Last year on Fox’s Cunning I rated weapon runes. Ryan mentioned he wanted to see Armor Runes ranked on a recent episode of Know Direction, and so here we are. And while enchanted swords tend to take center stage in the world of magical gear, if you go into battle without properly enchanting armor you’ll find yourself quickly regretting that decision. And where many characters, especially spellcasters, may go their entire careers without a weapon property rune, everyone in the party should be investing in their armor!
Check out my google doc if you just want to see the effects of all the runes in one easy to read table!
Fundamentals of Runes: The Fundamental Runes
The most basic rune is the Fundamental Rune. These include the Potency Runes (+1, +2, and +3) and Resilient Runes that increase your saving throws. Despite the name fundamental, they are rather boring; They increase your AC and Saves. 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 Resilient armor can have one property rune, a +2 Armor, +2 Resiliency Armor or +2 Greater Resilient Armor can have two property runes, etc…
Property Runes: The Art of Armor
Want to see a complete list of property runes? Archives of Nethys has the most up to date list, but if you want to see all the effects on a single page: check out my google doc.
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: Defense, Skill, Tactical, and Utility. The decision on what kind of property run you want really comes down to party composition. Runes like soaring are substantially less useful if your party has a character using Mass Fly all the time.
Level 5 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Stanching (Defense; Level 5; 130 gp) — Don’t underestimate this ability. Persistent damage is extremely deadly and any advantage to your flat-check is welcome.
★★★★☆ Glamered (Utility; Level 5; 140 gp) — Very good rune in any kind of urban or intrigue campaign. I’m tempted to put it under “Skill” for all the circumstance penalties it’ll offset. Also great if you have the perfect miniature for your PC, but they aren’t wearing armor.
★★★☆☆ Slick (Tactical; Level 3; 50 gp) — Grapple is fairly common, so it’s not a bad investment for a front-line fighter, especially those that don’t use a reach weapon. It is still niche, and those checks aren’t that difficult.
★★★☆☆ Shadow (Skill; Level 5; 55 gp) — This one offers some decent utility out of combat, and will often confer the bonus to your initiative. But there are other ways to get an item bonus to your stealth that don’t use a rune slot, although they are more expensive and/or circumstantial.
Level 6-9 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Stanching (Greater) (Tactical; Level 9; 600 gp) — This is still really good. Bleed is totally relevant at levels 6-9.
★★★★☆ Deathless (Defense; Level 7; 330 gp) — Wounded (or Doomed) is another condition like Bleeding that risks killing your PC, making this a very useful ability.
★★★☆☆ Dread (Lesser) (Tactical; Level 6; 225 gp) — Keeping enemies frightened is pretty good, especially if you have rider effects like Agonizing Rebuke.
★★★☆☆ Energy-Resistant (Tactical; Level 8; 420 gp) — This can be very campaign dependent, but if your most common type of enemy uses a specific energy type, it’s super useful. +1 if that energy type happens to be fire, as “1d6 each round you are near the fire” is a common mechanic. Also really useful if you (or an inconsiderate party member) does lots of area damage.
★★★☆☆ Bitter (Tactical; Level 9; 135 gp) — Extremely niche. But also extremely cheap. Remember you can move runes around your armor with enough prep-time. So you could apply this before you go hunting for specific monsters. 3-stars only for tiny-sized PCs!
★★☆☆☆ Invisibility (Utility; Level 8; 500 gp) — Going invisible once a day is pretty good utility. Although with its limited combat use, in most cases, a wand or scroll is probably a better option.
★★☆☆☆ Slick (Greater) (Tactical; Level 8; 450 gp) — This gets a lower rating because there are far more useful runes you should be looking into.
★★☆☆☆ Shadow (Greater) (Tactical; Level 9; 650 gp) — This gets a lower rating because by this level there are more ways to get an item bonus to stealth.
★☆☆☆☆ Sinister Knight (Utility/Skill; Level 8; 500 gp) — Extremely niche. Totally 5-stars in an undead-heavy campaign. It’s really most useful if everyone in the party can get a set,and requires heavy armor (but that is a possible party composition). The bonus to Deception keeps this from being 0-stars.
★☆☆☆☆ Ready (Utility; Level 6; 200 gp) — Taking time to don your armor almost never comes up. Might be useful if your GM is a stickler for these rules and likes to attack sleeping PCs.
Level 10-14 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Winged (Tactical/Utility/Defense; Level 13; 2,500 gp) — Flying is really good. You can avoid being in melee range with non-flying enemies. You can reach high-up places. You can prevent yourself from falling to your death. And while characters can cast fly by level 6, most parties won’t have the resources to keep it going all day long.
★★★★☆ Fortification (Defense; Level 12; 2,000 gp) — 20% chance to avoid a critical hit is huge. This is a flat-check, so you can use a hero-point to reroll. Critical hits from higher level monsters are no-joke. But I can’t give this 5-stars knowing how many of my friends are so unlucky that they will never see it work.
★★★★☆ Stanching (Major) (Defense; Level 13; 2,500 gp) — By now you are likely encountering a more diverse suite of persistent damage, but this is still darn good.
★★★☆☆ Dread (Moderate) (Tactical; Level 12; 1,800 gp) — This is still only “good”, as most enemies will scale out of this DC pretty fast. Still, extending Frightened is great for Intimidation, which is one of the best tactical skills in the game.
★★★☆☆ Energy-Resistant (Greater) (Defense; Level 12; 1,650 gp) — Energy Resistance 10 gives you access to the tried and true tactic of “ninjas can’t touch you if you are on fire”. Again, ideal when your campaign has a prevailing energy type, or a reckless ally.
★★★☆☆ Implacable (Tactical; Level 11; 1,200 gp) — This is so much better than Slick, at least until you find yourself reliably quickened all the time. Great for front-line PCs with low Fort-saves. This assumes you are using the PFS ruling to prevent some major cheese.
★★★☆☆ Invisibility (Greater) (Tactical/Utility; Level 10; 1,000 gp) — Once you hit 3/day, invisibility becomes a viable combat option for making a single attack flat-footed, especially when it only takes a single action.
★★★☆☆ Soaring (Tactical/Utility; Level 14; 3,750 gp) — This is great if you already have a fly-speed, otherwise you should look at Winged. This can be combined with Winged if your land speed is fast enough to get a faster Fly Speed, which is neat.
★☆☆☆☆ Rock-Braced (Tactical; Level 13; 3,000 gp) — While this is a big bonus, forced movement is an extremely niche tactic for most creatures. Would be better if you could put it on L armor, since those characters will likely need it more.
☆☆☆☆☆ Ready (Greater) (Utility; Level 11; 1,200 gp) — At this level I doubt many parties are still worried about how long it takes to get dressed. Buy a squire.
Level 15-20 Property Runes:
★★★★★ Fortification (Greater) (Defense; Level 18; 24,000 gp) — A 30% chance to negate a critical hit is really good. Once you hit these high levels, many enemies are going to be beyond 20th level and this will save you.
★★★★★ Winged (Greater) (Tactical/Defense/Utility/Skill; Level 19; 35,000 gp) — Being able to fly all the time is really good, and this isn’t a terrible way to get the ability. Without it you will likely find yourself not participating in many encounters.
★★★★☆ Antimagic (Defense; Level 15; 6,500 gp) — By this level you are encountering a lot of magic. That makes this really useful. A little less useful if you have a reliable way to get a status bonus to your saving throws.
★★★★☆ Stanching (True) (Defense; Level 17; 12,500 gp) — Lots of creatures still confer bleed at this level, making this still a surprisingly solid choice. Even a little bleed is super deadly with how dying works!
★★★☆☆ Ethereal (Tactical/Utility; Level 17; 13,500 gp) — Being able to go Ethereal for a single action and return as a Free-action is super useful, both in exploration and encounter mode. But it is only once per day.
★★★☆☆ Dread (Greater) (Tactical; Level 18; 21,000 gp) — If you have certain riders and/or get this at a low enough level, it’s great. That’s a decent DC, until you start fighting stuff that is almost exclusively over level 20.
☆☆☆☆☆ Slick (Major) (Tactical; Level 16; 9,000 gp) — At this level you should be teleporting or going Ethereal to get out of grapple. Maybe if your character is a hardcore pugilist in a wrestling campaign.
☆☆☆☆☆ Shadow (Major) (Skill; Level 17; 14,000 gp) — There are so many better options by now for getting that item bonus to Stealth.