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Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
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Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
Publisher: Fire Mountain Games
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/16/2013 02:28:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Six: The Wages of Sin
Publisher: Fire Mountain Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2013 20:22:41

It is said that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. That may be true, but what about when good men (and women…and dragons, celestials, and so many more) do, in fact, do something? Can evil still be triumphant then? That’s the question that has been posed throughout the Way of the Wicked adventure path, from Fire Mountain Games, and the final answer is presented in the sixth and final book in the series, The Wages of Sin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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