Iconic Encounter: One by One

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Pathfinder fans have been tracking Harsk, the iconic ranger, for years now, but he's finally revealed himself and he's armed for bear! Enjoy the following piece of short fiction from James L. Sutter in the next entry into our series of Iconic Encounters—brief vignettes of the iconic characters showcasing the myriad stories you can tell with Pathfinder Second Edition.

Harsk had to admit, they'd had him stumped.

It'd been obvious what had happened in the village. The stench of blood and death had hung in the frozen air, fresh from corpses that hadn't even finished freezing. And there'd been no question as to where the raiders had gone: one set of wagon ruts, heavily laden.

But the tracks—the tracks hadn't made any sense. Each corpse sprawled in a wedding-dance swirl of boot prints, but they were all the corpses' own prints. Every one of them, slain fighting a foe that left no trace but bloodshed.

He'd been headed into one of the ransacked houses to boil himself a pot of thinking tea when he remembered the story he'd heard at the trading post, of magical white-furred slavers called wikkawaks who slid light as ghosts over the snow. On impulse, he'd passed by the hearth in favor of the house's salt pot. He'd carried it outside and shook it over the snow, and suddenly there they were: a flurry of deep tracks, just like the folktales said.

Illustration by Valeria Lutfullina

Now he crouched among the stones of the mountain pass, white bear pelt blending with the snow as he gazed down at the three slavers and their caged victims.

There was a time when he would have ended it here. Put them down with his crossbow from the shadow of the rock. It was the prudent move, as efficient and mechanical as the bow itself.

He still did it that way, when he had to. Yet in recent years he'd found himself more and more reluctant to unsling the machine. Killing that way felt too detached. It felt like cowardice.

Which was ridiculous. A wolf felt no guilt over striking from darkness, no shame in hunting with the pack. Only humanoids were stupid enough to forego the advantages nature granted.

He dropped loudly into the middle of the camp, axes in hand. Rough voices shouted in alarm.

His brother had once said that in a battle, you had to fight as if you were taking on the whole army yourself—watching everywhere at once, ready to attack or be attacked from any quarter. And that was true as far as it went. You needed to keep your eyes open.

But it was also badger scat. You didn't hunt every deer in the forest. You singled one out, ran it down, and did what needed doing.

He chose the one in front, figuring it for the leader by its necklace of human ears. He drew back his arm, letting the rest of the world fall away as that snarling face filled his vision. The bond of predator and prey.

The hatchet flew. At the last moment, the wikkiwak managed to snap its shield up. Crude pig iron shattered beneath the force of dwarven steel.

But Harsk was already moving, axe coming in low to take the creature's leg off at the knee. He dove beneath a wild swing, free hand snatching up the fallen hatchet, and rolled to his feet, burying the weapon in the monster's chest.

One down. The world stuttered back into focus, revealing the two remaining slavers. They spread out, trying to flank him, but they came on slowly. Cautiously.

For the first time that day, Harsk smiled.

"Next."

If you liked this week's Iconic Encounter, you won't want to miss next week's exciting entry. Until then, Pathfinders, may your enemies always be favored!

Mark Moreland
Franchise Manager

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Tags: Harsk Iconic Encounters Iconics Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Second Edition

Damn Harsk...isn't playing around anymore. Like that they kept his love of tea though.

I do find it a bit odd that he needs this to be personal though, he used to be about efficiency.


What I found a bit curious was the choice to switch him from the crossbow to axes. Don't get me wrong, I think it's pretty cool. But as I recall, the change was because it fit better with Pathfinder second edition. If I recall, Rangers were the only class that got any cool stuff for crossbows at all. They're definitely still not ideal, but when my friend was playtesting his level 4 ranger with a crossbow it definitely seemed better than 1e crossbows.


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Pathfinder Card Game, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

Cool vignette! I appreciate the gritty element of the story.


Quote:
You singled one out, ran it down, and did what needed doing.

Well, I guess they clearly did not get rid of Hunt Target.

Liberty's Edge

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I like it. Harsk is and always has been a scary guy and it's nice to see in print.

N N 959 wrote:
Quote:
You singled one out, ran it down, and did what needed doing.
Well, I guess they clearly did not get rid of Hunt Target.

It can have altered pretty profoundly mechanically, but yeah, I doubt it's gone completely.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
It can have altered pretty profoundly mechanically, but yeah, I doubt it's gone completely.

It's the single-target-tunnel-vision that I found totally unenjoyable..

Quote:
One down. The world stuttered back into focus, revealing the two remaining slavers.

The author does a great job of hammering home that this style of play is what now dominates the Ranger in combat.

Paizo Employee Designer

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Preemptive request to please avoid a long back and forth tangent on specific mechanics in this story thread, especially when we have many other threads involving the same people discussing Hunt Target (no one has reached that point yet, you guys have been great so far, just a request to avoid it; EDIT: While I was typing this, this statement became less true). The survey results showed that people thought Hunt Target was conceptually awesome for rangers but not powerful enough, so now the mechanical impact has increased. Inevitably we're each going to find some ideas where we have a preference that isn't as popular (happened for me too, and all the designers, where I would have really liked to go one way if people liked it, but you guys told us what you wanted instead and we went that way).


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Quote:
He chose the one in front, figuring it for the leader by its necklace of human ears. He drew back his arm, letting the rest of the world fall away as that snarling face filled his vision. The bond of predator and prey.

Emphasis mine.

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.


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

Rangers have always made decent assassins.

And go Harsk. Wreck their <redacted> <redacted> with a <redacted> hatchet to the <redacted> leg.

EDIT: I note that while Ezren had the whole gang along for his story, Harsk goes it alone, and Amiri might as well have been (some tribe hired her, but they aren't throwing down with the Jarl). Be curious to see who else rocks the teamwork and who else solos.

Contributor

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N N 959 wrote:

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.

Thank you (and everyone else)! And yeah, the point of these stories is to showcase some of the class abilities from an in-world perspective, and help players get into their characters' heads. For each of them, Paizo assigns me an illustration and some specific rules they'd like to highlight, and I write the story to fit, trying to show how those rules might play out in the illustrated situation, and what they might feel like in context.

With this one, I really enjoyed thinking about how Harsk's affinity for nature might lead him toward that sort of singleminded focus in battle, and how he might explain it to others. And of course I'd never pass up a chance to mention his tea. :D

Dark Archive

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James Sutter wrote:
N N 959 wrote:

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.

Thank you (and everyone else)! And yeah, the point of these stories is to showcase some of the class abilities from an in-world perspective, and help players get into their characters' heads. For each of them, Paizo assigns me an illustration and some specific rules they'd like to highlight, and I write the story to fit, trying to show how those rules might play out in the illustrated situation, and what they might feel like in context.

With this one, I really enjoyed thinking about how Harsk's affinity for nature might lead him toward that sort of singleminded focus in battle, and how he might explain it to others. And of course I'd never pass up a chance to mention his tea. :D

You did a really good job of implementing the class features (like a knowledge roll to remember the salt trick? & the wikkawak fighter using a reaction to raise his shield) into the story.

I like it when i read a story and the actions of the characters make sense mechanical.
Too bad the Pathfinder fiction line is on extended hiatus. ;-(


Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

That story remind me of the "Hunter mode" that Drizzt had in his books sometimes... and that to represent that, I've seen him built as multiclassed Barbarian... but Hunt Target, with this fiction, feels perfect for him. :O


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Paizo's wikkawaks, with their new more goblin goblinoids. *-*

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
James Sutter wrote:
N N 959 wrote:

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.

Thank you (and everyone else)! And yeah, the point of these stories is to showcase some of the class abilities from an in-world perspective, and help players get into their characters' heads. For each of them, Paizo assigns me an illustration and some specific rules they'd like to highlight, and I write the story to fit, trying to show how those rules might play out in the illustrated situation, and what they might feel like in context.

With this one, I really enjoyed thinking about how Harsk's affinity for nature might lead him toward that sort of singleminded focus in battle, and how he might explain it to others. And of course I'd never pass up a chance to mention his tea. :D

So this one represents the ranger's Hunt Target and Amiri's vignette showcased the Giant Totem anathema and Rage. I can't quite work out which specific wizard class ability Puzzle Box illustrates


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James Sutter wrote:
N N 959 wrote:

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.

Thank you (and everyone else)! And yeah, the point of these stories is to showcase some of the class abilities from an in-world perspective, and help players get into their characters' heads. For each of them, Paizo assigns me an illustration and some specific rules they'd like to highlight, and I write the story to fit, trying to show how those rules might play out in the illustrated situation, and what they might feel like in context.

Emphasis mine.

Spot on.

It's I who should be thanking you. I tried to convey that this was my combat experience in the playtest and I got targeted by people trying to discredit my observations. So when you come along with an objective view of the class and it matches my experience it kind of gives me goose bumps. Being privy to the battle through Harsk's mindset induces the claustrophobia-like feeling I experienced on the battle field. It's almost unsettling :)

Yeah...it's just kind of an unexpected affirmation to read someone so accurately capture what I was feeling when a handful of people are trying to disenfranchise my perspective.


3Doubloons wrote:
James Sutter wrote:
N N 959 wrote:

Well, I'm just really surprised at how much/well the author has picked up on how the mechanics affect the experience. It's like he's channeling my own experience with the class. Kind of eerie.

Thank you (and everyone else)! And yeah, the point of these stories is to showcase some of the class abilities from an in-world perspective, and help players get into their characters' heads. For each of them, Paizo assigns me an illustration and some specific rules they'd like to highlight, and I write the story to fit, trying to show how those rules might play out in the illustrated situation, and what they might feel like in context.

With this one, I really enjoyed thinking about how Harsk's affinity for nature might lead him toward that sort of singleminded focus in battle, and how he might explain it to others. And of course I'd never pass up a chance to mention his tea. :D

So this one represents the ranger's Hunt Target and Amiri's vignette showcased the Giant Totem anathema and Rage. I can't quite work out which specific wizard class ability Puzzle Box illustrates

Being able to copy new rare spells into your book and use them when neccessary, being very smart and making snarky comments about your fellow wizards and your party members.


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masda_gib wrote:
3Doubloons wrote:


So this one represents the ranger's Hunt Target and Amiri's vignette showcased the Giant Totem anathema and Rage. I can't quite work out which specific wizard class ability Puzzle Box illustrates
Being able to copy new rare spells into your book and use them when neccessary, being very smart and making snarky comments about your fellow wizards and your party members.

This, but also apparently some way of Adapting spells by infusing them with elemental aspects - I would guess it's an ability learned by Ezren via his Thesis.

I wonder if Lini's entry would be showcasing the dinosaur fort spell?


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I really like how Harsk switching from crossbow to axes isn't just a retcon but is actually incorporated into the lore.

Now I'm really excited to find out what finally convinced Valeros that he might need something to protect that pretty face of his. Maybe he finally noticed that like 75% of the artwork featuring him has him about to get wrecked by some monster or another. :P

As an aside: N N, let me restate my apology from the other thread. It was not my intention to disenfranchise your perspective, as you put it.

Liberty's Edge

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MaxAstro wrote:
I really like how Harsk switching from crossbow to axes isn't just a retcon but is actually incorporated into the lore.

Yeah, I like that choice quite a bit.

MaxAstro wrote:
Now I'm really excited to find out what finally convinced Valeros that he might need something to protect that pretty face of his. Maybe he finally noticed that like 75% of the artwork featuring him has him about to get wrecked by some monster or another. :P

Since he's a main character in the comic and the folks at Paizo have talked about this, we actually know what caused that change: He died.

I mean, this is Pathfinder, he got better, but dying can make a man reconsider some of his more reckless life choices.

Silver Crusade

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Deadmanwalking wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:
I really like how Harsk switching from crossbow to axes isn't just a retcon but is actually incorporated into the lore.

Yeah, I like that choice quite a bit.

MaxAstro wrote:
Now I'm really excited to find out what finally convinced Valeros that he might need something to protect that pretty face of his. Maybe he finally noticed that like 75% of the artwork featuring him has him about to get wrecked by some monster or another. :P

Since he's a main character in the comic and the folks at Paizo have talked about this, we actually know what caused that change: He died.

I mean, this is Pathfinder, he got better, but dying can make a man reconsider some of his more reckless life choices.

*nods*

Getting sloshed on brain wine is still a go though.

Liberty's Edge

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Rysky wrote:

*nods*

Getting sloshed on brain wine is still a go though.

Well, he's a worshiper of Cayden Cailean, so not drinking would be literally blasphemous. And being brought back from the dead isn't likely to make one less religious...

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

NOPE!


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber

Really enjoying these vignettes, especially when paired with the "iconic evolution" videos. A nice bit of synergistic promotion for Pathfinder 2.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

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Birmy wrote:
Really enjoying these vignettes, especially when paired with the "iconic evolution" videos. A nice bit of synergistic promotion for Pathfinder 2.

Thanks, Birmy. That was always the plan. I'm so thrilled that James was available to write them and that folks are digging them.


6 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber
Mark Moreland wrote:
Birmy wrote:
Really enjoying these vignettes, especially when paired with the "iconic evolution" videos. A nice bit of synergistic promotion for Pathfinder 2.
Thanks, Birmy. That was always the plan. I'm so thrilled that James was available to write them and that folks are digging them.

James is knocking them out of the park!

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Ye!


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Fully agree, this works very nicely as a teaser, and it's a cool read on its own right too. Kudos.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I hope the mechanic is called Favored Enemy :-)

So that my enemies will always be favored

Liberty's Edge

I do like Harsk this way!

Q on the art:

The image here looks more like Harsk 2.0 (in the Wayne Reynolds video on Paizo Youtube) vs. Harsk 2.1 (transition between the two at 2:05 through 2:10 in the video).

I hereby cast my vote in favor of 2.0 (two point oh) Harsk art - 2.0, though at an angle, appears to have a properly-shaped broad nose, but the face-front 2.1 sketch has an unusually-shaped wide nose in comparison, reminding me of the new super-wide skulls of Kobolds on the PF2 Bestiary cover.

2.0 nose is probably wider than 2.1, but it looks so much better - maybe I'll change my mind if I can see an isometric view of the 2.1 nose for a direct comparison to the isometric view of the 2.0 nose.

I know Paizo is Paizo-unique-ing the art (likely in anticipation of trademarked images *not* confusingly similar to any D&D or other fantasy art), but 2.0 Harsk is better, body and face, than 2.1, in my opinion.

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