EN Publishing’s War of the Burning Sky is a 3.5-era ‘adventure path’, and it’s got quite a lot of cool stuff. Invading dream-demon, set piece battles in icy fortresses, Council of Elrond-style gatherings of the Good Guys, and a battle inside the beating heart of a deity. Adventure paths as a format are not my preferred form of gaming, but that’s no reason to scoff at awesome ideas. The inciting incident of the campaign is as follows: Emperor Coaltongue, the sorcerer-ruler of the Ragesian Empire, has died, and Supreme Inquisitor Leska has claimed leadership of Ragesia, issuing a grand decree against magic-users. She invades neighboring countries while striking down rebellions inside Ragesia with an iron fist – all the while the resistance attempts to find and secure the Torch of the Burning Sky, a powerful artifact of Ragesia whose fiery influence is slowly seeping into the mortal world. All of these threads converge on the city of Gate Pass, a neutral settlement that stands in the way of Leska’s armies. It’s all very Lord of the Rings meets Malazan Book of the Fallen by the way of D&D 3.5 tropes. And it’s a hell of a Burning Wheel situation.
Empire in succession crisis? Check! Rebellions? Check! A state-sponsored cult of anti-sorcerous priests? Check! An ever-burning cursed forest? Check! Half-orcs actually having non-marginal roles? Check! Stalwart and aloof elves? Check! A quest for an artifact of unimaginable power? Check, check, check!
Notes on Setting, Situation, and Rules
Adventure paths work very well as foundations and jump-off points. Make no effort to stick to the plot as written out in the text. Take a broad strokes-approach to the setting when necessary. The adventure path is not your script, so jettison whatever does not work for your game as it evolves.
For the beginning of the campaign, focusing on the initial conflict around Gate Pass is a double-edged sword. It creates a strong link between characters and starting location but it risks tying the game too much to that location and not to the greater conflict. Tie Beliefs and Relationships to the greater forces and conflicts at work, and not just to Gate Pass.
For Leska’s wizard-hostile clerics, the Curse miracle from the Codex seems very appropriate if targeted at the Sorcery skill.
The Ragesian Empire has more than a few important half-orcs running about – including the deceased Emperor, Coaltongue. If everyone agrees beforehand to play Ragesian characters, I see no harm in reducing the cost of the Fey Blood trait to 2 points to give everyone some real Orcish flourish. Or they might be outright Orcs.
Speaking of Ragesian characters, the Inquisition and/or the Imperial Court make fantastic Affiliations. On the side of the Good Guys, there are a nice catalogue of factions as well; the various polities, the Lyceum of free magic-users in Seaquen, the elves of Shahalesti, and so on. Don’t be afraid to invent new ones. Quest fantasies of this variety benefit from local factions not yet committed to the larger conflict. If only some itinerant heroes would unite them.
While Leska and the Ragesians are waging war, a race of extradimensional dream-demons are conducting their secret invasion as well. It’s just the way of things. They may or may not play important roles in your game, but they’re a good excuse to include some Corruption rules.
Ragesian Empire: Brutal, Grim, Proud.
Dassen: Firm, Passionate, Well-Dressed.
Seaquen: Erudite, Ideologue, Tolerant.
Sindaire: Agreeable, Reckless, Righteous.
Ostalin: Arrogant, Earthen, Rough Hands.
Burned-up Characters and Belief Prompts
All made with the excellent charred-black online character burner.
- Write a Belief your views on sorcery and why its free practice is a good thing.
- Write a Belief about how you rationalize or deal with the dark work the Lyceum sometimes needs to do.
- Write a Belief about a seed of corruption and decay you have glanced in the Lyceum.
Gate Pass Mercenary
- Write a Belief about how Gate Pass has become a home for you.
- Write a Belief about how you intend to make a lot of money supporting the resistance against Ragesia.
- Write a Belief the shameful secret that forced you to become a mercenary.
- Write a Belief about how Leska’s reign of terror is destroying the Ragesia you know and love.
- Write a Belief about what you gave up when you defected.
- Write a Belief about how far, and no further, you will go in aiding the resistance.
Elf of Shahalesti
- Write a Belief about the Torch of the Burning Sky and the legends you have heard of its power.
- Write a Belief about the indignities your homeland has suffered under Ragesia, and how this drives you to act.
- Write a Belief about how your service to the cause will further your own family’s standing in post-war Shahalesti.