Judges, Please Critique My Item


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

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Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I've been debating asking for more detailed feedback since the end of the competition, but I decided why not - even if you don't point out anything new, it's good to know that you identify the same weaknesses in my item that I did after reading the existing feedback.

The item is my Insightful Eye, and thanks for your hard work already.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

RonarsCorruption wrote:
Insightful Eye

Kind of an intriguing name. It's certainly thematically appropriate. Eager to read on...

RonarsCorruption wrote:

Aura moderate divination; CL 7th

Slot head; Price 35,000gp; weight 1lb

Aura and caster level are appropriate for a divination-based item relying on arcane eye and true strike in its construction requirements. The head slot and item weight makes sense, but you flubbed the presentation a bit by forgetting to capitalize "Weight"...plus, you need a space between "1" and "lb" as well as a period, so it should be "1 lb."...

Price is fairly high. It's always difficult to price monster abilities. How much is all-around vision worth exactly? In addition, what amounts to a reusable +5 insight bonus every other round with the item's second ability kicks it up pretty high, too. This item nees a lot of comparison to other wondrous items and magic weapons, because...as described, you could stack this +5 bonus on every other attack with a +5 sword and get a net +10 on your attacks every other round. Pretty potent.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
The eye emblazoned on this bandanna scans its surroundings at all times, watching for anything that might be a threat to its wearer.

A magic "bandanna" doesn't come off feeling quite as magical for a fantasy campaign setting to me. It's not really a legitimate knock or anything. Just a preference. When I think of a "third eye" I start envisioning headbands from Vudra and Osirion more than the image a bandanna conjures up.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
The eye is, in all ways, an additional eye for the wearer. It is able to see with whatever vision the wearer normally has, even to the point where it blinks when the wearer does.

Cool flavor text. On a stylistic note, I see you're putting two spaces after every period in your sentences. Break that habit.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
Having a third eye is beneficial in many ways to the wearer, especially as the headband does not need to be tied with it facing forward – it can be tied forward or backwards and changing the direction of the eye is a move action that provokes an attack of opportunity.

You're starting to venture into relying too much on the verb "to be" here. Your writing would be stronger if you found ways to rephrase the information you're trying to convey using more active verbs.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
If the headband is tied in reverse, the wearer gains all-around vision, making it impossible for them to be flanked and granting a +4 bonus to passive perception checks.

This, I like. Granted, it's a bit of a Monster-Ability-in-a-Can, but it also grants a bonus on passive Perception checks (which should be capitalized).

RonarsCorruption wrote:
While the Insightful Eye is tied facing forwards, the eye remains ever-watchful.

You need to lowercase and italicize your item name when you reference it in descriptive text. You're also getting kind of repetitive here. You've already mentioned that the insightful eye is "ever-watchful"...and pointing it out again for when you tie it facing forwards adds nothing further to the flow of your description. This could have used a lot more trimming down. Be succinct with your words. Waste nothing. Avoid repeating yourself, because that comes across more like conversation than narrative text.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
Normally this grants the wearer a +4 bonus to all active perception checks...

Again, you need to understand how to properly reference game terminology in your writing. Skill names like Perception need to be capitalized so we know them for what they are. Magic items (like your item name) need to be lowercase and italicized so we visually recognize them for what they are. Same goes for spell names.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
...but if the wearer allows the eye to study a particular target, they also gain another benefit.

These are kind of wasted words again. Don't tell us "they also gain another benefit." Tell us what they gain. You could have led straight into that without saying "they also gain another benefit." Obviously, if you told us what else studying a particular target does, it would have been implied that the item gives them another benefit. In writing, this is called telling rather than showing. You've told us they get another benefit rather than shown us. And the writing is weaker because of that.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
By spending a standard action focusing on a target, which does not provoke an attack of opportunity, the eye sees the weaknesses in the target’s armor, allowing wearer to ignore up to five points of AC granted by armor for all attacks against the target next round. If the bonus is not spent that round, the effect is still expended and the wearer must re-focus.

This is where your item fell apart for two of the judges (me included). You could have just said, "By spending a standard action, the wearer gains a +5 insight bonus on their next attack against a target they've studied..." and you would have been fine. That's a powerful ability to give someone, but it's a much more effective and economical way of conveying what your item does.

Grammatically, you also hosed up the language a bit. I think you forgot a "the" between "allowing" and "wearer"...so, more cause for concern on the writing front.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, Arcane Eye, True Strike; Cost 17,500gp

Eesh. More presentation problems here. Never italicize feat names. Just capitalize them. Never capitalize spell names. Just italicize them. To me, these are pretty egregious errors at this point of the game. RPG Superstar has been running for 4 years now and these types of errors have been pointed out over and over. It's also extremely easy to look up the proper presentation for a wondrous item in the Core Rulebook or even the online PRD and see how feat names and spell names are supposed to appear in an item's stat-block. So, it's real disappointing to see these kinds of mis-steps in item design as folks take their shot at becoming an RPG Superstar. It's attention-to-detail like this that can make the difference.

Summary:
Decent name (it had me interested to read on)
Overreaching idea (the all-around vision aspect was decent in concept, you just went too far with the insight bonus thing)
Wandering mechanics (you had all the right elements to define your mechanics, they just read very awkwardly)
Suspect writing (you need more evocative language and practice to properly convey your ideas, both in flavor and mechanics)
Poor presentation (lots of errors in using the template and referencing game terminology)

Advice: Don't give up hope. Go back to the drawing board. Drum up another awesome idea, but be careful that you don't take it too far. Crystallize around something you can describe in simple, effective terms. Know when to rein it in. Also, practice your designs on lots of new stuff. Get under the hood. Do your homework. Read up on other Superstar entries to get a better sense of how (and how not) to do certain things in referencing game terminology and flavor text. Read through all the wondrous items in the Core Rulebook to educate yourself on how game text gets described for certain abilities an item conveys. Lastly, make doubly sure you polish your presentation. Learn the template. Apply the template. Imitate what's been done before, but do so while coming up with your own unique ideas and words.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Alright, I hadn't realized my formatting was *quite* that bad. A lot of it I blame on only adding the formatting tags in during submission - I know not to make that mistake again. But capitalizing spell names and italicizing feats.. That, I thought I was better than.

I also hadn't noticed how much I used 'to be' Now it's been pointed out, I can see it in a lot of my other writing too, so that's helpful immediately. I'll try to be cutting down on it. to be stopping. Er, okay, no easy joke there, nevermind.

Thanks so much for the feedback on this, Neil, expect me back and raring to go next year - and hopefully even without all those rookie mistakes. ;)

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Neil Spicer wrote:

Do you really think it's possible to miss me here? :-)

A nat 1 is a miss right? I roll a lot of those.... :)

Thanks as always Neil. True Superstar work! I originally based this on fly (OK originally it used the first line of the fireball spell :). Trying to cover all various skill checks for both the wasp and the user, maneuverability ratings, attacks of opportunities, etc., while NOT repeating core text was very confusing. In simplifying it I switched to dimdoor. Oops :).

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

RonarsCorruption wrote:
Thanks so much for the feedback on this, Neil, expect me back and raring to go next year - and hopefully even without all those rookie mistakes. ;)

Cool. You should definitely come back strong. Also, I want to point out one other thing I forgot to mention about this bit of descriptive text:

RonarsCorruption wrote:
By spending a standard action focusing on a target, which does not provoke an attack of opportunity, the eye sees the weaknesses in the target’s armor, allowing wearer to ignore up to five points of AC granted by armor for all attacks against the target next round. If the bonus is not spent that round, the effect is still expended and the wearer must re-focus.

It's far better to say your item grants a bonus to attacks rather than a reduction of someone's AC. For instance, if you reduce their AC by five points, does that apply across the board...i.e., both their touch and flat-footed AC? Does it just negate 5 points of actual armor as opposed to, say, a deflection bonus from a ring of protection? I can credibly understand finding the chinks in someone's armor (or even natural armor), but it's a lot harder to imagine studying a target and finding a weakness in a dodge bonus to their AC...or a deflection bonus...or even their Dex bonus, because those things aren't visually apparent.

So, as an example, lets say your target has AC 20 (+4 armor, +2 Dex, +2 dodge, +2 shield). Does your eye reduce 4 points off the armor bonus and use the extra 1 point against reducing the shield bonus? What if the armor bonus and shield bonus are "invisible" force effects provided by the mage armor and shield spells? Does the eye magically "see" that kind of armor as well? If so, that would have been a nice thing to point out in your design.

You can see that this kind of explanation in game terminology opens up a Pandora's box of questions. This could lead to clarity problems when GMs try to adjudicate the use of your item in an actual game. Thus, in my earlier feedback to you, you'll notice I kept calling it "what amounts to a +5 insight bonus"...and that's really a far better way to explain your effect without opening up the can of worms posed by reducing AC values. Just say the eye boosts the wearer's attacks after studying an opponent and let it go. But, also, make sure you indicate it's a typed bonus (i.e., something like an "insight" bonus so the GM can interpret what it stacks with). Since you based your item around true strike, you should have referenced that spell while working on your design. If you had, you would have noticed it provides a +20 insight bonus. Your item should have called that out, too.

Now, personally, I still felt like the item was overpowered. A +5 insight bonus is pretty serious mojo for someone to be carrying around, because that can stack with a lot of other bonuses...and your item makes it reusable every other round (unlike true strike). Thus, it's a little too open to abuse by the min-max'ers out there. That's why I'm advising you to carefully consider the game impacts of what your item can do in terms of how you mechanically describe it. You've got to pin those things down in a way that harmonizes with the rules rather than threatening them.

Another two cents,
--Neil

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Curaigh wrote:
Thanks as always Neil. True Superstar work!

Well, I should also say that I really liked your idea. It's items like these they leave me feeling kind of depressed as a judge, because the core idea is something pretty cool, but it just falls down in enough areas (or doesn't quite come through enough) that I can't champion it over 32 other items. I think the judges all equally came to that realization just on their first pass.

But, getting back to your idea, I really liked what was taking shape with it. This is the kind of item where I really struggled to keep my judge's hat on and resist putting my designer's hat back on...because I really wanted to go under the hood and tweak a few things to turn it into something really amazing. I felt like your idea had that kind of potential. I could easily see a firesting wasp, for example, becoming a calling card for a vengeful Calistrian priestess or inquisitor...an item that gets her in and out of "hot spots" by pulling her along, enabling her to take short flights to reach someone and take her revenge on them...all while lighting up a path of smoke and flame to scorch everyone else along the way.

However, I will say one other thing about this item...that being, I thought it tread pretty closely to being a figurine of wondrous power. You avoided using "wasp" in its name and that kind of clouded the fact that we were given what amounts to a wasp "figurine" that can be activated to provide some other "wondrous power"...and, in addition to that, all the ideas that kept running through my head (i.e., everything your item inspired me to imagine), kept taking me further and further down that road of a Calistrian-themed figurine of wondrous power. If it had been more fully described and viewed that way, the judges might have cited it for falling into that particular auto-reject category. Personally, I'd have hesitated to reject it for that, though, simply because a potential Superstar designer can still flirt with the auto-reject advice and chart a course of "cool" that warrants putting them in the Top 32. Properly tweaked, your item might have achieved that...and that's a good thing.

That's why I stated in my summary that I felt like your idea was stronger than how you described the mechanics. So, the description of the rules involved in how your items do their thing is what you need to work on the most, I think.

Another two cents,
--Neil

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I find it funny (like, ironic funny) how much trouble that little plus five bonus is giving me. I made a bad call on the 'armor bonus' deal, but I had changed it to that from a +5 insight bonus in one of the revisions because I felt the +5 bonus on it's own was too powerful. I think a better way to have gone would have been a +5 insight bonus on the first attack against the target in the next round - get in one good hit sorta deal.

While I'm always in favor of the flash and the bang, I've come to the realization that I should at least start simpler thinking for next year. And I've come up with three 'F's for myself to follow.

Focus, Flavor, Format.

The last is obvious, as we just finished discussing it, but for anyone else still lurking here, I'll explain the other two:

Focus: The item should do one thing, and do it well. Unless a second effect is a side-effect, it's probably not needed. Focusing on one idea helps make it clear, and the clearer an idea is the easier it is to explain.

Flavor: The item should be exciting. I like flash and bang, but it's like Zack Snyder (director of Sucker Punch, Watchmen and 300), that's not the only way to make something awesome to see. One tight flavor element tied into the mechanics of the item and you're set.

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

RonarsCorruption wrote:

...

Focus: The item should do one thing, and do it well. Unless a second effect is a side-effect, it's probably not needed. Focusing on one idea helps make it clear, and the clearer an idea is the easier it is to explain.

Flavor: The item should be exciting. I like flash and bang, but it's like Zack Snyder (director of Sucker Punch, Watchmen and 300), that's not the only way to make something awesome to see. One tight flavor element tied into the mechanics of the item and you're set.

Of course if the one thing is flavor, you can probably work in a few other effects, as a certain set of dryad leaves has shown. :)

Neil Spicer wrote:


Well, I should also say that I really liked your idea.

Thanks Neil, that means a lot. For what it is worth, the fact that you remembered my item from 2009 in one of these threads also means a lot. :) (Cerberus Collar :) I really look forward to a superstar workshop at paizocon (and would offer to run one myself if I had any sort of credentials to support it :)

Neil Spicer wrote:


an item that gets her in and out of "hot spots" by ...all while lighting up a path of smoke and flame to scorch everyone else along the way.

Interestingly this effect was tweaked from something else when one of my proof-readers commented that it was like Batman getting out of a scrape... :)


I had no idea on the 2 spaces after a period thing.
Learn something every day!

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