Throwback Thursday: The Rise of the Runelords

This is the first in a series of posts documenting running the original Rise of the Runelords campaign almost 13 years post-publication. There are plenty of spoilers in this and future posts for the campaign in general as well as my version of it, so John, Noah and Abbi – go away.

So, as happens, my Pathfinder group ended up splitting up. Unfortunately, it ended on a fairly sour note, on top of us being stuck in the first book of Skull and Shackles for six months. It was rough, and left me and our friend John gameless.

At the same time, my spouse’s second game fell apart, leaving her and our good friend Noah gameless. Ultimately, I said “Fuck it” and decided that this wouldn’t do – I could run a game, of that I was sure. But we were (and are) all broke, just starting out.

But then I remembered I had a few modules, buried in the depths of my bookcase – the original 2007 printing of The Rise of the Runelords. (To be very clear: this was not the Anniversary Edition, this was the original written to be compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.)

Cool, I had a campaign, eager players, dice and enough cash to print off The Order of the Stick miniatures I’d gotten years ago with the reprint Kickstarter Campaign. (Current total is about $60 for all of them in black and white, plus extra animals and mounts on decent card stock.)

Naturally, however, I couldn’t just take the modules as-written. For one, we would be playing with the Pathfinder first edition rules, and these were written for D&D 3.5. Some modernization was definitely called for, and after reading through it, the storylines weren’t queer enough for my tastes.

Step one was extricating the Christianity from the books.

For being set on a secondary world with a completely different religious system, there was a lot of Christian influence in this campaign. The primary plot is around the idea that the runelords of ancient Thassilon utilized “Sin Magic” and built rune walls that corresponded with each of the 7 deadly sins. These would later become the current schools of magic – evocation, abjuration, necromancy etc.

This is bad enough in the first place – especially when you dig deeper and find that there is a specialization for modern wizards called “Sin Mage” that follows the same idea – but then there was book five.

Sins of the Saviors (RotR #5) is where the players delve into the Runeforge – the source of a lot of the magic – and have buffs and debuffs in various areas dependent on what kinds of sins they had committed in the previous 4.5 books.

I’ll admit, I took one look at it and started to rewrite it.

Rather than taking what was written, I rewrote the Runelord magic system to be a more archaic form of arcane magic in which it was intertwined with the gods, and assigned Thassilonian deities (and other ancient deities) a school of magic. I then tweaked it slightly to accommodate my players’ chosen gods.

This worked out much better because it allowed me to create new spells and magic items to fill in the gaps in the party (at this point I knew I was working with a sorcerer, rogue and a ranger) and removed the uncomfortable need to track how well-behaved my party was. (Seriously what the fuck.)

The second biggest problem I ran into was once I got character sheets in hand.

When reading through books one and two, the adventure path gave plenty of options for what to do for various plot points if there weren’t any female characters in your party.

But the very first thing to happen in Burnt Offerings (RotR #1) after the Swallowtail Festival is… a young woman attempts to seduce the biggest lady’s man in the party.

Being a good GM who tries to do prep work, I decided to choose who she’d seduce.

I had available: human female, half-drow female and sylph female.

I went back to the module and reread that section. There was no contingency or clarification of what to do if there wasn’t a dude in the party – not even a nod to the possibility you might have to choose between all female characters.

Me, being me, I shrugged and still picked one, but really?

Prep work went much more smoothly after that – a lot of the stat blocks I needed had been translated over by other GMs, but I’ll keep y’all up to date with how it goes – first session was last week and went smoothly.

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