Radovan & the Count Reread: Prince of Wolves

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

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?

Radovan & the Count Reread: The Lost Pathfinder

Eric Belisle nailed the look of Count Jeggare.

Eric Belisle’s Count Jeggare altered and solidified my image of the character.

In June 2010, “The Lost Pathfinder” (still free, but also available in handy ePub format for a buck) launched the Pathfinder Tales web fiction.

Since 2010, a new chapter has gone up on the Web Fiction page almost every week. As I compose this post, there are well over fifty stories available, all set in the world of Golarion but all different in style, tone, structure, and even genre. If you find a story that doesn’t work for you, skip to the next one, and it probably will.

You’ll find work from Elaine Cunningham, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Amber E. Scott, Liane Merciel, Robin D. Laws, Wendy Wagner, Monte Cook, Tim Pratt, and many others, including setting-creators, developers, and editors Erik Mona, F. Wesley Schneider, Christopher Paul Carey, and James L. Sutter. Some of these stories were basically the proving ground for later novels, and others are introductions to those novels. I strongly encourage you to check it out. There are some real gems in there.

But enough about them and more about me and the boys.

While it was the second Radovan & the Count story published, “The Lost Pathfinder” was actually the third written after I knocked out Prince of Wolves in an exhilaratingly short time.

Fun fact: “The Lost Pathfinder” was one of the early title ideas for the novel, but because it would look goofy to have the word “Pathfinder” in both the title and the logo, James had me pitch alternatives. I’m glad he did, because the whole “[RANK] of [DANGEROUS THING]” structure began there, and that has been a useful means to emphasize my pulp adventure intentions while giving the boys a “series within a series” framework.

My big fear when writing this story, partly borne out in reader reaction, is that it’s a pretty jerky introduction to Varian. Radovan is more or less himself during the events of “The Lost Pathfinder,” but Varian is at a low, and he doesn’t come across as a very sympathetic guy. The reason for that is that I wanted to give him plenty of room to grow into a sympathetic character in Prince of Wolves. In retrospect I realize it makes it harder for readers to latch onto him as a sympathetic protagonist, so I seldom recommend “The Lost Pathfinder” as a starting point.

Even though the boys alternate points-of-view in “The Lost Pathfinder,” it’s mostly Radovan’s story, since he’s the one with an external conflict and more interaction with other characters. While I’d already established an ongoing gag with his jacket in Prince of Wolves, I wanted to make a strong nod to it here, a moment that gave me hope when editor James Sutter noted he laughed while reading the manuscript.

Unlike the novels, in which I indulge my love of gothic horror, kung fu movies, classic fellowship fantasy, or platoon-level war stories, “The Lost Pathfinder” is not modeled on another beloved genre. It’s an “Egorian” story.

Another fun fact: When I first saw Eric Belisle’s gorgeous artwork, it galvanized my mental image of Count Jeggare. While the illustration of Radovan is excellent, and both served as reference for the now-scarce Reaper miniatures of the characters, I still haven’t seen the Radovan the way Eric captured the image of the Count. That said, there are some excellent illustrations of both characters on future covers and web fiction, not to mention a couple of game publications.

Go take a peek at “The Lost Pathfinder” and let me know what you think of it here, at Paizo, or at Goodreads.

 

Radovan & the Count Reread: Hell’s Pawns

Hells PawnsSince we’re now only about fourteen weeks away from the release of Lord of Runes, published by Tor and Paizo, it’s time to get something straight. You do not need to have read any of the previous Radovan & the Count stories to start with Lord of Runes. You really don’t! Honest. I am not messing with you on this.

However, experience suggests that some of you just won’t believe that, or you’ll believe it but you’ll still want to start from “the beginning,” which is a tricky thing to define with the boys, since I’ve written a few flashback stories.

If you want to catch up on the boys’ adventures, I suggest you tackle them in publication order. In this post and a bunch to follow, I’ll guide you through that order.

Start with Hell’s Pawns, originally published as the Pathfinder Journal in the Council of Thieves Adventure Path. This is the first Radovan & the Count story, and it’s unique in a couple of ways.

First, it’s told in present-tense, because I’d been binging on film noir and saw Radovan as a sort of hard-boiled detective type. Sure, the elevator pitch has always been “Holmes and Watson meet sword & sorcery,” but that’s not a very good way of describing the actual personalities of the characters. “Holmes and Marlowe” makes more sense, but only if you know what that means, and many don’t.

Second, it’s strictly Radovan’s point-of-view. I’d originally conceived the story as alternating between the boys’ points-of-view. Once I got down to writing, however, I felt the story didn’t have enough space to divide it among the two protagonists. For that structure, I wanted to wait for the extra space a novel affords. Also, I didn’t start to hear Varian’s voice until the third or fourth time I rewrote the early chapters of Prince of Wolves, which is a tale for another time.

Hell’s Pawns is the published story I’d second-most want to revise for a couple of reasons. I hadn’t quite found Radovan’s voice yet, and I would love to expand it to show the same investigation from Varian’s POV.

There are two ways you can read Hell’s Pawns. You could buy all of the Council of Thieves Adventure Path, which would cost about $120 and which I recommend only if you want to run that AP (it’s good, and it was the first AP designed for the Pathfinder RPG rather than D&D 3.5). Alternatively, you could buy the .epub version for $5. That might seem a trifle high compared to the cost of the novels, but these novellas are lavishly illustrated, so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, I always fear that people going back to Hell’s Pawns after reading the novels may be disappointed by the different style and the single POV, but a surprising number of readers cite it as their favorite. It’s the first and so-far only look at Varian’s house in Egorian, not to mention the capital of Cheliax itself. There are several characters there who remain near to my heart and who I’d probably revisit if I were to write a novel set there.

Fun facts: Radovan was originally a half-orc, but someone else had already pitched a story with one, so James Sutter suggested a hellspawn as an alternative, thus earning his keep in a single stroke. Also, Radovan’s name was Sabuto, and he was half-Tien rather than Ustalav. The original story pitch, which I changed substantially before writing, included a vampire. I really wanted a vampire. Thus, I introduced one later, although it became a very different sort of vampire.

Now go! Read Hell’s Pawns, and then come back here (or go to Paizo or Goodreads) and tell us what you think of it.

 

P.S. Now is a good time to sign up for the newsletter that I’ll likely send in May or June. There could be a giveaway involved.