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Friday, 21 April 2017

Looking back to see the future

Another piece from the dim and distant today. Back in the mid-80s I used to edit the RuneRites column in White Dwarf. I didn't actually use the RuneQuest world of Glorantha for my own games, but Oliver Johnson and I were writing an RQ-based book called Questworld for Games Workshop, and running a lot of games in that setting, so we knew the RQ rules pretty well.  

Questworld was one of the many projects I wrote for GW that were never published, but Oliver and I reworked a lot of the material for the Invaders and Ancients book - also never published, come to think, but maybe one day we'll find the time to correct that.

This article by me and Oliver, derived from our Questworld setting and then retrofitted to Greg Stafford's Genertela (yikes), was originally published as "Forecasting the Runes" in White Dwarf 65 (May 1985).

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Prediction is a sub-category of Perception skills, open to any character with a POW score of at least 13. Rune Casting is a form of Prediction common to all RuneQuest universes; others exist (Pyromancy, Hieromancy, etc), and the referee can develop these along similar lines.

The Rune Casting skill starts at 0 (plus any modifiers due to INT or POW) and can be trained up to 15% if a teacher can be found. The sort of people who might be able to teach a character Rune Casting often travel in minstrel troupes or operate fairground booths. The problem with training is not really cost. It takes only an hour or so to instruct a character up to 15% level, and the teacher will probably ask only a few silvers for this. But it is not always clear when one has found a real master (or mistress) of the runic arts.

When a character wishes to use his Rune Casting skill, the appropriate roll is made by the referee. If the roll is successful, the referee selects the runes so as to give an accurate (but always vague) prefigurement of game events that he has planned. If the Rune Casting roll fails, the prediction is random.

Rune Casting takes the form of shak¬ing tiny pebbles marked with the runes, then casting one down. This is done three times for a full prediction. The first casting is of an Elemental rune, and this indicates the underlying forces which pertain to the character's situation. The second rune cast is of Form, and it indicates the principal way in which events will influence the character. The Power rune, last to be cast, indicates the outcome of the prediction.

The interpretation of a Rune Casting is up to the player. The referee merely tells him or her which runes come up:
Darkness: Secret or unclear forces are at work. There is a suggestion of evil or hostility.
Water: Events and forces are set in a state of flux.
Earth: A solid and definite change will occur.
Air: Events now in the offing will be without lasting significance.
Fire: Forces from above (earthly superiors or divine agents) may be at work. Violent emotions have been stirred up. A chance for great gain or great loss.
Moon: Past deeds continue to operate in the character's life. A man who has committed evil acts may soon have to pay. Sorcery and ancient spirits may play a part in things to come.
Plant: The future is tied up with the character's profession or finances. Investments may grow or wither.
Beast: Not just animals, but also natural forces in general, may play a part. Combined with the Water rune, for instance, it might suggest to a general that storms will hinder his troops - particularly if Stasis were next to come up.
Man: The character's fellow men will be the executors of his fate. Will it be for weal or woe? Consult the other runes.
Spirit: Ideas and knowledge have a significant effect on the future. The character should examine his beliefs. More mundanely, there could be spirit combat in the next few hours!
Chaos: The entire casting is ill-aspected. Unpredictable and sorrowful trends are at work. This is not a time to consider dangerous actions.
Harmony: There will be no drastic alteration.
Disorder: Things will change radically and it will be a long time before those affected resume their normal routine.
Fertility: There may be a birth, or the maturing of a worthwhile investment. At harvest time, the crop will be good.
Death: A single major event will cause permanent change. Fatality is not the sole instance of this; there may be a promotion.
Stasis: There will be a period of inertia.
Movement: There is likely to be a long journey, or news may arrive from afar.
Truth: Many secrets from the past will be unraveled.
Illusion: Things are not what they seem. Do not take events at face value.
Luck: Matters now under consideration will come to a head. There will be a time to gamble.
Fate: The prediction is sealed. Whatever is read is a Fate, possibly a Doom. No man can change what is decreed.
As a final note, we recommend setting an upper limit of POWx5% on Rune Casting. (Or make it POWx4%, or POWx3%. There is no reason for the players to know how accurate their predictions can be.) After using the skill twice in one day, a character drops 10% in accuracy for each subsequent casting.

The Four Parts of the Soul
A side-effect of active imperialism, of the sort practiced by the Lunar Empire, is the appearance of bizarre hybrid cults and beliefs. These sometimes gain favor among those who have travelled widely and been exposed to a variety of cultures - notably, soldiers, sailors and adventurers.

The belief that a man's soul has four parts began to gain traction in some distant Lunar outposts around the year 1617, probably as a result of the unusual teachings of some enslaved shamans. The idea appealed to well educated junior officers whose intellectually-based faith sought some functional alternative to pure Red Moon doctrine.

The four parts of the soul are:

The Crystal Knife, which is that aspect of the self which deals with positive, aggressive action and the outward channeling of energy.

The Morning Mist, which is the passive, yielding principle – the individual’s ability to be acted upon or moved by externals, to take what he experiences into himself and to learn.

The Obsidian Rock represents the individual's capacity to negate actions directed against him, to hold firm and not to submit or fall in the face of adversity. It is the concentration of self, the boundary separating the individual from the world around him.

The Fleeting Shadow recognizes the need to negate even the Obsidian Rock, the self, in some aspects of the individual's life. It leads to awareness and the willingness to understand and to grow. It represents the transcendent, mystic element in the individual's nature.

These aspects are commonly ordered into two sets of complementary functions: Active/Passive and Outward/Inward:

The four parts of the soul are treated as 'skills' which the character can master through meditation. At the end of every two weeks in which the character has spent at least two hours a day in meditation, he rolls for each soul-discipline to see if he can increase it. The initial skill in each soul-discipline is derived as below:

Perfecting the soul-disciplines enhances the character's relationship with the world. One effect of this is to enable him to learn more readily from experience. Any time that a character fails an increase roll, he has a chance equal to his skill in the relevant soul-discipline of making a reroll. This only applies if the character is at least 25% in the relevant soul-discipline, however. Each soul-discipline thus assists the character in developing certain skills:

The soul-disciplines are sometimes referred to as 'the Cornerstones of the Self'. When all four are in balance, the character may go on to great things. Developing one discipline to the exclusion of the others tends to make for an unstable and ill-balanced nature. When all four disciplines reach 90%, the character automatically achieves Illumination (see Cults of Terror).


  1. In the forthcoming GE I will now be supporting whichever party pledges to deliver immediate publication of 'Invaders & Ancients' even if that promise is written on the side of a bus. It sounds great, Dragon Warriors in Westworld ? So many possibilities and a dash of Vance as well... bring it on !

  2. We've got some more glimpses of the Invaders & Ancients book coming up over the summer, John, including at least one scenario that Oliver and I wrote in our pre-DW days. And apparently both Michael Gove and Tom Watson are role-players, so who knows if they're reading this with eager attention right now..?

    1. Sounds good for Summer, Dave - I'll look out for those articles with interest. As for Gove: couldn't imagine him as one of my adventuring party, though possibly as the result of a Summoning spell gone horribly wrong ...

    2. Actually, Gove turns out to be a D&D player and Watson just likes videogames. So I think we're safe from the general election here.

    3. Yes - for "Here be Dragon Warriors" : )