Runic Rants: Detect Enemies


Runic Rants is an irregular series of thoughts, opinions, and experiments about RuneQuest.

I’m recycling one of my old BRP forum posts for content but I think this is one of the good ones. It came from a question about the Detect Enemies spell, and what it can actually detect.

This is one of those things that RuneQuest players love to argue about ad nauseam, using increasingly convoluted abstract situations. The spell says that it detects “any being intending to harm [the caster]“, so what does “being” mean? Does it detect animals or undead? Can a wild creature “intend” anything if they lack INT and are driven by instinct? What if the danger is a colony of flesh eating ants who, individually, don’t “intend” anything because their attacks are the result of an emerging group behaviour? What if…

No. Stop. Just stop. And I’m also looking at you people in the back who are still arguing about the precise limits of Chalana Arroy’s pacifism vows.

Solomon’s Wisdom, public domain image

Make It Meta

Instead of trying to figure out what “intent” is biologically, psychologically, and philosophically speaking (good luck with that), or trying to figure out the exact scientific mechanism powering a made-up fantasy fun-time magic spell (good luck with that), think about it in narrative gameplay terms.

Figure out if you, the gamemaster, intend to attack the adventurers with that NPC or creature or animal or whatever. Do you have plans to do that at some point in the current scene? Are you thinking about how that NPC or creature or animal or whatever might be tracking the PCs, observing them, catching their scent, or hearing them approach? Where they might pop out from for a good jump scare? If the answer is yes, then Detect Enemy lights up, simple as that.

Unless your players are rules lawyers who love arguing about that kind of stuff (good luck with that), or you’re an old-school confrontational GM (good luck with that), there’s no point trying to be nit-picky with words and definitions and philosophy. It’s called “Detect Enemies” and everybody knows what it’s for. “You’ll know it when you see it.” And the last thing you want is for a player to have paid good money to learn the spell, only to realize it’s not as useful as they thought, slows down the game with lengthy debates, or both. When in doubt, lean in the player’s favour — it’s just easier and in good spirit.

Messing With Your Players

Now, “leaning in your players’ favour” doesn’t mean “making it easier”. As you know, I’m a big Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green player. It’s always scary when a player asks for grenades and the gamemaster shrugs and says “yeah, sure, there’s a handful in the local safehouse“. It’s scary because the player then knows that grenades are not gonna help.

I love messing with my players, and even the Detect Enemies spell has some opportunities for that.

First, the spell is Instant and Ranged, so it only detects any enemies that are within 50 meters right now. Most sentient beings, and particularly professionals like mercenaries and assassins, will stalk their enemies out of that range if possible. Spirit Magic generally doesn’t work farther than 50 meters, and people in Glorantha had at least a hundred generations to internalize this as “the safe distance”, so you can bet they’ll stay back far enough (again, if possible) until it’s time to attack. Hey, maybe even wild animals learned this over time, if you think that life in Glorantha has anything like Earth’s evolution. So if the spell detects anything, there’s a good chance the attack is coming in the next round or two… I hope you can make that POWx5 roll to buff yourself up in time!

Second, the Detect Enemies spell doesn’t work through one meter of earth or stone or metal. The enemy might take cover behind a large boulder (roughly the size of a small boulder), burrow into the ground, and otherwise use the environment to their advantage.

Last, the Detect Enemies spell only gives the “approximate direction and distance from the caster“. Remember Aliens? When the space marines have motion detectors that, well, give the approximate direction and distance to any nearby xenomorphs? Yeah. Good times. Do that!

If you have any comment about this Runic Rant, or some ideas for a future installment, please send them to us!

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