Today we’re taking an in depth look at the third book in the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path! This survival horror campaign pits the players against the return of the Whispering Tyrant, the lich-king Tar-Baphon, who was defeated and sealed away long ago. Tyrant’s Grasp will be the final Pathfinder 1st Edition Adventure Path released before the switch is made over to Pathfinder 2nd Edition in August. Intended to take characters from levels 1 to 17, Tyrant’s Grasp is six volumes long.
A wonderful Player’s Guide for Tyrant’s Grasp is available as a free download on Paizo’s website here. The Player’s Guide gives players a relatively spoiler-free way to properly prepare for and integrate their characters into the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. I highly recommend checking it out.
It should be noted that the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path is not for everyone. Terrible tragedies will occur and you won’t always be able to prevent them. These events are bound to have a lasting effect on your characters, so players should be prepared to consider and role-play the marks left by the trials you face. Depending on the generosity of your GM you could be in dire situations with limited resources, so players will need to be resourceful to survive. Plenty of the imagery and events in this adventure are dark, morbid, and sorrowful. Although I wouldn’t call all of the volumes in this series horror adventures, some are — though not your typical horror. I’d call it… a morbid tragedy. There’s plenty of undead, necromancers, and disaster. It’s definitely not a campaign to play with kids or if you’re looking for a light-hearted game.
Last Watch is the third volume of the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. Written by Larry Wilhelm, this is an adventure intended for 8th-level characters, which should bring PCs up to level 11 by its conclusion. This adventure begins when the PCs arrive in Lastwall’s capital of Vigil, intent on telling the Knight of Ozem what’s happened in Roslar’s Coffer. Luckily, their arrival coincides with the Whiteblade festival, making it easy to gain an audience with a wide variety of government officials, military officers, and other important people. All that’s left it to tell them your tale.
Yeah, not so simple. Haha.
As with the other volumes in this adventure path, Last Watch looks great. From cover to cover it’s a high quality book filled with nice maps and beautiful, dark artwork. The cover depicts Yosiduin, an elven antipaladin, in the foreground. Behind him is an image of Yoon (the iconic kineticist) and Imrijka (the iconic inquisitor) battling a gnome and some thugs in the streets of Vigil. Both images are by Igor Grechanyi. There’s a nice map of The Gravelands (Lastwall and parts of Ustalav) on the inside cover again, as there has been with the previous volumes. There’s a lot of awesome artwork throughout the book — mostly of humanoid allies and enemies. Interior artists include Yanis Cardin, Hai Hoang, Joel Holtzman, Oksana Kerro, Valeria Lutfullina, Dave Melvin, and Firat Solhan. I particularly enjoyed the art for Cleverquill, pest drakes, and the many NPC portraits. The maps, all drawn by Matthias Rothenaicher, are really nice. They look great, of course, but they’re also well thought out and executed. unfortunately, some of the map rooms are too close to the binding, which makes them difficult to see. Also, one important room is partially cut off by the page’s decorative border. Unfortunate!
In terms of content, Last Watch is a diplomatic mission, investigation, and exploration. PCs will need to convince the powers that be in Vigil that something horrible happened in Roslar’s Coffer and that Vigil needs to prepare for the worst. Of course, your PCs tale is rather far fetched… The PCs will need proof to go along with their words. The adventure is rather free form at the start but, as the PCs uncover clues that will lead them to further discoveries and encounters, the adventure becomes more linear.
Vigil is a great location to adventure in and this book did a good job of conveying atmosphere and populace through encounters and short descriptions. That said, the city isn’t fleshed out very much in this book, and I wish it was. I highly recommend GMs give Pathfinder Chronicles: Cities of Golarion a read if they own it, as it contains a ten-page gazetteer on Vigil which can be used to really make this place shine. Either way, this is a great time to let players explore, make friends, forge alliances, rest, properly equip themselves, and generally enjoy being among the living while they go about their duties.
Last Watch has a more balanced array of encounter types than it’s predecessor did. It begins heavy on the social encounters, then quickly transitions to heavy on combat encounters, before finishing with a welcome mix of both. Throughout the course of the book there’s chances for different skills and different character types to shine. The combats were interesting, but it’s those in the final chapter that I particularly enjoyed. I like the social encounters a lot, both in the beginning and end of the adventure, although I think some groups will flounder a bit with the beginning. GMs will need to pay close attention to their player’s behaviour to determine if more guidance is required. Personally, I think I’d have a lot of fun with it. But, again, it’s the social encounters in the final section of this adventure that really shine.
And now it’s time for a warning:
We’ve got more to say about this adventure, but it’ll come with spoilers! Don’t want to read them? Skip on past this next section until you see the large words ‘SPOILERS OVER.’ Got it? Good! See you on the other side!
Last Watch is split into three major parts: Explosive Tidings, Into the Undercity, and Grim Dawn. The adventure is 53 pages in length with six pages afterwards dedicated to three NPCs: Ceto Malderra, a famous crusader who’s not what she seems (and has amazing artwork!); Kilibrandt Erstwhile, a gnome entrepreneur and criminal; and Yosiduin, an elven antipaladin and leader of the local Seal-Breaker cell.
Part One: Explosive Tidings begins with the PCs entering Vigil during a holiday with the intent of informing the Knights of Ozem what’s happened to Roslar’s Coffer. But no one believes them! Obviously. Their story sounds crazy. It’s awesome. Haha. PCs will have opportunities to approach a variety of different authority figures and try to convince them to believe their outlandish tales. In most cases the PCs will need more evidence, which could frustrate some players and groups. But, with work, PCs should be able to win over some of the dignitaries. Doing so can earn your PCs rewards, allies, and have an effect on the final chapter of this adventure.
Figuring out where to start your hunt for evidence is a bit more troublesome. Although many groups will know which clues they have of merit, make the right connections, and tug on the right threads, some won’t. Those groups will likely be lost and get a bit frustrated. GMs should be prepared to improvise and throw in a bit more clues or rumours at the start of the investigation process if needed. All in all, I like the places the investigation goes and what drives it.
Part Two: Into the Undercity begins when the PCs investigation leads them into the sewers beneath Vigil, where they’ll take on the Seal-Breakers in their base of operations, an abandoned temple of Arazni. This location is dark and haunted, and there’s more than one way for the players to explore it, which is really nice. But, who are these Seal-Breakers, anyway? In short, they’re an evil cabal intent on freeing the Whispering Tyrant in order to acquire a really old book he had in his possession when he was sealed away. Yes, a book. And yes, the founder of this group is the person who borrowed the book to the Whispering Tyrant. Sure, it might seem a little weird, and yes, founding a cult and unleashing an undead tyrant is a rather drastic step to get your evil book back, but it’s a really special book. With it the Seal-Breakers hope to do even worse things, like unleash Rovagug and destroy Golarion. Fun stuff! All humour aside, I like this part of the adventure. The location is appropriately atmospheric, the battles are challenging, and the villains are properly… villainous! The PCs are going to figure out a lot in their time here, particularly in regards to what’s happened to Roslar’s Coffer, what’s driving this adventure path, and what’s at stake if they fail. They’re going to learn about the Whispering Way, the Whispering Tyrant, and how he destroyed Roslar’s Coffer. They’ll learn a bit about the Seal-Breakers, what this group was doing in Vigil, and that they intend to free the Whispering Tyrant, but they won’t learn enough to know their ultimate aims and goals of the Seal-Breakers. It’s likely the group will come off as a militant ally of the Whispering Way –– which is exactly how the Seal-Breakers like it! (More on Seal-Breakers later!)
But, what I like best about this section of the adventure is the twist ending… Your PCs have fought long and hard to find the evidence they need to convince the city’s officials to trust them. They’ve scoured the city for clues, tracked down a gang, descended into the stinky sewers, and fought of a cult of violent fanatics, and now –– finally! –– they have what they need.
Suddenly there’s a muffled sound echoing down from the city above…. Was that an explosion? The ceiling shakes…
Part Three: Grim Dawn begins when the PCs exit the sewers after taking on the Seal-Breakers. They emerge to find Vigil destroyed…
Which is awesome! Horrible! But, awesome! This is such a great gaming moment that will be much more meaningful if the players have had time to get to love Vigil, so be sure to play that up while you can!
Now, Vigil is a big city, and the death toll is absolutely devastating, but there are a few pockets of survivors. In this section of the adventure the PCs explore the ruins of Vigil –– which has clearly suffered the same fate as Roslar’s Coffer –– fight off undead abominations, and meet up with the survivors. They’ll see some familiar faces and be happy to realize that their efforts did do some good, even if it didn’t save the city. There’s a direct correlation between the number of survivors in Vigil and how much the PCs managed to convince the various authority figures in Part One that the threat to this city was real. Although it’s not mentioned until the end of the chapter, GMs should definitely take the time to highlight this the entire way through!
The PCs need to rally these survivors, hatch a plan, and bring this group to meet up with another group of survivors. Together they’ll have to attack a terrifying foe that’s intent on ensuring no one leaves Vigil alive. If they can accomplish this the PCs can escape Vigil with their fellow refugees and live to fight another day.
In addition to the Last Watch adventure, this volume contains three articles and a bestiary containing five new creatures. All three articles are intended for GMs, but only one needs to be kept secret from players: Seal-Breakers, by Greg A. Vaughan. This article takes an in-depth look at the history and goals of the Seal-Breakers, it’s founders, members, and structure. It also mentions some places the Seal-Breakers are active and what their goals are in those locations.
There are two other articles in the book’s backmatter that players can hear about without it affecting the adventure. The first article, Into the Void, is written by Patchen Mortimer. It details the Negative Energy Plane, exploring its locations, ecology, denizens, and threats. This has always been a plane that I’ve considered pretty hard to wrap my head around. How does one adventure in a place that’s the antithesis of life? But, this article did a great job of making it a potential adventure location. It’s still horribly dangerous, but as a player and GM it seems a lot more accessible now. Really great job!
The final article is Relics of the Shining Crusade by Alexander Augunas. As the name implies, this article details some relics –– magical objects that can improve under certain conditions when utilized by PCs. The included relics are all objects from Lastwall that were used in the wars against the Whispering Tyrant, and are great options for dropping into the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. Keep in mind that the triggering conditions that can cause these objects to improve should be kept hidden from players.
The Bestiary is up next! It contains a random encounter chart and four special encounters, all suitable for use in the third part of Last Watch. There’s also eight new creatures written by Mike Headley, Isabella Lee, Meagan Maricle, Kendra Leigh Speedling, and Larry Wilhelm. Five of them are featured in the Last Watch adventure. Creatures include Lifeleecher mortic, a CR 8 mortic based off of orcs; pallid angel, a CR 12 evil outsider blessed by Urgathoa that’s a mockery of the angels they appear to be; pest drake swarm, a CR 9 swarm of colourful little dragons; sceazir, a CR 9 outsider from the Negative Energy Plane; sump steward, an intelligent plant that nurtures the growth of other plants (and my personal favourite of the new monsters); and finally, three swarms and troops of undead: the CR 10 clacking skull swarm, CR 7 barrier breaker troop, and the CR 9 sodden draugr troop.
Which brings us to the end of Last Watch by Larry Wilhelm! I think this is an absolutely awesome adventure that packs an emotional punch. I enjoyed it start to finish, but it’s the entire final chapter and the ominous foreshadowing of terrible tragedies that really makes this adventure special. GMs willing to put in the work to make Vigil and it’s people shine will definitely be rewarded!
Tyrant’s Grasp continues with Gardens of Gallowspire (Tyrant’s Grasp 4 of 6) by Crystal Frasier, Borne by the Sun’s Grace (Tyrant’s Grasp 5 of 6) by Luis Loza, and Midwives to Death (Tyrant’s Grasp 6 of 6) by John Compton. You can also check out a previous blog post I wrote on Tyrant’s Grasp before its release here, or our review of The Dead Roads (Tyrant’s Grasp 1 of 6) and Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer (Tyrant’s Grasp 2 of 6).
Thanks for joining us today!