As the cornerstone of the campaign world of Golarion, Rise of the Runelords laid the foundation for much of Pathfinder’s success. Now there are more ways to enjoy the revised and expanded 5th-anniversary collection, with integrated encounters for Hero Lab and a custom sound effects set, so you can experience these adventures in a new way.
I’d argue that Rise of the Runelords is what initially set Pathfinder apart in a world full of other D20-derived fantasy RPGs. It gathered a horde of top game designers together to create a massive chain of adventures carrying PCs from level 1 up to 17 or 18. It had awesome monsters, terrifying villains, tons of maps, mysteries, investigations, dungeons, manors, temples, and lots of evil. The semi-annual adventure path is a great model for sustaining interest (and sales) once everyone has bought your core rulebook — indeed, Wizards of the Coast has adopted it in some ways for 5th edition D&D.
Now the 5th anniversary of something seems like, I don’t know... not the biggest deal? But everything moves pretty fast in tabletop gaming these days, so those are more like dog years. Anyway, it was a great excuse to rerelease all of the Adventure Path chapters in a single hardcover collection. Rise of the Runelords is a wonderful set of adventures — there’s a lot of variety, great big bads, and overall it shows off the better aspects of the Pathfinder system. For the anniversary edition, they’ve stuck with what worked, changing things as little as possible. However, it has been reworked to fit the revisions made to the Pathfinder core rules, and some sections have been clarified. They’ve added a few bits too, from new NPCs and monsters to entire areas to explore that were not in the original (to be clear, Runelords came out in 2007 and the anniversary collection was released in 2012, while the add-ons mentioned below are new).
If you’d like a little digital help running the many, many encounters, Rise of the Runelords is a full package of encounters has been released for the RPG management software Hero Lab. I will admit that I find Hero Lab frustrating to use at times, but the way they have these encounters set up is pretty cool. You can pull in any of the monsters of NPCs and have all the stats there, and track things like hit points and status effects. The real standout feature is that each encounter can be adjusted on the fly. If you’re running a player short one night, or someone brings a friend along so suddenly the party has six characters, each encounter can be run perfectly balanced for the number of characters present. The other cool thing is that if any Runelords material references another book (like Ultimate Magic or something), you’ll get access to it even if you don’t own Ultimate Magic for Hero Lab.
Another way to add to the Runelords experience is with Syrinscape. Syrinscape is a sound mixing program that lets you create your own soundscapes by blending ambient sounds, music, and sound effects. It’s actually crazy how powerful it is — you can import your own sounds, layer them, set different volume levels, even mess around with stereo positioning (like having footsteps approach from the right and walk to the left). You can also use premade sound sets, so if you need some tavern ambiance you just load up the tavern set, pick your flavor, and go. There are a bunch of added sound effects you can trigger manually for those times you really need to punctuate the bar brawl with a solid punch effect.
What does this have to do with Rise of the Runelords? Syrinscape has created a set of custom soundscapes for each area in the adventure path, with specific, custom sound effects for key monsters and locations. It can be a little pricey (Syrinscape comes with a few free fantasy sound sets, and there’s a separate sci-fi version as well, but the entire Runelords set costs $90 or can be accessed through a $6.50 per month subscription), but there’s no denying it’s awesome having all these sounds at your fingertips. And if you’ve never played an RPG without some good sound effects at the table, it makes an enormous difference. They completely set the mood and adds to the atmosphere the GM is trying to create.
So, that’s a lot of ways to tackle Rise of the Runelords. If you never have, I highly recommend it. And if you ran it when it came out, now’s a good time for another trip through for nostalgia’s sake.