What epic quest through the legacy of Aroden that began in The Show Must Go On draws to a close in The Apocalypse Prophet, the sixth entry in the Extinction Curse adventure path. Characters who have tracked down the aeon orbs in prior adventures have now reached the height of their power, with The Apocalypse Prophet covering levels 18-20 and providing new ‘capstone’ feats for those 20th-level characters. Also there’s still a circus around somewhere.
About two thirds of The Apocalypse Prophet is devoted to the climax of the Extinction Curse AP, and that part will primarily be discussed further down, below the spoiler bar. The characters have learned much of Aroden, and much of that did not cast the dead god in the best light. While continuing to explore the legacy of Aroden (indeed, the trials of Aroden are probably the best part of the book), there is little nuance in the morality of Sarvel Ever-Hunger – they don’t call him The Apocalypse Prophet for nothing. The fate of Starstone Isle itself will be in the hands of the player characters. That does not mean this entry in the adventure path is all combat, however. Sure, players can expect a climactic battle, but there are a lot of challenges that can also be (and can often better be) handled with something other than the point of a sword or the blast of a spell, if the party is so inclined.
As one might expect from something attached to such a high-level adventure, new mechanical content focuses on the very high-powered – the 20th-level capstone feats, epic spells, artifacts (made by Aroden, of course), and level 19-20 magic items abound. There’s also a gazetteer section on the Kortos Mounts.
For me, the biggest strength of the Extinction Curse adventure path is its exploration of the history of a figure and area that are, both literally and metaphorically, central to the world of Pathfinder. While the bigger reveals are in the past, The Apocalypse Prophet continues to work with that story thread. For me, however, the circus aspect of the adventure path just gets more out of place here – and, indeed, it basically shows up at the beginning of the adventure and then is left behind by the characters. The circus can be minimized, however, and Extinction Curse serves as both a good adventure path in its own right and sets the stage for the upcoming Agents of Edgewatch AP.
GM-Only Spoiler Section
As one might expect, there are three adventures in The Apocalypse Prophet, one each for levels 18, 19, and 20. Basically one adventure to get to the Vale of Aroden (high in the Kortos Mounts), one adventure in the Vale of Aroden, and one adventure in the Verdant Beacon (where Surval is performing the extinction curse ritual). Act 2 feels like the heart of the book for me. Act 1 is more of a string of encounters. Act 3, while serving its function as a climax, is still very much about that final battle. But I think that Act 2 (The Trials of Aroden) has the most creative content. Characters are forced to go through these challenges because teleportation doesn’t work in this whole area, and there are magical effects that interfere with flying.
Overall, for an adventure set at this high a level, there are a bunch of non-combat options. The primary encounter location of the first act is a friendly fort that has been mind-controlled by one of the artifact’s Aroden collected, and it’s a much better resolution to destroy the artifact without wiping out the enhanced soldiers guarding it. This is also true of later encounters along the road. Not that there isn’t any combat, but parlaying without about three creatures in a row (including a linnorm and a skulltaker) will get the characters a lot more information and a better shot and a couple of potent magic items.
Once the characters reach the Vale of Aroden, there are twelve trials that await them, one for each of the mortal aspects that the dead god assumed while wandering the world. The characters need to accomplish at least four of these to move on, but getting up to eight has significant benefits as well. Completing all twelve only provides a single, specific benefit. I imagine many players will want to complete every single one, because that’s how we gamers seem to be wired, but the relative lack of mechanical benefit for getting to all twelve gives leeway for failure at some trials or for the GM to move things along if the trials are dragging.
Each of the twelve trials requires the characters to show that they are like Aroden in that guise, prompted by a statue of Aroden – artisan, artist, beggar, farmer, fisher, hunter, merchant, scholar, shepherd, soldier, tailor, and thief. Many of these do not require combat, although they can be solved with combat, or there’s a detachment of xulgath’s nearby to provide the combat component (Serval had to complete some of the trials himself to get into the Verdant Beacon; as the players complete the trials they strip this attunement from Serval). Trials can involve asking questions, fetching things, knowledge checks, crafting, spellcasting, or diplomacy. And killing things, of course. There are a few new types of high-level xulgaths and demons introduced here, with new stat blocks included. The trials are usually not obvious, but they aren’t overly obtuse either – it’s pretty easy to be too clever with challenges like this, and (as usual for Paizo) that is avoided here. Not that the players won’t have to put on their thinking caps at times, but they’re doable.
Eventually the characters will move to the final act. From a purely combat perspective, this can be a series of battles against a couple levels of xulgath, plus some other guardians, before moving on to the boss fight. But the players can also exploit cracks in Serval’s support and take advantage of the fact that some of those guardians are loyal to Aroden, not Serval. The final battle takes place on a moving platform amidst the stolen aeon orbs (and Serval has the ability to fly to some extent). In true boss battle fashion, the characters should eventually realize that they need to wrest control of the orbs from Serval, or else need to kill him a half-dozen times. Again, Serval has an ally … but perhaps not an entirely enthusiastic one.
I really like the Trials of Aroden – it’s an amazing set of challenges that prompts the players to think and these super-high-level characters to exercise a wide range of abilities, not just blasting their way through every-tougher enemies. As noted above, for me this act is really the centerpiece of the book, although it obviously isn’t the climax of the overall adventure path. The encounters in the first act are nifty as well, although it is to some extent just a way of moving the characters from point A to point B and getting them the level they need. The final act has a thrilling boss battle, but also more of a chance to see the wonders Aroden collected before he was knocked off. Overall, it’s a worthy conclusion to the Extinction Curse adventure path.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.