Rune Magic

In ancient times, Odin All-Father descended to the base of Yggdrasil where lies the Well of Mimir, and after many days of trial and torment he returned with the runes, to gift them to mortal and god alike. The runes are symbols, not merely of sounds, but of the forces underlying the Nine Worlds, so while literate Norsemen use a weakened form of the runes called the Younger Fuþark to read and write, those who have understood and internalized the divine runes of the Elder Fuþark can use them to work powerful magic.

Rune magic functions as arcane magic in all ways except as noted otherwise below.

Casting the Runes

There are several traditions that teach ways to use the runes; galdramaðurs, konnuðurs, runirblað, and skalds are all capable of using the runes in slightly different ways, and all are therefore known as rune casters. At its heart, however, all rune magic functions the same way: a rune spell is cast through the use of a rune focus, a rune physically inscribed on a surface (carved, painted, tattooed, or the like) and infused with magical power.

Rune Circles
While the factors that govern the complexity of a given spell’s rune focus are not well-understood in Midgard, the fact that there are distinct divisions in rune complexity is indeed well known to runecasters. The spell level divisions are referred to as circles by the Norse, as beginning runecasters are taught the appropriate inscription techniques using circular diagrams as aids, and teaching the more complex runes requires patterns of multiple concentric circles.

The simplest rune foci consist of merely a single normal rune carved precisely and exactly to achieve the desired effect, while the most complex spells are collections of small runes inscribed together to make up a larger and more intricate version of the desired rune. Some examples of Fehu (Wealth) rune spells of several circles are given below:


The rune focus is a Focus component for the rune spell, replacing any other material components or foci the spell may require. When the spell is cast, the magic infusing the rune fades, but the physical rune itself does not. If a rune focus is damaged, even slightly, the focus is wasted and the accompanying spell cannot be cast until another rune is carved. All rune spells have verbal and somatic components, even if the base spell otherwise would not. However, the somatic component of a rune spell is quite simple—merely tracing out the rune in the air with the rune focus—and so runic spells may be cast in armor with no penalty.

Creating the Runes
Obviously, to prepare a rune focus requires writing or carving implements and a smooth surface on which to inscribe the rune. It is possible to use inferior tools and surfaces to inscribe the rune, for instance drawing one in the dirt with a finger or carving one in the snow with a stick, but doing so requires twice the normal time due to the imprecision of such tools and requires a Dexterity check against DC 10 + 2 * spell level to avoid ruining the rune focus.

As a standard action, a runecaster can touch a single rune he has created that corresponds to a spell he has prepared and dismiss its power, allowing him to prepare another rune in its place without needing to cast the spell or deface the item upon which the rune is inscribed, though this does not remove the physical rune itself.

Using the Runes
The ability to infuse an inscribed rune with magic and release it later is actually a fairly recent development on Midgard, historically speaking. The original way of using the runes was simply to inscribe them and have their effects occur immediately, and it is still possible for runecasters to use this method. When a runecaster finishes preparing a rune, he does not need to place it in one of his available spell slots; instead, he may cast it immediately, using the spell’s normal casting time. This process does not interact at all with the runecaster’s spell slots, so it can even be used if all of his slots are currently full.

Preparing the Runes
Preparing a rune spell requires ten minutes per spell level per spell and cannot be accomplished while the runecaster is subject to any impediment that would affect his mental well-being or manual dexterity (such as being fatigued, having his hands bound, suffering from Dex or Wis damage, or the like), as the process of carving the rune focus requires exacting precision and total concentration. It is the process of carving or painting the runes with exactly the right length, thickness, angle, and placement of the lines while focusing completely on the concepts behind the runes that imbues them with their power; this means, among other things, that a separate rune must be inscribed each time the caster wishes to cast the same spell, even though the resulting runes end up identical to one another.

Since the magic power is bound up in a physical framework rather than being held in the caster’s mind, a runecaster does not require the normal 8 hours of rest and 1 hour of meditation that an arcane caster does before preparing spells; he could theoretically spend an entire day or more doing nothing but preparing and casting spells, if he could find a way to stave off fatigue and avoid distractions. However, individual spell slots, being mental constructs, are still subject to this limit: a runecaster may reuse an expended spell slot to prepare the same spell again without any rest, but if he wants to prepare different spells in one or more spell slots slots, he must rest for 8 hours to refresh his mind before doing so.

Bonus Spells
A rune caster gains 1 bonus spell slot for each spell level up to and including his key ability bonus. For instance, a wizard with an Int of 20 (+5 modifier) gains bonus spell slots of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th level. Note that he does not gain multiple lower-level bonus slots for an Intelligence above 18 as normal.

Carrying the Runes
There are generally three methods that runecasters use to carry their spells with them. The first and most common is to create collections of runestones, small smooth stones, plaques of wood, or other small objects that each hold a single rune spell, and carry them in pouches. The advantage to this method is that these runestones are easily hidden and it is hard to break or ruin multiple runestones at once; the disadvantage is that retrieving a single runestone requires a move action, or a full-round action if the runestones are mixed in with other gear in a sack or the like, so they are somewhat awkward to use under pressure.

The next most common method is to create a runestaff, a single larger object (usually a staff, hence the name, but it could be a shield, a sword, a cloak, or the like) that holds multiple runes in one place for easy access. Each such object can hold a certain number of runes based on its size, as given on the table below; 4th- to 6th level spells take up the space of 2 runes due to their size and complexity:

Size Rune Levels Example Item
Fine 2 Rune stone, piece of bark
Diminutive 10 Belt knife, carved stick
Tiny 18 Short sword, gauntlet
Small 26 Long sword, wide belt
Medium 34 Staff, kite shield
Large 42 Giant’s club, long cloak

The advantage to this method is that all of the runes are retrieved at once and require no extra actions to cast them; the disadvantage is that once the object is out in the open it is vulnerable to being damaged or disarmed. If a runestaff is broken, 1d4 randomly-determined spell levels are ruined, but the rest remain intact.

The last common method is creating runic tattoos by sewing runes into the runecaster’s own skin. The advantage to this method is that it is impossible to deprive the caster of his own tattoos short of cutting off a limb or flaying his skin; the disadvantages are that the rune caster can only tattoo the parts of his skin that he can easily reach (and then easily move around in the process of casting a spell, which usually means just the arms, legs, and face) and that once he has tattooed a particular location he can’t place another rune there until the tattoo fades or is burned off.

Tattooing a rune deals 1 point of nonlethal damage, or 2 points if the rune is of a 4th level or higher.spell. Left alone, the tattoo of a cast rune spell will fade in two to three months, but the skin can be branded or cut (dealing 1d4 points of fire or slashing damage per rune) to clear away the tattoos, and once the resulting damage is healed new runes can be tattooed there.

Rune Pairs

Each of the twenty-four runes of the Elder Fuþark has two mystical meanings, one primary meaning associated with the actual meaning of the rune as a letter and one that is the reverse or negation of that rune, symbolized by writing it backwards or inverted. The runes are always learned in pairs, as every rune shares a mystical significance with one other and the two are often used together in more complex rune spells; for instance, the runes Sowilo (meaning Sun, or Moon when reversed) and Dagaz (meaning Day, or Night when reversed) both grant power over light, darkness, sight, and concealment.

Each rune caster begins play knowing a certain number of rune pairs, and will gain access to more at later points, the specific level varying by class. When a rune caster first gains access to a certain rune pair, they are able to learn 1st level spells associated with that rune pair and automatically learn 2 such spells per rune pair. Each time a new rune pair is learned, 2 1st level spells of the new rune pair are learned, and each existing rune pair increases its level cap by 1 and grants him knowledge of 1 spell of any level to which he now has access. While the rate of gaining rune pairs is a series of class feature that differ for each class, any prestige class that advances spellcasting also advances rune pair acquisition.

For example, a wizard begins play knowing three rune pairs; he knows 6 1st level spells, 2 per rune pair, and can learn more 1st level spells from them during downtime. At 3rd level, he gains access to a fourth rune pair, so he learns 2 1st level spells from his new rune pair and can now learn a 1st or 2nd level spells from each of his previous rune pairs. At 5th level the process repeats: he now can learn a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level spell from each of his first three rune pairs and a 1st or 2nd level spell from his previous rune pair, and he learns 2 1st level spells from whichever rune pair he just chose,

Rune Magic

Saga of the Northlands PsychicTheurge