Radovan and the Count Retrospective: “Hell’s Pawns” to Prince of Wolves

Since most readers first met the boys in Prince of Wolves or “Hell’s Pawns,” I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the times I wrote those stories. Here are a few thoughts on the first novella, novel, and short story featuring Radovan and the Count.

Hells Pawns

I thought of the Hellknights as 30s-era LA cops.

When James Sutter first asked me to pitch ideas for a Pathfinder Chronicle to accompany the Council of Thieves Adventure Path, I gave him four or five different ideas. One was a revision of a sketch I’d sent another editor a few years earlier. That editor failed to reply for eight months, then passed without explanation before quietly leaving the publisher. When James picked that revised pitch, I felt the hand of fate on my shoulder.

Originally inspired by an idea in Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong movie that inspired Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, the resulting story, “Hell’s Pawns,” bore little resemblance to either film. In fact, more readers have pointed to Village of the Damned as an influence, which in retrospect is almost certainly true, although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time.

The femme fatale in the original outline was a vampire with her own agenda, but that subplot was one of the first elements to be discarded. Instead, because I’d been binging on film noir the month before James and I first talked, the plot took an even darker turn. Also, my original intention to tell the story in alternating points-of-view turned into the classic first-person, present-tense narration of a hardboiled anti-hero. Radovan’s voice emerged from those of about two dozen movie tough guys.

For thematic reasons, I wanted both of my protagonists to be half-human and of illegitimate parentage. In fact, I had thought to include the word “Bastards” in an early title, but “Bastards of Erebus” was already one of the Adventure Path titles, so that was another early change.

Radovan was originally a half-orc of Tian descent. Because Howard Andrew Jones had already called dibs on a half-orc character, and because my story was to be set in Cheliax, Empire of Devils, James suggested a tiefling or hellspawn, as we came to call them. That was the first of many good suggestions James offered, as well as the beginning of my speculation on what made Radovan different from others of his kind.

Radovan’s name changed a couple of times, first because James felt a Tian character would be too unusual in the Chelish setting, later because I picked a name that began with V, and we didn’t want V&V protagonists. I wanted Varian’s bodyguard to be an outsider even in his human ancestry, preferably from a country with a strikingly different culture from Cheliax. It took me a short time to decide on Ustalav as the birthplace of his parents. “Radovan” was my second or third name choice, but the moment I wrote it down, I couldn’t imagine any other name fitting the character.

Incidentally, both Radovan and Varian are real-world names. Most of the names I choose for Pathfinder Tales characters are real but less commonly used in North America.

Varian was always Varian and a half-elf, because I wanted a character who had lived through several generations of the great changes in Cheliax. I picked House Jeggare from the campaign setting because of their fabulous wealth and the family history linking Cheliax to Varisia. It tickled me to think my wealthy nobleman might visit places with rivers and streets named after him, not to mention encounter statues of his famous ancestor, Montlarion Jeggare. One of the early ideas for the first novel would have taken one or both of the boys to Varisia instead of Ustalav.

Starting Prince of Wolves was a struggle for a couple of reasons.

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

First, I had four early chapters that delayed the beginning of the plot for far too long. Two of them died in a fire, and the others eventually became the short story “The Lost Pathfinder.” A similar thing happened later in Queen of Thorns.

My other problem was deciding on the narrative style. I didn’t want to continue with the present-tense narration of “Hell’s Pawns.” At the same time, I was considering a shift to third-person narration. I had Radovan’s first-person voice and was happy with it, but it took me three revisions of the early chapters to decide. It was one of those instances in which James’ advice was, “Just figure out which works best.” That didn’t make things easier on me, but once I finally worked out Varian’s voice, I was glad James had left me to work it out on my own. Third-person would have been a safer choice, but I didn’t want to abandon the intimacy of Radovan’s first-person voice. What I needed was to find a voice for Varian that was equal to Radovan’s but completely different. This proved an even greater challenge when I introduced a third POV character in Master of Devils and then in King of Chaos.

I left the flash-forward, third-person, present-tense Radovan prologue in Prince of Wolves to act as a pointer past the exposition-heavy first chapter, a promise that action was coming. It makes the book asymmetrical, but I’m glad we left it in there. To me it feels like a movie trailer.

While those early Varian chapters now seem a bit thick with fancy vocabulary and complex sentences, I’m also glad of the decision to tell his half of the story in first-person POV. His diction has since lightened up, even by the end of Prince of Wolves, but in the struggle to find his voice in those early chapters, I began to understand much more about his character. The epistolary approach scared James in the beginning, but I’d always planned to abandon it at the right moment later in the book. I knew it was a trick that would grow tired if I tried to do it every novel.

Eric Belisle nailed the look of Count Jeggare.

Eric Belisle’s Count Jeggare is a perfect reflection of his character.

While it’s chronologically before the novel, I wrote “The Lost Pathfinder” after finishing Prince of Wolves. A few elements of it came from the first few chapters I outlined but later discarded before writing the novel. Sometimes I wince to think of readers first encountering Varian Jeggare through that story, since he’s pretty much at his worst.

“The Lost Pathfinder” was one of the early title ideas for Prince of Wolves. It seemed even more appropriate for the story leading into the novel.

I’ve often mentioned Universal and Hammer horror films as an influence on Prince of Wolves, and from the start I used “fantasy Holmes and Watson” as an elevator-pitch device to describe the boys. Only recently did I realize the influence of a similar heroic duo on the boys: Ham and Monk from the Doc Savage adventures. One is the slim, erudite man of letters, the other the brawny, crass man of action.

Of course, Arnisant is Habeus Corpus, the pig.


While I’m still suffering Con damage from Gen Con (with apologies to Robert Brookes for stealing his clever phrase), it’s time to get back to writing. In a few weeks, I’ll look back to writing Master of Devils. In the meantime, feel free to quiz me further, right here in comments.


20 thoughts on “Radovan and the Count Retrospective: “Hell’s Pawns” to Prince of Wolves

  1. The first novel was pitched before changing Radovan? So that subplot with Radovan wasn’t planned out…. Was the crypt scene/location present at this point or did that get added later? If it was there from the beginning, what family was it originally, or was it not important plot point until after Radovan changed to an Uslavic hellspawn

    • No, only “Hell’s Pawns” was pitched before Radovan changed to an Ustalav. At that point I had the idea that he was different because of the secret that comes out in Queen of Thorns, but I hadn’t given any thought to just who his ancestor was. That came together only after I finished the novella and James asked for novel pitches. What became Prince of Wolves was one of four or five different ideas from which he chose one.

      When I wrote the initial short outline for Prince of Wolves, that’s when I decided who his family was.

  2. Thanks for the background information Dave. One of the things that has drawn me to the boys so much is their ability to grow not only in the sense of character growth, but also in game terms as well. I find myself curious to their backstories, and their futures. Their relationship with each other and with Golarion. At the same time I enjoy seeing the game in the background of the pages, picking out abilities and spells and such.

    When you got to Master of Devils and did the PoV of the hound I just busted out laughing. This is one of my favorite characters, and the descriptions and mannerisms go to show that you understand dogs. Not an easy thing for an author to do.

    I look forward to reading more about these characters, and hope that they continue to be a running serial. And one of these days I’ll snag your character sheets to see your true vision of them 😛

  3. There’s a tenuous hint that there is (at least) one additional character who has dedicated chapters in King of Chaos (since I’ve not received it yet, I don’t know). And I saw mention that the elven paladin features again in that story – so my assumption is that she forms the 3rd character.

    I suspect that she won’t be around to stay (prominently at least) in future novels – so my question is: can we expect the “and one extra” character to get their own chapters in the future? Different ones in different books. Essentially making Radovan, Varian, and a “friend” the norm in the stories?

    For that matter, will we see an antagonist portrayed in such a way?

    • By now there’s more than a hint. If you see the cover or read the first chapter, available for free here at Black Gate, you’ll know who it is. (Chapters Two and Three will go up on other sites soon.)

      I don’t know that “the boys and friend” will become the norm, but I do have a lot of candidates for a third POV character. I’m not sure I could ever pull off more than three without switching to third-person narrative, which I’ve actually considered if I were to embark on, say, a trilogy with many more POV characters. If a big event comes up that demands a multiple-book story, I would probably both show more POV characters and switch to third-person for that sequence.

      While I’m not a big fan of showing the antagonist’s POV (going so far as to put a POV character in contact with the villains in two of my novels), I wouldn’t rule it out. If it were the sort of antagonist who could be sympathetic at the same time as presenting an adversarial threat, I’d certainly consider it.

  4. I think I lost my first comment attempt. I’ll try again:

    The “additional character” that gets their own chapters, like Arnisant in Master of Devils and apparently a character in King of Chaos: will this be a recurring feature? I suspect it is a great device to showcase another character and point of view – though I also expect that I’d want to see a different character in each story that gets this royal treatment.

    Along that thought: will we see an antagonist feature his/her/its own chapters?

    • I haven’t completely figured out the moderating tools, but basically the first time I approve one of your posts, I don’t have to approve them anymore. So as soon as I checked one, they were all live.

  5. Dave,

    Thanks so much for writing the books and for sharing the behind the scenes details.

    I found it fascinating how you came about finding the voice for each character. I’m also a big fan of the 1P POV as it really emphasizes the peraonalities of the characters.

    I’ll never forget the comment about the “ponies” (abbreviated here to sidestep spoilers) that we would likely not have heard otherwise. 😉

    I look forward to the next post and most certainly the next tale featuring “the boys”.

  6. Without Prince of Wolves, I might not’ve gotten any of the Pathfinder Tales books. Now, I’ve got all but the most recent few, and they’re in my Paizo shopping cart, plus some of the shorter pieces.

    I think I’m going to have to try some of the Iron Kingdoms books, too.

  7. You continue to be the author that gets me to sit down and read despite the distractions that surround me. I’ve even gone so far as to put the eBoks into my phone so that I can read and re-read them while out in the world waiting for XYZ. Thanks Dave, can’t wait to see what the future holds for some of my favorite characters.

    • I never thought I’d read on my phone, but stuck in a long line once, I gave it a try and liked it a lot better than I expected. I still prefer the iPad, and of course I prefer a nice hardcover most of all.

      Don’t forget all the short fiction available at paizo.com. That’s perfect for reading on a phone.

  8. As I mentioned at GenCon I always look forward to your work Dave. These little insights are icing on the cake. Thanks. p.s. I was the ‘water boy’.

  9. Pingback: Radovan & the Count Reread: Prince of Wolves | Dave Gross

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