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Enchanting is a form of study for the eldar race that involves ascribing runes to a particular object in order to give it certain properties it would not have normally. Through this method, the human body can be enhanced beyond its normal capabilities. People can increase its strength, speed, endurance, and defense. An individual can make their skin as hard as steel, outrun the fastest land animal, or rapidly heal themselves at a heightened rate. These runes are specific to certain abilities, preventing them from being used together.

There are two sets of runes which are used by society. One is specifically meant for biological enhancement, with runes being placed on the skin directly and covering the entire body. The other is geared toward armor, with runes covering the material itself. There are a number of rules to this system. While they are capable of the same things, these sets of runes cannot be used together. Trying to wear both sets in order to increase their effect causes them to reject each other, canceling out their abilities.

Wraithbone is the primary construction material used by the eldar. This material is activated by the individual user, who it is psychically linked to. Armor built with this method is made specifically for one user, and will only respond to them from then on.

Biological runes seem to have the advantage over material runes. They are cheaper to use, eliminating the need for expensive materials by being placed directly on the person. They are also capable of giving the same properties and abilities to an individual. This seems to make armor somewhat redundant, as it is no longer needed to protect people. I need for armor to be able to compete with biological runes in order to justify their expenditure and make them cost effective. How can I make this happen?

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    $\begingroup$ My skin is mine and I cannot share it, but I can lend you my armor, and I can sell it to you; a company can have a number of armored suits in the armory from where employees and draw them as needed when needed; armor can be left as inheritance; armor can be provided for the duration of employment; etc. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 18 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP that sounds like a pretty darn good answer if you’d like to write it up! $\endgroup$ – Dubukay May 18 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Dubukay: That's not an answer, that a set of quick and obvious observations which the querent must address before the question can be answered. If they didn't consider the obvious advantages of a bicycle vs. a pair of good running legs, then maybe the question is not yet completely ready to be asked. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 18 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Are the runes permanent? And if not, how long does it take to remove the enchantment from the skin and lay it on again? And a second question - can several types of runes can be put on the same person? Say, armor, speed and strength? $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar May 18 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ After you added the wraith bone, the armor runes are basically defined as "same as biological runes except more expensive". I think your issue is putting too much stress on them being similar. Let armor be non-personal. Define it to have effects you cannot apply to biological runes. Let it be used synergistically with biological runes. Why make things hard on yourself when you can define things as you wish? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 19 at 2:30
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Some runes don’t make sense to have always on Having a rune of disintegration tattooed on your fingertips is going to put a serious crimp in your love life. Etching the same thing on armour? Not so much.

Armour can be bought and applied post-hoc Imagine you’re the lord of the manor, and you have occasional need of a militia. You buy a hundred Helms of Not Dying Instantly to give to your militiamen as and when they join up. That gives you quite a lot of freedom to pick and choose who to and when you give power.

Some runes don’t make sense to leave in the world In the same example: you don’t want the peasantry walking around with Runes of Murdering etched on their chests (lest they get any funny ideas about the nature of feudalism), but if you can hold the Breastplates of Murdering in your armoury then you can dole out power when needed.

Armour gives flexibility Facing invisible foes? Wear the goggles of Seeing Better. Trying to kill Ents? Perhaps the Flaming Helmet Of Flammability is a better bet. You can’t swap tattoos anywhere near as easily.

Armour can take more runes This depends on your exact processes, but generally speaking you can etch more finely than you can tattoo. That lets you put more runes on the same space on a piece of armour. Not only that, but armour has both an outside (that you can cover in Runes of Beartrap) and an inside (for runes of Touchy-Feely-Keeping-You-Alive). On top of that you can add lots of cool spikes and swoosh detailing that would just be impractical and get you killed in the real world, but provide more space for additional Runes of Badassitude.

Armour can be mass produced Your standard dwarven production line can’t churn out a hundred tattoos in a day. It can churn out a hundred enchanted boots though.

Addendum thanks to Starfish Prime

Armour can be upgraded easily Suddenly realised you need an extra boost? You can get someone to file a rune off your greaves and re-etch, or even just add an extra rune. Unlike with tattoos it won’t hurt or even require you to be there! You can just pay the enchanter, leave your gear and come back later (or wait and have a goblin shine your shoes). Hell, if you really want to you can just buy a new set of whatever bit of armour you need to replace and trade the old in for scrap. It’s hard to do that with your own skin.

With some combo of these reasons I can certainly see armour sticking around, though sadly the psychic requirement means that armour being inheritable would just leave you with sad mementoes instead of your Grandad’s Armour of Kicking Ass.

Oh well.

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    $\begingroup$ There's another thing too... armour can be replaced and upgraded in a way that might be difficult for skin. Replacing your +1 sleeve tattoos of deftness with +2s might require really rather unpleasant surgery, grafting, healing time, expense... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 19 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ you can have runes that just are not good on a living creature as well, A rune that makes what it is placed on super rigid is great on armor and very counterproductive on skin. $\endgroup$ – John May 20 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @John I'm sure that some men would find a use for "The Rune of Travelling Through Gra" - so long as it is temporary, or can at least be deactivated... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal May 24 at 13:11
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There are places where rune bearing things are not allowed. For some real world examples, think of how in Japanese onsen normally is forbidden for tattooed people to enter. Or how in some places one can enter only after leaving out weapons.

well, if you are wearing an armor and you want to access such place in your world, an armor comes off pretty quickly. If you have an enchanted body, taking it off will be extremely painful, to say the least.

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Rock-Paper-Scissors. I'm not entirely clear on how the system works, but as you put it:

People can increase its strength, speed, endurance, and defense. An individual can make their skin as hard as steel, outrun the fastest land animal, or rapidly heal themselves at a heightened rate. These runes are specific to certain abilities, preventing them from being used together.

which implies that these abilities cannot be used together, i.e. you can only have one at a time (strength or speed or endurance or healing). And that means that there are weaknesses to exploit. If you know your opponent is, for instance, someone who has boosted their strength, than all you have to do is slip on a set of speed armor and run circles around them. If you know they've boosted their speed, pick a set of endurance armor, trap them in close quarters and let them wear themselves out trying to hurt you. If you know they've picked endurance, than pick your biggest warhammer, grab some strength armor, and turn him / his insides to paste.

In other words, versatility. By inscribing a rune, you let your opponent know what hand you've got to play, while they can swap out to an entirely different one if they're using armor.

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Being Disarmed

If captured by the enemy, they take your runed armour and you are powerless.

If your tattooed, they grab a flaying knife....

Swiss Army Knife

Enchanted armour can be removed and replaced with something different to suit the situation. Tattoos prevent you from doing that.

Status

Tattooing runes on your skin shows you don't have the wealth to afford enchanted armour so you needed to choose the cheap inferior option.

Inheritance

When a father dies, he leaves his son his enchanted armour as he is now the head of his house. Since the runes can last several lifetimes, the runes whilst more expensive will also be more powerful because it's worth spending the money early on because your offspring will save the expense. Tattoos are are once off and worthless after you die.

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  • $\begingroup$ As per the wraithbone edit on the OP, the inheritance thing is a non-issue. The disarmament idea is a good one, though. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 20 at 19:19
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An important way the question is phrased is "runes placed on the skin". This could mean that runes do not have to be permanent tatoo's, but could be temporary skin paint or similar.

To answer the question, so far you've only considered the material cost and not the cost of expertise required to get the runes on the object of your desire.

An apprentice runesmith is capable of practicing on armor all day long, building and rebuilding it. If the runes fail or are of suboptimal performance it's not that big of a problem. A single greave failed just means you scrap and reforge what you can, throw the rest away. But if you fail on a human body with a permanent tatoo that is very hard to properly remove? The cost of hiring a highly skilled rune artist who will do it right the first time around is much higher! And while the potential of bodypaint that stays on for a week or two will severely reduce the costs and the consequences for a failure, the total cost of putting those runes on again and again will surely get more expensive than that of armor.

Then there's the intricacies of the human body. Armor can be made flat, or in a predictable curve with special area's designed to easily put runes on. The human body on the other hand is malleable, curved everywhere and constantly changing. Just imagine a rune on your bicep, now flex your bicep and watch as the skin stretches and warps. Even worse when you grow old, fat, thin, get more or less muscle mass etc and your skin starts to degrade, causing the runes to degrade with it. The runes on a human body need to be either much simpler to prevent errors with detailed parts of the rune during movement and degredation, or much more intricate to keep functioning despite everything that can happen to skin. This makes runes on your body much more expensive and limiting in their effects than armor. An armor can be made as intricate as you like, with runes both on the inside and outside of the armor (so more surface area to put runes on!).

Then there's the consequences of using runes in battles. If you get captured with rune armor they just take the armor. If you get captured with runes on your body they are likely going to cut your body everywhere to scar and interrupt the runes.

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