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Way of the Wicked—Book #2: Call Forth Darkness (PFRPG)

****½ (based on 8 ratings)
FRM1002E

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A DUNGEON OF YOUR OWN!

The Horn of Abaddon was once a place of primal darkness. And then the forces of good moved in and ruined everything. It’s been eighty years and the kingdom of Talingarde sleeps soundly knowing that darkness has been vanquished. Now, it’s your turn to prove them wrong.

You will find the lost temple and do what no one else has ever dared. You will call forth the banished daemon prince. And from his unholy hand, you will recover a plague so virulent that it shall shake Talingarde to its foundations.

And then the fools will sleep no longer.

Welcome to the second chapter of the “Way of the Wicked” adventure path! Inside you’ll find:

  • “Call Forth Darkness,” an adventure compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game for 6th-level villains by Gary McBride
  • Full color art and maps by Michael Clarke
  • A gazetteer of the frontier town of Farholde
  • Optional rules for building your own evil organization and managing your minions.
  • Advice for crafting unique variants of this adventure path
  • And more!

You’ve raided countless dungeons. Isn’t it time you had a horrid little dungeon of your own?

A 106-page full color Pathfinder Roleplaying Game-compatible PDF perfect to either stand alone or continue the "Way of the Wicked" adventure path. Includes a printer friendly version and seperate player handout PDF.

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FRM1002E


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Product Reviews (8)
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Average product rating:

****½ (based on 8 ratings)

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Call Forth Darkness or Bogging down the pace.

***( )( )

The greatest weakness of this module is its pacing. It gets bogged down and gives the players idle hands while their characters do things. This makes it a bit more difficult for the GM as players want to push forward and the GM has to create things to distract them.

Getting the dungeon to build is a wonderful option and players can throw themselves into it. At this level, the access to stone shape is easier and allows the players to alter the dungeon to their desire. But the fact all the heroes know where they are and kind of line up to walk in lowers the difficulty and can make it feel like they are just waiting to be attacked.

The NPC’s varies widely to keep things mixed up and fresh. Combat varies nicely and helps keep it fresh. The pacing becomes bogged down in counting weeks off till the end and it is recommended you alter the adventure to help keep the players motivated. The book gives you options on how to branch out from what writing to what could be and helps save it.

The minion system is very nice to actually give additional value to the Leadership feat and helps players feel like they are evil masters. This is a nice distraction though if no one takes the leadership feat, you can easily figure out alternate methods to distract the players.


*****

I've reviewed this on RPGGeek.com.

You can read it here.


An apex of the art of adventure-crafting

*****

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.


Call Forth Darkness and ramp up the evil!

*****

The stellar and quite daring villainous adventure path that started out in Path of Thorns continues here as your budding evildoers are given one simple task by your unforgiving master: summon a daemon and retrieve a plague from him. All you have to do is conquer an abandoned daemonic temple, deal with the inhabitants (will you kill them or ally with them?), face all the monsters and adventurers fate throws at you, cope with the treachery of allies, create your own villainous organization, and finally handle the meet with a fiend that would as soon kill you as look at you.

Simplicity itself, no?

This is an awesome look at what it takes to run a your very own dungeon o' evil, complete with a great cast of NPCs good, bad, and neutral. There are a multitude of helpful hints on what you can do and what's likely to happen if things begin to go awry. And you also get a detailed gazetteer of the nearby (and probably doomed) town of Farholde as well as a section on how to run your own villainous organization.

A great new chapter in the Way of the Wicked AP; get a copy today!


At last -- a dungeon of your own!

*****

This module is pure high concept, and it's just great. The premise: you're a group of evil PCs. You must take control of an abandoned dungeon and then hold it against all comers for 222 days, until you have completed an blasphemous ritual to summon a powerful evil outsider. Your first visitors will be a group of poorly trained low-level adventurers from the nearby town -- easy meat. But as word gets around of what may be happening, ever more powerful parties will be heading your way. You must persuade, enchant, or entrap monsters to serve you, build traps and pitfalls, and place and manage these resources intelligently. In short, for this module you run the dungeon and the DM tries to break in, kill you, and take all your stuff.

This is not a new concept -- some of you may remember the Reverse Dungeon from Second Edition -- but it's done exceptionally well here. Author Gary McBride gives DM and PCs lots of possible toys to play with but doesn't get too bogged down in describing each one. (Though there are a few delightful twists to the standard monster stats and roles. For instance, there's a broken golem that you can try to repair. If you manage this, you gain a powerful servant... but with a little quirk that can complicate things considerably.)

By itself, a well-done "PCs run the dungeon" adventure would get four stars. What puts this over the top for five is McBride's sheer brio. There's just so much here, and most of it is so well done. There's another party of evil NPCs who are supposed to be your allies, but are really... well, let's go with "frenemies"; you really need to work with these guys, but you must carefully decide how much to trust them. There are minions with varying levels of competence, obedience, and power. There are powerful Good creatures trying to reconnoiter your dungeon and figure you out. And three times per day, rain or shine, someone has to go upstairs and perform the evil ritual...

Then there's the climax. As Zero Hour approaches, the forces of good and order will become increasingly frantic in their attempts to stop you. Meanwhile, allies and minions will turn treacherous as they scheme to gain control of the prize. And nature itself will turn against you, as the evil magic of the ritual causes various bizarre and dangerous phenomena. If your PCs survive and pull this off, they will really feel they've accomplished something. (Something horrible, to be sure. But still.)

This is an adventure that you can make relatively simple, or really, really complicated, depending on what DM and players want to play. I like that a lot.

One of my criticisms of the first module was that, once you got past the novelty of playing an evil party, it was mostly familiar territory -- a dungeon crawl, dealing with NPCs, etc. It was different from a standard module, okay, but not /that/ different. This module, though, is the real deal: you're going to do some fairly horrible things (the ritual requires several human sacrifices, for instance) and you're definitely going to feel the difference in terms of gameplay. There are some serious advantages (ruthlessness, most obviously) and some equally major disadvantages: allies and minions can't be trusted, and your Good-aligned antagonists will work together if you give them the opportunity.

That leads to one possible concern: I suspect that if a DM plays this strictly as written, it could tip towards lethality and TPKs. If you don't kill the Good-aligned antagonists, they will not only retreat and regroup, they'll make contact with other Good creatures, join forces, and gang up on you. That makes perfect in-game sense, of course. But handle with care.

Oh, and there's a boss who is truly alarming. Good-aligned dragons don't get much play time as antagonists. This one is intelligent, cunning, and righteously pissed, and he comes with instructions on how to run him so. I'd expect him to be a major PC death risk in his own right.

Finally, the back of the module includes a pretty good gazetteer of the nearest large town, with various NPCs and organizations the PCs might interact with, and a very interesting set of rules on developing an evil organization. Want a bunch of minions and mooks to do stuff in the background while you're fighting off the paladin and his friends? This will let you do it.

Is it perfect? No. There are a certain number of typos -- nothing major, but noticeable. There are too many story awards for my taste, though YMMV. There's a subsystem that's fairly pointless (basically it rewards good dungeon management with xp). Oh, and there are a couple of pages on alternate evil parties (the all-cleric party, the all-dwarf party). This was mildly interesting but IMO not really worth the page count -- I'd rather have seen another couple of well-crafted NPCs or evil magic items.

But the question here is not "is it perfect?". The question is, "is it awesome?" And, you know, it really is.

Totally worth ten bucks, and highly recommended.

Doug M.


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