In this, the very first of Paizo's Pathfinder adventure series, the Introduction sweeps you up from the outset, explaining how - due to the death of a god about a century ago - a land once comfortable in the certainty of oracles and prophecies which charted their future has been thrown into chaos, and that it is now time for heroes to stand forth and stamp their own order on the land. Those heroes are, you've guessed it, your characters; and as well as an adventure this book contains background material to make the whole setting come to life. Oh, and there's a cute list of '10 Fun Facts about Goblins'... who feature large in this particular adventure.
The main body of the book is taken up with Burnt Offerings, the first adventure in this campaign. Set in the town of Sandpoint, which is assumed to be your characters' hometown (or at least, where they live at the moment), the resurgence of powerful ancient magic is causing turbulence to the once sleepy town... beginning with a plague of violent nightmares that caused sleepers to awaken in a fit of blind rage. While for most the rage faded with the light of day and reason, some found a resonance and committed terrible acts. These are known as the Late Unpleasantness and are, to the relief of the good folk of Sandpoint, now behind them... this is where the adventure begins, with a rich background that foreshadows what you will place before your players as the adventure proceeds.
While there is, of course, plenty of opportunity for action - both combat and investigation - much of the adventure is designed to embed the characters into Sandpoint society, with opportunities to explore the town and meet many of the inhabitants. The whole adventure is well-constructed, with a sequence of events that both leave the characters free to do as they please while ensuring that the game will progress at a steady, yea even exciting, pace. There's a lot going on, and it all hangs together in a coherent manner. While the characters' actions have the potential to affect events, it is clear that many plots would be coming to fruition even if they were not around - a good way of creating a living 'alternate reality' with which your characters can interact.
The adventure is probably more of a scene-setter than part of the overall campaign plotline of Rise of the Runelords but it does introduce some folks who will feature later on, as well as embed the characters in Sandpoint and hopefully give them reason to want to look after the place in future. Successful completion should leave characters at 4th-5th level, just about right for the next episode.
Adventure done, that's not all you get. There's a comprehensive overview of Sandpoint complete with history, more about the Late Unpleasantness and descriptions of notable locations within the town. This is followed by an historical essay on the long-fallen Empire of Thassilon, whose influence - especially that of her mages - still affects the area. This explains the origin of the Runelords, and how their rune magic works... a fascinating, horrifying and innovative use of arcane lore. There's also a brief thumbnail outline of how the rest of the campaign is intended to develop, with notes on the episodes to come - excellent for the DM who likes to look ahead but cannot wait for the publication of the whole campaign to start playing it.
Next comes something called the "Pathfinder's Journal." This tells of a journal published by the Pathfinder Society, which chronicles the exploits of adventurers and heroes - perhaps your characters will be featured here. Some characters might find the organisation itself to be of interest, too.
There is also a Bestiary section, introducing new monsters encountered during the adventure. There's plenty of detail, to allow you to use them to good effect both here and in your own adventures. Things are rounded off with 4 pre-generated 1st level characters, for those who want to leap straight in and begin play.
Overall, this is an excellent beginning to what promises to be a memorable campaign. The cartography is beautiful, as are many of the 'scene-setting' paintings, although the NPC/monster illustrations are rather too cartoon-like for my taste. Presentation both visual and in terms of organisation of text is well done... looking forwards to the next one!
Return to Rise of the Runelords # 1: Burnt Offerings page.
Reviewed: 3 November 2007