Runes, Runes Everywhere

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Runes, Runes Everywhere
Type Dungeon
Status Explored September 888 TA
Location Cave of Runes
Hex 2517
Campaign The Elven Watch Campaign
Adventure # 99
Map-cave of runes.jpg

DM's Notes

The characters want to carve rune weapons to gain more power. The weapons can only be carved at the Cave of Runes. The runic language is a cool way to let them create items that are balanced and yet fun to play. It also gives the monsters a new way to torture them.

There are several factions trying to gain control of the Cave of Runes.

  • Ernest Goodfellow and the Knights of Dragonsford. They have the book, although it is currently in the hands of Morgan the Enchanter who is a triple spy to Hylax and the Collegium Magicium.
  • The Collegium Magicium. One branch of this august body believes that they can create a race of super wizards by having women birth their babies in the tendrils. The fact that they know about the tendrils is a tie back to Morgan.

This adventure has several different threads.

  • The party learns that the Cave has been claimed by some unknown force.
  • Hylax is warned to keep the party from trying to take over the Cave.
  • Let the characters exchange rune items for new rune cards. Also, characters who can prove rune knowledge from previous materials can get rune cards.

Runic Musings

The drawer contains: several bottles of black ink, a steel-tipped stylus, and a plain leather-bound book about one inch thick. The front of the book is entitled Runic Musings. The first entry in the book is dated March 15, 833.

It seems as if the inevitable has happened. The generators aboard the great ship have stopped, although I am at a loss to explain this phenomenon. It is of little consequence, as my research has revealed an innate magic in this world that was undreamed of on Pellum. The secrets of the power seem somehow centered on this magnificent cave. The energy is palpable, waiting to be tamed. Several configurations have proven successful, and I am confident that I will soon be able to recreate all the rune power that I have lost and more. As with all endeavors, one must start with the basics, so my first attempt will be to create a rune of fire….

From there, the book goes into a detailed explanation of how the lines drawn perpendicular and parallel to the contours of magical energy can cause matter to be changed and energy released. A number of pages have been crossed out with layers of corrections and scribbled notes lining the margins. It will take months, even years, to understand all this tome has to offer.

On Runic Musings

notes compiled from Runic Musings by Morgan the Enchanter

My lord. I have undertaken a study of the tome recovered from the Sands of Time. Eventually, I will compile these into a formal monograph, but for now, I thought it more vital to send along my discoveries in case they prove useful to you on your current adventure.

Runic Musings is both an historical as well as scientific work. It seems that a knowledge of both is required to understand the nature of runes and runic magic. This is somewhat heretical, but according to the text, the multiverse consists of thousands of worlds, just like ours, floating like islands on a vast sea of inky blackness. These islands were created by an ancient being for what purpose the book does not tell. At first, the islands were free to float, but with time their paths began to wander away from the ancient being. So, he cast a net of power over the multiverse, holding the island worlds into place. The strands of this net, called tendrils, did not touch some worlds, while others, like ours, have several lines of power running through them.

I think that this is just philosophical mumbo-jumbo meant to explain a phenomenon that is not well understood. Ancient beings, indeed.

The book mentions that runic power coincides with this ancient philosophy at three places called: crossroads, lesser concordances, and greater concordances. At these points in the world, runic power is greatest.

Two crossroads have been discovered in the Reaches. The first is in the City of Teufeldorf near the Armitage Inn. The second is in a cave in the Shadowyarn Mountains. "Since the activity of a city is distracting for research, I will use the cave as my laboratory."

The extensive history reviewed in the tome seems to be an exercise in determining the types of runes that exist. No formal conclusions have been drawn, but the following themes keep reappearing.

Common runes. These are simple pictograph type runes that have been used since the dawn of mankind. It is clear that most of these are purely ornamental possessing little, if any, magical abilities. It is clear that accidental discoveries of runes producing basic effects like warmth have occurred throughout the ages. Some of this knowledge has been passed down, and there is still evidence of common runes in use today. Common runes may draw on ancient power although they are often used as window dressing for common spells.

Pellum runes. There is no explanation to the name and no description of the origin of this type of rune. A number of historical rune accounts in the book have no analysis at all, simply the words "Pellum runes" written at the end of the description. In the margin of one description is the cryptic phrase, "how naive it was of us to think that we had discovered a new magic when all we did was augment the merest whisper of the power of true runes".

True runes. Only a few historical accounts have a notation of being "True runes". These are analyzed in detail in a later section of the book.

I am not sure if I will ever understand the analysis undertaken by the author. While I am versed in geometry and astronomy as well as the arcane arts, many of the computations herein use mathematics that I have not seen before. Years of research may be required.

In the center of the book are dozens of pages devoted to the development of what the author calls the Runic Language. At first, he goes on about the classification of known runes into categories depending on their historical context and magical properties. Then, he seems to have made a significant discovery.

"Runes are like words. There are a number of different manifestations of the rune of fire, Kossuth, for example. If properly enchanted, this rune will produce a slight warmth if invoked in an area far from a tendril. Near a crossroads, this same rune will produce a flame. Even our augmentation of Kossuth would only produce a fireball or firestorm, a task that arcane magic can easily duplicate. The true power of runes, like words, is in combining them into a language."

Here, the author goes into a long diatribe about how the ancient being that netted the worlds of the multiverse used his "true name" to give power to the tendrils. Again, I think this might just be hand waving to explain the unknown.

"I have discovered that the Runic Language has at least three distinct elements, although many more may exist. These elements I will label: the invoker, the task and the target. The invoker is the caster of the rune. This can be very general, such as mankind or any good elf. Or, it can be very specific, naming a particular good elf. The task is the verb of the rune sentence. Kossuth, for example, can be used as a task, to produce fire. The target is the object that is meant to receive the rune. Again, it can be very general in its nature or target an individual."

"The strength of the rune is based on how specific the element is described. Common runes, for example, simply invoke Kossuth by itself, and produce an area of warmth or small flame. My original understanding of runes did not significantly change this. A true rune, however, can be magnitudes more powerful. A mage invoking Kossuth using his true name against the temple of an adversary could level a whole city or maybe even a nation. The key to mastering runes is in understanding its language."

I'm afraid that there is no lexicon for the Runic Language within Runic Musings. I may be able to piece some words together now that I have some idea of what I am looking for, although it is hinted that hundreds of runic elements probably exist.

The last few pages deal with the imbuing of runes onto items such as swords and staves. Apparently, the power of a rune will oftentimes cause these items to crumble. The author mentions that in order to carry the power of a true rune, the item must have been forged from metals found within a tendril or taken from an ancient tree which has grown within a tendril.

As instructed, I will continue my research into these matters and await further orders from you on how to proceed.

Wizard-in-Residence, Dragonsford Castle

One more thing, I came across a very disturbing note in one of the historic accounts. Again, it is probably legend. According to the note, the Shadowyarn Mountains used to extend south to the coast. An elven mage during the early First Age, trying to carve a powerful true rune, failed to complete his task. The item exploded, pulverizing the mountains south of the Cave of Runes into sand, creating the desert that exists there today. I'm sure this is just a folktale, but is does make shivers to run up and down my spine.

Letter to Ernest Goodfellow

My Esteemed Liege Dragonsford.

I write to you from our vantage point in the hills to the east of the Cave of Runes. I send this message to you by mundane means for reasons that will become evident from my description below.

Upon your orders, I selected a company of fair knights numbering five score and ten all of whom have sworn fealty to the throne of Dragonsford. These are mostly second and third sons, young men who need to make their own mark on the world and prove their bravery for the honor of their houses.

Traveling south in the shadows of the great mountains, we made excellent time to the Cave of Runes. We suffered only one slowdown due to an encounter with a large group of ogres that had come onto the Plains of Ryan to hunt.

Upon reaching our destination, however, I fear to report that your claims to the Cave do not seem to be the first. Indeed, if the description of the cave's location was not so exact, I would believe that we were lost. For instead of a simple ledge with a cave, the entire cliff face seems to be a large castle, set into the stone. The stone glistens in the same bleached brown as the sand that stretches out before it to the south.

Although there is no town or settlement near the castle, my scouts have reported that there are cloaked figures walking the walls of this keep. Windows in the high towers glow at night. In the two weeks since my advanced scout arrived, he has seen no caravan enter or leave the castle. Indeed, it seems to be completely isolated.

In order to gather further information, I sent Sir Ballard of Highfolk to approach as close as possible to the towers keeping under the cover of the surrounding hills. As he approached the castle, he began to glow in a pale blue light. While we could see this from our vantage, he was obviously unaware that he had been detected. Suddenly, a blue bolt flew from the western tower of the castle and Sir Ballard was turned to a black powder which quickly blew away in the wind. I must assume that a foul wizardry is in play here. As such, we have restrained from using magic of any form. My men have not approached the castle, but we have kept watch from afar. I hope this message finds you quickly. Without further orders, we patiently watch. I have begun construction of two small siege weapons in case your will is to storm the castle. By your will.

Sir Hardwicke Greenvale, Knight of Dragonsford

Letter to Hylax the Barker

Hylax, Wizard Errant.

As you know, the Collegium Magicium does not involve itself in the affairs of politics and the mundane matters of man. As such, your involvement with Dragonsford and his affairs has long been tolerated only because of the service that you did the Realm during the Binding. I do not share that tolerance, and, as you know, have campaigned on several occasions to have you removed from the Council.

I speak now, outside of the council, to give you fair warning. In the matter of the Cave of Runes, you are to keep your dog from impeding my research there. I know that he has laid claim to this valuable property. But, there is real research to be done, and I will not take kindly to interruptions by this boy king and his plaything knights. This shall be your only warning.

Rosskeen, High Wizard of the Council.

Hylax's knowledge of Rosskeen is that he is a vocal member of a small minority of very powerful wizards who believe that the Reaches and all its inhabitants are simply specimens in a grand experiment. As such, he is known to disregard life outside of his cadre as trivial. The last you had heard of Rosskeen, he was researching the Legend of the Valmagus, a human-like race of super wizards that was rumored to have existed in the First Age. According to the legend, these mages were destroyed by their evil counterparts, the Draugmagus in a Firestorm that lit the Sea of Fire. Such research is typically considered near the lunatic fringe by the Collegium.

Entrance to the Cave of Runes

Shaped by the endless blowing sand, a natural hollow has been dug from the side of the mountain. A single set of stairs have been carved from the rock of the mountain leading up to a large cave several hundred feet above the desert floor.

Room 1: Entrance to the Cave

The ledge outside the cave is a simple stone outcropping. A set of stairs has been carved into the stone, leading down. A feeling of magical energy emanates from the cave.

Room 2: Runemaster's Antechamber

The outer room of the cave is most remarkable for it is covered with thousands of runic symbols, painted onto the wall and ceiling. A stone table and four crude stone chairs are in the center of the room. Three exits lead out of the room, although a large boulder has been rolled and shaped to block the western passage. Emanations of power come from the rear passageway into this room.

Room 3: Runemaster's Tomb

This room was obviously a sleeping chamber in the distant past. A straw mattress on a stone pallet, several small tables, and two small wooden chests attest to that fact. It is obvious that this room has not been used for years. Lying on the bed is the skeleton of a man. A spear is thrust into the bones, near where the heart would be. Tattered robes and bed linens have long-been ravaged by time.
Careful examination will show that the skull has undergone significant advanced dental work. Several gold crowns and bridges are easy to spot.

This is the body of the Runemaster, killed in his sleep by scorpionmen many years ago.

A secret passageway leads to the observation room above the anteroom.

Room 4: Wizard's Bedchamber

This room is lined with several oak bookcases of recent construction. A large oak table is in the center of the room, cluttered with alchemical apparatus of varying shapes and sizes. There are several chests in this room. A small curtain has been drawn across the northeastern corner of the room. Behind it are a bed and nightstand.

Once a storage room for the Runemaster, the boxes, barrels and crates have long since been removed. It is now the chambers of Aldwerth, Wizard of the Council.

A bookcase has been pushed up against a secret passageway that leads to the observation room above the anteroom. It is obvious that the current occupants are unaware of the secret passage. There is a Manual of Quickness of Action in the bookcase.

Aldwerth the Red is typically here, dressed in his typical red robes. He wears a ruby bracelet and circlet. Aldwerth appears as an old man, thin and frail with wisps of white hair. His eyes are pinkish, although his skin is not the pure white of an albino. He carries a Potion of Mana and a Potion of Cure Serious Wounds. There is a note here about the attempts of the wizards to gather blood from the Mouther in order to study it for magical properties.

Room 5: Observation Room

This room is more like a slight widening of a passageway. In the floor of this crawlway a small hole has been bored, allowing an unobstructed view of the anteroom below.

Room 6: Chamber of Runes

A long narrow hallway leads to this large natural cavern. There is a feeling of a very powerful magical energy here. The cavern is brightly lit, although only a single candle is burning on a table in center of the room. From that candle's flame, hundreds of thousands of crystals blaze with light. Each crystal is carved with a fine delicate etching, a rune and a quick search proves that each is different. A leather hide curtain has been hung along the northern confines of this chamber. Sounds of women wailing can be heard coming from behind the curtain.
Close examination shows that the table is actually a pedestal with a single candle burning. On top of the pedestal sits an ornate book entitled, "the Book of Runes". The cover is made of gold and inlayed with semi-precious gems. The clear gems on the corner of the book flash in a clockwise pattern which each gem remaining lit for several seconds. After several minutes, you notice that the candle is not getting smaller. Additionally, there is no heat or soot coming from the wick.

The book is actually a trap. Flash four rune cards if touched. Underneath the lip of the pedestal are two small buttons. The pedestal can be opened by pressing one button when its corresponding gem is lit, and pressing the second in a similar fashion. Doing this will open a secret drawer in the pedestal. The drawer is empty.

Behind the leather curtain, three large tables have been placed in a row. Several large barrels of liquid stand nearby. Against the eastern wall, a magical fire burns low under a large copper kettle. The tables are covered with cloth. On one table a pregnant woman is in the process of giving birth. Several midwives dressed in plain brown smocks scurry back and forth, attending to the women.

The women are from Rooms 13 and 14. The midwives are from Room 20.

Castle of the Valmagus

The Castle appears to have been built out of sandstone, blending in perfectly with the surrounding cliffs. The castle has a large portcullis in its outward face. The main keep is two or three stories in height with walls about 40' high. Two circular towers soar another 40' above the top of the wall. The western tower glows with a very faint blue light. There are no other windows in the keep.

This is, of course, an illusion. The castle is under construction and in a very vulnerable state. It is protected magically, but is definitely open to invasion.

The Castle in under construction. The outer wall is completed to about 40' and the western tower seems to be intact, although it is leaning slightly. On top of the castle, you can see movement and hear the sounds of construction as workers seem to be moving large blocks of stone back and forth. The eastern tower is missing, although there is a slight blue glow on the windows at the top of the western tower.

Room 7: Scorpion's Den

A set of massive brass-bound oaken doors lead into castle. They appear to be barred from the inside. This room has a low ceiling which sags in several places. Five pillars are arranged around the room. The floor here seems to be deep sand. There are no lights in the room. A smaller set of wooden doors are on the northern wall of this room.

Five giant scorpions will attack if the room is entered. The real danger, however, is the far doors which will cause the ceiling to collapse filling the room with sand and rubble.

Room 8: Storeroom

A set of naturally carved stairs lead down to this dark, cool room is filled with boxes and crates of mundane items. A number of massive columns support the ceiling which sags in places. The floor is sand.

Room 9: The Mouther

It is apparent that some small amount of digging was required to gain entrance to this natural cave complex. The outer room of the complex is wide but very short, allowing only small characters to stand. A number of very small passages lead out of the north end of the room. There are a number of broken weapons and digging implements here. From the marks in the sand, it is evident that several battles have taken place in this room.

The mouther is being attacked because the wizards want its blood, heart, etc. for study. The thought is that this creature grew up in a tendril and must therefore be imbued with its power. The mouther will attack with any number of biting extensions that can be shot through the small holes in the cave wall. Several holes will eventually lead to the surface (where it normally gets its food).

Room 10: Barracks

This plain room has six bunks, footlockers, a common table and a number of chairs. If empty, the table will have a deck of cards.

The lockers contain 100gp total. These are sleeping quarters that are used by the guards that keep watch over the hill giants that are building the castle. They typically sleep in shifts, meaning that six will generally be here at all times. All the guards wear magical red metal collars.

Room 11: Roskeen's Study

This simple room has a large wooden table with several chairs in its center. On the west wall is a bookcase which contains mostly specimens in jars. There is a strong smell of formaldehyde here. On the desk is a leather book which seems to be a journal of sorts with lots of notes about the Valmagus.

Roskeen is a very fat man of middle age. He is bald except for a rim of dark black hair. He wears a constant smile, although his eyes are constantly darting back and forth, giving him a sinister contenance.

On the wall is a small painting of several humans, glowing white in white robes standing on top of a blackened hill (which if inspected is a pile of slain enemies). Behind the picture is a magical lock. The lock is set so that all 12 lines (six edges and six radial) all add up to 23. The party must come up with another solution to the puzzle.


In the safe are the following items: a Ring of Teleportation, 2000 gold pieces, and a medium fire opal.

Room 12: Entrance to the Caves

A large hell hound armored in red metal is in the center of this room, and he will start baying if anyone enters the room. The hell hound guards a portcullis made of a shimmering crystalline material. The portcullis emanates a very strong magical aura.

The hell hound armor makes him immune to most direct damage spells and has 50% absorption.

The crystalline material will create sound waves which will have devastating effects over time. In a few rounds, glass will start to shatter. Damage. Metal will start to heat up. Damage. This room has been magicked to prevent Silence spells from working here.

Room 13: Southern Birthing Room

A young woman is sleeping in the large feather bed in this room. It is very apparent that she is pregnant and very near to delivering her baby. A simple table and dresser are piled with ordinary items.

At the bottom of the chest is a bag with 130 gold pieces in it. The woman's name is Siri.

Room 14: Northern Birthing Room

A young woman is sleeping in the large feather bed in this room. It is very apparent that she is pregnant and very near to delivering her baby. A simple table and dresser are piled with ordinary items.

At the bottom of the chest is a bag with 130 gold pieces in it. The woman's name is Linna.

Room 15: Meeting Hall

This room has a large wooden table surround by a dozen simple wooden chairs.

This is where the party will be taken if they meet with the wizards in a non-confrontational manner.

Room 16: Wizard's Cells

These small rooms are very simple with wooden pallets, nightstands, and chests.

Roskeen lives in the northern cell. Hamlin lives in the eastern cell. Young man, dark complexion, black robes. Carries a Potion of Vitality and a Potion of Mana. Penrhyn lives in the western cell. Young man, fair complexion, red hair, black robes. Uses a Wand of Polymorph with abandon.

Room 17: Workshop

This large room has two workbenches along the north and south walls. On the workbenches are various alchemical lab tools, beakers, test tubes, a mortar and pestle and the like. Several of the metal implements glow with a slight magical aura. The southern bench has various harnesses and leather restraints along with a collection of small bits of blackened earth and wood.

There are typically two wizards in the workshop.

Room 18: Dining Hall

Several small wooden tables have been set up in this room to form a makeshift dining hall. The sounds and smells of cooking come from the southern passage into this room.

Room 19: Kitchen

This large room is filled with cooking utensils. Two large tables in the center of the room are heaped with vegetables and meat. An oven in the southeast corner is filled with baking bread, and a large stone basin in the northeast corner has cool fresh water. A number of pantries are along the west wall of this room.

There are typically four slaves here cooking meals.

Room 20: Slave Quarters

These rooms are plain with three or four straw mattresses in each room. Small tables and several wooden chests are in the room as well.

There are sleeping quarters for all 20 slaves here. Eight are domestics that work in the castle. Twelve are working on the castle. All the slaves wear magical red metal collars.

Room 21: Giant's Den

This circular room comprises the entirety of the ground floor of the western tower. The center of the room is strewn with blankets, bits of straw, and other materials to make giant sleeping pallets. Stairs in the west lead up and down. The eastern portion of the room is filled with crates of construction materials, shovels, buckets, hammers and the like. The room smells very musty of sweat.

The ground floor of the western tower has been made into a giant's den. Here, the giants sleep when not working on the castle. The stairways to the west are too small for them to maneuver. Three is a set of Small Chain Mail +4 here along with the chewed remains of a dwarf that wandered too close to the castle.

Room 22: Construction

It is clear that this level which is currently the roof of the castle is meant to eventually be an inner floor of the keep. The outer wall has been completed, but a number of smaller inner walls are under construction. There are a number of interesting features here. In the eastern corner of the roof is a large red magical circle. This circle glows slightly. A number of five foot cubes of stone have been drug from the circle and piled nearby. Smoke comes from a hole in the floor just outside the circle. Scattered about the roof are twelve human laborers, each wearing a red metal collar. They are currently working to shape stone benches in a small auditorium that is being built along the northern wall. Several are also starting to cut wooden beams to form a ceiling on the auditorium. Eight stone giants are hauling blocks of stone to the center of the roof and piling them crudely to form a wall.

There will always be a wizard here (hidden) watching the work. The collars are controlled by Adwerth. He may attack or he may flee to the castle to bring reinforcements.

Room 23: The Eye

This room has a bright blue glowing gaseous form in its center. Tendrils of light emanate from it and out the eight windows of the tower. The light seems to be filled with thousands of small flecks of white that are flowing both inward and outwards.

The eye will tell the wizards that an intruder has been found. It will also outline them in blue as the 1st level spell. Any creature coming within 300 feet will need to make a saving throw each round against 32nd level to avoid being outlined. Typically, the wizards will shoot the intruders with bolts from the windows.


Adwerth the Red, Wizard
Giant Scorpions (5)
Guards (6)
Roskeen, High Wizard
Armored Hell Hound
Hamlin, Wizard
Penrhyn, Wizard
Kitchen Slaves (4)
Midwives (4)
Laborers (12)
Stone Giants (8)


Manual of Quickness of Action
Potion of Mana
Potion of Cure Serious Wounds
100 gp
Ring of Teleportation
2000 gp
medium fire opal
130 gp
130 gp
Potion of Vitality
Potion of Mana
Wand of Polymorph
Small Chain Mail +4