Know Direction RPG Superstar 2015 Special Bonus Edition!

On Saturday, February 28th, 2015, we interviewed many of the Top 8 contestants in this year’s RPG Superstar. You can still watch the video on our YouTube channel (Part 1, Part 2)

However, not all 8 contestants were able to make the live recording. Fortunately, two of the contestants who didn’t answer our questions live answered them via e-mail, which you can find after the jump.

Voting ends March 2nd at 06:00 PM Canada/Atlantic. (

Rep Pickard

Rep Pickard
Round 4 The Crystallized Shrine
Round 3 Spiroskek
Round 2 Town of Griffon Falls
Round 1 Harvestweal

How did you approach each round and its unique challenges?

For the first round, I determined an overall theme/defining image first, then figured out mechanics. In prior years, I picked the item’s key ability and then tried to build around that, but even if I started with a cool idea, I always felt like my item was missing something. Flipping the approach helped. I tried to use this strategy for subsequent rounds as well, to varying degrees of success–but I think where I had a strong, core thematic idea, that’s where I performed best.

For the map round, I tried many locations before settling on Griffon Falls, simply because I figured this was the only chance I had do anything related to city building, which I love and feel is a strength of mine.

For subsequent rounds, I focused a lot on what makes Nar-Voth and the Darklands stand out; how to transform something you might typically find underground into a magically twisted and uniquely creepy phenomenon.

For all rounds: lots and lots of research and practice.


What sets you apart as a designer?

I’m the most adorkable! In seriousness, I believe that depends more on the observer than on my point of view. I can say what I think my strengths are: I am sensitive to environment and how to work with it, I am good at thinking about how players would approach a situation in multiple ways, and I have a good sense of game writing style.


What does Pathfinder mean to you?

As a product and as a concept, Pathfinder is about being willing to explore familiar fantasy from constantly new perspectives–not just “finding a path” but finding the most interesting and rewarding way to experience an adventure.


Kalervo Oikarinen 

Kalervo Oikarinen
Round 4 Fellforge Chapel
Round 3 Dread Glutton
Round 2 Ancient Cyclops Stronghold in the Icerime Peaks
Round 1 Fate-binder


How did you approach each round and its unique challenges?

I usually start by bouncing around ideas and keep doing that until one or two of them stick and don’t let go; just before falling asleep seems to be pretty good time for coming up with stuff. For a sanity check, I use a friend or two as a sounding board. I try to find new and creative ideas, whether it’s the imagery or mechanics, ideally both. Then you tie it all together with a unifying theme. I think my round 1 magic item is a pretty good example of this. An interesting twist on something familiar can also be a good way to go.

For my round 2 entry, I wanted to map a location that would facilitate epic encounters and I’ve always found the ancient cyclops empire of Golarion fascinating. After I came up with the connected mountain tops idea, I tried to imagine what a person would see as they climb up the worn steps on the mountainside.

During round 3, I returned to an idea that I’ve had rattling around in my head for a while. A creature that can make plants grow out of their victims and use them as soil for their garden. Since it was to reside in Nar-Voth, the dark fey and fungi seemed like a perfect fit for it. From there I came up with mushrooms that contain emotions and the fear effect.

This year the time limits were so tight each round that I didn’t have time to flesh out multiple ideas and choose between them, so I went with the ones that I felt were the strongest and concentrated on them from the get go. Finally, I got some comments from my pit crew before making the finishing touches.


What sets you apart as a designer?

I think my strong suit is coming up with interesting mechanics and evocative imagery. Getting the balance right with the mechanics can be tricky, especially if it’s an area of game design you’re somewhat new to, but I think I’m getting there.

I’m definitely most familiar with magic items and monsters. This year has been a crash course in cartography and encounter design, and I feel I’ve learned a lot of things I can use to make my future designs even better. I think I’m pretty good at learning from my mistakes but there’s always a danger of stumbling into a familiar design pitfall, especially if the schedule doesn’t leave a lot of room for reflection. So you need to keep vigilant.

I’m sure Finnish as well as Nordic mythology and culture has its own influence on my designs, and youth spent living in Lapland with sunless winters and summer nights where the sun never sets.


What does Pathfinder mean to you?

I didn’t start my gaming with D&D, instead it was games like RuneQuest, Cyberpunk 2020, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It wasn’t until around year 2005 that my roommate ran a D&D 3.5 adventure set in Eberron that I actually played D&D outside of computer games such as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. Then some years later the same person started running the Kingmaker AP, so I was introduced to Pathfinder. I think this was in 2012—about one year later was the first time I entered RPG Superstar. There were several years where I didn’t play very often, so you could say that Pathfinder helped rekindle my gaming hobby when it comes to tabletop RPGs.

Pathfinder is now one of my favorite RPGs, I like the variety of interesting options the rules and Golarion provide. I play mostly home games but some Pathfinder Society as well. I look forward to playing some PFS games at Paizocon this year. The next step is to get into freelancing for both Paizo and 3PPs. RPG Superstar and the Freelance Forge community should be of great help in making that happen.

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. 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 the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting:

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