Iconic Encounter: Tough Crowd

Thursday, April 4, 2019

An adventuring party is like a rock band, each member bringing his or her own unique sound to the collective whole. A champion or fighter may stand in front, her wailing axe cutting a line through the crowd. A cleric or wizard might hide off to the side, out of the spotlight, but filling the room with atmospheric effects, a veritable wall of sound. A witty rogue may dart about the stage with precise choreography, delivering pointed accents to her allies' riffs. But it's the bard that ties the entire ensemble together, the drummer who keeps everyone on the beat, making each of his bandmates' parts shine. Lem, the iconic bard, is Pathfinder's Ringo, and his friends certainly get by with a little of his help!

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.

Illustration by Biagio d'Alessandro

The three harpies circled the ruins, raining threats, darts, and excrement in equal measure.

"Oh yeah?!" Lem dodged another grotesque barrage, releasing the knot of his whirling sling as he went. The bullet shot from the pouch, smashing into the leader's jaw and dropping her to the cobblestone plaza. "Bring it, birdbrains!"

The remaining harpies—a male and a female—screeched and retreated as far as the crumbling arcade, putting the ancient pillars between them and further slingstones.

Valeros cursed as one of his few remaining arrows shattered against the masonry. He nocked another. "At least we've got them on the run."

And then, like fetid angels, the harpies opened their mouths and began to sing.

The notes seemed too pure for the fanged maws that made them—high and clear, without any trace of the harpies' usual hunting shriek. Their haunting refrain echoed across the plaza.

Lem snorted. "Ah yes, natural minor—very spooky, very exotic. But you'll have to do better than that if—"

Next to him, Valeros took a staggering step forward, bow lowered and eyes rapturously blank.

"Oh come on!" Lem grabbed at the warrior's wrist, only to be shoved aside as Valeros broke into a stumbling run toward the grinning harpies. "Seriously?! They don't even have lyrics! What about rhyme and meter? Clever wordplay?"

Merisiel dodged in front of Valeros, barely managing to parry a club swing that would have taken his head off. "I don't think he's interested in an artistic education right now, Lem!"

"What else is new?" But Lem tucked his sling away. Drawing his flute, he clambered up the side of the temple entrance and perched atop its crumbled stones. Around him, the harpies' song filled the air, heavy with magic.

Lem pursed his lips. "Not a bad riff," he conceded. "A little simple, but you've got to start somewhere." He raised the flute. "Now let me try."

He played. At first, it was just notes—a quick trilling ascension to make sure he had the right key—yet it was enough to kindle his own magic. The spell swirled inside him as he found the groove, perfectly matching the harpies' melody.

For a moment, he almost didn't want to follow through. There was an infectious quality to the harpies' song—not the magical compulsion pulling Valeros to his doom, but the familiar pleasure or playing with other talented musicians. The harpies were talented, in their way. Under other circumstances, he would have loved to lose himself in the collaboration, feeling their tones resonating through his chest, their harmonies raising the hair on his arms and toes. Instead, he let that desire feed his magic, swelling toward a vast, impending crescendo.

Hearing their own song echoed back, the harpies looked over at him in surprise.

Lem waggled his eyebrows and triggered the spell.

Power flowed through him, surging into his lungs, coursing down into his fingers. It was still him playing, but now it was as if he'd played this particular piece a thousand times, his body moving through muscle memory, faster than conscious thought. His flute dove away from the melody line, threading through the piece like dolphins playing in the surf. And where he played, the harpies' song changed: his tones altering their chords, his notes filling their silences, each revision robbing their performance of its power. He blew harder, and the magic found their song's most crucial notes and inverted them, playing ghost notes that somehow crashed into the harpies' own and canceled them out, sucking both tones from the air.

The harpies broke off their faltering song. Screaming in outrage, they stooped and dove toward the bard, claws and clubs extended.

Valeros's arrow caught the female in the shoulder, sending her tumbling from the sky. Merisiel's dagger was a second slower but twice as sure, lancing through the male's throat and killing him before he even had a chance to fall.

Lem let the magic fade. Pulling the flute from his lips, he stared down at the fallen harpies with genuine sadness.

"Sorry," he said. "You were good, but my friends are kind of a tough crowd..."

If you liked this week's Iconic Encounter, you won't want to miss next week's exciting entry. Until then, Pathfinders, if music be the food of love, play on!

Mark Moreland
Franchise Manager

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Tags: Bards Iconic Encounters Iconics Lem Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Second Edition

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I LOVE IT, MY BEST FRIEND IS A DEDICATED BARD PLAYER AND THIS IS SOOOOO HIM!!!


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Reading this felt so Bard it kind of hurt.

Liberty's Edge

4 people marked this as a favorite.

Nice. I like the themes on this one quite a bit.

Sadly for those looking for new info hidden in these, that looks like straight up counter-performance, though. Something we were already aware of as available to Bards.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Lem is Ringo? That explains a lot.


9 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

The eyebrow waggle! Best somatic component ever!


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

So, Lem joins the ranks of Iconics whose Iconic Encounter involves other Iconics- so far, it's him and Ezren- which isn't much of a shock- a lone bard is a decidedly odd duck.


Male Harpies huh, cool.

Also, Lem is everything I wish I could be as a bard...


First instance of male harpies in planet Golarion, I suppose... Right?

Anyway, now I might be tempted to play a bard if later on.

Liberty's Edge

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Lucas Yew wrote:
First instance of male harpies in planet Golarion, I suppose... Right?

There's one featured in one of the playtest adventures, but it seems to be a creative decision going forward with the new edition, yes.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Aren't male Dryads a thing too now? I remember one showing up and being friendly with Lini and knowing Harsk in one of the comics.

I kind of like that Fey and other monsters are becoming not tied to one gender...it also makes my homebrew connection between Harpies and Strix work better.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

17 people marked this as a favorite.
VerBeeker wrote:
Aren't male Dryads a thing too now? I remember one showing up and being friendly with Lini and knowing Harsk in one of the comics.

I prefer the term "guyad"


6 people marked this as a favorite.

It's tough to write about music, but Sutter delivers as always. The part I loved best though was Lem's quips ^__^

(Also, yay for traditionally feminine monsters having male counterparts!!).


5 people marked this as a favorite.

If I could favourite blog posts (and seriously, going forward, this needs to be a Thing) this one would be a shoo-in :D

And yay for countersong! You don't see it very often at the gaming table, but it's a TPK-saver on occasion.

"Guyad" - heh. I think it was the late, great Terry Pratchett who had a dryad respond to the "I thought you were all female?" line with "Stupid. Where do you think acorns come from?"

(Colour of Magic, IIRC)


1 person marked this as a favorite.

This was fantastic! The only bard I've played was more comedic than musical, so I could see parts of this happening for my party.

Love the male harpies. And the silly fighter failing that will save...

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Deadmanwalking wrote:
Lucas Yew wrote:
First instance of male harpies in planet Golarion, I suppose... Right?
There's one featured in one of the playtest adventures, but it seems to be a creative decision going forward with the new edition, yes.

There's also one (with art) in the Sandpoint book that recently came out.

Contributor

12 people marked this as a favorite.

Thanks, folks! I really enjoyed this one—it's rare that I get to draw on my musical side when writing game stuff, but after spending some time with Lem, I think he might be the iconic I most identify with. :)

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Lem may be the "Ringo" of the group, but he was channeling Ian Anderson! ;-)

Oh, and props to Biagio d'Alessandro for the awesome illo!!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber
Aristophanes wrote:

Oh, and props to Biagio d'Alessandro for the awesome illo!!

Is Sutter writing prompted by the art in these pieces? The art can't be commissioned for these stories, right?

Grand Lodge

Birmy wrote:
Aristophanes wrote:

Oh, and props to Biagio d'Alessandro for the awesome illo!!

Is Sutter writing prompted by the art in these pieces? The art can't be commissioned for these stories, right?

Ooooh, excellent question! James?


Birmy wrote:
Aristophanes wrote:

Oh, and props to Biagio d'Alessandro for the awesome illo!!

Is Sutter writing prompted by the art in these pieces? The art can't be commissioned for these stories, right?

An iconic encounter is probably something recurring, so I'm guessing the art is commissioned and will be used often. And based on this one and the Amiri art, I'm completely okay with that.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I'm hoping these stories and the art form part of the "Introduction to the Class" in the PF2 rulebook.

I'm not just reading an RPG rulebook for the rules. I want to be inspired.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber
Wandering Wastrel wrote:

I'm hoping these stories and the art form part of the "Introduction to the Class" in the PF2 rulebook.

I'm not just reading an RPG rulebook for the rules. I want to be inspired.

Their books usually have a big image with a small story attached at the start of each chapters, I wouldn't be surprised if they were used for that.

Grand Lodge

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

Good on you Lem, if you've got it FLAUNT it ... heh heh heh .. don't get up anyone ... I'll see myself out ..

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

6 people marked this as a favorite.
Wandering Wastrel wrote:

I'm hoping these stories and the art form part of the "Introduction to the Class" in the PF2 rulebook.

I'm not just reading an RPG rulebook for the rules. I want to be inspired.

It'd be cool if that's where we got the art, wouldn't it?


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Mark Moreland wrote:
Wandering Wastrel wrote:

I'm hoping these stories and the art form part of the "Introduction to the Class" in the PF2 rulebook.

I'm not just reading an RPG rulebook for the rules. I want to be inspired.

It'd be cool if that's where we got the art, wouldn't it?

Oh, you!


5 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

"Oh come on! Seriously?! They don't even have lyrics! What about rhyme and meter? Clever wordplay?"

I think Lem just became my favorite iconic.

Contributor

12 people marked this as a favorite.
Birmy wrote:
Aristophanes wrote:

Oh, and props to Biagio d'Alessandro for the awesome illo!!

Is Sutter writing prompted by the art in these pieces? The art can't be commissioned for these stories, right?

Yup! I actually get sent both the image Paizo's chosen and a rules element they want to showcase, so I have to figure out how to fit the one into the other. Sometimes it's fairly obvious or Mark will send me a suggestion, but other times there's a bit of a puzzle to solve before I can even start writing. Fortunately I usually find that constraints breed creativity!


1 person marked this as a favorite.
James Sutter wrote:
Yup! I actually get sent both the image Paizo's chosen and a rules element they want to showcase, so I have to figure out how to fit the one into the other. Sometimes it's fairly obvious or Mark will send me a suggestion, but other times there's a bit of a puzzle to solve before I can even start writing. Fortunately I usually find that constraints breed creativity!

"Yeah. Writers working under tight restrictions produce novel material -like, for example, epigrams employing backwards alphabetisation"

It's pretty clear what the rule being showcased here is, but are you able to tell us what rule was being showcased in Ezren's story?

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Wandering Wastrel wrote:
It's pretty clear what the rule being showcased here is, but are you able to tell us what rule was being showcased in Ezren's story?

He better not!


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber
Mark Moreland wrote:
Wandering Wastrel wrote:
It's pretty clear what the rule being showcased here is, but are you able to tell us what rule was being showcased in Ezren's story?
He better not!

Pretty sure it was the "Wizard Thesis" new thing.

Contributor

4 people marked this as a favorite.

What Mark said. I'm sworn to secrecy! :-*


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

Awesome! Well done Sutter!

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