Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings Pt. 2

WARNING: The following discusses details of the plot, characters, encounters and events of the Adventure Path Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords #1. Do not read further if you intend to play as a PC in this Adventure Path.

We covered the three Big Bads of the adventure in the last post; Runelord Karzoug, Nualia and Tsuto Kaijitsu. They are the three who are the most direct drivers of the events of the adventure, I think. That said, there are a couple other Bad Guys in the adventure who have their own goals that shape the way Burn Offerings will play out.


Lurking in the Catacombs of Wrath under the town of Sandpoint is this thousands year old quasit, scheming to expand her power and control over the Catacombs she considers her domain.

What does the Bad Guy want? Erylium wants Nualia to succeed in destroying Sandpoint, since its destruction will power her runewell of wrath to new levels and allow her to create an army of sinspawn dedicated to doing her every command. With this army, she will be able to secure her control of the Catacombs forever and defend her domain.

What does the Bad Guy do? In the back story, Nualia has been trained and taught by Erylium in the ways of worshipping Lamashtu. Thus, the quasit is aware of Nualia's plans and waits to exploit them.

What if the PCs do not stop the Bad Guy? Erylium's plans are, ultimately, passive. If Nualia fails, the evil quasit will bide her time… later events should ensure the runewell is charged enough for her to produce additional sin spawn and eventually create her army. Ultimately, when she feels this army is strong enough, she will send it out of the Catacombs to destroy Sandpoint and ensure the safety of her domain for good.


Ousted as the spiritual leader of the goblin tribe by the arrival of Nualia, Gogmurt has his own plots and plans going to regain his place of honor.

What does the Bad Guy want? Gogmurt knows that Warchief Ripnugget has fallen under the sway of the longshanks Nualia, and he wants to rescue the chief and the tribe from her control. He also wants to save as many of his tribe's goblins as he can, and knows that the course Nualia is on will likely lead to the death of many goblins.

What does the Bad Guy do? There's not much Gogmurt can do – he's tried to tell the Warchief about Nualia and Tsuto's relationship, to no effect; he's withdrawn from the main camp to the thistle maze, but no one seems to care much. Gogmurt's reduced to pretty much hoping for a miracle.

What if the PCs do not stop the Bad Guy? In this case, it more or less a case of what will happen if the PCs don't help Gogmurt reclaim the tribe's soul. A lot of goblins will die, either when the PCs assault Thistletop, or when they defend Sandpoint. If they do help Gogmurt reclaim the tribe, then the goblins will leave Sandpoint alone for a few months… but the memories of goblins is short, and raiding will resume.

Malfeshnekor, the trapped barghest, is more or less the MacGuffin for Nualia in this adventure – she needs to free him to continue with her planned assault on Sandpoint. As such, he motivates her actions but doesn't directly play a role in the events.

The Warchief Ripnugget, while having some doubts, is thoroughly in Nualia's thrall and thus does not have the freedom of action to be treated as Bad Guys. The same goes for Bruthazmus, the bugbear. For Erylium, the mutated Koruvus plays a similar role.

Orik Vancaskerkin and Lyrie Akenja, the other henchmen Nualia has, have their own motivations, but these should not directly affect the flow of the adventure.

Next, a look at the overall structure of the adventure.


Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings Pt. 1

WARNING: The following discusses details of the plot, characters, encounters and events of the Adventure Path Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords #1. Do not read further if you intend to play as a PC in this Adventure Path.

Serious spoilers follow.

I can identify quite a few antagonists in this first adventure, which is something that surprised me when I gave it an initial read. In general, when reading an adventure, I expect to find a Big Bad, a henchmen or two, and the collection of mooks that are speed bumps between the party and the Big Bad. Going through "Burnt Offerings", there are a couple Big Bads, more than a few henchmen who have their own plots and motivations, and even a couple mooks who are active opponents for the party.


This is the ultimate big bad of the Adventure Path, but his involvement in this first chapter is limited to actions behind the scenes and in the background that kick off the events. Karzoug, once the Runelord of Greed, is looking to regain the magical and secular power he once held thousands of years ago as a Runelord. His method is to power up a runewell with the souls of greedy people, but in the process, he has triggered the magical qualities of other runewells, which has set into motion the events of "Burnt Offerings".

What does the Bad Guy want? Karzoug wants to regain his power and resume ruling as the Runelord of Greed where he left off thousands of years ago. That is about all we learn about him and his motivations in the first adventure.

What does the Bad Guy do? However, despite being the Big Bad of the overall Adventure Path, what he wants really has no play in this first adventure. The events of this first scenario are an unintended accident of Karzoug's overall plan, and Karzoug is entirely a passive force in this adventure.

What if the PCs do not stop the Bad Guy? The PCs will not be around to stop Karzoug from reclaiming his power and, ultimately, his lost throne.


In "Burnt Offerings", Nualia is one of three Big Bad's that the PCs may encounter. Nualia is an Aasimar who has fallen into the thrall of the goddess Lamashtu, and functions as an example of the Sin of Wrath. When the adventure starts, Nualia has already become a worshipper of Lamashtu, killed her stepfather, burned down the church in Sandpoint, gotten revenge on her ex-lover and taken control of the goblin tribe of Thistletop. Whew. That is a busy back-story,

What does the Bad Guy want? Nualia wants revenge now on the people of Sandpoint for having treated her like an object, rather than a young woman. At the urging of her goddess, when the adventure begins she is trying to free a barghest who, she hopes, will help her destroy the town.

What does the Bad Guy do? Nualia triggers the first encounter of adventure by sending Tsuto to recover the remains of her stepfather from the Sandpoint cemetery. After that, she does not do much more that actively affects the PCs. In the period of the adventure, she is trying to find Malfeshnekor, the barghest, to free him and unleash him on Sandpoint.

What if the PCs do not stop the Bad Guy? Nualia will eventually find and free Malfeshnekor, and will lead her goblin army in an assault on the town of Sandpoint looking to wreak havoc and kill everyone she finds. With the barghest's help, she will purge the celestial from her body and become a full demon. Her wrath fed by Lamashtu, she will grow into a powerful force of evil in the region, hunting down and killing anyone she feels has done her wrong. Ultimately, this might include her celestial father.


Tsuto is the most active opponent for the PCs, and his actions lead the PCs to the adventure. Yet he does not really qualify as a Big Bad, because he is working for Nualia as a henchman. He is the 2nd villain of the piece, pursuing his agenda in the large context of his boss's goals. Tsuto is the hidden agent behind the first encounter and attack on Sandpoint, having blackmailed his stepfather into helping smuggle goblins into the town. It is his pursuit of his own revenge in Part 3 which attracts the attention of the PCs and gives them all the clues they need to lead them to his mistress, Nualia. If not for Tsuto, Nualia would likely be able to proceed with her plans in peace.

What does the Bad Guy want? Tsuto is an outcast from his family and, like Nualia, is seeking revenge for slights he feels his stepfather has done him. He wants his stepfather dead and his sister to accept and join him. However, Tsuto has a second motivation – his lust for Nualia, which drives him to do as she commands. It also leads him to pursue his own revenge, to impress her, and thus leads to her downfall.

What does the Bad Guy do? Tsuto arranges for the smuggling of goblins into the town for the Part 1 attack on Sandpoint. He also leads the party of goblins that digs up the remains of Nualia's stepfather so she can sacrifice them to her goddess. He then kills his stepfather, kills the employees of the Glass factory, and kidnaps his sister with the goblins help – all of which ultimately should lead the PCs to Nualia's lair with the Thistletop goblin tribe.

What if the PCs do not stop the Bad Guy? If the PCs do not get involved, Tsuto will end up returning to Nualia with his sister. His sister will become another sacrifice to Lamashtu, and Tsuto will become even more dedicated to Nualia.

In part 2, I'll look at the remaining Bad Guys.


Framework for Analysis

Before I start analyzing adventures, I need to establish what I am looking at and how I am approaching things.

For my purposes, an Antagonist is going to be any monster or NPC who has a goal, plan or story goal that leads them directly into conflict with the PCs. I am going to leave out the un-named cannon fodder and creatures that are simply part of the environment. Even doing this, I suspect I will find there are often a handful of key antagonists in each adventure driving things forward.

Each adventure will be looked at to identify the antagonists, and then each antagonist's plot and goals will be examined. After that, I will comment on the structure and presentation of the actual encounters and events in the adventure, and try to determine how well they support and expose the antagonist goals to the PCs. I feel that this last element is vital for gaining the players' interest in pursuing an Adventure Path campaign, since they need to be involved in the outcome enough to accept the limitations put on their ability to roam freely through a campaign world. Or, to put it another way – I'm going to count the interesting ones as antagonists.

I am going to use the structure of the adventure as presented by the authors as the structure for my analysis. I did think about converting things into the Act Structure, but adventures have their own rhythm that is different from the film/play/drama structure that supports the Act. Instead, I think using the presented "Part" and "Chapter" structure that Paizo has used will allow me to examine properly the development of the adventures. I might also look at "level breaks" as well… where the party should be crossing a level up point in the adventure could also be an important marker.

My qualifications for this are… well, nil. I have been playing D&D and other RPGs since 1978, so that is 30 years under my belt now. I have written a little for White Wolf, so have dipped a toe into the publishing side of things. I have long had an interest in the craft of writing, having read many books and articles discussing the constructing of stories and plots. I am not an academic – just a dilettante dabbling in some criticism.


Critical Analysis of an Adventure Path

My plan is to start up a campaign running the first Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rise of the Runelords, using the Pathfinder RPG Beta rules. The Beta rules are due in August, so I have started making game notes and re-reading through the adventures. At the same time, I discovered Todd Alcott's blog, "What Does the Protagonist Want?", where he analyzes film and breaks down act structures and character motivations. The result is a desire to experiment and see if I can gain a better understanding of the adventures that make up the campaign if I examine them with a critical eye towards their story and structure, and see if this provides insights into how better to run them for my players.

Naturally, this is going to mean SPOILERS and more SPOILERS and even more SPOILERS. I will include the following disclaimer at the start of any post dealing with these adventures, to give warning to folks who are planning to play to stay away.

WARNING: The following discusses details of the plot, characters, encounters and events of the adventure. Do not read further if you intend to play as a PC in these adventures.

First up will be an examination of Pathfinder #1, the adventure "Burnt Offerings".


Media Influences

Over on Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward makes the challenge of revealing the primary influences on the personal RPG game. I figure that might be a good way to get my mind on gaming, and off work.

Robert E. Howard (and Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp) When it comes to gaming, I think REH is the biggest literary influence on what I like in my play. The mash-up of history in the Hyborian Age, with each nation being recognizably based on some historical reality, but existing as its own fantasy realm, really captured my imagination. It was the drive of REH's language, and his ability to construct a world or character from a few elements, that really drove my early gaming. Of course, I later discovered that much of what I thought was REH's work was the work of L. Sprague De Camp and/or Lin Carter. Thankfully, the new editions of the Conan stories have corrected this and revealed how much stronger are the original works. His influence lives on today, as I tend to favor sword-swinging characters of the wild over the effete city-born types. Other elements that have been absorbed in my general play are the Picts (how I typically run Orcs in my games), the fact that dark sorcery has terrible costs, and the frequent descriptions of heroes being thumped on their thick-skulled heads.

Fritz Lieber Another strong influence – I usually have a corrupted city in my campaigns. Newhon is another realm of mixed history and reality, grounded half in fantasy and half in the weird fantasy and that mix has popped up more than once in my games. Fafhrd is another barbarian that has strongly influenced my choice of characters – but more complex that just a stick-jock. The inherent corruption of authority also makes frequent appearances, as does the tendency for heroes to get in over their heads and back out again.

Lord of the Rings A no-brainer, I guess. Strider is the third leg of the stool of almost all of my characters (Conan, Fafhrd, and Aragorn… not a bad mix), and the Tolkien portrayal of elves is pretty much my go-to position. I am also usually striving to have the same sense of encompassing history and past in my campaigns. I like the players to feel like their characters exist in a world that existed before they rolled up their heroes, and will likely exist after their gone. One of the reasons I like Pathfinder's setting of Golarion quite a bit is that it captures that sense of ancient history.

Bullfinch's Mythology All the Greek and Norse myths, with flawed gods and tragic heroes who do great things but often for the most petty of reasons, held my attention pretty much from the moment I could read. The obvious influence is on my portrayal of gods in my games as non-omnipotent, non-omniscient figures with their own agendas who need the PCs to help them. I have also tried to capture a lot of the wonder and epic feel of stories of Jason, Perseus and Theseus. Monsters need to feel unique and dangerous but exist outside the realm of civilization; the monsters inside the walls are entirely too human.

Three Hearts & Three Lions Probably one of the biggest influences on my gaming is this book, with its story of a hero fighting against evil (in the form of Chaos), no matter the cost to him. I suppose the most direct result of this book is my focus and effort to run games where good will win, but only if it takes up the fight against evil. I'm somewhat biased against evil, and in the one game I ran where the PCs were evil, they had a tough time of it – when they made mistakes, the forces of good were paying attention and responded rapidly. Another influence the book has had on my game play is to try and cut players of Paladins a little slack, while still challenging them to do better.