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Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
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Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
Publisher: Fire Mountain Games
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2012 05:05:21

This pdf is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages maps of Talingarde, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 99 pages of content, so let's check this out!

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

Still here? All right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
Publisher: Fire Mountain Games
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!]
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