As I mentioned in my review of The Worldwound Incursion, when Wrath of the Righteous was first announced, I wasn’t all that interested in it. I didn’t expect it to be bad; I just didn’t expect it to be all that remarkable either. However, The Worldwound Incursion blew me away. That volume, combined with the excellent The Worldwound sourcebook, opened my eyes to an area of Golarion I had paid little attention to. Of course, a great opening instalment to an adventure path doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great adventure path overall. There have been adventure paths with excellent first volumes that have been followed up with mediocre to poor second and third volumes (Serpent’s Skull comes to mind). Luckily, the second volume of Wrath of the Righteous, Sword of Valor by Neil Spicer is not one of those sub-par follow-ups. Instead, it may just be setting up Wrath of the Righteous as one of the best adventure paths to date. It manages to wrap overland travel, mass combat, dungeon crawling, and extensive roleplaying options up into one really quite brilliant adventure.
Sword of Valor is broken up into three distinct parts, each somewhat different in style. It opens with Queen Galfrey arriving in Kenabres and sending the PCs to Drezen, a city that was once a crusader city but has been under demon control for decades now. She instructs the PCs to retake Drezen and recover the Sword of Valor (which, despite its name, is actually a banner, not a sword), an artefact that once protected Drezen. Its recovery would be a great morale boost for the crusaders. To aid them in their task, Galfrey assigns them an army of paladins to command as well as several specialized NPCs to work with them. The first part of the adventure involves the journey from Kenabres to Drezen.
Overland journey adventures can be difficult to do well. They run the risk of seeming like an extended succession of random encounters, since the various encounters often have little to do with one another. If they go on too long, they can start to become dull and monotonous. Sometimes, the best way to handle a long journey is with a couple short, token encounters along the way and skimming over the rest of the journey. However, since getting to Drezen requires entering the Worldwound, it wouldn’t make sense for the PCs to encounter little to no resistance on their journey. Indeed, the adventure already pulls some punches by having the more powerful demons the PCs might otherwise encounter away fighting the war along the southern border, leaving only their subordinates behind (the PCs, even with a mythic tier now, are just not powerful enough yet to face the full horrors of the Worldwound). As such, Sword of Valor needs to spend more than just token time on the journey. While the journey itself is probably the least interesting part of the adventure, this section nonetheless pulls it off quite well by keeping the PCs’ opponents in contact with one another (taking advantage of demons’ abilities to teleport and communicate telepathically), and by providing a rich cast of characters for the PCs to interact with amongst their own people. There is also good variety in the types of encounters, allowing the PCs to get used to commanding an army (and for the players to get used to the mass combat rules from Ultimate Campaign), but also to have some opportunity to act on their own and use their new mythic abilities.
The NPCs are really what makes Sword of Valor work as well as it does, and much like in The Worldwound Incursion, this opening section’s main purpose is not really the journey. It is for the PCs to get to know the people they’re travelling with. One of the nicest things about Sword of Valor is that it doesn’t make assumptions about how the PCs have interacted, or will interact, with the NPCs, both the new ones in this adventure and the recurring ones from the previous adventure. But it also doesn’t ignore the NPCs. Wrath of the Righteous is not the first adventure path to have a cast of significant NPCs who travel with the PCs. Both Serpent’s Skull and Jade Regent have done this before. However, even though it is only in its second instalment, Wrath of the Righteous has already done it better than either of its predecessors. To be fair, it’s not easy dealing with recurring NPCs in an adventure path. There’s no way to predict how a particular volume may turn out in actual play. Some or even all of the NPCs may die. The PCs may just not get along with them and send them all packing. One group of PCs might treat the NPCs one way, while another group treats them an entirely different way. The kinds of relationships (from enemies to acquaintances to friends to lovers) that can result are numerous. Accounting for everything within the text of an adventure (with a limited page count) is a daunting task.
Serpent’s Skull tackled the problem by sending the NPCs from the first adventure (Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv) off to join rival factions without any accounting for the relationships that might have developed between them and the PCs—a shame since one of the main goals of Smuggler’s Shiv was to make those NPCs into allies, even friends. The adventure path then pretty much ignores those NPCs, rarely even mentioning them. Jade Regent handled the situation marginally better by not completely ignoring the NPCs, but by contriving reasons for them to stay behind in the caravan and do nothing while the PCs did all the work. Of course, the PCs are supposed to be the heroes, so there needs to be a reason for them to do most of the work, but when the NPCs start out more capable than the PCs, it’s hard to provide a convincing reason for why they’re not doing anything.
Sword of Valor neither ignores the NPCs nor makes assumptions about their relationships with the PCs. It addresses the major characters from The Worldwound Incursion (Irabeth, Anevia, Aravashnial, and Horgus), and provides ongoing suggestions for how they might react and what they might do if they’re still with the PCs. While having them along can provide the PCs with actual mechanical benefits, the adventure doesn’t require them to be there. Nor does it require that the NPCs take any specific actions. As an example, later in the adventure, when the PCs enter Citadel Drezen, they can choose to take any or all of the NPCs with them. Taking NPCs along obviously provides the benefit of their aid in combats, but each NPC can also provide specific other benefits if left outside with the army. Whatever choices the PCs make can have real effects on the progress of the adventure, but no specific choice is required in order for the PCs to successfully complete the adventure, and no specific choice is assumed as the default.
The adventure also introduces three new significant NPCs, and these three are handled in much the same way as the recurring NPCs—although being new, they obviously get a bit more focus. Like the recurring NPCs, these three are well-developed characters, each with their own abilities and quirks. There’s Aron, who is secretly suffering from an addiction to the drug shadowblood. Sosiel is a priest of Shelyn and also Aron’s lover. He has been trying to help Aron through his addiction, but also keeping it a secret. Finally, there’s Nurah, who is actually a spy working for the enemy. Obviously, the PCs need to uncover the secrets that the NPCs are hiding (without initially knowing that there even are any secrets to uncover), and the overland journey is the best time to do that. But again, the adventure doesn’t make any assumptions about how well the PCs do or how quick they are. It provides guidelines for Nurah’s attempts at sabotage, for example, but doesn’t assume that her treachery is discovered during any specific attempt. In fact, it allows for the possibility that she goes undiscovered until the very end of the adventure, when she joins one of the main villains in the party’s final battle against him. Naturally, failing to discover Nurah’s duplicity until the end can have severe repercussions for the PCs (her acts of sabotage cause penalties to the PCs’ army’s capabilities).
Once the PCs reach Drezen, they must lay siege to the city and the citadel in order to claim it back. This section of the adventure is relatively brief (in page count), but is a wonderful application of the mass combat rules along with an additional “siege points” mechanic that modifies the the PCs’ army’s stats. By accomplishing certain missions in the city (before attacking the citadel itself) and weakening the city’s defences, the PCs can gain siege points that help them in the attack against Citadel Drezen. However, they also start losing siege points if they take too long, and Nurah’s acts of sabotage (if she hasn’t been caught) can also reduce the PCs’ siege point total. Overall, this section provides the PCs with a lot of options about how to take the city and citadel, and allows for a variety of outcomes. It also creates for some suitably epic moments as the PCs lead their forces to crush the demonic defenders.
In the final section of the adventure, the PCs must enter Citadel Drezen on their own (or with some selected NPCs) to take out the last of the defenders (including the dwarf anti-paladin Staunton Vhane) and find the Sword of Valor. This is a fairly standard dungeon crawl with a bit of a twist: the enemies within are all essentially in retreat. They know that they’ve lost the battle for the citadel, and their reactions to the PCs are based on that. In most cases, such as with Staunton Vhane, they wish to kill the PCs as a sort of consolation prize, but some have other ideas. Chorussina, the citadel’s seneschal, along with a few surviving cultists of Deskari, has started a ritual to destroy the entire citadel on the grounds that, if the demons can’t have it, no one can. The PCs searching the citadel as a sort of victory clean-up makes for a great twist to the typical dungeon crawl.
Of course, eventually, the PCs do find the Sword of Valor in the dungeon beneath the citadel. Gaining and using it can provide them with a lot of assistance against their final foe, the mythic shadow demon, Eustoyriax. In the dungeon, they also find the corruption forge, a device the demons have been using to turn good-aligned items and weapons to evil. In the next adventure, they will be able to reverse the effects of the corruption forge and use it to turn evil items to good.
Backing up the adventure in this volume of the Pathfinder Adventure Path are two articles. The first, “Lost Relics of the Crusades” by Ron Lundeen, describes five unique magic items (three of which are artefacts) that can help crusaders in their fights against demons. What’s great about this article is that it does more than just give the items’ stats; it also provides the complete story behind each item, describing how it was created and how it’s been used in the past, who used it, etc. Each item gets a full page devoted to it, and a significant amount of that page is the item’s history.
The second article, “Wages of Sin” by Jason Nelson, looks at the other side of the equation—the things the demons use to aid their efforts. There are several new demonic drugs here (although the description of shadowblood, the drug Aron is addicted to, is in the Treasures section of the adventure), as well as demonic implants and several new spells. This article doesn’t have the rich histories that “Lost Relics” has, but it does provide some nice new ways for GMs to confound their PCs.
Amongst the creatures in this volume’s Bestiary is the demon lord Shax, patron of envy, lies, and murder. As a CR 28 foe, he is suitably frightening.
Overall, Sword of Valor is really quite excellent. It didn’t wow me quite as much as The Worldwound Incursion, but nevertheless it has all the ingredients for a great adventure. It has a strong plot, but still a large variety of options, ensuring that the PCs don’t feel railroaded, and it has a great, detailed cast of NPCs, both allies and villains. One of the most impressive things about the adventure is that it manages to make an adventure about endless war and killing into an adventure about people, one containing great roleplaying opportunities. Wrath of the Righteous is well on the way to being a superb adventure path.