Runecaster

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The Runecaster is a specialist wizard originating from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Appearing in the "Giantcraft" splatbook for the Forgotten Realms, as its name suggests, this is a form of wizard whose magic revolves entirely around the creating of magical runes to do spells. Whilst predominantly associated with giants, TSR also acknowledges the possibility of other races studying it as well, although of course they flip-flop over the matter.

The basic idea behind the runes used by AD&D's runecasters is that each rune is a diagram functions as a scale model of the relationships between ancient and undying cosmic forces. By properly etching a rune, the caster demonstrates his understanding of the truths underpinning these forces and their relationships to each other. Like a trained beast recognizing its master, the truths then bow down to the caster, enabling him to temporarily and subtly alter them and all the truths connected to them in series.

Mechanically, this specialization has the following traits (focusing on the PC races that can learn it):

Ability Requirements: Intelligence 13, Wisdom 13, Dexterity 12
Prime Requisites: Intelligence, Wisdom
Racial Availability: Firbolgs (7th level maximum), Verbeegs (12th level maximum), Humans (Unlimited level), Elves (15th level maximum), Dwarves (12th level maximum)
Can learn to wield any weapon.
Can wear chainmail or lighter forms of armor.
Still use the wizard's d4 Hit Dice, THAC0 progression and saves progression.

And then we get to the topic of actual rune magic... which is very different to the standard form of magic used by your average AD&D spellcaster!

Learning Runes[edit]

Obviously, a runecaster cannot inscribe a rune he does not know, and learning a new rune is much more difficult than simply memorizing its pattern. Rune magic does not work without a deep understanding of the essential truths and relationships that the pattern of the rune represents.

All 1st-level runecasters automatically know one rune. They may attempt to learn one additional rune each time they advance in level, just as wizards may attempt to learn new spells. To learn a rune, casters must pass a Chance to Learn Spell roll based upon their Intelligence score. Runecasters who fail this roll may never make another attempt to learn the particular rune in question; it's simply beyond their grasp. Note that it is impossible to learn some runes without first learning the specified "prerequisite" runes listed in their descriptions.

Runecasters with high Wisdom scores begin play with "bonus" runes, as summarized in the table below:

Wisdom Score Additional Runes Known
15 1
16 2
17 3
18 4
19 5
20 6
21 8
22 10
23 12
24 14
25 16

Note that some runes may be learned more than once, allowing the caster to use such runes to greater effect. In essence, he or she has an increased understanding of the turths underpinning the rune and the forces it represents. Tehse special runes are identified in their descriptions.

In any case, the essential truths that power rune magic are remarkably difficult to grasp. In order to learn a new rune, one must either 1) have access to a teacher who already knows the rune, or 2) complete an epic quest that ends with an appropriate revelation or insight. For instance, if a teacher is unavailable, one might learn the Annam's Unblinking Eye rune by somehow traveling to Gudheim to discuss the All-Father's virtues with the servants of Stronmaus. It is strongly recommended that DMs maky any player-character runecasters in their campaigns obey these strictures, even if the prevailing attitude toward wizards learning spells is rather laissez-faire. Without such restrictions, not only do the runecasters lose a great deal of their "flavor", but they might also upset the balance of the game.

Using Runes[edit]

Actually using a rune, of course, is a much more involved process than simply scribbling it out. To be effective, a rune must be specially modified to fit the circumstances surrounding its use (even a slightly different situation might mean different truths are at stake in the casting). This is yet another reason why anyone can scrawl out a rune, but only a highly trained adept can summon forth its power.

Scribing a rune is a three-step process known as skapeng (or "shaping" in Common).

The first step is the gormeng (or "planning"). During this stage, the caster begins to concentrate upon the necessary essential truths and modifies the rune's ideal image in his mind's eyes in accordance with the circumstances of the cast.

The second step is the skrapeng (or "scraping"), during which the rune is actually carved, drawn or inscribed.

The third and final step is the virkreng (or "activation"); only now does the caster begin to summon forth the rune's power. Activating a shaped rune is often a tricky task requiring intense concentration. Some casters write little poems or recitations to speak over their shaped runes and help them maintain the mental fortitude necessary for activation. Others are so experienced or determined that no such aids are necessary. The final step in any activation is wetting or "baptizing" the rune to release its energies; any nonpoisonous liquid is quite suitable for this purpose (ale, water, blood or even saliva will do). Any rune not baptized within five rounds of its shaping loses its potential and becomes useless. After baptism, the caster makes a save vs spell (known as an "activation roll"); if the save succeeds, the rune is successfully activated, whilst if it fails, the rune's power fades and the caster must begin all over again.

The exact amount of time it takes to shape a rune varies with the complexities of the forces involved. In some ways, rune shaping is like spellcasting. If the caster is significantly interrupted (surprised, attacked, etc.) during the shaping, all his work is lost and the entire process must begin all over again. While shaping runes that take more than a single day, the caster is allowed to eat and sleep normally, but any major diversion from his work (such as training, rushing off to adventure, defending his home against attack) is considered an interruption.

No special tools or items are necessary to shape most runes - any old carving knife, stylus, or quill will do. Some runecasters claim that specially enchanted implements add power to their runes, but most runemasters disbelieve such tales.

Unlike other forms of magical writing, once a rune has taken effect, it does not disappear. Once its effects are exhausted, however, the rune becomes an ordinary carving or inscription with no magical capabilities whatsoever.

To renew the rune's power, the caster must shape it all over again. Unless otherwise specified, assume that all runes may be used one time only, though the rune may stand ready in an activated state for years before its power is called upon.

Note that at any give time, a runecaster may keep a number of active runes equal only to his level. Should the caster shape more runes, the power automatically fades from one or more of the runes he shaped earlier (earliest runes shaped are the first to fade). This means, for instance, that a 10th-level runecaster can shape only 10 exploding arrow runes before charging into battle.

Rune Descriptions[edit]

Unlike spells, runes are not ranked by level. Most can be learned by any runecaster, provided he or she has mastered all of the appropriate prerequisite runes.

Accuracy

Shaping Time: 1d4 turns
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Twice

The accuracy rune is inscribed upon the haft of a missile weapon such as an arrow or javelin. The next time that weapon is used, the wielder receives a +2 bonus to his or her attack roll. Note that this effect lasts for one attack only. Accuracy runes inscribed by casters who learned the rune twice bestow +4 bonuses to the wielder's attack roll.

Annam's Unblinking Eye

Shaping Time: 3d4 hours
Prerequisites: Transformation
Learnable: Unlimited

This rune is used to duplicate Annam's ability to look down upon any creature in the multiverse. To achieve this effect, the caster must inscribe the true name of a target creature or object upon the bowl’s base, shape the unblinking eye rune three times around the outside of a large, deep bowl (the listed Shaping Time assumes the caster is shaping all three runes), and fill the bowl with water. The three runes must be perfectly and evenly spaced around the bowl's circumference or the bowl shatters upon activation, totally spoiling the cast. (DMs should require the PC runecaster to pass a Wisdom check; success indicates proper positioning and readiness for activation, failure indicates a shattered bowl and wasted time.)

Only one activation roll is needed to activate all three runes. Once the runes are properly activated, a reflection of the target individual appears in the water inside the bowl, allowing all present to scry the target and his/its present surroundings as though using a crystal ball. Note that the bowl transmits only visual images - it is impossible to hear any sounds in the target's vicinity. In total, the vision lasts for a number of rounds equal to the caster's level multiplied by the number of times the caster has learned the rune. In other words, a 10th-level caster who has learned the rune twice receives a vision that lasts for 20 rounds.

If the target of the casting is a living being, he or she feels a disturbing chill for the entire duration of the vision, as does the caster. If the target has a higher Wisdom score than the caster, the caster must save vs. paralysis or succumb to fright and upset the bowl, ending the vision.

Rare among runes, Annam's Unblinking Eye will not function unless it is inscribed using rare pigments costing no less than 1,000 gp.

Berserk

Shaping Time: 1d4 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Once

While in his berserk state, the wielder gains +2 points of Strength, a +2 bonus to his AC, and a +2 bonus to all his saving throws. In return for these benefits, however, he must remain in melee combat for the entire duration of the fury. If he manages to vanquish all of his enemies during this period, he must begin fighting his friends.

This rune is shaped upon the haft or hilt of a weapon. In battle, the wielder of this weapon can call upon the rune's power to enter into a berserk fury. Assuming the rune was properly shaped, the weapon's wielder may make an attempt to become berserk at the end of any combat round by making a save vs. paralysis. If the save is successful, the wielder enters into the fury. If it is unsuccessful, he must wait and try again next round.

Once invoked, the berserk state lasts 1d4 rounds (previously determined by the caster as part of the shaping process). At the end of this time period, the berserker may attempt a save vs. paralysis (without the berserker saving throw bonus) to recover from the fury. If this save is unsuccessful, the berserker remains in the fury but makes an additional recovery attempt at the end of each subsequent round.

Binding

Shaping Time: 1d6 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Once

This rune is shaped upon a collar, a saddle, or any other object potentially worn by an animal. If the caster can place this object upon an appropriate creature (of animal or semi-intelligence), the beast is affected as though the target of an animal friendship spell. Like that spell, the total Hit Dice of all the creatures the caster befriends with such runes cannot exceed twice his level.

If the runed object is ever removed from the charmed creature, the spell is instantly broken.

Blinding Light

Shaping Time: 1d8 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Three times

Once activated, this rune turns an undead creature that views it (as a 6th-level priest). If the rune is learned twice, its effectiveness improves to that of an 8th-level priest. If learned three times, the rune is as effective as a 10th-level priest. Regardless of the number of potential targets who stumble across the rune, it turns only the very first undead to see it.

The blinding light rune gets its name from the brilliant flash that accompanies its effects. The resulting burst of light (equivalent to a sunray spell) illuminates everything within 200' for a single round.

Control Undead

Shaping Time: 1d8 hours
Prerequisites: Blinding Light
Learnable: Four times

Allows the caster to control undead creatures. Up to 3 Hit Dice of undead can be affected for each time the caster has learned the rune (that is, a caster who has learned the rune three times can affect 9 Hit Dice of undead). In all other respects, the effects of the rune are treated as a charm monster spell.

Death

Shaping Time: 1d8 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Three times

This rune is placed upon the blade of a weapon. If the rune was properly shaped, the weapon automatically inflicts double damage against an enemy of a specified race, breed, organization or nationality (determined by the caster at the moment of shaping - the name of the target group is inscribed upon the weapon next to the rune). This effect lasts only until the weapon has been used to kill a member of the targeted group. Thereafter, the weapon functions normally in all respects.

Learning the death rune twice has no additional effects, but a caster who has learned it three times can scribe runes that cause triple damage to their specified targets.

Dream

Shaping Time: 1d12 hours
Prerequisites: Binding
Learnable: Once

This complex rune is shaped upon a broad stone and the stone is placed beneath the caster's pillow. While shaping the rune, the caster frames a single question in his mind and alters the rune accordingly.

The answer to the question presents itself to the caster in the form of a dream 1d6 nights after the alteration. Like most prophetic visions, however, the answer will certainly be couched in strange and mysterious symbols requiring careful interpretation.

A caster who misses his activation roll while shaping the dream rune does not know he has failed until he actually attempts to use the rune. (Ask the caster to make the appropriate saving roll behind a shield, out of his own view.) Instead of bringing the caster a prophetic dream, an improperly shaped rune causes a ghast to visit the caster for each of the next six nights.

Exploding Arrow

Shaping Time: 1d4 rounds
Prerequisites: Death
Learnable: Twice

This rune is inscribed upon an arrow. When fired, this arrow inflicts explodes upon impact, inflicting double damage to its target (triple damage if the caster learned the rune more than once).

Fate

Shaping Time: 1d8 rounds
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Once

The fate rune is scribed upon one side of a coin. The caster can then toss this coin into the air to divine the general fate of a specified individual for the next day. If the coin lands rune side up, fate is with the individual; he or she receives a +1 bonus to all saves/attack rolls and a -1 bonus to all ability/proficiency checks for the next 24 hours. If the coin lands rune side down, however, fate frowns upon the individual; -1 penalty to saves/attack rolls and a +1 penalty to ability/proficiency checks. If the coin lands on its side (roll a 1% chance of this occurring before tossing the coin), it indicates that something calamitous will befall the subject during the next day (death, serious injury, loss of fortune, etc.).

Note that the subject must be physically present and must consent to a reading for this rune to have any effect.

Healing

Shaping Time: 1d8 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Twice

This rune is shaped on the side of a cup, goblet, or bottle. (The rune has no effect upon substantially larger quantities of water.)

Thereafter, the first time the cup is filled, its contents transmute into a potion of healing. When shaping this rune, the caster must make his activation check behind a shield, out of his own view. If the activation roll is a "1," the contents of the cup do not metamorphose into a potion of healing, but into a deadly Type J poison that is indistinguishable from a potion of healing.

If the caster has learned the healing rune more than once, the contents of the runed cup metamorphose into a potion of extra-healing (or a particularly deadly Type I poison; save at -2).

Note that any brew created by the cup must be consumed within one hour or it instantly reverts to normal water.

Imprisonment

Shaping Time: 1d12 days
Prerequisites: Triumph
Learnable: Once

This rune is placed upon a door or portal. If successfully activated, a specified creature imprisoned beyond the portal cannot cross it through normal means (though any appropriate wizard spell such as teleport or dimension door can still be used to exit). Once placed, the rune remains active for a number of days equal to the caster's level.

Every imprisonment rune has an associated freedom word incorporated into its shaping. If this word is pronounced by the trapped creature, the rune's power instantly fades. Part of the rune's magic requires the freedom word to be both known to the imprisoned creature and particularly appropriate to the imprisonment. For instance, the freedom word for a character imprisoned for murder might be the name of his victim, the location of the murder, the name of the weapon used to commit the murder, etc.

Levitation

Shaping Time: 1d20 minutes
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Unlimited

Functions as the second-level wizard spell levitate for three turns for every time the caster has learned the rune.

Love

Shaping Time: 1d8 hours
Prerequisites: Healing
Learnable: Once

Similar to the healing rune, the love rune is inscribed upon a cup or goblet. If properly activated, the first time the cup is filled, its contents will metamorphose into a philter of love.

When shaping this rune, the caster must make his activation check behind a shield, out of his own view. If the activation roll fails, the contents of the cup metamorphose into a brew with the exact opposite effects of a philter of love (that is, the imbiber hates the first creature he or she sees after consuming the draught).

Any waters transmuted by the love rune must be consumed within one hour or their power is lost.

Poison

Shaping Time: 1d4 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Once

The poison rune can be inscribed upon any liquid-bearing vessel, plate, bowl, or dish. If the rune is properly activated, the instant the inscribed object comes into contact with poison, it bursts, alerting onlookers to the poison's presence.

Ever vigilant for treacherous plots, many of the important leaders among the Jotunbrud make extensive use of this rune.

Sanctuary

Shaping Time: 1d8 days
Prerequisites: Triumph
Learnable: Once

The sanctuary rune is the exact opposite of the imprisonment rune. It too is placed upon a door or portal, but instead of preventing an imprisoned creature from leaving through the portal, it prevents all creatures outside the portal from entering. Note that the rune's power bars entrances by normal means - translocation spells such as teleport, dimension door, etc. are unaffected. After one day per level of the caster has elapsed, the rune automatically fades on its own accord.

Unlike the imprisonment rune, sanctuary has no associated word that automatically deactivates it.

Shield

Shaping Time: 1d8 turns
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Three times

When placed upon a shield, this rune improves that shield's AC benefit by an additional +1. This effect lasts only for the duration of the next battle in which the shield is used. If the caster has learned the shield rune twice, it improves the AC bonus of the shield upon which it is placed by +2 (+3 if the caster has learned the rune three times).

Speed

Shaping Time: 1d4 turns
Prerequisites: Healing
Learnable: Twice

This rune is placed upon a set of footwear (even a horseshoe will do). If properly activated, it increases the MV of the creature wearing the footwear by 50% for a number of turns equal to the caster’s level. If the caster has learned the rune twice, the MV bonus is 100%.

Strength

Shaping Time: 1d12 hours
Prerequisites: Healing
Learnable: Twice

This rune is shaped upon a helmet or girdle. Thereafter, any character who wears this item receives a +1 bonus to his Strength ability (and all associated bonuses, etc.) for a number of rounds equal to the level of the caster. If the runed object is removed from the character during this time period, the rune's spell is instantly broken.

A caster who has learned this rune twice can use it to increase a subject's Strength by 2 points.

Thunder

Shaping Time: 1d3 days
Prerequisites: Strength
Learnable: Three times

The thunder rune is useless until a natural thunder or rainstorm arises. During such a storm, a hammer inscribed with the rune beat on the ground for three rounds summons a powerful lightning bolt from the heavens (as though cast by a 7th-level wizard). This bolt will strike any target the character beating the hammer desires (not necessarily the caster), but it is incapable of striking targets that are indoors, underground, or otherwise inaccessible to the sky. Up to three thunder runes may be placed upon a single hammer (make separate activation rolls for each; each requires the full Shaping Time), allowing the wielder to conjure up to three lightning bolts.

Learning the thunder rune more than once allows the caster to increase the damage inflicted by the lightning bolt it summons. Casters who have learned thunder twice can shape runes capable of summoning lightning bolts equivalent to those cast by a 9th-level wizard. Learning thunder three times enables the caster's runes to summon 11th-level bolts.

Transformation

Shaping Time: 1d6 hours
Prerequisites: None
Learnable: Once

This rune is inscribed upon an article of clothing. By wearing this article of clothing, the caster (and only the caster), may polymorph self as per the fourth-level wizard spell. The polymorph effect lasts only for a number of rounds equal to twice the caster’s level.