Shan Zuyen, the 'Fire Lizard'
Disaffected noble, Llaza. By Alex Mandilas
'I am told that an introduction is in order. I am Shan Zuyen. My few friends and my Guardian call me “Shanzu”, as this was the earliest rendition of my name that my infantile tongue could master. I like Shanzu, especially since my Guardian only uses my full name to chastise me. Or, I should say, used to use it. But I am getting ahead of myself.
'People often talk about their first memories of self, those images from an age where awareness, reality and dream are hard to separate in retrospect. Hard you say? Don’t make me laugh! I am now twenty three years old and I still cannot always draw the line between reality and my dreams. The spirits speak strongly to me, but don’t hold it against me. I digress, on to those first memories.
'Gentle sounds, robed figures, chanting, images of mountain peaks, exploding volcanoes, mysterious forests. Fierce battles between fire-clad demons and bright armoured knights… Now, I think it is safe to assume the battles were a dream, or one of those dreams of things that were, or that will be (I have some of those damned ones as well). The chanting and the figures have to be real. When I was old enough to reason (earlier than most people do, thank you very much), my Guardian explained to me that I was a foundling, raised by priests. Priests akin to those who select our Illustrious Divine Emperor in fact. The Emperor that I have grown to realize is not particularly Divine, or Illustrious.
'Speechless? You should be. Who would expect to hear such blasphemy uttered in the house of Zhian Zemiron himself. But you would be even more shocked to find out that it was Zhian himself, my beloved Guardian who set my mind on track to “blasphemy”. The Great Adviser. A Law Lord. The only one, in fact, to have held both that prestigious distinction and that of a Grand Magister. Old Zhian certainly loved a challenge, and a challenge by his standards would be a terrifying impossibility for any dozen of his peers put together, believe me. But you know the legend of the man. I know that thanks to him I never wanted for a father. I hear the stories about orphans’ constant, burning desire to find their true parents. What nonsense. A thousand biological fathers would not have been an ounce of the father and mentor he was to me.
'Mark my words. I will make his murderers pay. Yes, there must have been many, not just because of the mess they made, I think most of that was to mask a more elaborate search they conducted. Probably half a dozen. But damned skilled. They took out the guards with no sound, or loss to themselves. Trust me, the old man was no easy task either. Eighty years old? So what, until a few years back he could keep both myself and Yarzi at bay with his quarterstaff. Alright, with a bit of magic thrown in as well, but the old rascal was so incredibly subtle with it that I was too ashamed to complain. You have to wait a bit, I will tell you who Yarzi is later.
'Where was I… yes, I was a foundling and was raised by the priesthood. Well, not really raised. I think I was three or four years old when Zhian came and took me. I now know that his people had already been to the monastery, watching me, talking to the priests…. For what reason exactly I was picked, I don’t know. Yes, I am no slouch today, but how could he have known back then? I know he meant to tell me soon. He had been agitated lately, even mentioned once that my day was drawing nearer. Very dramatic that he was killed when he was, isn’t it? I mean, it’s always like that in the stories. Let’s face it, if you have something critically important you have to tell someone, aren't you supposed to hold back until you die?
'Back to the subject of the discussion though; me. I was raised in a curious mix of luxury and hardship. The best tutors, the finest food, I’ve studied from books that were worth more than other people’s homes! He was also not shy of affection, or voicing reward. On the other hand, there was the physical training. Endless hours…. Of course I am not going to tell you exactly what I have been taught. Especially at the beginning, you cannot possibly grasp the tediousness and frustration of the basics. “Know thy body, know thy soul” the old man said, time and time again. I am getting better at it. If damned Yarzi stopped trying to destroy my body that is!
'Yes, I am fond of Yarzi. He claims to be a veteran of a thousand battles. I know that many of the ones he occasionally narrates happened dozens of years before he could have possibly been born, but I don’t rub his nose in it (military history is a hobby of mine, he knows that). After all, I don’t think there actually exists a man more skilled with a blade in each hand than Yarzi. So what if he is a braggart? You are right, I am nipping at his heels, but I am not his equal with the blades yet. I also know that if he used his proper blade in our sparring he would gut me like a fish, but that blade is enchanted. I can feel it you know. He knows I can, which is why his fake innocent look when I suggest it amuses me even more. Yarzi was a mercenary. A colonel of Dronistor’s Overlord no less, but that is supposed to be in the past. Does he really not realize that I have noticed the birds? They fly differently when they carry things. The sly rat even did a brush-off trade while we were walking together two weeks ago, having a fierce philosophical debate while he did it. The same thing he has trained me to spot (and do). Yarzi is a great tactician and, yes, I am convinced he is a spy. But I have not had a chance to confront him about it, he is off investigating. I saw him for all of two minutes after the murder, and I saw something I never expected to see: tears in his eyes.
'The dullards at the War College could use an ounce of his wisdom. I am graduating in three weeks, you know? About bloody time! Even with Zhian pulling strings and allowing me time to pursue my own training it was mind-numbing. At least I did make some good friends. If I had not annoyed a full three quarters of the masters, and did not have my insubordination penalties, I would have been top of my class. Which does not say much of course, not much of a competition overall. Yue Sheng, Tanhoi, Morardon, Shonee and that amazing girl, Nimashara, they are different. Which is, of course, why they are my friends. I believe that if they had received my training, from an early age, they would have given me a run for my money on every subject and discipline. What? A glint in my eye when I mentioned Nimashara? None of your business really, is it?
'In a nutshell? Well, it is obvious I have Asharan blood in me. It helps, although I do not feel particularly excited about it. Barely balances the fact that I am not a natural child of Zhian’s. A bit light skinned to be considered a pure blood by the imbeciles who pay attention to such things. I am tall, slender but wiry. I am not exceptionally strong. But I am made of stern stuff, sterner than most. I can go without water for longer than most (this is what earned me the Fire Lizard nickname) and I can take hardship a lot better than most (even if Yarzi thinks I am a snivelling mother’s boy - I don’t even have a mother you dolt!). I have a talent for the military arts. I have studied the great battles, the great tacticians. I have studied the stupidity preached at the College. I consider myself an accomplished fighter already. My favourite style is the dual blades of course, although I can do a very decent job (or indecent if you are on the receiving end) in fighting unarmed. Yarzi calls the style "Kingfisher over Flowing Water" and says it is an ancient method that few remember. He and Zhian refer to it with reverence and awe.
'I enjoy the arts, although my knowledge is casual. I have no musical talent although I adore music. I have always loved reading; philosophers, historians, explorers, they were my friends well before I had real ones. Of course, politics were just an extension of those interests, but I need to give you the proper perspective of what I believe in. You see, I make no distinction between philosophy, politics, people or nature. I believe in balance, an integrated whole. I have grown to realize that there does exist good and evil, but our definitions of it are woefully inadequate. Which gods do I believe in? All of them. And none of them. They exist, I’ll grant you that - they manifest often enough. As does magic. Some people perform magic in the names of gods, others in the name of nature, some in their own name. There is a bit of the magical and the divine in everything, even you, as you sit there. Be careful, the last statement is not philosophical; I can feel it. It is a statement of fact. I suspect all magic, all people, all gods are made from the same “stuff”. What it is, I cannot tell you. Exciting thought though, isn’t it?
'I see you are not interested in deep and meaningful discussion. You ask if I am still loyal to the Empire? You will not get a satisfying answer. I am the Empire’s most loyal subject. I am a lot more loyal to the Empire than the Emperor. My feelings for the Empire as it should be go beyond loyalty. They border on love. That Empire is dead. Zhian gave me glimpses of an Empire that once was. Originally I thought that his Utopian Empire, the celebration of all that is great about Sentient Life, was a philosophical construct, a collection of all the ideas we should fight for. Let me share a nagging thought with you, though. I have a feeling about this Dream Empire; the ideas of which Zhian believed were the true foundation of our own Empire when it was but an infant. This crazy feeling of mine is that Zhian believed this Dream Empire was a real place, on this world of ours. Or a world at the dawn of worlds…. I know, it’s crazy, but I still feel it. I have identified a resonance with this feeling, a resonance which lately I felt in a couple of my “waking dreams”; dreams of structures I did not recognize and people whose language I could not understand.
'Oh stop being so down to earth. What does this mean? Well, it means our Empire needs shaking up. There is "Good" we need to perform, "Evil" we need to drive out. Coalitions to build, foes to vanquish. There are like-minded people out there, kindred souls. I have to find them. Together we will grow in numbers and strength. Personally? I have to find out what Zhian knew. I need to find out if this Dream Empire is just a dream. I must avenge his killers (got to find them first). I have to make a difference, for others and myself.
'I am wasting time here. I can hear Yarzi coming back. Time to see what he’s turned up….'
Male human Ari1/Ftr2/Mnk1: CR 3; Medium Humanoid; AL NG
Abilities Str 11 (+0), Dex 16 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 14 (+2), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 14 (+2)
Initiative +3; Speed 30 ft.
Armour Class 14 (+3 Dex, +1 'shield') touch 13, flat-footed 11; Dodge AC 15, touch 14
Saves Fortitude +7, Reflex +5, Will +5
Hit Dice 1d8+2d10+1d8+8; hit points 33
Base Atttack/Grapple +2/+2; Combat Expertise (+/-2), Two Weapon Defence
Melee Unarmed +2 (1d6)
Melee Silent Sword +3 (1d8, crit. 19-20)
Melee Tengbo +2 (1d6, crit. 19-20)
Full attack Unarmed flurry +0/+0 (1d6)
Full Attack Silent Sword +1 melee (1d8, crit. 19-20) and tengbo -4 (1d6, crit. 19-20)
Special Attacs Flurry of blows
Special Qualities None
Skills: Bluff +6, Craft (poisons) +6, Jump +4, Knowledge (arcana) +6, Knowledge (history) +6, Knowledge (nature) +6, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +6, Knowledge (religion) +6, Sleight of Hand +6, Spot +6
Feats: Combat ExpertiseBF, DodgeBM, Endurance, Mystic Senses*, Two Weapon Defence, Two Weapon FightingBF
Languages: Dronish, High Imperial, Low Imperial
Possessions: Silent Sword (masterwork longsword made in Fnoi Province), tengbo (shortsword from Fnoi province, does slashing not piercing damage). A small fortune inherited from Master Zhemiron.
BF Bonus fighter feat.
BM Bonus monk feat.
*Mystic Senses. A character with this feat is able to feel the presence of magic, spirits, magic items and so on. There is a base 50% chance, plus or minus the characters Wisdom modifier, that the character will get a vague sense of any magic within 5 feet. This sense manifests as a tingling scalp, pricking thumbs, unease of the gut and so on. The gamesmaster may wish to make this roll in secret. It does not determine schools of magic but might discern particularly strong auras as a more powerful sensation.
Shan Zuyen was a character created by Alex Mandilas for an old Conclave play-by-email game. This is an attempt to convert his original idea into d20 mechanics, and required four character levels to fit it all in! I had to use the alternative monk mechanics (from Unearthed Arcana) so that the bonus first level monk feat could be Dodge, and had to introduce the Mystic Senses feat (something that is quite fitting for the Conclave setting anyway). Craft (poisons) is an essential ability for the old nobility and in Shanzu's case is used more for recognising dangerous substances than brewing them. Bluff is used as much for feinting in combat as it is for interpersonal deception.
Shanzu's backstory provides a few interesting adventure seeds. The murder of Zhian Zhemiron may affect the player characters as well - perhaps he was a patron of theirs, or perhaps they fall afoul of Yarzi and Shanzu who mistakenly believe that they are responsible. Shanzu's strange dreams of a mythical Empire may lead to ancient ruins full of pre-Imperial wonders (there are theories of a dragon empire that ruled the land long before the humans), or they may lead the player characters to more immediate intrigue and espionage as they clash with groups intent on raising up a new Empire. Shanzu is not a super-character, but he is perhaps best kept as a non-involved patron if the player characters work with him.
Kingfisher Over Flowing Water
The Kingfisher Style is a very old fighting style peculiar to certain noble families of the Empire (partly because it is most effective when used with masterwork swords). It is a combination of two-weapon fighting combined with evasive moves. It is known as Kingfisher over Flowing Water because one must be as the flowing water to avoid the attacks of one's enemies, and then one must attack with the fast, precise strike of the kingfisher. Shanzu has just learned the basics.
Suggested feats for characters to take to mimic Kingfisher training are Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Two Weapon Defence, Two-weapon Fighting, Two-Weapon Fighting (Improved), Unarmed Strike (Improved), Weapon Finesse and Weapon Focus.
Taking levels of monk is not essential, but is a useful way of demonstrating a focus on the unarmed part of the style. Gamesmasters might like to use the alternative monk rules found the SRD. A monk character gives up the freedom of choice for his bonus feats at first, second and sixth level, but in return gains a skill bonus at first level and, if certain pre-requisites are met, a bonus ability at sixth level.
This style emphasises defence, coupled with rapid, precise, attacks. It also relies on keeping the opponent off balance with feints and evasion.
1st level skill bonus: Bluff +2
1st level bonus feat: Dodge
2nd level bonus feat: Mobility
6th level bonus feat: Kingfisher Strike
6th level bonus ability: Following a successful feint, the monk gets a +2 bonus to the next attack roll (as well as denying the opponent her Dex bonus).
Prerequisites: Bluff 4 ranks,Spot 9 ranks.
Prerequisites: Dex 15+, Two Weapon Fighting
This feat allows a monk to use a longsword as a monk weapon, enabling him to use the monk BAB progression and flurry of blows class feature when fighting with a longsword.
Special: A character with monk levels in the Kingfisher Style gains this feat as a bonus feat at 6th level without needing to meet the prerequisites.
(c) 2007 The Creative Conclave.