“I was eight years old,” Satine Phoenix reveals, about her first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons. “I found the starter box in my basement. It had my Dad’s old characters […]
“I was eight years old,” Satine Phoenix reveals, about her first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons. “I found the starter box in my basement. It had my Dad’s old characters in it from the early 80s, and I just fell in love. I just made these characters and I roleplayed by myself until high school when I found people playing in drama club and I was like: ‘I finally have people to play with!'”
Jamison Stone discovered the magic of tabletop RPGs at a similarly early age. “I started playing in grade school,” he tells me. “I started primarily with White Wolf games – Vampire [The Masquerade], Mage The Ascension and Werewolf [The Apocalypse] – and then also Shadowrun. I really enjoyed the wild creativity of Mage – you can kind of do anything you want, but then there’s ramifications where the world kind of pushes back on you. You can still kind of do anything, you’re just going to have to pay the price for it! I really enjoyed that ‘theater of the mind’ gaming style.”
I spoke to Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone about their Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition setting and campaign guide Sirens: Battle of the Bards, for which they’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Set in the vertically designed, multi-layered city of Salvata, a haven of creativity and artistic expression, Sirens: Battle of the Bards is – as its title suggests – a setting that focuses on one of the lesser-used and perhaps even misunderstood D&D character classes, the Bard.
Salvata as a setting seems to be a culturally inclusive and artistically fulfilling environment. Bards themselves have always, – to me at least, seemed to be almost like the rock stars of the D&D world. Placing them in a city like Salvata – a shimmeringly beautiful, bohemian and creative place that does still have layers of darkness – is such an appealing concept. Where did the inspiration for this come from? “I went to art school in San Francisco,” Phoenix explains. “By living in San Francisco, I got to really breathe the art. I moved to Los Angeles; what is Los Angeles? It’s full of Bards! These aren’t just rock stars. These are artists, muralists, actors, writers, Foley engineers who make sound effects, compositors – people you never see out in public! Makeup artists, artists who create the environment for a set…it’s all Bards!” This explanation – and expansion – of who and what Bards are (and can be) is something many players don’t consider. “We’ve broken it down to introverted and extroverted bards, they’re people who want to participate but maybe they don’t want to perform – and that’s okay,” Phoenix continues. “This whole place [Salvata] is just full of culture and art and it breathes life. I’ve lived in all these major metropolitan cities my whole life – you can’t help but feel the creativity around you and it’s inspiring. In San Francisco, you can just be walking down the street on a Wednesday night, pop into a corner and boom, there’s an art installation, someone’s doing a performance or you walk into a coffee shop and there’s a ton of people on their computers – writing and programming.”
This notion of Bards as creative people of all kinds, rather than just the more extroverted, noticeable, musical Bard, feeds into the very fabric of Salvata’s design.”We really want to embrace that. So by going to Salvata, you’re getting to see things like the Salvata Bardic University with multiple colleges in it, like the School of Geometry. That’s for very introverted Bards who’ll be sitting there and building,” Phoenix tells me. “We have a Grand Architect of the city who uses sacred geometry and math – math is sexy if you know how to use it right; it’s so creative and beautiful.” How does that impact the aesthetic of Salvata? “Using sacred geometry, we actually based Salvata’s design on Metatron’s Cube [a geometric figure often used as a spiritual and meditative aid],” Phoenix says. “We have this awesome design for the logo of Salvata which is the platonic solids from Metatron’s Cube – including the D10, because, you know, dice!”
The layers of the city are similarly detailed, with a huge variety of experiences depending on how high you go. As Phoenix explains, “the first disc is somewhere that’s like Epcot Center Disney, but it’s a celebration of art. As you move up the different districts, you get to experience different kinds of art and themes, as each one was created 100 years after the other, and for different purposes.” Stone elaborates on this: “There’s more magically infused art too – in the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition world, we have artists actually leverage magic, so as they go higher up in the city, [they’re] also involving elemental planes.” There’s so many possibilities for creative and unique visuals that players may not have envisaged before. “What would a wizard artist look like? Imagine all the amazing work that these people would create,” Stone says – though this magical creativity can come with a price. “Within the city when you have such bright creative lights, those lights obviously cast very long and dark shadows,” he explains. The real world parallels to artistry vs commercial interests are deliberate, as Stone elaborates: “Some of our main antagonists’ energies within the city are like what you’d find in LA, unfortunately – people trying to take advantage of these creative types, being more monetarily and control focused – that’s kind of the push-pull tension point within the story.” It’s much more than just clever social allegory though, as Stone goes on to tell me. “It’s also an epic adventure involving some fiends, devils and demons coming in, really trying to wreak havoc upon this place of beauty and magic.”
He expands upon this further as we talk about the level of detail in the campaign and the setting in general. “We wanted to lean into a campaign setting that involves the actual foundation of the city. Salvata has ten disks and they build a new disk every 100 years. The origin of how the city came about was: it was an oasis out in the middle of the desert that Druids found. The Druids gave thanks up to the heavens – and the gods above then infused that oasis with magic. It became a gathering place for Druids – and Bards too – due to the magical quality of the water.” He continues with an overview of how Salvata developed over time: “After multiple generations, they started to give ritual to once again try and coax these gods to continue to infuse this magical water in the oasis – and it continued to work. So every 100 years they had this grand invocation.” It doesn’t always go smoothly though, as Stone explains. “On the third cycle it didn’t work; the gods were not impressed – they’re like ‘you got to switch it up if you want us to give you our divine blessing.'” This is where the Bards come in, as Stone continues. “They say ‘We’re pretty good at putting on a show, we’re pretty charismatic – let us handle it!’ So they started really kind of institutionalizing these great, grand invocations.”
So that’s a very rough guideline of the history of Salvata, but where do our characters find themselves when they enter the setting? “Our story takes place in the thousandth year. It’s the end; there’ll be no more invocations, and so they know that they will no longer charge their oasis with this magical quality,” he continues. “We have a character, the Great Chancellor – his name is Calrath – who’s trying to create a system where there’s no need for the infusion every hundred years. He knows that’s going to end and tries to create a capping stone, like a battery that’ll self charge. Unfortunately we have antagonists called the Emerald Cabal. They’re from Satine’s Sirens series; they’re one of the many evil groups from Sirens, so they’re pre-existing within that world.”
The book does of course have Sirens right there in the title – so the connection to the adventures that Satine Phoenix DMs (in a web series that has been running since 2017) isn’t unexpected. The characters from the Sirens series do appear in the book and it’s an aspect that Phoenix is keen to highlight. “I’m really excited; it allows all the people who are watching it or to make a band and be a part of it, without being Sirens. They’re the ones that are the adventuring team, and they [the fans] get to look at the Sirens; how they performed, how they roleplayed – and then can emulate it or do something completely different.” Stone adds: “They know of Sirens from the web series – and to have fans be able to play in that same world and to utilize that the previous Sirens characters as NPCs, I think that’s really cool!”
Sirens: Battle of the Bards is more than just a lavishly produced, beautifully illustrated book that allows players to explore and adventure in a unique setting, however. There’s a full orchestral soundtrack too, featuring music from Godhead singer-songwriter Jason Charles Miller. Syrinscape are also providing a full musical soundset for the campaign and the setting will also be supported by a number of virtual tabletop (VTT) platforms, such as Roll 20, Fantasy Grounds, Shard and Foundry VTT (and more, as Stone revealed: “I think we have the most VTT ports on our Kickstarter page than any other any other tabletop game!”). The Kickstarter campaign also has a number of really exciting higher end tiers, including the chance to play D&D in a game with Satine Phoenix as the DM – in a real castle!
It’s an absolutely fascinating project that is steeped in brilliant world-building – and it’s clear that a phenomenal level of care and attention has gone into its creation. Both Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone have clearly infused the book with their passion, creativity and inspiringly artistic worldview – in collaboration with the ten core writers (and guest writers, including actress Deborah Ann Woll, best known for her appearances in True Blood and the Netflix/Marvel Daredevil series – as well as a foreword from Luke Gygax, son of D&D creator Gary Gygax). With an inclusive and diverse setting that really does seem as if it’ll be hugely inspiring for DMs and players, I genuinely can’t wait to see the book’s magic unleashed.
Many thanks to Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone for taking the time to chat to me; we spoke about an awful lot more than I’ve been able to cover here and our full discussion will soon be available on Satine’s YouTube channel.
You can find Sirens: Battle of the Bards on Kickstarter here.
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