Riders of the Black Steppe

Round 2: Create a new organization

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Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

8 people marked this as a favorite.

Riders of the Black Steppe
Alignment: LE
Headquarters: Nomadic
Leader: Medekgu Khan
Structure: Tribal hierarchy
Scope: National
Resources: disciplined cavalry, pact with Leng, seven spellcasters with shantak mounts

As the empire of Lung Wa collapsed, a small army of outlaws and exiles led by a cabal of spellcasters seeking forbidden power scaled the dizzying heights of the Wall of Heaven and forged a pact with the Denizens of Leng. The pact allows the Riders right of passage through the Black Steppe, otherwise known as the dread plateau of Leng. The Riders use this boon to launch surprise raids against foreign traders anywhere between Goka and the Spirit Road, after which they melt away across the planar boundary with plunder and prisoners. By the terms of the pact, the wealth is theirs to keep but the prisoners belong to the Denizens of Leng.

Structure and Leadership

Medekgu Khan is a shrewd commander but shares his power with his stern Elder Oracle Odtsetseg and her circle of spellcasters, each of whom earns his or her place by taming a shantak as their mount. Beneath them are four baga bhod who each command a company of about fifty mounted fighters. Most are Tian-Las, but exceptional prisoners are sometimes offered membership. To reinforce their membership in the group and confuse divination attempts, newly recruited Riders choose new names, often with meanings like “Nobody” or “Not this one.”


The original Riders’ plan was to seize control of trade between Tian Xia and the western continents and become extravagantly wealthy, but as the years went by the Denizens of Leng demanded an ever higher price for their privilege. The current generation of Riders have had to capture more prisoners than ever before to satisfy their alien creditors. Some individuals are troubled but as a group they remain fiercely nationalistic and convinced their efforts benefit the horse lords and herders they claim to represent.

Public Perception

The Riders of the Black Steppe are cruel to outsiders, but often stop to share their spoils with Tian-La tribes. Although the Riders are welcomed when they bring gifts, the order to “go ride the black steppe” from your tribal elders is considered a severe punishment. Kiriltai Khan sees them as a growing threat to his authority, but they are notoriously elusive and the Khan is reluctant to invest the resources needed to track them down.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Welcome to RPG Superstar, Sam. It's time to raise your game. The contest takes on an entirely different spin at this level. As judges we're here to comment on your work, both in the hopes of guiding you in honing your game design skills, and also to help the voting public assess how you measure up. But ultimately, they're the ones you need to satisfy. With that in mind, I'm going to talk a bit about what you did well, and where I think you'll still need to demonstrate growth. So, let's see what we've got...

I already like the name. The Riders of the Black Steppe just sound cool. The title oozes flavor. But these aren't just any riders. Seven of them have tamed shantak mounts capable of traveling the void of outer space. And the connection to Leng and Tian Xia is a nice addition as well. This is a good, flavorful foundation upon which to build your idea and help it stand out. Is it gonzo? Yeah, a little bit. But it's gonzo with mojo. And it works.

There's some stuff here that gave me pause, though. Some of the names trip me up a bit. Medekgu and Odtsetseg are rough to sound out in your mind as you're reading along. While naming individuals from exotic cultures pretty much always ensures they'll be a lot different, it's usually best to still make them close enough in pronunciation to something the reader can easily identify with. But that's just my opinion, not a demand any Paizo developer has directly given me as a freelancer before.

Also, I found the notion of confusing divination attempts by choosing new names for the Riders to be a little odd. Just because you choose to call yourself something different, doesn't mean you can fool all divination magic. That came off feeling a bit more contrived than innovative to me. I don't know. Maybe everyone else will feel differently.

Beyond that, the opportunities for conflict with your Riders of the Black Steppe promises some interesting encounters. Clearly, they're raiders. But they're raiders with an unusual escape route. This is an extraplanar organization that's going to allow GMs to widen how they use them. They can keep the Riders local and then introduce further conflict with them as the PCs rise in level to the point where they can follow after this nemesis into Leng itself. Meanwhile, the abductions and raids give the PCs plenty of reason to do so. And it's also fun to see you design something specifically for Tian Xia. It potentially helps you stand out by doing that, because it's a lot less likely someone will duplicate your effort if they're attracted more strongly to the Inner Sea area of Golarion.

I also like that you've used this organization as a launching pad for bringing PCs into conflict not just with the Riders of the Black Steppe, but the Denizens of Leng themselves. In fact, it's a nice potential twist that even after the PCs finally corner the leaders of the Riders, they'll learn they're really just slaves to the bargain they struck with the Denizens of Leng. The potential is there to then redeem the Riders by helping them escape their pact and side with them against the extraplanar beings. So, it's adventure opportunity stacked on top of adventure opportunity. And I think that's smart design.

Still, this choice is a little niche. Your moonlight flute of the ghost hunter also made a lot references to Tian Xia. Obviously, you take a lot of interest in that region with that entry and this one. However, the greatest element of what I liked about your wondrous item wasn't the Tian Xia flavor. It was the applicability of your flute to haunts in any game and any region of Golarion. So, moving forward, I'd really like to see you separate yourself a bit from the Dragon Empires and show us how broad your repertoire of ideas goes.

Regardless, I DO RECOMMEND this organization advance you to the next round. I'd like to see what else you've got.

In the meantime, it's really up to the voters. If they enjoyed this entry and your moonlight flute of the ghost hunter, they'll hopefully champion you in the actual voting. Best of luck in the exit polls. I hope to see you on the other side.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Sam, welcome to Round 2!

What you are getting from me in this critique: This round is all about conflict and story. I think the best organizations create interesting and compelling groups that will come into conflict with the PCs. My comments, and my recommendation, will focus on how well you do that. My comments will also focus on writing and use of your allotted content in achieving your goals. What you won't get from me: I don't have the total Golarion-fu that Neil and Sean do, so I will leave to them whether you got the nitty gritty details of some of the setting stuff to them (though apparently I did have enough Golarion-fu to know its Pharasmin not Pharasmian, you know who you are).

So here we go!

Initial Impression: Shantak riding inter-planar spell-casting raiders? Sign me up!

Concept (name, title, is it an organization?, overall design choices, is the organization and antagonist and does it create direct conflict for the PCs?, playability): A+
The Good: This is a truly great idea, not only for its coolness but also for its design and playability. There are very few ways to inject some planar fun into a campaign. This group, and the PCs’ conflict with them, is a great doorway to a really awesome and underused part of our game. A really “big idea,” which I love. Man, you swung for the fences and crushed it. Nice! Its entries like this one that are why I volunteer to judge RPG Superstar. Stuff like this gets my creative blood pumping and my geeky gamerness all fired up. Bottom line (and this is good for everyone to take note of): this makes me want to play D&D/Pathfinder. Period. And a submission that does that is a good one in my book. Great name, great concept.
The Not So Good: None.

Execution (quality of writing, hook, theme, organization, use of proper format, quality of mandatory content, did you milk your idea for all it was worth? did you use your allotted space well?): A-
The Good: So I’m gushing over your concept, let’s check your execution. I have to say this is great as well. I disagree with Neil about the new “adopted names” that are “nothing” or variations thereof. Even if it is merely symbolic and doesn’t have a huge game effect, the fact that they do it and more importantly that you thought about it shows me how deep you dived into the creative pool in thinking about this organization. This is a well thought-through submission and it shows not only in the concept but in the execution. Little details like that are not “glittering generalities,” as Neil often points out. That is real deep creative thinking. The writing and formatting is all top notch. This is NOT a first draft (or if it is you sure fooled me). And I’ll just say it: I like reading your writing. I love the tamed shantanks. That is sweet. This is localized but fun. Antagonists for sure. Lots of flavor, well written.
The Not So Good: The only misstep I think is that you didn’t tease us with an evocative location or two—even if just a name of a place where the Riders are from. I know they are riders of the steppes but still, reference a legendary location or something.

Tilt (did it grab me?, is it unique and cool?, do I like it?, flavor, are you showing Superstar mojo?): A+
Grabbed me by my inner geek and shook me. This is good, good stuff. Mojo, thy name is Sam!

Overall: A
The only way to improve on this would be to name them “Raiders” of the Black Steppe (which is what I mistakenly thought you had named them).

Recommendation: I DO recommend this organization submission for advancement.

Sam, I wasn’t totally sold on the flute, but I knew you had something in you and wanted to see what it was. Apparently it was this. Way to raise your level of play and bring your A-game to round 2. Good luck this round and I sure hope the voters like this as much as I do! I was originally going to recommend you back off the Tien links in future rounds, but you know what--go with your gut.


Cool name!

Totally makes sense for the Leng inhabitants to want slaves, and I like the dynamic between the Lengaroos and these raiders.

I think the Dragon Kingdoms flavor is neat, but limits what GMs can use these guys--they're very localized and I don't see them raiding outside their main territory. However, this could also be a cool tie-in to the Rise of the Runelords.

The rules don't really address dodging divinations by changing your name, but as a purely flavor/superstition thing, I can see them doing this (because they THINK it works).

I don't know if you plan to focus your future rounds on Tian Xia content. I'm not sure if doing so will help or harm you--you may attract enough fans of that part of the setting to carry you through the votes, or you may lose because people want stuff in the Inner Sea area. Tough choice!

Anyway, the writing is pretty tight on this entry.

I do recommend this to advance to the next round!

This is a great example of a fantastically well done presentation with extremely limited application.

I like every bit of what you wrote. I just wish you'd figured out a way to make it relevant to the majority of games that never leave the Inner Sea Region. But the contest is for a Golarian organization, not an Inner Sea one so I can't meaningfully ding you on that in my evaluation.

A couple of comments for future consideration:

A lot of these names in your submission are weird and hard to pronounce. I'd think more in the future about having names that your audience will likely be able to say & remember without a struggle.

I recommend that you vote for this designer.

EDIT FROM SEAN: Competitors, remember this item from the Round 2 FAQ, which reminds competitors about the rule against commenting about their own submissions. We're pasting this reminder into the last judge comment for every organization just to make sure all competitors see it and remember.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

I would probably find this more interesting if I were more into the Dragon Empires. Unfortunately, since I've only got a vague idea (though I have the Gazetteer) of what goes on over there, I feel pretty lost. It is well-written and appears well-executed, though.

One issue, for instance, was Kiriltai Khan. Based on my unfamiliarity, I initially assumed that he was one of the seven spellcasters or another name for Medekgu Khan. I had to go into the Gazetteer and cross-reference it all. Perhaps Hongal should have been mentioned for those who know little about that part of the setting.

I will possibly be voting for this submission on its merits. I will possibly be voting for you based on your previous work.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka moon glum

Awesome. I think this is the best written submission. Using this organization would probably entail at least 3 levels of a campaign, but it is very cool. Maybe my favorite.

Its got my vote.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

Not being a Dragon Empires expert, I was also a little lost. I fear that you may have lost a few votes there, which would be unfair.

Having said that, the tightness of the writing, the cool touches such as the name policy for riders (works for me more than Neil), and the very enthusiastic comments from the judges (who know Dragon Empires better than me) convinced me to vote for you.

The Exchange

I like.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Champion Voter Season 6, Champion Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Champion Voter Season 9

After reading them all, this is my favorite!

Ooooh.... I like.

With a bit more world knowledge, I probably would have been even more enthused about this (I thought Leng was some lesser country in Tian Xia until I read Neil's response), but even with that flawed view, you managed to work up an excellent organization. You provide enough flavor for me to get a great feel for how the Riders think; the detail about new recruits changing their name was great. I also like that even if their goals are raiding caravans, they don't come across as one note bad guys. Bits of depth like that are why you are definitely getting one of my votes.

The Exchange Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Awesome, Where can I sign up for a game fighting or infiltrating this group.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4 aka OamuTheMonk

Easily the best round 2 entry.

Dark Archive

I also really like this organization. At first, I thought, this is too narrow, but by the time I got to the end, I had changed my mind.

Also, for whatever my opinion is worth - there's nothing wrong with the names. Maybe it is because I'm not a native speaker of English, but I think there's a lot in how you name people, and if the named NPCs had been called Bob, Jim and Harold, I'd have disliked the entire text (I exaggerate to make a point, of course).

Liberty's Edge

Welcome to Round 2 Sam.

This is easily amongst the strongest entries I have read so far. I really like the concept and enjoyed your presentation of it.

The link to Leng is really cool, and will probably excite enough imaginations to win you some more votes.

Tying your organisation to a ‘non core’ part of the Pathfinder setting is a gamble. From my point of view it pays off, as I would like to see the Dragon Empires further explored in Pathfinder, but I fear it will (perhaps unfairly) lose you votes from the ‘Asian is not fantasy’ crowd (‘cos ... yeah ... or even from the Asia = China and Japan only crowd) and maybe from people who aren’t familiar with that corner of Golarion.

I love the shantaks, I love the conflict you have set up within the group, I love the link to a more powerful and sinister ‘organisation’ in the Denizens of Leng. Great organisation name too. Oh, and I liked the little note about changing names to confuse deivinations, gold!

I will almost certainly be voting for this one.

I think that it was the first organization (and I read some 3/5 or 3/4 before) that I immediately marked on my to vote list while reading.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

Great work. It's exciting, Lovecraft-fantasian, and easy to see as forming a key part of a campaign, moving, as Neil suggested, from dealing with the Riders to dealing with Leng itself. The atmosphere and creativity are palpable, and I wish you the best of luck with this one. You deserve it!

This is pretty neat, and it's pretty clear that the story has places to go.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

This entry creates great atmosphere and visuals. Makes great use of the fantasy setting. As far as being outside the core game setting, why have the other regions if you're not going to use them?

This feels like the strongest entry this round. I like the added detail that Leng is starting to demand more and more prisoners. This got one of my votes this round.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

See, the really good ones stand out and are easy to spot. This is a perfect example.

Star Voter Season 6

Really excellent! This is the first one I've read, and you definitely have my vote. I love the concept and the added planar angle!

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

I'm not familiar with Tian Xia-content, so I'm a bit lost on some points here. The concept is clear though, and I like it a lot! This has some basic horse lord feel to it, but you totally got me with the pact with Leng twist! Awesome flavor without wandering too much in the weird-zone.

Not sure about the name changing thing, but it's just a small part of an awesome organization.

Well done and good luck!

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Standback

Haven't read any comments yet, judges' or otherwise.

You're taking a well-known concept - raiders - and giving them a fantastical twist - being able to hop through planes. It's not revolutionary, but it's a clear, straightforward concept with obvious color.

You do nice work adding in touches of detail that make your basic concept both more interesting and better fleshed out. The increasingly onerous pact with Leng, the custom of recruiting prisoners, the shaky relationship with Tian-La tribes, shantak mounts. This is good, solid stuff.

Use In Game
What I really like about this entry is that, while it didn't knock my socks off creativity-wise, this organization does a great job as a wild card the GM can bring in for all kinds of purposes. They can show up any time, any where - so they can vex the PCs in a wide variety of situations. They're wide-ranging opportunists - meaning that whatever the PCs are after, and whatever story arcs they're presently involved with, it'll be really easy for the Riders to be interested and involved as well. I think that's a great accomplishment - this was one of the central goals of this round's challenge, and I think you've pulled it off with aplomb.

I will say that the scope of encountering the Riders is somewhat limited - basically, every encounter with them is going to be of the "Quick, kill the attacking raiders!" variety. It doesn't lend itself to interesting interactions between the PCs and your organization; this organization doesn't generate plot twists and hooks. But I don't think that was the purpose you had for it, so I think that's fine. This does precisely what you designed it to, and you've got enough detail and flexibility that a GM or a developer who did want to involve the Riders in the plotty side of the game could do so.

All in all, I think this is a solid, well-executed, professional entry. You haven't hit it out of the ballpark, mojo-wise - I'm not clamoring for this in my game, because it's not particularly exciting or sexy. But it's functional, well-designed, and well-executed as all get-out. And that's invaluable in this arena. And it's not like it's boring or anything - I'm just saying, you can aim higher in terms of bringing creativity and (controlled) gonzo to the game. I've only read a few entries so far, but I think you can count on my vote - and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on you :)

All the best!

You get my vote.

I'm in the middle of reading H P Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, so I like the flavour.

I only voted for two organisations this round. This was by far my favourite of the round, and put the miserable failure of the others in stark relief.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

Leng, Mongol-influenced raiders, shantak riders? This is pure mojo. It's clearly my favorite entry from this round. Well done, sir!

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 8 aka shiverscar

Definitely my favourite of this round. Well done, sir!

The name drew me in to read it first. I love the theme of this one, especially the name, Riders of the Black Steppe, simple but great. Great job giving a great discription in such a small amount of writing space. Haven't look at the rest, but you get almost certainly get my vote.

My Golarian-fu is very lacking, but from the initial descriptive paragraph I was able to infer all the necessary details that I need to know without having every read or heard of any of the places or beings discussed. This is an example of the best kind evocative writing that can pull in someone totally unfamiliar with the a setting and make then want to know more.

I'd misread shantaks as shark tanks, and it was still cool even after I realised my mistake ;). You get my vote. Good luck :).

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

While in general I have been very "meh" about the Dragon Empires, I agree with Clark, this entry makes me want to play in them. Great job and Good luck. You definitely have my vote, way above and beyond any other entries.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka OwlbearRepublic

When I first read through all 32 entries, I noted only three definite YES votes, and this was one of them. You've backed up a striking concept with lots of great, campaign-useful details and flawless execution of the assignment. Every sentence seems to suggest another plot hook or encounter idea, and yet there's still a bunch of space wide open for the GM to make the idea his own.

As a Paizo fan, this is the sort of material I want published. Nice work.

I'm not as impressed as the others since I don't know much about Golarion, but I agree that this is one of the best submission this year.
I was not really eager to read you submission because of your first item, which was in the lower part of my personal list, but in the end I must admit that your work this time really shine brighter than almost everyone else. You get my vote, I'll hope to see you in the next round.

Scarab Sages Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

Wow. This is possibly the only entry I didn't even have to think twice befor voting for it. Top notch on every level.

Planescape + Time Bandits + Hellraiser + Mongols. Urizen likey!

Where's the Kickstarter for this?

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka John Benbo

I just finished reading the old Savage Sword of Conan version of "People of the Black Circle" which features desert raiders and strange wizards. Definitely a Conan vibe and while I don't think this idea is 100% original, you did a great job of incorporating it into Golarion. I like the added touch of the names to ward of divinitation spells.

Dark Archive

Wasn't too impressed by your item, but boy howdy did you show your writing chops with this one!

Not too familiar with Dragon Empires yet, so not sure if this is an issue, but naming the leader of a (incredibly awesome) band of 'Mongols' (Something) Khan seems a wee bit cliche, but as I said I could be wrong and this ties into canon already established with a family named Khan in the Dragon Empires.

However, that's just a nit-pick, and I love everything else. This might not be my favorite organization from this round, but it's a very close second.

You definitely got my vote this round. Hope to see your monster entry. :-)

FYI: Khan was a title for a ruler, not necessarily a regular name. Having a leader with the title of Khan is entirely consistent with the image Sam seems to be going for.

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9

Basically, not super creative but otherwise solid and evocotive. I'm with Clark on the names.

I'm a little over half way through reading all the entries, and this is the first I've commented on. I don't do that a lot (only one or two a year) but when I do it's because I find the entry Awesome! You've got my vote, and yours is the only one that is 100% secure for this round. I can't wait to see what else you come up with.

[I also want to say, I love that you're exploring Tian Xia design space, I don't know how the folks at Paizo feel about it, but there's a lot of open ended potential there so I imagine it feels like you have room to stretch a bit.]

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Lovecraft and Robert Howard were good friends and collaborated on each other works. I think your submission mix with talent elements from their writings. I would certainly use your organization in a future campaign.I hope to see you in the next round. You have my vote.


Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

Like the vibes of the black riders.

You deliver some cool adversaries for the PCs and managed to give them a nice twist that make them unique.

Yeehah, they are cool. Damned Huns. Almost would want to join them. I would have liked to get a hint on what the Denizens are up to or a nice location, as mentioned, for instance where the captives are handed over. And they definitely should have been the " Raiders". But great.

I'm not much into the tian xia and asian inspired stuff but i really like this. Especially the touch the riders are under increasing pressure from the rising demands of the denizens of leng. The only think i feel is missing is that i would want more information about the organizations spell casters. Fighters on horseback is all well and good but it is the cabal of spell casters that pique my interest the most.

You have my vote.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka DankeSean

Don't have much to say here except that the Riders got one of my votes. IMO, this was probably the strongest entry this round; and certainly one of my top two favorites. One of only four entries that I marked for a vote after a first read. Pretty much everything about this is spot on- the Mongolian bandits vibe, the Leng connection (and the fact that they're increasingly aware of being puppets of Leng), the nice detail of the 'no-one' names (reminiscent of Odysseus after blinding Polyphemus); basically, this is just awesome.
Good job, good luck moving forward.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

Add me to those not really into the Asian-inspired stuff, but I think by using more of a Mongol flavor than China or Japan, you hit an area that's not as cluttered. These are great bad guys, and you brilliantly blended the Lovecraftian parts into more down-to-Golarion parts. You also did a really nice job making adversaries that the players CAN end up feeling sorry for and possibly trying to help as a campaign goes on.

I think my only criticism would be that you have to get the PCs into the right part of the world to be able to use this group, but other than that, it's definitely one of the best of the round. Congrats!

Liberty's Edge

Congratulations Sam, a well deserved advancement ... and without once re-visiting this thread to encourage voters.

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