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Way of the Wicked Book Three: Tears of the Blessed
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/06/2012 20:39:13
It’s difficult to say just what the draw is of playing evil characters. There’s an ineffable quality to being the bad guy, a sense that, if evil is something that tempts people to fall, then those who have fallen have no further moral failings that can be used against them. All that’s left is to make use of the certitude that comes from damnation and bring ruin to the champions of light. It’s in that spirit that we look at the third adventure in the Way of the Wicked adventure path: Tears of the Blessed.

Tears of the Blessed comes as two PDF files – the main file and a printer-friendly version thereof. The latter’s differences from the main file being that it removes the page backgrounds as well as the coloration from the page borders. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for me to give this particular area a pass, as it retains the full color interior illustrations (and even the page borders are kept in line-scale). True printer-friendly material removes all of the interior artwork, even though that means doing the layout again.

That said, the main file presents itself quite well. Bookmarks are present at each major section of the book, though save for one part there were no nested sub-section bookmarks (though the last bookmark took me to the front of the book). Copy and paste was fully enabled, which is always good. I do have to give props to Michael Clarke for keeping the high quality of the art coming. All of the pieces here are full-color, and while I wouldn’t put this at the highest tier of RPG art, what’s here is damn good (devil pun!).

I’m also going to cover up-front that there were some errors in this book. Nothing was major, but small problems crept in. I noticed several typos, several of which a quick spell-check could have caught. Likewise, the odd stat block error is present also, though never so much as to make a creature unusable (no aasimar, for example, has the humanoid type).

Tears of the Blessed follows hot on the heels of the previous adventure, Call Forth Darkness. It’s in this adventure, ironically enough, that we get stats for the magical disease which was the prize of the prior installment in the adventure path. Following achieving this, the PCs are immediately whisked off to the port city of Ghastenhall, settling in for a month to cool their heels before getting started on their next assignment…to raise an army and assault the faith of Mitra’s holiest temple!

I initially had mixed feelings about this section of the adventure, as it seemed like something of a carbon copy of how the previous adventure progressed. As in Call Forth Darkness, the first part of the adventure is a fairly short presentation on the town that the PCs are setting up in before going off and performing their real assignment. However, I quickly remembered that, although this portion of the adventure is short and somewhat underdeveloped, it’s still promising in what it offers, though as with Farholde this is because the gazetteer at the end really helps to make the town come alive.

Part of the reason why Ghastenhall feels so short is that its presented largely as potential adventuring opportunities, which make it feel almost like a series of side-quests waiting to happen – depending on how you present them, and how much your PCs invest in the town, there can be a lot to do here, or it can be quickly bypassed.

The second “act” of the adventure is concerned with the actual formation of the army of evil. As with the section on Ghastenhall, this is one core scenario around which more can be done if the PCs want to go out of their way. After an initial meeting with Sakkarot Fire-Axe in which he lends your PCs a few hundred bugbears to command, there are also several other avenues to explore. Most of these are to find new individuals to fight by the PCs’ sides, but a few do present possibilities for enlarging their overall force. Helpfully, the author does make mention of the PCs existing forces (e.g. Grumblejack the ogre, from the first adventure, or their custom-built evil organization from the second) and how they can play into the overall force.

This section also includes some very cogent advice on what to do if the PCs start to balk at being ordered around. This is wise, as by this point the PCs will likely start to chafe at having to do someone else’s bidding. Of course, this ultimately comes down to various ways to snap them back into line, but it’s good that the author anticipated something like this.

The third act of the book is the initial assault on the valley of Mitra’s holiest temple. This part of the book was interesting for the various tactical possibilities it presents the PCs – up until now, the adventures have lacked a certain degree of freedom in what the PCs could do; what latitude they had was presented in terms of operational discretion…that’s the case here, but the amount of discretion has grown quite a bit.

The Vale of Valtaerna is the valley in which Mitra’s holiest temple is guarded. This is no building constructed in a crevasse either. The entrance to the valley has a watch-tower built into it, and down in the valley is a lakeside small town, a mountain-temple, and finally the cathedral itself. The PCs attack is set to take place at the beginning of winter, when deep snows cut the valley off from the outside world for three months. For those three months, when communication is cut off and reinforcements are near-impossible, the PCs have to conquer the valley and slaughter every single living thing there.

That’s where the operational freedom comes in. This section gives a detailed overview of the watchtower itself, and follows it up with the ensuing battle as the PCs’ army fights its way past various defensive points to finally conquer the defenders. Needless to say, there are various things that the PCs can do in their initial assault what will greatly affect how the initial siege goes, which in turn affects the flow of the rest of the battle.

The author says that this section should keep up the pressure on the PCs, as the entire battle takes place in one night. That means that the PCs need to conquer the watchtower and then fight their way through encounter after encounter. Forget about the fifteen-minute adventuring day here! Be prepared to go through over a half-dozen encounters, and be warned that you can’t just send your army in for these – the battle takes the format of specific encounters that the PCs need to face in the midst of the chaos of battle. Various actions allow the PCs to acquire or lose Victory Points (making a return from the first adventure), with their point total determining the end result of the battle.

With the defenders crushed and the small town now firmly in their grasp, the book’s fourth act deals with everything else in the valley, save for the cathedral. It’s here that the book takes a decidedly darker turn as you immediately need to deal with what to do with the survivors…the elderly, the women, and the children (remember, your assignment is to kill everything). This part is something of a delicate balancing act, as the bugbear commanders have some suggestions about what to do with the prisoners (all of which are awful). In accordance with the advice in the first adventure, this book assumes that one of the bugbears commanders “deals” with the survivors, though your group can step in (for better or for worse) if they wish.

This section allows for three months of time in which to root out the remaining holy areas, and it’s important to note that the book doesn’t presume that it’s entirely quiet during that time. There is one event that does happen here, but after the initial scenes of setting up and dealing with the prisoners, it’s the only one. I do wish that the book had seen fit to give us further events.

The major parts of act four, however, deal with the mountain temple, and the garden in front of the cathedral. These are comparatively short encounters, having about ten areas between them both. They’re still fairly challenging, and aren’t optional (nor can you send your army to these places, as they require competence) – to permanently extinguish Mitra’s light, you must destroy the heart of each holy locale.

With the first two down, it’s the cathedral that holds the last of the religion’s heart. It should be noted that there have been plenty of good-aligned monsters in the adventure prior to this. Lammasus, blink dogs, kirin, all the monsters from the bestiaries that you never usually get to fight. The big one, however, is celestials. There are plenty of celestials throughout the adventure, and that doesn’t change here. Once the PCs manage to overcome the potent holy defenses and slay the cathedral’s final defenders, they can extinguish the central pillar of Mitra’s religion…just in time for the plague they received from the previous adventure to hit the nation’s populace hard.

Following the adventure, the book presents a gazetteer of Ghastenhall. I honestly expected to be bored by this, but was pleasantly surprised by just how alive the city felt. A port town, Ghastenhall is naturally not quite the bastion of righteousness that you’d expect for a country that has a single, Lawful Good religion. Moreover, the city’s history and colorful neighborhoods give it a distinctive quality that is not only likely to fire your creativity for what can be done here, but presents itself perfectly for your evil PCs as well.

The last section of the book gives us an long-overdue overview of your enemy religion: that of Mitra, the Lord of Light. This section surprised me, as I was expecting something more akin to Paizo’s style of deity write-ups; that wasn’t this. First, Mitra is a triune deity, having three simultaneous aspects – this gives him three deity entries, which presents an interesting set of options for those who worship him.

This section also doesn’t deal much with Mitra as an individual. There’s nothing here about what Mitra’s divine exploits, or how he feels about other gods. Instead, the section largely discusses his religion, specifically as it appears in Talingarde (since Mitra has no universal church, something I found odd for a primarily Lawful deity). There was some important information here, such as how spellcasters in Talingarde are comparatively rare – the head of the church, for example, can’t cast divine spells. This is an inversion of the usual assumptions in a Pathfinder game, and is likely something a GM should know when setting the stage for the beginning of this adventure path.

Overall, Tears of the Blessed represents a turning point in the Way of the Wicked. While before, the PCs were operating in secrecy just to survive, and having to defend themselves against those who’d do them harm, here they get to be the ones doing harm to others. In this book, the PCs take the offensive against the light, and get to snuff out the heart of it. There are some problems with the finer points of the product, but these are easily dealt with, and the overall adventure is one which will likely be extremely satisfying to your players. Never has causing so much sorrow been so much fun as it is in Tears of the Blessed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Three: Tears of the Blessed
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Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/03/2012 03:43:25
The second installment of Fire Mountain Games' evil adventure path centered on serving Asmodeus is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 101 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Asmodeus and the dukes of hell will be greatly displeased with potential servants glimpsing at their grand plans beforehand. If you don't want to incur their wrath, skip ahead to the conclusion!

Still here? That means you're either foolhardy or classified to know about the information, so let's take a look! After Adrastus Thorn's ninth knot (i.e. your PCs) have unleashed terror, death and destruction by opening Talingarde to the hordes of the fire-axe, they have been enjoying a pleasure-cruise with Tiadora, the handmaiden devil, who leaves a trail of demoralized villages in her wake, pillaging and raging at the populace in the guise of Mitran clergy and knights in a bid to destroy the unity of the nation. But that's only the intro. Once the PCs have reached Farholde, they are tasked to do what another knot has failed to do - locate the famed Horn of Abaddon, summon the daemon prince Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes and claim the famed tears of Achlys from the bringer of pestilence - a supernatural plague upon the land to serve as a second strike to break the nation of Talingarde. The seventh knot under the command of Elise Zadaria, which the PCs know from their indoctrination/training and which might contain potential love interests, is to stage murders and keep the town in line and the PCs up to what's going on. But before the Ps can get to anything, they have to meet with the local Asmodean elven noble, NOT blow his cover and enlist his aid. With some basic research, the PCs can unearth the location of the dread Horn of Abaddon among the jungle-covered spires of the Caer Bryr.

Unfortunately, the fourth knot has not failed solely due to incompetence - the horn is guarded by quite a powerful treant and far from abandoned. The lower caves of the place are now inhabited by a tribe of Dagon-worshipping boggards. Once the PCs manage to slay the treant and enter the boggard-territory, the adventure starts to feel different immediately: They may actually slay the leader, enlist the drug-addled, mad shaman and subjugate the whole tribe. Until now, if you take away the lillend with her elven/feyish consort who attack and harass the PCs, the overall fortress is a standard dungeon exploration - only...it is not. You see, the Horn of Abaddon was once home to a dread, pestilence-worshipping daemon cult and was squashed by the legendary paladin-king dubbed "the Victor", its evil sealed. Thus, the PCs encounter remains of the horn's original defenses, natural predators that have invaded the place, undead remnants of the cult and daemons still standing guard. Inc ontrast to a traditional dungeon, though, the horn's defenses lie in tatters: There's even a good shrine to Mitra impeding evil magic here! And the paladin-king screwed the PCs over in the worst way possible - he created a seal to prevent Vetra-Kali's return and the damn thing is an artifact! Even with the 3 eyes of Vetra-Kali, logically and cleverly hidden in the complex, the PCs have no idea on how to break the seal - unless they explore or listen to the mad ramblings of the boggard shaman.

Among the incoherent blubberings, they may find a hint that points them towards an annotated, unique version of Vetra-Kali's scriptures, in which a mad member who witnessed its creation of the cult wrote down a way to break the seal prior to ending his existence. 666 prayers over 222 days and 3 sacrifices - 1 to start (a priest of the cult that failed Vetra-Kali), 1 at the 111-mark (a devout Mitran) and the final sacrifice, blood from the Victor's bloodline. 3 hearts cut from the chests of the noble and pure, 3 prayers a day, one for every eye of Vetra-Kali - which the PCs have hopefully found and inserted into the statue of the daemon, for they grant scrying, knowledge about exact locations of spells being cast etc. Oh, and there are allies to be recruited - from undead remnants of the former cult to rituals to conjure mudmen to the aforementioned boggards, the PCs will have quite their hands full. If they want to successfully complete their ritual, they will have to outfit their dungeon: Each of the rooms comes with suggestions on reactivating/building traps, posing sentries and security points, which will determine the ease of incursions.

For your ease, Fire Mountain Games provides a 4-page handouts pdf available for free, which contains key-less maps of the dungeon and surroundings as well as a one-page spread of the defunct golem. Defunct Golem? Yep, among others, the PCs may activate a sociopathic alchemical golem who may make for a dread sentry, but only if posted alone - living creatures tend to die ugly around it and only if the PCs manage to find all ingredients necessary to repair the thing. Grumblejack, if he has survived so far, may be transformed via a fiendish apotheosis and thus also increase in power, just to let fans of the ogre know! (This, of course, being purely optional!) Now, the PCs can create traps, have minions to direct and prepare the defenses of their own dungeon - it should be noted that many of the enemies that will harass the PCs during the 222 days can be caught, broken and/or recruited - especially things like messenger-eating hangman-trees and minion-munching dire tigers might make for rather strong allies.

Of course, the first though of most player-groups will be to keep the ritual secret. That's not an option. The one-page beautiful artwork of the overgrown horn is ignited in green balefire and makes clear to anyone in quite a distance, that something is WRONG there. Take a look at the front cover - that's your PCs's new home and castle for the next 222 days and it is here that the adventure leaves any territory you might have played before. I already mentioned minions and indeed, the leadership-problem is tackled: Essentially, the adventure not only provides ways to gain allies, but also proposes a kind of super-party-cohort, purely optional, mind you. More interesting are the concise rules to run your own evil organization: Essentially, this module assumes an organization to have 6 scores ranging from -5 to 10, much like a character: Ruthlessness, Secrecy, Survivability, Connections, Espionage and Loyalty. Organization start off with 0 on each score and the leader's charisma bonus may be used to enhance those scores. Since running a dungeon, abducting peasants for monster-food, indoctrination, smear campaigns, espionage and assassinations are all time-consuming endeavors, the PCs may thankfully delegate said tasks to the orphan-minions of their contact in Farholde, the vile, aforementioned baron. If they do a good job, they may whip the servants into an effective tool to sow confusion, disinformation and destruction. Each organization has a limited amount of actions each week depending on the charisma and level of its leader and 17 organization actions are provided, including chances to fail and 15 organizational events provide further opportunities/challenges.

Now that the PCs have a (hopefully) staffed dungeon, intact traps and minions at their disposal and now that the ritual has prematurely blown their cover, the truly awesome part of the adventure begins: While not every day should be played out, managing the organization is a challenge in itself and if the PCs opt to ally with the afore-mentioned hangman tree or dire tiger, they will have to use their minions to make sure the creatures are well-fed. And then there's the worst kind of predator coming their way: Adventurers. Multiple groups of adventurers, complete with artworks and stats, will try to infiltrate the complex and vanquish the PCs and ruin their ritual. From some megalomaniacal local heroes to scrupulous mercenaries, groups are coming their way. And every DM knows - adventurers are DEADLY.

Thankfully, the 7th knot under the command of the winter witch warns the PCs of such incursions. Until the first truly lethal group heads the way of the PCs and knows ALL their defenses, making tracking them down a true challenge - it seems like the winter witch has betrayed Thorn and thus, hopefully with some evidence, will have to work that out as well. On the bright side, one of the group can be salvaged as a cohort. That's not all of the problems the PCs will face: The horn has a teleport-network, and while the ritual prevents regular teleports inside and out of the dungeon, a certain inquisitor has found an reactivated an outpost's teleporter and will use it to great effect for truly deadly hit and run techniques. Even better, you can do something the adventure heartily encourages: Take one of your player's favorite strategies from other groups and send their own former characters after them or at least pay homage to them. The annoying enchanter? The untouchable dwarf? Send them in! It is here that DMs will have FUN GALORE and players will finally get a taste of what your poor villains had to face! Thankfully, the local descendant of the Victor is also among the foolhardy who will try to crush the PCs, thus unknowingly deliver the last ingredient for their sacrifice. Oh, have I mentioned that the PCs may have to get their Baron out of the way? After all, a SILVER DRAGON is convinced that he has to die to stop the darkness...

And then, there are the last 5 days. If your players have thought that being a villain bent on calling down a daemon prince while being besieged by adventurers, moon dogs and the like while running an organization was too easy until now, they are in for a surprise, for in the end, as with many a plot out there, everything goes horribly wrong: An earthquake shatters parts of the dungeon, destroying some components of its defenses and creates breaches. Minions get hurt and die. An Avoral breaches their defenses. The boggards abandon them and potentially turn against them to consecrate the horn to their father Dagon. The remaining undead priests of Vetra-Kali seek to kill and replace the PCs. Any survivors of the adventurers band together to attack one last time. The freakin' silver dragon makes for an all-out assault. And following the trail of broken villages, the hardest party so far enters the horn - allies/family/survivors of the slaughter in Balentyne make for one final desperate attack on the PCs. In short: Just about anything that can go wrong, does go wrong and only a fraction of their allies does not turn against them. Keeping the ritual going will be a true challenge for the PCs and test their prowess to the extreme. One of the survivors of Balentyne, though, will probably escape - we have not seen the last of this particular man...

Provided the PCs succeed against all odds, they break Mitra's seal, summon Vetra-Kali and hopefully heed the advice on haggling with the Daemon Prince in order to get his dread plague. Better yet, the PCs can become carriers to his disease by asking the being a boon or even double-cross it, sending it back to oblivion - after all, they want to rule these lands one day and having a disease-ridden daemon prince sowing pestilence might not make for a good start for Asmodeus' glorious reign. Anyways, the adventure concludes with Thorn having the Tears of Achlys, though failure might be an option.

The pdf also contains aforementioned organization/minion-rules (which would also work well for thieves guilds or similar illegal organizations), a gazetteer of Farholde including a beautiful map and ideas on how to run variants of "Way of the Wicked" - e.g. with an all-duergar party or class-restrictions. I didn't care too much for these, but I guess some of you out there might enjoy the ideas.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I did encounter some minor glitches like an additional "t" after a full-stop or a formatting inconsistency in the organization-rules: The rolled-20-entry and rolled-1-entry are swapped in one entry. While not providing wrong information and amounting to about 5 glitches on the whole adventure, it's not perfect. The adventure adheres to one of the most beautiful full-color 2-column layouts I have seen in any publication, 3pp or otherwise. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version that gets rid of the background, but not the colors or illustrations. The pdf comes with 4 pages of player handouts, which can be downloaded on the fire-mountain-page and the pdfs come with full bookmarks. Artworks are up to the highest standards, as is the cartography - Michael Clarke provides not only beautiful illustrations, but also stellar maps. Which brings me to the second minor gripe I have with this pdf: The town of Farholde-map comes without a key-less version of the map to hand out to players, which is a bummer, for the town is beautifully detailed.

This installment of the "Way of the Wicked" feels, on the formal side, slightly less polished than "Knot of Thorns". If you're like me, you've read a LOT of adventures and ran a lot of them. And after a while, at least if you're like me, you start to see the same plot-devices, the same tropes, repeated over and over and over. And it starts to get BORING, oh so boring. You'll start to yearn for nouveaux frissants, new sensations with regards to rpgs to ease the existential boredom creeping up to your game. And then, once in a while, you read an adventure that does something different. That is innovative. That tears apart the old yarns and does something ambitious, something radical and, more importantly, something NEW. Most adventures that feature such a component use it in one fight, perhaps the climax, in one location. Some adventures, and these are the ones that we remember as bright stars, as iconic legends, as part of the must-play canon, though, are brave and radical: They take an idea, develop it and present it in a supremely professional and concise way and offer a whole new way of having fun, a new story, a new angle. "Call forth Darkness" does that.

This module not only surpasses "Knot of Thorns", it leaves it at the wayside sobbing for its infernal mommy. And "Knot of Thorns" was excellent, but at its heart still a rather conventional module on the other side of the alignment scale. An excellent module, to be sure, but one on the conventional side nevertheless. "Call forth Darkness" is smart. It's supremely ambitious. It succeeds at what it sets out to do (though it is an adventure that is a challenge for DMs to run) and it puts two gleeful "i"s into "Villains". These are not heroes, they are villains and they do villainous things and thus face completely different challenges. I am still baffled at the quality Gary McBride and Michael Clarke manage to produce as essentially a two-man enterprise. Artworks, Cartography, Writing, Crunch and Fluff - all are up to top-standards and then, the scenario is brave, smart and INNOVATIVE. Where other adventures move on known ground, this one feels different. Want to know why it took me so long to write this review? Every time I got frustrated due to reading boring/bad pdfs and writing reviews for them, I went back to this adventure. Read a couple of pages. Smiled. And went back to work. I don't regret a single buck I spent for the print version and if your gamers are anything like mine and if there is some kind of justice, this adventure will go down into the must-play canon and be remembered in years to come as one of these iconic, unique scenarios that are classics - and this module also offers a stellar bang-for-buck ratio.

If you're thinking I'm exaggerating, I'm not. In spite of the minor glitches and the lack of a player-friendly gazetteer-map, I'll gladly settle for a final verdict of 5 stars plus Endzeitgeist seal of approval. I'd go for 6. Or 7. Or 10. In any rating-system, this represents almost the apex, at least in my humble opinion: Excellent presentation, top production values, stellar ideas, innovation - anything you'd want, it's here. My only concern for the overall AP is that this part will be nigh-impossible to repeat, let alone surpass.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/01/2012 11:30:04
The hardest games to run are those involving evil characters. The idea of controlling players who, by design are out of control, is a difficult one. It’s why Fire Mountain gets the golden grapefruit award for not just making an evil adventure but designing an evil campaign that is both easy to DM and fun for the players. Way of the Wicked is a campaign by the new publisher that will take players on a 1 to 20 journey through the twisted plot to aid a dark god.

The first adventure, Knot of Thorns, sets the grand station with a simple premise, the PCs must break out of a fortified and heavily guarded prison where they are outmanned and unarmed. Despite such a basic plot, the writers do a creative job of establishing a series of detailed obstacles and providing the PCs the opportunity to escape the prison in a number of ways. Once they escape, the grander plot unfolds which includes a very fun puzzle filled dungeon, the instigation of a war and the uniting of a group of evil entities. Overall, Knot of Thorns shines at bringing a variety of game play options throughout the adventure.

The adventure is impressively laid out and divided into acts that make it easy to explain and follow.
The 100 page PDF is also packed with information for running an evil campaign and building characters in an evil campaign. This information is worth the purchase alone for DMs who hope to run an evil campaign one day or simply have a player who always makes someone just a tad bit leaning toward the bad guy.

For the Dungeon Master
Running a successful evil adventure or campaign takes a lot of work. Knot of Thorns not only does 90% of this work for you, it teaches you how to do the other 10%.

For the Player
If your Dungeon Master is nice enough to let you run an evil campaign for any reason, picking up this book and following the tips to making an evil character will gratify his decision.

The Iron Word
Way of the Wicked: Knot of Thorns succeeds at designing a truly innovative beginning to an evil campaign. It lays out exactly what evil is and provides material and help to insure that your campaign doesn’t derail into serial killer anarchy.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Chris D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/27/2012 23:40:27
Excellent and easy to run adventure! I bought the pdf from paizo, but after running this adventure for my group I wanted to leave a review on Drive-Thru RPG to support Fire Mountain Games and let people know how fun this adventure is to run/play. I broke down and bought the soft cover from Druve-Thru RPG so I would be allowed to leave a review.

The adventure is detailed and easy to run. Players will have an excellent time flexing their bad guy muscles, and gms will love dropping smite evils on the player characters (who deserve it very much!) Simply the most enjoyable 1st level adventure I have ever run.

Nuff said.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Eric H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/08/2012 14:30:17
I'll have to be quick but I will say this:

This book is amazingly well-done and written. If you ever wanted to run an evil campaign/adventure path, then you want this book. Aside from a well-done multi-part adventure, starting with a jailbreak, going to a test of your abilities from your new master, then delivering weapons to an ally and then lastly a sandbox-style part in which you have to take down a well-staffed and armed border fortress all by your lonesome, you get a gazetteer of the land this all happens in (one littered with adventure ideas), and a primer on doing evil campaigns that is very well done.

This is an amazing start to what looks like it'll be the very best 3rd party AP I've ever seen.

And on the POD aspect, I got my book, in perfect condition, just TWO DAYS after the order went through. That is amazing and it deserves to be mentioned here.

Five stars easy. I just wish i could give it six!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/28/2012 05:10:37
This pdf is 100 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 95 pages of content, so let's check out Fire Mountain Games' AP!

The nation of Talingarde is a shining beacon of goodness on a hill, a bastion of faith to the Mitran faith and an example of purity and goodness. Evil has been conquered and mostly rooted out in this land, the goblinoids driven beyond the grand wall - and righteous, lawful Talingarde will burn! For in this AP, the players are the villains!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Seriously, you don't want to spoil this one!

Still here? After generating villains (sample violations of laws/reasons have been included), the action kicks in with the Pcs being brought to Branderscar Prison - to hang or face whatever sentence (most likely death or a life of forced labor) will await them. Unfortunately for the nation of do-gooders, complacency and incompetence have taken a hold of the nations once most tightly-run prison and so a mysterious, beautiful woman charms her way in, delivers a veil and exits - the veil containing a variety of tools the Pcs can use for the task she set them - escape from the prison and rendez-vous with a mysterious benefactor. The escape from prison being their first task, the PCs will have quite an interesting time - acquiring a spellbook and freeing an intelligent ogre from confinement and multiple ways to sneak past guards/overwhelm them included.

After a trek through a dangerous marsh, the mysterious benefactor awaits the PCs in his mansion - Adrastus Thorn, chosen of Asmodeus is on an (un-)holy crusade and has woven a dread web of plans and intrigues to bring the nation to its heels. While he has his own reasons to do so, he offers the PCs a chance for revenge - all they have to do is prove their worth in his own training ground (including hellish wisdoms in every room of the mini-dungeon) and sign a contract in blood. It is also this contract that will counteract the problem of evil campaigns in which PCs in the end try to kill one another. Furthermore, potential rivals of the PCs will be foreshadowed here.

Adrastus' first task is to accompany a weapon's smuggler behind the grand wall to deliver weapons to a horde of goblinoids under the command of an Asmodeus-sworn bugbear champion - and then tie up the loose end, the smuggler. The trip proves to be dangerous, patrols scouring the waters and barbarians offering trade. The goblinoid horde awaiting them proves to be dangerous as well and a demonstration of strength might be in order. Once the deal is completed, the bugbear-chieftain turns out to be another of Adrastus' agents and tasks the PCs with a seemingly impossible task - bring down Balentyne, fortress at the wall, the gate to Talingarde and open the fortress to the horde. This opens the final part of the adventure, a sandbox-style section where the PCs have a vast variety of options to use social entanglements, cunning, poison, infiltration, dark magics and overall smart strategies to decimate the people stationed in the fortress. Which is challenging - the fortress is well-guarded, frontal attacks/lack of subtlety is not an option, the enemies are smart, numerous, superior to the PCs and the section is incredibly detailed - reactions to the wide variety of options presented are given and there are a lot of options open for the PCs to follow - from using a tryst to their advantage, killing and impersonating actors, poisoning food etc., all kinds of dastardly activities are included in the options and a constant and steep count for victory points makes sure that the PCs won't have an easy time opening the bastion for the goblinoid horde. Their level of success will have repercussions in future adventures and the attention to stunning detail, from Branderscar to the end, makes sure that awareness, being smart etc. are rewarded.

The pdf also includes a gazetteer of Talingarde, advice for the DM on how to run a villainous campaign, help for the players to generate villains and a plot-synopsis of the whole AP.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Not one. Excellent job! Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, full-color two-column standard and is STUNNING. Beautiful. Awesome. The artwork (and there's a lot of it) is also full-color and features portraits of all major players in the adventure as well as e.g. a certain magical item in the beginning. And they are Paizo-level. I mean it. These pieces of artwork are STELLAR. The pdf comes with full bookmarks and a printer-friendly alternate version. The maps are full color as well and just as stunning - from the maps of Talingarde to the location maps, the only gripe I can muster is that we don't get extra player's maps sans keys that DMs could print out, cut up and hand to them as they explore. Content-wise the adventure is a great mix of railroady sections and the coolest sandboxy infiltration I've read in quite a while. In fact, the overall writing is stellar and up to the highest standards you could want. The finale is epic, smart, cool and offers so many ways to achieve victory it's almost frightening - without being easy, mind you! Fire Mountain Games have come from the nowhere, put out this little pdf and blown me out of the water - neither content, nor production values or bang-to-buck-ratio leave anything to be desired from this stellar, brilliant opening of their villainous AP. The novelty of an evil campaign and its challenges are addressed and solved admirably, the scenes feel new and give credence to the overall conspiracy and just about every aspect of this book can be considered a PEAK PERFORMANCE.
Oh yeah, this is the work of 2 people. Author Gary McBride and artist Michael Clarke have, with this opening, definitely upped the ante of the quality one can expect from 3pps, rivaling Paizo's APs in style, artwork and writing. I have nothing to complain. Nothing. I'm VERY impressed and, would it be possible, I'd rate this 6 stars. Seriously. If playing evil only remotely intrigued you, if you ever wondered how nations like Cheliax came to be or how grand nations came down - stop wondering. Do it yourself. For once not save them, but condemn them to hellfire! My final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2012 14:43:21
Call Forth Darkness is another solid adventure, although personally, I liked the opening installment just a bit better.

The PDF, like it's predecessor, is beautiful. The layout, colors, and artwork continue to be very impressive.

The Farholde Gazetteer in this book does a lot to bring the setting to life, which I think is important in an adventure path such as this one. The more the PCs realize that there is some history and culture behind the targets they eliminate, the more the fact that the PCs are villains is really brought home.

The article on evil organizations and minions presents a subsystem for managing minions that I wish were available in slightly more generic form for non-evil groups that also have followers. It's nice to have some guidelines as to what all of those “not quite combatants” can do when you take the time to actually be a leader.

An interesting addition at the end of the adventure is the exploration of other ways to structure the adventuring party and frame the AP based on specific themes (i.e. the whole party is clerics, the whole party are wizards, no one is a spellcaster) and what needs to be done to fit that theme. It's not overly detailed, but it's nice to see these musings and I'd like to have seen this kind of thematic conjecture in some of Paizo's adventure paths.

Now, for the adventure itself. When I say I prefer the first installment, it's not a matter of quality. It's from the GM expectation point of view. This adventure could be great or it could nosedive, because while it is a brilliant premise and laid out about as well as you could for this kind of concept, it really depends on the PCs picking up the ball and running with it.

That is true to an extent in the original adventure as well, but without a direct authority figure nudging them as much as they might have had in the first adventure, while the ultimate objective is clear, the compelling bit in the middle might not be as cool if the PCs don't get the vibe that the adventure is sending out (i.e. if they treat this as a dungeon to clear out rather than one to dominate).

One last nit pick that I will try to throw out there without spoiling too much. I love the security point concept, but wish it did more than it does. The payoff isn't quite as tangible outside of the metagame rewards.

All in all, recommended, and greatly recommended. Just pray that your players really relish being villains and not just evil characters.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
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Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/25/2012 16:31:14
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.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness
by Luca L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/24/2012 05:51:10
This new adventure has it all. Exploration, role-playing, plot twists, discovering ancient secrets, reverse-dungeoneering, resource managing, and battles. A rather hefty bunch of them, and each quite exciting, as they involve not your run-of-the-mill stat block creature, but very specific individuals.

The PCs will have to find, conquer (not an easy task), and hold a place as twisted and wicked as only the legends can be, complete a seemingly impossible ritual, face righteous retribution from brave heroes, and deal with some more subtle menaces. And obviously rally under their own banner the hordes of evil minions that are the staple of any bad guy - but this time they are the ones holding the leash!
Over the span of many months the characters have the opportunity of fitting their own dungeon to become a death trap that devours band after band of adventurers, and with a custom built subsystem manage minions to further bolster their forces and harass their enemies - and provide entertainment, prisoners, treasure, and the inevitable headache for their masters.
Will the PCs be cunning, greedy or too greedy? The pitfalls of an evil mastermind are innumerable, and a lot of them don't just come upon the blade of a do-gooder knight...

You or your player don't like the managing element of the adventure? Skip it with no hassle.
You want to fill in some pieces of your design (the place screms for haunts)? There're a good many places to do so.
You've been frustrated by unstoppable PCs mopping the floor with your carefully designed nemesis in a couple of rounds? Feed them their own medicine.

With yet another innovative plot, a bold take on the "hold the fortress" idea, and colourful heroes to slaughter, this installment of the Way of the Wicked was a blast to read, and being able to handle varied playing styles, will be a blast to play too.
Not to be discarded are the gazetteer and the extra player concepts presented, useful for fleshing out the environs and having some quite exotic ideas (goblins? we be goblins, you be food!) for the evil adventuring group.

Highly recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/10/2012 21:17:35
I wasn't sure what to expect with this product. It was a novel concept. I have to admit that I've been skeptical of evil campaigns before. But between the sales pitch and the buzz, I wanted to see what this was about.

I'll get the cosmetic out of the way first. This book is pretty. There isn't a ton of art, but what there is is good, and fits the theme. The format, colors, and presentation all look really sharp. This is a first class production just based on looks.

But to get to the crux of the matter, how is the adventure?

It's great. The set up is fun, and there is a great sub-system that is simple but perfectly logical for resolving the final act of the adventure.

The advice for evil campaigns is simple, but pretty logical, especially as applied to this campaign. There is a semi-random character generation method I'm not sold on, but the campaign traits are thematic and perfect to set the tone of the adventure.

All in all, if you have ever been curious about how to set up an evil campaign to avoid the general pitfalls that might come about, this is definitely worth a look, even if you only use it as a model for your own ideas.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Tim W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/29/2012 22:08:37
One of the players in my group has been wanting to do an evil campaign for years. When I saw the picture in KBQ#20, I was like, that looks cool, let's go check it out. After checking it out at RPGNow, I checked out my own copy from their shopping cart. Today, was the 1st session.

Four tiefling siblings that were "bred" by an evil wizard about 20 years ago, were compassionately placed into an ophanage by the Mitra-loving Paladins that slew the evil conjurer. However, their true nature could not subjugated by alruism, and thus, they await their fate at the Brandescar facility.

We spent some time building the characters using the suggested methods in the AP. The characters ended up being four teifling siblings; Ethos (m)- Bladebound Magus, Asura (f) - Cleric of Asmodeus, Dagon - (m) Rogue, and Dagoth - (m) Assassin. Dagoth is starting as Ranger with humanioid(human) favored enemy to get to the Assassin prestige class. All PCs took the anti-hero option from APG to get an extra feat.

Interesting first session ended with the PCs just getting away from the Brandescar facilty to nearby shore. The Ogre ended up being a comedic side-kick, though, it was not really the intent of the GM nor PCs for that to have happened as it did. We usually like to keep the actual rolls and make the story work over fudging rolls to make the rolls go with the story.

The game has been throughouly enojoyable from the GM and PCs today. As have many others have said, would prefer a PRINT version. LOL. Too cheap to print it out, but not too cheap to buy it. However, doing fine with the .pdf version, so far. I know I am somewhat old-school for killing trees to have nice gaming books. I plan to grab .pdfs as soon as they're available and eagerly await for print versions to become available.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Luca L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/13/2012 12:20:37
A bold, well written, well thought and enticing adventure, written with the wicked perspective of an evil-aligned adventuring group, developing a saga of destruction and betrayal up to the highest levels - both of character's career and of evilness.
Can't wait for the next chapter.

Jaded DMs out there: you need this.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Way of the Wicked Book One: Knot of Thorns
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/25/2011 13:36:22
I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for this.

I think that at some point, every GM (and quite possibly every player too) has entertained the thought of running an evil campaign, or at least playing an evil character. After all, who could resist the temptation of being the uber-cool arch-villain, unbound by moral codes and social niceties, doing what you please and may the gods have mercy on those who cross you? Of course, this flight of fancy tends to run headfirst into some very real problems when put into practice, and so no one’s every really marketed an adventure – let alone an adventure path – for Pathinder (or its ancestor game).

That’s all changed with Fire Mountain Games’ new adventure path, Way of the Wicked. It all begins here with book one, Knot of Thorns.

Let’s cover some of the technical aspects of the book first. The single PDF file is exactly one hundred pages long, making it a fairly substantial work. Bookmarks are present, but only to each of the book’s major sections; you won’t find nested bookmarks to more specific parts of each section, so you may need to do a bit of scrolling.

The artwork in the book is notable for its quality; something all the more impressive for the book having had but a single artist. Each piece is a full-color illustration that is clearly professional in its detail; this is especially true for the maps, which I found to be quite pretty (and wished that there was a map pack available as well). My only complaint about the maps was that they use a scale of having one square equal 10 feet, which I always find slightly off-putting, since Pathfinder uses a default 5-foot square assumption. If you’re redrawing these, make sure to scale the locations appropriately.

The pages themselves are nicely decorated, being set against a dark background and having page borders on three sides. Having said that, there is no printer-friendly version of the book available (nor, for that matter, an epublishing version), so this may be a strain on your printer.

Following a single-page introduction where the author exhorts conquering the world rather than saving it, the adventure opens with a background for the course of the campaign. Set in the island nation of Talingarde, where the faith of the sun-god Mitra has become the state religion, a deposed prince turned worshipper of Asmodeus seeks to subvert the current order and have the Devil God’s faith ascend to become the religion of the kingdom, complete with a new king on the throne. For this, he has crafted a diabolical plan utilizing nine teams to create unrest and thwart attempts to solve the problems he’ll create. It’s with these teams in mind that he turns to your PCs.

The adventure starts out with your characters already being the bad guys. You’ve been found guilty of committing major crimes (not wrongly, either; your PCs being criminals is a major part of the backstory; see below) and sentenced to prison to be executed or sent to a life of hard labor. However, thanks to a mysterious benefactor, and a lax administration, you have a chance to escape.

This first part of the adventure is a fun prison break, not only for the heightened tension in that you’re working from a disadvantage (you don’t get to keep your gear in prison), but also due to the different angles from which this scenario can be run. Are you just trying to make for the exit as fast as you can, or do you take bloody revenge on everyone around you and arm yourself with their equipment?

Following their escape, the PCs make their way to their patron and are given the choice to swear themselves to Asmodeus (which, perhaps appropriately for a devil god, isn’t much of a choice at all) and begin their training. This part of the adventure is heavier on the role-playing, as this part introduces a lot of key NPCs and the chance to build relationships with them, along with internalizing the fact that they’re now serving the forces of Hell.

The adventure’s third act consists of a journey to their first assignment. A long sea voyage, this scenario is broken up by a number of encounters, which are broken up into three groups of making the voyage, completing their task, and after the trip. This is also the most open part of the adventure, as not only can the order of events be shuffled quite a bit, but new encounters can be added or deleted as necessary; this is where a lot of the restrictions on the PCs come off.

The fourth and final part of the adventure is a mission of infiltration and destruction. Outmatched and outnumbered, the PCs have to bring down a fortress filled with soldiers of the forces of goodness. Very cogently, the adventure adopts a method of granting “Victory Points” for various actions, with the end results of their mayhem being tabulated by how many points they’ve achieved via their acts of disruption.

That’s the end of the adventure, and if it sounds short, then it’s only because I’m doing it a disservice. There’s a lot that happens throughout Knot of Thorns, so much so that your characters are supposed to end the adventure when they’ve just reached 6th level. Interestingly, while there’s plenty of bloodshed going on throughout the book, a great deal of the XP the PCs are supposed to gain comes from story-based XP awards for accomplishing various tasks. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve never seen an adventure that relied so much on story awards. This is comforting, as it makes it easy to arbitrarily increase or decrease the XP the PCs are given as they move through the series of unfortunate events they’re causing.

The book doesn’t end with the adventure, however. The last twenty pages or so are devoted to what’s essentially a player’s primer. We’re given an overview of Talingarde’s history, some of its more notable locales, and a quick overview of some of its major organizations. It’s in this last section that I think we come to the book’s single biggest oversight – there’s no information on the sun god Mitra. To be fair, the church of Mitra is covered (albeit briefly), but that’s not enough. What are Mitra’s domains and sub-domains? What is his holy symbol and favored weapon? We don’t know, because the book doesn’t tell us. True, none of that information is directly pertinent, but if GMs want to deviate from the material here and make up their own Mitran clerics (or inquisitors or similar divine spellcasters), the missing information becomes more pertinent. Hopefully we’ll see something on this from Fire Mountain Games soon.

The author then includes a section on how to run a villainous campaign. Specifically, he outlines five problem areas, and how this campaign attempts to avoid them (where possible; otherwise he includes advice for making things go smoothly). This section was, to my mind, very cogent in its reasoning. I’d always held that the major problems of an evil game were PvP conflicts, and someone being so evil that it squicked out the other players. All of these, as well as other problems (“why can’t we just send minions to do our evil for us?”) are covered, with sound reasoning given for why and how to handle them.

Subsequently there’s a short guide on PCs in a Way of the Wicked campaign. Interestingly, goes through the character creation guidelines and recommends specific changes, the sum total of which are to make the PCs more powerful, since they’re evil outcasts in a good nation. I’m not sure that this is necessary, but then I’m slightly biased against increasing the level power the PCs have, since my group includes a couple power-gamers.

What’s most interesting here are the new campaign traits. Remember how the game starts with your PCs being condemned criminals? There are twenty campaign traits here, each of which is a crime – which trait you pick is the crime that you performed, and were caught and lawfully sentenced for. I was really impressed with this simple yet elegant way of bringing the characters background, and evil nature, into the spotlight. This serves as a brilliant method for highlighting what the PCs did to start them on the road to villainy, and why they throw in with the powers of darkness.

The book closes out with a two-page synopsis of the entire adventure path, outlining what happens in each of the six adventures.

Overall, I found myself very impressed with the opening act for Way of the Wicked; this promises to be an adventure path as epic as anything by Paizo. The campaign’s themes are tightly focused, and the tenor of the adventure steers away from the problems that usually come from having a group of evil characters. The challenges are diverse, from infiltration to puzzles to deception to combat. You’ve never seen such a good job of being the bad guy.

Of course, the book isn’t without its flaws. The CR for the triton oracle seems to be off, for example, and the tactics section of Father Donnagan’s stat block seems to be an incorrect cut-and-paste. But the major problem that I think people might have with this campaign is that, even more than other adventure paths, this one is an exercise in railroading.

The first two acts of the adventure basically force the PCs to go in the specified directions, and while the third act – as mentioned above – starts to loosen the tight grip around the characters, it’s never truly removed (though in many cases it’s less visible). The PCs are bound by the goals that are set for them; their only freedoms lie in how to accomplish them – to put it another way, they’re free to do what they want, so long as they want to do what their patron says. In theory they can go their own way, but the adventure talks about what to do if the PCs go off the rails at various points, and its never good (in some cases, it flat-out says that they get slaughtered).

Of course, that may very well be a necessary evil (pun intended) for an evil game, as it’s much easier for an evil game to fall apart. I certainly don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, as the adventure offers a great “us against the world” scenario that’s a great inversion of the usual “points of light” backdrop. Follow the Way of the Wicked, and be the darkness that snuffs out the light.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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