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ElenionAncalima's page

56 posts (1,667 including aliases). 7 reviews. 4 lists. No wishlists. 12 aliases.



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The Harrowing Review

*****

This is a module that I have always heard wonderful things about. From my first read through I was immediately hooked by its originality and vast potential for creative problem solving. Now, having actually run it, I can confirm that all the praise it receives is well deserved. For the most part my players fully embraced the wacky world of The Harrowing, leading to many creative tactics and memorable encounters.

Strengths:
The greatest strength of The Harrowing lies in the world itself. The concept is original, the locations feel vivid and unique and each character feels fleshed out with often hilarious quirks. Each section of the module seems to offer something new for the players to do, yet the author impressively manages to keep a consistent tone throughout the entire adventure. Because of the wonderful texture of the world, this module really encourages players to think out of the box. While almost every encounter can be defeated through pure force, more often than not my players chose the roleplaying options, simply because the game made it so interesting to do so.

Another fun component to this game was the tie in with the harrow deck, where players must play harrow cards at the appropriate time for in story bonuses. I had purchased a harrow deck, since I knew I would be running Curse of the Crimson Throne right after this one and I'm glad I did. At first I was worried that this might feel too gimmicky or make the game overly easy. However, for most of my players, I think figuring out when to play each card was their favorite part of the adventure. Also, as the GM it had the added bonus of making sure that they were really listening closely when I was doing location or NPC descriptions.

A final positive note for this module is just how much content you get for your money. The pdf seemingly isn't any longer than a standard Paizo module. However, the page count is absolutely jam packed with content and encounters. As such, I would wager the average table will get a fair bit more play time out of The Harrowing than they would out of other similarly priced modules.

Weakness:
I think that the only complaint I had as the GM was the module was a little bit light on set up information. The initial encounter that sends the PCs to the Harrowed Realm, the first arrival to the Harrowed Realm and the encounter with the NPC who provides much of the campaigns exposition do not have that "Read this to your players" prewritten block that Paizo usually provides. This puts a little more pressure of the GM to prepare for these moments and make sure they relay all the necessary exposition and properly describe the Harrowed Realm. However, as mentioned before, there is a lot packed into this module. So, I suspect the lack of such descriptions was simply a page count issue. Personally, I felt that all the extra content was well worth having to do a little extra prep work at the start.

Also, it is probably fair to mention that the tone of the module, which is whimsical and absurd, may not appeal to everyone. I did have one player who didn't quite connect to the setting and found the bizarre morality and actions of the storykin a little more frustrating than amusing. I wouldn't really consider this an issue with the adventure, since it achieves its intended tone quite well. It's more a note that The Harrowing might not be the right choice for any table that prefers their game to be more gritty and grounded in reality.

Conclusion:
Overall, The Harrowing is a wonderful module and nothing in the weaknesses section is really worth removing a star rating. I would highly recommend it to any group that would enjoy an RP focused adventure in a quirky, fairy tale like world.


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Wages of Sin Review

****( )

Warning: Potential spoilers. Written from a GM's perspective.

Finally, after nearly two years, my group has been able to complete this entire Adventure Path. Like the entries before it, this chapter did not disappoint.

Strengths:
This chapter is jampacked with content. Wages of Sin is basically a giant villain sandbox and the author outright states that the GM will likely have to fill in some gaps for options that they didn't think to include. This is true to a certain extent. For example, my PC were rather interested in the world outside of Talingarde, for which the campaign offers only minimal information. However, for the most part, it seemed like almost everything my PCs wanted to do had been accounted for. I was thoroughly impressed by how often I was able to rely on the prewritten material given the open-ended nature of the campaign.

Another thing that I loved about this book was how it really made the players feel like they were powerful villains. Fights with weaker creatures were mostly handwaved, while the creatures they actually fought all felt legendary and threatening. Also, making them leaders of Talingarde they were empowered to make decisions that would affect the entire nation and have consequences for generations to come. My players really latched on to the politics of it all. Every decision was weighed heavily, as they tried to get all the things they wanted, while trying not to drive the general population into supporting the rebels.

Last, but not least, I have to talk about the final battle. At first I was a little concerned. I saw that the PCs fought the titan and his planar ally, then the combination of Belinda, Antharia and the Solar. Two encounters didn't seem like enough for an epic finale to an almost two year campaign. Boy, was I wrong. The titan went down fairly quickly, but the fight with final three took over two sessions. Belinda looks weak on paper, until you realize that she can combine Mind Blank with Greater Invisibility to become practically unfindable. Antharia is an absolute beast and borderline unhittable by traditional means. The Solar can heal like no one's buisness, all the while still attacking with her dancing greatsword. Add in the fact that all three of them have access to long duration protection spells, like spell immunity and protection from energy...well, your PCs should have a tough time. The combination is an appropriately epic final boss battle.

Weaknesses:
One criticism I had, that I have seen other reviewers mention, is the way the the game handles Princess Belinda. Essentially, she has fled the island to form her army and Mitra has given her a magic item that literally makes it impossible for the PCs to find. Now, Way of the Wicked is no stranger to railroady plot elements. However, for the most part I have been pleasantly surprised by how little of an issue that was for my players. The path the writers provided always seemed to intrigue them enough that they walked down it willingly. However, the Belinda situation in this book was noticeably frustrating for them. Essentially they had to sit there waiting for three years for her to act and they couldn't do anything to stop her.

Probably the biggest weakness of this book is pacing. When I say that this campaign took almost two years, what I really mean is that books 1, 3, 4 and 5 took about 2 months a piece. Book 2 took about 5 months. Book 6 took the rest of the time. With Book 2 I was able to cut out a lot of material, due to its fairly linear nature. However, with Book 6 that was almost impossible, since the content was entirely driven by the actions the PCs wanted to take and initially the players were reluctant to accept time skips because they wanted to get as much done as possible. It took them a while to realize that there was no shortage of in game time to do everything they wanted. The most noticeable impact was on leveling. I used the story based leveling suggestions at the back of this book for most of the campaign. However, I had to modify it a bit for this book, overwise the players would have been level 17, 19 and 20 for about two sessions each and level 18 for the remaining ten months. Instead, I let the PCs level to 19 early and did some rebalancing of later encounters. Still, while I would have liked to have seen this book paced a little more evenly and I think the players would have appreciated a bit more combat, the content was dynamic enough that the game never became too stagnant.

Conclusion:
Ulimately, despite the uneven pacing, this is another excellent addition to the Way of the Wicked adventure path. It thoroughly does its job in offering an epic conclusion to the campaign. Regarding the campaign as a whole, while I have had minor criticisms throughout, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking to run an evil game. It can be challenging for a GM, due the high level game play and it's unconventional nature. However, the payoff, at least for my table, was a unique and memorable gaming experience.


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The Devil My Only Master Review

*****

Warning: Potential spoilers. Written from a GM's perspective.

Just a quick read of the summary for this book makes it clear that this is a pivotal chapter in the adventure path. The last four books have been building up to an inevitable confrontation between Cardinal Thorn and the PCs, regarding who will ultimately rule Talingarde. Much like it's predecessors, The Devil My Only Master does not disappoint.

Strengths:
The fear of any GM running a 16th level campaign is that your PCs are going to either steamroll every encounter you send their way or get brutally murdered themselves. I was pleasantly surprised at the challenge level of the encounters in this book. While the PCs did have a few easy wins, they also faced their fair share of challenges and near death scenarios. Havelyn and his crew turned out to be particularly deadly. Of course, I must mention that there is an encounter with the wraiths and the banshees, which even the writers acknowledge was not a well balanced r. However, my PCs managed to bypass this encounter entirely, so it was not a problem for our game.

The entire campaign has had excellent worldbuilding and character development. The writers definitely played the long game, with early introductions of characters like Tiadora, Dessiter and Richard Havelyn, as well as setting up Cardinal Thorn as a powerful entity. In this book, those choices really start to pay off. Existing knowledge of their adversaries helped to make the encounters much more personal and interesting. This book was also to fill in a lot of gaps for the players, as they are finally able to see Thorn's plan in its entirety.

There are also a few really great RP opportunities in this book. The scene with Dessiter and Nabarus was wonderfully fun to act out. The opportunity to make Richard Havelyn fall made for a very interesting encounter, where the PCs were able to play mind games with him as they were fighting. Of course, finally getting a shot at Cardinal Thorn also made for interesting RP.

Weaknesses:
There was only one real issue I had running this campaign, and it could very well be a unique problem to my table. The writers make the assumption that the players will not start trying to run the Knot of Thorns until Book 6, after Thorn is already dead. My player were a little over ambitious and essentially considered themselves the new leaders of the knot as soon as the party inquisitor was granted the title of high cardinal. This lead to some awkwardness, since there isn't much in the way of guidance as to how Thorn's various followers react to recruitment attempts while Thorn is still alive. Improvising with what I knew about the NPCs, they were able to recruit Cedrick Malthus early, they managed ruin any chance at a positive relationship with Barnabus Thrane and reached a tenuous agreement with Sakkarot, that he would remain faithful to whichever side emerged victorious. However, it might have been helpful to have a short blurb addressing this issue, since weakening Thorn's network was a pretty reasonable approach for them to take.

There is an appendix at the end of the book with special rules for handling undead players. I was not particularly impressed with these special rules. The rules for the vampire seemed overly convoluted and roundabout to obtain. For my game, I instead used a house rule where our vampire PC gained the vampiric abilities over the course of two levels, in place of those two levels. As for the lich rules, outside of the initial time and gold expenditure, it doesn't seem like there was anything that would make the PC balanced with the rest of the party.

However, since the first complaint is a very small oversight that won't be noticed by a lot of tables and the second is related to supplemental material that is easily ignored, I do not deem either complaint enough to knock a star off the rating.

General Advice:
The biggest advice I can give is to not be afraid to get a little wicked with Thorn. His strategy section explains that he knows the PCs abilities intimately and that you should adjust his tactics and his spells to account for this. If you just try to use Thorn's generic stat block, I promise you he will not end up being the formidable force that he was built up to be for the last five books. Windwall, Anti-Life Shell, Spell Immunity and Protection From Energy (Fire) were all highly useful for keeping my party at bay. I would also recommend going beyond the changes recommended in the strategy block. He has many spells that have 10 minute/level duration and even his 1 min/level buff last 18 minutes. Don't waste time casting these buffs during Time Stop. He knows when the players arrive at the Agathium, so cast there is no reason for him not to be prepared. Also, don't be afraid to play around with his equipment. Essentially, he is sold as the biggest threat your villains have faced yet. Don't be afraid to make him live up to it.


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Of Dragons and Princesses Review

*****

Warning: Potential spoilers. Written from a GM's perspective.

This installment of Way of the Wicked was a pleasant surprise for me. After running through three great books, I shouldn't have been surprised when this one turned out to be a blast. However, on paper there were a few things that worried me about this book.

My first concern was the first act of the book. It is a sandbox style sacking of the city of Daveryn that is quite long and seemed like it would risk being stagnant. I still do believe that this is potential weak spot in the campaign. However, this weakness was easily navigated by cherry picking the sections that I thought would be interesting to my players and having Fire-Axe bring them up to the players. The rest of the events, I just held in reserve in case my players decided to explore. Personally, I ran the Duelist Academy event, because we had a Swashbuckler who loves challenging people to duels, the Baroness's encounter, because she is the cousin of one of the PCs and I merged the prison and the rebellion into one encounter, because I knew my PCs would love the opportunity to recruit prisoners and Ifran had useful information. I also ran the Duke's encounter via minion quest. All of these events seemed enjoyable for my players.

My second concern for this game was that the story seemed very reliant on the players making specific choices. I feared that players would decide not to bother with Chargammon or try to kill the princess. However, I did not face any issues with this. Thorn's plan offered enough intrigue for my players and Dessiter was a useful tool for persuading the players out of inadvisable plans, like trying to take Thorn out immediately.

In addition to the above areas, there were some other really great parts of this book. Eiramanthus in particular turned out to be a great boss battle. Spells like Mislead and Reverse Gravity made for a memorable and cinematic feel, while his melee prowess and anti-magic field had a reasonably optimized party of six fearing for their lives. The battle was so good that the happiest player at the table was the one who died, because she thought her death was epic.

The characters continue to be excellent. Chargammon was appropriately terrifying. Jeratheon is a fun addition. His dysfunctional relationship with his father opens up a lot of interesting RP opportunities that I think will continue to pay off after Chargammon's death. Also, even though Dessiter was introduced in the last book, I feel obliged to acknowledge him again, because he is such an excellent character. Every time he says something I can tell my players aren't sure whether to laugh, buy him a drink or punch him in the face.

Overall, this whole adventure path continues to be excellent and I have yet to find a good reason not to recommend it.


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Tears of the Blessed Review

****( )

Warning: Potential spoilers. Written from a GM's perspective.

In the third installment of the Way of the Wicked, the players are given the task of recruiting and army to sack the holy city of Valtaerna. Having played through this book, I must continue to give my compliments to creators. The world and the story is still holding the players attention and offering them creative ways to play their dark lords.

A particularly excellent part of this book was the appropriately epic Battle for Valtaerna. While this long fight spanned at least two full sessions and used almost every resource the party had, it never became tedious or felt like the players were just going through the motions.

However, if I had a criticism of this chapter of Way of the Wicked, it would be that the excitement is a little bit frontloaded. The Big Battle, while excellent, happens fairly early in the book. There is also the matter of a the Phoenix, who is fought relatively early in the book, but is actually a far more dangerous and memorable than the final boss.

Two words of caution to GM planning to run Tears of the Blessed:
1. Be careful with the Phoenix. My players were not well prepared heading in to that fight. Thankfully they had Protection From Energy or we may have had a TPK. However, our party mage had too few non-fire spells and the martial characters didn't have a way of getting through the Phoenix's DR 15/Evil. With the Phoenix's healing capabilities, the fight ended up being a slog where they could barely do more damage than the Phoenix could heal in a round.
2. Be careful with Holy Word. While, most encounters in the latter half of the book have access to this devastating spell, I highly suggest limiting your usage of it. This is a really powerful spell, that does a great job incapacitating players and making the encounter feel dangerous. Unfortunately, when you are a player, being incapacitated isn't very fun. Not only will your players hate it, but they will actively prepare ways to counter it. Considering that Holy Word is probably the best tactic of an otherwise rather weak final boss, you really don't want to wear it out.

However, minor complaints and warnings aside, I would still highly recommend this book. It runs far quicker and easier than Call Forth Darkness and maintains the series excellent quality in story and characters.


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