OpenQuest: Rekindling the Flame

Posted: 2023-05-29
Last Modified: 2023-06-20
Word Count: 5338
Tags: d100 openquest rpg

Table of Contents

MODIFIED 2023-06-11: Added Godsplat and Orclands, updated Kutheria.

Recently I discovered both the third edition of OpenQuest (dtrpg) and the OpenQuest SRD. Having had a long history with RuneQuest and Basic Roleplaying, it rekindled my desire to do something with a d100 system.


OpenQuest began as an adaptation of Mongoose’s OGL “Runic SRD” for its version of RuneQuest in the mid-2000s. OpenQuest’s author, Newt Newport, wanted something simpler to run, reminiscent of RuneQuest II in 1978.

Since then, the OGL SRD turned out to have bits of Chaosium’s IP in it, Mongoose lost the RuneQuest license to its original owner Chaosium, and Chaosium began grumbling that the Runic SRD’s “license” had “expired”. Amidst that – but before the recent kerfuffle over WotC’s new OGL – Newport rewrote all of OpenQuest to remove any Open Gaming Content, either from Mongoose or Wizards of the Coast1.

In the process, Newport apparently also “fixed” a few problems in the rules themselves. I’ve just begun reading the new rules, so much of what I have to say below pertains more to the old version. (Second edition? Second Revised?)

Rules Quibbles

While I like the simplicity of OpenQuest, it sometimes gets a little too simple.


Unfortunately, a little history …

Improvement Through Use

In the original BRP system, every time you used a skill it had a chance to advance. (100 - Skill)% chance, to be precise. Whenever you used a skill you’d put a check mark next to it, and then at the end of the session roll above the skill number. If you succeeded you gain +(1d6)% (or 1d4+1 in some versions); if you failed you may get 1% (or nothing in some variants).

Certain skills in certain systems may not advance in that way, e.g. Mythos Lore in Call of Cthulhu or Sorcery in The Laundry. Those only improved with horrific encounters and/or sanity-blasting self-study. Notably in the first editions of RuneQuest one could only improve skills by paying a teacher; the “improvement roll” was an alternate system.2

The elegance of this system is its growth curve: beginners gain skill rapidly, but progress slows as one grows more skilled. Like anything, though, players could abuse it by, for example, making a lot of hopeless skill checks to get that checkmark. Even when not abused, some skills would skyrocket, e.g. “Spot Hidden” and “Listen” in Call of Cthulhu where all players are frantically rolling to spot the next monster.3

Improvement Through Rationed Rolls

To correct this problem a GM would either have to approve all check marks or else limit the number of improvement rolls made each session. Mongoose RuneQuest and later Mythras4 and OpenQuest adopted the latter approach by awarding a limited number of Improvement Rolls at the end of each adventure.

One side effect of this rationing is that the rules must limit the number of skills. For example, in some versions of Chaosium’s systems “Sword Attack” and “Sword Parry” were two separate skills. If one has only a few Improvement Rolls each session, does one improve one’s attack or one’s parry? Sword fighting requires both. Better to have a single “Sword” skill, right? Likewise some magic systems treat every spell as a different skill. Of the dozen spells you used in an adventure, which three or four do you raise? Better to have a single “Cast Magic” skill, right? And so on.

While Call of Cthulhu and other BRP games listing several dozen possible skills on a character sheet seems excessive, having only 30-ish skills in the entire system seems restrictive.

Improvement Through Points

The latest version of OQ instead awards Growth Points. The cost to increase a skill by +5% depends on the skill level, from 1 GP if the skill is between 0% and 25% to 10 GP to get from 99% to 100%. In some ways this preserves the asymptotic advancement curve of the die-roll method, but it loses the elegance of improving skills by using them. Players can also spend Growth Points on attributes (5 per point) or spells (varies by magic system and spell).

I’d house-rule that you could only spend advancement points on skills you used, but the rules assume advancement happens only during “downtime”, which may be a matter of days or months. (p. 32, OQ 3rd Ed., Mar 2023) Maybe I could introduce a 1% increase to two or three skills characters use?

Difficulty Modifiers

OpenQuest largely dispenses with fiddly modifiers to percentile skills. It only allows modifiers of ±20%, or ±50%. However, reducing percentiles a constant amount may reduce the skill to 0% or less, which always fails, or increase it to 100% or more, which always succeeds. (p 39, OQ 3rd Ed., Mar 2023)

Mythras, another D100 system with roots in Mongoose’s version of RuneQuest, multiplies skills by a difficulty factor. While this gives low skills a slight, chance, doing that math at the table is a bit awkward. Call of Cthulhu 7th edition uses this approach but records the standard skill multipliers next to each skill (Hard at ½, Extreme at ⅕), which double as degrees of success for normal rolls. Still, this is a lot to maintain for every skill5, and a lookup table with 100 entries is just not practical.

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition also introduces something like d20’s Advantage / Disadvantage or Barbarians of Lemuria’s bonus and penalty dice. For each bonus die the player rolls an extra 10s die and keeps the best (i.e. lowest in a roll-under system); same for penalty dice but in the opposite direction. I like the idea of letting dice do the probability math, but a bonus die is therefore worth about 15% or so (according to a quick simulation on, with diminishing returns for each bonus die. While I’m looking at similar mechanics for my home-brew systems, a mere 15% or less per level of advantage / disadvantage doesn’t feel like much.

Levels of Success and Failure

The essence of a percentile system is that anything equal to or less than the skill number is a success, and anything greater than that number is a failure.

What about levels of success and failure?

Most percentile systems I’ve seen have used 00, 01, and multiples of the success and failure chances (S and F respectively) to indicate degrees of success and critical failures, traditionally called “fumbles” because in RuneQuest one would literally roll on a table of accidents.

Below are side-by-side comparisons of Basic Roleplaying (2008), Call of Cthulhu 7th edition (2014), Mythras (2016), and OpenQuest from 2010 to 2017.

Level of Success BRP CoC 7 Mythras OQ 2017
Critical 01 or S/20 01 01 or S/10 01 or S/10
Special S/5
“Extreme” S/5
“Hard” S/2
Fumble 00 or 100-F/20 95-00 99-006 00

OpenQuest 3 instead checks for double digits: 11, 22, 33, etc. If the check is a success (≤S) doubles indicate a Critical Success; if the check is a failure (>S) doubles indicate a Critical Failure. 00 is always a Critical Failure unless the skill is 100% (the highest possible in OQ3); “a Master never has critical failures”.

Undoubtedly this is easier to determine at the table. However, except for 00 criticals come on the elevens, not the tens, which is just a little bit of an adjustment for those of us used to the old ways.

OpenQuest Builds

Still, it’s a neat system. Since the SRD is simply a bunch of Word documents, I’m tempted to make my own builds and/or addons.

OpenQuest Bare Bones

Magic is a complicated issue for me. The base rules have three disjoint magic systems, two of which I’m not fond of.

Therefore I could put together a FREE booklet with the magic systems and maybe some GM stuff excised. It would be a great thing to hand to new players to introduce the system. It would also serve as a framework upon which to add other systems like magic, psionics, or anything else.

(Yes, I’m aware there’s at least one Quickstart book out there. But it contains a sample adventure, while I’d like a slim and free but complete PDF to give to prospective players.)


Inspired by the existence of Lorefinder (dtrpg), a mashup of Pathfinder and GUMSHOE, and OpenQuest and GUMSHOE now being under Creative Commons, I thought about adding GUMSHOE’s approach to Investigative Skills to OpenQuest. The process is straightforward:

OpenQuest Psionics

Since I first proposed (then abandoned) Astral and Paranormality I’ve been thinking about rules for psychic phenomena a lot. To resucitate those projects somewhat, I’d like to put together an add-on book detailing a psionics system.

The sanest approach for OpenQuest seems to be the following:

Constructing this tree is an exercise for the reader. Or me, eventually. Maybe.

That said, I envision four (five) rough levels of psychic ability:

  1. No psychic ability at all, and possible resistance to psychic powers. (A minority of humans, most artificial intelligences, one or more alien species.)
  2. Luck, ESP, and other vague talents that alter probabilities or give flashes of insight unpredictably … usually ignored or explained away. (Most humans, demihumans, and parahumans.)
  3. Classic sci-fi psi: telepathy, ESP, precognition, minor telekinesis. (A small number of humans, “enlightened” alien visitors.)
  4. Cinematic psi: major telekinesis, pyrokinesis, teleportation, psychic healing, mind hacking, clouding men’s minds. (A very small number of humans, an elder race)
  5. Superpowers: metapsychic powers from U.S. and Japanese comic books. (superheroes, supervillains, weakly godlike entities, and deeply scary monsters from another reality)

The system I described might handle levels 2 or 3, maybe 4 if I don’t go too comic-book.

OpenQuest Through Time

Another supplement (or set of supplements) may provide player-facing rules for eras beyond the Bronze Age / Iron Age / Early Medieval Fantasy setting of default OpenQuest. Possible topics include:

The Matter of Magic

A few years ago I mentioned wanting to write a magic system for a d100 variant. Honestly I’m not too fond of the OpenQuest versions of the three classic RuneQuest systems, even if I wanted three disjoint magic systems. (It makes sense for RuneQuest because its a game about conflicting myths creating conflicting realities.)

There’ve been a number of magic systems I’ve encountered over the years (decades?) I’ve been fooling with RPGs:

Yes, I know, that’s a lot of disparate inspirations. However I think there are a few consistent themes:

  1. Magic normally is a matter of minutes- or hours-long rituals, not effects they can call up in a single combat round.
    • Some magicians may also use or specialize in small effects useful in combat. Either they prepare such effects ahead of time, or they use a completely separate magic system specializing in those effects.
  2. Magicians know or improvise a lot of spells, although research can discover more.
  3. Alchemy can create magic weapons, potions, amulets, and other items with more permanent magical effects.
  4. Religion (“Divine Magic”) may pretend its a different type of magic, and even behave like one, but it’s really not.
  5. All magic has a price (for verisimilitude and game balance), but that price isn’t necessarily Magic Points.

Common Magics

The following magic systems or ideas for magic systems keep popping up.


Alchemy, a.k.a. Artificing and Enchanting, creates magic items. Many of these are consumables like potions, scrolls, and charms. Others have passive effects like amulets, magic armor, and camouflage cloaks, active but always on effects like magic weapons and mystical barriers, or invoked effects like lightning wands and infinitely extensible rods (if such be available).

Alchemists would use an original(?) system drawn from Barbarians of Lemuria, various OSR games, and maybe The Fantasy Trip. Essentially Alchemists use their skills – skill checks or something simpler – to create potions, weapons, amulets, and other artifacts that at least restore points or add a bonus to skill rolls or damage, at most resemble Cypher System Cyphers and Artifacts.

Mad Science

A sufficiently advanced alchemy resembling the super-science of the Corum RPG and books might require multiple skills or “pseudo-skills” reflecting the mad science principles required.

Pseudo-skills require Growth Points like spells or attributes, but instead represent the principles required. Each Principle has a Rank, and each rank costs some linear number of Growth Points. To create an invention one must have that invention’s minimum Ranks in the Principles involved, or suffer a penalty for each missing Rank.

Martial Arts

Some D100 systems have struggled with representing martial arts ability. This seems like the potentially simplest yet most flexible approach:

Martial Artists have no special skill, although their Unarmed Combat and Close Combat skills are as high as possible. Instead they have Talents, bought like spells but without requiring MP. (Some may require a Resistance skill check to avoid fatigue.)

For example:

Devising more balanced talents, martial arts schools, and talent trees is left as an exercise for the reader. Or me, if and when I need them. (I’m sure I can find some source I can steal from of inspiration.)

Ritual Magic

Ritual magic invokes pagan gods7, divine servants, ancient spirits, demons, beings from other and darker universes, etc. to achieve some effect. Sometime that summons a being from its plane to the mundane plane. Somtimes the effect is more subtle.

If not part of Sorcery below, this Art has the following pattern:

  1. Start with a ritual: found in an old book, drilled into your head by your mentor, or made up on the spot with your knowledge of the Art.
  2. Gather the necessary or expedient elements of the ritual: props, consumable items, sacrifices. Most regular ritual practitioners keep a kit with commonly used items like a silvered knife, chalk, salt, etc.
  3. If the ritual demands a certain time – midnight, the new moon, the Autumnal Equinox – make sure you’re set up to begin at the right time. (Same goes for specific places.)
  4. Perform the ritual. Make the sacrifice (chicken, human, whatever).
  5. Make a check of either your Performance or preferably your Ritual Magic skill to make sure you did it right.
  6. The GM secretly makes one or more checks for any hidden factors that may help or hinder the ritual.
  7. If the ritual worked, celebrate. If it failed, deal with the consequences. If something powerful and horrible came forth, try to put it down. Good luck.

Unlike other types of magic, Ritual Magic can be done by anyone, even kids fooling around with a creepy book in a remote cabin. Certain rituals want to be cast, usually to release some horrific entity upon an unsuspecting world. (“Oh, such sights I shall show you.”) Others, usually the actually beneficial ones, may require one or more of the following:


Sorcery essentially channels power from … somewhere … to create effects ranging from tactical effects to huge alterations in reality. We have several OpenQuest-appropriate models for Sorcery:

Which interpretation will I choose? That depends on which setting I use it in and which is easiest.

Magic Settings


Erebus is a grim world where dwarfs still remember enslavement by elves, elves hide in secret groves, halflings murder those who trespass on their land, and the fragments of broken human empires grimly hang on to the veneer of civilization.

Before I converted it to “Old School Rules” (Basic D&D), I created Erebus to test out Mongoose RuneQuest II. Thus I could stick with OpenQuest’s Personal Magic or “One Magic” and not change very much. (Clerics and demi-humans were added only to accomodate old school rules.)


ADDED (2023-06-10)

A crazy idea I had a few years ago was an alternate Bronze Age Anatolia where a “god” fell from the sky and made a giant crater full of His liquefied flesh. His faithful used His flesh to create strange and wondrous magic items, while those who touched it without adequate preparation and blessing were either poisoned, consumed, or mutated into the “Misbegotten”.8 Also, strange half-formed “God’s Spawn” crawled out of His ooze at night.

The OpenQuest 3 “One Magic” system could represent the foreign cults and magi who tried to investigate this miracle … with the addition of a system which causes their magic to fail or backfire more often. Lay Members, Initiates, Acolytes, and Priests of the Fallen God would have a combination of Allegiance to the Fallen God (representing their chance of escaping unscathed) and several alchemical formulas they knew.9

I think at some point I added immortal goddesses of Mycenae who also came to investigate this new god, but I probably intended to handwave their power … or just use the Dryads, Naiads, and Oreads from the core books.


Grigoria a.k.a. “The Old Empire” or “The Kingdom” was the setting I created for Magic World. It’s pretty much a standard low fantasy world: distant king, far less distant petty barons, real monsters, intelligent beings mistaken for monsters, etc.

As in Magic World, there was only one form of magic, called Sorcery. What kind of magic will depend on the eventual players and ease of porting, but the “One Magic” system appeals to me precisely because it avoids Magic Points but leaves the door open to other possible penalties for magic.


MODIFIED (2023-06-10): More information discovered.

Kutheria, if I recall, was my attempt to repurpose the maps of Hârn. Or else I drew my own map. I can’t remember now.

According to some recently found notes, I’d apparently planned for a complex set of magics, but I’d decided to fit them into something like classic Hârn and RuneQuest II/OpenQuest/Legend/Mythras categories:

  1. Lesser Magic (Common Magic / Folk Magic / etc.) for dwarfs and most humans.
  2. Psionics (system unknown) for those born with them.
  3. Religion (Theism / Divine Magic) for “civilized” humans and goblins.
  4. Wizardry (RQ-style Sorcery or stranger) for the Eldren10 and certain human sects.

With that breakdown, I’d probaly give a combination of Sorcery – probably One Magic – and Ritual Magic to the Lesser Magicians and model “religion” as cults from SimpleQuest. Psychics would need a psionics system worthy of the name, and Wizards (if not all NPCs) might use some noun-verb improvised magic system to convey their power and flexibility.


ADDED (2023-06-11)

A mini-campaign I briefly ran using BRP, this involved an isolated continent in my world of Telluria populated by squat creatures the human colonizers called “orcs”.

If I even ran this again, I’d probably port the Mythras Shamanism system – two skills and a lot of roleplaying – to OpenQuest, or else add Spirit Summoning, Spirit Travel, and Spirit Binding as spells in One Magic11). Not having a documented magic system kinda sucked.

The Polar Continent

To reduce the size of this post, I’ve put this section in its own article.

World of Qi

World of Qi is likewise too ambitious to count as a single setting. Alchemy is straightforward (?), both Middle World and Lower World sorcerers could use the “power stone” variant of Sorcery,

The only way to represent Qi Adepts and Heroes, though, is to adopt something like the power pool system. Instead of Wood Qi adding dice, maybe it allows characters to roll twice and take the better roll … which would make it far more powerful … but I can see just adding +20%. Or we could bust Heroes down to my original concept of what I now call Metal Qi (a protective / offensive field), Fire Qi (Magic Points / Sorcery), and Wood Qi (martial arts moves only).


For the d100-related books, see “Magic in RuneQuest and its Descendants”. For the others, see below.

Barbarians of Lemuria, Mythic Edition, Simon Washbourne, Beyond Belief Games, 2015.
Notable for its Sorcery and Alchemy systems.
Castle Falkenstein, Michael A. Pondsmith, R. Talsorian Games, 1994.
Notable for a book-based magic system – even though there’s only one Sorcery skill – and for using a deck of cards to represent ambient magical resources.
GURPS Thaumatology, Phil Masters, Steve Jackson Games, 2008(?).
More potential magic systems than you can shake a two-volume RPG at.
“GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic”, Jason “PK” Levine, Steve Jackson Games, 2013
A particularly simple take on the Book/Path system.
Hârn/HarnMaster; see below.
A percentile system with Magic, Psionics, and Religion, but hardly a slam dunk to port.
“Occultism”, A Magical Medley, Grey Ghost Press, 1997.
Early exposure to the Occultism system lured me into thinking that making new magic systems would be easy. Hah!
Spears of the Dawn, Kevin Crawford, Sine Nomine Publishing, 2013.
Notable for a class of sorcerer whose spells are all rituals; casting a spell at a person literally means enchanting a small token and throwing it at the intended victim.

Hârn and HarnMaster

There are two different publishers of Hârn material currently:

  1. Columbia Games, which originally published N. Robin Crossby’s work.
  2., started by Crossby’s daughter(?) who disputes Columbia’s use of Crossby’s work.

I’m therefore going to list the resources on both sides. I’ll mark the ones I actually own with a star. Note that whichever ones you choose, they’re hella expensive and probably not that interesting if you’re not into retro-gaming and Tolkien-esque detail.

Columbia Games:


  1. Current owner of Dungeons & Dragons and authors of the Open Gaming License and D&D’s Open Gaming Content. ↩︎

  2. Just like OD&D added d20 rolls as an “alternative system” for the more complicated rules of Chainmail↩︎

  3. One GM I know made Perception a characteristic, not a skill. That seems a bit extreme to me, though. I’d only let players roll if there was something to spot or listen to, and then only if the opposition was trying to be stealthy. ↩︎

  4. Formerly RuneQuest 6, by the same authors as Mongoose RuneQuest II (MRQII) but not based on the same OGL sources. ↩︎

  5. A form fillable character sheet will calculate Hard and Extreme automatically … assuming the PDF reader allows it. ↩︎

  6. Or only 00 if the skill is over 100% ↩︎

  7. Or the One True God who alone exists, no matter what pagan priests tell you, show you, or do for you. ↩︎

  8. The Misbegotten had their own bitter cult. Common members could “Rouse The Blood” to activate a Misbegotten Gift. “Disciples” could Bind the Blood to quell disobedience and Scent the Blood to detect Misbegotten. The “Master” of the cult could Command the Misbegotten and perform the Trial of Blood to separate true Misbegotten from fakers and wannabes. ↩︎

  9. Some notes I dug up parsed them out as pseudo-Divine-Magic spells: Invoke the Gods Blessing (the aforementioned skill / Allegiance score), Craft Godsbone, Craft Ichor, Turn the God’s Spawn, Command the God’s Spawn, Create Ichor Golem, Graft the God’s Flesh, See the God’s Thought, Drink the God’s Blood (promotion to Priest), Awaken the God’s might, Call the God’s Spawn, Commune With The God. Plus the NPC High Priest had even greater power … if he could be bothered to leave his boat sailing the Holy Ichor. ↩︎

  10. A term I nicked from Moorcock for beings who look like Tolkien elves and act like Melniboneans. ↩︎

  11. One Magic has only “Summon (Otherworld Creature)”, while OpenQuest 3 has Battle Personal Magic spells and rules for Shamans. ↩︎

  12. It wouldn’t be Hârn if they just called their wizards “Wizards”. ↩︎