I've been poked out of silence by the discovery (thanks to a comment) that someone actually read my posts. Not surprisingly, the realization that I have an audience greater than one (me) is a motivator to continue where I left off.
Just a quick update – I did finally get the Rise of the Runelords campaign underway and we have finished #1 Burnt Offerings. Thus, I can talk about my experiences in play with the story and will. We've taken a break, due to scheduling conflicts, but should be starting #2 The Skinsaw Murders this month.
Burnt Offerings Structure
The adventure is structured around 5 set pieces: the initial attack on Sandpoint, the rescue at the Glassworks, fighting Gogmurt in the thorny approach to Thistletop, defeating the Warchief Ripnugget in the Thistletop Fort, and last, confronting Nualia. These set pieces feel very much like they're the result of the NPCs motivations and characters, rather than just being arbitrary encounters, which is definitely a function of the work done creating so many antagonists for the PCs.
The raid on Sandpoint and the rescue at the Glassworks function as Act I – we're introduced to the town, the PCs are established, and after the events at the Glassworks, they should realize that they're up in the proverbial tree. Act II is the fight with Gogmurt and Warchief Ripnugget (and possibly Erylium), both of which should be challenging and tough for the PCs. Act III is the confrontation with Nualia, which should be a climax for the heroes.
In between, there's quite a bit of other stuff going on, such as Erylium and Malfeshnekor, plus a number of roleplaying opportunities in and out of Sandpoint. However, these are more subplots and branches off the core spine of the story.
The role of the attack on Sandpoint is three-fold. First, it establishes the goblins as characters and antagonists for the PC. Since the bulk of the adventure is spent fighting them, it is very important to get them set-up as a dangerous comedy relief early. Second, it gives the PCs a chance to become tied to the village of Sandpoint. While later adventures move away from the setting, in this first adventure the village and its safety need to be a motivator to get the PCs involved in subsequent events. By having the PCs save the village early on, and then interact with various NPCs in town, they're more easily motivated to help later. Third, it introduces the mystery and threat of what Nualia is doing, which should helpfully direct the PCs towards proactively going after her in Thistletop.
Usually this would just be the section of the adventure where the PCs level up to face the climactic encounter. In Burnt Offerings, they don't stray too much off course here. The fights with Gogmurt and the Warchief don't really advance solving the mystery of Nualia very much, unless you have PCs who (a) speak goblin, and (b) are much more willing to talk than shoot first. The possible throwdown with Erylium also doesn't do much for the mystery of Nualia, but does lay some groundwork for the overall plot of the adventure path by introducing some of the Runelord lore that the PCs will encounter in the back half of the story.
That said, all the set pieces here have interesting wrinkles. Gogmurt has the advantage of being a small druid, fighting in a cramped and thorny area where most PCs will be at a very big disadvantage. The Warchief also gets some interesting use out of a mount that can run up walls and across ceilings, which allows Ripnugget to make good use of his feats. And Erylium is a nasty mix of size, inherent magics, and spells which is sure to give the PCs fits.
The final encounter with Nualia and her adventuring is more classic, relying less on providing her with terrain or positional advantages, and more on using tough monsters and NPCs as allies. One hopes that, by whatever method, the PCs have some understanding of Nualia's background so that her turning herself into a monster has a bit of emotional resonance… but more likely, she'll just be seen as a final monster to defeat.
Next, I'll start discussing my experiences running the campaign and my thoughts on how things went.