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Among the Gears of Madness


Round 5 - Top 4: Submit a full adventure proposal

1 to 50 of 60 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka DankeSean

Among the Gears of Madness

Among the Gears of Madness is an adventure for 4th level characters who should advance to 5th level by the adventure’s end. It is set near Korvosa, but can be placed near any city without issue.

Adventure Background
Twenty years ago, two cities joined hands across continents, hoping to awe the world. The Grand Duchy of Alkenstar sought to open its markets by displaying the possibilities of its engineering prowess to nations everywhere. The Mana Wastes being an uninviting location, however, they wished to stage this display somewhere accessible to the rest of the world. Korvosa, hungry for recognition and long wishing to promote its own standing on the international field, offered to host. Not as grand a locale as Alkenstar had hoped for, but many major cities were unwilling to provide land or funding. Acres of arid land a day’s ride from the city were cleared, fairground construction done, and the Exposition of Progressive Wonders was born.

It ran for months, a miniature city showcasing Alkenstari design, displays glorifying Korvosan history, and arrayed entertainments. Ultimately, in spite of fairgoers traveling from across Golarion, it was a tepid success, at best. Visitors considered the clockwork and steam displays only amusements, and left without thinking Korvosa more than a backwater with cosmopolitan delusions. Profits barely recouped construction expenses; in the end, dismantling and transporting all exhibits back to Alkenstar was deemed cost inefficient. The place was abandoned whole, with numerous displays left intact within.

It still stands, a crumbling ghost town not thirty miles from civilization. Built on rocky ground, farmers and settlers never bothered to reclaim it, but it is far from deserted. On the outskirts of Varisian soil, any abandoned structure is a beacon for monstrous squatters, and given the size of the fairgrounds, various tribes of humanoids and other beings have come to reside here. While these uninvited inhabitants are known to Korvosan authorities, the grounds are far enough from farmlands and trade routes that the situation is ignored.

The region has grown more sinister in the past year, however. An exhibit that once astonished crowds with controlled visions of the night sky is now the laboratory of a deluded Lergeni astrologer named Pavorhu. He uses a mixture of magic and decaying Alkenstari technology to explore star configurations, believing the salvation of his homeland lies in the false dome above. He is convinced that if he can only find the correct sky, position the stars as they were the moment before the Eye of Abendego formed, reality can be rewritten and Lirgen restored. He is incorrect, but his experiments have nonetheless produced unexpected results. Somehow, his madness and stellar conjurations have caught the attention of entities from beyond the Dark Tapestry. Pavorhu’s experiments have become a window into the world-- one they only peer through for now, but their gaze focuses daily, and eventually the gulf between the abandoned fairground and the other side of the sky may be bridged. A shroud of unease has fallen over the area, as the other inhabitants begin to be infected by the madness from beyond.

Part 1: Winding the Springs
The adventure begins at the fairgrounds. How the PCs get there is up to the GM, but some possible hooks include:

  • A contact in the Korvosan Guard sub-contracts the party to investigate the fairgrounds. Reports of the inhabitants stirring are filtering in, and while there isn’t enough of a threat to mobilize armed forces and rout the place, more detailed information is warranted.
  • The party is contacted by a scholar from Absalom. A graduate of the Clockwork Cathedral, he wishes to examine whatever abandoned Exposition technology there may be. A noncombatant, he hires the party to scout the area and, if it is unsafe, retrieve any portable devices they find.
  • A scion of a noble family is kidnapped. The kidnappers, a Sczarni gang, contacted his family arranging a ransom exchange at the old fairgrounds. The remote, unpatrolled locale has served them well in the past. Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate the current restlessness of the fairground inhabitants. The party is hired to rescue the victim from his kidnappers; however, when they arrive at the designated meeting point, all they find are dead Sczarni. (The victim was taken for sacrifice by the boggards of Callistria’s Tunnel and may still be rescued.)
Whatever the reason, before entering the fairground, voices are heard coming from an outlying building. Upon investigation, this proves to be a gibbering mouther, a new arrival, only having bubbled up from the ground some days back after being attracted by the growing disturbance in the region.

Part 2: Dwellers of Rust and Dust
The adventure is openly structured; once the PCs enter the fairgrounds they can explore at their own pace. There is no strict order for encounters-- the meat of the adventure comes from discovering and interacting with the various groups of monsters that live here. The fair is laid out in a rough circular plot nearly a mile in diameter, with eight main lanes sectioning it like wheelspokes, and numerous side streets and alleys off these.

The majority of the fair buildings are deserted and empty, but assorted creatures control regions of the fairgrounds, usually headquartered in one building, though some groups spread out further. Pavorhu’s planetarium is at the far end from the entrance, and is the intended climax of the adventure, but if they fight him earlier they can still go back and encounter the other dwellers. Likewise, their interactions with the inhabitants are open-ended. While the party may be uninterested in playing diplomat between monstrous factions, the option exists. Otherwise, they are likely to see the PCs as just another group of rivals to attack.

As they investigate, the party encounters strange phenomena stirred up by Pavorhu; these are mostly subtle manifestations, such as whispering patches of darkness, mirrors empty of reflections, or breezes that feel almost gelatinous. The most sinister is the appearance throughout the fair of the alien spies known as watchweirds.

Watchweird:
These aberrations are remote observers for beings beyond the Dark Tapestry. They manifest as two-dimensional, slick sheens on flat surfaces. Occasionally an open eye flashes across the film, slightly different every time it appears. Once they have found something to observe, they follow it, sliding across walls or ceilings with nothing more than a faint ripple, instilling a sense of paranoia and unease. If attacked, they erupt in a swarm of floating, acidic eyeballs.

Other residents of the fairground, and their lairs, are as follows:

The Lake of Progress
This reflecting pool is in a plaza near the center of the fairground, filled with several feet of algae-laden water. It acts as a barrier between factions, as most creatures avoid the plaza due to the mutated crystal ooze inhabiting the pool. Once a garbage disposal for an alchemical exhibit, after the fair was abandoned it escaped and found a home here. The various reagents and chemicals it was fed caused it to slowly transform, until it became an id ooze. It floats hidden in the pool until it is in range to begin confusing the party. If someone stumbles into the pool, it goes right for them.

The Hall of Captured Light
Near the fair entrance, this windowless pavilion once demonstrated the nascent Alkenstari science of image-binding; capturing images using nothing more than light and alchemy. Still primitive, it nevertheless entertained fairgoers, who stood before specially-treated walls and had their silhouettes preserved there. It is still decorated with these, each room lined with posed shadows. As the party explores the building, these shadows seem to move and follow them. The PCs might assume these are undead, but this would be erroneous. The gang of skulks that lays claim to this swath of the fairgrounds uses this building as a lair, the simple black-and-white images on the walls being exceptionally easy to camouflage themselves among. Of all the fairground groups, they have the most knowledge about their rival’s bases, as they have spied upon (and stolen from) them many times. Allying with them is difficult, though, as they are relatively unaffected by the changes. They likely see the party as merely a new source of supplies. If the party has taken up residence on or near the fairgrounds, a group might track and steal from them at night, slitting sleeping throats being optional.

Temple of the Chess Dragon
The western central area is the ‘Avenue of Automata’, lined with buildings dedicated to specialized clockwork constructs. Many have gone missing or rusted to uselessness, but one remains. A kobold tribe claims this street, guarding the home of their ‘god’: a dragon-headed bronze humanoid seated at an ornate chess board. Originally, this construct played games against fairgoers-- frequently winning. The kobolds clean and care for the Chess Dragon’s mechanisms, and their tribal leader interpreted its will from the movement of pieces around the board. This ended months ago when the Chess Dragon grabbed their leader’s head and crushed it like overripe fruit. It then spoke to the awed kobolds who have directly obeyed it since. This once mindless device has become ‘possessed’ by a cog-geist, itself a manifestation of the forces Pavorhu toys with. Thus, the entire kobold tribe now effectively serves the planetarium’s interests. Negotiation with them is therefore difficult, and they are likely to actively begin hunting the PCs once alerted to them.

Cog-geist:
These immaterial beings can infest and control machinery and constructs. In addition to being able to strike opponents themselves, they animate other objects in their vicinity to act in concert with them, as well as possessing a limited telekinesis allowing them to hurl objects through the air or make enemies own weapons dance against them.

Calistria’s Tunnel
Among the amusements of the eastern central fairgrounds is this simple mechanical ride, where boats once traveled on an underground waterway through a darkly romantic environment. The boats have sunk and the chains that pulled them no longer work, but the water-filled tunnel still exists, now home to a boggard tribe. They are territorial rivals with the kobolds, whose greater strength versus the kobolds' larger numbers made disputes a stalemate, eventually settling into a truce, of sorts. Recent events in the area has caused hostilities to resurface, and the boggards have found to that under their new leader, the kobolds are frighteningly competent at ambushes and guerrilla attacks. The boggards have suffered significant losses and are desperate to curry Gogunta’s favor to even the odds. Once alerted to the PCs presence, the boggards first thought is to capture them for sacrifices. In spite of this, they are the inhabitants of the fair most in need of allies, although in their demented perversity they do not think to approach the PCs as such.

The Windup Ballet
The central attraction of the northwestern grounds, this theater is essentially a giant music box-- the understage is a system of cylinders and gears which produce a variety of music. Automated ‘dancers’ wait offstage, gliding in intricate formations when the music plays. This theater is inhabited by Glathnik, a clockwork-obsessed gargoyle who has collected many inactive constructs from the fairgrounds. These are arranged in the audience, glass and metal eyes fixed on the stage. Years among these figures has caused Glathnik to adapt and resemble a stonecrafted machine itself. It desires the Chess Dragon for its collection, but the kobolds have fended it off for years. It might ally with a party that steals it this toy. Otherwise, it simply sees the party as a fun murder game, waiting for them to climb onstage before springing the music mechanism and diving from the rafters to attack, darting in and out from behind the moving dancers. Glathnik carries a personal treasure found years ago: a device crafted as proof that technology and magic are not mutually exclusive.

Timepiece of preserved moments:
This pocketwatch has the ability to shift instants of danger around the owner’s lifeline. By taking time to wind the watch when his life is in danger, moments can be stored that preserve the owner for a time in the future if he is near death.

The Crystal Arboretum
This great glass greenhouse once showcased agricultural improvements engineering could bring. Automated harvesters, advanced irrigation, and specially focused hothouse windows stood among lush vegetation from distant locales. Now most of the glass is broken or missing, the exotic plants mostly dead, and native weeds have crept in . This display of orderly horticulture gone to seed is the residence of Merellda (forlarren blight druid 5), and has been for years. Tormented by a chaotic mind, like all forlarren, she sought refuge in nature only to find wildlife as infuriating as all living things. Not until finding the fair-- a place neither wilderness or city, with structures slowly collapsing and the wild gradually creeping in around the edges-- did she find contentment. It is dual-natured, like her, and she calls it home. She is willing to coexist with other fair residents, so long as she doesn’t have to interact with them, but recent events have made it a literally alien place. Of all the longtime fair inhabitants, only she has some understanding of the cause. She knows she isn’t strong enough to confront Pavorhu, nor diplomatic enough to form a coalition with other fairground residents against him. Once aware of the PCs, she seeks them out to see if they can be of any use to her. While she cannot claim to be friends with the other residents, she has in-depth knowledge of them, and can advise the PCs in whatever course of action they choose. That advice is hard to come by, however-- her forlarren nature makes her difficult to deal with, as she is prone to hurling insults and epithets along with any words of wisdom, and is prone to fly into a rage and attack if things go poorly.

The Cursed Carousel
The southeast of the fair is remote from conflict. While an optimist might claim the innocence of the children’s amusements that still remain here fend off the monsters, the truth is other fair inhabitants find the creatures that live here disturbing and dangerous. Alkenstari pride was at play even here: while there are remnants of man-powered games and rides, the centerpiece of the area is a magnificent double-tiered carousel. It seems in good shape, even slowly turning with a wheeze of calliope music when approached. It has been maintained by a mob of vexgit gremlins, who have also rigged it to be a deathtrap. Once approached, it spins faster and faster, quickly flying apart in a mass of shrapnel and sharpened gears. The vexgits themselves are uninterested in the goings-on with the rest of the fair, and after the carousel ‘attacks’, they try and lure the party through other mechanical hazards they have rigged in the area.

Part 3: Eyes in the Darkness
Ultimately, through exploration or communicating with other inhabitants, the party finds themselves investigating the domed building upon a hill at the far end of the fairground. This planetarium is the residence of the mad diviner Pavorhu. It is constructed with a series of antechambers, each devoted to an aspect of astronomy. Eventually they lead to a large, enclosed circular rotunda and theater. Here, Alkenstari science amazed crowds with mechanical and alchemically powered lights that allowed them to spin galaxies of stars on the overhead dome.

Tales of this theater of the stars drew Pavorhu here. He repaired the aging devices as best he could, using magic to patch over anything he didn’t understand. Once ready, he had a starfield he could use in his astrological calculations year-round. His efforts have slowly cost him his sanity as both his stellar magics and his growing desperation acted like a beacon for actual beings from beyond the stars.

Pavorhu is alone here, except for the dread attention of the things that observe him, but getting to him is no easy task. Being a microscope for these entities has suffused the entire building with reality-warping energies, and while Pavorhu’s madness somehow keeps him safe, the party is not so blessed. A number of areas in the building are haunts. They are charged by cosmic horrors rather than dead spirits, and while still suppressible with positive energy, special knowledge of the beyond is also required. PCs attempting to neutralize them must either make or be aided by someone making a Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (planes) skill check. Some of the forms these haunts take are:

  • Light sources dim, affected by darkness; this persists until leaving the building. Outside the dim light area snarling and rending can be heard-- anyone stepping outside this area begins to take damage from unseen sources.
  • A spot on the wall swells, becoming a gaping pit of blackness. Gravity in front of this horizontal hole inclines towards it, allowing PCs to ‘fall’ sideways into this darkness, which otherwise acts as a create pit spell.
  • A room distorts in size, with PCs suddenly separated from each other by geometrically increased distances; simultaneously black tentacles erupt at their feet.
At the heart of this madness Pavorhu (half-elf Diviner 8) is in his theater waiting, alerted to the PCs approach by watchweirds or other means. His distorted view of the universe means that he sees them as interlopers, agents of the chaos that took his homeland from him a century ago. He will not negotiate, seeking the destruction of those who would halt or delay his experiments.

Concluding the Adventure
With Pavorhu’s death, the link to the Dark Tapestry is severed. All manifestations stop, and haunts and watchweirds vanish. The party can continue exploring the grounds, though with Pavorhu’s death any deals they brokered with residents may end. The fairgrounds themselves might still prove a rich source of surprising Alkenstari treasures. Also, Pavorhu’s notes indicate he has been corresponding and sharing results with other Lergeni astrologers. Somewhere one of them may be drawing the eyes of the sky down upon themselves....

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Welcome to the final round, Sean! It's been a pretty long journey and I hope you've had immeasurable fun along the way. For everyone's adventure proposal, I decided to break my commentary into two halves. The first will assess your pitch...meaning, how well you sold your ideas within the proposal itself. The second will assess 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 be selecting (i.e., the adventure they most want to see published so they can play). So, with that, let's get to it...

Feedback for: Among the Gears of Madness

Spoiler:

The Pitch
Okay. Let's get serious. This is the part where you need to sell your idea. You also 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...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 helped you get a sense for these things...as well as any self-study you've done by reviewing Paizo's current adventure modules and products.

First off, I liked the title. "Among the Gears of Madness" rolls off the tongue very easily. I think it's one of the better titles out of all the proposals this year. It's got some evocative imagery...i.e., someone caught within the turning gears of a clockwork monstrosity...as well as the figurative "gears" of your adventure's plot. It also hints toward the madness of your main villain and what he's doing at the adventure site. So, well done here.

After that, I think you did okay in terms of presenting your proposal. Not great. But okay. You certainly gave us enough material for 32 pages. Maybe more than enough, depending on how much space you devote to all the areas of the abandoned fairground. Tim Hitchcock and Nic Logue's Carnival of Tears module covered a similar location, so it's certainly possible. But, you've given us two new monsters (the watchweird and cog-geist) and a new magic item which will take up a fair amount of space in the appendix. If I were coaching you, I'd recommend cutting it back to one new monster so you can have more space to flesh out the fairground. I don't really get a sense for what CR these new monsters will have, but most everything else seems CR-appropriate...a crystal ooze, a gang of skulks, some kobolds, a tribe of boggards, a gargoyle, a 5th level forlarren druid, vexgit gremlins, and your final villain Pavorhu--who as a diviner 8 should represent a well-matched challenge provided the PCs reach 5th level by the adventure's end.

I do like how you've structured things as a sandbox with several individual areas. That should help offset some of the CR challenges if the PCs can rest and/or conserve their resources. That's a smart decision. But I didn't like it so much in terms of your adventure proposal, because a sandbox is a lot harder to pitch and make it sound exciting. Going with a sandbox approach is a bit of a gamble, I think. The interest in that kind of adventure comes and goes. Here lately, I get a sense the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction after Kingmaker and Serpent's Skull dealt so much with that kind of adventuring. But, maybe a shorter 32-page adventure would be a nice place to capture that kind of thing one last time.

So, with all that on the table, I kind of like how you presented your proposal. It has a good format, chopping things up into three manageable pieces. You give us the new monsters as well as a new magic item. I wasn't overly thrilled with the adventure hooks and the premise of your site-based adventure, though. And I'll get into that more in the second half of my comments. From a writing perspective, I thought you relied a lot more on passive voice than necessary. For example, take these paragraphs, where I've highlighted your passive verbs:

Sean McGowan wrote:

"The adventure is openly structured; once the PCs enter the fairgrounds they can explore at their own pace. There is no strict order for encounters-- the meat of the adventure comes from discovering and interacting with the various groups of monsters that live here. The fair is laid out in a rough circular plot nearly a mile in diameter, with eight main lanes sectioning it like wheelspokes, and numerous side streets and alleys off these.

The majority of the fair buildings are deserted and empty, but assorted creatures control regions of the fairgrounds, usually headquartered in one building, though some groups spread out further. Pavorhu’s planetarium is at the far end from the entrance, and is the intended climax of the adventure, but if they fight him earlier they can still go back and encounter the other dwellers. Likewise, their interactions with the inhabitants are open-ended. While the party may be uninterested in playing diplomat between monstrous factions, the option exists. Otherwise, they are likely to see the PCs as just another group of rivals to attack.

As they investigate, the party encounters strange phenomena stirred up by Pavorhu; these are mostly subtle manifestations, such as whispering patches of darkness, mirrors empty of reflections, or breezes that feel almost gelatinous. The most sinister is the appearance throughout the fair of the alien spies known as watchweirds."

All of those sentences rely on a form of the verb "to be" with "is"..."are"...and so on. That's a very flat way of describing things. It isn't evocative enough to get me all that excited to see you write it up for real. Now, granted, this isn't your actual adventure write-up. It's just your proposal. But still, when publishers and editors see this much passive voice showing up in your proposal, they immediately start worrying about how much of it will appear in the final manuscript turnover. You used it enough here that I noticed. And that's not a good thing. You need to reach for more evocative phrasing with your language. I'd suggest you really make it a point to work on that. Your writing will improve tremendously if you do.

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 - The misguided diviner Pavorhu appears to be your penultimate villain in this adventure, but I didn't get a lot of "villainy" out of him in how your proposal presents him. You've described him as "mad" and his experiments have drawn things from the Dark Tapestry. So, there's overtones of the Great Old Ones here. But he's basically just trying to restore his homeland by undoing the damage the Eye of Abendego wreaked upon the washed out kingdom of Lirgen. To be frank, I'm missing much of the awesome villain-factor that I sensed in your depiction of Lady Rosiline and even Koschei of the Rotting Kremlin. Pavorhu simply comes off far less inspiring given the circumstances of his backstory and the framework of your adventure proposal.

The Locale(s) - I started out thinking you were going to propose an adventure set in the Mana Wastes of Alkenstar. Then, I felt disappointed because you proposed this elaborate backstory of having them produce a "World's Fair"-like spectacle in farflung Varisia near Korvosa. It came off feeling very contrived and not very credible. That said, I actually like the notion of an abandoned fairground with some semi-permanent structures as an adventure site. It did make me immediately compare it to a "Carnival of Tears" though...as well as Matt Stinson's "Abandoned Carnival at the Bumpy Apple Orchard" in RPGSS 2009. If this adventure gets green-lit, I'd like to see you make it stand out as something very different. And, based on your description of the various locales in the fairground, I think you can pull that off. So, I've got positives and negatives in play when I assess your locales. I think you'd need to change some things up to make this stand out and fit in properly with Golarion...i.e., I might suggest moving it back to Alkenstar.

The Plot - Your plot has Pavorhu playing around with Alkenstari technology? Left behind in Varisia (near Korvosa)? And it lets him manipulate star configurations and potentially reverse a mega-powerful effect like the Eye of Abendego? I wasn't aware Alkenstari technology could achieve feats of that magnitude. And why would Alkenstar abandon or leave anything behind at this fairground with that kind of power for someone else to come along and tamper with? This feels very out of sync with what I would expect from a portrayal of this kind of adventuring site and backstory. Aside from that, I think your smaller plot lines are pretty interesting. The kobold vs. boggards rivalry...the clockwork-collecting gargoyle...and even the skulks, gremlins, and forlarren druid sound cool. But, again, I think this is the pitfall of a sandbox adventure. To win over the reader with your pitch, you need to make each of those individual encounters "pop" with something awesome and memorable. And I can't say that any of them (as individually described here) come across that way. So, I felt let down here.

The Minions - I didn't get a sense that you really had any minions for Pavorhu (unless you count the haunts inside the dome). Instead, he's a villain on a one-man mission. And, though his activities have brought in the watchweirds (which presumably feature quite strongly in the adventure), they don't seem to be working together. You also mention that the madness of these creatures from the Dark Tapestry is starting to spread to the other inhabitants of the region...and I was left wondering what that involved. The kobolds, boggards, skulks, gremlins, etc. didn't seem particularly affected by anything. Their inclusion came off more like a grab bag of CR-appropriate adversaries dropped into the location to give the PCs something to fight. In other words, these creatures didn't come off feeling like they had a strong sense of "belonging" to what's happening in the adventure. They each just seem to have carved out their individual niches in the fairground and I'm not really sure why they're there...e.g., the boggards stick around, but there's a much safer swamp in Varisia where they already live? I thought the forlarren druid came off like the most understandable one for being there, but she too didn't seem like anything more than an "information resource" rather than an inherent part of the plot or the locale. So, sadly, despite the great variety here (which is appropriate for a sandbox adventure), I just didn't come away inspired by it because the individual factions and inhabitants of the fairground aren't integrated well enough to avoid tripping my "credibility" meter.

The Reward - Is there one? The PCs sever the link to the Dark Tapestry and put an end to the haunts, watchweirds, and cog-geist animations...so, it's a good deed. You included the timepiece of preserved moments but I don't really get a sense of what it does...or that it would become a cherished piece of treasure for a PC's lifetime or career. If you had played this up and better defined it, I might feel differently. Other than that, you've also got some hooks hinting towards a reward for investigating the fairground, but nothing definitive enough to sell me on a "wow" factor that will have players talking about the adventure and what they gained by it long after their PCs have moved on to the next one. So this was a miss for me.

Conclusion
In the end, I just didn't find enough here to warrant recommending this adventure proposal as the winning entry, Sean. You've had a really amazing run (for two years in a row!). 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 an opportunity to show your stuff with a PFS scenario. As such, I've tried to do everything I can to give you insights into where things didn't work for me here, hoping it might improve your future designs. Everyone else will hopefully do the same (including the voters who comment here). In terms of advice, I'd recommend that you pay attention to all the feedback here and learn from it. Adjust your designs and your writing accordingly. 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, even though (unfortunately) I'm seeing a lot of red flags and problems with this proposal. 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.

This adventure proposal is set in a really intriguing and compelling adventure site that I've not really seen done before… but then it mires it in a backstory that's all but impossible to justify and causes a huge amount of problems with established canon and feels like it would need more than 32 pages of rules support material in order to pull off what it's trying to do in a 32 page adventure. Honestly, it feels like you're trying to do TOO much in this adventure, to the detriment of the location you've chosen to set it in.

The Basics
Title: This proposal's title is really rather good; it avoids the "of the" construction and prepares you for what it is; a mixup of Lovecraftian and steampunk. Makes me want to read more, which is what a title should do.
Location: Setting an adventure near Korvosa, one of the most heavily detailed locations we've got, is tricky—you have a lot of established canon to deal with. An adventure set in familiar grounds is always welcome, but it has to embrace what's come before; it can't establish new stuff out of the blue. Like having a giant clockwork fairground 30 miles out from one of the most heavily detailed areas in our campaign world.
Plot: The adventure's plot is interesting; sandbox explorations of unusual locations are always interesting. There's not a strong central storyline, though, and that's a bit troubling; there's too much going on what with elements from Korvosa, Alkenstar, the Sodden Lands, and the Dark Tapestry all fighting for stage time.

The Good

Spoiler:

1) Although there's a TON of canon problems with setting the adventure near Korvosa… I really do like the idea of an adventure taking place in an expo like this. I've not seen this done as a setting for an adventure. An adventure set in something akin to an abandoned "World's Fair" or something like that brings to mind a lot of neat ideas for adventure sites, dungeons, and other neat stuff.

2) I do like the Dark Tapestry and Lovecraftian elements. The fact that there are, in the final analysis, no actual Lovecraftian elements in this adventure is a shame.

3) Having someone from the Clockwork Cathedral become interested in the abandoned expo grounds is a nice touch. Having the Clockwork Cathedral be the actual folks behind the expo would have probably been a better choice than Alkenstar, in fact.

4) Once I get past the adventure's unworkable backstory (see "The Bad" below), I like several parts of the actual adventure itself. I particularly like how the fairgrounds are presented as a sandbox that the PCs can explore as they wish. This can be tricky, since it takes more room to present sandbox adventures as opposed to linear adventures, and you only have 32 page to pull this off in, but other authors have accomplished this before. You just have to keep a tight hold on the encounter areas to keep them from getting too huge.

5) The new monster, the "watchweird," is kind of cool and interesting, but see #10 of "The Bad" below.

6) There's a lot of really imaginative set piece encounters that build off the central idea of clockwork stuff… but see below (particularly #15 of "The Bad"). As imaginative as these encounters are, alas… they're not very "Golarion" due to the overwhelming steampunk flavor of the adventure.

The Not-So-Good

Spoiler:

1) Right off the bat, this adventure goes against canon by establishing a direct connection between Korvosa and Alkenstar. Such a link has not yet been mentioned, and if it HAS existed for two decades, we would have CERTAINLY seen more Alkenstar imports (AKA firearms) mentioned in the numerous books and adventures we've set in Korvosa over the past few years. Korvosa is also not all that "accessible to the rest of the world." It's nestled in Varisia, which is actually pretty far from the core of civilization in the Inner Sea Region; it's not a logical city to pick if you want to set up shop somewhere central or accessible to the Inner Sea Region.

This link between Korvosa and Alkenstar also goes against the convention that Alkenstar is already established as being fairly picky and closed-minded when it comes to "opening markets," since they're trying to control the flow of firearm technology and access to create an artificial demand. Nestled between Nex and Geb, as the only relatively safe land trade route between these two powerful (and still bickering) nations gives Alkenstar a lot of market power already, but it also means that they don't really have a great route to a place like Korvosa at all. I'm afraid I just don't buy the fundamental "Alkenstar hooks up with Korvosa" element in this adventure.

2) Alkenstar is a red flag. It's one of the most unusual locations in all of the Inner Sea region, and the fact that this is where we've chosen to ground-zero the firearms in the world makes it a very polarizing region. This is why we haven't done much with Alkenstar in the campaign yet. I'd always hoped to some day do something with Alkenstar, but if and when we did, I'd want to focus on Alkenstar itself like a laser. Making our first big look at Alkenstar happen at Korvosa and then further watering it down by involving the Sodden Lands and the Dark Tapestry doesn't fit this plan at all. I know that I haven't out and made plain this plan to the public, so it might seem unfair for me to go on about in this context, but there it is. If you involve an element of Golarion that is so unusual as Alkenstar, an element that we haven't yet really touched at all, in an adventure proposal, you should know that you're going to face an uphill battle in getting that proposal greenlit. And the more changes you make to canon along the way (such as establishing a 20 year Alkenstar presence in one of our most detailed regions), the more that steep hill turns into an wall. But none of this establishes my major concern about Alkenstar's presence here… see #8 below for that.

3) I would think that the opportunity to become the first city in the Inner Sea region to gain a link with the only nation in the region that can produce fantastic works of mayhem like firearms would be something that major cities would be falling over themselves to snatch up. It's not believable that ONLY Korvosa wants to bother with the expense of welcoming an Alkenstar market.

4) There is not really any arid land around Korvosa; the land around Korvosa is relatively lush and ripe (despite the unfortunate coloration on the most recent map of the world). It already supports a large number of towns and villages. If the land were arid, the original Chelaxian colonists would have kept sailing up the coast; they wouldn't have chosen Conquerer's Bay as the site for their first Varisian colony if it was arid.

5) The proposal says that the fairground "still stands, a crumbling ghost town not thirty miles from civilization." Thirty miles in any direction from Korvosa is still pretty civilized, honestly, with a fair amount of villages and towns there. It's actually the MOST civilized part of Varisia. There's certainly not "various tribes of humanoids" living in the area.

6) Then, in the fourth paragraph of the Adventure Background, you bring in the Lergeni? So now we have elements from three of the four corners of the Inner Sea region all crossing continents to interact? Seems kinda random and unbelievable to me. Worse, it's kinda distracting. You already have Korvosa and Alkenstar involved; there's PLENTY of things between those two different locations to spawn an adventure, even if the two locations are unbelievably far apart. To have the adventure instead be "triggered" by a THIRD element from an unrelated region (the Sodden Lands) and to draw upon elements of a FOURTH unrelated region (the Dark Tapestry) starts to feel way too scattered. None of these four elements have ever been tied together before in any Golarion content, which makes it all the more awkward.

7) I'd rather have one strong way to start an adventure rather than give multiple starts to an adventure… but that's a pretty minor complaint.

8) Where are the guns? Alkenstar's MAJOR theme is the fact that that's where firearms come from. With the upcoming Ultimate Combat having a gunslinger class and lots of rules for firearms, I suspect that there's going to be a spike in interest in Alkenstar for its firearms… but this adventure proposal doesn't mention them at all. An Alkenstar-themed adventure without guns is a bad move; it'd be like trying to sell a dragon-slaying adventure without having any dragons to slay. It's kinda bait-and-switch. And in fact, there's TWO bait-and-switches here, because the Dark Tapestry is involved but there's no Lovecraftian elements involved. (Simply describing things as "cosmic horrors" isn't enough if you're going to directly utilize the Dark Tapestry as a plot element.) Were we to publish this adventure, I'd have you completely remove all Alkenstar references and make the source of the clockworks something like the Clockwork Cathedral in Absalom… and even then, I doubt they'd be able to pull this off (see #15 below).

9) If the fairgrounds are circular, it's best to place the intended climax site at the center, not the edge, since you can't assume that the PCs will enter at encounter area 1. They should be able to approach the site from any direction. If there's a big wall around the fairgrounds… that can help direct the PCs a little, but I'm not seeing any mention of a wall in the proposal.

10) The watchweird might present some problems, since a 2-dimensional creature might interact with the combat rules really weirdly. Also, the Dark Tapestry is very much where we've got actual Lovecraftian inspired horrors in the game. The watchweird doesn't evoke much in the way of Lovecraftian monsters. In fact, I see no mention of ANY Lovecraftian themes in the adventure, which brings me back to #8 above. Also… having the module's new monster be, essentially, a wandering monster feels a little weak. New monsters are exciting; they should be the focus of exciting encounters.

11) Crystal oozes are mindless. That makes them very hard to control, and thus not a great choice for "garbage disposal" at the center of what was supposedly once a tourist attraction.

12) We generally only have room for one new monster in a module. Each new monster takes up a page of content, so if you introduce more than one, that really quickly starts to eat away at your adventure's word count. You've got two new monsters in this one; cog-geists and watchwierds… that's probably one too many, especially considering the scope of this adventure and how much space you'll need.

13) Kobolds aren't a good thematic choice for low-level humanoid for Varisia… there's just not a lot of them living there. Goblins or troglodytes would be a far better choice. Or just more boggards.

14) The timepiece of preserved moments is an interesting idea for a magic item, but it seems really REALLY powerful and probably not a great toy to give out for a low level adventure.

15) While the clockwork elements in this adventure are imaginative and unusual… they're far above and beyond what we really want to do with clockworks in Golarion. Clockworks and steampunk are really interesting campaign setting elements… but they don't really fit into Golarion easily. Especially into Varisia. Since we've only barely scratched the surface on clockworks, we'd have to spend a lot of real-estate in this adventure laying down rules for these things and how they work, and that means even LESS space for the actual adventure. A 32 page adventure is a terrible place to introduce such outlandish new elements to the game, alas.

Final Thoughts
After reading through this adventure proposal, I got the unfortunate feeling that you didn't have a strong grasp on Varisia and Korvosa's themes. That may not be a fair appraisal, but it's the feeling I got. You may not have realized that we've set numerous adventures and books in Korvosa, and that we've already greatly detailed the region. Looking at the map on page 196 of the Inner Sea World Guide and taking that as your only resource for Korvosa, I could certainly see how one might think it's set in an arid land with few other villages or towns nearby; the map does present that region of Varisia as kind of "brown." That's somewhat of an unfortunate bit of misleading material, alas, since w'eve already established in Curse of the Crimson Throne, Rise of the Runelords, and Guide to Korvosa that that region is actually pretty heavily settled. Furthermore, the use of kobolds instead of goblins in the region further implies a lack of background understanding on how the region works. For good or for ill, this makes me think you just didn't do enough research into his location before setting your proposal at ground zero of one of the regions of the world we've detailed to an extensive level, which makes me very nervous about how much work developing "Among the Gears of Madness" into something that fits into Golarion will be. The adventure needs to be relocated to somewhere other than Varisia and stripped of its Alkenstar links before it could work in the Inner Sea region. And that's a lot of work, even BEFORE all the rules for the clockwork elements rears its ugly head.

Paizo Employee Developer

Well Sean, 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: Love it. It’s evocative and captures both the clockwork and Dark Tapestry themes of the adventure. If I saw this on the shelf at my FLGS, I’d pick it up to see what it was. This title requires no development work.

Location: Right away, I’m intrigued by setting it near Korvosa. It’s a tricky balance finding a location people know and love and one that still has room for further creation. In this case, people know Korvosa (it has a 64 page setting book and a whole AP set there, is the setting for a popular novel, and an upcoming Module) so you’re good in that regard. But the adventure you have requires adding some geographical and historical elements to a highly developed setting, which requires quite a bit of work on my end to ensure it all fits. In this case, it doesn’t really fit, as an alliance between Alkenstar and Korvosa would have been mentioned somewhere in all those other products, as would this run-down expo fairground. If this proposal wins the contest, I will likely request you move it somewhere less steeped in canon before setting to writing.

Under less macro analysis, a rundown World’s Fair carnival is a cool setting, and one rife with adventuring opportunity. There’s a little overlap with at least one existing module that took place at a carnival, so extra effort would need to be made to ensure it didn’t feel too repetitive or redundant. As written, however, this feels different enough that I’m not too concerned about that.

Themes: I am a huge steampunk fan, and love that you’ve got that working for you, but it’s tricky fitting that in what many fans consider a high fantasy setting (even if that isn’t exactly the way I’d describe Golarion). In this case, Alkenstar was probably too much to throw in, especially somewhere so far from the city itself. If you want to expand on Alkenstar and scratch that steampunk itch, a 32-page adventure set thousands of miles from Alkenstar is sort of a wasted opportunity. Combining the steampunk elements with themes of Lovecraftian horror and Lirgeni astrology is an interesting twist, but it doesn’t feel very organic as written. Getting these elements to jive would be possible, and would require a little bit more work in the pre-writing, outlining stage, but moving the setting to somewhere where one or both of these themes is already present would probably help. I think there’s certainly a way to do it, but it will require that the final adventure not be exactly what’s proposed here.

Encounters/Challenges: It seems like you have a decent grasp of how to make exciting, varied encounters for a low-level party. There isn’t a ton of repetition in the adventure, so there’s enough variation that a party of any makeup will likely find something for each player to excel at. I’m also pleased to see that it’s not just combat encounters, but that the players can make alliances with the many denizens of the fairground.

Scope: The scope of the adventure itself is suitable for a low-level adventure of 32 pages. It’s self-contained and doesn’t have rippling regional or worldwide implications. I think there’s more going on here than can reasonably fit in 32 pages, however, and some of the encounters would likely need to be cut for space. Given the sandboxy nature of the design, it would be fairly easy to cut whole areas if they didn’t fit, as long as the map were such that it could be revised without too much domino effect.

Format: You present two new monsters in this proposal, one of which we’d need to cut for space, as we can only dedicate a single page to new monsters under the current module format. Given the two choices, I’d probably go with the Cog-geist, as it fits with the clockwork theme, and doesn’t have a name that’s really close to the existing witchwyrd from Pathfinder AP 14 and the Bestiary 2. There’s also not a clear location to detail in the second appendix. For the last few modules, and going forward, we detail a modular location on a two page spread, something like a city, town, roving caravan, country inn, cathedral, etc. In this case, we can’t detail the whole fair in two pages, and there aren’t any secondary locations. We would need to come up with something to include as this appendix in outlining, but once determined, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to develop.

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 new magic item you present sounds cool, but probably not for an adventure of this level. Not to mention that it seems to deal with time, and that’s never an easy thing to do without complicated rules subsystems, which don’t belong in a sidebar of a few hundred words.

I like the alternative spin you put on haunts, and would love to see more of this, perhaps invading the entire fairground. If the number of potential factions were lessened to maybe two, then more of the encounters affecting each could drive home the Lovecraftian elements, which are missing except as hints and allusions currently.

Final Thoughts: If this proposal were to win the contest, it would require some significant changes to make work within the setting, but minimal overall development time. As long as you were willing and able to move this somewhere else and make some structural and thematic changes before digging in on the actual writing, I do not imagine I would need to devote more development time to this than an average Module.

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

CEO, Goblinworks

Recommendation:

Not recommended for advancement.

I acknowledge that you've made a themepark sandbox and tip my hat at the pun.

What I see on the Shelf::

No matter which scene from the module gets illustrated its likely to give something away. Perhaps some kind of establishing shot could be used.

The title is going to read like Call of Cthulhu source material and that's ok but its niche. The clockwork elements are going to look like steampunk and that's ok but its niche. Clockwork Cthulhu is a niche niche. That's a small market segment in an already battered marketplace.

The one upside is that the people in the niche niche will love you and may grassroots the heck out of this if it's any good.

What's the GM load:

High. You've got several fairly complex areas to adjudicate. You've got a social network overlay on top of that of how the various "tribes" are engaged with each other. And you're asking GMs to be knowledgeable about some fairly esoteric things in terms of the clockwork devices.

I'm worried about parties that go to the high ground (the planetarium) first. Sure, the map can be structured to make them take some detours first but it's such an obvious thing to do that I suspect many groups will do it. Maybe the planetarium should be sealed or something until later in the adventure.

The adventure kind of boils down to A Fist Full of Dollars with kobolds and boggards. Calistria and Glathnik could both be sources of aid or complication. Keeping both alive long enough to be meaningful could be a big problem with some parties.

Will the players enjoy this scenario:

I don't know. They don't actually get any cool clockwork loot. They don't actually fight any cool clockwork monsters. The Cthulhu content might come at them as a curveball and break their immersion.

Both Glathnik and the Cursed Carousel could result in TPKs.

Nobody wants their character killed by skulks while they sleep.

An 8th level foe is probably too hard for the PCs to overcome although you could build his spell list to make him a pushover. There's a fine line between "competent", "deadly" and "cheesy" here. Probably would require extensive playtesting.

What do I take away from this:

The Cog Geist is probably a one-shot monster unless the campaign is going to deal with creepy clockwork tech more often.

The Watchweirds are ok but a little bizzare. They have a good special effect presence but a "swarm of floating acidic eyeballs" doesn't seem to match the rest of their description well.

The location isn't going to add much to my campaign - once the PCs are through with it it's just a rusty abandoned themepark that will either get re-infested with minor monsters or just fade into the landscape.

I don't like to imply that the Gods of the Outer Dark are too interested in the PCs, especially not at 4th level. That's content for high-level adventuring, and the last thing I want is my PCs looking over their shoulders for the rest of their "lives" worried about something squamous coming out of the ether and ruining their day.

Contributor

I don't know why Alkenstar would take stuff all the way to Korvosa to show it off, when they'd have to pass right by Absalom to do so. Geographically, it's a huge distance between Alkenstar and Korvosa, both in a linear sense and in a nautical sense. That's a lot of work to get people interested in luxury items like technological mirrors and clockwork toys.

All that technology brings to the forefront an aspect of the Golarion setting that turns off a lot of people. If it stays in Alkenstar, the people who don't like it can ignore it, but by bringing this far from Alkenstar and then leaving it to rot in the sun implies that this stuff is common or trivial in the setting. I think that hurts your proposal.

The lack of a structure for this area means there isn't much of a plot--things happen as PCs encounter them, and only by taking an active role in investigating the plot behind what's going on or playing diplomat do they get a sense of the actual plot. The PCs have no reason to suspect Pavorhu or creatures from the Great Beyond are involved.

You have quite a roster of weird creatures living here. A human diviner and his haunts. The watchweird (which is an interesting monster idea). An ooze. Skulks. A possessed clockwork humanoid and his kobold minions. A tribe of boggards (who decided to cross thirty miles of "arid land" to live here). A clockwork-loving gargoyle. A forlarren druid. A mob of gremlins. That's... well, that's pretty random, and I don't understand why most of these creatures would have moved here... certainly nothing in the ecology of an abandoned clockwork amusement park would draw significant prey animals here to support this many varied creatures.

I don't think there's enough here to support a unified adventure--it's just a bunch of neat encounter locations in the same general area that the PCs can encounter in any order, and then happen to kill the "boss" who they don't really know is the boss (and it's unclear to me if the other monsters really think of Pavorhu as the boss, just a rival, or someone to avoid).

Star Voter 2014

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

I'm a big fan of Steampunk, as well as a big fan of Horrors From Beyond the Stars. So when I see "gears" and "madness" in the same title, my expectations go pretty high. Perhaps too high, because in this case I came away kind of disappointed. I don't really feel like this proposal delivers on either the gears or the madness. But maybe that's just my expectations tainting my opinion, so I'll do a little more analysis.

Setting aside my own ideas of what the title should mean, I find this adventure does have a lot of things going for it. I really like the sandbox structure (though I'm not a fan of the fair style setting). I like the various groups of creatures the players can deal with. The Watchweirds are cool and creative (and it seems they become 3 dimensional in order to fight). I think an encounter with Watchweirds would go well in The Hall of Captured Light.

You've got some fairly significant problems with canon going on by setting this near Korvosa, but there's nothing significant that requires it to stay there. Some quick backstory changes would solve a lot of issues.

My favorite part of this whole thing is Part 3: Eyes in Darkness. An observatory/planetarium full of otherworldly haunts? Yes, please! I think this section could be expanded into an adventure all by itself.

While I do like this proposal (and I'm a big fan of your work in general), I don't think I'll be able to vote for it. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing you published.


Being that I am currently running "Carnival of Tears" for one of my online campaigns, the concept of the themepark/Golarion World's Fair was interesting, but seems already done. I could see using some of the ideas of the individual rides to bolster E1, but not as a Superstar module in its own right.

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

Ok, I said in the guildhall, I wasn't going to comment, but...I have a weak Will save. I love,love,love the location, flavor, and theme of this encounter ("Warriors, come out and pla'ay"). As the creator of Apep's Head, I know what it's like to be criticized for putting your adventure in the wrong place. But, that is an easy fix. And really, this could take place anywhere which is what a good module should do. I love sandbox nature of this module. That being said, the way it reads now, it comes across more as an awesome location for encounters and not quite an adventure. I think some rewriting would definitely need to be done to tie in the villain more and give a reason for the PCs to stick around. Investigating each of the different areas should give the PCs clues or part of the key to access the final "level" where our BBEG resides. And while the PCs are doing that, they are encountering the BBEG's forces. I encourage voters to consider this proposal. Yes, it's going to take some work, but after the judges' comments and the voter critique, I'm sure Sean will be able to submit a much, much, stronger 2nd draft. My vote is still up in the air, but I don't want voters to get "blood in the water" syndrome and dismiss this proposal out of hand. I feel it is definitely very salvagable and would end up being a ton of fun.

Dedicated Voter 2014

As far as being an idea I would steal to use in my campaign is concerned, this is my favorite. Since my campaign is not Golarion, the quibbles mentioned by the judges don't interest me. What does work for me is the idea of a deserted clockwork world's fair that, due to a misused and malfunctioning multi-dimensional orrery, is providing a gateway for Lovecraftian horrors from beyond space and time. Also, steam punk monsters and treasures are always a plus, and if I was in the market for a module, they would be a selling point.

And 'Among the Gears of Madness' is a great title.

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

moon glum wrote:

As far as being an idea I would steal to use in my campaign is concerned, this is my favorite. Since my campaign is not Golarion, the quibbles mentioned by the judges don't interest me. What does work for me is the idea of a deserted clockwork world's fair that, due to a misused and malfunctioning multi-dimensional orrery, is providing a gateway for Lovecraftian horrors from beyond space and time. Also, steam punk monsters and treasures are always a plus, and if I was in the market for a module, they would be a selling point.

And 'Among the Gears of Madness' is a great title.

I love this pitch but I don't actually like the title. I keep thinking it is too much a play on "At the Mountains of Madness" almost in a joking way, which I know Sean wouldn't intentionally do. But, I fully admit, I am horrible with coming up with names and titles so I can't, at this time, offer any better title. But I won't hold titles against the actual pitch itself.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

This is my favorite, and has my vote.

The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.

I like the sandbox nature of the adventure, and a clockwork "World's Fair" is awesome. Good luck!

Contributor

Matthew McGee wrote:

This is my favorite, and has my vote.

The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.

Considering that the winner writes a Golarion module and is probably going to be doing more work in Golarion for Paizo, the intent of the contest is indeed "Golarion superstar" even if the contest isn't called that.

Silver Crusade

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

This adventure has lots of really neat ideas, but in the idea, how it all fit together doesn't really do it for me; I can also see the flavour issues pointed out by others. Sorry, only second place for me. But still quite cool.

Star Voter 2013

This adventure seems neat in concept, but two things really bugged me about it - that nearly all the encounters were mostly unrelated to one another, and that the two new monsters both felt more like traps than things the PCs would actually fight, especially at level 4.

We have an exploding shadow, and an invisible object animator. Immaterial things are a huge hassle for players at low level, and sure it's best for them to see use when they cause drama for the PCs, it'd be hard for me to see the PCs ever actually putting one of these creatures down. Either of them.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka DankeSean

Thanks to the judges for their reviews. Please keep the comments coming; I still look forward to learning from everyone's perspectives. As always, I'll be happy to respond at the end of the voting process. Thanks. :-)


Hey Sean, you have a really intriguing concept for an adventure. I think it could be worked into an adventure that would appeal to most adventuring parties.

However, as others have said, it needs some serious work with the background. What you have chosen for it doesn't work at all. Moving the location of the abandoned, monster and clockwork infested "Inner Sea" faire to a place on the Inner Sea and in a drier place would make more sense. Possibly placing it in southern Taldor or Qadira with some reworking of base elements I think would work well.

I think though that removing the association with Alkenstar is necessary. I don't know anything about James Jacob's mention of the Clockwork Cathedral, yet. But it sounds really intriguing! Perhaps this adventure could showcase that faction.

Unfortunately I am not sure I can vote for your proposal as it has too many things that need to be fixed in order to make this a suitable 32 page adventure module. Even so, your creative concepts keep intriguing me and giving me ideas for my own home campaign. I can't wait to see what other ideas you may have in the future.

Good Luck!


I'm definitely the audience for this specific niche. Steampunk + Lovecraft? Yes, please!

When I saw Alkenstar being mentioned, I perked up. But when I read it was transplanted to Korvosa, my heart sank.

Whenever Paizo is ready (if they ever will be) to bring out Alkenstar to be featured, I want it to be swinging furiously while singing from the rooftops. But this is nary but a tease and would be difficult to place in Golarion without a lot of work on part of the developers.

All criticism aside, I was also a fan of John Bennett's Apep's Head. You two should collaborate down the line. Give us a world-neutral mini-setting and a series of adventures with an amalgam of what we've seen here. *I* would be interested.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Sean I was really pulling for either you or Cody for this year's RPG Superstar, I really liked a lot of your entries this year, my favorite I think was The Rotting Kremlin.

"Among the Gears of Madness"... wow... that was a great title for an adventure... but I'm afraid that I agree with many of the audience, in that your particular "building upon canon" came to close to "ignoring canon". And ignoring is too strong, and I don't mean any disrespect whatsoever, I think you should have kept this in the Mana Wastes/Alkenstar and maybe increased the module level (I still can't believe that each of you, Cody, Jerall, Sam, and yourself... all submitted 4th level adventure proposals). :P

Anyway, creating a World's Fair type of exposition of Alkenstar "technology" outside of Korvosa... did strain credulity for me as well. It just didn't mesh with what we know of Golarion and the Inner Sea Region.

I won't be voting for you this round Sean. I wish you all the best in the future, and good luck this round with the voting.

~Dean

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

The_Minstrel_Wyrm wrote:
...I think you should have kept this in the Mana Wastes/Alkenstar and maybe increased the module level (I still can't believe that each of you, Cody, Jerall, Sam, and yourself... all submitted 4th level adventure proposals).

They were required to constrain their adventure proposals to 4th level, Dean. It was part of the rules for this round. Paizo specifically wants the RPG Superstar module this year to be for 4th level.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Oh wow... I feel really stupid for saying that (and I said it in two different threads/posts) I never read the Round Five Rules... and now I see where that got me. :P

Forgive me Sean... I hadn't realized that each of you had been constrained to submit an adventure proposal for 4th level characters.

Now must make similar apology in Cody's thread.

~Dean


I kind of like this, i think With some of the background changed (basically who set up the Event and where) it could be alot of fun.

I got the impressionf ror eading Judges coments that using both Korvosa and Alkensar in the same setupw as probly a poor combination. But it seems to me there are other locations totally suitable for this along with more appropriate backers.

But i guess part of this all s demonstrating knowledge of the world.


I really like the title. It's sounds cool.

The setting is really good. I think you've put a lot of interesting locations in the fairgrounds.

I would like to see a stronger reason for the PCs to investigate and take down the villian.

It seemed as if the villian was by himself. That would indicate that the PCs would only have him to battle during the encounter (though he is level 8 so maybe it would be a difficult battle).

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

Just thinking I'd like to see this near Kaer Maga. Bear with me on this- Kaer Maga has the plains around it, so there's room. Yeah, I don't think Alkenstar would build a fair there as it's pretty remote. But what if it was built by some retired adventurer? He and his buddies got rich off exploring some ancient ruin or killing a dragon. He retires, gets bored, and wants to leave some legacy behind. Of course, it all ends up being a bad investment and he dies a pauper. No one in Kaer Maga is going to clean it up and the native barbarians are going to avoid it like the plague. I'd like to see the wizard guy lose a couple of levels and gain some sort of weird alien template from all his interactions with unknown alien contact.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This adventure kind of highlights, for me, one of the tough parts of a well established and defined campaign world... that there are enough details they get in the way of a really awesome adventure concept.

I like steampunk stuff and I like clockpunk stuff and I like Golarion. I want there to be a place for this Clockwork Fair in Golarion because I want the adventure to be published so I can use it on my players. It's a selfish wish, I suppose, but I think we're all voting for selfish reasons to some degree. ;)

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

Sean, since reading your proposal I've really become struck by the concept of a steampunk/Lovecraft mashup. I would love to run something like that just to see what happens. I am also of the opinion that the Superstar modules really OUGHT to be about pushing the envelope, getting to do something in Paizo's world that would never find its way into their otherwise packed publishing schedule.

You've got some location issues that have already been discussed at length, but I'm sure those would be worked out without a whole lot of difficulty. What I want to see more of from this proposal though, is the cosmic horror. If you've got me in a game where the Dark Tapestry is involved, I want aberrations and slimy, squirmy things that just shouldn't be. I'm not interested in kobolds, or gremlins, or boggards in these types of games. (In fact, if I never see another boggard again, I'll be a happy guy.)

The tribal interplay here feels like it dilutes the module's theme, rather than strengthening it. The watchweird is good, but it feels too isolated. I need more of that. I need an "Its a Small World" ride where the dolls are singing chants to the Old Ones, or a carousel where the horses are actual flesh. I want to be rocked by the wrongness of the place, and I'm not quite there with this piece.

I have greatly enjoyed what you have written for this contest, and I wish you the very best going forward.


Eric and Drakli both make excellent points!

I also love the feel of this adventure. A clockwork faire that has been taken over by aberrations is a truely different concept that this could become. I really like the faire being laid out like the spokes on a wheel. I love the nonlinear approach in this one (and so will my players).

What you need is a better background as mentioned by others above and as Eric states above, aberrations - lots of level appropriate aberrations perhaps increasing slightly in difficulty as one progresses deeper into the "wheel".

I am leaning towards this one now in the hopes that it does get published. Not to sound trite, but this would turn into a very neat place for players to explore.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16

I would love, simply love, to see "Part 3" blown into a full-length module. It sounds like you have some amazing ideas for what to do in there, and I would love to play or GM that.

However, the fair in general falls flat for me. I just see a bunch of half-interesting encounters with very little "point" to them. I'm not just sour on the idea of sandboxes: your districts feel very unconnected and with so little payoff. I would hope for more of an interconnected web.

If you don't make the final prize, please turn the observatory into your PFS entry!


Neil Spicer wrote:

...And it lets him manipulate star configurations and potentially reverse a mega-powerful effect like the Eye of Abendego? I wasn't aware Alkenstari technology could achieve feats of that magnitude. And why would Alkenstar abandon or leave anything behind at this fairground with that kind of power for someone else to come along and tamper with?...

Neil, In all fairness to Sean, his proposal doesn't say these things. It says...

Sean McGowan wrote:


...An exhibit that once astonished crowds with controlled visions of the night sky is now the laboratory of a deluded Lergeni astrologer named Pavorhu. He uses a mixture of magic and decaying Alkenstari technology to explore star configurations, believing the salvation of his homeland lies in the false dome above. He is convinced that if he can only find the correct sky, position the stars as they were the moment before the Eye of Abendego formed, reality can be rewritten and Lirgen restored. He is incorrect...

It is my understanding that the "controlled visions" are simply a reference to the "false dome" of the planetarium. There are a number of ways to accomplish this; a movable black dome with holes poked through to the sunlight beyond, nails with light spells hammered into the ceiling, illusion magic, I'm sure there are others. Sean also says that Pavorhu is incorrect in his assumption that he can actually alter the Eye of Abendego. The technology CAN'T do that.

Sean,

As far as the other criticism goes, tough break. Had I gotten this far, I might have made the same mistakes. There is certainly a HUGE gap between the amount of Golarion lore available, and the amount I own.

All I can say is that as far as this customer is concerned, I'd rather see this adventure remove all reference to Korvosa than remove all reference to Alkenstar. Heck, just set the whole thing in Alkenstar. Why not say that the Grand Duchy held its own "World's Fair", but attendance was so poor that the project actually lost money? The fair promoters absconded with the ticket sales and left behind the equipment and a lot of unpaid labor (who refused to take down the structures for free).

Also, if you have to remove one of the two monsters, remove the Cog-Geist, and keep the Watchweird. The Cog-Geist is kind of "meh" to me, but the Watchweird is interesting, and sounds like something my PCs (or I for that matter) haven't fought before. They are also way creepier. Also, since they are stuck to surfaces, I don't think the 2 dimensional thing is a big deal.

The name of the adventure is good, but you really just switched the position of the standard "of" and "the" words, from their normal position of "X of the Y". In that sense, I think the other adventure names this round have more originality.

Yours is the first entry I read, largely because the name of the adventure reminded me of the movie "In the Mouth of Madness", starring Sam Neil (the guy from Jurassic Park). Not really a great movie, but I like Lovecraftian stories. In fact, one of your items from part 3 also reminds me of that movie. I like a lot of this, but there are the previously stated Golarion Lore conflicts. We'll see if one the other entries will steal my vote.

Good luck, and congrats on making it this far.

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

Sean, I had forecast that I thought you were going to win this contest and when I saw the four titles I felt pretty smart about it. But the execution of this adventure, combined with the fact that Hitchcock and Logue scooped you on 'creepy carnival' will probably change that. While I can't see myself voting for anything called "Return to Nihility", I feel that your adventure just wouldn't interest me. I have an autographed CoT (never let Tim write in your stuff, people. You end up with an autograph AND a safe word), and two carnivals doesn't make sense.

Writing is also troublesome. I get you only get so much tie, but ostencibly you were working the whole contest thru on this project. The amount of clunky language and passive voice damages my ability to maintain interest as I read through.

Congratulations on getting this far. I hope there is a better entry than yours I can vote for, but I acknowledge only yours captured my interest by title.

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Jason Rice wrote:

Neil, In all fairness to Sean, his proposal doesn't say these things. It says...

Sean McGowan wrote:


...An exhibit that once astonished crowds with controlled visions of the night sky is now the laboratory of a deluded Lergeni astrologer named Pavorhu. He uses a mixture of magic and decaying Alkenstari technology to explore star configurations, believing the salvation of his homeland lies in the false dome above. He is convinced that if he can only find the correct sky, position the stars as they were the moment before the Eye of Abendego formed, reality can be rewritten and Lirgen restored. He is incorrect...
It is my understanding that the "controlled visions" are simply a reference to the "false dome" of the planetarium. There are a number of ways to accomplish this; a movable black dome with holes poked through to the sunlight beyond, nails with light spells hammered into the ceiling, illusion magic, I'm sure there are others. Sean also says that Pavorhu is incorrect in his assumption that he can actually alter the Eye of Abendego. The technology CAN'T do that.

That's a much more fair interpretation. I think the part that hung me up was "...find the correct sky, position the stars as they were the moment before the Eye of Abendego formed..." and then change reality...which to me meant literally moving the stars, because in terms of space, stars are always generally drifting and moving. The constellations are never completely the same as the ages pass. So, that's why I took it as a literal meaning of putting them back in place to a time before the Eye of Abendego formed. You're probably right, though. Sean likely meant the positioning of the stars only upon the dome's representation of them...and not the actual stars. I'm glad you brought it up, Jason.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Tales Subscriber

This is the first entry for the final round that I read because it has the most catchy title :-)

Although I loooove sandboxes I am a little but put off by your theme.

Carnival of xyz has been done quite often and, frankly, the story that is supposed to tie the whole thing together is as weak as it gets!

So I expected a LOT more steampunkish elements in there and I would have chosen to make my new monster a new monster race that somehow evolved off the intermingling of gears with something else ("far realm").

Also you drop the ball with your "boss-mob". If this were an even close to optimized 8th Level Character he would wipe the floor with the a 4th level party on his homeground. If I could see a purpose behind this, eg why did you include an 8th Level diviner instead of something else, I could roll with this, but so I can't.

Finally the presentation (while surely better than I could manage) is still not as good as it were in your previous entries.

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

You've got my vote! Best of luck!

-Ben.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Matthew McGee wrote:
The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.

Hmmmmmmm.

I don't want to rake the author over the coals, but a freelancer has to write what the Editor wants. If the Editor wants Golarion specific content, the freelancer has to do their best to meet that requirement.

That is the way you get more writing contracts. :)

I suppose I'm saying that it's fine for you not to be troubled by the continuity glitches, but you're not the Paizo editor who has to fix them either.

And I'm not trying to argue with you either, Matthew. I'm just saying that if there is anything I've learned since this time in 2010, is that you write what they want, and accept the feedback. Do that, and they'll forgive a few mistakes and give you more work.

That's just my 2 whatevers...

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

As a cool, kick-ass location: this entry rocked.
As a cool, kick-ass adventure: not so much.

This is the type of adventure that i'd scavenge for the maps and location descriptions and then add my own story and background into.
Good luck, but i can't vote for this.

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

Sean, you've shown us lots of great stuff over the course of the competition, but unfortunately, you didn't end with your strongest work. I have a hard time reading this proposal and not thinking "it's okay, but nowhere near as good as the Rotting Kremlin."

That being said, I think you show that you can design a good adventure with this proposal - you've got a cool location, a bunch of interesting and diverse encounters, and a good sandbox vibe that allows for straight hack n slash, stealth, or diplomacy. The weakest part of the proposal though is the end game and the introduction - i.e. the plot of this sandbox location. First, none of the hooks you provide really causes the PCs the encounter Pavorhu. They can go in explore, grab a few things and report back that it's dangerous in there, without a lot of loot, but nothing special. If they're there to rescue the kidnap victim, they can do so and just leave. There's simply not enough that comes through in the proposal at least that shows a much larger threat that noble PCs would feel compelled to deal with. For that matter, even if the encounter Pavorhu, why do they need to stop him? Ok, it would stop some of the weird creepy stuff going on in the fairgrounds, but so what? Why should the PCs care if some ruins with monsters in them gets a bit creepier. There's not a clear sense of what happens if the PCs fail. If they don't stop him, nothing seems to happen that would affect Korvosa or the world at large.

I also agree with the judges that it's an odd mix of Golarion stuff in here. Alkenstar tech without guns, and far from Alkenstar (and nothing I've read about Alkenstar previously gives me a vibe that they do all of these types of tech, just guns and gears, not agro-tech, photography, or chess playing computers), and one of the few living survivors of a country most PCs don't even know about, since it hasn't existed for 100 years - and nothing in the adventure even lets them learn about it or that Pavahu is looking to restore it.

So, overall, I'm not going to be voting for you, but I do think you've got all of the ingredients to write good adventures and think you can make a strong impact in the RPG world, so I look forward to your future works.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Matthew McGee wrote:

This is my favorite, and has my vote.

The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.
Considering that the winner writes a Golarion module and is probably going to be doing more work in Golarion for Paizo, the intent of the contest is indeed "Golarion superstar" even if the contest isn't called that.

The Round 5 Rules state (emphasis mine):

Round 5 Rules wrote:
Like all Pathfinder Modules, the winning adventure will be placed in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. If you feel comfortable enough to use Paizo-owned proper nouns feel free to do so, but this is by no means a requirement. We will adapt the module to fit our world during the writing and editing process.

The rules of Round Five seem pretty clear that the intent of the contest is not "Golarion Superstar," and that Paizo is willing to do the work to fit the adventure into the campaign setting.

It's great when people nail the Golarion content (and hopefully save Paizo some work), and it seems clear to me over the years that the fans take that into account in the comments and voting.

But I don't think a judge in the competition should be approaching it as "Golarion Superstar" or even saying the intent "is indeed 'Golarion superstar' even if the contest isn't called that" when such a statement contradicts the actual rules for the competition - which make using Golarion optional.

None of this protects Sean from commentators bothered by how he used Paizo-owned nouns in his proposal, nor should it stop judges from noting the errors.

But if the intent of the contest is "Golarion Superstar" then the rules should probably require the use of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, or at least note that judges will favor those proposals that do.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

Jim Groves wrote:
Matthew McGee wrote:
The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.
I don't want to rake the author over the coals, but a freelancer has to write what the Editor wants. If the Editor wants Golarion specific content, the freelancer has to do their best to meet that requirement.

Except that in this contest the Editor - by way of the rules - has made Golarion-specific content entirely optional. (Which doesn't shield people from critique when they use it incorrectly, of course.)

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013

You have some really cool and thematic ideas here, and you clearly have a knack for creative and new concepts. I like how each location if a little world unto itself, and that the monsters there seem to fit with what's going on in that particular location.
That said, I had a great deal of trouble trying to reconcile the thematic elements you were trying to pull together here. I like the idea of a rundown fairground with creepy carnival stuff going on, and I'm a big fan of Alkenstar and of steampunk in general. To say that I'm a Lovecraftian devotee may just be the understatement of the century, if it's got tentacles, or makes you crazy I'm in. Creepy steampunk carnival works just fine, but lovecraftian carnival, or steam lovecraft are a very tough sell for me. Lovecraftian horror is all about being gloomy and foreboding, about learning things that ruin your mind because they don't conform to the way the world functions. Carnival, even a creepy one is just too tension breaking to support the lovecraftian style. Steampunk is about science and understanding, you may not understand it but someone does, lovecraft is all about things that no one understands because no one can, to me it's sort of anti-science.
Your individual elements are great, and I really love sandbox and player driven stories, but when they come together I just can't see it as a single compelling story or location.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Erik Randall wrote:
Jim Groves wrote:
Matthew McGee wrote:
The Golarion-specific issues don't concern me - this is RPG Superstar, not Golarion Superstar.
I don't want to rake the author over the coals, but a freelancer has to write what the Editor wants. If the Editor wants Golarion specific content, the freelancer has to do their best to meet that requirement.
Except that in this contest the Editor - by way of the rules - has made Golarion-specific content entirely optional. (Which doesn't shield people from critique when they use it incorrectly, of course.)

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!! I have written a reply to this thread three times and the website keeps crashing. I'm copying the text before I hit the submit button again.

Erik, I take your point. I was replying more to Matthew McGee, than trying to really criticize Sean. I actually like this proposal and am considering voting for it.

And I read your reply to SKR, and I don't disagree that using the continuity is optional. I wager that specific part of the rules are in place to avoid requiring people to spend money on the setting material in order to be competitive. However, I also agree with you that if you're going to use the setting at all, you need to use it correctly.

That being said, your counter-point is not swaying me a whole lot. Round Five Rules are like your Senior Prom. They last for one special event, and then they never reflect reality ever again. Round Five Rules are not the reality of freelancing.

Now you might reply, "So what? We're not talking about freelancing, we're talking about this Contest. So that doesn't mean anything."

Again, maybe that is true for a very short time (and then it's never true again), but the purpose and the intent of the contest is to groom freelancers. I don't think it's helpful downplay the importance of working with the setting with accuracy and continuity. It doesn't reflect the reality that you're going to working within, once the contest is over.

I regret that isn't helpful to Sean right now, but it should be meaningful to everybody else who may read it. "Round Five Rules" are like your first kiss. They only last a moment.


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 a 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?
The decaying fairground presented and what rumours/knowledge is likely to be in general circulation regarding it do not present sufficient reason for Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria to go out of their way to engage with it. There isn't anyone obvious to public knowledge for Anthea to travel somewhere quite so lacking in home comforts to inquisit (whether that's a generally recognised word or not), there aren't any fascinating and pretty ancient art objects for Byrria to collect, and there are no audiences for Daria to wow. And Cynthia is more into magic than mechanical mechanisms when it comes to the knowledge front.
Short of Orders from a Great Demon (to paraphrase) I really don't see much to get them there. Being ladies of some leisure they can afford to turn down or pooh-pooh unattractive 'Can I hire you to do this?' errands unless it happens to be an exceptionally boring month.

So just what is likely to happen once four succubi do get involved?
I shall assume that the site has caught the attention of Haagenti, a demon lord with an interest in invention. He wants the place cleared of any current occupants likely to be unfriendly to his worshipers, so that he can move a cult in. (Indeed I'm surprised that such a cult hadn't already moved into the site, or perhaps it did but was wiped out in an unfortunate disagreement with one or more of the other factions, and this is vengeance...) At any rate, whatever goes on in the mind of a demon lord, Haagenti wants the site secured, and he requires Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia and Daria be the ones to do it. Saying 'no' to demon lords is tricky at the best of times... even 'yes, but' is generally unwise.
So there the four are, probably somewhat scared at having had orders come down from on high and inclined to be exceedingly ruthless in the execution of their errand, because to be frank agreeing to do something for a demon lord and then not completing it to that lord's absolute satisfaction can be a lot more dangerous (or at least drawn-out) than refusing to do it in the first place.
They first scout the place out, from the relatively safety of the ethereal plane, which does invite some interesting questions about the precise observational capacities of 'watchweirds' - in particular whether they are capable of observing someone or something that is effectively invisible and leaves no physical trace of its passage? That aside, the clockwork 'god' of the kobold tribe, the Gogunta worshipping boggards, and the exceedingly peculiar warping effects going on in the vicinity of the planetarium will all be of particular interest to them. At this point, if their instructions didn't already cover such a contingency, they will be polite and contact Haagenti (or whichever demon is handling them) and inquire what Haagenti's current stance with regard to his fellow demon lord, Gogunta, currently is, and whether a tribe of Gogunta worshipping boggards are acceptable as possible allies? Cynthia and Daria will also be desperately writing to contacts to try and figure out what's going on in the planetarium and with the watchweirds? Unfortunately, whether they've glimpsed Pavorhu or not it seems unlikely that he's a sufficiently prominent figure around the Inner Sea for any specific information to be available on him. Some information suggesting a dark tapestry connection may dribble back, however. At that point, taking out the planetarium, irrespective of anything else, becomes the primary concern. I consider it exceedingly unlikely that simply killing Pavorhu will even start to reverse the effects of the tampering that he's already done, and even Haagenti (despite the loss of mechanical wonders contained therein) is likely to concede the planetarium's destruction in the end given that if horrors from the dark tapestry break through into Golarion there it may well become almost impossible for him to claim or salvage anything from the site. In a best case scenario it then becomes a question of requesting and protecting a couple of technical assistants provided by Haagenti who they fiddle around with 'steam display' technology to find a way to blow apart the planetarium and its contents. Hopefully the building has some sort of boiler/turbine apparatus to drive it which can be tampered with to cause it to explode. If that's not the case, the four succubi are going to have to get very creative to take the building out.
Once the planetarium is destroyed, clearing up the rest of the site becomes the child's play manipulation of playing various factions off against each other, whilst making sure that any allies Haagenti wants left around (the boogards perhaps, if he's on good terms with Gogunta?) come out on top with relatively light casualties.

What about the aftermath?
Well, Haagenti has a nice new site to move a cult into (or back into if one there previously met with unfortunate circumstances) and whether he actually bothers to thank Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia and Daria (although that would be nice, it's not essential) they can then withdraw with relief to take a nice break somewhere and have some fun for a change...

Predicted Extraneous Body Count:
Whilst the body count is likely to be high, the manner in which this presentation is made seems to indicate to me a certain expectation on the part of the writer that things will be that way in the first place. So the extraneous body count is thus likely to be strictly minimal.

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.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 , Star Voter 2014

Jim Groves wrote:
I wager that specific part of the rules are in place to avoid requiring people to spend money on the setting material in order to be competitive.

My guess is that even if the intent is "Golarion Superstar" that "bad adventure/great setting knowledge" is way less important than "great adventure/bad setting knowledge". Round Four required Golarion, but Round Five didn't, and I believe the contestants were given the campaign setting PDFs long before Round Five. So there's little reason to not require Golarion unless that part of the rules is to make sure authors focus on great adventures first.

Jim Groves wrote:

Round Five Rules are like your Senior Prom. They last for one special event, and then they never reflect reality ever again. Round Five Rules are not the reality of freelancing.

Now you might reply, "So what? We're not talking about freelancing, we're talking about this Contest. So that doesn't mean anything."

I definitely think we are talking about freelancing. And I get what you're saying about the realities of freelancing for Paizo, and needing to have a good grasp on Golarion.

But here's my take:

Every round of the contest involves an editor (the judges) telling freelancers (the contestants) what is expected from the freelancers' latest assignment (by way of the rules).

Every assignment is different from the previous assignment. Each has its own guidelines and expectations.

Is that not the reality of freelancing?

And as a freelancer would you want, after you've written your assignment, to have the editor say that the guidelines he gave you do not actually reflect the intent of the assignment?

For me, I just want each round's rules (and supplementary material, like SKR's great pre-Round 1 advice) to reflect what the judges expect their freelancers to produce. And if those rules say "Golarion optional" I hope the judge's comments on the contest will also reflect that.

(Out of respect to Sean, this will be my last post on this topic on this thread. Voting closes tomorrow and I don't want to hijack or distract from his responses. I appreciate your response Jim and if you feel it's a conversation worth pursuing, I'd be happy to continue it on its own thread, or in another medium. Thanks for your time and thoughts. And apologies to Sean for this threadjack.)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Erik Randall wrote:
...For me, I just want each round's rules (and supplementary material, like SKR's great pre-Round 1 advice) to reflect what the judges expect their freelancers to produce. And if those rules say "Golarion optional" I hope the judge's comments on the contest will also reflect that.

Inasmuch as the rules do reflect that contestants can submit a "Golarion optional" adventure proposal, once a contestant chooses to do so, the judges are absolutely going to assess it for accuracy and appropriateness. Paizo actually does want to find future freelancers who can demonstrate a breadth and depth of knowledge about their products and campaign setting. What publisher wouldn't? They also want to identify potential freelancers over the course of this competition who can be given a PDF of the Inner Sea World Guide and then absorb and apply as much of that material as possible in their designs. That's an expectation (not a rule), which will help a contestant stand out as someone Paizo might want to tap after this competition is over (and whether or not that person takes the final prize). It's also a reflection of the real-world where you may be given an assignment to write an adventure involving serpentfolk, yet you don't have the Into the Darklands supplement to be up to speed on them. Your developer sends you a copy, and you're expected to quickly learn and riff off that material.

So, if I take off my judge's hat and put myself in the shoes of a competitor again, I think it's pretty smart to include Golarion material in your adventure proposal...especially since, as every year of the competition has shown, the ultimate adventure goes on to be placed somewhere on Golarion. Thus, why not a) knock out that bit of work early, and b) demonstrate you've got a good grasp on the campaign setting? In addition, I would venture to say that adventure proposals with Golarion material tend to appeal more strongly to the voters...most of whom are already familiar with the campaign setting and will more readily "get" what you're designing with all those references. Plus, if you kind of keep your eye on what's popular at the moment with the Paizo community (most of whom vote in this contest), you might just be able to craft an adventure proposal that really appeals to them based on that knowledge.

That said, if you use Golarion material in an adventure proposal, it's important to get it right. Lisa herself has mentioned before (even in the wondrous item round) the risk/reward associated with that. If you botch it...and the judges know their Golarion lore well enough to call you on it...they will. And rightly so. The same thing would happen in the real-world of freelancing. So, there's no need to hide from it in RPG Superstar. The important thing to know is it's optional. And, if you opt to use it, be prepared for constructive criticism and feedback on it.

My two cents,
--Neil

Star Voter 2013

Erik Randall wrote:


The rules of Round Five seem pretty clear that the intent of the contest is not "Golarion Superstar," and that Paizo is willing to do the work to fit the adventure into the campaign setting.

That's the problem though, it's not that this adventure isn't set in Golarion, it's that it IS set in Golarion, and it breaks canon. It's not as extreme as this example, but its like saying this is in the land of Andoran, amid the bustling slave markets. In-golarion, and wrong. Or at least bad.

That sort of careless fact-checking doesn't bode well, no matter how well the writing is.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I was going back and forth on my three favorite adventures and put off voting until the last minute.

There were some things about Gears of Madness that bothered me, all of which has already been talked about. In the end, I couldn't resist voting for Sean's proposal. THIS is the adventure I most want to see, and the one I'd be most likely to buy.

I really hope you get the chance to write this adventure Sean, because this is something that I think is pretty unique and original, and will be a lot of fun to see produced. Best of luck!

Contributor

Erik Randall wrote:
Except that in this contest the Editor - by way of the rules - has made Golarion-specific content entirely optional. (Which doesn't shield people from critique when they use it incorrectly, of course.)

True, making it fit seamlessly into Paizo's world is technically optional. But there is a difference between "trying to use Paizo names is optional" and "you don't have to make any effort to set it in our world, for example, feel free to have Aroden show up as an NPC cohort of one of the PCs."

The R5 Rules wrote:
If this round's rules seem shorter than previous rounds, it's because they are—these basic requirements are all a Superstar should need to get the job done.

A Superstar would know to make their submission fit the world of the company that's running the contest and publishing the module. Or at least know that going against canon is going to cost them.

The competitors have been at this for three months now. The time for hand-holding is over.

(I'm not knocking Sean's adventure here, I'm knocking the idea Erik's suggestion that because using Paizo nouns is optional, trying to have it fit the world is also optional.)

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014 aka DankeSean

Voting is over! Now to make with the excuses...

This mash-up of fantasy adventure and faux-steampunk, with semi-Lovecraftian overtones perched on top like a malevolent cherry, owes its inspiration to Judy Garland. And since I'm fairly sure that's the first time that particular combination of words has ever appeared in sequence, perhaps a little more explanation is due.

Flashback to about three or four days before Christmas 2010. Due to circumstances still not completely understood (but probably involving homemade egg nog crafted with eggs of dubious freshness) I was home from work sick with food poisoning. After a really horrible night of nonstop vomit interspersed with periods of cold sweats, I was mostly recovered but still weak and shuddery. The day was spent lying on my couch nibbling dry cheerios out of a bowl and working my way through a backlog of stuff on my DVR. I couldn't deal with anything complex that required me to follow the plot; I needed the entertainment equivalent of comfort food. Discovering that one of my roommates had recorded an airing of 'Meet Me in St. Louis' pretty much made my day. And somewhere along the way while watching the adventures of Esther, Tootie, Rose & Agnes, two things stuck in my mind.
A) 'The Trolley Song' is an earworm that will not stop playing over and over again in your brain for a good week.
B) Hey, a World's Fair could make for a cool adventure location.

I'd been maintaining a file on my computer of general ideas to use for various potential aspects of the contest, should I make it in. So under the encounter/location' section of that file I added some jumbled notes about humanoid tribes living in various areas of a deserted fairground. Then I closed the file and literally forgot all about the idea.

Fast forward to the contest proper. Since Koschei's Kremlin had been an idea on the forefront of my mind, and since Hoarfrost gave me an Irrisen 'in', I went with that without bothering to look over my idea file. And since I had an adventure proposal that I'd been developing along the way, I didn't expect to need to go looking for discarded ideas. Then the round 5 rules were announced, and the 4th-level party requirement swept the rug out from under my feet. I debated trying to modify my old idea (for the record, an Indiana Jones/Dan Brown oriented treasure hunt for a lost artifact involving ancient puzzle-solving, overcoming construct guardians, and racing against two rival hunters for the big prize) to lower party levels, but honestly, it wouldn't work. Unfortunately, that meant I had to start over from scratch. On the bright side, though, it meant that I wouldn't have to read any Dan Brown novels for inspiration.

Breaking away from the narrative for a moment, I do want to say that I'm not trying to make excuses here; I mean, yes, I AM making excuses of a sort, but I don't know with any certainty that my original proposal would have been any better than what I ultimately produced. The 4th-level requirement threw me for a loop, but I still had nearly two weeks to come up with something better than what I ultimately did. It's been said over and over that a freelancer has to have a certain ability to go with the flow; if I didn't adapt quickly enough, that's nobody's fault but my own.

So upon realizing I had to find a new idea entirely, I opened up my idea file to see if it had anything worth snatching in it. And I found my St. Louis World's Fair idea, took a few minutes to try and remember where that came from (when I said I completely forgot about it, I'm not joking. I blame the egg nog.) and the more I thought about it, the more I became enamored of the location and thought I could do something with it.

So here's the first major flaw: I still maintain that it's a great LOCATION. If I'd used it in round 4 in lieu of the Rotting Kremlin, it might very well have been as strong or stronger an entry. The problem was that I was so in love with the LOCATION that I became determined to make it work even when logic and canon didn't support it. If there's one piece of advice I can give to future Superstar competitors, it's to recognize when an idea's flaws exceed its merits and be willing to scrap or restructure that idea.

As far as setting an adventure here went, I'm afraid I didn't put as much thought into it as I should have. I looked at it and said 'sandbox' and figured I'd be good just describing the various residents and establishing conflicts and relationships between them. My big inspiration as far as that went was old I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, what I didn't really account for was that I1 was a real lost city; the inhabitants had a lot more room to spread out, it was set in an actual wilderness, and things developed a lot more organically without being shoehorned in.

Another sidetracking; I want to talk about why I chose Varisia, and more specifically, Korvosa for this. Obviously big mistakes in retrospect, and ones I was never completely happy with. I'd hoped that my one liner at the start of the adventure that it could be set anywhere would be enough to cover my ass; clearly not. Anyway, the Alkenstar element was one I felt had to stay in, at least as far as supporting my idea of a broken-down steampunk tech fair went. But I knew I couldn't set it in the Mana Wastes; aside from the fact that it really is an uninviting place for people to come visit, there's the fact that a 32-page module by an unknown writer is absolutely not the place that rules for the Mana Wastes and the fun magic warping that comes with it are first going to see print. So, here's my first case of flaunting logic to keep my idea afloat: I said 'Hey, what if Alkenstar had a host city? It could be like the Olympics.' And yes, all kinds of logic and reason got chucked out the window with that statement.

So, hypothetical future Superstar finalist looking over old entries for advice? Don't DO that.

So having established the 'need' for a host city, I thought about what was available. Katapesh was an option, but Legacy of Fire felt too recent to head back there again. Absalom seemed an obvious choice, but since I was stuck on the idea of 'humanoid tribes inhabiting the old fair', there were problems with that; the nonhuman inhabitants of Kortos tend to be high enough CR that more than a couple of them in one encounter would be too hard a fight. From there, I considered major cities in Avistan; Egorian, Oparra, and Almas all were possibilities, but the problem rose that those countries were all too civilized; it would be hard to imagine any of them letting a bunch of humanoids move in less than a day from the big city. Varisia, though, given that it's pretty much a shell of civilization surrounding a lot of unclaimed territory, seemed like a possibility. From there it was debating Korvosa vs. Magnimar; in retrospect, Magnimar might have been a marginally better choice, since then the fair could be built close to the Mushfens and the boggard presence, at least, would be semi-justified. I went with Korvosa because it's at least slightly closer to being a 'big city' mentality wise, at least. For the record, though, I wasn't thrown by the brown terrain in the World Guide; I knew that was all plains and farmland. My intent was that it was set to the southwest of the city, between the bay and the mountains. I realize that still doesn't JUSTIFY it, but I was at least trying to think about these things.

So yeah, the problem was that my adventure location needed, by its own logic, to be set relatively near a large city, but remote enough that it wouldn't be a problem to drop a bunch of monsters in there. Unfortunately, that's really hard to rationalize in any reasonable fashion and I just refused to see that till after the fact. Honestly, what I should have done... well, what I SHOULD have done was retool the idea entirely, more on that in a minute. But if I was going to stick with the idea as it was, I shouldn't have insisted on giving it a concrete Golarion setting. I'm sure I would still have taken hits for that regardless, but it probably would have been better to leave the judges and voters saying 'I'm not sure where in Golarion we can fit that' than to have them actively saying 'No, it makes absolutely no sense to set it there.'

So that addresses some of the mistakes I made as far as setting goes. I don't feel as much embarrassment over some of the other things thrown into question; the absence of firearms, for instance, was deliberate. I think that firearms are more polarizing an element to GMs and players than just the notion that somewhere in the world there's a country with advanced tech that manufactures them. Really, I just wanted steampunk overtones, here. A lost cache could be added, or the kobolds or boggards could have a few, but for the most part I didn't want to really touch that issue. Maybe that was a mistake, but in comparison to the other errors here, it was a minor one, methinks.

But aside from canon failure the big issue was 'how does it all tie together'? I did recognize that, fairly early into the writing process, and that was when Pavorhu got added in. I figured putting a 'boss battle' into the adventure would help give it a point, but I failed to go back and revise the rest of the adventure with that as a core idea. Yes, the humanoids are at each others throats and it's because of the watchweirds manifesting and the kobolds suddenly taking orders from Things From Beyond, but ultimately it was all still just disparate elements, and a lot of people noticed and commented on that.

So an even bigger 'what I SHOULD have done' comes here, and it's one I actually briefly considered while writing: scrap the World's Fair entirely, keep the planetarium & Pavorhu the deluded Lergeni astronomer poking a hole in the dark tapestry. Then build the rest of the adventure outwards from that central point. (For the record, I don't have any problem invoking Lovecraft at 4th level adventurers; just because a Great Old One is mentioned doesn't mean he has to show up and start eating 1d6 characters per round...) Maybe toss a wacky bunch of Old Cultists in the surrounding area, trying to keep the observatory free of meddlers so that Pavorhu can unwittingly open a door to the beyond. And the adventure itself turns from 'let's explore this ruined fairground for no real reason' to 'hey, weird stuff is happening and there are cults of madmen abducting people for sacrifices on the road; maybe we should do soemthing about that.' And I thought about doing that, since Pavorhu, the planetarium and the alternate haunts wound up being the strongest elements in my first draft. I discarded the idea because I felt I was too far along. (I wasn't; this woud have been the Saturday before deadline, so I still had a full weekend plus four days to revise it from the ground up. Tight schedule, but doable.) But, once again, I felt too invested in the World's Fair idea at the expense of reason or being open to major revisions.

So, once again, let me state: if you're in this contest at some point in the future, do NOT be afraid to scrap your idea and rebuild- as long as you've got the time for it, do NOT get so invested in your idea that you willingly ignore gaping holes in the logic. Because if you do find yourself saying 'well, this doesn't flow together, but... maybe if I make a reference here and here it'll be enough.', then there's a really good chance that, no, it won't be enough.

Well, if you're going to fail, fail SPECTACULARLY, right? I don't think that anything I've said justifies the many failures of the proposal, but hopefully at least it gives some idea where I was coming from here. If I disappointed anyone, I am sorry for that. And for the people who voted for this anyway regardless of the flaws in it, thank you. At the end of everything, I've had a blast in this contest over the past couple months, and going out on a weak note is unfortunate, but I'll live with that. Because the sleepless nights, the stress, the scar on my forehead that's resulted from banging my keyboard with my head? They're all worth it. I've had fun here. Thanks.

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

I wouldn't say you went out on a weak note, Sean. For what it's worth, this proprosal got my vote. I think if you had a chance to do a second draft of this, it'd be much stronger. As it was, it was a great location just missing an adventure. But what a location! If you don't win and end up writing a PFS scenario, I hope Paizo can parcel out some pieces of this. I, as the creator of Apep's Head, empathize with you when you talk about good ideas that become undoable (while fun, 360 degree laser turrets are a bit of a stretch!). Anyway, it was fun competing with you this year!

On another note, if you win this thing, I agree with Eric's post earlier about tying in more weird stuff. If we're talking about Lovecraft, specifically, "From Beyond." I see Pavorhu as a Dr. Tillinghast. Additionally, it makes me think of an old NES game I still like to play from time to time, "Dr. Chaos." Good luck, Sean!

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I want to echo John's comment that you didn't go out on a weak note. Your adventure proposal got my vote too. And reading your thoughts about how you would have changed moves it in an even better direction. And I'm sure you've taken the comments on passive voice and such to heart.

At any rate, even if Gears of Madness doesn't make it, I'll be looking forward to seeing your PFS adventure and whatever else you cook up. Great job on this contest!

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

Hey Sean,

Your spooky world fair adventure has some cool themes in it. Clockwork, Lovecraft - nice choices especially as you didn't overemphasize them. You didn’t have guns - a love/hate thing for fans, which basically halves your base of voters.
The background for the fair’s location was flawed but it is easy to move it.

The adventure itself is a sandbox, but the problem is that the plot doesn’t lead to a conclusion. The PCs may not even find out about the main BBEG until they fight him, and they can fight him as the first encounter. If you look at other sandbox adventures (Kingmaker, Carnival of Tears) they have an overarching plot that builds to a finale. Your adventure proposal was strong, this was the only element that was missing for me.

Also, I felt that this was a ‘Keep on the Borderlands - Caves of Chaos’ style adventure where the monsters were all crammed into a small environment for metagame reasons. I loved the title, found the encounters would be great fun to play or GM, and can see the potential here.

Good luck in the voting.

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