RPG Review – Way of the Wicked Book Four: Of Dragons and Princesses
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.
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.
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