The third installment of Fire Mountain Games' evil AP is 102 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 97 pages of content, so let's check it out!
This being an adventure review, Asmodeus watches over these lines. If you're a player and don't want to be dragged to hell due to knowing about the massive
SPOILERS, I'd suggest you skip ahead to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! The adventure kicks off where "Call forth Darkness" left off - with the legendary Tears of Achlys now in the PC's possession, Thorn's plans grow closer to fruition. After receiving their rewards the PCs are sent off to Ghastenhall, where they meet up with an Asmodean scholar in disguise who has infiltrated the church of Mitra and happens to know Thorn from when he still was a mortal man. said man will ensure that the Tears of Achlys do their utmost damage. Their circlets also get an upgrade and by now, finding out that Thorn scries them via these items as well as some information on their benefactor's motivations can be coaxed from the man. Even better, the PCs have a whole month to spend on side-quests, some of which, like pit fighting, are detailed. Better yet, the organization (or what's left of it) of the PCs can be established in the town as well, giving them ample things to do while the Fire-axe continues his rampage through Talingarde. Winter is approaching and in the spring and summer, the hordes the villains unleashed upon the land will face off against the true power of the kingdom.
But between this war and now lies a winter, one the PCs are not supposed to sit idly by - they are called to the Fire-axe and there will have to negotiate for some squads of elite troops for their upcoming task: Burn down the most sacred vale of the Mitran faith, extinguish the holy flames and let none escape. While the basic negotiation is simple, the PCs can do so much more: E.g. ally themselves with the local vampire lord, recruit an unruly ogre-mage and a small army of reclusive Duergar and gain a valuable ally in a beauty-priestess turned mad medusa that first has to be pummeled into submission (and yes, her ruined temple gets its own map). Depending on how they fared until now, they will still have allies from previous adventures as well and some guidelines on managing the minions is provided, as is a suggestion on how to handle the potential wish of a PC to turn into a vampire. Oh, and it seems the PCs have come to the attention of the dark overlord and thus get their very own Nessian hellhounds and make the acquaintance of an infernal lawyer who will prove to be useful indeed in the future...
Gathering these allies is the first way to accumulate victory points for the vast battle to come - as soon as snow is falling the vale must burn! If the PCs are smart, they have done some reconnaissance, which means you could show them the beautiful full-color player-friendly map. They might also know that hiding alignment and infiltrating the tower at the vale's entrance will have to be the first step for success - killing the Lammasu-watchers another. It should be noted that the tower is fully mapped and while clearly a task for the PCs, they can send in minions - who fail. UNLESS the PCs act smart and send the right minion for the task, in which case the tower is not taken, but their task does become easier.
Once their army has passed the wall, the defenders will scramble to keep your dark hordes out and here the narrative battle begins - essentially, your army crashes into the vale and over the course of the battles, your villains will have to intervene and make decisions that influence your VP - an example would e.g. an elite cadre of archers (warp their bows!), a charge by good knights (take their horses away!) and then there are the elite dwarves - deadly, stout and another task for the PCs - or a great way to use their disposable Duergar allies. Fireballs and catapult stones may hit the PCs and the acolytes of the serene order, a unit of monks is next up and may make for yet another hard fight - or, if they're wise, a nice way to use their vampire spawn. The greater bridge is held by shield archons and here, the PCs must intervene - three battles await them until the bridge is taken - the shield archons, Aasimar paladins riding on celestial griffons and finally, holy warriors under the command of high level priests of Mitra. This is the first grindstone and after this, the victory points are counted - Your PCs have probably been taxed to their limits and beyond and it might be possible that they failed - the adventure advises the DM on the consequences and, depending on what the villains achieved, they'll have different outcomes and quite a bit of trouble-shooting advice is included in the pdf. Most probably, the town of Sanctum is theirs. They can man the tower. Make them scarce pilgrims lambs to the slaughter for their minions. Start a genocide in sanctum and gain information via torture. And of course, the 3 months of winter make for an excellent time to have people try to escape the vale and warn Talingarde - something that must be avoided, especially if the PCs have been seen.
The vale is not in the PC's hands, though: There still are 3 sacred flames burning bright for Mitra's glory and they must be extinguished. First lies atop a mountain guarded from flight, guarded by a Peri and a Phoenix. Yes. A phoenix. And the villains can steal its eggs while fighting the legendary beast. Very cool! The second location is the garden of serenity, where not only a vast labyrinth, but also an Agathion huntress, legion archons and a pack of advanced blink dog guard the entrance to the labyrinth. Have I mentioned the herd of Kirin the PCs may slaughter and use for their crafting? At the center of the aforementioned labyrinth, the second flame burns bright, guarded by the head of the local monastic order and an almost legendary oracle.
And then, once the second flame has failed and a red sky looks down upon the villains, it's time to get into the cathedral of Mitra and face the last resistance: Devas. Hippogriffs. A storm giant with tame rocs. Ghost Paladin Martyrs. And then there are three trails of Mitra for the PCs to outwit in order to find high priest Earnan MacCaithlan and stop him from unleashing his ghost martyrs via the bones of a saint. There also is a deadly Chalkydri angel and iron golems, which guard the vault where infernal artifacts await the villains - among which is the legendary blade Hellbrand, yet uncompleted, but eagerly awaiting the PC's command...
Hopefully, the PCs find a way to pierce an holy shield of fire (hints are provided), crush an Azata-emissary and finally, meet the true head of the order, the final guardian of the flames: Ara Mathra, He-who-stands-in-Light - advanced monadic Deva, CR 16. OUCH! With that and several possible conclusions, this adventure ends and provides quite a bit of trouble-shooting for beleaguered GMs.
The book also includes an extensive gazetteer of the trade town of Ghastenhall and I wholly expected to be bored by the write-up. Instead we get an interesting and unique town with some neat local peculiarities in food, street-names and goods available that makes the place exciting indeed. The excellent beautiful map does its best to add to the town's appeal and while I don't mind the respective quarter's names, I don't like the numbers and letters on it. A player-friendly map would be much appreciated here. This section also ties up a possible side-quest with a duke's missing daughter started in Book 2.
After that, we finally get a write-up of the faith that is the opposition of the PCs - Mitra's doctrine is revealed in all his soon-to-be-tarnished glory and the organization his church and its 7 tiers as well as holy symbols, ceremonies etc. are depicted in compelling and well-written detail. Fans of good inquisitors should note that the faith comes with a neat write-up of the Mitran Inquisition, but no crunchy inquisitions.
As much as I'm loathe to say it - editing can no longer be considered good. This installment of the WotW has more editing glitches than the first two books combined - from Mitran Priests that don't include the information on how many there are in the statblock to typos and minor punctuation errors, I encountered quite a few of them. Another pass at editing would have been great and I hope that future installments of the WotW devote a bit more care to the process. Layout adheres to the stellar, beautiful standard set by the series and the original full-color maps and artworks rock hard. However, I would have loved to see player-friendly versions of the maps for all locations, not just for some. The pdf is bookmarked, though the final one links to the introduction instead of the Mitra-article as it's supposed to do - another glitch that could have easily been avoided. The printer-friendly version is b/w, but still features all artworks and maps.
The Way of the Wicked has provided us with two of the best adventures out there for PFRPG, period. And now, in the "Tears of the Blessed", we finally get to battle celestials, those creatures mostly left untouched in adventures and rip them a new one. That's great.
However, I feel that the overt celestial massacre to be instigated in this module suffers from some points that could have used clarification: Number 1: After the initial battle (which is awesome and cinematic), the occupation feels a bit rushed and as if it leaves quite some potential untouched. The town of Sanctum needs a kind of gazetteer with detailed NPCs, perhaps collaborators and everyday heroes trying to escape, because 2: The PCs should have a way to corrupt the vale's magic in order to keep the celestials from calling reinforcements/teleporting outside. It would have been rather easy - make their patron devise a ritual that corrupts the detect evil-sight of the watchers in the vale to a kind of dimensional anchor/communication blockade. 3: After the epic invasion, there's not much for the villains to do in the vale but kill the static opponents. Apart from off-screen genocide/torture, there's just not much to be done in sanctum. Why not make the villains unearth foes/information? Prevent incursions? Corrupt Aasimar-populations and/or make them undead? I get the rationale for the powerful celestials/heroes to guard the flames, but I don't get why there's no plan for counterattacks/guerilla-warfare. Apart from a certain ritual, the remaining defenders don't make a smart stand - barricade the final flame, amass forces, strike back, anything but waiting for the heroes to kill them. Usually I wouldn't mind, but in contrast to the epic battle that lets the PCs sack Sanctum, the extinguishing of the holy flames, while cool and iconic, pales in comparison. Note that all these problems are easily remedied by just about any DM, but they still remain and detract from what otherwise would be a stellar module.
In the end, the editing glitches and minor story/pacing-problems conspire to make this not own up to the almost unbeatable standard set by the adventure path so far. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good adventure, but it falls a bit short of what I've come to expect from the saga. My final verdict, due to these unrealized potentials and glitches, will be "only" a 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform with a definite recommendation and, in spite of the lower review, my seal of approval. If you can see past the glitches, it's a stellar module - Those walking the Way of the Wicked need to have this anyway.
[4 of 5 Stars!]