Updating Borderlands I: Mechanics

I made the big mistake a couple of years back of deciding I wanted to run another Glorantha campaign. I was only running one and playing in a couple weekly at the time.1I’m not after your sympathy, I’m fine with your awe. As often happens, my adventurers ended up in exile, and it being 1615ish, the Praxian city of New Pavis looked good. I decided to make things easy on myself, and run plots that someone else had written, and got myself Borderlands and Beyond, New Pavis, and Big Rubble. It’s been going well.

Regular readers may know I’ve got no nostalgia value here. RQG is my first RuneQuest experience, and these books are old and a little bit clunky. However, they’re also new, and brilliant, and awesome, and hilarious.

Most of our group has not played RuneQuest once, with the exception of one player, who’s really chuffed because he’s finally got a Rune-level character, a shaman. More about that problem – which is a problem albeit not one with him in particular – later. Even for that player, who had never played Borderlands, this is a new and fascinating world. There was a point where the group had just finished the quest given by Gluppa the Catfish when one of the players asked if we could pause the game for a moment, so we could appreciate that we had just rescued a suit of magical armour for a fish. The party’s healer feels really guilty because they only seem to talk to Gluppa when they need a favour. These people feel real within the world, and one of them’s a fish.

Gluppa’s in a relationship with the Rune Fish who ended up wearing the armour, and they’ve just spawned for the first time. They’re hoping to meet their children a year or two from now, when the fishlings come back up the Zola Fel.

This is an AMAZING part of the setting. However, it’s not without problems. You can see it was written in the 80s. There are some baked-in assumptions like ‘PCs will spend their money on training and temples have a list of what they can provide’ and ‘dungeons should have traps’ which are not in my thinking. They’re not even in the players’ thinking, hence a LOT of hilarity recently…

So here’s how I’m changing things up.

The first thing to see is that most adventurers are higher-powered than the expected PCs, except where they are lower powered. The adventure included in the books I have come with advice, about playing several different characters, as required. One might be best for neophytes, one might be built for multiple Rune Lords, and there’s relatively little in between.

In general, I’ve found that if something’s underpowered, then it benefits from waves of mooks, or adding 20% to skills. However, it doesn’t have to happen that way. It’s absolutely fine to give the PCs a relatively easy ride. This is RuneQuest, and combat is notoriously dangerous, and it’s fine to let the PCs be better than the opponents. Specials and Criticals still happen. The adventurers, if they are wise, will still be using their magic and trying to avoid combat. If they’re not, then they haven’t yet learned a couple of bad rolls can kill them – but eventually, they will.

So, I make stupidly easy things a bit harder. A fight where 2 enemies have a 40% skill each isn’t a fight that’s interesting. A fight where 2 enemies have 60% skill each, and have managed to catch the scout alone, is. However, I don’t tend to make harder things easier. Instead, I try to just keep them to expectation.

Older RQ characters have skills on the sheet that we no longer have. Pick Locks. Find Traps. That sort of thing. I assume it’s related to D&D, but RuneQuest Glorantha is not a dungeon-crawling game, and it shouldn’t be one. So, I get rid of what I see at the D&D expectations. There are very few trapped chests, and those that are trapped, are done with Bronze Age tech and appropriate magic. Every surprise sword on a spring is gone. Lock technology is basic, and often non-rotary, based on lifting bars out of the way. I don’t expect my adventurers to go through a dungeon or a tower carefully and slowly, looking for traps and in return, they’re relatively safe from those. Relatively, I say. That one pit trap with the 12m drop to the water and then the skeletons was too much to resist. However, it left one of the players laughing weakly into his hands, “Because it was written in the 80s.” The WTF? moment was worth it, but I’m not going to do it often. RuneQuest seems like a better world when the GM and the PCs are not trying to outwit each other, which is often what a trap-filled dungeon boils down to.

When it comes to the difficult fights, I try to do the same thing, smoothing away anything really unexpected. There isn’t much, but there are going to be a few coming up when they finally go down the Zola Fel on the cradle. It looks like that adventure was built to destroy powerful PCs, with people picking up spares if necessary. The picking up spares model is built in to a lot of the thinking in Borderlands in particular, and it doesn’t sit well with the one-PC model that most people run with. It also doesn’t sit well with the fact some people are going to be playing healers, or want to be support characters. I’m going to deal with that by declaring that the wardings involved don’t go off for Chalana Arroy, because she isn’t an enemy of those who set them, and then my conscience is clear. Then, everyone who might be expected to defend themselves, will have the chance to, and everyone who doesn’t canonically have to most of the time, won’t need to.

The Rune magic usually doesn’t need putting in, because we can just assume most people we meet are not initiates with lots of Rune Points lying around. Sometimes I scribble in what NPCs are likely to have, sometimes I leave it. For extra passions and Rune augmentation, I assume 75%-90%, depending on the level of NPC. If they seem like they’re falling behind in a conflict, then I’ll roll against those to augment, because it adds to the world when the players understand their foes and rivals can do that too, but I don’t usually worry about it; it’s for keystone fights and bosses really, and the rest of the time it just complicates the rolls.

However, that is mostly mechanical stuff. There is a far bigger problem, and that’s to do with support characters, healer characters, and how to break the game completely. So the next post will take a look at the narrative of how the Borderlands campaign worked for me. Until then, don’t let the Lunars catch you.

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    I’m not after your sympathy, I’m fine with your awe.

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Thanks for that. Just re-starting RQ as the newer RQG, having played it in the mid 80s (recall Griffin Mountain being the one we played).

Awesome. I’ve started from new (as mentioned) so I’ve heard of all these names and how amazing they were at the time, and it’s nice to find that they’ve got really amazing bits even now.

My players have just gone through most of Borderlands and have been in Pavis not even a game week. I missed out Condor Crags as… well… I think they might need to leave Pavis at some point and it’s a useful scenario hook to get them into Griffin Mountain.

Adaptation was pretty easy it is true. Basically add RP and % to maker it challenging.

Main change was Jezra. My Jezra was in Jonstown as her father had despaired of her ever having the inclination to be the good little dynastic marriage candidate he needed. But then she got a crush on one of her tutors. Jee going through Knight Fort coincided with the players arriving there seeking work as they’d just been kicked out of the Marcher Baron’s hold they’d been fostered in since being orphaned in a Wolf Pirate attack on Kenstone Island when they were 9/10/11.

My players were all total newbies to RQ and Glorantha so I wanted a background they could grok in a backwater, so their ignorance of the world around them would make sense.

So they were hired as guards and crossed Prax with Diane and Jezra.

Later Jezra’s abduction by the Tusk Riders and having her old nurse and the two retainers she was captured with tortured to death in front of her, and then losing her mother, wrought a profound change. Shes sworn to never be helpless again and trained with Diane obsessively until his death, eschewing her pretty Esrolian gowns and bodices for decent clothes for a frontier’s woman. She’s been heavily influenced by her father trying to educate her to be a suitable spouse but not the way he had hoped and is throwing the patriarchal assumptions he has under the chariot. Borderlands ended with the party escorting her to Pavis to resume her education but not as a spouse. As the eventual ruler of her father’s lands.

And she even pursuaded her father to tell the party to follow her commands unless they would risk her life on the journey, which side-quested into Rabbit Hat farm as her first taste of real action (my daughter guesting as an NPC player neatly decapitated the priest as much to the party’s horror he tried to make his escape past her).

As for Pavis. Well. They’re making an impresssion. 😂

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