Friday, October 17, 2014

Cold Rider

It’s probably a gross oversimplification on my part, but it seems like most fantasy role-playing games that take fairies seriously* as antagonists follow a certain pattern.  First they check off the British, Irish, French, and Greek basics (pixie, sprite, dryad, etc.).  Then they tackle the deep cuts (glaistig, nuckelavee) and Eastern European fey (rusalka).  And finally they go conceptual—that is, they cover the fey that should exist, but just don’t have names.  

These are the fey that you’d find in a Brian Froud painting or an urban fantasy novel…fey that fall under the catchall term “sídhe”…fey that fill a need.  “I need really evil, nasty pixies,” you say, and you get Pathfinder’s lurker in light and the tooth fairy.  “I need a spirit for a really old oak tree, or the gnomes that Rip Van Winkle ran into,” you say, and you get the Tome of Horrors’ oakman and forgotten one.  

And when you need a spirit of the wintry hunt, or of corruption stealing through the soul like frostbite, you get the cold rider.

The Bestiary 3 says, “Cold riders delight in perversion, slaughter, and the corruption of other fey…[and] prefer undead or cold-resistant steeds.”  Carnival of Tears goes even further, saying that (in Golarion at least) they were once noble fey knights who had their hearts ripped out and replaced with rotting stag hearts by the Witch Queen.  Whatever their origin in your world, cold riders are fey of death and evil just a few frosty breaths away from undeath.  The only good news is that their frigid natures make them vulnerable as well as powerful—so prepare your shatter, sonic, and fire spells.

Cold riders have abducted the goodly fey from Heart of Fir!  The riders drag the captives behind their skeletal mounts in cruel, cold iron cages.  To catch up with the icewalking fey, adventurers have two options: brave the arctic wastes alone by dogsled, or trust the reprobates and madmen who crew the iceboats that skate across the frozen North.

Attempting to sit in a magical siege perilous atop a frozen tower, a warrior must first defeat the cold rider who guards it.  Ideally she and her adventuring band should find a way to banish, distract, or otherwise drive off the cold rider, for if they kill it, the magic of the tower summons a rusalka who tries to force the warrior to take the cold rider’s place as frozen guardian.

A necromancer fears only the priests and paladins of light who can so easily counter his spells and minions.  He makes a rare alliance with a fey queen for the services of a cold rider bodyguard skilled at murdering clerics.  (Given the already tarnished condition of his soul, turning over his still-beating heart to the queen seemed more like an insurance policy than a risk.)

Carnival of Tears 27–29 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 59

*Not taking them seriously is why nobody likes you, 3.0 Monster Manual.  I’ll be over here hanging out with the 2e Monstrous Manual, who’s way cooler than you and old enough to buy us alcohol.**

**Even though he really prefers…sprites!***

***Shut up, that was A material.

Carnival of Tears is nicely twisted adventure (courtesy of Hitchcock/Logue, naturally) and a great source for more cold fey, including the dark ice template.

David Fanany wrote just about the nicest thing ever:

You should *so* write a complete Cognomon campaign setting!

Thanks, man!  I’m really pleased it struck a nerve!

Trust me, I definitely have an interest in writing up some campaign settings—particularly short tight 16 or 32-page sketches in the spirit of the mini-campaigns that the combined Dungeon/Polyhedron magazines used to showcase.  The main obstacle would be time, finding a good editor, time, finding a solid graphic designer and/or artists to make it look good, and time.  But maybe a project for the future, especially if I ever went the Patreon/Kickstarter route. 

I certainly have my favorites, but if Cognomon or any of the worlds I whip up strike your fancy, definitely be like David and let me know!  Thanks!

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