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RuneQuest was created by Chaosium in 1978, making it one of the oldest tabletop Role-Playing Games. Among other things, it introduced an experience system that replaces the levels (as in Dungeons & Dragons) with skills that increase if you successfully use them (Traveller replaced levels with skills first but they didn't increase with use). It also introduced hit regions instead of general Hit Points.
The original RuneQuest was set in the Constructed World named Glorantha created by Chaosium co-founder Greg Stafford. The setting shares many tropes in common with other fantasy worlds (despite Stafford's insistence that it was more inspired by studies in folklore than popular fantasy), though it does have some unusual features, such as talking, cigar-chomping Ducks (blame Howard the Duck, who was at the height of his popularity at the time).
The history of the game is somewhat convoluted, with many offshoots. The first version was published as a booklet in 1978, and sold very well. Soon after, they decided to expand it into a small box set (which were popular at the time). The subsequent second edition, released in 1980, didn't change the game particularly; it included a pair of starter adventures, a set of dice, and a stripped down quick-reference for new players called "Basic Role-playing" along with the main book, which was given all new typesetting and error corrections. It sold even better and is still considered the definitive edition.
After that, Chaosium, needing money to expand, sold the rights to the name to Avalon Hill, and co-wrote the subsequent third edition, but retained the rights to the Glorantha setting and editorial approval of all use of the world (the third edition, originally published in 1984 as a large box set, included both Glorantha and an alternate generic fantasy Europe setting). After some time, the game went dormant (a planned new edition in 1994 was cancelled mid-development), and Stafford left the company after unrelated financial issues, taking the rights to Glorantha with him (he retained a large ownership stake in Chaosium, though). Stafford partnered with a company called Moon Design Publishing to create an entirely different, more narrativist game called HeroQuest, and eventually bought the rights to the RuneQuest name from Avalon Hill.
Stafford licensed the RuneQuest name to Mongoose Publishing to create a new version, published in 2006, which cloned the basics of the rules but didn't use the original texts (which had reverted to Chaosium). A revised Mongoose edition was prepared by designers Pete Nash and Lawrence Whittaker and published in 2010, and was far better received than the first. However, Mongoose's license was not renewed, and in 2012, a new company formed by Nash and Whittaker, The Design Mechanism, received a license to publish a 6th edition of RuneQuest, an expansion of the second Mongoose edition they had largely written. Three years later, however, after some more financial issues at Chaosium, Stafford engineered a merger between Chaosium (of which he still owned a large chunk) and Moon Design, leading to a full reunion of all classic RuneQuest rights, and the plan for a new edition firmly set in Glorantha based largely on the early editions.
In the intervening years, Chaosium used the same underlying rules for other games like Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and the ElfQuest RPG, and many, many others, and it was in 2004 developed into the generic Basic Role-Playing System (BRP), which included a generic fantasy version called "Magic World".
Other variants and off-shoots in the fantasy genre are plentiful; the first Mongoose edition was published under an open gaming license, leading to a fan named Paul "Newt" Newport using it (and years of personal house rules) as the basis of a rules-light version called OpenQuest (first released in 2009, 2013 saw a second edition), Mongoose themselves have continued to print their second edition as Legend (with the Glorantha material removed) and The Design Mechanism plans to do the same with the 6th edition under the title Mythras. As it's a largely modular system, they're all largely compatible, and players can freely lift elements from any one edition and use them in their home games easily.
Glorantha is also the setting of the video-game King of Dragon Pass and the web-comic Prince of Sartar. There are two separate continuities: that of Mongoose RuneQuest (Glorantha Second Age) and the main, more canonical one (set in the Third Age).
Provides examples of:
- A Protagonist Shall Lead Them: Argrath.
- All Myths Are True: All Gloranthan myths are literally true, even utterly contradictory myths of different cultures. Changing a myth (by going on a Hero Quest to the world of the gods) can retroactively change reality.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The deities of the Celestial Court personify the Runes, which basically are the building blocks of the cosmos.
- Assimilation Plot:
- The Empire of Wyrmfriends wanted everybody (mortals, gods, you name it) to embrace their draconic nature (because according to them everybody has a draconic nature waiting to emerge, whether they agree with them or not). It worked like an enormous pyramidal scheme based on the goal of creating a messianic True Dragon.
- Later, the Lunar Empire also wants everybody to worship their Goddess, so that the world can be one in All again. And damn are they succeeding. According to King of Sartar the Goddess would be eventually defeated, but many believe She is just hiding.
- Bad Moon Rising: The Red Moon rose, and her Empire wants you to worship her.
- Barbarian Tribe: The Orlanthi.
- Big Bad: Sedenya/Lunar Goddess/Red Moon is this for the Orlanthi in the Third Era.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Wakboth and Kajabor in the Greater Darkness.
- Chariot Race: Monster Coliseum has rules for chariot racing.
- Chaos on Earth: The Greater Darkness.
- The Chosen One: Several, Argrath being one of the main examples.
- The Chosen Many: It is implied, and outright confirmed in Sartar Rising, that there was no single Argrath and that several heroes were turned by later sources into one Composite Character. Ironically, Sheng Seleris, the closest parallel to the original Arkat from whose name the word "Argrath" derives (both of them were anti-heroes who became the rival empire's single greatest enemy until said empires defeated and imprisoned them; both were released by a Lightbringers Quest, and both ended up betraying their allies), is not one of them.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: You may think so given the Invisible God, but no; about the only commonality between his church and Catholicism is some sects having saints. Otherwise, they're more like Zoroastrians and Hindis. Although Hrestol is pretty much a Jesus-like figure, martyrdom and all.
- Dark Is Not Evil coupled with Light Is Not Good: For humans, sure they are, but trolls are subterranean creatures; troll Hell is located in human Heaven and vice versa.
- Also, the Sun God Yelm is evil to the followers of Orlanthi Storm Pantheon, but good to the followers of the Sun pantheon.
- Even though Zorak Zoran and his worshippers are complete man-eating, necromancy-edged, brawl-loving berserks, other Troll gods are actually quite benevolent, if only a bit brutal. Well, they may still eat you, but only because they're hungry, nothing personal to it.
- Dark Messiah / Messianic Archetype / The Antichrist: Nysalor/Gbaji, depending of the interpretation.
- Deus Ex Homine: Zistor and Nysalor, who was to be the perfect deity and turned out to be the incarnation of a previous one.
- Ear Wings: The chonchon.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Lunar Goddess rides one of these.
- Eternal Recurrence: The Sacred Time, a concept pretty much inspired by mythologist Mircea Eliade's eternal return.
- There's a more straightforward example of the trope: the Devil is said to appear once every 600 years.
- Fantasy Gun Control: The dwarves have rifles. There is even a renegade Dwarf Cult of the Cannon in the Dragon Pass.
- Fantasy Pantheon: Many.
- Fauns and Satyrs: The Broos.
- God Couple: Yelm and Dendara, Orlanth and Ernalda.
- God-Emperor: The Red Emperor is this for the Lunar Empire.
- God Is Dead: Orlanth killed Yelm and it ended badly. Luckily he got better, thanks to Orlanth's Redemption Quest.
- There is a supplement called Orlanth is Dead. He isn't, because the act that would symbolically kill him was rigged by the Orlanthi, but it sure as hell feels like he was.
- God of Evil: Wakboth the Devil.
- Grey and Gray Morality: A main staple of the setting, though Wakboth and the Unholy Trio are pitch black.
- The Hero's Journey: HeroQuests work like this, with the HeroQuester deliberately playing the role of the hero.
- Hit Points: Averted. Hit points generally do not increase with experience. No matter how bad ass an adventurer is, an axe to their head will ruin their whole day.
- Lovecraftian Superpower: Exposure to Primal Chaos can give you "Chaos Features", neat powers that often come with horrific physical manifestations. But you can also be Blessed with Suck and end up with "Chaos Flaws".
- Love Goddess: Uleria.
- Lunacy: In addition to the standard Earth, Air, Fire and Water elementals, Glorantha also has Darkness and Moon elementals. Moon Elementals cause temporary insanity by touch.
- Mad God: Ragnaglar of the Unholy Trio.
- Mind Screw: There are lots of mutually exclusive mythologies, and all of them are true because reality before Time started was fluid. And sometimes (the Sunstop, which temporarily broke Time, being the main example) it can still be. And traveling to the reality before Time started, which still exists as a separate plane, can potentially retcon reality after Time started. That's without taking into account the Unreliable Narrators. Needless to say, all of this can be just a little confusing.
- Mythopoeia: The biggest one in Tabletop Games.
- Morally-Ambiguous Ducktorate: Beware, beware the Deadly Ducks of Death!
- Order Versus Chaos: Lunar Empire versus Orlanthi, big time.
- Kind of a weird case - the Lunar Empire promotes (cosmic) Chaos but is very organized, whereas the Orlanthi are Chaos-hating barbarian berzerkers.
- Our Gods Are Greater: Goes without saying.
- Our Monsters Are Different: You can even play intelligent ducks, called Durulzi in RuneQuest. (It has its advantages: small size, high Dexterity, and hardly anyone notices a Duck — perfect for a thief/rogue or a mage. And you know what? They have their own island empire in the far East.)
- All Trolls Are Different: Among other things, they're matriarchial, cannibalistic, and Extreme Omnivores.
- Our Dragons Are Different: True Dragons are beings of unfathomable power, and human beings can become dragons if they follow Draconic Mysticism. The Empire of Wyrmfriends wanted to assimilate everybody into being dragons.
- Our Elves Are Better: They're kind-of dryads, or Plant Aliens.
- Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Massively averted. Dwarves are made into one of several castes, very different from each other. And they are not Viking-like, they are instead living tools dedicated to repairing the once-perfect World Machine.
- Plaguemaster: Malia, the Mother of Disease.
- Plant Person: The elves.
- Pride: The God Learners thought that they could do whatever they wanted with those ridiculous pagan deities. Boy were they wrong.
- Redemption Quest: Orlanth's To Hell and Back.
- Spirit World: The Otherworld.
- Supernatural Martial Arts: Mostly gained through Kralorelan mysticism, by monastic adepts who give in to temptations of power while ostensibly trying to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence (most of the students, frankly, are just there to try to reach the really good temptations).
- Battle magic is something in between this and Full-Contact Magic.
- The Archmage: Zzabur.
- The Chosen One: Several, Argrath being one of the main examples.
- The Empire: The Lunar Empire.
- The Maker: The Maker of the Mostali (dwarves).
- The Night That Never Ends: This is what happens when you kill the Sun God. And then it gets worse.
- To Hell and Back: The Lightbringers, to rescue Yelm and end the Greater Darkness.
- Top God: Many pantheons have one, but Sedenya, Yelm and Orlanth are the most important. Arachne Solara can be seen as a Goddess of Gods.
- Trickster Archetype: Several.
- Unreliable Narrator: Lots. Many texts are written from an In-Universe point of view, and even if All Myths Are True in Glorantha falsehoods and inaccuracies still exist and creep in.
- War God: Several.
- Weird Moon: Glorantha has never had a conventional Earthlike moon. The Blue Moon is tiny and rarely visible save as a streak of light, whereas the Red Moon is of recent vintage, ripped from the middle of Dara Happa, and hovers in place over the Lunar Empire, revolving to show a red side and a black side. It is said that a White Moon may rise someday.