With mad acolyte Velriana and her Scorched Hand victims of both the Necropolis and their own design, the Pathfinders return to Wati proper to sell off their first wave of treasures.
But with Valeros increasingly suffering from the worm pox and a new group of murderous lunatics releasing a horde of zombies and mummies upon the populace, can they set things aright?
With the aid of a friendly psychopomp named Qasin (Becky Wright), our heroes return to the dead city to fend off gutslugs, crawling hands, esoboks and mad cultists and worse, find themselves set at each other’s throats again. And with Valeros still terrified of magickal possession and refusing all aid save that of the far distant (and much miffed) adventuress-healer cum innkeep Ameiko Kaijetsu, can they even get out alive?
This is turning out to be a rather strange set of modules.
Unlike the prior Rise of the Runelords, there are no likeable or identifiable locals to round out the cast, but rather a succession of difficult, bizarrely accented oddballs of questionable intent. Some prove to be misguided (like 2/3 of The Half Dead City’s Scorched Hand), others quite sinister, and still others (like the priestess and acolytes of Wati’s Necropolis) bearing motives at best inscrutable, it’s a hell of a lot harder for newcomers…even seasoned fans of the prior series!…to settle in and enjoy the proceedings this time around.
While there are monsters, dungeon crawls and menaces galore, the simple fact is that we’re two stories in to the second 6 episode (tabletop gamers, read: module adaptation) arc, and while there’s plenty of atmosphere and adventure, the only point of identification, and for that matter, (welcome) characterization to grab hold of lies entirely in the hands of our four returning champions. And with all the conniving and puzzling goings on about them, it feels, subjectively speaking, like they just aren’t center stage even half enough.
That said, when they are on mic,* there’s an even stronger balance of spotlight given to blustery, gullible and impulse driven yet good hearted and ultimately quite loveable fighter Valeros (Stewart Alexander), slinky, emotional yet unshakeably devoted to her friends Elven rogue Merisiel (Kerry Skinner), grumpy yet eminently rational, logical and level headed dwarven ranger Harsk (Ian Brooker) and wise and ostensibly cool headed spokesman seduced by the forbidden lure of ancient black magicks, the wizard and would-be official Pathfinder Ezren (Trevor Littledale).
* which to be fair, happens for a far greater percentage of the running time here over last month’s Scorched Hand and Wati-skewed Half Dead City.
To be fair, we’ve had eight chapters of their story to explore the nuances of their respective character and the interplay and relations between one another, but even listeners who picked up the ongoing story last month should be quite aware of where things stand and have some measure of investment in their collective endeavors. All four actors, and continuing (and apparently no longer alternating installment-scribing) scriptwriter Cavan Scott, are to be therefore commended for putting a strong measure of heart and soul into what could easily have become a pretty ephemeral and comic bookish fantasy dungeon crawl. Kudos to the five concerned.
But the problem would seem to lie with the setting and source material this time around. In all objectivity, Pathfinder Legends remains the favorite of Big Finish lines between my wife and I, but that stems far more from repeated and ongoing appreciation of the original six installments of which, the unlikeable Mokmurian and creepy hicksploitation of the Grawls aside, all previously raised concerns or formerly discussed issues have long since faded into a strong general affection thereto.
In more direct terms, all six Rise of the Runelords installments, much of Stone Giants and a rather brief and queasy portion of Hook Mountain aside, have assumed a mantle of excellence and cohesiveness as a whole not immediately apparent upon the release of each successive bimonthly installment.
Will this happen with Mummy’s Mask as well?
Only time will tell, but my wife’s, and to a lesser extent my own ongoing distaste for the (to be fair, generally revolving) supporting cast and their bad faux-Egyptian accents suggests that may be a bit of a long shot.
Actual mechanics of story and ostensibly attractive setting aside (hey, they head to a long dead city to explore abandoned temples and homes afflicted by various and sundry of the undead! Sounds great on paper…), so far this series simply hasn’t grabbed either of us in the visceral and nigh-immediate manner that our heroes adventures in the environs of Sandpoint had previously done, and continue to do in an ongoing fashion.
There’s plenty to like here for the D&D and Pathfinders-oriented listener, and even non-tabletop aficionados should find themselves sucked in to the trials and travails of our four leads – particularly if they start with the earlier Rise of the Runelords.
But Wati’s shaping up to be some pretty unforgiving territory, and not just for our heroes.