RUNEQUEST 2nd Edition created something of a paradox when it came to magic. Unlike other systems, characters didn’t need to be part of a particular class to cast spells; magic was available to all. The advantages of this are obvious, there’s no need to depend on a cleric character to heal the adventuring party, because all the characters are sort of clerics, worshiping gods in exchange for spells. The rules more accurately simulated combat compared to a game like D&D, so fighting could be deadly, the tactical use of a ‘Battle Magic’ spell could tip the balance and keep characters alive.
It was the game mechanics that created the paradox: there was magic everywhere, but it didn’t feel very magical, because it was so matter of fact.
Battle Magic gave additional points towards chances to hit, increasing damage, or improving defence or a resistance to damage; there were an assortment of ‘detection’ spells; and the most powerful spells could befuddle, disrupt or demoralise an opponent. In addition, there were a handful of spells that did practical tasks like ‘glue’ and ‘repair’ and a few others that did interesting things but it was unclear of how useful they could be (Lightwall, for example). Once a character progressed in status in their chosen cult, characters could get access to ‘Rune Magic’ which was a bit more powerful, but pragmatic and munchkin-like in its deployment (Mindblast is particularly nasty).
It was also difficult for a standard adventurer to attain Rune Magic as the spells were limited to Rune Lords and Rune Priests, and it takes a lot of effort and hours of play to reach the appropriate level to gain the use of Rune magic.
Back in the day, spells were merely part of the adventurer’s armoury, enhancing the sword and the shield and providing the means of sticking a limb back on in the heat of battle. In recent months, when we have been playing through the classic supplements BORDERLANDS and GRIFFIN MOUNTAIN we’ve been more canny with the use of spells. Particularly the NPCs, who have used magic in unexpected and ruthless ways to spice up encounters: summoning elementals or becoming invisible at key moments in the encounter; it still feels rather mechanical and rules heavy.
MAGICAL ADDITIONS TO THE LATER EDITIONS
Subsequent editions of the rules tried to address these deficiencies by adding more types of magic and some additional rules to boost their power. RQ3 was a more generic system that introduced sorcery as a school of magic. The Games Workshop version separated the rules into basic and advanced and this editorial chopping and changing made the rules around magic unintelligible. Our group concluded at the time that ‘Sorcery is for NPCs only’. None was encountered.
We are about to return to the COLYMAR CAMPAIGN – from the Moon Design SARTAR: KINGDOM OF HEROES campaign pack – which I am converting from Heroquest to the Runequest 6 rules. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been painstakingly studying the rules around magic so it can be introduced to the campaign. I say painstaking due to the different levels of conversions at play: as a group we are getting our heads around Runequest 6, which are generic rules (an ADVENTURES IN GLORANTHA supplement is due out this year) and the Heroquest supplement is “story-based” with no character stats to give clues to the magical ability of the NPCs.
The SARTAR … supplement provides phenomenal detail to the setting and revises some of the original Chaosium material. Glorantha is a very magical setting, so I’m keen to reflect the essence of the SARTAR supplement which brings some sense of awe to spell craft and feats of spell craft.
The SARTAR supplement actually provides some meaning to Runes and the affects that they have over characters in Glorantha. As part of character creation, Runes are selected that reflect the character’s soul, temperament, personality and magical drive and Games Masters are encouraged to award characters according to their actions that bring them closer to their runes. Progression becomes a ‘Rune Quest’.
HEROQUEST’s magic ‘rules’ are very fast and lose, allowing the players to create any magical effects as long as it’s consistent with he narrative. I like the potential of this free-form approach as it will allow our group to get inventive around the table, but I know from experience that such freedom will blow the players’ Grognard brains: “we need the rules, we live and die by the rules.”
ADDING SOME EXTRA CRUNCH
RQ6 provides five schools of magic: Folk, Theist, Animism, Sorcery and Mysticism. Thankfully, the rules are very clearly written and easy to understand in principle – the real test will be at the table – but I have the wireframe of the mechanics sussed out, so I don’t think there’ll be any problems. In essence, casting magic is a percentage based skill that can be adjusted using the ‘step difficulty’ modifier or it can be resisted by targets using the ‘opposed roll’ mechanic that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Folk magic is more or less a straight swap for Battle Magic, but much more toned down. In Glorantha terms, they are spells that exist outside of the provision of the gods as they are passed through the generations via charms and handy cantrips.
Animism is the manipulation of spirits to the bidding of Shamanistic cults (such as Darka Fal) and Mysticism is a transcendental magic that will be available to the Elder Races such as Dragonewts.
Theist Magic is more or less Rune Magic with two ‘skills’ associated with its application. ‘Devotion’ is the measure of the cult member’s status and progression through the religion and ‘Exhort’ is the skill used to coerce the gods to intervene and provide the aid requested. To fit within the society described by SARTAR: KINGDOM OF HEROES, levels of Devotion and the availability of spells will be awarded for participating in rituals with the clan and for taking actions that fit with their character rune affinities.
Sorcery, in Glorantha, is more esoteric and throw-back to the Second Age and the God Leaners who worshiped Malian, the invisible god, who stole knowledge and artefacts from other cultures. The Sorcery rules are interesting because they allow for inventiveness from the players. It’s possible to Invoke sorcery from ancient artefacts, spell books, or demons from another plane. The spells in themselves are not particularly spectacular until the sorcerer uses their ability to ‘shape’ the outcome by combining spells together, or extending the range or duration or increasing their magnitude.
It’s possible for characters to remain loyal to their gods yet still teach themselves the powers from an ancient grimoire. It’s going to make things interesting and provide some unexpected twists and turns in adventures.
We are meeting on Roll 20 next week, where I hope to introduce some of these newly learnt elements to the adventure as they choose their next path. I’m hoping that the fuss-free crunch provided by RQ6 will allow for some interesting flights of the imagination.
It will be great to inject some magic into the magical world Glorantha for my long-in-the-tooth group… if they can get over not being able to pepper targets with a multi-missile.