Casting Runes 1: Percentile Violence~

There are many reasons why I selected RuneQuest to support my serious foray back into fantasy gaming after all these years (No, Vampire: The Dark Ages does not count). Chief among these reasons is the basic simplicity of the core mechanics and the enjoyable lethality of the combat system. At this point in time, I recognize my appreciation of the former, and that I am in the mood for the latter.

Interpretive Freedom

In many regards percentile systems like RuneQuest, even though they do offer ranges of results for a critical success or failure, are essentially pass/fail devices. The game master has the task of interpreting the results into something interesting. This is not always easy, but it is a challenge which I enjoy, and can come to miss in systems which offer GM assistance in the form of graduated levels of success.

Player psychology can cause strange reactions to specific results. The joy of rolling a 75 when one has a 75% chance is intense, as is the bitterness of rolling a 76. Even though there is an equal chance of getting any one of the numbers between 01 and 75 on that roll, it somehow feels different to roll a 75 instead of a 57. Very little of this form of emotional attachment to results translates into systems which involve beating a certain threshold of successes from rolling a die pool. In those systems the attachment manifests differently, and seems to be muted unless the number of successes rolled far exceeds the amount required and can be converted into some form of special effect, or is far below the average expected result. It is the extreme results which generate the same sorts of reaction.

The reactions of players to specific numbers on the percentile dice is something that can be used to interpret outcomes in much the same way as levels of success are used in other games, but without the hard and fast rules. Having the dice return simpler input (success, failure, critical success, and critical failure) will allow me to exercise my creative muscles more freely as I will not have the detail a system predicated on differentiated levels of success would provide, nor the requirement to follow what it dictates. Instead, I will need to be on my game to determine what description of results will work best in the flow of the tale as it is manifesting. That sort of challenge is good for the soul.

The other interesting aspect of percentile systems in terms of roll adjudication is being careful in framing what the roll is for and what results can possibly mean prior to rolling. As has been discussed before, being able to set realistic terms of success and failure, as well as critical success and fumbling, is a skill that is in curiously short supply. Much of the distrust for percentile systems stems from GMs who assign fumble results to failures, and inappropriate fumble results at that.

Watch a clip related to this post on YouTube~

Fight for your life

For the first time since the 80s, most of the people who I am meeting or communicating with these days are primarily D&D players. This boggles my mind, but is not something which is likely to change any time soon. With that in mind, I wanted to pick a system which is built on very different principles of character design and concept. It is hard to get much more different than RuneQuest, unless we drift over to a strongly narrative styled game. With no levels and no classes, and the only improvements to a character other than skill development being costly, limited in scope, and only semi-permanent, the specter of death casts a very long shadow over characters in this game be they newly rolled up, or experienced adventurers.

Hit points in RuneQuest6 are assigned to hit locations, and damage in these locations has the sorts of effects you might expect, like dismemberment, unconsciousness, death, and so on. These hit points do not increase with character experience. They can be increased in a limited sense by raising the attributes from which they are derived, but this is not easy and requires an ongoing investment in training in order to maintain. Neglect will result in the character sliding back to the original attributes and hit points. I love it! Coupled with hit points are levels of fatigue which impact on performance. There is much to be wary of for characters in RuneQuest combat. Players have the enjoyment of carefully assigning their armor to the different hit locations and figuring out a balance between protection and encumbrance which works for them and suits their character’s combat style.

Like with Palladium Fantasy, the combat system itself is adversarial and based off of opposed rolls for attack and defense. A nice quality of this system is tracking the difference in results between these rolls to determine if special combat effects can be added to the flow of events. Unlike systems which embrace basic math by tracking the numerical value by which a target or opposing roll has been exceeded or failed, RuneQuest keeps it simple by comparing the level of success obtained. The levels of success are fumble, failure, success, and critical success. The wider the range between the opposed rolls, the more of the listed special effects may be applied and defined to determine to the outcome of that round of the engagement. Simple concept, soon learned. I find this level of aid useful for the idea of gaming with strangers, particularly through G+ or Skype. Without the time to earn trust and develop an awareness of how I run my games before play, experiencing how I implement and interpret this clear and simple combat system should go a long way toward establishing a connection while we play. I’m looking forward to it~

Where will this go?

What I am in the process of determining now is what sort of technology and culture will be the starting point for characters in this world. Culture and the clash of culture often lead to tests of arms and fighting spirit, and as we work on refining Combat Styles and their associated bonuses and penalties, and as an initial framework of the societal response to violence in the starting location is worked out, I will need to find a way to let the players practice with this system – particularly with life and death exchanges – so that they can make informed choices in-character.

The next installment will lay out how I intend to make that possible.

Read the previous installment here.

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