Designer’s Diary: White Haired Man – Kith’takharos (OGL & Savage Worlds)


Kith’takharos
Kith’takharos is a full setting for use with OGL systems and Savage Worlds published by White Haired Man.
By Dave Przybyla and Michael Galligan

Welcome to the twenty-ninth Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product. If you’d like to share your product in the Designer’s Diary column, send a message to aaron@roleplayerschronicle.com.

White Haired Man is comprised of two people: Dave Przybyla and Michael Galligan. Dave’s responsibilities include writing, web site maintenance, blog posts, Fantasy Grounds module creation, and Visionary. Michael’s responsibilities include art, art direction, graphic design for both print and PDF, cartography, and marketing. We both contribute ideas.

Answers specific to Dave or Michael will be indicated.

Designer’s Description.
Kith’takharos is a small town in the middle of a swamp, with an economy based on the harvesting of rare and unusual plants. An organization called the Order of the Jade Leaf maintains a monopoly on the harvesting of these plants, and processes them into valuable drugs, potions, and salves available from no other source. The Order sells these products to a consortium of merchants called the Transit Guild, who distribute them to the world beyond the swamp.

These are facts that any visitor to Kith’takharos would soon learn. But there are many more aspects that combine to make Kith’takharos intriguing.

First, there are multiple contending factions in and around Kith’takharos. Even though the Jade Leaf trades with the Transit Guild, these organizations are not friends and the tension between them permeates throughout Kith’takharos. Outlaws called poachers prey on Jade Leaf plant harvesters and shipments. The swamp natives, reptilian humanoids known as Swamp Men, claim most of the swamp as their own. Although one Swamp Man tribe is friendly with Kith’takharos, few inhabitants understand Swamp Man culture or language and the natives remain mysterious.

Second, the swamp environment offers a challenge, from the brutal heat and humidity to exotic plants and animals. Water is everywhere in meandering channels, pools, and even the large body called the Big Water. Most journeys of any distance use small flat bottomed boats propelled by wooden poles. Travel is seldom in a straight line, and ten miles as the crow flies can easily require a day of circuitous poling.

Third, a thousand years in the past, a reptilian civilization known as the Harlass Orn inhabited the swamp. The Swamp Men call the Harlass Orn the Forebears, and revere their memory. The remnants of Harlass Orn structures and treasures figure prominently in our Kith’takharos adventures.

Finally, in terms of a product, Kith’takharos is a small-scale setting with five full-length adventures. In the next question we explain what we mean by a small-scale setting.

Purpose.
Both of us in White Haired Man have been gamemasters for many years. Like many gamemasters, we have sometimes wanted an adventure, area, or idea to flesh out a portion of our campaigns. We were not interested in a full-blown setting, but something much smaller. That thought led us to develop the idea of a small-scale setting and eventually Kith’takharos.

The Kith’takharos setting map only measures about ten by fifteen miles. Although we have run all five Kith’takharos adventures many times, we have seldom ventured off the map. If a gamemaster already has a campaign world that contains a swamp, Kith’takharos should easily fit without requiring significant alterations of the world.

Still, we could have chosen other small-settings as our first foray into roleplaying products. In addition to its compact size, the Kith’takharos setting is unusual. How many campaigns contain extended adventuring in a swamp? Not many, which is another thing that drew us to Kith’takharos.

Influences.
Dave:
I started roleplaying in 1980. Like many roleplayers, over the years I’ve purchased a lot of rules systems, adventures, and supplements. I’ve also read hundreds of science fiction and history books. I’m sure that all these things have contributed to my outlook and the things I create.

Yet one influence in particular sticks out: EarthDawn. I played EarthDawn from 1994-2002. On the one hand, EarthDawn had very grim aspects, describing a world filled with evil Horrors and their constructs, and where the various races were forced to spend centuries in magically protected shelters. On the other hand, EarthDawn encourages larger than life characters that perform legendary deeds. The EarthDawn outlook still infuses my thinking, and I naturally bring this aspect to our work. In particular, I think this is very clearly seen in the fourth and fifth Kith’takharos adventures.

I have been reading Science Fiction since I was eight years old. There are many good authors and I’ve probably taken something from many of them even if I don’t realize it. But I think the most prominent influences are Roger Zelazny and Philip K. Dick. I was always fascinated with Zelazny’s sentence structure and the way he handled action in his best books. I also appreciate the way Dick played with perception and reality, which can be a great aid to setting the mood in a roleplaying game.

Michael: My first immersion into roleplaying took place in the fall of 1981. After a few years of playing I started writing adventures and submitting them to Dragon Magazine. Though none of these were published at the time I learned a great deal by going through the process.

I cut my teeth playing AD&D first edition, though Traveller and its well-designed pamphlets were at least equally entertaining. Since those days I’ve tried many systems: Rolemaster, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Fringeworthy, D&D in all its versions, including its latest stinker 4th Edition, Pathfinder, and Savage Worlds to name a few.

Other important literary influences were J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings), Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time), Isaac Asimov (Foundation), Roger Zelazny (Amber), and Larry Niven (Known Space books, especially Ring World).

Research.
Dave:
First, I will just discuss research for Kith’takharos. I experience part of this research. I live in southwest Florida, where heat and humidity dominate most of the year. I encounter animals and plants similar to those near Kith’takharos. While creating Kith’takharos, I exaggerated some of these aspects of my own environment.

I am also an athlete. Sweat, heat, and fatigue figure prominently in some of our adventures, and I deeply understand these things.

Finally, I read about certain types of plants and animals, such as leeches, alligators, and carnivorous plants. Some of those realistic aspects found their way into our creatures.

Even though a certain amount of realism is desired, and can be aided by research and life experiences, Kith’takharos is a small-scale setting for fantasy roleplaying games. We don’t let reality get in the way of our imaginations.

Beyond Kith’takharos, I really enjoy reading books about history. When we sit down to create a setting or adventure, all that information about past peoples and events swirls around in my head and helps to add verisimilitude to our work. Even fantasy needs some grounding in the reality of being human.

Michael: I spend quite a bit of time considering how White Haired Man might become a staple in the industry with adventure content, and I believe gamesters are the key. Gamemasters are typically quite creative and more than willing to design their own worlds and adventures. So why would any GM value content they didn’t create? The answer lies in the question: could we develop material that a GM would value? A short list of value points might look like: saving time, money, hassle, while providing dynamic encounters, hours of fun, and memories that might last a lifetime. This is exactly what we strive to provide, thus our slogan “Unforgettable Adventures”. In addition, our content is seeded with many latent hooks, just waiting for clever players to latch onto, which in turn fuels the gamemaster to create new material of his own.

Art Direction.
Michael
: I want the artwork to resonate with the adventure. It should excite both the gamemaster and players. Each adventure contains special moments where an illustration may serve to help anchor the memory in the players mind. Of course creating all the maps, cover art, and interior illustrations is a challenging process. I often offer illustration work to other artists so that the quality and quantity of artwork may co-exist alongside Dave’s incredible writing.

An example might be found in the Dorian Orsova illustration in The Missing Harvesters adventure. There is a passage that describes how worn down and tired Dorian is. How often do you get to illustrate an overworked half-elf government administrator in a gaming book? I sent the idea to one of our featured artists, Devin Night. A few weeks later, this haggard looking half-elf arrived, sitting at his desk with our regional map hanging on the wall behind him (see above). Not only did this piece do what I needed it to, it came back to me steeped with elements of Kith’takharos that I had not originally conceived. Since then I’ve always tried to leave room for our artists to imagine with us.

Gaming Experience.
Our work reflects the roleplaying styles we enjoy: a low level of magic, high drama, intense roleplaying opportunities, and realistic consequences for character actions. We must stay true to the types of adventures that generate our passion for roleplaying, and hope that others will be equally as excited.

Characters, and by extension the players controlling them, want choices that can affect adventures in a meaningful way. We strive to create adventures that offer character choices. The choices should be engaging, and the adventures should contain consequences for those choices. The variety of outcomes that result when we run our adventures leads us to believe we have succeeded.

We also include embellishments, additional information, and alternatives that gamemasters can turn into further adventures. Even if the gamemaster does not directly use these, hopefully they will help generate new ideas.

Comparison.
Dave:
This is a difficult question to answer. With one exception, as a gamemaster I have always created my own settings. However, I did run a short campaign in Eberron, where I actually placed Kith’takharos in Q’barra. So this is one example of how a gamemaster can insert Kith’takharos into an ongoing campaign.

Except for Eberron and the Barsaive of EarthDawn, I’m not very familiar with any other settings. And both of those are on a much greater scale than Kith’takharos. So I really don’t know of any products similar to Kith’takharos. I think we have our own niche.

Development Process.
Dave:
I do not want to discuss the minutiae of development. I think this will miss the point of what is really important in our creative process. I would rather mention the foundation upon which we develop settings and adventures that we want to play.

First, in my opinion, the most important aspect is testing. It doesn’t matter how we organize product development if we don’t play it ourselves. We used Kith’takharos as our own setting multiple times before it ever became a product. All of the adventures were played in some form, although they were fine-tuned for release. I’ve run at least three Kith’takharos campaigns myself, including one that just went on hiatus. And every time the players have enjoyed the experience, so I have confidence that we’ve got something good.

Second, we are completely open about all aspects of development. This means that we are honest with one another, and can speak the truth without worrying about hurt feelings. We understand that unfettered criticism in essential to creating the highest quality settings and adventures. There can be no other way.

White Haired Man Products

The Kith’takharos setting is available for free in a system neutral format at http://www.whitehairedman.com/kithtakharos. The setting and adventures are available with either OGL or Savage Worlds game mechanics at http://www.whitehairedman.com/kithtakharos-products. We offer our products in two primary formats: PDFs and modules for the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop software.

We are currently working on a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game conversion of the Kith’takharos setting and all the adventures. We also plan to provide ebooks of our products in the ePub format, as well as a print-on-demand option. These are big plans, and we are very excited about them.

Share this post:

Related Posts