Bell Digest vol08p04.txt

Subject:  RuneQuest Digest Volume 8, no 4
Comments: Revision @(#)v8n04	1.2	92/09/22

    An interesting article by David Cheng.  This was also
    posted to, but what I found there
    had a couple of typos/transmission errors.

    If you want to discuss David's proposals, send your
    comments to RuneQuest@Glorantha.Holland.Sun.COM

From: David Cheng 
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 92 22:54:08 EDT
Subject: Variant Rune Magic

                RUNE POWER BLASPHEMY
            Variant Rules for Divine Magic

                  by David Cheng

     Emma, a Sartarite woman, is an initiate of Ernalda.  
Because the omens for the next planting season are bad, 
she goes to her temple and sacrifices three points of 
characteristic power for three uses of Bless Crops.  
     Emma is also a wife and mother.  It is her duty to 
protect her home and children when a party of trolls 
raids the family stead one night.
     Nobody said it would be a fair fight.  While the 
other members of the household are fighting outside, a 
fanatic Zorak Zorani crashes through the door.  Emma 
does her best to defend the children, but she is quickly 
overcome.  Battered into unconsciousness, she feels her 
life slipping away.  (In game terms, Emma is at one 
total hit point, and losing blood from wounds.)  Emma 
knows that unless she gets some serious healing, her 
beloved children will soon follow her into the 
     Ernalda, her patron, is able to grant the divine 
spell Heal Body.  Emma has recently sacrificed three 
points of power to Ernalda.  But, because it was for the 
wrong spell, Emma's life slips away...

     Why does Emma have to die?  Why do the current 
rules say that Ernalda cannot intervene to save her 
faithful worshipper without a full divine intervention?  
Emma has sacrificed for three points of rune magic, 
right?  Why is it that Ernalda can't exercise some 
judgement in how that rune magic is granted?

                 THE PROPOSED VARIANT

     Instead of sacrificing for specific spells, 
worshippers (initiates and up) should just sacrifice for 
divine points, or rune points (I'll use these terms 
interchangeably).  These divine points would be "spent" 
for divine magic, upon demand, from the appropriate 
     Divine points can be spent on any divine spell 
offered by the deity.  The player decides what spell he 
wants at the time of casting, not at the time of 
     Initiates get their divine points non-reusably, 
just like current divine magic sacrifices.  Acolytes, 
priests, and lords get their points back through prayer, 
just like the current system.  Unless, of course, they 
call for spells which are listed as non-reusable.  As 
with the current system, initiates do not have access to 
spells that are defined as non-reusable for priests.

     Paraeus the initiate begins an adventure in Pavis 
with four Humakt divine points, having previously 
sacrificed four points of characteristic power at his 
     Early on, Paraeus suspects that a certain "Swifty" 
is trying to sell him and his buddies a bogus map.  He 
decides he needs some magical perception, and so asks 
Humakt for a Detect Truth spell.  He is now down to 
three divine points.  
     Later, as they are wandering in the Rubble, he and 
his party are attacked by trolls.  Never one to shirk a 
good fight, he calls for a Truesword, and Humakt gladly 
obliges.  Seeing that Paraeus is such a tough opponent, 
the troll shaman sends a ghost to attack him in spirit 
combat.  This is one foe he cannot parry, so Paraeus 
feels the need to call upon Humakt for a point of Spirit 
Block (a common divine spell), and again is answered.  
Paraeus' group goes on to win the fight, collect a small 
sum of loot, and stumble back to New Pavis, only to be 
taxed heavily upon their re-entry...
     Note how Paraeus was able to call for any spell 
Humakt is able to grant, as the situation warranted.  
Not that he got off easy, however.  Over the course of 
one short adventure, he spent three POW worth of divine 
magic.  It will probably take Paraeus at least a year to 
gain that amount of POW back, whether he plans on 
sacrificing for more divine points or not.


     As currently written, the RQ rules portray divine 
magic as kind of a "holy hand grenade."  A divine spell 
is powerful magic your deity "gives" you.  Once the god 
hands it over, he or she has no control over how or when 
you actually use the spell.  You "pay" for it by 
sacrificing characteristic power.  
     By adopting this variant, I suggest you view divine 
magic not as a holy hand grenade, but instead as a 
"divine favor," kind of like a limited divine 
intervention.  The deity, and thus the gamemaster, 
retains some ownership.  The character still controls 
what spell he asks for.  The gods are not omniscient, 
and their attention is usually not on the inner world 
(the physical plane), even when a worshipper calls for 
divine magic.  The god "trusts" that the worshipper is 
asking for an appropriate spell.  Note: as gamemaster, 
you might want to intercede at this point.  By going 
with this philosophy, the flexibility, and 
responsibility, is there for you to control the game if 
you need to.
     Because the character has a magical relationship 
with his god, and because he previously sacrificed some 
POW, he can "call the favor."  This favor is answered in 
the form of a predictable, magical effect: a divine 


     The divine point concept fits within the 
restrictions of the Great Compromise.  Yes, a worshipper 
has more flexibility with the magic he can call for.  
But, he is still constrained to the divine spells 
offered by the god.  The flexibility allowed is totally 
within the scope of the god.  Worshippers can not create 
new spells just by spending divine points - such an act 
would violate the Compromise.
     Let's look at two fanatical Orlanthi priests.  
Hakon Cloudson spends all his POW on Cloud Call.  Borali 
Thunderfist spends all his POW on Thunderbolt.  Both 
have 20 points of their favorite spell, and practically 
no other rune spells.  Does either of these priests 
violate the Great Compromise when they cast all their 
points in one big spell?  No.  By adopting the divine 
point variant, a character is free to wander between 
these two extremes, but gains no "new" powers.

              POINTS TO PONDER

     Below are some observations on how the divine point 
concept will affect your game, and some suggestions on 
how to work out potential rules glitches.

     In the campaigns I have been involved with, rune 
magic, even reusable rune magic, was a very precious 
thing.  The characters struggled for months of real time 
to get POW increases, so they could spare a point or two 
to sacrifice for a spell.  Those spells were only used 
when things really got bad.
     Half the reason I developed this idea comes from my 
belief that divine magic is underpowered, especially for 
initiates.  I think having magic from a god should make 
a character tough!  The character is sacrificing some of 
his spiritual essence, his soul, for the benefit of a 
magical effect - often for only one use.  Let it be 
worth it!
     Acolytes, Priests, and Lords:  Yes, they will be 
much tougher, because their divine points are reusable.  
These people are Rune Masters; they should stand far 
above the average person.  They should be magically 
     Why are these people running around adventuring?  
They have full-time duties.  Most of their divine points 
will go to pedestrian spells like Spellteaching and 
Divination - and not Divinations for personal use 
either!  The flock that supports the priest with tithes 
expects to be spiritually supported.  Just as the 
craftsman makes things for the community, the priest 
"makes magic" for the community, (assisted by acolytes).  
     Acolytes are expected to give 50% of their time to 
the temple, priests and lords must give 90%.  Remember, 
a priest's 10% free time is probably more like one hour 
per ten, not one week per ten.  Make the player 
characters feel the burden of responsibility.  Consider 
insisting they semi-retire the character, except for 
when there is a threat to the community so great that it 
warrants "calling up" the Rune Masters. 
     Of course, some people prefer high-power, Rune 
Master-dominated campaigns.  See "Game Balance" below, 
for some different suggestions.

     You will notice that the powerful deities have 
longer divine spell lists than the minor deities.  Thus, 
worshippers of major gods will have a wider selection of 
magic to call upon.  This makes sense: worshippers of 
major gods should be more magically powerful than 
worshippers of minor gods.

     Characters that belong to more than one cult should 
maintain separate divine point tallies.  Of course, 
divine points held from one god cannot be used to get 
divine magic from another god. 
     Paraeus is an initiate of both Humakt and Orlanth.  
After the Pavis Rubble adventure, his character sheet 
might say "Humakt divine points = 1, Orlanth divine 
points = 2."   Paraeus can only spend his Orlanth points 
on divine spells that Orlanth himself offers.

     A god will not grant a Divine Intervention against 
one of his own worshippers.  Thus, when viewing rune 
magic as a "limited Divine Intervention," I suggest that 
a deity should not provide an offensive rune spell 
against one of his own; no feuding Yelmies Sunspear-ing 
each other, etc.  Of course, if the god had a reason to 
strongly favor one worshipper over another, he might 
consent.  Perhaps Orlanth is a bit angry with his 
Colymar followers for embracing the Red Moon, and would 
favor any tribes who are fighting the Colymar...

     Back in the Godtime, the gods shared magical 
secrets with their friends, and stole powers from their 
enemies.  Because of this, they can still grant their 
worshippers those powers, in the form of associate 
divine spells.   
     To cast associate divine magic, a character just 
spends divine points normally.  Of course, the 
worshipper is restricted to only the spell or two that 
his deity has access to. 
     Back in the Godtime, Issaries showed Orlanth a 
magical way to keep his belongings safe.  From this act 
Orlanth now knows the spell Lock.  That is why an 
Orlanth worshipper can spend Orlanth rune points to cast 
Lock.  He doesn't need to sacrifice to Issaries.  
However, Lock is the only Issaries divine spell that the 
worshipper can get from Orlanth.

     A character can only call for the rune spells of 
sub-cults he belongs to.  For example, a foreign Humakti 
could not get the Indrodar Greydog spell Release Zombie 
(as seen in Tales #5).  Release Zombie is only available 
to Humakti in the Lismelder tribe of Sartar, and only to 
those Humakti who have actually joined the sub-cult.

     During the Spell Trading ritual, each participant 
actually casts their spell.  The ritual serves to 
capture the spells before they take effect, and deliver 
them to the respective trading partners.  So, each 
trader spends the divine points to cast the appropriate 
spell normally.

     The Create Head ritual enslaves the victim's 
spirit.  The Thanatari can then force the bound spirit 
to use its rune points to cast spells.  
     As the current write-up states, minor heads provide 
only one-use rune points.  
     Major heads can get rune points squeezed out of 
them reusably, if the Thanatari sacrifices his own POW 
to do so.  I believe this is compatible with the idea of 
rune points.  Think of it this way: the bound Rune 
Master has an especially strong tie to the runes of his 
god (remember, only a head that has reusable rune points 
to begin with can grant reusable points to its Thanatari 
master).  The Create Major Head ritual allows the 
Thanatari to manipulate that victim's runic ties, and to 
get those runic powers reusably.  Perhaps this is why 
Thanatari are so hated, feared, and persecuted!

     The holder of the truestone spends divine points to 
cast a specific spell.  That spell is held in the stone, 
to be released later.  I do not think that truestone 
should be allowed to hold "raw" divine points.  
     But, if you like the idea of raw divine points, I 
would suggest that only worshippers of that deity could 
use them to call for divine magic.  A non-worshipper 
lacks the runic ties to be able to call for divine 
magic.  Perhaps non-worshippers could use the raw divine 
points to summon elementals (i.e. Storm god divine 
points are good for summoning sylphs, Sea god points to 
summon undines, etc.)?  

                  GAME BALANCE

     Obviously, adopting the rune point system will make 
your rune magic-using characters more powerful.  They 
will be able to call upon most of the spells their deity 
offers, as the situation warrants.  It will be harder to 
design adventures because of this new player character 
flexibility.  Rune magic-using NPC's will also get 
     What steps can be taken to prevent characters from 
becoming unreasonably powerful?  Below are some optional 
suggestions to keep the rune point concept reasonable.  
Mix and match them as you see fit.  (Hint: even if you 
don't adopt the rune point idea, many of these 
suggestions could apply to regular rune magic too.)

     Too many players think having some excess POW 
obliges them to sacrifice it for divine magic.  There is 
a ritual involved, officiated by your priest.  What have 
you done for the temple lately, for the priest lately, 
that he would allow you to sacrifice that POW?  
     Let's also look at the common "adventurer on the 
road" situation.  Perhaps Paraeus is in a foreign 
temple, where nobody knows him.  Will his host spend a 
precious Divination to ask Humakt about Paraeus' 
standing in the cult?  What has Paraeus done for this 
temple, that he should be allowed to sacrifice for more 
divine points?
     The gamemaster should be willing add some roleplay 
to the ritual of divine sacrifice.  This gives the 
gamemaster more control over the divine magic in the 
campaign.  A word of caution: do not overlook the 
responsibility of making decisions like this.  The GM 
should not arbitrarily deny a request for new magic, or 
the players might feel betrayed.  
     If the character has not been a good temple citizen 
lately, let the player know that the chances of getting 
new divine points are slim.  This is an excellent 
springboard for adventures.  In exchange for the 
"privilege" of sacrificing, the characters might have to 
perform some favor (big or small) for the priest.  This 
is part of the roleplay behind the initiate's 10% time 
     Another way to limit the availability of divine 
points is to say a character can only sacrifice during a 
cult seasonal holy day.  This is easy to rationalize: 
the donation of spiritual essence (POW) can only take 
place when the god is closer to the world, during the 
suspension of Time that accompanies a worship ceremony.

     Again, I suggest adding some role play to the 
renewal of rune magic.  Normally, the character spends-
one-day-in-prayer-for-each-point-to-recover.  Pure 
rules.  What is happening during that day of prayer?  
The character is giving his god information.  Because of 
the Great Compromise, the gods find it difficult to do 
anything new.  This includes learning things on their 
own.  Worshippers have to provide the gods with new 
knowledge, through prayer.  
     How about a dialogue with the god?  Perhaps the 
deity insists that you tell him what you did with that 
rune magic you cast, before he agrees to renew it.  As 
game master, perhaps you think the deity might 
disapprove of how those rune points were spent.  Did a 
Sword of Humakt cast Shield just so he could retreat 
from a combat?  Maybe Humakt punishes the cowardice by 
not renewing those points until the Sword goes back and 
slays the foe that drove him off.  Perhaps Kyger Litor 
is offended that her priestess traded away some rune 
magic to an untrustworthy Issaries Goldentongue, and 
refuses to renew the points until atonement is made.  
Remember, your god will know if you try to lie...
     A word of caution: don't punish characters because 
they beat up your monsters too efficiently.  Punish them 
for acting in a way the god would not approve of.
     Another restriction could be to say Rune Masters 
can only renew rune points on seasonal holy days.  This 
can be pretty severe, but if you feel that there is too 
much reusable rune magic flying around your campaign, 
this will definitely put a damper on things.  If you 
take this approach, I would remind you again about 
temple duties.  How many rune points will a priest spend 
tending his NPC flock each season?  What effect will 
this have on his rune point tally for an adventure, 
especially as he gets further from the last holy 
day/renewal?  Casting rune spells is part of a priest's 
everyday duty; try telling the worshippers "sorry, I'm 
saving up for an adventure on my day off."

     An obvious one: don't just have the player make a 
few skill rolls to qualify for Rune Master.  Have 
adventures where the candidate proves his worthiness, 
maybe he won't survive!
     My personal favorite is to add a new skill 
requirement: Cult Lore.  Doesn't it make sense that to 
move up in the temple hierarchy, an initiate must show a 
good knowledge of the cult legends?  Perhaps a minimum 
of 50% to qualify for acolyte, 80% for priests and 
     I also think the importance of the Ceremony skill 
is underplayed.  Certainly a priest should be well 
versed in cult rituals?  Would you want the priest 
bungling your baptism, or wedding, or burial?  In a 
magical world like Glorantha, think of the 
consequences...  Again, acolytes might need at least 50% 
in Ceremony, 80% for priests and lords.  
     To make it even tougher, impose minimums for 
Enchant and Summon too.

     I have a theory that acolytes are a rules 
construct, to allow player characters reusable divine 
magic without the burden of full priesthood.  Too many 
of these pesky guys around, throwing all that reusable 
divine magic?  Do away with them!  We got along without 
them just fine in RQ2...
     A more moderate stance would be to limit the number 
of acolytes in any temple hierarchy.  A priest can only 
have so many helpers around, and the community can only 
support so many.  If the gamemaster doesn't want a 
character becoming an acolyte (or even a priest), tell 
the player there are no vacancies.  It's your world.

     A deity will obviously favor his priests and lords 
above all other worshippers.  Perhaps this "special 
bond" is necessary for the use of rune points.  
Initiates and acolytes are not yet ready for the fuller 
power of the god, and thus can only be trusted with 
specific spells.  Of course, a mission of great 
importance, or a heroquest, might prove to the god that 
a special initiate or acolyte is trustworthy enough to 
handle the flexibility of rune points.
     A more generous gamemaster might allow acolytes 
rune points, but keep the restriction on initiates.

     Thanks go out to George Harris for noticing that 
Tricksters will be unmanageably gross if you give them 
reusable divine points.  Imagine all those nasty magical 
pranks, totally at the trickster's beck and call!  Three 
solutions come to mind:
     1) Tricksters are an exception.  The character must 
travel to a shrine to "learn" the spell available at 
that shrine.  From then on, however, the trickster can 
call upon that spell using divine points, as normal.
     2) All trickster spells become one-use.  They 
retain the ability to call upon any spell, though.  
Tricksters will still have an incredible variety to draw 
upon, but will only be able to use it sparingly.
     3) Impose a Disorder penalty.  Recently, Stafford 
mentioned that "all tricksters are fools.  Half the 
time, their pranks backfire."  Perhaps you could impose 
a significant (50%?) chance of a spell fumbling (which 
could be great fun for the gamemaster and other 

     Most of the resistance to the rune point concept 
comes from what it will do to game balance.  Yes, game 
balance will find a new equilibrium point.  Rune points, 
admittedly, are more of a philosophy-of-magic idea than 
a game balance idea.
     The catalyst for the rune point concept comes from 
my questioning why the gods are arbitrarily restricted 
in the magic they give to worshipper.  This just smacks 
too much of D&D.  I see rune magic more as a miracle 
granted, and not an effect pre-packaged and handed over.
     The gods are intelligent entities.  They are 
responsible for the well being of their worshippers.  
Why shouldn't they be able to grant any "miracle" within 
their scope of abilities?  What is the justification for 
having to sacrifice for a particular spell beforehand?  
One of the great things about RuneQuest is that many of 
the rules "make sense" (as much as a fantasy game can, 
that is).  It makes sense to me that rune magic, being 
the miraculous event that it is, should have a bit more 
flexibility than it currently is written with.

Thanks go to: Steven Barnes, David Hall, George Harris, 
Oliver Jovanovic, Rob Mace, Mike McGloin, Charles 
Morehouse, Erich Schmidt, Ross Stites, and James 
Wadsley, for their help in the development of this idea.


     While we're thrashing the traditions of rune magic, 
why not also take a look at the other way gods interact 
directly with the world - Divine Intervention.
     In Wyrms Footnotes #12, Greg Stafford shares his 
views on DI in the article "Divination and Divine 
Intervention."   Stafford addresses what he sees as game 
abuses of DI, things like silly multiple attempts, 
teleporting out of danger, and restoring the dead to 
life.  I would like to suggest a different take on the 
question "what is the limitation of a god?".  Much like 
the rune power variant, I think that the gamemaster 
should take significantly more responsibility to 
roleplay the way a deity answers a call for DI.
     Many players, and gamemasters alike, see Divine 
Intervention as a miraculous cure-all.  It can teleport 
you out of trouble, it can raise the dead, it can 
increase stats, et cetera.  I ask "How?".  How did 
Ernalda get the ability to Teleport her worshippers?  
How does Magasta restore life to a dead Orlanthi?
     A god's runic association, his "theme" if you will, 
determines the kind of divine magic that god can grant.  
I think the runes should also constrain the Divine 
Interventions allowed.  Much as rune magic might be seen 
as a "limited DI," Divine Intervention might be said to 
be "super rune magic."  The basic idea: take the god's 
spell lists (both divine and spirit) as a rough guide to 
the possible effects from DI.
Escaping Danger
     For example, I think that only Orlanth and Mastakos 
should be able to Teleport their worshippers out of 
danger (or anywhere for that matter, using DI).  This is 
because only these two deities have the rune spell 
Teleport.  Other Mobility-rune gods might bestow a 
similar benefit.  Perhaps worshippers of Issaries, 
Etyries and Lokarnos might pray and be granted a super-
mobility spell, to outrun their enemies.  Looking at 
spirit magic spell provided, I might suggest that any 
god who can teach the spell Mobility might be able to 
grant such a miracle.   
     What if the character doesn't worship a Mobility 
god?  Look at the runes.  Look at the rune magic and 
spirit magic lists.  Use your imagination!  I might 
suggest variations on elementals.  Ernalda could have 
the earth "swallow up" her worshipper, to be borne to 
safety underground by a gnome.  Not necessarily far 
away, as Ernalda is not a Mobility goddess; just to 
safety.  Air gods could have sylphs carry an unconscious 
initiate away.  Sea gods could have an undine knock foes 
down, and "wash" the worshipper away to safety.  But, 
don't be afraid to limit DI; the gods are not 
omnipotent!  If the Magastan is in the middle of the 
Wastes, there can be no undines coming to his rescue.  
It's his fault he is too far away for his god to reach.  
Magasta will have to think of something else...

Resurrection & Healing
     I think a deity should only be able to restore life 
to one of his or her own followers.  The god has no 
mystical link to other souls, and thus cannot pull them 
from the path of the dead (An obvious exception would be 
any Healing deities, who have special spells to do just 
this sort of thing).  
     A related miracle is healing, usually in the middle 
of a battle.  An argument could be made that a god who 
has no healing magic, spirit or divine, can't do it!  
Admittedly, this could be pretty severe in a game.  But, 
I'm not advocating game balance.  My intent is to keep 
the gods within their spheres of influence, bound by the 
Great Compromise.  As an example, Wachaza doesn't offer 
his worshippers any healing magic.  But, to help a 
worshipper through a combat, he might bestow several 
points of Seastrength, Bladesharp, Coordination, and 
Mobility.  If the praying Wachazan is already 
unconscious, then maybe he doesn't deserve the patronage 
of Wachaza, and is better off dead.

Roleplay the Deity
     This is the underlying theme.  As gamemaster, you 
have to decide what the deity thinks about this prayer 
for intervention, and how to respond.  
     In a DI situation, the god turns his attention 
toward the worshipper.  Note the contrast to what was 
said earlier about calling for divine magic.  The god is 
not omniscient, so he probably only knows what is in the 
mind of the praying worshipper, and any other 
worshippers in the immediate area.  Using this 
information only, the god, as played by the gamemaster, 
decides how to intervene.  The player can make a 
specific request, but the ultimate authority about what 
happens rests with the gamemaster.
     Don't grant Interventions that don't fit the image 
of the god.  Humakti or Storm Bulls who ask aid to 
escape from a combat should be laughed at, whether they 
make the DI roll or not!  Humakti and Storm Bulls who DI 
to be better fighters have the right idea, and should be 
answered appropriately, if the roll is made of course.  
Other, less violent gods are more prone to protect and 
shelter worshippers in need.  Just how they do this is 
up to you as well.

= END =