Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #8: The Random 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.)

8. Your item has random effects, typically in the form of a coin, die, or deck of cards.

Example 1) You have a coin magic item. Flip it to activate its power. If it comes up "heads," it's one effect (usually a positive effect), if it comes up "tails," it's a different effect (usually a negative effect).

Example 2) You have a die magic item. Roll it to activate its power. Consult a chart to determine what happens.

Example 3) You have a deck magic item. Draw a card to activate its power. Consult this chart to see what happens.

All three of these items are trying to be clever by using a randomized mechanic. They're also a form of a Swiss Army Knife item. And they're really hard to price accurately (if an item has three beneficial results and three harmful results, is the net price of the item zero gp?).

It is really, really easy to create a list of abilities for an item and have the user randomize its results. It's not particularly innovative or creative. It's actually kind of a gimmick. And some people are really, really going to hate your item because it is random (to be fair, some people are really going to love it for those reasons).

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

I'm one of the "love-it"s, but even I can see how throwing a random activation chance into an item can easily just make it more complicated and gimmicky without actually making it better. Coin-tosses and die-rolls aren't innovative by themselves, and adding them where they don't belong just makes your item less focused.

That said, are you sure we're still talking about "auto-reject" criteria? Do you guys really throw something out whenever you see a percentile dice?

Contributor

Pretty much.

The coin, deck, or die item is a gimmick, and for many people it's a "I have so many cool ideas, I can't decide which one I want to include, so I'll include all of them!" gimmick.

As I said, these types of items are generally a SAK, except instead of letting the user pick which effect they want to use on a particular round, they leave it to chance.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Nicolas Quimby wrote:
That said, are you sure we're still talking about "auto-reject" criteria? Do you guys really throw something out whenever you see a percentile dice?

Well, there are a couple possible definitions of "autoreject." Certainly, there are entries that clearly fail to follow the basic rules, and any judge—or even a non-judge admin like me—would immediately reject those with no second opinion or discussion needed.

Here, Sean is talking more about the types of mistake that will likely get you rejected with little or no comment by the first two judges to view your submission. That is, the judges' complete commentary on your item would consist of something like this:

Judge 1: "Random Item. Reject."
Judge 2: "Rejected."
(Judge 3 never sees it because it's already in the rejection bin.)

Now, it is possible that somebody could come up with an item built around a random mechanic that knocks the socks off the judges—but it's certainly going to have to have a lot more to it than just a table of effects.

(And given that Sean is basically telling you not to do one, it'd have to be pretty fantastic indeed for him to back you on it. Doing it at this point shows you're not listening to his advice, and that would a pretty reckless decision to make.)

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

Oh yea, I'm definitely not going to ignore Sean's advice, I'm just questioning it. I disagree with the idea that an item with a percentile-effect can't be Superstar quality, but I'm not the one judging.

Contributor

Every year we've had a handful of submissions that breaks one of these guidelines but still gets through because it's really cool. By steering people away from these pitfalls, we help 99% of the contestants avoid washing out early. That stubborn 1% is partly people not paying attention to the advice, and partly people pushing on with a really cool idea despite it being one of these "problem items."

If there's more to your item than just being a SIAK, a SAK, a random item, etc., then bring it. But if your item is just a SIAK, SAK, a random item, etc., then you should come up with a better idea. That's why I'm doing these things--for people to realize these pitfalls are danger zones.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

Actually... yea, you're right, that makes a lot of sense. Sorry, I was overlooking the fact that all the other criteria could have exceptions too.

Contributor

;)


Does this also apply to items where the randomness is of type rather than degree?

E.g., an item that when used has a 60% chance to cast Summon Monster 5, 30% Summon Monster 6, and 10% Summon Monster 7, in each case having to summon similarly themed monsters?

(Obviously that example's a Spell in a Can, but it was the first one I came up with that's clear where I need it to be.)

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

There's a tricky line between 'random effect' and 'randomness in the effect', I think. Are we talking about, "50% chance of summoning an X, OR 40% chance of summoning a Y" (ala demonic summoning), or about an effect where the creature that comes is randomly determined?

(edited because I falsely referenced a previous "random' superstar item which didn't actually work like I thought it did)


Let's say: it always summons a fire elemental, but it might be one of three different strengths of fire elemental.

(I don't think that alone is anywhere near a winning item, but I'm trying to nail down what kinds of randomness might be okay and which are a black mark.)

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

Dire Mongoose wrote:

Does this also apply to items where the randomness is of type rather than degree?

E.g., an item that when used has a 60% chance to cast Summon Monster 5, 30% Summon Monster 6, and 10% Summon Monster 7, in each case having to summon similarly themed monsters?

(Obviously that example's a Spell in a Can, but it was the first one I came up with that's clear where I need it to be.)

IMNSHO, yes.

Spoiler:
With the above SIaC, you're looking at trying to judge how well it is balanced for a cost. Is the average person going to go, "Cool, this is well proced for a Summon 6, but over half the time it will be weaker" or are they going to go "Cute, but I'd rather spend X gp on my figurine of wondrous power I can rely on consistantly"?

or worse still, "Cool I'm going to get this because it's well priced for summon monster 5, but I might get a free high level summon out of it!" and the item is underpriced as a result.

In tinkering with this trap, you're playing with fire. Sure, your 'Pokeball of random summoning' might be all the rage with the judges, but more likely it's going to fizzle.

Random effects are the 'patronage products' of magic items. People pay for Open Design, or Dungeonaday or Rite Publishing (to name three). Despite not knowing the finished product, they know the author. People won't pay for Matt's Magic Items, when Matt's an unproved and unreliable author. Characters may not know what a 'Rod of Wonder' will spit out, but the Player can look at the table. If a new random item is dropped in, the results had better be pretty spectacular.

You also have to look at if/how random X will bog down game play. If my tankard, for example, produced a random potion instead of a CLW potion, then any time the person drank from it, there's a pause while the DM flips to the potion chart in the CRB, rolls, checks the result, then tells the PC the potion's results.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...

Spoiler:

Injecting a random list of powers into a wondrous item just isn't very Superstar to me. Yes, you can probably make an item using that type of mechanic that would be "good enough for a book of magic items." But, for RPG Superstar, what the judges (and Paizo) are really looking for is someone who can design an item that's really cool that also has a pretty tight theme and clearly delineated mechanics that make sense (both with the existing rules and how the item is presented in its descriptive text).

To me, that demonstrates thoughtful, even masterful design when someone puts together something that just resonates with a clear purpose in the game. An item with pure randomness thrown in just to be random doesn't demonstrate that. And, even an item that has a mostly clear theme, but which relies on a random "works this way if X happens" vs. "works this way if Y happens" just speaks of a mechanic that makes the item itself a nightmare to price.

So, for anyone pondering the "let's make it a random effect in the hopes that it stands out" approach, I'd urge you to reconsider. Show the judges you can do something solid and innovative first. Then, later on, if and when you get a chance to do actual designs as a freelancer, you can take time out to explore the random effect gimmick. But I wouldn't chance my inclusion in the Top 32 on trying to make something work with that mechanic.


--Neil

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Very brief:

There are a couple cool random effect items in the game now, like the deck of many things and the rod of wonder. The problem with random items (above and beyond Sean saying don't do it) is that like tv sit-coms, commercials, some comic books- the first person with a really original idea is/was a genius and everybody that follows is kinda lame.

This type of item is a fad. As Neil said, try something solid.

Liberty's Edge

ok, is there a way I can ask a specific question about an item i'm thinking of creating without it being public info? Just so I can get the nope wrong direction you need to go away from that answer or the go for it we shall see how everything else looks when it's completed.

I have an idea but I don't want it all out there for someone else to use...after all it could be a good one! ;)

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

Azoun The Sage wrote:

ok, is there a way I can ask a specific question about an item i'm thinking of creating without it being public info? Just so I can get the nope wrong direction you need to go away from that answer or the go for it we shall see how everything else looks when it's completed.

I have an idea but I don't want it all out there for someone else to use...after all it could be a good one! ;)

Not really. You can ask general questions, but specific questions tend to be a no-no.

There's really two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that the submissions are supposed to be anonymous. If you ask about making shoes that shoot fire (to make up a bad idea), and the boots of the firewalker show up, we kind of know where it came from.

The other reason is that once a question is too specific, it's no longer 'discussing the contest' and goes into 'outside help on your magic item'.

Liberty's Edge

Ross Byers wrote:
Azoun The Sage wrote:

ok, is there a way I can ask a specific question about an item i'm thinking of creating without it being public info? Just so I can get the nope wrong direction you need to go away from that answer or the go for it we shall see how everything else looks when it's completed.

I have an idea but I don't want it all out there for someone else to use...after all it could be a good one! ;)

Not really. You can ask general questions, but specific questions tend to be a no-no.

There's really two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that the submissions are supposed to be anonymous. If you ask about making shoes that shoot fire (to make up a bad idea), and the boots of the firewalker show up, we kind of know where it came from.

The other reason is that once a question is too specific, it's no longer 'discussing the contest' and goes into 'outside help on your magic item'.

True true, however it would suck to submit something for it to be instantly rejected. :(

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Azoun The Sage wrote:
True true, however it would suck to submit something for it to be instantly rejected. :(

Then consider these two things...

1) Educate Yourself - Go read up on what not to do in all of Sean's auto-reject examples and Clark's bad item stereotypes. Also, read through the 96 items from the past three years of the competition. That should give you an idea of what to shoot for...

2) Start Over - If your idea flirts with the auto-reject areas, maybe you should just submit a different item entirely rather than risk it?

Quite honestly, the designer who demonstrates the capacity for those two things is probably lightyears ahead of those who submit without checking what's come before and attempting to buck the auto-reject cliches.

Liberty's Edge Dedicated Voter Season 6

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Neil Spicer wrote:
Azoun The Sage wrote:
True true, however it would suck to submit something for it to be instantly rejected. :(

Then consider these two things...

1) Educate Yourself - Go read up on what not to do in all of Sean's auto-reject examples and Clark's bad item stereotypes. Also, read through the 96 items from the past three years of the competition. That should give you an idea of what to shoot for...

2) Start Over - If your idea flirts with the auto-reject areas, maybe you should just submit a different item entirely rather than risk it?

Quite honestly, the designer who demonstrates the capacity for those two things is probably lightyears ahead of those who submit without checking what's come before and attempting to buck the auto-reject cliches.

To add to what Neil just said...

I read through all 96 entries from the past 3 years. There were some really fantastic ideas, and some blah ones (IMHO). But some comments that I saw repeatedly, were "That's really a <insert SIAC, SAK, et.al.>, but its really really cool, so keep."

So its not immediately a reject because you do a SIAC or SAK, or whatever, but the 15 auto-reject advice posts so far, are to give you an idea of what can cause your item to be auto-rejected. If you do your best to stay away from those things, then you'll be better off. If you think your SIAC is cool enough to pass the coolness muster, then you are flirting with the auto-reject.

Liberty's Edge

Alright let me ask this then...is it a random-ness disqualifier if the random-ness is solely based on event or meeting certain criteria. i.e. the effect would be altered based on user?

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Azoun, that doesn't sound like a random item, but it sounds tricky in other ways. Let's make up such an item:

Godly Gauntlet
Aura faint transmutation; CL 9th
Slot hands; Price 4,000 gp; Weight 2 lbs.

Description

Resembling an armored gauntlet covered in extravagant bronze and silver grillwork, this item has a couple of powers that manifest when worn by a cleric or paladin in good standing before his god. First off, the gauntlet acts as a holy/unholy symbol. Better than that, though, thrice per day, when the cleric or paladin recites a short prayer (a standard action), the gauntlet reshapes its decorative grillwork, becoming for most intents and purposes a silver, masterwork example of his deity's chosen weapon for 9 rounds, save that it does not increase in weight. The weapon can not be thrown or dropped; any attempts to do so simply reset the gauntlet. Damage done by this weapon is aligned (holy, axiomatic, etc..) according to the wielder's god.

Construction
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item; spiritual weapon; Cost 2,000 gp

Now, a cleric of the Gorum-who-likes-greatswords is getting more out of this item than a cleric of the Pharasma-who-likes-daggers. Two lawful neutral clerics, of LE Asmodeus and LG Torag, are going to get different results out of the item when they attack NE outsiders.

But that strikes me as different results, rather than random results.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Andrew Christian wrote:
So its not immediately a reject because you do a SIAC or SAK, or whatever, but the 15 auto-reject advice posts so far, are to give you an idea of what can cause your item to be auto-rejected. If you do your best to stay away from those things, then you'll be better off. If you think your SIAC is cool enough to pass the coolness muster, then you are flirting with the auto-reject.

I'll underscore Andrew's observation by also pointing out items in previous years with flaws like SIAC and SAK, may have made it into the competition on a "golden ticket"...which means they could have been on the bubble and nearly cut if they hadn't been rescued by a judge who saw some promise in the item's design...and thus, in the designer as well. But, ask yourself this--do you really want to risk being excluded by flirting too closely with the auto-reject? Because there's a very small margin for error in that.

Now, that said, also realize the judges don't expect to find 32 fully-formed RPG designers for Round One. If we did, GREAT! But that's just not very realisitic. Thus, the judges have always shown themselves to be willing to overlook a misstep here or there for the greater promise they see in some other aspect of an awesome item's design. And, if the judges make some mistakes in selecting those particular contestants, Round Two should weed them out in short order anyway.

Thus, one bit of advice I recommend is to design your item not just to make the Top 32...but design it to be in the Top 5 of the 32 who get selected. Set your bar as high as it'll go and then strive to meet it. That way, even if you come short of that specific goal, hopefully your work will still be powerful enough to make the Top 32.

How do you design for a spot in the Top 5? First, you do it by avoiding as many of these auto-reject stereotypes as you possibly can. Then, you crank up the awesome on everything's that left.

Liberty's Edge

Honestly I will strive to be in the top five, but alas I must be true to myself and create something that I think others will enjoy or would be interested in seeing in the game.

I do want to achieve this by staying within the guidelines and rule set to better understand the process for myself.

I feel that to create something unique and different is an awesome adventure in and of itself, I just hope that when it's completed and submitted it is seen in that same light; as unique, different, and hopefully a 'fun' new item for the game i've enjoyed for over 15 years now.

Thank you though for the clarification and example Chris because that really did answer my question!

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Chris Mortika wrote:

Godly Gauntlet...

But that strikes me as different results, rather than random results.

Yet whether or not that gauntlet runs afoul of the "random" part of the problem, it *still* runs into the "...and how are you going to price that?" part of the problem.


What about randomness as part of a drawback? As a (nonitem) example, when using poison there is a chance to have it affect you. Is this considered random effects? For example:

Rod of the Munchkin
You may fire a bolt of lightning out of the end of this, which functions as the spell cast at 10th level, at will.
However, each time you use it, there is a 10% chance that you will take 1d8 Wisdom Drain.

(Not saying that's even remotely balanced, just an example.)

Contributor

Derek, that random chance of a drawback isn't what this auto-reject is about. It's really about stemming the tide of coin, deck, and dice magic items where the effects are truly random--rather than consistent, with a random chance for a side effect.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Vic Wertz wrote:


Yet whether or not that gauntlet runs afoul of the "random" part of the problem, it *still* runs into the "...and how are you going to price that?" part of the problem.

Right. It has a variety of sticky little problems. (Although it's made its decision, it still has doubts about whether it's a wondrous item or a weapon, for one thing.)

As for pricing, my guideline is to price things with variable benefits according to the most advantageous situation. A cleric gets a lot more bang out of the buck than a fighter when it comes to a pearl of power, so it's of variable utility by that perspective, but you price the pearl assuming that the cleric is much more likely to want it.


In other words, don't put aspects of the game into the game itself(things that rely on chance). This is a cool pitfall to point out, as a lot of people try to game the games they play. Another item I never submitted fell into this trap.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
All three of these items are trying to be clever by using a randomized mechanic. They're also a form of a Swiss Army Knife item. And they're really hard to price accurately (if an item has three beneficial results and three harmful results, is the net price of the item zero gp?).

A lot of the time, the bad effects don't come close to cancelling the good, or they only affect other people.

There's a certain player type, let's call them 'The Kender', who delight in firing wands of wonder into packed combats and laughing as their allies get toasted.


Neil Spicer wrote:

Now, that said, also realize the judges don't expect to find 32 fully-formed RPG designers for Round One. If we did, GREAT! But that's just not very realisitic. Thus, the judges have always shown themselves to be willing to overlook a misstep here or there for the greater promise they see in some other aspect of an awesome item's design. And, if the judges make some mistakes in selecting those particular contestants, Round Two should weed them out in short order anyway.

Thus, one bit of advice I recommend is to design your item not just to make the Top 32...but design it to be in the Top 5 of the 32 who get selected. Set your bar as high as it'll go and then strive to meet it. That way, even if you come short of that specific goal, hopefully your work will still be powerful enough to make the Top 32.

How do you design for a spot in the Top 5? First, you do it by avoiding as many of these auto-reject stereotypes as you possibly can. Then, you crank up the awesome on everything's that left.

A crowd of Romans stood around the archery contest. A dove fluttered at the end of a ribbon. The first of three contestants took aim, fired his bow, and accidentally struck the ribbon. The next two each tried to hit the dove as it fluttered away, both missing as well. The judges asked them, "What were you aiming at?" The first answered, "At the body." The second, "At the head." The third, "At the eye." So the judges crowned the third with the laurel wreathes; for among all those who failed to hit their target, his target was the best.

This is a very rough paraphrase of a scene from some classical literature (the Aeneid?) that I read a very long time ago, but the lesson stands. Raise your standards. Aim sharper. Risk missing what you aim at, to chance doing better than those who don't even try as hard.

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

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Derek, that random chance of a drawback isn't what this auto-reject is about. It's really about stemming the tide of coin, deck, and dice magic items where the effects are truly random--rather than consistent, with a random chance for a side effect.

Is this auto-reject specifically designed to prevent "Roll a d100 and find the effect on the chart" or to discourage random chance with items in general.

Such as: The item has one of these effect: list of effects (i.e. rod of wonder)

Versus: Use the item, there is a chance that it is strengthened/fizzles or works normally.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Ask yourself if there's anything about either of those items that demonstrates Superstar-caliber creativity and design mojo.

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