Remember Elden Ring? From Software’s sprawling dark fantasy-flavoured action RPG that definitely only came out early this year? Well, I miss it dearly, which is why the solo tabletop game Rune has so fully captured my imagination.
Designed by Spencer Campbell (GilaRPGs online), Rune is a distillation of the Soulsborne video game subgenre into a single-player tabletop adventure that attempts to emulate both the feeling of gradually creeping through a hostile and immersive world and the tactical, methodical combat system that exemplifies the work of studio From Software.
Rune accomplishes this by breaking down its structure into two explicit modes of play - exploration and combat. During the former, players will skulk across the realms of Obron and venture through ruins, discover points of interest and attempt to solve puzzles they encounter along the way. The latter phase takes over whenever the player character, known as the Engraved, bumps into some unfriendly force who cannot tolerate interlopers.
You might be questioning how anyone could cram Elden Ring or Bloodborne’s dense combat style into something that uses a pencil and some dice, but Campbell has made a name for himself translating popular action-oriented video games - Warframe into Frame, Destiny into Light, etc. - to the table. Rune’s combat takes place on an abstracted 4x4 grid, and the enemy’s attacks are decided by dice rolls referenced on a card. These threats are telegraphed to the player, who then rolls a stamina pool of dice and assigns them to weapon moves, equipment and other possible manoeuvres.
The Kickstarter campaign page describes this exchange of blows as “tense, dangerous and a puzzle” that the Engraved must solve to overcome. Like other Souls games, success will likely spring from a bit of messy trial and error - meaning eating a few so-huge-you-can’t-miss-it sword swipes to the face.
On the exploration side, it looks as though Rune will adopt clocks with fillable segments that was popularised by Blades in the Dark and has since disseminated throughout the independent RPG scene. The various realms, ruled by Rune Lords that the Engraved must hunt down, might change depending on the time of day or otherwise emperil the players during their travels. If you’re a fan of the dour, oppressive horror-fantasy that’s part-and-parcel to the video games, Rune looks as though it’ll deliver in spades.
If the several dozen hours Elden Ring likely managed to extract from you wasn’t enough, Rune just might be the admittedly lower-tech solution for scratching that particular itch. The combat rules seem thick and unwieldy at first, but the actual plays shared on the campaign page do, in fact, feel more like a logic puzzle where mastery and careful planning lead to victory more often than mad dashes into the fray. And the world of Obron will allow players to soak in as many vibes as they want as they pick their way through dungeons, hidden loot spots and the next challenge.
The crowdfunding campaign for Rune is in its final hours, but many of Campbell’s past games have been successful enough to warrant a second print run. That said, there is also a digital version available, and both will come with a PDF detailing six additional realms that expand the game world significantly. There's also a free quickstart version with a tutorial realm to help the skeptical and curious find their footing before jumping in headling. Shipping for both versions is expected to begin in December of this year.