At the conclusion of our current Kingmaker campaign (to be continued at a later date after a hiatus), I decided to do some research out of curiosity. I was very interested in the armor that Asher came across, the Armor of the Shadow Lord. It’s legendary, for sure, but it’s so powerful that Jack was not able to fully identify its magic properties. Furthermore, Asher has not yet “earned” the full bonuses provided by the armor. But it’s one thing to encounter a heavily enchanted suit of armor, and another thing entirely to encounter a heavily enchanted suit of armor with a name. The name means it has a significant history. So where did this armor come from? Who was the original shadow lord?
My research all but fell flat. I do not know who created the armor, or who wore it, or how the armor affected the history of Golarion. Asher assumes that it belongs to a long line of legendary assassins, where earning the armor generally requires taking it from the previous owner. Thus, the title of “Shadow Lord” is a rather transient one, although it carries significant weight. I imagine most assassins and rogues would believe this to be true.
But then I stumbled on an interesting tidbit. The most evil god in the Pathfinder pantheon, Zon-Kuthon, has many nicknames, including “Shadow Lord.” It’s rarely used, save for by the Nidalese people, and isn’t even listed as one of Zon-Kuthon’s official titles (The Midnight Lord, The Dark Prince, and The Prince of Pain.) But the Shadow Lord name exists because of Zon-Kuthon’s exile in the Shadow Plane. The people of Nidal use the title because when Zon-Kuthon returned from exile, he returned to them, to protect them from destruction. According to the Pathfinder Wiki entry on Zon-Kuthon:
One of the myths told of Zon-Kuthon, is that at the beginning of time he was known as Dou-Bral, a good deity who shared the portfolio of beauty, love, and the arts with his half-sister, Shelyn. When their relationship soured, Dou-Bral abandoned Golarion for the dark places between the planes, and there was tormented and possessed by an alien being. Upon returning to our reality, Dou-Bral as he had been known was gone, replaced with the twisted, malevolent soul known as Zon-Kuthon.
When Shelyn saw that her brother was forever changed, and not for the better, the two battled, her pleas and tears met with a violence Dou-Bral would never have been capable of. Shelyn finally wrested the golden glaive the two had shared (a symbol of their power) from her twisted brother’s fingers, and established an tenuous truce that held in place more by silence and avoidance than any desire to actually coexist.
A second myth speaks of how Zon-Kuthon first came into conflict with Abadar, and god of culture, wealth, and stability. Seeing the crimes Zon-Kuthon committed in Golarion, Abadar knew that he must be punished, and made a bargain with the evil god. Zon-Kuthon agreed to go into exile on the Plane of Shadow for as long as the sun hung in the sky in exchange for an item from the First Vault. This imprisonment was not meant to be over as soon as it was, though, and when the sun stopped shining upon Golarion during the Age of Darkness, Abadar honored his deal, giving Zon-Kuthon the first undead shadow, which The Midnight Lord has used to craft evil creatures from his realm of Xovaikain.
Could it be? Could the armor have been crafted by the most vile, darkest god in the known universe? The armor has been whispering to Asher, particularly in his sleep, gently encouraging him to inflict pain and suffering and commit murder. He’s largely ignored this, as he only does such things when he thinks it serves a purpose. But suffering for suffering’s sake is precisely the sort of thing that Zon-Kuthon would encourage.
The connection to Zon-Kuthon also carries forward to another interesting relationship. Nidal swore eternal obedience to Zon-Kuthon. Nisroch is the largest city in Nidal. Dovan, the odd, bitter man that was made Steward by the party after they killed the Stag Lord, hails from Nisroch. Dovan, curiously enough, appeared quite knowledgeable about who Asher was. But once Asher declared himself the Shadow Lord, Dovan stopped pressing the issue of Asher’s background. Is this coincidence? Or does Dovan perhaps know more about the Armor of the Shadow Lord than the rest of the group had been able to figure out? And if so, is it because the armor is in fact connected to Zon-Kuthon?
And if the armor did once belong to Zon-Kuthon, what does it mean for Asher? He’s certainly evil and homicidal, yes. But he does not delight in pain. He thinks of himself as a necessary evil, and has no delusions about the immorality of his actions. He feels he has a purpose, and tools like violence and fear are just a means to an end. Violence and fear are not the purpose; they are the path. The armor, as an intelligent item, has a certain ego (mechanically speaking) and will try to “corrupt” Asher into the sadistic whims of Zon-Kuthon. However, it technically cannot overpower Asher’s own innate force of will and spirit. Rather, if someone came to Asher and told him that the Armor of the Shadow Lord was an artifact of Zon-Kuthon and that it would try to bend Asher to its will, Asher would smirk.
He would smirk, and tenderly rub the black leather between his fingers, and exclaim in an unwavering, deep voice: “I am the Shadow Lord now. Zon-Kuthon shall bend to my will.”
That’s because two Shadow Lords is not Balanced. And Balance just happens to be the core of Asher’s beliefs. And if he must slay the god of Darkness, Death, Destruction, Evil, Law, Catastrophe, Devil, Loss, Murder, Night, and Undead to restore Balance, he will do so.
And he will maintain that icy smirk the entire time.