In times of strife and varied troubles, many men make war their trade; by the sword they live and die, their days crimson, their nights uneasy, their future uncertain.
Many of them are left to rot upon some forgotten battlefield, countless retire as maimed war veterans, scarred in spirit and body. Yet, from the masses of warriors, legends are born.
Such a legend was Gauran, and many surnames did he earn, ‘Crimson Cloak’ and ‘Bearer of the Flame’ amongst them, ‘Father of the Blade’ later. His foes called him ‘Beast’ first, ‘Cursed’ and ‘Hellspawn’ later.
Let me recount his tale.
Of humble origins, a watchman’s son, young Gauran enlisted, seeing his city beset by the tides of war. Serving as the general’s trumpeter, he found in him a second father, and memorized every word from his lips; during meetings with the commanders, he served drinks and eavesdropped on grand plans and devious tactics.
The boy became a man; still, he never strayed from the general’s side, a squire then, a bodyguard later. It was on the battle of Wyrmbone Hill where general Trevale fell. Struck down by a knight’s lance he was, soon to be followed by many of his bodyguard. Gauran was amongst the living; his blade sent the foemen to the lands of the dead. Knowing well that without command the battle, possibly the war, was lost, he wrested the trumpet from the dead fingers of a youth not unlike him several years ago, and commanded the army, which was blissfully unaware of the loss of its commander, to victory.
Seeing his idealism and skill, king Baetor knighted Gauran, and rewarded the youngster with his master’s post, to lead the troops to victory. I shall not speak of the many battles he fought, for that I reserve for another day.
What is of importance, and necessary for you to understand what came to pass, is Gaurans character and his beliefs. Having lived his days most often locked in conflict between us and them, he learned to love his side intensely, and hate his foemen with a passion. Fortune has gifted him with a talented and just monarch, and Gauran wished nothing more than to please him, to bring him glory and victory. Indeed, as king Baetors reign was so wise and enlightened, much in contrast with that of many of his opponents, Gauran came to consider the men he faced in the field of battle as sub-human entities full of spite and ignorance, for how else could they fail to see the wisdom of his sovereign and dare to oppose him, what else indeed could be the reason to raise arms against the ennoblement of mankind that was his monarch’s intent?
Matched with Gaurans temper, this made him especially ferocious and merciless. To him, foes were only fit to be slain; many an ingenious way did he devise to bring about their end. Lighting the tar-pits of Hedran on fire, he smoked the fort’s defenders alive; by stealing the Verdant Heart of the Blackwoods and planting it in the midst of the enemy host, he had but to watch as his foes were devoured alive by the forest’s guardians. In lands he waged war upon, his name soon became a curse, and his standard inspired pure dread.
At the siege of Sevenshrine, Gauran’s fate took an unexpected twist though. The drawn-out war against his king’s most fanatical enemies, the followers of the Seven Radiant of Haor, cost him four years, as well as the lives of droves of faithful men.
As the war-priests of Sevenshrine were the greatest asset of the opposing force, Gauran devised a plan most devious. His agents would infiltrate the highest sanctum from below, and approach the Earthbound Sun, an artifact that granted vast amounts of energy to the priesthood of the Seven. While he knew of no way to destroy or steal it, Gauran was aware of how to increase its output manifold.
When the heat of battle was greatest, he gave the sign, and his agents tossed many sacred relics into the furnace that was the Earthbound Sun. All over the walls, the priests were consumed by flame as they drew upon the fount of energy to fuel their defensive enchantments and healing spells; Gauran’s army marched over the panicked defenders.
It was on the steps of the sanctum that the last priest stood, most faithful and devoted of all. While he may have been a zealous fool, certainly so in Gauran’s eyes, his power was undeniable. After he seared a dozen of soldiers with furious flames, Gauran himself snuck up apon him and planted his blade in the holy man’s innards.
Upon those stairs, as the crimson blood ran down step by step, illuminated by the burning city, the old man spoke his final words.
"Let the beast within be a beast without, infidel! Let your rage and hatred be for all to see, may all know what lies within you and be warned! All your kin shall suffer the same, in all generations to…"
Gauran cut the frothing man’s speech short, and reaped the spoils of victory, dragging off the golden idols of Sevenshrine to his sovereign’s mints, and the maidens of the city to be his soldiers’ brides.
Morning come, one of Gauran’s mistresses ran from his tent, dressed in but a blanket, screaming; soon, the others followed. When their master emerged, the cause was obvious: while in the evening, he was a handsome blonde man with a spark of lasting youth in his eyes, he had grown to over eight feet, with barbed spikes protruding from twisted plates of black iron covering a sizeable portion of his body; wicked claws adorned his hands, and mighty horns his cranium.
First alarmed, the soldiers soon recognized their master, and Gauran, while cursed he might have been, remained in power, fearful in appearance as well as reputation.
After several more successful campaigns, Gauran finally fell, not to a blade, but an assassin’s poison, and was interred in the Dormitories of the Brave, where kings rest beside great heroes and wise men. His larger-than-life brass statue in front of the crypt bears the inscription ‘Change is Life’.
While he never married, Gauran had a mistress in every town, bedded admirers where he went, and kept dozens of slave girls to amuse and relax him and his officers. His children numbered a hundred and sixty-nine. When his eldest son, Morthond, a squire then, entered battle, a change went through him: as his foes beset him, striking blow after blow, his frame grew, thorns and muscles ripping through his attire, and blades on his forearms tore into the horrified enemy ranks. The youngster routed the enemy regiment that day.
Soon, the Change was upon many of his siblings, especially those drawn to the art of war. King Baetor’s heir, king Arevan, while young, inherited his father’s wisdom. He knew well that a horrifying visage changed the man within only upon his rejection, and thus laureated those of Gauran’s heirs who proved loyal and able, offering them positions within his army’s leadership. The Changed flocked to the ranks; a generation later, the Children of Gauran, the Gauran Dau, were a trademark of the kingdom of Devarune, even forming their own regiments. What was to be a terrible curse became something to be proud of.
Worded by a mortally wounded man who was infused with overwhelming energy, the curse of Gauran did not turn out as the priest intended. While all descendants of Gauran carry it, its power depends upon their character: so were Avelis the Bright and Gareth the Wise, children to Gauran, certainly subject to the curse’s power, but, as their personalities were mellow and kind, the magic within but displayed this on their features: paintings of the unearthly beauty of Avelis adorn many a noble’s collection, while Gareth’s charisma and aura of calm were harder to capture by the brush’s stroke.
Those who choose a martial path will, without exception, begin to display Gauran’s signs with the onset of maturity, as their skill at arms increases; with passing battles, they will blossom in full. The magnitude of the changes correlates with the martial talent and with the readiness towards violence; those of the Gauran Dau who revel in battle will be changed drastically, growing armor, murderous appendages and natural weapons, their blood becoming as fire, their gaze pure white light. Some of the most ferocious will become shrouded in flame or crackle with the power of storms upon entering combat. Besides these changes, the Gauran Dau develop mysterious markings, crimson in hue, and unclear in meaning. These so-called ‘sanguine runes’ have yet to be deciphered in full, though Gauran Dau bearing similar marks seem to share traits of character, as well as twists of fate.
Besides the true heirs of Gauran, who serve the realm faithfully, there also exist the Broken. Only in those truly twisted inside can the curse take full root, and distort their physical shells beyond recognition, into shapes born of madness. The Broken are hunted, as the dread and revulsion they inspire are almost universal; thus, they hide their writhing cancerous forms in the darkest corners of the world.
Unknown to most is that the curse takes inspiration for the changes from the subconscious of surrounding sentients. So was Noremi of Gauran, a great diplomat, speaker and philanthropist, who spent several years negotiating with the orcs of Khargond, changed by the curse to inspire confidence in orcs, much to his chagrin and surprise.
Little known is also the tale of Vaisha of Gauran, who, lost as a little child, was taken in by an ancient entity of the swamp, an elder god-thing of forgotten times. While her unexpected benefactor was treating her well, and she did nothing to evoke its ire, the curse had little to pattern her by, except the strange mind of the antediluvian deity; those who came across Vaisha in the mire tell of a terrifying many-limbed thing glittering in a thousand hues of glossy black, inscribed in alien writings that lure the mind into madness.
The Gauran Dau today
Numbering several thousand today, the heirs of Gauran have become a hereditary order of knights, swearing fealty to the crown alone, raising, educating and policing their own.
From a tender age on, the Gauran Dau are subjected to a rigorous training regime for the body and the spirit, to shape their future self, and ensure wholeness of mind and body. The mad and crippled amongst their number are weeded out, their mortal shells burned and spirits sent to the deepest netherworld. The blood of Gauran must not be tainted, and his glorious legacy preserved at all costs.
Three praetors preside over Gauran’s children: the high warlord, the justicar and the loremaster. The high warlord is appointed from their number by the king, while the justicar is chosen by popular vote by all the adults of the family, and the loremaster by a council of Gauranite sages. Crime, corruption and treason are punished harshly amongst the Gauran Dau; they police their ranks well.
Likewise, those who wish to marry into the family are strictly evaluated, to discern whether they are suited or not. Especially amongst the lower nobility and the military, being accepted to be wed to one of the Gauran Dau is considered prestigious.
While other knightly orders exist in Devarune, the heirs of Gauran are the widest-known and most revered, as well as dreaded by their enemies. With their glorification and enthusiasm for warfare that has grasped the kingdom during recent conquests, might, martial skill and violence towards foes have all gained great prestige; the Gauran Dau have not been left untouched, their changes tending towards imposing and regal more than towards horrid.
Two hundred and fifty years after that fateful day in Sevenshrine, the Gauran Dau flourish, their curse a priceless blessing; they themselves are a blessing for king and kingdom alike and bane to the wicked. Clad in tabards bearing the image a flaming heart, they display the first verses of Laurieth’s poem ‘the Damned’ on their cloaks in bold gold letters:
"Fear you wicked,
shudder you depraved,
and flee who plot vice secretly
still none of you shall walk untried
for the vengeful damned are upon thee."
Plots and Encounters:
*Foolish Heroism: yet again, the PCs drew their blades too early. After an exhausting battle with the monstrous warrior, they learn that he is one of many and that the crown is on their side.
*Fighting the Curse: in love with a foreigner, Selia of Gauran knows that the curse may change her beyond recognition, and ruin her future with her chosen one. Find a way to exempt her from its effect!
*Embracing the Heritage: a PC is a young descendant of Gauran. He and his allies embark on an exhausting quest to shape him and make the heritage blossom so strong that even Gauran would be proud.
*Fighting the Curse II: doom is at hand, for your realm is at war with Devarune. Your opponents are fiercely loyal, resourceful, besides being mighty and monstrous. Is there a way to subvert their strange blessing?
*A New Order is Rising: blessed by Gauran’s heritage excessively, Tharne of Gauran is a leader charismatic and beloved by all as well; this combined with a weak and unwise king on the throne does not bode well to the royal line, for what if Tharne decides he is loyal to the kingdom and its future, not to a specific sovereign? PCs can get involved as loyalists, revolutionaries, or any of a plethora of other sides taking part in a coup d’etat.
*The Gauran Dau are a hallmark of the kingdom of Devarune, and the symbol of its military might. These strange knights add a lot of color to any encounter featuring the military or nobility of that realm.