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RPG Superstar 2015

Rennie Saunders

Round 1: Beacon of Hope
Round 2: Idalia of the Twisted Lands

Idalia of the Twisted Lands


Round 2 - Top 32: Design a Country

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

Secure in the Blessed Embrace of the Eternals

The Twisted Lands have suffered through 1000 years of peace. It is a peace that is enforced with draconian laws, countless regulations and swift justice that is dispensed by the powerful Order. The empire of the titans had been a member of the Seven Nations that included human, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome and giant. But their civil war became the Unspoken War. It grew until it involved every race and covered all of the land. In the end the Titans of Law defeated their brethren the Titans of Chaos and in
the aftermath the world became known as the Twisted Lands. The forces of chaos that had been unleashed brought change to every living thing; creatures and plants in equal measure. The only means of survival is through adherence to the strict laws and regulations laid down by The Twelve, Titans of Law that through victory have achieved the status of demigods. Known as the Eternals, the titans have each grown their own living city. Remnants of the Seven Nations plus two races that had come into being during the war, the vadween and the hidden, were invited to inhabit them. Spread across the Twisted Lands, the Living Cities each hold sway over their immediate surroundings. Chaos reigns in the great stretches of wilderness between.

Idalia lies on the southwestern edge of the Kuhpil continent now known as the Twisted Lands. It is bordered by Aster on the east and the border is drawn by the mighty Hanahash River which flows to the sea. Calbanor lies to the north and the border is drawn by the low, rugged Ox Tooth Mountains. The rugged cliffs of the Taris Sea create its third border in the west.
Two Living Cities share the country of Idalia. In the wild, temperate forests of the northeast stands the modest Living City of Budwiv, its inhabitants giving fealty to Sallajaj the Eternal. Far to the west, in the mountains overlooking the Taris Sea stands the grandest and richest of the Living Cities, Jadin. The city is ruled with brutal efficiency by the Parliament in the name of Maladacius the Eternal.
There are several communities of hidden, the largest being Betrath the Forgotten which is built into the mountainsides 300 kilometers north of Jadin.
Nomadic tribes of vadween travel the wilds hunting, trading and scavenging the ruins of fallen empires.

The chaos storms that sweep across the Twisted Lands have turned the natural world into a nightmare. The simple beasts have been replaced by monsters, unnatural creatures and supernatural beings that infest the wild spaces between the Living Cities and make travel between these bastions of law and order treacherous and life-threatening.

Idalia of the Twisted Lands; AL LN;
Government: All the countries of the Twisted Lands including Idalia have autonomous city-states and independent communities rather than centralized governments. Each city and settlement has its own ruler.
Cities & Settlements:
Jadin (living city metropolis): Monstrous; AL LN; Population 40,000 adults; 100,000 gp limit; Assets 37,500,000 gp; Mixed (giant 35%, elf 20%, human 10%, gnome 10%, halfling 5%, dwarf 5%, vadween 5%, hidden 5% other 5%).
Government: Theocracy ruled by the resident demigod Maladacius the Eternal. The daily business of ruling is handled by the Parliament whose members are selected from three powerful organizations. By far the most influential of these three groups is the Order. This is a select group of high-level clerics led by Hierophant Ubimor XIV, stone giant (cleric 16). The Cartel is a small group of wealthy merchants that control the extremely dangerous but highly lucrative trade with the other Living Cities of the Twisted Lands. The chief representative of the Cartel is Habjar Duli, high elf (aristocrat 12). The Craft is a large but politically weak alliance of the many trade guilds in the city. They currently have 15 members in parliament, but each is awarded only one-third of a vote, keeping them in political check by the Order. The chief representative is Abuyar Jist, halfling (expert 8), master of the Humble Guild of Potters.
Militia: Patrols of Beloved generally consist of a myrmidon captain (fighter 8) and three hoplites (fighter 4). Select patrols also include a Hand of Maladacius (cleric 4/fighter 2/HoM 2).

Budwiv (large living city): Monstrous; AL LN; Population 22,000 adults; 40,000 gp limit; Assets 15,000,000 gp; Mixed (elf 35%, halfling 25%, dwarf 15%, giant 10%, human 5%, vadween 5%, hidden 2%, other 3%). Government: The demigod Sallajaj the Eternal and a parliament similar to Jadin.

Betrath the Forgotten (large town): Conventional; AL CN; Population 3,400 adults; 3,000 gp limit; Assets 1,125,000 gp; (hidden 85%, vadween 10%, other 5%); Government Tribal; Headman Yusi Tcakto (warrior 9).

DM Secrets
Clerics receive their spells from the patron Eternal of the city where they are trained. Other religions are not allowed in a Living City although it is rumored that cults worshiping other Eternals and other gods exist.

Beloved is a template that may be added to any humanoid race. Beloved are the warriors that fought for the Titans of Law during the Unspoken War. Transformation is provided by Maladacius to those who have proven their loyalty.

While not directly outlawed, wielders of arcane magic are looked upon with disfavor by the Order. There are many laws and ordinances which restrict the behavior of mages and the use of arcane magic. The grumbles of dissatisfaction are growing.

The hidden are humans that were subjugated by the Titans of Chaos to serve as their warriors in the Unspoken War. They were given the ability to shapechange in order to take on the characteristics of creatures. Many hidden are tiring of the persecution and isolation.

The vadween are a race of elves that have embraced the elements. The zephyria, aligned to elemental air, are the most common in Idalia. Some whisper that the vadween are tied to the origin of the Eternals.

Oppression breeds rebellion. Stagnation breeds chaos.

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. 996.
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.

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

Rennie, I don't think you're leading with your strongest material: history is always more interesting to designers and DMs than to players and readers. Lots of that early material is also fairly jumbled; just on a line-by-line level, it needs work. So I admit, Idalia didn't exactly grab me at first.

There are jewels among your entry, things like the Living Cities and the vadween and the resident demi-god. I wish you'd given us THAT material up front, instead of the geography and history lesson. Living cities and angry demigods are much cooler than forests and ancient wars between races that may or may not still be around.

Actually, I'm sort of assuming the vadween are cool; you don't tell us a single thing about their appearance or what have you. I think you missed an opportunity to do something neat, namely to set up a Monster Challenge entry within your country entry.

On the whole, I wish you had chosen a couple of your ideas and developed them right up front, with tighter writing and smoother transitions.

As it stands, I don't think the execution is quite up to the bar.

Not Recommended.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

Ok, interesting. So we've got basically a campaign setting (The Twisted Lands) and a country
(Idalia) within that campaign setting. I think you've put too much emphasis on context, giving us a fairly original and interesting campaign setting before you get into the meat of the article. But it takes up half your word count just to get to the beginning of your entry. And that's WAY too much.

I think you should have started with the Idalia description, weaving information about the wider world into the flow of things organically. Remember that the task was to provide us a country and not a whole bunch of countries. I would have strongly preferred a tighter focus on this submission.

I like the name "The Unspoken War," and despite the fact that English does not appear to be your first language I think you handle yourself well. The submission does seem disjointed (probably due to its format), though, and that makes it difficult for me to understand exactly what I am supposed to do with the setting.

I'm glad you got around to explaining the hidden and the vadween (and the DM Secrets section is the place to do it). So thanks for that.

I'm not really sure what the point of the last line in the DM's Secrets section is supposed to be.

In the final analysis, I'm not really sure what to make of this one. There are good ideas here, but they're buried a bit deeper than I'd prefer and I feel like I have to do too much work to understand what's going on and why I might want to campaign in this region.

I don't dislike it strongly enough to suggest that it should not advance, but it is not in my top 5 and I suspect it may not crack my top 10.

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

The boys really beat me to this review. I agree with what they said. And summarize my thoughts in an abbreviated format.

Fluff (writing, grammar, style, evocative prose, etc.): B-
The Good: Generally evocative.
The Bad: Some grammar issues and not consistently well done.

Crunch (basics, rules issues, depth of the setting, details, etc.): B+
The Good: City stat blocks. Nice. That was a real nice touch—particularly for your submission that is so keyed on these cities. There is meat in this submission.
The Bad: On first blush, I wanted more about the vadween. But in the end I think what you did was evocative enough for me.

Design (choices made, format, naming, originality, theme, balance--ie, is the submission heavy in one part but lacking in another?): B-
The Good: If appropriately rearranged, some of the stuff here is real good. I like the weight of the DM section. You definitely used it to your advantage (though not as well as you could have). Good job identifying that the cities are your cool part and statting them out for us. Some good theme and conflict, though could use more thematic focus.
The Bad: I thought you made some poor choices for the formatting and how you delivered the information, as the other judges did. As Erik said, history first is not the best. Grab me first. Not a big fan of titans and eternals. Seems like it’s been done before.

Play (setting for adventure? campaign? is there conflict? are there play limitations?): B
The Good: Seems ripe for play. There is conflict.
The Bad: Could use more of the above. And some more details on races and classes, etc.

Tilt (my personal take, is it evocative? do I want to play there? does it capture my imagination?): B-
The Good: Solid and workmanlike.
The Bad: Failed to grab me like it should have, though there are some good things buried here.

Overall: B-
A workmanlike setting with some real meat, hindered by some poor design choices as to how the information is presented. A jewel in the rough—the problem is, is it more jewel or more rough.

I am on the fence on this one.

I am going to tentatively RECOMMENDED for top 16.


The first sentence is a killer hook..."suffered through 1000 years of peace". Love it.

I lost interest very quickly after that, though.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

Fellows,
Thanks for the critique and analysis. I already see how I would approach an edit based on your feedback. Hopefully I will have a chance to apply my new wisdom in the next round!
peace,
Darth Frodo


Nice writing here. Cool concepts in the living cities. But...Twisted Lands and Titans together? This starts off so remniscent of Scarred Lands. The ideas did rescue it to a degree.


I like the idea of Living cities, but the organization of this (and much of the writing) just really discouraged me. It didn't click for me.

But the living city idea is AWESOME. need to steal it.


Superior concept; sub par realization. One thing is certain: this thread requires more dialogue if it is to garner any votes.

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

This read more like a truncated, chopped-down campaign setting than an actual country to me. I would have appreciated more focus on the actual "Idalia" and less on the rest of the world.

The living cities are way cool, though.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

Cities of absolute law, surrounded by badlands of corrupting chaos.

Judge Dredd?

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

Really poor presentation.

Why couldn't you just follow the template that you were given?

Not voting for this one.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Living Cities. Alright, it seems like there are some really good ideas hidden away in this one … but I think they are too hidden away. I found the sentence structure and general format quite clunky and confusing, this was another one that I really had to struggle to read to the end.

I think I like the Living City concept – but I don’t really know what they are. I had to re-read the entry to realise that the cities were actually grown – but of what? Are they trees, organic, living stone, sentient, what? It could be cool, but I don’t really know (I really had to stop myself thinking Ravensbluff whenever I read Living City).

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

Sorry I haven't taken the time to chime in, I've been reading the other submissions. Let me give a wee bit of feedback as to why I made certain design and writing choices.

I had originally started with the crunch at the beginning, but in the guidelines it said that it was okay to try something original. So...
What I tried to do is give a 'reason' for why the Twisted Lands are the way they are in one paragraph. Perhaps it is only for DMs and designers, but I personally like to have a reason for something existing. I used implication and inference, obviously somewhat unsuccessfully, to show that there is geography, trade and monsters. They were intended to be hints; starting points if you will. In the second paragraph I explained, again through prose, why adventurers might find dire bears rather than grizzly bears or run into demons, etc.
In an effort to find something unique I set up a struggle between Law and Chaos with the PCs very likely taking the side of chaos even though it may be inherently more dangerous.
I had in fact planned on using a vadween character as my villain. Perhaps if I make it through this round I will get the chance to present that to you.
It is interesting the parallels folks have drawn to other settings because I find it most like Dark Sun. But I did my best to design away from that setting for multiple reasons.
The last sentence of the submission, like everything else, was written in the hopes of generating ideas for engaging story lines and conflict.
As a last point in this response; I am in fact a native speaker and writer of English. However, in my defense I had shoulder surgery on Monday the 26th and wrote most of this under the heavy influence of pain killers. But looking back at it now as the haze is clearing, I stand by the submission, except that perhaps I would have left the crunch/data at the beginning.
Thanks to you all for taking the time to read and respond.
peace,
Darth Frodo

Paizo Employee PostMonster General

Hey Darth, you can't post stuff like that here. Please see the revised Rule #14.

I've suppressed your post so nobody else can see it.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

I was under the impression that we could discuss design decisions as long as it didn't add to the entry. My bad if I misunderstood. But I guess that leaves me with nothing to say. :|
Darth Frodo

Gary Teter wrote:

Hey Darth, you can't post stuff like that here. Please see the revised Rule #14.

I've suppressed your post so nobody else can see it.

Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

This one feels a bit video game to me. I think it's the chaos lands thing.

I do think this is an entry that would be better off with better organization and formatting.

Look that Clark's reviews and checklists, and how they're organized and presented. That sort of thing comes naturally to someone who presents material professionally, I think (which is not me, by the way, just an observation).

Probably something to think about for future rounds.

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

I agree the presentation is not organized and leads me to sort of jump around looking for either interesting references, or explanations for references I just found interesting, but aren't really punctuated.

At this point, it seems that the top 16 will consist of 6-8 concepts that really met reader expectations and delivered on the promises made in the first few lines. After they get the lion's share of votes, I think the remaining 8-10 will have significantly fewer votes and realize they have to really step up to advance any further. I wouldn't be surprised (since the top 16 consists of everyone's top 5) if the 15 or 16 entry (I assume they won't be seeded and we won't know how many votes each entry got) made it in on 2-3 votes each, with several entries maybe clearly in everyone's top 16, but not in anyone's top 5.

Congratulations on making the top 32. Really sell your villain if you make it to the next round.


I didn't really understand what the living cities were all about. I think it would have been better to explain that some more.


I have a couple of suggestions:

1) I love the idea of demi-gods ruling floating city-states with unique orders of priests but you need to focus on them more. I think if you left out the more campaign specific info this would allow you to provide more detail about the cities, politics between them, and their various attributes. Specifically I was hoping for more details about the cities, their titan demi-god rulers, and how they are different. I would have mentioned the other cities just as an enticement to explore.

2) I wanted more info on the races. How were the races affected by this massive war? Are they the same or have they changed? I was really hoping for more info on the vadween and the hidden. I think they could have been tied in a little bit more which would have added some rich flavor to the setting.

The entry was little rough but there were a lot of great ideas in there. Good job.

Edit: Oh, and what makes the Living Cities living?

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Aaron Whitley wrote:


Edit: Oh, and what makes the Living Cities living?

Lots of RPGA players with certificates for all their items, presumably.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 aka adanedhel9

Looks like you've got some good ideas, here, Rennie. Ruined lands, living cities, twisted critters... but your presentation was definately not up to par. I had a real hard time trying to figure out what this nation was; your concept-in-brief "Secure in the Blessed Embrace of the Eternals" didn't help me at all.

I'd really like to see what you could do with an edit, Rennie.

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

Before reading the first sentence: I'm very dubious about the phrase "Twisted Lands". It looks as if I'll have to hunt around for the mandatory information - this is extra work. Author's avatar is creepy.

First sentence: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. The concept line gives me a good sense of the country - by the standards of other entries, almost too much.

Titans, living cities: These are terms that have different meanings in different contexts. It's important that I understand what the author means by them very early in the piece.

Several names sound interesting, but are ambiguous, such as "the Order", "Unspoken War", "the Parliament" (I would also argue this name doesn't match the organisation it's applied to), "Beloved".

"The only means of survival is through adherence": This should be in the past tense.

"Chaos reigns": Again, evocative but lacking in information.

Descriptions of Idralia and Calbanor are word-for-word the same, which is unfortunate, because it's not a good sentence structure.

The two new races and the Chaos storms need to be described.

Ah. There's the mandatory information. It needs formatting.

City format is Wizards closed content and some of its entries are not intuitively clear.

Now I find out the population is 35% giants.

Don't like the name "Maladacius".

"keeping them in political check": This needs to be reworded.

DM Secrets: None of these are secrets. The last line is not even a fact.

This entry is a mess that doesn't respect the reader or the mandatory requirements and doesn't exhibit the quality that I think the author is capable of. Not voting for this.


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

Place your votes.


Great opening sentence...after that I got "hit by a wacky stick" feel where trying to make sense out of it all was really challenging...weird, but unfortunately not in a good way.

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

Starglim wrote:
Author's avatar is creepy.

OK, that was inappropriate. I apologise.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter 2014

I actually prefer the central aspect of the presentation: the description up high, the alignment, government type, and other game data down below. I'm surprised by how many entries start off with geology or lists of town names and populations. I want to read the story behind the country first, the mechanics and details second.


While its not by any means a boring entry, this one feels like it has a bit too much scope to it. It would be hard for me to read this and add it to an existing campaign. It feels like the nation presented is just one bit of a larger campaign, and without that campaign or very similar elements, this nation doesn't work.

The things that are good in this entry feel much more like the set up for an entire campaign setting. So good or bad, they aren't the best way to really introduce a nation.

The Unspoken War is interesting, except, why is it unspoken? I get the feeling that, to begin with, this war started out as a "cold war" sort of thing, without large scale fighting and the like, and then evolved into a major conflict. But most of that I inferred from the idea that it started small and was called the Unspoken War. It feels like an evocative name, but in the end, its not really accurate. A lot of major wars started with small scale disagreements and the like, but in the end, they were known for their greatest ramifications, not their beginnings.

Also, while its not presented in quite as sinister a manner, the idea that the rulers of the cities are demigods, and that the clerics in the cities are clerics of the rulers, coupled with the idea of inhospitable wasteland in between, feels too much like Dark Sun to me, especially since clerics of other rulers aren't tolerated in another city.

Overall, it seemed will written, and could be a fun campaign setting, but the overall history hinders it by being too large in scope, there isn't really enough to satisfy one's curiosity about the Unspoken War given its evocative name, leaving the feeling that its just an evocative name with nothing behind it, and its too close to Dark Sun to feel distinct even as a campaign setting, which goes back in a big loop to the fact that the crux of this really is setting up a campaign world and not just a nation.

Not bad, but not definitely not driven to vote for it no matter what.


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

Starting out, I thought it was too derivative of the Scarred Lands setting. It didn't really pull out of that, it just tossed out some well worn tropes (arcane magic viewed with suspicion! City-states!) among the more boring parliamentary parts.

Oppression breeds rebellion. Stagnation breeds chaos. Bad writing breeds confusion.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 aka amusingsn

I like your focus on making sure your setting is integrated and continuous. It certainly plays a role in compellingly consistent storytelling at the game table.


Aaron Whitley wrote:

I have a couple of suggestions:

1) I love the idea of demi-gods ruling floating city-states with unique orders of priests but you need to focus on them more. I think if you left out the more campaign specific info this would allow you to provide more detail about the cities, politics between them, and their various attributes. Specifically I was hoping for more details about the cities, their titan demi-god rulers, and how they are different. I would have mentioned the other cities just as an enticement to explore.

2) I wanted more info on the races. How were the races affected by this massive war? Are they the same or have they changed? I was really hoping for more info on the vadween and the hidden. I think they could have been tied in a little bit more which would have added some rich flavor to the setting.

The entry was little rough but there were a lot of great ideas in there. Good job.

Edit: Oh, and what makes the Living Cities living?

Took the words right outta my mouth. I also think some of your background helped, but a little less campaign and more country would have made this a stronger entry.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

Thanks to everyone for the great critiques! Whether or not I advance I am going to give this an edit based on feedback.
I've learned A LOT from this process.
Thanks again,
Darth Frodo

And the avatar is SUPPOSED to be creepy...
:)

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

Gary Teter wrote:

Hey Darth, you can't post stuff like that here. Please see the revised Rule #14.

I've suppressed your post so nobody else can see it.

Gary,

Now that the voting is closed, can you un-suppress my post?
thanks,
Rennie aka Darth "creepy avatar" Frodo

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka darthfrodo

amusingsn wrote:
I like your focus on making sure your setting is integrated and continuous. It certainly plays a role in compellingly consistent storytelling at the game table.

Thanks for noticing. I think this is where I got into trouble with too much history. I want everything to make sense so I develop a consistent back story. But I probably should have included less of it in this particular format.

Good luck!
Rennie "creepy avatar" Frodo

Paizo Employee PostMonster General

darthfrodo wrote:
Now that the voting is closed, can you un-suppress my post?

Done.

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