RuneQuest Rules Summary

It is not necessary for players to learn the rules in detail. In fact, I prefer they don’t! I have the core rulebooks (3rd and 4th edition) on hand in case a dispute arises, but for the most part I want players to think like their characters, not like rules lawyers.

Nevertheless, it may be useful and/or interesting to get a basic feel for the rules. To that end, the following provides a minimal summary of the RuneQuest game system.

The World of Wu-Yu uses 4th Edition rules, with some elements recovered from the 3rd Edition and a few original modifications to suit the particular flavor of the campaign setting.

1. General Game Play (for those new to role-playing)
2. Character Generation
3. Combat
4. Magic
5. Improving Characters
6. Hunger, Thirst, Malnutrition, and Disease

1. General Game Play

This section is mainly for those new to table-top gaming. Others can go ahead and skip to the Character Generation section.

Game play is basically an on-going story created by the players and the Games Master (GM), as their characters interact. Players each play one character. They are the heroes of the story. The Games Master takes care of all the other people and creatures of the world. If your character wants to talk to the bartender, the Games Master assumes that role. Guards, monsters, and villains are played by the Games Master as well. Through these other characters, the Games Master can introduce new twists and turns in the plot to keep things interesting. Yet players have ultimate control in the story, since they can always choose to go off on paths not planned by the Games Master.

Sometimes your characters will want to try something difficult, like swing across a canyon or shoot an enemy with a bow. In order to find out whether or not you succeed, there is a system of rules. Most will involve rolling dice and checking them against your character’s skill scores. Skills go from 0-100, so a skill of 30 is a 30% chance of success. This can be modified by the situation. It’s more difficult to climb a wall when its slick with rain. There are all kinds of rules to cover nearly any situation, but you don’t need to worry about them too much. Only the Games Master needs to keep track of that.

The goal of game play is to have fun. Some enjoy successfully carrying out feats of daring-do. Others get a kick out of taking on their character’s personality for a few hours. There’s no way to “win” other than this. You get out what you put into it.

So that’s game play in a nut shell.

2. Character Generation

RuneQuest is a skill-based system. That means when you make a character, you get a basic set of skills, but you are not defined as a “fighter,” “thief,” “priest,” etc. You may certainly achieve such specializations, but that is a matter of how you develop your character in game play. Character generation is mainly a way of defining your starting point.

Starting skills are based on how your character was grew up, as determined by three factors. The first factor is the Subsistence Type of your home culture (hunter-gatherer, nomadic, agricultural, or urban). The second is profession. And the last is self-direction. Together, these three determine the starting skills of your character.

The factors are determined by a mix of player choice and random dice rolling. You may choose your character’s race and subsistence type. The profession into which you are born is a matter of luck (die roll), although characters can attempt to change professions. Most will be born into food production roles like farmer, herder, or fisher. Characters can choose to follow occupations different than their parents, on two conditions. First, they have to find someone willing to take them on (it’s really hard to find priest or sorcerer mentors!). Second, you have to give a creative and appropriate reason why they made that occupation change.

Profession may grant some combat skills, but natural talents also play a significant role. High STR (Strength), SIZ (Size), or DEX (Dexterity) scores grant natural aptitudes for attacking, parrying, and dodging. Character background determines the rest. Everyone begins with some measure of fighting ability, but some will be better than others. Characters excel more at weapons appropriate to their profession, and tend to know those learned from their parents. Those born to farmers may be abysmal with a sword, but might be pretty handy with a scythe. Those lucky enough to be born to warrior will acquire better weapon skills. If you want to play a warrior but aren’t born to a such a family, you can try to make a change of profession, or train up your fighting skills in-game after play begins.

The amount of damage your character can sustain in combat without dying is measured in Hit Points (HP). The number of hit points your character has is determined by CON (Constitution) and SIZ (Size). Hit Points rarely go up. For the most part, characters will always have the same number of Hit Points, no matter how experienced. Instead, characters learn to dodge and parry, and may wear armor to block damage. If all defenses fail, a superbly-aimed sword blow is enough to kill even a seasoned adventurer.

It is common to start with some minor magical ability. Even if your character isn’t a professional spellcaster, he or she will usually have picked up a Low Magic spell useful his or her profession. Farmers, for example, might have learned Bless Crops for their fields, or Bladesharp for sharpening their tools. Herders might know Heal, to aid their livestock. Low Magic is functional and common. On the other hand, powerful, aggressive High Magic is rare. Only shamans, priests, and sorcerers may wield it.

Those who want to pursue more advanced magic will have to find a mentor first. If lucky enough to manage that, then your character can acquire a little more power. Still, it is a difficult road. Depending on the kind of High Magic, spells may be used up quickly and may be difficult to regain once cast.

Rogue skills appropriate to a thief or bard begin much like combat and magic skills. Everyone starts with basic ability in certain common skills like singing or stealth, though they may be horrible at them.

That’s the basic run-down on character generation. As you can see, most of it is determined by character background. From that starting point, you can take your character whatever direction you like.

3. Combat

Combat progresses in rounds, with 12 rounds per minute, or roughly 5 seconds per round.

Here’s the basic run-down of a combat round:

First, who gets to attack first is determined by rolling 1D10 and adding the character’s Strike Rank (SR) modifier. This modifier is usually equal to DEX (Dexterity). Whoever has the highest result goes first, and the rest follow in order from highest to lowest.

When it is your character’s turn, he or she may take one Combat Action, such as attacking, casting a spell, using a skill, or moving. After all have made their first Combat Action, any with remaining Combat Actions then make their second in the same Strike Rank order, then third, etc.

During this time, your character may be attacked or otherwise suddenly threatened. In response, the character may immediately make a Reaction, such as dodging, parrying, or diving for cover. A character can make as many Reactions per round as Combat Actions.

Attacks may hit or miss. Determining who hits and who misses is, like everything else in RuneQuest, skill-based. You’ll be rolling against your weapon’s skill score when attacking or parrying, and against your Dodge score when dodging. These rolls are compared to those of your opponent to determine what actually happens in combat.

Particularly good rolls can have special effects, while the worst rolls may have mortifying consequences. A roll equal to or less than 10% of your chance at success is called a “critical success,” and may result in double damage or other superb effects. A roll of 00, the worst of all, is called a “fumble,” and may indicate stumbling, dropping a weapon, dodging into the attack, and the like. There is also something called a “special success”, equal to 20% of the chance at success. This means the character may have learned something new, and the skill may immediately improve (see 5. Instant Experience below). Critical successes are also considered special successes.

If your character hits or gets hit, then damage is determined by a die roll, according to strength and weapon. Next you roll to see what part of the body was hit (head, chest abdomen, right/left arm, or right/left leg). Armor in that location may absorb a certain number of damage points. Any remaining damage points go on to mutilate the appropriate part of the body. Damage is subtracted from the hit points of that body part. If a hit location drops to zero hit points or less, the character is in trouble. Limbs can be maimed or severed, and extensive damage to vulnerable areas like the head, chest, or abdomen may result in unconsciousness, immanent death due to blood loss, or immediate death.

There are three types of healing: first aid, treatment with the Healing skill, magical healing, and natural healing. First aid can stop blood loss and possibly heal up to 3 hit points to a single wound. Use of the Healing skill, which includes surgery, can repair Major Wounds. Healing magic, if available, can heal more points, and do it faster. Natural healing recovers 1 hit point per location per day.

Fighting is strenuous and may cause Fatigue. Normal fighting is considered Medium Activity, and a character can engage in such activity for a number of minutes equal to CON (Constitution) before risking Fatigue. Fighting while heavily encumbered or otherwise pressing the limits of endurance is Heavy Activity, which can only be sustained for the character’s CON in rounds. After these limits, the character must succeed at a Resilience check or become Fatigued, which means getting sloppy and suffering penalties to skill tests. It also means the character is too exhausted to learn anything: there is no chance of skill improvement due to special successes while Fatigued.

That is the basic run-down of combat. There are also rules for various specific acts and situations, including surprise, knockback, impalement, precise attacks, retreats, mounted combat, grappling, and so on, but these can be learned during game play as needed.

4. Magic

Magic in Wu-Yu is divided into Low Magic and High Magic. Low Magic is common, relatively low-powered, and generally used for professional purposes. For example, a farmer may know Repair to fix a broken ox-yoke, or a scribe may know Light to enable late-night reading. With imagination, these effects may be turned to adventurous uses, but they are unlikely to have world-changing consequences. In contrast, High Magic is powerful and potentially destructive. Such power is trusted only to shamans, priests, and sorcerers. Each wields a unique type of High Magic: Spirit Magic, Divine Magic, and Sorcery. See individual entries for descriptions of these powerful arcane forces.

Many characters begin with a spell of Low Magic, while shamans, priests, and sorcerers begin with more Low Magic as well as a spell of High Magic. More spells can be learned in-game at significant cost in terms of both time and money.

5. Improving Characters

There are five ways to improve characters: Experience, Practice, Research, Regimens, and by acquiring Legendary Abilities.

First is Experience. The system is sensible. If you use a skill a lot, it tends to go up. If you don’t, it stays where it is. Every time you roll a Special Success (20% of the chance of success), you may roll again to see if the skill improved. This is called an Improvement Roll. If you roll over your current skill score, then the skill improves by 1D4+1 points. This means it is easy to improve skills at low-levels, but very difficult to improve them at levels nearing mastery.

Experience is impossible while too tired to think. A Fatigued character cannot make an Improvement Roll, regardless of Special Successes.

Second, Practice means personal practice and/or self-study. After a number of days, you are allowed an Improvement Roll to see if the skill went up or not. There is usually enough down time in an adventuring day to Practice one skill, although some action-packed days may have no time to spare. Practice takes a number of days equal to the current Critical Success range (10% of current skill). Only one skill may be practiced per day. Don’t forget to inform the Games Master that your character is Practicing. Lores cannot be Practiced, but they can be improved in a different way (see Research).

Third, Research involves conversing with those more knowledgeable than oneself and systematically studying the properties of things. If the character is lucky enough to be literate, it may also include studying texts. Since this process involves less “trial and error” than Practice, Improvement Rolls gain a +10 bonus (the amount of skill increase stays the same). Only intellectual skills like lores, languages, engineering, first aid, mechanisms, and the like can be increased through Research. Lores may only be improved through Research or Instant Experience (which represents the sudden eureka! of a realization).

Practice and Research can be improved with the aid of a mentor. This can be costly but grants significant benefits. Mentors must have a skill score that is at least twice that of the student’s, and must be present with the student for the entire Practice or Research period. At the conclusion of the training period, the mentor makes a skill test. If successful, the student receives a bonus to the Improvement Roll equal to the mentor’s Critical Success range (10% of success chance). In addition, successful improvement yields a 1D6+1 point increase instead of the usual 1D4+1.

Skills can only be raised as far as 75% through Practice and Research. After that, Experience is the only teacher.

Fourth, Regimens are used to increase Characteristics. This requires a number of days equal to the current score, and leaves no time for Practice or Research of skills.

Regimens always involve some kind of strenuous discipline. Each day of the Regimen requires a successful Persistence check or it does not count. Furthermore, the Regimen must be attempted consecutively each day or the whole training is spoiled.

Regimens vary in nature according to the Characteristic. STR (Strength), DEX (Dexterity), CON (Constitution), and SIZ (Size) may be increased by special exercises and diets. POW (Power) can be increased through meditation, prayer, fasting, or through tests of will. INT (Intelligence) can be increased through solving puzzles and critical thinking challenges. CHA (Charisma) can be increased through posture and habit correction, eloquence training, voice exercises, good grooming, and the like.

At the end of the training period, you are allowed a special kind of Improvement Roll. The number you need to exceed is equal to fifty, plus ten for each point of increase past the original score rolled in character generation. Thus, a warrior attempting his first point of increase in STR (Strength) must roll over 60. The same warrior later attempting his fourth increase must roll over 90. A successful Regimen Improvement Roll adds one point to the Characteristic. The limit to increase is the race’s starting maximum plus three (thus, 21 in all scores for Orcs and Humans, 22 in Intelligence for elves, and so on).

Once a Characteristic increases, the character is considered to have integrated the Regimen into habit. There is no more need for daily Persistence checks, and continuing the Regimen becomes so natural that it takes up no time. The day itself is the Regimen. However, if the character starts behaving counter to the Regimen, for example by eating poorly, lying around without regular exercise, or letting the mind vegetate, the Games Master may call for a new Persistence check. A failed Persistence check means the character slips back to the previous Characteristic score.

SIZ (Size) may also be decreased, if that is desired. Figure the Improvement Roll difficulty according to the difference from the original rolled SIZ (60 for the first point of decrease, 70 for the next, etc.). Extreme changes in SIZ may adversely affect CON and/or STR.

Characteristics are unable to increase except on two reasonably nourishing meals a day. Days of inadequate nourishment count as failed Persistence checks. The exception is POW (Power), where the Regimen may include fasting or unorthodox diets.

Regimens may be mentored. The mentor must be at least 3 points higher in the relevant Characteristic, and must be present for the duration of the Regimen. The trainee may then add the mentor’s Characteristic score to the daily Persistence checks, as well as to the Improvement roll at the end of the Regimen.

The fifth and final method of improving characters is acquiring Legendary Abilities. These are extraordinary feats and talents that can only be earned by banking up and then spending numerous Hero Points. Hero Points are points are earned through exceptional role-playing, conflict resolution, daring or imaginative stunts, and completing adventures. Characters are unlikely to acquire any Legendary Abilities till they become quite seasoned.

Some characters may also join or advance within organizations such as religious cults, magical societies, political bureaucracies, or martial arts schools. These come with their own costs and benefits, and can be a form of improvement.

Improvement Summary
Method Affects Trigger Improvement Roll Gain Max Exceptions
Instant Experience Skills Special success (20% or less) Over current 1D4+1 Unlimited Fatigue
Practice Skills Days = current crit range Over current 1D4+1 75% Fatigue
Research Lores, intellectual skills Days = current crit range Over current, +10 bonus 1D4+1 75% Fatigue
Mentored Practice/Research Skills 1 day per 10% or fraction thereof If mentor roll successful, add mentor’s crit range 1D6+1 75% Mentor skill must be double that of trainee
Regimen Characteristics Days = Current score, Persistence check each day to count Over 50 + 10 per point variation from original 1 point Racial starting range +3 Fatigue, malnourishment (except POW)
Mentored Regimen Characteristics Add mentor’s Characteristic to Persistence checks If mentor roll successful, add mentor’s Characteristic 1 point Racial starting range +3 Mentor Characteristic must be at least +3 of trainee
Legendary Abilities - Char & Skill prerequisites, 8-12 Hero Points, roleplaying - - - -

Advancing in Cults (other organizations similar)
Level Requirements Duties Benefits
Lay follower Basic understanding of beliefs, donate 1-10 shu Attend annual high day celebrations Automatically able to find mentors in cult skills
Initiate Succeed in 5 skill tests of cult skills, donate 50 shu Donate 10% of income, attend services once per two weeks, attend high day, may perform irregular roles Learn Divine Magic up to Magnitude 4, pay half price to learn spells
Acolyte Initiate for 2+ years, 4 cult skills at 50%+, donate 1000 shu Donate 25% of income, attend services once per week, attend high day, perform regular roles Learn Divine Magic up to Magnitude 8, may call for Divine Intervention
Priest Acolyte for 2+ years, 4 cults skills at 75%+, purchase Runepriest Legendary Ability Donate 50% of income, lead services six days per week except for special leave Learn Divine Magic of unlimited Magnitude, pay quarter price to learn spells, free cult skill mentoring

Advancing in Martial Arts Schools
Level Requirements Duties Benefits
Wannabe Acquire Martial Arts Advanced Skill, basic understanding of school’s philosophy, donate 1-10 shu Attend annual training retreat Automatically able to find mentors in school skills
Student Succeed in 5 skill tests of school skills, donate 50 shu Donate 10% of income, attend school once per two weeks, attend training retreat, may perform irregular roles Gain School Ability I, pay half Hero Points for school Legendary Abilities
Protege Student for 2+ years, 4 school skills at 50%+, donate 1000 shu Donate 25% of income, attend school once per week, attend training retreat, perform regular roles Gain School Ability II, pay half price for school skill mentoring
Guru Protege for 2+ years, 4 school skills at 75%+, purchase Runepriest Legendary Ability Donate 50% of income, lead school six days per week except for special leave Gain School Ability III, pay quarter Hero Points for school Legendary Abilities, free school skill mentoring

6. Hunger, Thirst, Malnutrition, and Disease

The world of Wu-Yu is a difficult place to survive these days. Food is scarce, malnutrition is common, and illnesses are rampant.

Characters who go more than one day without at least one meal per day risk Fatigue. For each day after the first, they must make a Resilience check or drop one Fatigue Level. They suffer all corresponding effects of Fatigue, including receiving no Improvement Rolls for Experience, regardless of special successes. Furthermore, they will lose one point each from CON (Constitution), STR (Strength), and SIZ (Size) for every three days without a meal. If any of these reach 0, the character must a Resilience check each day or die. The effects of thirst are similar, but a character loses Characteristic points at a rate of one per day.

One meal per day is sufficient for characters to function normally and gain Experience. However, Characteristics cannot increase on such a poor diet. For that, three meals per day of a reasonably nutritious value are required. A character may go a number of days equal to CON (Constitution) times five before risking various ailments associated with malnutrition. These ailments will be determined by the Games Master.

Hungry characters can attempt to feed themselves in the wild by foraging, fishing, or hunting. Foraging requires a successful Plant Lore roll. Fishing requires suitable equipment and a successful Animal Lore roll. If using a spear or harpoon, it also requires a successful weapon skill check. If using traps, it may require a Mechanisms check, depending on the quarry. Hunting requires first an Animal Lore roll, then a successful attack roll if using a missile weapon or a Mechanisms roll if using traps. Tracking and Stealth skills add bonuses to the missile attack roll equal to 20% of their skill. Each day of successful foraging, fishing, or hunting provides 1D6 nourishing meals, which may be shared with companions.

Thirsty characters can usually find drinkable water in normal environments without a skill roll. Challenging environments, like deserts, mountain ranges, or places where the water is stagnant or disease-ridden, require a Mineral Lore or Regional Lore roll. A success means a water source has been found. All who drink slake their thirst for one day and may fill any water skins or other containers.

Diseases are a fact of life for adventurers in Wu-Yu. These illnesses can be major or minor. On any given day, someone in the party may have a minor illness, such as fever, infection, flu, lice, or dysentery. These minor illnesses can often be treated with commonly-known herbal folk remedies (Plant Lore skill).

Characters who are Fatigued, wounded, exposed to the sick, or traveling outside their homeland have a 5% chance of contracting a minor illness each day. Those who contract an illness must make a Resilience check or suffer its effects. After a year in a foreign region, a character’s immune system adjusts, and the area becomes like a homeland.

Major illnesses such as cholera and malaria are also possible to contract; these require the aid of trained healers or magical intervention. On top of these, magical diseases caused by spirits and curses may plague adventurers as well. The Games Master will determine when it is necessary to check for contraction of a major or magical illness. Once per year is typical even in a character’s homeland. Epidemics and exposure to the source of the disease (mosquitoes for malaria, a sick individual for pox, rusty metal for tetnis, etc.) may dramatically increase the need for checks.

Diseases are many and varied in their causes and effects, but they generally fatigue the character and/or subtract attribute points. Some have limits to their effects, others can be deadly.

RuneQuest Rules Summary

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