Arcane Runes - Homebrew
Sometimes, magical items can just be boring. What if there was something you could give your players that had a bit more… intrigue?
Arcane Runes, these powerful runes can be carved into precious gems and then implanted into your character’s body to grant them the power to control the wind, resist non-magical swords or even create a protective barrier of ice between you and those that would wish harm on your person. These Arcane Runes were used in Tier 3 and Tier 4 of my last campaign, and my players had fun trying to decide which rune to get, and how to get certain gems to Beinor, the Rune Mage.
For those that don’t care for the nitty-gritty explanation:
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What Are Arcane Runes?
Arcane Runes, at least in my world, are simply magical runes that have been lost to time. They are the very basis of magic and just drawing them is enough to cause a bit of magical energy to be given off, though not enough to really be useful. The one way, that Rune Mages have discovered, is to find precious stones that are large enough to power the Arcane Runes, and sink that into someone’s body. Once that process is done, the target of the Arcane Rune can summon the magic of the Arcane Rune and use it to protect themselves, cause mayhem or deal some damage.
All these Arcane Runes are powerful in their own right, and those that are sharp-eyed enough may realize that many of these Arcane Runes are actually lifted from the UA - Prestige Classes and Rune Magic that WotC put out back in 2015. I really loved the idea of runes and how it could be used in my world and I wanted it to have a bit of a place. By treating these like another magical item that adventurers might come across in their travels, you can limit them to your heart’s content or throw them at your players in the first town they stop in at level 1.
Furthermore, the prices for these Arcane Runes are based off the very excellent, Sane Magical Prices guide and are as close as I can get to existing magical items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide… though some liberties were taken with some of the pricing based off of my best guess. Of course these prices aren’t meant to be concrete and may be different depending on your world, it was just a good way for me to charge the players for new powers without explicitly making it a capitalist transaction.
One last note, my wife loves to tease me that I am ripping off of Critical Role, but I would like to reject that claim. I swear I made these a few weeks before that episode of Critical Role came out, and it’s Matt Mercer who is reading my session notes!
How Do They Work?
Arcane Runes work by finding the gem of a high enough quality/size/value and finding a Rune Mage, someone who is well established in Runes and how they work, and having them carve the Arcane Rune into the precious gem itself. Then the Rune Mage will expend a spell slot and push the Rune Gem into the targets body, sealing it into them. Depending on the complexity of the rune or its power, the spell slot required may be too high for some Rune Mages to cast and they may need to find someone else. I limited it to 1st through 3rd spell slots to bind the rune into the body as the UA for Rune Mages just gives them 1st through 3rd level spells to work with, this can, of course, be adapted to your world’s needs.
Now, not every Rune Mage is going to know all of the Arcane Runes, and you may even create more for your table. This can be a fantastic quest for your players to explore the ruins of the old world or dive into the Underdark in search of lost knowledge, maybe the Rune Mage can even join them and act as a guide of sorts in the Underdark.
Lastly, characters can only have one Rune Gem in their body at a time. This is similar to the Attunement requirement, but takes far more planning when deciding what Rune Gem to get as default there can only be one a time. In your world, you might treat a Rune Gem as permanent editions to your bodies, never to be removed, or you may decide to limit the number of Rune Gems to three at once, like Attunement slots.
Use In Your Campaign
These can be dropped into your own campaign quite simply, maybe the party finds a strange stone with an Arcane Rune carved into it and they want to learn more. Maybe they stumbled into a snow storm and found a strange shack covered in Arcane Runes and goats hopping around outside while a dwarf fruitlessly tried to drag the goats into his house to wait out the snowstorm. (I think you can tell how I introduced them.)
The Arcane Runes can be used as rewards for your party, and can even be used to flavor up some of your NPCs. If the king is sporting a beautiful Tanzanite on his back, others may get jealous of this new fashion statement and attempt to find a Rune Mage to get Wind’s Grasp also pushed into them, who doesn’t want to not fall to their death?
Different Gems For Different Things
One of my favorite parts of this, is that runes need different types of gems for them to function. Air effects need Tanzanite, Earthern effects need Malachite, Cold effects require Sapphire and Fire effects take Garnets. These gems range from being common in the world, to being quite rare and may even be a quest in and of itself to find. When you need a single Amethyst worth 3,000 gp or more, you may decide to head over to that floating city that sits on top of a massive Amethyst and decide it’s worth the risk of imprisonment if you can just get yourself a chunk.
And that’s the Arcane Runes. These little, but expensive, gems can add quite a bit of fun in your campaign, and can be something other than just a +1 weapon you can reward your party with. Though if you have a bear totem Barbarian… maybe don’t include any amethysts in your world!