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Doom of the Dream Thieves


Round 5 - Top 4: Submit a full adventure proposal

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Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Doom of the Dream Thieves

Introduction

Crime of the century! A major House of Absalom falls victim to a heist of legendary proportion. One of 12 sacred artifacts created by the god Aroden is stolen from a nigh invincible vault. Through the machinations of an ambitious minor house, a coven of powerful night hags now possesses a cornucopia and from their fortress on the Ethereal Plane they intend to sell it to the highest bidder. Their asking price is nothing less than mortal souls.

This is an urban and extraplanar adventure for 10th level characters.

Background

The annual Starstone Exaltation meeting, when the 12 seats of the High Council are ratified, has come and gone with House Ormuz losing its seat and no party stepping forth to claim it. The Founding Law dictates possession of a cornucopia is the sole prerequisite for assuming one of these high political offices in the most important city in the Inner Sea. The loss of a cornucopia is a rare but not unprecedented event. Particularly disturbing are these occasions when no attempt is made to attend the secret meeting, present the ‘Icon of High Office’ and be recognized by High Council. Currently the upper reaches of Absalom society are in a quiet scramble to locate it, complicated by the fact its illegal to even discuss it.

Londaro Balloric, the scion of a minor House is responsible. Employing dangerous divinations to contact otherworldly powers, Londaro received a semi-useful answer not by asking ‘how to steal a cornucopia’, but instead inquiring ‘who could steal one?’ The name whispered to his diviners was Inva Ebonblade. Costly time and magical research determined Inva was no native of this world, but rather a fetchling woman dwelling in a bizarre parallel version of the great city on the Plane of Shadows, called Shadow Absalom.

After considerable effort, a meeting was arranged between Londaro and Inva. Balloric explained his need of a master thief who could overcome a series of difficult challenges, and his willingness to compensate her for it. Styling herself as the ‘Queen of Thieves’, Inva provisionally accepted the challenge. Nevertheless, the security surrounding the cornucopias is high; one can safely assume they’re stored in areas warded against scrying, teleportation and planar travel, as well as traditional security measures. The art of an impossible heist is superior information; and for that Inva turned to someone far darker and nefarious than herself, Suszora the Dreamthief.

Suszora and her coven of sister hags dwell in the deep reaches of the Ethereal Plane in a fortress floating near the border of the Dimension of Dreams. Their fortress, Molah Tar, is a product of that strange realm, having risen out of the turbulent froth of dreams made temporarily manifest. From there the coven rides their nightmares to all manner of planar shores, trading and selling mortal souls. One of the innermost chambers of the Fortress permits the witches to touch the subconscious of a mortal as per a dream spell then traipse through their memories as with modify memory. The hags use this to drive particular victims mad. No thought of earthly property crime enters their imagination. When Inva inquired whether they could steal secrets from someone’s dreams, they redirected their efforts in a new direction. Once they had scouted out the name and identity of a high ranking member of House Ormuz in Absalom, the hags were able to give Inva complete and precise details of the cornucopia’s vault. With perfect intelligence, Inva prepared for every obstacle allowing her to pull off the perfect heist.

However, once they had possession of the cornucopia, inscribed with the name ‘Silvermead’, both Suszora and Inva realized the item had power greater than just the temporal authority its possession conveyed. Inva agreed to have her interest in the matter be bought out by the hags and have them fence it directly. The coven sent a dream to Londaro indicating the theft had been successful, but the terms were now subject to renegotiation, and their preferred medium of exchange was not gold but mortal souls.

The hags suspect Londaro will fall short of their demands as they must travel to Absalom in ethereal form to collect the victims he provides. They have started entertaining other interested parties, including those from Abaddon, who would like be rid of anything serving to protect Golarion. Similarly ships from Leng have brought sinister turbaned advisers to Molah Tar to advise the hags of more opportunities in dream-thievery.

Silvermead

Spoiler:
Capable of producing food and drink for thousands when Absalom’s trade routes are cut off, the cornucopia (like the legendary Nightbane) is also a thinking relic which awakens when the city is threatened by plague or pandemic. Its silver waters once poured into a central water supply provide a cure for large populations. As this condition is not actively threatening Absalom, the relic is currently dormant but possession of it will cure any disease.

Act 1 –Into the Brine

Prisoners are dying and vanishing at the Brine, Absalom’s main prison. Recent deaths have doubled and tripled recently while some disappear right out of their locked cells. Rumors circulate High Warden Lady Seichya is secretly abducting prisoners to be sold to slavers leaving Absalom, a story she vehemently denies. Concerned families and district officials beg the adventurers to investigate as a neutral third party.

The PCs are met with resistance from some night watch commanders despite their Writs of Authorization, raising suspicions of unwholesome activity. Interviewed prisoners report terrible dreams leaving them weak and sick in the morning, as if the calf deep sewage and seawater didn’t do that already. Others report hulking black shapes appearing in cells, only to fade taking the occupant with it.

After midnight pandemonium strikes as 4 phase spiders materialize in the cells to each poison a prisoner before moving on to another. The brutes are strangely surprised when the PCs attack, expecting no resistance. The fight is complicated by locked cell doors, elevated catwalks, and slippery flooded floors. Chaos reigns as guards and prisoners struggle to escape, reacting to the PCs based upon how they’ve been treated.

Once driven off there is no respite. Two figures from the PC’s past appear enigmatically. Like spirits of vengeance these figures reign down punishment with their bare fists, and telekinetically hurl manacles and chains. Seemingly unstoppable, these beings ignore prayers against the undead. These are 2 boggarts.

Boggarts

Spoiler:
Neither fey nor undead, boggarts are malevolent entities from the Dimension of Dreams. Archetypal menacing figures delighting in the power fear creates, they phase in from the Ethereal Plane in the form and voice of someone their targets dread, past or present via (detect thoughts). They gain morale bonuses to attack and damage a specific target unless a Will save to disbelief is made (which only prevents the boggart from obtaining the bonus). However morale bonuses granted to their enemies are doubly effective, as courage erodes their powers. They batter targets with physical blows, and may hurl objects about telekinetically. CR 8

As the phantoms fall, the corpse thin form of a witch materializes on a nightmare. Her fang filled mouth twists open to curse, “You’ve kept me from my lawful prey, so know this- your city is rotted from within. Tell Lord Balloric any hope he nurtured of acquiring the horn is lost, but fortunately there are other interested parties.” This ominous message delivered she vanishes.

Behind the scenes, the hags have recently accelerated their soul harvesting in order to dispense with Silvermead faster (before greater powers intervene). The spiders are mercenaries killing the prisoners while one of the witches performs soul binding. The missing bodies are the ones the spiders are permitted to take with them. Balloric’s responsibility was to see there would be no interference.

Shortly afterwards Lady Seichya pushes her way through the remaining panicked guards. Hearing the tale, and after a fierce interrogation of the guards who resisted the PCs initially, she blanches, and tells the PCs Lord Balloric may be guilty of worse crimes, and time to act is short as Balloric may be warned his plot went awry. Seichya will see to it the varlokkur (Absalom’s magical detectives) are summoned and the Starwatch is marshaled, but someone must detain Balloric before he flees the city by ship. Deputized, they find the noble (human aristocrat 9) and his diabolist kinsman (human wizard 5 / diabolist 4) at the docks ready to board a longboat to a waiting ship. To aid their escape, the latter has summoned a erinyes to slow the PCs down.

Once Balloric is defeated, the Starwatch arrives and transfers him to the Black Whale (Absalom’s maximum security prison). If Balloric escaped, the Starwatch will intercept the ship before it clears the Ship Graveyard. The PCs are also comfortably but forcibly detained in upscale accommodations, promised compensation and debriefing the next day.

The following morning they meet with the 3rd spell lord, Lord Wycombe. He explains how the PCs have become embroiled in secret political matters. They’re informed the Primarch feels the best way to secure their silence is to induct them fully in Absalom’s service. They can walk away now, or enter a secret world of high level politics. If they agree, they’re told about the stolen cornucopia, and the political implications.

Multiple agendas are in play here. Lord Wycombe outlines the Primarch’s concern, that the cornucopia be returned to Absalom and the hands of someone fit to serve on the High Council. House Ormuz obviously wants it returned to them. They will handsomely reward whoever does so. Countless other factions also want it. Finally the PCs may wish to keep it for themselves. This isn’t impossible, but it is easier said than done (discussed further in the Conclusion). Power and wealth should be strong motivators for the PCs to continue.

The PCs are told what Balloric divulged, his plot to steal a cornucopia went wrong and a 3rd party sent him a dream stating he had to pay them in souls to get the horn. The Brine was the logical means as prisoners are unable to resist, deaths are not uncommon, and no one listens to their stories or pleas. Balloric arranged for several men loyal to him to be placed on the night watch to ensure there was no interference. Unfortunately Balloric doesn’t know the 3rd party, leaving his thief, Inva Ebonblade, the only remaining lead.

Act 2 – Starry Starry Night

Arriving in Shadow Absalom, the PCs find every height illuminated by thousands of dim magical lights and cold alchemical torches, casting it in a state of perpetual twilight. Their transportation (if they lacked their own) facilitated by the varlokkur, and the permanent gate inside the Starstone Cathedral provides a means to return to the Material Plane.

This Absalom is a metropolis of monstrosity with a population smaller than the original and only one quarter is human. However the PCs find some things never change regardless of city, some sort of deal is always being made.

When the PCs make discreet inquiries, the name of Inva Ebonblade (fetchling rogue 8 / shadowdancer 4) is recognized. Some call her the Queen of Thieves; others refer to her other occupation, a planar-guide-for-hire. Word on the street is that Inva has been lying low after some recent caper and her hideout is a truly a secret, but people in-the-know have the means to relay a message if the PCs express an interest in hiring someone to show them around the Great Beyond.

By messenger, Inva offers them a meeting in a public place, with the terms being non-negotiable. A popular upscale tavern and dancehall called Corradina’s Delight, where the beautiful ghost of a young nobleman’s daughter is having her ‘coming out’ party tonight and every night from now to eternity. If the PCs try to strong arm Inva, or when the conversation turns to stolen cornucopias, the trouble begins. Her shadow is spotted abandoning its owner in favor of a cloaked figure ducking out of the establishment. The ‘Inva’ they’ve been speaking with is a destitute paid to impersonate the real one, while the shadow companion listened in and reported to its mistress. A chase ensues as the real Inva attempts to ditch the party while racing to her thieves’ guild headquarters.

The party pursues Inva into a local shop where they discover a warren of abandoned underground d’ziriak tunnels and chambers connecting to a warehouse down the street. The PCs will come afoul of advanced shadow mastiffs, various trap hazards, and fetchling rogues set to ambush. The guild enforcer and muscle is Vultaran, a young adult umbral dragon who can enter and depart through the warehouse.

Fetchlings

Spoiler:
Fetchlings are a humanoid race descended from generations of humans trapped on the Shadow Plane, infused with the plane’s dark essence. Slender to the point of being skeletal, fetchlings have pale yellow eyes, and monochromatic hair which they dye brighter colors if the means are available. Fetchlings possess darkvision which penetrates darkness, racial bonuses to Stealth, +2 resistance to negative energy attacks, shadow based spell like and supernatural abilities, including ghost touch. Base creature is CR 1/3.

If taken captive and held hostage, the rest of Inva’s guild will stand down to negotiate her release. The fetchling is loathe to betray Suszora and her coven, but does so in order to save her own life or to avoid being cast through the Cathedral gate where justice awaits. She explains the cornucopia is held by the night hags in their floating fortress on the Ethereal Plane near the Dimension of Dreams. Furthermore she expects them to fence it at any time. If the PCs press the matter, she’ll grudgingly admit the underside of Molah Tar may afford them a secret entrance. If Inva is killed during the struggle or escapes them altogether, alternately a journal in her rooms contains this basic information.

A final important bit of business will be finding the means to traverse the Ethereal Plane and find Molah Tar as soon as possible. Fortunately, among the guild’s treasures is a gemstone key to an ethereal skiff down at the docks, used when Inva works as a guide.

Ethereal Skiff

Spoiler:
A single-mast longboat, these seaworthy craft have a socket on their tillers where a large magical gemstone may be inserted. The gem is a key allowing the craft to transition between the Material, Ethereal, and Shadow Planes, twice per day. They function the same as other ships (requiring water and wind), except on the Ethereal. There they offer a common source of gravity and one individual can pilot, leaving passengers to rest or concentrate on other things.

Act 3 – Watchtower at the Dreaming Gates

As the characters draw close to the border of the Dimension of Dreams, they encounter pockets of nightmarish dreamstuff, attracted to sentient beings and littered about the space outside the Fortress like a minefield. Those unable to resist or evade become temporarily trapped in a malign mini-reality, functioning like a haunt.

Next the PCs must contend with a black-sailed ship of the Denizens of Leng, who have come to form an alliance with the coven. They will try to pull close enough for the fiendish crew to leap off and ‘fly’ to the PCs ship and slow them down for a full out fight.

Finally Molah Tar looms out of the Ethereal, built on an earthen mote. The immediate environment itself is dangerous, as advanced fiendish yeth hounds periodically patrol the area, while pockets of dreams bubble up from the Demi-Plane. The fortress may be approached from any angle, its gravity only coming into affect near its surface. The PCs are likely to be spotted if they assail the fortification directly, but there is an alternate entrance. A secret entrance facing the Dimension of Dreams exists underneath the Fortress affords a means to infiltrate from below. Lucky PCs may catch one of the hags off-guard (denying them their coven powers)

Two nightmares are housed on the grounds along with Suszora’s cauchemar. Lurking within, boggarts and a blood thirsty gug have literally been dreamed into existence. And a pair of oni serve as guards, one of whom wears the hag eye around his neck, which will alert the hags the Fortress is under assault, allowing them to strike from a distance. Last but not least, evil incarnate in a leukodaemon is a guest, there to trade for (or steal) Silvermead for the Horseman of Pestilence, denying Golarion the cornucopia’s healing magic when the final days come at last.

The conclusion of the adventure is an epic confrontation with Suszora and her sisters. The hag coven's survival maintains the Fortress' existence; as they each die, the structure grows unstable and begins to tumble back into the Dimension that spawned it. The PCs must race to escape, while the plane of gravity rotates and the structure begins to crumble and shift around them. As they flee in their skiff, the Fortress crashes through the Gates of Dreams, pulling down the coven’s remaining minions and allies in its wake.

Conclusion

Returning the cornucopia is both an opportunity and a challenge. If they return via the Cathedral it will return them to the point they left. The safest and potentially most lucrative option is to return it to House Ormuz immediately. Possession of Silvermead puts the holder in a maelstrom of social and political intrigue, and is dangerous unless one has the resources to protect it. However, the Primarch will not act against the party if they wish to keep it (nor will he protect them), provided the horn is back in Absalom where it belongs. Handing it over to a strong House creates possibilities for all sorts of rewards, both standard and non-standard, like property in Absalom or formal adoption into whatever House is the recipient. In any case the PCs can influence the political arena while being public figures of legend for the rest of their lives.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

This is a pretty strong adventure with a lot of really neat elements in it, but there's WAY too much going on here to fit into a 32 page adventure. It's far too ambitious. It can certainly be trimmed to serve as a 32 page adventure though!

The Basics
Level: VERY refreshing to see a proposal that's not for 6th, 7th, or 8th level adventurers.
Location: Absalom is hardly "new ground," and while I know it's still got lots of potential for more exploration, it's got a lot of established canon to weave through as well. More importantly… modules that retread locations are less interesting to me than modules that go somewhere new… like, say, the Dimension of Dreams!
Plot: This plot is FAR too grandiose for a one-shot 32 page adventure.

The Good
1) Ethereal Plane: Setting significant parts of this adventure on the Ethereal plane is neat. Not much gets done with that plane, and it's cool to see it get some attention.

2) Urban Setting: I quite like urban adventures and wish we had more to offer.

3) Interesting Hook: The search for a missing cornucopia is an unusual and interesting idea, and suitably high-level a concern to bring in 10th level characters. Not only that, but due to the nature of the situation it's not something that the powers that be would be keen to advertise; really convenient excuse to call in the PCs while not dealing with the "Why don't the authorities handle this instead?" problem.

4) Title: A pretty good title, even if it does use the "of the" construction that is so common for adventure titles.

5) Dimension of Dreams: It's good to see this region get some attention.

6) Prison element: I like the idea of sending the PCs into a functioning prison to investigate things. Neat! Very cool way to start the adventure. The phase spider fight is neat too… but see "The Bad" below…

7) Sailing the ethereal skiff to Molah Tar is a really neat and flavorful part of the adventure, as are the encounters the PCs make on the way. Feels very "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath." Almost makes me wish that the Ethereal Plane wasn't a part of the adventure at all and that this stuff was all set in the Dimension of Dreams, to be honest.

8) The climactic exploration of Molah Tar and the encounters set there sound really cool, especially the fact that the entire building is held together by the dreams of its denizens and that once they're defeated the place starts to fall apart. The "bad guy house falls apart after they're slain" is a pretty stale cliche, honestly, but this one feels fresh and fun and interesting to me.

The Bad
1) Starstone: As with "From Time's Depths," we have starstone elements in this adventure. And the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that starstone elements and themes just aren't appropriate for 32 page adventures. It's a HUGE part of Golarion, and we want to treat this stuff with the pagecounts it deserves. 32 page adventures simply aren't appropriate for this theme. Fortunately, the Starstone elements in this one are VERY muted.

2) Grammar: Saw some passive voice constructions popping up in the proposal, and some missing commas. Watch that grammar!

3) Illogical Elements: Why does the divination result of "Who could steal a cornucopia" point Londaro toward Inva and NOT toward Suszora the Dreamthief? Wouldn't it bypass Inva and cut straight to the chase to the thief Inva knows can pull it off?

4) Scope's too huge: Absalom, the Ethereal Plane, and the Dimension of Dreams are all great locations for adventures. But all three in one 32 page adventure is a bit of overkill. We tried a big planehopping adventure before with "Beyond the Vault of Souls," and the results were difficult; the adventure came in VERY over word count, forcing us to make a lot of suboptimal choices in development, and resulting in some deserved complaints by customers (particularly in our choice to skimp on stat blocks). Three different planes MIGHT be doable in a 32 page adventure… but when one of those planes is one that so little has been written about (the Dimension of Dreams) things start to get scary, word-count wise, real fast.

5) Lots of non-core elements: Remember; you'll need to do full stat blocks for non-core elements, and including lots of things like animate dreams and fetchlings and other non-core monsters is going to eat away at your word-count. Not a good thing, especially in an adventure that is already going to have word-count problems due to its multiplayer nature.

6) Complex: The backstory for this proposal is relatively complicated. I suspect that the adventure backstory would still work without Inva being involved.

7) Wrong Monsters: Xills would have made a much better choice than phase spiders for prisoner-poisoning duty. Phase spiders are Large and would have problems navigating a prison sized for humans, I would think. Xill don't have this problem, and ALSO have hands; this lets them manipulate stuff a lot easier and thus navigate a building made by humans for humans with a lot more ease. Finally, phase spiders aren't evil, but xills are. Not that being evil is a requirement, but it feels more thematically correct to me that the hags would have evil minions and not neutral minions.

8) Boggarts: These monsters already exist in the game, and have since 1st edition. Their stats appear in the Tome of Horrors, open and updated for use with Pathfinder. They're not undead spirits of vengeance, though. That said, I'm not a HUGE fan of boggarts as they exist in the game… but I'm not sure I'm interested in rebuilding and remaking them. I'd probably require a name change for these guys at the very least, and even then it might just be better to use ghosts.

9) The more I think of it… the more it feels weird that the night hags have to come collect their soul payments. Wouldn't they rather make the delivery of souls part of the bargain? Forcing Londaro to do their work for them? Why would they agree to risk themselves to gather payment on their own? Especially since they could just harvest prisoners without being "paid" in the first place; where's the attraction to the night hags in this deal? I do like how the PCs find out about Londaro's involvement, but there has to be a more logical way to set this up. It'd probably be better for the PCs to actually find Londaro here and confront him as he tries to find prisoners no one would miss so he can use their souls as payments. This has the added advantage of disposing of the "go get him before he escapes the city" element, which seems a little tacked-on.

10) I'd be curious to see how a wizard 5/diabolist 4 could summon an erinyes. I assume he uses a spell from a scroll?

11) It's weird to me that there are two prisons in the adventure. From a story perspective, it makes more sense (and feels more apt) for Londaro to end up going to prison in the same prison the PCs explore in part 1.

12) I prefer organizing adventures into parts, not acts.

13) Act 1 sounds really fun… but it also feels a little bit unnecessary since the actual PLOT of the adventure, "recover the missing cornucopia," doesn't actually kick in until Act 2.

14) The transition from Act 1 to Act 2 is VERY jarring. Shadow Absalom isn't just a place you walk down the street to, nor is it something that a lot of Material Plane characters probably even know about. This transition needs to carry more weight. I honestly think that you could probably cut Shadow Absalom ENTIRELY from the adventure and just have Inva hiding out in Absalom. This would DRASTICALLY save on word-count and would increase the amount of time spent in Absalom, which is good. Grounding more of the adventure in Absalom makes it feel more like a Golarion adventure, in any case, and less like a Planescape adventure. Furthermore, it lets you use more core elements and lets you avoid reprinting monster stat blocks from non-core sources.

15) Umbral Dragons: I really REALLY want to avoid the trope of dragons posing as humans, and as an extension, dragons filling human roles. Like "guild-enforcer." Dragons in Pathfinder enjoy being dragons more than they enjoy play-acting at being humans. They shouldn't be mooks.

Final Thoughts
Absalom is the most important city in the Inner Sea region, and as a result it's also one that we're trying to develop in a certain way. A writer is FAR more likely to step on hidden editorial plans by setting an adventure in Absalom than he is setting it in any other city in the region. I suspect that there's thus a higher chance of some still-remaining-problems and concerns waiting to be noticed with this proposal as a result. Doesn't make it a bad choice for publication, but makes it more complex a choice.

More importantly, this doesn't feel like an adventure. It feels like THREE adventures, each set in a different world. That's not good for something that needs to be a 32 page adventure. This proposal will need some significant reworking before it'll work, I'm afraid. There's just WAY too much going on in here as the adventure currently stands to ever fit into 20,000 words. Even if you cut the first third (which would be a shame, since the prison element is fun), there's still so much going on here that it's gonna be tough to all fit.

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

Jim, I have to admit I have been pulling for you. You are kind of my dark horse. But I dont think you found a successful proposal here. I think you did a Boomer. This is an adventure path, not a 32 page adventure. Now, that said, its got some great stuff. Hags, ethereal plane, starfall references, etc. This is some really great, creative stuff. It is a tribute to your amazing imagination. What it is not, however, is a tight pitch for a 32 page module. I'd love to see this story arc, but I wouldn't greenlight this as a 32 page module.

As a result, I DO NOT recommend this be a winning submission.

Good luck!

Paizo Employee Editor-in-Chief

I’m a big fan of planar adventures and this proposal does two things such adventures rarely tackle: includes the Shadow Plane and includes the Ethereal Plane. More often then not the transitive planes are viewed merely a ways to get from point A to B, or as either boring or confusing places where certain aspects of the rules work weird. So, to see a proposal focusing on these sites is pretty cool.

Background
This is a lot… a lot, to take in. I don’t mean to sound snarky here, but by the end I had forgotten I was reading an adventure proposal, as it sounded more like a story from someone’s campaign. At 650 words, this background would take up nearly an entire page. This also introduces a lot of elements in Absalom, which requires a good deal of fact checking for existing continuity, while new elements need a lot of consideration as we set a lot of adventures in that city – especially with the Pathfinder Society. That's not to say that we don't want to set adventures in Absalom, but forewarning that you're going to have a lot of reading a cross referencing to do before diving in here.

Adventure
A half-flooded prison, Shadow Absalom, a boat on the Ethereal Plane, a floating fortress, you’ve got some really great sites here.
Some are a little off, though. Shadow Absalom, for example, feels under developed and way too friendly. It’s also generally a bad idea to introduce an entirely new city mid-adventure, both as it takes a lot of room to describe well enough to account for everything a group of adventurers might want to do there, and as it brings in a lot of potential to get the story of track.
There’s something else that bugs me about the locations. I think it’s just that the planar locations just don’t feel unusual enough. With planar settings you’ve really got the opportunity to do anything—literally anything—and I just don’t feel like these push the limit. Much of Shadow Absalom feels like it could happen in any city, and as for the fortress at the end, once you’re inside I’m not sure what makes it different from a castle on the Material Plane. (That it crumbles when you kill the bosses is also pretty cliché.)
That being said, I really like the potential for side adventures on the ethereal skiff—even if the encounter with the denizens of Leng seem uncharacteristically unsubtle. I could see such a journey like this alone being a whole adventure in a larger Adventure Path.

Overall
My concern with this adventure is mainly that it doesn’t capture the otherworldliness of a great planar adventure. All the hassles of planar adventure seem to be here—needing to find portals, using weird modes of conveyance—but there’s never that monolithic “whoa” moment. That might be why you don’t usually see planar adventures on the transitive planes, there’s few locations there to rival Odin’s Hall or the Gates of Hell. While it’s got some cool ideas, I don’t think the parts that make for a truly memorable foray into other worlds are developed quite enough.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

From a GM's perspective:
There is a LOT going on here. Absalom backstory (which you have to explain, you can't point the GM at another book to read all about it). Absalom itself (ditto). Shadow Absalom (ditto). The Dimension of Dreams (ditto). A dragon in humanoid form. Dimension-hopping about something that people in other dimensions probably wouldn't care about (night hags probably can get souls cheaper than by stealing priceless artifacts, daemons probably don't care that Absalom is missing one of the magic items that helps it "defend" itself).

From a player's perspective:
Investigating prison disappearances feels like something too low-level for 10th-level characters to deal with.

Doing all this plane-hopping for a magic item that creates food and cures disease seems to be a little over the top--and if the item is so important to the city, how come we don't have the elite bodyguards from the other noble houses of the city helping us out? Or hey, how about giving us 50,000 gp worth of scrolls and wands to help us get your "priceless" magic item back?

Conclusion:
There's some neat stuff here, but my biggest concern is that you won't be able to fit it into 32 pages. Especially as we did a plane-hopping adventure last year, and that ran long, even after cutting out one entire plane's worth of encounters. And this adventure will have *two* new monsters in it (which is two pages out of your 32 instead of the typical one page of new monsters). The R5 rules tell you a 32-pager has about 20 encounters, including non-combat encounters, and this one feels like more than that, especially as high-level encounters tend to take up extra room.


I'm somewhat busy at present, and will be back later in the week to give this a proper reading, but my initial impression (based on a brief read through, so which will have likely missed points) is:

1) Prison investigation introduction.
2) Interlude. Explanation of political stuff.
3) Trying to track thief in foreign place. Then a chase. Hmm. There was a rooftop chase in Edge of Anarchy which sort of worked.
4) More explanation and then a journey with encounters.
5) Investigating the hag fortress.

I think this might be workable if the journey to the fortress with encounters stage is trimmed. I would have thought that someone in Shadow Absalom should in theory know a way to get the PCs straight to the fortress.


I'd love to see this as a trio of adventures, with each location/segment given the attention and embellishment they deserve.


I love plane-hopping! I think that expanding on the planes and getting into specific encounters are what people are really hungry for in their fantasy.

I'd hate for the idea to be wasted just because of the worry of fitting it into 32 pages. I'm sure there is a way to trim this and keep it new and exciting. Good job!

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Jim,

WOW! This one has a lot going on, but at the same time I feel it has a lot going for it. I don't know if this would all fit in a 32 page module.
(And I see the judges had similar concerns). I'm sure with some editing and cutting, and tightening up those dangling plot-threads, this will be an INCREDIBLE adventure. (It certainly was an enjoyable read-through).

I'm reading the proposals in alphabetical order, so you're #2 Jim. I'm not casting any vote yet, I'm going to read through everybody's proposal first, then maybe even a 2nd read, and after that I'll vote.

Whatever happens Jim, you've been a great competitor, and I've enjoyed everything you've done. Good Luck with everything.

Dean; The_Minstrel_Wyrm


Lots of ideas here, Jim, but none that I really like enough to vote for this proposal. Hags and minions are cliched to me and plane hopping is just not my thing. Sorry.
-g-

Contributor

I have to be careful here, because when I look at this pitch, my eyes light up when I see that you plan on using Inva Ebonblade. Of course the Inva that I immediately think of is the Inva Ebonblade that has been a PC in my home campaign for the past three years, with tons of development on her, and not the Inva that I easter egg'd into Golarion with a line of description in the writeup of Shadow Absalom. In the interest of not influencing opinions here, I'm going to have to dance around my mental vision of her.

That said, an extraplanar adventure puts hooks into me right off, and the use of Shadow Absalom rocks my socks. I adore the city. The hags' fortress being made of mentally shaped and solidified dreamscape is really cool, and the monster choices are right up my alley.

My concerns are the following:
1) Length. Dude there are so many cool things here it's going to be impossible to put them all into a 32 page adventure and do anything amounting to justice on them. And trust me, I know how it feels when cool stuff gets trimmed by half in a given section.
2) The leukodaemon. The inclusion of this fiend seems a bit off. The archdaemons would seem more likely to butcher the hags outright and steal the artifact rather than bother with bargaining in this instance.
3) Again with length. Using animate dreams and fetchlings for instance, you'll need to put stats to them, and that's going to eat up space. Plus you'll have to talk some about all the crazy stuff in Shadow Absalom, possibly a map of the city, encounter table etc. And that's all in the setup for just one of the acts.

*ponder* I really truly want to see this one, but 32 pages can't handle the extensive extraplanar travel and detail them as they deserve. So count me as wanting to see this done as you detailed it here, but my desire to see you do this pitch to its full potential at this point may involve it not being the winning entry because at 32 pages that's going to take some extensive rewrites and scaling back of stuff, or lots of slicing and dicing by the editors.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Not going to speak on the entry, but I wanted to the Judges.. of course.

And with apologies (but just as many thanks) to Todd Stewart. ;D


I like it.

I am thinking I need to hire you to do some work on Coliseum Morpheuon :)

You have my vote Jim :)


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I feel entirely unqualified to comment on this entry. The other proposals I've come at from the angle of "Were I to run this, what would I tinker with before I started," but I have no idea here, which has nothing to do with the proposal itself or its merits but with the fact that I am unfamiliar with the planes and adventures involving planar travel leave me feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. So I'll just comment on a few points having to do with expecting the PCs to follow a particular course of action.

Jim Groves wrote:
The PCs are also comfortably but forcibly detained in upscale accommodations, promised compensation and debriefing the next day.

I know I can't be the only one with a "problem player" who, no matter how polite and legitimate the authorities and how reasonable the request, will fight any attempt to "detain" his PC and will leave no stone unturned and no guard unslaughtered in his attempts to escape. Perhaps the PCs ought only to be requested to attend an audience the next day rather than forced into it. Then again, that's an easy fix to make as a GM if you know it's going to be an issue.

The other point is the chase through Shadow Absolom. The proposal seems to assume that Inva won't be able to evade the party. You need to include (and, I'm sure, would in a full adventure write-up) an option for the PCs to find her headquarters if she manages to give them the slip.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

As badass as the other three contestants are, I had to read yours first.

The_Minstrel_Wyrm wrote:

Jim,

WOW! This one has a lot going on, but at the same time I feel it has a lot going for it. I don't know if this would all fit in a 32 page module.
(And I see the judges had similar concerns). I'm sure with some editing and cutting, and tightening up those dangling plot-threads, this will be an INCREDIBLE adventure. (It certainly was an enjoyable read-through.

I was reading through comments as I tried to figure out what to say about this, and I found that someone else had already said it. That's exactly how I feel.

Jim Groves wrote:
Employing dangerous divinations to contact otherworldly powers, Londaro received a semi-useful answer not by asking ‘how to steal a cornucopia’, but instead inquiring ‘who could steal one?’ The name whispered to his diviners was Inva Ebonblade.

I love that. Just the sort of clever in-world thinking I was hoping to see more of.

I take it that Inva is the one who actually did the stealing (which is why the divination didn't lead him directly to the hags). Overall your backstory is rich and interesting without striking me as excessive (everything you mention is completely relevant to the here-and-now and PCs shouldn't have trouble piecing together what happened). Is one page of backstory really unusual for Pathfinder adventures?

Like everyone else I'm seeing some issues. The first is scope; it's not that too much is happening so much as that you have a lot of page-eating elements. The new monsters, rules for ethereal naval battles, the planar locations; you're clearly under 20 encounters (in fact it looks like you're under 10), but it looks like you weren't paying much attention to the other things that inflate wordcount. You introduce not only an entirely new city, but an entirely new extraplanar city, and then only set two (arguably one) encounter there.

Second:

Jim Groves wrote:
As the phantoms fall, the corpse thin form of a witch materializes on a nightmare. Her fang filled mouth twists open to curse, “You’ve kept me from my lawful prey, so know this- your city is rotted from within. Tell Lord Balloric any hope he nurtured of acquiring the horn is lost, but fortunately there are other interested parties.” This ominous message delivered she vanishes.

Um.. ugh. Really?

I assume the point of this is that the hags wants to screw over Balloric (who has clearly failed to hold up his end of the bargain). Just the same, the whole point of that bargain was to avoid getting meddlesome adventurers up in the coven's business (he was supposed to keep the coven's predations a secret), so this appearance makes no sense what-so-ever. It would make more sense for the coven to reveal his name some other way, or better yet, silence him before he can put the authorities on their trail.

Additionally, I don't consider myself jaded, but having the BBEG appear just to deliver a "you have won the battle, but I will win the war!" line is still kinda painful. Maybe it is just me but I found this to be the most jarring element of the adventure.

Finally, I can't help but see some issues with power level. All these events seem really big for 10th level characters. Absalom should collectively have access to much more loyal and much more powerful agents, and should be more than willing to deploy them for something like this. The fact that the PCs can keep the cornucopia at the end is awesome, but it also begs the question: how the heck did House Urmuz (or any of the other interested parties) let this happen? Why did they send the PCs in the first place? I would understand if the PCs were so powerful that no one else could get the job done, but when you're in the city at the center of the world, 10th level isn't THAT high.

The trick to making the PCs the stars in a situation like this is circumstance. Sure, Absalom COULD take out the hags without outside help, but for some reason or another they're screwing it up/becoming paralyzed with infighting/wasting their resources on false leads, leaving the PCs with the chance to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves.

So I'm sure that issue could be edited around. In fact, that goes for all the issues here; overall this is a great proposal, and I know that it COULD be tightened up into a flawless and awesome adventure. But that's the gamble. As a voter, I don't know whether editing is going to tighten it up in a way I like or whether all my favorite parts are going to get cut out.

Just the same, to reiterate, you've got a lot going for you here. Your encounters look fantastic, especially the opening fight in the prison (and to think that was what I was worried about!). I can't promise a vote without reading the other three, but I'm at least sure that there will be no 'well, this is the best we've got' voting. This is an adventure that I would love to play through.


I'm also not a big fan of plane-hopping, but that's a matter of taste. I think there are some really interesting ideas here. In fact, I would love to know more about Shadow Absalom. I think it would be a nice idea to make the first part of this story into a module and really give PCs a chance to discover this city.

Qadira RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8, Contributor

Jim,
It really was a pleasure competing with you this year, and I kinda felt, ever since the skintaker, that you'd end up here.
This adventure has the same kind of grand scope as the skintaker did and I see that as one of its greatest strengths.
There are so MANY rich elements to this concept that it gives players and GMs numerous places that they'd want to steal, use, and then run in their own setting.
The political and social intrigue of the prison and the death of the prisoners ALONE is an engaging story arc before we even get to the greater implications of the Hag covey and the Cornucopia.
That said, I have to agree with James Jacobs in that it's too big in its present form. I also agree with James in that this can be paired down to be a 32 page adventure, or possibly a portion of it could be done that way and I hope you get the chance.
I agree with some of Wes and Clark's comments about the flow of some plot elements (like why the divination didn't go right to the Hags), or the fact that some of the monster concepts that you introduce already have monsters associated with that name, etc.
I think that in a real freelance setting not doing the homework on something like that would be a major ding that I hope doesn't set you back too far in the eyes of the judges and the rest of the readers.
All in all, though, your ideas are really big Jim and the scope is grand and that's the reason that I started gaming in the first place.
It's great to clean dire rats out of every commoner's basement until you have enough g.p. for your first masterwork longsword, but we all dream of our PCs doing big things, and you've really given us the chance here.
I hope that, even if you don't get the brass ring, that you get a chance to make this adventure.
I'd run it.
Best Regards,
QGJ

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Jesse Benner wrote:


I agree with some of Wes and Clark's comments about the flow of some plot elements (like why the divination didn't go right to the Hags)

I like this one, so I want to point out this particular aspect--

Quote:


Once they had scouted out the name and identity of a high ranking member of House Ormuz in Absalom, the hags were able to give Inva complete and precise details of the cornucopia’s vault. With perfect intelligence, Inva prepared for every obstacle allowing her to pull off the perfect heist.

Emphasis mine, obviously... but I point it out because it answers the question. The Hags didn't steal the cornucopia because they couldn't steal the cornucopia-- they had the ability to find someone who had the skills to use the information they found.

Just because the hags knew the details didn't mean they had the ability to execute the plan, that's what brings Inva into the picture.

-Ben.

Andoran RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka AWizardInDallas

GUT IMPRESSIONS BEFORE READING JUDGE'S COMMENTS

  • Great title! I'm glad you left off the subtitle because I don't think it helps in most cases and is a waste of word count.
  • Great introductory teaser! Night hags are awesome! I'm in! This sounds like it will be a Planescape-style romp though and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I was never a big fan of Planescape.
  • The name Londaro reminded me of Londo from Babylon 5 and this guy sounds similarly conniving; unfortunately he seems like just a plot device, a small fish behind the bigger fish, so to speak. Still, I'd be interested in knowing more about this guy's personality. I think he needs more color.
  • The word 'scion' is fast becoming overused in Paizo products.
  • I love the names in your proposal, so much so that I may steal them and put them in my name bank! I'd change 'Leng' though as it sounds Asian which doesn't fit well.
  • How do the player characters become involved? Sounds like the warden hires them to investigate bad dreams at the prison and that leads to Londaro?
  • I love the heady otherworldly alternate universe feel behind the adventure, but extra-planar forces seem to dominate Golarion interests very easily here. I can't decide if this is world breaking or not?
  • You switch tense a few times in the background between 'is' and 'was' and it feels like you had a hard time trying to decide which tense to use. There's also some passive voice here and there and about a dozen instances of the word 'will.'
  • I feel sorry for Golarion inmates. The inmates of Swift Prison fall under attack by derro in Pathfinder Society adventures #29-30. I think Paizo writers should start to find more sympathetic helpless people.
  • I've grown sort of tired of paper in adventures rescuing the plot when a major NPC dies: if Inva dies she has a journal. She seems too busy stealing things to keep a journal and it doesn't seem to fit what little of her personality is here.
  • I lost the plot in Act 1 because I wasn't sure why the prison was being attacked and how that connected to the background? I had to read it a few times to get the drift. I think paying with the souls of prisoners is a little thin plot wise. Londaro would be more sympathetic if he picked more deserving 'payment' target, like a bunch of slavers or something. Again, just tired of 'experimenting' on prisoners. How about an Edgar Allan Poe insane asylum instead (Dr. Tar and Professor Feather)?
  • I like the investigative feel of the adventure and the traveling to weird and alien places, sort of an Orient Express turned on it's side. Yep, I dig that, but I think there should be some more interesting NPC personalities along the way.
  • Beautiful word choice and evocative prose, but the plot is sort of a hard read. It shakes just a little going down the track.
  • The mention of fetchlings was made before the monster description which confused me (is this a monster I should know already?), but I loved the description once I hit it.
  • I dig the ethereal skiff and bonus points for not relying on Absalom twice to move the PCs around. I hate it when powerful wizards and governments provide too much convenient extra-planar transport.
  • I just have to say you made some really good and original monster choices. Bravo! However, I think you could cut down a few in favor of a few interesting NPCs. I think you may have to cut down some anyway because there are going to be quite a few stat blocks in this adventure.
  • Unfortunately this is light on Golarion material, as most of the action takes place outside Golarion. It's about Golarion, but not really set there. Still, I love the feel of shadow and other-worldliness you've managed to convey. I'd actually like to see more development on it though as it's a little shallow here and there. Other than it being dark and the people looking a little different, Shadow Absalom seems sort of the same, sort of like a Star Trek plot where the alternate time-line backdrop isn't very important.
  • The adventure has a few hellish elements without declining into a plot about demons and devils doing this or that, which grows old and tired real fast. Thanks for not having Orcus or Asmodeus show up.
  • Overall I consider this adventure a refreshing change; never a dull moment! This could be a really wild ride with some cool surprises, depending on the gaming group. As a player, I'd love to give this one a try, especially at 10th level. This adventure is a neat play ground. As a GM, I'd also love to give this a run too, except as noted above (NPCs, a little more color for Londaro, etc.). The motivation and personality of the plot's movers and shakers is a little vague and there are minor weak points, some thinness in the plot. Some of the reasons things happen the way they do just seem a little thin and there's some glossing over of details, but you've done enough to win me over.

P.S. My bad guy hags would definitely get an upgrade to needles of the ebon strand in this! It's a must have!!! :)

Qadira

Planar stuff..... I'm glad that others including the Paizo guys like it, because that's good for your future.

One day I expect to buy something with Jim Groves on it but it will not be this. Good luck with the rest of the competition and well done for all your efforts.

Cheers

Taldor RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

This submission was good, but ultimately it was a little too overreaching for me to reasonably expect that the final 32 page product would look like the proposal. I think the dream plane was a great idea. Shadow Absolom, cool. But it extended so far that I think pulling it back down to a manageable size is an RPG Superstar challenge in and of itself.

You were one of my early favorites, Jim. I think you've got a good career ahead of you, but I think you need to make friends with a good editor so you have someone who can temper your enthusiasm and obvious skill with the realities of publishing. Good luck and I expect we'll see you in print soon enough.


Jim,

Due to family matters, I was not able to vote last round. Let me say that I am glad you advanced, as you have been a favorite of mine in this competition. Congrats on making it this far.

That said, I'm not certain I will be voting for you this round. I suppose I'll have to decide how much importance I should place on your body of work, since this is the final round.

I'll agree with the previous posters, in that while it is possible that you could cram this into 32 pages, I don't think you should do that. You've got some big ideas, and at the very least, this should be two adventures (one for Absalom, one for the shadow plane), and possibly a third adventure for the castle on the border of the dimension of dreams.

Also, you twice assumed certian courses of action in your proposal.

Jim Groves wrote:


They can walk away now, or enter a secret world of high level politics. If they agree, they’re told about the stolen cornucopia, and the political implications.

The entire rest of the adventure hinges on the PC's NOT taking the first choice. Also...

Jim Groves wrote:


Her shadow is spotted abandoning its owner in favor of a cloaked figure ducking out of the establishment. The ‘Inva’ they’ve been speaking with is a destitute paid to impersonate the real one, while the shadow companion listened in and reported to its mistress. A chase ensues as the real Inva attempts to ditch the party while racing to her thieves’ guild headquarters.

This implies that the PC's do three things, make their perception checks, sucessfully follow the shadow, and not kill it before it gets to it's destination. Failure to do any of these things halts the adventure again.

All that being said, I do not have a problem with Inva Ebonblade being the thief. It seemed apparent to me that the hags only provided information, not the means to perform the theft. Also, you clearly stated that it was only after the theft that the true value of the cornucopia was discovered...

Jim Groves wrote:


However, once they had possession of the cornucopia, inscribed with the name ‘Silvermead’, both Suszora and Inva realized the item had power greater than just the temporal authority its possession conveyed.

I've still got 2 adventure proposals to read, and I liked your previous work, so you may get my vote. However, I'm not 100% sold on this submission.

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

I like the ideas here, though I think you are way into overkill territory on backstory and on the adventure itself. Dream stuff is interesting and yet potentially complicated as a trope to use, and the same goes for theft/investigation kinds of things. I like the flavor of the theft and the involvement of the night hags - it seems like just the sort of thing they WOULD get involved in, so thumbs up on that as a background element.

I think my reservation is that it feels like the PCs involvement is kind of isolated points in the midst of a larger backstory. Maybe that's an artifact of the way you describe it, but it feels like if each section of the adventure is a doughnut, the PCs and what they do is only happening the hole in the middle, and the rest of it is just kind of going on around them.

So, in sum, I like it, but I'm not 100% sold. This is the third of four I've read, and so far I don't think I have a clear favorite.

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

BTW, +1 to having "Londaro" remind me of "Londo Mollari of the House Mollari" from Babylon 5. :)


This one grabbed me more than the others, but it does have a few holes in it. The biggest one is getting it to fit into 32 pages.
My current viewpoint is that it has the most potential, but not in 32 pages. What to do, what to do?

Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
wraithstrike wrote:

This one grabbed me more than the others, but it does have a few holes in it. The biggest one is getting it to fit into 32 pages.

My current viewpoint is that it has the most potential, but not in 32 pages. What to do, what to do?

To quote:

Lisa Stevens wrote:

I would vote for the one you like best and trust that my awesome designers will help make the module work well in 32-pages. I think that you really want to vote for the person who you think will make the most kick-butt module that you will want to buy. If they have cool ideas and cool stories, my guys can help them get those stories and ideas into the proper page count.

My 2 cents...

-Lisa

(I asked the same question over here.)

Andoran RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka AWizardInDallas

Jim, I'm pleased to say that after reviewing all four proposals I like yours the best. You have my vote! :)

-Rich

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Jim,

Okay. So, I've been sort of holding back on commenting on any of the adventure proposals, because none of them absolutely grabbed me as the definitive winner. As such, my decision on where to cast my vote hasn't really crystallized for me yet.

Therefore, I'm going to talk my way through the adventure proposal...bit by bit...to sort of reach some stream-of-consciousness conclusions and see where that takes me. Along the way, I hope to offer some advice on where I think a particular element in the proposal helped or hindered each contestants' chances at taking the prize. But really...regardless of who wins this thing, you're all winners, because you're all capable of spinning Superstar-caliber stuff. And we all know you'll get chances to do so as freelancers for Paizo in the near future.

So, without any further ado...buckle in, because here we go:

Spoiler:

Jim Groves wrote:
Doom of the Dream Thieves

Alright. Let's examine the title. "Doom of the Dream Thieves" is another of the "X of the Y" titles. As I've said before, I don't mind re-using the tried and true conventions of that template. There are plenty of great adventures and stories that rely on it. That said, you use a very soft initial word ("Doom") that may or may not conjure up any specific imagery for the reader when they absorb your title. I think the use of "Dream Thieves" offsets that a little, though. I'm not exactly sure what a Dream Thief would look like, exactly, but I'm intrigued enough that I want to keep reading so I can find out. Does it get to the heart of what your adventure is all about though? In some ways, yes. After all, you feature nighthags in an ethereal lair constructed by the dreams of sentient beings. Very cool. I'm not quite sure how "doom" applies to the theft of the cornucopia, though...or the abduction/deaths of the inmates for their souls. In some ways, I'm kind of curious what the nighthags plan on using the souls for...and wondering if maybe the title of your adventure ought to draw on that. Maybe something like "Stolen Souls of the Dream Thieves"...? I don't know. And I'm not sure I can explain what I'm driving at any better. So, let's move on...

Jim Groves wrote:

Introduction

Crime of the century! A major House of Absalom falls victim to a heist of legendary proportion. One of 12 sacred artifacts created by the god Aroden is stolen from a nigh invincible vault. Through the machinations of an ambitious minor house, a coven of powerful night hags now possesses a cornucopia and from their fortress on the Ethereal Plane they intend to sell it to the highest bidder. Their asking price is nothing less than mortal souls.

The teaser text is suitable. I'm not sure the "Crime of the century!" lead-in generates that much enthusiasm for me, but the rest of the information you present is all certainly applicable to the adventure's plot and overall story. I like how you end on describing the shocking detail of their asking price to return the cornucopia. That said, I wish there were a bit more jazz to this paragraph. In some ways, the theft of a cornucopia doesn't seem like a "heist of legendary proportion" to me...but, given their significance to the ruling class of Absalom, I suppose it would be. I'm just not sure I could sell my players on the importance of it right away. And maybe that's because you don't really describe or hint enough at the cornucopia's importance with this teaser text. I know you know why a cornucopia is important. But, to the uneducated reader on Golarion lore, they're probably going to be a little lost and wondering why this is such a big deal. Of course, they can read deeper into your adventure background to find out. But, the whole purpose of teaser text is to simulate what's on the back cover of an adventure and if you're going to include it in your adventure proposal, you really need to polish it well enough that it can convince someone to buy it off the shelf. I'm not certain this teaser text does that for me.

Jim Groves wrote:
This is an urban and extraplanar adventure for 10th level characters.

An interesting, if not bold, level choice. You're bordering on higher-level play than most gaming groups reach. You've also chosen to set your adventure in an urban and extraplanar setting...which is a road less-traveled by some gamers as well. As such, this is either going to really pay off for you (if you do it justice) or it's can potentially sink you (if it fails to properly inspire the voters and buyers).

Jim Groves wrote:
Background

I won't quote all the background text here, but I will try and comment on as I do my read through...

Okay, so this is where we get an understanding of why the theft of the cornucopia is a threatening enough event that it warrants getting the PCs involved. We learn why someone stole it...how they managed it...and why they're now sitting on it until they can sell it to the highest bidder. And the asking price is devilishly wicked. "So, who will give me a thousand souls for this badge of rulership to the city of Absalom? Or ten thousand?" In some ways, I kind of wish you'd set this up an auction of sorts between all kinds of malevolent powers ready to send souls to the nighthags in exchange for the opportunity to seize some measure of power in the greatest city on Golarion.

I like the backstory where Londaro is trying to make his power grab and relies on a skilled shadow-thief to steal it...who in turn has to rely on the divinations of the nighthags to learn how to steal it...and who in turn decide to keep it for themselves so they can get more out of it than they were originally promised. Great double-cross material. Cool malevolent entities involved. It makes for a nice ladder of villains and minions to climb before the PCs can eventually set things right. I also really like how the dream-stealing revelations of the nighthags and the souls they're garnering in exchange for the cornucopia have drawn other power groups to Molah Tar. Denizens of Leng and daemons all seem very appropriate.

Jim Groves wrote:
Act 1 –Into the Brine

Okay, so we first get the PCs involved by having them investigate the strange deaths at Absalom's main prison. This is an okay lead-in, but it doesn't have a tremendous punch to it until the phase spiders and boggarts show up. Personally, I'm not all that moved by the inclusion of these two monsters. That don't feel like very good minions for the nighthags to reap the souls Londaro promised them. I like the suggestion of using xills...or maybe even variant ethereal filchers or ethereal marauders (with the dream creature template from Advanced Bestiary?) since that would dovetail very nicely with the Molah Tar citadel in the Ethereal Plane.

I didn't really like the appearance of the nighthag and her monologue to clue the PCs into Lord Balloric's involvement. I would have been happier to see the PCs left grasping at straws as the invaders start fleeing with as many souls as they can take back to the nighthags. Then, either through their own divinations or ethereal jaunts, the PCs could track these Dream Thieves back to Molah Tar. That way, rather than having to detail Shadow Absalom and tracking down Inva, the PCs could simply assault Molah Tar and Inva could already be waiting there as one more minion to take down.

Instead, we get an adventure that starts trying to play out a story that's just too long for 32 pages. Because at this point, the PCs have to go stop Londaro before he and his diabolist kinsmen can flee the city. Personally, I'd kind of prefer to see him vexed by the fact that PCs interrupted the deal he'd worked out the nighthags stealing the souls from the prison. Knowing the nighthags will likely see their deal as null and void, he'll try to make other arrangements to buy back the cornucopia from them. In this way, you can have Londaro send his own mercenaries and supplicants to Molah Tar to bid upon the cornucopia among the "other interested parties"...which by that point, should include the PCs when they arrive on the scene. Or, they break up such an auction, learn Londaro was behind the whole thing, and then take him back for punishment in Absalom after they retrieve the cornucopia from the nighthags' cold, dead hands. Going this direction lets you cut a number of encounters and/or consolidate them back down into your most interesting location...which is Molah Tar. Sure, Shadow Absalom would be cool, too...but it's not as integral to the story you're trying to weave here, in my opinion.

Granted, you do still need something to spur the PCs on to track down the abductors of the prison inmates' souls. Otherwise, when they arrive in Molah Tar, it'll be the first time they realize the cornucopia is missing. It's possible you could have someone else on sight who's loyal to Londaro who was supposed to ensure the prison guards were absent and/or there would be no interference. And the PCs could then capture and interrogate this person to learn of Lord Balloric's involvement. And, they could also learn that he's already ventured into the Ethereal Plane to Molah Tar to try and claim the cornucopia.

Jim Groves wrote:
Act 2 – Starry Starry Night

I'm not as intrigued by Shadow Absalom here as some people are. I just don't see this series of encounters as necessary or vital to what you're trying to do with the adventure's plot. It's a neat location. And there's certainly a really cool adventure that could take place here. But I think this would work better if Inva was relocated to Molah Tar (and awaiting her payoff for stealing the cornucopia) than have her waiting here for the PCs to corner and interrogate.

Jim Groves wrote:
Fetchlings

The fetchling idea is kind of just okay for me. I'm not sold on their importance to the core of your adventure. Granted, you're going to cast Inva as one, but honestly, I think you could get away with just making her a Shadowdancer and letting her spend a lot of time crossing between Shadow Absalom and Golarion and other planes as she makes deals with power groups like the nighthags.

Jim Groves wrote:
Ethereal Skiff

I do like the ethereal skiff, but I think you can place this in Absalom and let the powers-that-be loan it to the PCs so they can venture into Molah Tar and reclaim the cornucopia once Londaro's scheme is revealed.

Jim Groves wrote:
Act 3 – Watchtower at the Dreaming Gates

Now this is the heart of your adventure. This is where you need to spend most of your word count and time in the actual adventure. Absalom can serve as the jumping off point, but the Ethereal Plane and Molah Tar with its border on the Dimension of Dreams is the crux of everything that's cool and climactic about your adventure proposal. I love the presence of other powergroups here...the Denizens of Leng, the daemons, etc. All cool stuff! I also like how the fortress tears itself apart as the PCs slay the nighthags one-by-one. The use of their coven abilities and an oni minion wearing a hag eye is very appropriate and well-used. And the epic proportions of the final battle could well turn into a memorable event your players would be talking about for years to come. This is a worthy villain...a worthy plot...and a worthy location. I'm just not sure you pared it back to those specific items. Instead, you sort of wandered your way through it and glommed on too many extra special effects and other cool locations...almost in the hopes that "something would stick" and the voters would see enough cool ideas they'd vote you through. Unfortunately, I think this is again a case that "less is more" in adventure design when you know you've only got 20,000 words and 32 pages to do it justice.

So, I don't know if this is enough to get you through. I think you've got a lot of strong elements here. There's enough to pull together an awesome adventure. But it will require cutting out some stuff that will just have no chance of fitting into the final product. Regardless, you've done exceptional work throughout the competition. Whether you win or not, you'll still have freelancing opportunities with Paizo. And, hopefully, you'll have learned enough through all the contest's experiences and the feedback you get that you'll excel at whatever you work on.


Best of luck,
--Neil

Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I love this.
Absolutely LOVED it.

Yes, it's grandiose in scale.
Yes, it's ambitious as all get-out.
Yes, it's going to need modification to meet the page limit.

It's also a proposal that metaphorically grabbed me, shook me down for a spare $13.99 plus tax, and screamed "BUY ME!" at the top of its lungs.

Count me in.


This one has lots of potential for Absalom PC's. It is steeped in the politics of Absalom and a good way to introduce the cornucopias if the characters haven't learned of them yet. The Shadow Absalom concept gives an unusual way to reach enemies or targets. I can USE this idea, regardless whether or not I run this adventure. To cap it all off there is access to a Dream plane that makes an excellent tie in to the worlds created for other settings (Cthulhu Dreamlands).

Contributor

Neil Spicer wrote:
The fetchling idea is kind of just okay for me. I'm not sold on their importance to the core of your adventure. Granted, you're going to cast Inva as one, but honestly, I think you could get away with just making her a Shadowdancer and letting her spend a lot of time crossing between Shadow Absalom and Golarion and other planes as she makes deals with power groups like the nighthags.

In Jim's defense here, the canonical Inva Ebonblade -is- a fetchling (her statblock is right from The Great Beyond). :)

And for the record, I still have not made up my mind on a vote yet. The idea for this one is still staring holes into my head, and with Lisa's comments on developers molding the pitch into something that will work with a 32 page format... I'm being drawn back here more and more. Tempting, but not decided by any means yet. Damn this is hard this year. I still need to comment on the others as well.


thunderspirit wrote:
It's also a proposal that metaphorically grabbed me, shook me down for a spare $13.99 plus tax, and screamed "BUY ME!" at the top of its lungs.

I absolutely agree. Above the rest, this Adventure Proposal has the sort of pinache and careful management that I would cheerfully spend money - and that is as good a gauge of its merits as any litany of RPG criteria.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Todd Stewart wrote:
The idea for this one is still staring holes into my head, and with Lisa's comments on developers molding the pitch into something that will work with a 32 page format...

For the record, this developer's response is going to be "cut that down to 20 encounters, pronto, and if you're over your word count I'm going to stab you in the neck with a sharpened baby." But that's my response to most book proposals, so.... :)

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
For the record, this developer's response is going to be "cut that down to 20 encounters, pronto, and if you're over your word count I'm going to stab you in the neck with a sharpened baby."

"Thank you for your support and please vote for my entry! If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them once voting for this round is closed."

;D


Great story.

I imagine if you win with this one what would happen...
Probably the best bet is to break the story into 2 or 3 and just do one part at a time well.
If it's popular, the rest of the story can follow.

In other words, I'd say you're one to gamble you're going to win, and win big.


gbonehead wrote:
wraithstrike wrote:

This one grabbed me more than the others, but it does have a few holes in it. The biggest one is getting it to fit into 32 pages.

My current viewpoint is that it has the most potential, but not in 32 pages. What to do, what to do?

To quote:

Lisa Stevens wrote:

I would vote for the one you like best and trust that my awesome designers will help make the module work well in 32-pages. I think that you really want to vote for the person who you think will make the most kick-butt module that you will want to buy. If they have cool ideas and cool stories, my guys can help them get those stories and ideas into the proper page count.

My 2 cents...

-Lisa

(I asked the same question over here.)

You may have earned this man a vote.

Andoran RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8 aka AWizardInDallas

thunderspirit wrote:
It's also a proposal that metaphorically grabbed me, shook me down for a spare $13.99 plus tax, and screamed "BUY ME!" at the top of its lungs.

Yes, absolutely! very well put. :)

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka DankeSean

[Disclaimer- I'm trying to get down my initial thoughts unvarnished by other people's opinions, so I'm posting without having read any responses, including the judges. I will almost certainly be redundant in many places, especially since I took a full day and a half to reply. Apologies if I'm restating anything obvious.]

And an additional disclaimer: So yeah. My adventure proposal, had I made it this far, would have involved a madcap chase around Absalom for a cornucopia with multiple groups trying to make a grab for power. That's pretty much the ONLY similarity between my idea and your proposal, but I just wanted to say that up front in case it colors my reactions one way or another. You can thus just chalk any negative comments on my part to professional jealousy. :-) (Although I'm more prone to go 'Oh, that's GREAT, why didn't _I_ think of that! Extra points!)

So this is fun stuff all over; I don't think it has quite as much of the 'shock and awe' super fantasy high concept stuff that Matthew's does, but that's not a drawback, for me. Between living dreams, otherplanar thieves, and massive political intrigue, I think you've got more than enough fun to go around without potentially going overboard. Investigative work, shadow cities, night hags, fortresses made of unstable dreams, and, of course... a successful party deciding if they want to play nice or grab the reins of power for themselves.

I love, love, love the fact that you factor in the possibility of the party keeping the cornucopia. Most adventures would just ignore the possibility, or else just railroad the party into giving it up. You pretty much say 'hey, if you DMs don't mind switching up your whole game... go for it.' Yeah, it's just the conclusion and doesn't really reflect on the adventure as a whole, but that kind of open mindedness and forethought is the kind of stuff I've come to expect seeing from your work, and is one of the things that's made me a fan.

My only issue is that this doesn't fit 32 pages even remotely. Matthew's I had the same gut instinct with, but his I think cant fit with only a little bit of snipping and stuffing; yours would need whole sections chopped out. The upside to that is that, unlike some overlong adventure proposals that we've seen in previous years of this contest, yours more easily lends itself to trimming, being somewhat modular in nature. Part of the problem is the multiple layers of thieves and subcontracting involved; maybe that could be simplified in a finalized version. (As an aside, though, even though they're probably one of the more disposable elements... I hope the Denizens of Leng get to stay. I loves me some Leng seasoning on a plate of already cool stuff.)

So, in all: I love this to pieces and want to take it home with me for the night, have an awkward breakfast with it the next morning, and then leave a neverending series of voicemail messages for it over the course of the next few weeks while it steadfastly refuses to return my calls until I finally get the point that it's too good for me.

Will it get my vote? Very possibly. I do need to weigh in the page count factor; I'm reluctant to vote for an adventure that gets pared down to the point that it's not quite what I voted for anymore. But that may not be an issue. I gotta think on that. You are, however, the sole guy in the final four that I've voted for EVERY ROUND so far, so that says a lot.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I love this adventure proposal. It's got everything - but too much of it.

Really, even if this doesn't win, I'm hoping Paizo will pick this idea up and do something with it. It's too awesome.

Two points really stuck out for me in terms of 'ugh, this feels weird':

- Inva. Granted, she's now official PF canon, but still, I couldn't help picturing the Inva I know from Shemmy's story hour. Not holding that against you, just saying you could probably have picked a different character (or made one up) in order to avoid stuff like this.

- Shadow Absalom reminded me waaay too much of that Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion ... which doesn't mean it's not a great idea, just that you could have downplayed the similarities a little more - if that was your inspiration at all. If not, disregard ;).

I would be giving this an A- for content, but it doesn't fit the requirements of a 32-pager. Thus, a C.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 aka tejón

Oh man... I hate to just post "me too," but Jim, I don't see this as an adventure. I see it as a campaign.

To be clear: I want to see it as a campaign. I hope Paizo calls you up when they start planning the AP after next. But I can't rightfully vote for it here and now.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

Jim Groves wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
For the record, this developer's response is going to be "cut that down to 20 encounters, pronto, and if you're over your word count I'm going to stab you in the neck with a sharpened baby."

"Thank you for your support and please vote for my entry! If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them once voting for this round is closed."

;D

That made me laugh.

Taldor RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

I think the real question is: How the heck does one sharpen a baby?

Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014

James Martin wrote:
I think the real question is: How the heck does one sharpen a baby?

You mean you don't have a baby sharpener? :::sorrowfully shakes head at James Martin:::


Quote:
After midnight pandemonium strikes as 4 phase spiders materialize in the cells to each poison a prisoner before moving on to another. The brutes are strangely surprised when the PCs attack, expecting no resistance. The fight is complicated by locked cell doors, elevated catwalks, and slippery flooded floors. Chaos reigns as guards and prisoners struggle to escape, reacting to the PCs based upon how they’ve been treated.

That's a great scene. Fighting through cell-door bars with phase spiders that can skulk around and move. Fighting on slippery flooded floors is an even better environmental hazard.

Quote:
Once Balloric is defeated, the Starwatch arrives and transfers him to the Black Whale (Absalom’s maximum security prison). If Balloric escaped, the Starwatch will intercept the ship before it clears the Ship Graveyard. The PCs are also comfortably but forcibly detained in upscale accommodations, promised compensation and debriefing the next day.

I don't particularly like this possibility that the city guards intercept the ship if the players fail; but I suppose most parties will catch him.

Quote:
Arriving in Shadow Absalom, the PCs find every height illuminated by thousands of dim magical lights and cold alchemical torches, casting it in a state of perpetual twilight. Their transportation (if they lacked their own) facilitated by the varlokkur, and the permanent gate inside the Starstone Cathedral provides a means to return to the Material Plane.

Good imagery. Makes me think of Munch.

The last battle sounds epic- perhaps too much for the characters.

The adventure doesn't necessarily seem too big- but it does seem like it might need a Shadow Absalom sourcebook to accompany it if there is going to be extensive investigation into the Shadow city. (Mr. Jacob's bad point #14 may be a good solution to this issue; perhaps the characters make inquiries in the real absalom and the meeting itself is in Shadow Absalom? [to cut down on needed pagelength but to preserve the imagery?]).

Good luck!

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Dance of Ruin wrote:
- Inva. Granted, she's now official PF canon, but still, I couldn't help picturing the Inva I know from Shemmy's story hour. Not holding that against you, just saying you could probably have picked a different character (or made one up) in order to avoid stuff like this.

This is actually EXCELLENT advice to any writer who decides to put one of their own characters into any work-for-hire product. Because that character concept, as you present it in the published-for-hire product, is really no longer your character; you've basically sold it to the company you were writing for. You can CERTAINLY keep that character the same in home games or unpublished fiction, but even if you change the character around completely from the published version but keep the name and then publish that character elsewhere, it'll look weird to anyone in the public who reads both products and will cause confusion.

I'm somewhat of an expert at this, of course; I wrote in a LOT of my characters and locations and stuff from my homebrew world for several WotC products I worked on. The biggest example is probably the demon lord Obox-ob, who in my homebrew is the main bad guy god. When it came to picking deities for Golarion, my homebrew pantheon ended up giving us deities for more than half of Golarion's deities. But in a few cases, I had to change names or substitute other deites, changing their entire makeup. I couldn't use Obox-ob anymore, really, since I'd "sold" that name and character to WotC. So I upgraded a lesser badguy deity from my homebrew, Rovagug (who was the god of the Underdark and spiders and nightmares in my homebrew), to the position previously filled by Obox-ob (destruction and scorpions and entropy and all that fun stuff).

Anyway... food for thought for any writer who writes in characters from homebrews or personal games into work-for-hire. It's something you should be aware of the consequences of and be comfortable doing before you do it.

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

EDIT: Silly boards put my response in the wrong thread.

Contributor

James Jacobs wrote:


Anyway... food for thought for any writer who writes in characters from homebrews or personal games into work-for-hire. It's something you should be aware of the consequences of and be comfortable doing before you do it.

This is an interesting enough topic here that I'm going to make a discussion thread on its own up in the General forum. :D

Dedicated Voter 2014

This is my favorite entry. But I agree that its *way* over 32 pages.

I really really want to see this as one of those 6 volume adventure arcs that paizo publishes. You need one whole book for shadow absalom, one for the journey into the dreamlands, etc.


James Jacobs wrote:
...1) Starstone: As with "From Time's Depths," we have starstone elements in this adventure. And the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that starstone elements and themes just aren't appropriate for 32 page adventures. It's a HUGE part of Golarion, and we want to treat this stuff with the pagecounts it deserves. 32 page adventures simply aren't appropriate for this theme. Fortunately, the Starstone elements in this one are VERY muted...

I don't see any Starstone elements in this proposal. I see references to Shadow Absalom's counterpart to Absalom's starstone cathedral, which [Shadow Absalom's version of the cathedral] has a one-way gate that leads back to wherever a being last entered the plane of Shadow from.

Assuming Inva last re-entered the Plane of Shadow from House Ormuz in Absalom, tossing her through the gate in Shadow Absalom's cathedral would drop her straight back into House Ormuz, which is what Watcher meant by sending her to where 'justice awaits' I think.

Umm, unless that was a subtle spoiler you posted hinting that what happens in Shadow Absalom's cathedral is because of the Starstone on the Material Plane, or confirming the story that the cornucopias are linked to the Starstone? :)


(edited, tidied)
This seems to me to be one of the stronger two entries in this round, so I am going to be extra-critical of it as there is a chance it may end up as a module.

It doesn’t actually say in the Campaign Setting that the cornucopias were created by Aroden. It just says that that’s a popular tale, and I can’t find any further details on their creation either in the Campaign Setting or the Guide to Absalom.

If the hags can already wander in and out of dreams, spying, then why do they actually need further advice from the Denizens of Leng on ‘dream-thievery’? The Denizens of Leng as further contenders for the cornucopia, offering a rival bid to that of Abaddon, could set up interesting possibilities later when the PCs are in the fortress however.

After the PCs have the fight in the prison, why can’t someone else run down the nobleman for them? That seems to me to be a distraction.

I’m not clear how the hag makes the ‘appearance’ in the prison in Absalom to expose Londaro Balloric out of petty spite. The only means I can currently think of is astral projection which is 9th level, and a big problem for the PCs if it means that they’re up against 17th level spellcasters. Furthermore, making that appearance means that the hag has risked losing all secrecy (unless the entire fortress is protected by something akin to an uber mage’s private sanctum effect), since having seen her some PCs will inevitably be able to use scrying to find her.

The PCs may well catch Inva before she arrives at her guild. In fact for the sake of page count (presupposing that she has somehow used up the shadowdancer abilities for the day which might allow her to utterly evade capture) it might be preferable to assume that she does.

Your setting up implied that there are already Denizens of Leng already at the fortress. In your proposal as it currently stands, the PCs on their way there encounter Denizens of Leng also on their way there, but don’t actually meet any Denizens of Leng in the fortress.

Uggh. Load bearing villains… And if the fortress starts to fall apart as the PCs take them out, then there’s the problem that if the PCs take one out ‘early’ as indicated there may be an opportunity to do, the PCs may have just made it impossible for themselves to search the place and find the missing cornucopia.
The fortress falling apart is to some extent interesting and buildings in Pathfinder have occasionally collapsed or fallen over and rolled down hillsides (I have no wish to be more specific on this thread as that would be to provide spoilers) but I’m not sure if this is quite the right place for a dramatic structural collapse. Hmmm.

My overall impression is of an intriguing general outline, but with some problems around the principle villains of the piece and their lair. There are several distractions/diversions which will eat into page count, which is already low (as other posters have observed) unless Paizo ‘go planar’ with their hardcovers next year and their 8th adventure path, providing supplementary material which could support this adventure.
That said, Lisa has already commented that she is sure her staff could produce any of the proposals as 32 page modules if necessary.
It appears to me that with very careful development the latter stages of this might be able to play as either PCs-go-in-swords-and-wands-blazing or as a roleplaying, spying, talking, and double-dealing intrigue module.

My thanks for your submissions in this contest.

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