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Friday, 10th August, 2012, 06:26 AM #1
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
Pathfinder Review: Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition
One of the interesting things about Paizo's products are the interlocking nature of their releases, with a focus on providing cross-support from Paizo's other product lines to support a major release of a new Adventure Path.
This summer will see the release of not one but TWO Adventure Paths: The hardcover Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition and the six volume Shattered Star Adventure Path which debuts next week at Gencon. Like the Rise of the Runelords, the Shattered Star AP is set in the Varisia region of Golarion, Paizo's official world setting for Pathfinder RPG. And like The Rise of the Runelords, the Shattered Star AP deals with the legacy of the Runelords and is itself an explicit "sequel" to the Rise of the Runelords AP.
Practically speaking, with two APs releasing one month after the other with each concerning the same region and similar subject matter allows Paizo to leverage their product cross-support for not one AP, but two. And that's exactly what Paizo has done this summer.
Throughout the coming week leading up to the release of many of these products on the Gencon floor, I'll look at the main Adventure Paths offerings as well as a wide range of Pathfinder Campaign Setting and Player Companion products, flip-mats, map packs, cards, cardboard, metal and plastic miniature products - all of which are designed to support these new Varisian flavored Adventure Path products.
The Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition
Released earlier in July at Paizocon, the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition is a hardcover compilation of the first Pathfinder Adventure Path, revised and updated from 3.5 to Pathfinder RPG. While the book has made its way into many gaming stores in North America now, there are still quite a few without it. Moreover, the product is still working its way through the book trade. Amazon has only started to deliver the book to customers this week.
While I had a PDF to review the product, I ultimately decided to wait until the hardcover book was delivered to me before posting this review so that the full impact of the Anniversary Edition of Paizo's first Adventure Path could be appreciated. After all, it's the hardcover nature of the product that has gamers excited. They deserve to know what the hardcover is like and whether it is worth it.
As it turns out, I am very glad that I chose to wait to publish this review until I had the hardcover of the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition in my hands. While I was writing the review, I spoke with Erik Mona in order to ask him what his favorite thing about the new hardcover edition was. "Just one thing? I guess the new artwork", he replied, sounding a little embarrassed -- as if that was too insubstantial a selling point for the company's new flagship adventure product.
In my estimation, Erik Mona is not wrong and he has nothing to be embarrassed about at all with his answer. At 430 pages of gorgeous jaw dropping artwork, much of which is new and updated to be in line with Paizo's current art style, the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition is the one of the most lavishly illustrated books for a Role Playing Game you will ever see.
The PDF of the book is very nice to be sure and the "lite" version is exceptionally snappy on my iPad version 1. Hell, even the "lite" version is an extremely attractive PDF and the "full" version of the PDF even more so. Still, in the end, it simply does not do the physical product any real justice as the PDF in either form understates the physical impact of the sheer beauty of this product when it is in your hands. This book is, beyond any doubt in my mind, the single most attractive book ever produced for a tabletop Role Playing Game. Ever. While tastes differ and vary from fan to fan, the overall impression left by the book is absolutely top-rate and is a rare example of a mainstream RPG product where the publisher spared no expense and gets almost everything about the look of the product absolutely right. Sumptuous full color throughout, Wayne Reynolds and the rest of the artists are at the top of their game. It is a visual feast.
One plus to those who pre-ordered the book from Paizo (while having an Adventure Path subscription at the time it was pre-ordered) is that the PDF for Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. also comes with a 30 page "interactive maps" PDF and a 10 page handouts PDF as well -- a definite bonus for every prospective GM. All purchasers who get access to the PDFs in their download account may choose to download both the "full" and the "lite" versions of the PDF, either in a per chapter or as a contiguous single file.
The artwork that has been changed in Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. are primarily the cartoony style graphic illustrations from the Kyle Hunter era at Paizo. Hunter's style was featured in the Paizo magazine era and throughout the first two years of Paizo prior to the publication of the Pathfinder RPG. This art style no longer matches the style used in the post-Pathfinder RPG era and those illustrations have all been replaced.
The graphic layout used by Paizo lead graphic designer Sarah Robinson is an evolutionary approach and it's far and away my favorite graphic layout that Paizo has used to date in a hardcover book. In my view, it is greatly preferable to the "Nintendoesque" design elements employed in the Beginner Box which has in turn evolved to a new layout style for magic items used repeatedly throughout the upcoming Ultimate Equipment Guide. The layout employed in Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed., in contrast, yields a better overall result.
You can get a good feel for the layout used in the book by downloading the FREE Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. Player's Guide. And yes, the free Player's Guide has been updated and revised as well. While the illustrations in the Player's Guide are not as lavish and the lack of the maps detracts from the overall impact of the Guide itself, it does give you a good idea of what to expect in the main text of the book.
Not everything artistic has been changed. Many illustrations remains and the original maps drawn by Rob Lazzaretti again illuminate the way for GMs and players. In some cases, the map key font has changed but the map itself is the same. (Some new maps drawn by Jason Engle describing the zones added to the Anniv. Ed. also appear in the book.) As it turns out, the decision to keep the original map art is a plus as the Rise of the Runelords Map Folio first released nearly five years ago remains useful to GMs at the table when running this product. (Note: the Rise of the Runelords Map Folio is still on sale for $2.00 until August 13 as part of Paizo's 10th Anniversary Sale).
Not Just A Pretty Face
For those unfamiliar with what has since become Paizo's classic AP, not everything from the original six volumes of Pathfinder Adventure Path, Issues #1-6 (576 pages) could be included in a 430 page hardcover compilation. For the most part, the journals describing Varisia and all of the fiction offered in the original six volumes of the AP when it appeared in soft-cover format are not included in the Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed.. GMs won't miss these articles as most of the excluded material has been superseded by the Inner Sea World Guide and other Pathfinder Campaign Setting books released over the years. Some of the updated regional descriptions are included in the book's appendices.
Since the AP was first published, many monsters which first appeared in the original Rise of the Runelords have been updated to Pathfinder RPG and published separately in Paizo Bestiary products over the years. These monsters are also excluded from the Anniv. Ed.. While it might have been nice to have it all between two covers, all of this monster material is available elsewhere (including the free online PRD) and its absence from the compilation should not trouble any GM. I expect that most Pathfinder GMs will already have these foes in Bestiary form anyway.
The biggest content change is the rule system. Rise of the Runelords was first published under the OGL for ver. 3.5 in 2007. The big attraction for the Anniv. Ed. is that everything in the book has been revised and updated for Pathfinder RPG. But there is new adventure content as well. Apart from the updating of stat blocks to Pathfinder RPG, James Jacobs has also updated many encounters and NPCs using newer class information and rules from subsequent rules expansions to Pathfinder RPG. For the most part, the updating feels authentic and purposeful -- and does not come off as opportunistic or out of place. The changes improve the overall feel of the AP and it makes it feel a little more like Pathfinder and a little less like version 3.5.
In some cases, entirely new encounters and encounter areas have been included as well, offering veterans of the original AP surprises and a completely new feel to some sections of the AP. While it would not be fair to characterize this entirely new material as comprising more than a small portion of the book, when combined with the revised stat blocks and newly re-rolled NPCs, together with the new artwork -- Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition looks, feels, and often reads like a new product.
I do not normally link or discuss the cost of products on Amazon in my reviews. Frankly, while the cheap prices at Amazon may serve to keep customers' wallets a little heavier, the Amazon effect on the industry as a whole -- and the FLGS in particular -- is not a healthy one for our hobby. I don't want to do anything to promote that already harmful effect on the front page of ENWorld. However, in the case of the Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed., it doesn't really matter where you buy this book. Whether you buy it from Paizo, from your local hobby game store, or through the book trade, or an online seller like Amazon -- at $38 to $60 and at all price points in between, the Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. is easily the best value in gaming currently available in the marketplace.
While crystal balls are inherently foggy and unreliable, I predict that the Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. will be the adventure that this version of Pathfinder RPG is best remembered for. Ultimately, this book will join the pantheon of "great RPG adventures" that we collectively remember and discuss within the hobby as a shared experience over the course of decades, as new iterations of Dungeons & Dragons come and go.
At some point in the future, some adventure product will be released by WotC, Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games -- or some other company -- that is better than this book. That will be a very tall order, but I have no doubt that someday it will happen. Given the sheer quality and value that Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. presents, that's quite an optimistic statement about our hobby -- but I believe it to be true.
Nevertheless, at this particular point in time, right now? This book stands at the pinnacle of the hobby games market. In terms of the hundreds of hours of epic entertainment it provides, value for the money, value-in-use at the table, available cross-product support, and sheer physical attractiveness, Rise of the Runelords Anniv. Ed. is the gold-medalist in every category possible by any reasonably objective criteria you choose to apply. This book is the state-of-the-art. Given that you can purchase the state-of-the-art for less than $40 if you shop around? It simply doesn't get any better than this. Go buy it.
Highly Recommended: All RPG enthusiasts.
Title: Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, 430 pp.
Authors: James Jacobs, Wolfgang Baur, Stephen S. Greer, Nicholas Logue, Richard Pett and Greg A. Vaughan
Cost: $59.99 Print $41.99 PDF
Last edited by Steel_Wind; Saturday, 11th August, 2012 at 12:35 AM. Reason: You had to PRE-ORDER the Book as an AP subscriber to get the Free PDF from Paizo. I regret misleading some unhappy readers!.Robert
Co-Host of (the ENnie Award Winning!) Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast
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Friday, 10th August, 2012, 01:27 PM #2
Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)
Nice review. I've had this on Amazon pre-order for months now and look forward to receiving it. I was originally going to convert over to Pathfinder from 4E, but have since decided to stick with 4E until Next arrives. Anyhow, how difficult do you think it would be to run this with 4E? I'm fine with ad hoc DMing, but I realize some conversions need more than "eyeballing" it. Do you think I could basically run this with a couple 4E monster books and not need extensive hours of work other than reading the book?
Friday, 10th August, 2012, 03:42 PM #3
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Great review. Might I ask a few questions about the physical book? How heavy is it, and how easily does it lay open at the table?
Friday, 10th August, 2012, 03:56 PM #4
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
I do find it a bit strange that there is no review of the actual adventure included in the book, just the rules and such. I have no idea what the quality of the adventures in the book are, or if they will suit my play style.
Friday, 10th August, 2012, 03:57 PM #5
Novice (Lvl 1)
I ran most of the original adventure path a couple of years ago, and it's a great adventure. Lots of fun.
The new book is gorgeous, but it is not perfect. The Paizo graphic designers go a little bit overboard sometimes trying to make things as fancy as possible, and it interferes with the utility of the book.
Here's what I mean: there is a background image behind the text in the book, and the image gets darker and darker the farther you read down each page. By the time you get to the bottom of the page, the background image is so dark that it actually makes the text difficult to read in places. I consider this a serious flaw in a book that is otherwise near-perfect.
Friday, 10th August, 2012, 08:56 PM #6
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
Friday, 10th August, 2012, 10:12 PM #7
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
It's your typical D&D fantasy campaign. Very archetypal. Generic heroic fantasy but still enjoyable.
It has the standard D&D/Pathfinder tropes, with magic items and the PCs as good guys doing the right thing because they're good guys. There's the standard small town in the wild areas of a larger nation built atop the remnants of a massive fallen empire or two that left dungeons and ruins across the landscape.
The plot is your standard fare: things start small with problems that seem self-contained but eventually tie into a much larger story.
What makes it is the use of classic monsters being reimagined by the Paizo staff, tweaked just enough to make them fit their world and have a different feel than the standard D&D interpretation.
It doesn't try and reinvent the wheel and sticks fairly close to the design of your average D&D campaign. Later Adventure Paths do very different things, but because this was the first Pathfinder Adventure Path and the introduction to the campaign setting (the world of Golarion) they wanted something basic and familiar yet fun and exciting.
Saturday, 11th August, 2012, 07:24 AM #8
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
I've just gotten it today, and I'm thrilled as I flip through it.
I won't spoil the plot for anyone who hasn't gotten it yet, but I can honestly say that volume 2 of this adventure shines as perhaps the best volume of an AP I've ever seen.
The whole AP is great based on what I've read so far, but The Skinsaw Murders is a high point that stands above even the other volumes. Definitely worth the buy.
Volume 3; Hook Mountain Massacre also impressed me by actually managing to pull off "gruesome" extremely well. I saw a similar thing attempted in later volumes of Jade Regent, but the descriptions there lacked the same "oomph". I was actually physically disgusted as I read through Hook Mountain Massacre, and I'd say that's a really good sign that the writers were doing it right.
Still reading through volumes 4 to 6 at the moment, but I'm extremely impressed so far.
Saturday, 11th August, 2012, 07:01 PM #9
Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)
I just got it in the mail today - what a lovely book. Even though my group has been on hiatus for a couple months and we may not play in the upcoming school year (I'm a teacher) because I'm going back to grad school and won't be able to DM, I'll enjoy reading over this tome.
I don't find the background image to be distracting. It could be a tad too dark near the bottom, but just barely and I wouldn't have noticed unless someone pointed it out.
Paizo just continues to up the bar for the D&D family and, by and large, is producing nicer products than WotC has ever done. Let's hope that WotC has been taking note and will further up the bar from their side - a bit of creative competition won't hurt the D&D world!
Sunday, 12th August, 2012, 05:51 PM #10
Acolyte (Lvl 2)