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: Sebastian Rodriguez aka Sheppi or TSRodriguez or Both
I’ve been playing pen and paper RPGs since high school in 1998, first with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition and then quickly moved to 3rd in 2001. I started as a player but ended up GMing most of the time. I played Pathfinder 1e for the first time in college, after a 3-year hiatus from those kinds of games. After getting my first gig working for Paizo a couple of years ago, I became obsessed with the game and the stories in Golarion. Now I play weekly; I have finished a couple of APs, and we have a tiny, small lodge for Society in my house. Currently I’m playing Iron Gods in PF2, Reign of Winter, Shattered Star and my 2nd run of Wrath of the Righteous.
I’m an architect from Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, but I worked as an architect for a little less than a year. Now I’m a full-time freelance artist since the year 2016 working for Paizo and other companies. I did the characters for Know Direction’s Adventurous and Roll for Combat podcasts.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Crystal Frasier aka AmazonChique
I’m a writer and game designer who’s been tinkering with fan designs since high school. What started with a love of the Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG has blossomed into a career writing for companies like Green Ronin, Paizo Publishing, and Wizards of the Coast. While I love writing, most of my time is spent in my day job as maid and personal assistant to two corgis.
Fan: Dom Ellis
I am 30 years old, and I was born and raised in London but moved to New Zealand in 2018 with my wife, who is an Indian-kiwi. We recently got a dog, who thinks she is a cat, and we have plans in future to spend time in the USA where her parents live before deciding where to settle.
I’ve been roleplaying for the vast majority of my life. My first introduction to roleplaying was Advanced D&D which I found at a friend’s house when I was six. Then my mum found me a Shadowrun core book from a charity shop, because “she liked the pictures” and it was great. I remember reading third D&D edition books borrowed from the library when I was on my way to work on a construction site when I was 16, and I haven’t stopped devouring RPG books since.
My main gaming has been PbP on a couple of Alternate History forums that I help moderate; if you enjoy Alternate History, check out SeaLionPress.co.uk, who are a small publisher started by a couple of friends of mine! That along with soccer are my main hobbies beyond TTRPGs.
“Everyone was once a child or still is one, and all children grow up in a culture of stories. Some stories are new, some are classics from bygone generations, and some might even be tales as old as time. These beloved stories shape our understanding of the world in our formative years and maintain a place in our hearts forever. After we’re no longer children, and instead watching our own young ones grow, these are the stories we choose to share with them. But, do they have to remain in the realm of children? Can we take these characters and adventures that we grew up with and apply them to our favorite pastime? Can Snow White lead a hardened squad of Battle Dwarves against the undead armies of her wicked stepmother?”
What is one of your favorite stories/movies/books that you grew up with as a kid? If you were to adapt that story and those characters into an adventure for a roleplaying table, what would happen to that story and those characters? How would the plot adapt and unfold in a new context that encourages lethality?
Sheppi: If I had to choose from a story from my childhood, it would be the anime SDF Macross (Robotech for us in the Americas). I think it encapsulates a lot of my favorite subjects: aircraft/mechas, old forgotten lore, epic dramatic battles, and a dash of tragedy. I also love the combination of music + cinematics, and I think that is what makes that particular anime so special.
If I would ever adapt the story for a tabletop campaign, I would tone down the “modern technology” and would go with a more Nausicaa aesthetic. Even though It might sound incoherent, I would not choose to play it on Starfinder; I would use the rules from Pathfinder 2e, and I would go for a more organic feel to the giant mecha fantasy—a bit like the anime “Vision of Escaflowne”. I think that the core of the Macross is the mechas plus the music in the background and how culture and music can defeat a superior force.
To represent the Zentradi, the invading space aliens from the anime, I would use the Giants from the Bestiary as a template, but instead of clubs and rocks, they would use giant war constructs as mechas sort of like a Golem with a pilot. I would make those constructs give a level upgrade to their original giant and access to weapons based on the series: Blasters. In any case that they are encountered without their mecha, they can still provide some challenge, minor, but still noticeable.
These constructs—Alien Mechas, Regults; Glaugs; and Queadluun-Raus— would have different levels according to their importance and the story in itself, using the monster building tools from the Game-Mastering guide.
Players would also use giant mechas that also augment their abilities. That would be the real “character level” of the character, his mecha would level up as a fighter or ranger or rogue, etc, and the spells would become the “modern” weapons modified based on the spell in question (Magic Missile could be a literal homing missile that cannot miss). Obviously some effects would be massively more magical than in the anime, but I think it fits the narrative like how each group should have a Bard that would be the group’s “singer,” and his role would be to weaken the opposition while empowering his own group.
Using the base math and modularity of the PF2 system, I think it would make a really unique and playable experience. The whole balance of combat would be based on the mechas, the characters would have all their mental stats, for roleplaying effects, but their physical might would be represented by his mecha, so they feel powerless if encountering a giant alien alone with no weapons. The enemies should be hard, harder than normal, to represent the fact that they need a singer to win. That comes in play really well into my style of GMing, because I’m quite fond of using music in the session, but not as a typical background soundtrack, instead as a climax of certain situations while doing little cinematics based on specific songs that fit that specific moment (I’m quite the music fan). I actually used a song from the Robotech Soundtrack in a session of Iron Gods, in a flashback of a dead pilot of the crashed spaceship in Book 2.
Every character would be a piece of the classic anime’s cast: a couple of pilots, a singer, and maybe a commander who interacts in battle using only the giant mothership—a good opportunity to use the “Marshal Archetype” from the upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide—but I would let the story flow like a normal game. No story can survive the intervention of dedicated players or the will of the dice. And, if a player dies, then it better represents the nature of the whole series.
Crystal Frasier: I loved a lot of weird fantasy books as a kid—Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Last Unicorn, the Oz series—and I already pull from all of them for a lot of my game design ideas. It’s no accident that Taldor is home the Wheelers now. So I guess it’s cheating to lean on any of the obvious choices.
So instead, let’s talk about my love of Disney princesses!
The official “Disney Princess” franchise as such didn’t exist when I was a kid, but I was in love with Disney animated features and dreamed of being a princess. My favorites were Ariel, Jasmine, and Aurora, but almost any Disney feature with a heroine kept me engrossed because they shared a lot of universal themes: overbearing parents, a need to explore, supportive friends, and ominous, charismatic, queer-coded villains who stole the spotlight.
So we can adapt a lot of those to an ur-princess adventure.
The adventure ideally begins after a period of downtime of indulging in a patron’s generosity, maybe even imposing some temporary penalties on the heroes to represent their coddled living. The patron can play the role of doting father, becoming so enamored with the heroes and their past deeds that he doesn’t want them out adventuring. Maybe he’s grown genuinely fond of them, or maybe he just loves the prestige of having legendary houseguests. Either way, they’re heroes now, dammit, they put in their time. They should stay with him and let someone else handle the new growing crisis in the world! He’s even editing what news of the outside world they receive. As far as our coddled heroes know, they’re living their cozy, comfy, boring happily-ever-after.
The only interesting thing to happen is a brief encounter with lovable rogues who try to break into the estate—times are getting tight out on the street and they’re stealing food. Ostensibly for themselves, but these are lovable rogues so we all know they’ll be giving that food to the first adorable moppets they see.
Then the talking animals arrive.
The fey know something is wrong—but not what—and dispatch awakened animals to find powerful heroes. While the patron can block ordinary news sources, he can’t stop talking robins and musically-inclined mice. They ask the heroes to abandon their oppressively coddled life and save the world. Escape is a difficult prospect thanks to well-armed guards and various security features that make the patron’s estate into a reverse dungeon the heroes need to escape.
Once the heroes escape, they find quick assistance from a friendly new ally who fills them in on the detail: Their patron is the villain behind the growing unrest, and his powerful magic can only be stopped with a quest for a unique magical bauble. The patron dispatches guards to “rescue” the escaped heroes, and their new ally aids their escape.
Anyone familiar with the princess formula already realizes their new ally is the true villain. Odds are the heroes do, too. Reward them if they play along.
The heroes’ new adventure leads them to once again cross paths of the same lovable rogues they met earlier. While their morality seems selfish, it teeters on the edge of genuine goodness if only they get a little encouragement.
Ultimately, the heroes’ adventure to retrieve the magical bauble leaves a magical artifact in the villain’s hand, or grants them the keys to the kingdom, or releases their more powerful master. How the villain ends up a powerful threat doesn’t matter. What matters is that the heroes can defeat it with the power of love and friendship, and also an unlikely stabbing, provided by the friends they made along the way.
Dom: 1) Rescue the ‘Princess’ Handmaiden’ from Corrupt Guard/Thieves Guild and return her to the palace.
2) Explore the Cave of Wonders Dungeon which will have Treasure Golems and animated object enemies primarily, but also traps and maybe add some tribe of people or goblins or such who previously got caught in there?
3) After the lamp is nicked, the Party needs to organize a ‘rebellion’ to take the city back from a newly empowered Dark Wizard who has a Marid minion
As a kid, like many people, I watched Disney movies. My favourite was always Aladdin. The magic and high fantasy combined with the humour and “street rat makes good” story have done a lot to inform the styles of roleplaying I like to engage in both as a player and a GM. There was always something exciting happening, and our eponymous hero always had a smart word to say in reply to his dastardly foes.
The plot starts with our heroes down on their luck, trying to scrape a living – remembering that they will not likely be a party of Rogues*, but one of more ‘legitimate’ adventurers. They are introduced to a woman asking them for help; a handmaiden to a princess being chased by the corrupt City Guard. The party must escort her to safety – no doubt getting into scraps and having to succeed at skills challenges. This gives plenty of opportunity for the party to get to know the woman, and learn she is a princess. She thanks them and sends them on their way when safe at the palace.
So far so simple.
The party are then captured by higher level guardsmen for “breaking the peace” and brought to the palace, where they meet the king’s advisor who at first glance seems an arrogant man but quickly becomes friendly to the party. He says that instead of imprisoning the party, he will let them free if they explore a Cave of Wonders, an important mission for the security of the Kingdom to recover a powerful artefact.
The Cave of Wonders in the movie is very much skipped over, but I can see this made into a fantastic fun and dangerous dungeon crawl. Remove the rule saying they can’t touch anything and simply ask that they retrieve The Lamp. Fill the Cave of Wonders with goblins, treasure golems and elementals who have made their way into the dungeon for the express purpose of troubling the party and throw in a few magic items, like a Carpet of Flying!
The party find a lamp and return it to the Vizier before promptly being thrown back into the Cave. The Vizier, who turns out to be a powerful Wizard uses the power of the Lamp to summon a Marid under his control, and he uses this to help take over the city and imprison the rightful rulers.
The party will be required to fight an urban insurrection against a Powerful Wizard – who has forced their friend, the Princess, to marry him after murdering her father – and his corrupt guards, sneak back into the palace and battle first the Marid of the Lamp, and then the Vizier to save the kingdom, and finally free the powerful Marid so that it can never be used in such a way again.
But not before a catchy dance number.
*Aladdin may be a Rogue at first glance, but he has a animal companion, so Ranger may be worth a closer look!
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. How would you adapt one of your childhood stories into an adventure? 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. Another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! Leave a comment on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter, or you can send an email to DearDovahQueen@gmail.com for your chance to be featured on the next Bend the Knee or Dear DovahQueen.
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