Portentous Runes and Glyphs

Both the original Folio and the Gol Box Guide to the World of Greyhawk include a section on “Portentous Runes and Glyphs” (or “Run and Glyphs as the Guide has it). While I knew that the symbols themselves had undergone a few changes between the iterations, I didn’t realize just how many had changed. More than half of the designs in the Guide are either modified or completely changed from the original version in the Folio. They were also included in a later book (I want to say the Adventure Begins, but I might be wrong) in pretty much the same format as the Guide.

I have no idea why most of these changes were made, but I do have a few observations:

  • Many of the original designs were based on runes of the Elder Futhark. Some of those designs survived into the Guide, but quite a few were changed. Some of them are close to their original meaning (the Tyr rune in the Folio edition means “honor”, for instance, which is in the same ballpark as its original meaning, and the Ansuz rune in the Folio for “god” which is its meaning in the Futhark as well).
  • Sometimes the glyphs got transferred between one meaning and another. The original glyph for “Earth” gets turned into the glyph for “supernatural watcher” with a slight modification.
  • Only one of the symbols for the four elements have connections to the elemental symbols in the adventure module T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil. Air is a circle in all three (notably the illustration on p. 89 of the module has a dot in the center, just like the glyph). As noted above, the glyph for Earth got changed from a circle with a cross atop it to a straight horizontal line, but neither of those is close to the ToEE symbol for Earth (a triangle). In fact, the triangle glyph in the Folio is the fire symbol, but it gets changed to a circle (without a dot) in the Guide. In ToEE, the symbol for fire is a called a “lozenge”, but it looks more like a diamond superimposed over a star (the glyph of evil power in the Folio and Guide). Water is similarly unrelated; wavy lines in the Folio/Guide, and a square in ToEE. I was actually surprised by this, and had hoped there would be a level of continuity between them. Oh, well.

I never really used the glyphs in my own campaigns, but I do want to start using some of the designs as I’m painting miniatures for my Armies of Greyhawk project. What about you? Have you used the glyphs and runes at all in your games?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Portentous Runes and Glyphs

    1. Hello guy, when is the next installment of the Armies of Greyhawk coming out?? Also you really need to do a Navies of Greyhawk series, love the work you are doing. Dave Mann

  1. My only contribution to rune-lore was to decide the “eye of fire” on Lareth the Beautiful’s armor and servants’ accoutrements was in fact the lozenge. (Gygax insisted in his later years that the illustration was in fact an error and it should have been the triangle symbol for the EEG, but I think that’s either a further error or else poorly thought out because a) as drawn, the (new?) lozenge fire symbol looks like an eye to me, b) the triangle isn’t the fire temple symbol, so why call it the “eye of fire”?, c) while it is true from the text that Lolth is allowing her priest dual loyalties here, it seems unlikely she would permit him to wear the triangular heraldry of her arch-rival the EEG.

    As with a number of things Gygax said in his later years, they are extremely interesting to draw from and should be taken seriously, but he wasn’t always as careful with details on online forums as he was, say, in his youth or middle age with a team of Frank Mentzer acting as his editor. 🙂

  2. I used them as part of a concordance around the Glyph of Warding spell. I called the Folio ones Suel and the box ones Oerid, and made up names for them from the glossaries in The Scarlet Brotherhood and the Dragon Thieves’ Cant article, respectively. Then I draped them over the glyphs present in the DMG, the Dragon #50 article, and a few other ones from here and there. I added a couple columns for Glagolitic script (the source of the DMG ones) and Chinese characters by way of Vietnam to rope in OA equivalents.

    I haven’t actually used any of this in a game, but it was fun to make the tables.

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