Runic Rants: Experience Checks (Part 1)

2021-10-16

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

RuneQuest Glorantha is one of those games that has many rules disseminated throughout their hefty rulebook. I often overlook or forget a detail about some rules (which is frankly a problem with this rulebook, but let’s not go into that rabbit hole), and one thing that is easily overlooked is the real rules behind Experience Checks. They are more complicated than you may think!

Getting an Experience Check

It’s tempting to reduce things to “get a check when you succeed a roll (if there’s a checkbox)“, but that’s not what it is. RQG p415 says:

Experience checks are not automatic whenever a success is achieved—it must involve a real risk or challenge, or result in roleplaying opportunities. The ability to reward or deny an experience check is an important responsibility for the gamemaster.

So it’s really up to the Gamemaster to allow getting Experience Check. I tend to be a generous Gamemaster who lets players get a check in many situations, but mostly because their characters are still under-powered at this early point in our campaign. Other Gamemasters may find that their player characters are getting too powerful too fast, and look for guidance in the matter, but we’ll talk more about that later (mostly in Part 2 of this article).

The key element in my opinion is the clause that says that the situation “must involve a real risk or challenge, or result in roleplaying opportunities“. For instance, if the party is negotiating some price with a merchant in order to save a few bucks, that’s not real risk or challenge, and it probably wouldn’t lead to meaningful roleplaying opportunities. It might be a fun little scene, but the outcome will probably not impact the storyline (they will just have to pay full price, or will refuse the deal and go see someone else). So most probably there’s no Experience Check in that scene.

On the other hand, a character might take some “unnecessary” risks with the merchant, threatening to cut down his tent and stomp on his inventory, because that character is often roleplayed as violent and unstable (maybe high Air and Disorder Runes?), or because the merchant has some history with that character. In that case I might reward, say, an Intimidate roll with an Experience Check. Intimidate and Fast-Talk in particular are risky in my opinion because they can easily backfire, leading to local authorities getting involved on the grounds of harassment or fraud (unlike Charm and Orate which are safer but require more time). If this can take the story in a whole new direction, this is an indication that these rolls indeed include risks and rewards, and warrant an Experience Check.

Of course, if you have players who often derail the adventure with crazy antics, and/or you are unwilling to “go with the flow” because you have an adventure to run that you paid $50 for, you may not want to award Experience Checks in these situations. It’s a carrot, so use it sparingly.

Experience Checks Without Success

Runes and Passions can get automatic Experience Checks. In RQG p229:

The gamemaster might reward adventurers with a free experience check of the Rune when they roleplay in accordance with that Rune.

So when a character threatens an NPC they should leave alone (as in the previous example) because they are highly impulsive and violent, or have history with that NPC, that might call for an automatic Experience Check in a Rune or Passion (Air, Movement, Hate (Other Tribe), etc). Other examples could involve a pacifist character who stays calm even when action is required, a character high in the Illusion Rune who “can’t help” but insert lies and fabrications while reporting something to their thane or tribal King, or a character with a high Loyalty Passion who reports something to their thane or tribal King that would have been better omitted.

I basically see this clause as a “reward for good roleplaying“, although I’ll repeat that, in my opinion, it needs to have the possibility of taking the adventure in a new direction. One that would not have been taken if the player hadn’t said or done what they said or did. RQG p231 (under “Other Rune Experience Checks”) has an extreme example where a player decides that their character will lead an armed uprising. I don’t think it has to be that dramatic, but it should affect the storyline one way or another.

Experience Checks from Magic Use

Adventurers can get experience checks in Runes when they use Rune Magic. If you’re like me, however, I only make players roll for that if they’re in combat, or some other round-by-round action scene. If casting magic is part of the preparation leading up to a combat, or part of a non-action scene (like casting Charisma before an important meeting), I let players auto-succeed their roll. They may still ask for a roll if they hope to get a critical success (which means no Rune Points are spent), but the fear of getting a fumble (losing Rune Points for nothing) is usually enough to have them choose the automatic (normal) success anyway.

The idea here is that casting magic (Spirit or Rune) in a non-stressful situation is no big deal. And because it’s no big deal, I don’t give an Experience Check in that case. No risk, no reward.

POW Gain Rolls

Curiously enough, an Experience Check for the POW characteristic is called “getting a chance for a POW Gain Roll”, or some other similarly elliptic phrasing. I’m pretty sure everybody calls that a “POW check” or “POW experience check”.

Anyway, you get one such check when you successfully attack or parry in Spirit Combat, or when you win a POW Resistance Roll that was “hard enough” (below 95%).

You also get a POW check with some worship rituals where you succeed your Worship roll. In a nutshell:

  • Initiates only get that POW check on a High Holy Day or Sacred Time, or, maybe, when they do it all alone in a place they sanctified themselves with the Sanctify Rune Spell for the occasion.
  • Rune level adventurers can get a POW check in any Holy Day Worship situation if they are part of the presiding officials, which is probably often the case.

The Well of Daliath has some Q&A on the matter if you’re confused.

Miscellaneous Situations

There are a few situations that may give or remove Experience Checks.

  • Firing a missile weapon with the Sureshot spell prevents you from getting an Experience Check on that skill.
  • The Arouse Passion Rune Spell, by virtue of provoking a Passion roll, can lead to an Experience Check in that Passion.

Experience Between Adventures

The last situation in which you can get experience is the downtime between adventures. Did you know that this seasonal downtime lets you get an Experience Check in up to four occupational skills and cult skills? That’s in RQG p416. Don’t forget this! That’s quite a good way to get checks in rarely used skills!

This last rule is interesting to me because it deals with a delicate part of game design: the difference between game time and real time… but we will look at this, “check hunting”, and more in Part 2 of this article!

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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