Meet the Villains—Zelhara

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Hell's Vengeance Adventure Path is here, and it's time to reveal the next iconic villain for Paizo's first Adventure Path for evil characters! Today we present the iconic torturer, Zelhara. Check out Pathfinder Adventure Path #106: For Queen & Empire for Zelhara's full stat block, and download the new Hell's Vengeance Player's Guide, which contains all of the new iconic villains for use as pregenerated characters!


Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

Some beings—like those from the Outer Planes—are intrinsically virtuous or malevolent; however, mortals enjoy the unique characteristic of free will. No humans are born evil. They become evil.

Like many children in the Nidalese city of Ridwan, the girl who would one day be called Zelhara grew up in a massive nursery run by the church of Zon-Kuthon. This institution allowed parents to continue their work without having to attend to their children's daily needs, and after a number of years, once the children could physically contribute to the household, they were returned to their families. Agents of Nidal's Umbral Court performed numerous tests on the children during their time under the care of the Kuthite clergy, selecting certain candidates for the state's and church's future needs. Mere weeks before she was to rejoin her family, Zelhara herself was brought before an Umbral Court agent who claimed he could see something in her that pleased the Midnight Lord. One day she would share his message of pain and duty with thousands of fearful inheritors. Her family, loyal Nidalese who worked meager trades in the city, found delight in knowing that their child would one day hold high status in the state.

Zelhara and 12 other children from the nursery began their training at a young age. Unlike shadowcallers, Zelhara and her young companions didn't undergo the scrutiny of a nightglass, but were instead selected by virtue of their mere presence and their reactions to fear and pain. Zelhara proved a severe and obedient child, perfect for the role of a state inquisitor.

After their selection, the children in Zelhara's group were moved into a wing of dormitories within the temple of Zon-Kuthon. The priests began the children's training with religious study and the dark history of their nation. The Kuthites taught the children how to identify enemies of the church and state. The members of Zelhara's group received the best foods at mealtimes, and as long as they performed their required duties and showed the proper respect to their tutors, they were allowed relative freedom to do as they pleased. They were even allowed outside the temple, and granted the privilege to occasionally spend time with their parents, provided they lived within Ridwan. This favorable treatment attracted jealousy and animosity from the young shadowcaller initiates and prospective clerics also training at the temple. Zelhara's tutors told her that the other children were envious because they were too independent and didn't properly understand submission. Zelhara believed it was because they knew they might one day have to withstand her ministrations.

Zelhara's training grew more rigorous as the instruction continued. She and her colleagues were encouraged to invent their own unique methods of inflicting pain and drawing the truth from their victims. Zelhara preferred emotional manipulation and stress positions rather than direct pain, for she believed pain to be a form of religious ecstasy that only the truly devoted could enjoy. As she subjected dissidents of Nidal to her ministrations, she felt strong and grew proud of the service she performed for her nation and her god.

As Zelhara and her companions matured into their teenage years, they moved to their own building in the city near the volcanic rift that splits Ridwan's central square, and their training changed significantly. Their tutors became more strict and abusive. Zelhara, who had been the standout student within her group, started to be treated with suspicion and disdain. She couldn't even perform simple tasks in the dormitory kitchens without being scolded and punished. She and the others suffered beatings, periods of isolation, and the burden of meaningless tasks at all hours of the day. Their old names were stripped away and their tutors provided new ones. The Kuthites forced Zelhara and her colleagues to torture and humiliate each other as part of their training, yet they still gave the students the chance to voluntarily remove themselves from the process and return to their families. Surprisingly, none of the children accepted. Despite their abuse, they wanted to be useful tools of the state, and while their instructors dehumanized them, the children formed bonds with one another, as they had no one else to rely upon. During this period, Zelhara grew close to Tornine, a boy she had known since her time at the nursery.

Finally, Zelhara and the others were judged ready to undergo a ritual called the Descent. More to test loyalty than to extract admissions of guilt, prospective inquisitors are placed in pairs within iron cages, their faces mere inches from each other, and then lowered into the rift in the center of Ridwan where the Midnight Lord is said to have first manifested upon Golarion. The oppressive heat causes intense pain and the cloying smoke makes breathing an ordeal. As the inquisitors are lowered into the rift, they must overcome their own suffering and disorientation to force their counterparts into absolute submission to their authority. Zelhara found herself paired with Tornine, and as the iron cage creaked down into the crevasse, they engaged in a battle of wills. Tornine tried to remain strong under Zelhara's scrutiny as tears evaporated from his cheeks, but Zelhara was unrelenting. She knew her strength was superior. When Tornine began to crumble within minutes of hanging over the sulfurous fissure, Zelhara felt utter disgust for her former friend and continued to disparage him. She didn't give the signal to raise the cage until she knew Tornine had died—just another useless tool to be discarded. Having passed the test, Zelhara achieved the rank of full inquisitor, earning her family's pride and admiration.

As one of Nidal's best and most thorough inquisitors and torturers, Zelhara now travels throughout Avistan in service to her nation and the Midnight Lord. Zelhara claims that, with enough time, she can make anyone divulge what they know—yet she doesn't care for forced statements, when people blurt out anything just to make her stop. Zelhara hears the real voices of her subjects when they scream in agony, and she can smell the truth in the blood that she spills in pursuit of her goals.

Stay tuned over the coming months as we reveal more of the villains you'll see in the pages of our first evil Adventure Path, Hell's Vengeance!

Adam Daigle
Developer

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Tags: Hell's Vengeance Iconics Meet the Iconics Pathfinder Adventure Path Wayne Reynolds Zelhara
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Sovereign Court

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Something about the pose, the face, and the chain... a sort of reverse-innocence. I love it. ^_^

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Oooo...


1 person marked this as a favorite.

It reminds me of a certain ghost...


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Damn that so looks like my girlfriend! Awesome!

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Yikes, she is terrific.

She invokes terror.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I just hope we get miniatures of the evil iconics and the Red Raven at some point in the near future. I'd love to see these fiends hit the table.

Dark Archive

3 people marked this as a favorite.

There will be someone in this thread arguing she isn't evil.

She's horrible.

As for alignment - we are apparently getting 2 each of the evil alignments. Zon Kuthon is LE but perhaps Zelhara is NE? the reason why is we already have the Hellknight (has to be LE) and the priest of Asmodeus (evil and quite legalistic).


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

She's actually Lawful Evil, Chaotic Evil only has Urgraz as representation.


Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Modules Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Reminds me of the Tzimisce clan of vampires in the old World of Darkness - inhuman, sadistic creatures with a penchant for body modifications. Evil with a capital E, to be sure.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Acolyte of Mushu wrote:
Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.

Yeah, I could have sworn I read that too. Odd.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

She is though probably my favourite Evil Iconic thus far (granted she didn't have that much competition...).

Paizo Employee Creative Director

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Rysky wrote:
Acolyte of Mushu wrote:
Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.
Yeah, I could have sworn I read that too. Odd.

Nothing more odd than we just changed our minds. That IS why we're often hesitant to reveal too much information about something before it's ready, though.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Acolyte of Mushu wrote:
Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.
Yeah, I could have sworn I read that too. Odd.
Nothing more odd than we just changed our minds. That IS why we're often hesitant to reveal too much information about something before it's ready, though.

Wasn't complaining, apologies if it came across as such. Just couldn't remember if my memories were playing tricks on me or not :3

Any particular reason why you changed your mind?

Paizo Employee Creative Director

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Rysky wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Acolyte of Mushu wrote:
Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.
Yeah, I could have sworn I read that too. Odd.
Nothing more odd than we just changed our minds. That IS why we're often hesitant to reveal too much information about something before it's ready, though.

Wasn't complaining, apologies if it came across as such. Just couldn't remember if my memories were playing tricks on me or not :3

Any particular reason why you changed your mind?

I suspect the idea of having 2 of each alignment was my idea and that the idea either didn't filter down to the authors of the 6 pieces or they just decided to change the alignments for reasons of their own.

AKA: there doesn't need to be a reason; their alignments are what they should be.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
Rysky wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Acolyte of Mushu wrote:
Yeah, that's weird, I could've sworn we were told two of each alignment. It does make sense thematically to have less chaotic characters, though I suspect the decision was made because they found none of the character concepts besides Urgaz fit in for CE.
Yeah, I could have sworn I read that too. Odd.
Nothing more odd than we just changed our minds. That IS why we're often hesitant to reveal too much information about something before it's ready, though.

Wasn't complaining, apologies if it came across as such. Just couldn't remember if my memories were playing tricks on me or not :3

Any particular reason why you changed your mind?

I suspect the idea of having 2 of each alignment was my idea and that the idea either didn't filter down to the authors of the 6 pieces or they just decided to change the alignments for reasons of their own.

AKA: there doesn't need to be a reason; their alignments are what they should be.

Okies, thanks for responding ^w^


5 people marked this as a favorite.

"Pain? How dare you use that word. What you think of as pain is only a shadow. Pain has a face. Allow me to show it to you. Gentlemen, I... Am... Pain."


Is it just me or is the silver section running down the center of each breast oddly reminiscent of the old style razor blades.....?


Holy s+!*, that's scary as f&&!.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Who? Me?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

What a pleasant lass.

And Wayne, I think this one is somewhat sparse. I prefer a little more intrigue and inspiration given by the overabundance of accoutrements - a portable iron maiden or holstered attack-wolf might just give it that touch of grandeur it is so obviously lacking.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I keep forgetting that Golarion has an entire nation (and religion) that's one big hardcore BDSM fantasy.

Fantasy of course. Obviously this goes beyond "safe, sane, and consensual". Curious about the would-be inquisitors being given the chance to return to their families though. Was that just a test? Or would the state actually have let them go if they wanted out?

Either way, I think she's my favorite of the evil iconics so far. Great job!

Paizo Employee Developer

Brew Bird wrote:
Curious about the would-be inquisitors being given the chance to return to their families though. Was that just a test? Or would the state actually have let them go if they wanted out?

Not really a test at all. They weren't being held against their will in the slightest. (Although I'm sure the instructors would be disappointed if one of them did decide to leave the program.)

Brew Bird wrote:
Either way, I think she's my favorite of the evil iconics so far. Great job!

Thanks!


can't wait for the last 2


1 person marked this as a favorite.

So. Many. Sharp. Objects.

Wonderful illustration and backstory.
Nice job Wayne and Adam. That just might be my favorite Iconic.

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.

The spiked chain is nice, but that serrated War Razor.... me likey!

--Punk Vrock Girl


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Adam Daigle wrote:
Brew Bird wrote:
Curious about the would-be inquisitors being given the chance to return to their families though. Was that just a test? Or would the state actually have let them go if they wanted out?

Not really a test at all. They weren't being held against their will in the slightest. (Although I'm sure the instructors would be disappointed if one of them did decide to leave the program.)

Brew Bird wrote:
Either way, I think she's my favorite of the evil iconics so far. Great job!

Thanks!

That's really interesting. Looking more at Zon-Kuthon, his twistedness does seem to have some degree of consent involved. Even his deific obedience requires a consenting (or legally owned) subject to inflict pain on. A pretty cool interpretation of a Lawful deity devoted to pain and suffering. I'm sad I had written him off as less interesting than some of the other LE options up until now.

Liberty's Edge

I like her. She's appropriately villainous in a very day-to-day fashion, which I like. Like the others, she also clearly had the chance to be otherwise...and didn't take it.

Brew Bird wrote:

I keep forgetting that Golarion has an entire nation (and religion) that's one big hardcore BDSM fantasy.

Fantasy of course. Obviously this goes beyond "safe, sane, and consensual".

It's certainly not my BDSM fantasy, and I'm into that sorta thing. I get the impression I'm not remotely alone in that. Just to be clear.

It's more Hellraiser inspired, really. Which is cool, cenobites and things inspire by them make excellent villains.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Tammy thinks she'll make a wonderful fishing companion.

Once.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

What a charmer.

Also a nifty quick intro to life in Nidal.

Dark Archive

I'm a little disappointed by the stat blocks presented for Zelhara and Lazzero in the player's guide, since we now have two agents of a church who don't have Knowledge (Religion). It's especially silly for Zelhara, whose job as an inquisitor is to enforce church teachings- something she knows no more about than an average peasant.

It could be a little more believable for Lazzero, but his background as presented focuses on his many years spent in religious training, so he's obviously not the Asmodean equivalent of a "Mass priest."

I understand it may be a suboptimal choice mechanically but it is very immersion breaking for me.

Sovereign Court

I adore Reynolds's art, but I'm not entirely sold on the backstory. Reading it, I have very little actual idea of who Zelhara is, how she acts, or how she might respond to a situation at a table. I'm always interested to hear more about the practices of Golarion's various religions, but filling a character's backstory with it to the extent that you neglect describing the actual character in any meaningful way is a little disappointing.

Dark Archive

I think I'm in love.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

She is absolutely terrifying. Great job there


Well, I'm hooked...


5 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Arcanemuses wrote:
Well, I'm hooked...

Lemme get my pliers, tetanus is no joke...


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Deadmanwalking wrote:

It's certainly not my BDSM fantasy, and I'm into that sorta thing. I get the impression I'm not remotely alone in that. Just to be clear.

Obviously very few people would have a fantasy so extreme, and the real thing is strictly "safe, sane, and consensual". My comments were exaggerated for comedic effect, and I apologize if there was any offense.

Grand Lodge

We finally get someone from Nidal! Tell me she has her own crew of silent enforcers. This is awesome.

Liberty's Edge

Brew Bird wrote:
Obviously very few people would have a fantasy so extreme, and the real thing is strictly "safe, sane, and consensual". My comments were exaggerated for comedic effect, and I apologize if there was any offense.

No worries, I'm not really offended, just clarifying. :)

And I have fantasies (that I'd never act on) that go beyond "safe, sane, and consensual"...but nothing like what Zon Kuthon's worshipers are into. Which is sorta where I was going with that, really.

See, calling it a 'BDSM fantasy' implies that many people involved in BDSM would at least have fantasies that are in that vein (even if they'd never act on them), and that's not true of anywhere near the majority of people involved in BDSM in my experience or research. I mean, a few people, sure...but a few people are into almost any fantasy.

Add in that, as mentioned, I think the fictional influences are more Hellraiser than anything else, and the similarities to BDSM are mostly at one or two removes and, in large part, purely aesthetic.

Basically, I'm being pedantic rather than upset. :)


1 person marked this as a favorite.

The more I learn about Nidal and Zon-Kuthon, the more I find it terribly interesting/horrifying. Nice!


1 person marked this as a favorite.
OmegaZ wrote:
The more I learn about Nidal and Zon-Kuthon, the more I find it terribly interesting/horrifying. Nice!

have you read Nightglass or Nightblade? both have great info into Nidal


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

She is definitely not TSA approved.


Yaaaay! Kuthite Villain! I love Zon-Kuthon. Have since I got to run Curse of the Crimson Throne. Zelhara here just gives me more reason to enjoy both Nidal and the Midnight Lord, as well as plentiful inspiration for more Kuthites in the future.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Another good look into Nidal! Rather like her, hope they give more on the necromancer (because Geb).

Contributor

7 people marked this as a favorite.

Visual design notes;

Zelhara.

I wanted to stay clear of the obvious clichés for this character. There’s plenty of “Bondage babe” art in fantasy out there already and I always try to create something new when designing a character. It helps that character stand out from the rest.

The art description mentioned pale skin, shaved head and black lipstick.
I immediately decided to give her a very slim body shape. I also wanted to convey a degree of insanity with this character so elected a rather angular stance. The pose suggests a certain amount of reticence, awkwardness and innocence. The angle of the head and direct eye contact helped to convey an unnerving aspect to this seemingly graceless character. The sharp and cruel - looking elements to her costume and equipment create a juxtaposition to contradict the vulnerability implied by the stance. Hopefully it creates an uncertainty in the viewer whether or not it would be safe to approach her.
The art description had mentioned piercings and scars. I decided that any exposed skin had to be covered with scars. I’d decided that some of the scars were deliberate cuts or scarification patterns or as a result of her equipment. You can see that I left in the corresponding marks from the facemask on her head. (Discarded earlier design)

The usual amount of research went into this one.

She’s covered in various medieval torture implements. Many of these are sourced from real life instruments. The ingenuity that someone has applied to creating tools that inflicting pain and suffering is quite harrowing. However, it’s that twisted intelligence that really fit with this character so I chose some of the more imaginative devices;

A Heretic’s Fork is attached to her right forearm. “The device was placed between the breast bone and throat just under the chin and secured with a leather strap around the neck. The punishment made it nearly impossible for them to talk. Also, a person wearing it couldn't fall asleep. The moment their head dropped with fatigue, the prongs pierced their throat or chest, causing great pain.”

On her left arm is an Iron Halo. This was used to secure people in chairs –either around the wrists, ankles or head. The inward pointing spikes could be moved closer by use of a screw thread to ensure the captive had to sit immobile.

She wears a thumbscrew to her waist. A small vice designed to slowly crush digits.

At her thigh is a nasty little device called a “Pear of Anguish” or “Choke Pear”– “Historically reserved to punish adulterers (Female) and homosexuals.” The device was placed into an orifice (normally inserted into the “lower openings” or the mouth) and the sections could be expanded by turning a screw key. The sections and spindle were often spiked.
She’s wearing a smaller version on her chest (With two sections).

At her waist she wears various serrated knives, cutting implements and a corkscrew (I don’t think she’s using it to uncork bottles) The small shaped “razor” ring has sharp edges on the inside and placed on fingers or toes. A chord was tied to the ring which could be pulled to cause severe lacerations. The semi-circular blade was initially a leather – workers tool but it was also used to slice sections of digits away.
She holds a combat razor in her hand. Its design based upon a folding cut-throat razor.

Even her costume details incorporate torture devices. Her bag strap includes serrated clamps. The metal work is reminiscent of the pattern inside a razor blade and her buckles and the links in her spiked chain are angular and pointed. These triangular design - shapes help to convey a “sharp” aspect to the character.
She even has a handy scroll for when her victims confess. (The nib is in her pouch. But no ink bottle. She doesn’t need ink)

I did various versions because there were so many different aspects that I could include. At times I wasn’t sure if it was too much – or not enough.
The face mask came from a notion to include a Scold’s Bridle. Historically, a Scold’s Bridle is a bit more substantial and covers a fair amount of the face. I wanted something that you could still see a good deal of her features. I played around with the number of vertical bars and their placement. 3 seemed the optimal number to register as a mask but still show enough features.
The other option (See earlier link) was to include a portable rack/ giant thumbscrew on her back, complete with manacles.

She’s pretty messed up.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

That design works very well for a Kuthonite!
Fits my imagination of what i read about them.

Good thing you got rid of that thing on the back.


I loved the rack on her back! I can see why it had to go, but it was just so wonderfully excessive.


Twigs wrote:
I loved the rack on her back! I can see why it had to go, but it was just so wonderfully excessive.

Howso?

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