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I have been running a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha campaign for the last couple of months and frankly I’ve been having a ball doing it.

Amidst the hilarity[1] of last night’s session, there were some serious discussions about the context and role of combat in both RuneQuest and Dungeons and Dragons.

Coming from a D&D Background

Several of my players are experienced gamers, but have rarely encountered systems other than D&D.

However D&D is rarely tied to one setting very tightly[2]. Rules to integrate the characters into a setting, a community, and impose mutual obligations with/to that community tend to be add-ons. D&D also, at its roots, has a very American world view of the individual over the community.

Thus, despite it being a derogatory term, the murderhobo: the PC who wears thousands of GP worth of magic items but sleeps in a ditch.

For such PCs, violence early and often is usually the way to get more stuff.

Welcome to Glorantha by way of some Pendragon

This is where the group as a whole had a very serious conversation about how characters would interact in the world of Glorantha.

The first point is that it’s impossible for a PC to exist without strong ties to family, to clan, to tribe, and possibly many others. And those loyalties (or loves[3]) are usually reciprocated: if you can’t pay your own ransom, your family or clan will.

The passions[4] mentioned above exist within the framework of a society heavily influenced by Arthurian legends, by the Greek Age of Heroes where single combat between tribal (or city) champions was something to be sought. As a side effect, a hero’s deeds for good or ill will be retold in tale and song so that many of the people they meet later will know who they are, and how they’re likely to act[5].

There are many other influences for Glorantha, but those two will do for now.

Changing How You See The World

But for many of the players last night, this… was a different way to see the world and it took some time to get their heads round it.

Specifically that what a PC does may reflect back onto the community, and in ways that you don’t want.

Raiding cattle from the neighbours is fine, it’s a sign that you’re a daring warrior looking to get ahead[6]. Murdering the herders you stole the cattle from is going too far, and will cause trouble all round.

But even in response to the above, murdering a captive could start a war between tribes… unless you cough up their ransom, possibly doubled or more, as wergild[7]. As for torturing said captive for information, well, how much of your Honour passion did you want to lose[8]?

On the other hand, accepting the captive’s parole, returning their weapons[9], and just expecting them to not run away until ransomed? That’s more or less what’s expected. By the same token the captive wouldn’t run away anyway as they have their own honour to attend to.

This discussion went on for some time and, frankly, was a highlight of the session for me as GM. Watching the dawning sense in most of the group that, hey, RuneQuest and Glorantha are different, and watching them begin to work out how to work within that cultural matrix was fabulous.

Final thoughts

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a GM with any degree of regularity, and doing so as I’ve been learning the new RuneQuest mechanics has been a great experience.

I’d like to thank my players for their patience as I learned the game, and for their efforts in making every session fun and often challenging. The major scene last week definitely being an example of the latter.

Tuesday nights have become a highlight of the week for me, and on the strength of this experience I’ll also be running RuneQuest in Perth for the New Year’s Gaming crew.

Question of the Post: Have you ever experienced role-playing culture shock when you tried a new system? If so, which system and why?

[1] Out of context as it is, this particular quote is almost as funny as it was in context:

[2] I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, or that good GMs don’t make it happen, just that it doesn’t happen as an integral part of the game system.

[3] Or hates… it cuts both ways.

[4] Which, as a mechanic, have been introduced into this edition of RuneQuest from Pendragon. And they fit wonderfully.

[5] This was measured by Glory in Pendragon and directly by a reputation score in RuneQuest.

[6] Of course it might inspire the neighbours to raid you back.

[7] Yes, there’s definitely Viking/Norse influences in Glorantha as well. Quarrelling hill tribes for the win.

[8] As a GM I’d be leaning towards at least a 25% reduction.

[9] The 18th/early 19th century tradition of naval officers giving their parole and having their swords returned as a mark of honour also came up in the discussion.