I believe that it was during the summer of 2006 that WotC informed Paizo that they were pulling back the licensing for Dungeon and Dragon magazines. For a company that these magazines were the bedrock for, this was not a good thing. After numerous discussions and brainstorming sessions, and I am probably minimizing the chaos of the WotC decision on them, they came up with the Pathfinder concept. They recognized that one of their core competencies was adventure paths, of which they had successfully launched three of them with their flagship magazines. With this direction established, James Jacobs was appointed the lead on the Pathfinder Adventure Path, and he took on the task of writing the first installment of Rise of the Runelords.
The book comes in at hefty 96 pages not counting the covers, with the actual adventure taking up 47 of these pages, with an approximate word count of ~40,000 words. The book is divided up into several sections including the main adventure, two supporting articles, the Pathfinder Journal, bestiary and the pregens. For the most part, the first two adventure paths would follow this layout, and with the third adventure path they would make some changes to this basic format.
The first adventure path drew a number of critics on the font size and the ease of reading. I personally did not find it that bad, but I can see how this could be a valid criticism. There have been a number of modules created with small font, and this module is not any worse than some of the others that I have seen.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s D&D art was strictly black and white, with the only color art being on cover. A number of us old timers have nostalgic memories of the early art, and some were actual very good; for the most part it was fairly basic. As the editions rolled on, the art stayed black and white, but more fantastic elements were added, and there was additional complexity in the subject matter of the artwork. By the time we arrive at the late 3rd edition period, more and more adventures and supplements were turning to color, and a number of published products were full color. Monte Cook’s publications are a good indicator of this, as his early stuff is black and white, and with the publish of Arcana Evolved and Ptolus, he is now publishing full color.
Keeping with this art direction, the Pathfinder is full color, and for the most part it is very good. The cover is design is an action sequence drawn by Wayne Reynolds, along with an iconic fighter taking up the space slightly right of center and this has become their trademark presentation for the Pathfinder AP line. I realize that not everyone likes the style of Wayne, but I like the action and detail that is invoked in his art. I agree that it is very much a departure from the roots of D&D, however enjoy flipping through his work. The interior art is done by a number of artists, and it ranges from excellent to cartoonish. In particular, I am very fond of the illustrations on pages 28, 57 and 72. The style that is on pages 12 and 42 is not to my taste, but I am willing to look past this.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the cartography, which is amazing. While I like the old blue maps from the early days, and the simplicity that is contained with in them, the new generation of color computer cartography is just stunning to look at. I love maps, and I have a noted weakness for complex fully color maps. While I can appreciate the hand drawn maps, and I have made my fair share of them, the things that can be done now days with the latest mapping software never cease to capture my fascination.
The characters are present in the village of Sandpoint, when a host of goblins invade the town, that shows an unusual amount of organization that is atypical for goblin tribes. With the initial goblin foray defeated, the effects of the attack linger on. Clues lead the characters to a goblin hideout on Thistletop for the final showdown with mastermind behind the attacks.
There are a number of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. A large dungeon adventure with 2 dungeons for the characters to explore.
2. A fully mapped out village of Sandpoint, along with a gazetteer detailing the village.
3. An interesting article by Wolfgang Baur titled The History of Thassilon.
4. The Pathfinder Journal, which has the feel of the older pulp sword and sorcery writing. Now the first one is more of a general introduction, and in the next books, it follows in a first person narrative. While there are a number of folks that consider this a flaw in the design, I consider it a feature.
While the revoking of the Dungeon and Dragon magazine in my mind was huge mistake, and I can not but think that with this, there would be not be the Pathfinder AP and the other fan created magazines that have popped up to fill the void. Now I will say that Pathfinder is an Adventure Path, and comes with a defined story arc, which may not sit well with the older crowd that prefers more of a sandbox campaign in which the characters tell the story, not the other way around. I do agree that is a valid concern, but the initial sales numbers for Paizo have re-enforced their decision to move forward with the adventure path concept. I also would agree that there is something to be said for completing an entire adventure path, as it does feel like a badge of honor to say that I made it through and defeated the villain at the end. I will not comment more on this topic, as I will save it for a future blog entry. Suffice to say that first installment is very solid, and there is plenty of information provided to allow for quite a bit of role playing and adventuring around the town. For a low level adventure, there is a good amount of action, and note worthy combats to be had.
Rating: 4 1/2 Dragons (on a scale of 5)
As I write this, Paizo is out of print on this book, with no near term plans to reprint this. I suspect that there are still a number of outlets available to get the actual physical copy, including e-bay and other collectors and game stores. The PDF is still available. It is interesting to note that there was an alternate cover version available at GenCon 40 (2007), that showed the protagist (Karzoug) of the series on the cover, and that version is also sold out.