Runic script

Does it worth to ask for some xp if a player want to know runic writing?
To Latin characters need a virtue and 5 xp.

Maybe a level 1 ability?

If he has artes liberales 2, he can chose to know the runic alphabet if he has a backstory (or study book) to justify it.



Yeah, but there are characters who are able to learn runic script without Latin education and such.

Requires the educated viortue, or equivalent. Appart from that, few limitations, I would say. Change Artes Liberales for Skald knowledge (people that knew how to qwrite, IIRC) and there you go. :slight_smile:



Did only these few people know runic writing? Than the virtue sounds OK.

No idea. You might find info on that on Ultima Thule, I guess. Mine is a long shot (read: edicated guess/suggestion) than hardcore knowledge on the subject matter :slight_smile:

Basically, I would handwave it as long as the character gets some virtue that grants him access to formal (norse) education


History is never absolute, and pre-history even more uncertain. But I'll take a stab at this...

Very few Norse/Germanics knew runic writing. Some of the more intelligent or cunning craftsmen, leaders, merchants, etc might know a few, or even most, but runes were much more than an alphabet.

Knowledge of runes was considered magical/mystical, and was typically knowledge passed from teacher to pupil as part of a larger education in magic, shamanism, priest duties, etc. Rune magic was one of the things Odin/Wodin hung on the tree to gain the secrets of. Few if any books were written in runes, the symbols were mostly used in carvings, on objects to bless them, on doors and architecture, on jewelry, etc, all with greater meaning than just their sounds.

A book on runic writing, if it exists, would probably be written by a Latin-learned person, who happened to learn some of it, and would include the meaning of the runes, which was considere just as or even more important than the sound of each.

Always remember the warning from Egil's Saga:

Skalat maðr rúnar rísta,
nema ráða vel kunni,
þat verðr mörgum manni,
es of myrkvan staf villisk

Loosely translated, it warns that none should carve runes who does not know them well, misfortune has befallen many a man who was bedeviled by a mis-placed mark. The Saga goes on to tell the story of a man who knew a few runes, and attempted to carve a charm to make a maiden fall in love with him. He didn't scribe it right, and caused her to fall ill instead. We could call that a "botch".

Runes were used for many generations, evolving in form and use. Egils' Saga was 10th Century, and runes were already falling out of use in favor of latinized letters except in the extremes of Germanic territories. While there were some attempts to secularize runes as a fully-utilized alternate alphabet, the predominance of latin letters heightened runic magical/mystical properties to those who still remembered them and used them.

Thanks for the detailed story.
This way some virtue is required if the character in question is not a wizard of Odin.

I'm still thinking about the Turkish rune writing.

NOW you tell me!

Steppen people also used runic writing.
Here you can find a page with Göktürk and Hungarian runes.
And this:

I don't know who used these only the elite or anybody had the chance to learn. Some scripts remain. On such a finding craftsmen signed their work - a temple.

The common Nordic type might know a few individual runes, "signs" as we would call them. Carve a "war" rune in a weapon, or a "luck" rune on a boat, all good. Like an illiterate today might recognize a Stop sign, or the "H" that stands for Hospital.

The character in Meddwyn's story was at this level.

But to "draw sounds", as one movie character put it, was indeed an elite skill. A virtue is quite reasonable, and perfectly in line with the feel of being able to write in a Nordic tongue.

Not true. Archaeologists have hundreds of examples of rune scripts which serve no magical purpose - love notes, shopping lists, and so forth.

In a Bergen alehouse, someone had graven on a table, in runes:
"I'd like to be able to get to a pub much more often"

Another (from the same location? I can't remember) was a message from his wife telling him he better haul his arse home soon or there would be Hel to pay!

Even at the height of the viking era, the Varangians were defacing church property in Constantinople by writing their names in runes.

As Meddwyn says later, runes never became the script of choice because of the predominance of Latin as the tongue of scholars. However, there is a lot of evidence that points to the secular use of runes. They were just a geographical isolate (with too many local variants) to succeed against the Latin script.

I agree that runic was specifically designed to be engraved - in fact its very form of cross-grain verticals, diagonals, but no horizontals (which would be cut with the grain) belies its original purpose. However, to say that it was a purely magical knowledge is false. It had many attested non-magical uses, some ceremonial uses (which may or may not have been intended to be magical, such as gravestones), and some magical uses.

Whereas the sagas warn of incorrect use of runes (such as the quoted example from Egillsaga), it is likely that this was a product of the age in which they were written. In the C13-C14 (when many of the epic sagas were written), runic was passing out of common usage, and all those who wrote the sagas were educated according to the European model, and writing in the Latin script. Runes were perhaps perceived as dangerously pagan, and given a mystery all of their own which does not have a historical basis.

The old sources about the runes (Voluspa, Sigdrusmal, etc.) mention their magical use, but do not imply that they had to be used with caution. It is possible that rune magic is less about what is said in the runes, and more about how the runes are 'charged'. One of the older sagas - Bosi ok Herraudsaga - has an example of (magical) rune use, where the witch writes nonsense (or perhaps a riddle) as a runic curse. No-one present (nor the modern reader!) can understand what was written, although it is plain that they, and the contemporary audience, should have; this mystery added power to the curse. Or maybe it is just Gifted people who have to watch what they write down in runes.

An excellent source is R.I.Page: An Introduction to English Runes. Whilst the focus is on runic inscriptions found in England, the overview of runic use is fascinating.


I like the idea of only Gifted runes being really important, and they NOT mattering at all: it is the fact that

  1. they are being written down: ANYTHING is being written down to account for the curse/gift

  2. The wording is not important, only the fact that you have INTENTION and you are putring it on a permanent format

  3. There is magic at work because of that

So you can write "the tree is upside down on the morrow orange, while Jack is a nerd" to curse someone with blindness and high fever for a month. Nobody can understand it except the ones that were present when the curse was issued. it keeps in line with the magic system of ArM, whwere the wording and gestures are NOT important, but only the fact that SOME words and SOME gestures are being uttered forcefully to compel the magic to work. Their exact is not really important.

Given wwhat Mark Shirley just posted, I would say that a mundane charactetr that has sonme formal training, should be able to write in runes. It is still important for him to have at least a minor virtue that grants him formal education, though.



Whoops, forgot to answer the original poster's question!

I agree that characters with Artes Liberales can choose Runic/Futhark as one of their scripts, with an appropriate back story. Only a cruel SG would demand that all the regional variants were different scripts...However, Artes Liberales would only allow you to read runic messages, and to imitate them with pen and ink. It would not allow you to cut runescripts into wood or stone.

I would also have a separate Ability, probably a Craft Ability (Craft: Runes), but one which cannot be used unless the character has at least 1xp in it (thus making it an asterisked Ability). This Ability may be common or rare, according to the time, location, and needs of the saga. This would cover getting the angle of the knife to grain correct for the clear formation of letters, and also allow runes to be crafted in stone. For simple messages cut into wood, an EF of 3 would be all that was needed. For a complicated carving of a runic poem into a ribbon-like snake on a block of granite (FrEx see ... iption_871), then a 12 or perhaps more would be needed.


Excellent rune knowledge, thank you! I like the ability suggestion. I advovate the ability of "Craft-Inscriptions", which of course a Verditius magus could have a field day with :wink:

Thanks for the ideas.

So the character should have (German, Turkish, Hungarian etc.) Runic Writing and some Craft ability if he wants to use it on tough surfaces.
If the player has Artes Liberales he can use its higher level instead of the Runic Writing skill.
But I don't ask for a related virtue.

Ah, that's what I get for being a History Hobbyist instead of a History Scholar!

It's always good to learn new things.

Believe it or not, but ye olde Wikipedia has an excellent article on Runes. It seems that most of the surviving rune scripts come from the middle ages, sometimes using the runic alphabet to write Latin! This persisted until the 1500's. The second greatest quantity of rune scripts are in younger Futhark and come from the viking era.

I have started to wonder, in native original practice, how often were runes really used for magic and how much of it is supperstition of the ignorant? I mean, yes they did have a magic use. But from what I have read (and in past research too), it seems that most of the surviving rune inscriptions actually had a pretty mundane use: write my name on my property, carve the initials of me and my woman on this rock, grave markings, boundary markers, and even regular quick messages.

I had a debate with the professor back in college history over how civilized viking era Scandinavia ns actually were. One of the "qualifications" of civilization is literacy. The vikings didn't have books, but I brought up runes and pointed out how, though they did not yet have books (they soon would), there was indeed a written form of the language. Furthermore, considering how prolific the remenants are and seeing they contained casual messages at times ("be home from the mead hall by sunset!"), I put forth the theory that viking era Norse were more familiar and comfortable with runic literacy than the comon French or Englishman of the day was with Latin.

But in any case, I wonder if some of the legend of Rune Magic is really supserstition and misinterpretation.