Review of Runelords

Sins of the saviours 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 fifth module, Sins of the saviours.

The penultimate module in the Runelords adventure path, this is a relatively straight-forward dungeon crawl. Before they can crawl it, though, players must find the dungeon, as it was hidden away 10,000 years ago by the titular runelords themselves.

The dungeon is known as the Runeforge, and it was set up by the Runelords long ago as a neutral territory for magical research. Each Runelord, one for each point of the seven-pointed star that's been a running theme throughout the adventure, sent a wizard into the Runeforge to study whatever kind of magic interested the runelord. For that reason, the dungeon is splity into seven sections, one for each wizard. The sections are small, but each has its own little story to tell.

Journey to the Runeforge

The dungeon is concealed in the mountains, and there's not much talk about anything happening on the way to the hidden dungeon. Thankfully there's a white dragon living in the mountains, and the sound of adventures clambering around awakens it. However, the module doesn't provide any sense of a motive for the dragon, and I get the impression that it's really just meant to be a monster encounter. Given that dragons are both intelligent and iconic, and given that nothing else happens in the way to the dungeon, I think I'd probably give the players a chance to at least talk with the dragon.

I'd have the dragon ask for something out of the dungeon. Any MacGuffin will do, but at least it gives purpose to the dragon encounter. After the players bring the dragon the MacGuffin, I'd have the dragon attack them (to keep the item secret, or some reason like that), if I felt that the players were in the mood for combat. Or maybe I'd just swap the white dragon out with a neutral gem dragon, and let the players collect XP for the retrieval quest rather than for combat.

Runeforge

The Runeforge dungeon, and indeed the Runelords themselves, are based on the "seven deadly sins." There was a brief mention of this in the introductory material, but then it never got brought up again so I hoped it was a detail about inspiration rather than actual storyline. It plays a strong thematic role in this module, but I never felt like it made any sense. The "seven deadly sins" are a uniquely early (really early, like 350 BCE or so) Catholic concept. It's so uniquely Catholic, in fact, that they aren't really even Biblical, as such, and are instead part of the teachings of the leaders who turned a minor cult with Judaism into an organized religion. It seems odd that these exact "sins" turn up as a foundation for the evil rulers of an ancient fantasy world.

I realise that this fantasy world has lots of parallels with our own, so there's a good argument that along with also developing feudalism, it also happened to develop the concept of seven deadly emotions. However, I sense that there's supposed to be a gravity to these seven deadly whatevers, and the story has developed it. I think the authors expect the players to just accept that emotions like wrath and sloth and even lust are really really terrifyingly unforgivably evil. If you don't buy into this premise (and there's no reason you should, because the story hasn't involved these emotions in any significant way), you just go through each of the seven mini-dungeons with the vague recognition that each one has a theme to it, but there's no significance to these themes.

Worse still, the DM was supposed to have been monitoring each player throughout the adventure, assigning each one a "sin" point any time a player character played into one of the seven deadlies. During this dungeon crawl, those points influence which player gets unexpected penalties within each section of the dungeon. There's a romance option in the first or second module, so I guess you'd give a player who fell for that a "sin" point for [sexual, because that's the brand of lust the corresponding mini-dungeon focuses on\ lust (which feels out of place because no god within Golarion, as far as I've ever read, regards romance or even sex as forbidden). I suppose you'd have to give a point for wrath when any player engages in combat, famously one of the core mechanics of the game. I don't know how you determine who's slothful (meaning "lazy", I think) or gluttonous. And frankly I don't DM for the privilege of judging the player characters for their actions, and I'm a DM who loves the alignment system.

I like the concept of choices in previous sections of the adventure influencing the environment later. However, I wouldn't leave it up to DM interpretation of "sinful" activity. I would plant tests throughout. They don't have to be complex or fair, they just need to be triggers. If a player character trips over this wire, then they get a penalty in that dungeon. Simple as that, and no need to bring in real-world religious tropes.

Themes

The seven deadlies are problematic in other ways, too. Some of the themes in the mini-dungeons are subtle, serving as a backdrop for a story all its own. For instance, the Vault of Greed features water mephits, stone golems, and a mage who's transformed his flesh into mithral. This doesn't directly relate to greed, at least not any more than the activities of any other obsessed mage in fantasy fiction. That works well. Maybe it was greed that inspired the author to think of that story, but you wouldn't know it without the title.

By contrast, there's a dungeon for lust, which is interpreted as sexual lust specifically. The mini-dungeon's central figure is a succubus, and she's trapped a bunch of people who have been forced to serve her for the past 10,000 years because they don't age within the magical influence of her chambers. This is absolutely, unquestionably a mini-dungeon that requires consent from your gaming group. The content is explicitly sexual. If you have a gaming group of mature adults who are comfortable with that kind of content, that's great, but otherwise there's not really any way around the subject matter of this mini-dungeon. the module doesn't literally spell it out, but the subject matter is unavoidable and blatant, down to the literal sex toys you find as loot at the end of the dungeon.

There's obviously a disparity between dungeons that use its "deadly sin" as a theme and those that use it as its entire story, so read this module carefully before running it.

How many runelords?

The significance of there being seven runelords, only a few of which this adventure references outside of this module, is also confusing. The villain of this adventure path is one runelord, and I think maybe one or two other runelords were vaguely involved in previous modules, but I find the sudden introduction of all seven of them puzzling. Up until now, the story was pretty clear: An ancient ruler is attempting to return from another realm, and all manner of evil is rising up in the world to assist with his resurrection. In the penultimate chapter, we're introduced to a bunch of other runelords, but only indirectly.

I guess it's fair play, but it's unnecessarily complicated. Maybe it was supposed to be foreshadowing for five or six future adventures? Either way, I think it would be a lot tidier to use each runelord as the boss of their own mini-dungeon, but the biggest and baddest runelord has already departed for Xin Shalast, where he's gathering energy, and you'd better go get him before he takes physical form.

Not all that bad

The pitch for this module sounded like a great premise, but to be honest I found this module to be, by far, the weakest module in the adventure path.

Luckily, it's easy to ignore a lot of the weak elements in this module. You can run a better encounter with the dragon outside, and you can ignore or change whatever doesn't work for your group in the Runeforge. Personally, I won't bother with the other runelords. Instead, for my group the mini-dungeons will be sections of a magic research facility in which the player characters have to find components of a powerful weapon to help them defeat the big bad runelord. That is, in fact, what this module boils down to if you remove the tropes, and in the end it's probably all the players will be aware of. The backstory of the Runeforge isn't all that significant, and without the weak details this module is a dungeon crawl with lots of variety. Seven different sections, each with its own unique theme, and a nice big reward at the end. Take what you need and ignore the rest.

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