After a few products dealing with the theme of dragons (Dragons Unleashed, the Dragonslayer’s Handbook, and The Dragon’s Demand), the latest themes for Paizo products are demons and mythic. Demons are a major focus of The Worldwound, Demons Revisited, and the Demon Hunter’s Handbook (the latter two being products I will be reviewing in the not-too-distant future). Mythic is the major focus, not surprisingly, of Mythic Adventures, but it is also the focus of Mythic Realms and Mythic Origins (two more products I’ll be getting to in the coming weeks). The new adventure path, Wrath of the Righteous, focuses on both.
When I read The Worldwound, I was rather surprised by how much I liked it. It deals with an area of the world I was never particularly bothered about, but the book showed me just how interesting and compelling an area it is. As Wrath of the Righteous is set in that area and deals with the Mendevian crusades against the demons (something else I wasn’t overly interested in), I didn’t really expect it to interest me a great deal. I didn’t expect to dislike it either. Rather, I just expected it to be a good, but unremarkable adventure path. Expectations can be glaringly wrong, however. The Worldwound helped raised my expectations for the adventure path, and reading some of the initial response to the first volume raised them even more. By the time I finally got round to reading it myself, I was quite eager.
And I have to say, The Worldwound Incursion by Amber E. Scott absolutely blew me away. A couple months ago, I declared Rasputin Must Die! to be one of the best adventures I had ever read. Well, it’s entirely possible that adventure now has a rival. I don’t make statements like that lightly (and anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows I can be very exacting in my standards), but from start to finish, this is one epic and exciting adventure. It’s definitely worthy of the term mythic. If this adventure is anything to go by, the remainder of Wrath of the Righteous will be simply stunning.
Once the final volume is published, Wrath of the Righteous will be the highest-powered adventure path Paizo has yet published for the Pathfinder RPG. Not only will it take characters to 20th level (which is already higher than any other post-3.5 adventure path), it will also take them up to the 10th tier of mythic power. However, it starts with very humble beginnings—well, in terms of the PCs’ powers and abilities that is; the adventure is otherwise far from humble. The PCs begin at 1st level as with all adventure paths and have no mythic power. They gain their first mythic tier at the very end of this adventure. Despite the lack of mythic abilities, this is very much a mythic adventure in terms of feel. I mentioned in my review of Mythic Adventures that, despite all the cool new powers and abilities, mythic doesn’t really add any feel to the game that you can’t achieve without it, and this adventure pretty much proves my point. It deals with world-shattering events that the PCs play a pivotal role in—without any extra special powers (except the final battle).
The adventure opens spectacularly. I’ve always said I like adventure openings that place the PCs right smack in the action and The Worldwound Incursion certainly does exactly that. The PCs are at Clydwell Plaza in Kenabres for the annual celebration called Armasse when there is a sudden explosion from the Kite (the building that houses Kenabres’s wardstone, one of a network of powerful artifacts that help keep the Worldwound’s borders from expanding into Mendev and other neighbouring lands). Then an army of demons, led by none other than the infamous Storm King, Khorramzadeh, attacks the city. The silver dragon Terendelev, one of the city’s greatest defenders, leaps to face Khorramzadeh, only to face her death as the demon beheads her. At the same time, the demons’ attack opens a rift beneath the PCs’ feet and they begin to fall. In her last breath of life, Terendelev manages to cast a spell to save the PCs and a few other nearby NPCs. The adventure begins as the PCs and NPCs awaken, trapped beneath the city, where they must now find a way back up so that they can help in its defence.
This opening is presented in the form of a narrative flashback—a sort of cut scene that the players don’t have any real control over—and some players may baulk at that a bit. Players (rightly) don’t like when the ability to control their characters’ actions is taken from them. However, as an opening moment that “sets the scene”, I don’t really think this is a problem in this case. A certain number of assumptions need to be made at the beginning of any campaign (why the characters are in the location they’re in, for example), and this is merely another such assumption. It’s a much more dramatic one than usual, true, but it’s basically a bit of “before the campaign began” history. The volume’s foreword does acknowledge that this might be a problem for some players and points out that the PCs will almost assuredly die if they’re allowed to take part in the opening battle. However, it does leave the final decision up to the GM.
After awakening, the PCs must make their way through the tunnels and caverns beneath Kenabres, hoping to find a way back to the surface. The initial encounters are fairly standard low-level encounters with giant maggots and cave vipers, but these encounters aren’t the focus of this early section of the adventure and so serve more as background. Instead, the main focus is on the relationships between the PCs and the NPCs trapped with them. Indeed, The Worldwound Incursion contains some of the best NPC-interaction opportunities of any adventure since Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv, the opening adventure of Serpent’s Skull. The two adventures even share a similar premise. Both open with the PCs trapped in a dangerous location (in Souls, they are shipwrecked on an island) and forced to work with a group of disparate NPCs who don’t immediately start out as the PCs’ friends. The PCs must gain the NPCs’ trust if they are to get everyone out alive.
The integration of the NPCs into The Worldwound Incursion is incredibly well done. As well as providing complete write-ups for each NPC, including that individual’s history and motivations, the adventure has numerous notes about how the NPCs are likely to react to various encounters, how they’re likely to react to actions the PCs might or might not take, even how they react to each other. At the same time, the NPCs never take the focus away from the PCs. Even though one of them is a 6h-level character, the PCs remain the heroes (since that same character has also been blinded and can’t aid to the full extent he might otherwise be able to) and the ones who must solve the problems and get everyone to safety. No other adventure since Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv has integrated NPCs into the adventure quite so well. Jade Regent had NPCs travelling with the PCs, but their involvement in that adventure path wasn’t handled anywhere near as well as it is here. The inside front and back covers also contain short blurbs on the major NPCs for the entire adventure path, letting GMs know what those characters are up to during this volume, even if they’re not encountered yet. Future volumes of Wrath of the Righteous will apparently continue to keep GMs apprised on all the NPCs’ activities.
There are three NPCs trapped with the PCs. The first is Anevia Tirabade. Anevia’s leg has been broken by the fall, so while she’s a fairly capable rogue, her abilities are severely impeded and she can only move slowly. Anevia is likely the easiest of the NPCs for the PCs to gain the trust of and become friends with. Her main motivation is to be reunited with her wife, Irabeth, one of the crusaders defending Kenabres—assuming Irabeth still lives. (Anevia and Irabeth have also become the centre of a ridiculous real-world controversy stemming from their sexuality and the fact that Anevia is also a transgender woman. Sigh. Paizo is one of the most progressive and inclusive RPG companies there is, and Anevia and Irabeth are far from the first LGBTQ characters to appear in their products, so I’m not sure why the controversy has been so fevered this time around. At any rate, I’ll address this silly controversy in a separate post.)
Next up is the elf Aravashnial, a member of the Riftwardens (an organization sworn to protect the boundaries between planes). Aravashnial is haughty and convinced of his own superiority, but generally a good person. Just before falling into the rift with the PCs, he was struck across the face by the Storm King’s whip. The blow destroyed his eyes, leaving him blind and thus unable to re-prepare his spells once they’re cast (along with all the other problems blindness brings).
Finally, there is Horgus Gwerm, a local aristocrat. Horgus is the most difficult of the NPCs to get along with. He is spoilt and demanding. He is the character the PCs are most likely to dislike intensely, but leaving him behind could cause other problems for them, and getting him out alive does give the PCs a politically powerful and wealthy ally. Unfortunately for the PCs, Horgus has very few useful skills. Not surprisingly, he is also the only NPC without a debilitating injury—indeed, he comes out of the fall virtually unscathed.
The NPCs all start out with a number of prejudices against each other, too. As such, the PCs have to do more than just gain their trust and friendship; they have to get the NPCs to work with each other too. The roleplaying opportunities offered by just these three characters are immense and they should help make for an incredibly enjoyable and satisfying adventure.
But while these three NPCs are the initial focus, they are not the only NPCs in the adventure, and the others stand out too. As the PCs make their way underground, they encounter a society of mongrelmen—mutated descendants of some of the original Mendevian crusaders who fled underground nearly a century ago. Depending on how the PCs react to, and treat the mongrelmen, they can gain further allies from them and convince the mongrelmen to come up to the surfact to aid in the city’s defence.
Once the PCs reach the surface, they must then make their way across a devastated city, in hopes of finding a safe place. The main attack on the city is over, but some demons remain, making virtually nowhere safe. At this point there are a lot of different options open to the PCs and they can go about them in whatever order and however they wish. Anevia, Aravashnial, and Horgus all have locations of their own that they wish to get to. Also, the PCs might have learned about a number of safehouses for the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth, an organization devoted to the demon Baphomet that has its members infiltrate the crusader organizations in Mendev. The PCs may wish to investigate these safehouses, where they can learn some valuable information. They can also help rescue some of the survivors in the city, protect against looters, and so on.
Eventually, the PCs will find their way to Defender’s Heart, an inn that has become the safehouse for the surviving crusaders in the city. There they meet Irabeth Tirabade, the senior surviving crusader and Anevia’s wife. They have the opportunity here to make more NPC allies and to pass on any knowledge about the attack that they’ve picked up. From Irabeth and another NPC, Quednys Orlun, they also learn what the surface survivors have learnt about the attack. A piece of the wardstone survived and the demons have taken that to piece to the Gray Garrison, a place that, before the fall of Kenabres, was a museum. Areelu Vorlesh—the person who instigated the original opening of the Worldwound in the first place—is seeking a powerful Abyssal object called a Nahyndrian crystal that she can use on the wardstone fragment to turn it and the entire network of wardstones against the crusaders. Queen Galfrey’s army is on its way to Kenabres, but it won’t arrive in time, so naturally, Irabeth asks the PCs for their help.
The few surviving crusaders will create diversionary tactics in the city to draw the demons’ attentions while the PCs attempt to get into the Gray Garrison to find and destroy the wardstone fragment (it cannot be repaired so the only option is to destroy it before it can be used against the city). Irabeth offers to accompanying the PCs.
This final part of the adventure can play out in a number of different ways. The PCs may wish to use stealth or just make a frontal assault on the Gray Garrison—or anything else they can come up with. Although the adventure presents the Garrison the same way all adventures present every site—with each room being a separate keyed encounter area—the adventure doesn’t assume any sort of static distribution of the Garrison’s occupants. Indeed, it provides quite a bit of information on how the occupants move around and react to intrusions. If the PCs fall back and return at a later time, there is information on what reinforcements Jeslyn (the Garrison’s commander) has called in in the interim.
During this final section, the PCs also have the opportunity to earn “devotion points”. The goddess Iomedae is watching them (regardless of whether they worship her) and depending on how their actions impress her (through the devotion points they gain), she may reward them with various boons. These boons are on top of the mythic power they gain at the end.
Eventually, the PCs face Jeslyn and destroy the wardstone fragment. That’s when the remarkable happens. The wardstone’s destruction releases a stockpile of energy that infuses the PCs with phenomenal power. Far off in the Abyss, Areelu Vorlesh realizes what’s happened and tries to send a horde of demons to kill the PCs. With their new powers, however, the PCs can easily fend the demons off in a final epic battle. Once the battle is over, most of the power leaves them, but some remains, granting them their first mythic tier.
Following the main adventure is an article on “Kenabres Before the Fall”. This is an overview and gazetteer of the city as it is before the start of the campaign. Admittedly, for people about to play through the adventure path, much of the information in the article is going to change immediately. Nonetheless, knowledge of what the city used to be like is a great way to colour the PCs journey through the ravaged city in the adventure. GMs can point out things their characters would remember and stress how they’ve changed. For people not running the adventure path, the article is a great resource for their own campaigns.
Apart from the “Kenabres Before the Fall”, the Pathfinder Journal, and the Bestiary, there are no other support articles in this volume. The Bestiary contains a number of nasty creatures, including the stats for the demon lord Xoveron, known as the Horned Prince, lord of gargoyles. Each volume of Wrath of the Righteous will present another demon lord—something possible now that mythic rules are available.
If I have one complaint about The Worldwound Incursion, it’s not about the content of the adventure itself or any of the other material in the volume. It’s a complaint with the editing. Some people are much too quick to complain about occasional typos here and there, and I try not to be one of those. Even with the greatest editing in the world, an occasional typo is bound to slip through in a work of this size. But this volume has a lot of them: misspellings, repeated words, missing words, uses of a instead of an or vice versa, and more. In one spot (part way down the first column on page 12), the end of one sentence (6 words) is repeated in the middle of the following sentence! It was actually rare for me to get through a whole page without spotting a few typos and that shouldn’t be happening. Beyond typos, there’s even at least one instance of contradictory information. In one spot, it says that the lilitu demon Minagho, who captured the wardstone fragment and took it to the Gray Garrison, left a glabrezu demon in charge of it. That glabrezu then left it to another underling, who left it to another underling. This went on a few times before it reached Jeslyn (thus explaining why a relatively weak individual has been left in charge of such a powerful item). However, later, when the PCs receive visions of the wardstone’s history, they see Minagho directly placing Jeslyn in charge. The editing in Paizo’s books is usually better than this, and I have no idea why so many errors crept through into this volume.
That said, the errors don’t negate the fact that The Worldwound Incursion is an amazing adventure. It’s got everything I like in an adventure: fully flesh-out NPCs, great action tempered with lots of great roleplaying opportunities, strong motivations and reasons for the PCs to be involved, and an epic and exciting storyline. Hopefully the rest of Wrath of the Righteous will live up to the promise implied by this opening adventure.