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Way of the Wicked Book Seven: Tales of Talingarde
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/09/2015 03:47:07
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is the bonus book for the critically-acclaimed Way of the Wicked AP - and yes, I am aware of the delay of the sequel AP and yes, I am a KS-backer of it, waiting for my print copies of both this book and Throne of Night, but that does not influence my review of this book.



So, what does this book provide? well, for one, it's 102 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 97 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



So, what do we get? Well, first of all, we receive allcaps HANDOUTS. Massive arrays of papers, including a very important contract, now receive lavish, beautiful renditions - Michael Clarke is definitely a gifted graphic artist and the numerous mugshots for secondary characters for the AP (spanning multiple pages!) are downright gorgeous. Extremely helpful would also be the handouts of common knowledge about Talingarde, provided for the players and the excessively better-detailed introduction on how the PCs got caught and what they saw on the way to the predicament, with which the AP kicks off. Beyond those, advice on making key props can be considered welcome. Everyone's favorite pet ogre NPC/cohort receives his fair share of love - with various, hilarious and well-written pieces of read-aloud text to be inserted throughout the campaign. This section can be considered pretty awesome indeed.



A gazetteer of the town of Aldencross, including an interesting creature the PCs may unleash upon the unsuspecting populace of the fully statted town and its inhabitants (including stats, again) and a certain naval-based journey in #1 also gets an optional, nasty encounter.



Thereafter begins the section of Minionquest - three interlude modules, wherein one may play the misadventures of the minions of the big bad PCs for a hopefully humorous change of pace. From here on reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.



All right, still here? Minionquest I happens in Farholde, MQ II in Farholde and MQ III in the capital of Talingarde. And yes, the minions are sent on pretty brutal, suicidal quests for their merciless, dark masters. Oh, and yes, they get grumblejack assigned - who promptly tries to bully them into submission, steal their money, begin barfights - you know the deal. With no proper capabilities, taking on a fanatic street preacher and his acolyte may seem hard - just wait until they realize the guy is a werewolf. Yeah. They better be smart. Same goes for the follow-up quest of MQ I, where they are tasked to capture a hydra (the beauty on the cover!) alive - a task which Grumblejack btw. will happily push on the PCs alone.



MQ II can be considered an utterly hilarious scavenger hunt of liquors (provided in a handout with art!) for the hiding place of the Duke Daeveryn - from exploding alchemist's shops to cheating goblinoids also in the race (of COURSE Grumblejack has a vested interest in the matter - and all the subtlety of a blood-coating, thundering sledgehammer...) for a magical sword, the second task is no less deadly than the first, but imho not as curvebally as the first. Still, a fun diversion from all things truly evil and important.



MQ III then deals with this one luxury manor that has not yet been pillaged...and oddly, no minions have returned from it. Strange, right? Well, turns out that a) the place is crawling with traps, b) haunted by the ghost of the place's last owner and c) is patrolled by an old stone golem who receives commands from the ghost. Have I mentioned that minions have 3 levels of an NPC-class? Yes, these quests are deadly, and hilariously so.



Beyond that, further options are provided - take Eiramanthus' library - well, now the kingdom of Talingarde (Asmodean edition) may go for advanced artillery, handguns, arcane theorie, clockwork soldiers - whatever your diabolical villains may research! Speaking of research - if technology isn't to your liking, rules for establishing Talingarde's first Wizard collegium and the research that can be done there (including the research of clockwork dragons!) should fit your tastes. If you were going for the vampiric version of WotW, the modified information for plunging Talingarde into eternal darkness, including builds for Adrastus and Sir Richard, all modified to reflect the change in emphasis.



Speaking of supplemental material - what if your PCs are as powerful and smart as mine? If they win the final battle? (Or are fanatics?) - Well, there is an alternate ending, wherein the PCs doom all of Talingarde, fusing it and everyone on it with the 9 hells. And yes, the massive ritual has an incredibly steep price to pay for in the final moments. Which one? I won't spoil THAT for you, only that one of the maps in the book provides for a nice visual representation here as well.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to WotW's beautiful full-color two-column standard and the pdf comes with copious artworks by the exceedingly talented Michale Clarke. The number of handouts and artworks provided herein make this book a massive increasing factor in the overall aesthetic department for all of WotW. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with a printer-friendly version and a handy 16-page pdf that collates bookmarks and maps, the latter in full-color glory as well, of course - and rendered player-friendly. Two thumbs up!



Reading this book has been an excellent reminder why I love Gary MCBride's writing - this campaign is a stroke of genius, beautiful and is aptly enriched in every form by this pdf. Gaps are closed, fun is added and overall, this can be considered what one needs to get the Director's Cut of the AP -as such, I consider it non-optional, should you choose to run WotW.

At the same time, however, this supplement is not truly required. What do I mean by this? The new art and Minionquest-modules are fun, yes, but they in no way are required for the AP and the reward-ratio for the Minionquest-interludes is rather conservative. While they do have benefits that are tangible, in the end, they do not really reflect the challenge they pose. This may be intentional, yes, but it may result in a bit of disappointment by the players. Conversely, the Minionquest modules aren't conventional modules - they very much could be considered more akin to old Sierra adventures or the Quest for Glory-series in that they are exceedingly lethal and at times, by design, unfair even. For some groups, this may be a welcome change of pace; for others, it will annoy them like crazy. While *personally*, I love this type of challenge, one of my players was exceedingly annoyed by this type of design. What also remains is the simple fact that this very much is the director's cut of WotW - not everyone will enjoy the fact that the crisp story has been embellished; much like the Lord of the Rings director's cuts are not everyone's cup of tea. On the one hand, this brings more detail, options etc. - on the other hand, it does add in quite a bunch of material that is not crucial by any means, which may result in impatient players.



That being said, at the same time, this pdf is probably not enough to warrant running the AP again, should you have already finished it. Still, we have a stellar expansion to the AP IF you like the notion of the uncommon adventure design. If you do, this is well worth of a final verdict of 5 stars. If not, you may wish to detract a star. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Seven: Tales of Talingarde
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Christopher R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/13/2014 13:08:38
Gary McBridge refuses to communicate in a timely manner with his customers, and ignores them entirely on the issue of providing print products. We paid for print books a year and a half ago, and he refuses to answer our questions about what is going on!

Please, DriveThruRPG, do not support someone with such terrible business practices!

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
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Throne of Night Book Two: The Earth's Wound
by Christopher R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/13/2014 13:06:38
Gary McBridge refuses to communicate in a timely manner with his customers, and ignores them entirely on the issue of providing print products. We paid for print books a year and a half ago, and he refuses to answer our questions about what is going on!

Please, DriveThruRPG, do not support someone with such terrible business practices!

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book Two: The Earth's Wound
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Throne of Night Book Two: The Earth's Wound
by Shawn P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/24/2014 22:38:42
Don't buy this product with any expectation of Gary McBride or Fire Mountain Games producing anything past the second book. Already missing his completion date for the entire run by 7+ months, Gary McBride refuses to communicate with anyone regarding the product he promised to deliver. Honestly, I'm just sad that what could've been a great product is run by such a terrible company.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Shawn P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/24/2014 22:38:19
Don't buy this product with any expectation of Gary McBride or Fire Mountain Games producing anything past the second book. Already missing his completion date for the entire run by 7+ months, Gary McBride refuses to communicate with anyone regarding the product he promised to deliver. Honestly, I'm just sad that what could've been a great product is run by such a terrible company.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
by Michael W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/28/2014 16:09:42
I am driven to agree with other reviewers. Gary McBride is either a very clever thief or an incompetent publisher. Regardless of the quality of anything Fire Mountain Games release, I will not be supporting this author in any way,shapeor form ever again and encourage others to think twice before supporting this fraudster.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
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!]
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!]
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!]
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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