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ROTRL Anniversary Edition...the missed opportunity

***( )( )

So first, all the usual disclaimers. "Rise" is a classic.

It joins the pantheon of truly great adventures in the storied history of "D&D," ranking with Gygax's giant-drow saga.

It redefined the genre, for the better, and despite some brilliant Adventure Paths since, still contains some of the best writing and freshest ideas that Paizo's team has cooked up.

So why only three stars? Two words: Missed opportunity.

The knock on Runelords from the start -- a legitimate one, in my opinion -- is that there wasn't enough foreshadowing.

Nor was there enough opportunity to interact with the incredibly rich, complex NPCs created by Paizo's authors.

The DM knows from reading the printed backstory just how complex and interesting are figures like Nualia, Tsuto, Ironbriar, and the Scribble.

Yet the sad truth is that, as written, these NPCs appear on stage in the adventure only just in time to be killed -- dungeon crawl fodder dressed up in fancy verbiage.

There are exceptions of course. Aldern Foxglove enjoys his own mini-arc. Father Zanthus has a chance to grow in meaning.

But there's not enough of this.

And the issuance of the Anniversary Edition offered Paizo a chance to remedy the spotty flow of plot and character development.

This wouldn't be that difficult a retrofit.

Ironbriar could make a sinister cameo appearance in the early going. It could be made clear that Nualia should do her best to survive, to take a more prominent role in subsequent chapters.

Conna the Wise, given some kind of cameo or bit role earlier, would have much more resonance.

It would also have been relatively easy to thread together larger themes of the story.

Why not make the mysterious ranger Shalelu Andosana a member of the Black Arrows?

This would have given her a clear role later in the story and made the plight at Fort Rannick far more tension-filled.

There should also be some sort of foreshadowing -- through dreams? through the ravings of captured enemy NPCs? -- of arch-enemies that appear later in the story: the Scribbler, Karzoug, Xin-Shalast itself.

As written, the Adventure Path still acknowledges that there is "relatively little involving the metaplot" of ROTRL in the entire first chapter.

But this needn't have been so.

Why aren't the goblins marked or tattooed with Sihedron runes -- as victims are who visit the Paradise barge later in the story?

Why not lay in clues and hints from the very start, so that the seeds of dread are planted at once?

I know -- I know. All these things are DMable, fixable, improvable.

And the adventure works just fine (better than fine...) as written, as a series of cool, weird, deadly encounters that only slowly builds a sense of narrative momentum.

Some would argue that this is exactly the point, using Sandpoint as a kind of "sandbox" at first, and only later introducing the real seeds of an active "quest" or "campaign."

But in my view, iit would be that much better if there were really memorable arch-villains and bit characters that built relationships and rivalries with the PCs, helping grow excitement through the early sessions.

How about an encounter with one of the Graul clan in the slums of Magnimar?

Couldn't that awful flesh golem be an awakened, re-animated off-spring of Mammy?

Imagine that creature, in its dying breath, saying, "My kin don't forget. Mammy'll find you. Mammy'll git you!"

A solidly written monster bash becomes really creepy, really foreboding. And Mammy herself begins to loom early on the horizon.

Even if Paizo didn't want to rewrite all this, it would have made sense to include a "Behind the Curtain" section pointing out possible ways to enhance the story. Something like this:

"We wrote this episodically, and it wasn't possible to stitch it all together seamlessly. But now that we can look at it as a whole, here are some ideas for giving bigger flow and punch to the various elements, ways that might spark curiosity, fear and a sense that the PCs face clever, persistent adversaries..."

So enough. I'll end where I began.

I think it's fair and reasonable to hold Paizo's stuff to the highest narrative standards. Thus my stingy stars.

But this is great storytelling, as written. I've run most of the Adventure Path already once, and plan to run it again now. Once again, thanks to the folks at Paizo for all the fun

--Capt Marsh



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