The Emerald Spire Superdungeon is the largest Pathfinder Modules product ever produced, a record that's unlikely to be taken from it anytime soon. With its release in just a few short weeks, we want to make sure it gets the attention and celebration it deserves. At 160 pages, with 16 levels (by 16 different authors), eight brand-new monsters, enough material to take players from 1st to 13th level and several major mysteries, there's a LOT of Emerald Spire features to highlight!
We won't be able to cover all the superdungeon's twists and turns (and wouldn't want to spoil the fun or players looking forward to discovering the superdungeon's mysteries for themselves), but over the next few weeks these blog posts will tease a few of the Emerald Spire's secrets, preview some of its amazing art, and giving a few of its authors a chance to talk about superdungeons, inspiration, and what they cooked up for the biggest Pathfinder Module ever.
This week we asked some leading questions of designers Lisa Stevens (who wrote the 1st level and just happens to be Paizo's CEO) and Wolfgang Baur (who wrote the 11th level and is CEO of Open Design and a legendary TSR designer).
How do you define a "Superdungeon"? What is your favorite dungeon or superdungeon experience in your personal gaming history?
I define a Superdungeon as one whose exploration basically takes up an entire campaign. Or at least the vast majority of the campaign. I don't buy into all this parsing of superdungeon vs. megadungeon. They are all the same in my book.
My favorite superdungeon is Temple of Elemental Evil for 1st edition AD&D.
I would say it is any dungeon big enough that you never really need anything else; that is, you can start at 1st level and run an entire campaign in it. I think that Undermountain is probably my favorite for the maps, but there's an argument to be made that the Underdark is a superdungeon. You can, after all, run a campaign entirely underground and never bother surface dwellers, and I have to say I've loved the Underdark since I first encountered it in Gygax's D series with Trampier art. And I haven't stopped loving superdungeons. I'm playing in one now, an old-school thing called the Barrowmaze. Good fun, fairly deadly, rules-light.
What is your level of the Emerald Spire Superdungeon called? What theme, if any, does the level have?
I nabbed the first level, which is called The Tower Ruins. I wanted to play around with goblins, so I used my super CEO powers to make sure I could. :)
The Tower Ruins are the part of the dungeon that rests above ground. When I was designing it, I wanted to make a level that would be fairly easy to be implemented in Pathfinder Online, which I have also been focusing a lot on lately. My hope is that we can at least have my tower ruins inserted into Pathfinder Online sooner rather than later because the various enemies are mostly already built for the online game. Then, as we have time, we can open up lower levels a level at a time.
My theme was basically, what would goblins do if they found this cool ruined tower level? What insanity would they cook up?
My level is The Tomb of Yarrix, and it has a very clear theme: it is all about the entomb of some eldritch horrors from beyond space and time, and the non-standard geometry required to make sure that things *stay* entombed. That always seems to be the problem, frankly, and tomb-designers have a lot to answer for if adventurers ever want to call them out on it.
This level does warp space and warps time, at least a little, for some oddball encounter effects. The Tomb of Yarrix holds some bizarre new creatures and energies, one of which is revealed in a slightly roundabout way in the Deep Magic tome of spells. And the tomb's treasures are similarly antique and obscure. There's a mix of weird with strange, and this sort of theme made it easy to work with a few of the more out-there monsters from the Bestiaries.
All in all, it's sanity-blasting fun and a squishy change of pace from your average tomb.
What where the inspirations you drew on for your Emerald Spire level, and what are you hoping players get out of it?
Believe it or not, my inspiration for my level came from the classic D&D module, Dragon Mountain. In that adventure, kobolds were put into an environment where they have the advantage against the bigger and better equipped PCs, allowing the little buggers to really strike fear into a party. I wanted to try to do that with goblins. My level has a little twist that gives the resident goblins a pretty decided advantage against most adventurers. I wanted players to have to really think a bit outside the box, and use brains rather than brawn to overcome those pesky goblins.
I also put little glimpses into goblin psychology into my level. Little bits of treasure to make you scratch your head because they're odd, but there's a story behind everything. I'm hoping that GMs are able to bring those little stories to light in order to flesh out these goblins as more than hp pincushions.
The Tomb of Yarrix borrows its tone from Clark Ashton Smith and his inevitably doomed evil high priests, and it's loaded with the ancient and the macabre. There are cultists, ancient evils from beyond the mortal realm, and a cult that has fallen out of history, but whose adherents still seek to bring just one more extradimensional monstrosity out of hiding. There's music that Must Not Be Sung.
The Tomb happens to fit almost perfectly into the Wasted West of the Midgard Campaign Setting, which was one of its other inspirations, largely because that region is all about imprisoning ancient Walkers and dimensional tricks. It's where a lot of the clockwork and time magic of Deep Magic comes from.
One of the encounters in Tomb of Yarrix also goes back to C. A. Smith's ability to make things horrific without necessarily being deadly. There's a set of nests... well, I won't spoil that encounter, but let me just say that if this level of Emerald Spire doesn't get at least one "ewwwww" out of your players, I'll be very surprised.
Many thanks to Lisa Stevens and Wolfgang Baur for giving us a peak at goblins with a twist, and encounters that bend space and time! There's much more Emerald Spire to talk about, but the rest will have to wait until next week's post, when at the least we'll take a look at the superdungeon's "fire level," and maybe a few more snippets as well.
Owen K.C. Stephens
Developer, Pathfinder Modules