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: Steve Kenson
I’m Steve Kenson, RPG freelancer, staff designer for Green Ronin Publishing, and owner/operator of Ad Infinitum Adventures, publisher of Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. I’ve been involved in the RPG industry professionally since 1993 and have written or contributed to well over two hundred different products, including nine tie-in novels. I live in New Hampshire with my partners, Adam and Christopher, and we run a nonprofit pagan temple and a small pagan/metaphysical publishing imprint (Copper Cauldron Publishing) together.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Ryan Costello
I am one of the hosts of the Know Direction podcast, the Director of Operations at the Know Direction Network, and the writer of the Recall Knowledge weekly recap of KD’s content. By day, I am a mild-mannered creative person at Blind Ferret Entertainment and its subsidiary Laughing Dragon Studios. There I write other blogs, as well as ad copy. I touch up scripts for production, and pitch and develop project ideas. In the hobby, I am known for my love of Pathfinder: the RPG I have easily played more than any other. I am starting to branch out into other systems and genres, but it would take a lot to dethrone Pathfinder as my #1.
Fan: Dave Nelson aka Davicthegrey
I have been playing tabletop games since 2007 and freelancing in the Pathfinder sphere since 2016. I have a pair of silver best sellers on DrivethruRPG and most recently wrote the articles for Cayden Cailean and Gozreh for Lost Omens: Gods and Magic. When not in the word mines, I work in IT and earned a bachelor’s in cybersecurity this past spring.
“They don’t know hardship. The entitled masses feign superiority from a position of blind ignorance. They were born to lives of opulence yet yearn for heights even greater still. Despite, they continue to debase themselves in behavior and in thought without ever lifting a finger to work towards the station they so desire. This society…no…all societies are no better than the social castes within the animal world that they see themselves above. They need leadership. They need a strong presence. They need…me. My plans are absolute. My machinations, unstoppable. My dreams will lift these unworthy masses to heights unimaginable. I am benevolence made manifest.”
You are a villain. Not just any villain; no. You are a super villain with a plan to lift society into your vision of a utopia. Pick any setting from sci-fi, fantasy, or even the modern day for you to inhabit. Who are you and what is your modus operandi? What does your utopia look like? How will you bring it about?
Steve: Well, speaking as someone who owns a T shirt that says “Magneto Made Some Valid Points,” this is certainly topical. I’ve said that, if I had sufficient power, there are definitely times when it would make me a super-villain, especially when it comes to addressing the world’s problems or injustices.
I’m reminded of an Aberrant campaign that I ran years ago, where the main antagonists were both from the future (the Æon era of the setting) accidentally thrown back into the past and stranded there. One, a mad aberrant, wanted to bring about the coming Aberrant War on-schedule, if not sooner, and ensure his own eventual existence. The other, a telepathic psion, worked behind the scenes, extending a vast, invisible network of influence in a valiant effort to change history and avert the Aberrant War, even if it meant eliminating the future he came from.
I empathize a lot with that telepathic mastermind: Imagine having the power to know, without a doubt, the contents of people’s minds, what they are really thinking. Imagine being an investigator who can learn anything, so long as someone knows it, and further being able to influence and change those thoughts. The temptation would be tremendous, even if you only intended to use your power for good. After all, who is necessarily going to believe you if you say you can read minds and have evidence of wrongdoing—for that matter, how long will you survive once people with secrets to keep find out what you can do?
If I were the villain, I would be someone who gives in to that temptation to try and make people do the right things, whether they want to or not, and judging people on their own thoughts and memories. Tendrils of invisible influence would extend throughout the world, and countless people would have their thoughts and memories altered, doing what needs to be done for the greater good—at least as one person sees it. The burden of responsibility for making all of those decisions and trying to manage an impossibly complex system appeals to my workaholic nature, too!
The world would be more peaceful, prosperous, and fair, and all it would cost is the free will of a small percentage of people, maybe even a few lives lost here and there, necessary sacrifices. Even if someone manages to uncover the truth without my immediately finding out (my eyes and ears are everywhere!) what are they going to do? Destroy the peace, hope, and prosperity of the world just because they don’t like how it was achieved? More often than not, it won’t take much to make them my accomplices and, as I well know, once you’ve committed to the path, it’s almost impossible to turn back.
If that all sounds frighteningly plausible and dangerous, well, good. The best villains consider themselves the heroes of their own stories, and sometimes the best of intentions lead to very bad ends. I’m just grateful I’m not saddled with that kind of power…at least, not so far as you know.
Ryan: First, a confession. When Loren asked me if I thought “design a villain” was a suitable BTK prompt, I not only told her yes, I called dibs on being the network member who answered it. I just happened to have thought up a fun Mutants & Masterminds villain in the car the day before and was as excited about the idea as I was bummed that I probably would never get to use it. Well I am bummed no more!
Within every emotion there is the potential to cause harm. Love makes parents see the mundane as threats to their children. Passion builds walls between likeminded individuals. Loyalty overrides logic and reason.
With a smile, frown, chuckle, or wink, Emoji locks others into a single emotion for hours. What might start as a casual appreciation for the world at large reveals itself to be an inability to see guilt in stealing, or horror in murder. A woman with a raised eyebrow holds someone by the ankles out of a window because she was curious what would happen. A crying boy locks himself in a closet with a loaded gun because the world is a scary place. A strong emotion at the wrong time can ruin a life, like a laugh at a funeral.
Using his power for personal gain once was enough to satisfy Emoji. After years of a wink at a bank scoring him whatever money he needed, or sympathetic eyes getting him out of any trouble, the world not only being a challenge, stopped making sense. It shouldn’t be so easy to get his way by manipulating people one emotion at a time.
Emoji understands that value of emotions, he just believes that there is an imbalance in how they are used. His short-term goal is for the world to put on a neutral face. Then, he can conduct experiments by way of emotion allowances. Once the unproductive emotions have been eliminated, the unreliable emotions regulated, and the remaining emotions properly audited, they can be gradually reintroduced to the population. That is Emoji’s long term goal: not an emotionally neutered population, just one where emotions don’t overrule logic and reasoning.
Nelson: Fools often quote Niccolò Machiavelli by saying that it is better to be feared than loved. This is a myopic shorthand for those who cannot grasp nuance. Machiavelli’s true suggestion was to be able to walk the line between both. Keep the admiration of the populace, while also cowing any rebellion with threat of reprisals. This is how the world must be led.
If the public can be satisfied and feel comfortable with their leadership, they will defend it themselves with no need for my intervention. A visibly closed fist breeds resentment, but a shielding hand creates loyalty. People can easily be convinced that one is the other and this is the best way to maintain power. Once everyone is assured that the changes you are bringing about are to their benefit, I can begin to shape the world.
Using the economic resources at my disposal, I would eliminate homelessness and hunger. From there, the masses would be free to explore careers and areas that suit their interests and abilities. This will create a stronger societal foundation from which to build. Despite granting them all independence, the world will know I was the one who made it possible. With nothing left to fight over, humanity will fall into a steady rhythm of life, free from struggle. My status will be assured. Because you see, I am not the villain. I am the hero, they just had to be made to see it.
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. How would your villain shape their utopia? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.
Each Bend the Knee features three guests. One is from the RPG industry. Another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! Leave a comment below or on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter for your chance to be featured on the next Bend the Knee.