Mienka’s Cauldron — Matthew Duval

Mienka’s Cauldron

Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka Matt Duval

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Mienka’s Cauldron
Seventy miles upriver from Daggermark, a small tributary flows into the West Sellen. The channel is narrow, hemmed in with thorny undergrowth and low-hanging trees, and the water is foul and shrouded in mist. The navigable waters end at a small lake. A waterfall on the eastern bank feeds meltwater down from the hills of Loric Fells.

The ruins of Arnem Falls rest on the northwest shore of the lake. Willis Arnem, a wealthy would-be lord from Daggermark, constructed the town in 4703 AR as a base of operations for his planned conquest of the Fells. He made a bargain with Mienka, the nymph who guarded the lake and its surroundings. She told Arnem of an ancient evil sealed beneath the waters of the lake, and agreed to protect the settlement if Arnem made an offering of one item of great worth and beauty every year. Such items exemplified the creative impulse and were anathema to the destructive power below the lake. They would help keep it dormant and locked away.

Arnem maintained the pact for five years. The townsfolk dubbed the lake Mienka’s Cauldron after seeing the waters swirl and churn when the offering was made. The settlement prospered, but the fierce resistance of the neighboring troll bands stymied Arnem’s attempts to expand his holdings, and his personal wealth dwindled from hiring increasing numbers of mercenaries. The time came to provide the offering for the sixth year, but Arnem refused. When Mienka threatened to brand him as an oathbreaker, Arnem cut her down and offered her corpse to the lake instead. An unnatural mist immediately began to pour forth where Mienka’s blood touched the water, and faceless monstrosities with the rough form of men emerged from the depths onto the shore. Anyone caught in the mist went mad, and the settlement turned on itself. A fire broke out, devouring most of the town.

The area around Arnem Falls has become a poisonous bog. What remains of the settlement is sinking into the marsh. Small bands of goblins and trolls venture through the area, but the swamp is primarily home to oozes, undead, and a tribe of bog nixies. Will-o’-wisps frequent the ruin, and lead naive river travelers on the Sellen to their doom by pretending to be the lights of other ships. Mienka’s ghost lingers around the lake, weeping for the lost beauty of the forest and waters. The mists that blanket the area grow in scope with each passing year and the evil below nears waking.

Encounter Setup:
Towns in northern Daggermark along the West Sellen have reported a strange fog drifting downriver, leaving behind scores of riverfolk in lingering comas after the fog passed. Lord Livendor is offering a reward to anyone who finds the source and puts a stop to it. The trail has led upriver to Loric Fells and a ruin on the shore of a mist-shrouded lake.

Room 1: Arnem Falls Inn Common Room CR 8

Read the following when the PCs reach the barricade:
The murmur of distant voices echoes in the cold mist. Scattered broken weapons and equipment indicate a past battle, and the buildings in this plaza were consumed in a great conflagration. A makeshift barricade has been constructed around the entrance of one of the more intact buildings, a three story fortified inn. The upper floor has collapsed but the first and second still stand. A worn and faded sign lies half buried in the mud outside. It depicts a man dangling from a cliff while reaching for a stein.

The PCs have entered the town’s small central courtyard. The Arnem Falls Inn stands out as relatively intact, with the first and second floors made of sturdy stone. The wooden third floor collapsed under the roof. A barricade fortifies the front door and broken weapons and equipment are scattered around it. The inn was built without windows on the first floor so it could serve as a shelter against raids. Several will-o’-wisps inhabit the upper floors and their light may be seen moving past the windows.

Mist fills the area, granting concealment, but a strong wind disperses the mist in its area of effect. A character that moves more than 10 feet above the ground enters the fey mist hazard. The mist clears for anyone higher than 100 feet up.

The building is sinking into the bog, filling the interior with mud. Creatures move through the mud at half speed and cannot run or charge. The barricade is haphazard and riddled with gaps wide enough for a tiny creature to fit through. Traversing over it requires a successful Acrobatics or Climb skill check (DC 10). A five foot square section can be cleared with one minute of work. A spiked snare trap is set inside the barricade.

Read the following when the PCs enter the common room if they have a light source:
The building’s door is missing and the interior of the structure is muddy and ruined. Numerous bones are scattered around the room, and there are signs of violent struggle. The old charred bones of another lost soul rest near the cold fireplace. The scent of death lingers in this room and invades the senses.

The first floor of the building is fire-blackened stone. The interior is a wreck, with wooden inner walls collapsed and anything of value lost to fire, rotted away, or hidden deep in the filth. The only light, other than any the PCs bring, comes from the broken door. The walls are covered with disconnected ramblings in Aklo, written in charcoal and blood. The bones of Willis Arnem are burnt and scattered against the fireplace. He was attempting to reach the trap door leading to the basement shelter. A DC 30 Perception skill check notices the door. Reduce the DC to 20 if the mud is cleared from that part of the room. Disturbing the bones activates the unfulfilled glories haunt.

Sections of the second floor above this room are rotted, with several gaps. Thiefpaper traps have been rigged near the stairs and by the fireplace.

All the wooden objects and buildings that survived the fire are rotting and sodden. Treat them as hardness 1 with resist fire 5.

Creatures: The town is overrun with thoughtstealer oozes, harbingers of the evil locked beneath the lake. Will-o’-wisps flit around the entire region in great numbers, feeding on the fear the oozes’ victims feel as they lose their minds and lives, and feasting a second time on the frustration and terror of the oozes as their brief consciousness slips away.
Two oozes linger in the inn. One is upstairs, on the second floor landing above the common room, and one is in the mud near the fireplace. The one downstairs possessed enough of Arnem’s thoughts that it wanted to protect the building and preserve its legacy. The ooze focused on constructing traps, using Arnem’s supplies, and tried to write its story on the walls. It has long since reverted to near mindlessness.

Thoughtstealer Ooze (2) CR 5
XP 1,600 each
hp 45 each (R3)
Tactics: The oozes move toward and attack the closest creature with an intelligence score they can detect and toward the creature with the higher intelligence if there is a tie. They can use their compression ability to slip back and forth through the barricade and the one upstairs can drop through the cracks in the common room ceiling if the PCs do not encounter it before then. If a PC is caught in the spiked snare trip, the ooze may drop directly onto that character. The oozes’ tactics improve as their intelligence increases. They gain their bonus to stealth from swamps in the muddy ground inside the barricade and building.

Unfulfilled Glories CR 3
Arnem’s sense of loss at his failure to conquer the Fells overwhelms the PC who disturbs his bones. (Pathfinder #2 31)
Destruction Collect Arnem’s bones and bury them with stones or dirt from Rookwarden.

Fey Mist: DC 15 Will save to avoid confusion. (“Hazardous Terrain”, Design Tuesday Blog, March 8, 2011)

Spiked Snare Trap CR 1
Perception DC 20 (Pathfinder Adventure Path #37 20)
Effect Target is yanked 10 feet inside the building onto spikes, instead of into the air, and does not take falling damage after getting free.

Thiefpaper Trap CR 1
Type mechanical; Perception DC 20; Disable Device DC 15
----- Effects -----
Trigger location; Reset none;
Effect Burst of tanglefoot bags blankets the area in glue.(Core Rulebook 160) (entangled and movement halved, DC 15 Reflex negates; targets that fail the first save are glued to the floor and unable to move, DC 15 Reflex save negates); multiple targets (all targets in a 20-ft. radius burst).

Development: Significant damage to the structure will cause the building to sink deeper into the bog.
Several will-o’-wisps created the lights seen on the second floor. They are drawn to any dying creatures in the building.


Very nice map reference. Wall thickness, very good I am happy to see more people drawing their buildings with this in mind. Everything is on the map that is needed to sit down and start and finish this map.

This would be a fun map to draw, I would tie in the thought stealer oozes and the will- o'-whisps somewhere around the edges and the compass maybe. Some nice details there for me in the text.

Very nice map reference!

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Initial Impression: Another submission that uses multiples of the monster to up the encounter level. Good choice. Let me just say, excellent writing. This is the first I've read where the writing really knocked me over as awesome. You did what I have been talking about--this is BOTH a location AND an encounter. Well done.

I have to admit, I'm not that thrilled with the trap. The rules said "In general, a trap that makes an encounter more interesting—whether because the monsters have the ability to trigger the trap, or are introduced to the encounter as part of the trap—is better than a trap that just happens to be in the same location as the monster." I'm not sure you were as successful as you could have been with these. I kept thinking I was going to see a trap that caused damage to the building and hastened its collapse so the PCs would be in a race to do whatever they needed to do in the building while avoiding its collapse.

Still, all in all, very good.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

First Impression: Spooky region, just enough backstory, and an encounter that would be fun to play. Agree with Clark that the trap element is the weakest part of this; the traps' link to the ooze in the backstory is something the PCs will never learn.

I also like the range of sources you draw from, including the Tuesday Design blog. It shows a range of reading and some depth of familiarity with the setting (or a willingness to do the research).

Tactics are better-than-just-decent for oozes. Moving through cracks and between levels is something all oozes should be able to do. Nice work!

Yes, RECOMMENDED to advance.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Matthew, all right here we are in Round 4. Time to bring it big time. Let’s see how this submission shapes up.

Initial Impression: I’ve read the others and I think this one makes the cut.

Concept (name/title, is it actually a location and an encounter, design choices, usability, conflict and interaction, is it memorable): B+
Solid, competent design choices. Good balance of location and encounter. Good choice of monster. No problem with the monster playing second fiddle to another monster or NPC. I stick by my comments about the trap I mentioned above. I also think you really gave some thought to this submission. You can see it in the small details, in the tactics, etc. While you did think cinematically, I want to encourage you to think even more cinematically should you advance. You hinted that significant damage would make the building sink further into the bog. An A+ concept would have played that up a bit more. Again, not a criticism, just a suggestion for improvement.

Map (legible, encounter keyed to the map, exciting and memorable location, well integrated, all necessary info for cartographer): A
Very, very good map. Good mix of cool location and fun encounter space.

Execution (use of mandatory content, trap execution, monster integration, etc., quality of writing, proper presentation): A
I mentioned it already but I will repeat it—the writing was excellent. And that can’t be undervalued in a designer. Nice work. The trap holds you back here from an A+.

Tilt (did it grab me, is it unique and cool, do I like it): A
I really liked this. While it wasn’t top 2 for me, this one should advance.

Overall: A
Matthew, I really think you made this entry happen. Nice work. Solid craftsmanship.

The soap, the monk archetype, the drake. Now this. You are really putting together a good, solid Superstar portfolio here. While you might not be my front runner after this round, you could still win this thing. Good luck to you and if you make it, as you should, go hard.

I RECOMMEND this entry advance to the Top 4.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Matthew, welcome to Round 4!

Good level of detail on your map. Nice use of black ink lines to reinforce things (instead of just leaving the walls and such as pencil lines), it makes your map very readable.

I like the dynamic of the will-o-wisps feeding on the fear of the ooze's victims, and then feeding on the ooze's fear as it loses its mind. That's creepy. I'm not sure the PCs will understand this is happening, but it's evocative for the GM and can help set the tone.

I think this is a solid encounter, but not a "wow!" encounter. You draw on a lot of elements, which shows that you have a good memory for cool things in other sourcebooks that you can use in a game (which also means you're less likely to reinvent the wheel and create something that already exists). The real problem with the thoughtstealer ooze is it's mindless or dumb for most of the fight, so it's not going to have really interesting tactics during the battle. That means the traps and hazard are almost incidental to the fight--the ooze isn't going to take advantage of them.

I think you can do better than this, and I'd like to see what you bring for Round 5... but you're going to have to bring your "A" game! I do recommend you advance to the next round!

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

Town in chaos? Wrecked inn? Wide ranging design resources? Haunts, hazards AND traps? Complete, new trap? Encounter has environment effect synergies that are not static and completely moody? All check? Advance to the next round please Matthew!!!

Okay, so not THE most exciting encounter AS WRITTEN, but there is always room for a developer pass to make it so, and I think the chassis actally does have the legs to support something more BEYOND what is already pretty cool. I

I'm looking at this more as an offering of intelligence and creativity as well as an interesting and well turned out submission.

Love the town in chaos imperilled by thoughtstealers, and the synergy of the fey mist with concealment (which isn't an always on thing) and the synergy of the ooze with the will-o-wisps shows me that this came together as a nicely thought out work of passion, with all the disparate elements drawn tgether cohesively to make something great.

I totally agree the Development section is curtailed and hampered by the overdrawn and overshadowing intro. I actually thought the collapsing building was a given on first reading. It could have rocked so mightily if the Development was given more, more more Synergyizationalism! and that's where I think the chassis holds it up as a good piece of work - With a nice developer pass and great Encounter Development paragraph... woo hoo!!!

Again, nice work Mathew!!!

The Concordance RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka catdragon

are the oozes affected by the fey mists? Or does the ooze, as it gains intelligence, then gets affected by the Feymist?

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6

What does the haunt do exactly? It "overwhelms" the PC? Does that mean anything mechanically, or is it just roleplay for the storyline?

Other than that bit of confusion (and maybe the ooze, SKR has a point there), great entry.

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

I've not had time to read and comment as much as I would like on prior rounds. But we're at the sharp end now where reputations are forged, and it's time to pay real attention.

Things I like:
- this is a real, proper, atmospheric location fit for several levels of adventure
- the encounter has mud, ooze, and appropriate traps
- you made the oozes the star - by not using any other creatures just traps and haunts and hazards

- too much backstory before cutting to the chase; sometimes you have to edit out the things that set up the environment to make way for the stuff that is cool in the present
- cool stuff such as helping the GM collapse the building in mid-fight

- good solid effort may well see you through to the next round, but edit the background stuff ruthlessly

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

Is there a place where we can find the Unfulfilled Glories haunt if we don't have Pathfinder 2? Without it, we can't really run the encounter (or we'd have to omit that part, at the very least). Same question with the spiked snare trap.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Unfulfilled Glories CR 3
Type insane
Notice Listen DC 20 (to hear the sound of pages rustling, as if a book were being read rapidly); Effective HD 6
----- Effects -----
Trigger proximity; Reset automatic (24 hours)
Effect Once the memories grow bitter and culminate in an overwhelming sense of depression and loss, the haunted PC must make a DC 14 Will save to resist taking 1d6 points of Wisdom damage.

Spiked Snare CR 1
XP 400
Type mechanical; Perception DC 20; Disable Device DC 15
----- Effects -----
Trigger touch; Reset manual
Effects CMB +10 (vs. target’s CMD; target gains grappled condition and is yanked 10 feet into the air); Atk +8 melee (2 spikes for 1d6+2 damage each)

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

Thanks, Sean.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I love LOVE the setting for this encounter. This is a fantastic location that PCs would love to explore, and there's a great bit of backstory that PCs might actually care to learn. Top marks on that front.

The encounter, however, is a bit clumsy. There's two monsters (one who isn't there on the first round) and possibly more that could be attracted, a haunt, a hazard, and two traps - not to mention the vaguity of the building sinking further into the bog. It seems like a lot to keep track of.

It would probably be fun, if the GM memorized all the rules for all the things, but half the battle would be spent going "oh yeah, mist!" and "oh yeah, traps!" and "oh yeah, there's another blob about to show up". Maybe I'm just forgetful, but I think it would have been a stronger encounter if you focused it down a little more - the encounter is the oozes and one trap that actually has a major effect on them. CR 1 traps in a CR 8 encounter is barely a nuisance.

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

Nice work Matthew,

The opening paragraph is the strongest writing I have seen and it continued through-out the encounter. Background fed nicely into the map and into the encounter. A hint that there is more going on is also done well. The encounter itself makes sense (nothing seems forced). The haunt might be a bit much, but as it meshes with the encounter 'tis probably worthwhile. Traps had a logical presence, but they are at most speedbumps for the PCs. Finally your attention to detail (haunt+ooze+trap, mist between 10 & 100 ft., design blog ) tells me you will make good & captivating adventures.


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

Hi, Map Fu is soon returning after a brain transplant.

I will be re-doing reviews of the maps for all of you with the following slant - hopefully more in line with the set task. The statement below is to aid you all in deciding whether my feedback is something you wish to take note of or not.

a) The encounter area will be treated as a flip mat design - scale isn't needed on flip mats, nor are labels (see b) - this is based purely on the two pirate/ship flip map products I own for reference, so hopefully I will be close to the mark on these reviews.

b) Although flip mats dont show a key, a key if vital for the map to be handed to a cartographer to represent accuately the "dungeon dressings" in each area if he/she were to produce a formal flip mat from your design.

c) I will be looking at the basic encounter area construction, noting interesting or features to be considered, height of area, effect dispersals, and so on.

d) Is the map all encounter with too little location element - by location, I am expecting a small overview of the encounter area in relation to local geography, approach to entrances/buildings, close to roads, cities, etc, i.e. a placement of location rather then a snippet of the world.

I need to revisit all my notes to provide correct and targeted feedback in line with the task set, so please bear with me as I rework and post as I go.

This initial feedback will be on your map only to begin with, time permitting, I would like to come back on feedback on the encounter itself.

Thanks in advance.


Ok, this is a map review - done in isolation from the encounter, purely to concentrate on visuals.

a) As a flip mat - Looking at other flip mats, every area contains full dungeon dressings, bedrooms are obvious, store rooms full of barrels and crates are obvious. This map is very busy with 3 key panels, 3 areas, but your job was to convey the necessary information to the cartographer with the skills to make things look glorious, that you have done really well. I wasn't sure what the "spray can" effect surrounding the areas was meant to convey and couldn't find it in the keys.

b) Cartographer Instructions The key to the map - although flip mats don't normally show a key, a key is vital for the map to be handed to a cartographer to represent accuately the "dungeon dressings" in each area. Checking your key, everything drawn is labelled or referenced from the key. I am confident a cartograher can easily transpose this map to a flip map with little need to query or come back to you the designer, noting the one exception above. Nicely done.

A compass rose is present in the encounter map, good information for the cartographer. Interestingly, you have also opted for avoiding the build to grid lines alignment. I kind of like both ways, what you have done here to show that things aren't on ridged build lines counterbalanced with how much easier it is to describe actions when the compass rose does align with the grid. When it's at 45 degrees, that isn't so difficult but the angle you have chosen might cause the odd issue when describing actions to the players - I think it's shallow enough that you can get away with simple north door, etc in playing the map, so no biggie.

c) Appreciation of height and scale. You have confirmed the scale, that's good. I see in the pull out location map the scale increases dramatically. You have marked the A as the Cauldron - so I immediately looked for "Arnem Falls Inn" but couldnt see its position in relation to the Cauldron - until I realised it was B, the labelling missing the word "inn" threw me a curve ball for a few seconds - try to label consistently between different view points.

d) Location or just encounter? Very well done here, with a good pull out detailing the immediate environs, and a placement within Golarion evident and a good detail of the encounter area, it's all here. I did wonder about a lack of windows in the lower floor, I found that quite odd - inns like to advertise how nice they are to stay at, so ground floor windows would be expected. The shape of the upper floor was a surprise too - it doesn't fully cover the lower floor - this makes the map a little more interesting to me, especially with a spiral staircase with no where to go?

e) Environmental Use This map has lots of environment for the GM and players to have fun with, difficult terrain, traps and haunts - lots of fun potential here. I really quite like this one and look forward to the encounter description itself.

Hopefully some food for thought in there.

Good luck in the play tests and the voting going forwards.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

My favorite entry. Although there are two other entries that I feel have a tad bit better encounters, this ones story and setting is where it beats the competition imho.

I like this entry. The backstory feels organic and believable. As a GM, I like having a history to draw upon - it's something for my party to uncover, and provides motive for the NPCs they encounter.

I also like the layout of this encounter. One thing feeds into the next to provide a natural flow. This and one other make for my top two this round.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka Matt Duval

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Thank you very much everyone who voted!

I'm very grateful for the feedback. Writing locations and the back story behind them is one of my favorite things about rpgs, so I'm very happy the setting was well-received. :-)

Since there weren't too many questions, I thought I'd share a few things I cut from the encounter. I had a number of different CR versions I mulled over, and I removed a few things because I didn't want to push it over to CR 9, as I felt that the ooze started to become too trivial at that point, regardless of the number of them.

So, some things you can do to modify this encounter (mainly to make it harder):

Active Mist: One thing I wanted to try but was worried it would increase the challenge too much, was to have the fey mist hazard gather in on anyone who didn't take a move action in a given round. This would work well with the immobilizing traps.

Will-o'-wisp ooze guide: Adding a wisp to the encounter serves to effectively boost the oozes' intelligence. The oozes can detect an invisible wisp but the wisp is able to stay out of reach. In this way they can herd the oozes around, placing them in intelligent ambush locations. Wisps are CR 6 though, so that raised the overall CR more than I'd like.

Sinking building: I see a lot of people wanted this hazard. I had been thinking about it, but was worried it might require a CR boost, which I was trying to avoid. My write-up for it was to have every 10 points of damage to the remaining interior walls increase the depth of the mud by a foot, further restricting movement. At 30 points of damage, the building starts to tilt, and a mudslide would wash south to north. This would be a bull rush against anyone hit, and anyone who missed by 5 or more is buried in mud and starts to drown. This would also put the main entrance at the top of an uphill slope, making it difficult to retreat back outside. The oozes' climb movement mode would mean they were less impeded.

Thank you again to everyone for the feedback!

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I would have loved it if you used that sinking building as a 'trap' instead of those CR 1 traps you had. If too many people stand on one side, and the building suddenly shifts - moving everyone in the room and rearranging the battlefield. I'm sad you left that out and didn't use the opportunity.

In fact, I think you could have simplified this encounter, leaving the fey mist, the haunt and both other traps out, and making the shifting building with the oozes in it the real star. As I said above, I feel there's too much going on and not enough focus.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka Matt Duval

Thank you so much everyone for your support!
This is just so amazing. I can't express enough gratitude to everyone for taking time to read my work and liking it enough to vote for it. Thank you thank you thank you!

This is a really great map reference. good use of color, linework, and straightforward details. Using wall thicknesses once more is fantastic!
The building's style is nice, and the boiler chamber sounds like it might be interesting to depict shell shockers 2.

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