Runes and Runic Magic

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic and casting and runes.  Even when magic is all around it’s difficult to access it, difficult to harness and shape it.  We use items to help focus our thoughts and the power.  We use mundane items, from herbs to gemstones, to help shape the magic.  We use runes to write it down, to imbue an area or an object with magic.

But why do the runes work?  Why can’t anyone jot them down on a piece of paper and create a spell scroll?  Part of it is in the ink, which itself it created using magic and spell components.  But many runes are carved into wood or stone, or scratched into the earth.  What is it the spell casters are doing that makes a difference?

Well… they know that runes aren’t two-dimensional.  Runes are three-dimensional.  All those gestures the mages make?  Those are runes, drawn in the air with absolute precision.  When mages write runes on paper or vellum, they are visualizing the runes in all their dimensions and embedding that power onto the flat surface.  The rest of us only see the flat result, never realizing the full scope of the marks before us.

This is one of the reasons learning a new spell is so difficult.  Mages must not only memorize the complex mathematical formulae that represent the manipulation of energy, but also decipher the runes used to execute the formulae:

“What is this?  I’m fairly certain this rune describes electricity, but what is this mark?  Oh… if I move right five inches and simultaneously move down one inch at a 45º angle, then delineate a horizontal circle, that describes a space five feet wide.  Hmmm.  Now, what about this mark, where does it go?  Is that an ‘out’ or an ‘in?’  Is that a spiral movement?  No, that makes no sense.  Wait, wait, if I move ‘out’ at the end of the ‘wide’ movement, then this becomes ‘distance’!  But how far…?  Oh!  Oh!  This creates a bolt of lightning!  Oh sweet!”



Not all adventures take place in the wilds, or in ruins.  Some of them take place in the library.  The Librarian asks that you please not practice Lightning Bolt or [shudder] Fireball in the stacks.  Thank you.


Image courtesy: By Lyoha123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
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