“Exscinders,” Bestiary 5 begins, “are Heaven's censors.”
That frisson you feel—that spark created by the disconnect between “Heaven” and “censors”—that’s what makes this monster interesting.
To almost any modern fantasy fan, censors are bad. They are the worst, in fact. How many fantasy and sci-fi novels have you read where censors are the villains? Fahrenheit 451, 1984…heck, I’m listening to An Ember in the Ashes literally right now, featuring an oppressed people known as Scholars who, ironically, aren't permitted to read. Plenty of literary villains enslave, pillage, and murder…but it’s the censors and book burners that break readers’ hearts.
(I’m going to dive into a personal aside here, the kind I usually leave for the bottom of the post, because it’s germane to our discussion. I think—and this is a total blanket generalization, so feel free to correct me—but I think this is especially true of fans born in the ’70s or before. For those of us who grew up before the Internet, the power of information—and the power to take it away—were real things to us. Adult books were on a different floor of the library, and even if you could take them out, you felt like an intruder for trying (and I lived in a liberal near-utopia; other libraries were stricter). If you lived in a rural or religious area, lots of books just weren’t available. Ditto music: Walmart wouldn’t stock CDs with warning labels. Porn magazines, to kids, were literally currency. And I got into role-playing in 1988, when a) the shadow of BADD and ’80s suburban panic about devil worship still hung heavy over the industry, and b) the Cold War was still very much a thing (perestroika notwithstanding), with all that implied about Soviet censors and East German secret police. To a sensitive 10-year-old nerd, the sense that books were precious, rare, special, and that there were people who wanted to take them away from you, was real.)
So censors are bad.
We don’t live in a world where books can come alive or steal souls. If we did, we might have a different attitude. Watch Evil Dead, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or The Care Bears Movie, and tell me books aren't dangerous. (You can imagine the PSAs: “Parents, have you talked to your child about incunabula?”)
So exscinders—yes, this is still a monster blog—serve a valuable purpose in a Pathfinder multiverse. There is Knowledge Man Wasn’t Meant to Know. There are books too dangerous to read, pages that can literally warp your soul or open doors to evil realms. Exscinders protect mortalkind from such pernicious heterodoxy. They are strict for a reason, though those reasons are lawful and good. Like the monks in A Canticle for Leibowitz, they know that while knowledge must be preserved, disseminating it is a different matter—particularly when that knowledge has the ability to usher in the Apocalypse.
Theoretically, this should mean exscinders are allies of the PCs. But evil or neutrally aligned parties, servants of gods of knowledge or magic, freedom fighters, and even librarians or scribes might object to such paternalistic thinking—particularly if they need to tap (even with the best of intentions) that forbidden knowledge themselves.
The fight against the insidious gospels of the kytons has left one archon almost as cold and clinical as his quarry. The exscinder Maritius wears a mask of stitched kyton leather that exposes only his eyes. As he grows more and more dogmatic, he seems to increase both his mandate and his list of forbidden texts. Other archons fear that if he is not reined in, he will give the kytons grounds to charge and try him in the multiversal courts (an axiomatic legal arena the kytons are skilled at manipulating). Mortal adventurers are needed to subdue Maritius to keep Heaven’s hands clean.
An exscinder attempts to steal a party mage’s spellbook. But that makes no sense…it’s an ordinary book of spells, one the wizard has been scrawling in since his apprenticeship. Has there been some great Heavenly mistake? Did the pages hide some secret? Is the wizard unknowingly the vessel for some world-threatening heresy? It’s a mystery—and one the party members may have to solve without the aid of their best caster’s complement of spells.
A heresy devil has managed to insert some lines into the Book of Fate. Exscinders move to remove the verses, but as they delete them, the pernicious phrases pull legitimate stanzas out along with them. Like a scar badly healing, the resulting tortured grammar contains new meanings, new fates—and thus potential new realities. Every edit the exscinders make risks changing the world a little more. They must be stopped before the revisions take hold.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 5 34
With my late ’70s birthdate, technically I’m a leading edge Millennial (depending on who you ask), but that makes a lot of my references and outlook pretty heavily Gen X. (This list is strikingly accurate but, being BuzzFeed, way too self-congratulatory.)
At this point, my stack of unread Pathfinder books has gone from embarrassing through humiliating to “likely to topple over and kill me.” (Speaking of which, one of those unread books, Heaven Unleashed, has a nice exscinder NPC and lair.) That said, my latest box just arrived, and Horror Adventurers—which I’d planned to tease for you in my PaizoCon wrap-up (that I still haven’t, er, wrapped up…or even begun)—was inside.
It looks, as usual, gorgeous. And I’m so excited about the various corruptions, archetypes, and creepy horror rules within.
I’m one of the rare naysayers (along with RPG.net, apparently) who wasn’t all that impressed with 3.5’s Heroes of Horror—there just wasn’t enough for me to sink my teeth into that hadn't already been covered in Dragon Magazine or Book of Vile Darkness (or even Oriental Adventurers’ taint and blood magic rules). But Pathfinder has been pretty solid on horror going all the way back to The Skinsaw Murders, and the corruption art previewed at PaizoCon was phenomenal, so I’m pretty excited to crack this book open. If I have any profound thoughts, I’ll let you know.