Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #11: The In-Character Quote

RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion


Sean is away at NeonCon for the remainder of the week. He's asked to have his advice for the first round of RPG Superstar posted in his absence.

(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm going to post them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

11. Your item includes an in-character quote, such as from someone using it or trying to sell it.

"I would have been dead if it weren't for my trusty amulet of the frog god!"

"You look like a clever fellow, are you interested in a magical trinket? This one is said to give you nine lives...."

"Cheer up, guv'nah, one drink o' this fabled tonic and you're leg will be right on again, cheerio!"

None of the wondrous items in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook have in-character quotes. In fact, none of the magic item descriptions in the Core Rulebook have in-character quotes. Don't use them. Don't use them to "sell" your item. Don't use them to show how your item is used. Don't use strange vernacular that may not be appropriate to a typical fantasy game. Just... don't use them.

Round 1 of RPG Superstar is about showing that you can create an interesting and creative wondrous item. It's not about showing that you can write catchy dialogue.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...


Including something like dialogue in a wondrous item submission just makes no sense. A wondrous item write-up isn't a shortstory. And it's not a prologue to a novel, a blurb on a book jacket, or a movie trailer either. So why would you include something like that and assume it will actually improve your chances of being selected for the Top 32? The initial round for RPG Superstar is about wondrous item design. So, design a wondrous item. And leave the campy, storyteller-wannabe stuff out of it.

Let me put it a different way. If you were a judge and you had, literally, hundreds of items to review in a very short amount of time, do you really want to see a piece that spent extra words on dialogue rather than the item itself? No way! Instead, the poor, frazzled, overworked judge is going to hit that dialogue text and say, "Great! I gotta slog my way through this before I can even get to the meat about what this item is about!"

To me, this category of "what not to do" is very much like the homebrew campaign material and backstory a lot of people try to include with their items. I believe most folks who do this think they're just jazzing it up to make their item seem cooler and display the breadth of their creativity. And the truth of the matter is that, even if their in-character dialogue is snappy and awesome creativity on their part...it's misplaced snappy and awesome creativity. That's because you're putting the creativity into the dialogue rather than the item.

One of the truest lessons I think a freelancer can learn involves "writing what you're told." If a developer or publisher asks you to write a wondrous item, you don't give him dialogue. And if a book publisher asks you to give him in-character dialogue for a scene, he doesn't want you to wander off and drop a strange wondrous item design complete with game mechanics in the third chapter. This isn't where getting chocolate in your peanut butter makes the end result better. Instead, you're putting the wrong ingredient in the cake. Or worse, you're making something that's entirely different from what you were asked to do.

And, in light of all that, is it really any wonder a judge would issue an immediate auto-reject for an item submission which does that? It's pretty much a sign of a freelancer who can't focus on the task at hand. Or maybe one who views himself (or herself) as an "artiste" who's going to push the envelope by introducing a whole new world where character dialogue always gets included with wondrous magic items. More likely, they'll become an ex-designer that no publisher wants to use, because they're not very good at following guidelines or staying on track with their assignment.

So, nix the storyteller for the wondrous item round. Save that stuff for the adventure proposal round or an encounter's read-aloud text. Because that's when it might play to your advantage. But for a wondrous item submission and a shot at the Top 32 of RPG Superstar? Eh, not so much...


'Oo er! Isn't 'e a narsty bugger. Makin' fun o' the way me talks an' everyfink!

So, no in-character descriptions of how an item works. Got it, and agreed. That has to get old after a while.

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