Author Archives: okcstephens

The Player Characters in my Gatekeepers Campaign for PF2

Since people have asked for a recap of what happened in Session 1 of my Gatekeepers game for PF2, I’m working on converting my gameplay notes to something human-readable. But those notes will make more sense if readers know who the protagonists/PCs are, so here’s a quick rundown of the primary characters in Gatekeepers.

Primary Characters:

Averill (human laborer psychic)
Averill is a telekinetic in his late teens, and his family have a long history as “lifters,” telekinetic laborers who help load and unload cargo. The family is originally from Eirsyus and Tidegate locals tend to roll their eyes a bit at the idea of using innate magic powers to carry things, but Averill’s family have been local for nearly two centuries, and despite some ribbing for being weird Westerners are well-accepted.

Hollyhock Stonefound (halfling warrior barbarian)
Hollyhock is a halfling equivalent in age to a human’s late teens. She was found in a small stone shelter on the beach near Tidegate after a major storm, and is presumed to have been a survivor of a wrecked ship though no one knows for certain. She was adopted by a family of halfling caravan guards and merchant marines, and though young has been preparing to follow in the family business. She’s dealt with bullies a time or two, and locals know that if she looks very, very calm she is about to unleash hell on someone.

Jaedyn Valis (human with some elven ancestry barkeep swashbuckler)
Jaedyn was raised the son of a woman who worked out of the Smoke Pine Taven and told his father was an elven noble who wintered in Tidegate. Jaedyn took odd jobs to help bring in income as he grew up, but his mother eventually drank herself to death. Jaedyn had no other place to go, but Nana Cutthroat was fine with Jaedyn living and working at the Smoke Pine. Now an older teen, Jaedyn worked hard and embraced this degree of freedom, and let the community know she was a woman rather than the boy her mother had presented her to be. Though Jaedyn has had no formal training, when she found a rapier in her hands the use of it and daring acrobatics to go with came to her as naturally as breathing.

Nambra (elf ranger, background currently unrevealed)
Nambra is an adult elven woman who has ranged the lands around Tidegate for decades. She prefers to be out in the wilderness with her companion bear Brôg, but spends just enough time in town for locals to think of her as one of their own. She has been approached many times by Warden Ellicent to join the Duchess of Tides’ official crown wardens, but so far has preferred to remain indepedent.

Morgan (human farmhand monk)
Morgan is an older teen who lives on one of the many farms near Tidegate, one owned and run by his father, and ex-adventurer. Morgan was subject to bullying in town as a child, but never raised a hand to defend himself. However, when Morgan saw a younger child being bullied he stepped in with the training his father had given him, and ended up dropping the bullies so severely he had to do their chores in town until they recovered. While family of the boys he put down treat him coolly, the rest of Tidesgate sees him as a young man willing to defend those in need.


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Gatekeeper’s GM Rulings: Animal Companions

Having run the first session of my Gatekeepers game for PF2, I’ve now made some in-play GM rulings that alter the Rules-As-Written. These “Rule 0” calls were made during the game session, in consultation with all the players. I want to keep a written record of them both to share with people as they come up, and as a reference for myself and the players.

Both the Gm Rulings from Session 1 were about animal companions.

  1. An animal companion can take a reaction for purpose of using the aid another. The animal must take an action to prepare to aid, as normal.
  2. If a character is unconscious or dead, and their animal companion knows where they are, the companion will move to be adjacent to the downed character.

Neither of these is a major change, but I prefer to keep track of such things.


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Gatekeepers Campaign for PF2 – Mystery Points

I’ve now run the first session of my Gatekeepers campaign for PF2. There was the usual awkwardness to be expected when a group tackles a brand-new game system (I’m the only person in that group to have played in a PF2 game, and I’ve never been the GM for one before), but everyone agreed they had a good time.

I also dropped something new on the players, to represent strange forces at play within the reality of the game — Mystery Points.

Mystery Points

Every player began the game with one Hero Point, which was represented by a black poker chip. I clarified that spending a Hero Point was a player-based decision that did not necessarily represent any special effort on the part of their character.

However, each player also got four Mystery Points which were represented by a set of 4 poker chips, 1 each of blue, green, red, and white for each player. Players were told that a Mystery Point worked like a Hero Point, but it DID represent an in-character choice on the part of the character. Specifically, sensing a deep reserve within themselves that they could access with extra effort, without truly understanding what it was. And that using these was entirely option, no one had to do it, and while there might well be consequences they were designed as a fun part of the campaign, not a way to screw players over. (This is a group I’ve played with for 35+ years, so trust is well-established.)

One a character played a Mystery Point, they lost all their other mystery points, Further, every other player would lose access to the Mystery Point of that color. There were four players so everyone had a shot at a Mystery Point, but the choice of colors (which I affirmed when asked did meant *something*, but I didn’t say what) would dwindle as other players used them.

I also affirmed that Mystery Points were not guaranteed to be used in every game session, or to work the same way if they did show up again.

To embrace the fun, all four players did end up using a Mystery Point during the first game session, and their characters discovered this gave them a brief burst of elemental power (blue = water, green = earth, red = fire, and white = air; while later discovering a NPC had also experienced something similar with either “shadow” or “spirit”). How and when the characters decided to share that revelation with each other and NPCs on the Town Council became an important roleplaying aspect of the night which influenced play far more than the one extra Hero Point of options had. I was extremely pleased how the use of game mechanics and props managed to create an actual air of mystery for the players, where they could choose on their own when to potentially become embroiled with unknown powers, and then explore what their characters though was going on.

If there’s interest, I’ll talk briefly about what actually happened in that first game session in a future post.


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To Be Frank and Honest About the Downside of ttRPG Industry

I love ttRPGs, I love being a full-time professional I love all the fantastic amazing people I have met doing this for decades. But it’s not *all* Bifrosts and Buddy Moments. There are things that may not get talked about enough and, without wanting to be a downer, I want people considering being more involved to know what some of them are.

The number of salaried positions with benefits in the ttRPG industry are extremely small. While some are highly-paid jobs with security and clear opportunities for advancement and career growth (and things seem to be trending that direction for more), that’s not the norm.

Even for well-known companies with name recognition, awards, large fanbases, and decades of business, the number of them run largely (or even entirely) by freelance and contract work would shock a vast number of gamers.

So while it is possible to make ttRPG work your full-time job (I’ve done it since the late1990s), it’s rare, difficult and stressful. And you have to set your own definition of success. I know many designers, developers, and writers end up happier with the ttRPG work being a hobby that pays for itself, or a side-gig that gives them both satisfaction and some extra money.

But that’s not me. And, maybe, it’s not you.

If so, here are a few tiny bits of hard-won advice, distilled from decades of experience but all obviously colored by my own life experiences, which include a lot of privilege and luck.

*Don’t work yourself to death. It may seem like just this once you need to put in 80 hours, or pull an all-nighter, or self-medicate to get through writer’s block. And, you know, I get it. that has to be your call. But the industry is build on the burned-out careers of people better than me who pulled off the impossible, and were rewarded with the expectation they’d keep doing it over and over, and who eventually discovered when burning the candle at both ends isn’t enough, you set fire to your own flesh without even realizing the extra heat and light is killing you.

*This industry remains disproportionately white and male. No, it’s not universal. But it is still the case, and not only is that a self-perpetuating issue, it reinforces an environment where anyone who doesn’t meet the expected traits of a “game designer” is likely subject to fewer opportunities, greater challenges, and more prolific abuse. We can’t shrug and just accept that this is the way things are, but we also need to face the current reality.

*Be safe. I wish I didn’t have to say that. But there are absolutely people who will take advantage of you in all sorts of ways, from underpaying you to gaslighting you abut what was agreed to, to being abusive to make them feel better about their hobbies. And, let’s be honest, sexual misconduct is not unknown. Look, I’m a 475 lb. cis white bearded male, and I’ve had my ass grabbed nonconsensually and inappropriately at events. More than once. Alcohol on the part of the grabber was usually involved. Never go anyplace you’re uncomfortable or with anyone who makes you feel unsafe.

*If you are someone who has ever or you think could ever send someone sexual pictures or texts without clear and ongoing consent, or pressure someone to kiss, or grab their ass, or make lewd remarks, or worse, be that at a bar, or the office, or a game, or an event, drunk or sober, fucking cut it out. I know a lot of us were powerless and mocked growing up, and I have seen what a little taste of power, prestige, and popularity can do. It’s not acceptable, it never has been, and it has to stop. And if you are aware of people doing it, take steps to stop it.

*If money, ideas, rights, graphics, art, or effort is being exchanged, commissioned, or transferred, don’t work without a contract. That contract needs to say what is being done, who gets the final rights for it, what the remuneration is, what happens if the project never happens, when it is due, and what happens if any element of that doesn’t go as laid out. Without that, don’t start working. Not for well-known companies. Not for me. Not for anyone.

There are lots of wonderful, amazing, caring, creative, fun, interesting people in this industry. In fact in my experience, that’s the MAJORITY of people in this industry. Most of my best friends are ttRPG professionals, and will move heaven and earth to make the world a better place.

But 1 oz of raw sewage can spoil a very, very large bottle of Mtn Dew even if most of it is fine. (Well, assuming you are okay with Mtn Dew to begin with — but you see my point). Nothing a ttRPG career can bring you is worth your security, safety, sanity, or serenity. By all means enjoy the great parts of this community — but also take care of yourself.

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On Being Your Own Hype Person as an Independent Creator

Neal Litherland recently wrote a piece on social media abut why he posted about content of his in multiple different places online. It addresses a reality many of us face (everyone but the biggest and most successful content companies, n fact), and with his permission I am sharing it here.

Neal Litherland has a Patreon that supports his blog, and you can support him by joining it.

Small Words

“No disrespect, you made something really cool, but why did you share it literally EVERYWHERE?”

I will use small words.

Your options as an independent creator are either, “Be silent about your work, and let it languish ignored,” or, “Share it in every appropriate venue you can think of, and run the risk of possibly pissing people off because you have to be your own hype man.”

Trust me, Internet friend, I would DESPERATELY love to not have to do my own promotion. If I had a legion of at least a thousand dedicated fans who each bought a copy of every new release, who read and listened to everything I put out and then shared it on their own socials, I wouldn’t have to be constantly seeking out new places to scrounge eyeballs. But I had to go to over 60 different forums just to scrape together 1k views. If I hadn’t done that, I’d have managed 50. 100, tops.

I appreciate that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to be subjected to promotional posts. But I promise you with full sincerity, as much as you don’t want to see them, creators sure as fuck don’t want to make them. But it’s that, or starve, so that’s where we’re at.

Three Things I Plan To Use in My PF2 Campaign, “Gatekeepers”

While I try hard not to plan out 20 levels of adventuring in advance when I start a homebrew campaign such as my upcoming Gatekeepers PF2 game, I do like to think about what kinds of things I want to put into a world and use to set up specific kinds of stories and themes.

So, here are three ideas I plan to use in Gatekeepers… at some point.

Caliburn: Masterfully crafted objects from the World Before, about which almost nothing is known. Caliburn are usually durable items made of stone or metal, as they have survived for thousands of years (and perhaps even since before time itself), though very rare examples of Caliburn made of cloth, leather, and even glass are known. Caliburn are always some kind of personal item, such as a comb, broach, ring, or dagger. They are not magical in the classic sense (and do not detect as, or follow the rules of, magic items), but their very age and perfect crafting make them things that bend destiny slightly in favor of the possessor. Every Caliburn gives its possessor one additional Hero Point per day, and more potent ones have similar effects that aid those who carry them in ways that are hard to define.

However, the more potent a Caliburn, the more it inspires envy in others that see it, and the more it places dangerous paths in front of its bearer. Such paths can be resisted, but doing so creates a mental pressure that mortals often handle by turning to their worse natures, engaging more in avarice, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath. Caliburn are the stuff of legends, but are also accepted as being very real.

(You can carry more than one Caliburn, but there are… risks… Art by warmtail.)

Gollusks: There are dark forces in the world that are constantly whispering to mortals, but do so in a whisper of concepts so depraved, most living things are truly incapable of hearing them, or comprehending them if they do catch a whisper. But when someone craves something strongly enough, and is willing to do anything to get it, sometimes they hear the fel whispers. If they do, they are given immoral, dreadful advice on how to fulfill their desires through actions that cause harm and misery to others. There is no compulsion, just an opportunity. And if a mortal seizes that opportunity, the whispers become a bit more clear… and the mortal has set foot on a terrible path. Such paths are often not great evils, but petty things — opportunities to hurt those you dislike, or finally win a festival prize, or to sleep in a bigger home than your neighbors. If a mortal embraces these prosaic crimes for their own benefit they transform slowly into Gollusks, still their original ancestry but with various external signs of the evils they have decided to undertake, and benefits of strength and resilience from the dark powers they now serve, but also are driven to claim more and break the cycle of foul returns they blame others for. A Gollusk looks different than they did before their fall, but the change can be anything. Some take on flabby, fat long arms and legs, but have lean, emaciated torsos and necks. Others gain a cold beauty, some long fingers, others a third eye some random place on their body.

Gollusks often seek out other Gollusks as the only entities they don’t feel hidden shame to be near. A Gollusk can reverse the process of their transformation and fate, but doing so requires true repentance and working to undo that harm they have caused.

Fire Mud: A thick, viscous slurry of clay, earth, and liquid heat, fire mud is a red-orange, gives off considerable light and heat, and can be found in regions with links to the elemental planes of earth, fire, and water. This paraelemental substance has useful alchemical properties, and can be used as near-permanent sources of light and warmth. It looks a lot like less-intense lava.


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Gatekeepers Campaign, for PF2 – Optional Rule Houserules, 1.0

I’ve already gone over the rule options and houserules I’m starting with in my upcoming Gatekeepers campaign for PF2. However, being a game designer, I obviously also need houserules specifically for my rule options. 🙂 So, these are those.

(None of the players know anything about the Underhill Grotto yet… but they will. Art by JuanJos.)

Free Archetypes And Normal Archetypes
Normally, once you take an archetype dedication feat you can’t take another dedication feat for a different archetype until you’ve taken a minimum number of feats (often 2) from your first archetype. However, I’m going to allow characters to have one archetype using their free archetype feats, and a second archetype if they choose to spend their normal class feats to gain it. So, for example, assuming they met all the appropriate prerequisites, a 2nd level fighter could take the Barbarian dedication feat as their free archetype feat, and also expend their 2nd level Fighter class feat to take the Bastion Dedication feat. However, they’d be at their limit until they acquired 2 more feats in at least one of those archetypes (and could, if they wished, at 4th level could spend both their free archetype feat and their 4th level Fighter class feat to grab 2 barbarian archetype feats).

Proficiency Without Level and Static DCs
Using the Proficiency Without Level rule has no impact on opposed checks against targets of your level — in other words when talking about attack roles against defense or save DCs against saving throws, your chances of success against a foe of your own level are the same whether or not you are both adding your level to the proficiency total. The same, however, is not true for static DCs, such as many skills include. Within the Proficiency Without Level Rules themselves this is noted as acceptable on the assumption that the campaign is designed to be lower-powered (and thus less likely to see Legendary successes for example). However, that is NOT my goal in selecting this houserule, so I want to tweak even the suggested static DCs the game suggests (and alter how some non-static, non-opposed DCs are set as well).

In fact, overall I’d rather PCs be more likely to hit static DCs. There is no universal “take 10” or “take 20” rule in PF2, and rolling a 1 downgrades your level of success/failure even if you hit the DC, so even very low numbers run some risk and drama when the die is rolled. And if someone untrained should have a good chance of succeeding at a task, and they don’t add their level to the roll (and remembering I’m using the -2 to untrained checks version of proficiency without level), even a DC of 5 means a typical person fails 35% of the time.

And, of course, some tasks require a given level of proficiency to even attempt. A task DC might be 20, meaning even someone with +0 bonus has a chance at rolling well enough to hit the DC, but if it requires you to be a master in the appropriate skill and you aren’t, it’s actually a 0% chance of success.

So in the Gatekeepers campaign the baseline static DCs (which are also used for any task that lists DCs from in the same categories, such as Medicine) are as follows:

Proficiency Rank DC

Untrained 5
Trained 10
Expert 15
Master 20
Legendary 25

For other non-opposed DCs (including any targeting a DC set by a creature’s own ability scores and proficiencies) there is, sadly, a formula. It’s not too complicated and won’t come up often, and I’ll likely make myself a custom GM screen so I can find it quickly.

If the DC is 10 or less, use the listed DC. For DCs over 10, halve the value above 10. Thus the Athletics check to make a high jump goes from 30 to [(30 = 10+20) half of 20 is ten, (10+10=)] 20.

Using the same formula, the Athletics DC for a horizontal leap ends up being the distance in feet if 10 feet or less, for 11 or more feet it’s 10 +1/2 feet further than 10 you want to go.

I’m also making one small change to Assurance, based on the fact I am using both Automatic Bonus Progression and Proficiency Without Level. Characters add their skill potency bonus from the Automatic Bonus Progression to their Assurance total. That often means getting Assurance with a skill you have selected for your potency bonus is by far your best bet, and I’m okay with that.

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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 5: Quickstart Tidegate Gazetteer

When doing a homebrew campaign (such as my upcoming Gatekeepers game for PF2), I have long since given up having everything mapped out in advance. I want a few key things defined (and, if possible, graphed to maps), but only at the lightest level of detail. having done that at the island-level, I also want to put a few things in place for the starting town, Tidegate.

(The map I’ll be using for Tidegate. This is a great piece by, which he makes freely available for commercial purposes thanks to the support from his Patrons. I want to not only pick some of the vast resources I have linked to help have visuals for the Gatekeeper campaign early, but also pick those I can use in an actual produce later if I choose to do so. As locations, like the Smoke Pine Taven become important, I’ll mark them on a copy of this map.)

Tidegate is one of the oldest settlements on Kheysus Island, it’s original founding lost to history and firmly in the realm of myths and legends. It existed before the kingdom of Khetonnia, though in a much smaller form than its current borders. The two most common claims about its origins are that it was originally a temple to a lost sea god, where farmers and hunters would bring offerings to appease the forces of storm and tide. The other is that it was created as a trading post between aquatic species and land-dwelling ones, possibly by a family that included members of both. Of course, these two myths aren’t mutually exclusive, but there’s no real evidence to support either.

Eventually Tidegate was the capital of the Crosstimbers, a Cantref of Khetonnia. The Cantref had no ruling nobility, but was overseen by a Council elected by a vote of landowners (with each acre under production, and hundred acres patrolled but wild, counting as a single vote). Sometime before the Continental Empire conquered the island, the Crosstimbers “went wild,” and most of the nearby woods were ceded to the wild, with any remaining settlements within it independent and fortified.

Tidegate has been ruled by a Town Council ever since, elected by taxpayers with votes proportional to taxes payed over the past 10-years in a running tally. On the one hand, this means the richest people in Tidegate decide who is in charge. On the other hand, it discourages the rich avoiding the paying of tax, and much of how the tax money is spent is dictated by the Duchess of Tides laws on the matter.

The Continental Empire built the Old Keep to the northwest of the town, the Watchtower on the adjacent hill, and the Rampart Wall that surrounds Tidewall shortly after taking over, in preparation for an attack from some international foe that never came. They did so at great expense, and seemed more concerned with defending Tidegate than the larger city of Seagrace.

The defenses became important a century ago during the Bloodletter Wars, when the Bloodletter Dominion tried to conquer the world. They made numerous attempts to take over Tidegate, and it seemed to be their primary objective on Kheyus, though they also did extensive, unknown things on the western side of the island, beyond the Keystone Mountains. Tidegate was besieged several times and numerous defensive battles fought on its walls, but it was never seized by enemy forces.

Current State of Affairs
Tidegate is a fairly stable, prosperous town. It has a regular stream of small merchant ships coming to buy supplies, as well as provisions from and goods from Fishport. Violent crime is rare, work plentiful, and satisfaction among the population high. When there is a serious problem in town it can almost always be traced back to drunk sailors, old feuds between well-establish families, or someone (usually a visitor) acting weird and crazy during a full moon (which is just considered to be one of those things).

Tidegate is the economic, social, and security lynchpin of dozens of farms, outfits, and small settlements within a 2-3 days travel. If there is any regional problem (such as a pack of wolves, or an ogre, or active bandits), people bring the problem to Tidegate and expect the Council to deal with it. If there’s a major local problem a farmstead or thorp can’t deal with, it’s Tidegate they turn to for help.

Tidegate City Council
Not a complete list, just noteworthy members.

Daenen Thraes

Daenen Thraes is a skilled elven blacksmith who is pushing 500 years old. He dislikes talking about the past, but is known to have fought in the Bloodletter Wars and the Imperial Conquest and to have a standing invitation to visit the Duchess of Tides, which no one has ever seen him accept. He has no known family. He runs the only smithing shop in Tidegate, Iron Will Anvils, and makes sure to take new apprentices every few years. He rarely takes commission work himself anymore, and nearly all the work he does do it sold to traveling merchant marines or more mysterious, cloaked figures. (Image by Николай Акатов)

Hexer Hellaina

Hellaina is a gnome who runs the largest herbalism and alchemy shop in Tidegate. She is extremely skilled and well-known for being able to make custom infusions and poltice, and it’s not unusual for a customer to come from the Continent to commission a cure from her. Relations between her and Nana Cutthroat are cool, but not hostile, possibly because Nana knows herbal things Hellaina does not, and possibly because Hellaina has adopted and fully domesticated a few of the Smoke Pine cats, who don’t go there anymore. (Image by KOVALOVA)


Miller has a given name, but not only does he never use it, most folks in town have no idea what it is. He’s the town miller, as was his father and his father before him. The family clearly has some elven or similar ancestry, as they live 150-200 years apiece. The family has grown to be among the richest in Tidegate, and Miller himself employs more people in town (for his mill, but also to run a few outlying farms, act as porters, run bakeries, run warehouses, and so on) than any other single employer. Miller is known to have very minor magic ability, and his family have been building a collection of books that recently grew so big Miller took over part of the Rampart Wall to house it. (Image by diversepixel)

Lantern Siggurds

Siggurds is the head of the Tidegate Council. A locally-born human he left in his youth to travel the world on Circle Trade ships, and retired to the town roughly 20 years ago. He has military experience, and doubles as the town watchman when one is needed. He’s part investor in a number of small, fast merchant ships, and runs a ship-patching and supply business by The Big Dock. He’s seen as a stick-in-the-mud by a lot of locals, but also as a keen city manager and brave watchman, who often helps outlying communities when a child is missing, or a barn burns down, or a pack of wolves is spotted. However, the Siggurds family and the Dale family have been feuding for generations, and often people feel they must either get a Dale’s help, or a Siggurds’ help, not both. (Image by Algol)

Nana Cutthroat

Owner of the Pine Smoke Taven, Nana Cutthroat is believed to the second-oldest citizen of Tidegate, right behind Daenen Thraes. She’s run the Pine Smoke since before the Bloodletter Wars, and seems to have been around before that. She refuses to explain the mis-spelled “Taven” sign, though she sometimes seems wistful about it, and claims replacing it would be stupid because everyone knowns what it means.

She’s a venerable orc woman with a soft spot for strays and outcasts (leading to the Pine Smoke having a large number of semi-feral cats she claims aren’t hers, but no one dares harm), no patience for fools or liars, a surprisingly good hand with children, and an amazing skill at cooking and herbal medicine. Nana (or Goodmiss Cutthroat if she’s in a bad mood) is often torn between not wanting to get involved with affairs outside her inn, and not being able to stand people being stupid about solvable problems. She claims she doesn’t vote for herself to be on the council, and about half of Tidegate believes her. (Image by IG Digital Arts)


A human often accused of having some halfling blood, as an infant Pottage was found as the only survivor of a shipwreck 30 years ago. Nana Cutthroat took him in temporarily, and ended up raising him. He became her cook, and then her manager, and then to her pride and annoyance, set up his own provisions business and general store, which has done very, very well. He’s considered a likeably doofus by most of town, still cooks at the Smoke Pine a few nights a month, and seems beloved by even the most grumpy of Nana’s semi-feral cats. He’s considered a likely candidate for who is voting to put Nana on the council, though she’s been on it since long before he came along. (Image by Lunstream)

Syrkin Dale

Syrkin is the patriarch of the mostly-human Dale family, who have very few members in town but are a large clan that run numerous farms, logging outfits, and some sheep in the surrounding area. No one Dale has much spare money, but all the clan’s trade is funnelled through Dale-owned businesses in town, giving those Dales enough tax money to pool resources and ensure the head of the clan is voted into the council. Syrkin is considered among the smartest, most skilled, most unpleasant clan patriarchs, and he seems intent on stirring discord between people who live within Tidegate proper, and families and settlements outside the Rampart Wall who are merely dependent on the town. He is deeply devoted to his family’s traditional dislike of the Siggurds, and seems to also personally despise Pottage (though no one knows why, and Pottage doesn’t seem to return the animosity). (Image by Zdenek Sasek)

Warden Ellicent

Warden Ellicent is the official representative of the Duchess of Tides to Tidegate, and a formidable tracker, hunter, and trapper. A half-elf she’s considered young for the position, which she has already held for more than a decade. Ellicent seems to dislike being forced to be on the council by ducal decree, and spends as much time ranging as possible. She doesn’t get along particularly with the majority of the council with the important exception of Nana Cutthroat. (Image by Daniel)


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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 4: Quickstart Kheyus Gazetteer

When doing a homebrew campaign (such as my upcoming Gatekeepers game for PF2), I have long since given up having everything mapped out in advance. I want a few key things defined (and, if possible, graphed to maps), but only at the lightest level of detail. I do this for a few reasons. First, not every campaign I plan actually launches, and I don’t have time to spend months plotting out all the details of a world I may never run. Second, I like to see what early elements interest the players the most, and build on those in greater detail. Third, I’m really good at coming up with neat stuff extemporaneously, I I have learned to leave room to do that.

So, this is just a quickstart gazetteer, enough information on the starting region, and greater world events to let players namedrop stuff and decide where they are from, or to know they want to request/suggest elements not yet in existence for their characters.


The campaign will begin in the town of Tidegate, the third-largest settlement on the Island of Kheyus, a major but distant holding of the Continental Empire (which will eventually get a name).

Isle of Kheyus
The Isle of Kheyus, roughly the size of Kansas, is divided into east and west by the Keystone Mountains. The island was home to two independent kingdoms in Ye Olde Days: Eirsyus on the west side, and Khetonnia and the eat side. The two kingdoms were both very Northern European-themed lose confederations of allied nobles, with Eirsyus having a major focus on magic and runes and rituals, and Khetonnia on crafting, engineering, and smithing. They were rivals and often had border skirmishes and occasionally brush wars, but were not hateful toward each other.

The entire island was conquered by the Continental Empire (final name tbd) a couple of centuries ago. It was obvious early in the conflict that Eirsyus and Khetonnia could not defeat the Empire, even if they combined forces. Khetonnia responded to this reality by suing for peace under lenient terms, allowing them to become imperials vassals and keep much of their local laws and nobility. Eirsyus turned to a path of darker and darker magic to grasp for victory at any cost, and their kingdom collapsed.

Khetonnia became part of the Empire, though nowadays that mostly just means the Dutchess of Tides (local ruler over the island) sends a shipfull of taxes back to the Continent once a year.

(The Isle of Kheyus, a map by the talented, and licensed for commercial use. I’ll be making it up before the game starts, but this is a great starting point. You can travel three hexes on a road in a day, or two hexes cross-country, or one through forest or mountains which may also require a check to actually make progress.)

More recently The Bloodletter Wars, about a century ago, involved a lot of fighting on Kheyus and in and around Tidegate. The Bloodletter Dominion was an expansionist eldritch force that used rituals blood sacrifices of sapient creatures to gain permanent magic powers, and intended to conquer the world to serve as endless cattle. The Band of Bloodletters is the last, sad remnant of that force, and they lack the rituals that impowered the original Dominion. Almost everyone agrees defeating the Bloodletter Dominion was a war of necessity.

Current State of Affairs
Since the Bloodletter Wars, it’s been pretty quiet around Tidegate. There are wolves and even wargs in the woods, ogres and trolls in the mountains, drakes in the wilds, and smugglers, thieves, and pirates in the streets and waters, and sometimes a more powerful creature comes over the Keystone Mountains, but actual attacks are rare.
In general, areas within bowshot of a major settlement are considered reasonable safe day and night, and minor settlements and even farmsteads are considered safe within sight of a building during the day, and within a structure at night. Roads are lightly patrolled, but don’t need much more than that, and groups of travelers who are big enough to maintain a campfire and at least one person on watch (or who have dogs or similar guard animals) are generally able to safely travel. The closer to the coast and roads you are the safer you are, and the closer to the mountains or deeper into the woods you are, the more dangerous it is.

Cities and Towns
Seagrace: The capitol of Kheyus is Seagrace, located in the middle of the southern shore where the Sweetwater River flows into the ocean. This is the home of the Duchess of Tides, current lady of Kheyus, vassal of the Continental Empire, and scion of the princes of old Khetonnia. It is the only true city on the island, the only place locally with drydocks and shipyards able to handle big ships, has the deepest harbor, and is an Imperial Fleet naval base in addition to being a major trade port.
Fishport: The second largest settlement on the island is Fishport, located on the northeastern shore of Tempest Bay. Fishport is a major fishing town, and the boats there can bring in much more than enough to feed all of Kheyus’s population, and export a tremendous amount of salt fish, kelp, shellfish, and a small volume of pearls to Tidegate, much of which then go by land to Seagrace. The tides in Tempest Bay can turn nasty even when the weather is nice, and trading ships avoid it though the locals seem to have a sixth sense for what days to not go on the water.
Tidegate: Tidegate is the third largest settlement on the island, a fair-sized town that was once an independent city-state before the Bloodletter Wars. It’s long since demilitarized, with its town walls dilapidated and in some cases converted to businesses, and farms growing up right up to its borders. Tidegate is a much more convenient (and less expensive) port of call for ships traveling along the circle Trade Route, but it’s a shallow harbor that can only handle mid-sized ships and lacks full shipyards and such. The combination of tradewinds and regular, calm currents allows ships to maneuver in and out of Tidegate in less than an hour, while any seatrip to Seagrace takes at least a day to get in, and a day to get out. Those smaller ships that can manage Tidegates waters and don’t need greater services stop here for fresh water and supplies, often leaving the same day they arrive but the volume of trade remains far below what is found at Seagrace.

There is a massive Circle Trade between the five Great Powers of the world, the timing and direction of which is heavily influenced by the Tradewinds. The Empire on the Continent is one major leg of this Circle Trade, and four even-more-distant kingdoms represent four other major segments. Each leg is an area rich in a major, strategic resource that is rare in the other regions. Beginning with Iron on the Continental Empire, the trade goods are then Firestone (needed to make explosives and gunpowder), Steelweave (silken cloth that is resistant to fire, tears, and wear, making the best clothes, sails, and rope), Black Sugar (an alchemical material that can be processed into sweeteners, spices, and drugs), and finally Spell Salt (able to be used to fulfill any consumable crafting or spell component cost). This means there’s a regular influx of Spell Salt into the Continental Empire, including Khesus, making mastercraft materials, toolkits, medicinals, and consumable magic items fairly common. However, since Firestone has to go all round the world before coming the the Continental Empire, bombs and firearms are much rarer on Khesus (though not unknown).

(Worldmap, in progress. Created using Azagaar’s Fantasy World Map Generator. Likely only part of the world, but I may never define anything beyond this. I haven’t had time to do more than click a few buttons, but since I am building my campaign based on existing resources, that’s fine. Kheyus is the 273-mile wide island in the middle of the as-yet-unnamed northern central sea. The “Continental Empire” is the northwestern section of the continent to the east of Kheyus, and the five major trade regions are the northern and southern sections of the two big continents, and all of the smaller central-southern continent.)

Modeled New England/Northern Europe. Cold winters, storms not uncommon, hurricanes rare but known, tornadoes extremely rare, warm-to-hit summers but rarely dangerously hot, lovely springs, wet autumns. Storms can be serious.

Much like this quick look at the island of Khesus, tomorrow I present a quickstart gazetteer of Tidegate, the town the player characters all begin in.


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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 3: Themes and Baselines

Furthering the discussion of my new PF2 campaign, “Gatekeepers,” I want to discuss some of the themes and baseline setting ideas the players and I settled on in Session 0. This isn’t a detailed rundown of the world (I haven’t even named the “Continental Empire,” yet), but it’s supposed to give my players enough of a feel they can figure out how their character concepts fit into the starting area of the campaign.

(I’m not saying the party is going to face a dragon in the first session, or even first story arc… but “powerful monster threatens your whole homeland” is certainly on-theme for the kind of game I’m planning. Art by nyothep.)

Players all all 1st level and likely not yet proper “adventurers,” though they are seen as competent and skilled for their age group and social strata –someone neighbors and friends may go to for help if overwhelmed. They are all from the same town (“Tidegate”) and may or may not be friends, but they are at least all familiar with one another. Players can expect that simply being basically good people of reasonable bravery and competence is going to get them involved in the campaign — the opportunity to put their foot on the path of adventure will come to them.

While there isn’t anything definite set up yet, the players noted they’d enjoy having a base of operations to work out of, and I promised to accommodate that in time. So while individual adventures may take them anywhere, the players can expect to get to a place they think of as a fairly safe home both often and regularly with downtime activities an option there.

Mid-high fantasy. Minor magic and consumable magic items are fairly commonplace. Permanent magic items are more rare. In part this is a nod to the optional rules in use — with automatic bonus progression, the campaign doesn’t need easy access to runes for weapons and armor, and I don’t expect to have magic shops of weapons, armor, crystal balls, and so on. However, alchemists, herbalists, and wizards are considered scholarly experts and may well have talismans, tinctures, potions, scrolls, and other consumable magic for sale. But a magic sword? If they really exist, you may never have seen one. And anything that seems very well-crafted or lucky may be described as “magic.” Old Matron Coglie, who always wins the prize crop awards at the autumn faire? Her plow is described as ‘magic,” with varying degrees of being serious about it.

The campaign’s starting point, Tidegate, is a minor stop on a major trade route, and has grown to be a diverse and liberal settlement. It contains numerous different ancestries, and while individual assholes may well have weird hang-ups, there are no societal biases against any ancestry, sexuality, gender presentation, or ethnicity. There are biases against some specific groups of choice — for example the Band of Bloodletters may see themselves as a positive force for keeping populations and kingdoms strong, but are seen as murderous psychopaths locally and anyone associated with them (even if, for example, your brother became one and you didn’t) is likely to be mistrusted in Tidegate.

The baseline culture will be Northern European in inspiration, but tons of elements from other societies are known, and some have taken root to be considered typical or even “local.” Further, different cultural norms aren’t automatically looked down on just because they are different — Tidegate has benefited from adopting a lot of foreign people, concepts, tools, and even philosophies, and is open to learning more.

There are no languages, or cultures, tied to a specific mortal species. “Common,” as a language, is a trade tongue that has developed due to a world-spanning trade system. The Continental Empire happens to have elves as its Imperial Family, and thus the language spoken throughout their lands is “Elven,” but anyone from the Continental Empire likely speaks Elven, and elves native to the major world power that happens to be united under a dwarven king likely speak “Dwarven” rather than “Elven.”
Planar and magic languages are a different matter, and things like Abyssal and Necril are actually innate magical forms of communication specifically suited to expressing the concepts common to the entities that instinctively undertsand them. These tongues can be learned by mortals, but it is time-consuming and difficult.

The baseline is the default gods of the Second Edition Pathfinder Core Rulebook, who are common among all five the world’s Great Empires and six Lesser Kingdoms, and became “standard” during the Bloodletter Wars of a century ago. They are thus all called the Modern Gods. All those gods that are not evil are generally welcome in all those nations, and even some acknowledgement and appeasement (rather than “worship”) of the evil ones is generally tolerated.

There are Ancient Gods… but most people don’t know the names of any. They’re largely seen as being irrelevant anymore. They mostly get mentioned when someone is cussing (“By All The Ancient Gods!”).

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