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SKR's Modern Object rule vs. "Distant Worlds"


RPG Superstar™ General Discussion

Star Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Disclaimer wrote:

This is 100% my dumb opinion and following it as advice might or might not get you kicked out of RPGSS. I would love for the dumbest parts of this rambling rant to be called out, especially in how it relates to Superstar.

I haven't seen anyone write about Distant Worlds and its relationship to RPGSS--if someone has, please point me there. This is a clumsy attempt to fill that gap a little bit.

Distant Worlds is by far my favorite Pathfinder publication, and I imagine it will factor into at least a few Superstar 2013 entries.

Which means it might be good idea to revisit an important piece of advice in SKR's list that also comes up in the 2011 Superstar panel:

Sean K. Reynolds wrote:

By "inventing" a magic item that does exactly what a piece of modern technology does, you haven't really invented anything, you've just reskinned it. It's not superstar to design a magical train, or a magical telephone, or magical cold medicine.

This goes for near-future or theoretically-possible technological items. Spider-Man's web-shooters technically don't exist, but they're plausible enough that someone could invent them, therefore wristbands of the striking webs aren't superstar (they also run into #9, the intellectual property violation). Batman's utility belt isn't superstar. And so on.

Not to say that these items aren't cool, but being cool only gets you so far in RPG Superstar.

Since Distant Worlds dives head-first into Sword-and-Planet gameplay, I have a creeping fear that we'll see (or, more likely, the judges will see and dump into their reject pile) tons of things-lasers, space suits, rockets, plasma swords, whatever-that run afoul of this rule.

Which, I think, still applies just as much with DW in the canon.

John Carter isn't modern

In a lot of ways, the Sword-and-Planet genre predates science fiction as we know it, even though modern S&P is greatly informed by it.

But Burroughs' A Princess of Mars turned 100 years old this year. As DW roots itself in S&P, and Barsoom is arguably the foundation of the genre, I think it's extremely important to remember that the context of S&P is far, far more late Victorian/turn-of-the-century than sci-fi.

That means if you're considering a S&P item, it might be a good idea to instantly discard sci-fi, however tempting it may be. No lasers, no rockets.

Steampunk, as popular and potentially fitting as it may be, is also a little behind scope--Burroughs' world was one that had seen the automobile and scooter. The French already had a national air force. Marie Curie won the 1911 Nobel Prize for chemistry. People were already watching the very first movies.

If we're tacking "punk" as a suffix to the world that birthed S&P, it's oil, but more broadly (and in my opinion, accurately) this is an era of groundbreaking awe-inspiring invention as opposed to the motifs of augmentation, scale, and efficiency that define so much of the steampunk aesthetic. It was a time of rapid, visible, tangible scientific discovery, the likes of which inspired Burroughs to write about civilization on Mars as much as it enabled Méliès to make Voyage to the Moon, much less imagine it.

None of these things exist in Golarion, but the flavor of the Earth history that inspired DW has to be accounted for when dipping into that playground.

Think about it this way: Minor tweaks to function and form of the inventions of the 40 years surrounding 1900 would have dramatically reshaped everything we know, do and use today. What tweaks to those turn-of-the-century forms and functions would create a civilization or society that could exist in the stars of Golarion, and could potentially interact with it and leave a Wondrous trace?

Invent what can't exist

My advice--which is probably not worth much, but I'll throw it out for discussion--is if you're planning to riff off DW in your Superstar entry, stay far, far away from anything that exists.

Don't just follow SKR's rule against modern devices; expand it, not just to what you might want to create, but what you know and understand about our universe.

The toughest thing for me to grasp sometimes with fantasy worlds like Golarion is that as much as we know about them, they know nothing about us, and as their world exists entirely in fiction, the laws of reality in each of our worlds mean nothing to each other unless a relationship is explicitly (or very strongly implicitly) defined.

In Golarion, we assume a lot of things. For instance, we assume most of Golarion's creatures and common sentient races breathe air like we do, water has the same effects on most humans in Golarion as it does to us on Earth. But if you're going to design an item that plays with the interplanetary (and interstellar) concepts of DW, throw out your understanding of our universe's physics. Forget about Earth. Turn off your science brain.

Sean K. Reynolds, on Chris Shaeffer's 2012 Top 32 item, wrote:
If it's magic, you don't have to justify it with science. If it's science, I don't want it in my magic item ...

(via)

If you're going to play with the rules of DW, remember that the rules of our universe don't necessarily apply unless explicitly described, and the presence of magic means the rules and limitations that do exist are also are ripe for exploitation--which is especially relevant for a Wondrous Item.

I'll re-iterate this with an example:

Distant Worlds spoiler:
A wizard lives in a tower on Golarion's sun. There is a freaking sorcerer living in on the surface of a star, because he freaking can. Cities drift around in translucent globes on the sun. How do they see without going blind? Who knows! They probably are blind! Maybe they all wear bad-ass mirror shades! The book doesn't say. None of this is explained in detail. There's no radiation, or magnetic fields, or common sense. The center of the sun isn't extremely dense matter, it's a portal to another plane. There's no how or why. It just is.

If it's out of this world, how in this world can someone craft it?

So a Wondrous Item that comes from DW may do some very modern-sounding things, in that the words "space" and "starship" and "terraformed" might crop up because DW explicitly describes those concepts.

But this is also a universe of aether, and

Distant Worlds spoiler:
rivers that traverse space, and dragons getting summoned to dinner parties on other worlds.
This is a universe that doesn't make sense, and that's awesome when it comes to opening up new, creative ideas for fantasy items.

Just don't take it as an excuse to make a space shuttle, because that isn't the Pathfinder definition of Wondrous. We already know what a space shuttle is like; it's not fantasy anymore. A Gnomish Steve Jobs could possibly whip together a sort of GolariPhone, sure. Big deal--There's (already) a Spell for That(tm).

The key in SKR's rule is to avoid making something "plausible enough that someone could invent them." Mechanical inventions, and even minor magical items, are fundamentally mundane. Wondrous items are extraordinary. Superstar Wondrous items play around with the rules in creative ways.

But on the other side of the coin, Wondrous Items are still crafted items. They have costs. They can be reproduced with the right materials, knowledge, and spells. The crafting requirements for an otherworldly item may require some creative applications of the item-creation mechanics; DW does a good job suggesting spells for specific environments, which may help.

But if you're going down this sort of route for RPGSS, ask yourself what would be Wondrous and fantastic to someone who's never seen anything more advanced than a windmill, staring up at the stars, asking what could possibly be in all of that inky mess. Make that thing Pathfinder Wondrous and put it in that person's hands.

Worry about how to craft it once you've made it, and don't worry too much. Your job with a Wondrous Item is to supply the item, the wonder, and the instructions; it's the GM's job to fill in the why, or the history and backstory, or to determine how relevant it is to be able to craft it on Golarion.

Best of all, even if DW inspires the item, don't make the item require it if you can help it at all.

Judges have gingerly knocked niche items as less marketable, but niche items + attention to detail + great flavor - dumb mistakes = the kind of thing that's made it to the Top 32. If you can't unwedge a Distant Worlds-inspired item, I haven't seen any reason to hold back.

Just make sure your idea is a fantasy idea rather than a good implementation of real one.

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

Just for this, I now feel like I have to purchase Distant Worlds and make an item based on it - well played, sir.

Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Distant Worlds is an awesome product - one of my favorites of recent releases.

As an oblique thought for people to consider...

Distant World's gets you other places, but you could find that the place you are now at is less technologically advanced than where you came from.

So Distant Worlds doesn't necessarily mean "future/modern".

Just thought I'd throw that in the mix :)

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter 2013

One other caveat I might add...

Distant Worlds (and magic in general) allow inventions to be wrong.

To use ERB as an example, the Martian Flyers flew by using the 9th ray. Sons of Ether tech at its best. Carson Napier's Anotar, by contrast, was a conventional airplane. What changed? 20 years of science.

Likewise, Barsoomian firearms fired radium bullets that exploded when exposed to sunlight. Amtorian weapons used R-rays and T-rays that disintigrated organic and inorganic substances. While both are weapons, both could be 'magicked' away (Radium bullets use fireball while R-rays and T-rays use varients on disintigrate).

So don't make an GolariPhone (that was clever BTW), but you can magic up a "long range personality transferrance device" using magic jar. But don't, because Stargate already did that.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Matthew Morris wrote:

One other caveat I might add...

Distant Worlds (and magic in general) allow inventions to be wrong.

To use ERB as an example, the Martian Flyers flew by using the 9th ray. Sons of Ether tech at its best. Carson Napier's Anotar, by contrast, was a conventional airplane. What changed? 20 years of science.

Likewise, Barsoomian firearms fired radium bullets that exploded when exposed to sunlight. Amtorian weapons used R-rays and T-rays that disintigrated organic and inorganic substances. While both are weapons, both could be 'magicked' away (Radium bullets use fireball while R-rays and T-rays use varients on disintigrate).

So don't make an GolariPhone (that was clever BTW), but you can magic up a "long range personality transferrance device" using magic jar. But don't, because Stargate already did that.

Lets not forget my favorite. Dr. Cavor, a Bathysphere with railroad bumpers, Anti-Gravity paint charged with electricity, adds up to one very bumpy way to land on the Moon.

World of Darkness "Mage" spelled it out best. Technocracy backed "Modern Science" vs. Son of Ether "Weird Science" or better yet "Mad Science"

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter 2013

Thnaks Lazar.

Now I'm picturing
Wings of Daedelus, a cloak that flings the user towards the sun using reverse gravity. Unfortunately for his son, he hadn't enchanted the fire immunity into them yet...

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

Matthew Morris wrote:

Now I'm picturing

Wings of Daedelus, a cloak that flings the user towards the sun using reverse gravity. Unfortunately for his son, he hadn't enchanted the fire immunity into them yet...

....and just like that, we segue into Mythic territory.

Star Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Anthony Adam wrote:

Distant World's gets you other places, but you could find that the place you are now at is less technologically advanced than where you came from.

So Distant Worlds doesn't necessarily mean "future/modern".

Totally agreed, although still, that can open the door to things inspired a little too much by JRPGs and/or Your Favorite Videogame--meteorite swords, orbital platforms, crystals of insert element here.

I could probably boil my post down to the existing advice of

* Don't make something that reminds the judges of a specific item in a different game
* Don't make something that reminds the judges of a specific real-life object

as well as

* Don't conflate alien origins with Superstar mojo. If it's not a Superstar item, a DW connection won't save it. It might even hurt it if it's too much of an insider reference.

but then I wouldn't get to exercise my word counter and blast all those unnecessary words out of my system ahead of Superstar. :D

Matthew Morris wrote:
So don't make an GolariPhone (that was clever BTW), but you can magic up a "long range personality transferrance device" using magic jar. But don't, because Stargate already did that.

Not just the Stargate angle, but a Spell-in-a-Can can't pass Superstar muster simply by being otherworldly. It still needs mojo.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter 2013

Well the communication stones are different than mqagic jar, in that it is a mind switch. That aside I'll take issue with the last statement.

Mojo is unclear. It requires something that grabs the attention. Look at the judges comments on the tankard of the cheerful duelist. That you can't spill the drink was almost an afterthought, but that's what caught everyone's attention.

Likewise Sean's Monkey is 'get around having to keep your bardic music up'. It's the flavour that sold it. Or Seth's Vessel of the Deep is a varient Aparratus, it was the ink/squid tie in that sold it.*

The communication stones may be a (psionic power) in a can, but how you fluff and sell it is what makes the difference. Mojo is 'lightning in a bottle' you see it on TV all the time. Shows trying to duplicate Deadliest Catch's formulae and falling short, because they miss that 'something'.

*

Spoiler:
Why yes, I do have KQ 16 open in front of me, why?

Star Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Matthew Morris wrote:
The communication stones may be a (psionic power) in a can, but how you fluff and sell it is what makes the difference. Mojo is 'lightning in a bottle' you see it on TV all the time. Shows trying to duplicate Deadliest Catch's formulae and falling short, because they miss that 'something'.

I think we agree, but I fumbled in explaining what I meant.

I don't think someone can take an item, add only an alien origin to it, and expect brownie points for paying attention to new product releases.

Yeah, if the item is sound but not quite Superstar, a meaningful link to a new product that's packaged well, adds something cool to the game, and shows attention to detail could be what pushes it over the top. Simply namedropping the setting won't give an item a boost; the item still has to excite someone who's never seen or played with the setting.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Hodge Podge

Haha, I'm flattered you used my item as an example for illustrating this. Mine was somewhat borderline, since it dealt with a natural chemical that in our world has only been explored relatively recently (pheromones), and it still rankled some sensibilities.

My take on the subject was this:

Chris wrote:
... while pheromones are a somewhat recent scientific concept, that doesn't prevent the denizens of a fantasy world completely detached from our own from knowing about them, enhancing them, and exploiting them for personal gain.

What I mean by that is that since it is part of nature, it ought to still exist in Golarion's counterparts to our real world. Maybe we didn't know about it for a long time, but perhaps magic enabled them to discover it earlier. Then again, we don't go into atomic structure in Golarion either, even though I can imagine it being possible to explore through magic as well. (Unless Golarion's physics are based on something else, like matter being comprised of classical elements. We don't know.)

I think the real issue here is the wording. Words like "pheromone" and "atom" didn't exist in our world before, and ought not to exist in Golarion by extension. Instead, we should explain using non-scientific terms, calling pheromones something akin to "scents" and atoms something like "substance".

For example, instead of "This device is able to change the atomic structure of a creature into a mixture of noxious chemicals." we might say something like "This device is able to change very substance of a creature's body into a mixture of noxious liquids and gasses."

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

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Or "this item imbues the target's flesh with a poisonous stench."

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Hodge Podge

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Haha, yeah, that saves a bit on word count!

So basically, focus on the outward effect rather than the technical explanation.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Exactly!

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