Written by: Mark Wright, directed by John Ainsworth
In which four adventurers save the town of Sandpoint from an unexpected goblin attack – the first in a chain of events that could herald the return of an ancient evil to the land of Varisia…
Released as the first “Adventure Path” for the Pathfinder fantasy role-playing game in 2007, Rise of the Runelords quickly won praise for its intricate plotting, vivid characters and refreshing takes on stale monsters like goblins. Rather than the cannon folder they’d become over the years, these goblins were cackling psychopaths who communicated in singsong chants – which translate quite well to the audio medium, especially when played with such gusto as they are here.
So how do some of the other stalwart tropes of fantasy role-playing gaming survive the transition to an audio medium? Wizard’s spells are intoned in pseudo-Latin and the battle scenes are a cacophony of clanking swords, grunts, shrieks, quips, smashes, thuds and other sounds of mayhem which convincingly convey the chaos of battle while still leaving the listener a bit lost as to who’s hacking who at any given moment.
But where Burnt Offerings may occasionally lack in battlefield clarity, it makes up for this in the treatment of its iconic adventurers. While Valeros the impulsive warrior and Merisiel the sardonic elf may not seem wholly original, the other two main characters offer refreshing takes on genre stereotypes. Harsk, a gruff dwarven ranger, drinks tea rather than ale, and acting as party leader is Ezren, a well-spoken wizard who can be surprisingly physical at times for an “old man”.
The plot rattles along at a swift pace, pared down by necessity to a one-CD running time while still retaining the essential elements of the longer and more detailed source material. Perhaps the most awkward concession to this is the main villain’s revealing of her motivations behind her actions, which happen in a scene out of any number of James Bond movies – since the heroes are about to die anyway, why shouldn’t they be told?
Verdict: Despite some clunky moments, Burnt Offerings makes an effective introduction to the land of Varisia, the troubles afflicting it, and the people committed to defeating these menaces. 7/10
John S. Hall