D&D Ideas — Runes
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is runes, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of runes in Devil’s Hospitality unwitting adventurers entangle themselves in a fiendish contract marked by deceptive runes and the race begins to find a loophole and void the binding circumstances. This guest creator encounter from Don’t Stop Thinking’s CJ Leung ensnares heroes in a devilish plot along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here.
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Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Words have power and runes are the embodiment of this power, especially in games like Dungeons & Dragons. Runes can literally be infused with arcane and divine power. Magic items are often inscribed with these magical writings known as runes. Many times in our fifth edition D&D games the first clue an item might have some magic imbued within it is the presence of runes inscribed upon them. This is often one of the prompts players latch onto. They’ll want to know what language they are written in. Even if an item doesn’t possess magic it conveys a sense of history of this object.
With the Storm King’s Thunder campaign — not to be confused with it’s lesser known counterpart Sky King’s Thunder — we see the addition of runes as a magic item. They are unique from other magic items in that they are their own magic items, but with the ability to be transferred onto nonmagical objects or even places to create new magic item or imbue effects. The great part of this is a player might have a regular piece of equipment important to them like an heirloom sword or suit of armor. The character might not want to trade up the item for something more powerful. These runes are a great way to upgrade gear without replacing it.
Why not expand upon that idea? One way is to create more magical runes along the vein started in Storm King’s Thunder. Or you could create a new type of rune. Heck these runes could essentially be plot devices. For instance after a task is completed a rune appears upon an item. After a series of runes are completed the item goes from mundane to magical.
Imagine the impact on a character when their mother’s battleaxe goes from being a cool piece of backstory a player came up with to a mechanically important piece of gear. Not only will players feel like they’ve gotten an upgrade but they’ll feel like they’ve really earned something special. Even better, players could never trade up the item if you allow its power to scale or be enhanced by adding new runes to it. This process could be all narrative and ad hoc by the Dungeon Master or very formulaic. The player might even be aware of the various formulas and how to go about achieving them. Certain tasks, how they are performed and what order they are completed in can all change the outcome of the items power.
Not only that as each task or goal is completed a new rune appears and they all might have different meanings. The player might be on track to gain the runes for love, truth, and strength, but the order they appear on your sword might all affect what magic powers get imbued within that blade.
It could be fun to come up with a list of runes and the magical effects they represent. Maybe all runes in your world function in threes. The third rune on an item enchants it. Then each rune can have three tiers of power — the higher the tier the stronger the runes. Even the position might denote the position of the power of the runes. This creates a ton of combinations to play with. Perhaps at a later time we’ll come with a system for it.
From Ted’s Head
When I search the super powerful D&D Beyond for runes I get a number of very cool results. Runes are usable in so many ways in roleplaying games. They are very often found on magic items and they are used in arcane writings, traps and ritual circles.
But how to go beyond the uses we already know and use? On the live chat I brought up using runes as a divination tool as well as an actual prop at the gaming table. I have my own set similar to many of these you can find out there. They have been used by rune casters at a live action roleplaying game and there is nothing stopping you from doing so at your actual gaming table. Typically Dungeons & Dragons players would make or use an existing a table of random results but why take the tactile sense out of the process?
Just like reading a tarot deck the card and the position runes face matters. If you want to do an actual runes reading you can with a set like the ones I mentioned earlier. In addition, having your own set of runes allows you to randomly generate treasure, monsters or even effects linked to the different runes. And if you are pulling runes out of a bag behind a screen versus rolling dice your players might not even know you are doing something random. Imagine making an NPC who pulls runes out and has effects like a beholder’s random eye rays!
Again I mentioned this in the live chat but I am seriously thinking of taking a nod from Diablo 2 video game where runes provided effects if permanently attached to an item like a sword or armor set. I think this would be a great way to give freedom to the players. Designing a system here runes could give a specific bonus if added to a weapon, armor or shield. Going beyond this idea, Diablo also had rune words where if you added certain runes in a certain order it would add an extra effect to the item beyond what the runes themselves would do. Would you like to see this idea developed further as a blog post digital product?
From the Nerditor’s desk
Talking about runes in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons during the live chat captured my imagination as much as coming across runes during a 5E D&D game captivates adventuresome characters. The word itself sounds evocative and a promise of deeper meaning to runes intrigues me no matter what side of the screen you’re on, in game or out.
Nerdarchists Dave and Ted decipher the potential benefits of incorporating runes into your game from the Dungeon Master perspective and believe me we’re all abuzz about the runes here ever since. I’ll cracking the code of runes from the player and more specifically character point of view to expand on an idea I mentioned during the chat.
With the soon to be released Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything making one of the best Unearthed Arcana subclasses official content I’m going to prepare for an opportunity to play a Rune Knight fighter and see how many runes this runic runemaster can puzzle out. Since Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything isn’t released at the time of this writing I’ll rely on the UA material. I’m also going to bust out Deep Magic: Rune Magic from Kobold Press. This terrific entry in the Deep Magic series present runes in the form of feats and this fits perfectly with the 5E D&D fighter class since they earn more Ability Score Improvements than any other class at seven, using the optional feats rule you can forgo taking this feature to take a feat of your choice instead.
Runes really rack up quickly. Going all the way into this concept I started with variant human because of course I did! Choosing a feat at 1st level starts the runes flowing with Rune Knowledge. Rune Magic contains 25 Runes to choose from with a lot of versatility and flexibility. By 8th level the Rune Knight Martial Archetype provides three runes from the Rune Magic feature. Meanwhile a combination of Rune Knowledge and Rune Mastery feats from Deep Magic tacks on another four Runes, two of which you’ve got Rune Mastery.
In addition to the Runes themselves Deep Magic: Rune Magic includes five Rune Rituals available through certain Runes and two magic items created by Runes you can choose.
The book also adds 32 new Rune Magic spells and with several on the wizard spell list you could make an Eldritch Knight work as a master of runes too…but not as cool as the Rune Knight! The Deep Magic: Rune Magic PDF is only a few bucks over at DriveThruRPG here.
Aside from all the awesome runes this future character can invoke it speaks to my longtime appreciation for the flexibility of the fighter class. Fighters fight better than anyone and this gives players wiggle room to develop unrelated skills without taking away from their primary prowess. The Rune Knight fighter I put together on D&D Beyond wound up with Giant language, History, Insight and Perception proficiencies with advantage on Arcana and Insight checks and a whole bunch of fun runes. They could enter a prophetic state, put creatures into dreamy stupors, create calm emotions effects and a so much more. I imagine this character is a super nerd about runes and I’m eager for an opportunity to play them in a 5E D&D campaign!