Welcome to part two of my review of RuneQuest 6. This time we will be covering chapters 8-14, the magic chapters of this game system. It covers about 145 pages of the 458 page book. This part of the rulebook covers not just the general rules for magic, but also five different types of magic, and cults built around these traditions.
Chapter 8 – Magic
This chapter presents the fundamentals of all of the magic to come. It starts by explaining the concept of the Runes. From the title of the game, you can assume that these will be important. The runes are the foundation for magic in a RuneQuest game. Magic comes from these runes; gods are aligned to them in a domain-like fashion, and cults form around them.
The actual influence of the runes can be as overt as you want; the sidebars describe a setting where the knowledge of the actual existence of runes has been lost. But, like the character creation system, the runes provide a framework of metaphysical pegs to hang your campaign on. When you want to flesh out your gods, spirits or cults, you can assign runic influence to them to establish their areas of power.
The chapter then moves into tailoring the magic system for your game. The system gives you a number of simple choices that allows you to customize the magic systems for your world. It is also clear that you, as the GM, should cull the systems that don’t fit your setting. Some of the customizations include: how to establish magical traditions in your world, how many abilities each school gets, how long spells take to cast, where magical energy comes from, and how it comes back to its casters once spent.
All in all, this chapter sets up the following six chapters, establishing the fluid natures of the following subsystems.
Chapter 9 – Folk Magic
This chapter covers what the book refers to as the lowest level of magic. Folk magic is your hedge wizard, wise woman, practical magic system. It is designed to be widely accessible and limited in scope. This type of magic is your very close to nature, non-flashy kind of magic. While reading this chapter, it brought to mind the elves of Lord of the Rings. Folk magic will make blades sharper, keep you dry during a rainstorm, or ward an area. It doesn’t stretch the boundaries of the fantastic.
This doesn’t mean it is not applicable, far from it. But it is a subtle art. It is also a great way to give your crazy hermits, witches and alchemists magic in a low fantasy setting. Also like all of the magic in RuneQuest, it is tied to a skill. The better the folk lore roll, the less magical energy it costs you to cast.
Chapter 10 – Animism
Animism is a magic system revolving around dealing and interacting with spirits. This chapter allows you to use a very nicely fleshed out system for shamanistic traditions. The rules revolve around entering the spirit realms, spiritual combat, summoning and ways of binding spirits to fetishes for a myriad of purposes.
Building off of the basic system of rolling percentile for effect, this sections ties the tradition much tighter to the idea of cults. Depending on your rank in the culture/cult the more types of interaction with the spirits are allowed and the faster you are able to perform these actions.
This section also details the rules for possession, exorcism, how animism can tie back to the idea of the runes, and gives some great advice on how to use Animism in your campaign.
Chapter 11 – Mysticism
Mysticism is a subtle path of monks and martial arts. It is the use of willpower to enhance the natural abilities of the mortal frame, or to temporarily remove its limitations. What I like about all of these magical paths, which I was able to articulate after reading this chapter, is that while they are radically different in implementation they remain the same at their core. Roll skills and spend magic points. That is the core of all of the magic systems, which should make it easy to have multiple different styles in your home game.
So what is different in this system compared to the others? First off, the big limitation of this system is that is only affects your character. You can enhance yourself, but not others. Second, like folk magic, it is a subtle magic. No fire balls in this section. But what you can do is manipulate your character.
You can lower the difficulty grades on skills. Your skill doesn’t get better, but the task becomes easier. You can add traits to your character. These replicate some of the iconic moves from martial arts myths. Deflecting arrows, echolocation, pain control and more are the purview of this style of magic. Finally you can enhance your attributes, those stats derived from Characteristics. Want more action points, hit points or a higher damage modifier? This is where you find the ability to manipulate them.
Chapter 12 – Sorcery
This is where we find one of the two traditional fantasy RPG styles of magic. Sorcery is the ability to control the cosmos through ritual and understanding. Again we start with two skills that govern this magic, in this case Invocation (skill at casting spells) and Shaping (how much customization you can pull from a spell).
What I liked most about this section, keeping with the theme of flexibility in the book, you are not given a huge selection of spells that you are locked into. What you are given is a breath of spells that can be shaped on the fly to the magnitude and effect that you want. They are also very generic in flavor, so that the GM can give spells names and flavor based off the cult the character learned them from.
For example you have a spell called Draw (Creatures). If your PC is a necromancer of the Cult of Nurgle, the GM (or player) could actually have Nurgle’s Lure of the Plagued, which would summon rats. The mechanical effects for each of the spells is minor, but with shaping you can tailor each spell when you cast in, including combining the effects of multiple spells in one casting.
A word of warning, the writers caution letting PC’s have an all access pass to these spells, as some of them are definitely more powerful than others. With this amount of flexibility, the GM has to put some limits on the system.
Chapter 13 – Theism
This chapter covers the magic of priests and gods, and rounds out a very nice set of magical choices for a RuneQuest game. The two skills that cover this realm of magic are: Devotion (the belief of the faithful) and Exhort (the faithful’s ability to get his god’s attention). And we see a tie back to the idea of cults, both for flavor and for figuring out what mechanics make sense for followers of that cult.
One of the most interesting twists to this magic system is the idea of the devotion pool. This is the pool that the theist can cast magic from. But recovery of this pool is limited. The priest must be at a shrine, temple or holy place of their god! This means the priest is tied to the geographical limits of his god’s power. They do provide options for a number of ways a priest could find places to commune with his god in the wild, if your game runs in that direction. But still it is the limiting factor of this magic system. It is very powerful, but tied back directly to the power of the gods.
Miracles for this game (spells) run the gamut of what you would expect in a fantasy game, again general enough that adding setting flavor is necessary. But it does include more “historical” priestly powers and functions, such as blessing of crops.
Chapter 14 – Cults and Brotherhoods
Rounding out this part of the review is the section on Cults. I included this chapter due to the tie-ins with the magic chapters, in which the cult rankings and benefits are described by magical tradition. In this section there are explanations on the importance of cults and guilds, what the benefits are per rank, what types of cults are available by culture.
Mechanically we find gifts, special techniques that cults can teach to their members, runic affinities for cults and members, and a number of sample organizations to use or base your own cult off of.
Conclusion Part 2:
So these chapters bring me 310 pages through the rulebook. With only creatures and game mastering left, I am still very impressed with Design Mechanism and RuneQuest 6. It provides a simple rules set that has huge customization ability.
I tend to enjoy generic systems that I can add a setting too. RuneQuest give you enough tools to customize to your setting, with having to take the time to build rule sets and abilities like you would with a more general system like GURPS or Hero. RuneQuest has come out of nowhere for me, and is likely to stay on my shelf as a viable game option.
I am even giving thought to supporting their indiegogo campaign and picking up a hardcover copy.
To be concluded in Part 3.