Due to the Dwarves' natural dislike of magic, but the fact that some people would want a mage that could take a hit, the Rune Priest was invented during the earlier years of Dungeons & Dragons. It essentially works the same way a wizard would...except you use (wait for it, wait for it) runes.
There was no Runepriest in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons... but, the splatbook "Giantcraft" for the Forgotten Realms did include the Runecaster, a wizard subclass based around crafting runes and, guess what? It was the only wizard class that AD&D dwarves could take! Well, outside of the Sha'ir and the Zakharan Elementalists from Al-Qadim, but who's counting?
In the 3.5 edition splatbook Races of Stone, the Runesmith was a Dwarf-only prestige class that really only did one thing- allowed Arcane spellcasters to prepare their spells without Somatic components. This lack of having to hop around on one foot to cast Lightning Bolt meant that they could then wear the Heavy Armour that was also a prerequisite for the class. Aside from that, a little bonus to stoneworking, and the later ability to hand-off rune-scribed spells to party members, they were just... Wizards wearing full plate. Kinda highlights just how silly Arcane Spell Failure is as a mechanic.
The Runepriest was introduced in PHB3 and are classed as a Divine Leader, which meant that they had to go head-to-head with Clerics in regards to usefulness in their role. While Clerics were pretty much stuck to either going for combat or going for support, the Runepriest tried to make use as both through the use of Runes; whenever a Runic-keyword power is used, you pick between Protection or Destruction, add in whatever effects that adds to the power, and then enter that rune's state (or others depending on which Paragon Path or items you pick up). Of course, they can also do medic stuff with the Rune of Mending power with extra perks based on runes. The one diverging point is the Runic Artistry class:
- Defiant Word takes advantage of a careless enemy by adding Wis to your next attack's damage if they miss you. This is a bit of a trap option considering that without extra proficiencies, you'll only have simple weapons to hit people with.
- Serene Blade gives proficiency with military heavy blades while also allowing you to use your Wis to determine AC. You also gain THP every time you're hit, scaling from Wis to Wis+5 to Wis+10 depending on which tier you're in.
- Wrathful Hammer gives proficiency with mauls and military hammers. You also gain Con to damage against the an enemy that hit you.
Compared to a Cleric, it is a bit tricky to nail down, but it does give some useful switch-hitting while also being a reliable frontliner all the time.
The Runepriest suffered a lot from coming out in the Player's Handbook 3, which was after Divine Power but right before Divine Power 2 was cancelled in favor of Essentials crap. This meant that it initially began with only two Runic Artistry options; Defiant Word and Wrathful Hammer. In issue #404 of Dragon Magazine, which was an Oriental Adventures issue centered on Kara-tur, the article "Shan Zi of Kara-Tur" discussed a cultural tradition of the Runepriest, which resulted in the addition of a handful of new runepriest prayers, the Enlightened Word Paragon Path, and a third Runic Artistry option in the form of the Serene Blade tradition.
The only other article that Runepriests benefited from was Dragon #398's Unearthed Arcana: Ignorance is Blessed, which provides the variant class feature "Rune of Elemental Warding". This replaces Rune of Mending, and lets you give yourself and an ally Energy Resistance to Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning or Thunder. If you use it in Rune of Protection mode, you can add a second buddy to the protected list. If you use it in Rune of Destruction mode, you instead can both do bonus elemental damage of that resisted type until the end of your next turn.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard* - Binder* - Cavalier* - Elementalist* - Hexblade* - Hunter*|
Mage* - Knight* - Protector* - Scout* - Sentinel*
Skald* - Slayer* - Sha'ir* - Thief* - Vampire* - Warpriest* - Witch*
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger* - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
*·: Non-AEDU variant classes