Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In my approach to D&D, I'm an old schooler. I really love the idea of a megadungeon, and probably constructed three or four (if you count my Empire of the Petal Throne megamegadungeon, with each level on four A4 sheets taped together) back in the day. I remember my very first megadungeon had twelve levels, but no-one would ever have got past the first room of the first version (Room description: The Guardian - a balrog challenges all who try to enter the dungeon) if I hadn't realized just how idiotic that was.

Yet from the beginning something appealed to me about EPT and RuneQuest. D&D was for grim, gritty orcbashing and dragon-fighting. I don't think I ever had a character live past 8th level. Most of them died in the depths of a megadungeon, were replaced and then their replacements died in the same dank crypts. Even the published modules we played were killers. Tegel Manor? Citadel of Fire? Steading of the Hill Giant Chief? TPKs, all of them. Even in the City State of the Invincible Overlord we ended up either arrested and executed for ogling or fell victim to a gang of undead rising from the sewers.

RuneQuest offered something different. The chance to develop a character who could learn more about a world. Or, as a DM, the chance to build an epic. The lethality of RuneQuest combat actually helped in this regard - players looked for other options and DMs actively helped characters survive so they could keep their knowledge, which was what really advanced a character. Your evolving relationship with a cult meant far more than another increase in level.

The rules, however, helped too. The combat system was great for an ancient historian/wargamer. The idea that everyone had magic, which so many regarded as heresy, appealed for the reason that ancient legends showed everyone with some relationship to the divine. It wasn't hard to think of the spells as curses and charms. The rules system worked, so it is no surprise it became the basis for Call of Cthulhu. It provided a basis for a different kind of game. RQIII screwed things up by introducing sorcery, but that could be ignored. Glorantha was very important, but to me it wasn't essential. For years I developed my own ancient-based world complete with cult descriptions and heroquest routes. Never got a chance to play it, and it is now mostly lost, sadly.

That's why, now I'm getting back into tabletop RPGs, I'm not that impressed with what has happened with HeroQuest. It's more about the story than the rules (although the rules are really complicated for a "narration"-based game). Role-playing to me isn't about playing a character you consciously design, but by taking a random lump of stats and working to develop them into a character, with all the limitations the rules place on that. To my mind, the dice enforce roleplaying. If the dice give you a character of limited intelligence, something you rarely do with a designed character, it is very interesting playing that (and given that the world of Glorantha had an important design element added to it because of something done by a character with lower intelligence than his riding beast, the dice helped there too). And if you have beginning players, it makes sense to have beginning characters rather than the paragons that HeroQuest seems designed for to my eyes.

That's why I'm going to be using modified RuneQuest III rules in my new campaign. Yes, it'll be Glorantha because I'm itching to develop a scenario idea I started to run in the mid-90s and never got the chance to finish (the reason why was an important DM-ing lesson for me, details to follow). I've finally got hold of Sandy Petersen's sorcery rules, which make a lot more sense. There are some elements of HeroQuest in the campaign, but in general it will be "classic" RuneQuest rather than anything else.

And, in the tradition of Found Items, there'll be lots of random tables. Old school makes sense even in RQ terms.