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PaizoCon 2014!

Laraklan, Nexus of Magic


Round 2 - Top 32: Design a Country

Andoran RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka catdragon

Larakan

Alignment: LN (E)

Capital: Lara (pop. 12,900)

Notable Settlements: Fadin (pop. 3,100), Coln (pop. 4,900), Harken's Ferry (pop. 850)

Ruler: King Farakin II

Geographic Description: Larakan is a long relatively narrow temperate valley running east to west and ringed on three sides by mountains. The mountains on the north and west side are higher and rougher than the mountains to the south. The Lara River, a wide and slow moving river, runs through the valley. When the Lara River reaches the end of the valley, the slope becomes steeper and the Lara becomes a fast-flowing white water river impassable by barges and river boats.

Description: Larakan's government is a military despotism and ruled by the iron hand of King Farakin II. Despite the rich trade offered by the dwarven clans in the surrounding mountains, dwarves are distrusted and usually not even liked. Larakan is also known as the center of magical power in the world, because of the Council of the Nine Spheres, a guild of arcane casters.

History: Roughly a hundred years before, Larakan was devastated by a plague that reduced the population by over 50%. For some unknown reason, the plague was very virulent, even magical healing was successfully about half the time.

As the country suffered under the plague, King Farakin I quickly moved to usurp control of the country. Ostensibly he did this to "make sure that his people would be cared for in this time of great crisis." The fact that Farakin I personally took control of the trading fortunes behind the merchants was just an added benefit. Those that disagreed with the king's actions and other political enemies of Farakin I became unfortunate "victims" of the plague ravaging the country.

About six months after the plague's onset a rumor formed that the dwarves were responsible for the plague. This, added to this the fact that the dwarves were also resistant to the scourge, allowed Farakin I to turn the populace of the country against the dwarves despite that the fact that the dwarves were the only ones supplying the goods that were desperately needed because of the plague. Farakin I instituted large levies and taxes against the dwarves, using the profits he made to cement his hold on the valley.

When the plague's effects finally began to loosen its hold on the valley, Farakin I moved to make sure that he continued to control Larakan. He made sure that the soldiers of Larakan enforced his draconian rule. This was for "public safety" but really allowed Farakin I's military to control when and how people gathered, clamp down on people going and coming into the country, and lastly, how other power groups gained and held power in Larakan. Farakin I was a shrewd politician and he never imposed his rule too heavily on the populace. Thus the despotism of Farakin I (and later, Farakin II) was quite successful and it met with little protest by the people of Larakan. Slowly the valley recovered from the disease that had ravaged it.

The only rebellion so far was when Harken's Ferry (a small community between Fadin and Lara) arose in protest to the taxes and duties that were being applied to their community. The King's Guard quickly moved in and subdued the town (coincidentally causing half or more of the able bodied men in town to be killed). However, one might say that this rebellion succeeded as King Farakin II reduced the taxes the next week after the "Massacre of Harken's Ferry."

Larakan Today: There are very few taverns and inns in the towns of Larakan; such places are prohibited by the crown unless a proper license is issued by the King. And of course such licenses are subject to review at any time, a fact that the king and his ministers use to control Larakan's main public gatherings quite effectively.

Secondly, only two temples are allowed to be constructed within the valley. The first are temples to Irla, the god of disease and suffering, mainly for placating the god and avoiding his attentions. The second, and the more popular, are the temples to Kystar, the goddess of magic and trade. That doesn't mean that there are no shrines or hidden chapels to any of the other gods, but these are always well-hidden as they are illegal in Larakan. When found by the King's Guard, they are either deconstructed or destroyed.

The Council of the Nine Spheres is a large organized mages' guild which jealously guards all elements of Larakan's society that have to do with magic. It appears that the Council is completely separate from the government of King Farakin II. However, when one learns that the Council is controlled by a San Farakin (San [and the feminine Sana] is an honorific only applied to those that can cast arcane spells) and that this San Farakin is the same as King Farakin II, it is obvious that this deception is one that the government of Larakan uses to its advantage. In fact, one secretive arm of the Council of the Nine Spheres, the Order of the Silver Star, is dedicated to enchanters and diviners that use their powers to actively seek out "enemies of the state."

DM Secrets: Despite the draconian state of Larakan, there are elements that seek to overthrow the government. The most effective of these elements is the bardic guild known as the Fellowship of the Yellow Thrush. The Fellowship of the Yellow Thrush uses its members to keep a careful tab on the state of society throughout the Lara River Valley. Where it can, the Thrushes fan the flames of free spirit and rebellion in order to undermine the government's strict control. However since the Massacre of Harken's Ferry (which the leaders of the Fellowship consider to have been caused by one of their own bard's leadership ability), the Fellowship of the Yellow Thrush is extremely careful about how it goes about inciting the populace.

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. 994 words.
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

Fluff (writing, grammar, style, evocative prose, etc.): C-
The Good: Not finding much good from a pure writing standpoint. Of course, no glaring errors either.
The Bad: Stilted. Not evocative.

Crunch (basics, rules issues, depth of the setting, details, etc.): C-
The Good: I’m glad I get some geography with this setting. A tiny bit of detail in the plague, dwarven resistance, a group of bards and the Massacre of Harken’s Ferry. The design decision to divide the description into parts spills over into this category and helps a bit.
The Bad: Depth of detail is not really there. This is sub-par from a content standpoint. All we really learn is that San is an honorific. No real NPCs of any interest other than the main rulers. Not really crunchy.

Design (choices made, format, naming, originality, balance--ie, is the submission heavy in one part but lacking in another?): C+
The Good: I like that it has a geography section and a history section. This was not a part of the instructions, but we encouraged people to come up with a better format and this is an improvement. It includes a “government” section in the text without a heading, which is fine. I also like the “Larakan Today” section. All in all, I really liked the design decision to “break up” the “Description” section. Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that impressed with the content contained in those subsections. The setting did have a theme, though, which is a key design consideration. Not the best one, perhaps, but it had one.
The Bad: I think “Description” should have come before “Geographic Description.” That content provided a better lead in to the country. The names are flat and generic. Not inspiring. Though I liked a history section, it dominates the description—too much so, in my opinion. Magic plague is a bit cliché. The theme of despotism vs. freedom is workable, but hardly unique or original. Not Superstar, in my view.

Play (setting for adventure? campaign? is there conflict? are there play limitations?): C+
The Good: Some dwarven tension. Good religious tension with established vs. secret religious sects. Rather tired despotic ruler versus group of rebels. No significant limitations, however. No reason that all races and classes couldn't be present. But I do have to give the submission this: it did have a theme, though a trite one.
The Bad: Ok, so there are dwarves and humans. Very little else is detailed--we simply don't know. Religious limitations do have some play restrictions, though they add conflict and dynamics. There is very little here to inspire setting a campaign in this country that couldn’t be easily imagined by anyone.

Tilt (my personal take, is it evocative? do I want to play there? does it capture my imagination?): D
The Good: Not seeing it.
The Bad: Nothing about this entry grabbed me by the throat and said “you want to play here!” Plus, a setting with no taverns and inns? How exactly are we supposed to start adventures? It’s not smart to write those key DM story tools out of a setting.

Overall: C-
A weak and relatively generic entry. Below standard slightly. Theme, but a weak one.

NOT RECOMMENDED for top 16.

Qadira Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Man, if I had a dollar for every time I read about the "iron hand" of some king or other in a fantasy submission... Well, I'd have airfare to Hawaii, is what I'd have.

The trouble here is an odd choice of material and some generic execution. Starting with geography and government and making them dull means you lose can lose the reader entirely. And not much caught my eye after that. Though I see the potential in the king as a villain, he gets far too much attention here, at the expense of other elements that might help set the stage for adventure.

Plus there's the contradictions: in the Description, we learn the dwarves are making everyone rich, (and I ask myself, so why are they distrusted?). The answer comes in the History section, and I'm not buying it. The king spreads some rumors about them and the plague, and that turns everyone against their main source of crucial supplies? Seems unlikely, or at least not compelling. And a tax rebellion is the big revolt against the king? Maybe there's more to that explanation, but it's history and as a gamer I don't care.

I get the feeling that there's a great novel in the story of this kingdom, with a nasty king and his vile plots, with treasury manipulation or whatever. What I don't see is how it rises to the level of a great gaming environment.

Not Recommended.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

Larakan, Lara, Fadin, Farakin. Those are probably too similar. Also, the only town I know with "Ferry" in its name is "Harper's Ferry," which is only two letters off from your version. Now, I'm a huge John Brown fan, don't get me wrong, that that's a pretty obvious swipe or an unfortunate coincidence. Either way, I'd prefer it wasn't there.

The first two paragraphs begin "Larakan is" and "Larakan's government is". There are better, more evocative ways to present information, and I wish you'd taken advantage of them. The geography section in particular is presented in highly pedestrian fashion. It reads as if each sentence exists individually, rather than part of a narrative whole.

On to the description, and right away I find quibbles that get in the way of my enjoyment of the submission. I like the idea of a military despotism, but "iron hand" is a cliche best avoided. It's weird that the second line of description for the country talks about dwarves, and the passive construction of the second sentence's last clause makes it unclear who distrusts and doesn't like dwarves. The aforementioned despotic government? The general citizens of Larakan? Passive construction always brings up questions like this, and this submission is thick with it.

I do like the name "Council of the Nine Spheres," lest you think that I am 100% critical.

The history section begins "Roughly a hundred years before," and I've got to ask myself "before what"? Did you mean to say "Roughly a hundred years ago"? Also, we're once again a step away from the action thanks to the passive voice. Rather than say "Roughly a hundred years before, Larakan was devastated by a plague," say "Roughly a hundred years ago, plague devastated Larakan." Also, what's up with the "50%" at the end of the sentence? That sort of thing instantly makes the paragraph read like a word problem. It's ok to say "half the population" or something that doesn't come off as quite so mechanical.

I could keep up this analysis on a sentence-by-sentence basis, but I won't. The writing in this entry is not up to the standards of an RPG Superstar, and detracts from the ideas in the submission itself.

I do not recommend this submission advancing to the next round.


This is my fifth review.

I think this entry could have benefited by simply making the plague a more recent event. You'd have the former ... former ... hey, who the heck ran this place before the King usurped control? Was it that magic council? Because they're apparently still around, good at magic, and outnumber the king even though he's one of them. Anyway, the former rulers would now be rebel leaders and yes, you'd be looking at a fantasy version of Star Wars, but that'd be a little stronger than the entry is now.

In response to the judges' concerns with the anti-dwarf antagonism, I agree but not for the reasons you state. If the dwarves were rich and, say, immune to the plague there would have been backlash. No evil king, just human nature. Putting the king at the center of everything detracts from the submission.

And that is what ultimately is going to lead me to give this a thumbs down. This entry is more about the evil king than the kingdom. A shorter timeline with a larger cast of NPCs would have given this entry much needed support.

Rating: Thumbs Down

Paizo Employee PostMonster General

Robert, I've removed your clarification post -- check your email for the revised Rule 14.


This is only the second entry I read (I am reading them in order) but it is already the first I almost lost interest in reading. There were a handful of obvious mechanical mistakes and the style itself was too antiseptic for my taste.

No crunch? That is a bit disappointing.

It has one of the cooler names (which I was hoping equated to game play potential) but then only scratched the surface of the "Nexus of Magic". The Plague, the Nexus, and the dwarven conflict seem to be the basis of this country but the plague doesn't go anywhere fast and the nexus is underplayed.

I must admit that the conflict with the dwarves got me thinking about possible adventures as I was reading though: the dwarves find evidence of the true nature of the Plague and instead of using it to weaken King Farakin they are planning on seeking retribution. Now which side will the characters pick? Protect the weasely Farakin or stop the vengeful dwarves' collateral damage?

Still falls a bit short for me but the more evocative of the first two entries I read.

Goo


A country ruled by dwarves is different. I like that. The title "Nexus of Magic" though led me to a conclusion that there was something secret and powerful about the place, not that a guild was controlling it. There are some good ideas here, but the heavy passive voice got to me.

Osirion

I got partway through this and it sounded like the plot of V for Vendetta. I finished it and nothing convinced me otherwise. Made me wonder if somewhere in all of this there would be a swashbuckler in a black costume and mask seeking to bring down the king by fireballing parlement.

I did kind of like the idea of raiding a rioting town, killing most of the workforce, and then lowering taxes--since they obviously won't be able to pay now. That kind of irony is dark and too uncommon nowadays.

Star Voter 2014

I cannot 'see' this nation.


I had a hard time in trying to make it through this one. For one, when there are grammatical errors, they make the reading difficult. They stand out too much in my mind.

There also seemed to be a large number of cliche phrases as well. This has already been mentioned with examples.

When I was reading and it mentioned that Farakan usurped power...from who? How long had he planned this? Did he have any help? A lot of questions there to go with this one.

Overall, the world and background felt a little too generic with potential components that could have made this more dramatic, more likely to be a neat game setting. As it stands, I would have a difficult time exciting myself to run a game set in this world for my players.

Also, names didn't pop, a lot less difficult to pronounce then others, but a little on the dry side.

The start of good ideas, but a long way to go.


No offense, but I think you need to improve your writing skills. Take the following sentence for example.

Despite the rich trade offered by the dwarven clans in the surrounding mountains, dwarves are distrusted and usually not even liked.

It is unnecessary to say the dwarves are usually not even liked when you just said they are distrusted. I'm just trying to give an example to point out how you could tighten things up for the reader. Improving your writing will allow you to accomplish more with the limited number of words you were okayed to work with.

I don't think the title of the country fit very well themewise with the country itself. Fleshing out the Council of the Nine Spheres would go along way to accomplishing this.


Hmm. Doesn't live up to its name. Themes presented are generic, even cliche, but at least there should be plenty of storyhooks to do adventure...

Geography section was nice (and geography of the nation would have been almost the same as mine, had I submitted a country for this, so it was easy for me to visualize). Word limit is of course a problem but still, it would need more to sell itself to me (and a good editor).


This is a great entry made mediocre by inadequate narrative voice.

In addition, the Harper’s Ferry metaphor distracted me from the submission (not a good thing).

I believe if you were to put a stronger effort into your descriptive skills, next go you will have a dead-to-rights winner.

Grand Lodge

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

I have always hated names like Edward II, Edward III, Edward IV ... Edward IIIVXX. I quit reading it for one reason, I had to reread several sentences because I couldn't tell if 'Farakin I' was Farakin the first or Farakin and the pronoun I.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Iron Fist and plague. This entry didn’t excite me that much. I think far too much word use was spent on history, and not nearly enough on DMs secrets (amongst other things). I also found the names Larakan and Farakin somewhat distracting, and it didn’t help that the country is called Laraklan (rather than Larakan) in the thread title.

I thought the “Nexus of Magic” description was quite evocative, but overall the entry didn’t quite live up to that. Also, not necessarily a bad thing, but I note that this is another entry with humans and dwarves as the main players – and doesn’t do it as well as some of the others.

Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

I grew up in a city with major roads names Paces Ferry, Powers Ferry, and Johnsons Ferry, so I'm ok with Ferry nomenclature.

However.

The Harper's Ferry story swipe lost me, and I couldn't come back. Sorry. It's just too easy to steal that directly, and I can't see that as Superstar level.

(note- my item was a real-world swipe, sorta kinda, in an obscure way, and even that's bothering me at this point. I think now that it was a lazy choice on my part.)

Osirion RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014 aka Steven T. Helt

It should be noted by contestants that tighter writing saves words that you could use to add adventure and treasure to your Dms secrets section. If that sort of thing is important to you. Consider these examples:

"The Lara River, a wide and slow moving river, runs through the valley. When the Lara River reaches the end of the valley..." 23 words.

Isn't it better to say "The wide and slow-moving Lara River runs through the valley. When the Lara reaches the valley's end,..." 17-18 words.

There are a number of opportunites to tighten up the prose and save space. If a lot of entries did this, they could make the same points and add the adventure seeds, maybe a feat or spell with the 20 or so words they get back. Or the prose could just evoke imagery and transport the reader into your country. Wide and slow-moving are good illustrations of this.

I don't have much to add, the critique that your writing gets in the way of a fair concept should suggest the top priority in improving your presentation and design choices.

Congratulations on making top 32.


Ok, so the tag line for this country is "Nexus of Magic" but magic and wizards seem to be an after-thought in the entry. This country is the center of magical power in the world and it has such a small population? A mostly farming society? The whole entry seemed to contridict itself and not make any sense. No one is allowed to have a tavern or bar without permission, people are heavily taxed, and yet no one wants to revolt? The king is also the head of the wizard guild and no one has figured it out even though they have the same name? The whole entry seems like an effort to come up with a reason to have everything in one small place. It just doesn't work.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 aka adanedhel9

I'm seeing several contradictions in this one. When you said "military dictatorship", I expected the military to be in charge, not just being a glorified police force. The "Nexus of Magic" brief provided plenty of ways to go with this, but you don't seem to take any of them. Among others, I'm having a hard time understanding what this nation is. It could be great, providing interest and plenty of opportunities for adventure. Or it could be rather bland. But I can't really tell from your entry.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Yes, I liked "V for Vendetta" too.

The connection between the military dictatorship and the world's greatest mage guild is a continual grating problem throughout the text. It's a basic conflict in conception of the nation.

It doesn't help that the nation's name is spelt differently in the thread title and the text, or that I like the title version better.

There are a lot of problems in writing style also.

Not voting for this.


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

Place your votes.


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

Yeah, another "iron hand" country without much else to it. Pass.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 aka amusingsn

I like the idea of the people of your nation constructing temples to a cruel god for the purposes of placating it. That rings true to me.


Didn't this start out as a mageocracy? And they trade with dwarves and yet hate them. I just didn't get much out of this one. I'll probably pass.


I, too, liked the temples to evil gods just to placate them. However, I didn't really see anything that made me think the general public tended toward evil.

I think your entry repeated itself too many times, "draconian" and "plague" were the worst offenders, but there were a couple times that you used the same phrases at the beginning and end of a single short paragraph.

But I liked the mistrust toward dwarves because of their immunity to the disease, that was a nice touch.

Andoran RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka catdragon

My comments/explanations in no particular order....

I was trying to be subtle, and was trying to invoke a benevolent despotism feel to the country. Obviously I should have been more direct. Subtle is great if your readers are looking for it. But if they aren't then you are shooting yourself in the foot. Noted.

The similarity in names was intentional. The Lara River => Larakan. See how that works? (There really needs to be a sarcasm punctuation mark.)

Also, in my experience as you travel the world, various places seem to have similar sounding names. Its a result of being concentrated in the same area for a long period of time.

I really wasn't trying to draw on history with Harken's Ferry vs. Harpers Ferry. Down here in my area of the country (NC) there is Sneads Ferry, Swans Ferry. Further afield there is Burrs Ferry (TX), Wright's Ferry (former name of Columbia SC), Bonner's Ferry (ID), Blair's Ferry (TN), and Manakin Town Ferry (VA). Ferry is a fairly common name for a crossroad, particularly near a river or a ford. Granted a different name such as Tellis or Vixen rather than Harken could have been chosen. Noted.

There are two kings mentioned in the text, Farakan I and Farakan II. One poster said something about how he didn't like that. Well, that's history -- nearly every dynasty has had a repeat of names within it.

The current king, Farakin II, is the one that caused the diaster at Harkan's Ferry. It was early in his reign and hadn't figured out that you can have absolute power as long as you left your populace with the illusion of freedom.

Geographically the Lara River Valley has created many of the problems its people face. For example, the dwarves of the northern mountains only have one way to trade, they have to trade with Larakan. Without going to far into history, there has always been tension between the people of the valley and the dwarves. Farakan I took advantage of this and used the plague and the natural distrust of the dwarves to unite his people behind his rule.

The dwarves just didn't care what the humans did. To their detriment...

I want to thanks everyone for their comments, even the most deconstructive ones. You took the time to look over, read, and comment on the prose. That has let me learn quite a bit and I thank you.


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

Petulant much?

Andoran RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka catdragon

Taliesin Hoyle wrote:

Petulant much?

How so? I have no ill feeling. I recognize that my entry wasn't good enough for the top 16, heck i don't even think my itrem was good enough for the top 32 -- there were so much more creative and interesting items out there.

So how am I being petulant? <puzzled scratch>


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

I am sorry for my post. It was late at night for me. I felt that you were a bit sarcastic in some of your clarifications but the clear light of day shows you were actually very humble and clear. I am hoping you will find encouragement from this contest and will compete next time.

Andoran RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka catdragon

Taliesin Hoyle wrote:
I am sorry for my post. It was late at night for me. I felt that you were a bit sarcastic in some of your clarifications but the clear light of day shows you were actually very humble and clear. I am hoping you will find encouragement from this contest and will compete next time.

De nada. No biggie, just wanted to make sure i understood.

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