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Intro to Runes
The concept of runes is fairly simple (But can be confusing to newcomers. If you're new, check out our Beginner's Guide to LoL). You have a rune book (with two separate pages than can be switched) that you fill up with runes that can only be purchased with IP, earned from playing games. These runes have many different effects, everything from gold/10 to crit chance, and come in three tiers. Tier 1 is available from the beginning, Tier 2 is available at level ten, and tier three only become available at level 20. You also don't get access to all of the rune slots until max level 30. The effect of a single rune is small, but an entire page can make a great hero better and a weak hero powerful. Here are some suggestions on how to use them to full effect.
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Choosing the Right Runes
Almost every rune you can purchase will give you some benefit, but there are a few rules to follow when picking which ones to buy. Within reason, the scaling runes (runes that give increased benefit as you level) are more powerful than static runes. This rule can be ignored if the rune is important to the early game. For example, static HP runes and HP/MP regen runes are going to give you a large boost early game, much more than the scaling ones would give late game. If you are unsure of what to choose, here are some of the best choices for the varying types of play:
For any character, especially those with powerful ults with long cooldowns (Like Kayle), scaling cooldown reduction runes are a good choice. For a tank, static HP runes will give you a powerful edge early game (Magic resistance runes can be a good idea, especially on magic weak tanks like Rammus). For physical DPS, Armor Penetration is a good choice, and likewise, Magic Penetration is excellent for magical nukers.
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The League of Legends rune system also comes with a handy mechanism for combining your older and weaker runes into more powerful ones. The concept is fairly simple - go to the rune combiner on your rune page, and insert either two or five runes of the same tier. Two runes of the same tier will produce a different rune, and five will produce a different rune of the next tier up. This can make building a lower level rune page less costly when you want to upgrade to higher tier runes. Note that runes of different types can be combined and that there is no way to consistently predict the result of these combinations.
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Types of Runes
Runes are divided into three different categories. Marks are red and increase damage and attack statistics like critical chance, armor penetration and magic penetration. DPS characters will want to fill this page first. Glyphs are blue and increase magic statistics like cooldown reduction, ability power and mana. Seals are yellow and increase survivability statistics like HP/MP regen, static and scaling HP and armor. There are also quintessences that will provide large boosts to any of these stats - but you can only have three, even at level thirty. Make sure to note that there are lesser runes for each of these statistics in the other areas - for example, you can find crit chance in other places than marks, but it will be less effective. Knowing how to best use each of the sections of your rune page is part of designing a powerful and effective character.
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Armor Pen vs. Crit Chance - And Other Discussions
Though there are many choices to make with runes, there has been some disagreement over what runes are best in what slots and which ones give the most benefit for each point of IP. Perhaps the most significant disagreement has been over Armor Penetration Runes and Critical Chance runes. Traditional MMORPGs value critical chance very highly - mostly for the burst damage aspect. But in the LoL rune system, Armor Penetration runes give more DPS and are more cost effective. The choice remains up to players, and there are many who value the burst damage and early game boost that critical chance gives over armor pen, but the numbers are clearly in favor of armor penetration. It is important to be aware of this when making decisions about which ones to buy.
Similar disagreements exists over ability power vs. magic penetration and static HP vs armor or HP regen. Though some runes give more mathematical benefit, make sure to pick the ones that provide the most benefit to your playstyle. If you prefer early game dominance (or taking down towers ) to lead to quick victories, then scaling runes - though more cost effective - may not provide as much benefit to your style of play. Research and experiment to find the runes that best fit your play style.
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LoL's rune system is a unique and interesting way to provide a lasting MMORPG feel to this MMORTS - benefit that lasts across games. It is powerful enough to give a boost to good players without making them dominate weaker players. Like having different armor sets for different encounters in a traditional MMORPG, having different rune pages for different characters or different builds can vary your game play experience and make you a bigger threat in the field. Finally, because runes cannot be bought except with Ip - earned by playing and winning - it encourages wins and rewards good players, rather than just those with money to spend. Hopefull this guide will help you on your own way to dominance. Good luck!