Advice for RotRL Homework

Rise of the Runelords

I'm going to be starting to DM for the Anniversary Edition of RotRL very soon and I'm starting my reading sometime in the next couple days. To explain the context of this question, neither I nor my players are even slightly familiar with the Golarion setting. We've only recently begun playing Legacy of Fire in our other weekly game, and that's (obviously) in an entirely different area than Varisia. With that in mind:

What extra reading should I, as the DM, do to ensure that I've got the setting down well? What unique things should I keep in mind that might be vastly different from other typical fantasy settings?

What extra reading do I need to assign my players so they all have a good idea what to expect from the setting? What sources (aside from the RotRL Player's Companion, obviously) can I point them to for background ideas, particularly for calling Sandpoint (or nearby areas) home?

What other general advice would you have for me before beginning this endeavor?

I'm also beginning to prepare for DMing a RotRL session, and as I'm reading through the first chapter, all I can think of is how I'm going to need to make a relationship chart for the major NPCs to keep track of who hates/loves whom.

The Varisia Birthplace of Legends player companion is a really good place to start reading for RotRL.

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Hi! I am currently DM for an RotRL group that is in the final book of the campaign. This was originally my first foray into Pathfinder at all, let alone Golarion/Varisia, so maybe I could be of help.

To start off, you should read the Sandpoint appendix at the end of the anniversary guide, and possibly take notes on the NPCs there. Sandpoint is a fully fleshed out town with all kinds of backstory and really engaging characters. Sandpoint is the town where all of the events revolve around and the heroes will be called upon to save Sandpoint time and time again. This in mind, you really want your players to love being in Sandpoint and to become engaged in the characters, so pay attention to detail and don't skip over the suggested roleplaying encounters in the first chapter. Try to find a few key NPCs for your players to befriend or even court..that way you have good targets for your heroes to save in later chapters! If there is "homework" to be done with this AP, focus on Sandpoint.

The appendices also flesh out the environs near Sandpoint, and later with Turtleback Ferry. There are a lot of suggestions for side-adventures near town here if you want the AP to feel more sandbox, though obviously you would need to flesh these out yourself to be playable.

I also invested in the "Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Magnimar, City of Monuments" booklet as Magnimar will be the major "big city" that your players interact with. This will be likely where your players do a lot of shopping, though I would try to encourage the players to set up player housing in Sandpoint, not Magnimar, to keep them close to the NPCs there. The Magnimar, City of Monuments book gives good information on Magnimar's government and culture with an expansive list of buildings and NPCs to interact with. This book is extremely detailed, so I had to condense the information down to only a few key NPCs and buildings I wanted my players to roleplay with.

The other aspect that you will want to do homework on is the ancient Thassilonian Empire, which to modern-day Varisians is analogous to Atlantis. There are ancient Thassilonian ruins all over Varisia, so their existence is undisputed, but the nature of their culture is largely unknown to even modern scholars. Over the course of the AP your heroes will ultimately become some of the most knowledgable people about the Thassilonian Empire, so having a PC whose backstory revolves around uncovering their secrets would be highly satisfying for the player.

For fast reference, I rely on the pathfinder wikipedias if I need quick information to satisfy a knowledge check or something on the fly during a session.

The player companion gives you and your players a good run-down on Varisia as a region, but here is my cliff-notes version:

Varisia is a high-fantasy setting. Sandpoint has several casters in its population, and Magnimar is home to a few powerful casters. The natives are mostly humans, with a few elves, dwarves, and half-orcs. Halflings and tieflings are not uncommon. Other races are pretty rare and would stand out in a crowd.

The key thing to remember about Varisia is that it is largely wild and untamed. There is no central government, and people tend to be fiercely independent. The original peoples of Varisia are descendants of slaves of the Thassilonian Empire: the Shoanti and native Varisians, though that happened so long ago that it is not well remembered. Native Varisians are nomadic and have a culture similar to real-world Romani culture. The Shoanti are also nomadic and are more barbaric than the Varisians. Reading up on these cultures on wikipedia would be a good start, and would be good cultures for your PCs to draw from if they wish.

The city-states of Varisia, in contrast, were largely founded by Chelish colonists. Cheliax is one of the largest cities in the PF universe and is very influential and wealthy, though their interests are not central to the plot so homework is not necessary. They originally went to war with the native Varisian cultures when they first settled here but things are pretty peaceful now. The Chelish consider themselves more cultured and civilized than the natives, so there is still a lot of tension between these different cultures. Some of the Chelish colonists are refugees, others may still be loyal to Cheliax, it really depends on the individuals.

Finally, the major beastial races of Varisia are goblins and giants. Goblins are a constant nuisance near Sandpoint and the coastal regions and giants inhabit the northern regions. There are a lot of giants in this AP, so having a PC that is involved with giants in some way in their backstory would be interesting. This is because all of the giants were once enslaved by the Thassilonian Empire, and as Karzoug comes into power he moves in to re-enslave them. This is not common knowledge, though, and the players are faked out multiple times. First they find a group of ogres who are actually slaves to stone giants. Then you learn the stone giants are just pawns (and later slaves) of Karzoug. This could have interesting moral implications for your PCs, especially for one who may have hard-seated prejudices against giants.

Hope this wall of text was useful!

A few suggestions:

1. Read the entire AP through to the end. The Books are interconnected and you'll need to understand how. And make sure any free-ranging or free-thinking players don't over complicate things. For examples see the many threads on this board.

2. Speaking of which you'll get a lot of insight by reading the sticky threads especially the Community Creation thread. Tons upon tons of valuable stuff to be found there, including a lot of enhanced background for Sandpoint. Also of interest will be the various other threads from folks that have questions, campaign logs, etc.

3. If you're new to Golarion, the Inner See World Guide is a good resource. It covers a lot of material not pertinent to RotRL but it provides overall history of the world, overview of the dieties, calendar, etc.

4. As already recommended by Karolina Dean, the Magnimar source book will be helpful though only part of the AP is directly involved with Magnimar.

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