Scales of War

A Walk Through the Planes: Scales of War




For those now catching up with this series, a few months ago back in Februrary  I covered “The Shadow Rift of Umbraforge” before reading a bit further into the Scales of War adventure path. This was a bad adventure, a poor introduction to both the Shadowfell and Scales, and it turns out that this did a serious disservice to one of those facets—the Shadowfell is still rather lame. Scales of War ended up being by far the most planar adventure path ever published for D&D, and what’s more it turns out to be good… fitfully and intermittently. Written by a dozen authors over 19 (well, really 18.5) adventures and published from July 2008 to February 2010, it’s no surprise that the work ended up uneven and wonky. Wizards of the Coast didn’t quite know how to design an adventure path (it’s arguable they never really figured it out), and the many lessons learned by Paizo had to be relearned again by a new crop of writers. What’s more, there were a lot of changes going on with D&D as a whole during this period, since the series began at the very start of Fourth Edition when the edition was at the peak of its popularity and ended right around the period that D&D‘s managers realized changes needed to be made immediately—only a few months after the series ended, the Dungeon Master’s Guide 3 would be canceled and a series of revisions and updates would attempt to resuscitate the dying edition. 

That very few groups had interest in playing D&D at its highest levels also didn’t help Scales of War out (and remember, Fourth Edition capped its level at 30 rather than 20 so as to allow for even more ridiculosity, and as such a majority of the game took place at high levels), and my sense has long been that very, very few groups ever completed this path. Nor was it helped by Wizards’ utterly baffling decision to never, ever release an outline so as to help DMs in running Scales or to wet their interest in its adventures. The first three parts of this path are only tenuously related to its later plots, and I suspect that had the pitch for it initially been “become a key part of Bahamut’s war against Tiamat, return the dead god to life, and defeat the dragon queen once and for all” many more groups would’ve stuck it out, not to mention that this would’ve helped immensely in running the campaign. By the time the scope of this path became clear (and some DMs rightfully didn’t want to run things until they could tie the whole path together, a choice I would’ve made myself because knowing an overall arc is invaluable when telling a story), many of the game’s fans had moved away from it to Pathfinder or elsewhere. 


But as I said, there is good stuff here, at least sometimes. I cannot claim to be one of the few, the proud, the largely baffling group who played through the dozens and dozens of sessions it would take to make it to the end of this path. Hell, I can’t even claim to have read every single word from every single adventure—that’s right, I did some skimming, especially when the adventures really sucked and were dragged down by the countless filler battles that clotted the path all the way since its beginning. This leads into my other bit of warning, in that despite some impressive works of subversion from Ari Marmell and Robert J. Schwalb, this is still an extremely Fourth Edition-y adventure path, which is to say that it’s filled past the brim with combat. If you’re interested in running a version of it today, one kind soul has posted a lengthy Fifth Edition conversion of the entire work for free online, but that’s not going to fix any issues with plot, let alone remove the fact that as-written this is for the most part a lengthy series of linear battles set in a row. And as necessitated by the pre-written format, that means a lot of railroading too, though as some have said in the past, I don’t particularly riding the tracks so long as the views are spectacular, and some of those herein sure are, especially with said views always mapped by the superb Mike Schley.

Expect a lot of somewhat generic art for Scales of War. Fourth Edition has some excellent illustrations—see below for some examples—but much of it is hardly particular to these adventures.

Scales starts off with a shrug in “Rescue at Rivenroar” by David Noonan. Players need to find out why hobgoblins are being uppity and kidnapping some villagers. Whatever, it’s an introductory adventure and fine enough for what it is—there’s even an exploding ogre in a wagon, which is a nice setpiece, especially for characters at this low of a level. Most importantly, players recover a platinum sword that will be given immense important many, many sessions down the road, and as usual it would’ve been nice if DMs knew this because it’s a good chance that this treasure gets largely skipped over and forgotten by the time it returns. The path becomes much better with its follow-up “Siege of Bordrin’s Watch,” largely because Robert J. Schwalb does an impressive job developing its central location, the city of Overlook, which becomes an important part of the campaign for at least a few of its adventures, though it will unfortunately get forgotten well before the path ends. The PCs deal with an invasion of orcs and ultimately foil a raiding war party by activating a nifty device flooding the tunnels leading them to Overlook. It’s a better and far more memorable scenario, though still there’s nothing particularly planar happening despite hints about portals nearby.

I covered part three already, and I have nothing new to add now except that upon return it was even worse than I remembered and doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the adventure. Nevertheless, some of its plot points regarding a big bad interplanar arms dealer are integral to the overall storyline, so fixing this issue is going to take a lot of work from an enterprising DM.

Next up is “The Lost Mines of Karak” by Greg A. Vaughan, which after a few hundred more pages of Scales I have few memories of. My notes from reading include the phrases, “Seems fine enough,” “Essentially filler,” and “Clearly stalling the adventure in order to give characters more experience.” There’s a dwarf NPC who will be hanging around until near the end of the adventure path—even after he’s dead—and a lot of fights against gnolls, and at this point the PCs have smacked their way through quite a few of the low-level riff-raff monsters. But yeah, considering this is irrelevant to the storyline, you can probably get a sense of why early on Scales didn’t have its hooks into players the way something like Age of Worms or Rise of the Runelords did. Since I don’t have anything else to add, now’s probably a good time to reassert my hatred for the Delve adventure format, which is far worse in PDFs than it even was for print material. Pulling from Baz King’s thread “[Let’s Read] Scales of War. That’s right, all of it” (which ends pretty abruptly in the middle of the second Paragon-level adventure):

Unfortunately the delve format that WotC uses doesn’t make it easy for the DM to find what they need. This is disappointing because the delve format is supposed to assist in running games, not turn out to be counterproductive, which I think it is here. For example there are two map levels and they are seperated by 2 pages. The keyed locations are described in quite shallow terms at this point, for example:

14. West Guard Post

This former guard chamber is the habitat of a sussur tree growing up from the cracked stone floor. See the tactical encounter for a description.

So if your party enters this area, which you’ll know from checking the map on one page, you’ll then check the key for a description, which is often on another. That description is pretty much useless on it’s own so you need to turn to the tactical encounter which is 15 pages later. The example I’ve just used was at random, so let’s follow it up. Turning to page 83, I see a two page tactical spread that takes place next door to the room described, and is extremely unlikely to ever see action or interest. 

As an aside, I’ll tell you what annoys me about pdfs from WotC, it’s the delve format. I have issues enough with this format but the way it works on pdf is even more annoying. The plot is set up with a run through of the evnts [sic.] in their likely order, essentially just like every other adventure ever published. That’s fine. The text then asks you to skip forward to the tactical encounter which is thirty pages later. There’s more adventure info in that part. Then it’s back, then it’s forward, gah! So I have to print the whole thing out for review and have two piles of paper to work from. Shouldn’t the tech and the formatting make it easier to prep games rather than harder?

Couldn’t agree more, and I’ve long assumed that the clunkiness and almost player-hostile nature of this format was one of the other Fourth Edition “innovations” that caused a complete disaster in sales. 

I don’t have any recollection what happened in this scene or what it has to do with the adventure path. Guess it sucks to be a dwarf, though.

Ok, back to the adventures, and yes, I realize there’s a lot of non-planar material here, but trust me when I say that later in the path every single part is going to be more-or-less planar. In “Den of the Destroyer” by Rodney Thompson, the party heads back to where they were for the first module and hear from the platinum sword that they need to free its occupant. They do so by repurposing a portal to Elemental Chaos and are introduced to Amyria, the kindly deva NPC who is insanely boring and dull but will play a huge role in the rest of the series. 

Part six, “The Temple Between” by Ari Marmell, is the heroic-tier highlight for the entire campaign, though it’s not planar either so I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it. Something strange is going on back in Overlook and there may be a conspiracy involving priests. Turns out, it’s in fact a plot by githyanki to attack this city for reasons that will be unclear (though bad and ultimately nonsensical if you think about it) later on. Most of my notes for this adventure are along the lines of “Cool idea,” “Finally getting through an adventure with talking!,” and “Both epic and fantastical, exactly what I hope for in D&D.” My last note reads, “This is actually focused on talking and roleplaying. Almost didn’t think this sort of adventure existed in 4e.” So no, it’s not planar, but definitely worth checking out or cannibalizing for your own campaign. It’s the end of the Heroic tier, and while it doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow, it is a wonderful way to end the most playable and logical part of D&D‘s leveling curve. 

Yup, it’s D&D alright.

Part seven, “Fist of Morning” by Robert J. Schwalb, is filler, but unlike with part four that’s the point. This adventure exists for DMs to run if players need more experience points (it literally says, “This adventure should help 10th-level adventurers make up any shortfalls to reaching 11th level”), is only 23 pages long, and though a pretty good dungeon crawl can be entirely skipped with no effect on the rest of the adventure. However, it does center around a group called “The Cult of Exquisite Agony” and heavily features both slaads and insane people intentionally infecting themselves with slaad tadpoles, so I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to run it. 

It’s with part eight, “Beyond the Mottled Tower” by Creighton Broadhurst, Bruce R. Cordell, and David Noonan, that we finally return to the planes. At this point, the heroic-tier villain Sarshan and his arms dealing business have been all but shut down, but he’s still alive and kicking it. That’s not going to last for long. The PC’s receive a letter that their ally knows who was behind the githyanki attack on Overlook, but before they can speak with her the area is flooded with a substance called, ahem, “blood chaos.” That’s right, the name for this oozing liquid death is really as stupid as all that. The PCs trace where it’s coming from, and find that it’s (unsurprisingly) Elemental Chaos… sort of. Eventually.

Just your average lake of blood chaos, apparently a normal ecosystem within “the world” of Fourth Edition.

This substance coming from that plane would actually make a lot of sense, but this particular trove of blood chaos is being pumped from a nearby portal that doesn’t link with Elemental Chaos at all, it actually connects with another, never-again-mentioned part of the Prime, err “world.” This location is called the Ever-Tree, but what the hell an Ever-Tree is or what it has to do with blood chaos is never explained. At first I thought that this was a demi-plane, but it’s not, it’s just ” an immense oak rising within a lake of blood chaos,” which exists in the “world” for reasons I was never able to fathom. I ended up completely baffled about what this section of the adventure was even trying for or why it might be necessary. Fortunately, it’s a short excursion that would never be so much as mentioned again, but what a weird conceit, especially not to make it a demi-plane or something like that—apparently, in this version of D&D a lake of blood chaos with a tree in the middle is just a location you can stumble across while wandering around anywhere.

This weird side excursion fortunately isn’t the planar material I mentioned earlier, as a portal in the depths of the Ever-Tree’s bowels leads to Elemental Chaos proper. Sarshan’s Tower of Djamela lies within sight of the City of Brass, and it was here that he learned how to create blood chaos. I suppose I still haven’t defined blood chaos yet, which is:

…a potent acidic distillation of raw elemental essence, first collected and refined from the Elemental Chaos by Djamela, a long-dead efreet conjurer. The efreet created this horrid ooze in the course of experimenting with the fundamental mutability of her home plane, storing it in a vast reservoir in her remote tower home. After Djamela’s death, Sarshan discovered the tower and its blood chaos stores. Recognizing the material’s potential as a weapon, he claimed the tower as his lair. Now, the shadar-kai forges plans to route the blood chaos by way of portals into Elsir Vale.

Why Sarshan routes it through the Ever-Tree is never explored, but basically it’s lava-acid with a far stupider name. 

I wish there was something exciting to write about the campaign’s, and likely most players’, first jaunt to Elemental Chaos, but what’s here is pedestrian as hell. PCs arrive at a tiny earthberg near a fortress, and aside from taking a few steps across rock islands that’s all of the planar interaction they’re going to have. Sarshan’s tower is dull, and its location doesn’t affect anything PCs are going to do there. Even the concluding fight against Sarshan is underwhelming, and it’s quite a disappointment following the actual end of the heroic tier, a denouement meant to tie up loose ends that feels tacked on. At this point in the adventure path, my feeling was that in terms of logic in particular the two weakest parts of the path were the planar adventures; fortunately that was not to last. 

Nope, don’t remember what this cover image has to do with anything either. I don’t even know what that gray dude is supposed to be.

Up until “Haven of Bitter Glass” by Kevin Kulp, the stakes of Scales always felt small. There was an arms dealer and his series of goofy plot-of-the-week schemes with hobgoblins, orcs, and gnolls, but it was all pretty provincial. This and the next adventure, “Alliance of Nefelus” by Chris Tulach, stay on the Prime “world,” but they expand the stakes of this conflict into something much larger. A githynaki ship crashes nearby and its only passenger is a githzerai, who says that his people are under attack and he’s searching for aid. Assuming the PCs go along with this, the make their way to the githzerai outpost and help bring the survivors to the nearby city Sayre, which isn’t as well-developed as Outlook but will nonetheless serve as a primary hub for most of the rest of the path. However, the githyanki have already infiltrated Sayre with spies, and the rest of the adventure involves ferreting them out, along the way introducing the idea of githyanki psionic possession. Also introduced, somewhat poorly, is a coalition against the githyanki that was founded by Amyria, the sword woman. The question at this point is why are the githyanki attacking this area, and what can be done to stop them?

“Alliance” introduces PCs to another prospective ally against the githyanki, the deva-run city Nefelus. Now this may seem like it contradicts information from the Player’s Handbook 2 that says, “Devas do not have cities or societies of their own, and their numbers are so small that a deva can spend entire lifetimes without ever meeting another of his or her kind,” and that’s because it does, utterly and completely. “Most of” the city’s population of 32,500 are devas, so this supposedly rare and strange race (that I rather hate, but that’s besides the point) has tens of thousands of members just within this city. Anyhow, Nefelus is normally tropical but it’s being frozen by a magical winter that’s caused not by a white witch with a nasty hobby of poaching lions, but rather by a magical artifact. Turns out that the cause of this winter leads back to the githyanki, who have enlisted their frost giant allies and a totally sweet two-headed white dragon named Chillreaver. The sword-lady’s coalition needs someone to negotiate with a fomorian king in order to shut down more of the githyanki plan, and guess what, that someone is going to be the PCs. 

Now this scene I remember—the two-headed white dragon is just good, old-fashioned fun.

The Stone-Skinned King allied with the githyanki due to a Wormtongue-esque advisor, and in order to end his reign the players are going to have to do a lot of investigation and diplomacy. Also an idiotic gladiatorial match, because this is still Fourth Edition D&D, but author Logan Bonner transforms what could be a pedestrian journey to a plane semi-identical to the one that PCs left into something more special. The Feywild, as depicted here, is just the Prime part two. The eladrins are tiresome and the fomorians are warlike and evil in all of the usual cliched ways, but the fact that “Throne of the Stone-Skinned King” centers around court intrigue rather than a dungeon crawl still makes the adventure feel fresh.

The planar part of this module doesn’t feel special, though. Hell, it weirdly feels more like you’re on the same plane than when visiting the Ever-Tree earlier, and the only real attempt to differentiate the location to players involves literally telling them they’re in the Feywild, since otherwise they wouldn’t realize it:

You are surrounded by a circle of tall, columnar stones. A ring of glowing runes encircles them, and then it dims after you arrive. You’re in a verdant grove in the Feywild, and a vibrant moon hangs in the sky above the tops of the tall, ancient trees. A bit to the west is a steep cliff. A cave mouth is directly across from you, and two enormous doors made of entwined wood and vines span the tunnel, which is just inside the cave mouth.

At least as it stands, this plane in Fourth Edition simply has nothing remarkable about it, and you can see the author struggling to come up with something compelling.

Nonetheless, there’s one major planar change that’s finally confirmed here: Vlaakith CLVII, longtime ruler of the githynaki and infamous life-sucking demilich, is dead. This had been hinted at as early as “Haven of the Bitter Glass,” but it’s no longer a rumor, and we learn for sure that. “Vlaakith, the Lich Queen, who once led the githyanki, has been slain. They’re now lead [sic.] by Emperor Zetch’r’r, who seeks to bring war and conquest across the planes.” This is a huge development, and came as a result of Wizards of the Coast wanting to treat  “The Lich Queen’s Beloved” back in Dungeon #100 as canon (coincidentally, this issue of Dungeon also includes the first contribution by Chris Perkins since then, “Storm Tower”). We covered this adventure before, but there are often huge, world-shattering events that occur within adventures, and rarely are they canon. The multiverse usually continues apace, and considerations for the effects of a successful adventure only happens in particular circumstances. This decision became even stranger with the rise of Fourth Edition where nothing from before was canon, so deciding that one obscure adventure from the Paizo era was going to stick came from out of nowhere. After all, this is a world where Hell is a weird sphere and the Outlands don’t exist, so who would’ve thought that the Lich Queen’s demise would be kept part of the multiverse… at least until the end of this adventure. It’s an excellent development, but one that I assume won’t last, largely because the number of people who even knew it was considered canon through this adventure was incredibly small, since at this point in the Scales of War adventure path only real die-hards were still running the campaign. Sadly, this development wouldn’t even last for the rest of the edition.

No idea yet again. A githyanki is clearly, uhh, being a ghost? Was that part of things? I don’t think so, but then again what else could this image be?

“Garaitha’s Anvil” by Scott Fitzgerald Gray  is a far more interesting planar adventure, and I should note that every single part of the path from here forward is at least somewhat planar—though the players’ base remains on “the world” and their concerns are nominally focused there, in actuality their adventure is now focused on jumping around the Fourth Edition cosmology. Fortunately we’ve left the Feywild behind for good, which is not to say that the adventure itself is recommendable, as it’s a mess that makes little logical sense despite being super important to the campaign and essentially the crux of the PCs’ success against the githyanki. 

It begins with PCs investigating a small, nearly defenseless githyanki outpost that also just happens to be absolutely vital for their attack on “the world.” Seriously. This nonsense is related to a civil war within the githyanki community that was barely hinted at before, but even so that this temple is so ill-defended makes it a joke. Anyhow, this is a githyanki “World Gate,” which “are the prime portals through which the githyanki first mastered the connections between planes. This World Gate is set within the mortal realm, with others in the Feywild and the Shadowfell.” Yup, their vital teleportation waystation is guarded by a handful of incompetents and that’s it. Smart empire, no notes.


Even dumber, it allows access to the ludicrously powerful teleportation network the githyanki apparently now control (never hinted at even slightly before now, and its existence making their quest to take over an area in the “world” with many portals moronic). This network is linked with a site called the Well of Worlds, which I should note has absolutely nothing to do with either the artifact of the same name or the adventure compilation of this name for Planescape. Speaking of which, I never really covered this artifact before, likely because there isn’t much to it, but here’s what the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide had to say about it (or rather, the Well of Many Worlds):

This strange inter-dimensional device is exactly the same in appearance as a portable hole. Anything placed within it is immediately cast into another world — a parallel earth, another planet, or a different plane at your option or by random determination. If the well is moved, the random factor again comes into play. It can be picked up, folded, etc. just as a portable hole. Note that things from the world the well touches can come through the opening, just as easily as from the initiating place

Hilarious? Yes. But remotely useful or something that caught on with players? Not so much. It remained part of the game in every edition of D&D except for Fourth, in which case I suppose it was replaced by this version of the Well, which is described thusly:

The Well of Worlds is a site of powerful planar magic, built by Chanhiir in the lost age of our race and open only to those of githyanki blood. It is a planar mote existing in no world—fueled by the energy of the Astral Sea but not set within it. The Well of Worlds is the center of the portal network that is the lifeblood of the githyanki empire. It is the site through which elite githyanki strike teams travel the planes, including the force charged with seizing the fane. It is a place that touches all other places—all planes of existence, all sites in those planes. From the Well of Worlds, the githyanki have access to anywhere in all of creation.

Planar locations existing “in no world” are weirdly common in Fourth Edition, and at this point are the type of messiness we’ve really learned to expect from its cosmology’s half-assed nature. Because it’s in this no-space and the githyanki put truly lazy wards on the location, they once again decided to leave it essentially undefended. Again, seriously. They also made it so that their friends can come visit so long as they have little magic wristbands tattooed onto themselves, and forging one of these turns out to be easier than forging a pass into a music festival. Your allies whip up a copycat ritual in no time flat, and then it’s time to completely demolish this vital location’s paltry defenses in the better part of an afternoon. This is the type of evil scheme that even a Bond villain would feel embarrassed for having recommended. 

The Hundred in all of their dead-eyed glory. I hate everything about them.

Once they have control of this location—largely by showing up and saying, “I guess this is ours now, cool,”—the PCs are told by the ever-annoying Coalition council that it’s time to strike the githyanki at their… other, second planar base? That’s not the same as the one with the portals, but also isn’t Tu’narath, and is also filled with portals? Such goddamn stupid logic. This is where the name of the adventure comes in, as Garaitha’s Anvil is “a planar mote suspended at the boundary between the world, the Feywild, the Shadowfell, and the Astral Sea.” I know that I keep saying this, but what the hell does that mean? One of my seemingly infinite issues with Fourth Edition’s cosmology is that when locations like this exist, how are these even different worlds at all? If you can walk straight from one of these locations to another the same way I can walk across town, then they’re just one world artificially divided by habitat with a weird corridor in the middle that is stupidly controlled by the githyanki.

From its surface, the shipyard appears to be the interior of a vast sphere, its ground curving up to all sides. At its center, directly above any viewer standing on its surface, a great astral gate acts as a transit point for the ships that are built and repaired here. Forty permanent teleportation circles across the shipyard connect Garaitha’s Anvil to the Astral Sea, as well as to the world, the Feywild, and the Shadowfell, all of which provide the raw materials and labor that fuel the construction of the githyanki war fleet.

How does this connect with all of those locations it supposedly borders if it’s a vast sphere? And isn’t this basically the githyanki controlling their own version of Sigil, only without the Lady of Pain to keep things from getting out of hand? Really, the existence of this location causes so many questions and issues regarding logic that all you can really do is ignore it and pretend it’s not there for the rest of the campaign arc/edition. 

I thought all of the githyanki dragons were red?

Back to the adventure, the council’s idiotic plan of attack isn’t to send armies against the githyanki’s own theoretical armies, it’s to send the PCs to beat up a boss dude while a hundred other adventurers single-handedly destroy the githyanki shipyard themselves. Again, I’m serious. This group, helpfully called the Hundred so that you don’t have to stretch your imagination, consists of “five score of the greatest heroes of the mortal world,” and I hate everything about them. Any attempt to treat D&D as remotely realistic, as anything but a power fantasy, goes right out the window with the Hundred. It also causes a series of other questions, such as why this strategy wasn’t used earlier, and why anyone in the multiverse bothers with armies in the first place when it’s far more effective to just bring in a couple adventuring parties and let them lay waste. 

The Hundred have “relatively few” casualties while the githyanki are completely routed. What’s more, “The same wards that once prevented access to the planar mote by any but the githyanki can now be reworked to prevent the githyanki from making use of the Sovereign Gate.” And though we won’t learn of it until later, none of the githyanki plot actually even has anything to do with Tiamat’s overall plan, it’s just a diversion… even though when we later learn of her plan, it’s quickly clear that no diversion is necessary. “Anvil” is basically where logic goes to die, and the PCs are going to feel like invincible superheroes throughout. 

Now THAT is a red dragon.

Fortunately, this disappointing mess of a module was followed up by “A Tyranny of Souls” by Robert J. Schwalb. This is a culmination of both the paragon tier of play and the nonsensical and messy githyanki plotline that took over this section of the adventure path. Fortunately, its reasoning is a lot more clear, at least in part. Following their ridiculous victory, the PCs head to Tu’narath, the githyanki capital city, in order to ally with a group of separatist githyanki who are rebelling against the race’s new ruler. Given how easily the Hundred kicked every githyanki ass in a major outpost last session it seems weird that this isn’t their plan of attack again, but aside from that holdover of bad logic from the past this is a fun, exciting module involving subterfuge, diplomacy, and a sweet dungeon crawl. It was a joy to read, and felt like it had everything a good D&D campaign should. 

The adventure includes a couple of new Astral locations, the stupidly named Blood Mountain (this adventure path is all about adding the adjective “blood” to things as if that suddenly makes them cool) and its nearby Citadel Mercane. Neither is particularly noteworthy, though the citadel’s history does make reference to its name, as it was “Built centuries ago by a race of planar merchants to serve as a trade hub for their enterprise,” though apparently the mercane themselves are long gone. Neither location gets mentioned again after this, as they essentially serve as a brief stopover on the way to Tu’narath, though I wouldn’t be unhappy to see them again in the edition. 

The githyanki metropolis has undergone radical changes, despite still using Robert Lazzaretti’s map from Third Edition as its basis. Due to events in “Lich Queen Beloved, “Vlaakith’s mad rituals sent shockwaves through the city, destroying Susurrus, the Palace of Whispers, and reducing the necropolis and the statue of Gith to rubble. Damage from this event can still be seen in adjoining military districts and the city has worked to rebuild.” Now Emperor Zetch’r’r rules the city, largely at Tiamat’s behest for reasons explained by the module, and he’s been in charge for the past 25 years ever since his alliance with the dragon queen allowed him to subdue all rivals for the throne. But Tiamat also required him to change his focus—while he originally wished to redouble his people’s ancient war against the mind flayers, by her decree the githyanki would “abandon their campaign against the mind flayers and refocus their efforts to combat Tiamat’s foes.”

Aside from perhaps an uncomfortable growth in the illithid population, this would seem to mean few changes for the multiverse… however:


What neither Tiamat nor Zetch’r’r realized was that by abandoning the Eternal Crusade, they rendered the ancient compact between the githyanki and the red dragons void. Without the pact, Gith, who’s [sic.]soul long-languished in Dispater’s cells in the Nine Hells, was free to find the oblivion long-owed her in the Shadowfell, but this ancient hero was not finished yet.”

Not only is Gith’s return noteworthy—the leader of the rebel githyanki is a reincarnated Gith herself, now going by the name Vlaakith, I guess because she wanted to sow more confusion in the multiverse—this also answers an age old question as to what exactly the deal was between Gith and Tiamat and what was the fate of her soul. Wow, that’s a lot of sudden revelations, and what’s more they all largely make sense. As the adventure ends, Vlaakith, i.e. Gith, is in charge of her people once more, and for the first time in D&D it feels like their future of the githyanki is bright and might actually lead away from their usual militaristic form of fascism (and the new/old ruler is even neutral rather than evilly aligned). 

I’m sorry, but while this is a map-accurate depiction of Tu’narath, it also makes the dead god look pretty dumb.

Before moving on to the epic tier of adventures—that’s right, there’s six more of these suckers to go and every one of them is planar—I also want to note a couple other points of interest from “Tyranny.” Because all of the adventure path modules are theoretically playable as stand-alones (not that anyone actually does this), they usually also include “Alternate Hooks” for getting players involved without the prior dozen adventures. Two of them for “Tyranny” were interesting, even if their canonical status is unclear.

Chaos Reigns
While taking some well-deserved downtime in Sigil (or elsewhere), the heroes are approached by a coalition of githzerai and Xaositects, a faction devoted to Chaos. The coalition has learned that Gith has escaped the Nine Hells and now leads a Separatist faction within Tu’narath. The githzerai believe Gith’s return could fracture and weaken the githyanki, while the Xaositects simply want to spread unrest. To these ends, the coalition recruits the PCs to negotiate an alliance with the Separatists and foment a bloody civil war.

If you recall from The Plane Below, the Xaositects don’t even exist anymore. Fortunately, like me, Schwalb didn’t seem to care for this development and ignored it entirely. This coalition idea doesn’t make any sense to me, and really it seems more logical to just do this with the githzerai on their own, but it was nonetheless a huge surprise to see them crop up. 

The One in the Void
When Vlaakith CLVII worked to steal the divine spark residing within the One in the Void (see “The Lich Queen’s Beloved” in Dungeon Magazine #100), she inadvertently stirred the corpse’s consciousness. The dead god now dreams, and in its visions it sees a disturbing future, one in which the Far Realm spills into the mortal world and unravels the cosmos. Believing the githyanki are vital to combating the impending mind flayer empire that will begin the invasion, the dead god scours the natural world for heroes to restore the githyanki to their proper purpose and release them from Tiamat’s clutches. Plagued with disturbing visions and dreams, the PCs travel to Tu’narath and in doing so learn of Tiamat’s plot and the Separatist movement to oust her puppet from the githyanki throne. If the PCs help the Separatists, they can secure an alliance with the githyanki to attend to the mind flayer threat growing in the natural world.

The idea that the One in the Void has at least a bit of consciousness is wonderful, first off, and using this to bring mind flayers and the Far Realm into things is just the cherry on top. Frankly, I prefer this prompt for the adventure more than most of the Tiamat business and wish that this were a concept that Schwalb or someone else had been able to explore. 

Ok, I do know what this scene is about, I just think this depiction is hilariously over-the-top.

Ok, I said that every one of the adventures would be planar, but in the case of “Betrayal at Monadhan” by David Noonan it’s the type of “planar” that I’ve chosen to largely ignore. The world’s most suspicious informer tells the Coalition—you remember them, right?—that Tiamat is working with a “ritualist,” which is a thing in Fourth Edition, of “unparalleled potency.” The only way to stop them is to go through a portal within a Domain of Dread, i.e. one of those Ravenloft-style areas no one can leave. These domains are located in the Shadowfell, and this one, Monaghan, happens to be devoted to betrayal. As such, the only way to leave is through a portal whose key is an item representing the greatest betrayal of its inhabitants, which currently means the Sword of Kas. Players, uhh, do this and get out, necessarily betraying Kas along the way. 

I’m largely indifferent to moving the Demiplane of Dread to Shadowfell, but Kas already has a domain he’s stuck in, Tovag. You might vaguely recall it from Vecna Lives! and Vecna Reborn, as it’s part of the Burning Peaks cluster along with Vecna’s former prison, Cavitius. His appearance here is never explained, nor is Tovag mentioned. Today, people call areas like Monadhan “Shadowfell domains,” and while there were a whole bunch created for Fourth Edition, I never got the sense that they remotely caught on. As such, it’s a weird adventure that feels like it exists in its own corner of the multiverse never to be seen or heard from again, and it’s really strange when something like the Scales of War adventure path goes out of its way to include prior events within its storyline but then decides ignore other ones entirely. Oh well, let’s move on and pretend that none of this exists, though the weirdness of this cosmology where the only portal to another plane is through a tiny prison plane is only going to get messier in a second. 

Apparently ritualists are the most stereotypically evil people in the universe. They also only really exist in this one campaign, which I suppose is a good thing for everyone else.

It took me a little while to figure out where the hell PCs actually end up in “Grasp of the Mantled Citadel,” as it’s set within a land called Vaerothim that was never in the game before, and presumably never will be again since it’s so particular to this adventure path. Vaerothim is a demiplane linked to the Shadowfell through a portal deep within Monadhan, the Domain of Betrayal. It is also the site of “The Forest of Twisted Souls,” because this adventure path never saw a naming cliche it didn’t want to wholeheartedly endorse, and a decent-sized dungeon crawl within The Mantled Citadel. Regardless of what the PCs do, though, they’ve arrived too late (anyone who played through the H/P/E series of adventures will know this trope oh so well by now). The ritualist ritualized things up already and as soon as they’re back in “the world,” PCs learn that Bahamut’s dead. That was Tiamat’s plot, not all of that stuff with the githyanki, not selling weapons on the Prime, all of that was a distraction, i.e. essentially unrelated and only tenuously linked with the epic tier of this path. 

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from fantasy literature/the Bible, you can only keep a godlike figure dead for so long. Remember that incredibly boring woman who popped out of the platinum sword and then proceeded to boss the PCs around a bunch? Well she’s been having visions involving an artifact, and that alone should be enough for you to suss out that yes, she’s in some sense Bahamut, and that the next few adventures are going to revolve around resurrecting him. “Legacy of Io” by Daniel Marthaler takes players to Hestavar in order to steal an artifact named the Arrow of Fate. You might recall Hestavar from an article focused on it that we covered a few months back. Nothing is really changed about it here—to the point that even the art is reused—but getting that Arrow is going to require a lot of time spent wandering around the joint because it’s protected by a Zelda-esque lock that requires four keys in order to obtain it. Guess the gods really, really didn’t want Bahamut to come back from the dead. 

Yeah, I’m prety sure that the scene this illustrates just straight-up never occurs in the campaign.

Now, I never much cared for Hestavar… and I still don’t now. More time spent here hardly makes the location more interesting, and this also isn’t truly a non-linear city exploration, it just looks like one. Sure, it doesn’t matter what order players go through the first three locks in, but they’ll have to do them all, and how this happens is very prescribed. Even when one of the locks is just sitting in a market, the PCs are going to end up fighting through a gang of angry angels every step of the way. And I get it, the designers wanted to figure out a way to make a good-aligned group fight against mobs of good-aligned angels, and this sort of makes sense. Sort of. But that there’s no way of talking through this problem, of simply getting across that this artifact can resurrect Bahamut which the local deities and other paragons of goodness would theoretically be all for, is grating. As per usual,  the only way forward is a string of unavoidable fights. 

Oh, players do get to finally explore the legendary eye of Hestavar’s storm, as that’s where the Arrow’s actually resting. Turns out, it’s where an enslaved storm titan hangs out in eternal punishment. Wait, weren’t these deities supposed to be the good guys? 

Once players have the Arrow of Fate, sword-lady Amyria has another vision and tells the PCs where to bring her and the Arrow in order to revive Bahamut (the Arrow is just to kill a powerful angel, go figure). This seems like it shouldn’t be too difficult, as it’s the very realm of the dragon king, but since his demise the metallic dragons have been in turmoil such that it’s likely Amyria is kidnapped by their new ruler, who also prevents the players from heading towards their goal destination. Unfortunately, all of this is set within a version of Celestia that differs wildly from the Great Wheel version and would make all of this difficult to run outside of Fourth Edition’s wonky cosmology. Instead of one mountain, Celestia is now a series of them, and “Those Once Loyal” by Robert J. Schwalb relies upon running around these newly named mountains and investigating a radically different version of Moradin’s realm. That being said, I do love that this adventure features Celestia in a way that makes this eternally dull plane interesting, even if some of the requirements for doing so (i.e. Moradin’s Aspect being a fucking moron) are a bit nonsensical. 


The actual conflict and machinations involved with it are also wonderful, despite requiring Io to be long dead in a way that contradicts earlier editions of D&D. The big bad of this particular adventure, Dakranad, is a “historian and philosopher” who believes that ultimately Bahamut’s death is a net good for the multiverse, as it should stop the endless war between him and Tiamat. At least, that’s his theory. In order to make this happen:

The only solution was to claim Bahamut’s mantle and assume his place.

For all his intellect and foresight, Dakranad failed to recognize his hubris when he approached the seven gold dragons who advised their master. Dakranad gave an impassioned speech, explaining the histories and their consequences and the dangers yet to come should Bahamut be permitted to continue his struggle. He beseeched the dragons to elevate him so he could take the Platinum Dragon’s place and bring the costly war to an end. His audience was both delighted that

Bahamut would return and horrified by the dragon’s offer. They were so offended that they tossed the mithral dragon out from Celestia and unknowingly placed him in the clutches of an insidious enemy who wanted vengeance for himself.

Enter Dispater. Bahamut and Tiamat caused the archdevil endless trouble with their squabbling. Dispater lost his prized prisoner (Gith), had his aspect murdered, and saw any chance at claiming  the githyanki dashed for the foreseeable future. The only way for Dispater to salvage his situation was to claim the god’s essence for himself and either keep it tucked away in his iron citadel or use it to remove Asmodeus and elevate himself to master of the Nine Hells.

Dakranad was skeptical about an alliance with the archdevil, knowing enough to realize the peril in dealing with such a fiend. Yet Dakranad’s desperation undid his reservations and allowed him to be swayed by the archdevil’s honeyed words. Dispater assured the dragon that they would attain a bloodless victory, and with his support they could seize Amyria when she entered Celestia and prevent her from becoming Bahamut with little trouble at all.

Backed by a legion of devils, Dakranad and Dispater slipped into Celestia, moved to the Shining

Bastion, Bahamut’s palace, and seized the stronghold by force. The gold dragons would not kneel before them, even when faced by a devil and his army. The gold dragons fought; Dakranad and his allies won; Bahamut’s palace was theirs.

It wasn’t until the last gold dragon lay dying on the floor that Dakranad realized his crime’s enormity. His intent was never power but to save lives. The dead dragons’ glassy eyes reflected his corruption, but instead of retreating from his wickedness, he resolved to see his plan to its conclusion and right his wrongs. He would lead Celestia into a bright future, free from conflict and strife, and free from Io’s legacy for all time

I know that’s a long quotation, and it’s only partially because I’m exhausted from just how fucking long this adventure path is. Mostly, it’s that this is a fantastic setup for an adventure and a wonderful development for the planes. I have tons of issues with this adventure path and its logic, but every part of Dakranad’s story appealed to me. We’ll just pretend that the ridiculous situation where regardless of what players do Bahamut returns (now THAT is a railroad if I’ve ever seen one) isn’t part of the adventure.

Wait a second, is this a lovely illustration that I both like and remember? Too bad it’s for one of the dumber adventures, because this is some nice work by Mark Zug.

It kinda feels like that should be the end of the path, or at least the penultimate part before the PCs go and beat up Tiamat herself. First, though, there’s one more (I hate saying the word) exarch of Tiamat’s left, and so that means it’s time for a weird sidetrek. With Bahamut back, Tiamat is now instantly losing the war. Don’t ask me why, it doesn’t make sense to me either, given that Bahamut’s own forces couldn’t even stand up to Dakranad, but that’s what we’re told at the beginning of “Test of Fire” by Scott Fitzgerald Gray.

The war has turned under the pressure of a tide that the Dragon Queen could never have predicted, but it is not won.

Umm, what? Why? And if it was always that easy to beat up Tiamat’s forces, why didn’t Bahamut do it ten times over when most of his forces hadn’t been recently demolished by a member of his own palace. *sigh* Anyhow, since last time, Tiamat is down to just her personal realm and the City of Brass, which is “her last redoubt in the planes.” This is another new random development; much like the githyanki, the efreets have allied with Tiamat because, umm, err, time for another lengthy quote I guess:

The Dragon Queen has entered into dark bargains with the Lord of the Efreets, the powerful and power hungry Bashumgarda. He believes that this alliance will grant him control of the Elemental Chaos, but Tiamat’s treachery runs deep. Her ritualists have used the great knowledge of the efreets to channel the raw energy of the elements. She intends to claim the efreets’ power as her own and to infuse her armies with elemental might that could tip the tide of battle.

It’s a dumb development that makes little sense and turns the infinitely wise Lord of the Efreets into a complete moronic pawn. Awesome. But what this means is that the PCs need to sneak into the City of Brass and assassinate Bashumgarda. Hilariously, once this is done and the dragons come in to fight, Bahamut gets completely destroyed by the blue exarch, as an excuse for the PCs, who at this point are essentially full-on deities themselves, to show up the weakling god of all good dragons. 

The most interesting part of this adventure is that the City of Brass’s busy streets are briefly deserted. Really, though, it’s just a dungeon crawl to get into the city, a small meeting with the local resistance, then a series of even bigger fights to finish things off. Weirdly, the Charcoal Palace isn’t itself a dungeon, players just kinda bust open the front door and find Bashumgarda hanging about nearby. As I said, the Lord of Efreets is crazily stupid, even by the standards of this adventure path, which has some of the dumber villains I’ve ever seen in a roleplaying game. 

Also absolutely love this illustration by Lucas Graciano. If players knew that this scenario was what awaited them at the end of the adventure path, maybe more of them would’ve stuck it out.

All that’s left is the final adventure, “Last Breath of the Dragon Queen,” which features the players visiting Tiamat’s realm Tytherion (remember, in Fourth Edition she isn’t in Hell) and beating up her and all of her minions on their own. The reasons for why this and many other missions require the PCs to go in sans support, such as an army, are ridiculous, but on the other hand the PCs do handily show up a god on their own so who am I to judge? Unlike with earlier editions of the game, murdering a god is just something players get to do sometimes—we’re about as far removed from Planescape’s omnipotent Powers as you can get. 

I’m tired. Are you tired? I’m sure you’re tired, too, we’re all tired all of the time for all sorts of good and, mostly, bad reasons, but especially after even vicariously reading through all nineteen of these adventures. On the plus side, primordials and their ilk barely play a role in this campaign, but at the same time it’s a distillation of D&D to its most power fantasy-ized core. There are entire modules from this path with hack-and-slash minimized, but they’re few and far between in an overall structure focused on the players becoming gods. It was an interesting read, but at the same time you’d have to be insanely committed to make it through most of these scenarios, let alone all of them. Of the four adventure paths officially released for D&D, it’s my least favorite, and if we want to consider things like the H/P/E series, the GDQ series, or the Sunless Citadel and its sequels essentially adventure paths by a different name… well, it’s still my least favorite. The good material, of which there is no shortage given how long this lasts, is nevertheless excellent, but the bad material is so overwhelming in its immensity that the overall campaign simply can’t compete. At least, that’s my impression from reading through it, though I’d be more than happy to hear I’m completely wrong by someone who actually played through the campaign.

Mike Schley’s work isn’t flashy, but it’s consistently excellent. However, it is universally keyed and as such not something you’d want to show players. Why did Wizards of the Coast do this with every single map in Fourth Edition?!

I mentioned that Mike Schley’s cartography is excellent at the beginning of this write-up, and I’m happy to repeat that again. However, all of the maps included in the original PDFs were marked-up with icons and such, and until recently when Schley began offering them for sale on his own website and patreon it was impossible to get usable copies to be shown in front of players. As usual, it feels like Wizards of the Coast didn’t understand how people actually play the game and that no one wants to have little icons spoiling things all about their tabletops. And if you’re looking for good maps of these regions as a whole, then good luck, as that’s something Fourth Edition has always been completely against. This later choice really conspired against the path as a whole and made it feel less realistic all of the way through.

Art becomes more and more sparse as the path goes on, and by the end it’s just the maps and cover images. I suspect that the edition’s slavish love for battlemaps was the only thing that kept these being made, as it felt like a lot of the publications’ love for the series tapered off during the months of production. Overall, the artwork seemed essentially the same as the rest of Fourth Edition’s, which is to say good but unmemorable, and at the moment I can’t recall a single interior work that stuck out in my mind. Some of it was probably really good, but it’s always so deemphasized in this edition that it oftentimes might as well not exist. 

And that’s it. I could write more, but at this point I’m sure no one wants more words about this adventure path; I believe this is the longest write-up this site has ever seen. I hope you enjoyed it despite the wordiness, but I think we’re all more than a little bit happy that nothing this long has ever happened in the game’s official releases since. At least it finally feels like we’re turning the corner towards Fifth Edition, even if there’s a few chonky books left in Fourth that we’re yet to cover. 

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