That's one of the things I find attractive about the idea of a stone age setting: the equipment *has* to take a back seat to the characters. When sticks and stones are all you have to work with, individual skill and cunning make all the difference. Or, to paraphrase a tagline from Iron Heroes
“You are not your magic weapon and armor. You are not your spell buffs. You are not how much gold you have, or how many times you’ve been raised from the dead. When a Big Bad Demon snaps your club in two, you do not cry because that was your +5 Flaming Burst Club of Disruption. You leap onto its back, climb up to its head, and punch it in the eye, then get a new club off of the next humanoid you head-butt to death.”
While I can see being intimidated by some of the lore, the changes they made were pretty much guaranteed to turn off the setting's (considerable) fan base. Honestly, there are things I like about 4th edition, but Wizards somehow managed to bungle the presentation at every turn.
I'm reminded of the time one of the developers behind the 4e supposedly commented that they'd simplified the mechanics because they wanted to attract more women players and "girls don't like math". :P
I actually think Paizo did more with halflings than most settings I've seen. That's not to say that they couldn't be more developed, but being an oppressed underclass is better than "also, there's hobbits." At least they found an interesting way to explain in-setting why so many halfling adventurers are rogues.
I was talking about this thread here, though I didn't mean to give the impression that it was all (or even mostly) people saying how much better Forgotten Realms is than the Pathfinder Chronicles setting. I just noticed a couple of people saying that they liked Forgotten Realms better, which made me curious about what some people like about that setting.
Precisely: the sudden and rapid accelleration of technological development in Europe in the modern era is essentially a historical fluke.
China had guns for hundreds of years but never developed them beyond a fairly simple design. The Song dynasty had joint-stock companies and the printing press and produced iron products on an industrial scale, but didn't experience the kind of world-changing industrial revolution that Europe would later experience.
While China provides a number of good examples because the Chinese developed a number of the technologies that we associate with modernity in the west, most of the history of the world stands as a counterexample to the notion that technological progress must proceed in any kind of predictable pattern. Events came together in Europe in such a way that European technologies and ideas have spread across the globe, but those events occurred only once and only after anatomically modern humans had been around for the better part of 200,000 years.
I see no reason to believe that the history of technology would necessarily unfold the same way on another world, even one that superficially resembles our own.
I apologize for misunderstanding your opinions, R Chance. Sometimes I get weirdly defensive of things that I've gotten a bit obsessed with. :P
I will point out, though, that Alkenstar and it's guns have been around in the setting since before they did firearm rules for Pathfinder, and there are a lot of other rules they've introduced that they haven't tried to shoehorn into the setting yet.
It is unusual that nobody else uses guns, especially since just about everybody in the setting seems to have fireworks, but, for me, that's the kind of thing that's not hard to explain away. After all, the Chinese were using gunpowder weapons from at least the 10th century and hand cannons from the 12th century, and yet they don't seem to have redefined Chinese warfare in the way they did for Europe; at least not until the Chinese started coming into regular contact with European firearms.
So, recently I was looking at a thread about things people don't like in the Pathfinder setting (because I'm a masochist and it pains me to see people criticize things that I like), and I noticed that a lot of people were comparing it (generally unfavorably) with Forgotten Realms.
Now, I'll freely admit that I don't have a whole lot of experience with Forgotten Realms; I had the 2e boxed set back in the day and I've familiarized myself with a lot of the fluff, but I've never really run or played in a campaign that used the setting (Neverwinter Nights I and II notwithstanding). That being said, I'm a sucker for setting lore, and I can and have bored people for hours talking about RPG settings for games I've never played.
And yet, every time I try to take another look at Forgotten Realms, my eyes just sort of glaze over. Somehow, nothing about the setting really grabs me. I feel like I can usually browse a campaign setting book or wiki and fairly quickly come up with a dozen different ideas for characters or adventures, but somehow I fail to find inspiration in Faerun.
Giving Ed Greenwood et al the benefit of the doubt, I have to assume that the problem lies with me and the resources I've been looking at. So please fans of Faerun, enlighten me on what makes the Forgotten Realms setting cool, interesting, and unique.
I'd really like to see somebody take a serious crack at a stone-age fantasy setting. The "pre-historic" games I've seen mostly play the setting for laughs, giving all the men comically oversized clubs and one-word vocabularies and all the women leopard-fur bikinis and body types notably ill-suited to a rugged hunter-gatherer lifestyle. :P
Dark Sun did the stone age-weapons thing, but paired it with a grimdark post-apocalyptic setting, and those always bore me. Other settings have drawn inspiration from various historic Native American groups, but it seems like in doing so they usualy end up setting artificial limits on their creativity.
I mean, D&D and Pathfinder settings are rarely shy about blending ideas from different mythologies or even different genres of fiction; I'd love to see the same done with a stone age setting. Just finding food and shelter and getting by from day to day could be an adventure in a world of strange wonders and horrors, where people are few and monsters are many, and heroes must fight for the very survival of their species.
I'm interested to hear some details about your home setting, because for my money Golarion fits together about as "logically" as could be expected for a D&D world. I think your implication that Golarion is a "commecial" setting designed around the need to incorporate everything from the Pathfinder rules is pretty unfair.
Many of the developers have shown through their active forum participation that they've put a lot of thought and energy into the Pathfinder Chronicles setting and are genuinely passionate about what they've created. The writers at Paizo have explored many of Golarion's nations and the ways they interact with each other in depth through both setting fluff and related fiction.
Don't get me wrong; I don't expect everybody to have read the unreasonable amount of Pathfinder stuff that I have, nor do I think that the setting is some kind of flawless vision of the best of all possible fantasy worlds. I myself have a whole lot of head-canon that I use in my games to smooth over issues like what the heck all those people in Irrisen and the Mana Wastes are eating. It just gets my hackles up when people dismiss a work of fiction I'm fond of out of hand and say "meh, I can do better."
Good old Nyarly has been mentioned as having a presence in the mythology of Golarion in the form of the Black Pharaoh, so presumably you're correct.
Another interesting question is who (or what) Nethys actually was before he emerged from the Garundi desert and helped found Osirion. According to Lost Kingdoms, the soon-to-be deity appeared distinctly... inhuman.
Then there were the Four Pharaohs of Ascencion, who explicitly benefitted from some sort of deal they made with the "Dominions of the Black," mysterious beings from the darkness between the stars. Of course, they supposedly recieved many more "gifts" from the Dominions than have been so far described, and it's unclear what the Four Pharaohs may have promised the Dominions in return.
That last mystery may soon be unveiled, however; according to certain ancient inscriptions, the emissaries of the Dominions are due to return in the not too distant future when Golarion and the dark planet Aucturn come into the proper alignment once more...
A Darklands-centered AP would be fun. Second Darkness had the Drow, of course, but I'd love to see a high-weirdness AP that's less GDQ and more The Shaver Mystery meets The Mound.
I think Galt and Rahadoum are really conceptually interesting parts of the setting that need more love. A Galtan AP in particular could allow for some interesting moral ambiguity and cater to parties of any alignment. Will the PCs be true heroes of the common man and free the nation from terror and death, or will they stamp out the spirit of the revolution under their iron-shod heels? If done well, even the most well-intentioned characters might find themselves hard-pressed to recognize the fine line between savior and tyrant, while heartless villains may achieve great good through brutally effective means.
A "great war" sort of AP would be cool as well, and if the war were to drag on long enough it could potentially showcase some of the new material they've been previewing for Ultimate Campaign. The PCs could start as children orphaned by the destruction of their home, and the AP might use the downtime rules in order to follow their lives over the course of years or decades. Considering the Inner Sea Region's history of insanely long wars, I could easily see the current political situation erupting into something like the Thirty Years' War in Europe.
Maybe a major rebellion breaks out in Cheliax or the church of Iomedae declares a crusade against the Thrune monarchy following the events of Wrath of the Righteous. Andoran could become embroiled in the conflict, and Taldor might see that as an opportunity to try and seize the fledgeling republic themselves. Qadira, being no friend of Taldor's, might join in as an unlikely ally of Andoran, which may cause Osirion to intervene in order to weaken their former Keleshite overlords. Before you know it, the whole Inner Sea Region is at war and nobody's entirely sure what victory for their side would even look like!
I'm not sure if the Kalistrade already existed amongst the Taldan settlers before they came to the area, of if it developed after they were settled there (living under the sovereignty of the Dwarven Kings). The Taldans were originally a mix of Kelesh and Azlanti. Previous human inhabitants of the area are unclear, some sort of Kellid presence is highly likely... it's unclear if any other distinct ethnicities once existed in the area. Being an area affected by Orcish wars, some Half-Orc population is likely to have existed at some point.
That actually reminds me; Druma is known for being unusually accepting of races that are shunned elsewhere. The prophecies teach that a person should be judged according to their worldly success, and some Tieflings, Half-Orcs, and the like, have become respected citizens by virtue of their financial acumen.
It is worth noting that sometimes (very rarely) exceptionally powerful souls arrive in the Great Beyond already in the form of a more advanced outsider. The only cases of this happening that I can think of off the top of my head are demons, though, so the phenomenon may be unique to the abyss.
Incidentally, souls that wind up in Abbadon literally *fall* into the plane, and many are devoured by daemons before they even hit the ground. Faithful followers of a deity may escape such a fate if their god chooses to collect them after they perish; in fact, Norgorber's domain isn't even *in* Abbadon. That being said, you probably don't want to count on a Neutral Evil deity to be looking out for your best interests in the afterlife. :P
So, as far as I can tell, Druma was settled by Taldan pioneers, albiet not as a part of the empire. They may have been seeking the freedom to pursue their odd philosophy, which originated with an eccentric mystic in the early days of the Age of Enthronement.
Prior to the arrival of Taldan settlers, the area was apparently claimed by the dwarven rulers of the Five Kings Mountains, and for a long time the Drumans were subject to Dwarven rule. When the prophets of Kalistrade managed to negotiate a peace during a devastating war between the five kings (the Kerse Accords), they were granted sovereignty as a reward. Druma has been independent ever since, thanks to their feared army of mercenaries.
So, based on that history, a few things stand out:
1. Druman society has probably been greatly influenced by the dwarves living in and around the Kalistocracy, and vice versa. Dwarves and humans live side-by-side and likely have a shared culture, neither entirely Taldan nor entirely dwarven, but a unique fusion of the two.
2. The Prophecies of Kalistrade dominate the nation. Most of the citizens (or at least the urban elite) organize their lives according to the prophecies. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to an obsession with bodily purity; the Drumans dress almost exclusively in white, and cover as much of their body as possible in order to avoid becoming befouled. They also observe strict dietary and sexual rules, though the details are sketchy.
3. Money is everything. Because the nation's wealth is based on trade and their philosophy emphasizes *becoming* wealthy through spiritual purification, there's no stigma attached to coming from "new money." It's pretty much a free-market utopia/dystopia fueled mostly by the export of precious metals and stones and high-quality crafts.
4. It's the mercenary capital of the Lake Encarthan region, if not the entire world. In Kerse, or at least in parts of the city, it might be hard to *find* a native Druman among all the sell-swords and other fortune-seekers. Characters in Kerse, particularly adventurers, could therefore be from almost anywhere: Cheliax, Andoran, Ustalav, Varisia; even far-away places like Kelesh or Tian Xia.
Hope some of that helps! It's mostly based on cannon, though some of those points are extrapolations, since there hasn't been much written on the nation, as far as I can tell.
So, the guidelines for Pathfinder Society play say differently, but I seem to recall that several Paizo products have stated that most Paladins pay respects to all of the good gods rather than being devoted to one of them the way a Cleric must be. I (as a GM) have generally been of the opinion that a Paladin's power is dependent on his own moral rectitude rather than on faith; by holding himself to a higher standard and acting to further the cause of goodness in the world he earns the support of the cosmic forces of good, regardless of his own religious beliefs. That's just me, though.
Kobold Cleaver wrote:
This is a good point. What if the paladin is, for whatever reason, the only candidate? Again, we are running with the assumption that this is not a 'perfect' Shelynite--this is one who prioritizes law a bit above love. The question isn't so much "Does his code make him do this?" as "Does his Goddess let him?"
Ok, so, assuming he goes and brings back the lovers for the sake of the kingdom... I think he'd make it out with his paladinhood intact. His intentions were good and lawful, and the lovers were arguably doing something wrong and, more importantly, were probably placing themselves and others in danger. Shelyn, being a goddess who has a long relationship with the taldan people, is familiar with the concept of arranged marriage, and even if love is unlikely to blossom between the princess and her new husband, she knows that love can exist... outside of marriage, as well.
The paladin should definitely, however, continue to keep an eye on the lovers after bringing them back, to help them make the best of the situation and prevent them from doing anything they'll later regret.
Faiths of Balance and Faiths of Purity present deity-specific Paladin codes. These are presented as being *additions* to the existing Paladin code, or at least the rudaments of it (respect legitimate authority, defend the innocent, act with honor).
Edit: removed Shelyn's paladin code after seeing The Crusader's post. Interestingly, said code doesn't really mention defending love. It's mostly about seeing the best in others, preventing violence where possible, and protecting place and things of beauty.
Kobold Cleaver wrote:
First of all, a Paladin of Shelyn isn't the right man for the job. A Paladin of Abadar or even Iomedae would probably be more than willing to collect the young lovers for the good of the kingdom.
Assuming the Paladin of Shelyn has been ordered to do the job by a legitimate authority, I think he would be entirely within his code to refuse the task, even if it put him on the outs with said authority.
As for helping the princess elope... that is a bit stickier. I think that the Paladin probably shouldn't, or at least shouldn't devote all his efforts to it. Instead he should be her advocate to her father and the would-be groom, and try to find a way to resolve the situation that respects the wishes and feelings of the princess. Paladins get Diplomacy as a class skill for a reason.
Eep! Just did a fairly major edit of my post >_>
Anyhow, one could argue that, by refusing to protect the goblin lovers, the Paladin was violating his oath to "help those in need," and possibly also his promise to "punish those who harm or threaten innocents." The laws of the goblins, being unjust in the eyes of Shelyn and, indeed, most good beings, do *not* constitute "legitimate authority," so there's no conflict within the code.
And yes, I do think that every Paladin should have a rank in Profession (lawyer) :P
I think that rejecting unjust laws is part of what differentiates the Lawful Good alignment from Lawful Neutral. I'm fairly certain that there are, for instance, cannonical examples of Chelaxian paladins fighting against the agents of House Thrune and Andoren paladins freeing slaves. In the latter case, the paladin in question is effectively committing an act of theft, and in many if not most cases the owner of the slave would not be, himself, evil. Still, I don't think any GM would begrudge the poor Eagle Knight his paladinly powers.
A Lawful Neutral character might cry foul over the Paladin stealing property from a nonevil, law abiding citizen who has done him no wrong. The Paladin, being good, could argue that thinking beings are, by definition, not property; after all, goodness is largely a matter of respecting and accepting one's fellow being. Any law that defined a thinking being as anything less than an individual worthy of respect and acceptance would therefore be an unjust law, and the authority of a master over a slave would constitute illegitimate authority.
I love it! In that vein:
116. Mother Lamashtu's Nursery Rhymes
Not recommended for children.
72. The Black Sutra by Logios Anoitos, a noted "orientalist" at the University of Oppara.
This compact, printed octavo presents itself as the second edition of an abridged translation of a much longer text in Kelish. In a long-winded foreword that positively drips with condescension and Taldan ethnocentrism the translator gives a brief history of the original text, the Shunyata Abhidharma, a forbidden scriptural work of several volumes written centuries ago in distant Vudra but believed to survive only in fragmentary Kelish translations.
Anyone possessing a passing familiarity with Vudrani theology or the Kelish language will quickly recognize that Anoitos' translation is very poor, but in its more coherent passages the text presents tantalizing glimpses of an insightful critique of churches both well known and obscure. Scribbled notes in the margins of the text suggest that its previous owner had grown increasingly obsessed with tracking down Anoitos' sources in the hopes of creating a more complete (and competent) translation.
I've been searching around the forums but I haven't found an answer for this, so I'd figure I'd go straight to the source.
Do dragons ever die of old age? I know that they stop growing after about 1,200 years old, but does their health eventually begin to fail like that of one of the shorter-lived races? Would it be possible for a dragon of any breed to have survived the Earthfall and still be around 10,000 years later without the aid of life-prolonging magic?
There's also the fact that when they left all that territory vacant when they fled the planet prior to Earthfall, opportunists (which describes Human to a tee) moved in. In some cases the returning elves were able to get the newcomers removed, in others, not so much.
Yeah, and their 2,000-year-long war against an incredibly powerful unique demon probably doesn't help with that. Nor does their ongoing seige against the drow in Celwynvian. Beings that take more than a hundred years to reach maturity can't really afford to send a bunch of their young folk off to die in wars of conquest when they're fighting to maintain a precarious stalemate in their own back yard.
Plus, you have to consider the character of the different races in question. Humans (or at least some of them), as evidenced by what we've done in the real world, like to form governments that are defined by geography and draw all sorts of imaginary borders between states and nations and civilizations and cultures and the like. However, who's to say that other fantasy races would have the same idea?
Elves consider Kyonin their sacred homeland on Golarion, and they're interested in controlling places like Celwynvian and Nagisa and Sevenarches and the ruins of Azlant for similar arcane and/or religious reasons. Other than that, however, they seem pretty content to just roam around and/or dwell among members of other races and leave governance to those silly humans.
Dwarves are a highly urbanized culture and mostly live in centralized complexes hewn from the living rock or built from iron and stone, and so they naturally tend to form city-states rather than empires that encompass a lot of land on the surface.
Orcs prefer to capture wealth and resources rather than to hold and work land, so nations with borders and cities and the like are of limited interest to them. Plus, they mostly seem to be hunter-gatherers and possibly herders, so small, mobile communities are more practical to them than stationary nations.
Halflings don't normally seem to have much interest in forming hierarchical communities larger than a family or group of interrelated families, so like the elves they're more or less content to live under the rule of those silly humans with their endless treaties and bureaucracies and maps and the like.
Nonhuman races don't have less countries on the map than humans do because they're less important to the setting; they have less countries on the map because they're less interested in forming countries and drawing maps.
Player: But how was I supposed to escape from a herd of stampeding wildabeasts?
GM: It's not my fault you didn't play a monk with the Fleet feat.
Well, to be fair, you can also be a Mysterious Man With No Name (tm) who was raised by wolves and trusts no one. Or a brooding loner with an extremely vague but definitely troubled past and nothing left to lose.
I think having bigotry in the setting is all fine and good, but only as long as everybody's having fun. I know from experience that a character can stop being fun to play if the narrative gets derailed by NPCs going out of their way to treat them poorly wherever he goes. It's one thing to say generally "well, you're a half-orc/tiefling/kobold/transvestite/etc, so you're used to getting suspicious glares and bad service," and quite another to push it to the point where the guy has to sulk outside the city walls while his adventuring buddies go shopping or meet with the king or whatever. It might be more true-to-life in some cases, but at the end of the day this is a game, so it's probably best to just leave it at weird looks and occasional off-color jokes.
So, this is arguably only relevant to the Golarion setting, but I will point out that Eando Kline, an example of a Bard (among other things) printed in multiple canonical, first party publications, invokes his Inspire Courage ability by saying a short prayer to Desna at the beginning of combat. That's all he needs to do, and then he's covered for however many rounds he wants to spend. So I think it's entirely reasonable to have a traveling lyrist or whatever walk around everywhere plucking at his instrument for mundane effect (because music is nice), only to play some secret magic chord at the beginning of combat in order to get the benefits of bardic performance and then wade into battle with a greataxe without having to worry about keeping one hand on the strings.
It seems like the best of all possible worlds to me; you can be a traditional traveling minstrel type while also being combat effective and not prancing around in the dragon's face with a lyre in your hands.
I don't really see the problem; music and battle have gone together in both real-world history and fantasy literature since pretty much the beginning. War drums are mentioned all the way back in the Rigveda, and battle cries or chants are attested from Japan to New Zealand to Africa and Europe. Likewise, one can think of the fife and drum corps of early modern armies, the marching cadences of the present US Army, or all the songs that the lead characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the books) are always singing.
Ethnomusicologist Joseph Jordania has gone so far as to suggest that dancing, singing, and procussion can produce an altered state of conciousness that subsumes the individual identities of soldiers in a unit, allowing them to function better as a group and commit acts of violence that they would otherwise hesitate to consider.
I'm personally a big fan of Serpent's Skull, but I'm not sure I would reccomend it to a GM who's just starting out. As people have pointed out, part 1 of the AP is very good, but I think it's important to know that it also has a *lot* of book keeping. Unless you want to gloss over certain parts of the adventure (not necessarily a bad idea), you're going to be keeping track of random encounters, npc morale, disease rules, extreme temperature rules, and wilderness survival rules in addition to running encounters and playing several important NPCs. The first time I ran that adventure I made a lot of mistakes and got kind of stressed out, so I'd advise you to spend some time closely reading the adventure and preparing things like random encounters ahead of time.
The AP only gets harder to run from there, as well. Part 3 involves interactions between 5 factions of explorers and 6 factions of "natives," and getting the most out of the adventure can take a *lot* of work. Likewise, pretty much all the adventures after the first can really benifit from at least a little tweaking on the part of the GM.
As I said, I actually really like Serpent's Skull, or at least the themes and settings it contains, but running it is a lot more work than running, say, Rise of the Runelords. On the other hand, I don't really know much about Skull and Shackles, so you could be stuck with two very difficult choices.
Andoran is close to Kynonin and the elves generally approve of the Andoren way of life; Kyonin has a queen, but elven culture abhors slavery and places a great deal of importance on individual liberty. A somewhat less scrupulous elf would fit in well with the Sczarni; the Varisians have historically gotten along well with the elves, as well. An elven cleric of Desna would be a pretty natural fit for the Silver Crusade. Many elves don't care much about politics and are driven to experience all the world has to offer, so the Grand Lodge or even Osirion could be good fits as well. It would be an unusual elf who aligned himself with Cheliax, Taldor, or Qadira, but it could happen.
Dwarves tend to be loyal, determined, straightforward folk, so the Grand Lodge might be the most natural fit. Many dwarves would find the Silver Crusade attractive as well, since they tend to be morally upstanding folk. On the other hand, the dwarven tendency toward greed could motivate one to join the Qadira faction or even the Sczarni. Other dwarves are loyal subjects of Taldor and Osirion, so those factions are possibilities as well, while the lawful bent of the Chelaxian faction might appeal to dwarves who've turned their backs on Torag. A dwarf might even join the Andoren faction; dwarven society isn't particularly democratic, but slavery is the purview of Droskar and good dwarves believe that profit should always come from one's own hard work.
Tieflings, incidentally, may very well be *from* Cheliax, but they wouldn't necessarily fit into the faction very well, since they're looked down upon as subhuman walking embarassments in that country. Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are pretty much as flexible as humans are when it comes to where their loyalties lie, though again they may face some prejudice in places like Cheliax, Osirion, and Taldor.
Actually, on that note, why not Innana/Ishtar? I can't think of anyone better to be the patron of a necromancer than the goddess who threatened to unleash the original zombie apocalypse! From the Epic of Gilgamesh:
"I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion [i.e., mixing] of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of the dead will outnumber the living."
I'd stat her up like so:
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral (verging on Chaotic Evil; she has a tendency to throw tantrums that result in people getting killed. That said, the mythology paints her as being necessary for procreation to take place, so she can't be all bad. :P)
Domains: Chaos, Charm, Death, War, Weather (You could, I think, justifiably switch Weather with Plant, or possibly even Magic, and still have the domains fit the mythology pretty well)
Favored Weapon: Whip (from the Epic of Gilgamesh: "you loved the stallion, famed in battle, but you ordained for him the whip, the goad, and the lash")
Holy Symbol: A reed knot
The thing is, the world does move forward at the same rate the real world does. As far as earth-shattering events, I haven't read through every AP but it seems to me, and there is probably a trope about it, but if the heroes save the world the world goes on as if nothing happened. If the heroes lose, that's when things get shaken up.
Well, it's not so much that the world goes on as if nothing happened, but rather that the changes wrought when the PCs "win" an AP aren't immediately world-shaking enough that they can't be ignored or worked around. Governments topple, new leaders arise, unspeakable ancient secrets are unearthed, cities and nations are founded or laid waste... but for a plucky young group of would-be adventurers on the other side of the region, these changes amount to little more than rumors arriving with the latest trade caravan or gossip and speculation at the Pathfinder Lodge.
Simon Legrande wrote:
Honestly, Int maps pretty poorly to IQ, which isn't really supposed to go up over the course of a person's life, at least not relative to other people of the same age. I'm personally of the opinion that, at least for characters with NPC or PC class levels, ability scores represent the results of upbringing and training better than they do inborn talent. Some if not all of the ability scores represent traits that depend at least as much on nurture as on nature, and the fact is that you can increase them slowly over time through experience.
So I think you could definitely play a quick-witted and even clever character with an int of 7, especially if his charisma and/or wisdom scores were good. He wouldn't be very well educated or wordly (poor knowledge skills and no grasp of the principals upon which wizardry is based), probably wouldn't have been exposed to cultures beyond his homeland (no bonus languages), and he's not going to be very handy with tools, either (poor craft skills).
On the other hand, he could be a shrewd businessman, an insightful student of human nature, or even an expert in practical medicine. Think of it as the difference between university-trained doctors and "craft-trained" medical practitioners in the middle ages. The educated doctor (a high Int character) would be able to discuss the theories of Avicenna, Galen, and Hippocrates and quote from a dozen classical works on medicine, but a common surgeon or dentist (a low-Int, high Wis character) knows his trade and can do what needs to be done to cure treatable maladies.
Redeeming was an interesting thing to think about, perhaps only to hear about anyone actually coming up with ideas on how to do it.
Ok so, first of all, let me just say that I've never read much of Rise of the Runelords, so I don't have a great handle on Karzoug's personality aside him being evil (possibly even for a runelord, since he was consorting with things man was not meant to consort with), probably pretty arrogant, and... well... greedy.
I mean this is a guy who unashamedly devoted his existance to the sin of greed, and who would presumably do anything for power. And yet...
Karzoug was asleep for a long time. A really long time. An unimaginably long time. As the ruler of such a large domain, he was presumably linked into a huge network of contacts, allies, and rivals; he probably wan't ever a guy with a lot of friends, but I'm sure he had connections. Now not only is nearly everything he wrought during his former life in ruins, but everyone ever knew is gone. The whole society he knew is gone. As brilliant and egotistical as he may be, he's adrift in a world he couldn't possibly understand (yet), and I'd bet that, on some level, that scares him. And with that fear, perhaps, comes an ounce of doubt; especially if, on the eve of his big comeback, a bunch of bizarre people show up, kick down his door, and kill all his most powerful servants.
It's true that Karzoug chose what kind of person he wanted to be a long time ago, but that choice hardly matters anymore. Karzoug's personal sins have pretty much been erased by time; most people don't even remember his name. At this point, he could be anything or anyone that he wanted to be, or that he needed to be to survive
Karzoug's a smart guy; by the time the PCs are in his presence he may realize that he only really has two options remaining: he can either move on and try to make a new start, or he can take on this whole unknown world singlehandedly and almost certainly die. Now, making a new start doesn't mean he'll decide to become a paragon of goodness but... well... it's a start, I suppose.
I've been trying to work out where this "ancient monastery" would be, exactly. Rasputin was never actually a monk, but he did spend three months at a monastery in Verkhoturye north of Yekaterinburg, which would be right around the eastern front of the Russian Civil War.
However, that monastery would still have been active at the time, so it's unlikely Rasputin would be hiding out there, and I'm guessing that Mr. Hodge will probably use a fictional monastery, for all sorts of reasons.
Still, if I were to guess, I figure the AP will probably take place somewhere in the vicinity of the southern Urals.
Another possibility would be somewhere around Arkhangelsk, since it's cold and remote and there are a lot of old monasteries in the region. Plus, then you might theoretically have an excuse for a British tank to show up. On the other hand, that area isn't really part of Siberia...
No problem; just trying to throw some ideas out there. I do have one other concern about using undead Azlanti, though...
How much are all these ectoplasmic soldiers/vampires/undead priests going to be able to tell the PCs about the history of Azlant and Saventh-Yhi? You might have a different impression of the adventure, but it seems to me like the main motivation of the PCs in City of Seven Spears is to learn more about this mysterious ruined city that the equally mysterious Yarzoth was so interested in. I feel like that could go out the window fairly quickly if the locals can just explain it to them.
I'm running Serpent's Skull at the moment myself (my group is about a third of the way through Racing to Ruin), and I'm planning for the exploration of the city to play out in roughly three stages. First, the party arrives and starts exploring, only to discover that the city is inhabited by various bands of colorful creatures. Second, they decide what to do about these squatters and deal with them accordingly. Finally, once they have free reign in at least part of the city, they start finding hints (degenerate serpentfolk, insane ghosts, creepy graffiti, etc) that the ruins hide some kind of dark secrets. Of corse, in my game the main secret is that Saventh-Yhi is built over the site of Ydersius' defeat and a horrifying undergound city of the serpentfolk, but I'm not sure what you're planning to do at the climax of the adventure.
I've been doing my best to emphasize and add to the various bits of foreshadowing included in the first half of the AP so that, when my group finally does stumble across Ilmuria and Vyr-Azul's scheme, it'll hopefully seem like the natural culmination of what's come before, rather than a sudden plot detour. I'm actually really curious to hear more about the direction you're taking the adventure in, since it seems to be quite different from the AP as written. :)
I have a couple from the adventures of my Andoren Halfling Bard, Reed Starling:
Keep of the Huscarl King:
So, we'd finally made our way to the keep, and thangs to some serious storytelling on the part of a certain halfling, we had pretty much the entire Snowmask Tribe with us. Upon arrival, the leader of the Shadow Lodge forces was just emerging from the ruin with the Huscarl King's +2 Flaming Greataxe in hand, gloating about how we were too late and there was no way we could defeat her now.
So Reed cast grease on the axe. I guess she really liked that axe, too, because after fumbling it the first time she wasted a whole lot of actions trying to pick it up again while we and the Kellids went to town on their allies. Being a cleric, she did eventually get the idea to start slinging spells, but by then it was too late, and she never once got to swing the axe.
The Blakros Matrimony:
The party had been working overtime to wow all of the important NPCs at the party and make sure things went smoothly for everyone involved. Things were going pretty well (as far as either of the families knew... I mean, the bride *looked* right, at least) when Alexander Bedard (an Andoren official I'd been told to keep an eye on) stood up and objected to the wedding in progress...
At which point Reed jumped up onto the pew and cast silence on him... and Bedard made his save. I can just imagine the scene:
Nothing Happens, everyone stares at the deranged halfling
Reed: I... uh... er, that is to say, come now Mr. Bedard, this is a day for, er, for family, not for digging up past regrets...
Thankfully, Reed proved glib enough to salvage the situation. Once he had some time to think about it, I'm sure he realized that it was probably a good thing that the spell hadn't worked. :P
The most obvious examples would be the Aldori Dueling Sword (Brevoy and Mivon), the Falcata (Taldor), and the Kopesh (Osirion). The Varisians have an affinity for bladed scarves and starknives, but those aren't entirely unique to their culture.
As for the Ulfen, it seems that they traditionally avoid heavy armor, and are instead prefer to carry shields paired with either an axe or a spear. They also wear a lot of furs, whether trophy pelts from mighty beasts they've slain or simply as an extra layer to keep out the cold. Ulfen barbarians often wear the pelts of wolves or bears in order to make themselves more intimidating and perhaps to channel some of that animal's strength and fury.
Other than that, most Ulfen are hunters and woodsmen to some degree when they're not being traders or raiders, and Erastil is particularly associated with Ulfen culture, so a lot of them are likely skilled with the longbow as well.
Edit: Oh yeah, the Noland Raiders! Think vikings on horses or a significantly less principaled version of the Rohirrim from Lord of the Rings. Just the the south are a group of less bloodthirsty (but no less formidable) horsemen of mixed Ulfen and Varisian descent in the Velashu Uplands.
I would suggest adding some divine casters to the mix. The Azlanti were accomplished wizards, it's true, but I get the sense that wizards weren't as dominant in Azlant as they were in Thassilon. People forget that part of the reason the aboleths decided to scrap the whole project was that the Azlanti were getting really into religion.
Most of the Azlanti ruins they've detailed (Saventh-Yhi, Tazion, the Sun Temple Colony) are full of religious motifs and paraphernalia. I doubt there were a lot of Azlanti paladins, but they probably had clerics of Acavna, Nurgal, and possibly Curchanus among their armies. Granted, two of those deities are no more, and the third is chaotic evil, but those are the most "martial" deities mentioned in City of Seven Spears
I would suggest maybe replacing the bards with clerics. You wouldnt necessarily even need to make it clear who the clerics' patron is, since the Azlanti probably used somewhat different symbols to represent the gods. I think the Nobility and War domains would make sense, or you could have them be Divine Strategists with just one of those.
Also, if you're going to have the overall commander stay out of melee range anyway, why not just make him a wizard? There's no reason a wizard couldn't also be a soldier, especially if he's an officer. For bonus points, you could deck him out with a fancy hovering metal spellbook and some kind of wondrous item that lets him move around without his feet actually touching the ground. Classy Azlanti loved that kind of thing.
Different shrines would probably have very different things stashed at them. If the shrine is relatively well known or easy to get to, anything really valueable will likely either have been stolen or used by a previous pilgrim. A shrine dedicated by a legendary Desnan saint at the peak of the Mhar Massif could have almost anything, but it would be a hell of an adventure getting there.
Which makes perfect sense, come to think of it. Desna teaches that new experiences are more important than worldly posessions, so powerful Desnan priests might go out of their way to stash legendary treasures in remote, hard-to-reach places in order to encourage later generations to go traveling in seach of them.
Of course, visiting any Desnan shrine and contributing to the shrine writings is sure to bring good luck, and you might just learn a thing or two from past visitors as well!
I would just like to point out that a lot of gods *do* get involved with mortal affairs from time to time. Here are a few examples from Pathfinder supplements and fiction (in roughly chronological order):
*Ydersius personally led the armies of the serpentfolk against Azlant, only to be slain by a mortal.
*Zon-Kuthon stepped in and protected an entire nation of people from the horrors of the Age of Darkness in exchange for their eternal obedience.
*Nethys, in his early days as a god, took a personal interest in the rulers of his adoped homeland of Osirion, helping them to defeat Ulunat and later driving the second pharaoh insane, leading to the destruction of his own main temple.
*Ahriman (the demigod lord of the Divs) intervened in a war between Osirion and the Jistka Imperium in exchange for a really snazzy palace.
*Achaekek has personally bumped off various mortals on the cusp of achieving godhood. Why he allows some to succeed is anyone's guess, as none of the other deities seem to actually give orders to the Mantis God.
*Aroden did a whole lot of really dramatic stuff both as an immortal demigod-ish human and after his ascencion, and was believed to continue to walk Golarion over the following centuries under a number of mortal guises.
*The mummy Walkena (who seems to be godly enough to empower clerics) miraculously rose after millennia of inactivity on the eve of an invasion of Mzali by Sargavan forces and destroyed the invaders with fire from the heavens.
*Desna caused a minor miracle to save the (former) Pathfinder Eando Kline and prevent the re-awakening of untold numbers of ancient serpentfolk.
*An earthbound goddess of fireflies (whose name escapes me) scourged the Rechsend Plains in the Mwangi Expanse with an unstoppable plague of killer fireflies until her erstwhile progeny (who was incarnated as a young boy at the time) was brought to her.
That's just the examples I could think of right now, but hopefully I've made my point. Deities and demigods don't *constantly* intervene in the affairs of mortals, but they certainly do step in from time to time, and probably far more often than the world at large realizes.
The reason you don't see gods walking the earth very often anymore might have something to do with the number that have gotten killed over the years. Ydersius was beheaded by a mortal (though he's only semi-dead... not even mostly dead, really, since he can still grant spells), at least two Azlanti deities (Acavna and Amaznen) somehow died around the time of the earthfall, Shelyn's mother (the former goddess of love) died at some point, Lamashtu ambushed and killed Curchanus, and so on and so forth. Aroden is just the latest example of a disturbing trend, and the other gods may have learned to tread carefully lest they be next.
Faction: Pathfinder Society
Rival: The Aspis Consortium
Other: The party mostly got along famously with the NPC castaways, thanks in no small part to their Aasimar Paladin's silver tongue. Ishirou, Sasha, and of course Gelik are along for the ride. Aerys parted company with the group pretty amicably and joined up with Kassata, so they have a friend in the Free Captains expedition. Jask, who was maimed by the cannibals on Smuggler's Shiv, really just wanted to return to a desk job with the government but was pressed into joining the Sargavan expedition, so the PCs have an in there, too.
The group I'm running the AP for has an Abadaran paladin in it, so he pretty much refused to get involved with the Consortium or Captain Lewynn in any way, and the Red Mantis didn't even bother getting in touch with them at all. Incidentally, one of the minor changes I made to the adventure was to make Dargan Etters evil, since I felt it fit better with the way his personality is described in the fluff.
The paladin had been getting vague signs from on high that it was important for him to go to Saventh-Yhi, but he had a bit of a crisis of faith over whether he should join up with the government or the Pathfinders. The other PCs were divided as well, but they ultimately ended up going with the Pathfinders because the society had approached them first.
The possibility of the two factions working together was raised, but the Baron felt it would be political suicide if the Eleder aristocracy percieved his administration as endorsing or supporting the Society, and Venture Captain Bellaugh was worried about getting cought up in the politics of the Colony in such turbulent times. The party might have been able to negotiate an agreement, but ultimately they decided it wasn't that important to them.
I'm doing my best to keep the Red Mantis mysterious at this point; Sasha warned the party that they contacted her and were interested in the notes they found on Smuggler's Shiv, but they didn't tell her why. So far the party hasn't encountered even one (living) Red Mantis Assassin, but I'm planning to introduce clues that the cult is shadowing their expedition. I'm hoping that this way the actual appearance of the assassins will be more dramatic, and they'll be more likely to live up to their fearsome reputation.
Well, to be fair, the Endurance feat (which I believe Ivo has) lets you sleep in medium armor without penalty. As I recall, Ivo wears a breastplate, so it shouldn't be much of a problem for him to keep it on most of the time.
Characters in Pathfinder tend to be larger-than-life; I'm not sure why a guy sleeping in his armor is any more incredible than a guy who can *grow giant and turn into living rock*.
Anyway, while I think the Aspis Legionnaires are supposed to be fairly elite agents of the Consortium rather than random hirelings (I could be wrong on that, though), it makes sense that they'd be pretty intimidated. Heck, even if they weren't intimidated, it would have been pretty clear to them that they were outgunned and not equipped to handle the thing they were facing. Whether fleeing in terror or retreating in good order, I don't think they would stick around.
Edit: Just read your post a little more carefully; with Ivo dead the rest of those Aspis guys have no real reason to stay in the city, and the PCs likely got the hint that something weird was going on when they smashed Ivo's head in. I'd say the encounter played out pretty close to how it's supposed to, and you got a cool story out of it to boot! Kudos!
Yeah, I'm not sure about the levels of particular NPCs; I'm just going off of the guidelines from the Game Mastery Guide. A large city is typically supposed to have 7th level casting available, and it seemed like a good bet that Vellumis would be considered "pious" (+1 spellcasing level), which is where I got my guess that the city would be able to provide 8th level spells.
Of course, that would imply that there was a 15th level cleric of (presumably) Iomedae in residence, which doesn't seem to jive with established canon. If the PCs want to get higher than 5th level spells cast, they might have to go to Korvosa (which would take a long time) or at least Canorate (which is a bigger city).