Tales of Lost Omens: Portents from the Deck

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The cards were going mad.

Irhina felt their agitation thrumming through her tiny sea cabin. It was a sharp, jangled vibration, like a dozen out-of-tune instruments all bleating different songs. Something was coming, some great weight that sat on destiny’s weaving and bent all the skeins of fate toward itself.

Shivering, Irhina went to the porthole. All was dark through the bleary glass, save for the rough shapes of heaving waves barely illumined by a cloudy and uncertain moon. Distant lightning flashed through the heavy-bellied clouds. The storm was nearly upon them.

The Sea Falcon bucked and dipped as another wave slammed into it. Irhina's Harrow deck tumbled from the table. Nine cards spilled across the cabin's well-worn rug.

Irhina's skin prickled. There were no accidents in a Harrow deck. No coincidences, no mistakes. Only amateurs could indulge such comfortable fantasies, and it had been many, many years since Irhina had believed them.

Not since she'd been claimed by this very deck, in fact.

Irhina shivered again. That had been a bad night. Fire, screams, confusion. The Harrow deck's folded-paper box, sodden with her uncle's warm blood, crumbling and spilling the lacquered cards into her hands. The stinging thrill of magic against her skin, unwanted but impossible to refuse.

Then—a heavy duty, and a hard life. Years of loneliness with little laughter. Those memories would swallow her easily, if she let them.

She didn't. Here and now, she had a storm to survive.

The cards had spilled into a rough square on the cabin floor. In a traditional reading, they would have been dealt into three neat rows of three: past, present, and future, with the pattern centered on a role card. Tonight, however, they'd formed a different pattern on the shabby red rug. The cards had fallen into a sequence of three by three, but the rows were interleaved, with no clean breaks between past, present, or future. Some of the cards were not only reversed, but thrown sideways, one image interrupting or obscuring another.

The Midwife. The Big Sky. The Brass Dwarf askew: invulnerability under threat. The Carnival and The Demon's Lantern bridged by The Tangled Briar: trickery and illusion on one side, malicious deception on another, and a bloody history that gripped them together—but whether that meant their shared history was the key to unlocking their deceit, or merely signified that some great lie had continued unbroken for ages, was impossible for Irhina to read.

Ordinarily, a role card would have guided her through the conflicting interpretations. The role card, like a story's protagonist, created clarity from a jumble of conflicting elements by providing perspective and narrative structure. Even in a spontaneous reading, there should have been a role card set out to anchor the other symbols in its orbit.

But here there was none. No central figure, no guide toward meaning. Irhina's fingers danced lightly over the cards, signaling her question. The vibration she received in response was unmistakable: the deck did not hold that answer.

There was only the chaos of future-past-present, all knotted together and writhing senselessly. She could as easily have tried to read the future from a bed of snakes.

She swept the Harrow cards back into their box, ignoring the protest that prickled across her palms, and left her cramped cabin. Storm or no storm, she needed air.

Above decks, the storm hadn't broken. A strange yellow pall suffused the clouds' dark bellies, shocking erratically brighter as lightning spidered across the sky. The great golden dome of Crystilan glittered in the distance, reflecting the same eerie stormlight from its perch above the coast's wave-lashed cliffs.

No, Irhina realized. Crystilan wasn't reflecting the light. It was the source of that eerie, dazzling glow. And the glow was intensifying, moment by moment, spilling ribbons of yellow light across the sea and tinting the waves' white froth toward saffron. Luminous ripples raced across the dome's immense interior, fracturing into runic shapes that strained to create whirling diagrams before they shattered apart.

A city surrounded by a cracking, crumbling crystal wall. Pieces tumble into the ocean and crash into the rocks. The sky is stormy. In the foreground, a sailing ship full of people looks on in horror.

Illustration by Federico Musetti

She wasn't the only one mesmerized by the sight. Other passengers had come up to watch it with her: a Tian woman, a Keleshite man, an Ustalavic nobleman in a fine cuffed shirt whose shaggy, bestial features made her wonder if his line was cursed with lycanthropy. It wouldn't have surprised her. The Sea Falcon charged exorbitant rates, but it carried anyone who could afford them, and it ran swiftly to destinations that other ships avoided.

She wondered if one of those passengers had paid for the Sea Falcon to pass this close to Crystilan. The Thassilonian ruin had mystified scholars for millennia. Within the great crystal dome, an entire empty city stood perfectly preserved, untouched by time and impossible to reach. Most assumed that the city and its people had fallen victim to some ancient archmage's curse, and superstitious sailors tended to swing wide around it, afraid of being snared.

Irhina had always thought that a foolish fancy, but now she wasn't so sure. The city under crystal had always been eerie, but now it felt different, aware and more intensely menacing, in a way she'd never sensed before. It was as if some power within the dome was awakening, and was beginning to look upon its surroundings with envious and hungry eyes. A malevolent power, she was sure, though she couldn't say why.

Beneath the Sea Falcon, the sea was lit up from within, so that it seemed they sailed on a lake of molten gold. Lightning flashed from cloud to cloud, faster with each stroke, always strangely soundless—

—until a stroke of thunder cracked overhead with such ferocity that Irhina quailed.

Another sounded, and another, and Irhina realized that it wasn't thunder at all. Crystilan itself was breaking. Massive fissures cracked the gleaming dome. Shivering slabs of crystal tumbled into the sea, throwing up geysers of saltwater and splintered stone that shook the Sea Falcon from afar.

And inside the long-vacant city beneath Crystilan, Irhina could see the tiny, impossible figures of… of people. Some were human-sized, tiny at this distance. Others towered above them, so huge that they must surely be giants. She could make out no details of language or dress, but the sight of them filled her with unreasoning fear.

“What is it?” the maybe-werewolf nobleman muttered beside her. His thick dark nails dug into the railing's salt-spattered wood. He looked half a monster, but in that moment Irhina felt a sudden sense of solidarity with him. If he was a monster, he was at least a monster she knew.

“Upheaval,” Irhina said. “The future tangled into the past, and the past into the future. The cards gave me a reading, and now it begins to come clear. The old will clash with the new, and the new with the old.”

“But what does it mean?” The nobleman's eyes glowed yellow as he turned toward Irhina.

“The cards are but cards,” she told him. “They do not know who the role card in this tale will be. So, in this, they can tell us no meaning. That is for us to find.”

“Or whoever's in there,” the nobleman said, looking back at the tiny figures in the dome.

“Yes.” Irhina clasped her arms against a renewed chill of apprehension. “Or whoever's in there.”

Liane Merciel
Contributing Author

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Tags: Federico Musetti Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Tales of Lost Omens Web Fiction

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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Huzzah!

Spoiler:
The players' in there!


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

I think this is the first one that shows an event from an adventure. I really like that aspect of it.

One question: what were the cards in the reading? I count the Midwife, Big Sky, the Brass Dwarf, the Carnival, the Demon's Lantern and the Tangled Briar. That leaves three.


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You know this is the first one that actually touches upon the events of an Adventure Path and their effects on the world...while *taking place during* the Adventure Path.

Also is that Ulfen a Skinwalker?

The Exchange

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WOW! Just WOW!

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Is the Tien woman supposed to be a certain someone from sandpoint?


Evan Tarlton wrote:

I think this is the first one that shows an event from an adventure. I really like that aspect of it.

One question: what were the cards in the reading? I count the Midwife, Big Sky, the Brass Dwarf, the Carnival, the Demon's Lantern and the Tangled Briar. That leaves three.

Which path?

Shadow Lodge

Ebrick wrote:
Evan Tarlton wrote:

I think this is the first one that shows an event from an adventure. I really like that aspect of it.

One question: what were the cards in the reading? I count the Midwife, Big Sky, the Brass Dwarf, the Carnival, the Demon's Lantern and the Tangled Briar. That leaves three.

Which path?

Return of the Runelords.


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Suddenly, I am reminded that I want back our Cartomancer Witch, and the Harrowed Medium that we never got more than a preview of . . . .


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Kevin Mack wrote:
Is the Tien woman supposed to be a certain someone from sandpoint?

Ameiko should be in Minkai, though.


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Yeah, considering the trade routes between Tian Xia and northern Avistan via the Crown of the World , there are definitely other Tian women in Varisia.

Silver Crusade

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Harrow!

Werewoof/Witchwolf!

Ameiko (or an affection of her)!

Salim!

Ancient city!

Fascinating story and art.


Nice, flavourful story and very beautyful art! :D

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Yikes, that was evocative. Spoilery somewhat for the AP I am running, but what can you do? The world moves forward.


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Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Shadow Lodge

Voss wrote:

Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Besides a lot of master-race posturing? Puncturing that bubble could be fun, of course, but it is just one beat.

Silver Crusade

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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Voss wrote:

Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Besides a lot of master-race posturing? Puncturing that bubble could be fun, of course, but it is just one beat.

Please point out where that's stated to be a thing.

Shadow Lodge

Rysky wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Voss wrote:

Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Besides a lot of master-race posturing? Puncturing that bubble could be fun, of course, but it is just one beat.
Please point out where that's stated to be a thing.

Racial slavery of giants, caste system where e.g. Azlanti outranked proto-Shoanti, immediate attempts to [re-]conquer their neighbors upon Crystilan being broken. . .

Silver Crusade

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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Rysky wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Voss wrote:

Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Besides a lot of master-race posturing? Puncturing that bubble could be fun, of course, but it is just one beat.
Please point out where that's stated to be a thing.
Racial slavery of giants, caste system where e.g. Azlanti outranked proto-Shoanti, immediate attempts to [re-]conquer their neighbors upon Crystilan being broken. . .

Which is issues from the top, not the average citizen.


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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Voss wrote:

Hmm. This isn't something I've really followed, but I always took the rune lords as seven evil Elminsters (or Saurons or Sarumani, as you prefer. Hmm, the Seven Sarumani sounds like a good name for a band) returning to run around being obnoxious until suitable PCs showed up to murderize them.

But a city full of average Thassilonians who now need to deal with a world they don't recognize? That sounds fun and has a lot of story beats.

Besides a lot of master-race posturing? Puncturing that bubble could be fun, of course, but it is just one beat.

I have zero idea what you're on about- if you want that you can just go to present day Kyonin.

As for story beats- you've got people being introduced to a very different pantheon, different philosophies, exploring an unfamiliar map, meeting unfamiliar cultures, getting out from under a tyrant, acting as an agent of said tyrant, trying to find descendants...

There are a huge pile of ideas for a starting adventurer, and they interface of what they knew with what's out there is pretty staggering in possibilities. I've no idea why you'd reduce it to just racism.

Shadow Lodge

Voss wrote:
I have zero idea what you're on about- if you want that you can just go to present day Kyonin.

That is entirely true. Also Taldor and Cheliax.

Shadow Lodge

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Rysky wrote:
Which is issues from the top, not the average citizen.

Doesn't work that way. These things form a feedback loop once they get going. Which is the point: to divide Azlanti, giants, proto-Shanti, etc. who otherwise might have converging interests from uniting to pursue them.


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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Which is issues from the top, not the average citizen.
Doesn't work that way. These things form a feedback loop once they get going. Which is the point: to divide Azlanti, giants, proto-Shanti, etc. who otherwise might have converging interests from uniting to pursue them.

Yup. Caste systems and racial slavery are never just "issues from the top". If they persist they shape the entire culture, because people don't cope well simultaneously holding the ideas of "these people are really just like us" and "these people are our slaves".

Paizo Employee Developer

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Aha! The time halflings are coming! :)

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

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Maybe that's how things work in the real world, but in a fantasy setting where the power differential between someone with the ability to cast 9th- and 10th-level spells and a commoner (or even "elite" person of level 5 or 6) is so great, a lot more can be dictated from upon high. When you add in the ability for evil rulers to use magic to further compel or influence their populace, there's a very different dynamic than how things work in our world.

So let's keep things focused on the setting and not our own political science theses, please—or take those to another thread. Thanks!

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Kevin Mack wrote:
Is the Tien woman supposed to be a certain someone from sandpoint?

Nope.


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thejeff wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Which is issues from the top, not the average citizen.
Doesn't work that way. These things form a feedback loop once they get going. Which is the point: to divide Azlanti, giants, proto-Shanti, etc. who otherwise might have converging interests from uniting to pursue them.
Yup. Caste systems and racial slavery are never just "issues from the top". If they persist they shape the entire culture, because people don't cope well simultaneously holding the ideas of "these people are really just like us" and "these people are our slaves".

That isn't historically accurate at all. Going to skip the modern era, but a large chunk of the Greek and Roman slave population were Greeks and Romans (often debtors), not people who were different. Thralls in Scandinavia were sometimes foreigners, sometimes locals who came out on the losing side of feud or dispute. Indentured servants in the pre and early Colonial era quite often grew up in the same city as their 'employers'

Bottom tier castes in India and Asia were often people of the same ethnicity. Humans actually cope really well with exactly that sort of cognitive dissonance.

Shadow Lodge

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Voss wrote:
thejeff wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Which is issues from the top, not the average citizen.
Doesn't work that way. These things form a feedback loop once they get going. Which is the point: to divide Azlanti, giants, proto-Shanti, etc. who otherwise might have converging interests from uniting to pursue them.
Yup. Caste systems and racial slavery are never just "issues from the top". If they persist they shape the entire culture, because people don't cope well simultaneously holding the ideas of "these people are really just like us" and "these people are our slaves".

That isn't historically accurate at all. Going to skip the modern era, but a large chunk of the Greek and Roman slave population were Greeks and Romans (often debtors), not people who were different. Thralls in Scandinavia were sometimes foreigners, sometimes locals who came out on the losing side of feud or dispute. Indentured servants in the pre and early Colonial era quite often grew up in the same city as their 'employers'

Bottom tier castes in India and Asia were often people of the same ethnicity. Humans actually cope really well with exactly that sort of cognitive dissonance.

A couple points:

1) Golarion has most of the markers of an early-modern setting, including but by no means limited to mercantilist colonialism, international trade and a world market, factory production, university education, high and low culture, and public opinion. So focusing on antiquity and the middle ages, and only touching the early modern period in passing, is inapt;

2) thejeff specified "racial slavery" and was not referring to all forms of unfree or forced labor. Obviously not all forms of forced labor - for example, corvee labor, serfdom, apprenticeship, and your example of indenture - grew around them a justifying racialist ideology. But racial slavery did, and tended to (that is to say, racialist ideology appeared at about the same time in different places without a single common ancestor);

3) I don't know enough about Indian castes to make a historically rooted argument about them. What I do know is that castes are manifold, and that no single theory or history explains every one of them. However, it would not surprise me if they were largely the residual crystallizations of repeated armed conquests of territories, with each successive group of conquerors gaining a new caste for themselves. There is certainly a racialist component to the construction of the dalit community.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

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You have been asked to take these derailing conversations about real-world history to new threads. Please do so. Thanks!

Liberty's Edge

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I imagine that one issue that a Thassilonian who was in stasis during Earthfall would be culture shock. There would be a lot of shock from worshippers of Acavna and Amaznen, who perished in Earthfall. So, it sounds like a chance for some good roleplaying opportunities. (Hmm, I wonder if someone might on hearing about the ascension and death of Aroden comment that "I should have collected that bet from him.")


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William Ronald wrote:
I imagine that one issue that a Thassilonian who was in stasis during Earthfall would be culture shock. There would be a lot of shock from worshippers of Acavna and Amaznen, who perished in Earthfall. So, it sounds like a chance for some good roleplaying opportunities. (Hmm, I wonder if someone might on hearing about the ascension and death of Aroden comment that "I should have collected that bet from him.")

Not to mention...

Orcs: A new thing for them. Half-Orcs? Oh dear oh dear.
Morlocks, Munavris, Caligni, and other holdovers: "Ohhhhh mannnnnn, I hope I'm not related..."
Drow: "Wait, elves did WHAT?!"
Serpentfolk: "You mean some of them survived?!"

And on and on. Given how foundational Earthfall is to the ancient history of the contemporary setting, people who predate it will be in a bit of a fix. :P


Reckless wrote:

Yikes, that was evocative. Spoilery somewhat for the AP I am running, but what can you do? The world moves forward.

That's why I stopped reading these blogs after the first one.

Shadow Lodge

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Cole Deschain wrote:

Not to mention...

Orcs: A new thing for them.

Dwarves too, for the same reason.

On the other hand, some things will be familiar. Aboleths endure and abide.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber

In my headcanon, Dwarves and Orcs existed on the surface of Golarion before Earthfall but were very rare expatriates from the realms below.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber
Cole Deschain wrote:
William Ronald wrote:
I imagine that one issue that a Thassilonian who was in stasis during Earthfall would be culture shock. There would be a lot of shock from worshippers of Acavna and Amaznen, who perished in Earthfall. So, it sounds like a chance for some good roleplaying opportunities. (Hmm, I wonder if someone might on hearing about the ascension and death of Aroden comment that "I should have collected that bet from him.")

Not to mention...

Orcs: A new thing for them. Half-Orcs? Oh dear oh dear.
Morlocks, Munavris, Caligni, and other holdovers: "Ohhhhh mannnnnn, I hope I'm not related..."
Drow: "Wait, elves did WHAT?!"
Serpentfolk: "You mean some of them survived?!"

And on and on. Given how foundational Earthfall is to the ancient history of the contemporary setting, people who predate it will be in a bit of a fix. :P

And the narrator, who is a chosen vessel for auguries, has a feeling of dread when she sees these people. It does not bode well for the future of this area.

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