Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Not to get too meta on you, but the warsworn is, at first glance, a pretty standard Monster Book #3 or Higher undead.  What I mean by this is that most monster compendiums that run into a third or fourth volume tend to have some kind of made-from-a-pile-of-corpses undead specimen.

That’s not a dig on my part—it totally makes sense.  Undead are hard to concept at high levels—lean too heavy toward thematic special abilities, the monster often ends up resembling a vampire or ghost; lean too hard toward spells, the monster ends up resembling a mummy or lich.  But one archetype that isn’t represented in the core Bestiary undead is a representation of mass death from battle—which is exactly what the warsworn is.

It’s also a key archetype.  In the modern world, we’re (thankfully) largely ignorant of death on a mass scale.  Atrocities can and do (tragically) occur, but in the First World we rarely see sheer piles of the dead the way our forefathers did during times of war.  Imagine coming upon a field in the aftermath of a battle and seeing the corpses lying where they fell, or piled into mounds for burning.  After a certain degree of carnage, the carnage itself must seem a force all on its own—a hungry, animate thing that devours all before it.

And that is what sets the warsworn apart at the stat block level (and what keeps it from being just a made-from-a-pile-of-corpses undead).  A warsworn isn’t just an animate pile of dead—it’s an animate pile of dead that eats.  That hungers.  That feeds off corpses to add them to its body and heal itself.  Even better, it can animate swords and hurl scrap balls(!) at opponents.  It thinks, it plans, it attacks, it consumes.  It is a siege engine made of the dead with a life and will of its own.

It’s no accident the warsworn first showed up during the Kingmaker Adventure Path—these are the perfect undead for the war-torn, live-by-the-sword environ of the River Kingdoms.  Ditto Mendev, the Hold of Belkzen, near Gallowspire, and of course anywhere in the Worldwound.  (And 3.5 players, don’t feel left out—the warsworn practically screams Mournland or Acheron.) 

And of course, like most intelligent undead, every warsworn has—and is—a story.  How did these warriors fall?  And what—or who—compelled them to rise again?

In The Sublime Art, Lu Tzweh speaks of the necessity of strategic surrender.  In life, however, he fought till the end, then returned to fight again after the corpses of his troops were defiled.  The warsworn that was Lu Tzweh and his men has a particular loathing for native outsiders, as it was a rogue band of apostate aasimars that slew him.

One of the odder sites for a warsworn is midway up the Eternal’s Clock in Tarse.  The titan-crafted spire is a maze of chokepoints and murder holes, and in recorded history there has never been fewer than three factions claiming the monument at any one time.  When the Bastard King tried to muscle past the gholdakos and berbalangs that held the North Passage, his men died by the scores.  The warsworn that resulted now has the run of the entire level, blocking access to the top third of the Clock from all troops who cannot fly.

The power that animates a warsworn is often divine in nature.  That’s what makes the Blood Fields of Panthius so interesting.  When the traditionalist Steadfasts and the Reformers in White clashed, more than 10,000 men and women died in a day.  Two warsworn were born from the countless dead, and every full moon they fight each other again, as if acting out conflict anew.  Which raises several questions: Does the deity Panthius support both sides, Steadfast and Reformer alike?  Is another power animating the heretics (or the traditionalists) to undermine and embarrass Lord Panthius?  Or are the god’s eyes somehow blind to this spot, allowing fell forces to frolic in the absence of his loving gaze?

Pathfinder #35 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 272

An extended write-up for warsworn is in Pathfinder #35: War of the River Kings.

Where is the vulture?  Over here.  The walrus?  You’ll have to wait till we cover the emperor walrus.

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