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Friday, 14 July 2017

Return of the living dead

Having dusted off the Questworld folders recently - and by the way I do mean folders and I do mean dust, these having languished in the attic for over thirty years - I thought I may as well take a look through and see what still catches my interest.

One of the things that baffled me and my co-writer, Oliver Johnson, was the degree to which Questworld retained Glorantha's bronze age technology, culture, races and even specific deities. After all, if you liked Glorantha then you'd play official RQ supplements, wouldn't you? I had nothing against Glorantha myself, but the setting wasn't what most appealed to me. What I liked about Runequest was the rules, which over the years I've used for games in ancient Sparta, Tekumel, Arthurian adventures, and my own campaign world of Medra.

Anyway, we set about tweaking Questworld to be as different from Glorantha as we could make it. We were lumbered with the Issaries River (though it did get renamed the Ophis a few years later, when we started repurposing the material for our creator-owned Invaders & Ancients project) but we insisted on including something more like traditional fantasy undead. Gloranthan mythology defined undead in terms of their inability to regenerate Power, so we invented a class of "living dead" as well. Vampires were already taken, so ours had to be "vampyrs". Oh well, we could always pass it off as a nod to Polidori.


ARMOUR: As worn
SKILLS: A vampyr has plenty of time in which to develop its skills. Perception and Stealth are particularly favoured: assume an average of 75%-80% for these.

A vampyr depends for its existence on draining blood from the living. The symbolic nature of the act provides potent magic; as the victim's life ebbs, the vampyr draws the vital essence into itself. The blood must drain directly from the victim to the vampyr. Blood stored in flasks would be useless, its magic destroyed.

If the vampyr goes without blood its CON begins to decrease. This represents the sapping of the creature’s energy. After seven full days without blood the vampyr loses 1 point of CON. Five days later another CON point is lost, then further points at four day intervals. For each CON point after the first, the vampyr also loses 1 point of STR. Moreover, after the first couple of weeks without blood the vampyr begins to show signs of ageing. When CON reaches 1 the vampyr's STR sinks to 3. It remains in this state for one month, then becomes truly dead – though even then the soul is not released unless the corpse's head is severed. The vampyr can stay in its coffin in order to slow the rate of CON loss, as each night that it rises is equivalent to two nights of remaining dormant.

The maximum amount of blood that a vampyr can drain in a single night is one pint. Usually it revisits a victim on successive nights, and the victim loses CON and STR as shown on the Blood Loss Table. Each point of CON that the victim loses adds one point to the vampyr's CON. When the vampyr’s CON reaches species maximum, further points go towards healing any damage the vampyr has taken, at the rate of each CON point lost to the victim giving the vampyr the equivalent of a healing 6 spell. This is the only way a vampyr can heal itself.

Vampyrs are unaffected by non-Runic weapons unless impaled by the weapon – and even then only half the normal impalement damage is taken. Bladesharp or other magic cast on a weapon will damage the vampyr, of course, as will Runic metal weapons.

A vampyr does not collapse when it has taken damage equal to its hit points - it must be hacked apart until it cannot fight, and in this respect is treated as a zombie. If for any reason the head of a fallen vampyr is not removed then the creature can be healed (by a charmed servant, for instance) by causing blood to gush from a living victim onto the vampyr's body.

Vampyrs have the power to charm. This requires the vampyr to talk to the intended victim for at least thirty seconds, and they must be within ten metres of one another. Charm cannot be used while the vampyr and victim are in combat, it must be normal conversation. A charmed victim allows the vampyr to do whatever it chooses with him/her.

It is widely believed that vampyrs can accomplish transformation into bat, wolf and mist form, but this is not definitely known. A vampyr certainly cannot make such a transformation in full view of its victims. When not observed, a vampyr can find its way up vertical walls and through locked doors exactly as though it does possess shapechanging abilities, but as it can never be seen to do so the exact truth of the matter is irrelevant.

A vampyr can be destroyed by driving a stake (in fact any sharp instrument) through its heart and then cutting off its head. The stake interrupts the flow of magical energy that sustains the vampyr, causing it to become in all respects like a normal corpse. If the stake is later removed the vampyr comes back to "life", because the soul has remained latent within the corpse. The action of severing the head frees the soul to go to the spirit plane, irreversibly ending the vampyr's living death.

Being caught in sunlight immediately removes the vampyr's power to charm and its invulnerability to bronze weapons. Also, the vampyr loses 2 points of CON every round it remains in sunlight until CON reaches zero and it ceases to function. Removing the head at this point will destroy the vampyr. If a vampyr which is already dormant in its coffin is exposed to sunlight then it suffers no CON loss but is held trapped, unable to rise, the until the sun sets.

Vampyrs cannot cross pure running water except by bridge, boat, or on the back of someone else. Swamp and marshland have no effect on them.

Vampyrs can be driven back with the Life Rune. If someone tied to this Rune presents it strongly before them, the vampyr is forced to retreat so as to keep at least four metres between itself and the Rune. This only applies as long as the Life Rune cultist concentrates fully on the power of the Rune. If  backed into a corner so that it cannot circle round the Life Rune, the vampyr will go berserk (as a fanaticism spell) and attempt to escape. The Death Rune has no effect on vampyrs. Many of them worship it in some form, as a matter of fact.

Anyone who dies from a vampyr's bite will become a vampyr or a demi-vampyr. A true vampyr is created when the vampyr allows the victim to drink its own blood at the same moment that it drains the victim's This costs the vampyr 1d4 points of characteristic POW (regainable through POW increase rolls) and ensures that the victim will arise three nights after his/her death as a new vampyr. The new vampyr loves its creator and is therefore (usually) totally loyal. SIZ, INT and POW remain the same as the vampyr previously possessed in life, DEX and CHA both increase by 1d6, CON increases to species maximum, and STR increases to 1½ times species maximum.

If the vampyr does not sacrifice POW its victim will arise as a mere demi-vampyr. Such a creature has characteristics as follows:

So the demi-vampyr gets the increased physical power of a normal vampyr, but its DEX and POW are reduced and it is left with. animal-like intelligence. It drains blood just like a vampyr, but cannot charm and takes normal damage from bronze weapons, and so must resort to random attacks and waylaying travellers on desolate country roads. Enough of its intellect remains for it to utter phrases and pleas for help in order to lure victims, but the demi-vampyr has no real understanding of anything it says. If meleed, the demi-vampyr will battle ferociously (usually with its bare hands or a simple club, and with a maximum fighting skill of DEXx5%) until it sees a chance to escape. A demi-vampyr will obey simple instructions from the vampyr that created it, but has no loyalty and will flee if endangered. Demi-vampyrs have all the vulnerabilities of a true vampyr.


Nightshades are living dead creatures that are sometimes encountered in woods. They are met only when there is a fog, as they have the magical ability to create shadowy images from fog. This ability is used to confuse and intimidate an enemy by making it seem as though there are many more Nightshades lurking among the trees.

Nightshades are translucent figures drifting forward through the mists. They often seem to be screaming at their victims, but no sound can be heard. Nightshades are protected at all times by a shimmer 3 spell (not included in the Defence above). Bronze weapons pass harmlessly through their insubstantial bodies.

Weapons of Runic metal, or which are under the effect of a spell such as bladesharp, will affect a Nightshade, but only to the extent of doing the basic weapon damage. For example: a fighter with a bronze greatsword slices at a Nightshade. Seeing that he has done it no damage, the fighter now applies a bladesharp 1 to his weapon. This is enough to give the sword power to affect a Nightshade, and the fighter's next strike does the weapon's normal damage (2d8 in this case), without bonuses for the bladesharp spell or the fighter's STR and SIZ.

When a Nightshade touches its opponent there is a tremendous discharge of magical energy. The opponent must match his SIZ+DEX vs twice the damage rolled for the creature's touch (see Knockbacks, Runequest Appendix C). If the touch did 14 points, for instance, and the opponent had SIZ+DEX equal to 24, this would give a 70% chance of a knockback.

If the body of someone slain by a Nightshade is left in the woods where he died then he will become a Nightshade himself once the body has rotted (in 3-18 months).



*The wight's touch is not a strike; it does no direct damage, but its effect reaches through armour for a POW vs POW attack. If the wight wins, the character suffers 1d3 damage (like a disruption spell) in that body area and loses 1d4 points of STR. When the character's STR reaches 0 he will fall to the ground paralyzed. Even before this, it is likely that he will have become too weak to heft his weapon. Wights usually transform their defeated victims into zombies, but if they are thwarted from doing so then their victim's lost STR recovers at the rate of 1 point an hour.

ARMOUR: None usually; can wear any
SPELLS: Battle magic to INT limit; 1d12 points of Rune magic
SKILLS: Detect Life 80%; Detect Magic 80% (as the spells, but at no POW cost)

Wights are the spirits of the priest-sorcerers of an ancient empire. They inhabit their original bodies (transformed and sustained by their sorcery) and lurk in burial mounds. They are sallowish and dessicated, and their sunken eyes gleam with a preternatural light, but apart from this they look much like a normal man. Wights dress in the rotting, dusty tabards of a bygone age and rarely trouble to wear armour because they are unaffected by bronze weapons. A bronze weapon striking a wight will, moreover, take 5d6 damage due to instantaneous corrosion.

Wights are capable of various exotic Rune magics, including the ability to summon up dense, freezing fog from the moors to lead travelers astray. Wights will travel abroad in such fog, or at night, but abhor the direct light of the sun. Their Rune spells, once used, recover at the rate of 1 point a day, at moonrise. Wights are living dead (not undead) and therefore recover POW normally.

The wight picture at the top is by Ryan Barger and you can buy print copies of it here.

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