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Darkness on the Edge of Town

I have mentioned before that Rich Baker has joined our staff as a full-time member of the game design team. While he's currently hip-deep in helping to manage the aftermath of our Kickstarter and making sure that we're tracking all the things we've promised our backers, he's also been working closely with Paizo on the Emerald Spire superdungeon, as well as laying a lot of groundwork for the lore that's going to be the backbone of the stories we develop in and around Pathfinder Online.

This week's dev blog is a treat! Rich is going to take you inside the kinds of planning and process that goes into this deep background work. It's a great look at the way the creative process unfolds as we merge the worlds of tabletop and digital gaming!

Building Fort Inevitable

About ten months back, I wrote up a development blog post about concepting and creating the town of Thornkeep. Well, this time I'm back with another interesting corner of the Crusader Road region: Fort Inevitable, a town under the martial law of the Hellknights. If you've read the Thornkeep book, you already know a little bit about Fort Inevitable, since it appears in the chapter detailing the Echo Wood and the surrounding region. But now we're taking a much closer look at this locale, for two reasons: First, a 32-page chunk of the Emerald Spire superdungeon is devoted to describing this town; and second, we expect that, much like Thornkeep, Fort Inevitable will be one of the major NPC towns and a potential starting area for new characters in the Pathfinder Online game.

Concepting

When I first went to work on Thornkeep, we knew next to nothing about the Crusader Road area—there simply wasn't much in print about this corner of the River Kingdoms outside a short section on the ruined town of Mosswater in the Guide to the River Kingdoms sourcebook, and some deeply buried hints hiding in other spots. This time around, we knew a *lot* more about the region, thanks to the groundwork laid down in the Thornkeep book. The description of Fort Inevitable in Thornkeep served as our springboard for creating a big, fully realized town—it gave us a starting point to work from. (And yes, there are a couple of spots where we called the town Fort Indomitable by mistake; our apologies. Fort Inevitable is supposed to be the name.) These brief paragraphs created the framework of things we knew we needed to be true: Once this was the small hamlet of Southwood, sorely plagued by bandits until the Hellknights brought a harsh brand of law and order to this place.

Starting with that simple framework, I began by building a list of ways in which Fort Inevitable should be different from Thornkeep. First of all, Fort Inevitable isn't protected by the forest; it stands out in the rolling plains of the West Sellen vale, surrounded by wide open fields and pastures. Thornkeep has never needed any sort of extensive defenses (and probably hasn't ever been organized enough or wealthy enough to build them anyway), but Fort Inevitable clearly would need walls, gates, towers, barracks, and other such structures. The economies are different, too. Thornkeep has easy access to forest resources but little arable ground, but Fort Inevitable reverses that situation: This is a town surrounded by golden fields of grain. In Thornkeep, no one's ever bothered to lay out a town plan so there isn't a single road that runs in a straight line, but in Fort Inevitable there should be cobblestone streets and regular intersections. Thornkeep sprawls haphazardly around its run-down keep, but Fort Inevitable huddles tightly within its well-maintained walls, and actually has a smaller (and denser) footprint than its neighbor in the forest.

Finally, Thornkeep's ruler is apathetic and disinterested; Baron Tervin doesn't really care what happens in his town, so long as it isn't a direct challenge to him. Fort Inevitable, on the other hand, is governed by a meticulous and inflexible Lady Commander, the Paralictor Audara Drovust. Not only is she the military commander of the garrison, she is also the head of the town's administration and bureaucracy, directly overseeing virtually all aspects of civic life. Lady Audara's soldiers vigorously patrol the town, enforcing a strict curfew and monitoring any suspicious activity.

The Hellknights

With some basic ideas in mind for the town's physical layout and its industries, I started thinking hard about the nature of the Hellknight's governance. The Hellknights are one of the most iconic factions or power groups to be found in the Inner Sea area, but they're split into many different sub-orders. Which of the constituent orders was the right one for Fort Inevitable?

Our first inclination was to make Fort Inevitable a headquarters for the Order of the Nail, but I ran into a bit of a logical problem with that. The Order of the Nail is all about scouring the land clean of banditry and outlaws, but the town of Thornkeep lies less than ten miles away from Fort Inevitable. We knew from the description in the Thornkeep book that the Hellknights had established themselves in this spot thirty years ago, give or take. If this was a group of Nail knights, it just didn't seem plausible that they would have left Thornkeep alone for all that time. In any kind of prolonged contest between Thornkeep and Fort Inevitable, you'd have to bet on the Hellknights—they're better organized and they can field a substantially larger force. So why wouldn't they have burned Thornkeep to the ground already?

I met with James Jacobs and Wes Schneider over on the Paizo side of the building to educate myself more about Hellknights and look for alternatives. We kicked around the idea of going with the Order of the Chain, since we knew that Fort Inevitable would be the "evil" starting town and would be a place where slavery was openly practiced, but we didn't want Fort Inevitable to be *too* evil, because we wanted to leave plenty of room for lawful non-evil types to feel okay about starting their careers here. We all liked the Order of the Rack and the Order of the Gate, but those seem a little less martial than the sort of Hellknight order we'd be looking for. Eventually we found the group we needed in one of the minor Hellknight orders, the Order of the Pike.

The Order of the Pike works well on a couple of fronts. First of all, it's an order devoted to fighting monsters and defending civilized land from monstrous incursions—the presence of a lawless town nearby would be annoying, but nothing that their order's mandate would demand action against. An order devoted to defending against monsters is just about perfect for the online game; any new player would feel good about protecting a human town from savage and feral beasts. Finally, it makes good sense in the story of the world, since you would have to imagine that the Order of the Pike would be enthusiastic about supporting the Mendevian crusades. So, that gave us our primary Hellknight order in Fort Inevitable.

Monolithic, well-coordinated authority is a little boring, so the next step in Fort Inevitable's development was to think about ways the Order of the Pike doesn't get everything it wants. Fortunately, the very nature of the Hellknights—multiple orders sworn to different missions—provides a great opening on that front. This is where we brought back the Order of the Nail and the Order of the Gate. While the Order of the Pike is the largest part of the Hellknight garrison and the senior Pike knight is the commander of the town, Fort Inevitable is home to a small Nail chapterhouse and a Gate contingent. Naturally, the Nail knights are anxious to get after all the banditry in the area, while the Gate knights are fascinated by the strange Azlanti ruins in the area. Their leaders won't directly defy the lady commander of Fort Inevitable, but they'll definitely work toward different goals.

Law and Order

In thinking about how Fort Inevitable really worked, I started off with the assumption that it was essentially a military camp—everybody was part of the organization. But after considering that a little more, I decided that wasn't quite the right note to strike. Instead, I decided to look at Fort Inevitable as a town under martial law. There are civilians who are more or less free to go about their lives and practice their trades, and then there are the Hellknights, who serve as the army, the police, and the government. Laws are stern and are rigorously enforced, taxes are heavy, and personal freedoms are restricted, but it's not Mordor. The Hellknights feel that their laws *protect* people, so they don't go around randomly beating civilians or throwing them into forced labor. (Be careful about publicly criticizing the Hellknight administration, though—that's sedition, and it can indeed earn you a beating and some hard labor.) But while the Hellknights' laws do a reasonable job of protecting well-off citizens, Fort Inevitable is a bad place to fall on hard times or wind up in debt.

In case you're wondering how independent, authority-defying types like adventurers might get by in Fort Inevitable, the answer is "reasonably well." The Hellknights aren't big fans of individuals riding out to kill villains and take their stuff—after all, that looks an awful lot like common banditry. But individuals or companies can obtain "letters of warrant" that grant the Lady Commander's permission to deal with outlaws and monsters, and confiscate their goods. The adventuring party based in Fort Inevitable has to surrender a cut of their profits to the authorities, but in return they gain a very secure base of operations and access to all the services available in the town.

Slavery

Martial law isn't necessarily evil in and of itself, but one aspect of life in Fort Inevitable unquestionably is: The practice of slavery. Indentured servitude is a common punishment for failure to make good on debts, and slavery is perfectly legal within the Hellknights' territory. In the Hellknights' view, all debts must be paid, whether they're debts to society incurred through lawbreaking or obligations to individuals incurred through renting land, borrowing money, or other ordinary affairs. If someone cannot meet their debts in any other way, they and all their work become the property of the person to whom they're indebted—and rights of property trump rights of personal freedom. The Lady Commander's administration holds regular auctions in which chronic debtors, vagabonds, or convicted criminals are sold into slavery.

Slavery is highly unpopular in the River Kingdoms, to say the least. In fact, the River Laws specifically ban the practice. However, the Hellknights don't particularly care about the River Laws, and no one who does care has yet confronted Fort Inevitable over the issue—the Hellknight position in the Crusader Road is quite strong, and unless a regional power such as Daggermark or Tymon takes up the cause, nothing is likely to be done anytime soon. The issue is confused somewhat by the fact that slavery in Fort Inevitable is not as awful as it could be: It's illegal to kill or mistreat slaves, and the Hellknights enforce those laws just like they do all others.

While the Hellknights recognize slaveowners' rights of property, they do not condone those who come by their property illegally. A slave-taker who abducts random people and drags them off is *not* protected by Fort Inevitable's laws, and in fact stands a good chance of being accused of kidnapping and tried by the Lady Commander's officers. A person who enters Fort Inevitable's territory in possession of slaves must be able to prove his right of ownership. Unfortunately, professional slavers have a knack for producing the right paperwork at the right time.

People and Places

Now that I had an idea of how Fort Inevitable worked and why, I was ready to populate a map sketch with specific businesses and personalities. Much as I did with Thornkeep, I started by building a list of the common goods and services player characters might be looking for in town: a weapon shop, an armorer, an apothecary, temples, and so forth. Just like Thornkeep has its Greenforest Inn, I suspect that many Pathfinder Online characters will become familiar with the fountain square of Fort Inevitable and its statue of the ancient hero Tarwynna, conqueror of the goblin-realm of Zog.

With the basics taken care of, I moved on to entries for people or situations that might provide quest hooks later, including a handful of out-and-out monster infestations right under the Hellknights' noses. After all, Fort Inevitable has a sewer system, and in a fantasy city—even a smallish one—those are home to some dangerous creatures. Naturally, the monsters you run into inside Fort Inevitable's walls tend to be creatures that fit well in urban environments. And, like any place with oppressive laws and punitive taxes, Fort Inevitable is home to a resistance movement. The group known as the Seven Foxes are determined to undermine the tyranny of the Hellknights... but it's going to be a tough, tough struggle for any would-be revolutionaries to change Fort Inevitable for the better.

Since we already covered many of the noteworthy sites in the Echo Wood and the West Sellen's vale in the Thornkeep book, we passed on creating any additional locales that aren't in the town itself. Besides, we already were committed to spending close to 130 pages in a *very* detailed exploration of one site in particular: The Emerald Spire. After all, this is a superdungeon, not a geographical gazetteer; Fort Inevitable is a great base of operations and an interesting place to explore, but the purpose of the Emerald Spire product is to present this awesome multi-level dungeon just seven miles (or so) from Fort Inevitable's eastern gate.

The Emerald Spire

While I've been working to sketch out the town of Fort Inevitable, we've also been pulling together the concept and overview for the Emerald Spire dungeon levels. Working with the big brains at Paizo, we came up with the story of the dungeon, the major factions that are present in its various levels, and the Earth-Shattering Revelation that you'll find at the bottom of this immense maze. I've been coordinating the "concept pitches" from all the authors involved in the project and working out who's going to write which level, and I'm happy to report that we're now underway—everybody knows what level they're writing, what experience level the PCs will be when they get there, and how their level fits into the overall story of the Spire. More than that I won't say right now; after all, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise! But trust me, the Emerald Spire is going to be a fantastic adventure!

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