May 7, 2015 at 7:21 pm #15871
I’m sure there are plenty here who could add to this so feel free to do so. I thought it would be helpful, seeing as there is an influx of new players, if I lent my thirty years experience of DMing Runequest in Glorantha. I’m not a writer, though I’ve written up hundreds of scenarios I’ve never submitted anything, but I have run countless campaigns and had many loyal players. And that’s what GMing is about, running campaigns that keep the players coming back because then you’ve got your tight group of friends enjoying themselves and creating bonds.
A few caveats: This isn’t a guide to roleplaying. Lot’s of GM guides already exist that seem to focus on that. This is a practical guide to beginner GMs, giving GM’s some hints to make a Runequest campaign work long term. It’s more nuts and bolts. Secondly, it’s focused on both Runequest and Glorantha because IMO, only Glorantha allows Runequest to realize its full potential. Being as the creators of Runequest reached a point where they believed that RQ had maxed out its potential and those of us who’ve played beyond that point know that nothing could be further from the truth, this guide is intended to lay the groundwork, not just to get you set up for beginning adventures, but to plan ahead for the mid level and high level adventuring you will hopefully enjoy for years to come.
First off, don’t worry that you don’t know everything. It’s not important. As the world opens up for you, you can open it up for your players. I won’t go into Glorantha’s many details, but from a GM’s point of view, in order to plan ahead you’ll need to get yourself acquainted with the mythologies of the gods your players worship. For this reason, it’s much simpler for a beginner GM to start a campaign around Orlanthi and/or Praxians. There’s a lot of material out there on their gods.
I highly recommend River of Cradles for being a good inspiration for what your very first adventure should look like. If you have it, run it, if you don’t, here are the things they did fabulously right in that adventure: They gave the PCs a stone with resurrection on it. In the game, the PCs are supposed to give it back. Ignore that. The very first thing your players need, no matter what, is a way to resurrect themselves. Right behind that is a way to Regrow Limb. Those two spells are mandatory but you shouldn’t forcefeed a Chalana Arroy onto the group. Insert those magic items quickly into the adventure. Nothing kills a new group faster than constantly rerolling characters or having to sit one out for seasons on end regrowing a limb. And don’t let them piss off the Chalana Arroy temple. They’ll need those ladies to replenish the spells in the items. So if you’re playing a gang of thieves in Pavis, for example, don’t have their first heist be robbing the resurrection/regrow limb magical item from the Chalana Arroy. It would now be useless to them. Have them take it from somebody else. Probably from the home of Duke Raus if you’re playing the Pavis adventures. Just make sure they become acquainted with a Chalana Arroy that isn’t sympatico with the lunars.
This is probably the single, most important thing you need to keep a campaign going for the long run. Death and dismemberment come way too easy in RQ and is the number one complaint of new players.
The other thing products like River of Cradles and Borderlands got right is they introduced the characters to their immediate surroundings. Put the players someplace foreign to them so that they know about as much as you, the newbie GM, know. If you have Sartarites in Sartar, they would know probably way more than you do. So while it’s tempting to start up a campaign there, unless you have the resources to give you enough info on those places to do so, start someplace where the players know about as much as you do. It lets you work your way ahead of them. Unfortunately, a great deal of information on Dragon Pass that’s come out is not RQ based. However, Prax is fully fleshed out for RQ if you can get your hands on it. I strongly suggest you get the classic pack with Borderlands and Beyond, Griffin Mountain, Pavis and Big Rubble, etc. But if you want to run something else, it’s a good idea to have the players be new to the area, even if that means they’re just farmboys who’ve never wandered more than a mile from their tula.
We won’t go into the why’s of how they got there, that’s roleplaying and this is a practical guide.
Next up, keeping the players engaged in a game where, especially early on, death can come so easily and unexpectedly (of course Bart fumbled and cut off Bernie’s head right after they used their only resurrection on Tammy.) You don’t want a player sitting around with nothing to do because his character got maimed/killed or have the rest of the group sitting around while said player roles up a new character. Runequest is a game where, even if you fudge every dice to never kill or maim a character or harm them in any way, they can easily off themselves. In droves.
Give each player two characters. I know a lot of people vehemently hate this. Let the player know they will be role playing their main character, the other guy’s “just a redshirt”. Explain that unlike that generic roleplaying game, in THIS game you don’t just “level up” like a video game entity, you actually have to TRAIN and training takes time and the player can either not show up to game for a few sessions or they can play this red shirt guy while his main player trains. (or regrows his arm – thanks Bart!). This has many advantages. It keeps the player in the game. It gives the GM the ability to impress the players with the danger they’re in by using a secondary as an example (ohhh, it bites THAT hard! yeah, let’s run. Next time we’ll come back with a plan.). It allows you as GM to not fear rolling crits or specials. But most of all, it keeps the player playing when the unexpected happens to his main character. Another plus is many new players have no idea what kind of character they really want to play. Make sure the secondary is different than the main character and the player might find himself enjoying the other one more. I refer to the main characters as Primaries and the redshirt backups as Secondaries.
One of my players who has played for years loves to play the most complex characters possible. But despite that, he insists that his favorite character of all time was a secondary character who was a Praxian Sable rider who used a bow. Why? Because he always survived no matter what and he had some amazing moments.
If you’re doing your job right, it won’t be about how powerful and mighty the players character is, it will be about the THINGS that happened to him/her. Secondaries can become even more unforgettable than Primaries simply because of the times they came through in the clutch or the amazing ways they survived or died. Which brings us to
Use it, it’s your friend, but use it carefully.
Now that you’ve got secondaries and the party has resurrection, establish that this still isn’t going to be a cakewalk.Players need that tension that this is life and death. make them respect that. Kill one of their main characters and TWO of their secondaries early on after they get that resurrection spell. They can resurrect the primary, but they’ve got to roll up two new secondaries. this is important because if you don’t, your players will rush headlong into things that will get them all killed. Runequest is deadly, make them fear it.
After that, you can soften up a bit.
Despite that, your main goal should be to make the players party as survivable as possible. They’ll need spells, they’ll need training, they’ll need better, more expensive armor. In short, they’ll need to make an early score on a treasure pile. The game starts people off so weak that even the beginning adventures are exceedingly deadly. Putting a thousand or more Lunars in each ones pockets early on is not advice to be a Monty Haul GM – for you youngsters, that’s a GM who hands out treasure like candy – it’s simply a fact that the players will need these basics to survive.
Borderlands does an excellent job of doing this. It gives the players free magical training, they get to upgrade their equipment and – though the adventure doesn’t spell it out – you, as the GM can dedicate a certain number of hours each week to training for the players. Though personally, I think it gives them TOO MUCH spell training. I give out about half that. That’s just me.
House rules I feel keeps the game from getting broken:
Screw Strengthening and armoring enchantments. Pretend those spells don’t exist. Armoring enchantments are things that can happen during Heroquests. Strengthening enchantments I call Blessings. If your player does something heroic that would truly impress his god – a trade caravan for an Issaries wouldn’t suffice, a circumnavigation of the world in his merchant ship would, bringing peace to two major nations and establishing a trade route in the process might) then give him a Blessing of 1d6 to general hit points. If the PC becomes a runelord, give him a blessing. I had a new player who didn’t know about Blessings climb Griffin Mountain on Orlanths holy day, find the statue of Orlanth, stand outside the cave atop the mountain and give a ceremony to praise Orlanth. He hadn’t even found the Windsword yet. But I gave him a Blessing. If it would please his god greatly, then give him one.
But be greedy with those things. They unbalance the game. But don’t be too greedy, afterall, your primary goal is to make the characters survivable. So one before they become Runelords is appropriate, if they earn it.
Something else you might consider: save combat maneuvers for characters that have become swordmasters. If they reach 90%, they get them. This weakens the players offensively for a little while, but it weakens the opponents as well. You want to keep your party alive. This also gives your players a level to attain. they feel like their players have progressed when they become weapon masters and now can do all these badass things like bypass parry or disarm their opponents. Of course, now you can introduce an enemy leader who can also do these things.
And the game moves up a notch.
Which brings us to the next thing: higher level adventuring. If you can get your hands on Strangers in Prax, they have some very strong characters in there. The Coders, in particular, are pretty much the cream of the crop in Prax. This is by no means the ultimate in what your characters or campaign can attain. Don’t let the complexity intimidate you. That level of play gets easy fairly quickly. You learn to weed out what’s not necessary for your particular use at any given time and quickly move the narrative along. But this is a great resource for building higher level characters and Arlaten is very helpful for a budding Adept sorcerer in the party to learn how to build his character.
My players have been in several high level adventure campaigns. They look at the Coders as an example of where their characters should be when they “really start adventuring”. Everything before that is just getting their characters ready. At this point they should have at least a couple of Resurrections available to them as well as several regrow limbs. Despite what some might imagine, this is not the ultimate that Runequest can be, this is just where you BEGIN to have really good adventures. In time, the Coders will look weak and the Empire will be thinking they better start taking an interest in these upstarts. In Glorantha, there’s always something or someone WAY more powerful than the PCs.
How do the PCs get to that point? Heroquesting. Early on there should be very little Heroquesting and what is done should be simple stuff. But after a while you should introduce harder HQ’s. Once PCs are at or beyond Coder level, nearly every major engagement should include at least one HQ. I had a campaign where the last half of it was almost entirely on the Hero Plane.
I’ve been playing for so long that I don’t remember if this is a house rule or a game rule, but on Heroquests players don’t roll to go up in skills. If they mark it, they go up in it. So skills above 100% can continue to increase this way. Power can go up above species maximum this way.
Just don’t fall into what was called Super Runequest and start handing out stats as rewards to where everyone has 30+ CON, etc. I’ve never handed out a single increase in any stat other than Power in thirty years and my groups have been pretty powerful nonetheless and we avoided the Super Runequest trap.
Unfortunately, several phone calls have interrupted me and I have to go. I’ll add more later when I get the chance. I know I left a lot out because of the interruptions to my train of thought.
Others, please feel free to add more to help the newbie GM’s who are starting to be interested in Glorantha.May 11, 2015 at 10:13 pm #15913
Pentallion, this is looking really good and I can’t wait to continue reading your guide.
However, I disagree with the fact that the really good adventures begin at Coder level. I mean, if that’s the fun part, why don’t you create PCs of that level from the start?
On the other hand, with RQ6’s luck points and the absence of general hit points and the easiness of picking non-lethal manouvres, I think the mortality of the game has been somehow donwplayed. Don’t you think?
BTW, I would love to read about the campaigns you have played. Have you written any chronicles about them?
I also know you wrote a scenario involving Feroda some years ago. 😉May 18, 2015 at 7:25 am #15954
Yes, RQ6 makes it harder to die now. But one mustn’t slack on the tension. Which means death must be ever present. So now accidental deaths are less likely to happen in RQ6. That’s good. Still, there is a need for resurrection.
And yes, we have many times started campaigns at that level. At the point our current campaign has reached, in fact, any new player or any replaced character starts at at least rune lord level with 10-12 points of rune magic (we’re gaming RQ3 divine and spirit, but RQ6 Mysticism, Animism and Sorcery, with some house rules to make it all work). Though honestly, I really like RQ6 divine, it’s just that we’d already gotten too far when I got RQ6, so the day the magic changed was not an entire conversion.May 18, 2015 at 7:27 pm #15969
Frankly that’s one reason I’ve stuck with RQ3/BRP – I like the lethality because it does encourage the players to (as IRL) avoid combat if there is any sensible alternative. There are a lot of things I like about RQ6 conceptually, but the pieces just don’t all fit together for me in a comfortable synthesis the way RQ3 does.
In my 10+ year campaign in Glorantha, I took a slightly different tack than Pentallion. I found that player-survival was radically improved by the minimal application of houserules, such as:
– limbs can only be severed by the application of 3x the limb’s hp in one blow.
– hero points (at char-gen, players could pick their characters’ age from 16-26; this deducted from 26 was their starting hero points)May 19, 2015 at 9:12 pm #15983
Nice ideas there. Now I would really enjoy reading about your RQ-Gloranthan campaigns. Specially the “high-powered” ones. I have never gotten to that point. The last unfinished campaign I ran with RQ3 was all about the published scenarios in Pavis and around. Unfortunately, it was abandoned right when a full Lunar troop was going into the 5-eyes caves to look for the newtlings and kill them all. They thought the rebel newtlings had capsized a boat full of Lunar soldiers on its way to Corflu, but that was mainly the PCs’ doing! Now, half the PCs are River Voices, and they promised to help the good newtlings against the Lunar retaliation (after slaughtering the rebel ones) and hide their temple. So I would have liked to see what happened next. Perhaps one day. And then with RQ6 or, more likely, RQ3+6. After that, the PCs would have needed to do a Lahnkhor Mhy heroquest to recover some of their lost memories, and that would have involved the Dyskund Caverns. What about you?May 22, 2015 at 3:15 am #16009
In summation, I just talked through it with one of my sons (they were the 2 characters that lasted through the whole campaign and various roster-changes of the party), the players did (sort of going by published adventures, but there was plenty of “stuff” in between)
River of Cradles series – they find the glowy ball
Sun County series – one player really wanted to be a sorcerer, so he found an amulet that gave him essentially basic sorcery skills
Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan – one of the main characters got a super-axe, but it was turning him into a vampire over the next year. It did really incentivize him to work to get Rune Lord status, so he could DI and get rid of it.
More Sun County
They encounter Arlaten in Pavis, did some stuff for him, he helped train the newbie sorcerer who eventually took the glowy ball (they sstill had it!) and turned it into one of the most unique familiars ever.
Some Borderlands stuff
White Plume Mountain
Some ‘helping the Sartars resist the Lunars’ stuff
The entire A1-A4 series of dungeons
Lord Skypens Mansion
a Mission to the Block
Forgotten Temple of Tharzidun
Some Lunar Coder stuff
The whole G1-G2-G3 series
Rabbit Hat farm, etc – more Borderlands (Hunt for Muriah, Dyksund Caverns)
More Sartar/Lunar stuff in Pavis, ended up fighting some of the Coders directly, they actually killed Nose-Ring (rezzed the same day, of course)
Fleeing from Pavis 🙂 escorting young man named Garrath to Whitewall.
Getting into Whitewall
Crimson Bat approaching, to power ritual to drive it away, they gathered the elemental stones (The Doomstones Campaign) and returned to Whitewall through the Lunar siege
Up to the swamp, Delecti stuff, encountered Death Knights
Snake Pipe Hollow
More Death Knight trouble
Flee west, find strange place in mtns – expedition to barrier peaks
Continue NW, up into Dorastor, meet Razlakark
He sends them back in time to 2nd age Glorantha Ralios
Dodging armies, they save 2 members of Jrusteli expedition from slaughter by troll ambush\
fight a dream dragon in an underwater cavern
help Jrusteli complete their expedition into a really nasty tomb ahead of approaching armies (Tomb of Horrors – end of that was Lich Acerak as GUARDIAN of entrapped Razlakark whom they then accidentally freed, which then returned them to the present)
Unhappy at saving him, they head NW out of mts, save local monastery from ongoing curse in ancient dwarven tunnels
Hints that Coders might still be tracking them
Go to Sog City do stuff there, not as interesting as they expected (campaign was winding down, people were starting to graduate high school and move on)
D&D adventures C4 and C5 except for the last bit
…campaign finally ends with a wimper, sadly, with the only two remaining players (my sons) relatively crazy-powerful (making adding new players really hard), and all their friends having gone off to college in other states or cities, we just stopped playing. Really sad about that but not sure how else to end it.
They were landed counts (having been granted title to the Rabbit Hat farm in exchange for bringing more settlers there, as well as to Skrypen’s mansion and lands) but couldn’t go back to either because of the bounty on their heads by the Lunar authorities. They were in Sog City (the sorcerer had finally, after 8+ years of play, reached the College of Magic Arlaten had explained to him, and he managed to join) with nothing much to do.May 22, 2015 at 3:45 am #16010
Baron Eric GreystoneSpectator
Wow Steve, what an epic! Great stuff!
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