Flip the Script: A Look at Rune Magic and the Archivist

Typical magic is a one-and-done deal: you cast the spell, the spell effects happen, you move on. Sure, some spells work well in tandem with one another, but each spell stands on its own, not relying heavily on what other spells the caster knows to reach their full potential (spells like contingency notwithstanding).

I decided to make a magic system built around a sort of builder-finisher system, like you'd find in MMOs like Rift. In essence, each spell cast builds "combo points" which can then be used on a "finishing move" spell to give it some extra kick. And so, I created rune magic.

Rune magic in many ways functions as if casting a spell, though it is neither arcane nor divine in nature. Each rune spell, called a script, takes fundamental concepts of reality and gives it shape in the form of intricate runes. These fundamental concepts are split into six groupings, called Designs. You can think of them as the schools of magic for rune scripts:

Alteration scripts focus on changing the physical form. From strengthening a structure or weakening a foe, or giving a creature a new form, masters of alteration reshape the world to their whims.

Creation spells make something new. These spells can conjure forth solid structures and barriers or give life where there was once none, summoning forth creatures from distant lands or creating life force to revive and heal.

Destruction spells unmake, harm, and outright destroy. These spells can rain death and ruin upon their victims or bring down the mightiest of fortresses in an instant.

Invocation spells channel the forces of nature. These spells can invoke a primordial element such as fire and earth, or invoke a more specific aspect of the wilds such as beasts, plants, and weather.

Manipulation spells distort the very fabric of reality. These spells can alter the flow of time and space and control the fundamental laws of existence. Manipulation can also evoke cosmic forces such as chaos and good and bend them to the caster's will.

Revelation spells are the domain of the mind. These spells can give great insight to the secrets of the world or make even the strongest of minds doubt themselves, controlling thought and emotions both beneficial and harmful.

Learning and Casting a Rune Spell

A rune magic user (often called a scribe) has to learn his spells, much like a spontaneous caster. However, he does not have a strict table stating how many rune spells of each level he is allowed to know; he is only limited by the maximum level of spell he can cast, and can learn any spell of a level he is capable of casting. The reason for this is that, rather than having typical spell slots, rune spells are on a "per day" basis for each spell known depending on the level of spell. Lower level spells can be cast more frequently than higher level ones; for example, at level 20 a typical scribe can cast each of his 1st level spells up to four times each, where his 9th level spells can only be cast once each. If he wants additional castings of a spell he already knows, he has to learn the spell an additional time, gaining a second "set" of castings for that spell. This gives the scribe a choice: learn more lower-level spells and get several castings each day, or focus on high-level spells but have a far more limited number of castings.

Each rune must be given shape before it can create any effects, for without shape, it has no form. When a scribe casts a script, he speaks forth words of power that give the rune shape. As he speaks, the rune slowly etches itself somewhere on his equipment. Most scribes prefer to etch it onto weapons or armor, though some make trinkets and talismans for the runes to manifest upon. Once the rune is complete, it flashes with magical energy, finally bringing forth the magical power of the script. However, at this point, the script is not quite finished.

Runic Charge

Once a scribe successfully casts a script, the rune that was created remains on his person, even after the spell's effects end, still lingering with a small amount of magic power. This is known as gaining a runic charge. The charge corresponds to the design of the script that was cast. For example, the see the unwritten script (rune magic's equivalent to true seeing) is a revelation script. When cast, the scribe gains a single revelation runic charge. The scribe can only have a limited number of charges at once; if he casts another script, then one of his old charges is wasted. These charges are used to supercharge one his later spells: this process is known as overloading.

Overloading a Rune Spell

Once a scribe has built up runic charges, he can then pour the residual energies of his runic charges into his next spell to give it extra power to overload it. Each script in the rune magic system has a specific overload associated with it. Most overloads can make use of any kind of runic charge to increase the effectiveness of the scripts, but some scripts require specific types of runic charge to get the most out of the spell. Here's an example of a rune script, alter flow, which is the rune script equivalent of both haste and slow:


Design manipulation (time); Level archivist 3
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range short (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target one creature
Duration 1 round/level
Saving Throw Fortitude negates (see text); Spell Resistance yes (see text)
You alter the flow of time around a creature, hastening its movement or slowing it down. When you cast alter flow, you must choose whether to make the targeted quickened or slowed. Depending on your choice, this has different effects on the targeted creature:

Quickened: When making a full attack action, a quickened creature may make one extra attack with one natural or manufactured weapon. The attack is made using the creature's full base attack bonus, plus any modifiers appropriate to the situation. (This effect is not cumulative with similar effects, such as that provided by a speed weapon, nor does it actually grant an extra action, so you can't use it to cast a second spell or otherwise take an extra action in the round.) The creature gains a +1 dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves. Any condition that makes the creature lose its Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any) also makes it lose dodge bonuses. All of the creature's modes of movement (including land movement, burrow, climb, fly, and swim) increase by 30 feet, to a maximum of twice the subject's normal speed using that form of movement. This increase counts as an enhancement bonus, and it affects the creature's jumping distance as normal for increased speed.
Slowed: An affected creature moves and attacks at a drastically slowed rate. The creature is staggered and can take only a single move action or standard action each turn, but not both (nor may it take full-round actions). Additionally, it takes a -1 penalty to AC and Reflex saves. The creature moves at half its normal speed (round down to the next 5-foot increment), which affects the creature's jumping distance as normal for decreased speed.

Multiple alter flow spells do not stack. Using alter flow to quicken a creature is considered a harmless effect when accounting for the spell’s saving throw and spell resistance.

Overload: For every runic charge overloaded into alter flow, you can target two additional creatures. No two creatures can be further than 30 feet apart. You can choose to quicken some of the targets and slow others. In addition, for every manipulation runic charge used, the bonuses and penalties granted to AC and Reflex saves increases by 1.

Scribes must be aware of what sorts of combinations they can create with their chosen spells. Many spells in the rune magic system require runic charges from spells of a different Design to maximize their effectiveness (for example, a Creation spell that summons creatures can be overloaded with Manipulation runes to give the creatures alignment-based damage reduction).

Of course, all of this is good and all, but it needs someone to use its abilities. That's where the third base class, the archivist, comes in.

The Archivist

The archivist is the main class in Path of Iron that utilizes this new rune magic system. You can think of him as the Wizard of rune magic. He has a d6 hit die, with good Fortitude and Will saves. A decent number of skills, mostly focused on Intelligence skills, with only 2+INT skill points (but being an Intelligence-based full caster, he should get plenty of skills anyway). His strongest ability is, of course, his rune magic, but he has three other mechanics that help him better realize his potential: his Study, his Study Synergy, and Altered Script.

An archivist's study is similar to a wizard's school specialization in that he focuses his abilities within a certain Design of runes. It grants him a power at 2nd, 8th, 14th, and 20th level, and at 1st level gives him access to his "Study Synergy", described below. The scribe also gains bonus scripts known for his chosen study, though he gets to choose which spells to learn from his Design (unlike say, a sorcerer or oracle, where their bonus spells are a fixed list).

The Study Synergy grants the archivist additional power when overloading a spell with a specific runic charge. This benefit applies to all spells he overloads, so long as he uses runic charges of the specified type. The benefit stacks for each runic charge used of that type, so casting spells within his specialization is further rewarded.

Altered Script is a limited-use ability that lets the archivist change the form of the runic charges he currently has. Really need a handful of Destruction charges, but only have Invocation? Altered script can switch them up as a swift action. The ability is limited in daily usage, being only once per day at 4th level and an additional use at 10th and 16th levels, but when combined with Study Synergy can help give your overloaded spells some serious punch.

With that I'll leave you with a preview of one of the archivist's studies: revelation. Only one more preview to go after this, where I'll go over a few archetypes and new options for existing Pathfinder classes, then it's time for the Kickstarter!


Those who study revelation are masters of the mind, granting prescient insight while also manipulating the thoughts and emotions of those around them.
Study Synergy: An archivist that studies revelation gains the following ability when overloading a spell.

Prescient Casting (Su): Whenever you overload a spell, you gain a +1 insight bonus on concentration checks and on caster level checks to overcome spell resistance for each revelation runic charge expended.

Study Abilities: You have unparalleled insight into the world around you.

Breadth of Knowledge (Ex): At 2nd level, you gain all Knowledge skills as class skills. You gain a bonus on all Knowledge checks equal to 1/2 your archivist level, and can make Knowledge skill checks untrained.
Moment of Prophecy (Su): At 8th level, you can grant powerful insight to a creature, blessing it with visions of success or cursing it with knowledge of its coming failure. As a standard action, you designate a single creature within 30 feet to be blessed or cursed by its insight. Until the start of your next turn, the creature rolls twice on all d20 checks. If it was blessed, it takes the better result of each roll; if it was cursed, it takes the worse result of each roll. Once a creature has been affected by this ability, it cannot be targeted again for 24 hours. You can use this ability once per day, plus an additional use each day for every three levels past 8th, to a maximum of five uses per day at 20th level.
Legends Untold (Sp): At 14th level, you can delve into the past to learn ancient secrets and lost information. This functions as a legend lore spell, though it requires no material component and can be used at-will. You must still take the full casting time of the legend lore spell, as appropriate for the information you have and are seeking.
Secrets Revealed (Su): At 20th level, you constantly have the benefit of see the unwritten*. When you overload a spell, you can change the benefits granted by this ability as if you had overloaded those runic charges into the see the unwritten* effect. The new benefits persist until you choose to change them again.