Runequest Thursday #83 - A New Combat System for Runequest!

Clint Staples

When I started my Runequest Campaign a few years back, I began with a great deal of enthusiasm, and memories of the system from decades in the past. I had played and run the system, in Glorantha and elsewhere, a number of times in the 80s and 90s, but left it behind for new games and new ideas as they arose.

I returned to the d100 system, and Glorantha after a long time away, but with a pretty good idea of how the game played back then. I knew which parts I liked: the notion of Defense, Attack Parry, Hit Locations, Battle and Rune Magic. But I forgot some of the things that bothered me. SO I ended up running with a mish-mash of Chaosium RQ with some early Avalon Hill thrown in for Character Creation and elsewhere.

Then I found the Legend System, a Runequest "clone" if you will, by Mongoose Publishing, and adapted what I was doing to the grittier combat system described there. But I kept the Resistance Table, which my players were used to from original Chaosium RQ.

A lot of Legend works very well. Many of the spells that ere problematic in older versions got fixed, and character creation was great. But I found that combats were dragging, and my players were often confused, largely because the Combat Actions of Legend were difficult to track, and somewhat counter-intuitive.

So I examined the kind of play we liked as a group and made some more changes. I kept all the old features that my players had come to expect, and created a simplified turn sequence and Action System that encourages active, heroic play without having to track individual Combat Actions. I present that to you here as an attached PDF.

The good news is that you can use this system with very little modification, to run just about any version of Runequest. It relies on two core concepts:

1. Hero Points: As described in Legend, Hero Points are gained by doing Heroic things, but starting characters begin with a small number. In addition to the ways in which Legend lets you spend them, you can spend Hero Points in this system to do Heroics, which allows the player to describe an Action "chain" taking them through a sequence she describes, automatically succeeding on all the incidental rolls along the way, until she get to the main one - the attack roll or whatever - that is rolled for normally.

An example from my campaign:

When an attack by a band of Scorpionids begins to go against them, the leader tries to escape down a cliff face. One of the player characters was in a position to intervene. So she describes Zoe leaping onto the back of the fleeing scorpionman, riding it down the hill, killing it with a massive cleave of her greatsword, and surfing the corpse to the bottom. She paid a Hero Point to do the leap and ride, but rolled her attack normally. As it happens, Zoe rolled well to hit and did big damage, so she killed the (admittedly wounded) monster with a single stroke.

It made for a great moment!

Without the Heroic Action system she would have had this "chain" of actions strung out over multiple actions, even turns, involving numerous checks along the way, each with a chance of failure that dooms the rest of the action. It also removes much of the spontaneity and fun from the situation. In play, this happened about as fast as the player could describe her idea. And everybody around the table cheered when she arrived at the bottom of the cliff, lifting the severed head of the scorpionman on high.

If you don't want things to be TOO Heroic, you can limit the type of actions possible, or the number you can string in a Heroic Action Chain". OR, you could raise the Ante for such activity, increasing the number of Hero Points required. But honestly, I think the system works best when it is simple.

PLUS, who does not want their game to include heroics and players cheering, around the table, for other players activity

Addendum: In some online discussion, some folks say that they don't like that you automatically succeed on all the things in the "Action Chain" before you get to the climactic bit. Fair enough. An easy fix to that is to allow the Action Chain as a single extended action that takes the entire turn, make all the rolls for each portion of it (so in the example above, Athletics for Jump, Grapple for landing on the creature's back, Weapon Attack) with Advantage to each one (granted by the Hero Point). Or you could require Hero Points be spent equal to the number of  Extra Actions you are cramming into the turn (in this case one) and each action gains Advantage because of the Hero Point(s). 


2. Advantage: I know this is a D&D 5e thing. But the idea is a good one. It simplifies all of the piddling bonuses and negative modifiers that many versions of Runequest include. Advantage in RQ will not work in exactly the same way. You either have Advantage, or you don't. If you do, you gain a +20% to a single check regarding that situation. If you don't have it you roll normally. If someone has it against you, THEY get the bonus. You can't have Advantage against someone who has it against you. They cancel out.

I have toyed with having a different bonus for Advantage, Like allowing the player to switch the result from the ones die to the tens position (essentially reversing the roll, so a 70 and a 3, become 37 instead of 73). But I have not done the math, or any playtesting on that. My instinct is that that is too gross a benefit for Advantage.

Now, while I was going at it with the Modification Hammer, I reworked the Special and Critical Maneuvers. So you get those too )including Magical Special Maneuvers), since the new Combat Sequence and the Maneuvers all fit on two sides of a normal page. Note that many of the special results deal with Advantage, so it sort of assumes that Advantage is a part of the game. If it isn't, you can just award a +20% bonus to the next applicable roll the character gets to make.

Note: These are a work in progress, and may be tweaked, generally in the direction of simplicity and action. But the part I like so far, is that the danger of Runequest combat is still there. A single hit can still take a powerful player or NPC out of a fight, and Defending is just as important as attacking.

If you try these out, I would very much like to hear what you think? You can leave comments here, and you don;t have to create an account to post unless you want to.