The latest issue (#11) of Fight On! contains Doom Quest, a micro version of Rune Quest by Friend-of-the-Mule Scott LeMien. (Scott resisted my suggestion to name it Quest Quest, but otherwise it’s a great little game.)
In case, like me, you are too poor to spring for every OSR magazine, let me sing the praises of Doom Quest a little bit.
Scott’s a fanatic for the whole microlite tradition of game design, where you squeeze one hundred pages of rules and advice into a concentrated, one-page version. Doom Quest sets out to do that for Rune Quest, and succeeds beautifully. I used Doom Quest to run a published RQ adventure without understanding the first thing goldang thing about Rune Quest. It was beautiful and flawless. If you’re a Rune Quest maniac, but your gaming group is afraid of investing the time to learn a complex new system, Doom Quest is your new best friend.
But speaking as someone who doesn’t know Rune Quest, I was astonished at how elegantly Doom Quest operates. This past summer, when some of the New York Red Box began dallying with RQ, Scott came away raving about the combat mechanics–and his approach to combat in Doom Quest is exceedingly impressive.
I’m very accustomed to D&D combat: I roll a d20 and a d6, and use the results as a cue for my imagination: “Hmm, I rolled a good strike but lousy damage. The monster must have left itself wide open to the attack, but I couldn’t quite get a good footing, so my sword-thrust was weaker than expected.” In Doom Quest, you don’t have to engage in some kind of oracular justification of weird random results: a surprisingly thorough outcome is generated entirely by the dice. “I rolled a 7, and you rolled a 18, so therefore I blocked your blow, but my sword is badly notched . . . and then I rolled a 13, so I strike you in the leg, hamstringing you, so you fall to the ground, and you’ll be dead in 10 minutes.” There’s a full table of embarrassing fumbles too, although my favorite outcome comes when you take massive head or torso wounds: given the gore inherent in the system already, the laconic “Horrible death!” makes me shudder because of what it doesn’t describe.
Doom Quest’s combat system takes a simple 1d20 input from each player, and spits out a vivid, plausible, and sometimes very distressing story of men maiming each other with steel. If you’re bored with the Rock’em Sock’em Robots quality of D&D combat, but are too much of a neckbeard to play 4e, Doom Quest presents a cruel arena built from the bones of Rune Quest. The rules are worth stealing.
The rest of Doom Quest is less crunchy, but well considered. The version of the game I played had rules for building customized weapons, thieving skills, and hirelings. The magic rules are a little anemic for reasons of space, but presumably if you’re reading Doom Quest you’re comfortable making up new spells.
In our game, I ran Scott’s Rune-Priest, his two zealots, and a child squire through Paul Jaquays’s small masterpiece, The Hellpits of Nightfang. Some weird-ass mutated snakes set upon the crusaders as they descended a dried-up creekbed into the caverns. The group managed to kill most of the snakes – but not before one of the beasts propelled itself like a javelin through the thigh of the child squire. (Uncharacteristically, Scott did not then slaughter the child and bathe in its blood.)
Helping the squire along as best they could, the group explored a sinkhole and tried to loot some corpses, before they remembered they were on a holy quest to kill Nightfang the Vampire. Venturing into the caverns, the Rune-Priest slaughtered Doomlost, Nightfang’s wolf sidekick, with a single well-placed javelin. As the Rune-Priest and Nightfang fought a pitched hand-to-hand battle–leading to grotesque mutilations–the two zealots bravely tried to hold back a small army of Skeletons. Even as the Rune-Priest drove Nightfang to retreat, a sinister Ghost took possession of the Rune-Priest and forced him to commit suicide by plunging into an frigid subterranean lake. The zealots tried to rescue him, but the Skeletons provided stiff resistance, and ultimately cut the men down as they were just a few feet from escaping.
The only survivor was the lamed child, carrying news of unholy carnage back to his village, telling the tale of the Doom Quest.