The latest Pathfinder playtest has been posted on Paizo.com. Rather than introducing a new class as last time, the new playtest presents an alternate way of spellcasting, namely "words of power". As it turns out, this is not as cool as I hoped it would be. Rather, "wordcasting" is more of an erector set for spell construction. There are words for range and area and spell effect which are combined to construct a particular spell. I have seen this sort of mechanical approach to magic before and it has always left me indifferent. Perhaps it is the D&D roots of my gaming history, but I've always felt magic should be somewhat haphazard and organic, not regimented and scientific. As with all playtests, the final form may be different from the "beta version", but it seems unlikely that wordcasting will ever be what I was hoping it would be, namely, a playable version of truenaming.
What happens when you go to your local gaming store on payday, disappointed that several books you were planning to buy have had their release dates pushed back a few months? Well, in my case, you come home with RuneQuest II by Mongoose. I don't know how it happened really. I just went in to look, knowing the things I wanted would not be there. Worst of all, the company that failed to deliver the desired products on time was the very same group of furry snake-eaters. I suppose it was a result of my renewed interest in Basic RolePlaying, the game system upon which all past and present manifestations of RuneQuest are based and being quite impressed with how well Mongoose buffed up the venerable Traveller rules, I was somewhat curious to see what they would do with BRP.
So, how does it compare, you ask? Not bad. It's different, but not unrecognizably so. Skills have been reorganized, there has been some streamlining (i.e. no more Spot, Listen, Sense, it's all Perception), some unstreamlining (i.e. Dance and Sing are now separate skills, rather than specializations of Perform) and the base percentage of the skills is derived by adding two characteristics (i.e. Athletics = STR + DEX) or doubling one (i.e. Lore = INT x 2). Skills are categorized as common (available to everyone) or advanced (requisite upon appropriate cultural or professional criteria). Also, combat skills have been redefined as combat styles, such as 2H axe or sword-and-shield, although they are purchased with skill points just like in BRP. One notable difference is the introduction of the Evade (based on DEX), Resilience (based on CON) and Persistance (based on POW) skills which act like saving throws, thereby eliminating the Resistance Table so familiar to Call of Cthulhu players. For me, this is a welcome change. I hate tables.
Magic plays a big role in RuneQuest II, indeed, literally everyone has access to at least some magic, right down to the lowliest peasant farmer or footman. I gather this derives from the design philosophy of the original campaign setting associated with the original RuneQuest, Glorantha. There are four kinds of magic, Common, Spirit, Divine and Sorcery. Common Magic, as the name implies, is the weakest and the most widely-available. It is the weakest because each spell is a separate skill, just as it is in BRP. Therefore, most practitioners of Common Magic will know only a handful of spells at most. A fighter may know the Bladesharp or Firearrow spell to make himself a bit more effective in combat, but he won't be mistaken for a serious spellcaster.
The other types of magic might be described as shamanism (Spirit Magic), clericism (Divine Magic) and wizardry (Sorcery). Each has two skills associated it, so it is possible for practitioners to accumulate an impressive number of spells without spending large numbers of skill points. Spellcasters are expected to join a cult, an organization (not necessarily religious) which, among other things, provides its members with access to new magical knowledge. Learning new spells pretty much requires cult membership. This is where runes come into play. Runes are symbols corresponding to various concepts such as law, chaos, light, darkness, man, beast, etc. They seem to have played a bigger role in earlier editions of RuneQuest, but they still have some relevance in the latest version of the game. Each cult has several runes associated with it and these runes shape the philosophy of the cult and the spells available to be learned from it. In order to gain access to a wider range of spells, most spellcasters will belong to more than one cult, as long as they are not opposed (i.e. one may not be a member of both a fire cult and a water cult).
I would say that RuneQuest II is a highly-playable game, if a bit dense for a newbie. I'm not sure if I am committed to investing in Glorantha at this stage, so I hope Mongoose treats MRQII the same way it did with Traveller, adapting the game to multiple settings. I notice Cubicle 7 has already started, releasing the Clockwork and Chivalry campaign setting, an alternate history of the English Civil War incorporating magical clockworks and alchemy into the struggle between the Royalists and the Roundheads. Not my cup of tea, but something else like a Dying Earth or dark fantasy setting might peak my interest. I shall look forward to what Mongoose comes up with in the soon-to-be-released State of the Mongoose address.
Update: I was mistaken in my original description of Common Magic in MRQII. In fact, the is only one skill governing the use of Common Magic. However, the spells are generally weaker than similar Divine, Spirit and Sorcery spells.
Basic Roleplaying incorporates rules from many past and present Chaosium games, such as Call of Cthulhu, Runequest and Elric!. Though all these games used the basic d100 mechanic, there were some variations in some aspects of the game system. You certainly see that in the powers rules and you also see it in combat, resulting in a variety of optional or alternate rules. For example, initiative can be handled in a number of ways. The basic approach has four stages; statement of intent, power use, actions and resolution. In the first step, players and NPCs declare their actions. This is typically done all at one time in order from highest DEX to lowest DEX. However, several variants exist, including dispensing with the declarations entirely or declaring them in reverse order, lowest DEX to highest so that characters with higher DEX can react to the declarations of those with lower DEX. The next step is the use of powers such as sorcery or psychic abilities, performed in order from highest INT to lowest among the characters who have chosen to use them. Powers typically take a full round to use, so their effects are manifested in the following power use phase. After power use comes actions. Actions are performed in order from highest DEX to lowest, although one optional rule is to add a d10 to DEX to allow for some random component to initiative. If this option is chosen, however, it has implications for multiple attacks since the number of attacks possible in a round is dependent on initiative number, so it's possible to get more attacks with DEX + d10 than just DEX alone. This may make smaller weapons such as daggers more attractive because of the extra attacks they allow. Following each action is resolution. Unlike the other phases, this phase is done after each individual action rather than being grouped together. Resolution in combat is generally some sort of active defense (assuming the attack was successful), a dodge or a parry. There are varying degrees of success for both the attack roll and the defense roll, so these results have to be compared. It is possible for a successful attack to beat a successful defense if the degree of success is greater for the attack. However, the successful defense likewise reduces the effect of the attack, even if it doesn't defeat it entirely.
As mentioned above, there are multiple degrees of success when making an attack or defense roll (or any skill roll for that matter). A roll equal to or less than your skill percentage is a success, a roll equal to or less than 1/5 of your skill percentage is a special success and a roll equal to or less than 1/20 of your skill percentage is a critical success. Each level of success defeats a lesser success, although in the case of dodge or parry, a lesser degree of success will mitigate the effects of a special or critical success result for the attack roll. Special successes on attack add a special weapon effect to the normal damage, such as bleeding, impaling or crushing damage. Critical success cause maximum damage for the weapon and ignore armour. There are rare circumstances (i.e. impaling attacks vs. unarmoured opponents) in which a special success result is actually better than a critical result. In those instances, the player is permitted to choose the better effect when scoring a critical success. In BRP, armour serves to reduce damage, rather than reduce the likelihood of success. This means that combat is somewhat less streamlined than in D&D, but it also allows for more realism and more options, especially for cross-genre campaigns. A perfect example is the introduction of firearms. D&D has never been able to handle firearms satisfactorily. The challenge has always been to model the advantages of firearms over bows. Bows are obviously faster, so even if a musket does more damage, the extra attacks enjoyed by the archer will finish off the musketeer long before he gets reloaded. Factors such as ease of use or intimidation just never seem to be incorporated into the rules in such a way as to make firearms attractive. However, in BRP, firearms work just fine. Armour only provides half the normal protection against firearms and reduces your active defense options significantly. Therefore, the introduction of black powder weapons into your campaign greatly reduces the attractiveness of heavy armour, just as it did in history. Sure, your heavy plate will reduce the damage from a musket ball, but it's far better to dodge out of the way entirely. This is the real strength of the Basic RolePlaying combat system. It is very portable.
You may have noticed my rate of posting has somewhat diminished of late. Sadly, this situation is about to become the new normal. I am being encumbered with new responsibilities at the lab (more work, same pay...nice). This blog will go on, but the posts will be less frequent. My sincerest apologies to my legions of adoring fans.