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The Black Mirror


Round 4 - Top 8: Create Golarion location with map

1 to 50 of 60 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
RPG Superstar 2011 aka Ignotus

The Black Mirror
==========

Amidst the barren sands of the Mana Wastes, there lies an inky stain: the Black Mirror, a lake of tar a mile wide. Everything is still here. No bird calls; no errant wind disturbs reflections on the lake’s oily skin. Only the carcasses of the giant golems that fell here puncture the lake’s surface, their desiccated limbs and faces forming islands in a dark sea. Voracek (R3), herald of the dark lord of Elemental Earth, has built his stronghold amidst this desolation. If his plans are not stopped, the power that felled the vast golems will return to smother all Golarion.

During his interminable war with the archmage Nex, the necromancer Geb constructed two enormous golems from the bones of giants and the skin of angels. Geb named them Bane Titans, and at his command the golems destroyed all that Nex could send against them. Fearful of their might, Nex compacted with an extraplanar power: dread Ayrzul, lord of Elemental Earth. Nex promised countless slaves and relics to the Fossilized King in return for his aid against the Bane Titans. Draining his vaults of skymetal, Nex constructed an artifact called the Conduit, through which Ayrzul could manifest his power on the material plane. On the battlefield, Nex’s servants activated the Conduit. Ayrzul’s wrath poured through as a sea of living tar, dragging the Bane Titans to the ground and destroying them.

But Ayrzul betrayed Nex. The Conduit did not close when the battle was won. More and more writhing tar gushed forth from the Conduit, accompanied by Ayrzul’s elemental host. Realizing that the endless tar would soon consume both their kingdoms, Nex and Geb briefly put aside their hostilities to fight the Fossilized King. The two wizard-kings drove Ayrzul’s forces back to the Conduit, and destroyed it. This done, they returned to their endless feud.

Although the tar became inanimate when the Conduit was destroyed, a vast quantity of it still remains, forming the Black Mirror. The lake stood silent for centuries until Voracek’s arrival. Atop the long-dead Bane Titans in the lake’s center, Voracek forced kidnapped smiths to forge his pilfered skymetal into a new Conduit. Soon it will open.

If the new Conduit becomes active, the Black Mirror will again be suffused with Ayrzul’s might, and his armies will return to Golarion. With the Conduit protected by Ayrzul’s horde, the Black Mirror will begin to spread. Left unchecked, it will cover the entire surface of Golarion, creating a new realm of Elemental Earth – one ruled by Voracek in Ayrzul’s name. Over millions of years - a blink of an eye for an immortal - the bones of everyone entombed beneath the tar will slowly become fossilized, slaves to the Fossilized King.

I. The Conduit (CR 10 or 13)
==========

Seven rune-encrusted platforms form a loop, anchored by bridges to the eyesocket of an enormous golem’s lifeless face, half-submerged in the tar. Above the loop floats a seven-pointed metallic star nearly 20 ft across. Its shape seems wrong, somehow, and it hurts your eyes to stare at it. The star spins slowly in the air, making a sound like a knifepoint scraping across glass.

There are seven slaves on the loop, one chained to each vertex by his ankle. They are smiths and mages abducted to build the Conduit. Months of brutal slavery have broken their wills. Now they perform a final service for Voracek: the ritual to open the Conduit (it cannot be performed by an outsider, native or otherwise).

Perception and Knowledge (arcana or religion) checks reveal more information. If a higher DC check is made, give the information from lower DCs as well.

Knowledge (arcana or religion):
DC 15
The metal star is the Conduit, forged from seven skymetals.
DC 20 The Conduit is boring through the boundary of the Material Plane into the Plane of Earth, and will finish in minutes if not stopped.
DC 25 Skymetal alloys disband when charged with enough positive energy (like healing magic)

Perception:
DC 15
The seven humans chanting hoarsely are chained to the platform by their ankles; they look haggard, miserable, and terrified.
DC 20 The ritual is near completion. A small sinkhole has appeared beneath the metal star and is rapidly widening.
DC 25 The metal star looks “wrong” because it is an impossible object whose angles and edges should not be able to meet in three dimensions .

Treat the surface of the Black Mirror as if it were quicksand (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 427). However, earth-subtype outsiders, and anyone bearing a holy symbol of Ayrzul (like those in area G), can walk on or burrow through the tar as if it were earth. Fires lit on the Black Mirror do not extinguish normally; instead, at the end of a round, fire spreads to a random adjacent 5 ft. square.

Once this encounter begins, the PCs have 15 rounds until the sinkhole expands to the size of the Conduit, at which point Ayrzul’s power can manifest (see the Development section). Don’t penalize the PCs for scouting – if a scout makes the DC 20 Perception or Knowledge (arcana or religion) check, inform him that the ritual is nearly complete, but give the PCs time to arrive in force before starting the countdown. If the PCs delay, reduce the countdown to 10 rounds.

There are several ways to stop the Conduit. If four slaves are incapacitated, the ritual halts. The slaves have AC 12, 20 hp, Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +6. They can be killed, physically removed (they are held by standard manacles), or talked down. The slaves are terrified of Voracek; controlling them requires a DC 30 Diplomacy or Intimidate check; attempting to influence multiple slaves with one check inflicts a -2 penalty per additional slave. Once the Conduit is fully active, the slaves become irrelevant.

The Conduit can be broken. It has AC 6, hardness 15, and 60 hp; Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +5; and break DC 28. It is also 10 ft in the air above a rapidly-widening sinkhole of tar. The Conduit can support 300 additional pounds before falling. While the Conduit is intact, it cannot be pushed beneath the tar. Bringing the Conduit to the ground does not disrupt its activation, although it does make the Conduit easier to strike. If enough positive energy is poured into the Conduit to heal the equivalent of 60 hp, it disintegrates. Destroying the Conduit works even once it’s fully active.

Killing Voracek has no effect on the ritual or Conduit.

Creatures:

Voracek waits on the golem’s head, kneeling in prayer. Elementals wait burrowed under the tar by the bridge connecting the golem head to the loop.

When the PCs arrive, Voracek rises. “I knew you would come,” he says, “Ayrzul has sent you. You are the final tribulation I must face before I am exalted.” Voracek lacks the subtlety to stall effectively, but he will let the PCs waste time with idle threats. The elementals use earth glide to move close to the PCs while remaining beneath the tar. When combat begins, Voracek stamps his foot (an immediate action), signalling the elementals to attack.

Tier 7-8 (CR 10):

Voracek CR 9
XP 6,400
hp 116 (R3)
=====Tactics=====
During Combat Voracek crushes his elemental gem, then rages and attacks the strongest foe. He uses empowered strikes, power attack and destructive smites to quickly destroy opponents. He uses knockback to pitch foes into the tar. Voracek uses dispel magic or summoned creatures against flying foes.
Morale: To defend the Conduit, Voracek fights to the death.

Large Earth Elementals (2) CR 5
XP 1,600 each
hp 68 each (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 122)
=====Tactics=====
During Combat: the elementals herd foes away from the Conduit, bull rushing them into the tar and fighting there.

Tier 10-11 (CR 13):

Voracek CR 9
XP 6,400
hp 116 (R3)
See above.

Greater Earth Elementals (2) CR 9
XP 6,400 each
hp 136 each (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 123)
=====Tactics=====
During Combat: the elementals herd foes away from the Conduit, using awesome blow to knock them into the tar and fighting there. If the Conduit is under direct attack, they defend it.

Huge Earth Elementals (2) CR 7
XP 3,200 each
hp 95 each (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 122)
=====Tactics=====
During Combat: See large earth elementals above.

Development: If the Conduit is fully opened, 1d4 large (Tier 7-8) or huge (Tier 10-11) earth elementals emerge from the sinkhole each round. The Black Mirror becomes animate. Treat this as a black tentacles spell (CL 8th) affecting the entire surface of the lake. It does not impede earth-subtype outsiders or those bearing Ayrzul’s holy symbol. If dispelled while the Conduit is open, the tendrils return 1d4 rounds later.

All of these effects cease immediately if the Conduit is destroyed. If the PCs fail to stop to the Conduit, the Black Mirror also begins to expand, increasing its diameter by 5 ft every hour and eventually threatening all Golarion.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

The image Sam provided was a full page image at 100 dpi.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Welcome to the Top 8, Sam! This is a round where you really get to stretch and show off the talents a designer needs to create an actual adventure. As such, I'm going to do my best to assess it in that light. As always, I have this tendency to give a lot of feedback. And, I want to make sure you understand that anything I point out here or raise in the form of constructive criticism is done in the spirit of wanting to help you improve. But I'm also going to balance that by praising you where you really shine so I can hopefully highlight that for the voters so they can recognize your strengths. So, to keep this post to manageable levels, I've spoilered the rest of my comments, below...

Spoiler:

First up, I want to give you some kudos on your sheer creativity and ability to draw upon familiar tropes while putting your own unique spin on them. I think that's stood out for you since the beginning of the competition. Your book of night without moon, still-water meditant monk archetype, and Gentleman Knave really resonated with the voters. And, I think that results from your ability to find the underlying themes that appeal to very inspiring concepts and ideas. I think we've seen or imagined Robin Hood or a martial artist with a "flow like water" philosophy...but you've given them life in a very useable way. And, although I've picked a few nits here or there with your designs, your body of work has been pretty impressive on the whole. So, going into this I have high expectations of what you'll do and I'm interested in seeing how you meet them within the ever-tightening constraints of the competition. For this round's feedback, I'm going to breakdown my commentary according to the key elements of the assignment, including: your descriptive text, your location choice and villain pairing, your map, and the creativity of your encounter.

The Descriptive Text:
Your lead-in writing is really good. It's evocative. It draws the reader in. "Only the carcasses of the giant golems that fell here puncture the lake’s surface, their desiccated limbs and faces forming islands in a dark sea..." is a magical piece of writing. Very well done. You've got some passive voice that shows up here and there, but it's not overpowering things. In the meantime, I find myself more concerned by some of the Golarion lore you've chosen to draw upon. Playing in the sandbox of major campaign NPCs like Nex and Geb is a huge risk. And, though I like the invention of the Bane Titans and the Conduit involving the elemental lord, Ayrzul, I was kind of taken aback by the backstory where Geb and Nex had to temporarily ally against his betrayal. It's just not something I'd ever see those lifetime enemies doing. I think I would have bought it more if you'd implied that the magic-warping/deadening Mana Wastes somehow changed whatever aid Ayrzul provided Nex. Or maybe they were allies that he eventually discarded or forgot...and then it adapted or changed as a result of the Mana Wastes.

The Location:
The Black Mirror is an awesome name for a massive tar pit. And, tying it to the Fossilized King and his servant Voracek is some right smart mojo. As I read your submission, I immediately started buying into all the interplay between those elements. I could very much envision this as the "right" location to encounter the villain you chose. Very well done. One thing that I felt you could have drawn upon more strongly, however, is the Mana Wastes themselves. The whole region is meant to be a magic-warping area...with several magic-dead zones as well. Your villain Voracek relies on a lot of spell power-ups in his tactics (based on Joel's stat-block) and the use of an elemental gem, and so on. How might the Mana Wastes prevent him from using those spells and magic items...or, better yet, twist them? Likewise, I wondered how the Mana Wastes might have affected whatever portal the Conduit establishes with the Plane of Earth. And you didn't really touch on that. Thus, I see it as a missed opportunity...and a potential "hole" in your location's design if the Mana Wastes cause all of Voracek's spells (and those of the PCs) to go awry. This is especially important if the PCs attempt to use magic like fly to cross over the bridges and catwalks to reach each area of the map or the Conduit itself. And I think you should have spent some words outlining the ramifications of this location in the Mana Wastes on such spells.

I'll also comment that I liked the inclusion of the Knowledge and Perception checks with result "ladders" to give the PCs a chance to learn more about what's happening (or about to happen) at the Conduit. An encounter setup that lets PCs succeed better based on some preliminary skill checks is often a good thing. It gives them a chance to use the skills they invested in and can make it more than just a hack-and-slash encounter.

The Map:
This is a pretty bold map. Lots of color and some busy stuff going on with it. Having the encounter take place across the bridges strung between a half-submerged golem's body is kind of cool. Visually, it reminds me a little of Eric Bailey's map for Hecataeus' Sanctum of the Colossus from RPGSS 2009. Generally, I like what you've done here. Your map is crisp, clean, and very well labeled. But it's also a bit cluttered in terms of the amount of detail and the various colors for the different sky metals and rather large key for interpreting each symbol and location. I'm someone who favors putting a lot of detail into maps, but this one is even a bit much for me. Your use of color saves it a little. Otherwise, it would be a lot more confusion. I like the creativity and meticulous work that you put into the map. To me, that speaks of someone with a great attention to detail. And, I think the choices you made here sets you up for some cool synergy with a dynamic encounter playing out over an active tar pit. I will note, however, that your grid doesn't cover the islands and structures themselves. Your cartographer can probably extrapolate based on the surrounding grid over the tar...but that's a map failure you'll need to correct if you work on future designs.

The Encounter:
I LOVE that you included the "terrain" as an additional hardship for this encounter...along with rules for what happens if someone falls into the tar...and rules for the tar catching fire. As a GM, I can take inspiration from what you've provided and spin this encounter in ways that will make it really memorable for my players. And, as a designer, that's what you want to look for when crafting encounters and locations. They serve as the "backdrop" for the action, but they work best when you ensure they have an impact on the encounter as well. I also like the fact that the PCs' adversaries in this encounter can burrow or pass through the tar as necessary. That tactical advantage and inherent hazard, however, should probably boost the CR of the encounter a bit.

Examining the actual encounter's details, I like the immediacy of the situation. You pretty much force the PCs to act as soon as they reach the hovering platform. I would have liked to see some discussion here about PCs who are capable of flight, though...whether by spell, potion, wings, or flying mounts. Air and Earth are often opposing elements, after all. And it would have been nice to see some discussion and interplay involving that. You do have Voracek casting dispel magic on flying opponents, but not all flight capable creatures are magical (i.e., mounts). And again, we have no idea how successful dispel magic would be in a magic-altering place like the Mana Wastes.

Other than that, I really like the earth elemental companions. Very appropriate for Voracek and his connections to Ayrzul. The ticking clock on the activation of the Conduit is cool...as well as the Development for what happens if Voracek succeeds in manifesting his god and the black tentacles effect. I'd almost rather see the PCs not succeed just so I can have the encounter play out that way. But, you've done a good job here explaining how the ritual can be interrupted with the incapacitation of the slaves or by breaking the Conduit. All in all, I like how the encounter hangs together...and everything fits. I wasn't all that crazy with the "I knew you would come" greeting from Voracek when the PCs finally meet him, though. I was hoping for some more interesting dialogue to help the villain shine. Voracek has an Int 10 and Cha 6, though. So, you weren't working with a whole lot there. ;-)

Overall Assessment:
You've got some really good stuff here. I think you made a really good choice of villain and matched it with a cool location and a compelling encounter setup. I think setting it in the Mana Wastes was either a mistake or a stroke of genius if you'd properly referenced and used the magic-altering effects of that wasteland to tweak the encounter. I wasn't crazy about the backstory references to Nex and Geb, but if you're going to set this encounter in the Mana Wastes, you pretty much have to tap their legendary battles as an explanation for how the interplanar rift developed. I just wasn't completely crazy with how you incorporated Golarion lore into your design. Even so, I give you high marks for creativity and looking for ways to weave such things into your encounter/location.

So, given all that, I think you've got just enough pros to (barely) outweigh the cons for me. That means I RECOMMEND this encounter location to advance to the next round, but you've still got a lot of growing to do between now and the finale. Use the advice presented here and improve. Best of luck in the voting.

Cartographer

Really the most creative map submission I have seen here in the competition. Very cool unique setting for an adventure.

Everything is very clean and well labeled on the reference. The inclusion of the notes for the cartographer is nice and helps to give those extra visual details.

This map would be the most challenging creatively to draw, I really like all of the different features on this one, it brings back some memories of "Planescape" for me.

Cartographer

I agree completely with Rob on this one. A fantastic idea and premise which really is at the heart of fantasy RPG...for some reason this map reminds me of the Never Ending Story. I think it would be a complete blast to paint and the inclusion of a very precise key by the author with notes is great. Just reading the text makes me want to play this adventure myself, the classic countdown that the heroes must defeat before the world is destroyed, all the while fought in an exciting and challenging setting. This def stands out:) Great job!

Contributor

I'm looking at this submission from a developer's perspective.

LOCATION
The idea of a lake of tar is cool, and buried golems are cool, but I think all this backstory is adding too much to the history of the world. We've got the existence of bane titans, Nex being unable to stop them on his own, Nex having time to construct an artifact to open a portal, Nex being unable to destroy the Conduit (especially as in the Encounter, the Conduit only has 60 hit points), Nex and Geb having to team up to defeat a common enemy. Weird.

ENCOUNTER
You can't just summarize the slave info with AC, hit points, and saving throws. For example, can I cast a sleep spell on them? Unknown because I don't know their Hit Dice. Even something like "human expert 3" would give me some needed info.

You need to italicize elemental gem in Voracek's Tactics.
You need to capitalize the start of the sentence in the elementals' Tactics ("the elementals herd foes away...").

MAP
This map hurts my eyes. The white grid on black is distracting. The "islands" don't have grids on them. Most of the structures on the islands don't match the dimensions of the grid (even those made of right angles), which means they'll be a total pain for a GM to draw. I don't know why some of the islands are light green and some are dark green. Are the bridges metal, wood, or stone? The simple sans serif font on the keys means I don't know if the location marked "I" is an upper-case "i" or a lower case "L" or the number "one." The colored squares in area D are confusing unless I look at the map key (those squares aren't really necessary on the map and you could handle them in the text for that area). I don't know if there's a door from H1 to H2 or if you walk right through. B is marked as a guard post but there aren't any doors on it so I can't tell if it's supposed to be an open platform or if it's a small building (with no door). I don't know what the round brown circles on the green island to the left of area "I" are supposed to represent.

It's just so incredibly busy, between all the descriptions in the location key (like area C being "like a beaver dam made of stones"), all the symbols in the symbol key (including pontoon boats that don't look like boats), to a third key explaining what the various skymetals look like, it's just too much. Even an experienced mapper is going to have to constantly refer to your keys to figure out basic things like tables, and that means many more opportunities to get something wrong, which means the developer's going to have to spend extra time scrutinizing the map turnover and the text to make sure everything is correct.

Just because your map program lets you color-code everything with a choice of a thousand colors and 50 different symbols doesn't mean that's what you should do. If a freelancer gave me this map as part of a turnover, I would send it back and say, "do it again, make it simpler, make it readable."

Paizo Employee Developer

Congrats on making it into the top 8, Sam! At this point, I'm judging all the submissions from the viewpoint of the person who will be assigning and developing Pathfinder Society Scenarios to the three runners-up in the next round. Thus my recommendations are based almost entirely on how well I feel you'd do—based on this submission—writing an adventure as a reward for reaching the next round.

Your map is very ambitious, to its own detriment, I think. There's simply too much going on here, with too many keys and too much intricate detail that a cartographer could mess up. Cartographers are artists and they interpret turnovers with their own individual flair; it's not a fault of any particular cartographer if he takes something like this and interprets it in a way that makes the developer's (my) job a lot harder. More often than not, the most frustrating changes to an adventure happen when a map turnover is too complicated and minor details get interpreted differently than intended. Generally, the timeline we work on means that an adventure is already developed, edited, and sometimes even laid out before the final map comes in. If any one of the myriad details and specifics you have here comes back different in the final map, I either need to send it back to the cartographer for changes (slowing down the production process), hope the art staff can fix it in-house (taking their time away from other tasks and slowing down the production process), or redeveloping the text of the altered sections and hoping the adventure still holds together (thus taking my time away from other projects after I've moved on from this one, delaying those other projects and maybe this one if the changes are significant enough.)

I share Sean's concern about the background adding too much to the backstory of the world. Adding a new location is one thing, but the major continuity additions like Nex allying with Ayrzul, Nex and Geb teaming up (whuh?!), a new creature called the Bane Titan, etc. are not something a single location like this should do. These are huge elements of world history involving two of the most iconic people in the setting's timeline, and elements of this magnitude should be handled much more carefully, and probably in house by our creative director.

I like the ticking time bomb scenario at work here, and the multiple ways the PCs can defuse the situation (though there aren't really any hints to let the PCs know what they need to do to prevent disaster, as your Knowledge and Perception checks don't offer any clue as to what needs to be done). I also like that there are only a few monsters and you've upped the power of the elementals instead of just piling more on. One of my biggest headaches comes from redesigning encounters where there are tons of low-level mooks that the PCs won't be challenged by. But Sean's right; the slaves need more info, because there's too much left unsaid about them with just what's provided.

And this is in the Mana Wastes, where magic functions differently, which you haven't addressed at all. That's a big problem, not only because Voracek's tactics rely heavily on the use of magic and magic items, but because PCs of this level need to know how their own magic will or won't work, or at least the GM needs to know. That's one of the biggest challenges of content taking place in this part of the world, and you've fallen into that trap.

All things considered, I think this location and encounter would be a lot of extra work as a developer. You have a really creative mind and I like the potential, but I think you need some practice reining it in. As the encounter stands, I DO NOT RECOMMEND this location for advancement. Best of luck in the vote, Sam.

CEO, Goblinworks

Recommended for advancement

Oh, I wanted to not like this. I still have occasional flashbacks to the old TSR module set in the body of a dead god.

And that map! The metal star might "look wrong" but it's got nothing on that map!

But you won me over with the contents. I LOVE the Black Mirror. I'm totally buying into the idea that this is the ultimate encounter in a long series of events which lead the PCs here to stop the Conduit.

I love the idea that you could just kill the slaves to stop the Conduit but you'd be basically killing innocents. I love the idea of earth elementals using tar as a medium for movement. I love the idea of destroying the device by pouring positive energy into it.

This is going to be a fun session to run. The PCs of all types will have lots to do - Thinkers trying to figure out how to stop the Conduit, Power Gamers blowing stuff up and fighting in tar, Storytellers immersed in ancient power struggles, elemental gods, and Voraceks' mad plans, and the Character Actors trying to figure out the "right" way to deal with all the confusion and drama!

WAHOO EPIC FUN!!!!


I looked at the map before I read the description and thought: WTF! After studying it a little longer I thought this would be a great location for an encounter.

I love your entry. It's awesome. I would love to read about this scenario in a novel.

Qadira RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6, Contributor , Dedicated Voter 2013

My initial impression: a good encounter and backplot, for 15th level PCs. For mid-level instead of high, I feel this overstretches. If Pathfinder paths have taught us anything, it's that the fate of the world need not always be at stake.

In terms of the encounter: I like the battle on tar, though I'd probably have spared some words on how it differs from quicksand. Even just a few penalties, because you stick to it so well. Likewise, while we know the mana wastes aren't just dead magic zones, what impact might they have on the encounter?

Foe choices: earth elementals are a safe choice, and have advantages the way you've written them. They'll do pretty well with their awesome blow ability. But I'd rather have seen something a bit more exciting than a melee guy with melee monsters. It seems like air superiority would triumph easily in this setup, leading one to wonder if Voracek needs to think more three dimensionally.

I've only read one entry so far, so I can't say where this one winds up in the tally. I'm hoping that some of my four votes will be for mid-level encounters that really hit the "sweet spot" of a localized threat.

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

Sam, before I can get to specific comments on your entry, I have to say, thanks for picking my villain, and thanks for taking the seeds I put into his admittedly brief background and adventure hooks, and turning them into something really cool.

The map I thought did a good job of portraying a really unusual location. It does have too many details though, as mentioned. The fact that it's golem bits rising out of a tar lake is enough to make it visually striking, without needing every piece of furniture and glowing crystal pointed out. I liked how you used different shades of green for the 2 different golem bodies. That's what helped me visualize how the golems fell and which islands belong to which golem. I also like that the map hints at other cool encounters which you didn't select to describe, in particular H2 with the skymetal storage area (I'm imagining the PCs having to deal with some of the more dangerous effects of some of the skymetals there, and the xorn encounter in area C, which shows some more earth elemental allies of Voracek.)

I thought the background was pretty good, and I wasn't thrown off by it involving Nex and Geb at all. The part about them allying does seem off though. It would have been simpler, and less continuity bending (breaking?) if Nex simply had to give up his advantage after beating the Bane Titans to turn around and stop Ayrzul and the Conduit, leaving the war back at a stalemate after the event. Also, by setting the Black Mirror in the Mana Wastes, you have the issues that the judges point out about not addressing the impact the Mana Wastes have on the location. Probably the simplest fix would be to have put it in Nex, but near the border of the Mana Wastes, since the Titans would have pushed that far from the original battle lines before Nex stopped them.

Also, kudos on the strong writing throughout your submission. There were several places that drew me in, and "making a sound like a knifepoint scraping across glass" caused me to cringe reading it - that kind of sound gets me in real life, and evoking it in your descriptive text got me as well. Also, good job involving more than just visuals, by including how it sounds, and feels (by hurting the viewer's eyes.)

I thought you did a great job weaving Voracek into the location and encounter. Having the slaves be broken and terrified of him fits his low charisma brutish methods, fitting in the kidnapped smiths, and having the tar pit be a fun place for Voracek and his elemantals to push the PCs into fits his tactics well.

Having the Conduit be a ticking time bomb makes the encounter a good step above a simple (or complex) combat encounter, and the combo of that with the exciting location of the tar pit brings a lot to all aspects of the entry.

You've got my vote (and while I admit, I would have voted for you just based on picking my villain, I think your location has a lot going for it, and would have gotten my vote regardless.)

Sczarni

I play home-brew for the most part, so the Golarion continuity issues are over my head, but I really love the epic introduction, and your encounter is really, really cool. Just so MANY ways to die (beaten down by the screaming zealot, pulped by surprise earth elementals, knocked into the tar and sunk, dragged in by surprise tentacles bursting from the goop, knocked/dragged in and burned to death by the unintended consequences of the sorcerer's fireball, wow), I could really see loving this as a GM.

The inclusion of screwy magic effects would probably push this one up in CR, considering the opposition relies largely on melee prowess, but it would have been another great wrench to throw into the PCs plans, as well as good tie-in flavor for the location, so a missed opportunity there. The map is troublesome for me as well, and I could see some misinterpretation causing problems.

Overall, this is just too cool to ignore. You could have my vote on this one.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

There are definite issues with some parts of your entry, but this is by far my favorite of the eight. I look forward to reading your adventure proposal.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Very cool encounter.
I think it's funny that the devolopers really disliked your map, but both cartographers really loved it.

Andoran

When I first saw this map, I didn't understand what the hell it was I was looking at -- or what it was trying to accomplish. My first reaction was "No, no. Not buying it. At all."

Well...the map is still way too damn busy, but in the end, I think Rob "Dead Gods" Lazzaretti is quite capable of making something like this make sense and adjusting where required for your over-exuberance.

So now that I've read all this? I get it. I totally get it.

Blah Blah Blah, "continuity this", "mana wastes that". Really?

How about "your creativity kicked ass, took names and left a wake of awesomeness in its glorious path of destruction." How about that, instead?

My fave on the map key was this: "Xorn Lair - like a beaver dam of stones..." Where's the love for that bit of throw-away-awesomeness!

At this stage, I don't care about any of the relatively small stuff at this point. There's a high-bar in this competition and as I see it, the point is whether or not you got over it. And you did. [The End]

Because once you get over that bar? Then the voter can decide based on what it's really all about: The Module Proposal. So, as we say in the law, this is a "result driven" judgment.

And that result is this: Sam, you have completely convinced me that I don't merely want to see your proposal. No, I need to see a module proposal from you. You are one creative sonofagun.

The Black Mirror gets my vote - and I urge others to vote for it too. I want us all to see what Sam Zeitlin's module proposal is.


This is definitely the most complicated encounter I've read so far. Which makes for an interesting, and fun time for the PC's.

And screw the judges, your map is great. Just the fact that the background was black, and better yet had a valid reason to be, gets you creativity points in my book. This is a very unique idea/location.

I think this is a great tie in with Voracek as well.

I guess my only criticism is in the initial description. It was way too complicated. I think if you simplify that backstory, you'd be better off.

You'll have one of my votes.

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

Sam Zeitlin wrote:
Everything is still here.

Also wanted to say that when I read this line, at first I thought "where else would it be, did someone almost steal it", but then read on and realized that you meant still as in motionless, not as in over time.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Maps, Pawns Subscriber
Sam Zeitlin wrote:
Nex and Geb briefly put aside their hostilities to fight the Fossilized King.

Sorry, this killed it for me.

Taldor RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka primemover003

chavamana wrote:
Sam Zeitlin wrote:
Nex and Geb briefly put aside their hostilities to fight the Fossilized King.
Sorry, this killed it for me.

Really? The fiends could stop the Blood War over the threat of the Illithid empire, but two archwizards wouldn't stop their war for a day to put down an extraplanar rift, oozing tentacled tar and the double-crossing elemental lord behind it?

Sam, at first I was overwhelmed by the map but as I read the encounter it became abundantly clear this encounter should be crazy fun to run. Hazardous terrain, a countdown, opportunities to use combat maneuvers, fighting on the hulking remains of titanic golems... Sign me up!

The only thing is I can easily see many groups of players just nuking the place from orbit, especially if the conduit opens. Nothing really forces them down into melee with Voracek. Allowing for the Mana Wastes magic warping properties and the connection to the plane of earth at the black mirror, it'd be easy to say spells that granted flight or with the [air] descriptor are suppressed over the tar pit. That would take care of most of the flight problems the encounter presents (flying mounts notwithstanding).

--Vrock the Vote


The black background was annoying at first, but once I got through the descriptive section, I understood why. Obviously, it'll eventually be in the hands of the professionals to help better translate the black tar to be a bit easier on the eyes.

Despite the issues that some folks have about meddling with certain precious important entities within the Golarion canon, this whole final BBEG encounter is purely gonzo! It provides so many different options on the course of action that the PCs can take and sometimes one have to consider whether the overall destruction outweighs the cost of innocent lives.

My only bias (for liking this) is that it takes place in the Mana Wastes, which I'm hoping Paizo will take upon the opportunity to feature more in future modules or an AP despite it (and Alkenstar) being treated as a red-headed stepchild.

Got my vote. :)

Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This is my favorite entry. You write wonderfully, and your location is totally cool.


I think this is great! Best of the bunch, in my opinion.

For those naysayers picking at the Nex and Geb teamup... I don't read it as them joining forces, so to speak. Just that for a time, there was a bigger threat to each of them which they addressed and then got back business as usual.


I don't know the world background enough obviously. I thought Sam was just summing up a known event. apparently not. I guess I look at it now as more like a truce lasting long enough to touch the interloper and then trying to use the fallout from the ruckus to their own advantage... but I will admit I love that sort of thinking in my games.

Love the visuals here, both as described on the map and within the text.

I also appreciate your break with your previous creations. Your previous creations tended toward subtle coolness. captured shadows, mind controlling monks, and a chaotic neutral villain walking the line between ally and enemy.

Then you jump to the other end of the scale and brought a killer out of this world location. Flesh golem things, xorn lairs and chanting slaves.

This says I can expect both flavors some something you write. both subtle and kick to the face type encounters. I hope to see your adventure proposal.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Demiurge 1138

The writing in here sings to me. "golems built with the bones of giants and the skins of angels"? Yes please! The map is a bit confusing and decidedly eye-searing, but the details in the key make it work for me. This is easily the most creativity we've seen from any of the encounters designed here.

The backstory text might be a bit long for some, and it might tread slightly on canonical toes, but this is an unusual region which requires unusual set-up. I was disappointed, though, that the Mana Wastes' magic-warping abilities didn't come into play at all. They really should have. And the slaves should have gotten a real stat-block, or at least a reference to the GMG.

Those are my biggest complaints. On the other hand, the fight looks like it'd be tons of fun, I like that there's multiple ways to stop the ritual, the location ties in very well to Voracek and the terrain hazards posed by the huge tar pit are exciting. Overall, this entry wins my Clinton Boomer award for "most crazy packed into a 1500 word limit". I'd gladly run this encounter (with some tweaks to the slaves, of course), and I will happily vote for this encounter.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Tales Subscriber

My favorite entry of this round.

Although the map was a bit garish I think both mappers are excited by the challenge to create a map for this unusual and cool encounter.

The writing was very good (but this is true with most of the entries).

While you botched a bit with the general location (mana wastes - so what happens?) your encounter is cool and fun and actually challenging out of the box - something not seen in most other entries.

I can not help but think that where your competitors thought small you thought big.

Well done.


Sam Zeitlin wrote:

The Black Mirror

==========
Amidst the barren sands of the Mana Wastes, there lies an inky stain: the Black Mirror, a lake of tar a mile wide. Everything is still here. No bird calls; no errant wind disturbs reflections on the lake’s oily skin. Only the carcasses of the giant golems that fell here puncture the lake’s surface, their desiccated limbs and faces forming islands in a dark sea. Voracek (R3), herald of the dark lord of Elemental Earth, has built his stronghold amidst this desolation. If his plans are not stopped, the power that felled the vast golems will return to smother all Golarion.

During his interminable war with the archmage Nex, the necromancer Geb constructed two enormous golems from the bones of giants and the skin of angels. Geb named them Bane Titans, and at his command the golems destroyed all that Nex could send against them. Fearful of their might, Nex compacted with an extraplanar power: dread Ayrzul, lord of Elemental Earth. Nex promised countless slaves and relics to the Fossilized King in return for his aid against the Bane Titans. Draining his vaults of skymetal, Nex constructed an artifact called the Conduit, through which Ayrzul could manifest his power on the material plane. On the battlefield, Nex’s servants activated the Conduit. Ayrzul’s wrath poured through as a sea of living tar, dragging the Bane Titans to the ground and destroying them.

But Ayrzul betrayed Nex. The Conduit did not close when the battle was won. More and more writhing tar gushed forth from the Conduit, accompanied by Ayrzul’s elemental host. Realizing that the endless tar would soon consume both their kingdoms, Nex and Geb briefly put aside their hostilities to fight the Fossilized King. The two wizard-kings drove Ayrzul’s forces back to the Conduit, and destroyed it. This done, they returned to their endless feud.

Although the tar became inanimate when the Conduit was destroyed, a vast quantity of it still remains, forming the Black Mirror. The lake stood silent for centuries until Voracek’s arrival. Atop the long-dead Bane Titans in the lake’s center, Voracek forced kidnapped smiths to forge his pilfered skymetal into a new Conduit. Soon it will open.

If the new Conduit becomes active, the Black Mirror will again be suffused with Ayrzul’s might, and his armies will return to Golarion. With the Conduit protected by Ayrzul’s horde, the Black Mirror will begin to spread. Left unchecked, it will cover the entire surface of Golarion, creating a new realm of Elemental Earth – one ruled by Voracek in Ayrzul’s name. Over millions of years - a blink of an eye for an immortal - the bones of everyone entombed beneath the tar will slowly become fossilized, slaves to the Fossilized King...

Disclaimer:

In case you’ve only just woken up to the contest or otherwise (somehow) missed these Round-by-Round reviews before, Ask A RPGSupersuccubus is posting from the point of view of a (very advanced) CE aligned succubus:
Spoiler:
Fairness means Prizes For All Succubi, balance is the process of fine-tuning your harp of the Abyss so that the acoustic resonances are particularly obnoxious to any clerics of Asmodeus who happen to be captive audiences in the vicinity, and logic is a bit like cornflour paste – cast-iron hard work when anyone else touches it, but conveniently gooey and runny to a succubus’ subtle touch. Oh: And Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (still) firmly maintains that it’s a succubus’ privilege to change her mind with neither any warning nor any obligation to bother to explain herself…
;)

How convenient does the estate/property seem to be for the regular delivery of groceries?
It's in the mana wastes, a land roamed by disenchanters and where teleport magic might go awry anyway and where the nearest thing in terms of physical distance which resembles a grocer's shop may well be in Alkenstar City. (In which latter case a grocer's shop can only be counted if one enjoys food which tastes of the industrial smog that settlement.)
So not very.

What preparations should a succubus planning to make a social call consider?
The good news from a succubus' perspective is that the Abyss has given her wings so that she can fly, without having to rely on magic that the mana wastes may or may not screw around with.
The even better news from a succubus' perspective is that the locals are apparently all ground-based with no missile weapons and only a few spells or inherent abilities which might (if they function properly) be usable at range, so if any conversation turns violent she can simply take to the air and consider a suitably withering response.
Social repartee aside, though, the villain active at this location is a religious zealot in the service of an obscure 'power' of the elemental planes who really ticked me off several thousand years ago. Whilst it would be unrealistic to expect all succubi to share my low opinion of Ayrzul and his followers, I would advise a sister succubus to take a few lessons in 'sniping on the wing' from a captured erinyes, and invest in a suit of mithril armour capable of accommodating her winged form just in case any visit should turn nasty. And if it does... well, the rather elegant phrase 'shooting fish in a barrel' comes to mind.
Half a dozen flasks of alchemist's fire should deal with the buildings, given the shortage of water to hand to extinguish flames, unless the buildings happen to be roofed with some non-combustible material such as slate.

Assuming a succubus comes into possession of the estate or property in question, how much landscaping/redecoration work needs to be done?
Since the situation outlined affords a good opportunity for a succubus to come flying in and pick Voracek and his minions off with little danger to herself, this question merits serious consideration. Whilst the site doesn't offer much in the way of potential for residential development, and a great big lake of tar gets somewhat monotonous to look at day after day, tar is a handy asset. Mortals use it to seal their sailing ships. They can make light sources with it, or use it in the creation of incendiary siege weaponry that don't rely on magic. They can preserve building timber with it. Mortals will buy this stuff, if a succubus is interested in either running the site personally as a business operation or in turning it over to a minion to handle. The modest quantities of highly valuable skymetal lying around are just a short term assets which can be bartered or bargained away (or made into tasteful furnishings or jewellery). The tar itself represents a much longer term asset which can be used to accumulate wealth and/or political capital.

Other comments?
According to this round’s presentations, apparently there are either two different Voraceks active or the one Voracek has multiple schemes (which possibly mesh with each other). Whilst I was inclined to the view regarding the Voracek presented in the previous round that it would be best to send another organisation after him and his gang, if the mana waste conditions outlined are sufficiently favourable with regard to suppressing magic, I'm tempted to recommend that a suitably armed and dressed succubus simply go after the Voracek presented here herself. As a reminder to succubi who value discretion, quality underwear is recommended with a dress, skirt, or kilt when hovering above someone's head in an outdoor environment.
As a final note, if a million years is 'a blink of an eye for an immortal', then all I can say is that Ayrzul must spend an awful lot of the time asleep. I can get an unbelievable amount done in just a fraction of that time.

Property Value:
Exploitable economic resource.

Further Disclaimer:
Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (still with half an eye on Lord Orcus) would (again) like to clarify that mortal voters should probably rely on more than just her own (impeccable) assessments in making up their minds on how to vote. Thank You.

Andoran

Just a quick side comment ...

I found it kind of interesting that the other judges seemed to strongly dislike the map yet the two cartographers boothe seemed to really like it.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

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

Along that same side comment:

The map is something to get used to - but I think it's a great concept once you're over the initial madness of it all. Good work here; and I think the judges all generally agreed on that as well.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 aka The Leaping Gnome

Just curious: how would a tar skimmer work? I mean, a propeller would get junked up and I can't imagine wind doing much to push a boat through tar. Is it magic powered? What would that set you back money-wise? Isn't that kind of a cop out anyway? It's magic, quit asking questions!

I suppose water walk would work alright on tar, but that's only on the ranger and cleric lists (according to the ref. doc.).

That said, there are things that I like and don't like about this. I'm not a fan of the map, but if the cartographers can work with it that is all that really matters. The story behind this place is kind of cool but I'm not sure I buy into the Geb/Nex temporary alliance. I haven't gotten around to reading about their feud yet though, so I won't hold that against you. I think the biggest thing I don't like about the Black Mirror in general is that it sounds like there should be a mention of the alliance in the history of the Inner Sea, like when fighting stopped for Christmas during WWII. That's not necessarily your fault or responsibility though. I guess it just seems like you're trying to add to canon and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Ultimately the voters will decide.


Trevor Merback wrote:

... I'm not sure I buy into the Geb/Nex temporary alliance. I haven't gotten around to reading about their feud yet though, so I won't hold that against you. I think the biggest thing I don't like about the Black Mirror in general is that it sounds like there should be a mention of the alliance in the history of the Inner Sea, like when fighting stopped for Christmas during WWII. That's not necessarily your fault or responsibility though. I guess it just seems like you're trying to add to canon and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Ultimately the voters will decide.

I don't read it as even alluding to an alliance.. only that there was a greater immediate threat that they each focused on independently for a time.


I think you pulled off an extremely evocative encounter location, with interesting and mostly effective NPCs/monsters to effect a memorable encounter, although I think better care could be taken to what PCs will actually be using at these level Tiers, as well as dealing with the GOLDMINE of encounter craziness that setting your locale in the Mana Wastes entails. You very nicely connected the Villain`s personae and goals with `larger` evils here, all tied up intrinsially with the location, so that aspect is definitely all coming together.

SO... In technical details perhaps not STELLAR, but this is the sort of dramatic encounter I want to see Paizo publish, so you`re getting my vote again this round. Your past work certainly helps, especially by giving me the confidence that you CAN pull of the crunch details necessary to make a CR-appropriate interesting encounters with `staying power` (even if that wasn`t FULLY demonstrated here IMHO). Good luck in the final round!!!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka motteditor

Wow. Like others, I have to admit the map kind of hurts my eyes. And I had to look closely to figure out exactly what was going on.

That said, despite tending to prefer the more sedate types of "dungeons" vs. the more gonzo ones, I have to admit I'm somewhat drawn to this. The carcasses of two massive monsters is a neat location for an adventure, and the environmental factors of the tar add to that.

I don't have a clue who Geb or Nex are, but if that's a problem, it can obviously be reskinned. I kind of feel like the Paizo staff are putting contestants between a rock and a hard place by telling you to design a Golarion location and then complaining if you use the wrong part of their campaign world. With no criticism meant for some of the other entries, there's nothing that's particularly intrinsic to the world about an icy ravine or foundry or mansion.

I love the name for the location, probably my favorite of the eight, along with the Red Snow Ravine.

Right now, I'm leaning toward voting for this, despite some of the factors I don't like. I'm curious what you can come up with in the full adventure pitch (though to be fair, I'm curious what all eight of you can come up with and hate having to choose).


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

Just nuts in conception, and good execution. Definitely the most unusual, not a generic warehouse or forest ruin. Good work.

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

Does the villain match the location/encounter/minions

Voracek in a giant robot? Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm just not seeing it. I don't mind him moving to the Mana Wastes, but he really seems like he should be in Numeria. Earth elementals are a good (if somewhat obvious) fit.

Is the location cool?

Giant robot in a lake of tar? Pretty cool. Ancient Nex-Geb super-team-up? Seems a little like playing with off-limits toys to me.

Is the encounter fun/interesting?

The encounter map is alomst unusable. I can't figure out where I'm supposed to put large elementals on a less-than 5-foot wide series of bridges, never mind huge elementals. It says they remain on the tar (which is quicksand?), but that seems strange to me, and likely will to my players. 15 rounds says to me "this doesn't happen during combat". I have never seen a combat last 15 rounds. Why does killing Voracek have "no effect on the ritual"? Won't the slaves stop?

Anything else?

I actually hate this map. It looks like "my first drawing program". The shapes only superficially resemble a body, which may be intended, but looks bad in my opinion. Having read the Deepgate series by Alan Campbell, I thought the angel-titans seem a little familiar, but whatever, borrowing ideas never hurts. Also, no Mana Wastes events at all? Why put it there? I might vote for this.


Im not sure why everone has so many issues witht he map. When i first looked at it yes i didnt get it but actualy reading about the site it all made sense.

Im not fully sure of all the encounter stuff but i reall ylike the idea of what the villain is doing here and the over all theme of the encounter site.


Pros:

1) This was ambitious. You thought "BIG", which is what I think a superstar should do.

2) A xorn "beaver dam". Funny.

3) I liked the lake of tar, and the earth elementals swimming in it.

4) I thought the challenge matched the tiers.

Cons:

1) I don't like Nex and Geb working together.

2) The map was a little difficult to read. I would like to think that lines on the islands would have helped (and they should be there), but that would have added even more clutter.

3) I don't like the ritual. More specifically, I don't like that Voracek is irrelevant to the ritual. The PCs are not likely to know how to stop the ritual, so Voracek is probably going to be their main focus. I don't feel its the right thing to do to punish the players for not reading the adventure. Also, once Voracek is dead, why would the slaves continue their tasks? Finally, what happens if you put the slaves to sleep? Shouldn't that also stop the ritual?

Despite all that, I am seriously considering voting for this. Primarily because I like the ambition of this submission, and cons #1 and #3 could be fixed fairly easily.


As far as the map goes, shouldn't the purpose of the author's map really be to give the cartographer what he or she needs to make the published map?

It seems like a lot of people are citing the map as one of the few problems they see with this entry. Two very conspicuous exceptions are the cartographers themselves, who LOVE it. It gives them all the information they need while at the same time letting their imaginations run wild creatively.

So, with that in mind, I think anyone giving a mark against this entry for the map might want to reconsider. As I understand it, the purpose of the contest is to determine which entrant is most likely to deliver a design that will yield a great published module. In that light, this entry is tops in my book.

Contributor

Can I Call My Guy Drizzt? wrote:
It seems like a lot of people are citing the map as one of the few problems they see with this entry. Two very conspicuous exceptions are the cartographers themselves, who LOVE it. It gives them all the information they need while at the same time letting their imaginations run wild creatively.

The reason why I called out the map is because as a developer, I know the cartographer would produce something interesting from the designer's map... and it wouldn't match the text because the map is WAHOO. Which means as a developer, I'd have to bounce the map back to the cartographer and add an explanation so he knows exactly what's going on, or revise all the text to make it fit the cartographer's map. Either option means more work for someone.

Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

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

I'm surprised nobody is commenting on the skymetal.

What I mean is, we've got seven 5 ft. by 10 ft. vaults of skymetal in addition to a 15-foot diameter star made of the stuff.

What's this going to be worth, 500,000gp? I'm not even sure that Paizo has clearly defined what all the skymetals do (I can't say for certain, but I've gotten the impression they've been cagey about it), never mind what they're worth, and now we've got all of them in a relatively low-CR encounter.

That for me was a bit much.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

motteditor wrote:
I kind of feel like the Paizo staff are putting contestants between a rock and a hard place by telling you to design a Golarion location and then complaining if you use the wrong part of their campaign world. With no criticism meant for some of the other entries, there's nothing that's particularly intrinsic to the world about an icy ravine or foundry or mansion.

As well they should. Part of being a freelancer is learning and applying the knowledge you have about a publisher's campaign setting as you do design work for them. Every competitor was given a copy of the Inner Sea World Guide because of that, so they could reference it as they chose a location and crafted some appropriate world flavor for their villains and encounters. It'll also come into play for the final round, too...as everyone will obviously be expected to craft an adventure proposal that meshes well with Golarion. It is, after all, where their adventures (both the module and PFS scenarios) will be set.

Thus, it's completely expected that the contestants will need to design a Golarion location. And, we're most definitely going to call out any inconsistencies that we perceive about their designs if something doesn't hold up well with Golarion canon. It's played out that way for the past two years of the competition (but not in 2008, since the campaign setting wasn't fully developed yet). So, no one should be surprised or blind-sided by that level of critique. It's meant to be part of the competition, because you want to test a potential freelancer's ability to both absorb the world information they're given, as well as their ability to apply it to their designs.

There may be nothing intrinsic about an icy ravine, foundry, or mansion...but where you choose to place them (i.e., Irrisen, Westcrown, and Cassomir) can and will have an impact on the encounter, the available minions, and the villain a designer chooses. And I think many of these guys made some very good choices in that regard. That helps set them apart. And that's intentional at this stage of the competition.

My two cents,
--Neil

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka motteditor

That's certainly a fair point, Neil, though I don't know then that a competition is the best way to choose a freelancer. (Which isn't to say I'm not loving watching the Superstar go on; other than knowing Paizo published Dungeon magazine, I only discovered the company in the last 6-12 months.) Especially considering they've got to actually win our votes, they could easily feel having a more subdued tie could cost them. I suspect that's got to be the hardest balancing point for the contestants at this point, though I suppose it's an issue most of us commenting wouldn't mind having to deal with. : )

Also, having dealt with reporter freelancers of my own, I know that what the consumer and editors are looking for from freelancers can be vastly different.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Sam,

It didn't bother me that Nex and Geb put aside their differences (briefly) and fought the Fossilized King together and broke his conduit (and therefore his hold) on Golarion. I don't think that piece of background "breaks" or challenges established history. If anything... I feel that it adds to the rich history... it's one of those little known facts... likely long since forgotten and buried. Anyway... I like what you've done here.

Incorporating skymetal into the mix was just awesome, although I wonder what impact "looting" the vaults of skymetal might have on the region. (That's something that could easily be covered however, so it doesn't impact on my liking this entry).

Your map was pretty gonzo... and in a good way. Paizo's cartographers both liked it and commented on it, so no worries there.

Not sure what you have in mind for an adventure proposal... but I'd sure like to read it.

Voted! :)

~Dean

Star Voter 2013

My biggest concern about this map, asides from having to take multiple tries to actually read it is thinks like 'side of face' and 'back of head' and 'kneecap', Sure it's interesting, but if you look at your own head, or knee, they're not even close to flat. No PC would ever be able to stand on them, and that makes basically the entire map difficult terrain, which sucks.

Especially as the elementals (infinite elementals, by the way, if the gate manages to open) can just walk through the tar, that means nobody is ever charging, 5ft stepping, or flanking - all of which are very important factors of combat for most types of players.

Then, if all of these things are connected by wooden bridges, the most obvious tactic of the elementals isn't listed at all - removing the bridges. That would leave the PCs with two options - fight on the side of a giant face, or fight inside the quicksand. While this would make the encounter interesting, the factor of the mana wastes, the poor tactics and the terrible terrain make this something I might start running and then handwave completion because it's too complicated.

Star Voter 2013

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
RonarsCorruption wrote:

My biggest concern about this map, asides from having to take multiple tries to actually read it is thinks like 'side of face' and 'back of head' and 'kneecap', Sure it's interesting, but if you look at your own head, or knee, they're not even close to flat. No PC would ever be able to stand on them, and that makes basically the entire map difficult terrain, which sucks.

Especially as the elementals (infinite elementals, by the way, if the gate manages to open) can just walk through the tar, that means nobody is ever charging, 5ft stepping, or flanking - all of which are very important factors of combat for most types of players.

Then, if all of these things are connected by wooden bridges, the most obvious tactic of the elementals isn't listed at all - removing the bridges. That would leave the PCs with two options - fight on the side of a giant face, or fight inside the quicksand. While this would make the encounter interesting, the factor of the mana wastes, the poor tactics and the terrible terrain make this something I might start running and then handwave completion because it's too complicated.

I find it amusing that you count all of these things as detractors from the battle, while I think they enhance it 10 fold. The players are out classed in manueverability, and that is just something they have to deal with. It allows you to throw mooks at the party and have them be relevant.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka motteditor

I agree with Caineach. I'd certainly have to do my prep work -- make sure I reviewed all the rules and perhaps even wrote them on a quick reference sheet so I wasn't having to flip through the book -- but I think that's something that could make the fight more interesting for players and PCs as they try to figure out the way to best maneuver. Especially at higher levels (assuming you negate flight, perhaps via the mana wastes).


First off, I really like the epic feel of this place. The storyline no sacred cow for me since I don't know it well but even if I did I never play canon, especially if the players know the canon. Then it has to change to preserve the suspense and emulate the in-world ignorance of the PC's. The twist of the archmages does that here for me.

But that's kind of getting off the point. The flavor draws you in to this awesome place which at first seems so strange but becomes almost iconic in its oddity. A black lake with a strange island in the center, with otherworldly earth (nice choice) elementals doing cthonic things with bad geometry. It's really interesting. As a modder I can easily envisage using this location in other ways: if I didn't want a time bomb scenario, I'd have the PCs visit this place when the Xorns are trying to convince party spellcasters to help them complete arcane rituals to restore the Conduit. Good opportunities there for sense motive, arcana/knowledge(religion),or language use, and combat or diplomacy routes. And that's just mining one of the nuggets all over this map - the Xorn den.

The map itself is very cluttered. It's a microcosm of the bad geometry of the conduit. And it would have been nice to see some comments on what backup plans exist if the conduit does get stopped. I know it's probably "continue fighting" but some twist would have been welcome there, especially for a very melee-oriented party. Perhaps a magical item intended as a tribute to the expected earthlord, now in rage converted to a one-time use weapon.

But these are forgivable for a very beautiful place - one not just destined to be used and moved on from. I couldn't disagree more that one location shouldn't have such strong backstory implications. Not all of them can but when you make one, it becomes memorable on many levels - for what happened there in the past, for what you went through there, and for what it's like to revisit or just to have as a unique set piece on the stage of your campaign.

Recommended for advancement.

Osirion RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014 aka Steven T. Helt

Ryan Dancey wrote:

Recommended for advancement

Oh, I wanted to not like this. I still have occasional flashbacks to the old TSR module set in the body of a dead god.

Is that a reference to Nightmare Keep? I loved the flipping bridge over the zombie dragon turtles. Just the sort of thing a fan of Acererak would dig.

As regards the Black Mirror, a lot fo this really appeals to me. This encounter is enough big idea to be really exciting, without being toomuch gonzo. Be careful about speaking for the world developers with huge ideas from history, but then again, why couldn't this sort of thing happen? In the lead up to this encounter (which I'd amp a few CRs outside of this contest), it'd be exciting for the PCs to uncover references to a third enemy of Nex and Geb in the ancient past - an older god not known to modern sages who forced a temporary alliance betwen the two enemies just for the purpose of protecting their own magical warfare and confining Ayrzul's influence to the Mirror. Even better if the PCs find that any record of a cessation in their war, much less any notion of cooperation, was stricken from the historical records of both kingdoms. Perhpas striking these facts from recorded history would appease the world developers, as well.

There are big flaws: not statting the slaves, who presumably are potent spellcasters, and too much background language (I think we get the idea fairly early on) that could be spent on more mechanics. How the energies of the Wastes interacts with the combat, contingencies, more stats, etc.

Good entry though, and probably the single most impressive since the first round.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

Can I Call My Guy Drizzt? wrote:


I don't read it as even alluding to an alliance.. only that there was a greater immediate threat that they each focused on independently for a time.

That's what I was thinking. He never used the word "ally", he just said that they "briefly put aside their hostilities to fight the Fossilized King."

What part of that doesn't make sense?

At first I was concerned that he might have exaggerated Ayrzul's power (Geb and Nex were both monumentally powerful, so my first impression is that they wouldn't need to stop fighting each other in order to squash this new threat). But then I looked up Ayrzul, and apparently he's a rumored demigod in his own right, so this is pretty plausible.

To say that Geb and Nex created ginormous constructs and leveraged extraplanar bargains doesn't strike me as an unsafe assumption. I find "bane titans" to be drably named (that sounds like a Magic: The Gathering card. Buuuurrnn!!), but they make sense, and it makes sense that Nex would answer them with mercenary help rather than dare to divert his own personal power. Maybe I'm not familiar enough with Golarion canon, though. Is there any part of this that actually contradicts existing lore, or were the judges merely concerned that he had invented too much?

I agree that the magic-ruining (or at least altering) properties of the mana wastes should have been addressed here. That's the entire point of the mana wastes, after all.

I also think his use of all seven skymetals was unnecessary (even if the conduit IS made from all seven skymetals, that doesn't mean there needs to be tons more sitting around everywhere. And even if there is more sitting around everywhere, that doesn't mean it all needs its own key; they could have all been in the same room, couldn't they have?) Which reminds me: the biggest problem I see with the map is that I can't tell if the "skymetal guide" applies just to the colored stars or to all things of the given color (for instance, is the shrine to Ayrzul a pool of Dzejet??)

Aside for that, the map doesn't look confusing to me. Sure, there are a lot of cases where I don't know exactly what things are, but that's because I don't have a full description for the other nine locations on the map. Making it less colorful would have made it easier to look at but also less clear, and given the paramaters of the contest that would be a bad trade-off.

Eric Hindley wrote:


The encounter map is alomst unusable. I can't figure out where I'm supposed to put large elementals on a less-than 5-foot wide series of bridges, never mind huge elementals. It says they remain on the tar (which is quicksand?), but that seems strange to me, and likely will to my players. 15 rounds says to me "this doesn't happen during combat". I have never seen a combat last 15 rounds. Why does killing Voracek have "no effect on the ritual"? Won't the slaves stop?

The bridges are only 2 feet above the tar. The elementals should be able to occupy whatever squares they want in that area (half-on half-off the bridges, or just in the tar, or under the surface, or whatever).

I think you're right about the length of the countdown clock. At the very least it's a concern; maybe if it starts as soon as they reach the Mirror it would make sense (there may be other guardians in other parts of the map that they'd have to get past), but it would be hard to say without actually having the rest of the area detailed. In fact, it would probably be hard to say without several playtest runs.

I took it that the slaves were broken-willed and brainwashed animations. But yea, killing the BBEG should probably lower the diplomacy DCs or something, at least.


Do like
* The setting on a lake of tar in a region of the mana wastes is really interesting with lots of potential.

* Enviroment specific hazards are used fairly effectively.

Do not like
* First off, I really dislike the map. The choice of colors is too jarring to my eyes. The heavy black background, if kept as is for the final map, would use up way too much ink to print (on my printer). I don't find it clearly tells me what is going on at this location well. I realize that the various parts of the giant robot/golem are labeled, but if it was not for those labels I could not tell what was what.

* Perhaps my limited knowledge of the workings of the mana wastes fails me here. I want to count this as a hazard of a sort that the party must face, but it is unclear to me that this is the case.

* This seems like a very difficult encounter for a GM to run well. This is due in part to my discomfort with the map as I don't clearly know what is going on there. Also, it is unclear how the golems react to the tar. Does it pull them under like quicksand? Does their affinity to earth-based elements allow the to move through it as if free action is operating?

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

Dark Sasha wrote:


* First off, I really dislike the map. The choice of colors is too jarring to my eyes. The heavy black background, if kept as is for the final map, would use up way too much ink to print (on my printer). I don't find it clearly tells me what is going on at this location well. I realize that the various parts of the giant robot/golem are labeled, but if it was not for those labels I could not tell what was what.

Well.. here's what the contest rules say.

RPGS Round 4 Rules wrote:
6. Artistic merit of the map is not a factor, but submitted maps must be legible, readable, neat, and contain all of the necessary information from which a cartographer could create a professional map illustration for a published adventure.

Try not to hold the 'artistic merit' of maps against contestants. I know that Sam's pontoon boats look like spaceships, but I think that's okay because he clearly labeled them as pontoon boats. Whether it's "legible, readable, neat", etc is certainly up for debate, yes, but keep in mind that you're not actually going to have to look at this monster at the game table. Knowing how to draw is the cartographer's job.

For my own part, I raised concern about the starmetals sharing colors with other regions of the map, but now that I look again in better light I have to take that back: the exact colors he uses clearly aren't repeated, and I don't think a professional would make that mistake (though I could be wrong).

I didn't exactly say it last post (I was too busy diving into the particulars), but in case you couldn't tell I think this is jaw-dropingly cool and I'm rooting for it to advance. :)

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