Part Two of Burnt Offerings
The first module of Rise of the Runelords, Burnt Offerings, is divided roughly into four sections. The first section of the adventure deals with the goblin attack, which whips back and forth between comic misadventure and a strange small town horror story. As I’ve noted, I’m not entirely certain how I would approach the material on my own, as my experience of playing through the module had me confused at what was going on. I have the feeling that I would try to underscore the humorous parts with creeping dread, as the domestic tranquility of the heroes’ hometown is cast down in a single, seemingly unprovoked attack.
With that in mind, I think I’d take a session to let the characters wander the town and get acquainted with the people and the locales before springing the Swallowtail Festival on them. The Player’s Guide (both of them, actually, since Paizo put out a new one to reference the Anniversary Edition) has a full map of Sandpoint, and it would easy enough to stage some basic adventures around the town as the run-up to the festival took place. If this were run like a sort of character prologue (the kind of which White Wolf is fond of), there would be enough time to build out some of the myths and rumours of the town for the children had grown up there. There are simply too many little facets of daily life and local mythology to simply have the characters dropped into the adventure without it.
When I was looking back over the adventure today, I ran into further evidence of this in the third part of the module. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, as I was saying… the first part of four is simply the goblin attack. It isn’t terribly difficult, as the goblins tend to be easily distracted (there are a couple of sidebars that suggest having them get distracted by vaguely silly things in the process of maiming livestock and killing pets), and the characters should have little problem taking care of them in a matter of rounds for the multiple encounters.
The second part of the module deals with events in the aftermath of the attack. This is where the fairly horrific bit with the ‘monster in the closet’ comes in, as well as some other scene setting encounters. There’s a boar hunt that serves mainly to build up an important NPC, and a visit from another important NPC to give the PC’s needed info on the local goblin tribes. And for some reason, there’s a vaguely wacky encounter that has the daughter of one of the local businessmen coming on to a player character, only to be discovered by her protective father. It serves to build up some important ‘sin points’ (something I’ll talk about shortly), but given the general timing of it, it’s another one of the uneven parts of the module as a whole. Given that the characters also have to deal with a murderous goblin that is lurking in one of the homes, this whole encounter is decidedly less serious, even though it has potential to be just as awful. It’s a bit weird.
The Anniversary edition adds in two extra encounters in this section, mainly to build up other NPC’s and give the town a bit more life. There’s an investigation of a desecrated tomb, which apparently took place at the same time as the attack, as though the goblins were simply a distraction. I thought this was an interesting inclusion, being that it serves to show that there’s a lot more conspiracy than just a simple goblin attack would indicate. There’s a note in the background materials that also talks about an important NPC aiding the goblins unwillingly, which I think would be a good side investigation. If nothing else, it would serve to fill in some of the blanks that are otherwise untouched. The other one has the characters witness a confrontation between the innkeeper and her father, the owner of the glassworks, which just sets the stage for the third section.
The final encounter of the second part has the characters discover that the innkeeper has vanished, and in the midst of their investigation, they learn that she was to meet with her brother at the glassworks. Come morning, she hasn’t returned, and it’s up to the player characters to look into it. Naturally, there’s a much larger plot in motion, and the resultant dungeon crawl starts to shed light on what has been at the heart of the problems. Sort of.
There’s a note at the start of the third section that goes over the history of the glassworks, with its inauspicious start as a smuggling den. Depending on which version of the Adventure Path you’re running, this is presented as being part of the town’s general folklore. In the original module, this was to be a carefully hidden secret, as the smuggling was only shut down about two generations back. In the Anniversary edition, there’s some indication that most of the town is aware of it, one way or another. (There’s also a strange and vaguely racist note to all of this, being that the family that owns the glassworks is Fantasy Asian. Given that the adventure is taking place in what amounts to a largely Fantasy Romani community, it treads some odd ground.) Either way, there’s likely to have been rumours that would have circulated amongst the children of the town, but once again, it never really comes across in the midst of play, as there’s nothing in the descriptive text.
Naturally, when the characters head for the glassworks, they’re walking into a trap. What makes it strange is that the town itself has paid no attention to what’s going on, despite the dire aspects of it all.
So, here’s the thing. The player characters are drawn in because the innkeeper went missing, right? In the midst of this, eight of the general townsfolk have also gone missing, and goblins have taken up residence in the glassworks. None of this merits any real notice, and if anything, the neighboring townsfolk only show up to interfere with the efforts of the PC’s as they work to investigate. When Sandpoint is a town of only about 1,200 people, the absence of eight would be noticed. Yet it isn’t, and the PC’s are only motivated to care because one of their patrons hasn’t been seen since the previous night. And nevermind that the townsfolk are also a little more wary of things, given the recent murders by goblins, yet they don’t notice the high pitched giggling coming from the area.
Suffice to say that there would be a little different response, were I to sit down and run through this.
Anyway, before I close out this particular entry, I should accord a little text to the idea of the Sin Points. Most of the Runelords Adventure Path concerns itself with the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s subtle at first, as there’s nothing to really indicate anything different than standard character alignment and decisions, but towards the end of the path, it’s a needful part of things, as it determines how well the characters will be able to fight the final enemy.
This is why there’s an encounter where a character will be tempted by the shopkeeper’s daughter, to test them for their Lust. There are a couple of other points in the modules where specific temptations are brought into play for the sake of testing the characters’ virtue or lack thereof, and the Anniversary edition even helpfully outlines a broader method for accounting such things.
As mechanisms go, it’s not bad. Paizo makes a point of adding new systems into their Adventure Paths, and having the characters stay within alignment, yet fall prey to sins, was an interesting one. Oddly, in my experience, it led to a couple of shaky leaps of logic within the game I played, as my fairly pious Desnan Priestess didn’t really fit into any easy category. It would have been easier, had she not been as devout and generally good as she was, but this was also the experience with the first release version of the modules. The Anniversary edition has a much better system, from the look of things, and perhaps that’s ironed out some of the flaws.