Best Runes for Armor in Pathfinder

Runes Maketh the Man!

No one actually says that, but it’s very true.

Runes are the way to upgrade your armor to do what you need them to by imbuing your raiments with magical prowess and protection beyond their normal abilities.

How do you know what kinds of armor upgrades are best though?

That is what we are here to help you with, dear reader!

First, let’s figure out what exactly Armor Runes even are.

What Are Armor Runes?

Runes are magical etchings onto a weapon, armor, or accessory. They are carved or worked onto the surface of the armor, with magic channeled into them. The process allows the armor to permanently be enhanced with magical abilities. 

When it comes to armor, there are two different types of Runes: Fundamental Armor Runes and Armor Property Runes.

Fundamental Armor Runes

Fundamental Armor Runes are the most basic of runic magic. They are the most essential starting point one which all of the other armor runes are built on to.

Fundamental Armor Runes come in two different categories: Armor Potency and Resilient

Armor Potency runes add to the base AC of the Armor value. The Armor Potency values from +1 to +3. While you can’t have more than one Armor Potency Rune, you can upgrade all the way to a +3.

Resilient runes on the other hand are similar, but instead add a bonus to your saving throws. Like Armor Potency, this goes on a scale of +1 to +3. Also like Armor Potency Runes, you cannot have more than one Resilient Rune on your armor. However, you can upgrade your Resilient Rune.

Armor Property Runes

Armor Property Runes add special properties to armor rather than just flat bonuses. These can be things like Stanching, which stops a wound from bleeding out, or Energy-Resistant, which gives you resistance to elemental energies. 

Like Fundamental Armor Runes, Armor Property Runes can be upgraded to be much more powerful. For example, the Energy-Resistant Rune starts off giving only 5 points of resistance to elemental energies.

However, the Great Energy-Resistant Rune gives 10 points of energy resistance.

It is possible to have more than one of the same type of Property Rune on a set of armor. However, whichever is more potent will take precedence.

A piece of armor can only have as many Armor Property Runes as it has levels in Armor Potency Runes. I.E: if a piece of armor has a +1 Armor Potency Rune, it can only have 1 Armor Property Rune. However, if you upgrade the Armor Potency Rune to a +2, you have the space to get a second Armor Property Rune.

Resilient Runes don’t count against this limit.

Fun fact: When it comes to choosing what armor to wear! It is possible to put Armor Runes onto unarmored clothing like Explorer Clothing. Armor Potency runes will do nothing because they cannot enhance what isn’t there. However, Armor Property Runes and Resilient Runes will still have an effect.

There are also Specific Armors like Ghoul Hide that already have their own enhancements by nature of what they are. These items can actually benefit from extra runes. They cannot be enhanced with more Armor Property Runes, but you can add Armor Potency and Resilient Runes.

Which Armor Runes Are best?

So which Runes are the overall best options?

First, we need to define “best.”

We here in the Rules Lab, generally go off of a few different ideas:

  1. Potency: Just how powerful the ability really is and how much a difference it would make.
  2. Applicability: How often can you apply/use the ability. If it’s powerful, but would come up rarely, it isn’t really something that can be considered great.
  3. Availability: How easy it is to acquire. Runes can be expensive, and difficult to acquire. If a rune is hard to get, it might not be as good an idea to invest in as something that could be much easier to get.

Armor Potency is always the top on the list. It is THE basic building block for everything else. You are going to need it to get any of the Armor Property runes at all.

The bonus to AC gained from this will be applicable in all possible situations.

Resilient Runes would be second on the list, but not totally required. Invest in Resilient Runes if you need to push your Saves Higher. You might want to jump straight to Armor Property Runes immediately and come back for a Resilient Rune when you have the chance.

Shadow is a great option for anyone who is wanting to look into a more Stealthy Build. It is also rather inexpensive overall. This can dovetail nicely if you also pick up the Invisibility property.

If you are looking for something more “tanky” or resistant to damage, then there are some other options available. Deathless, Energy-Resistant, Antimagic, or Fortification are options you should all build for. These properties are going to keep you on your feet and fighting when others may have fallen.

Most of the other abilities available are rather gimmicky, and aren’t going to come up often. Feel free to tailor your armor to the game your DM is playing.

Slick may not seem like it would come up often (and truly in most games it wouldn’t), but if your DM is throwing a great deal of enemies you need to Escape from, it might be a valid investment.

At the higher levels, more Potent Properties can change the entire course of a battle. The Winged, Ethereal, and Soaring armor properties can allow you to escape a tight situation, or get INTO a tight situation if needed.

The trade-off being the cost in gold and/or the high-level magic needed to create the rune keep these out of the hands of all but the more affluent of  characters.

Rune Crafting

It is possible to either craft your own runes onto your armor, or to pay someone to craft it onto your armor for you.

If you would like to craft your own runes, it requires you to use the Craft Action. You will need the rune’s Formula, which you can get either through direct purchase, or by reverse engineering a rune on another item. You will also need any specific extra magical prerequisites, such as the Ethereal Jaunt spell for the Ethereal Armor Rune.

You can only etch one rune at a time.

Otherwise you can also find an NPC to etch the runes for you. This has the same RP requirement as if you were attempting to buy any other magical item. Each rune has its own price, with those prices getting successfully more expensive as they get more powerful.

For Example: Armor Potency runes start at 160 gold for a +1, 1060 gold for a +2, and finally 20,560 gold for a +3.

Keep Safe, Pathfinder!