Jan 192016
 
159115

Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: A Chill Wind

By Endzeitgeist

Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: A Chill Wind clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, 1/2 page advertisement, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

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All right, still here? Large-biter sends the PCs forth to survey an odd, magical weather phenomenon – the frost-line. north of it, the earth is frozen, while south of it, temperate temperatures reign. The odd thing here being that the line moves from day to day. Large-biter assumes that the abundance of nexus gateways may have something to do with this strange phenomenon – the frost line is closer than usual and the PCs are to survey its effects. En route, the PCs can meet a feline champion, one P’tan simply known as “Captain” (would have been nice to have a name here…) – the P’tan is serving the Sanguine Covenant and is here to protect the populace from the Necryos, degenerate frosty vampire-like creatures that travel with the frost-line…and make sure the PCs are not working with the Vesparans. As a friendly ally, there’ll be an option for a nonlethal sparring match with the captain (nonlethal and rewarding characters who elected to learn to deal nonlethal damage…) and we also get a new P’tan magic item here.

Over the next couple of days, the PCs will be continuously harried by the degenerate Necryos (full stats provided) – who even will attempt to lure the PCs directly into a yellow musk creeper and its vesparan slaves…and attack in ever-increasing waves until they’re vanquished. After some friendly duels (and favors in the future), it’s time to take a look at how the PCs fared regarding the suveillance of the frost-line – the more auccessfull checks they made, the more precise the gleaned information will be.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, though annoyingly, the pdf sports several “See page @@”-notes where the proper page-number for the necryos hasn’t been filled in. Layout adheres to LPJr Design’s two-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf comes with a second version that is more printer-friendly – nice! the pdf has a neat full-color artwork of the necryos. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity – kudos!

Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr. deliver a cool premise here – the frost-line is an unique, imaginative phenomenon and surveying it is a GREAT premise – seriously, it’s fresh, unique and fun. That being said, I *really* wished the module did more with this unique phenomenon – sudden movements of the line, unique hazards, some proper, nasty wilderness survival with quickly changing sweeps of the line…this module can be made absolutely awesome with some minor adjustments/additions of hazards…without them, we still have a solid, if a bit redundant array of combats versus the cool (pun intended) necryos. If this book focused a bit more on its unique premise over combats, this could have been excellent – as provided, it is a solid module with a great scenery – and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up by a margin to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jan 102016
 

151473[1]By Endzeitgeist

The first installment of “Ancient Empires” clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, this is a source-book about an ancient empire, and as such, we are introduced to Ssar’targontha – the eponymous empire of troglodytes….only that it kind of isn’t. See, we all know troglodytes as those smelly, degenerate lizardfolk, right? Well, you may not be aware of that fact, but the word actually came into the English language from Middle French, based on Latin – “troglodytae” denoting “cave dwellers,” literally “one who creeps into holes.” It should come as no surprise, then, that this empire is situated in the deepest recesses of the underworld. Bear with me, for a second, for the word took on another meaning, roughly during the 19th century, when its use to denote a person that was considered to be “degenerate” found wide-spread use aside the horrible tenets of social Darwinism – it is, undoubtedly from this context, that the connotation of dilapidation and regression that has influenced the portrayal of the troglodyte race, has been introduced.

It should then come as no surprise, that the denizens of this empire have no more in common with general renditions of troglodytes than we do with apes – 7 feet tall, intelligent and advanced, with their own cuneiform script, these beings once performed great rites atop their subterranean ziggurats – but alas, time marches on, and the empire fell to internal squabbles and the war against the elemental planes, incurred by the practice of elemental-sacrifice. Nowadays, only ruins and remnants of the ancient glory remain, and the deity of the empire, Amon-Pyr (with a full, fluff-centric write-up), has largely been forgotten.

Lost is the knowledge of the ancient troglodytes’ caste-system (though not so for the GM, who gets proper insight into the subject matter) and several short write-ups of sample ruined cities help visualize the ruins alongside key notes on architecture…and a great b/w-artwork that captures the slightly unsettling glory of such a city -from the canals to the aqueducts, the civilization as depicted here offers a tantalizing glimpse of aeons long gone.

However, unlike more rudimentary supplements on such a subject matter, this book frankly goes one step beyond what you’d expect – there are no less than 20 whispers and rumors that double as potential adventure-(or even campaign-) hooks. Better yet, the book also sports some handy advice for the GM to help squeeze the maximum amount of enjoyment out of this book – so yes, this aspect can be considered to be somewhat of a larger, more detailed version of an alternate-dungeon-book… or a dressing-book. No less than 100 entries of dungeon dressing allow for massive customizations of ruins – thematically-fitting and awesome, this aspect of the book is reminiscent of the dressing-series we all know and love. So yes, there is a lot to see and experience in the ruins – if you don’t get killed by the 3 new and awesome traps, detailed in Raging Swan Press’ trademark level of detail – you could e.g. be cut apart by pressurized air (!!!). Yes, this is nasty and awesome!

Traps are not the only thing that can kill intrepid explorers, though – the CR 6 tentacled hunter-creature Pyr-tok, the scroll-wrapped CR 9urshak’xhul troglodyte mummies of the massive CR 11 zworms, all with their own stunning b/w-artworks and unique, inspired signature abilities, constitute some absolutely glorious adversaries. It gets even better – 4 magical items, 4 sample hoards to find and a table of 20 sample trinkets and minor treasures provide sufficient rewards for the brave and/or foolish that explore these ruins.

The pdf also sports 5 new spells that let you belch forth writhing masses of tentacles or emulate the stench of troglodytes. 5 solid feats allow for the use of Cleaving Finish with thrown weapons, better defense while fighting defensively, etc. – the feats are okay, but fall greatly behind the rest of the pdf in terms of awesomeness. The book also sports two more extensive class options: The Urshak’entu cleric, whose life steal ability can grant temporary hit points when dealing negative energy (but having no synergy with all those channel energy-effects as a balancing factor) and the new Ssar’targontha-bloodline for sorcerors, which is pretty neat. Finally, there is the CR+1 degenerate creature template.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard with a significant array of unique and awesome original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the pdf comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

This is the first Ancient Empires-book and, let’s get thsi right out of the way – this cements John Bennett’s reputation as an author who gets darker fantasy and horror even further: Were I to describe this book’s flair, it would be a mix of Kenneth Spencer/Mr. Kortes and Nicolas Logue/Richard Pett. Yes, I’m not using these comparisons lightly – this book is awesome in all the right ways: Smart, concise…and it takes essentially the key-components of RSP’s product-lines and combines them into one glorious book. From the rumors to the dressings to the traps and creatures, not one component of this book is anything less than stellar…apart from the player options. Don’t get me wrong – they are not bad. The spells are a bit hit and miss, but both feats and class options left me somewhat less inspired than I anticipated.

Now before you judge too soon – at the point when I first read this, I was thinking “OMG, this is so awesome, it needs to feature on my Top Ten-list!” – the content for the GM is that superb. The player options, on the other hand, are solid – they’re not bad in any way and supplement the material well, but compared to the more inspired pieces of crunch out there, they fell slightly flat of the superb quality of the rest of the book, only clocking in at good/very good levels, when the rest of this tome is all about excellence. In the end, though, this only is so apparent because the majority of this book is downright brilliant. While this book thus misses my Top ten-list by a margin, it still constitutes perhaps the most impressive first offering I’ve seen in a product-line for a long time. Any GM looking for a superb toolkit for ancient ruins should get this ASAP – my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Dec 162015
 

144297By Endzeitgeist

This installment of the Animal Races-series clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The frog (and newt)-clans presented in this installment as the most civilized of boggards, once again, are presented in the trademark level of detail and believability one expects from Eric Morton’s writing at this point. The supplement does cover both the intriguing psychology with distinct differentiations in aptitude and calling between parents and offspring and the resulting deviations of social structures from the default create a society familiar, yet alien.

Racial trait-wise, members of the frog-clan are either medium (+2 Dex, -2 Str) or small (+2 Dex, -2 Str), have the boggard subtype, low-light vision, normal speed of 30 ft. or 20 ft. respectively, scent (5 ft., scaling up to 30 ft. at 6th level), natural armor +1 (scaling up to +2 at 10th level) and it gets a sticky tongue that provides a penalty to AC and a movement limitation to those hit with it. The tongue can only be removed by an opposed strength check analogue to the boggard’s ability. A total of 4 Frog Clan variants are provided. Bull Frogs get +2 Str and can select Frog Clan Heritage as a combat feat. Frog Clan members get +2 Int and can choose the Frog Clan Heritage as an alchemist’s discovery, while Toad Clan members get the same modification, but may choose the feat in lieu of a hex instead. Tree Frog Clan members must be small, but gain +2 to Wis and the grippli subtype in addition to the boggard subtype, also gaining the Tree Frog heritage feat -which they may choose as a ranger’s combat style feat.

Newt Clan base racial traits are identical with those of the frog clan, except that they gain a primary bite attack at 1d4/1d3 instead of the tongue. The Newt Clan members get +2 to Int and may select Salamander Heritage as a witch’s hex, while Salamander clan members also get +2 to Int and may choose Salamander Heritage as an alchemist’s discovery.

Now as to the racial heritage feats, Frog Clan offers hold breath or swamp stride, adding leap and terrifying croak thereafter. Tree Frogs can get camouflage, climb or swamp stride, adding glider, leap and toxic skin to the fray . Salamander’s hold breath, flame resistance and swamp stride complement these options. The pdf also provides a feat that hearkens to the race’s proclivities to strange science – Test Subject, allows you to learn a discovery that modifies physiology or body chemistry.

The pdf also provides 6 different alchemist discoveries, one of which nets a natural attack adamantine properties, which is imho a tad bit too soon at level 6. Infusing metal into natural attacks, gills; +4 to Intimidate at the cost of -4 to Disguise and an internal cavity (to store items in) as well as minor DR/piercing + slashing – apart from the adamantine issue being slightly too early in my book, a solid array.

The goddess of the new moon and alchemy and the genealogy as well as the interactions with the diverse mythologies of the clans once again provide compelling intersections with established creatures, thus rooting these clans in the respective cosmology and ecology. As always, we are also introduced to heraldic crests, though this time around, they are assigned to the symbols for alchemical substances, with partial negation of attribute-drain/damage providing interesting options.

This pdf does go beyond that with a second “deity” (or rather, cult), the Templar Cult, an evil organization devoted to literally worshiping technology – and yes, the pdf also sports 5 new technological items, from circuit threading to ray guns – nice ones! The pdf also provides a new cleric domain with Technology Guide-synergy.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to the series’ elegant, printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for you convenience.

Eric Morton’s frog and newt clans are interesting and compelling and over all, there is nothing truly wrong with any of the pieces herein: I really enjoy many of the options provided herein. That beings aid, some of the small balance-screws, while not loose, imho could have used some slight additional finetuning – the adamantine discovery is a tad bit too soon in my book. Still, this constitutes a truly fun addition to the series and ranks among the more unique and culturally distinct files in it. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Nov 292015
 

gileadBy Endzeitgeist

This module clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump to the conclusion.

..

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All right, still here? Great! There is nothing good on jungle islands. EVER. Alas, this crucial piece of wisdom was not imparted upon the hapless treasure hunting team sent by the Northern Pass Trading Company under the command of Henry Beckett and the experienced hunter Bethany Tirsbury. Rule #2 when finding a ruined city and unearthing a gilded idol: Destroy it ASAP, with extreme prejudice, but only after determining that destroying it does not set the unavoidable, evil entity trapped inside free. If it would pursue other methods. The expedition has not heard about this one either, unearthing the idol containing the demon Aravax, who happily subsequently drove the expedition into cheerful slaughter and hatred. All of this is history – and now, the PCs have been sent to the island to succeed where the first expedition failed and preferably, return with valuable artifacts that do not kill everyone.

So, whether you elect to include a proper mission briefing or not, this module’s meat begins upon the PCs finding the first corpse…and then more. A trail of grisly breadcrumbs leads them right towards the former camp of the expedition (fully mapped, btw.), where they happen upon the grisly remains of a massacre and, once dramaturgy dictates it’s time to enhance the mood of dilapidation further, a GM can spring Bethany upon the players – the clearly disheveled and insane woman makes for a complex social scene with plentiful read-aloud-text for GMs less adept at improvising text. Oddly, the madwoman demands at the threat of violence that the PCs read the journal of Henry (depicted as a kind of hand-out in its own font, should you elect to simply print out and cut out that section of the page) – Bethany is obviously illiterate and while the barbarian-class to which she belongs no longer prescribes this drawback, I consider it sensible as an assumption for any quasi-medieval setting -at least in my home-game, peasants do not read.

Actually reading the text sets Bethany on a deadly course that may be exploited by the PCs – driven into a paranoid obsession, she seeks to find and kill Henry, drive Aravax from the idol and kill it and then claim her prize – obviously, PCs should realize that she is just another unwitting pawn of this corruptive influence – but still, when played right, they may use the confused woman… After this odd visitor and plundering the camp (potentially finding a weird item), the PCs will probably be on their way towards the eponymous ruins of Gilead. Haunted by swarms of deadly hornets and hostile guardian spirits, the PCs make their way to the obelisk at the center of the city – where an intriguing puzzle-combat begins: Essentially, activating the magical mechanism isn’t easy and more and more guardian spirits arrive, though their relatively straight-forward and dumb programming means that they can be outfoxed by smart PCs, thus allowing them to have brains trump brawns in an encounter that plays in a surprisingly fun manner. However, this is only the beginning – with the map thus in hand, the PCs are off to the mapped and remote temple that contains Aravax’ idol – which btw. includes a nasty trap that may drown you in wall of force-like blood. Beyond this ominous threshold, the vile idol and Henry await – the chosen of the demonic spirit sporting unique, strange abilities that render him a more formidable foe than the sum of his class levels. Once again, communication with the obsessed man is lavishly detailed – and defeating him does not end the threat, which only ends once the PCs deal with the idol in a permanent manner and defeat the evil within once and for all. Oh, and yes – the PCs better not dawdle, for Henry’s ritual is a ticking clock…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to AAW Games’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a blend of stock and original art, the latter of which is pretty awesome. Cartography is solid and in full color and comes with player-friendly versions. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

By all means, I should hate Jeffrey Gomez’ Ruins of Gilead. The paranoia-expedition and its tropes are almost by-the-book pulp tropes and indeed, if you subtract the rules, you could arguably play this in ANY setting, even a real world one à la CoC. This module does not reinvent the wheel – but it does sport something I thoroughly enjoy about it – an excellent pacing. Never is an investigation lagging, no dearth of clues – the module runs like a pretty smooth and well-oiled machine and quickly delivers what it sets out to do. Add to that the nice tidbits, from the ability to use the terrain to negate the threat of foes to some iconic imagery and variants and I, surprisingly, actually enjoyed this module far more than I anticipated. It also ran smoothly in an easy 6-hours playtest, though slower groups can probably take up to 4 sessions, depending on the pace set by the GM.

In the end, this is clearly a nice little love-letter to the pulp-genre’s classic tropes and showcases a promising author from whom I most certainly would like to read more. My final verdict clocks in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for less experienced GMs who have an issue with improvising NPC-interactions.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Nov 262015
 

103982By Endzeitgeist

This pdf is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages maps of Talingarde, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 99 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following text contains a lot of SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? All right!

The last adventure had the PCs in a precarious situation – the sacking of the most holy places of Mitran religion can easily be botched and thus, this adventure kicks off with the PCs either fleeing from the Vale with an army on their heels or triumphantly marching from it in charge of their own dark forces. Worse for Cardinal Thorn’s dread masterplan – his third knot, the assassins in charge with dealing with the regent King Markadian failed and were vanquished and his mole in the army is too frightened to assassinate the king. His plan seems to be crumbling – but there are the PCs, aren’t there? These people have been a valuable asset, but they are getting too strong. Thus, Thorn develops a Xanathos gambit that may very well backfire: The king dearly loves his daughter and this is his weakness – if a sufficient threat surfaces in the royal palace, he’ll come to the rescue – with the elite of his guard. But what constitutes a sufficient threat? What about Chargammon, legendary old black wyrm? Yeah, that should do the trick. The PCs get a lackluster assignment – recruit the extremely hostile Chargammon, known to slay all intruders to attack the royal palace and in the chaos ensuing the King’s return, kill the regent, a formidable foe himself and destroy his elite guard. Even if they fail, Thorn wins – gaining finally the leverage to force his mole’s hand. Now if that does not smell of suicide mission, the PCs are dumb. For now, though, they’ll have play along.

Thus, the module kicks off with the PCs leaving Valtaerna, either at the helm of their own successful army and with an enhancement to their own evil organization or with their tails between their legs, fleeing from a vast army featuring a magic banner. Rescuing their bugbear commanders, their hippogriffs, teleportation magic – a bunch of options to escape after a botched invasion are there and even abandoning the rank-and-file goons is expected (they can be replenished), though not necessary – the PCs can actually lead their army through the wintry, deadly passes to escape with their organization intact. Once they rendezvous with the Fire-Axe, they’ll see that at least the sacking of Daveryn went as planned – the city has fallen and Sakkarot wants to talk to them – and trade information, for Sakkarot, ina fit of melancholy, tells them the details of his deal with Thorn and that in the end, he is to take a fall against the Asmodean “saviors” once Talingarde has plunged into chaos. More worrying is that Tiadora and Thorn seem to be rather stingy with new orders/plans. But before new orders are issued, the PCs will have some fun – sacking Daveryn, district by district, looking for loot as well as allies and the missing duke, squashing resistances etc. – the city comes with a beautiful , player-friendly full-color map that includes the names for the district, but thankfully no annoying numbers. And it is neat to see the consequences of the PC’s actions, e.g. the Tears of Achlys, which claim victims and remain a potent and deadly threat. A total of 4 looting tables, plus one for magic items and multiple random encounters supplement the planned encounters that are part of the looting: From breaking the last remnants of the resistance (e.g. the remaining city watch and a company of soldiers) to an interesting find in the local wizard’s tower, the PCs have some challenges waiting: Said Wizard has the hints to the legendary wyrm Chargammon’s nest as well as more vital clues: The Duke is still inside the city walls and hiding and the lord of eagles seems to have captured the spawn of Chargammon. It should also be noted that the diviner’s spellbook and notes make for some cool treasures – especially the lavish description of the spellbook is a nice touch. Of course, even now the PCs can make new allies: The Baroness Vanya of Veryn, holed up in her mansion would make Cersei Lannister pale in comparison to her wickedness, but she’s also a consummate politician that may make for a valuable ally regarding social interactions. The insane glory-hound and duelist master Rodrigo would make for the second potential ally – while not evil, he is amoral and cares only for his craft. Add to that spymaster Anton Breuder (who could provide a benefit in a future module), the option to steal the sapphire of storms (if the PCs are up for Mission Impossible-style trap disarming) and we’re in for some fun. Better yet, if the PCs have failed to keep the slaughter of Valtaerna secret, the local prison could serve as a means to replenish their organization and a means to recruit Irfan al-Janbiya, the one assassin who was spared the righteous wrath of Sir Richard when he crushed the third knot. Once the PCs have found and dealt with all sources of information (good place to torture the subdued duke and perhaps a Mitran cardinal), the PCs could move onward -or they could do a cool sidequest for Grumblejack (or Raiju) to collect different types of spirits they may find strewn around the city – rather cool and adds some neat details to the local economy. The climax of the sacking should come as both a challenge to the PCs and as a sign that they are truly infamous: Two angels come down from the heavens to put them to justice.

Speaking of outsiders – Tiadora, this time accompanied by 9 errinyes, makes finally an appearance and hands off the quest to the PCs, acknowledging (perhaps subconsciously) that they did ALL the successful, major work in Thorn’s gambit. By now the PCs should slowly starting to grasp that their master becomes concerned with their power. For now, though, they are off to the aerie of the Eagle Lord, a mythic being that commands the storms itself to rescue a black dragon – either by slaying the legendary bird and its court or by subterfuge and then have to deal with the rather dumb and deceitful spawn of the great wyrm to secure an audience and get them past the array of deadly river drakes guarding the isle. Worse, the duplicitous dragon does not warn them against the other defenses of the great wyrms lair, which makes e.g. the viper vines all the more deadly. Not as deadly as negotiating with an utterly chaotic evil black wyrm, though – in the end, PC ingenuity should prevail (there are btw. alternate ways to secure an audience) and they’re off on a quest for the wyrm – to slay his rival, the copper wyrm Eiramanthus. Slaying a dragon is never easy and slaying this particular one is no exception.

The charismatic copper wyrm is a known planeswalker and has, in his travels far and wide, secured an array of concubines of surprising power – from Setia Swims-the-Sea-of-Stars, a ceteceal agathion to Sakari Yoshimune, a Toshigami Kami to finally Shakti Shobhana, a redeemed tataka rakshasa, the respective companions will provide quite a challenge – on their own. If the PCs are dumb enough to race into the island with drawn weapons and without a good plan to take care of them one by one, they will be squashed – especially with the allies of the respective concubines and potentially the copper dragon master of the island joining the fray. Add to that the labyrinthine quarters, crystalline gargoyles and a xorn emissary and a puzzle on a chess field, an interdimensional witchwyrd genius studying planar travel and the villains will be sorely tested even before they reach Eiramanthus, who true to his breed, will be rather communicative at first – of course, conflict with the noble being is inevitable and in the end, either he (and all remaining servitors/companions) or the PCs will be dead. And the rewards are nice indeed – the draconic hoard not only contains quite a bunch of unique treasures and is presented in excruciating detail, it also contains yet another piece of fabled hellbrand, dark blade of Asmodean champions and the demi-lich called “Nameless Tyrant”, encased in crystal and yet another potential minion, albeit a very dangerous one – especially the knowledge of the lich-transformation might be interesting for the PCs Even more interesting, though is the infernal ally Dessiter, who warns the PCs of the impending treachery in Book 5 and to keep away from Thorn and plot his demise, adding quite a bunch of interesting pieces of information to the PC’s repertoire, including the reason why Sir Richard has not yet been eliminated.

And then coolness begins – for the deed of slaying the copper wyrm, the PCs are actually rewarded by Chargammon in a rather cool way: He forces his son to serve them for 100 years – the PCs can now ride a black dragon into battle! Hell yeah! It’s time to slay a king – in a month. First, wise PCs should explore the city of Matharyn and stock up – for before slaying the king will be perhaps their last chance for a while to get things done before the breakneck show-down with Thorn. The final location then, the Adarium, beckons and powerful wizards can be slain as well as celestials, righteous pyre-golems destroyed and diplomatic relations ruined (if the PCs act smart…). Secrets can be unearthed – including the hidden location of Hellbrands final component and Thorn’s phylactery. Better yet, the magical prodigy princess and Sir Richard are here as well, guarded by an honor guard and a golem of mithral, their defenses are extensive and will ensure that the two get away – and for now that might be good, as it turns out the princess of Talingarde is not only beautiful, she’s also a silver dragon-spawned prodigy of magic and when Sir Richard is defeated by Chargammon’s assault, she intercedes and actually slays the dragon. Meanwhile, the PCs will have quite a battle with Markadian V and his elite guard on their hands.

The pdf also offers extensive troubleshooting advice and help with what/if-scenarios regarding the module’s plot and the consequences we can expect from the potential of failure. We also get a whole page depicting the outcome of the clash between the Fire-Axe’s armies and the forces of the king sans their leader that serves as an introduction to the things to come. The city of Matharyn gets a lavishly detailed gazetteer-section, including information on putting the PC’s organization to the test against the excellent night watch. The pdf also offers advice for lich and vampire PCs and a run-down to make Way of the Wicked an all-vampiric campaign, from Book I to VI.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – I encountered some minor typos spread throughout the module, though no enough to rate it down. Layout of the AP is beautiful and on par with Paizo publications and the artworks and cartography are stellar and up to the highest quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with a semi-printer-friendly version without backgrounds as well as another pdf that includes the handout as well as player-friendly versions of all the maps sans the annoying numbers -AWESOME!

The fourth module of the WotW-AP is a wicked ride of fun, but one that needs careful planning on part of the DM – the module relies on the PCs completing the plan in spite of its flaws and a lot of quid-pro-quo-quests. To truly make this module work, a GM has to be up on his game. That being said, the module nevertheless is a stellar example of cool things to do and the villains will finally feel as if they are infamous indeed – the attacks by celestials and the forces of good finally directly attack the PCs and the option to gain a dragon mount rocks. Challenging creatures like a dragon and an ancient nature spirit is iconic indeed. That being said, there is at least one potential problem I see with the module: While the capital of Talingarde is detailed and the Adarium a challenging climax, it is the final section that needs a bit of DM-expansion: The pdf does not cover HOW to enter the Adarium and while the players have a multitude of tools at their behest, some guidelines would have been nice. Additionally, the PC’s infiltration while their “threat” forces the king’s hand could have been made more iconic, with more guards that are slain while the PCs are running the corridors. A timeline or some cinematic scenes in which the PCs can see how their wicked ally vanquishes otherwise lethal roadblocks in the module would have added some gleeful spite to their accomplishments.

That being said, I am complaining on a very high level here – this module is still an excellent, awesome ride and while it has no new mechanics like the two immediate prequels, it offers the PCs a chance to reclaim an organization and make new allies – though I would have loved to see more for the villain’s cohorts to do. In contrast to the attack on Valtaerna, this module does not offer much to do for the poor cohorts apart from accompanying the PCs, which is a pity – give the psychotic alchemical golem, Grumblejack etc. something to do in the Adarium. (Though the sidequest provided for a cohort is awesome…) Perhaps a sabotage of the golems, a reconnaissance, making the assassin kill the court mage etc. – something like that. While easily done yourself, I would have nevertheless enjoyed to see some love there. Again, please bear in mind that this is still complaining at the highest level. Book 4 provides us with interesting challenges, is logical and makes for a fun ride for your villains and while personally, I slightly enjoyed the first 3 books more due to aforementioned minor nitpicks, I maintain that this pdf is still an excellent module that this time lacks hard-to-presume assumptions like the communication-blockade in book III – in fact, many adversaries herein utilize spells etc. to piece together information on your PCs, lending an air of credibility to the world and the actions of your dastardly group of devil-worshipers. The additional material is also up to the stellar quality of the book, though personally I don’t like the section on vampire and lich-PCs – honestly, these topics need to be tackled in much more detail to work smoothly, at least speaking from experience. I have a vampire-PC ( a fallen, blessed priestess that turned towards bloodthirsty fanaticism) in my home-campaign and rest assured, the implications go beyond what one would expect at first.

How to rate this, then? You heard my nagging complaints and might ask yourself why I’m so utterly nitpicky with regards to these modules. Why? Well, because the Way of the Wicked is that good. Honestly, “Call forth Darkness” is perhaps one of my most favorite modules ever. And the others are not far behind. From the craft’s perspective, the 4th module is solid and the attention to lavish detail, the cool creatures and of course, the presence of dragons as both adversaries and allies will lead a sense of empowerment to the PCs. For me, the finale was not as satisfying as it could easily be – however, the remedy is so simple that no DM should be stumped to improve it. In the end, I feel I have to be careful to not hold any installment of Fire Mountain Games’ AP to a standard of its own and instead deliver a verdict in the grand context of publications. Not every adventure can do something radically new, after all. Thus, my final verdict for this part of the AP will clock in at 4.5 stars, gladly rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform – an excellent module that could use a bit more guidance/epicness in the finale, especially when the conquering in Book III and the escape/march from Valtaerna shows how well author Gary McBride can handle such situations.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Nov 262015
 

122726By Endzeitgeist

This module is 26 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction (in which a rare Legendary Games typo can be found – a missing “Y” in “you” that has been eaten by the layout), 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of adventure, so let’s take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? Level-wise and concept-wise, this module is somewhat different from usual plug-in adventures in that is rather modular: Essentially, this module level-wise is intended to span levels 6 to 7 and are intended to make the path to Drezen more varied, providing XP and more things to do for the PCs. While they may have an army of crusaders, each encounter herein actually covers whether/how the presence of their army interacts with the encounter.

The 7 encounters herein are woven together via a subplot centering on the eponymous Equinox Crown and features a short summary of time travelled since the PCs have left as well as the number of miles they have since then covered – nice to keep track of distance etc. So what can the PCs do? Well, the trail of the Equinox Crown begins when the PCs have to essentially convince a small village to evacuate. In the night after that,. a traitor contacts the demonic forces, which results in the PCs having to fend off a couple of Hala demons and…getting the Equinox Crown. As l00t. Yeah. Somewhat anticlimactic.

When the PCs then encounter deserters, things get weird fast – during interrogation, the deserters vomit forth swarms of locusts unwittingly implanted in them and dealing with the swarms via area effects may severely damage the PC’s army. On the plus-side, this event may see the PC in question automatically bonding with the crown. That being said, this also features a massive moral dilemma I’m not sure the module handles well – what to do with the deserters? Execution may seem harsh, but letting them off the hook should have a catastrophic impact on troop-morale unless sold right – and this whole dilemma is completely glanced over and ignored – why not modify their army’s prowess to reflect their decisions? A lost chance there.

We also get a bit of mass combat (and intrigue) when one of the Condemned (pardoned criminals) pleads the PCs to save his men and finding out about a noble who has essentially sacrificed the unpopular company -defeating an army of shir-demons can integrate the remnants of the Condemned into the PC’s fold. Pity that said noble is already dead, though – here there would have been quite some potential for a hard choice and benefits/penalties depending on your PC’s inclinations – again, lost potential.

Next up would be a fight for the PCs to handle alone (after losing scouts), against a Frost Drake (Who has a miraculously large font-size in the offense-section of his statblock) in a battle with different heights (awesome) – after that, we have the PCs explore the home of an ettin guerilla fighter and his bear companion Ripclaw.

The final encounter takes place within “The Demon’s Heresy” and has the PCs convince an earth-elemental guardian to cease attacks and then take out a mythic locust demon, including a mini-ritual, which is nice, but could have used some more detail. The pdf also contains a full-blown bestiary entry for the earthen guardians, the Durdalis and a very detailed entry on the equinox crown as well as suggested means of increasing power.

Finally, we get no less than three awesome, grid-studded full color player-friendly versions of the maps of the encounters herein, adding to the module’s value by providing top-notch cartography.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though slightly below Legendary Games’ otherwise almost flawless track record. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with a flame-like orange top border for a distinct look. The artworks (2 full-page beauties that could be cover-images and 2 no less beautiful smaller pieces) are simply gorgeous and on Paizo-level. The full-color cartography also is up to a very high quality standard and the presence of player-friendly maps that can be used time and again is a huge plus for the value of this module.

So, Jim Groves and Neil Spicer deliver us the Road to War here to make the journey more interesting – Legendary Games has already shown that Jim Groves can do journey-adventures well with Road to Destiny and thus I was looking forward quite a bit to this one. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being rather disappointed – it’s not the fact that this is not a module, but instead more of a chain of loosely linked encounters, mind you – the encounters per se are well-crafted, utilize terrain, come with LG’s trademark superior production values.

That’s not the problem. Unlike all other LG-plug-in modules I’ve reviewed so far, this one feels a bit redundant in it choice of adversaries. While I’m a fan of themed modules/APs where your primary opposition has a theme, certain tricks the PCs may adapt to etc., the foes herein feel a bit like random encounters, also thanks to the overarcing storyline around the Equinox Crown being simply, I’m loathe to say it, boring. The item per se is nice and has some distinct, cool abilities, but story-wise, there simply is nothing going on here – whether regarding the legendary item’s background or the link between encounters, this whole module lacks a compelling frame narrative. And consequence. The PCs don’t have to make any hard choices herein, even though several of the encounters practically hand the DM the necessary respective dilemma on a silver platter. Choice is what makes linear journeys matter – why not choose between arrogant nobles and redeemed criminals? Why not modify the army’s stats according to the decisions made? Certainly not due to a lack of capability, seeing how excellent Legendary Games’ “Ultimate Battle” turned out to be.

At least for me, this linearity, the lack of consequence and the rather flimsy story of the crown and the adversaries herein drag this module down from the position its otherwise superb production values would guarantee. This becomes especially evident when seen in direct comparison with the SUPERB plug-in modules LG has crafted for Jade Regent, all of which mop the floor with this one, offering a deeper story and more varied experience for the AP and even when played as standalone offerings. Even as a collection of encounters, as which I’ll judge these, the lack of choice means that PCs will not consider this a respite from a railroady journey, but rather a prolonging. Is this a bad supplement? No! But also falls spectacularly flat of what it easily could have been. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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