Know Direction 296 In Writing

[00:00:00] Esther: 

Hello and welcome to Know Direction, your number one source for Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews. I am one of your hosts, Esther, and today I am flying solo again, really missing my cohost Navaar, as always. But I’m going to talk to somebody who I am so excited to have on the show we’ve known each other from the internet for like, a little while and I’m really excited to talk to them today.

We are welcoming Dave Nelson, a queer and disabled freelancer who is here to talk about their contributions. to a lot of different Pathfinder products. I think the focus is going to be on High Helm, but we might get a little tiny, NDA approved preview of something from Howl of the Wild too. Dave, welcome back to the show.

I know you’ve, you’ve been on before and we’re so happy to have you back on now.

[00:01:10] Dave: I’m glad to be back. I think it’s been almost four years since I was last on.

[00:01:16] Esther: Welcome back, welcome back. I was just telling you that our first question for everybody is what is your Pathfinder origin story? So I think that’s as good a place to start as any, just hearing like how you got involved with all of this to begin with.

[00:01:33] Dave: So, I started back in 2006. A friend in high school introduced me to, Dungeons and Dragons 5th, 5th, er, Sorry, I used to say in fifths still, 3. 5, and my first character was a Hexblade named Hector. Very inventive. died within one session because my friend was doing a solo session, and just wanted to show me mechanics, not how fun it actually was.

so I walked into a trap and was killed instantly. but since then, I caught the bug, and ended up doing a lot of experimentation in… 3. 5, and then when 4th edition came out, like, a lot of 3. 5 standbys, I thought, this is nice, but it’s not necessarily for me. And so, we turned to Pathfinder as an alternative, and I have had a group locally that I’ve played with for a while.

We’ve made it through one and a half APs, and uh, then I started thinking, you know, maybe I could actually write for this. And so, I went about trying to.

[00:02:42] Esther: That is very, very cool. I was gonna ask you, because Navaar and I really like to talk to folks about the path to creating for a company like Paizo. How did you make that transition just from being a player to also being a freelancer?

[00:02:58] Dave: So, it was the last RPG Superstar that Paizo held, and I decided, what the heck? And I created an item, and I put my hat in the ring for it, and that was a very fun several weeks of going through the voting ranks and trying to see if anybody had seen the item at all, was it still in all of the culls as they were cutting it down to the final contestants, and as far as I could track it, I think I got somewhere in like the top 150.

Which was pretty good, because honestly, I didn’t put a lot of effort into that submission. And it is really baby’s first creation. And so I thought, “let’s pursue this a little bit more, and a little bit more seriously.” So, I went to PaizoCon, what was it? I think 2016? And tried to get some information on how to start freelancing, and what I kept hearing over and over again was: write for somebody else first, so that we have proof that you can deliver and that you know what you’re doing and that you have a good grasp on mechanics and professionalism. And as good advice as that is, it’s also a little frustrating because, how do you actually get that first contract?

And it’s very much the millennial experience of “entry level position, three to five years worth of experience required.” So I ended up actually joining social media for the first time ever, and I made a Twitter account the weekend that I came back home. And with that Twitter account, I connected with a bunch of other people in the third-party sphere.

And Anjali, who at the time was doing a lot of remasters and reworks of existing Pathfinder 1 classes, had a Discord server going on and I joined and I met a bunch of other people. And I came up with some ideas and shot it back and forth with him, and eventually he had me work on his redesign of the Cavalier class.

And I took parts of it, not most of it. He was really kind of the project lead on it, but he was suitably impressed and gave my name to Jason Nelson from Legendary Games, and then I got to create a Legendary Magus, which was very highly regarded in a lot of the reviews, and kind of just went from there.

And then I attended OrcaCon for — I think it was 2017, maybe 18? 18 I think, yes — and, met with Luis Loza there and he said, “Oh, you’ve written some stuff for third party! Why don’t you send me a sample of it and I’ll take a look.” And I said “Okay.” And I went back to my room and it was the end of the night, so I went to bed and then I got up and I saw him at breakfast the next morning and he said, “I don’t have an email from you yet.” And so I tried to be polite and say, “You know, I was waiting for you to enjoy your weekend, I figured I would send it when it’s back from the office.” And he made a show of opening his phone and refreshing his email and saying that he still didn’t see it. So I went back and I took some screencaps and I sent him the sample. And a few months later I was writing on Lost Omens: Gods of Magic.

[00:06:32] Esther: Amazing. Can we just take a moment to shout out Luis Loza, former host of this show, creative director for Rules and Lore, truly fantastic person who I just got to meet for the first time recently at Big Bad Con! Or in-person rather, we met through the show. But, met him in person for the first time at Big Bad Con and — just truly a delight. It’s so nice when you get to meet somebody in real life and find out that they are as lovely as you suspected they were. And I love that story. That’s a great story.

[00:07:05] Dave: Absolutely. It was, it was very fun. So I, I owe quite a bit to several people for kind of launching me into this and taking a chance on me. And I hope that I continue to prove that it was a good choice.

[00:07:18] Esther: I think your story so clearly illustrates just one of the many different paths folks can experience to writing in this field, in this industry. And thank you for sharing the realness of that first “write for somebody else before you write for us,” and how difficult it can be to figure out how I do begin to like, have an entry into this space, into professional work in this space. When it’s kind of like, “we want folks who have already done stuff,” and then it’s like a chicken or egg problem. Like, how do I, how do we begin to do stuff? And I think the example of writing for third party is such a great one. And I hope folks can, can take that — if there’s anybody listening to the show who is like wondering how, how to get involved in this — and be inspired by something they’ve heard here either today or in one of our other, other interviews about this.

[00:08:15] Dave: Yeah. And Luis himself has written a lot about how to get started for Paizo and everything else. And he’s very… he’s very adamant about bringing in new people and new voices, which I think has worked out incredibly well for Paizo and even from a non-personal space, I think it’s been great to bring in a lot of diverse voices and everything.

I do have a lot of marginalization, but I am still a white, for all intents and purposes, man. So… I do admit that there’s certain things that I’m just not suited for, and I’m glad that other people in that space are getting the chance to tell those kinds of stories that are personal to them.

[00:08:57] Esther: Absolutely, absolutely. I wonder, we were talking just a little bit before we started recording about some of those areas of marginalization, and listeners may remember that our last interview we released was with Shay, Shay Snow. And we talked about disability in that interview, which I know is something you and I both share, and I was wondering if you might feel comfortable talking a little bit about how disability, neurodivergence or neurodiversity or however we want to language that, has impacted, nuanced, like, how, how it’s danced with your work in this space.

[00:09:36] Dave: Oh, I will talk about that until the sun goes down, which it’s about to over here. So… I have what I could refer to as a laundry list of disabilities, developmental, some physical, but not as much on that side, learning disabilities, that kind of thing,.I am a autistic person with ADHD, and those two living together are quite a challenge to try and navigate, particularly in a space like tabletop, where you need to be personable, you need to present well, you need to leave a good impression when you communicate with people. And that can certainly be an issue when the neurodiversity that one has does not match up with the level of neurodiversity that the person you’re communicating with does.

And so I find that I need to be very deliberate about what I do and say and instructions that I need in order to get stuff done. I try very hard to, when I’m given an assignment, to make sure that I understand it completely, and I’m not just trying to intuit and fill in the blanks, because if so, I definitely have misread the situation and I’m going to give them a product that they didn’t ask for. 

Additionally, I am dyslexic and dysgraphic, which is a lesser known condition. Dysgraphia, specifically, is the difficulty or sometimes inability to put your thought into actual words. So, rather than dyslexia, where you cannot take the meaning of symbols and then turn them into thoughts, dysgraphia is you cannot turn thoughts into symbols. Which, as a writer, that’s a little bit complicated for me. So, I find often that when I’m working on projects, it’s kind of like running with one lung. I, I can do it, but it’s a little bit painful and it takes me longer than most people. And I’m definitely one of those people that lives by the phrase, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

And, it’s, it’s very true for me. So, navigating that kind of stuff is quite difficult, but it also gives me a chance to infuse that into my work. For example, in Lost Omens: Grand Bazaar, I wrote the shopkeeper Erikanesh, from Historia Reliquary, and they are blatantly autistic. If nobody has picked up on that yet, uh, re-read the passage. They are a bit of a self-insert, and I am very happy to see that a lot of people have reacted well to that kind of thing.

[00:12:18] Esther: I think it really matters. In my experience, a fair number of people in tabletop spaces are disabled, neurodiverse, some mix of those two things, and yet I feel that hasn’t always been the most clearly represented, or the most legibly represented in written material. And so I think when we can encounter someone who is really pretty clearly autistic, or autistic-coded, ADHD-coded, disabled, that really matters. To be able to be like, “Oh, I, I do belong here! And not just at a table, but in this fictional world, I belong.” I think, for me at least, that is deeply impactful and makes a difference the systems I will play in.

[00:13:07] Dave: Yes, absolutely. And one of the real kind of touching things that I was able to do in terms of work for Paizo is, before Interstellar Species came out, I was contacted by Jason Keeley, who’s another fantastic developer over at Paizo, to go ahead and do a sensitivity read for the species of the Urogs, because they are very autistic-coded.

And Paizo actually cares about getting it right, which — big credit to them, because there’s a lot of large publishers that don’t put that effort in. And so I managed to go through and read it, and frankly, I thought that the passage itself was fantastic. I had very little comments on any of it, and I thought that the actual text was handled with great sensitivity.

The problem I ran into was the mechanics. And this came up when Shay was on the show previously, but please, please, please, do not try to… express in mechanics mental limitations, and even physical limitations, uh, from what I’ve noticed and everything. But the Urogs are autistic, and therefore they have a minus four to Charisma because they don’t like people — or I think it’s a minus two to any Charisma-based checks, more accurately.

But, I put a note in there and I said, “I really would love for this not to make it in, but it was already printed in a previous stat block for the species, so I understand if it can’t be.” And I’m pretty sure it remained, but I, I’m glad to see that, Paizo has really taken a shine to trying to demechanise — that’s not really a word — but to take the mechanics out of a lot of disabilities and a lot of things that can be coded in poor ways. Ancestry-specific boosts and flaws is a big one for me, too, of — I don’t — it adds flavor, but it also can do a lot of unintentional harm very, very quickly. And I think we’re better off without it than with it.

[00:15:22] Esther: That’s an opinion I tend to share, I think, both in terms of disability but also the way people are racialized. Like, it can just reinforce such harmful stereotypes about race-based flaws or boosts and, and the way that those kind of tropes can consciously or unconsciously reflect really, really harmful narratives that, that are circulating in our real world. And I think moving away from those opens up new and different portals to how we can play together in a really a generative way.

[00:15:54] Dave: I would agree with that completely.

[00:15:57] Esther: I’d love to revisit, briefly, this concept of dysgraphia, because I think that’s something I actually share, and I love learning new words that describe a phenomenon that happens in my brain. I’m not sure if I’ve always had this, or if it’s something that’s come as a result of some of my other disabilities, like living with brain fog, but I definitely experience having a thought and simply not being able to articulate what I am trying to say, to find the words and put it into words. And you’re so right that as a writer, as a creative person, it can be immensely frustrating to try to create through that. And I’m curious, could you share with us like some of your journey in living with that… that tension. Like, how, how does that — how do you make it work?

[00:16:53] Dave: Well, again, I craft emails very, very carefully. Um, and I try really hard to, usually with written communication, I will not respond until I have the perfect thing to say. And it’s the same with writing. This is usually… comes across as a little bit arrogance, but I typically don’t do drafts the same way other people do.

All of my drafts are mental. They stay in my head. I do not write something down until I’ve already perfected it inside of my brain. And so, a lot of my work will go through 7, 8, 9 drafts, and I won’t write for a week, a week and a half. And then I’ll sit down and I’ll put it all onto paper once I have it clean in my brain.

And I think that’s a lot different from a lot of other freelancers. A lot of other freelancers I’ve seen have said, you know, I need to write 50 words a day in order to meet this deadline with the word count that I’m given, and that sort of thing. And I try to adhere to that because it’s just good planning, but that never actually holds true. And I do remember when I was in college and, uh, in high school, I did have — I forget what the heck it was called — the learning option to have certain accommodations, like alone in a room so you’re not distracted. They think that helps with ADHD, it’s not really true, you’ll find something to be distracted by no matter what! But one of the ones that they gave was time and a half or double time in order to do the assignment. Typically you have to write an essay in an hour; they would give me two hours. And the thing that they failed to understand was that it wasn’t the speed with which I could put it on the paper, it’s the speed that I needed to sort through it inside of my head. And so I found those accommodations to be very unhelpful. And then people were like, “Well, why are you still failing? We know you’re smart.” And the answer is that the way that they were gauging my understanding of a topic was not cohesive to the way that I function. If I were to sit down and talk to you for two hours, which I easily could do, about Ancient Greece, and that was all I was graded on, I would definitely have an A.

However, since my final grade was based off of a ten page paper that I needed to provide, I got a B+, because my thoughts come across much less clearly when I’m writing them down or translating them into any kind of written format than when I’m simply talking to somebody one on one.

[00:19:30] Esther: It takes me to the ways that a lot of systems will say like, “We will provide one narrow set of accommodations,” and the idea is that’s equity. When that’s really not equity, it’s just like, creating a new box to try to fit people in. And equity would be providing the time that you need to sort everything in your head before being able to write it down.

That’s, that’s so interesting. I’m in a profession where I frequently have to like write about 2, 000 words once a week to give a speech at the end of the week. And I don’t draft the way a lot of people do, I often find that I have to mull a topic over in my head, like, then sort of take paragraphs almost and like, rearrange them like tiles in my mind before I can put it down on paper. And if I try before then it will just be hours of me staring at a screen in frustration, and not being able to get anything down.

And I think it just, it goes to show how individual and unique our creative processes can be. And the fact that it takes all kinds of accommodations and all kinds of paces to be able to make a collaborative product. And that’s, I think that’s a beautiful thing.

[00:20:50] Dave: Yeah. I feel very strongly, uh, attacked, really, by a — I’m a big musical fan, and there’s a musical called Something Rotten. It takes place during Shakespearean England, and Shakespeare has a song called It’s Hard to Be the Bard, where he is attempting to write his next greatest play, and he has writer’s block, and towards the end of the song he has a little bit of a mental breakdown. And I’ve had that exact same mental breakdown multiple times, which is very entertaining, and I recommend anybody who’s listening who doesn’t know it to go check it out.

[00:21:25] Esther: I’m definitely going to go check it out. That sounds amazing.

[00:21:28] Dave: It’s a fantastic play, it’s basically a farcical musical about two brothers that are rival playwrights in Shakespeare’s time. And they can’t get an edge up, so one of them goes to a soothsayer to predict what Shakespeare’s next biggest play will be. And the soothsayer reaches through time and basically invents a musical called Omelette, and provides it to him. And of course it’s scrambled, terrible prophecy that’s completely inaccurate and half of it’s BS to begin with. It’s a very, very funny show. It’s probably somewhere in my top ten musicals of all time.

[00:22:07] Esther: Amazing. I could, uh, have a whole other branch off conversation about musicals, but, I’m going to try not to do that. And instead —

[00:22:15] Dave: We’re going to have to move forward.

[00:22:17] Esther: Yeah, um, let’s, let’s bookmark this soothsayer bit for a question I’ve been asking folks at the end of the show, but that reminds me of it. Let’s turn to some of the writing.

I know we wanted to get into some of your contributions to Highhelm. Can you tell us a little bit about what you wrote for that book?

[00:22:36] Dave: Sure! So, a lot of the mechanical bits in Highhelm are mine. And the reason for this is I was on another Paizo project. I was writing an adventure for Drift Crisis Case Files at the time, and it was my first adventure. And I was a little lored and prosed out, and I wanted to do something purely mechanical instead. So when I got the outline of, you know, what would you be interested in writing, I pretty much zeroed in on all of the mechanical bits. 

So, one of my absolute favorite things that I wrote were all of the new Animal Companions. I had to include dwarves riding goats. That was pretty much required by law. And so, I had a lot of fun designing the abilities for mountain goat mounts to climb up walls and all of that other stuff, and figuring out how that would work mechanically.

And one of the things Luis made clear that he wanted was a dwarf-specific breed of mule. So I spent way too many hours looking into the biology and husbandry of mules, and I found some very interesting stuff that I put in there. But that’s how we got the Augdunar. And, uh, I also did the Draft Lizards.

[00:23:57] Esther: I have them pulled up right now, actually. I’m looking at the Augdunar, and the Support Benefit being “It shifts its weight and offers you an item.” Where did that come from?

[00:24:07] Dave: Well, so, mules and donkeys are typically pack animals, right? So, I wanted to do something interesting. I… every time I have an assignment to do something similar, like, expand this subsection of feats, or give us new Animal Companions, I look at what’s already been done and I try to do something that hasn’t been yet. And I think that’s just generally good writing advice, and a lot of people do it, it’s not going to come as a surprise. But one of the things I noticed was there wasn’t really a lot of options that are not inflict a condition on an opponent or do a little bit of extra damage.

And so I wanted something a little more interesting. And one of my favorite things as a concept is sort of the master-at-arms. The fighter who is constantly swapping weapons has a different application-read-weapon for any situation. And I thought it would be very interesting to just have a pack mule that was loaded up with a whole bunch of weapons so you don’t worry about encumbrance. And every time that you need a different weapon to target a different weakness, you can just grab it easily.

[00:25:19] Esther: As you’re describing that, I’m like mentally have a very cinematic image of this idea of a character and the kind of mechanics behind it. And then like, the process of translating that into the actual stat block. And as someone with dyscalculia, who is a little scared, honestly, of designing stat blocks: I’m curious how you take this, like, vision of what a character can do and turn it into numbers.

[00:25:48] Dave: So, I’m not great with math. It’s not necessarily just discalculia, I don’t think. But, uh, math is a little slow for me. I learned a lot of basic math partially from playing D&D and Pathfinder, and also playing one of my favorite game series of all time, Fire Emblem, which has a lot of basic addition and subtraction if you want to get good at it.

So that’s part of it. But really also, when you’re dealing with a mechanic like, “can offer you a weapon for a single action,” that fits into the action economy quite well. Because all you’re doing, really, is you’re taking something a character typically does, drawing a weapon with an Interact action, and you’re siphoning it off to the Animal Companion so that the character can maintain that action for something else, say, Stride or Power Attack.

So, that’s a little bit less math heavy, but there are other things of what bonuses do you give and all of this other stuff. And fortunately, the Game Mastery Guide for Pathfinder 2nd Edition is excellent and tells you exactly what the numbers should be. The math in Pathfinder 2nd Edition is so clean and so tight that it’s very obvious to see. A plus one is a pretty big deal; a plus two is huge; a plus three is game changing; and a plus four needs to be incredibly specific and only come up once in a blue moon. And anything beyond those numbers you should not be dealing with. And then it gets a little more complicated when you move into monsters and everything else, but again, that’s what all of those tables in the Game Mastery guide are for. And I lean on those very heavily.

[00:27:32] Esther: I love that. I, I have to say, even with my struggles with math, I find the math in the system pretty clean when I can, like, approach it calmly and in a non-stressed out way. And it is much easier to remember how to stack different numbers as a GM than in a lot of other systems I feel like I’ve played in, especially Pathfinder 1, which the math — I could never totally grasp the math in Pathfinder 1. [laughs]

[00:27:59] Dave: I eventually started getting it and then I converted to Pathfinder 2. The great thing about Pathfinder 2 is that there’s really only three big ways to gain or lose anything. There’s an Item bonus, a Status bonus, and a Circumstance bonus. That’s it! And so you don’t really need to worry about stacking anything, because Status bonuses rarely come up except from specific scenarios which are very easily identified. Pretty much anything magic is going to give a Status bonus. Item is self-explanatory. And then Circumstances from practically everything else, which means that they very rarely stack with one another, so. Honestly, it’s just an ingenious way of doing it, in my opinion.

[00:28:45] Esther: It really is. It really is. Getting back to the animal companions, I’m curious, can you tell us a little bit about the Draft Lizard?

[00:28:54] Dave: So, the Draft Lizard, Luis said that he wanted some kind of denizen down in the bottom — I think it’s called the Depths for Highhelm. And Liane Merciel was another freelancer on it, the project, and at that point she had come up with the idea of the coins being marked with lizards on the back. And Luis said, “Hey, why not just make ’em big lizards?”

And I said, “Okay, I can make them big lizards.” So honestly, that’s what I did. And it’s — if you think about all of these shows that you like, like Avatar: the Last Airbender, where a whole bunch of large, wondrous animals are being used as pack mules or pulling carts and that kind of thing, I just sort of leaned into that as much as I possibly could.

And, as with pretty much every animal that I come up with, no matter how big an animal is, somebody’s going to want to turn it into a pet. So I always try to infuse some pet qualities into any animals or magical creatures I come across. And so, in the case of the Draft Lizards, I thought “Well, think about your dog or your cat that wanders outside and chews on grass for no reason because it settles their stomach. What would lizards do in that situation? And what would they do if they were native to underground tunnels?” And I just determined, “Oh, they chew rocks. Fine.” That was really kind of the one little detail. You always need to, in my experience, find something fun to put in, latch on to that, and that usually spirals me out into some other detail that I can turn to.

[00:30:40] Esther: I absolutely love that. I’m curious, because the last animal companion is the aforementioned goat, how did you like arrive at, “I gotta have a dwarf riding a goat?” And what’s the special little detail for the goat?

[00:30:53] Dave: So the special little detail for the goats is that I did a lot of goat research as well. And I watched a lot of videos of goats climbing 89 degree sheer cliffs, uh, which was incredibly fun. So I knew immediately we had to institute that. But really, the goat is a very dwarf animal, in my opinion. It lives in mountains. It hangs around rocks. It’s in the wild. Most of them sometimes have beards. They’re ornery. They attack people that approach them, and they smash things with their head, which I also attribute to dwarves a lot. I think in The Hobbit a lot of dwarves that end up coming to assist Thorin from the Iron Hills are stated to ride goats, too, so there’s some precedence for classical fantasy in there as well.

[00:31:44] Esther: Very cool. Now, did you get to give the briefing for the goat art on this page?

[00:31:50] Dave: I did not.

[00:31:51] Esther: Okay. I was gonna ask about like the very cool little ribbons around the, the horns and the saddle, but do you happen to have any detail on that? Or was it just a cool thing that you got to see when the book was published?

[00:32:03] Dave: No, that was a cool thing I got to see when the book was published. The best thing — in my experience, one of the best things about seeing your written word hit the page — is to see the art that comes along with it. With the dyslexia, my handwriting is awful, and my art even more so. So the being able to see something that I could never be able to bring to life in that capacity be brought to life by somebody else is great, and everyone knows Paizo art is some of the best in the industry. 

So I do have a detail, it’s not in Highhelm, but in Bestiary 3, I wrote the zombie section for that. And I came up with a zombie dragon, and I thought for a second. And I said “Well, zombies are usually in a state of decay, so its lower jaw fell off.” So I changed the Jaws attack, the Jaws Strike that it had, to a Fang Strike. And I put a little note in that said, “I’m envisioning that the art has the dragon’s jaw completely and totally missing with the tongue lolling out. If the art goes in a different direction, please replace this with the typical Jaws Strike.” And to my ecstatic pleasure, when the book finally came out, you have a great picture of a zombie dragon missing its lower jaw, its tongue lolling out [sound effect] and looking absolutely dopey. And it’s the best thing that I’ve seen in a very long time. And it always makes me laugh every time I come across it. 

[00:33:38] Esther: Amazing, I’m going to have to revisit that one because I remember what you’re talking about but it’s been a minute since I’ve gone and looked at it and I’m going to have to go do that now. I’m also curious to talk about the Dwarven Pantheon, which I think you did some, some work on descriptions of the Dwarven Pantheon.

[00:33:56] Dave: Yes, so Highhelm contains a lot of details on the Dwarven gods, and it has individual write-ups on all of them. None of those were me. Some of them were good friends of mine that did that, but none of them were actually directly written by me. I did do the write up of the Pantheon as a whole, and I’ve managed to put in some kind of stuff because — a big thing for me is I have a background in Classics and Comparative Theology. And in a lot of RPG systems that have gods and Clerics and Paladins and everything else, typically a character has one deity and they stick to that deity and they don’t pray to anybody else and they try to pretend that all of the other deities don’t exist unless it’s a specific rival.

And… while that works for the mechanics of the system, that’s not how religion works in polytheistic religions. So, that’s why I like pantheons being instituted in Pathfinder 2, and I specifically wanted to try and bring some of that into this. So, what I put in the pantheon, really, is circumstances under which you would venerate one deity over the rest of them because that’s really what happened in the ancient world and everything as well. In Ancient Greece, if you were going to go out on a sea voyage ,even if you were from Athens and your patron deity was Athena, you pray to Poseidon because Athena can’t protect you on the sea. That’s not her domain. And it’s the same with this.

So, if you are defending the home, you pray to Torag. If you are on the offensive, you pray to Angradd. If you are a young upcomer who is trying to prove yourself, Trudd. If you are trying to get married or trying to have a good wedding and you don’t want bad luck, Bolka. And just kind of pointing to that kind of stuff was really what I was trying to do with the pantheon because a pantheon, in general, is a list of people that you can appeal to who have individual reign over aspects of your life that might come up, and so that’s really what I tried to put in there, and a big focus, of course, on family and togetherness.

[00:36:21] Esther: That’s awesome. I didn’t know you had a background in comparative theology, which is kind of an interest of mine, and I love that detail of the thought about worshiping them at appropriate moments, and also kind of a shared, just a shared approach to religion, instead of like, “I pick one god or goddess or deity, and that’s it.” I think it makes a lot more sense to kind of share the wealth.

[00:36:49] Dave: It really does, because… you talk about, you can think of, say, in Golarion and the Inner Sea, Rahadoum, which — they say atheist, but atheist doesn’t mean that they don’t believe gods exist the way that it does in our contemporary society. It’s — they just don’t want them around. So, it’s the same if you have a patron deity, is you have to acknowledge that the other gods exist and have domain over certain aspects, because mechanically there are domains. And they’re not just for giving clerics power, they’re also areas of influence that the gods can put their fingers on.

[00:37:29] Esther: Speaking of, do I remember that you wrote the Herald of Torag? 

[00:37:36] Dave: I did. The Herald of Torag, the Grand Defender, was previously existing. I know it got a write up in the Pathfinder 1 supplement Inner Sea Gods. I can’t remember — a lot of those heralds were previously printed first in the back of APs, and I can’t remember specifically where the Grand Defender was from that. But yes, I did get to bring it into Pathfinder 2 terms, which was very fun. Always a challenge to take something large like a Level 15 creature and try to fit it on one page.

[00:38:10] Esther: Yes. One of the things that I noticed reading that was the description of it being a little different than a lot of heralds in that it’s less like a separate being and more like the, the manifestation of Torag’s will by summoned spirits. And was that a pre-existing lore or did you make that up?

[00:38:31] Dave: I think it was pre-existing? I don’t want to claim credit for it if it was pre-existing, so I’m going to hedge my bet and say that it was pre-existing. But I do know that I specifically wanted to stress that. Because it is a unique aspect, you’re right, about heralds in general. Usually heralds of singular beings, and the Grand Defender basically is an amalgam of dwarven ancestors that just pop into a suitable statue, bring it to life, defend dwarves from whatever is going on, and then leave the statue. And I think there’s a detail in the Grand Defender where the last statue that it inhabited in Highhelm, it just kind of dumped in the middle of an area, and they haven’t been able to move it, because it’s just standing there. It’s a beat up and partially destroyed statue from the battle it was involved in, and the spirit said, “Eh, we’re done with this!” And just kind of left it sitting there.

[00:39:30] Esther: Just said “Peace! I’m good now!” and left it. Yeah, I noticed that, and I loved that detail. The fact that there’s just sort of this giant statue hanging out from after a battle and, and the spirits left and there it was.

[00:39:45] Dave: I like to think that the dwarves of Highhelm specifically didn’t even attempt to move it. One, because they probably couldn’t without destroying the statue. And two, it’s a reminder of an important historical events that occurred in Highhelm, and I would think that’s very meaningful to the dwarves that live there because they love tradition, they love history, they love lauding all of the events of the past. And so therefore, you know, it’s a great story piece, and that alone is reason enough to try to keep it there and maintain it in exactly the condition it was when the Grand Defender left it.

[00:40:22] Esther: As we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about, like, the lore aspects, which I know you didn’t work on as much because you wanted some more mechanics at that time. And I’m curious, like, when you get an assignment like Highhelm, how much interaction is there with other folks on the freelance team who are doing a little bit more of this lore?

Like, in order to know about the lizards and the lizards on the coins, how are you forming those relationships as you do a little bit more of this mechanical writing?

[00:40:54] Dave: It varies from project to project. On Grand Bazaar, all of us were in a Discord server, and we were feeding off each other’s chaotic energy in a way that I have not seen on any project since. Ashton Sperry, they coined the phrase Log Bee very early because those are the initials of Lost Omen’s Grand Bazaar and sketched up a very poor-looking bee that also was partially a log from a tree and sort of memed around that for a while in the Discord server with everyone else. And we were sharing ideas for our shopkeepers and everything else. 

So in terms of Highhelm, I was, since I was juggling projects at the time, I really wasn’t as involved of what everybody was putting up, but sometimes you catch freelancers that will put up their milestone or an idea that they have for feedback, and we hope the devs see it, but they’re also busy and their job is not to monitor the Discord constantly. So I feel at least as — I don’t want to say senior freelancer,but a more experienced one — to try and jump in, uh, if anybody’s new to the project and is really looking for help.

And Highhelm was done by a lot of veterans who are very competent. So there really wasn’t as much sharing and it was a little more insular, I don’t think ’cause anybody was hiding anything. I think we were just all very confident in our work. So the detail about the coin got passed to me from Luis during Milestone time, ’cause I was sort of struggling to figure out another unique creature I could bring to Highhelm that hadn’t happened yet.

I was thinking some kind of digging mole or something like that, but the idea just wasn’t coalescing. So, really, a lot of the stuff that makes it cohesive, that’s done in developments a lot of the time anyway. Occasionally you’ll have freelancers that are good friends with each other, that get on the same project and then they’ll feed off of each other’s energy very easily and kind of put their heads together. I’ve done that with a few people as well, but on Highhelm specifically, it was really kind of just me in my corner.

[00:43:09] Esther: I think it’s really good to know and hear about kind of the different landscapes of each project, especially if people are looking to get into the field and don’t quite know what to expect. It’s really helpful to know that some, hey, sometimes there’s like a high degree of collaboration and sometimes people are kind of doing their own thing and products get made in all different ways.

[00:43:29] Dave: Right.

[00:43:30] Esther: Well, I’d love to briefly talk about a little bit of a different product. I know we can’t say too much about Howl of the Wild, and I don’t want you to get in trouble talking about anything you can’t talk about, but I think there is something you can share that you’ve worked on for that book. Yeah, can you tell us a little bit about that?

[00:43:49] Dave: Yes, and I want to thank James Case A) for giving me the assignment in the first place and B) saying my name out loud for this so that I can shout it from the rooftops. I wrote the Minotaur Ancestry for Howl of the Wild, and I am so excited for you guys to see it!

[00:44:06] Esther: I’m excited to see it.

[00:44:08] Dave: I, I had a great time. It was a very unique challenge, taking something that is typically codified as a monstrous entity and bringing it into a fashion where players would want to actually play as it, and trying to infuse a level of culture that is not seen in its actual mythology and setup. And so I had to kind of extrapolate from missing data with that. 

Much like Medusa, the Minotaur is a singular entity in mythology, so you don’t get an idea of culture or anything like that. So I had to really sort of piece together what would it be like based on certain qualities that we know. And then a lot of that was stripping out the “it’s an unthinking monster.” There was a lot of that to remove. The original legend of the minature from Greek mythology, the unsanitized version of it has a lot of problematic content in it. Probably more so than most Greek myths, which is saying a lot. So, there was an amount of — sanitizing is the wrong word, but I needed to reconfigure it not only just for Golarion, but also to rid it of the troublesome parts and allow it to go down to the PG-13 rating that Pathfinder 2 struggles to hit. And, according to James, in, every interview that I’ve seen him talk about it, he thinks I did a good job. So, I’ll take it!

[00:45:49] Esther: Amazing. I’m really excited to read this. I think, you know, as — it’s another thing that I think of as a disabled person who is creating imaginary worlds and playing with these archetypes of the monstrous, is how do we really like queer that or re-form, reimagine the monstrous as something that is inhabitable and is not automatically a, a negative thing.

Or, if something has been constructed as monstrous and then we are kind of re-forming it, what care do we have to take to not invoke like really harmful tropes? And I am, I’m really excited to see what you’ve done with this!

[00:46:30] Dave: Yeah, it’s, I really had to, I was trying to attack it from a specific angle around milestone time, and I kinda realized that it was the wrong way to do it. I was trying to infuse quite a bit of myself into it as I do most projects, and I needed to dial that back. But I also really needed to be rephrasing the stuff that I ended up keeping, and I got really good feedback regarding that of things that I didn’t catch. And I think it’s gonna be a much stronger product for that kind of intentionality.

[00:47:07] Esther: Well, I will look really forward to reading it and hopefully having you back on the show at that point to talk more about it because this is one I’m very, very excited for. I’m just, I’m really ready for this book. I am so excited to play a centaur. I am like, vibrating out of my chair with excitement about that. And every ancestry that I’ve heard about is just –sounds like fire. So I am, I’m thrilled that we’re going to get the chance to talk about this book on the show. Hopefully a lot.

[00:47:35] Dave: I heard you talk about how much you wanted to play a centaur, and every time I do, my heart just skips a beat, and I’m like, but minotaurs, though!

[00:47:41] Esther: I mean, I — the thing is, I want to play basically every Ancestry that is released in Pathfinder 2, but minotaurs truly, honestly — after this conversation, they’re probably gonna, like, ratchet up my list a great deal. And something else will be rearranged on that list. You know, as we’ve talked about before on the show, I could, like — I have, like, 90 characters I want to play, and one day, I will play them all. One day. 

[00:48:07] Dave: I’m a big theory crafter, so I understand that. But I do hope to come back to talk about Howl of the Wild, because minotaurs weren’t the only thing that I wrote for it, uh, they’re just the only thing I can really talk about yet.

[00:48:19] Esther: Yeah, well, when, when Howl of the Wild is out, we will have to give you a call. But yeah, while you’re here, I wanted to ask you, is there, is there anything else you’d like to talk about as far as your work with Paizo, as far as like disability stuff? 

[00:48:32] Dave: I think, just to go back to Highhelm real quick, I got to write my first Archetype in a while, which was the Stalwart Defender, which was an old favorite in Pathfinder 1. So it was really fun for me to be able to go back and revisit that and touch it up. And one of the main concepts that I tried to work with was the idea of somebody in heavy armor who literally throws their weight around, which is a fighting style that I don’t think Pathfinder 2 had really sort of put into focus yet. And I tried to express that in the content for the archetype, and from what I’ve heard, everybody likes it quite a bit. 

The idea of wearing heavier armor, but then using your Armor Check Penalty to get some benefits — um, I really needed to take out all of the stuff that just ratcheted it up it’s AC super high that was in First Edition, because as we stated, the math is very tight, and you can’t just infinitely skyrocket something.

But, also, I wanted to kind of push the idea of what a tank could be in a tabletop setting. Because a lot of people think you don’t need a tank in Pathfinder. That’s — one of my friends says it really best, that, uh, damage is the best status effect you can put on something, and dead is the best condition to inflict. But I — you know, the idea of a tank to me is not just “gets hit a lot and survives it.” It also takes up space, it moves things around, it prevents other entities from doing what they want to do, and I really kind of tried to put that forward, and I think having a very, very dwarf-y archetype is really the best place to do it.

I also got to show off a little bit of my love for old songs and sort of, you know, Tolkien ballads and that kind of thing. And the sidebar there, which has an actual refrain, because being a Stalwart Defender doesn’t depend on being a dwarf; it depends on having a dwarf mindset.

[00:50:43] Esther: Is it okay with you if I read this out on the show, this song? 

[00:50:47] Dave: Oh, sure! 

[00:50:48] Esther: It says:

“To rubble, cliff, and stone, guard our people to the old home; ‘neath distant stars I’ll lie, when we finally see the sky; the earth serves as my anchor, I weather each foe with rancor; no heart less than stout ours, shall carry through the passing hours.”

That is beautiful, and it really does evoke Tolkien and this idea that it’s about what’s in your heart, not about necessarily being a dwarf. That this comes from a dwarven archetype, from a dwarven place, but anybody can embody this spirit. That’s really gorgeous.

[00:51:25] Dave: Well, thank you. I really kind of toyed with it a little bit. I’m not really a poet or a songwriter, by any real measure. But I do really have a big love for music, and poetry a little less so. But music is really just poetry with a beat to it. So, you know, I really wanted to try to see if I can fit a little bit more of that kind of stuff into, into my work. I’m starting a Strength of Thousands game soon, and I get to be a catfolk Bard, and he is an ex-sailor. So all of the Bardic Inspiration is all of the sea shanties that I have collected over the years — 

[00:52:03] Esther: Oh, fun! 

[00:52:03] Dave: Because I know a lot of them. 

[00:52:07] Esther: Oh, that’s so much fun. I have a friend who would absolutely love that. I’m gonna have to tell them about this. They’re a sea shanty collector as well, and I think they would be so into that idea. Very cool. 

Well, there is a question I’ve been asking everybody we have on the show before a certain product drops. And it is: we know that in an upcoming product, a Core Deity is going to die. Somebody is not going to make it out of the War of Immortals alive. And I’m asking everybody: who do you think it’s going to be?

[00:52:38] Dave: So, quick disclaimer. I do not have any inside knowledge on this. I am not part of the project where that book is. I have not asked. I am going to find out with the rest of you. That being said, Arazni is going to kill Iomedae.

[00:52:57] Esther: Oh, this is a great theory. Oh, I love — can, can you, can you say more?

[00:53:03] Dave: So my theory is twofold. Number one is lore-based, where Arazni has a grudge against Aroden. So, as we’ve seen throughout the majority of Pathfinder 2’s stories evolving, Aroden was a jerk, and probably got whatever was coming to him, and I hope his end was very bad. I have my own theory about that, too.

However, Aroden has a habit of having impressionable young women be his heralds and then them having… meeting terrible ends. And Arazni is the most recent in the line of that, and Iomedae is kind of due for it. And I think that Arazni wants to try and erase any kind of stain that Aroden leaves on the world. And since Iomedae is basically Aroden, but a little bit nicer, she thinks that it is enough of a carrying on of Aroden’s legacy that Iomedae needs to go. 

The other reason is mechanics-based, which is now that alignment is going away, we no longer need a deity of Paladins the way that we used to in pathfinder 1 and 3.5. Which, all love to Iomedae and Iomedae’s fans out there! I think that what Paizo has done with Iomedae is quite good, taking her from really a base concept into a fully fleshed out entity, much the way they’ve done with Cayden Cailean and Gozreh and a whole bunch of other people in the deity section. But at the end of the day, she’s just the bog standard paladin god. And I don’t think there’s been enough done with her to merit her sticking around if the concept of “Paladins must be lawful good and must be like this” is going to go away. So, that’s what I think.

[00:55:15] Esther: So, I truly enjoy every theory I hear about this, because the possibilities are all so juicy. And this is maybe the first one that I’ve heard where I’m like, I actually really buy this one — like, I really, this — this has some juice. Everything has juice. But this has some, like, real probable juice. I love this.

[00:55:38] Dave: Option B, I’m cheating and going with my second opinion too, but I still think it’s going to have something to do with Arazni. And I think instead Arazni is going to usurp Pharasma as the Goddess of Death.

[00:55:49] Esther: Also great. Also delightful. I’ve heard a lot of Pharasma guesses, I gotta say. Like, that Phrasma’s time has come, and somebody is gonna usurp her, and now that we know it’s Arazni, I mean, that’s, there’s definitely a link with death there.

[00:56:05] Dave: Did I miss the part where it was confirmed it was Arazni-centric?

[00:56:09] Esther: Uh, I think, I think so. There was a recent stream, and

[00:56:13] Dave: Okay, I haven’t seen that one. Alright.

[00:56:15] Esther: Yeah, it was the Tian Xia stream, and Luis, I think, had promised that he would say something about the War of Immortals product, and it was confirmed Arazni is gonna be taking the place of whoever dies. So…

[00:56:31] Dave: Okay, well, I came up with my theories before I heard that information, but, yeah, that’s good. I’m glad it was seeded enough that, uh, one could see it, because that’s always the best twist, is the one that actually has merit and doesn’t come out of the blue with no evidence, so.

[00:56:54] Esther: It’s really awesome that you didn’t know that. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that makes total sense. Arazni was just announced.” That is so cool. I love this.

[00:57:02] Dave: My day job has really kind of consumed my life over the past few months, and so I haven’t been as in tune with the rest of the community as I normally am, and I’ve missed probably every Paizo stream and most major announcements since PaizoCon this year, so.

[00:57:20] Esther: I’m actually shocked that I made this stream, but I was, I was home, I had nothing to do and I was like, “You know, now that I’m co-hosting the show, I really need to try to watch these.” And I am extremely glad that I did because that piece of lore got dropped and I was like, “Oh, it’s really good that I know that. Really good that I know that for the next recording.”

[00:57:41] Dave: I’m gonna have to go back and watch it now.

[00:57:44] Esther: Absolutely. Some good, some very cool information gets dropped, in addition to that, just about Tian Xia and settings, deities. It’s a good, worthwhile stream to watch.

Well, thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate our chat and would love to have you back when Navaar is able to be here too. We always ask our guests to let our audience know, where can we find you and your work on the internet, or just more broadly speaking?

[00:58:14] Dave: You can find a list of my Paizo credits on the wikis. I’ve been incredibly impressed how well whoever is managing and contributing to those wikis has kept up with freelancer credits. So thank you for that. It means a lot to all of us. 

I am no longer on the entity formerly known as Twitter for a lot of reasons that I’m sure are shared by quite a few people. You can find me on Blue Sky at davicthegrey at blueskysocial. I think that’s how those handles work. I haven’t done much with it yet. I really have sort of had to take a step back from my freelancing career for a little bit, but hopefully I’m going to be firing it up and getting back into it. I also have started freelance editing for any kind of Pathfinder 2 and Starfinder products that you might need.

So if anybody has a project coming up that they need someone very experienced in the system with, please feel free to reach out.

[00:59:16] Esther: Amazing. Well, thank you again so much for being here. 

And if you all would like to follow me online, you can do so on the entity formerly known as Twitter or on Blue Sky at the handle dungeonminister. 

You can also follow Know Direction on the entity formerly known as Twitter, Blue Sky, Mastodon, or YouTube at KnowDirection. 

Thank you so much to our patrons who make all of our shows possible. We really appreciate your support. And thank you for listening in.

Until next time, this has been Know Direction: your number one source for Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews. 


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: