Sunday, May 8, 2011

The question about RuneQuest magic

I came late to the show. RQ had already passed on, and while there was this new game being worked on it took ages and everyone still spoke in RQ terms. Finally I got the new game, HeroWars, and while it was an eye opener it was also one of the worst produced games I've ever seen. But, it did give me some vocabulary to speak about Gloranthan things. Then there was these RQ terms.

One bone of contention is the vocabulary of magic. In HW the different magic paradigms are very different. In RQ3, there are spirit magic, divine magic and then there's sorcery. Even though the latter is supposed to be more powerful and take more study, it's quite similar in game effect to divine magic, which comes from the gods. Then there's the spirit magic, which even though coming from spirits look just like the spells of divine magic. I always wondered why there wasn't just one game mechanic and the metaphysics just background facts.

Now, in RQ2 things were named differently. There was something called battle magic, which I think was not at all that related to battle. I seem to remember something called Rune magic as well. Whatever that was.

When HeroWars spawned its successor, HeroQuest, we suddenly had something called "common magic", which once again mixed up the cosmologies, or at least made me mix it all up. Unless I misremember (I've never owned HQ), it also did change the name of one of the other schools of magic.

So, how on earth do all these related? Why are they all looking so similar when they depict three very different views on the world? With the great Yellow Tome, the new BRP rules, I've been thinking of a Gloranthan game but have hit upon the problem of relating to all those old RQ based books that I have.

Now we go into the territory of Gloranthan high weirdness.

The heroforming of HeroWars seemed a perfect fit for superpowers. The use of theistic feats for skill augmentation would be a simple +20% to a skill if your Devotion skill was higher than the skill rolling for. Animism then would just use the summoning skill, and the sorcery system using the regular spell system.

Do this in any shape or form look or feel like either RQ2/3 or HeroWars/Quest? I have no idea.

Frankly, when I a few weeks ago got hold of the British edition of RQ3 all these questions came back to me again. Anyone know enough of all these schools of magic to tell me how battle, spirit, common and sorcery magic all related? Oh, there were divine and rune magic, and a few others as well. Arrgh!


  1. Right. Tough question. I can answer some of it -and hopefully I will clarify rather confuse things in the process. For these answers I'm using British 3rd ed RQ as my baseline.

    Spirit Magic is magic taught by spirits. You can spirit magic spells as many times as you like until you run out of POW points. Spirit Magic spells can only be cast at the POW cost (and hence magnitiude of power) learned. If you only know the 3 POW version of speeddart for example, you can't cast the 2POW version to conserve POW points.

    Individually, spirit magic spells are also the least powerful (but most utalitarian) in the game.

    Divine Magic comes from the Gods. Now, there are two types of Divine Magic. One use divine magic which you can cast once and then must sacrifice POW points to regain and the other is "normal divine magic". Both types are more powerful than Spirit magic. However, both types can be used less often, no matter how many POW points you have.
    Once your one-use Divine Magic spell is cast, it's gone until you attend a major (usually once yearly) religious festival and permanantyl sacrifice one or more points of POW to get it.
    The other type of divine magic spell is also cast once and then "forgotten" like a D&D cleric spell but it can be regained after attending a normal religious ritual. Usually at least once a month.

    BATTLE MAGIC: Now, this is where most people get confused: In some versions of the game, divine magic users can also learn spirit magic spells, which (in some but not all of these editions) is then referred to as battle magic. The difference is that these spells are taught to members of a Cult (all divine casters by definition belong to a cult) by other cult members. Not spirits. In this case, although the spells use the name and have the same effects as spirit magic, they were originally taught by the Gods to their Rune Priests and have since been handed down from one cult member to another. A given Cult will be able toteach only a handful of such spells and ALL will fit the theme of the Cult in question.
    So spirit magic cast by a cult member is, in fact, battle magic.

    Finally, you have Sorcery. Sorcery spells (at the base level described in the books) don't appear to be particularly powerful until you notice two things:
    1: You can use various sorcerer-only skills to enhance the range, damage, duration and other effects of these spells by spending additional Pow points.
    2: Sorcery is the only type of magic which has a spell that lets you actually REGAIN spent POW points without rest. By leaching them from the bad guys.
    This make the Sorceror far more versatile than other classes.

    Spirit magic spells have a "set" power level depending on the version of the spell learned.

    Divine Magic gives great bang for the buck but is very hard to replace

    Battle Magic is another name for spirit magic that is taught by cult members rather than spirits (and each cult knows only a few such spells)

    Sorcery spells are far more versatile and more sustainable BUT require a greater investment in many skills to achieve full potential.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Wow. That was exhaustive! Thanks a bunch, mate. I'm still a bit confused about how it related to the metaphysics, but I guess that can always boil down to Greg changing his mind, as he is wont to do.

    Maybe there is more difference to the different schools of magic after all. That part about when to renew Divine magic is something I had missed, even though I somehow had grasped that renewal was the key.


  3. Another summary, from my POV:

    In old versions of RQ, there were only two kinds of magic.

    Low-power utilitarian Battle Magic, which was commonplace, and learned from spirits, usually under the tutelage of a Shaman. Any idiot can know Battle Magic. It is not cult-specific.

    The high end magic was Rune Magic, which was learned from the gods and was cult-specific. Runes are the deep forces behind Gloranthan gods, and each Gloranthan god is tied to certain runes.

    Older RQ was set in an area far away from anybody who practiced sorcery and it wasn't covered in the rulebook or really mentioned at all.

    So: battle magic, not cult-specific, commonplace, less powerful.

    Rune magic, cult-specific, much less common, much more powerful.

    In the Avalon Hill version of Runequest, where they stripped out the Gloranthan setting and put it in a supplementary book, and made "Mythic Europe" the default setting, this division didn't work so well. They translated Battle Magic into Spirit Magic and made it the magic of Savage and Barbarian groups; they translated Rune Magic into Divine Magic and made it the province of Barbarian and Civilized groups, and they added a new kind of magic, Sorcery, and made it the province of only the most Civilized lands.

    That's from memory, but I think it's an accurate capsule summary of the Chaosium original and the Avalon Hill transition.

    I don't know about anything newer than the Avalon Hill version of Runequest.

  4. Since this is such a multi-faceted beast, many POVs are most welcome.

    So, that's where Rune magic came from. I think I'm beginning to get some grips on old Gloranthan magic.

    What's striking is how important spirits are. In HeroWars/Quest they are only the domain of praxian nomands and hsunschen (or however that is spelled) while almost everyone worships gods.

    Thanks Ed! This will help me get some grip on the old gloranthan books, even if I still wonder how glorantha really works. Another kettle of fish, indeed.

  5. No prob. Note that in old RQ, the use of Battle Magic and Rune Magic are in no way exclusive! Just because your people happen to belong to one or more Cults of which you will eventually become an Initiate doesn't mean you can't learn Battle Magic (though perhaps you might learn it from spirits who are particularly friendly to your god).

  6. Things like that tend to confuse matters, 25 years later...

  7. Yup, things have changed a great deal over the last twenty-odd years. Ed's summmary of the older editions of the game was pretty much spot on.
    Just to confuse you even further though: I se the Glorantha setting with the 3rd ed @Mythic Europe@ magic rules. I really do prefer them far more.

  8. Like Ars Magica? That was a new one!

  9. Actually, thats not a bad idea. I might have to try that sometime. What I meant was that I used Glorantha as my setting, but with the 3rd ed "British" Runequest magic system which was designed for an ancient (Roman/Byzantine) era magical european style-setting.

  10. I see. That made more sense. OTOH, maybe Ars Magica is how Zzabur really works his magic!

  11. @Brian, not sure if I'm reading that right. "British" RuneQuest magic system? Are you referring to the RQ3 magic system as it appeared in tge rules, or some modified version?

  12. I can't answer for Brian, but I will note that the British 3rd ed. of RQ don't refer to Glorantha at all, just that odd European setting never realized by AH. It might have affected how the magic rules looked like, but as far as I know, not their general function.


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