Runequest Combat: A Wee Niggle...

I've alluded to the fact that I'm currently chewing on some nasty gristle when it comes to the Runequest 6 system that is keeping me from investing in it with full-throated glee. I typically downplay the nature of my concerns, and beg off from talking about them because they are very small, might not be noticed by many people, and are obscurest of corner cases.

But enough people have asked that I wrote out some thoughts to try and collect them into a fashion that might be understandable. You're forewarned: here there be geeky hand-wringing!

Fact: in RQ6, there is no distinct "dodge" skill. There is a skill called Evade that can be used as a sort of sacrificial dodge. It's harder (constituting an opposed roll with the attacker instead of a simple differential level of success check like parrying), and the defender automatically winds up prone after the fact, leaving him open to much worse opportunities to defend himself moving forward.

Fact: Parrying, which includes the sort of incidental "fast footwork" style of dodging - bobbing, weaving, avoiding the thrust of a spear or the slash of a knife - is intrinsically tied to the size of the weapon you're parrying with. If you have a dagger, or are unarmed, your parry is remarkably limited in effectiveness, and may in fact be utterly ineffectual against taking damage (though still useful for preventing special effects from being applied to you as well).

Fact: Weapons have an abstract value of Size that determines how well they can beat down a parry when used to attack, or how well they can prevent damage when used to defend. This value is monolithic, and covers both attacks and defense. This leads to odd situations like this: a Broadsword is Medium, while a Long Spear is Large. Thus, no matter how skilled you may be, a successful Broadsword parry will only block half the damage from the thrust of a Long Spear.

Because of all of this, the developers of the game have agreed that the sort of in-play dodging that I'm talking about, "I moved aside enough that the spear went right past me" are subsumed into the same result as "The guy with the spear wasn't able to hit me at all" - that is, when the attack roll is greater than the attacker's skill percentage.

This is remarkably unsatisfying for me for one reason: my character has to be immensely skillful (skill greater than 100% and higher than my opponent) to have any effect upon the chances of this occurring.

An example: I'm a swordsman, and my skill with my sword is 75%. No matter who you are when I attack you, there is a one chance in four that I will miss you utterly. You won't even have to roll your defense (though you can, to try to get a special effect against me), I will miss you entirely. This might mean I screwed something up, or it might mean that you subtly dodged out of the way entirely, and my sword cuts through nothing but air.

The problem is that this chance, this one in four, is not in any way dependent upon who you are. You could be as limber and quick as Boba Fett, or you could be as lazy and indolent as Jabba the Hutt. Either way, you have a one in four chance of avoiding any damage from my sword. And if my skill was 100%, you'd only avoid damage if I managed to roll a fumble.

This is what I struggle with right now. Petty, small and the tiniest of possible outcomes.

Some of you are saying "good lord but you're long winded" while others are saying "this isn't worth bothering with" but there might be one or two of you out there who instead respond with "holy shit, how do I fix this?" and I welcome you to my unhappy company.

Next time - the maddening imprecision of RQ6 magic.


  1. Well, at the core, it's still RuneQuest. Parry as the sole defensive skill was good enough in 1978, so it's good enough now. If you want a modern system, you're probably not the target audience. D&D doesn't even have parries, just dodges, in effect; your weapon skill makes no difference at all to the chance of being hit, only raw speed and armour.

    1. As I said over on G+, I could be happier with this system if the Defense stat still existed - a flat penalty to be hit based on quick thinking, agility, luck and small size. That would be enough to make it at least somewhat reflective of reality, and would be 1978 pure.

      Dodge was entered into the canon with the AH edition of RQ, and survives today in BRP, but for some reason didn't survive into RQII (I never played the Mongoose RQ1, so don't know how that went).

      And defending the realism of something by comparing it to D&D is disingenuous at best - D&D is so abstract as to be meaningless.

    2. I'm not trying to defend it so much as point out that it's a 1970s system, and if you don't want to play a 1970s system then looking at RuneQuest seems disingenuous. What's your actual goal in using this system? For me, I'd play RQ for nostalgia, GURPS or Hero for something that more or less reflects reality.

    3. Well, I think that RQ6 does a pretty fine job of dealing with realism in a lot of areas. Which is why I dog on it where it falls down on the job. If it were Dungeon World I'd just say "well, of course it's not realistic" and move on, but I guess I expect more of RQ6 just because it succeeds in many other areas.


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