Artisans of Obscura

Round 2: Create a new organization

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Teth Evik

Artisans of Obscura
Alignment: CN
Headquarters: Kaer Maga, Varisia
Leader: Mentor Jito
Structure: Artisan’s guild
Scope: Regional
Resources: Extensive network of agents, deep catalogs of sensitive information, and Mentor Jito’s portfolio of secrets Golarion believes lost
Memories and facts become clay when Artisans of Obscura sculpt carefully negotiated Variations to suit their patrons. A Variation overturns the patron’s verdict with miraculous new evidence, assures brigands a caravan is not a trap set by the patron’s guards, or keeps a monarch alive in the eyes of the people while the patron readies for succession. Bristling at words like, “lies,” “intimidation,” and “tricks,” the eccentrically attired Artisans prefer “crafted phrases,” “calculated persuasions,” and “evocative performances.” All commissions are secret, priced by duration and risk, and the only way to guarantee not being used in another patron’s Variation.
Structure and Leadership
As their founder and public face, Mentor Jito assigns Artisans of Obscura and their perpetually hooded Apprentices to patrons eager to negotiate a Variation. Artisans train three Apprentices concurrently in the composition of Variations, and guild rules forbid employing magic of any kind during their five year Apprenticeship. Artisans’ methods are without restriction. Artisans consider controversy amongst themselves unseemly, and abrupt final resolutions are the usual result.
All Artisans strive for perfection of their Variations, and though their methods are subtle, they need not be gentle. The essence of their muse is the protection of secrets with flawless concealment. Privately, Artisans keep the best secrets for themselves. Artisans record and submit all details of their work back to Kaer Maga and compete with each other for the honorific Most Sublime.
Public Perception
Artisans of Obscura cultivate good relations throughout Avistan. The greater populace notices little of them besides their eccentricity and garish finery, while nobles and the wealthy pass sparse whispers between themselves. No records or complaints against the Artisans of Obscura linger long.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Welcome to RPG Superstar, Joshua. The contest takes a new spin at this level. As judges we're here to comment on your work both in the hopes of guiding you in honing your game design skills and also to help the voting public assess how you measure up. With that in mind, I'm going to talk a bit about what you did well and where I think you still need to demonstrate growth. So, let's see what we've got...

First, I like that you chose Kaer Maga for your organization's headquarters. It's a popular creation in Paizo's campaign setting and there's a lot of interest in seeing more developed there by a lot of Paizo's fans. I also like that you've defined it as an extensive network of agents. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure how extensive. Varisia is considered a frontier region, not exactly connected to the greatest power centers of the Inner Sea. So, the machinations of the Artisans of Obscura feel somewhat ill-defined in this write-up. I'd like to know more about where they operate, what kind of secrets they're guarding, which ones they share, etc.

Unfortunately, you've written in what I like to call "glittering generalities." They're tantalizing, but they don't lead the reader anywhere meaningful. For instance, I really don't understand what you mean by Variations. And, your first introduction of them initially made me think you had a typo by accidentally capitalizing the word. Without any definition around it, I'm kind of lost by what you mean. You also use a lot quotes around words like "crafted phrases," "calculated persuasions," and "evocative performances"...intimating that they're really just lies, intimidation, and tricks. But those are all general terms. As a reader, I want some specifics. Give me some examples. Relate it to some of the areas in which the Artisans operate and tell me how they carry out such activities.

Personally, I think you went a little too timid with this write-up. You left 87 words on the table, which you could have used to round out your submission with more interesting stuff. So, I don't feel like you stretched yourself here. You had room to spare which you could have used to give us a more compelling, dynamic organization that would inspire us to go out and immediately use it in our campaigns. But, as-written, it doesn't seem particularly different than any other secret society. And I think there are more compelling ones already in the Inner Sea World Guide, many of which are tied to Norgorber, the god of secrets. And yet, your Artisans of Obscura don't mention any kind of connection to him or rivalry with his priests at all.

So, unfortunately, I DO NOT RECOMMEND that this organization carry you through to the next round.

The other judges may feel differently. And the voting public may ultimately vote you through anyway on the strength and appreciation for your charlatan gloves. I certainly wish you the best of luck in the exit polls. And, if you make it through, I'll see you on the other side. Just make sure you bring the awesome and dial it up a few more notches. We need to see a greater level of creativity from you...and we need to see that portrayed in your writing.

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Joshua, welcome to Round 2!

What you are getting from me in this critique: This round is all about conflict and story. I think the best organizations create interesting and compelling groups that will come into conflict with the PCs. My comments, and my recommendation, will focus on how well you do that. My comments will also focus on writing and use of your allotted content in achieving your goals. What you won't get from me: I don't have the total Golarion-fu that Neil and Sean do, so I will leave to them whether you got the nitty gritty details of some of the setting stuff to them (though apparently I did have enough Golarion-fu to know its Pharasmin not Pharasmian, you know who you are).

So here we go!

Initial Impression: This organization is so secret and obscure, I don’t really even understand it.

Concept (name, title, is it an organization?, overall design choices, is the organization and antagonist and does it create direct conflict for the PCs?, playability): C
The Good: I’ll give you this—you can turn a phrase. The name of the organization is titillatingly obscure and evocative. Fabulous name, initially. I like that you went for something subtle—an artisan guild (though what, exactly these “Variations” are that they craft is unclear).
The Not So Good: The problem is, it seems your entire entry stays in that same vein—titillatingly evocative and never explained. Neil used a phrase “glittering generalities,” and I think that is well said. I also don’t think there is good conflict here. The urgent conflict just is not there for me. Much like the monster that never comes out of its lair, this is a group that stays secret and has no direct interactions that seem to conflict with the PCs. I think that is a big flaw in this submission.

Execution (quality of writing, hook, theme, organization, use of proper format, quality of mandatory content, did you milk your idea for all it was worth? did you use your allotted space well?): C-
The Good: To use Neil’s phrase “glittering generalities” again, you can’t have that without glitter and your generalities sure do glitter. Your writing is very, very evocative. I enjoy reading your writing, even if I find the content wanting. I don’t know what it is, but your writing has a lyrical quality to it. That is a gift you have, my friend. I can’t remember ever before commenting on someone’s writing when I was at the same time critiquing his or her content. You have a voice.
The Not So Good: The problem, though, is that there is no depth to it—it’s all glitter. My guess is that you fell prey to the short time frame to develop this and your idea, while interesting, just didn’t have time to bake all the way. There is little to grab us or even know about Mentor Jito. There is no reference to any compelling locations, which is particularly vexing since this is a regional organization. And in the end the lack of clarity of what is even going on with this group really does this submission in, unfortunately.

Tilt (did it grab me?, is it unique and cool?, do I like it?, flavor, are you showing Superstar mojo?): C
The name grabbed me, but after reading sentence after sentence and still not understanding…you lost me. I do think that a secrecy based group of artisans is, at its heart, a neat core idea. I just think that for whatever reason you never developed this idea past that stage. Sorry, Joshua.

Overall: C

A surprisingly well written entry that has little depth to it and a cool core idea that simply never moves beyond the idea stage.

Recommendation: I DO NOT recommend this organization submission for advancement.

I was a fan of the charlatan gloves, though I saw in them some potential flaws. Perhaps the voters will see this submission differently. I wish you the best of luck!


I feel like I've read this and I haven't really learned anything about what they guys do. Obviously they manipulate things with these "Variations" you've invented, but I don't know if they're manipulating reality, altering perceptions, shifting memories, or something even weirder. I feel like you saw the R2 rule saying, "Your submission must be an organization, not a new game mechanic," and answered that with, "I'm not actually going to describe what they're doing, so I'm not in violation of that rule," but by not describing it at all I don't know what these guys are up to.

Their stated Goals are "perfecting their Variations," but that doesn't tell me anything because I don't know what a Variation is. I don't get the impression that these guys would actually oppose the PCs unless they've been hired to do a "variation" that influences something the PCs are involved in, like finding a murder victim or evidence tying it to a local noble. And if that is the extent of the interaction, the Artisans aren't really guys that you'd oppose--they're just specialized-with-powers versions of the guy paid to give false testimony at a trial or a wizard paid to cast a misdirecting illusion spell on a crime scene. Or can they

I think this writeup fails to present a GM with a clear hook for using these guys as antagonists--mainly because their powers are undefined (even something like "they use illusion and divination magic to convince people of untruths" would be more helpful than what's presented here).

I do not recommend this to advance.

Your group has the ability to bend reality, and they're out spending time confusing bandits? Seriously?

The whole organization is predicated on a whopping-big change to the rules (effectively beyond-artifact level powers) used in a mundane, boring fashion.

They should get together with the Lost Librarians and the Seers of Pharasma. The three combined together would be a world-shaking entity that would bring the gods themselves to account.

As it is, these guys are basically flim-flam artists who happen to be real good at what they do. Unfortunately, that thing isn't being SuperStar.

I do not recommend that you vote for this designer.

EDIT FROM SEAN: Competitors, remember this item from the Round 2 FAQ, which reminds competitors about the rule against commenting about their own submissions. We're pasting this reminder into the last judge comment for every organization just to make sure all competitors see it and remember.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka moon glum

If I was to read this in a Pathfinder supplement that I purchased, I would not be happy with it, but I really like the idea. I don't know what you actually wanted to convey, of course, but I like to think of this group as having discovered a craft skill that let the leaders of the organization (a triplet of arch-fiends?) craft cursed statues that grant a reality altering wish for a particular duration, with a risk of monkey's paw style consequences, and existing only as long as the statue remains intact.

So I am voting for it, even though it is probably the worst written submission.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Champion Voter Season 6, Champion Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Champion Voter Season 9

I would like to see stats for a Variation. Seems like a easy way to fit in a monster for next round. The goals do not seem very ambitious. How do the apprentices train if they can not work magic? Disguise checks?

Liberty's Edge

I feel like there’s a cool idea in this submission, something exciting ... but I’m not exactly sure what it is. I’m sort of unsure what these guys actually do, or exactly what their goals are (or ‘why’ their goals are what they are). Well written, but somewhat puzzling.

Good luck with the round Joshua.

I have problem with feeling them being antagonistic enough.

Silver Crusade

Sorry to say it. Boring. Sounds like a good idea, that just didn't concrete together.

Status: No vote-boring.

I like the aspect of the Artisans not using magic if at all possible. This got one of my votes this year.

Star Voter Season 6

These guys aren't the antagonist. They are the antagonist's hired minions. I like the core concept of this, but feel like it didn't get brought accross the line. It was left to vague. I like the idea of an organization of spin-doctors armed with illusion and compulsion magic, but their overall goal appears to just be perfection of their art, and that is fairly boring.

Grand Lodge

I can't say why, but this entry dredges up some awesome memories and style evocative of a certain ghostly old world RPG from an unnamed company that specializes in vampires, werewolves, and mages. Dirty intrigue, illusions, dream-weaving, oh my! The ephemerality of truth, the illusion of morality!

Based on that style, I'm assuming a Variation is just a name for a job, a scam, a well spin-doctored adjustment of public perception.

I agree with Caineach. These are less villains and more someone hired by the villain. However, I don't think that should disqualify them anymore than it should disqualify a LE mercenary group. I think they could have been a major arm of [spoiler omitted], the BBEG from Council of Thieves.

I don't see the group as super-powerful reality bending. Why should they? It seems to me this is more Bards/Rogues using skillsets and not archmages.

Good. I'm tired of archmages having the spotlight. I think this entry has something none of the others have shown me: It has something I think the setting is missing, or at least doesn't have enough. One thing I haven't really seen in Golarion is a down and dirty network similar to SD6 from Alias, a group I would certainly consider SuperStar worthy, even without spells.

However, as the judges point out, this may be my reading into what you've written. Since I came away with something completely opposite as Ryan and Sean, this emphasizes the "glittering generalities" that Clark and Neil were talking about.

So if I vote for it, I'm voting for the image in my head, and not necessarily the group you created. I think you have a strong idea in your head, and you aren't quite getting that down onto text just right, to the point of different readers walking away with a completely different understanding of your organization.

Result: reserve pile.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Teth Evik

Thank you for your support and please vote for my item! If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them once voting for this round is closed.

I don't think I understand what a Variation is. That makes it hard to unbderstand anything else.

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

Welcome to round 2, Joshua.

Variations... well, at least they made me pause and try and brainstorm possible explanations. There are many creatives on these forums, so I won't be surprised if I see some good interpretations later in the thread. I just wish that you gave us a bit more.

Good luck in the voting.

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

Appropriately, this entry is mostly smoke and mirrors. For all the verbiage about their secrecy and finesse, we really don't get any description of how the Artisans operate, where they get their recruits, what they really want, etc. This organization feels like you're relating a rumor, and as a GM, I don't want to hear a rumor in this context. I want actual material that I can actually use.

If I'm right and Variations are something like well-crafted spin campaigns, there was a good idea in here, but it really needed some detail and some clarification. As it stands, I'm guessing at a lot after reading your entry, and that shouldn't happen.

They seem like bards who spend their time stealing secrets and re-weaving facts/memories to hide what they have stolen and/or changed. But I can't be certain that's what this organization is doing.

Perhaps the Artisans have spent a bit too much time sculpting memories and have subsequently forgotten what their organization is on about?

Well, we can figure out one thing: Variations? They're definitely obscure. :)

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

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Here's my tuppence for this round.

I've never written an organisation, so take as much or as little as you deem worthy of note.

My category of scoring this round will be:

Template fu: A small number of points (max 5) - my template fu isn’t so strong, and due to reviewing time constraints, I'm only likely to dock points for obvious errors here.

Adversarial Potential: (max 5) How they can get in the way of the PCs, cause them issues, direct conflicts, potential for becoming that campaign within the campaign.

Questions Arising: (max 10) Did I have any questions unanswered? This is the area where I will most likely gaff and occasionally make an incisive query.

Overall Impression: (max 5) This is an esoteric measurement that simply reflects how you have wow'd this reader taking into account any other observations not covered in the prior sections.


Template fu: 5/5

template fu smiles, curls up in a ball and purrs himself to sleep.

Adversarial Potential: 3/5

If my understanding is correct, we basically have a set of self serving lawyers who want to prosecute everyone for mis sold mortgage payment protections and the like. Seriously though, once I got passed the snoke and mirrors, that is pretty much what this organisation boiled down to, which means any likely confrontation with the PCs would be in a court room - ack, sorry, boring, not high fantasy for me.

Now imagine the PCs exiting a dungeon laden with facts and artefacts that these guys don't own or know, how do they go about acquiring them? This aspect I think should have been brough to the fore.

Questions Arising: 7/10

ONce I got the lawyers impression, I couldnt shift it. I think the public perception might have been better with some mention of opponents and what people really think about lawyers.

Overall impression: 2/5

Again, a bank of lawyers hit you in this category too, it just isnt high fantasy stuff.
The Variation still confuses right to the end, is it a person, a piece of paper, an evidence raised in court - the tangability of what it is simply wasnt there. Sorry.


Final score: 17/25 - 68%

Dedicated Voter Season 8

Congratulations on top 32, good luck in the voting!

Obscurity indeed. You mystical "Variations" may be the most exiting thing around. Sadly, I can't tell if they are. Now, I like mysteries and I may well detail this out in one-hundred-thousand words and pester my PCs to no end telling them no mote than you've told me here. Sadly, giving me all the work makes you less needed in the process. As a GM I can usually write up whatever I like just fine. I use prewritten things when I need already shaped, finished and swiftly ready to play things. This is not that. Your gloves were not a favorite of mine, and sadly, that may be what ends up discarding this fine idea and writing for something a little more substantial and definable. I'll probably still use the idea (at least, one of the dozen I get out of it).

As for now, your place for a vote is categorized under: "Maybe, if I have spare one, and can't find another entry with a good idea and more detail"

Now for the fun of it, a "Variation" is:
1) A reality changing super-power which literally alters reality for an unknown amount of people, being everything between one selected person and everyone in any world imaginable. I imagine the intention must have been somewhere around "a fair number of individuals between 1 and 50, or so". This is too powerful, even if it's only a single person as target.
2) A perception-of-reality altering power, which acts as above, but being illusionary and changing only perceived reality, not actual reality.
3) A memory alteration, which changes only remembered events, not how the targeted people experience anything after the memory alteration.
4) An elaborate form of conning people into believing variations on the truth/lies
5) Lies
6) Variations over actual craftsmanship, which doesn't actually do what they're supposed to. Such as a "wonderful music box", which is really just a box, but will make music once when demonstrated at a showing, but then break. Boring.
7) A dream world, which is a close but slightly different variation of reality, but for every other purpose real.
8) As above, but not a dream but an actual new dimension or plane or what not.
9)The act of damaging something to the point where things that happened in the past are reactively changed, as if this particular thing never existed. Read Wheel of Time, think "balefire". Not. Good.
10) A mixture of any of the above
11) A mixture of any of the above, but with a more mundane elemental such as simple bribes, or what-not
12) None of the above and nothing similar to them.
13) Possibly just a shiny term for doing something, which variates 100% in nature, method and idea, interchanging new method for old from time to time.

I'd like to know which, though.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka DankeSean

This entry got one of my votes, after a lot of thought.
Ultimately, I really like the concept and M.O. of this group; at least, I like the concept and M.O. as it plays out in my head. Whether that's the same as how it was intended by you is another question entirely. I'm about the 21st person to comment here, and every single one of the twenty who have come before me have complained about the vagueness factor, so I won't belabor the point.
At the end, once I willfully ignore all the obscurity, I think I'm seeing a shady PR firm, of sorts. Part damage control, part private investigators, using means both mundane and magic to re-write their client's history, all who view their manipulation of truth and reality as a high art form. That's just cool enough for me to overlook the poor choice in keeping your writeup of them just as obscure as their actual in-game methods.
Much has been made of the phrase 'glittering generalities', but I'm reminded of a somewhat earthier term a college writing teacher of mine used: 'Vague and bogus'. I'm voting for you, so I hope you advance, but if you do, earn that advancement. Moving forward, don't be vague and bogus.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 6

People seemed hung up on one point for some reason, hope this helps.

var·i·a·tion, noun, \ˌver-ē-ˈā-shən\

a : the act or process of varying : the state or fact of being varied
b : an instance of varying
c : the extent to which or the range in which a thing varies


It's not a new mechanic.
It's not a reality/space-time altering spell or ritual.

It is spin. We see it everyday on the news. However, I bet this organization has more tools for spin at their disposal than say Fox.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Teth Evik

First, my thanks to all who've taken time to digest my entry. I greatly appreciate all this feedback. You can't buy this kind of coaching.

So, to clear the veil of fog and smoke from these Artisans, and their Variations.

Variations are the best lies possible in Golarion.

An Artisan would tell you a Variation is like any other work of art, a lie trying to make its audience believe. A Variation incorporates mundane manipulation in the vein of con men with illusion and compulsion magic effects. In terms of effect, Variations are efforts and strategies designed to make a specific audience believe something different, possibly contrary to what they previously believed. A really great lie.

Patrons set the objective of a Variation, and the Artisan decides the strategy. For example, a patron wants a noble eliminated, the Artisan convinces the king he is a cuckold by the same noble and he is executed. The Artisan is deeply moved by the artistic tragedy.

Variations, like lies, are at their best when they are simple, efficient endeavors neatly executed. Artisans favor the least overt methods possible. Magic use is allowed, but does not impress their peers in their internal competition for recognition. Artisans will use as little magical compulsion as possible. Some of the 24 currently practicing Artisans don't even have spellcasting abilities.

Joshua Murphy wrote:

Artisans of Obscura

Alignment: CN
Headquarters: Kaer Maga, Varisia
Leader: Mentor Jito
Structure: Artisan’s guild
Scope: Regional


You should know the drill by now, but in case you missed it the first time round, Ask A RPGSupersuccubus is posting from the point of view of a CE aligned succubus:
Fairness is an adjective applicable to hair coloration, balance is what a couple of mortals rapidly losing it on opposite ends of a plank pivoted on a rocky spire a couple of hundred feet above a slowly rising pool of molten basalt try to do, and logic is one of those things which you could swear is there when you rattle the piggybank but if anyone other than a demon opens it the contents turn out to be a couple of dead wasps and a six week old ‘to do (in)’ list.

Important Note:
There’s a difference between late and fashionably late. The former is what most other beings manage. The latter is what sophisticated, (very advanced) succubi manage.

First impressions always being important, do members of this organization wear nifty robes or uniforms when out on formal business?
Hurrah, an organization with something to write about! True, it's only hoods, but it's pleasant to see an organization presented which makes some effort to have an air of 'we dress like this so we look fashionable and you know what we're about'.

Does membership of this organisation seem likely to involve regular tea or dinner parties or other appropriate social occasions?
Nothing is said, but it's conceivable that lengthy working lunches with patrons could be involved.

Is the cost of being a member of this organisation likely to be acceptable to a succubus?
Succubi are pretty much excluded from membership. The 'no magic of any kind during training' keeps succubi out. When out and about on a material world, for any length of time, owing to the unfortunate prejudices of some inhabitants succubi tend to have to employ their inherent shape shifting magic to necessarily lower their profiles.

Other comments?
I believe other dimensions have a rather succinct phrase for folk like this, and it's 'spin doctors'.

Organizations are not being rated except under special circumstances.

Congratulations on making the top cut in Round 1. Obviously at this point it’s now apparent that you won’t be progressing any further this time around, but that means you can at least now relax, sit back, pick up a voodoo doll of your least favourite arch-devil, and start sticking silver pins in…

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