Over the last couple of days I've briefly touched on Diablo III's new rune system, but after talking a bit with the game's lead can designer Jay Wilson I figured the system warranted it's own post. You see, while past games have featured items that augment the powers of your abilities, the massive scope of the rune system sets it apart.
The basics: As you play through Diablo III you will come across various runes, which can be slotted into active power slots to enhance their powers. Rather than just increasing the damage or range of an ability, however, the runes radically change the form and function of said abilities, almost creating completely new skills with completely different uses.
During a panel on Diablo III development, Jay went over some of the various examples of how runes interact with powers. By far my favourite example was teleport, an ability the new wizard class receives. By itself, it simply moves the character to a different location on the map. Add a damage rune and suddenly porting into a group of monsters hurts them. Add a multi-attack rune and teleporting splits you into multiple characters for a brief period of time.
Another example was the witch doctor's flaming skull spell, which by default has him filling a skull with fire and tossing it at the enemy. With a power rune attached, the skull leaves behind a damaging pool of fire. With the multi rune, it bounces. Bouncing flaming skulls equals love.
It seems like a ton of work, not only creating each of the skills but determining how they function with runes attached, but Jay assured me it wasn't a problem for Blizzard.
"We have a saying at Blizzard when something looks like too much work. How about we pay you? You can work on it, and every two weeks we'll cut you a check."
I love Jay Wilson, and Jay Wilson loves the Blizzard fans. Not only does he love them, but he also values their input. At the end of our far too brief interview, he urged me to urge fans to come up with their own rune / power combinations and send them in. Who knows, if you put in a lot of work, maybe one day they'll pay you.