IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
I have previously mentioned that the events in the campaign journal are an accurate recounting of what happened at the gaming table. There is, however, one exception to this: The character of Elestra.
In the Shadow of the Spire originally started as an online game run through ScreenMonkey and Skype. After several sessions, however, a couple of the long-distance players ended up dropping out of the game and the third long-distance player ended up being local instead. After a lengthy hiatus, we added a new player and jump-started the campaign back to life as a face-to-face game.
This left us with two orphaned characters: Agnarr and Alysta.
One of the other players ended up taking Agnarr on as a second character. And then I offered the new player the choice of either taking over the role of Alysta or creating a new character.
She decided to create a new character (which turned out to be Elestra). At this point I had two options: I could choose to simply kill off Alysta and then figure out a way to get Elestra involved with the group. Or I could retcon the campaign journal, replacing the character of Alysta with the character of Elestra.
Normally it would be a no-brainer to go with Option #1. But I had a few reasons for going with Option #2:
First, the hiatus in the campaign had already created a natural break in continuity. Part of the process in gearing back up from that hiatus was going to be reviewing the campaign journal and getting back into the flow of things. In some ways, it was an ideal time to perform a retcon.
Second, although it would have actually been quite trivial to kill off Alysta, the campaign was structured around this specific group of people waking up to find themselves locked in a common cause. I didn’t want to risk losing or watering down that essential core of the campaign.
Third, retconning would be relatively easy because Alysta had ended up being something of a cipher. Almost as soon as the campaign had started, the work schedule for Alysta’s player unexpectedly shifted and she ended up missing large chunks of the game. Playing the character during these abseences had fallen to me.
Now, on the one hand, I’m not very good as a GM when it comes to playing allies of the PCs. I usually have lots of balls in the air anyway, and I tend to just forget about the extra character who has no physical presence at the game table. In the case of Alysta this particular shortcoming was aggravated because Alysta’s player — as a result of her absences — never really defined who the character was or what her personality was like. Since I felt it was important for the player to be the one to define who the character was, I refrained from making any strong choices.
In practice this meant that Alysta would frequently go off and “do her own thing” whenever the opportunity arose. The result was something of a tabula rasa — one which easily suited itself to having the label that read “Alysta of the Order of the Holy Sword” scraped off and replaced with “Elestra of Seyrun”.
For those who might be curious, here’s the original write-up for Alysta:
CHARACTER BACKGROUND: ALYSTA FREEDYN
You are the daughter and last heir of a very minor noble house in Barund. Your father was Lord Freedyn, the last of his line. He died before you were born, one of the last casualties in the Twenty Year War fought between Barund and Seyrun. Your mother died during childbirth.
With your parents dead and you left as the only infant heir to House Freedyn, the king dissolved the few remaining ducal fiefs remaining to your house and reclaimed that as royal lands. You were given into the care of the Order of the Holy Sword, a minor order of knighthood in the duchy of Anathor.
(Anathor is located in southern Barund, on the border between Seyrun and Arathia. The orders of knighthood can be roughly divided into three varieties: The royal orders, the major orders, and the minor orders. The Order of the Holy Sword is way down there, but that still puts them above 99% of the population of Barund in terms of a social pecking order.)
The philosophy of the Order of the Holy Sword was, as such things go, fairly simplistic: Like every other order of knighthood, they followed the Code of Law as laid down in the Book of Athor, adhered to the Martial Code as laid down in the Book of Itor, and honored the Seven Compassions as laid down in the Book of Crissa. Their only real flair was their zealous devotion to the Deeds of Honor as described in the Book of Itor.
(The Code of Law is your bedrock “thou shalt not” stuff: Don’t murder, steal, enslave your brother, and so forth. The Martial Code is essentially your standard chivalric ideal: Face your opponent fairly and honorably. The Deeds of Honor are a collection of legendary tales, but can also be boiled down into a kind of “scorecard” or exemplar of heroic actions. “He lives his life by the deeds of honor” is a common saying.
The Seven Compassions are a bit more philosophically complex, and are also referred to in some commentaries as the Seven Cares. The compassions are of the self, the companion, the stranger, the task, the thought, the memory, and the true. In other words, care for yourself, for your companions, and for strangers. Take care with what you do, what you think, and how it shall be remembered. And if you can do all that, then you will know true compassion. For most people, the Seven Compassions boil down to “be nice to people” and “think before you act”.)
Growing up in the Order’s care, you naturally became devoutly religious with a deep faith in the tenets of both the Order and the Imperial Church.
(A note about religion in Barund: The Twenty Year War triggered a religious schism within the church. After Seyrun invaded Barund, the King refused to acknowledge the Edicts of the Novarch (as these edicts were closely associated with imperial power in Seyrun). An outright refutation of the Novarch, however, would have put the King on somewhat shaky ground: For six centuries, the Line of Kings has been recognized and legitimized as a divine bloodright dating back to the Holy Coronation performed by the Novarch in 127 YD. So what the King did, while continuing to acknowledge that the Novarch is the Living Voice of the Nine Gods, was to declare the Novarch to have no secular or religious authority over the lands controlled by the divine bloodright of the Barundian royal family. Now, the supreme leader of the Church in Barund has always been the Prelate of Barund. The Prelate of Barund is appointed by the Novarch and has authority over the regional prelates of the church throughout Barund. The King of Barund, on the authority of his divine bloodline, promptly appointed his own Prelate of Barund. So, even today, there are two Prelates of Barund: One appointed by the King and the other appointed by the Novarch.)
It also became quickly apparent that you had a true gift for the play of swords. By fifteen you were besting some of the best fighters of the Order. For awhile you won mild acclaim for the Order by traveling on the tourney circuits throughout the kingdom. It seemed as if you had found your place in life effortlessly. For a time it seemed as if you could see all the days of your life stretching out before you, and you knew what each of them would contain before they ever arrived.
But as you neared your age of majority, however, you realized that there was something not quite right with it all. You had grown up with the teachings of the Order and had a true faith in them, but it often seemed as if those around you were merely paying lip service to their beliefs. Your devout and unbending principles increasingly led to conflicts with the Order.
And then the visions and the voices started. They told you and showed you, in ways which were not always clear, that your path was not true. That you had a greater purpose to serve and a road to travel beyond the simple goals and aspirations of youth.
When you told others of these visions, they thought you were mad. And you even suspected it yourself for awhile. But then an old knight came to the compound where you lived. He sought you out and told you that he had been given a vision to seek you out and give you instruction on three holy tests which would prove your valor, honor, bravery, and faith.
Against the objections of the leaders of the Order, you packed a few of your most previous belongings and left. The tests carried you east, across Barund and Hyrtan and into the Mountains of the East. They tested your body, mind, and soul. And the last of them left you near-to-dead.
As you lay in the barren, windswept snow of the mountain peaks, hovering near the border between life and death, you were granted a vision of the god Vehthyl. He seemed to come to you, as you lay half-buried in the snow, and he told you that you would live and that you would go to the distant city of Sabehl. There you would wait for a priest named Dominic. You were to accompany Dominic until “your journey’s end”, and there your purpose would become clear to you.
You awoke from the vision and struggled back down the mountain. You found that the rigors of your ordeal had hardened your body and opened your mind. Your body felt as if it had been filled with light and warmth. It seemed as if you could hear, deep in your soul, the Song of the Gods whispering and dancing.
You journeyed to Sabehl, the city which stood at the eastern end of the Northern Pass. You waited there for three weeks before, seemingly by chance, you encountered a bedraggled priest by the name of Dominic.
Dominic told you a strange and wondrous tale: A few weeks before, it seemed, Dominic had left his home village of Tarrin’s Reach and journeyed to a nearby town. But when he reached this town, no one knew of him or Tarrin’s Reach. Nor did they know of Tarrin’s Reach in the next town he went to. Dominic, confused and desperate raced home…
… and found nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was as if his village had never existed. The valley where it had once lain was choked with the growth of an ancient forest.
In that forest, near where he thought his town should be, Dominic had found a small disc of purplish stone with a rune he did not recognize. (He showed it to you, and the rune seemed alien to you, as well.) Cold, desperate, and hungry he had clutched that one seeming sign of civilization and fallen asleep.
In the morning, it seemed to him as if the purplish stone shone with a beacon. Having nothing else to guide him, Dominic was following that beacon. It had taken him to Sabehl, and the next day he intended to follow it into the Northern Pass.
When you volunteered to go with him, Dominic was grateful for the company. And for someone who seemed to believe his tale.
The next morning the two of you left and headed due west into the Northern Pass. After several hours of travel, the two of you came upon a strange sight: A gate seemingly crafted all of shadow worked into the wall of the pass.
Dominic said that the beacon was guiding him straight toward it. You were not so certain about entering it – it seemed to pulse with an evil glow – but suddenly Dominic grabbed your wrist and pulled you through after him.
Beyond the shadowy surface of the gate you emerged suddenly into a magnificent chamber made all of gold. Its walls and floor and ceiling are all embossed and etched in bas relief. Directly opposite the two of there stood a door of giant proportions – literally large enough for a giant to traverse it – made entirely of ebony and covered in similar bas reliefs…
… and that’s the last thing you remember.