OpenQuest is a game that readily admits to standing on the shoulders of giants. Much of the foundation of it, as a game, were laid by the multitude of designers from Chaosium and Mongoose working on Basic Roleplaying and the games that it inspired. That does not, however, make this a knock off by any stretch of the imagination. Like many games being put out today, particularly those among the retro-gaming and Old School Renaissance movements, OpenQuest is first and foremost a labor of love by its creator Newt Newport.
As a gamer, I am not as young as I used to be and I do not have the free time that I used to have. That means that, in recent years, I have been looking around for simpler games once again. The pendulum of game design for me has swung back and forth between simpler, self-contained and easy to use/understand game systems, and those with more complexity and requiring more work and number of books. When I started as a gamer, games were simpler and easier to work...and then as I grew older and more experienced with role-playing in general, I wanted more complexity and more options; thinking that was the way that I wanted to go with my gaming. Eventually, though, all of this added detail started to bog me down, and slow down my gaming. I'm not knocking games with a higher level of complexity, or the people who play them. I am just realizing that as I get older, that style is not for me. In the last year or so I have been drawn towards games like Swords & Wizardry, Evil Hat's Fate-powered games (as well as some produced by 3PP under the OGL like the Fate games from Cubicle 7 or, now, Arc Dream), and older games getting new life, like Shatterzone from Precis Intermedia. Added now to that stack of games is OpenQuest from D101 Games.
Yes, OpenQuest has its genesis in Chaosium's older editions of the phenominal fantasy RPG RuneQuest, not to mention the newer version of the game put out by Mongoose (first under the licensed RuneQuest name, and in a few months to be released under the new name of Legend!), but that does not make it a copy of either of those games. OpenQuest is a good, solid game. I am drawn to those games using some variant of the Basic Roleplaying system or another because I like the intuitive nature of how skills work in a percentile-based system. Eye balling chances and difficulties is easy in these games because you intuitively understand concepts like "You have a 50% chance of success at that task." OpenQuest greatly streamlines the character creation process from either Chaosium's or Mongoose's versions of the RuneQuest rules, while at the same time showing his influences. The section on character creation, and the working of skills, does owe more to the Mongoose versions of the game than it does to the Chaosium, but in a number of ways, this might make the game more approachable to a newer or more contemporary gamer.
Hero Points are a very contemporary addition to the OpenQuest rules, coming by way of Mongoose's rules but showing a few other inspirations besides the Mongoose rules. I personally have no problem with using a Hero Point mechanic, so their inclusion in OpenQuest does not bother me. For me, they enforce a heroic fiction mentality that mechanically supports a player's choice to do things in a heroic manner. Nothing is as frustrating for a player as outlining some heroic, larger than life action for your character, only to have it snatched away from you by the nature of dice. While I like a good probability curve as much as the next gamer, more and more I am also interested in a game that enforces letting me have my character do heroic things.
Yes, overall there are some direct influences from Mongoose's version of the Runequest rules. However, I think dismissing OpenQuest out of hand because of that is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The simplicity and the streamlining of these rules owe much more to the earlier editions of which the designer is obviously a fan. This is not just a copy and paste of the Mongoose SRD trying to pass itself off as a different game.
There is a lot of magic in OpenQuest, and it is plentiful. Probably more than many other fantasy games, magic is more available to characters in OpenQuest. There are three types of magic available in the rules: Battle Magic, Sorcery, and Divine Magic. One of my dislikes of OpenQuest is of the name of the Battle Magic type of magic. This is the common magic that is openly available to anyone who wants to learn and practice magic...and much of it doesn't deal with battle. Personally, I would rather see this "school" of magic be given a different name, like Common Magic, or even Hedge Magic. Something that fits better, and has a broader application than Battle Magic does. I understand why it is called Battle Magic, it is just not the design choice that I would have made. Sorcery is a good school of magic to cover those fantasy wizards that people are fond of in role-playing games. My only real disappointment with Divine Magic is that I would like to see more nature/weather magic available to characters (probably because my favorite fantasy spellcaster in RPGs has always been the Druid). Despite this, the available Divine Magic is well developed enough to allow for a variety of divine spell casters (particularly in conjunction with some of the Battle Magic spells available) and ties in well with OpenQuest's rules dealing with Cults (or religious organizations). Some may be bothered by all religious organizations being called Cults under these rules, but again it is something with a historical precedence in the games that OpenQuest is emulating, so that can be given a gimme.
I would like to see some sort of grimoire or spell compendium for OpenQuest developed, perhaps one that adapts many of the multitude of spells available under the OGL into these rules.
I do think that magic items do get short shift in OpenQuest, particularly when compared to so many other fantasy game systems out there. This is a portion of the game that the people at D101 should look to expanding in future supplements, as I can see this being the one feature where OpenQuest lacks in comparison to other fantasy RPGs.
I also think that some form of Professions or Occupations would make OpenQuest a much stronger game as well. Yes, they are easy enough to add back in (for those who want them) but I think that the creation hooks that professions can supply help a lot of gamers who may need it when creating their characters. Not all of us, after all, are able to spring full-blown concepts out of our imaginations as well as others can. This flaw, and the others that I have mentioned, are fairly minimal to me. They do not impact playability in the least, and they are all things that the DIY-minded can easily do on their own, if they do not get addressed by D101 Games in further supplements.
All in all, OpenQuest is a very solid fantasy gaming system that deserves a lot more attention than it receives. In 183 pages it manages to cover the basics of what any group would need out of a game system, and do it in a way that is simple and yet still manages to remain robust. If you are a fan of fantasy games, and do not yet have OpenQuest on your bookshelf (virtual or otherwise) then you need to fix this as soon as you can.