Crisis of the World-Eater Alpha: Immortal Wrath of the Armageddon Angel
The second part (if you count the prologue) and first act of the Crisis of the World-Eater saga clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Well, before we do, let us briefly discuss what this is: “Crisis of the World-Eater” represents, depending on how you look at it, either a mega-adventure in 3 parts (plus Prologue) or an adventure arc. It is inspired, as the name notes, by the much beloved comic book event “Crisis of Infinite Earths”, with a healthy dose of Ultimate Galactus-shenanigens thrown in for good measure. (If you’re not familiar with these events: Crisis of Infinite Earths was a story that basically streamlined the myriad different worlds in the DC-universe; Galactus is a being of nigh-infinite power in the Marvel universe, a consumer of worlds. You know. A World-Eater. Galactus also has an immortal herald who scours the multiverse for suitable planets to consume, the “original emo”, perpetually angsty superhero/villain silver surfer.)
As you can glean, I am very much a comic-book guy; they were one of the reasons I learned English at a very young age…but I won’t drown the review in all the references I find and only note the most obvious ones and explain them, if possible. You don’t have to be into comic-books to enjoy this series….but there’s one aspect herein where the comic-book heritage of concepts becomes important.
You see, the module includes a brief discussion of “non-vancian work days”; as probably most of my readers know, the “limited uses per day” type of spellcasting, often termed “vancian”, is named after Jack Vance’s writing. It’s different from the magic assumed in comic book universes. And the adventure actually has suggestions on how to get rid of these limitations. On a grand total of slightly less than two pages. If the lack of scope didn’t make that abundantly clear: This doesn’t work. AT ALL. But due to more reasons than you’d expect. PFRPG’s mechanics are based on limiting powerful abilities to ensure at least a modicum of balance, and the book basically tries to jam a hackneyed, half-baked attempt of introducing 5e/Starfinder-ish short rests into a system not designed for it. Disaster ensues.
The guidelines are sketch-like at best, lack any form of proper depth and are basically wasted space. They also are somewhat insulting, insinuating: “While this functions reasonably well as a means of keeping your physics-defying wizards somewhat more in line with melee warriors, it’s less good when it comes to letting players feel heroic for more than ten minutes into the day.” This is condescension in its purest form; it did D&D 4th edition no good to talk smack about a system that the fanbase enjoyed; it does a 3pp-module even less good to do so for the system for which it was designed, particularly in light of the absence of any feasible alternative – which, granted, would require a 100+ page book of revisions and detailed guidelines. Instead of working *with* the system, the module basically tells you that you may be playing the game wrong if you want “heroic” fantasy.
I don’t know about you, but if PFRPG does one thing well, it’s heroic high-fantasy. And vancian magic, while not for everyone, certainly is not alone as a spellcasting option – psionics, akasha, ethermagic, kineticists, etc. In spite of its detractors, there are plenty of folks that love vancian magic.
Novaing, the phenomenon of PCs blowing out all steam and then resting, is both the result of a too lenient GM, immature players and sucky class design. None of which are remedied by the solutions offered. Warrior-characters get even less power in the system proposed? Behold the brilliant solution proposed within: Replenishing hero points (oh boy…), plusses and faster XP gain. Yeah, my unbelieving chuckle pretty much drowned in bile right there.
In short: These 2 pages are a very ill-conceived notion that could be taken as insulting, doesn’t work or address the problems resulting from implementation, and is an all-out bad idea of working against the system for which you design, rather than with it.
You know, there is something out there for over-the-top superhero-style escapades for PFRPG. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Mythic frickin’ Adventures.
I apologize. This section really made me angry, as it misleads less experienced GMs into making modifications to their game, potentially destroying it utterly. It’s the worst type of half-baked alternate rules you can imagine and lacks the foresight and detail to achieve what it tries to do. Steer clear of these suggestions.
Okay, here’s a brief history lesson on the genesis of the series:
The idea underlying the series was pretty amazing and a cool, unique selling proposition: Have one event that affects a variety of different 3rd party publishing worlds! Damn cool, right? Here’s the catch, though: The KS, back then, blocked this unique selling proposition behind stretchgoals, which robbed the series of its…unique selling proposition. The KS still funded, but it fell, in scope, flat of what it was supposed to be, as a result of not funding tie-ins into many beloved worlds. Making the project an all or nothing high-end goal or making all tie-ins one stretch-goal would have probably been more enticing for backers. (Why back a series in the hopes that it *may* tie in with the world you’re invested in?) I believed in the project, and LPJDesign did create the series, but I still had to take a step back from it and let some time pass, so that my own expectations would not color my reviews of the saga.
The following discussion contains notes on the assumptions of the series. These contain SPOILERS. Mild ones, but SPOILERS nonetheless.
Now, the first thing you’ll notice upon opening this book and reading about it, is that it does assume quite a lot. Where the prologue’s assumptions were pretty unobtrusive, this adventure does reference a cadre of pretty specific details about both the planet the series starts on, and the cosmology underlying the campaign. Let me elaborate: The PCs are assumed to be professional soldiers of the Confederate of Nations, the mightiest empire of the world, with 41 nations under its banner. This quasi-UNO/NATO-like scenario is bound to be different from the realities of pretty much any other setting. Even in NeoExodus, which is pretty close to the starting scenario, that won’t go over without a hitch. The adventure also introduces the “Faith of Maroen”, a new religion, which is roughly based on Christian ideas, with halos bestowed upon worshipers, a concept of an immaculate conception, etc. Both of these receive brief summaries, and both could have used a proper setting book to adequately shine.
These are also not tangential components, but more on that later. The plot suggests that Beginning, Ending, Change and Continuation, as personified physical entities, predated the gods, with Continuation having a cadre of agents called “Entropy,” a race hailing from the shadow plane (I’d have expected negative energy plane…), one that consists of energy. The greatest among these beings would be Omega, and it can grant basically super-powers via the Omega Force. Comicbook aficionados may knowingly nod here – parallels to Darkseid’s Anti-life Equation and Omega Beams are certainly intentional. Omega’s herald of sorts would be the astral titan Saitan.
I usually don’t comment on nomenclature. But really? This sounds either like Satan, you know, the devil, or like the tofu-ish wheat gluten, “seitan.” Either way is not really ideal and either cheesy or unintentionally hilarious. I’d strongly recommend renaming this poor fellow when running the series.
The herald of what gluten, pardon, Saitan, is the entity called Asa – the eponymous Armageddon Angel. Much like the silver surfer, Asa looks for worlds to destroy…and a survivor of one such world, the Chronicler, rendered comatose by Asa in a battle over the implicit world, attempted to warn the nations…but the predictions of doom fell on deaf ears. Only the Onyx Cabal and the PCs that tracked down the warning of the Chronicler seem to grasp how dire the situation is…until it was too late. In the aftermath of the prologue, the PCs are invited to a summit of the Confederate.
And this is why I felt the need to note that this module is NOT campaign-setting agnostic. Adaption to a given setting will require some work on behalf of the GM, also to explain why, in face of global annihilation, mass exoduses via interplanetary teleport or plane shift are no options; the heritage of the comic-book storyline does collide somewhat with the planar cosmology assumed by pretty much any setting in Pathfinder – a global effect, akin to those posited in 3.X’s brilliant “Elder Evils” book, would have gone a long way in explaining why paltry level 6 folks suddenly fight for survival of the whole planet.
So yeah, at this point, you can probably see some of my issues with contextualizing the adventure in a given world…but let’s move on to the module itself, shall we? It should be noted that the module sports well-written read-loud text and comes with 5 campaign traits of sorts.
From here on out, the SPOILERS reign! Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a bang as the PCs are en route to the summit: The carriage crashes, and a mental scream briefs them that Asa has arrived and must be stopped, before the “Deliverer of Omega” is called – we get some suggested random encounters, and the PCs have to make their way past Entropy-possessed beings towards Fort Nero. En route, the PCs can find the marble building called “Voice of the People” – with some minor encounters thrown in. The place is not mapped, but like many locales herein, does come with snippets of information for the players – a plus, as it foreshadows some foes faced later. (One of the founders mentioned by name, Saul Silver, will later be faced as a vampire…) I like this, but it once more assumes a depth of lore that implies a very specific setting – if you attempted to ignore the whole Confederate-angle, you’ll stumble over the like time and again.
A new monster, so-called entropy pods, herald the arrival of Asa, though their page references are “see page @@” – they are not the only ones, fyi; glitches like this and missed italicizations and similar formatting hiccups, alas, do haunt the otherwise professional presentation. Fort Nero comes mapped in full-color, but like the other maps, we do not get player-friendly versions sans key.
As the PCs make their way through the mook-y adversaries, they will arrive at the ruined Capitol building. Here, the PCs will have to fight Asa, and while the Armageddon Angel can’t be truly slain, an indistinct amount of soldiers will be firing and providing infinite healing for the PCs. Considering they’re level 6…that stretches the imagination somewhat. Asa’s artwork and statblock are btw. pretty cool and impressive, though a damage type that is untyped should be classified and some minor formatting and verbiage stuff may be complained about. After the first defeat, the PCs have two hours before Asa returns to life, fully healed. Okay. That was, kinda, expected after all the hubbub, right? However, know what Asa doesn’t have? Means to counter pretty much any sort of imprisonment. It’s almost sad. You don’t even need a proper imprisonment. You can pretty much render the much maligned armageddon angel utterly impotent via frickin’ resilient spheres. Forcecage. I could go on. At no Escape Artist ranks and CMB +18 and a Strength of 14, you could bind him with mundane tools.
But surely PCs never would think of double-tap-ing the frickin’ Armageddon Angel that heralds doom for the whole world…right? I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of the narrative, but this module asks us to accept a ridiculous amount of railroading. During the second combat with Asa (because, you know, PCs surely won’t do something to restrain him…), a silvery disk starts firing plasma upon Asa, helping the PCs. (No, plasma as a damage type is not defined – it should be noted that it’s traditionally half fire, half electricity. Not every GM is familiar with this esoteric energy admixture.)
The PCs are told that the only thing capable of saving the world now would be the Seed of Change, conveniently located beneath the very feet of the PCs in Vault II, as Major DePompa (what’s up with names here?) tells the PCs. Thus, the so far rather cinematic module becomes a dungeon-crawl through three levels of Vault II, wherein the PCs face undead guardians of the Seed, who once have been heroes of the Confederate. This is per se a really cool set-up and the encounter versus aforementioned Saul Silver has a unique hazard (though why chain-links on the floor require Strength to move and can’t be navigated via Acrobatics is anyone’s guess); indeed, this should have shocking consequences on the PCs. The beloved, legendary founding fathers/heroes of ages long gone, reduced to undead that can’t be bargained with? This could have had a ton of gravitas.
Only, it doesn’t. Because we know nothing about those heroes. The pdf does a valiant job at trying to foreshadow them, but for the proper payoff, these guys should have been household names for the PCs from the very start of their career. As provided, the impact is somewhat lost – same goes for the legendary gear the PCs get from defeating these bosses. The items are okay, though not exactly mind-boggling.
Ultimately, the PCs will get the seed; hereafter, Asa breaks free of the combat with the Chronicler (if he hasn’t already) or instantly revives, for a final showdown with the PCs, as he crashes through, suddenly, to the PC’s locale. Oddly, without getting a power-upgrade, which is a bit of a let-down and a pretty severe clash between flavor and crunch. The seed can destroy his omega blade, Asa falls and the PCs have a vision of things to come.
The module concludes with the chronicler opening a gateway to sidequests on 3pp worlds…that were never funded, as 5e-conversions (should have been part of the deal from the get-go) and sourcebooks were put as stretch-goals before them, diluting the focus of the series.
Big plus: The pdf comes with a bonus file: Adversaries of Crisis. This book, penned by Matt Medeiros with Louis Porter Jr., provides 12 pages of statblocks for high-level gameplay: ranging from CR 17 to 22, the NPCs depicted within this bonus pdf have unique super-power-like tricks, are fearsome to behold…and sport a couple of odd glitches like incorrect ranged BAB, missing gear-lines, italicizations that start in the middle of words where they shouldn’t…which is a pity, for per se, the ideas here are cool: We have a Green Goblin type of character, a super-deadly robot (30d6 force damage infinite gravimetric pulses, range: line of effect…) and similar beings. Per se, I liked these, but even the best designer can stumble with high-level statblocks, and these could have used a second set of eyes. As far as bonus content is concerned, I liked the NPCs herein very much, though. The bonus pdf has no bookmarks.
Editing and formatting are okay; while I noticed several avoidable formatting hiccups, and while the rules-verbiage isn’t always as tight as it should be, the module remains playable. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the artworks deserve special mention: The original pieces are downright gorgeous and impressive. Cartography is full-color and solid, but the lack of player-friendly versions is, at this point, a pretty sad state of affairs and detracts from the usefulness of the module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though that does not extend to the bonus-pdf, alas.
This was depressing. Michael McCarthy has written a ton of vastly superior modules, and Louis Porter Jr.’s influence can’t either be faulted for how this turned out, or the Gatekeeper-serial provided by the same team-up, turned out much better.
The issues of this module can be boiled down to one problem: It tries to make Pathfinder feel more like a comic-book-storyline, but attempts to do so in the most unfortunate way. The adventure suffers tremendously, more so than any module I’ve reviewed before, from the lack of context. We ultimately don’t care about the world, about the founders and legendary tools, because we have no idea about the setting.
Secondly, the adventure tries to be cinematic, and it can run that way – provided the PCs don’t try to jump off the VERY narrow rails – pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Asa, as a adversary, is amazing and deserved better; heck, the combats per se have this sense of cataclysmic events that is a joy to behold. But the module does not really seem to know how to negotiate the different realities of comic book storylines and PFRPG’s heavily codified rules.
It’s hard to suspend your disbelief, when the world-ending armageddon angel clocks in at a paltry CR 10 and has no means to escape bonds. Thing is: This storyline could have worked without those issues! Easily! If the module, instead of suggesting half-baked alternate rules, had focused on actually utilizing the wealth of materials that is here! If the PCs had the option to play as soldiers from level 1 onwards, build relationships, the payoff could have been EPIC:
As the PCs arrive at the Capitol, they rendez-vous with their NPC-friends. They are then given armies or troops to command – Asa fights as a super-powerful one-man-army and kills hundreds of soldiers; each hit Asa takes during the army-combat will bring down the angel a notch; then, have the PCs and their NPC allies fight the weakened angel, preferably as Asa mows down the troops the PCs command, cherished NPCs, etc. – make the victory, even with the chronicler’s disk, nigh impossible. And THEN encapsulate Asa in omega force, telling the PCs that the thing will respawn. As they look around, mourn their foes and see the carnage, the PCs will realize that they have no chance of bringing down Asa a second time, putting a hard timer on the Vault II exploration…instead of the almost comical, multiple defeats Asa faces in the module RAW.
Then, as the PCs get the seed, don’t have the angel suddenly dues ex machine into the complex; have an emergency broadcast hurry the PCs to the surface as the complex collapses around them. Why can they now defeat Asa? Simple. The seed made them mythic. (Come on, if the seed can’t make you mythic, what could??) Now, they can actually bypass the custom DRs that made the angel nigh-impervious before. Asa’s defenses obviously include immunities to being trapped and stopped, etc. There, done. I fixed the plot. How? Simple. I worked with what Pathfinder offers, instead of trying to half-heartedly change the system into something it’s not.
This same methodology could have been used to make the whole plot work better; global effects, perhaps even a cataclysmic death of all folks beyond a certain HD limit (the strong are consumed first…) and the like – Pathfinder has all the means to make this exact story work, without the glaring logic holes that this module suffers from. If you provide the set-up and rewrite the majority of the module, you can make this a truly glorious masterpiece of an adventure…but as presented, it became a depressing dud for me, mired in logic bugs and narrative conveniences that disregard basic in-game logic and potential power-structures. I have rarely been this crestfallen about a final verdict, but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this adventure here on OBS.