Magic (Runelords)

Magic (Runelords)

The Runelords is a fantasy novel series written by David Farland. The series is characterized by magic systems integral to the whole structure of human society. These two systems are the magic of the elements and of endowments.



Runes make up the basis of the world's magic. The greatest of these symbols and signs of power were the Runes (or Seal) of Creation. The Seals of Creation were intertwined with the One True World, an ancient world which all others are but pale shadows of. There, everything was grander, suited perfectly to its purpose. The One True Master of Evil, the mightiest of all loci, tried to claim the Seals of Creation, and in so doing, broke the world apart.

Most works of magic require the use of runes. These symbols each carry power, some greater than others. Some runes can be used by normal people with minor effect, such as runes of healing drawn over water to wash wounds, or runes of breaking and strength used to cut stone. However, if a wizard employs such a rune, they can magnify its effect hundreds of times; runes against fire might make wood unburnable, while runes of breaking could cause earthquakes.

Runes are also the basis of endowments, as forcibles of blood metal must carry specific runes to grant specific endowments - a forcible which brands the rune of metabolism can only be used for metabolism, though the forcible itself could be recast to bear a different rune.

Each rune is said to be a fragment of the Seal of Creation.


Wizards are those beings, human or non-human, which serve one of the Elements. In giving up some of their freedom and self to the Element they serve, they are rewarded with the power to do the bidding of that Element. Most wizards have elementals of some kind growing in them, creatures whose bodies are made wholly of their element. A Flameweaver who dies releases a living column of fire, while an Air Wizard can leave his body as a living current of wind. Water Wizards hold a special living body of water within themselves. An Earth Warden does not leave an elemental, but instead plant life quickly sprouts out of his own body upon his death and takes root. Elementals dissipate shortly after their wizards' deaths; fire elementals become regular fires which burn out, air elementals become still air, and presumably water elementals disperse and mingle with whatever other water is around, or seep into the ground.


Air Wizards are powerful but chaotic, able to fly, command the winds and weather and air itself. Most Air Wizards are Inkarran, a pale-skinned nocturnal subspecies of humanity. The most notable exception was King Anders, an air wizard from South Crowthen. It is possible that Anders' powers of Air came from being possessed by a locus, an evil being of Air and Darkness, though it is equally likely that he was wizardborn himself, as the Anders line can draw its descent from Sendavian, an Air Wizard who served Erden Geboren. The Anders kings have a history of madness as they grow older, especially a dangerous preoccupation with the wind.

An Air Wizard's elemental can leave and return to its body. The body is essentially dead once the elemental leaves, but it can pass back in through the mouth and nose to bring the original body back to life. They only have a short time to return and can be stopped by placing clods of dirt in the mouth and up the nose of the body.


Earth Wardens serve the power of Earth, and each Warden is charged to protect one specific living species. Binnesman served humans, the Nut Woman served squirrels and Averan serves the Reavers. In the past there was a Reaver Earth Warden who served his own folk, but he was slain by other Reavers. The Duskin were reputed to be the strongest Earth Wardens ever, able to control the very substance of the Earth itself while human Earth Wardens could only control animals and plants. Averan is an exception to this, demonstrating Duskin-like skill over stone. Averan is also unique in being able to consume the brains of Reavers to gain their memories and later being able to take the memories from their minds by mutual agreement.

Earth Wardens pass through stages in their training corresponding to the seasons. When they first learn their powers, their clothes become covered in seedlings which eventually grow into a living garment that has numerous magical properties. This garment changes color to reflect the age and advancement of an Earth Warden's power, shifting from Spring to Summer to Autumn and finally to Winter. In the first stage of their training, all Wardens choose a staff which helps them channel their power and perform their greatest spells. This staff is taken from a tree and retains its life for as long as the wizard lives.

Earth Wardens live very long lives, being nearly immortal until they finish their "task" as defined by Earth. Binnesman was revived from near-death situations by the Earth because humanity was still in danger and he was required to protect it.

Earth Kings and Earth Wardens are closely related, with the Earth King having many if not all the powers of a vastly potent Earth Warden and being able to supply his power to other Earth Wardens if needed. Indeed, much of the difference is on a matter of scale.


Flameweavers are beings who serve fire. Unlike other types of Wizards, the powers of Flameweavers manifest in very different ways when handled by Reavers as compared to humans.

Reaver Flameweavers focus their power through crystalline staves and brand themselves with flaming runes of power. In general, they seem to be stronger than human Flameweavers, possibly due to their ability to absorb the magical strength of dead Reavers by eating their brains and glands.

Many human Flameweavers are uniformly bald, their hair being burned off by their power when they use strong spells, and particularly when they immolate—burst fully into flame. They use no instruments or tattooing as do Reaver mages, relying on fire itself as their talisman for summonings, divinations and spells. Some Flameweavers refuse to immolate, limiting their power, because they believe it burns out their souls to give themselves over to Fire so fully.

Flameweavers are able to feed on destruction, gathering power as they please Fire by acts of arson. Their spells focus around heat, fire, and divination. They are able to hurl fire, drain heat from a single living being, and are also the only wizards able to summon creatures from the netherworld. Some can use their power to sense other people's souls, seeing the "spark" of life, and detect the presence of a locus feeding on and suppressing that spark.


Water Wizards are the only wizards to be more commonly animal than human. Numerous giant sturgeons have great magical power and other fish are rumored to be Water Wizards beyond any human ability. Those humans who are gifted by Water often develop fish-like mutations such as gills and the ability to live entirely underwater. It is rumored that no Water Wizard still living on land can be very potent, implying that the greatest of their kind move into oceans or rivers.

Myrrima is a Water Wizardess who refused the call of the oceans and remained on land, permanently diminishing her powers. However, she was still able to work water magic and survive in the water much better than any normal human could have.


While none of the books have examples of wizards serving Time, it is suggested that Time is an element or power just like Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The Days thought they were serving creatures called the Time Lords, but there was never material proof to support their convictions.


The people who have the inherent talent to become wizards are known as the wizardborn. They may not realize such talent, but it is within them. The novel of the same name has four characters who come into their own as wizards, one of each of the elements - Averan begins her training as an Earth Warden, King Anders gains his powers as an Air Wizard, Myrrima is offered the power of a Water Wizard, and Raj Ahten becomes a Flameweaver.

The Elemental Powers

The four Elemental Powers (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) are the closest thing the world of the Runelords has to gods. A wizard does not merely have the gift of magics related to his or her element, but is instead actively chosen by the Power and granted these talents. The Power might speak to its wizards, though usually indirectly—Earth speaks through the rustling of leaves and the stirrings of animals, Fire through the crackling of flames, Water through the babbling of a brook, and Air whispers upon the wind. Very rarely, for the mightiest of wizards, such as the Earth King, the Power speaks more directly, though it is still rarely intelligible to those who are not its wizards. These words may come from physical manifestations - avatars born of the element - or through visions and dreams.

While they may deal with mortal men and women, the Powers are still vastly alien to humanity. They do not think as humans do, nor on remotely the same scale. A wizard may at times understand his or her Power only through great difficulty, for there are concepts in the minds of the Powers that do not have words in any human language. Indeed, to grow close to a Power is to give up some of one's humanity, as a person becomes a more perfect vessel for that Power within the mortal world. Many Water Wizards disappear into the oceans once they grow too much in strength, for the world of men does not concern them anymore. Similarly, Flameweavers become concerned only with destruction and consumption, Air Wizards become as mad and chaotic as their element, and great Earth Wardens may turn their backs on humans to deal only with the animals under their charge - and may seem completely insane due to their altered perspective. Many wizards undergo physical changes, resembling a being made out of their element, or adapting so they might live better within it. The Powers also sometimes grant extended life to their wizards, though this is not so much a gift as it is keeping the wizard around to continue upon his or her duties for the Power.

Some also worship other Powers, which are not recognized much by the rest of humanity. Some think of War as a Power, personified as the Dark Lady, who a rare soldier might call upon for aid in combat. Such figures as the Sum of All Men are also likened to living Powers, because their might is such that they seem as implacable and unstoppable as the Elemental Powers.


The main magical system of the series involves the passing of attributes on from one person to another. These attributes, called endowments, can be found in man and animal alike, and using forcibles (branding irons forged of a substance called blood metal) can be transferred to others. Once an individual gives up an endowment, they lose that attribute and it is granted to the recipient until the death of one or the other. A person can only grant one endowment in their life, but can receive as many as they have room on their skin for (or an unlimited number through Vectors).

List of Endowments

  • Brawn - increases strength of muscles, but not bone structure
  • Grace - increases balance, agility, and dexterity
  • Stamina - essentially increases endurance, the ability to not need rest, to recover and regenerate quickly
  • Wit - increases powers of the mind, ability to understand and remember but does not increase wisdom
  • Metabolism - increases physical speed but also increases how fast you live, therefore seems to slow time to the recipient but also reduces one's lifespan
  • Sight - increases vision (distance/acuity etc.)
  • Smell - increases sense of smell
  • Hearing - increases hearing
  • Voice - increases the range and possible volume of one's voice, and the ability to direct it, allowing one to be more persuasive, be heard across great distances, speak to a specific person across a loud room, or even speak with such command that one is forced to act as ordered
  • Glamour - increases physical beauty and self-confidence
  • Touch - increases contact sensations
  • Will - increases the desire to exist and act. A runelord who receives such an endowment has all of his other endowments affected too. Someone who receives wit becomes able to remember more, but someone who receives wit and will is able to stay up all night and better use their other endowments. In the same way, someone who receives brawn and will becomes unstoppable, willing to charge and not back down. The rune to grant this endowment is kept a close secret by the Inkarrans.
  • Talent - endowed using "hidden runes" known only to the Inkarrans, said to transfer certain talents, such as skill in musical performance


A noble recipient of an endowment is called a Runelord, by the runes that mark his flesh from the endowments taken. There is no real limit on the number of runes one can have, but past a certain point, adding another endowment of a certain type can be essentially pointless. For example, it is generally accepted that a Runelord with four to five endowments of wit will remember everything that has ever occurred in his entire life.

Normally, endowments need to be given willingly, and Runelords often give great speeches when looking for new Dedicates, explaining why they need their endowments and how giving them will help their country. On the other hand, Raj Ahten has so many endowments of Voice that he can convince any man to give him his endowment.

"Pragmatic" Runelords buy endowments from those who offer, usually the very poor who need money for their families and are willing to give up a lesser endowment such as hearing or touch, allowing them to still live their lives without a crippling limitation. Some condemned criminals are given the option to grant major endowments as an alternative to execution. There are also Oath-Bound Lords, who swear never to make or take the offer to purchase an endowment, but instead take those only freely given out of a genuine desire to give one's strengths to their lord, whether directly or to the lord's knights. The Oath-Bound Lord considers it his duty to always serve his people, and only takes endowments so he might personally better serve them.

Wolf lords

Traditionally, Wolf Lords are people that have taken attributes from wolves or dogs (such as smell, enabling a man to track like a hound). The term Wolf Lord has also come to mean any Runelord who is rapacious and greedy by nature, who coerces others into giving up endowments through blackmail or force. Endowments can also be given between animals, and few Runelords would ride into battle without a Force Horse. Raj Ahten is known to employ Force Dogs as well, and Force Elephants are not unheard of out of Indhopal, which can act as living battering rams to bring down a keep's gates. Often a Force animal is the alpha male in a pack or herd, which makes it easier to get the lesser animals in the pack to give up their endowments.

Those who take animals' endowments are considered, at best, morally suspect and repugnant, seen as so greedy they would strip the endowments out of an animal, and incapable of getting any human to give up endowments. Endowments from animals also supposedly make the person more animalistic, especially if one was to take an endowment of wit. Still, there are lords who argue that being a Wolf Lord in the classical sense is more ethical and worthy, when a single endowment from an animal can keep dozens of men from having to give up the same.


The ability to transfer these attributes lies with Facilitators, who use a special rare metal called 'Blood Metal', more precious than gold. This metal is melted and formed into a sort of branding iron called a forcible, which is used to transfer the attribute from the giver (called the Dedicate) to the Runelord. Forcibles lose their power once used.

There are several schools for facilitators, which are better at some attributes than others, and who are constantly researching how to improve the process. The Scorrel chants, for example, are too draining to use very safely for the major endowments, which the Weymouth school is much more skilled in taking. Individual facilitators are also better or worse at transferring specific attributes.

What distinguishes skilled facilitators from the rest is the ability to transfer the attribute with minimum metal use and cost to the Dedicate, who can often die during the transfer of some of the major attributes (drained too greatly of brawn, Dedicates can die because they are too weak for their hearts to beat).


Those who give up their attributes (voluntarily or not) are called Dedicates. The Dedicates are kept in (relative) comfort by their Runelord for several reasons. The attributes a Runelord receives are only with him whilst his Dedicates are alive. Therefore, a common tactic to defeat a particularly powerful Runelord is to attack his Dedicates, rendering one at worst a warrior of unfortunate proportions (too many of certain attributes unbalanced by too few of others, such as not having the stamina to handle the dangers of high metabolism) and at best, a weakened lord or a normal individual.

Many Runelords feel responsible for their Dedicates, and will lavish attention on them in repayment, although the taking of endowments is sometimes used as a punishment.

If a Runelord is killed all his Dedicates will receive their endowments back, being able to live normally, but will be unable to become a dedicate again.


When a Runelord is not able to be present to receive an endowment, they are granted through a vector. A vector is a person who has already given an endowment to a Runelord, and is therefore linked to him. Subsequent endowments can be given to the vector, which in turn grants the endowment to the Runelord. For example, if a dedicate of brawn is given an endowment of brawn from someone else, that additional endowment will be passed to the dedicate's Runelord.

This process allowed Gaborn and Iome to receive endowments even while they were deep within the Earth searching for the One True Master.

Serpents and Serpent Rings

A long line of vectors is called a serpent. A serpent allows for a single type of endowment to be transferred along a series of vectors so as the head of a serpent is killed the vector following will be little less than the head was only losing that endowment. (A serpent 20 men long that lost the head would have a new head that had the endowments of 19, and so on and so forth.) A serpent can also be converted to a serpent ring by having the head of the serpent endow the tail of the serpent, so that a pool of the attribute is created in which any member of the serpent ring can call on the pooled resources of the other. With combat abilities such as metabolism this can be dangerous because if more than one part of the circle requires the pooled metabolism it weakens the primary user. One clear instance of a serpent ring, is the Days wit serpent ring in which the Days exchange endowments of wit allowing them to draw on a shared mind.

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