This supplement is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
So – what is Rune Magic? Basically, it is the force that initiated the calling on PDG’s much-anticipated setting of Porphyra, calling in the clash between two traditions, the New Gods to the world – and now you may harness this primal power. Runes, on a basic level, are essentially Words of Power as you know them from Paizo’s Ultimate Magic supplement.
The first way to do so is via the variant class (based on the alchemist, but honestly, completely different!) Runecaster: d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and ref-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and light armors, but not shields and wordspells of up to 6th level.
In order to harness the power of runes, runecasters pay a price – their voice. Instead of a voice, a non-illuminating script shows up as language over their heads – an interesting concept indeed and a nice fluffy instance – and yes, vocal components can still be cast, the component showing up in a similar way. An interesting unique display for their power. They start the game with one first level word spell per day and knowledge of all target words and the boost meta word as well as knowledge of 1st level effects or meta-words equal to 2+Int mod and may add one effect or meta word every level to his/her formula book. New words may also be learned as per the normal rules.
As a kind of analogue to the mutagens, runecasters may paint runes on their flesh starting at first level – a process taking 1 hour. Activating a rune (only one can be maintained at any time) is a standard action and while under the effects, the runecaster gets +2 natural armor and +4 to one physical attribute of the runecaster’s choosing for 10 minutes per class level, but also incurring a penalty of -2 to the corresponding mental attribute – i.e. Int for str, cha for con etc.
As those traditionally tasked with securing holds, runecasters may also create so-called wards. Painting such a ward takes a full round action and up to class level + int mod runes may be active at a given time, each lasting runecaster level minutes or until discharged. The damage of their 5-foot burst being based on 1d6 + int-mod, scaling up to a whopping 10d6 at level 19. Per se very cool – but I do have a problem – while not well-suited for offensive combat and temporary, these runes HAVE NO LIMITS. No x uses per day – nothing. You can, in theory, create as many of those during a day as you like – while you can only have a limited amount active per day, that’s A LOT of damage potential at your fingertips. And the non-scaling disable device DC of 26 is at lower levels too high and at higher levels too low – a scaling option would have been the more prudent choice.
Especially since that’s not everything wards can do: Starting at 2nd level and every two levels after that, the runecaster gets a so-called ancient secret, i.e. one of 40 (!!!) different talents – all of which also come with a handy table to give you an overview – commendable! And these do allow you to make some interesting modifications: E.g. you may exclude one of the basic creature types like “dragons”, “monstrous humanoids” etc. to never trigger your wards, or via another one, exclusively be triggered by a type – which makes for nasty ideas for DMs. Wards may also be laced with elemental damage, add negative conditions like blindness and confusion etc. to their wards. Not all ancient secrets are based on wards, though +4 counterspelling word-spells is also possible, as is making a word spell of up to 3rd level permanent. They may also increase wordpsells cast from scrolls to their casterlevel, fortify their bodies via fleshrunes, create a fleshrune that boosts your mental attributes at the cost of your physical abilities etc. They may also learn to heal limited amounts of damage each day via touches (which, when retained, automatically heals the runecaster when s/he is dropped as a nice type of contingency) or do something rather unique:
It is no secret that I LOVE Purple Duck Games and Rite Publishing’s Legendary Items/Legacy Items, i.e. powerful items that get levels with your character, and some abilities of the runecaster allow you to interact with these items to e.g. ignore a part of such an items prerequisites to wield. While the nomenclature throughout the abilities tends to skip between legacy and legendary, there are some minor differences between both takes, so potential DMs might wish to be aware of that. I should also mention that thankfully the more powerful options require either other secrets or minimum level prerequisites.
The class may also choose from 6 awesome capstones that allow the class to forge artifacts, become immortal or increase e.g. Int by 2, get fast healing 5 etc. – nice. The class also comes with a sample NPC at 1st level and 2 feast – one to increase the number of wards you can have simultaneously active and one netting you an additional ancient secret. In a superb example of 3pp camaraderie and support, the favored class options are a thing of beauty: Beyond even core races, ARG races and PDG’s races, we also get e.g. favored class options for e.g. Alluria Publishing’s Remarkable Races. And better yet – these favored class options are actually distinct and imho balanced.
The second new class featured herein is fluff-wise slightly tied to the orcs, would be the Runereavers, a barbarian-variant that gets full BAB-progression, d12, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with martial and simple weapons as well as shields (except tower shields) and light and medium armor as well as good fort-saves. In the first round of battle, these fighters get a bonus to damage that starts at +1d6 and scales up to +1d12. They also get +1 dodge bonus to armor and +1 to intimidate when not wearing armor and scale these bonuses up by +1 for every six levels after the third and a second ability that nets them natural armor +1 when not wearing armor at level 7, +1 for every three levels after that. (Improved) Uncanny Doge can also be found among the class abilities, as can gaining character level+con-mod SR at 11th level. But what are the signature abilities?
Bloodrunes. At first level, he gets one, then at 2nd level again and every two levels after that. Activating blood runes is an immediate action that does not provoke AoOs. Runereapers get str-mod rune points and each activation of a bloodrune costs one such rune point. Now where things get interesting is in the fact that they do not replenish as usual via rest, but only via the defeating of foes -what constitutes ” defeating” being subject (THANKFULLY!) to DM-judgment (No, you can’t spar with your friends and have them take a dive!), but usually involving beating foes below 0 hp or sending them fleeing in panic. Unless I’ve miscounted, we get 36 different bloodrunes to choose from –
From enhancing single damage rolls to ignoring object hardness when sundering, rerolling failed fortitude saves or ridding yourself of exhaustion or fatigue up to using a rune to make a foe entering your square provoke an AoO – whether or not said adversary would usually provoke such an attack. Definitely interesting abilities, somewhat in line with the gunslinger’s grit – a truly interesting take on the mook-mower that should make for an interesting playing experience. The capstone is okay – the runereaper always moves first and gets a standard action every time s/he defeats a foe alongside he daily use of his bloodrune powers – but what does that entail? Full refreshment of the pool? I’m not sure since the rules-language here is a tad bit too ambiguous for my tastes.
Beyond the class, we also get a sample level 1 NPC, a feat for +1 bloodrune power, one for +2 rune points and once again – a HUGE, massive and impressive list of favored class options for just about any race you could ever desire.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – the first line below the bloodrune-table for example, is one line instead of two-columns and there are some ambiguities in here – inconsistencies between e.g. legacy weapon/legendary weapon nomenclature. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard that is printer-friendly and comes with nice full color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Author Josh McCrowell has taken one damn complex (and arguably suboptimal) mechanic with the Words of Power-system – and it works. Approaching the system as one component of the class instead of its defining feature means that they actually work – so kudos for that. BUT: Wards. Wards need a limit. The unlimited usability of potential damage is insane and players WILL without any limits find ways to break this – hard. The non-scaling DCs to get rid of runes are also wonky. The Runereaver in contrast takes an interesting take on a barbarian-style melee-class with distinct mechanics. While there’s nothing broken about that one, the rules-language is also much less concise than I would have expected – the pool points are e.g. called “runes” in a couple of instances – which creates more confusion than necessary. Now don’t get me wrong – this does not break the class. But it makes it harder to understand than it should be.
So how to rate this? Per se, I love the ideas beyond the respective classes and the executions per se aren’t bad – but with one class being imho unbalanced and with minor ambiguities of rules-languages adding a slight edge of discomfort here and there, I can unfortunately, in spite of the great ideas herein, not unanimously recommend this and instead will settle on a final verdict of 3 stars – worth a look, but expect to be required to do some balancing/close reading to get how these are supposed to work.