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RPG Superstar 2015

The Old Cassomir Dollhouse


Round 4 - Top 8: Create Golarion location with map

1 to 50 of 76 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Jatori

The Old Cassomir Dollhouse
==========
Hours after his father's death, Varstrius petitioned Cassomir's churches to resurrect his dead sister. As the only heir to his father's fortune, he could afford the expensive ritual and necessary components. Sadly, he never considered that Sulliana's soul would not want to return to him. Angry and bitter, Varstrius now seeks to bring Sulliana back through other means.

Varstrius’ family home is a large, three-storied manor located within the Old Cassomir district. Varstrius has recently repurposed the basement level of the old house, connecting it with the maze of sewers, tunnels, and forgotten vaults found beneath Cassomir. He now uses those wide tunnels as a base of operations for the slavery operation which has grown up around him, and his obsession with his deceased sister.

Varstrius has eleven mercenaries in his employ, but at any given time, 1d4 of them are not present in the basement. Treat the mercenaries as Turnkeys (GameMastery Guide 271) for tier 7-8 and as Sellswords (GameMastery Guide 283) for tier 10-11. In addition, there are currently 1d4 halfling or gnome prisoners held in the basement.

If a lone mercenary encounters the PCs, he will attempt to flee and alert the rest of the basement to their presence. If multiple mercenaries encounter the PCs at once, one will attempt to flee and alert the rest of the basement, while the remainder will engage the PCs in combat.

Unless otherwise noted, the walls of the basement are superior masonry walls and the doors are good wooden doors. Normally, only the cell doors (area 2) and the door to the tea room (area 5) are locked.

1. Stores: This chamber serves as the manor’s stores, pantry and wine cellar. A DC 20 Perception check reveals a secret door, which connects the area to the rest of the basement.
2. Cells (CR 3 or 7): This area, which is constantly guarded by one mercenary, holds Varstrius’ halfling and gnome prisoners. The corpse of a young male halfling lies in a puddle of filth in one of the cells. A DC 15 Heal check reveals that he was strangled to death. Searching the corpse (DC 20 Perception) reveals a small blue bellflower embroidered on the inside of his shirt’s collar.
3. Sewer Entrance (CR 5 or 9): There are always two mercenaries guarding this area. Varstrius increased the guard presence here, after his men encountered a roving band of strange, blue-skinned humanoids in the tunnels. Several halfling and gnome bodies have been temporarily discarded a short distance down this tunnel. A DC 15 Heal check reveals that these corpses have had parts surgically removed.
4. Barracks: This room acts as the living space for Varstrius’ mercenaries.
5. Tea Room: Varstrius has decorated this area to match his sister’s bedroom, which remained untouched since her death, in the manor above. This is where he keeps the prisoners which most resemble Sulliana, often dressing them up to look like her and indulging in sessions of forcefully role-played tea parties.
6. Study: A large oak desk dominates the finely decorated space. Two paintings adorn the walls of the room: one depicts Varstrius' father and the other, a family portrait of Varstrius, his father and Sulliana. His father's image has been defaced in the family portrait. A ledger, found in the room, details slave shipments to Andoran. The most recent entry indicates that Varstrius’ daughter, Sarrisia, has just left Cassomir with another shipment.
7. Stairwell: This stairwell leads to a secret door (DC 20 Perception) which opens into the master bedroom on the top floor of the manor.
8.1 Dev’s Room: This untidy area serves as the living space for Polald’s apprentice, Dev. The floor is barely visible under the piles of dog-eared books and stacks of paper thereby creating difficult terrain.
8.2 Polald’s Room: Polald Tibarat was hired by Varstrius to assist in the process of returning Sulliana to life. This area acts as Polald’s private bedroom for the occasional night when he works late. However, he spends most of his time at his home nearby, leaving a homunculus to keep an eye on Dev. There is enough paperwork in this room to confirm Polald’s identity and involvement with a DC 20 Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (local) check.

Sulliana’s Rebirth (CR 10 or 13)
==========
9. Laboratory: A grotesque mannequin, stitched together from the limbs and organs of several donors, rests upon a metallic slab in the center of the room. As you enter, a young man, wearing blood-spattered robes, having just completed the last steps of casting a spell, blasts the gruesome construct with electric energy. The mass of dead meat begins to move, pulling itself upright, accompanied by the sickening sound of damp flesh peeling off from the cold metal.

Varstrius commissioned Polald to construct a flesh golem, built in Sulliana’s image. This chamber serves as Polald’s laboratory. Halfling and gnome prisoners, unlucky enough to share a feature with Varstrius’ idealized memories of Sulliana, have been used for parts in the golem’s construction. The golem has even been dressed in clothing similar to the outfit worn by Sulliana in the portrait found in area 6. Despite its size, the golem is made more horrifying by several delicate features, such as its childlike hands and soft-featured face.

Varstrius will make his stand here, relying on any remaining mercenaries, Dev, and the animated mockery of Sulliana to help bring down any foes.

9A: Alchemist’s Lab: This lab holds all the necessary alchemical reagents required during the construction of a flesh golem. Characters may hurl the alchemical equipment as improvised grenade-like weapons. To determine the effect of a hurled item, roll 1d4 and consult the table below:

  • 1. Treat the item as a flask of acid
  • 2. Treat the item as a flask of alchemist’s fire
  • 3. Treat the item as a smokestick
  • 4. Treat the item as a tanglefoot bag.

Only 2d4 grenade-like items can be found here.

Creatures: Clearly crazed, Varstrius rejoices loudly at the successful animation of the golem. To him, Sulliana’s new body is not a horrid amalgamation of flesh, staples and wire - it is a chance to recapture a life, which his father had once stolen, with his sister at his side. The only obstacles remaining are the PCs. Varstrius will follow his normal combat tactics, commanding Sulliana to assist. Dev will attempt to use his electricity spells to simultaneously damage foes and heal Sulliana. Polald’s homunculus will assist by lobbing grenades from the alchemist’s lab. The mercenaries aim to provide flanking bonuses for Varstrius and Sulliana and try to intercept dangerous melee combatants before they can get close to Dev.

Tier 7-8 (CR 10):

Varstrius CR 7
XP 3200
hp 76 (RPG Superstar 2011 R3)

Dev, Battle Mage CR 5
XP 1600
hp 33 (GameMastery Guide 256)
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 6th, concentration +9)
3rd—dispel magic, fly, haste, lightning bolt (2) (DC 17)
2nd—resist energy, glitterdust (DC 15), mirror image, scorching ray (2)
1st—burning hands (DC 15), color spray (DC 14), mage armor, shocking grasp (2)
0 (at will)—dancing lights, detect magic, light, message

Turnkey (2) CR 3
XP 800 each
hp 37 each (GameMastery Guide 271)

Homunculus CR 1
XP 400
hp 11 (Bestiary 176)

Sulliana, Young Flesh Golem CR 6
XP 2400
hp 69 (Bestiary 160)

9B. Trap: The metallic slab, and the devices beneath it, retains some of the electrical energy used to animate Sulliana. Treat the metal slab as a burning hands trap (CR 1, Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook 420) with a trigger of touch, dealing electricity damage instead of fire damage.

Tier 10-11 (CR 13):

Varstrius CR 7
XP 3200
hp 76 (RPG Superstar 2011 R3)
Additional Gear Sulliana’s guardian amulet

Dev, Battle Mage CR 5
XP 1600
hp 33 (GameMastery Guide 256)
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 6th, concentration +9)
3rd—dispel magic, fly, haste, lightning bolt (2) (DC 17)
2nd—resist energy, glitterdust (DC 15), mirror image, scorching ray (2)
1st—burning hands (DC 15), color spray (DC 14), mage armor, shocking grasp (2)
0 (at will)—dancing lights, detect magic, light, message

Sellsword (4) CR 7
XP 3200 each
hp 80 each (GameMastery Guide 283)

Homunculus CR 1
XP 400
hp 11 (Bestiary 176)

Sulliana, Flesh Golem Shield Guardian CR 9
XP 6400
hp 79, fast healing 5 (Bestiary 160)
SQ berserk, controlled, find master, guard, immunity to magic, shield other, spell storing (none)

9B. Trap: The metallic slab, and the devices beneath it, retains some of the electrical energy used to animate Sulliana. Treat the metal slab as an electricity arc trap (CR 4, Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook 420).

Development: Any surviving mercenaries within the basement respond to the sound of battle, joining the battle within 2d4 rounds. Even if the PCs are victorious, the matter of dealing with the rogue wizard, Polald, and the slaver, Sarrisia, remains.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

The image Jerall provided was 8.55 x 5.18 inches at 96 dpi.

Cartographer

Good looking reference here, everything is clearly plotted out and labeled which minimizes any confusion.

This would be fairly easy to complete in a short amount of time based on the information given.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Welcome to the Top 8, Jerall! This is the 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 and they can recognize your strengths. 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 props on your perseverance. We all loved your phlebotomist's gloves, but the judges universally passed on your tengu blademaster archetype and half of us (including me) didn't recommend your villainous trapsmith either. And yet, here you are...and it's because your designs continue to resonate with the voters. And you haven't let any of our commentary get you down or deter you from moving forward. To me, that shows some serious maturity and professionalism as a designer. You keep bringing the good ideas and layering on as much creativity as you can to help you make a real run at this opportunity. I've picked more than a few nits here or there with your designs, but you still stand as much of a chance as winning this thing as anyone. So, going into this round I'm curious to see how you've risen to the challenge of an ever-tightening competition alongside your fellow contestants. 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:
First, I'll note that you've chosen one of the most popular villains from the prior round. There's a lot of messed-up psychology in Varstrius, the Connoisseur of Living Dolls. And, I'm really curious to see what you do with him. Right out of the gate, I love what you've done by adding to his backstory and his failed attempt to resurrect his sister...with the added rejection that her soul refused to come. Obviously, she's in a much better place...even as her brother descends into utter madness. I think it's a great touch to build on the original design provided by Artus this way.

I also love how your writing flows. It's very precise and delivers the right information in the right way. Your first paragraph establishes what we need to know about the villain's plans (both the failed ones of his past and the new ones he's developed). Then, you slip straight into telling us about his three-storied manor, its location in Cassomir, and the specifics of its guardians and internal features. This is a good demonstration of proficiency in encounter location design. Very well done. I also like that for the purposes of this competition, you made great use of the references to the pre-generated NPCs in the Gamemastery Guide. That, too, speaks of smart design. You're maximizing your word count. In fact, you almost had enough words to spare to detail every encounter location (without stat-blocks, of course) throughout the manor's basement. That's pretty impressive, despite the fact that we only needed a single encounter location fully developed.

The Location:
In my opinion, the manor itself and its location in Cassomir are a good fit. Varstrius has a nobleman's air about him, despite being an urban ranger...and if he's got a family fortune large enough to attempt a resurrection of his dead sister, he should be well-connected enough to have both a three-story manor house as well as a sizeable slave operation. Everything fits here. And you've done yeoman's work in describing it all. Access to the sewers beneath the manor give him plenty of escape routes and hidden passageways to dispose of the bodies used in "rebuilding" Sulliana or having his daughter smuggle out slaves.

The Map:
Hand-drawn maps are often more useful. This one has plenty of detail and everything is clearly labeled. I like that you've hidden the laboratory for constructing Sulliana's golem behind secret doors. The one thing I'd like to see better detailed is the width of the walls between rooms. A single sharp line, while useful for adventuring parties when drawing out a map on the fly, isn't as realistic. Most walls should be between 1- to 2-feet thick depending on whether they're stone or wood. I'm sure a cartographer would readily interpret this and resize everything as necessary while maintaining your grid for hallway widths and room size. It's not a big deal on a map this small...just something to keep in mind for any future maps you might draw for your encounters.

The Encounter:
This one has a lot going on. Plenty of adversaries (at either tier) to get involved. Their combined CR certainly delivers for the encounter, but at the higher tier, the highest CR adversary will be 3 steps behind the intended level of the PCs, so I fear that many of them might not last very long in an open battle beneath the manor. That said, I do like the mix and varied support...with the battle mage, Dev, keeping the freshly awakened golem in the fight with some electrical "healing." I also love the description you've given us of the golem with childlike hands and soft-featured face. It just heightens the villainy of Varstrius with an in-your-face, tangible evidence of his insanity. And, having it tie back to the family portrait in the prior room is a really nice touch. I love seeing small details like that reflect back on the discoveries the PCs make as they explore such a lair.

One thing I didn't like here was that you included the 2nd person "you" in your read-aloud text. You did that last round with your villain and I called it out there, as well. Read-aloud text should avoid the use of "you" in every way possible...as it starts to assume various things about what the PCs do. Now, that said, this particular use of it isn't all that egregious, in my opinion. You've really only applied it with the assumption of the PCs entering the room. And that's mostly valid, as the only way they're going to see the things you're describing is if they do so. Of course, clairvoyance or scrying might enter the picture...or a familiar might be sent in to scout the room ahead of the PCs...or they may just look in from the open door, I suppose. But, just generally, try not to use "you" in your read-aloud text. It's a good habit to start developing.

Same thing goes with the use of the word "will" which I notice gets bandied about a few times in your tactics as well. A good trick for strengthening your writing is to shed all uses of the word "will" and "that" and forms of the verb "to be" (i.e., is, are, was, were, been, etc.). Not only does this free up extra words for you to use as a freelancer, it makes your sentences read and flow more cleanly to the reader.

Moving on, I also wanted to note that I really liked the adversaries you picked as Varstrius' accomplices. The golem adds a nice variation to the type of opponents faced in a combat. The battle mage brings a potent mix of arcane firepower and "healing" for the golem. His homonculus is there hurling alchemical items to sow further chaos. There's the electrified "trap" of the table. And Varstrius gets to fight alongside a handful of henchmen, as well. It gives the encounter enough opponents to occupy (and even gang up on) the PCs of an average adventuring party. And, it has enough unique tactical elements to it that the encounter should prove pretty memorable for everyone. I also like the wrap up where you allude to the battle mage's master, Polald and Varstrius' equally deranged daughter, Sarrisia...hinting that a future confrontation could be looming despite the outcome from this one.

Overall Assessment:
I really like what you've done here. The professional polish and attention to detail really shines through in this write-up. You did the villain justice...and even managed to heighten him in your presentation and selection of minions and features. You also gave us enough variety in your design that we can get a sense of everything you're capable of as a freelance designer. It demonstrates competence across the board, though you still need to work on your writing...i.e., 2nd person, passive voice, etc. Regardless, I'm really glad you made it this far in the competition to show us what you can do in terms of spinning a fun, memorable encounter.

Obviously, I RECOMMEND this encounter for advancing to the next round. I'm really interested to see what you'd propose for a full adventure design. Let's find out if the voters agree. Best of luck.

Cartographer

This is a fairly simple map, but it could really shine depending on how it was executed by the cartographer. If the interesting details such as the stitched together mannequin body were painted in, along with the creepy walls and Bride of Frankenstein esque imagery evoked, this map could be pretty awesome. As is it is simple and concise enough to use, though some of the door placement might be adjusted abit, and the hallways seem abnormally wide (10 foot wide corridors are pretty massive!).

Contributor

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

LOCATION
Watch out for passive voice--check any manuscript for the word "will" and see if you can make the sentence stronger by rewording it to not use "will." Example: "If a lone mercenary encounters the PCs, he will attempt to flee" vs. "If a lone mercenary encounters the PCs, he attempts to flee...." You get a lot of this in the tactics of the encounter as well.

Nice touch with the bellflower on the strangled halfling, I sense a plot hook.

I have to laugh at the tea parties in area 5. I once had a hill giant encounter where he captured one of the PCs and made him have a tea party with the giant's doll collection.

The portraits should actually show Varstrius' stepfather, not his father, according to his original bio in R3,

The bit about Polald and Dev caught me off-guard because there isn't any mention of attempts to make a flesh golem until we get to those rooms. I'd think something that radical would appear in the intro description to this Location.

ENCOUNTER
Hey, old school gamer, we don't call them grenade-like weapons any more, we call them splash weapons. :)

Unfortunately, I don't see how Dev is able to create a flesh golem. He's not 8th level, doesn't have access to the necessary spells, and isn't using a golem manual, yet clearly he's the one zapping it at the end to animate it. If you're suggesting that Polald did most of the work, that's fine, but it's weird that Dev would be allowed to finish such an important job on his own.

You're missing italics tags for spells all over the place here.

The Development section mentions dealing with "the rogue wizard," which is confusing (as we don't have stats for Polald at all, we don't know from this context if "rogue" is a class or use in a more common sense).

MAP
Map is simple and pretty clear, though you're using some nonstandard notation for things like secret doors and chairs.
It would be helpful to shade a bit around the exterior of this map's walls just so it's clear this is a subterranean level.
It's also a little weird to me that the only way to get to Polald's room is to go through Dev's room. I know Dev is an "apprentice" (though why he's still an apprentice at level 6 I don't know), but I'd think the boss mage would want a private entrance to his room rather than having to step around the dirty socks and underwear of his apprentice.

Paizo Employee Developer

Congrats on making it into the top 8, Jerall! 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.

Great job capturing the creepiness of Varstrius and expanding on what he actually does with his "dolls," a bit of info I felt was missing in the initial writeup. I'm a little confused about why the name is the Old Cassomir Dollhouse, as it would only be known as that to someone who had already been in there and seen the doll stuff. Just naming it Vartstrius Manor, or something like that would be descriptive enough while still maintaining the secret for players who may see the title of the location on the map.

As a developer, I'm instantly concerned about the random minion aspect you present in the third paragraph. While this is cool and adds a lot of realism to the location when run as an organic villain's headquarters, it also isn't something I'd include in a published adventure. Now, there's nothing in the rules for this round saying this has to be a part of a larger adventure, and if this were in a book of fully fleshed-out locations/encounters, I'd be fine with it. Just be aware that in a Pathfinder Society Scenario, for example, this sort of random element isn't appropriate. The random mooks would also work better here if they were placed in specific rooms and given detailed tactics. As it is, they're just there (or not) without any advice to the GM on how to use them. I'd also like to see a short statblock for the prisoners (NG female halfling and gnome commoners 2, or whatever).

You use the passive voice a lot in the creatures' tactics. Watch out for "will." It's an old school style that we try to avoid, as it uses up words, and sets the adventure in the future instead of the present, which is how an adventure actually progresses.

The map seems fine, and is laid out well, with plenty of room for combat in each room where it might take place (though I agree with Sean that the master wizard isn't going to want to walk through his apprentice's room. Perhaps a second door into area 9 from there would make sense? I like that you've included some possible hooks in the descriptive text as well, such as the reference to derro beneath Cassomir, the Bellflower Network's presence, and the actions of his daughter (though I'm not sure why she's taking slaves to Absalom).

We generally don't use #.# nor #a/b/c denotation in maps. If there are two different rooms (like 8.1 and 8.2), just make them two different rooms. And, as Sean said, any named NPCs who play a major role in the location (like Dev and Polald) should be mentioned in the overview at the beginning. A GM should know ahead of time that they're there and doing their own thing independent of the main villain.

Now, moving on to the adventure's main encounter, I'm worried there's just too much going on. A GM running 6 creatures (of 5 different types) is going to pull his hair out. That's a lot to coordinate. I think you'd be better served here moving some of the low-level foes into their own encounter areas (like all the other rooms in the complex) and bumping their difficulty up, and making the final confrontation something more focused on Varstrius and his flesh golem. You've already got a lone or paired minion in other rooms, so why not move Dev and the Homunculus to another room as well and make them their own level-appropriate challenge?

I'll echo Sean's comment about Dev being unable to actually make a flesh golem. Why do the PCs need to witness its creation? Can't they just stumble upon Varstrius hanging out with his "sister" and face them then without the cutscene creation readaloud text?

In each of the non-encounter rooms that still have CRs, the same structure of Creature/Traps/Development should be included, as well as at least short statblocks of the creatures you're including. As it is, you say what's there, but the GM needs to look all over to find where the stats are. I know the assignment here was to make a single encounter, and you gave the statblocks in those places, but you also included other encounters, so those need to have the correct format as well, even if including them at all is going above and beyond what was required.

I've liked your work throughout the contest, and this entry, while a little ragged around the edges, shows potential to design an interesting and fun adventure. I RECOMMEND this location for advancement. Best of luck in the voting, Jerall!

CEO, Goblinworks

Not recommended for advancement

Well I'm obviously dense because I still don't get it.

Who's the villain in this scenario? Varstrius? He's a CR7 opponent in a CR 10 or 13 encounter (i.e. he's going down in moments). His daughter? She doesn't appear in the description of the encounter despite her bizarre participation in her father's obsession. Dev? Suddenly we have a brand new (low level) NPC with no backstory other than he's apparently been ordered by his master to participate in multiple homicides and the creation of a golem (which he can't mechanically actually do) for an insane man and his willing daughter minion - he doesn't see anything wrong with this? Why is his master not present at the ultimate moment of the Golem creation?

There's just so many people involved here who all have to be willing to participate in some sick twisted behavior - all it takes is ONE PERSON going to the authorities (or telling his wife about his job and having her tell anyone else, etc.) and this whole house of cards goes up in smoke. Nobody has an interest in finding these kidnapped people with the ability to pay for some supernatural location help?

The R3 villain writeup has explicit directions for what happens when Varstrius encounters halflings and gnomes. Are they going to be followed?

How will he react to seeing his beloved "sister" getting the stuffing kicked out of it by the PCs?

I'm having a hard time seeing this as a CR 10 to 13 encounter. Isn't the party just going to stand outside the door and cloudkill/fireball/lightning bolt this room into dust then mop up the golem?

How will anyone flee? The exit to the sewers is on the other side of the basement.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

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

What I like about the final encounter that Jerall presents here is that it features so many elements. Varstrius himself, Dev, the Golem, a homunculus, and some mercenaries. PCs will have a hard time figuring out who and what is going on there in the heat of battle - which I like. Many elements to an encounter also mean more opportunity for the key characters to do something fun in combat.

...though as a GM it will come in handy to prepare crib sheets for the encounter - as there's quite a lot of stats to keep track of...

The Exchange

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

I love the flavour of this, especially the hurling of items in 9.A

Mechanically, possibly somewhat loose as noted above. However, I think its easier to beat that into someone than it is creativity, so I'm sticking this on the list for now.

I could run this as a GM as-is and make a fun session out of it.

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

Jerall, like Cody you ran with what would have been my other idea had I moved on, a Dollhouse. Varstrius is definitely a creepy dude and you can have a lot of fun with him. I like the use of the golem, very Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Maybe you saw the recent Fringe episode "Marionette" as well? Maybe not in South Africa?

I like how useful the GMG NPC Gallery is for adding minions. I thought about dropping in Slavers as Varstrius' henchmen and using the Torturer as his daughter Sarrisia. Having Dev as arcane support is very astute of you. A good encounter has to be able to dish out as much as PCs can. Often encounters don't include enough magical support, perhaps because spellcasters are complicated to run. However as in many of the other entries the foes don't match up to the tiers very well. Your map has ample room, but it'd be easy for a group of 10th level PCs to divide and conquer your soldiers with various wall spells, web, etc. I really like the details you described in the manor house, it brings out some personality in the location.

--Vrock the Vote

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6, Contributor , Dedicated Voter 2013

This is a decent enough encounter area, and does a good job expanding on the villain in the first round. Perhaps a bit too much, since he didn't really need another major minion. I'm wondering if your theory in including Dev is that the daughter's off delivering bodies?

I feel like I should like this entry more, but right now the writing's bringing it down for me. Your descriptions are evocative and detailed, but still fail to bring out the "this is HAPPENING!" zing I look for in a published product.

Good use of foes that are more than just generic, overused monsters.


I think this could work. The PC's start exploring a house. It looks fairly mundane. Stairs. A basement. A tea room. Cells with prisoners. Dead bodies. A homunculus with a battle mage creating a flesh golem. Wait...backup.

I like that you took a creepy villain and exploited his creepiness. The more sinister rooms could have some very cool artwork to go with it.

I agree with some of the other comments in that I'm confused why all the new characters. I think you need Dev or Polald, not both. Whoever you keep can have a homunculus. I also like how Varstrius' daughter is not around. Maybe she thinks her dad is just into collecting little people who look like his sister. Maybe she has no idea that he's creating a flesh golem. She could either be an willing accomplice or blissfully unaware of his darker plans (though kidnapping is pretty dark in itself).

Mark said "I'm worried there's just too much going on. A GM running 6 creatures (of 5 different types) is going to pull his hair out." I think a good GM could handle it.

Overall, I think you will be getting one of my votes. Nice work.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2013

FWIW, I believe the link in the voting booth for this entry is broken.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

To me, Varstrius isn't the villain in this encounter, The flesh golem creating wizard is.

Killing the halflings/gnomes for golem parts is actually LESS creepy than making them into living dolls as in the original villain writeup.

Liberty's Edge

"The mass of dead meat begins to move, pulling itself upright, accompanied by the sickening sound of damp flesh peeling off from the cold metal."

You had me right there.

All you had to do was hang on until the end and the "sickening sound of damp flesh peeling off of of cold metal" was going to see you through.

As it turns out, you never looked back.

Point of order: this is a rather boring map. It doesn't do it for me. Worse, you place a secret door at a place where there is plainly and obviously a room behind it. It's very old skool map design, but I always hated those types of secret doors. There's nothing "secret" about them.

I can't say as the villain you chose was particularly engaging to me -- although I appreciate that to others, his motivations are very interesting. Tim Hitchcock would love this premise. Me? I'm more of a greed/lust/power/revenge kinda guy.

What you did have in your location was probably the best combat encounter of all 8 entries. There's a whole lot of FUN going on in this fight and a lot of GMs would love to run this one.

You can have backstory, a cool map and pathos and motivation oozing off the page. But if the adventurers aren't rolling the bones and having fun while they do it? The adventure is still going to be crap.

You didn't forget that all-important aspect of encounter design. You did the Rock 'em, Sock 'em part of this gig better than any other entry. You'd have got my vote for that alone.

Add sickening sounds of "damp flesh peeling off of cold metal"? You get that vote with a smile :)


I think you did a good job with the villian you chose. However, I didn't like the villian in the last round, and even though you've greatly improved it with the golem making approach I'm still not a fan of this villian.

I like your imagery of the location. The moving "dead meat" description was great.

It seems as if the villians may be a little weak for the stated encounter CRs. Even though the golem is immune to magic and can be healed by Dev's lightning bolts, the bad guys may get defeated very quickly in this encounter.

Sczarni

james knowles wrote:
"To me, Varstrius isn't the villain in this encounter, The flesh golem creating wizard is."

IDK, I could find plenty of reason to want to kill the creator, the employer, and the creation. Hell, I think I just want to torch the whole house and be done with it! Great feel, I like your writing, though you started with a strongly creepy guy, which helped you out a lot. Good show, though I'll have to finish reading before I give this one a vote.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Jatori

Thank you, everybody, for your comments and critiques. I can't respond to any of them of yet, but I'll be sure to address as many of them as possible once voting is closed.

Again, thanks for the support and please vote for my location and encounter.

Sczarni

Steel_Wind wrote:
"Worse, you place a secret door at a place where there is plainly and obviously a room behind it."

I'm pretty sure you're reading that one backwards. The secret door seems to be intended to prevent discovery by someone going down to the cellar for a nice merlot, and finding way more than they bargained for. Just a guess ;)


Pros:

1) You took a villain I didn't like and made him more interesting. Tea parties and a flesh golem. Cool.

2) Nice twist that Sulliana didn't want to come back.

Cons:

1) This is a strange design for a house. Areas 8.1 and 8.2 don't make sense. I can't think of any time I've seen the only access to a 20x20 room as being through a 10x10 room. The closet is usually the smaller room. Also, the hallway design around area 5 doesn't make any logical sense. Worst of all, the huge opening to the sewers means that not just this level, but possibly the entire house will smell very badly.

2) Oops. The wizard wasn't high enough level to create the golem. Varstrius is, but who is the one casting Limited Wish (7th level spell)?

3) Flesh golems are large size. Applying the young template would make it medium. I don't think the end result will look like Sulliana (a small sized human) enough to appease Varstrius. However, I'm not going to fault you too much for that, since I never liked the fact that the rules mandate a specific size for golems. I can at least appreciate the idea, even if the rules don't allow for fully realizing the idea.

I voted for you last round, but I'm on the fence with this submission. Unfortunately, I'm leaning toward "no vote".


As a GM, this entry grabs me in the way that I love to be grabbed. By my mind. (shame on you you dirty minded people). I can see so many places for the story to go as I run this with a group of sufficiently evil-minded players...

The whole entry just warps my fragile mind. Can you imagine such a place of fear, the smell of death and decay, the sound of madness in singing, the very air caressing your sanity like rasping rusted barbed wire in your brain, the desperation of all that is down there...

And I can totally see how this journey into insanity happened... killing her in front of him unhinged his mind, he wanted his sister back. Angry and bitter at his father for taking her away. Her not wanting to come back only fed his unhinged tendencies. (Cue start of evil muttering and laughter). Depraved insanity beckons, and he responds by building her. Is now happy to have her there. Drinks tea with her. Calls her pet names. Tries to teach her to sing lullabies. Has her watch over him as he sleeps. Gets dressmakers to make her dresses, kills them afterwards because no one else is allowed that close to her and live. Actually dresses her every day. Buys her trinkets. Tries to dance with her. Gets irritated when he suddenly feels something just isn't RIGHT about a part, searches, kills someone new, replaces part. Writes in his journal that he is considering fusing his own body with hers so they can always be together.

Damn. Freaky. Ok. I'll stop with the random thoughts now, I guess I should be getting back to work anyway...

You SO have my vote! Crusade forward, oh African writer!

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Quote:
2) Oops. The wizard wasn't high enough level to create the golem.

This doesn't necessarily make a problem, just a matter of odds:

Casting spell from scroll, Core, p490 wrote:



  • The spell must be of the correct type (arcane or divine). Arcane spellcasters (wizards, sorcerers, and bards) can only use scrolls containing arcane spells, and divine spellcasters (clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers) can only use scrolls containing divine spells. (The type of scroll a character creates is also determined by his class.)
  • The user must have the spell on her class list.
  • The user must have the requisite ability score.

If the user meets all the requirements noted above, and her caster level is at least equal to the spell’s caster level, she can automatically activate the spell without a check. If she meets all three requirements but her own caster level is lower than the scroll spell’s caster level, then she has to make a caster level check (DC = scroll’s caster level + 1) to cast the spell successfully. If she fails, she must make a DC 5 Wisdom check to avoid a mishap (see Scroll Mishaps). A natural roll of 1 always fails, whatever the modifiers. Activating a scroll is a standard action (or the spell’s casting time, whichever is longer) and it provokes attacks of opportunity exactly as casting a spell does.

So, clearly it is *possible* even for a level 1 wizard to cast the spells necessary. Not necessarily very likely...

...

To be honest though, I can think of a number of ways that this could have happened. The most obvious is that the flesh golem was already created previously but inert and on very low hp (part of a only partially successful creation process) - the lightning created by Dev only was used to heal the golem (and in that sense awaken it).


+1 for upping creepy villian factor.


Great submission, Jerral. This location provides a variety of mixed encounters for a party, although i do agree that the fireball/cloudkill mentioned can be a bit of an insta victory for the pc's.

You have my vote though at the creepy reanimation of an abomination he now wants to replace his sister's memory with.

The quick link from the voting booth is also still not working.


Jerall Toi wrote:

The Old Cassomir Dollhouse

==========
Hours after his father's death, Varstrius petitioned Cassomir's churches to resurrect his dead sister. As the only heir to his father's fortune, he could afford the expensive ritual and necessary components. Sadly, he never considered that Sulliana's soul would not want to return to him. Angry and bitter, Varstrius now seeks to bring Sulliana back through other means.

Varstrius’ family home is a large, three-storied manor located within the Old Cassomir district. Varstrius has recently repurposed the basement level of the old house, connecting it with the maze of sewers, tunnels, and forgotten vaults found beneath Cassomir. He now uses those wide tunnels as a base of operations for the slavery operation which has grown up around him, and his obsession with his deceased sister.

Varstrius has eleven mercenaries in his employ, but at any given time, 1d4 of them are not present in the basement. Treat the mercenaries as Turnkeys (GameMastery Guide 271) for tier 7-8 and as Sellswords (GameMastery Guide 283) for tier 10-11. In addition, there are currently 1d4 halfling or gnome prisoners held in the basement.

If a lone mercenary encounters the PCs, he will attempt to flee and alert the rest of the basement to their presence. If multiple mercenaries encounter the PCs at once, one will attempt to flee and alert the rest of the basement, while the remainder will engage the PCs in combat.

Unless otherwise noted, the walls of the basement are superior masonry walls and the doors are good wooden doors. Normally, only the cell doors (area 2) and the door to the tea room (area 5) are locked...

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 positioned in a relatively decent sized city (by Golarion standards) so it ought to be possible to get groceries delivered. Whether or not the current owner would actually want people turning up on his doorstep on a regular basis is another matter altogether though... Grocer's delivery boys or girls are apt to be curious and to gossip about odd smells and sounds emanating from the basement.

What preparations should a succubus planning to make a social call consider?
The current owner of the manor is indicated to be well-off, so a trip might be tempting, but he has brutal thugs at hand to assist in subduing guests and since he's apparently moved out of the originally posited 'abduct small folk and dress them up' mode into 'hack people to bits to build a golem' mode, there's a danger that he might find anything female an attractive source of new material for his latest project. He may be happy with 'build Sulliana as a girl from bits of halflings and gnomes' right now, but it's just a matter of time before he decides to build other versions of her, as a young woman, perhaps...
Whilst a succubus' inherent resistance to being poisoned will at least obviate any attempts to slip her a sleeping draught, I'd still recommend she have something such as a ring of spell-storing loaded with a grease charm to hand in case dimensional travel to escape a grapple attempt proves impossible. Also a bag of holding loaded with vials of alchemist's fire could prove handy in case it comes to an unpleasant stand-off where threatening the integrity of the golem is the best negotiating option.

Assuming a succubus comes into possession of the estate or property in question, how much landscaping/redecoration work needs to be done?
Whilst the description doesn't concern itself with details of the manor (which would be of greater interest to me here) it does indicate that there is a golem manufacturing laboratory in the basement, and those things are always a mess. Worse still, laboratories used for creating flesh golems *stink*. The basement is going to clearly need disinfecting (and possibly being given a 'once over' by a friendly fire-elemental) and the sewer access walled off (preferably in an airtight manner) - although at least the cells might prove handy for a succubus who needs somewhere to store obnoxious types whom she's too busy to immediately give her full attention.

Other comments?
I believe I recommended in the previous round tipping off someone as to the activities of this villain, simply because it's bound to inconvenience a cleric of Asmodeus somewhere along the line.
Whilst the development of the insanity into a full-blown flesh golem building obsession is noted, it doesn't lend to Varstrius' social charms from my perspective and I'd still be inclined to recommend putting selling him out (and perhaps monopolising the manor as part of the bargain) on a succubus' 'to do' list.

Property Value:
Difficult to assess given that only the basement is described, but location and cell facilities at least indicate a certain potential.

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.


Good job :)

This got my vote

Game on,
Paul

Scarab Sages

Jerall Toi wrote:


3. Sewer Entrance (CR 5 or 9): There are always two mercenaries guarding this area. Varstrius increased the guard presence here, after his men encountered a roving band of strange, blue-skinned humanoids in the tunnels. Several halfling and gnome bodies have been temporarily discarded a short distance down this tunnel. A DC 15 Heal check reveals that these corpses have had parts surgically removed.

I'm surprised that no one else commented on this particular bit. Who, exactly, is this "roving band of strange, blue-skinned humanoids"?

My guess is that this is a reference to the Derro, and could possibly lead to further encounters with either of the villains from last round. If so, bravo! This sort of design, which hints at a larger world outside of the adventure, reinforces the reality of the game, and should be rewarded.


Ryan Dancey wrote:

His daughter? She doesn't appear in the description of the encounter despite her bizarre participation in her father's obsession. Dev? Suddenly we have a brand new (low level) NPC with no backstory other than he's apparently been ordered by his master to participate in multiple homicides and the creation of a golem (which he can't mechanically actually do) for an insane man and his willing daughter minion - he doesn't see anything wrong with this? Why is his master not present at the ultimate moment of the Golem creation?

Well I'm obviously dense because I still don't get it.

Obviously......

Despite the large number of responses to your incorrect references last round you bull forward, taking with you the same assumptions that seem to have made your decision for you. He adds some people, sends his daughter on a mission (Which the writer of the villain mentioned was her part in this) that is completely understandable but you just down it again.

I understand that there are the experienced and inexperienced people in the ins and outs of the RPG business and I'm definitely NOT one of the experienced people. I'm just saying that a large number of your responses seem to be decisions based on a first glance and then justification of that first glance and seeing as how there's zero chance of you reading this I doubt that any this matters to you.

Sorry for the rant, but he had so many replies to his inaccuracies last time it frustrates me that he couldn't go back and read ANY of them. Now he carries with him the baggage from last round and can't make an unbiased review of any encounter with this villain. It is quite good and you have my vote sir.

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

Jerall, I admit that I wasn't a big fan of Varstrius last round - not that he wasn't creepy or villainous, but that I felt he was too limited to use for anything other than his "kidnap the halflings and gnome into a creepy recreation of his sister" thing. Sure enough, that's what we're getting here, with the predictable manor house secret prison area for his dolls. While you did a pretty good job with this, I'm not sure it allowed you to show more creativity in this round than other villain choices would have.

I think you did a great job using the GMG NPCs to flesh out your location and encounter without using a lot of words, and also did a good job briefly describing all of the rooms of the lair. One thing that was really weird to me though was the order you presented 8.1 and 8.2. In 8.1, you talk about an apprentice to Polald, but we haven't ever seen the name Polald before. Even if you don't mention him earlier in the general location information, you should at least present him first, before mentioning his apprentice, by simply changing the room numbers around.

I also didn't really get the throwaway references to the blue humanoids(which we are left to assume are derro, but could be mites, xvarts, or even psionic goblin blues), or the blue bellflower on the dead halfling's shrit. Yes they could be references to other stuff in the larger adventure, but another line on each could have made that more clear. As it is, they're just there with no real reason. I'd have much preferred to have had some derro allies (maybe taking the slaves that Varstrius didn't feel looked like his sister enough and providing some minions in exchange) and a reference to the blue bellflower (why blue by the way, we already have blue humanoids, and the double blue reference seems to indicate some pattern here, but I can't tell what it is) indicating that this is the kidnap victim the PCs were specifically looking for or something.

As for the encounter itself, you do have a good mix of foes, but some fall victim to the same pitfalls that most have this round of not really having them match up well with the level tiers - using a lower set of tiers would have worked better or fewer and tougher foes. Also, I'm not really sure what the trap does on the slab. How or why would it get triggered? Most PCs won't say "hmm, I'm going to go stand on the slab that golem was animated on during the fight, I sense an advantage there", and nothing in the tactical layout of the room really indicates the PCs would be likely to trigger it. All I can think of is that the golem itself could be ordered to trigger it to get some more electrical healing, but that's never indicated in the tactics anywhere.

So, overall, while you did a good job with the only logical way to use Varstrius, and you provided some good and creepy expansion on him with the tea room and the twisted little sister golem, I felt that you didn't bring enough extra to the table this round to overcome the problems with the entry.

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

Well, the CR and the tier are explicitly not equal. So a level 7 or 8 party is going to get to fight Dev, Varstrius, the golem and the minions, which seems appropriate. Tough, but appropriate for a grand finale.

I didn't much like this villain the first time around, and I got to say that I feel a bit more sold. Recreating a golem sister because she didn't actually want to come back? Yes please! The teasing reference to derro and the clever use of the GMG for supplemental villains were smart and fun.

It's not perfect; Dev creating the thing right now seems rather unnecessary, not to mention implausible. As has been mentioned, the syntax is occasionally repetitive. But this is the first encounter I've read that I want to run. Hell, I really want to run this. You've got my vote.

Scarab Sages

Joel Flank wrote:


I also didn't really get the throwaway references to the blue humanoids(which we are left to assume are derro, but could be mites, xvarts, or even psionic goblin blues), or the blue bellflower on the dead halfling's shrit. Yes they could be references to other stuff in the larger adventure, but another line on each could have made that more clear. As it is, they're just there with no real reason. I'd have much preferred to have had some derro allies (maybe taking the slaves that Varstrius didn't feel looked like his sister enough and providing some minions in exchange) and a reference to the blue bellflower (why blue by the way, we already have blue humanoids, and the double blue reference seems to indicate some pattern here, but I can't tell what it is) indicating that this is the kidnap victim the PCs were specifically looking for or something.

Although the blue humanoids could be any of those things, skulking in tunnels beneath a major city perfectly fits the modus operandi of the Derro (see Classic Horrors Revisited for Golarion's Derro). I'd be inclined to believe it was them, although as a GM I could use this sort of open-ended hint to spin it in any direction I liked. As far as the blue bellflower, that's a bit of Golarion-specific lore, namely the Bellflower Network.

As

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Joel Flank wrote:
Also, I'm not really sure what the trap does on the slab. How or why would it get triggered? Most PCs won't say "hmm, I'm going to go stand on the slab that golem was animated on during the fight, I sense an advantage there", and nothing in the tactical layout of the room really indicates the PCs would be likely to trigger it. All I can think of is that the golem itself could be ordered to trigger it to get some more electrical healing, but that's never indicated in the tactics anywhere.

I like to think of the slab as an incidental flourish in the encounter. It adds to the immersion of the area as a little detail that should be there in the first place. Other than that... I guess tactical options can be exploited. The golem *should* ideally fight on the trap; and other combatants could try bullrushing PCs onto the trap.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Tales Subscriber

Hmm,

while this is a challenging encounter at CR7 it surely isn't at CR11, but we have that in many entries.

Including the Golem was a smart move and your backstory is fine as well.

But you botched (in my opinion) on the execution. The map is on the boring side, the mechanics are wonky, the (supposed) main villain is not really presented in an interesting way.

Finally the encounter itself is complicated but not very innovative. We have a room full of villains - thats basically it.


I enjoyed it. :) I kinda agree with Roshan's rant, too.

Good luck!

--DP

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

weirmonken wrote:

Although the blue humanoids could be any of those things, skulking in tunnels beneath a major city perfectly fits the modus operandi of the Derro (see Classic Horrors Revisited for Golarion's Derro). I'd be inclined to believe it was them, although as a GM I could use this sort of open-ended hint to spin it in any direction I liked. As far as the blue bellflower, that's a bit of Golarion-specific lore, namely the Bellflower Network.

I know that they are most likely Derro, but this is a location for GM use - tell us what's going on, don't make us guess. Unless the larger adventure doesn't develop that bit at all, I would expect a bit more on why that's there. Are they the Derro that the PCs are going to encounter later on, in encounter G4, for example?

Thanks for the tip on the Bellflower network - I haven't read the faction guide yet, so it didn't even sound familiar. Even then though, it's still a throwaway reference unless the PCs are hired to find the missing agent, etc.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Joel Flank wrote:
Thanks for the tip on the Bellflower network - I haven't read the faction guide yet, so it didn't even sound familiar. Even then though, it's still a throwaway reference unless the PCs are hired to find the missing agent, etc.

Honestly, I appreciate these kind of things in write-ups. It's the little details that give life and flavor to a setting and make it believable. Hard facts (2 guards at A, pittrap at B and C, etc) are there anyway.

Star Voter 2013

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Roshan wrote:
Ryan Dancey wrote:

His daughter? She doesn't appear in the description of the encounter despite her bizarre participation in her father's obsession. Dev? Suddenly we have a brand new (low level) NPC with no backstory other than he's apparently been ordered by his master to participate in multiple homicides and the creation of a golem (which he can't mechanically actually do) for an insane man and his willing daughter minion - he doesn't see anything wrong with this? Why is his master not present at the ultimate moment of the Golem creation?

Well I'm obviously dense because I still don't get it.

Obviously......

Despite the large number of responses to your incorrect references last round you bull forward, taking with you the same assumptions that seem to have made your decision for you. He adds some people, sends his daughter on a mission (Which the writer of the villain mentioned was her part in this) that is completely understandable but you just down it again.

I understand that there are the experienced and inexperienced people in the ins and outs of the RPG business and I'm definitely NOT one of the experienced people. I'm just saying that a large number of your responses seem to be decisions based on a first glance and then justification of that first glance and seeing as how there's zero chance of you reading this I doubt that any this matters to you.

Sorry for the rant, but he had so many replies to his inaccuracies last time it frustrates me that he couldn't go back and read ANY of them. Now he carries with him the baggage from last round and can't make an unbiased review of any encounter with this villain. It is quite good and you have my vote sir.

I actually agree with Ryan this round, almost entirely. Here we have the addition of 2 new NPCs, neither of which gets a decent description, and a ton of nameless compliant minions to bloody dismemberment and mutilation. In addition, the 2nd NPC that was orriginally referenced in the original writeup is mysteriously not here, with no mention of her absense. She doesn't even have a room.

These encounters would be a decent challenge for a party 1 tier lower, but once you see 4th level spells and the ability to spam 3rd level, the lower CR enemies in this encounter are a cakewalk. A CR5, 6, and 7 will not stand up to lvl 7 PCs without some advantage, and the PCs control the choke point by controlling the doorway. The description of the room is good, but if I saw this encounter as a GM I would cry, and then add at least 2+ HD onto everything in the room. The high CR monster in the room is the level mooks should be for the party.

And if you look at Ryan's post to Artus, the orriginal author of the this villian, you will see he does appologize for his comments last round. Personally I find Ryan's comments this round to be very useful and insightful, even if I don't agree with all of them.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Ryan Dancey wrote:


I'm having a hard time seeing this as a CR 10 to 13 encounter. Isn't the party just going to stand outside the door and cloudkill/fireball/lightning bolt this room into dust then mop up the golem?

I'm going to guess it might have something to do with the fact that...

Quote:


In addition, there are currently 1d4 halfling or gnome prisoners held in the basement.

But hey, when you unload like that, then I get to do all kinds of terrible revenge stories later on with angry relatives who don't like the fact that you returned a ziploc bag full of dust instead of their loved one.

So please, yes, carry on with those tactics. They make my GM's heart clap with childlike glee.

CEO, Goblinworks

terraleon wrote:

I'm going to guess it might have something to do with the fact that...

Quote:


In addition, there are currently 1d4 halfling or gnome prisoners held in the basement.

If they weren't all kept in area 2 that might be relevant.


Caineach wrote:
I actually agree with Ryan this round, almost entirely. Here we have the addition of 2 new NPCs, neither of which gets a decent description, and a ton of nameless compliant minions to bloody dismemberment and mutilation. In addition, the 2nd NPC that was originally referenced in the original writeup is mysteriously not here, with no mention of her absence. She doesn't even have a room.

I can see there are fine points made by Ryan as well but honestly it seems like his criticism has an edge to it, it may be just me but I just get this weird feeling when I'm reading his replies, really though, you guys are mad at him for adding new npc's and not fulfilling their stories? Did you by chance happen upon the rules for this round?

Describe a new Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and a two-tiered Encounter for that location, all in 1,500 words or less. This location may be as large as a forest or undiscovered island, or as small as an old fort or section of a dungeon.

Where in there does it say he needs to write a backstory for everyone he throws in?

While there are a number of things that could have been done differently, there are places where this entry shines and it feels like the people criticizing this entry are focusing on the wrong things. When he mentions the little details like how the master always has to keep an eye on Dev, that he keeps his homunculus watching him. The small things like that speak of a much bigger story limited by the constraints of the contest.

Caineach wrote:
And if you look at Ryan's post to Artus, the original author of the this villain, you will see he does apologize for his comments last round. Personally I find Ryan's comments this round to be very useful and insightful, even if I don't agree with all of them.

Sorry, I didn't notice Ryan's reply to the author, might have been the fact that it was posted the day after the winners were announced for that round. I'm just soured on him, I don't like how he nitpicks about things with some people and then glosses over the same points with others.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013

Your map is decent, clear and easy to read, though my initial impression led me to believe that the stair lead to the basement, rather than up to the rest of the manor. A clearer title would have helped prevent this.

Parts of this entry seemed needless or sloppy to me and I'm not quite sure why (the organization of ideas perhaps?). Since I can't see any reason I feel this way I can't really fault you for it, maybe I have indigestion or something. What is the point of finding the little blue flower?

This villain really provided the opportunity to create a great horror location, and while you sort of hinted at it, making the primary foes human mercenaries seems to kill the creepy. I like the "young" flesh golem you've used for the lost sister, it sells nicely.

I'm on the fence about this location, your body of work may factor into my voting decision here.
Best of luck!


Good job on this round, SEVERAL of your previous rounds didn`t click with me, especially the Class Archetype, but this really feels solid, both on flavor and more crunchy encounter staging levels. I feel pretty comfortable saying you aren`t a Class Mechanic author, but I feel like your writing here shows you can be a very successful adventure author (which is what the end-game prize is in the end), so I you definitely have a strong chance to get my vote this round... Good Job!

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015 aka Boxhead

Does the villain match the location/encounter/minions

Ok, Varstrius the doll-maker in a doll-laden manor. Cool, no mismatch here. He has escape routes, manservants and some wizards building a golem for him? Ok, I'll buy that. A middle-age urban ranger 8 hired a golem-maker? Maybe, but I think it would have been better to have just the "apprentice" and a golem manual.

Is the location cool?

Frankenstein's lab in the basement of a noble's manor? Cool. Terrified small folk chained to the walls? Cool. Creepy doll tea party? Cool. I like it.

Is the encounter fun/interesting?

Mad scientist lever throw, random alchemical stuff, a spellcaster teamed with the golem and ranger. I think it works. I kind of wish that you had Dev panic and animate the golem in the first round (by whatever fiat needed to be used) rather than have the "coincidental" read-aloud text. But I think it all works.

Anything else?

I didn't like Varstrius, but this does fit him. I think the map was fine, though some of the straight lines look a little wobbly. This probably gets a vote.


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

I like this, very creepy. The map is really weak but the rest of the entry is fun and strong.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka motteditor

I'm torn on this. I don't think you really swung for the fences -- you took a good villain and put him in the obvious location for him. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm not sure how much of what I like about this encounter is based on Artus' creation (in which case I feel like I should be giving *him* my vote) and how much is based on your use of the character.

I did like the addition to Sulliana's story and the decision to make the flesh golem -- when there were many ways you could incorporate the creep factor from the original villain writeup -- worked really well.

On the other hand, I don't really see him having so many random mercenaries working for him. The mage I have no problem with, as that makes sense, but isn't he supposed to be doing the "collecting" himself? Who are these mercenaries that they're OK getting paid for grabbing gnomes and halflings for Varstrius' sick fetish. That seems like it'd be pushing things too far even for some amoral slaver.

I did like the grenade items as a fun addition to the encounter, one that I could see making my players take a round (or two, if needed) to deal with the homonculous instead of the more standard threats. I also liked the bellflower hook (once I looked up what it was), which was a nice touch.

This is still in contention for one of my last two votes, but I'm just not sure how much weight to give to the villain vs. the full encounter/location.

CEO, Goblinworks

Roshan wrote:
I don't like how he nitpicks

Roshan if you think my objections to this entry are because an NPC doesn't have a backstory, you missed the bulk of my critique.

1: The encounter is too easy. An experienced band of adventurers of the correct APL for this CR will take the final conflict apart in just a few rounds with little risk.

2: The whole setup isn't rational, because any number of people involved might rat out the homicidal doll maker. There's no reason or explanation for why they don't do so. There's no reason why the location of the abducted victims couldn't be ascertained with divination magic.

3: A critical part of the villain's backstory, his daughter, is missing entirely from this encounter - with zero explanation. But other, new NPCs are added so this isn't a space limitation. Maybe the daughter could be the spellcaster responsible for the golem, killing two birds with one stone.

4: The NPC involved in the animation of the golem cannot mechanically do that in Pathfinder. The NPC who could is off-stage, has no stats, and can only be inferred rather than challenged despite his obvious importance to the scene.

These four things would get this submission bounced back to the freelancer if it was the turnover for a paid project.

It's a mundane house, with a mundane basement, connected to mundane sewers, where a raving lunatic and a bunch of people who should know better are engaged in committing serial murder. I just don't think it's Superstar.

YMMV.

RyanD

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Ryan,

First, thank you for your time and efforts in this year's Superstar competition. You've been frank and honest in your criticisms, and it's shown me a lot about what someone in your position might want to see from a free-lancer.

I disagree with the particulars of your problems here, but I see a bigger problem, a gap that seems endemic to this year's entries.

What Jerral has given us here is a scene from an adventure. You're right when you say that he doesn't explain about Varstrius' daughter, but that doesn't bother me. If a veteran actor were called upon to play a favorite scene from Shakespeare, and chose Macbeth's soliloquy from Act V, he could start with a recap of the story so far, and how Macbeth is bemoaning fate rather than taking responsibility at the last, ... but he could also just start "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..." A good actor, when asked for a scene, a sliver of a greater work, can give a good one, without the background.

In this entry, maybe the heroes have already found the daughter, rescued her slaves, and have traced her back to this house. Or maybe the daughter doesn't show up till Act IV, with her mother (!) quick to follow. We don't know. If Artus' chose to describe Macbeth (instead of Varstrius) in Round 3, he would probably have included Lady Macbeth and probably Banquo. Then, if Jerral had given us the soliloquy, you might as well ask "What happened to those characters, and who's this MacDuff in the wings?" It's just a scene, a slice of a greater adventure.

But what I think Jerral doesn't do -- what I don't think many people have done at all this year -- is provide that context of where this encounter fits with the rest of the adventure.

Remember how Rob McCreary framed his encounter, in the 2008 competition:

Quote:
With the Cerulean Sisterhood hot on their trail, the PCs’ next step is to get the fugitive sorceress Praneeta out of Jhansi. If the PCs met Madame Kumuda at the House of Forty-Seven Doors, they should now have enough information to find the elven village of Sundagar, hidden in the jungles east of Jhansi. ... There the PCs can seek out an agent for the Order of the Resplendent Serpent who will help them cross the Erm Hyar (thereby avoiding the Ossuary Barrens and the Crimson Legion) and take Praneeta to an Order safehouse in Almudin.

That just puts his encounter, "Monkey Goblins Attack!" into context. We know it's an important fight, but it's "falling action" and neither the crux of the adventure nor the big final battle.

It would have been nice if Jerral had launched this proposal with some context, but that's something that a lot of entrants could have done.

CEO, Goblinworks

Chris,

I agree with your assessment of the connective tissue that's missing but the absence of the daughter is the 3rd point I listed.

Almost without exception (there are a few) the lairs this year are underpowered for the CRs. As I suggested in the Judges Chambers, next year Paizo should consider providing a template Party for the designers to use as a yardstick.

When I was responsible for Living City, the biggest problem I had with the scenarios being produced by the volunteers was that they consistently underestimated the player characters. I suspect that part of the problem is that they just don't play in games with those power levels.

3.x can be broken into 4 segments:

APL 1-5: The characters are rookies. Everything scares them (and it should). A few bad rolls of the dice and the characters can easily be killed. On the other hand, victories are sweet - the players feel like they EARN every XP and gold piece.

{Frankly I think this is where many players and GMs wish the game ceased development as it is the most fun many of them have while playing}

APL 6-10: The characters are swashbucklers. They've taken enough hits and setbacks to know they can recover. It takes more than few bad rolls to knock one down and even when the worst happens it's usually only temporary. They've got the gear and the abilities to handle a wide range of adventures.

{Up to level 10, most games are still "within the box" of classic "module" design. You have to pay attention to more things like flight and divination, but in general its still the party, kicking down doors, whacking monsters, taking their stuff and powering up.}

APL 11-15: The characters are superheroes. At these levels they're virtually unkillable outside of ad hoc GM fiat or extremely bad planning. Its almost impossible to design generic content for these levels; threats and challenges need to be customized to the characters or you get huge disconnects on saves, DCs and ACs.

{A lot of late-stage Living City characters had settled in at this range and we found writing suitable challenges extremely difficult. Eventually we just decided that if players had made bad choices when reaching these levels they were going to have to pay in the form of not being able to keep up with their better-planned companions.}

APL 16-20: The characters are demi-gods. They walk the planes. They deal with world-shaking events. They are known by and to the gods themselves. They can go anywhere, learn anything, kill anything, and survive any challenge.

{Adventures at this level are usually incredibly boring due to the immense amount of time it takes to resolve even a simple combat encounter. The game systems start to break down to a significant degree - the d20 roll is often the smallest component of a player-generated random number.}

A lot of this year's lairs are CR 1-5 "Rookie" encounters, but they're tiered for CR 6-10 "Swashbucklers". The stuff Swashbucklers routinely do (fly, teleport, use divination, turn invisible, summon aid, etc.) just break a number of this year's submissions. That shows me they weren't playtested, or if they were, the playtesters either pulled punches or went along with the designer's "intent" on how the encounter was "supposed" to be played.

RyanD

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