As noted in my Shadowrun 5e review, Shadowrun was the first game where I fell in love with the setting. I was very careful about wording that, because while I liked the system, it wasn't a love thing. That honour was reserved for RuneQuest.
I could give you a long-winded rundown of the history of the game, but instead, I'll link you guys to a rundown someone else did (I can't vouch for accuracy, but it looks mostly right). What I want to concentrate on is what makes me love the system and what options are available should you wish to pick things up (along with pros and cons for each available option).
When I was first introduced to RuneQuest, it was the summer of 1994, and I'd played D&D and some Palladium and Shadowrun. But RuneQuest grabbed me in a way others didn't. It was this simple phrase: “Roll percentile, did you get lower than your skill? If yes, you succeeded.” That's it. There's more to the system, of course, but the simplicity and transparency was a huge leap over previous games I'd played. And it got better. Armour subtracted from incoming damage. I could disable opponents by taking out a limb. Daggers were a threat! You got better by doing things, not through arbitrary levelling. Anyone could learn magic, and many people started with it. I could kill Orcs with arrows! Higher skill than your opponents made a huge difference. And best of all, the monsters matched more closely with the fantasy I had read and loved.
All of this meant that you actually could play a hero. All those mook rules that came out starting in the late 90's had nothing on RQ. Mooks, in most games are speedbumps. In RQ, anybody can take your character out, but limb damage will often disable a fighter. So you fighting through a bunch of unskilled people not only is possible, but also dangerous. You weighed your decisions more like you would in real life. But that's not all. Because all the rules were transparent, it was super easy to make judgement calls and keep the game moving. The system went from being the focus to being in the background. And then we actually started really roleplaying for the first time..
Some people claim system doesn't matter. I'm certain they're wrong. System frames everything you do and tells you what is possible. If the system marginalizes something, the game follows. If the system puts something in the spotlight, so too will the game. As we explored the RQ system, we found other games built on the same core, and found that many “core” parts of the system could be pulled out and replaced. It was modular. Call of Cthulhu simplified combat and put in a Sanity System, and completely redid how magic worked. Elric!/Stormbringer streamlined combat but put in major wounds and rules for incredibly high skills (the sword Stormbringer itself had 880% in great weapons). And often, NPCs could have unique skills, like the Tavern server had “Seduce/Be Seduced” at 65%
This is not to say the system is absolutely perfect. The modularity could be a problem if people started doing houserules, or porting in options from other games without paying attention to how they interacted with the systems already in place. It doesn't always handle firearms very well, and combat can be more lethal (and sometimes more complex, depending on the version) than some people like. Plus, the reliance on the “resistance table,” while functional, was very definitely a product of the early days of system design.
I was inspired to write this up, because I was looking at picking up the 6th edition of the game by The Design Mechanism. I've always been a fan of Lawrence Whitaker's design, but was put off by the shipping costs on the new edition. BUT, the day after I went through and looked at the shipping, I found an Indiegogo for a hardback of those very same rules, and it cheaper... I'll be backing.
There's not just the Design Mechanism rules. Due to many years and multiple companies being involved, there's a few variants you can check out. Some fairly inexpensively.
By The Design Mechanism. Solidly reviewed. brings back things I liked about previous editions. Here's the PDF link. And the Indiegogo link for the Hardback.
By Chaosium. BRP is the granddaddy of RuneQuest and this edition has almost all of the optional rules collected in one place as a toolkit for you to choose as you will. This is both a good and bad thing. Here's a link to the DTRPG section, including free Quickstart rules.
By Mongoose Publishing. Formerly Mongoose RuneQuest 2. Solid game, but I found the lack of Total Body hitpoints made combats less fun and take longer. Here's the link for the PDF, which is only $1! It's also been OGLed, so you can make your own stuff for this.
Generic Old-school Roleplaying Engine (G.O.R.E)
By Goblinoid Games. I'm not sure what to think about this. It's released only because rules sets cannot be copyrighted, only their expression can be. So this is a BRP variant, but gives no credit to the guys who worked their tails off on the original design. It's available on DTRPG for free, but I'm not linking.
As always, feel free to pester me with questions and comments!