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.
[5 of 5 Stars!]