Way of the Wicked by GM SnowHeart (Inactive)

Game Master SnowHeart

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In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send you to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning. You are wicked and irredeemable. Each of you received the same greeting when you arrived. You were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signifies ‘forsaken’ and the painful scar is indelible proof that each of you has betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals.


Asmodeus (pronounced as-MO-day-us) is the most powerful of the nine archdevils that inhabit Hell, and the only one of Hell's rulers to claim full divinity. It is he who is credited with the penning the contract of creation, within which his followers believe is hidden the means for their patron's eventual rise to supremacy.

In addition to forging the contract of creation, then accepted by all the gods and rumored to contain a secret that will one day lead to its author's rise to power above his fellow deities, Asmodeus played a key role in the defeat and imprisonment of Rovagug. The Rough Beast was sealed away in the Pit of Gormuz, the only key to his prison kept by the Prince of Darkness himself.

While worship of Asmodeus was never warmly received in Talingarde, there was a time when it was tolerated. Asmodeus is, after all, one of the oldest and most powerful deities of Golarion – to treat such a powerful divine with disrespect would be to invite His vengeful wrath and retribution. Alas, the temples to Asmodeus have all been destroyed and his followers hunted and slain by the inquisitors of the Mitran faith. What once had been a modestly powerful religion has become an outlawed faith and, today, is considered to be little more than the rumors of a cult one tells to scare ill-behaved children.
Of the evil deities, the Prince of Darkness is the most respected and trusted by his divine peers, though they realize his aid is not to be sought or accepted lightly. For his part, Asmodeus typically regards other faiths with mild amusement, seeing them as weak, temporary distractions to mortal worshipers. Unsurprisingly, he gives more respect to other lawful deities.
Church of Asmodeus
Asmodeus' faith is strongest in Infernal Cheliax and several of its vassal states, including Isger and Nidal. He preaches strict discipline and unwavering devotion from his worshipers; the strong should rule the weak. The Prince of Darkness expects flattery from his followers, appreciating it for what it is, and delights in deals and contracts that secretly favor one party over another.
Worshippers and Clergy
The truth is that Asmodeus bears no love for mortals; He considers them to be the first mistake of the gods. Asmodeus’s love is cold order; He is disgusted with the lesser beings that have taken over much of existence—an existence that many believe Asmodeus helped to create. While the world is adrift in chaos, Asmodeus provides an answer. With Hell as an example, He promises a smoothly running system based on clear and understandable precepts, so that mortals can strive to emulate its perfection. His realm provides a model and, in His worship, the faithful receive power.

Worshipers are drawn to Asmodeus through any number of temptations, but in the end it always comes down to power. Perhaps they chose the church of Asmodeus simply because it brings order to the world, appealing to their desire for efficiency, knowledge and a set path. Maybe they dream of the rank and prestige that perfect obedience to the Prince of Darkness can bring, and fancy themselves among the strong and clever who naturally rise through His harsh order.

Member of the faithful are typically arrogant and intolerant of those they see as lesser than themselves, and respectful to those above. They believe in authority and its calming effect on society. Clerics tend to eschew concealment of their true calling unless openness hinders their schemes. The worship of Asmodeus is the worship one’s innate potential. Worshipers seek knowledge, wealth, treasurers, respect and above all power. Doing so echoes the core tenet of the Asmodean church, which is that power does as it will, and the most powerful are those who exercise their will the most effectively. Worshipers push for discipline, order and control.

If you are a true worshiper of Asmodeus, your word is your bond, and while you pride yourself on your ability to make clever deals and leave yourself escape clauses, breaking a contract is a sin of the highest order. Similarly, despite your manipulations, maneuverings and political infighting skills, you know better than to disobey a direct order from someone higher in Asmodeus’s good graces—either mortal or fiend.

Asmodeus' priests usually dress in black decorated with red, and often wear horned masks or helmets, and his clergy includes clerics and wizards. Clothing worn is usually expensive, and clearly so, as the faith preaches that wealth attracts wealth. Followers of the Prince of Darkness often include nobles and bureaucrats, especially those participating in the slave trade and in those nations where his worship is openly accepted. In countries not under Cheliax's yoke, priests are expected to abide by local laws and take sacrifices only from willing victims. It is also common for individual priests to offer the sacrifice of a small animal before preparing spells.

Knights of Asmodeus wear the typical black and red associated with the Dark Prince, often wielding a spiked mace. They seek out order to gain power. Some call themselves paladins to give their behavior a gloss of righteousness.

Clerics of Asmodeus may prepare lesser geas and a variant of geas, and the Prince of Darkness grants access to infernal healing and greater infernal healing.

There is no greater god more worshipped in Talingarde than the divine Mitra. In fact, to someone born in Talingarde it might seem that there is only one god. Mitra’s worship is so dominant, so pervasive, that rivals are hardly noted.

No god is more present in the lives of average Talireans and yet Mitra remains mysterious. His statues (and the deity is always described as a ‘he’) have no face. In his holy book, “Mitra” is revealed to not be his true name. Mitra simply means “friend”. To know his true name is to be part of Mitra and no living mortal can accomplish this.

Outside of Talingarde, Mitra is probably the god known as Iomedae. That Iomedae is a singular entity whereas Mitra has three aspects is one of the greater mysteries to religious and planar scholars. Attempts to commune with the deity on the matter produce answers that neither confirm nor deny the duality. (It has also been observed that there is similarity between Mitra and Sarenae but, again, the god(s) neither confirm nor deny any questions as to identity.)

The Three Aspects

One of the central tenets of the Mitran faith is that while Mitra is one, He is also three. These three aspects have individual names and natures. They are Mitra the Shining Lord, Mitra the Beneficent Sun and Mitra the Fire Undying. Different priests and sects emphasize different facets of Mitra and thus it can seem they are worshipping very different gods. These three aspects may seem at odds with each other, but the true theologian of Mitra sees their hidden unity. Behind them all is a great benevolence and a will to see the mortal races improve and ennoble themselves. The three aspects have different methods – but they all have the same goal. They would see the free peoples of the world turn their backs on evil and embrace nobility and goodness. Behind all three here is the light of Mitra.
* Mitra the Shining Lord
The Shining Lord is a god of kings and conquerors. This is the god of righteous might and great civilizations. He is a patron of the strong and the lordly. The Shining Lord bids that those with power use it for the greater good. He is lord of paladins and heroes, but He is also the patron of scholars and sages.
He urges all to seek a greater purpose and to find within this world the truth. Together we can make a better world and if we will but keep the faith, then one day all will be light. When portrayed in stone, the Shining Lord is often portrayed as a great king wielding a sword, wearing a crown and resplendent in the finery of kings.
* Mitra the Beneficent Sun
The Beneficent Sun is more passive. Yes, we should help those in need. But it is more important to be at peace and to find within ourselves the light. The sun shines on both the wicked and the worthy. Its blessings extend to all. This aspect is much less anthropomorphic. In fact, it would be easy to say that this aspect is not human at all.

Instead this is the aspect of peace, healing and abundance. Mitra made all life and with his warming light he sustains it. Everything that happens, weal or woe, is His will. Be at peace with this truth even in dark times. The Sun may set but it will rise again. When portrayed in stone, this is the god of healers often clad in a robe with arms outstretched.
* The Fire Undying
The Fire Undying is not as patient as the gentle sun. This is the inquisitors’ god – the god of the pyre and the witch hunter. The Fire Undying seeks out evil and burns it from this world. The Fire cares nothing for civilization or serenity unless they aid in this unyielding cause. The fire of war has been lit. It was not Mitra who started it. This war for the souls of all mortals was started in the pits of hell. But now the war cannot be ignored and it is a struggle that the Fire must win. When you extend mercy to evil, you are only allowing it fester. The Fire will burn the rot out and from the ashes; we will at last have peace.

Branderscar Prison:

Once an important coastal castle, the old Castle Branding long ago ceased having any military importance. The last warfare seen here was over eighty years ago during the war of succession between House Barca and House Darius. The castle-turned-prison sits a rocky island, connected to the mainland via a short, fortified bridge with its own gatehouse.

The prison has a fearsome reputation as a destination for the worst-of-the-worst and from which none have ever escaped. Prisoners who are sentenced to Branderscar Prison are Talingarde's Forsaken, branded with a runic "F". Those who are sent to Branderscar have received a final sentence -- whether it is execution or a life of hard labor, the prisoners will never know freedom.

It is, of course, exactly where our villains are being sent.

House of Barca:
This noble house is unique in Golarion as it is a collective of half-elves who not only rose to (and currently hold) a position of prominence within their home nation's feudal system but, in fact, once led the nation through the House's control of the monarchy. It lost the monarchy following a brutal civil war eighty years ago, but its members were allowed to repent for their alleged sins and crimes and swear allegiance to the new monarchy under the House of Darius and the kings known as Markadian.

History of the House

More than five centuries ago, long before the death of the god Aroden, it was a time of war and strife in Avistan. Cheliax had not yet made an alliance with the Nine Hells but its quest for power and domination was stronger than ever, manifested by a seemingly endless war of expansion. They had captured the Arch of Aroden, controlled access to the Inner Sea, founded colonies on the continent of Garund, and their armies marched ever northward. Many natives of Avistan were not eager to fall under the yoke of a foreign empire while others found themselves captivated by the charismatic prophet, Talin, who professed faith in a previously unrecognized deity he called Mitra. Both those fleeing imperial domination and those drawn to a new faith found themselves drawn towards exodus.

Though the emigrants were primarily human, there was also a sizable faction of half-elves. And while some professed interest in the Mitran faith, most stated quite plainly they wanted only to leave Avistan. Some thought the half-elves to be a criminal enterprise organized around their bastard ancestry, but, whatever the true reason for their decision to join the exodus, they proved their value with contributions of craft, sword and magic.

In 4144 AR, after a year of preparation and guided by the visions of the prophet, the emigrants boarded more than a hundred ships. Some of those ships were hired, others purchased and many others built by the emigrants’ own hands. It was a ramshackle fleet with few professional sailors. Nonetheless, with desperation and faith, the emigrants followed the vision of the prophet and eventually, after a series of mishaps and dangerous encounters, the fleet arrived on the shores of a massive island they named Talingarde. They would quickly learn they were not the first to discover the island.

Though the emigrants, who began to call themselves Talireans, were initially welcomed by the island’s native population of humans, that relationship began to degrade over the following years as more and more ships arrived with thousands more emigrants who desired to start anew. Talin was named king, the cities of Matharyn and Daveryn began to grow and, as they grew, the Iraen were increasingly displaced from the lands they called home and on which they hunted. Conflict was inevitable.

At the time, the half-elves who had joined the exodus were little more than a loose coalition of merchants, professional sell-swords, craftsmen and spellcasters. It was true they had organized around their shared heritage, but it was under the cunning leadership of one particular half-elf that the loose coalition solidified into a force to be reckoned with, the House of Barca and its eponymous leader.

In those early years, the rules for joining the House of Barca were simple. After all, at the time its leaders had no patents of nobility and it functioned more as a merchants’ guild and social club than anything else. To join, you had to possess a degree of elven blood and you had to swear loyalty to the guild master, Barca. With neither nobility of birth nor privilege of peerage, Barca himself was a commoner, yet an incredibly successful merchant and money lender who wielded his wealth as others would a sword or spell. Shut out from much of Talirean society, half-elves (and even a few elves from Golarion) flocked to Barca’s banner. And when full-fledged war broke out between the fledgling nation of Talingarde and the savage Iraen, it was Barcan weapons and intelligence that fed the Talirean armies.

Though the war never ended in a decisive victory, the Talirean armies continued to push the Iraen tribes back, first west into the Caer Bryr and then north beyond the geological formations that would centuries later become known as the Watch Wall. Having fortified their lines and established defensive positions, the humans of Talingarde were able to solidify their holdings and even start a new settlement, Ghastenhall. From these settlements and out of these wars grew Talingarde’s first generation of true nobles – including Barca, who was named a duke, and many of his factors awarded lesser titles, each of them swearing fealty to Barca and all to the monarchy. That a simple arms merchant and rumored master of thieves warranted a duchy baffled many, though rumors circulated the wily half-elf had extorted the grand position from a weak king through blackmail. However it was achieved, it was thus that a mercantile collective of half-elves achieved nobility and rose from beneath the simple banner of a merchant house.

Over the following century, Duke Barca and his first generation of heirs continued to accrue wealth and power. However, they followed an unorthodox path. The human nobility largely ostracized the half-elves, so the Barcans turned their eyes towards the farthest reaches and overlooked corners of the newborn nation. Alliances were made not with the great houses of Talingarde’s nobility but with the lesser lords and appointed municipal officials. The Barcans were scorned for the perceived rejection of Talingarde nobility, and many nobles began to openly mock the Barcans for their rites of intermarriage. This was not entirely fair as half-elves born outside of the House could still be inducted into the noble family through ceremony and marriage, but such events were few and the hereditary titles still passed through blood. Tales of incestuous orgies were rampant, though always behind the Barcans’ backs. It was, perhaps oddly, this very contempt by the nobility that created the room for Barca to ascend to the throne.

When Talin’s only son died on the throne without an heir in 4173, the first War of Succession erupted, with the nobles of Talingarde declaring wars and making alliances in a near free-for-all bid for the crown. The lowly Barcans played each faction against the other, feeding weapons and information to each, always seemingly at the most opportune time, extending a faction’s ability to fight a little longer. Years passed. The war continued. Always the House of Barca stayed out of the conflict, leaving questions of the crown to its “betters”. That is until the barons and other lesser lords who were being ground beneath the heels of the greater lords began to beg for relief.

Its coffers rich, its armories full and its sorcerers having spent decades gathering magical devices, what became known as the Barcan Ascension began in Daveryn when fifty ships arrived with 15,000 fresh and rested mercenaries from Avistan. The native Barcans joined with the mercenaries against the largely depleted forces of the Duke of Daveryn, and the city’s badly damaged walls quickly succumbed to the combined assault. News spread and, with the promise of a quick end to the war, even the bedraggled commoners rallied to the Barcan flag, adding their pitchforks to Barcan spell and steel. A month later, Ghastenhall fell. Two month after that, the Barcan army arrived in Matharyn. The remaining nobles – facing a siege with exhausted supplies and empty granaries – surrendered… and the crown was placed on the brow of a Barcan duke.

What followed was a century of relative peace, but the human nobles remained jealous and bitter at the Barcan’s masterfully manipulative ascent to the throne. It was bitterness that resonated little with the commoners, dismissed as “sour grapes” cast by those who had failed to lead their nation and protect their vassals. At least, so it was for a time.

The Second War of Succession

The Barcan Ascension occurred not so much due to Barcan hostility towards the family of the deceased king nor animosity towards the contending noble houses, but largely due to sheer opportunism. And, if history were fair, it would note the Barcan dynasty accomplished much for Talingarde, including most notably the construction and fortification of the Watch Wall. Though the Savage North may not have been pacified, it was at least contained, as were the barbarians of the Caer Bryr who seemed willing to suffer slights at the hands of the half-elf Barcans that would have brought them to war if delivered by a human.

Yet, the Second War of Succession of eighty-one years ago did not occur in a vacuum. Though many Barcan lords were considered to be geniuses with few peers, a strain of insanity began to run in their noble blood while the practice of intermarriage descended into outright incest. What at first were scandalous rumors eventually became unproven allegations, then to an open secret and eventually into a blatant and flagrant display of excess and lust.

Not only were such practices unique to the half-elven Barcans, but they were frowned upon by the orthodox followers of Mitra. Yet this religious difference was not, by itself, cause to depose the Barcan dynasty. The Barcans had been open about their acceptance of all faiths, even that of Asmodeus (which several of the Barcan nobles openly followed) and were honest about the fact that many did not follow the Mitran religion. Whatever else one might have said, the Barcans could not be accused religious extremism nor moral hypocrisy.

No, by itself, the sexuality proclivities and dynastic peccadilloes of the House of Barca could have been overlooked. In truth, it was the inattention to governance and personal arrogance of the last two Barcan kings that led to the House's downfall. When King Jaraad's predecessor died in 4629 AR, turmoil and dissent broke out. For decades the other noble houses had been quietly hoping for an opportunity to supplant the Barcan dynasty with one of their own. Though the Barcan kings had always been publicly respectful of the other nobles, the laws and edicts issued from Matharyn had been slowly eroding their bases of power and wealth. The scheming nobles pinned their hope on a strident and unyielding yet incredibly charismatic paladin from the House of Darius. Not only did the paladin have force of personality and conviction of faith (one shared by most Talireans), his claim to the throne was powerful, able to trace his lineage back to King Talin's second son.

The precise triggers of the war are little known, though it would be obvious to say the Barcans refused to cede to the demands of the other nobles and their champion, Markadian of House Darius. In truth, both the Barcans and Markadian's supporters had less than pure motives. What neither had planned on, however, was Markadian himself. When the two armies fought their final battle at Tamberlyn, Markadian not only slew King Jaraad but, through tales of his tactical genius and connection to Mitra (whose providence was "clearly" demonstrated through Markadian's stunning victory) also managed to gain for himself a measure of freedom from the other noble houses. He eschewed their demands to put the Barcans to death and instead offered them amnesty – if they would but repent their sins and swear allegiance to the crown. Almost to the last, each Barcan noble bent the knee, though they were never restored to their duchy. With King Jaraad’s death, Markadian declared the duchy to have expired.

The House Today

In the eighty-one years since, House Barca has assumed a humble stature and quietly rebuilt. Its leaders seem to have learned the hard lessons of the Second War of Succession. The nobles of the house carry themselves with a seeming openness and forthrightness as to policies and piety, yet they are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to the inner workings of their own house. Some think this to be new-found modesty or even embarrassment.

No human has ever married into the Barcan family and the only large concentration of elves reside in the isolated Caer Bryr, the House of Barca has slowly grown to near the same numbers it had before the War of Succession. This has both helped and hurt the house, as the outraged cries of incest have softened to quiet whispers of simple hedonism (an accusation frequently made by commoners against all nobles with homes in Matharyn’s Golden Bow), but many jealous nobles still claim the former house of the deposed king cannot be trusted.

This distrust, however, does not seem to be shared by the king. The house itself is lead by the wise but irascible and plain spoken Count Leothyn, a venerable lord of more than one-hundred thirty years. Though hardly a “close adviser to the king, he is consulted on matters of trade and finance. Further, the Count’s cousin was knighted and named Lord General of Markadian’s armies. While the Count is kept at a respectful distance, General Vastenus is said to be privy to the king’s most secret counsel.

The greatest days of the House of Barca would seem to be behind it but, as it did centuries ago, the influence of the long-lived half-elves continues to grow, albeit so slowly it is imperceptible to most.

Notable Figures

* King Accarius IV the Architect - The king responsible for the initial construction and fortification of the Watch Wall. Conquered Farholde from the Iraen in 4424 AR.
* King Jaraad - Last monarch of the Barcan Dynasty. Deposed and killed in 4632 AR at the Battle of Tamberlyn by Markadian I of House Darius.
* Count Leothyn - Possibly the oldest and certainly the most powerful member of the House of Barca. He resides in a manor house in the Golden Bow of Matharyn.
* Lord General Vastenus - Current leader of the Sacred Brotherhood of the Gryphon, a knight and trusted general of King Markadian V.
* Baron Arkov Vandermir - Baron of Westell and Mir, he resides in the Calliver Green district of Farholde.