Behind the Book—Hellknight

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Later this month the new Pathfinder Tales novel, Hellknight by Liane Merciel releases! So, I wanted to drop in and tell you all why this book might just be your new favorite in the line.

If you've been following the novels for a while (and if you aren't, you can subscribe right here and stop missing out), you probably know Liane best from Nightglass and Nightblade. Through the adventures of Isiem and his companions, Liane did more than anyone to establish the dark yet terrifyingly realistic flavor of Nidal's society, as well as much of our understanding of the winged strix. I make no secret of my admiration for the work she's done fleshing out that part of our world, so when she proposed turning her attention to Cheliax and the Hellknights, I knew that I could trust her to bring some of the most important pieces of our campaign setting to life.

And did she ever! See, without realizing it, Liane had been training for this book for years. She had spent countless sessions playing through the Council of Thieves Adventure Path, steeping in the lore of Westcrown and the surrounding region until she was an even greater expert than those of us who created it. She's meticulous with the canon, and running across all the tiny cameos and easter eggs in this novel made the setting feel alive in the way only the best tie-in books do.


Illustration by Roberto Pitturru

Yet the best example of that skill comes in the main characters themselves. You've got Ederras, a Chelish paladin of Iomedae struggling to reconcile his calling with his rightful place in Cheliax's aristocracy. You've got Velenne, a spellcasting scion of House Thrune who can scheme with the best of them. And you've got Jheraal—illustrated here by Eric Belisle—a tiefling Hellknight specialized in solving crimes whose devotion to her order is trumped only by her dedication to the secret daughter she gave up for adoption. While far from perfect, these people are all heroes, and together they show better than I've ever seen how Chelish society can emerge from the actions of fundamentally ordinary people. Velenne in particular fascinates me, because she exemplifies how someone can be part of an evil organization like House Thrune and still be human, relatable—even likeable. A person with hopes and dreams and loves... and profane compacts with Hell.

It's a tribute to Liane's work that even Erik Mona, who created Cheliax and House Thrune, came away from the novel saying he felt like he understood that part of our setting much better now. So if you're playing in a Cheliax-based adventure path—such as, say, Hell's Rebels or Hell's Vengeance—there's really no better primer for the flavor of those campaigns than Hellknight.

So there you go! A paean to the ambiguities of society and the human condition, and—

Wait, what's that? You want to know what the book's actually about?

Oh, well, there's somebody hideously murdering tieflings in Westcrown and stealing their still-beating hearts. And shadow monsters. And graveknights. And an exploration of the Hellknights' greatest shame, one so sinister that an entire order was destroyed to keep it quiet. Sound good? Yeah, I thought so too.

Anyway, please give the book a read, then come back to the forums to let me and Liane know what you think—we'd love to hear from you!

James L. Sutter
Executive Editor

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Tags: Liane Merciel Pathfinder Tales Roberto Pitturru

Looks like the Order of the Crux is going to make a comeback. I wonder if any of these three protagonists have what it takes to put a Graveknight down for good?

Sovereign Court

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I can't overstate how much I loved this book. ^_^

Contributor

Aw. Thanks for the kind words. <3

I love that illustration, too. It makes me so happy to see the character depicted so beautifully.

Anyway, hopefully people like the book, and hopefully it's useful as background color for Council of Thieves and the other APs. :)

Silver Crusade

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UHHHHHH! I can't wait to get this!

I loved Nightglass, Misery's Mirror, and Nightblade so I can't wait to read this ^w^


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just finished it yesterday, I love it

Silver Crusade

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Well, it looks like I'll have to put my next AP on hold until I get my hands on this book and take a look at it. And this will be great reading for my potential Hellknight halfling :-P


This was a really excellent book. I definitely think Liane's books are overall the strongest in the line and this was her best yet.

I do, however, note a discrepancy between how Sechel thought about Speak with Dead in her late novel strategizing vs. how it was handled in Pathfinder Tale Death's Heretic. She assumes that a damned soul wouldn't/couldn't respond, whereas DH let it work on an imprisoned soul and acted like the spell works on only the body itself, no soul stuff actually involved. (Sechel also acted like a paladin could not be compelled by answer via this spell by a cleric of Asmodeus. Even paladins fail saving throws, though.)

Contributor

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Thanks! I'm happy you liked it, and hope that you'll consider writing a review. :)

re: post-death questioning, you are correct that the characters have different takes on how the magic works.

My usual copout (which I'll freely admit is a copout, but hey) is that if one of the POV characters is not herself a spellcaster and/or you don't actually see the spell in action as a reader, then it is entirely possible that the POV character just has an imperfect/incorrect understanding of how that magic works. This is especially likely if her most likely source of information is, oh, let's say, the Church of Asmodeus, which might have a vested interest in ensuring that people have a slightly erroneous view of what they can and can't actually do.

So, in sum, it's very possible that Sechel's just wrong, or assumes too much about how the other parties involved might respond. :)


I actually think James Sutter was definitely wrong and your version was possibly right. The spell description includes the line "The soul can only speak about what it knew in life." Please bring this up the next time you've having a disagreement with him about whether a scene comports with the rules system. If he can bend the rules for narrative, why can't you?

Contributor

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Because he's an actual designer and also 99.99% of the time I'm wrong about rules. ;)

Also because I suspect -- crackpot alert! I totally made up this theory based on zero evidence! -- that Behind the Scenes, the different interpretations are rooted in different play styles.

I'm blessed (cursed?) with an extremely inventive and investigation-oriented group of PCs who turn their considerable rulesbreaking power not so much to min-maxing their characters' combat builds (although they do that too, IF YOU GUYS ARE READING THIS, I'M ONTO YOU) as min-maxing their info-gathering capabilities.

This is generally pretty awesome and fun for me as a GM, but also means that sometimes I need to foil them from taking too-easy shortcuts that would ruin a mystery plot too early. As a result, I tend to interpret spell mechanics in a way that provides Clue X while denying Infodump Y. The upshot is that Speak With Dead, in my home campaign, doesn't work on damned or soultrapped creatures because you need a soul to commune with, ergo inaccessible soul = no spell result (but you do learn that the victim's soul is missing, which itself might be a valuable piece of information in context). That's been the rule in our game for years and years.

Over time, these gray-area interpretations tend to solidify in your brain as "oh yes that is actually the correct rule, of course it is" and that's, I guess, kind of the flipside of writing books as someone who plays the game vs. someone who doesn't: when you're writing about a part of the system that gets regular use in your own campaign, it's pretty easy to slip into default mode and use the familiar interpretation for your own game, which is what happened here.

However, if you play in a group where people are really concerned with not disturbing the souls of the dead for moral reasons, or where the investigation slider needs to move a little down toward Easy Mode because the PCs aren't going to push through obstacles to get information, then maybe Speak With Dead works just fine on a soul-stripped corpse.

I'm not saying either version is actually right or wrong (depends on what you want the rule to be for your campaign!), but just that that's one of the ways in which these interpretation differences can slip into a manuscript.

And since I know that having a One True Ruling is really important for a lot of people, my default response when I get caught out on a discrepancy (and can even remotely use this excuse) is "the character did it!" ;)


I'd love to get this book, but I don't want to pay more for the ebook than the physical copy.

Liberty's Edge

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Okay we need a statblock for the Hellknight now.


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I would hope that this book has more than one Hellknight stat block.

Sovereign Court

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I doubt that there are any stat blocks in the book. It's a novel. ^_^


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Oops -- I was thinking of the Campaign Setting that will be coming out later. THAT should have stat blocks in it.

Dark Archive

I loved Nightblade and Nightglass. Can't wait to tuck into this one!


The relationship between the Diabolist and the Paladin was interesting at least, and went into some of the things that are code breaking and not in a relationship. I really kept wanting him to hit the person he was talking to for advice with some holy water. I just kept thinking "There are shape shifting devils, and this is Cheliax."


Liane Merciel wrote:

Aw. Thanks for the kind words. <3

I love that illustration, too. It makes me so happy to see the character depicted so beautifully.

Anyway, hopefully people like the book, and hopefully it's useful as background color for Council of Thieves and the other APs. :)

I've been listening to books on Audible for a few months now, mostly pathfinder ones. With the Hellknight book right around the corner and with me GMing a game in Fort Inevitable with a Signifer in the party, it was quite fun to see what Hellknights were like in the setting.

The Paladin and his relationship to the Diabolist was icing to the cake, and I really think Lictor Shokneir has become my favorite Golarion Villain. the three Graveknights and the Citadel itself just scream to have a dungeon crawl adventure written based on them.

That being said, anyone got an idea/suggestion what approximate level everyone is?


What would these characters do if the events of the Hell's Vengeance AP took place and paladins of Iomedae took over Westcrown?

Contributor

Mavrickindigo wrote:
That being said, anyone got an idea/suggestion what approximate level everyone is?

Ooh I know I know!!

...but I will refrain from spoiling anybody's fun with concrete answers. Instead I'll just say that it's a fairly high-level crew in this book (certainly moreso than I've used before, and also more than I'll be using again in at least the near future), as you might expect given that they're willing to take on the last act with, basically, three people and a dog.

Velenne is the highest-level of the main characters. You can infer a certain amount from

Spoiler:
various summons, her use of Hellfire Ray (x2, because it's the diabolist class ability version), and the fact that she could throw down a Sunburst (Wiz 8).

Everybody else is at least slightly lower level, but not by a whole lot.

re: possible Hell's Vengeance involvement -- that is an interesting question which I will mostly leave open for people to decide in whatever way is most appropriate for their home campaigns, should they have any wish to do so.

There will probably be at least a partial answer the next time we see these guys, though. :)

Silver Crusade

Liane, Hellknight is one of the best books in the Pathfinder Tales series.
Your characters were all very good I really liked the tension between the Paladin and his Lady.

I really liked how you portrayed the Hellknight orders. Before I read the book an event in our long term home game where I am playing a Hellknight Signifier of the Scourge was researching a certain monster only to find the book that he needed with the information on the monster had been burned recently by members of the Rack.

Are you going to write a follow on novel using the same characters? I would like to see the interplay between the Paladins steward and his new mistress. The minor characters were all written very well I really liked
The trading of court gossip for historical information. If you write another novel with these characters could you develop the arc with the Dowager’s house marrying off one of her nieces to the house in Egorian.

A novel set in Egorian would be really nice full of intrigue murder and infernal politics.

When you are doing your writing how do you deal with a custom lexicon if you use a word processor?

Shadow Lodge

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Thank you for writing a Lawful Good(or at least good-leaning Lawful Neutral) Hellknight. Now maybe people will stop laughing when my tiny precious paladin announces her intent to join the Order of the Scourge.


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Just finished reading this. It's right up there in my (admittedly quite long) list of absolute favourites.

Anyone looking to run a game in Cheliax should set this as prescribed reading for their players, IMO. The detail on the setting was exquisite- from Thrune to politicking to hellknights to westcrown snippets....It was an effortless way to learn some solid Cheliax lore.

The characters were interesting and complicated without being difficult to follow or confusing. I ended up wanting to know more about all three of the heroes and the villain, but still felt satisfied by the conclusion to the book. It was great to read the exploits of some truly competent characters.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. We need to move to monthly releases. :)

Creative Director, Starfinder Team

Steve Geddes wrote:

Just finished reading this. It's right up there in my (admittedly quite long) list of absolute favourites.

Anyone looking to run a game in Cheliax should set this as prescribed reading for their players, IMO. The detail on the setting was exquisite- from Thrune to politicking to hellknights to westcrown snippets....It was an effortless way to learn some solid Cheliax lore.

The characters were interesting and complicated without being difficult to follow or confusing. I ended up wanting to know more about all three of the heroes and the villain, but still felt satisfied by the conclusion to the book. It was great to read the exploits of some truly competent characters.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. We need to move to monthly releases. :)

Yay! Glad you liked it, Steve! :D

Contributor

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I'm so happy you guys liked the book (and sorry it took me so long to get around to this thread, but it's been wacky out here for the past few weeks...). It was a lot of fun to write, and I've been delighted at its reception. Thanks, all. :)

re: follow-up plans, all I'll say at this juncture is that the next book is not a direct sequel and, tonally, is a little bit of a change of pace. It's less focused on a specific part of the setting and more adventure-y (I seem to have settled into an accidental pattern of setting-heavy books followed by ones that put more emphasis on dungeon crawlin' hijinx), and doesn't focus entirely on the same characters. But you haven't seen the last of these guys just yet.

re: writing and weird words in a word processor, I do all my drafting in Wordpad so it doesn't even have spell check or grammar functionality. It's pretty much just bare-bones text, which works beautifully right up until the point where I have to show the file to somebody else. Oh well. Anyway, it avoids the need to build a custom dictionary to cover all the Golarion- and game-specific terms, because there's no dictionary in that thing anyhow.

Dark Archive

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I'm currently reading Hellknight and I am really enjoying it! I'm only about 1/3 of the way through the book but, much like Nightglass and Nightblade, it is drawing me in and I have a hard time putting it down.

Question for Ms. Merciel - what type of fiend is Vhaeros? Is it some type of variant on a devil dog? Thanks for your time!


I believe she's said elsewhere that he's an as-yet-unknown variety of fiend, or something using a unique disguise. ^_^

Dark Archive

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Ah, thank you very much, Isabelle!

Liberty's Edge

Just picked it up via Audible, so it's time to read this bad boy on the way to work.

Dark Archive

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I finished the book two days ago but haven't had a chance to post my feelings. I absolutely loved it. I want more! I really do hope we get to see more from Jheraal, Ederras and Velenne. But then again, I hope we seem more Isiem too in the future.

Very well done, Ms. Merciel! Can't wait for the next one.

Contributor

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I'm so happy you liked it! :)

And Isabelle is correct, Vhaeros is a Super Secret Devil of undisclosed variety. Maybe someday in the future we'll get more into that, but as of right now it's a deliberate unknown.


Liane Merciel wrote:
...And Isabelle is correct, Vhaeros is a Super Secret Devil of undisclosed variety. Maybe someday in the future we'll get more into that, but as of right now it's a deliberate unknown.

Is that the wolf-like devil that arrives with the Nissian Hellhounds and Velenne?

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