The Vise — Michael Eshleman

The Vise

Round 4: Design an encounter

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 8

The Vise
Numeria’s border town of Lackthroat has no shortage of establishments designed to slake even the most unusual of thirsts. Chief among these is the Vise. Situated on the top of a small rise at the end of Joy Street, the other buildings that once stood near it have long since been toppled or burned to the ground. Rumors persist that the mysterious proprietors of the Vise had a hand in the demolitions of the surrounding buildings. Five domes of varying sizes, each topped with a tall rod or spike, poke out of the building’s slanted slate roof. A sign depicting a workman’s vise closing on an amorphous shape (which no two viewers describe in the same way) swings over large wooden double doors bound with iron.

The Vise is secretly operated by a cult of Norgorber who venerate him in his aspect of The Poisoner. The cult seeks out, develops, and tests new poisons on its epicurean clients—and the dissolute residents of Lackthroat provide an ample supply of willing test subjects who unknowingly pay for the pleasure of sampling the cult’s latest concoctions in search of ever greater heights of pleasure, pain, and more subtle emotions. The interior is designed to be confusing to the drug-addled brain with smooth stone walls and circular rooms that seem to turn back in on themselves. Access to the secretive ‘advanced’ areas of the Vise is gained through frequent patronage and ample payments. Beyond even these secret chambers lie the cult’s true face which include a temple, storeroom, alchemical laboratories, and prison where the most unfortunate clients of the Vise ultimately end their days on the cutting edge of the priest’s research.

Room 4: Shaken, Not Stirred (CR 8)
A covered glass tank filled with bubbling liquid wraps around this domed chamber’s central pillar at chest height. Glass pipes secured by metal brackets run from the tank, up the pillar, and across the ceiling like a broken parasol before disappearing through doorways strung with diaphanous curtains. A barely discernible shimmer of hues moves through the bubbling tank and a faint sickly sweet odor fills the air.

The central tank is the distribution hub for the Egelsee cocktails which feed the addiction of the occupants of this room and its adjoining rooms. The pipes lead to dispenser stations in the adjoining rooms where attendants operate presses which extrude just enough of the Egelsee cocktail (lured through the pipes by inserting bait into the dispenser station) to satisfy an addict’s craving. All of the dispenser stations currently hold a trapped Egelsee cocktail and one remains in the central tank.

Addicts without the funds to afford the use of the dispenser stations can, for a small fee, open a port in the cover of the central chamber’s tank and insert one of their arms to allow the resident Egelsee cocktail to feed off of them at the risk of their lives. This occasional opening results in the room’s foul odor.

The central tank, pipes, and all of the dispenser stations are constructed of metal fixtures and reinforced glass panels (hardness 2, 5 hp). Sundering the central tank or any of the dispenser stations frees the Egelsee cocktail within as well as spilling water in a 20’ radius causing the floor to become slippery (+2 to Acrobatics DCs). Sundering one of the pipes on the ceiling has a similar effect and will allow the Egelsee cocktail in the central tank to make its way out of the breach.

A friend of one of the PCs has fallen in love with Axia, but she left in the middle of the night without any explanation. Acting on their friend’s behalf the PCs have been looking for Axia over the course of several weeks and succeeded in tracking her as far as the Vise. Unbeknownst to the PCs the Technic League also has an interest in Axia and dispatched two gearsmen to capture Axia and return her to Starfall. Axia fled because the Technic League believes that she knows the location of an android forge somewhere in the technological ruins of Numeria. She does not want the Technic League to disassemble her (or worse) in an attempt to extract information that she does not believe she has.

Creatures: Axia attends to the central tank and manually closes the port if the Egelsee cocktail within attempts to escape. Axia is an exceptionally beautiful if cold and distant female android. Her short blond hair shimmers with unnatural light. The intricate circuitry patterns that cover her skin seem to spell out a message whose meaning, like a snowflake, melts on the tip of the beholder’s tongue. Other addicts are slouched on couches throughout the room. Shortly after the PCs locate Axia the two gearsmen sent by the Technic League enter the chamber from the entrance that the PCs didn’t use.

Gearsman Robot (2) CR 4
XP 1,200 each
hp 42 each (Inner Sea Bestiary 44)
Melee masterwork mancatcher +10 (1d2+5/x2 plus 1d6 electricity)
Reach 10 ft. (with mancatcher)
Before Combat The gearsmen use their adaptive learning ability to gain proficiency with mancatchers (Ultimate Equipment 32). The mancatchers are sized to grapple Medium creatures.
During Combat One gearsman uses his mancatcher to attempt to detain Axia without killing her, while the other interposes itself between the PCs and Axia, using its mancatcher on the PC with the most armor should the PCs approach. If the Egelsee cocktail has not yet been released and the gearsmen think that they are at a disadvantage then one of them will use a standard action to sunder the holding tank and release the Egelsee cocktail.
Morale The gearsmen fight until they are destroyed.

Egelsee Cocktail (R3) CR 5
XP 1,600
hp 52 (RPG Superstar 2013)
Morale The Egelsee cocktail fights until it is destroyed.

Axia, Android CR ⅓
XP 200
hp 11 (Inner Sea Bestiary 3)
During Combat Axia goes on total defense and withdraws from the combat as best as she is able.
Morale Axia flees at the first sign of combat and surrenders if captured.

Cocktail Addicts, Beggars (3) CR ½
XP 135 each
hp 4 each (NPC Codex 256)
During Combat The cocktail addicts rouse themselves and begin looking for an opportunity to get to the tank and get a free hit from the Egelsee cocktail within by triggering the trap. As rounds pass they become more and more desperate and willing to take bigger risks in order to get to the tank (or the already freed Egelsee cocktail). Otherwise they take no offensive action against the PCs or the gearsmen.
Morale The cocktail addicts do not leave until they have been damaged by the Egelsee cocktail. Afterward they stumble back to their couch (or more likely lie unconscious on the floor).

Cocktail Access Port CR 3
Type mechanical; Perception DC 15; Disable Device DC 20
----- Effects -----
Trigger touch; Duration instantaneous; Reset manual; Bypass switch
Effect Egelsee cocktail slam attack and stench aura and the Egelsee cocktail enters initiative. If the target of the trap is reduced below zero hit points then the Egelsee cocktail exits the tank one round later. Otherwise the Egelsee cocktail continues to grapple and damage the person who triggered the trap until it is able to escape or the trap is closed.

Development: The combat draws idly curious onlookers from nearby rooms who think that the combat is an elaborate entertainment for their benefit. Much more curious and aggressive Norgorber cultists arrive at the end of the combat.


Very cool map reference, this one really has a dark edgy feel to it.

The sketch itself has all the information needed to get the cartographer going, reading through your descriptions is really where I would go crazy adding details and setting the mood onto the map.

Some limited use of color helps to call out some of the details.

Having a back inset of the overall surrounding area is nice too.

Good job on this map reference.

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

Initial Impression: Interesting setting, good map, good monster choice but the goal here is to make the monster from round 3 the highlight ("Your encounter can use monsters from other Paizo Pathfinder RPG sources, in any amount and any combination. In general, the other monsters shouldn't outshine or trivialize the Round 3 monster you're using.") and I'm not sure that your ooze here fits that bill, though I admit it is well worked-in thematically. I think the robots with their mancatchers are the highlight here, but it's not as severe as the glabrezu example. Going to have to see how this stacks up against the others.

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

Michael, well here we are in 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 and I think there are four better submissions. Sorry about that.

Concept (name/title, is it actually a location and an encounter, design choices, usability, conflict and interaction, is it memorable): B
I really like your location. It is cool. The Vice is interesting and would be a great place for adventure. Your failure wasn’t in your overall design choice (or maybe it was, more on that later).

Map (legible, encounter keyed to the map, exciting and memorable location, well integrated, all necessary info for cartographer): A-
Very, very good map. This would be a cool location.

Execution (use of mandatory content, trap execution, monster integration, etc., quality of writing, proper presentation): C
The core problem here is that the ooze is not the highlight. It is outshined by the man-catching robots. Is it a clear DQ? No, not like the treant submission. But I think you shot yourself in the foot trying to be creative. That happens. I think you tried to find a unique, weird monster and tried to design an encounter around it. Problem is, oozes are tough. I think you outsmarted yourself and you can’t afford to do that.

Tilt (did it grab me, is it unique and cool, do I like it): B
The core location is really neat, the encounter isn’t.

Overall: B
Michael, I think you knew you need to try something to break into the top group. I respect that you took a swing. You just fell short and perhaps outsmarted yourself with your monster choice and then your failure to highlight the monster.

You know I thought you took a big step forward with your monster last round. I don’t see the same progress this round. But I certainly wish you the best of luck.

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

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

First Impression: An ooze at the core of a poisoning cult of Norgorber? Sign me UP!

On closer inspection, this is a fantasy-tech locale with a LOT going on, and the Elgesee ooze is at the heart of it. You've taken the addiction element that I disliked in the monster round, and made that a story hook with the beggars, providing a lot of roleplaying potentail. You've added the alchemy and Technic League gearmen.

The best part is that the ooze actually does come out of the tank and fight, in a fun way that I consider similar to a "reveal" in fiction or film. Better yet, the trap is the way that reveal happens. That's meeting the spec better than any other entry on the trap issue.

The challenge here was to design a cool location and a great monster encounter. I think you did a better job on the location than almost all other entries, and I think the monster is actually really at the heart of this location. Keep stepping it up.

I DO RECOMMEND this entry advance to the Top 4.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Welcome to Round 4, Michael!

A town location in Numeria, that's pretty bold, given that we haven't provided much information about that country.

I only glanced at your map and started reading your encounter, and then saw your title for Room 4: Shaken, Not Stirred. *groan*

I hate that sort of thing. It's cutesy and going for a laugh or a chuckle, only the GM is going to see it, and it sets the wrong mood for the encounter. Nobody is going to think your encounter is awesome because it's named after a James Bond catchphrase (especially when only the GM sees the encounter name). In fact, for legal reasons, the publisher would want to change the name just so the owners of the James Bond franchise don't have an excuse to sue. There's actually a section in my Freelancer Advice and Punishments doc telling writers to not do this. It's common, and should be stamped out. I've had regular freelancers who had a problem with this sort of thing. Okay, it looks like I'm just harping on that one encounter name, but your map also has "Welcome to the Jungle" and "These Chains Are Weigh Too Heavy." You need to take this work seriously.

Interesting use of the egelsee cocktail's addiction mechanic.

The intro about Axia seems out of place in the Room description, but it's an easy matter to move that to the description of the Vise itself. However, I'm not sure of her involvement in this encounter. Does she work at the Vise?

The focus of this encounter is the gearsmen, not the cocktails. It's actually possible to complete the encounter without fighting the cocktails at all--except if one of the gearsman decides to smash a tube and free a cocktail, but we don't have any evidence that the gearsmen know the oozes live inside the tube or that smashing a tube to free one is a good idea.

The trap in your encounter doesn't really feel like a trap, it's just a containment device for one of the monsters.

This is an entry with potential but has some problems. I'm not sure you're quite ready yet. I wasn't blown away by your wondrous item or archetype, but I liked your monster. Unfortunately, I do not recommend you advance to the next round.

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

I'm pretty much with Wolfgang on this one. I love the setup and the locale, the pot and the use of new and shiny polarising creatures (androids/gearsmen) that push the boundaries of the genre as detailed in the genre's own books (Inner Sea Bestiary).
It takes courage and panache to swing for the fences and pull it off, and this has both of those in pneumatic spades!!! Nice work, loved the name, love the map, love the shattered addicts.

As I said in my Feer's Crossing comments, it is welcome to see that this is "encounter #4", that this is merely part of a greater whole - a location. As the rules asked for.

Fantastic! Keep it up Michael!!!

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

This might be just a problem with the encounter limit (vs full adventure), but I find this has a lot of railroad. The hook means telling PC who a friend is hook, the tracking of Axia has already happened, the gearsmen show up just after the PCs, the addicts spring the trap. The encounter is with the gearsmen not the ooze and the trap will be sprung despite anything the PCs do (plot device?) I think this combat will be interesting and there is enough detail to show a bigger idea here (ruins, back room, numerian cult). Still, I look forward to running the combat.

Congratulations Michael,

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:
- the location - The Vise - is tight, evocative, and efficiently described. I get a real sense of place
- the whole location is built around the egelsee cocktail, and when it is released it changes the face of the combat
- the trap is literally built around the egelsee cocktail, and could be absolutely deadly
- contrary to Sean's feedback, the tactics tell the GM that the gearsmen will unleash the cocktail if the fight goes against them - good thinking

- the tightly focused location doesn't leave much room for other stories or precursor adventures
- the encounter doesn't have much going on other than the trap itself, and the room feels pretty cramped for a party plus enemies plus multiple NPCs

- the techno-magic angle limits the audience compared to a more familiar high fantasy location - niches are dangerous things in public votes. But you executed well and should be hopeful of seeing the next round.

The Exchange Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I thought the robots highlighted the monster well, in a biological vs technological way. The map looks really cool and the theme is awesome, who doesn't want to crash an opium den in the fantastical Wild West - or it could be a central hub for information and black market goods. I like it when the traps can be advantageous to the party as well.

Btw I picked this one to read first because it had the best name, good luck!

Cool idea! I actually like the Bond reference- it's creative and fun, and it add a zaniness to the encounter that reminds me of some of my favorite tongue and cheek writers like Asprin, Butcher and Anthony. Awesome map!

The Exchange

I'm a fan of corny jokes and puns, anybody that knows me at all will tell you that. But all the pop culture references in your room names really ruin this for me. Others may see it differently, but this is superstar, not night at the improv.

Star Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

At the very least, this makes me want to see the rest of the encounters that go on in this location.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Sean hit every point I would have made here. The reference to Axia comes out of nowhere, there's a chance the 'featured' monster never features, nor may the trap. It's about a bunch of (admittedly cool) robots fighting in a pretty awesome setting - and one that feels really on the nose for Numeria.

Unfortunately, your two misses were two of the big goals of the round, which is a pretty major slip up.

The Exchange Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I dont expect good pcs to leave the drug source alive to profit the cult and harm the populace, or expect the chaotic pcs to leave it trapped and I don't expect evil pcs to not kill the valuable resource of an enemy. The monster will be fought.

Idk about the complaints people are having about the trap/monster. the trap and monster are the reason this location exists and both are used by the world. It totally meets the req in my opinion by using the trap in an interesting way and it also uses the monster in a cool way.

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.


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. What I like with this map design is you have separated the key and the location details out and retained the full flip mat size for your encounter area - the area upon which the flip mat will be used.

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. You have included symbol key and room keys, but there are numerous rooms without a name - the cartographer would need to know how to populate these rooms - especially as the adventuring party would need to traverse them to reach some of the labelled rooms (e.g. on the left side, go through the secret door to the empty unlabeled 10 foot square room, head south through another unlabeled room and then south again to reach room 5.)

I also like that the central area reveals the presence of secret doors by the fact that you cannot get into the square area of the building at all without passing through at least one secret door. When fully exploring the main center area, the map shape will instantly tell the adventuring party to start looking for secret doors.

c) Appreciation of height and scale. Ok, a couch. To me a couch, even an Arabian one, would be long enough to lounge upon. Looking at how many couch symbols there are, the couch looks to be sub 5 feet in size as it fits inside a square. This could be a positional thing only, but the fact that you have lots of adjacent couches each in their own five foot square doesn't feel right to me. I would have expected no more than one couch per 10 feet to allow a reasonable sized couch and room to walk around it, beside it, etc.

The whole map seems a little cramped, we even have small 5 foot rooms in a labelled encounter area that looks suspiciously like an area of cells. Now most cells would be around 10 foot square, 5 foot is too small - you could have gone the five by ten and I wouldn't have mentioned it then.

Your continuity also took a bit of a knock when you have all these lovely circular rooms, circular bar and then a square tank ;) - I would have used a round one :P

d) Location or just encounter? So we have an inn, having a rounded spire vibe making me think or Arabian settings - I loved Al Qadim, so you already have my interest. You have a pull out giving the approach to the encounter building, so location wise, you are fine, I would have liked to have seen a village/town name on that part of the map, just to determine it's setting within Golarion. The location is also quite sparse, for example, are their any trees nearby, or it is just all flat featureless ground? Is the road cobbled, well worn track, dirt path? You get the idea.

Your room names are a tad comedy based, bringing to mind a module, I think WG7, Castle Greyhawk - with a big snail, daft room names and an annoying "helper" called Callum. Shudders at the memory. These names would probably be fine for an April Fool's themed design, but in this case, I think you should have gone with more formal and serious names.

e) Environmental Use This map has great deal of environmental potential - I assume the curtains are really flammable and the glass pipes are smash-able. Lots of couches to get in the way, fall over or leap onto in true swashbuckling posing style.

Hopefully some food for thought in there.

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

I like the idea of the ooze behind this and the imagery at the heart of it all, but I can't shake the feeling that I've played the manipulative-cultist thing already. While the gears all fit together, I just don't think I'd pick this encounter for my party. It's an interesting twist on the premise, but it doesn't turn it on its head to the point that it feels fresh.

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

We've been PbP'ing this encounter. We're still mid-battle, but I wanted to comment on what I've seen so far, so voters will have a chance to see reactions.

What I like a lot is the premise of battling a cocktail in a drug den - it's a good setup that makes sense and provides for an interesting battle. Once we got to the battle, I'm totally with this entry. OTOH, I felt that the setup was problematic - it feels like an implausible scenario: Axia is being sought by the PCs for failed romance and she's a wanted android and she's involved with the monstrous drug den, and everything explodes within one minute of one another. The gearsmen's entrance, and the assumption that they free the cocktail, feel especially railroaded - in our playtest, before I read the encounter details, I had my character dimension door Axia to safety as soon as danger struck, since she was presented as our crucial objective; after that, the gearsmen breaking the tank "just for the heck of it" didn't seem very believable.

That criticism said, there's a lot to recommend this entry, and I think plotting is a skill that's very open to improvement with time and editing. Best of luck!

I really like the punny room names -- it builds its own kind of suspense by playing on expectations. Good luck!

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

To add to Ziv's playtest report. The trap is not a trap IMHO. At best it is a plot device to get the main critter into the combat. Both it and the Egelsee cocktail ever becoming a part of the scenerio are forced, and are a miss from me.

I do believe Michael had the foresight to include addicts who would spring the trap thereby making the encounter with the Egelsee happen. Though it fell down on this from the assignments POV, it could probably be saved by the addicts presence.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka DankeSean

I was initially inclined not to vote for this, just based on a reading of it. Having been part of Curaigh's playtest, though, I've come around. I think this makes it into the top four of this round, albeit by a narrow margin.
I think calling the egelsee's nozzles a 'trap' is a bit of a misnomer. It's really just a device that delays the entrance of the biggest threat in the encounter by a few rounds. The only way to actually avoid having the cocktail be released is to take out all the NPCs in the room within a round or two. Otherwise, even if a savvy set of PCs disable the access port before any of the junkies get to it, you're still looking at the gearsmen smashing the glass if things start going south for them.
But for all that... it's been a fun encounter. The room provides an actual interesting tactical space to play around in (what with the big tank in the middle of the room making it difficult to simply get from point A to point B without crossing various threatened spaces., and the combination of the gearsmen and the cocktail (once it emerges) make for an interesting set of choices as far as which threat needs to be dealt with first.
So, my ultimate review here is: a fun encounter design with a really creative setting, which maybe falls a bit short on some of the technical elements required. (The trap not really being a trap.) Nonetheless, it's in the top four for me. If anyone else is making any last minute voting picks, I do recommend this be one of them.

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