The Lumber Consortium's Laboratory — Michael Pruess

The Lumber Consortium's Laboratory


Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 aka Flak

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The Lumber Consortium's Laboratory
==========

Hidden in the Verduran Forest near the Andoran logging town of Bellis is an underground complex owned by the Lumber Consortium. It was constructed shortly after the House of Thrune took over Cheliax, and served to keep Consortium higher-ups and profits safe from the Thrune government. When the Consortium declared for Andoran, the complex fell into disuse. Few outside the Consortium's highest ranks are even aware of the place's existence.

Recently, the Consortium has found a new purpose for the complex. After watching the supply of lumber decline in Darkmoon Vale and Arthell Forest, the Lumber Consortium has decided that it needs to investigate new avenues of production, lest the Verduran grow sparse someday as well. Under secret orders from the board of directors in Oregent, the Consortium's gavel in the Verduran Forest has begun a series of experiments in the old safe house. One of these experiments is particularly inhumane, violating Andoran's founding principle of liberty: the foreman's thugs have stolen blackwood drake hatchlings from their nests, enslaved them, and raised them as subservient wood-producing machines—machines fueled by animals and living kidnappees. To the Consortium, lumber is gold and life is cheap. In order to not raise eyebrows at home, the "loggers" involved in this experiment tend to pick their prey on the Taldan side of the border. A few Wildwood Lodge druids clandestinely cooperate with the Consortium on this front, helping to cover the kidnappers' tracks; they view this as a necessary evil to advance conservation.

Though word of the complex has yet to reach the Andoran government, Bellis locals and Taldan frontiersmen alike have begun asking questions about the slew of disappearances. Investigation is in order.

A camouflaged and locked trapdoor in the woods opens onto a tunnel leading into the complex. The first level of the safe house (B1) is comprised of seven rooms: a guardhouse, quarters for guards and loggers, a kitchen, a storeroom, and three rooms for housing Consortium directors, two of which have been repurposed as laboratories. One is an artificially lit greenhouse in which a young Wildwood druid runs experiments with plant growth and similar magics; the other is an alchemist's lab dedicated to uncovering the secrets of the blackwood drakes' supernatural poison. Assuming the PCs sneak or fight their way through the first level, they eventually find a spiral staircase down behind a hidden door at the end of the hall.

The lower level (B2), more natural cavern than manmade grotto, once served as a backup bunker in case the complex was found. Now it houses blackwood drakes and the stumps of blackwood trees.

Experimental Blackwood Lumberyard (CR 7)

==========
Beyond the secret door, a rough hewn spiral staircase descends into darkness. Faint light from upstairs illuminates a black tree stump that seems to have grown out of the steps. As you descend, you find a smattering of blackwood chips and small loose rocks lying on the ground.

If the players have appropriate lighting or darkvision, read the following:
At the foot of the stairs, the passageway opens onto a dank natural cavern. A steep hill in the center of the cave almost reaches the thirty-foot high ceiling. The ground is littered with blackwood tree stumps; the cavern floor is also pockmarked with holes where stumps have been removed. Moist mosses, mushrooms, vines, and other underground flora carpet the cavern floor and walls. The unfelled blackwood trees in the distance resemble gnarled humanoid statues.

Squares occupied by stumps count as difficult terrain. Treat the gaps left by removed stumps as holes with width, length, and depth of five feet. Where these holes are contiguous, they form a continuous trench. The carpet of vegetation provides no obstacle to the PCs until affected by the blackwood drakes' pollen.

The hill in the center of the cavern is steep, and PCs must make Climb checks to ascend. From the north, this check has a DC of 5. From any other direction, the approach is much steeper, and the DC increases to 15.

To the west is a strong wooden door with a superior lock leading to what was once a secure vault for the Lumber Consortium's hoarded assets. Now the candlelit room is used as a staging area by loggers who work with the blackwood drakes. A coordinator (N male human expert 3) is doing inventory in this room and jotting down observations in a journal.

Two blackwood drake siblings live in this cavern. In the southeast is a small grove of withered blackwood trees, none the healthier for their lack of sunlight and water. It is in this grove that the drakes make their nests. Beyond the nests are the semi-buried remains of another drake, presumably the third of their clutch. The cause of its death cannot be ascertained by mundane means, but the emaciated appearance of its living siblings signals the meanness of the brood's existence.

Creatures: Due to the manner in which they were 'raised' by their captors, the blackwood drakes are more domesticated than enslaved. Trained to be heartless tree producers, these drakes are subservient to their masters and cruel to any other creatures. They possess only a poor grasp of Common and none of any other languages. As the cavern is ordinarily kept dark, approaching torchlight alerts the drakes of intruders. They investigate as a curious predator might, using hit-and-run tactics to harry their opposition, taking advantage of the darkness and terrain. Should the drakes' chances in a direct confrontation look grim, they retreat to the top of the hill in the center of the cave and activate the refuse avalanche trap they've created. If more than moderately wounded, they remain on top of the hill, kicking rubble down at approaching foes (treat as an improvised thrown weapon; +5 to hit, 1d4+2 damage). Because the drakes don't know life outside this cavern, they are more apt to surrender than to attempt to flee if cornered. If they learn or sense that the PCs have injured their masters, however, they fight to the death.

The drakes are suspicious and respond poorly to diplomacy attempts, but if the PCs maintain a genuinely friendly approach (despite sustaining the drakes' initial hostilities), the drakes will eventually consider a parley.

The logging coordinator locks the door and cowers in his room while the battle rages immediately outside it. He never fights. If he finds a good moment, he attempts to sneak past the PCs in the dark and escape up the spiral staircase. Should the PCs intercept him, capture him, and leave before defeating the blackwood drakes, the drakes pursue and fight to free the coordinator.

Blackwood Drakes (2) CR 6
XP 1200 each
hp 37 each (R4)

Blackwood Logging Coordinator CR —
XP —
hp 13 (uses statistics for Shopkeep, GameMastery Guide 284)
Tactics The coordinator is a noncombatant and either hides or flees, pleading for his life if discovered.
Combat Gear The logging coordinator carries no gear.

Trap: At the top of the hill in the cavern's center is a Large ball of accumulated wood chips, rocks, and drake dung, supported by a few sticks. It is easy to spot; that it is a trap is less obvious. Should the PCs notice the trap and avoid it, or somehow prevent the drakes from activating it, disarming the trap by dispersing the debris is a simple task. The trap is triggered by the drakes whenever they deem it will affect a sufficient number of foes. By knocking out the supporting sticks, they send the ball rolling downhill (north) at alarming speed. It breaks apart as it travels, spraying all in its path with refuse.

Refuse Avalanche Trap CR 3
Type mechanical; Perception DC 20; Disable Device DC 5
----- Effects -----
Trigger location; Reset repair
Effect sickens (1 minute), knocks prone; DC 25 Reflex avoids; multiple targets (all targets in a 10-ft.-wide, 100-ft.-long area); creates difficult terrain in area until refuse is removed

Development: If the PCs manage to reach an understanding with the drakes, the drakes can provide them with information about who is behind the experiments, and might even be willing to testify about what they'd lived through in an Andoran or Taldan court. The logging coordinator, if apprehended, quickly reveals for whom he was working and that the alchemy lab upstairs has an experimental antidote for the blackwood drakes' poison (it returns tree-transmuted creatures to an unpoisoned living state with Dexterity damage equal to their Dexterity minus 1). Should the PCs fail to take either the coordinator or the drakes alive, documents found in the old vault to the west provide ample evidence of the Consortium's agenda.

Cartographer

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Nice map reference, has an old school feel to it, I like it. The hand drawn details are very nice as well, I especially like the little crates and tree stumps.

Good relation of the two maps and how they connect to each other, good use of the inset.

Very nice map reference.

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

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Initial Impression: This round's task seems to have been missed by quite a few of you. The task was "Describe a new Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and an Encounter for that location, all in 1,500 words or less. This location may be as large as a forest or undiscovered island, or as small as an old fort or section of a dungeon." A new LOCATION. I think too many contestants thought too small this round. This is more encounter than location. But I'll have to think about how much that affects my recommendation. I thought you stretched to make a drake encounter. Now, of course, you did that because it was really popular and you are hoping to ride on that I would imagine. But I'm not sure that was the best choice. Sure, I loved them as a monster but I'm not sure I love their use as much (which is what you are banking on). This one is on the bubble.

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

First Impression: I think a lumber camp can be a location, for what that's worth. It's just a sort of typically American one as described here, and I was hoping for more Golarion flavor or style.

There's lots of weirdly modern concepts and language like "board of directors" and "logging coordinator" and the grow house for trees. On the one hand, I get that it's a technomagical approach to tree farming, but the encounter itself is written with a heavy hand on the plot and backstory.

And then the plot is sort of odd: why not just grow trees magically to begin with instead of kidnapping people, which is sure to draw attention? And really, this is a lumber camp that will be the scene of high adventure? I'm not really bought into the premise here...

Mostly, I don't care very much about either the location or the encounter. It's a lumber camp with emphasis on the history and plots of NPCs (coordinator and drakes), rather than focus on the adventurers and their goals.

This location NOT recommended to advance.

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

Michael, welcome to Round 4. Congrats on getting here! Let’s see how this submission shapes up.

Initial Impression: Having read the others, I still feel the same way. I think, like a few others, you outsmarted yourself this round. I’m sorry you don’t get my recommendation.

Concept (name/title, is it actually a location and an encounter, design choices, usability, conflict and interaction, is it memorable): B-
I thought this was a stretch. Of all of the contestants who outsmarted themselves, you more than the others seemed to force a location from a monster choice—you decided to use the drake (which many loved, so I see why you did) and you forced a location and encounter based on it and you likely stuck with it even when you struggled with it. This just really felt forced to me. I think you limited your own creativity on this. Also, I don’t think this location is that cool or interesting. It is really only interesting because it has drakes in it. So I think your big picture design concept was flawed here.

Map (legible, encounter keyed to the map, exciting and memorable location, well integrated, all necessary info for cartographer): B
Serviceable. Again, as I noted, this is maybe more encounter than location. Your map gives you away here. The encounter part is inspired but the rest of the location is uninspired, in my view.

Execution (use of mandatory content, trap execution, monster integration, etc., quality of writing, proper presentation): B-
Again, the most interesting thing are the drakes, not really the trap or the execution.

Tilt (did it grab me, is it unique and cool, do I like it): C
I guess I feel like Wolfgang—this didn’t grab me, I’m sorry to say.

Overall: B-
Michael, you can take some comfort in knowing that three people used your monster for this round! But that said, in Superstar you need to show continued growth. I thought others did and I just didn’t see it here from you. I think you outsmarted yourself with your big picture idea. In the end, I think you were trying to show us you were creative and clever rather than actually being creative and clever. I’m sorry to say that, of course and I wish you the best.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND this entry advance to the Top 4.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Michael, welcome to Round 4!

I admit I wasn't a fan of the blackwood drake, but your encounter finds a good use for its plant-growing abilities.

I like the idea of druids allowing exploitation of the drakes in the long-term interests of forest conservation (meaning I like the justification of their involvement for the purpose of your encounter, I don't like the exploitation itself).

The upper floor of your map could use some details so it's not just a bunch of blank boxes--those rooms may not be the encounter you're describing in R4, but they're still important, and without those details, the cartographer doesn't have much to go on for making those rooms look cool.

This encounter makes me sad. You fight your way through the bad guys and get to the final encounter... and you're basically fighting abused/brainwashed creatures that don't understand they've been exploited and should be allowed to go free. The PCs may expect some big conclusion to their adventure, but instead they have a reluctant fight against the very creatures they're trying to save.

I think the mechanics of the fight are fine, as is the trap. I do wonder why the Consortium didn't just amputate the dragons' wings at hatching and leave them chained up in a real forest (or a hidden valley or something like that, there are plenty of hard-to-find places on the surface) where they could enhance natural trees, instead of using this elaborate setup that requires them to chop down trees, then drag the trunks up a circular stairway and then to a place where they can be cut into timber. It's one of those "you're really going out of your way to make it harder for yourself" situations.

Overall, this encounter didn't really grab me. I liked the feel of your wondrous item (though it had problems), liked your archetype (though it had problems), and liked your monster (as did the voters), but this encounter doesn't have enough pizazz. I do not recommend you advance to the next round.

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 7

After reading through the dev's comments, I hate to say it, but I agree with them. Instead of focusing on making a truly new location, you focused more on making an encounter based around the drakes.

While I would definitely run this scenario for a group of players if it were part of a larger storyline, I don't find it to be catchy enough to add in as a sidequest in another adventure path, which is what I think the goal here was.

With that said, your previous rounds were excellent, and I'll be sad to see you not advance. You've made an incredible effort, and you did very well to get this far, Michael!

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

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The name of the round is "Design an encounter with map" so I'm not going to hold it against contestants who did not grasp that what the judges really wanted was a location that also had an encounter.

This seems to be a recurring problem in the contest (see comments on last year's entries, for example), so there's probably a better way to present the challenge to the contestants.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Clouds Without Water wrote:
The name of the round is "Design an encounter with map" so I'm not going to hold it against contestants who did not grasp that what the judges really wanted was a location that also had an encounter.

Sure, that's the *title* of the round, but the R4 *rules* explicitly say in the very first sentence "Describe a new Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and an Encounter for that location, all in 1,500 words or less."

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

I'm with Sean on this. A lot of contestants burned their wordcount on backstory to the encounter, instead of using it on the location.

It's a bit of a problem, because sometimes the spec you get from Paizo is not going to be 100% clear about everything. As a designer you need to get what the publisher is looking for, and deliver a little bit of "what we meant" in addition to "exactly what you asked for."

The later rounds of Superstar involve more of this level of design choices, where you make tradeoffs and you design toward a particular goal or audience. It is a lot harder to make a design work on all levels for Top 8 and Top 4 than it is for Round 1.

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

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Now this isn't quite the exciting blackwood drake locale I was asking for yesterday, but I'm always keen to see nasty oppressors and rapacious nefarious logging twerps get their just desserts, even if it involves some kindly backwoods blackwood drake death. I'm actually a bit sad that the drakes have to die... only they don't, see?

There have been comments that this isn't an interesting locale, more a vehicle for the drakes. Maybe that's true, but it is a location with it's own logical reason for exisitng that is nicely tied to a logical extension of the primary creatures abilities - without the drakes there'd be no experimental lab.

The encounter isn't just "brain regular blackwood drakes" - these drakes are captives and oppressed, stupider than regular drakes and as it says in the writeup, just maybe, the PCs can parley with them. It shows an attention to detail that the Creatures section has a full paragraph detailing the drakes captivity and capabilities, and the small notes on the semi-decayed carcass pointing to the meanness of the captivity is a nice touch. (Maybe a Perception or Knowledge (nature) check there?)

Loved the refuse avalanche trap and its use by the drakes. Very on-theme and cinematic.

It's also important to note that the use of real-world language here is both on-theme, and in canon. Though I dislike it myself, Golarion has a lot of modern tropes and real-world terminology already, Andoran and Galt spring to mind as purveyors of such "modern era" thoughtcrime. Moreover, the Lumber Consortium is a "real" and detailed Golarion organisation that lists its leader as "Board of Directors". And yes, they are Andoran.

All in all I didn't find this as engaging on a first read through as I have now. It's logical AND dangerous with great use and tweak of the signature villain creature that happily doesn't hae to die.....Nice work Michael.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Clouds Without Water wrote:
The name of the round is "Design an encounter with map" so I'm not going to hold it against contestants who did not grasp that what the judges really wanted was a location that also had an encounter.

Sure, that's the *title* of the round, but the R4 *rules* explicitly say in the very first sentence "Describe a new Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and an Encounter for that location, all in 1,500 words or less."

Yeah, I get that, but a high percentage of contestants seem to still miss the point of it. So I do wonder if the concept of location vs encounter can be communicated more clearly.

It seems kind of a waste to me to bring people this far along into the competition and then see them get tripped up on something like this.

As a voter, it certainly isn't what I'd like to see cause people to be eliminated. I'd rather be voting on how cool something is.

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

Clouds Without Water wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Clouds Without Water wrote:
The name of the round is "Design an encounter with map" so I'm not going to hold it against contestants who did not grasp that what the judges really wanted was a location that also had an encounter.

Sure, that's the *title* of the round, but the R4 *rules* explicitly say in the very first sentence "Describe a new Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and an Encounter for that location, all in 1,500 words or less."

Yeah, I get that, but a high percentage of contestants seem to still miss the point of it. So I do wonder if the concept of location vs encounter can be communicated more clearly.

It seems kind of a waste to me to bring people this far along into the competition and then see them get tripped up on something like this.

As a voter, it certainly isn't what I'd like to see cause people to be eliminated. I'd rather be voting on how cool something is.

CWW, I totally get where you're coming from and I have a lot of social voter sympathy for what you're saying. As developers though, Paizo can be seen to use RPGSS to be looking for this very thing - can the designers commit to the directions given to them professionally and with clarity?

The rules are there, for all to see, no matter the Round title. And part of being a good designer, or professional in any field s to do your research - in this case, look at the actual rules, and perhaps also look at the same round in previous contests to see where other contestants fell foul of the rules and the judges responses to those "breaches". Remember, none of this can definitely sway voters. The judges merely pass respectful professionally experienced, developer- and publisher- level comments at this stage...

Perhaps there is an argument to change the Round title to be clearer, or signpost the relevant rule in bold ultracaps, but no, I think not. It's partially intentional on Paizo's behalf to let those who will hang themselves with their own inattentiveness. Better now than later.


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This is an underground cavern where the bad guys are attempting to create a method of magically growing trees that can be subsequently harvested for their lumber. I don't know about others, but I'd suggest that a cave complex can be a location every bit as much as a keep or manor or temple, etc.

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

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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:
- the location - a secret research compound - has a very X-files feel to it that would suit a gritty low-magic conspiracy based campaign
- you weave in some interesting adventure seeds (the druids, the kidnappings) naturally into the introduction. Good writing.
- the encounter is well executed, with two hit-and-run predators in difficult terrain and a neatly integrated trap

Problems:
- because your premise is so far from the central 'swords and sorcery' feel of Golarion, you have to spend a lot of words setting it up, and those first couple of paragraphs are quite dry
- the encounter could have benefitted from a 'bad guy' slaver controlling the drakes. That would have added tactical options (what happens when he's killed? can the drakes be freed?) and removed some of the bad taste of killing enslaved intelligent creatures

Overall:
- Competent execution but possibly a misjudged tone for the mass market

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

Caedwyr wrote:
This is an underground cavern where the bad guys are attempting to create a method of magically growing trees that can be subsequently harvested for their lumber. I don't know about others, but I'd suggest that a cave complex can be a location every bit as much as a keep or manor or temple, etc.

The question is not can a cave complex hypothetically be a location. Of course it can. The question is did THIS submission do that.

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

Congratulations Michael,

I found the map confusing, but I expect playing with it will clear things up for me. I also expect a little more realism in a map, not that I am counting this against the entry* I found the hook a little lacking too, lumber consortium does bad. Kidnap three eggs (which are not really kidnapped because they are domesticated and will fight to the death for their keepers) to grow trees. Trap set off by the critter does not scream trap to me (plot instead). I can see this as the beginning of an encounter, it needs some mojo. I will see how it plays before I decide to vote, no encounter survives (intact) contact with PCs.

*:
I dinnae expect to see bathrooms on every map, but my thought process went something like this:
How do they get logs up those spiral stairs? Maybe they cut them first. cut where's the saw? Saw? one of those massive three foot circular blades that antagonist like to tie protagonists to? Cool! Maybe that's the trap?! Nope trap is an avalanche. Avalanche? Won't that cause the building above to fall in? Oh not an avalanche cave-in, an avalanche of poo. Poo? I would have preferred the saw. While not as big as I would have hoped, you did at least get me thinking how I would use this encounter. This kind of inspiration is a good thing :)

Liberty's Edge

Wolfgang Baur wrote:
I'm with Sean on this. A lot of contestants burned their wordcount on backstory to the encounter, instead of using it on the location.

Wordcount instructions were as follows:

"Altogether, your entry must be no longer than 1,500 words. You may divide this word count as you see fit between describing the Location and the Encounter (for example, you may spend 300 words describing an old castle Location, and 1,200 words describing a specific Encounter in the castle)."

In the example, four times as many words are allocated to the encounter. Only 300 words are assigned to the Location. And within the Location section, contestants are instructed to describe "Why is it here? Who lives here? What role does it serve?" which can heavily relate to the backstory of the encounter.

Given all of this, it's rather unfair to nitpick about contestants "burning" their wordcount describing the encounter backstory rather than the location.

Star Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

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With their trapmaking habits and tree-creating abilities, the blackwood drake seemed like a great idea to use for an encounter, but this one does seem a little awkward. I would have liked to see someone do something with the drakes in closer to their natural habitat. The reason why everything is set up as it is seems pretty well-thought-out, though.

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

The Final Doorman wrote:
Wolfgang Baur wrote:
I'm with Sean on this. A lot of contestants burned their wordcount on backstory to the encounter, instead of using it on the location.

[...]

Given all of this, it's rather unfair to nitpick about contestants "burning" their wordcount describing the encounter backstory rather than the location.

@The Final Doorman: Here is how I look at it. The rules provide the boundaries of the competition. Go outside those boundaries and you risk disqualification. No-one is suggesting that any of the competitors should be disqualified.

However within the boundaries there is a lot of room for different design choices. The judges are providing feedback, from their experience, of the effectiveness of the design choices made by each competitor. How well, within the boundaries, did the competitors manage to evoke awe and admiration and deliver professional freelancer product.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

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A lot of mixed emotions about this encounter, wow. I agree, you didn't do a terribly good job of representing the location that this encounter is tied to - but you did do a pretty good job of designing the encounter itself. That counts for a lot. And, as the fifth encounter I've read you're also the first to actually make the trap (is it really a trap it the only activation is manual?) and the monster actually tie together. I was really hoping for more of that.

And, hionestly, I like how you took a non-evil sort of creature and made it a good antagonist, though the comments above about PCs practically being forced to defeat them do apply - A monster attacks you, so you kill it. That's how the game works 99% of the time.

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

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

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.

Anthony.


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 are contains full dungeon dressings, bedrooms are obvious, store rooms full of barrels and crates are obvious. This is achieved very well on this map, nothing missing from the key symbol wise.

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 accurately the "dungeon dressings" in each area. Two keys are present, one for each area, so that the location part of the map can be populated with interesting dungeon dressings by the cartographer.

The only thing that pulls my attention in this section is in the location area B1, the entrance is labelled instead of numbered. For consistency, this could be a number or a symbol in the key, just to keep things nice and tidy.

I am confident a cartographer can easily transpose this map to a flip map with little need to query or come back to you the designer. Nicely done.

A compass rose is present in the encounter map, not usually on a flip mat but useful information for the cartographer. But note it wasn't included across maps or a second in the inset map - if you are going to include the compass rose, put it in such a way that it signifies orientation of all parts of the map, inserts, main section and so forth. As an alternative, You could have ghost imaged the upper location over the black areas of the main map to confirm orientation and overlay of the building above.

c) Appreciation of height and scale. I note that the scales align at the join point - the stairs and door, the door remaining central in both scales and no mismatch in widths - well done.

I notice a labelled a avalanche trap path from a 25 foot hill - this now makes me worry if the stairs are too steep - with the hill having headroom above, that means from floor to ceiling at the highest part is around 35 feet at a guess, but then the ceiling has to be strong enough to support the building built on top, so let's say 20 feet of rock. That's 55 feet of height being dropped in a single flight of stairs - eek! - that is steep! Stairs in a two story house drop around 15 feet in a single story by comparison.

The second part of this avalanche that concerns me, I need to check the encounter - how does the avalanche gain enough momentum to travel approximately double the height is falls in a horizontal direction? Also, avalanches move sideways as well as down, so I think a cone effect is called for if it is an actual avalanche.

d) Location or just encounter? A little light on the location, its a cavern under a building, but there is nothing about the immediate surroundings of the building. This is useful for placement reasons and also to assist a GM in adjudicating any stealthy type approach undertaken by PCs approaching the building.

e) Environmental Use The first thing I find weird is trees managing to grow under ground without light - now it's a magical world, so I'm happy so far. There are interesting opportunities here for combat - bull rushing opponents into squares with holes and the like, plus the PCs entry being hampered by the avalanche and the difficult terrain it would leave in its wake.

Hopefully some food for thought in there.

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

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

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Michael, you get big props from me for great execution of a high concept. You found a cool way to base your encounter around an R3 monster, and tie it into the Golarion setting in a way that makes sense but is still interesting and unexpected. To me, that says you can take the many restrictions inherent in writing game modules, and come up with exciting, original material within those constraints.

I'm not really seeing the big issue with is-a-location/isn't-a-location. It would have been nice if you managed to hype up the general location a little more, but the location is also pretty clear to me as-is, and has obvious potential for interest, originality, and playability. You made clear what the location was, you made its relevance clear, and you detailed its central encounter. It might be a small location, or a focused one, which is fine by me. (It might not have been seen as inspiring or interesting or fun to play by some, which is also fine by me.) As far as I'm concerned, you're good.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
This encounter makes me sad.

Encounters that provoke strong emotional reactions make me happy :)


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I agree with Ziv, and am puzzled by the general reaction to this submission. I feel like feedback has been less focused on what Michael has presented, and more about other, unrelated ideas Michael could have used.

Of all the submissions, I find this one the most compelling. This encounter has a moral weight to it beyond good party / evil logging consortium. The innocence of the brainwashed drakes, the druids stuck between a rock and a hard place... there's a lot more to this encounter than its physical location. Scenarios like these make a world far more interesting to roleplay.

It's fine if you didn't find it compelling, that's fair. But to say that this post didn't meet the round criteria, or that it didn't meet your personal, unspoken idea of what should have been written is a poor foundation from which pan this entry. It's a solid, compelling idea that feels woven into the Pathfinder canon instead of an isolated not-quite-one-shot.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

Run a 1 shot with a buddy of mine last night, classic beer and pretzel style gaming. I have a fairly large pool of heroic statted NPCs and pcs from my Kingmaker game ranging from 3rd to 7th level, and I had some old characters from my home brew world that were ranging from 7th-9th level. The goal was to playtest off of these in an all nighter but didn't work out that way. We played out a few. I DMed it he ran 2 PCs I ran 2 NPCs which will be indicated by an *.

These will get the Good, Bad, and Ugly review and a little section on the characters that went in.

Play test Report:
Characters going in:
5th level Human Druid
5th level half orc barbarian
5th level half elf Magus*
5ht level high goblin ranger*

The encounter is flexible enough to endure some changes and given that my PCs and NPCs tend to be optimized fairly well even with 2 CR difference ths encounter was going to need beefing. Don't score that against the designer I beef every encounter from Paizo and I'm always right to, partly because I let them roll stats with old heroic stat roll method.

Gave the Drakes extra HP to 54, added a warrior 2 expert 1 guard (stats for lumberjacks from Carnival of Tears) with the expert, he had a torch in off hand axe in main.

I tried to use 1 drake as bait to get the melee hitters in line for the trap, I also ruled that since a large portion of the rolling boulder was sticks and poo it would also be flammable and leave a trail that was also flammable. Perhaps you see where this is going...

The trap knocked the barbarian down, and split the party putting the druid solo against a drake at roughly 13 of his HP, while the other 2 standing Magus and ranger took on a healthy drake and a lumberjack. An optimized 5th level magus hits like a truck and an archery focused ranger isn't exactly a slouch either. The healthy drake went down in 2 rounds the lumberjack in the following round (barbarian go back up and away form the fire.

The Druid used summon nature's ally and rolled a d3 and got a 3 on some small air elementals. The following round had her using said elementals to vortex the drake into the ceiling stalagmites repeatedly, she summoned 1D3 small fire elements with her other action...

{b]The Good:[/b] Encounter went well, made my buddy nervous enough to break out the cheese on his character sheet, had him on the ropes a bit with both the split and the trap.

The Bad: The Fire, and upping the hit points of the Drakes saved this from being a PC steamroll. The Magus and barbarian would have dropped the drake in 1 round is not for the hit point bump. As it stood the druid had a very weakened drake to solo (11 Hp left.)

The Ugly: Encounter relied on rough terrain and darkness to slow down the PCs, druid ignored it as did the ranger (to be fair he has boots of spiderclimb.) Oh and as soon as it became apparent we were going somewhere dark druid shifted to Ape form and summoned some dancing lights. With dancing lights and everyone in the party with at least low light vision the drake's hit and run got shut down hard.

Overall: I ran Pedro's, Scott's, Steven's, Nicholas', and this one. This was the only one where I succeeded in splitting up the party for the majority of the combat.

With a less idealized group or with a few more monsters or some bad dice luck this could have been really challenging, but it wasn't. No one came close to death. This was but but B+ fun not A game fun. The Drakes don't have enough punch, and the assumptions of the encounter regarding PCs being slowed down allowing the drakes to fight on the fringes are flawed assumptions, smart groups aren't impeded.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 aka Flak

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Hi everyone! Thank you for all the support that got me to Top 8, to this round. And I've said it elsewhere, but huge congrats to those who continued beyond this round: you guys did amazing work. I'm not going to burn too many words defending my entry here, largely because I do think that those who advanced put forward significantly better content than I did. That said, there were a couple points in the judges' criticism that felt off to me. One was Wolfgang's reaction to the 'modern' element, which I've discussed with him in another thread. The other was Clark explaining to me that I had 'outsmarted' myself and I was 'trying to show I was creative and clever.' I may have failed to be creative and clever (?), but I was definitely trying to be more than show! To be honest, I found those remarks to be a bit condescending, for whatever it's worth. :)

Moving on, I've got two points to make about my entry.

A couple misunderstandings that hurt my entry:
• First of all, the entire complex is underground. Not sure why people had any difficulty with that, though I'm sure it's my fault to a large extent. I could have done better work with my inset. It's true. Then again, if you read even the first sentence of the location description you see that the complex is underground. ;)

• The main 'realism' problem I seem to have in my entry is that it doesn't make sense from a logistical standpoint to cart trees up a spiral staircase. I totally agree, and I think that I may have shot myself in the foot a bit by even having stumps at all (more on this below), but one thing that I meant to get across—and that seems to have been lost—was that this was not a full-scale lumber production operation. This was one of many experiments the Consortium was running to research and develop new avenues of lumber production. It wasn't an ideal setup for producing lumber and it wasn't supposed to be. Again, I could have been clearer; but the word "experimental" is in the encounter title, and the location is a "laboratory." I basically do not think this is "a lumber camp" as some of you derided it.

Neither of these misunderstandings makes up for the gap between my entry and the top four, and I hope no one mistakes my comments as coming from a place of bitterness. I just want to elucidate my intentions for those of you who care :)

A possible improvement to the 'location':
An underground forest. There's something cool about that, someone pointed out to me after my entry went public, and I thought, yeah, you're right, there is. I think one thing I could have done to vastly improve the location would have been to expand the 'lumberyard' section, possibly getting rid of the upper level entirely, and remove all the stumps and holes. By making the encounter one part of a larger forested cavern-dungeon (possibly with many more captive drakes throughout), I could improve the sense of size/importance of the location. And the unnatural underground forest could have probably carried me a bit further. At least, it seems cool to me. And it was definitely part of what I thought was cool about my entry when I was making it. All the lumber stuff kind of flowed naturally from it, and served to tie it into the world (my mistake, since apparently Andoran isn't sword-and-sorcery enough for many O_o), contrary to beliefs that I tried hard to force a drake encounter. But at the end of the day, I see I could have pared that tie-in down a bit, or possibly removed it entirely.

All this said, the "location/not a location" question feels more like a toss-up than anything. Clark got to sound very wise with his "the question is whether THIS complex is a Location" line, but it didn't even approach the bar for constructive criticism, and it didn't mean much (neither to me, nor to many of the people who posted in this thread). Ziv said something pretty nice about my entry, which basically summed up how I myself felt:

Quote:
I'm not really seeing the big issue with is-a-location/isn't-a-location. It would have been nice if you managed to hype up the general location a little more, but the location is also pretty clear to me as-is, and has obvious potential for interest, originality, and playability. You made clear what the location was, you made its relevance clear, and you detailed its central encounter. It might be a small location, or a focused one, which is fine by me. (It might not have been seen as inspiring or interesting or fun to play by some, which is also fine by me.) As far as I'm concerned, you're good.

(Emphasis mine.)

As Ziv said, if people didn't find my location inspiring or interesting, that's totally fair, legit, and fine by me. I personally agree! I found it less inspiring/interesting than a few of my competitors' entries. No sour grapes there—they earned it, and I didn't. But I do think it's that simple, and wrapping that concept up in the package of mysticism that surrounds RPG Superstar and its judges seems unproductive. I know that the judges have a show to run, and that inscrutable beard-stroking professionals going, "hohhhh, young one, know you the fabled concept of the Location?" adds a lot to that show, and I can respect that. But I want audience members and prospective RPG Superstar contestants alike to see it for what it is, lest they mistake it for the fostering of talent. Which it's not. :P

Looking forward, I will continue to make Pathfinder homebrew materials. Assuming anyone watching this contest didn't think my Round 4 performance was bad enough to outweigh my previous three rounds of success, thank you for that generosity. If you have a homebrew or 3pp project, and are looking for partners/content/etc., I'm available! I have worked long and hard as a core member of the Multiclass Archetypes project, and I also have a site full of homebrew stuff if you're interested in what I've made. I am very interested in maintaining my involvement in this sphere, and in the possibility of ramping it up. So yeah, I'll be around!

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