Tuesday, May 23, 2017
In a remote corner of the deserts of Qadira, a halfling astrologer, a pacifist cleric of Sarenrae, and a band of mercenaries have reached a legendary tower said to be full of great secrets and wisdom. It's a strong, classic set-up for a fantasy story, holding the promise of excitement, mystery, and danger. I really liked The Fate of Falling Stars, a three-part series of Pathfinder web fiction (available here). It's a bit hard to get into at first (I think the author was over-fond of his thesaurus), but the protagonists are really interesting and even in a short story like this they come across as well-rounded characters with depth. Unlike most of these Pathfinder Tales short stories, The Fate of Falling Stars does more than simply draw upon existing world lore: it adds to it, and the reader gets invested about what's going to happen in this tower because it holds the possibility of being important for more than just the characters. This story is a great entry into the series, as it's full of tension, exciting action scenes, and has a plot with a rich backstory.
One of the things I really like about The Fate of Falling Stars is that the protagonists weren't really sent by the satrap to find the tower; he just wanted a convenient place with no witnesses for their execution. The reason is that Haron esh Kazzar, palace astrologer, and Shaba Alemas, devotee of the Dawnflower, have publicly stated their intention to discover Azzah's Tower, a legendary site said to hold the last words of a founder of a sect of Sarenrae devoted to peace instead of the sword. Because the sect has been criticizing Qadira's skirmishes with Taldor, the satrap wants Shaba out of the way but can't risk turning her into a martyr: so he's sent her and the halfling on a fool's errand along with a band of murderous mercenaries to make sure they never return. The best part is that Haron and Shaba know this perfectly well, and perhaps the mercenary leader, a cut-throat named Najh knows that they know. So the tension mounts as the reader expects betrayal at any time, and when it does happen, it leads to a memorable, exciting action scene. In addition to the interesting discussion of this off-shoot sect of Sarenrae, there's additional world lore on The Pierced Rose, a semi-secret order of killers (of whom, Najh is a member, of course). When the story's done, the reader walks away having read a great story and with some intriguing new information about the setting that could easily be integrated into a campaign.