Rescue Under the Steaming Sea

Round 5: Submit an adventure proposal

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9 aka MillerHero

Rescue Under the Steaming Sea

Within the Arcadian Ocean lies a world as vast, varied, and complex as the land dwellers’ sunny home above. The undersea mountains, canyons, forests, and volcanoes may seem vaguely familiar, yet the oddly-shaped creatures crawling on the sea bed and the gargantuan beasts lazily swimming past accentuate the differences from the windy realm of the surface world.

Rescue Under the Steaming Sea is a Pathfinder Module designed for four 9th-level characters. By the end of this module, characters should reach 10th level using the medium XP advancement track.

Adventure Background
A mastermind of unspeakable horror- the elder kraken, Qwoshokk, dwells deep within the Arcadian Ocean’s Gartanica Trench. Primary among the kraken’s myriad plots to inflict evil upon the creatures of the land is his quest for godhood. Though Qwoshokk currently focuses on attaining this goal through restoration of an ancient device, he also fosters contingency plans to assure ascension. The first step in one such plan tests the theory that mass sacrifice could achieve deification.

Qwoshokk initially planned to send one of his minions, a sahuagin witch, to perform an act of mass sacrifice by sinking a small island and its inhabitants, but his paranoia prevented him from trusting anyone else with his invaluable implement of destruction, the sphere of annihilation. To ensure absolute loyalty, the elder kraken cast a simulacrum spell to create a duplicate of his arcane spellcasting minion, which could direct the sphere in his stead. He directed another of his minions, Trentar - an undine druid, to populate the sacrificial island with as many souls as he could capture. Qwoshokk put at Trentar’s disposal a small tribe of loyal sahuagin, including their champion, a four-armed monstrosity, to aid in the task. This band of minions quickly rampaged throughout the Steaming Sea, abducting intelligent creatures and confining them in air-filled caves deep within the ocean.

Adventure Summary
This adventure begins as the party seeks missing travelers held captive deep below the waves of the Steaming Sea. A few friendly creatures offer the PCs aid along their way. In a lair guarded by various minions, the party learns that the slavers have already taken the captives away for sacrifice. Tracking their quarry to a small island, the PCs confront the leader of the slavers and find the missing travelers. Just as the rescue seems complete, the entire island begins to sink and the PCs must choose to take their prize and flee or to stay and save hundreds of lives from sacrifice.

Friends or relatives of the PCs have gone missing, last seen traveling by ship or along coastal roads near the Steaming Sea. If titles and riches motivate the PCs or they lack appropriate NPC relationships, word reaches the party that some of the missing travelers belong to powerful noble and merchant families. Investigations into the land attack sites revealed webbed footprints, discarded teeth, broken tridents, and ruined nets. Searches of the sea floor discovered a few of the missing ships with two-foot diameter holes through their hulls providing the only clue to their demise. Successful divinations regarding the missing travelers reveal that they still live and that Lord Trentar holds them captive in a sea trench deep within the Steaming Sea.

Rarely do those on land know much about life below the waves of the Steaming Sea, yet sages humble enough to acknowledge their limits may speak of others with more knowledge. Residents of Hermea know about the waters surrounding their island; however, they do not give aid unless the PCs have previous relationships with the exclusive island nation. The party may have more luck gathering information from the Mordant Spire elves, who frequently treat with undersea creatures and explore the undersea realm. Moreover, they can assist parties that lack the means to venture underwater for long periods. If well-suited for underwater travel, parties possessing extraordinary knowledge of the Steaming Sea can proceed directly to the whale sage (below).

Part One: The Mordant Spire
The Mordant Spire elves prefer to greet their visitors out at sea, keeping their company a safe distance from their home. If the PCs approach by air or sea, a contingent of elves greets them and prohibits farther progression toward the spire. Though they prefer to speak only Azlanti, the elves understand the common tongue and deign to speak it if the PCs mention their rescue mission, for they too have lost loved ones to sahuagin raiders. With appropriate communication, the party can purchase a variety of magical gear for underwater exploration including a major or minor talisman of the sea (the former granting the power to polymorph into an aquatic race and the ability to speak and understand languages appropriate to that form). If a PC cannot purchase the magical gear and the elves know of the PC’s rescue mission, they offer to loan a minor talisman of the sea in exchange for two things. The first is a vow to find and return a number of elves whom the sahuagin captured, and the second is acceptance of a geas spell to ensure each borrower holds their vow.

The elves proceed to tell the party of a vast trench miles below the surface where dark creatures reside. They claim Gartanica Trench likely holds the travelers that the PCs seek. The elves have little else to offer the PCs, save some travelling advice: Don’t swim too low - reefclaws, shipwrecker crabs, and lacedon packs roam the Hermean Plain; don’t swim too high - lest the roc’s talons or the fisherfolk's nets find a surprise.

Whale Sage
While the PCs travel to the trench, they hear whalesong and soon a great baleen whale approaches. If the PCs don’t attack the massive creature, the whale greets the party, speaking aquan in a deep, musical tone. Through conversation with the whale, she confirms that many of her friends have recently seen large numbers of land dwellers flailing in terror as their captors take them deeper and deeper underwater. An undine druid they call Lord Trentar leads the most powerful group of sahuagin raiders. The whale can also provide the party with the exact location of a lair within the trench known to hold a number of air-filled caves. She advises the party to follow her specific directions if they wish to avoid the location's more lethal horrors, such as the sea elf banshee, jotund scrags, and colossal sea anemones.

Part Two: Gartanica Trench
As the PC's approach their destination, they observe sahuagin perimeter guards and their dire shark patrolling a stretch of sea cliff. Jellyfish swarms float lazily in front of an ornately carved opening in the cliff face marking the lair’s entrance. Extremely perceptive PCs also notice a wing of kapoacinths poised motionlessly among the statues and decorations that grace the lair’s entrance. These aquatic gargoyles wait until intruders engage the jellyfish swarms before swimming out from their perches, attempting to overwhelm their prey.

Once inside the lair, perceptive PCs notice that unusual methods carved these chambers for it appears that something simply swiped the rock from the walls like a fin through water. Caverns sized for gargantuan creatures provide the battleground for the next encounter where a party of cacaelia barbarian/rogues strives to defend their home and prove their worth to Lord Trentar.

In a vast chamber the party finds a diagram of a complex device etched into the walls. Here Qwoshokk obsessed over an ancient machine called the Cholcorite Mechanism, which he believes can grant immortality and power over all denizens of the sea. From the vague map of Varisia depicted next to the diagram, it appears the final piece to completing the mechanism lies somewhere near the Fenwall Mountains. Though the elder kraken is not currently in residence, Qwoshokk’s fiendish giant squid pets keep the PCs company in this chamber.

A graveknight cavalier atop a nightmare hippocampus obediently follows the elder kraken’s orders to guard one of the complex’s many alternate exits. Seemingly out of place, a pearlescent shawl wraps around the knight’s gruesome shell and chitin armor. The PCs would do well to defeat this guardian and obtain the shawl before encountering its original owner elsewhere in the lair. If they defeat the graveknight but do not destroy its armor, the undead knight rejuvenates and continually harasses the party.

Separated from her most prized possession, a shawl-less nereid begrudgingly holds sentry over the air-filled chambers. Unless the PCs return her shawl, she mercilessly assaults any who attempt to pass; whereas, PCs who return her prized cloth find a surprising ally. If reunited with the shawl containing a portion of her life force, the nereid recounts the tale of a vile cavalier who stole her garment as he stole a glance at her bathing. She repaid him with a watery kiss of death and discarded his body in the sea. She grew furious when the cavalier returned to claim her shawl once more, this time in a form immune to her charms. The nereid also knows that Lord Trentar and his sahuagin minions have taken all but the most useful slaves to the Ironbound Archipelago for sacrifice.

From the final area of the lair, the PCs can hear slaves working and conversing; however, before reaching them, the party must first overcome a bound piscodaemon and its hydrodaemon servitors. The slaves in the multiple chambers beyond all have specialized skills. Some huddle around a lava vent, forging armlets of tremendous size while others create intricate nets. Another group prepares to clean and enchant these items. If the PCs offer salvation, none eagerly leave the only home they’ve known since birth, claiming that Lord Trentar loves them and that the master treats them well. They also can tell the PCs the fate of the other captives. One of the slaves, a triton smith tells the party that he overheard Lord Trentar claiming that “a mass sacrifice will hasten the master’s ascension to godhood.” If the PCs manage to convince or force any of the slaves to leave, powerful wards conjure elder ice elementals to detain any would-be escapees as they pass through an exit.

Part Three: Seeking Brike
Though the party has learned the general whereabouts of their quarry, they possibly still don't know the exact location of the sacrifice and need additional information. Parties without supernatural methods of obtaining such knowledge may have to simply explore the countless kelp forests, shipwrecks, and heat vents dotting the archipelago's sea bed. Parties spending too much time searching run afoul of the Arcadian Interceptors. The aquatic humanoids and outsiders of this extremely prejudiced and suspicious organization assault magic-using parties who cannot adequately explain their presence below the waves. The Interceptors only back down in the face of extremely knowledgeable, honest, and diplomatic characters. They do not accompany the PCs to Brike Isle.

Nearing Brike Isle, the PCs experience an odd presence attempting to seize control of their bodies. A recently-attacked sentient coral reef lashes out with its spell-like abilities, attempting to possess, dominate, and subsequently destroy any non-animal creature it senses. When Lord Trentar, his minions, and the throng of prisoners passed this way, this immobile normally peaceful hive mind reached out with its consciousness to communicate. The troop reacted violently and now the enraged reef’s exoskeleton is riddled with several perfectly-circular two-foot diameter holes. In order to placate the creature and resolve the situation peacefully, PCs need to fully heal the reef’s wounds. If they do so, the reef telepathically thanks the PCs and apologizes for its actions. It continues by recounting the recent events which caused its rage and reports where the attackers went. From the depths of its rock-like aggregate, the reef offers up a gift to those who restored it: a sword with a blade of sharp jagged coral. The pommel and hilt depict a mermaid with her arms outstretched and her hair intertwined with the base of the coral blade. This magical sword does not suffer the normal penalties for attacking with a slashing weapon underwater. In addition, it grants ability to communicate with and power to control animals of the sea. The PCs can find this item among the carnage if they choose to destroy the reef instead.

Brike Isle
When the foundation of Brike Isle becomes visible, the party notices several sahuagin destroying boats up on the surface, but oddly not killing any of the screaming islanders. Lord Trentar directs the sahuagin to herd any hapless swimmers toward shore. When aware of the PCs, Trentar summons numerous aquatic beasts before wildshaping into a huge squid to harass the party. When the PCs’ success nears, he retreats below to join the simulacrum witch, if afforded the opportunity.

Should the PCs choose to visit the small village on the island, they discover that the islanders have suffered numerous losses to their fishing fleet, but fortunately no one has died. They know nothing of the dozens of captives held below their island. The islanders begin repairing boats and an acolyte begins casting a make whole spell to hasten the process.

The party easily finds the series of sea caves within the foundation of Brike Isle holding the sacrificial prisoners. A charmed sea serpent keeps the captives from leaving via the main entrance, whereas powerful abjurations prevent magical egress. After defeating this last guardian, the PCs finally reunite with the missing travelers. A host of other captives taken throughout the Steaming Sea accompany them and the wisest warns that the water breathing spells that Lord Trentar cast soon expire. The prisoners also tell the party that the sahuagin witch has hollowed out a massive cavern, leaving only a few pillars remaining and they invite the PCs to see firsthand through viewports in the back of the cells. However, by this point, the witch has already destroyed a few supports and continues to hold forth her talisman directing the sphere to pass through remaining pillars. The magical wards of the holding cells prevent suicidal PCs from engaging the witch from this direction. Seeing their imminent doom, the aquatic elves, gillmen, locathah, merfolk, and tritons can easily swim to safety, but the Mordant Spire elves, dwarves, Chelaxians, Nidalese, Ulfens, and Varisians anxiously seek the surface as the water breathing transmutation fades.

Soon after the PCs and their rescued friends reach the beaches of Brike, the island begins to shudder and sink. As the waters rise, the villagers panic and retreat uphill, yet the PCs know their only hope lies in the boats down at the docks. Unfortunately the land dwellers far outnumber the available spaces in the boats. If the PCs wish to save their recently rescued friends and prevent the sacrifice of Brike, they need to scour the swiftly sinking island for life rafts and organize the panicked inhabitants. Moreover, a large four-armed sahuagin baron surfaces and seeks to ensure that no one leaves the island alive.

Once the witch sets the collapse in motion, the elder kraken who controls her fabricated body summons the sphere to his side, continuing his excavations in the Fenwall Mountains, hundreds of miles away. Qwoshokk directs the simulacrum to flee and stay clear of the sinking island until the turbulence subsides. After a few minutes the witch investigates the sunken island so that Qwoshokk can marvel in the power of the mass sacrifice, but quickly notices less casualties than anticipated. Swimming to the surface, she summons a fiendish elasmosaurus and attacks the PCs. If Trentar survived his encounter with the PCs, he rejoins the fray when the witch surfaces. If defeated, the simulacrum sahuagin witch reverts to snow, instantly melting; however, her talisman of the sphere remains for the PCs to contemplate the possibilities thereof.

Concluding the Adventure
Transporting the eternally grateful survivors to nearby islands doesn’t take long. Soon word of the PCs’ heroics earns them even greater renown in the region, including a personal thank you and reward from White Estrid of Halgrim who seeks to expand her influence among the Ironbound Archipelago.

Having thwarted the kraken’s plot, the party has earned something else for their heroics - Qwoshokk’s malevolent ire. Rather than give the mastermind time to plot revenge, the PCs could wisely take the fight to Qwoshokk, especially if they have learned that he needs only one more item to complete the Cholcorite Mechanism. Also, if the party destroyed the undead cavalier, but not its armor, the graveknight reforms and continually seeks vengeance. If the PCs wish to end the creature's unholy existence, they may seek the sphere of annihilation to completely destroy its armor.

Conversely, if the PCs fail to save half of the creatures intended for sacrifice, the ritual completes. The souls of the slain fuel the elder kraken's growing strength. Though not attaining godhood, the ritual raises him to a new plateau of terrible power.

Pregenerated Characters
The suggested pregenerated characters for this module include:

  • aquatic elf paladin and hippocampus bonded mount
  • merfolk wizard and octopus familiar
  • malenti rogue
  • triton druid and dolphin companion

Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

Hey Steve! Glad to see you in the Top 4! Let’s take a look at your submission…

What you will get from me: I am a third party publisher—specifically one known for adventures. And in my role as a third party publisher of adventures I have read hundreds upon hundreds of adventure proposals sent to me by freelancers. I don’t work for Paizo and I am not a freelancer. This contest isn’t Paizo Superstar, it’s RPG Superstar, and many of the contestants (particularly the top 4) may go on to publish adventures and material not only for Paizo but for other third party publishers. I can’t give you the Paizo insider slant like James or the freelancer slant from Neil. What I can give you is a critique of your submission in real time and stream-of-consciousness, just as if I was reading and reacting to an emailed pitch I received from you back when I was actively producing Necromancer Games adventures. Hopefully that will let you inside the mind of how a third party publisher actually reviews pitches since many of you may go on to do freelance work for third party companies after your Superstar career. My notes in italics below are my impressions as I read through your submission.

In my review of each of the four submissions for this final round I’ve included some side observations and tips. I don’t repeat them in each one for space reasons. Instead, I placed them in the submissions where they seemed most appropriate.

Inside Info: The Importance of the Initial Impression: The first thing I do when I get an adventure proposal is scan the pitch to see “what kind of adventure is this?” See my comments in James’ entry for more info on this. No need to repeat myself.

Initial Impression

Once again, I start with the name. I think your name is a bit clunky and unwieldy. I like the idea of incorporating action in the title (much like James’ use of “Unsheathed”), so I appreciate “Rescue” in the title. It’s just a bit too vague. Vague isn’t bad if it is evocative—consider Christine’s Clash of the Kingslayers. I had no idea what that meant, but it sure whet my appetite in a way that your title doesn’t. Yes, that is subjective, I agree. We might not all agree on when a title is bad but we can usually all agree when they are good—like Neil’s Realm of the Fellnight Queen. The best titles usually refer to a main villain or a key location (or in Neil’s case, both). While I like the action from “Rescue” (much like Christine’s “Clash”), the steaming sea is just too large. And, skipping down, it seems not all the rescue actually is under the steaming sea and much of it is actually on top of it. In fact, on top of it at Brike Isle. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I’ll cover my concerns with Brike Isle later. Back to the name. Not great, but not bad. Frankly, none of the titles knocked my socks off this year. I thought all of you could have done better. And that is a big miss. A classic title is key and the failure to deliver one shows me you don’t quite have top notch mojo. That said, your title also clearly implies this is going to be a primary under sea adventure, and that part peaks my interest.

Name aside, let’s see what this darn thing is about and if I want to publish it…

Background and Summary

Now the quick once over. What am I getting?

• Under sea adventure, OK that is promising to be cool but it hasn’t ever really been done for a full adventure and there is a reason. But it’s a bold idea.
• An elder kraken is seeking god-hood? In a 9th level module? Hmm.
• Hey, wait, this is Brike Isle part 2.
• Oh man, there is that
sphere of annihilation again.

Design Tip: Find The Beating Heart of Your Submission: I just can’t say this enough, and it relates to every level of design. Whatever you are designing, find its beating heart. As a senior attorney, I trained young trial attorneys to find the beating heart of their case and tell that story. As a game designer (if you can call me that, or perhaps friendly RPG design cheerleader if you can’t), I tell everyone to find the beating heart of their idea, their item, their villain, their encounter, their adventure. Find it! Because when you know what it is, we know that you know it. It’s obvious. It shows in everything—the title, the focus of the plot, everything. What is pumping the blood of your adventure? What is giving it life? It can be hard to find. But you must find it and you have to actively ask yourself, because sometimes it is not what you think it is. Some of my favorite design moments have been when I am struggling with a concept or adventure and I am butting up against my idea and turning it over in my mind and I just can’t make it work and all of a sudden the light comes on in my head and I realize that I was wrong about what my adventure or idea was about. I strip away my preconceived notions of what my adventure or story or item is about and I find its actual heart. Creativity is organic. It grows and flows with a life of its own and when you try to limit it with your preconceived ideas of it, you stifle it and you lose it. I make that mistake all the time. But at least I know to look for it. It takes humility. It takes the ability to set aside what you thought was going to be great about what you set out to create and to look for and find what is actually great about it. It’s like having a child and expecting that child to be great at playing basketball and failing to find that they are great at the piano. Your creation always winds up having a say in its own evolution. I can’t tell you how many times I have said, “Oh, wait, THIS is actually the villain” or “Hey, OK, no, THIS person should actually be the main character,” when the idea I was working on just wouldn’t fit my pre-planned ideas. And guess what, those organic discoveries always wind up being better. That said, as a freelancer your employer doesn’t have time for you to go on a free flowing self-exploration. So you better learn this skill and learn it quick!

Why am I raising this tip? First, because I think it is key to success. And second because, in my view, the biggest failing of this submission is that it is forced. You forced your preconceived plan on this submission and failed to find its heart. But I will talk about that in more detail as we go along.

My first concern, and it is a big one, is that you failed to highlight your actual villain. I think you think the elder kraken is the villain. Heck, it gets several paragraphs before you get to anything else. Now, that might be a great background for an adventure path, but in a 32 page module you can’t hint at a big bad down the road that the PCs never get to. That’s just not what 32-page adventures are all about. You missed the heart of your adventure. It CAN’T be about the kraken, because in a 32-page adventure for 9th level PCs you never get to him. So if your focus is on that too much (which it is), then you have failed to find the heart of your adventure.

I hope I didn’t steer you wrong. In my “On The Fence” review of Brike Isle, I mentioned: “I'm less worried about the ‘save the victims’ angle. I am presuming this is part of a larger whole and the thing that gave the PCs the ‘buy in’ has already happened.” I hope by those comments I didn’t give you the idea to do Brike Isle as your adventure proposal. I’m going to guess I didn’t since your organization, monster (the reef), your encounter (Brike Isle) and your adventure (this) all seem to be part of a preconceived underwater adventure plan. Some may see that as clever. I don’t. I see it as regurgitation. There are so many repeated elements here that frankly this submission doesn’t even seem that original. It’s just an expansion of Brike Isle, really, with your prior round monster thrown in for good measure. The Mordant Spire elves, the minor talisman of the sea, the witch, the ceremony, the villagers, your reef monster. Not to mention the sphere of annihilation. We had a problem with that in the CR 3 / 6 tiered encounter, and frankly I still have a problem with it in this 9th level adventure. That just shows how right we were with Brike Isle that it wasn’t appropriate for that level. It also bothers me a great deal that you, apparently, simply disregarded our advice on that and that you just essentially redid Brike Isle as your adventure submission with very little in the way of changes. You just bolted some other stuff on. That, to me, shows inflexible adherence to a preconceived plan. I don’t want that in a freelancer. It just seems so tacked on, so “here’s what I’ve done before, just repackaged!” It would be one thing, in my view, to cleverly reference your prior stuff. But that’s not what this is.

Also, just on a fundamental level I don’t think it is right to lift your prior round’s submission essentially whole cloth and drop it into your adventure proposal. Essentially, by referencing that prior submission you earned yourself more words to use on the rest of your submission. That just seems not right to me. Granted, it is not specifically against the rules so I can’t say it is unfair. I will say this, though—it was also not wise. Brike Isle was not universally liked. Neil gave it only a tentative recommend. I was on the fence. And while Sean liked it, Mark did not recommend it. Ryan didn’t like it either. That’s not the kind of content that a smart freelancer would say “oh yeah, I gotta use that!”

I just can’t get away from the fact that this submission is just a bunch of stuff (mostly your prior stuff) bolted on to Brike Isle.

In the end, adventures are all about plot, locations, encounters, enemies and rewards. I think this adventure fails to deliver those at a Superstar level. I liked your reef, but its reuse here is just that—reuse. You didn’t do anything new. Brike Isle is a good map, but that doesn’t make it a good loction.

Recommendation: Steve, I’m sorry to say that I DO NOT RECOMMEND this submission as a potential winner for RPG Superstar 2012. I think we called on you to up your game and we all had some strong concerns for your prior submissions (except for the reef). Instead of taking those comments to heart you just cobbled together your prior stuff into one submission. You could claim it was all part of one grand master plan conceived of well in advance and executed round by round. Even if it were true, given the feedback you got from us you needed to abandon that plan. But then again I can see why you might rely on the voters and not the judges. You got in with night monarch vardo. The judges were not the biggest fans of the Arcaidian Interceptors, yet you advanced. The necrotic reef showed us some promise, but Sean had some concerns and Ryan didn’t like it. Still, you advanced. Brike Isle, as mentioned, was not well received by the judges, yet again you advanced. So, as I said, I can see why you might decide to ignore our comments and use stuff we said was not great because you advanced with it. That said, this is the final round and I certainly hope that the voters put, perhaps, more stock in what the judges say this round—even if not in what I say, what guys like James Jacobs says about this proposal. My guess is he will have many of the same concerns I am expressing here.

It’s up to the voters now! Good luck! Even though I am not recommending your submission I certainly wish you well in the future. This is a grueling contest and you have done a good job! Congratulations.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

First of all, congratulations on making it to the final round! That's an accomplishment in and of itself! My review of the proposal (as with the other three adventure reviews) focuses primarily upon how the adventure fits into the Inner Sea region, how interesting the adventure functions as a whole, and any potential changes/trouble spots we’ll need to have addressed should the proposal end up winning. I'm going to present feedback with very little sugar-coating as well, since I've always felt that frank and honest feedback is more valuable.

The Basics

Title: The title’s kind of bland, and not really accurate since the actual “rescue” happens on an island, not under the Steaming Sea.

Location: An underwater adventure! This is the most intriguing part of the adventure—we’ve flirted with doing underwater stuff before, but never for an entire adventure. Alas... the underwater portion seems to be abandoned a bit in the second half of the adventure. In addition... the scope of the adventure’s way too big. Entire Adventure Paths take place in regions smaller than the Steaming Sea...

Plot: The plot is actually pretty interesting. I like the idea of an evil mastermind building a “sacrifice farm,” where he gathers prisoners, lets them live their lives (whether or not they’re aware of being prisoners), only to destroy their home to sacrifice them. The goal of “becoming a god” is kind of overused and over the top though... especially for a single adventure.

The Good

1) My favorite part of the entire adventure is the graveknight and the neried. Their relationship is really interesting and intriguing–so much, that I kind of wish this relationship were the core plot of the entire adventure. I sort of feel having these two just be idle NPCs in a couple of encounter areas is a waste of their potential. As minor encounters... they almost feel TOO cool, kind of like they’re wasted.

2) The sentient coral reef is a really cool idea. Alas... it’s also kind of like #1 above, in that it’s so unusual and interesting that it might be a bit TOO distracting to simply be something you wander by on the way to the final part of the adventure.

3) I mention this above in Plot, but the fact that this adventure gives us a chance to look at and develop more about the underwater regions of Golarion is cool.

4) That there’s no aboleths mentioned at all in the entire proposal is refreshing. I love aboleths as much as anyone else (probably more than most, in fact), but not every adventure that has to do with water has to be about aboleths.

Development Concerns

1) My biggest concern here is the fact that the main bad guy is not encountered in the adventure—which makes “Rescue Under the Steaming Sea” feel like a prequel or a prelude to the ACTUAL adventure you want to write. We VERY rarely do linked adventures, and when we do, we prefer them to happen relatively quickly... and even an RPG Superstar winner isn’t someone we’ll necessarily want to “risk” 2 adventures on. That’s a third of the modules we do in a year, after all. All of which is my way of saying an adventure that feels so much like “part one” of at least 2 parts (and likely more, considering how powerful a foe Qwoshokk must be) makes the adventure feel more like it’s trying to actually be an Adventure Path. In short—the scope of this adventure is far too large.

2) When you use an established NPC from our books... you MUST cite where that NPC comes from. I didn’t realize out that Qwoshokk is an established Golarion NPC except at the last minute before I posted this. And that makes things tricky, since we may or may not have actual plans for any NPC we publish that could make a proposed adventure fall apart from the start. Furthermore, when you use established NPCs, especially those like Qwoshokk who have actual stat blocks (see page 39 of Mythical Monsters Revisited, you have to play by the rules of those stat blocks. And since Qwoshokk has no way to cast a simulacrum spell, that means he can’t use it to create a simulacrum of Trentar in the first place. In addition, reading through Qwoshokk’s entry, I see a LOT of elements you’ve pulled from and incorporated into the adventure. While that’s good on one level... you need to cite these, because whoever ends up developing your adventure may or may not know about those details. Maintaining world canon is a very tricky deal... just because we’re the ones who publish Golarion products doesn’t mean we know everything about Golarion. In fact... no one at Paizo has read everything Paizo has published for Golarion. When you use content from a book like Mythical Monsters Revisited, you need to let us know.

3) There’s a lot of really cool content (elder kraken, sphere of annihilation, etc.) that’s “wasted” in this adventure since the PCs never get to interact with it. As a result, that content is almost wasting space in the adventure... anything you put in an adventure that the PCs don’t have a chance to directly interact with robs from word count dedicated to things that can actually come up in game play. You have to have some of this background content for an adventure to make sense... but achieving the balance between it and actual game content that the players get to experience is tough. This proposal does not achieve that balance.

4) In addition to my concerns in #3 above... there’s the fact that the adventure itself doesn’t really start until Part Two. Everything before this is setup; introducing the PCs to WAY too many NPCs who can help things get going. Pick one, cut the rest, and you’ll have more room for the actual adventure. (And by “Pick one,” I mean “Pick the Mordant Spire, since that’s something that’s already established in the world and that folks are eager to see more about. The whale sage is a cool idea... but it’s new, and thus not really a good way to introduce the adventure. It’s too distracting and weird and unexpected to merely serve as a questgiving NPC who shows up and then is never seen again after he gives out the quest.

5) Hermea is an incredibly interesting and distracting location. If an adventure’s not ABOUT Hermea, it’s best not to mention it at all, because it’s the type of place that can really easily distract readers and players from the actual adventure.

6) When you do adventure proposals (and write adventures) you can’t assume the reader has knowledge of obscure or just-invented elements, like new monsters, new NPCs, or new magic items. Thus, when you first mention them, you should contextualize them. You do this halfway with the talisman of the sea... but not all the way (we still don’t know what a minor talisman does, and as such, why we even need two versions of the item in the first place). I see that you’ve pulled several elements from your earlier RPG Superstar entries into this proposal... those do not get a “free pass” from this. If you’re going to mention something like the Arcadian Interceptors... provide context. (I specifically do not read or follow the earlier stages of the competition, in fact, partially due to a lack of time on my behalf but also because I want to come to these final four entries with eyes fresh and no preconceived notions about things, in order to be able to judge each adventure as fairly and impartially as I can—but that does mean that when you casually mention things like “Arcadian Interceptors” I don’t really what you’re talking about. Getting into the habit of providing context is a good thing; you cant start getting that habit too soon!).

7) Setting a portion of an adventure miles underwater is tricky. Not only does that require a lot of resources (like water breathing and light sources)... the pressure damage folks will be taking down there will quickly TPK the party. You need to provide solutions for this in your adventure; not mentioning how a party can survive pressure damage at this depth makes it look like you don’t know about those rules in the first place, and that doesn’t do much to my confidence that you can pull off an adventure set in such an exotic location as an underwater trench miles below the surface, alas.

8) Reefclaws and lacedons (CR 1 foes) and shipwrecker crabs (CR 13 foes) are so far apart in power levels that any warning that says something like “Don’t swim too low; reefclaws, shipwrecker crabs, and lacedon packs roam he Hermean Plain...” That just looks silly. It’s like saying, “Don’t go in the woods, because hummingbirds and rabid cybernetic grizzly bears and packs of chipmunks are in there!”

9) We haven’t said much about what lives in Golarion’s oceans—yet. There’s a double-sized article about this very subject coming out very soon, in one of the earlier “Skull & Shackles” Adventure Path installments. If “Rescue Under the Steaming Sea” wins, we will need to make sure that it follows what we’ve set up in that article, and that means that a lot of the aquatic races will need to change in this adventure. Just as above ground, where we’ve more or less said gnolls live in northeast Garrund, goblins live on the coastlines, charau-ka live in the Mwangi Expanse, and orcs live in Belkzen,” we’ve got regions in the world’s seas where these races live. Just because a race is aquatic doesn’t mean it lives in every ocean.

10) As a corollary to 9 above... there’s too much variation here. It almost feels like you tried to make sure EVERY aquatic race is represented here. We don’t do that in our other above-water adventures, so we shouldn’t do it here. Pick a few races that are represented in the Steaming Sea and go from there. In such a case where that information hasn’t been published yet, we’ll work with the author to select the right races, providing access to whatever articles and books that haven’t yet been published contain the needed info.

11) Watch your use of the word “enchant.” It’s frustrating... but this word means something specific in Pathfinder—“To affect a target with an enchantment effect or spell.” It does not mean “To make an item magical.” When you say “a group prepares to enchant these items” you should actually say something like “a group prepares to enhance these items magically” or something like that. It’s a nitpicky thing, but it’s something I see pop up often enough in writing for Pathfinder that I needed to call it out.

12) Don’t get distracted by newer monsters when older, more established monsters work fine or better in an encounter. At the end of Part Two, when the wards are broken, the elementals summoned should be water elementals, not ice elementals. Not only do water elementals make more sense for the location... they’re also more familiar (and thus easier to run) to most GMs. When your adventure’s already taxing GM capabilities by virtue of being set in an unusual location, making the GM’s job easier by using simpler monsters in a case like this is good design.

13) The Steaming Sea is a vast region. Saying White Estrid steps in to personally thank the PCs for accomplishing an adventure in that region is kind of like the Ruby Prince of Osirion thanking the PCs for succeeding on an adventure they went on in Nex. If White Estrid was the one who sent the PCs on the mission in the first place... that’d be a different matter... but she didn’t. The PCs should get their rewards and thanks from the Mordant Spire.

14) We no longer present pregenerated characters in our adventures, save for in the case of Free RPG day adventures. Anything that talks about pregenerated characters would get cut from this adventure.

15) Did I just miss it... or was there no new monster mentioned in this proposal? All of our modules should include a new monster...

Final Thoughts
While I really do like this proposal’s plot (the “sacrifice farm”), and I really do want to some day start looking at Golarion’s oceans and what dwells within them... this adventure proposal has a lot of rough spots. It’s incredibly ambitious as well... and perhaps the greatest flaw is the fact that the actual villain of the piece isn’t something you encounter in the adventure—in fact, it’s unlikely it’d be something you’d be able to encounter at the end of a full Adventure Path. An elder kraken capable of casting 7th-level spells like simulacrum would be, by my math a CR 25 foe. And even if you drop that element and use Qwoshokk as presented in Mythical Monsters Revisited, he’s still a CR 20 foe. If this adventure wins, I’ll need you to rebuild that part so that the adventure is self-contained, and that the PCs get to fight whoever it is that’s behind the plot in the final encounter. Which means, at most, a CR 13 or maybe CR 14 foe. Which means even a standard kraken (at CR 18) is too much; you’ll need to replace that element entirely and completely. Furthermore, involving a sphere of annihilation at 9th level is really dangerous... not only because of the threat it would pose to the PCs, but to the threat the PCs would pose to any adventure they went on next if they ended up with the sphere in their possession. The fact that the sphere is so important to the plot’s central peril of the island about to collapse means that removing this element from the adventure will make things really difficult. In other words... your adventure’s plot is more appropriate as an adventure for PCs 10 or so levels HIGHER than 9th.

As a result, I do not recommend “Rescue Under the Steaming Sea” for consideration as the winner of RPG Superstar 2012.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Steve! Welcome to the final round! It takes a lot of effort to reach the Top 4, and this is your shot! As a competitor in RPG Superstar, that's all anyone can ask. Now, all that matters is what you make of it. This round gives you a real chance to translate your success into an actual freelance assignment with Paizo. And, hopefully, you've had a lot of fun along the way, because this competition should be just as entertaining as it is nerve-wracking. Let's see how well you've weathered the storm of competition and what you have in store for us...

First off, you should know I like to break my commentary into two halves for the final round. The first part assesses your pitch...meaning, how well you sold your ideas within the proposal itself and how well it meets the requirements put to you. I think it's important to take a look at that because it gives us a more complete sense of your writing ability and how well you're able to present your ideas to win support for your work. That goes for the judges, the voters, and eventually the gaming community-at-large. It also offers a glimpse into how you'd structure your adventure so it conveys information to the reader in a useful, inspired manner.

The second part of my assessment will dive into each major element of your implied adventure and whether what you've presented here includes all the relevant pieces to hopefully make a great Pathfinder module. More than anything, that's really the goal here. While your pitch may demonstrate you've got the professional polish, creative writing ability, and organizational skills to entrust you with this type of assignment, it's the core ideas of your adventure which will convince voters to select your proposal as the one they most want to see on store shelves and available for purchase on Paizo's website. So, with all that in mind, let's get down to business...

Feedback for: Rescue Under the Steaming Sea

The Pitch
Okay. This is the part where you need to sell your proposal to us...which means, you need to write well enough to convince us you know what you're doing with strong, purposeful design choices. That includes the underlying storytelling, pacing, and plot of your adventure; the choices you make with regards to the level requirement/CRs for each encounter; the number of maps you'll require for your chosen location(s); your sense of Golarion canon vs. how best to support the intellectual property of your publisher; your sense of scope and scale so you can fit everything in 32 pages; and so on. Basically, your adventure pitch should convince us you've got a good head on your shoulders when it comes to adventure design, and that you're the man Paizo (and the Paizo community) should entrust with this opportunity.

Hopefully, the prior rounds of this year's competition helped you develop an understanding of these things. My approach has always been to study what Paizo already does with their Pathfinder modules and emulate it...i.e., how things are structured, how each adventure premise innovates around some new idea, and what kinds of limitations the format puts on you as a writer/storyteller. Likewise, I believe it's important to study the winning adventure proposals from prior years of RPG Superstar to get a sense of how they "sold" the readers, judges, and voters. If you can pick up on all those elements and adapt your proposal accordingly, you'll be light-years ahead of most would-be designers.

So, the first thing I notice when I read your submission is the adventure's intended name. Rescue Under the Steaming Sea. I'm intrigued by it. Primarily, I think that's because it holds forth the promise of an undersea adventure...something Paizo hasn't explored to a tremendous degree yet. There's been From Shore to Sea and Carrion Crown's Wake of the Watcher, but those adventures haven't quite delved into the ocean deeps like your proposal promises. I also like that you chose a title that's not your average, run-of-the-mill, X of the Y name. Naming is actually one of the most important elements in adventure design. That's because it's the first thing people are going to see when they come across your module on the shelves. Thus, your adventure's name needs to evoke a powerful image in the reader's mind so it makes them want to pick it up and read what lies behind the cover. One of the most useful tricks for selecting a powerful, evocative, or even iconic name is to name the adventure after one of two things: either, 1) the name of your primary adventure location (e.g., The Temple of Elemental Evil, White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors), or 2) your primary villain (e.g., Queen of Spiders, Scourge of the Slave Lords, Crown of the Kobold King). The names of these adventures resonate because they draw upon the things your players will almost certainly remember and reminisce about after playing through the adventure...i.e., the cool location where it took place, or the awesome villain they faced. If your adventure name can tap into one or both of those things, you're on the right track.

To me, Rescue Under the Steaming Sea certainly gives us a hint towards your iconic location. And again, because it's not your atypical adventuring location, it has a certain appeal. However, one of the parts I didn't care for as much were the suggested pregen PCs. Paizo has always used their iconic PCs as the pregens for Pathfinder modules and none of them are native to an underwater environment. Truthfully, I think it's a bit of a mistake to shoot for an adventure where you're counting on that. However, you do include the talisman of the sea to offset that concern, much like you did for your encounter submission in Round 4 for Brike Island. Unfortunately, I didn't care for that “plot device” solution in that round, and I still don't care for it here. But I'll get into that more when I assess your adventure's plot further below.

So what about the rest of the pitch? I think you presented it very cleanly. I could follow things reasonably well and I thought you organized the information in a very readable format which supports the storytelling element. What I didn't like was how much of it reused material from the prior rounds. You've worked the nautical theme really hard throughout the entire competition and I don't yet have a feel for your range as a potential freelancer. Are you a one-trick pony fixated on undersea adventuring? I'd like to think not. But, you've gone back to the well multiple times with your Arcadian Interceptors, the necrotic reef, Brike Isle, and now an adventure proposal that tries to string as many of those things together as possible. Unfortunately, I didn't recommend some of those designs and had some serious quibbles with a lot of their execution. Without a sense of how you'd salvage or enhance them, I'm uncertain I'll like them any better in your final design. What I am certain about, however, is that Paizo's developers will properly guide you no matter what. They'll let you know how far to run with these ideas and which ones to abandon or modify to support an adventure set in Golarion. With their assistance, I think it's entirely possible you can spin something worthy of the Superstar crown out of this proposal.

From a cartographer's point of view, you've got enough material here for 5-6 maps. We've got the Gartanica trench, the undersea cavern complex, the encounter with the Arcadian Interceptors (which would likely involve the PCs' ship), the sentient reef encounter, the undersea foundation (and sphere of annhilation-carved caves) of Brike Island, and the soon-to-be flooded village and docks of the Brike settlement above. That's a lot of maps. Hopefully, you can save some room by making a few of them half-page maps rather than something larger, or at least include some full-page maps that serve double-duty by showcasing more than just a single location. Otherwise, you'll have trouble fitting all that in a 32-page module. Given all those locations (and the way you've described them), I'm worried if you'll also overshoot the 20 or so encounter locations typically contained in a Pathfinder module. You're really pushing the limit and I suspect your developer will need to work with you ahead of time to help trim it back by dropping some of the extraneous encounters or limiting the size and scope of some of them.

From a Golarion canon standpoint, I thought you did a decent job of tapping into what you could to find a good home for your adventure. Of course, you've had a couple of rounds to chisel that out given the feedback on Brike Isle from your last submission. I also noted the nod toward the Hermean plain and the Mordant Spire elves. Unfortunately, I fear Paizo will steer you away from the Mordant Spire. It's one of those major mysteries of the campaign setting. I started to draw on that area for a bit of background involving an NPC in my Skull & Shackles adventure, but my developer asked me to leave that alone for now. It's possible you could still serve up some kind of connection here, but probably nothing as prominent as what you've suggested. Of course, these aren't necessarily things that are easy to know ahead of time. So, I'm not really holding it against you. I'm just mentioning it in the event that your proposal wins so you can adjust accordingly if it comes up. Everything else was reasonably tight here. I get the sense that you're really applying yourself to trying to absorb and innovate within the Pathfinder campaign setting. And that's a good trait for a freelancer to display.

The last thing I examined was a bit of analysis around the appropriateness of your implied encounters. I got real worried when I saw you describing Qwoshokk as an actual kraken, because the CR for that kind of creature way outstrips this adventure. You rightly avoided introducing him as an actual encounter in Rescue Under the Steaming Sea. But, in a lot of ways, I think that left your overall villain choice much weaker in the conveyance of your adventure's storyline. I'll get into that more when I assess your villain, below. Everything else seemed logically thought-through to me. You've got an array of appropriate monsters for an undersea jaunt...everything from sahuagin with dire sharks to kapoacinth, jellyfish swarms, an underwater grave knight mounted on a nightmare hippocampus (which I'm not entirely certain how that'll be built, but it sounds awesome!), a coerced nereid, a piscodaemon with some hydrodaemons to command, Lord Trentar (the undine druid) with more sahuagin, a sea serpent, and finally a sahuagin witch simulacrum. While most of those choices are CR-appropriate for the adventure, I'm really worried by the number of elaborate stat-blocks it might necessitate. As spellcasters, Trentar and the witch are going to take up some serious space. The same goes for the nightmare hippocampus and your sentient reef, not to mention some sahuagin with class levels, the Arcadian Interceptors, and so on. With all those maps and enough locations to do them justice, your stat-block allotment is going to further eat up your word count. So, I'm not entirely sure if this is do-able in 32 pages. And, in truth, because of the background and kraken villain pulling all the strings here, this scenario still feels more like a three module mini-campaign than something standalone. Maybe everyone else will feel differently? But I've got real worries here for you...

The Adventure
In my advice for RPG Superstar, I've written before about five key elements in good adventure design. Erik Mona and James Jacobs once shared this perspective at a GenCon seminar on “Writing for Dungeon Magazine” back in the day, and I've always found it extremely useful in plotting out compelling adventure scenarios. So, it's my hope that it'll also serve as a good metric for assessing how well your adventure holds up. Essentially, if you can address the following five things with as much “awesome” as you can muster, you've got a winning adventure proposal on your hands. Those five things boil down to: 1) a memorable villain whose goals are a legitimate threat which credibly prompts the PCs to act; 2) a unique and interesting set of locales which provide cool maps, memorable encounters, and innovative tactical/terrain situations; 3) a compelling and interesting plot wherein the villain's goals encroach on the PCs' world in a sustained, threatening manner where they get to become heroes at the center of attention throughout the adventure; 4) some interesting and entertaining minions and NPCs who have a credible reason for working with the villain, existing within the chosen locale(s), and create recurring problems for the PCs; and 5) an interesting, worthwhile reward which the PCs (and their players) will cherish for the rest of their adventuring careers. If you can achieve high marks in as many of those areas as possible in your design, you could have a real, winning idea on your hands. So, let's see how you measured up:

The Villain: I felt like this part let me down a bit. Your villain is really Qwoshokk, but you can't feature him in an adventure meant for 9th level PCs. Clearly, you're hoping for a sequel adventure where you can go really high-level and trot him out down the road. Instead, if I set aside Qwoshokk, your next best villain in this proposal is Trentar...and, I say that because of how many opportunities we get to learn about him, observe his handiwork, chase him across the seabed, and ultimately try and rescue the captives he plans on sacrificing to further empower the kraken. Unfortunately, even Trentar kind of gets upstaged at the end by the sahuagin witch simulacrum that Qwoshokk manipulates like a puppet. Personally, I think you'd be far better served to merge the two concepts. Ditch the witch and focus on Trentar as the primary mover-and-shaker who's acting as Qwoshokk's harbinger. Or, trade out his status as an undine druid and make him the simulacrum witch in service to the kraken. I think that would strengthen the villain role for you from a storytelling standpoint.

The Locale(s) – Well, I've already established that I think you've got an awful lot of locations for this adventure. In some ways, I like that, because of how much of the underwater environment you get to showcase. We can have some undersea exploration along with some sailing ship stuff, too, once the Arcadian Interceptors get into the act. What I didn't see (and would have liked more of) is a bit of variety in those environments in terms of the terrain features, hazards, traps, etc. It isn't enough to just say this location has monster X that the PCs will face, while this other location has monster Y and rely on just the differences in the monsters' abilities to make things come off in the best interests of the story. It's far better to inject some other elements into the location to jazz up the encounter with something unexpected and additionally challenging to the say, some underwater steam vents...a razor-sharp coral reef to navigate...poisoned waters even to those with water breathing...combat in the three-dimensional medium of water where everyone can essentially “fly” during a fight...and so on. Play up some of those things to really make your locations pop and you'll give your adventure an almost cinematic quality that'll have players and GMs talking about it long after they've finished the adventure.

The Plot – You know, there are some things I like in your adventure's plot and there's some stuff I don't like. First, a lot of it still feels like warmed up leftovers from all the preceding rounds of the competition. I haven't seen someone rely this heavily on the concepts they introduced over the course of RPG Superstar by bringing all of them back for the final round and it kind of throws me a bit...again, primarily because there were elements in a lot of those earlier submissions that I didn't care for and I just don't get a sense that you've modified or changed much based on our earlier feedback. Additionally, the introduction to the adventure is kind of a bit overused as a plot hook...i.e., some people got abducted and the PCs are encouraged to go rescue them. I'm not sure what to suggest to jazz that up at this point, but it just doesn't start the adventure off with much of a bang! A lot of the clue-dropping/guidance elements between each encounter felt a little railroady, as well. The encounters themselves don't really grow as organically from the plot as I'd like to see. And again, I really wish there were an opportunity to face the ultimate villain behind the whole thing rather than just what essentially amounts to that villain's henchmen/underlings/minions.

To me, you seem to have this tendency to introduce high-powered concepts a lot earlier than they'd normally be appropriate for a given adventuring level. Not just the kraken Qwoshokk, but also the sphere of annhilation element. Is there any reason such a potent magic item gets recalled from the witch other than to have it serve as a plot device you just don't want the PCs to face or get their hands on? That kind of stuff just doesn't resonate with me as a smart design choice. Instead, it smacks of someone who's in love with the sphere of annhiliation and wants to depend on its iconic and deadly status to enhance the premise and plot of the adventure while scaring the crap out of the players who will recognize it and metagame. Maybe some people view that as an innovative use of the item. To me, it just feels misplaced and inappropriate for the given adventure.

I cited this same concern in my review of your Brike Isle encounter. So, to me (at this point), you're not coming across as a freelancer who's capable of listening and incorporating a developer's feedback. Instead, it feels more like you're bypassing the judges' concerns here (who are basically acting in a developer's capacity over the course of the competition) in order to appeal directly to the voters to advance you. That might work for the purposes of the competition. But, in the real world of freelancing, a developer pretty much stops giving you work if you ignore their feedback on matters like this...

Setting all that aside, though...I did like how the Mordant Spire elves, whale sage, Arcadian Interceptors, and sentient reef serve as good social encounters beyond just the hack-and-slash combat routine. I also like that the collapsing island puts the PCs in the situation of a full-scale rescue, whereby each person they save robs Qwoshokk of another soul to feed his growing power. And, I liked the path of varied locations through which the PCs get to adventure in order to arrive at that final showdown. This could all make good fodder for a compelling novel. But, much like this adventure, I'd want to see the kraken as part of the end-game and that's just not appropriate for the adventuring level of this assignment.

So, if you win this thing, I think you really need to listen and learn from your developers. Be willing to adapt a few of these elements I've cited here. Go back to the drawing board with the overall adventure concept and alter it to meet some of James' and Mark's suggestions. An undersea rescue of kidnapped souls could easily make for a compelling adventure. But it'll be up to you to make it work. And therein, I have some worries (which I'll touch more on below).

The Minions – I liked a lot of the underlings and guardian choices you made here. The potential ally in the nereid if they can rescue her shawl from the grave knight is cool. The undine druid Trentar and his animal companions, including the sea serpent are a nice touch. And the recurring lower level foot-soldiers with the sahuagin all fit very well for this scenario.

The Reward – I didn't find anything particularly compelling here. The talisman of the sea feels like way more of a plot device for this adventure, but I suppose it could have long-lasting appeal for a campaign that would remain focused on the sea. I'm not sure you can count on that for a standalone Pathfinder module, though. The coral blade is another possible contender for prized loot from the adventure, but it didn't feel defined enough to represent something iconic that the PCs could cherish for the rest of their adventuring careers. If you go on to win this thing, I'd like to see you punch this up a bit more. Make sure the adventure includes some integral reward that's immediately appealing to the PCs and lasts far beyond just this one adventure.

Okay. That's probably a lot to absorb, and I'm sure everything didn't come across as positive in my review. Even so, there's still a lot to like in this proposal. I think you did a decent job with it. But, like I feared from some of your earlier designs, I think you took things a bit too far in some areas. And, I think you missed some golden opportunities, as well. That's one of my biggest fears here, Steve. I'm not always won over by the choices you make with your ideas. But, properly toned down and refined, I keep thinking you could make something really awesome out of some of your imaginings. I trust Paizo's experienced and talented developers to help you refine those ideas in ways that support their IP as effectively as possible. If I have any advice for you, it would be to work harder on making their job easier. Anticipate when you should zig instead of zag. Don't overshoot the level band of your assignment and, instead, make sure you do it justice by relying on ideas that fit. Don't just push to create the type of things you'd use for your home game. Make sure everything fits their world and make sure you're handling everything the way they would. You don't have to be a carbon copy. Just bring your own ideas and push the envelope where it makes sense to do so.

So, where do I stand in the end? Wow. I'm torn. I could see something cool being made of these ideas with a fair amount of refinement. But, the villain choice that stretches well beyond this adventure...and the rehashing of so much material from the prior rounds...really puts me off. This is really borderline for me and there's just not quite enough here that I'm compelled to support it. I'm also concerned about what kind of freelancer you'd be and your ability to incorporate and learn from a developer's feedback. As a result, I have to say I DO NOT RECOMMEND this adventure proposal for consideration as the ultimate winner of RPG Superstar 2012. I championed Tom's The Scarlet God and Mike's Doom Comes to Dustpawn instead, as I think they've both got the chops to deliver the goods, they've got some prior freelancing experience, and their adventure outlines hold just as much promise. But who knows? The voters may favor your underwater romp (since many have asked for this kind of adventure). Or maybe they'll go for James' disease-driven revolution in Galt. All of you chose really good, fertile ground for exploration, and I suspect there'll be some strong factions supporting each of you because they'll want to see Paizo's take on some of these concepts. In the end, it'll be interesting to see which adventure the public favors most. Regardless of how things go, I'm really proud to see how far you've come. I wish you the very best of luck. And, no matter what, I'm certain you'll still make the most of this experience and your opportunity to design something new for Paizo.

My sincere two cents and best wishes in your future freelancing career,


Clark, James, and Neil have already given detailed responses covering most of what I'd say, so I'll just add a few comments.

Why are the minions abducting people? They can easily buy slaves in Cheliax and Nidal and take them to the island. I get that it's a plot hook (kidnapped family members), but there are easier ways for the villains to operate, especially given their resources.

If you're going provide for the PCs purchasing one or more talismans of the sea for ~14,000 gp each, you need to realize they could just as easily purchase a bottle of air (~7,000 gp), pearl of the sirines (~15,000 gp), cloak of the manta ray (~7,000 gp), helm of underwater action (~24,000 gp), or necklace of adaptation (~9,000 gp), most of which are much cheaper than the talisman.

At this level, PCs can use scrying and teleport, even if they're just from a scroll. And by teleporting there, they can entirely bypass the need for water breathing for a big chunk of the adventure.
Ah, wait, I see you mention that there are abjurations that prevent magical egress. Assuming those block entering via teleport as well, that solves the problem... but means you dodged the actual design challenge of this round: making an adventure for 9th-level characters who have access to things like raise dead and teleport magic. If the PCs are 9th level, one of the things they're going to want to do is teleport places. Because that's a cool thing to show off and is a perk of being 9th level, just like turning invisible is a perk of being 3rd level and fireball and fly are perks of being 5th level.
Running a game at that level also means the GM has to adapt to the PCs doing that, and that doesn't mean you adapt by negating their ability to do that. That's like letting the newly 5th-level wizard learn fireball, and in the very next adventure you throw a bunch of fire-resistant and fire-immune creatures at the party so the wizard's fireball isn't useful. If you're told to design an adventure that takes into account that PCs can teleport, the solution isn't taking away their ability to teleport. It annoys the PCs, and they'll just find a way around it, perhaps by teleporting just outside the limit of the wards. The game changes at 9th level, that's why the design challenge for this round is a 9th-level adventure--to see how you handle "superhero" PCs who can see anywhere in the world, teleport anywhere in the world, cast divinations to get answers directly from the gods, and even raise the dead.

You have a lot of complex stat blocks for classed and multiclassed creatures; that can get really cumbersome for a GM.

The involvement of the daemons is unexpected; nothing before this indicated the kraken boss was involved in extraplanar stuff.

There's a lot of "you can't do that" in this adventure proposal. You can't teleport directly to where the prisoners are held. Once you get there, you can't fight the witch "from this direction." And when you do fight the witch, you're actually fighting a simulacrum, so you can't actually fight the real witch boss (she doesn't actually appear in the adventure, and you don't even name her in the proposal). And because the kraken is CR 18 or higher, you can't fight him because he'd easily kill level 9 PCs (even though the Concluding the Adventure section suggests the PCs may hunt him down... presumably after gaining at least 7 more levels). Overall, I think this would really frustrate players.

I do not recommend you vote for this adventure proposal.

What's your hook? That the undersea world is interesting? Who is buying this product based on your intro? Jacques Cousteau?

Adventure Background / Adventure Summary

Hey, it's your encounter pitch. Again. Well I didn't like it last round, and I don't like it any better now.

Too Much Information Too Slowly Paced

You gave us an intro, a Background, a Summary, and an Introduction. That's a lot of words to waste on saying the same thing in different ways. You're writing a scenario, not a novel. You've got multiple NPCs, with multiple plot lines, motivations, history, and other details all packed into this pitch, none of which is really necessary at this stage, and while writing all that stuff, you lost my interest in the pitch.

What are you pitching? Is this a "stop the kraken before he becomes a god" scenario? Is this a "fight the seamonsters you don't often encounter" adventure? Or is this an "adventure in a weird environment and that's enough to be worth buying" product?

Part One

This is the part where the GM speaks for an hour while the players sit around waiting to do something interesting.

Part Two

This is the part where the "trench" is apparently within 300 meters of the surface, so there's enough light to see by.

Really huge spaces make for really crappy maps. Why not just have the fight out in the open? What kind of terrain effects are meaningful in really vast spaces?

And then we fight an anachronistic knight. Errr, wat?

Part Three

Regurgitation of previous rounds - monster, encounter, group. Where's the Vardo?

Concluding the Adventure

Wherein we learn that all the fun stuff happens later.


Your main villain makes no appearance.

Your secondary villain turns into a squid.

Your third villain is so confusing I can barely understand it. A simulacrum witch?

Your fourth villain can't be killed except with an artifact, and obsessively attacks the PCs forever.

Judge's Recommendation

This pitch regurgitated a lot of previously submitted content, much of which I didn't like the first time around.

I don't like the setting. I don't like the villains. I don't like the railroaded linear flow of the events. I don't like that the PCs have very little affect on the outcome and are mostly spectators to the designer's novel plot unfolding.

I do not recommend that you vote for this designer.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

An underwater adventure proposal is pretty bold for the final round! I admire your courage. I've avoided making my own because the design complications are rather daunting. Congratulations on putting together an outline that makes me think it would be feasible to run a sub-pelagic (is that a word?) adventure, and that it could be a lot of fun. Good luck!

Before 2pm PST came around, I was asking myself, "is Steve going to do an aquatic adventure pitch? Or is he going to shift gears and go in a different direction? Can he channel what he did that got him into the Top 32?"

The judges essentially said what I could say next, so there's no need for me to rehash it here. That said, I have enjoyed your writing style and your originality for being affixed to a niche such as this. It's not necessarily mainstream with regard to what the pulse of the TTRPG market out there would buy, but it exists.

Since they've met their goals for their Kickstarter bid, but with a lot of days left to join in, you seriously ought to consider displaying as examples for works of reference what you're capable of with a 3PP such as Alluria Publishing. You'd be perfect for their Cerulean Seas line if they get the necessary funding to continue it past the reprint of the sourcebook.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

I've just glanced over it, but I can already tell my fears came true: Steve is obsessed with all things aquatic. The inclusion of the Brike island encounter seems a little bit like a cop-out - it's already been judged and approved, but that is in the past now. I expected something new. I'll try to post something more in-depth (got it?) later. This is just my initial impression.

Yeah, since Paizo doesn't like to require the use of non-monster 3rd party material, there isn't the necessary rules-base published by Paizo to properly support an underwater adventure. This seems like an interesting enough adventure, but I fear you've pitched it to the wrong company.

There are also, as has been pointed out by the judges, a number of pacing and adventure design issues that would need to be addressed. This adventure appears to work a lot better if your PCs are members of aquatic races and not land-bound races.

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

I see you like the underwater stuff. I must say I was disappointed when it ended at Brike island I was expecting something new. I also was looking for a fight with a raiding party, that can give a good reason to want to go after them. Lots of good stuff in this and good luck.

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You have some great elements in this submission. The most interesting villain you have here to my mind is the graveknight and the story (or a variation thereof) hinted at between him and the nereid. I would have loved to see an undersea adventure with that underlying hook - make me hate that cavalier and yearn for his destruction. That's an attainable goal for a 9th level PC, unlike going after the kraken. (I also like the idea of the graveknight returning to haunt the PCs until they find a way to destroy him permanently, but tying his ultimate defeat to the sphere of annihilation is perhaps a bit much.)

The flaws in your submission have been raked over the coals enough, and the judges covered them thoroughly. Heed the advice. I love aquatic adventure elements, and you have some great ideas here, but this submission looks a bit rough overall.

Also, speaking as a copy editor, some of your writing quirks raise flags as I read this. I know you are very busy right now, and I can't imagine the pressure you were under writing this and balancing everything else you have going on, but the presentation lacks polish in parts. Best rule of thumb: Write everything as if your copy is the first thing someone reads before they've had a proper cup of coffee in the morning. =]

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

Like Power Word Unzip, I'm not going to go into the already covered problems with the pitch. I like the idea of an underwater adventure -- that opens up new monsters that I don't typically get to fight -- but I'm not sure that this quite got everything I want to see.

Personally, I was really excited about the reference to the Steaming Sea in the title -- I thought it might deal with Hermea, which I think is one of the most interesting parts of Golarion -- so was a little disappointed not to get more about it. Though obviously I think that's an area where you'd have to be really careful to not tread on areas the developers don't want explored yet.

FWIW, I'm also a copy editor and unlike Power Word Unzip, nothing struck me as off (but I was also trying to read all the submissions and comments pretty quickly, so it's possible I just didn't see whatever caught his attention). : )

Anyway, best of luck, Steve.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I'm not a fan of this adventure. Sure, there's a lot of fun potential and challenge and more with an underwater adventure, but... this really feels like you didn't get that the plot of brike island was the weakest part of it.

I voted for you because I loved that you did a non-combat encounter despite the really problematic story. And here, you took exactly that story and expanded it into an adventure that wants to be an adventure path. Sure, adding in a maybe villian in the future card is a fun twist that allows GMs to keep running a fun adventure, but you took that way too far, too.

I'm sorry - while I did like a lot of your previous submissions I will not be voting for you to be RPG superstar.

Star Voter Season 7

RonarsCorruption wrote:

I'm not a fan of this adventure. Sure, there's a lot of fun potential and challenge and more with an underwater adventure, but... this really feels like you didn't get that the plot of brike island was the weakest part of it.

I voted for you because I loved that you did a non-combat encounter despite the really problematic story. And here, you took exactly that story and expanded it into an adventure that wants to be an adventure path. Sure, adding in a maybe villian in the future card is a fun twist that allows GMs to keep running a fun adventure, but you took that way too far, too.

I'm sorry - while I did like a lot of your previous submissions I will not be voting for you to be RPG superstar.

This describes my thoughts pretty accurately, down to the vote for last round and the reasoning for it.

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

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

I like the others am disappointed at the continual water themes in your submissions. I hoped and prayed when the hints started in the feedback on prior submissions that you would dazzle us with something new and different this final round. Alas, it was not the case.

I was reading a book only this week (The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell) a modern theory behind games design (with a heavy slant to games on the computer).

As these books tend to go, the first chapter or two is basic stuff applicable to all game design. In particular, "The most important skill for a game designer is listening". The writer then describes 5 layers of listening...

Listen to your team - in this case , I would say listen to the judges, there were hints there they were looking for another avenue or two for you to show them.

Listen to your audience - that's us, the buyers and voters. We started telling you to show something else, and you let us down in some respects.

Your execution, everything technical, seems spot on, but man, Brike again - water again, it's just too much, we want to see designers who shine in many different ways.

I did wonder if you have a home brew Brike adventure that ran well for your group and your hoping we will ask you to write it for us, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I also wondered if you got caught up on writers block and time pressure resulted in more of that island.

Listen to your game - Mechanics, putting things together, its all there. so you are nailing this pretty much, but so are the others.

Listen to your client - I would say these are the people who regularly feedback every round - they have a vested interest in the final winner and will be amongst the first to purchase the winners product. There were misgivings mentioned in a few posts about the heavy water theme.

Finally, listen to yourself. Did you have misgivings about submitting a second Brike entry - be honest with yourself, I suspect you did. You should have listened to those instincts.

Although a generally sound entry, you have lost my vote this round due to disappointment from the expectation you would do something out of the ball park and unexpected - a real shame as you were one of my favorites right from round one.

I wish you well in your future endeavors be they game design related or not, and thank you for the submissions you have made through the contest. I have enjoyed following your journey very much.

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

Steve, you've had a really interesting run in the contest. I felt very much that you were deliberately reaching beyond combat scenarios with your work - and I really appreciated that. Not only that, you've got great ideas to back up that goal - you convinced me you're capable of getting those ideas into usable format within the tight restrictions of RPG products. That's... incredible. I'm really glad you've made the top 4; I'm glad you'll be writing for Paizo; I really hope you're able to take that thinking on in with you in your future work.

It's particularly interesting to me that you seem to clash with the judges so much. I think almost every one of your entries met with some pretty negative judge reactions, with the exception of you Necrotic Reef. But you pulled through anyway - and I think it's muchly thanks to your focus on the non-combat awesomeness you put so much focus on. Brike Isle made it clear that a lot of people are really excited precisely for that reason. Perhaps something for the judges and developers to make note of :P

I'm not sure how much I want to ding you for re-using previous material the way that you did. I do feel that you've put together a solid adventure proposal. It's based on some of your best stuff, and has many of the same great elements. It preserves the unique roleplay opportunities while supplementing them with battle opportunities to keep the game lively; it also gives you a chance to correct earlier errors, e.g. by pitching Brike with a different CR and a different villain. So, I would say it's certainly worth considering the proposal as a whole, on its own merits, when casting one's vote.

On the other hand, it's important to understand you've made some serious missteps here. The biggest one is sheer showmanship. This is a contest; you want people to be excited about your work. Something they've already seen is obviously less exciting than something new. That doesn't mean you can't re-use elements - but the way you've re-used material is unexciting. If you wanted to re-use the Interceptors by writing a proposal where the PCs need to infiltrate them, or to re-use Brike as something other than the climactic finale of your proposal, that might've been a whole 'nother ball game.

Beyond that, I do think most of the criticism you've received here has been apt. You've got some really good stuff here, but a lot of it is cobbled together; it doesn't cohere easily into a whole.

All that being said, I'll repeat what I opened with: I'm really glad to see you in the Top 4. I think that whatever polish you lack right now, freelancing for Paizo is probably the best place imaginable to fix that, and come into your own. I'm sure the last few days and the lack of positive response have been frustrating - but even if it happens that you "only" come in fourth, rest assured you are kickass #4. You've got your fans too :)

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

Hi Steve. I really like what you have done here, and I think it speaks to a slight weakness in the competition format. What you've done, for perhaps the first time in the competition, is directly respond to the judges' and voters' feedback within one sustained submission. So you've taken a theme, and showcased elements of it in each round. Then in this final round you've taken all those elements, worked them together, and showed how you have taken on board feedback within your submission.

That's not something that is built into the competition; taking feedback and presenting an updated version. It is something that a good freelancer needs to do. You don't respond to feedback on an aquatic encounter by resubmitting it as a desert-based adventure. Yet that has been the norm in RPG Superstar, each round mostly self-contained, with all that feedback left on the table to be applied obliquely to the next task. Instead you have picked up the feedback on the necrotic reef, and given us a sentient coral reef. The Arcadian Interceptors return, in a clearly antagonistic encounter - exactly in response to the feedback you got in round two.

So, I really like what you have attempted here. I don't believe for a moment that you could think of nothing other than underwater ideas; this was, I am sure, deliberate. I don't know if I would have had the courage to attempt it, though it crossed my mind. 

Too, I don't think using Qwoshokk was a mis-step. Yes he is far out of the player's CR range. But that makes him, not the villain of this adventure, but more like a demon lord or evil god. He cannot be defeated, but perhaps the PCs can thwart him. For a time. 

There are some weaknesses to the pitch, a certain lack of focus, and an unclear climax. But I like it a lot, and taken all in, this is one of my two possible votes.

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

Standback wrote:
...even if it happens that you "only" come in fourth, rest assured you are kickass #4


That should have been "you are a kickass #4."

Tiny difference, I know, but my intention was very pointedly not to portray you as coming in 4th in the field of kickassery.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 8

Steve, congratulations on making it this far!

I think you took a gamble in bringing all your entries together into a grand, watery offering. It had the chance of being considered a brilliant, "why didn't I think of that", masterstroke.

I think the elements of the adventure work. You've got some nice combinations of diplomacy, combat and, of course, the rescue. I think that's well managed. There's too much there, but it flows nicely.

The problem is the villain. Having the main bad Guy so far removed from the action in a one shot undermines the whole thing. His pawns are nothing more than that and will not satisfy the desire for a meaningful victory in most parties. As the jumping off point for an epic campaign I think it's great. As a short, one off module it's way too much, with too little of the meat.

The gravenight/nereid bit is great though.

Can't wait to see whatever you create for Paizo. Good luck in all your future writing endeavours!

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

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

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

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

Cynthia is a wizardess. She’s interested in unlocking the secrets of the universe to gain vast personal power, and is more than happy to share what she’s learned thus far with anyone foolish enough to suggest ‘there’s no such thing as a wizardess; only a female wizard’. (Generally such ‘sharings’ tend to involve evocation spells of a highly destructive nature, or the summoning of large heavy metal objects in the vicinity of ten feet above the wit in question’s head.)
Owing to a misunderstanding during an escapade when she was dealing with some daemons Cynthia acquired a paladin of Erastil familiar (Also Known As a ‘husband’). She generally leaves her familiar at home, moping around his estates in Brevoy, but the empathic link does occasionally bother her. However he is too Lawful and she is too proud for either of them to take well to suggestions (whether helpful or otherwise) that their union might in any way have been a Mistake. Owing to their mutual refusal regarding acknowledging the possibility of a Mistake, their family was recently expanded by the addition of a passably cute little baby alu-fiend, named Cassiantha (or at least that’s the abbreviated version employed in polite company). Cassiantha is currently in a stage where her cuteness is inversely proportional to her state of being awake.
When it comes to religion, Cynthia is fascinated by the deity Nethys in his destructive aspect.

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

Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia, and Daria are either in or travelling through the area for the purpose of a shopping expedition. How likely are the initial events presented to interest them and if not sufficiently enticing what might it take to engage their involvement?
Well since the friends and allies they have are generally competent enough not to get themselves kidnapped by servants of a crazy kraken, that's a washout for a start. Let's assume for a moment that they're shopping in Magnimar and get approached by an absolutely desperate cleric of Shelyn whose brother has been scrobbled or something like that.

So just what is likely to happen once four succubi (and a baby alu-fiend) do get involved?
They certainly aren't likely to go anywhere near the Gartanica Trench. That involves getting seriously wet (meaning ruined hair) and the divination specialists Anthea is likely to call in from the church of Gorum will give them the bad news about where the silly twit's been abducted to in the first place. At that point it becomes a question of using their planar contacts to get some competent marids to go in, specifically tasked with rescuing just the brother. Which, presumably, said marids will do.

What about the aftermath?
Everyone ends up happy. The cleric of Shelyn gets her brother back, Daria gets to give a couple of performances which the church of Shelyn have to sanction, and although he might be a bit annoyed by the mess the marids make in his home, Qwoshokk gets to carry out his sacrifice on Brike and is uninterrupted in his search for the powerful mind-control device.
Well, possibly the other abducted prisoners at the base still, and anyone on Brike aren't happy, but do they actually honestly matter?

Predicted Extraneous Body Count:
Does letting the sinking of Brike go ahead without interference contribute towards an extraneous body count? It seems to be something that's doomed to happen anyway, and Anthea, Byrria, Cynthia (and Cassiantha), and Daria certainly didn't cause it, so I'll go with this one having an extraneous body count of zero.

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

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9 aka MillerHero

I'm not going to do a sentence by sentence rebuttal or explanation of what the judges said - who really benefits from that? However, there are a few things that need to be mentioned for my own sanity:

Clark Peterson wrote:
...your organization, monster (the reef), your encounter (Brike Isle) and your adventure (this) all seem to be part of a preconceived underwater adventure plan. Some may see that as clever. I don’t.

Well, thank you for recognizing that some may see that as clever. I'm sorry you didn't.

James Jacobs wrote:
...when you use established NPCs, especially those like Qwoshokk who have actual stat blocks (see page 39 of Mythical Monsters Revisited, you have to play by the rules of those stat blocks. And since Qwoshokk has no way to cast a simulacrum spell, that means he can’t use it to create a simulacrum of Trentar in the first place.

Qwoshokk has Use Magic Device +29

Neil Spicer wrote:
... I keep thinking you could make something really awesome out of some of your imaginings.

Thank you for your in-depth, candid review of all my work and all of the competitors work - even detailed reviews of those not making it into the contest this year. You have put forth another stellar performance this year as Judge.

I was particularly pleased by what I didn't see in your comments. No mention of passive voice, forms of 'to be', missing italics, or typos.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Ah, wait, I see you mention that there are abjurations that prevent magical egress. Assuming those block entering via teleport as well, that solves the problem... but means you dodged the actual design challenge of this round: making an adventure for 9th-level characters who have access to things like raise dead and teleport magic.

The only area in the adventure proposal that blocks teleportation is the holding cells.

Ryan Dancey wrote:
I don't like the setting. I don't like the villains. I don't like the railroaded linear flow of the events. I don't like...

Thanks for not using the word 'sucks' this time.

Power Word Unzip wrote:
Also, speaking as a copy editor, some of your writing quirks raise flags as I read this.

I suspect that what you found quirky came from me trying to avoid 'to be' verbs. I eliminated all but few to see if it could be done, but some - I just couldn't get around.

Standback wrote:
It's particularly interesting to me that you seem to clash with the judges so much. I think almost every one of your entries met with some pretty negative judge reactions, with the exception of you Necrotic Reef. But you pulled through anyway - and I think it's muchly thanks to your focus on the non-combat awesomeness you put so much focus on. Brike Isle made it clear that a lot of people are really excited precisely for that reason. Perhaps something for the judges and developers to make note of :P

Thank you for your comments. I wish more voters could see what you see.

You know, I considered changing gears entirely and writing something I thought the judges would recommend, but that's not what got me here. The voters did. Round 1 is about impressing the judges; all the other rounds are about impressing the voters. The judges only get one vote each - and the opportunity to provide comments for any voters willing to wade through thousands of words. Once you get far enough in this competition and you are afforded the opportunity to write professionally, then you get to actually communicate with your developers.

Will Cooper wrote:
... I don't think using Qwoshokk was a mis-step. Yes he is far out of the player's CR range. But that makes him, not the villain of this adventure, but more like a demon lord or evil god. He cannot be defeated, but perhaps the PCs can thwart him. For a time.

Thank you, Will, for pointing this out. I don't understand why others are lauded for having gods or powerful outsiders be the impetus for their adventures, and I get dinged for using a CR 20 magical beast for mine. Moreover, PCs occasionally see tremendously deep chasms, portals to another world, or scalding volcanoes – do they fling themselves into these death traps? Why would they fling themselves into a sphere of annihilation? What’s the harm in showing an artifact or referencing a CR 20 creature earlier in a PCs career rather than later when they are supposed to be able to use/kill it?

One final point:

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
If this [From Time's Depths] were presented as a sequel to FSTS[From Shore to Sea] … then that would be interesting.

Apparently it would be interesting to write a sequel to a yet-unpublished module, but writing a prequel or a multi-parter is frowned upon in this establishment.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

I removed a post. That wasn't necessary.


I don't want to get into this too much, but:

{The only area in the adventure proposal that blocks teleportation is the holding cells.}

One, that's not clear from your proposal. Observe:

The party easily finds the series of sea caves within the foundation of Brike Isle holding the sacrificial prisoners. A charmed sea serpent keeps the captives from leaving via the main entrance, whereas powerful abjurations prevent magical egress.

There's nothing there to suggest that the wards only work on the holding cells rather than all the sea caves. Yes, toward then end you say "the magical wards of the holding cells," but that could be you limiting the effect to just the sea caves, or it could just be you reminding the reader about the wards.

Two, you're missing the other part of my comments: that much of your adventure is easily bypassed with scrying and teleport. Teleport lets you bypass the need for water breathing, which means you can skip talking to the Mordant Spire elves for water-breathing equipment. Scrying where the missing people are means you don't have to go to Gartanica Trench at all (because you go there thinking the captives are there, but they've already been moved to Brike Isle) and you can bypass all of the Seeking Brike part of the adventure.

So my criticism was your adventure doesn't take into account how teleport and scry allow PCs to bypass much of the adventure, and when it does take those spells into account it does so in a "you can't do that" sort of way, and "you can't do that" is a factor several times in this adventure.

{Apparently it would be interesting to write a sequel to a yet-unpublished module, but writing a prequel or a multi-parter is frowned upon in this establishment.}

If you read that thread, the context of what I was saying about that adventure is, "we already are publishing an adventure like this, so doing another one like it at this level range isn't a good idea, but if this were presented as a sequel to that adventure, that would be interesting."

And it's important to look at what James said in that thread:
Anything is possible... sequels and/or prequels included. Of course, if you happen to pitch one for a module that we would rather not revisit, or if you happen to pitch one for a module that happens to have been a TERRIBLE seller, or if you happen to pitch one that we've already got plans for, or if you happen to pitch one and then totally mess up the continuity with the module, you'll be done before you start. It's a LOT riskier, in other words, than just doing something new that can be all about YOUR take on Golarion and not your take on someone else's take on Golarion.

It's a lot riskier. Just like having a R1 item about gunslingers is riskier than an item that doesn't rely on a controversial optional class.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Steve Miller wrote:

Qwoshokk has Use Magic Device +29

Which is exactly the type of thing one should specifically call out and mention in an adventure proposal in a situation like this (in addition to mentioning that the NPC in question IS statted up somewhere already... we don't have a perfect encyclopedic knowledge/recall of everything we've published, after all!)

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9 aka MillerHero

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
that's not clear from your proposal.

Thank you for your comments, Sean. I can see how it could easily be interpreted differently than intended.

And I agree that doing a prequel is very risky.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9 aka MillerHero

James Jacobs wrote:
Steve Miller wrote:

Qwoshokk has Use Magic Device +29

Which is exactly the type of thing one should specifically call out and mention in an adventure proposal in a situation like this (in addition to mentioning that the NPC in question IS statted up somewhere already... we don't have a perfect encyclopedic knowledge/recall of everything we've published, after all!)

Thank you for commenting, James.

Yeah, I should have put in the references, but I didn't know where to draw the line. Mythical Monsters Revisited - yes; Bestiary 3 - ?, Bestiary 2 -?, Bestiary 1 - no; Core Rulebook - no; Bestiary variant monsters like the kapoacinths - ? So in the end, I decided to remove all references and let the readers discover how a simulacrum spell works, what Qwoshokk is, and that the Mordant Spire elves possessed 'shapechanging talismans to survive underwater for hours at a time' long before I started writing about them.

It just struck me as ironic that you referenced his stat block and then said he had no way to cast a simulacrum spell. It especially unnerved me when Sean later pointed out PC scroll use.

Oh well, lessons learned.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Steve Miller wrote:
It just struck me as ironic that you referenced his stat block and then said he had no way to cast a simulacrum spell. It especially unnerved me when Sean later pointed out PC scroll use.

Because I only discovered he had a stat block, quite literally, at the last moment after I'd spent several hours writing up my post. And because the mental image of a kraken manipulating a scroll to cast a spell from said scroll is not intuitive, and thus is not something that I would immediately realize is an option. The less work you make the person who's reviewing your adventure proposal go through in order to figure out how your adventure proposal can even work... the better. Not only does it help the reviewer along in the logic of the adventure and prevent him from having to track references down from a dozen books... but it shows the reviewer right off the bat that you're ahead of the game and know how the events in your adventure are occurring. We can't read your mind.

Which still makes it a perfect example why you should cite things that you pick up, and should avoid "keeping secrets" from the reader. If that means you're going over wordcount because you're having to spend too many words citing sources... that's actually a good indication that you're overcomplicating things anyway and should ease back on the number of books you're drawing information from.

Dear Miller Hero,
Congratulations on reaching the top four. At this point, you have won the true prize, of getting to write a Pathfinder Society module, perhaps to be played and cursed by players years from now at conventions, whilst a certain badger (or at least that's his avatar at the time of this post) gets to stress about writing a 32 page module.
From the viewpoint of a CE aligned (very advanced) succubus, I think I'm inclining towards this being the most interesting presentation you made in this year's contest. (The Night Monarch Vardo would have been engaging but for the unfortunate Desnan connections, as a result of which a sensible succubus wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole.) Admittedly their solution of 'hire marid merceneries to go and do the stuff for them so as not to ruin their hair' probably wasn't what you were envisioning as a solution to the 'problem' offered, but it involves minimal work for the succubi, and a halfway decent hairstyle is not something which one sacrifices to rescue some twit silly enough to have been snatched by the minions of a kraken. (And it's probably just as well they didn't get personally involved and chase things through to the end, given the fun Cynthia would have had with a captured sphere or the sulk she'd have been in if the kraken had possessed some undisclosed device which legitimately had the power to remotely 'snatch' it from a powerful wizardess with a newly acquired talisman...)
Anyway, best wishes for the future.

Ask A RPGSupersuccubus.

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

Hey Steve, from experience I know how tempting a line-by-line rebuttal / explanation is, when what the judges saw on the page is different from what you tried to put there or had in your head. Well done for not going there; the only 'rebuttal' you need is to go and write an awesome PFS scenario, and then accelerate whatever career you want from there. I think James and Sean have given you some useful advice here, after the voting.

Best of luck.


Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

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I agree with Will, that despite all the criticism and everything else going on in this thread, that there is an important lesson to be learned; what you wrote didn't ultimately get across to the readers.

One very obvious point to bring up; yes, Qwoshokk isn't the real villian of this adventure and is more of a driving force. But from what you wrote the judges and readers had a hard time keeping him in the deific-power-source category because there's so much time focusing on his motives and actions related to this adventure.

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

I think the Kraken, and the undersea, neriead/deathknight and many other elements are cool design choices. I understand (more so for reading the comments) they are not appropriate for the challenge. It will be interesting to go back and compare ancient gods & and powerful outsiders to the Kraken here. Did you, frex, focus more on the kraken than his minion the villain? Maybe. That said I think the judges comments can turn the seed of this into a great PFS scenerio.
Congratulations Steve "Top 4" Miller.

Star Voter Season 6

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Steve Miller wrote:

Power Word Unzip wrote:
Also, speaking as a copy editor, some of your writing quirks raise flags as I read this.

I suspect that what you found quirky came from me trying to avoid 'to be' verbs. I eliminated all but few to see if it could be done, but some - I just couldn't get around.

I don't mean to sidetrack things (and I haven't gone through your writing in detail), but this is exactly why I rail against writing advice that emphasizes things like "avoid passive" or "avoid to be".

The verb 'to be' is a useful verb - it exists for a reason. Sure, it shouldn't be overused, and if used poorly does contribute to a feeling that writing is weak and not very exciting (which I think is really the issue that the judges want people to avoid). But if it's used well it won't even be noticed, whereas a sentence that awkwardly tries to avoid it stands out like a sore thumb.

I'm sorry that this issue might have tripped you up, but if you want to avoid avoiding them in the future, and instead master their use, I highly recommend this book:

Joseph Williams' Style

(avoid Strunk and White - they'll tell you to avoid passives but don't identify them correctly themselves - it's like taking medical advice from a doctor who calls morphine an antibiotic)

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

Steve it's not that your proposal was bad, its very good, and may have been the best. You may not agree with what has been said but it's valid. I was disiponted that you ended with Brike island. I had hoped for something new but that's not because brike was bad. I'm looking forward to your pathfinders adventure.
Good luck

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