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RPG Superstar 2015

The Country of Nelvia


Round 2 - Top 32: Design a Country

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

Name: Nelvia

Concept: “Intrigue and Wilderness Untamed”

Alignment: LN

Capital: Port Nelvia (pop. 30,000 mixed dwarf/human)

Notable Settlements: Arkon Keep (pop. 5,500, 100% human), Rohm Keep (pop. 3,700, 100% human), Bellyrion (pop. 17,200 mixed dwarf/human), Satarva (pop. 12,000 mixed dwarf/human), Firehome Gate (pop 2,000 100% dwarf)

Ruler: Jaon, Lord Arkon, High Protector of Nelvia

Government: Provisional military council of five City-States.

Description: The southern country of Nelvia is located in a fertile plain reclaimed from the primeval Mazarzhon Jungle. It comprises the five city-states of Arkon, Rohm, Bellyrion, Satarva, and the Port City of Nelvia. Surrounded to the north, east and west by vast, lush rainforest, Nelvia’s main source of wealth is overseas trade. The main commodities are hardwood timber, ores and metal goods traded with the Dwarves of the Emberglow clan, who inhabit the Firehome Mountains to the north. The five city-states have been historically autonomous, connected by historical and commercial ties rather than by a cohesive political system.
Currently governed by a military council, Nelvia is at war on two fronts. In the west, the Zurosthan elves seek revenge for the destruction of their ancestral homeland. To the east, armies of giants and kobolds led by the mysterious Frostmagier are held at bay only by an exorbitant tribute from the Eastern Lords of Nelvia. This tribute also grants the country reprieve from a magical winter.

History
One thousand years ago, humans from distant northern lands settled in the sheltered bay of Nelvia at the mouth of the Mazarzhon river. Their intention to log the rich forests for timber for trade brought them into conflict with the barbaric Zurosthan elves, who opposed the defilement of their homeland. The Nelvians gradually pushed further inland, clearing a small valley and resisting periodic attacks from the elves. Their successful enterprise drew the attention of the Emberglow Dwarves, who began trading ores, weapons and tools with the humans. As trade routes were established through the jungle, the Zurosthan elves became increasingly aggressive. The dwarves allied with the Nelvians and together fought a decade-long war against the Zurosthan. Large swaths of jungle were burned to reduce the elves’ tactical advantage, enlarging the plain at the expense of the Mazarzhon wilderness. The elves were eventually driven out of the forest between the plain and the Firehome mountains, and the entire plain was named “Nelvia.”
The humans then divided the land they had conquered with the help of the dwarves into roughly equal territories amongst the war-heroes Arkon, Rohm, Lyrion and Satarva. The direct descendants of the original settlers retained the Port of Nelvia, as well as control of the main road to the dwarven enclave of Firehome Gate. Over the next seven hundred years, dwarves and men lived peacefully, amassing enormous wealth through seafaring trade with distant kingdoms in the North.
Then the elves returned. Their bodies covered with war-tattoos, the mighty Zurosthan lashed out against Nelvia from the west, using magic and accompanied by powerful allies from the forest. The descendants of Arkon and Rohm successfully resisted the Zurosthan invasion and erected two walls along the edge of the forest to contain the enemy.
Simultaneously a force of giants, led by a mysterious entity known as the Frostmagier, marched upon Nelvia from the East. The leaders of Port Nelvia, Bellyrion and Satarva, unable to respond as effectively as their western cousins, called upon their dwarven allies. However, even together they could not contain the onslaught.
Then the Lord of Arkon Keep joined the battle. Leading his soldiers and the combined human and dwarven force against the Frostmagier’s army, he successfully pushed back the enemy. In retaliation, the Frostmagier called forth powerful magic and changed the tropical weather of Nelvia into an unyielding winter, which wizards and clerics were powerless to reverse.
Having been driven to near-extinction by this enemy in the past, the dwarves urged the Lords of Nelvia to bargain for peace with the Frostmagier. Earmor, Lord of Port Nelvia, grudgingly offered a tribute in return for reprieve from the magical winter. The Frostmagier demanded that all five city-states swear fealty, but Arkon and Rohm refused. Thus Nelvia was granted a three-month summer in exchange for an exorbitant sum, while nine months of winter were visited upon the realm to punish those who would not submit to the Frostmagier.

DM Secrets: The Druidic Order of Mazarzhon seeks to protect the rainforest from the devastating magical winter, and vocally support the surrender of Arkon and Rohm to the authority of the Frostmagier. Although their efforts focus on creating magical wildlife sanctuaries, they have recently demanded severe logging quotas. Rumours abound that they have begun employing violence to enforce their views, which seem to be influenced by the Zurosthan.

Jaon, Lord of Arkon, has declared himself High Protector of Nelvia and extended his holdings into Bellyrion and Satarva, leaving naught but the cities under their lords’ control. Jaon hopes to rule all of Nelvia by making the other city-states completely dependent on his military power.

Earmor, Lord of Port Nelvia, realizes that he does not have the military resources to stem Jaon’s political ambitions. He thus maintains a network of spies that provide him information and complete key tasks intended to undermine the Lord Arkon’s plans for power. Earmor directs these agents through his secret advisor, Mauron of Nelvia, a swashbuckler wanted for stealing an ancient relic from Arkon Keep.

Wizards and sorcerers are viewed with suspicion in Nelvia because people associate their abilities with the Frostmagier. The Conclave of the Whale, a group of traders interested in starting a whaling operation, is actually a network that provides shelter and support to spellcasters. Some members of the Conclave seek magical power to defeat the Frostmagier on their own.

Operating only through wizard and sorcerer agents, the Frostmagier’s true nature remains a mystery. Many humans believe the Frostmagier to be a powerful evil creature or a group of evil spellcasters. However, the dwarves claim that its power is much greater, akin to that of the Gods…

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

Lots to talk about here.

My general sense is that this is a decent setting for somewhat generic fantasy adventuring, but that it requires certain sacrifices in the "core" assumptions that it may not make up for in distinctiveness and excitement.

Let's start at the top. The very top. There's nothing wrong with the name "Nelvia". I can see it on a map, it doesn't make me (too) embarrassed to pronounce out loud, and it doesn't sound like a word the players will turn into a joke. So far so good. But titling your entry "The Country of Nelvia" is more than a little underwhelming. Why not just Nelvia, or something that hints at the city state arrangement of the locale?

The general description of the nation is nothing special and a bit underwhelming until we get to the very last sentence, which reads: "This tribute also grants the country reprieve from a magical winter."

Woah! Stop the presses! Up until that moment I'd assumed Nelvia was a tropical jungle environ, as that's how the country's neighbors were described. Elves and dwarves nearby, ok, whatever. But then, out of the blue, BOOM! Magic winter.

Now we're cooking.

The idea of a jungle nation of rag-tag city states held under the thumb of an eldritch winter conjures all sorts of interesting ideas. But it isn't mentioned until a third of the words have already been used up describing something not nearly so interesting. That was a poor design choice.

But the way that the magical winter is introduced isn't just flawed in placement, but in style as well. "This tribute also grants the country reprieve from a magical winter." It's almost tossed off as an aside even though several of the city states don't have any reprieve at all. Plus, the idea of a jungle nation held in the grip of a magical winter is so evocative that the author should be trying to use evocative language.

If this country had started out with a bit of florid writing right up at front describing the ecological threat and putting it into a context that suggests immediate adventure possibilities, I think it would have had a much better chance getting through to the next round.

Let's move on to another bad structural choice. The entry devotes too much time to history, in particularly to the history regarding the recent war against the Frostmagier. This is a delicate balancing act, because a recent war that caused the country's current predicament certainly cannot be glossed over, but so much emphasis on that one conflict eats up words and makes it seem like that conflict is the only idea that the author really had about the country, which isn't really what good writing under a word count should do.

I know, for example, which city states avoided the conflict, and roughly what order the various combatants entered the fray, but I don't know much about life in Nelvia right now. What are the people of Nelvia like? How do they react to outsiders? What do their buildings look like, what sort of culture do they have?

Certainly you don't have room for all that stuff, but each sentence spent going over a major area of focus for the entry is a sentence that could improve the reader's general sense of the region and what to do with it in a fantasy roleplaying game.

Also, I think building in inherent, likely overwhelming bias between elves and dwarves is a risk, as is persecuting wizards and sorcerers. Each of these choices limits to some degree race and class choices made by players. They aren't going to like that unless there is some really cool thematic payoff inherent to the setting, and I don't think it's quite been pulled off here. In the end it seems like you sacrifice too much to gain too little.

I do see some possibilities here. The general idea is a good one, if inexpertly executed. I imagine lots of in-and-out missions between Port Nelvia and the various city states still under the sway of the magical winter. The game boasts lots of interesting arctic creatures that I don't get to use much, and this setting would afford me the chance. I also liked the mental image of the vanquished elves coming back covered in war tattoos, and I'm reminded that the "country under the thumb of an evil magical overlord" is a classic concept that still has legs.

This is the first Round 2 entry I've read, and I think there remains significant room for improvement in the submissions to follow.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

I'm with Erik that there's lots of great concepts here, but ideas are only 10% of the challenge. Execution is crucial, especially with an all-flavor round like this one.

And the execution here is not good. Erik nailed it with the problems of too much history and of failing to capitalize on the magical winter threat (journalists call this "burying the lead"). The design doesn't maximize the strengths of the premise, and that's a problem. The country challenge needs to address the present state of the country so that DMs and players can use it in play. This focuses too much on the past.

Beyond that, there's some original elements and some oddness. What prompted the unlikely alliance between giants and kobolds? Why aren't giants running that show? What does the whaling operation have to do with all this?

I'm impressed by the sheer inventiveness on display, but hard-pressed to recommend this whole-heartedly. Despite lots of good ideas, I can't say that it seems likely to make it into the next round.

Not recommended.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Submission checklist:

Submitted on time? Check.
Submission is a "country"? Check.
Submission contains all of the mandatory content as required by the contest rules? Check.
Submission is within the word limit? Check. 1000 it is!
Submission is free of inappropriate content in violation of the "taboo" guidelines? Check.
Submission does not use content from a source other than those listed? Check.
Submission does not reference a published campaign setting? Check.
Submission does not include maps or art? Check.
Submission is a suitable setting for roleplaying with the d20 system? Check.
Submission is not a "joke" or otherwise completely fails to meet the minimum requirements of the competition or other contest rules? Check.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

My esteemed colleagues beat me to the punch, so I will shorten mine up a bit:

Fluff (writing, grammar, style, evocative prose, etc.): C
Not bad.

Crunch (basics, rules issues, depth of the setting, details, etc.): C
No crunch other than passing nuggets of suggestions.

Design (choices made, format, naming, originality, theme, balance--ie, is the submission heavy in one part but lacking in another?): C
The Good: There is war. War means conflict. Conflict is good. The DM section is more than an afterthought and actually contains some good stuff. I like the Frostmagier.
The Bad: You’re getting all Elmore on me with the names—Firehome, Emberglow. Personally, I am not a fan of that style of “CrappyName” name construction. If I was, I’d like the Realms, which I don’t. And then comes the longwinded and mostly unnecessary history section. Some astute observers may notice that we didn’t include a history section as mandatory content. Why? Because history can be a trap to suck you in and use up your word count. This one got sucked it. Not the worst example, but a big flaw. Not saying what the frostmagier is can be considered a bit of a cop out—this is the DM Secrets section after all. I’m not seeing a tight theme here. I guess I wasn’t quite as impressed with the magical winter as Erik.

Play (setting for adventure? campaign? is there conflict? are there play limitations?): C+
Sure, you can play here. But nothing special.

Tilt (my personal take, is it evocative? do I want to play there? does it capture my imagination?): C
Generic.

Overall: C
Pretty average execution of a generic fantasy setting. Not Superstar.

NOT RECOMMENDED for top 16.

I must admit I am surprised at this submission. I thought this author's wondrous item was very creative. I'm sorry about that.

Please know that my review is just that. I am not reviewing YOU, I am reviewing the submission. Obviously I thought you have some serious design mojo, since your item was a consensus top 16 pick. For whatever reason, your country didnt grab me at all. But now it is up to the voters to decide. I sure wish you the best of luck.


This is my third review.

There's not much to say that hasn't already been said and I'm one of the first (if not the first) non-Paizo person to show up. The second paragraph of the description is great. The rest is not exciting. Given the limitations of space, do we really need to know when this place was settled? Too much history.

The DM Secrets section unfortunately led me to give this a thumbs-down. There's only one real secret there, the rest is stuff the players are going to know. That's not much of a hook for DMs. I mean, come on, the big secret of the Frostmagier is that nobody knows who he really is?

I'm sure if the author had cut down on his history and used that space to include more current events, he'd have found that he wouldn't have to put the current events in the DM Secrets section. This is a good first draft, but I'm afraid I'm not fond of it in it's current format.

Rating: Thumbs Down


I really like the idea of a country fighting a war on two fronts. I would like to see more of the "current" state of the land and less history.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Based on the extensive history it seems like a combination of European settlers invading Narnia. That wasn't meant to be a complete slam. I think you may have tried to cram too much into 1000 words and it lost focus. I like some of the concepts, but they got scattered.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32 , Star Voter 2013 aka TerraNova

Just the fact that the frost mage was literally names "Frost Mage" (albeit in german) has made me reject this one. So damn irritating to read... And its not even a particularly Germany-like scenario, just a random word thrown in there.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015 aka Darkjoy

Review number 18.

You buried the lede / leade.

Snow covered jungle is quite cool, but the rest of it is just a bit bland. Didn't suck me in like the other cool stuff that I've read.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Elves v Dwarves in Narnia. Some interesting premises here, but the way they are presented make them seem for the most part somewhat generic – although I like the idea of invasions of tattooed, savage elves and magically enforced winters, it’s just not exciting me enough here as it should.

Although I don’t want to fall into the “could my PC come from here” thing, I do have some concerns about the racial breakdowns and conflicts. I wouldn’t want to be playing an elf (particularly an elf wizard!) if the party was adventuring in this land. And even a halfling, gnome or half orc would probably feel out of place in one of those 100% dwarf or human cities … this is the second entry I’ve read which focuses on a dwarf/human country, and ‘m afraid I find the other far more compelling.


The names are fairly well thought out and imaginative. I especially like Rohm Keep and Mazarzhon.

The military council idea is a good idea but could use some more fleshing out for me to really buy into it.

Surrounded to the north, east and west by vast, lush rainforest, Nelvia’s main source of wealth is overseas trade. What does one have to do with the other? I guess the next sentence is meant to elaborate a bit but it just seems clunky to me.

Frostmagier is one of the better elements of the entry. The name is evocative and the mystery surrounding it can really allow a DM to roam with adventure ideas. I like things that never get explained but you can still have fun with.

The elf thing is a bit weak and cliché for my taste. I just can’t help but think there was a more original group(s) that could have been in this conflict. Also the motivation for the elves to be angry is overdone.

Too much history. Could you have used some of your precious word count to flesh out the contemporary Nelvia so we as DMs had more to work with? More fluff/crunch that we can inject directly into the game.

In DMs secret section the druid thing seems more of an observation than a secret. It is more of an extension of the description and if I am missing something and there is more to it than that, well than it is even a secret from the DM! Ditto with Jaon.

Mauron, now I have something to sink my teeth into. This may be tied with the Frostmagier for coolest element of the entry.

Some traders wanting to harpoon some whales are the primary force behind the resistance to Frostmagier? I don’t see it. I might not be reading this well enough or then again maybe it is not presented well enough. This is the second time in this entry this happened to me while reading this.

Forged Goo Adventure Scale: Good-
The only thing I came up with adventure-wise as I read were things dealing with Frostmagier really. Although I must say I want to party with Mauron. My scale won’t be the only reason I vote for a particular entry but it will tend to put countries in the fore. This one was just not that rip roarin’ evocative for me. Darn it. I want to like it too.

Good luck,
Goo

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka Steven T. Helt

This entry strikes me as pedestrian. That's odd, since the Paper Folding Instructions are utterly and completely unique. I fear you used all the mojo for that one.

Some good elements, but there's not enough attention given to the magical winter. It's almost as if you threw that out as a random way to keep the war from truly being two fronts, and then didn't realize how cool it was. It just feels like you left the good stuff on the table and focused on the ho hum.

Congratulations on making the top 32.

Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

Mauricio Quintana wrote:

Name: Nelvia

It does feel a bit generic, like something you'd come across in an average basement game. There are some decent names here, and the magic winter is an idea that could be used well. Overall, though, not picking me up.


I don't really get a feel for the culture of this country. What are the people like? Not much stuck out for me other than an attacking army of giants and jungle elves ready to kick some ass.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015

First sentence: That's two concepts and neither are really integral to the country.

It's interesting to see a disunited country and one on a war footing. Overall this is a more sophisticated political treatment than many of the others.

The druids are more than a bit anachronistic.

DM's Secrets mostly aren't, though the few facts that are secret take the country in some interesting directions. Once again, it's easy for a setting element like the Frostmagier to be too mysterious and to raise the suspicion that the author didn't know what it was about, either.

Some of the writing is not the best, but it's a solid design and workmanlike writeup. Possibly keep.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 aka adanedhel9

The language use is mostly good; the names, while not great, are fine; and the core concept is quite interesting. Your problem here is that you didn't spend enough time on that core concept. This entry could've been a lot more with an abbreviated history and more focus on contemporary Nelvia under the magical winter.


You used way to much of your word count on history. It's difficult to get much of a feel of the country because of this.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Modules Subscriber

Place your votes.


Underwhelmed. I didn't really get the feel of the country and what I got felt too generic.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

wow, I seriously screwed up.

I made some crippling design mistakes, which reflect quite naturally in the way that other people have responded to my entry.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Erik, Clark, and Wolfgang for your time and help in offering your criticism. I look at my submission in a whole new light, and I can't agree more. Especially thanks to Erik for taking the time to break it down for me, bit by bit. There are so many things that I understand better now about how to present a piece of writing. I will use this learning in subsequent writing projects.

Gosh, I really wish I could rewrite it.

If anyone wants to vote for my little country under the snows, I wholeheartedly appreciate it and thank them in advance. Just to answer the one comment that irked me, I didn't use all the mojo up in the origami book: I just played my own harshest critic ahead of time, and the result shows it.

M


I like this country. I think it could be fabulous if you had another 1000 words to work with the way it's written. Though... that would make the contest a little pointless (and kill the judges).

The concept behind it is brilliant! It really is. I've already thought of some things to throw together to make the Frostmagier, and yes, he is akin to a god. (If you made it to the next round, I certainly hope the villain you create is the Frostmagier).

The idea was original enough that I'm putting you on my potential list for a vote. That list is short, but unfortunately there's only a couple spots open, and I still have about 10 submissions to read. But I really do like this country, and I hope you keep coming up with original ideas like this.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

Ditto on the buried lead notes.

Though I like the magical winter angle, any semi-medieval country would die quickly along with its agricultural base in this situation. How long has this been going on?

There's a lot I like about this entry - some good ideas, some "eh" ideas, need for better execution.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 aka amusingsn

I like the fairy tale feel of the hoary winter menace.


Now that I have returned to Nelvia to give it a second perusal I realise that I was too quick in dismaying it at first glance. I think there is a lot good in it that the author buried unfortunately, and is quite acutely self aware of what he did. Sorry Mauricio.

I do hope you slip into the top sixteen because I do think you have talent that just wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. I imagine it would be quite fun playing at your table if Nelvia is an illustration of your creative talent.


As a personal friend of the submitter, I would like to say that Nelvia was lots better when it was a 1500 word draft.

Mau, as I told you before, I feel that the last frantic attempt to cut down on the word count hurt the entry.

To all paizo readers: This guy's head is literally stuffed with cool and interesting ideas. Please consider this for your 5th vote and I'm sure you wont feel disappointed in the next stage.


I loved the idea of magical winter coming to a jungle, and I agree with Erik that the idea of using all those arctic beasties is very appealing.

But I also agree that too much was spent on the history. More talk on conflicts between the city-states would have been great, especially portions that players can hear about. The trade and commerce of the nation were well thought-out, and I think the potential for adventure is high here. If only the elven reaction wasn't so cliche...but I liked the visual of tatooed, jungle-dwelling elves.

Lots of good stuff here, still in the running in my book.


This entry reads too much like "I'll just grab a piece of my campaign and submit it." Parts are too disjointed and I just don't feel the wonder and excitement that drips from some of the other entries.


I like that the primary force to fear in the wilderness isn't goblins or orcs, but elves. That's very cool.

I think you should have provided at least one or two descriptive words when you introduced the Frostmagier. Anything that would have demonstrated what the people of Nelvia think of when they think of him would have been appropriate and helpful, like 'enormous', 'bat-winged', 'inhuman', 'wraith-like', 'giant-like', or even just something like 'ferocious' to invoke a sense of whether it's bestial or humanoid and quietly calculating or terrible to behold. I'm sorry, but without even the tiniest clue, my mind just pictured the Snow Miser, which is unfortunate. The nature of the Frostmagier should definitely be revealed in the GM's secrets, even if there's no stat block or clue to CR.

Its racially divided nations is very Warhammer, and not necessarily in a bad way. It does, however, place pretty heavy restrictions on which races are available to players.

There are a few details that are difficult for me to believe. I can believe that elves would wait 700 years to attempt revenge--that's great. I have a lot of trouble believing that no dwarven versions of Chinatown haven't developed in the 100% human cities listed, and even more trouble believing that no human versions developed in dwarven cities.

I wasn't impressed with the writing. Many patches were unclear or awkward, and even the cleanest parts failed to flow smoothly when read.

I couldn't really picture me running a campaign here, either. There just isn't enough in the way of diverse threats and places to tie off plot hooks. I might use it as the backdrop for a one-shot mini-game, but I wouldn't tie in much about the Frostmagier or really take advantage of the setting's features other than its racial relationships.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 8

I must say that from the onset with the name, what came to my mind was the Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon DVD.

There is a story arc in there concerning Anakin and Obi-Wan being on the planet Nelvaan. This normally warmer locale was suffering from an Ice Age and a loss of their warriors. It seems the Ice age was thrust upon them by the Techno Union blocking geothermic vents for powering experiments to make giant Nelvaan Cyborgs.

Sadly, this cuts too close in my opinion.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

Joseph Yerger wrote:

I must say that from the onset with the name, what came to my mind was the Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon DVD.

There is a story arc in there concerning Anakin and Obi-Wan being on the planet Nelvaan. This normally warmer locale was suffering from an Ice Age and a loss of their warriors. It seems the Ice age was thrust upon them by the Techno Union blocking geothermic vents for powering experiments to make giant Nelvaan Cyborgs.

Sadly, this cuts too close in my opinion.

Well, in my own defense, I just want to say I never watched the Clone Wars cartoon ;)

I was concerned that the magical winter idea would probably cut too close to the n+1 settings in fantasy fiction that employ it, in one way or another. However and thanks to Erik Mona's criticism, I can honestly say that next time I write something like this, I'll make sure that I play such aspects up. A lot of what went into my decisions about how to present this material had to do with casting familiar elements in a different light, showcasing different relationships between races and their surroundings.

Obviously I have a lot to learn in order to do this successfully. Thanks for the heads up about the Clone Wars, anyway, and good luck on round three.

M

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