The Paizo Project, Part 8 (The End)

So we’re here at the end and I saved the hardest for the last.

Sean (The Enemy) gave me a blank sheet for the last one. "A Pathfinder."

That’s it. Oh, and he comes from the big capital city of Absalom, which means our Pathfinder could be just about anyone.

Yeah. The Enemy wasn’t doing me any favors, but since I agreed to do a favor for him by taking on a bunch of extra work, I may as well demonstrate his own inherent weaknesses by making this blank page NPC as awesome as I could!

I also wanted to end with a Rush song. So, I went through my catalogue and started sorting through appropriate songs. I was also limited by the songs available on Youtube. If I can’t share the song, I can’t use it.

My first choice was a song from the Presto album called "Available Light." Rush doesn’t really do "beautiful" songs–most of them are just awesome!–but this one easily fits that category. I love that song. The lyrics sing to me and the music is just… well, beautiful.

And, much to my chagrin, Available Light is not available on Youtube.

So, I look some more. Pathfinders are all about travel. That’s why I wanted "Available Light." But, that’s not available, so move on to something else. A song about moving and travel. Neil writes a lot of lyrics about that.

And as I was thinking, offered a great suggestion. A Pathfinder who, in his journeys, taught a young boy how to use a sword… and then discovered later that the boy died protecting his village from monsters.

Cruel, cruel suggestion… but it got me thinking. Strangely enough, it got me thinking about Andy Griffith.

I loved that Andy Griffith was "the sheriff without a gun." Andy never carried a gun. Didn’t see any reason he had to. And so, I got on the idea of a Pathfinder Without a Sword. Not only that, but a Pathfinder who used to travel the world looking for fame and fortune and adventure… but then found this little town in the middle of nowhere. And he stopped there. Met a nice girl. Fell in love. Started a family. And now, he doesn’t go anywhere. The town doesn’t really have a sheriff. Nope. It’s got a Pathfinder. A Pathfinder Without a Sword.

So, that killed the Rush idea… but not really. There’s another beautiful Rush song that fit him perfectly. As I was doing the write-up, I stuck that on repeat and let it go…

* * *

Welcome to Baniff’s Bluff, stranger. A small town, a friendly town, named for a hand of cards that won the town from it’s owner.

I see you’re carrying weapons. No need for those here. Trust me. You can put them away. Nobody here is going to bother you. I trust you saw the sign on your way in. "All weapons bound before entering." And I know you probably think those are just words up there. Those aren’t just words. No, there’s no law that says you have to put them away. I’d just like it if you would.

Yes, we do get orks here from time to time, but not much anymore. In fact, about the only time they show up is when it gets real cold and they need blankets and food. We help them out as much as we can.

You heard me right. We help them out. Why not? They’re hurting and needing a little warmth in this cold world. Even orks. And when summer comes, they always help us out with the trolls. Yessir, just a little warmth makes the whole world go ’round a little easier.

Yeah, that’s a Pathfinder badge I’m wearing. Kind of a memento. Gave it up a long time ago. Traded it for a good woman. And speaking of good women, here’s my wife. She made a couple of pies this morning. Fresh from the oven. The Tollridge farm over there always has chilled milk. Goes great with pie. Why don’t you boys just put those swords away and come with me. We’ll get you and your horses fed. Meantime, you just sit back and relax. If any trouble shows up, me and my boys will take care of it. If you like, you could throw in a hand.

We’d appreciate it.

The Paizo Project, Part 7

Two left. The two hard ones.

First, a Mammoth Lord.

From the Pathfinder wiki:

A realm of vast mega-fauna inhabitant by human almost as savage as the vast, pre-historic beasts surrounding them the Realm of the Mammoth Lords is a land the spells doom for those who take this land too lightly.
Okay, so neanderthals. Hm.




Nope. Nothin’ yet.


Maybe I should work on that Assassin/Bard first? Yeah. I’ll get back to this one.

And that’s how it was for the whole week. "Maybe I’ll get back to that one." Well, now there’s only two left and it’s time to start really thinking. So, to inspire myself, I pulled out the most primitive music I have on my iTunes: Tom Waits’ album, Bone Machine. With this album, Waits became a kind of post-apocalyptic beat box. I think the only "real" or "legitimate" instrument on the entire album is his piano and that makes rare appearances.

And once I hit the right track, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about.

If we’re gonna get primitive, let’s get primitive. We’re going all Joe Campbell up in here.

He’s not more than a boy. Barely a man. The tattoos on his skin–the ones that prove he’s a man–are still red and fresh. He’s walking up to a city, full of decadence and sin, and he’s carrying with him a tiny bag. A bag his shaman gave him. A bag to protect him from evil. He walks to the city gate, but he doesn’t know the language. He just knows what the shaman told him.

"Go south and find help."

See, this boy, barely a man, has been sent on a quest. His village is sick. The crops are dying, the men are dying, the children are dying. There’s a curse on the lands and our boy is the one the village sent to heal the sickness. The shaman can’t do it. Only the boy can do it. He needs to go out into the wasteland and bring back the medicine that will heal the village.

Sounds simple right?

Try doing it when the greatest technological advancement you’ve ever seen is a lever. Not saddles. Not stirrups. Not iron working or even bronze working. Maybe someone’s figured out the wheel.

And you don’t even speak the language.

You are there in your animal skins with your tattoos and your little bag of magic and you need to find the magic potion that’s going to save your people from the Sickness that’s rotting them away. You have nothing.

Oh, wait. I forgot. You do have something. You’ve got a wooly mammoth.

There ain’t no way the city guards are letting that thing through the gates.

So, anyway, here’s our little man. And he’s got a particular affliction we from the Great Midwest like to call "Minnesota Nice." He’s from a primitive culture where people need each other to survive. We have a saying in MN: "We’ve got to stick together because the Winter is bigger than us all."

Our boy doesn’t understand poverty. He doesn’t understand how anyone could allow that to happen. Isn’t there enough food to feed everyone? And you can’t eat gold, right? Can’t we just all go out and hunt deer until we have enough food for everyone? And if you have something someone else needs, you give it to them. Eventually, you’ll get it back because you’ll need it, too. Isn’t that the way things work?

He gives food because people are hungry.

He helps because people need help.

He doesn’t think about it. He just gives.

And someone is gonna let this sucker walk in to the city.

Every single one of my NPCs has a "boon." It’s something you can do to get that NPC on your side. It’s a story hook. Imagine throwing this poor kid at the party. What would your "merry band of adventurers" do with him? Think about it. Think good and hard.

And when you’re done, take another look at their alignments.

I love this kid. He doesn’t understand anything about "civilization." He’s good and pure. And he’s got a wooly mammoth for a friend. Yeah, he talks to the mammoth.

Wanna know a secret? The mammoth talks back.

And so, for my little hero, I have a song about the dangers of civilization. Time to start up your Apocalyptic Beat Box, Mr. Waits.

The Paizo Project, Part 6

When I was a boy, I believed my father was Thor.

He stands six foot six inches tall with shock blond hair and ice blue eyes. He had the kind of build only the Marines can make and he had a temper that could frighten the faces on Mount Rushmore. Our family came from Scandanavia. Norway, to be precise. Our family name, Wick, comes from the Norse family name, "Vik." My paternal great-grandfather changed it when he arrived in America because he thought it would sound more American.

Vik. Like "Viking."

When I found that little fact out, I got a copy of The Twilight of the Gods from the school library and read all about Odin and Loki and Thor. They were so different from the Greek Gods I’d been reading about… and yet, they were so similar. It was my first exposure to the idea of "monomyth."

But that’s getting off point…

So, when I read the next assignment–Linnorm Kings, a warrior prince looking for a linnorm to kill–I took a look through the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting and found "the Linnorm Kings." The subtitle is "Frigid Viking Homeland."

Apparently, the only way to become a king in the Frigid Viking Homeland (the word "frigid" is a Norse word, as well; the Eskimos have lots of words for "snow," we got lots of words for "fucking cold") is to kill a dragon and bring its head through the city gates.

And I thought, "Okay, it’s going to be like that, is it? You wanna play for keeps? I can play for keeps."

Almost every gamer has seen The Thirteenth Warrior (and if you haven’t… what the fuck are you waiting for?!?!?!), and while it is a deeply flawed film, it is also a powerful film. At least, for me. I felt the same way those Scottish guys did who wore kilts to see (an equally flawed but great movie) Braveheart. Walked right into the theater with them. And when the movie was over, one of them stood up and said, "Those are my people!"

Yeah. I felt like that.

My favorite moment–for many reasons–was near the very end when the Arab "diplomat" Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan and his Viking buddies prepare for death. First, Fahadlan says his prayer, and then, the Vikings say theirs. And when that last line is uttered, even now, I feel electricity through my spine. Both of the prayers are beautiful. One is serene. A moment of pure humility. "I will do what you ask." An Eastern prayer. And the other is… not. A Western prayer. Both are below.

Not the meek. Not the faithful. The brave. Fuck yeah.

So, a Viking Prince seeking to make himself a king with the head of a dragon…

Yeah, I could go someplace very familiar with that. But so far, I’ve been trying to do something unexpected with each of my characters. Maybe this was my opportunity to do something familiar. Or… maybe something like this…

I’m a fated man.

In the end, we’re all fated men. Our paths were drawn for us long ago. The Gods know where our footsteps lead. 

The name I carry is not my own, but I did not steal it. The man who owned it before me was not using it anymore. He’s dead now. And with the name, I carry his doom.

He was a Prince. We met at the crossroads. He told me his story. Said his land was barren and ruined from the hates that lurked in the northlands. He was returning from the south where he learned the ways of writing and reading and swordplay. He had not seen his lands in many years. The last time he was there, he was a boy. Nobody would know him. He was a strong man. A courageous man. I followed him. I wanted to be part of his doom.

He said his lands were haunted by a witch. He said she charmed a dragon and kept it by her side. He said we would probably die. I laughed. I told him, "Nobody probably dies." He laughed, too. That was the last day he laughed. The next day, he was dead.

But before he died, he gave me his name. Through bloody lips and words, he gave me his seal and told me I had to free his lands from the witch. He gave me his name. And with his name, he gave me his doom.

I carry that doom now. I am traveling to the lands in the north where the witch and her dragon live. With his sword and his name, I will kill the dragon and then I will kill the witch. And then, I will carry their heads into the city and make myself king.

I am carrying his name. It is not mine. And when I meet him in Valhalla, I must return it to him.

He was a good man. A courageous man. I must return his name with the glory it deserves.

The Paizo Project, Part 5

This starts with one song, but ends with another. And I promise you, I tried to make it shorter, but the damn thing kept getting longer and longer as I wrote. Oh, well. I guess you can’t be concise when writing about religion and religious folks.

The character description reads, "Qadira, a Sarenrae dervish."

I find out from the Pathfinder wiki that Qadira is the Pathfinder analogue for "the Middle East" and a Sarenrae dervish is a kind of warrior-priest for the Goddess of the Sun, Light and Truth.

Well, there’s a lot of different ways to go with that, but I had one in particular in mind.

A very long time ago, I stumbled across Loreena McKennitt and she introduced me to a song written by a Catholic monk and mystic, St. John of the Cross. The song is called "The Dark Night of the Soul" and its narrator describes the lonliness and emptiness of life without God. (St. John coined the term with this poem.) The official story (the one St. John told to the Spanish Inquisition after being brought to trial for various crimes–including this poem) is that the poem narrates the journey of a soul leaving its bodily home to union with God.

Uh huh.

McKennitt’s turned his passage into the chorus.

Oh night thou was my guide
A night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

If that sounds sexual to you, rest with the knowledge that you weren’t the only one who came to that conclusion. St. John’s official explanation was that the poem was not from his own point-of-view, but that of a woman going through a crisis of faith.

Yeah. A crisis of faith. Here’s another passage…

Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
From o’er the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow

Uh huh. About a soul being reunited with God. Forget all that "meeting secretly in a garden at midnight" imagery. This is about a soul being reunited with God.

Well, regardless of what the poet (a Catholic monk, remember) had to say about it, I like the idea of an intimate relationship with a God. The Jews have a conversational relationship with their God, which is also cool, but the kind of relationship the narrator of this poem has with his God is far beyond conversational. It reminded me of the moment in The Odyssey when Athena strokes Odysseus’ cheek and says, "You were always my favorite…"

Do you get that? The Virgin Goddess touching a mortal in so familiar a way and calling him "my favorite?" I wasn’t even twelve yet and that made me hotter than anything ever has.

(Except Wonder Woman. But that’s another Goddess for another time.)

Anyway, I love the song and I love what I took from it: loving a God can mean all kinds of love. Even intimate love. Even sexual love.

So, anyway, here’s the song I started with.

Now, I wanted a character who had an intimate relationship with a Goddess. The Goddess of Light and Truth. Not just as a friend and not just as a mentor and not just as a guide. I wanted to write about a character who has felt the divine hand touch her heart. A moment of pure and sublime love. A moment that "joined the lover and the beloved one, transforming each into the other."

So, I picked a mercenary–your typical fantasy character–murdering people who don’t look like her for money and magic. And then, I had her hear The Word. A calling from a Divine Voice that cannot be ignored. And despite her best efforts, our girl cannot simply walk away. She tries. She denies the visions and the voices, but eventually, she surrenders.

Just like a lover surrendering to the lure of love at first sight.

And our girl converts. She becomes a worshiper. But not just a worshiper. She discovers a gift she never knew she had. In the churches, they sing to the Goddess and when she opens her mouth to sing for the first time, the Voice of the Goddess comes from her throat.

She sings! She sings! She sings!

She is a priestess of peace armed with a sword. For peace can only be protected with steel.

(Is there an "Exotic Weapon: Lasso" Feat…?)

She is the Warrior-Poet of the Goddess, writing and singing songs that make the other priests… a little less than comfortable. She sings of her love for the Goddess, but not just her love of the Goddess, but an unabashed, unashamed love of the Goddess.

She speaks of the Goddess of Light and Truth as beloved.

Love songs for the Goddess. Just recently, while away in Poland, I was awake during a very long and dark night. Jetlag would not let me sleep. I turned on my laptop, turned on iTunes and started writing. The very first song stopped my hands cold. It was one of those moments when you hear a song you truly need to hear. Without any pride in my heart, I write to you now, that my eyes swelled up and I cried.

So far from the one I love, this song slammed into my heart and would not let go. And I realized just how much I love her.

I hear a lot of people talk about the love God has for them. I’ve never felt that kind of love before… except from and for people. A kind of love that recognizes we are all flawed, all fucked up and just trying to make it through life with as few horrible missteps as possible.

I have that kind of love for a very few people in my life. And when I write about the love our girl has for the Goddess, it is that kind of love. The "I will forgive any fucked up thing you do" kind of love.

I hear this song and can hear my girl singing it to her Goddess. And, I admit without any kind of pride, that it makes me choke up just a little bit.

This is the kind of love we deserve from a God or Goddess. Not the judgmental, insecure, jealous love we all hear about.

"I will forgive any fucked up thing you do."

We all need that kind of love. And maybe if we give it a little bit more, we might even deserve it from each other.

* * *

PS: I sincerely hate to do this (HATEHATEHATE) but if anybody uses this post as an opportunity to tell me that YHVH/Jesus/L. Ron Hubbard/Your God Of Choice has unconditional love for me, I will point out to them that my grandfather–an atheist to the end and a man I love dearly–is in your version of Hell right now, being butt-fucked by your version of The Adversary for All Eternity and the conversation will END. Capiche?

The Paizo Project, Part 4

The assignment said, "Nirmathas ranger guerilla leader."

A quick look through the Pathfinder wiki showed me this:

A struggling country only recently escaped from the grasp of an imperialistic master Nirmathas finds itself trapped in a constant war with the nation that seeks to reclaim it. Its people proud of there newly gained freedom try to maintain normal lives while still being ever ready to fight off the imperial advances of their southern neighbour.

Well, that just begs for a Robin Hood character, but Robin’s been done to death. I once had a notion of doing a Robin Hood story that involved the Robin of Loxley finding out about this "Robin Hood" fellow and taking up the mantle to live out the legend. I fiddled with that for a while, but I didn’t like it. Didn’t sing to me.

I liked the idea of a lawful good thief, though. More than just robbing from the rich and stealing from the poor, he’d be someone who did something awful in his past and now uses his skills to make up for that terrible crime.

Yeah. Yawn. So what?

Then, I thought of a character I wanted to play in Jess Heinig’s Dying Kingdoms larp. A mailman. Someone who carries messages across the dangerous landscape. Not just messages. Think about this for a second. Think about someone you love. Someone you love more than life itself. And think of being separated from them for a significant amount of time. There’s no internet. No phones. No way to communicate to them other than writing a letter and giving that letter to someone else for delivery. Your wife. Your lover. You father or mother. Your brother. A letter that carries your love. And you put it in the hands of this total stranger. And he travels across the hellish land full of orks and goblins and trolls and giants to give it to the one you love the most.

I thought of that for a while. That had a lot of juice in it, but it was really stealing Jess’s coolness, I wasn’t going to do that.

And then today, as I was driving in the car, my custom-made CD found a song. A great fucking song. And within seconds, I knew the character I wanted to make.

See, there’s this legend. The legend of a man bigger than any man you’ve seen before. As tall as an ogre and twice as strong. He’s got a sword tied to his back that’s bigger than he is and he’s got a beard that’s bigger than a lord’s table. Hands big enough his fingers can grip ’round a dinner plate. And he had this dog. This great hound as tall as a man’s shoulders. Big, red hound that was just as smart as any wizard you can find. And he called that big hound, "Lassie." And that big man, he was a trickster, no doubt. He could fool the feathers off a bird, the fire from the sun, and anyone else who dared piss him off. They say he once rescued a princess by climbing up a tower of glass…

He kept all the lords and ladies honest around here. If any of them tried getting the better of the common folk, our man would set them straight. He’d trick them so bad, he’d steal the crown right off their heads–even as they were holding court. And if he couldn’t fool ya, he’d just beat some sense into you with the tried and true diplomacy of a good, hard right cross.

That’s our man. He used to live around here, but one day, he just disappeared. Him and his hound. Nobody’s ever seen him since. Every tavern sings songs about him and every bard knows at least one story about him.

But the man who tells the best stories about our man? It’s the fellow who runs that old river barge, just over there. That gray old twisted man. Used to be friends with our man. That old codger, he’s as old as the river, I’ll tell you, but he’s damn clever. He knows every drop of water in that river by its name. He knows every single port, every single portmaster. Pay him a copper and he’ll take you as far down the river as you want to go. Pay him another and he’ll tell you a story about his old friend and the trouble they used to brew up together.

Yes, sir, that old man’s seen a lot in this valley, going up and down that river. More than you and I will ever see.

Of course, the old man is the legend we’re talking about. A sixty-year old retired lawful good thief. Used to rob from the rich and steal from the poor. But then, he got old. And because he gave everything away, all he’s got left is a river barge and stories. Even the dog died. But he’s still got the stories. And he’ll tell them to you for just a copper. Best damn stories you ever heard. And though he doesn’t have the strength anymore, he’s still got his wits. And maybe he’s got enough metal for just one more caper.

Ah, there’s a low bridge coming up, son. Better get your head down…

The Paizo Project, Part 3

"Orc Warlord."

That’s what the description said. And The Enemy () gave it to me. Sucker.

I read the descriptions of orcs (sic) in the Pathfinder world and found them pretty much what you’d expect in a fantasy game. Tribal. Unorganized. Bestial. Savage. Fair enough.

I like making NPCs for other people’s games that have a lasting impression. Someone who could really shake things up. Change things. And, because my orc (sic) was gonna be chaotic evil (because all of them are), I wanted to take evil somewhere really… different. From the Pathfinder wiki…

Chaotic evil is all about self aggrandizement and fulfilling the individuals desires no matter the cost to anyone else. This ranges from the mad monk, who seeks to return insane outer gods so he may rule what is left of the world, to the armored bully, who enforces his will through brute force and intimidation.

Chaotic evil can be charming and urbane, but brooks no resistance to its goals except those imposed by a stronger force. Even then, it schemes to remove the obstruction without any personal sacrifice.

Okay, so chaotic evil is your standard American politician. (I’m looking at you, Sarah.) But this is orc culture, not American culture. What kind of creature would thrive in orc culture?

Well, the orc traits have the following modifications:

Str: +4
Int: -2
Wis: -2
Cha: -2

(I will point out that the disparage of points here clearly illustrates that Strength is the most important trait in the game.)

That means most orcs are dumb. And not just dumb, but really fucking dumb. Hillbilly dumb. We’re talking "The world is only 6,000 years old" dumb. The kind of dumb that will ignore evidence for belief. A whole culture of flat-earthers, Holocaust deniers, Creationist dimwit numbskulls. They’ll believe anything you tell them if you shout loud enough.

Now imagine this. Imagine if one orc was born in that culture who had more than just half a brain. In fact, what if he also had the charisma to go with that brain. What if, instead of strength and constitution and dexterity, he had wisdom and charisma and intelligence? A genetic freak, no doubt. But what if? What if he had the smarts to live long enough to make it to adulthood?

What if you dropped an orc with the intelligence, charisma and tactical genius of Robert E. Lee into a culture of illiterate savages? What would happen?

And we’ll make General Lee chaotic evil, to boot.

That was what I came up with. Take the greatest military mind the United States has ever known, slap the most evil alignment on him, make him an orc, and throw him in with a culture of rabid dipshits who will believe anything that’s yelled at them loud enough.

That’s my boy. And he’s gonna kick your ass. And there’s nothing you can do to stop him.

The Paizo Project, Part 2

This starts at the end.

Magical healing is such a fundamental part of fantasy roleplaying games these days. You don’t really have to worry about any injury at all; there’s a cleric nearby with a handy little spell that will take care of everything. The broken bones, the ripped tendons, the flayed skin, the shredded arteries… everything. Just a wave of the hand and it’s all better now. Like mom’s chicken soup.

In fact, when we were designing L5R RPG, I wanted to keep it out. In a game about samurai philosophy and tragedy, magical healing undermined everything we were trying to go for. "You live four feet from death" in samurai drama. That katana will cut you in half. Give you an injury so foul, no healing will ever bring you back. I mean, you’ve been cut in half, for Shinsei’s sake!

So, when I saw one of the characters on my list was a duelist, I started thinking about the stereotypical duelist character. Swashbuckler, drinker, womanizer, all of that. And in a world where magical healing could save you from any injury–any injury–what does courage really mean? Throwing yourself into combat? So what? The cleric is right over there. He can deal with anything the orc can dish out. In that kind of world, where injury has no consequence, what can courage really mean?

What would really drive a swashbuckler to take risks? What would really push them to the edge?

So, I decided to have my duelist start at the end. Jumping into combat, laughing and throwing witticisms and thrusts… and then, she gets herself killed. I mean, killed. Dead, dead, dead. And there’s nothing. Just blackness. An empty blackness. Not cold. Not hot. Not anything. Just nothing.

Endless. Eternal. Nothing.

Then, a flash of burning, scalding pain as she’s pulled back into the world of the living. The world of breathing. Sweet, sweet air. Just the sensation of breath. In and out. In and out. The sensation of grass against her skin. The sensation of warm light on her face. The echoes of wine in her mouth. The sensation of a lover in her arms.

And the pure excitement, just moments before the end, of knowing she was going to die. Knowing she was going to die and using every ounce of her life to fight it.

That moment. That single moment. The moment between life and death.

That’s what she’s living for. That’s why she leaps into battle. To find that single moment when she knows she’s going to die… and nothing else in all the world matters. Not the gold in her pockets, not the treasures of ancient tombs, not the tales the bard tells of her courage. All of that means nothing.

The single moment when she knows she could die. And when she finds that moment… she laughs.

(The video features Jeff Hardy–the fearless swashbuckler of the WWE. No WWE PPV is complete without Jim Ross shouting, "For the love of God, Jeff! Don’t do it!")

The Paizo Project, Part 1 (Relaunch)

 (I’ve gotten approval by the Paizo guys to do this in a completely different way. So, I’m gonna take advantage of that and restart this little project. Enjoy!)

I was recently approached by The Enemy (Sean K. Reynolds) to write a whole bunch of NPCs for the forthcoming Pathfinder NPC Guide. And by "a whole bunch," I mean about eight of them.

Now, I can write up NPCs all day long, but designing 8th-10th level characters for the Pathfinder system isn’t easy. You see, Pathfinder inherited the legacy of the d20 system. (I have a vague notion of making a Freemasons inheriting the Templar legacy analogy. After all, negotiating the labyrinthine complexity of Freemason rituals is about as challenging as learning the d20/Pathfinder system.) And so, to entertain myself as I use the Paizo-provided Excel spread sheet to make sure I don’t make any flagrant mistakes, I decided to put on some music. I usually turn off music when I write, but this isn’t writing. This is math. Advanced math. And I need music to trudge through advanced math. This lead to the conclusion that each NPC should have their own theme song. Another tool to help me focus on the theme of the NPC and another way to have fun with the project.

And, because there are so many NPCs, I decided to make each of them a different alignment. Not only that, but I wanted to drive each of these alignments to their logical conclusions… at 400 miles per hour and with no breaks.

(My apologies for the repeated analogy. It’ just such a good one, I had to use it again.)

Just today, I also got permission to do reveal teasing details about each NPC. This not only gives me an opportunity to write about the NPCs I’m writing about, but plug the book I’m working for, and–hopefully–get other people excited about it, too.

And so, without further delay, the first NPC. The one I’m calling, "The Violin Assassin."

Sean asked for an assassin. The picture in the Pathfinder book was a half-ork with Warhammer/Warcraft style armor and a big poison blade. Okay. That’s covered. No need to go there. In fact, why don’t I do something completely different. The exact opposite. Male half-ork? How about a female elf. And instead of big, nasty weapons, why don’t we do small weapons. The smallest. Easy to hide.

And neutral evil. Here’s what the Pathfinder wiki says about the alignment…

Neutral evil promotes pain, anguish, misery, corruption, and destruction on all, without regards to the individual (chaos) or the system (law). This can be for its own sake or for a definite goal, including bringing the end times (either to end the world or to bring about its replacement with a ‘better’ world) or raising an evil master to power or freeing one from containment.

Okay. I’ve got that part. An assassin who promotes pain, anguish and misery for it’s own sake or for a definite goal. Now, the assassins in the Pathfinder world are highly organized, serving a "Bloody Mistress." I wanted a fanatical follower of the cause. Someone who believes in something. But what?

Well, assassin is a prestige class, so my female elf can’t start off that way. She has to go through another class first. Not fighter. That’s boring. And not thief–I mean "rogue"–because that’s cliche. I’d need Stealth and Disguise. Tough to get through wizard or warlock…

And that’s when I noticed that the fine folks at Paizo removed the alignment requirements on the bard.

I smiled. I’d found my hook. Bard/Assassin.

My little assassin started off life as a bard. The most mistreated and abused character class in the system. Everybody takes the bard for granted. Everybody groans when a player says, "I’m gonna play a bard!" And so, I used that little bit of meta, putting it right into her history. Overlooked and taken for granted, she wandered with an adventuring crew, playing pointless, insipid songs to "inspire" her fellows. And, instead of a lute, I gave her a violin. The most uncomfortable instrument in the book. May as well be carrying a tuba.

So, she wanders around with her buddies until something goes wrong and she has to put away the violin and pull out her knives. And, in the clamor and alarum of combat, she thrusts the blade through some ork’s heart… and as blood gushes over her fingers and wrist, she hears music she’s never heard before. Music that fills her ears and head and eyes and heart. 

Murder brings her music.

Shortly thereafter, she murders her happy crew, weeping with joy as she cuts their throats, one-by-one. And the music that fills her heart…

That’s where I started. Where I ended… well, you’ll just have to buy the book to find out.

I had a theme song for her before, but I found another. One that more accurately reflects the kind of macabre beauty I want to install in the character. The moment of murder is a moment of pure intimacy. With my knife through your heart, with my eyes and yours locked, no-one in the world is more intimate than you and I.

I love you. More than anyone who has ever loved you. Only I. 

I alone.