Rise of the Runelords – An Autopsy of a Campaign

It took us 29 sessions and a ruleset change over the period of 19 months and 20 days. It cost the characters 13 months and six days and two party members, but finally, last night, we played the final session of our Rise of the Runelords campaign. Karzoug the Claimer, the Runelord of Greed, was defeated, and despite things looking grim, the only casualty on the heroes’ side was the druid’s wolf animal companion.

It was quite a ride, and we had great fun. Of course, some sessions – and some of the adventures – were better than others. Still, no session truly sucked and some of them were the best sessions I’ve run. I’ll be reviewing the modules themselves in a few later posts, but now, I will just bask in the afterglow. It is not often that I get to actually finish a campaign – most of them just sort of taper off after a while and get forgotten. Actually, I can think of only a handful of campaigns I’ve been in that had a proper ending. I think the adventure path format is great for this – you have a beginning and an ending, which provides a framework for the campaign and a definite goal and endpoint to strive for. It’s somehow very motivating.

Incidentally, this post will contain craploads of SPOILERS for the campaign. If you are playing or intend to play it, find something better to read – and heck, you may not even get all that much out of it unless you’re at least passingly familiar with the campaign already. There are links to my archives and other interesting blogs on the right, for instance – such as Blue_Hill’s Never Play Poker with the GM. I feel I must thank Blue_Hill here, because he created Pathfinder conversions for the major NPCs in Sins of the Saviors, which were a great boon to me. So, thank you. Here’s my Karzoug conversion (complete with comments to track the math).

I posted here about starting the campaign back in late March 2009 and it kicked off back in April of 2009. Then I sorta forgot about it, and the next session wasn’t played until the next September. From then on, though, the campaign rumbled on steadily, with one to five games per month, except in December and during the summer months when we spread out from Tampere to our hometowns. I kept a campaign website (mostly in Finnish) at the Mekanismi wiki, where it will now be archived. It’s currently not entirely finished and I still haven’t written all the session reports (some of which veer into the territory of bad Salvatore pastiche), but in the end, I hope to see all the character pages updated to reflect the PCs at the end of the campaign, with details their exploits after the end of the campaign and a general aftermath of the campaign, and the events in Varisia after the fall of Karzoug, the deaths of so many powerful individuals and the emergence of Fort Rannick as a strong and aggressive frontier stronghold. I’m sorta conceiving all my Pathfinder campaigns as occurring in the same timeline, though for the most part, they’ve occurred far enough from one another that it’s barely relevant.

The Heroes

Our group was five strong, with one player only joining in at the start of the third session.

Michiell “Dawn” Grellson

The group’s sarcastic priest of Sarenrae, and by far the wisest of the lot. The de facto leader of the group, who most often took the initiative to steer the party in the right direction. Wielded the bastard sword Madrigal, taken from the slain villain Nualia at the end of the first module and since then modified, re-enchanted, renamed and improved, but still tremendously nasty-looking. Dawn is big on turning the weapons of evil against itself, but the most effective weapon he really wielded was the party of four other heroes whom he kept pointed at the right direction and patched up. Dawn was actually a late addition to the group, brought by Sheriff Belor Hemlock from Magnimar as part of the town guard reinforcements, but joined the party to hunt down Nualia after she killed Niero Brandt, the party’s rogue, an old friend of Dawn’s, and the player’s previous character. He used to have a bushy beard, but shaved it after it grew back patchy, when the pick of the stone giant Teraktinus tore open his face.

Sir Gelrick of Magnimar

That’s actually Baron Gelrick of Rannick, at the end. Sir Gelrick, a paladin of Abadar, was another late addition to the group, sent by his church to track down and arrest the criminal Rufus, whom he’d hunted up and down the coast from Riddleport to Magnimar. As the only noble born member of the group, he was elevated by Lord Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras to the rank of baron after the heroes cleared out Fort Rannick of the ogres who had taken control. Gelrick in battle is a fearsome thing to behold, especially in the later stages of the campaign, when he wielded a flame tongue blade enchanted in the waters of the Runeforge. The first party member to gain the title of Dragonslayer, with the killing of the great white Arkrhyst on the shore of Lake Stormunder.


The other major warrior of the group, a Shoanti barbarian of the Axe Clan, torn between his home in Sandpoint and his allegiance to the clan in the Calphiak Mountains. Skrym is not the sharpest of swords, but he wisely understood this himself and usually kept his mouth shut to avoid making bad situations worse. When things eventually got bad, though, Skrym could be relied on to kill things messily and quickly. He was also the only member of the party to be brought back from death’s door to continue the fight, after one of the Graul ogrekin slammed an ogre hook through his head. The second Dragonslayer of the group, who took the head of the blue dragon Ghlorofaex in Xin-Shalast.

Jearis Tarlangaval

An elven rogue from the Mordant Spire, whose dominating personality trait is greed. When Dairhe argued that the party should return to slay the dragon Longtooth because it was an inherently evil creature and a bane of elves, Jearis supported him not because of any goodness but because the dragon would have a hoard. Jearis also kept meticulous track of every last copper piece earned during the party’s adventures and invested in several bags of holding to carry it all, and was also responsible for appraising it, selling it and then dividing up the loot. Coupled with the elf’s transmutation specialization and desire to become the new ruler of Xin-Shalast, one wonders if the goal was to become the Runelord in the Runelord’s place…

Dairhe Faulilj

An elven druid, wanderer and occasional Pathfinder. Dairhe has a wolf. The wolf bites things, though after surviving ogres, giants, dragons, devils, ghouls, murder cults, an advanced elite dread vampire decapus sorcerer and all sorts of other nasty things, it was finally killed by Karzoug’s magic in the Eye of Avarice. Dairhe himself provided healing for the wolf and fire from the sky. The elf was otherwise mostly remarkable for being ridiculously capable in the wilderness, to the point that he probably could have tracked a flying creature and found food and water for an army in a desert. Vaguely amusingly or annoyingly, Dairhe was played by Gastogh of The Small Dragon’s Den, whose last blog update says “My gaming will now go on another indefinite hiatus”, in a post dated in August 2009, when he’d just played a session of the campaign twelve days earlier and was due to play another in three days.

Some Highlights

The campaign had some awesome moments. Here are some worthy of mention that aren’t in the adventure books themselves.

  • When the party was still trying to find its bearings and learn to work as a team, or act decisively, they were searching the villain Tsuto Kaijitsu in the tunnels under the Sandpoint Glassworks. Dairhe opens a door and finds Tsuto there, reeking of booze and asleep. However, he opens his eyes and goes “What in the hells..?” – so Dairhe closes the door on him, and the party has a quick palaver on what to do in the corridor. Then they shout calls for Tsuto to surrender through the door. This goes on for some minutes, with no answer. Finally, Dairhe opens the door again to peek inside… and is rewarded with an arrow in the face from the villain who’d had time to prepare and get ready. The druid went down, and Skrym tried to capture Tsuto. Dairhe’s wolf, however, had different thoughts and they could not restrain the animal before it tore out Tsuto’s throat.
  • In another example of the party’s early indecisiveness, they made several trips to the Thistletop dungeons, wearing down the defenders a bit at a time but also allowing them to rest, recuperate and prepare for the inevitable counterattack. This, in the end, led to the death of Niero Brandt, and finally the party discovering that Nualia had fled with the last yeth hound. This led to a merry chase and tracking her all over the Sandpoint hinterlands as the day grew longer, meeting with several goblin tribes and culminating in an exploration of the Brinestump Marsh, where they ran into and killed the cannibal goblin Vorka before finally encountering Nualia as the rainy evening turned into night and slaying their first major villain. Her sword ended up in the hands of Dawn, Niero’s replacement.
  • The following session was also mostly improvised from the material in the adventures. The player of Rufus, a violent and foul-mouthed dwarf, wanted to play a different character, so we introduced Sir Gelrick, a paladin who was trying to find Rufus and arrived in Sandpoint the morning after the party had celebrated (loudly and boisterously) the defeat of Nualia and the goblins. Rufus was not to be found, and the party together followed a trail of clues that involved a fight with some Scarnetti scions and finally ended on the Chopper’s Isle, where they found his ritually murdered and gruesomely mutilated body, with a trail of footprints leading into the surf. Rufus’s murderer turned out to be the serial killer Skinsaw Man, who would murder again and again before the party caught him.
  • After the heroes had returned from the Runeforge, before they embarked on the journey to the distant Xin-Shalast, they spent some time getting their affairs in order. Dawn, during this downtime, went to the private cemetery of Niero Brandt’s family one night, with a shovel. Then he dug up Niero’s body, at this point eleven months dead, and cast raise dead. After that, he dragged Niero, his erstwhile adventuring companion, to the worst watering hole in all of Magnimar, where the two got drunk and talked crap at each other until the wee hours. As they were the same player’s characters, this in practice meant him dissing himself, Gollum-style. Then, Dawn dragged Niero to a waiting ship in the harbour and threw him on board, to get him far away from his enemies in town. The ship? The Jenevieve. Its destination? Sargava. Niero Brandt will be returning in January, in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path. To me, this was one of the crowning moments of the campaign, since it came totally out of the blue, entirely on the player’s own initiative.

Over the next week, I hope to jot down some notes about each of the adventure modules and make observations about running them.

6 thoughts on “Rise of the Runelords – An Autopsy of a Campaign

  1. I liked this first recap of your campaign (eventhough it makes me nervous that MY recap about my other RotRL campaign won’t be this good), made me laugh couple of times. At last I get why Michiell was called “Kajo”, joke is easier in english.

    But you are welcome about those conversions because those were my practise work to converting things to PF. Not perfect but workable. Than you for “Big K”, I would have started converting him very soon mostly because of my group has max. two sessions left of this campaign.

  2. You haven’t finished it yet? Didn’t your group just breeze through Council of Thieves in like two months (which utterly boggles my mind and makes me wish I had that kind of free time)? Well, I hope you find the stats useful. There may still be some errors and I think it might be useful to calculate his CMD again, since I found out only after the last session that you also add in stuff like dodge and deflection bonuses.

  3. I have two gaming groups, one plays RotRL now and other finished it last January. We all are part of same gaming group (often called Saamattomat) but couple of them lives in Tampere, most in Hämeenkyrö and one in Ikaalinen it is easier to split up and play different campaigns. All players in Council of Thieves locate in Hämeenkyrö (max. 7 km apart from each other) and we had lots of free time and (almost) no scheduling problems so whole campaing went through very easily.

    Next campaign will have all members of gaming group by same table when we start Curse of the Crimson Throne AP. It will challenge them as players (six of them) and me as GM ’cause I (and them too) have always played with smaller groups like max. 4 players.

  4. I’m never going to hear the end of opening that door, am I? ⌐_⌐’ Inflexible game mechanics ftl, grumblegrumble.

    The thing about the blog post was that I didn’t know what to expect of the game at that point, and so kind of based my expectations of it off those sessions of PF Society. I didn’t update to correct that later because by the time the game really got rolling, I’d totally forgotten about my whole blog, possibly due to never actually having any audience outside Tommi. Well, it’s been updated now, even if the account isn’t all too comprehensive.

  5. Congrats on finishing it out! RotR is a great time. Try Curse of the Crimson Throne next, it’s even better!

    I know what you mean about campaigns seldom coming to their end before the APs; now everyone wants to see what’s going to happen next all the way to the climax.

  6. Pingback: GM binder take 2 « Ketherian's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s