D&D 5E [Let's Read] Azrael's Guide to the Apocalypse

Libertad

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Note: This product isn’t yet available to the general public, but it is available to KickStarter backers.

2nd Note: I don't have a religious background and am reviewing the product on its merit as a gaming supplement. The relative truth/falsity of the Abrahamic and other faiths covered isn't an intended subject or conversation point I'm interested in delving into for this work.

Around a year ago, I reviewed the Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible, a first-time product from a new publisher that blew me away. Set during the first century in Roman-occupied Judea, it was an historical fantasy world where archdemons plotted to thwart the Messiah’s goals of saving humanity, and the PCs would travel around the land doing what they could to stop them.

Roughly a year later, we have a pseudo-sequel to that product in Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse. This adventure is strongly inspired by the Book of Revelation, detailing a cosmic war between the forces of Heaven and Hell while also focusing on a near-future world where the Antichrist rules over most of Earth. The PCs in this case are mortals who recently died and are recruited by the angel Azrael into an elite organization known as the Reapers, celestials engaged in spiritual warfare by safeguarding souls from demonic influence. Just as Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible featured characters, locations, and events from the last years of Jesus’ life and ministry, Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse features characters, locations, and events from the Book of Revelation. It is more linear than Adventurer’s, more combat-heavy, and goes from levels 10 to 20 for a party of 4-6 PCs. It is less an historical fantasy and more what I’d dub as Biblical Cosmic Horror. The world is ending, in one way or another, first through global totalitarianism and then by demonic forces reducing most of human civilization to ash. Many adventures are set in unearthly locations, from the dark void of space to the liminal Veil separating the mortal world and afterlife. While this adventure can possibly be run as a sequel, it is as different from its predecessor as Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage is from Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.

Azrael’s Guide opens up with an introduction with a brief overview of the book, as well as general pointers and tips such as talking about content warnings and triggers, how this adventure isn’t meant to be an authoritative source on Revelation, example formats for boxed text, etc. We have a brief explanation of some general rules for the setting: much of the adventure takes place in the Veil, a kind of liminal space between the spiritual and physical realms of reality, a neutral zone between celestials and fiends. The souls of living creatures who die enter the Veil and are then shepherded to either Heaven or Hell, and the environment looks like a hazy reflection of the world. It’s similar to the Ethereal Plane in this way. PCs can move and interact with the environment of the Veil as they would the Material Plane, although they cannot interact with still-living souls, and when aspects of the landscape are damaged and changed they will be “reversed” to their original position and state in a few seconds. Characters in the Veil can spend a bonus action to attempt a DC 18 Intelligence save to make short-term changes to the plane’s physics, such as creating a single nonmagical object worth up to 1,000 gold or passing through one nonmagical barrier.

Furthermore, money and supplies are less of a concern in the spiritual realms in general; barring unique plot MacGuffins and magic items, it can be assumed that most PCs simply conjure most non-valuable nonmagical items, and they don’t need to track ammunition and spell components. More valuable objects and magical items can be “purchased” from celestials who rely on a sort of reputation system, where the person first proves their worthiness and good intentions. For instance, an item worth 2,000 GP or of Uncommon rarity requires an Act of Diligence, where the next time the character spends a short or long rest they don’t gain the benefits from that and instead devote that time to prayer. But an item that is 10,000 GP or Very Rare requires the PC to do an Act of Kindness by showing mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it. When it comes to starting equipment, PCs who are newly created can spend up to 12,000 GP on any combination of mundane or magical equipment in line with the preceding price guide (but no required Acts). PCs who are transported from Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible (presumably at that campaign’s end) begin play with whatever possessions and magic items they had from that adventure.

Additionally, this particular adventure adds new relevant terms and creature types. Enigmas are a type of being that are incarnations of ideas; they’re native to the Spiritual Realm, and include beings such as the Four Horsemen and Babylon.* The other creature type is an Amalgam, a fusion of two unrelated types into one being. Most commonly these represent the Antichrist and his minions on Earth, of demons going about in mortal shells (self-created, not possessed humans). Any trait that can affect one of the Amalgam’s base creature types can affect the Amalgam. For example, an Amalgam drawing upon Humanoid and Fiend registers as a Fiend to Detect Good and Evil, but can also be targeted by spells that only affect Humanoids.

*Better known as the Whore of Babylon, but was renamed in this adventure given the book explains that the contemporary languages at the time spoke of a lack of faith and idolatry in general as metaphors for sexual infidelity. And due to this, it can be hard when going by “original translations” to tell when particular Bible verses are discussing literal or figurative adultery. Or so the book claims, I’m not a linguist or theologian.

Furthermore, the term Realm is used for clusters of related Planes of existence. For example, in DnD’s Great Wheel the Lower Planes such as the Nine Hells and Hades would be part of a “Lower Realm.” In regards to this setting, the Physical Realm refers to the realms of the living, which also include the Feywild and Shadowfell…which I’m pretty sure aren’t in the Bible. And Heaven and Hell are not single planes but entire Spiritual Realms. Plane Shift thus acts as a plane-by-plane transportation, allowing one to hop between Planes within a Realm but not to new realms. Inter-realm travel is more of a plot device and thus very rare. Relatedly, the Plane Shift spell can be used to go through different moments of time in the Veil, but this isn’t true time travel as the Spiritual Realms basically move at the Speed of Plot.

Going on to character creation, PCs who arrive in the Veil instantly gain knowledge of a universally-shared language that is basically Common. Furthermore, PCs have 1-2 Eternal Traits, which are basically like Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws. But what makes them different is that these Eternal Traits explain why they’ve been chosen by Azrael and why he didn’t just simply take them to their final reward/punishment. In short, Eternal Traits represent driving motivations that spur on the soul, a sort of “unfinished business” preventing one from earning spiritual rest. They can range from someone who spent their lives trying to make their parents proud but cannot bear to face them in Heaven (Eternal Bond), to an ideal to help other people before passing on (Eternal Ideal-Redemption). They could also be Flaws where their souls are in jeopardy of damnation but Azrael sees a worthy spark of redemption, or even Talents in the war to come that Azrael personally requested as candidates for Reaper induction. The DM is heavily encouraged to prioritize these Eternal Traits throughout the adventure, from making PC-specific scenes to sources of strength as well as infernal temptations by Satan.

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Azrael’s Guide has five new subclasses representing broad archetypes from across human history.

The Exorcism Domain Cleric represents one who has undergone special training in protecting the free will of mortals. Demons and other creatures who take over the autonomy of other beings are considered especially dangerous, and exorcists are well aware of the unseen battles raging beyond mortal perception. Their bonus spells revolve around abjuration and divination, from Detect/Protect Good and Evil, Dispel Magic, and Guardian of Faith. At 1st level they gain proficiencies in new languages, the herbalism kit, and possess special exorcism tools that can be used as a spellcasting focus and grant Thaumaturgy as a bonus cantrip. They can also turn and destroy fiends as well as undead when channeling divinity, and at 6th level they can spend an action to automatically remove the charmed, frightened, or possession condition on a target (infinite use) and damage the creature who imposed that condition if they fail an Intelligence save; at 6th level they also gain personal immunity to charmed and possession attempts themselves along with advantage (and later immunity at 17th level) to the frightened condition; at 8th level they can add their Wisdom modifier to damaging cantrips, and at 17th level the cleric can deal extra damage to creatures that attempt to use or innately possess abilities that inflict those three conditions.

Thoughts: Overall, this domain’s use is situational in that it’s specialized for specific kinds of enemy tactics, but as the charmed and frightened conditions are so common this is a very strong subclass. Being able to end such conditions at will (albeit as an action and with a 30 foot range limit) is also really good. Furthermore, being able to turn and destroy fiends is particularly great for this adventure, as that creature type is incredibly common.

The Commando Fighter Archetype represents soldiers trained in modern warfare, from firearms to explosives. At 3rd level they gain proficiency in firearms, enemies provoke opportunity attacks from their ranged weapons like they were melee weapons, and they also gain two Weapon Specialties. Weapon Specialties basically grant the Commando a specific weapon type for free, and they can magically summon it along with ammunition to their hands. The Commando can gain more Specialities as they increase in level and swap out old equipment with new ones, as many of them are locked behind higher level progressions. At 7th level the Commando can treat their Specialty Weapons as magical, gains immunity to being Surprised as long as they’re not Incapacitated,* treat any Perception rolls of 7 or lower as an 8, at 15th level they can automatically exclude a limited number of creatures from damaging area of effect attacks equal to their Dexterity modifier (minimum 1), and their 18th level capstones make creatures provoke opportunity attacks whenever they move more than 5 feet within their ranged weapon’s normal range and they gain an additional reaction each round for the sole purpose of triggering opportunity attacks.

*If you have this condition, then you can’t really do much during an ambush anyway.

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Let’s talk about Weapon Specialities. We have 21 weapons here, all of which are pretty solidly modern or post WW1 at the very least. Just about all of them have special properties or rules. For instance, a Combat Pistol doesn’t provoke disadvantage on attack rolls when adjacent to a hostile creature, the shotguns can move a Large or smaller target up to 10 feet away and knock them prone if they fail a Strength save, automatic weapons can expend more ammo to do a damaging AoE cube, the grenades create damaging or debuffing 20 foot radius attacks (gas does poisoned, stun does stunned, both can last up to 1 minute), the Flamethrower is a 60 foot cone of fire damage, and Anti-Material Rifles deal double damage to vehicles and ignore any cover bonus to AC less than total cover.

Another thing is that those who wish to use this subclass in other settings have listed prices for the weapons and ammo. Given that most settings don’t let you conjure items out of thin air, the DM is encouraged to have PCs who learn Weapon Specialties automatically find such weapons at the earliest possible convenience. Furthermore, these aren’t Commando-specific weapons. There are NPCs in this adventure that wield some of them, such as the Sniper Rifle, meaning that other PCs can make use of such gear.

This exposes a rather unbalancing aspect of the adventure: PCs can come from any era of human history. So when it comes to whether you want your Rogue to have a hand crossbow or silenced pistol, firearms in general are just plain better. The Combat Pistol alone is double the damage of a hand crossbow and can be used for similar Two-Weapon Fighting Sharpshooter builds for generating lots of damage. And a sniper can outperform a longbow user in both range and damage. Even the reloading properties are less punishing than that of crossbows, for a character can still make multiple attacks in a round provided they have the ammunition loaded up, and new ammo can be inserted as an action or bonus action. And if a PC has the Gunner feat, can ignore the reloading property altogether!

Thoughts: But even so, this subclass can make the Fighter really fun to play. For one, it gives the class access to things like AoE attacks, conditions to inflict on enemies, and even non-physical damage types such as with the flamethrower or demolition charge which deals thunder damage. And since a grenade is a thrown weapon, an 11th level Fighter can do something like throw a stun grenade into a cluster of enemies with one hand, throw a frag grenade from the other hand to take advantage of stunned enemies’ inability to succeed on DEX saves, then pull out a flamethrower as their free weapon switch that round and torch the survivors! Or Action Surge, throw a grenade in one hand, take out two Combat Pistols at once via the Dual Wielder feat, then shoot 5 times with the remaining regular Attacks and a sixth time with an off-hand bonus action attack!

The Way of the Pilgrim Monk is someone who wanders the world as part of a spiritual journey. Their reasons can be many, but what unites them is their supernatural ability to travel across reality. Initially at 3rd level they gain the Druidcraft cantrip and can spend 2 ki points to cast a limited number of movement-based spells such as Find Steed and Misty Step. At 6th level they can gain a fly speed until the beginning of their next turn when they use Step of the Wind, at 11th level can cast Find the Path once per long rest when they complete a short rest, and their 17th level ultimate ability lets them spend 7 ki points to teleport themselves and up to 10 willing creatures into the labyrinthine dimension known as Trasna. While there, they can make a DC 15 Wisdom or Grace* check to arrive at a named destination. Failure causes them to arrive at an unintended destination instead.

*A new ability score introduced in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible. It gets virtually no play in this adventure, though.

Thoughts: When it comes to judging this subclass, Way of the Pilgrim has stronger low-level features. Blur and Misty Step are pretty good spells for a monk to have, as is a short-duration fly speed. But its higher levels features are more situational; Find the Path is but a single 6th level spell, and Trasna is more akin to a combined Plane Shift and Teleport requiring an ability check. As such I don’t find them as impressive. As for how useful they’d be in this adventure specifically, there are two chase scenes and some infiltration scenes that may be useful for this monk, but there are NPC allies and even a magic item freely given by Azrael* that can substitute for these features, which blunts its impact a bit.

*Mantle of the Reaper, a cloak that lets the wearer grow wings and gain a flying speed for 1 hour once per short or long rest.

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The Paladin Oath of the Templar represents knights belonging to the Order of Solomon’s Temple, an organization tasked with defending travelers and pilgrims traversing the roads of the medieval era. They were well-respected, which earned the jealousy of some monarchs. At one point the King of France and the Pope conspired to turn public opinion against them, causing many to betray and kill the knights. Even when they became outlaws in the eyes of authorities, many Templars still sought to live by their tenets.

This subclass tenet’s involve not swearing allegiance to any earthly authority figure, reserving that devotion to God alone; be willing to stand for one’s beliefs in the face of defeat and death; a vow of poverty where you only own the possessions of your trade and rely on the kindness of others for sustenance; and to protect society’s poor and vulnerable.

All of which are pretty easy tenets to follow for a typical Paladin, and also within the confines of this adventure. The bonus spells this subclass grants tend towards abjuration such as Warding Bond and Death Ward, with some typical “holy magic” spells like Revivify and Holy Weapon. Their Channel Divinity options include imposing the frightened condition on a nearby hostile enemy or praying to God for material aid. In the latter case this takes the form of a friendly mortal providing the paladin with goods, a magic item, or favor whose expenses and scope is based on their level. Their 7th level aura grants a number of temporary hit points to allies whenever the paladin is damaged, a value equal to half the damage rounded up. At 15th level they can force a creature attacking a nearby target other than the paladin to make a Wisdom save or have that attack fail. And their 20th level special form grants nearby allies advantage on saving throws, can spend a reaction to have a dying ally reroll a death save with a +8 bonus (meaning they only fail on a natural 1), and nearby enemies have disadvantage on attack rolls against the paladin and their allies.

Thoughts: One of the Channel Divinity options is rather situational, and based on the unique rules for the Veil may not be very important for this campaign. Frightened is a good debuff but as that may have an enemy run away and most paladins specialize in melee, that may involve the Templar going further away from the allies they seek to protect unless they first corner that foe. The aura ability is extremely powerful, given that even moderately damaging attacks can grant an awful lot of temporary hit points. The downside is that the aura forces characters to cluster together, making them vulnerable to AoE attacks, but that’s a problem for paladin auras in general. The forcing of a Wisdom save to attack people other than the Paladin is a pretty good ability too, particularly when paired up with a Rogue using Sneak Attack in melee.

The Warlock Watcher Patron is so named for a race of celestials placed on Earth during the time of Adam and Eve. God assigned them to observe the mortal world without interfering, a task to which they failed to commit. The Watches fell in love with humans, giving up their immortality to live with them on Earth, and producing children who would later become known as the Nephilim race. A few Watchers became fiends, siding with Satan when he rebelled against God. Now, most Watchers act as covert operators, not trusted for their initial defiance against God but still willing to give mortals the secrets of celestial magic should they prove worthy.

The expanded spells are a mixture, ranging from divination (Detect Magic, Augury) to Cleric-lite (Spiritual Weapons, Spirit Guardians) to offensive (Bestow Curse, Pillar of Fire which is in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible). At 1st level they can take on a radiant form as a bonus action for 1 minute, granting them a variety of minor benefits such as dealing radiant damage to adjacent enemies whenever they take damage, +5 to Perception checks, and float 5 feet above the ground and become immune to the prone condition. They can only assume this form a number of times equal to their Charisma modifier per long rest. At 3rd level they gain an enhanced version of a regular Pact boon: for instance, Pact of the Blade lets them choose between dealing the weapon’s standard damage or radiant damage, Pact of the Chain grants them a Chalkydri Fledgling (new monster) as a familiar option, and Pact of the Tome has the book’s text tell legends of heroes and angels in times long past, and the warlock can pick a single proficient skill to add double their proficiency for as long as they’re holding the Tome. Said skill cannot be changed once chosen, in case my paraphrasing of the text is unclear.

At 6th level the Watcher Patron gains the Eye of the Watcher. It’s a magical scrying eye that is basically a modified version of Arcane Eye but with limited range (within 100 feet), their patron can see through it as well, is summoned and commanded as a bonus action instead of an action, and can be summoned a number of times equal to their Charisma modifier per long rest. At 10th level their Radiant Form gains more benefits in the form of a fly speed and resistance to necrotic and radiant damage. And at 14th level their Eye gains darkvision and truesight, can be summoned an infinite number of times, and has no range limit.

We get three new Eldritch Invocations that improve existing Pacts. Apocryphal Blade turns a Pact of the Blade weapon into a spellcasting focus as well as adding +1 to spell attack rolls and save DCs; Song of Sunrise lets the warlock roll one saving throw with advantage once per short or long rest provided their familiar is within 100 feet; and Atlas of the Wanderer adds a new blank page to a Tome Pact’s book, where they can write the names of a number of creatures equal to their proficiency bonus on that page. They can then cast Locate Creature without using a spell slot or material components to locate one of the named entities.

Thoughts: It’s a bit hard for me to judge this subclass, albeit it looks to be strong with the right builds and focus. The Chalkydri Fledgling’s most useful feature is the ability to cast at-will Guidance as a bonus action to those within its natural illumination of 20 feet, but otherwise don’t have any other real useful abilities like the ever-favorite invisible imp. The Hexblade is still the best option for Blade Pact warlocks. Double proficiency when taken with the right skill can be quite good. The Eye of the Watcher is basically extra free castings of Arcane Eye, and gaining access to spells such as Divination and Commune can make the warlock a pretty good Divination Wizard equivalent given that they can recharge their spell slots on a short rest instead of long. Spirit Guardians is also a great spell in general to have, particularly for the rather squishy warlock. Apocryphal Blade, which doesn’t require this subclass, is really good given that adding +1 to attack rolls and save DCs can nicely stack with Bloodwell Vials.

Thoughts So Far: The explanation of the Veil, planar realms, and a reputation-based celestial economy do a great job in reinforcing the otherworldly nature of this campaign. I am not as fond on introducing entirely new creature types: most Amalgams can just be new features in a creature’s stat block, and Enigmas as personified ideas I feel can easily be folded into close enough otherworldly types (celestial, fey, or fiend) or possibly even construct. The Eternal Traits really bring the Bonds/Ideals/Flaws concept to the forefront in making them prime reasons for being involved in the adventure at all. But given their broadness, a lot of situations that call for them are little more than telling the DM “make something up.” Which is inevitable, but ends up making more work.

As for the new subclasses, none of them really strike me as underpowered, but the Exorcism domain Cleric looks to be the one with the most broadly-useful abilities for most campaigns. The others have some really nifty features which can be exploited with the proper builds, although the Commando introduces a broader problem of the unbalanced nature of modern weapons. While “adventuring in the modern world” isn’t a major part of this adventure, it does happen often enough that we see such concepts D&Dified, some in ways satisfactory and others not so much. In fact, there’s no real upside to having PCs come from pre-modern eras overall, which is a bit of a minus. For example, during the infiltration of the Antichrist’s headquarters, there is a scenario involving hacking into computer systems. It’s handled as an Investigation check, but those who didn’t grow up with access to such technology will take disadvantage on the roll, but those who had prior experience with modern technology have advantage on the roll.

Last but not least, this is a recurring problem throughout the book: making reference to material in the predecessor book of Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible, but not repeating such material in Azrael’s. We see it for some of the bonus spells in the new subclasses, but it also pops up with general and specific monster types, magic items, and so on. So Azrael’s isn’t completely self-contained in that you need the prior product to get the most out of it.

Join us next time as we learn more about how Earth fares in the End Times in the tie-in product, Rise of the Antichrist!
 

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Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
This adventure is strongly inspired by the Book of Revelation, detailing a cosmic war between the forces of Heaven and Hell while also focusing on a near-future world where the Antichrist rules over most of Earth.​

the simpsons react GIF

I finally have something I can pitch to the church ladies!​

more what I’d dub as Biblical Cosmic Horror.​
Y'know, there are combinations of words that I've never heard before, but the first time hearing them, I'm like, "How is that not already a thing?" And so it is with this product. I fully expect this will get insanely dark, but I wonder how they're going to stick the landing?

Furthermore, money and supplies are less of a concern in the spiritual realms in general; barring unique plot MacGuffins and magic items, it can be assumed that most PCs simply conjure most non-valuable nonmagical items, and they don’t need to track ammunition and spell components.
That's an interesting setup, but one that is pretty much de rigeur for campaigns that stretch into Tier 3.

Going on to character creation, PCs who arrive in the Veil instantly gain knowledge of a universally-shared language that is basically Common. Furthermore, PCs have 1-2 Eternal Traits, which are basically like Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws. But what makes them different is that these Eternal Traits explain why they’ve been chosen by Azrael and why he didn’t just simply take them to their final reward/punishment. In short, Eternal Traits represent driving motivations that spur on the soul, a sort of “unfinished business” preventing one from earning spiritual rest. They can range from someone who spent their lives trying to make their parents proud but cannot bear to face them in Heaven (Eternal Bond), to an ideal to help other people before passing on (Eternal Ideal-Redemption).
That is another interesting set up; I in particular love anything that helps explain why the heroes are heroes, and not someone who chose to be heroic, especially in this milieu.

The Paladin Oath of the Templar represents knights belonging to the Order of Solomon’s Temple, an organization tasked with defending travelers and pilgrims traversing the roads of the medieval era. They were well-respected, which earned the jealousy of some monarchs.
Must....restrain....historical....RANT!!!!!!

As for the new subclasses, none of them really strike me as underpowered, but the Exorcism domain Cleric looks to be the one with the most broadly-useful abilities for most campaigns. The others have some really nifty features which can be exploited with the proper builds, although the Commando introduces a broader problem of the unbalanced nature of modern weapons. While “adventuring in the modern world” isn’t a major part of this adventure, it does happen often enough that we see such concepts D&Dified, some in ways satisfactory and others not so much. In fact, there’s no real upside to having PCs come from pre-modern eras overall, which is a bit of a minus. For example, during the infiltration of the Antichrist’s headquarters, there is a scenario involving hacking into computer systems. It’s handled as an Investigation check, but those who didn’t grow up with access to such technology will take disadvantage on the roll, but those who had prior experience with modern technology have advantage on the roll.
That's odd; it would have been triflingly easy to include a new ability (spell, invocation, prayer, etc) that lets you interface with machines. That could have been tied to a metacurrency, or locked behind a sufficient ability score like Grace. I'm honestly surprised this didn't come up in playtesting.

Either way, a great review of this section from you, friend! Really appreciate it and keep on banging them out!
 

Libertad

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While in other Let’s Reads I’d move on to the next chapter, on KickStarter I picked up some exclusive add-ons for Azrael’s. One of them is already released, a short 8-page PDF of an in-universe newspaper chronicling how the Antichrist got to power and changed the world for the worse. It can thus serve as an in-game handout for PCs or as part of a “Session Zero” backdrop for players to better understand how the historical fantasy world detailed in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible became a modern dystopia. I will not necessarily be speaking of things from the in-universe propaganda of the newspaper, instead giving a more objective overview from information gleaned from it along with the adventure proper.

Both products say that they deliberately chose a fictional figure for the Antichrist, along with not giving an explicit date or country in which the relevant adventure sections are set. “No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), governments, political affiliations, or events is intended or should be inferred.”

That’s an understandable desire: many Christian predictors of the End Times or Antichrist have veered towards more explicit prophecies, often heavily based on their local socio-political realities. Which inevitably dates End Times fiction when said prophecies don’t come to pass in that particular era. And this isn’t discounting the times the Antichrist is interpreted not as an individual, but as an institution/system or a state of mind that any human can potentially become.

On the other hand, the desire to remain apolitical is extremely hard to do when your fictional setting is not just “the real world,” but set in the near-future with cultural and contemporary events that map quite closely to our 21st Century. The personal ideology of the Antichrist’s government also has some elements which can be read a certain way or have themes reminiscent of certain mindsets that would definitely be “political.”

Going back to the adventure, the Antichrist in this setting isn’t an institution or a state of mind like in some interpretations, but a singular individual: Senator Jeremiah Resh. Resh’s early life is more or less unknown, but twenty years ago he became a rising star in the political arena of his (unnamed) country, at a time when the nation was heavily divided on all manner of issues from healthcare to freedom of speech along with increasing domestic terrorist attacks. In the latter case, many of them are believed to have had religious motivations. In his home nation, Jeremiah Resh became known for his outspoken criticism of the negative consequences of religion in general, drawing upon said terrorist attacks as the lynchpin for pushing through various laws banning public forms of religious expression.

During his fourth term as Senator, Resh worked as a political lobbyist and began reaching for more international influence, creating the seeds of an international coalition that would become known as the International Unity Project. The Project in its most basic form claims that the majority of things wrong with the world comes from division in general, and that humanity can be united towards a common goal by getting rid of the ties that keep us separate. Religion, ethnic and cultural identities, languages, and even the polarizing nature of democratic systems of government were posited as the lodestones keeping people from rising to their true potential.

The countries that signed on to the Project are known as the New Consolidated Nations. While Resh is not their leader in an official capacity and is still posing as a mere Senator of his home country, he operates as a power behind the throne and the leaders of the governments are basically puppets who run things by for his approval. There’s a special military-police unit known as the Marked Taskforce whose jurisdiction includes hunting down religious people, serving as security in the New Consolidated Nations’ unnamed capital city, anti-terrorism efforts,* and serving as “Peacekeeping forces” in regions still resisting the Antichrist’s rule. They are so named for bearing the distinctive tattoo of 3 6s hooked together at their lower loops, which is the Mark of the Beast. Resh plans to force all New Consolidated Nations citizens to get it as a tattoo, ostensibly to show their loyalty and as a government tracking measure to better combat “anti-Unity terrorism.” In reality, the Marked soldiers are all fiends with human-looking shells, although their eyes are distinctly inhuman which means they wear either sunglasses or helmets to conceal such features. Honestly, they’re not far off from the base soldiers of XCOM 2’s ADVENT or Half-Life’s Combine.

*In reality they’re terrorists in all but name.

Obviously, Resh has no such lofty goals of uplifting humanity into a singular utopian state: as the Antichrist he is the willful servant of Satan, and wants to make the world a more cruel, sinful place to ensure as many humans end up in Hell as possible. All forms of religion were banned in the name of combating the evils that were spawned from religious zealotry. Cultural celebrations were banned in the name of fighting discrimination, and diversity in general is regarded as a weakness, causing IUP countries to mandate a single language and ban all others. Such authoritarian laws have been used to further tyranny and genocide, but Resh harbors a special hatred for the Abrahamic faiths. The only real joy he feels is in knowing that he’s undoing all the works that Jesus Christ had sought to build on Earth, and once all the nations are under his sway he will unveil the new religion he was building up to all along: veneration of Satan himself.

The vast majority of world governments signed on to the International Unity Project, and those still resisting are but lone holdovers doomed to fail. Israel, Palestine, and some unnamed Middle Eastern nations occupy the latter group. When religious buildings, monuments, relics, and sacred texts were being destroyed, an unlikely alliance emerged in the Israeli-Palestinian Coalition who sought to protect the holiest sites from destruction. Said Coalition also received support from the Vatican, leading the New Consolidated Nations to firebomb the Catholic Church’s headquarters and wage a bloody, brutal war in the Levant and greater Middle East.

The rest of the newspaper hints at later events in the adventure, such as Melissa Mendax, Resh’s chief propagandist and False Prophet who is a secondary antagonist of sorts; a planned charity auction selling the contents of Senator Resh’s private vault in the capital city of the New Consolidated Nations; the Unity Memorial, built on the edge of the waterfall whose works of art are forged out of the broken remains of religious buildings from around the world; a blurb detailing information on a wanted individual who is actually Azrael in human disguise; and some classified newspaper sections that blend together everyday life and the underlying dystopia, such as an estate sale for the belongings of an old woman who got arrested for holding religious gatherings in her basement.

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From left to right: Shock Trooper, Agent, Sniper, Ironclad

While part of the main book, I figure that talking about Jeremiah Resh’s demonic spec ops squad is warranted here. The unholy means of their creation is unknown, but the most that can be gathered is that the Marked are the essence of fiends contained within a humanoid form. They are all Amalgam (Fiend/Humanoid) type and are pretty low CR, ranging from ¼ (agent) to 5 (Ironclad). They’re not a threat to high-level PCs individually, instead designed to wear down their resources via numbers, tactics, and in some cases equipment and vehicles.

The Marked Shock Troopers are weak CR 2 cannon fodder whose only means of attacking are automatic rifles, which have a special burst fire mode that makes the attack an AoE instead. They, along with all other Marked, have advantage on saves vs the charmed and frightened conditions, and in spite of wearing armor the trooper’s AC is a low 13 (they have 16 Dexterity, implying that it’s just for show). They aren’t proficient in any saves or skills save for Intimidation, and their mental ability scores are average or below-average in the case of Charisma. I do see an error in their stat block in having Intimidation +6 despite having a Charisma of 9 and Proficiency Bonus of +2. This is the same for Agents and Ironclad, as the Snipers are the only ones without it. Even if they had Expertise, it wouldn’t be this high.

Marked Agents are basically security for more civilian-friendly places bearing the illusion of safety, where body armor and automatic weapons would stand out. Their only attack is a silenced pistol, but like the Shock Troopers they’re only proficient in Intimidation (which they also have at +6) and no sneaky skills like Stealth or Sleight of Hand, so they aren’t exactly stellar assassin types. In the module they basically serve in roles similar to lookouts in public areas, where a gun is enough to keep civilians away.

Marked Snipers are pretty self-explanatory. Their hit points are incredibly low for being CR 3 (22), but they’re designed to be long-range glass cannons. They have gas grenades and sniper rifles, the latter being a +3 weapon. Combined with their 18 Dexterity gives them an amazing +9 to hit. Furthermore they have advantage on Stealth checks to hide, which they have at +8, and they have advantage on attack rolls against creatures not aware of their presence. And when they’re deployed in the module the text notes their field of vision, meaning they’re most often shooting from several “rooms” away unless the PCs manage to avoid detection. Given the extreme range of a sniper rifle, PCs will have to spend several turns getting to their position unless they have equally long-distance attacks or magical means of quickly closing the gap.

*These are the same rules as the ones the Commando subclass gets. Sniper Rifles are amazing, yo.

Marked Ironclads are heavy troopers for high-risk security and when you need to kill a lot of people with a minimal amount of soldiers. They have a sturdy 126 hit points, 18 AC courtesy of their ballistic armor and shield, can attack twice with a shotgun, and possess a Wrist Flamethrower which deals 3d8 fire damage in a 30 foot cone that ignites flammable objects and spreads around corners. Basically a less powerful version of the Commando weapon of the same name.

If the Marked Taskforce has any glaring weaknesses, it’s that they have no means of magical support on their own, and their lack of saving throw proficiencies and average mental ability scores means that such magic has a decent chance of working on them. Their advantage vs the frightened and charmed conditions helps alleviate this a bit, but spells that get around this are pretty potent. They also have no real melee attacks, even the 18 Strength Ironclad who doesn’t even have a shield bash. A melee fighter who is adjacent to them can easily lock them down and impose disadvantage on their ranged attacks until they move away, possibly risking an opportunity attack unless they Disengage.

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The Marked also have vehicles, which are pseudo-monsters in that they use most functions of a creature or NPC stat block but are objects which can’t act on their own. They all have typical construct/object immunities and grant varying degrees of cover to passengers depending on the Seats they’re currently occupying in the vehicle. All of them have Prone Vulnerability, typically meaning if the vehicle becomes prone they’re either Incapacitated (if ground vehicle) or start falling to the ground (if aerial) until they’re lifted upright via a Strength check (if ground) or piloted back to a stable condition via a Dexterity check (if aerial, proficiency bonus adds if trained in using such vehicles). Additionally, they have Seats which grant new special actions that can only be taken while in that position in the vehicle.

AFVs are pretty hefty vehicles that function similar to ATVs (Armored Transport Vehicles). They can hold 10 Medium creatures, have an impressive 175 hit points, 19 AC, a walking speed of 100 feet, and three unique Seats: the driver can take two special actions to either Ram a target that deals damage and knocks them prone if they fail a DEX save, or Swerve to gain advantage on a Dexterity save; the Gunner can use a special Rotary Cannon that deals damage like a Heavy Machine Gun in a 20 foot radius of the area they target; and Passengers can Deploy out the rear hatch, gaining +10 feet of movement for one round and advantage on their next attack roll.

The Marked Rotorcraft is basically a helicopter. It’s much more fragile with 50 hit points, 18 AC when moving but 13 when stationary, and is the fastest vehicle at 200 foot fly speed. For Seat abilities, the Pilot can Swerve like an AFV or enter Stealth Mode for up to an hour granting a +10 on Stealth checks; the Gunner has a mounted rifle that deals 2d12 damage; and the Passengers have no special actions.

The Marked Combat Tank is an engine of war, and its design has become instantly recognizable for their use in destroying countless sacred places of worship and killing religious dissidents. It is the toughest of the vehicles, with 250 hit points, a 22 AC, and is immune to fire and cold damage along with the typical construct immunities. The tank can hold 12 Medium creatures, and its ground speed of 50 feet is rather slow but the Steel Treads ignore difficult terrain. Characters who attack the tank from behind only need to hit a 17 AC and it also becomes vulnerable to piercing attacks from that position. There are four special Seats in the tank: the Commander can Call Instruction to grant +1d4 to attack rolls and saving throws to other creatures that can hear them* until the start of their next turn; the Driver can Crush, dealing bludgeoning damage and the prone condition like the AFV’s ram attack; the Gunner has a Main Gun that can fire twice per attack and deals a large amount of both bludgeoning and fire damage; and a Passenger can serve as Lookout to give another creature advantage on its next roll as per the Help action.

*Presumably allies, the text doesn’t specify this.

The three vehicles are very useful tools that the Marked Taskforce can use to even the odds (or more likely be a less comfy speedbump) against higher-level PCs. Being objects they cannot be affected by spells which specify creatures as targets, making them pretty resilient against many damaging spells. Furthermore, the Marked Rotorcraft’s fly speed outperforms every official monster of which I’m aware,* and even mere Agents or Shock Troopers can become a deadly threat when seated in a Combat Tank. The vehicle’s major weaknesses beyond the prone condition is that barring the Rotorcraft they have crappy Dexterity, which the Swerve actions can partially mitigate. They also can’t Dash as that’s not an option for the pilots, meaning that certain builds such as a Tabaxi Monk or Rogue hopped up on Haste can still outrun a car. Although the AFV and Combat Tank have good Strength, a PC designed around shoving should be able to knock them prone without much trouble. AFVs and Rotorcrafts are Huge and Tanks Gargantuan, meaning that a Goliath (or Giant if we want to stay Biblical) with Enlarge/Reduce can flip over a tank by RAW. Which is awesome!

*Discounting unique creatures that only show up in particular adventures, of which I’m sure there’s quite a bit.

Thoughts So Far: The world posited in Rise of the Antichrist checks off the major boxes for a near-future Biblical dystopia: Christians (and religious people in general) are outlawed and subject to being hunted down, the police and military of the capital city are all faceless troopers who none of the local citizenry actually know the identities of, most of the world is an Orwellian hell, actual resistance seems all but impossible, and people are being coerced to adopt a triple 6 mark in order to prove their loyalty to the new order. I think there’s some pretty strong story elements here, and I like how there’s still that “fantasy” element of magic and demons still acting behind the scenes even in the modern day.

One thing that clearly stands out is that the End Times in Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse is not the Rapture. Many people, particularly in the United States, are perhaps most familiar with that interpretation which is often pushed as the default by conservative Protestants in this country as well as the Left Behind franchise. Christians are still around and didn’t just vanish into thin air.

I actually have more to say, but as that may be swerving close into political territory unrelated to RPG games, you can read my takes over on RPGnet.

Join us next time as Azrael assembles a host of departed mortals from across human history in Chapter 1: the Reapers!
 
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Libertad

Hero
Thank you as always for your in-depth reviews!

You're very welcome! I don't know how long this one will take, but I have some others in the backlog I want to clear out before 2023 ends.

the simpsons react GIF

I finally have something I can pitch to the church ladies!​


1. Y'know, there are combinations of words that I've never heard before, but the first time hearing them, I'm like, "How is that not already a thing?" And so it is with this product. I fully expect this will get insanely dark, but I wonder how they're going to stick the landing?


2. That's an interesting setup, but one that is pretty much de rigeur for campaigns that stretch into Tier 3.


3. That is another interesting set up; I in particular love anything that helps explain why the heroes are heroes, and not someone who chose to be heroic, especially in this milieu.


4. Must....restrain....historical....RANT!!!!!!


5. That's odd; it would have been triflingly easy to include a new ability (spell, invocation, prayer, etc) that lets you interface with machines. That could have been tied to a metacurrency, or locked behind a sufficient ability score like Grace. I'm honestly surprised this didn't come up in playtesting.

6. Either way, a great review of this section from you, friend! Really appreciate it and keep on banging them out!

If I had to think of a close enough comparison, I'd pick the Doom series. But it's kind of hard to be too scared when you realize that the monsters should be afraid of Doomguy instead of the other way around.

2. While it differs, Tier 3 expectations are when the PCs are Masters of the Realm, meaning that they're already people that have saved the world. In a more earthly setting they'd be the kinds of people who accumulated lots of favors and goodwill to not worry anymore about tracking torches and rations.

3. I think it goes well with many interpretations of Christianity. Humanity's status as being imperfect sinners means that there's always room for improvement, and expecting to be a Christlike paragon from the get-go is unrealistic. That's the whole point of needing Biblical guidance, because we're apt to stumble. Or at least, that's the vibe I get, not necessarily what I personally believe which is an unrelated topic.

4. The book does later touch upon the Crusades, albeit briefly. It takes the stance that the idea of God mandating an invasion of the Holy Land was built on a lie, that the war and destruction caused wasn't a mandate but the flawed interpretations and justifications of mortals.

5. I kind of get the feel that the writers either expected people to lift "modern 5e" mechanics from other sourcebooks, or saw it as too involved and just winged it. The foreward in Azrael's did say that too much End Times fiction focuses on the material world vs the spiritual. If I had to make a guess out of the blue, I feel that there were some in the writer's room who were keen on a "modern pseudo-fantasy setting with Biblical overtones" like with Left Behind, and others who saw it as just one stop on the cosmic road trip. I'll admit, I do kind of wish the setting of Earth under the Antichrist's reign got more development like we saw with Adventurer's Guide to the Bible. I also tinkered with the idea of making a homebrew world where it's also a cyberpunk future in borrowing elements from this book as well as Cities Without Number.

6. Thank you! I can't make any promises, but I'm going to try working on more reviews this month and the next. For October I have some Ravenloft books lined up.
 

Libertad

Hero
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Our adventure begins with the deaths of the PCs. The circumstances of how they died are left to the players, who describe what was happening themselves. Each such scene is individually acted out, although the DM is encouraged to give the player as much autonomy as possible in determining the events of the scene. Once each player has acted out their death scene, they will reawaken in the afterlife of the Veil:

Your consciousness fades as your last thoughts drift through your mind. You feel one last surge of emotion that you can’t quite place... almost like walking into a room and then forgetting why you’re there. Then there is nothing, and the world goes black.

[pause]

A moment later, you slowly become aware of a soft, gray light coming from a source you cannot see, and the form of someone leaning over you. You feel yourself regaining awareness of your limbs as a warm, comforting voice asks:

“Are you ready?”

This is Azrael, and the PCs’ souls are their bodies, which take on an idealized version of how they view themselves. This particular scene is just for one player/PC, where Azrael will introduce himself and his title as the Angel of Death, explaining that they’re dead, and that they’re not yet in Heaven or Hell but a realm known as the Veil. He can answer a few questions, although the conversation inevitably drifts to him asking for the PC’s help in protecting souls on the way to the true afterlife, and that those who aid him are known as Reapers.

Before the PC can answer, the decision is thrust upon them when Azrael senses a soul in danger, where he uses a magical pocketwatch known as Timekeeper to transport himself and the PC elsewhere in the Veil. Said soul is another PC, and a group of monsters known as Soulreavers and Bloodfiend Furies are lurking nearby to attack. Individually these monsters are quite weak: Soulreavers are spiderlike fiends who can attach themselves to souls both living and dead, draining hope from them via a pseudo-grapple and their bites deal physical and psychic damage. Bloodfiends are fiends who tend to spawn when blood is spilled on the Material Plane, being literal manifestations of hatred and destruction. Bloodfiend Furies are the weakest of their species, basically being small flying bloodsuckers who heal damage by biting targets.

Such an encounter is intentionally meant to be easy even for a reduced party size, and Azrael will be on their side for it as well as serving as a DMPC for roughly the first half of the campaign. In terms of stats Azrael is a pretty powerful physical attacker with a fast fly speed (90 feet), 18 AC from plate armor, and has pretty keen senses such as high modifiers in Insight and Perception plus the ability to detect any spoken (but not written) lie as well as being aware of the location of any creature on the Material Plane, as well as any creature that is in the process of dying. He also has three unique magic items on his person: the Scythe of Death, a +2 weapon that deals bonus necrotic damage which ignores resistance and immunity, advantage on attacks and double damage to undead, and can be used to cast Power Word Kill once every 1d4 Long Rests. Timekeeper can be used to travel through time and space to any location in the universe but can only exist while in the Veil (can be effortlessly retrieved when you return). Finally, the Book of Souls is used to track the locations and destinies of every creature in the universe, allowing one to cast Locate Creature with unlimited range provided you are in the same Realm and they don’t have anti-divination magic protecting them. The book can also give general information on the creature’s personality, relationships, and significant events. All in all, Azrael’s archetypal role can be summed up as a martial investigator, and he’s operating on a power level where he is less of a sidekick and basically PC-tier all his own.

Going back to the adventure, Azrael will introduce himself to the new PC, ask them “are you ready?” in stating his offer about joining the Reapers, and the general events sans combat encounters will repeat for the remaining PCs. At this point everyone is encouraged to get to know each other, and we have a sidebar about general roleplay info for Azrael via Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and his goals. Overall he’s a rather introspective individual, who tends to encourage people to speak more about themselves than about himself in conversations. As an angel, he has a vested interest in helping others find ways to right their past wrongs and redeem themselves. In fact, helping the PCs grow and change for the better during the adventure is his primary goal, although he shrouds this under the cover story of helping “save the world” as Reapers. But the world is doomed to end anyway; the adventure may be Biblical Cosmic Horror, but it is also one that intends to place heavy emphasis on the personal journey. As for how well it does it…I have mixed thoughts we’ll get into later during this review.

Eventually Azrael will use Timekeeper to transport the party into a dimly lit stone room with medieval architecture, where seven lampstands burn. In reality this is the tallest tower in the Citadel of the Glassy Sea, a former military fortress in Heaven that has been converted to a place of rest and learning after Satan’s failed rebellion against God. Each lampstand bears the name of some of the oldest Christian churches such as Laodicea and Pergamum, and it is through the braziers that the voice of God sends messages to Reapers informing them of upcoming missions. There are seven lampstands because the PCs have seven missions to do, which make up the entirety of this campaign. Each lampstand’s fire will go out with a completed mission, and if asked what happens once the final one dims…Azrael will say that “it is finished…Everything…is finished.” An adjacent room holds a teleportation circle that transports Reapers to where they’re needed for missions.

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Guard Her Heart is the first mission the PCs receive. They will be transported outside a church (or synagogue if Christianity hasn’t yet been established as a religion) in the Material Plane, although the PCs will still be in the Veil. The house of worship is empty save for a teenage girl kneeling in prayer, her anxious heart weighed down by something. Through the Veil Azrael and the PCs can sense that the girl’s soul is in turmoil. Her identity is left vague, and the adventure suggests making it someone relevant to one of the PC’s backstories, along with a d6 table for inspiration of what is troubling the girl. It’s even possible that she may not be anyone the PCs know. In the latter case, “all souls are sacred in the eyes of God, and even a random teenager deserves the protection of the Reapers.”

Azrael warns the party that evil forces are on their way, seeking to drain her soul of hope. These are a group of fiends led by Ashmedai, a demon who works directly for the Antichrist, and they attack the church/synagogue in three waves. While the fiends cannot physically harm the girl, the soulreavers will attempt to sneak up during the fight to attach themselves to her soul. The fight is considered “lost” if she fails three saving throws, but if she saves three times then the soulreavers will be repelled by damaging holy light (this isn’t a plot device, this is how their stat blocks are set up) and will thus be immune to any such further attempts. The first two waves of fiends include Infernal Legionaries (longsword-wielding footsoldiers who are the weakest among Satan’s forces) and a single Infernal Warlord leading them (much stronger fiend that uses a greatsword and pistol that shoots hellfire, can give commands to allies to let them move or attack as a reaction).

The third and final wave is special. The fiends showing up this time are members of the Antichrist’s Marked Taskforce, 12 shock troopers showing up in three AFVs in sets of 4. They’re also in the Veil, and Azrael will inform the party that Satan’s forces have access to technology from all time periods and these ones have the souls of demons despite looking human. Ashmedai, a particularly cunning and old demon, will call out from one of the vehicles to offer Azrael and the Reapers to surrender, but immediately rescinds this before anyone can respond. Each Shock Trooper has a Bag of Holding containing a Soulreaver which they’ll unleash once they get close to the girl, while being supported by Ashmedai who will fire an AFV’s rotary cannon as an AoE lair action which affects everyone in the building, even his allies.

If the three waves are defeated Ashmedai will grow frustrated, attempting to stall for time by “negotiating” with the PCs as the final wave of three more soul reavers come in through the back. He will crush a gemstone to summon an Infernal Dreadnaught, which is an incredibly powerful Huge-sized demon that operates out of instinct and not tactics. The Dreadnaught relies on melee attacks and a trample that can knock people around. If at any time the girl fails three saving throws, she will leave the church depressed, her prayers abandoned.

The fate of the girl has brief consequences later on in the adventure. Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse makes use of something called a Story Tracker, where certain decisions made in the adventure can alter future characters and encounters. For PCs who helped protect the girl, they will gain bonuses to certain rolls in battle against Babylon in the final chapters of the campaign.

All in all, this shouldn’t be a particularly hard encounter for 10th level PCs. The enemies individually can be easily dispatched, there is enough time between waves for PCs to heal and make preparations (but not enough for a Short Rest), and someone who stays near the girl can intercept Soulreavers without much trouble given that their sneakiest abilities are a +6 Stealth.

Ashmedai will attempt to flee whether the Reapers succeeded or failed, using one of the AFVs. PCs who pursue via using one of the other AFVs can engage in a car chase, which is resolved as a skill challenge. Characters who aren’t the driver can still contribute, such as tracking Ashmedai’s movements via looking for tread marks on the road with Perception, or accurately guessing the urban layout with History.

Sadly, this doesn’t amount to much, as even if the PCs catch up to Ashmedai he will use a scroll of Plane Shift to escape by traveling backwards in time to his lair. Azrael will use the Book of Souls to track Ashmedai’s location, narrowing it down to a cave in the mountains near Jerusalem when Jesus Christ was alive and preaching. The rest of Chapter 1 is thus a dungeon crawl where the PCs go through Ashmedai’s lair, solving puzzles, overcoming traps, and fighting his guardians.

But first, the party will meet one of Azrael’s allies after being transported to a road outside Jerusalem. A nephilim woman by the name of Gethsemani (her parents named her after the garden in Jerusalem) will greet Azrael and ask about his new friends; she’s still alive on the Material Plane but is wearing a Ring of Dark Glass, a magic item that lets her detect and interact with celestials and fiends. While traveling to the nearby mountains the PCs will get the opportunity for a Short Rest, and while camping she asks if there’s still anything that scares the party now that they’re guardian angels. This is another Story Tracker moment during the battle against Babylon, and also when fighting Satan directly. The PCs will also pass by a large gathering of people off in the distance hearing Jesus give a sermon. Partway through Jesus gives a slight head nod of recognition to Azrael who returns the gesture. Eventually the group will arrive at the mountain region of Gennesaret, where Gethsemani will point out a hidden entrance into Ashmedai’s lair. She will warn them that the lair was built to house a dangerous creature known as the Shamir, and share with them a vague prophecy about the Antichrist who seeks to destroy all religions and convert the world to worshiping demons. Which I suppose is still technically a religion, but I get what she means.

There’s more to Gethsemani than meets the eye: she will eventually join the Reapers later on in the campaign and also serve as a recurring ally two times before that happens. When she was very young, Gethsemani fell in love with another girl by the name of Ari, a decision that her family and community disapproved of. The two girls tried to keep their relationship secret, but once their nightly gatherings were discovered the community’s elders assembled an angry mob to murder Ari. Naamah, the Archdemon of Lust and a major villain in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible, helped fan the flames, taking personal pleasure in ending genuinely loving relationships. Gethsemani later found this out from the Witch of Endor (another AGttB character), which instilled in her a newfound goal of opposing the plots of demons and destroying them wherever they can be found.

What was the Problem with Ari?
This part of the story has been left ambiguous so that you, as the GM, can give Gethsemani’s story similarities to one of your player characters. Gethsemani and Ari lived during a time fraught with discrimination, and their relationship could have been condemned for any number of reasons, the most likely being race (Ari was an immigrant), sex (Ari was also a girl), or religion (Ari was a different faith).

The reason for this discrimination is not important, but ideally the story will resonate with one or more of your player characters who have had a similar experience. Thus, try to make Gethsemani’s backstory one that your player characters will immediately latch on to and identify with.

So Gethsemani is very clearly a queer woman. While Red Panda Publishing has given indications of being the more progressive kinds of Christians, their treatment of sexual orientation in their first adventure was quite vague. It’s a lot more explicit in this one, as none of the angelic or Godly characters have a problem with her. While the adventure still tries to play coy in the above quote, the homophobic undertones of Ari’s murder are placed at the feet of a demon. Even so, it’s still a cliche, and I feel that the writers want to give an “out” by going “you can change the details if you want.” But IMO this is much better than the vagaries of Adventurer’s Guide.

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Ashmedai’s lair is a mid-sized dungeon crawl. And an interesting thing about it is that the elements within draw not as much from the Bible but more from Talmudic writings and Jewish folklore. For example, the Shamir is a wormlike being whose mere gaze can cut through stone and metal, and Solomon used it for constructing the First Temple. Additionally, the first room is inspired by a story in the Talmud (Gittin 68a-b), where an adventurer acting on the orders of King Solomon flooded Ashmedai’s lair with wine to capture him and thus gain access to the Shamir.

The top level has four magical juglike vessels spilling out an eternal stream of wine, whose dark consistency conceals a trapdoor at the bottom of the pool. Each vessel has Hebrew letters on them, spelling out Emeth, or “truth.” The wine can be stopped if the first letter (aleph, or א) is removed from the vessel to spell Meth, or “death.” There’s a sidebar for alternative solutions such as using magic to drain or stop the flow of wine, and Azrael can help out the PCs if they’re struggling with the puzzle. One of the guardians is a stone golem carved to look like a hoopoe (a type of bird); it’s been tasked with guarding the Shamir from evil, and PCs can avoid a combat encounter by convincing them that they’re here to stop Ashmedai. The demon’s personal chambers can be unlocked by a Passkey Amulet, which is broken into two halves found in different places in the dungeon, although picking the lock, using the knock spell, or breaking down the door can also bypass this obstacle.

When the PCs find Ashmedai, he is in a room full of creature comforts, of food and drugs taken from all manner of eras and cultures. In fact, it is this devotion to earthly pleasures that makes the demon a rather unreliable ally of Satan and the Antichrist. He isn’t eager to see the world destroyed, so while he still serves the Devil there have been times when he’s ruined the plans of other demons if only to prolong his fun and games. This personality is reflected in the battle, where he’ll waste turns to pour himself a drink or engage in small talk even as Azrael and the PCs attack him. In terms of stats Ashmedai is a “skill user/tricky mage” style of character. He has a variety of innate spells with a preference for illusion and enchantment, has very high modifiers in social skills, is immune to magical effects that would force him to tell the truth and magic cannot determine when he’s being deceitful, and his main physical attack is a magical dagger known as Spell-Splitter that can expend 1 of its 3 charges to cast Dispel Magic on the struck target. And this dagger can be gained as a treasure after the battle.

In reality, Ashmedai is hoping to get captured and thus will willingly surrender if the PCs make the offer. This is part of a greater plot to engineer a prison break later on in the adventure, where several archdemons are released to distract the PCs and other angelic forces in order to deliver the Scroll of Seven Seals to the Antichrist. Said scroll is instrumental in bringing about the End Times and unleashing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. As for the Shamir, Ashmedai stored the monster in one of his gemstones which he will deploy as yet another distraction if he is pursued. While PCs can use skill checks to sense that something is off about Ashmedai, Azrael’s top priority of capturing the demon remains the same. When he’s captured, Azrael will leave the PCs in the lair as he teleports away. As part of taking a long rest, the party can learn about Ashmedai’s research into storing creatures in gemstones along with a handwritten letter by “J.R.” on a vague plan to “be ready to move when Wormwood makes the drop off.” Afterwards, the PCs will hit 11th level.

In case you’re smelling a railroad, you’re right. This, and the Scroll of Seven Seals, is one of the low points of this campaign, for it requires various characters and events to act and happen in very specific ways.

Thoughts So Far: Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse has a pretty novel opening idea: PCs die and act as angelic guardians of mortal souls. The initial combats are rather forgiving, where they fight waves of weaker enemies, Ashmedai doesn’t use optimal tactics as a boss, and failure to save the praying girl isn’t a “Game Over.” However, its extreme linearity and fast pacing is a marked contrast in comparison to Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible, and this is a recurring element. PCs who are playing this one as a sequel may be let down, as the original book had great love and detail in making the First Century Middle East feel like an organic, breathing world that the PCs can shape with their decisions. The car chase skill challenge, Azrael’s hurried recruitment, and having the opening parts of the game (and first combat encounter) happen without the entire party assembled isn’t an optimal way of starting things in my humble opinion. I do like the dungeon crawl, which ironically has the most open-ended options in moving through it and tackling its challenges.

Join us next time as we learn about recruiting DMPCs on missions in Appendix C: Elders and Heroes!
 

Weiley31

Legend
I'm going be honest: I cannot wait for this to become available for general sale so I can combine this with options and stuff from the Adventurer's Guide to the Bible, Inferno: Dante's Guide to Hell, and Apocalisse: John's Guide to the Armageddon.

Gonna El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron+Shin Megami Tensei it up!
 

Libertad

Hero
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The original Dragonlance adventures. Curse of Strahd. The r/rpghorrorstories subreddit. Veterans of these tales are all too familiar with the concept of the DMPC, or an NPC ally who tags along with the party for an extended period of time. They receive much condemnation in the tabletop fandom, as all too often DMs handle them poorly. The most infamous cases make them the heroes of the story where they outrank the PCs by leagues and bounds. Yet they aren’t inherently bad as a concept; Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse takes this latter stance, partially incorporating DMPCs in the form of Elders and Heroes. During the campaign, the PCs have the opportunity to recruit one character from a list to accompany them on a lampstand mission, usually until the end of the chapter. Once that time comes, they pass on into Heaven for real and cannot be called on again for the rest of the campaign. Called Elders, these people are Christians and Jews drawn from history who committed valiant deeds in saving souls from the forces of evil. While they are allowed entry into heaven, they aren’t yet so willing to move on, and are thus permitted just enough time to continue helping before heading to their eternal reward.

Much like Rise of the Antichrist, this section is detailed enough that I feel it deserves its own entry, and I’d rather do it now than at the end of the book. There are 14 such characters to choose from: 4 are entirely original characters, while the rest are based on Christian and Jewish figures from folklore and real-world history. All but 3 are available right off the bat, with the remaining ones only unlocking after completing certain chapters. A planned supplement, Heroes of the Heavenly Host, seeks to add more Elders to the roster boosting them to nearly 50! One thing all Elders have in common is that despite having different Challenge Ratings, most are built with the baseline of a 15th-level character, so their Proficiency Bonus is +5, or +6 in the case of Elijah, Gethsemani, or Moses. DMs who wish to create their own Elders are encouraged to use a CR 10 monster stat block as a reskinned baseline, or building them like a 15th level PC.

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Benaiah was part of the Mighty Warriors, the best soldiers serving under King David. He eventually became that monarch’s bodyguard and later on served Solomon when he became the next King. Some legends credit Benaiah with capturing Ashmedai and learning from him the location of the Shamir. His reasons for staying behind as an Elder were hearing of prophecies that the Antichrist would conquer Jerusalem in the future.

Benaiah is only unlocked during Chapter 6. He is basically a roguish sniper, with Evasion, the Fighter’s Indomitable ability, a 4d6 Sneak Attack, and the Assassinate ability of the Assassin subclass. Along with being able to attack twice per turn and a large amount of hit points (152), he is first and foremost a martial character, specializing in hiding and ambushes to do large bursts of damage. However, he isn’t proficient in Perception, meaning he isn’t very good at scouting.

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Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman with a deep passion for music, and she and her husband were executed for practicing Christianity in secret at a time when that religion was illegal in the Empire. Even in the afterlife she is obsessed with music, accumulating many lifetimes worth of songs. In terms of stats she is pretty much a bard, using spells from that class as a 16th level caster, can grant a d12 Bardic Inspiration Die up to 5 times per day, has a custom guitar that adds +3 to her spell attack rolls and save DCs, can gain proficiency with any musical instrument if she spends at least 1 minute touching it, and has a selectively damaging AoE attack where she blasts a magical wave from her guitar. This last ability recharges on a 5-6 on a d6, and is her main offensive feature. Her spells are a powerful assortment, such as Irresistible Dance, Forcecage, Mind Blank, Dispel Magic, and Hypnotic Pattern. This makes her an extremely useful ally for most missions in the campaign.

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Elijah is a famed miracle worker who lived in ancient Israel, and is most noted for being carried alive into Heaven by a chariot of fire. Prophecies claim that he will reappear in the Material Plane one last time to convert as many souls as possible.

Elijah is first and foremost a spellcaster, drawing from the Cleric list at 17th level. His spells are geared towards battlefield control with a preference for fire damage, but he has some beneficial spells like Greater Restoration and Resurrection. His unique abilities include shielding up to 6 creatures from the damaging effects of his AoE spells, being carried into Heaven on a chariot upon his death which blinds hostile creatures if they fail a CON save, and has a raven familiar who can deliver Elijah food whenever he’s hungry in addition to basic familiar benefits. He’s also immune to psychic damage as well as the charmed and frightened conditions, making it impossible to use a lot of mental-based attacks on him.

Like Cecilia and Moses, Elijah is one of the most powerful choices due to all the different stuff he can do with high-level magic. That being said, quite a bit of his battlefield control spells require concentration, and fortunately he’s proficient in Constitution saves.

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Francis was born into wealth in medieval Italy, and after meeting a beggar was inspired to leave his privileged lifestyle behind in order to better commune with God by living in the wilderness. He received a vision from Jesus who asked him to repair his Church. At first taking the vision to mean repairing a church he found in disrepair, it soon became clear to Francis that Jesus meant restoring the Christian community by pulling it from the depths of ignorance and corruption. He spent the rest of his life during this goal, but one of his more notable deeds included commanding the monstrous Wolf of Gubbio to stop attacking a town, and the wolf became the town’s protector to make up for its past sins.

Francis is another high-level divine caster, albeit he draws from the options of a 15th level Druid. His spells are a mixture of battlefield control and utility, such as Entangle, Conjure Animals, Commune With Nature, and Control Weather. Once every short or long rest he can summon the Wolf of Gubbio which uses Dire Wolf stats. Any creature summoned by Francis has 10 more hit points than normal and treats their natural weapons as magic weapons.

Once again, Francis is a pretty good choice. Conjure Animals is a very highly-rated summon spell, and the Wolf of Gubbio is a unique summon that doesn’t require maintaining concentration. He isn’t as good of a direct damage dealer or healer like some of the others, but the spells he has can be put to creative use. Unfortunately Francis isn’t proficient in Constitution saves and has a meager 12 in that stat, meaning he’s more prone to drop concentration.

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Gethsemani is not available for recruitment until she dies. Which is most likely in Chapter 7, when the Four Horsemen and Satan’s forces turn much of Earth into something resembling the Doom franchise. This version of Gethsemani uses a unique stat block more powerful than her other versions: she’s got a nice AC of 20 courtesy of her plate armor, can make three attacks with Redemption (+3 longsword), and has high modifiers in proficient skills including Athletics which makes her good for shoves and grapples. She is also immune to the charmed and frightened conditions, has Sacred Flame and Detect Evil and Good like the nephilim base race, and can AoE with a heavy machine gun. She can spend a reaction to divert an attack meant for an adjacent ally to her, and if that attack then misses her she gets a free weapon attack against the attacker. This last ability is called Never Again, a reference for Ari, and the stat blocks for Gethsemani’s stages in life also have this ability.

Overall, Gethsemani is first and foremost a physical fighter. Her only real noncombat stuff are a high Deception, Perception, and Survival at +8 to +10, and Detect Evil and Good is something most spellcasters can easily do at this level. One cannot help but compare her to other martial Elders, particularly Joan of Arc. She edges out Joan in most things save hit points and being proficient in Constitution saves, whereas Joan can deal a lot more damage with her greatsword but doesn’t have a high passive Perception or a decent ranged weapon. All in all, Gethsemani isn’t a bad choice, but being a melee fighter makes her less broadly useful.

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Jael is a woman who helped lead Israel to victory against Canaan when she assassinated Sisera, one of the enemy commanders, by sneaking into his tent while he slept and stabbed a tent peg through his skull. While stealth and skullduggery have negative connotations, Jael came to realize that being an assassin can help save many lives. Sisera’s death prevented further bloodshed, whereas in conventional war many more soldiers would have fallen. She sought to serve as an instrument of death for the angels when engaged in spiritual warfare in the Veil.

Jael is very much an Assassin Rogue. Her only weapon is her trademark dagger which can deal 6d6 bonus piercing damage if the target fails a Constitution save. Combine this with her base 8d6 Sneak Attack and Assassinate feature that can auto-crit surprised foes, and she has the potential to deal an amazing amount of damage. She also has Cunning Action and Uncanny Dodge to help round things out. Sadly, she isn’t as good as a real Rogue when it comes to skills, being proficient only in Acrobatics, Deception, and Stealth. With her 13 Wisdom and lack of darkvision she isn’t very good at detecting hidden things at a distance, although her blindsight of 10 feet prevents most people from creeping up on her. She also lacks any ranged weapons by default.

Comparisons are invited between her and Benaiah. Benaiah has more than double her hit points but overall deals less damage on account of having a lower Sneak Attack and no equivalent to her special dagger.

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Joan of Arc is one of the most famous figures in French history, a teenage girl who despite living in a patriarchal society managed to become a famed military leader in the Hundred Years War between France and England. Michael the archangel gave her a vision, inspiring her to take up arms and defend her people. When Joan was captured in battle she was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. Even in death she doesn’t waver, just as eagerly taking to spiritual warfare as earthly combat.

Joan of Arc is pretty solidly a melee fighter. When wielding a Greatsword she deals a hefty 3d6+5 damage, and she can make three such attacks with it or her light crossbow which isn’t as impressive damage wise. The bulk of her features are drawn from the Champion Fighter, such as Indomitable, Second Wind, and Superior Critical. But her Rampage lets her spend a bonus action to move and make a melee attack whenever she drops a foe to 0 hit points in melee, and once per turn her Stumbling Strike can reduce a creature’s speed by 10 feet until the start of Joan’s next turn. She’s also immune to the Frightened condition and has high modifiers in Athletics, Strength, and Constitution saves of +10 each, and a decent +7 Persuasion and Charisma saves.

Joan is a one-trick-knight in that her only useful skills involve stabbing and slashing people. It’s likely that her leadership abilities are outshone by PCs with equal or better Persuasion modifiers, and when it comes to social skills in general she is outperformed by Cecilia and Katherine of Alexandria. For these reasons she rates rather low among the Elders.

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Katherine of Alexandria was a princess who converted to Christianity and inspired many more to the faith. An intelligent and charismatic woman with access to the most famous library in the world at the time, she had legendary debate skills which she put into practice against Roman authorities who sought to discredit her religion. When the emperor invited her to a 50-on-1 debate against the best philosophers of Rome, she won so decisively that she converted several of them on the spot.

Katherine doesn’t easily map to any existing classes. She is first and foremost a silver-tongued brainy woman, with stellar mental ability scores and saves, a whopping +16 bonus to History and Religion and +14 to Persuasion, is immune to the charmed and possessed conditions, and can cast a limited number of spells which tend towards healing. Her Silver Tongue treats any Persuasion roll lower than a 10 as a 10, and as an action she can craft an infallibly logical argument to target one creature. If the creature fails an Intelligence save it is stunned for 1 minute but can repeat the save every round; if the creature fails to break free after that minute passes, it becomes friendly to Katherine.

Katherine is first and foremost a noncombatant character, which is actually pretty debilitating for this campaign as it stands. Her sole means of damage is the Shatter spell which she can only cast three times per day, and her physical abilities and Armor Class are average by the standards of a Commoner. Which in PC terms is terrible. As a healer Katherine is outranked by other Elders like Elijah, Francis, and Moses. Given how combat-heavy this adventure is, the only real chapter in which she can shine is the one where the PCs need Two Witnesses to distract the Antichrist while debate-fighting him. Oddly enough she can be useful in talking some of the Four Horsemen out of combat, but this isn’t ordinarily something most parties would come around to trying, save perhaps for Death.

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Li was a Christian woman in China around the turn of the 20th Century. The country was wracked with violent uprisings that caused many Christians to be targeted in the crossfire if not outright persecuted. Li gave shelter to Christian families looking for safety from vigilantes. When an armed mob assembled outside her house demanding they be turned over, Li refused, relying on nothing but unarmed martial training she learned from a Shaolin Monk to keep the attackers back. Sadly they overwhelmed and killed her, but she bought the families enough time to escape. Ever since, she’s wandered the Veil, learning from the spirits of other martial arts masters so that she may one day be called once again to sacrifice herself to protect others.

As Li is an incredibly common Chinese surname and the book doesn’t mention any explicit event, date, or location, I am unable to find which particular famous figure this person is based on.

In terms of stats Li is obviously a monk. She has high Dexterity and Wisdom, her unarmed strikes are treated as magical weapons, has a movement speed of 55 feet, is resistant to poison and psychic damage, and she has several monklike abilities such as deflecting ranged attacks (reduces damage by a whopping 25 points), can negate falling damage, and can attack three times per turn, with each unarmed strike imposing a different buff or debuff: pushing a target 10 feet away if they fail a Strength save, granting +2 AC to a target of Li’s choice within 5 feet, and the stunned condition on a failed Constitution save. When it comes to noncombat abilities she has a high Perception modifier of +9, and is pretty maneuverable with +9 Acrobatics and +5 Athletics, but besides that she is first and foremost a martial character.

Li has far less hit points than Joan of Arc or Gethsemani, but being able to move faster plus Deflect Missiles makes up for it IMO when she’s fighting ranged attackers such as the Marked Taskforce. Her lack of ranged attacks is a bit of a weakness, and while not very damaging, her unarmed strikes can be helpful to the PCs in setting them up for ideal followup attacks.

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Moses is the most important religious figure in Judaism (besides God, of course!) and one of the most important in the Abrahamic faiths in general. I take it that the man needs no introduction to most readers here.

Like Elijah, Moses is first and foremost a cleric-style spellcaster, and he and Elijah are the only such Elders who gain access to 9th level spells. Moses’ magic is a pretty diverse mixture, ranging from utility to healing and protection to battlefield control, with only two directly damaging spells being Pillar of Fire and Hail and Fire, both from Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible. He also possesses and is attuned to the Staff of Moses, a magic item also from that sourcebook which grants +3 to spell attack rolls and save DCs, and has 10 charges which can be used to expend a limited number of cleric spells such as Control Water and Globe of Invulnerability. Moses is also immune to the charmed and frightened conditions.

Moses is an all-around great choice for much of the missions in Azrael’s Guide to the Apocalypse. He has less damaging spells than Elijah, but makes up for it elsewhere. He is best used in a supporting role, like protecting the party with Globe of Invulnerability, debuffing opponents with Divine Word, taking all the time he needs with Time Stop, and when in a tough spot can get the PCs back up to tip-top shape with Greater Restoration or Mass Cure Wounds.

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Moses the Thief isn’t as famous as the man he’s named after, but what they share in common is that they are both devout men of God. Moses the Thief was the slave of an Egyptian nobleman, cast out for stealing from his master and later finding a new home among a gang of violent marauders. He grew in infamy as a deadly fighter and thief of unsurpassed skill.

His life changed for the better when he hid in a desert monastery while on the run from the authorities. Impressed by the morals and lifestyle of the monks, he joined them and was baptized into Christianity. Moses lived a long life into old age, and when rumor spread that a gang of marauders were about to attack the monastery he told his brethren to flee while he remained behind. He felt that as he lived by the sword, it was a fitting end to die by the sword.

Moses the Thief is the third of our Rogue-like Elders. He has Cunning Action, Evasion, Uncanny Dodge, and a 7d6 Sneak Attack. As a bonus action he can make a Sleight of Hand check vs the target’s Passive Perception+1 to steal an object off of them. He has a respectable +10 to Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth, so he’s more of a “pure sneak thief” than the stealth-archer fighter that is Benaiah or the highly damaging Jael. Once again, the linear and combat-heavy nature of this module means that he’s more limited than his counterparts.

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Peter, Keeper of Keys was one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. Born a simple fisherman, he was a down-to-earth man more comfortable using vulgar language and throwing hands in a tavern brawl, which came as a shock to many who knew him when he left his old life behind to follow Jesus of Nazareth. He became one of the great early leaders of Christianity, although he still feels guilt for denying knowing Jesus three times when fearing for his life. He hopes that staying behind as an Elder will help him find a form of repentance.

Peter cannot be recruited right off the bat, but becomes an option when he is named Keeper of Keyes in Chapter 3, so it’s pretty early on in the campaign. Like Katherine, Peter’s stat block doesn’t map out to any particular class or archetype. He has advantage on Persuasion checks when sharing his faith with others, has three rather powerful innate spells he can cast once per day (Greater Restoration, Power Word Kill, Raise Dead), has the Tavern Brawler feat, any weapons he wields are treated as magical and deal one extra die of damage, can make Reckless attacks like a Barbarian, can attack three times with unarmed strikes, and with the Keys of the Kingdom ability he can touch any object that is locked or closed and automatically unlock/open it while maintaining concentration on it as though it were a spell. This effect also automatically dispels any magical effects that would keep the object locked or closed.

Peter is all over the place and as such he’s rather hard to pin down. He’s not really a spellcaster, but the spells he does get are ones the party is unlikely to say no to; he isn’t a Roguish character but Keys of the Kingdom let him ignore most conventional security features. He can do quite a bit of damage with a weapon in his hands, and with 173 Hit Points he has the most health of all the Elders. But he only has unarmed strikes which deal 2d4 damage, so he’ll need to be given other weapons or conjure them out of the Veil. Weapons which he may not necessarily be proficient with given how NPC stat blocks work.

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Rodney “Beautiful Feet” Watts is another one of the original characters among the Elders. He was born in 16th Century England, an artist who loved to paint images of fantasy stories containing Gospel allegory. He lost his left leg when rescuing a child from an angry badger, having to be later amputated due to an infection. Acquiring a prosthetic leg inspired a new kind of creativity: Rodney painted on it, and when he replaced old prosthetics with new ones he would make a new image and thus a new story. Earning the nickname Beautiful Feet, he traveled to various villages helping out locals with whatever ways he could. He would eventually die in a plague stricken village, using his talents to help the afflicted find joy and hope.

Rodney is a gish: he fights with a +2 rapier and can magically empower his prosthetic legs to either create an AoE attack of stunning light or transform into a projectile of pure light via a ranged kick attack. But as that last attack “consumes” the prosthetic, he can only do this three times before he runs out of spare legs and has to use his sheathed rapier as a walking stick. Sitting at 104 hit points with an 18 AC, he can hold himself well in a fight. As a reaction Rodney can inflict a “kickback” of damage to any enemy that deals necrotic damage to him, reducing the damage taken by 14 and dealing an equal amount of radiant damage.

On the more magical side of things he has a Song of Rest and d10 Bardic Inspiration Dice, and he can cast a limited number of innate spells that range the gamut from utility, healing and offense, such as Greater Invisibility, Chain Lightning, Beacon of Hope, and Polymorph. Without a prosthetic leg or mobility device he risks falling prone whenever he Dashes and has disadvantage on Dexterity checks regarding balance.

Like the typical Bard, Rodney is kind of a Jack of All Trades. Ironically he is a bit weak in the skill department, gaining large bonuses to History, Insight, and Performance which are of situational use. But he has some pretty powerful attacks like his ranged light kick and Chain Lightning, and Polymorph and Greater Invisibility invite all kinds of creative uses. Bardic Inspiration will be appreciated by most party members, but unlike a real high-level bard they’re limited to per-day uses rather than per short rest. Rodney’s overall a very good choice for PCs unsure of which Elder to pick.

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Rodriguez is our final Elder and final original character. She wanted to be a pilot ever since she was little, and joined the air force of her home country. An accident during a training period left her paralyzed from the waist down, which caused Rodriguez to enter a dark period in her life where she questioned her life choices. Through this hardship she gained a newfound appreciation in faith, which inspired her to work for various charities. She used her talents as a pilot with a specialized aircraft to fly medical supplies to hospitals in remote places and evacuate people from dangerous places. She stayed behind as an Elder for what she imagines will be “the final air evacuation.”

Rodriguez’s abilities don’t commit to existing classes but can be summed up as a tech-savvy pilot. In terms of physical abilities she has no personal weapons and an Armor Class of 9, meaning the party is encouraged to keep her out of direct combat. But where her strength lies is in a specially modified aircraft that uses the stats of a Marked Rotorcraft with one exception: the personalized vehicle can be remote controlled by a special display on her glasses. She can also use the aircraft to deliver an Air Strike up to 4 times per day, which is a 40 foot AoE attack with a range of 240 feet that deals 6d8 piercing plus 5d6 fire damage. Rodriguez is also a genius when it comes to vehicles and modern technology, and has a +13 bonus on any checks where this is relevant. Being a wheelchair user it costs her extra feet of movement to go through difficult terrain, but due to its designs she has advantage on saves against effects that would render her prone.

Rodriguez doesn’t have any magical abilities, but she is unique among the Elders in that with her vehicle she can basically grant the entire party flight (Rotorcrafts have a capacity of 8 Medium creatures). And flight at a very fast movement speed that exceeds pretty much every creature in the core rules! The mounted rifle and air strikes are great means of dealing ranged damage, albeit they are still rather short range for modern weaponry and the Air Strikes are limited-use. Additionally, Stealth Mode is basically Pass Without Trace for the rotorcraft and its inhabitants, and when combined with Rodriguez’s already high +13 bonus she can help the party ambush enemies in most encounters. But given her lack of spells and utility potential that doesn’t involve her helicopter, Rodriguez is a bit situational rather than broadly useful, but can be made up for by a clever party. There’s also an error in her stat block, where she’s proficient with Perception at +8 but her passive Perception is 13.

You may have noticed that two of the original Elders have physical disabilities. Well, I’m part of the Red Panda discord sever, and during their art showcase they had on one of their artists, Dale Critchley. Who just so happens to be the author of Limitless Heroics, an incredibly-detailed work on providing game mechanics for a wide variety of disabilities, congenital illnesses, and neurodivergence for 5th Edition. Critchly committed extra effort to consult with people who have such conditions as well as doctors and mental health professionals to ensure that the book’s content is both accurate and respectful. Rodney Watts was personally designed by Dale, whose inspiration from the character came from a variety of people he knows in real life, one of whom has a prosthetic limb.

Azrael’s Guide also touches on disability in the afterlife. Basically nobody really knows what our forms will look like in the afterlife, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will be idealized versions of how people perceive themselves. While this can mean that people with disabilities will no longer have them, as it’s a personal reflection some may still have such conditions while in the afterlife. For the example of people using prosthetic limbs and mobility aids, they may view such tools as extensions of their bodies and an integral part of their identity.

Thoughts So Far: Individually I gave my thoughts on each Elder in regards to their overall usability. As a concept the idea of calling upon famous figures in service to God to fight the Antichrist is awesome, and the “you can only use each one once” encourages PCs to weigh the pros and cons of using the more powerful Elders vs saving them for later. The parameters of each mission are vague, as God makes broad pronouncements that leave the party making educated guesses before they’re transported to the area, so this limits the idea of pre-mission scouting and information-gathering for most chapters. Barring Peter and the high-level spellcasters, most Elders are highly specialized in a certain field or role, meaning that it’s up to the PCs to fill in the missing gaps where possible. I also like the discussion on physical disabilities and the reflection of idealized forms in Heaven being one of personal perception, as well as some of the more novel abilities such as Cecilia’s damaging guitar, Katherine debating people into the stunned condition, and Rodriguez’s stealth helicopter.

My main concern would be regarding the action economy. During the early chapters the PCs will have the aid of an Elder and Azrael, meaning a typical 4 person party will grow in size by one and a half. While the sourcebook encourages players to run Elders in combat like they are PCs and there’s an expansion planned that puts all their stats on nifty index cards, I’m still concerned with a rather cluttered battlefield. Particularly at the high levels at which this campaign operates!

Join us next time as we fight a seven-headed dragon in the void of space in Chapter 2: the Woman!
 

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After the PCs finish their long rest, Azrael will have deposited Ashmedai in a prison near the end of time. He and the party will be summoned back to the room with seven Lampstands, one of their fires no longer burning. The Reapers' next mission is as follows: the Woman is in labor and giving birth to the Child under the protection of the archangel Michael. A seven-headed Dragon seeks to kill her in this moment of weakness. “Find the Path. Resist the Dragon. Protect the Woman.”

But the PCs and Azrael won’t be alone in this: the lampstand’s fire will open a portal to a room filled with Elders, valiant people of God who have passed on but turned down the final path to Heaven so that they may continue to do good work in the rest of reality. The book explains that it should be up to the PCs who they choose, but in asking for guidance the above quoted text is repeated.

The Woman is an Enigma of mystery, and even the oldest celestials don’t know the truth, nor where to find her at the moment. What is known is that she is faith made manifest. The fact that the Woman is giving birth is a momentous event, even if most don’t know the specifics of its significance. There’s a sidebar offering various suggestions for her true identity,such as her as Eve being eternally at war with the serpent (who is thus reflected as the Dragon) or the personification of the global Christian community. Her current location with Michael is in the Veil, hundreds of light-years away from Earth. While she cannot be located via the Book of Souls, there are various means of finding her: Find the Path spell will automatically lead to her, using the Book of Souls to track Michael instead can also work, and using lower-level divination spells such as Locate Creature and Commune require bending the physics of the Veil or succeeding on an Arcana check. Otherwise, a skill challenge can be done, such as charting a course through space via Nature, History or Religion to find meaning in scriptural verses and prophecies, or sussing out otherwise nonsense patterns in the Book of Souls via Perception or Survival.

If the PCs succeed in finding the Woman without taking a short or long rest, they manage to catch up to her and Michael before the Dragon has arrived. Otherwise they arrive with combat having already begun, giving them no time to prepare and the Woman and archangel already having taken damage. As this combat takes place in the middle of space, PCs who don’t have a means of gaining a fly speed are given a Mantle of the Reaper to make up for this.

The Dragon is actually one of the forms of Satan himself, and is actually the final boss of this adventure. However, he and the Woman both have abilities which cancel out each other’s Legendary Actions and Resistances, and since the Woman cannot concentrate on spells due to giving birth, both beings are very limited in what they do for this encounter. That being said, the Dragon is still very powerful, and the goal isn’t to defeat the Dragon but to protect the Woman for three rounds, which gives her and the baby enough time to escape.

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In terms of stats Michael the Archangel is a very powerful CR 21 celestial. He has a fast fly speed, loads of hit points (243), 21 AC, stellar ability scores with Dexterity being the lowest at 22, and can attack 3 times with a unique longsword that prevents struck targets from regaining hit points for 24 hours. He also has an assortment of “holy magic” spells like Resurrection, Flame Strike, and Commune, legendary actions, and once per day can Pronounce Judgment to make a creature suffer either disadvantage on saving throws, make all attack rolls gain advantage on the target, or damaging attacks deal 7 extra radiant damage. This last ability cannot be resisted.

The Woman is a more fragile yet still powerful entity. She has 238 hit points, 16 AC, and her lowest ability scores are Constitution and Intelligence at 20. She is also a 20th level spellcaster, having mostly Cleric-style spells such as Greater Restoration and Holy Aura. She is immune to spells of 6th level and lower unless she wants to be affected, advantage on saves vs all other magical effects, can change shape into a Medium size teenage girl (she’s Gargantuan normally), and once per day can Restore Faith. This last ability is an encouraging phrase that grants a permanent benefit to a single target: having a Flaw reduced or removed, +1 to an ability score, a new proficiency, or a new Boon or Blessing.* Finally, her Legendary actions include granting a target +5 on their next saving throw, throwing a Crown of Stars as a ranged attack dealing radiant damage, casting a spell of 5th level or lower, or “Let it be done” where each creature of her choice has advantage on attacks, saves, and ability checks until the start of her next turn. Additionally, if at least one creature continuously prays to God which takes the form of concentrating on a spell, the Woman has resistance to all damage (she will tell them as much during combat). Overall, an extremely powerful “support” character.

*But she won’t use it until much later in the campaign, during a plot-relevant moment.

However, the only action she will be using in this battle is Suppress Power, which causes each creature of her choice within 240 feet to be unable to use features or abilities that contain the word “Legendary” in its name. And the Dragon has a similar ability, Preeminent Suppression, that eliminates her legendary actions, but this doesn’t require any action on his part.

Now let’s cover the Dragon. While technically Gargantuan size, each of his seven heads is treated as a Huge size creature on the game mat and can move independent of each other up to 50 feet per turn despite otherwise sharing the same stats and overall action economy. Satan has 666 hit points, appropriately enough, 20 AC, a mere 10 Dexterity (and no proficiency in Dexterity saves) but every other ability score of his is 26 to 32, meaning his non-DEX saving throws are through the roof. He’s immune to quite a bit of conditions as well as fire, necrotic, and nonmagical physical attacks. He has a similar limited magical immunity as the Woman, and his major attacks include making a number of bite attacks equal to his active heads which individually deal a moderate amount of damage but with +19 to hit he’s practically guaranteed to strike. The Dragon also has a rechargeable breath weapon from each of his active heads (can only be damaged once) that deals damage as well as forced movement. Finally, he can also perform Call of the Unworthy in conjunction with his bites, an AoE effect that deals psychic damage on a failed save where targets are overwhelmed by their sins and feels deep despair.

The Dragon has a variety of Legendary Actions, but I figure those are best saved for the final battle of this campaign. So what’s this about “active heads?” Well if the Dragon fails a saving throw against something that would otherwise reduce the amount of actions it has such as stunned, paralysis, sleep, and so on, one of the heads is affected and thus is taken out of commission during the fight.

Satan is very much a “death by a thousand cuts” kind of guy. He doesn’t have very damaging individual attacks, but if his heads coordinate efforts along with Call of the Unworthy he can seriously damage a target. Additionally his 120 foot fly speed can catch up with most characters save Michael who can keep up with his pace. Unless he’s rolling a Dexterity saving throw Satan is going to succeed on saves the vast majority of the time, although ironically his CON and INT are the next-lowest at +11 and +10. Being a Gargantuan creature with 30 Strength and a Proficiency Bonus of +9 (he should have +10 for being CR 30) shoving and grappling him are suboptimal tactics and he’s immune to the prone condition.

We even get an “area control” optional rule where PCs who minmax in dealing single-target damage can still feel like they’re protecting the Woman. Basically, they trade a certain amount of damage to impose some kind of effect or forced action on the part of the Dragon. For example, 10 points of damage can be exchanged to impose disadvantage on the Dragon’s next attack roll, 20 points can move a head 20 feet and halve its movement speed until the start of the attacker’s next turn, 25 points can stun the Dragon until the start of the attacker’s next turn, and 30 points can increase the stun duration to 1 minute. Due to how stun works, this will take one of the heads out of the fight for that amount of time.

Between the action economy of the party, Michael, Azrael, and the Elder, they can do a bunch of stuff to the Dragon in just a single turn, and unless the monster focuses on one PC (something his default battle tactics don’t do) it’s likely that they can survive for 3 rounds, even if the Dragon is likely to resist many of their effects. Amusingly the area control optional rules make it easy for a damage-heavy party to stunlock a bunch of heads.

The Woman gives birth to a newborn child at the end of the third round of combat, triggering cutscene-time boxed text as she hands the baby to Michael, who asks Azrael if he can trust the Reapers to continue protecting the Woman. The Woman will then transform into her Medium shape, use a healing spell to restore the party’s hit points, then fall unconscious. Azrael will carry her and call for the party to retreat, prompting a skill challenge chase scene as the PCs flee across space via some kind of cosmic wormhole with the Dragon hot in pursuit.

For this skill challenge, the party must succeed on 6 of these rolls, with one check being made per round to a maximum of 9 rounds. A single character makes a roll, being the Active Player, although they can gain bonuses, advantage, or even auto-success on the roll if they use limited resources (typically per-rest or per-day) or use a tool or environmental feature in a creative way. Each round has its own appropriate skills and DC, which range from 16 to 20. They include things like using colored clouds of cosmic gas to hide from the Dragon’s gaze, Perception to follow Azrael as they fly past blindingly bright stars, or tricking the Dragon into veering too close to the gravitational pull of a collapsing neutron star.

PCs who fail a challenge end up careening off course in a 1 on 1 encounter known as a Consequence before they reunite with the party at the end of the challenge. If the skill challenge lasts for 9 rounds, the party has one last chance by grappling the Dragon and throwing it away. If the Active Player fails all the remaining PCs go off course, or an Active Player can automatically succeed but risk going off course themselves if they then fail a DC 21 Dexterity save.

So technically speaking, failing this skill challenge doesn’t cause a Game Over, but it does cause additional complications to arise via encounters. The 6 Consequences involve a PC being flung through time and space, sometimes ending up in another realm of existence. One example has them crash into a post-apocalyptic Earth overrun by demons, where they have to escape via a nearby planar portal 500 feet away as flaming eruptions and bloodfiends threaten them. Another has a character sent back into the past during a momentous occasion of their life and are stuck in a time loop, and the encounter is resolved via roleplay or a Deception/Insight check (to either lie to themselves or realize their growth). A third has Gethsemani summon that PC to 16th Century Earth via a Candle of Invocation, where she needs their advice for fighting demons. A fourth has a PC end up on a lifeless desert planet where they meet the Horseman of Famine, who hasn’t been summoned by the Scroll of Seven Seals yet and is enjoying the bleak desolation.

This is an opportunity for you to introduce the Horsemen, and allow the player character to have a brief conversation with Famine, before the Horsemen are unleashed later in the story. During this conversation, it is important to convey to the player that the Horsemen are not villains, but inevitable and unstoppable forces of neutrality. Famine will be polite and cordial with the character, but will also openly admit that the Horsemen will not hesitate to kill them if the time comes.

Sure, I’m going to knowingly and willingly help plunge Earth into a post-apocalyptic hellscape and kill off a third of humanity in all manner of horrific ways, but that doesn’t make me a bad person…right?!

A fifth has a PC end up in the nightmarish dream realm of Babylon, where they take a small amount of psychic damage every hour they do not find a way out. And a sixth has the PC relive the last moments of a pastor and his flock being hunted down by the Antichrist’s Marked Taskforce, and they have an opportunity to sacrifice themselves as a distraction to help the rest of the congregation escape.

All of these Consequences save the post-apocalyptic Earth have permanent effects upon resolution. For example, the time loop can reduce, remove, or modify the involved PC’s Eternal Trait, while a PC who helps out Gethsemani can gain proficiency in a new language or Intelligence-based skill that isn’t Nature. And the encounters involving the Horseman of Famine, Babylon’s Realm, and the Marked Taskforce grants that PC advantage on attacks and saving throws (or checks instead of attacks for Babylon) during combat with those specific characters.

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One way or another, the party ends up in the Garden of Eden, a safe place to protect the Woman and her child. The region is a lush and scenic environment overrun with colorful flora and fauna. In the center of the Garden is the Tree of Life, a wise and ancient creature who telepathically communicates with the party, welcoming them to Eden and offering to protect the Woman for 1,260 days. The Tree says that they will meet again, but in less happy times. This is a prophecy for when the Horseman of Famine arrives in Eden to kill the Tree and thus destroy life itself.

Once the Woman and her baby are confirmed safe, Azrael will check the Book of Souls, which has a brightly glowing page. He then transfers the party to World’s End, which is Earth in the far, far future with the end of the universe just around the corner and no life remaining. The archangels use this point in time as a prison for Satan’s most dangerous demons, and the landscape is charred rock with the sky filled with falling meteors and a blood-red moon. As the PCs are in the Veil they aren’t at risk of danger from this hostile environment. The captured fiends are housed in iron buildings with vault doors covered in angelic runes and the names of the fiends imprisoned within, such as Ashmedai along with the Archdemons from Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible. The runes are so powerful that nothing short of a Wish spell or plot device can open them.

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The reason for Azrael’s sudden teleportation here becomes evident by the presence of the Horseman of Conquest, who falls to the surface via a glowing white meteor. The reason she came is that she sensed a betrayal, but the specifics escape Conquest and thus she is here to merely bear witness. During her conversation with Azrael and the PCs it will become clear that she has contempt for the Angel of Death, but the PCs have opportunities to learn more about her and ask her things. Conquest is cold and aloof, caring little for the wars between angels and demons, and that as a Horseman she is the representation of conflict as a concept. She claims that the PCs will die at her hands some day, but that it’s nothing personal for her violence is “fair and unbiased.”

When the conversation comes to a natural close, Azrael and the party will be summoned back to the Lampstands, leveling up to 12.

Thoughts So Far: This is a relatively brief chapter in comparison to the ones before and after it, really only having one big set-piece battle. But it introduces the concept of Elders which is a big deal, and I do like its skill challenges, neither of which softlock the PCs from progressing the main plot but come with consequences. Amusingly, the Consequences for failing to escape the Dragon aren’t really that much of a hindrance; on the contrary, they can give positive mechanical benefits to a PC while also foreshadowing future characters and encounters.

I am unsure of how challenging the fight against the Dragon will be. A lot can happen in 3 rounds, but as it’s the only real combat scenario and given that the PCs outnumber the bad guy in action economy I am a bit concerned it may be too easy. The encounter with Conquest at World’s End is foreshadowing Ashmedai’s prison break, and once again it’s a railroaded event that the PCs can’t really investigate further.

Join us next time as we enter the Material Plane and infiltrate the Antichrist’s headquarters in Chapter 3: Desecration!
 

J-H

Hero
I really like the Consequences concept and how you describe the implementation. I'd like to use something like that, but it would have to be at the right time and place.
I've recently started a Baldur's Gate II in 5e, so perhaps the point where souls are getting stolen back from the BBEG and his sister would be a good spot.
 

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