One of the defining characteristics of PCs in most role-playing games is that they’re proactive rather than reactive. It’s what comes from being the one raiding dungeons, while the denizens are dealing with your raid. But what would it be like if that paradigm was turned on its head, and you were the one trying to defend your lair from some do-gooders that had suddenly kicked in the door? That’s the primary question your group faces in the second book of the Way of the Wicked campaign: Call Forth Darkness.
Continuing this adventure path for evil characters, Call Forth Darkness is aptly named. Tasked to summon back a banished daemon lord and have him give you a powerful item, your group must first find, conquer, and hold the fortress that the fiendish cult used to inhabit while attempting to stop the forces of good – as well as meddlesome adventurers – from putting the kibosh on your plans.
From a technical standpoint, Call Forth Darkness is a good product, but could have used a few more tweaks. Weighing in at one-hundred-six pages altogether, it has bookmarks to each of the book’s major sections, but I had hoped there would be nested bookmarks to the various sub-sections as well. It does have copy-and-pasted enabled, which is always a good thing.
The book’s graphical presentation is quite strong. The pages are set on a dark tan background, as though the file were an old tome, with black borders along three sides. Michael Clarke continues to impress with his full-color interior illustrations, largely of various personages that your group will encounter throughout the adventure.
I did have a few problems with the pictorial aspects of the book, however. First, I can’t really hold this against the artist, but the maps continue to be done as one square equaling ten feet. This makes it difficult to reproduce these in battle-mat size, but as I said, this isn’t really Fire Mountain Games’ fault – there’s only so much you can tweak the scale you want to set things at. Secondly, it should be noted that the book comes with three files – the main PDF, a printer-friendly version, and a book of players’ handouts.
The printer-friendly version was something of a disappointment. It’s only changes were to remove the tan background and set the page borders to being line-scaling rather than a full color border. That’s good, but it’s not enough – not when the full-color cover and interior illustrations remain. These should have been removed entirely (requiring an adjusted layout) or at least set to grayscale. That they weren’t makes this not nearly as printer-friendly as it should have been.
Similarly, the players’ handouts consist of four pages. One is a wilderness map, two are the two pages of maps of the Horn of Abaddon (the evil fortress), and the final one is an illustration of one of the dungeon denizens.
But enough about that, let’s look at the meat of the adventure and see what new evil your group is doing!
After the ubiquitous introduction and adventure background, things are broken up into four “acts” each of which is sub-divided into various “events.”
The first act covers everything prior to the arrival at the dungeon. Herein, the PCs receive their next assignment, taking them to the frontier town of Farholde and meeting with their support (a local baron, as well as another of the nine groups helping to overthrow the current order), before setting out to locate the Horn of Abaddon.
Taking up less than ten percent of the book’s total page-count, this section of the adventure wasn’t bad, but was clearly the book’s weak point. I say that not because there’s a dearth of action here (though there is), but rather than there’s not enough exposition on what can really be done at this stage. For example, it’s helpful (though not necessarily expected) that the PCs start to develop a minion organization during the adventure, with the unspoken assumption that some part of it will be set up in Farholde; however, there’s little here that really helps to put that part of the adventure forward.
Now, to be fair, there is some support for this part of the adventure at this stage – just not enough. Meeting with the local baron and securing his aid is helpful, and having another “knot” of evil-doers backing you up from the town is a mixed blessing, but notwithstanding the gazetteer of Farholde itself, that’s really all that there is. While the section on running an evil organization does talk a little about finding minions in Farholde, I’d have preferred that there were a few events placed here to let the PCs work their way into the town’s seedy underbelly and set up the beginnings of a network before they went into the wild.
Speaking of the wild, the book somewhat glosses over the task of finding the Horn. Even presuming that they find the map to it, the book rather oddly sets finding the location as a Perception, rather than Survival skill. Moreover, it seems like there’s some wasted potential for further encounters here – the few spots that are marked on the GMs map receive extremely little coverage (said coverage is given in their events later in the book, rather than having an overview in act one). There could have been a lot more here to help round out the environment – at the very least it would have been nice to have had a table of random encounters!
It’s at the second act, however, that the book really begins to shine. Here, the PCs discover the Horn, and at first it’s not too dissimilar from any other dungeon crawl, as the PCs have to explore the place, deal with some of the creatures that have already moved in, and figure out their next move. While the adventure doesn’t expressly spell out that they need to try and dominate, rather than eradicate, most of the local monsters, the encounters are somewhat slanted in that direction – a smart group will quickly figure it out. This is particularly true since, if the PCs root out all of the Horn’s secrets (and the adventure assumes they do, to the point of having a sidebar saying what to do if some critical information slips by them), they’ll realize that they’ll need to conduct a ritual that takes months to complete in order to complete their mission.
As I mentioned, this is where the adventure really takes off. The PCs start to interact with various creatures that require longer-term thinking on their part. What monsters should be slain, and which should be subjugated? Can the first line of good-aligned defenders be manipulated, or should you destroy them on sight? The adventure sometimes tilts things subtly in one direction, but by and large it’s refreshing how it lets the party make their own decisions, and reap the rewards or consequences therein. The author makes sure to say what various creatures do over time.
The book also notes certain things that can increase the local security, earning “Security Points.” Oddly, the points have no particular effect save to earn bonus XP for the party – while the individual defenses do make a difference in and of themselves, I’d have thought that there’d be more of an effect in terms of what the Security Points do to potential invaders – a missed opportunity there, albeit a slight one.
The book’s third act is where the PCs need to shift from offense to defense. Because the ritual they’re performing takes months, the book outlines things week by week, and various interlopers start in from the very beginning. The book does a truly remarkable job of blending in layers of plot here, as the PCs’ “allies” will send them varying degrees of advanced notice (though how these notices are sent is left frustratingly vague), all in accordance with their own plans, as they learn about adventurers and crusaders heading towards the Horn.
This is where the book also starts to introduce monsters from beyond the first Pathfinder Bestiary. It’s a small but refreshing change to see creatures from the Bestiary 2 or Tome of Horrors being used here, and helps to keep the PCs on their toes. This is also when the PCs are most likely to have their own group of minions that they can command, both in terms of the subjugated monsters and in their organization in Farholde.
I also really have to compliment the author on the structure of the various groups the PCs face. The composition of enemies here is something that only a gamer would think of. You have groups ranging from uber-good crusaders who strike hard and fast, to the all-neutral party who isn’t vulnerable to anti-good measures. Some groups come with plenty of advanced warning and just walk in the front door; some do their homework beforehand and (likely) get the drop on the PCs. All are written with a battle strategy (as part of their stat block), and many discuss what they do if they manage to flee. Several even have some ties to the previous adventure, building a strong sense of continuity beyond the usual “sequence of events” that most adventure paths have.
The book’s final act takes place during the last five days of the months-long ritual, and its here that the heat is really turned up on the PCs. With their summoning almost done, there’s a lot of attention focused on them, and the adversaries come hard and fast. From other evils that want to hijack the ritual to desperate defenders of goodness, and more, the PCs are effectively under siege, both from without and from within. The denouement of the adventure is exceptional in its crafting, so much so that I honestly think your players will likely remember this as one of the best adventures they’ve ever played.
Following this, the book still has more in store. Several pages are dedicated to the running of an evil organization. Surprisingly, this is fairly simple in terms of mechanics. While I was initially suspicious of it being based around the Leadership feat, I did like that it makes it so that Leadership gives you the usual cohort, but the followers are instead set up as an organization. The organization is treated as a single entity, and can perform so many actions per week (more if multiple PCs throw in as co-leaders), presuming a successful check. A list of about two dozen actions is given, followed by a series of possible events that can happen, and some further discussion.
The town of Farholde is given roughly a half-dozen pages of examination, including a map of the town. There’s quite a lot here, and an enterprising GM will use the information to help personalize the townsfolk while the PCs are here – the information here seems almost excessive given how the PCs will likely spend most of the their time holed up in the Horn.
The book’s final section talks about modifying the campaign depending on the composition of the party. To be more clear, it discusses running the campaign if you have party members that are of the same type of class (e.g. all clerics), or of the same race (e.g. all goblins). In practice, this section mostly lays down background for why such a group would have existed in the first place. There is some discussion regarding modifying the feel of the campaign, but nothing too specific is given for even major game-changers (e.g. if your entire party lacks spellcasters). There is, however, a single new feat given for creatures that are sensitive to light.
I was personally hoping for a section on what to do for replacement PCs should some die over the course of the campaign. Given the importance of the back-story, and the group’s secretive nature (plus how they’re operating under the oversight of their master), it seems like new characters would be very hard to come by. Hopefully a future book will address this.
Overall, this is a book that starts slowly and builds its way up to a truly epic crescendo. While there are some parts that could have been fleshed out better, what’s here is massive in scale and breathtaking in scope. From the all-too-short sections that deal with Farholde (a much more interesting town that it had a right to be) to clearing and refurbishing the dungeon to the incredible dungeon-defense sections to the harrowing conclusion, this is an adventure of grandeur. Throw in the formation of your own evil organization to lord over, and I have to wonder if this campaign hasn’t already hit its high point; certainly this will be a hard act to follow.
If you haven’t already started to walk the Way of the Wicked, then let this be the reason to begin doing so – you’ll never have so much fun as when you Call Forth Darkness.
[5 of 5 Stars!]