Meet the Party (Member): D&D 5E Rune Scribe

It’s time for a very special Meet the Party, where we narrow our focus but broaden our range. The idea of the prestige class has returned to Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, and the playtesting goes on. Thanks to the Unearthed Arcana series, we get to once again be on the cutting edge as the first of the prestige classes is brought to light: the master of the magic of ancient runes, the Rune Scribe! So let’s meet one of these scribes, see what she can do, and talk about what the prestige class looks like so far!

Before we meet our newly-minted Rune Scribe, let’s talk about the material on prestige classes; like when we took a look at Psionics, this Meet the Party will leave the beaten path a bit to do a bit of discussion and reviewing.

Prestige classes, emulated by Paragon Paths in 4th Edition, have presented a higher grade of ability since they were first added to D&D. Sometimes they represent a simple (if powerful) advancement within a class’s already present abilities, but more often they take the form of something new, often a rare bit of power that’s difficult to find in large numbers. That’s the case for the Rune Scribe, and according to the article that’s the plan for all prestige classes. As a result, each prestige class has prerequisites. The Rune Scribe requires that a character have Intelligence and Dexterity scores of at least 13, be at least level 5, be proficient in Arcana, and have completed a quest wherein they find a master rune and bring it to a teacher.

I find this last part to be very interesting. All well and good to acquire phenomenal cosmic power (or whatever else a prestige class may offer), but getting it just because you crossed an XP threshold isn’t as satisfying as it could be. Giving each prestige class a story/quest-based prerequisite makes gaining that class more exciting, more rewarding, and provides the player and DM with a good plot idea to build off of. Whatever else may happen over the course of playtesting prestige classes, I hope this feature sticks around.

Functionally, prestige classes currently function under the multiclassing mechanic. Being a magic-using class, Rune Scribe is thus going to be inclined towards other spellcasters, but it’s not strictly necessary: where a Rune Scribe ability calls for a save from a target, the DC is actually 12 + the spell slot level used. It’s effectively an ability-score-independent prestige class as a result, so any character attracted to what the Rune Scribe has to offer can take it if they can find that first master rune.

Vadania Amakiir, High Elf Level 5 Wizard/Level 5 Rune Scribe

HP: 57    AC: 14

Hit Dice: 5d6+5d8

 Str: 8  Con: 12  Dex: 18  Int: 20  Wis: 13  Cha: 10

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training, Cantrip, Extra Language, Spellcasting, Arcane Recovery, Arcane Tradition: Abjuration, Abjuration Savant, Arcane Ward, Background: Sage, Two Extra Languages, Researcher, Rune Lore, Runic Magic, Runic Discovery, Living Rune, Rune Mastery

Gear: Dagger, Arcane Focus, Explorer’s Pack, Spellbook, Bottle of Black Ink, Quill, Small Knife, Letter from a Dead Colleague Posing a Question You Have Not Yet Been Able To Answer, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch with 10 GP, A Gold Coin Minted in an Unknown Land

Cantrips: Mage Hand, Mending, Ray of Frost, Light, Fire Bolt

Spells: Burning Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Identify, Mage Armor, Jump, Feather Fall, Unseen Servant, Arcane Lock, Locate Object, Knock, Shatter, Dispel Magic, Glyph of Warding, Fireball, Counterspell

Master Runes: Opal of the Ild Rune, Orb of the Stein Rune, Pennant of the Vind Rune, Shard of the Kalt Rune

Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Investigation, Medicine, Arcana, History

Tool Proficiencies: Calligrapher’s Tools, Mason’s Tools, Woodcarver’s Tools

Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom

Vadania here is no slouch with wizardly spells, providing utility and combat power with a specialization in abjuration magic. She really started to come into her own, however, when she discovered the Opal of the Ild Rune. As she learned of the other master runes, she only became more powerful. At their most simple her runes allow her to perform minor manipulations of their chosen elements, as well as protecting her from certain types of damage and effects. Having unlocked their true power, however, she gains access to new spells, the ability to infuse weapons with elemental power, and devastating attacks of raw elemental force. The nimbleness required to inscribe runes, her abjuration magic, and the hardy lifestyle of a rune scribe make her a tougher opponent than she would’ve been otherwise, and that nimbleness also makes her a steady hand with a dagger (that just might be glowing with runes as well).

Who She Is

Vadania Amakiir had been on the road of an adventurer for some time when her travels led her to a treasure chest deep within a dungeon. Splitting the wealth within among herself and her companions, Vadania spotted a beautiful fire opal, with some sort of marking seeming to shimmer within. Claiming it as part of he share, the high elf closed her hand around it. For a brief moment the silence of the dungeon was broken by her scream as a searing pain shot through her body, but it ended as soon as it started, replaced by a soothing warm glow. Opening her hand and looking at the opal – and the obvious rune seemingly embedded in it – Vadania knew that she had found something special. It took some time to track down someone who knew that what Vadania had found was the Opal of the Ild Rune, and longer to learn that teacher’s secrets. Once she did, however, Vadania threw herself into the study of runes and their magic, searching ancient ruins and perusing entire libraries in her efforts. Now she is a master of the runes he has found, and the master of the elemental forces that lay within them.

How She Works

I went with a Wizard/Rune Scribe largely because of the way multiclassing and spell slots work: characters that have ranks in classes that are both full-time spellcasters get the largest number of spell slots and at higher levels, and most of the Rune Scribe’s powers become more powerful the higher the level of the spell slot that’s used to fuel them. I chose Abjuration for Vadania’s Arcane Tradition because several of the Rune Scribe’s most powerful attacks are against targets ‘within reach’, meaning that Vadania is going to be exposed to more danger than usual. Spells like Mage Armor and Arcane Ward are going to make her more capable of surviving at point-blank range.

I’ve broken with Meet the Party D&D tradition again and chosen Vadania’s spell list from her time as a wizard, largely to save readers the trouble of choosing five levels worth of spells and cantrips. Feel free to tinker with the list of course, although do note: the Opal of the Ild Rune make’s Vadania’s fire-based attacks much more deadly, which is why I chose Burning Hands and Fireball for her list.

So, what’s this Rune Scribe thing all about? Well, as mentioned above, Vadania had to find a master rune and bring it to a teacher in order to become a Rune Scribe in the first place. For Vadania’s purposes, that would be the Opal. Each master rune has several Simple Properties that anyone can use, making the runes a type of magic item. It will be interesting to see how many prestige classes offer something universally useable like the master runes. I can’t imagine that every prestige class will be able to do so, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

Anyway, after being taught and earning her first level in Rune Scribe, Vadania gains Rune Lore and Runic Magic, which allow her to use a rune’s Complex Properties and expend spells slots to power them. Runic Discovery, which kicks in on certain levels, lets Vadania learn the properties of other master runes without having to track them down first. Living Rune is a particularly interesting class trait: it allows Vadania to give an ability a +2 bonus, or two abilities a +1 bonus. This is how her Intelligence is currently at 20, because it’s taking the +2 option. That’s great enough on its own, but after every long rest you can shift things around a bit. The next time Vadania increases an ability score, she might choose to send her native Dexterity and Intelligence to 19, and then spread Living Rune out to make them both 20, as an example.

Finally, Rune Mastery increases the number of runes Vadania can know. As magic items the master runes need to be attuned, and there are more runes than one can normally attune to. Rune Mastery lets you attune to one without it counting against your limit. Now, standing at the playtest-standard of five levels, with only four master runes being included in the article, that means a Rune Scribe with Rune Mastery today has every rune available. One thing I’ll be interested in seeing is how many runes exist for the final draft; Rune Mastery might seem even more potent if there are more options for that extra slot.

Her Runic Magic gives Vadania a broad selection of powers and traits. She can manipulate fire, freeze water, fly through the air, and sense through the stone. She’s resistant to cold and fire, immune to petrification, can’t be suffocated or drowned, and can avoid damage from a fall. She can inscribe runes on enemies or in the air to deliver blasts of elemental energy that sometimes also deliver debilitating effects, or inscribe runes on weapons to change their damage type and make them more powerful. Sleet Storm, Levitate, and Meld into Stone are now spells accessible to her.

That’s a lot of power over a relatively short five levels, definitely earning the title of prestige class. One thing I’m curious about is: how will the Rune Scribe expand? A longer list of master runes seems inevitable (especially since it lets the creators provide a lot of useful magic items in the process), but will there be another fifteen levels of Rune Scribe available? Or will 5E’s prestige classes, like 4E’s Paragon Paths, have a limited number of levels that a character can benefit from?

The Future

Whatever the case, the Rune Scribe certainly looks fun to play. Only one way to know for sure, though, and that’s to get out there and put dice to the table!

Will Vadania display her mastery of runic magic to the world, and maybe even become someone other prospective rune scribes bring master runes to? Or will her story end prematurely, and her master runes lay in some dungeon for future adventurers to find? That’s for you (and your dice) to determine!

Originally posted 10/15/15 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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