Sunday, 15 December 2013

Wrath of the Righteous - Demon's Heresy

There comes a time in every campaign when the PCs want to take a break. Sometimes, this is just a short period to rest and recover from wounds before heading back out on adventures. Other times, it lasts longer, while the PCs take care of non-adventuring concerns, develop relationships with NPCs, build businesses, craft magic items, or just plain relax. Some gaming groups gloss over these periods with a simple statement of “A few weeks pass;” while other groups play out each day along the way. But however they choose to deal with this period of “downtime”, every group goes through it from time to time.

It’s natural that the amount of downtime that occurs varies depending on the campaign and the particular group. Some campaigns will experience very little downtime, and what downtime there is may often be short. This tends to be the case with many Pathfinder adventure paths. It’s not unusual for one instalment to lead directly into another with little, if any, gap between them. This is not universal, of course. Most adventure paths allow for at least a little downtime and some allow for a bit more, but on the whole, the amount of downtime tends to be small. As such, it’s nice when an adventure path instalment comes along that allows the characters to settle for a little while and take it easy a bit—of course, even during downtime, things are rarely truly easy.

Demon’s Heresy by Jim Groves, the third part of Wrath of the Righteous is one such adventure. After the harrowing events of The Worldwound Incursion and Sword of Valor, it allows for the PCs to take a bit of a breather and even experience a little bit of semi-calm. Looked at on its own, it doesn’t have same epic quality to it that the earlier instalments have, but to look at it on its own would be to do it an injustice. While there are some adventure path instalments that could easily be run on their own without running the remainder of the adventure path, Demon’s Heresy really isn’t one of them. It’s a piece of a whole and its less-epic structure is more like the calm at the eye of the storm—except that this storm’s eye is pretty fraught with peril and adventure.


In many ways, Demon’s Heresy is less a single adventure than it is a collection of mini-quests with one slightly bigger quest at the end. In Sword of Valor, the PCs successfully retook the city of Drezen from the demon forces of the Worldwound. Now, they must successfully rebuild the city. This means rebuilding its economy as well as the physical reconstruction of its buildings. So even though the PCs get to take a bit of a break from the hectic adventuring, they still have their work cut out for them.

Wrath of the Righteous is not only the first adventure path to make use of the rules from Mythic Adventures, but also the first to make use of Ultimate Campaign. Sword of Valor put the PCs in charge of a small army, incorporating Ultimate Campaign’s mass combat rules. Demon’s Heresy gives players the opportunity to utilize the downtime rules as they gather capital to reconstruct and re-establish Drezen. Of course, the adventure can be run without using these rules and will not suffer for it, but it makes a nice bonus for groups that do use the rules.

Demon’s Heresy is quite open-ended—it’s very much a sandbox adventure in this regard. The events detailed within its pages can happen in pretty much any order. Even the major, concluding events don’t necessarily have to happen at the end—although the PCs will probably be more capable of handling them if they do. There is also no specific timeframe that the adventure has to occur over. Game masters are free to allow the PCs as much or as little time as they want to take care of their duties and complete the various side-quests. However, the adventure does point out that the longer the PCs take, the more the demons will start to turn their eyes back towards Drezen, and it includes a few suggestions on how the demons will eventually respond. It is still up to game masters, however, to determine exactly when these retaliations begin.

One of my favourite things about Wrath of the Righteous so far has been the integration of NPCs into its storyline—specifically NPCs that carry over from one adventure to the next. This is not an easy thing to do, as what may happen to NPCs with one group may be considerably different from what may happen with another. Nonetheless, Sword of Valor does a remarkable job of accounting for all the different possibilities. However, with each successive adventure, the number of possibilities grows, so it’s not surprising that Demon’s Heresy needs to take the route of sidelining the recurring NPCs somewhat. It doesn’t ignore them entirely, but it does make the assumption that they take on various roles in Drezen (Irabeth becomes the ruler of the city, for example, and her wife Anevia the spymaster), rather than continue to travel with the PCs. These roles grant the PCs various downtime boons (for example, as the city’s ruler, Irabeth generates 3 units of Influence per day). It’s an assumption that makes a good deal of sense, as the PCs’ powers should be starting to far outstrip the NPCs’, and the enemies they are now facing are likely beyond the capabilities of the NPCs, even if they’ve gone up a few levels. Of course, with some groups, the PCs may prefer to have the NPCs take different roles in the city or even have some (or all) continue to adventure with them. In such cases, GMs will need to make some adjustments—but that’s a normal part of any adventure path, and I don’t fault this adventure for making assumptions this time round. There’s really no other option for the adventure to take. The NPCs are not forgotten about, and that’s the important thing. And there are still many strong roleplaying opportunities throughout the adventure.

While the PCs are working to rebuild Drezen, they also need to explore the surrounding lands—to help protect the city from the deadly denizens that live in the Worldwound, to find items that may help the crusaders against the demons, and possibly even to learn some of the demons’ plans. Most of Demon’s Heresy, as a result, is made up of small side-quests. While these little quests are keyed to locations on the map, many of them will be ones that the PCs will deliberately seek out (based on events that occur in the city) rather than stumble upon while wandering randomly. As I said earlier, these quests can occur in pretty much any order, based on the actions of the PCs and the whims of the GM.

Many of these side-quests are tied to campaign traits that the players chose when creating their characters. These quests help to advance the storylines of the individual player characters and tie up events from their backstories. This integrates the PCs into the adventure path in a way the campaign traits of other adventure paths never have before. Campaign traits usually have little effect on the campaign beyond being a way to get the PCs initially involved in events. In Wrath of the Righteous, the traits remain relevant much later into the adventure path. There are some downsides to this, however. Completing a quest tied to a campaign trait counts as a mythic trial for the PC who has that particular trait. This means that the PCs will be completing mythic trials at different times and possibly even advancing to a new mythic tier at different times. Many groups that are used to PCs advancing levels at separate times won’t be bothered by this, but groups that prefer to have everyone advance together may not like this as much. It’s also something that could be easily abused by GMs who get to choose who goes first.

Another issue arises in the case of replacement characters. If any PCs have died, their replacements may not actually have a campaign trait. GMs will need to add in alternative means for these characters to complete a mythic trial. The same is true for situations where the game is simply not using the campaign traits at all. However, in these cases, a simple solution would be to tie the quests for “missing” traits to the characters without campaign traits and adjust the fluff slightly to fit each character, thus allowing them to complete the needed number of mythic trials.

Eventually, the PCs will learn of, or simply find, Arueshalae—someone they probably first heard about in Sword of Valor. Arueshalae is a “risen” succubus. She is not evil and is currently following the path to full redemption. In doing so, she has betrayed the demons of the Worldwound. More so, she possesses knowledge that the PCs will find vital to the crusade: the location of the Ivory Sanctum, the headquarters of the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth, a cult that follows the demon lord Baphomet and whose members infiltrate the crusaders in an effort to slowly destroy them from within. Gaining Arushalae as an ally is a significant part of this adventure (and the adventure path as a whole). She has been tracked down by the demons’ agents and the PCs must rescue her and then travel with her to the Ivory Sanctum where they must confront and defeat Xanthir Vang, the main foe of this instalment.

Redemption is a major theme of Wrath of the Righteous. Many of the villains throughout the adventure path have the possibility of being redeemed. As such, it makes perfect sense that the ultimate example of redemption should come in the form of a demon. And Arushalae is a very well-written and developed character. Her introduction brings another strong NPC into the adventure path, and what she must do to complete her redemption is clearly delineated. She wants nothing more than to be accepted amongst the forces of good, and part of the PCs’ challenge will be to get those forces to put aside their prejudices and distrusts. It makes for great roleplaying opportunities.

However, I can’t help but feel that choosing a succubus to be the example of demon redemption is just a little too obvious. This isn’t a criticism of Demon’s Heresy so much as it is a criticism of Wrath of the Righteous as a whole. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong, per se, with having a succubus seek redemption, and as I said, Arushalae is an interesting and compelling character. However, succubi are already the most human-like of the various kinds of demons (and, consequently, the easiest kind to provide sexed-up artwork for, although to be fair, Arushalae’s artwork is actually quite reasonable, but it does still emphasize her attractiveness). Of all the demon kinds, succubi are the ones that people are most likely to accept as redeemed (both in-world characters and the players themselves). I feel it would have been a lot more interesting if Arushalae were one of the more monstrous kinds of demons. It would add more gravitas to her search for acceptance amongst the forces of good. It would also make a nice change to have a major female NPC who is actually unattractive.

That aside, however, I really do like the entire redemption theme in Wrath of the Righteous. I like that there actually is an alternative to blindly killing all the villains. Some villains, like Xanthir Vang in this one, are irredeemable of course, but the fact that some of them aren’t, makes for a much more compelling storyline.

Speaking of Xanthir Vang, he makes for a great villain, and although he’s not redeemable, he’s one the PCs can interact with in a non-violent way—temporarily at any rate. Vang is not actually a member of the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth, but rather the Blackfire Adepts. Nonetheless, he is essentially in charge of the Ivory Sanctum, and this has put him at odds with Jerribeth, the second-in-command to the real leader of the Templars (who is currently absent). The conflict between the two helps add an extra dimension to the final part of the adventure, making the Ivory Sanctum more than just a succession of dungeon rooms with monsters to kill. The PCs have the option of allying with either Vang or Jerribeth to remove the other. Of course, both of them fully intend to betray the PCs immediately upon gaining what they want, but wily PCs will likely expect that and plan for it—if they even accept the bargain in the first place.

Following the main adventure, the support articles in this volume cover “The Green Faith” and the “Ecology of the Worm that Walks”. “The Green Faith” by Sean K. Reynolds follows the style of Reynolds’s usual articles on the gods of Golarion, even though followers of the Green Faith don’t follow a particular god. And like most articles in the series, it’s highly informative and very useful. I like that the articles are branching out into some of the other forms of worship in the world beyond just the deities.

Ecology of the Worm that Walks” by Amanda Hamon takes an in-depth look at a creature I’ve not paid much attention to in the past, so I was eager to learn a bit more about it. I was actually quite surprised to learn that worms that walk are not strictly undead, despite being thematically similar. I’d never noticed that before! As Xanthir Vang is a worm that walks, the article has immediate application to the adventure, but the material here goes beyond that, providing helpful information for using worms that walk in other games—along with a number of variant versions, such as ones composed of locusts or wasps.

This volume’s Bestiary contains a new kind of demon (the shachath) and a couple new types of undead—drocha swarms (like a cloud of distorted faces that bite) and the fallen (ghostly spirits of dead crusaders). Like the previous volumes of Wrath of the Righteous, it also contains the stats for one of the demon lords, this time Sifkesh, lord of suicide, heresy, and hopeless despair. Like other demon lords, she is a frightening foe.

Overall, Demon’s Heresy is a welcome change of pace for the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. After the urgency of the first two volumes, it allows the PCs to breathe a little (just a little) as they secure their hold on Drezen and the surrounding lands. While they do this, the PCs also have the opportunity to make a powerful new ally (Arushalae) and score a major blow against the demon forces by putting the Ivory Sanctum out of action. All things considered, Wrath of the Righteous continues to surprise me with just how good it is.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't ran this one yet, but my first reading gave me much the same impression as this review. Very spot on!