You stand up, cursed and alone. Your armor clanks gently as you rise to your full height, its rusty rivets flickering with the soft glow of your sigil. You have failed again.
Sometimes you need to be alone. I've been moving house for the last month, and have spent a lot of time with people (who have been tremendously helpful in the process and to which I am eternally grateful,) but the experience has left me with very little time to decompress at my own pace and in my own way.
In these times, I would turn to painting minis, playing Van Ryder's Final Girl, or doing a journaling RPG like Hamsters and Himbos, but since everything I owned was packed away or scatted to the four winds, I found myself wishing for a thing I could do that had small component needs and an even smaller footprint.
Then a coworker handed me a copy of Rune.
Rune is a solo roleplaying game wherein you assume the role of an Engraved, a deathless knight who wanders the realms of a shattered world, hunting the Rune Lords to carve their powers into your own wretched hide. Gameplay is split between traversing an overworld and grid combat, a combination which feels reminiscent of the souls-like games from which Spencer Campbell draws inspiration (video games such as Dark Souls.)
While I wouldn't call this a roleplaying game in the traditional sense, Rune offers an experience that has a bit more direction in that it occupies more of a choose-your-own-adventure puzzle space than one where you're dialoging with various townsfolk and building a narrative through prompted fiction. Instead, the realms you visit have a number of locations with a limited pallet of actions you can take there, some opening or closing depending on how your Engraved studies the world, or how long it has taken them to traverse it. Through learning, searching, and delving, the player character can unlock new events and change their kit of weapons and items, optimizing their builds for the fights and boss battles ahead. Story is developed through the emergent narratives of finding new gear, developing your understanding of the world, and those climactic conflicts with the Rune Lords that your whole adventure has led up to.
Speaking of which, combat in Rune is incredibly tactical. Combat is played on a 4x4 grid with orthogonal movement, which is tight on purpose. Your Engraved is never too far from an enemy's blade, and so players are pressed to manage their mobility, their health-bar, their weapon's range, and their damage to successfully navigate encounters. This becomes more engaging where your options for action are limited by a dice allocation mechanic, which allows for a range of choices but also keeps your options manageable. I found this to be great fun, and even dug out some of my painted miniatures to embody dreaded necromancers and vile cultists. Games which extend the life of your other games are always a win in my book, and I feel like the potential Rune offers more than delivered.
On the subject of potential, the core book comes with only one realm to explore, meaning you'll need a lot more content to satisfy that wanderlust and slake that bloodlust. Luckily for us, Spencer has provided the Rune community with a terrific Creator Kit which gives designers the insight and tools to make their own realms. Likewise, the community has risen to the challenge and made a venerable buffet of blighted lands, as can be found on this third party content page here. I love that ladder-builder/reverse-gatekeeping vibe that Gila Games seems to be about, and I can't wait to try these adventures, or maybe even pen a few of my own.
All in all, I'm smitten with this little haunted world adventure game, and if any of that resonated with you I hope you give it a try. Either way, I have a few more boxes to unpack, and maybe a skeleton or four to fight, so thanks for tuning in and we'll see you around.
The pyre on the hill still burns; your task is not yet complete. Silently, you heft your battle axe over your shoulder and glare at that distant fire. Though defeated, you will try again. That is your fate.