Spell casting is an integral part of the diet of any healthy fantasy setting and there have been numerous different approaches to it in computer role playing games. To us, the systems where you pick a spell from a list have always felt very mundane: invoking magic should feel like you’re messing around with mystical forces instead of a spreadsheet! Runes are true and tested vessels for arcane power and they certainly make your imagination run wilder than text printed with Arial, size 12, so using them was a pretty obvious choice for us from the get go. And despite them being more abstract than writing, they still have the opportunity of having a logical underlying structure that prevents the spell casting system from turning into a bewildering mess where the player doesn’t have a chance to figure out what he’s actually doing. I’m here to explain a little bit of how we handle that logic and what our runes are.
How the runes are laid out in a 3 by 3 grid is already a major part of the logic since the placement of the runes bear a meaning. The pattern has a center rune and that center is surrounded by other runes along the outer edges of the pattern. The outer runes always have an opposite: the opposite of the rune in the lower left hand corner is the rune in the top right corner and so on. But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself now, it’s probably just better to go through the individual runes first and then we’ll get back to this.
Starting from the top left, we have:
Our first rune is fire, one of the elements. Elements are a major group of our runes and there are four elements and all of them reside in the corners of the pattern. You should be aware what fire is but just in case here’s a recap: it’s hot and it burns. This makes it very suitable for destructive powers.
Death is the force of vile deeds, cowardice and destruction and it is a very potent power for causing harm to others.
The element of air not only covers the air that we breathe but also the sky, storms and gases. It is also often used in conjunction with other less buoyant elements to help them float or fly.
This rune represents the immaterial world: the things that have no matter but which still exist. It used for invoking the forces of the mind, thought and spirituality. It is useful in spells that either enhance or disrupt the psyche of beings or to surpass the barriers of mundane senses.
This is the central rune and unlike the others it has no opposite. It represents everything, wholeness and unity. The invisible force that binds everything together while keeping them apart. Mortal spellcasters can only exploit a tiny sliver of the vast potential of this force and they usually use it to amplify their spells to affect larger wholes.
This represents the material world and strong physical forces. It helps otherwise immaterial things attain a more stable physical form or adds to the strength of otherwise weak phenomena.
Earth is a strong and stable element and it is useful in bolstering defences or for tapping power from the surrounding masses of rock, moss and plants.
This rune represents health, bravery and creation. It is a common rune in spells that aid, heal and assist.
Water in its all forms, be it liquid, solid or gaseous, is an easily manipulated medium for mixing with other powers but it can be also be the source of powerful freezing spells.
Now the runes opposite to each others should start to make a little more sense: life is opposed by death, earth by air, spirituality by physicality and they are all bound together around the center that represent the wholeness. The spells are formed by selecting different combinations of these concepts. For example a poison cloud is invoked by calling air (for the cloud) and ground (for the toxic spores) and a powerful exploding fireball, the fantasy game classic, is formed from fire, air and physicality. All the spells have a logical underpinning and a clever player might figure out some new spells before even discovering a recipe scroll from the dungeons for it. But to stop the more modern wizards who wield the power of Google from gaining an unreasonable edge, the spells also have skill requirements the character needs to fulfill to cast the spell successfully.
So, there you have it! I hope this didn’t ruin the sense of mystery and wonder our spell casting system might have had.