Back In Style!

I know, it’s been too long. If this blog were a romantic partner, I’d have been sued for desertion long ago. Worse, there’d be good cause: the journal. Here before blogging was even invented my pen & paper auxiliary memory system simply does the job. Sometimes though the new has advantages. Not least that while my journal resides safely at home, not hidden from sight, but still rather inaccessible, anyone who can be bothered to find it, can read this blog.

So why the post? Simply put, I had a rather marvellous weekend in Germany last weekend and would like to share a few thoughts. After all, good company, wonderful scenery and recurring cast of old friends (& chances of making new ones), what more could anyone ask for?

A weekend, over a German Bank Holiday, bookended by comfortable travel arrangements (Lufthansa & the efficient German railway system) in a youth hostel in a converted/rebuilt castle overlooking the River Rhine. A selection of fine German beers, families, fun, adequate food, and some ‘interesting’ alcoholic beverages courtesy of a widely-travelled Finnish friend.

And, of course Role-Playing Games. EternalCon.

These days if you mention such things there’s a tendency for people to equate RPGs with computer games. Pah! Some of us go back rather further, even if every so often a news story emerges expressing surprise at the continued existence, and even a renaissance, of Role-Playing Games. Occasionally there’ll be a furrowed brow, followed by something alike “Ah! Dungeons & Dragons! Some friends at school used to play that.” And so did I: the gateway drug to tabletop role-playing. It was good fun, there’s no denying it. An opportunity for teenage boys (and was boys) to explore strange underground chambers, use magic, kill monsters and steal their stuff, all from the comfort of the dining room table. Fighters fought. Magic users cast (sometimes) mighty spells. Thieves thieved, Assassins assassinated, and Clerics acted as sort-of back-up fighters with a nifty line in miracles, healing, and telling Undead where to get off. Good fun, that is, as long as your character, your alter ego, didn’t want to do something out of their class. In the early eighties if you wanted your character to perform anything out of the ordinary you were on your own.

Which is where RuneQuest came in, a game that allowed everyone to do just about anything: use magic, fight, steal, persuade the guards that really you did have access to that treasure vault but you’d just forgotten the appropriate token. Perhaps. It came with a world setting that wasn’t just generic high fantasy & thinly disguised Tolkein, but with a living breathing world, Glorantha, where gods really did take an interest in petty mortals and where culture and allegiance mattered and gave you a place within wider society. Just as well really, combat was lethal, meaning your character needed all the help he could get.

Alongside the venerable Sci-fi RPG of Traveller (my other great love) RuneQuest, second edition, was the formative game of my youth. Indeed, I might not like to admit it, but of the last years of childhood, contemporaneous with my coming to Christian faith. High on expectation and imagination, but rather low on actual play.

A few years ago, after some interesting developments in the RPG sector, a group of enthusiasts basically bailed out the company that had started RuneQuest (and Call of Cthulhu) and proposed to breath new life into Glorantha, and RQ. They are my friends, my Tribe, if you like. But while I welcomed some of the wonderful stuff that was being done (and gave me the chance to get the tiniest portion of my own writing in print as part of the magnum opus that is the Guide to Glorantha, for which I’m hugely grateful) I had reservations about yet another new edition of RuneQuest (the 7th, even if numbers are being avoided this time round). After all, my blog damning with faint praise one incarnation last decade at the hands of Mongoose Publishing, is probably the most read piece I’ve ever written on this blog. (The sixth edition, now published as Mythras by my good friends The Design Mechanism is a lovely, solid, system). Why another, other than taking my money?

Last weekend, in the midst of all the fun of EternalCon, I played both Traveller (which I refereed) and the latest RuneQuest. Apart from being utterly humbled by the incredibly good grasp of English language by two multi-national groups of gamers (Italian, French, German, English, Bulgarian & probably more, Dutch?), there was something else. I had an absolute ball. Gently quirky (where else could a play a two-tailed necromancer cat?), potentially lethal (when faced with a war party of elk-riders), mechanically that little bit crunchy and great escapist fun. I repent of my scepticism. RuneQuest Glorantha gets it right. By picking up elements of HeroQuest, its sister game of high-powered, more narrative, adventure in the form of augmenting skills and abilities related to the strength of the character’s runic affinities, and Pendragon, its close sibling in the form of Passions, it goes beyond the memories of the past and their limited expectations. RQ2 was great as a growing teenager in a young games market. RuneQuest:Glorantha is great for now (and backwards compatible with RQ2 for those who have reprints, or the originals in a box in loft or garage).

I’m not going to drop everything and play wall-to-wall RQG. I’ll still play HeroQuest in the same setting, and have already tried the 13th Age version (which is also good fun). Nevertheless RQ is likely to be back on my agenda properly for the first time in over thirty years.

In fact, I need to get on with planning a scenario or two for the next big Con on my list, Continuum, in Leicester this summer. The scenery might be lacking, but the real ale will flow and the dice will fly. Coming?

Image: Author’s own

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