Esther: Hello and welcome to Know Direction, your number one source for Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews. I’m Esther.
Navaar: And I’m Navaar.
Esther: And today, we have returning to the show former Know Direction co-host and current Creative Director for Rules and Lore at Paizo, Luis Loza. Welcome back! We are so excited to have you here.
Luis: Yes. I’m so happy to be back. I have missed Know Direction so much, and I wish I could be on more. But my fancy new really long title means I, I probably am not allowed to come back as often as I would like. But yeah, I’m happy to be here. I’m excited to chat with you.
Navaar: Likewise. I was telling you before we started recording, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a very long time, so I’m, I’m super excited about this and especially what we’re getting into today. I feel like this one, for me, felt like a surprise book-come-out. And I don’t know if I was just like, lost in the fog of life or what happened, but Highhelm showed up and here we are.
But yes, the dwarves of Golarion are something that I’ve been very fond of because of the fact that they are so diverse in their range. And so, yeah, I’m, I’m excited to get into that.
Esther: I was excited when I realized Highhelm was a book that was gonna come out. A long time ago, when the system was pretty newly released into the world, I ran a series of oneshots for friends to be like, let’s get into this game together, see if you like playing, see if you wanna like, have a longer campaign.
And one of the settings I chose was Highhelm, and I’ve been very fond of it ever since. And I like found out as much as I could about it at the time from what was available with 1E. I think the first question I had — and Navaar please jump in if you have a different burning question– is just why Highhelm? Why this setting?
Why Highhelm? Developing Dwarven Cultures
Luis: The answer ultimately is: just because I thought it would be interesting, right? I thought that Highhelm is different from your typical fantasy city. We have Absalom, we have Magnimar, we have so many cities that we’ve explored over the years, uh, primarily through 1E. And not to have any knocks against them, but they’re all typical fantasy cities. They’re walled in cities, they’re sprawling. And then, you know, they have their interesting NPCs, they have their interesting districts, all these interesting adventure hooks. But then you tell someone, okay, a fantasy city, they imagine that. But if you tell someone, oh, this is a city built into a mountain, there’s suddenly a lot of different things that have to come to mind.
And, and it just– everyone has seen your standard fantasy city from, from anything at this point, but they haven’t all seen something like Highhelm. And that’s something I really wanted to explore. And I thought that the unique architecture, the unique layout, and all the things that come with it would be a really interesting thing to explore.
It just so happened to be that that’s where the dwarves live.
Navaar: Yeah. I, I think similarly along those vein, Highhelm specifically — there are other Sky Citadels, there are other, dwarven cities — does Highhelm just have more of a history in, in Paizo, in Pathfinder, or was there something else about Highhelm specifically as well?
Luis: I think it’s just the fact that it’s the most populous, the biggest one. Basically, if you’re gonna go show off a Sky Citadel, you’re gonna wanna show off the biggest, you know, most prime example, the dwarfiest example of all of them.
Navaar: Yeah, Yeah. No, I love it. I, I think when initially coming into this — you listen to the show, so like, one of the things that I’ve always been, a fan of with, with the Pathfinder stuff is like the idea that there are other dwarves than just your like, red beard, Scottish version of that.
Navaar: And so I was curious like okay, we’re getting this book of dwarves from a place — a very specific place — like how that would be handled. And obviously the cover already has, you know, brown characters on it. But yeah, like, was there a lot of that that had to be changed from the First Edition books that you found? Or, was that kind of an easy transition?
Luis: It’s a thing that we’ve actually been working on for a while now. It wasn’t just “suddenly in Highhelm we have Black dwarves and women with beards” or anything. It’s a thing that we’ve been kind of peppering in over the years. When I started with Paizo, I was working on the Player Companion and, and campaign setting books for 1E, and that was just six or seven of those books because by that point, 2E was already right around the corner. But I was part of the process with helping make changes or, or add the — expand, I think is the word I wanna use — for expanding a lot of the ancestries that we had. Uh, one thing that came to mind early on during 2E was “I’d love to get a deep dive on all of the different ancestries.”
That’s how the Character Guide came about, and we, you know, take a look at humans and the dwarves and elves and so on and so forth. And in trying to give them a more grounded, more fleshed out part in the world, we ended up doing things like deciding what do dwarf and ethnicities look like? What are the different cultures and stuff? And we’re able to start even expanding there. So we were able to say that, hey, if you’re an underground dwarf, uh, there’s a likelihood that you have a beard. Flat-out. Doesn’t matter what you are. The underground dwarves are really into that.
Other dwarves are into this and that. And just doing that. And we were just able to completely, uh, keep building on, on the, that foundation that we keep adding to more and more. So by the time Highhelm rolls around, people already know that there is gonna be an expectation that you might see some artwork of dwarven women with beards.
You might see, you know, we, we’ve shown Mwangi dwarves, you’re probably gonna see more Black dwarves here. You’re gonna see brown dwarves. You’re gonna see, you know, someone with a, a disability. You’re gonna see so many different things, because we’ve been just building that up rather than suddenly throwing it at you all at once in a way that I feel, I think, hopefully feels more natural, rather than just suddenly like, “uh, we gotta, you know, scramble to make sure we, we cover as many things as possible.”
Navaar: Yeah, absolutely. I think that since I’ve been aware of Pathfinder 2E, it’s something that I’ve noticed. And I do feel like that has come in in these ways that like, it’s more of a — I’m used to the world, right? Of my 35 years of seeing like fantasy a specific way. And so it’s, it’s a little bit of a surprise, but it’s a good surprise, obviously. One that, I mean, makes me proud to talk about this stuff and enjoy this game as much as I do. So, yeah, that’s really cool.
Esther: One of the things that I was noticing as I read the book, just looking at the art and then reading the NPC descriptions, is how natural it does feel. Like — I, I feel like from the very foundations of 2E as a system and all the materials that have been released, there has been this really intentional inclusion of many different kinds of bodies, many different kinds of experiences, different cultural inspirations from our world.
And so I had this moment when I was reading, and there’s this artwork of a dwarf, using a wheelchair and doing some kind of crafting, I think, or something like that. And I just had this moment of like, I’m not even surprised to see that. There’s been so much art artwork of disabled characters. Every time I ran across a trans character, I was like, I’m not surprised. And that feels so good. It feels so good.
In that vein, I did kind of have like a, a rambling thought-question as I was like, —
Esther: — getting my thoughts together this morning. I feel like with fantasy dwarves, there are some stereotypes that can be easily invoked, like — like the basis in antisemitism and all of those old tropes, but even just like, “the dwarf is the comic relief character.”
And I remember like, being a Tolkien fan and having this like, deep lore of Tolkien dwarves and feeling upset when like, Gimli was just viewed as comic relief. And then this moment in, the first Hobbit movie when you had that beautiful song in the trailer and then in the film and Thorin starts singing and you just get this like, “oh my god, there’s like, cultures here. There’s such depth here!” And like, wanting more of that. And what I love is that with Golarion’s dwarves, it feels like more of that, there’s so much depth. So I guess my rambling question is: how do you avoid some of the stereotypes in the worldbuilding and really bring in that depth, and create something that feels real and lived in?
Luis: I think — I think, I mean, this is a question you could ask about all our ancestries, right?
Luis: Uh, but I, I think two things come to mind. One is, take those stereotypes as classic ideals of a dwarf. Dwarf loves mining, dwarf loves drinking, blah, blah, blah, blah, and extrapolate on those. Why, right? What’s the reason that they’re into this?
Wouldn’t you know it, keeping alcohol around makes it easier to have something to drink because you’re underground and maybe access to water is, uh, a lot harder or, or, you know, it stores better, right? Things like that. Or mining, because you happen to live underground by default. That’s where the dwarves originated from. That’s just kind of a thing they’re used to doing. They know it pretty well. The culture just keeps that, uh, around, and you can turn it from a stereotype to just, it’s a foundational element, but not one that can necessarily come across as mocking or joking or anything like that.
And people who wanna have fun with that and, and miss, like, “Oh, I, I want my dwarf to be classical. Do my Scottish accent, drink all the time.” You can do that! But there’s nothing that inherently says you have to play those classical tropes that particular way. They’re just there for people to have as touchstones and, and the familiarity the way that elves, you know, are graceful and, and beautiful and all this stuff, and. Or halflings happen to like food, right? Things like that.
And you can take those and kind of sand away, I guess is, is what I’ll say. Sand away the, the kind of negative or just not as exciting or useful elements that are built around the stereotypes and just make them a matter of fact, right?
And the other thing is, we have an amazing squadron, amazing array of writers that have so many experiences and just bring in whatever they want or feel should be interesting to a dwarf or to an elf or to whomever and expand on it. Right? I had a trans woman, Dana Ebert, she wrote the little NPC write-ups, the ones with the little portrait and the, the blurb on them.
And I knew full well, based on Dana’s history, “oh, so many of these characters are gonna end up trans or, or, or queer, or have a, you know, different gender identity than just, here’s a man, here’s a woman, here’s a man, here’s a woman. And great!” And that’s totally — I mean, in part that’s what I want, right?
I want to have these diverse characters, but also like people are gonna be bringing in their experiences and what they think: maybe dwarves can also be like this. And in the end of the day, it’s my job as developer to make sure it all is meshing together and married together in a way that is not contradictory in any way.
Not that it’s really hard to imagine dwarves of men and women and then they have trans men and women and so on and so forth. But like, people are bringing in these ideas, clean them up and make sure they align, but in the end, they’re still dwarves and great! You know, we, we’re off to the races. We have — when you have diverse writers, you end up with diverse books.
And that’s, I think, been a very important factor in our success — or what I feel is our success — in making these interesting worlds interesting people and interesting reads.
Navaar: Yeah, I think that section that you just mentioned really stood out to me and I think it, it is like — I mean, the art is beautiful as always. But I think one of the great things about it, too, is like, the art doesn’t lean into any sort of like, stereotype or negative connotation of like what a trans woman should look like or what a non-binary person should look like, quote unquote.
And so it’s like, they’re just people, and this is their gender. And I, I love how fluid it is in the book and that it doesn’t feel like there is a majority of, of anything, in that it feels like there’s like this diversity here. So I — it’s always fun to see like the NPC galleries.
I really enjoy those, just to get an idea. Because it’s — you get this description, but you also get this visual of what they look like and can sort of imagine like, the vastness of, of what that could be in a city when you’re seeing different types of people represented with other people who look like them or something like them or in between. And yeah, it’s just a lot of fun.
Esther: I was wondering, going off kind of the worldbuilding element, and thinking about clans: how did you develop the clans of Highhelm?
Luis: So the clans were something that didn’t exist in First Edition. You mentioned earlier that you were — you ran some Highhelm stuff. You might have checked out the Castles ,of the Inner Sea article, yeah, six, eight pages or whatever it was. It says clans existed probably, but it didn’t specifically name out like, oh, this is clan Tolor and this is clan such and such.
So one of the things that came to mind is, alright, well, I want to have a large number of clans to show that these are what clans can be. We’ve talked about clan daggers and the importance of clans and stuff since the beginning of Second Edition, but we haven’t really shown you any of these clans. Even in Mwangi Expanse and stuff, we just didn’t have the space to really flush out any of the clans in the same way. So I wanted to set up a kind of foundational framework, I guess, for what clans can be and what clans look like and the kind of things to expect from clans, and hopefully inspire people to make their own clans when the time comes.
If someone goes and runs a, a dwarven game elsewhere, they should be able to look at this book and be like, “Okay, I think I know what I can expect or how I can make a clan.”
And then from there, I just thought of what are the dwarfiest jobs that you can do, right? And so, okay, smithing is one, mining is one. Smelting is different from smithing. Gem cutting. Brewing ale, of course — and, and thought of all these different things. And kind of after I had, I had this huge list of what every job in Highhelm could be, picking what I thought were some of the most important ones. And I think landing on 12 was just kind of a nice round number.
It’s easy if you want to figure out what your clan is, but don’t really care. You can roll a d12 and then you get your, your clan. And I think also there’s a part of me that’s like, 10 is too easy of a number. Let’s go for 12. But the clans — in the end, I also wanted to show that it’s not just these 12 clans. There’s mentions of all these smaller clans as well.
But in the end it was mostly just dwarf jobs. Let’s assign a job to each clan. So some of them are things like the religion and history. They’re not quite the same thing as a job. But these are things I think would be important to dwarves and dwarven culture, at least the, the classical dwarf. And let’s make sure that they have their important place, and so important they’ve developed the whole clan around them.
Location Types and Support Traits
Navaar: Yeah, that’s really cool. One of the other really fascinating things in this book that I came upon was the location types and support traits.
Navaar: I was like, this is so good.
Navaar: I love that. Can you, yeah, get into that a little bit —
Navaar: — for people who haven’t seen this?
Luis: That was a thing that wasn’t actually my idea beforehand. Uh, this is — if you checked out the Lost Omens Absalom book — those were in there as well. And I think those were also developed for Otari in the Beginner Box or in Abomination Vaults, I forget which. But one of the like four different places where Otari showed up back in the day, ’cause it was all over the place for a little bit, had these support traits and, and location types.
And the, the, the idea being that, let’s give you a reason to want to go to different places, right? We always put out these maps in these cities, uh, or, or whatever and say, “Oh, here’s this restaurant, here’s where the guard is and here’s the city hall,” and all that other stuff. And unless your adventure already was assuming to be going there for some particular reason, whether you’re running a pre-written adventure or doing a, a homebrew thing, it’s very unlikely that your players will have any reason to want to interact with that unless they’re such roleplayers that really get into that kind of stuff.
So by adding some kind of mechanical effect to that, I think it inspires people to be like, “Oh, maybe I do wanna check out the library. Even though we were gonna do research and we didn’t really need to go use books, by using the, the library, we, you know, we can get a +1 bonus on this and we can minmax the thing!” And suddenly it gives you an excuse to talk about the place and stuff like that.
And it also means that everything can have a use, right? By giving you an extra little bit of mechanic, a GM can suddenly find like, “Oh actually I didn’t even think of using this library or using this restaurant, or whatever.” And now I have a, a chance to inspire GMs by saying, “Okay, now that I know that it’ll give my players a bonus, maybe I’ll wanna weave that in some way.”
It’s just, I’m trying to make the, the book as useful as possible, and wanting to make sure that each location is more than just, “Okay, I’ll just read it to the last line ’cause I know that’s where they tend to put the adventure hook. Okay, now I’ll move onto next one.” There, there’s, there’s just a little bit more going on with it.
Navaar: Yeah. No, I, I like that. I love stuff in games where the mechanics can help to push newer players, or players who don’t do a ton of roleplaying, to do stuff that’s outside of their box. Because I think, like you said, like you touched upon, like, some people just don’t do that. Some people are just like, “Yeah, uh… we’re gonna, like, I’m gonna summarize to the GM what we’re gonna do, and then we’re just gonna move forward to the next fight.”
And it’s like, that’s fine if that’s how you want your game to be, but there’s also these other benefits where if you take the time to like even go do a five minute conversation here or whatever, now you have a reason to do it. And so I love stuff like that that just pulls, pulls the players in. Yeah.
Esther: One of the things I really noticed about this setting — as with like, honestly, all of the settings that I have read thus far in, especially in 2E — is how much it did pull me in and how much I was like… even if I hadn’t thought a lot about Highhelm before reading this book, it would make me curious as a player and a GM to want to explore it, to want to use all those mechanical benefits and just like set my players up to interact with interesting people, to interact with this system of clans, to go to these places to get some tiny mechanical benefit, but also just to like, immerse themselves in the world.
One of the things that you did so well that I really loved was emphasizing– like, I, I feel like sometimes for us, we live in a culture that can tend to emphasize the individual. And reading about like a big family system, like a clan, can be a little bit like, “Okay, but would, would I really be happy there?”
And I love the way you explained like this is, this is a system of support. A lot of people feel really guided by their clan, by what they’re kind of set up to do by that. And: seeding a really, really rich conflict if someone is like, “I wanna go outside the boundaries of this.”
Like, reading about losing a clan dagger? I felt crushed, not even having been through that. I was like, “Oh no. Oh no! I gotta torture a player like that some– or myself someday!” Yeah. So it’s just, um, it’s just a really rich and compelling place to like read about and I imagine to like, create it.
Ancestry and Worldbuilding
Luis: Yeah. So I’ve talked about this before, but at Paizo there are people who particularly love a specific ancestry. James Jacobs loves elves. Uh, you know, and Ron Lundeen, when he was still around, he loved halflings. I like halflings too, I like half-elves, wouldn’t you know it. But no one was like, the big dwarf person, right?
There’s not someone like, “Oh man, I love dwarves. I wanna run dwarf stuff. I wanna make us, make us do more dwarf books.” And there wasn’t like a hatred for dwarves, but they felt like they were getting left behind internally. People love gnomes. People love all this other stuff. Just like, well, dwarves are just sitting there. Everyone knows dwarves exist, but no one’s like, saying “Hey, come and play with us!” to the dwarves. And I just thought, okay, well let’s give dwarves a chance to, to shine for a while. And by the end of it, it’s like, “Okay, I’m the dwarf guy. I, I love the dwarves now.” I, I, I really got to — and part of it is the fact that, I mean, I, I laid the foundation with the outline for this book.
I said, “Okay, here’s what I would love to see in this section. Tell me about, you know, the clans, tell me about the importance of clan daggers.” That’s one thing I wanted to reference, you know, specifically ’cause it’s been brought up so much. But then leaving it to our authors to flesh that out and then get back this amazing stuff that’s like, “Oh, you took this idea and turned it into something wonderful. And now I understand why we should have cared.” It was technically never written. Thus, it couldn’t have existed. But it feels like one of those “tell me why dwarves were like this?” Oh, and it turns out they knew that knowledge from it was there the entire time. They just kind of brought it out into the limelight. Like, “Oh, of course. That was the thing that we forgot to tell people, even though it hadn’t been written yet”. But learning that, like when you’re born, the ritual is so important. It even infuses like the little gem in your clan dagger with a little magical light. And it’s like, oh, that’s kind of the spark of your life. That’s you right there. That’s your soul. Right? And that’s why losing your clan dagger in part is so much of a, a big deal, right? You’re, you’re losing a part of yourself that was there, that it was born with you basically. And learning that stuff. At the end of the day, I’m just like, wow, dwarves are amazing.
Uh, and these are just the Highhelm dwarves. I can’t imagine — once we flesh out what these other dwarves, I’m just gonna not ever shut up about dwarves at that if we ever end up doing another dwarf book. Because it’s just how much, uh, the authors were able to infuse amazing ideas and, and, and, and flesh them out to be just– there’s a point where they stop being dwarves and they’re just an amazing people.
And they, it, it was just great to reach that point in the book and be like, “Oh, I love all of this, and I want to tell people about the clocks that they use and all other right?”
Esther: It’s really cool to watch, I feel like, different authors in conversation with each other, too. Because we just had Tan Shao Han on the show who was talking about Dongun Hold and his process for world making the Forge Day. And then me reading the sidebar about the forge day in this and being like, “Oh, we kind of had some insight into where that came from!” And that enough people do it in Highhelm that it’s a thing, but it’s not quite as much of a thing here. And just feeling like the, the contrast and the differences between these different Sky Citadels is really cool. I, I too am excited if there’s another dwarf book.
Luis: Uh, I’ll see! But at point I’m just like, if I — I love dwarves so much, maybe I should give elves and halflings and gnomes and goblins and orcs everyone their own like, specific “here’s a cool city and wouldn’t you know it, you can also get to learn about them a lot, quite a bit!” But there’s only so many slots in the Lost Omens line per year that we’ll see if I can make that work.
I really want it to happen now, ’cause I just, I would love to give this treatment to every ancestry. Halflings would be next. If you asked me, I would do it like, in a heartbeat.
Navaar: Yeah. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the Song’o Halflings. So I agree with you. But yeah, I think like, you know, in that regard, there’s so much of this, this world of Highhelm is so big, too. Today on social media, you talked about like, the mapmaker that, that did the maps for this book. So I’m curious, like, are you, are you outlining and thinking about cities, having the writers write about cities, and then making maps based on that, those locations? Or is, does the map come first?
Luis: So this was an interesting situation in that we already had a map in part, uh, in First Edition we had Highhelm show up in one of our campaign setting books, but there it just showed off what is now King’s Crown, the King’s Crown District. And the way it talked about, Highhelm suggested that what you saw on the map for King’s Crown was basically all of Highhelm, with like smatterings of, y’know, tunnels and little bits here and there throughout the mountain.
And that was fine, but it didn’t feel worthy of a whole 128 page book for that. Absalom is just one map, but it’s enormous and sprawling and has so much stuff going on and so much history. I understand why it ended up being a big book, but even if it wasn’t 400 pages, it would’ve fit 128, the standard size, just fine, right?
But Highhelm felt like it needed a little bit more. Let’s make it a little bit more interesting, let’s add these extra layers. But I think normally what happens with our cities is they don’t show up in a book of this size, right? They would normally be about 8 pages, 8 to 10 pages or so as a backmatter article or as part of several different cities.
Back in our 1E days would show you five or six cities in one book. And what would happen is one person would write the entire entry and have to map out the, the city and draw the map and everything. And they’d get to decide like, “All right, well here’s what the districts are and here’s all the key locations I want to talk about,” and so on and so forth.
Or we’d do a specific book where like, two people would work on it. Our, our 1E Magnimar, our book was written by James Jacobs and Adam Daigle, and I’m sure they just kind of worked together, mapped that out together, and then started writing. But this was the first time we were doing effectively a new city from scratch with such a size.
So what we wanted to do, and I think this is probably the approach we’re gonna take going forward, is make sure the map was ready for authors to understand “here’s your district, or here’s the part of town, or whatever you’re writing about.” So when you say, “Hey, this is in the Northwestern section,” you understand exactly where it is. And you could even point see it’s this particular building, okay, and then over here is this one. And you can understand the layout of things, whether it’s vertical like, uh, Highhelm or it’s, you know, a typical more horizontal city.
I think what we would be doing is giving everyone the map in advance and then they can just decide, “Oh, that building actually has just like a weird shape. I want to turn that into something interesting or whatever.” There’s a lot of instances where we just say, “Hey, go nuts, and then we’ll figure it out ourselves later.” But something like a city, I think you need that physical structure kind of in place already. Though… what we were doing is we gave the general shape of Highhelm, and we didn’t fill in like, every single building quite yet.
So there were occasional instances where — partway through our writing phase, we get what’s called a milestone. People write about half of their word count in advance and then give me notes and ask questions. “Oh, should I put this in? How do you feel about this?” And someone will mention, “Oh, I’ve added this building. You know, here is this important fighting arena or whatever, can you make sure it’s added to the map?” And we were able to go back to our, uh, our map sketch and, and get that added in before it got finalized. So there was a bit of back and forth, but it started with that general outline and structure of what the city looks like, that we can then hand off to our office.
Navaar: That’s really cool. Thank you.
Esther: I have a question kind of related to maps in a broader scale like, maps and ancestries and people and, and how people live together. One of the things that I was curious about coming into this book that then like, got addressed in like, the first two pages was some of the historic conflicts between dwarves and other peoples, especially dwarves and orcs.
How did you think about that going in? And like, what was the thought process with how you wanted to integrate elements of lore that existed and also update it some?
Luis: Well, there were — there, I mean, Pathfinder has such a thorough history at this point, right? We’re 15 years in. More depending on where you, where you count, right? Depending where, where that timer starts. And a lot of it was just like, okay, let’s make sure that people know what we’ve said before. There are people who are, are just learning about Highhelm for the very first time with this book. Even though it was even mentioned in the, the World Guide, Lost Omens World Guide, we didn’t really talk about it that much. So we wanna make sure that they know about the Quest for Sky and everything that’s involved with it, this and that, and catch people up. We have to assume that anyone’s reading a Lost Omens book, this might be the first time they’ve read anything, right?
Which is why in the end, in the glossary and index, we’d give you lots of little definitions about what’s a Cayden Cailean? I don’t know what that is. Oh, okay. You know, stuff like that, so you can catch up on that. It’s not as thorough as we would like to be. Uh, I mean, ideally this book would be be 400 pages and tell you every single little detail that you need and stuff like that, but then it wouldn’t ever get done on time.
But the assumption that no one knows the history, let’s tell you that and, and flesh it out. There was also an element of fixing mistakes, retconning some things. We accidentally said that Highhelm was the first Sky Citadel in the World Guide, even though it was said differently previously. It’s just, “Oh, it was one of the first, and we messed up in the World Guide. Okay, well, let’s correct that and make sure that this is the definitive source that tells you which one’s first.”
And then there was just a chance to flesh out some of that history. The, the history has been mentioned, uh, a lot, but we never mentioned that there were — I forgot how many different kingdoms we said, like 15 different dwarven kingdoms that originally existed before the Quest For Sky, and then they went off and then ended up breaking off into separate ways. You could have probably inferred that there were a lot of dwarves beforehand, but specifically 15 kingdoms. Some of them went west, some of them went east — that’s to secretly explain like, if you see dwarves in Arcadia, ’cause it’s one of those kingdoms that broke off. Or, in Tian Xia and so on and so forth. And just fleshing that out, setting up ideas and hooks that we may never get back to ourselves, but know that someone will see that and hopefully get inspired.
And then just taking the time to recontextualize. There are some decisions that were made in the past that we obviously wouldn’t wanna make now. And we’re not above reconning some of what we said in the past, right? Or at least giving it a, a different perspective, right? The, the very introduction for this book is King Taargick saying like, “You know what? Maybe messing with those orcs the way we did was a mistake.” And that doesn’t change what we, what happened in the past or what we said about it before, but it gives you a new context of like, “Oh, maybe there’s a different path forward than what we expected with the relationship between dwarves and orcs.” Or, you know, any number of things that we’ve talked about in the book as well.
Navaar: An Adventure Path from the First Edition that I’ve listened to, an actual play of, but I’ve never played myself — I’ve read the first book though — is Giant Slayer and… and the, well, same continent, but there’s some talk about Five Kings Mountains, if I remember correctly.
But yeah, a lot of that, like from that actual play — and it could also be part of the people that are playing it too — but like, I think that there’s a lot of that like, we’re playing in this specifically First Edition history of how this looks, and it has problems. And so yeah, it’s, good — I, I always love seeing these changes and, and finding ways to say “We’ve gotten to this point, but we’ve also — we’re not gonna ignore where we came from,” as well.
Luis: I mean, what you’re talking about I think is just the very much orcs are shown as very violent, blah, blah, blah, blah, typical orc stereotypes. And I think same with dwarves that we’ve been doing — we want people to be able to still tell some of those stories, right? If you need to fight some orcs, you can still fight orcs. If you want to have a dwarf that likes ale, whatever, you can still have a dwarf who does that.
But we want to say yes, and: also it turns out there are some orcs that do this, and turns out some of the reasons that that’s happening is because this happened in their past, and all these other things. Rather than just have them be one-note, we want to give you a whole symphony worth of ideas, uh, of what you can do with a particular ancestry or a story or whatever element it may be.
So some of that is just we acknowledge that maybe we wouldn’t have flushed — or, or, or put it out that way in particular. And we, we don’t wanna necessarily erase it, but we want to expand on it so it’s not that’s the only thing about a dwarf or an orc, or whatever.
Esther: One of the things I love that you did, if I’m recalling correctly, is framing it as like, a, a recent letter that was unearthed and is like, held in secret between these two High Kings and maybe their trusted advisors. But like, this letter from King Taargick hasn’t even been released to the public.
And it’s kind of like that big of a deal that he would say, “You know, maybe… maybe we went a little too hard. Maybe we shouldn’t have done that.” And I love the potential for a campaign that that seeds, honestly. With, with everything else you’ve given us in this setting, all the, the different political intrigues, the different complex ways that crime happen, you could really see something huge and beautiful that reckons with the histories of several different ancestries, that hinges on this letter with the king being like, “You know, maybe I was wrong.” And then the fact that that’s still kept a secret. I think that’s just so real. Like, that’s so real, and the way that history unfolds in our world. I loved that piece. I loved getting to read it and experience it.
And I love actually watching the creative team and the company kind of reckon with — who among us hasn’t made a creative decision that we’ve looked back on, even if it’s something like kind of mild, and been like, “You know what? I would do that differently now.” Um, and I think the, the ways we update are so important when that happens.
And thus far it’s just been a real delight and I’ve learned a lot from watching the ways that the creative team makes those updates and kind of does that reckoning. Yeah.
Luis: That’s, that’s great to hear. Thanks. Yeah, if you’re interested in that, not to give any specific spoilers, mostly ’cause I actually haven’t read it, so I don’t know. So I, I can’t actually give anything away if I don’t know it. But Sky King’s Tomb definitely does reckon with the legacy of Taargick stuff. So a, a campaign where that happens — I don’t know if this letter is involved in any way, but I know that Taargick’s legacy is definitely involved. It’s coming, right? You, you’re about to get a chance to play it here in just a few weeks. And I’m really excited for people to see that there’s, there’s just a lot of interesting potential.
Yeah. The, the idea that it’s been hidden is just, it’s so earthshaking as a concept to be like, “Oh, the greatest dwarf of all time, maybe didn’t think of things the way we think about ’em anymore, and hadn’t thought about that way for millennia. Oh no, what does this mean? This is such a shakeup. Uh, we should be very careful with this.”
Do they plan to release it, but like ease people into the concept first? Maybe. Do they wanna keep it hidden? That’s, you know, that’s the whole, that’s the amazing adventure hook that comes with that, right? I could see it going a hundred different ways and each way feels just as justifiable and valid as a way to tell that story, which is what I’m excited to see people do with, with, with that idea. And, and see where that goes.
Navaar: Yeah. I think that’s really cool. Along those same lines, like you talked a little bit before about like the different ethnicities of, the dwarves. And I’m curious for this, this is a, a bit different than something like the Mwangi Expanse or Impossible Lands, but like when it came to some of the lore around these dwarves, was cultural background and ethnic background something that you thought of in terms of the writers that were brought in for this piece, and like what they would bring in regards to that?
Luis: I wasn’t expecting to be like, “All right, I’m gonna have a, a, a, you know, Black person on the team, and then they get to write all the Black dwarves” or anything, right? I just said, “Hey, who do I love as my writers? Who do I think will do a great job? Let’s bring ’em on.” It happens to be I end up with a diverse team of writers anyway, because there’s so many great people out there doing stuff, and then they bring in a lot of things.
Stonebreach, the ground floor, the layer, of Highhelm is dealing with effectively a police problem, right? The police aren’t helping all that stuff. Wouldn’t you know it, that section happened to be written by Erin Roberts, a Black woman who happens to have a lot of thoughts about that kind of thing and, you know, stuff like that.
But I wasn’t setting out to be like, “All right, in this section I want someone to write about police and, and bring in those ideas” and stuff like that. But it, in terms of the ethnicities and, and different people of Highhelm, I didn’t have any specific requirements or requests or anything like that. Highhelm — I called it before New York City for Dwarves, right? It is super diverse. There’s just a lot of people I talk or the book talks about, dwarves coming in from the Mwangi Expanse, elves, humans, so many different, uh, ancestries coming in, dwarves coming in from other parts of the world. At this point, whatever dwarf you can think of is gonna show up at Highhelm at some point in its history. And as a result, that meant anyone could kind of write about them. The only thing that really was established in terms of, the dwarven ethnicities was what we said in the character guide. It was just, it happens to be that ethnicities are stratified.
There’s the underground dwarves and the ground dwarves, or surface dwarves, and the mountain dwarves, and those are the three broad ethnicities that we’ve worked with. And then just within that framework, kind of do whatever. Uh, and you have, like I said, a diverse team of writers. You end up with diverse NPCs and diverse ideas and, and, and characters and backgrounds.
But in terms of mandates, no. Just write some dwarves, I said.
On Building The Dwarven Pantheon
Navaar: Nice. Another thing I was curious about too is like, I, it’s always fun to see these books like you get expanded, deities. Like when it came to dwarves, I think everybody who’s played Pathfinder is like, yeah, Torag is — that’s the guy. And you know, when it came to adding in stuff like this, like do you — same thing. Do you like have like a number of like, “Hmm, I like to see this many of them?” or, or is it just kinda like, “Let’s see what we can write and, and what looks good and feels good?”
Luis: So typically when we’re adding them in, we want to have a nice mix of old and new. You looked at Firebrands, it had Cayden Cailean, it had Desna, it had Calistria. It had gods that had shown up that felt fitting, but you know, we get to give you a different lens to look at them through. but also wanted to include new gods.
We added Picoperi and Thisamet and all these other new gods that maybe were mentioned before, but didn’t have a chance to really be expanded in the past. And in particular, I knew: we have a dwarven pantheon. And that darven pantheon has 10 different dwarves, two of which we’ve already talked about, one is Torag, the other’s Droskar, which showed up in, uh, in Age of Ashes article. He had a whole article to himself.
But the other eight we’ve mentioned throughout the years. Esther might’ve even seen that like, oh yeah, they get mentioned here and there and they get like two sentences every time they ever show up. They don’t get anything more than that. Um, but this time’s, okay, let’s finally give them the chance to sit in the spotlight.
And we added to make sure specifically there are eight of them. Let’s just add these extra eight gods and that’s what we’re gonna do. Uh, so in Highhelm, we had a very specific need to fill in that these remaining dwarven pantheon gods, we wanted to, to flesh out. But in most cases it’s just: what fits the theme, and what can we add on? What maybe existed but hadn’t had a chance to be fleshed out? Like these dwarven pantheons or some of those imperial gods in, in Firebrands. Or, what sounds like a fine idea that could be brand new?
That’s how you end up with Jin Li, the, the big carp god from Firebrands. It’s just a, a new idea. And you know, the author ended up just like, this is fun. Let’s, let’s create a brand new God. So, what it really comes down to is we just typically have X amount of pages for gods, what can we fit in? So is it, you know, 8 pages or 12 pages or whatever.
Esther: I got a question about one of the gods.
Esther: Okay. Is it Drong-vit?
Luis: Dranngvit, I, I say Drang-vit. We never — we used to have pronunciation guides in the back, but they ended eating so much space that we could use for other things. But yes, I, I call her Dranngvit. Anyway, yes! About her.
Esther: So, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just like, I gravitate to like, kind of the weird one. But I, I was reading through all of them and I was like, okay, all of you are cool. And then I got to her and I was like, “Oh my God, I love you. You’re like the weird, like kind of bitter one who like is, is keeping track of all kinds of debts, but you’re also not thrilled with predatory lenders.”
And like, it seems like she’s somebody who people worship in a pinch? Um… [everyone laughs]
Which I kind of love and I’m the — I guess I’m the kind of person who I’m like, okay, but I wanna make a character who like is into this, like, into this weird god. So what was kind of the, the genesis of this particular god? She’s just so unique and, and just strange that I lo– I loved her so much. What can you tell us about her?
Luis: Yeah. Well, like some of these other dwarven gods like Bolka or, or Trudd or whatever, she had like two sentences max in the past, right? So, building off of that is both a challenge but also really liberating, right? ‘Cause there’s no expectations beyond like, she is a daughter and she, you know, deals with debt.
Okay, cool. Why don’t we go from there? Right? Um, so typically when asking for a new god the, there are some specific parameters that I make sure all our authors adhere to, one of them being that the anathema doesn’t make adventuring impossible. If your anathema says never pick up a gold coin, right? Like, that’s kind of, maybe you —
Esther: Whatcha gonna do?
Luis: — maybe you can make that work. And you can be like, “Hey buddy, we’ve finished killing this boss in the dungeon. Can you grab that money for us? And then also be my wallet for me, right?” But, um, keeping that kind of stuff in mind, to make sure that anyone can be an adventurer of whatever religion they wanna follow, whatever faith they wanna follow is, is very like the, the number one rule I tell everyone, because that’s ultimately what you’d be playing this game for.
I, I would love if people bought these books just for the sake of reading it and enjoying the world. But I understand that people are buying these books to play the game, right? And they might be doing that and also enjoying the world and stuff, and then using the world in that particular way. But some people are just here for options or a new god to worship or whatever.
And we wanna make sure that adventuring is still possible with whatever god it is, even if they’re evil or whatever. And from there, the other thing is, I, I, I ask is: why would an adventurer want to, to worship this person? Right? And it might be that they don’t do so like, 100% of the time it’s their primary thing.
Someone like Picoperi who is into tricks and pranks, you’re maybe not doing pranks all the time as an adventure, right? You’re not gonna be in the middle of the fight with 10 zombies and be like, “Ph, well hold on, let me see if I can paint a funny nose on it or something as a prank,” right? You’re gonna be like, “I am in a fight for my life. I need to kill this zombie, or it will eat me.” Right? But there are, there are interesting things to think of. Dranngvit that has the thing about vengeance and seeking out justice and stuff like that. There are ways that I can interpret that as a player, I think to lead for interesting adventures, uh, and inspire my character in certain ways.
So it, it came down to those two particular things and then to figure out what you can do, right? There weren’t many mandates beyond that for all of the gods. Make sure that the stat block is still the same of what we said in Gods and Magic. And that’s the only other thing really that it came down to.
I think Andrew White wrote Dranngvit, and it’s just led to interesting things there. There are times where I think restrictions, coloring within the line leads to breeding creativity. And I think there’s also times with something like this, where it’s such a short entry, giving unbound freedom or as much as possible also leads to interesting stuff. And just at the end of the day, I think someone’s gonna find this god interesting. Turns out that’s you today, Esther, uh, for, for that kind of stuff.
So yeah, it, that I feel like answered more in general, but, that’s mostly the, the approach we have with all our gods. Dranngvit had nothing particularly special than someone that wrote something that I think really resonated in a way with you, or whomever ends up reading it in just an interesting manner.
Navaar: I love that. Just kind of like to close out the, the book on it, we get some animals, too, in the book as well, uh, as well as some monsters. And I always think it’s like fascinating when we talk about like, animals that we would normally see above ground. And then we have these like, donkey-like creatures, the Augdunar, Augdunar. Yeah. Which is just fun, I, I think. My brain always wants to be like, how does this actually work? And I know that that’s not a thing that needs to happen. But yeah, it’s fun. It’s fun to see a little
Navaar: — donkey-like creature there.
Luis: Yeah, it’s also fun to, like picture a dwarf sitting on top of it and it’s, it’s fun. I think that’s a little bit part of it, uh, of the reason we include these kind of things. You’re probably never gonna need the stat block for the Augdunar, right? You’re rarely gonna get into a fight, if ever, but just knowing that they exist and here’s how they work and here’s what they’re used for, that suddenly tells you a lot about culture as a result.
Navaar: Yeah. Yeah. If you’re unruly and drunk and you walk into the stable, you might get kicked in the face by an Augdunar, so. So you need to know. You need to know. Yeah. I love that.
Esther: You do. I don’t know, i, I read that and I was like, well, as with everything I read, I always come away with new character inspirations that who knows when I’ll get to play them because: forever GM. But I was like, you know what? I read that they are pretty difficult to– they don’t like having people ride them, but if you form a bond with one and it’s unbreakable, then everybody knows not to mess. So clearly, I need to form a bond with an Augdunar, and that’s gonna be my character’s story. I’m tight with this donkey. Um… [laughs]
Just, it’s, it’s a ton of fun. I, I love the way personality gets sprinkled through the, the writing and the lore like that. And it’s just such a good creative spark for my imagination at least.
Navaar: Absolutely. I had–
Esther: I have —
[Esther and Navaar at the same time] Go ahead!
Navaar: My question is not even related to this book, so please go first.
Esther: Okay. Um, I had like two other things I really wanted to hit. One was the Rivethun?
Esther: Yes. I was just so interested by that in that whole section. cCan you, for folks who haven’t read the book, give like a brief rundown of what the Rivethun is, who they are, and kind of talk about like the genesis for that particular bit of world building?
Luis: Sure. Uh, Rivethun, I guess faith is the right word, is a faith that deals more with ancestor spirits and worship and stuff like that. They communicate with spirits a lot, and they believe and are correct because wouldn’t you know, you can believe a, a whole slew of things in Golarion, and they’re all right, that there’s spirits in a lot of things.
There’s spirits in the stones, there’s spirits of ancestors about, there’s spirits in the river that flows nearby and stuff like that. And they can communicate with these and, and learn from them and, and use those to help guide them or, or even help them, maybe even in combat, sometimes calling upon the power of these spirits.
Uh, and Rivethun is this ancient tradition that’s kind of steeped in that, those ideas that dates back to before the Quest For Sky. They see the gods as just powerful spirits in a lot of cases. Torag is like the head of all spirits. He’s the most powerful spirit of all.
But they’re also a, a faith, uh, a practice that has been dwindling for a very long time, right? They’ve just been less and less important to dwarf and culture as time goes on. Wouldn’t you know it, when Torag tells you, “Go do this Quest For Sky,” and then it turns out it’s not just lying to you and you — there was actually a whole sky, and then you find this whole new, uh, enter this new era for, for dwarves.
Uh, you suddenly maybe think more of Torag and forget that there were other spirits about. But Rivethun is still around and it’s trying to maintain a presence, not necessarily like, overtake, uh, the other religions, but just, you know, keep its foothold where it is and then, and keep its, uh, presence about.
Uh, and it talks — this, this entry here about two pages, talks about what Rivethun is, uh, what they ,do to help other people, right. They’re, they’re guides, they’re, they’re mentors or this other stuff. There’s a lot of talk about helping people develop into who they are. So there’s a lot of helping people with transitions in their life or physical transitions if you’re uh, dealing with, with that, uh, all this other stuff. And then just, uh, also what they mean for Highhelm in that they are maybe hearing things and understanding things that other people in Highhelm aren’t. When you’re doing this big project, this, um, Torag’s Shield and digging up all these things and doing all this extra work, turns out you might be disturbing the spirits of the mountain in a way that could lead to trouble.
But no one else is hearing them, but only the Rivethun are. And also no one’s listening to the Rivethun. It leads to another, you know, adventure hook, another story hook. There’s this conflict, you know, there are some Rivethun that are like, “We’ll get through to them and then they’ll be able to stop and we’ll be able to work with them and make sure that the spirits are appeased.” And some other Rivethun are just like, “No, we need to commit effectively ecoterrorism and stop this before it’s too late, right?” And who’s right? Right. What is the best approach? Uh, stuff like that. And just setting up this idea of, here’s this other thing.
In the past, Rivethun I think was just kind of a thing that showed up as a, a paragraph or two in other books and hadn’t really had a chance to be fleshed out until 1E’S A’dventurers Guide. And even still, it didn’t have that much information on it. It was mostly player options for that. So I wish I could have had more space in this book for it, to talk about it, but I think it set up a lot of what it is, and then we get a chance to maybe explore that in the future. If we were to do a book on, you know, different faiths or something, or, or whatever, we’ll be able to, to flesh that out, give you maybe a playable Rivethun option.
And for people who are running Sky King’s Tomb or some other things, you now have enough information I feel to, uh, build off of that and expand on it, uh, without feeling like “I, I don’t really know what their deal is.” I, I feel like that’s been fleshed out just enough where it’s, it’s helpful and not necessarily overwhelming in telling you like it has to be this particular.
Esther: Absolutely. It’s a really good amount of information in a pretty small amount of space. But I was, I was just such a fan — I am in my personal life, you know, a huge spirituality geek, and it’s kind of what I, I do professionally. And so anything that expands like, faith options in the world of Goarion, I’m automatically fascinated by. And I thought this was just a really, really beautifully presented different kind of cosmology of the world.
And I loved that it, it made sense of this existing pantheon. Like, it’s not like, “Well, they don’t exist” or “That’s a lie.” It’s like, no, they’re just — Torag’s, like the, the biggest deal spirit. Um, it really integrated things in a way that made sense to me. It made me feel like, here’s a cool option if I were to play a character who didn’t wanna go typical dwarven pantheon, or even typical other pantheon. Like this makes a lot of sense for, um, just the way the world might work.
And I loved, I loved that this big project of Torag’s Shield, which is, uh, like a, a magic metal, I guess smelted shutter that’s gonna cover the city and be like a, a defense mechanism. I loved the ways that intersected with so much of the writing, and particularly here that it’s disturbing spirits and it’s something that’s gonna have to be reckoned with maybe sooner or later, even if people don’t wanna acknowledge or think about that, just makes such interesting story hooks.
Luis: Also, I, I’m gonna say, I’m very sorry, Esther. It sounds like you have about 200 characters you wanna play now, after reading this book. [laughs]
Esther: I, uh, it’s true! [Esther and Luis laugh] That is, uh, very accurate.
Luis: You keep mentioning, “Oh, this inspired this character.” It’s like, oh, no, when are you gonna have the time for…?
Esther: I am gonna have like, you know, until age 50 or beyond just a, a list of characters that I’m gonna play. And, um, and it’s great. I, I absolutely love it. And you know, if I don’t get to bring them to life as PCs, maybe NPCs. There’s always options there.
Luis: For sure.
Ecology of Highhelm
Esther: The other thing I really wanted to get to was kind of this like, ecology of the city, and things like the, the walls of breathing moss that create good air. The, the Grindle… the Grindlegrubs?
Esther: The Grindlegrubs, yes! These creatures that, you know, consume waste products and and are part of the ecosystem, and then people can even eat when it comes down to it. Like, how did you go about thinking of the ecology of what it’s like to live in a giant, underground-for-the-most-part, city?
Luis: I said, I put in the outline, “All right, talk about life in Highhelm,” and then handed it off to an author. And, uh, Liane Merciel, who wrote that section, was the one that came back like, “Okay, I’ve thought about all these things about life and all this other stuff,” you know. And I, you know, consider myself blessed as she thought about all those things, ’cause I obviously hadn’t thought about it.
I’m like, “Oh yeah, they would need air, and they would need food, and they would need to figure out where water comes from and deal with waste and all this other stuff.” I just thought, “Dwarves: they’re great, right? Write about ’em.” Yeah, so Liane was the one that came back and had the idea for the breather walls and the Grindlegrubs.
And she– I mean, a lot of the details, uh, were in, on the page there, but, you know, she came back — uh, we, we had a, a, a group Discord server where all the authors met and, and chatted about stuff. So she came on very early on, “Okay. I thought about this. Who eats their poop, right? What, how do they deal with their poop? How do they deal with their waste?” But here’s these grubs and they eat the, the stuff and then they keep ’em around. And then if they ever have to lock themselves in, if they run outta food, then they can eat the Grindlegrubs. That’s great, all this other stuff. And she like, got super excited about it.
And then I immediately — and this was like day two of the writing process –and I realized, oh, this is gonna be really good. [laughs]
‘Cause, because of just, we’re already here and having all these amazing ideas. And it was, just all her ideas of, of where that came from. And from there, uh, a lot of, other authors were, were able to take those ideas and run with them, right?
If you have breather walls, you probably have druids that, that build those and all this or that grow those. Where does water come from? Okay, it turns out maybe there’s a connection to the plane of water, where once you run outta water, you at least always have that water coming in and all this other stuff.
So it again, all comes down to our authors. I ask for specific stuff, like “make sure that they have water and food.” I, one of the questions that I always ask myself when creating new cities or, or stuff like that is, what do they eat? And I wanna make sure that’s answered at some place. And I, I told my authors to answer that. They’re the ones that took that question and ran with the idea of, “Well, what do they eat? Let’s figure out with all this other stuff, let’s figure out a whole clan that grows food, right? That it’s so important maybe they even grow food outside the city because there’s just not the, the space for it.”
So our amazing authors came up with all that, and I thank them very much for thinking that kind of stuff through, because I think I was just kind of fried after writing what was, I don’t know, a 20,000 word outline or something.
Esther: Yeah. Understandable. I guess that leads me into like, are there any things about the process of writing the book, that are in the book. That we haven’t talked about that you wanna talk about?
Luis: Oh boy. No, I don’t think there’s any like, particular like, “Oh, let me tell you about the secret of writing or anything.” It’s really, it just comes down to — what, what I do, at least when I outline our, our, our books is, I don’t put in a lot of specific requests. There are times where I like, oh, I need this dwarven– or this, this stalwart defender archetype to work this particular way, please make it work that way.
But for a lot of the lore sections, I end up asking a lot of questions, right? What do they eat? Why do dwarves do such and such? I wish I had some off the top of my head. I’m trying to remember the kind of questions I asked, but like, you know, why would someone worship, Dranngvit, right? What, what makes her appealing, right? She can exist, but like, she’s obviously gotta have followers. What do they see in her, right? What do, uh, what are some of the slang that people use, right? What are people’s thoughts on this whole Torag’s Shield project? And I wanna hear everyone’s opinions on, on that kind of thing.
You know, in asking a lot of these questions, maybe not every question gets answered. But I think I’m hoping that our authors get inspired by these questions and want to answer them, right? I, I try to put in like, “Oh, maybe in this section you could talk about X, Y, and Z,” but don’t necessarily expect it to happen unless I specifically request, “Please talk about X, and then consider about Y and Z.”
Right? But I want to give them ideas to work off of. If they want to answer those questions or explain the things I’m talking about, great. And if not, they can go in other directions. But I don’t want to, again, constrain them too much because, uh, in the end if I told them, “Hey, give me a specific food that they grow, that is like, super nutritious and they actually don’t have to eat that much,” we wouldn’t get Grindlegrubs, right? We wouldn’t have ended up with, with something like that if I was too specific on something like that. So just, for writers out there in general, ask yourself some of these questions. What, what do people eat? What, what do they do for fun? You know, do they wear anything particular to bed when they go to sleep, right? Like, weird little questions like that sometimes lead to inspiration where you weren’t really expecting it.
Navaar: I had mentioned before that I had a question that was not related to this book, and so I will take this out if you don’t want to answer it or can’t answer it. But I’m curious: I grew up in New Mexico. I still live in New Mexico. I have a lot of friends who are Latine or indigenous, and so I’m curious like, where in Golarion do, do Latine and indigenous ethnicities and cultures fit in? And like, are there plans for that to be a part of like, the Lost Omens book?
Luis: Oh boy. You, uh, struck a well that you may have, you may regret. ‘Cause I be here for the rest of the day. Um, you might have heard of a little continent called Arcadia in, in our setting. Arcadia — Avistan and the top half of Garund make up the Inner Sea region, right. And if you look at the world map and the real world map, those are basically Europe and Northern Africa, right. And over to the east we have Casmaron and that’s the rest of het middle East and, and broader Asia. And, Tian Xia is our Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Pacific analog. And Arcadia, on the other side of the world, is the America. It’s North America, South America. So that’s a thing that’s been slowly being flushed out over the years.
Uh, one of the — actually, my very first Adventure Path was set in — a volume that I wrote was set in Arcadia, set in a, a region called Xopatl, which is basically Mexico, right? It’s Xopatl, you only explore one little city there, but I fleshed out a lot of ideas. Grabbed as much as I could from what I know of Mexico, what I know about my, you know, dad’s side; uh, where he came come from in Mexico, and stuff I put in, you know, mariachi bands and tequila and all that stuff, give them, gave them a fantasy bent and all that stuff. And slowly but surely Arcadia has been showing up here and there over time. It showed up in Guns and Gears, just showed up a few times in the Stolen Fate Adventure Path that takes you all over the world to little locations here and there. So that’s where that would be primarily.
But we’ve been making sure to say that thanks to the help of Absalom, people are starting to come in from all over the world. So if you want to say, “Hey, I’m Arcadian, and that that represents my, uh, Mexican background, my, uh, you know, my Native American background, my, you know, whatever it is from the Americas, Caribbean, whatever”, you can say you’re from Arcadia. And hopefully we will have a spot for you retroactively, and be like, “Yeah, that’s — you came from here, actually.”
And so short answer is, they come from Arcadia. That’s the place to be. I wish that the Inner Sea was such that it’d be very easy to be like, “Oh yeah, right here in Varisia, right? That’s where they are.” But the Inner Sea was already kind of flushed out by the time I came on board and wanted to do this kind of stuff.
But it means that I don’t have to try to cram every Latine idea of, okay, everyone from South America and everyone from Central America and Mexico and the Caribbean and all this other stuff can only exist in this county in Varisia, right? Like, no. Suddenly you can give them the space, to to flesh that out and give them those ideas.
I, for a long time would say, oh, when they let me do this, I will make sure we have an Arcadia book. I am now Creative Director, so it’s only a matter of time kind of thing. But it’s not a thing that I can just simply be like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, authors. Here you go. I wrote up a kind of brief outline, let’s figure out Arcadia.” There’s a lot more considerations in that it’s effectively a whole new campaign setting. It’s a whole new Inner Sea. In fact, it’s a lot bigger, ’cause I would like to do the entire region, both the North and South America as it were, all at once, because I don’t know when we’ll ever get a chance to do more than one big look at it, and I want to cover all of it. All or nothing for me, right? So it’ll happen. It’s just a matter of timing and me getting the chance to like flesh out and, and establish a lot of the foundations of what we’d like to see there. ‘Cause I’d, I’d also like it to be more than just, oh, this is the Americas, right?
Because, Garund is more than just “it’s North Africa.” There’s a lot of other interesting ideas peppered in there. So, you know, maybe, we’ll, we’ll include weirder stuff. One of the, the things that was mentioned is like, there’s a region that’s just full of dragons, right? There’s not a lot of dragons in the rest of the world. And we also don’t have like, lots of floating islands. And I — that’s one thing I notice people ask, like, “Where’s the floating islands? There’s floating islands in fantasy all the time.” It’s like, “Oh, well they’re in Arcadia. They’re over here, and they float. And wouldn’t you know it, the reason that they’re populated is ’cause they’re full of dragons, and dragons can fly and get up there and be easy.” And people who want Dragonlance flavor can get that there, in Arcadia, once we get a chance to actually go to that part of the world. And it’s — is that anywhere in, in South America? No, there’s not like the floating island part of Peru that it was like, “Oh yeah, of course, right!”
Um, but we can, we can add these ideas that are fantasy but also include like, “Well the people who live here maybe look like they’re drawing from Peruvian or Chilean or whatever, mythology and stuff and happen to live a alongside dragons.” But like, dragons are also their own fantasy thing.
You don’t need to be in any particular part of the world or draw from any particular mythology to have a dragon. So, we’ll, we’ll see what happens with that. But I have been finding places to sneak in references to Arcadia, all the time where I can. And ever since I joined the company, it has just increased more and more and have been getting bolder and bolder as time went on.
Navaar: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s really good. One of the things, one of the really Iomedae draws for me, for Pathfinder 2E was the Mwangi Expanse. And so I, know and appreciate how important that representation is. And like I said, having friends who come from those cultural backgrounds, looking for something like that, like, I think it’s, it’s something that is so important. So that’s why I was curious, since I had you on. I appreciate you —
Luis: Yeah, Yeah, I mean, I, didn’t see myself in the same way that other people were seeing themselves, so that’s why I was pushing really hard when I used to be a freelancer for Paizo. I was just like, “Oh, if you ever do Arcadia stuff, let me know. I would wanna help out with that.” And soon enough became the Arcadia guy at work and now I’m gonna make it happen, right?
Uh, just it — so many times as a kid, I felt like, “Oh, I don’t really care if I don’t see myself. Right? I can still enjoy these stories, right. I can enjoy Luke Skywalker or whatever.” But I would realize after a long time, thinking back on, it’s like, “Oh, but I would always get excited when like, a luchador would come on screen, right?”
Like, like seeing that kind of stuff actually did excite me. I didn’t need it, but I, I found myself liking it and, and being happy with it in a way that I wasn’t like feeling with Luke Skywalker or whomever. So if I can feel that, I wanna make sure other people are feeling that. And that’s why we have Black dwarves and stuff too, right? We just want, want everyone to, to find their spot in the world and be happy and, and enjoy these games.
Navaar: That’s awesome. Thank you. I appreciate you answering that question.
Luis: Yeah. Like, like I said, I’ll talk Arcadia all day. I, yeah. Pull me away from this microphone.
Esther: We seriously could, too.
Navaar: I know. Yeah, it’s one of those things, like it’s, there’s just, again, where you talk about like the deities with the “have two sentences,” like trying to find that stuff too is… same thing. I run home games, you know, and it’s like, “Okay, well how can I help my friends fit into this system?”
And it’s like, generally you’re from Arcadia. Yeah, I guess we’ll figure it out. But yeah, no, I, I think it’s, I think it’s, awesome and impressive and I’m excited to see what comes of that. And, just generally like, thank you for talking to us about Highhelm —
Navaar: — and all the cool stuff that’s going on in this book as well, so.
Luis Turns The Tables: What Do We Like?
Luis: Uh, can I ask you two a question? Can you tell me what one of your favorite parts of, of this book is? I know you’re probably gonna end up talking about this more when I’m not here, but I’d like to hear now and put you on the spot.
Navaar: Um hmm. Yes. Let me, let me think.
Luis: It can even just be a little thing like, “Oh, I really like this, you know, tattoo parlor,” or whatever.
Navaar: Yeah. I gen– genuinely, I think that my favorite is the gallery bit that we talked about with the clans, because it gives you that breakdown of the different clans and like, the leadership in that clan, and then the, the artwork and then the representation that goes into that. Like, I — I — that will, those always really stick out to me.
Um, and I thought it was just, yeah, it’s just beautiful. I end up like sending like clips of this stuff to like, like, here’s like a little piece of this to like, my friend and be like, “Look at this. They put this, this is trans woman in this book. She’s a dwarf, she’s Black!” So yeah, I love it.
Esther: Honestly that, that is a highlight for me, me too. But to say something a little different, I think I’m gonna go back to the Rivethun section. I really loved that section. Just immediately was caught up in it, wrote it down as something I really wanted to ask about. Am I right in remembering that it specified they’re, like, heavily tattooed? Is that…?
Luis: Um, I don’t see why they couldn’t — I don’t remember off the top of my head if —
Esther: I know that like I was reading something, uh, about like– maybe it was a clan or I — somebody was heavily tattooed and I was like, “That was awesome.” And now I’ve like grafted it onto them. Um, but I just, I loved this idea of a group of people whose spirituality kind of revolves around, you know, these, these spirits, but also helping people through big transitions, whether that is gender transition or life transitions.
There’s something really beautiful about that to me, and I, I loved it. Honestly, there’s a lot that I, I love about this book and I’m excited if we do more of a, a breakdown-breakdown to get into it.
Luis: The tattoos seems to be from the smithing clan, Clan Molgrade. They put tattoos on their arm that shows like, “Oh, I’m good at like shields or whatever,” to show that off. But it might be something else. But that’s, I did a quick search, like that’s the first thing that talked about heavily tattooed dwarf.
Esther: That’s probably it. That was cool too. Clearly it stuck in my brain.
Luis: Yeah. I mean, but we also put a tattoo parlor in, in the city so anyone can come get tattoos.
Navaar: Yeah. Magical ones too.
Luis: Yeah, for sure.
Navaar: Gotta love a magical tattoo. Well, well, yeah. Incredible. We’ll definitely have you back on the show. So I’m, I’m glad that we got to do this with you today. And thank you for, you know, all your answers on all of this stuff. And this has been amazing.
Esther: I’m sure many of our listeners know where to find you online, but where can we find you online?
Navaar: But online’s changing a lot, y’all.
Esther: Yeah, online is changing a lot, so, uh…
Where To Find Us Online
Navaar: Yeah, so where can we find you?
Luis: Which is why I’m glad that I set up my own website that just, you can go there and that’s the hub. Uh, you can just go to luisloza.com. And it has links to my social media. So whatever I happen to be using will be there. But you know, that’s a place that you can get in touch with me. There’s a little contact me thing.
Before I go, can I say like a — so I’ve been talking about Highhelm a lot, and no one ends up, I never either get a chance to bring it up or we run out of time with other places. Like, I was gonna try to bring this up at Paizo live, uh, last week. But I wanna, I wanna talk about a little secret thing here.
And we’ll see– I don’t know if anyone even noticed it. It’s one of those things that’s just kinda — anyway, the, the dwarven pantheon I talked about earlier has Torag and his wife and all his kids and all these other people. And it’s normally 10, 10 dwarves all the, the dwarven gods. Includes Torag, includes Droskar. But a lot of people are like, “Well, Droskar, he’s evil. We don’t like him, whatever.” And he, he’s excluded. And I mentioned, we added a thing here that that said, um, you know, the common grouping is the dwarven pantheon, but if you not into Droskar, you worship them without Droskar, and you call that group the Sky Keepers.
Okay, cool. You know we, great. But there are some people who are like, “Yeah, but also Torag’s too important. So he should also be out of this pantheon.” And we call that group where it’s just the eight that are excluding Droskar and Torag, call that the Forge Kin Pact. Uh, so it’s just his family, but not Torag or Droskar.
And that was a nod to Starfinder. If you play Starfinder, Torag gone missing. And we wanted to have the idea that like, well, there’s still the dwarven pantheon around and you can still worship them, but seed the idea now that like maybe the concept of worship without Torag can continue on into the future that is Starfinder. And if you want some dwarvenness, still have that pantheon in a way that you can worship them. But also, you know, there, there might be a reason. And this is the thing I also like, am kind of teasing with the secret message and the credits — you guys know about these?
Esther: Please tell us!
Luis: So these are like, these are, people know about this, but not everyone knows about this.
If you look at the credits page, like back, like the very back of the book where the OGL is, page 135 in the, the, the book, at the very end it’s like, “Oh, here’s the Open Game License, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then it says, “Printed in China.” And then at the end we also add an extra little line. Uh, usually it’s like, a movie reference or, or song reference or something like that.
And we do that also at, in the final book of every Adventure Path. So go back to your adventure path and find these, these as well.
Navaar: Dig up everything.
Luis: Yeah, it, it’s, it’s a fun thing to look for. But Lost Omens has been doing this for a while now, and that one is just a little quote from Hammer and Tongs, which is, Torag’s holy book. It says, “Torgag’s might alone will never be enough. You must learn to stand together and rely on each other.” And I may be intentionally seeding the idea that like, dwarves had to figure out how to like, live without Torag. Or like, maybe Torag isn’t the end-all be-all for things. There might just be something going on there that, uh, we’ll get to learn about over the coming, uh, months, coming years about what might be happening with that.
Navaar: Hell yeah.
Esther: Very cool.
Navaar: That is very cool.
Esther: Thank you for dropping that. I’m gonna get off this call, go to every book I have…
Navaar: Didn’t read —
Esther: Turn to the back page…
Luis: Yeah. I said, it’s the Lost Omens Books and the very last volume of each Adventure Path has it. It’s the thing that randomly, I think Eric Mona randomly decided to slip in at the very end of the very first Rise of the Runelords. And it just says “The Runelords will return.” I think it was more an allusion to “James Bond will return” at the end of each of the movies, and then it kind of stuck and became a thing in the Adventure Paths.
And one day I asked, “Can I do that with Lost Omens?” They’re like, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” So that’s what’s happened. And now we’ve been like seeding ideas. Um, the end of the Mwangi Expanse book talks about, “Oh, the Magic Warriors will return,” right? And it’s all, all this, you know, these seed ideas. Sometimes they’re just like movie references, but sometimes they’re, they’re hints at like, maybe a thing might be coming. Keep an eye out.
Navaar: That’s awesome.
Esther: Yay. Now we know.
Navaar: Yeah. Incredible. Yeah. Thanks for taking the time to do that. I appreciate it.
Luis: Sure. Anyway, thanks so much for having me on. Love to come on and talk. I don’t even have to talk about a book. I’m happy to just come by and chat.
Navaar: Yeah. Incredible. Yeah, well definitely. We’ll, we’ll get you back on for sure.
Esther: And Navaar, where can we find you online?
Navaar: I’m in most places as NavaarSNP. That’s N-A-V-A-A-R-S-N-P. Check it out, see the other stuff I’m working on.
Esther: And if you’d like to follow me on social media, I’m everywhere @dungeonminister.
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