Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Rise of the Runelords – Final Thoughts

I have spent the past two months or so reviewing Paizo’s first Pathfinder Adventure Path individually, and I thought I would provide some overall commentary on the entirety of it.

It is well known at this point that when WotC pulled back the Dungeon and Dragon magazines, Paizo had to come up with a replacement. While I am not sure what the revenue numbers were, I suspect that it was substantial, and I will go on to theorize that Paizo really needed something to replace the magazines in order to continue to grow as a business. This lead to the decision to launch the Pathfinder AP, and with it came a number of other related products.

While Rise of the Runelords was not the first AP ever created, it represents the first dedicated effort to launch a sustained effort to promote the AP model with a series of specifically designed books. One can go back to the days 1E, and look at the GDQ series, which I believe is the first attempt at creating a campaign arc. When they were first published, the link between them was rather loose, and then with the publish of Queen of the Spiders in 1986, the link was strengthen with additional material, and there was an effort made to make it a follow on to the A series, which was a much smaller campaign arc that was based on a series of tournament modules.

The 1980’s also saw the rise of Dragonlance, which I believe created the story driven plot lines, and was clearly very successful, with numerous modules being created. Fast forward to 3rd edition, in which Paizo coined the term Adventure Path with their publish of Shackled City, followed by Age of Worms and Savage Tide in their Dungeon magazine, which were also very popular with the fans.

Looking back over this history, we see that while D&D started with the sandbox campaign, the Adventure Path has gained considerable popularity among the fans, and made its case as a viable adventure design. I would even go as far as to say that even in the old days, there was talk about combining modules or adventures in order to create a super campaign in which to take characters from 1st level to a much higher level, providing they survive the journey, and the players continue to stay disciplined in playing with a particular set of characters. It is a natural desire of players to see their characters rise in power, and I would argue that this is one of the reasons to play the game as a player.

Now we come to Rise of the Runelords, which represents the latest attempt to create a campaign arc in which characters can go from 1st level to 15th level. Based on today’s sales figures, which are quite a bit smaller than the Golden Age of D&D in the early eighties, it has proven to be very popular. There was a poll on Enworld a year or so ago, asking which 3rd edition product was the most popular. While the poll cannot be taken as an extremely accurate assessment of the entire fan base, it is worth mentioning that Rise of the Runelords did very well, getting into the final rounds. I think this does re-enforce the notion that there is considerable fan support for quality adventure paths. With all this said, I think that this does lend legitimacy to the adventure path as a valid design method.

Looking over Rise of the Runelords, I have given the individual books fairly good reviews, and there is a lot to like about the series.

- Well laid out, all color books
- A number of well written supporting articles
- Gazetteers of the key towns involved in the adventure path
- Lots of variety of play, ranging from a small seaside village to a lost city up in the mountains
- A number of dungeons for exploring
- A haunted house
- A fully mapped out fort
- A very logical goblin-ghoul-ogre-giant monster progression
- Solid adventure hooks linking the books together
- Very active message board with over 16,000 posts on this Adventure Path

On the downside, Adventure Paths do lock the characters into following a specific plot, and has a tendency to pull the characters along, rather than having the characters create their own destinies. This specific Adventure Path is very guilty of that, as it has a very strong overall pace, which does not leave a lot of room for side adventures. This is not to say that there could not be any, but a heavy handed GM can make this seem like the characters are on an E-ticket ride at Disney.

Taken as written, and considering the adventure path genera, this is one of the stronger entries in this class. For the players and GM’s that like this type of adventuring, this particular series is very good. The strength of design and the diversity of the modules are such that it should keep players interested for the entirety of play.

For those GM’s and players that do not like the Adventure Path concept due to its forced execution, can still take away bits and pieces, as I think this series is very modular, and sections can be broken off and fit into existing campaigns. In particular, the dungeons are small, which means that they can be ported off and used in a number of different ways. The towns that are described can also be used elsewhere. The haunted house in PF#2 would make a great one shot Halloween special.

Overall, I do recommend this Adventure Path, as I think there are enough good ideas contained within, to make up for any short comings that exist.

Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)


Anonymous said...

Very interesting analysis from start to finish. Will you be moving on to Curse of the Crimson Throne?

trollsmyth said...

Thanks for this. I'd picked up one of these and enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure if I wanted any of the others. I'll give them another look based on this.

Mr Baron said...


Thanks for taking a look at my reviews. To your question, the short answer is yes. I will probably review some other products first before jumping back to the PF AP's.

Mr Baron said...


If you liked the first PF, I suspect that you would enjoy the rest of the series. If you have the budget, I would recommend picking up the rest of the series.