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: Charlotte Irrgang, aka Irrgardless / Stryck
I’m a graphic designer who’s been roleplaying since the 90s in a huge variety of systems, from crunchy to rules-lite. My husband, Robb, and I have combined our graphic design, marketing, and RPG knowledge to form Irrgardless – a boutique RPG design studio. Our latest project is working with Beadle & Grimm’s on their Complete Character Chronicles, now on Kickstarter!
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Jessica Redekop
I’m a freelance writer and illustrator for RPGs, including work for Paizo Publishing, Storm Bunny Studios, and Lost Spheres Publishing. I’ve been playing ttRPGs for about 20 years, starting with D&D 2nd edition and some Palladium games in high school, and in the last couple years I’ve also started LARPing. I have a particular love for the Planescape setting, and when the world is normal, I run a bunch of single-session Planescape adventures I’ve written at PaizoCon.
You can find me playing Xiadani the aasimar druid on Valiant, a Pathfinder 2 actual play podcast here on the Know Direction network.
Fan: Shane Ferguson, @ragnarocknrolla on twitter
I am a Know Direction fan of the past few years with over a decade of RPG experience as both a player and GM. A lot of my time has been spent playing Pathfinder First Edition, but I also have experience with dozen’s of other systems including Forged in the Dark games, Legend of the Five Rings, World of Darkness and more than a few D20 based systems. I spend a lot of time on the road for work and when I’m home I spend my time helping my girlfriend with her numerous snakes, lizards, chickens, dogs and the cat.
“It’s done. You ran the last game for your friends, and despite their best efforts, it was incredible! You were looking forward to taking a break from GMing, but the group voted and you’re 100% going to have to work your magic again. Likely, you groan, because it’s an established and obvious fact that they are a hard group to satisfy. Each player has a very different personality with very different interests. And now, you have 4 players’ eyes on you looking for a story that appeals to each of their interests…again. Because it worked so well last time, you ask them each to tell you what they would like to see in the next setting and in the next story.”
Homebrew a unique setting based off the interests of each player. Roll a d6 for each friend and consult the table to determine what each would like to see in the next game. Tell us what your rolled and give us the elevator pitch for your campaign based on their input.
|2||Undead||High Fantasy||Solving Mysteries||Philosophers|
|3||Birds||Steampunk or Dieselpunk||Love and Family||Athletes|
|4||Fey||Modern||Science!||Robots or Constructs|
|5||Sea Monsters||Post-Apocalyptic||PCs are in a music band together||Cultists|
|6||Animals, but they’re all as smart as regular people||Whatever you want, but its gotta feel like the 1950’s||The Grim Darkness of Life During Wartimes||Blue Collar Workers|
Homebrew setting (Sea Monsters, Steampunk/Dieselpunk, PCs in a music band, cultists)
Okay folks, here’s the pitch: The five of you are in a traveling death-metal band – you can each choose a role like Lead Singer, Guitarist, Drummer, Bassist, Backup Dancer, Merch Purveyor, Groupie or Manager.
Now, your manager has just booked a gig on a tropical island well known for both its parties and its treasure!
The steam-powered hulk called “Man-o-Peace” is ready and willing to take you across the sea. The seas surrounding this island are filled with sea monsters and possibly even a Kraken or two, but that’s not what worries you. What worries you is that your rivals, the Cult of Doom, will get there first and steal the show! Time to brave the waves and battle that band!
The world is similar to a traditional fantasy world, but extremely high volcanic activity has encouraged steam and geothermal technologies to advance alongside of magic. Oceans comprise over 85% of the planet, with most landmasses being grouped in archipelagos along the edges of tectonic plates, where the volcanoes have created islands both large and small.
There are traditional communities that disavow both magic and technology, as well as those that specialize in one or the other. Most places have at least some mix of both. Travel between islands is accomplished either via boat or airship, and travel and trade between islands within an archipelago is common. There tends to be suspicion when meeting people from outside the island chain where one grew up, however.
The shallower waters surrounding the islands are guarded by hive-minds of sentient corals, and are home to communities of aquatic Kobolds, Merfolk, and Octopoids. Geothermal technology using heat and mineral-rich water piped from underwater vents allows these communities to power glittering cities surrounded by cultivated fields.
The deep seas beyond are home to more fearsome creatures. Giant eel-like creatures called Slime-Dragons curve sinuously through the depths. Their long fangs are needle-thin, and they are known to spit out inky clouds that confuse their prey, followed by electric (or less commonly, fire or ice) bolts to finish them off. Their scaleless hides are protected by a thick coat of slime, which makes them extremely difficult to harm. There are tribes of traveling kobold pirates that ride inside of whales. The symbiotic relationship between the two lasts until the whale is neglected and no longer kept fed by its inhabitants, but either way it goes in the whale’s favor.
Jessica: Finding out what your players want before you start planning a game is always a great first step. Here, my friends want a game featuring “Undead” for Cathy, “Western” for Jenna, “Science!” for Kristyne, and “Cultists” for Michelle. These themes combine pretty easily with each other. Undead Science! is a great way to describe the classic horror novel Frankenstein, Undead Cultists has tons of possible permutations steeped in classic horror tropes depending on whether the cultists are undead themselves or the servants of one, and Western Science! captures the setting of the 1999 Will Smith movie Wild Wild West (and the associated source material I’m too young for) perfectly.
We could absolutely run this in Pathfinder (we could even keep playing in Golarion, like Valiant), but there’s tons of other systems that would work great for this, too. Deadlands is already mixing the western and horror genres, Urban Shadows was used to great effect for a western game in the Adventure Zone’s Dust, and for a shorter game rather than a full campaign Dread builds tension and atmosphere beautifully. Owen KC Stephens’ blog also has tons of resources for hacking Starfinder into a Really Wild West game, which would help build on Kristyne’s request for Science!.
No matter what game system we decide to use, we’re going to go ahead and set our game in an alternate reality version of the American frontier. Our cultists will be occultists and esoterics, belonging to an anachronistic stand-in for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and other similar groups, and becoming undead (and therefore immortal!) will be their end goal. These are our bad guys. The cult can use magic, weird science, or a combination of the two to achieve their immortal ends. My players didn’t specify a game without magic, so I’d ask them before removing magic or replacing it with weird science entirely.
If Cathy and Michelle requested undead and cultists because they wanted to fight those enemies, perfect! If they wanted to play those characters, there’s great story potential for former cultists who leave the order. They can be failed experiments who became undead but lost something the cultists aren’t willing to give up in the process, or maybe the process was completely successful and now they’ve on the run to protect the secrets of immortality.
Kristyne’s request for Science! is going to make our setting pretty steampunk, and she probably asked for it so she can play some kind of inventor character, so we’ll need to keep that in mind when we make a final decisions on the game system. This may put the players in a science versus magic dynamic in their fight against our cultists. We’ll need some minor historical revisions to make the steampunk happen, but we can probably handwave most of that. We can even insert an anachronistic Ada Byron as a mentor for any scientist/inventor characters in the party. Of course, we’re going to need a steampunk crab mech somewhere in the game, too, naturally.
Shane: “Long, long ago, before Brightstone and the eldest of the High Kings, before even the Philosophers brought the Kin together and taught us the Path of the Green, men roamed the earth. They built great machines capable of awesome destruction and magnificent creation. They had spires that touched the skies and even flew above the stars. But they were foolish, and called little for the Green, and all feared they’d destroy the world. In the end though they only destroyed themselves and forged the path for us and the other Kin to heal the Earth’s wounds and see the world at peace.”
After rolling “Animals, but they’re all as smart as regular people”, “High Fantasy”, and “Science!” I immediately knew I wanted a post-post-apocalyptic world where animals had become uplifted and taken humanity’s place as the stewards of the Earth. “High Fantasy” and “Science!” especially brought to mind classic magic versus technology tales such as Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. The idea of talking badgers, rabbits and dogs embarking out into a wild world that once used to be our own had more than a little appeal on its own, but I was missing the final piece. “Philosophers”. This led me to imagining the animals, whom I started calling the Kin, lived in a Plato’s Republic inspired utopia which was ruled by a Philosopher class who spend their time teaching the others to respect and cherish nature.
Once I had my general idea, I needed a system. I briefly considered Pugmire, the Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition inspired game about adventuring dogs in a fantasy world, but being that it was a system I am personally not too versed in I decided against it. Instead I would fall back to the old standby of Pathfinder first edition and use the Advanced Race Guide as a basis for home brewing new animal races so that I could have lizards alongside cats alongside goats etc. While this would take a little extra time, ultimately I feel giving the players more options alongside a rules system I know pretty intimately would be worth it.
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. What’s your What does your campaign look like? 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 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.