While I’ve written before about earliest Radovan & the Count stories, I recall more anecdotes every time I “research” for the latest. For the struggle of finding the right voices and style for the novel—as well as influences from Universal Horror movies and other places—see that earlier post. Today I’d like to remember why I chose the setting of Ustalav and some of the supporting cast.
Mild to moderate spoilers follow.
I left the end of “Hell’s Pawns” a little ambiguous for a reason. Editor James Sutter had already encouraged me to use one or both of the boys in a novel pitch, but at that time he suggested a Radovan solo novel would be fine by him. I considered it, perhaps a story following Radovan to Varisia and the cities of Riddleport, Magnimar, and Korvosa. That might have been a darker tale involving more of a traditional criminal element, and it might have seen Radovan adopting more of Varian’s detective skills. I probably would have needed to give Radovan a sidekick or a femme fatale to give him someone to talk with, but I don’t recall developing the idea beyond a thumbnail.
I’m pretty sure I pitched a couple of different ideas, but the one James and I both liked best was a trip to Ustalav.What I loved about that “mist-shrouded principality” were several things: with a name like Radovan, my hellspawn’s human bloodline logically sprung from such a place; I love gothic faux-Eastern Europe; and, perhaps best of all, Ustlav had six pages of description in the campaign guide.
Much as I loved Varisia, by that time there were three Adventure Paths and loads of Pathfinder Chronicles set there, not to mention modules and other source material. The earliest Pathfinder Tales novels had very short deadlines, so it seemed a mistake to tackle a region that required a lot of research. On the other hand, having names for locations and prominent characters gave me a foundation in Golarion while leaving huge swathes of “undiscovered country” to flesh out.
Almost all of my invention, apart from the story and much of the supporting cast, was in small details. Drawing the Wings of Desna or the Spiral of Pharasma over one’s heart, for instance, added a couple of gestures to Radovan’s infamous Tines. The water ritual at the Cathedral in Caliphas seemed like a logical expression of the church’s beliefs. Riffle scrolls and the inclusion of a monster from a different culture seemed like good ways to take something that already existed in Golarion and present it in a fresh, surprising way. (In the case of riffle scrolls, it also allowed me to develop Varian’s affliction without yet answering the questions it raised—for those answers, you’ll want to read Lord of Runes.) Little stuff like that is a fun way to contribute to the setting, and it’s much less likely to get nixed than killing a prominent character or setting countries to war.
As for the particular clan of Sczarni who show up in Prince of Wolves, I wanted a group with which Radovan could feel some affinity but who were even more brutal and dangerous than he.It was also fun to set him against other characters with a duel nature. Also, using the Sczarni gave me the chance to indulge in lots of the stereotypical trappings of the wandering people of horror films while adding a few twists to make them unique to Golarion.
The “witch” Azra is one of my favorite characters, so much so that my first suggestion for a second Pathfinder Tales novel would have starred her and Azra. That didn’t fly at the time because some at Paizo were concerned that a mute character would make a poor POV character. (I felt exactly the opposite.) Since then, that feeling might have softened, but after a second novel with the boys, we all felt it better to continue with them rather than to switch characters.
Incidentally, the oracle class didn’t exist in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game when Azra first appeared, but it sure does seem to suit her. I love how the expanding rules of the game, combined with the imagination of the players, alter the game versions of the characters over time. I try to have all the characters generally fit the rules without being strictly bound to them. You never want “to hear the dice rolling,” as it were, but you do want the “physics” in the fiction to jibe with the game rules so that readers and gamers feel like the game and the fiction are in the same world.
Still, in what the kids these days call my “head canon,” I know what’s been going on with Azra, Malena, and the rest of what the Carrion Crown designers have since dubbed “the Prince’s Wolves.” Since the boys left Ustalav and traveled to Absalom, Tian Xia, Kyonin, and the Worldwound, there are intrigues, adventures, relationship dramas, and a bit of horror going on “back home.”
One last note: Wes Schneider cemented my already considerable affection for him when, while organizing the Carrion Crown Adventure Path, he sent each of the freelance designers a copy of Prince of Wolves with the request to include some element of it in their design, if possible. Seeing tiny echoes of my novel in that AP was almost as delightful as seeing Reaper’s Varian Jeggare miniature at Gen Con 2010.
Every time I write about one of the previous Pathfinder Tales books, I ramble on for much longer than I thought I could. I’ll stop then, leaving myself a few stories to tell at conventions this summer. Will I see you there?