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PF1E [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows

Tristissima

Explorer
The book continues on to remind us that Kuthite religion is not the only influence on Nidalese culture. It’s obviously a duh, but it needs to be said, both because in-setting, foreigners are likely to think that it is, and out-of-setting players always love to reduce settings to the simple one-sentence introduction we use to aid decision-making. Of course, it then goes on to describe elements of Nidalese culture that are Kuthite, like the politicking of the Umbral Court and the slight difference in holiday celebrations that develop from fear, defiance, or zeal for the state religion.

But then we get a quick paragraph about Nidalese fashion. In terms of ancient Forgite RPG theory, immersionism is my primary creative agenda. A good amount of the juice I get from RPGs comes from feeling like I am deeply embedded in a fictional world ~ yes, I also enjoy Tolkien’s sub-creation theory, despite my polytheism. Fashion is one of those very subtle ways you can communicate culture and history, much like Tolkien’s fictional philology, and so I can become fascinated with the history of fashion in D&D worlds. It helps that one of my current RISK* sweeties, as well as an ex-RISK now-friend sweety of mine, has done deep study on fashion and the development thereof. Their drag, both of theirs, is everything.

Anyway, we’re told that the tension between stoic silence and a joyful quest for pain forms a central organizing factor of Nidalese fashion. They prefer greys and blacks in austere cuts, and express quality and fanciness with the garments’ elaborate structure and architecture, rather than in ornamentation. I imagine this structure is focused on draping and close tailoring, as their love of austere cuts would seem to preclude dramatic silhouettes or profiles. I can fully imagine a Nidalese socialite finding such things as bustles or shoulder pads or hoop skirts gauche attempts to distract from the tailor’s undoubtedly poor mastery of their craft, or at best of the unattractive body of the person wearing the outfit.

This seems to be confirmed by what we’re told of preferences in Pangolais, where silk and lace float off bodies in layers. Nisroch and Ridwan tend towards a more war-like look, giving up the float of those delicate fabrics for stiff leather, either glossy or welted for decoration. It’s a little harder to layer leather, but I can imagine that the higher classes often lean towards less stiff clothing. Buttery garments, one on top of the other, seem much more likely, or even things like suede.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the Nidalese distaste for ornamentation in clothing, they love to adorn their bodies by means of things like piercings, tattoos, brands, and scarification. Of course, the pain involved in these things no doubt help. Nothing is said about Nidalese traditions of these things, in terms of materials or locations or designs. I would imagine that, since the experience is more important than the product for most Kuthites, there isn’t much in terms of cultural trend. Rather, Nidalese body mod culture probably leans much more toward how it often functions in the US today ~ it’s a form of personal expression, with the artistic eye being the primary determiner of things like location, color, material, etc., and designs ranging from those deeply infused with personal meaning to perfunctory designs that the artist can do in their sleep to ridiculous and easy humor.

Nidalese disdain bright colors in general, but especially in gems and jewelry, favoring instead things like moonstones, onyxes, and smoky quartz. It’s not actually mentioned, but I would imagine that a Nidalese would judge aesthetics largely in terms of chiaroscuro and the drama of shapes.




* Romantic, Intimate, Sexual, and/or Kinky, that is.
 

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Tristissima

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Here's the actual next post:

The Umbral Court, as with all groups of two or more people, has its divisions and its arguments. They work to hide them from their subjects and foreigners, hoping to build up an image of a cabal unified by their Kuthite devotion and their personal infusion with the Midnight Lord’s power. We are given two examples of their divisions: a political one concerning Nidal’s relationship with Cheliax, and a theological dispute concerning something called the Belevais Doctrine. That latter argument is one of my favoritest things in the book, by the way.

Nidalese city-dwellers and graduates of the School of the Pale Sun in Elith Lorin tend to be super-excited about Nidal’s alliance with the infernalists of Cheliax. The vampire sorcerer Kholas has voiced this opinion more eloquently, louder, and more often than anyone, making him something of the face of this contingent, who wish to expand their nation’s influence across all of Golarion and to bring more and more to the revealing ways of Zon-Kuthon’s pain.

However, Eloiander of Ridwan and the Uskwood druids have argued against them, pointing to the Nidalese’s special status as the chosen people of Zon-Kuthon, exalted in suffering above all the rest of Golarion. Foreigners, they say, mean little to the lord of the velstracs, and extermists (including Eloiander himself) have even gone so far as attempt to sabotage the alliance or make any Chelish in their borders’s stay unbearable.

I enjoy this conflict! It feels very well-placed so that the Cheliax-Nidal alliance can present all the dangers of a unified evil alliance to those games who want such a thing, but which clever heroes like the PCs can sabotage, defeating it by means of subterfuge instead of meeting an overwhelming force head-on. It can also provide a good reason for Nidalese PCs of any alignment to join forces with a party crusading for the forces of good ~ imagine the possibilities of an evil Nidalese Kuthite PC teaming up with a bunch of Iomedaean and Milanite PCs against the devil-worshippers of Cheliax. Even if the party is composed entirely of relatively typical Nidalese, this division can generate any number of plots.

The Belevais Doctrine, as I said, is one of the peaks of this book. It feels very reminiscent of actual theological debate (it would fit in with questions like the medieval European debates around things like God’s ability or inability to create a boulder He can’t move, or whether imagined things have enough reality to be considered moral patients, or whether Jesus ever shat and what that would mean about His blend of divinity and humanity), while also remaining very grounded in the reality of a pulpy fantasy setting. My main metric for such things in recent years is gem fusion from Steven Universe ~ which is clearly an allegory for romance and even sex, allowing the cartoon to comment on such things, but is also alien enough to spawn storylines of its own that would not make any sense if they were about such things. I feel like that’s the kind of allegory that Tolkien would be happy with.

OK, but WTF even is the Belevais Doctrine? It is an answer, the orthodoxy of which has haunted Nidalese theologians for centuries and yet is still very much in question, to a very important question to Nidalese culture: do the undead feel pain as intensely or as loudly, as the living? Adherents of the doctrine claim that pain exists to warn the living of danger or death, and that therefore those who have nothing to fear from most sources thereof, those who are already dead, cannot feel true pain by definition. Certainly, the undead can suffer ~ no Nidalese who can lookout their window would debate that ~ but the Belevais Doctrine seeks to distinguish misery or agony from pain itself. And it is pain that Zon-Kuthon bequeaths as gift to those he blesses.

Velstracs, according to the doctrine, are alone among the races of the Realms Beyond to feel true pain, either because they’ve replaced some skin with that of living mortal beings or simply through sufficient body modification in service to the Midnight Lord. Thus, its believers, believe that undead and non-velstrac outsiders are forever shut out from proper dedicated worship of Zon-Kuthon. The undead are the more politically important and contentious of the two groups, due to the large number of them within the shadowed borders of Nidal.

Belevaisians argue against raising the undead above living worshippers who profess an equal amount of piety in the Kuthite hierarchy, effectively holding them to a higher standard to achieve similar rank. As one would expect, they have made few friends and many enemies amongst the undead population of Nidal.

The fact that these two divisions are largely unrelated gives me intriguing ideas of rather complicated Nidalese political divisions. I’d love to explore them in a campaign someday: Belevaisian isolationists vs. undead-supporting expansionists vs. Belevaisian expansionists vs. undead-supporting isolationists. With four great poles around which to circle and (on the lower side of the scale) dozens of people in the Umbral Court, you can easily keep each faction down to a manageable but easily expandable 10-15 members. Imagine the sociocultural drawing-and-quartering you can put the PCs through, with what they think of as a single, god-given voice pulling them in four different directions!
 

Tristissima

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We next get a list of the Great Kuthite Ceremonies, preceded by a note that everyone in the realm must find some way to join the public celebrations, whether it is performative or not, by dint of the generally oppressive atmosphere of the place. Which is a thing I’m certainly down with; my love for Nidal doesn’t mean I think it’s a nice place to live, nor even does my desire that Nidal be written in such a way that I coud play a good character who doesn’t reject everything about its culture. However, the writing gets a bit lurid and eager to convince us of Nidal’s EEEEVIIILLL for me.

For the 10 days before the first new moon of the new year, communities choose a victim (usually an enemy or prisoner, if they can, though the improperly pious function just fine, and the smaller villages often substitute a pig or a goat or, inviting Umbral suspicion, even an effigy) to lavish with the good life, no luxury denied. They then torture and eviscerate them on the night of the new moon, looking for portents in what are only described as the “ritual’s details.” I think I would choose to interpret that as a combination of, like, ancient Roman haruspicy and some of the things involved in the lead-up and interpretation of Afro-Diasporic sacrifice rituals, looking at like how the animal behaves and gaining knowledge therefrom.

I actually kind of hate this ritual, the Eternal Kiss. For one thing, it seems quite unconnected to anything in Kuthite ecclesiology, theology, or cosmology other than the timing. A shift of even just a handful of words would have been sufficient to shift that, sadly, making it the religion’s effort to learn what the coming year had in store for them. I am fairly certain that wordcount could have been cleared for another sentence giving us a brief description of how the Nidalese Kuthite faithful view the changing of the calendar or the passage of time. The other reason I hate it is because of its resemblance to a lot of Nahua/Azteca human sacrifice rituals involving an ixiptla (a word I’ve seen translated as “deity impersonator”). The issue isn’t taking inspiration or having resonance with Nahua culture ~ that’s something I’d love to see more of, actually ~ but in the text’s attempts to drive home, again, the EEEVIIILLLL of it. If you’re going to do that, it’s probably best to avoid any semblance to actual oppressed/colonized peoples.

The autumnal equinox plays host to the Festival of Night’s Return, which is given the couple of words necessary to tie it into the Kuthite approach to the world. Elements of Beltaine and Burning Man and medieval Catholic mortification of flesh all combine into the description of the holiday. The distinction between rural and urban celebrations is very clear in the Festival of Night’s Return. Out in the country, the villagers flagellate themselves with simple knotted cords or leather straps, causing no more injury than, say, a light-to-moderate SM scene, and the prayers are kept simple, largely similar to those of farmers everywhere, only worded to fit the Midnight Lord’s ways. Bonfires burn effigies of Sarenrae or Shelyn to show their god’s victory over beauty and light. (I’ve said before that I prefer a much more complicated relationship between the two siblings, and I’m frankly kind of surprised that no mention is made of Desna here. She is both an ancestral deity of the Kellid Nidalese and the primary divine agent working to end Zon-Kuthon’s hold over Nidal, after all). As the bonfire dies down and the self-whipping slows, villagers break off in groups or couples to, well, I believe the tasteful way to put it is the way the book puts it: “to celebrate.”

In the cities, Night’s Return is a carnivalesque affair, grand and grim. The Midnight Lord’s pre-dominance permits him to share the flames with no one, not even those he has vanquished. Well, the bones of the previous year’s sacrifices burn amongst the wood, but that’s different. The parade is filled with those who want to attract the Court’s attention or even favor, so everyone seeks to best those next to them, pushing themselves beyond their limits to shows of bloody, grisly devotion amongst the extravagant displays of shadow magic that burst throughout the streets. Here, the holiday drains the energy from all but the masochistic, preventing the kind of eager seeking of the fesh that marks the village holidays.

The third of the Great Celebrations is the one most tied to Nidalese culture, and thus my favorite among them. The first Moonday of Lamashan (mid-autumn, October-ish) remembers the terrible time just after Earthfall. Well, terrible for those without a shadowed god providing for their needs, anyway. Originally, it was celebrated by scavenging the bones of foreigners who’d starved, constructing a ceremonial table from them and serving a harvest feast upon it. Now, the bones are of a community’s dead, stretching back through the long generations, and it is a festival of remembrance of the past and thankfulness to Zon-Kuthon for having protected those ancestors so that they could give birth to those celebrating the rite. Among the Great Celebrations, I envision the Feast of the Survivors to be the homiest of them all, not too far in feel from a Kuthite Thanksgiving, to give a rough analogy. It’s when family members gather to spend time with everyone they love, even the ones they don’t love.

I am always annoyed by fantasy holidays with formulae like these, honestly. I mean, unless Moonday itself is important to the celebration in some way (think “the 7th day” in Abrahamic traditions, or the various associations of the days of the week with the orisha in Ifa and Yoruba-derived Afro-Diasporic traditions, for examples), it’s very much an industrial way of schedule things. As far as I can tell, most pre- or non-industrial festival calendars timed things to the seasons or the position of celestial bodies or the rhythms of agriculture than to any sort of an idea of “weekend” (which is an artifact of struggles against industrial, capitalist bosses).

The last of the Great Celebrations is the Shadowchaining. The first day of Kuthona (early winter, December-ish) hosts a parade of all those with animals magically bound to them, many changed by shadow but also those who are not, flaked by kneeling inhabitants who repeat standard prayers of humility and gratitude. The animals are allowed to hurt those praying, though not to injure or kill them, and then at the end are released to a snarling display of nature red in tooth and claw against some enemy of the faith from outside of Nidal, as the crowd cheers and roars.

Has anyone ever compiled a calendar with all of the various national, cultural, and religious holidays of Golarion, or even just Avistan? There have been so many described, I’m just kind of curious to see what lines up with what….
 




Tristissima

Explorer
lbatross is a nice, little town, all cliffs and ports isolated in the mists of Conqueror’s Bay. Imagine the stereotype of the stern yet cozy English fisherman, and that’s kind of the image I get of the Nidalese in Albatross. At the moment, when I think of that image, the primary association I have with it is the installments of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series that were set in Cornwall. Imagining that series in Nidal takes my imagination many intriguing places. The people of Albatross practice a no-doubt homey version of augury, tracking the motions and activities of the town’s namesake birds.

This is where the Umbral Court imprisons its agents who have done something against them but who can’t just be offed. Worse than the questionable nutrition of the town’s flavorless cuisine and the townsfolks’ barely monosyllabic conversation is the prohibition the Court has placed upon hurting the people here. No relief from one’s punishment can be found in sadism here.

Albatross makes me think of nothing more than The Prisoner, that treasure of British postmodern Cold War paranoia. If I were ever to run an adventure in or passing through Albatross, I think this blend of elements ~ Dark is Rising, The Prisoner, France-by-way-of-Conan-and-Hellraiser ~ would be plenty to give it an unforgettably unique flavor.

There’s a caligni druid here by the name of Alkaiva of the Uskwood. She lost a political tussle with Eloiander of Ridwan and was only saved by two of her aunts in the Umbral Court. For some reason, her white wolf is given a name that doesn’t feel very Nidalese to me at all. It doesn’t seem to mimic the linguistic conventions of any of the languages I would expect to feed into Nidalese (French, Gaelic, Scythian, maybe some English, even Greek, perhaps with French, Italian, Spanish, or Latin loanwords from Cheliax). “Xiaq” reads to me as more like . . . Inuit or Tlingit, maybe with some Chinese influence.

It’s actually kind of interesting in an understated way. Famously, Golarion has often felt kind of threadbare when it came to international politics, due to the manner of its development. The many realms were treated as the personal project of the various high-level designers, with a not-insurmountable-but-still-a resistance to encroach on another’s turf. Little bits like a druid of the Uskwood having an animal companion that seems to imply some connection to the Crown of the World, a connection which might maybe have had something to do with her conflict with Eloiander, give DMs a platform to build that international diplomacy for their campaigns.

I would actually absolutely adore playing a Pathfinder campaign of international diplomacy, roaming Avistan and maybe greater Golarion, too, shaping history with our words and relationships.

Alkaiva is given an impressive number of adventure hooks in just 100 words or so ~ everything from her messing around with the town’s augury tradition by using her powers to train the whitr albatrosses to dance, to her having secrets that could damage Eloiander’s political position by revealing that his anti-Cheliax stance isn’t just words, to Eloiander not being okay with leaving her alive.

I recently saw someone describe the Mindspin Mountains as the most Tolkienian area of Golarion. Which, I suppose, might make Nidal Mordor? Regardless, there is a small coal-mining village tucked into their foothills where two rivers converge called Ash Hollow. OK, so Nidal burns coal, evidently. Which changes some of my mental image of its culture ~ I had before imagined them more as something like Westeros or a grim version of Early Modern, Renaissance, or even medieval France and England. Large echoing rooms of castle-stone for the nobles with dramatic fireplaces fighting back any chill while providing a lovely stage for wineglass brooding. But coal shifts that image to one inspired by some years later; now I have to import some imagery of, like, 19th-century London.

Of course, it makes sense that they need coal, since the land is kept in shadow.

Thousands make a pilgrimage to Ash Hollow every year, however, for the Festival of Nigh’s Return, completely changing the town for that week (after all, it increases the population by multiple dozenfolds). They come to gather in the valley and on the hillsides near the mountain Aghor Thal to watch a giant, rose-shaped black iron crucible heated with a massive bonfire. It literally fills a cave mouth. Once it is good and hot at duck, the sacrifices begin and do not end until dawn. Millennia of use has awakened the cauldron as an evil idol served by a group of reclusive ascetics known as the Watchers on the Hill.

The Watchers on the Hill are led by a human oracle named Baegloth, a name which shows up in chronicles written many centuries ago in the founding documents and original historical references to the cult. This has led the villagers to believe that he and the rest of the Watchers are effectively immortal, their destruction only possible by destroying the Black Rose.
 

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The Atteran Ranches are an area of Nidal that has gotten a bit more attention than a lot of the shadow-hugged nation’s other regions. For one thing, it is set up to very easily produce the sort of good-vs.-evil conflict that appeals to a certain type of gamer, or the freedom-vs.-oppression that does the same for a different type. For another, its heady mix of cowboys, rural horror, paranoia under totalitarianism, religion, whimsy-vs.-suffering, and familial drama gives it a simply enchanting flavor. Should I ever get the urge to play a game inspired by Mercedes Lackey or any number of CW shows, the Atteran Ranches are where I would do it.

The Ranches still practice many of the ancient ways of the Nidalese Kellids before Earthfall, modifying the ten-millenia-old practices to a more settled life between the Uskwood and Barrowmoor. And not just the horse-tending ways, either. We are specifically told that they continue to fight with archaic spear-using styles and practice antique funerary rites. With my immersionist tendencies, I quite appreciate that we are given the names and descriptions of not one but two breeds of horses the people of the Ranches have been husbanding and tending for all these centuries. Nidarrmars have dark hides and a reputation as fast, silent horses calm in the face of danger and easily trained, whereas the dappled grey chiardmars are quick and wild like moon shadows on the grass.

Much to the edification of the urban gossips of Nidal, the Atteran Ranches do indeed harbor Desnan dissidents. Both the family which has given its name to the Ranches as a whole since time immemorial and the Blackraven family have heirs who follow the ways of the Starsong. I really like their names: Daiye and Odarac. Daiye matches the emotional feel of Nidalese culture nicely, and Odarac really feels like a Frankish name of the sort that makes sense for the Kellid ur-culture of Nidal.

Daiye’s father Vaide (another good name!) is trying to cover for them by loudly and clumsily searching for non-existent Desnan agitators elsewhere. Hired Kuthite fanatics who call themselves “dream hunters” have come into the Ranches on his dime. The various clans of the region easily mislead these outsiders, taking advantage of their ignorance of the social landscape and ways.

But everyone knows that this is a situation that cannot hold. Sooner or later, the secret will out and on that day, fates will be settled.

I’ven’t looked at 2nd edition yet, but I believe I’ve picked up that the timeline advanced by ten years, is that so? Does anyone know if they’ve said anything yet about the situation of the Atteran Ranches, then?

We are pointed to other entries in this book to help flesh out the Ranches: Barrowmoor, Ravenscry, the Uthori Steppes, and Whitemound. It seems that a different book, Tombs of Golarion, also has some relevant information, in this case about the Cairn of Attai Horse-Speaker. I appreciate the linguistics there, as Attai could very conceivably be etymologically related to Atteran. These locations feel like a mix of British naming practices (the compound names) and Mongolian linguistics. Mongolian seems like a good mix there, in terms of the ur-culture. It helps keep Kellid from being too reductively Celtic/Scythian wile still having a strong resonance with the idea of a culture of horse-nomads.

Speaking of British-style names, Auginford is a small farming town with a problem. I have always appreciated how Paizo has leveraged its OGL and SRD to be unashamed of including characters mixing and matching and including information from their supplements, helping those bits of crunch actually feel integrated. The aristocratic sheriff Joeen Malsten is a hunter (from the Advanced Class guide), and has been talking with other nearby rulers to try t figure out whether Pangolais should be involved.

A very sort of Lovecraftian structure was revealed outside of Auginford by a rainstorm last year, all green flecks in black stone and patterns that seem to wriggle when you look at them. Its appearance presaged an outbreak of creepy, quiet sounds haunting people’s houses at night. The town’s chickens have been laying leathery-shelled blue eggs filled not with yolks orchicks but stinking slime and the wombs of the livestock have produced strangely-shaped, long-dead offspring.

Barrowmoor (mentioned, of course, in the description of the Atteran Ranches) has a quick description as a collection of charcoal cairns and tombs decorated with flint and braided horsehair. It has a very gothic feel to it, cold winds and a bleak feeling to the description of the land. I think of Scotland for some reason,or maybe i’m mistaking Robert E. Howard for Scotland in my head.

The use of the term “sheriff” in the description of Auginford might give us a little more information about the governmental structure of Nidal. It comes from the term “shire reeve”, a shire being either a district in general or basically equivalent to a county. Pre-feudally speaking, a shire was originally under the rule of an earl, and consisted of a group mof what were called hundreds (each ruled by a constable). A hundred was 10 tithings, and each tithing was a hide,mdefined as an area containing enough arable land to support a single household. I just learned the term for the office, term, or jurisdiction of a sheriff cuz I looked it up, and I just love the word: “shrievalty”. It makes me giggle.

Reeves were responsible historically for keeping the peace on behalf of the king in England and Wales, whereas in Scotland they were (and are) judges. As feudalism centered the idea of the manor, they also assisted the bailiffs (court functionaries), serving as the overseers of the peasants and the work they were feudally bound to perform for the lord of the manor. He also was in charge of selling the produce produced, collecting monies, and paying accounts.

Perhaps intriguingly, they were often peasants chosen once a year, sometimes by appointment from the lord but just as often elected by the peasants themselves. Occasionally, that election was protected from the lord’s veto, even!

What does this tell us about the Nidalese system, described by one commentator on this Let’s Read over at the Paizo forums as an all-encompassing church-state bureaucracy with no feudal admixture perhaps analogous to 1st-century Egypt or mid-20th-century Russia? (and I’ll add as a reminder that it seems to function by means of a military-academic complex.) I’m not overly sure. I like the idea of the shire-reeve being elected by the peasants, and imagining the small-story possibilities of the Umbral Court working to influence an election to get someone who suits their plans better than the alternatives into office. What U.S. citizen doesn’t like a good story of election tampering?
 

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Blacksulfur Pond is a pretty standard creepy pond. It has no visible inlet and sits in the middle of a hush. It even looks black from a distance, though that illusion is revealed as such with a closer inspection. It is not the water that is black, but the pondbottom itself, a shimmering darkness. It is a dead pond, with no life of any type in it or on it or around it. If you ask the locals, they’ll tell you it’s got a fissure to the Darklands’s gasses, but in truth it’s a portal to a pond in the Shadow Plane, one not very well-known on the other side.

The Umbral Court once watched this portal for incursions, but they’ve been so rare that only Leorel of Nisroch (NE human abjurer 3) guards the pond. And he lives an hour away, without much drive to travel all that way very diligently. I like that he’s an abjurer, quite a bit actually. For one, it’s an all-too-oft-ignored subclass, and I appreciate it being presented here as being tied into the world/situation in a way with more meat than ticking off boxes (like, the “this university needs a professor from every school of magic” thing). For another, it’s not the school of magic I immediately associate with Nidal and its tropes, so seeing abjuration show up here helps imagine Nidal as a place with a complex and verisimilitudinous culture. Makes me want to play an abjurer Umbral agent, actually, with a similar job.

Brimstone Springs is high up in the Mindspins. Tolkien-ish territory, remember? Its named for the sulfurous and brightly colored Soulsheen Baths. As with many such places, they are popular as a cure for many things with all the toxic chemicals in their waters. Yeah, okay, confusing poison for medicine is a little over-the-top “fair is foul”, but it’s also extremely realistic. This is one of the times that restraint would actually make the setting seem more alien and one-dimensional.

The Nidalese especially enjoy immersing themselves in various poison waters that stain their skin yellow and grant them visions of their afterlives if they stay in them for a day. It also decides where they’re going; a drowning devil named Reinoks uses it to collect souls for Infernal Duke Crocell. They’re similarities to certain Hellish places have started to attract a number of Chelish tourists to Brimstone Spring, as well, setting up some nice chance for the isolationists v. Cheliax fans conflict to pop up in an unusual setting where many people would have their defenses lowered. Evidently, they’re featured in the Giantslayer adventure path’s gazetteer of the Minspins. I should read that, because now I really wanna play out an underhanded political adventure or even campaign in Brimstone Springs! The Latinist in me really loves the image of cloak-and-dagger political intrigue among the baths and the wandering steam.

I do wish I knew of even one or two NPCs published here or somewhere else that had yellow skin and knowledge that they would go to Hell when they died. It would make an interesting motivation for a good-aligned Chelaxian, actually ~ they don’t feel the need to be evil because they can rest assured that they will end up where they want to be after death, so they can safely and freely go against the grain of the culture.

The Cairn of Attai Horse-Speaker, the pre-Earthfall chieftain of the Atteran tribe, is said to be marked by an ancient statue and an entrance into the earth somewhere in Barrowmoor. It seems to be detailed in Tombs of Golarion.

The vampiric nobleman Volsazni Dezarr (a name that strikes me as more Varisi than Kellid) keeps a collection of light-related artifacts and holy wonders in the Castle of the Captive Sun, his ostentatiously named country home. His choice of guests is evidently also unusual, but we won’t know any details for some pages, it seems.

57 years ago (the equivalent of about 26 years culturally and only 8 to the elfs), the Order of the Scourge razed Citadel Gheisteno, headquarters of the Hellknight Order of the Crux, to the ground for betraying their founding ideals and the Measure and the Chain. All were killed. Considering that this was only 23 years or so after House Thrune (who, along with Iomedaean knights, helped the Scourge do this) won their civil war, bargaining Nidalese independence for Nidalese aid, I’m kind of surprised that we’re not told of this being a major international incident. By my math, remember, the culture should be reacting as if that civil war had ended only about a decade ago in our terms, and to any elf it would have been the equivalent only like 3 years ago! Even without that math, we can clearly see events from 1997 affecting today’s political situation. And whether the alliance with Nidal is a good thing is still a cause for instability in Nidal, anyway!

Lianne throws in another call-out to her two books set in Nidal, including their protagonists’ hometown of Crosspine in the gazetteer. It’s just a small village on the southeastern border of the Uskwood known for producing lots of arcane and druidic magic-users.
 

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Dauphenal Vineyard was founded in the Northern Plains during Shadowbreak by a disgraced scion of a Chelish noble house. We get another fun, immersive detail: Dauphenal grows a varietal of grape known as alvarno, which is probably not fantastical but a reference to alvarinho (a.k.a., albariño). On Earth, alvarinho is mostly grown in Portugal and Galicia, Spain. On Golarion, we are told, it was at the time popular in Cheliax but largely unknown in Nidal.

For the most part, Avistani nations are written in a nice balance when it comes to comparing them to European countries. None can be described well as “fantasy Germany” or “pseudo-Norway” or “faux Andorra”. And yet, many resonate strongly enough with European countries to give players an easy path to figuring out their cultures. Varisia is vaguely Greece if it was populated by the Rom. Taldor is kinda Byzantine. Brevoy is kinda Russian. Nirmathas calls up images of Robin Hood. There two Frances: Galt in an unending revolution and Nidal itself I have often described as France by way of Conan and Hellraiser.

Cheliax, arguably, is in the sweetest spot in this balancing act. It obviously draws on southern Europe,but people have a hard time identifying if it’s Spanish or Italian. This detail of the wine grape tells me that viticulturally Cheliax resembles Spain more than it does Italy. And it’s specific enough that it doesn’t negate the bits of Chelish culture that feel Italian while still flashing out the image of Chelish culture in my head. Well done, Lianne!

Anyway, Dauphenal was an immediate success, showcasing a light but surprisingly nuanced white wine made from the alvarino grapes. Crisp and herbal, Dauphenal wine looks a bit like liquid moonstone, shining gray in the glass, and has notes of pear and lemongrass. This kind of detail is lovely, but I find myself sad that I don’t know the flavor profile of any other Avistani wine. It’s the kind of detail that shines most when it can be compared to other similar details. I want to know how Dauphenal gray (as I call it in my head) matches to, say, a Brevish icewine. This wine maintained the founders family for generations...until they decided to back someone other than House Thrune in the Chelish Civil War. In the aftermath, the Umbral Court took control of the vineyard, causing the quality of the wine to worsen.

The Court’s solution was to bring a Chelish-trained vigneron to operate it. Ylise of the Pale Sun, a NE female druid 3/enchanter 2, graduated from the famous Nidalese universityin Elith Lorin and has managed to restore the vineyard to its former prestige.

Edammera of the Dusk Hall performed his research in a steel-doored tower that has been abandoned for centuries. I remember noting that the timeline didn’t explain why Mesandroth Fiendlorn’s exploits resulted in a tower called Edammera’s Folly. Well, we learn now ~ Edammera was on Mesandroth’s assistants.

The afore-mentioned Elith Lorin is a beautiful 1500-person town on the Usk River, made even more beautiful by Meletir of Nisroch’s statue “The Fountain of Shelyn’s Lament.” I do wish I know what it depicted exactly; I have an idea but only a vague one. After the Everwar, Chelish investors also helped make the city uncommonly gorgeous as they built limestone buildings ringing that marketplace, as well as the ornate Bridge of Vainglory over the river.

Almost all Nidalese trade passes through Elith Lorin ~ Atterani ranchers drive livestock there, the southern plains bring their produce there, and both then flow out west to Nisroch or east to Pangolais. Its port is very busy. Occupying Chelish dignitaries’s mansions have been reborn as offices for state officials and the clerks and legates in their employ. Of course, the west is unruly and all that trade makes Elith Lorin the headquarters for Nisrochite spies and Pangolaise inquisitors, who also make their offices in these buildings. The Eye of Pangolais, a former church dedicated to Aroden, overlooks the town from a northern hill, wreathed rumors of this kind of thing.

What the town is known for across Nidal, however is the School of the Pale Sun on the other side of town. It’s not Pangolais’s Dusk Hall, but it is still a prestigious school for Nidalese diplomats and agents abroad, particularly shadowcallers, choosing its students by means of divination spells. Pangolais and Ridwan provide most of those students. It relies on Chelish faculty to counteract the effects of Nidal’s isolation. Nidalese instructors like Headmistress Virexia of Pangolais (LE human bard (archivist) 7) mostly just make sure there are no traitors among the students while they teach the sneaky and treacherous ways to work for their country.

Helthir of the Midnight Citadel, a LE male human inquisitor 5 (but of what domain or inquisition???), rules the town. He’s filled with devotion to Zon-Kuthon and blood from an old Pangolais family. Most of what he does is to contain Nisroch’s chaos by means of informers and an utter lack of respect for privacy. Only the fetchling ghetto is safe from his reach, but they are just as suspicious as Helthir.
 

Tristissima

Explorer
The Fields of Pain’s Forgetting grow a wide variety of narcotic and hallucinogenic plants, most of which commit the Nidalese sin of dulling or negating pain. All are addictive. Mushrooms are mentioned (of the luminous sort) and poppies (specifically white ones), too, but the most notable among them is flayleaf, a muscle relaxant and analgesic that increases suggestibility and can be made into a very hallucinogenic drink called Riddleport tea. As that suggests, flayleaf is mostly associated with Varisia.

The Umbral Court, who operates the fields by means of the grumpy and jaded Mistress Cultivator Preali Dhat (N fetchling alchemist 4/druid 2 whose anger stems from not being in the Court), loves to mix these drugs with poisonous substances to help them find weakling infidels who try to avoid Zon-Kuthon’s teachings. I imagine these poisons cause particularly spectacular deaths and Umbral agents across the realm have been trained to listen for sudden outbreaks of such deaths, allowing them to locate the users and dealers of these drugs.

I kinda like that Nidal has a War on Painkillers like this. It’s a neat little extrapolation from their premise. I also like Preali Dhat ~ her alignment is a welcome break from the waves of evil and could provide for quite interesting interactions with PCs, and her class combination is both unusual and appropriate.

Of course, there are sometimes uses for removing the touch of the Midnight Lord, and so the Fields’ primary beneficiaries are churches, cathedrals, and the wonderfully termed “independent houses of torture.” Pragmatism wins out every time.

Leading through the Minspin Mountains to Molthune, Ghorvaul’s Crossing is home to an ancient bit of tribal revenge. Enemies of the main Nidalese tribes, the Ehrotai tribe refused to seek refuge with Zon-Kuthon after Earthfall. Their spiritworkers committed ritual suicide, hoping to preserve the mory of their people by becoming ghosts.

Instead, they rose as a multi-limbed monstrosity known as a charnel colossus (CR 19), that did retain their memories and traditions. So that’s nice, at least.

Shadowcallers trade sacrifices for questions. The sacrifices have their bodies and minds incorporated into the Speakers of the Ehrotai, as the colossus is named. Usually, it’s one person per question, but if the Speakers can learn a lot from the person, they might allow more. Giving yourself over to the Speakers is well-known amongst the jaded members of the Kuthite faith as a way to both end their ennui and to have, at least, a novel kind of suffering accompany your death.

The Speakers of the Ehrotai are a wonderful way to keep the Kellid history of Nidal present. It fits right in with the themes and ways of the culture while still allowing for a relationship with PCs other than “kill it!” and provides a nice element for any deep-immersion role-player to include in their character’s backstory. How did their ancestors relate to the Ehrotai 10,000 years ago? This could also provide backstories for ancient Nidalese magic items untouched by the Midnight Lord, which might also prompt involvement with the Speakers, who won’t say anything (such as a command word) without a sacrifice. What are your good-aligned Desnan and Milanite PCs gonna do in that case? How deep is their dedication to revolution? Or just think of what it might mean for the Molthuni, if they ever manage to get it together to invade Nidal? An invasion of Nidal seems like the one story I might tell involving Molthune, which is largely pretty bland in my limited reading of that realm.

Caustic, poisonous crimson smoke that will slay any living creature in minutes and blackened stone walls herald the rich deposits of gems in the Godsblood Crevasse, which cuts through the hissing wastes southeast of Ridwan known as the Weeping Fields. Wow, that’s a region that really calls forth the purple prose and heavy metal imagery, isn’t it? Specifically, the crevasse holds pigeon’s-blood rubies, and its stores (mined by alchemically-petrified skeletons) have seemed inexhaustible for centuries. Surely, it’s a gift from the Midnight Lord! The rubies are the only colored gemstones considered in good taste by Nidalese fashonistas.

Grenda of Elith Lorin, a LE female graveknight fighter 9 and member of the Umbral Court, oversees the bony miners. I bet Preali Dhat hates her for being on the Court. She gets her skeletons, officially speaking, from Kuthites who have sold their labor after death. However, the smoke wears away at them, even through their alchemical processing, and so her overseers are less than strict about their methods of replacing them.

A curiously cold basin of water surrounded by frost blighted plants sits near the outlet of the Usk Lake to the Usk River. Despite the local’s dismissal of fisherfolk stories about seeing ice deep below the surface, this basin hosts a qallupilluk by the name of Kialuk. The qallupillk is based on an Inuit creature, the qalupalik. She’d fought with her sisters over a stolen child and was exiled, travelling south (presumably from the Crown of the World or damn near) til she came here. Several crates of liquid ice stolen from an unlikely Kuthite caravan made her hovel at least livable and intimidated the merrows, scrags, and other monsters of the lake. She is now a petty queen living in fear of running out of the very limited resource that allows her to live and maintain her power. This fear drives her to command her servants to travel Nidalese rivers in search of a replacement, preferably a permanent one.

Kialuk is nice ~ she connects Nidal (somewhat randomly) to the outer world and feels pleasingly like the kind of kids’ TV villainess common to the many cartoons and shows I watched as a child. I simply cannot help but imagine Rita Repulsa’s voice bubbling out from Kialuk’s mouth. Aristotelian ideas of dramatic conversion want me to tie her into Alkaiva of the Uskwood’s winter wolf, but my interest in immersion and mythopoeia would want to resist that as being unrealistic.
 

Tristissima

Explorer
Tiny content warning: there’s a bit of gruesomeness in the very last sentence that might be difficult. Please take care of yourselves.




There’s a fortress in the southern Mindspins that seems made of shadows and probably houses velstracs performing strange rituals. It’s called the Hall to Broken Dream and will be detailed later in the book.

Chelish diplomat Perevill Hesperix made his home in a rather Gothic manor between Ridwan and the Umbral Basin. Much like the Chelish family that founded Dauphenal Vineyard, Perevill’s family lost all claim on the manor when they lost their lives for backing a House other than Thrune in the Chelish Civil War. Its new owners, the Umbral Court, ignored it until an agent of theirs named Celefin of Pangolais, a LE female half-elf wizard 15, bought it 30 years ago. Her vocal support of the Belevais Doctrine has convinced the undead contingent on the Umbral Court to block her ascension. Once Celefin realized this, she withdrew and retired here in disgust.

Celefin has become a scholar of anti-undead warfare, even publishing on the subject under a false name and corresponding with foreign worshippers of Pharasma and even Sarenrae. Her careful adherence to Nidalese law, shows of (probably honest) loyalty, and powerbase have protected her so far. But there are definitely people on the Court itching to punish her.

The House of Lies is one of my favoritestest locations in Nidal. In the northwestern Uskwood overlooking the Usk River, it hosts a quintennial competition of untruths in which the greatest liars, braggarts, and con artists compete. It’s a carryover from the cultural openness of the Shadowbreak and will be detailed later.

Icebow Bridge is the home of the Library Without Light, where the texts brought by Azlanti and Thassilonian refugees fleeing Earthfall 10,000 years ago brought into Nidal. To this day, they are not organized but randomly stores on the Library Without Light’s shelves. Written in a hundred languages (most long-dead), the library contains an almost unimaginable amount of all manner of knowledge from a world that, simply put, no longer exists ~ the rituals, genealogies, naturalists’ notes, and even the maps are unrecognizable today. Nonetheless, people come from all over Avistan (and probably Garund, Casmaron, and even Tian Xia, I would imagine) to study these texts. Anyone can petition Master Librarian Hale Craggox, a NE human investigator 4/wizard 2 to study here among his many acolytes and apprentices. Of course, the folk of the Library are filled out with at least one member of the Umbral Court and three or four of their agents. It’s considered a very prestigious assignment.

As I’ve said before, I simply adore the idea that Nidal hosts more ancient knowledge than any other nation in Avistan, as it gives PCs a reason to go there while disincentivizing a righteous murder spree against the evil pain-lovers. Pitting taste and possibly alignment against advancement of goals is a classic conflict. It’s nice to see the investigator get some play here, too. It’s one of my (too many >.< ) favorite classes in Pathfinder 1st edition and is art of a larger trend in Paizo’s game design that I really enjoy. It’s something that attracted me to Exalted, as well (squeezed in between squeeing at the glorious intersection of shounen anime and classical epics) They’ve often done a simply brilliant job of writing classes, archetypes, monsters/race, and the like that reference unexpected inspirations ~ the investigator being essentially Sherlock Holmes, which is one of the least D&D things I can think of, but also stuff like the magical child archetype of the vigilante ~ and then find ways to integrate it into the setting and expand their conceptual space. I’ve used the investigator, for example, to represent a 17th/18th-century style naturalist before. It also lets you bash together disparate ideas in a way that’s very D&D and yet feels organic and appropriate to the setting. One of these days I’ll play that caecilia magical girl vigilante character, which is to say: what if Ursula from The Little Mermaid became Sailor Moon in D&D? Poor unfortunate souls, indeed…

The scarred monks of Nidal train at the millennia-old Irogath Monastery, literally carved into the side of the Mindspin Mountains. A knotted maze of monastically bare chambers whose doors can be in any of the six directions (yes, including up and down) twists among itself with only stone benches unadorned with cushions for reading and others for sleeping. Unexpectedly and delightfully, its noted that the monks eat delicious food, but that the torture comes in the infinitesimal nature of their portions. I love that detail, and it fits in with a lot of my understanding as an aspiring polytheist nun of how monastic devotions work, at least outside of a Catholic context. It’s not about rejecting pleasure or the world, but maximizing one’s ability to delight in it. Of course, for Kuthites enjoying the pain and discomfort is more of the focus than the old canard, “A mundane person can drink as many kegs of ale as they like and stay stone sober, but a magician can get drunk off the mere sight of a glass of water.” But I think there’s not much difference between the two, and that’s a large part of why I love Nidal. For extra sadism, snowmelt flows through some of the rooms, channeled into beautiful kinetic sculptures. Oddly, these sculptures also make heavy use of the light effects of the water (presumably, glints and rainbows).

Merinda the Striped (such a good name), a LE human monk (scarred monk) 8, is the Mistress of the monaster, and she is said to be able to see one’s devotion to the Midnight Lord or any of the heresies against him with steady eye contact. Rumors ascribe any number of tortures and horrors to the inner chambers, including the lovely image of previous monastic hopefuls, maimed yet living, serving the ordeal by taking out their agony and envy on newer contenders. None know successful aspirants receive for enduring these tortures, save for a brand of a spiked chain on their back and access to the scarred monk archetype from Horror Realms. Said archetype replaces high jump, wholeness of body, abundant step, and empty body with the monk’s choice of several “mortifications”. My favorite are doll face, in which the monk removes their face and from then on can steal porcelain doll versions of corpse’s faces for intimidation and can shift the doll to look like people’s loved ones, and tongueless master, which allows monks who wear their own tongues on a necklace to steal people’s voices with a punch in order to be able to speak with that person’s voice (they can’t speak usually).
 

dave2008

Legend
Impressive work and thanks for posting. I have no idea what/where Nidal is, but I am sure I could figure it out from reading your posts!
 

Tristissima

Explorer
Impressive work and thanks for posting. I have no idea what/where Nidal is, but I am sure I could figure it out from reading your posts!

Nidal is a country on the continent of Avistan on the planet of Golarion, which is the setting of Paizo's Pathfinder game. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about it!

But first! The next, very belated installment!

Kayalhi, as you might be able to tell from the name, is a town full of fetchlings who view visiting humans with wariness. It’s peaceful and as prosperous as someplace described as “hardscrabble” can be. Despite their lack of piety, and moreover their disinterest in making a show of what devotion they do have, the Umbral Court tends to leave the 175 residents of the village alone. You can send your thanks and support to Chancellor Zelvith, a LN female fetchling mesmerist 4 (yay! Occult classes!) who does make a show of things and generally don the gladhanding performance work necessary to appease the Court. She also runs a network of anonymous foreign spies, trading what they have learned for Kayalhi’s unmolested existence. Her age is catching up to her, though, so she has a need for a successor to this work.

In a lovely little detail, we are told of Kayalhi’s fame and how that fame has inspired the creation of inconspicuous taverns and gathering places called “the local kayalhi” where fetchling culture and cuisine allows them to relax, gossip, support each other both financially and socially, and hold special events like weddings, new-baby celebrations, parties of all kinds, and memorial services. It’s an early version of a community center, and it sounds weirdly cozy for Nidal and for its gray-skinned oppressed minority. Next time I’m running a game in Nidal, I will have to ensure that there is, at minimum, one scene set in the local kayalhi!

A Desnan cult used an occult ritual known as veil structure to hide away a secret lodge in the Uskwood where they stored many treasures and a library of Kuthite vulnerabilities. They were tracked down and destroyed or forced to go into hiding. With no initiates who could see it, the lodge was lost. The druids set up some monstrous defenses where they thought it might be, mostly a nest of deathwebs (CR 6 undead spiders from the third Bestiary) and struck it from their record books. Of course, now even the druids have forgotten it ever existed, leaving only a few scattered writings and a single memory in the Cathedral of Embodied Wisdom to be found by revolutionary PCs, which is a rather nice hook for a very interesting Leverage-or-Shadowrun-style heist.

A slightly domed 25-foot-diameter crystal window overlooks Nisroch Bay from the cliffs above it, the result of a Chelish magical defense during the Everwar against a random portal to the Shadow Plane. It’s called the Moonless Mirror and it attracted the attention of Yisaothai the Oil-Tongued, a dark naga with the shadow lord template (CR 10, in total, with appreciation from me for combining elements of two different books). I seriously love the name Yisaothai, bringing together a very Kellid Mongolian sound with some serious and not-boring serpentine sibilants (I’m looking at you, Faerun). Yisaothai now rules a fiefdom on the Shadow side of the portal and continuously works to convince mortals to break the mirror blocking the portal. A young fisherman by the name of Wyldon, a lowly N human expert 1, is his most promising possibility, as he is susceptible to promises of wealth and the affections of the :local beauty” he has a crush on. Of course, erosion is wearing the cliff that holds the mirror away, so Wyldon better get on it if he wants help from the other side with his problems.

A nice small story with pretty large consequences, that is. Far larger consequences than just Yisaothai’s Challenge Rating would indicate; recall, please, that they rule an entire fiefdom. I approve. We need more such things, to force murderhobo and heroic PCs alike to recognize the everyday struggles of the common people.

Also near Nisroch, though hidden by very specifically planted black-leaved trees is a fortified quay called Nightbinder’s Wharf, which sees shadowcallers and other Nidalese agents (including druids with shadowy or powerful companions on paid commissions by the Umbral Court, the rich, or even foreign dignitaries, mostly Chelish) leave for foreign service. Tight secrecy is kept by the Court with the disappearance of both spies and the occasional random wanderer. I assume this is another call out to Liane’s two Nidalese novels.

Speaking of “gloomy, salt-stained” Nisroch (why not “salty, gloom-stained”? More poets need to write these things :p Though its other name, the Maw of Shadow, is kinda cute if awkwardly worded; it’ll be Shadow’s Maw in my game) is noted as the most joyless and forbidding of cities. Its status as the primary port for foreigners is blamed for this depressing state, though the text notes that this is an intentional effort by the Umbral Court to discourage long-term, meddling visitors. Thus, the city is very quickly established as Nidal’s own domestic noir setting. This is only cemented by mention that the Usk River sharply divides the beautiful villas of the well-to-do from the poor hovels. It’s detailed in Cities of Golarion, so this is all we’re told.

The Ombrefell stretches its branches between the Atteran Ranches and the Uskwood. This is where the Xoskerik shadow giants have made their home alongside forest drakes, malevolent fey, and a few Uskwood druids. Other entries from the gazetteer can be found here: Soth-Silir, the Fields of Pain’s Forgetting which I’ve already discussed, and the Viridian Forge.

Orolo’s Quay has almost forgotten its days as a bustling seaport, coastal Varisia’s settlement having stolen its business, leaving the Chelish fortress here to crumble among the gulls and smugglers. Speaking of, I simply adore the last name of the smuggler leader, Brovos Gulltongue, a CN male Varisian half-orc brawler 6 and pirate who was forced to flee into superficial devotions to Zon-Kuthon as a way to escape the enemies he’d made from Riddleport to Magnimar. Sadly, he has named his gang simply “the Gulls” and will beat you for mocking its drabness. They tend to take food and liquor in and take drugs and oddities out, but occasionally they smuggle people if Brovos thinks it won’t be a risk to his perch in the nigh abandoned city. Fancying himself a hero of the people, he mostly does this for runaway slaves and needy old folk, though pretty ladies can flatter the ill-mannered rogue into helping them. Gifts of good stories or live fish and swigs of Riddleport scorpion rum also work. Googling “scorpion rum” mostly just turns up things about a Buffalo wing restaurant.

A colony of incutilises (incutiles? However you pluralize it, they’re brain-like CR 2 nautiluses with CR 8 lords) has joined the Gulls in the harbor, occasionally kidnapping them or their cargo of people to use as zombies. No one has noticed against the background level of disappearances among the outlaws.
 

Tristissima

Explorer
Ah, Pangolais! The city which hides away even from Nidal’s dimmed sun beneath the black leaves of the Uskwood! Where every sound’s reverberations are swallowed by those leaves til they whisper and that whisper can almost be heard above the hush! Glittering in a thousand grays, interrupted only by streets like captured moons glowing dimmed while the cathedrals watch with their rose-shaped eyes and academies glower miserly over the ancient laments of those whom Earthfall saved.

I imagine that some overwrought Edgar Allen Poe look-alike among the Nidalese here has written of this city like that. It does sound romantically beautiful. Here, explorations into the Dark Tapestry and the Shadow Plane which would be the defining pursuit of any other town pale in comparison to the Cathedral of Exquisite Agony, Zon-Kuthon’s greatest temple. It’s described in Inner Sea Temples, so at least it doesn’t distract from the gothic dream home that is Pangolais.

Elegance rules the day ~ night? ~ no, day ~ right? ~ anyway . . . ~ in Pangolais, where Kuthite bladed harps drift weavingly among the fragrance of moonflowers in the cafes where vampires and caligni chat and chuckle among those races who could handle the sun if they ever saw it.

We’re given a statblock for Pangolais, and it’s pretty much what you would expect, honestly. In a vast improvement over its mother-game, Pathfinder has finely tuned its city statblocks to convey useful information (rules can be found in the GameMastery Guide). For example, the third line down (after the name of the city, its completely unshocking alignment, and its general size category) tells me that bribery attempts, Bluff checks against guards and officials, and Stealth checks outside will all get a +3 bonus, as will (coincidentally) Diplomacy checks to gather information and Knowledge checks when researching in libraries. That’s rather a lower Lore rating (the latter bonus) then I would have guessed, considering Nidal’s unique stores of texts twice as old as Earthly civilization. I’d probably play that as the Nidalese keeping quite a stringent grip on this national treasure of theirs, as well as a myriad very specific specializations among its sages that makes finding the exact thing you’re looking for harder to find than it would seem at first.

Crime is kept relatively low here, giving only a +1 bonus to Sense Motive checks to avoid being bluffed and Sleight of Hand checks to pick pockets. This is a weirdness in Pathfinder’s rules, actually ~ these bonuses seem at odds. Crime +1 means that not much crime happens in Pangolais, enough to be a worry (it’s not negative, after all) but not a big worry. Why does that make pickpocketing easier while also making it harder to bluff people? Surely the first represents people being suspicious while the second represents them letting down their guard?

Checks to make money get a +2 bonus, reflecting the wealth of the large city. Again, lower than I might have expected for such an important place, but it makes sense in a society so driven by patronage. People don’t necessarily go shopping in such cultures, they have their usual providers from whom they always purchase whatever particular good or service that person produces. Personal relationships are very important here, which is something I do which this book stressed more. The strictness of Nidalese law can result in a whopping +6 bonus to Intimidate checks (if you invoke the threat of the law to force friendliness), Diplomacy checks against government officials, or Diplomacy checks made to call on the city guard. On the other hand, Diplomacy checks to alter the attitude of non-governmental officials get a +4 bonus due to the town’s cosmopolitan openness to unusual visitors. Disguise checks, as well.

A list of qualities follow, letting us know that the city is both academic and insular (the latter of which increases Law slightly and decreases Crime, but weirdly has no effect on Society, which reflects the society’s openness to the new and unusual), as well as three new qualities described right here in the stat block. Religiously intolerant is the same as racially intolerant from the GameMastery Guide, only it forces non-Kuthites rather than any particular race to pay half-again for everything and to get harassed in various ways. It seems that its dominance by the cruel and literally dark faith of Zon-Kuthon DOES effect the city’s Society rating negatively, as well as upping its Law rating and greatly increasing its Danger. As the seat of Zon-Kuthon’s worship, its Corruption is increased, as is the maximum spellcasting available here (by a whole two levels, which stacks with the benefit from the academic quality, maxing out the available spellcasting at 9th-level spells).

That Danger rating I mentioned? It’s a whopping 30, which is intended as an addition to percentile CR-ranked encounter tables. Using the samples given in the GameMastery Guide, this means that in many urban environments, nothing easier than a CR 3 will show up randomly.

Pangolais has 18,900 people in it. That’s on the lower side of Rome’s size in 1300, and just about 1100 people smaller than Cahokia was a century earlier (on the bottom range of possible sizes for Cahokia at the time) or Paris was three centuries earlier. Of those, 11,000 are humans (about 58%, almost 3 in 5 people), 3500 are caligni (18.5%, a little more than 1 in 6 people), 2400 are fetchlings/kayal (12.7% or about 1 in 8), and 2000 are members of various other races (a tiny bit more than 1 in 10). This is certainly a very integrated city!

Most of the NPCs described in this statblock will be discussed later, but I’m gonna guess that the Hierarch of the Cathedral, a LE male vampire (of what race originally? Grrr!) cleric of the Midnight Lord 13 named Chartaigne, is described in Inner Sea Temples, because the statblock is his only mention.

Finally, the statblock informs us that it’s fairly easy to find mundane items of a value up to 8000 g, which is rather impressive considering that any given shopkeeper can only afford to pay about 6 times that for anything the party has to sell. Magical items, on the other hand, well . . . n average, you’ll find 10 (anywhere from 4 to 16) minor items, 7 or 8 medium items (3-12), and 5 major items (2-8) for sale here. That’s quite the magic shop! It’s probably 3 or 4, to be honest.
 

Tristissima

Explorer
Pangolais, as stated, is a city of sophisticated, gracious pain, pain savored in all of its details and transmogrifications over time and the beauty it allows and the beauty of it. This is not the place where tortured screams rip the gloom, but instead where the exquisite food of the bistro is accompanied by a chain-dancer hanging from the ceiling from hooks in their skin as their spiked chain rhythmically undulates around them, directed by deft and tiny motions of their hands. Pangolaise jewelry and glasswork is renowned across Avistan for its quality.

Though the city’s beauty might be a quiet monochrome and its sophistication jaded, nonetheless those two qualities mark anyone’s impression of the place. Well, anyone rich, that is. Like any good center of elegance, Pangolais has some serious class differences, which are exacerbated by Zon-Kuthon’s claiming of the Nidalese people. I’ve complained throughout this thread of the cartoonish sordidness of Nidal’s EVULness, but this is a good place and a good use for that over-the-topness, as it is an interweaving of a fantastic evil (the Hellraiser-like religion of Nidal) with one that is all too realistic (the horrors of institutional classism, which is a topic close to my li’l ol’ couch-homeless heart and nearer to my formerly street-homeless sweeties). The grandiosity of the combination makes much more sense than the just “I did it for the evulz” that has shown up earlier.

Pangolais, when seen with poor eyes, is full of predators without even the trap-hiding illusion of refuge. And you are the prey. Servants are essentially slaves, with the loss of their tongue as a common punishment and silver sculptures above the market squares artfully adorned with their silent, agonized bodies. No law claims them but the bare whims of their masters. Who, mind you, worship cruelty.

The Black Triune is rumored to live in Pangolais, but are rarely seen outside of the most major religious ceremonies. High Mistress Feylanthe of the Shadowmoor, a LE half-elf cleric 5/wizard 5/mystic theurge 3 who is obviously a member of the Umbral Court, instead finds herself dealing with most of the city’s governance. She’s a glorious goth girl whose black-and-white hair, grand gray gowns, and raven-feather capes being described as lovely and severe. Her life and personality are strictly compartmentalized, with a dispassionate discipline when it comes to Pangolais’s administration and a libidinous excess that, the book says, has earned her the enmity of the families that grieve her lovers. Her position and great societal power protects her yet.

Limris Kiritane, a LN fetchling/kayal expert 3 runs a shop selling the fashion accessories she constructs from the bits of velstrac skin and bone that the totally-not-Cenobites litter around them as they seek the enlightenment of pain and transcendence of their form. Hooked into flesh with pierced rings, her jewelry adorns a loyal and eager clientele of pious fashionistas, even extending across the border into Cheliax. She even works with a network of mage-merchants to fulfill requests for magical versions of her wares. Limris’s work has gotten popular enough that some of her biggest fans look down at the hoi polloi who pierce their pieces into the outer layers of their clothing instead of directly into their flesh as intended. Reasoning that this amounts to blasphemous disrespect to the velstracs’ gifts and possibly the Midnight Lord himself, many of these fanatics steal pieces they could not otherwise afford from Limris’s less reverent but wealthier patrons.

The orphans and children of Pangolais were once housed and taught religion in a three-story building owned by one Satriel Bezin. Until his apostasy was discovered and he was “broken in the public square.” Oops. Lights have begun to float in the abandoned building’s upper windows, accompanied by the groaning of chains and weak cries, presumably of the orphans and beggars who’ve been disappearing in the neighborhood. A lampadarius velstrac (the name comes from the slave who carried lamps before ancient Roman consuls, which became a role in the Christian church) who calls himself Mordain lives here now.

Mordain struggles with the qlippoth-blighted appendage he recently grafted to his body, the qlippoth being nigh-Lovecraftian horrors who resent demons for gentrifying their natural home of the Abyss. The ability of this appendage to corrupt the velstrac is literally called “sin consumption.” He knows that he is losing his mind, both in terms of sanity and in terms of brainpower, but he doesn’t know why. Only the desperate and continual grafting he performs allows him to remain himself in the face of this blight. His victims are beginning to move up the socioeconomic ladder, prompting community leaders to ask themselves if the Umbral Court will consider the velstrac or them to be the problem, should they seek help.

Many millennia ago, when Nidal’s allegiance to pain was new, the velstrac gifted unto the new realm memory chains. These artifacts recorded the experience of being tortured so that it could be enjoyed by others. The Nidalese quickly built the wonderfully-named Cathedral of Embodied Wisdom to hold them, achieving its obsidian-to-ivory ombré façade by making its walls out of bones lashed together with spiked steel chain. After ten millennia, the ones at the bottom have begun to look like dark stones. Inside, the walls are lined with shelves made of human skulls, held together by spiked chains snaking in and out of their eye sockets. Its geometric regularity has a sterile, eerie beauty. This is intentional, meant to communicate that no individual experience of suffering is nonessential to the whole history and society of Nidal.

Upon these shelves are innumerable implements of torture in sich variety that most sadists’ mind would be greatly expanded just by their mere sight. It is, after all, the result of thousands of years of sadistic inventiveness and spiteful rivalry. The culminating goal of many a Nidalese’s life is to suffer uniquely enough for the experience to be recorded in these chains.

Of course, many other memories lurk in these chains among all the torture, including:
  • The location of an original copy of Secrets of the Dreaming Dark
  • Forgotten Runelord rites
  • The passphrase into the tomb of Sarkorin warlord of Uhorik the Witch-Painted
  • Much lore of ancient Thassilon and Azlant, and maybe even of the aboleths

One popular conspiracy theory is that all of these secrets are not held in the chains by accident, but rather to serve as lures for souls who might resist their teachings. After all, you can’t experience the collection if you don’t add something new and unique to it.
 

Tristissima

Explorer
Pangolais’s main temple is a contender for the title of main Kuthite temple across the Inner Sea. Called the Cathedral of Exquisite Agony and built of marble and steel in the grandest Brutalist fashion, it resembles nothing so much as a plague-hallucination of a monster in a spiked carapace. We are directed to Inner Sea Temples for more details.

This grand city is haunted by a city watch called the Chainguard, and they are headquartered in a building known creatively as the Chainhouse. Three stories tall, ths urban fortress squats near the Cathedral of Exquisite Agony. This is where Captain Irciele of Ridwan commands the day-to-day operations of the Chainguard. Interestingly enough, Captain Irciele is no true believer of her people’s national faith, merely a “pragmatist with no use for extremism or pretension” who uses the title of Captain instead of her official title, Commander of Chains, Guardian of Shade, and Exalted Keeper of the Midnight Lord’s Silenced Agonies.

Beneath the Chainhouse hides a dungeon of its own for witnesses who aren’t cooperating and those in protective custody. Instead of being kept here, actual criminals are sent to the Cathedral of Exquisite Agony if their torture is considered to have a chance of yielding information or to the public squares if the torture is merely to entertain the populace. Captain Irciele doesn’t really trust the latter, however, and so will sometimes keep them in her own custody until her own investigation is complete, considering it her duty to enforce the law with fairness and dispassion, despite the cruelties of Nidalese law generally privileging the powerful.

OK, so this hits upon a bit of a bugaboo for me in world creation, though there’s a bit of tension within it. I am not one to argue, as some do, that D&D-style or Tolkien-style fantasy worlds need to try to hew as closely as possible to the actual development of societies in Earth’s history. Where is the fantasy in that, for one? Sure, it can be fun sometimes, and really test one’s mythopoetic abilities, but it is by no means a universal good. On the other hand, ignoring the reality that everything that exists has a specific and at least semi-intentional origin point with a context weakens the power of one’s mythopoetic narrative, strains immersionism, cuts off creative possibilities, and runs the risk of accidentally furthering oppression in your work.

I like Captain Irciele. A lot. She feels very much like a young adult cartoon character in a good way ~ the stern and seemingly evil apparent opponent who turns out to be both a good person and an ally to the main character. On the other hand, she could easily be an Inspector Javert and still fit the description. Which, crucially, means you can tell very different stories about her and then tell other stories explaining how the two parts fit together, resulting in a complex and nuanced character. Her existence furthermore opens up a whole realm of noir-ish possibilities for stories set in Pangolais, which was unexpected in such a genteel and cultured faux-Paris. Putting these two elements together, I am reminded of several of the episodes (called “affairs”) of Man From U.N.C.L.E. Frankly, I never expected that show (which should have been subtitled “Getting Shit Past the Censors”), but the thought that I could pull on it for inspiration in Nidal, where I can also shunt the story off to “What if Susan Cooper wrote The Prisoner”ville makes me REALLY happy!

However, this kind of policing, with a focus on investigation and crime-solving is a very new phenomenon that did not exist in the Middle Ages, where any investigation that occurred happened in the court where the peasants were pleading their case before their lord. It was certainly not dispassionate, but highly bent towards the disposition of that lord. This is what lies behind a lot of those imprecations in chivalric codes and the like to develop justice as an individual noble ~ because if you were unjust, so was your court.

Doing a little bit of quick Wiki research so I could quote the right timeframe for its development, I note that this kind of forensics has roots way back in antiquity and even in the 13th century, so I myself may have been imagining an ahistorical distinction in the process of arguing against them >.< Nonetheless, forensic science as we know it has its origins in the 18th century as part of the explosion of Enlightenment ideas. Taking that into account can deeply enrich one’s depiction of Captain Irciele. The Enlightenment seems to be represented on Golarion primarily by Galt and Andoran, which means that other Chelish splinter-states can be seen as encoding Enlightenment ideas as well, though significantly less so. That adds Molthune and Nirmathas to the list.

In my Nidal, Irciele has an interest in Andoren philosophy and has read some of the Galtan philosophy that undergirds it. Though not a particularly zealous Kuthite, she still is a worshiper of the Midnight Lord and a believer in the ethics encoded in Nidalese law and functioning. Its cruelty is appropriate, when it is called for. She seeks to weld Andoren emphasis on logic and evidence with Galtan ideals of fairness, each equal in front of the law. It’s a hard row to hoe, and no doubt much of her sternness and plain-spoken nature is due to the stress she faces from trying to unite these two ideas.

More D&D needs to involve this kind of sweeping sociocultural change embodied into its characters, monsters, and plot, in my not-so-humble opinion. All the greatest literature has something like it, after all ~ Romeo and Juliet’s famous palmer’s speech can be read as an exploration of the shifting role of carnality in courtly gender relations, for instance.

Dusk Hall is a narrow building of looming points and gothic architecture. Its smoky glass hides one of Pangolais’s magical schools that teaches Nidalese children both arcane and divine magicks so that they might serve the nation and its Sadomasochistic Lord in the greater world beyond Nidal’s borders. It’s another shout out to the author’s two novels set in Nidal. I still need to read these.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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