Just this past week Sly Flourish posted a D&D tip on Twitter suggesting the use of Strimko puzzles in adventures by simply swapping out symbols for the numbers. That got me thinking: what to use for the symbols?
The first, and easiest, idea that came to mind was simple shapes. Shapes would work. Squares, circles, triangles, stars, diamonds, hexes…. whatever. However, in my mind, the purpose of using something other than numbers is to move away from the familiar in order to help players suspend their disbelief as they play. Using shapes is probably too familiar to most players, and wouldn’t have the intended effect.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the need for some sort of rune, or unfamiliar symbol to really immerse your players in the world you’ve created. So what are our options?
You could use letters from the scripts presented in the Player’s Handbook. Pages 24 and 25 have sample alphabets in Dwarven and Elven. Wizards also posted a Draconic font in one of the forums. These would work great, especially if you’re adventuring in a more “recent” dungeon. Link 1 Link 2 Unfortunately, there’s no font (that I could find) that you can install on your computer. Also, if you’re looking for something that the characters are not familiar with, these won’t do. If you want them to come across writings so old that none of them even recognize the alphabet it’s written in, you’re going to have to find something else.
You could use the webdings font. Ok, to be honest, I just threw that in there for a laugh. Please don’t subject your players to webdings as they approach the ancient portal of power.
You could design your own symbols. My symbols never turn out to my satisfaction though. Perhaps you’re more artistic than me. And, if you want to use the symbols more than once, you’ll run into the “it’s not a font” problem.
So what are we left with? Well, there are actually strange and/or arcane alphabets in our world that we can co-opt for our games. It’s just a matter of picking the right ones.
This is the first one I came across. Most people familiar with the Hebrew alphabet are familiar with the alphabet presented in the right hand column of the chart. However, there are far more ancient scripts for the language that would fit perfectly into a D&D setting. Fonts
If you want something that looks more like a long-lost elven script, Sanskrit is definitely the way to go. It has the flowing, curvy style presented in the PHB, but at the same time is distinctly different. Just be careful to use letters that look different enough to not be confusing to your players. Many of the Middle Eastern scripts would also fill this role well; Farsi, for example. Font
Tifinagh is an African alphabet in use today. It’s a great one to use for an ancient dwarven script. It has the same blocky, angled look as the PHB font, but again, is distinctly different. I could easily see “modern” dwarven evolving from this. Font
Thanna is another good all purpose script for human or other races’ writings. There’s nothing difinitive about it, which in my opinion, is its strength. Telling the PCs that they’re not even sure what race of people wrote what they’re trying to read adds an air of mystery. Font
Ok, now with that to whet your appetite, I’m going to be kind, and point you to the motherlode. After all, you’re going to need a separate script for every single one of your dungeons, caves, and ruins, right? Of course you are. And I am certainly not going to duplicate a bunch of work that has already been done. So here it is: Omniglot.com is a treasure trove of all sorts of alphabets, both living and dead, and even some undeciphered scripts! I’m going to go ahead and assume you know how to use google to find your own free fonts, or, in the case of the undeciphered scripts, how to use an image editor.
UPDATE: I have added a free download of 17 “rune” fonts to the downloads section. Check it out!
Share your favorites in the comments!