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Return to Nihility


Round 5 - Top 4: Submit a full adventure proposal

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 aka Scipion del Ferro

Return To Nihility
With The Longest Day, Comes The Blackest Hearts

Introduction:
Over five millennia ago an entire city was torn from the Material Plane. Lost within the stagnant void of a demiplane the people have degenerated into a caste of ruling morlocks and servile mongrelmen. The morlock prince, Tiepolo the 50th, considers himself to be the greatest son of his family’s long lineage; on the night of his ascension, he slew his sire. While covered in the old king’s blood he traveled into the dark heart of the city. Deep within the Aeromantic Infandibulum he tore free the staff of rightful rule. He returned with staff in hand, declaring himself king, and beginning a chain of events that would bring two worlds into collision.

Return to Nihility is an urban adventure for four 4th-level characters. By the end of the module, characters will be 5th-level. This adventure includes details on the Shory city of Venlor and its locales; ranging from slums known as The Dregs, to the tops of the four huge towers that loom over the city. As the PCs explore the city they will uncover a plot of war and subjugation. To free the mongrelmen, protect their town, and send the city from whence it came they will have to confront the cruel morlock, Lord Kracht, earn the alliance of the mad wizard, Gek, and finally put an end to the once-noble brood of King Tiepolo.

Adventure Background:
During the Age of Destiny, the great civilization of Shory flew through the sky. Their flying islands held great cities and would travel the far reaches of the Inner Sea. The Shory were masters of powerful arcane magic known as the Aeromantic Infandibulum. Inside each of the cities thrived a population of servants and nobility, of students and masters. Arcane constructs provided for every need of the city, but over time, each of these magnificent flying cities fell. Some were plundered by thieves, others became lost, even forgotten.

One of the earliest cities to fall was Venlor, ruled by King Tiepolo. The magic of the Aeromantic Infandibulum had begun to lessen and the island drifted closer to the ground each day. Their descent was slow and would not be violent, but Tiepolo feared what would become of the city when it was stationary. Its walls were not designed to withstand the rigors of siege, nor did the city have a proper army to defend itself. Each day the ground loomed nearer and the greatest minds of the Academy Aeromantic struggled for a solution. All ideas having failed, the wizards convinced Tiepolo to let them shift the entire city to the Elemental Plane of Air. There they would have ample time to repair the Infandibulum. Every mage in the city, save the lowest pupils, aided in the ritual within the center of the city. When the island was torn from the Material Plane the arcane power fueling the Aeromantic Infandibulum lashed out, filling the city with wind and lightning. As the city settled, the populous found themselves in a realm of utter blackness.

Nearly all of the city’s wizards were slain by the failed ritual, and the King decreed that none may enter the Infandibulum. Tiepolo feared that tampering with the great arcane machinery might return them to the Material Plane were the city would surely be doomed. As an already self-sustaining culture, he was not concerned with their current location, only that they were safe. The nobility and royal family grew secluded, keeping themselves locked within their tower. They painted landscapes on the windows and pretended a normal world existed outside. Decades passed and the wizards could never convince the king or any of his descendants to make any changes.

Adventure Outline:
Part 1: A City Arrives

This adventure takes place outside of any small town that is currently celebrating the Sunwrought Festival. At the height of the summer solstice a great thunderclap rumbles across the land, a massive black rift tears the sky and from it emerges the thousand foot wide island of Venlor. Over the span of an hour it lands ten miles outside of the city, crushing everything underneath. The rift above stays open and black forms fall from it. As the PCs observe this event, a pair of the falling objects crashes into a house near them. Emerging from the wreckage are two creatures known as ne’ers. These beings move about destroying everything they touch until they are stopped by the PCs.

Ne’er

Spoiler:
Ne’ers are denizens of the demiplane the city of Velnor was cast to. They were created from the clash of raw astral material and the magical essence of the Infandibulum. They appear to be humanoid, but are solid black and absorb all light cast on them. To a lesser extent they are similar to a sentient sphere of annihilation, able to effortlessly destroy mundane objects. They are treated as having a +20 Strength modifier to break non-attended objects or material, and anything broken by them is disintegrated. When struck by a weapon they may make a sunder combat maneuver as a free action and are treated as having the Improved Sunder feat. Ne’er are not malicious and merely wish to explore existence, unaware of the effects their interactions may have on the world. They cannot hear or speak, but can communicate with each other in their bizarre sign language.

After witnessing their bravery in the face of such strange creatures, the mayor of the town pleads for the adventurers to travel to the fallen city. There he hopes they will discover the cause for this event and remove the rift from the sky. Nearing Venlor, the group encounters a scouting party of mongrelman lead by a well-armed morlock. This is the first sign of hostile actions from the city. Venlor is difficult to enter, having no proper ramps, but its walls have been eaten away by the demiplane where it resided, making it possible to climb over them.

Part 2: A Fight for Freedom
Inside of the city walls the PCs discover a warren of freakish creatures. The ground level of Venlor has been turned into a slum of mongrelfolk. Its streets are narrow and packed with shoddy buildings and filth. The people here are recovering from a state of panic and collapsed structures are scattered all around. Despite this, the mongrelmen treat the PCs indifferently. Several merchants attempt to hawk their wares to the newcomers and horrible children laugh and touch them. Before the adventurers can wander too far they are confronted by a contingent of morlock warriors beating their way through the crowd. This encounter can have multiple outcomes.

-Fight- If the PCs stand their ground and face the morlocks they will likely be beaten and overcome. While unconscious they are dragged to the Tower of Knives and thrown directly into a holding cell with a group of unruly mongrelmen gathered around a figure covered in rags.
-Flight- If the PCs flee the morlocks may spot them and give pursuit. This is a short chase scene consisting of six sections through the city. At the finish line a cloaked figure hurriedly gestures for the PCs to hide in his house. If the morlocks do not pursue them, PCs come across the figure after a minute of running.
-Riot- Should the PCs stand their ground and notice that the crowd is not pleased by the presence of the morlocks, they may make several Diplomacy or Intimidate checks to incite a riot. The morlocks flee back to the portcullis gates at the Tower of Knives. At this point a tall ragged figure approaches the PCs.

Regardless of how the PCs interact with the morlocks they find themselves facing Gall, the leader of a group of mongrelmen who are attempting to overthrow the cruel morlocks. He explains the history of the city and how the two castes came to be. If the PCs are captured he begs them to help the rebels escape. If met outside he begs the PCs to infiltrate the Tower of Knives and free the rebellious mongrelmen from the dungeons within. If they need more convincing he also explains that his sources indicate the leader of the morlock military plans on quickly attacking the nearby town and expanding Tiepolo’s influence. Gall is a cleric of no god, but has the domains of liberation and void. If met in the dungeon he offers his services of healing. The morlocks left him his holy symbol so they could beat and torture anyone he attempted to heal.

[Note: If only some of the PCs are caught, Gall will meet those who are still free. He suggests getting caught and thrown into the dungeon to join the others and escape from the inside as a group.]

-The Tower of Knives-
This square building dominates the southern section of the city. It is topped by a large cage-like minaret. All of the windows along the walls are thin arrow-slits and the only entrance is the main gate, a sturdy portcullis. Every hour the gate is raised for patrols to enter and exit. Some patrols consist entirely of morlocks, others of a morlock leader and mongrelmen conscripts. These can be randomly encountered throughout the city as before. The dungeons are at the top of the tower with six main floors. The ground floor is the armory and barracks of mongrelmen conscripts. The second level is dedicated to the training floor with taskmaster Toltar, a whip and dagger wielding fighter along with his unwilling trainees. The off-duty morlock militiamen reside on the third floor. Fourth and fifth floors belong to the officers and variety of enslaved ne’er. The final floor before the dungeons is vaulted cave-like residence of the twisted Lord Kracht (morlock antipaladin of Lamashtu 5). Should the PCs be escaping the dungeon Lork Kracht is instead found entering the training floor shortly after Toltar is defeated. Kracht carries the key-ring which unlocks all of the dungeons. This is required to free all of the rebel mongrelmen unless the PCs spend several hours disabling all of the locks. Once the mongrelmen are freed Gall advises the PCs to speak with Gek inside the Aeromantic Academy. While a morlock, and not entirely sane, he is also a powerful wizard who may be able to offer more information about the city

Part 3: An Academy of Errands
The Aeromantic Academy is one of the few structures intact from before the shift. It is a spiraling library topped by the study chambers of those who practice the arcane arts, the largest being the Great Hall of Knowledge. The Academy is home to a little over two dozen practitioners of arcane art. The most powerful being Gek (venerable morlock wizard 7). The majority of students are mongrelmen, as few morlocks leave the White Tower except to join the ranks of Karcht’s militia. Several apprentices escort the PCs to the Great Hall where they are presented to Gek. The elderly morlock is frequently confused, but during bouts of lucidity he realizes the presence of outsiders. He frequently refers to them as “fresh new subjects” and is eager to inspect them. Gek pledges the resources of the Academy if the PCs will assist him with a pair of tasks.

-Gek’s Tasks-
Gek elaborates that he has been researching the creatures known as the ne’er, previously they were a grave threat to the city of Venlor. Not everything they destroyed could easily be replaced with magic, especially given the limited talent within the city. He would like to see a variety of wounds inflicted on a “fresh subject” by the ne’er’s touch. There have been difficulties in finding volunteers in the past. He dismisses existing wounds, insisting they be fresh. Gek points out that ne'er are descending from the rift in the sky and before long it will be quite easy to find one.

Several years ago Gek had an apprentice, Vankar, who stole his spellbook. This set his research back several decades. That book has been torn in half with part in the hands of Luzril (mongrelman rogue 5), a greedy merchant, who lives in the seediest part of The Dregs. The PCs will have to make a Diplomacy check to gather information and learn this, and once they have found Luzril he will not easily part with the torn book. Any attempt to strong arm him will result in a confrontation with Luzril and his body guards (mongrelmen warrior 4). Luzril will surrender if losing, begging for mercy. Once the book is turned over he reveals that the apprentice he purchased this half from has been hiding in the sewers below The Dregs. Luzril had previously tried to purchase the second half and can draw a crude map leading to the morlock's lair.

Vankar (morlock wizard 5) has been experimenting with the material of the demiplane. Along with two advanced torble swarms, which help him collect the matter from the sides of the city, his lair has several bags of what he refers to as null soil. His torble familiar will alert him of any intruders within the sewers and if the swarms don't stop them he will prepare for a fight.

Null Soil

Spoiler:
This magical dust can be used to reduce the hardness objects or sections of material. Each pouch has three doses, each dose can be used on one object weighing less than 20 lbs. or a 5-ft. section of material. The pouch can also be used as a thrown weapon that exposes the target to the remaining doses dealing 2d8 damage, ignoring hardness, to one item for each dose within the pouch, DC 18 Fortitude to negate. Damage is dealt to the items with the most hit points first.

When Vankar is defeated and the spellbook returned, Gek reveals that while the rift is open ne'er will continue to emerge. He speculates that it was originally created when the staff of rightful rule was removed from the Aeromantic Infandibulum. If the staff is returned, the Infandibulum should reactivate and resume its previous function, pulling the city from the Material Plane back to the demiplane. Gek is puzzled about how the staff was removed in the first place.

Part 4: A Nest of Nobility
A messenger from Gall locates the PCs and guides them to the third tower in the eastern section of the city, called The Warren. This tower is a squat cylinder honeycombed with small but comfortable residences for the middle class mongrelmen. Gall's quarters are large and well furnished, he offers the PCs rest and refreshment if they need it. His rags have been cast aside for polished armor made of a variety of metals to match his misfit form. Gall is also the religious leader of the mongrelmen, he expresses that the mongrelmen are happy with returning the city to the demiplane. If the morlocks are removed from control they can live in peace and build a better society. His contacts within the White Tower's servant staff confirm that Tiepolo does control the staff of rightful rule, and is currently secluded in the magically sealed observation room at the top of the Tower.

An invisible bridge made of force connects The Warren to the Aeromantic Infandibulum and from there to the White Tower. When Venlor returned to the Material Plane a group of air and lightning elementals were created within the Infandibulum, unable to escape they will attack anyone entering the building. The lower levels of the White Tower belong to the lesser morlocks who are not descended from the royal line. Unless the lower floors are barred, any fighting in the upper areas has a chance to alert them, causing a group of morlocks to investigate. The bridge from the Infandibulum leads directly to a locked door, made of the same enchanted metal of the city’s walls. Lord Kracht’s key-ring can open this door. It leads to a decadent floor of the tower, filled with silks and cushions. The air is thick with incense and laying amongst the pillows are three beautiful human girls. These are actually the three oldest morlock princesses, under the effects of disguise self. The eldest, a fledgling sorcerer despises their true form and leads them to viciously attack anyone who points out what they really are.

The next floor up is a damp labyrinth of pillows and troughs. Laying at the center is the bloated form of a morlock. This is Tiepolo’s mother, and while she cannot defend herself, she commands her spawn to tear apart any intruders. Half a dozen young morlocks attack upon the PCs entrance. Another six remain hidden and ambush the party once they have begun to look through the room. The queen-mother, unable to move, hisses and flails violently during the ordeal.

Tiepolo’s personal guard occupy the second to last floor. They are four morlock warriors with the finest equipment available, trained in teamwork tactics and coordination. They each hold part of the key for the stair leading to King Tiepolo the 50th (advanced morlock barbarian 6). Tiepolo is not above gloating and if given the chance will explain in detail how he killed his father and all those before him. If interrupted he flies into a rage and attacks whoever spoke out of turn. During the fight he rants that it was all his idea, claiming again and again that he had no help.

Part 5: From Whence It Came
Gek and Gall await the PCs return within the Aeromantic Infandibulum. The two lead them to the bottom floor when the staff of rightful rule is recovered. The scattered bones of a score of wizards lay around the central dais, untouched by time. When the staff is returned the Infandibulum fills with the smell of ozone as lightning leaps around the tower. A pair of young mongrelmen wizards escort the PCs to the edge of the city where they help them down with feather fall. Before they touch the ground the entire city shakes and over the next hour begins to lifts into the sky, sliding back into the rift above. The black void begins to close as the island is engulfed in darkness once again.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Welcome to the final round, Cody! It's been a pretty long journey and I hope you've had a lot of fun along the way. For the adventure proposals, I decided to break my commentary into two halves. The first assesses your pitch...meaning, how well you sold your ideas within the proposal itself. The second assesses your implied adventure and whether what you've presented here includes all the relevant pieces to hopefully make a great Pathfinder module. That's really the ultimate goal. And that's what the voters will select (i.e., the adventure they most want to see published so they can play it). So, with that, let's get down to business...

Feedback for: Return to Nihility

Spoiler:

The Pitch
Okay. This is the part where you need to sell your idea. You have to present all the relevant information to help us understand what you plan on writing if given the opportunity. And you need to make sure your proposal meets all the requirements according to the rules...i.e., just enough material so it will fit in a 32-page module, includes a new monster, has appropriate encounters (and a villain) for 4th level PCs, etc. All of those prior rounds of the competition hopefully developed a sense of these things for you...as well as any self-study you might have done by reviewing Paizo's other modules.

First, I have to say I was thrown off by the name. "Return to Nihility" doesn't roll off the tongue very well. And a "return to nothingness" or "nonexistence" doesn't really feel like it has much relevance to what's transpiring in your adventure. This should be bigger than that. The whole plotline involves the return of a flying city (or falling city, actually) which shows up in Golarion because a morlock prince makes a power grab for his father's crown. The PCs get a chance to explore this floating "island" of a city and I think you'd have done better to put the location itself (which should be larger than life) in the actual title. As James Jacobs recently pointed out, it's often far more useful to put the name of the place where the adventure occurs in a title. That way, it becomes much more iconic (and relevant) to what's going on. So, to me, this adventure screams out for a title that includes the city name of Venlor. Or even something invoking the Shory. Anything but a title waxing poetic about nihility.

Setting that aside, you did okay with the rest of your presentation. Not great. But okay. You've tapped some great elements of Golarion lore. I actually think an adventure to one of the floating Shory cities would be very cool. I'm not, however, all that thrilled imagining such an adventure taking place at 4th level. To me, it calls out for a higher level adventure. If this were somehow a piece of Venlor that got shaved off and dropped through the planar gates to crash on Golarion with a far more limited Starstone-like swath of devastation for some small area of the campaign setting, I might buy into it more strongly as a 4th level adventure. And then, something like that could serve as a springboard for a higher level sequel adventure to find the full citadel still floating somewhere in that demiplane you referenced.

I like the structure of your proposal. An evocative introduction. A short bit of background to set the stage. And then an outline for each part of the adventure (although I would have labeled Part Five as your Conclusion instead). You've got a lot of parts to this thing which could challenge you to fit it all into 32 pages. And that's coming from someone who faced that struggle as well. So, should this submission win, I'd advise you to take a hard look at the number of encounter locations you can squeeze into all those parts for your adventure. You've got room for about 20 in a 32-page module. So, make the most of them.

Next up, you give us a new monster in the form of ne'er...which is "similar to a sentient sphere of annihilation"...and by the way you describe it, I'm left thinking it might be far too potent for 4th level PCs to encounter. Your description says they aren't malicious and yet the first encounter has them moving about and "destroying everything they touch until stopped by the PCs." That sounds pretty serious...and most players would interpret it as malicious, thereby facing it head-on or fleeing something that can so easily vaporize mundane objects.

Later, you give us a new magic item with the null dust, which sounds interesting. However, I'm far more interested in the staff of rightful rule and what it enables your villain to do. This item, however, doesn't seem destined to find its way into the PCs' hands. Or, if it does, the adventure assumes the PCs will return it so the city can be restored and float back through its planar rift. That's a lot of assumptions. There could be plenty of PCs (and players) who wouldn't be so kind, working instead to ensure the city remains disabled so they can pillage it. And honestly, if you had an entire ancient city drop from the sky filled with ancient Shory technology, who wouldn't make a move to claim its riches? And that includes far more powerful NPCs in Golarion than just the 4th level heroes destined to go through this adventure. So, I feel like you missed some opportunities here.

As far as monsters and adversaries go, most things seem CR-appropriate...mongrelmen and morlocks aplenty. And of course the ne'er. Aside from Vankar's torble swarms, I didn't see much else...just variations of mongrelmen and morlocks with class levels. And, some of those guys might be a little too high on the CR-scale for when the PCs encounter them. You'll want to take a closer look at that if you're tapped to write this thing up. With all that on the table, I'll say that I like the structure of your proposal. And you included everything asked of you. But I'm not all that inspired by the content yet, though I'll get more into that in the second half of my comments.

The Adventure
In my advice for RPG Superstar, I've written before about five key elements in adventure design that Erik Mona and James Jacobs once shared at a GenCon seminar on "Writing for Dungeon Magazine" and I think they'll be a useful mechanic in assessing what you've proposed. Basically, they include the following: a memorable villain whose goals are a legitimate threat; a unique and interesting set of locales that provide for cool maps and memorable encounters; a compelling and interesting plot wherein the villain's goals become something the PCs will want to oppose; some interesting and entertaining minions who have a credible reason for working with the villain and existing/encroaching upon the set of locales; and an interesting and worthwhile reward that the PCs (and their players) will cherish for the rest of their adventuring careers. If you can achieve high marks in as many of those areas as possible, you could have a real winner on your hands. So, let's see how you measure up:

The Villain - Your villain is basically King Tiepolo the 50th...a 6th level advanced morlock barbarian...and the degenerate descendant of the Shory who built Venlor. First, I was thrown by the implication that the morlocks are degenerate Shory. The Golarion campaign setting has already established morlocks as degenerate Azlanti who fled deep underground to survive Earthfall. So, I wouldn't expect to find Shory-morlocks inhabiting a floating city like Venlor. The same thing goes for the mongrelmen, who are also described as descendants of the ancient Azlanti who fled into the Darklands. So, that gave me immediate pause as I pondered your villain. Setting that aside, he's got a basic vibe going where an evil son slays his father to grab power for himself, stealing away the staff of rightful rule. I just didn't get a sense that he has any particularly villainous goals in mind after that. Instead, his removal of the staff from the Aeromantic Infandibulum has resulted in Venlor's return to Golarion...and the ne'er "annihilators" crossing over the planar border. So, the circumstances behind this villain all seem mostly "accidental" in nature. He's an evil bastard, to be sure, for killing his father just to attain power. But does that make him an awesome villain to base an adventure around? I just don't feel it.

The Locale(s) - As I said earlier, I love the notion of exploring a ruined flying citadel. The campaign setting already has the ruins of Kho in the Mwangi Expanse. So why introduce another city returning? Also, I didn't get the sense that Venlor would be as ruined and broken as Kho, which means it represents a MUCH greater opportunity for adventure and retrieval of ancient artifacts. Your adventure proposal makes the assumption that it will go away once the PCs are done...because they want to close the planar rift and prevent more ne'er from crossing over. But if they're not malicious in nature, why would that matter all that much? Presumably the ne'er can learn to live peacefully with everyone else. And scholarly PCs alone will want to keep this city around for a long time just to investigate its lore. So, while this is a great location choice for an adventure, I'm just not sure you've used it in the best way...both for a 4th level adventure and for the assumed plot of your adventure. Good idea. Just not appropriate for this particular assignment in my opinion.

The Plot - Ah, the plot. I had real problems here. This is perhaps one of the most important things in terms of demonstrating proficiency for this round and I felt like you took several mis-steps. First, there's a LOT of railroading and assumptions in your plot. You have NPCs escorting PCs around from one mission or series of tasks to another. They even escort them off the city via feather fall after the PCs restore the Aeromantic Infandibulum. Meanwhile, you've got mongrelmen and morlocks as the inheritors and caretakers of the Shory technology still contained in this city and that just feels...misplaced?...somehow. Personally, I was looking for a more credible creature type to occupy Venlor and still have knowledge of its secrets. A mongrelman cleric (of no god) named Gall...and a 7th level morlock wizard named Gek...just seem like odd patrons for the PCs. Their involvement felt very forced to me--rails, basically, which the PCs would have to follow in order to achieve the end-victory of the adventure itself. Even the push to have the PCs face the ne'er as the kick-off point whereby the locals solicit them to investigate the fallen city in the hopes of closing the rift feels forced. I would have liked to see more adventure hooks to draw them in more tightly to the story itself. Something to make the PCs (and their players) want to get involved.

The Minions - Oi. Lots and lots of morlocks as far as I can tell...including Tiepolo's bloated mom and some bodyguards. These minions would get old really fast given how often they appear. I think you would have been better served to introduce a lot more variety. Vankar and his torble swarms (as fun as that might be) and Lord Kracht the morlock antipaladin just wouldn't be enough variety to maintain interest, despite the variation in class levels.

The Reward - Is there one? The PCs can make off with some null dust, I guess, but they don't get to keep the staff of rightful rule. They don't even get to plunder Venlor for very long before it's whisked back through the planar rift. I didn't get a sense of anything awesome the PCs would take from this adventure as treasure which they would cherish for the rest of their careers. And, if an ancient technologically-advanced flying city dropped from the sky, there really ought to be something cool the PCs could take with them. Big missed opportunity here.

Conclusion
I went into this one wanting to like it. Adventuring through the crash-site of a fallen flying city would be SO cool. I'd just rather see someone write such an adventure at a higher level and use something like the ruins of Kho to do so. In fact, it's been done (in Crucible of Chaos), I believe? I'd also like to see such an adventure involve something other than morlocks and mongrelmen as the primary villain and minions throughout the city. You had the seed of a good idea here, but I'm left wondering if maybe you had this idea from the beginning and had prepared it with a higher level in mind, then tried to shoehorn it into 4th level to meet the contest requirement. If so, I'm not sure that worked out for you. If not, I think you miscalculated the best way to showcase such an adventure.

So, in the end, I just didn't find enough here to warrant recommending this adventure proposal as the winning entry, Cody. And that's too bad. I really liked a lot of your stuff this year. You had a really amazing run and I think you should be proud of that no matter what. Even if this proposal doesn't resonate with the judges or the voters, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to show your stuff with a PFS scenario. And I wish you the absolute best of luck in the future.

My sincere two cents,
--Neil

Paizo Employee Creative Director

First of all, congratulations on making it to the final round! That's an accomplishment in and of itself! My review of the proposal (as with the other three adventure reviews) focuses primarily upon how the adventure fits into the Inner Sea region, and how interesting the adventure sounds as a whole. I'm going to present feedback with very little sugar-coating as well, since I've always held that frank and honest feedback is more valuable.

The Basics
Title: Ugh… Good job on avoiding the "of the" construction, but "Nihility" is not a very good word choice for a title. Not only is it kind of hard to say, but it's a pretty obscure word as well. One of the things a title needs to be is accessible to buyers, distributors, and casual shoppers in addition to being compelling to the target audience. If this adventure wins, I'll require a different title for it.
Location: Irrelevant, which is kinda not a good thing. We want adventures that expand upon the world of Golarion. This one does, but only for a long dead civilization. It really doesn't do much for modern day stuff. And since the adventure site vanishes at the end of the adventure... it really feels like a side-trek into non-Golarion adventuring. Not a fan of that.
Plot: The basic plot—an ancient Shory city returning to the world 5,000 years after its fall, and bringing with it a host of otherworldly perils, is pretty compelling. Alas, it's not really appropriate for a 4th-level adventure. Beyond that... the plot itself seems a bit fragile. The fact that the PCs don't actually get the adventure's actual tasks until well into the exploration of the city is awkward... especially considering that if I were a 4th level character in a city that got attacked by antimatter monsters from a 5,000 year old flying city that shot out of a black rift in the sky, I'd not be eager to go into that city. I'd be assuming that the adventure's for 14th level characters, not 4th level characters.

The Good

Spoiler:

1) Right off the bat, I like that this adventure features morlocks. Good times! Not sure that morlocks have their stuff together enough to track lineages back 50 generations, or that they're tradition-bound enough to care to track a scion through 50 generations… but they're still fun! That said… morlocks normally dwell underground; its unusual to use them above ground even if the city itself is so highly unusual. I'm not sure I like the idea of moving morlocks out of the Darklands, alas.

2) The backstory is pretty interesting, and doesn't seem to have any blatant problems with canon. Part of that, of course, is the fact that we haven't done an awful lot with the Short since "Crucible of Chaos," of course.

3) The ne'er are an interesting idea for a new monster… but see #7 of the "Not-so-good" below.

4) The mongrelfolk element is interesting; it's refreshing to have encounters that aren't auto-combats.

5) Having a spellbook torn in half makes for an interesting fetch-quest plot.

6) Null soil is an interesting item... but it's also kind of potent to hand out to 4th level adventurers. The proposal doesn't say how MUCH a dose reduces hardness, nor how much the stuff costs, so it's hard to judge... but it FEELS a bit powerful to me for a 4th level adventure.

The Not-So-Good

Spoiler:

1) The Aeromantic Infandibulum is a problem. It's not something we've really done much exploration into, and I'm still unsure we SHOULD explore more into it. If we go with this adventure, one of its primary jobs will be to tell us what exactly this thing is… and that means in GAME terms as well as in flavor terms. Could get real complicated, real quick.

2) One of the (perhaps too understated) goals of asking for 4th-level adventures this time around was that we were looking for adventures that weren't so "wild and wahoo." A lot of over-the-top proposals show up in this contest, when what we're REALLY looking for is well-crafted adventures that tell cool stories. It's easy to lose sight of that and instead go for something wild and crazy… like the Shory and the Aeromantic Infandibulum. Not sure how appropriate those two topics are for a low-level adventure, in other words.

3) A thousand-foot-wide rift opening in the sky to disgorge a 5,000 year old flying city is a neat idea… but not really appropriate for low level. This feels more like it wants to be a high-level adventure than a 4th level one.

4) A functioning Shory city returning to the Inner Sea region is a MAJOR event on the scale of something that could fuel an entire Adventure Path. It's too big for a 32 page adventure, I fear.

5) Using apostrophes in the names of creatures (like ne'er) is one of my pet peeves. I like to joke in the office that everyone who works in editorial gets to invent ONE apostrophe name over the course of their time working for Paizo (for the record, mine is Cyth-V'sug). It's not a deal breaker, using an apostrophe in a creature or NPC's name, but it does make me narrow my eyes in concern and suspicion.

6) There's nothing about the "demiplane the city of Velnor was cast into" by the time we get into part one. Don't keep secrets like these from the GM, or from the people judging your proposal. If you're going to introduce something as major as an entirely new heretofore unknown demiplane… tell us what it's called and what it's like ASAP.

7) The ne'er have a silly name. It looks to me like "never" with the v replaced by an apostrophe. Bleh. But on top of that… their background and abilities, which are apparently akin to one of the most powerful artifacts in the game, are not very appropriate as a new monster for a 4th level adventure. Particularly considering the PCs face LOTS of them in the adventure. How do the morlocks keep the ne'er enslaved and imprisoned if they are so good at destroying anything they touch? For that matter, why aren't the morlocks more powerful than they are if they can enslave such a powerful-sounding race? Why haven't they destroyed the entire city, for that matter, over the course of the past 5,000 years? The ne'er are overkill.

8) This whole adventure takes place on a weird, alien city from a weird, alien demiplane. Despite having a background tied to Golarion's ancient past… it doesn't feel like it's set in the Inner Sea region. Because it isn't really. That's disappointing.

9) A 5th level antipaladin morlock is a CR 7 foe. That's a pretty tough cookie to inflict on a 4th level party as anything other than a main bad guy. (Side note: you don't need to list an antipaladin's deity. That's really something you only have to do for clerics. Listing "Lamashtu" makes it look to me like Lamashtu should play a stronger role in the adventure than she does. Nit picky, but there you go.)

10) Gek: Although a venerable creature takes some significant penalties to its physical stats… when that creature's a wizard, those penalties aren't as important. Especially when the baseline creature's stats are high enough that those age penalties won't significantly hurt it all THAT much. So you end up with a CR 7 or CR 8 wizard… again, kinda rough on a 4th level party… especially if he's one of about two dozen wizards. Also, his name reminds me of the G.E.C.K. from the fallout games. Or of a gecko. Anyway, if the PCs aren't supposed to fight him, his high level is probably not as much of a problem.

11) We've established that torbles live in the sewers of Westcrown. Do we mention that they're from Shory as well? I honestly can't recall off the top of my head, but unless we did, using torbles in this adventure seems a little weird.

12) I get where the morlocks came from (generations of inbreeding... standard for morlock genesises), but I'm less clear as to where the mongrelmen came from. Mongrelmen are a mix of dozens of different races. Were there dozens of races in Vankar? What were they? Mongrelmen seem like they wouldn't show up in a city like this.

13) Morlock barbarian 6; this is a CR 8 monster. Edging into TPK territory here, especially if Tiepolo isn't the only thing the PCs fight in that encounter, or if he's intended to be the final in a string of encounters.

14) There's not a very interesting spread of monsters to fight in this adventure. Morlocks, mongrelfolk, a torble swoarm, and ne'er it sounds like for the most part. That gets repetitive real fast.

15) What, exactly, can a staff of rightful rule do? Is it new? If so, you need to tell us what it does. Is it picked up from a previous adventure or book? If so, you need to remind us where it came from so we can easily track down its details.

Final Thoughts
Although I like that this adventure explores a relatively obscure part of Golarion's history... I'm not so much a fan of how it explores it in a vacuum, without touching modern-day Golarion at all. This adventure could take place on any world, really, since so much of what it covers is brand new or so far removed from the rest of the campaign setting that it might as well take place in another world. It also uses morlocks in a weird way... placing them above ground. That's probably too weird for my tastes. It's like putting vampires above ground, or like having aboleths live in a desert. But the main problem I have with this adventure proposal, in the end, is that it comes off as being far too high-level, both in plot (5,000 year old city emerges from a mysterious demiplane no one's heard about) and in execution (lots of overly high-level foes and a new monster that seems far too overpowered to be a fair fight against 4th level characters, who in theory will still have trouble getting through DR/magic, let alone hurting something that destroys anything that they touch). If this adventure wins... it's going to need a fair amount of revision, and it's going to need an entirely different title.

Alas, I don't think a 32-page 4th-level adventure is appropriate for this proposal; I just can't see a way you can do the subject justice in those confines.

Paizo Employee Developer

Well Cody, this is it: round five. Reaching this point is an accomplishment in and of itself, and you should be proud to have made it this far regardless of the outcome. Win or lose, you’ll be writing an adventure for Paizo, be it this proposal or a future Pathfinder Society Scenario, so congratulations on that! Now let’s see what you’ve done with your final challenge of RPG Superstar 2011. As the developer who handles both the Pathfinder Society and Pathfinder Module lines, I’ll be looking at this from the perspective of the guy who has to fix your mistakes and turn the adventure from an A– to and A+ before it goes into edit and print.

Spoiler:
Title: Nihility? I had to look that one up in the dictionary, and while it’s a real word, it’s generally not good to make people in the store wonder if we’ve included a made-up word in our adventure title. Most will think we meant to say “nihilism.” In this case, changing it to Return to Nothingness would have been better, though even then, it doesn’t really capture the theme of the adventure nor evoke an exploration of a crashed flying city. As it is, if I saw this on the shelf at my FLGS, I’d likely move on without looking further at it, except perhaps to scratch my head and figure out what nihility meant. This title requires significant development and I would fight to change it to something else if this adventure were to be commissioned after winning the contest.

Location: We’ve already done the crashed Shory city adventure in J3: Crucible of Chaos, so I’m already a little hesitant about this one. That was set in the Mwangi Expanse, which is where most of the Shory cities ended up when they crashed (Kho is another one). But this one can be set anywhere, and I’m not sure that’s the right idea. A void in the air and a landing Shory city would generate completely different reactions in Nex and Numeria, and this sort of adventure simply wouldn’t fit in thematically in a lot of places, like the Lands of the Linnorm Kings or Ustalav. Before you set to writing this, I would pin down where it occurs and most likely have you write up that small town in the appendix as the modular location.

By choosing a crashed Shory city, there’s also quite a bit of continuity that has to be accounted for, between Kho (in Lost Cities of Golarion, and J3, as well as any other Shory related information from other sources). When we further expand on the Shory, we must make sure that their culture is consistent and in-line with our concept of them.

Themes: You’re treading on already explored ground with the Shory, so I’m already concerned that the themes in this may come across as repitive of existing material. I am intrigued by the idea of an isolated, degenerate society that is suddenly thrust back into the real world and the interactions between them, though. I wish there had been more of that interaction, however, because as it is, the PCs are sent from the town into the crashed city before they start bargaining with and working for the morlocks and mongrelfolk (both of which seem strange to me). I’d much rather see the PCs doing favors for or working in concert with people from their homeland involving things on the landed city, than getting missions from people they may simply want to kill for being monsters. As it is, there’s little tying the PCs to the adventure itself, and if they were simply to choose not to investigate the city, they’d suffer no negative effects personally. I think the adventure needs a stronger narrative, with a clear throughline beginning with the PCs’ initial hook and ending with the defeat of the final villain.

Encounters/Challenges: There are a lot of assumptions in this proposal, especially regarding the PCs working with or for the denizens of Venlor, all of whom are monsters. There’s very little in here for combat PCs to do, especially since the first real fight they are set up to have in Venlor is one in which “they will likely be beaten and overcome”, resulting in their capture. There’s not a lot of variety in here, either, as even if PCs take all the right steps and ally with all the right NPCs, they’re still just fighting morlocks and mongrelfolk over and over again.

Scope: I don’t believe that exploration of a still-functioning (albeit degenerated) Shory city is appropriate for 4th-level PCs. Crucible of Chaos was for a party of 8th-level PCs and pit them against CR 9 foes. Creatures capable of operating a city like this well enough to fly it back into a gaping void in the sky would need to be at least that level, if not higher. On a larger scale, this sort of event would have a ripple effect on the entire Inner Sea, as the advent of a surviving Shory city and the associated technology would cause a gold rush for historians, researchers, and merchants to try to capitalize on it. That’s a bit too large a scope for a Module, and especially one for low levels.

Format: Pathfinder Modules now operate with a strict format of a standalone adventure, a new monster taking up 1 page, and a two-page spread of a modular location. There isn’t really a modular location to work with here, so we’d likely have to make that the town this happened next to. But that’s not very exciting when the brunt of the adventure is a 5,000-year-old crashed Shory city. The new monster (the ne’er) would likely need to be altered both because having a mobile, sentient sphere of annihilation is a bad idea, but because they’re too large a threat for CR 4 and their name is just a contracted form of “never.” Both are relatively minor issues that would be fixed prior to writing, but would need to be addressed in some form before this project got too far underway.

Specifics: You use a lot of passive voice in this submission. Many authors do this, and we continually mention passive voice as needing improvement when giving freelancer feedback. When something comes in with poorly written prose, I have to spend more time making it read well and less time making the adventure awesome. There’s only so much time we get to spend on any given project, so the less of that time is spent eliminating forms of the verb “to be” and the more is spent tightening the story and mechanics, which makes for a better adventure in the end.

The first encounter in Venlor would take up way more words than you can really spend on a single encounter in a 32 page product. Having three different outcomes, each leading to a different set of encounters means that of those six or so encounters worth of text, the PCs will ever only deal with one or two of them. Creating situations with variable outcomes is cool, but having each spawn a whole different progression of encounters than the others drains a ton of words.

I’m also not convinced we’d be able to fit all the locations you visit in a 32-page adventure. All the floors of the Tower of Knives alone could be a whole module, not to mention the additional development of the Academy, the White Tower, and the Aeromantic Infandibulum you’d need. This all fit in Crucible of Chaos because it was a ruined city and the PCs only needed to have encounters in a few locations. A functioning city with two levels as well as some fairly sizable specific locations would quickly drain both the map budget and the wordcount.

This proposal has a lot of names that I’d likely change in development, from the White Tower (which makes me think instantly of Minas Tirith), Gek (who’s name I imagine to be pronounced the same as the Bantoomian Ghek in ERB’s The Chessmen of Mars, and Gall (who I bet has a lot of nerve). While changing names can be as simple as a find/replace in Word, it can also result in captions or missed mentions of someone who’s no longer in an adventure. Google your names and run them by others before you set them in stone, as sometimes they evoke different things to someone other than you, and even unintentional Easter eggs aren’t appreciated.

I also noticed quite a few typos, missing words, and run-on sentences that make me assume you didn’t give this a thorough editing pass. While we at Paizo have editors who look over every product we release in duplicate (or more), the less errors there are when something comes to us, the less things there are to slip through their scrutinizing gaze. Before submitting anything, give a full copy edit. Then do a second one. If you find errors in the second one, do it again. Keep editing until you don’t find any errors on a full pass from the first to last word in the document.

Final Thoughts: If this proposal were to win the contest, it would require significant development, both before writing and likely after. It would be vital that we maintain a constant line of communication and that any changes suggested or criticism given be implemented. Even with perfect execution, I’m still not sure there’s a market for this adventure, at this level, at this time. Only the voters and time will tell, however.

Best of luck, Cody. I look forward to working with you in one form or another in the coming months.

CEO, Goblinworks

Recommendation:

Not recommended for advancement.

What I see on the Shelf

I can imagine several ways to compose a cover for this work, probably using the ne'er. That's good.

What's the GM load:

Tremendous - maybe overwhelming. So much to deal with here - a major city. It's interactions with the surrounding area. A large population of morlocks and mongrelmen. Planar travel. Entities that have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction.

Way too much for 4th level.

The level limit of the scenario isn't just for the players. It's for the GMs too. You can expect that a lot of the people asked to run this adventure will be comfortable in the 1-5 level range and not necessarily ready to go up to the 6-10 level range. This scenario could be too much for those GMs to swallow.

Will the players enjoy this adventure:

After the Power Gamers lose the best weapons they have accumulated in 4 levels of adventuring in the first part of the scenario, I think not.

Then its very likely they get thrown into prison on their arrival in the city.

How do the morlocks react to a jailbreak at the Tower of Knives? Surely after 50 generations they're reasonably good at putting down mongrelmen riots.

Will the PCs not go into the Aeromantic Academy behind sword & spell? Will the 24+ wizards in the tower (regardless of race) not prove dangerous? They must not be sympathetic to the rebel cause, or the morlocks would never tolerate them. How do the PCs end up in a conversation with the mad wizard who runs the place and not end up either fried by him or frying him?

Finally the series of encounters between the Warren, the Aeromantic Infandibulum and the White Tower are going to destroy the PCs. There's just too many opponents, too little chance to rest and recover, and too large an imbalance between the PCs and the opponents. There's a reasonably good chance that just the final fight with Tiepolo & his guards will regularly result in a TPK.

Finally, assuming they survive, what if the PCs decide to hijack the city? They may have an army of mongrelmen at the bidding. Taking a flying city into a mysterious demiplane might seem way more interesting than going back to killing orcs for strangers in taverns. So this adventure could end up in taking the whole campaign sideways into a very complex environment that the GM may not have desired or be prepared to continue to run thus killing the campaign. That's bad.

What do I take away from this:

The ne'er are incredibly valuable. It would not be unreasonable to assume that other, vastly more powerful forces marshal rapidly to come and get as many as they can.

Assuming some method can be found to control them (and that's implied by the fact that the morlocks enslaved "a variety" of ne'er in the Tower of Knives), they represent a huge advantage for any military power. Teleporting them into the midst of an enemy camp or better yet, into a city under siege, would cause tremendous disruption.

In some ways, "enslaved ne'er" are the most valuable things the PCs could recover from this scenario; assuming they manage to figure out how to keep them from the forces that will appear to constantly try to snatch them.

Contributor

A sky-rift with things falling from it reminds me of Curse of the Riven Sky.

A monster like ne'er that has an apostrophe in its name displeases me. Is the plural of that ne'ers? Is the possessive of it ne'er's? Is the plural possessive ne'ers'? The name is also a riff on "never" which makes me want to punch twice. We've also seen the "creatures whose shtick is breaking stuff because they can" before.

You have some weird subject-verb agreement in some of your sentences, like "After witnessing their bravery in the face of such strange creatures, the mayor of the town pleads for the adventurers to travel to the fallen city." You also mix using "mongrelman," "mongrelmen," and "mongrelfolk" as plurals of "mongrelman."

I don't understand how the people of Venlo are able to talk with the PCs or how the PCs are able to interact with them well enough to start a riot, or any of the other chatty interactions elsewhere in the adventure.

There's a lot of use of the word "will" that creates some weak statements.

In Golarion, clerics have to have a deity--the PFRPG Core Rulebook allows clerics to have no deity, but in-world they have to. If you want cleric-like power without a deity, you have to be an oracle. Domains are always capitalized (Liberation, Void).

While I understand that the morlocks are probably degenerate inbred humans, I don't understand where the mongrelmen come from. Mutation from the demiplane? Unless the common people of the city interbred with inhuman slaves, this race change just came out of nowhere.

Much of this reads more like notes or an outline for the adventure rather than an adventure proposal. The writing is clunky in many places and could use another revision by the author.

The role of Tiepolo is incidental to the true focus of the adventure--closing the rift, which is accomplished by sending the city back to its original plane. Tiepolo isn't the villain, he's merely an obstacle to finishing the adventure.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 aka Scipion del Ferro

Thanks for your critiques and comments judges. I'll respond later when I can. Don't forget to vote everybody.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka John Benbo

There's stuff I really like about this and stuff that I don't like. But most of the stuff I don't like, I think can be fixed. This module makes me think of an early 80s sci-fi movie, and for that, it get's bonus points. The kind of weird, alien races and their fight to topple the evil king. I like that stuff. It's heroic, it's fun, and that's why most of us play RPGs. I'm not so concerned about the canon stuff. I think a good module should be able to fit in any campaign and if Paizo wants to make it Golarion specific, it's an easy fix. A couple of the things I don't like is first the title. That's got to go, but then again, that's an easy fix. Replace it with something that describes the city or adventure, "The City from Out of Time or something (wish Lovecraft were still around, that guy could come up with titles). One thing that bothered me was that this city has been in isolation for like 5 thousand years and when it finally lands on earth, the PCs can walk in and the citizens treat them "indifferently?" I don't know about that... Finally, I agree with Ryan's comments about the Ne'er. PCs are going to hate, hate, hate, having their weapons broken by monsters. At 4th level, they probably just got that +1 sword and now it's gone? I wouldn't GM that with a ten foot pole... But, critisms aside, I think this is definitely a workable module. I feel that this year, if there was another round after this one, the pitches would definitely be stronger. There's a lot of good ideas here that would definitely benefit from a 2nd draft. I think voters should keep that in mind.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

Last year we had a 5000-year-old city rise from the ocean, where the PCs adventure in it for a brief time before causing it to go away again.

This year we have a 5000-year-old city fall from the sky, where the PCs adventure in it for a brief time before causing it to go away again.

Which leads me to ask: Did you read last year's entries and the comments attached to them?

Because I'm seeing some parallels. Including the "too low a level" comments and the comparisons to Crucible of Chaos.

And then there's the "adventure location is destroyed/disappears" bit.

Set's comments on last year's entry pretty much sum up my thoughts on self-destructing locations.

Spoiler:
Short version: They're not a great idea.


I like the staff, and the city does sound like it could be fun, but it's clearly too much for level 4's.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber

I'm afraid this proposal doesn't really do it for me; it sounds a bit repetitive (especially the combat encounters), the plot is a bit ... strange (bad-strange, not good-strange), and it seems more suited to levels 7–9 than 4.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka Darkjoy

I hate the names, because they are just Dutch words.

Kracht the powerful prince. Kracht means power.

The mad wizard Gek. Gek means crazy/mad.

Granted, Dutch player would be a minority,but it would ruin the experience for us.

Star Voter 2013

I love how this adventure takes a low level party and make them feel epic in what they're doing. I know other people complain a lot about the scope, and that's true - I would have a hell of a time running something this big - but it's still fun.

But it's just a little too samey for me, flavor wise. Lots of similar encounters, a great big city, nothing super-eye catching other than the scope.


Hey Cody! I love the idea of a vanished Shory city returning to light in the world of Golarion, ready for PC's to explore.

I think however that your adventure concept fits far better as a higher level one, 10+ at the least. Your new monster concept, Ne'er is an excellent one, but again it sounds way too deadly for lower level characters.

Some more work in the adventure introduction is necessary for a DM to run the various factions in this city. I do have a solution for some of the problems others have presented.

The city could already be grounded in some remote location. The Aeromatic Academy burned themselves out trying to create a protective ward around the city which still holes to this day, 5,000 years later. Perhaps this ward is fading and creating the rift through which the Ne'er are coming through both inside and outside the city. The morlocks could indeed be living in caves below the city perhaps because these caves are more protected than the city above. These are just a few ideas I came up with while reading your proposal on how this could be reworked.

However, I am not sure I can vote for your proposal. It is a great idea for an adventure! But it has too many things which need to be reworked, not the least of which is the fact that it is just way too hard to fit this into a good concept for a low level adventure.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Wow Cody... I think you took a BIG swing for the fences, I was really looking forward to your adventure proposal, but sadly after reading over it, I just can't give you my vote.

I've enjoyed everything from you thus far, and while I really liked the IDEA of your adventure, I think the proposed character level is to low for what you are trying to set up. The module (that I'm guessing inspired this, but I could be mistaken) Crucible of Chaos was my favorite of the GameMastery Modules (and still v.3.5) and it was the basis for my long running Monday night game. Crucible of Chaos was for 8th level PCs. I think "Return to Nihility" should have been at least for characters of that level, if not a couple levels higher. (Note: Having Vanlor "return" from the Shadow Plane made me think of Forgotten Realms and the return of the Shade Enclave... but that's a good thing in my mind, that was one of my favorite FR trilogies. So the comparison is meant as a compliment).

But, all the good things that I liked about your story and the memories it conjured, just couldn't get me excited enough to vote for it. The adventure itself seems to try to do too much, or at other points in the proposal I'm not entirely sure what the PCs are supposed to do.

I wish you the best of luck, and look forward to additional material from you in the future, as I'm sure you have some freelance opportunities coming your way soon.

Regards,

Dean; The_Minstrel_Wyrm

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

Cody, I've enjoyed most of your entries so far, but unfortunately, I have the samse kinds of problems with your adventure proposal that the judges and others have. The biggest issue is really that this simply isn't a 4th level adventure. It reads like you took your initial idea which would have been for 10th level or so, and then tried to down scale it to fit the 4th level requirement. Unfortunately, that just doesn't work well. While you can scale down the encounters, you can't really scale down the plot or location, and even some of these scaled down encounters (particularly the ne'er) seem too tough for 4th level PCs.

Another thing that didn't sit well with me was some of the backstory. So the city was flying like most Shory cities, and then one day it's engine just started failing? That's a big anti-climax to a big world mystery of what happened to the flying cities of the Shory? If I were playing in this adventure, that's what I'd want to find out as I explored, but it doesn't seem to be addressed at all.

I also have a bit of a nit pick (I know, I always do). Why would the morlock princesses disguise themselves as beautiful girls? After 50 generations or more, would they even know what a beautiful girl looked like? Would the other morlocks even find that attractive, or just weird?

I think you do have the structure of an adventure down pretty well though, and that should serve you well in your future endeavors. I'm looking forward to seeing you take the feedback from this final round and turn it around to produce a stellar adventure when this is all over. (just don't make such a tough adventure for PFS - I won't like it if my character gets killed by a ne'er!)

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Cody I'd like to apologize for opening my mouth and not knowing from whence I speak... I hadn't bothered to read the round 5 rules... I figured I basically knew what it was about... and so I had no idea that the judges had constrained you and the others into proposing an adventure suitable for... four 4th level characters.

Still wish you the best of luck in the voting round.

~Dean

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka John Benbo

Anyone else reading this and wanting to play a gunslinging Kurt Russell type of PC? That's kind of the vibe I'm getting from this which makes me like it.

Osirion RPG Superstar 2009 Top 4 , Star Voter 2013 aka raidou

Cody, I wanted to say that I think you've got something really fun and creative in the ne'er. I envision them as completely alien, just walking through walls, doors, and any other obstacle in their path (leaving vaguely humanoid holes in everything) as they pursue their inscrutable goals.

What I would like to see more of in this adventure is a sense of urgency. You've got an ancient city plummeting to earth out of a rift in the sky. That's going to be a catastrophic event for both civilizations involved, but the events as written don't seem that devastating. An event like this is going to cause more of a widespread commotion than what you've described.

How the moorlocks and mongrelmen react to being thrust into this new world is fascinating to me. Do they even know that other worlds exist? Or, for that matter, have they ever experienced light or color, dwelling as they do in a realm of utter blackness?

I've really enjoyed your work in this competition. I wish you the best of luck here and in your future projects.

Star Voter 2013

Just as a side note on the ne'er, unless the players are only ever going to face one of them at a time, they're going to have to be in the ballpark of CR1 or CR2 creatures. A +20 bonus to break something at CR2 is huge, and players don't get disintegrate until way, way after this level range. If the morlocks can befriend one of these, why can't a PC? At 4th level having a monster that can disintegrate at all, let alone at will and when struck, is a major game breaker.

Awesome monster idea, but like the rest of the adventure it looks like it should be in the mid-teens, not in probably the second adventure the PCs go on.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Tales Subscriber

Um, this is simply NOT a 4th Level Adventure by any means!

While you go to great lengths to justify why a locale that was the pinnacle of power and cool in the old days is now run by CR6-7 guys I simply don't buy this concept.

For me it's way better to take a Level 1 locale and add something awesome to up its CR than to take a CR 15 locale and dumb it down.

The Ne'er are strange and not in a good way. Basically they are able to disintegrate "non-attended" matter. So while being able to disintegrate a castle wall they could not touch the glass that I hold in my hands or the cloth that I am wearing?! I think this is a good example of a CR15 monster/effect that got powered down in a bad way.

Finally this adventure starts off with a no go for me, throwing the PCs into jail to be busted out by a deus ex machina is not something I like to do. And because it is unclear how PCs and Mongrelfolk/Morloks could communicate (none should speak any modern language and the PCs have no Tongues) it seems hard to avoid a fight and dinteract with most of the NPCs in a diplomatic way.

Qadira RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8, Contributor

Cody,
Late congrats on being in the Top 4.
While I agree with many of the judges and the feedback you've gotten from the community, I also agree with Dean/The Minstrel Wyrm in that you swung for the fences here.
I think there are some good ideas and that you could harvest them for material that is more level appropriate.
If you choose to use this in your own campaign/or it gets later publication, you might consider opening the rift to Venlor into the other small town and giving the lower level PCS a chance to explore a pocket of the shadowed city as it bleeds over into Golarion, rather than having the entire city appear. That would allow the ne'er to be the BBEG for 4th level characters and then, perhaps, the PCs could begin tracking these rifts across Golarion, opening up the possibility for more of the cultural interaction and location showcasing that James eluded to in the judges' feedback.
Regardless of the total outcome of RPG superstar 2011, you're final four and that don't happen by accident.
Best of luck.
Qui-gon Jesse

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

The mighty Casey just struck out.
Cody, as the only finalist i voted for in all four previous rounds i was really jazzed up to see what your proposal would be. After reading it, however, i can't help but feel slightly let down. Good luck, but i can't vote for you this round.


I really enjoyed reading this application. It feels very epic and I like that it focusses on a few not too often seen races. As a DM, it allows me to really delve into the particulars of a society and its culture, through repeated contacts where the PCs find more, but little by little.

You've done very impressive work in this tournament.

You got my vote!


I agree with most of the judges' comments, especially about the ne'er. Every time the party fighter attacks these guys, he may lose his weapon. That's harsh. Unless its my character's shtick to replay a specific scene from "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", they usually only have 2 or 3 weapons, and usually only 1 "main" weapon.

In addition to the judges' comments, I'd like to add this...

Cody Coffelt wrote:


a massive black rift tears the sky and from it emerges the thousand foot wide island of Venlor

A 1000 ft. wide island is tiny for a city. That's an area less than 3 football fields across (counting the endzones). That hardly qualifies for a village. Add to that the fact that the city is supposedly self sustaining, and that means at least part of the land is devoted to agriculture.


I'm not really a big fan of the adventure title.

Another poster already mentioned that an island 1,000 ft in diameter is way too small for an entire city.

I like the ne'er, but they seem a bit powerful for a 4th level adventure.

It doesn't really seem to have much Golarion flavor to it.

There are some interesting ideas, but it seems as if you wanted your proposal to stand out so much that you went a little overboard on the adventure idea.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

'This could happen in any setting' is basically true of most Golarion adventures. And that's a feature, not a flaw.

Golarion is an excellent generic-fantasy-melting-pot setting, but it IS still a generic-fantasy-melting-pot setting, and the entire point of such settings is that you can throw in whatever high-fantasy shenanigans you want and have them fit. The setting serves the adventures, not the other way around.

I agree with most others' praise and criticism on this one, but I don't think it was a bad idea for him to write this as an "event", not tied to any particular place. I think that makes sense and makes the adventure more usable, especially if you take the space normally allocated to 'fleshing out' the location and instead spend that talking about how you can integrate this into any location.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013

I think your descriptive powers are excellent, you paint a hideous greasy picture. This has a very strong Netheril/City of Shade feel to it from the Forgotten Realms, and it think the y only thing that keeps it from being a clear rip off is that the city is so decrepit and degenerate. The ancient flying cities of Shory are already heavily Netherese so I guess any treatment of them can't help but be compared. I think you did a good job of owning this idea by twisting the elements from what we might expect from a returned high magic society.

I also think you did a fine job of scaling down the threat to a low level adventure, though I can certainly see where this is a stretch. Degenerate or no this does strain my suspension of disbelief quite a bit. I'm not saying that this is inappropriate for this power level, but I am saying that this treatments seems to imply a degree of supplementary explanation that simply won't fit within the module. Regardless of how reduces the inhabitants of this city are, a floating city appearing in the skies is bound to draw all sorts of attention. Where are all the high level wizards teleporting from all corners of the world to investigate? They certainly won't miss a chance like this to explore a Shory city, especially if the most resistance they re going to find is a 6th level barbarian. You've included no mechanic here to keep this high-level NPC's away despite the fact that they are bound to want to investigate. Also, if Paizo prints this, then the return of the city become cannon. This then means that they will be obligated to address all of the issues that you didn't have space for in the module. This event will have happened in the Golarion Political landscape, and will certainly have vast repercussions.

I think this idea works nicely in a vacuum, but in a larger setting which is striving for verisimilitude it opens an exponentially larger can of worms. Shory artifacts are great, they add a sense of mystery and wonder, they pose more questions than they answer. An actual Shory city practically screams that there need to be answers here, "and we're gonna stay until we find 'em".

If the adventure goes off as planned, and the PCs send the city back to its home plane before the higher level wizards can get there to investigate, I think it makes for the start of a great campaign. The PCs will become favoured guests of powerful wizards who want to learn of their adventure. Other less scrupulous wizards will seek them out to pry their secrets from their minds be force. The party will become famous, and infamous and will come to enjoy privilege beyond their rank and status. It would be a really fin game, and I would love to both play and run it, but it's a home campaign. To me it seems far to grand in scope for a published produce, even a higher level one.

Osirion

Hi Cody
So far I have voted for pretty much all of your entries. At this point sadly I cannot. There were better proposals in this round. I look forward to seeing more of your work and wish you all the best. By the way I thought that The Hound Master was the best piece to come out of this entire superstar year so congrats; It's awesome I really hope to see it become part of the fold because that is a class I could get into playing. I also thought that the chase sequence in the crucible was nice and novel (although easy to avoid). Good luck as you continue on.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 aka Scipion del Ferro

Thanks to everyone for their comments and critiques. Don't forget to vote before Monday!


(edited, tweaked a little for formatting and better phrasing)
Disclaimer:
Ask A RPGSupersuccubus provides the much needed viewpoint of a CE aligned (very advanced) succubus. The following review pays assiduous attention to fairness, balance, and logic. That said, these are Abyssal notions of those concepts, wheretofore today ‘fairness’ is an installation commonly employed by someone with an over-the-top posh accent for smelting metals or toasting lightly flammable enemies, ‘balance’ is a small blue furry creature with a penchant for snacking upon ninjas, and logic is a special form of magic which irrefutably proves a succubus is always right.

For the purpose of reviewing this proposal, I shall consider the quartet of adventurous succubi Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia and Daria to be in the area. Whilst it is at least unwise (if not outright foolish) to take any succubus for granted, I am sufficiently familiar with the four of them to be certain of their likely general reactions to any circumstance detailed here. As a matter of good manners, here are a few details regarding the four:
Anthea:

Spoiler:
Anthea is an inquisitor who loosely associates with the church of Gorum. She enjoys uncovering the truth ‘by any and all means necessary’ – and the public exposure of the trivial little secrets that mortals keep from one another is often (at the very least) good for causing a punch up. She is fond of spiked armour and (by succubus standards) is relatively enthusiastic when it comes to physical brawling.

Byrria:
Spoiler:
Byrria is a lady ‘archeologist’ – she dislikes to use the term ‘tomb-robber’ to describe herself except when there happens to be a cleric of Asmodeus in the vicinity whom a whiff of anything remotely illegal is guaranteed to successfully wind-up. The cultures of some mortals whereby the deceased are buried with extraordinarily valuable and nice looking objects is something which she’s never quite understood the mentality behind, but which she nonetheless appreciates tremendously – since she loves to acquire such objects and it’s often less fuss and easier to remove them from ‘archeological sites’ than from a palace patrolled and supervised by living guards.
Byrria is a fan of the demon lords Aldinach and Areshkagal.

Cynthia:
Spoiler:
Cynthia is a wizardess. She’s interested in unlocking the secrets of the universe to gain vast personal power, and is more than happy to share what she’s learned thus far with anyone foolish enough to suggest ‘there’s no such thing as a wizardess; only a female wizard’. (Generally such ‘sharings’ tend to involve evocation spells of a highly destructive nature, or the summoning of large heavy metal objects in the vicinity of ten feet above the wit in question’s head.)
Owing to a misunderstanding during a recent escapade when she was dealing with some daemons whom absolutely no-one was going to miss (not even their nominal masters back in Abaddon) Cynthia has acquired a paladin of Erastil familiar (Also Known As a ‘husband’). She generally leaves her familiar at home, moping around his estates in Brevoy, but the empathic link does occasionally bother her. However he is too Lawful and she is too proud for either of them to take well to suggestions (whether helpful or otherwise) that their union might in any way have been a Mistake.
When it comes to religion, Cynthia is fascinated by the deity Nethys in his destructive aspect.

Daria:
Spoiler:
Daria is a bard. She loves being an object of rapturous mortal adoration, the bigger the crowd and the acclaim the better. A passable performer on the mandolin and with a good singing voice, she admires the goddess Shelyn as a patron of the arts. She considers herself a true devotee of Shelyn, although given the steps that she’s prepared to take at times to ensure an audience, most worshipers and clerics of Shelyn would beg to differ on that point. Daria is aware of that but waves aside such opinions as ‘the artistic jealousies of lesser performers’. She is happy to do what she considers a ‘favour’ for the church of Shelyn any time she perceives that one may need doing (and often irrespective of whether such a favour was even asked of her in the first place).

Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria are either in or travelling through the area for the purpose of shopping expedition. How likely are the initial events presented to interest them and if not sufficiently enticing what might it take to engage their involvement?
Fortunately succubi are nothing if not infinitely charming and resourceful (besides being able to read the surface thoughts of a creature and able to communicate telepathically). Weird creatures (of a variety such as the ne'er) dropping out of the sky that are simply inquisitive are no trouble for a succubus to handle, although much less fortunate beings might well be in for a world of misunderstanding and hurt.
All that said, the couple of ne'er that Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia and Daria question aren't likely to be able to say much of use about the current situation. Whilst doubtless able to describe how members of their race have come into existence in the area around the city for generations, and their conflicts with the people of that city (who are unable to understand them) they aren't likely to have much idea why a rift tore open and the city dropped out of the place where it had been for so long.
Flying up to investigate the rift, the succubi may be able to conclude that a demiplane exists on the other side, and perhaps to converse with other ne'er, but that's not likely to cast much light on things either, unless there are some powerful ne'er sages around which the presentation hasn't referred to.
At this point the question is as to what the succubi do next? The description that the ne'er may be able to give of their race's interactions with the inhabitants of the city will make it clear that some sort of military regime could be in charge in Venlor, and the scouting parties of mongrelmen being led by morlocks out into the surrounding countryside will certainly speak of this. Debris from the city and contributions from Byrria and Daria are likely to identify the city as being a relic of Shory. If any mongrelmen or morlocks are taken and questioned, they will know of (and disclose) the arrival of a new king in power.
The situation has the appearance (to the four succubi) of a violent and deliberate invasion of a part of the material plane by a Shory city under a new and expansionist ruler following a long period of quieter ambitions under other rulers somewhere else. Whilst Anthea is a martial enthusiast, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria aren't and the notion of trying to virtually single-handed fight a violent militaristic city on a war-footing for any possible reward is unlikely to appeal to the latter three. That's the situation as they'll see it, and they won't be prepared to risk their necks in any kind of personal investigation of Venlor on the off-chance that the situation is any less critical than it seems. At this point if asked by the local authorities (who saw the way they negotiated with the ne'er) for advice, the group consensus is likely to be for the locals to fort up and prepare for a siege, whilst messages are sent to the capital of whatever land they happen to be in (assuming it's not a devil ruled country) appealing for urgent military assistance.
Although the group consensus will be against directly taking on Venlor, given Anthea's enthusiasm for martial stuff the four will hang around for what does happen next (unless the country is devil-run, in which case they're simply likely to scoot).

So just what is likely to happen once four succubi do get involved?
They're likely very much on the periphery, except in terms of any ongoing negotiations with ne'er, for the majority of the time. Daria will do her best to bolster the spirits and/or morale of the locals whilst they wait for what approximates to a national army to arrive. The four may assist with interrogations of any prisoners, but given that Venlor officers and soldiers are apparently loyalists to the crown any information which emerges about the true state of affairs in the city is likely one-sided and distorted at best.
Anthea may be able to gain additional support for any military campaign via her connections with the church of Gorum.
Once the national army (or equivalent) arrives and does its job, the succubi will be happy to pick over the ruins of the city for anything of interest that they're allowed to take for being so helpful.

What about the aftermath?
It's unclear what happens to the planar rift if the city doesn't go back up through it: does it remain, with ne'er becoming a permanent feature in the area, or does it gradually seal itself up? This (plus the swarms of treasure hunters, Pathfinders, and others streaming in to loot the ruins) is going to be the major feature in the aftermath of events. That and a rise in popularity of the church of Gorum (if Anthea used her influence to gain additional support from them to assist the national army).

Predicted Extraneous Body Count:
The slaughter in Venlor of soldiers and citizens is likely to be near total. Given what happened in the case of a planar incursion in Sarkoris, whomever the local ruler is in the nation which Venlor landed in is unlikely to want to risk a bunch of hostile warmongering beings from another plane hanging around. Admittedly the beings invading in Sarkoris were demons, but the invaders in Venlor clearly aren't human, they control what is a flying city, and given that most rulers will be inclined to protect their citizens from the possibility of harm (and/or to seize such an important asset for their own use) they're likely to go for the simplest and safest option of exterminating everyone in Venlor.
Most wars have casualties on both sides, however, and in the struggle to contain this particular other planar invasion, soldiers and militia defending their homeland against the Venlor incursion are likely to lose their lives in some numbers too.
The body count is certainly likely to be much, much, higher than the 'lead a mongrelmen revolt' which the presentation posits that adventurous sorts involving themselves will do.

Further Disclaimer:
Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (out of deference to Lord Orcus) would like to once again remind voters that she has been providing a (very advanced) succubus’ take on this round’s entries, and that whilst her assessments are (naturally) impeccable, voters might like to consider other opinions and sources, too.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Hey Cody,

I really love the feel of your adventure the whole H.G. Wells ‘The Time Machine’ beautiful city (and a flying city, which I’m a fan of) with the devolved inhabitants. I have to admit when I read ‘similar to a sentient sphere of annihilation’ it threw me, 4th level PCs can handle this? But everyone has already mentioned this.

The other thing that struck me was that the location was basically the same as Crucible of Chaos. I wouldn’t have minded a Shory city, they are in canon as having flying cites after all. But giving it pretty much the same structure as Crucible of Chaos (staff of rightful rule, Aeromantic Infandibulum, invisible bridges made of force), makes it feel like homage. Golarion is relatively new as a campaign world; I don’t think we really need that yet. There are whole countries that don’t even have a single adventure set in them.

I found your plot was direct, which should keep the PCs on track and I liked the logical sequence of events, especially the interesting side quests the wizard Gek gives them. Your writing still flows well.

Good luck in the voting.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

I definitely want to give a "me too" to Matt's praise on the writing. It grabbed me in the first paragraph.

Cody Coffelt wrote:
While covered in the old king’s blood he traveled into the dark heart of the city. Deep within the Aeromantic Infandibulum he tore free the staff of rightful rule. He returned with staff in hand, declaring himself king, and beginning a chain of events that would bring two worlds into collision.

Nice visuals, very active (he didn't just claim the staff, he tore it free) and you ended the paragraph with some tension. I want to find out what the chain of events are when I read that.


Dear Mr. Coffelt,
Congratulations on reaching the top four. I've been looking over your previous presentations in this contest, and I find that you gave us a potential dimensional bomb, the houndmaster, a Highly Acceptable ambitious minor warlord (who Gives Demons Their Due Respect), and an industrial site nonetheless conveniently located for the delivery of groceries. Since the release of the Deacon of Ash presentation, my scribe has come upon a (currently) rare tome which describes these relic-organs you mentioned. I'm not clear that any kind of 'unholy' ritual using one would much discomfort Arazni - perhaps one involving kittens and flower petals and holy water, but it seems an unholy one might just strengthen her. Just to be clear, though, I am not advising anyone to act against the co-ruler of Geb here, or at least not without making some sort of arrangement for the disposal of their soul in the hereafter with a friendly glabrezu broker first. There are several offering Quite Good Deals at present, with Fast Track Promotion from larva status. You might even be allowed to retain a few of your memories such as of the embarrassingly silly thing you did which landed you in such a position in the first place.
Anyway, you made the it to the top four and the voters have now spoken, and they've decided that they'd rather you write stuff for Pathfinder Society than produce a module based on this proposal. Or something like that. So it's time to pull the dust-covers over Venlor (at least for now) and to try something else. Will the Shory fly again? Only time will tell...
Hoping that you have found this post and all My others Particularly Helpful...

Yours,

Ask A RPGSupersuccubus.

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