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GAZ 7 Rune Magic for 5E

by Stefan Beate

Rune magic is an added system to the Known World setting, its access restricted to clerics of the northern pantheons originally.

It is implied that the runes are a sort of gift of the Immortals to the mortals. They are only usable by those who commit a serious sacrifice (a ritual „death“) to gain the true knowledge of runes (usage as simple writing is relatively common).

Additionally, there are four cleric spells associated with rune magic:
intrepret runes: basically, a spell to get some hints by the DM
bless rune activates runes inscribed into an item
Know Rune is the spell needed to learn a single rune, at the cost of one point CON.
Inscribe Rune basically creates a magic item, with activation needed (via Bless rune)

The whole rune system is very close to the RuneQuest magic system, as pointed out earlier. It is not suitable for the very positive attitude that permeates the 5e ruleset. Sacrificing CON for access to magic?

I would try to integrate it into 5e this way:

Feat: Rune Magic
Prerequisite: The ability to cast at least one spell.
You have learned the secrets of the runes, as taught by the Immortals venerated in the Northern Reaches and beyond. To accomplish this, you have to enter a death-like trance for nine days and nights, at the end of this trance, you lose a point of constitution until you finish a long rest. (Note, if wanting a stronger restriction, you might have the PC lose one point for every day in the trance. This is no magic for the weak). After recovering, the newly acquired rune magic can be used. The Rune caster can now use the full set of 24 runes given in the original GAZ (the Futhark). To use a rune spell, she needs an item inscribed with the rune in question. A rune spell uses up a spell slot of the casters choice, with higher-level slots generating more powerful effects.

(I would intentionally broaden the scope of rune magic. The D&D approach to magic is characterized by arbitrary distinctions between casters, which is not fitting to my image of nordic magic, open to anyone with the endurance needed. YMMV, of course. A prerequisite might be “must be a cleric of the northern pantheon”, even though this would deviate from the usual feat format.)

The “interpret runes” and “inscribe runes” spell could be kept as they are. Bless runes and learn rune are no longer needed.

A few ideas to translate the runes into increasing magical effects:

FEHU: The caster can find treasure or shield property from being found, or can signify ownership. Finding would increase in range with spell level from a few score feet to miles. With special and magical items, higher levels would increase accuracy, and might play a role in working against hiding precautions taken. Ownership might include hiding the item, or placing protective magic effects on it, from misdirection to curses, and perhaps the ability to call it from afar.

controlling wild beasts increases with level, regarding numbers of beasts and degree of control.
The Strength could increase with level, from moderate increases and short duration to big increases and longer durations. Constitution could be added as well as an option.
Attracting the attackers might be getting a stronger compulsion, up to the attackers ignoring dangers, and might give the caster resistance or later immunity to weapon attacks, perhaps even granting him attacks of his own.

Influence a growing number of giants, and increasing the influence, from favorable reactions to charm effects.
Hypnotizing a number of giants, and controlling them stronger.
Turning the caster (and perhaps a number of allies) into giants, increasing the giant possible with spell level.

This are only rough outlines. Depending on what you want to do with it, one could either codify rune magic into yet another number of spells, or leave it to the individual players and DMs to use this as a free-form magic system, limited by the runes themselves and the ingenuity of the group.

It comes to either keeping the original spirit of the GAZ rune magic intact or making it more fitting to the mood of the 5e rules.
Keeping the original intact might be:

- restricting it to norse clerics
- requiring a feat per rune (or using the original spell? Maybe requiring the use of a feat to learn the rune-specific spells?)
- making a real sacrifice of a permanent CON point.
- and perhaps using the rune like a cleric domain, translating the rune powers into spells that are always prepared.
With the "Bless Rune" spell, it is actually the requirement of using a spell "slot" to power the runes.

Could a CON sacrifice be undone by healing magic? Would that negate the learned rune?

A more lenient approach might be

requiring a feat to learn rune magic, with a temporary CON damage (or requiring a con save at the end of the period to see if the damage is permanent), with access limited to either the cleric class or opening it up to all casters.
opening up the usage of all 24 runes as soon as the feat is learned
limiting the number of runes available each day (maybe two is ok, or something level-dependant, like level divided by four)
defining either rune spells, as per the “domain” idea, or just using guidelines and leaving the actual effects to the player and DM
and perhaps adding the interpret runes and inscribe runes spell to the spell-casters repertoire.

My take would be:

requiring one feat to learn all the runes, with a con save to see if a point con is permanently lost. (just an idea: clerics/divine casters don´t lose it permanently if associated with the norse pantheon, but all others do)
limiting usage to one rune “domain” per four levels per day
using guidelines for spells
interpret runes and inscribe runes as additional spells, with perhaps some failure chance for non-divine casters.