Runic Magic

From Ultima Codex
Jump to: navigation, search

Runic magic is a system of spell casting which employs mystically charged rune stones rather than traditional reagents. It appears in the Ultima Underworld series.


Although runic magic is a common arcane system on a number of worlds, it only functions in Britannia believed to be at places where the inter-dimensional barriers are worn thin, allowing the etheric properties of other planes to bleed through. Unlike traditional Britannian magic, it does not require reagents or a spellbook, drawing its power instead from the innate powers of rune stones and the precise gestures performed by its caster. While runic magic requires no disposable materials and offers a flexible system of devising incantations, the reliance on gesturing makes it at times unpredictable, and inexperienced mages may be injured should they botch the casting of a runic spell.[1][2]


Runic Magic first came to the attention of Britannians when Sir Cabirus attempted to establish a colony in the Stygian Abyss. As they explored the chasm, the mages of the settler group encountered a number of specially-prepared rune stones which had been imbued with magical energy, and from them they were able to infer the workings of runic magic. Later, this obscure art would become a topic studied in depth by the magician Nystul, who would reason that the success of runic spellweaving was related to the relative strength of inter-dimensional barriers.[1][2]

It appears that runic magic has long been the standard method of spellcraft on other worlds. Tarna, Rhiannon, Talorus and the realms which house Killorn Keep, Scintillus Academy and the Pits of Carnage all appear to use rune-based casting as their primary magical system.

Required Materials[edit]

Rune Stones[edit]

Main article: Rune Stones
Rune stones lie at the core of runic magic, as its very name already shows. Each of these potentized stones has a rune carved on one of its faces, corresponding to one of twenty-four traditional Words of Power. (There were no Xen or Zu stones available to the Avatar at least.) In runic magic, these runes are positioned in appropriate combinations of up to three characters between the fingers of the hand, such that they spell out the words of power needed to invoke a spell.

Fabrication of such stones, at least the simpler ones, does not need a mage, as shown by their industrial production on Talorus. The more powerful ones, especially the FLAM and VAS stones, are highly valued.

Rune Bag[edit]

In order to utilize the powers of rune stones, however, they must be stored in an appropriately prepared receptacle.[1] These rune bags will hold only such stones, and cannot be used as containers in any other capacity. Of note is that a rune stone cannot be permanently removed from the bag once inside it, and that duplicate rune stones are lost to the caster as they merge with stones of the same word of power. Thus if a spare rune stone is needed for another task, it should not be put into the rune bag.

Game Mechanics[edit]

In order to cast a runic spell, the player needs to select the correct combination of runes for a particular spell and click on the rune panel. So long as the spell is of a circle from which the player is able to cast (equal to one half of the character's current level rounded up), success is then determined by "Casting" skill. Spellcasting can either succeed, fail or backfire. A backfired spell means that the mana required for the spell is drained, but instead of the desired effect taking place, the player is physically injured.


In the first years of our settlement here in the Abyss, our mages have learned much about the nature of magic in this most strange place. What is written below is meant for the guidance of those pilgrim mages who may wish to join our company, lest you bring with you those items of great expense which will be useless to you here. (Many thanks to Seer Danlock, who has advised me in places where my natural gifts and learning failed me.) The magically-attuned among our original colonists quickly discovered that the rules of magic as known in the rest of the world do not apply to our new underground home. As any student of our world's history must be aware, many titanic and dramatic events have unfolded in the vicinity of the Great Stygian Abyss - indeed, the chasm and the isle itself originated in energies arcane! Our foremost mages believe that the release in past times of enormous mystic energies here has worn the dimensional fabric thin, allowing the laws of other worlds to mingle with and even negate certain of the mystic principles.

Firstly, the casting of magic while within the Abyss does not require the use of reagents. Bring no sulfurous ash, ginseng, spider silk, nightshade, black pearls, blood moss or garlic - you will have no need for arcane ingredients in our community.

Secondly, new colonists should leave behind their spellbooks. We have discovered a way to cast magic which works only in the Abyss, and which does not require the user to carry a cumbersome tome with him. There are, scattered among the corridors in the depths, special stones charged with mystic potency. Each of these stones is inscribed with a rune identifying its nature. These rune stones are similar in function to the syllables of magic used in ordinary Britannian magic. Any spell can be cast by a mage who possesses the rune stones pertaining to that spell, unless the caster lacks the experience to utilize the spells of that Circle.

Thirdly, rune stones can only be used when they are placed in a suitable receptacle. Our seers have enchanted special bags for this purpose, and will provide you with a rune bag upon your arrival.

Fourthly, mages in the depths must develop proficiency in the physical gestures associated with spell-casting. We have noted spell failures here when all other conditions have been satisfied, and we attribute these disappointments to a lack of casting skill on the part of the wizard.

Lastly, it is just as important for a Runic Mage to possess Mana as it is for any other Britannian Mage, for this is the power which must be channeled into all wizardry. The mystic energy is restored when a mage sleeps, or sometimes by the use of arcane objects such as scrolls.
In the practice of runic magic, there are no reagents to act as physical ingredients to the spell, and no magic syllables to be spoken. The principal component of runic sorcery is the runestone, a small rock inscribed with one of the twenty-four known runes. Each of these runes has its own significance, a particular meaning and application, which when combined with other runes becomes articulated in a spell, a focused release of magical energy which accomplishes a particular effect on the world. The casting of the spell is accomplished through a complicated set of hand gestures. Even if a runic mage obtains all the correct runestones for a given spell, the appropriate gestures may yet be beyond his or her skill. It is a mastery of this element of the casting process that separates the accomplished mage from the neophyte.

Currently, runic magic is still too weak, too alien to the known laws of Britannian magic to be effective. If, however, there were to be another weakening of the interdimensional walls, the knowledge might become useful. However, if this were to occur it would be impossible to foresee how the rules of runic magic might alter, which spells would become easier or more difficult to cast, and whether new spells might become possible.


Below are listed the known runic spells which feature in Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld II:

Spells of the First Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Bounce UUS DES POR Duration Allows the caster to rebound into a jump at the end of a fall UW2 (Undocumented)
Create Food IN MANI YLEM Instantaneous Creates a piece of fresh food UW1, UW2
Light IN LOR Duration Generates light equivalent to that of a torch UW1, UW2
Locate BET WIS EX Instantaneous Reveals the mages location on the map UW2 (Undocumented)
Luck BET ORT Duration Theoretically improves caster's chance of succeeding at assorted tasks UW2
Magic Arrow ORT JUX Targeted Casts a magical projectile at the magician's foes UW1, UW2
Resist Blows BET IN SANCT Duration Temporarily grants the caster the same protection as wearing head-to-toe armour UW1, UW2
Stealth SANCT HUR Duration Prevents the caster from making any noise UW1

Spells of the Second Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Cause Fear QUAS CORP Instantaneous Causes a foe of the caster to flee UW1, UW2
Deadly Seeker ORT WIS JUX Targeted Creates a magical missile which seeks out nearby targets UW2
Detect Monster WIS MANI Instantaneous Informs the caster as to the presence of nearby creatures UW1
Jump UUS POR Duration Allows the caster to jump great distances UW1 (Undocumented), UW2
Lesser Heal IN BET MANI Instantaneous Heals the caster's minor wounds UW1, UW2
Dispel Hunger QUAS MANI YLEM Instantaneous Causes the caster to feel "well fed" UW2 (Undocumented)
Rune of Flame IN FLAM JUX Permanent, until disturbed Creates an enchantment on a fixed location which will burst into flames should anything disturb it UW2
Rune of Warding IN JUX Permanent, until disturbed Creates an enchantment on a fixed location which will report to the caster should anything disturb it UW1
Slow Fall REL DES POR Duration Allows the caster to fall slowly and to avoid injury when jumping from great heights UW1, UW2
Valor QUAS AN CORP Duration Improves a casters abilities in combat (20% weapon proficiency increase) UW2 (Undocumented)

Spells of the Third Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Bleeding JUX MANI Instantaneous Causes a targeted enemy to lose blood, causing it injury UW2
Conceal BET SANCT LOR Duration Obscures the caster to others UW1
Cure Poison AN NOX Instantaneous Removes any toxins in the caster's blood UW1 (see 5th circle), UW2
Dispel Rune AN JUX ORT Permanent Removes a magical rune such as a Rune of Flame or a Rune of Stasis UW2
Lightning ORT GRAV Targeted Hurls a bolt of arcane electrical energy at a foe UW1, UW2
Night Vision QUAS LOR Duration Allows the caster to see without the benefit of a light source UW1, UW2
Speed REL TYM POR Duration Decreases the speed of others thereby making the caster relatively faster UW1, UW2
Strengthen Door SANCT JUX Permanent Spikes a door UW1
Water Walk YLEM POR Duration Allows the caster to walk on water UW1 (Undocumented), UW2

Spells of the Fourth Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Flameproof SANCT FLAM Duration Renders the caster invulnerable to flame UW1 (appears as Resist Fire), UW2
Frost IN AN FLAM Instantaneous Throws multiple iceballs at the foes surrounding the caster UW2 (Undocumented)
Heal IN MANI Permanent Heals the caster of more grievous wounds UW1, UW2
Missile Protection GRAV SANCT POR Duration Renders the caster invulnerable to missile weapons UW1 (see 5th level), UW2
Poison NOX MANI Instantaneous Poisons the targeted creature UW1
Poison Weapon NOX ORT YLEM Permanent Renders the caster's weapon poisonous UW2
Remove Trap AN JUX Permanent Negates a targeted snare UW1, UW2
Study Monster WIS MANI Instantaneous Informs the caster as to the properties of a targeted creature UW2
Thick Skin IN SANCT Duration Thickens the caster's skin to protect from blows. UW1 (Undocumented), UW2 (Undocumented)

Spells of the Fifth Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Cure Poison AN NOX Instantaneous Removes any toxins in the caster's blood UW1, UW2 (see 3rd circle)
Fireball POR FLAM Targeted Hurls a flaming missile at a targeted creature UW1, UW2
Levitate UUS HUR POR Duration Allows the caster to move upward and downward in a fixed spot UW1, UW2
Mending REL SANCT YLEM Permanent Repairs damaged equipment. Restores others, such as refilling a lantern UW2 (Undocumented)
Missile Protection GRAV SANCT POR Duration Renders the caster invulnerable to missile weapons UW1, UW2 (see 4th circle)
Name Enchantment ORT WIS YLEM Permanent Reveals the true nature of a targeted item UW1, UW2
Open EX YLEM Permanent Opens a locked door or chest UW1, UW2
Rune of Stasis IN TYM JUX Permanent, until disturbed Creates a floating rune. Any foe touching it is immobilized UW2 (Undocumented)
Smite Undead AN CORP MANI Instantaneous Delivers a crushing blow to a targeted undead being UW1, UW2
Telekinesis ORT POR YLEM Duration Allows the caster to manipulate or pick up a single item at a distance UW1 (see 6th circle), UW2

Spells of the Sixth Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Charm QUAS REL WIS Instantaneous Renders a hostile enemy friendly UW2
Daylight VAS IN LOR Duration Provides bright illumination UW1, UW2
Gate Travel VAS REL POR Instantaneous Teleports the magician to the nearest moonstone UW1, UW2
Greater Heal VAS IN MANI Instantaneous Restores the caster to full health UW1, UW2
Invisibility VAS SANCT LOR Duration Renders the caster invisible UW1 (see 7th circle), UW2
Map Area WIS EX Permanent Maps the area surrounding the mage. The scope of the mapping in proportion to the mage's experience UW2 (Undocumented)
Paralyze AN EX POR Instantaneous Prevents a targeted creature from moving UW1, UW2
Sheet Lightning VAS ORT GRAV Instantaneous Summons an electrical storm to sweep the area UW1 (Undocumented), UW2
Telekinesis ORT POR YLEM Duration Allows the caster to manipulate or pick up a single item at a distance UW1, UW2 (see 5th circle)

Spells of the Seventh Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Ally VAS HUR POR Permanent Causes the targeted creature to attack the last enemy it saw the caster attack UW1
Enchant Item VAS ORT YLEM Permanent Can enchant weapons and armor. Also improves an already existing enchantment. If it fails, the item is destroyed. UW2 (Undocumented)
Fly VAS HUR POR Duration Allows the caster to fly UW1, UW2 (appears as an 8th level spell)
Invisibility VAS SANCT LOR Duration Renders the caster invisible UW1, UW2 (see 6th circle)
Magic Satellite ORT POR GRAV Permanent, until it attacks Creates a magic satellite near the caster which attacks nearby foes UW2
Mass Confusion VAS AN WIS Instantaneous Causes all foes to become befuddled UW1 (appears as "Confusion"), UW2
Portal VAS EX YLEM Instantaneous Transports the caster seven feet forward UW2
Reveal ORT AN QUAS Instantaneous Reveals hidden objects and concealed doors UW1, UW2
Shockwave JUX HUR Instantaneous Creates a wave of destruction around the caster UW2

Spells of the Eighth Circle[edit]

Spell Words of Power Type Description Games
Armageddon CORP HUR TYM Permanent, all too permanent Ends all life everywhere, trapping the caster in a dead and desolate world UW1 (Undocumented), UW2 (Undocumented)
Flame Wind FLAM HUR Instantaneous Creates a mighty wave of fire, damaging all creatures in the vicinity UW1, UW2
Freeze Time AN TYM Duration Stops the flow of time for all except the caster UW1, UW2
Iron Flesh IN VAS SANCT Duration Renders the caster nigh invulnerable to all damage UW1, UW2
Restoration VAS MANI Instantaneous Instantly restores the caster to full health UW2
Roaming Sight ORT POR WIS Duration Allows the caster to view the world from a bird's-eye view UW1, UW2
Smite Foe VAS JUX MANI Instantaneous Heavily damages the targeted foe. Only works on living creatures, not magical constructs or the undead. UW2 (Undocumented)
Summon Daemon KAL AN MANI Instantaneous Summons a hostile daemon which immediately attacks the caster UW2 (Undocumented)
Tremor VAS POR YLEM Instantaneous Creates a vast upheaval, causing the ground to quake and rocks to fall UW1, UW2


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Armintrout, W.G.. "Runic Magic". Memoirs of Cabirus (Ultima Underworld). Origin Systems, Inc.: 1992. Pages 17-18.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Grossman, Austin. A Safe Passage Through Britannia (Ultima Underworld II). Origin Systems, Inc.: 1992.

Magic Systems
Sosaria Sosarian Magic
Britannia Britannian Magic Britannian Spells Ascension Magic Rituals Ultima VII (SNES)
Serpent Isle Serpent Isle Magic Serpent Isle Spells
Pagan Pagan Magic Pagan Spells Necromancy Tempestry Theurgy Sorcery Thaumaturgy
Other Runic Magic Runic Spells Savage Empire Magic