Touchstones and Inspirations

In that spirit, I’m going to post some music, images, and other stuff to hopefully inspire thoughts about fantasy backgrounds for session 0. A lot of this will be FFXIV because it really is that good, but I’m not limiting myself to that. Here goes!

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Looking forward to this list. Have a few of my own to add, but I’ll wait until I get home from work to do it justice.

Music and visuals from FFXIV:

The Shadowbringers Titania fight (spoilers for this expansion). An encounter against corrupted faerie royalty, whimsical and cruel.

The Crystarium theme 2. A city on the precipice of destruction, whose proud people carefully nurture hope.

Amh Araeng theme 1. A desert at the frontier of the apocalypse. Slow, thoughtful, ancient ruins and hardy people.

The Rak’tika Greatwood. The mysterious forest of the Night’s Blessed. A dream-haunted elven woodland.

The Burn. A land drained of its aether, an echo and a warning.

Ala Mhigo theme. The heroes arrive to save a city besieged by darkness.

Ravana theme 1. Battle against the god of the insect-men.

Bismarck theme 1. Face the sky-whale aboard a flying island.

Ramuh theme. The sylphs’ forest god challenges you to prove your mettle. Slow, dreamy vocals.

The Great Gubal Library. An airy tour through a monster-infested library in search of wisdom.

The 789th Order theme. The camp of the cowardly kobolds.

Aleport, near Limsa Lominsa, the City of Pirates.

The Burning Wall and the Floating City of Nym.

Dragon mount theme (Borderless). Anticipation and wonder, high above the churning mists.


More assorted music.

Pyroxene of the Heart, from Eternal Sonata (a fantasy adventure playing itself out in the dying dream of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin).

City Ruins, from Nier: Automata. A forgotten city reclaimed by nature, inhabited by animals and purposeless golems.

Birth of a Wish. “We shall be as gods.”

Amusement Park. A spectacle in the middle of emptiness, an awakening of man’s memories by beings who were never human.

Ori and the Blind Forest’s “Light of Nibel”. A child of light ventures into the darkness, but not alone.

Skies of Arcadia’s “Blue Rogues’ Ship”. Sail as air pirates across an endless expanse of clouds!

Legend of Mana’s OST is top from start to finish Here’s “Moonlit City Roa”, some mystical village music.

The Two Predictions - Lucemia. If you need a song for saving the world, this is it.

Saber’s Edge from FF13. I’ve linked this a few times before, but it’s epic fantasy music so there you are.

I have a whole Pinterest board for worlds. Some examples from that:

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My own personal touchstones going into this:

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
A fairly standard swords and sorcery JRPG that wouldn’t seem out of place in someone’s D&D campaign.

And then the androids show up (one of whom runs the climate control satellite that maintains the environment)…

…and then the artificial new lifeforms (called Numen, coincidentally enough) created by the artificial intelligence SEED.

Also the big bad, the Profound Darkness, is a great example of both the dark master secret (since his lieutenant Zio seems like the true big bad until he’s defeated, even killing one of the party members during their first encounter), and a non-zombie version of the Scourge army, as the Darkness turns otherwise docile creatures into terrible monsters and corrupts otherwise friendly archeologists into body-horror monsters.

Plus, I mean, look at this guy…

Final Fantasy 9
All the Final Fantasies are also great examples (as Bill has pointed out in with his musical selection), but I cannot imagine a better example.

One of your party members, Quina, is possibly the oddest example of the Dwarf playbook I could find. Probably the Stoneborn, the most definately have “Good for What Ales You” and “Greed is Good” (usually focusing on food-based valuables than material wealth).

Also, half way through the game, you have a great example of someone making a bond with a Threat to the World which winds up joining forces with the Fellowship.

Finally, look at this antagonist (using specific phrasing here for story reasons). Always such fun character designs in these games.

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The iconic Pair

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Thinking larger inspirations for now, less about playbooks and more about settings (realizing a lot of the setting will be built out by you all).

The book mentions AtLA, which is great, and also Wakfu, which is really great for this kind of thing also, and beneficial brain-fodder for being a bit weirder than SEF - a race of teleporters. Demonic weapons sassing their owners. Literal plant people. Also a Big Bad who is very much a character and not some kind of epic unknowable force (see: Sauron).

Given how much the book talks about the goal being building bonds with locations/societies/cultures as being The Point of the quest and the way to defeat the Overlord, it’s almost suspiciously weird that Dragon Age: Origins (or Mass Effect) isn’t mentioned as inspiration material - DA: O especially is practically the blueprint for a Fellowship game with an Overlord/Scourge. Has anyone else played that?

I love the idea of pushing out away from SEF, so talking animals (isn’t Beast a thing? I thought I remembered that from an interview with the author), flying ships, steam-powered golems (or gollums), cyborgs, INFOSEC by way of encoded magical communication crystals… bring it.

One thing about Incorporating the Weird.

I want the world to fill lived in, so when we bring the stuff that’s weird to us, what I’m going to aim at or ask for is a world in which the weird stuff is something that is NOT weird to most people. Like, let it be weird to us, but for the setting it’s just… how things are.

Here’s a thought I’m still unpacking, but: the stuff that’s actually weird and off and strange from the POV of the world and its inhabitants should, I think, originate from acts of the Overlord. Thoughts?

This got brought up a few times as an example in the PbtA, but I think it falls a bit too much into the grim side of things rather than the lighthearted, optimist take that Fellowship has.

Technically, any of the playbooks could be talking animals (though the Beast definitely has the strongest ties to them). In fact, one of the actual plays I listened to for this game has the Squire as a red panda with a cybernetic arm.

Weird isn’t exactly the tone I’m going for, but fairy tale-ish. My hope is that the game feels like a Miyazaki film looks. Maybe an unrealistic hope, but my hope regardless.

Probably. There is a section of character generation when we talk about rumors we’ve heard about the other cultures, which I think is definitely adds in “this culture is weird to me or my people” but just due to unfamiliarity more than anything. Also a good time to sneak in possible Sources of Power for the Overlord to be hunting down.

That makes perfects sense. “… The World … is Changed …” “All that changed with the Fire Nation attacked.” “I HATE THE ‘NEW NORMAL.’” Etc.

The only caveat I’d throw out there regarding Weird stuff (to us, the players), is I’m sure we can come up with something as cloud-cuckoo as Lewis Carroll dropping acid with Dali, but I’m not sure that will make for make for the best play. If the rules of the world (and the characters) are too outre, it makes it difficult for us to play them as normal, know what to expect, understand how things work together, etc.

The advantage to a relatively common setting (something Tolienesque, something Star Warsish, something cyberpunky, something super-heroic) is that I can apply brain cycles to doing fun, clever, imaginative stuff and have some idea of how it should work out because I functionally understand the universe.

Which isn’t to say we need something canned, but mixing in too many flavorful bits might bring it its own issues.

I feel confident we can hit a good mix of fanciful and unexpected without drifting too far into Gonzo and nonsensical :slight_smile:

A good reason to bring up expectations during session 0 and regularly check in. When someone is commanding lore, and something sounds a little too gonzo, saying “Hey that’s a cool idea, but I don’t know how I’m going to play with that” is a good way to reel in things.

And I know Doyce had talked about that sort of thing as being hard before so, if everyone’s okay with it, I’ll check in every few games to see how everything is going (though obviously that doesn’t mean do your own check in if you feel like it; more communication, consent, and marking of boundaries is always better than less).


That can definitely work.

Speaking of my previous comments of fairy tales, my frequent inspiration for these sort of things has been the Myths & Legends Podcast. Lots of good stories, though I definitely recommend listening to the story of the Nightingale Robber or the Fool of the World (both Slavic folktales) for some interesting tales.

Another bit of inspiration.

Thomas Romain is an animator who turns his two sons’ drawings into professional pieces of artwork.

While cool on its own, look at some of these characters. I feel they’d be right at home as PC’s, supporting characters, and antagonists in any Fellowship game.

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Dave’s cat guy has been occupying some brain cycles.

Concepts from a dark fairy tale graphic novel “Those Who Stay” written by me and amazingly drawn by my dear friend Jakub Rebelka aka @shzrebelka! 

Some halflings ride spiders - some halflings ride things that eat spiders.


More fairy taleish.


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Since the Evil Overlord list was mentioned earlier, I’m going to counter with its opposite: The Grand List of Console RPG Cliches. While some of these are hokey, others are beloved staples of fantasy and might be worth including in a game.

I am reading this by bits and pieces (it is long), but it is intensely funny.

Enjoy. The Sabin Rule is a personal favorite.