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.