Item Design Master Class


RPG Superstar™ 2008 General Discussion

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

I cant believe how much this process is honing my design skills. First off, being able to discuss specific items from a design standpoint with Erik and Wolfgang is like taking a master class in design. It is so great. Second, it really forces you to think about what good design is and more specifically what a well-designed wondrous item is. In fact, we are constantly discussing these things. Perhaps at the end of this we can share some of our thoughts and insights on the issue. I dont want to do it now as that would unfairly advantage those who read our thoughts. But this is a really fun process from a judging standpoint. We are really digging in and discussing these items. Many of the items have multiple posts about them where each of us dissects the item and has a particular issue or concern. We are really taking this seriously.

Feed us more items!!!

Good luck everyone!

Clark


Clark Peterson wrote:

I dont want to do it now as that would unfairly advantage those who read our thoughts.

Clark

Why I didn't read the judges' minds before submitting my item is beyond me. Stupid, stupid, stupid!! *bangs head against desk* Live and learn, I'll make a note for next time. :/

I hope the judges do share some of their thought processes at some point! It would be most valuable for those of us who are new to this. :)

Dark Archive Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4

Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie – I would wager that we’re pretty much ALL interested in that sort of dialogue, especially after being part of this competition. Win or lose, the whole challenge has really sparked some interest in under-the-hood design-theory, from a fluff perspective as well as the nuts and bolts of the game.

Right, guys?

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

thatboomerkid wrote:

Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie – I would wager that we’re pretty much ALL interested in that sort of dialogue, especially after being part of this competition. Win or lose, the whole challenge has really sparked some interest in under-the-hood design-theory, from a fluff perspective as well as the nuts and bolts of the game.

Right, guys?

Right!

Since submitting, I've been wondering a lot about pricing items correctly. I have to assume the judges are looking at that along with everything else, but obviously we didn't have space, nor an invitation, to justify our proposed prices. I started by using the SRD method for item creation, but the price seemed sky-high for the final product, so I discounted. (My item granted the effect of a 1st level spell, but I wanted a high DC, so treated the spell as heightened, which obviously jacked up spell level and caster level.) But I've been reading through the non-SRD Magic Item Compendium this past weekend... did WotC just toss the pricing guidelines out the window? Just take a look at the eternal wand: what a bargain!

Dark Archive

When I first read Clark's post my first reaction was "damn, I'm screwed". Talk about anticipation, man!

I need to relax. LOL. Let the results come as they may, I say. :)


I think that could be an excellent article or articles. I for one would love to hear from each of you what you took away from the discussion.

Wait. How about a redacted transcript if this was email or IM? :D Please?


yeah I wanna hear this also
ugg I'm still working on mine
my main problem is where to draw the line on how much fudging you can add to an item compared to the "spells" that make it up. And what do you do when you want an effect that there isn't a spell for?\
bleck


swirler wrote:

And what do you do when you want an effect that there isn't a spell for?\

bleck

IMHO thats what the feat Craft Wondrous Item is for. Find the spell or spells that come closest to mimicing the effect you want and then *poof* the creation feat does the rest.

After all it is magic!

;p

Also its amazing what you can do with a properly worded wish spell

Paizo Employee Chief Creative Officer, Publisher

A subtopic of such a discussion would focus on why certain item types keep coming up again and again. I can think of several "themes" I've seen at least three times, often with more or less the exact same approach.

It's pretty weird.

My theory is either that there is something supernatural going on or that lots of players encounter the same problems that don't have D&D solutions and try to solve them the same way.


I wouldn't mind seeing a lits of the most common item types submitted after all is said and done. I think it would be interesting to see what kind of things we all sent in that were similar. I would like to think my submission was unique, but it would not surprise me to see one like it in there somewhere.

Only a few more days to find out I guess...


Chris Dragich wrote:
swirler wrote:

And what do you do when you want an effect that there isn't a spell for?\

bleck

IMHO thats what the feat Craft Wondrous Item is for. Find the spell or spells that come closest to mimicing the effect you want and then *poof* the creation feat does the rest.

After all it is magic!

yeah thats what I ended up doing.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 8

Sarelth The BlackWulf wrote:
I wouldn't mind seeing a list of the most common item types submitted after all is said and done. I think it would be interesting to see what kind of things we all sent in that were similar. I would like to think my submission was unique, but it would not surprise me to see one like it in there somewhere.

I second the motion.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

What you dont want to see is my list of bad item stereotypes. It provided some judicial amusement.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

This contest led me to ask: 1. what is a wondrous item, anyway? 2. what makes a great wondrous item? 3. what is NOT a wondrous item. 4. what design flaws prevent a wondrous item from being good. 5. what is a superstar wondrous item?

I have a few general thoughts I can share at the end.

Its sort of a discussion of the platonic ideal of a wondrous item. For example, we use the word table and you imagine something. Those things help you define "table-ness". I wanted to figure out the platonic idea of a wondrous item. what defines "wondrous item-ness."

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 8

Good question. My simple answer is a wonderous item lest you do something extraordinary or gives you something special.It should open doors. The more it lets you break the laws of physics -that does not meen uber powerful- the better. But it is a simple answer.

The more you speak the more I want to read your comments on items. It would be insightful.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

A wondrous item should be just that, a relatively common item that may be well crafted, that is focused to a theme and accomplishes the purpose of that focused theme. It is not a swiss army knife that solves multiple problems with one item. It does one thing (or one kind of thing, perhaps with multiple powers). It is not an artifact. It should almost never tread on key game balance issues, as those are things for artifacts to do.

It can be simple, it can be powerful. A well designed summoning item or protection item can be as good as a helm of brilliance-style power item. The power level itself is not the issue.

It should be cleanly designed:

*A good, descriptive name that captures the theme of the item.
*A sentence or two of description text that evokes the item, but does not over do it. These arent artifacts.
*Several sentences of the essential mechanics necessary to run the item in game, either by reference to a spell or spell effect or other mechanic.
*Appropriate crafting and costing info.
*Focused and limited design tied to a theme. No swiss army knives.
*Looks good on the character sheet, the PCs want it.
*Appropriately impacts the game of D&D positively.
*Addresses an epic, heroic need.

By the way, this is my version of the ideal item and submission. We did not require rigid adherence to this. Some more fluff is fine. But it better have all of the above or it is rejected.

*Bad name, out.
*Overdone "let me tell you about my character" backstory, probably a big negative.
*Lacking all the essential mechanics to run the item, most likely a fatal flaw (though we have kept several that we agree needed more detail)
*No costing and creation info, out. Bad costing, not necessarily out. In fact, we kept several items that have some costing issues. It is just too hard to say definitavely that it is right or wrong.
*Unfocused, no theme, swiss army knife, uber or munchkin, that item is done.
*Deals with problems that either heroes dont have or that we dont need solved with items, probably out.
*Encourages bad play ideas, its out.

But then it must also be Superstar quality.

This is the oomph. The pizzaz. The "oh man, I wish I would have come up with that," the "man, I cant stop thinking about that item." The X factor so to speak.

Clark

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 8

The first part of the list is check. Although I do wonder about the wording of the mechanics. It wasn't that simple.

I also might of overdone it with the backstory. To long (hitting my head with a baseball bat). But its not that dramatic, it goes with the item. And no, it was not originally created by one of my characters, the item was for the contest only (although my players do want one).

I do wonder about the power level tought. It could be to powerful, but it add safeties tied to it, the problem is that they are more or less tied to roleplaying. Wonder if that was taken into acount or it was just pure mechanics.

So the real question is: is it superstar material? Angst!

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Bottom line is that these final 32 may well be pretty subjective. We are dealing with awesome entries. If you didnt make the cut there was a very good chanch your item was awesome and just didnt catch us three judges. There are a ton of really really great items here. No one should be embarassed by not making top 32.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

By the way, my above list presumes no glaring gaffes:

*over word count
*non-srd or paizo content
*grammar or spelling issues
*inappropriate content
*joke items

That stuff, as you know, got auto-rejected.

We made some allowances if we thought the submission was by a non-native english speaker. But generally, grammar was a killer for some. We had some that were like chewing on tinfoil after going to the dentist. Brutal. But those were the rare, rare exceptions to an otherwise unbelievably great set of submissions.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

I also happen to have a pet peeve against "modern items designed with magic". I'm not the only vote here, but these kind of items usually get a reject from me. Tape recorders, ipods, pdas, that sort of thing.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8

Clark Peterson wrote:
It is not an artifact. It should almost never tread on key game balance issues, as those are things for artifacts to do.

Clearly, an item should be of some benefit to a character and help with a problem or lack that he has, otherwise it wouldn't be magical and desirable.

Does an item offend against key game balance concerns because what it does is simply unacceptable? Or is it more a question of degree, limits and balances, or lack of the same?

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Yes, sometimes it can do something that is unaceptable. Like give key class abilites to non-members of that class. Tinker with good and bad saves. Rearrange ability scores. Create new types of magic. Break fundamental rules of the game. Etc.

Wondrous items dont do those things. Artifacts do. And even then, rarely.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Obviously an item has to be magical and desirable or we would go, "ok, so what." And we did for some submissions.

There are some things a wondrous item simply does not do and should not do.

Grand Lodge Contributor , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Clark Peterson wrote:


*Addresses an epic, heroic need.

There's a wonderful wondrous item in Hollow's Last Hope. I'm talking about a certain talking amulet (don't want to be more specific so as not to give spoilers). Truly wonderful design, but it really doesn't address an epic, heroic need. Rather, it's an item a DM might find useful, but for the players to use it, they'd have to be really creative. It's a "trick" item rather than a "treat" item, so to say.

All I'm saying is that DMs too need a few toys to play with ;-)

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Darkjoy

Serpent wrote:
Clark Peterson wrote:


*Addresses an epic, heroic need.

There's a wonderful wondrous item in Hollow's Last Hope.

All I'm saying is that DMs too need a few toys to play with ;-)

I second that opinion. My item is more DM oriented than PC oriented.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Steven T. Helt

I think I speak for several entries when I say these insights are not only educational, but soothing. So far, most posts that I read give me a little more confidence, and make me able to wait until Wednesday. I know some of us were neurotic from the day we submitted, but I think these posts help us see where your thoughts are,and some of us can cross our fingers tighter, or take a big sigh and move on to the next opportunity.

Only one time have I read a post from a judge and thought "Oh...maybe they won't be so impressed with it." With the other posts I don't assume I'm moving up the list, but feel in line with the ideas being described.

I guess now I feel I submitted a legal, thoughtful, unique item. I feel pretty good about its writing and costing, and I know it doesn't make any references to non-Open content. The question is, does it WOW the judges like it did my friends when I asked them which finalized item to submit.

And so, I'm not let down if it's judged a good item but not top 32. It's my first attempt at any such thing. I want to compete, and I want to win. But you guys have also done a good job of keeping perspective, so in four days I'll find out if I was good enough for that.

Thanks, guys, for helping keep us sane during the torturous waiting period. Hopefully some of us are designing some great countries to set future adventures in. I'm simultaneously working on four until I learn what the rules are!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

ancientsensei wrote:
And so, I'm not let down if it's judged a good item but not top 32. It's my first attempt at any such thing. I want to compete, and I want to win. But you guys have also done a good job of keeping perspective, so in four days I'll find out if I was good enough for that.

Quite. All contestants should remember that they're not alone. We're just short 15% of thousand people who are waiting, and many or even most of them are doing this for the first time.

What I'm saying is ancientsensei has a lot of company, and nobody should feel alone. We may not be in this together, but we're definitely not alone.

And on the bright side, if you submitted an entry, and read all the posts on this board, you've still gotten a prize of sorts.

You got a lesson on how to prepare something for consideration to be published. It may not be an all inclusive lesson, but the judges have definitely given some practical advice here. Their time is not free, and yet this lesson was...

Also, don't forget, we walked into this contest with nothing, so we had nothing to lose...

Sovereign Court

ancientsensei wrote:


Only one time have I read a post from a judge and thought "Oh...maybe they won't be so impressed with it." With the other posts I don't assume I'm moving up the list, but feel in line with the ideas being described.

Yeah, I've been perversely thrilled with the inability of people to follow the simple rules presented to us - it DOES mean I'm moving up the list. I've even had a bit of schadenfreude at the judges talking about repeated themes, because I've felt that even if the item was good, they'd be less likely to pick something they have 40 other versions of (nevermind that MY item might be one of those). My major concern has been whether my item is "WOW!" enough. I didn't go for flash and sexiness, I went for an item that I felt would be useful and flavorful. I don't know if that makes me a Superstar! or not.

That tension has kept me on the edge of my seat for the last two weeks.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Steven T. Helt

My two weeks have been filled with a different kind of anxiety. I feel pretty good about my item, and the posts have helped reinforce that, but the magic item was almost fire-and-forget for me. After I submitted, I went straight to work on my first country, trying to get ahead on each stage so once we get instructions for each item I'm down to just a good polish.

My four countries are so piecemeal right now: I didn't realize how hard this would be with no information to go on. Someone suggested we might get a map and all have to craft a country in the same geography. So I might even be working on all of his just to have those projects thrown out the window! Jinkies!

I know my situation is likely not unique, but I have four kids and work six days. I have considered getting an apartment and just typing through the holidays, but I don't think my wife would approve!

I will now go back to my heightened levels of anxiety.


Darkjoy wrote:
Serpent wrote:
Clark Peterson wrote:


*Addresses an epic, heroic need.

There's a wonderful wondrous item in Hollow's Last Hope.

All I'm saying is that DMs too need a few toys to play with ;-)

I second that opinion. My item is more DM oriented than PC oriented.

I had that as well. Screw the players - the DM ought to get more toys...after all I'm normally the DM.


Don't the DMs usually get to test out most of the magic items before they give them away to the other players like a Dark Santa Claus with their BBEG monster delivery boys?

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

We certainly dont oppose evil items or items for DMs or NPCs, but they need to be actual wondrous items and not essentially just traps disguised as an item. I am pretty sure there will be at least one such item in the top 32 (not a guarantee). BUT these got a more critical eye because they often were not good wondrous items.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8

Is there such a thing as too little flavour text? I'd think that some amount of description is needed for a winning item to catch the imagination.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka michaeljpatrick

My item addressed a need that my PC came across rather recently. I had some complaints from those I showed it to before submitting that it is not such a great item because it doesn't do much, but I like to think it does just enough.


Starglim wrote:
Is there such a thing as too little flavour text? I'd think that some amount of description is needed for a winning item to catch the imagination.

I put a small sentence about the description, but if you look in the SRD, they don't usually give in depth descriptions for each item (probably, because most of them are boring). But yeah, maybe some of the items need a lot of description, but maybe so in such a way that it catches the judge's eyes rather than list off every minute detail (the pommel is gold, the bottom of the pommel is silver, on one side's a ruby, on the other side is a dragon... and now for the rest of the Sword of One Thousand Images...). Hopefully, mine was just kooky enough to win.


I think it would depend on the item in question. Specific and rare items are usually more descriptive that just the 'wizard in the mill' type, like the ever popular Bag of Holding.

Descriptive text MUST add feel to the item, in my humble opinion. After all, how many Pc's would be running around with silver swords, vorpaling everything they came across, if they didn't have legions of githyaki breathing down their necks, just waiting for the exact moment their guard is lowered? The background of the silver swords is what makes them special, different, cool, whatever. The same goes with wonderous items.

Balance is the hard part. If we write too much fluff, people get bored. Not enough, and they go 'yes, so what?'. Finding that ground in the middle, that's what we as creator's must do.

Now if you excuse me, I have a dwarf whose late for a date with the Lich Queen.


Clark Peterson wrote:
*Encourages bad play ideas, its out.

As in can be used as a torture device? Perhaps tempting "good guys" to do acts of evil that they may not other wise resort to?


benjover wrote:
Clark Peterson wrote:
*Encourages bad play ideas, its out.
As in can be used as a torture device? Perhaps tempting "good guys" to do acts of evil that they may not other wise resort to?

As long as they are only "advanced interrogation techniques" it's okay.

Or in the case of destroying entire races the item must be described as being able to facilitate "acts of genocide". If you don't use the "acts of" part your item got dropped for sure.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Steven T. Helt

I think bad play ideas refers to mechanics or role play that encourages fundamentally flawed dnd, either by removing some staple from the game, or adding some undesirable element. For example, and item that allows holy people to act outside the constraints of their alignment with no consequences. The Holy Symbol of Necessary Evil is right out.

One published 'bad play' mechanic in my opinion is the entire set of pacifist feats and spells (and a prestige class, though it's fine for NPCs) in the Book of Exalted Deeds. I was once in a party where our cleric prepared End to Strife. His idea was we find this big Lord of Evil we'd been pursuing, and he and his cronies kill themselves trying to kill us, and he just mass heal us every few rounds. As a paladin/ranger/kensai(fighter variant) of Horus Re, it meant after my series of 'the battle belongs to the gods' speeches that I just sit there and not fight. Our party rejected his idea completely.

I admit, having one character committed to peace live through a climactic scene would be compelling one time, but in general it is bad DnD in my opinion.

I think Paizo should make new books dedicated to evil and good. There's a lot of room there, especially with their own developing game world. Exalted Deeds is missing lots of content (nowhere near enough exalted feats), and Vile Darkness is in need of a WotC revision, and there's room for lots of other original material for another publisher to explore.


Clark Peterson wrote:
We certainly dont oppose evil items or items for DMs or NPCs, but they need to be actual wondrous items and not essentially just traps disguised as an item. I am pretty sure there will be at least one such item in the top 32 (not a guarantee). BUT these got a more critical eye because they often were not good wondrous items.

...and still he deliciously waves signs of hope before my eyes (I too devised something for the DM, not for players...unless the players are of somewhat questionable morality).


Quote:
*Focused and limited design tied to a theme. No swiss army knives.

Ah well. I thought that mine was a more ingenuous and limiting swiss army knife. But at least no more anxiety.

A little discouraging, but at least it's not one of the ones I thought was the best... basically because I didn't want to give my IP rights away.

Poor tactic on my part <laugh>.


Pale wrote:

...but at least it's not one of the ones I thought was the best... basically because I didn't want to give my IP rights away.

Poor tactic on my part <laugh>.

I know the feeling but I think the question you have to ask yourself is how likely are you to get published outside of this contest? If you're a really motivated, professional, writer then okay you might have a chance but if you're like me: been playing and reading/writing forever, always wanted to get in one of the magazines or get a novel published, just never got serious enough for it. Then you're probably never going to get published anyway so you might as well go for it.

But either way, if you're a superstar, the great ideas will just keep on coming anyway.


Pale wrote:
Quote:
*Focused and limited design tied to a theme. No swiss army knives.

Ah well. I thought that mine was a more ingenuous and limiting swiss army knife. But at least no more anxiety.

A little discouraging, but at least it's not one of the ones I thought was the best... basically because I didn't want to give my IP rights away.

Poor tactic on my part <laugh>.

Yeah, the market for print game design is so small that I can't imagine being too worried about IP.


Except that IP rights extend well past the print gaming market.


Pale wrote:
Except that IP rights extend well past the print gaming market.

All too true. However, these are largely design entries, so all but the adventure should protect the IP elements better saved for other forms. This contest seems set to focus more on crunch than 'fluff'.

Now I don't mean to be rude about that. I just can't see an opening for IP suited for other pursuits in this contest.

If I have a story for the Monkey's Paw, I can always make some tweaks if that spawns an item idea. Course, someone already beat me to the Monkey's Paw. ;)

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