Runeblades are the iconic weapons of Death Knights as well as a smattering of other entities. They are various weapons that have been inscribed with runes, symbols that hold magical power. Runeblades are uncommon and terribly powerful weapons with a rightfully earned reputation of dread. Though commonly associated with the Scourge, they are not unique to them, as High Elves, Dwarves, and Demons have also been known to create rune-etched blades.
A Runeblade's trademark and most iconic depiction is the length of runes that have been etched upon the length of the blade. These runes are not mere decorative marks, but symbols of power for the wielder to activate when the time is right. The runeblades of Death Knights are empathic weapons given to newly risen death knights by the Lich King or one of his subordinates upon reanimation. Once the runeblade is forged, it becomes that knight's personal weapon and grows slowly charged with the life energies of those injured and slain thereafter. The taking of a runeblade from a Death Knight is no easy thing and the blade will seek to return to its master if able.
Without a Death Knight's hand to guide it, a runeblade is little more than a hollow shell. Separate, they are both broken entities; weakened and powerless. The runeblade is one example of their terrible power. It channels life force, which bestows a kind of life upon the blade itself. Though not exactly intelligent, the runeblade has a strong survival instinct.
When a death knight who owns a runeblade is destroyed, the weapon can dampen its powers, taking on the appearance of a nondescript magical weapon. It uses its empathic powers to manipulate its next owner — encouraging feelings of possession and anger, discouraging kindness and altruism. Once it gains enough control over its owner, it encourages him to seek out the secret places where Death Knights yet dwell. Only then can the runeblade accomplish its goal of gaining a new master.
Types of Runeblades
With the expansion of the Scourge's ranks, the Runeblade has evolved beyond swords to cover a wide variety of weaponry.
By far the most common type of Runeblade is a sword. They can be either one-handed or two-handed and have been seen in the hands of Death Knight wherever the Scourge goes. Knights specializing in this fighting style have a tendency to prefer a fast pace to their combat. Some Death Knights wield two runebladed swords, one in each hand. They are well-balanced and mighty weapons, though lacking in defensive power. The most famous weapon of this type was Frostmourne.
The second most common runebladed weapon variant. Runeaxes are devastatingly powerful weapons that tend to be favored by previously larger races in life such as Orcs or Tauren. Runeaxes carry with them all the destructive force that an axe can bring with it enhanced by the runes of blood, frost and unholy that a runeblade can imbue. The most famous weapon of this type is the axe Maw of the Damned.
A term for a wide variety of long-handled weapons, runed spears, halberds and glaives have found their way into the hands of Death Knights as well. Runespears boast great length and reaching can hit much harder than single swords. The length of the weapon grants Death Knights the advantages of striking first and without placing the wielder at risk. Weapons of this type were commonly used by slimmer and faster races among the living such as Elves.
Some Death Knights prefer not to wield a bladed weapon at all, but instead rely on blunt weaponry. The Runemaul is the most physically powerful runed weapon a Death Knight can use, combining their unholy strength with the weight of the runemaul to shatter anything in their way. The main drawback of the weapon is its speed. Runemauls are not fast weapons and carry such weight mortal men would struggle to even lift one. A Death Knight with strength enough to overcome this drawback would be a dangerous foe indeed.