Bend the Knee – Setting Expectations 3

Normally, Loren Sieg asks a panel of three guests —an RPG industry professional, a Know Direction network staff member, and a fan— to bend the knee before the DovahQueen and answer her questions. However, today Loren is the Know Direction network staff member answering a question at once familiar and fresh: The latest installment of the Setting Expectation subseries.

First, let’s meet today’s guests.

Guests

RPG Industry Professional: Paul Fields

I started playing Basic D&D in the 80s, and I’ve played all sorts of sci-fi, fantasy, mecha, supers, vampire games ever since; and for the last four years, I’ve been releasing RPG supplements as Evil Robot Games. I took up fencing in college, killed Richard the III onstage, threw telephone poles for fun at my local Ren Faire. I studied graphic arts and architecture, but now I fight computer goblins for a living.

Know Direction Network Staff Member: Loren Sieg aka The DovahQueen

I’ve been playing pen and paper RPGs since 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and I’ve been a part of the Know Direction Network for many years now. You can listen to me play always-chaotic characters here at KD and over at Roll for Combat, and you can listen to Legend Lore that I cohost with Luis where we teach and talk about Pathfinder 2nd Edition. I’m working on my PhD at the University of Alabama where I’m doing research on animal intelligence from inside an integrative animal behavior laboratory.

Fan: Charles Cushman AKA Swizarmi/Raptor

I’ve been playing and DMing pen and paper RPG’s since the glorious day that version 1 of Star Frontiers was released. Through my creative concern Raptorforge I have created a number of board games, written copy for toy companies and supported electronic game development. My current gaming passion is plot, game design and costuming and props for Live Action Role Playing.

Today’s Question

You know what would be cool?” your players say to you, one at a time. Normally these are magic words to you as their GM designing their next campaign. But as your players share their ideas, you realize they each have extremely different definitions of cool. Now you have a list of elements that do not mesh, and four players who would be heartbroken if their idea didn’t make it into your next campaign.

Brew up a unique setting based off the interests of each of your four players. Roll a d6 for each player and consult the table to determine what each would like to see in the next game. Tell us what you rolled and how you would use all four elements for your next campaign.

d6

Diana

Eric

Sheila

Bobby

1

Aberrations

Space Opera

High Action

Ninjas

2

Constructs

Super Hero

Solving Mysteries

Immortals

3

Birds

Lego

Love and Family

Athletes

4

Fey

Modern

80s Karate Movie

Robots

5

Doppelgangers

Post-Apocalyptic

Shades of grey morality

Celebrities with secret lives and powers

6 Threats from another time Whatever you want, but its gotta feel like the 1950’s The Grim Darkness of Life During Wartimes

 Blue Collar Workers

Answers

Paul Fields

BIRDS    MODERN    SOLVING MYSTERIES    NINJAS

My first thought is Ducktales, but with Ninjas.

It’s a modern setting with anthropomorphic birds; I choose Starfinder to have easy access to Espraska, Vlaka, Pahtra, and Uplifted Bears. I’m building non-combat challenges by borrowing some general rules from Gumshoe’s scenario and clue advice for the mysteries. Operative NPCs with pointy objects are my Ninjas.

Now for the setting, I wanted a world of mysteries that would hold up to more than a couple of game sessions if played straight. I needed a variety of mysteries, murder, robberies, and other strangeness. I also needed a framework to get the players to solve problems that were more X-Files and Fringe than fantasy dungeon crawling.

Perplexity Falls is a gambling resort town carved out of the unforgiving desert by organized crime in the 1940s. Miners founded the city near the ruins of an enormous trading hub built by a long dead indigenous civilization centuries before the western settlers came. Local mineral deposits and geological formations affect the weather and disrupt scientific instruments. The addition of nearby military bases, cutting edge scientific research, and UFO sightings have brought intrigue to the city like a magnet.

Between alien artifacts, cowboy ghosts, and weird weather, the maelstrom of chaos will bring you down if you let it. That’s the reason multinationals like Montague Consolidated hire hackers, private eyes, mystics, scientists, and troubleshooters to keep the chaos away from their bottom line. As consultants for the wealthy philanthropist Graham Montague, the players have access to a wide variety of cases without locking them into the rigid structure of the Fringe Division or the Unsolved Cases Unit of the X-Files FBI. Being consultants, they’re free for private citizens to prevail upon their time to solve missing persons cases, or baffled police departments and security companies might drop by from time to time to borrow their expertise to solve impossible heists. Being consultants, they’re also free to cross paths with the FBI, police, and other agencies when they’re not on the same side of a case.

If anyone who’s gotten this far thinks I’ve forgotten the ninjas, I have not.

A group of unnamed criminals is on a crime spree, committing burglaries all around the city. Whenever video footage of them emerges, the villains are always wearing high tech suits and masks. So far, their skills have proven greater than some of the city’s most advanced security systems. Forensic analysis from a recent break-in shows metal floor grates cut with laser precision and bulletproof glass singed by high energy plasma. Although the press has been calling them ninjas, our guess is they come from somewhere other than feudal Japanese mountains.

Ashley Montague invites you all into the richly appointed conference room at Montague consolidated; she’s the well dressed, polite, and perfectly coifed face of the arts and sciences division. We lost another high-tech battery prototype last night. I need you to get it back for me.

Loren Sieg

So first off, this feels like an episode of undercover boss to me. BtK has always been a blast for me because it’s so neat to see the incredible responses I get from you guys. Responses have run the gamut from surprising to endearing to curious, but they’ve never been boring. And now, I’m sitting in the ‘guest’ seat and realizing that every one of my previous guests have set a very high bar.

…but I’m not one to be outdone. So let’s see if we can give these players something to knock their socks off.

Diana – Birds.

Ok, don’t have a lot of initial ideas to work with on that. Maybe something where birds are a really common tool—like how they used to be used as messengers but more jobs and seen in more places.

Eric – Superhero.

Ok, so admittedly, I’m not really that big into superhero stuff. Spandex, big smiles, and secret lairs never really appealed to me, but that’s not really the only way to represent superheroes right? My three favorites, in no particular order, are Gambit, the Punisher, and Thor. Don’t judge me for throwing Frank Castle in with that lot; he counts. Fight me. Thor though…hmm…that gives me some ideas.

Shelia – Shades of Grey Morality.

This is my jam! I honestly think that if you don’t have this theme in your game, you’re not trying hard enough, because this is how life works. And it’s what makes us really think about our games in a way that forces our immersion.

Bobby – Robots.

Ok, now my idea is really starting to come together. Robots can add a level of philosophical thought that is very conducive to having tough decisions. On top of that, it’s a carte blanche pass to go full sci-fi with this like I was kind of hoping.

I have my idea. It’s a very Cyberpunk meets Game of Thrones kind of setting. Let’s run this in the Mutants and Masterminds system so that players are only limited by their imagination. I like how that system has effects, actions, and costs. You pick a slew of effects or action based on what you’re able to spend, and then you create all of the concept behind it.

Welcome to the planet Midgard. Your country, Vanaheim, lost the war with Asgard some 10 years ago and has been occupied by them ever since. President Freya encourages cooperation with the Asgardian oppressors, but the working stiffs of Vanaheim, your people, suffer starvation, police brutality, and over taxation.

The Asgardian overlord, Odin, has his eyes and ears all over the city in the form of robotic Ravens. It’s hard to do anything in the city without a little metal bird betraying your words and actions to the Asgardian occupiers. If Big Brother suspects any kind of behavior against the state, enforcers armed with high-end tech and genetic enhancements quickly eliminate the threats of resistance.

Some of the notable enforcers include:

Loki who uses invisibility tech, disguise tech, and hacking tech to ferret out secrets the resistance would prefer to keep hidden.

Thor who uses genetically enhanced strength, gene-enhanced endurance, and powerful lightning-weapons to brutally and publicly eliminate those deemed “enemies of the state.”

Balder whose subdermal armor keeps him nearly invulnerable to small arms fire. He only takes down criminals who are a threat to both the Vanir and the Asgardians. Then, he uses his personality enhancement tech to spew propaganda on live television after the fact.

You, the PCs, are a small pocket of the resistance, and your system has just received a message from a mysterious benefactor who only identifies themselves as “H.” They offer a way to hide your systems from Odin’s enforcers, and they offer information—the time and location that a Raven will go offline for a period of 5 minutes. It would make for a very useful tool if you can successfully capture it during this time and modify to suit your needs and plans.

What the PCs don’t know is that this information comes from a criminal syndicate that operates out of Helheim to the South. This is the legendary Hel, and she seeks to help ‘liberate’ Vanaheim and in the process weaken the Asgardians enough for her syndicate to unseat Odin and establish itself as the leading regime of Asgard. Hel doesn’t care how many Asgardians or Vanir she leaves in her wake.

The PCs will have to make tough decisions on nearly ever mission. They’re going to have opposition in their missions in the force of everyday soldiers, enforcers, cybernetic weapons of destruction, or even unwitting bureaucrats, but not everyone that stands against them is some kind of villain. Asgardian soldiers are also just working stiffs trying to feed their families, and many Vanir have donned their uniforms in an effort to do the same. Others might be Asgardian nationalists that get off on the power their rifles and badges provide. Some missions might help the cause but harm the common folk, or just the opposite. The lure of Hel’s help will be very enticing, but it just might come at the cost of your soul.

Charles Cushman

Doppelgangers, the 1950’s, Shades of grey morality, Blue Collar Workers

This is a wonderfully evocative random roll. This would really be suited well by a GURPS ruleset with a 1950’s style “Red Menace” campaign. (Modern D20 would also be a reasonable option). Players could pull from a modified modern setting using 1950’s appropriate skills, and some elements of the GURPS magic setting to play out the shape shifting mechanic.

The players would take the role of shape shifters from Eastern European legend sent by the Soviets to infiltrate the blue-collar workforce and spread Communism under the watchful eyes of the American government. This would be as a high-stakes social deception game where the players have to convince, bully, blackmail or bribe the NPC laborers to organize unions and promote the Soviet agenda. The twist is that the players can kill/capture key NPC’s and take their forms to conceal their actions or help influence the decision to unionize.

The players will have to use subtly and guile to keep from garnering attention from the wealthy industrialists, the press and federal investigators to accomplish their goals of spreading the red menace to America’s shores.

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game has turned into an empire of gamers talking about their games. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as a co-host of the flagship podcast, Know Direction. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: http://knowdirectionpodcast.com/2021/01/presenting-ryan-costello/