I was introduced to RuneQuest by a gaming acquaintance ca. 1982 or 1983; we played a few times, and I thought it was neat, but it did not dislodge Dungeons & Dragons from being my go-to game. Nor did the Avalon Hill edition do that, though it was close for a brief time in 1984 to 1986, and the reason RQ3 did not take over my gaming time was mostly that I could not get enough friends to play it.
I think the main reason was that it was very lethal for the kind of gameplay that we were all used to, being the hack and slash dungeon delvers that we were. Of course, everyone loaded up on weapon-enhancing spells and disruption and eschewed wasting magic points on healing. And so, everyone would die quickly, even moreso than in our D&D games. Thus, we would return to D&D…
And what a fascinating lot the corpus of the official publications makes. RuneQuest 2nd Edition, the game that challenged the primacy of D&D in many places at the time, the game that further inspired new levels of “realism” in game play across the nation, consisted, in its entirety, of:
- 1 Rulebook (available in hardcover, softcover, and a boxed set)
- 3 Scenario Pamphlets (Balastor’s Barracks, Apple Lane, and Snake Pipe Hollow)
- 3 Source Pamphlets (Trolls and Trollkin, Creatures of Chaos, and Militia & Mercenaries)
- 6 Sourcebooks (Cults of Prax, Foes, Gateway Bestiary, Plunder, Runemasters, and Cults of Terror)
- 1 Hexcrawl Adventure Book (Griffin Mountain)
- 4 Adventure/Source Boxed Sets (Borderlands, Troll Pak, Pavis, and Big Rubble)
- 3 Solo Adventures (SoloQuest, Scorpion Hall, and Snow King’s Bride)
- 1 Companion Sourcebook (RuneQuest Companion)
- 14 issues of Wyrms Footnotes (the official RuneQuest magazine)
22 products, plus 14 issues of Wyrms Footnotes.
By that time TSR had released more than 40 adventure modules alone, not including the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons and a slew of Dragon Magazine issues and a cartoon series and… and everything else.
Now, some of these are considered among the greatest adventures ever written – Griffin Mountain and Pavis/Big Rubble especially come to mind. And too, RuneQuest was also compatible with Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu, Questworld, Superworld, and the other various products published by Chaosium.
I know in the end it didn’t work for them. There were many problems with the launch. They eschewed Glorantha for a generic Fantasy Europe, which upset a lot of the existing fan base. They changed the system in ways that upset a lot of the existing fan base. They also launched three completely different RPGS at about the same time – RuneQuest, Tom Moldvay’s Lords of Creation, and Richard Snider’s Powers & Perils.
Now that was a fascinating trifecta right there. Perrin, Moldvay, and Snider. The combination of stars being in the right place to bring together so much talent all at the same time, to release three amazing games from three amazing talents at the same time, and to essentially fail with all three games at the same time… that was something.
Altogether, from 1984 to 1994, Avalon Hill released 29 books and boxed sets for RuneQuest (I really, really miss boxed set RPGs). They also had Heroes Magazine, a 10-issue run supporting all three RPGs plus their various board games.
From 1979 to 1994 there were, as official products, 51 booklets, books, or boxed sets, plus 24 magazines, dedicated (or partially dedicated to) RuneQuest.
I can’t even conjecture how many products TSR published in that time frame.
And yet, RuneQuest somehow managed to shake those pillars of D&D heaven.
One factor that I have not touched on yet is the fanzine factor.
RuneQuest fans apparently had a very strong fanzine tradition. Foremost among those was none other than Gregg Stafford, the creator of Glorantha. Whereas TSR sought to crush such works like they were playing corporate whack-a-mole, Chaosium apparently allowed them to flourish.
It is this aspect of RuneQuest I need to start looking into next… after delving into all the official works, of course...