Pathfinder Adventure Path #103: The Hellfire Compact (Hell's Vengeance 1 of 6) (PFRPG)

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Pathfinder Adventure Path #103: The Hellfire Compact (Hell's Vengeance 1 of 6) (PFRPG)
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All Hell Breaks Loose!

The Hell's Vengeance Adventure Path begins with "The Hellfire Compact," an exciting new adventure in which the players take the roles of evil characters in the diabolical empire of Cheliax! A paladin of Iomedae and knight-errant of the Glorious Reclamation comes to the town of Longacre, inspiring the citizens to join the uprising against the Thrice-Damned House of Thrune. First as amoral mercenaries, then as retainers of the wicked archbaron of Longacre, the evil adventurers must move quickly to put down the insurgency and keep the town from falling to the knight's rebellion.

This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path launches the Hell's Vengeance Adventure Path and includes:

  • "The Hellfire Compact," a Pathfinder adventure for 1st-level characters, by F. Wesley Schneider.
  • A gazetteer of Longacre, the small town in Cheliax that serves as the setting for this adventure, by F. Wesley Schneider.
  • Details on the Glorious Reclamation, a knightly order dedicated to Iomedae that sparks the events of this campaign, by Rob McCreary.
  • Magical mayhem and ill tidings from afar in the Pathfinder's Journal, by Josh Vogt.
  • A bestiary of frightful new monsters, by Paris Crenshaw, Mikko Kallio, and Jason Keeley.

ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-818-2

Other Resources: This product is also available on the following platforms:

Hero Lab Online
Archives of Nethys

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Worst Start to an AP I've Ever Seen is Right

2/5

As of writing this review, Book 1 of Hell's Vengeance has the lowest average review score of any Book 1 for Pathfinder 1st Edition APs. This isn't by chance or by a particular subset of players bandwagoning to drop its score. The adventure fundamentally has some issues that make it not very fun to play.

Spoilers for the Adventure:
  • The opening scene of this adventure is not directly hinted by the player's guide and assumes that PCs are willing to be common thugs sent to rough someone up for their overdue taxes. It starts in medias res and can annoy players who have to struggle to reconcile their character's personality with this job.
  • The remainder of the first book assumes that the PCs are willing to act as LAWFUL (but not necessarily evil) sheriffs. Take orders from above. Execute orders. The Rebellion Points system incentivizes a peaceful resolution to every problem that appears. Despite having evil PCs, it really wants PCs that are LESS bloodthirsty than your typical heroic bunch, not MORE bloodthirsty. This is very likely to be contradictory to people's expectations.
  • The only motivations allowed are either purely mercenary (I want that Cheliax gold), or for personal advancement (I want to climb the political ladder). Any other characters will struggle to reconcile personal motivations with humdrum servitude toward a tyrannical figure.
  • If the PCs take initiative into their own hands, meting out their dark justice, the book actively has the antagonists' side seem to grow stronger - essentially, players quickly feel they are being punished for having fun. On the flip side, if they do everything by the book, the rebellion STILL HAPPENS and it can feel like there was no point to any of the things they did.
  • The "schedule" that the rebellion runs on denies PCs of all agency. The PCs are given no clear overarching goal that they're allowed to actually work toward. Instead, they're left playing the part of bad cops, dealing with small incidents and scenes as they happen. If they decide they want to try to behead the brewing rebellion before it happens, there is absolutely nothing written in the text to help GMs work out how that might play out.
  • If you run this adventure and want it to take off, you will almost definitely need to do a lot of legwork to get it working and working well. You need to set crystal clear expectations for the players. If I were to run it, I'd consider keeping only the town and its characters and entirely rebuilding it from the ground up so that the PCs have more agency to defeat the rebellion BEFORE it becomes a problem.


    The Worst Start to an AP I've Ever Seen

    1/5

    I was a player in this, so I can't comment about things behind the screen.

    In our group, we like to make meaningful characters with genuine motives for what they do. As a long-time GM, I'm pretty used to playing villains who are also real people. Most people do not need help with this concept. Putting an NPC in to basically 'show the PCs the ropes' of being villainous was so patronizing I don't even have words for it.

    Also, starting the PCs mid-crime and just telling them to roll with it? Awful, abysmal idea. Who on earth thought this would be good?

    Just because you're playing evil characters it doesn't mean you suddenly don't need a reason for being an a&$$&%&. As someone who attempted to make a character with a halfway nuanced backstory (and a lawful one, mind) I was honestly blown away that this setpiece was the price of entry into this AP. Just go along with it or don't bother! Delightful.

    No other major problems with the town, setting, motives, villains. But Paizo's lack of experience in evil campaigns really shone here (and would continue to do so for the rest of the AP)


    But I want to be evil my way! ... No you can't. We're LAWFUL evil here

    3/5

    What I like is the nice and detailed town of Longacre with all the characters that populate it.

    The NPCs are nicely fleshed out with their motivations and background.

    The history of the Glorious Reclamation opposing the Thrice Damned House of Thrune gives an interesting context.

    The art is wonderful as it is in most of the paizo books.

    But the first and foremost advice about playing the adventure - as written in the adventure - is: Don't be a jerk! Well, I thought being a jerk is an essential part of being evil. Killing your companions might be a tad too much, but people who can't differentiate between their player friend who they like and his in game character, who steals from their character for the fun of it, should stay with heroic APs. Just my 2cent worth.

    But it doesn't stop there. If you take Rise of the Runelord for example, you start with a fair and one page later you are leaving a trail of blood and dead bodies all through the book. As good heroes.

    Here, as evil characters, we got through half the book without killing anyone, because we're not supposed to. Every NPC quest giver whines about only roughing them up.

    When I think about playing evil I think of Bonnie&Clyde. This is not it. Here you are at the lowest end of a LE Kingdom and have to adhere to the whims of those ordering you around. It's like it was written by a paladin who wanted to rub it in, that being evil is no fun at all.

    Or maybe I'm not evil enough to understand that I shouldn't care about what the adventure wants and should go marauding and killing through town anyway... muhahahaha.


    Real bad AP start, get's better.

    3/5

    GOOD:
    maps, enemies and Starting town are great.

    BAD:
    No motivation to start the first mission beyond money and "just do it!".

    UGLY:
    Only easily playable for lawful evil characters.
    Chaotic and neutral evil characters may have a hard time cooperating.

    All in all the worst AP start of all.
    Way of the Wicked is far superior.


    Pretty good, but...

    3/5

    ... the opening is a bit of a jolt, and also presumes a great deal about the motivation of your collection of scumbag ne'er-do-wells. For a scratch group, I wouldn't mind, but considering the way the campaign traits work, motivating the PCs for

    Spoiler:
    a grubby little heist that may not even pay as much as trait choices start you with
    can involve a fair bit of GM editing.

    But if you're fired up to play the bad guys, things rapidly get more nuanced. There's a rebellion to crush for the Evil Empire, and you're just the guys to do it!

    However, the conclusion can be a bit jarring if the essentially awful nature of life in Cheliax is glossed over, and some of the NPC interactions feel a mite... forced.

    Worth a go if you want to try your hand at being evil, but be prepared for some extra work on the sidelines.

    While marketed as "any kind of evil," in practice, only the more subtle forms of Chaotic Evil seem likely to do terribly well- there's some room for flexing it, but a solid bank of Lawful Evil or a few Neutral Evil opportunists seems the best fit.


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    Community & Digital Content Director

    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    And here ya go, art a'plenty!


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    What we glean from this, Chris works way too late.

    Community Manager

    4 people marked this as a favorite.
    Glutton wrote:
    What we glean from this, Chris works way too late.

    Yes she does. *glares* ಠ_ಠ

    Liberty's Edge

    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    I had no idea Chris was female. My apologies for having misassumed.


    What are the names and CR's monsters in the bestiary?

    Silver Crusade Contributor

    Berselius wrote:
    What are the names and CR's monsters in the bestiary?

    Listed here. ^_^


    Ah, thanks hun. I hope we get some high CR celestials in this adventure path! :D

    Are there any prominent good-aligned NPC's affiliated with the "Glorious Reclamation" listed in this book?

    Silver Crusade Contributor

    Berselius wrote:

    Ah, thanks hun. I hope we get some high CR celestials in this adventure path! :D

    Are there any prominent good-aligned NPC's affiliated with the "Glorious Reclamation" listed in this book?

    Spoiler:
    We have stats for one: Lencia Visserene, the Angel Knight; an ex-beggar paladin who wears a beautiful angel mask to hide her scars.

    (There's technically a few other characters in the adventure, but they're all one-and-done encounter types. Most are recruits, mercenaries, or other allies of the Reclamation.)

    Six prominent Reclamation leaders are listed in the article near the end, including Alexeara Cansellarion, the leader of the crusade. There's also a fairly detailed discussion of the organization itself there - if paladins are your thing, you'll probably quite like the article. ^_^


    Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
    Berselius wrote:

    Ah, thanks hun. I hope we get some high CR celestials in this adventure path! :D

    Are there any prominent good-aligned NPC's affiliated with the "Glorious Reclamation" listed in this book?

    Yes, stats are given for one paladin member of that order in the first volume, along with references to stats of other members of that order to be given in later volumes.

    Also, a very high number of hostile NPCs seem to be of chaotic good alignment.


    1 person marked this as a favorite.
    David knott 242 wrote:
    Berselius wrote:

    Ah, thanks hun. I hope we get some high CR celestials in this adventure path! :D

    Are there any prominent good-aligned NPC's affiliated with the "Glorious Reclamation" listed in this book?

    Yes, stats are given for one paladin member of that order in the first volume, along with references to stats of other members of that order to be given in later volumes.

    Also, a very high number of hostile NPCs seem to be of chaotic good alignment.

    Huh? That doesn't make any sense. If they worship Iomedae, they should be Lawful Good.

    Silver Crusade Contributor

    Axial wrote:
    David knott 242 wrote:
    Berselius wrote:

    Ah, thanks hun. I hope we get some high CR celestials in this adventure path! :D

    Are there any prominent good-aligned NPC's affiliated with the "Glorious Reclamation" listed in this book?

    Yes, stats are given for one paladin member of that order in the first volume, along with references to stats of other members of that order to be given in later volumes.

    Also, a very high number of hostile NPCs seem to be of chaotic good alignment.

    Huh? That doesn't make any sense. If they worship Iomedae, they should be Lawful Good.

    Not all of the hostiles here are true Glorious Reclamation members - some are locals, while others are revolutionaries of other stripes who have thrown in with the more successful Reclamation. Some are simply allies of the Reclamation, with no particular explanation for their presence.

    Liberty's Edge

    So while the reclaimation's leaders might be in service to Iomedae, the main bulk of their forces are a mixed rabble of various revolutionaries, mercenaries, minor supporters and some anarchists.

    Makes even more sense that we need to stop this rebellion. The lawful goods haven't got as much control over their own troops. Remember what happened at Galt. We don't want that level of chaos happening in cheliax.


    Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

    Most of the hostile NPCs are local inhabitants of Longacre, not members of the Glorious Reclamation. So far, I have not seen any writeup of any member of the Glorious Reclamation that gives them any alignment other than lawful good.


    So are the "squires" who have Iomedean insignias actually CG?

    Dark Archive

    Liz Courts wrote:
    Glutton wrote:
    What we glean from this, Chris works way too late.
    Yes she does. *glares* ಠ_ಠ

    Does Chris even have a personal life? :)

    Dark Archive

    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Most of the actual members are going to be lawful good (maybe NG); the GR is basically shaped similar to hellknights as most of the ranks match up to hellknight ranks (knights banneret are roughly paralictors).


    ErisAcolyte-Chaos jester wrote:
    Makes even more sense that we need to stop this rebellion. The lawful goods haven't got as much control over their own troops. Remember what happened at Galt. We don't want that level of chaos happening in cheliax.

    Chelaxian lies and diabolist propaganda!

    DOWN WITH THRUNE I SAY! :D

    Liberty's Edge

    2 people marked this as a favorite.
    Berselius wrote:
    ErisAcolyte-Chaos jester wrote:
    Makes even more sense that we need to stop this rebellion. The lawful goods haven't got as much control over their own troops. Remember what happened at Galt. We don't want that level of chaos happening in cheliax.

    Chelaxian lies and diabolist propaganda!

    DOWN WITH THRUNE I SAY! :D

    *smashes Berselius over the head with a sap and quietly drags him away*

    Do not believe the false utterances of this person. He has clearly been indoctrinated into the flawed and treasonous beliefs of this rebellions ringleaders. That aside I admit that Cheliex isn't the best nation in terms of freedoms offered and there is much work that needs to be done. But removing the governing body that has protected and sheltered your people for years and replacing it with a group of soldiers or even no governing leaders will only bring you ruin. Work with your leaders to build a better world. Don't be blinded by the fools gold offered by the glorious reformation, for doing so will not profit you and only weaken your nations strength. Will they be able to stop the raids from the shackles? When your homes and lives are threatened by foreign powers and enemies from beyond our borders? Would they sacrifice their souls to ensure your continued stability and safety?

    The answer is they will not. They dare not risk the darkness for themselves to save others. But house thrune have born this burden and responsibility for the people of this nation for decades, and while sacrifices have been made and indeed corruption has tainted their governments eyes, they have remained as strong as ever in maintaining the safety and security of your nations present, past and future. As so I ask you, fellow brothers, sisters, children to our great and protective mother Cheliex...will you fight for your nations future? for the future of yourselves, your children, your children's children, for the safety and security offered by our leaders many sacrifices and the burden of responsibility our great leaders have shouldered for you so you need never feel the strain?

    Long live Cheilex, long live Thrune. LONG LIVE CHEILEX! LONG LIVE THRUNE!

    Liberty's Edge

    Kimri or Simri?

    Liberty's Edge

    ErisAcolyte-Chaos jester wrote:
    Berselius wrote:
    ErisAcolyte-Chaos jester wrote:
    Makes even more sense that we need to stop this rebellion. The lawful goods haven't got as much control over their own troops. Remember what happened at Galt. We don't want that level of chaos happening in cheliax.

    Chelaxian lies and diabolist propaganda!

    DOWN WITH THRUNE I SAY! :D

    *smashes Berselius over the head with a sap and quietly drags him away*

    Do not believe the false utterances of this person. He has clearly been indoctrinated into the flawed and treasonous beliefs of this rebellions ringleaders. That aside I admit that Cheliex isn't the best nation in terms of freedoms offered and there is much work that needs to be done. But removing the governing body that has protected and sheltered your people for years and replacing it with a group of soldiers or even no governing leaders will only bring you ruin. Work with your leaders to build a better world. Don't be blinded by the fools gold offered by the glorious reformation, for doing so will not profit you and only weaken your nations strength. Will they be able to stop the raids from the shackles? When your homes and lives are threatened by foreign powers and enemies from beyond our borders? Would they sacrifice their souls to ensure your continued stability and safety?

    The answer is they will not. They dare not risk the darkness for themselves to save others. But house thrune have born this burden and responsibility for the people of this nation for decades, and while sacrifices have been made and indeed corruption has tainted their governments eyes, they have remained as strong as ever in maintaining the safety and security of your nations present, past and future. As so I ask you, fellow brothers, sisters, children to our great and protective mother Cheliex...will you fight for your nations future? for the future of yourselves, your children, your children's children, for the safety and security offered by our leaders many sacrifices and the burden of...

    It's CHELIAX, not Cheliex. Her Imperial Majestrix's Department of Linguistic Correctness will be with you shortly. Prepare for summary exsanguination and disembowelment.


    Samy wrote:
    Kimri or Simri?

    I've been saying the second. It flows better into Staelish for me.


    I enjoyed reading through this. I thought that the inside back cover was clever.
    I was also amused that the first two parts of the adventure are the least violent Paizo have published in an AP book to date, in that the characters are encouraged NOT to kill others. And that's for an evil party.

    Sovereign Court Senior Developer

    Samy wrote:
    Kimri or Simri?

    "Simri"


    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    My group just finished Hellfire Compact. It's a really fun book, pretty typical pacing for Paizo's AP starter books. We noticed that power level wise the book went from very easy to very hard, very quickly. My group didn't have too much trouble with the first 2/3 of the book. A couple fights toward the end had some difficulty but were fun. Not much real risk. The very end of the book was brutal though. We had a 6 man party, 2 deaths. Without specific spoilers: A keen weapon doing 2d8+30 on a crit wiped someone first turn. Also having to deal with a swashbuckler parrying and a monster with dr 10/evil for a 3rd level party was rough. They came through it with 2 deaths, not too bad for the end fight of a book really. I don't think we've ever finished the last fights of Paizo APs without a death or two.

    Editor-in-Chief

    Chris Spano wrote:
    They came through it with 2 deaths, not too bad for the end fight of a book really.

    Nothing fuels taking revenge like a good murder.

    Dark Archive

    I could use some advice here. What happens if the party (or a player or two) does NOT agree to the Hellfire Compact? Are there repercussions later on? Just trying to anticipate what some non-lawful types might do.

    If it is a really big deal and breaks the plot later, should I provide some manner of "motivation"? Or is it really not a big deal at all? Just curious, couldn't find anything about it. I'm assuming it's kind of important, because it's the title of the module.

    Liberty's Edge

    The devs posted clarification on this exact issue in the GM reference thread.


    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    I want to congratulate Mr. Schneider on an amazing adventure and probably one of the best I've read in a long time.

    Wesley Schneider comes up with enough reasons to get an evil party to work together, but I'm really satisfied by his use of the NPC village folk, reusing them in multiple scenarios, giving them enough personality and making it so that being a mega-douche to them isn't as easy as you think it will be. While you do feel a little sorry reading about what happens to these unfortunate people, you are outright encouraged and rewarded for doing so. Still, the adventure gives you a lot of leeway in conflict resolution, a ton more than normal APs do.

    In a normal AP, the players are expected to kick in the door and murder everyone because they're Evil, but in Hellfire Compact, you can play around a lot. You could murder every person you lay eyes on, but that would not just upset your boss and turn the town against you faster, but it would probably draw the ire of other players who were hoping to take advantage of the town for fun and profit rather than blind murder.

    The adventure goes out of it's way so you can choose to have multiple solutions. You can kill people easy or, as agents of the Baron, throw them in the stocks/jail for some public humiliation and make them regret crossing you. You can shake them down and force them to pay you to let them off with a warning or just beat them senseless to teach them a lesson but leave them breathing. It doesn't make assumptions on how you play and gives you a lot of freedom. Langacre could be a pristine gem of your tyrannical rule with it's spirit crushed or a flaming wreckage by the time you get done with it, your choice.

    The most important thing about this adventure though is that it doesn't try and make you feel guilty with heavy handed maudlin tactics. While a DM is free to play up the tragedy you cause in people's lives, that is not assumed in the book. The violent falling out between Rhona and Cimri, the struggle of Dr. Gerya to keep her doors open, the possibility of a horrific situation for Tileavia after a failed Ressurection and the tragedy of Lencia The Angel Knight all tugged at my heart strings, but never came off as shallow preaching in the vein of Spec Ops: The Line 'DO YOU FEEL LIKE A HERO YET' with a morality play being crammed down my throat. You can appreciate the tragedy without a lampshade. I think I'm more attached to these NPCs than any in an AP before and the quality of your interaction with them is much higher than I've come to expect from AP storytelling. Schneider managed to avoid every pitfall I had imagined in this adventure and made something to be thoroughly enjoyed and worthy of reflection.

    Cimri is an interesting character, and I find her likable despite her ruthlessness and flaws. I was worried with her role of showing players how to be Evil that she would steal the spotlight, but with the exception of a conversation with the sheriff, she spends most of the time as a contact and helper rather than a glory hound. She's good in that she can be played up as a trusted, if brutal, ally, or dispensed with at the soonest convenience.

    The adventure also reminds me of Burnt Offerings, with events set into motion by a 'villain' in the background with a sympathetic story. Lencia is probably the best written end boss in a first issue AP since Nualia.

    Still, there's so much opportunity and freedom to play with, you can go through the game feeling totally justified for your dick-ass behavior.

    I'm looking forward to reading the rest. I was concerned that Hell's Vengeance would be hemmed in by the shortcomings of Hell's Rebels, but if this is the quality that Mr. Schneider and Mr. McCreary have in store for the rest of the AP, I'll count it as one of the best written adventures Paizo has put out.

    Editor-in-Chief

    1 person marked this as a favorite.
    LordOfThreshold wrote:
    Strong, well considered commentary. :D

    Wow! Thanks a ton LoT! Glad you enjoyed it and I seriously appreciate the kind words.

    I really tried to explore "small evils" in this—real hurts that have the potential to lead people to resentment and hard heartedness; like Cimri's background.

    I also wanted to give the PCs insight into the NPCs' vulnerabilities—because that's how you become a bully. Once the PCs know how to hurt people, its up to them how to do it. If they were playing good guys, they might help or they might walk away. As evil characters, how they exploit their knowledge is entirely up to their depraved imagination.

    So again, thanks for the feedback! And, as always, thoughtful reviews are always greatly appreciated—and help us know down the line what we should do more of!


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    I wonder how possible it would be to re-model this AP to be a sequel to Way of the Wicked; set in Talingarde after the Asmodean's victory. The PCs would be a group of agents working for Talingarde's new rulers, assigned to put down an uprising of Mitran followers.

    Liberty's Edge

    Is it Lenkia or Lensia or even Lensha Visserene?

    Silver Crusade

    Yes.

    Sovereign Court Senior Developer, Starfinder Team

    1 person marked this as a favorite.
    Samy wrote:
    Is it Lenkia or Lensia or even Lensha Visserene?

    It's pronounced like "Lensia."

    Liberty's Edge

    Thank you.


    "Go tell Aunt Rhona
    Go tell Aunt Rhona
    Go tell Aunt Rhona
    That everybody's dead"


    Hope to play this AP as a player. But I am already sad: there are no chronicles for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play for this AP! Maybe it can still be sanctioned, despite being about evil villain protagonists? Some kind of Infamy\Disrepute mechanics?


    Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
    Fedor Checherov wrote:
    Hope to play this AP as a player. But I am already sad: there are no chronicles for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play for this AP! Maybe it can still be sanctioned, despite being about evil villain protagonists? Some kind of Infamy\Disrepute mechanics?

    Well you can't be evil in PFS, so there.

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