This past week’s Pathfinder Friday episode was an absolute delight! Marketing Manager and Host Dan Tharp welcomed special guest James Jacobs, Creative Director for Pathfinder, to discuss the history and lore of the Runelords. It was awesome. I highly recommend you give it a watch but, BE WARNED! A common phrase on the episode was essentially: ‘I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but…’ Followed by some spoilers. Haha. It was awesome.
So what did they talk about?
For starters, James Jacobs shared some wonderful stories about creating the Runelords in the first place. He spoke about brainstorming sessions, allocating sins, and the reasons for making the classic ‘evil wizards’ the big bad guys in Pathfinder’s first Adventure Path. This was my favourite part of the episode.
Afterwards he touched on the Thassilonian Empire, Xin, and each of the Runelords in turn, their sins, their story, how they avoided dying in Earthfall, what happened to them in the time since, and even if they died in the intervening years (likely from PCs in either the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path, or the Year of the Risen Rune Season of Pathfinder Society Scenarios, or in the Pathfinder Tales novel, Lord of Runes). He also mentioned what each of the Runelords is up to at the start of Return of the Runelords. This is mostly where the spoilers came into play, particularly in regards to Alaznist and her plans (which involve TIME TRAVEL)! My favourite Runelord to hear about? Sorshen! I love the changes she’s gone through over the years.
They put up an image of a gorgeous map of Ancient Thassilon which is going to appear as a poster sized map in the Return of the Runelords Map Folio. Another exciting spoiler? Jame Jacobs has confirmed that Alaznist’s meddling will cause New Thassilon to be a nation at the end of Return of the Runelords AND in the world of Golarion going into Second Edition Pathfinder. Which is… EPIC! Haha. I love it.
They dropped a few other PF2 tidbits over the course of this episode and the previous one. For starters, last week they announced that although Golarion and the Inner Sea will be the same world with the same places, it will be assumed going into PF2 that all of the PF1 Adventure Paths have happened. That means Queen Ileosa was overthrown, the Runelords were defeated, The Worldwound has been closed, and so on. But, that doesn’t mean that Golarion will be a safe place. Some regions are still as dangerous as always — the Worldwound is still a wasteland overrun by demons, for example (although the Crusades are pushing back and has victory in sight a few more years down the line). In other places new/old evils have risen to cause havoc. Many such changes are being fleshed out now, but aren’t set in stone. We’ll have a long time to wait to get full details on that. James also mentioned that Paizo will be doing something with Nex at some point, but not immediately.
Two other interesting tidbits I particularly enjoyed? Jame Jacobs mentioned that they are intending for all Pathfinder Second Edition Adventure Paths to go all the way from levels 1 to 20! Although, whether this will work out in execution remains to be seen. Personally, I think that’s awesome! Also, James has mentioned that he’s currently working on the first PF2 Adventure Path and that people will be excited for its topic and content. What a delightful teaser! Exactly what that content is? Still under wraps! We’ll have to wait and see.
Future episodes of Pathfinder Friday will include conversations on the Whispering Tyrant, who happens to be the big bad in the upcoming Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path (which is the final PF1 Adventure Path), as well as conversations on the world of PF2, and the product lines we can expect in PF2.
To check out Pathfinder Friday episodes as they air head over to Paizo’s official Twitch stream on Fridays at 4 p.m. PST. You can also watch already aired episodes on their Twitch stream, or watch partial episodes on their youtube channel. I highly recommend you check it out! It’s a favourite in my house.
Today we’re taking an in depth look at the first book in the Return of the Runelords Adventure Path! Return of the Runelords is a six volume Pathfinder Adventure Path that is intended to take your characters from levels 1 to 20! The issues in this Adventure Path are longer than usual, and the final issue is supposed to be the biggest adventure of the series. Each of the six Runelords (excluding the seventh: Karzoug) is featured on one of the covers, with gorgeous artwork drawn by Ekaterina Burmak.
The Adventure Path takes place in Varisia, and is a direct sequel to the Rise of the Runelords and the Shattered Star Adventure Paths. In addition, the events of the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, the novel Pathfinder Tales: Lord of Runes, and Season Four of the Pathfinder Society: Year of the Risen Rune, are all presumed to have taken place. Although playing through these other adventure paths first will definitely make this campaign more enjoyable, it’s not necessary. You can hop right into Return of the Runelords and still have a blast.
So, what is Return of the Runelords? For starters, you can check out a previous blog post I wrote on the topic: Return of the Runelords. Then head down to the video immediately below this paragraph and give the AWESOME Return of the Runelords trailer a watch. Trust me! It’s worth it!
Good! Let’s dive right in!
The first book of the Return of the Runelords Adventure Path is #133: Secrets of Roderic’s Cove. Written by Adam Daigle, this adventure is intended to take you from level one right through to level five. In addition to the adventure itself the book contains an NPC Gallery which features detailed information and statistics on three major characters in the adventure, a delightful primer on Roderic’s Cove which will be invaluable to GMs, a short chapter about the Runelords (their history, how they escaped Earthfall, and what’s happened to them since), a bestiary containing four new creatures, and a campaign outline that lets GMs know what’s coming further down the road.
The layout and appearance of this book is nice. It looks good, is easy to read (which isn’t always the case with Adventure Paths), and features gorgeous artwork of the Runelord of Wrath Alaznist on the cover by Ekaterina Burmak. Behind Alaznist is an image of Jirelle (the iconic swashbuckler) and Erasmus (the iconic medium) getting ambushed by some reefclaws! Awesome!
Before we continue with a more in depth look at the book, let me point out: there will be SPOILERS.
You have been warned!
Carrying on the wrathful theme of the front cover, the inside covers feature images and information on a few key topics related to the Runelord Alaznist. The inside front cover shows two weapons: Alaznist’s Hateful Ranseur (her weapon of rule) and Garvok the Sword of Wrath. Meanwhile, the inside back cover showcases Hollow Mountain, once the capital of Alaznist’s Empire and the place within which she retreated when Earthfell drew near. In addition it contains information on Yamasoth, a qlippoth lord and ally of Alaznist’s — although whether he was her minion, or she was his unwitting pawn is debatable. After the covers we hop right into the adventure background, followed by the adventure itself.
Secrets of Roderic’s Cove is split into five parts: Bubbling Tensions, Roderic’s Wreck, Into the Churlwood, Humbling Pride, and Calming Wrath. Unlike many premade adventures, it doesn’t really feature a ‘patron’ type character. There’s no employer or mentor around to tell the PCs what to do or where to go next. A lot of different NPCs will give you suggestions if you ask. And there’s one character who asks the PCs to help the town. Well, two if you count the dead. Instead, the entire book is driven by the PCs. This means that its imperative your players make characters who want to drive the story forward. Characters who care about the town of Roderic’s Cove — where our story begins — but will be willing to leave for a time when events lead them elsewhere. Characters who would meddle in gang politics, protect their neighbours, and put a spirit to rest. Characters who care. That doesn’t mean the characters have to be a bunch of do-gooders. It just means that players need to think of a reason that their characters would do these things voluntarily, and without the promise of monetary reward.
Our story begins in the tiny town of Roderic’s Cove, which is located along the coast very near to Riddleport. It’s a prosperous town with neither homeless or poor. However, the town is periodically home to unusual occurrences and oddities. The ghost of the town’s founder, Sir Roderic, lurks in the town, emerging from the decrepit remains of his haunted home only when the town is in great danger. Roderic’s Cove is home to two different gangs: the Horned Fangs and the Roadkeepers, both of which are little more than thugs and bullies. It’s also home to a strange but harmless scholarly society known as the Order of Resplendence. Recently, the gangs have been at each others throats, strange deformed creatures have been seen in town, Sir Roderic’s ghost has resurfaced, and there’s even been a murder!
It’s best if the PCs all know each other at the start of this adventure but, even if they don’t, all they truly need is to be in ‘Circle Market’ shopping (or passing through) on Market Day. Here they find two gangs about to come to blows. The PCs have just enough time to interfere before another joins them — the ghost of Sir Roderic himself! As the gangs and citizens run for it Sir Roderic wails about the safety of his town! Then he vanishes as quickly as he appeared. The town guard is on the scene shortly afterwards to thank you for your help before bidding you farewell.
After that the PCs are on their own. They can explore Roderic’s Cove, chat up the locals, learn about Sir Roderic, the local murders, and the gang violence. Eventually they’ll either approach or be approached by a forlorn elf and local grave digger by the name of Audrahni. She’s very concerned over the spirit of Sir Roderic, and is hopeful that the PCs can be the ones to put his spirit to rest again by bringing peace back to the town. They had the courage to stop the gangs from fighting this morning, surely they’re brave enough to do it again?
It’s assumed that the PCs take up this task with aplomb, but even if they don’t it’s a simple matter to get them back on track. After another run-in or two with the various gangs they should want to take them on — even if its not for the good of the town.
However they get involved the PCs goal for this adventure is to bring peace to Roderic’s Cove and put Sir Roderic’s spirit to rest. How they go about this is relatively free-form. The most likely place to start is with the recent murder that happened in the Circle, and the two gangs that are reputed to be involved. They’ll get to speak with witnesses, rumourmonger, search for clues, investigate the victims and their death, and question suspects. They’ll need to keep in mind that they’re citizens of Roderic’s Cove, not law enforcement, so simply busting into a suspected gang hideout and bashing in heads isn’t going to fly. They need evidence. As time passes they’ll come across strange creatures lurking in the town at night, mysterious hauntings, and even learn of some other crimes that have taken place.
This first section of the adventure is very loosely scripted. It’s got information on some witnesses and some scripted events — some of which relate to the murders, and some of which lead to further mysteries. It’s really well written, but it’s definitely a slow start to a campaign. It’s not one of those openings that will grab your characters right off the bat and send them off on some immediate, daring adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enjoyable! But it’s not the mind-blowing, gripping, epic, opening I expected for this campaign. It’s subtle. It requires players who are good role-players, and a really solid GM to make this part of the adventure shine. Anyone can play it. But, it takes a solid group to make it something special. New GMs and players have the potential to flounder.
At some point during their investigation of the murders the PCs are bound to decide to investigate the dilapidated haunted house of Sir Roderic himself. The haunted house is interesting and engaging, but it’s also a grind! Only two halls don’t feature either a battle or a haunt, which is a lot for a house. This will be a tough place to explore, particularly if the PCs want to check the house out quite early in the adventure. However, there’s no immediate time constraints, so they’re welcome to leave and return at a later time, or explore the house in more than one trip.
Overall, I really like the haunted house. The haunts are a wonderful touch, as are some of the encounters. But, I think that some of the vermin encounters would have been better served as flavourful non-violent encounters that contain clues, and serve to set a more ominous mood. Of course, considering it will be the first chance the PCs have to actually engage in a fight, I’m sure plenty of groups will be happy for the opportunity to flex their combat muscles. Haha.
Either way, the house can give the PCs some important clues as to what’s happening in town, and allow the group a chance to speak with Sir Roderic’s ghost. Totally worth it!
In time, the PCs investigation will lead them outside of the town and into the Churlwood Forest, which is the focus of Part Three of this adventure. There’s multiple reasons they’ll want to come here. Perhaps they’ll come out one mission at a time and make a total of three or more forays out into the woods, or perhaps they’ll come out to accomplish all three at once. It all depends on how your group has proceeded with their investigation. Whatever they’re after, there are three major tasks that can be accomplished in the Churlwood. In addition, there’s a few scripted encounters that can lead the PCs onto these tasks and progress the story. For starters, they could be here to pay a visit to the Roadkeepers gang of bandits. They might also be here to find a pair of local dwarves who were kidnapped by goblins. Finally, they might be here looking for a mysterious location that Sir Roderic mentioned. As these locations are all interconnected, it’s likely that one task will lead into another. Overall I rather enjoyed this part of the adventure. It’s free-form enough to allow players to decide their own priorities and courses of action, but the actual locations are very detailed, well-scripted, and interconnected. It looks like a lot of fun. And as an added bonus? PCs will get their first taste of ancient Thassilonian ruins, and pick up some awesome treasure. In fact, they’ll pick up their first minor artifact in this place!
Eventually the characters will return to Roderic’s Cove having done some good, solved some problems, and discovered further clues that will lead them to an odd location: Peacock Manor. This is a series of houses that were connected into a large, confusing manor, and is occupied by the scholarly group known as the Order of Resplendence. On the surface they’re a bunch of obsessive scholars who study ancient Thassilon. Most folks in town think they’re a harmless cult. But, looks can be deceiving. By now your players will have more than enough reason to suspect the leader of this group as being the true culprit behind the recent murders in the Circle. How? Why? Well, I don’t want to give away everything, but I will say that it’s leader has come into possession of one of the Seven Swords of Sin — a powerful artifact she’s unable to properly wield. But, investigating Peacock Manor is not a simple task! For starters, they’re a secretive group, and are highly unlikely to allow you in. Second? Not everyone there is a criminal. Many are simple scholars. Bringing unnecessary violence against such people could put you on the wrong side of the law. And finally? Gossip! Folks who just force their way into the manor, or spend a long time fighting there are sure to attract the attention of the local citizens of Roderic’s Cove. And when supposed heroes attack a bunch of defenceless, harmless scholars and eccentrics, chances are folks won’t consider them heroes anymore. All of these factors combine to make paying a visit to Peacock Manor more difficult than it seems. I really enjoyed it! This section’s got some awesome character art! Also? Players can pick up a second super cool artifact in the halls of Peacock Manor: Baraket, the Sword of Pride!
But, that’s not the end of this adventure! There’s still a second gang to deal with! The Horned Fangs who, quite mysteriously, bear the Thassilonian sigil of Wrath as their emblem! Characters will have to find the lair of the Horned Fangs and give them what for! But, the Horned Fangs are more than what they seem! They lair in the ancient Thassilonian ruins beneath town and, although once a simple group of thugs, they’ve recently come under the control of a foul sin spawn named Mozamer who travelled there via a magical one-way portal from Hollow Mountain. It’s Mozamer himself who’s behind the strange creatures that have been terrorizing the town, and behind the Horned Fangs recent violent behaviour! The PCs will get to explore the ruins, bring down a gang, discover their surprising leader, and battle otherworldly allies. But, not before the sinspawn invites you to join his army and serve the cause of his mistress, the Runelord of Wrath. Who’s already AWAKE.
Mozamer and the ample surrounding evidence show that the sinspawn came from Hollow Mountain, which was once the heart of Alaznist’s Empire, and is where she waited out Earthfall. Although bringing down the Horned Fangs and Mozamer is enough to put Sir Roderic to rest and save Roderic’s Cove — sort of — the Runelord of Wrath is an enemy that will have to be dealt with. Particularly since there’s that one-way portal under the town that Alaznist could send an army through at any moment…
THAT brings us to the end of the adventure. And what an adventure! It’s got urban adventure, a murder mystery, crime fighting, horror, wilderness exploration, ancient ruins, dangerous relics, awesome treasure, and you get to come out of the ordeal already the hero of your town. There’s nice, obvious, compelling reasons to continue on to the next adventure, and — unlike this series’ predecessors — the villain is already revealed and obvious from the start. From here on out you’ve got to take down the Runelord Alaznist before she can conquer Varisia and rebuild Thassilon!
Although I hoped book one of Return of the Runelords would completely blow me away and I’d give it five stars, in the end the shaky opening means I’m only giving it four out of five stars. I expected epic perfection! And, although this was a solid, super fun adventure that I can’t wait to play, perfect it was not.
But, the end of the adventure isn’t the end of the book! There’s more to look at!
After the adventure are three two-page spreads focusing on three major characters in this adventure. Two are enemies, and one is an ally. Audrahni the forlorn elf who is going to have a continuing role in book two; Corstela Rostrata, leader of the Order of Resplendence; and Mozamer, sinspawn leader of the Horned Fangs and general pain in the ass. The artwork in this section is awesome (as expected), the stat blocks are solid, and the background is useful for roleplaying these characters.
Following this is an incredibly important part of the book: a gazetteer on Roderic’s Cove. GMs will find this chapter absolutely invaluable. You need it to inject detail and interest into the entire first section of the book. In addition, you’ll reference it in between all the other sections of the book, whenever the PCs wander the town of Roderic’s Cove. The gazetteer itself is interesting. Roderic’s Cove is a neat, engaging, town with plenty of secrets and colourful characters to visit. It’s a fun place to adventure in.
Up next is one of the most fun sections for GMs to peruse — or I thought so anyway! An entire chapter on the Runelords, what they’ve been up to, how they survived Earthfall, and what Alaznist has been doing since she awakened. Which, but the way, is A LOT. It involves powerful magic, assassination, and even TIME TRAVEL! COOL! (And confusing!)
This brings us to the Bestiary, which contains three new creatures and one new creature template. My favourite of the creatures is the Cyphergull, a CR 2 magical beast that’s essentially an intelligent seagull with an innate understanding of magic and glowing Thassilonian runes upon its wings. They can devour scrolls and thereafter cast those spells. What an awesome little beast to lurk around the Lost Coast — particularly near Riddleport! Other creatures include the Nochlean, a CR 3 fey that delights in stealing children and causing terror; and the Warpglass Ooze, a CR 2 ooze that can enthral passersby and tempt them into it’s acidic body. Beware the reflection in the pool! Haha. The creature template will be incredibly useful not only in this adventure, but also in any of the others that involve the Runelords or Thassilonian ruins: a Runewarped Creature. This template can be applied to any animal, humanoid, or monstrous humanoid, and is essentially a precursor to sinspawn. They’re twisted abominations that are driven to consume magic.
Finally, this book contains a Campaign Outline, which provides GMs with information on what’s happened before this campaign, and what each of the upcoming volumes entails. Before we get into specifics, let me just say: Return of the Runelords is going to be AWESOME!
So where do we go from here?
Return of the Runelords: Book Two: It Came From Hollow Mountain is written by Mike Shel and intended for levels 5-7. In it, the PCs travel to Magnimar to tell the Sihedron council about Alaznist’s rise in Hollow Mountain only to realize that they already knew! In fact, they sent a powerful group of heroes there to investigate in secret, and they haven’t returned. Your PCs are charged with travelling to Hollow Mountain to figure out what’s going on.
Return of the Runelords: Book Three: Runeplague is written by Richard Pett and intended for levels 8-11. By now the PCs know for certain that Alaznist is awakening, not only that, many of the others are as well! They need to travel to four different cities in Varisia — wonderfully familiar cities to many of us — to stop a few different groups that are related to the Runelords and are causing trouble. These groups include the Cult of the Peacock Spirit (who have ties to Xanderghul, Runelord of Pride); cultists of the qlippoth lord Yamasoth (who have ties to Alaznist, Runelord of Wrath); and the Whispering Way (who seek to rebuild Zutha, the Runelord of Sloth’s phylactery). They’ll get a chance to adventure in Korvosa, Magnimar, Riddleport, and, my personal favourite, Kaer Maga! In addition, they’ll have a chance to speak with Sorshen, Runelord of Lust in this adventure. Yes, you read that right. Speak with. Sorshen is a potential ally and source of information for the PCs!
Return of the Runelords: Book Four: Temple of the Peacock Spirit is written by Jason Keeley and is intended for levels 12-14. With intel obtained from Sorshen, the PCs discover that the most powerful Runelord, the Runelord of Pride Xanderghul, is weakened due to Alaznist’s actions. This is their chance to bring the battle to him! Cause what’s better than kicking a big bad when they’re down?! Taking down a big bad who also turns out to be a GOD! That’s right! In it we discover that Xanderghul is the Peacock Spirit himself! An ancient Thassilonian god of secrets! They’ll have to head to his hidden temple and defeat this tyrant before he regains his full powers!
Return of the Runelords: Book Five: The City Outside of Time is perhaps the book I’m most excited for. It’s written by Amanda Hamon Kunz and is intended for levels 15-17. Now that they’ve taken down Xanderghul (hopefully), your PCs will be fully aware that Alaznist is the mastermind behind pretty much everything (although it’s likely they’ll be well aware of this before hand… Haha). Alaznist is building a realm for herself in Varisia, dubbed ‘New Thassilon’, and has used powerful magic, including messing up the past with time travel, to set her plans into motion. To defeat her they’ll need to get their hands on a relic from the Shattered Star Adventure Path known as the Sihedron Star. This artifact is currently trapped in Crystilan, which is essentially a section of the Runelord of Envy Belimarius’ dominion that was locked in a time-loop since the fall of Thassilon. They’ll need to slip into the city via the Plane of Shadows and sieze the artifact. Along the way they’ll get to explore a little part of Thassilon and see what it was like in its heyday. Unfortunately, Alaznist has messed everything up with her time meddling, so the people within are no longer stuck in a time loop. Instead they’re just… stuck. With Runelord Belimarius’ hold over her people slipping the PCs will have a chance to make an ally or an enemy out of Belimarius! Plus, they get to rescue the Sihedron Heroes (your previous campaign’s heroes) from the city! This is going to be amazing! I can feel it!
Return of the Runelords: Book Six: Rise of New Thassilon is the finale of this grand campaign! It’s written by Greg A. Vaughan and is intended for levels 18-20. The PCs have a daring plan: use the Cyphergate in Riddleport to travel back in time. Once there, they can repair all the damage that Alaznist has done to the past. There’s just one problem: they don’t know how to use the Cyphergate. The person who does? Karzoug, Runelord of Greed! …Except he’s dead. The Sihedron Heroes killed him in Rise of the Runelords. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean they can’t speak to him. They’ll simply need to speak with his ghost! Yes! you get to try to convince the dead Runelord of Greed’s spirit to help you screw over Alaznist! Hahaha! I love it! And for those players who have played through Rise of the Runelords this will be a huge surprise! Once they’ve convinced Karzoug to lend his aid they’ll need to use the Cyphergate an travel to a city in the Dimension of Time, which will allow them to send copies of themselves back to the past to repair the damage done to the timeline. What becomes of these copies and how much do your players actually get to experience of the past? I don’t know, but I sincerely hope they get to play in the past for at least a little while. It’s just… awesome! Once they’ve repaired the past they can return to the present and take on Alaznist herself in Hollow Mountain!
And that’s it! The end.
I’m not sure I can express how excited I am for this campaign. Just know it’s a LOT.
Thanks for joining us today! We’ll see you later this week when we take a look at the newly releasing Pathfinder and Starfinder Society Scenarios!
Want more Return of the Runelords? Check out these awesome images from the Adventure Path!
Krune Runelord of Sloth
Belimarius Runelord of Envy
Zutha Runelord of Gluttony
Sorshen Runelord of Lust
Clegg Zincher from the Second Darkness Adventure Path appears in Return of the Runelords: Book Three: Runeplague
Korvosa is originally featured in the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path and is revisited in Return of the Runelords: Book Three: Runeplague
It’s been teased for a decade and finally — FINALLY — the Runelords are making their move! Yes! Today we’re taking a look at the brand new Return of the Runelords Adventure Path. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.
Back before Pathfinder had its own rules set I was a huge fan of Dungeon Magazine. So, when it was announced that the run of the magazine was coming to an end, transitioning to Paizo’s new Pathfinder adventures was a no brainer. I didn’t have much extra cash at the time, so transitioning to 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t an option. Pathfinder didn’t involve new rulebooks (…yet. Haha), and I could keep reading some awesome adventures.
I enjoyed the free module Hollow’s Last Hope, and it’s sequel Crown of the Kobold King. I loved the desperate, hopeless air of Falcon’s Hollow, and enjoyed the flavourful non-combat encounters in the adventures. But Rise of the Runelords?! I bought part one and was completely hooked. It was a fun, new twist on a classic style of adventure. As its sequels came out I was continually impressed. I loved that it took a bit of a tour of different adventure themes, from the horror of the The Skinsaw Murders, the depravity of The Hook Mountain Massacre, and even the vast, sandboxy exploration featured in the finale Spires of Xin-Shalast. It featured classic enemies, right alongside new ones, in a way that was fresh and exciting. I loved exploring the lost ruins of Thassilon, and discovering the history and culture of the ancient empire and its tyrannical rulers as you went.
We started playing Rise of the Runelords nearly right away. Unfortunately, we had a few false starts. Players came and went, and games ended each time. I swear we tried to play it three or four times before we finally got a solid group together. We ended up playing other campaigns before returning to Rise of the Runlords. We played an entire run of Curse of the Crimson Throne (which now has an awesome anniversary edition available: Curse of the Crimson Throne: Anniversary Edition) and to this day Curse of the Crimson Throne is my all-time favourite campaign. Heck, we even named my son after my husband’s PC. (For the record, it’s an awesome name. Haha). We also finished the entire Legacy of Fire Adventure Path in that time (which begins with Legacy Of Fire: Book One: Howl Of The Carrion King).
So when it came time to finally replay Rise of the Runelords — this time as Rise of the Runelords: Anniversary Edition! — we were ready for it. I was GMing, my husband, brother, and a friend of ours were playing, and I made an NPC to join them. We created characters who were the children of our characters from our Legacy of Fire campaign, and had an absolute blast. In time one of the characters split from the group and they rolled up a new one. They continued playing this second character online via email, and I created an entire new campaign for them, linked to the main events of Rise of the Runelords, but dealing with the other Runelords. The main Rise of the Runelords game (but not the email spin-off) paused for nearly a year when my brother had his second child, and when we finally got back to playing it was without him. We got all the way to the final book. And there we were, ready to make the trek to Xin-Shalast and confront Karzoug, the Runelord of Greed himself! And our extra player stopped showing up. In time my brother was ready to play with us again and we got ready to finally finish the last book — when my husband decided he wanted to play something new.
I swear we’re cursed!
In the time since my kids have been asking to play Rise of the Runelords. They saw it on the Adventure Card Game app and were mindblown at Aldern Foxglove’s character arc. Literally AMAZED. I promised them we’d start it in time, only to have my husband say he wanted to make someone to play alongside them. Uh… okay? Haha. I guess it’s waiting until after we finish Carrion Crown (we’re currently on Carrion Crown: Book Two: Trial of the Beast) and The Shackled City Adventure Path together then! Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to play it as a family, but I found the request odd! He’d played so much of it that I was surprised he’d want to do so again. Since I’ve never really gotten to experience the campaign as a player I also joined a play-by-post game of it, which is a lot of fun.
Suffice to say, my experiences with Rise of the Runelords are both positive and enduring. I was thrilled to see the Runelord Sorshen mentioned in Curse of the Crimson ThroneAdventure Path, see the Runelord’s predecessor Xin featured in the Shattered Star Adventure Path (which begins with Shattered Star: Book One: Shards of Sin), and see Krune and the followers of Lisalla showcased in Pathfinder Society Season Four: Year of the Risen Rune (culminating in Scenario #4-26: The Waking Rune). Readers of the previous campaigns will know that the other Runelords have always been coming. They’re there, waiting to rise…
And now it’s time!
Return of the Runelords is a new six-part Adventure Path that revolves around the return of the rest of the Runelords and the rise of New Thassilon. The events of Rise of the Runelords and the Shattered Star have already happened. But, if you’ve never played either, never fear! You can still enjoy this campaign. It begins with some trouble brewing in the Varisian town of Roderic’s Cove (more on that later!). The issues in this Adventure Path are longer than usual, and the final issue is supposed to be the biggest adventure of the series. (Pardon me while I squeal in glee). This Adventure Path will take you all the way from levels 1 to 20, which allows you to take on the incredibly powerful Runelords without delving into mythic tiers. Each of the six Runelords (excluding the seventh: Karzoug) is featured on one of the covers, with gorgeous artwork drawn by Ekaterina Burmak (you’ll see them featured throughout this article).
Before we get too far into what we know about Return of the Runelords, we’re going to talk a bit about the Runelords and Thassilon.
What the heck is Thassilon, and what’s a Runelord?
Thassilon is an ancient empire founded over 11,000 years ago by First King Xin. Xin was Azlanti, but thought that place sucked. He was exiled and decided to found his own nation. Things seemed to be working fine, and his country spread far and wide. He appointed seven wizard governors to oversee the provinces of his empire. Each was an expert in a specific school of magic which was originally based on the seven virtues of rule (charity, generosity, humility, kindness, love, temperance, and zeal). In time, these virtues became twisted into the seven sins (envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath) and the Runelords betrayed Xin. In the aftermath Xin was destroyed, the Runelords seized control of Thassilon, Xin’s son was placed on the throne as a puppet emperor, and the tyrannical Runelords continued ruling their own provinces. But the Runelords were greedy. They bickerer, bargained, and plotted for more power and territory over each other. In addition, they were big jerks. They enslaved races, subjugated their people, and so on. They built massive monuments which survive throughout Varisia to this day. You ever hear of the Irespan in Magnimar? Thassilonian. The Old Light in Sandpoint? Thassilonian. The black pyramid underneath Castle Korvosa? Thassilonian. Skull’s Crossing? Lady’s Light? Yup! Thassilonian!
In time, Earthfall drew near. And the Runelords? They saw it coming. They prepared for the coming apocalypse and enacted magical countermeasures. Each waited out the end of their empire and the coming Age of Darkness in their own ways. But Earthfall devastated Golarion more than they had ever imagined, and most of their countermeasures and failsafes either failed or malfunctioned. The Runelords slumbered on throughout the ages.
Until Karzoug: Runelord of Greed. Now, Karzoug wasn’t the only Runelord of Greed. There were seven before him: Kaladurnae, Fethryr, Gimmel, Ligniya, Mazmiranna, Aethusa, and Haphrama. But, at the time of Earthfall, he was the big shot. He ruled all of the province of Shalast from its capital of Xin-Shalast, was a master of transmutation magic, and wielded a powerful burning glaive which was decorated with meteorites. Just over a decade ago Karzoug stirred. His minions spread throughout his realm of Xin-Shalast, and then out into Varisia, but Karzoug himself could not quite manifest into the Material Plane. His minions’ efforts to bring him back into Golarion are thwarted by heroes during the course of the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path. I won’t go into detail on its events — that’s what playing is for! — but I will say that if your players have done their job, the Runelord Karzoug is no more.
But there, at the very back of Rise of the Runelords final volume, it reads:
“The runelords will return.”
Tease much? Haha.
So what’s Shattered Star? More Runelords?
Nope! During the Shattered Star Adventure Path you play as Pathfinders under the command of Venture-Captain Shield Heidmarch of Magnimar. She gives you one of seven pieces of a ancient Thassilonian artifact and tasks you with using it’s magical connection with the other six pieces to track down the artifacts components and put it back together. You explore ancient Thassilonian monuments from throughout Varisia, briefly visit a lot of fun places showcased in other Varisian Adventure Paths, and reforge an ancient relic, only to discover Thassilon’s capital of Xin, and come up against the First King himself. It’s awesome! But no, it does not feature any of the Runelords, which means that there are six Runelords left.
Sort of? What’s up?
Pathfinder Society Season Four: Year of the Risen Rune pits the Pathfinder Society against the cult of Lissala, an ancient Thassilonian goddess. At the time of Earthfall, Lissalla’s highest ranking priest was also a Runelord: Krune, Runelord of Sloth. Krune ruled the province of Haruka, from his capital of Xin-Haruka, and wielded a longspear made from a dragons tooth that could move and attack on its own. His skin was said to be tattooed with countless magical spells and runes. There were six other Runelords of Greed before Krune: Xirie, Ilthyrius, Azeradni, Zalelet, Krenlith, and Ivarinna. It’s said Krune was the least violent of the Runelords, mostly cause he was lazy. During the course of the Year of the Risen Rune, the Lissalan cult tries to bring about the return of the Runelord Krune. And succeeds. This campaign arc includes Scenarios: #4-00: Race for the Runecarved Key, #4-02: In Wrath’s Shadow, #4-07: Severing Ties, #4-08: Cultist’s Kiss, #4-10: Feast of Sigils, #4-12: The Refuge of Time, #4-20: Words of the Ancients, and #4-26: The Waking Rune. In the finale they face off against Krune himself. And hopefully kill him. Haha.
So who were these other Runelords?
Good question! In addition to Karzoug, The Runelord of Greed, and Krune, The Runelord of Sloth, there were five other Runelords. Runelords that we will, hopefully, get to face off against (or thwart the minions of) throughout the course of Return of the Runelords.
The Runelord of Envy is Belimarius, an aged, overweight woman who adored gossip and politics. She was a paranoid schemer who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s generally considered to have been an efficient ruler, and among the weakest of the Runelords. She ruled the realm of Edasseril, was a master of abjuration magic, and wielded a gold and mithral halberd that could steal the memories of her enemies. (Awesome!). There were a whopping nine Runelords of Envy before her, including Naaft, Tannaris, Ivamura, Jurah, Chalsardra, Esedrea, Zarve, Desamelia, and Phirandi. It’s said that when Belimarius usurped her throne from Runelord Phirandi, she locked him in a clear coffin and put him on display in her palace (safe to assume it was a magical coffin). Belimarius had a lot of trouble preparing for Earthfall. In the end, her magical ritual backfired and she accidentally locked her entire city in a week-long time loop (the city is surrounded by an impenetrable forcefield and is known by local Varisians as Crystilan). Also? Apparently she had a magic mirror, like the one from Snow White. Cool! Belimarius has long been one of my favourite Runelords. I’ve always liked the idea of the scheming, jealous old woman who’s super powerful. Plus, her specialty is abjuration! It’s about time someone made that badass. (I know, I know. Not many people would say she’s their favourite Runelord. Haha.)
The Runelord of Gluttony was Zutha, a unique undead who could experience life as vividly as any living man. He ruled the realm of Gastash, was a master of necromancy magic, and wielded a scythe made of bone that could drain the life from his enemies, and a collection of powerful ioun stones. He was a ravenous gourmand who constantly sought new foods (including living humanoids), experiences, and luxuries. He nation was the breadbasket of Thassilon, and he was not above cutting off food supplies to any Runelords who dared to cross him. There were four Runelords of Gluttony before him including Kaliphesta, Atharend, Aethusa, and Goparlis. With the fall of Thassilon Zutha bound his life to a magical tome which was then split into three parts. These books were given to his servants who were supposed to rejoin them once it was safe. His spirit would then subsume them until they became him. These books and one of their owners (the taiga giant lich necromancer Thulos) are described in detail in the extra articles at the back of the Shattered Star Adventure Path: Book Six: The Dead Heart of Xin.
The Runelord of Lust was Sorshen, an incredibly beautiful woman rumoured to have used blood magic to become eternally youthful. She ruled over the realm of Eurythnia, was a master enchantress, and wielded a double-headed guisarme. Sorshen was the only Runelord of Lust to have ever existed. That’s right! The one and only. The famous Lady’s Light monument in the Mushfens (which is explored in Shattered Star: Book Two: Curse of the Lady’s Light) depicts Sorshen. Other monuments of her rule include the Sunken Queen (which is showcased in Curse Of The Crimson Throne: Book Six: Crown Of Fangs), while her tomb is located underneath Castle Korvosa in the Grand Mastaba. There she is said to be sleep eternally alongside her awakening vampiric servants.
The Runelord of Pride was Xanderghul, an absurdly arrogant, silver-tongued diplomat who tried to rise above the petty squabbling of the other Runelords. He ruled the realm of Cyrusian, was a master of illusions, and wielded a lucerne hammer made from skymetal. Like Sorshen, Xanderghul ruled for the entire reign of Thassilon. There was no Runelord of Pride either before or after him. He is widely regarded as the most powerful Runelord of them all. He publicly worshipped the Peacock Spirit, a mysterious deity that he encouraged his followers to venerate (which was actually himself). Xanderghul always struck me as the big bad of the remaining Runelords, and when I made my own custom campaign revolving around their return, it was him who I had envisioned as the final boss. Although I can only speculate on what role he’ll play in the Return of the Runelords Adventure Path, he is definitely not the ‘final boss.’
The Runelord of Wrath was Alaznist, an angry, impulsive woman who waged war against Karzoug throughout her reign. She ruled the realm of Bakrakhan, was a master evoker, and wielded a ranseur upon which she impaled the skull of the first Runelord of Wrath, Alderpash. Other than good old Alderpash, there were three other Runelords of Wrath: Angothane, Xiren, and Thybidos. Alaznist worshipped demons, particularly Yamasoth, and channeled the anger of her people in order to create monsters for her armies (including sinspawn, and reefclaws). It’s said she also modified her troops with fleshwarping, alchemy, and other methods. The ruins of Hollow Mountain are part of her domain and have her face carved on the side of the mountain. More details on Hollow Mountain can be found in Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Dungeons of Golarion, where they showcase an entire level of this massive complex, as well as Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-02: In Wrath’s Shadow. She’s also the creator of the Irespan in Magnimar, and the Old Light in Sandpoint, which is actually a magical siege machine called a hellfire flume which could shoot fireballs at invading armies. As far as I can recall, Alaznist escaped Earthfall by entering some kind of otherworldly (or maybe it was extraplanar?) refuge or hideout (don’t quote me on that, haha) within Hollow Mountain.
Enough with the history lesson! Tell me about Return of the Runelords!
Return of the Runelords is a six part adventure path that tasks your players with preventing the return of not one, but all the remaining Runelords of Thassilon. These volumes are extra long, with the final issue promising to be the largest adventure path volume yet! It’s intended to bring your player’s characters all the way from levels 1 to 20! There’s going to be plenty of references to previous events, places, treasures and characters who first appeared in Rise of the Runelords and Shattered Star, and of course, you’ll get to hear what happened to any heroes from those adventures.
Return of the Runelords begins with Book One: Secrets of Roderick’s Cove, written by Adam Daigle, and showcasing the Runelord of Wrath Alaznist on its cover. It takes place in the port town of Roderic’s Cove, where some strange things are happening! What sort of things? Well, I won’t go into it too much, but it involves multiple factions violently vying for control of the little town (and utilizing Thassilonian magics and relics to do so!), and a mysterious ghost. As your PCs become embroiled in trying to bring peace to Roderic’s Cove, they’ll also learn that the Runelords of Thassilon are reawakening! In addition to the adventure itself, this issue features an awesome gazetteer on Roderic’s Cove, some new monsters (including the nochlean, and the warpglass ooze), and an article on the history of Thassilon and how each Runelords survived Earthfall. It’s going to be awesome! This adventure should bring your characters from level 1 to 5.
Now that your PCs know the point of the campaign, it’s time for them to do something about it! Return of the Runelords: Book Two: It Came from Hollow Mountain is written by Mike Shel, features the Runelord of Sloth Kruth on the cover, and is intended to bring your characters from level 5 to 8. Your PCs travel to the Varisian city of Magnimar to deliver a powerful relic, and tasks them with following up on rumours of the Runelords. They head to the infamous Hollow Mountain — a mountain on Rivenrake Island where the Runelord Alaznist once hid from Earthfall. This dungeon complex is massive, and filled with monsters and traps. There they’ll discover secrets that can help them in their coming fights. And as for Alaznist? She’s already awake! In addition to the adventure itself, this issue has an article and statistics on the empyreal lord Ashava, as well as an article on the always nasty sinspawn! Creature in this issue include the choking shade, and the shriezyx queen.
Return of the Runelords: Book 3: Runeplague is written by Richard Pett, features the disgusting Runelord of Gluttony Zutha on the cover, and is intended to bring your characters from level 8 to 12. Armed with new information (and haunted by weird visions!) your players learn of a magical plague that begins in Magnimar and is set to spread across all of Varisia! They travel the country, face cultists of Yamasoth, and stop the Polymorph Plague from turning people into monsters! Its also hinted that they might be able to stop as many as two different Runelords from being awakened (My bets are on Zutha and Sorshen, but that’s conjecture). Interestingly, this book raises the question: are all of the Runelords equally dangerous and can some of them become your allies? Well, colour me intrigued! In addition to the adventure itself you’ll find an articles on the cult of Yamasoth, the Polymorph Plague, magical pools, and some new monsters (including misery siktempora and kasthezvi).
The next volume in this adventure path is Return of the Runelords: Book Four: Temple of the Peacock Spirit. It’s written by Jason Keeley, likely features artwork of Xanderghul on the cover, and is intended to bring your characters from level 12 to around level 15 (or 16, perhaps? I’m guessing). In this issue your players face off against the cult of the Peacock Spirit, travel to their temple in the mountains, and stop them from bringing Xanderghul back into the world. An important task, since he’s among the most powerful of the Runelords! Details on this issue are scant, and I am not yet sure what extra articles and monsters will be featured in its pages.
Return of the Runelords: Book Five: The City Outside of Time is written by Amanda Hamon Kunz, probably features the Runelord of Envy Belimarius on the cover, and is likely to bring your characters from around level 15/16 to level 18 or so (I’m guessing on the level range). In it, your players head to Crystilan, a city encased in a crystal sphere where the Runelord Belimarius and her citizens live out the same week of their life over and over again. You’re heading there to stop the Runelord Alaznist from utilizing time altering magic to do… something! But getting past Crystilan’s inpenetrable walls is not going to be easy! You’ll have to head to the shadow plane, perform a ritual, enter the eternally preserved Thassilonian city of Edasseril, and figure out a way to stop her. But, Alaznist’s presence has altered this place, and things are changing for the first time in ages. This adventure sounds like it has a lot of fun social interactions, intrigue, and politics, which is going to be AMAZING. I’m actually the most excited for this volume of the Adventure Path, out of all of them! I am not yet sure what extra articles and monsters will be featured in its pages.
Return of the Runelords: Book Six: Rise of New Thassilon is the final instalment of the Return of the Runelords Adventure Path. It promises to be the longest yet! Written by Greg A. Vaughan, and featuring artwork of… The Runelord of Lust Sorshen, I think (don’t quote me on that, haha!), and is intended to bring your characters all the way up to level 20. In this volume Alaznist has messed with time, affecting both the past and the future! Your characters will need to fix the damage she’s caused, and take down the Runelord of Wrath Alaznist! That’s right! It’s got time travel! Oh yeah, and you’ll have to figure out what becomes of ‘New Thassilon.’ Yes. You read that right! It’s going to be epic! I am not yet sure what extra articles and monsters will be featured in its pages.
This brings us to the end of the Return of the Runelords Adventure Path. The first issue is already out, multiple other issues are available for pre-order, and the final volumes are due out by year’s end! This campaign sounds like a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.