Runes are awesome. Odin had to die on a tree to get his. And “rune” is a great word. Add “rune” to anything, it sounds mystical and full of portent. “The death rune.” “Rune magic.” “Rune-white bonefire.” I have chills.
Unfortunately…well, how many times have you seen a clunky rune magic system crammed into a book on dwarves or giants or magic item construction (worse yet, with little to no connection to the rune systems of previous splatbooks)? How often have you seen “rune” slapped onto a monster to round out an article (“Around the corner, you are ambushed by a rune drake!”)?
So the rune brand (ha! #puns) is a bit tarnished. Plus, as you know, I’m not a fan of monsters created willy-nilly just by adding a new adjective, especially if they don’t gel with the original concept. No one is ever going to sell me on D&D 3.5’s brain and web golems, for instance. So while I’m all about the introduction of taiga and marsh giants joining the ranks of hill and stone…rune giants? One of these things is not like the other.
But here’s the thing, though. Golarion now is a different place than it was during the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path. Now, after not just one but two hardbound campaign books, it truly is a role-playing game setting—a fleshed-out globe with historical analogues and well developed regions comprising “the best of all possible worlds.” But then…then it was just a sketch of a world, a wild coast with a history just coming into focus. And rune giants worked in that world. They fit this place we barely knew. They weren’t “right” in a way that my hidebound brain sometimes wants for my games, but they were very, very right for Varisia and Thassilon. That’s what matters! And for that reason, I’ll always like them.
As for stats and special abilities—well, they’re CR 17, can control giants and blow things up with their runes. So that gives you a pretty good idea of the power you’re dealing with here. (In fact, I kind of wish it was slightly less, just so we could get to them sooner in a 20-level campaign arc. But anyway…) And just look at the company organization block! Any culture that includes rune giants, yetis, cloud giants, frost giants, stone giants, lamia matriarchs, and blue dragons is one I want to learn more about.
Since (as most of you know by now) I keep my adventure seeds setting-neutral, you’ll see no reference to Runelords or Golarion below. But that just makes them easier to drop into your campaign…
Sometimes the Northern Lights will blaze scarlet. And when this happens, giants are called—fire and taiga giants who leave their tribes and head north. It is said they get reforged there, somewhere hidden among the high volcanoes or deep in the earth. All that is known is that they come back changed, wielding the weapons of the Ancestors and with bodies emblazoned with powerful runes. And then comes war.
No loremaster of the Crane Kingdom will admit it (and only the Wu Jen of Fire know the whole tale), but the ideograms that make up their written script are stolen—stolen from rune giants. This makes all giants the enemy of the Bird of Civilization. Most disturbingly, it means that many rune giants can also command anything bearing an ideogram as if it were a giant—including terra-cotta soldiers, clockwork dragons, and even ordinary human soldiers with ideogram tattoos…
The blue dragon suzerain known simply as Sultana contacts a party of adventurers with whom she has long quarreled, suddenly proposing an alliance. Rune giants from the south are gathering hordes of giants to their banners, as well as a number of her younger kin. She has no desire to share her vassals or any spoils with such creatures, and thinks the adventurers who have been such a thorn in her side can do just as much damage to the giant cause…if properly motivated.
—Pathfinder #6 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 130
Giants Revisited has more on rune giants and how to use them in your campaign, courtesy of Jesse Benner.
And of course, let us take a moment to remember Jack Vance—whom I have not read, but plan to.