Since people have been discussing runes and runewords again lately, I figured I could bring up an idea I've been thinking about.
When D4 was first revealed at Blizzcon last year and their new trigger & effect runeword system was revealed, I think a lot of people saw the potential in it (at least assuming they expand on the concept), but at the same time many were seemingly disappointed that the old D2-style runeword system had been replaced. Personally though, I think that's the wrong way to look at it. I don't think the two ideas have to be mutually exclusive at all; as long as you come to recognize the fact that what D2 had was ultimately just a roundabout type of crafting system (I.E: a recipe for a list of materials + an item base = a new item), then really they should fall into different categories as far as D4 is concerned. D4's new runeword design is much closer to Path of Exile's linked skill and support gem system. We know that D4 will have a crafting system, and so what D2 had can definitely make a comeback there depending on what kind of items will be craftable and what materials they will utilize. Either way, the fact that D4 has a new runeword system should not have to interfere with this fact.
Now originally I'd just been thinking that Blizzard would come up with some new type of materials for item crafting instead of runes since they're used for the new runewords now, but the more I thought about it, I eventually figured that if you really wanted to you could actually combine the two.
Imagine this: let's say we have 50 different possible types of triggers for the new runewords and 50 different types of effects. They could either have a fixed magnitude for the affixes for each type of rune or some sort of roll range (that's a different discussion), but either way every rune type would still need its own name for identification purposes. That would give us 100 different rune types in total. So then let's say that all runes that trigger when you fall below x% hp are El runes and that all runes which give you +y life regen over z seconds as an effect are Thul runes, just for example. In that case, if you put those two runes into a 2-socket item you'd get the logical runeword combination like we saw in the Blizzcon demo. But now imagine that these exact same rune types would also be used as crafting materials alongside an item base to be able to craft legendary items similar to how runewords worked in D2. If we already have an easy classification system for runes as well as a crafting system then why not simply use the same runes for crafting legendaries as well? You'd retain what D2 had (albeit in a different format), get the new interactive and customizable runeword system that Blizzard is already working on, and now you'd also have to make choices regarding which runes you're better off using in custom runewords and which would be better used for crafting new items with. You could even have Horadric Cube-like recipes within said crafting system for transforming a couple runes of the same type into a new type just like D2 had if you want (if you were to create a similar tier system for the new runes that is).
Assuming that Blizzard does the obvious and expand D4's current runeword design so that it works with multiple trigger and/or effect runes at once for longer runewords with more sockets (hard to imagine that they wouldn't), then for the more complex cases I think this could lead to a lot of interesting decision making. Should I use these runes I'd been saving to make a customized runeword that fits my build with this 4-socket chest piece I just found, or should I instead use these runes to craft this cool legendary shield I'd been saving for? Etcetera. Of course you could just run with separate loot tables for crafting and runewords (still the more likely option), but I just wanted to throw out this idea as well because it wouldn't really be any more difficult to implement if people think it's a more interesting design philosophy. If nothing else I think it would be pretty cool thematically.
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