The Old Cassomir Dollhouse


Round 4: Create a Golarion location

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Chris Mortika wrote:


I disagree with the particulars of your problems here, but I see a bigger problem, a gap that seems endemic to this year's entries.

What Jerall has given us here is a scene from an adventure. You're right when you say that he doesn't explain about Varstrius' daughter, but that doesn't bother me. If a veteran actor were called upon to play a favorite scene from Shakespeare, and chose Macbeth's soliloquy from Act V, he could start with a recap of the story so far, and how Macbeth is bemoaning fate rather than taking responsibility at the last, ... but he could also just start "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..." A good actor, when asked for a scene, a sliver of a greater work, can give a good one, without the background.

In this entry, maybe the heroes have already found the daughter, rescued her slaves, and have traced her back to this house. Or maybe the daughter doesn't show up till Act IV, with her mother (!) quick to follow. We don't know. If Artus' chose to describe Macbeth (instead of Varstrius) in Round 3, he would probably have included Lady Macbeth and probably Banquo. Then, if Jerral had given us the soliloquy, you might as well ask "What happened to those characters, and who's this MacDuff in the wings?" It's just a scene, a slice of a greater adventure.

But what I think Jerall doesn't do -- what I don't think many people have done at all this year -- is provide that context of where this encounter fits with the rest of the adventure.

Chris makes a great point, the encounter is just a slice of the adventure and as such should be looked at that way.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Eric Hindley wrote:
Mad scientist lever throw, random alchemical stuff, a spellcaster teamed with the golem and ranger. I think it works. I kind of wish that you had Dev panic and animate the golem in the first round (by whatever fiat needed to be used) rather than have the "coincidental" read-aloud text. But I think it all works.

+1 - that is a cool approach


I think an interesting issue that hasn't been addressed was bought up in the thread, judges are judging the entries as if they were finished and polished products; which they're not, not to knock anyone but at best these entires are first submissions that will be revised, cleaned up, issues addressed and the like; and I feel that judges aren't viewing the entires like that. Instead we see judges expecting adventures, with a very limited word count; to be submitted ready to publish; this is the impression I am getting at least.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Stuart Hobbs wrote:
I think an interesting issue that hasn't been addressed was bought up in the thread, judges are judging the entries as if they were finished and polished products; which they're not, not to knock anyone but at best these entires are first submissions that will be revised, cleaned up, issues addressed and the like; and I feel that judges aren't viewing the entires like that. Instead we see judges expecting adventures, with a very limited word count; to be submitted ready to publish; this is the impression I am getting at least.

I think that's a valid perception, Stuart. And also a valid way to judge it. How else would the competitors or the voters want us to judge it? By inserting a lot of caveats about "well, this is just an encounter taken out of context from the overall adventure...so, I'll cut it some slack"...? Or, "well, a lot of these oversights would be caught in development and either corrected or kicked back to the designer for adjustments...so, I'll cut them some slack"...?

I've been a competitor in RPG Superstar and I'll tell you that's not the kind of feedback from the judges that I'd want. Instead, I'd want someone like Ryan or Sean to lay it all out there exactly like they'd expect that encounter to appear if it was in a published product. Yes, there are little nuances a competitor (like Rob McCreary from 2008) can do to give the reader an idea of how the encounter works in the greater scheme of things. That's completely valid. We didn't get a lot of that here.

So, as judges, we're going to call out the bits and pieces of these encounter write-ups that left us hanging in that regard. Again, I think that's a completely valid way to judge encounters for RPG Superstar, because the next round is more about storytelling and the structure of an adventure's plot than the actual mechanics of an encounter and imparting all the right information a GM needs to run one. That's what this round is testing. Can a competitor at this stage of the contest properly present such information with creativity as well as usable content for a level-appropriate encounter as it would appear in an actual adventure.

The feedback and advice we're providing here are purposefully meant to help these designers get to a place where they understand that. And, those who have already incorporated these lessons into their designs are the ones who are strong enough to earn our recommendation to advance to the Top 4. Even so, it's still up to the voters to decide. They can apply or ignore our collective insights as they choose.

But that's just my two cents,
--Neil

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

For all of you complaining that the daughter isn't mentioned: it is explained, she just left on a slaving trip. Sure it's the second sentance in a side description of another room, but it is there:

entry wrote:
... The most recent entry indicates that Varstrius’ daughter, Sarrisia, has just left Cassomir with another shipment.

I was about to make a comment about the lack of a room too, then I remembered that this is the basement of a 2/3 story house. I imagine there would be bedrooms on those floors.

But anyways, not to fan the fire but I feel the judges have been giving fantastic commentary thus far. As someone who didn't make it in, Every little bit of their advice is something I see as useful. If I were in this round, I would now know exactly where I went wrong, either in adding in an important element that isn't clearly explained (Dev), or in making it more clear where a relevant NPC is (Sarrisia).

After all, the challenge was to design an encounter in a new location. And while the location could be of any scope the designer wanted, the goal was to make it a complete location - and this falls just short of that. Sure, there's a lot of good work here, but there are a few half things that bother a lot of people commenting.


I deleted an earlier response, but I actually think I want to re-make one point I raised there:

It really seems odd to me that no other competitor has had a judge post numerous times criticizing his or her entry. Maybe it's time to knock that off ... or take a couple new shots at the other 7 competitors, so it appears more equitable?

Just my own two cents.

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

Roshan wrote:

Obviously......Despite the large number of responses to your incorrect references last round you bull forward, taking with you the same assumptions that seem to have made your decision for you. He adds some people, sends his daughter on a mission (Which the writer of the villain mentioned was her part in this) that is completely understandable but you just down it again.

I understand that there are the experienced and inexperienced people in the ins and outs of the RPG business and I'm definitely NOT one of the experienced people. I'm just saying that a large number of your responses seem to be decisions based on a first glance and then justification of that first glance and seeing as how there's zero chance of you reading this I doubt that any this matters to you.

Sorry for the rant, but he had so many replies to his inaccuracies last time it frustrates me that he couldn't go back and read ANY of them. Now he carries with him the baggage from last round and can't make an unbiased review of any encounter with this villain. It is quite good and you have my vote sir.

I think everyone's opinion is important in this contest, so I will stop short of saying ignore this feedback. I think Roshan's support of the entry is reasonable, but I think pooping on a judge makes little sense. Would we rather a judge dishonestly praise something? It's not like previous contestants haven't barely moved on with the crowd vote before.

Mr. Dancey's feedback is reasonable and important. It's by no means a perfect entry. In fact, while it is my favorite entry thus far, the flaws about not mentioning the flesh golem earlier and the focal villain taking a backseat to two opponents in the encounter are big offenses. If I had purchased an adventure with these flaws, I would change the encounter. Varstrius would rock out more (or have an unstoppable getaway so as to leave a lower tier party with the other monsters to contend with), and there'd definitely be clues that could lead someone to suspect someone was building flesh golem.

Anyhoo, I support this entry and it has my top vote with only two left to read. But constantly attacking a specific judge for his difference of opinion seems uncalled for. And claiming that one judge's lack of endorsement is somehow a disadvantage is a little silly. Take the judge's comments and be aware what respected developers are looking for. I've disagreed a couple of times with folks who returned my work with criticism. In the end, it didn't matter at all that I was right and they were wrong. : }

Star Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Dumb Paladin wrote:

I deleted an earlier response, but I actually think I want to re-make one point I raised there:

It really seems odd to me that no other competitor has had a judge post numerous times criticizing his or her entry. Maybe it's time to knock that off ... or take a couple new shots at the other 7 competitors, so it appears more equitable?

Just my own two cents.

There's no reason Ryan can't defend his point of view just like any other commenter. The back and forth helps voters get a clearer idea of what is being said, so they can more easily decide if they agree or not.

His most recent post was actually pretty generic to the entries this round (as well as being quite interesting to me as a GM); it just happened to fit best into this thread.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Ryan Dancey wrote:
Almost without exception (there are a few) the lairs this year are underpowered for the CRs. As I suggested in the Judges Chambers, next year Paizo should consider providing a template Party for the designers to use as a yardstick.

+1 - without that I would use the pre-made party of iconics from an Adventure Path. Though that might be a poorish yardstick as the iconics are typically less optimized than the average party I see playing.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Jerall,

I really like what you've given us in "The Old Cassomir Dollhouse" location.

*An aside... but if a PC of my acquaintance were still living I think he'd be very interested in what's going on here, and would likely get his companions to back him up.* :) Sadly, Theodric died during "The Impossible Eye".

Anyway... enough threadjacking. I like your writing, your layout, and encounter overall. So I am giving you one of my votes in return. :)

Best of luck in the next round. (I would be interested in reading an adventure proposal from you).

~Dean


Given that I criticized Ryan´s Judge´s Comments in previous rounds for not providing much substance to back their empty negative judgements, I have to say that his commentary here is DEFINITELY suitable, because he´s very much going into specifics. And as he himself points out, his major point of criticism (too easy difficulty level for avg. party) applies to almost ALL entrants, and I don´t think he was particularly trying to call out this adventure as more easy than others. Maybe it strikes people wrong that he´s posting that in this competitor´s specific thread (which might be misleading)... Perhaps next year, Judges might start their own threads in the General section to discuss issues they see across all/most contestants, in a more contestant-neutral manner (since if EVERYBODY has the same problem, it can´t really impact voting that much).

I DO disagree with his issue about the daughter not being in this encounter - that was a suggested encounter in the original villain write-up, amongst other options. Had we seen THAT encounter written up, we would have had an encounter with the daughter but not her dad. Jerall has written an adventure in the VIllain´s main ´Lair´ WITHOUT the daughter, with her being gone on what was suggested to be a common activity for here (smuggling captive slaves) - Ryan´s claim that there was ´no reason given´ for her absence seems strange in that light (Jerall explains this in his own write-up, in addition to the info in the stat-block), so I WOULD call out Ryan on that criticism, which doesn´t match the text of Jerall´s entry. Even had there been NO ´explanation´ for absence, SO WHAT? She is a young adult, and people don´t always stay at home, and if she has Class Levels herself and could help comprise another interesting encounter, why not save it for later?

Quote:
I'm torn on this. I don't think you really swung for the fences -- you took a good villain and put him in the obvious location for him. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm not sure how much of what I like about this encounter is based on Artus' creation (in which case I feel like I should be giving *him* my vote) and how much is based on your use of the character.

This is also what swayed my decision, in addition to judging people´s combined body of work to this point. I thought this was a pretty solid encounter (besides the same lowish difficulty as most all entries, especially for typical parties with a modicum of magical capability... though it certainly didn´t feel ESPECIALLY easy compared to other entries), but it mostly felt to me like this was just what I would expect from an encounter with Varstrius, i.e. drawn straight out of Artus´ Villain entry.

Now, picking a great Villain like Varstrius certainly isn´t a bad choice, but I still want to see some more creativity, or if not that, complete mastery (which the easy difficulty falls astray of). I thought the Kremlin was good, because it creatively expanded on things suggested in the Villain write-up. People have mentioned the Flesh Golem as creative, but I don´t think so myself... It´s a bog-standard Bestiary Creature with the Young Template added. In Artus´ Villain entry, people already speculated that Varstrius was doing similar things with his victims. It´s not a BAD choice, but nothing especially great, either.
So like I said, I probably would have given one of my votes here, except that judging on the total body of work, I feel Artus deserves to go to the final round... Doubly so, given his work was the basis of this encounter.


I also thought Mr. Dancey´s take on the non-presence of Polard was off.
For one, the assistant Dev certainly COULD ´assist´ in the creation of the Golem, besides ´fluff´ creation activities he can also cast Bull´s STR. And the presence of the Homonculus Familiar allows for delivery of other spells as well. Obviously, the given imagery of using Electric magic to ´awaken´ the Golem isn´t a per-se requirement of Golem Crafting, but it seems 110% flavor-appropriate to me (to ´heal´ it bringing it full HPs), and I´m happy to see Jerall use this as the description.

To me, it doesn´t seem too far-out that Polard, while being an Evil Necromancing bastard (as much co-Villain to Varstrius) who likes crafting Flesh Golems and other dark arts, wouldn´t prefer to be present when ´Sulianna´ is awoken... Given that Varstrius (who´s paying for everything) would likely want to immediately recreate ´Family Tea Time´, which may not be Polard´s cup of tea, so to speak.

Obviously, Jerall considered these characters and elements, as he suggests the next encounter or stage of the adventure will be dealing with Sarissia and Polard (who may well have been alerted to the PCs via his Homonculus Familiar).


Do like
* I love the whole feel of this taking place in an alchemical laboratory that has a creepy dollhouse feel to it.

Do not like
* It was somewhat confusing to reference the villain's daughter in this. As it was fairly clear to me in the initial write up of the villain by the original author that his daughter would not be present. As a suggestion, perhaps she could come in on the higher tier on a later round to add to the difficulty. I realize that this would add yet another stat block and use up more words. If it broke the word allowance I see why this was not done.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Standback

Jerall,

Way to go for making it to Round 4 - I've been enjoying your work a lot :) Here's my comments on your entry, before I've read anybody else's.

  • So you took on the Dollmaker and his lair, eh? It's a bold choice - since his lair is described in the original piece, and it's very much a part of who he is. It's also described as being much more atmosphere- and horror-oriented than "regular" combat.
  • You've decided to add an element - Varstrius is not only making dolls, he's trying to recreate his sister as a flesh golem. I can see why you'd do that - it gives the encounter direction and climax. OTOH, it also takes the focus off of the creepy features that made Varstrius a compelling, horrific villain to begin with.
  • Worse than that, it doesn't fit well with the natural plot. I can see why the PCs would try to stop him from abducting small folk. But why would they stop him from creating a flesh golem? Let him. Particularly if he'll accept it as a substitute and stop his hunting. So as described, I don't feel like this works very well as a climax.
  • I don't feel like putting Polald and Dev in adds much. They're there, sure, but why should they interest my party?
  • The Tea Room is what we were all looking forward to from the original description. I'm not clear on whether the PCs find prisoners there now; I assume they might, because that's probably the easiest way to get across what Varstrius is doing. Which we want to do :) Nice.
  • I like your treatment of the multi-tier requirement: you can't shift around the villian's CR, so you play with Sulliana's - which is just as appropriate to an encounter like this.
  • The homunculus seemed somewhat random; I didn't feel that he fit into the encounter very well.
  • I'm unfond of the "The PCs arrive just as the villain completes the last incantation in his vile ritual" bit. It's cliche, and it smacks of railroading (since the PCs are always "just too late" no matter how long it takes them). Alack.

In summary, I feel like you chose a concept which would be difficult to do justice to; to deal with that, you made design decisions whose focus shied away from that core concept. I understand why you'd choose that, but I can't say I'm overjoyed at the decision - I think a lot more could have been done with this concept. Allowing for that, I think you've done a nice job.

Lots of luck! :)

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Standback

Chris Mortika wrote:

But what I think Jerral doesn't do -- what I don't think many people have done at all this year -- is provide that context of where this encounter fits with the rest of the adventure.

<snip>

It would have been nice if Jerral had launched this proposal with some context, but that's something that a lot of entrants could have done.

Strong agreement here. I think you meant that as a defense, but frankly, I see this as cause to ding many of the entries this round. A lot of them felt to me as though not only they lacked context, but were actively incongruous with the way we'd expect such an adventure to unfold. And/or, some presented a final villain encounter in a way that would make for an unsatisfying plot arc.

There are some cases where extra context is a nice-to-have. There are others where the mismatch with the implied context is great enough to be confusing or disappointing, and those aren't reactions you want from your readers, even if the mismatch is "justified" by contest considerations. Care (and wordcount) should be expended to make the entry seem clear and appropriate. And in some cases, I think the mismatch between what's presented and what's expected is great enough that failing to address it demonstrates a real lack of attention to storytelling and narrative plotting - either by actually writing something that doesn't fit, or by failing to realize that the apparent mismatch needs attention and explanation.

I certainly don't think the Dollhouse is the worst of these offenders, but yes. Lack of context means I don't understand how the PCs are meant to experience this scene. Lack of context means I don't know their goals or expectations. Lack of context means I might leap to the conclusion that the slave-trading daughter has been shunted aside and ignored. I think this entry - and most of the others - could have done a lot more to give the sense that their entries could be a part of something greater.

Not every snippet of poetry somebody writes can serve well as a climactic soliloquy.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

While I can understand that criticism, I'm not sure it's fair to the contestants. If this encounter were in the context of a larger adventure, we'd know where it fell. But at the moment, the contestants were just asked to design a single encounter. I think it's up to us as voters to decide where this would fall. I think that actually gives them a lot of flexibility.

Some contestants clearly did their encounter as an end game, while others feel more like a side trek or even the start of what could be a larger plot/adventure. I'm not sure they should have had to spell that out -- using their valuable words -- in their encounter when it would be obvious if the scenario were in a full adventure, which is where it would be, and wouldn't be needed.


Quandary wrote:
Perhaps next year, Judges might start their own threads in the General section to discuss issues they see across all/most contestants, in a more contestant-neutral manner (since if EVERYBODY has the same problem, it can´t really impact voting that much).

+1 for the idea.

As for the daughter, I think she was mentioned as not being at the home to deal with two things: the mention of her in the villian entry, and to explain why she wasn't there. Really I don't think it should be an issue for anyone as the matter is dealt with in a sentence.

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

Jerall,

Nice job bringing the golem in. It gives purpose to the abductions in the villain and also explains why the manor is not crowded to exploding. I find the writing mostly difficult to follow (see Dev Palol comments above), I think word count could have focused more on one encounter then the whole basement. I like generally that the encounter is framed however. I also really liked the blue flower on the strangled victim and the blue skinned humanoids. These hint at a larger picture and that is soemthing I appreciate. Nice job & good luck!

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Jatori

Since the voting has now closed, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody that took the time to write a comment. Each one has provided a new learning opportunity and I'll be taking these lessons with me, be it in the next round (votes allowing), any future attempts at getting published, and during my own games as either player or GM.

I'll be back online, a little later today, to discuss my location/encounter submission in a bit more detail.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Jatori

Well, the day got away from me a bit. It's nearly tomorrow here (and therefore nearly time for the results), so let's see how much I can get typed out before then.

One of my primary goals was to develop a location that hinted at possible reasons for PC involvement and offered opportunity for further adventure. Some people appreciated this, while others did not.

The blue bellflower is the symbol of the Bellflower Network - an anti-slavery faction (predominantly halfling). Perhaps the PCs are working for or are members of the Network. If not, they might want to take news of the death to the Network, in hopes of a reward.

The blue-skinned humanoids are meant to be derro. According to the Cities of Golarian, derro often make their way up to Cassomir and kidnap surfacers. Many of these kidnappings are considered mysterious and go unresolved.

If I had a few more words to spare, I may have chosen to elaborate on these Golarion facts. For example, I could have listed a required knowledge check to identify the bellflower.

Then, Polald and Dev:

I wanted to give V some arcane support, both during combat and during golem construction. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite squeeze in a fully statted wizard, so I tried to get creative with GMG NPCs. On his own, Dev could not create a flesh golem. However, he could aid Polald during the construction. Further, electricity isn't a prerequisite for flesh golem construction, but it fits the Frankenstein theme perfectly. If I had used language closer to Erik Lindley's suggestion (Dev panicking), the encounter would have read a lot better to a lot of people.

It's getting a bit late now. So, I'll end off here for now. I'll try to answer some of the more specific comments, as time allows, over the next few days.

Dark Archive Contributor , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Boxhead

Jerall Toi wrote:
Erik Lindley's suggestion (Dev panicking)

Sorry, who? ;p

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Jatori

Wow, top 4! I'm afraid I'll only get back to this thread once the excitement dies down and my proposal is much nearer to completion.

Thanks to everybody that voted!

Eric Hindley wrote:
Jerall Toi wrote:
Erik Lindley's suggestion (Dev panicking)
Sorry, who? ;p

Apologies! I must have been really sleepy to get two letters wrong. :P

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

Hey Jerall,
I have to say that I’ve liked some of your stuff a lot (Dollhouse) and other pieces not as much (Tengu Blademaster). To me at least, it seems that the topics of your pieces are like an acquired taste, some people love them, some don’t. That said you have chosen topics that the voters have voted for and you are still here, so you have impressed people. Just choose your adventure ‘topic’ with care :-). I have liked the writing of all your pieces so keep that up.

As a fellow ‘International’ English user, can I recommend you delete the English (South Africa) dictionary out of whatever word processor you are using. Some mark both center and centre as correct and you don’t want to have to worry about that kind of thing in the final. Watch the other formatting issues that the judges have mentioned.

I think the most important thing I can offer as advice is to tie and link things together as you did in the Dollhouse, you really drew upon Varstrius and made him your own. I’m looking forward to seeing your tightly written proposal.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I'm glad you made it through, you were one of my favorite entries, all said.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Jatori

I'd just like to thank everybody, once again, for their comments and support throughout this contest. It has been a crazy up and down ride, but, at the same time, everything has been well worth it. I hope not to disappoint later today/early tomorrow (depends on your time zone - I'm already stocking up on caffeine for my CAT midnight reveal).

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