Written by Cavan Scott, directed by John Ainsworth
In which the Heroes of Sandpoint have decided to take the fight to Runelord Karzoug, rising both physical well-being and their sanity to reach the legendary lost city of Xin-Shalast before the reawakened wizard’s powers reach their peak and usher in a new Empire of Thassilon…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (or is that a scratched CD?), the audio adaptation of this adventure module has lost something in its media translation. To a large portion of gamers, what made The Spires of Xin-Shalast so memorable was the innovative way it used many elements of the works and creations of cosmic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and his shared universe of terrors (the so-called “Cthulhu Mythos”). Most of this has been pared away on audio, with only a couple of pivotal encounters in the frigid wastes leading to the City of Spires surviving the cut.
Most of this story’s conflict is conveyed by Nicholas Rowe’s Karzoug, whose contempt for the “insects” who dare challenge him, gradually gives way to an amused yet grudging respect for their tenacity. And while Rowe does a good turn in bombastic, sneering villainy, his character feels more like a bog-standard power-mad wizard with plans of world domination than the more interesting source material character who went to unimaginably eldritch lengths to ensure his eventual return.
With Rise of the Runelords at an end, one must consider its overall success in translating a role-playing game scenario into an audio adventure. While the main characters were vividly scripted and memorably brought to life by their actors, the audio format meant that a larger amount of concessions to the medium had to be made, with more “telling/explaining” than is typical for a Big Finish release. Also a lot of the more intricate background flavor that makes Golarion such an interesting setting had to be left by the wayside. With much of this stripped away, the whole affair ends up feeling rather more generic than it ought to have done. Nevertheless, one hopes that Big Finish will learn from this experience and adapt more of Paizo’s adventure paths in the future.
Verdict: A satisfying, but sadly not spectacular, conclusion to a series that began with much promise but flagged as it went on before rallying at the end. 7/10
John S. Hall