Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - 10:10 AM

One of the facets I enjoy most about reading a series is how the series develops over time. Sometimes you see some remarkable changes in the author's approach. Sometimes the story style itself is very consistent but the characters change tremendously over time. Generally, when I plan a story, I don't intend for it to be part of a series, unless it is a short story or some kind of serialized fiction. But the notion of a series intrigues me. There is potential there for a story of profound depth and power.

The reason why this is on my mind is that I am currently at the far end of the Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton. I have not read the most recent four books or so, and I thought I'd get the full experience by starting at the beginning. In part, this is market research; it is a similar genre as the Customs book that I am working on, and it is a very popular series. So, while reading, I am paying attention to how she presents conflict, and how she presents the interactions between the mundane and the supernatural. But I am also noticing how much her series has changed from the beginning.

You can speculate quite a lot on why authors shift things the way they do. I will be the first to admit that I am a writer whose personal life does edge its way into my writing. I can't help it. Writing is a very pure mode of expression, after all. That said, I'll state right out that I enjoyed the early Blake books. They were quirky, interesting, and combined some facets of the mystery genre with the modern supernatural. Being a huge fan of the William Monk series by Anne Perry, I'm definitely fond of mysteries with a lot of personal tension.

(Also, William Monk is hardcore. Don't mess with the man.)

But something happened, and the series changed. I'm currently trying to push through 'Incubus Dreams' right now, and it's a terribly tedious read. I have actually had to put the book down twice because my brain was refusing to participate in yet another pages-long metaphysical scratch-n-sniff discussion of sex magic. Don't get me wrong, I like sexy literature, but it seems like every (small) chapter starts with an orgasmic scream, sometimes in stereo. The Lemur says that the next couple books aren't so bad, and I certainly hope not.

What particularly bothers me is that somewhere along the line, the characters all seemed to have walked into a rut and stayed there. Now, granted, this happens in real life more often than I'd like, but it doesn't tend to make for a very interesting story, particularly when the story is being told from the point of view of one of the people in a rut. I've read books with main characters I loathed before (Thomas Covenant, anyone?) but generally the story and the writing were enough to keep me going, and in the case of obnoxiously defiant Thomas Covenant, it was worth it.

But I don't loathe Anita Blake. She's stubborn, ridiculously sexist and hypocritical, and probably teetering on the edge of psychotic, but I don't loathe her. In fact, a character like that can be very interesting to read about sometimes. But I don't particularly like her either. A character must generate sympathy somehow to be really effective, and I just don't have any with Anita. It's gotten to the point where her initial humanity has faded off to an occasional one-liner of guilt in a growing cloud of dominance contests, sexual politics and all-too-frequent crises in which Anita must save yet another person from harm.

Previously, I had a feel for Anita's progression. Now, I don't feel like she's going anywhere, and the sense of stagnation gets into all of the little cracks and chinks of the story arc. I'm going to finish up the series as it exists at this time, just to see if it changes at all, but at the moment, I am making a lot of mental notes of things I want to avoid in my own writing.

So, why is the series so popular? Melodrama and sex. People love both of these, much as they don't want to admit it, and particularly the later books are full of them. The relationship entanglements combined with Anita's general repression are hilariously complicated, and the level of emotional stress is huge. Which of course, expresses itself in tons of semi-mystical kinky sex.

I'm afraid that I cannot bring myself to write anything so melodramatic, but it does make me aware of one thing. I don't have enough practice writing something sexy, which is something I should be working on. It's important for a writer to explore different venues of inspiration, and writing about sexy topics is not only good exercise but it is aiming at an area of universal appeal. So, this is another lesson I'm learning from rereading the Blake series.

Even the repressed love sexy things, whatever Anita might say.



Thursday, April 23, 2009 - 1:34 PM

In my campaign setting, there was once a fiercely human empire of great power and influence, where experiments in magic, art and science changed the world on a regular basis. The empire was destroyed, and only those few citizens who were not in the nation at the time were spared. All the rest were slain by the disaster.

A session ago, the player characters found a fellow who once belonged to this empire during its heyday. He was stuck outside of time, due to the influences of a magical amulet, and having freed him, the party made sure to see him safely to a patron of theirs. They were worried about him going mad once he found out his former home was gone, but they also recognized what a rare source of information he would be. Given how things are going, it might be a while before they chat with him again, so I thought I'd present a little piece of his point of view here.

On the map, the wide peninsula extended south from Morugai. Roughly in the middle, the peninsula's center was gnawed hollow by a huge, abnormally perfect circle of ocean. Ambrose could see a few spots there, indicating islands. The mapmaker had drawn a larger circle in red, centering the hollow, and written the rune for 'Forbidden'. Written over the water-filled crater was the word 'Umar'.

To Ambrose, it had only been two weeks ago when he'd walked down the gleaming sapphire cobbles of a wide thoroughfare, where tall trees of crystal and translucent ivory cast violet shadows across the road leading to the Zurunan Palace of Arcane Learning. He'd sat down for a meeting in a vast hall where blue-streaked pale marble had been literally grown into vast caryatids, whose huge arms supported a domed ceiling of perfectly polished silver which would never tarnish. He remembered looking up at the constantly shifting orrery of burning spheres there, hovering and spinning in perfect harmony to cast a shifting, warm light through the hall as a tiny ceramic golem poured rare Deshune frostmountain tea into chalcedony cups. There, he had sampled sliced fruits from places as far as the Ixte jungle and the cold, dripping forests of Shanmora, discussing philosophy and metaphysics with men and women whose educations beggared some of history's great sages. Like the nation of Umar itself, they were makers of history. The world would not stand on their shoulders to greatness; the magicians of Umar would teach the world to fly.

But three hundred years ago, Umar plummeted from the sky and was obliterated. The Zurunan was dust. The arcane explosion of Umar fed upon itself, perpetuating for over a year in a seething beautiful cataclysm, leaving behind a chewed-out crater that the ocean filled. Even after so long, the area was full of agonized cobwebs of magic, wracking time and space as easily as flesh and bone. No one dared approach.

Ambrose had learned that the world now feared Umar. They saw his people as having been arrogant, careless and decadent.

In the quiet of the archmage Caradoc's library, he sat in a simple but comfortable chair, with a small cup of mundane green tea, and shut his eyes against the present. He was very alone.

Yes, he was thankful to Caradoc for being a peer and a friend, however reserved the archmage was.

Yes, he was thankful to those who released him from the effect of his amulet, and thankful to them for their own compassion.

Yes, he was even thankful that he survived, because at least some truth from Umar survived with him, some part of the great dream that hadn't been stained with three hundred years of despise and fear.

Hands folded around his teacup, he sat in silence, inhaling the clean, paper-scented air of the library, and forced his emotions to stillness. Concentration was normally easy for him, bu today it was slippery, tangled in the swelling feeling deep in his chest.

Even though his home was gone, and all of those who he'd known and loved were gone, there was something much greater missing from the world Ambrose found himself in. Looking at the small stack of books he'd consumed in the past couple of days, catching up on the three hundred years he'd lost, he finally understood what it was.

When Umar died, a vision died with it. Ambrose saw the tiny hints, the unspoken gaps in the histories and accounts. He read the whispers behind the words when people decried the works of Umar, and spoke out against the ambitious. They thought it was Umar, but he came to understand their fear was not of Umar or Umaran works. They were afraid of failure, and did not want to see others succeed.

Fear of failure had never been a part of Ambrose's world.

This is something that I can give to the world, he thought. That and I carry with me traditions that were lost or shunned centuries ago... so, in me, Umar does survive. My world does exist, and perhaps humanity may learn to fly again.

Letting the thoughts console him, he sighed, sipped at his tea, and then abruptly smiled. The smile turned into a small, pleased laugh.

He knew of at least four people who did not fear failure, and he sincerely hoped he would see them again.

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Being the Bad Guy

Sunday, April 19, 2009 - 11:47 AM

My last (real) post spurred a considerable dialogue between two commenters. You guys are awesome for having so much to say, and rather than comment directly there, I'll be commenting here.

After letting the brain recover from paperwork burnout, I started back in on 'With Iron' again, and I noticed that I was thinking through more angles than I previously had, particularly regarding the future of the work wherein the heroes start showing up. But I also re-examined the nature of the villain I'm writing about, and the two peers in his future.

I did resolve that these villains will not be misunderstood heroes, though they may start as one. They will not be virtuous or compassionate, by the time they reach the end of their story. They might not be vile, necessarily, and in fact the three I have in mind are generally not as depraved or demented as Leoric's allies in the Other Side. None of the three are insane, for one (though one is a little off in the head, he's still quite rational). But, as Ryan points out, the villain starts somewhere.

Rather than go on and discuss the various reasons why a person might turn to evil, I'm going to share a bit about Tahvo, the so-called protagonist of 'With Iron'. This won't spoil any part of the actual story, but it might provide an idea of how I'm starting this project. Tahvo grows up in a clan-based society with a strong warrior ethic and an underlying animist faith which is more pervasive than pious. Children usually follow a hereditary trade, but if a child shows talent for something, it is possible to apprentice to another family. In essence, it is an open caste system. In Tahvo's case, his family has 'many sagas', and is important. He is popular among his peers, and is unfortunately a bit temperamental. This temper pushes him to commit a faux pas of considerable size, which is forgiven largely because he is still a boy, but the Jarl of his clan decides to apprentice him to the local cursebreaker, Crez. He believes it will teach the boy discipline, and though Crez is feared and often avoided, everyone respects the need for his skills. In Tahvo's heavily animist culture, the presence of a witch doctor is reassuring and necessary. This mixed blessing and penalty satisfies the honor of both families involved in the dispute.

Tahvo does indeed learn discipline, but as he learns, he also begins to hear about the great problem of his people; colonists from overseas have built a couple of forts on the shore, and they don't appear to be particularly friendly. Tahvo's people are debating just what is to be done about it all, and as the story progresses, he comes to realize that the interlopers have begun a divide in his own people. He also comes to understand that the interlopers themselves are not evil; they simply don't understand his people, and are not willing to. Much of Tahvo's conflict comes from making his own decision about how to best serve his people and protect them from not just the threat of the colonists, but from internal strife.

So, how does Tahvo become a Bad Guy from here? Telling that -will- spoil the story, but you can easily see that Tahvo's start is very similar to how a hero might emerge. Outside adversaries, the need for a common leader, the proverbial rock-and-hard-place; these things are all present. One place to look at the curious dichotomy of hero/villain in similar circumstances is in the case of Vlad Tepes, who committed horrible atrocities on vast scales, but who is regarded even today as a hero for fighting against the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire. One can easily envision a band of stalwart Muslims setting out to kill the Impaler and allow a lawless land to know enlightenment and peace... and one can just as easily envision a struggling nobleman who is forced to resort to tactics of fear and horror to withstand the invasion of an enemy vastly superior in numbers. Was Vlad a villain? To the Ottomans, most certainly, and his actions generated a great deal of fear and loathing from even other enemies of the Ottomans.

We'll never know precisely what his motivations were for the atrocities, of course. Did he do them because they were his only hope for winning, or did he use his desperate circumstances as an excuse to perform something he'd normally never be able to get away with? This is another thin line between hero and villain. The reasons why someone really does something can help define good or bad. Of course, you can take a simpler tack, too. A friend of mine once put it this way: 'If you have to explain why it isn't evil, it's probably evil'.

'With Iron' is all about explaining why it IS.

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Technical Difficulties

Thursday, April 16, 2009 - 4:29 PM

Readers! There seems to be an issue with the comment function going on here. I'm sure we'll have things back up and running soon, but in the meantime, you'll probably want to save your comments for when the site will actually let you post them. I blame the discussion going on in the last post for frying some logic circuit somewhere.


Monday, April 13, 2009 - 10:53 PM

Life has a way of tangling schedules up, and various forces of bureaucracy have kept me from posting for a while... in part. I admit some fault of my own; I've been working heavily on 'With Iron', and most of my creative fire has been channeled into that project, which I intend to finish relatively quickly (probably done with the initial draft in June).

Like many extended writing projects, 'With Iron' has taken some unusual turns. To summarize briefly for those who haven't heard about this, the premise of 'With Iron' is a non-satirical mirror of a very popular fantasy plot: we meet the young person who happens to be the hero of the book or series, and watch the progression from a relatively normal life to savior of the world or whatever else the hero is up to. In 'With Iron', I am showing how the overarching nemesis of a hero is born, starting from the early days of their life.

Of course, there are obvious questions to answer. Why did this person become evil? Are they really evil at all? Why will the hero of the story attempt to fight against them? I cemented a couple of thoughts here, when determining the main character in 'With Iron'. I didn't want the usual anti-hero. This character had to be bad in a way which was indisputable, and he had to be willing to inflict himself on the world at large for some reason. Granted, there must still be some sympathy or the reader may simply not want to read (what I like to call a Thomas Covenant moment). But the character needs to be a proper villain.

As I was working on this, I came across a few other tidbits of fantasy literature that tend to crop up, and I considered addressing them in some way. Very often, the Bad Guy of a fantasy series is absurdly powerful, often far more than the hero and his allies will ever be. They are generally defeated by the devices of some artifact, pointed moral, or just sheer dumb luck/valor. Naturally, the question arose as to why? What makes these people so powerful? How do they get there?

The obvious answer here is that Evil cuts corners, and accumulates as much as it can without regard for consequences, sometimes even to itself. But we've seen enough of that kind of villain, and we certainly see enough of unthinking avarice in day to day life... though I consider also that making a few jabs about that kind of thing is not amiss. Does the villain in 'With Iron' fit the same hubris-filled pattern?

No, he does not. Originally, I wanted him to, but he has defied me already, and this is already forcing me to consider the future of the story in different ways. Without a doubt, this man will become someone that is hated and feared, but now I am uncertain as to how he'll feel about that. Originally, I considered him to be someone who did not think his actions were evil in any way, but as I continued writing, I realized that for a proper capital-V villain, there is one essential component to it all.

One eventually comes to a Decision. This choice may seem to be something small, or it could be over something of great importance. But either way, that choice is the fulcrum which levers the villain fully into the world of being a nemesis, a dark force and an enemy. For the purposes of this story, all three of the villains involved will understand at least in part the consequences of that choice. They will know that, at the end of the day, they are doing things which are selfish or horrible or wrong.

The fun part of the story is revealing the Why. There aren't any blasphemous-minded madmen, ridiculously sadistic assassins, pompous warlords or world-conquering wizards in 'With Iron'. Just like heroes, the villains start as people, too.

And in the case of 'With Iron's main character, it is one very stubborn man.

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The Wazir of Woe

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 12:19 PM

A tiny handful of desert hermits and sages know that the Wazir of Woe was indeed a former inhabitant of the ancient city Ombos. They have pieced together tiny pieces of information and description from the diverse tales to indicate that the Wazir was an acolyte and embalmer, likely born to the last generation of Ombos before the warlock-priests transcended and returned their beautiful city to the wasteland it had been built in. It is suspected that at least three Ombosin escaped the holocaust at Ombos, but the Wazir is the only concrete indication of one having been active long after Ombos was destroyed.

This same handful of hermits and sages are not willing to share much of their information about the Wazir, because they have also noticed that people researching very deeply into the Wazir folklore have a tendency to disappear. An astute scholar might also note that in history, those regions where the Wazir was said to have been active have a number of traits in common. First, all of them are currently harsh desert or similar inhospitable climates, uninhabited and often largely forgotten. Second, in the tales of the Wazir, all of these regions are described as having been fruitful and green in their associated stories. Third, and most telling, originally all of them were close to or bordered the Sirri desert, in the center of which Ombos once stood.

Those who sift the far-scattered records of ancient history will notice one other commonality: by rumor or fact, each of these regions was noted to have been in custody of some treasure from Ombos. In all cases, these treasures have been lost to time, and no one can say where they've gone or what has happened to them. It is well known, of course, that the incessantly wandering warlock-priests of Ombos lay waste to any trespassers that go near their ruined city, but they rarely wander so far out from the desert to attack cities or settlements at the edges of the Sirri. Further, their trail is easy to track; they are walking natural disasters, unthinkingly blasting apart buildings and streets.

The truth is that the Wazir of Woe is in fact a vestige of ancient Ombos. His name is Zindhir, and he studied under the twenty warlock-priests, learning about the primordial channeling magic they had mastered. Like other students, Zindhir sought out elemental affinities with the raw forces and aspects of nature, and he was one of three who went on a mystical pilgrimage to increase that affinity just before the warlock-priests finished their own evolution as channelers. Ombos was sundered while he was gone, and he quickly headed back to his home to find that treasure hunters were already converging on the ruin. He was outraged, and began to track down those treasure hunters who had managed to sneak past the patrolling warlock-priests.

To his dismay, he found that the warlock-priests attempted to bar him from reaching Ombos as well, and being unable to communicate with them, he interpreted this to mean that they were attempting to complete some great work he was not yet ready to be part of. This was painful for Zindhir; at the time, he thought he was the only survivor outside of the warlock-priests, and Ombos was all that he'd ever known. Dedicated to his vanished people and his faith, Zindhir chose to continue his own studies, hoping that one day he would progress far enough to be called back to Ombos again, and he also chose to track down all that had been stolen from Ombos. He would safeguard it all until the day he could return it to its rightful place.

It has been nearly five thousand years since Ombos died. Zindhir's primal magic allowed him to hibernate for long stretches of time, and it also prolongs his lifespan, which is why he is still alive to this day. But the long dormant periods and stresses of his spiritual path have worn away at Zindhir. He is a paranoid, isolationist creature who is obsessed with his privacy and the secrecy of Ombos itself. In past centuries, he would indeed arrive in those kingdoms where he'd tracked some item or scroll or teaching of his home nation, and he would work his way into the kingdom as an advisor. Zindhir would stay quiet long enough to learn specifically what traces of Ombos were present, and then he would begin a process of fomenting violent discord and unrest.

Frequently he would take control, using his powers to bring other stresses to the kingdom, and in the ensuing cloud of confusion, he would systematically eliminate anyone bearing knowledge of ancient Ombos and taking back any relic of his people. Survivors of any unrest were often driven off by the terrible weather that tended to follow Zindhir's arrival, and within a few years of the region being abandoned, the area was a wasteland where no one would want to live. Zindhir would then move on to his next work.

In the current age, Zindhir believes he has obliterated all traces of the true Ombos lore. He knows that some treasure hunters still venture into the ruins, but he is patient, and is currently more interested in furthering his progression as an Ombosin channeler. He resides in the furthest south region of Antambil, where the desert wasteland meshes with the barren, hostile tundra. The contrast of boiling desert and dry, frozen wasteland intrigues him, and these concepts are those he is cultivating an affinity for. After so much time, his piety and dedication to ancient Ombos is crystallized and sharp, but the temperament and manner that his chosen affinity demands of him makes Zindhir spend large amounts of time far from Ombos. In being like the wasteland, Zindhir must also be uncaring if not hostile to civilizations and trespassers alike, and his obsession with privacy and the secrets of his homeland has only grown. He is also bitter that so many other civilizations have thrived and flourished, and yet Ombos remains in ruins, unrecognized in the current age except as a failed remnant of a once-great civilization. Yet, Zindhir cannot show the world the teachings of Ombos, nor have them recognize any part of what he knew as a paradise.

So, Zindhir emulates his warlock-priest teachers, wandering the uninhabited, brutal frozen desert he's chosen as his home, stopping to briefly meditate at various eroded ruins he's discovered there from a time before even Ombos. One day he may come north again and begin anew his process of seeking out treasure hunters, or perhaps someone might discover his presence and come seeking questions about the past. Given proper incentive, he might even enlist an outsider to attempt to enter Ombos and discover what has been going on there for the past few thousand years. He is very curious, and he yearns to be called home again.

Zindhir's studies have changed him physically. Though he can transmute himself into what he once looked like (or for that matter into any other human shape), his true form is broad and hunched, with a massive build and heavy head. His skin looks thick and gray, with blackened extremities. Some reptilian characteristics have begun to show; dull scales have begun to form in patches on Zindhir, his teeth have grown sharp and black, and his body constantly exudes layers of a kind of resin, which gives him a peeling appearance as if he were shedding his skin. Ancient glyph tattoos of mystical import still decorate his body, and they burn with a cold red light in brief surges.

Zindhir has embedded the most valuable Ombosin treasures he's recovered in the layers of resin on his body, which in turn is mostly covered by his layered robes. This makes him look like a walking archive of small tomes, random pieces of jewelry, icons, figurines, amulets and ceremonial pieces. Some of these things dangle slightly, making him sound like a collection of dull chimes or bells when he walks.

When he changes forms, this collection appears to be an exorbitant amount of jewelry. His mode of dress is definitely beautiful, keeping to flowing and layered garments of a delicately patterned cloth similar to silk. His chosen colors are gold, yellow, black and russet. It would be easy to assume him overdressed, considering that he wears what amounts to ceremonial clothing. On his right arm there are three cuffs of seething material; one burns like white-hot iron, one appears to be ice with the sun filtered through it, and the last is a band of constantly changing agate. These fit snugly around his upper arm, shifting size to accommodate him, and represent his three chosen realms of mastery. The Wazir's golden turban represents the yellow and gold wrappings that Zindhir keeps around his head, representative of his focus of study. The sunlight crawls and burns along the edges of this cloth, as if it were burning, but late at night, it merely appears as yellow cloth. The 'eye' is actually Zindhir's leftmost eye, which has been enchanted by magic in an ancient Ombosin tradition, and though he does not keep maps in his shoes, Zindhir's incessant wandering is certainly due to an Ombosin belief that movement is necessary to proper understanding.

In his usual human form, Zindhir appears as a spare, middle-aged man whose muscles and bones ripple underneath his dark bronze skin. His thin black hair is kept short. Faint black stubble frequently shows on his lean, wolfish face, and his eyes are incongruously pale, an old Ombosin trait.

Interactions with Zindhir are difficult. He is not interested in company, generally, and usually drives off trespassers. He does have a tendency to mutter to himself in combat, usually something to the effect of 'Mine, it is mine. Not yours. Mine.' or 'I must be alone.' However, if a dialogue does begin, Zindhir is extremely eloquent. His conversations are liberally dotted with colorful descriptions and quotes of obscure poetry. He has not adjusted his speech patterns to fit with the modern age, and it does show even when he is infiltrating in another shape. Indeed, he regards most common conversation as crass and ignorant, with no music or color to it, and refuses to compromise his art. Despite this penchant for flowery discourse, Zindhir's manner is fairly laconic and grim.

Using Zindhir:

Zindhir is not to be trifled with. Though he cannot match the raw power of the warlock-priests, he is still extremely strong, and he does not shirk at death and destruction. His ambitions are hidden from others, but his isolationist attitude might lighten a bit with proper motivation. Some of these have already been mentioned, but there are some other options for why people might interact with Zindhir.

He is a scholar of tremendous age and learning. So long as no information about Ombos is asked about, Zindhir can provide a plethora of first-hand historical information, as well as facts and locations about various ruins strewn throughout the deserts of his continent. He also knows that others might be enlisted in his quest to recover Ombosin artifacts, and he might provide information and incentive for others to do so on his behalf, though he would prefer to manipulate them into doing it rather than to be upfront about it. Of course, any pawns or associates who try to make off with Ombos lore or relics will be tracked down and destroyed. Zindhir might also send people out to gather materials from other wastelands in the world or otherwise contribute in ways to his own progression (without any real explanation of course; the phrase 'I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you' is no joke with Zindhir).

Zindhir's machinations, when he gets to them, are always convoluted and considerable. As time has gone by, he has stepped further and further away from the limelight, and prefers it that way. Unraveling a Zindhir conspiracy would make for a fine campaign, even if the heroes never actually confront Zindhir himself. He is eccentric, and over the centuries, he's developed an odd sense of the dramatic. Though he is quite subtle, Zindhir has a weakness for flares of extravagance and over-the-top events. He understands this is a habit he's trying to overcome, but he isn't done with it yet.

Zindhir of Ombos
Large Human (Augmented)
AC 30 (touch 18, flatfooted 25) MV 30, Init +4, BAB 15, F+22 R+6 W+18
STR 16 DEX10 CON 31 INT 26 WIS 22 CHA 26
Attacks: +18/+13/+8 melee touch attack (5d6 dessication damage) or by weapon (note 10 ft. reach)
Skills: Appraise +28, Bluff +26, Concentration +30, Diplomacy +30, Disguise +28, Forgery +20, Gather Information +28, Intimidate +28, Knowledge (arcana, history, planes) +28, Listen +20, Search +20, Sense Motive +25, Spellcraft +28, Spot +24
Feats of Note: Extend Spell, Improved Initiative, Empower Spell, Maximize Spell

Acolyte of Ombos (Sp): Zindhir casts spells as a Cleric, level 19. He may Rebuke Undead as a Cleric of the same level, and he may select any spell with the Cold or Fire descriptor from the Druid list. If you happen to have either WotC's Frostburn or Sandstorm, selecting elemental domains appropriate to Zindhir is a fine idea.
Glyphs of Dedication (Ex): Zindhir is +2 to save vs. all fire effects, and has Fire Resistance 20. He is immune to cold effects.
Ombosin Channeler (Su): Zindhir can cast spells of the fire or cold type that pierce elemental resistance. Any resistance is ignored, and fire/cold immune creatures take half damage. Fire spells cast in this way use a spell slot one level higher than usual, but any cold spell cast by Zindhir is automatically affected by this trait without adjustment. Zindhir's fire spells manifest as silent beams or blasts of shimmering desert light that scorch and wither what they touch. Likewise, his cold spells are intense washes of invisible bone-snapping cold, generally involving little to no ice or snow.
Any cold spell or effect Zindhir uses adds +2d6 damage.
Lord of the Wasteland (Su): With a touch, Zindhir can leech the moisture from a target and start to calcify them. As a melee touch attack, he can dessicate someone for 5d6 points of damage. Once per day, Zindhir can cause this effect at a distance (Medium range), causing 9d6 damage (Fortitude DC 23 halves). If the creature is killed, it becomes a perfect statue made of salt and dust, but its gear remains intact. These statues are very fragile and easily broken apart, but if a Stone to Flesh spell is cast upon one, the person is returned to life and treated as having taken no damage from Zindhir's touch.
Storm Eye (Su): Once per day, Zindhir can fix someone with the gaze of his left eye, prompting a Fortitude save (DC 22), or the target takes 2d10 cold damage and becomes Fatigued. This is a free action.
Desolate Aura (Su): 6x/day, Zindhir can create an aura around him as a free action. The aura lasts for 1 minute, and he gains a +2 bonus to Will saves and Charisma-based checks, including Rebuke/Command checks. He also inflicts an additional +2d6 damage with any cold or fire spell he casts.
Encasement (Ex): Zindhir has a +15 natural armor bonus, due to years of enduring the harshest climates and channeling brutal wasteland magic, as well as for the layers of scales, resin and treasure stuck to him. In addition, the ambient magic of some of the relics he has attached to his body contribute a +8 deflection bonus.
Ombosin Embalmer (Su): Zindhir can create golems of sand, salt or obsidian as well as mummies created by soaking corpses in brine. This process generally takes about a month for a mummy, and two weeks for a golem if he has proper wasteland ground to work with. Further, once per week, he can use a special Dominate Monster and/or Mass Charm Monster effect (DC 28) that functions only on undead, vermin, or construct creature types. The effect lasts until Zindhir chooses to relieve his servant from duty. These silent creations are the basis for the Wazir myth's 'grim servants'.
Secret Keeper (Su): Zindhir can Alter Self 3x/day. Attempts to pierce this Alter Self with True Seeing or similar spells must succeed in a caster level check against Zindhir.
Heart of the Desert (Ex): Zindhir's studies have created a well of innate power in him. The area around Zindhir for 100 feet is incredibly arid, and either intensely cold or hot depending on the prevailing weather conditions (i.e. if in winter, the cold is intense, if in summer the heat is tremendous). Unless he consciously suppresses this ability (free action) each round, it is constantly on. Every 10 minutes someone spends within this area, they must make a Fortitude save (DC 30) or take 1d4 nonlethal damage. Each additional 10 minutes adds +1 to the DC.
If Zindhir spends a year in a given location, he can create a wasteland, slowly breaking down the area to desert or a similarly hostile and arid environment. An area of 40 square miles acts as the epicenter of this effect, and it spreads 1 mile every 1d4 years afterwards. Droughts occur during the first year, and plants begin to wither and die. By the end of the second year, the earth has become extremely dry and cracked, and if a desert happens to border the region, it starts creeping in. Again, Zindhir can suppress this effect if he chooses. This is an acceleration of natural processes, using Zindhir's arid presence as a starting point, and powerful magic such as Limited Wish or Wish is needed to restore the damage done or to stop it.

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One for Phoenix

Friday, April 3, 2009 - 3:37 PM

I heartily encourage my players to randomly improvise small cultural details or whatever else doing the course of my DnD game. These things are often swept up and integrated into the whole of the world I've been using, and I occasionally develop them heavily. This is one such case, and I dedicate both this and the next entry to Phoenix, who came up with the golden turban of the Wazir of Woe one particularly rollicking session.

The continent of Antambil is notable for its large number of nomadic cultures, and as a result of this prevalence, certain tales and characters have found their way into every corner of Antambil. One such notorious character is titled the Wazir of Woe.

Sometimes provided with a given name (Ugoru among the Betrani people, Izvira a'Yela to the Tanul), the Wazir is identified in various stories primarily by his title. Unlike many other characters in folklore, the Wazir's characteristics are remarkably consistent from culture to culture. Despite his changing name (or lack of name altogether) the Wazir is always depicted as a small man of considerable presence, wearing exorbitantly expensive and well-tailored clothing. He is usually described as being festooned in large gemstones, and he wears a turban of gold cloth with a jewel upon it. The Wazir is intelligent, eloquent and cruel, and in those stories where he is directly quoted, the tales note his rather poetic and expansive choice of vocabulary. In Betrani and Mugiira cultures, for example, the Wazir always speaks in rhyming couplets, whereas among the Jashapur people all of his sentences are built on metaphors.

A cursory examination shows that the Wazir appears to fill the 'villain behind the throne' archetype. He makes himself an advisor to some beleaguered or naïve ruler, swiftly establishes a stranglehold on politics, and promptly begins to drive the kingdom into the ground with his overindulgent spending, bribes and warmongering. Though he is often depicted as semi-comical in his ambitious malice, the Wazir is cunning and clearly a terrible foe. Sometimes the stories of the Wazir are cautionary tales, ending with the Wazir scorning the ruler he once served, and departing the now-ruined kingdom in an arrogant huff. Other times, the seemingly self-destructive whims of the Wazir are put to an end by one hero or other, who often must confront those they are loyal to in order to drive the Wazir off. In either case, the Wazir never concretely dies; in the Betrani version, a palace collapses on him, but the hero warns everyone that the 'Wazir is never finished'.

There are deeper levels to the Wazir. Though many historians regard the Wazir as merely an allegory for the incompetent advisor or the self-indulgence of nobility, there are a few consistent characteristics in all Wazir tales which set him apart. The Wazir is always described as being isolated or the last of his line in some oblique fashion ('the Wazir, last of his ancient kin'; 'Him who came from the desert alone, alone for his people were gone'; 'Woeful, for he was the orphan of the empty land'). He always claims some ancient lineage, but never gives name to it. Nor does the Wazir ever mention his homeland or where he came from. In fact, the Wazir never arrives with anything or anyone except his incredible amount of personal wealth. Some scholars think that the Wazir is a folkloric echo of some kingdom which no longer exists, perhaps something that collapsed under its own weight.

Further, the Wazir always ends up with servants. In nearly every tale, a point is made that these servants came from somewhere else, and they are silent and 'grim faced'. It is never defined where the Wazir gets these servants, but they are absolutely loyal to him. In most tales, particularly those involving a hero figure going against the Wazir, these servants are an implied threat, but they never get directly involved in the action. In fact, no tale describes the hero having to fight, trick or otherwise confront these mysterious servants. The servants add to their puzzle by vanishing from the story as soon as the Wazir departs, and no explanation is offered for this.

Most people assume that the Wazir is supposed to be some kind of magician, but again, there is no overt aspect of the stories that would confirm this. The Wazir does seem to have a way of making things happen, but this seems to be attributed to a mastery of human nature and a particularly far-reaching cunning rather than sorcerous powers. However, some scholars have noticed a few commonly described aspects of the Wazir which point to some very old magical traditions, again supporting the notion that the Wazir represents a now-vanished kingdom.

First, when the Wazir perceives a secret or otherwise discovers information important to him, it is often stated that 'the Wazir's eye came upon it' (or similar phrasing). When the Wazir scrutinizes something, the word eye is never used in plural, though it often might be for other characters. This ties in with the never described but always named jewel called the Banika's Eye, which hangs from the Wazir's gold turban. Among the now-defunct shamanic traditions of the Mugiira, who once ranged over much of southern Antambil, the jungle cat called the mbanikk was thought to be a sorceror in animal shape, and charms resembling cat's eyes were often placed at doors to scare away spirits or reveal transformed magicians.

Second, a frequent mode by which heroes thwart the Wazir is to access his shoes. The Wazir's shoes are often described as having folded papers hidden in the soles, usually maps of some kind. The hero usually deduces that these maps led the Wazir to the location, and somehow destroying them makes the Wazir depart. In the Purayu version, the heroine lights the maps on fire, and causes the Wazir to flee the kingdom on burning feet, eventually running into the sky on a road of smoke. The exact purpose of these papers is never fully described, but again there are indications of an older tradition here. The custom of scribing maps and placing them within footwear existed in several of Antambil's deep desert cultures. It was a ritual component for tribal magicians who sought greater power or insight, and after creating their magical footwear, they would wander until realization hit. The maps were frequently abstracts or designs leading to places that never existed.

Third, the Wazir is always, without exception, mentioned to be in possession of bracelets that shine like the sun. He wears them on both arms, and though they never play any part in any of the stories, they are mentioned very specifically in every Wazir tale. In the Jashapuran and Rukh-Sadra versions of the Wazir, it is also mentioned that the bracelets cannot be removed, which brings to mind a comparison with shackles. Indeed, the Rukh-Sadra version describes them as shackles specifically. The number of bracelets are never described outside of 'many'.

Only a very few scholars recognize the potential significance of these bracelets. In the ancient days of Antambil, the city of Ombos was ruled over by warlock-priests who called on tremendous primordial powers. Their proficiency with their sorcery was measured in magical bracers which circled their arm, and could not be removed. Thus, again the Wazir represents a vanished magical tradition, but this time one parallel can be specifically discerned.

But the warlock-priests of Ombos were not conquerors, and neither did they intrude upon others as advisors. In fact, the city of Ombos was purposefully constructed in the deepest, most inhospitable part of the Antambil desert. The warlock-priests could not even be said to have had neighbors, and no records or tales exist of them ever having reached out to other cultures in their age. So, who was the Wazir of Woe?

Over the centuries, many have claimed the title, adopting an ostentatious wardrobe and attempting to gather power with a legendary reputation. Unlike the Wazir of the tales, however, these Wazirs frequently end up dead from assassins, heroes or their own disgruntled allies. A few, in egotistical fury, ended their own lives rather than watch their plans be foiled. Though a great deal of superstitious unease still revolves around the Wazir, few educated people believe that the Wazir actually exists, and in modern culture, he is a sinister trickster who elicits laughter as much as despise in the dramas, songs and poems of the day.

The truth of the Wazir is a very obscure one, and only a small handful of Antambil scholars know it.

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