Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Rune Knight to DnD 5e, a class of fighters who learn runic magic from Giants. These runes enhance armor, weapons and even my fighter’s Strength rolls and size. Each rune I learn to carve connects with an element—much like the varying giants in DnD 5e. Fire, Hill, Cloud, Frost, Storm and Stone runes carry varying effects. As I level up, I’ll be able to add more of these runes to my armor.
When building a rune knight fighter in DnD 5e, consider these elements:
- Play as a goliath or mountain dwarf
- Lean into Strength/Constitution tank fighter
- Choose Protection or Dueling Fighting Style
- Use Second Wind, Action Surge, Extra Attack, Indomitable
- Learn Runes for gear: Cloud Rune, Fire Rune, Storm Rune…
- Giant’s Might, Runic Shield and higher-level abilities
Before we jump in, you can try out your Rune Knight in my original adventure, Dead Man’s Tale. Click here or below to learn more.
Play as a goliath or mountain dwarf
The goliath people are descendants of Giants—a natural choice for the Rune Knight. Gaining a +2 Strength/+1 Constitution bonus combination, goliath Rune Knights come with all the needed ability checks. These hulks are powerful, counting as large and gaining a proficiency in Athletics. Plus, they are acclimated to cold climates and extreme heights of 20,000 feet. Stone’s Endurance grants me the ability to shrug off an attack once per day, subtracting 1d12 + Constitution modifier from the damage.
Mountain dwarves make another variant that fits thematically and ability-wise. Gaining a +2 Strength/+2 Constitution modifier, mountain dwarves come ready to brawl. Dwarven Resilience grants me resistance against poison damage and advantage on saving throws against being poisoned. Plus, I gain proficiency with warhammers and throwing hammers.
Lean into Strength/Constitution tank fighter
As you can tell with my previous choices, Strength and Constitution are going to be a big deal for this fighter. My initial build will follow a true tank path, setting my fighter up with a shield and single weapon. I’m generally a fan of longswords, but a mountain dwarf with a runic Warhammer is awesome as well. Each weapon choice will use Strength for attack and damage rolls—I’ll reach for a +4 Strength modifier as soon as possible.
I’ll want Athletics as a proficient skill for sure, either by choosing a goliath or at level 1. My next choice could lean into a moderately-high Dexterity score—Acrobatics. Because my Runes have magic power of their own, I won’t worry so much about high Intelligence, Charisma or Wisdom.
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Choose Protection or Dueling Fighting Style
Depending on play style, my favorite choices for this build are Protection and Dueling Fighting Style. This choice appears at level 2, giving my fighter a combat specialty.
Protection Fighting Style specializes in shield use. I can use my reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack roll against a target within 5 feet of me. With this fighting style, I can tank to the best ability—literally punishing foes for not attacking me. Some of my Rune abilities give me fun defensive abilities, and I can goad enemies into falling for these effects.
Dueling Fighting Style gives my fighter an extra +2 to damage rolls. This damage bonus combined with my Strength modifier means I have a solid 5 or 6 extra damage per attack. Because I’ll have battle effects with Rune abilities, this base extra damage can make me more lethal per strike.
Use Second Wind, Action Surge, Extra Attack, Indomitable
My Rune-infused armor and weapons work well with my basic fighter abilities, which lean toward a straight-forward brawler or tank.
Second Wind gives me additional HP when I get low—or anytime, really. I can roll 1d10 + my fighter level once a day and regain that much health. Though I can’t heal others with this ability, I’ll certainly remain on my feet for longer.
I learn Action Surge at level 2, giving me an extra action once a day. At early levels, this means I can take a second attack sooner than my allies. However, once I gain my next feature, it means a flurry of weapon strikes at the right time.
While level 3 grants me the Rune Knight Martial Archetype, level 5 gives my fighter an Extra Attack action.
Finally, Indomitable gives me a reroll when I fail a saving throw at level 9. I must use the new roll. Higher levels give me extra uses of this ability per day.
Learn Runes for gear: Cloud Rune, Fire Rune, Storm Rune…
On reaching level 3, I’ll receive the Rune Knight Martial Archetype, granting me Bonus Proficiencies, Rune Carver and my first 2 Runes known.
I’ll gain Bonus Proficiencies in smith’s tools, and I can learn to speak, read and write Giant. These tools will be a part of my rune crafting, placing the magic on weapons, items and armor. Of course, the Rune magic itself comes from the Giants, so the bonus language makes sense.
Rune Carver is the ability that allows my magic runes to enhance my armor and give me magic abilities. Level 3 offers me 2 of these Runes, jumping to 3 at level 7 and further as I grow.
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- Cloud Rune: Deceptive in nature, the Cloud Rune grants me advantage on Sleight of Hand checks and Deception However, the real fun comes from retargeting enemy attacks to other enemies. I can do this as a reaction to an attack between short or long rests. Hopefully, I can goad enemies into falling for it.
- Fire Rune: This rune channels volcanic fire giant smiths into granting me double proficiency in a tool kit I know. Plus, when I hit a target, I can invoke fiery chains to deal an extra 2d6 fire damage and restrain the target. They’ll have to succeed in a Strength saving throw to be released, but I can hold up one target while engaging another.
- Frost Rune: I gain advantage on Animal Handling and Intimidation Also, for 10 minutes I gain a +2 bonus to all ability checks and saving throws using Strength or Constitution.
- Stone rune: Advantage on Insight checks and darkvision with a range of 120 feet. If a creature I can see ends its turn within 30 feet, I can use my reaction to render it charmed and motionless. This works off Wisdom saves, so hopefully I can fend off beefier enemies with this psychosis.
- Hill Rune (level 7 or higher): I gain advantage against being poisoned and resistance against poison damage. I can invoke the rune as a bonus action, gaining resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage for 1 minute.
- Storm Rune: Grants me the foresight of storm Giant seers, giving me advantage on Arcana checks and keeping me from being surprised. Also, I can impose disadvantage or advantage on targets within 60 feet of me, including saving throws, attack rolls and ability checks.
Giant’s Might, Runic Shield and higher-level abilities
Runic magic isn’t the only bonus to playing this fighter. I also have inherent abilities that increase my size, Strength and ability to tank for my allies.
Giant’s Might is another ability I learn at level 3, imbuing my fighter with giant strength and size. I can activate this ability as a bonus action, with these abilities.
- I become Large—along with my armor and clothing
- Gain advantage on Strength checks and saving throws
- Once per turn, I can add extra 1d6 damage to attacks
Runic Shield forces attackers to reroll a d20 when an attack lands on an ally. Again, the shield comes in clutch for this build, using my runic magic to defend friends. I gain this ability an amount of times equal to my proficiency bonus.
Great Stature (level 10) literally makes my character grow larger, changing my Giant’s Might damage to 1d8. I can roll 3d4 and grow that many inches.
Master of Runes (level 15) grants me the ability to use my Runes 2 times a day instead of 1. I can also recover these spent Runes from a short rest.
Finally, Runic Juggernaut makes me HUGE, giving me 5 feet extra reach and pumps my Giant’s Might damage up to 1d10.
To Sum it Up
Rune Knights play off ancient Germanic tropes, leaning into Giant mythology within the world of Dungeons and Dragons 5e. I’m a fan of the growing factor—perhaps a rock gnome build would be hilarious using this feature. However, this character plays as a solid tank choice, so leaning into high-Strength builds is the way to go for me.