The History of RuneQuest

A RPG orientated magazine called Gygax Magazine appeared on the market in January 2013. The initial issue included an article that paid homage to how Dungeons & Dragons inspired so many games, but only mentioned RuneQuest as a passing reference. To me this was not good enough, as RuneQuest’s pedigree and major influence on the industry cannot be denied. I approached the magazines editors and suggested a follow up article.

Sixth Edition - The Design Mechanism
The Design mechanism – Sixth Edition

This translated to a solicited article submission to the same short lived journal. Do note this was not an opinion piece. The article received review, helpful input and sanction by none other than Steve Perrin, Rick Meints and Lawrence Whitaker, RuneQuest alumni of the highest standing. The original submissions has been presented below verbatim:

RuneQuest Article for Gygax Magazine

Minerva and Thoth protect this text from detractors and disbelievers.

Third Edition (Deluxe) - Avalon Hill
Avalon Hill – Third Edition (Deluxe)


The inaugural issue of Gygax magazine had several articles that looked back with nostalgia at the history of role playing games, dwelling mostly on the familiar subject of Dungeons and Dragons. An article called The Cosmology of RPG’s detailed how certain games could be considered as alpha, beta and so forth waves in terms of when they arrived on the market as well as design principles. 

This article has been inspired by the aforementioned and hopefully serves to sufficiently expand upon, while not getting bogged down in details, the contribution that the RuneQuest game has made to the RPG industry. 

First Edition (Sepia) - Chaosium
Chaosium – First Edition (Sepia)

Canon and Cont-roversy 

RuneQuest and the world of Glorantha! The two are historically bound to one another. While many RPG systems came into existence and were followed by a supporting world, RuneQuest was possibly the first RPG system that was created to support an existing fantasy world.

Glorantha is the brainchild of Greg Stafford. He conceived and detailed Glorantha during the 1960s and eventually brought it to the market in the form of the war game White Bear Red Moon in 1975, published by the company he founded for this purpose, Chaosium. Unique, complex and detailed, Glorantha also has a substantial mythology. As the RPG phenomenon grew it became the ideal medium to allow players to better interact with Glorantha. A rules system was required and by 1978 RuneQuest debuted at the Origins convention. 

Fourth Edition - Mongoose Publishing. Aka MRQ1.
Mongoose Publishing – Fourth Edition (MRQ1)

The first edition was well received by Glorantha fans as well as role players in general. Initial feedback and review soon caused the Chaosium designers to determine that a second edition was required, to fix certain faults that one, in those days, may expect with a brand new game. A feature unique to RuneQuest at the time was players were allowed to play certain creatures or monsters as characters. 

The second edition of RuneQuest was much loved and garnered a large following. Gloranthan supplements were well received and were in many ways superior to most of what was on the market. Items such as Cults of Prax (1979), Griffin Mountain (1981), Pavis (1982) and Big Rubble (1983) gained cult status and are still well respected to this day. 

Second Edition - Chaosium
Chaosium – Second Edition

Chaosium eventually entered a tactical agreement with the Avalon Hill Games Company to produce a new third edition of RuneQuest and bring it to a wider audience. The rules were much revised with numerous additions. As with any revision some people received it well, but some disliked the changes. To this day there are still arguments as to whether RQII or RQIII is a better system.

Avalon Hill published the RuneQuest III rules in various formats, including a Deluxe boxed set which combined the standard Player’s and Games Master’s boxes, and a single perfect-bound Deluxe softcover rulebook. A Basic edition was also available. One of the key philosophical shifts between RuneQuest II and III was to delink Glorantha from the rules. RuneQuest III came with a Mythic Europe default setting. That said, Gloranthan material was published alongside Alternate Earth and Gateway supplements and a small booklet of Gloranthan material was made available with the Deluxe Edition.  The aim of this was to make RuneQuest available to a broader audience who may not have wished to use Glorantha as a campaign world. 

Avalon Hill published the RuneQuest III rules in various formats, including a Deluxe boxed set which combined the standard Player’s and Games Master’s boxes, and a single perfect-bound Deluxe softcover rulebook. A Basic edition was also available. One of the key philosophical shifts between RuneQuest II and III was to delink Glorantha from the rules. RuneQuest III came with a Mythic Europe default setting. That said, Gloranthan material was published alongside Alternate Earth and Gateway supplements and a small booklet of Gloranthan material was made available with the Deluxe Edition.  The aim of this was to make RuneQuest available to a broader audience who may not have wished to use Glorantha as a campaign world. 

Third Edition (Standard) - Avalon Hill
Avalon Hill – Third Edition (Standard)

Some supplement bashing was performed. Either to align to RQIII rules or setting requirements, while at times bringing back previously out of print material. Thus, for example, the Glorantha based Griffin Mountain became the Gateway based Griffin Island (slightly ironic since the initial submission of Griffin Mountain was as a Gateway supplement), while venerable items  such as Apple Lane and Snake Pipe Hollow were rereleased with expanded material.   For newcomers to RuneQuest these reprinted items were generally welcome, but existing players who already had these supplements would have preferred totally new material. In the early 1990’s new material in the form of Sun CountyRivers of Cradles and Strangers in Prax sparked what became known as a “Runequest Renaissance”. They were well received and gained favourable reviews in Dragon Magazine. Unfortunately, Gateway items such as Daughters of Darkness and Eldarad – The Lost City were thought to be sub-standard by many. 

First Edition (Colour) - Chaosium
Chaosium – First Edition (Colour)

One should perhaps note at this point that while RuneQuest did not spawn the volume of content that D&D did, much of said content until this time had been of a very high standard and was more aimed at thick sourcebooks than thin modules. Supplements such as Daughters of Darkness were thought to be a sign of Avalon Hill pushing shoddy content under the RuneQuest banner. That said some Gateway items were of a high standard, such as Land of Ninja and Vikings

RuneQuest took a publishing hiatus in the late 1990’s. At that time an unsuccessful attempt was made to re-integrate Glorantha back into the rules system. This was called RuneQuest – Adventures in Glorantha, but it was not approved and the playtest was halted. Just before the turn of the century another version of RuneQuest was mooted, called RuneQuest Slayers. It too never made it to publication and had nothing to do with the RuneQuest system, other than the name re-engineering using a totally different system. The rules were not even percentile based. To quote the authors: “RuneQuest Slayers is a completely new game. The campaign worlds are brand new and the rules reworked from the ground up”.

By this time Avalon Hill (and many other games companies) had been hit hard by changes in the industry. Hasbro bought Avalon Hill, WOTC bought TSR, and Hasbro bought WOTC. Before long a new version of AD&D emerged and many RuneQuest players started hoping for a similar outcome for their system.


By 1998 Greg Stafford had parted ways with Chaosium, taking Glorantha with him and publishing Gloranthan material under the auspices of his new company, Issaries Inc. The RuneQuest trademark was acquired by Issaries via mutual agreement with Chaosium and Steve Perrin. In 2005 Issaries licensed Mongoose Publishing to produce a new version of RuneQuest and also publish Gloranthan material.

A new, much revised edition of RuneQuest was finally available to attract new players to the marque. While it differed from RQIII, the core system was still very much recognizable. The “4th edition”, issued as First Edition but termed MRQI by many an owner of previous editions, was soon followed by a “5th” edition, officially RuneQuest II – MRQII. Mongoose RuneQuest II was welcomed by newcomers and old school players alike. It addressed a few “mistakes” previously made and provided a platform to launch a few aligned settings, such as Deus Vult and Clockwork & Chivalry. More recently Mongoose ceased publishing RuneQuest after mutual agreement with Issaries to part ways. Their RuneQuest II system was re-launched as Legend, along with a number of Legend specific supplements. It should be noted that Mongoose produced an Open Games License for RuneQuest (and Legend). Companies such as Otherworld Creations and Sceaptune Games have produced material under this OGL agreement. 

Moon Design Publications acquired a licensed to publish Gloranthan material in 2006 and are still doing so as of this writing.  The Design Mechanism is currently publishing RuneQuest 6th Edition, and have a number of new supplements in the pipeline. They also have a nonexclusive licence to publish Gloranthan material.

Fifth Edition - Mongoose Publising. Aka MRQ2
Mongoose Publishing – Fifth Edition (MRQ2)

System Design Principles 

Here we are going to compare the RuneQuest rules system to D&D of the same era, vis-à-vis the mid-to-late 1970’s. 

The first major differentiation between the two systems was that RuneQuest is percentile based whereas D&D is based on a D20. The second major difference is that Runequest does not use Character Classes with experience points for advancement. Both systems have their own merits and detractions but this article is not the forum for that (never-ending) debate.

RuneQuest requires that any success or failure be based on a characters skill in the task being tested. Thus a character requires a skill score and the test is as simple as a roll of D100 where 01 is the best possible roll one can make and is by its nature a critical success, no matter what, where 00 (100) is the opposite, the worst roll and destined as a fumble/critical failure, no matter what. 

That said, while success and failure may be percentile, other dice are still used to determine damage, hit location and a few other eventualities, so the prospective RuneQuest converts need not be heading to the dustbin with their non-ten sided dice. 

Second Edition - Games Workshop
Games Workshop – Second Edition

RuneQuest also employs a set of core characteristics much like D&D. Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Size, Intelligence, Appearance (or Charisma depending on which version) and Power. These are determined much like D&D insofar the roll of a few D6 where the max for a human is 18. These characteristics are then extrapolated to Attributes through certain formulae (also depends on version) to determine Agility, Knowledge, Manipulation, Stealth, Communication and Magic. Skills are then determined per attribute and these are the skills that one checks against when rolling D100, where <= skill on D100 is a success and > a failure. Extremely good rolls may be deemed critical or special with certain bonuses given where extremely bad rolls may be fumbles with certain penalties. 

Combat is also based on these skills augmented depending on weapon and other factors (such as culture in 3rd Ed) to determine an Attack and Parry skill per weapon or shield. Some versions also break combat rounds into a series of Strike ranks, which allows for a realistic flow of events for opponents with certain weapons r skills to get the drop on others, while at the same time making it a little easier for the GM to keep track of what is going on. One key factor of RuneQuest is the body map, which in terms of combat adds a degree of reality so that one can know where one was hit, which limb was lopped off etc. It is possible that RuneQuest invented the usage of the body map for RPG’s and this concept has been emulated by many games since. Combat in RuneQuest is realistic and as such can be quite deadly, as more than a few players who have had experience in other less lethal systems have discovered.

In terms of magic, a whole book could be written regarding this. Very simply stated and once again version dependent, there are three primary forms of magic: Spirit, Divine and Sorcery:

  • Spirit magic uses communion with the spirit plane where various spirits are bound to perform various tasks, which translate into effectively a spell. A famed RuneQuest spirit magic spell is Fireblade, which is relatively self-explanatory. (No it does not give the character a Honda Superbike). 
  • Divine magic calls upon the gods to grant magical boons. While powerful and more or less guaranteed to work, it takes much preparation by a priest to gain spells and so can cost quite a bit. If ones character happens to have a divine heal spell, their popularity will be guaranteed. (See deadly combat above). 
  • Sorcery comes from within, and takes a degree of skill to perform this kind of magic, which can also drain ones power rapidly if not used sparingly. 
Third Edition (Basic) - Games Workshop
Games Workshop – Third Edition (Basic)

Different versions have alternate takes on magic, these definitions are based on 3rd Ed. 

This brief synopsis of some core design principles can be used as a yardstick to measure other systems of similar age, where certain commonalities and divergences will be evident. 

Third Edition (Advanced) - Games Workshop
Games Workshop – Third Edition (Advanced)

Dead Ends

Official RuneQuest non starters:

  • RuneQuest Adventures In Glorantha (Avalon Hill) – 1994
  • RuneQuest Slayers (Avalon Hill) – 1997

Non RuneQuest but Glorantha Related

  • Hero Wars system for Glorantha  (Issaries Inc.)
  •  HeroQuest (Issaries Inc.)

Direct Offshoots

All of the below were published by Chaosium:

  • Stormbringer
  • Call of Cthulu
  • Worlds of Wonder
  • Superworld
  • ElfQuest
  • Ringworld
  • Hawkmoon
  • Nephilim
  • Elric!
  • Basic Roleplaying (BRP)

Offshoots from other publishers:

  • Legend (Mongoose Publishing). Effectively a rebranding of RuneQuest Fifth Edition aka MRQ2
  • Mythworld (Paul Cardwell)
  • OpenQuest (d101 Games)
Mongoose Publishing – Legend (Fifth Edition rebrand)

Special Branches

  • SPQR (Steve Perrin’s Quest Rules)
SPQR (Steve Perrin's Quest Rules) - Steve Perrin
Steve Perrin – SPQR

Other Systems

These are systems which have been identified as having been influenced by RuneQuest. This list is based on purely anecdotal evidence:

  • Element Masters (Escape Ventures)
  • Hârn Master (Columbia Games)
  • Other Suns (FGU)
  • Warlords of Alexandria


The much anticipated RuneQuest resurrection that occurred during the watch of Mongoose Publishing included an Open Game Licence. Some small press publishers embraced the OGL and published RuneQuest material:

  • Otherworld Creations
  • Sceaptune Games


Special thanks to the members of The RuneQuest Rules List; especially Steve, Lawrence and Rick for helping fact check this article

Core Timeline

Subsequent Developments

Events that have occurred since the compilation of the article.

Life moves on. The much anticipated Gygax Magazine turned out to be very sort lived , resulting in the article submission never seeing the light of day, until now!

By all appearances, after the long RuneQuest hiatus, the rejuvenated RuneQuest juggernaut was not content to stay where it was. Since the writing of the aforementioned article, RuneQuest has changed again insofar:

  • RuneQuest 6th Edition remains in publication by The Design Mechanism, renamed as Mythras.
  • RuneQuest 7th Edition has is the current official edition in terms of the RuneQuest canon. It is published by Chaosium, the company who originally created the game way back in the 1970’s.
Mythras - The Design Mechanism
The Design Mechanism – Mythras (Rebraded Sixth Edition)
Seventh Edition - Chaosium
Chaosium – Seventh Edition

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