Monday, January 17, 2011

RuneQuest II: Modifying the maths

Okay, you've realised that the maths in RuneQuest II (and virtually all RPGs) isn't great, what do you do? You could ditch the game system and play free-form. That's a good idea. However, unlike most RPGs, fixing the maths in RuneQuest might not be too difficult. Here's what you could do:

Free Skill Points
  1. Adventurers initially receive 500 free skill points to distribute.
  2. Starting adventurers may assign no more than 30 points (i.e., 30%) to Common Skills and Combat Styles.
  3. Advanced skills learnt as part of the Cultural Background or Profession process can by improved by 30 points.
  4. Advanced skills, chosen by the player, cost 10 skill points to achieve the base level. These may be improved by no more than 20 points.
  5. Adventurers never receive additional skill points (see below for Improvement Points).
Common Magic
  1. Adventurers receive a total of 12 points to use in buying Common Magic spells.
  2. Initially, the maximum magnitude of a Common Magic spell is 2.
  3. Adventurers never receive any more points to buy more Common Magic, though they can swap spells out for others using Improvement Points (see below).
Improvement Points

Improvement Points are distributed by the GM, at the appropriate time, as usual. These points can be used, to not increase Characteristics, Skills, and magic, but to shuffle them around.

For Skills:
  • Select the skill to be increased and roll 1D100. Add the Adventurer’s INT characteristic to the result of the 1D100 roll.
  • If this 1D100 result is greater than the skill’s current score, the skill increases by 1D4+1 points.
  • If this 1D100 result is equal to or less than the skill’s current score, the skill only increases by one point.
  • Select another skill. Reduce this skill by the same amount that you increased the first skill.
  • A common skill can never be reduced below its base - i.e., Characteristic + background and profession modifiers.
  • Skill percentages may only be increased up to 90%.
Learning new advanced skills functions in the same way as described in the core rulebook. Any improvement beyond the basic characteristic-derived score, however, follows the same rules as above.

For teaching, mentors and learning new advanced skills, they work in the same sort of way as described in the RuneQuest II core rulebook. Keep in mind that you may not have a net increase in skills - you must decrease a skill in order to learn another.

For Characteristics:
  • Select the Characteristic that you want to increase.
  • Select the Characteristic that you want to decrease.
  • The difference between the two Characteristics is the number of Improvement Points that you that need to spend in order increase/decrease the Characteristics by one point.
For Common Magic:

Common Magic spells can be improved, learnt or discarded by using Improvement Points. This improvement works along the same lines as Skills and Characteristics. To increase the magnitude of a Common Magic spell, one needs to decrease or discard a current spell. Use the Learning Common Magic Spells table (page 107) from the core rulebook to see the costs of improving Common Magic. e.g., Arlyn knows Bladesharp 2 and Warmth 2. She uses 2 Improvement Points to increase Warmth to magnitude of 3. At the same time Bladesharp decreases to magnitude 1. Note: To learn/change Common Magic spells, the adventurer is still required to locate a teacher willing to reveal its secrets.

Skill mechanics

Critical success, fumble and opposed rolls work exactly the same way as described in the core rulebook. Adventurers' skills can never rise above 90%, so generally you can ignore rules for skills over 100%. Occasionally, however, you'll want a powerful opponent with percentage over 100% (a dragon, perhaps?)

Profession and Cultural Background

During a period of downtime, a new profession may be taken-up by an adventurer. In doing so, they gain all of the benefits of the new profession. However, they also lose all the benefits of the old profession.

Over a period of years, the cultural background of an adventurer may be changed (if they spend a considerable amount of time within the new culture). All the benefits of the old background are lost. All the benefits of the new background are gained.

Magic & Spells

Nothing may increase a skill beyond 90%. e.g., If you have the Sword and Shield Combat Style of 80% and cast Bladesharp 3 (normally +15% to combat style) on yourself, your chance of success is 90%, not 95%. It's no fun unless you always have a decent chance of failure. (You still get a +3 bonus to damage.)

A note on rewards

The gamemaster should not reward magic items that permanently increase either skills or damage. This will ruin the maths and start the illusory arms race all over again. Get creative! Don't just reward players with numbers.

People already understand this idea. Carl Walmsley, in Compendium I, wrote alternate rewards for players/adventurers to help avoid the maths getting out of hand. For example:
Potion of Fortune
Drinking this potion makes the character unfeasibly lucky. It is as though the universe smiles down on him and everything seems to go his way. The character receives a +10% bonus on all Skill tests, and adventurers who attempt any actions which are to the detriment of the character receive a -10% penalty. In addition, the character gains either an additional Hero Point or an additional Combat Action (determine this benefit randomly), usable within the potion’s duration. At the end of the potion’s duration the Hero Point or Combat Action is lost as the luck ebbs away. A Potion of Fortune’s effects last for 12 hours.
This magic item is a fantastic example of what you can do to reward plays without breaking the maths.
If one contrasts this with a reward from Summons of the Wyter (an otherwise excellent adventure), one can see the difference in effect.
The Needle – a broadsword with a strangely carved hilt, handle and pommel (it is made of a human arm). The broadsword has the normal characteristics of a broadsword but is also capable of the Sunder Combat Manoeuvre and is treated as a weapon cast with a permanent Bladesharp 3 spell (so, +15% to the Combat Style and +3 damage).
They're similar items in many ways (grant a bonus to skills). The Potion of Fortune is, in many ways, more powerful, but the power won't last long. The Needle, on the other hand, is a permanent Bladesharp 3 spell. A item like this will start the Maths Wars all over again.

A note on cults

Cults are a great way for adventurers to advance. Gamemasters should grant the usual bonuses (new spells, social standing, etc.). However, don't forget that with this advancement comes new responsibilities.

A note on published material

Published material, by Mongoose Publishing or whomever, will operate along the lines of the Rules as Written. This is may appear, at first, to be a big issue. However, as every gamemaster already knows, one often needs to mold the adventure to fit with the current abilities of the party. In fact, the only reason adventures need to be manipulated like this is because the maths in RPGs is all screwy. If RuneQuest II used rules similar to the ones above, any adventure, if it fit with the story and development of the adventurers, would be suitable to play without any fudging of rules whatsoever.

Mongoose Publishing, thus far,
have created material that is generally usable. The creatures in the core rulebook and Monster Coliseum have not been power-mathed. Hopefully, the forthcoming Monster Island will follow a similar vein.


These rule changes fix the bulk of the maths issues found in RuneQuest II. One may need to revise a few more things, here and there, but generally the resulting
adventurers will be balanced and fun to play for the entirety of the campaign. In many ways they'll begin quite powerful (with double the Skill points and Common Magic than normal starting characters) though this will be spread across many skills and spells. Players can still take pleasure in the advancement of their adventurer, in a real sense, as they move from generalists to specialists, over a number of game sessions. Admittedly, they could never compete with "Hero" level adventurers, but these changes are about creating interesting and challenging situations and stories for everyone involved (players and gamemasters), rather than trying to out maths each other. Using these rules and the accompanying notes should allow the gamemaster to focus on the story rather than worrying too much about numbers.

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