The History of RuneQuest


Please see What Is RuneQuest? for more information about the RuneQuest rules system.

A Bright Beginning

Title: RuneQuest (I)
Published: 1978 by Chaosium.
Authors: Steve Perrin and Ray Turney, with Steve Henderson, Warren James, Sven Lugar (uncredited) and Greg Stafford.

In 1978 a new roleplaying game burst onto the scene: RuneQuest. It was the first skill-based RPG, and featured a number of other innovations that would go on to influence roleplaying game design forever after.

The game also featured Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha, which had been previously used in board games such as White Bear & Red Moon, Nomad Gods, and Dragon Pass (all published by Chaosium). Parts of the rules were initially published in roleplaying APAs such as The Wild Hunt and Alarums & Excursions. Comparatively few copies of RuneQuest I were produced, and it is now extremely rare. Nonetheless, the game was popular enough to inspire a second edition.

The Early Days

Just a quick note on the early history of RuneQuest. The first person to try to do a Gloranthan RPG was Dave Hargrave, using his Arduin Grimoire rules. For whatever reasons, Greg was dissatisfied with those and handed the job over to three White Bear and Red Moon fans, Ray Tierney, his brother Art, and a gentleman named Henrik Pfeifer (sp?). Art was pretty much the driving force in this group. They came up with the idea of spending money AND experience points for skills and allowing character classes to cross-train. At this point, I don't recall if there was a penalty for cross-training or not.

Things were moving slowly with them, and for reasons I am not sure of, except that Jeff Pimper and my All the Worlds Monsters seemed to be doing well for Chaosium and my name was on The Perrin Conventions for playing D&D, Greg asked me to look in and see if I could help out the situation. I was inspired by what they had done and started adding things like throwing away experience points, having a flat number of hit points, throwing away classes, adding Strike Ranks, etc. Some of these things I came up with on the fly, others, like Strike Ranks, were things I was experimenting with in my D&D games.

I kept using slack time at work and the company's electric typewriters to publish rule change after rule change, including recording Ray's tweaks of the magic system, and essentially I became the voice of RuneQuest (which I also named). Art and Henrik dropped out of the process, but Ray hung on and we added Steve Henderson and Warren James (two of my SCA friends) to the author list and took input from other friends like Les "Sven" Lugar and Terry Jackson.

And in 1978, two years after I started working on it, RuneQuest was born.

- Steve Perrin

 

Why the name "RuneQuest"?

I believe Greg came up with the title Runequest during the days before the game development was turned over to Steve Perrin. I suspect the choice of Runequest over other names in part had to do with the then current popularity of Runes as a method of divination & thus had market appeal. During play-test there was some joking regarding names such as "Cleaverquest" & "Golfbag Quest" (the former was due to limbs constantly being lopped off & the latter due to weapons frequently breaking). But despite the lack in the published version in the first playtests we quested for Runes or Rune-charged objects quite a bit. Thus "Rockquest" was a name I coined for a while during the playtest. There was lots of quests to find chips of God/Rune rock & the like. My copy of the original playtest over stuffs a 2 inch brown binder. Needless to say that was way too large to print for a reasonable cost so things were stream-lined. Among the things lost were the copious references to Runes & Rune touched objects. As other people started adding to the Gloranthan Canon the Runes never got added back in. During the original write-up of Magic for the MRQ version, Steve attempted to add back in some of the original ideas that were very Rune oriented but Mongoose chose to reject that approach. So [...] questing for Runes was once a primary focus of the system though admittedly it was prior to publication or for those who were involved with the original playtest. I am still using it as a plot line in my current campaigns.

- Sven Lugar (designer of the Resistance Table, "I just consider myself a minor contributor")

 

Side Notes

Title: Basic Role-Playing
Published: 1980 by Chaosium.
Authors: Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis.

This 16-page booklet is a simplified version of the RuneQuest system. It's a common misconception that RuneQuest was based on this book, but in fact BRP was based on RQ. It became the basis of most of Chaosium's later games, such as Call of Cthulhu, ElfQuest, Superworld, Elric, Stormbringer, Hawkmoon, Ringworld, and others. This membership in the BRP family gives all these games strong (but not perfect) compatibility. Chaosium's Arthurian RPG, Pendragon, can be considered to be the most distantly-related member of the BRP family; the connection is fairly tenuous.

Several foreign-language editions and expansions of BRP were published by European game companies and flourished, but in the USA Basic Role-Playing itself was not highly successful; no supplements were released for it in the English language. However, some BRP-derived games by Chaosium were successful, most notably Call of Cthulhu, which is based on the writings of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and is still in print today. New supplements continue to be produced for CoC, and also for Chaosium's Stormbringer, one of several games set in the multiverse of British author Michael Moorcock.

Title: Worlds of Wonder
Published: 1982 by Chaosium.
Authors: Steve Perrin

Worlds of Wonder was an early attempt by Chaosium at a multi-genre system. It was a boxed set consisting of Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing booklet, plus three 16-page genre booklets: Magic World, Superworld, and Future*World (the "*" was inserted to avoid a conflict with the Yul Brenner movie FutureWorld, which had come out in 1976).

The boxed set also included cardstock miniatures, a map, and dice.

Each booklet contained fairly simplified rule additions for the appropriate genre. They were very bare-bones by today's standards (16 pages, after all). Of the three, only Superworld went on to be expanded and released as a stand-alone game; it enjoyed some success in that form. Magic World was essentially a highly simplified version of RuneQuest and no further editions or supplements were produced in the USA (although there apparently some foreign-language expansions). Future*World also died out.

Letting Worlds of Wonder die was, arguably, Chaosium's greatest blunder. This was 1982, and they had produced a viable multi-genre system, the first of its kind. Steve Jackson's GURPS was not to come out until 1986, four years later, and it proved the value and marketability of a quality multi-genre system. Had Chaosium followed up on the promise of Worlds of Wonder, the gaming industry might look very different today.

The family of BRP-derived games did serve as a de facto multi-genre system, but they were never marketed nor designed as such. Conversion between systems was extremely easy, but it was not seamless. The multi-genre potential was there, but it wasn't developed until more than two decades later (see 2004: An Unexpected Rebirth).

In 2004 Chaosium reprinted the individual RuneQuest III rulebooks (with the exception of the Glorantha book) as "monographs" under the name Deluxe Basic Roleplaying, with the RuneQuest name replaced throughout and deleting all references to Glorantha. This should not be confused with the original BRP, although there is, of course, a close relationship.

The Glory Years: RuneQuest II

Title: RuneQuest (II)
Published: 1980 by Chaosium.
Authors: Steve Perrin and Ray Turney, with Steve Henderson, Warren James, Greg Stafford, John Sapienza, and Sven Lugar (uncredited).

RuneQuest II was published in 1980, two years after the appearance of RQI. Differences between it and RQI were fairly small; some rules were cleaned up and a color cover was added. The system became remarkably successful, becoming the second most popular FRPG after AD&D. Between 1978 and 1983 over 20 supplements were published for the game. These included:

This is only a partial list, of course. And in addition to Chaosium, Judges Guild also published some RQII material such as Legendary Duck Tower (1980), among others. Chaosium's magazine Different Worlds covered a variety of game systems, but RuneQuest was always a heavily featured subject. Wyrm's Footnotes was a less-formal periodical from Chaosium with an exclusively RQ/Glorantha focus.

The RuneQuest supplements published by Chaosium in the early 1980s set a new industry standard for quality. The writing was clear, highly readable and filled with deft touches of humor; the books read as well as they played. Illustrative fiction was frequently interspersed in the text, but unlike much game-related fiction up to that point, this fiction was actually well written. It was possible to play a scenario straight through from the book, or simply flip open a supplement to extract a few useful ideas. And the books were packed full of ideas. The RuneQuest supplements of the early 1980s were at that point far and away the most conceptually rich RPG materials ever published. Fortunately, many of these supplements have been made available in new editions by Moon Design Publications.

Special: HeroQuest

From the first, RQ players were intrigued by references to a "higher" level of gaming: HeroQuesting. Set in the mythic "God Time" of Glorantha, HeroQuests surpassed the ordinary mundanity of Gloranthan existence and allowed individuals of incredible power to interact with the gods and basic forces of the universe. Success in HeroQuesting could allow a character to become a Demi-Hero, a Hero, a Superhero (not the caped kind), perhaps even a god. But although Chaosium often referred to HeroQuest as an upcoming product, it was never published. Apparently some HeroQuests were run in-house at Chaosium, but the rules used were a matter of speculation. Fans created a wide variety of add-on HeroQuesting rules for RuneQuest and designed their own HeroQuests, inspired by fiction in such works as the RuneQuest Companion.

Eventually Milton Bradley published a major board game under the name HeroQuest. Chaosium had apparently failed to get or maintain the rights to the name. But fans and publications still referred to HeroQuests, and many continued to create their own versions for their own campaigns. Some can still be found online, many years later.

Much later, Milton Bradley gave up the trademark for HeroQuest (the boardgame had long since gone out of print). Greg Stafford's Issaries company picked up the rights to the name, and the next major revision of their non-BRP-derived Hero Wars RPG was called HeroQuest. It has kept that name ever since.

So now there are several kinds of "HeroQuests" in the gaming business. When it comes to RuneQuest, however, there are HeroQuests which were designed for RuneQuest II and III using the Gloranthan setting, which have no relation to the Gloranthan RPG HeroQuest - which is, now, the official Gloranthan system. Confusing, isn't it?

 

RQ 2 or II?

In 2010 Mongoose Publishing released a second version of their RuneQuest system which they called "RuneQuest II". This was not the original RuneQuest II, and was in fact quite different from it. That version of the rules became the basis of their Legend system when their agreement with Issaries ended (which required them to give up using Glorantha as a setting).

A (Fumbled?) Throw of the Dice: Avalon Hill and RQIII

In 1984 Chaosium entered into an agreement with Avalon Hill, the pre-eminent wargame company at the time. Avalon Hill acquired the rights to the RuneQuest system; Chaosium's President, Greg Stafford, retained rights to his world of Glorantha. AH would publish RuneQuest III, while Stafford had final approval over all Gloranthan material that AH produced.

The reasons for the deal seemed obvious: compared to Chaosium, Avalon Hill was a giant. They could put far more resources behind RQ than Chaosium ever could. And Chaosium needed funds; by all accounts they would have soon faced bankruptcy if they hadn't sold one of their two prime properties, either Call of Cthulhu or RQ. By selling RQ but retaining control over Glorantha, it seemed they might have the best of both worlds. And so Chaosium created RuneQuest III for Avalon Hill.

RuneQuest III

Title: RuneQuest (III)
Published: 1984 by Avalon Hill.
Authors: Steve Perrin, Greg Stafford, Steve Henderson, Lynn Willis, Charlie Krank, Ray Turney, Ken Rolston, and Sandy Petersen.

RuneQuest III included several changes from previous versions. The three most notable were conversion from a 5%-incremental percentile-based system to a true percentile mechanic; the decoupling of Glorantha from the main rulebook with the introduction of a new default world called Fantasy Earth (although Glorantha was still the major focus of the system, and a Glorantha Book was packaged with the original set); and the addition of a third school of magic, Sorcery. The system was somewhat "genericized" at this time, although it remained within the bounds of general fantasy roleplaying.

Fan feelings about these changes were mixed. The consensus seemed to be that most of the mechanics changes were improvements, but that the Sorcery system was a questionable addition. The lack of a flexible character design system was decried. In addition, the de-emphasis of Glorantha disappointed many. Some, of course, remained diehard RQII proponents.

A Common Misconception: Even more than twenty years after the publication of RuneQuest III, some fans blame Avalon Hill for flaws that they see in the system. In fact, RuneQuest III was designed in-house by Chaosium, as can be seen instantly by simply looking at the list of authors for each edition.

We may, however, legitimately blame Avalon Hill for the initial abysmal physical production values of RuneQuest III, which were not corrected for more than five years.

Avalon Hill published RQIII from 1984 through 1995. During the 80's fans were deeply disappointed. The core game had been published in three different ways: a Players Set, a GMs Set, and a complete Deluxe Set consisting of the Players and GMs sets. All were boxed sets, with the game broken up into several stapled pamphlets. These were so flimsy that they often literally fell apart after a mere few weeks of use, forcing RQ players to make heavy use of reinforcing tape. This flimsiness was especially unfortunate since the price of the new RuneQuest material was extremely high, particularly in Europe.

Supplements came out rarely, and were usually disappointing. Old RQII material was updated and recycled, but the process was not handled well; in one case the same material was cut up and included in three different supplements. Beloved classic works such as Griffin Mountain (released as Griffin Island for RQIII) were rewritten to remove Gloranthan references, but much of the unique fun quality of RQII and Glorantha was removed in the process. It took years for much of the old material to see daylight again, and fans felt that since these were only rewrites of already-existing material, the process was taking far too long.

New non-Gloranthan material ranged from good to horrendous. The quality of art (mostly awful) was an in-joke among fans ("chop Dobyski's hands off!"). The system, once the primary challenger to AD&D (although always a rather distant second in terms of sales), dropped back into relative obscurity.

The RuneQuest Renaissance

Early in the 1990's, however, a new spirit began to energize RuneQuest. This was fueled to a large extent by the growing popularity of the Internet. Online activity increased steadily. The RuneQuest Digest (a mailing list which also had a weekly digest version) served as a locus for players and writers to discuss the game and create new material. Amateur publications were put together by various groups, some of surprisingly good quality. RuneQuest conventions of various names appeared in Europe and later in America (RQ has always been popular in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, although Chaosium is based in California). A new editor (aka "Rune Czar") was installed at Avalon Hill: Ken Rolston, one of the authors of the RQIII rulebook. He had also written some RQII material for Chaosium, and had a solid reputation with RuneQuest fans. Ken recruited writers from the fan base and published well-illustrated new Gloranthan material. It was the age of the RuneQuest Renaissance.

A new perfect-bound edition of the RuneQuest rules was released, containing all of the rules and errata in a single reasonably sturdy collection. Talk of a new RuneQuest IV flowered during this time, too. Several early playtest editions were written. Unfortunately, however, the RuneQuest Renaissance was all too brief.

Trouble In Paradise

The RuneQuest audience had begun to split between those who saw RuneQuest as a mere vehicle for discussion and exploration of the world of Glorantha, and those who saw Glorantha as one good (but not indispensable) setting for an outstanding FRP rules system. The majority of fans ended up in the first camp, and the RuneQuest Digest/Daily mailing list became a hotbed of a new breed of Gloranthan "scholar". The list began to see discussions of amazing obscurity, focusing on Gloranthan issues both minute and esoteric.

But some of the new Glorantha fans were far less friendly and tolerant of "error" than the older fans had been. The ever-growing complexity of Glorantha (and Greg Stafford's penchant to frequently revise elements of the world and its history, a habit which came to be called "Gregging"), was daunting to those roleplayers who looked at the world primarily as a setting for a fun RPG, rather than an end to itself. The amount of Gloranthan information available became so great that the learning curve was forbidding to some new players. What's more, a good deal of the material was self-contradictory, reflecting Stafford's policy of semi-subjectivism (i.e. previously-released Gloranthan lore might have been deliberately or mistakenly misreported by "historians"). This was clever from a sociology/anthropology perspective, but it produced confusion and arguments among fans, too.

The split in the fan base deepened. Likewise, the RuneQuest Digest split into two camps, and ended up as two separate lists: The Gloranthan Digest, which became the home of Gloranthan scholarship, and the RuneQuest-Rules list, which served (and still serves) the smaller but still substantial number of fans of the RuneQuest system. Of course many subscribed to both lists. Both lists are still active as of Summer 2011, incidentally. Archives of previous versions of the RuneQuest-Rules list are also available.

RuneQuest IV?

The RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha project was headed by Oliver Jovanovic. It was an attempt to update the RQIII rules by adding more detail: three different levels of skill difficulty, a highly complex character design system, and a new Sorcery system. RuneQuest III's flawed Fatigue and ENC systems were also given the major overhaul they needed. Glorantha was, as advertised, re-integrated into the game. For the first time, the western section of the continent of Genertela was to be heavily detailed.

Some complained that the new rules were far too complex at a time when RPGs were trending toward simplicity. Others argued that realism and effective simulation was RQ's strong point, and should be maintained. Healthy but cheerful debate was widespread, and it seemed likely that the playtest process would result in a superior edition of the game.

But despite appearances, the future wasn't bright for RQ:AiG.

1994: The End of RQIII

1994 started out cheerfully, with the first RuneQuest Con in Baltimore, Maryland. The weather was deadly cold, but RuneQuest fans rejoiced; over 200 were able to get together in person for a great weekend. But the rest of 1994 was not to be as kind.

In April 1994 Ken Rolston left his position as Rune Czar for Avalon Hill (he later worked on computer RPGs, particularly Morrowind). The fan community was once again shut out of Avalon Hill. The RuneQuest Renaissance was over.

Ken Rolston, Rune Czar, has accepted a position as Game Designer for Magnet Interactive Studios in Washington DC, and is in the process of relocating there suddenly. ... As you know, the current draft of RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha, previously scheduled for summer 1994, has not been approved by Greg. I am not personally involved in editing or development of that project, and I don't have anything official or informative to say about it at the moment.

-Ken Rolston, The RuneQuest Digest, April 7, 1994

With the brief exception of the Renaissance, RuneQuest fans had been extremely disappointed by the poor support that the system had received from Avalon Hill. Chaosium, it turned out, felt likewise. Avalon Hill had made strong representations to them of outstanding support for RuneQuest, and - except briefly under Rolston - the reality had fallen very far short of that promise.

In 1994 Greg Stafford decided that he didn't approve of the way RQ:AiG handled Glorantha, and the project was halted. At about the same time relations between Chaosium and Avalon Hill deteriorated to a new low. It was rumored that Chaosium had offered a substantial payment to Avalon Hill's President, Jack Dott, for the rights to the RuneQuest system, and that this offer was refused. Chaosium and Avalon Hill broke off relations.

Chaosium pulled all rights to Glorantha at that point. Avalon Hill was allowed to sell the Gloranthan RuneQuest material that they had already printed, but were not allowed to print any more.

Unexpectly, and before anyone was ready for it, RuneQuest III was dead.

After the End

Avalon Hill and Jovanovic tried to find a new setting for the RuneQuest IV system, and eventually settled on Jack Vance's fantasy novel Lyonesse. But in 1996 Jovanovic was arrested on a morals charge which received national press coverage. For a short time RuneQuest was on the verge of national infamy; members of the RuneQuest discussion list and publishers of RQ sites were contacted by reporters from major newspapers, who seemed to be under the impression that RQ was some sort of exciting Internet sex cult (they were quite disappointed by the truth). Jovanovic was convicted in 1998, and later exonerated in 2001 when the case was dropped upon review.

But his arrest in 1996 was the final nail in the coffin for RQIV. No version was ever published commercially.

One possible reason for Avalon Hill's panicked withdrawal from RQIV was that their most well-known project of the time was a popular magazine for young girls. Being linked with an apparent internet sex crime/scandal, however tangentially, could have been toxic.

So here's how matters stood: Avalon Hill retained the copyright to the text of the RuneQuest system and the trademark for the RuneQuest name, but was forbidden to reprint any Gloranthan material. Chaosium kept all rights to Glorantha, but couldn't publish the RQ system. RuneQuest and the world of Glorantha, which had been joined at the hip for twenty years, were finally separated from each other as commercial entities - apparently for good.

Enter Issaries

In the summer of 1997, Chaosium announced plans to create a new Gloranthan RPG company: Issaries, Inc.. Incorporation papers were filed in California on 11/20/1997.

It was announced that a new, better, more appropriate rules system would be created for Glorantha under the Issaries label. Rumors flew. Some speculated that it would be based on David Dunham's popular PenDragon Pass system; a Glorantha-customized form of Chaosium's "Pendragon" Arthurian RPG (which, as noted earlier, was a relatively distant member of the BRP family, being d20 based and therefore not as compatible with RQ as most BRP systems). Others claimed that a new cutting-edge system would be created, specifically designed to allow full scalability; in other words, a system that would work both for mundane, relatively low-power characters as well as extremely powerful ones, thus filling the niches both of RuneQuest and the long-promised HeroQuest. Until the system was created, Chaosium would publish "systemless" books about Glorantha.

A Gloranthan-specific system called Hero Wars was eventually published by Issaries, but the mechanics were completely unrelated to any version of RuneQuest, and the design philosophy ("cutting-edge" and scalable, but rather minimalistic and free-form) was also not compatible with RuneQuest. In a later edition Hero Wars was renamed HeroQuest, but this was not related to RuneQuest in any way (see Special: HeroQuest for more details). Issaries was not to play a direct role in the history of RuneQuest for the next several years.

RuneQuest: Slayers? and Takeovers Galore

In 1997 Avalon Hill announced a new version of RQ: RuneQuest: Slayers. A playtest version was released. However, this was RuneQuest only in name. The mechanics of the new system bore no relationship at all to the old RQ, and in many ways were in direct opposition to core RuneQuest concepts. Virtually every point which had made RQ unique was reversed, and compatibility between the systems was apparently nil.

The intelligence of keeping the RuneQuest name (which thanks to years of neglect by Avalon Hill was now relatively obscure) and replacing the RuneQuest system (which even over 30 years after its creation is still in many ways state-of-the-art) is questionable at best. Avalon Hill never really understood roleplaying games - although, to be fair, their wargames were outstanding.

Before RuneQuest: Slayers could be published it was placed into limbo, however, by the takeover of Avalon Hill by Hasbro in 1998. RuneQuest: Slayers was terminated by Hasbro, and eventually a free online version was released. Its name was later changed to RuneSlayer, and it recently disappeared from the Web. It should be noted that although it claimed to be a "sequel" to RuneQuest, it really had nothing in common with the RQ system except the name itself. However it did, in fairness, extensively feature runes.

Shortly after Hasbro took over Avalon Hill, they also purchased Wizards of the Coast - which had itself previously taken over TSR, publishers of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (the gaming industry was remarkably tempestuous in those days). It was announced that WOTC had been given control over all former Avalon Hill games, including RuneQuest. Many feared that RQ would never been seen again in any commercial form; since WOTC already owned TSR and therefore (A)D&D, most agreed that it was extremely unlikely that they'd bother with a relatively obscure game like RQ.

As WOTC expounded their new theory that the roleplaying community would be better off with only one rules system (which soon resulted in the release of the D20 rules), the prospect of a new edition of RuneQuest dwindled. Fans talked about acquiring the rights to the system, but Hasbro/WOTC refused to answer inquiries on the subject. They were reportedly hostile to such requests by fans of other defunct RPGs that they owned, too.

In any case, the prospect of dealing with a massive, faceless corporation like Hasbro was daunting for fans who were used to meeting and even scolding game company presidents and authors at conventions.

Aftermath of RQIII

There was still a little hope that RQ would resurface in some form, however. Word circulated that the president of WOTC, Peter Adkinson, had either played RQ when younger or at the least had been heavily influenced by RQ in the design of his own "house" version of AD&D. Jonathan Tweet, who was working on D&D 3.0, was an avowed RuneQuest fan. And indeed, the WOTC release of the new third edition of AD&D seemed to show definite signs of being influenced by RQ, particularly in the skill system. But when Adkinson left Hasbro, few could doubt that it was finally the end for RQ as a commercial entity - even as part of another system.

1997 - 2002: The Lean Years

The years surrounding the turn of the millennium were depressing ones for RuneQuest devotees. There were a few fan magazines being published, but all of them had partially or totally gone over to Gloranthan-centered material in anticipation of the new Glorantha RPG from Issaries. The RuneQuest system lived on only in the RuneQuest-Rules Digest and the web pages of dedicated RQ fans.

But there were a few bright spots. There were some reprints of classic RQII material, although the RQII system itself was never reprinted. There was a lot of discussion about putting up a compatible version of the RQIII rules online, in order to allow new players to take up the game. But despite the clean design of the core system, RuneQuest as a whole is large, and none of those projects were completed during this time (though years later, that would change).

Likewise, there was a lot of talk about creating a new, unofficial online version of RuneQuest IV. Since AD&D3 was closer to RQ than any earlier version (and possibly closer than Issaries' HeroQuest), some suggested that AD&D3 might serve as a gateway to RQ for advanced players. But with no central company or authority to back it, all these efforts faltered.

Steve Perrin (the primary author of the original RQ system) produced Steve Perrin's Quest Rules, a "successor and alternate to his popular RuneQuest(tm) rules". These were (and are) available online in PDF format for US $25.00 as of this date; the first chapter is available on Steve's site for free.

But, all in all, it was a long five years.

2002: A Flicker From The Ashes

In August 2002 Chaosium (which was no longer affiliated with Greg Stafford or Issaries, Inc. in any way) announced that they were going to be reprinting Basic Roleplaying, the core of the RuneQuest system. There was considerable excitement over this announcement, and a great deal of speculation.

2003: Lapses and Reversions

In 2003 Hasbro/WOTC allowed the trademark to the RuneQuest name to lapse, and Issaries, Inc. acquired it. The copyright on the text of RuneQuest III reverted to Chaosium due to non-use; Chaosium confirmed this with Hasbro's lawyers. So once again both elements were out of the hands of WOTC/Hasbro. But by this point Chaosium and Issaries had split, and were two completely separate entities.

Chaosium republished Basic RolePlaying (BRP) after a 20-year lapse. This edition was mildly edited and updated from the original BRP. At the time it was the closest thing to a commercial edition of RuneQuest commercially available.

2004: An Unexpected Rebirth

In 2004 Chaosium startled the RuneQuest community by releasing a series of "monograph" editions (i.e. relatively unedited and bare-bones) of what they called Basic Roleplaying, and later Deluxe Basic Roleplaying - but word flew through the ranks that these were the RQIII rules in all but name. They were, in fact, almost word-for-word reprints of the original RuneQuest III rule booklets (this was, of course, only possible because the copyrights to the text of the RuneQuest III system had reverted to Chaosium the previous year). However, since Issaries and Greg Stafford retained the trademark for the name "RuneQuest" (and, of course, Glorantha). For that reason, the word "RuneQuest" and all references to Glorantha were removed from the monograph editions.

At several conventions Charlie Krank, the new President of Chaosium, spread the word that an advanced edition of Deluxe Basic Roleplaying was being prepared. The new edition would include additional rules, some from other iterations of BRP, such as the out-of-print science fiction game Ringworld. This would make the RuneQuest system truly multi-genre, useable with virtually any setting - even though for legal reasons it could no longer be called "RuneQuest".

2005: The Great Blurring

In 2005, Greg Stafford made a deal with Mongoose Publishing to produce a new edition of RuneQuest. This became generally known as Mongoose RQ or MRQ for short. Since Stafford owned the trademark to the RuneQuest name, but not the the copyright to the text of the RuneQuest system (which had reverted to his former company, Chaosium), Stafford announced that the new Mongoose RQ would be a re-creation: "the same system using different words". Since copyright law does not regard systems of roleplaying mechanics as patentable intellectual property, this allowed Mongoose to create their own version of RQ without the permission of the copyright-owners or the creators of previous versions of the RuneQuest system.

2006 - 2007: Confusion!

In August 2006 Mongoose Publishing (under agreement with Issaries, Inc.) produced a new edition of RuneQuest, commonly called "Mongoose RuneQuest" or "MRQ" by fans. It was the product of a tumultuous playtest process which included some fairly strong disagreements ("disasterous" might not be too strong a word to describe the playtest, according to many of those involved). General reaction on the RuneQuest-Rules mailing list, the oldest and most active forum for discussion of the RuneQuest system, was mixed at best. The general consensus seemed to be that some of the new rules broke with classic RuneQuest mechanics, require clarification or correction, and were apparently included simply to increase compatibility with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Whether or not this was an acceptable trade-off was a matter of hot debate.

MRQ featured second-age Glorantha as a background by agreement with Issaries. Other settings were also published, including Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion setting (the RPG rights to which were previously held by Chaosium). The core Mongoose RQ documents themselves were made "open source" and posted online.

It should be noted that the provenance of Mongoose RQ represented a break from the previous ownership of the RuneQuest system - since MRQ was announced as being "the same system using different words". This was apparently done because the copyright to the actual text of the RuneQuest systems were still retained by Chaosium. Unlike the specific text used to describe them, roleplaying systems and rule sets themselves apparently cannot be copyrighted or trademarked.

In any case, Mongoose's first edition of RuneQuest did not contain an acknowledgement or even mention most of the actual creators of the original RQ1, 2 or 3 systems. It included an acknowledgment of Greg Stafford, who created the game world of Glorantha and was President of Chaosium when they originally published RQ- but was less involved in the creation of the RuneQuest system.

In the meantime, playtest finished for Chaosium's new multi-genre D100 / Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System (the publication title for what was called Deluxe Basic RolePlaying while in development). The publication date was announced for Fall 2007. A licensed game based on the Deadwood comic book using the new BRP rules was announced by Seraphim Guard for Summer 2008. Seraphim Guard also produced other supplements for RuneQuest.

I should note that I was part of the initial Mongoose RQ playtest group, but not the later "inner circle" group. I was not impressed by the Mongoose rules. I was also part of the Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System playtest group, and was extremely impressed by the design choices made for that system. I was not part of the playtests for Mongoose's "RuneQuest 2", nor any other versions. ->Peter

2008: Rebirth!

On June 24th, 2008, Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium System started shipping. It was an extremely impressive multi-genre compilation of the best rules from many Chaosium games based on RuneQuest and BRP. In fact, since it offered the option of using a "menu" of different optional rules, it could actually duplicate RuneQuest III precisely - depending on the rule modules used by the gamemaster.

Ironically, a company called Goblinoid Games also published a game which was virtually identical in many ways to the Call of Cthulhu system, and therefore to all BRP-derived systems - including RuneQuest. They called it "G.O.R.E.", short for Generic Old-school Role-playing Engine, and made it available online at no cost. And thus wild west rules have truly come to roleplaying; RPG systems are effectively unprotected and unprotectable, except for the specific words and trademarkable names that they incorporate. Getting around such restrictions was all too easy. What did this mean for the future of traditional roleplaying? How would things turn out for the three iterations of RuneQuest/BRP that were now commercially available from three different companies? Only time would tell.

2011: Undead/Alive?

Chaos continued to be the single defining hallmark of the RuneQuest system. In 2010, Mongoose Publishing released a new version of their RuneQuest system under the name "RuneQuest 2" - which nonetheless was not the classic RuneQuest II system under which RuneQuest became famous in the 1980s, but rather a revision of Mongoose's first take on RuneQuest. By most accounts these rules were an improvement on the original Mongoose RQ system. And Mongoose did acknowledge the original creators of the RuneQuest system in their new edition.

But in any case, and for reasons unknown, Mongoose Publishing and Issaries parted ways in June of 2011. With that split, publication of all versions of RuneQuest by Mongoose ceased.

Except not quite! Mongoose retains the copyright to their own version of the RuneQuest rules (albeit not the trademark to the RuneQuest name, which remains with Issaries), and have announced that they will be publishing those rules as the "Wayfarer" RPG, later changed to the "Legend" RPG since it turned out that "Wayfarer" was already trademarked. They've also announced plans to convert a number of their other RPGs to the Legend system, including their Eternal Champion games. None of these systems include Gloranthan material, of course, since the rights to Glorantha remain with Issaries. Issaries did not immediately announce any plans for the RuneQuest trademark. However, there were now even more versions of the RuneQuest system than ever on the market - although a family tree showing the relationships between them would be very difficult to diagram.

The one thing that seemed sure was that more developments were on the way. But they came quicker than anyone expected.

On July 16, 2011, a new game company called The Design Mechanism announced that they would be coming out with a new edition of RuneQuest, called "RuneQuest 6th Edition", under agreement with Issaries. The ruleset is based on Mongoose Publication's RQ2, and will not be integrated with Glorantha. However, The Design Mechanism will be working with Moon Publications to produce Gloranthan supplements for the system. They will also publish generic supplements. The new system will not be released under an Open Gaming License, but under a custom license which will apparently be equivalent to OGL. The ETA is "early 2012".

Several other versions of the system have been published or posted online, including (but probably not limited to) OpenQuest, RetroQuest, GlyphMaster, Draker & Demoner, Privateers and Gentlemen, Other Suns, Mutant: Undergangen, Parpuzio, and D100 Rules. And, of course, Steve Perrin's Quest Rules are still available.

Complex Relationships Explained

There had been a number of different companies publishing new and old RuneQuest material over the years, for many different versions of the system and for various backgrounds. Issaries' webpage leads almost immediately to that of Moon Design, which led some to wonder if Moon Design was related to the Reaching Moon MegaCorp which was noted for producing RuneQuest and Gloranthan material during the long dry years when the system was out of print. Luckily a major clarification was posted to the RuneQuest-Rules mailing list on July 21, 2011:

Issaries Inc. is owned by Greg Stafford. He controls the 3 trademarks for Glorantha, Heroquest and Runequest. He also owns the intellectual property rights to Glorantha. While Issaries Inc. was the original publisher of Heroquest RPG material, the company is now mainly used by Greg to issue publication licenses for Heroquest, Runequest, and Glorantha. Greg still writes too.

Moon Design Publications is owned by Rick Meints and Jeff Richard. We currently hold the license to the Heroquest trademark and have a license to use the Glorantha trademark. We also have the rights to reprint much of the "RQ 2nd edition copyrighted material" as we have done via the Gloranthan Classics series of reprints. We are the current publisher of Heroquest Gloranthan material, and we also license third party companies, such as Alephtar Games and D101 Games, to publish Heroquest publications.

The Design Mechanism is owned by Lawrence "Loz" Whitaker and Pete Nash. They are the current holders of the Runequest trademark license, and also have a license to publish Gloranthan material.

The Reaching Moon Megacorp is/was David Hall's UK based company. They have not published anything for about 10 years. They are most famous for their publication of the "Tales of the Reaching Moon" magazine, which ran for 20 issues. David (and the Megacorp) has largely retired from RPG publishing. I used to help David on a number of his projects.

All of the specifically named people mentioned above are all friends that have known each other for about 20 years (give or take a few years). We have worked together on many projects in various combinations, and you may often see us at the Continuum and Eternal Conventions in Europe. We continue to work on various projects together. Moon Design is going to help the Design Mechanism publish their Runequest material. Pete [Nash] and Loz are also signed up to write some Gloranthan Heroquest books for Moon Design.

- Rick Meints, Moon Design

 

What Next?

Watch this space to find out!

 

Resources:

A list of all Glorantha material published for RuneQuest may be found at Issaries, Inc.. This includes some third-party and fan-produced material that are still available. Note that a fair amount of RuneQuest material isn't for Glorantha, and some of it is quite good. The RQIII Fantasy Earth Land of the Ninja supplement was outstanding, for example. Both Chaosium and Judges Guild published some "Questworld" RuneQuest II Gateway supplements for RQII in the late 1970s and early 1980s. If anyone out there turns up a complete list of RQ publications online, I'd love to see it.

The Meints Index to Glorantha listed all RuneQuest publications, although I never saw it myself. It is apparently no longer available. The link has been removed since it is now invalid.

In Print:

Moon Design Publications is embarked on an impressive project: the production of new editions of many classic RuneQuest supplements. These are not simply photocopies, but complete new versions containing the original texts. Apparently hardcover editions are also available in some cases. Pavis & Big Rubble is a combined version of both RQ2 supplements (highly recommended!); also in print are Griffin Mountain, and a Cult Compendium consisting of the original RQ2 sourcebooks books Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror combined with additional source material. These are all wonderful books. I only wish I could afford them.

The books are available directly from Rick at the Moon Design link above, or from Warehouse 23.

Tradetalk, published by the international Chaos Society, is another Glorantha/RuneQuest magazine which publishes articles on other BRP-derived Chaosium games as well. Honesty compels me to admit that many years ago I served for some time as an associate editor on Tradetalk, although I have not done anything for them in years. I used to rewrite imperfectly-translated articles for them. One or two of my articles were published in a past issue, as I recall.

Here's a tip: it's incredibly easy to convert material from any version of RQ to another, with the obvious exception of RuneQuest: Slayers. It's certainly easier than converting to or from HeroQuest, although I haven't tried to myself. Conversion from any of Chaosium's BRP-derived systems is also relatively easy—at worst it's like shifting between one dialect and another in the same language. It should be noted that Chaosium is still publishing new material for their Call of Cthulhu system.

Out of Print:

Most classic RuneQuest II and RQIII material is obviously out of print (with the exception of the renamed monograph editions of the core RQ3 rulebooks from Chaosium, as noted above), but it is possible to find a lot of it still for sale—even RQ2 material (and if you get the chance, buy the red hardcover RQ2 book—it's great, and incredibly durable). Avalon Hill used to offer a lot of it, but Hasbro apparently pulped it all. Still, here are some good sources:

  1. The American Book Exchange is one of many online used-book databases. Their database is constantly changing, so they're worth keeping an eye on.
  2. BookFinder is another excellent general used-book service, and since it takes its results from many other online databases, it's huge.
  3. Noble Knight Games has an excellent selection of obscure and out-of-print RuneQuest material.
  4. Ebay might be the best source of all. They usually have dozens of RQ publications, and the widest range of books by far.
  5. How about your local game store? If it's a good one, they may have some back stock lying around. Play your cards right, and you might even get a discount! And of course it's always a Good Idea to support your local game store.

Glossary:

AD&D, D&D - (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons, now published by giant toy company Hasbro.

AH - The Avalon Hill Game Company, publishers of RQIII. Now wholly owned by Hasbro.

APA - Amateur Press Association (variant: Amateur Publishing Association). A collection of separately-produced fan pamphlets, bound together and published as a magazine. Typically low-circulation, often by subscription only.

BRP - The Basic Role-Playing system, a simplified version of RuneQuest first published by Chaosium in 1980. Also the name of the much-expanded multi-genre non-Gloranthan system published by Chaosium in 2008.

D100 / Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System - the official name for what was called "Deluxe Basic Roleplaying" (see DBRP), a multi-genre update of BRP and RuneQuest rules which was released in 2008.

FRP - Fantasy Role Playing.

GM - Gamemaster. The RuneQuest equivalent of (A)D&D's "Dungeon Master" (DM). The judge/referee of an RPG.

GURPS - The Generic Universal Role-Playing System, published by Steve Jackson Games. Not related to RQ.

Legend - Mongoose Publications' non-Gloranthan RQ-based system, specifically based on their own RQ2.

Monograph BRP - Monograph editions of Basic RolePlaying published by Chaosium, which are not the classic Chaosium system which was made by simplifying RQII but rather the individual RuneQuest III books (the same as those published by Avalon Hill in the 1980s) with the name "RuneQuest" removed and replaced with "Basic RolePlaying". The only other difference is that all Gloranthan content has been removed.

MRQ - Mongoose RuneQuest. A Gloranthan version of RuneQuest published in August 2006 by Mongoose Publishing under the auspices of Issaries and Greg Stafford. It includes much of the RuneQuest rules system phrased in different words to avoid infringing on Chaosium's copyright of the text of RuneQuest I, II, and III, but has some rules which break from previous RuneQuest standards. Ceased publication in June 2011.

NPCs - Non-Player Characters, the "extras" and others controlled by the GM in a roleplaying game.

PCs - Player Characters in a roleplaying game.

RPG - Role Playing Game.

RQI, RQ1, RQII, RQ2, RQII, RQIII, RQ3, RQIV, RQ4 - RuneQuest versions one through four. Note that Mongoose's RuneQuest 2 is very different from the classic RuneQuest II system.

RQ:AiG - RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha, a playtest version of RQIV that was never published.

RuneQuest Sixth Edition - the apparent name of the new generic-but-associated-with-Glorantha version of the RQ system (via Mongoose Publications' RQ2), from The Design Mechanism, a new game company created by some of the authors of Mongoose's RQ2.

TSR - Originally an acronym for Tactical Studies Rules; later that name was dropped in favor of the initials alone. Former publisher of (A)D&D.

WOTC - Wizards of the Coast, a game company which acquired TSR and was soon after itself acquired by Hasbro.

WoW - Worlds of Wonder, an early multi-genre BRP-derived system from Chaosium. Based on Chaosium's RuneQuest II rules.


Peter Maranci is a long-time RuneQuest player and GM, a former Associate Editor of Tradetalk (the Journal of the International Chaos Society), founder and former editor of the Interregnum RPG APAzine (now defunct), and the author/publisher of Pete's RuneQuest & Roleplaying!, one of the oldest and most popular RuneQuest sites on the web. You're soaking in it.

A previous version of this article.


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