A Theory I have about Sorshen (Spoilers for part 3)


Return of the Runelords

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Okay, so those of you who have made their way to book 3 know that Sorshen's blood simulacra are running around Golarian with some hidden agenda. The surprising thing about them is that they're chaotic neutral rather than chaotic evil as most would expect from a mastermind who started a seven-way civil war by killing her master and carried out a 1100+ year reign of terror (among some other horrific and unsavory things). Unless Pharasma has suddenly decided to relax a lot of rules regarding alignment or Sorshen has does some big things we don't know about in order to atone for her misdeeds, there's something fishy here. I was trying to figure out what could possibly explain it when I came across a certain mythic ability that fits the concept perfectly: Beyond Morality.

My theory is that Sorshen's recent actions have not been enough to push her out of the CE territory (seriously, 1100 years of being a sexually predatory warlord is a LOT to atone for), but the Beyond Morality ability allows her to disguise that fact. Her blood simulacrums are whatever alignment she wants them to be, and CN is just troublesome enough to not seem suspicious but just innocent enough to get some powerful alignment-sensing allies on her side (and possibly innocent to allow her to seize power without the other nations of Golarian freaking out).

I'm sure we'll get an answer on this in the next volume, but I'm curious to know what the rest of you think. Did Runelord Sorshen pull off the impossible and actually redeem herself, or has she pulled a fast one on the multiverse the likes of which haven't been seen since the Pact Primeval?


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Her redemption is tied in with Nocticula's redemption and ascension as a proper CN goddess. Sorshen was apparently not completely in stasis for the last 10000 years, but rather used that time to contemplate her past deeds and turn over a new leaf.

You are not locked into your alignment by your past deeds, but rather you decide it by your current actions. If that is enough to atone for past deeds and makes you acceptable in the eye of others is another type of question. Given how all that Sorshen did was 10000 years ago, very few people in the current age will actually know of the details of what her reign as Runelord entailed.

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It's explained fully in the sixth book. The Beyond Morality ability is not a factor (I'm not personally a fan of that power at all).


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The pathfinder friday vid on the runelords actually touched on that, a little bit.
In short, she's been around since the beginning, she's seen it all, done it all, and is kinda over it. Turns out all that sexy evil gets stale after a few thousand years, and might not even be really worth it.

Plus, you know, two of the seven runelords recently got beat up by adventurers of this new world before the campaign even starts, a lot more time has passed than they anticipated and prepared for, so a come-back is clearly not gonna be as easy as they planned.
Even if redemption is not in the cards, bringing Thassilon back is not looking like the easiest or best way to reintroduce oneself to Golarion.


If Thanos and The Joker get excuses and passes for what they have done, then Sorshen can as well.

I do hope there is an option for PCs who want to support a Runelord Free Glorian option

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Phillip Gastone wrote:

If Thanos and The Joker get excuses and passes for what they have done, then Sorshen can as well.

I do hope there is an option for PCs who want to support a Runelord Free Glorian option

I doubt it. :(

Given her mythic power, I don't believe the heroes are strong enough to defeat her.

As near as I can tell, if one rejects her atonement, then one cannot GM/play this AP.


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Only if you intend to kill her. The writing is as such that you can circumvent helping her (except one time, where it is necessary to save the world), but basically there's no option to take her out. Of course, personally, I'd be a mightily unsympathetic GM to PC's who don't want to help her find redemption, but then I am someone who does believe in the concept.

Shadow Lodge

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For me, redemption is appropriate for relatively small things, not reigning as a blood-mad tyrant for thousands of years. And especially when the reason you're giving that up is not because you realized it was wrong, but because it got boring and might get you killed (not that it actually would, because you have a plot shield). And most especially when you're not really giving it up - you install yourself as the new absolute overlord of a ntion at the first opportunity, and just resolve to yourself (as there are no checks on your power and no means to keep you honest) to be a bit nicer about it this time. No atonement, no restitution, not much change in behavior. . . what the heck kind of redemption is this?

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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
For me, redemption is appropriate for relatively small things, not reigning as a blood-mad tyrant for thousands of years. And especially when the reason you're giving that up is not because you realized it was wrong, but because it got boring and might get you killed (not that it actually would, because you have a plot shield).

She didn't go from Evil to Good. She went from Evil to neutral. So its not like she did a complete 180%. She is still probably a selfish dick. She just isn't malicious about it any more.


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Can't say that she comes off as a "selfish dick" in the AP. 10000 years is a long time to think over your life and good enough for me. I would have been quite happy with Xanderghul also being officially redeemed (which was actually indicated in the appropiate module to be possible) and survive. Instead Belimarius is still officially running around and clearly has not changed at all in her demeanour. I'd say that counts as way thicker "plot armor" than Sorshen has.

The realm Sorshen is about to create seems to be a haven for misfits and artists. Not a bad start, although I kinda question how the hell those people are even going to get to Xin-Shalast. ^^


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magnuskn wrote:
Can't say that she comes off as a "selfish dick" in the AP.

It really depends on how book 3 part 3 goes. If the party is interested in participating in the festival anyways then she should make a good impression. If they really aren't interested in the festival and she's dragging them along for her own amusement then that would definitely sour any impression she makes on your players.


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So, if your party wants to play the game, it goes well. If they refuse to play the game, then it goes poorly. That can be said about a plethora of other roleplaying opportunities. :p


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magnuskn wrote:
So, if your party wants to play the game, it goes well. If they refuse to play the game, then it goes poorly. That can be said about a plethora of other roleplaying opportunities. :p

"Playing the game" isn't a one-way street. Both the adventure and GM must work to foster PC engagement. In this part of the adventure the PC's are arriving in a city they've never visited before to meet an NPC they've never met before, during the celebration of an event that (if they haven't played CotCT) has no particular significance to them. There's really no reason for the PC's to be invested in this.

Now it might be that having fun at a party sounds like a good idea to them; these events would work very well if that's the case. Alternately, after seeing just how nasty Alaznist can be in book 2 they could be determined to stop her and are laser-focused on getting those leads. That's also playing the game, taking cues from chapter 2 to inform the reactions and behaviors of the characters. The players themselves may be good sports about it and play along, but that won't change the fact that Sorshen will feel like an entitled jerk for dragging them along when their characters feel like they have more important things to be doing.


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Fair enough, although that seems a bit like an unlikely even to me, personally. Anyway, the AP as written makes her out to be nice enough and it seems up to the player characters being dicks to *her* to piss her off sufficiently to not help them.

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One of the hardest lessons I learned from Wrath of the Righteous is to assume most parties WANT to play along with the plot of the adventure. By spending too much time on...

Spoiler:
...how Iomedae treats PCs who don't want to cooperate rather than focusing on how she can help most PCs, I accidentally made her look mean and antagonistic. I should have instead focused on her helping the PCs. That's the tactic I took with Sorshen's development in Runeplage—focus on how she can have positive and entertaining interactions with the PCs that can earn the PCs awards and XP for some hopefully-fun roleplay scenes, and to set up the expectation later that she's still an ally and not an enemy so that when the events in "Rise of New Thassilon" come about, they're foreshadowed.

If a party doesn't want to play nice with her... hopefully the GM will have a good idea that will be the case before hand, in which case you might want to consider making significant changes to part 3 of Runeplage. OR... since that version of Sorshen is a puppet who's not overwhelmingly powerful, just have it end up being a fight and then keep Sorshen off stage for the rest of the campaign. She'll learn from this that the PCs aren't interested in allying, and will stay in the background where it's safe.


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magnuskn wrote:
Fair enough, although that seems a bit like an unlikely even to me, personally. Anyway, the AP as written makes her out to be nice enough and it seems up to the player characters being dicks to *her* to piss her off sufficiently to not help them.

I'd imagine this sort of thing really depends on your group dynamics and how they approach in generals in general, and also the level of initial distrust your players may have about a Runelord specifically as a prospective ally. If there's one thing I've learned over the years is that you really shouldn't make presumptions even about things that you feel are obvious. You hear GM advice all the time that talks about the unpredictability of players, but nothing can really prepare you for sitting behind the GM screen and being surprised by things you never even considered. What's "obvious" to you isn't necessarily obvious to someone else, and to be completely honest I find that one of the most enlightening and fun parts of the experience.

I would think Sorshen's exceedingly large amount of patience with the party is an intentional decision by the authors to allow as much flex there as possible, since there's going to be a lot of table variation in how she's perceived.

James Jacobs wrote:
One of the hardest lessons I learned from Wrath of the Righteous is to assume most parties WANT to play along with the plot of the adventure.

Not surprised; I've been blown away by unexpected decisions made my own players, and I'm running one table with people I know. Authoring adventures that will be played by thousands of different tables you've never met? I'd actually be really curious to hear about the weird and wonderful ways these things have been broken.

One remark about "wanting to play along with the plot of the adventure", though, is that just because players want to play along doesn't mean they'll play along in the way you expect.

Dark Archive

Eh, my players have always played along the plot of the AP, only cases they have derailed stuff is when they have played along TOO well :p Such as when they discovered the news about dam in Rise of the Runelords, they beelined there to stop it breaking before going to Fort Rannick.

(one of my players does keep joking about how AP expects you to ally with ex-mass murderer, but as far as I know that is just joking)


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Dasrak wrote:
I would think Sorshen's exceedingly large amount of patience with the party is an intentional decision by the authors to allow as much flex there as possible, since there's going to be a lot of table variation in how she's perceived.

Quite honestly, that is one of the things which makes it clear that she is not the typical Runelord anymore. Both the interactions with Xanderghul and Belimarius make it clear that both of them are still ruled by their vices (with the option of breaking Xanderghuls pride enough to make him reconsider his way in life, contrasted by Belimarius just not changing her ways at all... and then being the canon survivor. Not my favorite decision.), while Sorshen both is not particularly lusty and also quite patient with the PC's.


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magnuskn wrote:
Quite honestly, that is one of the things which makes it clear that she is not the typical Runelord anymore.

I'm extremely hesitant to presume that anything of that sort will necessarily be clear or obvious. Sorshen is one of the most depraved manipulators in Golarion's history, and a master of deception and trickery. On the face of it, there's ample reason to be incredibly distrustful of her, and it takes a certain degree of genre-savviness to get a read on the author intent, and a certain amount of faith to go along with it in spite of some very logical reservations a character might have.

If players go in weary that her new leaf is just an act, there's really nothing Sorshen can do within the scope of this adventure to assuage those fears. Heck, if the players ask the simulacrum to prove she's really Sorshen she's actually in a bit of a pickle. I feel the chapter does a good enough job to per her best foot forward, and with the proper wink-wink-nudge-nudge from the GM is should work, but Sorshen has a lot of villainous baggage so I think it's a bit presumptuous to say that anything here is clear or obvious.


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Now, that is a level of metagaming I don't really approve of. While more knowledge of ancient Thassilon has become available in Varisia, most player characters who meet her (and let's remember she first contacts them at the start of the second module, where they PC's are merely level 5) are not going to be experts on ancient Thassilonian history.

Hence, the best they are probably going to know is that she was one of the Runelords, hence probably evil and now is trying to turn over a new leaf. The "one of the most depraved manipulators in Golarion's history" thing (while true) is very probably beyond their knowledge and if the *players* then let their own biases get through (or are being prodded by the GM, ahem), then that's metagaming.


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magnuskn wrote:
Now, that is a level of metagaming I don't really approve of.

I completely disagree that this is metagaming. This is a campaign revolving around Thassilonian lore and the Runelords; bringing a character who is interested and knowledgeable about that subject is no more metagaming than bringing a character who is knowledgeable about technology to Iron Gods. Moreover, the party is in contact with a society that specializes in Thassilonian lore and the threat of the Runelords by the mid-point of book 2, and 3 of the 7 campaign traits strongly justify IC knowledge about Thassilon, the Runelords, or Sorshen in specific.

Dark Archive

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The way I see in character reaction EVEN if PCs are wary due to knowing her history from Shattered Star?

As far as they would know 1) Sorshen is the second most powerful of runelords, and the top two are in same category as Aroden pre becoming a god, Tar-Babhon and really only spellcaster that surpasses them that they would know of is Baba Yaga. If she wanted to, she could brainwash them or destroy them so easily that if she already didn't do so, she apparently isn't going to do so. When a wizard is powerful enough to face minor demigods, there isn't much you can do. 2) Players really don't have lot of leads so as Siheidron Council says, they CAN'T do anything about Sorshen, so might as well listen what she has to say and humor her. If they don't listen to her, they don't have any way to prevent Zutha's return :p

So while I could see LN party composed of super serious stoic dudes not being good for festival fun, but I think players do still have incentive to humor her and she isn't asking them anything but keep her company for the festival. And as written she seems nice enough that if PCs are polite about "Sorry, we aren't in mood for partying when we are trying to save the world" she would still give them the important info even if she wouldn't bother giving them the bonus items because they are being party poopers.

If GM tries to prod players to attack Sorshen or refusing to ally with her, it kinda comes across as being kinda mean to PCs(especially if they play up her as untrustworthy) <_< And if they find alternative way of getting rid of Zutha, well geez, that was apparently easy to figure out without help of Runelord. I mean, its not like his phylactery was artifact with really hard to destroy condition, surely its really easy to create ritual to destroy it(sarcasm) :p

Also on topic of Sorshen's redemption in general:: While meta wise you can know she is genuine enough to be CN instead of CE, that doesn't mean she is going to be beloved ruler in varisia after the campaign is over. Sabina Merrin(the ex commander of gray maidens) has half population of Korvosa thinking she is opportunistic traitor while other half think she is rebel hero trying to fix the mess gray maidens caused. Sorshen is ancient ex evil wizard that shows up out of nowhere and resolves race to Xin-Shalast(that varisian city states had going on) as a tie, and then she welcomes all exiles to her country. She isn't going to be popular ruler no matter what, but other city states can't really do much about her and she is charismatic as hell.

In otherwords, her atonement isn't "easy". Besides the whole 10,000 years of being conscious, observing the world and practicing introspection while being in small demiplane without much to do(while every other runelord took fast approach of "I'm gonna be in stasis while this happens"), she isn't going to be immediately accepted by everyone.

There is also that as CN you can assume that while Sorshen has turned new leaf, she isn't "a good guy" for now, she is neutral party atoning for previous deeds. I dunno if she is planning to atone enough to be CG, but considering that Nocticula seems fine with being CN goddess that allows CN and CG worshippers, I don't really see reason for both Sorshen and Nocticula to go CG since they don't really seem self sacrificing sort. I think Sorshen wants to atone, but she also wants to continue living her life as it was.

Like, I think we need to see what Sorshen does in the future, but as far as I can see, she has next three reasons why she wanted to atone: 1) "World has changed for genuinely better and less cruel". In other words, its not just that she figured out that being evil overlord would make every other nation to unite against her, the impression I got is that she is genuinely taken back at how world has developed over course of 10,000 years after the whole earthfall. Like she is genuinely impressed that the world isn't in constant war or there isn't just another tyrant enslaving everyone else. I think it also comes with feeling of "The world really is better place without us Runelords", meanwhile every other Runelord just thinks varisia as backwater place full of peons that they need to reconquer AGAIN and "civilize" once more. This leads to next two reasons

2) "I'm getting bored of how I lived for past thousand years" thing about CE Sorshen was that she was always motivated by being easily bored. She killed the original supposed champion of sword of lust and made it death match between consorts on a whim and she changed religions just as often. I don't think that part of her changed when she become CN, she had 10,000 years of introspection about her previous actions to realize she was getting bored of being evil as well and I think seeing what the world was becoming like motivated her further away from wanting to be evil. I don't think her becoming CN was purely about boredom though, I think it was that she had so much time she was essentially forced to think about her previous actions and why she did them and she started to realize she didn't really have good reason for anything she did.

and finally 3) "More I think about it, I was really horrible person". Aka, I think Sorshen essentially sees her time as Runelord of Lust as really shameful, cringe worthy phase of her life. I mean, why else she would decide to retrain into universalist wizard? I don't think she really needs transmutation and necromancy magic for anything in particular. I think once she realized she was getting bored of being evil and started to introspect on her life, she realized she doesn't like her old self anymore and wants to move away from it.


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Dasrak wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
Now, that is a level of metagaming I don't really approve of.
I completely disagree that this is metagaming. This is a campaign revolving around Thassilonian lore and the Runelords; bringing a character who is interested and knowledgeable about that subject is no more metagaming than bringing a character who is knowledgeable about technology to Iron Gods. Moreover, the party is in contact with a society that specializes in Thassilonian lore and the threat of the Runelords by the mid-point of book 2, and 3 of the 7 campaign traits strongly justify IC knowledge about Thassilon, the Runelords, or Sorshen in specific.

The first time Sorshen contacts the PC's is one third into module two. At this point, the characters are still upjumped locals from Roderics Cove. Having a Thassilonian loremaster at this level is unlikely and super detailed knowledge about Sorshens rule doesn't exist outside of secluded libraries (this is indeed a story point in regards to much of Thassilonian lore, given how the PC's some modules later have to travel to the Therassic Library to get specified knowledge).

Yes, the general knowledge of Thassilon is quite greater than at the start of Rise of the Runelords, where people couldn't even correctly place the empire in time. But the level of knowledge which you presume players to have about Sorshen should be reserved for people who have studied Thassilon for a long time, not characters barely starting out on their real adventure.

It is quite plausible for characters to later find out more about that Runelord who wants to ally with them and get suspicious about her motives, but the level of knowledge which you allege should be common is anything but.

Shadow Lodge

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Oh, also, I liked the idea of Sorshen retraining out of lust enchantment as a step of atonement. It shows her turning her back on sin, potentially to practice every virtue at once as Xin intended. Plus, she may want to be fully CG at some point, but she's still in the process of atoning for her lifetimes of evil (which should also take a long time).
Plus, the way she's starting her new land is basically claiming unclaimed territory, renovating it (so transmutation would be helpful for that), and opening it to any and all migrants. But yeah, she would have to make it much more accessible, unless she and the PCs have plans to awaken Mhar, explode it, and then safely ship its remains off to the Plane of Water (or Fire, if they want to be nice to it).


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CorvusMask wrote:
1) "World has changed for genuinely better and less cruel". In other words, its not just that she figured out that being evil overlord would make every other nation to unite against her, the impression I got is that she is genuinely taken back at how world has developed over course of 10,000 years after the whole earthfall. Like she is genuinely impressed that the world isn't in constant war or there isn't just another tyrant enslaving everyone else. I think it also comes with feeling of "The world really is better place without us Runelords", meanwhile every other Runelord just thinks varisia as backwater place full of peons that they need to reconquer AGAIN and "civilize" once more.

That's actually a good and interesting idea. Sorshen keeping herself at least semi-aware of the outside world, unlike all the other Runelords, has kept her from being locked in stasis in more ways than just the literal: it's also allowed her to attain a measure of perspective on the changes in Golarion since then. Unlike all the other Runelords, she isn't having this kneejerk reaction of well, "Ugh, what's all this nonsense? Screw this, I'm going to bring back my empire." Sorshen's able to actually look at things with a more measured eye and ultimately realize she'd rather find her own place in this new world than try to carve out the exact same empire of old. And it may lead into more than just her change in alignment and creating a different kind of Thassilon. Case in point:

The Shifty Mongoose wrote:
Oh, also, I liked the idea of Sorshen retraining out of lust enchantment as a step of atonement. It shows her turning her back on sin, potentially to practice every virtue at once as Xin intended. Plus, she may want to be fully CG at some point, but she's still in the process of atoning for her lifetimes of evil (which should also take a long time).

I actually think it would be even more interesting if, instead of a universalist, she re-specs into a runesage (the wizard archetype apparently invented by the Cyphermages). Because when you think about it, that archetype is essentially exactly what Xin would have wanted: It allows a wizard to embody the power of each of his seven virtues, but also to seamlessly shift between them (well, okay, it requires a week or so of downtime, but still). Of course, the trouble of working out her stat block probably makes that not worth the effort, maybe just have her express interest/approval in innovations like that.

Because when you think about it, it is one more clear instance of proof that Golarion has indeed moved on from Thassilon. Not just in the obvious physical sense that the geography is different. Not just in the fact that society itself has changed in ways great and small. But also in the fact that even *magically*, things have changed, and in many ways even a relative backwater like Varisia is more advanced than Thassilon at its height, not less. In Thassilon, the restrictions and specialties of wizardry schools were rigid and sacrosanct, divination wasn't even considered a valid school in itself, and the Runelords had all but abandoned Xin's own attitude of recognizing that other magical traditions had a lot to teach.

But now? The Inner Sea alone has been exposed to countless new ideas and magical traditions, and is inventing its own. Stuff like the runesage archetype in particular shows that the magical tradition of Golarion has moved past the rigid absolutism of Thassilonian magic; even if they don't have the raw infrastructure and wizardly might to build all the grand magics of old, there's clear growth and change that Sorshen might have come to appreciate and recognize as superior to what existed before. Whatever else she is, Sorshen is someone who devoted her life to the study and use of magic, and that means the advances made in the study and application of it over the past 10,000 years are *going* to hold her interest, so long as she doesn't have the knee-jerk reaction of dismissing it all as barbaric nonsense (as was apparently a very common attitude in Azlant and Thassilon), which is probably the reaction of the other Runelords. Which is why atypical spellcasters make good PCs in Runelord campaigns, IMO; you can play up the Runelords' unfamiliarity and frustration with them, especially if they recognize ones that are clearly derived from Thassilonian methods but taken in a different direction, like the runesage archetype or the Runeguard PrC (though I recall hearing the latter is sadly underpowered).

So, Sorshen's saving grace might be that she's the only Runelord willing to change with the times, in addition to being the one who had the time and opportunity to actually reflect on her behavior and whether she's satisfied with the way she's lived her life. Once she had nothing to do but think, she had to really, deeply examine whether she was actually happy with herself as she was, and apparently the answer was, "No." Maybe play up that Xanderghul starts having that revelation toward the end, but it comes too little, too late?

The problem would be getting this across to the players, of course. One idea would be to have her be very curious about, or even fascinated by, any PC who uses magic that probably wasn't extant (or at least not common) back in the days of Thassilon, like a god-caller summoner or any of the classes/archetypes originating from the Magaambya. And then she wistfully remarks that old Xin really did have the right of it, when he taught his students that Azlanti/Thassilonian magic *wasn't* the end-all, be-all they ended up believing it was.


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I'm still wondering, do we have any actual evidence, in the form of printed words on paper, of all these nameless atrocities Sorshen supposedly committed that would "make Genghis Khan proud", or is that all just conjecture?

By the way, she did not actually "reign as a blood-mad tyrant [again, citation missing] for thousands of years", it's more like 1,200 years "only" (-6480 to–5293), the rest of the time, after Earthfall, there was nothing left to reign over, and until just recently she spent the time dormant.

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Zaister wrote:

I'm still wondering, do we have any actual evidence, in the form of printed words on paper, of all these nameless atrocities Sorshen supposedly committed that would "make Genghis Khan proud", or is that all just conjecture?

By the way, she did not actually "reign as a blood-mad tyrant [again, citation missing] for thousands of years", it's more like 1,200 years "only" (-6480 to–5293), the rest of the time, after Earthfall, there was nothing left to reign over, and until just recently she spent the time dormant.

Well there is the everdawn pool that requires the blood of thousands to work theres also what happend when she got the sword of lust.

Shadow Lodge

@Leigod: Wow, I couldn't have put it better myself. That's a great summation.

As for the other posts after that one, she was stated to be CE during her rule, her realm was the "Foreign Quarter" of Thassilon, and Enchantment is all the mind-affecting spells. All that, as well as Enchantment's sin being Lust, make for good reasons to gloss over Bad Stuff That Happened. All the GM needs to mention is something like there being no written propaganda because everyone was required by law to brainwash each other, or something like that.

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