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From Diablo 3 to D&D: Skill Runes

Diablo 3 by Blizzard

In this series of articles I’ll be bringing elements from Diablo 3 to you for use in your tabletop game. Although the material is mostly D&D-centric, I’ll speak as generally as possible and avoid specific mechanical speech when at all possible. I do hope you enjoy!

Skill runes in Diablo 3 are a simple way to modify your existing skills into a more customized form to suit your play style in that game. For this article, I’ll be discussing magic-users specifically, and I’m doing so for two reasons: the feel that this play option evokes in the game, and the idea that this system seems to fit better (and seems more feasible) when you apply it to spellcasters. That said, you could apply the concept here to a rogue who wants to add a stunning effect to a dagger blow or a bonus sneak attack die. Other good examples include having a fighter’s cleaving attack hit additional targets or inflict additional bleed damage.

So, let’s get started. Do you want a cool way to spice up a ho-hum spell that you might have been using since 1st-level? Maybe you want to make that fireball spell you just learned a bit more interesting? Instead of following the more traditional methods, where you increase a spell’s damage, size, and/or number of targets as you progress, why not augment a spell’s properties by using a rune system similar to Diablo 3? There could be runes that augment the spell’s power as mentioned above, but we can do a lot more here. What if magic missile could also slow enemies or knock them back? Maybe you want to pierce through multiple foes in a straight line, or even have a chance to regain access to a spell your caster already used. And what about amplifying cumulative casts?

To make this work without overpowering a character, runes would not stack. A player would choose only one rune for a spell, which not only helps create separation in styles among different characters, but also prevents a player from creating a godlike PC. You could also consider limiting the number of runes any one character can apply at a given time.

Skill runes could also come in other flavors: Perhaps you want to apply purely cosmetic changes to your spell arsenal, such as color. Maybe you want to cast a spell that resolves to a different shape than traditionally described. What about added sensory effects—maybe magic missile leaves an odor in its wake? A wizard could cause an entire room to smell like baked goods, or decay, or a certain perfume—whichever he or she prefers. You could refer to these cosmetic effects as minor skill runes. So, a spell could have either two minor skill runes or one major skill rune applied to it.

A price would have to be paid for such treats, especially if run in tandem with the default magic system. In Diablo 3, applying a rune to an effect has a cooling down period; at the tabletop this could translate into not being able to change runes until after a period of rest or after certain events or milestones such as a falling star, full moon, and so on. Magic-users would have to attune themselves and/or study the runes accordingly and this takes time. You could also hinge all of these parameters around the overall significance of specific runes or how skill runes work as a whole within your game world. With just a bit of intuition and a dash of creativity, the array of in-game explanations for this are wide and easily inserted into most any campaign that uses a magic system.

In terms of story and world-building, runes can be found, crafted, or made an integral part of a class’s makeup. You could focus entire quests on acquiring a cache of runes for your party. Have fun coming up with some options that suit your campaign!

As a fan of modularity, I think that crafting a skill rune system similar to that in Diablo 3 could provide some added flexibility for spellcasting. In D&D Next, will we have spell system modules? If so, could this be a module for you? This is definitely something to think about. Speaking of things to think about, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that you’ll consider joining me for my next installment of D3 & D&D as I ponder the inclusion of treasure pygmies and the realm of their demonic master: Greed.

7 Replies to "From Diablo 3 to D&D: Skill Runes"

Morgan Boehringer

June 7, 2012 at 4:05am

Very nice Jerry! As a fan of modular add-ons and generally adding mechanical systems to add flavour in a “realised at-the-table” sense I’m liking this idea.

The range of runes and flavors is really limitless, and I can see that the “rune-concept” is really just a placeholder for any object, pattern or shape the GM/Players wish to represent the flavor of added interest and, if they wish complexity. Obviously, I happen to like some complexity, however ideas like this can be a simple addition to a system without taking up extra time, reading/rules or grey matter…

Jerry LeNeave

June 7, 2012 at 5:27am

Thanks Morgan! Yeah it is a pretty universal idea, suppose it doesn’t have to be ‘runes’ at all. I was also thinking that this could possibly even lighten a system. In Diablo 3 you realy don’t wind up with all that many skills/spells so this is a way to keep them fresh and still useful even at later levels. Maybe a really basic magic system with only 20 spells or so alongside something like this could prove more fun than rifling through hundreds of them? Less is more and all that. It kinda goes both ways (possibly), I’ll be sure to report back as I’m implementing this into my home campaign next session.

Kobold Quarterly

June 7, 2012 at 8:17am

Looking forward to hearing about it in the house game!

AndrewFoose

June 7, 2012 at 4:52pm

That would be interesting Jerry. Have a spell that creates a minor force; add a manipulation rune to it to make it Bigsby Magic Hand, or add a combat rune to make it Magic Missile. Stuff like that.

Michael Holland

June 7, 2012 at 5:51pm

I like this idea. I think you could even build variations of at-will/encounter/daily/augmented powers if the character has access to the rune. I am going to print this one and add it to my toolbox.

PW_Shea

June 7, 2012 at 7:20pm

I like this one, Jerry. I’ve been flirting with the idea of putting the breaks on leveling progression to the degree that my players would only hit a new level on rare occasions. This might work well in concert with longer time spent in each level – incremental power growth but not on the magnitude of a whole level.

Another idea might be to make runes work the way they were originally pitched in D3 – sort of like a rare drop for which you would farm. Turn higher level runes into these quests or adventure hooks.

Cool stuff, thanks.

Jerry LeNeave

June 10, 2012 at 8:27am

PW_Shea, definitely another good idea there, perhaps make these just a rare artifact that is sought after and have players questing towards them to be the only person in the realms who’s magic missile is totally unique. I really need to get my brain around some solid ideas on how to use these for non-spell skills too. It’s a tad easier to pull off in a video game than at the tabletop but I’m up for the challenge.

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