Akram Zafir

Round 2: Design a country

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16

Akram Zafir
“Empire of the Sun�
Alignment: LN
Capital: Osztun (pop. 54,980)
Notable Settlements: Gate of the Western Winds (pop. 7,577), Seri Ary (pop. 20,465)
Ruler: Grand Merchant Dwodek, Judge of the Five, Lord of the Ironhelm Clan
Government: A council composed of five Grand Merchants, one from each of the founding families of Akram Zafir. The council is known as the Five. The head of The Five is called The Judge. Every 100 years a new Judge is chosen. The Judge determines the laws and alignment of Akram Zafir, but the alignment is never evil.

Description: Akram Zafir has existed for over 2,000 years and is located in the Sea of Sand, the largest desert in the world, spanning thousands of miles. Surrounded by the massive peaks of the Ouroboros Mountains, this desert is a harsh wasteland full of violent sandstorms, flaying winds, and nomadic monsters. There are only four passes through the mountains into Akram Zafir. The largest and most traveled is the Gate of the Western Winds, which allows trade with the Kingdoms of Lorian and Highguard.

In the heart of the Sea of Sand is the Forest of Stone, an area where hundreds of massive gray pillars seem to grow from barren wilderness, slightly bending and twisting as they reach for the sky. The outer pillars start at 300 feet high and 100 feet wide, but grow larger toward the center of the “forest� reaching heights of over 1,000 feet and more than 300 feet wide. The distance between pillars ranges from 300 feet to three miles. Most of the tops of the pillars are flat and growing from them are amazing forests of darkwood. Also found deep in the core of most pillars is fresh water, along with veins of gold, mithral, and adamantine. Using these rich resources and the crafting skills of the Five, Akram Zafir is one of the most powerful economic countries in the world. No one knows what type of stone the pillars are made from and scholars feel that over the course of hundreds of years the pillars seem to be growing taller.

The Forest of Stone is also the source of the deadly winds that desiccate the land. Found in the center of this region is the largest pillar, The Finger of God. It stands 1,526 feet high and is 837 feet wide. Starting from the bottom and ending 500 feet from the top are massive fissures that belch forth powerful gales. Within five miles of this pillar the winds have swept away over 200 feet of sand, exposing the desert floor. As these gusts break against the other pillars, they split and change directions creating deadly crosswinds that are unpredictable. Only the most highly skilled sandship or windrider captains can navigate through these passes.

Atop the pillars are the 32 cities of Akram Zafir with Osztun, the capital, perched on the Finger of God. Each city is controlled by one of the Five, who determines the culture and architecture for that city with Osztun being a combination of all.

The Five Families
Gilham – Medieval European
Teth – Greco-Roman
Ironhelm – Dwarven
Windleaf – Elven
Merar – Islamic/Arabic

The Grand Council and the main houses of the Five are located here. All cities are either carved directly into or built from pieces of a pillar’s crown. Surrounding each settlement is a wind-breaking wall to prevent stray winds or storms from blowing a whole city to the desert below. For this reason, no building is taller then this 50 foot wall. Generally the rich live in the middle of a pillar while the poorest cling to life in homes carved into a pillar’s sides. Regardless of a pillar’s height, a wall-like ring has been constructed 100 feet from the top to protect a city from Akram Zafir’s main threat, the Formians.

A few hundred years ago, the city of Seri Ary was invaded by an army of Formians who came from the desert. Unprepared for the attack, most of the citizens of Seri Ary were butchered. It took months to mount a counter-attack to drive the Formians away and years to build the protective rings along with a standing army. Now the Formians mainly threaten trade routes to and from the Forest of Stone. Where they come from and why they are attacking is a mystery, but the presence of the Formians has halted most expeditions into the desert.

Other than magic, travel between the pillars is accomplished with sandships and windriders. Windriders are vessels that use windstones to fly. Windstones are pieces of the Finger of God which have absorbed the power of the winds. One pound of windstone can lift 1,000 pounds. Mining the pieces from the sides of the great pillar is dangerous and the work of the Ironhelm Dwarves. Windstones only work around Osztun, limiting windriders to a 50 mile flight range. Large elevators powered by the wind move goods and people to and from the cities.

DM Secrets: The pillars are not stone, but the branches of a massive petrified tree. Eons ago, the region was not a desert, but a lush jungle. At its heart was a great tree that contained a portal to the Plane of Water. From this source, life-giving waters flowed into the land through the tree’s massive root system. Unfortunately mysterious forces shifted the gate from the Plane of Water to the Plane of Air causing powerful winds to burst from the massive tree eventually desiccating the land thus creating the Sea of Sand. What would if the gate changed back?
One of the Five has a dark secret. A race of insect-like creatures known as the Scarabosians has taken over the family’s Grand Merchant in hopes of being elected The Judge. What plans do they have for Akram Zafir?
The Formians were once the servants of a lost desert civilization. Though now gone, a sinister group has learned the secret to controlling the Formians. Why are they attacking Akram Zafir?

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Submission checklist:

Submitted on time? Check.
Submission is a "country"? Check.
Submission contains all of the mandatory content as required by the contest rules? Check.
Submission is within the word limit? Check. 997 (when you take out the funny symbols)
Submission is free of inappropriate content in violation of the "taboo" guidelines? Check.
Submission does not use content from a source other than those listed? Check.
Submission does not reference a published campaign setting? Check.
Submission does not include maps or art? Check.
Submission is a suitable setting for roleplaying with the d20 system? Check.
Submission is not a "joke" or otherwise completely fails to meet the minimum requirements of the competition or other contest rules? Check.

The Exchange Kobold Press

This country of Akram Zafir deserves to advance to the Top 16 based on the strength of its geography. The use of the 32 pillars as a defining bit of landscape is hugely compelling: it transforms "just another desert culture" into something much more.

The use of formians, darkwood, and other elements that don't show up often are distinguish the setting as well. The windstones make me want to know more.

The sandships are more familiar, but it's still good to see them part of the foundation of the country (since camel caravans won't work all that well among the pillars). It shows that the designer has thought through the implications of the premises.

There's enough meat here to sustain more than one or two adventures. There's enough imagination to sustain this contestant into the next round.

Recommended for Top 16.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Fluff (writing, grammar, style, evocative prose, etc.): B-
The Good: Reasonably well written.
The Bad: Not knocking me out and could have done more with less.

Crunch (basics, rules issues, depth of the setting, details, etc.): C-
The Good: The magic and description hint and cool crunch, but don’t really deliver.
The Bad: True crunch is lacking and you don’t deliver on the teasers.

Design (choices made, format, naming, originality, theme, balance--ie, is the submission heavy in one part but lacking in another?): B-
The Good: Some names are good, some not so good. I do like the injection of the darkwood and other resources. I like the winds and the finger of god. Oh baby, now you are getting me—cities on top of the pillars. Why is that not up front? Good stuff in DM secrets, but too short.
The Bad: Empire of the Sun is a bit cliché. Ouroboros, really? Sea of sand, forest of stone. Come on, I think you can do better. You really needed the cool city-pillars at the front. Heck, that should have been your theme, not “Empire of the Sun.” You’ve got some good ideas here, but I don’t think you found them or recognized their strength. You certainly didn’t play to your strength. Not sure I am digging the real world cultures injected into this. You have such a killer fantasy idea here, I think the real world stuff drags it down. I just don’t think you identified and highlighted the coolest part of your submission—the pillar cities. Luckily the idea is good enough to get you a reasonable grade here.

Play (setting for adventure? campaign? is there conflict? are there play limitations?): B-
The Good: There is some fun play to be had here.
The Bad: Not enough detail. Conflict isn’t well spelled out.

Tilt (my personal take, is it evocative? do I want to play there? does it capture my imagination?): B-
The Good: Pillar-cities. Pillar-cities. Say it with me, pillar-cities. Those are cool!
The Bad: …but not well developed and not highlighted.

Overall: B-
A really great idea that is buried in a muddled submission. This is definitely more “rough” than “diamond”. I don’t think he found his theme. But I think there is enough diamond here to move on, though barely.

Hesitantly RECOMMENDED for top 16. Those cool pillar-cities pulled you in.

Paizo Employee Chief Creative Officer, Publisher

I'm not blown away with all of the names in this entry. Akram Zafir itself is really cool, and Grand Merchant Dwodek suggests a touch of genius. But the Ironhelm Clan? Really? Pull that one out of a 7th grade campaign notebook, by any chance? Lorian and Highguard sound pretty generic to me, and while I was at first impressed by the imagery and name of "The Sea of Sand," that soon passed when you used the same construction (and generic approach) to the Forest of Stone.

That said, I do very much like that the forest is not a forest, and the idea of a huge collection of pillars in the middle of the desert is an inspiring one. The fact that they are so weirdly shaped and that they seem to be growing is likewise inspirational, and makes me want to incorporate the idea into my own campaigns. Ultimately, that is EXACTLY the reaction you want an country entry like that to trigger, so that is 100% mission accomplished as far as I am concerned.

But, I would not be the first in recent memory to declare "Mission Accomplished!" prematurely, and there are a few problems with the entry that deserve further discussion.

I do not care for invoking real-world culture in the entry, even if it is a valuable shorthand. The idea of each house having a different architectural style is a good and interesting one, but I don't really want to equate those styles directly with real world architecture, especially when contrasted against "elven" or "dwarven" architecture, which isn't clearly defined anyway.

The DM's Secrets are generally well done, though the writing on the first one is a bit of a disaster. I think you could erase all of the Social Studies end-of-chapter questions (shouldn't the writing suggest the questions without stating them overtly?) and use those words to add more description and subtext to the hooks you've provided.

I love the windriders and the stones that power them from the finger of god. This is an enormously interesting and captivating setting idea, and I must say it is definitely one of my favorites of the round.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Rusty Ironpants

Overall I found this a very cool setting. I concur with the judges that some of the names are kind of lame and that it would probably have been better not to mention any real world cultures.

Still overall a place I would like to play a game in.


RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16

Thank you Judges for you input and the opportunity to compete.

Scarab Sages Marathon Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Card Game, Rulebook Subscriber

So far this one is my favorite.


RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Aotrscommander

Nice. I like the idea of pillar cities; they put me in mind of the City-Ships of Alpha Centauri in Stewart Cowley's Spacecraft 2000-2100AD which gets my vote right there.

I do take slight issue with the scales, though; I think 300' diameter is perhaps an order of magnitude too small for a city to occupy soley and the 300' gap between them to large for a city to occupy several. Village, yes, but I'd expect a city to be much larger.

I can imagine the pillar cities perhaps dug into the top part of the pillars like a giant skyscraper at that scale (still on the small side though), but 'atop' puts me in mind of it sitting right on top, rather than coterminous with the top portion.

Minor nitpick though.

First trouble I have is that Akram Zafir sounds too much like a person's name and not much like a place name. It's catchy, but needs work.

A lot of the stuff here seems based of vwakoom-power, to try and sell with loads of zany over-the-topness. I would scale it back a ton. The wiggly towers of stone columns are just...weird, and I'm not sure they're a good place to have cities built. The airships and sand skimmers likewise seem really out there, but not in a fresh way. Somehow it seems like when people say desert kingdom, the kneejerk reply is "airship". The house cultures actually being referenced as direct ports to real-world cultures struck me as a bit lazy, too. I wasn't a super fan of the government system either, the five ruling familes electing a leader thing is pretty uncolorful fare, and the fact that "the alignment is never evil" just seemed too hamfisted.

The city name Finger of God reminded me of one of the 4e blogs about naming things in ways that make players laugh (ie "stoned" for petrification effects). Finger of God makes me think of the big pillar as the patron deity flipping off the rest of the world. Funny but not, I gather, what you were looking for.

It needs a little work. The imagination comes through especially at the end, so it finishes strong.

Very imaginative, but I share the same beef Alex Handley expressed. The scale of things are way off. Occupying not only the tops of the towers, but the mined innards would be more 'believable' in scale. How do you fit 20,000+ in a 300' diameter? Stringing a few pillars together with some sort of bridges may also have been a possibility.
Also, putting this location in a desert surrounded by sand for 'thousands of miles' would lead this to be a very isolated country (and thus a much smaller population). It doesn't fit that somehow they are influenced by several architectural styles and races. I can't see how they would have much trade after trekking through miles of desert and then getting sand-blasted once a caravan arrives. Not to mention having to then climb to the top of a huge pillar!
I think if this had been presented as more of an isolated, unique community not a multi-cultural center I would have been bought off.
Because its such a cool idea to start with though, I'm not counting it out completely.

8 of 32

I'm with the others in the thread, I like the pillars. I think the scale is fine if you think "skyscrapers" and not "cities". This is a good high-fantasy nation that could benefit from a few more sites and points of interest, but it definitely has potential to be a winner.

My gripes with the setting could all be solved by dividing all time periods given by 10. A 200 year old nation with judges appointed every 10 years and a nasty war that happened 20 to 30 years ago. As it stands we have five distinct cultures living amongst each other for 2,000 years and they're still quite distinct. That's a little odd. I mean, I live in a country established a little over 200 years ago and I know a place where I can get tandoori chicken on a pizza, but the dwarves never picked up anything from the Greco-Roman guys? ("This is madness!" "No! This is Clan Ironheeeeeelllmmmm!")

And I'm begging for the insect guys to be thri-kreen, even though they aren't in the SRD.

Rating: Thumbs Up

Another very creative idea. I like that the stone pillars are part of a petrified tree.

I agree with the judge who stated that you need more unique names than the Sea of Sand and Forest of Stone. I also agree that you should avoid invoking real world cultures directly.

Sovereign Court

I hate formians with the burning passion of a thousand supernovas. My irrational prejudice immediately deducts 3,000 points.

I merely dislike anything that is the biggest or mostest. It feels like it's trying to distract me with volume, like Texas. Another irrational prejudice, and another 1,000 points.

Inadvertently making me think of Irem, City of Pillars? Yay! One Awesome, which cancels out, like 4,000 points.

Another wasted DM's secrets? Yeah, yeah. Everyone's doing it. At this point, I think I'd start deducting points for someone who actually used their DM's secrets to add something interesting to the country. Call this one a wash.

Mm. My wholly irrational prejudices leave you at 0 points, and unlikely to make my top five.
Sorry! You keep writing these perfectly serviceable entries that manage to hit all my D&D prejudices!

...this entry goes to establish "wow!" and is reasonably successful, there is some vivid imagery there.

Should I run a campaign which happily embraces cinematic/fairytale in expense of realism this would be a fun place to use. But five different distinctive cultures living together peacefully for a long time, and staying distinctive? Racial ones I could understand (and allow me to join mocking the name "Clan Ironhelm") but three human cultures of relatively different historcial/scientific periods? Naah.
Using historical shorthands is always dangerous and occasionally cheap...

Still, of the entries I have read so far this is one which has good chance of getting my vote.

Someone watched Star Trek 5 before writing up his or her country…

Also, I don’t care, as Clark’s program is the final arbiter, but Word is telling me 1002. Probably an error on my part as it attempts to count those oddly distracting Unicode characters.

The first half was a bit iffy, but once it gets going it is an excellent entry.

This was the last submission I read, and you almost lost me in the beginning of your submission. Luckily for you the bottom half pulled me in. Where I had only 6 submissions to choose from, I now have 7. Good job.

The geography of the living stone, coupled with the gale force winds spewing from the center, captured my imagination. I can see myself pulling this idea into my own world map. Thanks for making my deserts more interesting.

Pros: Original re-imaging of a desert landscape.
Population centers not cloistered around oasises

Cons: I was a little put off by the description of the 5 cities. I think there could have been a better way to describe them other than paralleling real world societies. of course due to word constraints this might have been un-avoidable.

Over all a very solid submission. And a country I not only want to adventure in, but also DM.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 8 aka Sect

mwbeeler wrote:
Also, I don’t care, as Clark’s program is the final arbiter, but Word is telling me 1002. Probably an error on my part as it attempts to count those oddly distracting Unicode characters.

You're both right: there are five funny characters that Clark removed from the count.

Anyways, directly from my notes:

William M. Akram Zafir
Merchant country sounds nice. Very Arabic. Like the Pillars.
S~@#. Real world comparisons. Tent. yes (checkmark)

Basically, I loved how the country drew from the stereotypical Arab merchant prince idea and made it so that the merchants ruled. The pillars were really cool, too.

The Sandship thing quenched it for me. I've loved the idea of the Sandship ever since I played Breath of Fire IV.

Unfortunately, you knocked me out of Fantasy Fun Land with the real world comparisons, and I had a tough time enjoying the rest of the entry. I damn near disqualified you out of my picks, but then I reviewed and decided to keep you in tentaitvely in my books.

That said, I have yet to vote for anyone at this time.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16

thank you everyone for your input. I see the some basic problems coming from everyone so I know what I need to work on the future.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I see some poli-sci problems here -- politicians don't dictate culture, for example (just the opposite in fact). However, the setting is interesting and has enough hook details to make me want to see something like this move forward. Voted.

This has some potential but leaves me going huh?

1. The names need some work to be more original and less stereotypical.
2. If deadly winds swarm through the Pillar Forest thing, how do people get to the top? How did the Formians invade?
3. How do the elevators and ships go down?
4. Do people live in the pillars or just on top of them?
5. How do they maintain 5 distinct cultures in a fairly isolated environment?
6. Thousands of miles of deadly desert and they still manage to trade with outsiders?

Some great ideas but it leaves me going eh...

Owner - House of Books and Games LLC , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

I have issues with the non-printing characters, personally. I hate forcing my eyes through gibberish on the page.

This entry is on my keep list despite that, but I've got to drop one and I'm not sure I want to see more entries pasted from Word or whatever puts those stupid smart quotes and em-dashes and garbage in there.

I was more intrigued with this one at first than I am after reading it again and again. The concept of the pillars and the huge tree and the flying ships is cool, but I'm not sure that it really works all that well as a setting other than in a Barrier Peaks/Spelljammer sort of way.

I'm also starting to have logistical problems with parts of it - the winds are so strong that they strip the desert of sand in a five mile radius? Holey moley, you'd think wind that strong would blow the top of the pillar right off. Good luck ever getting to the city. I also have an issue with a capital city that's only 837 feet wide and is 1,526 feet off the ground. Great if you're Masada, not as great for a capital - that's a pretty dang small city. My yard is almost 1/4 that size.

Still in my top, but I'm on the fence. Someone's gotta go.

Wow, I really thought the judges were going to completely destroy this entry or just refuse to even review it. I've read about 12 entries so far but this was the only one I almost gave up on before finishing.

All I got was giant pillars in the desert very cool. Everything else so very wrong.

Seeing the real world references and the idea of each pillar being a different culture actually hurt. I was worried next it would say 1 is a dragonlance city, 1 was a greyhawk city and 1 is a ebberon city. The idea is almost that ridiculous.

Early on there was something about the ruler setting the alignment of the culture as if it was a switch on the wall.

Finger of god had me cracking up too. Sorry, but I just don't get it.

Liberty's Edge

Stone pillars in Desert. This one has a great central premise and some good details – I like it as a not so clichéd take on a desert culture / nation. The presentation is reasonable, but does have some problems.

I’m sorry, but the description of the culture and architecture on the different pillars really bites – possibly not enough to cancel the cool central idea, but it’s definitely a let-down. And those weird characters in the text are quite distracting, I’m not sure how they got there, but I would really have expected a preview of the submission to pick up on these and remove them. The names don’t bother me that much, but could be better.

Yeah, I’d love thri-kreen instead of formians, but apart from the major issue of them not being srd, you’d probably get shot down for going Dark Sun. Formians work pretty well for me.

Love the petrified tree concept, though it seems just as logical to me that the portal would next switch to Fire, not back to water.

Races? One hundred years is a long time to rule for most races, so I'm forced to guess elf or a custom race? As there is no mention of race, I have to assume that the setting only has one civilized (and long-lived) race. Anyway, with so much wealth at stake, I wouldn't expect any ruler to survive a term of 100 years unless he was evil.

Cities grow where there is water and resources, so I agree that the pillars would be the place where people would settle and build. I'm not sold on the idea that they'd put their capital on the one that was the most difficult to get to. It cripples trade in both goods and information. I might have bought it if the capital was there because that was the only place that the Formians couldn't raze due to its natural defenses.

What do these 54,980 people eat? As a GM, I could fabricate answer that question, but I would expect that to be addressed when describing a desert population.

Love the horizontal city walls 100' from the crowns. Rockin'.

This is a matter of taste, but I am not a fan of monotheistic settings, especially ones that use the capitalized 'G'-word to refer to the deity.

I'd have a tough time GM'ing this locale, though. Difficult travel between the cities means that poor or low-level parties require plots that are contained in a single city. That's completely doable, but it's a limitation that would frustrate me as I had to generate several interesting and diverse plots that all fit within that limitation. Other GM's might be better at working with that limitation, however.

It would also require a lot of embellishment and consideration pre-game to be able to effectively narrate what it's like to be in any of those cities. I get a sense of narrow irregular streets between buildings which are all built to maximum height in order to use every cubit foot available. The upper stories of buildings would be even wider than the ground floors for the same reason. There would be extensive use of ladders and footbridges by the upper-story residents, particularly in the poorer sections where each story or room with an outside-opening door (or hatch) is separately owned. It seems very uniform, though, with most streets resembling most other streets, and most cities resembling most other cities.

Overall, I find it somewhat inspiring. I'd change or elaborate some of the details, but I like the core of it.

Just to throw it out there:

I love the finger of God concept! By the way, you stole it from me, straight from my dreams! Just Joshin ya! But I will have to say great minds think alike. :D

In my campaign I have five massive structures called the Five fingers of God that if activated can control the very creation and uncreation of planes. Akram Zafir is now the Finger of Earth. Annnnnnd stolen.:>

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 aka adanedhel9

Lots of little details here not like: the unimaginative names, the use of formians (personal preference, I suppose), the real-world references, the scale issues. But I think the simple coolness of the stone pillars outweighs most of that. Your entry shows some true originality, and that really saves what could very easily been another mediocre nation.

Obviously the pillars are being mined, and my first thought from that involves structural integrity. I think you missed a potentially great plothook by having mining threatening the existance of some of the pillars.

Again, a very orignal entry. Nice work, William.

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 like the country name, and I like Ourobouros. I do not like the Sea of Sand, the Forest of Stone or the Finger of God. Does this nation only observe one god? He doesn't have a name? Asnwering yes to thos questions doesn't work for me: Maybe you're trying to be unique and leave the polytheism of DND behind, but in doing do you're risking being unoriginal by copying a real-world monotheism. i do admit the middle eastern flavor matches up well with the monotheism. I dunno.

I think you start slow and pick up the pace, but I am not impressed with the Dm secrets and I think you did not build enough momentum.

The monoliths are cool. Congrats on making the top 32.

Star Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Just can't get behind this one.

The concept with the stone pillars is cool and unique, but the labeling of certain cities with analogs didn't sit right with me for some reason.

Also I wasn't a fan of the following:

1) You asking me (the DM) questions in the secret section. I suppose if done well that would work but here it came off as a little too obtuse for me.

2)One of the families has a secret . . .which one?

3) While I like the idea of incorporating windriders and the like (a great place for a little crunch), I still do not feel like I could just drop my players in this country and fully grasp the 'atmosphere'. I guess a little more daily life would have done it for me.

This is not in my top 5. Good luck.

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

So there's a desert spanning thousands of miles, there are sandships and there are rock pillars that sprout darkwood trees, except for the one that sprouts winds.

It's glorious, but it's not portable.

It seems peculiar that the current Judge is somehow prevented from being evil or that the Five represent different cultures (is there some reason we can't have Greco-Roman elves?)

I don't see many adventures here apart from battling formians.

Not voting for this.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

The thing I like most about this entry is that it pushes the envelope of geography design. Having small cities and towns perched on top of massive pillars in an otherwise barren desert is just plain cool! It reminds me of Magic The Gathering, where designers aren't afraid to dream up fantastic landscapes. It also reminds me of the sinkhole planet in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones--really cool in its simplicity, but believable to the point where you start asking, "What would it be like to live there?" I wasn't fond of the whole "branches of a massive petrified tree" bit, but the rest of the concept is solid. Calling the largest of these the "Finger of God" was a nice touch. Well done! This entry made my top five.

Place your votes.

This has good visuals, but it lacks substance, in my opinion. Too many words about the pillars without any about the people on them. Monolithic ideas are generally short legged.

I had a number of problems with the entry from the arbitrary racial division of the Five and the lack of historical background for why 32 cities were built here in first place. If all the pillars had a source of water then why not aquaducts? (easier and safer source of water) If its the mineral resources then why not just mining outposts? I guess it seems to me that in order to live at the top of a giant stone pillar in the middle of desolate wasteland for over 2000 years there needs to be a greater hook than mineral wealth and maybe an artesian well.

While I am still sorting through the various entries in deciding for whom to cast my votes, I had a few thoughts to share.

Like most of the folks here, the living stone / pillar concept was quite nicely put together. And yes, it is true that some of the ideas are not fairly enough teased out.

That said: I think some of the comments about using real world geopolitical shorthand is perhaps a touch unfair, considering that there are highly artificial constraints placed upon the entires in terms of word length. Consider: If you really wanted unique architectural flairs for each of these main segments and were able to describe them, how much other space would there be left in the entry? I think in a "real world" submission where a country description would be accompanied by illustrations or by more space with which to flesh out some of the individual areas of interest would have solves this issue.

Of the entries I have read so far, this was the first I wished to comment on. Thank you for an intriguing central seed that separates out generic desert settings.

PS: Yes, I would vote for the 'kreen as well. gotta have your mantis warriors. :)

Well, the first thing that tripped me up was the fact that the leader of the council chooses the alignment for the country. How exactly does he do that? Is everyone in the country hard wired into his brain or something? That seemed a bit strange.

Then, the section about the names of the desert and the petrified forest suddenly made the image of Vigo from Ghostbusters II . . . "from a river of blood I sat on a throne of pain, and walked through doors of indifference . . . " or something to that effect, except in that movie it was suppose to be kind of funny and over the top.

When I saw the cultures that the various places were suppose to "feel" like just blatantly stated though, well, if you can't convey that through the descriptions of the setting, then there isn't much point in finishing the entry at that point.

Something about a huge tree and desert culture that does it for me. Don't know why. But you have my vote.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 aka amusingsn

The focus on the arcane physics of classical elemental cosmology gives this entry a foundation, in my mind.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

the good :
A desert setting with a lot of magical and elemental weirdness. The Forest of Stone is nice, but all that overwhelming. The touches of High magic, glamourous riches and elemental mayhem are eyecatchers as well.

the bad :
I don't really buy the sociology espoused, a leader chosen (!) every one hundred years ? From a core of five mighty families ? Sorry, but that sounds like a pretty fragile structure for a government.
I do also have some doubts about just how society is composed, and who is actually doing the menial work (like mining) and growing food ( just where exactly ?).... Besides that, while at first glance a nifty touch, the differing architectural styles are a major fault - historic building techniques and style where always a reaction to available building materials and climatary requirements, not as matter of fashion. Oh, and 54000+ people (plus livestock ?) in a place smack on top a 850' diameter stone pillar in the middle of nowhere ? The logistics of that seem..... monumental.
It is also a bit distracting that one of the GM's secrets seems to contradict another - if this land was once a jungle, how can the Formians be a ancient local race of desert dwellers ?

the ugly :
Formians....... 'nuff said, although I might also add that in stark contrast to Wolfgang Baur, I do not share the opinion that "strange and underused" = automatically a good thing..... After all, one might reason that a world of flumphs (of the dreaded original Fiend Folio) might be a great thing. And a army of intelligent, weapon-wielding ants is just.... sorry, that's an absolute detractor for me, esepcially since it is a central feature.
The country's layout (an encircling mountain wall in a sandy place full of strong winds and a murderous desert.... anyone else hearing an echo of "dune" ?) and four passes as exists is pretty clichée, and then naming them Ouroborous is.... almost insulting.

Nice one, but not getting my vote

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

William, I am really glad you made the cut. Your submission was probably the one that was the greatest diamond in the rough. I hope you learned some things to take to the next round. Find your theme and stress that cool idea. Congrats on making it and good luck in the next round!

Community / Forums / Archive / Paizo / RPG Superstar™ / Previous Contests / RPG Superstar™ 2008 / Round 2: Design a country / Akram Zafir All Messageboards

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