Runey McRuneface is the Runiest Rune Knight fighter in 5E D&D
Every Monday evening we go live talking about a topic in the context of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and back in November we etched our thoughts in virtual stone discussing runes. At the time Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything hadn’t yet been released but there’d been confirmation of pretty much all the new subclasses included in its pages. The Rune Knight fighter was one of these and I was very excited since the Unearthed Arcana version really captivated my imagination. During the live chat I mentioned how this Martial Archetype could fit very well with Kobold Press’s Deep Magic: Rune Magic so well since those abilities come from a series of feats. Since 5E D&D fighters earn more Ability Score Improvements — which players can substitute feats for with their Dungeon Master’s permission — I wondered just how many runes a Rune Knight fighter could acquire. So let’s get into it.
Playing a 5E D&D Rune Knight fighter
The official Rune Knight Martial Archetype for 5E D&D fighters in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything includes six distinct runes available to these warriors. Over in Deep Magic: Rune Magic there’s another 25 runes characters can acquire through the Rune Knowledge feat, which the book indicates can be selected multiple times and gain access to two runes each time. Rune Mastery is another feat in the book characters can select multiple times and gain access to increased power and utility from known runes. The 25 runes in the book cover a huge amount of benefits like bonuses to particular skills, creation of magic items and access to Rune Rituals. There’s also a whole bunch of Rune Magic Spells to add to many class spell lists, some of which characters with specific runes can cast too.
In 5E D&D a fighter gains an Ability Score Improvement when they reach 4th level and again at 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 19th level for a total of seven. A variant human or Custom Lineage character can snag an additional feat at 1st level bringing the potential total up to eight feats. If you’re keeping score this means in addition to the runes gained from being a Rune Knight a character could add another 16 runes to their repertoire. That’s a lotta runic power! Alternatively a character opting to gain more Rune Mastery would wind up with less total runes but greater control and power over the ones they possess. It’s very important to note any runes gained through Deep Magic: Rune Magic are distinct from those of a Rune Knight fighter so class features referencing those would not apply to the feat based ones — unless a DM allows for this, which would be incredibly awesome.
One of the wrinkles I often run into with third party options for 5E D&D is since they’re not official material they’re not found through D&D Beyond. I don’t know about you but I’ve been using DDB’s character management tools so long if the content isn’t part of the toolset I’m almost certainly not going to incorporate it into my characters. Thankfully DDB’s homebrew tools provide a solution but I’ll warn you now — recreating Deep Magic: Rune Magic material with DDB homebrew tools is quite an undertaking. Be certain you’re going to play the heck out of your Runey McRuneface Rune Knight before going through all the work to make it happen.
The first thing you’ll want to do is create homebrew feats for Rune Knowledge and Rune Mastery. A quick and dirty method for this is starting with one for each of those each delineated with a numeric notation like Rune Knowledge (1) with a prerequisite of Wisdom 12 or higher and Rune Mastery (1) with a prerequisite of Rune Knowledge. Then each of these contains text indicating what the feat does in general terms.
“You are wise in the lore of two runes of your choice. You always have access to their rune bonuses. In addition, every day you can invoke one rune power for each rune you’ve learned, provided you meet any other requirements such as a minimum level. You can select this feat multiple times. Each time you do, you gain the bonus and powers of two additional runes of your choice.”Rune Knowledge feat
“You have mastered the secret powers of one ancient rune. Choose one rune that you already learned through Rune Knowledge. Once per day, you can invoke one of its Rune Mastery powers. You can select this feat multiple times. Each time you do, you learn the Rune Mastery powers of a different rune from your repertoire.”Rune Mastery feat
These two feats and duplicates numbered distinctly (2), (3) and so on enables players to choose these feats at appropriate levels. They won’t interact with the character sheet, manage the resources or indicate any particular runes and what they do but they’ll be on the sheet and players will have to reference Deep Magic: Rune Magic for the rest. For an even better experience the homebrew tools could be used to create specific feats for the individual runes. For this method I advice doing so as they come up during campaign progression by creating only the desired material. For example instead of choosing a generic Rune Knowledge feat the homebrew feat would be the rune itself.
The sun; the god Baldur
- Rune Bonus: You gain immunity to snow blindness (see Conditions).
- Rune Power (5th level): When invoked on a creature, the rune grants it magical confidence and charisma, enabling it to enthrall an audience, per the spell. Tracing the rune takes 1 action, and the effect lasts 1 minute.
- Rune Power (7th level): Spending 1 action tracing sowilo onto an object makes it glow as if with the daylight spell for 1 hour.
- Rune Mastery Power (13th level): Spending 1 action invoking sowilo on the brow of a creature causes its eyes to emit a sunbeam, per the spell. The creature is immune to blindness for the duration of the effect, which lasts while you concentrate, for up to 1 minute.
Notice how runes from Deep Magic: Rune Magic scale with character level. Since each rune can be invoked once per day according to the text (once per long rest in 5E D&D mechanical terms) I recommend building these feats by tweaking existing ones with similar mechanics. Magic Initiate comes to mind since the feat already incorporates the ability to cast a spell once per long rest. If a DM allows Rune Knight features to apply to these runes I’d look at Wood Elf Magic as a base since the feat includes two spells each of which a character can cast once per long rest. Depending how deep down the runic rabbit hole Runey McRuneface goes this could amount to quite a lot of homebrew creations but with a name like that you’ve got to take it all the way.
Before setting on the hollow one warlock of The Undying I’m playing every week in our Dungeons & Delving campaign this was going to be the character I played. Fighters have long been one of my very favorite classes and in 5E D&D they’re the second best they’ve ever been. (I’m a 4E D&D fan.) No matter what other choices a player makes fighters gonna fight and be awesome at doing so, which leaves a lot of wiggle room to customize these characters. Between the variety of runic power inherent in the Rune Knight Martial Archetype and then folding in the incredible array of possibilities from Deep Magic: Rune Magic a character would have so many cool things they can do.
Check out Deep Magic: Rune Magic and see if you’re as amazed by the potential for any character let alone one whose schtick is mastering magic runes to begin with. You can find this Kobold Press classic here. As for the Rune Knight Martial Archetype from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything itself there’s a lot to love.
Rune Knight fighter by the numbers
Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level). I’ll never think a tool proficiency isn’t a terrific feature and the Martial Archetype’s smith’s tools along with gaining the Giant language roots them in standard 5E D&D lore. Since this is the very first feature a Rune Knight gains and in a lot of ways sets the tone for the rest of the subclass there’s some cool space to explore here. A Rune Knight with woodcarver’s tools and Sylvan could represent a character who draws on mystical runes with a more natural origin for example.
Rune Carver (3rd level). The bread and butter for a Rune Knight begins with knowledge of two runes and by the end of their career in this Martial Archetype learns a total of five, gaining additional runes at 7th, 10th and 15th level. Not surprisingly there’s six runes, which correspond with the six standard types of giants — Cloud, Fire, Frost, Stone, Hill and Storm Runes provide a variety of powers and really make each Rune Knight different both on and off the field of battle.
Giant’s Might (3rd level). This feature speaks again to the giantish roots of this Martial Archetype. A Rune Knight imbued with such runic power can increase in size and Strength. Incidentally this feature is a key component to becoming the strongest 5E D&D character around.
Runic Shield (7th level). A cool feature a Rune Knight fighter can use to protect allies within 60 feet this one really doesn’t explicitly capture the feel of using runes but it’s useful nonetheless. This is to say I can absolutely grasp how to imagine, visualize or explain this feature as being related to the character’s runic abilities but it doesn’t feel like a feature in the same vein as the others in this Martial Archetype.
Great Stature (10th level). Runes in 5E D&D were established in relation to giants and this lore looms large through this feature, which causes a Rune Knight to grow in height and improves the earlier Giant’s Might feature.
Master of Runes (15th level). This doubles the number of times a Rune Knight can invoke each of the runes they know. Since prior to this point a Rune Knight could invoke each rune once it doesn’t sound quite as impressive but still, ten rune invocations per short rest is a lotta rune power!
Runic Juggernaut (18th level). Again building on Giant’s Might the Rune Knight deals tremendous extra damage through their rune powered transformation and can grow to Huge size, which also increases their reach. Nothing can stop this juggernaut.
*Featured image — An orc Rune Knight as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Tasha’s Cauldon of Everything. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]