Way back when, at Gencon 2009, I was comped a copy of Runepunk. I’ve been meaning to sit down and write a review, but I never feel right about doing a review unless I’ve gotten deep enough into the product to really understand it. I finally found enough time to really get into Runepunk and see what it is all about. So, a little under a year after getting the product, here is my review of the Runepunk game by Reality Blurs.
Runepunk is a setting for the Savage Worlds system. It details a steampunk-ish world full of rune-magic, intrigue, and dark adventure. Why do I say steampunk-ish? Steampunk-ish is the easiest way to describe it, but that doesn’t do the setting near enough justice. I’ll get into the setting more later, for now lets talk about how Runpunk adds to the rules of Savage Worlds.
The rules follow savage worlds core rules with just a setting specific changes.
Character creation goes off the standard Savage Worlds style but adds a place of birth factor. Depending on where your character is born, they have access to different common knowledge about the world. Being born inside one of the runetower protected sections allows a character greater knowledge of the city districts, while being born father out from the protected city districts allows a person greater knowledge of the wild runeshaped areas.
Races, as in most games, provide benefits and hindrances to certain attributes. The playable races, save one, are each a subtype of human, changed in some way as well as standard humans. Each playable race is granted access to special edges and given specific hindrances.
Andari – Once human but altered by Runic energies. These ageless runetouched are often the leaders of the city of Scatterpoint. They look like humans, but being caught in-between changes their nature and takes something away from their human side.
Ferren – Rat creatures from another plane, Ferren helped stabilize the city “between places” after “The Great Breakthrough” destabilized runic energy and destroyed the world.
Humans – Cast as the tenacious survivors in a world of more specialized races built for the runic flux, humans survive by their adaptability and their sheer will.
Overwrought – Mechanized humans that were driven, by poverty or need, to undergo surgery and become machine men. A kind of runic/steampunk cyborg.
Malakar – Grey skinned demon spawn, bred as an army for the demonic Stormlords they rebelled and chose their own fate. They can suffer the runestorms without harm and choose to make the best of their lives, often using shapechanging abilities to fit in with the other races.
While Savage worlds is a system based on character creation freedom, Runepunk provides archetypes for characters that fit the themes of the world. Characters like Demonologists, Gearhawks, Barrens Knights, and Sifters paint a picture that doesn’t mesh with traditional Tolkien-based fantasy. Each archetype is supported by a professional edge. Professional edges act as classes, providing a loose framework for the archetypes that fit the world setting. They aren’t limited to pure adventurer classes though, many have more utilitarian themes. They aren’t restrictive either, they merely give enough backbone for players to build around.
New skills in setting specific areas are provided. Knowledge about Rune Lore and Runecraft allow characters to interact with the runemagic of the world. Gearcraft lets people work with the many abandoned relics of the world. Many new and modified edges are provided as well. Arcane backgrounds are limited to setting specific areas and some Savage Worlds core edges are replaced with ones that provide greater utility within the runepunk setting.
Arcane companions are a well documented section of new edges. They provide companions for characters such as clockwork robots, demon servants, and rune wraiths, all of which can be improved as the character goes up in level. Creation edges allow players to flex mechanics and runeworking muscles all over the place. The system for creating runic weapons, shadowcrafted weapons, and mechanical devices is simple enough to match the simplicity of Savage Worlds.
A slew of arcane powers that tie into the setting provide an addition to Savage Worlds arcane magic system. A summoning system allows for the calling of demons, including a Chaos Card drawing system where the type of demon called can be different from the one intended, rarely to good results.
One final addition, Runic weaponry, which bypasses normal non rune-infused armor, is a semi-common element. The gear section of Runepunk is replete with interesting examples of rune-powered technology with varying effects.
Runepunk as a system shows the diversity of Savage Worlds. While it has many systems that are new, they are all based of existing Savage Worlds constructs. They add a small amount of complexity, but nothing that would make the game hard to pick up and play, even as a first foray into Savage Worlds.
Okay, so the system works as well as any standard Savage Worlds, just with a few additions. The key strength of Runepunk, and one which everything else about the book focuses on, is the setting. The Runepunk setting of Scatterpoint is a mix of rune-powered magics, steampunk style technology, and a fusion of the two wherever it seems viable. While the setting was quickly created, as stated in Sean Preston’s own foreword, there is no lack of detail. Inspired by non-tolkien fantasy worlds, such as Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, or China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, Scatterpoint is a mega-city that does a lot with a little space.
Scatterpoint is all that is left after the runestorms erupted. The runestorms, known as Zurvan’s Void, are in a constant state of swirling destruction around, and often within, the city. The city uses special towers to pull the runic energies in and power its technology. The inner city is comprised of 13 districts, with 9 more wild and less settled barrens outside. As a “city” it is hundreds of miles wide and long, easily the size of most states. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this at first, especially when seeing all the empty space on the map, but realized that city was the only word appropriate for what Scatterpoint is. While it was once the jewel in a star spanning empire, now it is all that remains. Little else is said about its place in the macroverse, only about what lies within the city. Scatterpoint might be hidden in a nebula somewhere ready fro spacefarers to find it, it might be tucked away in some inter-dimensional void, or it might exist concurrent to other realities on a different frequency. None of that really matters, Scatterpoint is written as a self contained setting with its own rules. Enough information is given about all sections of the city to familiarize the player and game master, but still leave them feeling like there is more to be discovered or made up.
Magic in Scatterpunk doesn’t feel at all like magic in a traditional fantasy setting. Magic here feels more mysterious yet ever present. Part of this is due to Savage world’s handling of arcane powers, but the majority is because of Runepunk’s deep integration of it into the setting.
Setting specific game system information is laden throughout the book and there is a lot of GM support provided. One example is the table for runestorms. Runestorms can occur at almost any time when away from the protection of the inner districts and their runetowers. Each time a storm happens a table can be used to determine the random results. This could be beneficial or detrimental to the players. Sometimes it restores all runic power points, sometimes it calls random creatures hungry for a meal. The Game Masters section is full of tables like this, providing information for various setting specific game important factors. There are also tables for generating setting specific adventures easily. An employment opportunities section that spans many pages has many tables aimed at making instant adventures that fit setting specific themes. Catching a common thread here? The Game Masters section is placed solely to help the GM easily run a Scatterpoint game.
If you are at all a fan of large city based adventure, steampunk themes, non-traditional fantasy settings, or the victorian era you will probably find something to like in Runepunk. It is a bit of a twist on some established themes and it isn’t the type of game that you would just run a dungeon crawl in. Runepunk seems to be a mix of many pre-established pieces, just always with a little bit more added. While the inspirations that Sean writes about in the foreword can clearly be seen in skeleton form, one can’t help but see the incredibly unique elements. Themes that are important to the setting are emphasized often, but they really show how the setting has been affected by a few major events. This is one I’d definitely checkout.