12 March 2010

RuneQuest II versus OpenQuest

I’m still on a bit of a ‘d100’ kick, it would seem…

OpenQuest is a fantasy-role playing game by Newt Newport that makes use of Mongoose’s SRD for RuneQuest I as a base, but builds its own ‘simplified’ version of classic RuneQuest. Mongoose’s RuneQuest II, by Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash, is an overhaul of Mongoose’s earlier attempt to resurrect the classic game, and allegedly overcomes many the rules problems with the earlier ‘MRQ’.

Here are some of my initial impressions of both games. Important caveat: While I own both of these great games, and have looked through them many times over the past few weeks, I have not 'mastered' the rules of either yet. So please take these initial impressions with a grain of salt. I welcome corrections, comments, and different perspectives!

OpenQuest definitely is the 'lighter' of the two systems. Among other things, it has a shorter skill list, and does not use hit locations (although MRQII does have an optional rule for 'general hit points' for 'lesser' or unimportant NPCs). OQ's combat system lacks certain interesting things that MRQII has (e.g., combat manoeuvres), but, personally, I prefer a fast-moving but 'simple' combat system to a complex and 'interesting' one that can take up more time. So, given my personal taste on this matter, OQ looks better than MRQII with respect to combat. (However, once a certain level of comfort has been achieved with the combat system, I could imagine becoming interested in introducing additional complexity into it, as MRQII does, so I would not rule out eventually getting on board with MRQII’s combat system.)

The character creation rules in MRQII are wonderful. They seem designed to ensure that any character created is going to have an exciting and rich background. I'm especially impressed by the 'community' and 'background events' rules. They are simple but flavourful -- a winning combination! OQ, on the other hand, has (again) the advantage in terms of simplicity. Creating a new OQ character is more straightforward and thus faster. However, when it comes to creating new characters, I don't mind adding 20-30 minutes to the process in order to come up with a more interesting character. So, with respect to character creation, I think that I prefer MRQII.

Both systems cover the same types of magic (common/battle magic, spirit magic, divine magic, and sorcery). MRQII's account of spirit magic seems much more fleshed out than OQ's account. More generally, MRQII provides more information on magic. The four magic systems appear to be 'modular' in both games, although only MRQII explicitly makes this point (i.e., one could choose to use only some, or one, of the magic systems without affecting the overall ‘balance’ of the game – e.g., a game with only 'sorcery' is perfectly feasible).

I'd be curious to know what people more familiar with both systems think about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the magic systems in MRQII and OQ. It's very hard for me to evaluate them, having played neither game yet.

The bestiary in MRQII is pretty lean (18 creatures). In contrast, OQ provides over twice as many critters (37 in total).

MRQII provides no setting background or adventures. I don't mind the lack of a setting – in fact, I generally prefer it – but it would have been nice if the authors of MRQII had included a brief 'intro' adventure. I find such adventures helpful for GMs new to a system. Even simply reading an intro adventure helps give a starting GM a sense of the way that the system works. OQ, in contrast, provides two adventures (if you purchase the 'Furnace edition'), as well as a campaign setting. The campaign setting in OQ is a little bland, in my opinion, but I don't mind that it's there. And I'm very grateful for the adventures!

Aesthetically, I find MRQII to be the prettier product. The leather cover is simple and attractive, whereas OQ’s cover looks too cluttered and ‘busy.’ The interior art is nice in both books. I like Simon Bray’s black and white pictures inside OQ (as opposed to his cover). Some of the pictures in MRQII look a bit ‘off’ (the heads of the ‘barbarian’ and ‘primitive’ on page 13 look disturbingly large), but for the most part the quality is fine. There are a couple of ‘cheesecake’ pictures in the MRQII book (e.g., pages 102 and 132), but I don’t mind such things, in moderation. The layout of both books is clean and readable.

Overall, the two systems are very similar. This is not surprising, given their common lineage. It should be easy, I think, to take bits from one game to use with the other. For instance, I would be tempted to use the combat system of OQ for MRQII, simply because I find hit locations rather 'fiddly' (although I suppose that they might be something that I could grow to like). Conversely, the ‘community’ rules could be ported from MRQII into OQ without any trouble. (It would also be easy to take bits from BRP to use with either OQ or MRQII.)

In the end, I like both systems a lot, and can’t really say which one I prefer. I would be curious to know if anyone has an ‘all things considered’ preference for OpenQuest or Runequest. And lurking in the background, I suppose, is the question of whether to simply use Basic Roleplaying instead. Since I am judging MRQII and OQ in terms of potential fantasy games, I suppose that the focus of those systems make them easier to use ‘out of the box’ than BRP. Nonetheless, taking the appropriate bits of BRP – or simply using Elric!/Stormbringer – is a definite option (depending on what kind of fantasy game one wanted to run).

Okay, enough rambling, back to procrastinating!


  1. I read the MRQI rules and really liked them and then I bought MRQII and found it to be just awesome. I don't know OQ, but overall I really dig this system.

  2. I have noticed that BRP/RQ/whatever fans tend to get very worked up over questions like this, but from my perspective the whole BRP system is one basic premise (skill-based actions using percentiles) with a whole bunch of modular bits to add on. Maybe it's because I appreciate the straight-forwardness of BRP without actually loving it that I can't find that much difference in the various incarnations and, consequently, get a bit baffled when someone ardently advocates one or the other. What the various iterations really offer are various modular bits: Stormbringer gives you Major Wounds and Allegiance and a particular magic system; CoC gives you SAN; and so on. I suppose that's why I really appreciated the new BRP book, which made that all explicit.

    Although it's probably a losing business model, I wish there were less BRP Games and more modular bits available. For instance, I don't feel like a need a whole new game to play BRP, but I'd like to have the RQII combat maneuvers to play with.

  3. Pretty interesting. I wasn't familiar with OQ untill I read this and I only have the first version published by Mongoose. I like the idea of more simplified combat rules that you mention with OQ. I think your idea of getting both and mixing and matching as one sees fit is the best way to go. RQ fans are lucky to have several companies/individuals supporting their game. I like having Mongoose around as an alternative to WotC. Hopefully other minor publishers won't hurt their market, but rather inspire them to produce games of higher quality.

  4. Another alternative is SPQR - Steve Perrin's Quest Rules. It's a different take on it from the developer of the original rules.

  5. I am quite close to the authors of both systems, and they're close to each other as well.

    I prefer OQ combat, MRQII character gen, OQ magic (but spirit combat is broken in current OQs) but, frankly, it is all interchangeble. Switch in or out from OQ, MRQ, RQ2 or RQ3 (or even the lost RQIV), CoC, Elric!, SB5, GORE or the new BRP core book.

    I would actually say buy OQ if you want a lighter d100 that is all in the book ready to play and has a RQ2 feel, but MRQ2 if you want a wide ranged of well supported products and settings from a main publisher, buy BRP if you want a highly configureable d100 ruleset to roll your own system.

    OR.. buy all 3 and enjoy!

  6. Don't forget to mention the price tags on these two games:
    MRQII - about $40.00 (US)
    OQ - free .pdf

  7. Just noticed an irritating typo in the post that I missed before. I hate when that happens. Argh!! (Fixed now...)

    @ Havard and tzunder: I agree that it is a good time to be a fan of d100, with active support from two significant RPG companies (Chaosium & Mongoose), and active support for variants like OpenQuest (d101 Games). In a way, the number of options available now is almost overwhelming!

    Thanks for notifying me about SPQR, Miguel. I didn't know that SPQR existed!

    And good point about the price differential, Banesfinger. One reason that might incline me towards OQ for my next campaign is simply that I could direct potential players to the free pdf.

  8. Thanks for the pointer. I've been toying with trying to write the three games for a new Worlds of Wonder for Gore so reminding me about Open Quest was timely.

    I also made it a Monday Pointer

  9. Where's the free OpenQuest pdf these days? It seems to have vanished. I use the Developer's Kit to flesh out both MRQ and the MRQI SRD which had some (significant in the case of the SRD) gaps. I also like some of its more Stormbringer-esque rulings.

    There's also GORE for an even lighter derivative that might be plunderable.

    Was SPQR ever completed? Last I checked Perrin was still wanting monies to view the full rules, but the full rules were several chapters short of being a playable game.

    While I like the idea of MRQII, I'm disappointed in Mongoose dropping a SRD for it. It was nice to have an SRD for MRQI and without it there'd not be an OpenQuest. As it is if you want to develop BRP or Runequest materials you need to license with either Chaosium or Mongoose. (it also made doing homebrews easier) Maybe someone will reverse engineer something but I'm not holding my breath for it.

  10. Gibbering Ghoul, no free OQ pdf seems to be available anymore, but the Developer's Kit is available for free. As for the SRD, the one for MRQI looks like it will be available indefinitely, so OQ at least is under no threat.

  11. I really have to look these over.

    I wrote my won d00 (or skill based with percentiles, as another commenter called it) as an overhaul decades ago(though it keeps changing slightly, year by year). So I should see how the published versions are changing. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  12. Hi there, Newt (author/developer of OpenQuest) here,

    Thanks for all the kind comments about the game.

    Thanks Akrasia for the original balanced comparison of MRQ2 against OQ. I was worried from the title of the post that it would be an adversarial discussion, but this is far from the case.

    I think several people have hit the nail on the head that you can take your favourite bits from OQ and mix and match with your favourite bits from MRQ & BRP (and vice versa). This is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote OpenQuest, I wasn't arrogant enough to presume that any one else except myself to play the game vanilla. Because I'm not the keeper of the sacred flame of BRP or RQ it means that I can occasionally throw something new into the mix.

    Ultimately OpenQuest is my attempt to write a streamlined version of D100 and I think largely I've succeeded.

    re:The free PDF. Yup this is long gone. It discontinued it back in Oct of last year if memory serves me well, because unfortunately the economic model wasn't working for me. I need to make some money off OpenQuest to pay for its production costs (now done) and for art for its supplements, of which there are several in production. The free Dev Kit is the ENTIRE book sans art (but does include maps in the zip file), so if you want the rules for Free this is the place to go. If you want to buy a low cost pdf and support further development of OpenQuest books you can do that too. If you want a reasonably priced printed book I also offer that option. Oh and if you want more free stuff for the game check out the OpenQuest Companion (http://openquest.d101games.co.uk/).

    Talking of supplements the first of three in production was released today :)

    The Savage North - probably the most old skool of the three adventure/settings books we shall be releasing between now and summer. Broadly speaking its RQ Conan, with the serials filed off, big dungeons , wildness treks, terrifying demons and bloody cultists.

    More info http://d101games.co.uk/books/openquest/the-savage-north/

  13. @ Herb: thanks for the shout out! :) A GORE-based 'Worlds of Wonder' sounds intriguing...

    @ LordVreeg: nice to see you here. :) Is your version of d100 available on-line?

    @ Newt: thanks for your comments! It's an honour to have the author of OQ reply directly to my post on his game. As for "The Savage North," it looks brilliant! I actually ordered my copy before you commented here. RQ Conan should rock. :D

  14. I'm in a similar situation. Personally after reading most of the fantasy BRP offerings (and Harnmaster 1e-3e as well), I'm still the most enthusiastic about Elric/SB5 in terms of in-game mechanics. Which pretty much amounts to Chaosium's BRP with the right bits checked.

    For me, what's missing from there is mainly the cultural background approach to chargen found in RQIII and (apparently) MRQII. That can be worked back in pretty easily. The combat maneuvers from MRQII also sound pretty good, but I'd have to actually buy the book to see if I'd want them. I'm not really looking for hyperdetailed combat, which is why I'm happy these days to ditch RQ's hit locations, strike ranks, and piece-by-piece armor.

    The last ingredient is magic, and that's really going to make the biggest difference in overall feel. I'm pleased to hear that MRQII has revived and expanded the breakdown used in RQIII. If you intend to use a game out of the box, I'd look most closely at magic, and especially Sorcery since in RQIII, it was the type that got the most tweaking and houseruling. So you'll probably find the biggest divergence there.

    OTOH, if you go with Chaosium Elric/SB/BRP, you'll have access to a variety of published magic systems...if you can find them (e.g., Bronze Grimoire) or if they get republished. I'm not sure how MRQ's licensed games stack up in this respect (Mongoose Elric/Lankhmar/etc.) or even how available they are.

  15. Great post--I can't help you decide which to use, though, because I'm looking at both myself. Very helpful overview, though! More RQ/OQ stuff, please!

  16. Akrasia,
    I'll send you a link later on. Though my stuff is on an onlike Wiki, I've found enough of my stuff has parallel evolution that I prefer to be a little more private than I used to.

    I also found myself getting rid of a lot of the combat complications. I actually added hit location, reach effect, and the armor pieces before I read Runequest, but streamlined them back out again...again, parallel evolution.

    Magic is a hard one. Because it can read as part of the pysics/metaphysics of the world, magic is, in my estimation, more idiosyncratic to the setting then almost any other part of the game.

    lastly, to Newt and to echo Zachary, yes, More of the skillbased/d100 stuff. What a wonderful post to find, and I will certainly be picking up OpenQuest to peruse.

  17. Check out the D101 website (d101games.co.uk) to see what we have in store for OpenQuest support and the two OpenQuest powered games we have in the pipeline (River of Heaven & The Company).

    I had the pleasure of receiving Nathan Baron's Empire's Rising supplement in first draft form, an adventure/setting book with a complete self contained world and four adventures. Out this summer ;)

    OpenQuest has been a ton of fun to write, develop and play so its not going away any day soon :)

  18. @Eliot: I agree that Elric! is a superb version of BRP, one that I'm inclined to use for my next fantasy campaign. I think that I own almost everything for it (as well as a number of products for SB4e), so there would be no shortage of material. It's completely OOP now, though, and not even available via PDF.

    I'm curious to see what Lawrence Whitaker does for the 'Eternal Champions' line for MRQII.

  19. Hello there, Akrasia. I haven't checked out MRQII for myself, but I do have MRQ and a bunch of Gloranthan and non-Gloranthan sourcebooks for it. I like the "make the system your own, fill in the gaps" approach to its design. I can find easy ways to houserule it.

    If MRQII is anywhere close to what MRQ is/was, I'd go with it. It'll give you the occasion to make the game your own, and provide you with occasions to build your own campaign-specific material, and share it with the world through your blog.

    So, here goes. One vote for MRQII.

  20. If you are a Stormbringer/Elric! fan I would strongly suggest checking out


    Has some full pdfs of the Monographs that where published in the final days of the Chaosium license

  21. Actually, I've had a link to that Stormbringer site here for a few months, Newt (part of the BRP links list). It is indeed an excellent site.

    At this point, I think that I'm going to go with OpenQuest (although I still haven't ruled out Elric!). The combat system in OQ simply is far less complicated than in MRQII. Also, I'm pretty swamped with work these days, so a ready-to-run campaign setting ('The Savage North') is pretty tempting, especially one with a strong 'swords-and-sorcery' ethos.

  22. tzunder has a positive, informative review of OQ here:

  23. Just so folk know, while stocks last you can get copies of OpenQuest Con-Quest edition (revised Spirit World rules + 10 new content pages inc Horror/Terror rules and a collection of five demons) and The Savage North directly from me, which means no Lulu manufacturing delay. I'm also doing a bundle deal for OQ+Savage North with a £5 ($7) saving.



Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).