I love weapon runes. They are perfect for martial characters looking for a bit of magic, a GM looking for a unique reward, or even a game designer looking for a solid foundation for a new named magic weapon. There are a lot of rules for runes, and a huge list of runes to choose from. So how do we know what rune is right for you? Well, you’ve come to right place. Let’s pull up a chair, check for hazards, and go over the runes in Pathfinder: Second Edition!
Fundamentals of Runes: The Fundamental Runes
The most basic rune is the Fundamental Rune. These include the Potency Runes (+1, +2, and +3) and Striking Runes (Striking, Greater Striking, and Major Striking). Despite the name fundamental, they are rather boring; They increase your attack roll and your damage. But they are important and powerful, and if these weren’t essentially mandatory, players would likely shirk property runes altogether for these incredible bonuses. The other big thing you have to know is the number of property runes a weapon can have is equal to the value of its potency rune. So a +1 or +1 Striking weapon can have one property rune, a +2 Weapon, +2 Striking Weapon or +2 Greater Striking weapon can have two property runes, etc…
Property Runes: The Art of Armaments
The grades and opinions given below are biased. There are no “trap” options for runes in Pathfinder Second Edition. Even the lowest ranking rune on this list serves a purpose. Most of my lower grades are assuming you are playing a campaign like Organized Play, with mixed enemy types and no particularly strong theme for your character that these runes would otherwise enable. All property runes can be divided into one of the following categories: Buff, Debuff, Damage, Bane, and Tactical. The decision on what kind of property run you want really comes down to party composition. Runes should be used to help fill gaps in your party, especially when it comes to Buffs and Debuffs, which can substantially lower in usefulness if you have a party member providing the same bonuses. Runes like hope and speed are substantially less useful if your party has a character using Inspire Courage or Haste all the time. Likewise, items that deal specific types of damage are often more useful when combined with abilities that give monsters specific weaknesses. Bane weapons best against specific types of monsters, so if you are in an adventure or campaign full of that type of monster you should consider picking it up. I will rate Bane weapons under the assumption that you only encounter the creature listed one in every five encounters, but they should be counted significantly higher if they are a major focus of your campaign.
Level 2-5 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Cunning (Tactical; Level 5; 140 gp) — A free Recall Knowledge once per minute is fantastic. You even get a bonus to the check ranging from +1 to +5! It’s not as good as being quickened and is only once per minute, but it also helps provide a handy little reminder to use that Recall Knowledge at least once per encounter.
★★★★☆ Crushing (Debuff; Level 3; 50 gp) — When you Crit the target becomes clumsy 1 and enfeebled 1 until the end of your next turn, effectively giving you and your allies +1 AC and +1 to hit for the rest of the round and your next turn. And it doesn’t require the use of a reaction!
★★★★☆ Returning (Tactical; Level 3; 55 gp) — You’ll want this on any thrown magic weapon. It is almost a tax.
★★★☆☆ Ghost Touch (Bane; Level 5; 75) — Incorporeal enemies are a headache. This helps immensely. It also helps at higher levels if your party gets the ability to become incorporeal.
★★☆☆☆ Disrupting (Bane; Level 5; 160 gp) — Dealing extra damage and enfeebling undead is pretty good against undead, but in an undead heavy campaign you will probably want Ghost Touch first.
★★☆☆☆ Fanged (Tactical; Level 2; 30 gp) — I want to give this a higher rating as its my favorite weapon rune, but only for flavor. It really doesn’t provide much of a combat benefit. But there is a great deal of out of combat benefit, depending on your GM.
★★☆☆☆ Kin-Warding (Buff; Level 3; 52 gp) — Spending an action to give an ally +1 AC is not that bad. The fact it requires a clan dagger is annoying. Not as useful as pacifying against a single enemy.
★★☆☆☆ Pacifying (Debuff; Level 5; 150 gp) — Using your precious reaction to possibly give your opponent a penalty on lethal attacks is extremely niche. Would be ranked higher if it made your attack nonlethal damage. But it is an untyped penalty and doesn’t require a critical hit, and many enemies will have to take a -2 penalty to attack for nonlethal damage. If only the DC scaled.
★☆☆☆☆ Bane (Bane; Level 4; 100 gp) — This choice is completely campaign dependent. It is not as good a bane as disrupting or demolishing, and the more specific banes that get published the less likely this one will see use. It’s flavorful and a great add-on when developing magic items with a backstory.
★☆☆☆☆ Fearsome (Debuff; Level 5; 160 gp) — Imparting Frightened on a Critical Hit isn’t that good. Intimidate is one of the most supported skills and makes a great third action, making this unnecessary.
Level 6-9 Property Runes:
VARIES Grievous (Tactical; Level 9; 700 gp) — ★★★★★ Axe, Brawling; ★★★★☆ Dart, Flail, Hammer & Pick; ★★★☆☆ Polearm; ★★☆☆☆ Bow, Club, & Shield; ★☆☆☆☆ Knife, Sling & Sword
★★★★★ Frost (Damage; Level 8; 500 gp) — Additional cold damage is good. The potential to make the target slowed 1 is incredible, but it will be weaker next tier due to poor scaling.
★★★★★ Shifting (Tactical; Level 6; 225 gp) — You know what’s better than shifting your grip? Shifting the entire weapon. Great for picking situational weapon traits, targeting weaknesses, switching to a weapon that can be thrown or has a ranged element (like a combination weapon). Ask your GM how much the text “similar form” matters, as some GMs will keep the weapon in the same category, despite the ability just forcing the same number of hands.
★★★★☆ Conducting (Damage; Level 7; 300 gp) — Good on spellcasters and alchemists. Great when you get attacks, rage actions, and/or stances with one of the traits necessary to activate Conduct Energy. Don’t just think of it as extra damage, but extra damage you can shift to target weaknesses and bypass resistances. Also less gold than most elemental weapons.
★★★★☆ Crushing (Greater) (Debuff; Level 9; 650 gp) — Enfeebled 2 and Clumsy 2 is incredibly debilitating.
★★★☆☆ Corrosive (Damage; Level 8; 500 gp) — Acid damage is pretty good. In a campaign with many shields, this easily becomes a 4-star.
★★★☆☆ Flaming (Damage; Level 8; 500 gp) — Fire damage is the most easy to resist, but also the most common weakness. 1d10 persistent fire damage is really good.
★★★☆☆ Shock (Damage; Level 8; 500 gp) — Electricity damage is fine, but arcing 1d6 damage to two other creatures within 10-feet feels forgettable by level 8.
★★★☆☆ Thundering (Damage; Level 8; 500 gp) —Very little resists Sonic damage, but Deafened isn’t that incredible in combat.
★★★☆☆ Wounding (Damage; Level 7; 340 gp) — Consistent persistent bleed is good. This gets even better if you combine it with abilities like Blood Drinker and/or Invoke the Crimson Oath.
★★☆☆☆ Demolishing (Bane; Level 6; 225 gp) — This is a really good bane ability, but it’s still a bane ability. Go for it in a construct heavy campaign.
★★☆☆☆ Extending (Tactical; Level 9; 700 gp) — This would be so much better if you could Trip with it to try to knock down fliers, but being its own two-action activity makes it hard to enhance.
★★☆☆☆ Fanged (Greater) (Tactical; Level 8; 425 gp) — The movement speed bonus is nice, but many players get Item bonuses to speed from Invested items. Most ancestries have Low-Light Vision.
★☆☆☆☆ Bloodbane (Bane; Level 8; 475 gp) — Less damage than wounding, even if it can potentially sicken. Only works against a specific type of creature, with very narrow examples. Only works on a clan dagger. Makes for fine treasure, or in adventures against extremely specific sorts of enemies; It does allow a bane effect against humanoids, but many people would just prefer Bleed.
★☆☆☆☆ Energizing (Damage; Level 6; 250 gp) —Using your precious reaction to get bonus damage is okay, but many enemies who do specific damage are also resistant to that damage. This is much better in a campaign where that kind of damage happens frequently in the environment and your character doesn’t have resistance to it, like a fire-fighting campaign.
★☆☆☆☆ Hauling (Tactical; Level 6; 225 gp) — Using your precious reaction to move someone 5-feet isn’t that good. It’s not terrible, and it can set up everything from flanking to forcing a target to have to spend an action to get back into melee range, but you can only use it once per hour and there is a Reflex save.
Level 10-14 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Brilliant (Tactical/Bane/Debuff/Damage; Level 12; 2,000 gp) — So it does extra damage, even more damage against two common types of foes, blinds on a critical hit, and can counteract darkness? Sign me up.
★★★★☆ Keen (Damage; Level 13; 3,000 gp) — High attack classes like Fighter and Ranger won’t need this, but for many other classes this can mean a significant increase in average damage each round that will continue to get better and better until level 20.
★★★★☆ Spell-Storing (Damage/Debuff/Tactical; Level 13; 2,700 gp) — So you can pretty much only use this once per combat, but when you do the damage should be insane. The fact it can store the spell indefinitely means you’ll probably end each day asking the caster to toss a 3rd level spell into your weapon, but even using cantrips the ability to choose when you unleash the spell and use your attack roll success for the degree of success of the spell attack roll is fantastic. Just think about how often your fighter scores a critical hit, and then apply that to magic. A 3rd-level shocking grasp will do 8d12 damage on a crit, and even a cantrip like produce flame will do 6d4! You can even use this with Debuffs like earthbind, or tactical spells like hydraulic push!
★★★★☆ Impactful (Damage/Tactical; Level 10; 1,000 gp) — Force damage is really good, and pushing people back can be great, and the push back on a crit isn’t mandatory.
★★★☆☆Anarchic (Bane; Level 11; 1,400 gp) — Lawful targets are more common than any given creature type, and many campaigns fight against lawful targets. The extra ability is naturally feast-or-famine so I love it, but results may vary.
★★★☆☆ Axiomatic (Damage; Level 11; 1,400 gp) — Chaotic targets are more common than any given creature type, and many campaigns fight against chaotic targets. The extra ability is theoretically always better than rolling dice, but to many players it will feel less fun than being able to watch shiny click-claks.
★★★☆☆ Holy (Damage; Level 11; 1,400 gp) — This ability is less memorable than the other alignment runes, but there are far more evil targets and creatures with weakness to good damage than any other type in the game, making this a solid choice to do extra damage.
★★☆☆☆ Unholy (Damage; Level 11; 1,400 gp) — Even in an evil campaign you are very unlikely to have enough good aligned enemies that this weapon is really worth it, and there are fewer creatures with explicit weakness to evil damage. Totally get it if your campaign is about fighting Heaven or Elysium or something, otherwise you should look into Anarchic or Axiomatic.
★★☆☆☆ Anchoring (Tactical; Level 10; 900 gp) — While this is a bit campaign specific, this also has some niche uses against offense teleportation, especially from hazards. It does require a critical hit at this tier. It’s almost a bane rune.
★★☆☆☆ Dancing (Damage; Level 13; 2,700 gp) — It doesn’t have a bad bonus and being able to hit flying enemies is really useful. This essentially gives you an extra attack each turn with this weapon, albeit without any of your other buffs to the attack. The flat check and the fact the attack bonus won’t scale beyond this level prevents this from getting a third star, but it’s an awesome investment if you have a bunch of extra gold and want this on your sidearm, and/or your adventure is going to end at level 13! Make sure not to combine this with any runes that require actions to activate like Spell Storing, but the Dancing weapon will still benefit from runes like Frost.
★★☆☆☆ Disrupting (Greater) (Bane; Damage; Level 14; 4,300 gp) — This is a very potent bane rune in an extremely undead heavy campaign, even with the dreaded incapacitate trait.
★★☆☆☆ Fearsome (Greater) (Debuff; Damage; Level 12; 2,000 gp) — Frightening your target on that first hit means you get to offset your Multiple Attack Penalty on your next hit! That being said, Intimidate is still a very popular skill, and many spells pass out the Frightened condition to multiple targets at once. But Frightened 2 is at least less guaranteed using those options, making this a better choice than its predecessor. Great with Agonizing Rebuke, assuming you Intimidate them first, then attack them with this to keep them Frightened.
★★☆☆☆ Hopeful (Buff; Level 11; 1,200 gp) —A free bless until the end of your next turn is great, even if it doesn’t effect you. It does only work on a crit, but it doesn’t take a reaction. It does require everyone sharing an alignment component, so consider party composition. And if anyone else is passing out status bonuses to Attack rolls, you should probably pass.
★☆☆☆☆ Bloodbane (Greater) (Damage; Level 13; 2,800 gp) — Better than the predecessor and it lets you get Bane against Humanoids, but its very campaign specific and only for clan daggers.
★☆☆☆☆ Hauling (Greater) (Damage; Level 11; 1,300 gp) — The main reason to want to push someone 10-feet instead of 5-feet is to provoke Attacks of Opportunity, but this uses your Reaction. I suppose it still helps your teammates.
★☆☆☆☆ Serrating (Damage; Level 10; 1,000 gp) — Another one of my favorite runes that is just not that good. It is cool that the action lasts indefinitely, so you can activate it during exploration mode and should have that 1d12 damage on your first hit. But it is still bonus damage without any additional effects.
☆☆☆☆☆ Extending (Greater) (Tactical; Damage; Level 13; 3,000 gp) — At 120 feet you are almost guaranteed to have situations where the GM is just going to say no because there will be stuff in the way. Still not terrible for anti-flying, but I’d rather use Dancing.
Level 15-20 Property Runes:
VARIES Ancestral Echoing (Tactical; Level 15; 9,500 gp) — This will be mandatory for the characters who need it, which is a shame since it comes online so late. Specialists like gunslingers who use both a firearm and a melee weapon will especially benefit from being able to use the same weapon proficiency for both weapons.
★★★★☆ Anchoring (Greater) (Tactical; Level 18; 22,000 gp) —At this tier many things will have teleportation “move” effects, etherealness, effects like blink, or just the desire to teleport away from the party to live for another day. Since it doesn’t require a crit, you can also use this to more effectively prevent yourself from being offensively teleported, or even get through some puzzles “guarded” by permanent gates.
★★★☆☆ Bloodthirsty (Damage/Buff/Debuff; Level 16; 8,500 gp) — Strap this on a wounding weapon and it effectively adds that critical effect, which hits the opponent for a nice chunk of damage. Drained 1 means 16 damage to a level 16 enemy, which is more than the average of 4d6 extra damage! The reaction is also one of the few I’d consider using, as it can benefit even a high level PC who kills an enemy and is now too far away to expect to react to any other enemies until they have a chance to move again.
★★★☆☆ Brilliant (Greater) (Tactical/Bane/Damage/Debuff; Level 18; 24,000 gp) — The numbers on this is high enough to take you to 20. Being able to bypass three different resistances with your strikes also lets you apply any number of fun oils, spells, and feats to further improve this option. Countering magical darkness is a little less important at this tier, but still useful. If the damage scaled a little higher, this would get a higher rating, but it’s still a brilliant choice.
★★★☆☆ Frost (Greater) (Damage; Level 15; 6,500 gp) — Slow is still really good, and ignoring cold resistance is nice too.
★★★☆☆ Speed (Tactical; Level 16; 10,000 gp) — By level 16 you probably have someone in the party providing you with Quickened 1. And by level 16 more martial characters won’t be using a single-action strike, but rather a feat with Strike as a subordinate action. Still, there are characters where this isn’t true and being Quickened 1 as long as you have the weapon is very good. Especially great for sword-and-spell type characters who aren’t in free-archetype campaigns and need the extra action to do that precious strike. Also great for Battleform builds, so you can guarantee that you can strike after using all those actions transforming and moving into place.
★★☆☆☆ Corrosive (Greater) (Damage; Level 15; 6,500 gp) — Shields aren’t as common at this tier, but against humanoid opponent’s this is a solid choice.
★★☆☆☆ Flaming (Greater) (Damage; Level 15; 6,500 gp) —Ignoring fire resistance is really clutch, and this gets 3-stars if you wield it on a character who gets fire damage added to their weapon through other means since it applies to all fire damage dealt by this weapon, not just dealt by this rune…or you can save up and get a greater brilliant weapon.
★★☆☆☆ Impactful (Greater) (Tactical; Level 17; 15,000 gp) — Extra force damage is still cool and if you liked Impactful you’ll want the upgrade for the higher save DC, but this is very expensive and you have other options now that might be more viable, especially if your campaign is going to 20 (since the DC won’t scale further).
★★☆☆☆ Fanged (Major) (Tactical; Level 15; 6,000 gp) — This is a fairly affordable way to get scent, but you’ll probably have other items providing you with the speed bonus. It’s still flavorful!
★★☆☆☆ Vorpal (Tactical; Level 17; 15,000 gp) — Most enemies you fight at this level are going to be immune to this or have an extremely high Fortitude save. Against weaker enemies, you will probably one-shot them with a critical hit or want to use your reaction, depending on how many enemies you are fighting. Now if you are fighting the Jabberwock, go ahead and consider this a mandatory bane rune.
★☆☆☆☆ Shock (Greater) (Damage; Level 15; 6,500 gp) — The upgrade on this is pretty mediocre. It’s good if your weapon has other sources of electricity damage built in, like if you were a stassian themed character, but that’s far less common than being able to add fire damage.
★☆☆☆☆ Thundering (Greater) (Damage; Level 15; 6,500 gp) — Not much resists sonic damage and deafness isn’t all that amazing.