In 1975, game designer Greg Stafford released the fantasy board game White Bear and Red Moon (later renamed Dragon Pass), produced and marketed by Chaosium, a game publishing company set up by Stafford specifically for the release of the game. In 1978, Chaosium published the first edition of RuneQuest, a role playing game set in the world of Glorantha from White Bear and Red Moon. A second edition, with various minor revisions, was released in 1980. RuneQuest quickly established itself as the second most popular fantasy role-playing game, after Dungeons & Dragons.
In order to increase distribution and marketing of the game, Chaosium made a deal with Avalon Hill, who published a third edition in 1984. Under the agreement struck, Avalon Hill took ownership of trademark for RuneQuest, while all Glorantha-related content required approval by Chaosium, who also retained the copyright of the rules text. In an attempt to also have a setting they could release freely, Avalon Hill also supported a new "default" setting, Fantasy Earth, based on fantasy interpretations of several eras of earth's pre-modern history, including viking and ninja supplements. Later Avalon Hill published generic fantasy material.
A proposed fourth edition developed by Avalon Hill, titled RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha, was intended to return the tight RuneQuest/Glorantha relationship, but it was shelved mid-project in 1994 after Stafford refused permission, unhappy with Avalon Hill's stewardship of the third edition. In response, Avalon Hill, as owners of the trademark, began development of a mechanically unrelated game originally titled RuneQuest: Slayers. However, when Avalon Hill was acquired by Hasbro in 1998, the project was canceled despite being near completion. The copyrights to the rules reverted to the authors, who released it for free as RuneSlayers.
In 1998, Following the financial failure of the collectible card game Mythos, Stafford, along with fellow shareholder Sandy Petersen, left the management of Chaosium (he remained a shareholder in the company). Stafford had formed a subsidiary company, Issaries, Inc., to manage the Glorantha property and took ownership of that company with him. He partnered with Robin D. Laws to publish an all-new game system set in Glorantha called Hero Wars in 2000. It was later renamed HeroQuest in 2003 after the rights to that name, along with the "RuneQuest" trademark, were acquired from Hasbro by Issaries.
Mongoose Publishing released a new edition of RuneQuest in August 2006 under a license from Issaries. This required that Mongoose recreate much of the function of prior editions without reusing the prior texts (the copyrights of which were retained by Chaosium). The new rules were developed by a team led by Mongoose co-founder Matthew Sprange, and were released under the Open Game License. The official setting takes place during the Second Age of Glorantha (previous editions covered the Third Age). In January 2010, Mongoose published a much-revised edition written by Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker called RuneQuest II, known as "MRQ2" by fans.
In May 2011, Mongoose Publishing announced that they had parted company with Issaries. In July 2011, The Design Mechanism, a company formed by Nash and Whitaker, announced that they had entered a licensing agreement with Issaries, and would be producing a 6th edition of RuneQuest. RuneQuest 6th edition, released in July 2012, is largely an expansion of the Mongoose RuneQuest II rules aimed at providing rules that can be adapted to many fantasy or historical settings, and do not contain any specifically Gloranthan content (though they do use the Gloranthan runes).
In 2013, Stafford outright sold the Glorantha setting and RuneQuest and HeroQuest trademarks to Moon Design Publications, which had published the second edition of HeroQuest under license in 2009; Moon Design maintained Design Mechanism's RuneQuest license. In June 2015, following a series of financial issues at Chaosium, Stafford and Petersen retook control of the company. They in turn arranged a merger with Moon Design, which saw the Moon Design management team take over Chaosium. Shortly thereafter a new edition of RuneQuest, subtitled Roleplaying in Glorantha was announced. It is based on the Chaosium 2nd edition, drawing upon ideas from later editions. They also successfully raised funds through Kickstarter to produce a hardcover reprint of the 2nd edition and PDFs of its supplements as RuneQuest Classic. The new edition of the game, officially referred to as RQG for short, was previewed on Free RPG Day 2017 with the release of a quickstart module. The PDF of the full rules were released in May 2018, with the printed book to follow later that year.
RuneQuest was invented in the Long Ago by a beatnik so he could get laid. Eventually he wrote some shit down, and called it White Bear Red Moon, and lo: it was good.
It has been through one million editions with twice that many different rules systems. Some of these are:
- Convoluted % system with Strike Ranks, prostitutes, and 100 Dwarves cutting their own heads off.
- Boring 'Fantasy Earth' version crapped out by a wargames company.
- Fancy-shmancy 'The Game With Two Names' version with a groovy feel-good invent-your-own-stats kind of vibe that kicks all the ass.
- Re-tread of original convoluted % system for neckbeards who just can't let go.
Except the crappy Avalon Hill edition and the new edition from Design Mechanism, RuneQuest lives in the world of Glorantha, which is the greatest and most batshit original IP evar. Dwarves are cogs of the world machine, Elves are plant elementals who like to bust a nut, the world is a d6 in a sea of Mountain Dew, history gets re-written every two and a half seconds, Dragons are the size of continents, you visit the Gods in Valhalla every Thursday, Bob has a mincer that can turn an entire bison into burgers, and the best spell is "Leap Through Window to Avoid Angry Husband".
It is intimidating how much stuff there is to learn, but if you just start with the Celtic Greek Vikings you will be stealing cows and punching Space Romans in no time.