Faced with extinction due to the many deprivations visited upon Golarion by Earthfall and the subsequent Age of Darkness, the horse lords who controlled the land now known as Nidal made a pact with the darkest of deities: Zon-Kuthon. They traded their own survival and that of their people for eternal subservience to the Midnight Lord. The horse lords became known as the Black Triune, and under their guidance, the Umbral Court was born. Their descendants continue to maintain this agreement, in constant fear of disappointing Zon-Kuthon and losing their divine mandate.12 The Court assumed control of Nidal as early as -5275 AR.3
Even though Nidal was once a subject of Cheliax, the Umbral Court has regained most of its power in the last century. In exchange for supporting House Thrune in the Chelish Civil War at the beginning of the Age of Lost Omens, Egorian rewarded the Umbral Court by withdrawing all Chelish agents and handing back sovereignty in 4640 AR.415
The Umbral Court can consist of hundreds of members at a time. Few outside of the highly secretive streets of Pangolais know the identities of individual members of the Umbral Court, although there are rare exceptions. Membership is meritocratic and not hereditary. All initiates into the Umbral Court undergo an occult ritual, called Enter the Umbral Court, that fills their eyes with black shadows, a sign of their eternal bondage to Zon-Kuthon. Some also conduct processes that transform them into creatures like vampires or shadow creatures.16
The Umbral Court rules by the divine decree of the god Zon-Kuthon himself. They work diligently and desperately to maintain that mandate by opposing the local Desnans, diabolists, and any others who would dare challenge the authority of the Midnight Lord.47
Division in the Court
The Umbral Court is rife with bickering between members. Since they try to cultivate the illusion among foreigners and Nidalese commoners that the Umbral Court is unified and speaks with a single voice, disagreements seldom erupt into violence, but scheming behind the scenes is common.8
There are two fundamental divisions within the Court. The first is that between the pro-Cheliax expansionists on one side and the isolationists on the other. The former, consisting of urbanites and graduates of the School of the Pale Sun and led by Kholas, see an opportunity to expand Zon-Kuthon's influence across Golarion in the alliance with Cheliax, while the latter, consisting of the druids in the Shades of the Uskwood and led by Eloiander of Ridwan, view foreigners as not Zon-Kuthon's chosen people and, therefore, should not bother the Court.8
The other division lies in the conflict between the Umbral Court's undead members and adherents of the Belevais Doctrine, which teaches that pain can only be experienced by the living, not undead; so, the latter are seen as less devout Kuthites, unable to experience Zon-Kuthon's true blessing. Naturally, the undead members of the Umbral Court disagree with the Belevais Doctrine and despise its adherents, viewing themselves as more pious since they can dedicate an eternal life to Zon-Kuthon. As the undead members no longer die of old age and accumulate in the Umbral Court as their living peers die, the living tend to be attracted to the Belevais Doctrine and plot against the undead members, resulting in murders that thin out their numbers.8
The common people of Nidal obey even the lowliest member of the Umbral Court without hesitation or question, as anyone disobeying them is quickly, or even worse, slowly executed.1
The Umbral Court has a heavy presence in Nidal's cities and holds all official military and academic positions, and thus controls all major trade agreements and projects. Wealth or influence is unattainable without its favour, and ambitious citizens of Nidal often do so by staging ostentatious displays of their devotion to Zon-Kuthon.9
Shrine of Convocations
Twice a year, in the spring and the autumn, the Umbral Court convenes at the Shrine of Convocations in Pangolais to issue proclamations to their subjects, to resolve disputes, to vote on the initiation of new members, and to hear reports from members and agents. The Black Triune's direct instructions, which are issued on matters of great importance, cannot be disobeyed. In any other business, the Umbral Court's members thoroughly discuss the matter before a conclusion is reached. Members are forbidden from undermining national interests, so that almost all discussions end in a clear resolution. Members that fail to attend the convocation without explicit dispensation will be put to death by the Black Triune, so many members dispose of their rivals by preventing them from attending.1011
The Black Triune, ancient rulers of the city of Pangolais, sit above the Umbral Court in the nation's hierarchy.12
Known members of the Umbral Court include:
- Eloiander of Ridwan: head of the druidic cabal in the Uskwood13
- Kholas: a vampire currently serving as ambassador to Cheliax13
- Auriloch: a shadow cursed lord confined to his retreat, Winter Court14
- High Mistress Feylanthe of the Shadowmoor: governor of Pangolais15
- Virihane: hunter of profane artifacts and outlawed worshippers16
Even though the Umbral Court is autocratic and acts with impunity throughout the nation, not all of Nidal is under its direct control. The region of northern Nidal known as the Atteran Ranches has largely been policed and governed autonomously by the local great ranching families for a very long time. As long as order is maintained and local Desna-worshipers are hunted down, the Umbral Court seems to be willing to let the people of the Atteran Ranches make many of their own decisions.1
Umbral Court agents
Umbral Court agents are skilled operatives who enforce the rule of the Umbral Court both openly or undercover; they work both in Nidal and its neighboring nations. They spend most of their time hunting heretics and apostates, or work to rid their monolithic nation of corrupting foreign influences.17
The shadowcasters of Ridwan often bring creatures through the Shadowflame Rift in the center of the city from the Plane of Shadow. These are generally tortured and broken to make them obedient, but occasionally the Umbral Court itself extends invitations to the more intelligent and powerful of the Shadow Plane's inhabitants. In one such case, they called several families of shadow giants to take up residence in Nidal's wilder places. These hideously evil giants still live in Nidal, and occasionally perform tasks assigned to them by the Umbral Court.18
The Umbral Court does not control the entirety of Nidal, and is opposed by scattered resistance groups who dream of a day their nation can be free of Zon-Kuthon's bondage.9
For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.
- The Inner Sea World Guide, 134–135. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Living in Shadow” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 4. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Living in Shadow” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 11. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Chapter 2: The Inner Sea” in Campaign Setting, 110–111. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- The Inner Sea World Guide, 37. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Living in Shadow” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 6–7. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Rules Index” in Heroes of the High Court, 3. Paizo Inc., 2017 .
- “Gazetteer” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 14. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Living in Shadow” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 9. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Gazetteer” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 30. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Gazetteer” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 32. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Organizations” in Faiths of Corruption, 23. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Magic of the Inner Sea” in Inner Sea Magic, 6. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Gazetteer” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 41. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Gazetteer” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 26. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- “Living in Shadow” in Nidal, Land of Shadows, 7. Paizo Inc., 2018 .
- Paths of Prestige, 58. Paizo Inc., 2012 .
- Inner Sea Bestiary, 15. Paizo Inc., 2012 .