Thorn Manor — Clay Blankenship

Thorn Manor

Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 aka Wolfwaker

Thorn Manor {location}
When the elegant but run-down Thorn Manor was bought by a tall, silent newcomer known as Lord Rostau, no one paid much notice. But now carriages come and go at odd hours of the night, and strange blue flashes of light are seen from the upper stories. Rostau was an alchemist experimenting with necromancy who had taken a caliban called Vago as a servant. As Rostau progressed in his foul experiments, he became more cruel and mistreated his wretched servant. Filled with rage and loathing, Vago finally snapped and murdered his master. Now Lord Rostau wanders the halls as a ghost while Vago tries to replicate his master's experiments.

The Murderous Apprentice(CR YY) {encounter}
This floor is taken up by an alchemist's laboratory. Tables are covered with flasks and beakers of fluid and shelves hold preserved specimens of strange creatures. Across the room a monstrous hunchbacked creature, man-shaped but with a bestial face, is dressed in a stained lab coat that is too small for him. He turns his attention to you and yells, "Me master now!" He is standing near an apparatus topped with coils of wire, humming and sparking with electricity. An unmoving man is bound to the machine by brass manacles.

Initially, the only active creature is the caliban but the others may be released or awakened as the encounter progresses. The caliban has been driven mad by the continual mistreatment of his master, and cannot be reasoned with. He needs to use his Share Deformity ability to gain enough intelligence to use the wand of Lightning Bolt, which charges the Infernal Apparatus, ultimately reanimating a zombie from Lord Rostau's corpse..


Caliban CR 2
XP 200
hp 22 (RPG Superstar 2013)
Melee 2 claws +5 (1d4+1) or share deformity (touch +5)
Ranged glass vial +4 (1d4+1 slashing + special)
Replace Intimidate +7 with Use Magic Device +7.
He is under the effect of a potion of Mage Armor and carries a wand of lightning bolt.

The caliban first uses his Unsettling Scream to slow the players before beginning to throwing vials containing a preservationist alchemist's bottled allies (from Ultimate Magic): a bat swarm, a giant frog, and 3 dire rats. When the vials break, the creatures are released and grow to full size, persisting for three rounds before dying and withering away. The caliban uses Share Deformity on the first opportunity to increase his Intelligence. After this he uses the wand of lightning bolt to attack, which also charges the Infernal Device.

Bat Swarm CR 2
XP 600
hp 9 (Bestiary 30)

Frog, Giant CR 1
XP 400
hp 15 each (Bestiary 135)

Rat, Dire CR 1/3
XP 135 each
hp 5 each (Bestiary 232)

Zombie, Alchemical CR 2
XP 600
hp 24 (Bestiary 288, Classic Horrors Revisited 54)
This is an Alchemical Zombie with immunity to electric damage and double the normal hp.

Hazard: Sticky floor. The floor here is covered by a clear sticky substance, and anyone walking here becomes stuck to the floor. The effect is the same as that from a tanglefoot bag. PCs attempting to cross this area immediately upon entering the room get a DC 15 Perception check to notice there is something on the floor.

Flash Trap CR 1
Type mechanical; Perception DC 20; Disable Device DC 20
----- Effects -----
Trigger {proximity 5 feet}; Duration instantaneous; Reset 1 round, automatic (6 charges); Bypass hidden switch
Effect (Multiple targets (all targets in a 15-ft. cone)). Blindness for 1d4 rounds. Creatures which make a DC 20 Reflex save are dazzled.

Room features:
1. Infernal Device. This device holds the corpse of the dead alchemist, recognizable by the players from the haunt in the entry hall. One end is covered with coils of wire. Whenever any electric spell or effect is used in this room, it charges the device, causing it to spark and hiss dramatically. After 3 such charges, the corpse is reanimated as an Alchemical Zombie. This causes the machine to become broken, requiring a Craft: Alchemy check of DC 25 to repair. Hitting the wiring with a weapon breaks the machine but deals 1d6 electric damage to the wielder if the weapon is a metal melee weapon.
2. These table are covered in flasks and beakers. Leaping over the tables requires an Acrobatics check (DC 12) to avoid taking 1d4 slashing damage from broken glass. Medium characters may crawl under at half movement while small characters may duck under the tables and move at full speed. The flasks may be identified by a Craft: Alchemy check (DC 10) or Linguistics check to decipher the writing (DC 20, +10 if the character knows Varisian). If flasks are chosen at random, roll d10 and use the following: 0-3) acid flask (1d6 splash), 4-6) harmless chemical, 7) universal solvent, 8) vermin repellent, 9) antitoxin.
3. Specimen shelves. These shelves hold preserved biological specimens, including the bottled allies thrown by the caliban. These are tall shelves which provide partial cover.
4. Sticky floor.
5. A glass dome in front of the window covers an ordinary flytrap plant and a buzzing swarm of ordinary flies. If the dome is broken or overturned, treat the flies as a wasp swarm but with no attacks. A DC 15 Knowledge: Nature check reveals the harmless nature of the contents.
6. The flash trap sits on a pedestal in this corner. It consists of a filament of wire which flashes brightly when triggered by stepping in front of it.

Several of the hazards here can be mitigated. Acid flasks are effective against swarms. Opening a window (a move action) will disperse flying swarms within 10 feet in 1 round. The giant frog can be distracted by releasing the swarm of flies. Universal solvent can neutralize the sticky floor.
When the zombie is reanimated, he breaks free and attacks the nearest PC.


Good map reference, plenty of nice details to work with right away. I like the use of wall thickness again, very cool to see people doing this on the map sketches.

Nice line-work and subtle use of color help to describe and not get muddy.

I can imagine drawing the infernal device at a small scale.

good job on the map reference.

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

Initial Impression at under 1000 words you left over 500 words on the table. That concerns me. The writing is a bit herky jerky. This is more encounter than location. I think we needed more on the manor. Unless the others are not very good, I don't see this one getting a top 4 recommendation from me.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Clay, based on comments in the Top 32 Guildhall thread, I see that your son graduated from Space Camp the day your R4 submission was due, which delayed you and prevented you from making some final edits. Congrats to your son, Space Camp is a cool thing. :)

I could tell you were a bit rushed with this submission. Not only did you submit it 4 minutes before the deadline, you left in various {bracketed} comments, placeholders such as "CR YY," the writing needs to be tightened up and/or clarified in several places, and you're playing it fast and loose with proper game terminology (for example, "Intelligence" should be capitalized, "Share Deformity" and "Unsettling Scream" should not, and "wand of lightning bolt" should be italicized).

I like how you gave PCs many options for negating the various hazards and monsters in this encounter.

You had another 500 words you could have used to flesh out the manor and this encounter, which would also have shown off more of your design skills. I think being pressed for time hurt you.

I loved your cobra-hood cloak, thought your skinchanger witch archetype was pretty neat, and felt your thoughtstealer ooze had some technical problems (although the voters loved it). Unfortunately, I do not recommend you advance to the next round.

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

This is a bit of a lash-up, rather like the Frankenstein's monster that inspired it. I do like the use of a caliban for an alchemist's servant, but you're veering into cliche and stereotype pretty quickly here in the writing and that makes me sure it was rushed.

I wish we had seen a full-length submission with more polish and more new elements. I'm not impressed enough with what I see here to give it a full thumbs-up, though I do see a couple places that make say "YEAH!" (flash trap, the ways to use materials against the swarm, etc). There's some good design bones here, but not quite enough. And we're seeing more technical problems, which I also saw in the hexes in the skinchanger witch.

Sadly, much as I love the Mad Scientist vibe, I do NOT recommend this location to advance to the next round.

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

Clay, good job getting this far. Let’s see how this submission shapes up.

Initial Impression: I’ve now read all the other submissions and I still feel the same.

Concept (name/title, is it actually a location and an encounter, design choices, usability, conflict and interaction, is it memorable): B-
I think this is more encounter than location. It’s pretty clear to me this is a draft. That has been discussed by others. And I noted you left 500+ words on the table in your submission. I think this is a first idea. It’s pretty cliché and I think you can do better, for sure.

Map (legible, encounter keyed to the map, exciting and memorable location, well integrated, all necessary info for cartographer): B-
The map is serviceable, but it’s just not Superstar.

Execution (use of mandatory content, trap execution, monster integration, etc., quality of writing, proper presentation): C+
Again, leaving 500+ words on the table hurt you. There were some things I liked, the trap for instance. I won’t beat you up. You know where I am going with this.

Tilt (did it grab me, is it unique and cool, do I like it): C
This was a first draft, it is obvious in every way.

Overall: C+
Clay, I am sorry to see this happen. You have had a good run. I sure understand real life getting in the way. It happens. But that can’t be a pass here. You should be really proud of what you accomplished. I'd choose space camp over superstar, too.

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

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

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Nice Clay,
I love the 'Igor is master now' bit. The map was difficult to read, and I felt there is a lot going on for GMs and players to play with. This could go either way & I'm eager to see if all that action is enough to make it fun to play. My HS group still talks about the random tables when you missed something in Shadowrun's Stuffer Shack.

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

1 person marked this as a favorite.

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.

What I like:
- The use of a 'caliban' as the unwilling servant of a cruel master shows background knowledge, respect for the source, and an ability to reuse tropes in interesting ways
- The encounter features a steadily increasing set of thematically appropriate enemies, which can generate a sense of tension and make for a memorable fight
- The Infernal Device can be activated by player spells as well as the caliban's wand. That's smart design and lets the players really influence the environment

- Not enough words spent on the location - Thorn Manor is barely a sketch

- If you get through it will be on promise. I kind of hope you do because the elements that you completed - the encounter - show real design ability. But that won't necessarily pull you past other entrants who executed both sides of the task.

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

I am going to run a PbP playtest of this encounter - I'll post my thoughts and notes here, once the playtest is over.

On the initial read-through, though, I must agree with the comments that this feels like a rough draft at best - and you have stated why elsewhere.

A big plus for being a good father first and a good superstar contestant second, but I'm afraid it's going to count against you, especially since your monster also had some issues with the execution.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Thorn manor, an interesting doctor Frankenstein manor with alchemy and strange creatures running amok. It's a good premise. Unfortunately, it feels a little busy for me. A contraption that may or may not raise a zombie, a cr2 monster with a wand of level 3 spells, five monsters that may or may not be summoned, and the trap, which may not even be noticed amid the chaos.

Don't get me wrong, the idea behind this round is to create some zany encounters in wild locations and make them fun despite the chaos - but you got too much chaos in, and not enough setting.

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

Got around to this one. I gotta say I like it a lot. Okay, so Space Camp sucked 500 words into the vaccuum of Clay's family life, but what is here is fantastic.

For an old grognard, intentional or not on Clay's behalf, this really evokes an old White Dwarf adventure The Halls of Tizun Thane in which if I recall correctly, a brain and memory eating henchman (a gu'en-deeko) of a spell-user has been tricked into eating his master and thus parades madly around in his master's cape with spell-use.

I love the thoughts that went into this - the need of the caliban to increase his Intelligence to use the wand, and the need of the device to be charged with the wand.

ALL six of your listed room features are dangerous or usable by the denizens - again having bottled monsters on the shelf for the caliban to throw is great.

This is not the most refreshing encounter ever in the history of RPGs, nor the first laboratory encounter, or maddened henchman - but it is creative and well executed, what there is of it. It is rushed - the master is a ghost roaming/a zombie in waiting, the Development is curtailed. Still, I like the idea and the passion shown. Hats off to you Clay!!!

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 detailed contains full dungeon dressings, bedrooms are obvious, store rooms full of barrels and crates too. Unfortunately, the location aspect of this map is missing such detailing. Now much of this can be provided as part of the formal art for producing the final flip mat using labels detailing what rooms are what, and allowing the artist free reign to populate those areas. Unfortunately, none of the lower area is labelled, making this possible.

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. This key is present but concentrates in the main on the encounter, skipping the location - what are the hedges? Are they hedgerow or trees? The pool in the corner, are they flower beds or some strange green leaf plant (bushes or trees).

Being consistent with labelling is useful and avoids errors in translation to a flip mat - in this case, most of the encounter items are numbered, a short numbered description in the key would be useful to the cartographer - if it is important to your encounter(s), make sure the cartographer cannot misinterpret your needs or require them to need to contact you to query the map.

c) Appreciation of height and scale. No scale is present - as would be found on a flip mat, but including it for confirmation does impart information to the cartographers and artists should they wish to make other representation of the encounters and locations. The standard 5 foot squares indicate 15 to 20 foot sized rooms on the lower floor. Now as this is a manor house, I expected slightly larger rooms than this, but understand the restriction of the target flip mat size. It is something worth bearing in mind though, and being aware of what works as a single flip mat - see the ships flip mats, the ships extend over multiple maps at the larger ship size.

d) Location or just encounter? You have observed location as being the manor house and the encounter is a subset of that - so this does fulfil the requirement to detail encounter and location, but placement of the manor house might have been useful to include - although this also wouldn't be on a flip mat, it does help the cartographer to know the intended manor location to ensure consistency in art, i.e. a manor house in a Gothic realm would look different in styling and color schemes to one set say in an Arabian realm.

e) Environmental Use Nothing immediately jumps out - the whole upper floor is the encounter area but is there anything special other than placed traps, dressings and combatants? This is an area that is likely more alive in the encounter description rather than the flip mat - this is useful in that it makes a flip mat able to be used generically, but on the other hand, isn't so attention grabbing. I'm on the fence on this one.

Hopefully some food for thought in there.

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

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 aka Wolfwaker

Now that the silence has been lifted, I would like to say that I feel really bad about how incomplete this was. As some of you alluded to, life got really busy and I failed to allow myself adequate time to do the job I wanted. Thanks for being gentle in your critiques.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 aka Flak

Hi Clay, I think I can kind of understand where you're coming from, and I'd be pretty down on myself in that position as well... but chin up, really, I think you presented a sweet entry given both A) the ridiculous pace of this contest & B) the things that came up in your life. I like what you submitted, and sure, it could have used more polish, but still. People were 'gentle' because you earned it. :)

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

I wasn't gentle on you Clay! I liked it, and said so. I'm sure people voted for it. Good luck!

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