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RPG Superstar 2015

Seven Towers Observatory


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

1 to 50 of 66 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Seven Towers Observatory
The Seven Towers Observatory is a wide, short tower crowned by a dome, built into a flat-topped manor house owned by Priadoc Oberyl and situated in the Wise Quarter of the great city of Absalom. A renowned harrower, the elderly Oberyl served as mystic adviser to the upper class and politically inclined.
Privy to a great number of discrete conversations, the seer prided himself on a reputation for absolute professionalism, and kept his public persona separate from his business consultations. He encouraged clients to wear decorative masks when keeping their anonymously-made appointments, and received them wearing a famous silver mask of his own. This way, his patrons obtained his mystic insight on any number of complex and delicate maneuverings without their rivals and enemies being the wiser.
Recently, zealous agents of the Harbingers murdered Priadoc and his menservants. Dedicated to bringing one of the prophecies in the Book of 1,000 Whispers to pass (and by extension, the Age of Glory), the Harbingers are masquerading as the harrower and his household, gathering intelligence from his unsuspecting clients and inserting their own manipulations in place of his oracular advice. The seer’s reclusive habits in his declining years combined with the ‘servants’’ impression of an active household keeps the ruse undiscovered.
The most famous section of the manor is the observatory itself. Named after the legendary seven towers of Desna, the dome magically turns so the seer’s great telescope views the Heavens from any direction. When the telescope is not extended, the dome’s open section displays any one of the 54 different Harrow symbols in stained glass. The Harbingers tortured Priadoc for the secrets of by-passing the Observatory’s guardians.
The Harrowed Observatory
Stairs rise gradually along the northwest and southwest walls of this large circular room and lead to a matched pair of wooden ramps extending north and south to a circular platform standing above the center of the chamber. An enormous brass orrery hangs underneath the platform. On top of the platform sits a polished wooden desk, a padded armchair, and a raised podium next to one end of a gigantic brass telescope projecting upwards and out of the dome at an angle. Beneath the telescope, on the eastern wall, is a small shrine, and two bookcases adorn the northeast and southeast walls. A circular metal track holding a series of stained glass windowpanes lines the inside of the dome. The dome is totally enclosed except for one opening where the telescope currently points east.
The staircases rise gradually to the height of the center platform 15 feet above the floor, while the walls extend another 10 feet above the platform, where the curve of the dome begins. At its highest point the observatory is 50 feet above the floor. Columns support the ramps and the center platform. However, there is a ¼-inch space separating either ramp from the platform itself. Additionally, there is a circular groove cut in the stone floor that mirrors the platform directly above it.
Underneath the platform and suspended 10 feet above the ground, the brass orrery depicts a two-dimensional representation of Golarion and its neighboring worlds. If successfully grabbed with DC 20 Acrobatics check, it supports the weight of a medium or smaller person wearing no more than light armor, allowing them to swing around an additional 10 feet of movement while pulling their feet out of reach of Small sized creatures. If an additional or heavier character grabs the orrery, it yanks free from the platform and crashes on top of everyone in that 10’ square. Targets in this space suffer 1d8 points of damage and are knocked prone unless they make a DC 15 Reflex save, and the area becomes difficult terrain afterwards, littered with the debris.
A series of cables and pulleys hanging from the roof of the dome support the telescope, permitting it to be retracted from the opening and angled out of the way. On top of the platform, the desk is of fine quality but unremarkable; containing only blank sheets of paper and writing instruments. However, the podium next to the telescope is engraved with Varisian words and symbols, including the name of each card in a Harrow deck. Touching the name of a particular card causes the corresponding stained glass window to become backlit, as if by a continual flame spell. Six such representations can be lit up in this fashion at any one time. By manipulating the other symbols, the entire top dome, the center platform, and the circular section of floor underneath it, can be slowly rotated in unison, permitting the telescope to be pointed in any direction. Assuming the telescope is retracted, a third set of symbols slides the stained glass images around the dome, permitting any of the windowpanes to cover the dome’s open space. The controls are intuitive with experimentation.
The shrine across the east wall is dedicated to both Desna and Pharasma, but a light coat of dust suggests that it has seen little recent use. Books pertaining to arcane lore, astronomy, divination, and Varisian culture fill the bookcases. A successful DC 20 Perception check near the southeast bookcase reveals a hairline crack in the wall behind it. This secret door is cleverly hinged to swing inwards with no external mechanism for opening it being apparent. Rotating the stained glass windows to the dome’s roof opening in a specific sequence (The Survivor, The Hidden Truth, and The Locksmith) will open it. This sequence can be surmised with a successful DC 20 Knowledge Arcane check. Otherwise, there is an audible click from behind the secret wall as the windows are being rotated. If the timing of the clicks is called out while someone else operates the controls, the correct combination can be determined with a successful DC 25 Disable Device check. The secret room contains Priadoc Oberyl’s encoded notes on his clients, as well as treasures stored by the Harbingers.
A harrower using the Observatory while performing their blessing of the Harrow ability gains +3 morale bonuses for themselves and their allies; and the harrower’s divination ability receives a 5% bonus to its chance of accuracy, up to the maximum.
Caltrop Golems (2) CR 5
XP 1600 each
hp 43 each (RPG Superstar 2010)
The guardians of the Observatory, the golems are spread out in their amorphous form, one in the center of the room and the other on the platform. The one on the ground floor will assume humanoid shape and attack anyone who enters.
The golem on platform waits 2 rounds, and barring anyone climbing the stairs or getting to the platform, it will creep to a square that is above and adjacent to a PC. Pouring itself down on top of the PC, it inflicts 1d6 damage, DC 13 Reflex for half. The golem takes no damage from this and may spread itself around the target in amorphous form as a free action. If no PC is situated for this pouring attack, it can still spread itself quickly in this manner. The golems attack relentlessly until the PCs are driven from the Observatory, or until presented with the passkey (The Fiend card inverted, from the Harrow).

Paizo Employee Editor-in-Chief

Story/Set-Up
A truly neat idea: Astrologer to the Stars for Absalom. There's enough here that I'm going to have go to my Guide to Absalom to do some fact checking, but it certainly does sound cool. The masks elements, while it sounded cool at the set-up, turns out to be nicely functional down the road. So quite good stuff here.

Location
Strangely, I've seen a lot of observatories used as adventuring locations. Heck I can think of two in Pathfinder alone. So not the most exciting location, especially as these settings don't offer much in the way of built in encounter excitement. Description wise, it sure sounds cool, but overall, it doesn't really bring much to the game. The author tries to add a bit with rules for swinging from the orrery, but that doesn't do terribly much for me. Especially when we get clunky elements like:

"it supports the weight of a medium or smaller person wearing no more than light armor..."

So two pixies hanging from this brings it down, huh? How about "it supports up to 200 pounds or weight before..."

Aside from this, the a lot of the word count goes to detailing the room, the function of the harrow panels, and the movement of the telescope. I'm not really sure why we need this, though. I like how unlocking the secret door is tied to it, but there's a lot here about the Harrow symbols and moving things that just don't seem terribly relevant, or could be WAY simpler. For a room the PCs are likely going to spend 10 minutes of game time in, the rules for moving things and the related specifics could be based on a few skill checks work fine, saving words for more interesting elements.

Encounter
The encounter is pretty much, caltrop golems are here. One might try to fall on the PCs. I actually quite like that angle, and the way it's handled is simple but fine. Overall, though, this is a pretty basic: "Boo! There's monsters!" Encounter.

Read Aloud Text
Good thing: The description does not assume character actions. Bad thing: it's VERY technically. Even dull. It's pretty much a schematic of the room and that's it. I'd really like a more of the grand and mystical nature of the are to be conveyed in the writing. This is where you have some freedom to really let your prose shine and what we see here is interesting architecturally, but bland inspirationally.

Creature Use
An observatory full of Harrow elements does not scream "caltrop golem" to me. The monsters feel disconnected from the location. There's just no reason why these couldn't have been stained glass golems, or stone golems, or, heck, trolls or allips.

Map
I'd like to hold this up as exhibit A for how a non-artist should create a map order for a cartographer. The shapes are simple and clear and what's there is readily explained even though it's not super nuanced in its artistry. Simple, but we could send this right to a cartographer is probably get something that looks pretty cool.

Overview
This encounter gets hung up on itself a bit. I like the background, but the Harbingers never take shape and the "plot" here is reduced to a pretty basic monster ambush in a room that is probably less interesting than the word count lets on. I like the secret door that takes more than a Perception check to reveal, but there's a lot in here that the PCs would just never find or know (the Fiend card shutting off the golems for example). There's a lot of neat elements here, but it's lacking that gene se qua that brings it together into an artfully exciting encounter.

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

On the border on this. Going to have to read it in context of the others.

Cartographer

I would give this map reference a grade of B.

Good map reference, everything is here on a single page to describe what is needed on the map.

Text is a bit small and hard to read.

Cartographer

The concept is clear, keyed items are included and a basic grid can be seen for scale. This map does lack readibility which is important, but makes up for that in descriptive details. I could work from this, but would prefer larger type and possibly sketched larger with 2x2 SQ=1 SQ for scale. The inclusion of image links is always useful, but would most likely be does at attachements rather than URLs, but no points off for that. A-

Contributor

LOCATION
I like the backstory of this place and the tie-in to the Harrowers (they're so dedicated, desperate, and crazy).

ENCOUNTER
I like the use of the orrery for movement, but there are some mechanical problems with it.
As Wes said, we've had similar encounters in other books, and this one doesn't quite bring the excitement. I think the use of the Harrowers hurt you in this one, because that implies humans with unique stat blocks, which you can't do for this round's entry, so you're left with a simple guardian monster.

MAP
The map is clean and clear, and includes MANY explanatory notes for the cartographer to use when drawing the map. (I often include such notes on my own map turnovers.) I have no fear that a pro cartographer could turn this into an interesting map that exactly matched what the designer intended. Bravo!

OVERALL
Nice Location backstory, average Encounter limited by the structures of the competition, useful Map that doesn't require any additional work on the developer's part.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Thank you to all of the Judges, I really appreciate the feedback.

Clark, I look forward to your comments when you have the time and opportunity.

(Voters, I won't be spamming the thread with 'thank you' posts, but I hope you'll forgive me for thanking the judges just this one time.)

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

Jim, your map-fu is strong!

I took a look at it and thought "I can't do that", so kudos on that effort.

I do agree with the judges that the site could use something more 'dynamic' than a caltrop golem.

You are the first one I read though, so maybe this will is the best of the lot.

Good luck.

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

Initial Impression: Hmmm, an observatory. Cool. Let's take a look inside...

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

Good location concept, not the best execution. You got way overly technical in your descriptions, but others have said that.

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

Good example of a solid hand drawn map. Again, it doesn't have to be Dundjinni'd to be good. This has what you want and what a cartographer needs. I think you did a great job with this.

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

Here is where this one starts to fall apart. Your encounter is just an "insert any monster here" type encounter. You fail to use what is cool about this location to make a neat encounter. I think what happened is you used too many words needlessly on the description stuff and you didn't have enough for a great encounter. But you don't really try to make a great one either. You don't use the elevation and platforms and the swinging pulleys and a swinging telescope. I'm not saying every encounter has to be a cinematic over the top thing, but this is Superstar and you had the setting to pull off something cool. Instead, you just threw some golems at us. Now, I like the golems. But that just isn't enough. Instead of backlighting windows and spending words on that, how about pulleys to move platforms and get a real epic encounter that could only happen in a cool observatory. Your encounter fails to maximize the coolness of your location. And that is a big design boo boo.

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

I can't deny, I like the location.

Overall: B

Jim, I think you are a contender but I don't think this was your best, which makes me sad. Frankly, I don't think you would get my nod, as I think this round things divide into top 3 and bottom 5. But 4 have to advance, so you get my final nod. But I wasn't blown away. If the voters agree and advance you, there are no excuses next round.

Recommendation: I DO recommend this entry advance to the Top 4, but only because we need 4.


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

Name: 8/10
Solid name, although I'm unsure at first as to if this is one of several towers, or what.

Description: 8/10
I like the masked clients, gives it a good air of mystery.

Map: 7/10
I like observatories, but I'm not sure how to make them interesting on a map. Solid and clear, but doesn't wow me.

Encounter: 7/10
I like the caltrop golems, but the rest of the enounter seems a little fiddly. Lots of text that would get lost in the thick of battle.

Overall: 3,136
This scale is all numbers multiplied. Not in my top, but I secretly want to see you advance anyway. I've enjoyed your work here and on Open Design projects. Good luck!

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

I think the map is great - yes, the type is too small, but at least it's in a clean font. This is how you do a hand-drawn map and make your cartographer's life easier.

The backstory and the architectural elements are nice to read... but I think that in play they would be invisible at best and boring at worst. The monsters feel tacked on and don't really go with the room. I mean, they COULD go with it, as magical guardian creatures, but there's nothing other than that to tie them to it, and that's a mighty thin thread.

In sum: Nice map, nice background, but sadly an underwhelming encounter.


Hmm. The 'Seven Towers of Desna' appear to be Varisian hearsay. The only reference thus far I have found to them is that some of the locals around Sandpoint believe that the seven standing stones in Sandpoint Cathedral 'represent the seven towers of Desna's otherworldly palace' (Pathfinder #1, Burnt Offerings, Page 61), but this information does not appear in the Campaign Setting, there is no mention of it in the Desna article in Pathfinder #2 nor in the Gods and Magic entry for Desna, and The Great Beyond indicates that Desna has a small flying castle in Elysium (page 36) - there is no mention of a palace.

However the sage Oberyl is indicated to have had an interest in Harrow, a Varisian tradition, and conceivably he might have heard stories about 'seven towers' if he was sufficiently obsessed with Varisian traditions and culture.

Personally, I think 'six towers' would have been stronger and safer ground here, being a much more obvious reference to the towers of a Harrow deck. If this encounter is revised at any point I would suggest a reduction in the number of towers on that basis.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

I like this encounter because it has the potential to be many encounters-- this could be the diviner the group approaches early on, returns to later as cult activity picks up, then begins investigating in earnest when the cult links begin pointing back to Oberyl.

It's a solid urban encounter with the depth to give some serious mileage, and I think that's overlooked by the judges. You have more than one way to resolve the encounter-- it's possible to acquire the code words that would permit the control of the golem instead of just smashing through them. You have a lot of detail here, which means that you have an easier time improvising as the GM. The monster is fitting for the urban and professional setting, too. The other choices from Round 3 wouldn't have made sense, with the possible exception of a crashing astrumal.

I think this is a strong entry, and really, it's the only entry you can hope to put in an urban environment-- I think that's worth points. This could be in the wilderness, this could be in the city, this could be in a town. The other encounters are really only good for the wilderness, though the cloister could be on the edge of a town or city.

Nicely done. It's much more complete than I think you're given credit.

-Ben.

EDIT: I went hunting for it, and the Reference to the Seven Towers of Desna is the in the Handbook that comes with the Harrow Deck itself... each "suit" Keys, Shields, Hammers, Crowns, Stars, Books represent an attribute. Each is referred to as a "Tower," in reference to Desna. The Seventh Tower represents the Unknown.

Scarab Sages

The description of the observatory reminds me of the imagery of the glass house in the movie "Thirteen Ghosts" combined with the observatory from "Dark Crystal" I think the golems add to the whole setting's threat quite well...
Imagine being trapped while exploring this place by unshatterable glass walls covered in strange glowing runes, that have suddenly moved into place cutting you off from your friends and allies. Then to add to your troubles a clockwork caltrop golem begins to animate and pursue you... and all they can do is watch in abject horror.

Great work Jim!


terraleon wrote:
...EDIT: I went hunting for it, and the Reference to the Seven Towers of Desna is the in the Handbook that comes with the Harrow Deck itself... each "suit" Keys, Shields, Hammers, Crowns, Stars, Books represent an attribute. Each is referred to as a "Tower," in reference to Desna. The Seventh Tower represents the Unknown.

If you say the book which comes with the Harrow deck specifically mentions 'seven towers' I have to take your word for that. I'm more of a Pathfinder with some Chronicles Material book customer than an avid collector and student of Paizo's other game support materials. ;)

I have taken a look over the Harrower prestige class in the Campaign Setting (I had not yet gone over it in fine detail in my errata reporting) and it makes some references to towers, but seems to me to make a distinction between six towers (the harrow suits) and the seventh tower (the mysterious future).
If metaphorical towers of Varisian philosophy are going to be taken into consideration, I think 'The Seventh Tower' would have been a stronger name for the location rather than 'Seven Towers Observatory'. (Plus it would hopefully cut down on confusion from casual visiters looking for a building with seven towers, which the map does not seem to indicate the location has.)

Edit:
Thanks for bringing this up though. :)

Dark Archive

Your map sketch is well-drawn and clear; it's a bit "simple" and I think I've seen a lot of such "tower-y" buildings, but it works really well for what it is (i.e. it looks like an observatory). Judging purely on the basis of the map, I would say it's TOP 4 material.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I was looking forward to reading this and wasn't disappointed. The map was , I thought, well done and the location had some nice features the PC's can interact with. The encounter could have had some more oomph (why caltrop golems), but that's about the only complaint I've got.

I will be voting for you and hope to see your proposal in the next round.

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 - Excellent map! You're no artist, but with this well-planned map you've proven you don't need to be. Your notes to the cartographer are a great addition. Why doesn't everyone do this? I know I will if I present something to the Pathfinder Open Call. Grade = A

2. Quality - Your writing is very good, just one or two missteps with punctuation not worth pinging you for. Your encounter descriptions and explanations of possible tactical advantages/disadvantages were clear and well-defined. Grade = A

3. Creativity - A magical observatory built by a harrower to the elite of Absalom? Not my cup of tea, but I have to admit it's a very creative concept! I also really liked the "swinging orrery". Good use of one of the more interesting monsters of Superstar 2010 (kicks self for not statting up the caltrop golem). Grade = A

4. Wow Factor - Yes, I want to use this. Heck, I'm not even a big fan of the idea of having an encounter in an observatory, and I still want to use this. I would have to work a little to make the location fit, but I'm certainly willing to take the time to do it. This was some good mojo! Grade = A.

Final Grade = Wow, a perfect 4.0 for me, which is a solid A. Kudos!

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

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber

I like this one. The map is extremely good and the Backstory is solid. I really enjoyed the Horrow deck so a tie in to that is cool.
This makes me want to stick it into a campaign right now. there is always a place for a good encounter in a big city.

Good Job!
This gets my vote.

Star Voter 2013

I love the flavor...

I really enjoy the tie-in, the harrowing, etc. I could see the PCs setting up shop here after the encounter if they contained a harrower.

I would definatly change the encounter... Love the use of the Caltrop golem, but don't feel like it has the right for the observatory(that's just me though). The Caltrop golems are one of my favorite monsters from the contest though, so nice to give them some face time.

I can totally see myself building this into an adventure, which is my main criteria.

Hope to see you advance sir

Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

Anyone who wants to run this encounter should really really watch Hudson Hawk first. It has a climactic battle that I can so picture happening in the observatory.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Nothing to add that hasn't been said before.

Very cool - gets my vote.


I could only bring myself to vote for 2 entries this round and I'm quite saddened by that.

Jim's was one I voted for--the map doesn't do it for me at all, but the write-up is fun and creative.

Good work, Jim.

Star Voter 2013

This one gets my last vote - I like it!

It's the kind of location I would want my PC to take over and make their own.


One of the things I like about this round is that someone like me who has yet to play a game set in Golaria can get a decent feel for the setting througha well-written entry. This was one such entry, but only to a point. I enjoy the background, nice build up for behind-the-scenes and lead in to the current situation, and the setting works well for me. The observatory may be overused to some people, but so are taverns, castle ruins, haunted caves, abandoned manors...eventually, everything is a cliche. What matters is how it's delivered. This one was delivered reasonably well and nicely detailed (although this is the first time I've ever seen a map with website references). However, I didn't care for the monster encounter; while I like the caltrop golem, I thought it was ill-placed for this location. I don't know if the contestants had to include one of the round 3 monsters as a neccessity for this round, but I agree with Clark that this location might have been better-served by a glass golem hidden in the panes or something like that.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

drakkonflye wrote:
...I don't know if the contestants had to include one of the round 3 monsters as a neccessity for this round...

Yes, they did. It was a requirement from the rules for Round 4.


(edited several times, concluded)
The map seems fairly good, although I might have perhaps expected more bookcases or storage cupboards/chests with spare parts for the telescope and gear which hangs it.

I find the arrangement of dome, rotating central platform, telescope, and location of harrow symbols very confusing, requiring several read-throughs to even partially work out what is going on here. I'm still not entirely clear on if the 'stained glass harrow windows' occupy/ cover the entire inner surface of the dome, or how on Golarion astrological observations are supposed to be made if a coloured glass harrow image is in the way if they do. I think a side-on cut away view would have been exceedingly helpful, but you didn't provide one. And rotating the whole top of the dome/platform/telescope arrangement back and forth to open the secret door (although the wording of this process is to some extent confusing and I may be misreading it) seems a very time-consuming process to go through every time lord Oberyl wanted to get at his secret stash.

The description doesn't make any mention of the big piles of caltrops spread around the room which I would have thought would be noticeable (although the one up on the platform might be out of line-of-sight from anyone entering at ground level).

The encounter really needs some maneuverable fliers as counterparts to the golems. This feels to me like it should be a golems-harrassing-and-picking-away-on-the-ground-whilst-annoying-fliers-zip -around-the-big-enclosed-space-ducking-in-and-out-of-cover encounter.

As the entry stands, it reads to me like a highly interesting location, yes, but the encounter looks almost like it was added as an afterthought. Still, my impression is that this is one of the better entries in this round.

Thank-you for submitting this entry, Watcher.


Reading over this entry another couple of times, I'm wondering if there are two tracks? One (outer) one which supports the dome and rotates in synch with the telescope and platform, and one (inner) one which rotates independently with 55 segments - 54 of them supporting panes of glass marked with harrow symbols and 1 with with an opening above it.

Star Voter 2013

The caltrop golem works for the area and the environment supports creative combat maneuvers. The ability to grab onto things to get off the ground counters some of the golem's abilities, although I agree that more could have been done in this vein. The integration of Golarion flavor works well rather than feeling tacked on. The description of operating the telescope is nice in an old school way, requiring few checks and more player initiative, but also needs to clarify it for the DM through headings or other organizational tools that will call up the right section of the text for the GM reacting to players on the fly. Right now, it's too much text to skim quickly.

This is a solid entry, once that I'm likely to vote for in the final analysis. It helps that two of your competitors basically touched the third rail in this round. Solid's enough to get it done when you only have to be better than two other contestants with this voter.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka Epic Meepo

I'm going to pass on voting for this entry, but with regrets.

Your location is very well done. You have a nice background, with lots of plot elements that might get PCs involved, and you have a solid map.

However, the nice background feels very rushed and pinched for words. And despite all of the details about the observatory's interesting occupants, none of them plays any part in your encounter. You seem to ignore most of your backstory and just tack on a few arbitrary guardian monsters that could go in any building. Why are the PCs even at the observatory if not to interact with the various NPCs that live there?

And then we come to the text description of the lovely map, which reads like an operating manual for a complicated electronic device. The lack of paragraphs killed this one for me. Giant blocks of disjoint text with lots rules, none of which is set apart from the rest. As a GM, it would be nearly impossible to quickly reference the rules for any given terrain feature here, since they are all jumbled together in a giant wall of text.

I wanted to like this entry, what with the interesting backstory and the clean map, but the arbitrary monster and the clunky presentation of the terrain-related rules didn't inspire my confidence. I suspect you'll be published at some point in the future, because you've done some great work in this contest. I just think you might need to polish up a bit before tackling a full-length module. Once your encounter text is as clean as your maps, you'll be set to go.

Scarab Sages

Love the set-up and the location, but the caltrop golems fall flat for me.

I think that using a Skintaker here (or several of them), manipulating some humans, might have worked better, suggesting that this organization usurping the seer's business is manipulating the nobility on behalf of subterranean interests, or something. Perhaps the human members, posing as servants of the aged seer, firmly believe they are part of some other secret society, while only the Skintaker, posing as Priadoc himself, knows the true masters pulling the strings.

A higher level version would have all of the servants being Skintakers, while the 'boss' is ridden by an Intellect Devourer, possibly one with Sorcerer levels...

Either way, the location is awesome, and the backstory is awesome, I just think that much more could have been done with it.

Star Voter 2013

Set wrote:

Love the set-up and the location, but the caltrop golems fall flat for me.

I think that using a Skintaker here (or several of them), manipulating some humans, might have worked better

Can't use it. Has to be Round 3 monsters only.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Hi Jim.

Thanks for this submission. I feel it has lots of potential, although I felt I had to give it a second read before committing one way or the other.

But I have decided, you do indeed earn one of my votes. The Desna/Harrower angle really did it for me. (In my high-level Monday night game I have a female Suli-Jann bard 9/harrower 2, and I think she'd enjoy this particular encounter/location).

Good luck Jim!

Dean (TMW)


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

I like this OK, but it's kinda "one big room" with a couple critters, and a puzzle-operation that would probably annoy my players.


Watcher:
Coming back to this one, despite the description of the dome and stained glass windows which I'm still not completely certain that I've understood, this one seems to me to be one of the strongest, cleanest, entries of this Round. You picked one of the best statted monsters of last round to use for your encounter which I feel indicates good judgement, even if the encounter could have done with perhaps an additional twist with the addition of one or more flying opponents. (The logical choice might be a Harbringer with flight capacity, but obviously there was a 'no statting NPCs' stricture on this round.)
With Round 5 coming up, please keep in mind (amongst various other comments which have been made) that it's not enough to have an amazing idea if you can't communicate it effectively to your audience. To some extent a good editor might help with this normally (and Paizo has some very good ones) but the constraints of this contest are such that contestants are expected to largely be their own editors. If you make Round 5, then to whatever extent the rules allow you to run things past others (family/gaming groups) and ask them 'was that clear?' please do so. It seems to me that an idea for general public consumption shouldn't need much additional explanation or engender head-scratching upon the part of those who read it.

You have one of my top two votes for this round.

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: 7
The personal bias factor! Am I a fan of your work in prior rounds?
To be frank, that's all skintaker; but skintaker was more than plenty.

Location: 4
Is this a compelling and memorable place to visit?
It's an observatory. They're not dirt-common, but they're not particularly exotic either. Adventurers need an extra-special reason to bother knocking on the door.

Encounter: 6
Clever? Exciting? Devoid of GM headaches and player annoyance?
There's enough going on here to make for a pretty interesting fight. Multi-level terrain, a couple of moving parts. I think there's a lot more that could have been done with this, though.

Plot: 8
Is this encounter well-connected to a plausible larger adventure?
And how! Murder, intrigue, violence and machinations among the hoi polloi of the ultimate metropolis. This is solidly hooked at both ends.

Round 3 Tie-In: 2
You had to use a round 3 monster. How much does that matter?
I considered playing along with round 4 and thought of all sorts of fun tricks with a caltrop golem's ability to flow through narrow spaces, I'm disappointed to see none of that here. (And with a groove in the floor, no less!) There's nothing wrong with this monster being here, but as others have commented, almost anything would work; and you didn't really exploit the golem's few unique tricks.

Golarion Tie-In: 8
This has to be a Golarion location. How much does that matter?
Superb connection to the world. Harbingers; Machinations; Nobility; Advisors; Harrowing; Varisian; Desna; Stars; Observatory; High Culture; Absalom; Intrigue; Harbingers. This is all woven together so well, tucked in so cleanly, that re-tooling it to another setting would be more than some simple name-swapping!

Map Quality: 7
Is your map clear, concise and useful?
A bit too much text, but otherwise entirely what it needs to be.

Text Quality: 5
Is your text clear, concise and useful?
You could have done with a few more drafts, and entirely too much of the text was dedicated to architecture porn. I got the gist on the first read, and worked out the kinks on the second; not bad, but notable room for improvement.

Final Rank: 3rd
Total Score: 72
1st, 2nd and 3rd place are separated by 1 point each, and you're 20 points ahead of 4th, so calling you 3rd is hardly more than a technicality. All three of you are clearly top-tier, and I can't wait to see your adventure pitch.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka JoelF847

Your entry is a mix of great stuff and lackluster stuff. The description of the location, and the specific room are top notch - great job with those. I liked the connection to Golarion, between the Harrow stuff, the Harbingers, etc. By having the Harbingers take over the observatory, you've set up a good conflict and reason for this location to be an adventure site. In addition, this location gives hints that it's part of a larger adventure site and plot. I wasn't at all put off by the fiend card turning off the golems - I simply assumed that elsewhere in the manor, there would be information on how the PCs would learn this. As a stand alone piece, you probably should have mnetioned this more like "until presented with the passkey (The Fiend card inverted, from the Harrow, see manor room 8A).

I can easily see the PCs need to talk to the seer to get some information, possbily about one of his former clients. They would be planning to convince him or intimidate him into breaking his normal secretiveness, only to find out that the Harbingers are there instead when they try to kill the PCs (perhaps to ensure another of their prophecies comes true without PC interference). Then the PCs would need to search the manor and observatory for clues that would lead them to the next part of the adventure.

I liked the options that the encounter terrain provides, with the orrery, telescope, multple levels, and a open space for someone to fall down. However, while the caltrop golems work as a guardian here, the encounter would have been even more interesting with an intelligent foe to complement them. The obvious choice would be a Harbinger cultist and/or leader, but the R4 rules disallow this (bad R4 rules!). Instead, there's probably an option in the bestiary that would have worked as a substitute, maybe a naga or other intelligent spellcasting creature that could start rotating the room from the control panel to help set up the 2nd caltrop golem raining down on a target.

Overall, good job on the location, it's my favorite of the first 4, and I suspect it will get my vote, despite the encounter portion being on the weak side.


The backstory is great, suggesting a whole adventure that I would like to play in or run. The adventure it suggests in not as exciting and action-packed as the adventure suggested by Matthew McGee's entry this round, but your entry is far more integrated into the Golarion campaign world. This story and location could only exist in Golarion, not just any generic fantasy world.

Unlike many other entries in this round, your map only shows us the encounter location, the observatory, instead of the entire complex, Oberyl's manor. This decision works both for and against you. On the plus side, you're focused on the encounter location and don't distract us from it with a bunch of other rooms. But on the down side, you couldn't use the map to suggest interesting locations and the encounters that might happen in other parts of the house.

The encounter itself is where you fumble in this round. It's just a couple monsters in a room. There's no important or interesting reason why it's these particular monsters in this particular room. There's some serious wasted potential here.

Here's an idea. What if there were stellar constellations on the domed ceiling instead of Harrow symbols? And what if the individual stars in those constellations were silver- or white-painted caltrops? Let's suppose Priadoc Oberyl was murdered in this room and now haunts the observatory as some kind of intelligent undead (ghost, spectre, whatever; heck it could even be a haunt effect). Oberyl's spirit wants revenge on his murderers and thinks the PCs are agents of the Harbingers when they enter the observatory. After some conversation or monologuing he activates the sequence that causes the caltrop/stars to fall from the ceiling (Refex save vs. damage perhaps?) and form into the caltrop golem guardians he never got the chance to use against the real killers.

Anyway, even though your encounter is pretty basic, your location is significantly more than just a place for an encounter to occur. I really like that. The observatory itself has features the PCs can interact with, like the moving mechanisms and especially the nice bonus for the blessing of the Harrow ability.

The uninspired caltrop golem encounter is the only serious problem with this entry. The location and the backstory behind it are excellent. In addition, you've produced some of the best work in previous rounds. You will definitely get my vote.

Liberty's Edge

Mr.Groves -- Seven Towers Observatory

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 (16pts)
Catchy, attractive, etc.
Not catchy for me.

Writing (81pts)
Well written in general, interesting, etc.
Nice well written. The rich vocabulary made it very interesting to read. Superstar Material to the MAX.

Map (81pts)
Useful, read-able, clear, etc.
Well, it's hand-written, but there's no crime in that. It's clear, useful...it's good.

Creature (25pts)
Surprising, well-used, etc.
[yawn] Golem in room, golem in room. Golem in a room. Simple. TOO simple.

General (49pts)
Anything I didn't mention above
Wasn't very excited to read this one. The name wasn't attractive, it was a golem in a room adventure, but the writing was so good. It's not gonna be enough. Sorry. No vote. But hey! What do I know? I’m just ten, you know.

SCORE:252
RANK:5th(Ahead of Mr.Goodall, Mr.Morris, and Mr.Benner.)

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Hi there!

Voting should be done now, so I am going to post some thoughts on the Dreaded Round 4.

Thank you to everyone who voted for me. If I make it to the finals, I'll do my best to pay you back with with an entry that is much better than this one.

Spoiler:
It wasn’t my best Round, clearly. However it might have been the Round where I learned the most.

Two Types of looking at Superstars

I see at least two differing philosophies in respect to RPG Superstar candidates. One subscribes to the notion that if you’re Superstar material, you’ve got nothing to learn, because by definition you should’ve learned everything you need to know prior to the contest. That is, you already are a Superstar, and the whole intent of the contest is just to prove it.

The other belief subscribes to the idea that we are works in progress. That is that we are amateurs demonstrating that we have the raw ability to make it as professional freelancers. It is expected that we’ll learn a few things along the way.

Naturally, I subscribe to the latter rather than the former. Having stumbled in Round 4, I almost have to say that. Nevertheless, this would be my perspective if I’d never made into the Top 32, and it will be my perspective if I win it all. Off the top of my head I start thinking if Disney’s sappy but fun rendition of Aladdin. The Cave of Wonders calls him a ‘diamond in the rough’ right at the beginning; but he has some lessons to learn if he’s ever going to live into that potential. Likewise, I’m pleased to have gotten this far in the contest, but I have needed my “lessons” too.

I still do.

So What The Hell Happened?

Mistake One

Bluntly- One can read the rules over and over and know what they say, but its different thing altogether to understand them fully and knowing what to emphasize.

If I’m allowed to self-diagnose- I started at the wrong point. I designed from the outwards in. I needed to start from the inside out. Let me explain that gobbledygook means by first asking a question; what part of the requirements informs and defines all the other requirements?

The answer is the Monster.

The Monster informs the nature of the Encounter.
The Encounter informs the nature of the Location.
The Location, by extension, helps to inform the broader Campaign Setting.

If I had been smart (and some extenuating circumstances had been different), the very first thing I would have done was picked a monster, from those that were available, that I thought was fun and interesting. The second step would have been developing an encounter for that monster that was as cool as I could make it. The final step would have been finding a way to fit that into Golarion. Bear in mind, Golarion is a big place. I had 16 monsters to pick from. Surely I could have found some interesting location that one of those 16 monsters would have been well suited to.

I did all of those steps, only backwards- and that was a huge mistake. I made a location and I shoed-horned in a monster, and it hurt my entry badly. Lesson learned. I’m writing this for those who will come after me.

Mistake Two

I became a little over-enamored of my own location. Wes and Clark are quite correct, it sounds really cool but there is a lot of wasted word count. Frankly, the Observatory would be an uber-cool location for a PC to own, but making PC ‘Clubhouses’ is not part of the assignment. Edit: Lest someone misunderstand, I didn’t mean to do that, but subconsciously that’s what it ended up being.

I also fell in love with my plot, which is less of a sin because I think it was kinda cool. That being said, there’s nothing that says you can’t save a cool plot for another day, and instead write something that is going to be the best match for the assignment. It was a waste of a good idea because I didn’t utilize it in my actual encounter.

Who knows, maybe some elements can reconfigured into a decent PFS pitch.

Extenuating Circumstances

First of all, I did get pretty damn sick. I don’t expect any consideration for that, and I’m not asking for it. It is what it is. God forbid had a loved one passed away, but I would expect Paizo to adhere to the rules of the contest and carried on without me. The only reason I’m explaining this is that it is my assumption that the reader is interested in me as a person, and wonders what was going during the course of the competition.

Basically, that Sunday night I had a hard time sleeping more than a few hours because of what I thought was a bad sinus infection. I had a bad headache and a earache. Monday morning I got into the clinic and got some antibiotics. By Monday evening it was becoming clear that I might have a troubled tooth. I took a lot of drugs Monday night but couldn’t sleep a wink. Literally awake all night I called the Doctor, who said even if it was a bad tooth the antibiotics were the right course of action. Late Tuesday afternoon I was in a full blown panic because I hadn’t been able to sleep more than 3 hours since Sunday night. I called a dentist and got into be seen. The dentist confirmed the doctor’s treatment, stating that I had an “angry” tooth. That is, a nerve had become inflamed and swelled up, but had no place to go.. except up and touching the lower part of my sinus. Let me tell you folks, that was some agony. You literally can not sleep through it. I was told to stay on the antibiotics, take a strong dose of ibuprofen, and chase it with some Vicodin. By Wednesday I was out of pain, but could not read sentences from a book due exhaustion and strong medication. Thursday morning I started in earnest and I did my entry in two days.

It is what is. Lief Clennon didn’t want to be disqualified, and I didn’t want to lose half a week in pain and spaced-out of my head. These things happen. We all do what we all have to do. I’m fine now. Resolute, but fine. :D

Maps

Obviously I hand drew my map, but I don’t own a scanner. This is a new town for me, and I didn’t know of anybody who had a scanner that was close by; or with whom I felt comfortable enough with to ask if I could use theirs. So I drove to Staples and had it scanned to a 100 dpi .jpg for 6 bucks. They did a pretty good job, but once it was scanned in- that was it. I did all the notes myself using a photo-manipulation program called GIMP, typing right onto the image as was suggested by the rules. I would definitely increase the font size if I ever get the chance again. I was glad to see that the Judges were true to their word. A hand drawn map was not significantly penalized as long as it met the requirements.

Another Observatory?

As far there being multiple other previous observatories, that was a “gotchya” on me. I missed them. Ironically, I have read more of my Paizo Pathfinder collection in the last 4 days than I have in the previous year. It’s funny how they start to build up without you ever noticing.

Formatting

The lack of formatting was noted by the voters, specifically the paragraph breaks that were there, but not separated by a line break. That’s a hard one for me. In Round 3, Sean said don’t do that. That is, follow the formatting guide to the letter and don’t try to make it easy to read because you only end up making more work for the editor. Clark re-emphasized that stating he wouldn’t put up with deviation from the format again. Perhaps I misunderstood and they were only speaking of the monster statblock, and I suppose I should put those line breaks back in my prose text.

In Conclusion

I’m going to cut it short there. My motto throughout the contest has been “Keep Moving Forward” as adopted from the movie, “Meet the Robinsons”. With some luck, I might just advance.

And if you think I’ve been too apologetic, self-flagellating, or just too self-defeating- I thank you kindly. However I’m not done yet. Again, assuming that I make it to the Finals at all. Mr. Jason Nelson says to bring you’re A game and that’s just what I mean to do.

Never lose easy, that’s what I say.

Trevor Gulliver wrote:

My predictions:

The Watcher is the one to watch next round.

Thank you Trevor, that means a lot. And it HELPS a lot. I hope to live into it.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

You know, I probably shouldn't post this.. but this is my mood while waiting to hear if I make it to the Finals.

(It's not explosive runes)

Spoiler:
Buddy you're a young man hard man
Shouting in the street gonna take on the world some day
You got blood on your face
A big disgrace
Wavin' your Banner all over the place

We will we will rock you
We will we will rock you

I hope to go out well, one way or another!

Contributor

Jim, sorry to hear about the tooth thing, that really sucks. And I commend you for putting together a solid, coherent turnover despite your pain, lack of sleep, and shortened time.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka AWizardInDallas

I just wanted to say that I like your map. :)

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

If I had taken a moment to reconsider and vote based on previous record as well, this probably would have gotten mine. It doesn't hurt that you show off some smooth adventure-spinning skills in this entry, even if they don't feel at all relevant to the encounter.

The entry polls claim you're likely to advance and I will be quite pleased if you do. If not, then you've still given us some great material along the way.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Standback

Jim, I want to say that the plot concept totally sold me on your entry, and that the actual content felt plenty solid to me to back that up. I love the idea of a whole household in masks, guests included, and it was easy for me to imagine very neat adventures coming out of this premise.

I also thought the entry was clear enough for use, and that the observatory location was very interesting. It's very true that your use of the monster was fairly tacked on, but - I think just about all the entries had at least one major shortcoming this round, and as you say, you're learning and improving. (I heartily agree that setting up the plot around the monster was probably a winning strategy; I was surprised this element was fairly week in almost all the entries. Alack!)

Best of luck!

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 aka tejón

My parents didn't believe in braces, and I've never had dental insurance. This led to an obvious conclusion, and to be brief, I can't believe you turned out something as good as this around that kind of pain. Thumbs up, soldier.

And if any sort of dental surgery is recommended, seriously, put it at the top of your priority list. These things recur. :(

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Lief Clennon wrote:

My parents didn't believe in braces, and I've never had dental insurance. This led to an obvious conclusion, and to be brief, I can't believe you turned out something as good as this around that kind of pain. Thumbs up, soldier.

And if any sort of dental surgery is recommended, seriously, put it at the top of your priority list. These things recur. :(

I appreciate that! Yeah, the cavity is awfully low to the bone, and to save it they say will take two specialists. The more practical solution is to have it removed which sucks.. but I have a referral. I'm just waiting till after March 12th.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Standback wrote:

Jim, I want to say that the plot concept totally sold me on your entry, and that the actual content felt plenty solid to me to back that up. I love the idea of a whole household in masks, guests included, and it was easy for me to imagine very neat adventures coming out of this premise.

I also thought the entry was clear enough for use, and that the observatory location was very interesting. It's very true that your use of the monster was fairly tacked on, but - I think just about all the entries had at least one major shortcoming this round, and as you say, you're learning and improving. (I heartily agree that setting up the plot around the monster was probably a winning strategy; I was surprised this element was fairly week in almost all the entries. Alack!)

Best of luck!

Thank you!

Obviously I can't speak for my fellow contestants, but I do suspect that misalignment of priorities led to the condition of the entries for the entire round. Some of us handled it much better than others, and it's fair to say that I was not one of them.

That doesn't mean I can't learn to side-step that pothole next time. ;)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Jim,

Some counter-commentary in the vein of constructive criticism and acknowledgement:

Spoiler:

Jim Groves wrote:
It wasn’t my best Round, clearly. However it might have been the Round where I learned the most.

It's always best to review what you've learned after every round. And then also, compare it to the things you learned in previous rounds. Not just about your stuff and how you designed it. But also how your stuff was received by the voters. That way, you can tailor or recast things to more effectively appeal to them the next round.

Jim Groves wrote:
...we are works in progress. That is that we are amateurs demonstrating that we have the raw ability to make it as professional freelancers. It is expected that we’ll learn a few things along the way.

Absolutely. If contestants were already fully-formed in that regard, they wouldn't need an RPG Superstar contest to validate them. In addition, one of the best parts about this whole thing is the opportunity to literally watch folks progress as designers...and, in some ways, to have the opportunity to influence and encourage that growth as an observer/commenter/voter.

Jim Groves wrote:
If I’m allowed to self-diagnose- I started at the wrong point. I designed from the outwards in. I needed to start from the inside out. Let me explain that gobbledygook means by first asking a question; what part of the requirements informs and defines all the other requirements?....The answer is the Monster....The Monster informs the nature of the Encounter....The Encounter informs the nature of the Location....The Location, by extension, helps to inform the broader Campaign Setting.

In most cases, I tend to agree. But with a slight variation. I don't think it's a linear progression. Instead, it's more like Monster + Location = Encounter. I have to define those first two elements to determine how I want to form the encounter...or, in a larger sense, the overall adventure (which is really just a string of encounters).

And, the method I use to design an encounter or an adventure is to treat it like a story. To me, the defining elements of a story are the characters who play roles within it. So, whether that's an NPC or a monster, I try to hammer that down first. Then, by examining that character or monster, I widen the circle to explore the circumstances of the story's plot and location to determine what kind of encounter I could craft that uses (or in many ways, showcases) them.

I've talked about it before, but there are five key elements I look for in an adventure. And, I look for the same thing in a specific encounter, too. Here they are:

Villain
Location
Plot
Minions
Reward

If you can hit a homerun on as many of those elements as you possibly can (whether for an overall adventure or the creature involved in a single encounter), 9 times out of 10 you're good to go. Get started writing it.

For the purposes of an encounter, a villain is your NPC adversary or monster. Its unique abilities (whether class-related or monster-based) will help inform what kind of things you can showcase about it in the actual encounter...whether it's roll-play or roleplay.

Meanwhile, thinking through the location helps you examine the credibility of the villain appearing there, the reasons why, and any unique terrain considerations that could also lend themselves nicely to a cool encounter.

Next, you've got to consider the overarching plot. What's going on in the story such that this particular scene, at that location, using that villain, needs to be experienced by the PCs. How is it relevant to what's taken place so far? And how will it have bearing on the story that's yet to come? Tighten down those components and you've got an encounter that makes perfect "internal sense" as well as a perfect sense of synergy with the larger story as a whole. This helps produce the effect of employing encounters that feel like they "grow organically" from the plot's storyline and background.

After that, I then assess the minions element. Is this encounter really only going to showcase the primary villain standing on his or her or its own? Or, are there underlings that have annoyed the PCs up to this point, who can also get used again in this encounter? And again, do they make "internal sense" from a consistency angle for them to be there? How do they help serve the story and the encounter's coolness factor?

Lastly, what's the pay-off? What cool reward awaits as the result of this encounter? Is it information that furthers the plot? Is it the macguffin itself that the PCs need to solve the whole adventure? Or is it some cool new magic item or piece of equipment that they'll cherish for the rest of their adventuring career and not just this one encounter or adventure module? Find something compelling here that resonates with the rest of the story, and you've done yourself a favor.

So, to cap that off, I'd really line up all of those five ingredients. And then, treat them as the stuff you have to include when baking the entire "cake" of your encounter...or adventure. The artistic part is finding the right measure of each of those ingredients to highlight. And you adjust and scale them up and down in creative ways that serve the story.

Jim Groves wrote:
If I had been smart (and some extenuating circumstances had been different), the very first thing I would have done was picked a monster, from those that were available, that I thought was fun and interesting. The second step would have been developing an encounter for that monster that was as cool as I could make it. The final step would have been finding a way to fit that into Golarion.

I agree with you up to a point. But I think you're thinking of "location" in macro terms when you need to get a little more micro in your design. Figuring out where to place an encounter in Golarion isn't nearly as important as figuring out what structure or terrain to use. Is it an observatory? A menagerie? A false tomb? A lost winery? Etc. Settle on that first as your micro-level "location"...and, after you've got that in perfect sync with your chosen monster and the "plot" of your specific encounter, then you can spend time shopping for where it makes the most sense to exist in Golarion.

Even so, another way to spin it is to look at what monster you want to use...or which one inspires you...and then, look at the entire world of Golarion on a macro-level and figure out where it makes the most logical sense to encounter such a beast. Then, drill down and define the structure and terrain where it makes its lair...and sort out the reasons why it's there. Those things then help inform how the encounter should be designed just as well.

Jim Groves wrote:
I became a little over-enamored of my own location. Wes and Clark are quite correct, it sounds really cool but there is a lot of wasted word count.

This gets back to that "right measure" for each "ingredient" that goes into crafting an encounter or an adventure. You can't just throw tons of sugar in because you love sweet stuff. Without the other elements in the right measure to support it, you'll just create something that's overwhelmingly pursuing that one ingredient. And that doesn't serve up a tasty cake, at all.

Jim Groves wrote:
I also fell in love with my plot, which is less of a sin because I think it was kinda cool. That being said, there’s nothing that says you can’t save a cool plot for another day, and instead write something that is going to be the best match for the assignment. It was a waste of a good idea because I didn’t utilize it in my actual encounter.

Yep. Completely agree. But don't beat yourself up too bad in that regard. I find that having a good story in mind is one of the best pieces of inspiration.

For the purposes of this kind of assignment in the course of RPG Superstar, however, you have to determine which scene of that story you're going to show us. Think of it in terms of how a director has to approach designing a movie. He knows he has this overarching story to tell, but quite often he starts filming the end first, then the beginning, and then the middle. And, to do so, he has to set aside those pieces of the story he hasn't filmed yet...while knowing the overall story's flow...and just focus on filming the best scene that will serve its purpose in the movie.

Then, in editing, he goes back and figures out how to string everything together to tell the story that the movie is supposed to show. And, if he's got to re-shoot a scene, that's not all that different from an RPG designer having to rewrite a section of an adventure that no longer makes "internal sense." I think recognizing those situations is an important trick-of-the-trade in many respects.

Jim Groves wrote:
First of all, I did get pretty damn sick. I don’t expect any consideration for that, and I’m not asking for it. It is what it is.

I'm sorry to hear that. But it's cool that you pushed through it. That kind of dedication helps in the freelance business. :-)

Jim Groves wrote:
The lack of formatting was noted by the voters, specifically the paragraph breaks that were there, but not separated by a line break. That’s a hard one for me. In Round 3, Sean said don’t do that. That is, follow the formatting guide to the letter and don’t try to make it easy to read because you only end up making more work for the editor. Clark re-emphasized that stating he wouldn’t put up with deviation from the format again. Perhaps I misunderstood and they were only speaking of the monster statblock, and I suppose I should put those line breaks back in my prose text.

I think you were a little too cautious on that point. Providing extra line breaks to make your work more presentable in the submission tool here for the purposes of the messageboards is more important than the flak you might catch for deviating slightly from the exact format, in my opinion. You want your work to be evaluated looking as polished and professional as possible. And, the order in which everything appears (with proper bolding, italicizing, etc.) is the most important element of following the formatting guide.

When you do actual work for Paizo, you'll be using their style-guide anyway and that makes it infinitely easier. Messageboard posting here in the contest has far more limitations anyway. In my opinion, you do the best you can with it...but, if by following the formatting guide, your submission comes out looking scrunched and less-readable...I think you totally have to go back and give it the necessary line breaks to present it to the voters as polished-looking as possible.

Jim Groves wrote:
I’m going to cut it short there. My motto throughout the contest has been “Keep Moving Forward” as adopted from the movie, “Meet the Robinsons”. With some luck, I might just advance.

Or, in the words of Dorie from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming!" Good things happen to those who learn from the past, while ensuring it doesn't halt their progress and development.

Jim Groves wrote:
Mr. Jason Nelson says to bring you’re A game and that’s just what I mean to do.

And when Jason says bring your "A"-game, what that "A" really stands for is "Awesome." This next round is going to test everyone's ability to deliver a compelling plot for an adventure, with generalized descriptions of encounters that will support it...each one with cool stuff that makes people (aka, the voters or the buying public) want to experience it in actual game play. Look back at the stuff that made people say "wow" in the past two competitions and you'll get a sense of what to shoot for...but also, be cognizant that it isn't just enough to invent a cool story full of cool scenes. You also need to sell it in your pitch in such a way that it inspires the reader. If they can taste it and savor it, the idea takes root strongly enough that they'll want to see an adventure module published that contains it. And they'll support it with their wallets when Paizo develops it for you.

I'm looking forward to what you pitch.


My two-cents,
--Neil

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

Neil Spicer wrote:

** spoiler with a lot of awesome stuff **...

Wow. That was really, really helpful to read Neil. If I make it next year, or try my hand at any open calls, I will definitely be referring to your comments.

You really need to just collect all your message board posts and publish a book on rpg design. I know I'd buy it. :)

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