The Hungry Mountain Dragon - Russell Vaneekhoven

The Hungry Mountain Dragon

Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 8 aka Ottovar

EDIT FROM THE JUDGES: Please read this information about playtesting these encounters. We've also added hyperlinks from the encounter's short stat blocks to the full stat blocks in the PRD so you have the information you need to run the encounter.

The Hungry Mountain Dragon

High above Lake Raiteso in central Ustalav a distant roar can sometimes be heard echoing off the cliffs and mountainsides of the Hungry Mountains during the night. The few hardy souls who live in the towering mountains make the gesture of warding evil when they hear the roars or smell the acidic stench wafting in on the capricious winds. Sometimes they raise their fist and curse the day that the scion of the family VonTeado returned to their chalet high atop Mount Azdaj, then slink back into their homes before night falls and evil rises.

Atop this particularly remote fastness is the Chalet de VonTeado. Built of basalt found throughout the Hungry Mountains during the reign of the Whispering Tyrant, the chalet was little more than a fortified cabin to retreat to should the VonTeado family be forced to flee the capital. Hull VonTeado has been ordered to turn the chalet into an alchemical laboratory for the gnomish technicians and uses the chalet as safe house for his wicked obsessions. Every few months he travels to the town of Chateau Douleurs to hunt for and kidnap women who resemble his only true love, the vampire mistress Dame Qora.

Hull VonTeado, driven insane by his unrequited love for the vampire who spawned him and the raging thirst for blood that he has not satisfied arrives at the chalet a half hour before the pursuing player characters. Since knowledge of his vampire status will soon be exposed, Hull will flee on his possession, the alchemical dragon, Draco Noir.

The Dragon Rises (CR 6 or 9)
Encounter 2a.
This tiny chalet is full of the clutter of a mad scientist illuminated by the carmine rays of the setting sun. All of the exterior windows have been bricked up and most of the interior walls have been knocked out. Everywhere there are barrels, boxes, beakers and burners. Directly outside the back door of the chalet Hull VonTeado stands up from crouching, arms akimbo and laughing maniacally. A deep roar and the harsh smell of acid emits from somewhere below your line of vision.

“You thought you could catch me! But you’ve failed!” He turns and dashes down some wooden steps and out of sight. Barely discernible above the roar you can hear him bellow, “Cast off you fools!”

Low Tier CR 6: Move to Encounter 2b.

High Tier CR 9: This room contains a spectre, Froard VonTeado, whose resemblance to Hull is uncanny.

Encounter 2b.
A colossal airship, at least 75 feet long, is moored at the end of the descending ramp. It has been crafted to look like a giant dragon, long, lean, and black, with tremendous wings spread behind it in a raptor’s dive pose. Tears in the wings and several holes in the hull, however, suggest a minimum has been spent on its upkeep. The ramp leads to a large door in the side of the alchemical dragon just before the tail. Inside the beast, Hull’s canine teeth grow longer as he screams at someone to, “just go! Don’t worry about the mooring line!”

The Draco Noir was once a proud airship, but times and its current owner have been tough on it and it shows. Hastily patched tears adorn the wing membranes, scratches and dents on the sides of the vessel show where an pilot displayed more eagerness than skill in guide the vessel to berth. Even one of the horns on its prow had been shorn off.

The inside of the vessel mirrors the outer, with the added stink of unwashed bodies wafting through its drafty hold. Near the bow (front), a large steering wheel like those found on sailing ships guides the craft in front of a tall stool with a harness bolted to the deck. In the middle of the vessel sits the dark heart of the beast. The alchemical engine somehow uses concentrated acid to power the flight of the craft. Five gnomes occupy the tall stools surrounding the engine from every side. Each stool sits before a panel of gears, switches, levers and other mechanical triggers that must be constantly used to keep the craft in the air.

In the very back (aft) of the vessel is a 10’ by 10’ area with 10 large backpacks (parachutes) hanging on pegs on the wall. There are two backpacks in the bow as well. One backpack lies on the floor with nothing but layers of silk or some other light material stuffed within. Small 5’ trapdoors can be found at each end of the vessel, allowing for an easy way to jump off.

Craft Alchemy 10 / Knowledge (Engineering) 10 - The casks of acid are not secured and could slide around if the pilot isn’t careful.

Knowledge (Engineering) 15 - The massive alchemical engine and the stools are a single unit set on a steel plate. The plate itself cannot be damaged by acid, but the deck below has been exposed and is slowly rotting away.

Knowledge (Engineering) 15 / Fly 10 – The massive wings of the vessel look like they can expand out, probably as an emergency measure to glide should the engine fail.

Boarding the dragon:
Once Players have slain the spectre, they have 4 rounds to get to the air vessel before it pulls away from the chalet. Even as the dragon dives away, PCs have one round to grab the mooring line and climb onto the dragon in flight (Climb DC 10).

In Flight
Once in flight, the dragon weaves and dodges in an attempt to throw the PCs to the deck and the unsecured acid casks spill acid onto the deck (see Hazard 2), causing smaller holes at first, then larger holes, then finally whole gaps. Within 20 rounds of flight, the areas of acid saturation will eat entirely through the deck. Gusts of air will start tearing the dragon apart and the engine will stop. The dragon will then fall for 10 rounds and crash. Any creature still on the dragon when it crashes takes 20d6 falling damage. Also, the alchemical engine explodes doing an additional 10d10 of fire damage to all within 60 feet of the engine.

Exit the dragon:
If the PCs end the fight soon enough with the gnomes unharmed they can fly the disintegrating ship back to the chalet.

If the PCs are on the ship after 20 rounds inb flight, or any one or more of the gnomes are incapacitated, the players have the option of using the parachutes to exit the dragon.

Without the parachutes or other methods of slowing/halting a fall, creatures that fall take 20d6 damage when they hit the ground.

Both Tiers
Gnomish Pilot (1) and Technicians (5) (CR 1) LINK
Gnome Fighter figure
XP 100 each
hp 8, Alignment CE

– Strapped in their five-point stools, the gnomish pilot and technicians spend all of their time keeping the dragon in the air. If any one of the gnomes become incapacitated, the vessel is no longer in control and will begin a sharp spiral towards the ground, ending is a fiery crash in 10 rounds.

Low Tier (CR 6):
Hull VonTeado, Vampire Spawn (CR 4) LINK
XP 1200
hp: 26 (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 271)

High Tier (CR 9):
Hull VonTeado, Torturer Vampire (CR 7) LINK
XP 3200
hp: 42 (GameMastery Guide 270, Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 271)

Froard VonTeado, Spectre (CR 7) LINK
XP 3200
hp: 52 (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 256)

Hazard: Once the dragon is underway, the following hazards are in play:

Hazard 1- Moving Deck (CR 1): On the first and every successive round, each PC and Hull must make a DC 15 Reflex save or move 10’ in a random direction and fall prone. This falling effect does not cause attacks of opportunity (but standing up next to Hull will). Remedy: prone creatures or creatures that use a standard action each round to brace themselves may ignore this hazard.

Hazard 2 – Acid Casks (CR 3): On the first round the barrels of concentrated acid (2 forward, 4 aft) roll around the ship shooting streams of liquid acid and spewing noxious vapors. On the second round, and each successive round, all creatures in the vessel take 1d6 acid damage and must make a DC 13 Fortitude save or take 1 point of Constitution damage. Remedy: creatures may move out of the areas marked on the map to ignore this hazard.

Development: Returning to and searching the chalet yields a note written to Hull VonTeado from Dame Qora commanding him to take the dragon and meet her at a small homlet in the mountains of Virlych to “…begin the next phase of our plan.”

Contributing Cartographer

Very nice looking map reference sketch, I want to work on this one now! Everything is on the map sketch that is needed to start drawing right away.

I do like the whole idea behind this location, drawing cool dragon airships don't come across my plate everyday. Lots of variety and different things to draw here too which makes this a fun challenge for the cartographer. Spilled vats of acid, odd eccentric shaped buildings, strange lab equipment, cool dragon ship, yes all very cool stuff.

Other than the coffins size "10 feet" which seem a little big in scale, there is not really anything I would change about this map reference sketch, everything is here that is needed to make a very cool looking map. Great work!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Welcome to the Top 8, Russel. You've been running strong this year and now you've found your way into a unique position. From here, you've got a major opportunity to really impress a lot of folks and secure yourself some bonafide freelancing opportunities, not just with Paizo but other third-party publishers, as well. The trick lies in putting forth your best work. Show us you belong.

So, with that in mind, I've made a point of really combing through everyone's designs this go-around. You should have learned a lot of lessons up to this point. Now, we need to see how well you've incorporated them and how well you've learned to apply them. In fact, encounter design is the primary precursor to adventure design. It incorporates your storytelling ability, your map-making ability, your stat-block ability, and rolls up enough other elements of game design skills that it really starts to bring it altogether. So, let's go through it and see what you've given us...


- At first, "The Hungry Mountain Dragon" sounded more like a creature or a villain than an encounter name to me. But, you've based it in the Hungry Mountains of Ustalav. It's a dragon airship. I get the connection. It just set me back initially.

- I like the map. Very good pencil work and good attention to detail. I love the depiction of the dragon airship, including the half-shorn dragon horn. Cool. It would have also been cool to get a glimpse of what the interior of your location looks like (i.e., inside the airship). But, for the purposes of this encounter, it sounds like the PCs are going to spend more time on deck than going belowdecks. You've got a nice clear legend. We know each square is 5 feet. And the proportions of the airship seem about right based on that. I do agree with Rob that the coffins are depicted a little larger than you'd expect. I have that problem depicting bed sizes sometimes in my locations, too. Thankfully, awesome cartographers like Rob recognize what we're doing and correct it for us. But it's just something you should recognize and watch out for going forward.

- I actually didn't care as much for your villain's name. VonTeado as a family name was fine. But I kept reading Hull and imagining ship's hull. So, I would've liked to see you call him something different. No biggie, though.

- I like the encounter design of flowing from the moorings of a mountain chalet onto the dragon-shaped airship. I didn't care as much for the inclusion of an airship in your design, though, as I'm not sure how prominent that would actually be in Ustalav. You're potentially taking some liberties here with the campaign setting by airdropping (ha! I pun!) such a thing into your design. While it makes for a cool encounter to pen for the purposes of RPG Superstar (and to hopefully win you some votes), it's really not appropriate for the campaign least not in that part of Golarion. And, a good freelancer needs to familiarize themselves with a publisher's campaign setting so they understand how to write for it. That said, it's still a cool location idea if you can look past all that.

- If you're going to call the ship the Draco Noir, you should italicize it.

- Some of your writing doesn't flow all that well for me...e.g., "Hull VonTeado, driven insane by his unrequited love for the vampire who spawned him and the raging thirst for blood that he has not satisfied arrives at the chalet a half hour before the pursuing player characters." That's quite a sentence and an extra comma would help it flow better. Even so, I think a complete revision of that information would work better. And you've still got time to learn this skill by practicing more at it.

- Your use of the word "will" is also a sign of weak writing. Look for ways to avoid that. It'll strengthen your prose. Instead of saying a creature will do something, just say they do it. That makes your writing much more active and evocative.

- You've given us one-and-a-half encounters by suggesting there's a 2a and a 2b. Yet, the 2a encounter is only relevant at the higher tier. And 2a, in general, relies on a very weak contrivance that your villain has time to monologue and then run away before 6th level or 9th level PCs can stop him. A simple halt undead foils that plan and they may never face him on the Draco Noir. As a designer, you have to be conscious of the various ways encounters can completely fall apart on you and safeguard against it to ensure they play out the way they need to in order to serve the encounter's premise. Additionally, if you had an interest in raising the game with a spectre decoy for Hull, you really should have had him be obvious at the helm of the ship and put Hull in the shadows or gaseous form to appear behind the PCs when they try to confront the fake. That would have kept it to a single encounter...which is what you want for this assignment.

- For the purposes of this competition, I think you buried your lead. The best elements of this encounter are the fight on the moving dragon-shaped airship. So, the encounter description itself should start with the premise that the PCs just arrived on deck. Then, take the action from there. Describe what they see, the creatures that await them, and some guidance for the GM. Then, give us their stat-blocks and scale it up with a higher tier and tell us what's different about them.

- "Five gnomes occupy the tall stools surrounding the engine from every side." I saw no true stat-block reference for these guys. That's a serious misstep. You can't just say they've got 8 hit points and no AC. They're also CE. They'd be just as apt to get involved in the fight as anyone else, or, even if they are focused on flying the ship, the PCs could easily catch them in area effect spells and what-not. Also...gnomes? Serving a vampire spawn? I never thought of gnomes as having a prominent place in Ustalav, much less as servants of a nobleman. Maybe you're trying to indicate they're responsible for building the airship by drawing on the age old trope associated with tinker-style gnomes? But these guys just seemed out of place and too restricted to the background for my tastes. I'd have liked to see you do more with them.

- "In the very back (aft) of the vessel is a 10’ by 10’ area..." This is incorrect presentation. You don't use hash marks to designate feet in a design turnover. That's not how you present that kind of game terminology. I've called this out several times now during the competition (and prior competitions). You need to break this habit. It should be "10-ft. by 10-ft. area"...

- "Craft Alchemy 10 / Knowledge (Engineering) 10 - The casks of acid are not secured and could slide around if the pilot isn’t careful." Again, this is incorrect in presentation. I assume you mean for a DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or DC 10 Knowledge (engineering) skill check to reveal this information. That's how it should be written. You're really falling down on the proper presentation of game terminology. You also shouldn't just list those three separate skill check lines one after another. Work information like this into your descriptive text by using phrases like: "A DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or DC 10 Knowledge (engineering) skill check can determine..."

- "Boarding the dragon: Once Players have slain the spectre..." This makes the assumption that the spectre is present regardless of what tier you're running and could confuse a GM as he searches for a spectre reference that doesn't exist at the lower tier. This is where writing for PFS scenarios differs from regular adventure writing. You have to be conscious of describing the scene in ways that it has applicability to both tiers. It's a challenge, but you need to master it if you want to write Pathfinder Society scenarios.

- "Once in flight, the dragon weaves and dodges in an attempt to throw the PCs to the deck..." I'm assuming you mean the gnomes cause the airship to roll back and forth to achieve this effect. The "dragon" itself isn't alive. Yet, that's how the descriptive text reads here.

- Typo: "If the PCs are on the ship after 20 rounds inb flight..." Really poor proofreading/spellchecking here.

- "...the players have the option of using the parachutes to exit the dragon." Parachutes? We have those in a medieval fantasy game? Your PCs are either going to be 6th or 9th level for this scenario. Hopefully, they've got someone who's capable of flight. Even if they have to rely on these parachutes, what are their game stats? At what rate do you fall when using them? Assuming the PCs aren't trained in their use, how do they know how to strap them on, deploy them, and land without turning an ankle or damaging themselves anyway? This is too open-ended.

- "Any creature still on the dragon when it crashes takes 20d6 falling damage..." and "...the alchemical engine explodes doing an additional 10d10 of fire damage..." and "...creatures that fall take 20d6 damage when they hit the ground"...? These are some extreme damage codes for a CR 6 or CR 9 encounter. I get why you included the high falling damage...because the implication is they're up really high when the airship departs. But even 10d10 fire damage from the alchemical engine is too much.

- You left commas out of your XP values. Another misstep in presentation.

- You've made a reference to a pre-made NPC in the Gamemastery Guide, but you're also suggesting that we apply an entire template to turn it into a vampire out of the Bestiary. This isn't how you do stat-block references for a non-standard creature. If the stat-block is ready-made for you in the PRD and you're just applying one of the simple templates under the Monster Advancement rules, you can do a short stat-block reference. But, if it requires more work than that, you need to give us the entire stat-block and work out all the math in the application of the template. This is a huge failure on your part to give us a workable encounter. With this reference, we pretty much can't run the encounter as-written. And we can't even playtest it until we go craft the stat-block on our own.

- Hazards need to be described in their own section just like the Creatures section before you list any actual stat-blocks. They should also add to the overall encounter's CR and it looks like doing so would push this beyond the CR 6/9 scenario you've put together.

- "Development: Returning to and searching the chalet yields a note written to Hull VonTeado from Dame Qora commanding him to take the dragon and meet her at a small homlet in the mountains of Virlych to “...begin the next phase of our plan.” This seemed really contrived/tacked on. What's the next phase of their plan? You don't have to keep secrets from the GM. You should have laid out why VonTeado was taking the ship to meet her and what her plans entail from the very beginning.

- Overall, the actual encounter premise is interesting. There's action involved with an epic fight on a dragon airship as it pitches and rolls, jostling the vats of acid which damage it enough to bring it down, all while battling a vampire spawn or vampire. That said, there's a lot of problems here. I'm not convinced you understand what proper encounter design and presentation entails. You've got the big idea. The execution is just lacking. And, a lot of this writeup reads like a mish-mash of GM notes on how to run the encounter rather than something you'd find in an actual Paizo product. So, for me, I needed to see you step up your game...but, unfortunately, I didn't see enough Superstar-readiness here to take a shot at writing an actual Pathfinder module or PFS scenario. Maybe the Paizo developers could help train you up if given a shot? I just don't know.

So, given all that, I have to say I'm disappointed. I thought you had some really strong stuff in the competition and a real chance to get to the end-game of the contest. But, with all the missteps in the actual design considerations, presentation, and encounter setup, I'm unable to recommend your design this round. That said, there's enough innovation here with the cool mapwork, encounter visualization, and cinematic sequence that I'm going to put myself ON THE FENCE in terms of advocating for this design to advance you to the next round. It'll be up to the voters to decide your always. And, for your sake, I hope they look kindly on it.

If it helps, I'll also call attention to your earlier work for everyone's consideration. Your chimaeric mantle was pretty darn innovative and one of the more creative designs in playing around with the rules that we've seen in awhile. It got all of us excited to see what you'd do next. Then, your Foulgrip Rangers really turned things up a notch. I think almost everyone championed your design and it got you through to the next round. Lastly, your witchbole willow did a great job of building onto Golarion canon, while giving us a uniquely terrifying monster design. So, there's no doubt you've got talent. If anything, I'm only judging your design for this round with my recommendation here. Not you or your future potential. Regardless of how the voting turns out, I think you should certainly recognize just how much you've accomplished here and you should be very proud of it. Best of luck in the voting (and playtesting).

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Draco Noir? Come on. Didn't we all stop using that cologne years ago? OK, just kidding. But you really need to pay attention to names. Something like that and no one takes your submission seriously.

There are also some proofing issues that just aren't superstar. I'm surprised by the typos this round, including in this submission. You guys are way too far along to be making those mistakes.

That said, a crazy ride and battle on a crashing dragon airship is pretty cool. But the problem is, I'm not sure its a good idea. This is really more about the airship than any particular location. The actual location is the Chalet, and attached to the chalet is the airship. I think you missed the boat (or airship) a bit on this.

In the end, this is too much encounter and not enough location.



Russell, welcome to the Top 8!

I gotta say, I saw the thumbnail to your map and I had to immediately click through to the full-sized version because I wanted to see what was going on with this cool hand-drawn map! I love the old-school look, I love the details, I love the use of color. Your map is readable and interesting, and I think a cartographer would look at this and think, "this is a cool location, I want to make this look awesome!"

The rest of your entry has some problems. You really need to tighten your writing by avoiding sentences with "will" (as in, "if this happens, the vampire will...") and clarifying the awkward and/or run-on sentences.

One part of the encounter (the spectre) doesn't even happen for one of the tiers.

Because the gnomes have to devote all their attention to flying the ship (otherwise it crashes), their presence isn't really a part of the encounter's CR because the PCs aren't going to fight them. At best, the gnomes are targets for the PCs to hit in retaliation for the gnomes making the ship fly crazy, but I don't see anything in the encounter where they'd leave their posts and start attacking the PCs directly.

I think you should have spent more words on the location and fewer on the encounter; the encounter is important, but the location needs to establish the scene where the encounter is taking place, and we're rather short on details (despite some name-dropping of the lady vampire love interest).

I also don't think a dragon-shaped flying ship is appropriate in Golarion, especially in gothic Ustalav. And, given its age and disrepair, this thing has been around for a long time, so this is old technology, and I'd wonder why there weren't more of these... or why the original owner didn't use it to conquer large parts of Ustalav (alchemist fire bombs or even just rocks or diseased corpses are an easy strategy when you have a flying ship and your opponents don't).

I think you took a big swing with this one, but you didn't connect very strongly, and your target went off in a weird, wobbly direction that's not quite right for Paizo's world.

But damn, that's a cool map!

Paizo Employee Director of Brand Strategy

Hi Russell, welcome to the top 8! I'm approaching all 8 entries this round as a sample of work for four authors who will have a chance to write a scenario or module that I'll be developing if they progress to the next round. That means I'm looking at how well this location could fit into the world and a larger adventure, how well you've tiered your encounter, how much work would go into getting the map prepped for a cartographer, and how much time I'd need to spend on this developing it for publication. Let's see what we've got!

Hmm, the Hungry Mountain Dragon. I'm intrigued, both because it doesn't sound like a location as much as a creature, and because there's no singular Hungry Mountain I'm aware of, as that's a mountain range in Ustalav. But it's not a bad title, so let's move on to the map.

Holy moly! That map looks awesome! I love the use of non-square rooms and your willingness to make an asymmetrical map, even of the dragon which is mostly symmetrical but not really. That said, I'm concerned by looking at this that it's not going to fit in Golarion, because dragon airships aren't really something that works in our world. So it's an A+ map that might be of a subject that we would never green light for a freelancer to write. Moving on...

Uh huh, mad scientist mountaintop chalet. I get it. It's been done a thousand times, but in part because it's so classic. I'm not buying this story, though. He's been ordered to turn the fortified cabin (way to put a damper on the mountaintop castle I had in my mind) into a lab for … gnomes? Who are these gnomish inventors and who ordered VonTeado to do this? (Also, we don't use the word "gnomish"; the adjective for something of or relating to gnomes is "gnome".) And he does all this because he's in love with a vampire? Oh, why didn't you say he was a vampire?! Knowing that at the start would have been helpful. How will knowledge of his status soon be exposed? What's going on here?

Soooo, dragon airships and tinkerer gnomes? Not so much with the Golarion flavor. I know that both have solid places in fantasy literature, but neither is the direction we've taken our setting. So as far as making a Golarion location, I'd say this is a miss. Is it a cool location? Yeah. Is it Golarion? No. But let's look at the guts of it, shall we?

I'm not sure what the 2a and 2b refer to, as we don't do sub encounters. It's either one encounter or two, and a single location should have a single encounter. The read aloud text includes second person that's not in quotes; don't do that. The description of VonTeado and what he says should be in the Creatures section anyway, as boxed text should be for describing the location not who is in it or what they're doing. A party of 6th- or 9th-level PCs could reasonably fly to this location, so assuming they approach from the chalet and not the other side of the dragon ship means you're writing the GM into a corner if the PCs take a creative approach to the encounter.

Then we have a description of an encounter (well sort of, in the low subtler it's just telling us to skip it) but no encounter. If there's a creature in this area, it should get a full creature section and stat block. I as the GM don't really know what to do with this information, as presented. So the room has a spectre that looks like that other guy, and what? I assume there's an explanation of who he is and what his story is, but it's not here, so I'm just going to keep reading and hope it shows up later.

Now we get Encounter 2b. This should just be part of the same encounter with a single bit of boxed text describing the airship. This is your encounter. That spectre stuff was a distraction. But again you have a creature and his actions in the location description. VonTeado and his growing teeth should be in the Creature section.

My "not-Golarion" meter is screaming now. Alchemical engine? Parachutes? All cool stuff, but it doesn't fit in our world.

There should be more context surrounding the skill checks here. We don't use the style used here, and the inclusion of them haphazardly amid the rest of the encounter shows me you didn't really look through existing encounters to see how we presented information, in what order, and grouped with what else. In this case, these should be part of the initial running text about the location, framed as "PCs who make a DC 15 Knowledge (engineering) check recognize blah blah blah" and I'm not sure making a Fly check should do anything but what the skill description in the CRB says it does, which is let a creature fly.

The following sections, about boarding the dragon, in flight, and exiting, are poorly presented and seem like you had a lot of ideas but didn't know how to put them together on the page in a way that made sense and followed our established style and format. This encounter looks less like an entry in one of our published modules than it does some roughly compiled GM notes.

I don't even know what to say about the Creature and Hazards section. They're a mess. Some elements are styled, others are not; you start a bolded section ("Creatures:") with no running text after the header and just jump straight into listing the gnomes (for whom we have no stats); the style of how you're presenting information from mini stat block to mini stat block isn't consistent; you list Hazard (singular) in bold, but then list two hazards, neither of which really follows any established format.

And then it ends with a cryptic note from Dame Qora? Does the GM get any info on this for when the PCs make Knowledge, Linguistics or other skill checks about the note, or when they cast a divination spell? What if they parachute out of the crashing dragon and never go back to the chalet?

When I saw your map at the top of this entry, Russell, I was so excited. But the attention to detail, professionalism, and creativity that went into the map and that which went into your encounter seem to be inverses of one another. While I could send that map to a cartographer and know he'd know what to do, I would need to spend extensive time and effort making this encounter anywhere close to publishable, if I didn't just scrap the whole thing for not fitting in our world. You've got some real talent, Russell, but this entry, aside from the amazing map, just doesn't show it. I DO NOT RECOMMEND this submission for advancement to the next round. Best of luck in the voting.


Name of NPCs sucks.

At these CRs, PCs will be able to fly. Drama is lost - you're not going to get what you want which is a mad scramble to get on the ship before it departs.

Typos. Inexcusable at this level.

Villain sucks. Old, tired and busted. Learn about halt undead.


You wasted a tremendous amount of text on the building, its history, and the backstory. You should have focused on the dragon airship. Your encounter should have begun in media res with the airship in flight and the PCs aboard it or approaching it.

The idea that the airship rots out from under the PCs is interesting but I'm left thinking that a craft built to run on acid should be effectively acid-proof. This disconnect was jarring to me.

There are a bunch of opponents that you have failed to account for - the gnomes. Big mistake.

What's your idea here - that the gnomes will abandon ship via the parachutes when things get too hairy? The flying spellcasters (the ones who never board the airship but just stand off firing ranged attacks at exposed targets) will pick them off under their parachutes if desired. I can't see a PC taking that route off the airship unless you're close to a TPK and there is no way for them to get magical assistance.

Had you taken the words you wasted on the chalet and spent them on the airship I think you'd have had a better chance to make a winning entry. As written though there's little here that's salvageable.


I do not recommend that you vote for this designer.

Silver Crusade Star Voter Season 6

To be fair, I've only skimmed so far, but what language is "Draco noir" supposed to be? "Draco" is Latin, and "noir" French. So either "Draco nigrum" or "dragon noir" would work, but this is just sloppy pidgin-Latin. In an age of Google Translate, that is just lazy.

uriel222 wrote:
To be fair, I've only skimmed so far, but what language is "Draco noir" supposed to be? "Draco" is Latin, and "noir" French. So either "Draco nigrum" or "dragon noir" would work, but this is just sloppy pidgin-Latin. In an age of Google Translate, that is just lazy.

It's a fantasy name, despite its relation to a still available cologne. Neither French nor Latin exist in Golarion, right? Wouldn't it be assumed to be part of a language that won't show up on Google Translate?

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Still just reading through all of the entries, but some quick thoughts:

- "Development: Returning to and searching the chalet yields a note written to Hull VonTeado from Dame Qora commanding him to take the dragon and meet her at a small homlet in the mountains of Virlych to “...begin the next phase of our plan.” This seemed really contrived/tacked on. What's the next phase of their plan? You don't have to keep secrets from the GM. You should have laid out why VonTeado was taking the ship to meet her and what her plans entail from the very beginning.

This didn't bother me at all. I don't think Russell's hiding the plan from us; the very next section of the module/scenario this encounter is in tells us about the plan (if the DM hasn't learned it already). This is just the encounter that leads into that part of the adventure.

- "Five gnomes occupy the tall stools surrounding the engine from every side." I saw no true stat-block reference for these guys. That's a serious misstep. You can't just say they've got 8 hit points and no AC. They're also CE. They'd be just as apt to get involved in the fight as anyone else, or, even if they are focused on flying the ship, the PCs could easily catch them in area effect spells and what-not.

From the vehicle rules: Crew members can take no actions nor threaten areas—their actions and concentration are all consumed by the act of providing propulsion or upkeep for the vehicle, so I don't think they CAN get involved in the fight, though they should probably have AC, at least, as Neil notes.

However, the rules for alchemical dragons call for a crew of 10.

Also, if the ship's going to be doing that much shuddering, shouldn't the Driver need to make driving checks? (Especially since it's right now undercrewed -- if the PCs take one crewmember out, the driver shouldn't be able to take any evasive actions.)

From the rules, again: When a driver takes a driving action, she must make a driving check to determine the maneuverability and speed of the vehicle that round. The vehicle's propulsion determines what skill is used for the driving check. A driver can always make a Wisdom check in place of a driving check. The base DCs for all driving checks are DC 5 and DC 20. Use the lower DC when the driver is not in combat and the higher DC when the driver is in combat.


My gut tells me I really like the idea of using the vehicle rules (I was certainly thinking about doing the same), but I wish you'd really made that the sole focus of the encounter.

I also have to admit I'm worried about some of the Golarion lore, but considering my own Round 2 entry didn't apparently rank high in that regard, maybe that's not one I should focus on. : )

Silver Crusade Star Voter Season 6

Sly Boots wrote:
It's a fantasy name, despite its relation to a still available cologne. Neither French nor Latin exist in Golarion, right? Wouldn't it be assumed to be part of a language that won't show up on Google Translate?

No, "Felthop Uthadún" is a fantasy name. If you want to use French as an analogue for Chelaxian, and Latin for Azlanti, I'm right with you (we use English for Common, after all), but mixing and matching is just plain jarring, and makes it seem more like a parody than an actual attempt at an immersive name.


If map design and concept is what I am voting on, then this one gets the vote. The actual design of combat is way off. Love to make this into a mini-game for the players to enjoy. Design is great, map is great, not using commas, not great, and combat design: Bad.

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If anyone wants to follow along, I'm running a PBP playtest of this encounter (I'm hoping to do others as well, time permitting).

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I personally had no problem with Draco Noir - because it's the sort of mismash of languages that makes English what it is. Sure, the parts of the name have different origins, but ultimately they're "fancy English".

I'm also surprised at how all the judges called out the alchemical dragon, which is a new vehicle presented in one of Paizo's core rulebooks, as not just being wrong for the area, but wrong for Golarion. I can get that if it was from splat books, but it's in a core book so it should be at least acceptable in the game world, even if only rare, right? I mean, it's a fair point on the parachutes, but still.

I like this encounter too, it feels very climactic, or at least penultimate, which is good, but there's another good point raised above - it happens too much in two stages, one of which is only added at the later tier. If it was more one area it would work better, but still.

RonarsCorruption wrote:
I'm also surprised at how all the judges called out the alchemical dragon, which is a new vehicle presented in one of Paizo's core rulebooks, as not just being wrong for the area, but wrong for Golarion. I can get that if it was from splat books, but it's in a core book so it should be at least acceptable in the game world, even if only rare, right? I mean, it's a fair point on the parachutes, but still.

Actually, the core rulebook line is built to be setting-neutral and useable in any world at the GM's discretion, so there's actually more in those that isn't very Golarion-y than there is in the Campaign Setting and Player Companion books that are specifically about Golarion. I'm not passing judgment on the suitability of this particular encounter at all, but you have your assumptions about core vs. splatbooks (assuming that by the term you mean the non-PfRPG Paizo subscription lines) backwards.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Joana has the right of it. Many things appear in the core rulebooks that don't fit Golarion. That's because the product lines for the rulebooks are designed to help you build your own worlds. Paizo just chose to build one...i.e., well. And, they get to decide what's rare or non-existent in that setting. It's possible that alchemical dragon airships exist somewhere in Golarion. Nothing published to date for Ustalav would indicate they belong there...if, indeed, anywhere. And it's best if a potential freelancer learns about a campaign setting well enough to know and anticipate the perils of including such material in their designs. That's the takeaway lesson here. And it's a valid one.

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Is there anywhere in Golarion that would have an airship (of any kind)?

I think it's easy to imagine the Shory used to (what with the flying cities and all) so I could see an ancient one being found in deepest, darkest Garund, but I'm not thinking of any others off the top of my head (which, granted, keeps going to Forgotten Realms...).

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Who I Am:
I'm just some yahoo who plays/runs a lot of PFS. So my opinions come from a PFS perspective. That said, considering winning this round gives you a 3/4 chance to write a PFS adventure, I feel that my thoughts may be valuable.

Here are my jumbled thoughts in a mostly random order:

Whoa, crazy alchemical dragon airship, awesome! (But it doesn't really seem to fit Ustulav)

Look up an NPC in one book and apply a template from another book? Shouldn't the author do this for me?

Parachutes? Do these even exist in Golarion? How do you use them? What sort of time/action do they require? You missed a nice opportunity here. I know the Pathfinder staff tends to dislike spells in a can but a supply of a very simple Featherfall in a can item (even if it needs to be activated as a standard action) could have been used to provide the player's an escape mechanism. Give the players a few extra to take with them as treasure as well.

Also the Gnomes need some more detail in their stat blocks/motivations/rules for missing some.

Hazard 1: The note about the forced movement not provoking is nice, but there's no need to note that standing up next to an enemy will.

Overall there's a lot of awesome factor but also a large WTF factor and a surprizingly large number of errors.

Calling the badguy Hull and having the adventure take place on a ship is very distacting. It made scanning the encounter much more difficult.

Boarding the dragon:
If the players avoid/pacify/etc the spectre, the airship doesn't leave? In the lower tier the ship never leaves? Also for this to be one encounter the timer on the ship leaving starting immediately makes more sense.

While the concept is cool, it doesn't seem to fit the milieu and leaves too many mechanical questions unanswered

I will not be voting for this entry.

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I love the map, and the concept is a bit gonzo, which I like. I agree with some of the problems raised by the judges, but this seems like it would be fun to run through (particularly if a party only has limited or no access to flight).

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I like the premise of this encounter immensely.
My one problem with it is that if any ONE of FIVE defenseless, low hp gnomes are incapacitated the dragon goes down. Seems pretty dangerous...

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

Jacob W. Michaels wrote:

Is there anywhere in Golarion that would have an airship (of any kind)?

I think it's easy to imagine the Shory used to (what with the flying cities and all)

Agreed, if I was going to do a dragon airship at all, I'd have gone with an old Shory one in Shaguang. You also tie in the dragon element there as dragons and the dragon mythos fit better into the Dragon Empires than Inner Sea.

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Neil Spicer wrote:
Joana has the right of it. Many things appear in the core rulebooks that don't fit Golarion...

That's an important point for me to take away, I'm too used to functioning in "SRD-worlds" where you have some featureless universe in which every little thing in the SRD/PRD is assumed to be true, somewhere.

I might not have made it past this round myself - my Golarion-fu is weak.

Star Voter Season 6

This is just too much insta-death for PCs here. Those gnomes are more than likely going to die in the cross fire, especially given the fact the Vampire will more than likely slay one of them, and gaseous form to safety. At that point, the ship will spiral out of control, and crash into the mountain side. If the PCs are having trouble simply walking across the deck when the Gnomes are 'controlling' the ship, they'll either fall off, or be thrown prone when it descends rapidly into the surface.

I want to really like this. It's like a bond movie scene in PF. I'm pretty sure that at CR 9 a smart PC group is going to prefer to shoot it down rather than face all those hazards, which kills the excitement. I would probably want to scale it down to a much lower CR.

But I want to do something with it, so that's a good thing. Looking at your other entries, you've definitely got a talent for putting sizzle and fun into your ideas. That's valuable in a designer and harder to learn than technical skills, in my opinion.

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These comments are from a first pass of your encounter, prior to playtesting or reading the judges' feedback or other voters' posts.

Hungry Mountain Dragon

The location - what did you bring to Golarion?
The location is called The Hungry Mountain Dragon, but in the location text you tell me about a remote chalet in the mountains of Ustalav, and only hint at a dragon. I'm not sure I like being teased in a product that I have, theoretically, paid for. I hope the pay-off is worth the wait! Only right at the end of the location description,
when you have already started describing the encounter setup, do I find out that it's an alchemical dragon, called 'Black Dragon' in French.
Should I know what an alchemical dragon is, or will it become obvious?

The encounter - do I want to run this fight on your map?
We start in media res with a vampire pursued by the characters making for his getaway airship. That's an exciting start. Then there's skill things going on, and dynamic hazards that change the playing area, and everyone staggering all over the deck like James Kirk in Star Trek. Yeah, still cool. Do the hazards make up for the fact that you have one single CR 4 monster in a CR 6 encounter (because the gnomes are just scenery)? Not sure, but could be convinced by playtesting. Possible endings are crash with assured TPK, parachute out, or beat the vampire and suddenly all these gnomes that were working for him happily fly the ship back to base. Not sure I buy it, but it'll be fun trying it out.

The writing - how effectively have you crafted those words?
I'm finding it hard to give feedback because every time I dig into the text I get hit with a typo or clunky phrase. 'smaller holes... larger holes... whole gaps' reads like an unintentional pun; '...but times and its current owner...' - I'd prefer 'time' as in 'the ravages of time and its current owner...'. 'Show where an pilot...'. '20 rounds inb flight'. 'Ending is a fiery crash'. I know you'll be hurting from letting those into the outside world, so I'll stop beating you up. I hope this experience serves as a harsh lesson that polish matters.

I'm still a bit... cross... that I don't get any description of your location until after 400 words, in the second piece of read aloud text. If your location is a giant mechanical dragon air-ship, then tell me about the freakin giant mechanical dragon air-ship, not some afterthought of a chalet. Putting that to one side (though still with a stern look), this is a neat location. Probably only for one use, unless the GM lets the players fly off into the sunset. Which would be cool. The encounter is dynamic and very cinematic. The image and idea of the encounter is great, and playtest will tell us if you pulled it off. Good luck!

Liberty's Edge

Congratulations on creating the coolest map! An encounter within a dragon-shaped airship is something I would love to share with my players.

The problem with this encounter are the questions which never get answered: why are the Player-Characters here? What has the main villain done to attract their attention?

Lack of plot-hooks aside, you spent a lot of time on showing the players how inept this particular vampire is. With such a cool map, why not make the airship well-built (and acid-proof) and crewed by credible staffers. PCs at this level have access to <i>Fly</i>, so I would have been more interested in seeing the airship defend itself against airborne adversaries. Surely the creator anticipated some means of defending the ship from aerial attack. What happens when a real dragon takes offense at the airship's existence and tries to bring it down? An acid cannon would have been a nice addition to the ship's "mouth," and it would have also tied into the whole "that could be a real black dragon."

Another point of criticism is the name of the ship. "Draco Noir?" Come on, you can do better than that. How about choosing a draconic name for the mechanical beast that terrorizes the countryside by its mere mention?

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Playtest report:

We finished up last night, a group of 4 players (all human; ninja 6, cleric 6, net and trident fighter 6 and metal oracle 6), using the lower tier.

On the bright side, I think everyone seemed to enjoy the PBP, though admittedly that was in part because of some of the character-building aspects as we did it. I think in terms of the encounter itself, the motion part was most enjoyable -- many of us felt we hadn't dealt with that before. The acid hazard came into play much less.

None of the players actually were ever really threatened -- a big part of that though was the dicebot HATED Hull VonTeado. I think he didn't make a single check, falling down every round, missing all his attacks. Even his domination attempt was successfully saved against (plus was done on someone it wouldn't have been less effective against since the oracle couldn't understand him, but that's another matter). That was definitely frustrating, but sometimes bad rolls happen; if I'd been doing it at home/as part of a longer adventure, I might've fudged a couple of those to add to the drama of the scene.

The players did use some resources -- two potions of fly were consumed, and a good chunk of ki points. If this weren't the final encounter of the day, I think that would've been considered a success, but since this seems like a climactic battle, it could've used a couple more minions (more gnomes?) to occupy the players. The motion hazard affects VonTeado so doesn't really add to the CR and the acid was fairly limited in size. I think four PCs can usually beat up on a single opponent pretty quickly.

The players seemed confused about all the gnomes; I may have needed to emphasize they were crew more, though I did say at least once that they were concentrating on driving the ship. They also seemed a bit surprised by the acid casks, and thought VonTeado was a poor captain to let his ship get so out of sorts. The parachutes were also considered odd -- my players didn't know if their characters would know about them. Had we not stopped where we did, I was probably going to have the gnomes all grab them and bail (thus sending the ship to its doom), which obviously would have let the PCs figure out they could escape the same way (though only one would have been threatened by the fall due to lack of fly or feather fall.

As a GM (hmmm, if DM is proprietary, why not have a PM: Pathmaster?)
The session wasn't very difficult to run, which is a good thing. My biggest issue, I think, was having to keep checking VonTeado's stats, made more annoying by having to bounce back and forth between wight and vampire. In real life, even if I didn't have a long-form stat block, I'd have done the prep to prevent a lot of that work for me.

I thought not having any encounter at 2A on the lower tier was a mistake. It got rid of any tension of making the ship on time. I basically handwaved that it took off as soon as the PCs were on board, as I was worried they might end the fight without getting to any of the cool parts of it.

Also, there were no tactics for VonTeado at all, so I had to make that up on the fly (no pun intended).

I think it probably would have been better -- though maybe you were limited by word count -- to give me something more specific than the ship disintegrates within 20 rounds (which could actually be 10 rounds). Granted, it would be more record keeping, but I think I could've better described the ship coming apart if the scenario had had the acid damage applied to the ship's hit points each round, instead of just giving an arbitrary number and me saying it was getting worse.

Also, the second hazard isn't clear. At one point it says the acid damages everything in the ship, and later seems to indicate it's just affecting the areas marked in red. I went with the latter, since otherwise the gnomes all would've been dead in a couple rounds.

I mentioned this before, but I found the vehicle aspect really frustrating. On one hand, you obviously read up on the rules. You probably should have called out why the gnomes didn't attack, but that's straight from the rules. On the other hand, you only have half the crew needed and don't mention the driving checks. Maybe that was intended to make it easier for the GM, but just struck me as odd.

All of those complaints aside, there's a reason I did this encounter first. Clark's often pointed out the value of mojo, and I think a fight on a rolling, disintegrating airship is something players and a DM would remember and talk about for a good long while. I think a lot of the mistakes (the missing tactics, for example) are things that won't ever get repeated after being called out for it publicly; I'm sure you're kicking yourself over it.

You've got one of my votes, Russell. However, if you advance, I want a cleaner presentation next round (no typos!) and better Golarion knowledge. Focus the odd aspects that really threw the judges, since I think if you advance, it's going to be because of the overall concept of the in-air flight and in spite of the story you wove around it.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

5 PCs with 20 point-buy and average wealth from my campaign:
Halfling Oracle (Wind) 7 (ranged combat + utility)
Human Rogue 6, Wizard 1 (two weapon fighting, wand wielding)
Halforc Barbarian 7 (Invulnerable rager - power attack with Falchion style)
Human Ranger 7 (Guide - archer style)
Human Oracle (Battle) 7 (enlarged power attack with Great Sword style)

High tier (CR9)

The encounter was quite esily run as most of the necessary information was presented. The only thing I missed was the Airships speed (I judged it would be at a fairly slow 10' at first). Another minor nitpick is that the text states that everyone in the ship gets damaged by acid when the barrels start to roll but the map and later references indicate that this is not the case.

So what happened:


Our BBEG taunts the group and exits stage right just as the spectre makes himself know by surprise attacking the Barbarian and doing minor damage. This is followed by the Oracle of Wind yelling "Spectres are powerless in sunlight, run" as it is clear from the map I've drawn that Dr Hull (forgive me for making him a Dr but it just fits) has darted outside into the "carmine rays of the setting sun"....

Well, I ruled that the spectre would hate to venture into the sunlight and thus stayed behind both because I always thought of Spectres as rather stationary monsters and also I was astounded that the player did remember that from their last run in with a Spectre.

Outside the group dashed down the stairs in hot pursuit of Dr Hull which presented another problem because the barbarian insisted that he, with a very high base speed and only starting 20' from the good Dr Hull, would be able to takle the Dr with his impressive CMB. I allowed that but the Dr promptly went gaseous and escaped the Barbarian.... whoa, close call.

However my group, pesky as they can be, argued that there should be quite some heavy winds around a mountain top like this, which I had to agree upon, so the good Dr would be swept away in his gaseous form just like that.

A simple roll d4 determined the direction of the winds and the good Dr was swept away from the ship to the right (as seen from the ramp). Sigh, Dr Hull, annoyed without end, just changed into bat form and proceeded towards his ship that floated already some feet away from the ramp.

This was the time when the PCs got all spell, arrow & wand crazy. In no particular order they unloaded a Lightning Bolt, a Fireball, three Arrows and a halt undead upon the hapless Dr.

Some fudging of the rolls later *cough, cough* the Dr boarded the ship with 2 HPs left.

This was the moment when the Oracle of Air took to the same, shouting "you stay here I'll manage that". Seconds later he stared into my evil grin as I asked "do you remember the part about the heavy winds around here?". Serves them right!

Barely managing the checks the Oracle overtook the vehicle and landed heavily on the snout (taking some damage) staring at the inside and into the faces of two very surprised, but evil looking gnomes at the steerings.

Reading his mace the oracle crushed the glass with one well placed stroke (a 20!) while the gnomes veered to shake him off. He managed to hold on and used his Lightning Breath on the gnomes, killig both and causing the vessel to spiral out of control.

Happy with the results he followed the ship on it's downward spiral but missed the crucial perception check as the good Dr escaped in bat form swearing eternal vengeance and leaving behind the PCs asking why he even bothered with that hunk of trash in the first place...

That thing was fun! I have no problem with some things not making a lot of sense here (such as why does the Dr even need this ship), the encounter itself has the potential to be very very funny.

This is really an all or nothing I guess. I can see many parties just not doing what is obviously implied as the encounter is very very open. I actually like that.

However the Spectre is really bad design! You even mention sunlight outside the small house and even without knowing it I guess most parties would give pursuit first and not bother with the spectre too much until he is powerless.

Better if it was made into a ghost ship. Get on, accomplish a task and get off before the ship flies far enough away (that it leaves the material plane). In fact, it's so cool; I'm tempted to rework that scenario into the ending of the curse of the riven sky module I’m running. It's better than Verakas’s Floating Barge, an airship, used in Golarion.

I personally like the idea of combat taking a toll on the arena being a factor in the game, especially in a scenario like this that feels like a climactic encounter. Sure, the sorcerer can start throwing fireball spells willy-nilly, but it has a cost. PCs having to forgo savoring their victory so they don't go down with the ship can be fun.

So at the heart of this entry there's a kernal of something really good. That said, it's something I'd come across and be likely to majorly overhaul with my own opponents and insert it into my own plot line, rather than using wholesale, keeping the ship as a precarious battleground.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Thinking more on this, but something that would have worked a billion times better than parachutes? only requiring four pilots. That way the average group of PCs could, once they killed the villain, have some sort of challenge to avoid the ship crashing.

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Except alchemical dragons, by rule, require 10 crew and a pilot.

Jacob W. Michaels wrote:
Except alchemical dragons, by rule, require 10 crew and a pilot.

I suppose that RPG Superstars have to abide by the rules instead of ditching them when they get in the way the way GMs do.

Could always not call it an alchemical dragon...

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Alchemical Dragon, Lesser?

And then, the PCs aren't trying to fly the thing, anyways, they're trying to crash it in such a way as to not kill themselves. ;)

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I had the good fortune to be part of Jacob's PBP play test listed above. The few notes I have are:

1) Good mojo on the dragon airship setting and encounter, even if some aspects of that didn't come off well in gameplay or match the Golarion setting. (what is this 'parachute' you speak of?)
2) From a GM perspective, I would be very concerned that the party would somehow gain control of the airship and prevent it's destruction. If that was the intent of the campaign it would be fine, but if not then either the GM disappoints his party by removing it or the campaign gets derailed.
3) The airship is easy to destroy, without a story hook to force them into boarding the ship a party could avoid that risk. I considered using a feather token, tree in the beginning of the encounter to tear the ship apart and simply eliminate the threat of the bad guys escaping. For a 400 gp investment, a single character could create a great crash and burn of an encounter.

Overall, I did enjoy the encounter based on a failing airship, that element had great mojo and the basis for a really fun game session, it just needed some more development of the story and the mechanics.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka BobROE

Development: Returning to and searching the chalet yields a note written to Hull VonTeado from Dame Qora commanding him to take the dragon and meet her at a small homlet in the mountains of Virlych to “…begin the next phase of our plan.”

Because the information the players need to find the bigger bad evil guy is in the chalet itself, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the players to want to get on the airship (other than the kill the vampire), and really missing getting on the airship isn't really a bad thing. And infact might be a good thing if the players just use ranged attacks to take it out, cause then there's no change they fall to their dooms.

Hi Russell! Congrats on making it to this round. I hope you make it to round five.

Playtest Report

5 PCs

• human wizard 7/rogue 1
• human fighter 7/ranger 1
• human barbarian 2/sorcerer 3/dragon disciple 3 (referred to hereafter as "the barbarian")
• half-elf rogue 6/sorcerer 2
• human monk 8

Tier CR 9

Ease for GM: Average
Combat encounter challenge: Average
Fun: Very

Other Comments

Recommend: Vote For

I chose to playtest this encounter because the map looked like a lot of fun, a mountain at dusk is cinematic, and the gloating villain intrigued me. The dungeon and airship have fine details, making the encounter easy to run. I liked having the spectre appear before the PCs reached the dragon ship. The vampire's stat block could have been printed, but I didn't really need it. The encounter should tell why the airship was built to disintegrate. I decided it was a big trap. It worked.

The dragon ship takeoff separated the party. Despite the character level, no one could fly. Only the monk and barbarian dared to board. The barbarian incinerated the NPC helpers with a bead from a necklace of fireballs. The monk did most of the fighting. Then the ship disintegrated before their eyes. Everyone liked that. It excited the players. No one thought about parachutes. The barbarian went to a glorious death and the monk (we decided) was rescued.

I liked preparing to run this encounter. I had to think, but it was enjoyable. I also liked how the map brought to mind the historic origins of Pathfinder. That helps me set it above other submissions.

Thanks for the encounter. I look forward to reading your adventure proposal. I'm certain I'd enjoy gaming with you.


In case you’ve only just woken up to the contest or otherwise (somehow) missed these Round-by-Round reviews before, Ask A RPGSupersuccubus is posting from the point of view of a (very advanced) CE aligned succubus:

Fairness means Prizes For All Succubi, balance is the process of fine-tuning your harpsichord of the Abyss so that the acoustic resonances are particularly obnoxious to any clerics of Asmodeus who happen to be captive audiences in the vicinity, and logic is very much like cornflour paste – cast-iron hard work when anyone else touches it, but conveniently gooey and runny to a succubus’ subtle touch. Oh: And Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (still) firmly maintains that it’s a succubus’ privilege to change her mind with neither any warning nor any obligation to bother to explain herself…

Does the location and situation seem suitable for a succubus in distress (broken fingernails are such a nuisance) to find a Noble Knight?
It's a location with a vampire, which looks initially promising, but it's in Ustalav, which means politics and assassin worshippers start to get dragged in. On balance, I'd say it's an evens shot of finding a Noble Knight here at best.

Is there any possible convenient financial gain obvious in this situation for a succubus?
It's a run-down location, full of shoddy and malfunctioning equipment. To be frank, unless one of the gnomes has a bounty on his or her head, no, there isn't any such obvious financial gain available here.

Purely from a point of view of testing-this-situation-to-destruction what impact is a fire-breathing phase doppleganger giant space hamster likely to have if introduced to it?
Crunch, *YAWN*, ....snooze. (Basically there's not much rampage capacity - everything's too flimsy for one to last long.)

Other comments?
Very few natural cliffs are truly vertical. Someone going over the edge of one tends top fall a bit, then hit something, and bounce, then fall a bit more, and hit something else...
Obviously, getting pushed over the edge of the cliff isn't an issue for a succubus, since a succubus can fly (or go ethereal), but whilst people falling off the flying ship seems to have been given some consideration, folk getting shoved off the cliff edge does not seem to have been.

Estimated time for four adventuresome succubi to deal with this situation:
However long it takes to torch the 'ship'. Probably a single fireball or lightning bolt from Cynthia should take it out, since the owner is stupid enough to carry around uncaulked barrels of volatile chemicals on the main deck. Then they can spend the next three quarters of an hour admiring the view (if it's a mountain chalet why on Golarion doesn't it have a viewing platform/terrace, by the way?) and commenting about how little effort self-destructing locations actually require.

Further Disclaimer:
Ask A RPGSupersuccubus (with half an eye on Lord Orcus) would like to clarify that mortal voters should probably rely on more than just her own (impeccable) assessments in making up their minds on how to vote. Thank You.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 8 aka Ottovar

Thanks everyone for your comments and advice!

I kinda like this, but I'm torn. You've got a good idea, which is a set piece battle on a gnomish flying deathtrap. Sounds like fun. The execution is a bit flawed though.

At first glance, I looked at the map and thought "Hey, Spelljammer, this could be fun." Then the judges came down on it hard and I was starting to think that it didn't really belong in Paizo's world. But then it was pointed out that the dragon airship actually came from one of Paizo's own sourcebooks, so you get a break there.

The main issue is actually the villain himself. I'm still at a loss to explain what a vampire wants a flying ship for anyway. But seeing as we've only go a glimpse at the wider plot, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt there. But when an undead (apparently a noble one too) wants a flying ship, a gnomish deathtrap isn't the ship he wants.

So either you needed a different flying ship, or different bad guy to fight on it. As I actually think the whole thing works better at lower levels (where the PCs are less likely to have flight themselves), dropping the vampire angle looks good.

If really attached to the VonTeado family, you should have used an airship powered by pure elemental evil, not high-test acid. I don't know what a full vehicle stat block would have cost you in word count, but I think you could have squeezed it in by tightening up some of your other bits. (Plus, it would give a GM with the vehicles rules some more guidance on running the encounter, which is good, because it looks kinda complex.)

The other big issue is that your deathtrap looks to be too effective. It's just brimming with TPK. Yes, I know 20d6 is terminal velocity falling damage. It's still not nice to drop that sort of threat on low level PCs. The explosion on top of that is just crazy. It seems like you're trying to ensure that nobody short of epic can survive a crash landing on this thing. Seems kinda pointless. (Thought I suppose a pretty explosion as it goes down has cinematic value.)

More likely, you're trying to ensure that, no matter what, the ship is utterly destroyed. Seems kinda mean to dangle something like that in front of the PCs and then blow it up. The PCs are gonna want the airship. If letting them have it derails your campaign, then this scenario is all wrong.

And altogether I think the whole thing feels railroaded. To get to the fun bit, you have to chase the vampire onto the ship. If you try to deal with him in some other way, it all falls apart and you get the boring bits. (And you do have to chase him, you can't sneak around. Otherwise I don't see the hasty take-off with unsecured "fuel" happening.)

Once you're on the ship, it's a round by round clock to fiery death. Kill one of the gnomes and it's even worse. Seriously, they've got no backup what so ever? There's a strong motivation to kill at least a couple to make the others "straighten up and fly right." Once that happens, every has to abandon ship or die. It doesn't matter if you're a tinker gnome with max ranks in Pilot (Spelljammer, um I mean, Airship), you can't even try to soften the blow.

I think the parachutes is a little too real world for the sort of fantasy Paizo produces. Sure, they'd work and avoid the TPK, but the players would either have to use out-of-game knowledge to use them (which I can't say I'd blame them for, as you've forced the issue) or wait for the gnomes to jump ship and hope they can do the same. Also, you've neglected all the rules the GM is gonna' have to make up on the fly to use them. One shot feather fall items (even if already used by Ebberon) for the same effect makes more sense.

If it seems like I've come down really hard on you, it's just because you've managed to come up with an idea I liked enough to pick apart.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Russel, I'm sorry not to see you go through. Your entry had problems, but also had one of the most cinematic and dynamic encounters we saw here. Well done, and best of luck in the future.

Ask A RPGSupsersuccubus is posting from the point of view of a CE aligned (very advanced) succubus. She's right out of sympathies at present, and in any case ginormous siege towers tend to leave rather unpleasant wheel marks on the lawn which it takes ages for the grass to grow back in despite of the best efforts of several tanar’ri researchers over the past dozen months into new improved breeds of grass. (Please see the thread of someone who went out in Round 2 or 3 last year if you don't get the siege tower comment; and despite the lack of grass progress, several interesting new forms of triffids were discovered in the past year so all that horticultural research funding money wasn’t completely wasted. The triffids certainly proved useful for disposing of the failed researchers...)
Plus please take as read all the usual disclaimer stuff about gossiping salaciously over a cup of tea and plate of yummy buttered crumpets away from the boards and generally other Chaotic and Evil stuff, kept (barely) in check for now because of Good Manners.

This is the you made the top eight but that was it congratulations post. It would be rather risque but appropriately Chaotic Evil to make a remark here about crashing and burning, which is of course exactly what the flying vessel in this entry is designed to do... Just not perhaps envisioned by you as doing it in this particular way.
On the bright side, you did make the top eight this year out of however many hundreds of entries that there were, so well done on that count.
But, in the end, the way this game is played is four contestants have to be ritual sacrifices, bloodily sacrificed in this round to appease the audience, and it looked like you drew one of the dreaded short straws.
Still, well played on getting this far...

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