See What Is RuneQuest? for more information about the system.
|Title: RuneQuest I
Published: 1978 by Chaosium.
Authors: Steve Perrin and Ray Turney, with Steve Henderson, Warren James, and Greg Stafford.
In 1978 a new roleplaying game burst onto the scene: RuneQuest. It was the first skill-based game, 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.
|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.
|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).
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. Future*World also died out.
The boxed set included cardstock minatures, a map, and dice.
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. This should not be confused with the original BRP, although there is, of course, a close relationship.
|Title: RuneQuest II
Published: 1980 by Chaosium.
Authors: Steve Perrin and Ray Turney, with Steve Henderson, Warren James, Greg Stafford, and John Sapienza.
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 Duck Tower. 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.
From the first, RQ players were intrigued by references to a "higher" level of gaming: HeroQuesting. Set in the mythic GodTime 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. Eventually Milton Bradley published a major board game with the name HeroQuest. Chaosium had apparently failed to get or maintain the rights to it. But fans and publications still referred to HeroQuests, and many created their own versions for their own campaigns. Some can still be found online.
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 game 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 are 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?
In 1984 Chaosium entered into an agreement with Avalon Hill, the preeminent wargame company at the time. Avalon Hill acquired the rights to the RuneQuest system; Greg Stafford retained rights to the world of Glorantha. AH would publish RuneQuest III, while Stafford had 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 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, including a Glorantha Book 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.
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 Player's Set, a GM's Set, and a complete Deluxe Set. All were boxed sets, with the game broken up into many pamphlets. These were so flimsy that they often literally fell apart within weeks of use.
What's more, Avalon Hill attempted to sell packages of character sheets. One of the things that some fans had excoriated TSR for was their determination to sell AD&D character sheets; Chaosium had put itself on a higher moral plane by including blank character sheets with their games, and granting permission to photocopy them as needed. They'd even published several alternate free versions in later supplements. The RQIII rulebook also included a copyable character sheet, but by trying to sell printed blanks AH seemed to be copying TSRwhich did not endear them to a fan base that was rather hostile to that company.
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 sold three times over 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 a potential competitor to AD&D, dropped back into relative obscurity.
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 daily 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 America (RQ has always been particularly popular in Europe, although Chaosium is based in California). A new editor at Avalon Hill named Ken Rolston (who had written some of the published material for RQII) 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. Work on RuneQuest IV began during this time, too. Several playtest editions were written. However, problems plagued the project. High-level disagreements were rumored, both over mechanics and Glorantha. Some complained that the new rules were far too complex at a time when RPGs were trending toward simplicity. At the same time, most were cheered by the announcement that RQIV was to re-emphasize Glorantha, and in fact was to be called "RuneQuest: Adventures In Glorantha" (RQ:AIG).
Meanwhile, the RuneQuest audience began 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 issues both minute and esoteric.
But some RQ enthusiasts felt that the new Gloranthan elite 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 major 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 level 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, and even praiseworthy from a sociology/anthropology perspective, but it also led to a lot of confusion.
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 the smaller number of fans who preferred RuneQuest mechanics to the world of Glorantha. Of course many subscribed to both lists. Both lists are still active and in existence as of Summer 2005, incidentally.
Two distinct events marked the beginning of the end for RuneQuest. The first was a public break-up between Chaosium and Avalon Hill; in the reportedly bitter split, AH retained rights to the RuneQuest system but was forbidden to reprint any Gloranthan material. Chaosium kept the rights to Glorantha. The RuneQuest system and the world of Glorantha finally parted forever as commercial entities.
Chaosium announced plans to create a new rules system for Glorantha. Rumors flew. Some speculated that it would be based on David Dunham's popular PenDragon Pass system; a modified form of Chaosium's "Pendragon" Arthurian RPG (which, if derived from BRP, was certainly the wildest variant and least compatible with RQ) specially designed for Glorantha. 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.
Meanwhile, the Avalon Hill RQIV project began to search for a new game-world to license. Many possibilities were suggested, but eventually Jack Vance's Lyonesse was announced as the final choice.
However, soon afterwards the main editor of the RQIV project was arrested on an unrelated but sensationalistic morals charge. For a short time RuneQuest was on the edges of national infamy; members of the RuneQuest discussion lists 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 . Avalon Hill quietly shelved the project at roughly the same time that the courts shelved the editor. Recently the charges were voided and the editor was released, having spent years in jail.
Several years later Avalon Hill announced the impending publication of a new version of RQ: RuneQuest Slayers. A playtest version was released. However, this was RuneQuest only in name. From what little was publically said, it was clear that the mechanics of the new system bore no relationship at all to the old RQ, and in many ways were in direct opposition to previous versions. Virtually every point which had made RQ unique was reversed, and compatibility between the systems was apparently nil.
Before RuneQuest Slayers could be published it was placed into limbo, however, by the takeover of Avalon Hill by Hasbro. This was shortly before Hasbro also took over Wizards of the Coast - which had itself previously taken over TSR, publishers of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (the gaming industry is remarkably tempestuous). 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 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 does not answer inquiries on the subject. They were reportedly hostile to such requests by fans of other defunct RPGs.
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. 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 Hasbro dropped the axe and Adkinson left the company, few could doubt that it was finally the end for RQ as a commercial entity.
A new game system has been written for Glorantha: Hero Wars. It's published by Issaries, Inc., an offshoot of Chaosium which is now a wholly independent company. The system is unlike RuneQuest in almost every detail; the mechanics are completely unrelated (they're "cutting-edge" and scalable, but rather minimalistic and free-form).
RuneQuest now exists...only in my memories. Ahem, I mean that it now exists only in the form of the RuneQuest-Rules Digest (now under new management) and the web pages and fan publications of those who've refused to convert to Hero Wars.
Well...it's not quite that bad. There have been some reprints of classic RQ material, which is heartening. And there has been a lot of discussion about putting up a compatible version of the rules online, in order to allow new players to take up the game (if you'd like to see my work in progress on this front, click here. But be warned, it's a Word document. Oh, and if you'd like to help me work on it, please please please email me...). Likewise, there's been a lot of talk about creating a new, unofficial online version of RuneQuest IV. Since AD&D3 is closer to RQ than any earlier version (and certainly much closer than Hero Wars), some have suggested that AD&D3 might serve as a gateway to RQ for advanced players. But with no central company or authority to back it, many of these efforts have so far faltered and been left incomplete. Perhaps some day...
|Update August 2002: Chaosium has
announced that they are going to be reprinting Basic
Roleplaying, which is essentially the core of the
RuneQuest system. Whether this will be a rewritten
edition or simply a reprint is unknown at this time, but
this should be the closest RQ can come to being on sale
in game stores again.
Also, Steve Perrin (the primary original author of the RQ system) has produced Steve Perrin's Quest Rules, a "successor and alternate to his popular RuneQuest(tm) rules". These 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.
Update April 2003:
|Update August 2004: Chaosium has reprinted Basic Roleplaying, and has released new monograph editions of BRP which are the RQIII rules in all but name. Word is that an advanced edition will include additional rules (some from other iterations of BRP, such as Ringworld) which will make the RuneQuest III system multi-genre. Issaries retains the rights to the RuneQuest trademark, but as of this date has done nothing with it.|
The Great Blurring
Update July 2005: It's now reported that Deluxe Basic Roleplaying (which will probably be released with a new name) is not based on RQIII, but rather on other recent iterations of the Basic Roleplaying system, particularly Stormbringer. The game is expected to come out sometime in 2005.
In the meantime, Greg Stafford has arranged with Mongoose Publishing to produce a new edition of RuneQuest, which is now in early playtest. Statements about the system have been somewhat contradictory, but it appears to derive from the Basic Roleplaying system. Early word is that at this point much of MRQ is the RuneQuest system expressed in new wording, but the combat system has been highly simplified. The core rulebook will not be tied to any particular world, but Glorantha - although not necessarily modern Glorantha, whatever that means - and possibly Arthurian England will be released as supplements, and the system is likely to strongly support Glorantha. Other worlds may follow. Since Mongoose is apparently quite successful at placing its products in mainstream venues, this may mean considerable exposure for RuneQuest.
However, Chaosium is not involved in any way with Mongoose's RQ (MRQ for short). So it seems that soon there will be two major systems published within a year of each other, both ultimately derived from the same original game (RuneQuest) yet not identical to it - with no sign of cooperation between the two publishers.
What this means for the future of the RuneQuest remains to be seen. And until both systems are available in their first market edition, it's impossible to say how true either game will be to the concepts that made RuneQuest an outstanding RPG.
These recent events make a completely new edition of this article likely, soon.
A list of all Glorantha material published for RuneQuest may be found at http://www.glorantha.com/products/past-products.html. 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. Chaosium and also Judges Guild published some "Questworld" RuneQuest Gateway supplements for RQII that were basically generic fantasy (though still very good). If anyone out there turns up a complete list of RQ publications online, I'd love to see it.
I'm told the Meints Index to Glorantha lists all RuneQuest publications, although I haven't seen it myself. As of April 2003, Rick only has a few copies left for sale.
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 no longer available from Wizard's Attic (why?), and as far as I can tell, they never WERE available there; they never seemed to have them in stock. You can buy them 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 I have served as an associate editor on Tradetalk in the past, although I have not done anything for them for some time (I used to rewrite imperfectly-translated articles for them, which were mostly originally in German). One of my articles was 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 much 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 easyat 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 Call of Cthulhu and the various iterations of their Eternal Champion series, based on the works of Michael Moorcock.
Most RuneQuest material is obviously out of print, but it is possible to find a lot of it still for saleeven RQ2 material (and if you get the chance, buy the red hardcover RQ2 bookit'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:
AD&D, D&D - (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons, now published by Hasbro.
AH - The Avalon Hill Game Company, publishers of RQIII.
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 published by Chaosium.
DBRP - The Deluxe Basic Roleplaying System, a multi-genre non-Gloranthan advanced BRP system from Chaosium (projected publication date in 2005)
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.
MRQ - Mongoose RuneQuest. A projected edition (2006?) of RuneQuest from Mongoose Publishing under the auspices of Issaries and Greg Stafford. It will purportedly include much of the RuneQuest rules system phrased in different words due to copyright issues.
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, RQII, RQII, RQIV - RuneQuest versions one through four.
RQ:AIG - RuneQuest: Adventures In Glorantha, a playtest version of RQIV that was never published.
TSR (variant T$R) - Formerly an acronym for Tactical Studies Rules, later simply TSR. Publisher of (A)D&D.
WOTC - Wizards of the Coast, a game company which acquired TSR and was itself acquired by Hasbro.
WOW - Worlds of Wonder, an early multi-genre BRP-derived system from Chaosium.
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.
Copyright 2001 by Peter Maranci. Revised: July 13, 2005. v. 1.15