Review of Runelords

Player's Guide Anniversary Edition

gaming modules rpg pathfinder dnd

I picked up the Anniversary Edition of Rise of the Runelords, the very first Pathfinder adventure path. This is my review of the first module, Burnt Offerings.

Player's guide

When you've been invited to a D&D or Pathfinder game, it can be difficult to know what to plan for. You can build a character, but what happens when you build a barbarian optimized for battle in the jungle only to find out that the entire adventure takes place on a boat at sea? Well, actually it usually doesn't really matter. A roleplaying game tends to be very flexible, largely because it's all make-believe, but because we all understand that it's pretend, we do have the luxury to be selective about what we make up. A good player's guide can help communicate to a player what kind of backstory, skills, and feats might make sense for their character, given a specific setting. As a player, it can be nice to be given some focus when faced with innumerable character options.

For the Game Master, it's nice to have an official and carefully crafted guide that does a pre-game "lore dump" about the regions in which the game is set. It saves the GM from feeling like a 2-hour class is required to properly brief players on the world upon which they're about to pop into sudden existence.

The original Rise of the Runelords adventure path had a [player's guide](, and the Anniversary Edition has one, too. The physical book I purchased doesn't include the player's guide because a player's guide is meant to be distributed to players, so it's just offered as a [free PDF download on](

I was curious what the difference between the original guide and the Anniversary Edition guide were, so I downloaded both. To my surprise, they contained completely different content, and while I understand that handing a player 100 pages of reading material before they can even start building a character is probably not ideal, I do feel like the combination of the two PDFs would make for a very complete guide. Maybe the right strategy is to point players to both, letting them choose between the kind of information they want going into the game.

Here's how the two books compare.

Original player's guide

The original is pretty much what I think of when I think of a player's guide. It gives you a brief introduction to the setting, it tells you what races are common in the region and how they fit in, it provides setting-specific character options, and special regional equipment. And it does this in under 20 pages.

  • The first section, Welcome to Varisia, is a throw-away introduction. You could exclude it entirely.

  • Races of Varisia gives an overview of common races in the region and on Golarion. When discussing humans, it even provides regional designations, so you might choose to be Chelaxian (I always thought they were called Chelish), Shoanti, or Varisian. If you [play a dwarf](, then you're probably from Janderhoff, and local elves are probably from Mierani Forest, and so on.

  • Adventurers of Varisia covers classes, and how they're expressed in the region. For instance, if you're going to play a barbarian, then maybe you're part of the Lyrune-Quah, Shadde-Quah, or Sklar-Quah tribes, drawing your power from tribal totems using the Totem Spirit feat. Monks, on the other hand, are rare in Varisia, but maybe you're a Shoanti brawler who eschews weapons and chooses to fight with martial arts instead.

  • Equipment of Varisia provides some regional gear that players might want to purchase during character creation. It's only 2 pages, but provides a flavour of Varisia by highlighting Varisian scarves, goblin dogslicers, ogre hooks, and the traditional Shoanti klar.

  • The final 6 pages provides details about Sandpoint and the surrounding area so that players not only know what's around, but also so they can develop a backstory for their character.

Of the two player's guides, I feel that this is the strongest. It gives players background about the world, plus new relevant choices to the process of character building.

Anniversary Edition player's guide

If you take the final 6 pages of the original and expand them out into 12 pages, then you have the Anniversary Edition of the guide. It's almost exclusively about the physical locations of Varisia, with 1 page near the beginning about possible character backgrounds. The rest of the 15 page booklet is an introduction and a few maps. There's nothing wrong with this version of the guide, and everything in it is genuinely useful, it just feels less like a player's guide and more like a handy cheat sheet to the region.

If you want to provide adventure hooks for side quests, this book has plenty of them, and they're all delivered in such a way that players themselves could choose to pursue them. For instance, Roderic's Cove is a location, and there are legends of a pirate ghost dwelling there. A local of the region would have heard these stories as children, so why shouldn't a player character, between modules, decide to go prove or disprove the legend once and for all? Nearly every location mentioned (and there are over 50 of them, across 12 pages) has some intriguing and interesting story about it that could easily be expanded into a diversionary adventure or distraction.

Don't go adventuring without it

Player's guides aren't required reading by any means. Should a player show up to a game of set in Varisia with an actual monk, it's easy to wave your hand and declare that actually there is a monastery up in the hills, or that the monk has travelled to the region from afar, or whatever. Should a player bring a hopeknife instead of a klar to the session, the game will not come to a grinding halt. But the player's guides offered for $0 by Paizo are fun documents, so if a player enjoys diving into lore and playing into a larger story, then these books can provide an evening of engrossing and inspiring reading. I often experience a moment, upon closing a book, when I think "How cool would it be to step inside the story I just read?" Well, as with so much RPG material and unlike so much other fiction, with these books you're invited to do exactly that.

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