Round 1 Template (continued)

RPG Superstar™ 2012 General Discussion

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Lol, I think I just broke the forums with my post for the round 1 template update.

So you don't have to wait, its below, in two parts - please wait till both parts are posted before you submit.

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Breakdown of the Wondrous Item Template (Updated - Version 5)

It should be noted that this article steps through the Wondrous Item template and is not necessarily the order in which you would work on things; however it does give detailed advice on completion of the wondrous item template for submission to RPG Superstar.

There are way too many posts by way too many people to accredit them all, so many thanks to everyone.

This article has grown to cover not only completion of template but also answer many common questions that get asked every year.

I really hope you find this useful and food for thought.

Please bear in mind things change over time, so always double check back to the rules for the Wondrous Item round each year to be sure this post remains valid against the lastest rules.

e.g. A new rule is being introduced that prevents resubmitting of previously submitted items. So dont do this.

I start with Sean's rule 27:

Rule 27: An awesome item may disregard other rules/advice.

A dangerous rule to rely on, aim for technical competence and originality so awesome that rule 27 is redundant.

So let us begin...



Formatting of the main entry block starts with the item name enclosed in Bulletin Board (BB) Bold tags. The content is self-evident.

The magic item name header in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook looks like all caps, but it's just a text style. Don't type yours in all caps in your submission unless the template changes, do remember your BB tags though.

Note that words in the Item Name tend to be capitalised rather than all lower case, conjunctions do not generally get capitalised unless they are the first word of the item name. - e.g. "a glove of the finger" would be entered as "A Glove of the Finger". The Latter I believe is preferred.

General Advice

Wondrous Items names come in many flavours. There is the "X of Y" named items, the alliterative names, the names with convoluted, complex and downright weird words that are not part of normal everyday language.

When naming your item, you need to gauge your audience as best you can, some people get alienated by cliche or well used naming themes, and others get confused of put off by the use of complex or unfamiliar words. The naming of items therefore is a balancing act.

Another item to bear in mind is the expectation that your item name brings. It's the first thing your audience will see. Does it convey an image in the readers mind, an expectation of the likely powers or utilisation of the item? If it does, and the item description bears out the expectations, then you have a tightly named item. The benefit of this is that names that reflect their use are often easiest to remember, raising your items profile in the audience mind set.

Template Example

I will use a dummy item known as "Awesome Item of Splendiferousness", yeah a rubbish name, but that's where I often struggle but it will do for showing template completion. We will build the submission using the template as we go along.

If done right, using preview you would see...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness

- - -

TEMPLATE LINE: Aura and Caster Level:

This section exists so the GM can quickly tell a player what schools of magic the item uses. This is noteworthy only if the PC fails the Spellcraft check to identify the item and needs an idea of what it may do.


There are no extra blank lines in the format used between each template line, so don't do it.


Aura is BB Bold bounded. The follow the format of strength school (sub school).

The strength is the first word after Aura - not bold, no italics, no capitalisation. It is always written as "faint", "moderate" or "strong".

School of magic is next separated from the strength by a single space, not bold, no italics, no capitalisation.

If a sub school is used, this would follow, separated by a space and enclosed in rounded bracers, not bold, no italics, no capitalisation. If there is no sub school - omit the bracers, faint transmutation () is wrong.

Immediately following your school entry is a semi colon and a space...

The strongest Aura is usually listed, there also seems to be a consistency in using and where you have multiple auras. i would be wary of auras of differing strengths as how this should be entered is till not clarified, it could be any ofthe following:

strong necromancy;
strong evocation, necromancy and transmutation;
strong necromancy, moderate transmutation, faint evocation;

The first omits weaker auras, the second uses the "and" to include all auras - note in grammar, no comma preceeds the "and". The third splits into a list just like spells in the construction entry. In 2012, the general consensus appeared to be the middle one is the correct one - but I suggest sorting alphabetically like spells and no comma after the item before the "and".

Caster Level

... and then the title for Caster Level in bold simply as CL.

The caster level is an integer numeric entry followed by ordinal abbreviations with no separating space between number and abbreviation ("st", "nd", "rd" or "th").

The entry is in normal typeface, no italics and no terminating period.

General Advice


In my original post, I mentioned "overwhelming" which I had extracted from Detect Magic. If you find yourself wanting to use "overwhelming", then consider that your item might be heading into artefact territory and review it thoroughly.

3E and the Core Rulebook isn't really consistent on whether a multispell item has one or multiple auras listed. I have summarised this in formatting and am awaiting clarification for the future.

Caster Level

The caster level tells you what caster level the item operates at. This means you don't have to specify a caster level in the item's description - if you find an orb that can create a fireball, it doesn't need to say "fireball (10d6)."

Unless otherwise specified, the item uses this caster level for all of its abilities. The caster level should include the ordinal abbreviation for that number: "CL 1st" instead of just "CL 1," "CL 2nd" instead of just "CL 2," and so on.

When multiple spells are used the caster level required to cast the highest level spell at the required level of effect is used, e.g. the CL for a 5 die fireball effect is lower than the caster level for a 10 die fireball effect - same spell but different caster levels needed.

Gotcha's, Pitfalls and Traps


If your item is 100% necromancy and the aura only lists illusion... double check your construction requirements match with your aura entry.

Caster Level

The item caster level is too low for listed spells in the construction and/or effects in the description. Double check all you spell levels and cross reference to the relevant caster tables to identify the required caster level.

Be aware that your caster level also sets a limit to the number of feats you can use in the construction. The number of feats used could mean a higher caster level than the spells being used - be careful to check this.

Template Example

If done right, preview would look like...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th

- - -

TEMPLATE LINE: Slot, Price and Weight:

The Slot entry tells you which of the magic item "body slots" the item uses.

The Price entry is the item's market price, it is the minimum amount you would pay for it when buying from an NPC.

This is how much the item weighs, in pounds.


All three titles are capitalized and bold, and should not be omitted even if you have no slot or no discernable weight.


Slot names, just like strength and school are neither italicized nor capitalised and always followed immediately by a semi colon.

If you have to hold the item in your hand (like a rod of wonder) or if it doesn't use a slot at all (like an ioun stone), its listed slot is "none" - Paizo used to put an em-dash there for slotless items but no longer does it that way (5th printing onwards).


All prices are normal weight, non italic, all lower case.

This is never expressed as a fraction or decimal; "12 gp, 5 sp" is correct, "12.5 gp" is not, nor is "12 1/2 gp."

If the item costs thousands, use a comma (not a period or other number format type, you must use US number formats) as the ordinal numeric separator ("20,000 gp" instead of "20000 gp" or "20.000 gp").

If the item has several types (like a figurine of wondrous power) with different prices, each is listed here, separated by comma and space.

The last or only price entry is followed by a semi colon, e.g. 100 gp, 150gp, 200gp;


The weight again has a bold capitalized title, with two entry formats

- if there is no weight discernable, you enter a dash and remove the lb/lbs and the period,
- if you have a discernable weight, the format is number <space> lb. - for 1 pound or less items, number <space> lbs. - for weight other than 1. Note the abbreviation for pounds is followed by a period.
(abbreviated "lb." for 1 pound or less and "lbs." for 2 or more pounds).

Use US number formatting for the weight if entered.

General Advice


Make sure you use the slot names from the Core Rules / PRD, don't invent slots.


In the RPG Superstar seminar, the judges made particular note that pricing had never got an entry into top 32 or forced an item out of top 32. As long as the order of magnitude seems correct, they are more interested in the item itself. Later Neil mentioned that wildly overpriced items had recently got dinged, but then went on to say that it was for the magnitude of error (the example quoted was far beyond the most expensive wondrous items).

You also need to compare your item's price to what level a PC would need to be (according to the Wealth By Level table elsewhere in the Core Rulebook) to see if that item would be a "good buy" for them. By that, I mean, if the item produces an effect that's more easily achieved by such a PC with a spell he'll readily have available almost all the time...or won't come up all that often...then he's probably going to always buy something other than your item with his hard-earned gold, because it's a far better value for him.

Or, if that same PC can buy up enough scrolls or potions (or even wands) to do pretty much what your item allows him to do, but he can buy those other things far more cheaply than your item, you've pretty much priced it wrong and need to adjust accordingly. You also need to reconsider if your item is just a SIAC if this situation exists, as that's exactly what potions, scrolls, and wands are. So, if they're able to duplicate what your item does, you're entering SIAC territory.

Also, if your item produces an effect with a really low DC, you've got to consider the "power level" of the creatures and NPCs your character might use that item on. If those creatures and NPCs can easily and routinely beat the DC, once again it's not going to be an item that your character will want. Instead, he'll always be selling it rather than keeping it...because, it's pretty much useless to him. Items that run into those kinds of problems need to be priced lower...thereby pushing them further down the wondrous item price list so lower-level PCs can acquire them at a point in their adventuring careers where the item's effects would still be relevant.

When you see items in the Core Rulebook that don't seem priced "right" according to the math of the wondrous item pricing rules, it's often because of these exact reasons. This is most assuredly the "art" of wondrous item pricing. And you can bet the original game designers looked across the entirety of the game and the balance between character power levels, wealth levels, an item's in-game effect vs. creatures in a certain CR range those characters would likely be facing, and they deemed they needed to slide the price up or down a bit to make it harmonize better with everything else that's in the game.


Most common items in the game have a specific weight, just for consistency.

For example, boots weigh 1 lb., so players don't have to remember different boot weights. Some light items, like gems, headbands, and rings, have a standard weight of — (em-dash), which means individually their weight isn't important (though the GM can rule that a chest full of them has weight).

When in doubt, find a similar item in the Core Rulebook and use the listed weight.

Gotcha's, Pitfalls and Traps


Check your item against other wondrous items for the same slot. Check what a PC may sacrifice in order to utilise your item. Is it worth it? Does it make sense? Be aware of the slot affinities, particularly when dealing with stat bonuses, e.g. head items tend to be intelligence based, hands tend to be dexterity based. Always, always compare against similar slot items, observe the inherent themes underpinning those item sets.


If your item costs more than 200,000 gp, it's probably an artefact rather than a regular magic item.

Once you have determined your price, check it against Wondrous Items of the same level. Compare not just prices but relative usefulness against items in the same market space for that level. Does is compare favourably? This is an art which takes some development and practice.

Template Example

My preview now looks like this...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th
Slot head; Price 57,500 gp; Weight 5 lbs.

- - -

TEMPLATE LINE: Description:

This is the Description entry title.


It stays on its own line, bolded and capitalized. Like the item name, don't type this line in all caps, and don't add underlining.

Template Example

Short and sweet, my preview now looks like this...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th
Slot head; Price 57,500 gp; Weight 5 lbs.

- - -

PARAGRAPH: Description:

Now we enter the descriptive text of our item.

The first line is usually a simple description of what the item is, looks like and occasionally made of (if not obvious).

General Advice

For your initial line, Keep it short, to the point.

Start a new paragraph after this descriptive entry, grab your reader with the wow factor of your item deatils.

Try to use good structure and grammar - Do not present a wall of words - it is painful in the extreme and likely to push you towards the dreaded reject button.

Blank lines and paragraphing really help the readability of your item, they can also highlight where your item has crossed that Swiss Army Knife boundary too. So try to help yourself by making things look nice.

Things you need here in addition to the descriptive element include what the item does, how often you can use the item, any other limitations or activation requirements and so forth.

If you refer to specific spells, italicize them, like fireball or pearl of power. If you refer to feats or skill names, capitalize them, like Power Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword), Perception, or Knowledge (local). There's very little else in the game that always requires capitalization - you don't capitalize class names (cleric), race names (dwarf), combat manoeuvres (grapple, trip), or other specific rules (breath weapon, drowning, trample, poison).

Book names, when entered as a reference, are italicised but don't ever quote page numbers - page numbers can change during reprinting because of errata, reformatting and probably lots of other reasons.

Gotcha's, Pitfalls and Traps

Avoid backstory.

Avoid PC/NPC names, but "roles" are fine, King's, Queen's, etc., are fine, just don't name specific individual.

Normally, using a magic item is a standard action. You shouldn't give an item a shorter activation time than that because it messes with the "action economy" of the combat round.

Whether or not using an item provokes an attack of opportunity is built into how it's activated. This means for command word items you don't need to say that it's a standard action to activate and that it doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity? In fact, the assumption is if an item doesn't say how you activate it, it's a command word item.

Magic items that have effects requiring saving throws should include those saves in the item description. If it's duplicating a spell, the default save DC is the minimum for casting that spell: 10 + 1.5 x the spell's level. Note that the minimum DC is based on the minimum ability score bonus a caster would have to cast a spell of that level.

So for a 3rd level spell like fireball, spell level is 3, minimum wizard Int score (or sorcerer Cha score) is 13, which is a +1 ability score bonus, so 10 + 3 + 1 = 14. The math works out the same if you use the formula (10 + 1.5 x 3 = 10 + 4.5 --> 10 + 4 = 14), as "half the spell level rounded down" is the ability score bonus of the required ability score.

Do you assume it's a cleric / druid / wizard casting it? Assume whatever is appropriate for the item. If it's a druid item, use the druid spell level to determine the DC. Usually the spell level difference (usually 1, rarely 2) isn't going to have a significant effect on the DC.

Look through the wondrous items in the Core Rulebook. How many of them have to include examples of their mechanics? Few to none. By this we are talking about introducing new rules, stating an action that must be performed to active an item is a valid thing to include, but including new rules and examples on how the resulting action affects game play has the potential to be frowned upon.

Neil also said "An RPG Superstar submission isn't the place to start introducing an all new rules subsystem. That said, something simple that doesn't require too much explanation...or, something that draws upon existing game mechanics in a new and interesting way...could be viewed as having Superstar potential."

I'd also add, that not only do examples eat your word count, that your item should be clear and obvious in use and effect such that it needs no wordy explanations or examples.

Watch for out of slot bonus type stacking - see the Slot for affinity checking gotcha. Also be aware that bonuses may need to be typed to preserve the whole game balance. Check for similar bonuses in items in other slots, what type are they? Do your bonuses need to be the same type to prevent min/max stacking?

Watch out for random tables in items, although a classic design, they are not viewed as superstar. There is also a tendency to fill those last couple random slots with goodies that turn a tight item into a Swiss army knife. This style of design seriously increases that danger. Maybe in the future the competition may put a round 1 twist to create such items, but if you can avoid randomness in your item, it would probably be for the best.

Review your item in the cold light of day. Be aware of whether it could be abused in any way to break game balance or provide excessive benefits to the user. Be honest in this appraisal. Also look through the spells, if there is a spell that provides similar benefits, check the price of the spell. If your item is more restrictive than the spell, it should be cheaper than purchasing of a spell scroll. If the majority of benefits of your item can be found in one or a couple of spells, have you simply created a spell in a can or a Swiss army knife of loosely related benefits.

Template Example

If done right, in your preview you would now see something like...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th
Slot head; Price 57,500 gp; Weight 5 lbs.
A thin banded helm of platinum rather like a crown but devoid of any gemstones.
Wearing this will allow you to create the most amazing wondrous items that everyone will want.
Items created whilst wearing this helm have zero failure chance on creation checks.

- - -

TEMPLATE LINE: Construction:

This is the Construction entry title.


It stays on its own line, bolded and capitalized. Like the item name, don't type this line in all caps, and don't add underlining.

Template Example

Short and sweet, my preview now looks like this...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th
Slot head; Price 57,500 gp; Weight 5 lbs.
A thin banded helm of platinum rather like a crown but devoid of any gemstones.
Wearing this will allow you to create the most amazing wondrous items that everyone will want.
Items created whilst wearing this helm have zero failure chance on creation checks.

- - -

TEMPLATE LINE: Requirements and Cost:

This is then followed by the construction requirements and cost to create the item.

The construction requirements are all the stuff a character needs to create the item using an item-crafting feat.

The cost is the item's sale cost, i.e how much a PC could get for selling it to an NPC.


Titles parts are bold and capitalized as before.


Requirements are a comma separated list.

List the crafting feat first (capitalized), followed by spell names (italicized), followed by any other requirements such as needing ranks in a skill (capitalized) or an ability like channel energy.

Each spell is followed by comma and space - the comma and space separating requirement items are not italicised.

The whole entry for Requirement is terminated by one semi colon and it should be the only semi colon in this entry.


All formatting rules for the Price also apply to the Cost:

All pcosts are normal weight, non italic, all lower case.

This is never expressed as a fraction or decimal; "12 gp, 5 sp" is correct, "12.5 gp" is not, nor is "12 1/2 gp."

If the item costs thousands, use a comma (not a period or other number format type, you must use US number formats) as the ordinal numeric separator ("20,000 gp" instead of "20000 gp" or "20.000 gp").

If the item has several types (like a figurine of wondrous power) with different costs, each is listed here, separated by comma and space.

The last or only cost entry is followed by a semi colon, e.g. 100 gp, 150gp, 200gp;

General Advice


Don't forget that spells that are a part of the requirements are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of relevance. So if you have an item that includes sanctuary as its biggest power and protection from evil also, you would list them in this order: protection from evil, sanctuary.


But in general, whichever you calculate by your costing/pricing methods, the relationship between cost and price is such that Price = 2 x Cost for Wondrous Items.

Energy resistance costs what it should cost based on how powerful the ability is, not at what level some weird new class or race gets it.

There isn't enough space in the book to include specific costs and examples for every possible power in the Core Rulebook, let alone ideas from other books and things not yet invented. That's why the first rule is "compare your item to items of similar power and effect."

Gotcha's, Pitfalls and Traps


In a fun post I made, Sean kindly pointed out not to put specific items into other requirements (e.g. a big red button), so it looks like this part is for skills/abilities only and not a general materials bucket. So if your item is made of something specific, note material/specific objects in line 1 of your description, in my example, you need a crown/helm made of platinum.


Template Example

So completing my example entry, we get a preview of...

Awesome Item of Splendiferousness
Aura strong conjuration; CL 17th
Slot head; Price 57,500 gp; Weight 5 lbs.
A thin banded helm of platinum rather like a crown but devoid of any gemstones.
Wearing this will allow you to create the most amazing wondrous items that everyone will want.
Items created whilst wearing this helm have zero failure chance on creation checks.
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, fabricate, wish; Cost 28,750 gp

- - -

Using the Preview

During preview, your submission should look as much like items found in the current rule books as possible within the limitations of the submission tool. If like me, you are a pdf subscriber rather than a printed product owner, the one to watch for is underline. This is used for linking in pdf and PRD but is not used in printed product.

Entering your Item

So now we get onto posting your item...

Ok, when posting your wondrous item, put the name without any Bulletin Code Tags into the name entry box.

Then paste your wondrous item with full formatting into the second larger box (include it all from the title to the cost. - Yes the item name is replicated but that is what is asked for).

Before doing anything else, hit PREVIEW button. - if you don't do this, we will line you up and slap your wrists a LOT.

If the word count that appears in the title exceeds the maximum for the round, guess what...

Do NOT submit

No, really, fix it, do not submit it.

Revise and repeat until this is ok - close IE/Chrome/Safari/Whatever to prevent accidental submission and do your rework in notepad/edlin/open office/word or similar. Safe preview: there is a freeware tool called Fass which lets you edit and preview common forum type posts - it's way safer than preview in the forum entry panel - you might want to check it out).

Once you are happy with word count, format, content and your preview looks wonderful, and you believe it is done. Then and only then SUBMIT the item.

And then say nothing, don't post that you posted - that could be tracked back and break anonymity and get you auto rejected. It's not worth the risk. Sit quiet, play in the fun threads, read up on Golarion, look towards the coming rounds and plan ahead a little.

But above all else, enjoy the experience and discover your own writer within.

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Auto Rejects

This is a new section and will be ordered to align with Sean's consolidated post in due course, but I thought you would like an interim posting to be going on with, bear with me, this guide is still being refined.

One comment to start with, A totally awesome item can over-rule the auto rejects but that assumes it is read through enough to be noticed that its not just an auto reject (known as Rule #27).

So do yourself the biggest favour you can and don't make your chances more difficult - avoid the auto rejects and maximise your chances...

Where numbers are used on these items, they refer directly to Seans amazing post. I have also grouped related extras to the numbered items - the very first item numbered 00 isn't on Sean's list, I have added it because these mistakes simply should not be happening and crop up every year driving the judges nutso.

Important Sometimes Sean's original threads get appended to as the competitions come and go. So I would use the links and read these posts fully and not rely solely on the summarisations below.

- - -

#00 - Failed to follow / read the round rules

Come on, read ALL the rules. Don't do the silly stuff, real easy silly stuff is noted below:

Do NOT Post your Item publicly ANYWHERE - these forums, other forums, anywhere on the net, if it gets found, your anonymity is shot and so is your entry. This doesn't preclude you asking your games table friends and family for feedback, just don't publish it. Once submitted, treat yourself as signed under government secrecy with death penalty if you blab, don't talk about it, and don't ask specific questions that might identify your item, just sit tight and wait. It's the safest thing to do for your entry.

Don't post you just posted This could identify your item, if you post that you just posted. Don't risk it. If you do join in on the "I'm in" threads, just post that you have entered but avoid any time references, any indications of type of item, anything that might make your item identifyable.

Exceeds word count - you are also meant to prove you can follow instructions when commissioned for writing work. This rule is so simple, do NOT write more words than is asked for. As of 2012, it was a 300 limit. If you entry comes to more than that, the preview kindly tells you. You can use other tools if you want to avoid the risk of accidental submission, but if you do, I would aim for 90% of the word count to allow for tool counting discrepancies. ALWAYS check the work count in your preview to be sure, and to get that word count, you must have entered a name in the name field of the on line form.

As the submission form now appends the word count to your item title, and the judges see this, they can very quickly eliminate over word count entries. Don't fall foul of this or any other round requirements. Reading the requirements is a big test that you can do this. It's easy to skip words - how many times have you read a book and returned for a second reading to notice stuff you didn't notice before? So train yourself, read the rules and write them down as you read them. This forces you to concentrate on each requirement, get it from eyes to brain through to hand. Eventually you will train yourself to be more thorough in reading instructions without missing items.

- - -

#01 - Spell in a Can Will often be shown in feedback and posts as SIAC. Your item does nothing than recreate a single spell effect. A necklace of fireballs might be neat, but it is a spell in a can. A superstar item always changes the way a spell does something, it doesn't simply duplicate it.

Although you can find examples of such in the Core Rulebook, a SIAC item does not exhibit your Superstar potential.

In the main thread, Neil gives some great advice on avoiding the SIAC trap, a shortened extract follows for your convenience.

A good trick for avoiding the SIAC trap is to shake things up a bit. If your item needs to provide something "spell-like" in how it functions, just make sure your item takes it a step further than the spell itself or somehow functions just a little bit differently (and hopefully in a cool way).

Look for ways to put multiple spells together so they interact in ways that are different than how they work independently. Sometimes you get your greatest inspiration by pursuing this path, because the interplay between spells you might not normally put together create something even more "magical" (and cool!) than the individual spells.

- - -

#02 - Swiss Army Knife Will often be shown in feedback and posts as SAK. Your item basically is nothing more than a collection of effects (maybe following a loosely related theme). If you find yourself adding effects to make an item more interesting, it will often result in a SAK. Adding effects doesnt change a boring/semi-cool item into a Superstar item. If you find yourself doing this, stop and rethink the item. Be tight on design and resist the urge to "I'll just add...".

I fell into this trap, learn from my mistake :) - I created a cloak which changed appearance with the season, it provided anti cold in winter and anti heat in summer, added some extra shape changes based on the season equinoxes if the wearer was a druid, then added some other benefits based on the season. Yeah, I was soooooooo SAK. Don't fall into this trap >.<

How did I not notice this? Neil summed it up perfectly upon reflection... They get wrapped up in portraying the really cool theme they want their item to embody, so they just keep adding more and more to it...until it's basically just overkill.

As an aside, one comment made on my cloak was a good point earner - I had not only said when it was used, but had included what happens when it couldnt be used (e.g. in a plane of existence devoid of seasons) - Thinking of this scored some brucie points, so do try to think if your item can be nullified or cancelled under unusual circumstances and include that.

Another stereotypical form of the SAK is the random table item. Similar to my druid example - it kind of was a random table, but controlled by the seasons rather than dice rolls. That's not innovative, creative or Superstar.

This is why the judges often talk about "tight" item design when they praise something that gets selected for the Top 32. You need to get in...describe your item...give it something unique and interesting...and get out!

- - -

#03 - Back Story / History / Description Item

Backstory - Sean says "Show me an item in the core rules that has backstory." - because you cant, there isn't any. Clark also provides the reason that backstory "forces world issues on the GM with this text". So this is a no brainer. Don't do it - plus if you don't do it, you have extra words free to work with. Don't do it, don't waste your precious word count.

History Again, you wont find this in existing items. Additionally, this enforces history on the GM who may have to do extra work to enable your item to be used in his campaign. Thats bad. Don't add restrictions to an item that don't appear to be restrictions. History is one of those. Don't do it.

Description Item If the description of your item is longer than the items game mechanics, you're likely recognising the it
em itself is not cool and trying to cover that up with bling. Bling is bad. Don't bling the description.

I'll give you one very important reason to avoid the backstory/history trap. In one word. Wordcount. These things eat words like no tomorrow. If you don't do these, you have more words to be cool with, and if you dont need them and you item is still cool, then the great word counting genie will not scare you.

- - -

#04 - Item ought to be Not An Item

It's a plot device - Examples are things that you'd use to assassinate the king and conceal the assassin. If you can only see one specific use for the item, and especially if you can't see PCs (whether evil or good) having a use for this item, and if the item is more a story element than an item, try a different idea.

One thing to help eliminate this is to check if there are rules in existence already for what you are doing / affecting with your item. As an example, an item dealing in childbirth - there are no rules for childbirth, so the item is likely a plot device.

Another example is my artefact come plot device entry - the base idea was parts of an assassin zombie butler who if all the parts were collected would go off and kill the royalty of the region, yet before all the parts were collected and joined together, each part did some useful butlering type task for the party. So plot device and so so first ever go. Dinger, rightly and royally so.

Item is an effect - Items that merely create dangerous conditions or augment all the monsters in an area, such as "this creates a pool of lava/green slime/acid" or "all creatures within 100 feet gain the fiendish template". These are better off as localized magical effects, part of an encounter. If your item works better as a permanent magical effect, try a different idea.

Your entry is NOT a Wondrous Item - Don't describe weapons, armor, etc - look at the categories in the Core Rules, if your item falls into a mainstream category, then it's not a Wondrous Item. Also beware the artefact threshold - be honest with yourself if your item is very powerful/costly - does it fall into artefact territory, if it does, its also not a Wondrous Item.

These are often the results of the effect having more import than the item. Effects are results of powers, they are the special effects in the films and I'm sure we have all seen at least one "nice effect, shame about the story" film. Dont be all flash and no substence. Get the item right and the effects become the icing on the cake.

#05 - Item fails to follow Game Rules

This is a briad category of mistakes that usually relate to terminailogy being misused, incorrect or simply and obviously not understood.

First example, a common area of mistake is the slot entry. Don't use anything other then recognised slots and if your item fits in a slot (e.g. worn on hands, then dont say any other slot, or worse, none. If your item fits a slot, it should list that slot.

Second example, don't slip into previous edition rules. If you can't find the rule you need to quote in Pathfinder books, then don't use it. You may be recalling old rules that no longer exist under Pathfinder.

A good example here - Dungeon Master is a trademark to Wizards of the Coast wheras Game Master is open content. Pathfinder has GM's not DM's. In the same vein, if you refer to a monster, or anything else equipment wise, make sure it's in the Pathfinder books/PRD, if it's not, then you are likely referring old monsters that aren't Pathfinder.

Next, watch your use of roll, check and save: "attack checks" - WRONG - "attack rolls" - RIGHT. For saving throws, "Fortitude checks" - WRONG - "Fortitude saves" - RIGHT. For skill uses, "Acrobatics saves" - WRONG - "Acrobatics check" - RIGHT. For attributes - "Wisdom Save" - WRONG - "Wisdom check" - RIGHT

Also consider very carefully whether a save or check should be save based or attribute based. If you used "Wisdom check", did you mean to use "Will save"?

Common pitfall that often is wrong, magic items are "enhanced" not "enchanted". "Enchantment" is a school of magic that is mind affecting. Most items have no mind and so cannot be enchanted.

#06 - Item is a variant of an existing Item

There are many Wondrous Items that form a category, feather tokens, figurines of wondrous power, ioun stones. Creating variants of existing items does not show creativity, ingenuity or innovation. Don't do it.

When reviewing your item against the existing items in the books, if you can honestly say to yourself that your item is the same as another item with only slight variation, then you need to start again.

Also beware of rehashing items from other sources, previous editions. Know your gaming history and avoid any and all possibility of your item being compared to a similar item either current in Pathfinder or from elsewhere.

#07 - Obvious Pricing Errors

Although the judges cannot price every item they read, they are experienced enough to spot obvious pricinig errors. Starting with an item price in excess of 200,000gp means your wondrous item is priced with the artifacts. Obvious when you knwothe limit, so if your pricing suggests numbers higher than this, revisit your item.

When comparing your item to similar items, if it's much lower or higher in price than items of similar power and benefits, then you need to revisit your price and/or your item.

Look at items of the price you have calculated - does your item sit well at that price? What does the player sacrifice to choose your item?

A big part of pricinig is how often an item can be used. Have you stated this and if not, is it obvious - have you specified consumption on use, recharge, uses per day, etc?

Be aware that the relationship of Cost to Price when dealing with Wondrous Items is invariably 2 x Cost = Price.

once you have your price, use it as a game breaking sanity check. Could High Level PC's purchase many of the item to create a game braking situation, is it so cheap that it gives Low Level PCs too much of an effective game for the encounters they are expected to meet?

#08 - The Random Item

A simple one, any item involving random resolution of power selections, although a staple item type, is not deemed Superstar. They also ususally infringe on auto rejects 1 and 2, being a table of effects that are spells in a can reulting in a big table of swiss army knifeness.

Just don't do this, even tossing a coin is a random selection.

If you ignore this, I quote Mr T: "I pity the fool" who then tries to price that item :P

#09 - Intellectual Property and Inspiration

If you suspect that your item is in endangerment of this, show it to friends and relatives without mentioning the inspiration. If they can spot where it has come from, chances are the judges will too.

I love this example, it's so Superstar Example...

The cloak of the dark knight is decorated with a bat motif, gives a bonus on Stealth checks, lets the wearer throw bat-shaped shuriken, and blah blah blah....

Distancing yourself from your own work to assess it is a difficult skill to master and takes time, so use the resources around you to help you in such assessments.

Also reworking someone elses cool ideas from TV, Movies, etc isn't Superstar. You have your own mind, your own ideas, use them.

#10 - Item isn't spell checked or proof read

This is as simple and as obvious as word count.

But, when you do spell check, use the "American English" setting for your dictionary setting. Belive me, this will save "u" from so much "Armor" will be right "Armour" will not, "Color" instead of "Colour".

If you have access to Word or similar that can also highlight grammar, this should solve your passive voice issues. Now I'm not an English major, I speak how my mum taught me, how I learnt in school. I'm die hard Queen's British cockney at times. So I won't try to tell you what passive is or isn't simply because I will majorly mess it up royally.

Suffice to say, its a standard writing term that is easy to research and Word also helps with green wiggly underlining too. I'd start with the thread on the forums

Some small things to look for: sentences beginning "And also", "Additionally", "Finally" - you dont need these words, get rid.

#11 - The In Character Quote

"Cheer up, guv'nah, one drink o' this fabled tonic and you're leg will be right on again, cheerio!" As a cockney, I'll take the opportunity here to state that we English do not sound like this, in the same way that not all Dwarves come from Scotland. Ouch, Sean, a good example, but, Ouch!

None of the wondrous items, in fact none of any of the magic items in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook have in-character quotes. Don't use them.

Such quotes tend to be part of backstory, we all know that we don't do backstory. Same reasoning therefore applies to these too.

#12 - Item is a joke

Humor is subjective, more so than item design. You may think your item is funny, but guaranteed someone somewhere will hate it.

Whether the joke is in the description of the item, the actual item itself, or something as blatant and obvious as a pun, it's going to show the judges two things:

1. You don't understand the purpose of the competition.
2. You're not taking the competition seriously.

Joke item, joke in item, either or both will "pun"t you to the reject pile. See - you groaned - humor is bad.

#13 - Item makes you blind and not blind

Your item makes the wearer blind, but then compensates for that by giving the wearer darkvision, blindsense, blindsight, tremorsense, lifesense, or some other ability that makes the blindness irrelevant.

Simply put, don't take something away from a character to replace it with something that provides the same - plus as a GM, I would likely rule that any sight enhancement requires sight to be working to begin with, i.e. if you are blind, you can't benefit from sight enhancements as you still can't see to see any better (if that makes sense, it did when I wrote it).

#14 - Item has mature or offensive content

This is a difficult one to summarise, I suggest you read the linked thread.

Basically, my summary is simply to say, if you think, even for a split second, that your item could offend just one person, don't submit it. If it's obviously mature or offensive, then why are you even contemplating submitting it?

By way of example, something that assist breast feeding would be a possible offensive thing. Me, I think it's the most wonderful and natural thing to see, but I appreciate that some cultures don't like it, some individuals get offended as if the act invades their personal space, so I wouldn't submit such an item.

The descriptions in the main thread on this one are probably better than my example. I think it shows the idea though.

For more mature content as opposed to offensive, the best guideline I can provide is, if you can find rules in the core books dealing with the mature theme, you "might" be okay - but seriously consider before submitting if you want to take that chance.

#15 - Item is unclear on repeat use

item doesn't clearly explain how often it can be used, such as "constant," "at will," "once per day," "10 charges," and so on.

Example: Do the gauntlets of black flame let you shoot flames once every round? Once for each of your attacks per round? Or just three times per day? Or are they a charged item? Or are they constantly aflame?

Ask yourself questions like this during your design of your item. Can you power game that item as a player, can you interpret it different to your intent? If you can, it needs clarification.

You also benefit from stating use in another area of design - how you should price it. The table for wondrous item pricing has very clear indicators for frequency of use/recharge.

Don't forget, if you have a rechargeable item, do indicate in some way how often it can be recharged (sometimes this falls out of the how, but sometimes it doesnt).

#16 - Items name is a real world name

You could be naming your item after a real-world thing because you're trying to be clever; this falls dangerously close to auto-reject reason #12: item is a joke. You might even fall foul of reason #09: intellectual property and copyright infringement.

Then there is the case where the real world name conveys an image that is completely different to what you intended.

If you follow Neil (as most of us try to) you might start by choosing a real world items as your inspiration. Just don't call it the same name - if it's a torch, a pair of gloves or some lockpicks, that's all well and good. Call them that. But give it a name that evokes something magical. Because an awesome, flavorful name is the very first thing that will get people interested in reading more about your item and what it does.

#17 - Item is modern technology presented as magic

Every year there are many submissions that are technological items presented as magic items. Cell phones. Radios. Personal data assistant. GPS. They're not innovative or exciting.

It's like variations on existing items, YOU didnt invent them, someone else did, so converting them to a magical equivalent may show some rule moxy, but it doesnt show any creativity.

One of the judges has stated "If I can imagine a company's logo on your wondrous item, your item is gonna get rejected."

Take heed.

#18 - Item makes bearer unable to be lost

harry Potter's Michief Managed Map - wicked example of something that inspires such items. However, such items deny the GM and the Player's to have encounters that require the PCs to become or be lost at the time of such an encounter.

So if you find yourself adding "can't get lot or remain lost" or similar. Stop. Deep breath. Start again.

#19 - Item involves vomit

If your item makes the user vomit as a side effect, or makes the target vomit, or requires you to vomit to activate it, or vomit to end its effects, or lets the user vomit as an attack, or lets you vomit for no reason whatsoever, it's going to get rejected - this is kind of a variant of offensive in nature but has been spelt out by the judges, so listen to them.

The same goes for other bodily functions that you wouldn't perform in public and especially to any bodily functions that you don't like in private as well.

#20 - Item makes GM'ing harder

Being a GM is a lot of work. So don't create an item that requires the GM to do even more work, especially difficult work on the spot.

Example: Item requires the GM to track time and events over a long campaign period.
Example: Item forces GM to spntaneously create backstory, alter campaign history or predict the immediate future.
Example: Item requires GM to come up with riddles and puzzles on the spot.
Example: Item allows combat, gaming sessions, a single set of PC actions to be reversed and cancelled in the time flow of the campaign.

When designing your item, ask yourself, "Does this make it harder for the GM to run the game? Does this add more work to the GM's busy job?" If the answer is "yes," you should reconsider your item--or rework it so the player takes the brunt of that extra work.

#21 - Item gives a class ability or feat

The game is designed so characters can easily multiclass to get the class abilities they want, so creating a magic item that gives away a class ability punishes the characters who actually worked towards multiclassing and made the necessary sacrifices to do so.

Add that at higher levels you have plenty of gold to spend on items, you could simply buy the class abilities you want effectively circumventing a how rule set.

It's not great for game balance, and really is just "Class in a can" version of "Spell in a can".

#22 - Item makes adventuring safe

Every year there are usually several items that are essentially "scouting" items.

They start with the creation of a creature, construct, spectral servant or similar which moves ahead of the party, setting off traps, opening doors, going into caverns first, crossing rope bridges to ensure they are safe and so on. This takes the danger out of the game, so the suspense and joy of adventuring gets lessened for the players.

This is bad, don't do this.

#23 - Item's drawback is actually a benefit

The perfect example of this is an item that slowly turns the bearer into a lich. As in, "Oh no, now I have darkvision, a +5 natural armor bonus, DR, immunity to cold and electricity, undead immunities, phylactery rejuvenation, fear aura, paralyzing touch, a bonus to three caster ability scores, and a +8 bonus to three handy skills! Poor me!"

Yes, it's technically a drawback because it makes the character evil, and some characters don't want to become undead... and those characters will give or sell the item to someone who does want that. If the creepy, not-quite-evil necromancer PC is eying the item hungrily despite the "drawback," it's not a drawback, it's a free power-up.

The bottom line is make doubly sure your item enhances the game. Don't let it be a game-breaker. If you're going to include a drawback element to your item, make certain it's truly a drawback that'll come into play with anyone and everyone who uses it. And make sure it's got good mojo where the positives outweigh the negatives, otherwise, you're designing a cursed item and not a wondrous item.

#24 - Item repeats existing rules in the description

This means any rules, feats, class abilities, combat rules, racial abilities, etc.

Example: You design an item granting darkvision.

People know how darkvision works. And if they don't know, they should know where to look it up.

By repeating that text:

(1) you're wasting words,
(2) you're introducing the chance that you're going to make a mistake in those rules,
(3) the reader may think you're including all that text to show how this ability is slightly different from the standard version, such as a customized darkvision that lets you see color,
(4) you're not being innovative or creative--by definition, copying or paraphrasing someone else's text isn't creative.

However, if item (3) is the reason for restating rules, only restate the changes to the norm, don't restate the whole kit and kaboodle.

#25 - Item is a child's toy

Every year, there are several items that look like children's toys. Jack-in-the-box. Doll. Spinning top.

It's weird and a little creepy. And maybe that's what the designer is going for. Unfortunately, it usually provokes an "oh, it's another toy!" reaction from the judges.

If your item's effect is related to its shape as a toy, it's been done before. If your item's effect is NOT related to its shape as a toy, then its toy shape is a just a gimmick.

This is very valid advice. It's not heroic for a mighty warrior or thief to be playing with a jack-in-the-box. It's laughable for a powerful villain or dragon to be using a Raggedy Anne doll to intimidate or harm PCs.

And every year, some people submit these items as if they're cool or innovative. They're not and they're not. And these items get rejected.

#26 - Item encourages metagaming

This is a broad category, and it's a doozy.

Examples are:
(1) items that analyze a trap and tell the players its DC ("I have a 75% chance of making that save!")
(2) items that analyze expected damage ("have the barbarian set it off, she can take that much and the cleric can heal her afterward"),
(3) items that let players use player knowledge of monsters that their PCs wouldn't know ("this wolf has way too many hit points, it must be a barghest in wolf form").

Don't create an item that encourages the players to metagame, or rewards them for doing so. The short definition of "metagaming" in an RPG context is, "actions made by a PC that rely on player knowledge rather than character knowledge."

Don't make items that encourage this.

This category is another example of creating an "arms race" between the GM and players. Which is bad.

#28 Thing from my favourite game

2012's Latest Auto Reject Addition coming to a screen near you...

Don't bring something from computer gaming (MMO or otherwise) into your item.

You know them when you see them:
(1) the "automapper,"
(2) the "automatic magical quest organizer journal,"
(3) the thing that lets you see how tough a monster is by putting a colored circle around them - see #26 too :P

You get the idea. And so do the judges. And, in past years, the judges never liked any of these. Why? Because YOU didnt come up with it. Your favorite computer game did.

YOU just decided to import it into tabletop gaming. Not the same as creating the item from scratch. Inspiration is one thing, lifting and importing is another. This is the latter.

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Previous Top 32 Item Feedback

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Common/Useful Critique My Item Feedback

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General Items and Queries

The following list items, queries and answers that are more general design/entry type queries. These have been collated and entered here for your convenience.

Item 1 Is it possible for multiple people to enter a team entry? No, the competition is for individual entry and is aimed at finding individual freelancers / designers of the future.

Item 2 How do I know if my entry was received safely? Simply make sure your account name is shown at the top of the web page - It's usually the first think in the links list - e.g. Welcome, your name. Click the Superstar link icon. The main page will then tell you "Thanks for entering..." beneath the banner and above the body text if your entry was successfully entered.

Item 3 How many entries? This has never been answered and never will. All you need to know is if you enter, you are a winner as you have a chance at Superstardom, if you don't enter, you can't win.

Item 4 Do not rush your entry, take some time - Clark posted this and I couldn't agree more.

"First, the best ideas DON'T EVER win. The best entries win. Ideas are only the start of an entry. We are all gamers. We all have great ideas. If that is all it took, we'd all be game designers. So ideas are not enough, you need execution. And turning now to that...

Second, good writing is rewriting. I don't know that I've ever seen a professional first draft (i.e. 30 minutes of writing) that is good enough to make the cut at the level of scrutiny we are applying. Frankly, even Neil or Sean would have a hard time designing a good, tight item with proper mojo and rules-fu in 30 minutes. If they can't do it, then people not named Neil and Sean certainly can't do it.

Let your submission percolate and cook for a while, let it simmer in your mental juices. Then take a look at it. Check every rules issue you have in your item. Spells, feats, powers, effects, whatever. Compare to existing items. Check where it fits on the price list. Check if you italicized the right stuff and capitalized the right stuff. Then let it sit some more."

From this, I take the message as things will be tight on time in later rounds, your task is to reach round 2 and to do that, you have time on round 1 to really polish and shine your entry. So take the time to do so.

Item 5 Technical skills come second to Mo-jo. Creativity, originality, inventiveness, that spark of greatness needs to be fanned into a flame in your entry. Another post by Clark highlights the thoughts and aims that are involved and influence the judging and selection process.

"The first round is funny. Our GOAL for the first round is to find 32 contestants, and by that I mean 32 potential designers to compete to win a chance to write a pathfinder adventure. Of course, the best way to do that would be to have a comprehensive in person interview with everyone who wanted the job and read extensive writing samples. But we can't do that, since hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds want to enter the contest. And we can only pick 32. So we came up with a TASK for the potential contestants to work on to help us pick who from all the potential contestants should be the actual contestants. That task is to design a wondrous item, which is a genius task for a lot of reasons.

Sometimes, however, I remind the judges not to be too strict on the TASK because the real purpose of the task is the GOAL of finding the best 32 contestants for the contest. If we could interview everyone we would. But we can't. So sometimes though a submission may have some flaws, sometimes we see some spark or mojo or creativity or design-fu that makes us say, ok, the person did good (but not great) on the TASK but we see things here that make the person really fit for the GOAL we have of choosing the best 32 contestants."

Neil takes it further

"My judging style is that I always go very in-depth. I think everyone can tell that just from my detailed item critiques. But, basically, I do all that because I want to assess the TASK as thoroughly as I can. I want all the analysis in front of me before I make a final decision. And I want as good a sense as I can get about how a potential contestant did at the TASK. Then, I set that aside and examine the GOAL. For every misstep in the TASK, was there enough there (creative mojo, attention to detail, innovative spark, etc.) to override my concerns? And, once I've assessed things from both those angles, that's when I cast my vote."

So my take on this is that the judges work towards their common goal and share a base philosophy in doing so. This means every entry must be the best entry you can possibly produce not just technically (which this post should help) but also creatively. I want my item to make them want me for the next rounds. I want it to show how much I have to offer not just for the contest but beyond it. You should be wanting that too and trying to whack that ball out of the ball park. Make just one judge go "Wow" and you are on the right track, make them all go "wow" and you are there. So take the time to do so.

Item 6 Use only Pathfinder resources - from the FAQ

"You may use material from the Pathfinder RPG (including the Bestiary, Advanced Player's Guide, and so on) and any of Paizo's Pathfinder products. All other books (including the 3.5 SRD) are off limits (unless you're specifically directed otherwise in later rounds). Use of other content is grounds for disqualification."

Superstar Chat Log Quotes

There follows a few snippets from a recent Superstar chat log that you may find give you some guiding lights, ah-ha moments and general guidance. I love Neils 2:13AM post - now thats an interesting item. I think all of these I pulled simply because I thought they were good points well made and had value to guide me to improve. Read each one, and take a minute or two to think about it, then the next, repeat to the end. Above all, enjoy, I did.

"Sean K Reynolds 2:10 AM 12/09/11: Neil's item had just the right mix of flava and mechanics that made it stand out for being clever, efficient, and smart."

"Neil Spicer 2:11 AM 12/09/11: As for my item submission, yeah...that was a bit more of a nailbiter. The hardest part was second-guessing yourself. Does it have enough appeal? Is it mechanically right? Does the descriptive text flow well? Is it priced correctly? Will someone else do something similar or better?"

"Sean K Reynolds 2:13 AM 12/09/11: Dawson, last year I wrote 27 "auto-reject" categories for items. About half of those are eye-rollers that make me disappointed in humanity. <snip>...<Snip> Things that make me want to throttle people. :)"

"Neil Spicer 2:13 AM 12/09/11: It's true that I intentionally made things hard on myself. That's because I wanted to take the toughest elements of any challenge round and try to impress both the judges and well as the voters, of course. But I wanted to catch Paizo's eye regardless of how the voting shook out. And, that added pressure helped me turn out stuff that just happened to appeal to the voters, too. So it was a win-win."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:14 AM 12/09/11: I want to see creativity, rules knowledge, and a sense of what is fun and cool to add to the game. We can teach grammar, punctuation, and math, but it's really hard to teach someone to recognize an awesome untapped part of the design-space and make something that really pops."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:24 AM 12/09/11: There's been a lot of talk on the boards about being a new writer, and it comes down to this: all great writers started as crappy writers, writing a lot of junk in their early years. Keep writing, keep practicing, keep working on the parts you know aren't up to par. I've suggested working on several items over the month, polishing them, and selecting your favorite toward the end of the submission period. You don't HAVE to submit right away... something 1 day before the deadline has just as good a chance as something in on day 1."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:26 AM 12/09/11: So, Marie, just work on what you have. If you're nervous about it, that's okay... I still get nervous about parts of stuff I write, and I've been doing this professionally for 10+ years. :)"

"Neil Spicer 2:26 AM 12/09/11: @Marie - My advice is to quiet those voices by finding the item you love the most. Not so much that you're blinded by it. But rather, the one that just keeps coming back in your mind. Take that idea that you're passionate about and make it the best that you can according to all the design-fu and creativity you can muster. And be awesome with it. That's what the judges pick up on when we're assessing items in the judging chambers."

"Neil Spicer 2:29 AM 12/09/11: @Dawson - The judges have often said that innovation is appealing to them. One of the best ways to be innovative is to look at some of the new classes, rules, magic, etc. that can be drawn upon. It's easier to carve out a new, innovative niche with those things, because very little is out there in the wondrous item category that makes use of those things yet. And, if someone can do something creative in that space, we often recognize that's smart design, because the author recognized an underutilized space and created something especially for it."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:31 AM 12/09/11: ... R1 is about a wondrous item. If aspects of your item aren't from being a magic item, it's sort of distracting you from the point of making a wondrous item. If there's stuff you can't do with Craft Wondrous Item, I'm not sure it belongs in the competition."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:35 AM 12/09/11: Unfortunately, many of us grew up on Gygax's flowery language and like to make big, convoluted sentences. Write tightly. :)"

"Sean K Reynolds 2:36 AM 12/09/11: Don't get me wrong, I enjoy his style, but if you're writing a magic item that you'll have to skim in the middle of battle, tighter prose is more helpful to the player and GM."

"Neil Spicer 2:36 AM 12/09/11: No matter what word limit you're given, you'll always use it up. The trick is to define a smaller limit and hold yourself to that to ensure you don't go over. Then, when refining the item, if you feel you need to widen the explanation of something, you've got the extra words to play around with without having to make excruciating cuts first."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:38 AM 12/09/11: Yes, don't cut just for the sake of cutting. But if an item's power is "Once per day on command you can use it to cast death knell," don't say "As a standard action, once per day, the bearer can speak a command word and have the item create an effect identical to death knell." Same content, tighter writing."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:47 AM 12/09/11: Pedro, we try to balance use of gender pronouns equally. So pick one that you prefer. However, if referring specifically to a class, it's best to go with the gender of the iconic character shown in the Core Rulebook. So if your item is for rogues, use "she." (Personally, I'd like to see a trend toward using "you," like we do in spells and feats... the current style is a holdover from 3.5.)"

"Sean K Reynolds 2:49 AM 12/09/11: Talks about how absolute values in the game (like "you can't be critted" or "you are immune to fire") are kinda poopy in game design."

"Sean K Reynolds 2:53 AM 12/09/11: Yes, the god of fire should be immune to fire. But should the fire giant be immune to fire, so the god of fire can't burn him? That's sort of thing. ;)"

This last one, I include as it shows how chat logs without grammar can make you read things in more than one way, and to give you a smile at the end of a very long article. :D

"Ryan Dancey 2:52 AM 12/09/11: Yeah I'm dealing with tech on my end sorry for the late arrival"

On your end? Indeed. :p


I should note that although I have entered every year, I have yet to make the elusive Top 32 myself.

This post is a distillation and accumulation of posts, practice, feedback and general soul searching I have performed in this time. I don't think anything I have written into this guide should hurt anyone's chances, my desire was to help technically.

Mo-jo, Creativity and Superstar Spark are something that must come from within yourself. That is the thing that I cannot assist you with. Homework, study, lots and lots of practice and hard work are your only friends on this aspect.


I leave you to read, ponder, cogitate and design to your hearts content. Enjoy.

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

There you go, both parts safe n sound. :)

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

Hey all,

I'm getting back to this guide - just two bits of data to collate left now, then I can revise it more for readability than content.

So, I was wondering.

Which would you prefer I tackle next, the things the last 5 years worth of winners did right, or the common / useful things from the critique my item threads?

I will do both in the end, I just wondered which you might prefer first.

Dark Archive

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I really hate to be a naysayer and say "nay" (one of my favorite newspaper headlines from SimCity 2000), but in my opinion there's an overkill on RPG Superstar Round 1 advice being posted by all types of people right now, to the point of ad nauseum and/or ad infinitum.

I appreciate the work and time that the judges and game designers have put in to provide feedback and help potential competitors for future contests possibly progress, and everything that the judges and game designers have done to also help competitors for the current contest and previous contests who didn't make the Top 32 perhaps have a better chance at internalizing the available content and possibly succeeding at future contests.

However, what I am seeing with this thread and also the 2013 practice thread is a dissecting of messageboard templates and simple concepts (which have already been posted and stickied onto the messageboards by the judges and Paizo staff) into an amount of minutiae that borders on the obsessive, mixed with the same data being repeated over and over again in every possible way.

I don't know if this is helpful or harmful. I know that it makes me not want to check the RPG Superstar messageboards as often as I was before.

This competition is currently about to start the voting on Round 3 and, as far as RPG Superstar 2012 is concerned at present, Round 1 is yesterday's news. I would like to see more feedback from the judges when they get a chance (if they haven't been driven off by the negativity that the internets often breed into a medium of communication where you cannot infer voice inflection or facial expression or burned out from trying to provide helpful feedback and receiving scathing tirades in return), but posts and posts and posts about what is and isn't going to work for wondrous item submissions by the general public may just make things more difficult for the average newcomer to find helpful, meaningful information (if Paizo ever does another RPG Superstar again) if they have to dig through a bunch of coal to find the diamonds.

Just my opinion, and not meant to offend or take anything away from what anyone is trying to do. Just that perhaps over-thinking, especially in something as creative a contest as RPG Superstar, can sometimes be a bad thing; I know that it was a major issue for me the first year that I entered, and that's why I held back and did better this year than last year.


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That's exactly why I'm pulling everything to one place, not to over think, but to help by providing a central point of general common advice that gets posted every year because entrants cannot find everything.

With 5 years of competition, the sheer post count is quite daunting to new contestants, hence the creation of this central repository. The idea being, if you read this, you should be very well armed to get creative without having to page volumes of posts.

I hope that makes sense.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

Where is #27?

Dark Archive

Anthony Adam wrote:

I start with Sean's rule 27:

Rule 27: An awesome item may disregard other rules/advice.

A dangerous rule to rely on, aim for technical competence and originality so awesome that rule 27 is redundant.

I really have to disagree with you right here, having seen quite a few Round One Top 32 wondrous item entries, that made the cut, that Rule #27 applies to 100%.

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Ian Eastmond wrote:
Anthony Adam wrote:

I start with Sean's rule 27:

Rule 27: An awesome item may disregard other rules/advice.

A dangerous rule to rely on, aim for technical competence and originality so awesome that rule 27 is redundant.

I really have to disagree with you right here, having seen quite a few Round One Top 32 wondrous item entries, that made the cut, that Rule #27 applies to 100%.

Whilst I agree that every year, some items do appear to be rule 27 items, I think that when looking at them, they werent relying upon rule 27, they were just simply awesome in some shiny stand out way.

Maybe I need to reword it slightly as what I am getting at is something along the lines of "don't ignore templates on purpose, dont flaunt the competition rules and regulations, you make your job harder by doing so. It may get you noticed, but is most likely to get you noticed for the wrong reasons.

Be awesome is the target but be awesome with the correct format, good writing style, technical competence and rules savvy.".

Dark Archive

Anthony Adam wrote:
"...Be awesome is the target but be awesome with the correct format, good writing style, technical competence and rules savvy."

OK, this I can get behind. :-)

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Previous Top 32 Item Feedback (part 1)

The focus here is on methods, themes and what was done well by prior winners from which we can all learn.

This is the first addition to the do well section, I’m sure later year winners will have additional pearls of wisdom. ( Yes, I'm still collating between practice items :) )

I think this is a good starter list though.

Previous Top 32 Item Feedback

The following items represent what appears to have been done well by prior winners and thoughts arising from the judges feedback. They are in a kind of general through to specific order, I hope it makes sense.

01) Keep up with the errata.

Don't get caught out with some new formatting brought into the game or some rewording or rephrasing of terms/skills/feats/spells in the areas that your wondrous item targets.

It doesn’t take long to scan the consolidated errata pdf, so take the time to do so - it also shows your commitment to the system.

02) Don’t read as a player or GM, read as a designer.

Go back to that core rule book, read it as a designer.

Look at the rules (not the fluff) and look at how they work, how tight they are with other rules, the areas that they address. Are there areas they don't address that you think they should?

Look at their balance within the system. If you changed the rule with your item, is that game balance preserved or would the system become easily broken.

Reading the rule book as a designer is so very different to reading as a player or GM and is hard work at first - but persevere with this, you can learn so much from doing this.

03) Invest time in your execution of the entry format.

Prove your polish and professionalism from that first impression, that first second when your wondrous item comes into view.

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are already working on this, so well done.

If you are skim reading, stop, go back, read the guide thoroughly - there are loads of buried gems gleaned from the judges in here.

04) Clarity, grammar, succinctness.

Practice writing in a clean and succinct manner, read the posts about passive voice, read the posts about writing style, read a lot and look at what you are reading with a critical writers mindset.

Why was that sentence, description, paragraph so good? How much information was conveyed? Was it open to interpretation or misunderstanding?

This is a heavy practice developmental skill and may even take years to develop fully, but is something you can practice every day.

Join the annual practice threads, carry on working through the year between each competition - this not only will get you much desired feedback from the forum members, but you will become a board presence which may help you should you make a winner slot, and you will come to know your voting audience and what they hope to see in good designs which is absolutely priceless to a designer.

05) The path least trod, the gap spotting skill.

Creating wondrous items for relatively new releases can show that you can perceive market space openings. It gets you noticed as there are likely to be less items in that arena in the competition (unless everyone is using this guide of course :D ).

However, the inherent dangers when working in common ground are made much easier to encounter in the periphery design space. You could nail it really well, but it is easier to go too far as well.

This skill is, again, very much a balancing skill. If you decide to go this route, I cannot urge strongly enough that you own the recently released products and have spent a few days reading and re-reading to be sure you understand the content and the direction of that content so that you can apply this knowledge to your item design.

06) Summoners / Fighters don’t get a lot of wondrous item stuff.

Some wondrous items target classes or races, so again, if you spot an underused race or class, you are again exhibiting that eye for marketplace that designers develop.

However, in this instance, you could be limiting your audience and use of your item in an adverse way.

07) Great names get you noticed.

Quite often you see comments of "great name" in winning entries - this is one that has to be worked on.

Try just telling your friends and family the name of the item before they see the item in detail, do they ask what it does?

Does it convey an image or expectation and if so, does the item meet that expectation?

Look at their expressions when told the name - it's amazing how much you can determine from those instant first moment reactions.

08) If you use Golarion knowledge - make sure it's right.

As you are entering a competition to write for Pathfinder and thus Golarion, showing Golarion knowledge in your item can score points. But if you get it wrong, it can really hurt you.

Also be aware that amongst the general public voting, there will be people wanting to use the items in non Golarion settings and home campaigns.

So, yes, Golarion fu is good, but so is the versatility of an item that has more widespread appeal and use.

This one is a balancing act, so all I can suggest here is look through all the previous items and look at the ones that target Golarion and assess the balance between Golarion integration with versatility of use they achieved.

Another thing to be aware of, for this and the next item, is the avoidance of suck up. Be honest when you review your item, did you target Neil's love of all things leafy, Clark's love of creepy soul destroying PC whacking ways?

Knowing the judges can help, but if you cross that dreaded suck up line, they will know and treat it appropriately - they are judges for a good reason.

09) Play with mechanics.

Items that looked at ways of bending or re-shaping existing mechanics in small ways definitely get looked at with appreciation. Bending rules and mechanics but not breaking them is a great skill to master and should certainly prove you have rules savvy and an eye for interesting and fun items.

In order to really excel here, I must point you at number 02 - that "do-well" is kind of a pre-requisite for this one.

Take the time to perform lots of play testing and practice, run games that utilise the standard mechanics and rules you are targeting without your item, then run them again with your wondrous item in use and compare the results - that will soon show if you have broken things badly.

10) Versatility of use - what's good for the PCs is bad for the PCs

Well balanced items are also items that can be used by PC or NPC alike. Can your item shine in the hands of a GM in use against the PCs so that

they have to work to win your item from their enemy’s cold dead clutches? Does the thought of having your item being used against them cause them to fear and desire the item at the same time?

When looking at game balance for your item and versatility of use, do include a self assessment of how you could actively use it in any role within the game. Wondrous items tend not to be left in chests to be opened after the fight; they are there to be used.

11) Main theme is strong with this one

A lot of the winners kept a very tight line with the item features. Most of the items having a major boon with possibly some extra lesser effects - with a total effect count in the majority of cases of just 3.

So concentrate on your main effect, get that right. Side effects will often fall out of that process naturally and if you do this, you work towards completely avoiding the Swiss army knife auto reject.

Part of wondrous item design is knowing when to stop. Quite a few winning items had simplicity in their effects that resulted in an elegant and tight design. Know your main effect, make that shine through.

12) Consider when your item is not wondrous

Simply put, thinking about the effects of magically dead areas, reasons why your item wouldn't operate (or even operate in an unexpected way), or the recharge periods and methods make for a fully complete item.

Think about what your item does, but also consider it's limitations as well. Do they need documenting as part of the item or are they obvious? Some winning items had clearly defined restraints, eliciting positive comments from all judges. It's something to note and do.

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Anthony Adam wrote:
-astute observations-

This is good stuff, Anthony. There are many points here that I consciously followed in my round 1 design, and a few points I should have followed. :)

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I have some issues with the cost format recommendations.

You state:

This is never expressed as a fraction or decimal; "12 gp, 5 sp" is correct, "12.5 gp" is not, nor is "12 1/2 gp."

Looking through the CRB, I foud these when searching for "5 sp".

Frostbrand 5th printing: Cost 27,375 gp and 5 sp.

Ninelives Stealer 5th Printing: Cost 11,528 gp 5 sp.

Slaying Arrow 5th printing: Cost 1,144 gp 5 sp (slaying arrow or 2,032 gp (greater slaying arrow)

Trident of Fish Command: Cost 9,482 gp and 5 sp

So I think either of those formats are fine.

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Yeah, I would be real dubious about having fractions anyway - especially when the CRB can't decide whether to use "and" (Frostbrand) or just a space (Slaying Arrow).

I think the format I quoted came from one of the old costing discussion threads, I'll try an track it down if I can.

I would also claim that if you are spending 27,375 gold on an item, no one is going to quibble about rounding the 5 silver up to an 1 extra gold.

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I believe they would in fact quibble, Anthony. The cost is half the price, not half the price rounded to the nearest gold piece.

I'd be more likely to round my price to 27,400 if I wanted to avoid the potential pitfall of using an "and" or not (which I think would be fairly low on the reject scale and less objectionable than rounding the cost).

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Jacob, I think he meant "Up the price to 27,376 gp". Or better yet, 27,370 or 27,400. Nice even numbers.

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Yeah, exactly, i.e. if your price you are halving is a really odd and strange sort of number, e.g. 23777, then I personally would look at all the other items in that price range, discovering most end in "00" and so round it to 23800 and halve that to 11900 instead of, 11888gp and 5sp.

That's only what I personally would do, everyone can decide for themselves their own pricing theorems and strategies, and everyone can choose what they think is a risk or not.

Don't forget, these guidelines are now over a year old in source and writing, so things will and do change and items that I have tried to give as best guidelines I can at the time may get clarified as the years go by.

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That's part of the art of pricing items. Sure, it might numerically work out to, say, 1527gp 7sp and 5cp, but that's just silly. Far better to make it a nicer price than be exact on the pricing. After all, your item should only cost that exact amount if it only does exactly what the spells it includes do normally, and that's far from superstar.

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For the purpose of this contest, the judges have stated on several occasions that as long as the item is item is not glaringly over- or under-priced, price is not much of a deciding factor. So I would recommended just to round up the price so you get a nice even number.

To me, a price like 12,485 gp sends a signal that whomever made this item applied the cost table religiously, rather than just estimate the price in relation to the relative power level of the item compared to existing items.

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Hey all, just a quick addition of links to 3 rather nice (as in my brain could get around them) articles on writing I found recently - as they are on a University site, they may not stay around for long, so read them while you can :)

Writing Style
Passive Voice
Word Choice

Hope you find them useful :)

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Another one to add to the list at some point

Don't use "prized by" or variants thereof

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Dotting for later.

added to my list of great adivce for RPGSS

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Anthony, I really like how you took the "don'ts" and combined them with the feedback from the winners and made a list of "do's," which I think in the end is eminently more helpful. Well done!


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