Somehow, I convinced a pack of my knuckleheads (and my brother, who has little choice) to try out Runequest 6 last week with good results. To be self-critical from the outset, I fucked up a lot of the rules, but my only real fudging of the dice to favor a player (I play with a GM screen still…) was probably one out of 20 or so where I accidentally let the player’s off the hook when they should have been chopped meats. Making life hard on myself with RPG experiments as I tend to do, I converted a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure (Thulian Echoes) to Runequest 6 — not the easiest thing. In this adventure, the characters find a book that details some people going to an Island about 1000 years before, but instead of reading the book or giving them the information, the players actually play through the ‘diary’ as the original peoples. They are absolutely encouraged to cheese it up as much as possible to help the future visitors (which maybe them… maybe not) to the island if they can. Needless to say, the Island is a fucking meatgrinder for the poor peoples of 1000 years ago.
I set the original party in 1605 England (summer, before the 5th of November…), where they were non-liveried members of the Mercers guild (read: street thugs) and just happened upon the diary while doing some shopcrastin and the like. My plan was to start off easy to get the players some familiarity with the combat system, the skills system is so intuitive these days that it really does not need much explaining. The first combat against a near set of mooks (though anyone can kill you in Runequest really) went well and things that are quite different from most RPG’s like weapon size, action points, differential rolls, special effects were pretty easily understood– I think. The selfish thing is, as the GM, I have had a lot of fun running Runequest combat so far because every dice roll matters– much like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. There’s no D20/WFRP: “CLATTER -oh, I missed again” going on. The players picked some fairly varied character builds, one was a 2 Action point beefsteak and the others were mostly rat-faced snipes who were more likely to toss a brickbat and then run then fight face to face.
Yet the second combat, once they had their new characters 1000 years previous, was a doozy, which ended up unfortunately being the remainder of the session, and absolute beast to run. Four player characters + friendly NPC’s vs twelve Animated Statues is not a combat a new GM or group to Runequest should try to run. While the players may not have noticed, a lot was forgotten and missed by this hapless GM. I forgot when people had been wounded, I forgot when enemies had been over-pressed, forgot that some of the statues had spears, some had swords, some had shields as well, and I forgot to take into account weapon reach. Someone with a spear can hold off an opponent until they can close range. Again being self-critical first and foremost , I don’t think the players noticed much and had a good time because the MEAT of Runequest 6 is the combat and damn if it wasn’t fun despite the fuck ups (I did get the nearly obligatory “Chris is trying to cheat math” note that is often given to any of our group’s GM’s though). Both of the main fighters went down (one out, one down with a leg wound), the sorcerer ran out of magic points after 5-6 castings of wrack and ran off, and the Pict was nearly killed multiple times before they were able to drop the last statue–and nearly all had to spend all of their luck points to do it. Whew. I was imagining while playing what the combat would have been like in LotFP– these were 3HD monsters– so at least 12hp each, likely 15+ and weapons do half damage. 12 of these is a LONG fight.
Why I like the RQ combat
In the D20’s, characters just roll a die and do hit points of damage. It’s effective when hit points are low across the board, and is fundamentally a timing mechanism for how long something can stay in the fight, but it’s so abstracted the characters in combat don’t make many choices, everything is a medium attack to no specific location. This works when shit is getting cleaved to the ground quickly, but vs high HD monsters, players often want to try something other than a medium attack to no specific location.
Contrast to D20’s, in Exalted, Fate, Feng Shui, and games that focus on the narrative stunting, the players have to create an idea in their head for what they are trying to do before any dice hit the table. It’s fine to say “I flip [there is always some sort of flip in stunting descriptions] over the table and straddle the first guard’s neck between my thighs and then slice off the top of the second guard’s head with my cestus before I fire out my poison vaginal dart onto the first guard’s neck,” but what if it fails? What if the subsequently rolled dice say that that stunt absolutely does not happen— what happens then? Runequest solves both the ‘a medium attack to no specific location’ problem that many RPG’s (and all D20’s) have and the pre-‘Stunting before dice hit the table’ by making the player roll the dice first, then there is an opponent reaction (if possible) and the results are applied– from this the narrative can be derived. How does the system do this? First, hit locations. Your character knows what part of the enemy they have hit, and what degree of damage. This adds a ton to the visceral aspect of combat. Second, special effects. Combat special effects happen extremely often– rarely was there an attack/successful parry for no damage (though this did happen), usually either the attacker or the parry-er failed or rolled a critical and one of the various combat special effects were applied. This not only drives the narrative, but has specific system effects. Unlike the free-form ‘consequences’ in FATE and Marvel Heroic, these are codefied completely– so players that lack in the imagination department (whether through fatigue or drink) can let the dice do their work for them, pick a mechanical effect that best suits their needs and let the narrative be derived. As a GM, I think this is quite awesome.
I could go on and on about the game (and I will eventually) but suffice to say that Runequest 6 is really badass and after making about 9 characters for the session and converting a variety of NPC’s and beasties, I can make characters in a VERY short time– my biggest gripe about the system really is that you have to have your players spend 300 points(!?) on skills (just like Call of Cthulhu) before they can get to buying equipment. I’d rather it be like WFRP where you choose a class (say, fighter) then roll what career you were before becoming that class, and take the skills from that career. The magic system requires a lot of GM pre-work which I was not a fan of for this session, but a small quibble since RQ6 is a toolkit system after all. Would I convert another LotFP module? Maybe one of the big campaigns yes, but for the 2-5 session ones, likely not except for one I will not mention since one of the players sees this blog– I think there’s definitely a place for both Runequest and LotFP (and 13th Age as well) and I don’t want to try to change any of them to be more like the other– such as setting 13th Age (gonzo D20) in pre-modern Europe or adding hit locations to LotFP. I will probably write more posts about RQ, but likely I won’t get a chance to run a game for a long time.