What Is RuneQuest?

RuneQuest is an innovative skill-based roleplaying game system, the first of its kind. It features an extremely clean, simple, and logical set of rules which can easily be applied to any genre or situation. The same rules apply to all species and characters, making the system both fair and easy to run. The result is an outstanding balance between playability and realism.

The RuneQuest system has gone through a lot over the years, and a number of different versions have been created - some unrelated to the original system, while others for legal reasons lack the RuneQuest name. Several versions are currently available commercially, or soon will be.

First published by Chaosium in 1978, RuneQuest introduced several major innovations which heavily influenced the course of RPG design from that point on. These innovations included:

NEW: Core rules for the Basic Role-Playing system. This system is the basis for RuneQuest, and can be easily used with RuneQuest scenarios and other materials. It is most closely related to RuneQuest 2.


RuneQuest was used to create Chaosium's original Basic Roleplaying System (BRP), and as such is immediately compatible with all other BRP-related systems: Call of Cthulhu, Elric! Stormbringer, Ringworld, ElfQuest, SuperWorld, as well as the upcoming multi-genre D100 / Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System (D100 for short).

AD&D is fairly compatible with RQ; there was once a AD&D to RuneQuest conversion system online, but it's not there any more. Still, conversion from and to RQ is usually a quite simple proposition, because clean and logical nature of the RQ rules. It's not necessary to waste time creating new ad-hoc tables or making lots of judgement calls.


The RuneQuest combat system was designed by some members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which is not affiliated in any way with the system. They based the system on their actual fighting experiences. Unlike many fantasy roleplaying systems, there is a comparatively high level of danger; very few mortals could wade into a group of even weak enemies and not be in serious jeopardy. This makes teamwork and strategy very important. The relatively high level of detail in combat results in fairly long battles, but abbreviated rules can speed up a fight.


In many RuneQuest campaigns, everyone uses magic (although there are settings in which magic is not universally available, or not available at all). And not only PCs: NPCs and monsters, too, have magic spells that they can and do use. The most common form of magic in RuneQuest III is called spirit magic (or battle magic in RQ2); these are simple spells which can be learned and cast by anyone. These spells are cast using the personal magical energy of the character as fuel; this energy is called magic points, and continuously renews itself over a period of 24 hours. Personal magic points are equal to POWer, which is one of the seven characteristics that sentient creatures have in RQ (the others are STRength, CONstitution, SIZe, INTtelligence, DEXterity, and APPearance).

You can cast the same spirit or sorcery spell over and over, as many times as you want, as long as you have the magic points to spend on it. Or different spells, of course. Spells are known permanently by the caster unless they choose to forget them, and a caster may cast any of the spells s/he knows whenever and as often as they like -- as long as they have the energy. However, spirit magic spells do NOT have a cumulative effect - if you cast the same weapon-enhancing spell more than once on the same weapon, there is no additional effect (in other words, you'll have wasted magic points).

The effect of spells depends on the spell, but all spirit magic spells share some basic characteristics: they last either for five minutes or are instant, the chance to cast them is equal to the caster's POW times 5%, and they have a range of 30 meters or touch. Here's an example of the difference:

Heal 1 costs 1 magic point to cast. The caster touches another person or themselves, casts the spell, and the target is healed of one point of damage immediately. Higher versions of Heal are available, which cost more and heal an equally higher amount of damage. Because Heal comes in different strengths, it is called a variable spell. One unusual thing about Heal is that it takes at least a Heal 2 spell to stop bleeding. As with most variable spells, versions as high as Heal 4 are often available to be learned; higher versions exist, but are usually kept as the secret knowledge of healing guilds and churches. Incidentally, anyone who knows a high level of a variable spell can cast the spell at any lower level they wish, for the appropriate cost. In other words, if you know Heal 4 you can choose to cast Heal 1, 2, or 3 instead, using the appropriate number of magic points to do it.

Disruption costs 1 magic point to cast. When cast, a spark of magical energy shoots from the finger of the caster and strike a target up to 30 meters away. The spell never misses, but the target may try to resist the effects of the spell; resistance is discussed in the next section. If the target fails to resist they take 1d3 damage to a random hit location. The effect of the spell is instant. Disruption is non-variable; there is no other version of the spell than the 1-point version.

Bladesharp 1 costs 1 magic point to cast. When cast by touch on an edged weapon, that weapon has plus 5% to hit and plus one to damage for the next five minutes. This is the exact equivalent in AD&D of a plus-one weapon. Again, this is a variable spell; it is possible to learn versions as high as Bladesharp 4. Even higher versions exist, but the knowledge of these is usually kept secret by warrior organizations or cults.

April 18, 2003: While progress on a write-up of the RQ system stalled, I made another abortive attempt in a Word document. It too stalled out for a long time, but I recently dug it up, wrote a bit more, and converted the work-in-progress into HTML.

It should also be noted that just as RuneQuest III was able to accomodate three different magic systems simultaneously, new magic systems can easily be incorporated into RQ. By all accounts new magic systems are likely to be released for Chaosium's new Basic RolePlaying/D100, for example.

The History of RuneQuest has more information about what the system has gone through over the years, as well as links and tips on where you can buy RuneQuest material.

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[email protected] Copyright 2000 by Peter Maranci. Released: November 14, 2000. Revised: June 17, 2011. v.1.8