Sunday, August 7, 2016

Minor Runes/Incantations for Weapon/Armor Personalization

A German Enchanter.

This post is a sort of continuation on my previous theme of getting back to the origins of magic items. In these origin legends, magic items are not made wizards in towers, rather their magic comes from the materials and the maker. Another theme that can be found in some legends is the use of incantations, sigils, or runes inscribed upon the surface of an item to make it magic. Presented here is a system where non-casters, and spell-casters, can inscribe a certain set of symbols onto an item and give it minor bonuses. Along with the system, I have included some historical information about rune, sigils, and incantations to assist in 'spicing up' your game world.

Uses in Your Game: You can use the various rules and options as written in the article. You can add the various runes as minor magical enchantments for low level campaigns, or campaigns that have limited magical item powers. Finally, you can uses these as inspiration for your own magic items or whatever you need inspiration for.

A worker of Incantations - Art from Tang Dynasty China.

Across History and Cultures
The idea of symbols or writing possessing the power to alter reality is an age old concept. Potency and efficacy of these symbols or written incantations relied on the exactitude that the incantations were worded or the symbols were reproduced. Numerous cultures codified these magical incantations or systems into complex systems with their own mores and required actions. While this is in no way an exhaustive list, it includes a sample from eastern and western cultures:

Hieroglyphics: The Egyptian culture and its use of Hieroglyphics has become common knowledge. However, its use of Hieroglyphics to form incantations still remains somewhat obscure. A number of examples of their use of incantations still exist, the largest of which is the Book of the Dead, though the correct translation of its title is closer to Book of Coming Forth by Day or Book of Emerging Forth into the Light. Incantations found in the book included: protection against snakebites, prevention of putrefaction, and the ability to transform into any desired form. Protective incantations were thought to be used frequently on tablets or amulets that were commonly used be citizens from all levels of society.

Runes: Fantasy literature and RPG's are rife with references to runes. Runes were commonly used as the alphabet for Germanic languages before the introduction of the Latin alphabet into the area. The earliest example of the use of Runes dates from around 150 AD. The poetic Edda mentions 'victory runes' that can be inscribed on various parts of a sword. Other examples of runes used for magic include the inscription of Tyr's name or the word 'Alu' multiple times in succession. The inscription of meaningless utterances were also common, these utterances were believed to be some sort magical chants.

Shou / Lu / Fu: The inscription of the Chinese characters Shou, Lu, and Fu on clothing, amulets, as well as many commonly used items is a tradition that dates as far back as the Song dynasty (AD 960 – 1279). They represent the three most important general goals in traditional Chinese culture: longevity (shou), prosperity (lu), and happiness (fu). The thought is that when items are inscribed with these characters, often found in stylized forms, these items can attract the concepts they represent.

Theban Alphabet: The origins of the alphabet are unknown, but was first published in Johannes Trithemius' Polygraphia (1518). It's name comes from Honorius of Thebes, an individual who left little to mark his existence from the Middle Ages. Honorius of Thebes is credited with the authorship of the grimoire called The Sworn Book of Honorius (13th Century AD) which purports to contain the combined knowledge of multiple magicians/wizards. This alphabet was, as still is, used as a cypher to write spells and incantations. The Theban Alphabet is still used by practitioners of Wicca and modern forms of witchcraft. 

An Inscriber of Runes and Incantations.
 
Inscribed Enchantments
The central concept for this system is the personalization of equipment, and bonuses that result from the personalization. In this system, the character inscribes their name into a piece of equipment along with other runes/incantations that link certain powers with the name and the item it is inscribed upon. These personalized enchantments only function for the person whose name is part of the inscribed enchantment.

Various Systems for Use in Your Game
These are a set of different rules for use of this concept in your game. There are two different forms that the personalized enchantments system can take: skills as knowledge and skills as recreation. The skill styles used for this system are: X out of 6 and Skill Proficiencies.

General Rules
These rules apply to the use of personalized enchantments, no matter what skill system is used.

Cost: The character has to devote part of their life essence in order for the inscribed rune/incantation. A character must sacrifice a number of HP, which cannot be healed until the character willingly deactivates the rune/incantation. The HP cost is equal to the total number of incantations/runes the character has active, divided by 2. (e.g. One costs 1 HP, Two costs 1 HP, Three costs 2 HP, Four costs 2 HP, Five costs 3 HP, etc...)

Limited Number: The character can only have a number of active incantations/runes equal to the character's level, or half the character's level (rounded up or down, GM's choice).

Optional Rules:
The GM may decide to use any, some, all, or none of these rules depending on the level of power the GM wants to give to the skill in their game.

An object must be reforged or altered if the character wishes to change which runes/incantations are active on the object. To properly reforge or alter the item the character must make a successful crafting or Tinkering skill roll and spend 1/3rd of the original cost of the item (e.g. Weaponsmithing for a sword, Armorer for armor, or Sewing for Clothing).

A character may have multiple inactive runes/incantations on any one object. The character may activate and deactivate these inscribed runes/incantations at will, as long as they pay the cost. This option gives the chosen item a degree of flexibility for different situations the character might encounter. If there is a monetary cost (covered later in the post) it still must be spent to have a rune/incantation to be functional whether it is active or not.

A character may use their knowledge to inscribe a personalized enchantment for another character besides themselves. The activation cost in HP is still paid for by the character the enchantment is tied to, it is just someone else inscribing it on the weapon. Costs for inscription by another person are doubled to cover the cost of labor. The monetary costs can be found later in this post.

If the GM wishes to have a simpler set of magical items for their game, they can forgo the HP cost to the character to have active rune/incantations or they may keep the HP. The enchantments may still remain personalized, meaning they only function for a particular person, or they can become universal if the GM wishes. In any case it is recommended that the GM allow other characters, besides the one using the enchantments, to inscribe runes/incantations onto an item. If the HP cost is removed, use the monetary cost rules (later in the post) and multiply the base costs by 5 along with any other multipliers. 

A man practicing a rune he has mastered. Art by W. Blake

As Knowledge
The amount of points or proficiencies the character has represents the number of incantations/runes that they have mastered. These skills are not rolled, rather they are representations of the amount of knowledge they have.

X out of 6: Each point the character has in the Enchantments skill counts as an incantation/rune the character has mastered. The character can perfectly recreate this incantation/rune without worry about failure. While the character may have knowledge of any number of incantations/runes, they are unable to effectively recreate any but the ones they have mastered. Since most games that use this system have all skills starting at 1 out of 6, it means that all starting characters know at lest one incantation/rune. Specialists/Rogues treat this skill as any other skill. This skill increases by 1 on every even level for Clerics/Priests and Wizards/Mages. The skill increases by 1 on every odd level (e.g. levels, 3, 5, 7, etc...) for Dwarves and Elves if race is treated as a class.

Skill Proficiencies: The Enchantments skill requires three slots to start, with the relevant ability being Intelligence and a check modifier of -3. The character starts with knowledge of two incantations/runes. For each additional proficiency the character spends on the skill, they gain access to an additional incantation/rune. The Enchantments skill is in the Wizard and Priest proficiency groups.

Optional Rules:
The GM may decide to use any, some, all, or none of these rules depending on the level of balance the GM wants to give to the skill in their game.

To place the incantation on a desired object, the character is required to make a successful crafting skill roll or Tinkering roll depending on the item being worked on. (e.g. Weaponsmithing for a sword, Armorer for armor, or Sewing for Clothing).

A failed crafting skill roll or a failed Tinkering roll means the item is inscribed improperly and another attempt on that item may not be made unless it is reforged or altered. To properly reforge or alter the item the character must make a successful crafting or Tinkering skill roll and spend 1/3rd of the original cost of the item.

The cost of putting the rune/incantation on an item costs 100 gp/sp (depending on the base monetary system of the game) per rune/incantation on the item counting the one being applied. (e.g. 100 gp/sp for the 1st, 200 gp/sp, for the 2nd, 300 gp/sp for the 3rd, etc...). If the skill to inscribe the rune/incantation fails, half of the materials/cost is wasted.

Examples of magical and alchemical sigils. - Art by Ebenezer Sibly

As Recreation
The basis of this system is the accurate recreation of specific runes/incantations so that they function correctly on the item. The character may know any number of runes/incantations but the rule for the number of active runes/incantations still applies.

X out of 6: All character's begin with a rating of 1 in 6 in the Enchantments skill. This skill functions as any other skill, with the character having to roll equal to or below the rating each time they wish to inscribe a rune/incantation on an item. Specialists/Rogues treat this skill as any other skill. This skill increases by 1 on every even level for Clerics/Priests and Wizards/Mages. The skill increases by 1 on every odd level (e.g. levels, 3, 5, 7, etc...) for Dwarves and Elves if race is treated as a class.

Skill Proficiencies: The Enchantments skill requires three slots to start, with the relevant ability being Wisdom and a check modifier of -3. This skill is improved like any other skill by spending additional proficiencies on it.

Optional Rules:
The GM may decide to use any, some, all, or none of these rules depending on the level of balance the GM wants to give to the skill in their game.

A failed crafting skill roll or a failed Tinkering roll means the item is inscribed improperly and another attempt on that item may not be made unless it is reforged or altered. To properly reforge or alter the item the character must make a successful crafting or Tinkering skill roll and spend 1/3rd of the original cost of the item.

The cost of putting the rune/incantation on an item costs 100 gp/sp (depending on the base monetary system of the game) per rune/incantation on the item counting the one being applied. (e.g. 100 gp/sp for the 1st, 200 gp/sp, for the 2nd, 300 gp/sp for the 3rd, etc...). If the skill to inscribe the rune/incantation fails, half of the materials/cost is wasted.

The GM rolls the skill secretly, instead of the player. The character must test the weapon out before determining if the inscription was successful or not.

A failed roll means that the opposite effect of the inscribed rune/incantation occurs, turning bonuses into penalties and bonus damage being caused to the character each time they used the weapon.

Runes / Incantations
There are two classifications for runes/incantations: worn and weapon. Worn runes/incantations can be applied to any piece of clothing, jewelry, or item. No matter what kind of worn item the rune/incantation is applied to, the bonus remains the same. Weapon runes/incantations can be applied to any weapon, ranged weapons apply their bonuses to the projectiles they fire. A character may only benefit from a particular rune/incantation type once, no matter how many copies of the rune/incantation the have activated.

Optional: The GM may decide that a character may benefit from a rune/incantation multiple times if it comes from the same item, it is up to the GM the maximum number of times allowable. The cost for the 2nd rune to be placed on the item is doubled, the cost for the 3rd is tripled, the cost for the 4th is quadrupled, etc if the GM is using the monetary costs mentioned earlier in the post. 

An example of a few different items that can be inscribed
 
Worn Runes/Incantations
Protection: This rune/incantation improves the AC protection of an item by +/- 1. If the item does not normally provide an AC bonus, the rune still improves the wearers AC. A character may benefit from this type of rune/incantation once, no matter how many items are inscribed with it.
Optional: The AC bonus only applies to a certain type of weapon or certain type of damage (e.g. ranged/melee or slashing/bludgeoning/piercing). If the rune/incantation only supplies protection against a specific type of weapon or damage, the GM may rule that each type of protection is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Bolstering: This rune/incantation improves a single save by 1, the save must be chosen at the time of the inscription. An item, or set of items, may provide a bonus to each save.
Optional: Each save that is improved is considered a different rune/incantation, meaning a character must know five different runes/incantations in order to improve every save.

Swift: This rune/incantation improves the base move speed of a character by 5 feet/ 2 yards/ 2 meters / etc.
Optional: The movement bonus only applies when the wearer is moving in a specific type of environment (e.g. mountain, forest, swamp, etc...). If the rune/incantation only applies to a specific environment the GM may rule that each type is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Increased Range of Motion: This rune/incantation reduces the penalties to Rogue skills by 5%. If the game system uses the X out of 6 skill system, improve the Stealth and Tinkering skills by 1 or reduce the penalties to said skills by 1 if the system places penalties on those skills for wearing armor.
Optional: The bonus or penalty reduction only applies to a specific skill, rather than all the listed skills. If the rune/incantation only applies to a specific skill the GM may rule that each type is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Agile: This rune/incantation allows the wearer to make 2 rolls, taking the better roll, for attempting to do anything that requires a level of grace and agility, though not for attacking or saves (e.g. acrobatics, stealth, balancing, etc...).
Optional: The rune/incantation only applies to a specific skill or action, rather than all skills and actions that are based on agility and grace. If the rune/incantation only applies to a specific skill or action the GM may rule that each type is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Powerful: This rune/incantation allows the wearer to make 2 rolls, taking the better roll, for attempting to do anything that requires a level of strength or physical might, though not for attacking or saves (e.g. bending bars, lifting gates, pushing heavy objects, etc...).
Optional: The rune/incantation only applies to a specific skill or action, rather than all skills and actions that are based on strength or physical might. If the rune/incantation only applies to a specific skill or action the GM may rule that each type is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Potent: This rune/incantation allows a spell-caster to be considered 1 level higher when determining level dependent variables of spells (e.g. duration, range, damage, etc.).
Optional: The rune/incantation only applies to a specific school of magic (e.g. necromancy, enchantment, conjuration, etc...) or to a specific type of magic (divine or arcane). If the rune/incantation only applies to a specific school or type of magic GM may rule that each school or type is a separate rune/incantation that must known by the inscriber.

Wayland the Smith, maker of powerful weapons and Runes. Art by J. Gehrts

Weapon Runes/Incantations
Blood Thirsty: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Death Dealing: This rune provides a +1 bonus to-hit to a weapon.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Caustic: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Acid damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Arctic: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Cold damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Searing: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Fire damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Shocking: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Electric damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Shattering: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Sonic damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Forceful: This rune provides a +1 bonus to damage to a weapon, this bonus damage is considered Force damage.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish.

Optional:
These options are rather powerful, so it is up to the GM whether or not to allow these.

Will For Destruction: Increases the critical range for the weapon by 1 (e.g. a normal weapon would score a critical on a 19 and 20). Rolling the reduced number needed for a critical does not mean an automatic hit, it just means that they score a critical IF their roll would normally hit.
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish. Optionally, the rune/incantation counts as 2 or 3 for the purposes of limits and costs (GM choice).

Destroyer: This increases the critical multiplier by 1 (e.g. a normal weapon would do x3 damage instead of x2).
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish. Optionally, the rune/incantation counts as 2 or 3 for the purposes of limits and costs (GM choice).

Powerful: This increases the damage die of the weapon by 1 type (e.g. a D6 would become a D8, a D8 would become a D10).
Optional: If GM wishes, there must be a rune/incantation for each type of weapon or type of weapon damage, meaning someone must know multiple runes/incantations to improve any weapon they wish. Optionally, the rune/incantation counts as 3 for the purposes of limits and costs (GM choice).