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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2016 4:50 pm 
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Yeah, okay, I'll buy that. Go nuts with it.


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 10:00 pm 
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Our chat yesterday prodded me to finish my ending feedback post. It is a bit meandering. It starts as feedback, dives into non-feedback, and gets back to feedback by the end.

I have mixed feelings about the campaign. I enjoyed playing Puella, I enjoyed roleplaying with all of the other PCs and generally with any NPCs that were up for it. I loved brainstorming for this game – my head was often bursting with ideas for it, and I must say that and it was sometimes pretty frustrating to get something out and then see it wither unattended to. From a RP perspective, to me the campaign began to dry up faster in the second half of the second book (notably after Kain left). Declining GM engagement in roleplaying led to more player-choreographed scenes or even stepping in to roleplay for NPCs, which filled in the gap a bit but was ultimately not as satisfying. Nevertheless, it still had its moments and some of my favorite moments/scenes did come later on.

In rough chronological order, a large (but not exhaustive) list of favorite moments/scenes follows:

-Puella’s first solo scene with Irena
-That time when Lucavi and Irena were DTF but didn’t
-Tea and sweets with Teeg
-The party’s tense battle and ultimate victory against Sir Havelyn
-The villain point natural 20 with Mott (albeit followed by a letdown)
-Having Gaer play the Lord and Lucavi as Cavuil, slowly revealing ourselves to Barnabas and then killing him
-Hitting 100% completion in style with Balentyne
-Teeg catching up with Paula and then choosing to send her away
- Lucavi’s reaction to fear during the fight with Calliaste
-Gaer trolling Tiadora by showing up as her.
-Teeg experimenting on himself with alcohol
-Lucavi singing to Calliaste as Puella sawed off Ellenothae’s wings
-The recruitment PBP of Posca.
-Gaer asking for Puella's help after falling for Arissa
-The forest elves taking the initiative to make peace and alliance with us
-When Gaer took most of his hp in damage against the Sons in a single round, and just sneered it off.
-Flying off into the night on the back of our very own zombie dragon as the Horn collapsed behind us.
-Izevel’s recruitment scene. Not just that I got to tear the roof off with a dragon, though that was pretty awesome, but the roleplaying that ensued.


Not feedback – just miscellaneous rambling on mechanics, inspiration, etc.

Mechanics/balance/etc.


We joked about crushing this or that during chat, but honestly, this game was showing off caster power to what was becoming an uncomfortable degree to me by the end of the Horn chapter. Obviously some potential constraints weren’t operating, such as the moral constraint many parties might face against making people your mind slaves. We also fought a ton of classed humanoid opponents in Chapter 2, whereas a party facing a more traditional spread of monsters would have ended up with less dominate bait. Still, Puella ended up with a huge and diverse pool of magically controlled minions – bound fiends, dominated former enemies, monsters we’d killed that she raised as undead. It felt less than ideal that we had, say, Gaer running around pulling out every stop just to stand in front without getting savaged while Puella is chilling out pulling the strings on a giant magic army.

I’m pretty sure at some point long ago, during a conversation about whether corrupting NPCs through roleplay should be like pulling teeth, I mentioned that magic offered a breezily simple and more mechanically potent alternative. Case in point…

The other spell where aggressive use made a drastic difference was divination. The divination spell is the prince of its school and an evil campaign with a lot of scope for proactive player action is tailor made for it. Knowing what general types of challenges and topics to ask about is the biggest piece needed in order to make effective use of the spell, and the nature of the campaign made knowing what to ask pretty easy.

On the flip side, I felt that some options that are traditionally branded as overpowered really didn’t shake out that way. Blood money chiefly powered glyphs of warding and divinations, but the glyphs were ancillary at best and the divinations were cheap enough that I would have spammed them every week anyway and spent only a few hundred gold overall – and I ended the campaign with tens of thousands of unspent gp. I’m not suggesting it’s not a good spell, but it didn’t seem game breaking unless you game your Str to cast the really high-cost stuff, Wish and the like.

Similarly casting off Con rather than Int wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be; being capable of casting and hexing from a distance, not taking damage was kind of the default. Basically had to deliberately reject normal tactics and enter into harm’s way in order to take advantage of the extra hp, and even then I only took big damage in combat a couple times over the course of the whole campaign. If I had been playing an Int witch I could have just… not rammed my face into the enemy swords, and it would have been fine. The Con might have made the difference on a Fort save or two, but there weren’t many of those either. I expect this might have changed some in the higher levels, but for the levels we played at, the Con wasn’t a big deal because it was just so easy to stay out of harm’s way by casting from a distance and, from time to time, flying. On the other hand the relatively fewer skills made itself felt often.

Overall, while it felt to me like Puella was pulling away from other PCs since about 7th level and really fast once we hit 9th, I’d chalk my side of the scales up almost entirely to using basic CRB spells without being limited by self-imposed (moral) constraints. Outside of my side of the scales, there was a certain element of other PCs moving relatively downward – I refer mostly to Gaer what with everybody and their grandmother hitting his AC.

I will add that despite also handing out buffs pretty regularly, I do not recall even once in this campaign being short on spells to the point where it was a combat limitation. Frankly by the end the opposite was true, where I had more spell slots than I could be bothered to fill. I wasn’t making huge use of hexes, either – spells replaced hexes as the go-to for most fights once I got 4th level spells. I can’t remember many times in Ch. 2 that we faced more than one combat a day, and towards the end, we were facing one combat a day personally plus no other demands on our minion resources, which made the combats very harsh for the good guys. The intermittent fights and lack of sustained pressure made challenging the party a real problem in Ch. 2, but the timers in Chapter 1 and in what little we saw of Chapter 3 also seemed pretty generous and didn’t do much to add pressure.

As an aside/playtest report, the limited playtesting I engaged in suggests that the downtime capital system is problematic. I zero in specifically on the ability to generate Magic capital and convert it into half off your magic item crafting costs (on top of the discount for crafting in the first place). It boils down to quarter-price (vanilla rules) or 3/8 price (our rules) magic items, given a crafting feat, a trivial upfront cost, and some time. Either one of those is, practically speaking, dirt cheap. Furthermore, although I didn’t use it, I certainly noted that it also allows for an undesirable loop in that you become able to turn a substantial profit from crafting and selling items at half price (with vanilla rules, you double your money each time). Overall, thumbs down to this.

Inspirations:

I don’t know that I had any major fantasy stuff strongly in mind for Puella (other than TGOH Belial), though I’m sure bits and pieces of this and that slipped in via cultural osmosis. The biggest other influence was real-world history and mythology (though of course with a fantasy veneer and with the harsher parts muted so as not to offend WD’s sensibilities more than the minimum :) ). I reread Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and several works on Roman slavery while creating or playing Puella and they formed a major influence on her take on suffering, coercion, etc. and the kind of society she tried to create for those in the Knot’s power. Western hemisphere slavery isn’t my wheelhouse but the old Civil War–era pictures of the backs of ex-slaves who had been whipped heavily influenced my mental image of Puella. Some other one-off historical borrowings are probably fairly obvious, such as the Committee for Public Safety in Farholde (Revolutionary France) or the Sons of Duty and Daughters of Mercy (Irish Magdalene laundries).

(Speaking of historical slavery, I’m sure that everybody understood the reason why Puella would address the enslaved as “boy” or “girl” regardless of age, but did anyone notice that “Puella” was a Meaningful Name along similar lines? I do have a tendency sometimes to sneak in easter eggs that only I would probably ever notice… this might be one of those times…)

The four monastic orders didn’t get tons of screen time, but they were drawn from TGOH with a bit of borrowing from Sartre by way of Existential Comics (the Puella-inspired Pious One), Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri and Classical Stoicism (the Teeg-inspired Heavenly One), and TGOH again (the Leviathan-infiltrated Forgotten One). The Lordly One, whom I intended to be Gaerlan-inspired, never made an appearance and the monastic philosophy wasn’t very fleshed out by the time we finished, but my thoughts were to use the less sticky, more carroty side of TGOH Belial. The plan was to leave us with one order inspired by each PC plus one wild card of mysterious loyalties.

Disappointments:

The roleplaying side of the game (not just NPCs, but also atmosphere of the cities and towns we moved through, and such) suffered for lack of DM engagement, increasing towards the end (the enormous delays in responding to things, and the times that things were simply outright ignored and never responded to at all, were a feature of Ch. 2 on, I don't remember much of that from Ch. 1). Even on the non-RP side, it seemed like several Teeg alchemical/scientific projects withered on the vine for lack of response and/or followup (a contributing factor might be that Glab didn’t seem interested in prodding the DM about neglected projects).

I was also a bit sad that talk of more complicated traps in the Horn never amounted to much – just my vanilla glyphs. I had been looking forward to seeing some fiendish stuff from Kain.

Belial dominates through an obscene balance of carrot and stick. Puella was intended from the start to lack proficiency with the carrot and be overbalanced towards the stick. That said, I felt like the game often pushed me even further towards stick than I wanted to go – positive incentives seemed more likely to get ignored by the DM than negative incentives, the more helpless a NPC was the more likely they were to be rude and confrontational, etc.

I wish I’d been able to establish more of a good cop/bad cop thing, with Gaer in particular, so that NPCs recoiling from Puella might have been scooped up by Gaer with his efforts to present a more moderate public face. The implacable hostility of most good-aligned NPCs towards Gaer limited the opportunity for that.

I was trying to figure out a way to get access to nightmare so that I could send thematic taunting nightmares to Myrtle and the Sons of Balentyne. Moreso than any other missing spell we discussed during the campaign (and there were a few), it’s an absolute crime that witches don’t have nightmare on their list.

(It’s not like it’s even a good spell, it’s awful, but it just drips flavor…)

We ended before I got to pull a Xykon and fly across a battlefield on a giant, invisible zombie dragon.

It was too bad that Balin never resurfaced. If I were to edit the published adventure, I'd put his son in the training dungeon and make the man himself the Inquisitor in Book 2. Probably with some buildup in the meantime. The sea journey in Book 1 seems like it might have been a good time to have him on the screen more distantly, in a chase type scene.

Constructive (?) Feedback:

-Work on atmosphere. Places where the PCs spent time, like the inn in Aldencross where we stayed or the town of Farholde, didn’t really get a recognizable atmosphere, which left the enemy faith feeling generic and the backdrop/campaign setting lacking in presence. Even the Horn, which had a lot of very rich descriptive text that could offer a base for a very rich atmosphere, didn’t necessarily see its atmosphere reinforced much after the first delivery of said text. As far as our organization (minions, soldiers, slaves, etc.), Gaer had a lot of scenes where he was partially acting for the benefit of a crowd of our assembled NPCs and minions (and Puella several too), but said audiences tended not to react, whether the scene was in PBP or IRC, and for me at least that gave the feeling of playing to an empty auditorium, which lessened the enjoyment of such scenes.

-Work on compartmentalization (partly of information, but also of attitude). Re: compartmentalization of information, I wouldn’t say that this was a major issue in the campaign, but I do think that sometimes new characters would come onto the scene seeming to already be treating us as the worst villains on the face of Talingarde, rather than learning about us through interaction (and thus us having a chance to choose which faces to show). This one is difficult to diagnose since I don’t really know what various NPCs might legitimately have known about us, but when it seems to be a pattern, a player can get to feeling like the barrier between DM and NPC is leaky. On a similar note, there are a few times where it was really difficult to imagine how on earth NPCs had the situational awareness required to act the way they did without using DM knowledge (examples might be Myrtle’s escape or Arissa’s murder). With this also I’m aware that diagnosing individual instances from the player’s side of the screen can be prone to error, but even if I’m missing pertinent information on some instances, I am not wrong on all of them.

On the compartmentalization of attitude part, I’ll remark that particularly often in the scenes of Gaerlan discussing things with various Mitrans (or a few neutrals), it struck me more like a character vs DM social contest than a character vs NPC social contest. If the character’s IC arguments have to convince the OOC DM in order to influence the attitude of the IC NPC, that’s a taller order than just sweet talking the NPC IC is (and of course we wouldn’t WANT to sway you towards evil OOC :p ). I think that the general absence of social rolls unless pushed by the PCs probably reinforced this, and using social rolls more regularly might be a good way of mitigating it. Even if you’re adjusting the target roll for NPC attitude or assessing modifiers for presenting an argument that is well or poorly suited to the NPC in question, the roll can provide a baseline for how to react that is a bit more flexible than the standard, hopefully difficult to achieve, of “does the DM find the character’s argument for evil personally convincing.”

Not just on oppositional interactions either; I think the campaign could have made a lot more use of skills in social situations overall, both in situations where the PCs were stymied and in ones where they succeeded. Myrtle scenes came and went without any checks that I saw, but we also established positive relationships with some characters without rolling any social checks. Examples: Tasker’s (temporary) recruitment could easily have been decided by a Diplomacy check, and if we want to show off how weak he is for wine and women and reward the PCs for having that information, slap a fat +10 on the check or something for offering the right inducements. The Gaer-Myrtle debates, trying to poke logical holes in faith, could easily have been supplemented (and pushed in a more IC direction) with opposed Knowledge (religion) checks.

-Work on handling railroading and special NPCs. This point is related to our chat after the game on Sunday. As a player I have some tolerance for railroading, which does have its time and its place. Sometimes the adventure requires that you hop on the train in order to get to the next part. That said, a railroaded failure is a touchier subject, and – to get into this campaign’s stuff – railroaded failure not for adventure requirements but instead to show off how special and incorruptible the NPCs are is touchier still. That’s the sort of thing that risks instantly sucking the fun out of all sorts of endeavors. My advice is to get further away from this sort of stuff, and try not to determine whether the players’ efforts will succeed or fail before you even know what we are going to try.

To take the example that brought this up, Annabeth, maybe Gaer just roleplays till he’s blue in the face, but what if he bites her? What if Puella gets involved? Wiping memories, like with Dostan, is low to mid-level stuff – by our quitting point, Puella either had or was close to having the ability to selectively edit them (I’ve forgotten whether I needed 5th or 6th). How arbitrary are you willing to seem to stick to your never-gonna-happen guns, when the game gives a suitably villainous PC the ability to forcibly apply evil templates, command fallworthy actions by enchantment, or even reach into a foe’s head and edit the scenes in their history that spurred them to become a good person? Or would you retreat on that front and let the PCs succeed in some ways (magic) but keep up the denial of Charisma, skills, and roleplaying to accomplish similar effects? That’s arbitrary too.

It’s just full of problems. I think that putting players on the social rail to fail more sparingly would serve you well. (To tie it to the feedback above, a bit heavier focus on dice-influenced outcomes instead of typically determining RP reactions by fiat might help here too). I’m not even necessarily going to say never do it ever – but not all the time. I have some respect for that sort of character. But if you must have it, in order to keep it special, keep it rare.

Getting on the same page with this issue was something that was on the radar since the first few sessions, but that never really occurred. Honestly, looking back at the early feedback it seems like we were closer to being on the same page in the first few sessions, with stuff like the below, than we ever actually got since then with the parades of incorruptibles.

Wardragon wrote:
Aluroon wrote:
While I'm ok with that coming up in game - and with it being the case with Myrtle - I'm confess I'm curious as to the source of her incredibly stubborn and fearless resistance and as to whether or not this is the more normative way you are going to run the populace. Is this your interpretation of how LG characters should act? Is it because she's a priest's daughter? Is it how the adventure path suggests most ordinary people should be run? If temptation, threats of violence or eath, torture, and corruption are going to be less meaningful tools as a whole on NPCs I'd rather know now before we get much further in and I put the time and effort into using them.


No, most people will fall somewhere on the spectrum between Myrtle (steadfast resistance) and Irena (broken almost effortlessly).


-Work on managing comfort level proactively (this bit is more relevant to evil games I'm sure). Not saying the party didn’t push you some here, but the lesson here would be to try to anticipate any comfort level issues when we first run our ideas past you and maybe we talk about it then and end up incorporating themes into our characters that are less on the Game of Thrones* side of the scale and more on the JLU cartoon villain side. When character ideas are first being proposed is a good time to provide guidance on what you see working well and what less well, whether that’s overall themes like a witch themed on discipline and suffering or a knight with a twisted take on love, or whether it’s simple stuff. I know feedback covered some of this stuff already.

*I’m apparently the only player who doesn’t watch the show directly, but my impression from youtube clips and general osmosis is that, whether or not we went quite as far as the show does, the graphicness and such was on the same order of magnitude.

-----------

Looking back on the feedback, I want to close by saying that I appreciate you running the game, I did have plenty of fun, and I’m not mad that the game ended when the fun seemed to have decreased. Such is the way of things. I hope the feedback is useful to you.


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2017 8:48 pm 
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Coriat wrote:
-Lucavi singing to Calliaste as Puella sawed off Ellenothae’s wings


I thought that (Lucavi to Calli) was particularly inspired. Here's a couple more.

The Count of Lucavi Cristo
Lucavi's End?


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Sat May 13, 2017 7:07 pm 
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Just on the off chance that anyone still cares at this point, here is a peek at how the rest of the campaign would probably have gone. Might not want to read, if you ever might be interested in playing Way of the Wicked as a PC again. Anyway, let's start by filling in some backstory...

As you may have already guessed, Cardinal Thorn's real name was Samuel Havelyn, brother to Lord Thomas, uncle of Sir Richard. Their father openly favored his warrior son over the bookish priest, but sibling rivalry didn't really come to a head until Thomas and Samuel both fell in love with the same woman. Bronwyn of Balentyne was perhaps the greatest beauty of her generation, and though she cared for both brothers, she fell hard and fast in love with the handsome knight, a love the stuff of fairy tales. Samuel, burning with jealousy, called for the first time upon the powers of Hell, and placed a curse on his brother and Bronwyn on their very wedding night. This curse caused Bronwyn to die in childbirth, changing Thomas into the grim and melancholy figure later seen in the campaign.

In other words, all this war, death, and misery started because a pretty girl friendzoned a nerd to hook up with his jock brother.

Ahem. After taking his revenge, Samuel used his Infernal pacts to rise high in the Church of Mitra, attaining the rank of Cardinal before he was found out as an Asmodean. Even when he was burned at the stake with his library of blasphemous lore as kindling, his dark gifts allowed him to survive the pyre, if only just. He would have still died, buried in a shallow, unmarked grave, but King of Hell had plans for his last worshipper in Talingarde; Asmodeus sent his agent, the pit fiend Naburus, to renew Samuel's pact. Naburus healed him, anointed him the high priest of Asmodeus, gave him both power, and his new name: Adrastus Thorn.

Thorn then spent the next two decades on a pilgrimage across the world and the Lower Planes gathering power, allies, and resources for his coming war of revenge. At last, all the pieces were in place, and he needed only his Ninth Knot, composed of the most ruthless and effective dastards in Talingarde. He found them in Branderscar prison. And that, of course, is where you came in.

We now move ahead, past the parts of the story that you already know, to the Vale of Valtaerna (Ghastenhall was pretty much mined out of story hooks, unless you really wanted there to be more). Following a possible cameo by Richard, Myrtle, and Richter, then a brief infiltration to break open the gate, you would lead your gathered forces in the Battle of Saintsbridge. This battle was to mark the half-way point of the campaign, and as such, would be a massive, cinematic affair designed to push you all to the very limits of your endurance. At least one or two named minions were going to die memorably here. Besides the regular Talirean foot soldiers, there would have been lammassu, clay golems, dwarves, monks, clerics, good-aligned fey, paladins riding celestial griffons, and more angels and archons than you could shake a holy stick at.

That would leave you in control of the Vale, except for the Cathedral and the Phoenix Mountain. The mountain, besides the phoenix itself, is home to one of the three sacred flames that you need to extinguish, and its peri guardian. Any pure-hearted mortal who touches all three flames becomes a divine spellcaster of Mitra; without them, the rate of new clerics, paladins, and inquisitors among your enemies would be slowed to a trickle. After defeating the peri and phoenix (perhaps two phoenixes if you got past them too easily), you could claim one of the most valuable prizes in the entire campaign: the phoenix's nest. Twelve of the thirteen eggs would hatch into mere firebirds (templated rocs). They could be sold to a master animal trainer for a high price, but the true phoenix egg would beggar its siblings by far. To sell it for a fair price, you would need to visit Union, the City of Brass, or another planar trade city, or else you could drain its essence to create numerous powerful magic items yourselves.

The last major obstacle before penetrating the temple comes when Ara Mathra calls in a favor from an old friend; the storm giant Antaeus. He would fly in with his pair of rocs, flock of hippogriffs, and a sentient weapon, actually a xiuh coatl (lifted from the Hell's Vengeance AP). Defeating him, and complying with the Father Below's request that the giant be sacrificed to him, would corrupt the hippogriffs into your service.

Finally, the Cathedral of Mitra Made Manifest awaits! It exists on the edge of a demiplane, making it impossible to bypass its defenses with flight, teleportation or divination. First, you would have to navigate the hedge maze, and its attendant puzzles, whose solutions depend on piety and humility; the maze is also guarded by a female leonal, a pack of blink dogs, and a herd of kirin. At the center of the labyrinth is the Cathedral's courtyard, with the second sacred flame, and a trio of guardians, all 14th level. The Master of Serenity, Sambetha the Oracle of Mitra, and Magister Aegwynna, grieving mother of the sorcerer in Tengille's Ten.

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After they're defeated, you would enter the Cathedral itself. It is inhabited by more clerics, more celestials, both generic and named, iron golems, and roving bands of paladin ghost-martyrs (which the authors seem to have shamelessly cribbed from OotS). It has numerous record-chambers and ossuaries begging to be destroyed, a sealed vault of evil items, including Gaius' cup, and an incomplete artifact bastard sword called Helbrand that I was really looking forward to giving Gaerlan. It's usable, and not at all weak, with just the blade, but would become a truly powerful, sentient weapon as you found the pommel and hilt. Prince Gaius, by the way, would quite happily keep his end of the deal if the chalice were returned, or you could screw him over and use it to become a vampire without help. That would, of course, make a determined enemy of him instead of a willing ally.

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Ara Mathra himself is protected by a wall of holy fire, impassable for now; to extinguish it, you must first defeat the Lord-Abbot, Earmon MacCathlain, mortal leader of the Order of St. Maccarius (who, by the way, not only helped Myrtle, but regenerated Richter's tongue). He is one of the most powerful divine spellcasters in Talingarde, accompanied by any of the guardians outside who escaped, and he is performing a ritual to summon an army of the ghost-martyrs to cleanse your evil from the Vale. With him dead, you could get the clue from his journal that you needed a saint's body to get through, and St. Maccarius' body is conveniently nearby. Ara Mathra himself, I hadn't quite decided how to make him a worthy final boss fight; possibly using mythic or divine rules. He would shed a single tear for your souls as the fight began, and repeat the prophecy of the son as he was banished back to the Heavens. With him gone, and the last sacred flame extinguished, Book Three ends with your report of success... and, if you left even the slightest chance of word getting out, the approach of the Talirean army with the coming of spring, King Markadian and the Sons of Balentyne riding at its head.

Book 4, Of Dragons and Princesses, begins with your escape from the Vale. You can either leave your army behind to delay the King with their lives while rescuing only named NPCs, or you can totally flout every evil overlord tradition by trying to save all of your worthless minions. The latter will result in a series of very difficult skill checks, but if successful, earns fanatical loyalty. Once you've gotten out, you would meet up with Sakkarot in Daveryn, freshly conquered and still being sacked by the bugbear horde. You can, of course, participate in the sacking if you so desire, and maybe even get a little sidequest to help out Grumblejack in the process. This is also the time for Sakkarot to reveal his full backstory, and his knowledge of the Cardinal's plans.

Thorn found him after he'd been exiled from his tribe, healed him, turned his brand of shame into the mark of Asmodeus, and gave him his infamous axe, and with it, his new name. In return, he would gather his people and the other humanoid tribes into an army, and lead them to victory over the Talireans... and then to final, utter defeat, against a human army flying the banner of Asmodeus. After he had changed from conquering warlord to Judas goat leading his own kind to the slaughter, gained the vengeance he no longer desired, he would be taken to Thorn's iron throne in the far north, to live out his days as a servant. He enjoys his time of glory, but knows it cannot last.

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Shortly after these revelations, Tiadora arrives right on schedule with your next mission. Once again, you're to finish up a job that another Knot bungled; the Third were tasked to assassinate King Markadian, but were foiled by Sir Richard and his friends. Now, surrounded by an entire army of his most elite and loyal soldiers, a direct attack on the king would be suicide. There is only one thing that would draw him out of that safety; a threat to his daughter: the Princess Belinda. And there is only one threat dire enough to convince her ample standing guardians to recall him to defend her personally, a threat of literally legendary proportion: the dragon Chargammon. Of course, making alliance with an ancient and evil dragon is no easy task.

Normally, Chargammon kills anyone who approaches his island home, but there are clues in Daveryn (via the wizard Polydorus's tower, a spy, Dessiter, or possibly Trik) as to a way to gain sufficient favor for an audience with the great wyrm. Chargammon's youngest son, Jeratheon Knightsbane (who appears to be a normal, if large for his age, Young Adult Black), invaded the Ansgarian mountains to claim them for his own; in doing so, he ran afoul of the Stormborn King, a mighty thunderbird who rules over several tribes of giant eagles. The dragon was defeated and captured, bound with a dwarf-forged chain the King's aerie while the eagles decided his fate. Rescuing him would earn what passes for his father's gratitude... or at least make him curious enough that he will hear what you have to say instead of eating you out of hand.

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Negotiating with Chargammon would have been the single most dangerous task in the campaign to date, by far. If you thought Gaius was prickly, he was nothing compared to this guy. As would be hinted by his son's description, Chargammon is a hybrid dragon; an Advanced Great Red Wyrm, with the powers and advantages of a Black dragon as well. I was also contemplating making him Mythic and adding a couple more templates (Smite Law? That sounds fun) if that didn't seem TPK-ish enough (though if you actually did manage to defeat him, that was one of the few ways you could have gotten Mythic yourselves; Vetra-Kali was the other up to this point). Chargammon is “quick to threaten, arrogant to the extreme, and takes everything said to him personally;” even the slightest hint of disrespect (*coughGAERLANcough*) will provoke him to violence against his uninvited guests. Only a fitting gift would earn you a second chance from him. Still, the primary obstacle to getting his agreement at this point is soothing his paranoia that this is a plot to lure him into an ill-conceived trap. Once that's done, he agrees to attack Matharyn and devour Belinda... provided that you perform one task in return for him.

The payment that Chargammon demands is the murder of his greatest rival, the Copper Wyrm Eirmanthus. Eirmanthus too lives on an island off Talingarde's western coast, a place transformed into a crystalline fairyland by an ancient sorcerous ritual gone awry. Unlike Chargammon, he does not live alone save for pets and slaves. Besides the oread caretakers and some extraplanar visitors, the Copper resides with his three beloved consorts: the cetaceal agathion Setia, the toshigami kami Sakura Yoshimune, and the redeemed tataka rakshasa Shakti Sobhara. You might, possibly be able to exploit some jealousy between them, but they're ultimately devoted enough to Eirmanthus they'll have to be fought.

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The Copper himself entertains his assassins jovially, until you attack him, or confess to working with Chargammon or killing his consorts. He is a tough fight, but if alone, one that can be beaten fairly routinely. After he is dead, you can take his head to Chargammon, but probably not before plundering his hoard, assuming you can get through its puzzle lock. It's got a suitably long list of fun stuff, including books that could advance Talingarde's technology by at least a century, and instructions to a ritual that could be tuned to either blot out the sun over Talingarde, or drag the entire island into Hell. The two most immediately interesting items are Helbrand's pommel stone, and an imprisoned demilich known as the Nameless Tyrant.

The Tyrant tries desperately to bargain for release, and will even trade the secrets of lichdom for it, but immediately attacks if you are foolish enough to break open its crystal prison. Perhaps the most appealing treasure to you guys, though, might be the island itself. With the defenders dead, there is nothing to stop you from claiming it as your own...

However, at the moment of Eirmanthus' death, Dessiter arrives to congratulate you. He also brings a warning; he claims that Cardinal Thorn has grown to fear your growing power, and plots to betray you, before you “inevitably” betray him. He says that after Markadian is dead, you will be invited to Thorn's fortress, the Agathium, and urges you not to go. Dessiter claims not to care who rules Talingarde, only that it is a realm that worships Asmodeus, and he no longer believes that Thorn is capable of carrying the plan through... but you are. To back up his words, he recounts whatever of Thorn's backstory you hadn't already figured out. He reveals that it was not Mitra, but Cardinal Thorn's magic who snatched his nephew, the paladin Richard Havelyn, from death at your hands. A hidden magic in the iron circlets allowed his scrying to bypass the Horn's interference, and he unable to bear losing all that remained of the woman he loved.

Chargammon is delighted that you've plucked the thorn from his side, and even more so if one or more of Eirmanthus' consorts is brought to him, to devour alive. He agrees to assault the Adarium, the royal palace at Matharyn, eager to feast on the flesh of a virgin princess for the first time in long years. He also punishes Jeratheon for being incompetent enough to get captured, by compelling his son to serve the Nessian Knot for one hundred years, accompanying this with a savage beating. Jeratheon is so terrified of his father that even if Chargammon were slain, he would never believe it enough to defy this command, leaving him as your loyal slave.

Way of the Wicked wrote:
Does Chargammon Love His Son?

Yes, in his own violent sadistic utterly evil way, Chargammon loves his children. Chargammon is more than twelve hundred years old. It is unlikely he will ever sire another clutch of eggs. Besides, he has slain all the eligible female chromatic dragons in Talingarde to secure his own power. Aside from his own life, Chargammon values his children more than anything else. That said, Chargammon is a model of chaotic evil parenting.

From Chargammon’s point of view the best thing he can do for his son is be cold, ruthless, brutal and vicious to him at every turn. By doing these things, he will ensure his son survives and becomes the strongest dragon he can be. So when Chargammon beats his son for being captured and then sentences him to a century of servitude that is actually Chargammon’s way of saying “I love you, Jeratheon.” It’s touching, really.


All that remains now is the death of the king. Entering Matharyn, the most solidly loyal and devout city in Talingarde, then penetrating the Adarium, the royal palace, is an exercise left to your 15th level ingenuity. There are opportunities to get a glimpse at its layout, but it shouldn't be too difficult; a fact worth noting, however, is the entire palace is protected by both mage's private sanctum and forbiddance (LG, password). Once inside, assuming you stick to the plan, you have to deal with squads of human and dwarven guards, the court wizard who also serves as Belinda's tutor, the Iraen ambassadors, and a few more golems and celestials. One of the celestials, waiting in Markadian's private sanctum, where he'll arrive via word of recall, is a brijidine specifically marked for death by Dessiter. You can also recruit the one or two survivors of the Sixth from the city's prisons. Finally, two items of interest in the palace are Helbrand's hilt, and the Liber Darian, the complete family history of the Darian dynasty, with which one stroke of a pen could legitimize the next king...

At midnight, a month after your meeting with him, ready or not, Chargammon attacks. Hundreds of soldiers die in futile efforts to stop the ancient monster. In panic, one of the few people with the power to summon the king does so, and moments after the battle begins, Markadian and his personal retinue appear in the sanctum... where, hopefully, you would be waiting. The king himself is a mighty warrior (suzerain human fighter 18, with a refluffed Mutation Warrior archetype to represent angelic channeling), and his guards are both skilled and devoted (a 16th level cleric, inquisitor, and stalwart defender, and group of 12th level knights), but ultimately, this is a foregone conclusion. Almost simultaneous to this, two other battles are being fought that will shape Talingarde's future.

One is very near indeed; as Chargammon reaches the princess' tower, he finds she has a a final line of defense: Sir Richard and the Sons of Balentyne, joined by Myrtle, now anointed as an oracle and inquisitor of Mitra. The battle between them is epic, a true clash of titans, and tests the old monster as nothing has in centuries... but in the end, the dragon stands triumphant over the battered do-gooders. He is just about to finish them, when he smells something different, something... familiar. His eyes lock on the Princess, standing tall and glorious in her awakening power. “Antharia!,” he hisses. “Ah,” Belinda replies, “you've met my mother.” The dragon lunges, but age and wounds have slowed him, and he has no chance to avoid the torrential blast of freezing energy she unleashes directly down his throat. This polar ray is the first time in her life Belinda has truly cut loose with her inborn gifts, but it will not be the last. She helps Sir Richard to his feet, and they tell her all about the Knot of Thorns as they teleport away from Chargammon's frozen corpse.

The other battle is far away, at Fallingbridge before the ruins of Daveryn. Sakkarot's hoard have taken position in one of the strongest defensive points in the kingdom, captured wholly intact by treachery. Bereft of the King's leadership, commanded by a general in league with the enemy, wave after wave of Talirean soldiery crashes futilely against it. When at last the gates are broken open, mounted knights ride down the giants, trolls, and ogres waiting within, only to be carved to ribbons by the Fire-Axe and his personal retinue. After watching his army destroyed to a man, General Vastenus Barca of the Canian Knot breaks a clay tablet. Tiadora arrives, murders his other officers, and whisks him away to await his promised crown at the Agathium.

Book Five, The Devil My Only Master begins exactly as Dessiter predicted; within a day of Markadian's death, Tiadora comes to invite you to the Agathium, so that Thorn can personally congratulate you. If you are dumb enough to accept the invitation, you are of course walking walking into a trap. With only the actual members of the Knot against all the force that Thorn can bring to bear on you, that would probably end the campaign right there, but if you won, it would turn the rest of the chapter into a cat-and-mouse game with Thorn. If you refuse, Tiadora will talk for a while, and drop some exposition, but is eventually compelled to try and force you to go with her, revealing her true form in the process:

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After she's slain or subdued, her brother Dessiter arrives with an invitation as well; to meet his true master, the pit fiend Naburus, Baron of the Fourth Perdition, Knight of Asmodeus' Sixth Praetorian Legion, Gatekeeper of the Eleventh Infernal Portal, Emissary to this world. Though you've never even heard his name before, Naburus has in many ways been the architect of the entire campaign. He rescued and empowered Thorn, gave him the impetus to begin his plan of vengeance. If you refuse this invitation too, you would effectively be cutting ties with Hell's official hierarchy altogether. If you agree, odds are good that Naburus will agree to back any play you make against Thorn, and anoint you as Hell's primary representatives in Talingarde, selecting a new high priest of your choice (ironically, he himself would prefer Puella if she were to convert, or be promoted, to Asmodeus. He considers her “wasted on that lecherous fop of the Fourth”).

Naburus also reveals why you can't go after Thorn directly. He admits to granting the high priest considerable leniency in his bargaining, as well as being surprised by Samuel Havelyn's canniness; although he can be stripped of the title of high priest, and Asmodeus will not grant further high miracles after his shameful rescue of Sir Richard, the terms of the contract make it impossible to outright strip him of his power (either class features, or the Devil-Bound template), without Hell being found in default. Furthermore, Thorn has taken steps to secure himself; he removed his own still-beating heart, bound it in a chain of iron thorns, and made it into a phylactery for his soul. Should he be slain while the heart still exists, he will rise as an immortal lich.

Refusing Thorn's invitation, of course, has confirmed his worst suspicions about you, and while you search for the phylactery, you will be harassed non-stop by his devilish assassins. This is also the time when Vetra-Kali takes his opportunity for vengeance. Finally, while hunting, you have an opportunity to corner the Sons of Balentyne as they search Chargammon's lair for his hoard at Princess Belinda's order (pointlessly, since another dragon already stole it, but you could find out and hunt it down if you're so inclined). If you take them out now, they won't be able to interfere in your plans further, but Thorn will have more time to harry you and possibly increase his phylactery's defenses, so it's a matter of which risk you feel like taking.

If you do go after them, it will be all the survivors from the last fight, including a resurrected Meaghan, and a contingent of knights, and angelic allies enough to counter whatever forces you bring to bear (though Meinhard may have been replaced by someone more faithful). Myrtle will be with them as well, in her new “Chosen of Mitra” form. They will reveal before or during the fight that Belinda has left Talingarde to gather allies and resources to retake the kingdom from the forces of Hell, and that they have already found and released a cure for the Tears of Achlys; a self-replicating celestial spirit, called forth by the dragon Antharia Regina, that will hunt down and purge every last trace of the daemonic contagion, wiping it from the Mortal Coil forever.

When they are defeated, Richard's faith, already cracked by the horrors inflicted on his beloved Talingarde, is broken. You have the opportunity to corrupt him now, though Dessiter will appear and outright beg for the chance to offer the knight a contract himself; it's his dearest ambition to be the agent of a Paladin's fall. You can, of course, also simply kill him, and put him out of your misery. Regardless, Myrtle (and Richter if he's still alive), will be swept away in a flash of divine light, even as the darkness claims Richard's soul.

Once that's done, the phylactery itself is your next step. There are ample opportunities for clues to its location, and I have faith that you'd be resourceful enough that finding it won't prove any great challenge. Thorn had enlisted a powerful, yet unwitting guardian by hiding his heart in the lair of Talingarde's third great dragon, the cairn linnorm Nythoggr. He dwells, appropriately enough, in an ancient cairn, built by a long-vanished race, in the farthest Savage North. The cairn has passed from the hands of its creators, to bugbears, to ice elves through the centuries. Now, haunted by wraiths, banshees, and predators of the Darklands, it is a perfect lair for the death-aspected wyrm. Nythoggr himself gives little opportunity for anything other than a straightforward battle, but it is possible to avoid combat by stealth, or a clever trap to lure him away from his home long enough to secure Thorn's heart (though that does, of course, deny you his hoard).

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Once you have it, you can either destroy it right away, or wait until confronting Thorn; destroying it stops him from using it to scry on you, but keeping it lets you weaken him during the battle. Either way, the battle with your former master is all that remains. You track him to his iron fortress, which he has re-named the Agathium in mockery of Markadian's Adarium; once the stronghold of the Nameless Tyrant, rebuilt by Thorn's infernal minions into a grand temple to Asmodeus, it has long been the heart of darkness upon Talingarde.

The entry is guarded both by lethal magical traps, and one of Thorn's mightiest servants; Ingolfr Issox, the Ice-Axe, king of the frost giants. He was to have led the second wave of the monstrous invasion if the Fire-Axe had failed, but Sakkarott succeeded beyond all expectations, and so this son of Ymir has long sat idle in the North. He is now impatient, spoiling for a fight, and Thorn has promised him warm-blooded victims; namely, you.

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He is the single most dangerous melee threat faced in the campaign so far, more skilled than Markadian and stronger than Eirmanthus... but still, he and his retinue are ultimately only a melee threat, with no real tricks or twists. After he goes down, you can meet with his bride, Queen Ellisif; fortunately, she immediately sees becoming an ally of the future lords of Talingarde as a step up from a hulking simpleton's trophy wife. The giant queen (a priestess of Fimbulwinter, the same mysterious entity worshiped by Elise Zadaria) will trade her knowledge of the Agathium's lower levels and the future services of frost giant warriors for a promise, sealed by blood oath on the nearby altar, of a place on your new kingdom's privy council and a guarantee of the frost giants' traditional lands. Also, she may be a potential lover, if any of the smaller folk are so inclined.

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With nothing left on this level but Hellish decorations and the aforementioned altar that can reward you for valuable sacrifices, you can proceed downwards. The second level is guarded primarily by the Second Knot, Thorn's personal bodyguard. Once, this Knot consisted of the fanatic antipaladin Marcel Wulfram, the mad wizard Grigori Sherkov, and a squadron of twelve graveknights bound to the fortress itself; but now, its ranks have swelled, ironically thanks to the Ninth sending it so many quality recruits. Lucavi, his mind and body twisted almost beyond recognition, more writhing chains than flesh and blood; Franz Mott, remade into warrior of darkness, and eager to rejoin his rabble-rousing beloved; Abbess Temperance, and her disciple Valeria, once-bride of the Fire Undying, both either broken or joined the ranks of the undead; and the shambling corpses of Thomas Havelyn and Sir Balin, inhabited by devilish spirits, have joined the elite Disian Knot. Fighting them all at once is likely suicide, so as per usual, divide and conquer should be the order of the day.

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Besides the Second Knot proper, the undertemple contains yet more traps, a pair of blue raveners (aka, Paizo-dracoliches) bound by gate spells into resentful service, and general Vastenus Barca of the Eighth Knot, no longer sure if he is awaiting his promised crown, or his doom. You can, of course, do with him what you will. The apparent throne room is a trap; sitting on the throne is a mindless skeleton with a hat of disguise, and just entering it triggers a truly horrific combination of lethal spells, resetting every three rounds (trust me, I would do better than the puny mage's sword in the book). There are two hidden doors here, one you need to find and one that you really want to find; the latter leads to Thorn's treasure vaults. Thorn himself, naturally, has their key, which both opens it and bypasses the trap on the door. Besides a large amount of cash and gems, it contains a portrait of Bronwyn, a book outlining Thorn's entire master plans, and the Hadean Signet – an artifact with the powers of a ring of ultimate defense +5, regeneration, sustenance and arcane signets that grants spell-like abilities as it's charged with the blood of good spellcasters or outsiders (it's also a trap, but more on that in Book VI). It's worth emphasizing that once it bonds to a character, only death can remove it, leading to a potential rivalry among PCs.

The other secret passage leads to Thorn's true throne room. He knows you are coming. He knows, by now, that this is a battle he cannot win. But he will give battle nevertheless, with everything he has left to him. (Cardinal Thorn – Pit-Fiend-Bound Human Cleric 10/Evangelist 10, of Fire, Magic, and Trickery; he's one of two or three fights where I would have allowed myself to use disjunction on you.) He fights alone, with only immediate summons at his side, and I would hope, for the sake of drama, you'd accord him the same courtesy, rather than swarming him under with trash. If the phylactery is not destroyed before he dies (doing so counts as a called shot), his revival as a lich is almost instantaneous, and he continues the battle unabated. If it is, or once his undead form is destroyed, he makes one final speech, realizing that he was never meant to carry this plan to the end, and tells you he is proud of you, as he falls into the fire.

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Now, you are the masters of the Knot of Thorns. The masters of Talingarde. The skies outside the Agathium rain blood, as the King of Hell anoints his new champions, the Nessian Knot. When you return to the cities south of the wall, it is as conquerors.

Throughout Book VI, The Wages of Sin, you have substantial freedom of action, with the whole island as your playground. The easiest way to solidify your control and officially take over, is by following through with the rest of Thorn's plan. Namely, go to meet up with the Sixth Knot on the mainland, finalize the contract with the mercenary army they've gathered, and convince Sakkarot to follow through on his promise to betray his horde to destruction. The Fire-Axe is a goblin of his word, and though his 'killers' have become like his own children, he will uphold the bargain if asked. Indeed, if you try to keep the horde and have a second army, it will be nearly impossible to hold them back from sacking Matharyn, in vengeance for centuries of marginalization. You may also be tempted to cut loose, and wipe them out in a massive conflagration of magic and dragon's breath; that will work, but the folk of Talingarde would be vastly more accepting of a human army marching to their rescue, even one flying the banner of Hell.

Once the plans are laid, the only thing you need be involved with personally is dealing with a group of die-hard giants who survive the ambush and manage to reach the one escape point from the killing field. As an aside, once the horde is wiped out, trolls, ettins, and hill giants will be effectively extinct in Talingarde, and Grumblejack will be the only surviving adult male ogre. Then, once the fates of Sakkarot and the corrupted Sir Richard (aka, Sir Berithor) are decided, it's on to Matharyn. At the capital city, you find a populace overwhelmed with joy at the death of the Fire-Axe's marauders, and a small delegation of officials who are nervous and suspicious at the size of your army. Dealing with either should prove no great challenge, and you can then set about restructuring the kingdom to your whim.

The middle of the chapter is basically the empire-building tyranny-sandbox that you'd all wanted from the start. There will be a few hitches, of course; the High Inquisitor, Solomon Tyrath, was charged by the Princess to lead a resistance, and expose you as monsters to the populace (and he will eventually try to assassinate you himself). As for Belinda herself, she is protected by a major artifact, the Veil of Mitra, which renders her and her companions utterly immune to all forms of divination; there will be no anticlimactic tracking her down, you must wait until she comes to you. Given the subtle help you all have gotten from Asmodeus throughout the campaign, this is merely a balancing of the scales. You wouldn't have known it IC or OOC, but you have three years before she returns to reclaim her home.

I'm sure those three years will be eventful ones; there are seven great trials, and numerous smaller, optional events provided in the book. Duke Hadrian wishes Ghastenhall to remain neutral in your war with Belinda; demonic assassins make their play for a slice of the pie; the Tears of Achlys re-emerge in an isolated town; faithful children journey to Valtaerna to call forth angelic spirits; the DeMarco's home nation sends its two most beautiful courtiers (one male, one female) to seduce the new rulers of the isle; a pair of shoggoths break free of their ancient prison, threatening to overrun Talingarde; and finally, the Army of the White Unicorn arrives on your shores. I have faith you would have thought of things that never occurred to the writers, or me.

Possibly worthy of special mention is the artifact you picked up in Thorn's vault, the Hadean Signet; to attain its full power it must be doused in the blood of three powerful outsiders; a celestial, a fiend, and a titan or titanspawn. All three will be available, and each grants a distinct property to the ring, each of which would be highly useful in the campaign's climax. But... remember I mentioned it's a trap? Should you activate all three abilities, it will fly from your hand, resurrecting and summoning its original master, a Thanatotic Titan, a being who once challenged the very gods for supremacy, and stood at the right hand of the Horseman of Death. The titan cannot die while the ring exists, and it can only be destroyed by dousing it in his heart's blood.

Further information about the thirty different possible events is available upon request, but suffice to say there are a huge variety of ways you could strengthen, or weaken, your rule and have lots of evil fun. A few highlights include chartering Talingarde's first school of wizardry, purging or corrupting the Church of Mitra and remaining Knights of Alerion, crushing and/or undermining the resistance, interpreting Grumblejack's prophetic dreams, legalizing all sorts of forbidden vices, slaying the Caothach Ool (a bandersnatch most frumious indeed) to fulfill an old Iraen prophecy and gain the tribes' allegiance, and finally conquering the Savage North to unify the entire island.

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Finally, after three years in exile, the Army of the White Unicorn returns. Belinda brings with her a relatively small, but elite mortal army, drawn from the remnants of her father's forces, volunteers from righteous nations the world over, and fully five-hundred experienced adventurers. Their ranks will be swelled by the resistance and disgruntled citizens, depending on how angry you made your new subjects. Still, no matter how lightly you rule, House Darius remains too beloved, and the souls of the people too strong to knuckle under easily, and the longer you wait to meet her, the more Talireans will rally to Belinda's banner to throw you down. No matter how brilliant he was, Thorn was too much a cynic to realize from whence the kingdom's true strength came.

The army's leaders, of course, are the true threats; if Belinda lives, it matters not what forces you bring to bear. If she is slain (and remains dead), your victory is complete at long last. Brontes Godhammer, an Elysian Titan, is their general, and it was he who drew most of the Heroes Brigade to the cause. He might be felled by only the greatest of your minions, but it would be a costly battle. Once he falls, his lieutenants and comrades rush to avenge his death: mighty azata and agathions, the great champions, high priests, and archmagi of half a dozen kingdoms. They will fail, and they will die... but every spell and hit point they make you expend is a small victory in itself.

The way to the Princess and her celestial host of guardians is laid bare, or so it seems. As you draw near, from atop the two great stone spires, a shining flight of silver and gold dragons shed their invisibility and human guises and swoop down to meet you; Antharia's younger siblings, elder children, and their mates annihilate all but a handful of your strongest allies in a hurricane of frost and fire. As you battle them, Belinda, her mother, and their angelic cadre make their final preparations and join the fight. Three Solars, bearing the three aspects of Mitra, have been sent to strike you down; seven Star Archons, among them the soul of the Victor himself, are charged with protecting and supporting his last living descendant (and surely his destruction will make your claim all the sweeter). If you haven't already dealt with them, Myrtle and Richter are here as well, to fight you at the last as they were at the beginning.

Antharia Regina, the Elder Wyrm of Talingarde, is clad in shining armor, bears the light of Mitra in her eyes, and she has learned the imprisonment spell for just this occasion. Belinda herself shines gloriously in the fullness of her power, pulsing with magic and destiny, her divine right to the throne you've stolen almost a tangible thing in the air (half-dragon suzerain aasimar sorceress 20). There is no avoiding this battle, no bypassing it with tricks, and no quarter can be asked or given. And your victory must be absolute, for if any of your opponents escape, they can resurrect the others, given enough time. In other words, I was gonna pull absolutely no punches in this one.

But once this final battle is done, you have won. Utterly and completely. All thought of resistance in the hearts and souls of Talingarde is shattered by their beloved Princess' defeat, and there is none able or willing to challenge you. All Mitra can do is weep as his beloved holy kingdom is twisted into a nearly-literal Hell on earth. Each of you will have a chance to describe how you will shape and mold Talingarde to your will in the years and centuries to come. Thus ends, for now at least, the Way of the Wicked...


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Sat May 13, 2017 9:30 pm 
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I'd mentioned before, that there's a campaign variant about running the whole thing with a party of vampires, totally de-emphasizing the Asmodean connection. That takes up a chapter in the seventh book, a suplement released after the main campaign. However, there's also a series of blurbs for less extensive modifications. Just for shits and giggles, here they are:

The Last Cult
The Asmodean Purges begun under Markadian IV called the Zealous are complete. Te last few hold outs have been captured and the last cults have been broken. The infernal scrolls are all burned. The sacrificial altars are all defiled. The horns of hell are broken. The PCs know that they are the last remnants.

At campaign’s start, they are being shipped from across Talingarde to Branderscar to face the inquisition of Mitra. They already know the sad truth – there is no one left to sell out. All their brethren are captured or dead. But there is hope. Whispers persist that one last high priest survives hiding in some secret refuge beyond the Watch Wall far to the north. Surely, this dark savior will not abandon the last of his flock in their most desperate hour.

In this variant, everyone plays clerics of Asmodeus. Cleric is an incredibly versatile class. The difference between clerics of evil, fire, law, magic, and trickery is considerable. Yet all of these are domains of Asmodeus. The players will need minions of course. Already as written, they can recruit Grumblejack the ogre, but there will need to be other minions available that allow them to flesh out skills and abilities outside their class.

Multiclassing would be allowed but every character must have more levels of cleric than any other class. Prestige classes that increase clerical spell casting do not count towards this limitation. A cleric 2/rogue 1 would be permissible as would a cleric 5/loremaster 7. A cleric 1/rogue 2 however would not be allowed under this house rule. (GM's note: I'd personally allow Inquisitors and Oracles, too.)

At every turn, emphasize this campaign as an (un)holy crusade. They are servants of the devil god and work tirelessly for his exultation. Together they will rebuild the temples that the Asmodean Purges pulled down. This variant is a particularly simple one to implement. Almost no changes are necessary. Cleric is such a powerful and versatile class that there is little they cannot handle.


The Blackfire Tribe
Instead of criminals, the PCs are the captured last remnants of the Blackfire goblin tribe. Every PC must play a goblin. Te magistrates of Talingarde haven’t bothered to try these weedy little monstrosities with anything. Instead, they are to be publicly executed to show the people that the regime works tirelessly to hunt down any dangers that may threaten the populace.

The Blackfire tribe was always an odd one. Instead of being neutral evil, the PCs are lawful evil. The Blackfrie tribe always was surprisingly well organized for goblins. But now with their last chieftain slain, those damnable ‘Tallies’ seem to have won the day. Is there any way to bust out, hook up with a new boss and make the ‘Tallies’ sorry they ever messed with the Blackfires? We will find out.

Tiadora doesn’t visit under the pretense of being a heartbroken wife. Instead, she takes a form of a fiery
shadow goblin and infiltrates the prison to deliver a scrap of cloth full of magic pictures. Cardinal Thorn has heard rumors that these goblins hold Asmodeus sacred and he needs goblinoids to safely deliver weaponry to Sakkarot. He tried sending humans – they were eaten.

Instead of a campaign about would-be dark lords, this is a campaign much more about the underdogs triumphant. Everyone always underestimates goblins. They are annoyances to be put down. Who could believe it was a small pack of goblins that infiltrated Balentyne and broke the Watch Wall? Who could ever imagine that it was goblins that seized the Horn of Abaddon and captured the fearful Tears of Achlys? And in the end, who could imagine that Talingarde was brought low not by any great lord of evil, but by a few dedicated little monsters?

The Knights of Nessus
Thorn will broke no rivals in his dominance over magic. Instead, he seeks to found an order of warriors
in service to Asmodeus. There are places in this new order for warriors who face their foe directly and more subtle assassins. The PCs will be Thorn’s sword and dagger. With these finely honed weapons, he will make Talingarde bleed.

No spellcasters are permitted – only barbarians, cavaliers, fighters, gunslingers, monks, ninja, rogues and samurai. Further no character may multiclass into a spellcasting class. Any prestige class that grants spells or spell-like abilities is also prohibited. A spell-less ranger class variant has been published that would be appropriate for this campaign. This is not necessarily a low magic campaign -- magic items become true treasures.

This variant requires some modification. Adjust the treasure so that spellcaster friendly items are replaced with those appropriate to the more martial classes. Also remember that any challenge that requires spellcasting is going to be inappropriate for this party. Magic items are still allowed so the party will have some magic, it will just be all item based. Magic healing is likely to be particularly prized.

This campaign is a chance to play a campaign where at last the fghter and the rogue will not be eventually outshined by the wizard and cleric. If nothing else, that alone should be a welcome change. Dark brothers of sword and dagger, unite!

The College of Thorns
Once the greatest college in all of Talingarde was dedicated to Asmodeus. And then the Church of Mitra came to power and its great library was burned. Any who resisted this fanatic luddite regime joined their books on the pyre. That was decades ago. In secret the College of Torns yet persists and you are the last of its members.

The college though was betrayed by one of its own members -- the Magister Tacitus of Morimun (see Book One). And now you languish in Branderscar. This is not the end. You will escape and reclaim the
lost secrets of arcane magic and punish Talingarde for its audacity. This time it will not be you who faces the fire. This time, it will be their sorrow that will shake the pillars of heaven.

This is a campaign where everyone gets to play wizards. Everyone must be a specialist wizard. Since everyone will have two prohibited schools, that means no one wizard will have the answer to every problem. They will still need to cooperate. Like the Last Cult above, multiclassing is allowed but restricted.

This variant requires some modification. Cohorts and minions become very important as wizards need protection while they weave their powerful magic. Perhaps from the beginning, Cardinal Thorn sends a couple of soldiers to accompany then on their journey to the north.

This campaign de-emphasizes the idea of Asmodeus as patron. Instead the wizards have their own very personal and secular reasons for destroying Balentyne and punishing Talingarde. What is certain is that this coven of sinister wizards will quickly chafe under their current master. After all, how long can evil wizards tolerate being in the service of a mere... cleric.

The Infernal Thain
Before the Talireans came, Talingarde was once ruled by dwarves. Everyone knows that. But what most do not know is when the Talireans arrived, they came as invaders. They besieged dwarven city after city until the great empire of the dwarves was broken. The few poor dwarves you see on the surface today are the servants who turned upon their masters and bowed before the humans. However, some houses of dwarven nobility still survive. This nobility, long corrupted by their worship of Asmodeus (whom they conceive as being a horned bronze-skinned dwarf) have a name – Duergar.

You are the last duergar house left in Talingarde. You have been discovered by the inquisitors of Mitra and dragged into the hated sunlight. They claim they will deliver justice upon you. Justice?! What do these invaders and usurpers know of justice! After half a millennium of oppression -- what a joke!

In the night as you rot in your cell, a shadow in the form of a beautiful bronze-skinned dwarven female enters and delivers a banner covered in ancient dwarven script. “You are not alone,” the shadow whispers. “Beneath the manor house the greatest of your kin await your escape.” This is how the duergar are delivered the ‘veil’.

Cardinal Torn is not human. He is a duergar lich who dreams of reestablishing an Asmodean dwarven
empire upon Talingarde. But first the hated Talireans and their surface dwarf lackeys must be purged. How shall this be done? Trough the fire of war will you purify Talingarde. You will destroy them wherever they hide and then one of you will reclaim the title of Infernal Thain. But which one will rule when all is said and done?

The campaign needs little modification. Tiadora and Thorn must change and the Second Knot (Thorn’s guards who appear in Book V) should be duergar. Brother Thrane in Book III should be a traitorous dwarf who believes in the return of the Infernal Thain. And the army that comes from the mainland should be dwarven as well.

Using the iron circlets the duergar appear as normal dwarves and that is how they will move about Talingarde performing their missions. The duergar can take a feat, Sun Tolerance, that neutralizes their light sensitivity. You may even consider giving this to your PCs as a bonus feat.

Sun Tolerance
You have no love for the hated sun, but you have grown resistant to its effects.
Prerequisite: You suffer from light sensitivity.
Beneft: You suffer no penalty from light sensitivity


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 12:23 am 
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Posts: 1181
Quote:
. Once, this Knot consisted of the fanatic antipaladin Marcel Wulfram, the mad wizard Grigori Sherkov, and a squadron of twelve graveknights bound to the fortress itself; but now, its ranks have swelled, ironically thanks to the Ninth sending it so many quality recruits. Lucavi, his mind and body twisted almost beyond recognition, more writhing chains than flesh and blood; Franz Mott, remade into warrior of darkness, and eager to rejoin his rabble-rousing beloved; Abbess Temperance, and her disciple Valeria, once-bride of the Fire Undying, both either broken or joined the ranks of the undead; and the shambling corpses of Thomas Havelyn and Sir Balin, inhabited by devilish spirits, have joined the elite Disian Knot. Fighting them all at once is likely suicide, so as per usual, divide and conquer should be the order of the day.


So what was his secret to corrupting high priests and paladins and other such stubborn sorts? Looks like he would have batted a thousand :P

Would Lucavi have turned against us, then?


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 Post subject: Re: Way of the Wicked discussion
PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 11:40 am 
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Never. This is some Robilar/Bilaro twist.


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