DovahQueen: Bend the Knee
Since 2015, the DovahQueen has been taking your questions and giving advice to improve your games. Now the tables are turned in this DovahQueen series; Loren is asking the questions and a panel of three guests—an RPG-industry veteran, a Know Direction network staff member, and a fan—answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
RPG-Industry Veteran: Guy Sclanders
I am Guy Sclanders, from the YouTube channel How to be a Great GM. I am an author, storyteller, educator, and fat goblin all rolled into one and I’ve been roleplaying since the early 1990’s. Currently my passion is for helping others to improve their RPG and story experience. I am originally from South Africa, but currently live with my boyfriend in Tokyo Japan. I’ll probably move to the UK at some point as I believe travelling and living in different countries really gives one perspective on life.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Alexander “Alex” Augunas, the Everyman Gamer
I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since 2007, and I’ve been writing columns for Know Direction for nearly 6 years and co-hosting podcasts for about 4 years. I’m an avid Paizo freelancer, the hat-wearer of Everybody Games, a former Private Sanctuary Podcast co-host and one of the current Know Direction Beyond cohosts. I’m also Xvi (pronounced She-Vee) on Know Direction’s Starfinder Actual Play Podcast, Stellar. I have my bachelor’s in the Science of Elementary Education, my masters in Education with a focus on Applied Behavior Analysis, and am working to become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst.
Fan: Wade LaHue
I’m just an average basement-GM who happens to run a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game. I’ve played TTRPGs for 11 years (one year short of half my life…) frequently without any source material, running on scrap paper, dice, and imagination. Outside the couple campaigns I’m presently involved with, I’m a college biology student and work as a public educator at a state park and rehabilitation center for birds of prey.
“It’s a chilly morning but otherwise unremarkable. The humdrum of another boring morning routine is near unbearable in it’s normalcy, and you beg the reflection in the mirror for something different. Your reflection yields no answers. You finish getting dressed and ready for work. It’s time to head out. Your own vehicle sits where it should, ready to propel you into yet another Tuesday. As you go to disembark, an abrupt ‘honk’ jars your attention from across the street. A yellow, old-fashioned, New York style taxi cab meets your vision; it says ‘Grint and Stingos Transportation.’ A man with a funny hat and a round, hairy face beckons for you to come over. ‘You called?’ he asks croaky voice. As you begin to form an answer in your mouth, his door opens to reveal that it’s actually two gnomes with pointy shoes in the driver seat—one standing at the wheel and another laying on his belly to push the pedals with his little gnomey hands. ‘Well c’mon! We `aven’t got all day’ the pedal-gnome squeaks. You realize that you should have about a million different questions in your head, but for some reason, the only one that comes to the surface is ‘why not?’ The surprisingly adept cabbies take you down familiar roads and into a familiar tunnel. Exiting the other side reveals that the setting is no longer familiar…or at least…not in a way that you’re used to seeing.”
Grint and Stingo’s magical taxicab has transported you to your favorite fantasy setting. What is it? Why is it your favorite? And what are you going to try to do now that you’re there?
Guy: The cab and its bizarre drivers explode as we exit the tunnel, showering me in pumpkin. A cold breeze bites at my ankles and cheeks as it slinks around in the shadows remembering days when it had more power – remembering winter. Now however, delicate little yellow flowers peer up at me as I stand dripping pumpkin entrails and looking like I was just hit by … a pumpkin.
“This is impossible.”
I look around, aware that my vision is a lie, but still wanting to see it all: Massive mountains stab up into the bright blue sky where a pale sun idly sits forgetting to heat up the plane below it. Forests of verdant green hang around like guilty teenagers in the flows of the murderous cliffs, and yes… yes there it is – a troll sits in the shade of a large pine tree. His rocky skin flaking in the sun: trolls here you see, hate over-heating. It slows their thought processes. Just then I begin to hear… wait… is it really? Is it really! I look up in joy and wonderment as a familiar wizard falls from the sky. His hat contemptuously floats down a good dozen feet above him. His screams rush towards me though, faster than he can or wants to. Just then, a massive green dragon explodes past me, pulling my hair and beard in all directions as it’s huge bulk sucks the air around me. “What the fu!” is all I can manage to get out of my mouth before the vacuum the imaginary monster made closes and drags me to the ground.
“What’s all this then?” A grave and grizzly voice asks. I look upon a pair of sandaled feet. Old toes, worn and calloused wiggle impatiently. “My eyes are up here son, not down there. Are you some kind of… tour…shist?” The voice demands to know, but before I can answer, a sloppy, slimey, and altogether unpleasant voice rejoins: “I fink it’s a toorust, cap’n.” The sandals shift, weight being moved from impatience to avoidance.
“We have been given specific instructions on dealing with tourista.” Added a third voice. I realize now that I’ve become surrounded by individuals all dressed in vaguely the same idea, if not in the same era. Sandals from the time of the mad king – little decadent roses embossed in the old leather betray the opulence of the crazy monarch, stand next to the cleaner cut, more robust (for a working man, woman, or zombie) sandals of the age of the dictator.
“Well whatever it is, it’s fat, hairy, and smells vaguely of One-eyed Kim’s noodles.”
“I beg your pardon!” I start to stand up, pulling myself up to my full height. I glare into the uncaring, over-worked, and definitely tired face of the captain of the watch. I can’t help myself; I giggle. It escaped like a demon possessed, but as sneaky as a sneaky thing on a sneaky Tuesday. In horror I clap my own hand over my own mouth – desperate to prove that it wasn’t me who’d just giggled like a school child.
“Sounds like a topaz.”
“That’s a rock. It’s a toor wrist.”
“A topaz isn’t a toor wrist, it’s yellow.”
I watch in glee as the exchange wanders around all the usual topics of exploration before the behinds behind the steering wheels realize the wreck has happened and then all get nervous and embarrassed for having wandered so far off course.
“Do you have any… money?” Another voice chimes in. I spin, my face a rictus of glee. Before the man holding the tray of questionable meats can respond, his brain warns him – this is someone who wants, actually wants to eat whatever you have on your tray (and they will die and then you’ll be arrested again). “Never mind! Happy Hogswatch.” He turns and runs dropping sausages in a bun all over the place.
“Never seen that happen. Hey – are you a wizard then?” Asks the slimy one. I turn back, my face wide with joy. For a moment my body convulses at the sight of the little man…woman…thinglet standing checking on a piece of stick.
“I sure hope I am!”
If this truly is Discworld, I’ll probably die horribly, or end up stuck with the gods on a mountain somewhere. As a fantasy world it grew and changed over the decades that Sir Terry Pratchett wrote about it, and for all those decades this was, and still is, my go to sanctuary when I want to be reminded that the real world is just a crazy collection of Nobbs, Carrots, Vimes and all the wonder we can have as humans.
Alex: As Alex steps out of the transdimension taxis, the dying embers of dusk shines into his eyes. Almost as soon as he steps out, the door to Grint and Stingo’s magical taxicab slams shut behind him as the pair speed off, no doubt looking for someone else to maroon on a faraway world. A massive clock tower tolls in the distance—one o’clock, two o’clock, three…. Alex looses count as he walks towards a small plaza where a group of people are gathering in front of a small bistro. Young men and women lounge about the restaurant’s outdoor seating, but the person who catches Alex’s curious eye is a3 foot tall anthropomorphic duck sporting a fancy overcoat, a monocle, and a top hat.
“Welcome to m’bistro, laddie!” The duck says chipperly, greeting Alex with an outstretched hand. Alex gingerly shakes the mallard’s wing, looking confused.
“Hello, Mr., um….”
“McDuck! Scrooge McDuck, in fact, and by the looks of it I’m judging that you’re new around here, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, you could say that.” Alex nods.
“Well then!” Scrooge replies, clapping his feathered hands. “Let old Scroogie be the first one to welcome ya to Twilight Town! Care for a slice of Little Chef’s world-renowned cheese cake?”
This one was actually REALLY tough for me, as I came up with two answers that I think are pretty good picks for “What fantasy world would you want to be marooned on?” If you didn’t guess it from the opening, the world(s) of Kingdom Hearts end up hedging it out a little bit for me. The main reason I chose Kingdom Hearts is that it’s a rare example of a fantasy world where anyone seems to be able to learn to do anything. Sora goes from a relatively ordinary boy swordfighting with a stick to casting powerful spells and overall becoming a master of fighting. And based on the game, not all of his power can be attributed to his legendary artifact weapon, the Keyblade. When Sora temporarily loses the Keyblade in one of his games, sure, his melee attacks are awful but he can still cast spells and use limit breaks and stuff. I think that if a kid like Sora could learn to do magic and cool attacks, I probably could too. It’s sort of an open question regarding how difficult it is to acquire a Keyblade; in the first game there’s only one, but by the end of the third game there’s a whole magical graveyard of Keyblades. Sora’s Keyblade is special in that it’s the keyblade for the “heart” of his multiverse, and while I don’t think that’s up for grabs I think it’s reasonable to say that I could probably get my own Keyblade, and oh man, if I could just imagine what sort of stuff that could do for me! Kingdom Hearts is the ultimate cheat answer because EVERY Disney property theoretically has a world within that universe. I could have lunch in Agrabah before traveling to Arendale to explore a Scandinavian paradise before hanging out on a tropical island in Port Royal. Maybe the Avengers’ universe is in Kingdom Hearts too! There’s just so much to see and do and meet in the world of Kingdom Hearts.
Of course, living in Kingdom Hearts has a major downside—the heartless. They’re these terrible little monsters who are attracted to souls, and its said that if you can use a Keyblade then you’re even MORE appetizing to them. I think I could handle it with a Keyblade, but the danger was definitely a reason why Kingdom Hearts only barely managed to hedge out my runner up answer: Pokemon! Compared to Kingdom Hearts, the World of Pokemon is relatively safe. Moreover, its family-friendly nature means that a lot of the issues we have in the real world like corruption just don’t seem to really exist there. Everyone is mostly happy all the time, and more importantly, ANYONE can have Pokemon! Kids as young as 5 have bug Pokemon partners, so I’m pretty sure I can handle it. Also, the Pokemon money system is based roughly on the Japanese Yen, so when you’re told that a potion that magically heals your Pokemon costs $200, it actually means 200 Yen, which is less than $5 in USD. Couple that with the fact that health care seems to be free a la Pokemon centers and that every Pokemon center has rooms where trainers can stay for free and the democratic socialist utopia of the Pokemon World sounds pretty great. There’s just one problem, and it’s that I’d probably have to get a job. If Pokedollars are equivalent to Yen, then you just can’t make enough money to live off of in the Pokemon World. Without knowing how easy jobs are to get in the Pokemon World and whether or not I’d be able to make enough money to be happy in the world of Pokemon, I just can’t pick it over Kingdom Heart’s high fantasy. Because if you’re gonna be homeless in a video game world, you might as well pick the video game world that allows you to chuck meteors at people!
For those curious, my Pokemon team would be: Delphox, Lucario, Ninetails (Alola Form), Flotzel, Zorark, and Ursaring!
Wade: Well, like I mentioned in the introduction, much of the time I’ve been playing TTRPG I haven’t really had access to books. I’ve never played a campaign module or adventure path, and the only published setting I’ve ever played in were a couple brief stints into Faerun. When I play TTRPGs, I play in a world of my design. Since I first started play at the age of twelve, my best friend Alex and I have co-GMed and co-created the world we now play in. Two of the three games I’m involved in right now are in this setting. I have spent years making maps, designing cultures and cities, creating a pantheon, a history, and seeding the world with homebrew monsters, magics, and magical items. So when first offered by Grint and Stingos to be transported to a fantasy setting of my choosing, I’m tempted to say “My Own.”
In the world outside of TTRPGs, I love to travel. I’ve been to five of the seven continents, climbed many mountains, dove below a couple oceans, and met all sorts of people. One of the things I value most in life is adventure. I’m a biology major and I work at a state park. I love to observe and experience nature, I loved animals before I even knew about tabletops. So with these things in mind (a love of adventure and new experience and for the natural world) why would I choose to go to a place I’ve already been for the last 11 years? I’ve designed this home world of mine. I’ve been to the top of every mountain in my world, I’ve dove to the deepest depth of every ocean, and I know everyone by name. I’ve seen every kind of plant, animal, and fungi, I’ve seen every magical creature, I’ve cast every spell. As interesting as it would be, I think that sense of adventure in me will not be satiated if I go somewhere so familiar.
This may be a little out of left field, bit I think I’d ask Grint and Stingo to take me to the Magic the Gathering universe. I have always been terrible at MTG because the only thing I ever cared about was the card art. This art has inspired a variety of homebrew monsters, items, and places in my home world, but is nowhere near as familiar to me. The beauty of the places and creatures along with the idea of a multiverse filled with different planes that I can travel between at my leisure sounds like paradise. In this place I can let my wanderlust carry me on forever, never becoming bored with my setting because I can always planeswalk to another.
Another key reason I chose this universe is that I feel like I’m significantly less likely to die here, assuming I arrive as a planeswalker and not just a peasant. I say this because when playing MTG all I ever do is cast spells like Invincibility and Sheltered Woods that heal damage, prevent creatures from being targeted by spells, and make them… invincible. Spells like that will keep me alive. Hopefully…
All I really want to do is explore, so I hopefully won’t be in too many fights as it is. I don’t want to just walk everywhere. So, the first thing I’m going to do is to learn to fly. Once that’s done, I will travel to my favorite plane, Zendikar. It’s an ever-changing world of different types of ecosystems with massive creatures that roam around. There I will spend the first year drifting lazily among fields of hedrons: octahedrons that glow softly and float all over the plane. This first year I’ll just take as a relaxing vacation.
I’ve heard from my guest writers; now I want to hear from you. What’s your favorite fantastic setting and what you do if you found yourself there? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.
Each Bend the Knee features three guest writers. One is from the RPG industry and another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! If you’d like to be featured on Bend the Knee, leave a comment on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter, or you can send an email to DearDovahQueen@gmail.com.
Creative Commons credit: airship city by Min-Nguen