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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.

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.

[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.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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.

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.

[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.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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.

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.

[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.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/03/2012 03:43:25
The second installment of Fire Mountain Games' evil adventure path centered on serving Asmodeus is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 101 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Asmodeus and the dukes of hell will be greatly displeased with potential servants glimpsing at their grand plans beforehand. If you don't want to incur their wrath, skip ahead to the conclusion!

Still here? That means you're either foolhardy or classified to know about the information, so let's take a look! After Adrastus Thorn's ninth knot (i.e. your PCs) have unleashed terror, death and destruction by opening Talingarde to the hordes of the fire-axe, they have been enjoying a pleasure-cruise with Tiadora, the handmaiden devil, who leaves a trail of demoralized villages in her wake, pillaging and raging at the populace in the guise of Mitran clergy and knights in a bid to destroy the unity of the nation. But that's only the intro. Once the PCs have reached Farholde, they are tasked to do what another knot has failed to do - locate the famed Horn of Abaddon, summon the daemon prince Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes and claim the famed tears of Achlys from the bringer of pestilence - a supernatural plague upon the land to serve as a second strike to break the nation of Talingarde. The seventh knot under the command of Elise Zadaria, which the PCs know from their indoctrination/training and which might contain potential love interests, is to stage murders and keep the town in line and the PCs up to what's going on. But before the Ps can get to anything, they have to meet with the local Asmodean elven noble, NOT blow his cover and enlist his aid. With some basic research, the PCs can unearth the location of the dread Horn of Abaddon among the jungle-covered spires of the Caer Bryr.

Unfortunately, the fourth knot has not failed solely due to incompetence - the horn is guarded by quite a powerful treant and far from abandoned. The lower caves of the place are now inhabited by a tribe of Dagon-worshipping boggards. Once the PCs manage to slay the treant and enter the boggard-territory, the adventure starts to feel different immediately: They may actually slay the leader, enlist the drug-addled, mad shaman and subjugate the whole tribe. Until now, if you take away the lillend with her elven/feyish consort who attack and harass the PCs, the overall fortress is a standard dungeon exploration - is not. You see, the Horn of Abaddon was once home to a dread, pestilence-worshipping daemon cult and was squashed by the legendary paladin-king dubbed "the Victor", its evil sealed. Thus, the PCs encounter remains of the horn's original defenses, natural predators that have invaded the place, undead remnants of the cult and daemons still standing guard. Inc ontrast to a traditional dungeon, though, the horn's defenses lie in tatters: There's even a good shrine to Mitra impeding evil magic here! And the paladin-king screwed the PCs over in the worst way possible - he created a seal to prevent Vetra-Kali's return and the damn thing is an artifact! Even with the 3 eyes of Vetra-Kali, logically and cleverly hidden in the complex, the PCs have no idea on how to break the seal - unless they explore or listen to the mad ramblings of the boggard shaman.

Among the incoherent blubberings, they may find a hint that points them towards an annotated, unique version of Vetra-Kali's scriptures, in which a mad member who witnessed its creation of the cult wrote down a way to break the seal prior to ending his existence. 666 prayers over 222 days and 3 sacrifices - 1 to start (a priest of the cult that failed Vetra-Kali), 1 at the 111-mark (a devout Mitran) and the final sacrifice, blood from the Victor's bloodline. 3 hearts cut from the chests of the noble and pure, 3 prayers a day, one for every eye of Vetra-Kali - which the PCs have hopefully found and inserted into the statue of the daemon, for they grant scrying, knowledge about exact locations of spells being cast etc. Oh, and there are allies to be recruited - from undead remnants of the former cult to rituals to conjure mudmen to the aforementioned boggards, the PCs will have quite their hands full. If they want to successfully complete their ritual, they will have to outfit their dungeon: Each of the rooms comes with suggestions on reactivating/building traps, posing sentries and security points, which will determine the ease of incursions.

For your ease, Fire Mountain Games provides a 4-page handouts pdf available for free, which contains key-less maps of the dungeon and surroundings as well as a one-page spread of the defunct golem. Defunct Golem? Yep, among others, the PCs may activate a sociopathic alchemical golem who may make for a dread sentry, but only if posted alone - living creatures tend to die ugly around it and only if the PCs manage to find all ingredients necessary to repair the thing. Grumblejack, if he has survived so far, may be transformed via a fiendish apotheosis and thus also increase in power, just to let fans of the ogre know! (This, of course, being purely optional!) Now, the PCs can create traps, have minions to direct and prepare the defenses of their own dungeon - it should be noted that many of the enemies that will harass the PCs during the 222 days can be caught, broken and/or recruited - especially things like messenger-eating hangman-trees and minion-munching dire tigers might make for rather strong allies.

Of course, the first though of most player-groups will be to keep the ritual secret. That's not an option. The one-page beautiful artwork of the overgrown horn is ignited in green balefire and makes clear to anyone in quite a distance, that something is WRONG there. Take a look at the front cover - that's your PCs's new home and castle for the next 222 days and it is here that the adventure leaves any territory you might have played before. I already mentioned minions and indeed, the leadership-problem is tackled: Essentially, the adventure not only provides ways to gain allies, but also proposes a kind of super-party-cohort, purely optional, mind you. More interesting are the concise rules to run your own evil organization: Essentially, this module assumes an organization to have 6 scores ranging from -5 to 10, much like a character: Ruthlessness, Secrecy, Survivability, Connections, Espionage and Loyalty. Organization start off with 0 on each score and the leader's charisma bonus may be used to enhance those scores. Since running a dungeon, abducting peasants for monster-food, indoctrination, smear campaigns, espionage and assassinations are all time-consuming endeavors, the PCs may thankfully delegate said tasks to the orphan-minions of their contact in Farholde, the vile, aforementioned baron. If they do a good job, they may whip the servants into an effective tool to sow confusion, disinformation and destruction. Each organization has a limited amount of actions each week depending on the charisma and level of its leader and 17 organization actions are provided, including chances to fail and 15 organizational events provide further opportunities/challenges.

Now that the PCs have a (hopefully) staffed dungeon, intact traps and minions at their disposal and now that the ritual has prematurely blown their cover, the truly awesome part of the adventure begins: While not every day should be played out, managing the organization is a challenge in itself and if the PCs opt to ally with the afore-mentioned hangman tree or dire tiger, they will have to use their minions to make sure the creatures are well-fed. And then there's the worst kind of predator coming their way: Adventurers. Multiple groups of adventurers, complete with artworks and stats, will try to infiltrate the complex and vanquish the PCs and ruin their ritual. From some megalomaniacal local heroes to scrupulous mercenaries, groups are coming their way. And every DM knows - adventurers are DEADLY.

Thankfully, the 7th knot under the command of the winter witch warns the PCs of such incursions. Until the first truly lethal group heads the way of the PCs and knows ALL their defenses, making tracking them down a true challenge - it seems like the winter witch has betrayed Thorn and thus, hopefully with some evidence, will have to work that out as well. On the bright side, one of the group can be salvaged as a cohort. That's not all of the problems the PCs will face: The horn has a teleport-network, and while the ritual prevents regular teleports inside and out of the dungeon, a certain inquisitor has found an reactivated an outpost's teleporter and will use it to great effect for truly deadly hit and run techniques. Even better, you can do something the adventure heartily encourages: Take one of your player's favorite strategies from other groups and send their own former characters after them or at least pay homage to them. The annoying enchanter? The untouchable dwarf? Send them in! It is here that DMs will have FUN GALORE and players will finally get a taste of what your poor villains had to face! Thankfully, the local descendant of the Victor is also among the foolhardy who will try to crush the PCs, thus unknowingly deliver the last ingredient for their sacrifice. Oh, have I mentioned that the PCs may have to get their Baron out of the way? After all, a SILVER DRAGON is convinced that he has to die to stop the darkness...

And then, there are the last 5 days. If your players have thought that being a villain bent on calling down a daemon prince while being besieged by adventurers, moon dogs and the like while running an organization was too easy until now, they are in for a surprise, for in the end, as with many a plot out there, everything goes horribly wrong: An earthquake shatters parts of the dungeon, destroying some components of its defenses and creates breaches. Minions get hurt and die. An Avoral breaches their defenses. The boggards abandon them and potentially turn against them to consecrate the horn to their father Dagon. The remaining undead priests of Vetra-Kali seek to kill and replace the PCs. Any survivors of the adventurers band together to attack one last time. The freakin' silver dragon makes for an all-out assault. And following the trail of broken villages, the hardest party so far enters the horn - allies/family/survivors of the slaughter in Balentyne make for one final desperate attack on the PCs. In short: Just about anything that can go wrong, does go wrong and only a fraction of their allies does not turn against them. Keeping the ritual going will be a true challenge for the PCs and test their prowess to the extreme. One of the survivors of Balentyne, though, will probably escape - we have not seen the last of this particular man...

Provided the PCs succeed against all odds, they break Mitra's seal, summon Vetra-Kali and hopefully heed the advice on haggling with the Daemon Prince in order to get his dread plague. Better yet, the PCs can become carriers to his disease by asking the being a boon or even double-cross it, sending it back to oblivion - after all, they want to rule these lands one day and having a disease-ridden daemon prince sowing pestilence might not make for a good start for Asmodeus' glorious reign. Anyways, the adventure concludes with Thorn having the Tears of Achlys, though failure might be an option.

The pdf also contains aforementioned organization/minion-rules (which would also work well for thieves guilds or similar illegal organizations), a gazetteer of Farholde including a beautiful map and ideas on how to run variants of "Way of the Wicked" - e.g. with an all-duergar party or class-restrictions. I didn't care too much for these, but I guess some of you out there might enjoy the ideas.

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I did encounter some minor glitches like an additional "t" after a full-stop or a formatting inconsistency in the organization-rules: The rolled-20-entry and rolled-1-entry are swapped in one entry. While not providing wrong information and amounting to about 5 glitches on the whole adventure, it's not perfect. The adventure adheres to one of the most beautiful full-color 2-column layouts I have seen in any publication, 3pp or otherwise. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version that gets rid of the background, but not the colors or illustrations. The pdf comes with 4 pages of player handouts, which can be downloaded on the fire-mountain-page and the pdfs come with full bookmarks. Artworks are up to the highest standards, as is the cartography - Michael Clarke provides not only beautiful illustrations, but also stellar maps. Which brings me to the second minor gripe I have with this pdf: The town of Farholde-map comes without a key-less version of the map to hand out to players, which is a bummer, for the town is beautifully detailed.

This installment of the "Way of the Wicked" feels, on the formal side, slightly less polished than "Knot of Thorns". If you're like me, you've read a LOT of adventures and ran a lot of them. And after a while, at least if you're like me, you start to see the same plot-devices, the same tropes, repeated over and over and over. And it starts to get BORING, oh so boring. You'll start to yearn for nouveaux frissants, new sensations with regards to rpgs to ease the existential boredom creeping up to your game. And then, once in a while, you read an adventure that does something different. That is innovative. That tears apart the old yarns and does something ambitious, something radical and, more importantly, something NEW. Most adventures that feature such a component use it in one fight, perhaps the climax, in one location. Some adventures, and these are the ones that we remember as bright stars, as iconic legends, as part of the must-play canon, though, are brave and radical: They take an idea, develop it and present it in a supremely professional and concise way and offer a whole new way of having fun, a new story, a new angle. "Call forth Darkness" does that.

This module not only surpasses "Knot of Thorns", it leaves it at the wayside sobbing for its infernal mommy. And "Knot of Thorns" was excellent, but at its heart still a rather conventional module on the other side of the alignment scale. An excellent module, to be sure, but one on the conventional side nevertheless. "Call forth Darkness" is smart. It's supremely ambitious. It succeeds at what it sets out to do (though it is an adventure that is a challenge for DMs to run) and it puts two gleeful "i"s into "Villains". These are not heroes, they are villains and they do villainous things and thus face completely different challenges. I am still baffled at the quality Gary McBride and Michael Clarke manage to produce as essentially a two-man enterprise. Artworks, Cartography, Writing, Crunch and Fluff - all are up to top-standards and then, the scenario is brave, smart and INNOVATIVE. Where other adventures move on known ground, this one feels different. Want to know why it took me so long to write this review? Every time I got frustrated due to reading boring/bad pdfs and writing reviews for them, I went back to this adventure. Read a couple of pages. Smiled. And went back to work. I don't regret a single buck I spent for the print version and if your gamers are anything like mine and if there is some kind of justice, this adventure will go down into the must-play canon and be remembered in years to come as one of these iconic, unique scenarios that are classics - and this module also offers a stellar bang-for-buck ratio.

If you're thinking I'm exaggerating, I'm not. In spite of the minor glitches and the lack of a player-friendly gazetteer-map, I'll gladly settle for a final verdict of 5 stars plus Endzeitgeist seal of approval. I'd go for 6. Or 7. Or 10. In any rating-system, this represents almost the apex, at least in my humble opinion: Excellent presentation, top production values, stellar ideas, innovation - anything you'd want, it's here. My only concern for the overall AP is that this part will be nigh-impossible to repeat, let alone surpass.

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/01/2012 11:30:04
The hardest games to run are those involving evil characters. The idea of controlling players who, by design are out of control, is a difficult one. It’s why Fire Mountain gets the golden grapefruit award for not just making an evil adventure but designing an evil campaign that is both easy to DM and fun for the players. Way of the Wicked is a campaign by the new publisher that will take players on a 1 to 20 journey through the twisted plot to aid a dark god.

The first adventure, Knot of Thorns, sets the grand station with a simple premise, the PCs must break out of a fortified and heavily guarded prison where they are outmanned and unarmed. Despite such a basic plot, the writers do a creative job of establishing a series of detailed obstacles and providing the PCs the opportunity to escape the prison in a number of ways. Once they escape, the grander plot unfolds which includes a very fun puzzle filled dungeon, the instigation of a war and the uniting of a group of evil entities. Overall, Knot of Thorns shines at bringing a variety of game play options throughout the adventure.

The adventure is impressively laid out and divided into acts that make it easy to explain and follow.
The 100 page PDF is also packed with information for running an evil campaign and building characters in an evil campaign. This information is worth the purchase alone for DMs who hope to run an evil campaign one day or simply have a player who always makes someone just a tad bit leaning toward the bad guy.

For the Dungeon Master
Running a successful evil adventure or campaign takes a lot of work. Knot of Thorns not only does 90% of this work for you, it teaches you how to do the other 10%.

For the Player
If your Dungeon Master is nice enough to let you run an evil campaign for any reason, picking up this book and following the tips to making an evil character will gratify his decision.

The Iron Word
Way of the Wicked: Knot of Thorns succeeds at designing a truly innovative beginning to an evil campaign. It lays out exactly what evil is and provides material and help to insure that your campaign doesn’t derail into serial killer anarchy.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Chris D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/27/2012 23:40:27
Excellent and easy to run adventure! I bought the pdf from paizo, but after running this adventure for my group I wanted to leave a review on Drive-Thru RPG to support Fire Mountain Games and let people know how fun this adventure is to run/play. I broke down and bought the soft cover from Druve-Thru RPG so I would be allowed to leave a review.

The adventure is detailed and easy to run. Players will have an excellent time flexing their bad guy muscles, and gms will love dropping smite evils on the player characters (who deserve it very much!) Simply the most enjoyable 1st level adventure I have ever run.

Nuff said.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Eric H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/08/2012 14:30:17
I'll have to be quick but I will say this:

This book is amazingly well-done and written. If you ever wanted to run an evil campaign/adventure path, then you want this book. Aside from a well-done multi-part adventure, starting with a jailbreak, going to a test of your abilities from your new master, then delivering weapons to an ally and then lastly a sandbox-style part in which you have to take down a well-staffed and armed border fortress all by your lonesome, you get a gazetteer of the land this all happens in (one littered with adventure ideas), and a primer on doing evil campaigns that is very well done.

This is an amazing start to what looks like it'll be the very best 3rd party AP I've ever seen.

And on the POD aspect, I got my book, in perfect condition, just TWO DAYS after the order went through. That is amazing and it deserves to be mentioned here.

Five stars easy. I just wish i could give it six!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/28/2012 05:10:37
This pdf is 100 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 95 pages of content, so let's check out Fire Mountain Games' AP!

The nation of Talingarde is a shining beacon of goodness on a hill, a bastion of faith to the Mitran faith and an example of purity and goodness. Evil has been conquered and mostly rooted out in this land, the goblinoids driven beyond the grand wall - and righteous, lawful Talingarde will burn! For in this AP, the players are the villains!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Seriously, you don't want to spoil this one!

Still here? After generating villains (sample violations of laws/reasons have been included), the action kicks in with the Pcs being brought to Branderscar Prison - to hang or face whatever sentence (most likely death or a life of forced labor) will await them. Unfortunately for the nation of do-gooders, complacency and incompetence have taken a hold of the nations once most tightly-run prison and so a mysterious, beautiful woman charms her way in, delivers a veil and exits - the veil containing a variety of tools the Pcs can use for the task she set them - escape from the prison and rendez-vous with a mysterious benefactor. The escape from prison being their first task, the PCs will have quite an interesting time - acquiring a spellbook and freeing an intelligent ogre from confinement and multiple ways to sneak past guards/overwhelm them included.

After a trek through a dangerous marsh, the mysterious benefactor awaits the PCs in his mansion - Adrastus Thorn, chosen of Asmodeus is on an (un-)holy crusade and has woven a dread web of plans and intrigues to bring the nation to its heels. While he has his own reasons to do so, he offers the PCs a chance for revenge - all they have to do is prove their worth in his own training ground (including hellish wisdoms in every room of the mini-dungeon) and sign a contract in blood. It is also this contract that will counteract the problem of evil campaigns in which PCs in the end try to kill one another. Furthermore, potential rivals of the PCs will be foreshadowed here.

Adrastus' first task is to accompany a weapon's smuggler behind the grand wall to deliver weapons to a horde of goblinoids under the command of an Asmodeus-sworn bugbear champion - and then tie up the loose end, the smuggler. The trip proves to be dangerous, patrols scouring the waters and barbarians offering trade. The goblinoid horde awaiting them proves to be dangerous as well and a demonstration of strength might be in order. Once the deal is completed, the bugbear-chieftain turns out to be another of Adrastus' agents and tasks the PCs with a seemingly impossible task - bring down Balentyne, fortress at the wall, the gate to Talingarde and open the fortress to the horde. This opens the final part of the adventure, a sandbox-style section where the PCs have a vast variety of options to use social entanglements, cunning, poison, infiltration, dark magics and overall smart strategies to decimate the people stationed in the fortress. Which is challenging - the fortress is well-guarded, frontal attacks/lack of subtlety is not an option, the enemies are smart, numerous, superior to the PCs and the section is incredibly detailed - reactions to the wide variety of options presented are given and there are a lot of options open for the PCs to follow - from using a tryst to their advantage, killing and impersonating actors, poisoning food etc., all kinds of dastardly activities are included in the options and a constant and steep count for victory points makes sure that the PCs won't have an easy time opening the bastion for the goblinoid horde. Their level of success will have repercussions in future adventures and the attention to stunning detail, from Branderscar to the end, makes sure that awareness, being smart etc. are rewarded.

The pdf also includes a gazetteer of Talingarde, advice for the DM on how to run a villainous campaign, help for the players to generate villains and a plot-synopsis of the whole AP.

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Not one. Excellent job! Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, full-color two-column standard and is STUNNING. Beautiful. Awesome. The artwork (and there's a lot of it) is also full-color and features portraits of all major players in the adventure as well as e.g. a certain magical item in the beginning. And they are Paizo-level. I mean it. These pieces of artwork are STELLAR. The pdf comes with full bookmarks and a printer-friendly alternate version. The maps are full color as well and just as stunning - from the maps of Talingarde to the location maps, the only gripe I can muster is that we don't get extra player's maps sans keys that DMs could print out, cut up and hand to them as they explore. Content-wise the adventure is a great mix of railroady sections and the coolest sandboxy infiltration I've read in quite a while. In fact, the overall writing is stellar and up to the highest standards you could want. The finale is epic, smart, cool and offers so many ways to achieve victory it's almost frightening - without being easy, mind you! Fire Mountain Games have come from the nowhere, put out this little pdf and blown me out of the water - neither content, nor production values or bang-to-buck-ratio leave anything to be desired from this stellar, brilliant opening of their villainous AP. The novelty of an evil campaign and its challenges are addressed and solved admirably, the scenes feel new and give credence to the overall conspiracy and just about every aspect of this book can be considered a PEAK PERFORMANCE.
Oh yeah, this is the work of 2 people. Author Gary McBride and artist Michael Clarke have, with this opening, definitely upped the ante of the quality one can expect from 3pps, rivaling Paizo's APs in style, artwork and writing. I have nothing to complain. Nothing. I'm VERY impressed and, would it be possible, I'd rate this 6 stars. Seriously. If playing evil only remotely intrigued you, if you ever wondered how nations like Cheliax came to be or how grand nations came down - stop wondering. Do it yourself. For once not save them, but condemn them to hellfire! My final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2012 14:43:21
Call Forth Darkness is another solid adventure, although personally, I liked the opening installment just a bit better.

The PDF, like it's predecessor, is beautiful. The layout, colors, and artwork continue to be very impressive.

The Farholde Gazetteer in this book does a lot to bring the setting to life, which I think is important in an adventure path such as this one. The more the PCs realize that there is some history and culture behind the targets they eliminate, the more the fact that the PCs are villains is really brought home.

The article on evil organizations and minions presents a subsystem for managing minions that I wish were available in slightly more generic form for non-evil groups that also have followers. It's nice to have some guidelines as to what all of those “not quite combatants” can do when you take the time to actually be a leader.

An interesting addition at the end of the adventure is the exploration of other ways to structure the adventuring party and frame the AP based on specific themes (i.e. the whole party is clerics, the whole party are wizards, no one is a spellcaster) and what needs to be done to fit that theme. It's not overly detailed, but it's nice to see these musings and I'd like to have seen this kind of thematic conjecture in some of Paizo's adventure paths.

Now, for the adventure itself. When I say I prefer the first installment, it's not a matter of quality. It's from the GM expectation point of view. This adventure could be great or it could nosedive, because while it is a brilliant premise and laid out about as well as you could for this kind of concept, it really depends on the PCs picking up the ball and running with it.

That is true to an extent in the original adventure as well, but without a direct authority figure nudging them as much as they might have had in the first adventure, while the ultimate objective is clear, the compelling bit in the middle might not be as cool if the PCs don't get the vibe that the adventure is sending out (i.e. if they treat this as a dungeon to clear out rather than one to dominate).

One last nit pick that I will try to throw out there without spoiling too much. I love the security point concept, but wish it did more than it does. The payoff isn't quite as tangible outside of the metagame rewards.

All in all, recommended, and greatly recommended. Just pray that your players really relish being villains and not just evil characters.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
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Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/25/2012 16:31:14
One of the defining characteristics of PCs in most role-playing games is that they’re proactive rather than reactive. It’s what comes from being the one raiding dungeons, while the denizens are dealing with your raid. But what would it be like if that paradigm was turned on its head, and you were the one trying to defend your lair from some do-gooders that had suddenly kicked in the door? That’s the primary question your group faces in the second book of the Way of the Wicked campaign: Call Forth Darkness.

Continuing this adventure path for evil characters, Call Forth Darkness is aptly named. Tasked to summon back a banished daemon lord and have him give you a powerful item, your group must first find, conquer, and hold the fortress that the fiendish cult used to inhabit while attempting to stop the forces of good – as well as meddlesome adventurers – from putting the kibosh on your plans.

From a technical standpoint, Call Forth Darkness is a good product, but could have used a few more tweaks. Weighing in at one-hundred-six pages altogether, it has bookmarks to each of the book’s major sections, but I had hoped there would be nested bookmarks to the various sub-sections as well. It does have copy-and-pasted enabled, which is always a good thing.

The book’s graphical presentation is quite strong. The pages are set on a dark tan background, as though the file were an old tome, with black borders along three sides. Michael Clarke continues to impress with his full-color interior illustrations, largely of various personages that your group will encounter throughout the adventure.

I did have a few problems with the pictorial aspects of the book, however. First, I can’t really hold this against the artist, but the maps continue to be done as one square equaling ten feet. This makes it difficult to reproduce these in battle-mat size, but as I said, this isn’t really Fire Mountain Games’ fault – there’s only so much you can tweak the scale you want to set things at. Secondly, it should be noted that the book comes with three files – the main PDF, a printer-friendly version, and a book of players’ handouts.

The printer-friendly version was something of a disappointment. It’s only changes were to remove the tan background and set the page borders to being line-scaling rather than a full color border. That’s good, but it’s not enough – not when the full-color cover and interior illustrations remain. These should have been removed entirely (requiring an adjusted layout) or at least set to grayscale. That they weren’t makes this not nearly as printer-friendly as it should have been.

Similarly, the players’ handouts consist of four pages. One is a wilderness map, two are the two pages of maps of the Horn of Abaddon (the evil fortress), and the final one is an illustration of one of the dungeon denizens.

But enough about that, let’s look at the meat of the adventure and see what new evil your group is doing!

After the ubiquitous introduction and adventure background, things are broken up into four “acts” each of which is sub-divided into various “events.”

The first act covers everything prior to the arrival at the dungeon. Herein, the PCs receive their next assignment, taking them to the frontier town of Farholde and meeting with their support (a local baron, as well as another of the nine groups helping to overthrow the current order), before setting out to locate the Horn of Abaddon.

Taking up less than ten percent of the book’s total page-count, this section of the adventure wasn’t bad, but was clearly the book’s weak point. I say that not because there’s a dearth of action here (though there is), but rather than there’s not enough exposition on what can really be done at this stage. For example, it’s helpful (though not necessarily expected) that the PCs start to develop a minion organization during the adventure, with the unspoken assumption that some part of it will be set up in Farholde; however, there’s little here that really helps to put that part of the adventure forward.

Now, to be fair, there is some support for this part of the adventure at this stage – just not enough. Meeting with the local baron and securing his aid is helpful, and having another “knot” of evil-doers backing you up from the town is a mixed blessing, but notwithstanding the gazetteer of Farholde itself, that’s really all that there is. While the section on running an evil organization does talk a little about finding minions in Farholde, I’d have preferred that there were a few events placed here to let the PCs work their way into the town’s seedy underbelly and set up the beginnings of a network before they went into the wild.

Speaking of the wild, the book somewhat glosses over the task of finding the Horn. Even presuming that they find the map to it, the book rather oddly sets finding the location as a Perception, rather than Survival skill. Moreover, it seems like there’s some wasted potential for further encounters here – the few spots that are marked on the GMs map receive extremely little coverage (said coverage is given in their events later in the book, rather than having an overview in act one). There could have been a lot more here to help round out the environment – at the very least it would have been nice to have had a table of random encounters!

It’s at the second act, however, that the book really begins to shine. Here, the PCs discover the Horn, and at first it’s not too dissimilar from any other dungeon crawl, as the PCs have to explore the place, deal with some of the creatures that have already moved in, and figure out their next move. While the adventure doesn’t expressly spell out that they need to try and dominate, rather than eradicate, most of the local monsters, the encounters are somewhat slanted in that direction – a smart group will quickly figure it out. This is particularly true since, if the PCs root out all of the Horn’s secrets (and the adventure assumes they do, to the point of having a sidebar saying what to do if some critical information slips by them), they’ll realize that they’ll need to conduct a ritual that takes months to complete in order to complete their mission.

As I mentioned, this is where the adventure really takes off. The PCs start to interact with various creatures that require longer-term thinking on their part. What monsters should be slain, and which should be subjugated? Can the first line of good-aligned defenders be manipulated, or should you destroy them on sight? The adventure sometimes tilts things subtly in one direction, but by and large it’s refreshing how it lets the party make their own decisions, and reap the rewards or consequences therein. The author makes sure to say what various creatures do over time.

The book also notes certain things that can increase the local security, earning “Security Points.” Oddly, the points have no particular effect save to earn bonus XP for the party – while the individual defenses do make a difference in and of themselves, I’d have thought that there’d be more of an effect in terms of what the Security Points do to potential invaders – a missed opportunity there, albeit a slight one.

The book’s third act is where the PCs need to shift from offense to defense. Because the ritual they’re performing takes months, the book outlines things week by week, and various interlopers start in from the very beginning. The book does a truly remarkable job of blending in layers of plot here, as the PCs’ “allies” will send them varying degrees of advanced notice (though how these notices are sent is left frustratingly vague), all in accordance with their own plans, as they learn about adventurers and crusaders heading towards the Horn.

This is where the book also starts to introduce monsters from beyond the first Pathfinder Bestiary. It’s a small but refreshing change to see creatures from the Bestiary 2 or Tome of Horrors being used here, and helps to keep the PCs on their toes. This is also when the PCs are most likely to have their own group of minions that they can command, both in terms of the subjugated monsters and in their organization in Farholde.

I also really have to compliment the author on the structure of the various groups the PCs face. The composition of enemies here is something that only a gamer would think of. You have groups ranging from uber-good crusaders who strike hard and fast, to the all-neutral party who isn’t vulnerable to anti-good measures. Some groups come with plenty of advanced warning and just walk in the front door; some do their homework beforehand and (likely) get the drop on the PCs. All are written with a battle strategy (as part of their stat block), and many discuss what they do if they manage to flee. Several even have some ties to the previous adventure, building a strong sense of continuity beyond the usual “sequence of events” that most adventure paths have.

The book’s final act takes place during the last five days of the months-long ritual, and its here that the heat is really turned up on the PCs. With their summoning almost done, there’s a lot of attention focused on them, and the adversaries come hard and fast. From other evils that want to hijack the ritual to desperate defenders of goodness, and more, the PCs are effectively under siege, both from without and from within. The denouement of the adventure is exceptional in its crafting, so much so that I honestly think your players will likely remember this as one of the best adventures they’ve ever played.

Following this, the book still has more in store. Several pages are dedicated to the running of an evil organization. Surprisingly, this is fairly simple in terms of mechanics. While I was initially suspicious of it being based around the Leadership feat, I did like that it makes it so that Leadership gives you the usual cohort, but the followers are instead set up as an organization. The organization is treated as a single entity, and can perform so many actions per week (more if multiple PCs throw in as co-leaders), presuming a successful check. A list of about two dozen actions is given, followed by a series of possible events that can happen, and some further discussion.

The town of Farholde is given roughly a half-dozen pages of examination, including a map of the town. There’s quite a lot here, and an enterprising GM will use the information to help personalize the townsfolk while the PCs are here – the information here seems almost excessive given how the PCs will likely spend most of the their time holed up in the Horn.

The book’s final section talks about modifying the campaign depending on the composition of the party. To be more clear, it discusses running the campaign if you have party members that are of the same type of class (e.g. all clerics), or of the same race (e.g. all goblins). In practice, this section mostly lays down background for why such a group would have existed in the first place. There is some discussion regarding modifying the feel of the campaign, but nothing too specific is given for even major game-changers (e.g. if your entire party lacks spellcasters). There is, however, a single new feat given for creatures that are sensitive to light.

I was personally hoping for a section on what to do for replacement PCs should some die over the course of the campaign. Given the importance of the back-story, and the group’s secretive nature (plus how they’re operating under the oversight of their master), it seems like new characters would be very hard to come by. Hopefully a future book will address this.

Overall, this is a book that starts slowly and builds its way up to a truly epic crescendo. While there are some parts that could have been fleshed out better, what’s here is massive in scale and breathtaking in scope. From the all-too-short sections that deal with Farholde (a much more interesting town that it had a right to be) to clearing and refurbishing the dungeon to the incredible dungeon-defense sections to the harrowing conclusion, this is an adventure of grandeur. Throw in the formation of your own evil organization to lord over, and I have to wonder if this campaign hasn’t already hit its high point; certainly this will be a hard act to follow.

If you haven’t already started to walk the Way of the Wicked, then let this be the reason to begin doing so – you’ll never have so much fun as when you Call Forth Darkness.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Luca L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/24/2012 05:51:10
This new adventure has it all. Exploration, role-playing, plot twists, discovering ancient secrets, reverse-dungeoneering, resource managing, and battles. A rather hefty bunch of them, and each quite exciting, as they involve not your run-of-the-mill stat block creature, but very specific individuals.

The PCs will have to find, conquer (not an easy task), and hold a place as twisted and wicked as only the legends can be, complete a seemingly impossible ritual, face righteous retribution from brave heroes, and deal with some more subtle menaces. And obviously rally under their own banner the hordes of evil minions that are the staple of any bad guy - but this time they are the ones holding the leash!
Over the span of many months the characters have the opportunity of fitting their own dungeon to become a death trap that devours band after band of adventurers, and with a custom built subsystem manage minions to further bolster their forces and harass their enemies - and provide entertainment, prisoners, treasure, and the inevitable headache for their masters.
Will the PCs be cunning, greedy or too greedy? The pitfalls of an evil mastermind are innumerable, and a lot of them don't just come upon the blade of a do-gooder knight...

You or your player don't like the managing element of the adventure? Skip it with no hassle.
You want to fill in some pieces of your design (the place screms for haunts)? There're a good many places to do so.
You've been frustrated by unstoppable PCs mopping the floor with your carefully designed nemesis in a couple of rounds? Feed them their own medicine.

With yet another innovative plot, a bold take on the "hold the fortress" idea, and colourful heroes to slaughter, this installment of the Way of the Wicked was a blast to read, and being able to handle varied playing styles, will be a blast to play too.
Not to be discarded are the gazetteer and the extra player concepts presented, useful for fleshing out the environs and having some quite exotic ideas (goblins? we be goblins, you be food!) for the evil adventuring group.

Highly recommended.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/10/2012 21:17:35
I wasn't sure what to expect with this product. It was a novel concept. I have to admit that I've been skeptical of evil campaigns before. But between the sales pitch and the buzz, I wanted to see what this was about.

I'll get the cosmetic out of the way first. This book is pretty. There isn't a ton of art, but what there is is good, and fits the theme. The format, colors, and presentation all look really sharp. This is a first class production just based on looks.

But to get to the crux of the matter, how is the adventure?

It's great. The set up is fun, and there is a great sub-system that is simple but perfectly logical for resolving the final act of the adventure.

The advice for evil campaigns is simple, but pretty logical, especially as applied to this campaign. There is a semi-random character generation method I'm not sold on, but the campaign traits are thematic and perfect to set the tone of the adventure.

All in all, if you have ever been curious about how to set up an evil campaign to avoid the general pitfalls that might come about, this is definitely worth a look, even if you only use it as a model for your own ideas.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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