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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Guild F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/02/2014 08:04:52
Gary McBride and Fire Mountain Games are a scam! They funded these products with KIckstarter, are now making money on them here, but have not provided their backers with the rewards they promised! Don't buy anything from these thieves and lairs!

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Steven W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2014 19:52:44
Best written adventure that I have run in over a decade of GMing. It is great to actually be prepared for the PCs when they go outside the box and/ do something really stupid. I will definitely be purchasing anything else from Fire Mountain.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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Publisher Reply:
Gary McBride and Fire Mountain Games are a scam! They funded these products with KIckstarter, are now making money on them here, but have not provided their backers with the rewards they promised! Don\'t buy anything from these thieves and lairs!
Way of the Wicked Free Preview: Prison Break!
by Christian B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/17/2014 05:18:11
Very well written. Nice and simple drawings. The game complexity is - even thou this is an evil campaign - kept at a very low level, which makes it fast and fun. A very fast and direct entry into a astonishing campaign.

This preview is really a good starter into the campaign "Way of the wicked". It helps you to understand and set up the campaign. It also gives helpful advice to your players to set up the evil charakters. even though ther are a lot of information in this document the author manages to keep it easy to read.

Only drawback: The PDF is not very printer friendly. If you prefer to game without looking at your tablet at the table this might not be the best choice.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Free Preview: Prison Break!
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Luca L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/04/2013 09:22:15
The new AP from Fire Mountain Games is possibily even more ambitious than the first one, which (succesfully!) dealt with managing an evil campaign all the way up to the 20th level.
This time we are offered both an evil campaign (as wicked drow upstarts), and an heroic one (as brave and honor-bound dwarves), both of them integrated in a sandbox style tale of exploration, war and empire-building. In future installments there is hint of other thematic races to use, which is something I actually look forward to.

This first issue deals with a rather large but nonetheless limited area, with some excellent suggestion on how to deal with a campaign set underground right from the start (travelling, resource gathering, etc.), a number of very different places to explore, factions to fight or to ally with, tasks and quests, and a rather clear overall mission to tie everything together. It just works, and it almost constantly has you eagerly wondering what's next.
Being a sandbox campaign, be prepared to have the adventurers take every wrong turn in the map, waste time following red herrings they almost made up from thin air, step ahead of their abilities with the worst enemy available, and such problems. But it's also the best part of a sandbox campaign, so roll with it and have fun.
Unfortunately it seems that the product was originally written with the dwarven heroes in mind, and the drow faction developed later; thusly some pieces do not fit perfectly together for our dark-skinned subterranean elves - they must be retro-engineered by the GM after a careful and complete reading of the whole adventure.
Also, there are no custom tables for encounters in the sprawling tunnel complex that crisscrosses the area map.
The patron system in the appendix is a very nice atmsphere piece, which helps a lot creating a tight group. Moreover some of the ideas proposed for dwarves or drows are just genius, and ooze future epicness even at these low levels.

Art and layout: art by Michael Clarke is even better than what I've seen in WotW, and that was very good. Maps are great, portraits characterful, illustrations inspiring, and page layout on par with the best big-time publishers out there. Outstanding.

Writing and editing: Gary McBride is good at writing stuff, and it shows in the original NPCs, weird subterranean races and exotic places he describes. There are some really fresh ideas, and the GM will always have a rather clear idea of what to describe or use, even when the characters will take an unexpected turn (like they always do).
A few typos creep up here and there: none of them are an obstacle in reading or understanding the problem/location/NPC at hand, nor they are the usual it's/its, than/then or the dreaded rouge/rogue, but they are still there.

Overall: the adventure is very good, the campaign is promising, the concept is a bold move after WotW. I'm not really fond of gnomes, but Knivy Ivy may easily be the most interesting NPC I've seen in a while. The war between intelligent fungal gatherers and intelligent spider hunters - and the survival problems each faction is facing - is simply great.
Having to rework some elements for the drow campaign (eg. it's not really clear where in the map drow characters start, while it's really obvious where dwarven characters do), the missing encounter tables, and the necessary work a GM has to do with a sandbox campaign to customize it for his/hers group of players, detract a bit from the otherwise excellent and tight product.

A solid four stars, and looking forward for the new installments.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Carl R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/21/2013 09:47:50
When FMG announced it was going to begin work on Throne of Night ("ToN"), there may have been a little concern it would be a rehash of their first AP, Way of the Wicked ("WotW") or that it would fail to measure up to WotW's incredible standards. Adding further tension was the decision to essentially put two different campaigns into ToN -- a traditional "good"-themed campaign as well as an evil, drow-oriented campaign. Well, at long last, the first book of ToN has been released. It is certainly no rehash of WotW. It is an adventure with its own style and themes, and it is an excellent product. If FMG can maintain the quality through the other five books in the AP (yet to be released as of this review), they will have struck gold a second time.

Structure/Concept
Throne of Night essentially includes two campaigns (one good, one evil) set in the labyrinthine caverns found beneath the surface of the world. In ToN, the adventure is set in the Azathyr, but it is functionally the upper-most layer of what is called the Darklands in Pathfinder or the Underdark in D&D. The game can be run from the perspective of a good (or neutral) party from the surface, coming to find a way into an old dwarven fortress. The adventure assumes this party is composed primarily of dwarves, but other races could also work (provided they have darkvision). The other perspective is that of the drow, who are stationed at a backwater outpost and tasked by their mistress to attack a svirfneblin village in order to take control of its rich marble quarry.

And... it works. The adventure is mostly sandbox in nature; this is both its strength and a possible weakness. The author takes the necessary time to setup the adventure and goals for both types of groups, and then details the environment into which the party will be adventuring. NPCs and villages will react differently to the two types of parties, and the author gives enough detail and guidance to guide the GM through the process (more on this below).

Although the author breaks up the book into a series of Acts (as was done in WotW), this style of reference probably doesn't work as well for ToN precisely because it is a sandbox. The party is given a general goal or task and a few NPCs are placed along the way to help guide them in accomplishing it, but there are no tracks or fences to keep the party moving in a singular direction. There is a lot of space for the party to explore, villages and strange races to encounter (and with which to ally, subjugate or slaughter), locations to discover where the party might be able to build mines or fortifications in future books, and so on. When and how the party goes about accomplishing its primary goal is left to the discretion of the players. This necessarily introduces some ambiguity and I can see it posing problems for groups that are indecisive or have become used to being guided by the nose in highly railroaded adventures, but this approach will be an excellent fit for groups and GMs that want a less confined experience and room to create their own stories.

And this is where I have to make one comparison to WotW. WotW had a lot of richly detailed NPCs, with detailed backgrounds, personalities and motivations. Frequently there would be half or even full page suggestions as to how the NPC might respond to questions or statements by the PCs. It made it easy for me (as a GM with an impaired imagination) to put all the pieces together with minimal pre-game prep. However, this was also necessary for that kind of campaign, driven by personal hatreds and desires for revenge. Perhaps because it is more free form, ToN does not go into this level of detail. Brief descriptions are provided for the major NPCs and, for the most part, they are helpful but do not provide the level of detail I became accustomed to with WotW. For a GM who decides to run ToN, I would suggest spending some time before the campaign to further flesh out the major NPCs.

That said, the book clocks in at 112 pages, including front and back covers and many beautiful maps. I can't think of anything I would cut, and as a sandbox, ToN presents a fantastic environment in which a GM can use what is provided to great effect or even plug in his or her own side-adventures, characters and even modules. The point is, as a sandbox, a GM is going to need to do a little more work tailoring this adventure to his players but also has a good deal more flexibility in doing so than is found with most other adventures. As future books are released and continue to provide more details about the environment and personalities, this task will likely become easier.

Art
Done by Michael Clarke, the art in ToN is excellent. The maps are simply beautiful, and the character and monster artwork is very well done. I strongly encourage GMs running this campaign to print the images in full color and share them with the players -- artwork like this needs to be shared with the players.

Editing
On the whole, the editing for ToN is thorough and well done. I didn't notice any "XX"s in place of page numbers or stats and typos (though they do happen) are infrequent and certainly do not detract from the content. (I have not yet gone through any of the statblocks.)

Conclusion
Like Way of the Wicked (a decidedly evil and wicked campaign), this may not be an adventure for everyone but for very different reasons. Yet, if what I described above sounds like the right fit for your table, you must pick it up. It is very well done and a strong first-entry in the second adventure path from Fire Mountain Games.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/19/2013 12:04:44
Amazing adventure awaits in these beautiful pages (with printer-friendly alternative). Here is an epic tale of underground exploration and adventure, with plenty to engage characters in a diverse range of activities far beyond mere brawling. Moreover, there is enough of a 'sandbox' feel to enable the party to feel somewhat masters of their own fates, combined with sufficient direction for the GM such that the plot will not flounder whatever the characters decide to do.

The introduction lays out some of the thoughts behind this adventure, and the entire adventure path of which this is the first volume. One delight is the way in which two completely different plotlines weave through the whole, sharing some locations and notable NPCs. You can follow one or the other as you please and as the choices your players make dictate. This adds to the realism, the feel that this is something taking place anyway, and that whilst the presence of the adventurers will have great effect, if they went home events would carry on regardless. The fundamental choice you - and they - need to make is, are you good(ish) adventurers exploring the depths or are you a pretty nasty bunch of Drow hell-bent on dominating them?

The background is equally impressive and sweeping in scale. Two hundred years ago, the greatest dwarf city of all fell in spectacular black flames, and since then dwarvenkind as a whole has been in decline. In a quest to reestablish themselves the dwarves seek to reclaim their lost city, Dammerhall... and it is to the party that they have turned. This makes at least one dwarf character useful, indeed an all-dwarf party could be run with considerable justification... this is, if you have decided to be the Good Guys.

A full second background is provided for groups interested in becoming Drow overlords, with a mistress who has been 'promoted into obscurity' after losing a power struggle seeking help as she rebuilds her fortunes.

This parallel approach continues once you reach the adventure proper. Separate introductions are provided to lead the party into essentially a common situation: a deep gnome settlement struggling to remain free from Drow influences. Help them or take them over yourselves are the basic options depending on which track the characters have chosen to follow. Whatever they are doing, they have vast trackless wastes of underground labyrinth to travel through, complete with a massive fungal jungle - home to unimagined horrors, of course - and the dearth of anything much to eat, even if you do like mushrooms! It is an unfamiliar environment, an alien place where fine marble and metals are commonplace, firewood is rare and sunlight is never seen.

The adventure comes in three main stages: the deep gnome village, the fungal jungle and a Drow outpost. Each event is approached in parallel with notes aimed at both styles - tagged Explorer and Overlord for ease of reference. Once the scene is set it is up to the party how to reach and what they decide to do. All the details you'll need are provided in the event descriptions, making the adventure very easy to run. There is a tremendous amount to see and do down here, it should keep any party, Explorer or Overlord, occupied and entertained for several sessions at the very least, and there are wonders to be seen and surprises galore.

Given the sandbox nature of the adventure, there are some notes to aid in troubleshooting should the party depart completely from what has been intended... although in many ways, they cannot really go off the rails whatever they decide to do.

Map support is excellent. Players are provided with a virtually blank 'map' to chart their travels on, whilst the GM has copious maps and descriptions to aid in keeping everything straight. There's even a bunch of 'random map elements' you can throw in as appropriate. The illustrations are awesome and some will work well to show the players what their characters can see... and all the maps (unlabelled) and some images appear in a separate 'handouts' file for ease of use.

Adventure done (for the time being) there are appendices. One covers playing dwarf characters, including how to build an all-dwarf party that works coherently within the scope of the game. A second covers drow in much the same way, because if you have chosen the Overlord track, the party will be of necessity drow. Finally there is a fascinating Patron system to aid in creating a divine patron for a group of characters. Whilst aimed at creating some measure of party cohesion for a bunch of self-seeking drow, it works equally well for more conventional good-intentioned groups. A neat idea is that it is designed as a collaborative exercise for players and GM together.

Overall, an exciting start to what has potential to be an epic campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Yannick G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/04/2013 17:31:00
Great adventure from the beginning to the end. My player had a lot of fun running, we lost a pc but it was worth it. I can't wait to start book 2 next week, keep up the good work.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/16/2013 02:28:05
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The final chapter in the evil AP Way of the Wicked is 102 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, 2 pages maps of Talingarde, leaving us with 94 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being a review of the final part of this AP, the following contains SPOILERS - not only for this module, but for the whole AP. Potential players are strongly advised to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? Cardinal Adrastus Thorn lies slain, Asmodeus has proclaimed his support of the PCs and they have risen to be High Cardinals of the lord of the ninth - but they still need to clean p their house - the knots are in place, but depending on the actions of the PCs, the remaining knots may prove to be problematic. Take for example Barnabus Thrane (who is called Thrain in text once - unfortunately but one of numerous, accumulating editing glitches throughout the module) - the spymaster and Asmodean sleeper that has infiltrated the clergy - he most definitely will become a mayor problem if the PCs have not secured his cooperation. The man knows much, but can just as well be a worthwhile asset to the PCs claiming Talingarde and changing the clergy of Mitra from within. General Barca, on the other hand, is not a valuable asset - indeed, if the PCs have not killed him and opt to put him on the throne, they'll see their grip weakened by his growing paranoia. The Devils are unproblematic allies as long as the PCs serve the Dark Lord, but what if they falter? For falter they might:

After having slain Chargammon, princess Belinda, the paragon sorceress has been granted a solar and an artifact by Mitra - a veil to hide her from the eyes of all evil-doers and from all mortal magic. A powerful tool indeed to conceal her from the prying eyes of the PCs and plot with her draconic mother Antharia Regina the downfall of the tyrants to be - but more on that later.
If you recall the Hadean Signet in Book V, well the ring awakens and starts beckoning its master to sacrifice an angel, a fiend and a creature of titan-blood to unlock its vast powers - upon the third sacrifice, though, the thanatotic titan bound to the ring is released, seeking to enslave (or kill) all. Wise villains know when to stop and may use the properties of the ring's first two phases - though honestly, I would have expected a way for the ultimate tyrants of Asmodeus' reach in Talingarde to have some way of enslaving the vastly powerful titan - perhaps by besting him in combat thrice (he respawns after 66 days as long as the ring is not destroyed...) or by torture? After all, all spirits can be broken... A bit of a pity here, but oh well. It's not that they need the titan for now, for one of the knots has actually done his job well - Cedrick malthus has gathered a vast army of deadly mercenaries and cutthroats under the command of Volker Eisenmark - provided they can pay the ships to get them to Talingarde, the PCs have a vast army of cutthroats, murderers and people eager for a fresh start - at least 20 thousand strong.
These will be the saviors of Talingarde, for another army waltzes south - Sakkarot's Horde has done its job admirably. But in order to rule a proper land and not some heaps, in order to have a capital, the betrayal must be sprung - and while Sakkarot may falter, he will not fail. Following the plan, if the PCs can show that they are the favored of the Dark Lord, he leads his army to the slaughter in fields where the PCs have a chance to shine in a grand narrative battle where they have pivotal roles in ensuring that no elite humanoids escape the slaughter to hamper the first weeks of their reign. If the PCs have hired the elite mercenary general Eisenmark and brokered a deal with the Frost Giant Queen, they may even have more benefits from this battle - chief of which would be rekindling the hope for a place to be for the Fire-Axe himself - universally loathed and sans home, the PCs could tie him up - or make him one of their fiercest allies.

Speaking of allies - if the PCs have managed to corrupt Sir Richard, he returns from the shackles of hell as an anti-paladin, presented by Dessiter as a candidate for the throne of the puppet-king - and, unbeknownst to the PCs, walking scrying focus for Dessiter. Sir Berithor is his new title and yet another piece falls into place. With the Fire-Axe defeated, the PCs can walk into the city and, after meeting a delegation (including a relative of Barca) that welcomes the unlikely saviors, present their claim to the throne. Meanwhile, the princess is off to a quest on the mainland, gathering her forces - protected, unfortunately, by a plot-fiat device. Honestly, I would have expected some clever rules, ways to bypass the artifact, at least kill her allies - instead, the artifact essentially binds the PC's hands in that regard until the final battle.

Till then, though, the tyrants run free - and the best part of the module happens. The Tyranny-sandbox. Establishing a court of people with varying degrees of usefulness (and ambitions), the PCs have 3 years to enjoy their reign and manage their kingdom. While in the background, the might-score of the kingdom represents the overall power of Talingarde - and almost all decisions have consequences. And oh boy, are there things to do: From the court's machinations to the religious question of whether/how to legalize Asmodeus/ treat the Mitran church, coronation ceremonies etc., the PCs will have to make decisions fast: Whether to worm their way into the hearts of the Mitran believers or usher in brutal pogroms, it's all up to the PCs. Speaking of purging opposition - exterminating the blood of house Darius is an option, though taking them hostage might be wiser and aid them in the long run. Speaking of aid: If they are smart, they may find records of the remaining Knights of Alerion as well, netting them a chance to surgically remove the best remaining soldiers of the Talingarde resistance. Speaking of resistance - if the PCs take heed of their traitor's court, they may get the necessary information to take down one superbly stealthy leader of the resistance.

But there are also tasks that require the PCs to deal with: Take the problem of the Irean barbarians of the Caer Bryr: These clans may be unified - a free bonus army for the PCs - but only if they manage to exploit a prophecy of the people and kill a primal bandersnatch, the legendary Caothach Ool to show that they are the chosen ones. In the Caer Bryr, the PCs may by the way also revive the noble tradition of unicorn hunting to fill the coffers of their nation... Of course, cracking down on the resistance, razing a village to the ground that openly defies their rule, gaining the service of the Barcan nobles and their griffon knights, redecorating the palace, legalizing prostitution and/or slavery - the latter serving as a prerequisite to legalize bloodsports (and gladiator veterans), rebuilding Balantyne and fortifying and finally conquering the North, rebuilding Daveryn etc. are a lot of interesting things to occupy the PC's time. Finding a way to ensure their army remains happy is yet another issue to handle, as are the battle-nuns and the fact that the duergar are problematic allies at best, prime candidates to be betrayed to the regular dwarves to gain their loyalty as a vassal state. Allying with the reclusive Yutak, killing an elder kraken plaguing the trade-routes, side-quests in the Agathium, Grumblejack having prophetic dreams, dealing with a duke that could spell trouble, surviving an assassination-attempt by 2 mariliths and their demonic servants, rooting out the last outbreak of the Tears of Achlys, children praying for salvation and an angelic host(a great way to really screw up public relations),marrying a beautiful, wicked lady and make her queen - there is a lot going on. While darkness stirs in the North - a seeping shadow of invulnerable antilife seeps from a cavern where ancient tables lie, guarded by shoggoths: Stopping the all-consuming shadows and claiming the tables may add yet another dread weapon to the PC's arsenal. The Minions the PCs may still have also have up to 23 different tasks waiting for them - and then, after 3 all too short years....she returns.

The Pcs will reap what they have sown, with each of the different decisions resulting in modifications to Belinda's army or their own. And the saviors waste no time - the final stretch of the AP kicks off with 2 angels showing up above the city, preaching hope and seeking to wreck the palace. An aerial battle thus kicks off the final battle for Talingarde's soul -soon to be followed by an assassination attempt by Solomon Tyrath, high inquisitor of Mitra - hopefully they can make Naburus join their cause - and hopefully, they did not make Berithor king. For the ghost of his mother shows up - and he repents. Kills Dessiter. Becomes a paladin again. And delivers a final stand - to die and be claimed by the heavenly host, his contract voided by repentance.
And then, the final battle is upon them. They may even study the battle of the Victor fought in the same locale. And then lead their army into the final battle. Versus the last hope of Talingarde, Princess Belinda, Antharia Regina, the elysian titan God-hammer and a solar of Mitra. And then, there are two ways to end the campaign - win the insanely difficult final fight. Or suffer the fate of villains - abandoned by allies, more Mitran angels join the fray, ensuring the fate of the PCs. And thus, in which way you choose, ends the Way of the Wicked.

The supplemental material of this issue has Jason Bulmahn contribute 6 additional Asmodean spells, 8 magic items to insert into the campaign if you choose to. And finally, the last 3 pages contain a timeline for the whole campaign.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are the weak spots of this pdf - much like almost all issues of the AP, several easily avoidable typos, glitches and minor issues mar the AP and show that a second set of eyes editing this would have helped. Layout adheres to FMG's drop-dead gorgeous 2-column full color standard and the book is BEAUTIFUL. Michael Clarke's renditions of key enemies, almost all of them spanning full pages, rank among the best in the whole AP. On a formal level, the scarce bookmarks feel a bit unpleasant, much like in the predecessors - nested bookmarks would especially in the tyrant-section been appropriate. The pdf comes in two versions, one slightly more printer-friendly and, rather cool, the AP comes with an 9-page pdf of player-friendly maps and handouts - awesome!

Oh boy. Usually the editing glitches would mean that I rate this module down. And e.g. a certain archmage's plot-thread has not been addressed. But the sheer amount of loose ends being tied in this module is AWESOME. The Tyrant-sandbox is glorious and something only all too rarely seen. The final battle is brilliant. This module is epic and ranks among the finest final installments of any AP I've ever read. The power of the foes arrayed, the amount of consequences the PCs face - all these made me grin and want more - and look forward to Throne of Night. Since part 2 of the AP, not a single installment has had me that excited, that euphoric, that delighted by offering something truly different - at levels not usually supported by APs. Cool, deadly and truly a book centering on being villainous, I only wished more space in the overall AP would have been devoted to doing such things. Running Talingarde - for better or for worse for the villains is a sufficiently epic change of pace before a final confrontation of insane difficulty. If I had one complaint regarding the narrative, it would be the magical gizmo-stealth of Belinda. At least offering a chance to take down the solar or the dragon would have been more prudent in my mind - but then again, this is not about being fair. This is about reaping what was sown - and Fire Mountain Games, in spite of the scarce bookmarks and editing glitches, for this stellar module, reaps 5 stars + seal of approval for being innovative, cool and providing a joyous read that will have you cackle with glee - just remember that the fires of hell are waiting to claim you and that failure is not an option in the eyes of the dark lord...

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
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Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/24/2013 20:22:41
It is said that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. That may be true, but what about when good men (and women…and dragons, celestials, and so many more) do, in fact, do something? Can evil still be triumphant then? That’s the question that has been posed throughout the Way of the Wicked adventure path, from Fire Mountain Games, and the final answer is presented in the sixth and final book in the series, The Wages of Sin.

The Wages of Sin is presented in three files: the main book, a printer-friendly version thereof, and a set of player handouts. The player handouts are, for the most part, maps with the GM-only information removed, though one illustration is there too. The counterparts, with the GM information added, are found in the main book.

The printer-friendly file is the main file down to a “T,” save for turning the page borders into grayscale and removing the page backgrounds. This may sound like a lot, but it still preserves all of the interior illustrations, all in full color. I maintain that this detracts from the “printer-friendly” part of the equation, especially since several of these illustrations take up an entire page (though, to be fair, that does mean you can skip over those pages altogether).

It’s on that note that I do need to talk about the illustrations again. Michael Clarke’s talent is on full display once again, with a large number of full-color illustrations, many of which, as noted, take up an entire page. The artwork here is gorgeous, enough so that I wish that there was a separate file of just the art so that it could be shown to the players without needing to let them see the accompanying text (on the non-full-page illustrations, I mean). Heck, I just wish that there was an artbook of this material for its own sake.

The main file is just over a hundred pages long. While it does allow for copy-and-pasting the text, and there are bookmarks present, said bookmarks are to each of the book’s major sections only; there are no nested bookmarks to go to sub-sections, which is a shame.

The Wages of Sin opens with the usual introduction from the author, which is noteworthy this time because he talks about the issue of how to end the campaign; specifically, he calls into question whether you want to end on a note of evil victorious or evil undone, and discusses, albeit briefly, the pros and cons of each, insofar as what your players would like. I was actually somewhat impressed with this, since it brings up what I think is an interesting distinction in how the campaign ending can be approached – whether from a more personal point of view (e.g. “I don’t want my character to be defeated while on the cusp of total victory!”) or from a more poetic, narrative standpoint (e.g. “and so our PCs’ evil finally catches up to them, and they earn their just deserts.”). It’s an interesting dichotomy to consider.

The adventure background presents, well…the background for the adventure. More specifically, it goes over some of the things that have been happening outside the PCs knowledge to set things into motion, which isn’t unbelievable despite having five books’ worth of material behind them at this point. More specifically, we get the background on what Princess Bellinda (the last, best hope for Talinguarde) has been up to, and the information about the here-to-fore unknown Sixth Knot.

We then move on to the first major section of the book, which takes place shortly after the PCs successfully overthrew their master at end of the previous adventure. Now, the PCs are in charge…or are they? In fact, being in command is more than just having thrown off the shackles of servitude; it means actually taking control of the existing operation, enforcing their will on their comrades in evil, and keeping the late Cardinal Thorn’s plans on track.

Several events in this section focus on just that, as the PCs need to deal with the various factions remaining in the service of Hell, ending the “threat” of the humanoid army marching towards the capital, and then formally assuming control of the nation. Several of the events here revolve around existing NPCs that the PCs have dealt with before, and the author does a fairly good job of noting not only how these scenarios could play out based on what the PCs have done before now, but how they still could depending on what the PCs do.

My major complaint about this section was the sidebar near the end on why Princess Bellinda can’t be discovered and hunted down prematurely by the PCs. It’s not necessarily that she has a mcguffin item that makes her impossible to find, it’s that this is plainly acknowledged by the text, rather than giving her mcguffin stats. While all adventure paths are railroads to some degree, the major draw of this last adventure is that after so long being under the command of another, the PCs are now free to do what they want. This freedom is, for the most part, celebrated in this adventure…except where Bellinda is concerned. The text about her artifact makes it clear that there’s nothing the PCs can do to find her, and so the endgame can’t be tampered with (very much). It strikes me as a bit of a cop-out; at least give the thing game mechanics so that it’s conceivable, if unlikely, that the player-characters could have a chance of overcoming it.

Act two is the real meat of the book, being fully half of its page-count. It’s here that the PCs are at their pinnacle of glory. They are now in command of the nation that once condemned them; this section is given to all of the things that they can do – and that they must do – now that Talinguard is theirs. While various points in the campaign have been fairly open-ended in what the PCs could do, this is the largest the sandbox has ever been in the Way of the Wicked.

For one thing, the PCs are given several years of game time to indulge themselves. Over this, thirty different events are presented. Some of these are things that the PCs can do for themselves (do you want to legalize prostitution? How about the slave trade?), while others are things that happen during the course of their reign (e.g. assassins!). Insightfully, these events are set to take up set blocks of time, making them easy to adjudicate during the PCs’ rule over Talinguarde.

What really makes these events stand out is their scope. While some of these are issues of domestic policy, such as whether or not to erect temples to Asmodeus, others are much more grand. Do the PCs want to send their army to the north and wipe out the remaining humanoids (and other creatures) there, conquering the whole island? What about opening trade with foreign nations? There are many things the PCs can do to reshape the political and social lay of the land as they desire. As a bonus, there are almost two dozen additional actions that are specifically meant for the PCs minions (using the rules first introduced in the second adventure).

Event three is where it all starts to fall apart. Bellinda is back, and depending on how the PCs ran things, the degree to which the domestic populace flocks to her banner can vary wildly. Only a half-dozen events are here, and some of these are fairly low-key events like tallying up the respective sizes of the PCs army versus the Princess’s. Several individuals play out their last scenes, and the stage is pretty well set by the time things are ended here.

The fourth event is the finale to everything, as the two major armies clash. The PCs’ main opponents here are Bellinda and her immediate retinue, set against the backdrop of the battle. The bulk of this section discusses the battlefield itself, and the hefty stat blocks for the good guys, each one taking up about a page.

Somewhat disappointingly, what’s here doesn’t quite seem to tie together as strongly as I would have liked. For example, there’s several paragraphs of discussion given to the nature of the terrain on the battlefield, but the practical context of this (e.g. what happens if the PCs try to march their army through disadvantageous terrain) isn’t discussed. Likewise, the book uses a numerical score as a shorthand for determining the strength of the PCs’ army versus Bellinda’s…but while the results of this score are indicated clearly, it’s only in terms of how the setup looks, and not the actual outcome (e.g. you can read that score X means that your army outnumbers Bellinda’s four to one…but that doesn’t mean that you win).

The outcome appears to be entirely predicated on whether or not the PCs can kill Bellinda and her retinue, the lynchpin of the final battle. Hence, this seems to make the preceding sections somewhat superfluous. Whether the PCs have their army avoid the rough terrain, or whether or not their forces are a match for Bellinda’s army…all seems to come to naught, regardless of the final outcomes. What matters is this one last fight, and as that goes, so does the final battle. It’s a very poor integration of the wider implications for the PCs large-scale tactical knowledge, and the practical ramifications of how they conducted themselves as rulers of the nation.

A single-page epilogue is given next. It’s surprisingly poignant, allowing each player a turn to write their character’s final impact on the campaign, before the GM brings the curtain down. I was slightly surprised at the tone of finality here; I’m much more used to how Paizo gives us an entire section at the end of each of their adventure paths devoted to what you can do to continue the campaign, if you and your players are so inclined. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by that, but I find the absence of such a section here to be somewhat disappointing. Three or four meaty adventure hooks, and a CR 20+ stat block for some future foe, could have made for some very interesting material for enterprising GMs.

Several new evil spells and magic items appear next, courtesy of Jason Bulmahn. A sidebar addresses the irony of virtually none of these (save for one item) appearing in the adventure itself; of course, that’s somewhat expected, since the PCs are likely to be the one using these. What’s far more interesting, however, is the campaign timeline that’s presented as the last item in the book. This walks us through a chronological reading of the entire campaign, denoting which book the various events occur in, and what the PCs’ levels are, alongside dates and years. This really helps to lay down the feeling that this is a campaign that takes some time, as by the end of it over five years have passed. This chronology was far more interesting than I’d have suspected.

One thing I haven’t noted thus far is that the book does have some errors that crop up periodically, which is irking. For example, I noticed several spelling and grammatical errors throughout the book; not many, but enough. Likewise, some stat blocks had errors in them. While this can’t be helped much when you’re facing such high-level creatures, things like incorrect CRs were a recurring problem.

Of course, these don’t detract from the adventure very much at all. It’s here that wickedness reaches its fullest flower, and your PCs get to enjoy it greatly. They’ve become not only mover and shakers, but at last have reached their full potential as conquerors and tyrants, and they get to enjoy all that comes with it. This is the payoff that they’ve been working towards from the beginning of the campaign, and it’s in spades. If you and your group manage to get this far, you’ll have a great deal of fun reveling in The Wages of Sin.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book Five: The Devil My Only Master
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/13/2013 03:23:06
The fifth installment of Fire Mountain Games' critically acclaimed evil adventure path is 100 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of maps of Talingarde (as in each WotW-book) and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 92 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This is a review of the module, so potential players should jump to the conclusion to avoid the vast array of SPOILERS that follow.

All right, still here?
If the module's name has not been ample clue for you, this is the turning point of the campaign: For 4 modules, the villains have been the pawns of Cardinal Adrastus Thorn in his conspiracy to bring down Taligarde. The lich's paranoia has made him turn against the PCs and he will pay, for Asmodeus does not tolerate weakness like the undead's sparing of a paladin. In order to become second to none but the devil, though, the PCs first have to survive and not be suckered in by Thorn's "invitation" to his stronghold: Forewarned, the PCs first act in this module is the necessity to say "no" to Tiadora and her devilish erinyes - something that will result in a rather deadly combat. The first part of the adventure is rather modular and has the PCs plan their usurpation of Thorn's throne while trying to survive his endeavors in ending them. In order to gain Asmodeus favor, they will have to tie up lose ends: If Brigit of the Brijidine still is alive, they will have to eliminate her for Dessiter the contract devil.

Upon completion of this rather deadly task (Brigit's home is no laughing stock), they may have an audience with Naburus, a pit devil and lord of hell! Said devil may use a clever loop-hole in the contract that binds them to Thorn to extract them from his influence as well as potentially making one of them high-priest of Asmodeus! In the meanwhile, Thorn seeks to eliminate them by sending his hamatulan host for them and there are further loose ends that seek to be tied up: Depending on their actions in book 2, the PCs will have to contend and survive Vetra-Kali-Eats-the-Eyes and his retinue and finally get a grand chance:

Their nemesis Richard Thomasson, the paladin that single-handedly almost made their plans fail, the fool that melted Thorns heart out of sentimentality for a love now lost, walks the island of Chargammon. In order to please the lord of the 9th, the PCs must prove themselves, find the paladin, defeat his massive retinue and once and for all put a stop to his meddling. Better yet, for true masters of the dark - the PCs may actually drag the shining knight down, causing him to fall and swear allegiance to Asmodeus!

Of course, in order to defeat a lich, the PCs will have to get a hold of his phylactery and he has hidden it well - in the cave of dread Nythoggr, a cairn linnorm and foe that surpasses even the power of great Chargammon! Worse, the caves of the cairn linnorm are also the home of mad undead spirits like banshees and Ice Elf Dread Wraiths, making the infiltration/crawl a deadly challenge indeed. better yet, the options to infiltrate/use other means of acquiring the phylactery, including smart usage of the potentially existing draconic cohort are all taken into account: After all, who wants to incur the deadly death curse of the linnorm? If they do walk the path of brute force instead of cleverness and ingenuity, the PCs thankfully can escape the very deadly curse via a nearby artifact, but only if they are smart and know how and where to look...

When the next devilish assassin manages to wiggle out of Thorn's command upon him realizing they have his phylactery and instead proposes serving the PCs instead, it should be clear that Thorn's days are few. Only one thing remains for the future masters of Talingarde to do - teleport to the Agathium and stomp out their former mentor. Barricaded in the vast fortress depicted on the cover (which would imho make for a kick-ass metal cd-cover), the lich's paranoia grows, ever increasing. Guarded by armies of rejuvenating undead, the trek to the place could have been awesome, but honestly, it is here the module has its weakest spot: The unforgiving arctic wilderness sounds so awesome, why not have the PCs experience it and slug through Thorn's defenses? Magical Aurora Borealis, the artifact-engine, whatever - there are many good reasons for not opting for the teleport-option. Oh well.

The exploration of the Agathium is exciting - between Thorn playing tricks and using psychological warfare, his defenders are nothing to be scoffed at: From a Frost-Giant jarl (whose bride may become an ally of the villains) to Thorn's own hermit necromancer/crafter (who, again, may become an ally), the challenges awaiting the PCs are numerous - but so are the rewards: The PCs can e.g. make sacrifices to Asmodeus' most unholy altar (detailed with a drop-dead-gorgeous artwork), take control of the arcane engine that facilitates crafting and undead creation via negative energy and, of course, loot Thorn's treasury, which among other things includes Tiadora's true name, making her another potential servant. Speaking of servants: The traitor-general of Talingarde currently also languishes in the Agathium - a nice and convenient way for the PCs to mop up his particular loose end and put a stop to this pompous fop's meddling.

However, not all have turned against Thorn: His fortress is still secured by his own considerable magical might, units of grave knights and a particular nasty surprise: Apart from his fanatically loyal antipaladin champion Wolfram, he also has secured the aid or not one, but two undead dragons to annihilate the PCs - OUCH!

If the PCs manage to brave his false throne room ( a deadly trap indeed) and all his guardians, they will finally come to blows with their erstwhile master and, if they emerge triumphant, be graced with a rain of blood as well as the favor of Asmodeus himself, their only master!

After extensive troubleshooting, we are introduced to the second supplemental article for players who want to become undead: Vampires manage their transformation and the gradual power-gain (alongside vampiric weaknesses) via a progression of 5 feats, an apt payoff. Liches in contrast need only take one feat, but still have to pass the otherwise rather steep requirements for lichdom.
There also are 13 new feats for undead (including swarm-form, enhanced vampiric powers, a tad bit of resistance to sunlight etc.), 6 new magic items especially suitable for undead, 6 new spells (mostly designed to help them fit in with mortals, trap coffins etc.).

The final section of the book, guest-authored by Jason Bulmahn, introduces us to new archetypes: Monks may, as Hands of Tyranny, issue unholy commands (as per the spell) via their unarmed attacks, are particularly adept liars and may evoke crippling pain via a mere touch. Lords o Darkness are Asmodean paladins that gain enchanting options as cruelties and finally, inquisitors may opt to become Torture Masters, experts of extracting information from the helpless. The final new archetype, unfortunately, is the only one I'd truly consider good: The Unholy Barrister (cleric) has a special channeling: He can spend two channel attempts to heal all evil creatures with his negative energy, but only if they swear loyalty to Asmodeus. Now if that won't lead to some badass moments at the table... Furthermore, with so-called soulbound contracts, he may impart his spells to others, granting the class a second complex and extremely cool signature ability.

The final 2 pages are taken up by 9 new feats, which allow you to channel life-force of coup-de-grace'd foes, enhance your unholy spells, ignore pain, come out trumps in negotiations (e.g. planar ally) and also pacts: Pacts make it very hard for you to return from death, since your soul is sworn to hell, but on the basis of the first feat, we get ones that e.g. enhance your sneaking, your divine or arcane power etc.

The pdf also comes with an extra-pdf of key-and numberless maps and handouts that is 6 pages long and covers all locations visited in this module.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though, as the last two installments of WotW, not perfect - I noticed a couple of switched letters and similar typos, though less than in Book III and IV. Layout adheres to the stellar 2-column standard used in previous WotW-installments and is up to the highest demands. The artworks by Michael Clarke are, just like the original cartography, up to the highest standard as well. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though honestly I would have preferred more bookmarks, especially in the first section of the module, which is very much modular. The pdf comes with aforementioned extra pdf of player maps and handouts as well as a more printer-friendly version.

Author Gary McBride does not disappoint in the fifth installment of WotW - the pay-off, should the PCs manage to brave the vast dangers, is rather satisfying and the change of pace regarding enemy-types as well as the amount of support/trouble-shooting for the DM remains commendable. While not as jarring as the climax of book 4 (about which I complained to no end), book 5 also has a minor weak spot: The fact that there is potential for an epic wilderness-section (something so far completely missing from the whole AP, mind you!) in an undead-infested northern clime. This idea is so cool, the defenses and narrative one could have crafted from the PCs slowly but surely clawing their ways towards the antagonist through his lands could have made for an epicness beyond belief. Instead, the teleport-in-angle, while more common, imho also remains the blander way.

That out of the way, the narrative is otherwise solid, the challenges worthy of the villain's level by now and the potential for the DM to play some nasty tricks with evil creatures is there, making this imho better than book 4.

However, where I ceased to be amazed was with the supplemental information: I never liked the first article on undead PCs and the rules for vampire and lich PCs in my opinion, while working, fall a bit flat: Libris Vampyr by Necromancers from The Northwest did it via a PrC that required an extremely cool ritual every level, driving home not only the gravitas of the transformation, but also its symbology, something absent from this particular tackling of the subject. The new archetypes, with one exception, also left me rather cold, as did the pact feats which imho could use a slight power boost - after all, usually feats have no associated drawbacks and these do.

I wouldn't complain about these, were it not for the distinct impression that their page-count would have been served better by an expansion of the module. That out of the way, let it be known that my complaining is still on the highest level and this is, once again, an excellent adventure. Though not a perfect one. My final verdict will hence remain at 4.5 stars, + seal of approval, but rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Five: The Devil My Only Master
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Way of the Wicked Book Five: The Devil My Only Master
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/14/2012 19:43:50
Adventurers of any stripe are independent types; that’s a truism that goes back to the beginning of gaming. Few are the adventurers who care to have someone telling them how to take the risks they take, let alone telling them where to go and what to do. This is doubly so for those characters who are evil in nature…and yet that’s exactly what the PCs of the Way of the Wicked adventure path have had to endure. Until now.

Now, in the penultimate adventure, The Devil My Only Master, the PCs finally throw off the shackles of their earthly patron and take control of the plot to conquer the nation of Talingarde. But their master is not willing to go quietly. Let’s take a look and see how the adventure plays out.

The adventure comes with three PDFs. The first is the adventure itself, the second is the printer-friendly version thereof, and the third is a set of player handouts. Let’s look at these in reverse order. The player handouts largely consists of the adventure maps with the various keys and descriptors removed, which is a good thing to have; only one is an actual handout for the players to peruse. I had mixed feelings about these only being available in full color, as you’re most likely going to want to print these out – still, there aren’t that many (a grand total of six single-page items), so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

The critique about color artwork follows us to the printer-friendly version of the adventure. The printer-friendly version of the adventure has the same layout and artwork as the full-color version; what’s changed is that the page backgrounds (a parchment-color tan) and borders (a mixture of black and deep grey) are removed, with the borders being denoted only in grayscale lines. All of the other artwork and maps are present, color included.

I’ve mentioned before that I can understand leaving the artwork and illustrations in a printer-friendly PDF, as removing them requires redoing the layout. However, I’m less sympathetic to not finding a way to set the artwork to black-and-white at the very least. Would that really have been so hard to do?

Of course, the artwork is gorgeous – Michael Clark continues to live up to his high standards from previous works here, with artwork that seems to leap off the page, most in gorgeous full-color. Notwithstanding the maps, the bulk of the artwork goes to various NPCs introduced throughout the adventure, and the pictures do a marvelous job of showcasing just who it is your PCs are electing to go up against.

The PDF itself hits most of the technical marks you’d expect of it, having copy-and-paste enabled, and having bookmarks to each major section, though it’s still worth a frown that there are no nested bookmarks to sub-sections. I’d also like to see things like Mac-compatible files and epublishing versions available, but the lack of these certainly isn’t a deal-breaker. I should also note that there are some points of errata throughout the adventure as well – Cardinal Thorn’s CR, for example, is one point higher than it should be (unless it was bumped up to account for his gear, in which case that should be mentioned). Again, nothing that’s worth taking points off over, but if you have the time you may want to double-check a few things.

The book’s first act begins immediately where the last one ended, with the PCs now ready to turn against their patron, Cardinal Thorn. Indeed, at this point Thorn is already making preemptive strikes against them, whether the PCs have antagonized him or not, as his paranoia (and failure to act in accordance with the strict dogma of Hell) has already pushed him to the edge. The first act is therefore a mixture of dealing with Thorn’s agents as they attempt to kill the PCs and bargaining with his former associates to usurp his position. It’s here that the PCs manage to deal with the contract they signed way back in Book One, and the manner in which a particular loophole is exploited is quite diabolical indeed.

This part of the book features a sidebar wherein the author admits to this act’s repetitive nature – roughly a half-dozen encounters with outsiders teleporting in to either talk or fight. He mentions, wisely in my opinion, that you might want to consider spacing at least some of these out – this is good advice, but may be hard to put into practice; as I read it, only the last section can really bet set later in the adventure. Virtually all of the rest are required for setting things up. Also, the third section struck me as somewhat awkward, as it’s incumbent on a character from the previous Book having escaped alive – this is a bit tenuous for me; something should have been put in there to make this more definitive.

The book’s second act takes a detour, as the PCs now regroup and meet up with the Fifth Knot to gain some new intelligence on another old foe. The paladin Sir Richard has his story detailed here in full (something that takes a surprising three pages, and brings up another small complaint I have – at this point the PCs will only have met Sir Richard in combat once. There are supposed to be other instances where they come near each other, but these are easily downplayed unless the GM takes steps to play up the paladin’s accomplishments. This section, which covers his story in one place, makes it easier to do that; I just wish this had been highlighted earlier).

Of more pressing concern is that the paladin is currently on the Isle of Chargammon, attempting to secure funds for the army Princess Bellinda is trying to raise. The PCs must race there, overcome him and his company of knights, and make a decision as to whether they can try and kill their righteous foe once and for all, or something far more sinister.

This second act is the built-in “downtime” between the first act and the rest of the adventure. While it does have some combat, only the last part (with Richard and his fellows) is truly a threat to the PCs; far more important is what they do with the intelligence they gain, and what they do with Richard after his defeat. This islargely setting the direction for where to go next.

In this case, that’ll likely lead to the book’s third act; now that the PCs know that Cardinal Thorn is a lich, it’s time to go after his phylactery. Of course, this is no easy win – the phylactery is hidden in the lair of a truly terrible linnorm that dwells in a lonely cairn filled with undead. Contrasting to the previous section, there’s little politicking to do here; this is purely a smash-and-grab, and it’s likely to be a tough one. Of course, smart PCs will know better than to go charging in blindly (indeed, there are multiple notes in the book about one particular encounter being a likely TPK if the PCs don’t play it smart). Of course, once the PCs have the phylactery, it isn’t quite over, and then there’s the question of what to do with it.

I didn’t have any major complaints with this areas, as the book’s sole choke-point in terms of difficulty is addressed directly in a sidebar. I do wish that some discussion had been given to groups who try to employ the “fifteen-minute adventuring day” schtick, as this part of the book seems to lend itself to the PCs resting for a day after a difficult encounter, as most of the creatures are location-based.

The book’s final act is the assault on Thorn’s sanctum sanctorum, the Agathium. This two-level temple to Asmodeus is the final showdown with their old master and his few remaining servants. This last act is a mixture of the second and third, as there are multiple opportunities to make deals with some of the NPCs here, but at the same time there are plenty who won’t be willing to negotiate. Ultimately, this makes it something of a straightforward dungeon-crawl.

I quite enjoyed this section for its mixture of bloodlust and diplomacy, as it invites the kind of role-playing that I think Pathfinder does best. I do wish that there had been a larger section on the threats on the journey to the Agathium, but this is a small complaint as it does cover at least one obstacle on the way there, and by this time the PCs are likely using magical travel anyway, so it’s something of a moot point.

Far better is that this last section lends itself much more easily to scaling. The NPCs are largely divided by this point, thanks to Thorn’s paranoia and mismanagement of his resources; this can easily be changed if the PCs seem like they’re having too easy a time of it. I also don’t think this section suffers from the same “fifteen-minute” problem as the previous one, not because it necessarily goes out of its way to work around it, but because it’s somewhat self-evident that the PCs can’t stop halfway through a major assault on Thorn’s base of operations and then just pick up where they left off. Any GM who lets them get away with that is being far too lenient.

Once the PCs have settled the score, the stage is set for the final conquest, but unfortunately that will have to wait until the final book.

Luckily, this one doesn’t end here. A two-page FAQ is given on various areas where the PCs could go off the rails. In previous books, this was helpful – here, it is an absolute necessity. I’m frankly amazed that this section is only two pages long and yet manages to cover virtually all of the major deviations that the PCs could take; GMs would be well advised to pay close attention to this.

Following this is a section titled “Children of the Night,” a continuation of the same section from the previous book that deals more with vampire and lich PCs; whereas that was focused on the flavor of running an undead PC, this article focuses on the mechanics.

For vampires, the balancing mechanism for a vampire PC is largely handled as a feat tax. Specifically, becoming a vampire is set as a five-feat tree; only three feats are necessary to become a vampire, but gaining the full powers and benefits of the template from the Bestiary takes all five. This works well, I think, to balance the panoply of powers that vampires get (particularly since the vampiric weaknesses are not that difficult to ameliorate for smart PCs).

Liches are treated somewhat differently. Lichdom requires only a single feat, but crafting a phylactery takes months of constant effort. While some may find this lopsided compared to the degree of feats a vampire needs to pay, I think that it’s important to recall that vampires gain much greater utility and offensive powers than liches do, so I found this to be a comparatively equitable price to pay.

Of course, these aren’t the only feats in the book, as over a dozen new feats, and a half-dozen new spells and magic items each, all specific to the undead, follow. With spells such as “restore the destroyed” (a “resurrection” for the undead) and magic items like “the false heart” (so that a vampire may remove their real heart from their body, protecting it), these will definitely enable undead PCs to stretch their rotting wings to the fullest.

The book’s final section is similarly crunchy in what it offers. Titled “Hellbound” and written by Jason Bulmahn, here we’re given four new Asmodeus-specific class archetypes and nine new feats; most of the latter revolve specifically around striking deals with agents of Hell in exchange for power, albeit at the cost of your soul. Most of these were quite good, though I wish the antipaladin archetype had explicitly called out that changes the class alignment to Lawful Evil.

There’s one other aspect of the book that was disappointing in its exclusion; the PCs minions (a la the minion rules from Book Two). There’s simply very little for their minions to do here, as the book focuses almost exclusively on the PCs’ tactical actions against their enemies; while it can’t be helped given the nature of things coming to a head, it’s a shame that there are no opportunities for greater villainy undertaken on a wider scale here. Hopefully the evil followers of the PCs will play a greater role in the final book.

Having said that, the fifth book of the Way of the Wicked is a different beast than its predecessors, but not a lesser one. Here, there are extremely few good-aligned creatures to fight; instead, this is a battle against other villains to crown yourselves as the undisputed master of evil. This adventure is the first part of the dark reward your PCs will have been yearning for since the campaign’s start, and they’ll surely reap it with relish. From now on, each PC will bow exclusively to The Devil My Only Master.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/09/2012 05:05:21
This pdf is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages maps of Talingarde, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 99 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following text contains a lot of SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? All right!

The last adventure had the PCs in a precarious situation - the sacking of the most holy places of Mitran religion can easily be botched and thus, this adventure kicks off with the PCs either fleeing from the Vale with an army on their heels or triumphantly marching from it in charge of their own dark forces. Worse for Cardinal Thorn's dread masterplan - his third knot, the assassins in charge with dealing with the regent King Markadian failed and were vanquished and his mole in the army is too frightened to assassinate the king. His plan seems to be crumbling - but there are the PCs, aren't there? These people have been a valuable asset, but they are getting too strong. Thus, Thorn develops a Xanathos gambit that may very well backfire: The king dearly loves his daughter and this is his weakness - if a sufficient threat surfaces in the royal palace, he'll come to the rescue - with the elite of his guard. But what constitutes a sufficient threat? What about Chargammon, legendary old black wyrm? Yeah, that should do the trick. The PCs get a lackluster assignment - recruit the extremely hostile Chargammon, known to slay all intruders to attack the royal palace and in the chaos ensuing the King's return, kill the regent, a formidable foe himself and destroy his elite guard. Even if they fail, Thorn wins - gaining finally the leverage to force his mole's hand. Now if that does not smell of suicide mission, the PCs are dumb. For now, though, they'll have play along.

Thus, the module kicks off with the PCs leaving Valtaerna, either at the helm of their own successful army and with an enhancement to their own evil organization or with their tails between their legs, fleeing from a vast army featuring a magic banner. Rescuing their bugbear commanders, their hippogriffs, teleportation magic - a bunch of options to escape after a botched invasion are there and even abandoning the rank-and-file goons is expected (they can be replenished), though not necessary - the PCs can actually lead their army through the wintry, deadly passes to escape with their organization intact. Once they rendezvous with the Fire-Axe, they'll see that at least the sacking of Daveryn went as planned - the city has fallen and Sakkarot wants to talk to them - and trade information, for Sakkarot, ina fit of melancholy, tells them the details of his deal with Thorn and that in the end, he is to take a fall against the Asmodean "saviors" once Talingarde has plunged into chaos. More worrying is that Tiadora and Thorn seem to be rather stingy with new orders/plans. But before new orders are issued, the PCs will have some fun - sacking Daveryn, district by district, looking for loot as well as allies and the missing duke, squashing resistances etc. - the city comes with a beautiful , player-friendly full-color map that includes the names for the district, but thankfully no annoying numbers. And it is neat to see the consequences of the PC's actions, e.g. the Tears of Achlys, which claim victims and remain a potent and deadly threat. A total of 4 looting tables, plus one for magic items and multiple random encounters supplement the planned encounters that are part of the looting: From breaking the last remnants of the resistance (e.g. the remaining city watch and a company of soldiers) to an interesting find in the local wizard's tower, the PCs have some challenges waiting: Said Wizard has the hints to the legendary wyrm Chargammon's nest as well as more vital clues: The Duke is still inside the city walls and hiding and the lord of eagles seems to have captured the spawn of Chargammon. It should also be noted that the diviner's spellbook and notes make for some cool treasures - especially the lavish description of the spellbook is a nice touch.

Of course, even now the PCs can make new allies: The Baroness Vanya of Veryn, holed up in her mansion would make Cersei Lannister pale in comparison to her wickedness, but she's also a consummate politician that may make for a valuable ally regarding social interactions. The insane glory-hound and duelist master Rodrigo would make for the second potential ally - while not evil, he is amoral and cares only for his craft. Add to that spymaster Anton Breuder (who could provide a benefit in a future module), the option to steal the sapphire of storms (if the PCs are up for Mission Impossible-style trap disarming) and we're in for some fun. Better yet, if the PCs have failed to keep the slaughter of Valtaerna secret, the local prison could serve as a means to replenish their organization and a means to recruit Irfan al-Janbiya, the one assassin who was spared the righteous wrath of Sir Richard when he crushed the third knot. Once the PCs have found and dealt with all sources of information (good place to torture the subdued duke and perhaps a Mitran cardinal), the PCs could move onward -or they could do a cool sidequest for Grumblejack (or Raiju) to collect different types of spirits they may find strewn around the city - rather cool and adds some neat details to the local economy. The climax of the sacking should come as both a challenge to the PCs and as a sign that they are truly infamous: Two angels come down from the heavens to put them to justice.

Speaking of outsiders - Tiadora, this time accompanied by 9 errinyes, makes finally an appearance and hands off the quest to the PCs, acknowledging (perhaps subconsciously) that they did ALL the successful, major work in Thorn's gambit. By now the PCs should slowly starting to grasp that their master becomes concerned with their power. For now, though, they are off to the aerie of the Eagle Lord, a mythic being that commands the storms itself to rescue a black dragon - either by slaying the legendary bird and its court or by subterfuge and then have to deal with the rather dumb and deceitful spawn of the great wyrm to secure an audience and get them past the array of deadly river drakes guarding the isle. Worse, the duplicitous dragon does not warn them against the other defenses of the great wyrms lair, which makes e.g. the viper vines all the more deadly. Not as deadly as negotiating with an utterly chaotic evil black wyrm, though - in the end, PC ingenuity should prevail (there are btw. alternate ways to secure an audience) and they're off on a quest for the wyrm - to slay his rival, the copper wyrm Eiramanthus. Slaying a dragon is never easy and slaying this particular one is no exception.

The charismatic copper wyrm is a known planeswalker and has, in his travels far and wide, secured an array of concubines of surprising power - from Setia Swims-the-Sea-of-Stars, a ceteceal agathion to Sakari Yoshimune, a Toshigami Kami to finally Shakti Shobhana, a redeemed tataka rakshasa, the respective companions will provide quite a challenge - on their own. If the PCs are dumb enough to race into the island with drawn weapons and without a good plan to take care of them one by one, they will be squashed - especially with the allies of the respective concubines and potentially the copper dragon master of the island joining the fray. Add to that the labyrinthine quarters, crystalline gargoyles and a xorn emissary and a puzzle on a chess field, an interdimensional witchwyrd genius studying planar travel and the villains will be sorely tested even before they reach Eiramanthus, who true to his breed, will be rather communicative at first - of course, conflict with the noble being is inevitable and in the end, either he (and all remaining servitors/companions) or the PCs will be dead. And the rewards are nice indeed - the draconic hoard not only contains quite a bunch of unique treasures and is presented in excruciating detail, it also contains yet another piece of fabled hellbrand, dark blade of Asmodean champions and the demi-lich called "Nameless Tyrant", encased in crystal and yet another potential minion, albeit a very dangerous one - especially the knowledge of the lich-transformation might be interesting for the PCs Even more interesting, though is the infernal ally Dessiter, who warns the PCs of the impending treachery in Book 5 and to keep away from Thorn and plot his demise, adding quite a bunch of interesting pieces of information to the PC's repertoire, including the reason why Sir Richard has not yet been eliminated.
And then coolness begins - for the deed of slaying the copper wyrm, the PCs are actually rewarded by Chargammon in a rather cool way: He forces his son to serve them for 100 years - the PCs can now ride a black dragon into battle! Hell yeah! It's time to slay a king - in a month. First, wise PCs should explore the city of Matharyn and stock up - for before slaying the king will be perhaps their last chance for a while to get things done before the breakneck show-down with Thorn. The final location then, the Adarium, beckons and powerful wizards can be slain as well as celestials, righteous pyre-golems destroyed and diplomatic relations ruined (if the PCs act smart...). Secrets can be unearthed - including the hidden location of Hellbrands final component and Thorn's phylactery. Better yet, the magical prodigy princess and Sir Richard are here as well, guarded by an honor guard and a golem of mithral, their defenses are extensive and will ensure that the two get away - and for now that might be good, as it turns out the princess of Talingarde is not only beautiful, she's also a silver dragon-spawned prodigy of magic and when Sir Richard is defeated by Chargammon's assault, she intercedes and actually slays the dragon. Meanwhile, the PCs will have quite a battle with Markadian V and his elite guard on their hands.

The pdf also offers extensive troubleshooting advice and help with what/if-scenarios regarding the module's plot and the consequences we can expect from the potential of failure. We also get a whole page depicting the outcome of the clash between the Fire-Axe's armies and the forces of the king sans their leader that serves as an introduction to the things to come. The city of Matharyn gets a lavishly detailed gazetteer-section, including information on putting the PC's organization to the test against the excellent night watch. The pdf also offers advice for lich and vampire PCs and a run-down to make Way of the Wicked an all-vampiric campaign, from Book I to VI.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I encountered some minor typos spread throughout the module, though no enough to rate it down. Layout of the AP is beautiful and on par with Paizo publications and the artworks and cartography are stellar and up to the highest quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with a semi-printer-friendly version without backgrounds as well as another pdf that includes the handout as well as player-friendly versions of all the maps sans the annoying numbers -AWESOME!
The fourth module of the WotW-AP is a wicked ride of fun, but one that needs careful planning on part of the DM - the module relies on the PCs completing the plan in spite of its flaws and a lot of quid-pro-quo-quests. To truly make this module work, a GM has to be up on his game. That being said, the module nevertheless is a stellar example of cool things to do and the villains will finally feel as if they are infamous indeed - the attacks by celestials and the forces of good finally directly attack the PCs and the option to gain a dragon mount rocks. Challenging creatures like a dragon and an ancient nature spirit is iconic indeed. That being said, there is at least one potential problem I see with the module: While the capital of Talingarde is detailed and the Adarium a challenging climax, it is the final section that needs a bit of DM-expansion: The pdf does not cover HOW to enter the Adarium and while the players have a multitude of tools at their behest, some guidelines would have been nice. Additionally, the PC's infiltration while their "threat" forces the king's hand could have been made more iconic, with more guards that are slain while the PCs are running the corridors. A timeline or some cinematic scenes in which the PCs can see how their wicked ally vanquishes otherwise lethal roadblocks in the module would have added some gleeful spite to their accomplishments.

That being said, I am complaining on a very high level here - this module is still an excellent, awesome ride and while it has no new mechanics like the two immediate prequels, it offers the PCs a chance to reclaim an organization and make new allies - though I would have loved to see more for the villain's cohorts to do. In contrast to the attack on Valtaerna, this module does not offer much to do for the poor cohorts apart from accompanying the PCs, which is a pity - give the psychotic alchemical golem, Grumblejack etc. something to do in the Adarium. (Though the sidequest provided for a cohort is awesome...) Perhaps a sabotage of the golems, a reconnaissance, making the assassin kill the court mage etc. - something like that. While easily done yourself, I would have nevertheless enjoyed to see some love there. Again, please bear in mind that this is still complaining at the highest level. Book 4 provides us with interesting challenges, is logical and makes for a fun ride for your villains and while personally, I slightly enjoyed the first 3 books more due to aforementioned minor nitpicks, I maintain that this pdf is still an excellent module that this time lacks hard-to-presume assumptions like the communication-blockade in book III - in fact, many adversaries herein utilize spells etc. to piece together information on your PCs, lending an air of credibility to the world and the actions of your dastardly group of devil-worshipers. The additional material is also up to the stellar quality of the book, though personally I don't like the section on vampire and lich-PCs - honestly, these topics need to be tackled in much more detail to work smoothly, at least speaking from experience. I have a vampire-PC ( a fallen, blessed priestess that turned towards bloodthirsty fanaticism) in my home-campaign and rest assured, the implications go beyond what one would expect at first.

How to rate this, then? You heard my nagging complaints and might ask yourself why I'm so utterly nitpicky with regards to these modules. Why? Well, because the Way of the Wicked is that good. Honestly, "Call forth Darkness" is perhaps one of my most favorite modules ever. And the others are not far behind. From the craft's perspective, the 4th module is solid and the attention to lavish detail, the cool creatures and of course, the presence of dragons as both adversaries and allies will lead a sense of empowerment to the PCs. For me, the finale was not as satisfying as it could easily be - however, the remedy is so simple that no DM should be stumped to improve it. In the end, I feel I have to be careful to not hold any installment of Fire Mountain Games' AP to a standard of its own and instead deliver a verdict in the grand context of publications. Not every adventure can do something radically new, after all. Thus, my final verdict for this part of the AP will clock in at 4.5 stars, gladly rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform - an excellent module that could use a bit more guidance/epicness in the finale, especially when the conquering in Book III and the escape/march from Valtaerna shows how well author Gary McBride can handle such situations.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
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Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/27/2012 19:00:31
It’s universally understood, though not often said, that evil is simply cooler than good. Evil people are the ones who get to dress in the most arresting outfits, make the grandest speeches, and perform the most memorable actions. Simply put, evil characters make a bigger impression than their righteous counterparts…though oftentimes the good guys can come close.

In Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses, players and GMs get to see this truism up close and personal. Heck, it’s even in the book’s title – this is adventure is all about those most fearsome of beasts, dragons, as well as women of nobility and power. While the PCs have met some truly arresting characters so far, it’s here that they begin to truly begin interacting with the kingdom’s power-players on a regular basis.

But before we get any further into the meat of the adventure, let’s look at the technical aspects first. The fourth Way of the Wicked book comes as three PDFs. The first is the main adventure itself, while the second is a printer-friendly version thereof. The last one is labeled as being “player handouts,” which is a slight misnomer; rather, it’s a single player handout, and four maps of major areas that have all of the labels removed, making things easier for the GM (though some might grimace at the fact that the name of the place depicted is still featured on each map).

The main file, one hundred-six pages in length, presents itself fairly well on a technical scale. Copy and pasting are enabled, and the text is fully searchable. Bookmarks are present, but again there’s only one bookmark for each major section of the book; if you want to find a more specific sub-section, you’ll need to scroll to it manually. Both of these are also true for the printer-friendly PDF.

Unfortunately, the printer-friendly PDF only lives up to its designation half-heartedly. Its idea of being “printer-friendly” is to remove the background coloration from the pages, and set the page borders to being grayscale lines. All of the interior illustrations and maps are still there in lavish full-color.

Having said that, the main file is notably resplendent. The pages are set on a dark tan background (which, I think, is meant to look like parchment) with ornate black borders on three sides. Full-color maps are present for each major section, and of course the interior illustrations are all in lustrous full color as well. I must once again tip my hat to artist Michael Clarke, as the various pictures of the major characters that the PCs meet are, to be blunt, arresting. Each one of these pictures clearly conveys the thousand words that they’re worth.

My last technical critique is regarding what’s not here, rather than what is. There are no files that are optimized for e-readers or Macs. While this wasn’t a big deal to me personally, I suspect that it’s a bit more of a nuisance for those who want versions of the book optimized for those devices.

Now, let’s get down to the adventure itself. As with previous installments, this one actually begins almost exactly where the previous one ended – I’m of two minds about how the book actually opens with what feels like the epilogue to its predecessor; on the one hand, it feels almost anticlimactic, as instead of moving forward with the plot you’re dealing with the loose ends from your last adventure. On the other hand, this helps to lend a much greater sense of cohesiveness to the campaign as a whole, since the adventures feel much more interconnected…something I suspect was author Gary McBride’s intent.

Regardless, the adventure opens with the PCs in what’s left of the Vale of Valtaerna, having not only snuffed out the holy flames of the state religion’s most holy site, but also slaughtered every living thing in the valley. Or at least, that was the plan. If the PCs succeeded, then they get to march their army out (absorbing the surviving bugbears into their own evil organization, if the rules from Book Two are being used) with no fuss as they continue their evil plans.

Cogently, however, the book spends more time talking about what happens if the PCs failed and some survivors managed to escape. In this case, the winter thaw finds an army of light (FAR outnumbering the PCs’ forces) preparing to retake the Vale. This is another classical “villain moment,” in that it presents the PCs with the question of what they’ll do regarding their minions when it comes time to beat a hasty retreat. While the PCs can likely escape on their own, there are various actions presented, along with their consequences, should they also want to save their minions and greater retinue.

Once the PCs escape, it’s time for them to relax before their next assignment. Rejoining with the humanoid army led by Fire-Axe at the recently-conquered city of Daveryn, the PCs can kick back and accomplish some side-quests for a month. This is largely a chance to catch up on XP and treasure (in the form of some good old-fashioned looting), but does have several opportunities for the PCs to find several clues for their upcoming assignment.

Speaking of being assigned, after a month of squashing what resistance remains in Daveryn, the PCs’ master sends them one last assignment: to kill the king of Talingarde. Of course, this isn’t as simple as just poisoning his food – the king marches at the head of an army, and attacking him there is suicide. Rather, the PCs are to create a huge calamity back at his palace, where his young daughter resides. The king, loving his child so much, will magically transport back to defend her…which is when the PCs will ambush him.

Of course, this requires creating a disaster of sufficient magnitude, and it’s here that the titular dragons begin to come into play. The PCs need to enlist the help of the great black wyrm Chargammon. This is much easier said than done, as the dragon eats anyone who approaches him. So first, they need to find a way to secure an audience.

This part of the adventure seemed, to me, to be a bit rushed – not the issue of the PCs’ master giving them their next assignment (the book is actually very cognizant of the fact that the PCs are by now straining their metaphorical leashes) – but rather, how the PCs are supposed to think of the manner in which they’re to safely meet with Chargammon. Simply put, one of the aforementioned clues in sacking Daveryn is the key here, but the sandbox nature of the conquered city means it’s less than certain that the PCs will even look in the right place, let alone find it. The adventure basically tells the GM to make sure the PCs find this clue somehow, but only offers a few off-the-cuff suggestions for what to do if the PCs don’t go to the right area and look in the right place; it’s a weak point in what’s otherwise an excellent adventure.

Once the PCs discover the clue, it’s off to find the one person who can secure them a meeting with Chargammon. This is largely a sidetrek, as the adventure makes it fairly easy to locate the correct area once the PCs are on the right path, and the fight is relatively brief.

Only after this is done can the PCs meet with the powerful black dragon, being able to journey there in relative safety (I have to interject here that the picture of the black drakes that dwell on Chargammon’s island made me think of a certain dragon named Toothless). The actual meeting itself is anything but safe, however, as Chargammon is as arrogant as he is powerful. It’s very easy for PCs who are stupid or proud to provoke a fight that they likely cannot win. Again, this is an area where the plot moves along very thin rails; a minor disruption can have major repercussions here.

Chargammon, in the true style of RPG NPCs, won’t agree to do anything unless the PCs undertake a quest for him first. In this case, he wants a rival dragon slain – a copper dragon of less power but greater allies named Eiramanthus. This is no small thing, as like Chargammon, Eiramanthus commands his own island.

The island is an otherworldly place. Eiramanthus is a planeswalker extraordinaire, and alters his home to better reflect the nature of his travels. As such, the entire island has an alien feel to it that also gives it certain defensive properties. The major defenses are the creatures who dwell there, however – in addition to visitors and the local servants, Eiramanthus’s home is occupied not only by the dragon himself, but by his three concubines; exotic and powerful women that he wooed on his travels.

I was critical of some of the previous parts of the adventure because they had clear directions that they wanted the PCs to go, but offered only a relatively narrow range of options for how to make that happen. Here, the situation may seem somewhat similar, but I don’t hold this against the book. That is, if the PCs are stupid, they may end up facing Eiramanthus with most of his servants and concubines helping him, which is likely to overwhelm the PCs. It’s far smarter to use some degree of subterfuge to try and take them down one at a time or in small groups.

There’s little advice on what the situation is or how to make sure things don’t go south quickly. I don’t consider this a bug, but rather see it as a feature. This adventure is for high-level PCs, and at this point if they’re not using some degree of strategy, the fault is entirely their own. That the PCs are likely to face disaster if they try to kick in the door is how things are supposed to go. At this point, punishing them for not using their heads is the correct thing to do.

It’s after things are done here that the plot makes a significant leap, as it’s here that the PCs are given not only a great deal more information on their master’s past, but are given the first direct information regarding overthrowing him. The seeds for the next book are sown here…

Once Eiramanthus is slain (and his truly prodigious hoard, which includes some amusing souvenirs from other dimensions, has been claimed), Chargammon is willing to hold up his end of the bargain. Now all that’s left is to head to the capital city and prepare to lure the king into the death-trap. This is an area where the PCs will again have a chance to explore a major city, but that part is left to the gazetteer at the end of the book.

For the final act, the king’s palace is detailed. Sneaking in and overcoming the defenders isn’t what I’d call cakewalk, but it’s by no means a truly difficult affair, which makes sense as most of the martial forces have marched to the front. However, plenty of soldiers remain that even a high-level group should be wary of sounding an alarm before their ready to commit regicide. Once Chargammon attacks, however, the king (who is a paragon of a certain eight Virtues, for fans of a particular old school RPG series) comes running…along with his closest defenders. Remember, they came back because the situation was dire, so even caught unaware they’re still ready for a truly tough fight. To slay a king here will be no small thing for the PCs.

The adventure doesn’t quite end there, as there’s a “cut scene” involving Chargammon and the princess. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, as this is written as a narrative, and so it’s difficult to know if this is meant to be read to the PCs or is simply an extra for the GM. Ideally the former, but that might not be workable. Far better, at least in terms of practicality, was the FAQ-style section where the book dealt with what to do if things went awry at various points. This was a very bright idea, as this adventure more than others offered places in which various parts of the plot could conceivably be done out of order, ignored, or changed depending on the PCs’ actions. The suggestions for how to get things back on track are most welcome.

Of course, the book doesn’t end here. A gazetteer is given for the capital city of Talingarde, Matharyn. While I was expecting to be tired of city guides, I was once again proven wrong. Matharyn has its own feeling; whereas other cities are populated by people pragmatic in their approach to life and work, Matharyn really is a bastion of order and goodness. This is a city where the people are good and do good, and the author notes that this is quite likely to throw less-selfish evil-doers for a loop; it’s hard to imagine a society more perfect than one where everyone works for the common good and is genuinely happy. Luckily for those characters who want to destroy such virtue, there are ten brief side-quests given as well.

The final section of the book is a discussion regarding how to run the campaign for PCs who become vampires or liches. If this sounds random, it shouldn’t, as the previous book presented the PCs with a golden opportunity to become vampires, and this one presents a similar method for achieving lichdom (I won’t spoil the surprise here). This is the first of a two-part section, with this first one eschewing mechanics (save for one new magic item that allows vampires to survive in sunlight) in favor of advice and suggestions.

It’s worth noting that this section is also fairly lopsided in favor of vampires. While the initial part does talk about some of the issues with playing a lich (e.g. can lich powers be voluntarily deactivated? What to do if someone steals your phylactery?), the majority of it talks about what to do regarding the many weaknesses and restrictions of vampires. This may seem like would-be lich PCs are being snubbed, but it’s understandable given that vampirism is much easier for most PCs to achieve, compared to lichdom. The section closes out with book-by-book advice given for running Way of the Wicked as a campaign about the ascendancy of a vampire kingdom.

Overall, there’s little question that Of Dragons and Princesses stands alongside the previous three adventures as a high-water mark among adventures. However, it never exceeds the standards its predecessors set. Small issues regarding how smoothly the plot continues onward, along with one too many “fetch quests” for my taste (e.g. quest to figure out how to meet Chargammon, quest to secure his aid, etc.) make this an adventure that’s excellent by any other standard, but not quite so much as the others.

Of course, those are small complaints compared to what’s here overall. From the flight from Valtaerna to the first real discussion of overthrowing the PCs master to the assassination of the king and so much more, there’s a huge amount of high-quality adventuring to be had here. Stamp out rebels, murder kings, and bring the world one step closer to damnation as you perform deeds Of Dragons and Princesses.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book Three: Tears of the Blessed
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/22/2012 07:03:49
The third installment of Fire Mountain Games' evil AP is 102 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 97 pages of content, so let's check it out!

This being an adventure review, Asmodeus watches over these lines. If you're a player and don't want to be dragged to hell due to knowing about the massive
SPOILERS, I'd suggest you skip ahead to the conclusion.

Still here? All right! The adventure kicks off where "Call forth Darkness" left off - with the legendary Tears of Achlys now in the PC's possession, Thorn's plans grow closer to fruition. After receiving their rewards the PCs are sent off to Ghastenhall, where they meet up with an Asmodean scholar in disguise who has infiltrated the church of Mitra and happens to know Thorn from when he still was a mortal man. said man will ensure that the Tears of Achlys do their utmost damage. Their circlets also get an upgrade and by now, finding out that Thorn scries them via these items as well as some information on their benefactor's motivations can be coaxed from the man. Even better, the PCs have a whole month to spend on side-quests, some of which, like pit fighting, are detailed. Better yet, the organization (or what's left of it) of the PCs can be established in the town as well, giving them ample things to do while the Fire-axe continues his rampage through Talingarde. Winter is approaching and in the spring and summer, the hordes the villains unleashed upon the land will face off against the true power of the kingdom.

But between this war and now lies a winter, one the PCs are not supposed to sit idly by - they are called to the Fire-axe and there will have to negotiate for some squads of elite troops for their upcoming task: Burn down the most sacred vale of the Mitran faith, extinguish the holy flames and let none escape. While the basic negotiation is simple, the PCs can do so much more: E.g. ally themselves with the local vampire lord, recruit an unruly ogre-mage and a small army of reclusive Duergar and gain a valuable ally in a beauty-priestess turned mad medusa that first has to be pummeled into submission (and yes, her ruined temple gets its own map). Depending on how they fared until now, they will still have allies from previous adventures as well and some guidelines on managing the minions is provided, as is a suggestion on how to handle the potential wish of a PC to turn into a vampire. Oh, and it seems the PCs have come to the attention of the dark overlord and thus get their very own Nessian hellhounds and make the acquaintance of an infernal lawyer who will prove to be useful indeed in the future...

Gathering these allies is the first way to accumulate victory points for the vast battle to come - as soon as snow is falling the vale must burn! If the PCs are smart, they have done some reconnaissance, which means you could show them the beautiful full-color player-friendly map. They might also know that hiding alignment and infiltrating the tower at the vale's entrance will have to be the first step for success - killing the Lammasu-watchers another. It should be noted that the tower is fully mapped and while clearly a task for the PCs, they can send in minions - who fail. UNLESS the PCs act smart and send the right minion for the task, in which case the tower is not taken, but their task does become easier.

Once their army has passed the wall, the defenders will scramble to keep your dark hordes out and here the narrative battle begins - essentially, your army crashes into the vale and over the course of the battles, your villains will have to intervene and make decisions that influence your VP - an example would e.g. an elite cadre of archers (warp their bows!), a charge by good knights (take their horses away!) and then there are the elite dwarves - deadly, stout and another task for the PCs - or a great way to use their disposable Duergar allies. Fireballs and catapult stones may hit the PCs and the acolytes of the serene order, a unit of monks is next up and may make for yet another hard fight - or, if they're wise, a nice way to use their vampire spawn. The greater bridge is held by shield archons and here, the PCs must intervene - three battles await them until the bridge is taken - the shield archons, Aasimar paladins riding on celestial griffons and finally, holy warriors under the command of high level priests of Mitra. This is the first grindstone and after this, the victory points are counted - Your PCs have probably been taxed to their limits and beyond and it might be possible that they failed - the adventure advises the DM on the consequences and, depending on what the villains achieved, they'll have different outcomes and quite a bit of trouble-shooting advice is included in the pdf. Most probably, the town of Sanctum is theirs. They can man the tower. Make them scarce pilgrims lambs to the slaughter for their minions. Start a genocide in sanctum and gain information via torture. And of course, the 3 months of winter make for an excellent time to have people try to escape the vale and warn Talingarde - something that must be avoided, especially if the PCs have been seen.

The vale is not in the PC's hands, though: There still are 3 sacred flames burning bright for Mitra's glory and they must be extinguished. First lies atop a mountain guarded from flight, guarded by a Peri and a Phoenix. Yes. A phoenix. And the villains can steal its eggs while fighting the legendary beast. Very cool! The second location is the garden of serenity, where not only a vast labyrinth, but also an Agathion huntress, legion archons and a pack of advanced blink dog guard the entrance to the labyrinth. Have I mentioned the herd of Kirin the PCs may slaughter and use for their crafting? At the center of the aforementioned labyrinth, the second flame burns bright, guarded by the head of the local monastic order and an almost legendary oracle.

And then, once the second flame has failed and a red sky looks down upon the villains, it's time to get into the cathedral of Mitra and face the last resistance: Devas. Hippogriffs. A storm giant with tame rocs. Ghost Paladin Martyrs. And then there are three trails of Mitra for the PCs to outwit in order to find high priest Earnan MacCaithlan and stop him from unleashing his ghost martyrs via the bones of a saint. There also is a deadly Chalkydri angel and iron golems, which guard the vault where infernal artifacts await the villains - among which is the legendary blade Hellbrand, yet uncompleted, but eagerly awaiting the PC's command...
Hopefully, the PCs find a way to pierce an holy shield of fire (hints are provided), crush an Azata-emissary and finally, meet the true head of the order, the final guardian of the flames: Ara Mathra, He-who-stands-in-Light - advanced monadic Deva, CR 16. OUCH! With that and several possible conclusions, this adventure ends and provides quite a bit of trouble-shooting for beleaguered GMs.
The book also includes an extensive gazetteer of the trade town of Ghastenhall and I wholly expected to be bored by the write-up. Instead we get an interesting and unique town with some neat local peculiarities in food, street-names and goods available that makes the place exciting indeed. The excellent beautiful map does its best to add to the town's appeal and while I don't mind the respective quarter's names, I don't like the numbers and letters on it. A player-friendly map would be much appreciated here. This section also ties up a possible side-quest with a duke's missing daughter started in Book 2.

After that, we finally get a write-up of the faith that is the opposition of the PCs - Mitra's doctrine is revealed in all his soon-to-be-tarnished glory and the organization his church and its 7 tiers as well as holy symbols, ceremonies etc. are depicted in compelling and well-written detail. Fans of good inquisitors should note that the faith comes with a neat write-up of the Mitran Inquisition, but no crunchy inquisitions.

Conclusion:
As much as I'm loathe to say it - editing can no longer be considered good. This installment of the WotW has more editing glitches than the first two books combined - from Mitran Priests that don't include the information on how many there are in the statblock to typos and minor punctuation errors, I encountered quite a few of them. Another pass at editing would have been great and I hope that future installments of the WotW devote a bit more care to the process. Layout adheres to the stellar, beautiful standard set by the series and the original full-color maps and artworks rock hard. However, I would have loved to see player-friendly versions of the maps for all locations, not just for some. The pdf is bookmarked, though the final one links to the introduction instead of the Mitra-article as it's supposed to do - another glitch that could have easily been avoided. The printer-friendly version is b/w, but still features all artworks and maps.

The Way of the Wicked has provided us with two of the best adventures out there for PFRPG, period. And now, in the "Tears of the Blessed", we finally get to battle celestials, those creatures mostly left untouched in adventures and rip them a new one. That's great.

However, I feel that the overt celestial massacre to be instigated in this module suffers from some points that could have used clarification: Number 1: After the initial battle (which is awesome and cinematic), the occupation feels a bit rushed and as if it leaves quite some potential untouched. The town of Sanctum needs a kind of gazetteer with detailed NPCs, perhaps collaborators and everyday heroes trying to escape, because 2: The PCs should have a way to corrupt the vale's magic in order to keep the celestials from calling reinforcements/teleporting outside. It would have been rather easy - make their patron devise a ritual that corrupts the detect evil-sight of the watchers in the vale to a kind of dimensional anchor/communication blockade. 3: After the epic invasion, there's not much for the villains to do in the vale but kill the static opponents. Apart from off-screen genocide/torture, there's just not much to be done in sanctum. Why not make the villains unearth foes/information? Prevent incursions? Corrupt Aasimar-populations and/or make them undead? I get the rationale for the powerful celestials/heroes to guard the flames, but I don't get why there's no plan for counterattacks/guerilla-warfare. Apart from a certain ritual, the remaining defenders don't make a smart stand - barricade the final flame, amass forces, strike back, anything but waiting for the heroes to kill them. Usually I wouldn't mind, but in contrast to the epic battle that lets the PCs sack Sanctum, the extinguishing of the holy flames, while cool and iconic, pales in comparison. Note that all these problems are easily remedied by just about any DM, but they still remain and detract from what otherwise would be a stellar module.

In the end, the editing glitches and minor story/pacing-problems conspire to make this not own up to the almost unbeatable standard set by the adventure path so far. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good adventure, but it falls a bit short of what I've come to expect from the saga. My final verdict, due to these unrealized potentials and glitches, will be "only" a 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform with a definite recommendation and, in spite of the lower review, my seal of approval. If you can see past the glitches, it's a stellar module - Those walking the Way of the Wicked need to have this anyway.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Three: Tears of the Blessed
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Way of the Wicked Book Three: Tears of the Blessed
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/06/2012 20:39:13
It’s difficult to say just what the draw is of playing evil characters. There’s an ineffable quality to being the bad guy, a sense that, if evil is something that tempts people to fall, then those who have fallen have no further moral failings that can be used against them. All that’s left is to make use of the certitude that comes from damnation and bring ruin to the champions of light. It’s in that spirit that we look at the third adventure in the Way of the Wicked adventure path: Tears of the Blessed.

Tears of the Blessed comes as two PDF files – the main file and a printer-friendly version thereof. The latter’s differences from the main file being that it removes the page backgrounds as well as the coloration from the page borders. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for me to give this particular area a pass, as it retains the full color interior illustrations (and even the page borders are kept in line-scale). True printer-friendly material removes all of the interior artwork, even though that means doing the layout again.

That said, the main file presents itself quite well. Bookmarks are present at each major section of the book, though save for one part there were no nested sub-section bookmarks (though the last bookmark took me to the front of the book). Copy and paste was fully enabled, which is always good. I do have to give props to Michael Clarke for keeping the high quality of the art coming. All of the pieces here are full-color, and while I wouldn’t put this at the highest tier of RPG art, what’s here is damn good (devil pun!).

I’m also going to cover up-front that there were some errors in this book. Nothing was major, but small problems crept in. I noticed several typos, several of which a quick spell-check could have caught. Likewise, the odd stat block error is present also, though never so much as to make a creature unusable (no aasimar, for example, has the humanoid type).

Tears of the Blessed follows hot on the heels of the previous adventure, Call Forth Darkness. It’s in this adventure, ironically enough, that we get stats for the magical disease which was the prize of the prior installment in the adventure path. Following achieving this, the PCs are immediately whisked off to the port city of Ghastenhall, settling in for a month to cool their heels before getting started on their next assignment…to raise an army and assault the faith of Mitra’s holiest temple!

I initially had mixed feelings about this section of the adventure, as it seemed like something of a carbon copy of how the previous adventure progressed. As in Call Forth Darkness, the first part of the adventure is a fairly short presentation on the town that the PCs are setting up in before going off and performing their real assignment. However, I quickly remembered that, although this portion of the adventure is short and somewhat underdeveloped, it’s still promising in what it offers, though as with Farholde this is because the gazetteer at the end really helps to make the town come alive.

Part of the reason why Ghastenhall feels so short is that its presented largely as potential adventuring opportunities, which make it feel almost like a series of side-quests waiting to happen – depending on how you present them, and how much your PCs invest in the town, there can be a lot to do here, or it can be quickly bypassed.

The second “act” of the adventure is concerned with the actual formation of the army of evil. As with the section on Ghastenhall, this is one core scenario around which more can be done if the PCs want to go out of their way. After an initial meeting with Sakkarot Fire-Axe in which he lends your PCs a few hundred bugbears to command, there are also several other avenues to explore. Most of these are to find new individuals to fight by the PCs’ sides, but a few do present possibilities for enlarging their overall force. Helpfully, the author does make mention of the PCs existing forces (e.g. Grumblejack the ogre, from the first adventure, or their custom-built evil organization from the second) and how they can play into the overall force.

This section also includes some very cogent advice on what to do if the PCs start to balk at being ordered around. This is wise, as by this point the PCs will likely start to chafe at having to do someone else’s bidding. Of course, this ultimately comes down to various ways to snap them back into line, but it’s good that the author anticipated something like this.

The third act of the book is the initial assault on the valley of Mitra’s holiest temple. This part of the book was interesting for the various tactical possibilities it presents the PCs – up until now, the adventures have lacked a certain degree of freedom in what the PCs could do; what latitude they had was presented in terms of operational discretion…that’s the case here, but the amount of discretion has grown quite a bit.

The Vale of Valtaerna is the valley in which Mitra’s holiest temple is guarded. This is no building constructed in a crevasse either. The entrance to the valley has a watch-tower built into it, and down in the valley is a lakeside small town, a mountain-temple, and finally the cathedral itself. The PCs attack is set to take place at the beginning of winter, when deep snows cut the valley off from the outside world for three months. For those three months, when communication is cut off and reinforcements are near-impossible, the PCs have to conquer the valley and slaughter every single living thing there.

That’s where the operational freedom comes in. This section gives a detailed overview of the watchtower itself, and follows it up with the ensuing battle as the PCs’ army fights its way past various defensive points to finally conquer the defenders. Needless to say, there are various things that the PCs can do in their initial assault what will greatly affect how the initial siege goes, which in turn affects the flow of the rest of the battle.

The author says that this section should keep up the pressure on the PCs, as the entire battle takes place in one night. That means that the PCs need to conquer the watchtower and then fight their way through encounter after encounter. Forget about the fifteen-minute adventuring day here! Be prepared to go through over a half-dozen encounters, and be warned that you can’t just send your army in for these – the battle takes the format of specific encounters that the PCs need to face in the midst of the chaos of battle. Various actions allow the PCs to acquire or lose Victory Points (making a return from the first adventure), with their point total determining the end result of the battle.

With the defenders crushed and the small town now firmly in their grasp, the book’s fourth act deals with everything else in the valley, save for the cathedral. It’s here that the book takes a decidedly darker turn as you immediately need to deal with what to do with the survivors…the elderly, the women, and the children (remember, your assignment is to kill everything). This part is something of a delicate balancing act, as the bugbear commanders have some suggestions about what to do with the prisoners (all of which are awful). In accordance with the advice in the first adventure, this book assumes that one of the bugbears commanders “deals” with the survivors, though your group can step in (for better or for worse) if they wish.

This section allows for three months of time in which to root out the remaining holy areas, and it’s important to note that the book doesn’t presume that it’s entirely quiet during that time. There is one event that does happen here, but after the initial scenes of setting up and dealing with the prisoners, it’s the only one. I do wish that the book had seen fit to give us further events.

The major parts of act four, however, deal with the mountain temple, and the garden in front of the cathedral. These are comparatively short encounters, having about ten areas between them both. They’re still fairly challenging, and aren’t optional (nor can you send your army to these places, as they require competence) – to permanently extinguish Mitra’s light, you must destroy the heart of each holy locale.

With the first two down, it’s the cathedral that holds the last of the religion’s heart. It should be noted that there have been plenty of good-aligned monsters in the adventure prior to this. Lammasus, blink dogs, kirin, all the monsters from the bestiaries that you never usually get to fight. The big one, however, is celestials. There are plenty of celestials throughout the adventure, and that doesn’t change here. Once the PCs manage to overcome the potent holy defenses and slay the cathedral’s final defenders, they can extinguish the central pillar of Mitra’s religion…just in time for the plague they received from the previous adventure to hit the nation’s populace hard.

Following the adventure, the book presents a gazetteer of Ghastenhall. I honestly expected to be bored by this, but was pleasantly surprised by just how alive the city felt. A port town, Ghastenhall is naturally not quite the bastion of righteousness that you’d expect for a country that has a single, Lawful Good religion. Moreover, the city’s history and colorful neighborhoods give it a distinctive quality that is not only likely to fire your creativity for what can be done here, but presents itself perfectly for your evil PCs as well.

The last section of the book gives us an long-overdue overview of your enemy religion: that of Mitra, the Lord of Light. This section surprised me, as I was expecting something more akin to Paizo’s style of deity write-ups; that wasn’t this. First, Mitra is a triune deity, having three simultaneous aspects – this gives him three deity entries, which presents an interesting set of options for those who worship him.

This section also doesn’t deal much with Mitra as an individual. There’s nothing here about what Mitra’s divine exploits, or how he feels about other gods. Instead, the section largely discusses his religion, specifically as it appears in Talingarde (since Mitra has no universal church, something I found odd for a primarily Lawful deity). There was some important information here, such as how spellcasters in Talingarde are comparatively rare – the head of the church, for example, can’t cast divine spells. This is an inversion of the usual assumptions in a Pathfinder game, and is likely something a GM should know when setting the stage for the beginning of this adventure path.

Overall, Tears of the Blessed represents a turning point in the Way of the Wicked. While before, the PCs were operating in secrecy just to survive, and having to defend themselves against those who’d do them harm, here they get to be the ones doing harm to others. In this book, the PCs take the offensive against the light, and get to snuff out the heart of it. There are some problems with the finer points of the product, but these are easily dealt with, and the overall adventure is one which will likely be extremely satisfying to your players. Never has causing so much sorrow been so much fun as it is in Tears of the Blessed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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