage Bonus
  • Perception (skill category bonus)
  • Stealth (skill category bonus)
  • Manipulation (skill category bonus)
  • Knowledge (skill category bonus)

Note 1: the Oratory skill does not fall in any of the previous categories.
Note 2: Should any of the character’s characteristics be increased by training, please do not forget to re-calculate the character’s abilities.

STEP 2b – Other Derived Characteristics
  • Movement (always equal to 8 for humans; see Chapter VIII of RuneQuest Classic Edition for other races)
  • Maximum Encumbrance, average of STR and CON, but capped by the character’s STR
  • Strike Rank Modifier, per the table in section A of the Classic Handouts.

STEP 3 – Starting Money

Roll according to section A of the Classic Handouts.

SPECIAL – Creating a Shaman Character
Becoming a shaman is so time-consuming that the character cannot undergo any other training (i.e., skip Steps 4 to 7). Please refer to pages 44 to 46 of RuneQuest Classic Edition.

STEP 4 – Compute Combat Skills

STEP 4a – Starting Combat Skills
The basic chance of all weapon skills is 5%, except when indicated otherwise (see section A of the Classic Handouts).

STEP 4b – Get Credit
These skill increases may be bought using the character’s starting money. However, since this amount is usually very low (and thus insufficient), a character may obtain credit from the various guilds; the credit is equal to STR × 100L.

STEP 4c – Increase Combat Skills
See tables on p26, p30 and p31 of RuneQuest Classic Edition.

STEP 5 – Compute Non-Combat Skills

STEP 5a – Starting Non-Combat Skills
The basic chance of each skill is indicated in the various tables in section D of the Classic Handouts.
Note that alchemical skills are not expressed in percentages.

STEP 5b – Get Credit
A character may obtain credit from the Thieves Association; the credit is equal to DEX × 100L. This credit may only be used to purchase thieving skills. Other guilds/crafts do not offer credit, and require apprenticeship in order to receive credit for training during character generation (see Appendix H of Chapter X of RuneQuest Classic Edition for more details on this).

STEP 5c – Increase Non-Combat Skills
See section D of the Classic Handouts.
Contrary to combat skills, non-combat skills are only taught by some guilds, which may have special requirements:
  • Becoming an associate member of the Alchemists Guild costs 5,000L. This is a pre-requisite to learning any of the alchemical skills.
  • Becoming an associate member of the Armourers Guild costs 5,000L. This is a pre-requisite to learning any of the armourers’ skills.
Other guilds do offer training for pay to learn their skills but all payment is required in advance: the Free Sages, Players and Minstrels, Foresters, Maritime Brotherhood, and the Horsemasters’ Guild. Each of these guilds offers training in a different sets of skills, consult Chapter VI for more details.

STEP 6 – Purchase Battle Magic

Credit from cults for Battle Magic spell purchases = POW × 100L.
See section H of the Classic Handouts.

STEP 7 – Increase Characteristics by Training

STR may be increased by spending 1,000L per STR point.
CON may be increased by spending 2,000L per CON point.
Neither STR nor CON may be raised above the highest of STR, CON, SIZ before any modifications are applied.
DEX may be increased by spending 1,000L per DEX point.
DEX can be raised up to the racial maximum.

STEP 8 – Equipment

Starting equipment depends on the background rolled at Step 3.
What the character may purchase depends on the amount of money rolled at Step 3, and whatever credit money they have left from Steps 4 and 5.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE – Appendix H of Chapter X of RuneQuest Classic Edition presents an optional system of previous experience for player characters.

25 June 2016

RuneQuest 4 - First Impressions

So my friends and I were lucky enough to take part in the first worldwide open playtest of the new RuneQuest rules by Jeff Richard at Chimériades V.

The following is a modified and summarised translation of Grégory Molle's original French-language post about the new RuneQuest rules, with a few additional impressions thrown in.


At the last Chimériades convention, Jeff Richard refereed two games with the new RuneQuest rules. I played in the second game; I got to create a character, play a short two-hour game with four fellow players, and peruse the printout of the latest draft of the game.

RuneQuest 4 or 2.5?


By the way, what version of the game are we talking about, exactly? Jeff talks about RuneQuest 4, because he considers the game as a successor to the 3rd edition, the one that was created by Chaosium but published by Avalon Hill in 1984. This is tantamount to “erasing” the Mongoose editions from the 2000s and the one by The Design Mechanism a few years ago – not to mention the unpublished RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha by Oliver Jovanovic, Michael McGloin and Carl Fink that should have been published as a successor to RuneQuest 3.

This having been said, this new edition of RuneQuest is also sometimes referred to as RuneQuest 2.5. Why? Because it is sort of a step back from RQ3 that the new 2016 Chaosium consider crippled by now-obsolete rules (fatigue points) or clumsy ones (one-use rune spells, sorcery). The starting point of the new RuneQuest game is hence its “classic” version, i.e., the 1979 edition known as RuneQuest 2. The fans’ commitment to RQ2 has been showcased by the hugely successful RuneQuest Classic Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2015 that raised more than $200,000.

However, since RuneQuest is back in a Glorantha-specific version, and not as a generic fantasy role-playing system, we might as well call it RuneQuest Glorantha. The game credits the following people as its authors: Steve Perrin, Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, Jeff Richard, Ken Rolston, and Chris Klug.

Character Generation: Pendragon and HeroQuest to the Rescue


Character generation assumes the choice of a homeland and of an occupation that will affect the values of some skills. The skill categories have not changed since the 1980s: magic, agility, communication, knowledge, perception, manipulation, stealth. The homelands available in the game are Sartar, Esrolia, the Grazelands, Lunar Tarsh, Old Tarsh, and five Praxian tribes: Bison, High Llama, Impala, Pol-Joni, Sable Riders.

Characters are defined by the seven traditional characteristics (Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, and Power), by their magic points, hit points (with hit locations), strike rank modifiers (Size, Dexterity), damage bonus, and maximum encumbrance (beyond which you undergo negative modifiers). This will all look very familiar to RQ grognards. The Defence skill from RuneQuest 2 has disappeared, and a new ability, healing rate, has appeared.

Where it starts getting groovy is in the top right corner of the character sheet, where you can spot two runic diagrams! Oh yes, RuneQuest has at last deserved its very name.

The first diagram is about the six Elemental Runes – Water, Air, Earth, Darkness, Fire/Sky and… Moon! You choose a main rune whose score is set to 60%, then three others that respectively obtain 40%, 20%, and 10%. These are the basic scores: further modifiers may come into play, so that Branduan, my Sartarite character, ended up with 60% in the Moon Rune (OK, he was a Eurmali skald whose paternal grandmother already was a trickster, see below), 20% in Darkness, 10% in Water but 70% in Air (after adding two bonuses, +10% and +20%, to an initial score of 40%).

The second runic diagram is reminiscent of the Pendragon personality traits table since it opposes five pairs of Power Runes – Fertility / Death, Harmony / Disorder, Truth / Illusion, Stasis / Movement, and Man / Beast – whose values are linked: the sum for a given pair must be equal to 100%. I don’t remember the actual procedure but I know that, with the choices I made, Branduan ended up with two pairs of Power Runes having scores different from 50% / 50%: Illusion (95%) / Truth (5%) and Movement (75%) / Stasis (25%).

Whether Elemental or Power, the Runes can be used to improve, via a set bonus, the score of a given skill, sort of like in HeroQuest. A successful roll under a relevant Rune, e.g., the Illusion Rune for a thief who is trying not to be noticed by their victim, yields a 20% bonus to their Sneak skill score. However, should the roll under the Illusion Rune fail, the inability of the character to attune to that particular Rune at that moment in time yields a 20% negative modifier to the skill. I’m not sure at the moment if the modifier is always ±20% but it definitely seemed to be the default value.

Moreover, just like in Pendragon, the Power Runes can be used to influence the player’s actions; for instance, acting in a way that is in contradiction with a given Power Rune in which the PC has a high score might decrease said score – or prevent the PC from acting the way they are.

That’s more or less all with regard to Runes. We have used them a lot during our two-hour game, meaning they are not there as a fancy addition, they are really part of the core mechanics of the new RuneQuest game. One must really weigh all the options at character generation, in particular in order to avoid redundancy among the player characters. While I was perusing the printout of the draft rules, I’ve also noticed that the description of the Runes assumed a host of symbolic associations: personality traits, senses (sight, etc.), skill categories, arms, colours, metals, animals and… body organs [editor’s note: this is all very reminiscent of wǔxíng in Chinese cosmology]. For instance, Moon is associated with the pineal gland, which the Grey Sage Wikipedius tells us plays a central role in regulating the body’s biological rhythm (waking/sleep, seasons), which is really close to what we know about Lunar Magic and its cycles. This gives plenty of food for thought about using Runes in actual gaming sessions.

Yet another Pendragon legacy: passions. You get them while defining the background of the character (see below) – but I reckon you may also acquire them as-you-go (during play).

Branduan hates:
  • the Telmori
  • the Orleving Clan
  • authority in general

He also:
  • is devoted to his cult
  • loves his family
  • is loyal towards:
    • his clan
    • his tribe
    • Argrath (very present in the new game’s background since it’s been moved to 1627+!)
    • Erik (another PC, whose bonded trickster he is)

I realise now, by re-reading the character sheet, that all passion scores start at 60%. It’s maybe slightly too uniform, there should be more variety or randomness. This having been said, these scores will change during play via the skill check mechanism.

Ancestry


The next phase is the determination of the PC’s background, and that’s where you’re in for a ride. The new RuneQuest asks you to answer a long series of biographical questions, up to your player character’s grandparents. The game is set in 1627 – much like 13th Age in Glorantha – you must hence go back till the Battle of Grizzly Peak in 1582 to know what happened to your grandparents – at least for a Sartarite PC, because the events tables vary depending on the character’s culture.

A succession of tables will enable you to travel through Gloranthan time – re-read Pendragon, it’s the same concept – down to the present time. Are your grandparents still alive? There aren’t many probabilities that they all are, and it’s actually interesting to know what happened to them, because that will have repercussions for your character. There’s a family tree of sorts that unfolds. Regarding my character, I’ve discovered that his paternal grandmother was still alive in 1627, but that was kind of expected since a trickster is supposed to avoid combat rather than risk their life and amass glory like a nice Sartarite.

At some point, the story focuses on the character’s parents: one can witness the whole history of Dragon Pass and of Prax between 1608 and 1626. Then the focus shifts to the PC themself, and one may discover what has befallen them between 1623 and 1626. Branduan, left for dead during a raid by the Orleving Clan, eventually sought and found refuge in Pavis, where his skills as a trickster led him to being spotted by Argrath and to adventuring at his side before returning to Sartar and to his clan.

All in all, this biographical phase provides characters that have a detailed past while establishing a few points of reference for players who are not familiar with the world of Glorantha (it has actually reminded me of the clan creation in Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes). It’s also a fantastic way to create bonds between the various PCs. In our case there were clearly those whose background had been strongly influenced by clanic or tribal conflicts, and those who had simply wandered throughout Dragon Pass and who had serendipitously met Argrath.

The most spectacular consequence was that the character background generation phase strongly informed the adventure that we played. Jeff might have had some hidden agenda, I’m not sure about that, or maybe he deviated from it; anyway, he simply started the game by asking us: “What do you want to do?”. The answer that we provided was directly linked to the characters’ background. I’m not going to tell you all the details, but it had something to do with a revenge and conquest plan against the Orleving Clan, against whom our own clan bore an ancient grudge. This led to an encounter with Leika, the tribal Queen of the Colymar, and then – on the basis of the PCs’ background – we eventually met Argrath himself, who was busy conquering some former Lunar lands in the north of Dragon Pass, so as to involve him in our petty squabbles whilst promising him our allegiance in the future and feeling that we couldn’t fully grasp his innuendos. All this in two hours of play. That was far, far away from the usual introductory scenarios of our teenage years where we’d fight three broo and a half to defend our village!

a portion of the background part of the character sheet


And Also…


We didn’t use it during this playtest, but when I had a look at the rules, I found that a PC could have a family heirloom that was a “special” thing. Among the suggestions, there was “a small sentient animal” or “an iron object” – which is pretty cool.

I’ve also noticed there was a fast-track chargen, for people who wanted to start playing right away. It is something that was already present in RuneQuest 3, if I remember correctly.

I thought I’d read that the Resistance Table had been removed, but actually no, it’s still there; it’s just been removed from the Spirit Combat section.

There’s also a whole chapter devoted to Sacred Time, which (yet again) strongly reminded me of Pendragon. The new RuneQuest has been devised so as to enable campaign game, with long campaigns that entail one or two adventures per Gloranthan year. During Sacred Time, the background of the PC, or of the whole party, or of their community (or actually a little bit of each of them) is affected by some events. Based on my perusal of the draft rules, I remember titles such as “events”, “heroquest”, “omens from last year” (there’s something similar in King of Dragon Pass, with questions such as Did you take into account the omens from yesteryear’s Sacred Time during last year?), “raids”, “invasions”, “harvest”, “family”, or even “character income”, based upon their profession.

There was also a chapter about heroquesting but it was still a mere collection of notes, and there was a mention of a book of heroquests. Note: the other group of players did a heroquest during their introductory adventure, so it’s definitely not something only available to ‘high-level’ parties.

Voilà, you have an idea of the new RQ rules. Now let’s be patient until we can get hold of them!


Jeff has also blogged about family background in the new RuneQuest on the Chaosium web-site.