Back in early November, we gave you the lowdown on Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound, the first novel from Pathfinder RPG co-creator and noted game designer F. Wesley Schneider, which was released on December 1st by Tor Books. It’s a dark fantasy adventure of murder, intrigue, and secrets best left buried, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder role-playing game; and today we’re back with a guest blog by Mr. Schneider that sheds a bit more light on things.
Property for Sale: 666 Transylvania Alley
Living in the Haunted Realm of Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound
F. Wesley Schneider
Not every fantasy setting is all noble courts and fairy glades. Cursed lands, somber places reminiscent of the first chapter of Dracula, are a common fantasy trope. Mountain towns beneath looming ruins, farms at the edge of misty moors, places where burlap-clad villagers refuse to open their doors after dark. I love Gothic settings like these, tranquil getaways populated by suspicious churchgoers and hollow-eyed barflies. I’ve even created my own in the nation of Ustalav, the Pathfinder world’s garden of Gothic horror and the setting of my novel Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound. But soon after I started working on my own cursed land, readers hit me with one of those perfect questions:
Why would anyone ever live there?
I’ve got lots of answers for that, but realized that any time I give an opinion, I’m speaking as a foreigner. Despite all I’ve written about Ustalav, I’ve not once set foot in those lands. But Larsa, Jadain, and Tashan, three of Bloodbound’s protagonists, certainly have. So, through their experiences, I wanted to answer that question in a different way, shedding light on why they live in a notoriously haunted realm. Each of the characters has his/her own reason.
Larsa, a half-vampire vampire hunter in the service of Ustalav’s baroque government, is trapped. As one of the nation’s royal accusers, she pursues vampires who hunt outside specified grounds and who threaten to expose the capital’s secret vampire community. She’s not a crusader; she’s a game warden, a balancing agent trying to keep the status quo. She could leave Ustalav, but then, where would she go? She’s a product of Caliphas, the few people she knows live there, she has a function, and—although she doesn’t relish it—an important role to play. Her vampiric relations also live there, a fact that holds her back just as much as the threat of how they might respond to her departure. Larsa stays because she’s obligated to, her responsibilities locking her into abusive relationship that she little way of recognizing. While, in the course of the novel, she gains perspective on that, her work isn’t likely to be done any time soon.
Jadain, on the other hand, was born and raised amid a loving family. While events forced her to enter the church against her will, she’s an adult now and free to do as she pleases. If she wanted to leave Ustalav, she could. But why would she? She’s never traveled beyond that land, and even if foreigners do tell stories of cheerier lands, what proof does she have that things would be better? Is a land haunted by ghosts and ghouls any worse than a land plagued by goblins and griffins? While her concerns about responsibility are similar to (but healthier than) Larsa’s, her station as a priestess at the nation’s royal cathedral brings with it the chance to affect change. Jadain sees how she might do good, how she might comfort the weary and afflicted. She fundamentally knows that she can make her home a better place. She has faith in this, and in her goddess’ support—though it becomes clear that not all of her sisters share her optimism. In any case, she hasn’t given up the fight and won’t abandon the cause of family, people, and country.
Tashan’s not a native of Ustalav, though. In fact, as a member of the explorers’ society called the Pathfinders, he’s just passing through. A swordsman from the ancient-Egypt-inspired land of Osirion, Tashan finds Ustalav ugly, uncivilized, and, worst of all, cold. He’s also the vector by which this very topic is raised, literally asking “Why would anyone remain in such an accursed place?” As an outsider, it’s easy for him to make unfavorable comparisons, and he makes it clear that he does intend to leave. As he travels with the two natives, though, he learns that life in Ustalav isn’t just about staying where one was born; it’s about determination and defiance.
That defiance hearkens back to the innkeep from the opening pages of Dracula, the proprietress of the Golden Krone Hotel. She warns Harker of the evil ahead, and even when her counsel falls on deaf ears, she arms him with her own crucifix. That old woman, and indeed all her neighbors, lived in Dracula’s shadow long before Harker’s passing, defiant of the evil lurking just over the ridge. In the Transylvanian night, having given her crucifix to a stranger, that nameless character might be the bravest soul in Stoker’s entire novel. It’s commoners of that stock I wanted to populate Ustalav with.
Ultimately, that resolve keeps Larsa committed to her land, that quiet hope feeds Jadain’s optimism, and that bravery reveals itself to Tashan during his travels. They’re all shades of the same resolve, but reach toward explaining why Ustalav’s haunted populace doesn’t just drift away. As Bloodbound’s Jadain says, “…you can’t give in to vague fears, or else it’s like the dead still rule. These are our lands, our home.”
F. WESLEY SCHNEIDER has published countless gaming products for both Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons and is a former assistant editor of Dragon magazine. Bloodbound is his first novel.
Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound follows the story of Larsa, a dhampir—half-vampire, half-human. In the gritty streets and haunted moors of Gothic Ustalav, she’s an agent for the royal spymaster, keeping peace between the capital’s secret vampire population and its huddled human masses. Yet, when a noblewoman’s entire house is massacred by vampiric invaders, Larsa is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that will reveal far more about her own heritage than she ever wanted to know.