The earliest runic inscriptions date from around A.D. 150. The characters were generally replaced by the Latin alphabet as the cultures that had used runes underwent Christianization by around A.D. 700 in central Europe and by around A.D. 1100 in Northern Europe. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in Northern Europe. Until the early twentieth century runes were used in rural Sweden for decoration purposes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars.
The origins of the runic alphabet are uncertain. Many characters bear a resemblance to characters from the Latin alphabet. Other candidates are the 5th to 1st century BC Northern Italic alphabets, all of which are closely related to each other and descend from the Old Italic alphabet. The the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewellery, amulets, tools, weapons and runestones, is called Elder Futhark. It contains 24 runes but is missing the letter 'c' (various later runic alphabets have this letter).
In Scandinavia, the script was simplified to the Younger Futhark from the late 8th century, reducing the number of letters till as little as 16. Thus, the language included distinct sounds and minimal pairs which were not separate in writing. Also, since the writing custom avoided having the same rune twice in consecutive order, the spoken distinction between long and short vowels were not retained in writing, either. The only real reason for using the same rune consecutively, would be when it represented different sounds following each other, such as carving kunuur for the name Gunvor. While Elder Futhark had been an actual "secret" known only to a literate elite, literacy in the Younger Futhark became widespread in Scandinavia.
Runes are used in magic and divinatory, occultism, neopaganism and have been used in Nazi Germany. However they are also a subject of the serious scientific studies (runology). Runology forms a specialized branch of Germanic linguistics.
Some recent computer games also use runes that may be derived from original historic runes but are not always identical and some sets may be fully fictional. Using runes require players to learn and use unknown alphabet, making the game more interesting. They may also be anti-pirate measure as the game with runes may be too difficult to play without the user manual. The applet, provided here, initially rendered the rune set for Ultima game but was reworked to show Elder Futhark after unexpected discovery that its output does not match any known runic alphabet.
This web page reuses material from Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Futhark, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elder_Futhark under the rights of CC-BY-SA license. As a result, the content of this page is and will stay available under the rights of this license regardless of restrictions that apply to other pages of this website.