Guidance — Worldbuilding 101: Why Yes, Flavor DOES Matter!

Last week I had a friendly chat with a fellow game designer who Third Party fans might recognize—N. Jolly, creative mind behind Purple Duck Games’ Kineticists of Polymorpha series, as well as Legendary Games’ Legendary Vigilantes. N. is a pretty smart fellow, and I enjoy talking with him not only about game design, but stuff that is going on in each other’s designing careers.

planet-of-furries

I mean I don’t know why I was expecting when I Googled, ‘Planet of Foxes.’ It wasn’t this, though.

When I spoke to N. last week, we were talking a bit about my work in the kitsune section of Blood of the Beast and contributions that I made to it. The conversation continued on, and the topic of kitsune in Paizo’s upcoming Starfinder RPG came on. I can’t remember precisely what was said (I ended up just putting our conversation out of text chat; check it out at the end of the article!), but it amounted to a coy remark about how I was sure to sneak in a planet of kitsune into the fledgling RPG. Without a second thought, I dismissed the idea as being boring and I think I caught him off a touch off-guard. Today, I’m going to share with you my reasons for nixing a “kitsune planet,” and my reasoning boils down to a single idea: what is compelling about the race.

Stick to the Script!

 

So, why would Mr. Kitsune not want a planet of kitsune characters? Well, put simply the concept of a “planet of kitsune,” as they’re defined in Pathfinder, is incredibly boring and goes against the race’s themes. When I’m gaming at my local PFS in Philly, I often encounter kitsune players who run around scenarios in their true form all the time, gallivanting this way or that while shaking their floofy fox tails. To me, that makes absolutely no logical sense—I mean, come on. You’re a shapechanger. Why would you run around Golarion or even Absalom in your true form when 99% of the civilized world is human? Unless you’re mechanically inclined for a bite attack or are personally obsessed with being a furry fox person, there’s no situation where being in kitsune form rather than human form is advantageous to you mechanically speaking, but more importantly, such decisions directly go against the race’s themes and culture. Think about it—this is like roleplaying a doppleganger that runs around in its true form instead of using its shapechanging powers to try and blend in with the setting around it.

Kitsune aren’t dopplegangers—they are significantly more “normal” than a monstrous humanoid and they are likely more common too. But that said, humans are insensitive jerks that tend to only accept people based upon their limited world view on what is “individually acceptable.” We see this in the real world and we see this in fantasy worlds too. Generally speaking, its simply easier for most kitsune to use their human form and just pretend to be human then to run around in fox form because they’re not getting the surprised faces or the too-long stares or the racist assumptions that they’re tricksters, thieves, or lycanthropic monsters. To use an overused adage, to be a fox among hens doesn’t make sense.

Keep Your Race Compelling

This idea that kitsune work best when they’re constantly needing to blend in with others and pretend to be something they aren’t, is what makes the race and their story compelling. And that isn’t a story that you can tell when you have an isolated group of kitsune who don’t interact with humans, aka “Fox Planet.” Kitsune currently and will always be their most compelling story-wise when they’re having to balance who they are with who they pretend to be while dealing with the ramifications of what happens when their secret slips out. This idea is somewhat backwards compatible with most Pathfinder RPG races, but it is perhaps most applicable to the kitsune. The other, major race that falls into this category is the changeling, since the story of, “Weird hag daughter gets raised by humans,” is what makes the story of the changeling compelling.

foxssb4

The only acceptable answer to the question, “Why aren’t you ever in your human form during our missions?”

Still, this small idea—that “Planet Kitsune” doesn’t work from a flavor or worldbuilding standpoint—is why you’ll never see me try to sneak a major kitsune presence into Starfinder (1PP or 3PP). If they’re anywhere en mass, they’re in Absalom Station quietly living alongside of the humans of tomorrow. Otherwise, there just happen to be lone kitsune on various starships across the galaxy, quietly exploring the stars with their human companions, who may never be aware of their true nature. This sort of story is what could make kitsune fun in Starfinder, not “Planet of the Foxes.”

 

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alexs Twitter, @AlJAug.

Wanna see snippets of the conversation that inspired this article? Okay.

N. Jolly: Also seriously grats on being the kitsune loremaster, hope if they’re in Starfinder you’ll be dolling out the lore for them there too.

Alex: Eh, I am not sure if I want them in Starfinder. Kinda need to see the world first, like whether it’s humanocentric or alien centric. The fun of playing a kitsune is being a fox among hens. The shapechanging part. If you are a kitsune among aliens, then what’s the point? They don’t get what you look like–you still probably aren’t blending in, you know?

N. Jolly: And it’s good that you have some consistency in your world view for them rather than just making a foxy planet and throwing it in.

Alex: Yeah, no. Foxy planet is meh. It’s why I was sort of hesitant to do anything with kitsune villages or cities in the DRC, and instead compromised at taking about what they’re like while emphasizing how rare they are. It would be like a planet of doppelgängers. Who cares? 

N. Jolly: To be fair, I find the idea of a planet of doppelgängers pretty interesting, but only if they don’t have a natural form.

Alex: But yeah, I pretty strongly feel that a kitsune as a character is at his best when he’s surrounded by humanity. Trying to blend in and thrive among them while simultaneous trying to stay above them. Same with any shapeshifter with a not-human true form, really.

N. Jolly: That’s understandable.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

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