Grasping at Shadows

Round 5: Submit an adventure proposal

RPG Superstar 2011 aka Ignotus

Grasping at Shadows

Night itself has been banished from the valley of Karpad, by edict of its baron. Mystic flames keep out the darkness, but fear remains. For a decade, neither man nor monster troubled Karpad’s peace. Now, a broken promise and an unspeakable debt have turned the very shadows against the valley and its lord. With townsfolk disappearing one by one, can the heroes protect the people of Karpad from otherworldly vengeance?

Grasping at Shadows is a horror-tinged Pathfinder adventure for 4th-level characters, which will bring them to 5th level. This urban- and dungeon-based adventure will see the heroes pursue an insidious kidnapper, uncover the secret of a noble family, and confront the horrors of the mysterious Shadow Plane.

Adventure Background

Stepan Boroi , the ambitious third son of a minor baron in Ustalav, was not content to see his eldest brother inherit the family lands. Amidst the detritus of generations that fill the crumbling Boroi manor, Stepan discovered an ancient looking glass, acquired centuries ago by an ancestor of sinister repute. Instead of reflecting the Boroi manor, the glass revealed the Other Manor, the house as it exists on the Shadow Plane. And where Stepan’s reflection should have been, there was instead a dark figure, taller than a man, with eyes like distant stars. This was Nicasor, baron of the Other Manor, a hand of night.

Hand of Night:

These outsiders are native to the Shadow Plane. Roughly humanoid but impossibly tall and thin, hands of night have four arms emerging asymmetrically from their torsos; they move effortlessly across walls and ceilings. Hands of night have no visible mouths, yet their voices whisper like dry leaves in the wind. Hands of night can bring normal, inanimate shadows to life, and send them against those who cast them. They can also create temporary portals between the Shadow Plane and deep shadows on the Material Plane.

Stepan and Nicasor struck a dark bargain. Nicasor would help Stepan succeed his father as baron. In return, Stepan promised that when he married, he would give his firstborn son and heir to Nicasor until the boy turned eighteen. Nicasor planned to transform the boy on the Shadow Plane, and return Stepan’s heir as a ruthless, loyal, puppet ruler. Over the next months, Stepan’s brothers mysteriously disappeared. Stepan was crowned Baron of Karpad when his father died shortly thereafter. Neither bandits nor monsters troubled Stepan’s realm, and villagers whispered that the shadows watched over their valley by night.

After nearly ten years of idyllic rule, Stepan finally took a wife, a beautiful noblewoman from Caliphas named Anya. Two months ago, she bore him a son. But time and love have changed Stepan, and softened his iron heart. Stepan could not bear to surrender his son, and he has broken his pact with Nicasor. Furious, Nicasor promised to take what it was owed, and to ruin all that Stepan holds dear.

Fearing Nicasor’s wrath, Stepan has freed a lurker in light (Bestiary 2) long imprisoned beneath the manor. This cruel fey despises all who serve shadow, and was only too happy to pledge its service to Stepan in exchange for freedom. The lurker has arranged for continual flames to be placed throughout the manor and village, making the town brightly lit even at night. To conjure allies with his ritual gate ability, the lurker abducts and sacrifices townsfolk. The baron’s dire pronouncements have made the villagers blame the disappearances on unseen shadow monsters - and on the town’s very real population of fetchlings (Bestiary 2), humans whose ancestors dwelt on the Shadow Plane. As Nicasor bides its time and plans its retaliation, Karpad threatens to dissolve into paranoia and violence.

Act I: Dread of Night

A. Arrival
The adventure begins with the party’s arrival at the isolated township of Karpad, in the valley that bears its name. The town is visible from a great distance in day or night, as its thatched roofs and cobbled streets are brightly lit by hundreds of continual flames. Higher up the valley slopes, more magic similarly illuminates a large, ancient manor.

The PCs could visit Karpad for several reasons:

  • A relative of one of the lurker’s victims hires the party to find out what happened to her vanished kin.
  • The party needs information from a retired adventurer who settled in Karpad - they soon discover that he was among the first to disappear.
  • Suspicious of the dark circumstances under which Stepan took power, Baroness Anya’s brother hires the PCs to check on her, and ensure that her new husband treats her well.
  • Anya is a PC’s friend or family. She summons the party to Karpad via a frightened and confusing letter.

Upon arrival, the party is greeted by what threatens to become a public lynching. A mob has cornered three fetchlings in the town square. The mob’s leader, a farmer named Emil, accused them of abducting his son. Emil has no real evidence, but his words are a spark to the dry tinder of the townsfolk’s fear and anger. If the party successfully intervenes, they gain the gratitude of the fetchlings; otherwise the three are hanged.

B. Karpad
The townsfolk all tell the same story:
Three weeks ago, Felix the blacksmith disappeared. Baron Stepan gathered the townsfolk and warned them that shadowy horrors were infiltrating the valley. To protect Karpad, hooded mages working for the baron conjured hundreds of magical lights that illuminate the town day and night. Since then, however, six other people have disappeared. Many in the town suspect that fetchlings are behind the disappearances, and popular sentiment is growing towards burning their ghetto.

At the manor, Baron Stepan is morose and withdrawn. Terrified of his own shadow, the Baron has trapped it in a book of night without moon (Round 1, variant) - though its loss has only made him more unstable. The paranoid baron keeps his wife and infant son in the manor’s tower, under constant guard. Stepan and Anya say that a horror from the Shadow Plane wants to take their child, and will kill them and destroy Karpad unless they comply. Baron Stepan keeps his bargain with Nicasor secret from both the party and his wife. If the party is not already investigating the disappearances, Stepan and Anya beg them to do so, offering compensation.

The fetchling ghetto is secretive and hostile, though depending on the opening scene’s outcome, the PCs may be warily welcomed. The fetchlings do not know why the disappearances are happening; they are terrified of how their neighbors have turned against them. If the PCs gain the fetchlings’ trust, they may discover a family of Nicasor’s sleeper agents dwelling secretly in the ghetto.

C. The Truth
The lurker’s first abductions were to summon tallow worms (see below), who could create continual flames to assuage the baron’s fear of nocturnal infiltration. The lurker desires five more victims, to summon his mate. He hates fetchlings, but avoids kidnapping them to help turn suspicion towards the ghetto. Baron Stepan does not know that the lurker is behind the abductions. If the baron found out, he would be horrified, but Stepan’s dependence on the lurker and his fear of the dark would force him to ignore the creature’s depredations.

Tallow Worm:

These phosphorescent, grub-like fey burrow into the fatty tissue beneath the jaw of humanoid hosts, and spread tendrils into the brain. Tallow worms control their hosts’ actions and can use their memories and abilities. When inside a host (called a tallow thrall), the fey has several light-related powers, most notably a variant continual flame at will that weakens shadows. When tallow worms die, their continual flames go out. Tallow thralls produce extra fat under their necks, creating a tell-tale double chin. Tallow thralls can be cured by killing the worm with remove disease or by painfully cutting it out of the body; the worms are helpless outside a host. A former thrall has vivid but confused memories of his mental captivity.

The lurker has carried out five more abductions than the villagers realize, to provide hosts for his tallow worms. The resultant thralls maintain their stolen identities when not assisting the lurker. If unmasked they prove craven and manipulative. Killing a tallow worm extinguishes many of Karpad’s continual flames, causing widespread panic among the townsfolk.

D. Investigating the Disappearances
When the party arrives in Karpad, the lurker has collected two victims in a chandlery (candle-maker’s shop) shuttered shortly after the baron lit the town with magic. The lurker makes one abduction every other day, giving the party six days to solve the mystery before the lurker ritually sacrifices his prisoners.

The party can find clues with Diplomacy gather information checks, and/or by investigating the homes and friends of the disappeared.

  • The lurker disposes of bodies in a nearby river, but several became tangled in roots where the riverbed is shallow. The bodies have wax embedded under their fingernails from their imprisonment in the chandlery upstream.
  • A victim’s child saw the lurker as he accidentally wandered into shadow. The child describes “a little man with dragonfly wings who was watching mommy. He saw me looking at him, and put his finger to his lips to tell me to be quiet. Then he flew up to one of the magic lanterns and I couldn’t see him anymore.”
  • A victim’s wife explains that her husband believed a secret society in the town was behind the disappearances. He thought that Lucian the chandler and Magda the midwife were both members. Both are tallow thralls, and can be caught and interrogated or followed back to the chandlery.
  • One local saw a fetchling at a victim’s house right before her disappearance. This is a red herring (for a failed gather information check) – the fetchling was the missing woman’s secret lover.

The lurker in light invisibly observes the party’s investigations. If the party seems stymied, or the adventure’s pace slackens, the GM should have tallow thralls try to lure off a PC to kidnap. After the ensuing fight, the PCs can interrogate the thralls or chase them back to the chandlery when they retreat.

E. The Chandlery
The lurker keeps his victims imprisoned in vats lined with wax in the basement of this boarded-up building. The entrances and ground level are heavily trapped. The lurker and the remaining tallow thralls fight the PCs here to protect their captives. If the PCs have brought a mob, or if the fight goes against the lurker, he gleefully sets fire to the building, threatening both the party and the prisoners.

Inside the chandlery, the party finds the hooded robes the tallow thralls wore when posing as the baron’s “mages.” The lurker has the baron’s seal and a set of keys to the castle. If the lurker’s life is threatened, he tells the party that he is under the baron’s protection, and attempts to escape back to the manor.

Intermezzo: Night’s Black Agents

At this point the party is likely ready to confront Baron Stepan about everything he’s been hiding from them. If not, the baron invites them to the manor to interrogate them about the violence and upheaval their actions have caused in town. Either way, the situation with Stepan is interrupted just as it reaches a climax by the arrival of a wraith assassin sent to kill him. Stepan recognizes the wraith as what remains of his eldest brother, and has a screaming breakdown. With the town’s lights partially or completely shut off by the demise of the tallow worms, Nicasor is ready to take his revenge. If the party has failed to solve the mystery after six days, or has avoided killing the tallow worms, Nicasor attacks anyway, sending fetchling sorcerers capable of snuffing out the lights with darkness spells.

In addition to the assassination attempt, Nicasor has launched several other incursions.

  • Fetchling rogues riding gloomwings (Bestiary 2) fly to the top of the manor tower to steal away Anya and her son.
  • Shadows and shadowgarms (Bastards of Erebus) assault Karpad, herding the townsfolk into the central square to transform them into shadows.
  • Nicasor’s sleeper agents from the ghetto attack the town’s few priests, and hunt down anyone fleeing town.

Nicasor hopes to spread Karpad’s forces too thinly to fend off his attacks. The party may have to make hard choices about who to protect. If the PCs gained the trust of Karpad’s fetchlings, they help deal with Nicasor’s sleeper agents. If the lurker or any tallow worms are still alive, they put aside their enmity with the party to fight against the shadows.

Once Nicasor’s forces have been repelled, the baron (or Anya or the majordomo, if Stepan died) thanks the PCs profusely. Stepan is badly shaken, and with even a small push he confesses his remaining secrets. He asks them to bring the fight to Nicasor, either to rescue his wife and son (if the PCs failed to protect them), or to save the town from future attacks. If Anya is present, she gives the party her mother’s ward for protection (otherwise they receive it if/when they rescue her). The baron brings the PCs to the dungeon under the castle, and shows them the looking glass, warded by bright lights and protective circles. The PCs can walk through the mirror to enter the Other Manor.

Mother’s Ward:

This silver filigree locket is cool to the touch. Inside is a beautiful miniature portrait. In order to change the portrait, the new subject must simply shed three drops of blood inside the locket. As long as subject and bearer are on the same plane, the locket grows freezing cold when the subject is afraid, and gives the bearer a little jolt whenever the subject is injured. The bearer can cast shield other 1/day on the subject. 1/day, the subject can make a Fortitude save using the bearer’s bonus instead of his own. If he fails, both subject and bearer suffer the consequences.

Act II: Through a Glass, Darkly

A. The House of Night
The Other Manor is dark and freezing cold. Its walls are blurry and slowly undulate, as if the house itself were breathing. This is not far from the truth – powerful enchantments have given the Other Manor a malign intelligence and a semblance of life. Outside its windows stretch the endless wastelands of the Shadow Plane.

The house itself opposes the party as they make their way through it. Using shadowy illusions, the Other Manor attempts to hide vulnerable areas and lure the party down secret passageways. The substance of the house moves as well, opening yawning pits, sealing doorways to trap and separate the party, and sending animate objects to attack them. Meanwhile, Nicasor’s shadows and shadowgarms hunt for the party in the halls.

Bright light paralyzes the Other Manor, and it cannot use its powers anywhere the party can create sufficient illumination. The source of the Other Manor’s enchantment is its heart, an enormous, pulsating black pearl that sits in a secret room at the middle of the house. Tendrils of dark power run like veins from the pearl into the floor, walls, and ceiling. The pearl is guarded by a shadow mastiff and its fetchling handlers. The Manor does its best to hide its heart, but it cannot stop the walls adjacent to the secret chamber from weeping telltale black fluid.

The party may also find unusual allies in the insectoid d’ziriaks (bestiary 2) that Nicasor keeps prisoner. The d’ziriaks are being used as living incubators for gloomwing larvae (fortunately months away from hatching). If Anya was abducted, she is here as well, awaiting gloomwing implantation. If the party helps them, the d’ziriaks can tell them about the weaknesses of the Other Manor, as well as about Nicasor.

B. Upstairs
Incongruously, the upper floor contains a nursery, well-lit and almost welcoming. The nursery is guarded by a monstrous “nanny” – an animate scarecrow (Tome of Horrors Revised) bundled up in an old woman’s cast-off clothes. If the baron’s son has been kidnapped, he can be found here. The upper floor is also home to the baron’s second brother. Driven mad by his imprisonment in this realm of gloom and despair, in death he has become a muttering allip.

Nicasor awaits in what would be a study, were this a mortal mansion. The hand of night is calm and urbane, and expresses little interest in fighting the party (though it is chagrinned by any damage to its home).

“Baron Stepan and I made a bargain, as his ancestors and I have done in ages past. I fulfilled my end. Now I will have what is owed me, one way or another. Everything has its price, in your world as in mine.”

If the party tries to negotiate, Nicasor is reasonable, but ultimately demands either the child or the barony itself as the price for ending Stepan’s debt and its vendetta. A peaceful solution is unlikely, though a clever lie might lure Nicasor from his sanctuary. If the party retreats without an agreement, Nicasor lets them go (as long as they’re not leaving with its prisoners), but resumes gathering shadows for another assault.

In combat, Nicasor animates the party’s shadows, then snatches a vulnerable PC, and skitters to the ceiling with his prey. If the party didn’t destroy the Other Manor’s heart, it uses all its powers to defend its master.


Stepan’s servant smashes the mirror once the party returns. Karpad is much the worse for wear, but its remaining people are safe. If Stepan lives, and Anya learned of his plans for their child, she asks the PCs to take her and the boy with them when they leave the valley. The baron is a broken man, consumed by the suffering his crimes have caused yet unable to atone for them (though compassionate PCs might be able to help). If Anya stays, she becomes the effective ruler of Karpad.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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First of all, congratulations on making it to the final round! That's an accomplishment in and of itself! My review of the proposal (as with the other three adventure reviews) focuses primarily upon how the adventure fits into the Inner Sea region, and how interesting the adventure sounds as a whole. I'm going to present feedback with very little sugar-coating as well, since I've always held that frank and honest feedback is more valuable.

The Basics
Title: All four adventure titles avoided the "of the" construction! Excellent! This title is pretty good… although it's not super action packed, and it doesn't really tell us much about what the adventure's about.
Location: Ustalav! This is a fan favorite, and also a staff favorite. Which makes it tricky; like Varisia, it's a place we've detailed a LOT about, and it's a place that we have a few on-staff champions for. AKA: There's a lot more nit-picky elements and unspoken traps you'll have to navigate when developing the adventure. There's a lot of elements in this adventure (particularly the presence of fetchlings) that don't really fit into Ustalav, and that's a problem.
Plot: House under siege from another plane; neat plot idea, but there's a bit too much clutter and some plot elements are uncomfortably close with a very similar adventure we published recently for the Pathfinder Society.

The Good


1) I do like the horror-themed adventures.

2) The hand of night is a neat looking monster, and it's got some neat powers. But see #2 on the Not-so-goods below.

3) I like the basic plotline about a manor being besieged from beyond by denizens of the Plane of Shadow. Alas, there are a LOT of plot elements that get a bit too close to a previously published adventure we recently did; see #3 on the "Not so goods" below.

4) New Monster: The name "Tallow Worm" is a really cool name for a monster. Fey, though, are most commonly humanoid or plant like in shape… worms aren't classically fey creatures. If this adventure wins, I'd like to see the tallow worm be something like a magical beast, outsider, or aberration instead. Also, see #7 of the Not-so-goods.

5) I like the interplay of light versus darkness, with the lurker in light on one side of things and the Plane of Shadow on the other.

The Not-So-Good


1) The plane of shadow is a tricky place. It's not a "mirror universe." Things on the plane of shadow don't exactly match things on the Material Plane. The plane of shadow is its own realm, it's own reality. It's also kind of weird—it's "smaller" than this world. As such, a sprawling city in the Material Plane might just manifest as a mansion on the Plane of Shadow, while a sprawling mansion might just manfiest as a small building or single tower. This isn't a hard and fast rule, of course; there's plenty of room for interpretation.

2) I really don't like the name of the "Hand of Night" monster. It's not something that a race capable of having barons on the Plane of Shadow would call themselves. It's also a bit overdramatic and awkward. When more than one attack, are they Hands of Night or Hand of Nights or what? "Nighthand" would be a better name.

3) Plot similarities; several of the plot elements for this adventure strike me as being a bit too similar to the plot of the Pathfinder Society scenario, "The Penumbral Accords," which also features a building superimposed with the Plane of Shadow and interactions between Material Plane and Shadow Plane "families" and the trade of children to the other side of shadow. Whether or not this is intentional doesn't matter… if this adventure wins, we'll need to revise to steer away from these similarities, which could be super tricky. At the very least, I think I'd like to see the element of a mortal making a pact with a shadow creature go away… but that's a pretty key part of the adventure. It's tricky indeed.

4) Use what's established when you can… especially when it comes to towns. We've really detailed a lot of Ustalav, and there's a lot of existing towns to choose from. Introducing a new town to Ustalav is problematic as a result, because we just published an entire Adventure Path and book about the region. The opportunity to invent sizable new towns for Ustalav is more or less over as a result.

5) Fetchlings are not that well-known in Ustalav. In such a region filled with superstition and lots of monsters, a group of fetchlings showing up out of the blue would be a cause for alarm, not a mob lynching. They'd cause a lot of fear, and certainly have no established role in Ustalav anyway. There certainly isn't enough fetchlings living in Ustalav to form anything approaching a ghetto. In fact, I'm not sure there's that many fetchlings ANYWHERE in the Inner Sea region… and if there are, they're probably in or near Nidal (see #6, below).

6) Ustalav is a place where classic horrors can be found. Things like vampires and werewolves. Mad scientists and lovecraftian horrors. Ghosts and zombies. The plane of Shadow is very much an RPG-type construction; there's not a lot of "Classic" horror inspiration to cling to here. As a result… I'm honestly not all that sure that the Plane of Shadows really has much of a thematic leg to stand on in Ustalav. The nation of Nidal is pretty much our "Shadow touched nation," and the more I read this adventure proposal, the more I think that it would gain a LOT by being set in Nidal or northern Cheliax. Both regions are much less detailed than Ustalav, for one thing, which means that introducing a brand new town is less of a problem. It's also a lot more likely to have a fetchling ghetto than anywhere in Ustalav.

7) Tallow worm: the idea of a mind-controlling worm is hardly new. It's also not really something I see any fey creature doing… it's too icky. More like an aberration. In any event, the body-snatcher subplot seems out of place and at odds with the main plot of the adventure. Worse, linking the tallow worm so much to the lurker in light kind of goes against the established flavor for that creature. They seem weird and out of place and kinda unnecessary is what I'm saying.

8) A wraith doesn't seem like the right choice for this adventure as an assassin sent by the agents of the Plane of Shadow. A shadow feels like it would have been a much better choice.

9) This adventure lacks a strong compulsion for the PCs to care, especially if they just wandered into town. I'm not sure why the PCs would be compelled to protect Baron Stepan from Nicasor's shadowy forces, for example; if they think he's a bad guy (and since he's using lurkers in light as allies, he kind of IS a bad guy), why would they want to save him? The PCs need stronger motivation throughout the adventure. Making Baron Stepan a less smarmy/evil guy would be a good step, but then that makes the lurker in light's role a lot trickier.

10) Planar travel is tricky, and not really a good choice for low-level play. There's too many options for low-level characters to get stranded on other planes, or get in over their head. And making other planes feel low-powered so that they CAN serve as a good place for low-level adventures feels kind of like a cheat. I'd rather not have the PCs actually travel to the Plane of Shadow as a result; it'd be far more interesting if instead the Plane of Shadow came to THEM, infusing the house and changing it so that they have to explore a manor that has been altered and shifted. That, alas, implies powerful entities that wouldn't be appropriate for low-level parties to face.

11) We updated scarecrows in Bestiary 2; no need to use the Tome of Horrors version.

Final Thoughts
There's some interesting elements in this adventure, particularly the interplay between light and darkness and the idea of a manor house being under siege from another plane. But three major problems exist with this adventure proposal. The lesser of those is that this doesn't really feel like a 4th level adventure; it feels like it wants to be higher level, with all of the weird planar stuff going on. The middle is that, despite its horror overtones, it's not really appropriate an adventure to place in Ustalav… it can switch to Nidal, I think, relatively easily though.

But there's that relatively huge problem that there are a lot of elements in this adventure that are uncomfortably close to "The Penumbral Accords." I don't think you borrowed these plot elements from that adventure… I assume this is a case of parallel design. The fact remains, though, that the element about a noble family making bargains with entities from the Plane of Shadow involving their unborn offspring would have to go, and that would mean a pretty extensive revision of the adventure's background.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

Well Sam, this is it: round five. Reaching this point is an accomplishment in and of itself, and you should be proud to have made it this far regardless of the outcome. Win or lose, you’ll be writing an adventure for Paizo, be it this proposal or a future Pathfinder Society Scenario, so congratulations on that! Now let’s see what you’ve done with your final challenge of RPG Superstar 2011. As the developer who handles both the Pathfinder Society and Pathfinder Module lines, I’ll be looking at this from the perspective of the guy who has to fix your mistakes and turn the adventure from an A– to and A+ before it goes into edit and print.

Title: Grasping at something makes me think of futile attempts, in this case to defy the denizens of the Shadow Plane. It also gives me an instinctive reaction that the adventure doesn’t know what it’s doing. An adventure called “Grasping at Straws” would elicit a similar reaction, as would “Hoping for the Best” or another phrase that means the same thing. I don’t think this title would necessarily need to change, but I don’t think this will capture a lot of casual passers-by’s attention and make them check it out in their FLGS.

Location: Ustalav is a fan and staff favorite, so good job capitalizing on that. Now the other edge of the sword: we’ve done more development here than on most other places in the world, between a 64 page sourcebook, an Adventure Path, a Module, and a novel. That means there’s way more shoehorning that needs to be done to get something new in there, and way more fragile canon toes you have to be careful not to step on. In this case, there is no Karpad, so this either needs to be changed to an existing section of Ustalav where the backstory won’t clash with what’s already in print, or it needs to move out of Ustalav. Nidal seems like it’d be a good fit for all the Shadow Plane stuff.

Themes: A lot of what you have in the backstory of this is strangely similar to the recent Pathfinder Society Scenario “The Penumbral Accords.” In that, a noble family made a pact with a powerful organization on the Shadow Plane, promising their unborn children for future generations in return for a favor. While there are differences between the two adventures, there are far too many similarities for us to produce the adventure as written, so that would take a lot of work to reimagine it without those elements for publication. And that would have to happen before you write it, not after, as I want my development time spent improving the adventure, not rewriting it. So there’s extra work on the front end of this one. Not a dealbreaker, but certainly not ideal.

I do like the dark vs. light stuff going on here, and the lurker in light is a cool, relatively unused monster that plays in well with the Shadow Plane stuff, even if the changes above would necessitate altering how exactly it got involved in the first place.

The Plane of Shadow is a large thematic part of the new Pathfinder Tales novel Plague of Shadows, and while this adventure wouldn’t be coming out for a year after that novel’s release, we should be careful not to oversaturate the Shadow Plane stuff in too short a period, lest the audience tire of it. Again, not a dealbreaker, but something to keep in mind.

Encounters/Challenges: You have a decent spread of challenges and obstacles here, with fey, humanoid, outsider, and undead encounters. The new monster seems like his abilities are a bit out of the range of 4th-level PCs, but without stats I can’t really tell. Other than that, however, it seems like the encounters described would be fun and challenging for characters of 4th level, so good job with that.

Scope: Being set in a small barony is good for a low-level adventure, as the ramifications of the PCs’ actions aren’t very widespread, and they can be heroes without affecting the whole world or even the whole nation. In that regard, this proposal is dead-on as far as scope goes. Then the PCs head to the Plane of Shadow. Like full-on within the plane. Meaning if they leave the Other Manor (probably need to change that name, by the way), they’re in an environment that PCs of their level aren’t meant to adventure in. Planehopping is cool, and there’s something to be said for letting low-level PCs dip their toes in the deep end a little bit, but it’s way too large a part of this adventure as written. In that respect, the scope is too ambitious. Keep it in the Material Plane and all’s good; it would require significant but not overwhelming development to rearrange that part of the plot, but we’d be doing that some anyway to separate it from “Penumbral Accords,” so it might be easy to glom this change on with those.

Format: Pathfinder Modules now operate with a strict format of a standalone adventure, a new monster taking up 1 page, and a two-page spread of a modular location. You have presented an adventure with a clear candidate for both. The town of Karpad would be great for a short gazetteer, especially since a map of each building or details of what happens in the town over the course of the adventure wouldn’t force us to actually detail it in the adventure text. The tallow worm is an awesome name, and I really want to have that be the new monster, switching the hand of night to an existing race. But it doesn’t really work as a fey, so it’d need to be something else, but that’s an easy swap. I do fear they infringe a little bit on the intellect devourer’s schtick, but if they’re a low enough CR, it wouldn’t be too bad to have more than one parasitic mind-controller in the game.

Specifics: The idea of a ghetto in a small village is strange to me. Generally, a ghetto is a small, isolated community within a larger settlement. In this case, I don’t feel like the town is large enough to have a self-contained ghetto within it. They’d just run the strange folks out of town instead of constraining them to one neighborhood. The presence of fetchlings at all makes me want to move this to Nidal, as they aren’t really a part of Ustalav, and certainly not in numbers to justify a ghetto. That said, I do think this type of change to the location would be good for the adventure in more ways than this one, and would be relatively easy.

I would avoid mixing d’ziriaks with other Shadow Plane stuff, as they’re so weird and alien that they should probably be the focus of their own thing. I especially think that having them as slaves or prisoners of another race makes their first appearance in a Pathfinder adventure a little underwhelming; they deserve better cause they’re really awesome!

I think there’s some great potential here for a horror investigation, especially with the twist in the lurker in light being responsible for the abductions. Part of me would like to see that be the entire thrust of the adventure, leaving the Shadow Plane stuff as a red herring. I think with enough expansion, just discovering the lurker in light’s plot and tracking it down and killing it is enough to fill up a 32 page module, especially when you consider that social and investigative encounters can take up a lot more room than a simple combat encounter with a reference to a Bestiary statblock.

Final Thoughts: If this proposal were to win the contest, it would require a lot of pre-writing development, but hopefully not a lot of work after design. Some of the necessary changes would be easy and the others would most likely all work together to facilitate one big change that just rippled to fix the rest as its consequences become apparent. I think there’s definitely interest in the Plane of Shadow, and likely a market for a shadow-themed horror investigation adventure. Whether this adventure is it, or if the market is larger than for the other three proposals, I don’t know. We’ll all know in a week though!

Best of luck, Sam. I look forward to working with you in one form or another in the coming months.


Recommended for advancement.

What I see on the Shelf:

A Ravenloft adventure. That's not necessarily a bad thing, the Ravenloft material did quite well for TSR. It may be an underserved niche at the moment.

Illustrating this could be a challenge because we don't want to give away too much about the plot to those who see the cover. The Hand of Night is the obvious choice, and as described it could make a striking image.

The danger is that Ravenloft was niche. It didn't play to the mainstream who wanted dungeoncrawls and high adventure. The title of this submission reinforces the idea that this is neither - "grasping" doesn't inspire me to believe that the contents will reward success.

I'd say the shelf presence is going to be hit or miss, and the dependent factor is the artist's work not yours.

What's the GM load:

About right for 4th level PCs. Of the four submissions you did the best job of getting into the right level of scope & power level.

The town is small enough not to matter in the sense of the major events of the world - nobody else will really care if the baron lives or dies. The focus of the adventure is constrained as well - figure out what's going on in the town and stop it.

The PCs can ride up, do their thing, and ride off in good episodic fashion.

Will the players enjoy this scenario:

I think they're likely to do so.

There's plenty for everyone to do. The Thinkers have some puzzles to figure out. The character actors have some interesting NPCs to improv with. The Storytellers can unravel the backstory. And the Power Gamers get to knock heads. A lot.

What do I take away from this:

I get two pretty good monsters - the Hand of Night, and the Tallow Worms. Mother's Ward is meh.

I also get a campaign base if I want it. After finishing the adventure the PCs could be "local heroes". In fact, I could start the PCs at first level, slow down the pace of the abductions, and let them gain 4 levels in the immediate area while building the tension so that their transition from 4th to 5th level and beyond is integrated into the area. They'd get a place to rest and recover, potentially a keep to live in and defend, and the gateway to the shadow realms could also be a source of further adventures.


You gotta be careful when dealing with extraplanar stuff in an adventure—planetouched creatures like aasimar, tieflings, and fetchlings are rare enough that you almost never have a bunch of them living together out in the open, unless you have a very good lore precedent for it (frex, tieflings are rare-but-noticeably-present in Cheliax because of human-Hell liaisons over the past 70 years). Ustalav isn't really known for its strong connections to the Shadow Plane, it's more about traditional monsters (vampires, werewolves, flesh golems, and so on). So the idea of there being enough fetchlings in this valley town to fill a ghetto is jarring.

Everyone playing the game knows continual flame is a costly spell and having them all over the place would cost a lot—which means the players would suspect something weird is going on if this podunk town can afford to do that (of course, the tallow worms are doing it for free, but the PCs don't know that and would be on alert.

Planar adventures is a weird thing to introduce to a low-level adventure, especially an open-ended place like the Shadow Plane, where the PCs could end up anywhere.

The lurker in light is the major antagonist for most of the adventure, but you never give it a name in this proposal. That relegates it to the status of a generic monster, when it really should have a strong identity and goals during the adventure. I know you could put that info in the actual adventure, but the fact that you named Nicasor and not this creature is odd to me.

You set up the fetchlings to be a red herring for the PCs, and potential allies of the PCs. Having "sleeper agent" fetchlings working for Nicasor is going to make the players feel betrayed, like they can't ever trust NPCs to actually be allied, because they defended a group of people as innocent and then some of those people turn out to be bad guys anyway. I've seen it happen a lot.

You forgot to capitalize Bestiary 2 in one place. :(

The scarecrow "nanny" is jarring and silly. Why would Nicasor put this mindless construct in charge of guarding the infant, and why dress it in women's clothes?

To me, this adventure doesn't fit the level requirements or the country it's set in.

(Now having read James's comments, I agree this would be much better if set in Nidal and if the Shadow Plane took over the mansion instead of the PCs going to the Shadow Plane.)

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

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Welcome to the final round, Sam! It's been a pretty long journey and I hope you've had a lot of fun along the way. For the adventure proposals, I decided to break my commentary into two halves. The first assesses your pitch...meaning, how well you sold your ideas within the proposal itself. The second assesses your implied adventure and whether what you've presented here includes all the relevant pieces to hopefully make a great Pathfinder module. That's really the ultimate goal. And that's what the voters will select (i.e., the adventure they most want to see published so they can play it). So, with that in mind, let's get down to business...

Feedback for: Grasping at Shadows


The Pitch
Okay. This is the part where you need to sell your idea. You have to present all the relevant information to help us understand what you plan on writing if given the opportunity. And you need to make sure your proposal meets all the requirements according to the rules...i.e., just enough material so it will fit in a 32-page module, includes a new monster, has CR-appropriate encounters (and a villain) for 4th level PCs, etc. All of those prior rounds of the competition hopefully developed a sense of these things for well as any self-study you might have done by reviewing Paizo's other modules.

First, I have to say I'm not really sold on the title. It's not terrible, but I think it's kind of generic, even if thematically-appropriate. I agree with Mark that "Grasping at Shadows" comes across more like "Grasping at Straws" to me. I think it might have worked better if you'd made it "Grappling with Shadows" to get away from that, but still, even that title isn't as evocative or connected to your adventure's core concept as I'd like.

Setting that aside, I think you did an okay job on your presentation. Not great. But okay. You structured it well, and I do like how you get right down to telling us about your villain and explain what he is since you've based it around your new monster. It's pretty integral to your adventure. You've also given several adventure hooks to get the PCs involved. I like a lot of the backstory to what's transpired so far. I get that James and Mark immediately associated it with the premise behind the PFS scenario for "The Penumbral Accords" but I'd never have made that connection, as there's no way I'll ever be up to speed on all the PFS scenarios. It'd be like trying to keep track of all the published adventures in Dungeon magazine to ensure you didn't duplicate something with a proposal. Is it possible to do that? Yes. Is it reasonable to expect competitors in RPG Superstar (who may or may not be familiar with Pathfinder Society scenarios)? I'm not going to hold it against you. And, as James mentioned, I don't think you were influenced by it. It's just a case of parallel development, much like Matthew McGee faced with his adventure proposal last year and how it duplicated a lot of what "From Shore to Sea" entailed. One major difference here, as I see it, is the market audience for Pathfinder modules is decidedly wider and different than PFS scenarios. So, duplicating a recently released 32-page modue like "From Shore to Sea" is a bigger mis-step than duplicating something from a PFS scenario. There are plenty of Pathfinder players who don't play in Pathfinder Society games at all. And, with a 32-page adventure (and 20,000 words) without the encumbrance of having to provide tiered encounters and faction missions, you should have more than enough room to make your adventure different from "The Penumbral Accords" anyway (which gets only 12,000 words).

Thus, I'm going to assess your adventure proposal more from the perspective that it could be the quintessential Pathfinder module that explores elements of the Shadow Plane. Jim Groves started to touch on that last year with his adventure proposal and a lot of voters especially liked it and wanted to see such an adventure (especially since his was dealing with shadow-Absalom). In addition, I know Mark pointed out there might be an oversaturation of "shadow" themes of late, and he referred to the recent Pathfinder novel "A Plague of Shadows"...but, I actually think it's a good thing to synergize with that. I just read Howard's novel a few weeks ago and it provided some interesting looks at what the Shadow plane and various creatures from there might be like. And, your adventure could explore some of those things in more of a "game" fashion than a literary take. So, that's a bonus from my perspective.

Now, despite that, I do actually agree with James that you've overstepped a bit by expecting 4th level PCs to venture into the Shadow plane. I think it's far more reasonable to spin it around and have the Shadow plane start coming to them. I tried to play a bit on that in "Realm of the Fellnight Queen" with a demiplane that was part-Shadow and part-First World. So, I certainly think it's a useful mechanism upon which to base an adventure's premise.

I think this adventure has just enough room for a 32-page module. It's got equal parts investigation, combat, and roleplay. And the subject matter and plot are actually fairly interesting to me. There's some stuff that doesn't quite fit, but it's nothing that's locked down. For example, the fetchling ghetto can be tweaked. The location in Ustalav can be moved to Nidal. The involvement of the lurker-in-light can be played up. I think all of those things are appropriate and mutable enough that you can mold them according to a developer's guidance while still maintaining the core of what your adventure is about.

In terms of your new monsters (i.e., the hand of night and the tallow worm), I thought they were pretty cool. I agree the "hand of night" could use a better name. I like James' suggestion for "nighthand" and I agree that the tallow worms should be an aberration rather than a fey creature type. At the same time, I'm concerned that you've given us two new monsters and a couple of new magic items which will take up a fair amount of space in the appendix (and sidebars). If I were coaching you, I'd recommend cutting it back a bit to save some room. You'll be surprised how quickly you eat up word-count trying to include everything you've proposed for this adventure.

Even so, none of these items are deal-breakers for me, because when I get down to what your adventure is about, I think it has a lot more "oomph" going for it. And, by that, I mean entertainment value for the widest possible number of players and playing styles. I think Ryan makes several relevant points about the thinkers, power-gamers, roleplayers, etc. all having something to thoroughly enjoy in this adventure's plot, adversaries, and encounters. And that's not always an easy thing to devise. Unfortunately, several of the choices you made in how you presented your proposal and framed it (e.g., Ustalav vs. Nidal, the fetchling ghetto, etc.) kind of hold it back, but I'll get into that more below.

The Adventure
In my advice for RPG Superstar, I've written before about five key elements in adventure design that Erik Mona and James Jacobs once shared at a GenCon seminar on "Writing for Dungeon Magazine" and I think they'll be a useful mechanic in assessing what you've proposed. Basically, they include the following: a memorable villain whose goals are a legitimate threat; a unique and interesting set of locales that provide for cool maps and memorable encounters; a compelling and interesting plot wherein the villain's goals become something the PCs will want to oppose; some interesting and entertaining minions who have a credible reason for working with the villain and existing/encroaching upon the set of locales; and an interesting and worthwhile reward that the PCs (and their players) will cherish for the rest of their adventuring careers. If you can achieve high marks in as many of those areas as possible, you could have a real winner on your hands. So, let's see how you measure up:

The Villain - You've actually got 2-3 villains in this adventure. There's the hidden, redeemable "villain" in Stepan. The manipulative, deceiving villain with the lurker-in-light. And there's the penultimate villain in Nicasor. They've all got their reasons for doing what they're doing. And, the PCs are caught in the middle during the course of the adventure. I actually kind of like that level of complexity. I think there's enough in this interplay that you could also use it to further distinguish your adventure from "The Penumbral Accords" fairly easily. If you set this thing in Nidal, you could flip which villain with whom Stepan entered into his pact. For instance, if the lurker-in-light became the lead villain that wanted his child and he turned to the shadowy "hand of night" for assistance in protecting his Nidalese household, that alone might help this thing stand out more. Either way, all of these villains still have their role to play...and the PCs get to expose and oppose each one of them. And that has my interest, because these are all potent villains in their own right, each with his own agenda worth opposing. The important thing then becomes giving the PCs an appropriate ally or sponsor. And, because of the whole child abduction element, I think Stepan's wife makes the best candidate for that. And I really think she should be the jumping off point for the PCs' entry into the adventure. By having her request their aid in protecting her and her child, they're free to unmask Stepan's deal with the devil while also taking down the lurker-in-light and the hand-of-night. To me, that works...and it's compelling. But it's compelling because of the villains you've proposed. Not simply because I'm proposing they be reordered. That's what any developer might suggest.

The Locale(s) - You got this one wrong. Ustalav is not the place for this adventure. And that region is becoming pretty overdone now anyway. Far better to put your adventure in Nidal and help flesh out a region of Golarion that is very much tied to all things shadow. And, by doing so, that sets up the inclusion of your lurker-in-light as a much stronger (and effective) "villain" who can threaten the status quo. You could also set this adventure near Galt and the Vale of Shadows as described in the Pathfinder tale "A Plague of Shadows" infusing some elements of the shadow wizards into your backstory. So, you have options that you could work out with your developer. Lastly, aside from all this, I actually liked the proposal of an urban adventure incorporating some encounters in the town's ghetto (with fetchlings), a chandlery (very appropriate for the lurker-in-light), and ultimately the shadowy manor house (which would work well in Nidal without even having to make it so the Shadow plane is encroaching upon it). These site locations, when paired with your proposed adversaries, could make for some really memorable situations and combats.

The Plot - The plot is complicated, but necessarily so, given the tug-of-war between light and shadow, as well as Stepan's choice to mortgage his future child to set himself up for the crown to his kingdom. I like the inclusion of his wife as a source of good who presented Stepan with this child which softened his heart, causing him to risk Nicasor's wrath by reneging on their deal. I like how the fetchlings are set up as the fall-guys and turn out to be allies instead. I liked how the tallow worms are giving the lurker-in-light a way to exert its own influence (which could be all the more important if you introduced it in shadow-cloaked Nidal). And, most of all, I like the literary aspects and underlying story behind this adventure. It's got Arthurian overtones to it. There's a redemption angle with both Stepan and the falsely-accused fetchlings. These are good elements to draw in the PCs. They get a chance to learn the backstory because they're pushed to investigate what's happening. And meanwhile, one of their benefactors (Stepan) is incented to try and hide elements of that backstory while encouraging them to eliminate the one trying to collect on his debt. It's a fun story. I like how it plays out. I think it's a pretty strong element to your proposal and...even if it's been done before in "The Penumbral Accords"...I don't mind. I think you can tweak enough things to separate yourself from that and it'll be okay.

The Minions - I love the tallow worms as allies/tools of the lurker-in-light. I love the shadows, shadowgarms, fetchling spies, and gloomwings allied with Nicasor. And there's probably even room in there for giving Stepan an ally to keep an eye on the PCs and ensure they don't discover too much about his pact in the early going. All of these creatures fit the adventure. They're CR-appropriate. And many of them could provide some memorable fights and encounters for the PCs. Really well done here.

The Reward - I think the major pay-off here, if played right, would be the rescue of the abducted child and the queen...particularly if she's the one who asked for the PCs' aid. But, beyond that, you've introduced the book of night without moon, which I think is a very appropriate item to include in this adventure. And you've also included the mother's ward, which I could see the queen giving the PCs as a further reward. These items could become useful, cherished treasure that helps the PCs through many years of their adventuring days. So, I like it.

For the most part, I like this adventure and what it could become under the skilled guidance of the Paizo developers. I'm not as enamored with how you went about the that, your pitch suffered a bit from some of the design selections and choices you made. That said, it's still a pretty good "scoped" adventure for the level requirement you were given. And, your designer chops in delivering on that (as well as last round's Black Mirror encounter), tells me you just might have what it takes to take the prize this year and deliver a memorable adventure. But, you need to work on educating yourself further on what's appropriate when working with Golarion canon and avoiding the duplication of material that's already been published.

Given that, I think your adventure carries some of the best "oomph" in terms of what PCs (and their players) would get to actually experience in the course of your plotline. I think you've got a good eye for developing complex relationships, NPCs, villains, and adversaries. And, I think that a lot of the concerns raised by some of the other judges can be offset with some further guidance by your developer...and I'm pretty confident you'll respond well to all that.

So, in the end, I'm going to say that I DO RECOMMEND this adventure proposal for consideration as the ultimate winner of RPG Superstar 2011. But I'm going to do so by putting it alongside Jeralls's "Isgeri Blood and Orphans' Tears" as I think it has enough professional polish in terms of presentation that he's got the chops to deliver, too. And, like you, he might benefit from the guidance of his developers and turn his proposal into something pretty awesome. It'll be very interesting to see which adventure the voting public favors the most. And I wish you the very best luck in the outcome. However, no matter how things turn out, I'm certain you'll make the most of this experience and your opportunity to design something new for Paizo.

My sincere two cents,

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Along with Jerall's Isgeri Blood and Orphan's Tears, this proposal has my attention. It's a pity that the overall story background feels like a re-hash (promise baby, then don't give the baby) it still has all the elements of a plot that my PC would want to sink his teeth into.

Oh. A word on the tallow worms - I think they might make good proteans instead of fey, maybe?

Star Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This is my favorite proposal of this round. I like almost everything about it (and the things I don't like are minor nitpicks that have been pretty well covered).

The first thing that I really like is the image of a remote village lit up like the sun. I can imagine players reaching the valley at dusk and seeing this little town shining out at them. That to me is a very striking visual. It also gets players curious about the town right from the beginning.

The second thing I like is the Other Manor. There are a lot of really cool environmental obstacles going on there, and as a GM I would have a lot more fun with that than I would with a more straightforward "kill the monsters" encounter.

I think I'll probably be voting for this one. Good luck.

Barely a few paragraphs into set-up for this module and its near identical concept as the one present in "The Penumbral Accords" was glaringly evident. I could see this as a possible sequel to the said already published scenerio in Society play, but not as a Superstar module.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka John Benbo

Out of all of the pitches, I think this one would require the least work as far as overall structure. You nicely balanced encounters vs. investigation. The judges seemed concerned with the "Other Manor" being on another plane. That isn't a huge sticking point with me. Your the GM, and you have the power to suck them back to the material plan, GM fiat if you must. But it sounds like if this does get published, they'll tweak that part. No biggie. It follows the successful structure of Superstar modules in the past where it ends in a big dungeon crawl, but I like that too, and like Ryan says, it gives all types of gamers a chance to do their thing. I would like the last fight to be a litte more climatic like maybe on the roof of the house as it's being sucked away. Fights in cramped quarters suck, especially for the GM. It's easy to corner the villain, trip or grapple him and then everyone else hit him at once and he's done. It's funny about the name, because I actually think your encounter name, "The Black Mirror" would be a better title to this module as you have a mirror and it's what links one world to the next. Shadows are black as well. That being said, there is enough in this proposal to like and give me something to think about as far as voting.

You´re definitely getting my vote with this one, I was surprised how much I liked Jerall Toi´s Isger adventure (given I didn´t care for much of his work in earlier rounds), but this one just feels more balanced over-all in terms of RPG play. Most of the Judge´s criticism seems easily adjustable before going into print, and your body of work so far gives me strong confidence that you could make every aspect of this adventure shine.

Just to expand upon some of the criticisms I´ve seen so far:

James Jacobs wrote:
1) The plane of shadow is a tricky place. It's not a "mirror universe." Things on the plane of shadow don't exactly match things on the Material Plane.... It's also kind of weird—it's "smaller" than this world.

I´m not sure of the basis of this complaint... I don´t really see evidence that you didn´t understand this, or that your proposal contradicts cannon. For one, you didn´t make any size comparison between the Shadow Manor and the real-world one, so the Shadow Manor very well could be signifigantly smaller than the real-life one, not to mention the Shadow Manor may ´represent´ the entire Barony of Karpad, or even a larger region. (which might make the adventure an into into a later adventure exploring the nature of this larger region which overlaps with the Shadow Plane, again returning to the Shadow Manor in different circumstances... perhaps the longer history of the ´shadow mirror´ and how it came into the Baron´s hands could be explored, WHY Nicasor is so interested in the real-world analog the Shadow Manor, etc)

There was a good amount of criticism based on plot similarities to another PFS module... I´m not so sure that´s such a huge problem, as your story itself is very evocative, if anything the story is derivative of the CLASSIC folk-horror tale of a parent trading away their child to later regret that choice, and the ensuing struggle. That background flavor is why I can definitely see why you chose to place Karpad in Ustalav, since that sort of folk-horror seems especially appropriate placed there.

That said, I probably agree that it shouldn´t be place in Ustalav. James Jacobs suggested Nidal or near Nidal... I would aver that within Nidal proper is not the right choice, the Shadow Plane is just TOO MUCH part and parcel of how Nidal operates, while you need it to remain more mysteriously malevolent in this story. The Shadow Vale near Galt was suggested, which may be a good choice, or as James said NEAR Nidal could be interesting. I could see a Barony within Molthune, which could bring with it a background tention with the ´new regime´ (vs. old nobility). Fetchlings could be an under-class within Nidal, who somehow came to be forced to settle in the Baronny after the result of some abortive conflict between Nidalese forces and Molthune. That ties in with James´ comment on Jerall´s entry that this area of Golarion has hardly been touched yet, and as such is ripe for ´exploring´ (not to mention my bet is for the next as-yet-unannounced AP to be set in the Druma/Isger/Molthune/Nirmathas region given the strong presense of Dwarves in the region and that Torag is set to be profiled).

Really, I think the strongest solution is not looking for or inventing a locale where fetchlings are NORMAL, but integrating that into the story... A timeline of 10-15 years or so seems plausible to fit the entire ´taking over and consolidating Barony and having kids´ if you really wanted, and during this time fetchlings could have been sent into the Barony to somehow support the Baron´s take-over, etc. Thus they are recent arrivals, but MOSTLY haven´t had too much trouble until now, especially since the Baron made sure they were mostly well treated (since he, feeling he knew the whole story, felt they were obviously innocent, even if common people thought they were a little creepy).

The suggestion that a small town, capitol of a Baronny, could not support a small semi-excluded ´ethnic community´ / ghetto seems absurd to me, this can be compared to Hindu Untouchables, etc... Obviously, the word ´ghetto´ is more broadly used than the strict Medieval Italian/Central European sense of the word. Likewise, I was surprised that people criticised the fact that you dabbled in MORAL AMBIGUITY (the majority of fetchlings being innocents, while some are infiltrators), that´s exactly what I like in my gaming and I don´t want things dumbed down to avoid that type of thing.

The suitability of the Fey type to classify the Tallow Worms came up... Honestly, to me this feels like a Monster entry in a previous Superstar, though that flirted with the edges between Fey and Undead (a Fey creature that ´animated´ decomposing bodies, i.e. similar to Undead but without any Negative Energy, and no trapping of souls but just physcially hijacking corpses). I do definitely feel this can work as a ´borderline´ Fey monster, perhaps Shadow touched (typed) as well.

The Wraith assassin also makes perfect sense because it is the Wraith of his MURDERED BROTHER, back for revenge. This identity of the Wraith, which the Baron recognizes, is a strong motivator of the Baron´s response, and I think it´s a good touch. Nicasor (as Stepan´s double in some sense) would undoubtedly be well-aware of the power this could have, so going a bit out of his way to dig up some Necromantic magic to pull this off doesn´t seem unbelievable - he likely already has the brother´s remains, after all.

The issue of full-on planar travel at this level was brought up... I think if it´s a problem, shifting the Shadow Manor into a demi-plane, or ´overlapping´ the real-world and shadow world (as was done similarly for the 1st World in anther adventure) seems eminently do-able and not really disruptive to your over-all adventure. I actually LIKE how wierd races like dziriaks were brought in... This type of stuff seems perfect for fore-shadowing (ahem) future planar adventures which may or may not be directly related, but it gives a hook for the PCs to have some sense of recognition when they run into more planar madness, even if the context they first encountered some of these species wasn´t at all representative. It would have been interesting if you had shown how Fetchlings were existing in at least this part of the Shadow Plane, which could give more context into how they were being used when introduced into the Baronny originally (most of them being innocent, some infiltrators).

Mother´s Ward seems problematic IF you didn´t win and had to make a PFS module, it doesn´t really seem appropriate for that organized play setting, though in on-going ´home´ play with consistent adventuring partners it seems more useful and alot of parties would like that sort of thing.

Overall, in a final adventure, I´d expect more specific treatment of different options for the PCs, i.e. if they treat the Barron as culpable, or ´forgive´ him, etc. One more thing, I agree with John Bennett, ironically because I think the ´Graspoing at Shadows´ is the best name of the bunch, but ´The Black Mirror´ is just more SOLID and mysteriously evocative, while Grasping at Shadows just feels ´light weight´. The Black Mirror is something I could see becoming a multi-installment adventure arc over different levels.

Overall, great job, I can really see this being an awesome published adventure.


Quandary wrote:
Mother´s Ward seems problematic IF you didn´t win and had to make a PFS module, it doesn´t really seem appropriate for that organized play setting, though in on-going ´home´ play with consistent adventuring partners it seems more useful and alot of parties would like that sort of thing.

The module proposals from the runners-up aren't being turned into Pathfinder Society Scenarios, so this isn't an issue.

Ah, that makes sense as there`s no way to fit the same adventure in a PFS module...

If this does get published, there was one other thing I hope can be cleared up:

Bright light paralyzes the Other Manor, and it cannot use its powers anywhere the party can create sufficient illumination.

Given the earlier forshadowing with the Permanent Flame used to hold off Shadow-types, it seems pretty plausible that the PCs would already have on-going Light effects running... Which makes me worried that this core aspect of the Manor would just be shut down completely if they do so.

I`m not sure exactly how you intended this to work, but instead of `cancelling` the house`s manipulations, it simply turns off the Manor`s ability to update them `live`, forcing the Manor to `prepare` the next room, but making each room `static` (and/or weakening any effects already in place, but not removing them entirely?)

I also wanted to mention I liked how you left hooks suggesting ongoing developments, with the question of Nicasor/the Shadow Manor past dealings with the Barony letting the piece tie into larger plots, etc. Developing some of this, and Nicasor true interests in the Barony seems pretty important if the PCs actually try to negotiate with him... There may be other options he could accept, which would of course still advance his interests while perhaps saving the Barron`s son for the meantime.

I really like the depth of NPC profiles in this adventures.

Complex villain with redeeming features: Stepan.
Inhuman bargainer spider-like villain: Nicasor.


Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

I have to add that what's at play here is a pet peeve of mine in fairy tales: the guy makes a deal, gets the sugar, but isn't willing to pay the price. Stephan doesn't strike me as worthy of redemption. He should pay the price, one way or another. Nicasor is the victim here, and entirely justified in his actions.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Card Game, Companion, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

I really, really like this, per all of the above. Interesting "good" guy and "bad" guy (with very nuanced backstories), interesting adventure, everything. I'm afraid as a vote I really don't care all that much that it's similar to a Society scenario; some overlap is not all that bad, if you ask me.

One other thing:

The idea of a ghetto in a small village is strange to me. Generally, a ghetto is a small, isolated community within a larger settlement. In this case, I don’t feel like the town is large enough to have a self-contained ghetto within it. They’d just run the strange folks out of town instead of constraining them to one neighborhood.

You don't know too much about where the Roma live in central Europe, then; they often live in ghettoes even in very small towns, and even if they only number a few families. A ghetto can and will exist even in small villages, if the fear of "the other" is strong enough, but they can't simply be driven out. (And I assume Stepan wouldn't want riots in his barony, so he'd try to avoid having that happen.)

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

I'm pretty sure this is the one I'm voting for.

I don't personally care that it's similar to a Pathfinder Society Scenario somewhere - I wouldn't know that, and I'm a charter superscriber. The way I see it, given the number of Pathfinder Society Scenarios out there, ya gotta figure that eventually every module is going to end up similar to one of them unless it's uber high level.

On the other hand, this one is interesting, clever, and gives the party something specific to do without railroading them, and is not mondo over-the-top for the level. Plus, I can see this being a good fit regardless of the adventuring style of the party.

I like the backstory, and while, like all of the entries, it has its issues, I think the ones in this one are the most easily repairable without altering the fundamental nature of the entry.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

By the time I had reached the part about the PCs travelling into the shadow plane, I had totally forgotten who the villian of this adventure was. Really, there are two almost totally distinct adventures, and though they're both closely related they are very much not actually going to interact except in a few encounters during the transition. I don't like that. If I forget who the villian is, it better because he's deliberately hiding - not because someone else hogs the spotlight.

Basically, this looks like it could/should be two adventures. One climaxing when the PCs discover the lurker in light and stop him, the other climaxing with the battle against Nicastor. And I think this reflects in your writing. Everything is just too... sparse of detail here. If you cut the second half of the adventure off and left it as a promise for a later hook, you would have been able to more easily describe the lurker in light's machinations and the town and all the interesting things therein.

Basically, there are two incomplete adventures here, and though they could be interesting, right now they just aren't.

Hey Sam! Very excellent and creepy Ravenlofty feel to this one. Yet it is different enough that it could be placed somewhere other than Ustalav and still work.

I think that Quandary wrote an excellent breakdown on how this adventure could be made even better.

I agree that this proposal seemed like it ought to be at least two adventures. One as an introduction to the Barony of Karpad and provide some lower level intrigue culumnating in a fight with the lurker in light with minions as servants of the Barony haveing been taken over by the Tallow Worms.

I haven't made up my mind which proposal to vote for yet, but this one is at the top of my list. Given that this has to be made into a single adventure instead of a duology might put it out of the running for my top vote.

Star Voter Season 6

This is my favorite of the four. I may be partial to horror themed adventures, but I really love the mood you set. Very well done!

Overall I liked your entries better than the others, and I like the general idea of this adventure. You get my vote.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 6 aka raidou

Sam, of the four adventures, I feel that yours has the most easily identifiable theme and story: Guy's down in the dumps and makes a bargain with forces of darkness. Guy's life changes for the better. Guy refuses to pay up when forces of darkness come calling. Once the PCs are through with the adventure, they'll "get" what happened here. And I like that. The adventure makes sense.

This proposal also feels like it fills out your given space properly. Not just in the 32-page sense, but also in the various things your PCs will want to do: roleplay, fight stuff, explore, solve puzzles, and earn rewards. It's all there, and feels divided up pretty well.

What I'd want to see more of in this adventure is some better role for the fetchlings than constant victims. The "sleeper agent" aspect doesn't work for me. Maybe some fetchlings are being convinced by Nicasor to rise up against their human oppressors. I think I'd like to see a side-project for the PCs here, to smooth relations between fetchling and human... maybe as a stepping stone to figure out who the true villain(s) are.

Assuming the necessary adjustments can be made for location and overlap with the similar adventure, this is the adventure that I could best see preparing and running for my group. Sam, between your writeup here, and the outstanding work you did creating your Black Mirror map/encounter, you've got my vote for this year's Superstar.

Best of luck in this and all your future projects.

I agree with Eric, I think re-working the adventure to focus slightly more on the Fetchlings would be great, especially for this level of play. That could fit into my suggestion to work the Fetchlings` arrival more into the whole back-story of the Baron`s deal with Nicasor.

I think the current plot just barely fits into a single adventure, so doing so would probably mean cutting stuff... I think possibly cutting out the final confrontation with Nicasor (i.e. fighting Nicasor`s forces on the Material plane only, or at least a more limited part in the Manor, and not destroying the place), finding a `temporary solution` could work, possibly saving the Shadow Manor material and final confrontation with Nicasor for a follow on adventure at higher level - doesn`t hurt to think big, right?, and you might get TWO adventure gigs from Paizo from the same contest! ;-)

Anyhow, with all the nit-picking comments, I want to re-iterate that I think this adventure really demonstrates mastery of the whole enchilada, ON TOP of your previous great work. Great mix of story and open-ended possibilities, moral ambiguity, interesting combat and non-combat mix, etc. May you go far, son!

gbonehead wrote:

I'm pretty sure this is the one I'm voting for.

I don't personally care that it's similar to a Pathfinder Society Scenario somewhere - I wouldn't know that, and I'm a charter superscriber. The way I see it, given the number of Pathfinder Society Scenarios out there, ya gotta figure that eventually every module is going to end up similar to one of them unless it's uber high level.

I totally agree. I was getting worried, because I was underwhelmed by Orphan's Tears and Nihility, but this one is good. I agree with the "move it to Nidal" chorus. And like gbonehead, I could care less if it shares something with a PFS scenario - how many people actually play PFS, let alone play every one/have played that one? Heck, if someone really cares pull the PFS adventure, but I believe real products should ALWAYS take priority, and I NEVER want to not get a good Pathfinder module because of some similarity to the OrgPlay stuff.

It's complex, and the bad guys are all sympathetic to a degree, which is a big plus to me.

My one critique is that it starts off as 'the fetchlings are oppressed' and then I was really surprised when all the Nightdude's shock troops were fetchlings. Should have lynched the bastards in the first place I guess. I think it would be stronger if whoever was conspiring with him wasn't actually fetchlings but was just trying to frame them, potentially with primitive costuming.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 6

This is without question my favorite adventure: you got my vote!
Congratulations for the excellent proposal.
(Incidentally, I also really liked your Gentleman Knave villain in a previous round, actually so much that it started my interest in the whole RPG Superstar competition, which I had never followed closely before that).

I just have one comment/suggestion, if I may dare. I liked the fact that when the PCs meet Nicasor violence does not need to erupt, but he is willing to negotiate:

Sam Zeitlin wrote:

If the party tries to negotiate, Nicasor is reasonable, but ultimately demands either the child or the barony itself as the price for ending Stepan’s debt and its vendetta. A peaceful solution is unlikely, though a clever lie might lure Nicasor from his sanctuary.

I think, however, that another possibility should be presented: Nicasor should try to bribe the PCs offering them a powerful magic item (or some other enticing reward) if they agree to kill baron Stepan (and/or possibly bring him the child).

This would a be very interesting offer for an evil PC party, and maybe even for a particularly cynical neutral party: after all, at this point the PCs will have discovered that baron Stepan is not a good guy either, so they might consider killing him as a sort of retribution.
Moreover, murdering an unsuspecting Stepan is probably going to be much easier for the PCs than challenging Nicasor, which has clearly been presented as a very dangerous threat, so pragmatical PCs (a category which I am quite familiar with) might be very enthusiastic about this course of action.

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with Ernest Mueller and gbonehead: the adventure happening here is really cool, and though its playing on a storytelling convention (the faustian bargain), its doing so in a really interesting way with very compelling characters. It reminds me a bit of what Sam did with The Gentleman Knave and the Robin Hood trope.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
...the idea of there being enough fetchlings in this valley town to fill a ghetto is jarring.
Ernest Mueller wrote:
I think it would be stronger if whoever was conspiring with him wasn't actually fetchlings...

I did just want to touch on one aspect of the fetchling thing. Thinking about the scenario presented, Sam mentions that the baron rules for almost 10 years with the support, aid and protection of Nicasor. It doesn't seem all that strange to me that fetchlings would be attracted to a smaller town with a strong connection to the Shadow Plane, even if that town was out of the way or too small to normally support a minority ghetto. In fact, I think it's quite likely that Nicasor would have some direct connections to a few of the fetchlings, as he probably recruited a few of the planetouched to help keep up his end of the bargain. Naturally, when he turned on Stepan, he would use those connections as a part of his plans.

Don't know if that changes anyone's opinion, or is particularly useful, that's just how I interpreted the presence of the fetchlings in this proposal.

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

This is the second entry I have read: going in descending order based on names that capture my interest.

I enjoyed reading this entry and think you do a lot of things well. THer writing is much better, the monsters you create are sweet and I think the mother's ward is cool. I think the idea that the adventure takes place both in the house and the shadowy reflection of the house is awesome. Criticism that the adventure is too much like the PFS scenario just strikes me as bad timing. You adventure will be published a year from now - and a dozen PFS adventures from now. I don't think you deserve any more flak for that than an adventure with a creepy carnival, haunted house or Mwangi tribe.

I do think the adventure needs more - a third act, possibly returning home to ouster any hands of night or fetchlings that remain after being identified in the Shadow Plane. I think the idea of the fetchlings being scapegoats, and ultimately being a part of the bad team is dangerous: you run the risk of the little girl syndrome. Have a little girl be the bad guy one time and your PCs will never trust you again.

But the writing is good, the plot and presentation are good, and the idea of the shadowy house being one of your adversaries is jsut awesome. I do think the house should mute light spells rather than be defeated so easily - light is a cantrip. Making the house adventure smooth sailing requires no investment on the part of the PCs.

An impressive enough job tht not only would I consider this adventure for my shelf to yank out when I need a creepy 'other manor' type of feel, but I would be interested in other products stemming from your imagination.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9

Sold my 1st born child blah, blah, blah.
Plane of Shadow blah, blah, blah.

I'm sorry but too much of this seems too familiar to me, which makes it boring. Good luck, but i can't vote for this one.

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

Sam, I've really liked your entries this year, and your adventure proposal doesn't disappoint. I've read 3 of the 4 now and yours grabs me the most so far. That being said, I have to say that it's a strong proposal, but with some correctable flaws. Compared to the past three Superstar winning entries, I think yours isn't quite at the same level - a strong triple rather than a home run.

I really liked the overall plot and structure of the proposal. In particular, the bargain for the future child's life is a strong classical element for fantasy/fairy tale stories, and that makes this adventure resonate with good existing themes, rather than lots of cliched RPG adventures that often exist only to provide a dungeon to explore (i.e. stop the mad wizard from unleashing doom on the world!) As for the similarities to the PFS adventure, I think that's a non-issue. First, I play in PFS, but only 4-8 adventures a year, and Penumbral Accords isn't one of them. I think that most PFS players only play some, so not too many people would really make that connection. Second, by the time this adventure comes out in early 2012, the PFS adventure will be over a year old and no longer top of mind for people.

I also enjoyed the mix of investigation, lurking dread, combat, and social/moral dilemmas your proposal presents. Ryan is 100% correct spelling out that there's a great mix of things for all player types here. You also have enough different threats with 3 villains and the minions to really fill the 32 page module with lots to do, without seeming to have more than you can fit in 32 pages. This is one of the things I liked about your investigative element compared to Isgeri Blood and Orphan's Tears, is that you have a lot going on beyond the investigation, while that one seems too empty of other elements. I think the key is having the investigation lead to the adventure, rather than being the main focus of it. I'm reading the Haunting of Harrowstone now and see similar structures in how to use the investigation elements, which is a strong compliment to your proposal.

The lurker in the light is a great choice for 4th level PCs as a villain, and a really cool new monster that is due for a chance to shine (get it?). The other creatures and challenges are also pretty appropriate, but I am thinking that the wraith could be a bit much when encountered in close proximity to multiple shadows could be too much incorporeal for low level PCs. Adding some resources for them to find earlier in the adventure would be a good idea.

I also agree with some of the other comments that this would be better located in Nidal or somewhere other than Ustalav. Using the module to explore a more undeveloped corner of Golarion will make it stronger, as well as allowing the themes and shadow connection to fit better.

Good luck in the voting, I still have to decide who to vote for, but would certainly enjoy your module next year, should you win.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6

This is quite well done. I do find the title to be lacking, kind of makes me think of failure right off the bat. Beyond that it seems quite well thought out. I would gladly play or run this adventure. There does seem to be a lot going on here though, and you might be hard pressed to cram it all in to 32 pages. That said, your writing is beautiful, fluid, evocative and efficient and if you can maintain this standard or writing it will go a long way to fitting everything in.

I really like the atmosphere of fear you've managed to cultivate here, your imagery is excellent. While some may say this is a little too much for a 4th level adventure, I think it's just fine. Some tweeking of the size of the town and maybe the title (baron is rather prestigious), and this should be relatively easy to adjust to a 4th level feel.

It is very likely you will get my vote.

I don't think the adventure title is great, but I don't think it's horrible either.

I like the adventure. There is a lot going on and I like the false accusations being thrown at the fetchlings.

I like the tallow worms.

I think this will make a really good adventure that players will enjoy.

Regarding the similar PFS scenario: I've never played or read the scenario in question, but I don't see the similar products as being a problem. It is my perception that the Pathfinder Modules and PFS Scenarios cater to different subsets of gamers. The PFS scenario is a different line of product, and one that neither I nor, to my knowledge, anyone in my gaming groups are familiar with. So I don't see much of a "been there, done that" vibe with this. If the Grand Prize was to write a PFS scenario, then there would certainly be a problem. But as previously stated, the runners-up will be developing different stories for their PFS scenarios.

Add to that the fact that virtually every adventure published in the last 37 years is similar in SOME way to another previously told story. For example, the idea that someone would bargan away their future child for immediate gain is similar to the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale by the Brothers Grim. How many adventures feature PCs battling a Big Bad Evil Monster terrorizing a village? Isn't that essentially the same plot as the Beowulf story? On some level, everything is similar to an older story.

Of the four submissions, this was my favorite. This submission is also coming in on the heals of the Black Mirror, one of my favorites from last round. You have earned my vote. Good luck.

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

I may or may not have time for a more detailed response, but I suspect others have already said most of what I've got to say. Effusive praise, mostly.

Sam - you've been doing a great job from the start. Great ideas, great execution. I've given you my vote every round, usually as one of my top picks. You've demonstrated everything I look for in a Superstar - freshness, creativity, craft and sheer capability. You've got my vote, and I hope you get the title.

All the best :)

Ask A RPGSupersuccubus provides the much needed viewpoint of a CE aligned (very advanced) succubus. The following review pays assiduous attention to fairness, balance, and logic. That said, these are Abyssal notions of those concepts, wheretofore today ‘fairness’ is an installation commonly employed by someone with an over-the-top posh accent for smelting metals or toasting lightly flammable enemies, ‘balance’ is a small blue furry creature with a penchant for snacking upon ninjas, and logic is a special form of magic which irrefutably proves a succubus is always right.

For the purpose of reviewing this proposal, I shall consider the quartet of adventurous succubi Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia and Daria to be in the area. Whilst it is at least unwise (if not outright foolish) to take any succubus for granted, I am sufficiently familiar with the four of them to be certain of their likely general reactions to any circumstance detailed here. As a matter of good manners, here are a few details regarding the four:

Anthea is an inquisitor who loosely associates with the church of Gorum. She enjoys uncovering the truth ‘by any and all means necessary’ – and the public exposure of the trivial little secrets that mortals keep from one another is often (at the very least) good for causing a punch up. She is fond of spiked armour and (by succubus standards) is relatively enthusiastic when it comes to physical brawling.

Byrria is a lady ‘archeologist’ – she dislikes to use the term ‘tomb-robber’ to describe herself except when there happens to be a cleric of Asmodeus in the vicinity whom a whiff of anything remotely illegal is guaranteed to successfully wind-up. The cultures of some mortals whereby the deceased are buried with extraordinarily valuable and nice looking objects is something which she’s never quite understood the mentality behind, but which she nonetheless appreciates tremendously – since she loves to acquire such objects and it’s often less fuss and easier to remove them from ‘archeological sites’ than from a palace patrolled and supervised by living guards.
Byrria is a fan of the demon lords Aldinach and Areshkagal.

Cynthia is a wizardess. She’s interested in unlocking the secrets of the universe to gain vast personal power, and is more than happy to share what she’s learned thus far with anyone foolish enough to suggest ‘there’s no such thing as a wizardess; only a female wizard’. (Generally such ‘sharings’ tend to involve evocation spells of a highly destructive nature, or the summoning of large heavy metal objects in the vicinity of ten feet above the wit in question’s head.)
Owing to a misunderstanding during a recent escapade when she was dealing with some daemons whom absolutely no-one was going to miss (not even their nominal masters back in Abaddon) Cynthia has acquired a paladin of Erastil familiar (Also Known As a ‘husband’). She generally leaves her familiar at home, moping around his estates in Brevoy, but the empathic link does occasionally bother her. However he is too Lawful and she is too proud for either of them to take well to suggestions (whether helpful or otherwise) that their union might in any way have been a Mistake.
When it comes to religion, Cynthia is fascinated by the deity Nethys in his destructive aspect.

Daria is a bard. She loves being an object of rapturous mortal adoration, the bigger the crowd and the acclaim the better. A passable performer on the mandolin and with a good singing voice, she admires the goddess Shelyn as a patron of the arts. She considers herself a true devotee of Shelyn, although given the steps that she’s prepared to take at times to ensure an audience, most worshipers and clerics of Shelyn would beg to differ on that point. Daria is aware of that but waves aside such opinions as ‘the artistic jealousies of lesser performers’. She is happy to do what she considers a ‘favour’ for the church of Shelyn any time she perceives that one may need doing (and often irrespective of whether such a favour was even asked of her in the first place).

Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria are either in or travelling through the area for the purpose of shopping expedition. How likely are the initial events presented to interest them and if not sufficiently enticing what might it take to engage their involvement?
Well a good lynching of someone who doesn't matter anything at all to you is always tremendous entertainment for a succubus to sit back and watch. A bad lynching however is really rather trying and wearying on the spirit. How professional are these citizens when it comes to lynching people? It seems likely to me that they're enthusiastic but completely rank amateurs. And whilst Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria might be prepared to let a sloppy lynching pass, Anthea will get sufficiently annoyed to step in and lend some inquisitorial experience. Now the initial targets of the mob may not survive the experience, but Anthea is very thorough when it comes to interrogations, and by the end she will be certain that the targets of the mob were not guilty of the crimes of which they were accused, and that nobody they knew (to the best of their knowledge) was responsible for the disappearances. At this point given the general situation in the Karpad, it will be obvious that something suspicious is going on and Anthea (seeing the opportunities presented for rooting out dirty secrets) will encourage her friends to assist her in rooting out the truth.
Of course: In the event that the locals are competent lynchers, Anthea won't step in, and the succubi will politely applaud (or whatever seems socially appropriate) then go on their way.

So just what is likely to happen once four succubi do get involved?
Well first of all - just to be thorough - Anthea will go through the fetchling community in an inquisitorial campaign of terror, just to make certain that the rumours aren't correct (and providing time and cover whilst Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria research other possible lines of enquiry such as these 'mages' who are so wonderful at lighting the town up). It will become obvious fairly quickly to the four of them that the baron is an amateur manipulator and the immediate (local) controller of events. Given some of the odd happenings and the four's pooled planar, bardic, and arcane lore tallow-worms will be on the short-list of likely originators of all the lights around town.
Working out what motivates the baron (and whether it matters or not) is likely to prove difficult without a direct confrontation. The baron exists in a bubble of information and social controls out of which very little information is indicated as flowing out to the community. In the absence of any servants commuting from the manor to town, who could be good for gossip, the succubi's endgame for once they've finished with the fetchling community is to move on the tallow-thralls, expose the tallow-worms infesting the victims, and pull the confused stories of tallow thralls who who've been freed, what the lurker says about 'being under the baron's protection' and any circumstantial evidence together to lead a mob to storm the manor and deal with the baron. What happens to his wife or son is irrelevant to the succubi. They've sorted out what was afflicting the community (albeit with casualties along the way) and removed the immediate local originator (plus the lurker in light if it's stupid enough to hang around) and 'why he was doing it?' isn't likely to bother them very much. He was just a crazy mortal doing the crazy inexplicable things that mortals do. I mean some of them are stupid enough to make pacts with devils or daemons, for Orcus' sake...

What about the aftermath?
If the baron's son wasn't a casualty of the manor-storming, at some point Nicansor will if possible presumably abduct him, although given the popular overthrow of the recent baron, his prospects as an heir to any kind of estate are distinctly limited. If the manor gets burned to the ground (angry mobs tend to love a good fire) the mirror may well be destroyed in the collapsing house though.

Predicted Extraneous Body Count:
Numerous fetchlings during Anthea's investigations (the mood of the region is amenable to brutality, so she's unlikely to use gentler interrogation techniques), plus the baron and any incidental casualties incurred when an angry mob storms the manor. Nicansor's immediate plans for installing a puppet ruler are likely to have been curtailed one way or another though (even if unintentionally).

Further Disclaimer:
Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (out of deference to Lord Orcus) would like to once again remind voters that she has been providing a (very advanced) succubus’ take on this round’s entries, and that whilst her assessments are (naturally) impeccable, voters might like to consider other opinions and sources, too.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

Hmm, this ones quite hard for me to decide upon.

It certainly is a good proposal and I can picture myself having fun DMing or playing it, BUT, this has been done before, actually several times.

The adventure hook (sold my firstborn) is super cliche and the thing with the shadows reeks of the Shadowbeasts in Bastards of Erebus.

However of all the proposals this is the one that I feel I could run as written the most as there is the right mix of drama, hack'n'slay and roleplay and the villain is memorable and will give the PCs a run for their money.


I rather like this one, and the involvement of the Shadow Plane here is such that it can fit well within the length of the adventure. Using the planes often seems to work better for longer adventures, or higher level ones, but here I think it fits the adventure framework well despite being lower level.

The one thing I might see needing some development is precisely how to handle the fetchlings. The 'oppressed minority' versus the others functioning as shock troops was a bit off for me. How common fetchlings are going to be in the Material plane is also something to take into consideration (rather uncommon, but they don't all necessarily look too dramatically different from normal humans, it might sometimes be a bit more subtle, so how oppressed they might be might be open to question).

As for the suggestion to move it to Nidal. I'll have to side with this option actually. It also makes it more easy to see how you could have a decent number of fetchlings arise locally rather than being migrants from Shadow directly, though there could be both.

But I like this one best in terms of both how much the plot hook snags my attention, and also in how well said plot hook works within the overall constraints of expected PC level and page length.

RPG Superstar 2011 aka Ignotus

So, I figure I should write my response on this thread now, before the winner of the voting is revealed and I am either elated or disgruntled. As usual, I'll try to address what I see as the main lines of criticism; my apologies for anything I miss or skip.

Thing the first: the name.

The name, the name, the name. I am usually pretty good at naming things. And I have an ironclad rule: a project should have a name before it's 30% complete or so, otherwise you'll never find an appropriate name. "Grasping at Shadows" was picked about five minutes before I submitted, after two hours of serious deliberation and a week of stressing over this. So what happened? The answer is that I had a great title that I couldn't use. Actually, I had two.

As some people noticed, this adventure contains a black mirror, and "The Black Mirror" would be an appropriate title for the adventure. In fact, when I was spitballing adventure ideas at the very beginning of the contest, "Beyond the Black Mirror" was a prospective title, because I loved the image of walking through a looking-glass that reflected another, darker reality. By the time Round 4 rolled around, I had settled on another idea for my adventure (a mid-to-high level thing called "Slaves of the Sooth Stone" - I can post the teaser blurb if anyone is curious), so I didn't feel bad plundering the phrase "Black Mirror" for my giant tar pit. When I needed a new adventure idea, I bought a copy of bestiary 2 and spent the weekend reading it. I noticed a large number of cool shadow-related monsters clustered around CR 2-4, and things started germinating. When I needed a focal point for the connection to shadow, the black mirror was too cool an image to pass up. I seriously considered giving my adventure the identical title to my location, but in the end I decided that would be too ballsy a move for too little payoff. Besides, I had a second awesome title: Night's Black Agents, which comes from Macbeth. Unfortunately, as I discovered while doing some googling later, RPG legend Ken Hite has a game with that title coming out from Pelgrane Press this year. So that left me scrambling to find a title at the end of the creative process. I have dozens written down - "in the jaws of night," "swords against shadow," "tenebrous bonds," "out, out, brief candle" - but in the end I felt like grasping at shadows, though not very heroic, captured the paranoia of the first act and the shadows of the second. But it wasn't that perfect fit I'd been hoping for, and it sounds like it didn't resonate well with you guys either.

Thing the second: setting.

On my first pass through the inner sea guide, I kind of dismissed Nidal as a country that PCs would never willingly go to, which was a mistake in retrospect. Genre-wise, I thought that the dividing line was that Nidal was for Cthulhu-esque stories, and Ustalav was for Ravenloft-y ones. Since Grasping at Shadows has a very comprehensible villain and a folk horror-y feel, I went with Ustalav. The complaint that Ustalav is for "classic" horrors and not RPG creations makes sense, and is a good reason to look at moving this elsewhere. The world continuity issues with the fetchling population are also reasonable ones. I originally had a sentence about how fetchlings had gravitated to Karpad over the past decade because the baron's deal with shadow meant that they were tolerated there, but if fetchlings are just extremely rare in Ustalav, that might not be sufficient. I kind of like the idea of setting it near, but not actually in, Nidal.

Thing the third: the Penumbral Accords. I haven't read this adventure, or even the summary (well, I read the summary after the judges' commentary came out). It's unfortunate that there was apparently a lot of crossover. I don't have an immediate solution for rewriting the plot to distinguish it better, though there are a number of possibilites. If this adventure is chosen by the voters, that's something I would have to discuss with the developer.

Other stuff:

When I made the tallow worms fey, I was envisioning them being like the many other insectoid fey creatures (e.g. grigs), specifically grub-men with horrid little faces. If that's too distressing then they could become aberrations.

I grew up on Planescape, so I have a tendency to let the PCs on to the planes a little earlier than most GMs. I like the contrast between the planes as a terrifying place for low-level PCs who can't travel between them under their own power vs. the planes as unknown worlds that suddenly open up to higher level ones, and I think there's a place for both kinds of adventures. I also noticed that most of the creatures native to the plane of shadow (the non-nightshade ones, at any rate) are in the CR 3-5 range. To me, this says that this is the appropriate level for the PCs to engage with them. I also worry that if it was just the plane of shadow taking over the house, that the PCs would simply burn the house down - that's what my players would do, at any rate. So planehopping is an element of the adventure I think I'd stick up for (though obviously if it has to go, it has to go).

Quandry and Lukas Klausner say what I would have about the possibility of a ghetto even in a fairly small community.

The question of the fetchling backstab is an interesting one. Fetchlings aren't an ideological group, they're a race. As such, there are good and evil members who deserve to be judged individually, and I feel like it's important to show that. Still, I don't want the PCs to feel like they defended the fetchlings for nothing. So, first off, the fetchlings they save from lynching would have names and personalities, and will be staunch allies if rescued - they would be the ones who would help the PCs find the fetchlings working for Nicasor, and the PCs wouldn't feel bad about defending them. Another way to defuse the "g!$%~$n it, the fetchlings were evil all along!" would be to have Nicasor's fetchling servants be unwilling - for instance, he might have their families hostage in his dungeon (the fetchling prisoners could replace the d'ziriaks).

This whole contest has been a great experience. The judges, the other contestants, and the messageboard community have all been awesome, and I've learned a ton about game design from each. Thanks to everyone who posted encouragement, critique, and analysis on this thread, and thanks especially to everyone who voted for me :p

It's going to be a long 23 hours until the final reveal.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka John Benbo

Sam, this was great work. Even though I voted for Sean's, I thought this one was the most solidly developed proposal. If it wins, I'm definitely picking it up when it comes out next year. I had fun competing with you this year as you and I kept swapping places in the unofficial exit polls for rounds 2 and 3 and you always came out on top, deservedly so :).

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

Hey Sam,

Nice work. When I read it, I really liked the consistency of theme (light/shadow/darkness). I also liked how you actually made the lurker in light, a real part of the plot. It's such a weird monster but it fits very nicely into the adventure. I found the plot a little rocky in places: the lurker in light in light appears very conveniently, what happens if they hate/kill the baron? etc. But overall, I think it can flow quite nicely. It a good mix of things to do and it feels like 32 pages of adventure.

I like that low level PCs get a small taste of the Shadow plane, I’m assuming that it will be hard/impossible for them to exit the ‘Other Manor’ and explore more of the plane. The most unlucky thing was the Penumbral Accords, but this isn’t the first ‘shadow adventure’ and it won’t be the last. Good luck in the voting.

Now that the result is known, I'd just like to add I'm not clear why (given the aopparent ease with which a servant can dispose of it) the baron didn't smash the mirror the moment he decided the deal has gone south in the first place, instead of messing around with fey? However, I will take the liberty of guessing that that will be dealt with in the 'final' version...
Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria send their love. They enjoyed the storm-the-manor-with-a-mob-and-burn-it-to-the-ground moment your proposal afforded them... ;)
And watch those shadows. No, not those ones, the other ones. Too late. Oh dear.

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

Congrats, Sam. You didn't have my vote, but you were my No. 2 by a pretty close margin. I was just fascinated with the Asmodean Church dealings in "Isgeri Blood."

Some nice alternate names there -- I like "Beyond the Black Mirror" a lot -- though "The Midnight Mirror" also has a nice ring to it.

Hey, Congratulations RPG Superstar 2010!
I felt you would make it to the final round thru-out the contest, so was pleasantly unsurprised to see you win it all!

Interesting name change it has now, I personally think Black Mirror has a classic imposing solidness,
and for the fraction of the audience who may know that title was also used for the mana waste encounter,
that sort of ´secret background info´ is just something that amps up the interest even more... But what do I know! ;-)

I do hope you can keep the same flavor, pacing, and tension even though it is now set in Nidal... I worry that some of what you achieved will be lost since every PC will EXPECT Shadow Plane dealings when they are in Nidal, it hardly seems something to cover up in the same sense. ...But I´m sure I´ll be delighted with however you bring the adventure to fruition!

Can´t wait to see the final product... And best of luck in all your RPG endeavors from here on out!

Shadow Lodge

Well done, Looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

congrats man. I'll be looking forward to the release!

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

Sam, I've got a question. Were the changes in title and location decided by Paizo, or did they contact you once the voting was closed and worked on those changes mutually before the big announcement? If you can't answer and someone from Paizo wants to, that works too.


Joel Flank wrote:
Sam, I've got a question. Were the changes in title and location decided by Paizo, or did they contact you once the voting was closed and worked on those changes mutually before the big announcement? If you can't answer and someone from Paizo wants to, that works too.

Sam found out he was the winner at the same time everyone else did. As we normally put up a placeholder product page when we announce the winning proposal, we had to make those changes before it posted--otherwise the product we announced wouldn't be the product we planned to publish. And we couldn't tell same before the announcement because he'd know he was the winner.

(That's a lot of p-words in that paragraph!)

I'm sure Sam was not particularly surprised about the title or location change, as several of the judges mentioned/suggested it.

Okay, let's do this 'properly' by the lights of a CE aligned (very advanced) succubus...
Dear Sam Zeitlin,
Congratulations on making it to the top one of this year's RPGSuperstar contest. Unfortunately there is no 'top zero' (or at least not which is publicly admitted to by Paizo) for you to further advance to, so - despite the voters' expressed appreciation for your presentation - you are for now stuck here, with having to write that darned module that you've just promised.
Looking back over your presentations in earlier rounds of this year's contest, I see that you showed us a book with charcoal drawings and (if regarded in a certain light) a slightly risqué name, an annoying monk, a fifth columnist who cuts a delightful dash on the national stage, and a site a long way from any (at least halfway decent) grocery supplier but nonetheless perfectly set up to be ruthlessly monopolised for economic purposes by any succubus inclined to show up in person to make an 'overt hostile takeover bid'.
Where does all this get you? Well it gets you to a lot of stress and bother, but indentured servitude does that for you. I guess, however, you wouldn't have applied in the first place if you weren't happy to be told by the likes of SKR and Yoda8myhead 'well the adventure's fine, but we're going to move the country it's set in - and oh, by the way, we're changing the name of it too...' ;)
Hoping that you have found my posts throughout this contest Particularly Helpful, and oh - good luck with the job you've got coming now.


Ask A RPGSupersuccubus.

Scarab Sages

Sam Zeitlin wrote:

Grasping at Shadows

Night itself has been banished from the valley of Karpad, by edict of its baron. Mystic flames keep out the darkness, but fear remains. For a decade, neither man nor monster troubled Karpad’s peace. Now, a broken promise and an unspeakable debt have turned the very shadows against the valley and its lord. With townsfolk disappearing one by one, can the heroes protect the people of Karpad from otherworldly vengeance?

Grasping at Shadows is a horror-tinged Pathfinder adventure for 4th-level characters, which will bring them to 5th level. This urban- and dungeon-based adventure will see the heroes pursue an insidious kidnapper, uncover the secret of a noble family, and confront the horrors of the mysterious Shadow Plane.

Adventure Background

Stepan Boroi , the ambitious third son of a minor baron in Ustalav, was not content to see his eldest brother inherit the family lands. Amidst the detritus of generations that fill the crumbling Boroi manor, Stepan discovered an ancient looking glass, acquired centuries ago by an ancestor of sinister repute. Instead of reflecting the Boroi manor, the glass revealed the Other Manor, the house as it exists on the Shadow Plane. And where Stepan’s reflection should have been, there was instead a dark figure, taller than a man, with eyes like distant stars. This was Nicasor, baron of the Other Manor, a hand of night.

Hand of Night:
** spoiler omitted **[/ooc]

Stepan and...


I voted for this, and now am getting ready to run it for my group! Ah, closure...

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