Runic Compendium Review – A tome of love to the magic itself

Runic Compendium, DnD5e supplement
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A month ago, I wanted to play a spellcaster in a friend’s one-shot, lay havoc on the battlefield, scorch bandits, and all that. However, reading the spell list, I caught myself grumbling and biting my lip. All these incantations I have seen and used, cast, and had countered. It felt like a 50th visit to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, only I’d tasted all the candies and got mild caries.
And before you knock on my doors with pitchforks: Thunder Step is still epic and my favorite spell; Fireball is still cool—a definite conversation-ender, one would say. The spells just didn’t appeal to me as much as before. I needed something new, something with more zhuzh.

A vintage camera rolling sound, a book slams onto the table.

Enter Thimbleton Inksquire’s Runic Compendium from Runic Press, a must-have book for aspiring spell slingers with whacky ideas that are too grand for the established D&D 5e rules. I’ve read it, used it, and re-read it, and now, if you’d allow me, I’d like to gently open your mind to this incredible resource.

The Rejuvenation of Magic

by Adlaya’s Designs

Runic Compendium offers a fresh and easy-to-implement take on magic. Similarly to spell slots, players utilize a pool of rune points to cast runes in various tiers. The higher the tier, the stronger and pricier the rune becomes. This is the bread and butter of the compendium, a polished cog that propels the whole thing. The runes are phenomenally crafted, with three major characteristics:

  • familiarity — sometimes being identical or similar to known spells.
  • originality — most of the time having new or modified effects.
  • functionality — always having different or enhanced effects when cast on higher tiers.

Your character will learn runes in different languages, starting with Common, Elvish, and Dwarvish, barring the strongest runes behind languages that you master at higher levels. From Ocean to Hellfire, all the way to Crown and Clan, the runes are filled with flavor and ingenious effects that spark a creative play.

For example, a Space rune is perfect if you are in a pinch on a high bridge. Imagine two goblin hordes rushing from both sides, your runesmith bloodied and beaten. The arrows fly by, and you count the seconds before the clash. At the last moment, your character writes a rune, it floats, and RABOOM! 
A tremendous force shoves the gobos from the bridge and into the abyss. They are confused, questioning their life choices—all except one. This one is astute, and his whip wraps around your leg, pulling you off the ledge.

But…

You see a single surviving goblin on the bridge laughing at your misfortune, and you write the same rune, only now you cast it on the higher, second tier. The effect changes, and instead of a deafening force, the laughing goblin grabs his stomach, his smirk dwindling. With a soothing swoosh, you swap places with him, safe and sound on the cleared bridge, as he falls into the darkness. 
After all, you wouldn’t want to separate the gang.

This is one of countless examples.
What about my favorite, Camouflage? 

Written in Thieves’ Cant, this rune allows you to turn into a non-magical object you can see. Now you get to be a Mimic, hiding in the warehouse, awaiting your chasers. And just as they pass by, you plop back out and start slinging and hitting. And if you have a cool DM like me, they might allow you to turn into a trampoline when a fellow player needs a boost, or even into a magical item if you pass a check.

Compress allows you to transform tattered bags into temporary Bag of Holdings; Breath to experience your wildest dragon dreams; Fury combat longevity; and Journey valuable insights into your choices. Starlight illuminates the battlefield and damages your enemies, and Shadow allows you to teleport in darkness. From utility, flavor, and roleplay to pure destruction, this compendium has it all.

Runes’ effects encourage creative thinking and whimsical solutions, and they are further aided in that pursuit by their restrictions. You can’t have multiple copies of the same rune active at the same time, for example. Meaning that your single-spell spamming days are due for some stretch. And if you are directly hit, your last rune is broken. They can backfire. The bad guys can disrupt them. It makes you think before you act. Do I really need to fly now, or do I just want to brag to my fellow fighter? Where do I write this rune so the big guy doesn’t see it?

Player Options

Runeforged art, Runic Compendium
by Mymic, official Runic Compendium art

There is a plethora of flavorful player options, helmed by Runesmith and its three subclasses, each of which is distinctive and thematic. You can go the way of Aardforged and become the master of the four elements, or you can carve runes into the flesh of your enemies with Bloodrune. Balanced and incredibly fun, you will find yourself sweetly horrified by the vast choices and pained when you have to leave a rune behind.

But what if you want to play official classes? How can a brute Barbarian utilize the intricacies of runecasting?
Runic Press made a perfect blend here, in my opinion, mixing the core of the classes with their new magic system.

For example, the Path of the Glyph-clad Barbarian inscribes runes into their skin that activate when raging. You can even gain the Misty Step ability, so your enemies are always one blink away.
Journey Domain Cleric keeps its signature Destroy Undead but gains a Milestone feature, which allows them to teleport back to a previously marked place, in case they want to give a proper send-off, you know. Ranger Glyph Guardian summons a Runic Ally; Codecracker Rogue utilizes enemies’ runes against them; and Jötnar Warlock embraces their Gaint patronage, granting various boons to their allies.

It is up to you to cherry-pick and bring to life your character’s vision. Feats, spells, backgrounds, and a new race of Runeforged are enticing you to dip into this mysterious craft and perhaps become the Child of the Weave.

Game Master Toolkit

by Mymic, official Runic Compendium art

Even if the players are happy with non-runic adventurers, the compendium provides interesting monsters, NPCs, and items to adorn your campaign. They are highly dynamic and functional, introducing new layers of combat. Imagine your party striking down an ogre leader, only to discover its chest is carved with Fury, and its club bears the Gravity rune. Suddenly, the raging ogre is back on its feet, slams the club onto the ground, and sends your party weightless. Easy targets for archers.

My favorite was Prophet of the Worm, a sentient colony of worms and insects that transforms—yup, you guessed it—into a flipping worm! One second you are fighting a medium-sized enemy, the next you are flung into the air by the splitting earth.

There are known monsters who got rune upgrades, new, unseen ones, and a full-fledged kobold crew, each member with a distinctive specialty. There are essences of fire and air, primordial forces that only demigods can slay. Smart, organized, and well-prepared demigods. These monsters have various forms and different actions in them, bringing exciting, unforeseen challenges to your battles. And if you want a more nuanced introduction to this supplement, consider this:

Next time your party finds a treasure, slip in an inconspicuous ring. It is beautiful and fits well on the fighter’s finger. It’s of good weight. And then, when they inevitably punch their way out of a random tavern brawl, the ring suddenly activates, and a Force rune sends a drunkard through the wall.
Just make sure to provide them with enough gold for damages beforehand.

What does it look like in play?

Kobold Runesmith, Runic Compendium
by Mymic, official Runic Compendium art

How does it feel in the game? Where does my undying enthusiasm come from, you might ask?
Meet Ori Spellhand, a dwarf Arcanesmith, who had the time of his life one spring evening in Belgrade.

Our lenient yet brutal DM had us trudge through knee-deep snow, marching toward the fortress dotted with numerous archers and swordsmen. It is safe to say that he likes long battlefields, ones where we have to run a marathon to reach our goal while he throws rocks and dragons at us. All right, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

The archers had us pinned down, and unlike my friend’s monk, my legs are short, and high movement is a dream. Two rounds in, and I was nowhere near the battle, missing all the action. So I dipped into my power and muttered a Creation rune. Within a second, a 10-foot-wide stone wall materialized in front of me. Safe from the arrows, I had a moment to think.
Whackwhackbambamclingclang, the scene echoed.

In the next round, Ori pulled out his 1920s aviator goggles, checked the path, and wrote a Force rune on the wall.
“Grab on and hold tight, lad!” I said to my fellow player, another dwarf with the same problem.
With a tremendous force, the wall rushed forward, clearing the remaining distance while mowing through the soldiers like a rabid snowplow. They were bouncing left and right, the two of us were barely holding on.
“Choo-choo, rapscallions!” Ori yelled into the wind, his boots falling off. 

The wall came to a stop when it collided with the fortress. Immediately, the reinforcement started pouring in, and my dwarf companion bid farewell and started climbing the guard tower. Within a round, I found myself surrounded by half a dozen enemies.

When Ori’s turn came again, all eyes were on me, my friends awaiting the next crazy move of this newly discovered class. I couldn’t let them down, so I had Ori grab a stone from his belt. The strength and beauty of Arcanesmiths lie in their preparation. I kissed the stone and tossed it above the enemies.
“It’s time you met Big Martha”, I muttered. The words activated the rune, and in an instant, the rock transformed into a humongous, curvy, dwarven backside. The statue slammed down onto the poor soldiers, and the table burst out laughing.
“Oh no!”
“Wait, what!? Don’t tell me that’s a real-size replica.”
“Who’s Martha?”
“Oh my god, poor soldiers! They didn’t deserve this, haha.”

To the last one, I cited Thimbleton’s first rule of runecasting: “Never cast a rune without a purpose.”
And Ori’s ex-wife had finally found one.

Be sure to check out this wonderful resource and the team behind it; I cannot recommend it enough. Everything is made with love, passion, and cleverness, and it shows.
You can use this link and get a discount!
Happy runesmithing, and see you again,
Nikko.

Runic Compendium

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