EZG reviews Way of the Wicked III - Tears of the Blessed

Hej everybody!

Before I'm off for a week of being a good Goth at the annual WGT, I'll have one more massive review for you: Fire Mountain Games' third installment of the evil AP Way of the Wicked, so let's check this out!

Tears of the Blessed

The third installment of Fire Mountain Games' evil AP is 102 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 97 pages of content, so let's check it out!

This being an adventure review, Asmodeus watches over these lines. If you're a player and don't want to be dragged to hell due to knowing about the massive
SPOILERS, I'd suggest you skip ahead to the conclusion.

Still here? All right! The adventure kicks off where "Call forth Darkness" left off - with the legendary Tears of Achlys now in the PC's possession, Thorn's plans grow closer to fruition. After receiving their rewards the PCs are sent off to Ghastenhall, where they meet up with an Asmodean scholar in disguise who has infiltrated the church of Mitra and happens to know Thorn from when he still was a mortal man. said man will ensure that the Tears of Achlys do their utmost damage. Their circlets also get an upgrade and by now, finding out that Thorn scries them via these items as well as some information on their benefactor's motivations can be coaxed from the man. Even better, the PCs have a whole month to spend on side-quests, some of which, like pit fighting, are detailed. Better yet, the organization (or what's left of it) of the PCs can be established in the town as well, giving them ample things to do while the Fire-axe continues his rampage through Talingarde. Winter is approaching and in the spring and summer, the hordes the villains unleashed upon the land will face off against the true power of the kingdom.

But between this war and now lies a winter, one the PCs are not supposed to sit idly by - they are called to the Fire-axe and there will have to negotiate for some squads of elite troops for their upcoming task: Burn down the most sacred vale of the Mitran faith, extinguish the holy flames and let none escape.  While the basic negotiation is simple, the PCs can do so much more: E.g. ally themselves with the local vampire lord, recruit an unruly ogre-mage and a small army of reclusive Duergar and gain a valuable ally in a beauty-priestess turned mad medusa that first has to be pummeled into submission (and yes, her ruined temple gets its own map). Depending on how they fared until now, they will still have allies from previous adventures as well and some guidelines on managing the minions is provided, as is a suggestion on how to handle the potential wish of a PC to turn into a vampire. Oh, and it seems the PCs have come to the attention of the dark overlord and thus get their very own Nessian hellhounds  and make the acquaintance of an infernal lawyer who will prove to be useful indeed in the future...

Gathering these allies is the first way to accumulate victory points for the vast battle to come - as soon as snow is falling the vale must burn! If the PCs are smart, they have done some reconnaissance, which means you could show them the beautiful full-color player-friendly map. They might also know that hiding alignment and infiltrating the tower at the vale's entrance will have to be the first step for success - killing the Lammasu-watchers another. It should be noted that the tower is fully mapped and while clearly a task for the PCs, they can send in minions - who fail. UNLESS the PCs act smart and send the right minion for the task, in which case the tower is not taken, but their task does become easier.

Once their army has passed the wall, the defenders will scramble to keep your dark hordes out and here the narrative battle begins - essentially, your army crashes into the vale and over the course of the battles, your villains will have to intervene and make decisions that influence your VP - an example would e.g. an elite cadre of archers (warp their bows!), a charge by good knights (take their horses away!) and then there are the elite dwarves - deadly, stout and another task for the PCs - or a great way to use their disposable Duergar allies. Fireballs and catapult stones may hit the PCs and the acolytes of the serene order, a unit of monks is next up and may make for yet another hard fight - or, if they're wise, a nice way to use their vampire spawn. The greater bridge is held by shield archons and here, the PCs must intervene - three battles await them until the bridge is taken - the shield archons, Aasimar paladins riding on celestial griffons and finally, holy warriors under the command of high level priests of Mitra. This is the first grindstone and after this, the victory points are counted - Your PCs have probably been taxed to their limits and beyond and it might be possible that they failed - the adventure advises the DM on the consequences and, depending on what the villains achieved, they'll have different outcomes and quite a bit of trouble-shooting advice is included in the pdf. Most probably, the town of Sanctum is theirs. They can man the tower. Make them scarce pilgrims lambs to the slaughter for their minions. Start a genocide in sanctum and gain information via torture. And of course, the 3 months of winter make for an excellent time to have people try to escape the vale and warn  Talingarde - something that must be avoided, especially if the PCs have been seen.

The vale is not in the PC's hands, though: There still are 3 sacred flames burning bright for Mitra's glory and they must be extinguished. First lies atop a mountain guarded from flight, guarded by a Peri and a Phoenix. Yes. A phoenix. And the villains can steal its eggs while fighting the legendary beast. Very cool! The second location is the garden of serenity, where not only a vast labyrinth, but also an Agathion huntress, legion archons and a pack of advanced blink dog guard the entrance to the labyrinth. Have I mentioned the herd of Kirin the PCs may slaughter and use for their crafting? At the center of the aforementioned labyrinth, the second flame burns bright, guarded by the head of the local monastic order and an almost legendary oracle.

And then, once the second flame has failed and a red sky looks down upon the villains, it's time to get into the cathedral of Mitra and face the last resistance: Devas. Hippogriffs. A storm giant with tame rocs. Ghost Paladin Martyrs. And then there are three trails of Mitra for the PCs to outwit in order to find high priest Earnan MacCaithlan and stop him from unleashing his ghost martyrs via the bones of a saint. There also is a deadly Chalkydri angel and iron golems, which guard the vault where infernal artifacts await the villains - among which is the legendary blade Hellbrand, yet uncompleted, but eagerly awaiting the PC's command...
Hopefully, the PCs find a way to pierce an holy shield of fire (hints are provided), crush an Azata-emissary and finally, meet the true head of the order, the final guardian of the flames: Ara Mathra, He-who-stands-in-Light - advanced monadic Deva, CR 16. OUCH! With that and several possible conclusions, this adventure ends and provides quite a bit of trouble-shooting for beleaguered GMs.
The  book also includes an extensive gazetteer of the trade town of Ghastenhall and I wholly expected to be bored by the write-up. Instead we get an interesting and unique town with some neat local peculiarities in food, street-names and goods available that makes the place exciting indeed. The excellent beautiful map does its best to add to the town's appeal and while I don't mind the respective quarter's names, I don't like the numbers and letters on it.  A player-friendly map would be much appreciated here. This section also ties up a possible side-quest with a duke's missing daughter started in Book 2.

After that, we finally get a write-up of the faith that is the opposition of the PCs - Mitra's doctrine is revealed in all his soon-to-be-tarnished glory and the organization his church and its 7 tiers as well as holy symbols, ceremonies etc. are depicted in compelling and well-written detail. Fans of good inquisitors should note that the faith comes with a neat write-up of the Mitran Inquisition,  but no crunchy inquisitions.

As much as I'm loathe to say it - editing can no longer be considered good. This installment of the WotW has more editing glitches than the first two books combined - from Mitran Priests that don't include the information on how many there are in the statblock to typos and minor punctuation errors, I encountered quite a few of them. Another pass at editing would have been great and I hope that future installments of the WotW devote a bit more care to the process. Layout adheres to the stellar, beautiful standard set by the series and the original full-color maps and artworks rock hard. However, I would have loved to see player-friendly versions of the maps for all locations, not just for some. The pdf is bookmarked, though the final one links to the introduction instead of the Mitra-article as it's supposed to do - another glitch that could have easily been avoided. The printer-friendly version is b/w, but still features all artworks and maps.

The Way of the Wicked has provided us with two of the best adventures out there for PFRPG, period. And now, in the "Tears of the Blessed", we finally get to battle celestials, those creatures mostly left untouched in adventures and rip them a  new one. That's great.

However, I feel that the overt celestial massacre to be instigated in this module suffers from some points that could have used clarification: Number 1: After the initial battle (which is awesome and cinematic), the occupation feels a bit rushed and as if it leaves quite some potential untouched. The town of Sanctum needs a kind of gazetteer with detailed NPCs, perhaps collaborators and everyday heroes trying to escape, because 2: The PCs should have a way to corrupt the vale's magic in order to keep the celestials from calling reinforcements/teleporting outside. It would have been rather easy - make their patron devise a ritual that corrupts the detect evil-sight of the watchers in the vale to a kind of dimensional anchor/communication blockade. 3: After the epic invasion, there's not much for the villains to do in the vale but kill the static  opponents. Apart from off-screen genocide/torture, there's just not much to be done in sanctum. Why not make the villains unearth foes/information? Prevent incursions? Corrupt Aasimar-populations and/or make them undead? I get the rationale for the powerful celestials/heroes to guard the flames, but I don't get why there's no plan for counterattacks/guerilla-warfare. Apart from a certain ritual, the remaining defenders don't make a smart stand - barricade the final flame, amass forces, strike back, anything but waiting for the heroes to kill them. Usually I wouldn't mind, but in contrast to the epic battle that lets the PCs sack Sanctum, the extinguishing of the holy flames, while cool and iconic, pales in comparison. Note that all these problems are easily remedied by just about any DM, but they still remain and detract from what otherwise would be a stellar module.

In the end, the editing glitches and minor story/pacing-problems conspire to make this not own up to the almost unbeatable standard set by the adventure path so far. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good adventure, but it falls a bit short of what I've come to expect from the saga. My final verdict, due to these unrealized potentials and glitches, will be "only" a 4.5 Rudii, with a definite recommendation and, in spite of the lower review, my seal of approval. If you can see past the glitches, it's a stellar module - Those walking the Way of the Wicked need to have this anyway.

All right, that's it for now! See you in a week! As always, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Endzeitgeist out.


EZG reviews Argonax

Hej everybody!

Today I'm once again taking a look at a piece of stellar crunch:

SGG presents The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad

This pdf is 44 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving a whopping 42 pages of content, so let's check this out!

Who or what is Argonax? Essentially, Argonax is a pretense for the DM to introduce rather interesting and dubious magic (items) to his/her campaign, but the mad archwizard can be so much more: Argonax is a driven individual that is on the verge of transcending any pretense of mortality - the archwizard's final goal is to unearth the secret of artifact creation and in order to claim that knowledge, he has lived many a life: For Argonax has developed a cunning plan, his college obscura: After having died for the first time, he started to learn from the perished masters, only to have himself rebirthed into another race. More importantly, this new incarnation takes up a new class and does not recall its true identity. Starting off as a regular being, the memories of countless lives and the amoral consciousness inexorably resurface and squash the wizard's latest incarnation's personality to add the accumulated knowledge to Argonax's own. His spellbooks, works and feats have been published by myriad versions and may in and of themselves make for the final goals of quests - for while major artifact creation still eludes the wizard, he has succeeded in a plethora of break-through, one of which would be the creation of so-called curios of Argonax:

Essentially, Argonax has devised multiple rather intriguing magical items and special magic properties that can be utilized by those aware of them and able to replicate them via his notes, but said items also result in rather intriguing side-effects that range from mildly disturbing changes of appearance and skill bonuses to rather severe consequences that range from the mundane sex-change to rather unpleasant psychosis and cannibalistic healing. While this may sound as if the craft of Argonax is "vile" in a 3.5 BoVD-style, it really is not: Both Argonax and his craft is rather depicted as amoral and indeed, depending on your world, his fractured cults (the so-called Harbingers of Argonax, who believe he is to become a new deity) do have something in favor of their mad prophet: Since Argonax is reincarnating through just about every species imaginable, he and his cult are utterly without prejudice. If your campaign setting features "Dark" themes like racism and shades of grey-mentality, this makes for a rather interesting take and could easily see the PCs, at least temporarily work for such a cult. Don't get that in the wrong way, though: Argonax is essentially the quintessential amoral, detached magical scientist and should not be confused with a pleasant archmage from next door.

But back to the curios: We get a list of a whopping (and rather cool) 100 of these side-effects and 19 different new shield and armor qualities that include firing armor spikes and even an armor that protects you from name-based spells, rituals etc. 10 new magical weapon qualities are also included, as are 6 signature specific rings. And then there's an item-class you might remember from the 3.5 days of old, the eldritch lense. These lenses let you convert your spells, much like a cleric's spontaneous heal-spell conversion, into the spell(s) contained in the respective eldritch lense.6 sample lenses as well as all the rules you'd need to create your own eldritch lenses are provided in this section - nice to see these interesting pieces of loot resurface, especially with the fluffy Argonax-angle!

I already mentioned Argonax's ultimate goal of creating major artifacts and that his efforts have been crowned with limited success - thus, we get e.g. the Cyclopean Helm of Argonax as a sample minor artifact - and yes, that's the awesome pyramid-head-style helm on the cover. In order to craft something like that, Argonaxhas also devised 15 new feats that go beyond what you'd usually expect of regular feats: Blood Reaping for example enhances your level-checks and checks if you've hurt the foe. The metamagic feats introduced in this section adds negative conditions like blindness and impeded movement to your spells and even regain expended spell-slots, fuelled by the dying breath of your adversaries. of course, feats for the creation of curios and minor artifacts are included and especially the latter is AWESOME. Crafting an artifact is HARD and the rules impose harsh restrictions on the crafting process and a steep personal cost of creating such items - not enough to deter PCs from trying, but it's hard enough to keep them from trying to make too many.

The spell-section includes lists for alchemists, antipaladins and the magus and, what can I say, the spells rock as hard as one would expect from SGG-releases - Want to alter e.g. a poison to affect another mental or physical attribute? There's a spell for that in here. Want to punish your foes by having their blood develop mouths that try to bite those trying to heal the wounds you inflicted? There's a spell for that! Panic foes by changing the terrain into a gore-splattered nightmare? Yep, and there's also a higher-level invisibility and the ability to prevent extradimensional access by your foes and further punish foes that have succumbed to your hexes. The spell he uses for his own returns is also part of the deal, as is the option to transform one's limbs into grotesquely elongated things and permanently make foes pariahs to those encountered. Especially fans of the witch-class practically have to check this pdf out for the spells, for one of Argonax current incarnations was a witch...

Finally, there are 3 sample harbingers of Argonax (all witches) at CR 5, 11 and 17.

 Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor glitches, they were few and far in-between and did not deter from my enjoyment of the pdf. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, the b/w-interior artworks are nice and the pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks. The cover-artwork is plain AWESOME, but I don't get why we don't get a version of it without the text/borders - I so want to show this cover to my players! The content herein is top-notch and offers the rock-solid mechanics one would expect from crunch-grandmaster Owen K.C. Stephens. This pdf does something different, though: Free of the restraints of SGG's usual format, this pdf also showcases Owen's VERY interesting and talented capabilities to write intriguing fluff that is not only captivating in its prose, but also ensures due to its concept that just about every world should find a niche for Argonax and its creations - I'm hard-pressed to envision a DM that has any trouble integrating the content herein and indeed, Argonax might make for a whole campaign arc or just a side-note in your PC's career. I wholeheartedly applaud this first offering of SGG's new line of products and look forward to seeing more of these far-out concepts that go beyond usual product lines being realized. So, the writing is stellar and the ideas cool, the mechanics solid, what do you want more? Personally, I would have loved to see some sample incarnations of Argonax stated out and a no-text version of the STUNNING cover-artwork. Thus, I'm going to settle for a final verdict of 5 Rudii, just short of the seal of approval - an excellent, cool pdf that hopefully means we'll see more fluff in SGG-releases, at least in this line of products.

All right, that's it for now - next time, I'm going to take a look at one or two creepy adventures!

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.


New and Exciting: Rappan Athuk Reboot

I spent many gaming years a Necromancer fan -- monsters especially --  and often when I my itch for a dungeon crawl overpowered me, I turned to Necromancer, too. That's a part of why I leaped off my lily pad on hearing Frog God Games -- the spiritual and gaming powerhouse successor to Necromancer -- decided to put out Greg Vaughan's 500k word magnum opus, Slumbering Tsar. Well you were all here for that, when we started talking to Greg and first goosed him to get cracking on delivering Slumbering Tsar. Now I'm hoping we can repeat some of that magic, because Frog God picked up the ball again.

Photo-fullThey're giving us Rappan Athuk.

With 20 additional dungeons.

Holy crap.

In some ways, I'm late to the party. Frog God is definitely giving us Rappan Athuk, and they've rocked their Kickstarter to prove it. I'm just hoping we can get them to give us the extra goodies!

For those unfamiliar with Rappan (from the Frog God Press Release): 
Necromancer first printed Rappan Athuk: Dungeon of Graves as a trilogy of adventures at the beginning of 3rd edition.  RA1:  The Upper Levels was one of the best-selling 3PP products of all time and served as the background and inspiration for The Slumbering Tsar Saga.  In the mid 2000s the three adventures were compiled and updated to 3.5 for release as a limited edition boxed set. Only 1,000 copies were created, and each was signed and numbered.  Unfortunately, demand and store orders far exceeded production and many, many fans were unable to obtain this exclusive, expanded, and updated edition.

Now with Frog God Games and the advent of Kickstarter, Rappan Athuk is once again being released, this time with nearly 20 additional dungeon levels bringing the total to over 50, and updated to both the PF RPG rules system and the Swords & Wizardry 0e retroclone.

Rappan Athuk may not be the world's largest dungeon, but it is very likely the most lethal. Now in circulation for a dozen years, the new Rappan Athuk book gives a new generation of fans a chance to live the mayhem and heed the old warning: Don't go down the well.
So they already met their $60k goal. What do we get for driving it off the mountain peak into low orbit? Well its all on the Rappan Athuk kickstarter site, but its additional modules, buttons, t-shirts, digital d20 pro map sets, Hero Lab files, dogs and cats living together!  The list goes on and on. Check it out. This project rocks!


EZG walks the Way of the Wicked again

Hej everybody!

It's been one crazy ride and in fact, it's once again time for me to celebrate: 666 reviews on Paizo and thus, today I take a look at one evil adventure: Fire Mountain Games'

Way of the Wicked II - Call forth Darkness

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.

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 Rudii 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. 

All right, that's it for now - as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.