Here's a question for veterans of War of the Burning Sky:
Why does Shaaladel attack the heroes at the end of book 12? As far as he knows, the Torch and the Heart are hidden or missing, and there are thousands of witnesses to his act of betrayal. What is his motivation here?
I've been wondering that myself, and how I plan on handling it is that Shaaladel is in a Telepathic Bond with Aurana Kiirodel. When she witnesses what happens to the Torch and Heart, she informs Shaaladel about it, prompting him to go into another irrational bout of vengeance (much like how he committed genocide a couple times before) over permanently losing both of his overall goals. It helps if the PCs have been coerced into a deal to let Shaaladel inspect the Aquiline Heart, because destroying the heart (however necessary it might wind up being) is objectively a betrayal of that agreement.
I mean, the short of it is that Shaaladel wants to be in charge, and after you fight Leska and have a lot of your health and resources depleted is when he'll have the easiest time getting rid of some of the biggest hurdles to him taking over and establishing his fascist elf empire. He doesn't care about people seeing him betray you; indeed, he would rather like them knowing that he'll kill people who stands in his way.
By my current moral sensibilities, he should have been Neutral Evil, not Neutral. He just happens to be acting toward what he thinks is the greater good of his people, and he sees non-elves the way most gamers see orcs and goblins: they're dangerous, hideous monsters.
Shaaladel has been a tricky one for me, too. I tried to boil down his personality and motivations to form a version that would be coherent in my campaign, especially as I had two PCs who had their beef with the elf Lord. It came down to a couple defining traits:
- He is a narcissist. He loves being in power, and he loves being right and undisputed. People who oppose his views are mere obstacles.
- He is an elf supremacist, more specifically a Shahalesti supremacist. He does want to establish an elf empire, but one where his kind only rules supreme. This is where I'd disagree with Ranger, even though Shaaladel is ultimately his NPC. I'd understand it if he was delusional and thought that humans etc. were like Orcs, but he sees others elves in the same way.
- He is clearly evil, terribly, intelligently evil. No debate about that. What sets him apart from "but ah am neutral" murderhobo PCs who kill Orcs because "they are monsters" (and I'd dare say these folks are more often than not close to the E threshold), Shaaladel kills (oder orders to be killed) people with whom he debated, who are his kin, who he knows are sentient, intelligent people. He orders their torture and lets kids die chained to trees. I'd go with NE as well, as he does ultimately what's best for him and the few people he cares for. He honors agreements till they get in his ways. He likes rules, but only if he's the one who makes them.
- He cares (at least in my headcannon) for his family and those who are really close to him. He has an idealized image of a glorious Shahalesti kingdom ruled by his bloodline. One that is free from contracts with the other "lesser races". He tried to be a good father to Shalosha and we never see his wife, so I just assume she died. Maybe he cares for Aurana, but that's debatable.
- What I did for my campaign, so no canon, was to have a Taranesti be responsible for the death of his wife. That way I could humanize him a bit more and add the spice of revenge to his genocide.
So why would he attack the party at the end? One part has already been said: It is the perfect and perhaps last oppostunity to get what he wants: He'd either get the torch, or, if the torch was destroyed, he'd eliminate his rivals: Whoever might be in charge of Ragesia (unless they agreed to make him Emperor) and the most powerful people who might have political ambitions themselves and hold strong influences in Gate Pass and the rebel army.
And then, depending on the party's actions, there is one important variable: Shalosha, the most important person for Shaaladel besides himself. If she died at some point in the adventure, then Shaaladel would blame her death on the party. And in the more likely case that she ended up siding with the party, he would want to eliminate that influence on his precious daughter and successor.
In my campaign, I also had the personal relationships between the PCs and Shaaladel: One of them being a distant relative who married Torrent and who hated Shaaladel from all of his heart, and the other one a Taranesti whose father was the one responsible for the death of Shaaladel's wife. Both had a really good relationship with Shalosha and made her embrace their common elven roots (more druidism), and the Taranesti was an excellent diplomat who pressed a lot of compromises from Shaaladel during the council meetings. So Shaaladel decided to play nice (with the occasional verbal stabbing) and use the long game to get what he wanted.