This post has the following content warnings:
I want to just write geopolitics and fight scenes
« Previous Post

[spinoff of duly with knees that feign to quake. Not in continuity with Numendil's threads.]

The disaster presently taking place in Ustalav presently defies description.

(To be fair, this is the default state of Ustalav. It is rumored that some eldritch horror is buried beneath the province, twisting the minds of its inhabitants towards evil, decay and tragedy; this less because of the evidence for this claim, though in fact there is some, than people looking at a pattern and going "you know, I bet that's not a normal string of coincidences.")

Still, even by the standards of Ustalav, this is a crisis.

Total: 269
Posts Per Page:

The precise details are not yet clear, but enough is that the nations of the world are Extremely Worried about what to do.

The Whispering Way has struck. Ten thousand undead masterminds, plotting their return and the slaughter of mankind; the dark captains of the Whispering Tyrant's armies, have taken the moment to unleash their full strength across northern Ustalav, bringing terror and butchery across the continent. In Ardeal, the great plains, breadbasket of the land, are filled with the marching ranks of the undead; the dark monastery of Renchurch has summoned its foul flock; ghouls stalk near the mirrored waters of Lantern Lake, black knights ride forth from the Furrows, and all across northern Ustalav, the dead walk the ground openly. Each victory by the Whispering Way leads to more and more necromancers coming out of hiding as the world seems powerless against them.

It is not, in fact, clear who leads them, or if anyone leads them, or if this is all some elaborate plot of the Whispering Tyrant or the plague-goddess Urgathoa finally coming to its centuries-long conclusion rather than a mortal captain, but the most common name spoken among the scattered refugees is that of Wielki Ksaize - a name that, when the dust is blown off ancient books of the Shining Crusade and the spell Tongues is cast as aged scholars read down a list of Tar-Baphon's dark captains, begins to bear a disturbing resemblance to that of Uachdaran Mòr; that Uachdaran Mòr who was Taldaris II, one of the mightiest lieutenants of the archlich, millennia ago necromancer-king of Taldor who names himself Grand Prince by whatever tongue his minions speak, and who has tried to reclaim the land of his birth dozens of times over the millennia, most recently under the name of Remek Czaszar.

You know. That Uachdaran Mòr.


Of course, Ksaize is not the only problem northern Ustalav has.

The last Count of Barstoi, dying on the field of battle with all his knights in arms, called upon Cheliax, the Mouth of Hell in Golarion, for help. When Cheliax arrived (Cheliax was very busy) he and his knights were all dead, but this did not particularly stop Cheliax from replacing his magic-hating utilitarian-totalitarian tyranny with a magic-loving, Hell-worshipping, tyranny-for-the-sake-of-tyranny tyranny, or, in a very technical sense, suggesting that the Hellknights of the Order of the Pyre do this. Since the Order of the Pyre was one of the Hellknight orders least happy with being under the direct control of Queen Abrogail (it being an open secret that its leader does not, actually, worship any gods, even Asmodeus, however much she supports tyranny as a general concept), this agreement worked out in both sides' favor; the Pyre were removed from where they could pose court difficulties for the Queen, and sent to somewhere they could, instead, pose difficulties for the undead. And the Church of Pharasma, who Rouen Strought likes even less than she likes the Church of Asmodeus, who she agrees to tolerate since He is at least Lawful and they are helping fund her. And the peasantry of Barstoi. And the peasantry of Numeria, which is right there across the border...

... The Order of the Pyre is very enthusiastic about causing problems for people.


They are not the only ones.

The Tiger Lords ruled all of Numeria, once. Most of Numeria is covered by a bubble, now, but not all of it, and Armag the Twice-Born is - from one of the bits that weren't. So Numeria is barren? So the lands are savage? So be it. The Tiger Lords are savage as well. He had time as a mercenary, in the petty, decadent south, learning the way of war as they practiced it; he prefers his people's.

Ustalav is vulnerable. The River Kingdoms, where he once found easy prey, are not. Armag is not a cruel man, but Gorum is his god, and under his blade the cities of Ustalav will fall.


Yeah. Right.

Koldunya Ognya would have been queen; she was the daughter of one of the Jadwiga, the frost witches of Irissen, granddaughters of Baba Yaga herself, who rule the icy realm with their magic of frost. Daughter of a queen-under-the-Queen, sister of a queen-under-the-Queen, Koldunya Ognya could steward a realm as well as any - 

But she had no powers. No power, no magic, no hope.

So she obtained it. And now she is the Witch of Flames, tyrant of Sinaria; now those born to magic are her slaves, purchased abroad from fathers who did not want a mistress's brat contending with the wife's and mothers who could no longer hide their daughters from the witch-hunter, and she may drink their magic to replenish her own, unleashing the devouring flames on any animated corpse or sorcerer that dares to threaten her power. The Sons of Flame are behind her as an army, and the shattered remnants of the forces of the self-proclaimed and now utterly destroyed Living God rally to her banner, a banner which will one day fly over all of Ustalav -


Minor correction, here: The Living God is not "utterly destroyed." He's not "slain." He's still giving us spells, TRAITOR AND HERETIC WHO DARES TO BLASPHEME AGAINST THE MAJESTY OF THE LIVING GOD, RAZMIR!


Lake Kavapesta was once the center of the Pharasmin faith in Razmiran. In one sense, it probably still is; that is, geographically. But its cathedral has been turned into a temple of the Living God, and its priests have been butchered, and for the reason of its long and hard resistance to Razmiran tyranny, it was the place where Razmir's armies gathered most - and where, after the conquest of Razmiran, most refugees traveled. It is not a Great Power; Razmir could challenge the Great Powers of Avistan, but only in the specific sense that he could personally blow up their cities if they tried anything. But compared to most of the warlords of northern Ustalav? It might as well be. Razmir's priests have healing, Razmir's priests have kill-spells, and Razmir's priests have artifacts forged by the Living God and armies of outsiders summoned by Razmir and still bound to the cause of his servants, not to mention the shackleborn tieflings that Razmir bred for war. Kavapesta will be a foothold with which to conquer the rest of Ustalav, free Razmir, and save the world from the enemies of Razmir and of all humanity.


Did someone say "enemies of all humanity?"

The Worldwound is really under control. Really. The Forces of Law and Good swear it, and they're the Forces of Law and Good, so you can trust them. They are that tiny selection of all entities where, when they prefix factual statements with "I swear," these factual statements will reflect reality.

And we are the rest.

All the rest.

If the watch slackens... if your grip lifts... for instance due to gigantic armies of the undead cutting the supply lines to your fortresses...

We will be ready.


And, faced with these armies of darkness bent on conquering, enslaving, eating and/or just murdering humanity, what, exactly, are the Forces of Light and Law that stand against Evil achieving dominion over Ustalav?


... Well, there's the King of Ustalav.

You know.

I guess.


Reneis Ordranti-Caliphvaso is, probably, the son of royal mistress Millaera Caliphvaso (younger sister of Countess Carmilla "I Swear I'm Not A Vampire" Caliphvaso) and, reputedly, also the son of Prince Valislav Ordranti, usually known as "The Eunuch Prince" for the fact that she was not his only mistress (to say nothing of his wife) and absolutely none of the others had remotely credible pregnancies. The lords of Ustalav did in fact completely ignore him in the line of succession, instead acknowledging Prince Aduard, Reneis's uncle and an experienced military man, as the next "ruler" of Ustulav. Reneis is generally agreed to be a polite young man and nobody has anything bad to say about him, largely because nobody has anything to say about him.

... He's a wizard of the third circle?


This is, of course, because they are instead talking about Countess "I Swear I'm Not A Vampire" herself, Carmilla Caliphvaso, popularly known as "The Queen of Caliphas," one of the dominant figures of Lake Encarthan diplomacy prior to certain regrettable events in Galt. Star of court and salon, expert assassin, and on excellent terms with both the monarchs of Avistan and the ruby-eyed gentlemen of the Caliphvaso sewers (who eliminated Prince Aduard very slightly on her behalf), she looks like she's in her thirties, and has for the past forty years. She helped coordinate Razmir's assassination, and plausibly got another rogue level out of it, which, if true, would make her the most deadly non-vampire in the city. 

... She does not, to be clear, have, like. 

Territory. Armies. Land. The ability to pass a Detect Alignment check as Lawful, Good, or, for that matter, nonevil-after-a-Dispel-Magic-or-three. Her writ runs in "Southern Ustalav," as it is sometimes put, which means her own county of Caliphvaso and most of Versex (arguably the most cursed if least haunted region of Ustalav), and while she would like to establish a tighter dominion over Versex, her writ running anywhere at all is strictly conditional on the aforementioned ruby-eyed gentlemen of the sewers not feeling like killing her.

(They mostly don't. They have... other priorities. Like incurring as close to a 0% yearly chance of being staked as they can.)

Still, she has foreign diplomatic recognition, the wealthiest city in Ustulav to tax in her own Caliphas, and control over the physical capital and physical crown of the nation of Ustalav, for whatever those are worth.


There's also, of course, the people whose job it is. The people who have not been subverted by any evil, who are not in it for themselves, who are actually prepared to make meaningful sacrifices of their own joys for the good of the many, even to devote their life to that genuine good, regardless of the cost. In Golarion, people of this sort tend to get funneled into paladin orders or the churches of Good gods, and such people often find themselves at Lastwall, where they can devote their lives and afterlives to engaging in Lawful Good war against the forces of Evil. In Lastwall, government positions are offered to Good people who seem to have being good at these jobs, and if a lot of these are nobles rather than commoners, Lastwall would point out that nobles have received an unfair advantage in training and childhood nutrition from childhood, and that they are not in this to be equal, they are in this to win a war.

Now, someone from a world with rather less magic might think that all this would all end in a disaster, after perhaps; that people, aiming to be good not to do good would end up optimizing for signaling-goodness, and thereby fail to ever accomplish anything. And this would be a risk, even on Golarion! Except that the show is in fact run by Iomedae, Goddess of Defeating Evil, and the Lord Watcher of Lastwall is not actually chosen from among Her priests, because they are not professionals whose comparative advantage is choosing Lord Watchers of Lastwall - It's the generals who do that - it's Iomedae's priests are, rather, in charge of making sure that everyone in the hierarchy is focused on the job. So the claim that trying-to-be-good is having devastating consequences for Lastwall is, actually, false. What's having devastating consequences for Lastwall is that it set its taxes at the peak point of the Laffer curve when the Worldwound opened and they concluded that optimizing for maximum short-term revenue was necessary to stop the world being overrun by demons.

Or, in other words, Lastwall's actual problem is that there are so, so, so many threats. They were founded to keep the Whispering Tyrant under control, but the Whispering Tyrant happened to live next to the Hold of Belkzen when they trapped him in his fortress, so they also needed to serve as the shield of Avistan against the orcs of Belkzen (against whom they have lost ground), and then the Worldwound opened and guess whose job it is to stop that, and Hell conquered Cheliax from which they drew most of their membership, and - 

Lastwall is generally just in crisis. Too many crises. It wants fewer crises.

What, then, are Lastwall's advantages?


First and simplest: Nobody, actually, wants to go to Hell. Lastwall is the chief force Maximizing Doing Good On The Planet; everyone rich therefore knows - everyone rich as far off as Imperial Lung Wa - that if you are a rich person who has done some shady things in your life, donating lots of money to the Church of Iomedae is the easiest way to escape an evil afterlife, and the Church of Iomedae will then pass it on to Lastwall, and Lastwall will use it for operating funds and/or preventing the destruction of Golarion. Lastwall is therefore much, much richer - and capable of sustaining a much larger and more competent army - than you would expect from its tax base.

Second, they are not dumb. If an Abadarian priest proposes that they would get more taxes over the next five years with a reorganization of their entire taxation structure, they will let him make his case, check his math, and then try to do the thing that maximizes their actual goals, instead of ignoring him, laughing at him, or executing him, as practically everyone else on the continent would. The same applies for almost anyone else with good Ideas; if they go to Lastwall, they can engage in collaborative work to get them implemented or determine they shouldn't be, not get shooed or exploited by those in power.

And, third, they have a comparative advantage in hiring adventurers (or anyone else) both because these adventurers (or other people) credibly know both that Lastwall will Actually Pay, and that they will get Not Going To Hell Points if they do Lastwall missions. The Church of Iomedae really hates the way that they benefit from being able to pay people in Not Going To Hell Points, but they can, actually, do that, and most countries can't.

Oh, and lots of clerics and paladins. Lots and lots. It has those advantages, too.


... And, in the context of Ustalav, it has the western third of the country.

This is not something that came up, much, in histories of the campaigns of Razmir's regime. He was Lawful enough that when an ally said "we purchase the right of these autonomous republican regions to become independent under our protection," he kept his deal, and the giant disaster that was the conquest of Ustalav was contained to the eastern two-thirds, while refugees from Ardeal and Odranto fled to the west side of the Vhatsuntide River. Vieland, Lozeri, and Canterwall occupy the northwest quarter, and the southwest is completely uninhabited Virlych, which Lastwall was founded to contain, and largely uninhabited Amaans, which seems to be Lastwall's on the grounds that nobody else can defend it. All three have at least vaguely popular governments, extant armed forces, and popular militias that will eagerly rally to defend their borders.

And, right now, they have subsidies from Lastwall to triple the size of their armies real real fast, and Lastwall is hiring drillmasters to train the Palatine militias and engineers to try to build defensive constructions on the west bank of the Vhatsuntide and put out the call that it's looking for famed adventurers out to kill undead, because it can teleport those up with bags of gold a lot faster than it can teleport up armies and supplies for armies.

(It is using money that otherwise would have gone into repairing and expanding Worldwound fortifications for that. Lastwall has lots of resources, not infinite resources.)


It formerly had the advantage of a really, really good spymaster, who was also an eighth circle wizard. Then he successfully pitched the government on allying with Razmir to remove Razmir as a Chelish ally (minimal goal), get lots of ninth circle magical support such as in road building (expected goal), improve conditions in Razmiran (expected goal), and build a secret Lawful Evil god who could construct his own afterlife and steal souls from Asmodeus (stretch goal), a plot which ended in their spymaster getting killed (bad) and damned to Hell (bad) with the loss of almost their entire spy network in Cheliax (terrible), Razmiran being annexed by Galt (good), Ustulav being conquered by Razmiran (bad) and then collapsing (terrible) to a united Whispering Way (there are, technically, other things that are worse than this).

What are Lastwall's actual top goals, that look potentially at all achievable under these circumstances? They want to keep the Worldwound from getting worse. They're pretty sure the gods can do it if they're fine with creating a new ocean from Lake Encarthan through Mendev and a ten percent chance of destroying all life on Golarion, and that they will be fine with it if the situation gets worse. Lastwall would like to do better than that. They want the Whispering Tyrant not to be awakened. They want to not have to accept the concessions Cheliax would demand for fixing this (if, horrifying thought, it is even within Cheliax's power to fix.) They want Iomedae to not have to make huge concessions to Urgathoa, goddess of disease, gluttony, and undeath, in order to take her new favorite playing pieces off the board, or to all the other Evil gods to do it against her opposition. After that, they would like it if the Whispering Way did not kill very many people or do very much damage before its inevitable collapse into backstabbing.

... They would, sort of, like Lastwall to keep existing. They think it would be bad if Lastwall stopped existing. It's good, to have a purely Good organization that is not under the thumb of whoever the most powerful warlord in Avistan is.

This is a problem because of just what the obvious way to solve every problem they possess is.


The First Consul of Galt objects to this description. Cyprian is not a warlord, but a faithful servant of the people of Galt. Under his rule, defeat has become victory, worthless paper solid gold, chaos become order. A new law code has been codified and received praise from Nirmathas to Osirion, the tax system has been rebalanced to be both fair on the people and capable of supplying the national deficit, endless purges of whoever was least politically fortunate (or least politically murderous) replaced by a policy of recruiting and promoting all regardless of political affiliation. His post of First Consul was created to the celebration of the crowd, desperate for something other than the frank butchery that had characterized all previous regimes, his constitution received by a larger majority than any other for the balance it struck between radicals on the one hand and conservatives on the other. He has widened the streets of Isarn to permit light and air to enter the metropolis, and even now is the primary champion of Good against that abomination of tyranny and monarchy, the Chelish state.

No, Cyprian is not an evil man, nor a cruel one.

He just really, really likes conquering things.


Cyprian spends most of his time at war. Occasionally, whoever Cyprian is fighting will surrender, and when they do that, he briefly reorganizes their state as a republic, organizes a constitution, arranges their contribution to the revolutionary treasury, sends most of his army home to reorganize, and then he is briefly at peace until he goes and conquers someone else.

He does not... lose... wars. That's just not a thing that happens, or more accurately, it happens to other people, not Cyprian. 

Because he's Cyprian.

This cycle most recently played out in Razmiran, now a liberated republic instead of a false theocracy, and basically the only place he's invaded that was actually grateful for Galtan armies to come rolling in, with religious tolerance for all non-evil gods yes including Erastil who even bans the worship of Erastil. He is now looking at the borders of Ustalav with a seriously considering look on his face. It would be somewhere he would be popular. It would be good for his alignment and his soldiers' alignment. It could help get the support of the Good churches behind him, even in the liberated republics that are not Razmiran. It would bring him closer to the Worldwound, where so much Chelish might is based.

And it would be something to conquer.


So, then, is this all the pieces of the board? Is this the complete list of everyone who is going to horrifically meddle with the political situation in Ustalav, to the probable detriment of the poor tormented population?


Well, no.

Absolutely not, in fact.

But, you know, let's not let the political situation get too complicated yet.


After all, we have a military situation to pay attention to.


The campaign, of course, began with the night of blood and terror that the free vampires of Ustalav unleashed before returning to their tombs, but that was only a foreshadowing of the terror that would come.

Ksiaze/Csaszar/Mor did not march his troops out of the deep mountains, for that would alert the living that there was a threat. He had his undead servants use disposable skeletons and Stone Shape spells to dig a great tunnel, first down from the cellars of his fortress, then north through the bedrock, modeled after the wide enough for fifteen skeletons to march abreast. The last work on it was only completed the day of the attack, so when the undead army emerges from a valley in southeastern Ardeal it completely bypasses what defenses existed against the necromancer-lords, because it assumed they would not deliberately steal the corpses of dwarvish artisans, raise them as undead to steal all their secrets, and then use that to spend a century digging a tunnel that was completely pointless for all purposes except launching a surprise attack.

Kind of a dumb mistake, really.


And what is this deadly army, that Wielki Ksiaze has unleashed upon the world?

Is it, basically, just a bunch of skeletons and zombies, and a single-digit number of the powerful undead with their own companies of skeletons and zombies that he controls through necrofeudalism? Because skeletons are about a match for a trained warrior apiece, sure, and zombies might be a little tougher but they're unbearably slow, and they can't use weapons, but the traditional Avistani army before Cyprian was in the tens of thousands.

(The question of why undead armies do not dominate the entire planet, given that they don't need to eat, at least has to be asked. But, when asked, it turns out that the general answer is very simple.)


Well, uh.


Wielki Ksaize is good at his job.

Graverobbing dwarven masons? Yes, yes, sure. If you have an international graverobbing operation anyway.

And why does Wielki Ksiaze have an international graverobbing operation?

You see, it happens that, every once in a while - standard necromancy textbooks, if you learn wizardry somewhere like Cheliax that has standard necromancy textbooks, will tell you nobody knows why or how to tell in advance - a skeleton or zombie raised through Animate Dead will rise as a skeletal champion or zombie lord, an unusually powerful undead that keeps its full skills from life, while gaining undead resistances and losing any petty shackles of morality that held it back, in possession of free will and a mind of full mortal cunning. (It will then usually kill the necromancer who raised it, since most people don't like being undead.)

In the opinion of Wielki Ksiaze, who has a phylactery and therefore does not need to worry about blowing himself up, "nobody knows why" is the answer of a godsdamned coward, "nobody knows how to tell in advance" is a question that should be asked after a 200-year research project rather than before, and "most people" means "find the people who disagree."


Every culture has, somewhere, an one or more organizations with the duty of disposing of bodies, and Wielki Ksiaze has made it his second-highest priority to infiltrate as many of these organizations as possible that have access to the corpses of powerful Evil (ideally Lawful Evil) wizards, assassins, and especially warriors. If the bodies are buried, quietly exhuming them when nobody is paying attention and teleporting them to his stronghold is simple; if the bodies are burned, arranging substitutions is harder, but it can still, often be done. These are, of course, organized in a cell system where no one knows precisely where they are sending the bodies to, and every few years a band of adventurers discovers and rolls up one wing of his organization, but this is simply an operating cost in Golarion.

Because, you see, once someone has spent a year or two in an Evil afterlife, they are very, very grateful when Wielki Ksiaze digs them up, raises them as a skeletal champion with his special Create Undead variant, and pitches them on "so I invented Mark Two undeath and I plan on inventing Mark Three undeath, which is less terrible, once I've got my empire back, but until then, aren't you grateful you're back on Golarion?"

It is in fact possible there are more Hellknights working for Wielki Ksiaze than for Cheliax.

Iomedae isn't the only one who can pay in Not Going To Hell Points.


- And so Wielki Ksiaze does not, actually, have a retinue of sixty skeletons that can kill civilian commoners, he has a retinue of four hundred years' worth of oathsworn champions recruited from the Chelish civil war and the tyrannies of Irissen and the orc-lords of the Hold of Belkzen, with the skills they mastered in life, freed from Hell and Abaddon and the Abyss, clad in armor of black steel laid away in oil for the day they would be needed and bearing deadly weapons forged for their own hands by master Lawful Evil smiths who labor in death as they did in life.

(They are, actually, mostly using nonmagical or barely-enchanted weapons and armor, vastly less powerful than they wielded in life. Wielki Ksiaze has not actually came up with a good way of turning his resources into money without revealing himself, and the handful of magic shops he and his underliches supply basically have basically all their profits routed into keeping his graverobbing operations going. And he's per capita very short of channeled energy, relying pretty heavily on antipaladins of Gorum and Urgathoa, who you should really not have to rely on.

He still has more adventurer-caliber soldiers in his army than, plausibly, everyone else in Ustalav combined.)

Total: 269
Posts Per Page: