So you want to learn RGS?
Learn how to play Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok using the Runic Game System in under 5 minutes!
Did you know that RGS uses runes instead of dice? It's a Viking game after all, but the reasons go much deeper. Runes allow RGS to do some really neat things.
Runes are colour coded to correspond to the 3 Traits in the game. The more of a certain type that you have, the higher your appropriate Trait score.
There are two main attributes, Essence and Destiny.
Essence is everything that you are- your health, memories, powers, and abilities.
Mechanically, the value indicates how many runes you will have in your
Destiny is the effect you can cause on the world around you.
Mechanically, it's the number of runes that you will draw from your rune-bag every time you need to do a skill check, start a new round of combat, or interact with the world around you in some meaningful way
The number of runes that you draw represents your available actions. If you draw 2 runes, then you have 2 actions... if you draw 3 runes, then you have 3 actions.
To enhance the narrative, the player must describe how they perform a skill check before the skill mechanics can resolve the success or failure of the attempt.
Let's assume you are looking for a key and wish to use your Perception skill. You could say...
"I walk into the room and I scan to see if anything is out of place"
...saying it in this way makes it a MENTAL skill check.
"I walk into the room and cut open the matresses, check the walls and floor for secret compartments and I ransack the furniture"
...saying it in this way will make it a PHYSICAL skill check.
You can even try it using your SPIRITUAL Trait...
"I sit the bar-maid upon my lap and charm her. Then I mention the key and see where she looks."
Resolving the Skill Check
1) The Game Master (GM or Norn) will choose a difficulty rating between 1 and 5.
2) The player will draw a number of random runes equal to their Destiny score. Every rune that matches the Trait you are looking for (based on how you described your action) will score you +1 success.
3) If you have ranks in the skill in question, each rank will provide +1 to your success.
4) Compare your total number of successes to the chosen difficulty. If you met or exceeded the difficulty rating, you gain the success you were looking for. If you missed it by 1 point, you achieve a partial success (described by GM). If you exceeded the difficulty by one or more successes, then you achieve unexpected benefits per extra success (described by the GM).
Sometimes timing is important. When it is, the GM will ask the players to draw their Destiny. Remember the runes drawn represent available actions.
Actions can be played using 3 levels of crunch (complexity). You can move through these levels of crunch seamlessly and whenever you want; you're never locked into a level.
This allow players to play how they want. This allows the narrative player to enjoy the game by using narrative descriptions and on the other side of the spectrum you will allow the combo min-max player to play how they enjoy the game.
Crunch 0 : Narrative
Let's start with crunch 0, meant for the player who loves narrative descriptions. Simply describe what you want to do and play a rune for each verb you used. The amount of narrative is limited to your action economy, ie. the runes you drew.
Example: you find out the man across the table from you is an assassin that was sent to kill you. When asked what you would like to do, with your Destiny of 3, you could say:
"I draw my swords. Then I jump over the table and I stab him in the face."
This would cost you 3 runes (actions).
It's as simple as that!
Now it's up to the assassin to use his runes to deal with your attack (see Action - Reaction below)
Crunch 1 : Powers
OK now let's move up a level of crunch to crunch 1. Every rune has a symbol, and each symbol is tied to a special power on your character sheet. Simply play the rune that corresponds to the power and you will perform that power (manoeuvre or spell).
There are no limits to the number powers you can evoke, if you have 3 Destiny then you can evoke 3 powers that turn.
Example: Let's continue the same scenario as the one above- suppose one of the runes you drew was the runic symbol Tiwaz, the rune which is bound to your Lunging Attack power. Instead of playing a rune to move and another to attack, now you can play Tiwaz instead. That saves you a rune for another action or power.
Let's combine crunch 0 and crunch 1 in this example. We drew our sword (crunch 0 cinematic action) and then we invoked Lunging Attack (a crunch 1 power).
Crunch 2: Combining Runes
Now let's take a look at crunch 2, meant for the combo min-max players who love to optimize. Crunch 2 is all about combining your runes to change the way powers work. For this example, we will have a Destiny of 4.
Let's also take a look at the full description of the Lunging Attack power.
Each power has 3 meta tags corresponding to the 3 Traits we talked about at the start. You can add runes to a power when you play it in order to add those corresponding meta tags. If we add a physical rune to Lunging Attack, then we Amplify the effect, effectively doubling it. The weak move becomes a normal move and the attack now deals double damage.
Meta tags are rotated 90 degrees so everyone at the table will understand what was played.
Example: Let's say the assassin sitting across the table from you has 2 friends sitting on either side of him. You could then add a mental rune to Lunging Attack in order to gain a reach +1 and the ability to strike up to 2 more targets. Pretty cool right?
Lastly, adding a Spiritual rune will trigger the meta effect of your weapon. If you're wielding a blunt weapon, it will knock your opponent down and will bestow the vulnerable condition. If your weapon is a piercing one, then you will strike an artery, inflicting the degeneration condition, and lastly if you have a slashing weapon, you will impede your opponent.
The number of meta tags is only limited by your Destiny.
Remember that you can mix and match crunch levels at your heart's content. If you have a Destiny of 4, you can play a rune to draw your swords, another 2 runes to play a Multi Lunging Attack and then your last rune to invoke a Shadow Strike.
Action - Reaction
What about rolling "to-hit" you may ask? RGS doesn't waste time with that. The system is all about driving the story forward- actions and then reactions! You won't spend time spinning your wheels in the mud. RGS would rather present players with interesting decisions instead of useless accounting.
When you strike the assassin in the examples above, the focus shifts to the defender to do something with their runes. They can spend them to invoke parry or dodge actions or they may have a power which will aid them with defence. They may also opt to save their actions for the counterattack and instead take the damage.
Damage in RGS is very visceral and exciting. Instead of doing pointless math, when you take damage, runes are randomly taken out of your Essence bag. These are runes you cannot draw until they get healed back into your Essence bag... meaning you have lost access to certain powers after taking a hit! You feel the pain immediately!
If all of your runes leave your bag, you're dead.
This makes for interesting decisions when you are facing an attack. Do you spend one of your potential actions to parry the blow? Do you need to protect some of your runes in the Essence bag?
This is the crux of RGS in a nutshell. If you understand everything that`s outlined above, your`re ready to play your first game! Things like passive powers (ongoing abilities) and in initiative (timing of who acts first) will be easily learned while you play.
There are some other cool and unique mechanics like the afterlife rules (valkyries and Valhalla), but that`s covered in another quick overview. :)
Now go and start your epic adventure!