Jan 18, 2012

Build Your Own Mongoose Runequest 2 / Legend Backgrounds

Background matters
Mongoose Runequest 2, now called the "Legend" system after Mongoose lost the Runequest license late last year, is one of the better fantasy gaming systems released last decade (2009). It's a medium-crunch, skill-based and level-less system that relies on active defenses, and "combat maneuvers" instead of expanding HP to pace its combats.

In the core book, after rolling stats, you pick a "background" for your character, and there are four options offered: Barbarian, Civilised, Nomad, Primitive, each one having certain skills and not others. The various supplements for the game add a bit to this, but they have a tendency to simply list a culture as "Barbarian" and expect you to use the same. For my settings, I decided to come up with my own backgrounds. Here's the Moragnian backgrounds, in case you're looking for some to supplement the basic four.

The ones I've created are "balanced" with the core four backgrounds, in that it turns out there's a very simple structure and points budget that they all follow, which you can use to build your own backgrounds. 

1) Fixed skills

Everyone gets the common skills Culture (Own) and Lore (Regional) at +30%, and the advanced skill Language (Native) +50%

2) The points budget

The rest of the background is built from a "budget" of 90 points. Each +1% in some skill costs 1 point. I recommend dishing it out in chunks and multiples of 10, even though the corebook itself violates this principle.

3) Common skills 

The four core backgrounds all spend between 40 and 60 points here. Resilience, Athletics, Brawn and Perception are the most common. I typically use put Persistence and Influence here as well.

4) Combat styles

A single "Pick a combat style and add +10%" only costs 10 points, there is no cost for the combat style. Typically, between 1 and 3 combat styles per background are available (between 10 and 30 points). I have more to say on combat styles below, and will explain why I don't normally provide a list of approved combat styles to choose from, and recommend you don't either.

5) Advanced skills

Here's where it's a little more complicated. Advanced skills do not typically receive bonuses at this phase of character creation. Instead, you are granted "access" to them. Access to one advanced skill "costs" 10 points. Beyond Language (Native), the four core backgrounds all have at least one mandatory advanced skill - either Courtesy or Survival. I violated this rule in designing my backgrounds for Moragne, since it was a medieval setting, not an ancient world one. Typically, about twice as many skills are available for access as can be chosen, and the PC picks some subset. Only the cost of the subset counts.

6) Money

This is totally arbitrary, and doesn't actually balance with the rest of the system. In general, if you can't think of any reason it should be abnormal, it will be 4d6 x 20 silver pieces. If the person with this background is meant to be rich, it should be 4d6 x 75 silver pieces, and if they are supposed to be poor, it should be 4d6 x 10. In Moragne, because of the cost of body armour, I increased it to 4d6 x 30, and I would be content to leave it there and redo the starting core backgrounds.

7) Magic

Starting available magic has no sense to it either, and you should probably simply let PCs pick off the unrestricted list of common magic spells unless you have some very good reason not to. If you're a nice DM you should pick the spells for them and give them Protection 3, Lucky, and Ignite, three extremely useful spells for starting characters. PC choice here doesn't really matter, since none of the common magic spells are strong enough to "break" anything, even if used well. If you're playing a low magic game, you can skip this step, obviously.

On Combat Styles in Mongoose Runequest 2 / Legend

When I ran my Moragne game, I decided the list of available combat styles to PCs basically by aping the method of the corebook but with an unrestricted list. So any PC of any background could pick Axe, 1-handed Sword,  etc. Never again. It was a nightmare of book-keeping and scanning equipment lists from the Arms and Equipment (now called Arms of Legend) errata to pick "the best weapon". People kept on forgetting to write "and Shield" for one-handed combat styles even though they meant to, or getting confused about whether "1H Sword" should cover all 1H swords from rapier to broadswords or not. In the end, each entry on the Arms and Equipment errata table was a skill. This kept the PCs extremely conservative on weapon choice, and also left some weird gaps in their knowledge.

Since then, I've thought about this situation quite a bit, and here are two options I'm thinking over:

1) Each background has an associated style with the same name ("Combat Style: Kaddish"). The associated combat style has 4 or 5 (a consistent number across all styles) weapons it grants proficiency in. Other weapons you would like to be proficient in must be bought singly using your free points, or maybe from a profession.

2) I would love to integrate it with my "Build Your Own Weapons and Armour" system for Openquest. The build system, if it were to be adapted to MRQ2, would need to include a way of determining the appropriate weapon maneuvers (not hard). My main concern about doing this is that it would lead to nonobvious clusters of proficiency, where someone might somehow know about throwing axes and bows simply because they answer "Yes" to similar questions during generation.


Professions are actually even easier than backgrounds to create. Here's the routine:

1) All professions are built from 50 points, where 1 point is worth +1%.

2) All professions spend a minimum of 20 points on common skills. Once again, I recommend these be in chunks of 10% for ease of book-keeping and character generation, even though the core book violates this.

3) Access to advanced skills costs 10 points. Typically, there are 2-3 times as many options as can be taken. Options don't cost anything themselves, only actual access does (so if you pick one of three options, that's worth 10 points).

4) If you're going to start with a magical skill, this is usually when you get it.

Anyhow, hopefully this will help you to design your own backgrounds and professions for your own Mongoose Runequest 2 / Legend games.