Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #6: Item is a Variant of an Existing Item


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm going to post them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

6. Your item is a variant of an existing item.

There are many wondrous "items" in the game that are actually a category of items. Among these are:

bag of tricks
feather token
figurine of wondrous power
horn of Valhalla
ioun stone

Each item in its category does basically the same thing, it's just the specifics are a little different. A bag of tricks summons animals for you, the only difference is what animals are available. A feather token is a one-use item that creates a specific object, the only difference is what object. A figurine of wondrous power is a little statue that turns into a monster buddy, the only difference is what monster. A horn of Valhalla summons dudes to fight for you, the only difference is the power of the dudes. An ioun stone is a floating rock with a power, the specific difference is what power.

If you are the first designer who ever designed a "little statue that turns into a monster buddy" item, that is innovative and cool. Unfortunately, you're not the first, so although it's still cool, but it's not innovative. There are millions of animals in the real world, and theoretically you could create a figurine for each one, and some of those choices would be pretty cool (hematite platypus, anyone?) but it doesn't take much creativity to use an existing formula (type-of-stone plus pick-a-creature))... in fact, you could create a new figurine using a chart with a column of types of stone and a column of animals--which is one of the problems with the Swiss Army Knife item: if you could have created this item with a couple of rolls on a chart, it's not really a good example of being creative.

Ioun stones are in a similar boat... pick a color and shape, pick a power, and presto! A new kind of ioun stone. The problem is (1) that's pretty formulaic, (2) you're relying on the coolness factor of Ioun stones to prop up your item concept.

I'm specifically calling out figurines and ioun stones because every year we get several submissions of one or the other. Yes, they're cool, but they're easy to do. Don't go for the easy solution. A superstar is willing to work harder to create something really interesting.

Don't get me wrong, there is a place in the game for new figurines and ioun stones. They're cool and fun, and it's easy to whip them up to fill in an extra 500 words in a magic items chapter of a book. But RPG Superstar isn't about "good enough to be a filler item in a book of magic items," it's about "show them I have the design chops to create something that really adds to the game."

In other words, if I can sum up your item as "it's just like Item X, except This One Difference," your item is not a superstar item. And you can extend that philosophy to many items. "This is just like a cape of the mountebank, except with teleport instead of dimension door." "This is just like marvelous pigments, except it's soft clay instead of paint." "This is just like a sustaining spoon, except it's chewing gum." "This is just like golden lions figurines, except wolves." "This is just like a dusty rose prism ioun stone, except it's a deflection bonus to AC."


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(hematite platypus, anyone?)

I'm now a bit depressed that that didn't appear in Gnomes of Golarion.


Shinmizu wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(hematite platypus, anyone?)
I'm now a bit depressed that that didn't appear in Gnomes of Golarion.

I, too, find myself with an odd, empty hole inside that only a FoWP: hematite platypus can fill.

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Shinmizu wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(hematite platypus, anyone?)
I'm now a bit depressed that that didn't appear in Gnomes of Golarion.

Was Gmomes of Golarian the one with the malachite monkeys?

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

1 person marked this as a favorite.

My two-cents...

Spoiler:

This is a really dangerous category of potential issues to which your item submission could fall victim...moreso than I think most people realize. Having your item compared to something which already exists in the game can kill it pretty quickly, because it's not Superstar-innovative enough to stand out. So you've really got to make sure you do your research ahead of time and ensure you're not duplicating anything.

I'm not just talking about the figurine of wondrous power or the ioun stone. This is about being knowledgeable on what's come before. I believe an RPG Superstar really ought to have a feel for the game and its history. The judges have some pretty long memories when it comes to wondrous items. If something caught their eye in the past and your item reminds them of it, they're going to go find that older item and compare yours to it. If it's too much like that one, yours just might get the autoreject. So, it's on you to make your item unique.

How do you do that? Obviously, it's hard to know every possible wondrous item that's ever been created. But, there are some pretty stable sources you can examine. The 3.5 SRD, the Pathfinder PRD, the Magic Item Compendium, past issues of the Pathfinder Adventure Path or Pathfinder modules, past issues of Dragon and Dungeon magazine, etc. Consult everything you can. If there's an item in there that either potentially duplicates what your item submission does, you might want to pass on that idea and create something different.

One of the approaches I used for the wondrous item that got me into the competition is that I decided to come at it from the approach of defining the tangible object first. And I wanted to make sure it was something no one had ever selected as a wondrous item before. Thus, I went with the last leaves of the autumn dryad. Anyone ever seen "leaves" show up as the physical object that defines a wondrous item before? I checked all those sources I cited above and the only thing that came close to it was a suit of armor formed out of leaves. But that was a totally different magic item category, so I didn't worry too much about it.

Now, after I selected a bunch of leaves as my item, then I got to work imagining what kind of magic someone might place within that item (i.e., what does it do?). Obviously, I wanted it to have a nature theme. I thought through a dozen different mental images of leaves in my mind's eye. A bunch of them rustling on a tree in the wind. A bunch of them floating in the air, scattering and almost crawling across the ground...and that's when I got this idea of making the leaves a remote swarm-like entity. But what might that "swarm of leaves" do? Clearly, someone would send them off to do something. But who? And what? A dryad, obviously. And an autumn one at that. Why would a dryad send a bunch of magic leaves somewhere? Well, a dryad is typically bound to a single tree. She can't stray very far from it. So, why not let these leaves be her eyes and ears to check up on more remote areas of a forest she's trying to protect. What else might a dryad want to do with these "last" leaves? Maybe she wants to speak with the forest animals to ask them questions or learn what they might have seen before winter sets in and a lot of them hibernate. Same thing for some of the plants that are most dear to her which will all be losing their leaves soon, too. Maybe she wants to use these leaves to confront and/or frighten away interlopers...all without ever having to be physically present or allow people to get too close to her tree?

Bang. My whole item concept solidified. And, by starting with the item first, I pre-selected something I knew didn't already exist in the game...thereby avoiding this potential pitfall. It also helped me do something else. By picking something so unique that it had never existed in the game before, I ensured my item wouldn't be duplicated by any of the other competitors. And that's important, because if one of the other competitors submits an item very similar to yours and they write it up that much better than you, yours will be the one that gets left out of the Top 32. So, be unique. And be unique by being extra creative and extra diligent in researching what's come before so your item is completely new and innovative.


--Neil

Liberty's Edge Dedicated Voter Season 6

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This one is probably the biggest pit fall I can think of for myself. There is so much material to read through, that I could take from now until the end of the entire contest and still not get through it all.

So all I can do is as Neil suggested. Think the item through. What is it? Why was it made / what purpose does it have? How will it be used? Not information you should necessarily include in the write up, but knowing all this information will certainly allow you to be tighter in writing it.

But I think it is truly rare to have one or two truly unique items that everyone is like… Wow, that’s new.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Andrew Christian wrote:
But I think it is truly rare to have one or two truly unique items that everyone is like… Wow, that’s new.

Hence, only 32 out of 100's make it into the competition. And from there, it's anyone's game. But you're pretty much assured a good designer will emerge from that gauntlet with an opportunity to create some pretty cool things for the gaming community.

Liberty's Edge Dedicated Voter Season 6

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Neil Spicer wrote:
Andrew Christian wrote:
But I think it is truly rare to have one or two truly unique items that everyone is like… Wow, that’s new.
Hence, only 32 out of 100's make it into the competition. And from there, it's anyone's game. But you're pretty much assured a good designer will emerge from that gauntlet with an opportunity to create some pretty cool things for the gaming community.

In essence, this is our resume sending step of a lengthy job interview process.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Andrew Christian wrote:
In essence, this is our resume sending step of a lengthy job interview process.

I absolutely viewed it that way. And, I intentionally mapped out how I wanted to approach each round (as best I could, since they changed things up on us a bit from the first year)...all so I could specifically demonstrate my design-fu in all the categories the rounds of RPG Superstar test you on.

Basically, if you view the wondrous item as your initial resume, the rest of the rounds represent all the questions you'd ordinarily get during the follow-up interview. Anticipate those "questions" as best you can. And start preparing some mental "answers" to them now.

In other words, if you anticipate a "monster" round, make sure you have a monster in mind. Not necessarily written down or pre-designed. Just a cool idea (or a couple of ideas) that you can tap, if necessary...assuming you make it that far. And, quite frankly, everyone should already have an adventure idea in mind since that's the one round you can pretty much bank on being there year after year.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Yes, the interview metaphor is apt.

Speaking to the main topic of the thread, also consider that this contest is evolving. Every year more people avoid more of the classic problems. Every year the general standard of quality of the entries becomes higher. Every year there is more advice!

The reason I point that out is that if you look at some of the previous years you might a few items that do come close to breaking this rule. I don't want to point them out because that defeats the point Sean and Neil have made.

What I'm saying is that if you look in the archives- don't be tempted just because you see an item that "kinda sorta is a variant of an existing item". It might have happened.

But what may or may not have gotten through in Year One or Two.. has no bearing on Year Four.

The Contest gets tougher every year, so give Neil's advice some serious consideration.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

Variant items are 'perceived' as not being as original as something that is new and exciting.

They also get compared with the other item(s), if your item isn't significantly better than that item, then the judges and voting public won't be swayed.

Both Matthew Morris and I had items that were variations of something seen before. I think Matthew would agree that the feeling was that this dropped the item's status with the voters by several degrees. I know that it felt like that to me.

It's like sequels to movies; the sequel has to be a LOT better to get the same turnover.

My advice, and this goes for every round of the competition:

show us something we haven't seen before!

I really am looking forward to this year.

The Exchange

Dire Mongoose wrote:
Shinmizu wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(hematite platypus, anyone?)
I'm now a bit depressed that that didn't appear in Gnomes of Golarion.
I, too, find myself with an odd, empty hole inside that only a FoWP: hematite platypus can fill.

I keep reading that as hermaphrodite platypus!


Avoid things that have been done before, fine. Still, the trip up to this might be the "theme" items that show up from year to year. The first theme item might make it through, the 34th is quite old by the time the judges get to it. Still, that's impossible to avoid, unless mass consentual telepathy actually exists and everyone is submitting a copy of the exact same item.

Community / Forums / Paizo / Archive / RPG Superstar™ / Previous Contests / RPG Superstar™ 2011 / General Discussion / Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #6: Item is a Variant of an Existing Item All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.