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Entropic Paths to Immortalityby Rodger Burns
Awhile back, David Knott suggested that the Path of the Conquerer (from GAZ10) was a mirror reversal of the Path of the Dynast, focusing on destructive rather than constructive ends and leading to Immortality in the Sphere of Entropy rather than Time - and that the other three Spheres' paths had similar mirrors that could be chosen by Entropic candidates. (Details are available on the Vaults, at Paths to Entropic Immortality and related pages.) I've always liked the idea, but I've disliked some of the final execution - in my opinion because David focused too much on reversing the individual pieces of the original Paths and ended up with some elements that didn't make too much sense. Accordingly, I'm choosing to write my own set of Paths working from David's original insight, but reversing what I see as the overall goal of each non-Entropic Path and seeing what tasks and quests arise from that.
* Path of the Dynast: Bring settlers together into a new kingdom, build a realm that will last for the long term.
** Path of the Conquerer: Bring barbarians together into a new war horde, cause destruction and devastation now.
* Path of the Paragon: Raise yourself above all others, prove your excellence by doing unique and extraordinary things.
** Path of the Villain: Push everyone around you down, prove your wickedness by humiliating and tormenting your enemies.
* Path of the Polymath: Grow and excel in all areas, show that your heroism relies on your character and determination rather than your inborn skills or experience.
** Path of the Betrayer: Deceive others and bring about their downfall, show that your villainy relies on your cunning and ruthlessness rather than luck or location.
* Path of the Epic Hero: Do amazing and impossible things, inspire others to emulate your example and perform further acts of heroism.
** Path of the Misericord: Do horrific and unthinkable things, create a lasting legacy of cynicism, hopelessness and despair.
PATH OF THE VILLAIN:
The Path of the Villain focuses on advancing the cause of Entropy by oppressing and manipulating others - causing misery and torment for the Villain's own amusement and profit, goading and deceiving champions of Law into battling one another rather than working for a common cause, and making the goals of Entropy seem attractive by sabotaging, corrupting or corroding all more noble ideals. The Villain is not necessarily efficient, pragmatic or predictable - his goal is to be flamboyantly cruel and overwhelmingly malevolent. This path favors giants, lycanthropes and other monster types who rely mainly on strength, toughness and physical prowess.
* Quest: The Villain must acquire an artifact of the Sphere of Entropy. This artifact will be carefully hidden and guarded by beings opposed to the Villain's sponsor; the Villain must keep his acquisition of the artifact as secret as possible.
* Task: Once the Villain has acquired his artifact, he must carefully study it, and devise a way to create copies of the artifact - mortal-level magical items that share the artifact's appearance, manifest similar powers, and share at least one of the artifact's Handicaps or Penalties. The Villain must arrange for many copies of the artifact to be created and spread throughout the campaign setting; the Villain must also insure that adventurers and nobility in the campaign setting come to view these copies as useful and valuable magical items, despite the built-in drawbacks.
* Trial: The Villain must coerce at least six adventurers into becoming rivals of the Villain - individuals whose only goal is the Villain's discomfiture and eventual defeat. These rivals must each gain at least twelve levels while working to oppose the Villain's plots. The Villain must insure, though, that his rivals gain no lasting rewards from their actions other than personal satisfaction from opposing the Villain - if a rival earns wealth or property, the Villain must have it ruined, seized or stolen; if a rival gains fame or renown, the Villain must arrange for the rival to be mocked and humiliated; if a rival takes comfort in family or a romantic partner, the Villain must sabotage or destroy the relationship.
* Testimony: The Villain must convince his rivals that an organization within the campaign setting that champions law and order - a noble kingdom, temple, knightly order, trading guild, arcane college or similar - is actually a tool of the Villain, and so manipulate his rivals into attacking the organization. At least one champion on each side should be equipped with one of the items created as part of the Task. Once one side or another has been destroyed, the Villain must step in and eliminate the weakened victor himself.
** Antihero PCs as Villains: The Path of the Villain is a fairly tricky path for PCs to follow. It involves actively working to torment others, stringing along rivals and undermining societies rather than adventuring or exploring strange places. An antihero PC might be able to pursue the Path of the Villain by focusing his efforts on an evil empire - convincing its noble scions to abandon their roles as the empire's future leaders to hunt the antihero, and eventually deceiving them into bringing the empire itself down. Mostly, though, the Path of the Villain is suited to NPC antagonists.
** Antagonistic NPCs as Villains: A character on the Path of the Villain can make an interesting antagonist - if used properly. It's probably not a good idea to make PCs into a Villain's rivals, or otherwise inclined to confront the Villain directly - doing so risks setting up a rapid confrontation that'll either end with the PCs victorious (and the Villain no longer usable as an antagonist) or the Villain triumphant (and the PCs humiliated, frustrated and feeling directly responsible for the Villain's future villainy). Instead, the PCs should be involved more indirectly - friends or allies of one of the Villain's rivals, or leaders in the organization the Villain intends to frame as part of his Testimony. This allows the PCs to successfully oppose the Villain's efforts without immediately forcing a final showdown.
PATH OF THE BETRAYER
This path to Immortality turns subtlety, versatility and cunning to the ends of Entropy. A successful candidate on this Path shows that her ability to plan, to deceive and to ruthlessly undermine others isn't dependent on the body she was born with or the customs she learned as a child, but can be employed anywhere and in any shape. This path favors monster types that rely on shapeshifting, deception and stealth such as dopplegangers, drakes and medusas.
* Quest: The Betrayer must secretly acquire an artifact of Entropy. No other party interested in the artifact (either inside or outside the ranks of the Entropic Immortals) should know that the Betrayer has acquired the artifact.
* Testimony: The Betrayer must gain the loyalty of at least four minions, each of a different character class, demihuman race or monster type. Each of these minions must be loyal to the Betrayer alone, distrusting the other minions and willing to turn on them should the Betrayer give the word. During the Betrayer's Trial (see below), the Betrayer must insure that at least one of her minions is found out as an agent of Entropy and executed; she must then recruit a replacement from among the members of the society she's currently infiltrated.
* Task and Trial: The Betrayer will be given a series of three new mortal identities by her Immortal sponsor, each of a different human or demihuman society. In each of these identities, the Betrayer must work her way to a position of leadership, undermine the society from within and finally bring about its destruction. (The change of identity is cosmetic only - the Betrayer retains all her original memories, skills and racial/class abilities. She must manage her own explanations for why she lacks any knowledge or skills that her identity would normally be expected to inherently possess, or has powers and talents her identity would not normally be able to use.) At some point during the Betrayer's infiltration of each society, she must insure that another leadership figure acquires the Entropic artifact she quested for, and invokes it in a way that endangers the society or helps bring about its downfall. Once the artifact has ruined its would-be wielder, the Betrayer must secretly reclaim it. Once three societies have been ruined by the Betrayer's actions, she becomes an Immortal in the Sphere of Entropy.
* Antihero PCs as Betrayers: It's entirely possible for sympathetic PCs to follow the Path of the Betrayer, infiltrating and disrupting chaotic societies and arranging the overthrow of would-be tyrants. Juggling followers is more difficult - these are best handled as NPC henchmen, not fellow PCs, and likely roleplayed as flawed and less-than-sympathetic individuals. All in all, this is one of the easier Entropic paths for a PC to pursue (after the Path of the Conquerer).
** Antagonistic NPCs as Betrayers: A would-be Betrayer can make an excellent villain for a campaign - especially as the same character can show up multiple times with different faces but the same tools and overall goal each time. A Betrayer's first infiltration might happen very early in a long-running campaign, while the PCs are still young and inexperienced; the second could occur once the PCs have enough power to mount a capable opposition and help at least some refugees survive, leaving the third infiltration as a final showdown between the PCs and their foe. The Betrayer's sacrifice of minions also provides for a good flow of powerful 'boss' enemies, whose deaths (unknown to the PCs) actually advance the Betrayer's ultimate goals.
PATH OF THE MISERICORD
This path emphasizes self-destructiveness, desolation, and the spreading of futility and despair. Even more than the Villain, the Misericord advances the cause of Entropy by violating dreams and destroying hope; he is an example of what not to do, and his continued survival is meant to be a mockery of the ideals of courage and heroism. This path favors beholders, nagpa, and other monster types that rely on unnatural energies or magical power.
* Trial: The Misericord must forsake all allies and companions for the duration of their time on the quest for Immortality. The Misericord must also seek out a great hero of the current age, murder him and desecrate the body. The Misericord doesn't have to give warning or offer anything like a fair fight, but does have to act alone. The Misericord must make sure, once the deed is done, that others find out what has happened and why.
* Quest: The Misericord must acquire an artifact of Entropy. Once this artifact has been acquired the Misericord must use it prominently and often, accepting the Handicaps and Penalties associated with its use and not trying to cure or mitigate them.
* Task: The Misericord must acquire a unique magic item, rare spell, or other signature object associated with a hero of the past, and either despoil it in spectacularly public fashion or misuse it in the commission of some atrocity, thus forever tainting the hero's legacy. The Misericord will, needless to say, face formidable opposition in carrying out this task.
* Testimony: The Misericord must spread dread, despair and melancholy wherever he travels. He must complete a quest to perform some unthinkably horrific task, such as transforming everyone in a city into vampires or raising a volcano in the middle of a fertile kingdom. This quest should take about five years to complete.
* Antihero PCs as Misericords: This is a tough path for even the most jaded of antiheroic PCs to follow - following it means adventuring alone, acting self-destructively and being nasty for its own sake. A few rare opponents (such as a charismatic but thoroughly evil empire) might warrant the attention of an antihero Misericord, but in almost all other situations a ruthless and pragmatic approach to the path of the Epic Hero will be both easier and more fun to roleplay.
* Antagonistic NPCs as Misericords: A monster on the path of the Misericord can make for a fun if probably not especially long-running villain in a campaign. The best Misericords will probably have too much magical backup and raw power to confront directly - instead the PCs should figure out the Misericord's weak points (the handicaps associated with the villain's artifact, the people wronged or injured by the Misericord's past rampages and eager to help stop the menace, the Misericord's need to be as visible as possible so as to inspire fear and despair) and use those against him. The main problem in using a Misericord as a recurring villain is their lack of allies and minions - meaning that the Misericord has no one to dispatch to distract characters getting too close, send out to further the Misericord's plans while he hides out and recovers, or sacrifice to cover the Misericord's escape. Fortunately, the Misericord is the most likely type of Entropic candidate to have magical means (/teleport/, /create monsters/, /prismatic wall/, /wish/) to fill these needs instead.