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Silver Dragon

Neil Spicer's page

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor. Goblin Squad Member. Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber. Pathfinder Society Member. 5,545 posts (9,234 including aliases). 1 review. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 17 aliases.


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RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Maybe try the Paizo customer service email address?

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Sounds like there's a glitch. Liz or Jason will probably sort it out after the weekend. Apologies for the inconvenience.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Maybe Jason and the team from Legendary Games can do an Adventure Path plug-in along these lines. Right now, it's nothing more than a few, simple musings in my brain.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

3 people marked this as a favorite.

If I run Iron Gods as an active campaign, I've planned on expanding Unity to portray it more along the lines of Ultron (from Marvel lore) with shades of Agent Smith (from the Matrix trilogy). That way, I can spread out encounters with Mark-1, Mark-2, etc. versions of Unity throughout the campaign...i.e., they have to defeat the AI multiple times in different bodies. By the end, there'll be the viral Agent Smith-style crossover into biological lifeforms, as well...though, like you, I'd have those bodies burn out very quickly as they just can't accommodate Unity's growing god-like intellect.

Ultimately, I too would take the action into the low-orbit skies of Golarion, having the PCs face off with the final incarnation of Unity aboard some sizeable craft meant to serve as a space station equivalent satellite from which the AI intends to rule. The PCs would then have to end the threat once and for all, potentially sacrificing themselves in the process, jettisoning back to Golarion in escape pods, or using powerful teleportation magic to reach the surface again. The latter solution would make for a nice magic vs. technology bit of storytelling denouement.

As for Casandalee, I think a similar overlay of her personality with one of the PCs would make for a nice touch, as well. Whether or not that PC is an android would simply be icing on the cake, but I think it could be any intelligent, wise, benevolent character. Part of opposing Unity on the space station-sized satellite over Golarion may involve substituting Casandalee for Unity so she can ascend to godhood in Unity's place. Thus, that's the PC who'd likely have to sacrifice themselves to eradicate Unity and hold the station together long enough for their friends to escape.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Damon Griffin wrote:
...The ad copy for Ashes At Dawn suggests the party will have to ally with undead in order to oppose the Whispering Way...

Hi, Damon. As the author of Ashes at Dawn, I can tell you this exact situation weighed heavily on my mind while writing the adventure. The entire Carrion Crown AP is set up for the PCs to oppose an epic plot involving the Whispering Way. So, naturally, players are going to want to play anti-undead characters. And, GMs are going to encourage their players to play anti-undead characters. Knowing that, I had to figure out a way of dealing with such PCs while also honoring the adventure outline given to me by the Paizo developers...one which does suggest an alliance with a particular undead faction. It was a very difficult tightrope to walk, but in the end, I was happy with how the adventure came out. Of course, how it plays at the gaming table is entirely dependent on how each GM approaches it. Thus, the developers also took the time to include a fairly long sidebar on pg. 19 of the adventure which advises GMs on the delicate nature of anti-undead PCs experiencing this particular scenario. You should definitely call your GM's attention to that.

Damon Griffin wrote:
So, your personal opinions about alignment aside, can anyone...cite a general reference showing that Pharasma might be okay with this given the extreme circumstance?

I've always interpreted Pharasma as the most "all-knowing" deity in the entire Golarion patheon. So, as the renowned goddess of fate (and not just death), she has much more long-reaching plans and insights than anyone else. While she's adamantly opposed to the very concept of undeath, like everything else in the world, undead creatures may still have a part to play in how fate unfolds. In other words, even undead creatures may be pawns in the greater events shaping the world according to fate. And, once their individual roles are fulfilled, such undead would be targeted once again by her clergy as normal. What this means is, yes, a Pharasmin could be called upon to relax their normally violent stance against undead in order to temporarily ally with them and carry out a greater purpose. And, once that greater purpose is completed, a Pharasmin will once again turn his or her attention to carrying out the somewhat lesser purpose of eliminating their undead ally so its soul can move on to Pharasma's Boneyard.

The roleplaying potential of this situation should be exceptionally rich if a GM plays his or her cards right in how they portray it to the player running an anti-undead PC. Both a cleric of Pharasma and a paladin would essentially experience a "test of faith." And it could be a test of two different natures...i.e., do you adhere to a "slay them all" mentality in every circumstance in order to be "true" to your faith? Or, do you put your faith in your god or goddess's "master plan" and that they have a bigger picture view than you do, setting aside your first inclination to "kill them all" in order to accomplish that greater purpose on your god's behalf? Both situations are a test of faith. And, if done well, a GM could have both the player and their PC agonizing over the ethical and moral choices they're forced to make. In my opinion, it shouldn't be done in a harsh way...i.e., to cause a paladin to fall from grace. Rather, just do it in small ways to suggest that there's a time and place to all aspects of a religious doctrine and the manner in which its applied. That's a good life lesson to mirror within the game itself. And, giving your players a chance to experience that vicariously through their anti-undead cleric, paladin, or ranger could make for an epic, memorable campaign.

For what it's worth, I like to imagine sometimes that this is part of the unusual relationship between Pharasma and Urgathoa...i.e., that Urgathoa's ability to leave the line of petitioners at the time of her death and refuse to allow her soul to pass into the Boneyard for Pharasma's judgment is a reflection of a greater purpose. Urgathoa's subsequent ascension into godhood and her ability to afflict the world with plagues and undeath only serves to sharpen Pharasma's mortal priesthood. In the "greater plan" of fate, as shepherded by Pharasma, even Urgathoa has a role to play before the world's end. I think Pharasma knows this...and that's why she suffers Urgathoa's existence. It serves a greater purpose. And, learning that lesson for herself, it's the type of thing she may well pass on to her own clergy...especially heroic members of that clergy, such as the PCs. Thus, the scenario in Ashes at Dawn where the PCs may temporarily ally with an undead faction could be a direct reflection of the lesson Pharasma herself has learned over time in her hatred for Urgathoa and their ensuing rivalry.

Damon Griffin wrote:
...point our GM to anything in Ashes At Dawn (maybe just a page number, so I get no hints) that gives Paladins or (preferably) Pharasmins this latitude?

Refer to the sidebar on pg. 19. It covers clerics of Pharasma, paladins, and even rangers with undead as a favored enemy.

Damon Griffin wrote:
...assure me that there's a viable alternative to allying with undead and still accomplishing our goal? (don't tell me what the alternative is)

As others have already indicated, there's most certainly an alternative. It'll make for a harder path, though...i.e., the equivalent of playing the adventure in "hard mode." Again, there's a reference in the same sidebar on pg. 19 for the GM which explains how to handle that. And, if your party goes that direction, there could be major ramifications for Ustalav as a result. And, the PCs will ultimately have to live with themselves afterwards for the role they played in it.

There's also some further exploration of this idea on pg. 24 of the adventure, and on pg. 60 under the concluding notes before moving on to Chapter 6 of the campaign. And, of course, the "Continuing the Campaign" material in Chapter 6 itself also explores the aftermath of this alternative. Your GM should have lots of material to draw upon if you go this way.

My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

2 people marked this as a favorite.

I like encounters and encounter locations which tell you even more about the featured villains/monsters/etc. than the stat-block alone can do. Not necessarily in an expository way. Rather, through the location choice, small features or aspects of the location which feature into the tactical setup, and even the minions which may factor into the encounter or encounter location, as well.

Sometimes, these things can be mentioned directly...i.e., they're "in your face" as a result of the terrain conditions, the additional monsters, traps, hazards, and even the creature's tactics write-up in a stat-block. But, I think the Superstar approach often hints at other things which indirectly tell you even more about the featured adversary of the encounter. To me, that's important...and not because it'll all be read-aloud text or part of any given combat...but, rather, it'll be part of the encounter write-up which will better inform the GM on how to portray the adversary and the environment in which he/she/it is encountered.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Feros wrote:
Nic Logue and mysterious hunters from beyond? Shut up and take my money! :)

And to bring it full circle, what better characters to take through Nic's low- to mid-level romp? Might I suggest some...Metal Heroes, perhaps? ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

I believe Jason has something in mind (and hence, production) for that. Should be coming up for release soon.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Orthos wrote:
...If that's the content you want, your best bets are converting up from older editions, homebrewing, or seeing if there's a 3rd-party publisher interested in catering to that market.

Emphasis mine on that last part, and this is just my opinion, but catering to that market is a pretty niche thing to do. I get that there are some pretty passionate folks out there who jam on epic-level play (i.e., higher than 20th), but that's not representative of the majority marketplace. Thus, even a 3rd-party publisher is generally incented to make products for the larger consumer base rather than tailoring something specific to just the high-level enthusiasts. And, that's actually why mythic content is so much more appealing to me as a designer (and a gamer). I can play within that ruleset across the entire span of character levels to whatever degree I want to enable the type of storytelling I want to explore and enable. You couldn't really do that with the epic ruleset back in the day. And that's why mythic has a greater appeal (to me, at least). And it's also why Legendary Games has invested in it pretty thoroughly now.

That said, we're well aware that mythic presents a host of concerns if you douse your game completely in it. To that end, we're looking for ways to provide guidance, examples, and small campaign-driven tweaks to help ameliorate some of those problems in how we're using it in our products...and, hopefuly, in how you ultimate use our products in your games. So, for the mythic naysayers, I'd just urge a second look at what we're doing with it. If it still doesn't meet your needs after that, then so be it. We're applying ourselves to the task as best we can...

My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

4 people marked this as a favorite.

Yay! Glad to see this one take flight. My thanks to Jason, Al, and Bob for their assistance on getting it out the door! And, also, domo arigato to Liz! ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

I'm sure that was completely unintentional. ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Jason can chime in, but I believe the focus is on getting the Mythic Monster Manual out the door first (i.e., as in as close to PaizoCon as possible). And the others would follow on after that.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Sebastian Hirsch wrote:
I bought Mythic Adventures twice, and supported the Legendary Games Kickstarter, but I really don't see myself buying new mythic stuff from Paizo until they attempt to fix the existing material.

Don't give up too soon, Sebastian. The Legendary Games team is going into our future projects with an eye towards demonstrating the best possible ways to leverage the mythic ruleset (both the core, Paizo-produced material, plus our own add-ons) for a campaign. It's not so much that we'll be "fixing" the existing material as simply showing how and where to use it to enhance your game. And, yes, we'll be wrapping a mythic AP around it.

Or, maybe a better way of stating it is that we'll be wrapping the right amount of mythic (both old and new) around a pretty compelling AP idea I've been cooking up for sometime now. The various authors/contributors to this project have a huge amount of enthusiasm for it. And, as Jason mentioned, that includes guys like me, Jason, Richard Pett, Tim Hitchcock, Mike Shel, Matt Goodall, Jim Groves, and Tom Phillips. Is it still in the development stages? Yes. Very much so. But we're shooting to have some playtest material for a couple of lottery games at PaizoCon in May, with a Kickstarter to fund things following thereafter. Hopefully, you guys will at least give it a look and back us if you're interested.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Depending on when the event is taking place, I'd be willing to swing by and chat. Of course, I've had the opportunity to do that at prior PaizoCons, so if you'd rather host a different set of interviewees, I'd completely understand.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

137ben wrote:
Bah, no true archmage needs to check something as mundane as an inbox! I was already alerted to the presence of the Mythic Spell Compendium by my Mythic Scrying Sensor, hidden next to your computer!

Are you sure you got through his mythic veil and mythic private sanctum? ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Nothing bad. Jason's just been busy cranking out the new stuff. He's got a lot more turnovers that just hit the hopper, including a little something from yours truly (after it goes through editing). He'll probably get something set for the "2 for Tue$day" soon. If not, I'll ping him about it sometime this weekend.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

5 people marked this as a favorite.

Just following along, but I'm kind of surprised no one has mentioned Legendary Games yet. Pretty much all the same guys who work on the official Pathfinder products, but we're just throwing down on 3PP material in between assignments.

  • Easy-as-pie plug-in's to expand on various Adventure Paths, including new adventures, monsters, magic items, and rogue's galleries of NPCs (and even pregen PCs).
  • Mythic rules done right. With new mythic path expansions, spells, feats, and most importantly, monsters (which give you a new spin on just about everything).
  • An entire line of Ultimate rules expansions for kingdom-building, mass combat, and even NPC relationships.

I like to think we've broken some serious new ground while simultaneously supporting the core Pathfinder product lines published by Paizo. And we've got some pretty amazing stuff lined up for next year (which we'll be highlighting at PaizoCon and GenCon).

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

I too agree with Mikko. Best to keep your head down, focus on absorbing the feedback you get on your submission. Plan your strategy for the next round. And, if you've got anything to say about your fellow competitors, make sure it's supportive. You're all running this race together. And though there's only one winner, everyone has already "won" by being in the competition and having a chance to experience it. If you want to give someone advice (like here in the Guildhall), that's certainly cool. Just be careful with how it comes across or you potentially paint yourself in a negative light...both to the one you're addressing and those who are reading along.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

4 people marked this as a favorite.
Adam Daigle wrote:
In many ways, this contest can be way more brutal for contestants than freelancing.

And that's a good thing. I've always viewed it as very intentional in that regard. The contest is a crucible which makes you better at what you're attempting to do, and it helps you stand out even more than you otherwise normally could without it. I think the difficulties of the contest also help you get ready for the real thing. And, by doing so, it makes it easier for you to deal with thsoe situations when they arrive. They don't seem as daunting. Or, you've already got the experience and confidence to deal with it.

Or, put another way, this is RPG Superstar.

The "stars" shine brightest at the darkest of times.

This contest certainly puts you through the wringer in very intentional ways to facilitate that. Those who embrace that challenge and win their way through the gauntlet really have achieved something significant and should be celebrated. I don't mean that in a self-serving way. I certainly wear the RPG Superstar badge with a great deal of pride and honor, but I tip my cap to anyone who goes through it, not simply the winners. It's a brotherhood (and sisterhood!) where we all pretty much immediately recognize one another and the shared experience we went through.

But that's just my two cents, ;)
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

4 people marked this as a favorite.

I used to pay very close attention to the exit polls when I was competing, because, aside from just getting a sense of how I was probably faring (and all the anxieties and self-doubt which come with it), it often gave me insight into why people were voting the way they were. That's because they'd share more than just their Top-whatever. They'd sometimes feel obligated to explain why, and that would then give me the ability to alter my approach or form different strategies for the next round on how to appeal to them and win their votes for a future round. In many ways, I would liken it to an actual published freelancer paying attention to the reviews and commentary for any given product thread here on Paizo's messageboards. Not just the feedback shared in a review (or an RPG Superstar submission thread), but also the Top sales list once a product is released. It gives you a sense of what the customer (or, in this case, the voting public) wants to see, and what they find appealing. That alone is a worthy thing to educate yourself on, both as an RPG Superstar competitor, and as an eventual freelance designer.

I do, however, get the concern about influencing the votes of others. That happens even in common elections when you see the early returns coming in for a particular candidate in a landslide victory and you become demotivated to go out and cast your vote anyway. However, for the purposes of RPGSS, I'm not sure it's had that big of an effect (if any at all). The frontrunners for any given round are usually pretty clear. It's only the individuals hovering right around the cut-off line where it might have any effect. And, in reality, all of those competitors' submissions are usually getting right around the same amount of love regardless of what folks say in their exit polls. In fact, the most common situations where the exit polls have been wrong in the past stemmed from those trailing behind the ones at the back of the pack. Someone a bit lower down (from an exit poll perspective) has managed to edge out someone right at the cut-line on at least a few occasions over multiple rounds in multiple years.

So, if anything, the exit polls haven't really influenced the voting to lock in everyone who appears above the cut-off line. It might convince more people to support the clear front runners (who were going to advance anyway), but it generally doesn't influence things at the cut-line itself. And, in fact, that's exactly where the exit polling is usually wrong. So, that's a good thing. I think it shows the competition is still fierce for those last few remaining spots and the exit polls really don't influence it very much.

In the meantime, I think the added benefits of the exit polls in educating the competitors to sharpen their awareness of "what the gaming public enjoys" versus "what the designers themeselves enjoy and want to write" is a significant lesson the polling helps teach. Because that's not always in sync and a designer needs to find that out pretty quickly if they want to keep surviving from round-to-round and have successful product releases when they're being published.

In fact:

Spoiler:

There are a lot of little nuances to the RPG Superstar contest that I'm not sure everyone naturally realizes or picks up on whether viewing things from the outside, or even when they're in the process of competing. A lot of those nuances mirror the kinds of things you'll face and need to consider in navigating a side-career (or even a full-time career) in the RPG industry as a freelancer. You need to study multiple things like: what the gaming public wants, what your publisher wants, popular topics and subject matter which you might not be as well-versed in but you may be asked to write, what other successful authors are writing and how they're writing it, etc. At least some analysis of those things is worth pursuing if you want to be successful. And you need to keep pushing yourself to not only "write what you know," but also expand your horizons to explore other things that might be "out of your comfort zone," but are clearly of interest to the voters/gaming public and successful topics or approaches demonstrated in other products by other authors.

So, maybe to connect the dots a little, here's one way of thinking about it. The judges of the RPG Superstar contest are the equivalent of your publisher and/or your developer in the real world of freelancing. You need to learn from them and win them over with your work, because they're the gatekeepers who greenlight you, whether for being in the Top 32, or winning their recommendations from round to round, or when you're putting together an outline for a proposal on an actual freelance assignment, or even when you've turned in your manuscript and they're determining how much of your turnover needs tweaking or has to be cut for the final product. Hearing and heeding the feedback and direction the judges give you runs parallel to the same types of instruction and coaching your developer may take the time to give you. But, likewise, sometimes bucking the advice of the judges to chart your own course can totally pay off. It's a risk. But so are those interactions with your developer or publisher when you're passionate about a particular creative direction you want to go and you need to win them over so they'll greenlight you in writing it or publishing it.

Likewise, the other competitors in the RPG Superstar contest are your colleagues in the real world of freelancing. They're walking the same path as you. They're navigating it using their own creativity and sense of the marketplace under the guidance of their publisher just like you are. Sometimes, they do really well with a particular subject or pull off something really inspiring and innovative. Sometimes, they don't and they fall flat on their face. You need to learn from their lessons just as much as your own. And you need to adapt your future work accordingly. It's not so much about "keeping up with the Joneses" as it's about improving yourself and supporting one another as you do. You can do both those things during the competition even while trying to outlast or outperform your fellow Superstars. And the same is true in the real world when you're trying to improve yourself while supporting your fellow freelancers. Collectively, you're doing a service to the hobby itself...not just writing vanity projects and picking up a paycheck here and there. Recongize that. Commit to it. And support one another and your publishers in doing so.

In the meantime, the voters of the RPG Superstar contest are the same consumers who would be buying your products in the real world. The feedback they offer here via their comments and exit polling can give you tremendous insight into what they enjoy and want. But there are also a vast array of opinions and tastes out there. You need to keep an eye on where the best markets are for certain ideas. If you go too far off the deep end (or the reservation) on some things, you'll lose the majority of the marketplace...or the votes when it comes to RPG Superstar. To know the best, most effective waters to swim in, and how to take a particular "safe" bit of territory and turn it into something Superstar, is a skill you need to hone, both during the contest and in your eventual work. You do that by listening and paying attention to what people are saying. Not just about your work, but about everyone else's, as well. And that's something the exit polls (and other competitors' feedback threads) can help you with in the contest.


But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

I actually read through the background on Orv and the Sightless Sea...and obviously, the Great Old Ones correspond to Iq'fhtagn. Nevertheless, I still don't get a sense of what's in Ur-Athan. If it's just leaning on a bunch of Lovecraft enthusiasm to carry it, it still lacks characterization. Maybe another way of saying it is that Cthulu-esque references don't automatically carry a submission (whether it's a map or anything else). There has to be something more there to help it standout. Show me something creative rather than derivative.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Chiming in with my thoughts while I've got some spare time...

First, the good:

Spoiler:

This is actually a very clean map. The crisp iconography to clearly delineate stuff aids the cartographer. You've also done what you can to showcase your creativity by giving evocative names to certain locations on the map. You've also made some decent use of color to highlight certain areas that you want to call to the attention of the viewer, thereby immediately getting them to ask questions or imagine more about your map.

Now, a few shortcomings:

Spoiler:

It's an overland map. To me, that's kind of a "safe choice" for this round. It doesn't really require a tremendous amount of detail. And, from the perspective of trying to showcase your design skills for the competition and the voters, it doesn't really present a lot of room to stand out.

I'm also not seeing any particular details that "wow" me in terms of wanting to know more. It's serviceable. It's safe. And, consequently, it's a bit uninspired if I'm looking for Superstar capability.

Lastly, it looks like this is a dead-end vault in Orv. Visually, the only obvious entrance/exit appears to be the Passage to the Sightless Sea. As such, it's kind of too limiting. The best maps have a variety of ways in which the PCs can come and go from them. That's kind of absent here, and so the Orv Vault of Ur-Athan feels kind of stale.

And, finally, what I think could be improved:

Spoiler:

It's kind of odd to say it this way, but there's really not enough "character" to this map. There are plenty of locations sprinkled across it...many with names that'd be good to drop into an adventure title (e.g, "Master of the Ash Dunes"..."Journey to the Worm Wastes"...etc.). But what I'm really missing is a good indication of who or what lives in Ur-Athan. The City of Iq-fthagn sounds like it might have a Cthulu connection, but it still feels unformed. Pinning the location down to a specific civilization somehow would've probably served you better. That way, the map itself tells a story and you can relate all the cool, named locations presented in the map's key to that civilization so the map itself informs various conclusions you can draw about it.

My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

There are a handful of things I liked about this map, and some I didn't.

First, the good:

Spoiler:

I thought the map was clean and well-detailed. The key makes senses. Blackening in the solid areas of the underground map is a wise thing to do. And there's lots of little details to give the location some character.

I also liked the fact that it's a location in Caliphas. To me, that screams vampires, because I penned the Carrion Crown adventure Ashes at Dawn, and a key element of the Caliphas underground is that there's an entire society of vampires living down there. Not simply among the dank sewers, but also among what used to be the ground floor of a lot of the buildings constructed before the city raised its street level to create a sewer in the first place. I consciously modeled the Caliphas underground after the Seattle underground after taking a tour of that attraction at PaizoCon a couple of years ago.

So, that insider knowledge tells me this designer has done a bit of research into what a sewer in the Caliphas underground would need to include. Thus, putting a hypogeum (i.e., an underground temple/tomb) in the Caliphas underground, which has a long history of vampires, fallen knights battling the Whispering Tyrant, and so on...makes perfect sense to me, and I appreciate the design choice and thinking that went into the map for this location.

I also like the terrain choices for this map. There's a combination of elevations, both with the water below the bridge, as well as the increasingly elevated landings on the bridge. There's the potential to have a pretty epic battle with a vampire in this setting. And, judging by the one sarcophagus with the open lid in the southwest corner, I definitely expect some kind of powerful undead to show up.

Now, a few shortcomings:

Spoiler:

It's mostly just a single encounter location. There's the potential for a couple of encounters within it...i.e., the bridge/sewer part vs. the tomb location...but I kind of wish there were a few more spots for PCs to investigate and adventure within. As-is, this location is kind of hard to showcase your design skill.

Even within the single encounter setup, the map itself doesn't quite have enough going on for it to distinguish it from any other underground sewer with an ancient tomb or other chamber off of it. The elaborate bridge and statues raises some questions, but by themselves aren't enough to raise the appeal. It's a serviceable map, just not necessarily the best choice or design to showcase your Superstar potential.

Lastly, I'm not a fan of using a compass rose on a map which places north in any direction other than "up." I've had to deviate from that a couple of times in my own maps, and I've just never felt comfortable with it. I didn't get the sense that there was a need for pointing north in the direction most people would assume is east unless they focused on the compass rose. Better to just go with the natural inclination to view "up" as north.

And, finally, what I think could be improved:

Spoiler:

On the subject of giving the map a little more oomph, I'd kind of like to see the pipes themselves lead to some other rooms and passageways. They look wide enough that they could connect to something else important. I think a truly skilled designer would have realized that and shown the viewer that in addition to what's presented here. And, within those other passageways, we'd get more insight into just who (or what) uses this location as its lair...and for what purpose?

I'd also have liked to see something more among the monotony of the open expanse of water to either side of the bridge. How about a small "island" of rubble out there with something significant on it? Or, how about an indication of something just beneath the water's surface (such as a bit of treasure, a hidden clue, another monster lair)? Hints towards things like that would inspire even more in the mind's eye when examining this map and it would give even more insight into the type of encounter location setups you're capable of imagining and crafting.

You've got "moss/plants" growing in a couple of locations...specifically, a statue on the bridge and a few spots on the walkways around the sewer itself. Yet, I really don't get a sense of why that may or may not be significant. If you were using this map to define an encounter location, I'm sure you'd delve into more written detail about its significance, but you've kind of missed an opportunity here to give us hints just with the map itself. And that's what Superstar maps really do for you. They almost (but not quite) tell a story on their own. And I think that's what you want to strive for in showcasing your skills for the purposes of garnering votes and making it to the next round.


My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

::thumbs up::

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

GM_Solspiral wrote:
Brother Fen wrote:
This thread is full of sour grapes.
That particular characterization bothered me when Neil said it and it bothers me to hear it mimicked... This is a civil discussion calling out the other side of a discussion as just being "sour grapes" is dismissive name calling.

Hey, Frank. I don't mean to belabor it or anything. I've read your private message, and you've already edited your original rant. But I do want to indicate that I standby that characterization of "sour grapes" because that's how you came across with some of your word choices and phrasing. We all know it's difficult to interpret the emotional content in someone's written words via the internet. But, there are certain words which can indicate a level of "heat" that the original author might have never intended, but they're taken that way anyway.

With regards to your original, pre-edited post, there were some instances of that, which, if you go back and re-read your original words should give you an idea of why folks took it that way. And, by that, I mean more than just me, as others have indicated it, too...hence, the mimicking you took exception to. I'm not really sure I'd call it mimicking, though. It seems to be more of a shared opinion from multiple people.

Regardless, let's clear the air on it...and, as you indicated privately, agree to disagree.

Several people have chimed in saying they'd favor a release of the Top 100. There's precedent for it based on prior years of the competition. I'm sure it helped motivate a few who found themselves on that list. Personally, I also think it does a disservice to the Top 32, but not all of them feel that way, as evidenced here by at least one member of this year's crop.

So, in the long run, it's Paizo's decision on what they choose to do. If they want to maximize the level of engagement among the voters, I guess they can keep expanding on the transparency by posting it up. And, if they want to foster more focus on the actual competitors and ensure more engagement in their submission feedback threads, I think they'd be wise to withhold it. Why? Because I think a lot of people stick around for the "Critique My Item" thread and the Top 100 posting, but, as soon as they get that insight, they tune out the rest of the contest. And that's because they're not as interested in supporting the actual competitors as they are in extracting something for themselves. I know that sounds harsh, but also believe it to be true. Not for everyone, of course. Many do stick around after engaging those opportunities for personal feedback. But others take their submission and go home as soon as they get their personal insights.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Hey, Lucus. As long as you engage the Top 32 competitors (and their submissions) with feedback of any kind, I'm good. Sounds like you've got a decent plan for doing so.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Lucus Palosaari wrote:
A longer explanation of what I mean, with special thanks to Owen, Neil, and Garrett...

Hey, Lucus...great points. Here's a short response to some things you brought up, which I think you should consider:

Spoiler:

Lucus Palosaari wrote:
In trying to critique items, I have put off even bothering to comment on the Top 32 + alternatives because when I read through the comments of the other 20+ people that have commented on each, + the judges comments, I basically have nothing left to add. And after reading the first dozen, I don't need to see the rest really....I always loved coming back over the days, weeks, and months of the competition to see what people had to say about my item in the Official Critique Thread....

Consider those two statements you've made there. You always loved coming back over the days, weeks, and months of the competition to see what people had to say about your item in the official "Critique My Item" thread...and yet, you also don't think you have anything left to add to the discussion of the Top 32's submissions? Much like you, they too love coming back to see what else is said about their work...in every round. So, even if all you have to offer is a "Me, too!" in agreeing with the judges or some other commenter, it helps them validate the feedback they received...i.e., they get a sense of 1) how many people are taking the time to respond to their work, and 2) how well that work was received. So, if you enjoy all that commentary you get from people in the "Critique My Item" thread, consider passing on that same experience to the Top 32 by giving that to them, as well. Every bit of feedback is absorbed by these designers. And, quite honestly, they need it to grow over the course of the competition. So, don't discount what your voice can add to the comments on their submission threads. I assure you, as a former-competitor, we tremendously value it.

Lucus Palosaari wrote:
Even commenting tonight on maps, I realized I had almost nothing to add that the judges hadn't already brought up, because... they're maps. Trying to remove critique on their artistic merit leaves me just with a million questions for the designer... which they're not allowed to answer till after voting is done so... back to critiquing all the items of everyone in the Official Thread again I suppose!

Ask those questions anyway, because even if they can't answer (right away), it gives them insight into the kinds of questions they left unanswered with their design. And, ultimately, they'll grow in knowledge and experience for how to tailor their designs based on the questions they see people asking about their work. Sometimes, even if you're just a fly on the wall observing a discussion like that, you can learn so much from it. So, the gag order on the contestants isn't a reason to withhold your commentary or questions about their design. It's still valuable feedback.


My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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GM_Solspiral wrote:
Owen,...This is not a fan friendly move.

Frank,

This isn't exactly a fan friendly move either. Publicly criticizing the decision (as opposed to sending a private message or email) isn't the best way to go about trying to improve the contest as you're seemingly attempting to do.

Also, I'd quibble with more than a handful of the assertions you've made.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
It's like skipping the blog post thanking the voters for their time and energy and acknowledging the Champion voters.

This may be a valid point. Taking the time out to thank everyone is just the gracious thing to do (and for many of the reasons you've cited). They've certainly been thanked quite a lot in prior years. Those who gain the Champion voter tag are almost always repeat voters. So, I'd assume they don't need qualifying year after year. But, as you say, it's a simple thing. I seem to recall at least somewhere among the various RPGSS threads that at least some of the judges thanked the voters. That said, in the grand scheme of things, this is kind of small potatoes in terms of being rant-worthy (but that's just my opinion).

GM_Solpiral wrote:
It's like not releasing the rules a little early.

I'd disagree here. I've always thought that releasing the rules early went too easy on the competitors. Granted, it can gin up further excitement from everyone else eager to try their hand at a design challenge. And, as you said, lots of people start throwing up the "What I Would Have Submitted" threads. But, honestly, I've always felt those threads distracted from the actual contestants. At best, I get what you're saying...i.e., that they can foster much greater interest in those who missed the cut, encourage more folks outside the contest to hone their skills, and even keep more voters around to support the competition. However, at worst, I think it serves as a distraction. In many ways, it smacks of a desire to take the attention off the competitors in order to look in on what others have produced. I think it's great if people want to try their hand at these design challenges. But there are many more outlets for doing that than lining up beside the active competitors and drawing attention to yourself (presumably in an effort to compare your skills to those who won their way past you to take their place in the competition). And, ultimately, to bring this full circle, I think giving the rules too early runs the risk of doing the actual competitors a disservice...i.e., it fails to put them into an adequate crucible to better identify those with true Superstar talent.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
Releasing that list also costs nothing and encourages repeat entries....It also gives everyone data on the difference between marketable items and items that pass professional muster.

Personally, I think there's no shortage of repeat entries for the contest. The number of returning veterans year after year is indication of that. Additionally, posting the Top 100 isn't a necessary component of giving everyone data on the difference between marketable items and items that pass professional muster. That much should be clearly evident to those who do their homework. And, relying on a Top 100 post actually undermines getting everyone to get out there and do that homework. You actually learn better in the doing of that research for yourself than the telling of it by someone putting together such a list...and that's primarily because the list itself is completely void of any context. Thus, it's far better to refer to the "Critique My Item" thread for that kind of insight. Or, the commentary on the actual competitors' Top 32 submissions. Or, even the process of looking back over actual published material and identifying which items among them are more representative of Superstar-caliber designs as opposed to "good enough for a book of..." whatever.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
It's not about distracting from the Top 32....it's about investing in the future of the contest by engaging the folk that were near misses. Finding out you're Top 100 is validation.

And yet, it actually is a distraction from the Top 32. There are also plenty of other ways to invest in the future of the contest by engaging others who missed the cut, evidenced by all those other opportunities mentioned above. Finding out you're in the Top 100...or that you made the cull...or, in the past, that you made the Keep folder may certainly encourage folks to keep trying. But the experiences of perennial competitors like Mike Welham and Steve Helt, both of whom labored for years and kept missing the cut, but eventually went on to win the whole thing, should already offer object lessons about the importance of sticking with it. No one should need a Top 100 validation to encourage them to do that. And, if you do require that level of validation to maintain your inner desire to keep going, I'd question your staying power when the harsh critiques ultimately come down on you even if you did make it into the competition.

Instead, here's what I believe drives the need for validation of making the Top 100. It serves two purposes...neither of which I believe are in the best interests of the contest or those seeking such validation. The first is that it's a natural part of the cycle of depression that people go through when they try out for something and then find out they don't make it. It takes a series of stages including: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and eventually Acceptance. For someone to pursue validation so strongly via the posting of the Top 100, they're still denying that they weren't good enough to qualify for the Top 32. Or, they're angry and they want to see that they at least made the Top 100. Or, they're still trying to bargain their way through by convincing themselves that at least if they made the Top 100, they were really Top 32-worthy and it was only because someone else missed their awesomeness that they weren't upvoted enough or chosen by the judges. You've got to get past those three stages to make your way through the depressing reality that you're not in that Top 32. And, then, you reach the fifth stage of accepting that and beginning the up-cycle of recovery so you can regain confidence and try your hand again.

I believe the second purpose in wanting to see the Top 100 as a need for validation is that those who ask so diligently for it simply want more insight into "what the judges are looking for" and "what the voters are looking for" because they want an added competitive edge for the next time around. It's not simply the encouragement and validation they want. It's insight...an ability to go back and examine those Top 100 item designs to mine them for indicators of what will capture the voting public's interest...and to compare them to the Top 32 to determine what factors in those items allowed them to be pulled up from the Top 100 for inclusion in the contest...and all in the hopes of bettering your own design for next time. But is that really necessary? It's pretty clear that you can get a sense of what it takes to make the contest by simply reviewing the Top 32. And there are plenty of other ways to get design insights from the "Critique My Item" thread, and so on. It's not necessary to post a Top 100...or announce all the items in the Keep folder...to give people that. And, in fact, the celebratory hoopla which would surround such an announcement would most certainly distract (and, in some cases, even detract) from the Top 32. So, in the interests of supporting and encouraging the actual competitors in the contest, it's best to keep the focus on them rather than the Top 100.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
Not releasing the data looks bad.

I actually think it looks fine. And I can say that both as a former-judge and a former-competitor. So, I know both sides of this thing. Why would anyone even think it looks bad anyway? Are accusations that Paizo is "hiding something" going to follow simply because they don't show you every item that missed cut...or by how much they missed it? That's patently ridiculous. There are vast numbers of contests which don't give you any insight into any other submissions except those selected to compete. And yet, Paizo gives you the opportunity to see so many items during the public vote now that the transparency is huge by comparison. Yet, that's still not good enough? They've got to showcase the Top 100 in the midst of the Top 32 trying to compete in the actual competition or they'll look "bad?" That just doesn't ring true to me at all. And if anyone feels that way about it, I think it's a poorer reflection on them than Paizo and the Superstar judges.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
Every time this contest has moved toward transparency it has been made the contest better. The excuse that it's all about round 2 is flimsy. You could have released it a week ago... No distraction no harm.

This is laughable to me. And here's why. I've been involved with the contest enough times to see every move towards "transparency" which you (and others) value. And yet, every single time, it's not good enough. People still want more transparency. Show us the raw comments from the judges. Show us the Keep folder. Give us in-depth critiques on every submission. None of it is ever good enough. And the contest already has more transparency than any other I've ever seen or been involved with.

The excuse that it's "all about Round 2" isn't flimsy at all. Paizo, the judges, the actual competitors, and I believe the vast majority of voters actually want the competition to be focused on the Round 2 designs and not the Top 100. Could such a list have been released a week ago? Possibly...assuming the Superstar judges or technical team set aside all their other work and made that a priority when it doesn't need to be. The purposes of the contest (i.e., the selection of 32 competitors to run the gauntlet) has already been served. There's literally thousands upon thousands of messageboard posts dating back over 6 or 7 years now which are already devoted to fostering continued participation in the contest by those who missed the cut. Suddenly posting up a Top 100 isn't going to somehow raise that to a much-needed higher level somehow.

I'm of the belief that the need for validation (whether as part of the Top 100, the Keep folder, or whatever) is a self-serving goal for those who either want to see themselves within it (because they need it for motivation) or, because they want a greater insight into how to improve themselves and their chances to crack the Top 32. Firstly, if you're a Superstar-caliber competitor you should never need that kind of validation to keep going. And, secondly, you've already got a plethora of tools available to you to improve yourself before your next go.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
This bit with Mark sorting out favorites in advance of the vote also sounds bad. Basically it sounds like 1 judge read ahead of everyone, formed opinions before the public finished sorting and those opinions set the tone of how items were viewed.

Now this is sounding like sour grapes...or some kind of attempt to look for ways to invalidate the choices the judges made in excluding you by quibbling over how they went about their business. Like Mark, I too read ahead when I was a Superstar judge...not because we had public voting at that time, but because I'm a completionist and wanted to assess everything. But, even Clark Peterson did read beyond just the items that the public up-voted into the Top 100 (or 189?) the first year the judges let the public sort the items for them. He didn't do that to form opinions ahead of their voting so he could set the tone of how items were viewed. He did that to quality-assure the process...to ensure there wasn't an item beyond the Top 32...or the Top 100...or the Top 189...which got excluded from the public vote, but which the judges might still have considered. And do you know why the judges do that? It's because the public vote can often differ quite substantially from how the judges themselves would have voted if they were doing the sorting on their own.

It's pretty common knowledge that not everyone playing along at home and participating in the public vote are doing so with an eye towards evaluating the submissions the same way the experienced, veteran judges would. Many vote for the item rather than the designer, valuing it for their home game or their PC, and caring not at all for the design choices and nuances the actual competitor wove into it. Many also vote for items which have some pretty serious, game-breaking flaws to them, because they're not as trained up on the rules as the judges. They just vote for what seems cool rather than what's done well. Or, they miss the promise of what a particular design idea or niche tells the judges about a designer as opposed to the item itself.

In the end, there are enough differences between how the judges look at things and how the public voters look at things, that the contest deserves a thorough sanity check. Clark provided that when he looked beyond just what the public sorting had brought to the judges queue for their consideration. I believe Mark's efforts were very much in the same vein. He may have looked beyond the Top 100 and found an item or two still worthy of consideration. Whether or not those were similarly championed by his co-judges is unknown to us unless they choose to share it. But, I for one value the fact that Mark would take on that task of "reading ahead" and quality-assuring the process. If he found an extra few "diamonds in the rough," more power to him. I'm sure the other judges evaluated them alongside him with the same care and consideration they gave all the rest. And that's all you really need to know about that.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
What the f$%k is the point of asking your fans that buy your products vote and sort the entries if one person's opinion is going to set the tone of how items are viewed. Honestly the judges should be blind to the items until the sort is done. Or better yet, release the top 100 and let the public vote in the top 32 and alternates. That way personal tastes and biases are removed.

This is a colossally bad idea. The fans (collectively) are not the best qualified to determine the Top 32. I think that alone is evident from the fact that there's a 45% hit rate on what the public up-voted into their Top 32 and what the judges ultimately settled on. By asserting what you've suggested here (or hinted at), you're implying that you know better than the judges as to what deserves to be in the Top 32. Or, at the very least, you're suggesting that you trust the public voters to collectively establish that better than the judges. I'm sure that would work out better for someone who wants only one audience to win over with their submission, but that's absolutely not what's best for determining who to select for the Top 32. You know how I know? Because the contest is working just fine at identifying very valuable freelancer talent for Paizo from the Top 8 and up (and sometimes even from the Top 8 thru the Top 32). And those individuals, for 6-7 years running now, have always been selected by the judges rather than the voters. The voters certainly have their role to play in determining the actual Superstar by having them determine who advances. But inclusion in that Top 32 is something you have to convince an experienced judge to provide you. Not the masses. And that's how it ought to be.

GM_Solspiral wrote:
~End rant

~End counter-rant

--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Sounds like a great time. I've heard a lot of people have made use of this module to enhance the Kingmaker AP. I'm glad they both still have legs (and synergy).

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Valerie Williams wrote:
Any particular suggested classes for this Adventure Path?

I'm currently working on a set of eight pregen PCs for a product from Legendary Games called Metal Heroes, and I chose to go with the following mix of races, classes, and archetypes. It might give you a few ideas for getting your group started:

Spoiler:

Android slayer
Human arcanist (blood arcanist [aberrant bloodline])
Human bloodrager (elemental bloodline [air])
Gnome alchemist (preservationist)
Oread cleric of the Goddess of Invention
Human investigator (steel hound)
Human gunslinger (pistolero)
Ratfolk rogue (burglar)

As you can see, we went with a healthy dose of new options from the Advanced Class Guide as well as a couple of PC concepts which make use of firearms (to better take advantage of some of the technology in the AP). I'm hoping to get this out the door in February.

Hope that helps,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Adam Daigle wrote:
As someone who read and judged 32 monster entries over the weekend last year, I totally agree. :)

That's why the early years had somewhat "softer" assignments (i.e., flavor vs. crunch) focusing on conceptual designs for nations (world-building skills), villains (characterization skills), and organizations (combination world-building and characterization skills). It tested everyone on important stuff, but it also eased the judges into the crush of having to review 32, several-hundred-word submissions over a single weekend. When the 2nd round turned to designing archetypes and monsters with full stat-blocks, I pitied the judging crew for taking on that kind of workload. Just doing 16 monster reviews in the 3rd round of earlier contests was difficult.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Andrew Marlowe wrote:
And to be honest this is harder than it sounds. The voters are not required to maintain silence...only the contestants. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky people will make bogus assumptions and will say all sorts of things that will try your patience and tempt you to speak up...DON'T DO IT!!

As an aside, this element of RPG Superstar teaches a very valuable lesson. Or, two or three actually...

Spoiler:

1) Think of it as the time during which your turnover is in the hands of your developer. Yet, the soon-to-be-published product may have already been announced and lots of people are talking about it, and, in some cases, speculating about it. They're drawing a lot of wrong conclusions and potentially undermining the product's early marketing...and the financial success/popularity of your work. Yet, you're under a Non-Disclosure Agreement to keep quiet about it...and for all kinds of very valid business reasons. It's a staple of the RPG industry. Can you withhold your natural tendency to speak up and say stuff? That's what RPG Superstar is testing you on.

2) Think of it as the time after your work has been published. Lots of people are discussing it. Some are casting aspersions on it. You have a natural tendency to get defensive. After all, they don't have the full insight into why you made certain design choices. Or, they don't realize that some of what made it into print was changed or modified from your original turnover. For better or worse, it doesn't matter. What's in print is in print. You need to own it. And, ultimately, it was your work and your choice of words within your design which led them to draw the conclusions and judgments they're making. Getting defensive about it and engaging someone to "correct" them on their hasty or erroneous opinion isn't going to put you (or the publisher who's working with you) in a very good light. You need to learn to let it go and move on to the next big thing. That's what RPG Superstar is testing you on, as well.

3) Think of it as the time after your work has been published and it's sitting on the shelves of someone's favorite local game store. They pick it up and make snap judgments about it. They may even ridicule or question it while discussing it with their friends. You'd love to be able to correct them, but you're not there. In fact, you don't even know the conversation is taking place. That's because your work stands alone. It actually needs to stand alone. Your publisher can't cram a bunch of your design notes into the product to help people understand your work...or to provide extra explanations so they won't draw incorrect conclusions. And they also can't fly you on a circuit so you can visit every game store for book signings and an hour-long presentation on what you were thinking. So, you need to learn how to write well enough so your work doesn't require extra commentary or justifications. This kind of steady, consistent, independent, writing ability is also what RPG Superstar is testing you on.

And, believe me, even veteran freelancers struggle with these situations. It's a never-ending battle with your own ego and self-doubt. So, this is the perfect opportunity to test how well you can conduct yourself as professionally as possible.


But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Curaigh wrote:
...I would like to add that folks, old and new alike, should read all of the critiques....You will see why some common missteps are well...common. If you avoided them by chance this year, avoid them by intent next year.

Exceptionally well-stated.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Speaking from the experience of having provided several, initial, map turnovers for Paizo products, the landscape versus portrait analysis usually runs along these lines for me...

Spoiler:

Are you designing a map...typically, an overland map...which is likely to go on the front or back inside cover of an adventure or campaign setting product? If so, the chances for accepting it in a landscaped format goes up.

Are you designing a map...any kind of map (overland, indoor, doesn't matter)...and you expect it to appear inside a product (typically as a location map accompanying an adventure or campaign setting product)? If so, and if you're talking about a full-page map, the chances for accepting it in a landscaped format goes down. That's because a publisher typically wants these kinds of maps to have an orientation which matches the text appearing before and after it. The image naturally flows for the reader's eye as they turn through the pages, and they literally don't have to turn the book 90-degrees in order to pause and take in the map.

However...

Are you designing a map...again, any kind of map (overland, indoor, doesn't matter)...and you expect it to appear inside a product, and it only has to be a half-page? If so, these maps tend to have a wider footprint in relation to its length down the page. As such, the chances for accepting it in a landscaped format once again goes up. Not always, of course. But it's easier, because, unlike the full-page, landscaped maps which typically appear inside the front or back covers, you don't have to reorient the book to view them. A half-page, landscaped map can still be viewed with the same orientation as the text, just like a full-sized, portrait map.

Now, for the purposes of this RPG Superstar assignment, you've been asked to do a full-page, 8.5" x 11" map. Thus, you're probably just looking at the first two kinds of mapping situations I've described, above. And, the half-page, landscaped map is probably off the table.

In my opinion...and take it for what's worth, because it's only my opinion...a true RPG Superstar should be applying a tremendous amount of savvy by researching the types of full-size maps which have appeared in Paizo products over the years. And, then, after performing that level of due diligence and research, settle on the type of orientation to pursue for the contest assignment. And, once you've got that logistical choice made, emulate...as best you can...the style of existing Paizo maps you've found which fit that format...and, couple that with whatever awesome Golarion location you've decided to map. Though this direction isn't necessarily in the rules of the contest, it's one of those unwritten rules that no one will tell you. As someone with Superstar potential, you have to demonstrate that level of wisdom in your design research and implementation to show that you can find the unwritten rules and give a publisher something which matches what they're already doing in their products. Because, unless you're truly trying to turn everything upside down on a design, you want to color within the lines as they've defined them in their existing material.

So, these types of choices and overall decision-making are what ultimately leads to a better assessment of RPG Superstar competitors and how "ready now" they are to become a freelance designer for Paizo (or any other publisher). And, in addition to that, how well they deliver on this round's assignment in terms of producing a map with compelling content (i.e., with hints towards cool encounters, tactical setups, BBEG villain insights, geographic enhancements from a campaign setting perspective, etc.) as well as how well they produce something a cartographer can work with to render an even more artistic and eye-catching product for publishing...will ultimately help assess their skill at map-making.

And, keep in mind, that's only one of the major skills a Superstar needs to bring to the table. There'll be many others tested and assessed over the course of the competition. So, smart contestants should look ahead and gauge what skills the various rounds of the competition are putting under the microscope. And, once you've got a sense of that, put together a game plan for how you'll showcase yourself in the best possible way...both to catch the eye of Paizo (for future opportunities no matter the outcome of your run through RPG Superstar) and, then, of course the voters (who will absolutely control the outcome of your run through RPG Superstar). You've got to stand out to both audiences with how your work portrays you AND your capabilities.


But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Maria Smolina wrote:
...I guess I am crazily lucky for a beginner (especially for a beginner whose native language is other than English), to get into the Top 32 that fast.

It's not unheard of. There've been a few over the years to pull off that feat. The very first iteration of the contest in 2008 resulted in Christine Schneider (of Germany) winning the whole thing, and English wasn't her native language either. So, it's not only possible to make the Top 32, but you can make it all the way if you apply yourself.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Matt Goodall wrote:
Ben Parkin wrote:
Scott LaBarge wrote:
I love how many educators we have in the top 32. Teachers rule!
Where my IT professionals at?! :(
I'm an IT trainer, so both a teacher and an IT professional. :-)

FYI...I too am an IT professional. So, that's two RPG Superstars with that kind of background. You're in good company, Ben! ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Well said, Feros.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Avengers Assemble!

No. Wait. That's not right.

Top 32 Represent!

No, seriously. Go represent some awesome Golarion locations with your maps. There's no time to waste with these tight turnarounds.

Go Supernova!

No. That's not right either.

Go Superstar!

Yeah. That's the ticket. Now punch yours and...

Spoiler:

...On to the next round!

Also...

Spoiler:

EXPLOSIVE RUNES!!!

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

11 people marked this as a favorite.

It's not the drawing of the map which matters as much...though, admittedly, if you completely botch it and make something which is woefully difficult to understand (both for your developer and your cartographer), you'll have obviously missed the boat. And, I also know there are plenty of voters who can get swayed by a pretty, pretty map and hold it in higher regard than a just-as-functional map which a skilled cartographer could still turn into a work of art. As a competitor, you should be aware of that and strive to satisfy both audiences, if you can, as it'll help you stand out from the other contestants.

However, what really matters...and what the voters should be assessing...is what the choices in crafting your map tells them about your potential as a designer. Not a cartographer, mind you. Rather, a designer should be approaching map design with an eye towards how they can use it to make for a compelling encounter. In addition, it should give further insight into the characterization of the creatures which live there. It needs to "make sense" and it needs to present an entertaining adventuring environment for the gaming table.

In my opinion, maps viewed through the designer's lens (as opposed to a cartographer's) need to be about a whole lot more than just the drawing part. An RPG Superstar instinctively recognizes this and looks for ways to showcase their design skills with the choices they make in selecting and designing a map. And, then, they need to depict it well enough for a cartographer and developer to understand and refine it.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

2 people marked this as a favorite.
captain yesterday wrote:
...boy was i waay off! love it, only one book left to get :-)

You can trust that I monitor pretty much all of these messageboards when a new AP gets announced and I already know I'm tapped to be an author for it. And, early comments like yours which express initial skepticism just motivate me that much more to knock your socks off and, as Adam said, change your mind. I suspect fellow authors on any given AP probably feel the same. We take it as a challenge to challenge ourselves in winning you (the collective "you") over.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Correct. Destroy the gem. Free the soul. The description for the soulbound doll explains it can only be reused if it remains "intact"...and there's a hardness, hit points, and break DC assigned to it. Thus, by implication, destroying the gem eliminates its use as a soul focus, thereby freeing the soul.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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DeathQuaker wrote:
Creativity is crucial, yes, but is only one of many things that makes a good designer, such as attention to detail. You can be beautifully imaginative and still not be suited to certain kinds of work that involve creativity.

This is exceptionally true. Wes Schneider has frequently indicated that creativity mismatched with an inability to follow directions and sloppy attention to detail ultimately makes the jobs of the developers and editors harder. And they don't want that. No one does. Instead, they'd much rather work with freelancers who bring creativity AND professional workmanship to the table. And that means taking care to follow the appropriate templates, style guides, and so on, in your submissions (whether for RPG Superstar or an actual turnover on a freelance assignment).

Small mistakes here and there can be corrected, coached, or flat-out taught. That's why you often see at least a few Top 32 make it through with a small formatting error here or there. But complete disregard for instructions, guidelines, or the rules of design are quite different...and usually an indication of a lazy, inattentive designer regardless of how creative they may or may not be.

Bottom line, it's very difficult to view that kind of person as a Superstar-level talent. So, even if they get up-voted by the public, it's almost a certainty that the primary judges will eliminate them from consideration as a candidate for Top 32. In essence, those individuals just aren't ready yet. As a result, it's better to leave them out of the competition and give them another year or two to learn the ropes instead.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Kevin Mack wrote:
Still no catfolk (sigh)

Take heart, Kevin. I've not forgotten you. Just looking for the right AP to introduce one. Right now, I'm most likely to include a catfolk in the following AP plug-ins for pregen PCs:

Spoiler:

Serpent's Skull
Reign of Winter
Mummy's Mask
Legacy of Fire

I may or may not be actively working on a set for such a product. ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Thanks for the review, Feros.

Feedback on the Art:

Spoiler:

I'll take your input on the art to heart, and see what we can do about setting some better guidelines for our artists wherever and whenever we can (though it may be a little late on the next series). That said, sometimes the cheesecake art is a vital, eye-catching component for marketing purposes, particularly for cover art which is meant to get the viewer to pause and look over the product description. Since we use a small rogue's gallery mash-up of the character illustrations as our cover art on these products, that's what we have to select from.

With regards to the more scantily-clad female illustrations in this product, two of them were chosen to be depicted that way, because of their backgrounds. The elven sea witch is a very sensual, seductive character based both on her personality and her religious faith, while the undine monk is frequently in the water and her attire is very much in line with descriptions of her species from the Advanced Race Guide. So, we tried to make sure we stayed true to those characterizations. The third female character is the traveling, half-elven priestess, and she admittedly came out a bit more sexualized than I'd envisioned...but not egregiously so. Of the three female characters, we chose her for the cover art.

Also, good luck on that next Champion voter tag. :)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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For an Ustalav issue, there really ought to be an entire collection of new haunts, whether that's in the bestiary section or not...

Just my two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Congrats!

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

I have no objection to it. But then, I'm mostly certainly biased. ;)

I also assume Endy will eventually get around to it. He's got a big list of reviews to work through, though.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Hmmm...this has been out for a couple of weeks now, but no reviews. Anyone have time to post up some feedback? I'm working on Metal Gods right now and if there's anything folks would like to share or propose about the direction of these pregen products, now's the time to let your voice be heard (by the author, that is).

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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Some of the biggest differences between the "Incessant Ramble" thread and the similar kind of venting we as judges engaged in behind the scenes is that a) it was private rather than public, b) even if we shared stuff from behind the curtain, we tried to soften it by omitting the worst of it (which means we self-edited like I'm encouraging people to do here), and c) there were a lot less of us (i.e., three to four judges) as opposed to an entire voting public piling on and letting off steam. That last part is especially important, because as more people comment with something negative, the more it magnifies the hit to someone's self-esteem on the receiving end.

Thus, the "Incessant Ramble" thread runs a greater risk of harming those trying their hand at the contest...especially if they're first-timers or younger gamers...situations which we know occur every year. And, because of that, always remember that the folks competing in RPG Superstar aren't expected to be buttoned-down professional freelancers (yet). The contest itself is a gauntlet to not only demonstrate your potential RPG design skills and creativity, but to also teach you a tremendous number of lessons you'll need as a freelancer should you go on to publish stuff with an RPG company, whether that be for Paizo or a third-party publisher. I've heard Owen himself repeatedly refer to RPG Superstar as a "master class in RPG design." And make no doubt, I expect him to fully drive home that point over the course of this year's competition. So, for the lucky few who make it into the Top 32, hang onto your hats! You're in for an awesome ride!

With regards to the public voting and venting, however, just recognize there's a right way and a wrong way to point out the flaws in any given submission. And that goes for the latter rounds of the competition, too...not just the public vote to aid the judges in selecting the Top 32. Be conscious of how you yourself are rendering your feedback to others. Recognize that not everyone is at the same point in their design skills yet, and work to nurture the growth of them and the hobby rather than say something which drives away a dispirited, would-be contributor. Help people learn rather than just point out their mistakes. And reflect on your chosen words before you post them to determine if they're tearing down someone in an effort to show off your own superior design knowledge...or if you're truly commenting because you want to offer them some constructive feedback.

I firmly believe if you hold these principles in mind as you participate in the "Incessant Ramble" thread, the "Critique My Item" thread, and even the individual threads for each competitors' submissions (once they're posted for public discussion), you'll be doing a lot more to foster the success of RPG Superstar, the hobby, Paizo, and your fellow competitors.

Just a couple more cents before the voting gets underway,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

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So, it's certainly no surprise that I've followed along with the various threads here in the RPG Superstar forum (as I do every year), just catching up on some of the differences and nuances of this iteration of the contest, and it's always heartening to see a lot of newcomers and first-timers announcing they're giving it a go. It's also cool to see the eligible veterans returning to take another crack at it. Trust me, that kind of perseverence can pay off big-time! Just ask Mike Welham and Steve Helt. And yet, it's also possible that someone totally new to RPG Superstar (or even Pathfinder) can go pretty far, too.

But, before we see who makes the Top 32 (plus alternates!), there's the public voting round to help sort the better items towards the top of the list, and this is a necessary step which eases the burden on the primary judges who go on to select the actual competitors for the Top 32. As such, I think it's important to share a bit of carefully considered advice I have for everyone...and this comes both as a former-competitor of RPG Superstar, as well as my time serving as a judge for a few years.

If your experience while voting is anything like prior years...or, if it's anything like what the main judges went through when we sorted the submissions on our own...you're going hit a wall at some point which I like to call "The Wall of Voter Fatigue and Frustration." It's that point where you've seen a certain item you've downvoted time and time again, and you just lose patience with it. Or, it'll be an item which--from a design standpoint--just isn't quite ready yet. It may have mishandled certain rules or use of the submission template. It may be a joke item or an ill-considered one. Or a seemingly blatant rip-off of some intellectual property. And so on. Bottom line, it'll be situations like that which will continually try your patience and your sanity. But here's my advice...

Take a deep breath. Soldier on. Vent if you have to, but carefully consider how and where you do it.

Why?

Because it's as important how you conduct yourself during the voting process as it is in how you conduct yourself as an RPGSS competitor...or how you conduct yourself as an RPGSS judge...or how you conduct yourself as a future freelancer...or how you conduct yourself when representing a company you work for (like Paizo, hopefully). If you vent too harshly...apply too much snark...or simply fail to convey the wit you thought you were giving versus the venom it was interpreted to be...you risk reducing the esteem which others might have felt towards you, the contest, and themselves. And, perhaps more importantly, you run the risk of absolutely walking all over someone's dream with a total lack of sensitivity.

Now, some will say that's sugarcoating things for would-be designers who ought to learn here and now that they'll need some seriously thick skin if they intend to work as a freelancer in the RPG industry. However, consider this: Not everyone who enters RPG Superstar does so with the intention of becoming a freelancer. Some do it for fun and to feel a part of the Pathfinder/Paizo community. In addition, even if they do have aspirations of becoming a paid freelancer, you're not necessarily doing them the favor you think you are by blasting your feedback at them via a medium like the internet which does very little to carry any emotive content behind your words. What you thought was cute may be received as harsh, and not just by the one you intended to receive your commentary. Onlookers will develop an opinion of you, as well.

So, carefully consider how you conduct yourself during the voting process when you feel that urge to rail against a particular design or design choice. Even when veiled in as much vagueness as you hope to muster with your comments, there will be people out there who will endure a tremendous amount of stress wondering if your negative feedback applies to them or their item. And, even if you yourself are ready to take that kind of criticism, it doesn't mean you can assume everyone else is by extension. What's more, you run the risk of fostering an environment where others feel emboldened to take the criticism to an even higher level. And, unlike the judging forums where we used to hide that kind of rage-venting in the past, the voting public tends to air their views in plain view and in greater numbers. So, it can start to drain the life and enthusiasm out of the participants.

Therefore, if you take this contest (and your own design skills) super-seriously, you may want to start emulating that which you want to become...i.e., a professional freelancer...by demonstrating a professional demeanor in how you conduct yourself in the various feedback threads, voter frustration threads, and so on. Last year, we had a "Voters' Incessant Ramble" thread which kind of got super-negative and deflating for some contestants. It was eventually offset by a "Voters' Incessant Praise" thread, but not nearly to the same degree as the piling-on which took over the prior one. Eventually, there was even a "Critique My Item" thread which the voting public helped host as a nod towards the same kind of forum the primary judges used to host in the past. All three of those discussion threads are good places to practice the professional demeanor I'd like to encourage. And, if you can conduct yourself in that manner, believe me, people will take notice. And, if you don't conduct yourself in that manner, people will also take notice.

That's how life works. It's always easier to tear down something than to build it up. And people are always watching and judging you by your own public behavior.

So, it's my hope that, as people go into the public voting round, and as the judges put on their judging hats, and people start offering feedback to the competitors in whatever forum, that everyone goes into it with a commitment towards being as supportive as you can afford to be. Not to sugarcoat or handhold or give someone a free pass on a poor design. Rather, in spite of those things, to carefully consider the feedback you give so it doesn't damage the feelings of the receiving party in a way that totally ruins their ability to enjoy and participate in the contest and the hobby. Educate and build people up where you can. Bite your tongue and remain silent if you're completely unable to find anything positive to say alongside your critique. Basically, just focus on helping this contest continue as one of the best things going in the RPG industry right now.

And that's my two cents,
--Neil

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