The Legendary Playhouse Theater


Round 4: Design a villain's lair

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RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Jason Nelson wrote:
Really, this is good stuff here, but the lack of what happens with the crowd could be a killer.

The crowd is accounted for in tactics (under A2, Creatures paragraph). She will "have the crowd impede [the PCs], or influence the authorities to arrest them." Now, I could do with some hard numbers for the crowd -- even a simple "Commoner or Aristocrat 1," or a sense of how many there are, or which "authorities" are present -- but the basic presence of a crowd is accounted for.

Neil, I'm not quite ready to commit a vote yet -- LOTS of good entries this round -- but you have a VERY good chance of getting one from me. I like the basic thrust of the Playhouse, and how you use the little details to further your adopted villain's characterization. I like the sheer stones it took to do a lair for Sharina. And I'm an actor, so...some professional loyalty here, too. =0

Nice stuff! Break a leg!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Mike Speck wrote:
Neil, I'm not quite ready to commit a vote yet -- LOTS of good entries this round -- but you have a VERY good chance of getting one from me. I like the basic thrust of the Playhouse, and how you use the little details to further your adopted villain's characterization. I like the sheer stones it took to do a lair for Sharina. And I'm an actor, so...some professional loyalty here, too....Nice stuff! Break a leg!

Thanks, Mike. That's some great feedback and support. I sincerely appreciate it!

--Neil

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

santinj@ wrote:
[patronizing] Clark, Clark, Clark [/patronizing] please cut it out. You drown out your own (very good) critical comments with this layer of lighthearted--whatever it is that you're trying to do--that comes across crusty rather than wizened.

I value everyone's commentary very much...and doubly-so for the judges. So it's okay. And thanks for your support, Santinj. I really do appreciate it.

Dark Archive

NSpicer wrote:
santinj@ wrote:
[patronizing] Clark, Clark, Clark [/patronizing] please cut it out. You drown out your own (very good) critical comments with this layer of lighthearted--whatever it is that you're trying to do--that comes across crusty rather than wizened.
I value everyone's commentary very much...and doubly-so for the judges. So it's okay. And thanks for your support, Santinj. I really do appreciate it.

Retracted. The comments, not the vote. Good luck Neil! This and 26 Paper Street are my favorites.

Sovereign Court

You know, originally I voted for the Playhouse this round primarily because I want to see Neil in round 5. But the lair is growing on me. It may not be as flashy to read as a couple of the others that initially "wow'd" me more, but from the perspective of a player, I think it might be more fun. A lot of cool details in other lairs would never be noticed or understood in context by the PCs.

The concerns some people have brought up about the crowd don't bother me at all. The audience is addressed sufficiently in A2 as far as I'm concerned. As a DM, if I want someone specific there, I'll put them there. Dealing with them as terrain (I assume that they are in the benches noted on the map) is standard fare and doesn't need to be explicitly laid out...

Scarab Sages

Elora wrote:
The concerns some people have brought up about the crowd don't bother me at all. The audience is addressed sufficiently in A2 as far as I'm concerned. As a DM, if I want someone specific there, I'll put them there. Dealing with them as terrain (I assume that they are in the benches noted on the map) is standard fare and doesn't need to be explicitly laid out...

I don't buy it. A crowd is NOT going to be static terrain in a fight. They're going to react - probably by panicking and stampeding out of the theater when the first offensive spell is cast or first cast member is killed. Fobbing that off on the DM (while probably done because of word count issues) is poor form. There should be clear remarks on how the crowd reacts.

There's also the issue that no PC I've ever played or DMd for would EVER, and I mean EVER, attack a popular bard in her own theater while she's giving a performance. That's the height of stupidity, and such an obviously bad idea (both for tactical implications like friendly fire and crowd interference, and for political ramifications) that no one would ever fall for it. I really can't get into a lair that assumes the PCs are going to be total morons.

EDIT: Before someone jumps down my throat, those comments are directed at the LAIR, not the AUTHOR. I really liked Neil's work in rounds 1 and 2, and I respect that he swung for the fences in this round - I just think he struck out rather than hitting a homerun, here.

Star Voter Season 6

Assuming one audience member per 5' square, the lower level benches hold 40 patrons and the balcony holds 28.

Sovereign Court

William -- I understand where you're coming from. I just disagree :-).

Based on Sharina's tactics in A2, most of the audience is going to be enthralled. How many theater-goers will make a DC 16 Will save? If I were DMing this, I would assume none, with a few possible exceptions of specific NPCs I might place in the crowd (who I would roll for). From the description of enthrall: "Thereafter, those affected give you their undivided attention, ignoring their surroundings." (Emphasis mine).

Other than that, Neil gives us this for the crowd: "Sharina’s remaining strategy involves charm person and suggestion to turn the heroes against one another, have the crowd impede them, or influence the authorities to arrest them while she escapes." So maybe a description of what he means by "impede" would have been a good idea. I assume the people will just move to get in between the PCs and Sharina, slowing them down. I would handle this by calling the impeding crowd "difficult terrain".

As far as players not choosing to confront a bard in a situation like this, you must DM for a totally different crowd than I do. My players would be all over this -- either to protect their reputation or for the sheer fun and challenge. I never said they were brilliant...

Anyway, stopping Sharina from turning them into villains in front of a crowd of important people seems like sufficient motivation to me for the PCs to confront her during the play.

Scarab Sages

Elora wrote:
William -- I understand where you're coming from. I just disagree :-).

Fair enough :)

Elora wrote:
Based on Sharina's tactics in A2, most of the audience is going to be enthralled. How many theater-goers will make a DC 16 Will save? If I were DMing this, I would assume none, with a few possible exceptions of specific NPCs I might place in the crowd (who I would roll for). From the description of enthrall: "Thereafter, those affected give you their undivided attention, ignoring their surroundings." (Emphasis mine).

Given roguerogue's numbers just above yours (68 spectators assuming a full house) which I believe are low considering theater seating is usually 4-5 seats per 25 square feet, and assuming a +0 Will save, 17 will make their saves.

Furthermore, enthrall freezes everyone who fails their save solid for concentration + 1d3 rounds, and Sharina must remain stationary while enthralling the audience, because moving breaks the spell, too. On top of that, any attack against the audience breaks the spell and sets their attitude to Unfriendly towards the caster, and any exceptional audience members (4+ HD or 16+ wisdom, such as, say, the sheriff or mayor) are Hostile to the caster.

It's a very poor choice of a spell if you're expecting a third party to come in and start a fight. She'd be much better off just rolling a Diplomacy check - there's much, much less potential for backfiring.

Sovereign Court

William Senn wrote:


Given roguerogue's numbers just above yours (68 spectators assuming a full house) which I believe are low considering theater seating is usually 4-5 seats per 25 square feet, and assuming a +0 Will save, 17 will make their saves.

Well, if you want to get all mathematical on me ;-). Fine, so if you use the rules of probability to determine the crowd's saves, 17 will make it. But I'd still assume they weren't going to act on their own, given the situation. Maybe they'll start running for the exit, but given that their companions are enthralled, my guess is they would sit there unless personally threatened.

William Senn wrote:
Furthermore, enthrall freezes everyone who fails their save solid for concentration + 1d3 rounds, and Sharina must remain stationary while enthralling the audience, because moving breaks the spell, too.

"The speech ends (but the 1d3-round delay still applies) if you lose concentration or do anything other than speak or sing."

Why would she be doing anything besides speaking for the first part of the encounter after enthralling the crowd? The PCs have a dilemma: if they simply rush onto the stage or start attacking her without winning the crowd over, they will definitely look like villains, which means they lose. So I see this part as mostly RP, with some diplomacy, Charisma checks, and maybe a few spells. Enthrall is a great option to kick things off.

William Senn wrote:
On top of that, any attack against the audience breaks the spell and sets their attitude to Unfriendly towards the caster, and any exceptional audience members (4+ HD or 16+ wisdom, such as, say, the sheriff or mayor) are Hostile to the caster.

Who is going to attack the audience?


What the...

Okay, I know in the last round I praised you for taking on the kind of challenge the system is capable of, which I felt was in the true spirit of RPG Superstar, but man, I didn't figure that was possible this round.

Way to prove me wrong.

I have to admit I am now very intrigued by what you would provide in the adventure proposal. The challenge will be different there.


Beautiful map. The fights don't seem all that hard or interesting. And it seems like "she escapes through the trap door and plane shifts away" is a likely result, which is fine but lame. In the end, other stuff gets my votes, so this one's a pass.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Epic Meepo

I have to say, this is one of the better entries when it comes to offering me things that I expect from a professionally-published adventure site. It's well written and a bit unexpected. It's clever, with lots of exciting possibilities for both action and roleplaying. The villain's persona pervades the site, giving it a cohesive theme.

I was mildly put off by the assumption that PCs are going to storm the place. But a lot of that could have been fixed by changing the text to say, "If the PCs decide to attack during the performance..." and the such.

But the vague description of what the crowd does would be a deal breaker for me if this were the climax of a published adventure. I buy a published scenario when I feel like being a lazy GM. A lazy GM doesn't want to have to guess what a crowd would do to impede the PCs and then track down the rules that are needed to do it.

That's not to say that this isn't a very cool lair. I'd certainly consider using it at my own table. But since the competition is so tight, I'm using tougher criteria than that. If I knew in advance that a module featured this lair as written, would I spend my limited gaming dollars on that module? Unfortunately, for the reasons stated above, I don't think I would.


Epic Meepo wrote:
I was mildly put off by the assumption that PCs are going to storm the place. But a lot of that could have been fixed by changing the text to say, "If the PCs decide to attack during the performance..." and the such.

This was the deal breaker for me. I agree with Clark that the lair is not actually a lair at all, but instead a final encounter. The whole place assumes to PCs charge in there in the middle of the performance. As a PC, that's pretty much the last thing I would do under those circumstances. Instead I'd wait until the show was over and ambush her, knock her out, and drag her off in front of a city magistrate. I'm sure there is someone within the city that can cast detect lie and set the record straight via interrogation. The fact that detect lie exists in this universe pretty much removes any need for haste by the players.

So assuming the PCs are smart enough not to go in there in the middle of the performance, there is nothing in the description to address who is in the lair in general, what's going on, where is Sharina when she's not on stage, etc. I highly doubt Sharina would be on stage if the party were to sneak in at 3am when the place is closed. Speaking of which, would she even be there at 3am?

This lair reminds me of something an old GM of mine would have written that required the PCs to act in a certain manner. When we didn't do as he planned, he had no idea what to do. This lair doesn't work unless a specific set of circumstances is met, as a result it's not a lair, but an encounter.

The other thing that bugged me is the assumption that every important person in the region would 1) be at the show and 2) would be low enough level to be enthralled by Sharina, let alone believe her stories. Most campaign settings have some NPCs with PC levels who would resist the powers of a 6th level bard. Just way too many things about this stick out as unlikely, improbable, and downright contrived.

I think overall Neil's work as been solid, and I salute him for attempting to make a lair for Sharina, but the result isn't even a lair, it's a forced encounter that the PCs may not even follow. As a result, I can't support him this round.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Epic Meepo

Hawthorne wrote:
I highly doubt Sharina would be on stage if the party were to sneak in at 3am when the place is closed. Speaking of which, would she even be there at 3am? ... This lair doesn't work unless a specific set of circumstances is met, as a result it's not a lair, but an encounter.

I wouldn't say that the lair doesn't work if certain circumstances aren't met. I'd say that the default encounter set in the lair doesn't work. The lair itself is still solid. It's a building which belongs to Sharina and captures her flavor. The objects it contains are described. The creatures which make use of it are described.

If the description started by saying, "Here's what happens if the PCs barge in..." without ruling out any other possibilities, it would work just fine, no matter what solution the PCs choose. Once you know what the most complicated possible encounter that could take place in a given lair looks like, you can always filter out unnecessary details to create a less-complex encounter.

If the PCs raid the lair after the performance is over, ignore the performance descriptions and the crowd details (added by the editor) and use what's left. If the PCs wait until Sharina leaves, ignore the performance descriptions, crowd details, and Sharina's stat block. If they ambush Sharina in an alley, ignore everything except Sharina's stat block. Each of the existing elements can still be used, even if the PCs avoid involving themselves in the default encounter.

This is a proper lair. It just happens to be at the end of an event-based adventure. By necessity, that requires that the lair be a set piece, not a guaranteed final destination.

Liberty's Edge

William Senn wrote:
EDIT: Before someone jumps down my throat, those comments are directed at the LAIR, not the AUTHOR. I really liked Neil's work in rounds 1 and 2, and I respect that he swung for the fences in this round - I just think he struck out rather than hitting a homerun, here.

Agreed. Since nobody challenged me for saying far worse, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

Elora wrote:

As far as players not choosing to confront a bard in a situation like this, you must DM for a totally different crowd than I do. My players would be all over this -- either to protect their reputation or for the sheer fun and challenge. I never said they were brilliant...

Anyway, stopping Sharina from turning them into villains in front of a crowd of important people seems like sufficient motivation to me for the PCs to confront her during the play.

The mind boggles…

Sam

Liberty's Edge

Hawthorne wrote:
The other thing that bugged me is the assumption that every important person in the region would 1) be at the show and 2) would be low enough level to be enthralled by Sharina, let alone believe her stories. Most campaign settings have some NPCs with PC levels who would resist the powers of a 6th level bard. Just way too many things about this stick out as unlikely, improbable, and downright contrived.

This has been the glaring problem with Sharina all along. Too much is just railroaded through.

I think a character such as Sharina could be a credible villain. This concept can be redeemed. I'd start by having Sharina manipulate another group of "heroes" rather than turn my player characters into butt monkeys. These other so called heroes would be just corrupt enough and fame obsessed enough to usually play along with Sharina's schemes without rebelling. As the body count rises and the improbable situations increase only to have these third stringers swoop in to save the day and receive Sharina's exaltation, the PCs will begin to find clues that some events are being manipulated for Sharina's own ends. To me this scenario is a hell of a lot more interesting than how Sharina was originally presented and much much easier to run since no railroading is required. Another plus is that Sharina will pose a more credible threat when a confrontation finally occurs since she’ll have her own group to back her up.

Sam

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

I'm incapable of being objective about this. You have my vote!

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Aotrscommander

Oh boy. This was a hard round. Neil, you make it very hard. I think - like some others - your choice of villain was a bit flawed. I, personally, didn't like Sharina in the first place; not a villain I would personally care to run or oppose. I have to be honest, if not for your sterling work with Gulga, I wouldn't have taken much of a look at this.

I'll leave aside, though, my own misgivings about the subject matter, and work from the basis that a superstar should be able to craft a passable or better thing from (in my not-even-slightly, far-less-humble-than-Hecateaus opinion...) fairly lame duck concept. Which you have done. It's large (I like my dungeons quite big). The combat challenge, while quite light for a lair/final encounter I think, has a good mix of support and offense. I would consider the combat challenge as it stands as a threat appropriate really only for to a group of 2nd-3rd level PCs (certainly with the groups I play with) as a 'boss' lair as it were.

I really want to see what you can do with the adventure concept though, so after careful analysis of the playhouse, I'm going to give the benefit of doubt and my vote.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Thanks, Carl and Alex! I very much appreciate your support.


At the moment, you provisionally have my second vote for this round, BUT if you make it to the final, please can I see a straightforward, well-crafted, module idea, and none of this strapping packs of bricks on to demonstrate to the judges and Paizo how versatile you are? You have come perilously close to crashing and burning this round, I think, which given your apparent skills you could have avoided with a different choice of villain.

If someone dares you to come up with a 'flumphs vs. axiomatics' adventure concept, please respond to the challenge on one of the off-topic or general discussion threads, instead of in the RPGSuperstar 2009 Round 5. :)


I really enjoyed this entry, and I don't agree with some of the concerns/criticisms here. I'm sure a lot of the useability factor has to do with the group of individual players and how they'll handle situations.

First off, I really liked Sharina and want to use her in the future. My biggest problem with her (as expressed by many other people) was what she does once the PCs have figured out what she's up to. I love that Neil gave us an answer, one that's very in character for her and lets her remain a viable part of the story.

As for whether the players will rush in as the show is starting, that totally depends on the people at the table. All I could usually predict about mine is that they would typically not do what I expected them to, but if there was an opportunity for insane chaos, they'd likely take it (or create one). YMMV, but that's the beauty of gaming: each group tells the type of stories they like.

I'll have to disagree about the audience panicking as soon as combat breaks out. This is a theatre putting on a show about these heroes, right? In a world with magical disguises, I don't see an audience being surprised that people looking just like the heroes burst in to "suppress Sharina's version of the story". It could easily be made part of the show. And while some people in the crowd probably will make the saves against bardic magic, people are herd creatures in a lot of ways: if everyone else around you thinks there's not a problem, you're likely to question your gut feeling that there is, at least for a few rounds. No one wants to look like a gullible fool by screaming that the actor is really bleeding when everyone else thinks it's a trick knife with a blood pouch.

Unless the audience is actually hurt by an offensive spell, I could see any spellcasting being written off as special effects and part of the performance. Honestly, as a DM, I would take perverse glee in having the audience sitting and applauding the fight if it takes place on or near stage. (I might even have tavern gossip over the next few days criticising it as oddly-staged and unrealistic.)

In short (too late!), I don't see a lot of the problems other people may with this entry, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the type of players and games a person is used to. For my style, it would work beautifully, and I'm very likely to steal it for a game somewhere down the line.

Star Voter Season 6

Every contestant refused to take the lair that the voters thought was the "gimme" lair: GULGA's. Neil's the only person who couldn't have taken the lowest hanging fruit of all for this round.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

I'll start by saying that I really disliked Sharina as a villain, and that by choosing her for your lair, you've serverely handicapped yourself. That being said, I'm not holding your choice against you, but I do think that it directly impacted the quality of your entry this round. I did really love your entires for the previous rounds, so I'm very surprised to see this selection in round 4.

As has been pointed out, the lack of info on the game effects of the crowd is a big problem. In addition, the assumption that the PCs even storm the theater is very railroading. I know that if I were playing in a group in this situation, I'd come in throught the back door, then get on stage and kill her under cover of darkness, obscuring mist or fog cloud, invisibility, disguise (there's all thosse costumes around even), etc. and not have to deal with the crowd, or most of the other encounters. If you obstruct the view of the stage with magic (or getting the curtain to come down) then the crowd isn't witnessing either the character assassination from the play, or the bard assassination from the PCs.

In addition, I coudln't figure out the basement encounter at all. If the animated objects attack anyone who's not Sharina, how does the theater use the basemetn/trapdoor trick during performances? Do the actors get attacked by props every time? For that matter, where are the actors portrating the PCs? They're not on stage with Sharina, and the only people backstage are the understudies who are Sharina's next set of adventurer dupes. I think it would have been a much better choice to have a bunch of expert/rogue actors playing the PC parts waiting backstage, who come on stage as soon as the PCs get there. That would add a lot of confusion, both for the crowd and the PCs. I can imagine them all using hats of disguise to pull the classic "who's the enemy and who's the good guy" trick on the PCs. It would be fun to see the PCs accidentially hit one of their allies when they think they're hitting one of the evil actors.

Overall, I can't find a vote to give the lair that's not really a lair of a villain that's not really a villain. It was certainly a bold move, but I just don't think it works well. I do hope you make it into the next round based on the body of your work though, so good luck.


A message on behalf of the bard:

Sharina's publicity office wrote:

Vote for Bracht of the Darkhouse, with flesh peddling plan,

Vote for him and his arm of Onishamotan,

Vote for the thrice-damned, the lich Volner Tain,
Vote for him and his plague, or you’ll suffer the pain,

Vote for Vashkar, the vampire, of false title fame,
Vote for him in his palace – the demonic fane.

Vote for Hecataeus, the sneerer, the master of ‘pish’,
Vote for him or he’ll turn you straight into a fish,

Vote for Hecataeus, constructer, the master of stone,
Vote for him or else grovel in front of his throne,

Vote for Rustin’, tragic apple, fallen far from the tree,
Vote for him or his freak halflings will go on a spree,

Vote for Rustin’ the burnt with his haven for beasts,
Vote for him or be chow when The Eater next feasts,

Vote for any ONE of the above that you like and you see,
But most of all vote – vote for me, vote for meeeeeee!

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

Well...I never liked Sharina much at all. I believe that this is a poor choice. Other peopole praise you for your stones, but what I think they miss is that the full house on opening night of the big "PCs are villains" play is the best that Sharina can offer.

I don't think of this as a lair, but as a final encounter. There some elements I like - like the tropey rope getaway and backstage trapdoors. But while I'd expect these elements to be in Sharina's lair, I am not wowed by the rest of the entry.

I think the fundamental flaw is that Sharina just doesn't offer enough. Not to me anyway. With the correction of a few flaws (not having the house packed, not labeling the map more clearly), I think what you have here might be the best she has to offer, which does not move me to give you a vote over other entries. You chose to work with precious little, and Sharina at 90% is not more appealing to me than Hecataeus at 50%.

Your first two entries were stellar - worthy of all the praise heaped on the final 6 of last year's contest. If you make it to the next round, I hope you'll stick with those kinds of ideas and play to your strengths.

Sovereign Court

Not much to say that somene else hasnt already said. Gets my vote on a basis of wanting to see the adventure proposal.


This gets my vote. I think this is a perfect lair for Sharina as well as a great final encounter for a low level group. Good job!

David

Star Voter Season 6

FabesMinis wrote:
As someone who works in a theatre, it's great to see this idea as an entry. And unlike some, I kind of like Sharina. Gets my vote!

Ditto here as well.

Must go with the territory/job description. When I thin of 'Bards', I usually think of a performance venue (be it a street venue or a theatre) first, and then a tavern/pub as where they would be encountered.

Re; Audience details- While I see what some of the others are saying, I thought that there were enough details/ideas about the audience usage/reactions to take it and run with it. I certainly would have liked to have seen more of this, (as a person with NOT a lot of free time to spend working on games, I'm a big fan of being able to grab it and play it) But I did not think it was lacking. (IMHO)

I would have also liked to have seen a few more details regarding the interior as well. Especially regarding the chandeliers, rigging, etc. that would provide ideas/tactics for the 'Understudies' to use. (Great name there BTW, Kudos!) Again, I'm fairly clever and can think of that on my own, but enjoy having it available to save me some of my non-existent time.

Great work, will avoid entirely the debate re: 'final encounter'/'lair' and just say that it works for me! COnsider it voted. Good luck on the next round!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Now that voting has closed and we're in that oh-so-wonderful period of anxiety while waiting for the results, I thought I'd go ahead and offer some response to the judges' commentary. Later, I'll try and follow that up with more feedback on the posts left by everyone else.

First, let me once again begin by thanking everyone, especially the judges for their feedback and analysis. Also, I'd like to specifically tip my cap to Carl Klutzke, without whom I wouldn't have had a villain like Sharina to develop a lair around. I know a lot of people questioned Sharina's credibility as a villain, but I certainly found inspiration in Carl's creation. And that's primarily why I chose her. The bard simply sang out to me (yes, pun intended). So, without further ado, let's dive into the judges' commentary...

Clark Peterson wrote:
Hah! If there was one villain I said to myself that we would NEVER see a lair for it was Sharina! Mad props to you for creating a workable lair for the villain that I couldnt really think of a lair for...

Thank you. To explain myself, I decided to do Sharina for several reasons. First, I do see her as a workable villain and even voted for her in Round Two. Secondly, although Sharina got abandoned by the voters in Round Three, I felt like she was an interesting enough concept that she didn't need to be left on the cutting room floor quite yet.

Also, I took some lumps last round (the stat-block round) for taking my foot off the gas pedal a little bit. Knowing how much of a risk Sharina would pose, I wanted to do something special in the lair round by using her. While there were certainly other inspiring villains I could have selected, I felt almost certain they would be picked by someone else. And, to avoid being compared someone else's lair...and having either a detrimental effect on their chances or my own for advancing to the next round, I opted to go a different direction. I hoped that would ultimately help me standout, and I also challenged myself to put the pedal to the metal by doing something radically different.

That's why I took the villain I felt almost certain everyone else would pass on...Sharina Legend-Singer. I also took on the bard, because I wanted to send a bit of a statement...i.e., that I'm not afraid to do the heavy-lifting it sometimes takes as a freelancer to rescue good ideas. Would that resonate with the voters? And did I succeed with Sharina? I don't know. But I will say that based on everyone's comments so far, I'm very glad I selected her.

Clark Peterson wrote:
I'm not sure that this is so much a lair as it is a final encounter in a story arc featuring Sharina. Yes, granted, that is when the PCs usually enter the villain's lair. But I guess I dont really picture Sharina here in this lair while she is hatching her plots.

Admittedly, I wrote this lair as more of a final encounter on purpose. Why? Two reasons, really. Looking through previous Pathfinder products, every lair (primary villain or otherwise) is essentially an encounter. And it's typically written up with an analysis of what brought the PCs to that point. Given Sharina's concept as a villain who pulls strings, I felt like the lair had to reflect the circumstances under which the PCs would visit her playhouse.

Secondly, everyone questioned Carl about Sharina's credibility as a villain with staying power, wanting to know what would happen once the PCs discovered what she'd been up to. For me, I felt like I needed to answer that question with her lair...and thus, the circumstances under which they'd encounter her there. I also wanted to use the text of the lair to layer in some further explanation about Sharina's character.

For example, the fact that she poisoned her own father so she could take over the theater upon his death. The use of understudies as an insurance policy against the PCs once they discover her activities...which should indicate she's probably built up other adventuring parties and eliminated them in much the same fashion as she plans to do with the PCs now. Also, the choice of her jann partner Gha'zali to give her some added "oomph" in the mastermind department and to provide a better escape route than just expeditious retreat and suggestion spells to let her go.

So, I say all of that to indicate I do feel like the playhouse is Sharina's lair. As a bard, she's transient enough that it's hard to pin down an actual lair for her. But, if she has any permanent "base" of any kind, it would have to be this playhouse where she can showcase the tales she's created about the heroes she occasionally accompanies. I also gave her an apartment on the second floor, which is the closest thing she can call home. And, with her father having built the theater himself, there's a sentimental value to the place as well. To me, all of that makes for as good a lair as Sharina could possibly have.

Monte Cook wrote:
At first I wasn’t crazy about the map, because I didn’t understand what I was looking at in each room (a key would have been nice). And even after I figured out that those were chandeliers and whatnot, I still can’t help but point out that beds are rarely 10 feet long (the beds on the upper floor could never have fit up the stairs you’ve shown us). This is a very minor quibble, though, and why sometimes in a design, less is more.

Mea culpa: I must confess my map skills really aren't all that cartographer-worthy. :)

Mostly, I just focused on making sure I gave enough details that a professional cartographer could hopefully make something better out of it. I was really thrilled to see Chris West's comments later on. I agree with him that the theater could have used more flair than a simple rectangle. And I agree with you that a map key would have certainly helped as well. Time got the better of me and I had to turn away from the map to quickly get the lair write-up done. But if I had it to do over I'd incorporate a lot of your and Chris's comments about the map.

Time was really an enemy for me this round. Not that it matters, but by way of explanation, my wife took a week-long absence to attend an out-of-town conference. I had to look after my 3- and 4-year old girls during that time...and with all of our development time falling within the work week...I basically only had a couple of evenings to select my villian, design the map, and write-up the lair. It's all part of the pressure of the competition, though. So I'm okay with it. I made the most of my available time, I think.

Monte Cook wrote:
I’ve got some rules problems with the Understudies. You list them all as CR 1, when they’re all 3rd level.

Someone pointed this out later, but I listed them as CR 1 because the Pathfinder Beta rules indicate NPCs without racial hit dice reduce their normal CR values by 2. So CR 3 minus 2 equals CR 1. I'm a little curious if this mechanic makes it into the final Pathfinder RPG now that you've cited it as a design concern, though.

Monte Cook wrote:
I like the attention to detail you’ve provided with the various NPCs’ relationships and how they react to various situations.

Thank you. I tend to focus on characterization and storytelling elements a lot in my designs...sometimes to my own detriment, because it can use up word-count at a furious pace. I tried to juggle the right amount of "relationship-building" between all of the NPCs in the lair while keeping enough words to detail the actual lair itself. Hopefully, I found a decent compromise in there somewhere.

Monte Cook wrote:
...if the PCs encounter Sharina in area A2, but Gha’zali is watching from the balcony right above, this should probably be presented as the same encounter.

You know, I actually started to do that...but then I considered if the PCs enter the theater and head up the stairs to the balcony so they can scope out the stage and the crowd first, they'd probably encounter Gha'zali as a stand-alone opponent first. But then, I still could have indicated the A2 encounter with Sharina could be a CR 6 or CR 7 depending on whether Gha'zali was able to join the fray or not. So, point well-taken. Thank you.

Monte Cook wrote:
The DM would probably appreciate knowing how much of an action (move, standard, full-round) it is to use a weighted rope to get up to the catwalk. I’m guessing full round (you’d have to cut or untie the rope, right?).

Yes. I'd say a full-round action. I wrestled a lot with the amount of description I could devote to the A2 "staged" encounter. Ultimately, because of word-count I had to slash some of the specifics about how the rope-ride into the rafters would mechanically work.

The same thing happened in trying to describe the crowd attending the performance as well. As many people indicated, they'd have preferred something that would define the crowd's reaction, their use as "difficult terrain," and so on. Initially, I wrote some of that up, but slashed it to get back under my word-count.

I also considered eliminating the cleric of Calistria so I could save 400+ words that could be put to that use. But, I really liked the concept of the understudies (and specifically, the revenge-aiding cleric of Calistria) and felt they were a key part to what would make Sharina and her lair "work." So, I relied on the DM being able to reference the rules for how to handle mobs and crowds as a hazard or obstacle in the Pathfinder Beta rules instead. I sure could have used some extra words, though. :)

Wolfgang Baur wrote:
This is a really well-done semi-modern theater, but it lacks the sense of danger and (dare I say it?) drama that I want from a lair for Sharina. Part of it is the huge stat block for the cleric, but there's not a lot of other foes: just a trap, a genie, and not much else.

As a low CR villain and because of her modus operandi, Sharina didn't inspire a huge sense of danger for me. Drama, yes. But more in line with the dramatics she would use on stage to sully the PCs' reputation. Frankly, a bard as an end-game villain doesn't have strong lasting power. Bards are all about their allies. Hence, the genie and the understudies. In true bard fashion, Sharina would support them with her bardic abilities rather than try and engage the PCs head-on. And, for her, she doesn't have to win this encounter by killing the PCs. She defeats them by destroying their image well enough that she can escape and build up another set of heroes the public will adore in their place. Thus, for me, the drama is served more by the PCs trying to foil her plan and capture her so they can force Sharina to tell the truth. And Sharina's "danger" is more in her pen than her sword.

Aside from that, and as you noted, I took the calculated risk of including some adversaries with customized stat-blocks which resulted in less word-count to detail further foes. But I hope everyone understands I did that in service to the story and Sharina's character. Does it hold back the effectiveness of her 2,000-word lair? Yes. I completely agree. But I tried to make the most of it. I saw an earlier poster suggesting this round could have benefited from another 1,000 words due to the stat-block constraints. I would agree. Just another 500 words in this round could have gone a long way to flesh out the lair and provide that extra bit of drama.

Wolfgang Baur wrote:
Giving Sharina a lair is a bold design, but I don't think you had quite enough room to pull it off.

I agree. For the purposes of this round in the competition, though, I'm happy with how it came out. I would definitely use this lair/encounter if I were running a game that included Sharina as a villain. I'm glad to see it got some favorable feedback from the voters.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
I can see this turning into a big, climactic encounter culminating weeks of games where the PCs have been dealing with the Legendsinger.

That's the premise I started with when designing this lair, because I know so many people questioned Carl on how Sharina's use as a villain would play out once the PCs discovered her part in the events that made them such legendary figures.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
I like the duped cleric of Calistia (who hopes to be the next "hero of legend" that Sharina creates) and her complete buy-in on the vengeance side of things.

I liked her, too. I felt like she made the perfect accompaniement for Sharina as a misguided minion. And, for me, it also helped show a pattern of behavior in how Sharina operates. If she's successful in tearing down the PCs' legend, other NPC adventurers like the cleric of Calistria are waiting in the wings to take their place. So many pieces clicked together with the inclusion of the cleric that I just couldn't get away from her...even when her stat-block took away too much word-count that other areas (like discussing the innocent bystanders, stage crew, other allies, etc.) couldn't be fleshed out.

My kingdom for 500 more words! Did I say that already? ;-)

But in all seriousness, I knew what I was doing by selecting Sharina and giving her NPC allies with class levels. It was my own conscious choice to spend word-count in that fashion. I understand that, and I take full responsibility for it.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
I think you hindered yourself by choosing this villain, as she's a hard villain to build a lair for. As a final encounter this place is very appropriate, as a lair it doesn't quite have a lair-ish feel.

I definitely agree. It was a calculated risk on my part, but one I felt comfortable tackling. As for the "lair"...I'm kind of okay with it not having quite the normal "lair-ish" feel to it. As a traveling bard, it's hard to pin Sharina down to a definitive lair anyway...and I think that's okay. It sort of sets her apart from the typical villain/lair scenario. Some people seemed to like that about Carl's creation. And others definitely didn't...and still don't. But either way, I wanted to stay true to her concept with how I handled this round.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Picking this one showed some real chops, just as picking an incredibly complex monster for your stat block round showed chops, and I gotta respect that. Honestly, I think it would be hard for ANYONE to create a strong "lair" for this villain, and this is about as close as you can get.

I sincerely thank you for your comment about that. To me, that makes the risk of selecting Sharina worth it.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
I'm inclined to compare this to a footrace; the other seven people are stripped-down in running shorts, and you're carrying a backpack full of books... and you're keeping up with the pack. You may not be the lead runner for this qualifying round, but the fact that you're keeping up despite a big handicap is worth recognizing.

That's a hilarious analogy, but I totally get what you're saying. If I should make it to the final round, though, the backpack and books get left behind. And I'll certainly do what I can to pick up my pace.

Thanks again to all you guys,
--Neil

The Exchange

Congrats Neil and I wish you well with the adventure. I hope you can carve out enough time to shine and win my vote yet again.

Well done.

Sovereign Court

So glad you made it! Can't wait to see what you have next!!

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2009 Top 8 aka Tarren Dei

Congratulations, Neil. I'm ecstatic that you made it to the Top 4.

A lot of people have got a kick out of your writing during this contest, but I've been lucky enough to get a kick out of your writing almost every day of the past 14 months. Being in the PbPs with you has been a thrill. After my car got rear ended and totalled last year at this time, I was often in so much pain that I could barely reach for the mouse but when I did, I was often rewarded with Orlan's gruff humour or Jeslara's intellectual flakiness. It's been a blast.

Now, go kick butt in the next round!!


Congratulations on making the top four. :)

Dark Archive

congratulations on making the top four!.

Now then...

Start that adventure going...

The Exchange

Pathfinder Maps, Pawns Subscriber

You truly put the muscle down here with a tough choice that made you stand out. If anything, this showed your ability to endure.

Zux

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Zuxius wrote:
You truly put the muscle down here with a tough choice that made you stand out. If anything, this showed your ability to endure.

I certainly hope so, Zuxius. Thanks for your support. And to everyone else as well.

I probably won't have a chance to provide feedback on everyone's commentary until I've wrapped up my design work for this final round. But I have every intention of coming back and trying to answer as many questions as I can about the design choices I made for Sharina's lair.

Thanks again,
--Neil

Liberty's Edge

now get on the adventure :P
we all have expectatives :P


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Greetings,

Sorry I took so long to post my feedback on this. Part of it is that... life happens, with so many other things to pay attention to, but part of it is that I'm not hugely good at mustering the gusto to give criticism. Meh.

Anyway, I wanted to say I didn't vote for you this round. I wanted to, I really did, but I only had two votes this round and two people wrote entries this round that really resonated with me. I wouldn't feel right passing on entries that felt awesome because you did great the last couple of rounds. And to be honest, The Legendary Playhouse Theater didn't grab me. I didn't think it was bad, but it didn't grab me.

I liked the idea of the Jann lover. Great way to give her a bit more muscle who'd likely appreciate her bardic skill.

I liked the idea of the animated stage props, but was disappointed they were just locked away in the basement. It would be more fun to have them out and about under Sharinda's control... (maybe as wandering monsters, or as backstage or onstage encounters. Having the heroes confront Sharinda onstage while scene changes attacked them would be hilariously brilliant!)

I think part of the problem is that I was a theater major part of the way through college. I can think of a lot of exciting ways to use elements of a fantasy-ified big theater house as encounters in a lair/dungeon that I feel like this undersells the idea. I'm tempted to toss a few out, but equally tempted to keep them to/for myself. There might just not have been enough words in the round to do a theater lair justice for me.

Part of the problem is that I see many players choosing their moment of attack better. Assuming they haven't been sent out of town on a fool's errand until the night of the performance, (which they might,) they're more likely to attack during a dress rehearsal. It might have been better to write this up without assumptions of playgoers being present or not.

Part of the problem is that I have a Dungeon Magazine adventure on hand (And Madness Followed, Dungeon Issue #134) that did a final confrontation during a performance really well (including showing why the PCs weren't there before the play started.) While it might not be fair to compare it to your entry, I think my mind did anyway.

Anyway, regardless, I'm very glad you made it through this round! Now put your shoulder in it, won't you? There's another writer who really wants my vote too, and it's going to be tough competition I betcha! ^-^

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Okay, given that we're in the holding pattern once again for voting results...and because I need to do something to relieve my stress...I figured I'd take the time go back and answer questions about the design choices I made for Sharina's lair. If you combine these answers with those I gave in response to the judges' commentary, hopefully that helps explain more about my intentions. But, if anyone has follow up questions or a desire to discuss anything further, just let me know.

Lots of people wrote:

Jason Nelson: What about the crowd?....How does the crowd react when and if combat erupts? Do they flee? Do they surge up in a mob against the PCs? Do they count as "difficult terrain"?

Magdalena Thiriet:I was left wondering what's with the audience. That's the part I was waiting for when reading the entry, and it never came.
William Senn: I don't buy it. A crowd is NOT going to be static terrain in a fight. They're going to react - probably by panicking and stampeding out of the theater when the first offensive spell is cast or first cast member is killed. Fobbing that off on the DM (while probably done because of word count issues) is poor form. There should be clear remarks on how the crowd reacts.

In all honesty, that was the single-most important component I agonized over cutting. I very specifically combed through the Pathfinder Beta rules looking for guidance on how to handle crowds. And the writeup for them on pg. 324 convinced me to leave out that explanation so I could use the word-count elsewhere. Even so, I should have found a sentence to reference that material if nothing else. I beat myself up over it as I agonized over whether the choice to do Sharina's lair might knock me out of the competition. William, Jason, and Magdalena are completely right. If I had anything I could do over about Sharina's lair, it would be the description of the crowd and how to handle them during that encounter.

William Senn wrote:
Furthermore, enthrall freezes everyone who fails their save....It's a very poor choice of a spell if you're expecting a third party to come in and start a fight. She'd be much better off just rolling a Diplomacy check - there's much, much less potential for backfiring.

Actually, by way of explanation, enthrall is simply one weapon in Sharina's arsenal during the performance. And it's meant to potentially hold the PCs in check if they try to storm the stage...thereby buying her enough time to get out some more of her monologue about them while they're enthralled. It's also useful in case the PCs manage to turn the crowd against her somehow. But she should start out using her high Diplomacy skills as well as her bardic abilities to keep everyone's attention and convince them of her lies.

Ernest Mueller wrote:
...it seems like "she escapes through the trap door and plane shifts away" is a likely result, which is fine but lame.

I disagree. I know this "lair" comes off sounding like the final encounter with Sharina. But, in fact, it's meant to come across more as a springboard for using her as a recurring villain. Up until this scene, the PCs haven't realized she's the villain behind all their troubles. And this "lair" encounter is meant to be their first of what may become many confrontations with her. So, the escape route is intentional.

I don't know if this is what Carl originally intended with regards to Sharina, but for me, the beauty of her character is that she can never be pinned down. She's not actually interested in fighting the PCs with anything other than her "legend-making" abilities as a bard. It's all about control with her...and preening under the adulation of those who enjoy her ballads. So, building heroes up and then tearing them down is all just part of a cycle of behavior that continues magnifying her own legend at the expense of those she uses along the way.

I very much included the Understudies so folks might get a sense that she's done this before with a group of heroes other than the PCs. And maybe that could be another part to this whole campaign saga as the PCs eventually learn about or encounter some rundown "have been" adventurers that she screwed in the past? I feel like Sharina's whole story should be told in layers like that. But that's just my preferred style as a GM and a designer/author.

Several people wrote:

Eric Morton: I was mildly put off by the assumption that PCs are going to storm the place. But a lot of that could have been fixed by changing the text to say, "If the PCs decide to attack during the performance..." and the such.

Hawthorne:The whole place assumes to PCs charge in there in the middle of the performance. As a PC, that's pretty much the last thing I would do under those circumstances. Instead I'd wait until the show was over and ambush her, knock her out, and drag her off in front of a city magistrate.
Drakli: Part of the problem is that I see many players choosing their moment of attack better....they're more likely to attack during a dress rehearsal. It might have been better to write this up without assumptions of playgoers being present or not.

I went back and forth on the amount of railroading that was clearly involved in getting the PCs to come to the theater during the performance. But, because I believe that's exactly in character for Sharina as a villain, I wanted it to be one more example of how she's pulling their strings. To me, that's the mark of a true mastermind villain...when even the PCs' perceived actions of justice are all part of the villain's master plan. And I think it's important to how Sharina operates to have her tear down the PCs in front of everyone who most believes in them and the legends she crafted about them. She's got to undo their legend to turn public opinion against the PCs enough so it will act as protection against the PCs' vengeance.

Now just having Sharina spill a bunch of lies to enough influential people to cause the PCs trouble for the rest of their careers might not be enough to actually get them there. I toyed with the idea of Sharina having kidnapped someone close to the PCs...e.g., a follower, minion, familiar, animal companion, friend, or family member...and then use them as bait, basically sending a message to the PCs that they'd better show up on time or she'll hang them from the rafters of the theater as part of a "prop" during the show. If I'd had more word-count (I know I should really stop "harping" on that), then I'd likely have rounded out the impetus for why the PCs are forced to be there when the curtains go up. But I do think there's value in forcing them to be there. Even at this stage in their knowledge of Sharina's true nature, they're powerless to not play their part in the deception she's weaving.

Samuel Leming wrote:
This has been the glaring problem with Sharina all along. Too much is just railroaded through.

I understand why she's perceived that way. I wanted to challenge that a little bit though, by spinning this lair's main encounter as less "railroading by the design"...and more "railroading that's orchestrated by Sharina's master plan." She plays people. Big time. She gets people to go places and do things by her very character. Now, I don't want to see "railroading" for railroading's sake, of course. But where it makes sense, I don't mind using it as a designer. And, if it ever makes sense, I think it does for Sharina exactly because of who she is and the way she operates as a villain. But that's just my opinion...

Light Dragon wrote:
...I think you did this on purpose Neil, did you consciously choose to pick a low CR villain after the comments and situation with Gulga last round. Congratulations if you did so, because I think it demonstrates your breadth of talent WHILE demonstrating a high degree of shrewdness.

In some ways, yes. I consciously chose Sharina for a variety of reasons. I've always preferred low- to mid-level adventures and villains anyway. And as I said in previous rounds, Gulga was always meant to be a campaign-spanning villain moreso than a combat encounter villain. So, it definitely appealed to me to drop back to a low CR villain for the lair round. I seriously considered doing a low CR villain instead of Gulga in Round 2, but just felt like the half-fiend otyugh spellcasting mastermind was too cool to pass up. I thought he'd have more voter appeal...and he quite simply appealed more to me. But so does Sharina. And once faced with the knowledge that I couldn't (and thankfully didn't) have to do Gulga's lair, that let me use something more in line with my inherent CR preferences.

Magdalena Thiriet wrote:
Why do I get a feeling that you are a bit of a show-off, picking bizarre ideas and seeing how you can make them work...

::frown::

I don't mean to leave that kind of impression, but I do like to tinker...or experiment...on occasion with uniquely interesting (to me, anyway) concepts and ideas that are hopefully entertaining. I also like challenges, because I think that's a very important part of how we grow...whether it's in RPG design or anything else. I think my upbringing and life experiences so far have kind of shaped me to be that way. I've always sort of held an underdog mentality in my own mind. And I think that's what motivates me lots of times to be as meticulous (or obsessive!) as I am.

Magdalena Thiriet wrote:
I am quite sure you cannot pull off a credible module proposal featuring flumphs AND modrons (they might be not-open content though, I'm not sure). I dare you. *flaps arms and makes chicken noises*

LOL. Well, just to show you that I know when to avoid picking bizarre ideas and trying to show-off, I will graciously decline that challenge and look for something more interesting (to me, anyway) to do instead. And hopefully, you'll support me in what I choose.

Elora wrote:
I am impressed - you picked perhaps the toughest lair to do, with a low CR villain, and did an amazing job of both capturing the spirit of the villain and designing an interesting and fun place for her to play.

Thanks, Elora. I have to admit, you've been a constant source of encouragement to me from the very first round of this competition. I always enjoy reading your comments on my stuff because they make me glad of whatever choices I've made while designing each entry. And you definitely helped spur me on from round to round to keep challenging myself to do entertaining stuff.

With respect to capturing Sharina's spirit, I really, really wanted to do Carl (and his supporters from Rounds 2 and 3) proud. I felt like I could "get" exactly what Carl was shaping with Sharina as a villain. And I wanted to expound on it with the things his write-up inspired me to imagine about her. So, I intentionally crafted much of her lair to continue building upon...and explaining...her character, motivations, and tactics. For that to come through to you, tells me that I succeeded in the goal I set myself. So thanks very much for your feedback, and your continuous support. It is much appreciated.

Charles Evans wrote:
What perhaps make Sharina tick: she wants to be the centre of attention, and she just goes about it in a slightly unethical way....

That's exactly how I interpreted Sharina's motivation. To me, that's the core of where all her behavior springs from. She's projecting a lot of her need to be the center of attention into everything she's done in life. It's essentially her primary character flaw. And from a literary sense, that's what I always look for first when designing or working with a specific villain. What is it that makes them be the way they are, and do the things they do?

Once I can find that chief motivating factor, I start to envision other ways it can round out their personality and behavior. And I can put further building blocks in place with their choice of minions, tactics, etc. that all coordinate together to hopefully make something greater and more three-dimensional out of the character.

Also, as a side-note, thank you for the bardic song supporting Sharina. I got a good laugh out of reading that during the anxiety-filled week of voting.

Daniel Simonson wrote:
My concern is that i see a pattern arising. You like challenges, and bit off alot more than you could chew this round, and i think you will continue to go over the top. Which is hit or miss.

The way I see it, Daniel...there's a line by Valeria in the Conan the Barbarian movie that springs to mind. "Do you want to live forever?"

Life is sometimes about taking risks. I'll admit that I do like challenges. And I can get in over my head with them, just like anyone else. That's because they're most definitely hit-or-miss. But I think it's far better to have swung for the fences sometimes and risked striking out, than having never made the attempt to win the game at all and played it safe all the time. That's part of what spurred me to respond to Clark's challenge to "put my foot back on the gas pedal" by selecting Sharina. Did I bite off more than I should? Maybe. But there's another reason I chose Sharina...and I mentioned it in my responses to the judges' commentary earlier.

Basically, I didn't want to select a villain that someone else would do. And for two reasons. One, I didn't want my work compared to someone else's, because I knew that would immediately force voters to choose between the better of them. I think we saw that play out with the two Hecataeus lairs and two Rustin lairs. And only one of each moved forward. So, if I'd chosen Bracht or Derinogen or Hecataeus...which are all inspiring villains...I felt certain I'd either wind up ruining someone else's chances to advance or sabotaging my own. Personally, I think it's important to have our work reviewed independently, without comparison to what someone else did with the exact same villain. I understand the judges and Paizo didn't mind if two people did the same thing, because that would show who could do the better job with it. I just think that it makes more sense for a competitor to avoid getting into that situation if they want to set themselves up with the best possible platform from which voters will review their work.

In addition, I also selected Sharina because I wanted my work in Round 4 to really stand out and I felt reasonably certain no one else would take her because of the challenge she presented. Personally, I've always seen this competition as a long-running "job interview" with Paizo. Because if you do sustainable, impressive work from round to round, hopefully they'll take notice and want to use you as a future freelancer regardless of whether you win the whole competition.

So, if you go back and analyze my entries from round to round, you should be able to discern the choices I made and why. Basically, they've all been designed to catch Paizo's eye...while also doing quality work and hopefully entertaining folks throughout the competition. The last leaves for example, were meant to show I could come up with something original, imaginative, and uniquely useful for the game (as in, hasn't been done quite this way before). Gulga Cench was meant to show I can dream up an inspiring, useful, and compelling character that would leap off the page...who just happens to be a villain...all with plausible hooks, goals, and backstory. Gulga was also a very strategic choice on my part. I wanted to make sure he would present a templated, multi-classed mechanical monstrosity to have to stat up...all so I could show I could "do the math" well enough that Paizo could trust me with anything. Literally, anything.

And then, the choice of Sharina's lair was also strategic. It was designed to entertain those following along in the competition (as in, I can't believe anyone would choose her lair!). It was also designed to send a message (as in, nothing is unworkable if you apply enough imagination to it). And it was designed to show imagination and mastery in designing a cool map and encounter, despite not having an "Encounter" round in this year's competition. I think that's extra important, because as I believe James Jacobs said, one of the primary ingredients in adventure design is the map...or the location. It needs to be compelling and interesting. It needs to fit the villain. And the encounters within it need to build off and support one another in a way that makes them more than just the sum of their individual parts.

So, in an incredibly LARGE nutshell, that's why I chose Sharina's lair. And now you also have some insight into every choice I made throughout the competition...except for the final round...and I can explain my choices there as well, once the voting ends, if anyone's interested.

Aphreal wrote:
I really liked Sharina and want to use her in the future. My biggest problem with her (as expressed by many other people) was what she does once the PCs have figured out what she's up to. I love that Neil gave us an answer, one that's very in character for her and lets her remain a viable part of the story.

Thanks, Aphreal. That was my number one goal while crafting Sharina's lair. When I chose her, I went back through both her Round 2 and Round 3 threads to pick out all the comments of things people didn't like about her...because I knew she didn't advance for a reason. And I wanted to make sure I did something to offset or belay those reasons so people would give her a second chance in the lair round. I knew I had to deliver that or the selection of Sharina would totally sink me. And it almost did anyway. But I'm glad you gave her a second chance based on what I did to answer that question.

Joel Flank wrote:
Overall, I can't find a vote to give the lair that's not really a lair of a villain that's not really a villain. It was certainly a bold move, but I just don't think it works well.

That's okay, Joel. I totally respect that. I'm sure several other voters felt the same. One of my intentions for using Sharina was that I saw her as villain that's not your traditional villain. And so I wanted her lair to be a lair that's not your traditional lair. Her whole concept is different, unique, and interesting (to me, anyway). That's what I liked about her. And that's what I tried to inject into the lair. Something different, unique, and interesting that resonated well with the character. If the character really didn't appeal to you, then I'm not surprised the lair didn't either. But I hoped to challenge people to give it a second chance. And it sounds like at least a few did...

Sameul Leming wrote:
Flaming your lair like that was way over the top. I shouldn't have done that. You have my apologies.

It's okay, Sam. If I've learned anything from actually competing in this competition, it's been that people are passionate about each entry. As designers, we all live and die with how people receive our work. And I think the voters live and die with the rise and fall of each designer whose work they enjoy. I like the fact that you had a strong opinion about it. I like the fact that you shared it. I certainly took from it what I could to improve my work and design choices for the remainder of the competition. So, no apology necessary. Instead, I thank you very much. Your comments didn't hinder. They only helped.

Steven T. Helt wrote:
...the full house on opening night of the big "PCs are villains" play is the best that Sharina can offer.

I'm going to respectfully disagree. And I do mean respectfully, because I seriously respect your opinion. But, personally, I feel like Sharina has a whole bag of tricks she can use well beyond this encounter in her father's Legendary Theater. As a bard, she's much more transient than most villains. That sets her up for staying power if played right. That's why I chose Gha'zali to whisk her out of one troublespot after another. That way, she can come back to vex the PCs a thousand different ways, even after they cross swords in the theater. And, even if she convinces only a small percentage of the influential NPCs attending her performance to abandon the PCs, that's a host of potential allies for Sharina to protect and shield her from their vengeance. They can aid her in striking back at them. And that can buy her enough time to set up more "frame" jobs that will further sully the PCs' reputation, allowing Sharina to pick up where this initial "performance" leaves off.

So, I believe Sharina's still got bigger and better things she can do. My mind goes a thousand different directions for how I'd use a masterful manipulator like her. I think she could vex the PCs all the way into their most epic levels. And that's a credit to Carl's foresight in designing her. And it's also why I voted for Sharina as one of the most memorable and versatile villains of RPG Superstar 2009. But that's just how I feel about her...

Elora wrote:
You know, originally I voted for the Playhouse this round primarily because I want to see Neil in round 5. But the lair is growing on me. It may not be as flashy to read as a couple of the others that initially "wow'd" me more, but from the perspective of a player, I think it might be more fun. A lot of cool details in other lairs would never be noticed or understood in context by the PCs.

Have I mentioned how much I thoroughly enjoy your commentary? :-)

Seriously, it's like sometimes you're inside my head. That was another conscious design choice on my part. I wanted Sharina's lair to tell the players and their characters more about her. From the awards mounted on the walls of the upper floor...the opulence of her master bedroom...her father's animated stage props locked away in the basement...her use of the Understudies and manipulative information she's fed them about the heroes...her tactics for manipulating the crowd during the show...and her allliance with Gha'zali the jann who can plane shift them out of trouble if she gets in over her head. All of that's meant to be discovered and experienced by the PCs and their players so they can get a better "feel" for Sharina "the villain" as opposed to that enthusiastic bard who's traveled with them from time to time. And hopefully, that makes her...and her lair...more memorable for them.

Drakli wrote:
I liked the idea of the animated stage props, but was disappointed they were just locked away in the basement. It would be more fun to have them out and about under Sharinda's control... (maybe as wandering monsters, or as backstage or onstage encounters. Having the heroes confront Sharinda onstage while scene changes attacked them would be hilariously brilliant!)

That does sound hilarious if the stage props on stage started participating.

I decided to lock them away in the basement so there'd be something there as an additional encounter separate from A2...and also, because A2 was getting a little crowded to begin with if Gha'zali flies down from the balcony. I also liked having the props in the basement because it adds another element to Sharina's character. Those props belonged to her father...whom she murdered in order to take control of the theater. The fact that she locks them away rather than be reminded of him, may be an indication she feels some guilt about offing him...or that she so hated him she can't bear to see those props around or used any longer on stage.

She may even think the props are outdated and not worth the magic that animates them anymore...and that maybe the reliance on them is part of the reason the theater started suffering from a business standpoint in the past. Bottom line, though, I like having them off-stage better than putting them on-stage. But, if anyone uses Sharina's lair in their campaigns, I'd think you could draw on those animated stage props however you'd like.

Carl Klutzke wrote:
I'm incapable of being objective about this. You have my vote!

Thanks, Carl! I really wanted to do your creation justice here. You inspired the heck out of me in where Sharina's concept took me. I couldn't get all of my thoughts out in the 2,000-word lair. But hopefully, I got enough of them out to add to your vision in an interesting way that builds rather than detracts.

Roguerouge wrote:
Every contestant refused to take the lair that the voters thought was the "gimme" lair: GULGA's. Neil's the only person who couldn't have taken the lowest hanging fruit of all for this round.

I found that kind of interesting, too. I guess Gulga's stench can be a bit offputting at times. ;-D

But, in a lot of ways, I'm kind of glad no one chose to do Gulga. That leaves him entirely open for further definition should Paizo want to use him. And, just because I'm a somewhat overly proactive guy, I happen to have an entire lair mapped out for him that I didn't get to use in Round 4. :-D

--------------
Okay. I think that wraps up every additional question or comment I wanted to get back to folks about. Thanks again to everyone who voted me through. I really do appreciate the opportunity. And thanks for all the feedback and constructive criticism. I enjoyed ALL of it. No matter what, I like the fact that Sharina's lair generated a lot of discussion. I think all of that adds to the entertainment value of the overall RPG Superstar contest anyway. And it certainly gave me a lot of stuff to consider for the final round of the competition...as well as overall decision-making for any future designs I may do.

Lastly, I'd like to say once again how much I appreciate the other competitors who didn't go through. Everyone did some fantastic stuff throughout this entire competition. I'm amazed and humbled to be alongside the Top 32 and all the way to the Top 4. And I look forward to seeing the future work of every "superstar" designer who comes out of this year's competition.

Sincerely,
--Neil


Thanks for the answers Neil!


RPGSuperstar 2011 Round 4 Calibration (Teaser) Post (No. 2):
Disclaimer:
Question 1:
Unclear. Whilst the building is described in some detail, the only information pertaining to locale given (and that only in passing) is that it's apparently in or close to a city.

Question 2:
Well it's her family home, so you might say that. She's certainly 'familiar with the terrain', so to speak, and has developed it to fit her personal tastes.

Question 3:
That depends on what the succubus intends to do with the property? If she intends to keep it as a 'going concern' there are certain trophies and items pandering to the current owner's ego which need removing. If a succubus is uninterested in maintaining the site as it currently is, she may as well call in a vrock demolition squad to level the building (although after stripping out the teak doors and any other fittings worth salvaging first). Then it's going to be a lot of effort and bother to clear and redevelop the site.

Other comments?
Basically this is a public building, and any kind of repurposing of use is going to have to take into account the large open area currently committed to the stage/auditorium. It requires a lot of hard work and creativity to use this for anything other than what it's currently intended for... possibly a ballroom for hosting grand dances (assuming a public and upper-class cultured enough to appreciate proper dancing) might be the easiest transition.

Property Value:
Useful to succubi with interests in the dramatic arts or with other plans requiring a 'public building' of this nature; limited value otherwise.

Further Disclaimer:

Notes:
Tricky. Question 1 is hard work in this case and Question 3 is possibly too loaded in one direction. It may be that Question 1 could use some expanding to consider interior situations? Then again, from a CE succubus perspective Possibly this is Simply The Fault Of The Writer For Not Providing Information Adequate to a (very advanced) succubus' review... :-?

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