Runequest Thursday #121 - Magical Tattoos!

Clint Staples

Having enjoyed Chris Van Deelen's Brute Tattoo for Pathfinder, I decided to make tattoos a thing for Runequest.

In Glorantha, Tattoos are a common form of self adornment. Sartarites and other Lightbringers often mark themselves with the runes of their god or gods. Many mercenaries, whether they are devoted Humakti or not, sport a death rune as a sign of fellowship in the the life of Arms. Yelmalians, especially those who travel beyond their staid home environment, might adopt Sky sigils. And many cults within the cosmopolitan Lunar Empire advertise their allegiance with body paint or tattoos.

So here is everything you need to add Magical Tattoos to your game.


Runic Tattoos

Many cults, among them Lightbringers and others, favor tattoos as personal adornment as well as a way to demonstrate an individual’s dedication to a particular deity or spirit, or even to a Runic concept. What follows is a simple system for d100 games to make those tattoos work for you.

There are advantages to magical Tatoos, like always having them with your, and the fact that they do not occupy INTelligence slots they way that other spells do. They also cost less than most spell teaching. There are also disadvantages, in that they are always with you, which can get you into trouble. Having all the Runes for Orlanth tattooed prominently on your person is a really effective way to attract the attention of the Lunar constabulary, for example. They also cost POWer to create, drawn form the subject. But if your character has power to burn, they can be well worth it.

Also, with your shiny new tattoos, you will be the envy of all the other cultists.

The Skill:

Magical Tattooist (Staring percentage: POW+CHA): You have the ability not only to create compelling and artistic tattoos, but to imbue them with temporary magical power. You must use specially prepared and ritually consecrated inks and tools when you do so. It takes you 1d6 hours per point you dedicate to the tattoo, which can be done in one sitting, or over the course of several.

Magical Tattooing:

The ability to enchant your tattoos is limited by the level in the Magical Tattooing skill. At 50% or less, the artist is capable only of imbuing Magic Points that the owner of the tattoo can use as her own for spellcasting purposes. These Magic Points come from the subject (or the tattooist if he is willing) receiving the tattoo, are dedicated to the tattoo, and the subject’s POWer immediately is permanently reduced by the same amount.

The artist can imbue up to 1 Magic Point per full 25% in this skill. Magic Points imbued in a tattoo are stored POWer, just as they would be in a POWer Storage Crystal. When the Magic Points are expended, the subject can “refill” the tattoo with her own POWer, simply by casting Magic Points into the tattoo. Magic Points spent in this way return at the normal rate.

More expert Magical Tattooists can accomplish greater feats than imbuing Magic Points.

A Tattooist of sufficient Skill (75% or higher) has attained sufficient understanding of a number of Runes that she can imbue Aspects into her work. For each full 25% you have in Magical Tattooing, you understand one Rune sufficiently well to imbue Aspects from it (so a tattooist with Skill 77% would understand 3 Runes, and comprehend a new one at 100%).

Runic Aspects

Each Rune has one or more aspects, which a tattooist can access. The Fire/Sky Rune has aspects like Fire, Flight, Light, but also Purity and Truth. The Death Rune has the obvious aspect of Death itself, but also could include Relentlessness, Resolution in the face of adversity, or Fate.

For each full 25% you have over 50%, you can imbue a Runic Aspect along with, or instead of, increasing the Power Storage. Each Runic Aspect imbued requires 1 permanent POW.

The level of an imbued Aspect is equal to 1 for each full 25% over 50%. So Rank 1 at 75, Rank 2 at 100%, etc.

Runic Aspects in Play

A single rank of a Runic Aspect can be imbued to do any of the following things when activated.

  • Enable the Subject, or a weapon she wields, to inflict one point of bonus damage of a type associated with the Aspect (Fire damage for the Fire/Sky Rune, etc).
  • Act as one point of a spell associated with that Rune. If a spell has a casting cost of more than one (and is not a variable spell), the rank of the Aspect must be at least that high.
  • Grant 1 permanent Point of Armor to the tattooed Hit Location.
  • Grant 1 permanent Bonus Hit Point to the tattooed Hit Location.
  • Grant a Skill Bonus of 10% per rank to a skill that matches that Aspect (Darkness > Stealth, Life > Treat Disease, etc).

In addition to one of the above, any Runic Aspect can be used defensively:

  • Acting as Countermagic against an opposing Aspect to the one imbued. For example, an Death Rune tattoo for Resoluteness could oppose a Demoralize spell as effectively as Countermagic.

Activating a Magical Tattoo

The Subject is the only person who can activate, or benefit from a magical tattoo, and may only do so in the way set out by the tattooist at the time of the tattoo’s application. Magical Tattoos work just as spells do, and require a casting action. Casting requires a POW x5% to succeed. On a Fumble result, the tattoo has been exhausted or has been damaged sometime in the past, and must be repaired by a Magical Tattooist before it can be used again.

The spells or effects imbued into a Magical Tattoo do not occupy spell slots in the Intelligence of the Subject, and Subject need not know the spell so imbued. If the Subject does know a spell essentially the same as the one imbued in a tattoo, the levels of the Tattoo add levels to his spell equal to the Rank of the Aspect.

Duration of Activation: 5 Minutes. Rune spells like Extension could increase the duration.