Part 3 of the first Pathfinder series, the Introduction talks about movies as inspiration for adventures, with particular reference to genres other than straight 'swords and sandals' type epics. This adventure has drawn on horror, and specifically the sort of hillbilly, remote, inbred sort found in such as Deliverance, with a measure of the intensity of The Blair Witch Project thrown in.
Basically, the adventure consists of the characters being hired by the Lord Mayor of Magnimar to go find out why there has been no word from a far-distant fort that is the base of a band of rangers employed by Magnimar to keep the area's ogres in check. Of course, there's the minor matter of some 450 miles to cover, and winter is coming on... not to mention what has really been going on, which is covered in a comprehensive background section.
While actually reaching the destination of Turtleback Ferry (the settlement the fort was originally built to defend) is not detailed, those groups who enjoy overland travel will find a few hints of things they can do on the way both in the adventure and in the Varisia gazetteer later on in the book. Reference is also made to the Dungeon Master's Guide section on adverse weather (winter is coming on, remember), and there are other resources available if you want to make getting there an adventure in itself.
Once in area, the adventure proper divides into four parts: finding out what's going on, retaking the fort from the ogres, saving the township from a sudden flood, and then travelling further into the mountains to thwart the overall plans of the individual leading the ogres. Each phase has plenty of detail, with well-rounded NPCs - even most of the ogres have their own stories, even if they are really there to be fought rather than conversed with! Locations important to the adventure have clear maps coupled with descriptions that will make them 'come alive'... in some, characters (if not their players) will need a strong stomach to avoid being distracted from combat by a bout of nausea!
A good thing about this adventure is the sheer detail and complexity of what is going on in the area, and that's not only the bad guys' plots... there is a real feeling of events taking place and life going on whether or not there happen to be any player-characters around to take a hand. It develops well too, the characters' actions will have genuine consequences, as well as the opportunity to discover hints as to what more may be in store.
Adventure concluded, the next section is called Keeping the Keep, and is a comprehensive examination of the in-game requirements of operating a castle. You see, if the characters succeed in evicting the ogres, they are rewarded with stewardshp of the keep. There's a lot more though, sufficent to facilitate running a castle in any game, not just the one here. Both detailed castle operation, for those who want to make it an integral part of their game, and a simple system for abstracting the process for people who'd rather have it in the background while concentrating on other matters are provided.
Next comes a good overview of Varisia, with lots of information about the locations, natural environment and peoples found therein. Of particular use if you want to play out the initial trek from Magnimar to Turtleback Ferry (note the wandering monster table!), it is good general background and is capable of spawning ideas for adventures to occupy the time between the core events of the Rise of the Runelords series if you so wish. As all Paizo's adventures are set here, it's a usful summary to have to hand, although there are plans for more detailed gazeteer information to be published.
The book is rounded out by the next installment of the Pathfinder 's Journal, which describes a visit to the city of Kaer Maga, and a Bestiary of the new critters introduced during the adventure, and a few more likely to be in the area should your characters wander around. The description of Kaer Maga will add atmosphere to the adventure Seven Swords of Sin which is located there, should you have it.
Overall, it is an exciting atmospheric adventure which should give the characters a real sense of satisfaction - there may not be much wealth to be had but they will have benefited the locals greatly, and done their own reputations no harm.
Return to Rise of the Runelords # 3: The Hook Mountain Massacre page.
Reviewed: 12 January 2008