This overview series on the Mythic Britain Campaign setting for RuneQuest 6 will explore the look, feel, utility, and depth of the material. My point of reference will be the final PDF release of the source book, and conversations with the author, Lawrence Whitaker. This, sadly, does not contain an actual play review of the setting (yet), and so will be of use primarily to those curious about what the book contains, and how it reads from a campaign preparation standpoint. An overview video of the hardcover can be viewed on my YouTube channel to round out, this series. You can find the rest of the blog posts here.
The latest version of the long-lived RuneQuest rules, has been allowed – after decades of evidence speaking to its enduring power and flexibility – to be set free of the setting it helped to define to stand on its own as a toolkit for Game Masters and players. As printed, RQ6 directly produces a bronze age experience of play with a broad palette of magical and fantastic elements included that make it playable directly from the core book, but does not specifically provide a setting in which to play. For this, groups are encouraged to craft their own settings and worlds, or to avail themselves of pretty much whatever they like – including the carefully nurtured settings growing up under the experienced hands of Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash of the Design Mechanism. One such setting is Mythic Britain.
What a setting source book provides is a resource of cultural elements and a framework of options drawn from RuneQuest 6, to focus the powerful array of potential tools the system offers into a predefined and coherent gaming experience for a genre, a period and region in history, or a fictional property. The source book answers all the difficult questions GMs face when considering running a game with a toolkit system such as what types of magic are in play, what cultural forces are at work, what skills arise in which regions among which social classes, and so on. This lets the group focus on characters, and bringing their chosen setting to life.
This overview has been longer in coming than I had intended. Part of that was just life being life. Part was that as I read through the material, I slowed down to savor it. It is the sort of thing that many long-time GMs hope they could produce if they were able to work in the RPG industry, but few can.
This first installment will look at character creation for this “gritty, dark ages” Arthurian campaign inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles. The campaign material inside delves into culture, language, historic characters, establishes the timeline leading up to the starting point in 495, and provides seven lengthy scenarios to round out the cultural and military drives of the period. Establishing a good character from the start is something the book aims to make as quick and as satisfying as possible.
Creating Characters for a Mythic Britain Campaign
The chargen section of this book begins on page 121 and extends to page 143. It could be argued that the following section, ‘Gods, Religion and Magic’ is also an aspect of character generation, but I will cover it in a different installment. While character creation spanning a core book and a supplement may seem excessive to some types of player, it should be remembered that this is a resource for understanding and creating a host of characters from two warring cultures. The campaign encompasses travelling across Britain, and becoming embroiled in the shaping of a nation. Intended for lengthy play covering tumultuous times in the lives of the characters, this chapter needs all the meat it can get to cover the sturdy bones from RQ6.
Rather than just spout off some observations about this section, it is perhaps best to show the making of a character. Essentially, the three stages of building a RuneQuest character are followed, but with an eye out for changes or setting specifics as provided by Mythic Britain. The group is advised to acquaint themselves with the cultural information presented on Celts and Saxons earlier in the book, and this is good advice for framing the character creation process, and providing context. The times listed are for a person familiar with the steps and skill definitions. If you are entirely new to RuneQuest, expect the first run at chargen to take longer as you clarify what the skills cover. A character sheet designed specifically for the Mythic Britain campaign is available from the Design Mechanism downloads page, and is provided in the back of the book.
Chargen Stage 1: Characteristics and Attributes
Step 1: RQ6 page 18 Time needed: 3 minutes
Three options for chargen are defined for RuneQuest (p12), roll in order, roll and assign, and points build. These are not so much a matter of preference as they are matter of purpose. If the group is interested in discovering a character in chargen and playing them, use the first method. If the group is seeking to connect to general roles, choose the second. If the group seeks to produce specific roles, choose the third.
As an example, the first stab at characters in Mythic Britain might be to use the roll in order method, with everyone choosing to follow their creative impulses based on what the dice tell them. Later on, after weeks of play and a character death, the group might want to add a replacement character from a particular branch of society and so choose the roll and assign method to ensure that there is a clear connection between that desired role and the capabilities of the character created. Later on, the group might be seeking out very specific individuals to add to their ranks, and so need to use the points build method to make that happen.
- Strength (3D6) 8
- Constitution (3D6) 6
- Size (2D6+6) 15
- Dexterity (3D6) 11
- Intelligence (2D6+6) 11
- Power (3D6) 11
- Charisma (3D6) 13
I have opted for the roll in order method for this post as it is my default, and also because it will allow me to show more of what can go into the generation of a character for the game.
With the statistics quickly rolled and written on the sheet, a quick round of data entry takes place based on the results, all of which are to be found on a single page in RQ6 (p18). Steps 1-10 take roughly 2 minutes at worst.
Step 2: Derive Action Points
Looking at the simple chart on page 18 to be certain of my memory, I note that with Intelligence and Dexterity scores of 11 this character (who is already taking shape in my mind) has 2 Action Points. Should combat involve him, he will be able to hold his own, but will be easily overwhelmed by more combat-oriented characters.
What does this tell me about him?
Step 3: Derive Damage Modifier
Although large, his is not a strong build. Again consulting the small chart on page 18 I note on his sheet that he has a modifier of 0 to rolled damage.
Step 4: Record Experience Modifier
Due to his charismatic nature, the character has an easier time with teachers and trainers, and so enjoys a +1 bonus in the XP system.
What can this contribute to the developing character concept?
Step 5: Record Healing Rate
Due to his weak constitution, he does not recover well from illness and injury, having only a rate of 1.
Again, what does this fact tell me about who the character would have grown up to be?
Step 7: Derive Strike Rank
Further intimating that this fellow is not a fighter, his Strike Rank of 11 could be worse, but won’t give him a reliable edge.
Step 8: Record Luck Points
Neither lucky nor unlucky, the character is in good shape here. With 2 Luck Points, I can expect him to hold out until his band can lend a hand.
Step 9: Record Magic Points
Unlikely to be of much use in this campaign, I nonetheless record the number (equal to the Power characteristic) just in case.
Step 10: Record Hit Points per Location
This is a combined step of adding two characteristics then consulting a chart. Afterward, the stylized hit location chart on the character sheet can be completed in order by reading down 1 column of numbers.
Head 5, Chest 7, Abdomen 6, Arms 4 each, Legs 5 each
Step 11: Standard Skills Time needed: 2 minutes
None of the preceding steps vary in any way from standard RQ character creation until we get to the assignment of Standard Skills. This step involves filling in the averages of two characteristics which from the base % score of that skill (ex: Athletics has a base derived from Str & Dex, where Deceit is derived from Int and Cha). This step does not vary in method, but does add a new skill to the list of 21 standard skills: superstition. This step seems like the most time consuming part of the first stage of character creation, but moves along quickly when you are familiar with the skills. I can do it in about 2 minutes now, but the first time out it took closer to 10.
Chargen Stage 2: Culture and Community
Step 1: Where are you from? Time needed: 1 minute
At this stage, more changes become evident. The specific cultural options of Celt or Saxon are provided and linked page references to the details are provided. This step comes first. Subsequent choices needing decisions are Homeland, Tribe, and Religion. This can be done individually or as a group decision, and options are provided to determine these things for the default Celt choice randomly in a single, small chart on page 123. There is a also a regional chart on this page for groups who want to choose a tribe based on a selected homeland.
Rolling randomly, we learn that the character hails from Dal Raida of the Scotii tribe, and grew up speaking Goidelic. A further roll tells us that he is Christian.
Step 2: What have you grown up with? Time needed: 5 minutes
RuneQuest offers the feel of a lifepath character generation system and so skills are dealt with in stages throughout the process. The first stage determined the basic standing of the Standard Skills. This stage focuses on the characters’ Cultural Skills. Players now assign additional skill points to develop more mature, regionally and culturally inflected capabilities. Mythic Britain provides the template indicating which skills are open for improvement at this stage on page 121, for both Cultures.
As I am generating a Celt I can stick to page 121. If I were building a Saxon, I would start on page 121 and then turn to page 122. This stage covers the growth of chosen Standard Skills, firming up Culture, Lore, and Language Skills, making the optional selection of a Combat Style (from among 5 listed types for each Culture), and establishing the character’s Passions.
In this step I must divide 100 percentage points among the available skills, without using less than 5% or more than 15% in any particular skill. I follow my instincts about this character by assigning them to reflect a life spent avoiding as much conflict as possible. For a combat style, I go with Shield Wall, but put as many points as possible into the available Lore, Customs, and Language skills, rounding things out with a focus on singing and building endurance…. from all the running away.
The skill lists I can choose from at this stage are the specific Standard Skills common to the Celts, three of a short list of specific Professional Skills, and the awareness of culture, lore, and language peculiar to my character. These latter three skills come with a starting bonus of 40% to reflect that they are the cultural core of the character.
Passions, an optional rule in RQ6, play a stronger role in Mythic Britain than some GMs might opt to have previously used in their own settings. Having made good use of them in my own campaign, and been impressed with the results, I was pleased to see that they take a strong stance in character creation for this setting. A change that occurs with Passions is that there are 5 defined for each character, and their starting values are rated differently.
The character then, is further defined by Loyalties, Loves, Hates, and faithfulness to his religion with passions ranging in initial intensity from 52% to 56%. These are significant, but not unduly dominant aspects of his life, which should at times, come into interesting conflicts with each other, and those of his band.
Step 3: What do you do? Time needed: 10 minutes
How Careers are handled has also been addressed somewhat differently, tying it both to Culture and Social Class. There is a sidebar on using this as an option in RQ6 on page 40, but in Mythic Britain it has been implemented as a part of the setting. The source book details how to do this on pages 135 and 135, linked helpfully in the PDF from the main chargen page, 121. There is a high degree of mobility in social class as presented in the book, so a character may not be able to start out as a Druid, Bard, or Noble, but there is nothing to prevent them from rising to those positions… or losing the faith of their people later on.
Points are assigned quite differently than in RQ6 in the Careers step, and Mythic Britain relates that the average person was expected to fight, as well as to carry out useful functions for the tribe. Unless a character starts out as a druid, they will be expected by their tribe to pay attention to the arts of war and what is referred to as a secondary career. This stage provides 100 points to the warrior career, 75 to the secondary career, and finishes off with a bonus of 75 points to be used as the player desires – again following the restriction of a 15% cap on additions.
A random roll provides the likely result of being a Freeman, and based on all that has come before I opt away from the norm a bit and instead of having him be a farmer, settle on him being a trader.
Mythic Britain adds a step to character creation to reflect the nature of its setting. This step is the determination of the character’s superstition score. This is another derived trait, based on Intelligence, and its initial value is determined slightly differently for Christians and Pagans. The character being built here would have an initial superstition of 21 if he were to be Christian, and 41 if he were to be a Pagan. Growth in this trait can be resisted at the player’s discretion by modifying a D100 roll with their Intelligence. The more superstitious he becomes, the harder it will be to resist. One of the main effects of this attribute in the game is to modify a character’s resistance to magic and the supernatural by affecting the Difficulty they face in Willpower rolls against such forces.
Chargen Stage 3: Finishing Touches
Points spent, the character is shaping up much as I had begun to envision him just after seeing the array of Characteristics provided by the dice. Not a destined to be a noteworthy fighter, but still a trained and good companion, the character finds himself an unremarkable part of the shieldwall when times of strife arise. Otherwise, he spends his time where his strengths lie – in communication and trade with others.
One last set of rolls and/or choices remain, the establishment of the character’s family details (RQ6, p33), the revelation of Allies, Contacts, Rivals, and Enemies (RQ6, p34), and the Background Events roll. Mythic Britain has its own Background Events table and characters are expected to draw from it, rather than the tables in the core book. While not technically necessary, this can add even more flavor to an entirely randomly generated character adding in even more of the depth and chaos of real life. Of course, by this point in chargen a mixture of selection and random rolling may produce the best and most coherent results for play. Like your RuneQuest, your mileage may vary on that score.
For this character, we learn randomly that both parents are deceased, and there are three siblings. Three grandparents remain among the living, along with three aunts/uncles. Four cousins round out the extended family. Rolling for reputation we learn that the family is on firm footing, but there is the chance of secrets which could rock that should they be uncovered. This comes with the addition of an enemy or rival to the character’s background, which they do not necessarily need to be aware of at this time. Finally, a roll for family connections shows us that family is known and reasonably connected, but that there is ill-blood between them and another family… another enemy. Returning to Mythic Britain (p128) the last roll before sorting out the final vision of the character is made. The result makes me smile; the marriage of a beloved sibling to a vile person. This great twist sets the stage for intra-family conflict, the spread of ill will, and motivation to seek out social and martial advantage…. Interesting!
Looking back over what has come before a lot of things seamlessly fit together with each other and the setting to open this unlikely character to a world where he gets caught up in the machinations of powerful and driven people seeking to carve a better world out of the darkness of the one they were born into.
All that is needed now is a name and setting specific trappings, and Mythic Britain is prepared to help us there, too. On page 137 we get access to what we need to know about money, equipment, weapons, and armor, with page references for the core book, and new items provided and described right in this section. The last part of this section is the exhaustive list of alphabetized names.
My choice? Cadman apKendall
This is what I consider to be the longest section of character generation in RuneQuest, as much of it is purely internal and references ideas and information from each of the preceding stages. Mythic Britain vastly simplifies this with its order and layout. For this character, I spent perhaps 10 minutes settling on family details and other tidbits of background – with an eye toward leaving as many open hooks and points of access as possible for whatever other characters would come to join him in becoming a part of the grand and terrible adventure that lurks within Mythic Britain. It took far, far longer to type this all out than to actually do it.
This is a close look at the sort of support Mythic Britain provides for character generation, without giving away the specific details which make the book the treasure it is. Character creation is fast and well-organized. If you are familiar with the skills, you can use Mythic Britain and page 18 of RQ6 to whip up a character in no time. If not, Mythic Britain keeps you on track by clearly outlining which sections of the core book to use, and when to draw from the core or itself. Even so, page 18 and Mythic Britain will keep you moving along steadily and surely, without the sort of questions a total newcomer to RuneQuest 6 would have to ask when getting into the core book on its own.
The vision of this long-past world is grim indeed, and fills me with concern for the character I have created. To survive and do his duty, I can see his drives laid out before me as clear as day, and how those drives would bring him into the nets of the powerful from where I would have to play him cleverly and charismatically in order to survive and thrive.
I love a good challenge~
There is more to come in this series, digging further into the book and its intentions. The second installment, found here, will look at the how the book presents its setting. The third installment will cover the supernatural, while the final installment will examine how all of this interacts with the scenarios of the campaign.
Darken others' doors: