Dwarves who are cast out of their society, or who lose the cultural markers of home, ancestor, and Thane, find it difficult to find a new place in their culture. When a dwarfhold has been disrupted, the clanless “orphans” may lose all sense of place and purpose and waste away into death.
One option available to the clanless is to become Penitents. This is especially encouraged for those who have lost their homes to necrodwarf depredations. Penitents connect their life energy to that of the Golden Rune, though they are not Runeguard. They give their lives in service to the Golden Rune, again fighting for dwarves and striking against the undead, again given purpose that transcends their clanless shame.
Gaining the Golden Rune
Penitents must swear an oath of service, surrendering claim to reward. They swear that if by their lives or deaths they can further the power of the Golden Rune and combat the Empty Rune, they will do it.
Then, the Living Runesmith burns them with a sub-pattern of the Golden Rune, on their backs. The sub-rune is keyed to a specific Runebearer (Runeguard, Runepainter, or Living Runesmith), but the Living Runesmith can change which Runebearer it is, as needed, in a ritual that lasts a week.
- Gaining the Golden Rune subrune costs the Penitent 1 permanent hit point per level, both for levels gained so far and upon gaining further levels.
- If a Penitent’s Runebearer dies, the Penitent loses 1 from Strength or Dexterity.
Expectations of a Penitent
The Penitent is assigned to a Runebearer. Generally, the Penitent makes travel arrangements, handles finances, shoos off undesirables, and makes the Runebearer’s journeying and fighting as painless as possible. Penitents may grumble, but they dare not openly complain. They live out a sacred trust to help their Runebearer stay focused.
A Runebearer can have up to 1 Penitent per 3 levels. (1 at level 3, 2 at 6, 3 at 9, 4 at 12)
Golden Rune Morale Effects
The Penitent is +2 to save against level drain, as well as Sleep, Fear, and Charm spells.
Penitents each have a shield scripted with runic prayers, as a symbol of office. If they have that shield and can chant the cold and ruthless prayers thereon during battle, they receive a +2 morale bonus, and share that bonus with all dwarves within 21 feet.
When the Penitent is in combat with the undead, the undead are -2 to morale tests. They must test for morale even if they are normally immune.
Golden Rune Damage Effects
If the Penitent is within 21 feet of their Runeguard, they can accept any hit points of damage dealt to the Runeguard by the Golden Rune.
- This is the only kind of hit point damage they can sustain on the Runeguard’s behalf.
- The damage cannot be split. Either the Penitent takes it all, or none of it, for each of the Runeguard’s activations of the Golden Rune.
o If the Penitent has 1 hit point left and the Runeguard triggers the Golden Rune for 12 damage, the Penitent can take all the damage and die horribly, consumed in golden energy, but the Runeguard fights on.
- It takes no actions for this transfer of damage, for either the Runeguard or the Penitent.
The Penitent can also make an offering of hit points to the Runeguard. The Penitent takes 1 round and offers up to 2 hit points per level; the Runeguard receives half the offered hit points.
- They must be within 21 feet of each other to do this.
- It does not take 1 round for the Runeguard, only the Penitent.
- This does not work for Living Runesmiths or Runepainters.
If a Penitent has offered faithful service for over a century, and they are weary, their Runeguard dead, the Living Runesmith could theoretically allow them to retire and not assign a new Runeguard. So far, a Penitent has never lived to “retirement age” but theoretically such a thing is possible.