Runequest Thursday #193 - Runic Arcana: A New Way to Work with Sorcery!

Clint Staples

Runes are the ultimate source of all magic on Glorantha and beyond. Even the power of the gods are expressions of these primal forces. And since sorcerers seek power without recourse to intercession by god or spirit, demon or elemental, all sorcery is ultimately an interaction with one or more Runes.


Most sorcerers prefer spells incorporating a spectrum of runes, essentially “playing the field”, with a host of spells that draw on many runic powers and grant the broadest possible scope of ability. But there are advantages to specialization, not least of which Runic Attunement, in which the sorcerer internalizes a portion of what makes a particular Rune whatever it is.


In the other RPG that I am developing, Ragnarok: The Great Winter, mages have themes drawn from legend and myth, which often ascribe to them powers that are more narrowly thematic than is seen in a lot of games: like Earth Sorcery based on the inhuman earth affinity that a Stonegiantblood character has with that element, or the Wyrd-based magery of Seidr magic, that focuses a lot on divination and alteration of the strands of Fate surrounding the Seidrkona.


So here are set of rules that suit a “themed” Sorcerer.


Nota Bene: This article is written for my own Sorcery System, which you can find attached to this post and are welcome to use, free of charge. Much of the current article is concerned with concepts that are readily adaptable to any notion of sorcery that can incorporate the runes, however, and even the spells are written in such as way that they would be easy to adapt to your system of choice.


Runic Arcana:

Each Runic Arcana determine the sorts of spells that are available to the arcana’s adherents. Essentially, the Arcana is like a limited field of study – a discipline within the broader field of sorcery, accessed by integrating the Rune into one’s metaphysical self and allowing greater manipulation and control at the expense of broader flexibility.


Arcana Sorcerers choose a particular Rune and associate themselves with it metaphysically, foreswearing an opposing Rune they designate at the same time. Upon the completion of this rite, which might be conducted by a single sorcerer but could also be a membership ritual into a Cabal of like-minded mages, a sorcerer has a Runic Affinity with the chosen Rune, and a Runic Opposition to the rune foresworn. These terms, which we will explore momentarily, grant benefits and certain restriction.


Runic Affiliation: Cost: 5 Hero Points, Prerequisites: Cannot be Affiliated with an opposing Arcana. Must undertake the necessary ritual of affiliation.


After undergoing a ritual significant to a particular rune, you find it easier to access the power within it. Simultaneously, you foreswear the use of an opposing Rune, giving up all power over it in exchange for a certain resistance to its effects. The ritual has the following effects:


  • All spells incorporating the Rune to which you are affiliated have their Magic Point cost reduced by 1. This can make Rank 1 spells castable with no Magic Points, and is one of the main advantages of Runic Affiliation.
  • You can never cast (whether from memory, a tome, scroll, item or other device) any spell or magical effect incorporating a Rune you have foresworn. You complete antipathy to the power of the foresworn Rune grants you +20% to your Resistance rolls for spells against its use against you.


Other Effects:

When you have a Runic Affiliation, you have access to the Runic Arcana for that Rune. So the Runic Affiliation: Fire grants you access to the Fire Arcana, and the Runic Affiliation: Luck grants you Access to the Luck Arcana. You also have foresworn certain opposing Rune(s) in exchange for the power you have gained. The opposite runes are open to some discretion, and may change from setting to setting. In the above examples, Fire might have Darkness as an Opposing Rune, but Ice or Cold are equally possible. Similarly, Luck could be opposed by inalterable Stasis, but could also be opposed by Truth or even by Fate, depending on a setting’s particular understanding of predestination.


It is possible to be affiliated with more than one Rune, and thus be a sorcerer of multiple Arcana. Each such affiliation also carries with it the Foreswearing of an Opposition Rune, so if there are a limited number of runes in a particular setting, it might be possible for an ambitious sorcerer to “run out” of Affiliations to gain.


Combinations of Arcana (The Masters of Luck and Death, for example) are a great way to personify a sorcerer character or cabal.


Unusable Runes or those without Opposites:

Some runes cannot be accessed as Runic Arcana. This is partly because they have not opposite to foreswear, like Rune Mastery or Man. It can also because they are too general to provide the benefits of an Arcana – like Magic. All sorcerers already have a form of Affiliation with Magic and an accompanying access to the Magic Arcana.  


Sample Arcana:

Having set out the way to gain Runic Arcana, let’s go ahead and create one for the Masters of Luck and Death mentioned above. In a follow up article we can create the cabal itself. r


The Runic Arcana for this cabal are pretty clear, Luck and Death. We will begin with Luck – which we can define for our present purpose as the ability to alter the likelihood of future events. Combined with the other Arcana (Death) we start to get a decent idea of the “sort” of alterations that are most desired by the members of this cabal. Below, we can work out a list of spells in the Luck Arcana, at least as evinced by the Masters of Luck and Death.


The following spells from my Sorcery System Document are available to the Masters of Luck and Death via the Luck Arcana:








New Spells:


Lucky Break

Range – Self   POW check – No         Duration – Instant

Time to Cast - Reaction          Magnitude – 2


The caster may elect to cast this spell as a reaction to a failed skill or percentage roll he has just made, to gain an immediately reroll. Lucky Break cannot be used to re-roll a Fumble. Whatever the result of the second roll may be, the caster must accept it.


Spell Manipulation: Range.




Range – 10 Yards        POW check – Yes        Duration – Instant

Time to Cast – Major Action Magnitude – Var        


This reversible spell allows the caster to alter the fate of the target positively or negatively. The caster must state whether a particular casting will add or subtract 10% per Magnitude from the chance to succeed with the chosen skill in the target’s next action (which must be in the current round or the one following). An unwilling target must be overcome in a POWer contest. Note that Special, Critical, and Fumble results are also affected by Mis/Fortune.


Spell Manipulation: Range.


Fortune’s Fool

Range – Touch            POW check – no         Duration – Instant

Time to Cast – Major Action Magnitude –  


Cast on a willing subject, this spell alters the immediate future of the target positively by granting a single reroll a single roll he has


The Weave of Fate

Range – 10 Yards        POW check – Yes        Duration – 10 Rounds

Time to Cast – Major Action Magnitude – Variable


You weave the fate of all your companions into a greater whole. making normal endeavors seem effortless and difficult ones seem easy. Nominate up to one subject (which can include yourself) per Magnitude that you possess in the spell and weave their future actions into your casting. You gain a number of temporary Fate “threads” equal to your Manipulation Limit, each of which corresponds to a 10% modifier that you can apply once, positively or negatively, to any roll made by or against one of the subjects of your weaving. You can apply them after the roll has been made, but before any effects of it have been implemented. The Gamemaster should tell you whether an attack is a hit, a miss, a special, a fumble, or a critical, but is otherwise not required to tell you the exact roll. When Weaving the rolls of your allies, you may know the exact number, but no alteration, positively or negatively, can alter one of their rolls more than one step in the chain of success (Miss <-> Hit <-> Special <-> Critical).

You (or the player subject of your Weaving) should narrate the alteration to the weave of Fate.



Circea (Manipulation Limit 5, Spell Magnitude 3) and her friends encounter a group of trolls in the ruins of the Rubble. As the trollkin sling, and the trolls magic themselves, Circea casts Weave of Fate to include her three allies, leaving herself out of the weaving (she only has 3 Magnitude and can affect up to three subjects), in the hope that she can hang back from the fight.

In the first round, one of the trollkin gets a lucky sling shot that Impales one of her subjects, so Circea (who has five 10% “threads”, each of which may be spent once) elects to spend one Thread of her five to raise the trollkin’s roll. The GM tells Circea that this makes the attack a normal hit instead of a special, and rolls the result.

During round three, Circea weaves a single thread into one of her subject's rolls that missed being a special by only 3%. The thread improves the Hit, making it a Special Attack, but cannot reduce it more than one step in the chain of success.  

In round six, a great troll attacks wildly with his maul and succeeds with a normal hit against another subject of Circea’s spell. Knowing that a hit from a maul wielded by a great troll could result in an instantly deadly wound, she weaves all three of her remaining threads into the tapestry of events, increasing its roll by up to 30%. The great troll, deadly with his weapon, and who rolled well, still hits even after having its roll result increased by 30%.

The fate of Circea’s companion is now out of her hands.  


Next Week: Death Arcana for the Masters of Luck and, well, Death . . .