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- May 2020
[Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
I've long enjoyed many of the Let's Reads on various RPG sites like this one and wanted to write one of my own, so here I go!
The shadow-hugged land of Nidal is one of my favoritest places in Avistan. I've long adored the kytons/velstracs as proponents of the exquisite enlightenments of pain ~ I see elements of myself mirrored in their personality and exaggerated until horrifying. Zon-Kuthon . . . well, I want to like him, but it feels like Paizo has often tried to stress WAY too hard for li'l ol' masochist me to stress how corrupt, evil, and alien he is for liking pain. Which is weird, cause the kytons are perfectly placed in the uncanny valley for me, so I know that they can do it. I'd love to read (and might try to write) a syncretic deity composed of the two siblings (Shelyn and Zon-Kuthon) much like Shimye-Megalla is a syncretization of Gozreh and Desna. Might try to cherry pick a few empyreal lords and kyton demagogues for those devotees to include.
But anyway: when I first read Nidal, Land of Shadows I was ready to hate it. I was bracing myself for a one-dimensional "Hurr, hurr, hurr, see how evil and edgy we are!" realm; what can I say? I'm of a such an age that I was escaping from being a not-boy at an all-boys' school by playing D&D and a lot of Word of Darkness at peak-edgelord in the late '90s, so my expectations of such things are low.
But I LOVED the book, finding that it keeps the pre-ouchyouchyfunfun history of the kingdom alive, rounding out the Chronicles of Riddick meets Hellraiser vibe of the place with a settled horselord culture that felt quite real and pastoral vineyard rusticism scattered throughout. It's a nation of fiercely proud people, unbent, unbroken, some of whom still remember that they were that way before the Chained Hooks sunk into their soul-flesh and whom one can easily imagine enjoying a quiet moment with some simple food and a great wine beneath the gloomy sun. The combination even lends itself to an emergent fertile ground for ghost stories.
So where better to start my glorious and profitable career as a Let's Read author with Nidal, Land of Shadows? We start, of course with the cover:
Here, depicted by an artist with the wonderful name of Kiki Moch Rizky, we find the iconic hunter Adowyn, her pet wolf, and the escaped halfling slave bard Lem fighting an umbral dragon, no doubt somewhere deep within the Uskwood. They're intriguing choices, and not what I would have suspected for the iconics that might be presented on this cover. I actually kind of dislike Lem, whose backstory includes an important moment where he burns down his master's villa and then walks away disgusted by the halfling slaves who rushed to rescue their demon-worshipping masters (he's Chelish). It's left a bad taste in my mouth, as it seems to lack understanding of what liberation actually means and a disavowal of the ongoing work necessary to actually build folk a better life. Half-assed and objectifying revolution is oppression in its own way.
Sorry for that aside ~ I'm a bitter ol' anarchist and that comes burbling out sometimes >.< Anyway, I would not have expected wither Adowyn or Lem to be on this cover, as they seem not have overmuch to do with the themes of Nidal. Which makes their appearance a good sign that the book will avoid the one-dimensionality I was worried about before my first readthrough. It's a clear message that there will be thematic weight and adventure here for even pretty bright, more traditional (less Gothic/dark) fantasy heroes as well as for, well, Riddick and the like. But come on, there's an iconic FROM Nidal, the iconic villainous inquisitor Zelhara. Why couldn't we see her somewhere in the tableau as well?
Actually, my biggest complaint with this cover image is that the umbral dragon just doesn't feel very umbral to me. It's more like a gray dragon than anything else. Even the wisps of shadow around its mouth read more like smoke than anything. A smoke dragon? A cigarette dragon? The image tells me there's more here than I feared it would be limited to but doesn't evoke any of the actual themes of the realm. They overcorrected with this one and missed a lovely opportunity to concretize a creature that, at least for me, can sometimes be difficult to conceptualize. The umbral dragon is almost queer in that it attempts to straddle seemingly contradictory tropes/themes/archetypes ~ the imposing muscle and maddening treasure hoard of a dragon with the fear of the hidden and the unkown and the lack of safety found in the shadows. This cover would have been a great place to really help sink that image into many gamers' minds.
Oh, well. The rest of the book certainly makes up for the cover!
P.S., I really like the lead author's name ~ Liane Merciel. It's quite beautiful, and almost Kyoninite in its sound. Ever notice how Kyoninite names seem to mimic some sort of hybrid between Hebrew angel-names and French? Except for the country, of course, which always sounds so Japanese to me. But, yeah, Seltyiel and Tariel (from Knights of the Everflame) immediately come to mind when I see Merciel on a Pathfinder product..... Although I can't help but imagine the book being written by the half-elf Alkenstarian iconic gunslinger, Lirianne, who just seems to always be in it for the wild rides and the gonzo adventures of everything. It's an interesting voice to imagine this book written in....
Last edited by Skunkheart; 2020-05-11 at 01:39 PM.
- Join Date
- May 2020
Re: [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
The next page is a rather pretty map of Nidal. Sadly, I can’t seem to find a picture of it easily on the Internet ~ everything that comes up is either not Nidal or ugly.
One of my favorite things about this map is that they draw images of the common animals on it, presumably in the same reagions where the animals are most commonly found. There’s five of these: a horse north of Edammera’s Folly, a dragon at the rather poorly-named Shadow Caverns, some sort of imp thing outside of Brimstone Springs (a much better name), a vestrac of some sort above Ridwan, and most surprisingly a bison or somesuch in the North Plains. The North Plains, ironically, are in the southwest of Nidal. Presumably, they’re named for their placement in relation to whatever country is south of Nidal ~ the core of Cheliax, the bit of it that hasn’t won its freedom in revolution.
These animal pictures are accompanied by quite beautiful little highly-detailed images of the settlements depicted on the map. These are ornate and specific enough to give you, at a glance, some of the street-level feel of the place which seems like a nice touch that I really enjoy.
I’m often fascinated by the scale of fantasy and scifi realms, especially because it’s so often misunderstood. More importantly, however, it’s one of those things that can really aid immersion into the setting, as we players can analogize what’s going on to very concrete experiences we have and share. In this case, the map covers approximately 120,000 square miles (almost 400 miles by about 300 miles); that’s about the size of, like, New Mexico, Poland, Oman, or the Phillippines. That’s a nice size, not ridiculously large (the most common issue with fantasy maps) nor overly small. Poland was about the same size as this dating back to the 12th century, so (while large) it doesn’t strain credulity for it to be unified as a nation. At the same time, it’s large enough that one could reasonably expect regional differences to have some real weight; I would expect the Atteran Ranches and Ridwan to have distinct cuisines and holidays and clothing styles and things. Recognizable as part of an overall Nidalese culture, and yet distinct from each other.
The Uskwood is between the Sumatra Rainforest and the Virgin Komi Forest in size ~ large but nowhere near unbelievably so, as Earth retains forests in the millions of square miles, even in this age of deforestation. Continuing this trend of lovely restraint and reasonability of size, Usk Lake is only about a third the size of the Great Salt Lake. Nidal is an almost unbelievably believable size.
I decided to Google “Nidal” and discovered that it’s an Arabic word meaning something like struggle, but in more of a competitive or controversial sense than, like, the more famous word “jihad”. It’s used as a given name, carried by everyone from a director of Bulgarian National TV, Syrian and Palestinian politicians, and an Ivoirian singer to a soccer player, the creator of a type of rocket, one of the bombers of the first World Trade Center bombing (in 93), and the Fort Hood shooter. It’s also in the name of one of the Palestinian revolutionary groups ~ the ANO is the Abu Nidal Organization ("Abu Nidal" = "Father of Struggle", I believe?).
Does anyone have any inside baseball on why they chose the name, actually? There is an English adjective referencing nests, the uterus thickening before ovum implantation, neuronal aggregates, infection points, and originations. I’m kind of hoping that was the reason they named it that, cuz the idea of pulling in a random Arabic word for one of the dark/evil countries (no matter how much I love said nation) is kind of . . . icky. Especially since the Avistan cultures that inform most of the human ethnicities in Nidal would indicate something closer to Celtic/Cimmerian, Romany/Greek, or maybe French/Italian/Latin influences (kind of in order of strength of influence; that’s Kellid, Varisian, and Chelish in Avistan terms).
Last edited by Skunkheart; 2020-05-13 at 01:07 PM.
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- May 2020
Re: [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
Let’s Reads rarely have much to say about tables of contents, and I doubt this one will really buck that trend. The credits list no names I recognize as involved in this particular book, and I’ve already mentioned the two names I found most aesthetically interesting (Liane Merciel and Kiki Moch Rizky), though I do enjoy a few bits of names scattered throughout ~ one of the Interior Artists is named Federico and another has the last name Pajaron, while one of the cartographers carries the surname Mammoliti (note to self re: the Omnipresent Inspiration Hypothesis ~ the Most Serene Republic of Mammoli, a pseudo-Italian Renaissance city-state inhabited by loxodons (is there a Pathfinder equivalent?) called the mammoliti, perhaps based on Genoa or San Marino). The rest of the credits are the standard list of Paizo’s general team.
It does list the Starfinder design lead and the Starfinder Society developer, which I find somewhat surprising. I do appreciate Paizo listing as many folks as they do, down to the data entry clerk and the warehouse team. It’s nice to see the workers in the less-glamorous parts of the company getting relatively equal credit.
The chapters seem pretty standard:
Living in Shadow
Threats in the Gloom
There’s a sizeable content note with specific trigger warnings around what is to be found within the book that will benefit from explicit consent for inclusion. It also includes a sentence driving home that a single person not wanting or having the spoons to play with these themes is a reason to do something else with your game and a pointer to a deeper discussion of consent and horror in Horror Adventures. That discussion, while excellent, sadly doesn’t provide any technologies to negotiate prior consent and monitor ongoing consent, like the system of Lines, Veils, and X and O cards so favored in the storygame scene. I really wish it did. I like how up-front this content notice is, non-apologetic but also sensitive to the realities of players’ various experiences. It does still read very “No Means No” and I prefer to come from a “Yes Means Yes” consent culture. I’m not sure how to put that well in an RPG content note, however, as saying something like “Only play this if everyone at the table is excited to play with these themes” feels a little too close to inviting edgelordiness….
Other than the standard OGL notice, there’s only the standard Pathfinder reference section, listing what are presumably the most commonly-referenced books in the text and giving them little superscript abbreviations to ease reading. Anything not on this list will be spelled out in full when being referenced. Listed are the Advanced Class, Player’s, and Race Guides (cuz duh), Bestiaries 2 through 6 (including 5, which is my favoritest), Occult Adventures (yay! I simply adore what Paizo did with the occult classes), and Ultimate Magic. This is all a very good sign for what is to come.
The next page includes half of a gorgeous blue-hued two-page header image featuring a standardly gorgeous woman with interesting hair looking out over a suitably Gothic-medieval Brutalist city. There seems to be smoke floating through the air, which lends a very atmospheric obscuration to the city but also, well, obscures it a bit. Also, the city is dotted with what might be termite-hills or very large tents, conical spire things that curve out to a slightly wider base than would be expected; what are those? I am jealous of her dress, ridiculously thin as it is (some of the back flourishes appear to be painted on). I would so wear that. She has a bracelet that seems to float at some distance from her wrist ~ I’m going to interpret that as being composed of thin spiky needly things cuz worshipper of the pain god ~ and the blue tone allows the red liquid in and spilling around her wineglass to really pop. There’s nothing in the picture to resolve the question of whether it’s claret or blood, which seems just exactly the right artistic choice.
As the title page for the Living in Shadow chapter, the only text here is the name and an excerpt from the “traditional Festival of Night’s Return sermon”. This is the kind of thing I just eat up; I love it. These little bits of religious microfiction can go a long way to expressing both the grand theological elements of a setting and the social history/people’s history/psychosociology of describing the nitty-gritty details of how the average fantasy-world person views the world.
Two things jump out at me in this sermon, which I love. One is the sentence “Death came to hunt us, and Zon-Kuthon taught us its leash.” The Nidalese are not a people who see themselves as having escaped death, but as having gained the ability to give it orders, to turn it into their cute pet who slobbers up excitedly to greet them when they come home from work. The other is that most of the sermon prides the Nidalese people on surviving Earthfall. These are not empty-headed conquerers-for-conquest’s-sake, like the Necromongers they take so much inspiration from. Though this understanding of themselves can easily provide a pretext for seeking military domination, it is deeper and more self-possessed than that, and can easily be built upon to reach a perspective that can be considered “good” by fantasy RPG standards.
It helps that the sermon reminds me of a Radical Fairy song that I’ve always assumed goes back to the 90s, when AIDS was wreaking havoc in our community (I am too young in both breath and the Radical Fairies to remember those times, but I’ve often listened to my elders who were there for it):
We walked and we walked and we walked and we walked
And the echoes of our cries
Brought us to the other side
We almost died…..
But now we thrive
That is, I think, something I forgot to praise about Nidal ~ while its culture is obviously one built upon and predisposed toward evil, very little of their society and psychology is reducible to evil, allowing players to create believably Nidalese good characters without having to make them Do’Urdenites who unrealistically reject everything about the memescape which formed their understanding of the world.
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- May 2020
Re: [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
OK, so now we finally get into the beginning of the meat of the book (what can I say? I’m a bit of a completionist!) Everything starts at the beginning, and the beginning (of course) is Earthfall, that time when a bunch of aquatic tentacley things tried to kill the planet with meteors. It happened 10,000 years ago.
It’s time for another look at the scale of things. Time is a big one in fantasy settings, perhaps largely due to Tolkien’s need to tell an amazing story that stretches over ridiculous amounts of time. If not that, then the roots of the modern fantasy genre being grown at a point in history when we were realizing and grappling with the idea of “deep time”, that evolution and astroplanetary processes required flat-out incredible stretches of years. If not that, then the simple pressures that develop from the need/desire to create myriad little pockets of setting to accomodate a wide variety of genres, stories, and authors.
So 10,000 years ago, in our world and from our perspective, was the time of, for example, Çatalhöyük (Catal Huyuk), famously one of the first ever cities on the Euroafroasiatic tricontinent. This predates writing, and in fact agriculture was the new big technology changing the world. Europe was just leaving the Paleolithic, as Asia Minor was teaching it these new ways. Only about, say, 5 million people existed at the time.
This seems, at first glance, to be a ridiculous stretch of time, but if you consider the length of the nonhuman races, it becomes much more reasonable. I did the math once (like a decade ago, so please forgive if I misremember numbers slightly) and, if we go by the relative ages of majority, elfs would experience history at about 1/7th the rate of humans. That is, elfs take about 7 times longer to reach their adulthood than humans. And the culture as a whole, assuming we can average out this ratio amongst the core PHB races would have a rate of historical change equivalent to just slightly half (2.2). This would mean that Earthfall would happen more like 1430 years ago (or the equivalent of, like, the beginning of the Bengali calendar and the Byzantine-Sassanid War) from the elfin perspective and 4550 years ago from the perspective of the general, multiracial culture. That would make it closer to, like, the origins of Proto-Indo-European and the domestication of pigs/cultivation of rice in China.
Honestly, that still feels like a **** of a long time ago in terms of the multiracial general populace, but it’s not unbelievable if we think of Azlant as being basically the Atlantean precursor to civilization. Humans would consider it unbelievably ancient and it would be a recognizable period to elfs as the precursor to the pseudo-time-period in which their fairy tales are set.
So, that many years ago, the ancient horselords of Nidal found no benefit from their traditional gods in the face of cosmic catastrophe and were offered solace from the Midnight Lord, Zon-Kuthon, son of god of hunters and beasts who turned on both father and sister (goddess of love and beauty) after going too far into the empty spaces between the stars. Now he likes whips and chains and shadows and things. In contrast to the tone of the sermon on the previous page, the text here specifies that they bound themselves in fealty to Zon-Kuthon out of terror and desperation ~ I suspect that any good Nidalese would bristle and stab at this suggestion, should it be made in character!
One of the interesting things about Nidal is that it achieves the trope of the shadowed land at least partly not from some weird magical sky effect but from the thick canopy of the Uskwood’s giant, black-leaved trees, which cover the “glittering shade city” Pangolais. I really appreciate how this image drives home the blend of Gothic and barbarian that gives Nidal its particular flavor.
We are told that Nidal is ruled by the Umbral Court, which is in turn ruled by the Black Triune. This sentence is particularly cute: “They govern in murmurs and feather-light touches, for shouts are unnecessary when every whisper carries the promise of unimaginable pain.” Sure, it’s a weensy bit purple, but it gets across quite beautifully that this is a realm of creeping threat and constant paranoia, rather than the bog-standard military state. The latter would simply bring forth all my anarchist revolutionary desires, whereas the former actually brings chills down my spine with thoughts of Foucault, the closet, and real-life repressions.
Nidal doesn’t feel safe, and part of that is that there is no obvious target to strike against to achieve one’s liberation. Armies can be defeated, despots can be killed, but the uncertain panopticon can never fully be pulled from beneath one’s skin.
The text does note that there are rebellious elements in the nation, but it doesn’t mention any plots or organizations, to its credit. This resistance feels, from this paragraph, more like the refusal of hope to die than it does an organized movement with actual goals and even some faint idea of how to accomplish them.
The page ends with a note that Nidal is the only place on the continent of Avistan (maybe throughout Golarion?) where pre-Earthfall knowledge is preserved. This gives PCs a reason to visit the realm other than “bad guys live here, go kill them”, which is really kind of neat, and adds a third point to the complex nature of what could have been a single-pointed kingdom: Nidal is a land of pseudo-Celtic barbarian horselords worshiping a Pinhead pastiche that have some of the most important libraries on the continent.
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Re: [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
Evidently, the Kellid ancestors of the Nidalese were tan-skinned and dark-haired. I’ve been thinking of them as essentially Celtic (though, of course, Golarion and fantasy role-playing generally speaking seems to lack any equivalent of, say, Epona, goddess of horses) but this description, which focuses heavily on their nomadism and mentions so-called shamans (a word I tend to shudder at unless it’s referring to near-Arctic indigenous religions) and warlords as their ruling classes, is bringing a much more Mongolian image to mind that what I’d had previously. The picture of a horselord on this page doesn’t push me one way or the other. She’s a thin woman, presumably human but looking rather elfin, with golden, warm skin, dressed for warmth but not, like, super bundled for snow. Definitely a fur cape, though, and her horse has some nice jewelry (armbands on a horse, though?), including something in its hair that looks like stars against the night sky of its locks. I don’t know how it matches up to other depictions of the Kellids, but I will now be imagining them as a cross between the Celts and the Mongolians ~ maybe something from about halfway, like the Scythians, would be the best model for them.
Despite their spiritual leaders being described as shamans, the ancient Nidalese are described as worshiping both Gozreh and Desna. I’m kind of curious how the otherworldly/altered-state-of-consciousness/animist religion usually intended by the word “shaman” interacts with the more theistic notions of these two gods. Certainly, I have friends whose theologies bridge these two worlds, who will do things like going on trance journeys to the grand fields of night to talk to the butterflies there, but I’m curious how the Old Nidalese used to reconcile them.
I wonder how the Nidalese who have encountered the Bonuwat think of Shimye-Magalla, the janni-like syncretism of Desna and Gozreh they worship… It’d be a cute character, perhaps: the half-Bonuwat half-Nidalese cleric, or oracle, or “shaman”.
I also find myself wondering about preservation of this older religion into Nidal’s more modern spirituality. Do they have “shamans” who follow velstracs using traditional methods of altered states of consciousness and otherworldly travel? Do they use the more institutional, worship-based Kuthite ritual forms to approach the nature and dream spirits of old? I think one thing that would have made me beyond happy would be to see velstracs or demagogues who had started out as such spirits and then had heard the word of the Nine Truths, forsaking their old realms and ways for the Shadow Plane and the ways of pain. There’s (of course) real-world precedent for such things; some of the stories of the djinn involve converting them to Islam.
Anyway, the Old Nidalese preferred to live on the hoof and were well-known as master horse-breeders (shades of Mercedes Lackey ~ I’ve thought about exporting Nidal into a patchwork setting before; maybe Aldea from Blue Rose would share a border and an ethnicity with it?).
That whole life-way ended with Earthfall in –5293 AR, as dust dimmed the sun. The book makes a point of saying that humans could survive such a disaster, but their beloved horses could not and that the Nidalese sold themselves to the newly-returned Midnight Lord in service to their love and devotion for their equine familymembers.
So the previous statement about their maintaining libraries of knowledge from before Earthfall (twice as long before the present day of Golarion as the development of writing is from us) seems almost false. “Almost” because we are told that straggling survivors of Azlant and Thassilon crowded around the Old Nidalese for safety. These would have carried with them the ancient knowledge that Nidal now keeps preserved alongside the few scrolls and painted hides that represent their own knowledge of old.
The “Last Civilization in Avistan” turned inward and insular and isolationist, pursuing ends described as “increasingly inscrutable and arcane”. No doubt that they were busy! Completely overhauling their entire spiritual practice, collating and collecting and making use of the random bits of knowledge just discussed, settling into cities and permanent settlements, and exploring the enlightenments that pain brings ~ there was a lot on their docket.
But the account skips nearly 9600 years of history to the expansionist Chelish attack of 4305 AR (414 years ago, equivalent to about 188 years ago to the culture as a whole and just 60 years ago to the elfs), unprevented by Nidal’s fearsome reputation. It was part of a larger effort that involved also invading Molthune and Varisia. The war between the two lasted 30 years (equivalent to about 14 years to mixed culture, or 4 years to the elfs), until the Black Triune ordered the Nidalese soldiers to stop fighting.
The period known as the Shadowbreak began with the formal acceptance of Chelish conquest in 4338 AR (381 years ago, equivalent to about 173 years ago to the culture as a whole and just 54 years ago to the elfs). This was a time when the Kuthite faith blunted its sharpest cruelties, Nidalese sages began to participate in the overall Avistani academic conversations, and the House of Lies opened its doors to all of the world’s braggarts. More on that institution later!
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- May 2020
Re: [Let's Read] Nidal, Land of Shadows
The god of humanity died 113 years ago (the equivalent of about 51 years ago in terms of cultural/historical processing by the multiracial society as a whole, or of about 16 years ago to the long-lived elfs ~ yes, it is very possible that your 1st-level elf PC was born before Aroden’s death), His death brought civil war to Cheliax, in which Nidal; sided with the devil-worshippers of House Thrune. Their victory brought independence, an alliance, and a purging backlash to Nidal. Dissidents and heretics were rooted out and murdered with pain.
The very next paragraph describes Nidal as becoming politically powerful by means of its alliance with Cheliax, as riding their coattails into international relevance. Frankly, I find the idea that this state of things is palatable or even bearable to such a proud people as the Kellid Nidalese ~ the Kellid seem like a fiercely independent people who would insist on being mighty n their own right (or by right of their own thews, perhaps I should say), and millennia spent flinging themselves upon the gentle spikes and hooks of Zon-Kuthon would likely have only exacerbated their self-reliance.
A brief foray into divine history follows. Zon-Kuthon was once Dou-Bral. He and his sister Shelyn (beauty, art, love) were the children of Thron, the Prince That Howls. Their father was a spirit-wolf whose howls praised life, love, and song ~ the very image of the pastoral woodland. But Dou-Bral fought with his sister and fled from her beyond the borders of the planes.
Something waited there for him there that taught him the rapture of suffering in all its forms, the beauty of being maimed, the joy of loss. He took his new name, wounded his sister, and twisted his father into his new herald, now called the Prince in Chains.
Abadar did his favorite thing and developed a scheme to neutralize the cruel god. He offered banishment to the Shadow Plane prison realm of Xovaikain for as long as the sun hung in the sky. In return, Zon-Kuthon would be able to claim a single item from the First Vault. I imagine the Midnight Lord creepysmiling at this offer, and capitulating with an unsettling eagerness.
Earthfall banished the brightness of the sun from the sky, and Zon-Kuthon burst free from his prison and claimed the first-ever shadow from the First Vault. His prison became his new deific realm.
That was when three of the greatest leaders of the Kellid horselords quested for salvation from the spirits, their tribal gods, and Desna and Gozreh. They found a giant cloud covering once-shining green hills, a wicked and foreboding presence that balked the shamans. But the horselords knew that help was needed for their people to survive.
Zon-Kuthon whispered promises of survival in trade for the servitude of them and their descendants. A tear in the world appeared before them, and those quiet offers became screams. The three horselords did what they had to so they, their people, and their horses could live on. Zon-Kuthon crawled into the world, touched them, and evaporated their humanity. Where once three Kellid chieftains sat upon their horses, now the Black Triune were. No longer could they feel anything ~ not the heat of the sun or the varied delectations of a feast or the caress of the river’s waters ~ except for the shocking glory of pain and the slickness of their blood as it spills. They also became the immortal leaders of a new Kuthite theocracy.
In truth, their immortality is important, as Nidalese law consists only of the vague prescriptions of their high holy book, the Umbral Leaves. The Black Triune is their charter, their constitution.
We’re told that some faiths are approved for worship by foreigners, and Asmodeus is name-checked as having small shrines in the realm for that very reason. I hate when some detail like that is dropped, and there’s no specification. Like, I think I get it ~ leaving it open allows more GM interpretation and customization for the specifics of their campaign. Only… it doesn’t allow for such, it more like invites it. GMs can and do change details like that all the time, so I don’t see preserving that functionality as sufficient reason to avoid communicating a more nuanced and specific vision of the setting. Like, there are 130 lawful evil divine beings. I can’t imagine that all of them are accepted within Nidal, and it would reveal something about Nidalese culture to know what they allow and don’t allow.
Next we get a recognition that, well, pain isn’t for everyone, and that in fact entire communities may pay the Midnight Lord no more attention than a Christmas-and-Easter Catholic gives their god. The vast majority of Nidalese do not commit themselves to the spiked chain’s kiss eight times a day.. Folk superstition and, especially, the worship of Desna continue throughout.
I rather enjoy that Desna is the main revolutionary force in Nidal ~ Shelyn would be easy,but it’s established that Zon-Kuthon still loves her in his way. He might enact any number of cruelties upon her and her followers, but he still wants her to succeed. Narratively, this makes it difficult for her to be a good opposition to her brother. And Desna has associations both with Zon-Kuthon’s place of transformation and to the human ethnicity just north of Nidal ~ the Varisians have long been fond of the butterfly goddess...