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.
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...
[5 of 5 Stars!]