Monday 28 November 2016

Condensation in Action: Rise of the Runelords Edition!

It will come as no surprise to long-term readers of this blog that I have something of a love-hate relationship with Pathfinder's Adventure Paths, and with Rise of the Runelords in particular. I've used them to complain about adventure design, the depiction of violence, villain design, linearity, and the conceptual density of published RPG books. But, at the same time, there's a lot of material in Rise of the Runelords that I rather like; and whenever I look at it, I have the most frustrating feeling that there's actually a perfectly decent adventure lurking just under its surface. I think that, if stripped of its rather tiresome Pathfinder Adventure Path trappings, it could easily be turned into a pretty decent OSR-style adventure: nothing mind-blowingly original, but a solid fantasy romp with some memorable situations, locations and NPCs.

So, rather than just moaning about it, I'm going to use this blog-post to boil Rise of the Runelords down to what I think are the strongest and most OSR-friendly parts of it, kinda like I did for the Kingmaker AP here. Except I like more of Runelords than I did of Kingmaker, so this is going to be a pretty long post. (Rather shorter than the 427-page version published by Paizo, though!) As per my discussion of 'old-school space vs new-school time', I have completely ditched the idea that the various parts of the adventure are supposed to happen in any set order. Everything is present and active simultaneously, and the PCs can move freely between all of them at will, rather than being railroaded from one to the next along a set progression.

Those of you who've already read Rise of the Runelords will spot that this condensed version skips parts 4 and 5 entirely. This is because, in my view, they're pretty much pure filler: part 4 is just a reprise of the end of part 3 on a larger scale, and part 5 is a near-perfect example of a pointless filler dungeon. They only exist in order to dole out enough XP to get the PCs the requisite level for part 6, which is an obligation that this version doesn't have to meet.

So. Here we go!

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Rise of the Runelords: Condensed Edition

Adapted from the original adventure path by James Jacobs, Richard Pett, Nicholas Logue, Wolfgang Baur, Stephen Greer, and Greg Vaughan. 

The Backstory: Thousands of years ago, there was an empire ruled by seven evil wizards who called themselves the Runelords, each of whom drew their power from one of the seven deadly sins. The greatest of them was Karzoug, Runelord of Greed, who made his capital in a legendary golden city high up in the mountains. This city was called Xin-Shalast.

At some point, a horrible catastrophe befell this empire. (In the original this was an asteroid strike, but anything big and destructive will do.) Seeing it coming, Karzoug placed himself in suspended animation in a pocket dimension within his palace; he also put his chief apprentice, Khalib, into temporary stasis along with several of his most powerful minions, with orders to awaken him once the catastrophe was over. Unfortunately for Karzoug, Khalib's fellow apprentices sabotaged the stasis spell after the Runelord went into suspended animation, thus ensuring that neither Khalib or Karzoug ever awoke. Karzoug's various contingency plans were all vapourised in the catastrophe, and he and Khalib have been slumbering ever since.

A few years ago, a stone giant sorcerer named Mokmurian broke through the cloaking spell which hid the ruins of Xin-Shalast from the outside world, and accidentally woke Karzoug from his sleep. Karzoug promptly mind-controlled him, and compelled him to wake up Khalib and the other minions; but the Runelord's magic had grown weak over the millennia, and he was now little more than a ghost. In order to regain his power he required as many greedy individuals as possible to be marked with his seven-pointed-star rune and then offered up to him as sacrifices, their souls powering the Runewell which would permit his return. To these ends he sent out two shapechanging lamia minions, Lucrecia and Xanesha, to harvest souls for him, while Mokmurian was dispatched to raise him an army in preparation for Karzoug's return to the world.

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Runelord Karzoug.

Meanwhile, in the coastal town of Sandpoint, the reactivation of Karzoug's Runewell caused an ancient and long-forgotten Lesser Runewell built by the Runelord of Wrath to flare into sympathetic life, sending a ripple of fury through the community. One of the people affected by this was a young woman named Nualia, the embittered daughter of the local priest: under its promptings, she locked her father inside his church and then set fire to it, burning him alive. The people of Sandpoint believed she died in the fire: in fact she fled to the nearby city of Magnimar, where she was taken in by the cult run by Xanesha and became a worshipper of demonic powers. Returning to her home province, she set herself up as a goddess among the local goblins, and began planning her revenge upon Sandpoint.

When the adventure begins, the activities of Lucrecia, Xanesha, Mokmurian, and Nualia have begun to impact upon the surrounding area, but there is no sign that anything connects them. It will be up to the PCs to join the dots between them, disrupt their plans for Karzoug's resurrection, and finally travel up to Xin-Shalast to confront Karzoug and Khalid themselves before they are able to return the Runelord to the world...

The Hook: The PCs are in Sandpoint, attending the consecration of the new church built to replace the one Nualia burned down, when suddenly the crowd is attacked by goblins! There's lots of fire and violence and chaos, and when the fighting ends two sinister facts are revealed: first, that someone deliberately let the goblins into the town by opening the town gates, and second, that under the cover of the fighting someone has stolen the bones of the previous priest from their crypt. The community implore the PCs to protect them from the goblins and help them work out what's going on.

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Nualia's goblins on the rampage in Sandpoint.

Sandpoint: This is a small coastal town which, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, is built over the ruins of an ancient lesser runewell of wrath. It contains the following significant NPCs:
  • Aldern Foxglove, a local nobleman, secretly a serial killer in the employ of Xanesha's cult. As the adventure progresses, he will claim ever-more victims in and around the town, who will have nothing in common except for the fact that they are all uncommonly greedy individuals. All the corpses will be left with seven-pointed stars cut into their flesh. Aldern is secretly a ghoul, but he conceals his undead nature well, and kills most of his victims with knives rather than claws to prevent them from rising as ghouls in turn. He lairs in Foxglove Manor a short way outside Sandpoint, and has unleashed a few of his ghoul minions on the surrounding Farmlands, pretty much just for the hell of it. He and Nualia are unaware of one another's missions.
    • Over the first few days of the adventure, he will swiftly become obsessed with whichever one of the PCs makes most of an impression on the local population, and will start leaving them taunting messages on every kill. 
  • Lonjiku Kaijitsu, the owner of the local glassworks, who has a longstanding deal with local smugglers: they smuggle goods on and off boats using the tunnels under his glassworks, and dispose of the occasional corpse in his furnaces. He has a daughter, Ameiko, and a half-elf 'son' called Tsuto, who he hates as proof of his dead wife's infidelity. Tsuto is secretly Nualia's lover, and blackmailed Lonjiku into letting the goblins into the town: Tsuto then stole the priest's bones during the chaos and fled the town, joining Nualia at Thistletop. Shortly after the adventure begins, Tsuto will return to Sandpoint and lure his father and his sister Ameiko out the glassworks. (See Sandpoint Glassworks, below.) 
  • Brodert Quink, a local historian and eccentric, is full of wild theories about the history of Sandpoint and its vicinity, most of them baseless. He will, however, be able to accurately identify the seven-point-star symbol as the emblem of an ancient magical empire, which built the now-ruined bridge in Magnimar and the dam up in the hills over Turtleback Ferry. (See Magnimar and The Dam, below.) He will also be able to tell them that the legendary capital of this empire, Xin-Shalast, was supposedly high up in the mountains, but no-one has ever been able to find it.
Sandpoint Glassworks: These are a fire risk, so they're out of town, which suited the smugglers who used the tunnels under them just fine. When these tunnels were dug, the smugglers accidentally dug their way into the runewell of wrath underneath the glassworks, but bricked the intersection up again after encountering the monsters inside. With Tsuto's help, Nualia has recently demolished this barrier and enlisted the Runewell's inhabitants as allies, but this change has not yet been noticed by anyone else.
  • A few days after the adventure begins, Tsuto comes to the glassworks with a band of goblins and massacres the workers; he then lures his stepfather and sister out to the glassworks, where he murders Lonjiku (and encases him in glass) and imprisons his sister, hoping that he will be able to persuade her to join him and Nualia. PCs who come there hot on his trail will find him here with his goblins, who will attempt to throw them into furnaces and burn them with molten glass; PCs who wait too long will find only bloodstains and the entrance to the Runewell, Tsuto and his goblins having already dragged Ameiko off to Thistletop.
Runewell of Wrath: A small complex of ancient rooms reached via the smuggler's tunnels under the glassworks. 
  • The runewell is ruled by Erylium, the abandoned imp familiar of the long-dead wizard who built them, who has been stuck down there for thousands of years with only a bunch of ancient zombies for company; since the runewell reactivated she's also been able to brew up a bunch of horrible mutant creatures called sinspawn, using ambient wrath that the Runewell has been soaking up from the surrounding area. 
  • Recently she has acquired a new champion in the form of Koruvus, a goblin hero from a nearby tribe who wandered in by accident and was warped into a mutant freak by drinking from the runewell's cursed waters. If he could be weaned off the waters by the PCs, he could be a valuable ally in prying the local goblins away from Nualia's leadership.
  • Erylium has been acting as a kind of mentor to Nualia, and can reveal a good deal about her if questioned by PCs cunning enough to play upon her craziness and loneliness.
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Sinspawn attack!

Sandpoint Farmlands: As the adventure begins, these farms are just starting to suffer from the depredations of the ghouls unleashed upon them by Aldern Foxglove. The farmers are an independent-spirited bunch, and will initially try to deal with the problem on their own.
  • Several days after the adventure begins, a farmer will stumble into town half-mad with terror, gibbering about all his neighbours being eaten by scarecrows. The ghouls have been attacking people, infecting them with ghoul fever, and then draping them with sacks and tying them to sticks in the fields as makeshift scarecrows as they transform into undead. PCs going out there quickly enough will be able to save some of them, though others will already have turned, and will rip themselves from their frames and attack as soon as they get close. More ghouls lurk in the nearby farms, whose liveries mark them as servants from Foxglove Manor; one of them, the caretaker, even has the key to the manor hanging around his neck.
  • If the ghouls are not stopped in time, eventually a small army of them swim downriver into Sandpoint and attempt to massacre the whole population in the night.
Foxglove Manor: A horrible haunted house outside Sandpoint, built by one of Aldern's ancestors, who tried to turn himself into a lich but was interrupted in mid-ritual by his horrified wife, with consequences that proved fatal to them both; now the whole house is haunted by their ghosts, and those of subsequent generations of the family who have been driven to various horrible ends. 
  • Aldern, true to family tradition, murdered his own wife, Iesha Foxglove, in a jealous rage, and locked her body in the attic before fleeing to Magnimar and joining Xanesha's cult. He returned a changed (and undead) man, and now lairs in the basements, telling himself that the weeping and screaming he can hear behind the attic door must just be his imagination. In fact, Iesha has risen as a vengeful revenant, and if released from the attic by the PCs she will unerringly hunt Aldern down and attempt to tear him apart with her bare hands.
  • As well as the ghosts, ghouls, visions, and hauntings which beset anyone exploring around the house, the grounds are also infested with carrionstorms: enormous flocks of half-undead ravens infected with ghoul fever, which descend in their hundreds on anyone wandering the estate.
  • The soul of Vorel Foxglove, the original wannabe-lich, is trapped within a vaguely-humanoid patch of fungus on the wall of the deepest, dankest sub-basement. Burning and consecrating it will bring the haunting of Foxglove Manor to an end.
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Aldern by day.
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Aldern by night.

Thistletop: This is a maze of small, twisty goblin-tunnels through thistles and thornwoods, several miles down the coast from Sandpoint. Just offshore is a small, round island - actually the head of a giant long-sunken statue of Karzoug, although this is far from obvious now. Nualia has taken over the whole area, and has left her goblin minions to guard the woods while she and her companions remain on the island.
  • The statue head contains an ancient demon, bound there during the days of Karzoug's empire, and - like Erylium - stuck there ever since. It's been reaching out to contact psychically-sensitive goblins in their dreams, which has led the goblins to regard the site as a holy one, home to a mighty monster that will one day emerge and kill their enemies, but none of them have ever been bright enough to find the secret door it's trapped behind. Nualia is getting close, though.
  • The goblins have very mixed feelings about abandoning their traditional leaders to follow this scary human woman, but none of them are brave enough to stand up to her. She's particularly resented by their shaman, Gogmurt, who could easily be persuaded to lead an uprising against Nualia if he was sure he was going to be on the winning side, especially if Koruvus joined in. 
  • As well as her lover, Tsuto, Nualia is guarded by two mercenaries, Orik (fighter) and Lyrie (mage). Orik is infatuated with Lyrie, and Lyrie with Tsuto; clever PCs may be able to manipulate this fact to set the band at odds.
  • Nualia herself is of part-Celestial descent, as evidenced by her metallic-silver hair. Always feeling herself to be a bit of a freak, and burdened by the massive expectations placed on her as the local priest's literally angelic daughter, she had a brief adolescent affair with a passing traveler who abandoned her as soon as he discovered she was pregnant. Her father's complete lack of compassion at this, and the traumatic miscarriage which followed it, left Nualia extremely susceptible to the influence of the reactivated Runewell of Wrath. Now, as a member of Xanaesha's cult, she wields terrible black magic, and intends to use her father's bones in a ritual to burn the angelic 'taint' from her body and turn herself into a half-Fiend, instead. She wears a seven-point-star talisman, a gift from Xanesha.
    • A week or so after the adventure begins, Nualia will complete her ritual, annoint herself with the ashes of her father's bones, and undergo a transformation into a half-fiend.
    • A few weeks after that, she will finally locate the secret door, unleash the demon, and lead it and the goblins in a full-scale attack on Sandpoint. The resulting fighting will generate enough wrath to make a wave of sinspawn come rushing out of the Runewell under the command of Erylium, further adding to the chaos. If she succeeds in destroying Sandpoint, Nualia will lead her warband up into the hills to join Lucretia at Fort Rannik.
Magnimar: This is the nearest big city, built around the ruins of an immense bridge built in the days of Karzoug's empire, which once connected the mainland to an island out at sea. The city's slum district is directly under the bridge, placing it in perpetual shadow: this is where Xanesha is hiding. It's common knowledge that Aldern Foxglove spent the last few years in Magnimar, and talking to Orik, Lyrie, Tsuto, or even Erylium can reveal that Nualia did, too. The city has recently suffered a rash of unexplained disappearances.
  • A few days after the adventure begins, rumours will reach Sandpoint of the strange disappearances plaguing Magnimar.
  • Aside from the disappearances, the current talk of the town is the strange departure of a local mercenary and sword collector named Viorian Dekanti. A few weeks ago, Viorian was seen rushing out of town, waving an ancient sword and ranting about a city in the mountains. All the servants at her house were found dead, and no-one has seen her since. (She's currently in Xin-Shalast - see below.)
  • The disappearances are, of course, the work of Xanesha's cult, The Skinsaw Men. They have been abducting Magnimar's greedier citizens and offering their souls up to Karzoug in sacrificial rituals, before disposing of their corpses using the log-splitting machinery in a lumber mill owned by their leader, Justice Ironbriar. As a prominent city official, Ironbriar has been preventing the effective investigation of the murders, but the PCs can track the cult down by investigating Aldern and Nualia's movements during their time in Magnimar (or through ordinary detective work on the disappearances).
  • Xanesha is hiding in a rickety, abandoned clocktower under the remains of the Magnimar bridge, which locals call The Shadow Clock. Ironbriar, Nualia, and Aldern all met her there, so interrogating them could reveal her location; otherwise, the PCs can figure it out by watching where the trained messenger ravens kept by the cult fly when they are released. She's guarded by The Scarecrow, an intelligent flesh golem created decades ago by Vorel Foxglove, whom she has adopted. If intruders defeat the Scarecrow, she'll try to stop their futher ascent by cutting the ropes which hold up the tower's huge bells, dropping them on the PCs as they ascend the tower's unstable stairs. She wears a seven-pointed-star talisman, just like Nualia, and her papers include a substantial (though not inherently incriminating) correspondence with her sister Lucrecia in Turtleback Ferry. 
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Skinsaw cultist in cult regalia.

Turtleback Ferry: This is a small fishing town beside a lake up in the hills above Sandpoint, protected from the monsters that lurk there by the Black Arrow Rangers, who are based in the nearby Fort Rannik. For the past few years, Lucrecia has been operating a gambling barge on the lake, using its games as a way of identifying the most greedy locals; she would then offer these individuals 'special membership', the mark of which was a seven-pointed-star tattoo somewhere on their body. Each of these people believes that only a few people have been offered such a deal, but in truth there are now scores of them in and around the town. Just before the adventure begins, Lucrecia deliberately sinks her barge and goes up into the hills, planning to engineeer a flood which will wipe Turtleback Ferry off the map and offer its marked inhabitants up as a mass-sacrifice to Karzoug.
  • Several days after the adventure begins, word reaches Sandpoint that the (in)famous gambling barge, The Paradise, has sunk in the lake near Turtle Ferry, to the disappointment of some locals and the relief of others. PCs who dive down into the lake to investigate its wreck will discover signs that it was sunk deliberately.
  • A couple of weeks after the adventure begins, word arrives that none of the Black Arrow rangers - normally a common sight in Turtleback Ferry - have been seen there in weeks, and the locals are starting to worry that something might have happened to Fort Rannik.
  • Several weeks after the adventure begins, if the PCs haven't yet stopped Lucrecia, a massive flood obliterates the town of Turtleback Ferry. (See The Dam, below.)

Fort Rannik: This fort high in the hills above Turtleback Ferry is the base of the Black Arrow Rangers. Unfortunately for them, Lucrecia was able to gain control of several key members of the organisation (via blackmail, debts, seduction, and use of magic), whom she used to ensure that the rangers were scattered over a wide area on the day her minions struck. Each man individually thought he was doing nothing worse than delaying a patrol so as to permit some trivial act of criminality to pass undetected, but collectively their actions allowed Mokmurian's ogres to ambush and massacre the rangers one band at a time, before storming the badly-undermanned fort. When the adventure begins, Fort Rannik has only just fallen to the ogres.

  • The Ogres are an undisciplined bunch, high on overconfidence after defeating their ancestral enemies. Any halfway-decent plan to trick them will probably work. Interrogating captured ogres will swiftly reveal that their clan was recently taken over by a stone giant named Mokmurian, who wore a seven-pointed-star symbol, and that a bunch of their clan-mates are currently at work sabotaging an ancient dam in the hills.
  • Lucrecia is believed dead by the people of Turtleback Ferry, but is actually here, lording it over the ogres and waiting for the flood. She wears a She wears a seven-pointed-star talisman, just like Nualia and Xanesha, and her papers include lots of maps and notes about an ancient dam in the hills and a substantial (though not inherently incriminating) correspondence with her sister Xanesha, all sent care of Justice Ironbriar in Magnimar. If she sees the fort is about to be retaken she will flee to join Mokmurian in the ogre lair.
  • The last surviving rangers are huddled in the cells, too weak to fight, while the ogres eat them one by one. If the PCs wait more than a few weeks to retake Fort Rannik, they'll all be dead; otherwise, they can tell a sorry tale of misdirection and betrayal. The traitors themselves are all dead, their souls offered up to Karzoug by Lucretia, but examination of their corpses will show they all had Lucretia's star-tattoos.
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Lucrecia in her human form.

The Dam: A huge and ancient stone dam up in the hills, built by Karzoug in ages past. Lucrecia led the ogres down to the hidden flood controls, which they are busily wrecking. If they aren't stopped, then several weeks after the adventure begins all the floodgates will kick open at once and a whole lake's worth of water will be dumped into the valley below, wiping out Turtleback Ferry.

The Ogre Lair: High up in the hills is the lair of the Kreeg Ogre Clan. After Karzozug's empire fell, one of his generals built a petty kingdom in these hills, and the ogres still regard the seven-pointed star as a symbol of superstitious dread: as a result, Lucrecia and Mokmurian had little difficulty in taking over the clan and using the Kreegs as footsoldiers. The ogres are currently at work forging weapons and armour for what Mokmurian assures them will be a great war soon to come.
  • Several weeks after the adventure begins, panicked stories will begin to filter down into Sandpoint and Magnimar of ogre raids on the surrounding countryside.
  • Mokmurian the stone giant sorcerer is here, leading the ogres. He wears a seven-pointed-star talisman, just like Nualia, Xanesha, and Lucrecia. Karzoug can see through Mokmurian's eyes, and if the giant is captured he will directly take over Mokmurian's body, mocking the PCs before detonating the giant's brain within his skull.
  • The ogres will happily boast about how Mokmurian told them a great army was going to descend on the region from a hidden city in the mountains, and how they would have the honour of fighting in its vanguard and eating all the humans for miles around.
Xin-Shalast: Karzoug's ancient capital now lies in ruins. His magic still hides it from the outside world, and only someone who wears one of his seven-pointed-star talismans will ever be able to find it; anyone else will simply wander in circles until they give up or freeze to death. (Mokmurian found it through a mixture of special magical research and blind luck.) If one person in a group has such a talisman, they will be able to see the path to the city where everyone else sees only mist and snow, but if the non-wearers are actually dragged into the city proper then they become able to perceive it normally.
  • Xin-Shalast's population mostly died when the empire fell; those that survived did so by hiding underground, becoming a race of skulks calling themselves The Spared. They currently languish under the cruel rule of a vampire decapus whose ancient prison they accidentally mined into, but if liberated they will happily aid the PCs.
  • Karzoug's enormous stronghold currently stands almost empty, inhabited only by a handful of his giant and lamia minions, his apprentice Khalib (who is currently grief-stricken about letting his boss down by oversleeping for several thousand years)and his new champion, Viorian. Viorian was unfortunate enough to be the owner of the Karzoug's ancient Sword of Greed when its master awakened; he recently used his power over the blade to take over her mind and compel her up to Xin-Shalast to fight for him. If the sword could be taken off her, she'd eagerly join the PCs against Karzoug. Any PC who attempts to wield the Sword of Greed will suffer the same fate as Viorian did. 
  • Deep within Karzoug's stronghold can be found his ultimate contingency device: a one-use, one-way time portal. Only Karzoug can use this portal. Once he is strong enough to return to the world, he plans to use it to bring his army from ancient Xin-Shalast (just before the cataclysm) into the present day, giving him a force capable of carving out a new empire in his name. The device is pretty resilient, but a sufficient quantity of magical damage will wreck it beyond repair.
  • Karzoug himself lurks within a sealed demiplane, The Eye of Avarice, which can only be reached by stepping into a magical golden fire that burns within the heart of his stronghold. This is guarded by his final defender, the fanatically loyal lamia priestess Most High Ceoptra.
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Xin-Shalast. (That's Karzoug's face carved onto the mountain at the back!)

The Eye of Avarice: This tiny demi-plane of gold and fire is where Karzoug lurks, waiting for enough greedy souls to be sacrificed to him for him to finally regain his mortal form and re-enter the world.
  • If Lucrecia succeeded in destroying Turtleback Ferry, AND Xanesha's cult (including Aldern) were not stopped until they had sacrificed a large number of victims (or were not stopped at all): Karzoug is pretty much at full strength, and will be nightmarishly difficult for the PCs to defeat. A few months after the adventure begins, he will emerge from the Eye of Avarice, summon his ancient legions through the time portal, and proceed to conquer a new kingdom for himself. (If the PCs have already destroyed the portal, then the world will 'only' need to deal with an angry archmage.)
  • If Lucrecia succeeded but Xanesha was stopped, or vice versa: Karzoug is a powerful, wraith-like being, who will not be easy to defeat. If at least some of his minions are still active out in the world, he will gradually accumulate the power he needs to manifest, but this will take at least several months.
  • If both Lucrecia and Xanesha were stopped: Karzoug is a plaintive, ghost-like creature, howling among the ruins of his ancient achievements. Defeating him should only be moderately difficult for a well-equipped party. Even if some of his minions are still active, it will take him years to accumulate the power he needs to manifest in the world.
Epilogue: Karzoug's death sends out a magical shockwave across the whole of his ancient empire's magical infrastructure network. The magic concealing Xin-Shalast will dissipate: the PCs will have only a short time to strip it of as much of its legendary wealth as possible before treasure-seekers descend upon it like vultures from every direction. And far away, in six more hidden chambers beneath six more forgotten ruins, the other six Runelords will begin to stir...

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Timetable of Events (if not disrupted by PC action):

  • Adventure Begins: The consecration of Sandpoint's new church gets gatecrashed by goblins. Tsuto Kaijitsu steals the bones of Sandpoint's previous priest during the confusion.
  • First few days: 
    • Aldern Foxglove starts killing greedy people in and around Sandpoint, and becomes obsessed with one of the PCs. 
    • Tsuto Kaijitsu lures his stepfather and sister out to the Sandpoint glassworks, intent on murdering the former and kidnapping the latter. 
    • Ghoul attacks begin in the nearby farmlands.
    • Rumours reach Sandpoint of strange disappearances in Magnimar.
  • Next several days: 
    • A farmer stumbles into Sandpoint raving about killer scarecrows.
    • Nualia completes her ritual at Thistletop and becomes a half-fiend.
    • Word reaches Sandpoint that the gambling barge Paradise has sunk near Turtleback Ferry.
  • A few weeks later: 
    • Nualia frees the Thistletop demon and attacks Sandpoint.
    • Word reaches Sandpoint that none of the Black Arrow rangers have been seen in Turtleback Ferry for weeks. (By this point, all the captive rangers at the fort will have been eaten by the ogres.)
  • A few weeks after that:
    • Lucrecia's ogres wreck the dam, and Turtleback Ferry is wiped out by a massive flood.
    • Panicked stories of ogre attacks reach Sandpoint and Magnimar.
  • A few months after the adventure begins: If the PCs have not yet disrupted his plans, Karzoug returns to the world, summons his army through time, and begins conquering a new empire.

NPC Quick Reference Guide (which the official edition, unbelievably, doesn't have!)
  • Aldern Foxglove: Disguised ghoul, aristocrat, and serial killer, a descendant of Vorel Foxglove and a member of Xanesha's cult, The Skinsaw Men. He lives in Foxglove Manor, and has turned the servants into ghouls. He is currently murdering the greedier inhabitants of Sandpoint as offerings for Karzoug. Before joining the cult he murdered his wife, Iesha Foxglove - he has never returned to the scene of this crime, and is unaware that she has risen as a revenant.
  • Ameiko Kaijitsu: Daughter of Lonjiku Kaijitsu, the owner of the local glassworks. Has a rocky relationship with both him and her half-brother Tsuto. Something of a wannabe adventurer.
  • Black Arrow Rangers: Order of rangers based at Fort Rannik. Recently massacred by the Kreeg Ogre Clan, who are keeping the last handful of survivors prisoner in the fort.
  • Brodert Quink: Eccentric local historian who lives in Sandpoint. Can identify the seven-pointed star as the symbol of an ancient magical empire, whose legendary capital, Xin-Shalast, no modern explorer has ever been able to find.
  • Erylium: The imp familiar of a long-dead magician, who has been imprisoned in the runewell of wrath under the Sandpoint glassworks since the fall of Karzoug's empire. The smugglers working with Lonjiku Kaijitsu accidentally mined into her lair, but promptly bricked it up again. Tsuto told Nualia about this, though, and she had the wall torn down again, talking with Erylium and coming to view the imp as a kind of mentor. Erylium has some zombie and sinspawn servants, and can brew up more of the latter in her runewell if the locals get angry enough. She is also served by Koruvus.
  • Ghouls: The servants of Foxglove Manor, transformed into undead by Aldern Foxglove. Currently murdering farmers in the Sandpoint Farmlands.
  • Goblins of the Sandpoint region: Currently united under the leadership of Nualia, but uncomfortable about following a human. Could be persuaded to rebel by Gogmurt and/or Koruvus. 
  • Gogmurt: A goblin shaman, very unhappy about the fact his tribe has been taken over by Nualia. Would rebel against her in a second if he thought he'd win.
  • Iesha Foxglove: Luckless wife of Aldern Foxglove, who murdered her in Foxglove Manor, before locking her body in their bedroom and fleeing to Magnimar. The curse of Vorel Foxglove prevented her soul from escaping the house, and now she has risen as a vengeful revenant. If released from her room she will hunt down Aldern and try to kill him.
  • Justice Ironbriar: Leader of the Skinsaw Men cult in Magnimar. A high-ranking city official, who has been using his status to ensure their murder spree goes largely undetected. Owns the Magnimar lumber mill, which the Skinsaw Men use for cult meetings and corpse disposal. A devoted servant of Xanesha. 
  • Karzoug: Ancient Runelord of Greed. Currently a ghost stuck inside the Eye of Avarice.
  • Khalib: Karzoug's apprentice, who was supposed to wake him up several thousand years ago. Currently in Xin-Shalast, looking for a way to make amends for his epic oversleeping.
  • Kreeg Ogre Clan: A clan of ogres currently active at Fort Rannik, the ogre lair, and the dam. They serve Lucrecia and Mokmurian.
  • Koruvus: A goblin hero who went exploring in the smuggler's tunnels under the sandpoint glassworks shortly after Nualia tore down the wall which separated them from the runewell of wrath. He wandered into the runewell, drank its cursed waters, and was enslaved and mutated by their magic. Now he serves Erylium, but if he could be weaned off the waters he could be a great ally in persuading the goblins to rebel against Nualia.
  • Lonjiku Kaijitsu: The owner of the Sandpoint Glassworks, and a collaborator with the local smuggling gangs. His now-dead wife had an affair with an elven traveller, and her half-elf son, Tsuto, was the result; Lonjiku has always hated Tsuto for it, and the feeling is quite mutual. He has a slightly better (but still pretty awful) relationship with his daughter, Ameiko.
  • Lucrecia: Shapechanging lamia sorceress; sister of Xanesha, and one of Karzoug's key minions. Ran the Paradise gambling barge in Turtleback Ferry, which she used to mark all its greediest citizens for sacrifice. Used her hold over several of the Black Arrows to engineer the fall of Fort Rannik, and now works with the Kreeg Ogre Clan to destroy the dam in order to destroy Turtleback Ferry as a mass sacrifice to Karzoug. Has one of the four talismans.
  • Lyrie: A mercenary magician currently employed by Nualia. Has a crush on Tsuto. Knows Orik is infatuated with her, much to her irritation. Currently based at Thistletop.
  • Mokmurian: A stone giant sorcerer, who discovered Karzoug's resting place in Xin-Shalast and accidentally woke him up. Now mind-controlled by Karzoug, he leads the Kreeg ogre clan at the ogre lair. Has one of the four talismans.
  • Most High Ceoptra: A lamia priestess, and the final guardian of the Eye of Avarice in Xin-Shalast. A fanatical follower of Karzoug.
  • Nualia: Embittered part-celestial demon-worshipper. A member of Xanesha's cult, and self-proclaimed goddess of the Sandpoint region's goblins. Currently based at Thistletop. Has one of the four talismans.
  • Orik: A mercenary swordsman currently employed by Nualia. Infatuated by Lyrie, and jealous of the fact that she prefers Tsuto. Currently based at Thistletop.
  • The Scarecrow: An intelligent flesh golem built by Vorel Foxglove. Currently serving as a bodyguard to Xanesha in the Magnimar Shadow Clock.
  • Sinspawn: Horrible monsters created by Elyrium at the Runewell of Wrath. She can only create them when there's a high amount of intense anger in the nearby area. 
  • Skinsaw Men: A murder cult led by Justice Ironbriar on behalf of Xanesha. Both Nualia and Aldern Foxglove are members. Currently murdering greedy people in and around Magnimar.
  • The Spared: A tribe of skulks which live in the tunnels under Xin-Shalast. Currently being ruled and terrified by a vampire decapus, and happy to aid anyone who can get rid of it for them.
  • The Thistletop Demon: An ancient demon summoned during the days of Karzoug's empire, and left stuck within its summoning circle inside Thistletop when the empire fell. It has been contacting the nearby goblins in their dreams, and they believe it is a sacred monster but have no idea how to free it. Nualia is currently trying to discover a way into its secret room to release it.
  • Tsuto Kaijitsu: Embittered half-elf, the half-sister of Ameiko Kaijitsu and the stepson of Lonjiki Kaijitsu, who hates him as the living proof of his late wife's infidelity. The feeling is mutual, and Tsuto has been plotting revenge on Lonjiki and Sandpoint for years. He is the devoted lover of Nualia, but would like to save his sister from her rampage if at all possible.
  • Viorian Dekanti: A mercenary and collector of antique swords from Magnimar, she was unlucky enough to be the current owner of the sword of greed once wielded by Karzoug's champion. Karzoug used the sword to take over her mind, kill her servants, and force her up to Xin-Shalast, where she now serves as his champion. His hold over her would be lost if she was parted from her sword.
  • Vorel Foxglove: Ancestor of Aldern Foxglove, and builder of Foxglove Manor (and of The Scarecrow, which inhabited it until Aldern gave it to Xanesha). A necromancer and wannabe lich, whose ascension to undeath was terminally interrupted by his wife. Their spirits, and those of their miserable descendants, now haunt Foxglove Manor, trapped forever within its walls. 
  • Xanesha: Shapechanging lamia sorceress; sister of Lucrecia, and one of Karzoug's key minions. Leader of the Skinsaw Men cult in Magnimar, and mentor to Nualia, Aldern Foxglove, and Justice Ironbriar. Lives in the Magnimar Shadow Clock, guarded by The Scarecrow. Has one of the four talismans.


  1. how does this new, zipped, version works towards advancement? is it more flat? could you just skip some parts or mess with them in some way? it seems more sandboxy.

    1. Way more flat. What I've described here is, very deliberately, not remotely meant to advance characters from level 1 to level 18, because that's one of the big factors which limits player freedom in the original: you have to do everything in exactly the right order, or you won't be the right level to take on most of the things you meet. I reckon this version would probably work with a party that started at about level 2 and finished at about level 6, but YMMV.

      And, yeah, skip as much as you like. That's the point of it. Rather than being frog-marched from one place to the next, the PCs can do anything, in any order - including simply ignoring entire chunks of what's going on. There are consequences for doing that, of course, but hey - that's the nature of free will!

  2. Ameiko's also the key to the Jade Regent AP. One possible alternate route if the PCs fail to stop Karzoug's resurrection is to undertake the Jade Regent AP to acquire an army from the end of that one to bring back to fight Karzoug's army.

    1. I wonder what a condensed Jade Regent would look like? Parts 1 and 3 are decent mini-sandboxes, and part 4 is an OK dungeon, but the whole 'intercontinental travel' concept means that you pretty much have to encounter them sequentially rather than bouncing around between them. 5 and 6 can be heavily cut. I'd probably drop 2 entirely.

    2. I agree with dropping 2 completely. I'd place part 1 as sort of an addendum to Runelords, having Lonjiku give a clue to the regalia as he's dying, and then have its recovery grant Ameiko as an ally. I'd also place both the Amatetsu Seal and Suishen in the adventure, probably placing the Seal with the goblins and Suishen at Brinewall. That would let Lonjiku's clue be something about the goblins stealing Ameiko's birthright, which would lead into that adventure.

      I think 5 is the one that could actually be the most interesting, since it's the "gathering allies" section, with the ronin, ninja, geisha, and samurai. 6 can be run concurrently, since it's trying to gain allegiance in the capital, honoring the ancestors, and the Big Bad confrontation.

      In 4, I'd consider letting the players impress Prince Batsaikhar enough that some warriors are allowed to follow them, as well as gathering the allegiance of the kami. The dungeon serves as a way to attack one of the Five Storms.

      One thing I do like from 6 is the Teamwork Score and Rebellion Points, which I would extend out to gathering allies from 4 and to defeating Munasukaru.

      Overall, I'm not sure how much I'd condense it (other than eliminating 2), so much as make it less linear. The last part of 4 can run concurrently with 5 and 6 as long as the power creep is kept under control. Essentially you'd end up with 1 as a part of Runelords, with 3 being the escape north, the first half of 4 as the arrival on the other side, and everything else happening together.

      For 3, I'd add a few more paths, and also let the PCs pick whether to travel by caravan (slower, but with more allies) or by dogsled (quicker, but need to resupply often and can't carry much spare equipment).

    3. All very plausible, and I agree that the second half of Jade Regent could basically be run as a single adventure (and, honestly, would make a lot more sense that way). There's no getting around the fact that 1, 3, and 4-6 take place in very different locations, though!

      I agree that Jade Regent part 1 can be added to the Runelords mix absolutely painlessly: just drop Brinewall in as a swampy area a few days travel away from Sandpoint, and let the PCs move freely between it and the stuff Runelords as they choose. What (if anything) they then choose to do about the discovery that the local innkeeper is the rightful empress of Fantasy Japan is up to them!

      (The true mega-sandbox version would be condensed Runelords plus condensed Shattered Star plus condensed Curse of the Crimson Throne plus Jade Regent parts 1 and 3, all happening at the same time, with the PCs bouncing from plot to plot as they saw fit...)

  3. Great fucking stuff.
    With all the demons messing around in my campaign world, and considering I have demons associated with particular sins, this should be an easy reskin!

    1. Hey, go for it. Steal and adapt away! (I adapted / stole all this stuff from other people to start with, after all...)

  4. i am sucker for traveling in rpgs. i would love to run jade regent as a cross between invisible cities and death on the reik.

    1. Sounds great - but what would you actually end up keeping from Jade-Regent-as-published? The only bit of the AP which actually foregrounds the travel aspect is part 3, and that's in an ice waste somewhere: not exactly Travels of Marco Polo material...

  5. This condensation is quite a good example of how the Dungeon World Fronts/Dooms can be used effectively to organize an adventure.

  6. Great stuff! I enjoy the ideas behind adventure paths but they do suffer by having to be a certain length and prescribed levels.

    1. Thanks! Having read a whole heap of them, I feel the level treadmill is the bigger of the two problems. Everything has to happen in exactly the right order to avoid the encounters being either too easy or too difficult, which leads to extremely contrived scenario design!

  7. Ok. Super late on this, but just started this AP with my group and had the same feelings as you. Thank you for your work, i will definitely use it. My biggests problems with the campaign was :
    -karzoug has too little of main goal to be FP20. Getting back to life and start to build an empire again is probably just about the goals that an FP 12/14 can do.
    -the fact that so many things happen in the close vicinity of Sandpoint is just, again, too little. Characters of level 15 don't protect cities of merely a thousand people.
    -the exploration of the region is again, way too small. I mean, by the end of the campaign, paizo thinks that PC should be around lvl 16. Getting somewhere on the material plane at this point is completely trivial. There is virtually no mystery in going into xin-xhalast.

    So all in all, i think i'll try to make the campaign from lvl 3 to lvl 12 or something, skipping chapters 5 and 6 as you propose.

    Thanks again.

    1. Glad to hear you've found the post useful! I think the levelling issue is one that all PF adventure paths suffer from to varying degrees. Pathfinder characters level so fast that they rapidly outgrow the stories and situations in which they find themselves, especially when those stories are stuffed with filler dungeons. Most APs would make much more sense if they were smaller, shorter, and lower level!

  8. "The true mega-sandbox version would be condensed Runelords plus condensed Shattered Star plus condensed Curse of the Crimson Throne plus Jade Regent parts 1 and 3, all happening at the same time, with the PCs bouncing from plot to plot as they saw fit..."


    And whatever is usable in Returns of the Runelords (and maybe some bits of Second Darkness) 🤔