Review of Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition – Player’s Guide

The five-year anniversary re-release of Paizo’s first and most popular Adventure Path, Rise of the Runelords, is an important opportunity to draw new enthusiasts into the hobby, the Pathfinder RPG, and the campaign setting of Golarion.

So it’s too bad the AP’s free, downloadable Player’s Guide is such a lost opportunity.

Where’s the Sandpoint?

In my opinion, the Player’s Guide for Paizo’s second AP, Curse of the Crimson Throne, set a high bar for what I’m looking for in these player guides. It gave a lively description of the PCs’ starting city, Korvosa, making it a living, breathing place, offering feats and equipment that further gave life to the people and culture of the city and the land of Varisia. It offered traits that didn’t giving anything away about the bigger story, while hooking people into the AP’s opening events.

As for this product, it is a lost opportunity to charm people into wanting to play or run Rise of the Runelords. I have read through the original run of RotRL, and what I thought were the most appealing elements of enticing people into playing the beginning of RotRL – description of the most of the PCs’ home, the charming village of Sandpoint, and description of Paizo’s fresh and unique take on goblins – have zero word count in this Player’s Guide.

(Granted, there is a map of Sandpoint, but only 2 landmarks are labeled on it, and absolutely no information on NPCs or the history or the buildings within the city.)

The mysterious events of five years past, which are common knowledge among all inhabitants of Sandpoint, the “Late Unpleasantness” — what I found the most interesting part of Sandpoint’s lore and the reason why initial event that takes place in the AP occurs in the first place — are not mentioned at all in this Player’s Guide.

What’s Inside

Instead, we have 2 sections:

1 – First, a collection of campaign-specific traits for PCs. As a GM, I will not let the players look at these because they telegraph ahead of time precisely what types of creatures and areas the players will face. Instead, I’ll be working with the players to decide what traits make most sense for them.

2 – Second, a gazetteer on the land of Varisia. There is a lot of interesting information here, but again I think it totally misses the ball — barring the cover and credits page, the designers had only 12 pages to work with but devoted 9 pages to Varisia. NO information on Sandpoint, and no narrative “tour” that’s cohesive — instead, we get a paragraph on each place.

I plan to run the anniversary edition of RotRL with my group myself, but will not be giving this to my players as is. Instead, I’ll likely give them the following:

#1. The pages from the original Player’s Guide giving info on Sandpoint, Varisia, and new equipment.
#2. Info on the “Late Unpleasantness” from Pathfinder Issue #1.
#3. This Player’s Guide’s gazetteer on Varisia.

(Some of these might be supplanted by what’s in the anniversary hardback, which I still haven’t seen.)

Granted, perhaps information was omitted from the Player’s Guide to spur us into buying some of Paizo’s Companions. But the PCs’ hometown not to get any love is a bit confounding.

What we have in this Player’s Guide is high quality — the traits are well-conceived, and the descriptions of Varisia’s key places are evocative. But what’s sorely lacking is… well, sorely lacking.

Paizo has set a high bar for itself from past products, which this unfortunately does not meet. Hopefully in the future, they will do better. But for now, count this as an opportunity lost.

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About ronaldsf

Grandmaster of the Pathfinders' Guild at Martin Luther King Middle School.
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