Tar-Baphon was a powerful wizard-king who ruled central Avistan at the end of the 9th century AR. Killed by the god Aroden himself in 896 AR, he rose as the lich known as the Whispering Tyrant in 3203 AR, and ruled the country of Ustalav for centuries. He was finally defeated by the Shining Crusade in 3827 AR and was imprisoned within his capital of Gallowspire for nearly 300 years.1 He freed himself in 4719 AR and overran Lastwall with his undead hordes, creating the Gravelands. He was stopped in his attempt to gain control of the Starstone in Absalom, and retreated to the Isle of Terror in the middle of Lake Encarthan. He remains there today to spread his influence and gather his forces.2 He remains the greatest threat to peace in Avistan.3
Rise of Tar-Baphon
Tar-Baphon was born in 837 AR in the land that would later be known as Ustalav, but much of his early life is shrouded in myth and mystery. He grew up on the shores of Lake Encarthan and studied necromancy. In 861 AR, he conquered the city of Kestrillon on Inteper Isle at the centre of Lake Encarthan from the Golden Solidarity. He renamed the city Xin-Grafar and gave the island the name it still holds today: the Isle of Terror. In 872 AR, he discovered a strange thinness between planes on the Isle of Terror. As his ambition grew with his power, he sought the Cenotaph, resting place of Runelord Zutha, and unlocked the necromantic power of the sleeping runelord in 880 AR. He used his newfound power to claim whole of the Isle of Terror for himself from the black dragon Karamorros in 881 AR.456
Now bent on world conquest, he recruited orcs and undead to invade all of Avistan. This eventually attracted the attention of the god Aroden himself. Tar-Baphon sought immortality and possibly looked down upon the Last Azlanti for not having ascended to godhood on his own, but for having relied on the power of the Starstone, while Aroden had seen firsthand the brutal reign of the runelords and refused to see the world under another such tyrant. Tar-Baphon attempted to lure Aroden into a trap called the Well of Sorrows, but failed, and their conflict ended when Aroden killed the wizard-king on the Isle of Terror in a mighty battle in 896 AR. Aroden buried Tar-Baphon's corpse in the Isle of Terror, believing him dead, but this was Tar-Baphon's plan all along: to die at the hands of a god so he would become an incomparable lich.784 His corpse was retrieved by his followers and reburied in his birthplace of Ustalav.5
Return of the Whispering Tyrant
In 3203 AR,9 Tar-Baphon used the power of the Whispering Way to return to undead life as a lich. An ancient tome, the Whispers of the Immortal, purportedly written by a disciple of Tar-Baphon, documents his transition into undeath. There are, however, significant doubts about its authenticity.10 The newly risen lich wanted revenge against Aroden and sought his attention once again, but for unknown reasons the deity did not take up the challenge.11 Having renamed himself the Whispering Tyrant, Tar-Baphon instead united the orcs of Belkzen under his rule and used them to conquer Ustalav, taking the city of Adorak as his capital.9 When his troops, or those of the enemy, fell in battle, he simply brought them back to unlife, greatly bolstering the strength of his armies. He continued this for over five centuries, until he held much of central Avistan in his skeletal grasp.8
In 3754 AR, Taldor sought to defeat the Whispering Tyrant and launched the Shining Crusade against him. The forces of Taldor were aided by the dwarven kingdom of Kraggodan (in the modern day Five Kings Mountains), and the Knights of Ozem.12 In 3801 AR,9 the crusaders finally established a beachhead in the (then) Ustalavic town of Vellumis, and began the slow and brutal process of advancing to the Tyrant's capital of Gallowspire.12 In 3818 AR, the Knights of Ozem summoned Arazni, the herald of Aroden, to aid them in the war, but the lich killed her in 3823 AR.9 In 3827 AR, the crusaders at last reached Gallowspire in ruined Adorak. The Taldan general, Arnisant, fought the Tyrant and, using the artifact known as the Shield of Aroden, was able to withstand the lich's wish magic. When the shield eventually shattered, it burned the lich with holy fire, weakened the Tyrant, and forced him to flee to Gallowspire. The crusaders, unable to find Tar-Baphon's phylactery (which was allegedly hidden by Urgathoa so no one, not even the gods, could locate or find a way to destroy it) or to spare more resources to invade Gallowspire, imprisoned him, using a powerful magic ward known as the Great Seal. Each branch of the alliance responsible for defeating him was tasked with guarding one of the three lesser seals across Golarion that would keep the Great Seal intact. The province of Lastwall (now an independent country of the same name) was then established forever to watch over the Tyrant's prison.13414
Initially, the Tyrant tried to get rid of the burning shard of the Shattered Shield of Arnisant (as the Shield of Aroden became known after it was shattered) still lodged within himself, while delving deeper into necromancy to seek a way to break the Great Seal. After his winterwight seneschal Jomah Gildais escaped, Tar-Baphon realised that he could only shatter the Great Seal with positive energy, which he, ironically, could do with the piece of the Shattered Shield within himself. Tar-Baphon named his new superweapon the Radiant Fire.15
In 4717 AR, Tar-Baphon telepathically commanded Gildais to travel to Vigil and hire a crew of thieves to steal all but one of the shards of the Shattered Shield and replace them with fakes. The mission was successful, but one of the thieves took one of the shards for himself, after having coerced the smith responsible for crafting the fakes to create an extra one, which fell into the hands of the Whispering Way.16
In 4708 AR, the necromancer Drazmorg destroyed the first seal that was keeping Tar-Baphon imprisoned.17 In 4718 AR, the second seal was discovered to be located in Kaer Maga by agents of the Whispering Way. After an assault into the Shrine of the Seal, the seal was disabled by Erigantus with the help of Runelord Zutha's Bone Grimoire.18
In 4719 AR, the Tyrant finished the development of the Radiant Fire. After testing it on the unfortunate town of Roslar's Coffer, he turned it on Vigil, triggering it with the shard of the Shattered Shield still remaining in Castle Overwatch, killing more than eight thousand people and, more importantly, destroying the final seal maintaining his prison. With the Great Seal vulnerable, he fired the Radiant Fire at Gallowspire, shattering the Great Seal and freeing himself.1920
Having broken Lastwall, the Whispering Tyrant then gathered an army to take over Absalom, enter the Starstone Cathedral, and turn himself into a deity with the Starstone, in the process desecrating the legacy of his old enemy Aroden.21 On the Cairnlands outside of Absalom, he was confronted by a group of especially tenacious adventurers. He quickly lost his patience and activated the Radiant Fire to get rid of them, unaware that their souls were lodged with shards of the Shattered Shield since he first used the Radiant Fire on Roslar's Coffer. These shards unleashed a magical feedback against the Tyrant that destroyed his body, foiled his plan for godhood, and deprived him of his right hand, and with it, his piece of the Shattered Shield and his ability to use the Radiant Fire.2223 The area around the location of his demise on the Isle of Kortos in now a wasteland suffused with necromantic energy known as the Tyrant's Grasp.2
After Tar-Baphon's body reformed in the wake of his defeat, he relocated from Virlych to his old headquarters on the Isle of Terror. His second attempt to recruit the orcs of Belkzen was refused, as the orcs remembered the fate of their ancestors over a millennium before. They refused to fight for him for a second time, and routed his undead army at the Battle of Nine Broken Skulls where Tar-Baphon tried to subjugate them by force.2
Tar-Baphon is served by a group of necromancers and death cultists known as the Whispering Way. They can be found throughout the Inner Sea region, but are particularly frequent on the Isle of Terror, the Gravelands,24 and near the Tyrant's Grasp on the Isle of Kortos.23
For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.
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- “Overview” in Druma, Profit and Prophecy, 8. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
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- “Chapter 5: The World” in Campaign Setting, 202. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- Hungry Are the Dead, 3. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Chapter 3: Religion” in Campaign Setting, 177. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
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- “Chapter 2: The Inner Sea” in Campaign Setting, 90–91. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Chapter 3: Characters” in Mythic Realms, 45. Paizo Inc., 2013 .
- “To Exceed Their Grasp” in The Dead Roads, 75. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- The Shattered Shield, 3. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Seal-Breakers” in Last Watch, 76. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “NPC Gallery” in Runeplague, 65. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Last Watch” in Last Watch, 38. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Gardens of Gallowspire” in Gardens of Gallowspire, 4. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Midwives to Death” in Midwives to Death, 3. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Midwives to Death” in Midwives to Death, 56–57. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Absalom and Starstone Isle” in World Guide, 21. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Eye of Dread” in World Guide, 41. Paizo Inc., 2019 .