RPG a Day 9: Medium

The medium’s the message, huh1That’s actually pretty terrifying if you know what it means. Look it up, and think about what newspapers and tv actually do, in terms of smoothing society into certain shapes.?

I’m going to twist this one a little bit to talk about one of my favourite things about RuneQuest. The setting is so well integrated with the character sheet that the sheet adds to the experience.

The character sheet borrows heavily from Pendragon, and takes what I think is a broken mechanic, and makes it beautiful. So first, I’m going to talk about Pendragon.

I loved that game, when we played it. I loved my knight, who partook of the glory and the danger of the Arthurian world, learned a lot about himself, and did stupid things in the name of honour. He also did stupid things because he was confused, or angry, or just not having a clear-thinking day. I sat at that table and laughed as much as I’ve ever laughed, at the antics of his friends, at the GM’s expressions as he realised that once more we were riding off at the normal to any plot he could have written, and at the… well, it was great. It was joyful. And it was hugely Arthurian.

Pendragon does a really good job of modelling the stories of Arthur and his knights. The group goes on thematic adventures, takes thematic injuries, might well die heroically or cravenly – you can imagine that this is the sort of RPG that would lead to Gawain and the Green Knight, or Balin and Balin’s tales. It can model the madness of Lancelot, and the sheer glory of him jousting from a cart and still winning. It’s great for when you want to star in those stories.

However, because of that, there’s a mechanic I don’t like. There are passions on the sheet, which can be used for a boost, or for decision-making, but there’s a high chance that you’ll fumble that roll and when you do, the GM takes over your character.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my GM. He’s awesome. He gave us those good times. The one time a passion fumble happened was epic and beautiful. Still an’ all, I turn up at the table to play my character in that good-time context, and I never wanted to take the risk of rolling on those passions and having to hand over decisions to someone else. I wanted to be the person playing the hero2Generally we had enough NPCs hanging around for there to be someone familiar to pick up and play, but that’s not the point.. (Caveat: our GM did long, slow adventures, so there would have been some time out. Other games might have shorter adventures in which such things vary.)

RuneQuest gives mechanical support to the fumbles, and leaves them in the control of the player. I love that so much. I can lean on my Passions, and I know that if I mess up a roll, I’m going to be able to lean into them harder, to tear my hair, cover myself with ashes, rail at the uncaring skies, and chew the scenery. I don’t mind failing at RuneQuest passion rolls, and as a consequence this sheet works for me. The whole thing pulls together and makes it easy for me to believe in this world. I can assume everyone has passions and loves, and that there’s a non-zero chance of NPCs failing, and it’s joyful, because I’m tied into things that matter.

The same method, with some slightly different results, is used for the Runes, the great metaphysical building blocks of magic that are also personalities. I can fumble one of those, and I’ll have a spiritual problem, and I’ll be the one to work through it, and probably I’ll write a long IC monologue and send it to the GM as what my little warrior is thinking or even shouting at the skies. I’m HOPING to fumble some of them, because I know how to make it interesting for other people, even perhaps terrifying. Certainly, I think I can do entertaining. That never happened with Pendragon. I couldn’t even daydream of it, because it would be out of my control.

So, I trust the Passions and Runes. And as a consequence, my sheet is bound highly to the world. I play a person tied into a world of surging love and hatred, of rebellion and support and magic, and I know instantly how to solve a personality crisis, by rolling against those Passions and Runes. When I do, it deepens my belief in the world and how it works.

The medium of the character sheet holds my personality, and my personality was created from the underlying rules of Glorantha. It’s amazing.

If you want to try it, the RQG Quickstart is free: https://www.chaosium.com/runequest-roleplaying-in-glorantha-quickstart/ – scroll to the bottom for the free downloads, and learn about a world in which the myth of the sword is the myth of the world. The Starter Set is being shipped to Chaosium’s warehouses now, so you’ll have more to build on it you like it.

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