Like most roleplayers, I am quite familiar with multiple versions of Dungeons & Dragons. The third edition ruleset, in particular, holds a rather peculiar position in my mind. I like that it streamlined the game’s basic rules, but I wouldn’t consider the editions that use it to be my favorite. In fact, I would rather do the work of converting a 3.x/Pathfinder adventure or campaign to another set of rules than play it out using its default system.
That said, I came into possession of a whole bunch of Pathfinder books due to a large Humble Bundle sale from a while ago, and in reading the setting guide and some of the adventures from that bundle I realized Golarion can be a rather interesting setting to play in, particularly if the PCs are allowed to affect it in significant ways.
I found the adventure path partially included in those rules (Hell’s Rebels) to be particularly fascinating, first because it was all about taking the slave-holding nation of Cheliax down a peg, and later because some of the events that happen there resonated with me in light of certain disappointing real-world developments. I want to read it in depth, I want to talk about it, and I want to include conversion notes for GURPS because why not? This blog is a perfect venue for that.
In this post I’ll give you some exposition on the setting in which this adventure takes place and the events that happen just before it begins.
First, Some Setting Background…
It’s likely some of the people reading this aren’t familiar with Golarion, which is perfectly understandable: I didn’t know anything about it myself until I lucked into those books. So here’s some background on it before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the adventure.
Golarion is basically a “kitchen sink” fantasy world: a setting meant to contain examples of everything published in any of Paizo’s books. The big backstory event that sets the tone for the world is that about a century ago Aroden, the god of humanity, died suddenly and without explanation, leaving a whole bunch of prophecies unfulfilled and throwing the mortal world into disarray. Golarion tends to be a bit darker than the typical D&D-ish setting. It occasionally veers into horrific territory, though usually not with the same glee as a Lamentations of the Flame Princess title.
This particular adventure path takes place in the city of Kintargo, inside the nation of Cheliax. Like Renaissance Spain or Italy, Cheliax can trace its existence back to a mighty, ancient empire; it’s economically and military mighty itself; it possesses a rich cultural and artistic tradition; and its people will never let you forget that. The people of Cheliax were some of Aroden’s most fervent worshippers, and they believed the god granted them special blessings and protections. His death caused a civil war that threatened to unravel the kingdom, until the head of one of its most ruthless noble houses made a literal deal with the Devil and took the throne.
So now, 110 years later, Cheliax is pretty much a devil-worshipping fascist state. Queen Abrogail and the ruling house of Thrune will tell you that they don’t worship Asmodeus, ruler of the Nine Hells, they just admire the way he organizes his domain and try to emulate it. That doesn’t fool anyone - the Church of Asmodeus is pretty much the state religion, and any faiths that oppose it are banned. As you would expect, slavery is a huge institution here, and the government employs a large army of censors to redact any inconvenient truths from the history books. The kingdom also houses multiple orders of “Hellknights”, all of them working in service to the state.
Despite all this, Paizo seems to be of two minds about the place. The setting text often calls Cheliax out as being a really bad place, but the rules material seems to say you can totally be a supporter of the regime without being Evil - that anyone with Lawful tendencies would be more in favor of keeping it in place than of changing it.
Fortunately, we won’t have to stomach that particular logical fallacy here, because the adventure text is very emphatic that players have to make PCs who will readily take up arms against Cheliax’s oppressive government and practically mandates Chaotic and/or Good alignments.
… And Now Some Adventure Background.
The backstory here is that recent victories by a rebel army calling themselves the Glorious Reclamation have caused the Chelish government to crack down hard on any form of dissent. Though Kintargo has no direct ties to the Reclamation, it’s still getting a dose of martial law.
This bitter pill comes in the form of Paracount Barzilai
J. Thrune, a man so
evil even his family of diabolist despots thinks he’s an asshole. He’s both a
cleric of Asmodeus and a government official, and has been stuck in the
equivalent of middle management in both organizations because further progress
through the ranks in either one requires dropping the other, and if there is one
thing Barzilai J. Thrune doesn’t like to do is divest himself from his
conflicting interests. Recently however, he made a deal with Mephistopheles to
learn an unholy ritual that will make him immortal. This ritual must be
performed at a certain place beneath Kintargo. So he accepts the post of Lord
Mayor there, secretly kills anyone who could oppose him before officially taking
office, and begins his reign of petty oppression.
With his ritual being the fruit of a devil’s bargain and all, it will only complete successfully if The Barzilai dies a natural death while near the site where it was performed, which means he has to live out his days in peace. If he’s killed before his time, he goes to Hell for an eternity of torment.
The adventure begins just as Thrune’s reign gets seriously bad, a time also known as “week 2”. It expects the PCs to form and lead a resistance movement capable of opposing him - anyone else who could do it has been killed or co-opted by dark magic. In the next post, we’ll look at the Player’s Guide and pick an hypothetical party to go through it.