Review: Mongoose Publishing – RuneQuest II


Product Name: RuneQuest II
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Author: Lawrence Whitaker
System: RuneQuest II
Setting:
Theme: Epic Fantasy
Type: Core
Link: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/

For a system that is now over 30 years old, RuneQuest requires little introduction. Mongoose Publishing has revitalized the system in a positive way over the course of the past 4 years. With this latest reincarnation, RuneQuest II, Mongoose continues the legacy which is RuneQuest.

RuneQuest II is a standard d100 roll-under system. Characters are created using a fairly standard set of characteristics and these characteristics are either combined or multiplied with themselves to create the skills which define each character. Unlike many other Epic Fantasy systems, RuneQuest II focuses more on a character and the society they live in with inclusions of various cults and backgrounds. Magic is accessible, but the means of obtaining magic are more difficult and require time and dedication. This creates a system that is more role-playing in nature with mechanics to create cinematic and expansive combat encounters. The implementation of the d100 system and the mechanics are a wonderful alternative to Epic Fantasy adventures and a definite consideration when choosing your next game.

ADVENTURER CREATION

Adventurer Creation starts with an introduction to the standard characteristics. There are seven characteristics use to define the different aspects of your character. How this is different than other systems is that these characteristics are not always used directly within the game mechanics, but rather as a way of calculating the skills and attributes that carry direct in-game effects. This implementation means every time your characteristics change (even by 1), they have a direct effect on all of the affiliated skills. This is an opposition to systems where your characteristics create modifiers but not with each 1 increase or decrease. Many of the attributes are standard, although possibly carrying a different name, as other Fantasy systems and thus require little clarification.

Once your character as all it’s characteristics, attributes, and skills, you then move on to background and profession. Background describes the type of culture your character hales from providing skill bonuses, combat styles to choose from, and options for profession. Moving on to Profession, players choose what their character did, or does, as a career and thus providing additional skill bonuses and the possible access to magic. While the backgrounds are fairly generic, the professions are mostly humanistic and conducive to creating human-type characters rather than more Fantasy-based characters.

To further flesh out your character and coincide with the ideals of RuneQuest, adventurer creation moves on to your character’s community ties, family reputation, family connections, contacts, background events, and choosing common magic (where applicable). While this may seem trivial to some Fantasy systems, they all play a significant part within RuneQuest and the mannerisms of the PCs including their interaction with NPCs. As much as I like these mechanics and their in-game effect, sometimes there are too many options and could potentially make adventurer creation take awhile.

While this section is well explained and everything is properly described, it is a bit short on trying to create a fully 3-dimensional character within the section of professions. Each profession could benefit from a 1/2 to 1-page (if not 2-page) spread to help bring these characters to life and make them much more dynamic (especially in regards to how the professions are viewed within society). This is obviously not required, but could help players better understand the differences between the professions.

SKILLS

Moving on quickly from adventurer creation is the listing of skills and the mechanics for skill tests. One thing I always like about the d100 system is it’s ability to have extreme granularity. However, RuneQuest II takes out some of that granularity by creating modifiers that are all a multiple of 20 as opposed to many d100 systems which use multiples of 10. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this but I don’t like the amount of flexibility it offers. You could easily create more modifiers with better granularity in multiples of 10 and still maintain the +60 to -80 range.

The next skill test mechanic levels of success. Not only do I like the in-game effects but I also like how they are defined. A critical success is not just rolling a never-changing number on the die, but rather rolling within 10% (rounded up) of the skill being tested. This means the higher the skill, the better chance for critical success. On the opposite scale is the mechanic for fumble (or rather a critical failure). A fumble only happens on a roll of 99 or 00 and can have catastrophic or possibly just fun-to-role-play side effects. While I like the mechanic, I think it should be opened up further than just 99 and 00. Levels of success come into play more during combat.

Opposed test, skill tests, and the listing of skills is fairly standard and very easy to understand as it carries over well from d100 system to system. Each one is properly detailed and includes mechanics for levels of success. Each one contains a few examples of the skills use and most are self-explanatory. I would like to see more examples for some of the skills, but at least you get the general idea of their use.

GAME SYSTEM

The Game System chapter contains the bulk of the mechanics and rules for RuneQuest II. This includes time, distance, advancement, aging, damage, down time, encumbrance, healing, hero points (further explained later on), fatigue, objects, and movement. Each one plays a typical integral part to the system and are all properly explained. Without getting into too much detail, I’m going to touch on a couple of the more interesting ones.

Advancement within RuneQuest II is done a little different than other systems. Characters do not gain experience points but rather Improvement Rolls that are used to further characteristics and skills. Improvement Rolls have a few different uses depending on the desired outcome but always offer a decent amount of flexibility. Characters are not defined by the “level” they are but rather what skills are at what level and the opportunities this provides. As opposed to using experience points that are “spent” to enhance certain skills depending on your characters level or by accumulating enough to reach the next level and thus offering new opportunities, Improvement Rolls offer players the ability to improve almost any skill, characteristic, or magic as long as they have enough Improvement Rolls to meet the requirement. This means your character could be virtually anything you want them to be throughout the course of play without being limited to certain criteria as defined by their level or profession. The only stipulation is that there are role-playing requirements (as deemed necessary by the GM) for acquiring these improvements. A character cannot simply gain or improve a skill, they must learn or train to gain that improvement. This is where the ideals of society and family can have a greater effect on your character.

The other mechanic I found interesting is the concept of Down Time. This is what the characters do in-between their adventures or quests to earn money, food, and/or lodging. This is quite different than many systems out there which basically ignore this “in-between” time and removes it from the need to role-play.

The remainder of the mechanics are also fairly standard and there is little need to spend time noting them.

EQUIPMENT

The Equipment chapter includes a wide range of equipment including currency, armor, clothing, melee weapons, ranged weapons, food and lodging, general items, and transportation. Most of these lists are quite vast and present the players and GM with many options for PCs and NPCs. Each one is properly defined and described including all appropriate attributes.

COMBAT

The best term to describe the combat mechanics of RuneQuest II is enhanced. Compared to many other systems, combat is very interactive, definitively more cinematic, and possibly more exciting. The drawback, it could take much longer to play through a single combat encounter.

Combat has the standard mechanics of rounds and initiative, but outside of those two things get much different. To start, combat actions are determined by a characters characteristics, attributes, and equipment. Thus, a character with improvements in any of these are allowed more combat actions per round. This mechanic has actual drawbacks and bonuses for how you create and outfit your character. By reducing the amount of armor, you may gain an extra combat action. This feels much more realistic to me as someone who is slower should have less actions than someone that is more dexterous. The possible combat actions are still very typical of other systems, but the opportunities are possibly greater from character to character.

Weapon size and reach has more in-game effect than simply allowing a character a longer range in their attack. While a longer weapon can attack farther, it cannot parry when the target is too close. This also comes directly into play when considering the level of success on a combat skill roll.

Levels of success have a huge impact on combat by possibly granting the attacker or defender the opportunity to make a combat maneuver. Combat maneuvers are enhancements to combat above and beyond a standard attack. This mechanic creates a very interactive combat encounter, but may suffer from taking too long. The action requires action on both attackers and defenders but requires all players to know and understand what those possible actions are (outside of simply attacking, evading, and parrying). Depending on the gaming group, this mechanic could easily be removed to make combat encounters faster but less interactive. It’s a personal preference and the standard is to have the mechanics there.

It should now be noted that characters do not simply have hit points. They actually have hit points that pertain to each location on their body. This helps to make combat more dynamic with the in-game effects for how much damage occurs on each location. There are optional rules for NPCs so that their hit points are non-location specific which could be used for PCs as well to change how combat occurs. However, this could make the system less colorful and is a great new option for resolving combat.

MAGIC AND CULTS

Magic is much different than other Epic Fantasy systems where magic is so common that everyone has it and it’s just simply there. Magic within RuneQuest II falls into four different categories: common, divine, spirit, and sorcery. Each one is associated with a specific grouping of magic spells and, outside of common, are associated with some type of cult affiliation.

Characters cannot simply acquire non-common magic spells, they must be learned. To learn a spell means committing your character to one of the setting’s cults and possibly questing or doing various other tasks to be given the opportunity to learn the new magic spell. Along with this, the spell must be “recorded” in a specific way depending on the type of magic. As it is RuneQuest, magic is associated with the various runes of the system. Each rune is further associated with a specific magic type (such as fire or spirit) and can be combined to create different spells.

Each magic type utilizes a different way of channeling the power of the runes and are all fully detailed and explained throughout the various chapters. Magic Points are the affiliated attribute along with the appropriate skill for the different magic types and spells. Cults are the method of acquiring these spells with other members and literature teaching the characters how to perform the spell. Learning requires time and dedication just like skill improvements. Again this takes the character society connections into consideration along with their devotion to the different cults. While this may take more in-game time, it adds to the role-playing focus of the system and is conducive to settings other than just Epic Fantasy.

HEROIC ABILITIES

I’m not going to delve too much into Heroic Abilities. While I like the mechanic, I don’t like the implementation. Heroic Abilities are supposed to be very difficult to acquire as your character needs to have the very specific prerequisites along with actually locating someone to teach you the ability. However, once you have this ability, you can use it all the time by spending a single Magic Point. The implementation I don’t like is how they could potentially make encounters very unbalanced and give characters too many opportunities to overwhelm their opponents. I think a better implementation would be to state that Heroic Abilities can only be used once per encounter or possibly once per day. I like the dynamics it brings to encounters, but I don’t like the fact that the number of uses are only limited to the number of magic points a character has. If they’re so difficult to acquire, then they should be more difficult to use.

CREATURES

Not much to mention here. The listing for creatures is good but the variety is great. There are plenty of different opportunities here and I really like the Elemental creatures. Each one is described and given all appropriate stats and an illustration. However, a GM will most likely need further supplements to gain the variety necessary to run more than a couple adventures without them becoming boring and repetitive.

GAMES MASTERING

The Game Mastering chapter is a fairly limited chapter. The content is good and provides ideas for how to theme an adventure and different ways to use magic, but all in all there isn’t a lot of content here. With that said, it’s more of a bonus chapter to aid GMs and give them some more ideas on how to run a RuneQuest adventure or campaign.

OVERALL

I personally find this implementation of the d100 system to be my favorite when considering a Fantasy-based game. The characteristics are simple with a good range of skills that avoids becoming bloated with too many options. The lack of magic being so prevalent makes for many great role-playing opportunities without simply becoming a hack-and-slash focused system. The only thing I would change are some of the excessive mechanics that may make game-play much longer and require more memorization of their effects. Although the good thing is they can easily be removed or modified without effecting the system as a whole. I highly recommend RuneQuest II as an alternative to any Epic Fantasy game system.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
With over 30 years of publications to improve from, it’s no wonder why the quality is so smooth and easy to read. The layout is easy to follow, the illustrations look great, the tables are simple and stand out for quick reference, and all section headers are properly identified. The only thing that would make it better is the inclusion of color illustrations instead of just black-and-white.

Mechanics: 8 out of 10
While this implementation of the d100 system is my favorite, I find some of the mechanics to be a little overwhelming. There are too many options during combat and some of the ideas surrounding cults and magic are a little too much. While these can be removed or changed depending in the gaming group, it requires that extra effort on the GM to know and understand what becomes overwhelming throughout the course of play. An improvement to this would be to make those as optional rules instead of the standard. Even with this in mind, the mechanics are outstanding and can offer many great hours of role-playing.

Desire to Play: 10 out of 10
There’s no doubt about it, I would love to play a RuneQuest II game, or possibly any of it’s published settings. The potential for settings other than Epic Fantasy are outstanding with this system as it’s written for something much more than just questing and killing your adversaries. The one thing to note is that the core rulebook is written from a humanistic standpoint and so are the available professions. If you want to play more Fantasy-styled races, then you’ll have to look toward incorporating other settings. But regardless of the races desired, role-playing is the focus even in a combat situation.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Mongoose Publishing has done a wonderful job of revitalizing RuneQuest with this second generation. Anyone that desires more role-play and more interactive combats should definitely look toward RuneQuest II as a viable role-playing system. With over 30 years of material to pull from and full support going forward, you’re sure to find something fantastic for many player preferences.

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