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.
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.
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