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The Peerless Menagerie of Ashpanjara Isle


Round 4 - Top 8: Design a Golarion location and map

1 to 50 of 51 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka Benchak the Nightstalker

The Peerless Menagerie of Ashpanjara Isle
An hour’s journey across the sea west from Niswan lies the isle of Ashpanjara, a sprawling terraced garden filled with exotic and fragrant flora of unspeakable beauty. At its heart rests one Jalmeray’s greatest wonders, the Peerless Menagerie of Khiben-Sald (so called for in the eyes of the native Vudrani, no other collector in all of Golarion has yet matched the work of the great Maharaja).
Standing at center of Ashpanjara Isle, the Menagerie’s glistening white marble façade is visible for miles around. Finely-wrought cages of gold fill and surround the three-domed structure, running through even the stone of its walls like veins of ore through a great white mountain. The grounds and cages of the palace are home to an amazing assortment of animals, both fantastic and familiar, and all but those capable of flight are allowed to run free over the island. Even the most resplendent of these creatures pale in comparison to those found within the palace, where through potent genie magic the Maharaja provided his most exotic specimens with vast non-dimensional cells that perfectly replicate their natural habitats. From the tiled halls of Ashpanjara one can seemingly step from the sweltering jungles of Mwangi, to the sun-bleached wastes of Qadira, or even to the frozen expanse at the Crown of the World.
Khiben-Sald commissioned the Menagerie to celebrate the first anniversary of his arrival on Jalmeray. Once completed and filled to capacity, it boasted 1,001 of the world’s most fantastic and bizarre beings. In honor of Nex’s gift of Jalmeray, the Maharaja declared that twice each year he would open the gates of his island palace to any who wish to enter. This promise was fulfilled for the remaining nine years of his reign over Jalmeray. Guests were allowed to wander freely among even the most fearsome and vicious predators kept on the island, thanks to powerful sanctuary-like magic provided by the island’s genie caretakers. When the Maharaja and his court finally departed Jalmeray, the care and maintenance of Ashpanjara Isle was left in the hands of its sole remaining genie, a stern and severe Shaitan by the name of Ynsat-Bar.
A crafty and devious creature, the Shaitan foresaw the arrival of the exiled Arclords of Nex and was able to construct a force of Lantern Thralls large enough to defend the island. Bonding the thralls to her own elemental essence exempted them from the island’s pacifying effect, allowing them to battle intruders while still under the Menagerie’s protection. Tales soon spread among the Nexians that Ashpanjara was a haunted isle, to be avoided by all but the suicidal and the insane. Thus in 2822, when the Vudrani returned to reclaim Jalmeray, they found Ashpanjara more or less just as Khiben-Sald left it.
The first act of the returning Vudrani was to reinstate the edict of Khiben-Sald; twice each year the palace would open its doors and allow all to enter freely. This event draws visitors from all across the Inner Sea. Most seek excitement or wonder, others to study or observe. Rare few seek an audience with the most ancient and wise of the Menagerie’s residents, whom can be found in the fabled “Hall of the Enlightened.” Of particular note is the great bird Orokath, considered by many the last true Haga left in the world. The death of prophecy one hundred years ago tore through his noble race like a plague; most perished outright, while some lingered on as twisted mockeries of their former selves. Only through the sustaining effect of his magical prison was he able to survive, forever locked within his roost at the crown of Ashpanjara’s central dome. While unable to prophesize, Orokath nonetheless has much wisdom to share, for his memory stretches back to a time before the birth of man and holds many secrets dark and wondrous. Ynsat has the only key to the Hall of the Enlightened, thus any who wish to consult its residents must first prove their worth to her.
The current master of the Peerless Menagerie is a studious young Vudran rajah named Alissam-Tahn who inherited the position five years ago from his late father. Tahn’s ascension was not without intrigue, as his elder brother Nabbat was favored to take their father’s place. None suspect that Nabbat’s jovial exterior hides a heart filled with unyielding, murderous rage.

1. Ardorwesps Bearing Gifts (CR 8)
On your way to the observation platform, you notice a Chimera loitering just beyond one of this halls many portals; it turns to scornfully watch you pass. Continuing east, a strange sense comes over you. Before you can identify it, screams echo from hall ahead, followed by the sound of gold wire twisting apart. Terrible looking insects have forced their way through the open window, each a peculiar amalgam of hornet and dragonfly. The last one into the hall drops a small hourglass-shaped object on the ground, its stinger twitching in anticipation.
The island’s sanctuary effect has faltered, causing the strange sensation felt by the PCs at the start of this battle. Two human nobles (aristocrat 1) stand on the observation platform to the south, they are frightened and will try to flee up the stairs or down the hallway on their turn. The hourglass carried by the rearmost ardorwesp is an hourglass of the insightful conjurer currently charged with three mass cure light wounds spells. Unless perturbed the hourglass will activate on the fourth round of combat at the ardorwesps initiative, healing 3d8+9 points of damage to the closest nine creatures. Unlike most items of its kind, this hourglass is of inferior quality, and will crumble to dust once emptied of spells.
Creatures: Four ardorwesps have broken through the southern window. They engage the human nobles first, hoping to implant eggs. Once the nobles have fled or been implanted, they turn their attention to the PCs.

Ardorwesps (4) CR 3
XP 800 each
hp 22 each (RPG Superstar 2010)

Hazard: The chimera in the center cell along the north wall cannot leave his room, but will attack the first creature he sees crossing the doorway with his breath weapon. Treat this as a readied action to breathe a line of acid into the four squares directly south of the portal, dealing 6d8 points of damage. Creatures hit may make a reflex save DC 17 for half damage. He will repeat this action every 1d4 rounds, or until something attacks him, after which he retreats into his forest.
Development: The entire island is under attack at the behest of Nabbat, who has persuaded the insects to aid his bid for vengeance. For their part, the ardorwesps will receive free access to the islands supply of magical beasts and exotic flora. Nabbat also recently wrested control of the Shaitan’s compliment of Lantern Thralls, who may travel freely amongst the Menagerie’s cages thanks to their gaseous form. If Alissam-Tahn is killed, control of the island and its Shaitan protector will fall to Nabbat. Regardless, he has brought shame to the Peerless Menagerie and has earned the undying enmity of Ysnat-Bar. If the PCs can successfully defend Ashpanjara from the ardorwesps’ attack, the Shaitan will reward them generously.

Paizo Employee Editor-in-Chief

Story/Set-Up/Location
Interesting, but this location confuses and scares me a little. Are each of these portals a functioning gate to another region across Golarion? If so, that presents some real problems for any GM using the location when nosy PCs start poking their heads in every portal. The background is deep and interesting, and functions well with the existing continuity. Including so many new creatures from this compilation is cute, but I think detracts, as this space could have been given over to a more nuanced encounter or build upon elements ingrained into the world.

Encounter
Pretty straight forward: There's monsters, get'em! The magic item adds a slightly more interesting element, but again feels more like an RPG Superstar Easter Egg than the best choice. The chimera element is probably the part that makes this most interesting, but I can't say I'm really sure where it is on this map.

Read Aloud Text
This assumes a lot of player action and reaction, which is a real no no as for as published text goes. This is pretty much saying, there's monsters and there's nothing the PCs could have done in all RPG-dom to detect it. It's descriptive, but takes a lot of control from the PCs, which can be fine in a home game, but not so good when you're writing for every party in the wide wold with wildly differing abilities and tactics.

Creature Use
Ardorwesps are neat, but I feel like these could have just as easily been any weird monster.

Map
This is tricky. What we have here is a case of clean and detailed but still not clear. There's a lot here I could see an artist - or really anyone - misinterpreting. I'm not clear on what the yellow areas are supposed to look like (should these be caged in) and the connected portals confuse me as I'm not sure what "cell" means in this contest - don't the portals go to weird places in the world? A few more clear walls could really help with this.

Also, always think twice about symmetrical dungeons. They're never as cool or interesting as you might initially think they are, and after the PCs explore one side, they pretty much know exactly what the other side (and any hidden elements) look like.

Overview
Very descriptive, very evocative, but not really nailing what an exciting adventure location should be. There's plenty of cool encounters this location could set up, but as for this presenting an example of a unique and fun encounter there, it misses the mark. Great game designers really need to look at their encounters with one eye toward the description and inspiration and the other on the rules and interesting implementation. You've got the first down, but the second needs work.

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

Initial Impression: Menageries always makes me think of classic Star Trek, which is generally a good thing. Interesting concept. I am wowed by the map, initially. But I think a closer look is going to reveal some issues. Let’s see…

Location (new Golarion location, name, overall design decision for location, playability/usability, niche, challenge, format and writing): B+

I like the idea of a menagerie. But I’m not sure that you nailed this as an adventure location. Locations at their core are places for adventure. Not just places to go for food or books or information, though the latter can be (the classic oracle in the dungeon, for instance). I’m not feeling the adventure here. But adventure doesn’t always mean combat and this setting certainly is unique and interesting. The backstory is creative and well done and inspires ideas. So I will reward that as I ding you just a tad. The writing is pretty good, too.

Map (necessary material for a cartographer, presence of mandatory content, quality of design decisions, playability/usability of the map, interaction with encounter): B-

I can’t believe I am saying this, but: that is not that good of a map. This is an example of why artistic merit is not the issue. Beautiful map. Colorful. But not that clear. I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know what those things are or what they mean. And I don’t want my cartographer to do colors, I want a map. How does the cage LOOK? It’s certainly not going to just be yellow in the final product. This map, believe it or not, is not good enough.

Encounter (monster choice, challenge, details, quality of design choices, interaction between encounter, map and location, format and writing): C-

This has been discussed before, but you cannot presume character actions in read aloud text. Yes, that makes read aloud text hard to do and often a bit boring. But you just can’t presume action. You presume the PCs see the chimera at a specific time, that they do nothing and continue on. Monsters then come out and only now do we learn there are other humans nearby. The chimera adds a cool angle, though how he can really be used is unclear (and that cannot be left unclear). Aside from that, this is just a “monsters attack” encounter. Very little unqiue or cool, other than the monsters themselves. But they are only unique and cool because they are from this contest. You could have jammed in any monster, from stirges to su monsters to whatever. This encounter is flat, and coupled with the read aloud text problem, that is fatal.

Tilt (gut reaction, do I want to use it, other unique positive or negative circumstances not covered above): B-

I got over my initial interest in this one quickly. I still really like the backstory and the genie and all that fun stuff. So my gut reaction still lingers a bit to the positive side.

Overall: B-

Oh Ben, the gut stone was great, the chymick really good and your churjiir also very good. I told you last round you had Superstar stuff. But what is really Superstar is bringing it over and over, round after round. I don’t think you did that here. It will be up to the voters to decide. These later rounds are hard because by this time every competitor has shown chops more than once and it is always hard to cut from the top 8. But I just can’t recommend you advance. Good luck.

Recommendation: I DO NOT recommend this entry advance.

Cartographer

I would give this map reference a grade of B.

Nice clean vector color map reference. I think too much use of color is sometimes a bad thing.

Are the solid grey areas walls?

I think this plan seems a bit too modern in design.

More description and less vivid color would help.

Contributor

LOCATION
We don't capitalize monster race names (Shaitan, Lantern Archon, Chimera).

It is a neat location, though I'm not sure why the PCs would want to visit here.

ENCOUNTER
Here's some advice on the use of the word "will."

We try to avoid using "you" in read-aloud text, especially if in presumes actions by the PCs. Unfortunately, we are not as successful at this as we would like, but keep it in mind.

We don't italicize conditions such as frightened.

I'm not sure you can use the hourglass in that manner (but that's a fault of the item, not this encounter). However, I do think it is cheese to drop a 20,000 gp magic item in front of the PCs and then have it self-destruct.

MAP
The descriptive text for the Location mentions domes, but I'm not positive where they are on this map. Are they bounded by the triangular black areas?

Some of the areas shown are pretty confusing because of the colors and such. For example, the central "dome" has a set of double doors leading into it, but those double doors are behind a caged area (yellowish). As other yellowish areas have actual doors leading into them, I'm guessing that you can't just walk into a caged area (um, because it's a cage). So what's going on with that dome? Why have a double door that leads into a 5' by 30' cage? Is the only way into that dome via the central staircase? That's the drawback of using a color-scheme to define areas rather than an overhead drawn representation (and I understand the software tools you have may limit what you can do). The key is to present the info clearly enough that the cartographer can translate your color-coded map into an overhead-realistic map.

For tactical maps like this one, we usually use 5 foot squares because that's what a GM will use for a battle map scale; using 10 foot squares runs the risk of the GM drawing everything at the wrong size. I bring this up specifically because I assumed the scale was 5 feet, and the 100 ft. radius blast of the big meteor made me wonder, "well, isn't that pretty much this entire encounter area?," which would be true if the map's scale was 5 feet per square; then I checked the scale and found it was 10 feet. People expect 5-foot squares on tactical maps (rather than 10-foot squares), just as they expect country map scale to be in miles rather than leagues.

OVERALL
Interesting Location, Encounter has some minor problems, Map is confusing. I'd send this back for some revisions and clarifications, but I think it is salvageable.

Cartographer

This is a case where too much color is confusing. The layout is clear and clean, but am left unclear if the structure was built with such sharp angles to match the environment. I have some concern as well for interior elevations or the thickness of the walls for the scale being 1 SQ=10ft. Most players do expect a 5ft/SQ scale, but if this building is as large as needed, then perhaps a little less symmetry could break the space better. Some notes on top of the layout might be a better direction to call out details rather than having to decipher the colored key, but not a bad starting place. B

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka Benchak the Nightstalker

I can't say much, on account of the rules, but I do want to sincerely thank all the judges for their time and responses. Like I've said every round so far, I'm trying my best to improve and will keep your criticisms in mind, should I advance.

To everyone else, please take the time to comment and let me know what you think, and especially, how I might improve in the next round. I'd also beg the chance to participate, if you're willing to give it to me in the form of your votes.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Benjamin Bruck wrote:
... followed by the sound of gold wire twisting apart.

Valeros: Hey, guys... I think I just heard wire twisting apart.

Seoni: Really? What color wire?

Valeros: It sounded gold to me.


Vic Wertz wrote:
Benjamin Bruck wrote:
... followed by the sound of gold wire twisting apart.

Valeros: Hey, guys... I think I just heard wire twisting apart.

Seoni: Really? What color wire?

Valeros: It sounded gold to me.

Hmm, I read that as the material type (eg. the sound of a crystal cup breaking, the sound of the brass gong ringing, the sound of the gold wire breaking.)

That said, I'm a little confused as to why gold was used to make cages intended to contain various beasties. I could see gold-plated, but gold doesn't really work that well as a structural support metal.


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

Name: 9/10
An excellent name, I want to learn more. I can expect an asortment of critters.

Description: 8/10
A solid description. I'm not as certain what kind of adventure takes place here. Are the characters invading a palace? Or are they ust visiting and some critters get loose?

Map: 9/10
I like the use of color. Clear and easy to tell what is what.

Encounter: 7/10
Ardorwesps are certainly popular. Missing an HP and CR reference for the chimera. A solid encounter, but it didn't wow me.

Overall: 4,536
This scale is all numbers multiplied. In my top 4. I look forward to seeing what you can do!


Hmm. Fits fairly well with currently known canon. Some of the earlier Round entries have received some redevelopment in usage though.

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

Congrats once again on making the Top 8! I'm going to review all 8 submissions using the same criteria. I'm not reading any other comments beforehand, so apologies if I repeat something another reviewer has written.

1. Map - Yikes! Your map sort of intimidates me. There is a lot going on here, and a lot more color than I'm used to. I'm not digging that I have to ponder for a few minutes and figure out that green circles are thrones and green squares are planters. And your portals are completely throwing me for a loop - there are just too many to keep track of. As a DM or cartographer I would have to invest some serious time interpreting this bad-boy. Still, it is neat and legible....but it had better be since it's computer generated! Grade = C.

2. Quality - You can write, that's for sure! I absolutely LOVED the intro text. However after I hit the read-aloud text, it got a little messy. "This halls many portals..." is one example. Plus, where are the stats for the chimera? Grade = B (The beautiful intro text saved you from a C).

3. Creativity - The fluff behind the intro text is the stuff of legends - it's awesome. I can see an entire campaign springing from the words you're woven here. But the encounter is just a little clunky. Why are the monsters using a mass healing item on their enemies? Is it just for the ardorwesps and their allies? I'm not exactly sure. Grade = C.

4. Wow Factor - Do I want to use this location/encounter? I love the Vudran vibe, and the idea of a magical menagerie is very intriguing. However, there's something a little intimidating about the whole package. Even though I doubt I would use it for my game, it still has some mojo peaking through. Grade = B.

Final Grade = 2.5, which is a C.

After I review everyone else, I'll cast my vote. Good luck!

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Caedwyr wrote:
Vic Wertz wrote:
Benjamin Bruck wrote:
... followed by the sound of gold wire twisting apart.

Valeros: Hey, guys... I think I just heard wire twisting apart.

Seoni: Really? What color wire?

Valeros: It sounded gold to me.

Hmm, I read that as the material type (eg. the sound of a crystal cup breaking, the sound of the brass gong ringing, the sound of the gold wire breaking.)

Color... material... either way, my point is that he's trying to engage the sense of sound, but not doing so especially effectively. I have no idea what "gold wire twisting apart" sounds like, and I don't think most people would, so it's not really an evocative description.

I do give him a point for at least thinking about sound in his description; I just wish he'd pulled it off better.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

I can see this as the initial encounter on a running battle to reach the haga before the other monsters rampage out of control. I like it, good luck, sir!

-Ben.

Cheliax

Robert Lazzaretti wrote:

I would give this map reference a grade of B.

Nice clean vector color map reference. I think too much use of color is sometimes a bad thing.

Are the solid grey areas walls?

I think this plan seems a bit too modern in design.

More description and less vivid color would help.

I don't think the plan is too "modern" -- in fact, it reminds me a bit of the Delvehaven in Westcrown. Having said that, I was also confused by the vivid colors and think this could have worked better in black and white (for example, why do caged areas need a color of their own?).

Qadira

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I like this entry.

While I acknowledge some of the stated problems with the execution, I think the Menagerie has a far more intriguing and compelling storyline than many of the other entries. That may be part of the problem; this is almost a module pitch in some ways -- the isle, the genie, the lantern thralls, the haga, the feuding brothers...but it feels big and interesting and creative. This is part of a story I want to read.

So Benjamin (narrowly) gets my 4th place vote, over the Observatory.


Very nice background story; it really gave me a feel for the world setting. That said, I'm not sure what's going on here. I like the menagerie, but the whole plot is a "right place, right time" thing which a lot of players in my experience really don't care for. It too often becomes the GM leading the players around by the nose, forcing them into one encounter after another in a specific order of events, when they would rather explore their surroundings and see where fate takes them. I'm not sure what to make of the andorwesps; I'm not really sure if they would have been the appropriate round 3 monster to use here. Yes, the managerie is ample feeding ground for them, but the cages and stonework and other accessories could easily have been ample feeding ground for the chymick. For that matter, you have cold climate cages, so why not use the chaitrakhan? Nice nod to the haga, BTW; that was cute :-)

Overall, I really like the theme of a menagerie; an excellent excuse to have any creatures not normally sharing a habitat come together. However, the map is a headache. I like the overall building design, but prefer my map keys to rely more on symbols and less on colors.

Qadira RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8, Contributor

Ben,
I love the history of this place.
Were it not open material at present I would invest in rogue levels that I might sap you on the noggin and steal it from you.
It reminds me of what Nick Quimby/Hydro said about creating a location that you'd want to use even after the encounter.
I think you've done it here.
Best of luck this round.
-QGJ

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka Epic Meepo

I will be voting for this entry, though with reservations.

The background of this location is overly long for the word count, feeling more like a pitch for a module than anything else. But then again, given the nature of this contest, if you're going to go out on a limb with word count, doing so with a module pitch is the way to do it. And it seems as though much of the backstory you present will become relevant to PCs involved in events at this location, so it isn't wasted word count.

Plus, your use of the haga was totally awesome.

The map, as has been noted, is okay, but not great. The color didn't help very much, making it look more like an abstract mosaic design than a building. In the future, go for more hand-drawn sketches.

As for F. Wesley Schneider's complaint about the large number of portals on the map, I don't see that as a problem. The text clearly states that these portals lead to non-dimensional spaces (like portable holes), not other locations on Golarion. So there's no risk of PCs using the menagerie to move freely around the world.

I'm also not going to ding you for the cheesy self-destructing magic item. I like encounters where monsters make clever use of treasure, and self-destructing items were the only way to do that here, since the rules expressly forbid you from rewarding of treasure in your encounter.

Plus, the hourglass with healing magic was a brilliant choice for ardorwesps, since any healing that hits opponents they have implanted causes their implanted eggs to hatch immediately. Clever use of monster and treasure synergy.

What worries me about this entry is the read-aloud text, which is very presumptuous. You shouldn't tell the PCs what they are doing or where they are going. You shouldn't tell PCs what other creatures are present, since this could change over time. Just tell the PCs what the room looks like. The occupants of the room and events that happen there should then be laid out after the read-aloud text, so the GM can adjust them as necessary to reflect the choices made by the PCs.

I also wasn't sure a chimera would be listed as a hazard, even if it was attacking from behind bars. It is still a monster using an attack, and the PCs might even decide to follow it when it leaves. That makes it a monster, not a hazard.

Also, you missed an opportunity to do something really cool when you chose ardorwesps as your monster and gold wire as the material for your menagerie cages.

Missed Opportunity:
Imagine a menagerie with monsters safely contained behind magical glass... until someone unleashes a chymick swarm that starts eating all the cages! Awesomeness ensues as the PCs race to keep the chymicks from freeing more monsters.

All of that being said, if you clean up your maps and use less presumptuous read-aloud text, I could see you writing a decent module.


"Eric Morton wrote:

...I'm also not going to ding you for the cheesy self-destructing magic item. I like encounters where monsters make clever use of treasure, and self-destructing items were the only way to do that here, since the rules expressly forbid you from rewarding of treasure in your encounter.

Plus, the hourglass with healing magic was a brilliant choice for ardorwesps, since any healing that hits opponents they have implanted causes their implanted eggs to hatch immediately. Clever use of monster and treasure synergy...

Hmm. I can't seem to find anything in the Round 4 rules which specifically forbids the placement of treasure in encounters. There are limits on monster customization, but not on treasure placement.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka Epic Meepo

Charles Evans 25 wrote:

I can't seem to find anything in the Round 4 rules which specifically forbids the placement of treasure in encounters.

It's specifically forbidden by the encounter format the finalists were required to use. (Presumably, that's also why the item used here gets dropped on the ground, unattended, at the start of the encounter.)

Star Voter 2013

Mad bonus points for finding a way to reference many prior submissions from earlier rounds. Great locale for high level or high powered campaigns: essentially this is a zoo of pocket dimensions, or will be after editorial takes a hand. Very evocative descriptions of the island and its history, although I'd caution you against massive blocks of text in the next round. The plot of the defeated son is essentially that he's taking over the island, and any LOST reference deserves support. For an assault on the entire island in a high powered setting, this is a rather low-level encounter. You had room to play with more creatures with greater variety here. Pay attention to the advice regarding boxed text.

Bottom line: creative, exotic locale with massive potential actually has a running adventure plot associated with it, but suffers from a few silly errors in presentation.

This gets a vote from me.


I like the location outlined, but from that point on this entry seems to me to be a complete mess.

You don't indicate directionality of staircases - ie are they going up or down?
You don't indicate areas which are observation platforms but leave it to your readers to try and guess what they are.
You don't indicate any windows on your map, or at least not with your key. You leave it to your readers to guess that they might be the thinnish blue areas, but then again they could be some of these portals which are all over the place, or unmarked skylights set in the roof.
You indicate where '1' is on the map, for the first encounter, but do not indicate where the chimera is located.

Your supporting descriptions of the map are non-existent or inadequate.
You don't explain what the portals are or how they work.
You don't explain how 'portals that lead to same cell' are different from regular portals.
You don't explain what cages are, or what statistics might be associated with them.
You don't explain what cage doors are or what statistics might be associated with them - particularly of interest if PCs try to get out of an area and slam a door behind them. Can they shoot through bars or other material which constitutes a cage from relative safety against an otherwise big nasty creature?
You don't even detail what regular doors in the place are like.

If this is a menagerie on a tropical island, where is the water? Where are the playing fountains, or habitats for aquatic exotic creatures? Surely some aquatic creatures ought to merit attention in the building supposed to showoff the prize specimens of this collection.

The Peerless Menagerie wrote:
...Two human nobles (aristocrat 1) stand on the observation platform to the south...

What observation platform to the south? Are you saying that there's an observation platform on the other side of one of the portals in area 1? Or do you mean that there are two human nobles standing at the southern end of the area at the east end of this part of the palace with the undefined thin blue lines on it?

The Peerless menagerie wrote:
...Before you can identify it, screams echo from hall ahead, followed by the sound of gold wire twisting apart. Terrible looking insects have forced their way through the open window, each a peculiar amalgam of hornet and dragonfly...

What window? Why was the window open? What gold wire? Where did the ardorwesps come from? Were they in a cage? If so how did they get out of that cage in the first place, and where did they get the hourglass from?

You don't make these things clear. If you had detailed the map better, and included descriptions to match features outlined on the map, I would have a better idea of what's supposed to be going on in this encounter.

The Peerless Menagerie wrote:
...The chimera in the center cell along the north wall cannot leave his room, but will attack the first creature he sees crossing the doorway with his breath weapon. Treat this as a readied action to breathe a line of acid into the four squares directly south of the portal, dealing 6d8 points of damage.

If the chimera is attacking through a portal, why can't he get through it? Are there bars in the way or something?

If the chimera is behind a portal in the area marked '1' on the map, then why does the breath weapon travel in a line into four squares? Given that your map scale is 1 square equals ten feet, this appears to correctly correspond to a black dragon headed chimera's breath weapon, but the hall on your map is only 20 feet wide.
Why hasn't the chimera attacked the PCs (or anyone else) before? Was it because of the sanctuary like effect? (Why has this even gone away? You don't explain that. It seems to me there should be a big explosion or sensation of something at least changing in the air, given that I would assume it might also affect visitors attempting to harm specimens or one another.)
A chimera even with a Will save of only +6 is going to occasionally roll a natural 20 on a saving throw...

The Peerless Menagerie wrote:
...they are frightened and will try to flee up the stairs or down the hallway on their turn...

If fleeing up stairs to another level is an option, why haven't you provided a map of that area too? This encounter could easily extend up there if the PCs and/or any ardorwesps follow them.

My overall impression is of a very interesting location, but of a poorly explained map and of an encounter frustratingly unsupported by crucial details. I feel that you've run amok, tossing in references to favourite entries from previous rounds in a riot of colour and action, and ended up slightly too carried away to pay attention to the minutia which help an encounter work. (Your Churjiir entry presented similar problems with the Gnaw the Mind ability I seem to recall.)
On the strength of your work in previous rounds you may make the last round, but I think you let yourself down with this entry.

Thank-you for turning in this entry, however, and for your participation in the contest to date.


Eric Morton wrote:
Charles Evans 25 wrote:

I can't seem to find anything in the Round 4 rules which specifically forbids the placement of treasure in encounters.

It's specifically forbidden by the encounter format the finalists were required to use. (Presumably, that's also why the item used here gets dropped on the ground, unattended, at the start of the encounter.)

Aaah. Thank-you. I was looking in the general rules for the round, and hadn't realized a prohibition had been placed on treasure in the encounter format subsection. That seems a bit odd to me bit but if that's the way that Paizo decided to go...

Edit:
I think that the hourglass could be considered a form of variant monster customization... :)


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

I like it a lot - the map and the setup. The encounter is a little weird and confusing, I guess I need to read a lot of other descriptions (of monsters and magic items) to really get it. One of the ones I'm voting for, definitely.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 aka tejón

In previous rounds, any comments I've made have been directly to the contestants; praise, criticism, advice, etc. We're down to the wire in top 8, so I'm changing that: this review is for the benefit of other voters. As such, I'm using a standardized scoring scheme.

Each of eight categories will be be given 1 to 8 points. To prevent myself from sugar coating anything, these are ranks relative to the other entrants: 8 is the best of the round, 1 is the worst, and there will be no ties.

The final rank is based on the sum of these scores, with the first four categories counting double. (Subjective appeal is harder to fix than technical issues.) Ties are broken by the Momentum score.

Momentum: 8
The personal bias factor! Am I a fan of your work in prior rounds?
Occasionally sloppy prose aside, I've absolutely loved your concepts every round.

Location: 7
Is this a compelling and memorable place to visit?
I did a magical zoo once. It was nothing compared to this. Do I forsee the PCs coming here frequently? No, it's more of a single-encounter location, aside possible courtly visits. But it will be remembered, no doubt.

Encounter: 4
Clever? Exciting? Devoid of GM headaches and player annoyance?
It's just another fight, really. There's a chimera pretending to be a magic trap, forcing me to roll 1d4 and count rounds for yet another status, and that's honestly more annoying than anything. And there's another timer on a heal bomb, which is uncommon but not really exciting. That the ardorwesps go after the weaker NPCs first is probably the most interesting thing about the fight: it seems appropriate to their nature, and depending on PC alignments/personalities, could be a bigger and more memorable spur to action than attacks against the party directly.

Plot: 6
Is this encounter well-connected to a plausible larger adventure?
Covert courtly intrigue! A bitter brother's blood feud! Dour genies waiting in the wings! Solid hooks abound. Good show.

Round 3 Tie-In: 6
You had to use a round 3 monster. How much does that matter?
Ardorwesp: Calistria: Revenge. You weren't the only one to pick this angle, but that's OK: it's exactly the right angle.

Golarion Tie-In: 7
This has to be a Golarion location. How much does that matter?
While not as tightly bound as Jim's observatory, plenty of threads secure this location. The courtly intrigue is related to existing international politics; the position of genies within Golarion is not common to other settings; the architecture is appropriate to the geographic region.

Map Quality: 5
Is your map clear, concise and useful?
I figured it out, but only after a lot of staring. The colors are garish, and you used color-coding in some places where I think different line styles would have been a better choice. Still, it's all there.

Text Quality: 6
Is your text clear, concise and useful?
You're marked down here for entirely too many shout-outs. While I cracked a grin seeing the thralls mentioned, they weren't actually part of What's Happening Now. Ditto the haga, and after that, the hourglass was just too much (especially since it wasn't quite the hourglass because the actual hourglass obviously didn't fit the CR). If you had cut all those winks and nods, you would have had a lot more room to make the encounter more exciting.

Final Rank: 1st
Total Score: 74
You only pulled 1st place due to the Momentum score, though you would have been in that tight top-3 cluster either way. This wasn't the best of the round; I think you had the tools available, but you misapplied them in a few places. Round 5 is Highlander rules, so sharpen your hammer!

Andoran RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka JoelF847

Hmmm, my overall impression is that you tried to do a bit too much here, and tried to show you were clever, and it didn't really work. In essesnse, you were trying too hard. Your map is a perfect example of this - it's just too busy. Wiht all of the color in there, it reminds me of a Christmas Tree.

As for the text part of your entry, I felt that you spent too much time talking about the history of the location, at the expense of what's going on there now. Until the development section of the encounter, way at the end, I had no real idea of a) why this is an adventure location, and b) that there was a coup attempt going on. You could have trimmed some stuff out to talk more about the location in the present day. In particular, I didn't like "Peerless Menagerie of Khiben-Sald (so called for in the eyes of the native Vudrani, no other collector in all of Golarion has yet matched the work of the great Maharaja)." I felt that you're basically telling us it's called Peerless because the locals, in their exotic Vudran way felt that it was the best, which is basically what peerless means. That's like saying the Scarlet temple is called that because the natives noticed that it was covered in bright red tiles.

While the history of the sanctuary effect explains how the menagerie worked, I was wondering how that would allow for typical adventures, and was really puzzled by the ardorwesp attack therefore. I think that if the current conditions are that the sanctuary effect was broken or turned off, then that should have been in the location description - it's a pretty important condition. It's like describing a volcano and forgetting to mention that it happens to be errupting.

I also have to echo the complaint of the hourglass that self destructs. If you want to have a one shot magic item, there's lots of them around, but to just turn a permanent item into a one-shot item seems a bit cheap. Finally, I felt that you were trying to show how clever you were that you could fit so many of the previous round's elements in. To me the choice of a menagerie was just like a 'gotcha' I can put in lantern thralls, ardorwesps, hagas, and while I didn't mention it, there's churigiirs, chymics, and astrumals too!

While I liked your take on the Haga a lot better than the R3 version, I thought this round was supposed to use R3 versions of the monsters, not the R2 versions. You backstory, while good, is in direct contradiction with R3 version. In addition, I felt that you spent too much of your word count essentially re-writing the haga background, instead of talking about your loaction and what makes it interesting.

Star Voter 2013

Actually, Leif the inclusion of the haga was pretty seamless for me. It's like they're endangered species being kept in a preserve.


Hmm. I'm torn here on whether to vote for this one or not. The location is good, the decision to use the ardorwesp sound as it was one of the better creatures (for me, anyway) in the previous round, but the lack of what I consider encounter pertinent information is alarming. If this were part of a module I'd purchased, published as it currently stands, I foresee it being a module that I'd have to spend a lot of time posting questions about, and which might simply put me off a line altogether.
:-?

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 aka tejón

roguerouge wrote:
Actually, Leif the inclusion of the haga was pretty seamless for me. It's like they're endangered species being kept in a preserve.

Oh, I agree, it fit very well. It was a perfectly elegant shout-out. But it was still only a shout-out, which is only one tiny step removed from an in-joke, and the encounter was definitely lacking. It's a matter of priorities, is all.


Round 4, Charles Evans 25, fourth vote tiebreak:
1 dice roll (d6):
1-2 Benjamin Bruck
3-4 Jesse Benner
5-6 Matthew Morris
Procedure:
Six sided dice of origin guaranteed Baltic amber rolled from a height of two foot minimum, onto carpeted floor.
Result:
5
Conclusion:
Vote goes to Matthew Morris.

In the end I have other things I should be doing other than spending hours struggling to rank the three entries in contention for my last vote of Round 4 by comparative merits, so I rolled randomly to determine where the vote went instead.
Thank-you very much for your contributions to the contest thus far, and my best wishes for the future, should you not make Round 5.


I'm afraid there is just enough wrong with this entry to keep me from voting for it.

The description of the location definitely evokes the opulence and extravagance of the Vudrani nobles of Jalmeray, but it doesn't make this location interesting enough to make me want to adventure there. This is a Golarion vacation destination rather than an adventure location.

Your map has some problems. The symmetry makes the location seem boring. I know you had to make it symmetrical because this menagerie was deliberatly landscaped for the amusement of decadent Vudrani nobles. I'm sure they appreciate the symmetry more than we voters do.

While your map is colorful, it is also confusing in several places, as the cartographer judges pointed out.

I don't care for the encounter or the way it is set up. You tell us there's a haga and several lantern thralls here, then you give us ardorwesps (?!) for the actual encounter. For shame.

You also assume certain PC actions to set the encounter up. Your read-aloud text actually dictates certain actions that the PCs take. That's a big no-no.

I'm not sure including the hourglass of the insightful conjurer in the encounter was really within the spirit of the rules. Also, I doubt a combat with only four ardorwesps is actually going to last until the fourth round when the hourglass activates. I think the ardorwesps would have to fight very conservatively to last that long.

On the plus side, the overall adventure suggested by the submission has potential to be interesting. I could get interested in squabbling Vudrani rajahs and a shaitan zookeeper. Unfortunately, that's not really what this round of the contest was about, and the actual required elements have too many flaws for me to vote for you.

Osirion RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

I like menageries, and you get bonus points for using a shaitan. Then I thought it was neat that you used the lantern thralls. Then I thought "okay, it's enough now" when you threw in ardorwesps. Then "dude, seriously" when you threw in the hourglass. It was just too much stuff going on.

The background is good; a little heavy given your word count, but not overboard.

The big problem, though, is the map, which I'm sorry to say was nearly incomprehensible to me. Are the caged areas blocking the horizontal hallways? Are they arched over them? What do you mean by "gates to the same cage?" It's unclear if the monsters live in the cages or in huge habitats inside the gates - are the cages like "viewing areas" for the habitats? Where is the chimera? Where are the ardorwesps? What portal are you referring to? There are several around the number 1. No numbers on any of the other locations on this map? Seriously? Why is the chimera only attacking with breath weapon rather than in melee; is he breathing THROUGH the cage and onto PCs on the other side? Is the breath weapon damaging the cage?

In sum, the encounter idea is neat, but the execution is kind of like "grab bag monster soup" and the map drags it way down. I'd call this one a swing and a miss, but I've liked some of your earlier stuff and we'll see if you get through for a shot at the brass ring.

Andoran

Each mark will be multiplied by itself:
1 = 1x1 = 1 pt
2 = 2x2 = 4 pts
3 = 3x3 = 9 pts
4 = 4x4 = 16 pts
5 = 5x5 = 25 pts
6 = 6x6 = 36 pts
7 = 7x7 = 49 pts
8 = 8x8 = 64 pts
9 = 9x9 = 81 pts
10 = 10x10 = 100 pts

and then I add them all up...
and then I give your ranking!

Name (81pts)
Catchy, attractive, etc.
Menagerie. Good idea. Unique, attractive, I like it.

Writing (100pts)
Well written in general, interesting, etc.
Very well written. Period. Juicy words. I had this adventurous feeling about your writing. Awesome.

Map (49pts)
Useful, read-able, clear, etc.
I'm on the fence on this one. I like the colorfulness, even though it shouldn't matter if it's colorful or not. I think that it's a great map, but only because it's colorful. Mr.Bruck, you have got away from getting 0 points. You've got 49pts.

Creature (36pts)
Surprising, well-used, etc.
Again I'm on the hook. I like the super surprising feeling, but as Clark pointed out, this is a 'monsters attack' encounter. You're less lucky here.

General (81pts)
Anything I didn't mention above
I liked the gut-stone, I liked the Chymick and really, that made me want to read this. The ‘monsters attack’ theme lost you some points, but the writing makes up for that. Congratulations, you've received my last vote.

SCORE:347
RANK:4 (Behind Mr.McGee,Mr.MacLeod and Mr.Hunt)

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka Benchak the Nightstalker

I want to apologize for the state of my entry this round.

I knew my map and encounter weren't gonna hack it, but I just ran out of time and had to get something put together to submit. I got too involved in writing the Location portion, spent way too much time on that, and in doing so sabotaged the rest of my entry. It was a stupid mistake, and one we were all warned not to make, but I guess it was a lesson I needed to learn the hard way.

To everyone who commented, thanks for taking the time, and thanks for showing me where I need to improve.

To those of you who voted for the Menagerie, thank you so much for your support! I promise if I get through to the next round, I'll do my best to knock your socks off.

EDIT: Not to say that you shouldn't enjoy my entry as is. Just saying, I feel I could have done a much better job.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I'm really sorry you didn't make it to round 5, Ben. Out of all the contestants, I was looking forward to reading your adventure proposal the most. Every round, you created something that I thought was really cool, professional, and original.

I really hope you'll follow through on getting published this year. I guarantee you that I'll buy a module you write.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Ben,

I didn't see this coming. I still think you're a strong competitor, and I hope you keep writing and designing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'd like to share something wise Benjamin Bruck shared with me. He asked me candidly, "But are you having fun? Because I am. Sure I want to win, but I also just like seeing how well I can do." Simple, but straight to the point. There is a lot of wisdom in those words, and I scratched my head thinking about it all the way home.

I understand about the No-Return Rule for the Top 8, but this is the heartbreaker for me.

Best wishes Ben!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber

Benjamin

I don't suppose it's much comfort, but I wanted to add my sorry to not making round 5. Your ideas were very creative in my mind, and I thought you had a good chance to make it all the way.

I thought the Menagerie was an excellent example of that creativity. But I can see where the map was a little intimdating (and confusing), and the encounter was too much of "mid-stream" event - not really flowing well on it's own. Best of luck with future endeavors.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber
Jim Groves wrote:
I'd like to share something wise Benjamin Bruck shared with me. He asked me candidly, "But are you having fun? Because I am. Sure I want to win, but I also just like seeing how well I can do."

Well-spoken, Watcher, and good to know. Again, good luck in whatever you do next, Benjamin.


Commiserations.
I think you've shown consistent creativity throughout this contest, but maybe not always quite the attention to detail that some great ideas need to transition them to full realisation. Best of luck for the future.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 aka tejón

Seth White wrote:
Out of all the contestants, I was looking forward to reading your adventure proposal the most.

Ditto. So I think you should write it up and publish it anyway! :D

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

Lief Clennon wrote:
Seth White wrote:
Out of all the contestants, I was looking forward to reading your adventure proposal the most.
Ditto. So I think you should write it up and publish it anyway! :D

I don't know about anyone else, but I've been doing each of the round's tasks just for the experience of doing them. I may not be able to have them voted on, but I'm still learning from it.

So yeah, write it anyway! :)

Star Voter 2013

Too bad, man. You had my vote.

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Lief Clennon wrote:
Seth White wrote:
Out of all the contestants, I was looking forward to reading your adventure proposal the most.
Ditto. So I think you should write it up and publish it anyway! :D

Seconded!

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka Benchak the Nightstalker

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and encouragement! It's cool to see so many people were looking forward to my Round 5 Entry, I'm sorry I won't be participating either.

I will be writing my adventure up, probably as a proposal to start, but I don't think it'll get posted anywhere until after voting ends. The last thing I want to do is distract people from the real Top 4 competitors, this is their time to shine.

Beyond that? I'm definitely going to keep writing. Before this contest I hadn't honestly considered RPG design as something I could do professionally. Making the Top 8 (or Top 32 for that matter!) has been a real eye opener for me. I do have a lot to learn, but I'm confident that I can learn this stuff, that I can and will grow as an author, and that this is something I should seriously pursue.

So keep an eye out for me this year! I'll be submitting to any Open Calls/Contests that catch my eye, and of course I'd be more than happy to take on any assignments from Paizo should they have anything to offer me. I may be out of this game, but I'm not down for the count yet!

Thanks again, to everyone, and especially to those of you who have supported me in this contest. You guys make this contest awesome.

-Benjamin Bruck

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

It's sad to see you go, Ben.

I really liked your Gut-stone, and your Churjir stats were bang-on perfect, with some clever abilities to boot.

I remember reading the Top 32 items and going "hmm, this Bruck fellow is one to watch out for." That's still true, by the way - I suspect we'll see you again, and I wish you the best of luck!

Andoran RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka AWizardInDallas

Ben, honestly I thought we'd both advance to the next round and I really thought for sure that you were going to be a real tough act to follow! I also really thought you'd be one to beat and I'm still stunned you're not mixing it up at the top.

Your gut-stone was my favorite item. It really appealed to my own oddball sensibilities. I also thought the chymik was damned clever too; monsters are rarely helpful like that.

Admittedly I disliked the two-headed rat critter thingie, no matter who was tackling it, but tastes vary. I did like the creative names you came up with for it's powers though. Finally... your map first looked like an old 1970s television test pattern to me, I'm immediately sorry to say. But looking past the colors your eye for layout, detail and design is granite solid.

Sincerely, it was a genuine privilege to compete with you and I wish you the very best in all your future writing and design endeavors. You're RPG Superstar material in my book!


Mr. Bruck,

I, like several others, am really shocked you did not make it into the top 4. I actually thought that next round you, along with Mr. McGee were going to be the people to beat.

I wish you the best of luck with your proposal and future projects with Paizo.

~LD.

Cheliax RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka Boxhead

Benjamin Bruck wrote:
The hourglass carried by the rearmost ardorwesp is an hourglass of the insightful conjurer currently charged with three mass cure light wounds spells. Unless perturbed the hourglass will activate on the fourth round of combat at the ardorwesps initiative, healing 3d8+9 points of damage to the closest nine creatures.

Ah, that warms the heart a little. Thanks for the nod! Sorry you're not advancing.

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