Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous - The Sword of Valor review pt. 2

"Siegeing the initiative - When religious people just won't leave your doorstep."
Once the heroes reach the city of Drezen the rest of the adventure is somewhat linear in the classical 'things are pretty much going to happen the way we wrote it" - there is some illusion of a choice and that time is of the essence, seeing how the morality meter of the heroes' army is acting like the doomsday clock. The more they wait, the bad morale starts gnawing its ugly teeth; add on top of the further they progress towards storming the keep, the more dire the conflict becomes. I'll say, however, that the impending doom is a somewhat lukewarm one as by now the heroes should be more than powerful enough to deal with the situation and make short process with the invasion.

When they arrive there is a series of short encounters in their way, which vary from mass combat to solo encounters. None of them are particularly interesting nor original and honestly leaves a lot up to you as a GM. It's even possible for you to skip those you don't care much for. The one exception in my book, however, is the task of storming a bridge guarded by fierce beasts and a vile mage - the heroes need control of that bridge in order to advance with their troops, and they need to deal not only with the sorcerer, but also the beasts that will start tearing down the bridge as soon as struggle begins. Kind of brings your memory back to the old Icewind Dale 2 days.
The mass combats are just that; nothing surprising to see here and likely shouldn't challenge the heroes at all at this point in the adventure. They're a nice warm up for them, seeing how you're able to throw more at them in the third chapter.
(There's also some quite nifty opportunities for some battle speeches before storming the keep!)

Hitting the keep itself is interrupted as Staunton's mythic chimera swoops down from the sky to take the battle to the heroes. I'm not sure how this will impact in a general sense of group setup, but my players tore it a new one pretty quickly. The heroes are already quite capable of some impressive mythic feats by then, so you shouldn't go easy on them. Actually, if you sense they'll have too easy a time, it's definitely worth bolstering the monster, seeing as how it's supposed to be a grand fight and also it's a solo. Which usually translates into "Therefore I suck" in D&D terminology.

Upon reaching the keep there's the usual run of the mill dungeon storm with very few twists. There isn't really that much to prepare for you as a GM, except a few encounters that, by this time, are so ridiculously underpowered compared to the heroes that it risks getting extremely tedious quickly.  I suggest either cutting down on them or simply picking out a few of those you like. Encounters such as the succubi are somewhat interesting in that they offer some RP-alternatives, whereas the rest are bash and maim.

Staunton has a few lieutenants that will likely challenge the heroes, (again, if you feel they're up for it, let them encounter them all at once!) before they face down the Blackguard and his brother. Staunton can be quite a handful for some groups but he's certainly not impossible, especially not when the smite evil attacks start piling up - you'll notice he'll go down rather quickly. 

Now, you would think this would be the ideal climax to end off the adventure, seeing how much exposition Staunton actually has as a true bad ass. But no; this is one of those occasions where Paizo pulls the 'there's always a bigger fish' card just before the end (and yes, it still pisses me off royally).  In this case, we're dealing with a nasty shadow demon that frankly just reminds me of the talking pollution from Ferngully. I even strode to sound like Tim Curry when it taunted the heroes.
As written, the heroes will then find some new information about the current state of things in the worldwound and claim victory over Drezen. Staunton declared death, and may they all live ever on.

"Mercy for Staunton"
As written, there is not much hope for Staunton - he's an unredeemable character whose sole purpose is to suffer at the end of the righteous sword. I suppose one could spread it out and even make him a trial or something, maybe even burn him at the stake. However, to me it seemed truly counterintuitive that the bad guy who was, perhaps, in the most need of redemption was also the one who couldn't obtain it.

I've given a lot of thought as to how one could include Staunton Vhane as a redeemed character and believe it's possible though some story magic. While some of them are almost clich├ęs, I hardly find any flaw in that, seeing how the redemption of the black knight is a vital theme in so many heroic stories through the times.

The major obstacle I see with redeeming Staunton is exposition. He can pretty much give a lot of stuff away about the enemy; likely too much at this early stage in the campaign. Instead, utilize this as your way to convey whatever information you wish for your players to have. Maybe they've slept a bit at vital points in the adventure, of you want to foreshadow certain aspects of the upcoming chapters. Allow Staunton to be taken as a prisoner; maybe in the final blow of the battle and the fall of the evil influence in Drezen, part of his corruption abandons his heart as well as several of his memories.

Alternatively, he'll remain inherently evil and in the dungeons of Drezen, only to be deeply inspired and tormented by the later arrival of the succubus Arueshalae (in chapter three) - seeing as how such an otherwise vile creature can be graced by the light drives Staunton into deep conflict within; one which the heroes will likely have a chance to assist in, maybe even set a quest for the fallen hero to complete?

The possibilities are several, and Staunton is actually a very interesting character with plenty of potential for development. If you want to stretch it even further out, perhaps some of the heroes' companions once knew and had a good relationship with the dwarf, and would desperately want to see him redeemed (some could even have been romantically involved with him) - and others won't rest till he's hanging from the noose. 

In Conclusion:
One thing that I've liked a lot so far about this AP, is how well the chapters sort of tie in together. At this time of writing, we're well into the third chapter, and the natural continuance that sort of just evolves between the chapters is great. Compared to our two recent campaigns, Carrion Crown and Skull & Shackles, this has a much more coherent feel to it.

As for the adventure itself, I didn't find it to be as well written and interesting as the first chapter, but it certainly didn't stand out as bad. There are very few deviations and risks taken here, which will be loved by some people and not so much by others - if you're going to GM this, my best advice is to take it slow and run it by the book. You can try and force some branches into it, but it didn't really seem worth it when I tried.

That, and by gods read up on those mass combat rules. They aren't that hard to grasp but they do take up some time. I recommend running over them at least twice and then ask whoever in the group would be interested in running the armies - chances are good that at least one guy will be interested. Then send them home with the homework 'read up on mass combat' and you'll notice how well it turns out. While it certainly isn't Warhammer Fantasy, it's fluid and if you've tried out the fleet battles in Skull & Shackles, you'll likely be familiar with it.

My favorite part was beyond doubt the journey to Drezen and the various encounters along the way. It felt like a doomed expedition on its way deep into hell. The least favorite part was the three new NPC's (of which I used none, really) and the majority of the tasks in Drezen that frankly just felt like small obstacles.

I can't help but think how in the majority of adventures, there are some clever mechanics and interesting elements that kind of make them stand out, whereas the more the story progresses, the less interesting things become. Whereas elements such as the commendations (Achievements, really) added some interesting stuff, the most of chapter two is pretty much one long demonic brick road that has the potential to bore out a lot of people. 

So with that much said, the heroes have conquered the fallen city and are now ready to set out towards their next destination - The Worldwound.

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