“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ― H.P. Lovecraft
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
On the cover: Nolveniss Azrinae, drow illusionist and leader of the research team. The Armageddon Echo is the third adventure in Second Darkness, Paizo's third adventure path in their Pathfinder Adventure Path line.
The opinions of the quality of Paizo's adventure paths vary a lot, but most people seem to agree that Second Darkness is one of the worst. I picked up the entire AP at Paizo's tenth year anniversary sale, and I'm going to try my hand at some unbiased reviews of each adventure seperately, and as we go on we'll take a look at how they slot in together.
For my review of the previous installment of this AP, Children of the Void, check here.
The Second Darkness campaign was published before the release of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, so it's still written for the 3.5 edition, but is easily converted to the Pathfinder RPG. It's designed for a party of four 7th level characters, and it should take them up to 9th level. Since it was written for 3.5, if you're converting it for Pathfinder, you should put players on the fast track for XP, so there may be some inconsistencies. Note that at the end of the previous adventure, the PCs will likely only be level six, and there's a sidebar here noting that this is done by design, so that GMs can customize the campaign to their liking by filling in this gap with their own material. Several suggestions are offered here for sideplots.
The book is 96-pages, available as a softcover and a bookmarked PDF. The art is good, but some of the character art is a bit outdated when comparing it with some of Paizo's more recent releases. The first 47 pages hold the adventure, after which follows several backmatter articles. The adventure itself is written by Jason Bulmahn, when he still had time and opportunity to write adventures.
Warning: this review will completely spoil the plot of this adventure, so be warned if you want to continue reading beyond this point.
The adventure starts as the party arrives back in Riddleport after their excursion on Devil's Elbow. They are now aware that the drow caused the destruction, and they should have found out that they have a larger base in the ruined city of Celwynvian. After meeting back up with their elven ally from the first adventure, he bids the party to travel to Celwynvian, and meet up with his employers there. They will leave behind Riddleport, and along the way, the PCs will come across an elven patrol, that can escort them to Crying Leaf, an elven community on the outskirts of the ruins of Celwynvian. A sidebar here contains ways for the GM to stress the difference in a community consisting solely of elves when compared to a more traditional township.
After meeting with the leader, she reveals that there are indeed drow in Celwynvian, which is a closely guarded secret, and the reason for the existence of Crying Leaf. After being offered a place in their forces, the PCs will accompany the elves as they go to war with the drow in the ruins. Shalelu, an important NPC from the Rise of the Runelords adventure path (and who later made another appearance in the Jade Regent AP), is reintroduced here.
What follows next is a breakdown on how to deal with the large siege of the ruined city. The PCs role in the ongoing battle consists mostly of specific and random encounters and not with large-scale battles, but it's still important to keep them aware that there is a massive assault going on, so GMs will need to incorporate this aspect, and take some time to prep their sessions slightly more than is usual with canned adventures. We get statistics for the various drow that can be encountered in the city, consisting of three different types; rogues (skirmishers, scouts, spies, messengers), fighters (rank-and-file soldiers), and sorcerers (often commanders of smaller units). A large random roll table is given for random events in the city, as well as a fourth statblock for a drow captain. GMs should also keep a running tally of battle points (BP), as they accomplish tasks and defeat drow. This will come into effect at the end of the adventure.
The PCs will play a key role in several encounters, among which are reclaiming a road, a raid on an alchemical laboratory, and a rescue mission. Eventually, they will partake in an assault on an academy, which is where the highest concentration of drow has been sighted. Once inside, they will find the drow are escaping through a magical portal, and the adventure assumes the party will bravely leap after them, with a troubleshooting sidebar on how to address events if they don't.
The portal leads to something called the Armageddon Echo, which is a demiplane created by the drow. Riddleport's Cyphergate is actually an immense window that allowed the runelords to look back or forward in time, and Nolveniss, a drow illusionist, was able to use a section of the Cyphergate to create an echo of the actual event of Earthfall. This allowed the drow to study the events firsthand. When the PCs step into this echo, it's almost as if they're stepping into the past, three days before Earthfall. There's another blot in the sky, like the one from the first adventure, as well as some shadowy echoes of elves and other people who were present in the city at the time. The PCs now get to explore the city as it was 10,000 years ago, and hopefully find the last remnants of the drow, so they can escape the Armageddon Echo before they become the final victims of Earthfall.
This is a very cool idea, and it's pretty well-worked out. The demiplane was created by shadow magic, so it interacts differently with shadow spells, and the PCs will encounter several shadowy creatures (shadows, shadow gouls, shadow mastiffs, and blast shadows; a new type of undead). The GM is encouraged to play up the tension of this cataclysmic event, with precursor meteors smashing buildings, falling stars, cats and dogs raining, the end of the world as we know it. In the final location of the adventure, the PCs will face the last of the drow, a green dragon, and the BBEG of the adventure; the drow illusionist Nolveniss Azrinae, creator of the Armageddon Echo. Recovery of a special item called the shadow key, allows the party to return to the Material Plane, or even just sit back and watch the end of the world, because possession of the shadow key will shunt them back to the Material Plane anyway once Earthfall strikes.
As the adventure concludes, the GM should total up the battle points earned, and the PCs will be rewarded accordingly with some treasure. The path ahead is revealed to them as well, as the elven commander of Crying Leaf informs them that they have uncovered an elven portal that leads to the drow capital of Zirnakaynin. A group of disguised spies could learn much from a mission into this dangerous city...
The first backmatter article is on Celwynvian, which is essential reading for running this adventure, and the map of the ruins can be found here as well. An extensive 12-page article on the drow follows next, detailing their society and life in the Darklands. Their perverted crafts are toched on, as well as their politics, cities and settlements, and how they deal with their dead. Special note here goes to the sidebar titled "Are there good drow?" Quick answer: No. There is apparantly no place for any Drizzt Do'Urdens in Golarion. We also get two drow prestige classes, the Pain Taster and the Demonic Initiate, and this last one mentions all the demon lords. There are no Dark Seldarine (the drow deities from D&D) in Golarion, the drow on this world are all demon-worshippers.
A side adventure is again included here, called Lament for Emerald Rains, which details another location in Celwynvian, and sees the PCs exploring a conservatory, eventually having to defeat a powerful ghost. It would be easy to slot this into the adventure (possibly adding in some drow encounters), but can be run as a stand-alone as well. After the fiction piece, the last article is the bestiary, with the random encounter table for Celwynvian. New monsters here are the blast shadow, cutlass spider, forest drake, and maftet. The last two have been reprinted and updated in the Bestiaries, but the blast shadow and cutlass spider can still only be found in this adventure.
The Armageddon Echo offers a large task in the form of retaking the ruins of Celwynvian from the drow. It will take a bit of work on the GMs part to make this enterprise feel how it should—as a large scale, epic battle—but if done succesfully, should make for some pretty cool sessions. It also spotlights the racial hate between drow and elves, which carries with it some great roleplay potential. The idea of the shadowy demiplane to the past is a very cool premise, and certainly the thing that makes this adventure stand out. It also serves as a pretty cool climax to the adventure.
This installment leaves Riddleport far behind, and judging from the conclusion, I doubt the PCs will see it again any time soon, so the gambling den that was so central to the first adventure will soon be forgotten. That shouldn't detract from the overall campaign though.
I'm still waiting for Second Darkness to take a turn for the worse, but in my opinion it didn't happen in this adventure at least. I'll admit I've always had an irrational love for all things drow, so take these reviews with a grain of salt. We'll see how the second half of the campaign does.
Note: Iron Reviewer 2013 - Entry #42