The new edition of RuneQuest is out and Gaming as Women decided to interview its designers, Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash, to discuss the efforts they made to make the 6th edition of RuneQuest more inclusive.
First tell us something about RuneQuest, and the upcoming edition you have been working on?
RuneQuest (RQ) is one of the oldest roleplaying games, having been published in 1978 by Chaosium. It’s been through five editions since then, each contributing something new to its rules. This edition, the sixth, is, we feel, the most complete version yet. It features comprehensive and solid game mechanics and everything you need is in one book. If you haven’t tried RuneQuest before, there’s no better time to get into the game.
You decided to work on making this edition of Runequest more inclusive. Can you tell us why?
Well to tell the truth it wasn’t initially a conscious decision. The original artwork for RuneQuest depicted a strong, confident woman doing battle with a lizard-like creature. We wanted to recreate that for the cover of RuneQuest 6, and it therefore made sense to make many of the illustrations used throughout the book focus on the same woman – who we’ve named Anathaym.
However it was a conscious decision to completely avoid any illustrations that depicted her, or the other female character examples, in the stereotypical chainmail bikinis or showing lots of exposed flesh. That is highly unrealistic and its not really art either of us appreciate. We also tried to ensure a good balance between male and female depictions. Its fair to say that both Pete and I enjoy fiction, both fantasy and SF, that has very strong female roles. So that reflects in the way we’ve treated RQ.
How have you worked on making RuneQuest more inclusive? What changes have you made?
The artwork and character examples are the main ones, as I explained in my earlier answer. We’ve tried to maintain gender balance in other examples though: so there are two female character examples and two male characters. We’ve also tried to avoid stereotypical roles and situations for the female characters in the rules examples. In fact, we’ve tried to avoid a lot of the traditional fantasy clichés, irrespective of gender, while still getting across the flavour and intentions of the fantasy genre.
Did you face any challenges?
Not really challenges per se. If you take a mature and sensible approach, I don’t think there are any serious challenges. There were one or two examples that we altered during writing to steer clear of provoking unintentional offence, but that wasn’t really so much of an issue in RuneQuest.
On the other hand it is becoming more difficult to write roleplaying game settings and historical supplements in general. Of late there has been a growing reactionary movement to censure certain negative aspects of human culture and society, which in itself is no bad thing, but maybe shouldn’t be applied so stridently in a hobby which is based upon escapism. Especially when many roleplaying games are based upon challenging and overcoming societal inequalities and evils.
This becomes a very thorny issue when writing games based upon historical periods or genres created only two or three generations ago when social values were often very different. So writing about these issues nowadays is requiring an ever greater amount of careful forethought to ensure such subjects are treated with maturity and viewed in their correct context.
How did you handle the tricky gender neutral pronoun question? He, he or she, they, s/he, zie, hir… There are a whole bunch of them to chose from and whatever pronoun you use it will probably alienate some of the readers. How did you decide to handle this in RuneQuest?
This is a trickier one to answer. Both Pete and I were schooled at a time when the male pronoun was the accepted grammatical norm. As a result, where we could not use a neutral descriptor such as ‘sorcerer’ due to excessive repetition, ‘he’ is used as a generic pronoun; but where it was possible to use ‘he or she’, and not have the grammar look, read or sound clumsy, we’ve included that. But yes, pronoun usage is a difficult area. Our use of language reflects the way we were educated in English – not a deliberate attempt to lessen, or ignore, the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
What other interesting changes have you made to RuneQuest 6 that you want to tell the readers about? (Other than try to make it more inclusive.)
I don’t think we have space here to discuss all the changes RQ contains, but in essence the game is as complete as we have been able to make it without going overboard on unnecessary detail. We’ve added a few concepts such as passions and some social conflict mechanics. I’d estimate that about 30% of the book is guidance for Games Masters and players on how to use, and get the most from, the rules.
RuneQuest has previously been quite weak in this regard. The main reason for that weakness is because the rules themselves are quite easy to grasp and intuitive to use, but what Pete and I have found consistently is that GMs, especially, like to look beyond what’s written and find out how to deal with specific campaign circumstances and the odd situations that can occur when a rule is applied in a particular way. So we’ve written RQ in such a way as to anticipate many of these concerns (we’ll never be able to deal with all of them) and show GMs what to do, or how to adapt, when faced with something unexpected.
Finally, when will the new edition of RuneQuest be out and where can the readers buy it?
Its out now, for pre-order. You can get the PDF immediately, and the hard copy rules will follow towards the end of July. See www.thedesignmechanism.com/products for ordering details and the special pre-order price.
Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash are old friends who have individually written a large number of RPG books, producing material for Chaosium, Mongoose Publishing and Moon Design before moving on to form their own company, The Design Mechanism.
Born in Britain during the 60’s, although no longer residing there, both Lawrence and Pete have more than three decades of roleplaying experience apiece.