Runes – What they are. Why they matter

Welcome – the Chaos Rune. This rune represents the 3 primordial powers in the Abyss and at the Gate of Chaos. Gates, also called Nexus in my writing, are mechanisms by which matter is moved from one place to another across time and space. There are 4 special Gates, the Nexus: Creation, Chaos, Warp, and Tehra. While I’ll be revealing the other runes shortly, let’s talk about Chaos first. We see chaos in our own world as life differentiates over time. Sometimes, mutation can even yield up benefits. However, unlike Marvel’s the X-Men, it is almost always destructive and fatal. In the Forsaken Isles, mutation acts like a cancerous infection of the soul that quickly alters the body too.

The Chaos Rune is shaped by 3 primordial forces: Demos/Creative Potential of Mutation, Gorgos/Destructive Mutation, and Set/Unchecked Desire to Consume Everything. The rune’s design started out as 3 circles on a disc and then a fantastic artist embellished each circle with their own signatures. Demos-Gorgos together are almost as strong as Set. Set watches from his jailed slumber, hungry and anticipating eventual freedom to feed on all that is. Demos fosters growth and change and seeks to mimic the Nexus of Creation. As fast as Demos builds it up, Gorgos gleefully sucks it in the searing burn of the black hole that is destruction. If you had to choose a power, which: Creation or Destruction? I’d pick Creation. It’s endlessly entertaining. It has no end. It’s immortal. Gorgos, unlike Set, understands this instinctively. Demos-Gorgos have a symbiotic relationship… dare I say friendship?


Runes are as integral a part of fantasy (and some sci-fi) as Orcs, magic swords, and sultry goddess avatars. Yet, you rarely find any level of explanation or exploration of what they are. Consider the Fellowship of the Ring by the good professor. They get to Moria and there’s this Elvish inscription in special runes. Sting had runes. Glamdring. Anything magical had them. Why not just call it Elvish? Well, of course, he does, but the stage is set for RUNES. The One Ring had runes that you could only see when exposed to flame. It goes on and on. Most fantasy has runes. The Forsaken Isles is no different. Let’s look at rune magic.

As noted in my writing and, runes contain activation magic and potential that is unlocked through touch or some other user-initiated trigger. Morbatten makes use of rune magic extensively in Bomoki’s Gate, on magical items and gear, and is prominent in even commoners’ lives.

  • Low Power example. Every household in Tania, that is consecrated to Tiamat, has a ‘hearth rune.’ This is a single ceramic tile that contains and slowly releases heat from the Elemental Plane of Fire. It provides heat without burning fuel. It allows for cooking. It can be used to kindle fuel. It can be used for direct cooking. To the extent it can kindle fuel, it can also release light like a candle. When commoners are married through the act of having a child together, the child is gifted a hearth stone by the local Shrine of Tiamat. In this manner, commoners are subtly encouraged to have many children.
  • Medium Power example. Commerce in Tania occurs as a function of two widely-used terms: gold and jewels. Gold or a gold coin is a reference to the value of gold required to sustain a commoner family of 5 for 1 year. To this end, a gold coin is literally a gold coin. The Merchant Guild controls the economy via the dragons’ treasure hoard to release or acquire back actual gold so that this value is approximately fixed every year. A jewel is a reference to 10,000 gold coins as it gets difficult to transport that much actual gold. However, actual commerce does not occur in Tania as a function of gold coins trading hands. That would be too cumbersome and slow. Instead, a ‘commerce rune’ is used. The purchaser places their gold, or letter of credit representing jewels, onto the commerce rune and, while touching it, declares the value. The ‘commerce rune’ is able to recognize commerce runes on jewels and Tanian minted gold. When these are not available, the commerce rune recognizes the sincerity of belief that the purchaser believes the offered gold is actually gold. The rune glows with yellow flames when the offered gold is equal to the purchaser’s belief that the gold is actually worth that much. It’s like a polygraph of intent and belief. The Merchant’s Guild controls the creation and registration of commerce runes. Having one is what designates a “shop” as an official one. There are many that cannot afford the commerce rune.
  • High Power example. The more powerful a magic item, the more likely it is to have runes worked into it. Malcor’s Sword, called the Apprentice Blade or ‘Coming Undone,’ has runes worked all over the weapon’s surface. When Malcor created it, he thought he was writing in Draconian, the language of dragons before the fall of the Eldar. In reality, he was writing in the Merakoran manner of Draconian. Unless otherwise specified, runes in the time of Morbatten are Merakoran, which was the only continent spanning empire with a standardized language, studies, etc. Alerius preserved much of their learnings.
  • Obscene High Power example. Bloodstones are marked by runes that designate their name and control mechanisms. The markings are unique and known, allowing Tania to scry their location and use. The markings also control whether they explode, go dormant, or become cursed. In this way, Tania controls even the bloodstones they sell or gift. For every 10 bloodstones registered, there is a single black market one – controlled by Perdition – so that Tania can effectively price registered ones against a black market same.

So, how do runes work, you might ask. The Forsaken Isles are a dynamic place marked by the consequence of Time flowing away from the Nexuses of Creation, Chaos, and Warp. The confluence of these 3 Gates creates Time flowing through our world, Tehra. The Gates power the gods. The gods in turn empower the belief and faith of sentient worshippers in Tehra. When a rune is created, the faith and diligence of the rune’s creator – if focused to a particular god – creates a power signature than can in turn hold magic. A 5 year old child, believing in Tiamat with all her heart, can draw a dragon and it will act like a rune. It can be enchanted. It might not last very long or be able to hold very strong magic though. By upgrading the materials, the skill of the creator (artist really), and by combining the creation with magic and divine power, the creator’s faith and BELIEF that the rune is going to be stronger, last longer, etc the rune’s power becomes true. This is the closest normal people can get to the Eldar Days where WILL = REALITY.

Interestingly, the dragons noted that when adding a person’s signature to formal situations, the signature itself becomes a sort of rune. You can test this out… next time you write a love letter and sign your name, or if someone asks for your autograph… I guarantee that you sign it differently than you would a doctor’s consent form or a package delivery notice. That difference, even in our far distant from the Forsaken Isles world, is rune magic at work. I bet you didn’t know you were magical.

Back to the Merchant Guild example, by fashioning them on ceramic tiles, these runes are guaranteed to break over time and require replacement. In Tania, most mages spend their apprenticeship assisting in the creation of runes or the binding of elementals into Tania’s civic engineering structure. Clerics do the same. The Chaos rune is required to channel any kind of changed state based on the other runes present. Though the order and power does not matter as much as the INTENT in creating a succession of runes, Tania has developed a signature style that allows multiple runes to interact and adjust the level of power brought by the runes. Consider the lower power example of a fire hearthstone rune:

  • Plane of Fire to hold heat
  • Chaos Rune to change the heat flowing the rune
  • Lineage Rune to create an effect whereby the heat is released even without the rune being touched or commanded
  • Activation Rune by which Plane of Fire is touched or not touched

You could get a similar effect by having a mage cast a fireball at a rune constructed to hold and slowly release the energy.