Sep 222008

So I’ve played a LOT of different games. I own a lot of different games.

I’ve played year long campaigns, as well as one shot games. And everything inbetween.

But one thing never fails. I always return to Runequest.

The specific version may vary.. 2nd edition, 3rd edition, Mongoose. They all have things I enjoy.
But its always what I return to. The baseline if you will.

And I think I’ve finally put my finger on why:

Modern games (and I use the term modern loosely) have a different focus than many older games. In a way, the best way to sum it up is “style over substance”. That sounds terribly derogatory so let me elaborate.
In many newer games, the focus is on the characters and their powers, abilities and ways they can influence things, the story or even the world at large. Crack open a White Wolf book and you’ll find countless pages of disciplines, gifts or charms. Check the new D&D or its predecessor D20 and you’ll find an ever-increasing number of feats, spells, creature abilities and class powers.

The emphasis is on the character and the powers he posses. The colour if you will.

There’s many reasons for this. It obviously appeal to the wish fulfilment we all do, “wouldnt it be awesome if…”  They define and set apart characters mechanically “My guy can shoot lightning” and they give us cool stuff to be excited about.  Those are all good things.

A lot of new games talk about player empowerment, about being able to influence the story directly, sharing the narrative. They often do this by mechanics that let you change details, take over the storytelling or at its simplest form, succeed at a certain dice roll automatically.  Often these things become rewards for actions taken, or even used as a sort of gamble or metagame mechanic.

The reason that these games ultimately don’t have the deep internal logic that Runequest does to me is that they were built around these steps. Often every single piece of the game is built around the ideas of character powers and player empowerment. Look at D&D4 for example. When you strip away the classes, races and monsters, you’re left with very little information.

Look at Exalted. Its all set up to specifically support a certain style of game, in a certain setting.
Look at Spirit of the Century. The epitome of a given playstyle and mood.

What Runequest did though, and to an extent still does is build a framework that is separated from all that.
If you strip away the monsters and magic, the Runequest mechanics are still rock solid. Nothing seems weird or unusual. The game resonates with an internal logic that matches how we expect the world to work.
Most games look very very strange once you strip away the flavour and the powers.  Some will still work, though they will feel devoid of what made them special. Others will work because they are designed to promote certain narrative ideas (like FATE).

But they don’t inherently “make sense” to me. I ran White Wolf’s Trinity for a year, and I still find the dice pool mechanic completely nonsensical. I understand how it works and I understand the effects on the game, but every single time I sit there and count dice, I am reminded I am playing a game.

Games with meta-mechanics like FATE are even more jarring. Rather than increasing the narrative, for me, they create a divide between the narrative and the mechanical play by producing strange dice quirks or effects.

To me, Runequest has always represented the fundamental way things work. Your ability scores affect skills, you improve by using your abilities or taking time to train them, limbs can get hurt or incapacitated, wounds are serious etc.

Once you add in the monsters, magic and people in funny suits, it feels more “realistic”.. .maybe plausible is the right term here.

Because the foundation is solidly grounded in what we know and expect, the fantastic feels like it makes sense. There’s a sense of scale. I know that an axe can seriously hurt somebody, so something doing 3D6 damage is extremely dangerous. I can equate that to something in my head.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed or played other games in the past. I love WFRP, Rolemaster, Traveller, Reign and a bunch of other games. I thought FATE was neat and Heroquest was genius.

But they’ll never be “natural” in the same way.

Sep 182008

Runequest can be a pretty harsh and relentless game, if you approach it like you would a game like Dungeons&Dragons or other more high powered games. Injuries can easily dismember and kill, the rules don’t explicitly favour the player characters and magic, while commonplace, tends to be less flashy.

1: Get armour

This might sound like common sense, but it bears repeating. Good armour will do wonders to increase your characters survivability. Even if money is tight, or you are worried about encumbrance, invest in at least some armour. Even Cuirbouilli or soft leather can make the difference between an arm being disabled or dismembered. If you are going for piecemeal armour (again, usually to save cost or lower encumbrance) consider whether you want to protect the arms and legs (which will be hit more frequently in melee) or the torso and head (which will result in more dangerous wounds)

2: Study your weapon options

Runequest isn’t a game where longswords are automatically superior weapons. If your DEX and SIZ are mediocre or low, or you are playing a race with naturally low SIZ (Ducks f.x.) consider a spear. Spears can do impaling damage, and have a better strike rank, which will help even things out against larger opponents. Axes tend to do slightly more damage than swords and are far cheaper. Swords are usefull if you don’t want to use a shield, or you can afford them, due to their high hit points and decent damage.

3: Carry missile weapons

Missile weapons are harder to defend against, and can be used to soften up an enemy before engaging them in melee. In the ancient world, many melee troops would carry ranged missiles that would be hurled prior to a charge, whether the pilum of the Roman legions or various thrown axes and other implements used by various Germanic tribes. Consider having a few throwing axes, knives, javelins or similar. If that broo is 5 HP down and limping on a shattered leg, he’ll be a much easier proposition once its time to get the axe out.

4: Consider your spells

Everyone has magic. Make sure to utilize this. Some spells are used before or at the outbreak of a fight (bladesharp, various protection spells) while others have a purpose during a fight (speedart, demoralize, disruption). Against enemies with average or low POW, a well timed Demoralize or Befuddle spell can easily tip the scales by neutralizing an enemy combatant. At the same time, take enemy magic into account. If the troll suddenly casts True Maul on his warmaul, its propably time to pelt him with arrows. If you know you are fighting Yelm worshippers, be braced for when the Sunspear comes down.

5: Negotiate

If the fight isn’t going your way, or looks like it won’t, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Outside of chaos creatures, most people don’t want to die, and if they can get what they want, or at least an equitable outcome, you can likely avoid violence. Offers terms, be prepared to lose a bit of face, and make sure your in good enough standing with your clan that they will ransom you, if you are captured.

6: Run!

If all else is failing, bail. In any combat situation, there is a “critical mass” required to be able to force a victory. If your side has fallen below this critical mass, or seems like it will do so within the next few rounds, its time to cut your losses and flee. Various spells can assist in this manner, or you may have to do a drawn-out running battle to disengage.

7: Bluff, threaten, bluster

If the enemy thinks you have the strongest tribe in Prax on your side, and they will come baying for blood if you are touched, they may be less likely to interfere with your business. Clan and family feuds can start over very small things, and a fast talking character may be able to verbally transform a band of ragged stragglers to the champions of a fearsome army (in the minds of your opposition anyways)

If all else fails?

Sometimes nothing works out. The enemy is more skilled, lucky or capable, your escape route is cut off, its a blood feud with no quarter given or your fighting for your very lives.

In that case, grab your axe firmly, steel your gaze and prepare to die with your boots on. Orlanth will remember you

Jul 222008

This came up in a recent discussion on about the status of “mooks” in an RPG. (Basic Role Play specifically)

Most of the games I play do not have mook rules, and I rarely add them in. Likewise, I rarely use them, even if they are present in the system. The reason for that is that I don’t find they fit my vision of how gaming should work.

The idea of the “mook” (I prefer the term Goon myself) is that of a disposable combatant. Someone the PC’s can triumph over, and shove aside with relative impunity. Often their role is there to either make the PC’s look good, or to make them use up limited resources before the big boss fight.

I find that dull and uninspiring, more importantly, I find it unappealing.

A fight against only mooks is, to me, pointless. If the sole purpose is one listed above, I would rather not bother going through the motions of RPG combat simply to dispose of a few zombies. Just give me a roll against your combat skill, and we’ll narrate how awesome you look, while you trash their decayed brains in.

More importantly however, I find the notion of “unworthy opponents”.. creatures that exist in the game mechanics purely to be killed and defeated without breaking a sweat to be strongly unappealing. It’s a throwback to the mid 70’s, when encounters could be divided into “slaughter”, “boss fight” and “buy new weapons”. Each creature encountered should have a rationale for being there, and should be a full fledged being in its own right.

Doesn’t mean you have to create it as a full blown character, I often just make up stats as I go, if I end up needing to know the Fast Talk skill of a Manticore. No need to do work you don’t need to do, after all.

At its core, it comes down to a fundamental view of what the game engine is for. To me, the mechanics are there to simulate a form of reality. Warhammer FRP simulates roughly how things work in the old world, Runequest simulates roughly how things work in Glorantha and so forth.

The idea that certain creatures are not capable of having their own goals, morals, dreams and designs, but are fundamentally resigned to being eviscerated by a bunch of heroes that happened to come by, is simulationally (is that a word) unsound.

When designing an encounter, think about why you are putting this encounter into the game. What purpose does it serve ? What objectives are the opposition trying to achieve ? What do I hope the players take away from this situation ? Could this time be spent better on something more interesting ?

Oct 132007

I imagine this will end up running as a series of articles on the blog. If its gets to any reasonable point, it can be compiled in a nice PDF.

I think the optimal number of formations is 3-5. More than that, and it gets very sprawling to manage. Less than that, and too much can hinge on each portion. Each formation can contain multiple elements as long as they are fairly coherent.

Military doctrines carry this out. If we look at ww2, a squad leader has typically 9-12 men, grouped (on paper anyways) into 2 or 3 teams. A platoon commander has 3 squads, plus supporting weapons, a company commander has 3 platoons, plus support, and so forth. Now, Glorantha is not WW2 (riflesharp?), but the logic remains, because its tailored to what a person can comfortably command.

A big focus in Glorantha is the personalities and heroes. These are the people that interact with the world and represent their cultures. It follows that a logical army setup is something like:

Great Hero + retinue (1 unit of elite troops)

Hero + followers (2 units, maybe 3)

Hero + followers (2 units, maybe 3)

Auxiliaries (healers, sages, camp followers and assorted hooligans. Possibly “youngbloods”. Young and inexperienced heroes eager to please themselves)

Each hero is directly in command of their associated units, providing them with leadership benefits and direction. Units loosing their hero will either look to the great hero, tag along with anyone that seems to have an idea what is going on, or simply revert to very basic reactions. Fight a nearby enemy, run away or stand around untill either of the other 2 responses occur.

An individual unit will be comprised of 3 to 20 indiduals, each represented by 1 figure. Im imagining most units wont range much over 10, except for very large forces, or low class units (trollkin, rubble runners and various other rabble). Since we’re dealing with loose units and warbands, rather than compact massed formations, troops will generally operate in a dispersed fashion.

Core classifications will be Morale and Readiness. Additional traits will be covered later.

A units Morale can be qualified as either Shaky, Steady, Determined or Reckless.

A units Readiness can be qualified as either Reluctant, Hesitant, Prepared or Eager.

Morale is a units tolerance of hardship, as well as how dedicated they are to their objectives. Readiness quantifies unit training, aggression and will to fight. While many units will be rated equally in both qualities, its entirely possible that ratings could differ. A village militia might rate as Determined in protecting their homes, but are also Hesitant, due to poor training. Elite mercenaries that are retreating from an unsuccessfull battle are great troops, but not willing to die.

Troop dispersion is 1″ between each model for Reluctant troops, 2″ for Hesitant, 3″ for Prepared and 4″ for Eager troops. Units dispersed further than this at the end of the turn must test morale.

Heroes are free to move as they please, but to control a unit, must remain within 6xdispersion distance. Thus, a Prepared unit is considered in command if within 18″, while Reluctant units has to remain within 6″ to be in command.

Oct 082007

Usually I tend heavily towards historical or science fiction with wargames. Fantasy warfare mostly doesnt feel very interesting. It either becomes gimmicky, or ends up being a badly written historical set with lightning bolts.

However, a thought has been churning in my head, after seeing lots of cheap 1/72 scale Ancients (celts, romans etc) plastic figures at the local gaming store.

Wargaming in Glorantha
The tentative goals (and I’ll most likely end up writing this one from scratch) are:

  • Plays with a range from 10 to about 50 or 60 figures
  • Command&Control rules for units
  • No requirement to move in fixed formations, though common soldiery should fight in loose units.
  • Combined arms.. the rules should support a variety of activity.. slings, archers, melee troops, pikes, magic and monsters
  • Heroes can make a difference and impact, but are not impervious.
  • Cultural and doctrinal differences affect gameplay.
  • Focus on morale and training.
  • Magic is present and available, but fairly low key (mostly… A sunspear to the forehead can settle things nicely.)

There are some decent fantasy wargames out there, but nothing that seems to fit the ticket. So we’ll see how it comes along.