The play testing for Dungeons and Dragons continues! Today we’re looking at the Rune Knight archetype for the Fighter. The team at Wizards of the Coast has been going all-out with flavorful new player options, and it looks like this will be no exception. Inspired by nordic culture, the runic magics have long been associated with the giants, and upon reading the opening exert, I can tell this archetype will have giants carved all over it.
“You discovered how to enhance your martial prowess using the supernatural power of runes. The ancient practice of rune magic originated with giants. Skiltgravr (rune cutters) can be found among any type of giants, and you likely learned your methods first or second hand from such a mystical artisan. In time, you learned how to carve and apply runes to your equipment and how to invoke their magic, ultimately becoming a Rune Knight.”
On the outside, the theme of the Rune Knight seems rather simple, however, there’s a strong tradition in carving symbols or runes in both our own world and fantasy settings. Some players may pull inspiration from vikings, while others may look to popular video games, such as World of Warcraft’s Death Knight. Not even mentioning the craftsman element this archetype brings to the table. So, I’m excited to see what the Rune Knight has in store for us.
Learning to enhance your gear, the character begins with the ability to inscribe two runes (to start with) to your choice of weapons, armor, or shields. These runes remain until you finish a long rest, when you can then select different runes/items. Unearthed Arcana lays out six different runes and their affects that are tied to the various types of giants in the D&D setting. As the text is quite long, we aren’t going into all the details here, but I will provide the short version:
- Hill Rune – (Passive) Advantage on saving throws for poison and resistance to poison damage. (Activate) Gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 1 minute.
- Fire Rune – (Passive) Double proficiency bonus for skill checks using tools. (Active) When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you summon fiery shackles to restrain the target, and deal fire damage.
- Frost Rune – (Passive) Advantage on Animal Handling and Intimidation checks. (Active) Increase your Strength score by 2 for 10 minutes.
- Cloud Rune – (Passive) Advantage on Sleight of Hand and Deception checks. (Active) When you or a creature you can see is hit by an attack roll, you can use your reaction to cause that attack to target a different creature within 30ft.
- Stone Rune – (Passive) Advantage on Insight checks and provides darkvision. (Active) Use your reaction to Charm a creature within 30ft.
- Storm Rune – (Passive) Advantage on Arcana checks, and you can’t be surprised in combat. (Active) When an attack is made you can use your reaction to cause a roll to have advantage or disadvantage.
Again, these are the hobbit-sized shorthand version, so I encourage you to read the full article on the D&D website. All of these runes have interesting affects and will certainly be useful during the adventurers travels. I do enjoy the flavor of basing these runes on the types of giants that exist in the Forgotten Realms, however, maybe this is being greedy, but I wanted to see more options that perhaps step away from the giant shtick a little. Having the option to use a Death or Blood Rune could have opened a slightly different path. The existing options just feels trapped in the elemental plane a bit, and I would have liked two more options that were off the beaten path for flavor sake. That being said, DMs should work with their players to see if you can come up with other interesting runes to better reflect the character. You can even have this be a reward in your campaign!
The character can gain one of the following affects for 1 minute. This feature can be used twice a day.
- You become large.
- You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
- Your weapon attacks deal an extra 1d6 damage.
Leaning heavily into the giant theme here, but it works rather well and provides some diverse options. The idea of your fighter just becoming large on command will make for many entertaining scenes at the tavern. The extra damage and advantage on Strength checks are nice mechanical bonuses, but the ability to become large will drive fantastic role-play interactions. As a player, becoming large when performing an intimidation check would add to an intense social encounter, and is creative game-play that the DM should reward at the table. Perhaps grant the player advantage on the roll… or have the NPC suddenly soil themselves. Just something to encourage this style of play.
When you see a creature within 60ft get hit by an attack roll, the fighter can use their reaction to grant a bonus to that creatures AC. The bonus is 1 + the fighter’s Intelligence modifier (minimum of +2). I am always a fan of more interesting abilities that can be used as reactions, while also granting the fighter a bit more protective properties, but I’m not sure why the D&D team chose Intelligence here. It’s nice that the designers made the minimum 2, however I don’t see many fighters pumping their Int score any higher for just one ability. Now, this could be the result of not wanting the fighter to hand out +4 AC bonuses like candy, but then why not just making it a flat +2 or +3? By tying Defensive Runes to a modifier, this is signaling that the team wants some scale-ability built in to the mechanic. At least, that is how I interpret the rules here, and I would not be surprised if we see the wording here revised upon release. How powerful this ability is in group play will need to be seen, so won’t be too harsh here. You also get to select a new rune for a total of 3.
The runes begin to permanently affect you, and the character grows 3d4 inches in height. Permanently. This will be a hilarious role-play moment as the party realizes the fighter is just growing! There is a mechanical benefit as well, the fighter’s Giant Might ability increases to 1d8 damage from the 1d6. Playing a large warrior following the path of giants will be fun, although, you could play a human sized hobbit as well… So, you know. Live your tall-short people dreams. While the extra damage here is nice, the ability seems to be more flavor than anything else. Now, I do believe that role-play elements are vital, and every player should view their characters spells/abilities from the aspect of how they look or are performed. So, I think this is a fun ability that will play into my mini-giant fighter, but I can see many people being underwhelmed here. You also get to choose a new rune for a total of four. This is a theme as the fighter slowly plays gotta catch em all with their runes.
Rune Magic Mastery:
You can now invoke the active ability from each rune twice and regain all expended uses after a short rest rather than a long one. The Rune Knight now knows a total of five runes. Since these test rules only have 6 total runes, the fighter practically has access to all of them, making the differences between two high level Rune Knights almost non-existent. This is why I am hoping the team includes 1-2 more runes in the final rules, or as we discussed, players and DMs come together to add a special rune that is thematic to their character or game. It is also worth noting that a large portion of these rules are hinged on the runes and their affects. These runes increase in strength, but at its core, this archetype doesn’t receive a ton of new abilities as you advance in level. That being said, the magical abilities are more unique bonuses, as the fighter is still a versatile marshal class. If the runic magic speaks to you, the affects are interesting and varied, making this may be a minor quibble.
Blessing of the All Father:
The fighter finally learns to share at 18th level, and making fighter-mom proud at long last. By share, I mean their Giant Might ability. When using this ability, the fighter can choose a creature within 60ft to also gain your selected benefit. This will make for fun party interplay and team up moments. While it comes at a very high level, I can picture some devastating marshal combos. In the middle of battle, the fighter and barbarian both become large, making the remaining bandits think twice before fleeing for their lives! Obviously, this affect will require a fellow marshal character to take full advantage, however, you can make one of your fellow party members large at any given time… for fun. Didn’t think of that, did you? It’s what i’m here for. Make good life choices!
Overall I feel the Rune Knight will be an extremely fun and powerful archetype for the fighter. I personally would have liked a few more rune options, both in number and theme. I feel that the team captured the nortic/giant feel for the class well, but there are other avenues the runic magics could explore as well. The Rune Knight has a strong foundation as far as abilities, and I just can’t help but want to build more off the bones of its enemies.