Nidal, Land of Shadows

Welcome, welcome! Gather round! Today we’re taking a look at an awesome new release for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that focuses on the dark and creepy land of Nidal. That’s right! Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Nidal, Land of Shadows.

Now, before we get started, there’s one thing I need to state plainly, right up front. This is NOT a family friendly book. It’s not the book you want to bring with you to read at the laundromat or on the bus, and it’s not a book you’re going to get a lot of ideas from for games involving children, or the many gamers who prefer a fun, carefree kind of game. This book is dark. It’s disconcerting. More specifically, it features body horror, mental and physical torture, as well as imagery and content that may disturb some readers. If you’re a gamer who doesn’t enjoy (or enjoy experimenting with) such content in your d20 games, then this is NOT the book for you. I’d suggest such readers pass on it, and pick up another of the wonderful books that are available for Pathfinder.

However, if you’re the kind of reader who enjoys exploring the dark side of Golarion, then I highly recommend this book. A few similar products that it reminded me of are Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Book of the Damned, Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Horror Realms, GameMastery Module E1: Carnival of Tears, and the Pathfinder Adventure Paths Second Darkness (specifically Book Four: Endless Night) and Hell’s Vengeance (which begins with Book One: The Hellfire Compact). Use these other products as a measure to judge whether or not this book is right for you.

nidal land of shadows - openerThose of you who regularly read my blog may wonder why I bothered to invest in a book with mature content when most of the time when I GM my children are involved (a six and seven year old). That’s a fair question! This book was not chosen with them in mind. This book was for me. Why?

For starters, I have no other content outside of the Inner Sea World Guide, and the Pathfinder Module: The Midnight Mirror, that features Nidal. None. To me, that spot on the map is a giant question mark. I know the basics, but nothing else. Second, I’m the kind of player that likes a wide variety of experiences in my games. Yes, I love a happy, feel-good, fun game. I love character development, social interactions, and humour. But, I also love horror. I want my dark locales to actually be dark. The evil in my games should be disturbing, and disconcerting, not shallow and cliche. Within reason. Games are only worthwhile when the players find them fun, after all. This book on Nidal did just that.

PZO92108Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Nidal, Land of Shadows is written by Liane Merciel, with additions by Lyz Liddell, Ron Lundeen, and Mark Moreland. It’s cover features awesome artwork by Kiki Moch Rizky that depicts the iconic hunter, Adowyn, and the iconic bard, Lem, facing off against an umbral dragon! This book is a thick softcover book which weighs in at 63 pages long. As a book in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line, it contains information on the locations of Golarion (Nidal, specifically). It does not feature new archetypes, or other character options. But, that doesn’t mean this is only a book for GMs! They’re awesome for GMs, of course, but they’re also great for helping players of all kinds create fully-formed characters from different locations. In addition, I find these books really fire up the imagination.  They spark ideas for both adventures, side quests, villains and characters.

nidal, land of shadows - illustrated by federico musettiThe inside cover features a gorgeous map of Nidal, complete with labels, scale, and beautiful tiny depictions of the major settlements, drawn with care. The book is split into four chapters. ‘Living in Shadow’ is a ten page look at what life is like for most citizens. ‘Gazetteer’ is a thirty page look at the locations found within Nidal. ‘Threats in the Gloom’ is a twelve page look at the various locations which are particularly well suited to adventuring. And ‘Bestiary’ is a nine page look at some of the unique creatures found within Nidal’s borders. The entire book is filled with darkly beautiful artwork, some of which may be disturbing to some readers.

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For more information on Zan-Kuthon and the other gods of Golarion, check out Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Gods

The first chapter of the book, ‘Living in Shadow,’ begins with a wonderful Nidalese sermon which really helped put their view on their (horribly evil) religion into perspective. If read with the proper gravitas I swear it could make a shiver run down your spine.  Very atmospheric! Its accompanied by some gothic artwork of a vampiric noblewoman looking out across the city. After this is a short, half-page summary of Nidal, it’s origins, and its culture. Up next is a gorgeous image of a Nidalese Horselord and about a page worth of text on the history of Nidal. This includes what life was like before they became thralls of Zon-Kuthon. There’s also information on the government of Nidal and some of its important personages. Nidal is a theocracy dedicated to Zon-Kuthon, headed by the Black Triune, and governed by the Umbral Court. After this there is information on some of the rare citizens you might come across in Nidal, including Caligni, Fetchlings, and the terrifying Kytons. Then we get a glimpse of what life is like in the decadent cities of Nidal, and the rural countryside. Spoiler Alert: It’s WAY different. Haha. There’s also a short section about the different kinds of religious and underground resistance found within Nidal. There’s also a discussion on Nidal’s relations with other nations, and a full page timeline showing important dates in Nidal’s history. Oh! And a delightful (disturbing) image of Zon-Kuthon, the benevolent (NOT) god who rules Nidal! Such a photogenic guy! (Note the sarcasm.)

nidal land of shadows - skrialsikenI found this chapter was the incredibly useful in helping me understand life in Nidal. I had forgotten that the Nidalese people used to be horselords. Although I knew that they were the only civilization to survive Earthfall and the Age of Darkness (sort of), I hadn’t quite realized how important it was to their history. It’s a source of constant pride. Proof of the validity of their beliefs. It also means that they have relics, written works, books, maps, and actual, reliable artifacts and history from that time. From before that time. Refugees from other places —  say… Azlanti and Thassilon for example — would have fled to Nidal for safety as refugees. it was once the literal centre of civlization in the Inner Sea. The Absalom of it’s time in a world of darkness, death, and barbarism. Even the poorest farmer would still have housewares and relics handed down through the millennia. Family heirlooms that are older than nations. Even if you only count Nidal’s history from the moment they made a pact with Zon-Kuthon, they’re a nation over 10,000 years old. That’s… monumentous. This nation’s history makes it particularly useful for anyone wanting to make a character with ties to ancient civilizations, including some of the new character options from Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Ancients.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the difference between city life and rural life, as well as about the Black Triune. For those of you who don’t know, they were the original horselords who beseeched Zon-Kuthon for protection for their people from Earthfall. Although the evil Zon-Kuthon granted their desires and saved their people (making them the only civilization to survive Earthfall and the Age of Darkness without crumbling) it also transformed the horselords into literal servants of Zon-Kuthon’s. They are his will made flesh. Eternal and unloving. They rule Nidal to this day, though they are rarely seen by any outside the Umbral Court.

The Gazeteer begins with a moving quote from a retiring Chelish Ambassador to her replacement about the cold beauty, harsh cruelty, and ancient knowledge which can be found in Nidal. I particularly loved the last line:

“…It is a place, for better or worse, that you will never forget. You can’t. The scars remain forever.”

Such a wonderful, atmospheric quote — again. Whoo! Love it! It’s accompanied by artwork depicting a Varisian caravan approaching a Nidalese city, surrounded by wildlife that looks rather ominous. Past the opening quote is about a page and a half of information about Nidal’s culture and politics, followed by details on their four major holidays.

nidal land of shadows - opener - illustrated by federico musettiNote to self: Don’t celebrate the Eternal Kiss. Or The Festival of Night’s Return. Or The Shadowchaining. Or anything, really. In fact, let’s amend that to: never visit Nidal. Haha. Honestly, I adored reading about the holidays! They were the perfect balance of ‘holiday’ and dark horror. Shivers!

After this we get to the bulk of the Gazeteer: details on a ton of locations, all of which are shown on that loverly inside-cover map I mentioned earlier. There’s a total of 55 locations which are detailed in this chapter, including two major cities (Pangolais and Ridwan) which include their own maps, and multiple locations within them. The Gazeteer’s locations include cities, towns, settlements, ancient ruins, dangerous locales, and natural features. They run the gamut from ‘safe’ and ‘unique’ to ‘deadly’ and ‘disturbing.’ It’s got a really great variety. A lot of these places sparked ideas for campaigns, adventures, and character origins — not all of which are evil. In fact, the most useful part of this chapter may be in it’s ability to make you realize that you can adventure here. You can be a hero in Nidal. I don’t mean just as a sweeping revolutionary who tries to change Nidal, but as a Nidalese person who lives and survives here. A local hero. In addition to details on the places, there’s information on important figures, enemies, and plenty of plot-hooks. There’s also a ton of useful references for where you can find further information on those places, people,  and topics (both within this book, and in other books).

nidal land of shadows - stormhollow
Stormhollow from Nidal, Land of Shadows

Some of my favourite places to read about were the Atteran Ranches (which is a great place to create characters who want to be members of the underground resistance), Auginford (a small settlement which recently unearthed a disturbing monument), Blacksulfur Pond (a pond connected to the Shadow Plane), Brimstone Springs (where a devil is enjoying a ‘delightful’ prank), Grayfrond (home to a creature based off a chilling Inuit folk creature), Stormhollow (a village whose inhabitants were slaughtered by kytons — and still walk the streets today as mutilated husks), and, my personal favourite, The Library Without Light, which is home to ancient texts and relics dating back to before Earthfall. If any of you own this book, I’d be curious to hear what your favourite locations were!

Zon-Kuthon
Unholy symbol of Zon-Kuthon, god of envy, pain, darkness and loss.

The next chapter, ‘Threats in the Gloom,’ begins with a recounting of an adventure in Nidal, by an Aspis Agent. It’s dour and dark, and perfect. And the art that comes with it? Creeeeeeepy! After this is looks at eleven different dangerous locations in Nidal, dedicating about a page to each. It includes the classes of powerful denizens, the kinds of creatures you can encounter there, features common to the area, as well as history, and plot-hooks for these locales.  Once again, there’s a wide variety of locations here, from dungeons, dangerous wilds, haunted places, and urban areas. Those of you looking for more information on hidden bastions of good should check out the ‘Plains of Night’ and ‘Undervale.’ ‘The House of Lies’ is a great location for those of you looking for reasons for  foreigners to visit. ‘Shadowreach’ revisits the legacy of a character from the Council of Thieves Adventure Path (Ilnerik Sivanshin who was mentioned in Council of Thieves: Book 3: What Lies in Dust, and featured in Council of Thieves: Book 5 – Mother of Flies). Looking for something darker? Check out the ‘Tower of Slant Shadows.’ Not only does it have connections to the wonderful Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, it’s also (in my humble opinion) the creepiest thing in the entire book. Yikes! I wish I had thought of that for my home game of Second Darkness… My personal favourite locations in this chapter are ‘Castle of the Captive Sun’ wherein a vampire keeps a collection of divinely descended beings prisoner, and tortures himself with holy artifacts! Very cool! And Barrowmoor, which is land filled with ancient burial mounds of the Nidalese Horselords. It’s steeped not only in creepy a atmosphere and a bunch of undead, but also in the occult, which I ALWAYS love. Barrowmoor is also the setting of the Tomb of Attai Horse-Speaker, which was published in its entirety in Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Tombs of Golarion. Honestly, it’s one of my favourite tombs I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

nidal land of shadows - castle of the captive sun
Castle of the Captive Sun from Nidal, Land of Shadows

The last chapter of this book is the Bestiary, which collects six random encounter tables (which contains a few entries which pleasantly surprised me!) and six new monsters. The creatures vary from CR 2 to CR 8. There’s a new kyton, of course, called the suffragan. It’s born from the souls of another new creature, the joyful thing, which definitely is my pick for the most disturbing creature in this book! Yikes! The strongest monster on offer is the hive brute. For more information on hives you can check out Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures. I’m not a big fan of most plant creatures, but there is a cool shadow plant called the shadow fern which I actually really like. There’s also the smokeshade, which is a tiny extraplanar, incorporeal, aberration that looks like a patch of shadow. In addition to being an enemy, these little guys can be taken as familiars by casters of at least 7th level with the Improved Familiar feat. They’re actually quite fun, flavourful critters, that enjoy forming themselves into different rude shapes in order to mock other people or pantomime insults. I want one! Haha. But, the definite winner for the most useful creature is the shadow animal template. Not only can it be used to make shadow tainted creatures, it’s abilities are chosen from a list, which makes it very adaptable. It’s super useful, and really well done.

And that brings us to the end of Nidal, Land of Shadows. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It made me think about Nidal in a new way, which made it playable. It also gave me a lot of good ideas for characters and adventures set in this morbid, horrible place. But, keep in mind, this book is NOT for everyone. Only purchase this book if you enjoy adding dark horror to your games.

Those of you looking to more fully immerse yourself in Nidal should pick up the Pathfinder Tales novels: Nightglass and Nightblade, both of which are written by Liane Merciel. Player’s looking to make characters from Nidal, should check out Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of Shadows, or Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures.

Thanks for taking a walk through the darkness with me!

Jessica

shadow plane by jay epperson
The Shadow Plane by Jay Epperson

Character Focus: “Scaredy” Sir Lansle Eine

My kids have grown to love play-by-post gaming over the last few months. They created their first Pathfinder Society characters back in December so they could play a scenario my brother wrote. Scenario #9-10: Signs in Senghor was a ton of fun. Mr. Ice, Bunny Paras, Paras and Enzo Jeggare accomplished their goals, made allies, and escaped the clutches of a dangerous monster. So when OutPost was announced they made the decision to move their characters online so they could play some more. In addition, they made their second characters. Lady Naysha and her beloved stuffed animal Miss Whiskers, the ever forgetful Fuzzzy and his clever owl Bobby joined the ranks of the Pathfinders.


Note: For more information on Mr. Ice, Bunny Paras, Paras and Enzo, check out the following posts: Joining the Pathfinder Society, Signs in Senghor Part One, Signs in Senghor Part Two, Farewell to OutPost, and The Many Fortunes of Grandmaster Torch. For more information on Fuzzzy and Lady Naysha, check out these posts: Outpost 2018 and Farewell to OutPost.


Recently, they decided they wanted to do more. They each took some time to think, and registered their third Pathfinder Society characters. Today, we’re going to take a look at my son’s.

He wanted to make a paladin. He also wanted to make someone from Fuzzzy’s past. Someone who knew Fuzzzy before he was a forgetful old man. Someone who knew he was a hero. He’s a big fan of demons in his d20 games, which worked well with his concept. In no time at all, on the way to school, he announced suddenly:

“Mom, I am going to make Fuzzzy’s brother. He died too. But when he came back, he didn’t get to forget. He remembers. And it makes him really scared.”

Immediately, I smiled. “That’s a great idea! Do you think he’s going to give in to his fear?”

My son thought for a moment. “He will be very scared. He will shake and stuff and hide behind his shield. But he is a paladin, Mom. Even though he is scared, he will try to protect other people. He will be a hero even if he wants to pee himself in fear and run away.”

“That sounds like he is very brave.” I pointed out.

My son nodded. “The bravest!”

By then we were at school, so he waved at his friends and handed me his backpack. I reminded him not to talk about ‘demons’ too much in school — unsurprisingly a touchy topic for a grade one classroom — and off he went to play.

After school he did his homework (with only mild complaints), and slowly typed his way though his play-by-posts. He pulled out our Pathfinder books and began to look at the pictures. After dinner we say down to make his character.

Choosing a race, class, and religion was easy. Fuzzzy had been a human in life, and his brother would be one as well. He worshipped Iomedae, and was a paladin. We quickly discovered a favoured class bonus for humans that he loved: “Add +1 to the paladin’s energy resistance to one kind of energy (maximum +10).” He chose to go with Fire Resistance 1 to start with, due to his unfortunate past with demons. He knew he wanted to fight with a longsword and a shield. Dented ones! And some big heavy armour that was scratched. The same gear he wore in his battles in the Worldwound. He chose improved shield bash, and weapon focus longsword for his feats.

He also chose his stats quite easily: Str 18, Dex 10, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 8. Strong and healthy. A little smart and a little wise from his time in the military. But not very nimble — his armour is too hard to move in for that. And not charismatic at all! He’s so nervous and scared that it bugs people. Also, he’s used to friends turning out to be traitors and demons and things! So he doesn’t trust people very easily. He is too scared they might be demons in disguise to be good at making friends! He knew that the low charisma could be a problem for a paladin, but he decided he was fine with that.

Then something wonderful happened. As we were browsing through archetypes we came across two that he wanted: torturer crusader and warrior of holy light.

Tortured Crusader is an archetype from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures that represents a paladin who has lived through more terrifying and horrifying experiences than most. These events have left a scar on him. Perfect! It uses Wisdom instead of Charisma — even better! It gives him access to more skills per level than a normal paladin, and new skills. He gives up diplomacy and handle animal (fine with him!) and he gains access to survival skills, and a bunch of skills that would be super useful to a guy who tries to battle demons everyday. They can’t detect evil. Seeing the evil all around them only reminds them of how horrible life is. This could also help keep his new character scared all the time, since he has no idea where evil might strike from next! Their smite evil is also a little different. It’s less effective at level one, but later becomes more effective. My son thought this was alright with him. They can’t use their healing powers to heal others, instead he can only heal himself with them. This is because they want to protect others from evil so much, that they can’t ask others to fight beside them. Even though this is quite a downside for his healing powers, my son liked it. He decided that his character wanted to protect everyone from the pain and trauma that the demons caused him, so he would fight them all on his own. Also, this ability would give him extra uses of smite evil, which he thought was pretty cool. Soon he’ll also gain the ability to set conditions that could cause his healing powers to automatically trigger on himself. My son loved this idea, deciding that it was Iomedae herself, still granting him some extra help now and then.

The second archetype he liked is the Warrior of the Holy Light from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player’s Guide. This archetype made him give up his spell casting. Instead, he can make a magical aura of light that makes himself and his allies a little bit better at fighting. Later, it can do other things, like healing ability damage, providing energy resistance, and even harming evil creatures. He immediately decided to give himself this archetype along with the trait, birthmark. His paladin would have a birthmark on his left palm that looked like a glowing sword. It works as his holy symbol, and helps him shake off charms and compulsions, which is really helpful against demons! When he gets access to his light abilities, it will be his holy birthmark that glows with light. When this happens, his scared paladin will turn into the man he used to be. Iomedae’s holy light will help him remember what its like to be brave.

From there, filling in the rest of his character was easy. He chose ‘a sure thing’ as his second trait, gave himself ranks in Knowledge (planes), Knowledge (religion), Perception, Profession (soldier), Sense Motive and Survival. He chose abyssal as his bonus language. And he spent his money on some good gear. A longsword, heavy steel shield, scale mail and some javelins. He also invested in holy water. He made sure to pick up a wooden holy symbol of Iomedae and a battered old copy of her holy text. His, from before his death. He also invested in a shield sconce and some torches. The rest of his gear was pretty basic: backpack, bedroll, so on and such. With a bit more tweaking, he was ready!

We painstakingly typed up his character sheet on our computer, registered him online. My son browsed through character images and quickly found one he liked. Then we spent some time writing his character biography.

He was ready!


So, on behalf of my son, we’re introducing Sir Lansle Eine. Brother of Fuzzzy. Paladin of Iomedae. Known to most as Sir ‘Scaredy.’


Sir Lansle Eine and his brother Sir Palad Eine were holy paladins in the service of Iomedae. They battled together in the Worldwound and saw many horrors. In the end, at twenty-four and twenty-five years of age, they died. But as the demon tore apart their bodies, Iomedae plucked their souls from the Boneyard and placed them in new bodies. They were brought back to life by their faith and devotion and self-sacrifice. But when they came back they were not the same. Death changes everyone.

Palad came back in the body of an old man, with no memory of his past life. He calls himself Fuzzzy now, and doesn’t remember Lansle at all. Fuzzzy has a pet owl who is very smart—a gift from Iomedae—who keeps Fuzzzy safe and on track. Lansle visits his brother often, but it always makes him both happy and sad. It hurts being forgotten.

Lansle didn’t change as much as Palad. He looks the same, and he remembers everything. That’s the problem. Dying at the hands of demons was terrifying and it left a deep scar on Lansle’s soul. He is scared of dying, and all the things that might make him die. But, he is still a paladin in his heart.

He can’t stand on the sidelines when evil is in the world. He won’t waste his second life.

Sir Lansle decided to do some good. He takes care of his brother, even though Palad/Fuzzzy doesn’t remember him. And he joined the Pathfinders. More specifically, the Silver Crusade. Through his missions he is going to make the world a better place. Even though it makes his knees shake, and his arms turn to jelly. He is a scared, but very brave, guy.

Lansle is a young man in his twenties, with brown hair that is starting to go gray on the sides from worrying too much. He wears heavy armour and carries a big shield. They both have Iomedae’s holy symbol on them—a glowing sword—but they are also both dented and scratched as if they have seen a lot of use in battle. Lansle was probably handsome once, but he has big bags under his eyes he never smiles. He always looks very scared and nervous. His knees shake and his eyes look back and forth nervously all the time. He has a longsword on his hip, and a holy symbol of Iomedae around his neck. He carries an old, worn out holy text of Iomedae in his bag, and in the back he writes his own prayers and poems. He has a birthmark on his palm that is in the shape of his holy symbol, and once in a while, when he is in very deep trouble, it glows, and then Lansle remembers what it’s like to be brave.

Luckily, my son had no trouble finding a game for him to play in. Sir Lansle is currently working his way through Scenario #7-10: The Consortium Compact. Stopping a shipment of horrible drugs from being spread across the Inner Sea? Definitely a good start!

I hope you enjoyed taking a look at my son’s new character. I know I enjoyed helping him make it.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jessica