Know Direction 294 In Writing

 [00:00:00] Esther: Hello, and welcome to Know Direction, your number one source for Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews. I’m Esther, and I’m usually here with my co-host Navaar, but unfortunately he is under the weather this evening, so I am flying solo. 

And tonight we are going to get back into Rage of Elements with someone who I am so excited to have on the show.

We are welcoming. Jessica Redekop, who is a freelance game designer; has many, many titles — in addition to Rage of Elements — with Pathfinder and Starfinder; is the co-host of Know Direction network show Legend Lore; and is cast member of the Know Direction actual play Tavern Rats. jess, welcome!

[00:01:05] jess: Hello. It’s wonderful to be here.

[00:01:08] Esther: It is so great to have you. Navaar and I have been looking forward to this for a really long time now, and I’m bummed that he can’t be with us tonight. But in honor of our tradition, I will just kick us off by asking the question: what is your Pathfinder origin story?

[00:01:25] jess: I started playing Pathfinder one in like, the playtest like, way back in like 2007, 2008. So I have been playing Pathfinder from the beginning. We switched– I think we were playing an Eberron campaign at the time, and so the, when the Pathfinder playtest released during this campaign, we switched over mid-campaign from 3.5 to the Pathfinder playtest.

[00:01:56] Esther: That is amazing. I think that’s like the, the earliest origin story anybody’s had. That’s incredible.

[00:02:04] jess: Yeah.

[00:02:05] Esther: Wow. So you’ve been here for a long time. I’m curious, what was the switch from 1E to 2E like? Like, not that we can’t play 1E anymore, but like what was that, the new system announcement, like for you?

[00:02:21] jess: Yeah. So Pathfinder 1 was announced at a time when I had just started freelancing, and so my, like my Pathfinder 1 publication credits are like for Paizo is, is one single book, one single Player Companion that I wrote for. And then after that it was just Starfinder and Pathfinder 2. And so I was very, at that point, very, very familiar with Pathfinder 1. I knew it inside and out backwards, and I had been like doing my own homebrew stuff for years and years and years, the way tha — I think anyone, when you’ve been playing in a particular system for like, once you get to 5, 7, 10 years, is you just make your own stuff, right? 

[00:03:07] Esther: Absolutely. 

[00:03:09] jess: So I was — I was not completely sold at first on Pathfinder 2, and I actually never really looked at the playtest because I just wasn’t sure.

I was so accustomed to Pathfinder 1, which in turn I was so accustomed to like D&D 3.5 and D&D 3rd Edition, because that was continuing on that legacy. And so I was so familiar with working within that framework and making that framework do what I wanted it to do for me that I wasn’t totally sure if I even wanted to do writing for Pathfinder 2 or if I wanted to continue writing for like, third-party companies that were going to continue supporting Pathfinder 1. And so the first couple assignments that I got for Pathfinder 2, which were assigned prior to the actual system releasing, were lore-focused. 

And that… okay, fine. There’s no engagement with the rules at all. I’ll just write this lore section. It doesn’t really matter what system this is for, there’s nothing different. And then I had — I started getting assignments that were more rules-focused, and one of my earliest assignments was the Pathfinder 2 Bestiary 2, which again, at this point, the system hasn’t released yet. So being able to work on Bestiary 2, I had the opportunity to have an earlier look before the system released at the way that monsters worked in the final system. And the process of designing creatures for Pathfinder 2 sold me on the system. I had not seen the final rulebook. I had not played even a single session. But in designing monsters and — like I could, I could just like feel inside of my brain the way that designing creature actions and deciding how many actions they each took and like, just how much nicer I knew this was going to feel to run those creatures — as opposed to writing for Pathfinder 1 there is so much just hijinks that you would have to do creating a creature. For like, “Okay, I want it to do this standard action on its turn, but I also want it to be able to do something else on that same turn. And what kind of actions do I need to make all of these things so they fit together in the way that I want?” So much more complicated to do that for Pathfinder 1 compared to Pathfinder 2! And so just the, just seeing the way that creatures worked in theory was enough to sell me on it. I was in love with it already.

[00:05:54] Esther: I love that. I love that. I, too, was really skeptical when I first heard wind of the new system and like, I didn’t even look at the playtest. I was like, I’ve poured in so much effort into learning Pathfinder 1, I’m not gonna do this. And then immediately on designing a character, I was like, “Oh, I love this system. This is a really well-designed, fun system to play in.” And I, I kind of love that like, getting into the meat of the design has sold so many people on Pathfinder 2. I think that just speaks really highly of the design and of the system and it’s a really common thread that I’ve heard in these discussions we’ve been able to have. So that is very, very cool. 

I’m curious, before we get into like, Rage of Elements proper, I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about your freelance journey, how you got — a little bit more about like how you got into freelancing, what that looks like.

[00:06:53] jess: Yeah. So the like, joke answer that I like to give is that I just kind of like, hit networking critical mass, and it became impossible for me to not accept work doing freelance game design. But to be more specific, I started going to PaizoCon, is basically how this all happened. I am a really big fan of the Planescape setting for Dungeons and Dragons, and there are other people who are also like superfans of Planescape. And it’s a, a niche setting in the way that anyone who sees it and recognizes it immediately knows like, “Oh, whoever else it is that is into Planescape, is like, they would not be invoking Planescape unless they were really into Planescape, right?”

And so when I started going to PaizoCon, I went there running games that I had written, like, single-session adventures that were set in Planescape. They used the Pathfinder 1 rules within the Planescape setting. And every year I would come, I would bring a new adventure. And sometimes I would run like, the previous year’s adventure too, or eventually I just had so many of them because I had been doing this for so many years that I had to start curating like, okay, this is the one that I won’t run this year.

But after doing that for several years, I started developing a reputation for being the person showing up at PaizoCon running Planescape. And like, everybody else who is into Planescape is like “All those Planescape games!” And one of the people who had noticed my games, but had never been able to get into one of them, even though he desperately wanted to play in one of them was Christen Sowards.

And Christen Sowards was the publisher who ended up putting together the third-party, uh, like setting source book, uh, City of Seven Seraphs.

[00:08:43] Esther: Mm.

[00:08:45] jess: And based solely on the fact that I was enough of a weirdo to show up to PaizoCon running Planescape games every year, and also Christen’s reconnaissance that he had done, listening in at the doorways to see what my games were like, uh, he contacted me and asked me, “So do you do freelance game design?” And I said, no. [jess and Esther laugh] And he says, “Well, do you want to do freelance game design?” And he was insistent enough that he successfully hired me to write on his book, even though when he asked me if I did freelance writing, I said no. He was undeterred. He did not give up. He was going to hire me.

[00:09:33] Esther: That’s amazing.

[00:09:34] jess: Yeah.

[00:09:36] Esther: That’s a fantastic story. I love that it speaks to the value in owning one’s weirdness and one’s interests and passions. Like, just fully going for it and being like, this is what I love. This is the setting I love. This is what I wanna run and I’m gonna do that. And I feel like over time, obviously in, in this, uh, situation that got noticed.

But I think about like, opportunities in my own life where I’ve just committed to a thing and people find me through that thing and are like, “Hey, you wanna do this?” And I’m like, “Oh, you, you want me to do this?”

[00:10:14] jess: Yeah.

[00:10:14] Esther: “Can say yes to this? I guess I can say yes.” And then it becomes a whole new avenue. 

I actually feel like that is a great segue into talking about the planes and this book and how it came into being. I wanna shout out Legend Lore, because I think you’ve talked about this book already on our sister show, and I don’t wanna like, double-dip too much. But I’d love to just get into, first of all, like the design process. What’s it like to get the call to work on this book and then be in that process?

[00:10:53] jess: Yeah. So the, um, the process for getting the call for the book happened a little bit earlier than it usually would because they were offering me the cover credit. And in order to have, uh, some of the authors on the cover — everyone who’s on the cover has to, combined, write at least half the book. Which means that, um, If you add up my word count for Rage of Elements, Sen HHS, and Logan Bonner’s word count, we combined wrote, uh, more than half of the words in Rage of Elements. I think we each have about one sixth of the book.

[00:11:35] Esther: Wow.

[00:11:37] jess: Which is — it, it is a significant amount of work to write that much of one book. And so initially, it was Mark Seifter who reached out to me and said that there was an opportunity for me to have a cover credit on a book.

Uh, he could not say what the book was, but it was something that was within my wheelhouse. And these are the particular dates that you would be writing during, and can you be available during those dates? Because previously Mark had tried to hire me to write, um, the genie Sorcerer Bloodline for Advanced Player’s Guide. 

And I had not been able to take on the two thousand words that that required. I only ended up writing like, I think five or six hundred words for Advanced Player’s Guide, because that was like, the maximum amount that I could take on. And so after having the prior experience of “Jess might turn down work,” uh, Mark was like, “Okay, I’m gonna ask her like, real early, like, can you block off this time? Can you reserve it so that you can be available for this very large assignment?” And so I said, uh, like tentatively yes. And I blocked it off in my calendar as Ultimate Dandy. Because I mean, obviously it’s not Ultimate Dandy, right? But that was like, I don’t know what this book is. I could guess and speculate, but I don’t want to, I don’t want to try to guess what this book is. I’m just going to put it in my calendar as Ultimate Dandy, which I know that it’s not, and that I’m not gonna think about it anymore. It’s just gonna like, any any impulse to speculate like, could this be a planar book? 

It’s just, it’s not in my mind. And then Mark left Paizo. And there was a little bit of time where I was like, “Oh, Mark asked me if I wanted to do a cover credit on this book, and now he’s not there anymore. What does this mean?” But I was, uh, reassured that, during Mark’s exit from the company, he obtained several promises from several other people that, uh, he had offered me this and they would honor that and I would still be offered the, the book. And so I was contacted, uh, around the time that the outline was being put together so that I could be asked, like, out of everything on the outline, what are your preferences for which sections would you most like to write? And so Sen.H.H.S. and I both knew that we had the outline. And so like, we got in contact like, “Okay, what are you saying that you want so that I won’t ask for those things, so that we each maximize our chances of getting the things that we want.” And so we went through and divided up different parts of the book, uh, for like, these are what you’ll ask for, these are what I’ll ask for. And then we asked for our respective sections. And the final assignment that I got, some of it was what I had asked for, others were just sections that they were what I had ended up having to get. Because it’s, it’s so many words, it’s impossible to — even if I were to go through and curate like these, this is the one-sixth of the book that is my dream one-sixth, like it, you can’t really assign a book that way. There are other sections that just like, for practical reasons, it has to be divided up in a certain way, right?

[00:14:51] Esther: Right, right. And I have a list of, uh — that you provided in our discord a while back, of what you did work on — and I wanted to ask, I, I know if Navaar were here, he would wanna talk about the narrator voice. And so I wanted to take a moment to, to ask about that, like, your inspirations for Aziza? 

[00:15:13] jess: Yeah, for Aziza’s voice, uh, firstly I wrote a lot of the introduction section, but I didn’t write the full thing. And then the narrator for the introduction is the same as for the Churn section. And so whoever it was that was the narrator for those sections had to be a voice that would be accessible to multiple people to write for or something that is easy to transform other text into.

And so the primary inspiration point that I had for this — and I don’t know if I quite hid it or if it ended up maybe like aiming for one place, but going somewhere else that is like still very cool, but maybe not exactly where I was aiming for — was I wanted Aziza to be kind of like a Jane Austen character.

[00:15:56] Esther: Mm, I love that! That is — okay, I’m really into this. Say more!

[00:16:02] jess: Yeah. So the, the inspiration point that I had going for it was just like the way that, like the heroine of a Jane Austen novel would talk about their life or narrate about the world around them and the kinds of observational statements that they might make. And so Aziza ended up being someone who was, uh, a little bit quippy, uh, a little bit like prone to just kind of throwing facts out or having kind of a conversational tone with the reader.

[00:16:34] Esther: Oh wow. I love that. And now that you say it, my brain is drawing parallels with all the Austin works I’m familiar with, and I’m like, oh, amazing. That totally shows up. How delightful! I, this is why I love doing these interviews, like getting insights like that. I’m gonna be thrilled about this for a long time. Um, so that’s really cool and it makes me wanna ask about the voice that I loved most in this whole book, which is our guide through the Plane of Air. Is Shan-ar-i-a?

[00:17:08] jess: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s Shan-ar-i-a or Sha-NAIR-i-a, like with an emphasis on the air part, but Shanaria is a character that appeared, or at least was referenced already in Pathfinder 1. Typically only in information about Hshurha, the Elemental Lord of Air. Uh, Shanaria is referenced as someone who used to be like a close confidant and maybe assassin who worked for Hshurha, but then due to ambiguous reasons, never stated they had some kind of falling out, and maybe they are enemies now. 

[00:17:41] Esther: Hmm. 

[00:17:42] jess: And I thought that it would be really interesting for this existing character who’s never been given a lot of depth to be the narrator through the Plane of Air, because they have such a personal connection to someone who is basically a god on that plane.

[00:17:59] Esther: I loved it. Just from the first moment of reading that little introduction and then going and reading through the entire, like air lore and, and what this character had to say. I found her tone so interesting. Like both very accommodating, but also very like cold at times, very mercurial. It was, it was a delight. I was like, I believe that I am reading an air elemental telling me this.

[00:18:29] jess: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:18:29] Esther: Yeah.

[00:18:30] jess: A lot of my inspiration for Hshurha’s s tone — or not Hshurha — for, uh, Shanaria’s tone ended up coming, when … while I was writing –’cause I did the, the lore sections for Air, Earth, and Fire. And Fire, I had kind of the easiest time with, but after I did Fire, I was a little bit like, “but I don’t really know what these things should look like or what the parameters are.”

So I asked Logan if he could send me some of the other introductions that other people had written and he sent me, Andrew White’s draft for the lore for the Plane of Metal. And I love that section. It is so good. The Plane of Metal, like the first little bit, the introduction bit where the narrator is like, “Oh, what’s that? You have a compass? That’s so cute. But no, put that away. This is not at all the same thing.” I read that, and after reading that, I was like, “Oh, this is the inspiration that I needed for like, the kind of tone that my Air narrator can possibly take with the reader.”

[00:19:33] Esther: Mm. Mm! There’s this section where I believe it’s the storm where she now, or they now live. And it’s like this, “you dare ask me to reveal the secrets of my home? I’m not gonna do that!” And I just loved getting to that section. And like the, the quick change in tone of like, ask me a different question, kind of almost like “…before you’re sorry about it.”

That was just beautiful and so well done. And I really wanna know what the deal is with that storm and this whole like, fractured relationship between Hshurha and Shanaria.

[00:20:10] jess: Yeah, I think that would be a very exciting opportunity for stories that could be told. 

[00:20:18] Esther: It’s a, a campaign seed for sure. It was like something that I’m like as a GM, ooh! If I could work that in, I would love that. That’s what I live for. And I am really glad you brought up, the Plane of Fire as well, because that was another narrator that really stood out to me. Dotty has this just, beautiful, exuberant personality that again, made such sense for like a Fire vibe. Just bright, and I — I was noticing, I loved the use of exclamation points. And that’s a really specific thing, but I was wondering if it was intentional.

[00:20:55] jess: Oh, yes. Yeah. Arundhati is kind of a riff on a character that I have previously played who was named Arundhati Zoii and went by Dotty. And obviously there are differences in the way that she ended up being translated into, uh, being a tour guide on the Plane of Fire, which was not the way that she was when I played her as a character. So there are differences. 

But the, it was really the speech patterns that I had wanted to evoke. And because I had played her over text, I already had kind of an idea of the way that I would want to write this character in text. And it is a little bit actually based on like early chat bots, like, uh, Chatterbot. Which is why, I don’t know if this really comes through in like a, a one-way conversation with her, because you’re not actually speaking back and forth with her when she’s a narrator. But one of her, like, foundational speech quirks that she has is this tendency to repeat questions back to people. So like, if you were to ask, uh, “Can you tell me about how I would travel from one place to another place?” She would go, “Oh, how interesting, you want to know how you would travel between these two locations, location A and location B, right?” And so this this sentence structure where she often says like, “Oh, how interesting!” is, is a core part of what I find so delightful about writing her.

[00:22:32] Esther: Yeah, it really is. And it’s a delight to read her. Um, I kept being like, I wonder what she’s gonna tell me next. Like, where is she gonna take me next? And how is she gonna convey the information? It was such a strong character voice, and I just wanted to like, shout you out and ask about it on the show because it really shone through.

And I guess I wanna back up for a second and just ask about your inspirations generally for like, the lore of each of these planes and how you thought about, like, constructing the planes that you wrote.

[00:23:08] jess: Yeah, so a lot of the information that I included was information that was pulled forward out of Pathfinder 1. But a part of what I think is so special about Rage of Elements is how much the focus is on making everything that is included in the book, something that is usable in a game. So this is the elemental planes presented in a way where you can go there, you can adventure there. Time is spent on what kind of preparations would a player character group want to make in order to survive on this plane? How can you make that accessible to them? How can you make sure that they can survive in this place? Because like, the Plane of Fire is very dangerous. There, there’s one point where Arundhati remarks about like, “Even if you weren’t gonna be burned alive, like, sure there’s air to breathe, but as soon as you inhale it, it’s gonna burn your lungs!”

So, you know, so much for that. They’re so intensely dangerous and inhospitable places, most of them, that care has to be taken to make sure that you present them in a way that actually makes them seem enticing to explore and accessible to explore and places that you could imagine your character actually going.

[00:24:20] Esther: Absolutely. And I think what is so special about this book is the way that you all did really achieve that. Reading through it, I was like, the planes seem so accessible — like, for me as a player, but also for me as a GM, thinking about how I would present this information to people to like, guide them into a planar travel.

And I loved that the lore sections were also so accessible. There aren’t places where anything gets you too bogged down into details. Like, there’s just the right amount of detail and story seed to plant something really interesting and then leave it in the hands of a GM to create and lead their players into something special.

And that’s really the case for this whole book, which I think is beautiful, remarkable, just so well done.

[00:25:16] jess: Yeah. I am really pleased and delighted and honored that I was able to contribute to this book, especially in such a large capacity that, as what I was able to do. Just because. eLemental content like historically in like, Dungeons and Dragons and Dungeons and Dragons, like, inspired fantasy role-playing media, often doesn’t get to be explored in interesting and nuanced and captivating ways.

Often like, when you have planar content, it will be so focused on the Outer Planes and exploring like, “Oh, Limbo or the Maelstrom is such an exciting place to adventure around! And here are all of the cool locations, and here are all of the cool, uh, Proteans that you can meet there. Or here are the Ganzi and you can be descended from, uh, Protean character. And these things are all so exciting, and exploring around like, the Outer Planes is so exciting and interesting.” And then you’ll get to the elemental content and it’s like, “Uh, and the Plane of Fire is fire. I don’t know, there’s fire there. And the elementals are fire. Some of them are small and some of them are large and I don’t know.” Right?

[00:26:26] Esther: Yeah. 

[00:26:26] jess: Whereas Rage of Elements takes so much time and care and love to put into these places, to really present them as places that are worth exploring and places that are worth spending your time on and creatures that are worth including in your game. Because they are all interesting and unique in their own ways. They’re not just like, “Oh, and this is a fire elemental.”

[00:26:55] Esther: Yeah. One of the things that I love about this system that has come up frequently in our discussions with folks is the care put into the peoples of any place that is written about. And thinking about like, what is the perspective of somebody who inhabits this? What is the perspective of their cultures?

Um, what are the perspectives of their cultures? And I think that really, really shows in the finished product. The attention to detail in the worldbuilding, in the characterization, makes it really special. And I have been a fan of the planes for a while, so coming into this book, I was like, yeah, I’m excited about this.

And I, I have a little bit of a difficult time understanding how people don’t get excited about the planes, but I’m like, if I were a person who were, were not, I think this would interest me because it’s just so full of care. 

[00:27:58] jess: Yeah. I think that that’s another reason why having the narrators was such a strong choice on the part of, uh, the, the people at Paizo who put together the outline and decided how they wanted the book to be written. Because none of these planes are described from an outside perspective; all of them are described to you from someone who lives there.

And so that forces whoever is writing the section to make sure that they’re writing this from the perspective of someone who lives there and not from the perspective of an outsider in a way that would be othering of the plane. Even though it is like, you know, a fantasy fire elemental plane full of fire elementals, right?

Like that’s, that’s pretty otherworldly for us. But it’s presented from a perspective where that’s home.

[00:28:49] Esther: I love that. Because even as there’s the fantasy element, it, it ties it to this sense of home and makes it so relatable and so personal. And for me, I find a lot of meaning in like, figuring out where the personal lies in this realm of imagination. And so to see it done so well is just really special.

Where I wanted to go is: with the reemergence of the Planes of Metal and Wood, how did the writing team like go about weaving in that lore? What were some of the conversations that happened maybe behind the scenes as you all were planning and then writing and bringing it all into being?

[00:29:35] jess: Yeah, a lot of those I think probably happened before I came onto the book. I know that Sen.H.H.S., in addition to being a cover author, also was consulted about how the Planes of Metal and Wood could be integrated in because culturally, Sen.H.H.S. is, uh, a writer from Taiwan. And so the, uh, the kind of traditional Chinese medicine, five elemental system is something that she is very familiar with.

Like, I don’t know if she would use the word expert to describe herself, but from my perspective, she’s certainly an expert on it. And so I think a lot of those conversations probably happened between Sen and the developers for the book before I was brought on, but I know there was some discussion while we were writing, particularly because I was writing the Air section, of how to incorporate the idea that Air is not an element within that framework, right?

So like, if you’re looking at the four elements that maybe the Inner Sea uses, your Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Air is an element. But then looking at the, um, the five elemental cycle, Air is absent. And what does that actually mean for Air? Is it an element or isn’t it? Does it have an elemental plane, or is this in fact just an extension of the sky?

Like, what does that actually mean? How can we weave this into the story and how can that be made, uh, a part of the storytelling instead of something that people are just gonna say, like, “Oh, this is a Cinema Sins plothole, right?”

[00:31:10] Esther: Yeah. If I recall correctly, you bring that up very directly in the section, which I loved. And then it’s kind of left like, “ask your questions.” That’s very like, I’m happy to have some mystery about this. Air is mercurial and changing and best to keep you guessing kind of a thing.

[00:31:27] jess: A part of that is, in my opinion, if I were to characterize the element of air, it would be something that is mysterious and difficult to pin down and is kind of just everywhere and nowhere, and you’d — it’s invisible, so you don’t really know what it’s up to. And so that element of mystery is something that I think suits the characterization of the element of air. But also, air does kind of have a place in the five elemental cycle, if you want to think of air as being the thing that is in between the other five elements, the thing that is ferrying energy from one place to another. Like you could consider air to be that thing between the other things.

[00:32:15] Esther: That thing that inhabits the liminal space that like makes it up. I, I absolutely love that. And I remember that passage and the words, very similar words you use to describe it there, like the thing between the other things. And I think that’s really beautiful. I also think it’s really powerful in perhaps playing a, a kineticist who’s especially attuned to Air.

I would have a lot of fun digging into that kind of lore, maybe even with like, Churn elements. But this is just me like, spinning off again as I, as I will do in this podcast sometimes. Am I correct that you also wrote Earth lore?

[00:32:55] jess: Yes.

[00:32:55] Esther: So you have these like two very opposed — to our way of thinking — elements, Earth and Air. How did it feel going from one to the other? What was that process like?

[00:33:07] jess: yeah. I definitely wrote Fire first, and then Air and Earth kind of happened concurrently to each other. And I do kind of joke like — it, it is really just a meme — but I do kind of joke that like, Air is my favorite and Earth sucks. But I really enjoyed the opportunity to inhabit the perspective of Earth.

There is a section in the Ancestry Guide. I did the, the geniekin for the Ancestry Guide, and there’s a section about the oread that talks about oreads being like, multifaceted and having many layers to them. And so like, every time you think that you know an oread and you like, know their innermost self, they reveal to you that they have like another layer and it’s just like infinite like, depth to their character.

And like, they’re difficult to fully know because they will just continually reveal new things about themselves and new sides to their personality. Which to me, I think is a really intriguing way to conceive of Earth, because often it kind of gets pigeonholed into this like, “Well, I don’t know. They’re steady and consistent and so they just like, they, they are the way that they are. And face value, that’s what they have to them. And that’s, that’s them. And they’ll, they’ll be that way forever because they’re so consistent.” But the idea of conceiving of Earth as something that has like an infinite amount of depth and that you can always be searching for deeper and deeper and deeper meanings, is kind of what ended up going into the characterization of the, uh, the Earth narrator, who is someone who has spent like, centuries or millennia, eons, like contemplating on the nature of Earth, and how Earth changes, and how Earth becomes only more Earth the more it is acted upon and the more that it changes.

[00:35:08] Esther: I absolutely love that. I think I also tend to categorize Earth as the element I least relate to a lot of the time, because of that sort of classical understanding of, “Well, it’s just unyielding, really strong, very reliable.” And I’m like, all those things are great and… I get a little bored, easily, after a while with that.

And so this idea of layers, and uncovering layers and really being with them, of even buried things and ossified things and how that’s an integral part of the earth, even if it’s one that is a bit opposed to the things we might think of as more generative, all of that was so beautiful and so richly, like very textured and layered in and of itself.

And I thought you did a great job of making Earth appeal to me. Like beforehand, I don’t think I would’ve been like, you know, I want my players to go to the plane of Earth. And after reading it, I was like, “Yeah, we could do that. We could go there. Yeah!” Well done. I think you knocked that one outta the park.

[00:36:20] jess: Thank you. Yeah, that one definitely took like, a little bit of extra thinking and a little bit of extra care for exactly the reason that you were saying. Like, Earth on the surface just seems like it’s the boring one. And so a little bit, a little bit of extra thought and care to make sure that it’s, uh, you know, it can stand up with the rest

[00:36:39] Esther: I’m curious: are there particular places on each plane that you got to focus on that you’re very fond of, that you would want listeners to know about and look up? 

[00:36:51] jess: Ooh. I think probably the Spheres on the Plane of Air are a really good one. And I knew right away, like very early on into doing research into what had been established about the Planes and Pathfinder 1, that something had to be going on with those Spheres. Because all throughout Pathfinder 1 they were kind of just like, “Oh, there’s mysterious spheres, and maybe they’re linked to prophecy, but it’s all very mysterious.”

And they were left just kind of like, door completely open for GM-do-whatever-you-wanna-do-with-them. But it seemed to me immediately obvious that they should be somehow connected with the planes of Earth and Metal or to the way that the, uh, good Elemental Lords had been sealed. Like, one of these plot lines, like these Spheres have to be like, right in there.

And so — some of them are still sealed too. So there’s definitely, like, the door is still there for GMs to use the Spheres in whatever way they want, or if they’ve already appeared in someone’s game in some other capacity, uh, there’s plenty of Spheres to go around. They’re all over the place. The Plane of Air is lousy with them. So, you know, like — got, got all those Spheres. 

But yeah, I love them. Especially — it mentions that a lot of settlements are built on the insides of the Spheres, but that the air genies are superstitious of them and don’t like to have anything to do with them. 

[00:38:21] Esther: So interesting. Yeah, I, I remember reading that section and reading about like, the emergence of– how do you pronounce the geniekin of Wood?

[00:38:31] jess: Oh, uh, I would say Kizidhar [Keez-i-tar]

[00:38:34] Esther: Kizidhar. Okay. Is it Kizidhar or, um, the Ardan…de?

[00:38:39] jess: Uh, Ardande [Ahr-don-day]

[00:38:40] Esther: Ardande. Yeah. I remember one of those like, emerged from one of the Spheres, which I thought was so interesting. And then I loved that other Spheres still exist and it’s maybe unclear what’s inside them. And I think it’s really cool to speculate on like perhaps they didn’t all have the same use.

Like, where did these things come from and, and what use did they have, and what if they were different? And I loved how the doors still felt so open for folks to interpret and run with it.

[00:39:15] jess: Yeah. Like those Spheres were created by someone or something. And whomever it is that created them probably created them all around the same time, or within like, the same epoch of time, right? And that epoch of time had to have been before the Planes of Wood and Metal were sealed away. And the spheres are made of metal.

And they were used — some of them– to like, put some of the Wood genies into stasis. And so who would be motivated to do that? Who would have access to being able to create these massive metal structures on the Plane of Air? Why would someone do that? What purpose did these serve? And what else would someone who is motivated to do that, what else would they also be motivated to do?

Like these, these are just very rich questions.

[00:40:12] Esther: Very rich questions indeed. I wanna turn very briefly back to the reemergence of the Planes of Metal and Wood and just kinda ask your general, your thoughts on that.

[00:40:25] jess: Mm-hmm. I think it’s very cool. I was a little bit hesitant about it at first, just because it’s not elementalism in the way that I traditionally conceive of it, because when I think about the elements, I usually think about like the Greek elements and the platonic solids and all of that. Like the, the Greek connections that elements have, that’s usually the way that I think about elements in my mind. And so it was a little bit difficult for me at first, especially to make sure in writing the Plane of, Earth, in making sure that I was giving Earth a distinct identity that does not include Wood and does not include Metal.

[00:41:14] Esther: That’s a challenge. And I thought about that as I was reading, how it was really masterfully woven in there. Like, the fact that they have connections as, as all of the planes can seep into one another, but that it was really distinct and it didn’t feel like there were these hugely overlapping portfolios. I thought you did a really good job with that.

[00:41:38] jess: Thank you.

[00:41:39] Esther: Yeah, I, I am a fan of the emergence –the reemergence — of the two planes. I think it opens up like, again, such rich questions and worldbuilding and opportunities for adventure as they sort of re-orient themselves, as things begin to blossom again, as these, long, long-diminished Elemental Lords like, come back into their power within the planar system. Such good stuff there.

[00:42:08] jess: Yeah, I, I have come around on them. Like I said, I was hesitant at first, but I’ve come around on them to the extent that I think that the next time that I am doing anything with Planescape, I’m probably going to change the Inner Planes so that Wood and Metal are two of like the quasi-elemental or the para-elemental planes.

[00:42:31] Esther: Amazing. Oh, that’s awesome. I’m curious because you –I believe you wrote the Arande Heritage– 

[00:42:39] jess: Yes. 

[00:42:39] Esther: — is that, is that right? How did you start to think about that and conceptualize them as a people?

[00:42:45] jess: Yeah. So, conceptualizing them as a people: definitely very influenced by the fact that the Plane of Wood had been sealed away for so long. And so the way that they’re presented in the book definitely focuses on what it would be like to be in Ardande on Golarion. And so it spends quite a bit of time on like, how would you even be an Ardande?

Did you have like, a bloodline that was suppressed and now like your planar heritage has awoken now that the plane that you are connected to has been returned to the multiverse? Or are you someone whose Arande heritage was preserved throughout the years, and how did that come to be? And so I… I think that is the reason why, when I was writing for Rage of Elements, this was before Wizards of the Coast tried to deauthorize the OGL. So all of this was written before the remaster had been announced, and then the remaster was announced, and then all of the work to change the book for the remaster was done internally by Paizo. And so I really like the, um, the edicts that were chosen for the Ardande, which were done like internally, not by me. But they had gone through what I had written about the Ardande and chosen, like, “popular anathema: betray my family.”

And I think that that as an anathema for the Ardande is so interesting just because of like, what does it even mean? Like, what does your family mean to you as an Ardande, as someone whose connection to an element was maybe suppressed for a long time and is now returned, and you are discovering things about your family and about your heritage that your family had lost for generations?

Or are you someone whose family like, was clinging to this heritage while the world itself, the multiverse, like the, the laws of reality, were trying to take this heritage away from yo?.

[00:44:45] Esther: And like, what a rich character moment to have in your family lineage. “I’m clinging to something that literally like, the fabric of reality is trying to tear away from me, is trying to erase and blot out over the history of, of time.” That is a really, really powerful moment. 

There was something I wanted to ask you about in the Aradande geniekin, and flipping to it will help me remember exactly what it was. We tend to like to ask folks like, how you — some of your design thoughts on like, ancestry feats and how you conceptualize as a writer, as a designer, the kinds of bonuses or like, just flavor that go into ancestry feats.

What were some of the flavor thoughts that were in your mind as you were writing all of these?

[00:45:37] jess: The most important thing that I needed to get right about the Ardande ancestry feats was making sure that the Ardande was distinct from all of the other plant theme character options. So making sure that the Ardande wasn’t like, make making sure that it wasn’t redundant with the Leshy or the Ghoran or the Conrasu. Like, there are so many other plant characters, on top of just making sure that Wood stood on its own compared to Earth, right?

And so I, in my research for writing the Ardande, I had like a Word document where I had every Ghoran feat, every Leshy feat, every Conrasu feat, and I organized them all based on ‘what is this feat doing for you? What is the flavor of this feat?’ And then like, weaving through in between those, making sure that I wasn’t overlapping too strongly in any place that these other options already were covering.

[00:46:36] Esther: That makes so much sense. I remember as I read through this heritage, that I had that question in my mind. Like, how is this gonna be different from the three you named? And I was so pleasantly surprised that it did feel really different. And reading through these feats, I was like, “this is really distinct!”

And I immediately, whenever I read through any ancestry, I automatically start to think about how I would play that ancestry. I have a list of characters that’s like, 90 long at this point. And reading through this one, I instantly connected with the Moldersoul. I was like, I wanna play a Moldersoul Ardande.

[00:47:15] jess: Yes! Ah, Yeah.

[00:47:15] Esther: Um– [laughs]

[00:47:16] jess: Aw yeah, just be a gross little boy!

[00:47:19] Esther: Yeah, just be a gross little boy, decaying things, rotting things! But thinking about how much life there is, you know, under decaying wood, uh, what it houses, what can grow from it — and I was so in love. I was like, I wanna play a little goth, a little goth tree person. Yeah,

[00:47:38] jess: Yeah. That is probably my favorite of the lineages.

[00:47:44] Esther: I was instantly drawn there. And the rest are fantastic too. Like, I’m looking right below it… Springsoul. Which is just gorgeously illustrated, I feel like, in, in the art on the following page, of this wood-person with lush hair and like, flowers springing out of their beard.

[00:48:01] jess: Oh yeah.

[00:48:02] Esther: Yeah. So you did, you did a really incredible job differentiating this and it absolutely shows.

I am conscious of our time, so I wanted to ask you, is there anything we haven’t covered yet that you wanna talk about?

[00:48:17] jess: Oom, let me think. Is there anything… uh, well, I mean, we could talk about Chunger.

[00:48:25] Esther: Mmm. Yeah. Yeah, let’s do it!

[00:48:29] jess: So Chunger is one of the Fire elementals, and it is on page 127. It is the Brochmaw. This was written by Ruvaid Virk, and Ruvaid made the, um, interesting choice of DMing me while we were writing Rage of Elements and asking me for help to name this creature.

[00:48:54] Esther: Amazing. [laughs]

[00:48:55] jess: And And so — because the, the way the creatures are named, they have to be in alphabetical order and they have to be on like the spreads where there are two pages.

So you can’t be cutting them up with the other sections of the book, right? And the section that is just like elemental comma Fire has to go in like a, a certain spot because that’s E. And so there were some of these things… what was it? I was doing the Sootsoldiers. I was doing the, um, the fire troop.

And so most of the other elemental creatures in the Fire Elemental section had names, but the, the troop did not yet have a name, and Ruvaid’s elemental did not have a name. And so one of ours had to go before E, and the other one had to go after E. And so Rue messages me like, “Have you named your creature yet? What did you name your troop?” 

And I’m like, “Oh, I have not looked at that troop yet. This, this has not begun yet for me. So whatever it is that you name yours, I will work around. Like, don’t even worry about it.”

And so we’re talking about what we can name his creature, and he’s telling me it’s like an oven elemental. It like, shoves you in its mouth. It cooks things in there. And we’re brainstorming potential names, and then eventually — uh, I was, I was given permission to post like, a screenshot of our Discord conversation on Twitter. So like, that’s out there. But eventually I’m just like, “Ruvaid, I had the most cursed thought. I don’t think you should name it this, but this will not leave my mind, and so I have to share it with you. Its name could be Chunger.” 

[00:50:34] Esther: [Esther laughs] 

[00:50:34] jess: And so then we’re talking about how it could be named Chunger, and eventually this leaves our DMs and goes into like, the official Paizo project server for this book where all of like, the actual professionals who professionally work at Paizo are. And we’re just like, “We have to share the curse of Chunger with you!”

[00:50:52] Esther: Chunger!

[00:50:53] jess: And so we’re telling everyone about Chunger and eventually there’s like a, a photoshopped picture of Chunger, which is like a clay oven with little googly eyes. And then, uh, that specific elemental gets the name of Chimothy Chunger. And Chunger was just such a bright spot in the creation of this book.

[00:51:12] Esther: Amazing. You know, I, feel that this Brochmaw art retains like the, the vibe of the name Chimothy Chunger. Like, it’s this beautiful like, sort of cylindrical toothed creature, and it has smoke coming out of the top of it. Uh, it’s on page — as Jess said — 127, if y’all wanna look it up in the book. Adorable. Terrifying. And Chimothy Chunger is a name that suits an adorable, terrifying creature. That’s incredible.

[00:51:45] jess: Yeah.

[00:51:46] Esther: I remembered one thing that I really did wanna shout out while I had you here, which is on page 83 in the Air Elementals: my favorite, which was the picture in clouds Elemental. 

[00:51:59] jess: Oh, yes. 

[00:52:01] Esther: Yes. Can you give us a little insight into the design of this creature? Like, how did you go about conceptualizing such a thing?

[00:52:08] jess: Yeah, I already had a little bit of an idea of how I would mechanically execute it because I had created a similar creature for the back matter of the Strength of Thousands Adventure Path, the Spellskein. And so the Spellskein is like a little piece of cloth or paper that absorbs some magical energy during a ritual, but this is just like a byproduct of the ritual. And then it can fold itself up into different shapes and depending on what shape it folds itself into, it gets different abilities or powers. 

And so I had already written the Spellskein, and so I already had the idea of: I could have a creature that has this like, “change yourself into another form in order to use an ability that is unique to that form” mechanic.

And in writing more Air elementals — because I had already written Air elementals for Bestiary 2. And I’m still very pleased with the Air elementals that I wrote for Bestiary 2. One of them was like the Melody On The Wind, which is, in my opinion, one of the best things that I’ve written, uh, exclusively because elementals historically get like so little page space. So like, just the name of this creature and the names of its abilities and like, what its abilities do need to bear a lot of the weight of conveying what its story is. And I feel like Air Elemental: Melody On The Wind already tells you everything you need to know. But in, in the same vein as the Melody On The Wind, I wanted another creature that was like, what is something that is iconic to Air, or iconic to the idea of the skies ,that could become an elemental?

And so the idea of like cloud gazing and clouds transforming themselves and not having one fixed form and being mutable and changeable, and then the form that they choose to take on, that being like, something of mechanical relevance, was something that I thought would make a really good elemental.

[00:54:14] Esther: Absolutely. And it, it really does. I loved getting to this one and seeing like all the different forms they could take and what mechanical benefits those give. And just the art of this elephant cloud-shaped elemental, it’s really cool. 

Well, thank you so much for this conversation! While I have you here, I have a couple like just general questions, given some news that’s come out recently. And I’m curious as to your thoughts on the just-announced two new classes, the Animist and the Exemplar.

[00:54:50] jess: They seem really cool and I’m very excited to learn more about them. I learned about them at the same time as the rest of the general public, so the book that they are from is not a book that I’m working on. But they seem so cool! And when Mike Sayre said that the Animist was kind of like the Binder? I loved the binder from D&D Third Edition.

That class was so cool and I’m very excited to see, uh, tomorrow how the playtest for the Animist actually looks.

[00:55:26] Esther: I’m likewise, very interested in the Exemplar. Just this like, deity-connected class ,it’s very much aligned with some of my interests IRL. And so I’m, I’m really excited to get a look at both of the playtest options and hopefully to get to playtest them. I’m crossing my fingers on that one. 

I’ve also been asking our guests — it’s recently been announced that perhaps a Core deity is not gonna make it too much longer, is, is going to die. I don’t know if you have any insider info on this and I — we’re not asking folks to share that. We have been asking who do you think is gonna die?

[00:56:05] jess: Ooh…

[00:56:06] Esther: And if you know, feel welcome to just like, throw out a red herring.

[00:56:11] jess: Right. I do not know. What I do know is that at Gen Con, Luis Loza wrote up explanations for all 20, uh, Core Deities and how they would die and why they would die. And then when someone asked him who was going to die, he would give them this like, fully fleshed out explanation of like, this is who’s going to die and why.

But every time someone asked him, they got like a different answer. And so he has also been seeding those online as well. But he did a spot for Gallant Goblin where he explained to them how and why Caden Cailean would die.

[00:56:48] Esther: Mm!

[00:56:49] jess: And that explanation, I think maybe that’s the real one.

[00:56:56] Esther: Ooh, well now I’m gonna have to go listen to that! Okay. Caden Cailean!

[00:57:02] jess: Mm-hmm.

[00:57:03] Esther: like somebody else might’ve said Caden Cailean, but I don’t remember who. Interesting. That’s maybe, uh, perhaps a popular, a popular speculation. So I’m very curious to see what will happen and when it will be revealed.

[00:57:17] jess: Yeah, this is gonna be exciting. Uh, I’m, I’m really glad that they’re doing this for Pathfinder and doing like such a, a big world changing story event, because I feel like the Drift Crisis ended up being really cool for Starfinder. Not only because I was involved in the Adventure Path that involved the Drift Crisis, but like, I just think that having the kind of comic book-inspired, like line-wide big event, I think that’s cool.

And so there’s gonna, I assume be adventure paths for Pathfinder that involve this. I assume there’ll be a season of Pathfinder Society adventures where there’ll be lots of adventure opportunities in the same way that Starfinder Society had, uh, Drift Crisis-related adventures. I think is gonna be really fun.

[00:58:04] Esther: Yeah, I am really looking forward to seeing everything that spins off from this and like the endless ,opportunities it’s gonna create for new lore and worldbuilding and, and just fun adventures all around. 

Well, jess, thank you so much for joining me tonight. And I always like to ask our guests: where can we find you and your work on the internet?

[00:58:28] jess: Yeah. So I am on, uh, most social media websites. Uh, there is the one that recently had its name changed and then there’s also Bluesky. I’m on both as tectonomancer, which is a little bit difficult to like say to someone verbally and then spell out. It’s kind of obnoxious, but it’s, uh, t e c t o n o m a n c e r.

Uh, like tectonic, like tectonic plates. Uh, tectonomancer.

[00:58:57] Esther: It’s a great name. I’ve always thought it was really cool. So yeah,

[00:59:02] jess: Thank you. It’s, it’s great except that it’s like, annoying to spell for people.

[00:59:06] Esther: Well go check out jess’s work and presence on the internet. And check out Rage of Elements if you haven’t. It’s a really amazing, beautiful book full of really cool lore that I just highly recommend. So listeners, know that there is much love for Rage of Elements between me and Navaar, and we hope to return to talking about it in the months to come as well. And if you’d like to follow me on social media, I’m everywhere @dungeonminister. 

And if you want to follow Know Direction, we are @KnowDirection on Twitter and YouTube and Mastodon. 

You can also come join our Discord server, where we talk about episodes of this show and other network shows, and Pathfinder and TTRPGs in general. It’s a really good time; you are so welcome to join. We’d love to have you there. 

I also want to give a big thank you to our patrons who make this episode, and all of our network shows, possible. If you’d like to support Know Direction, you can find us under the name, Know Direction at Until next time, thanks so much for tuning in! 

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: