The Scrollmaster's Ransom

Round 5: Submit an adventure proposal

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka primemover003

The Scrollmaster’s Ransom
A key stolen from the Arcane Library of Tar-Kazmukh awakens the dormant guardians of an ancient vault. Its keeper has imprisoned the librarians in their own institution demanding the return of the key and those responsible for its theft as ransom. Can the heroes recover the key and return the thieves in time to rescue the hostages?

The Scrollmaster’s Ransom is an urban investigation and dungeon exploration adventure for 5th level characters, written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Characters should reach 6th level by the end of the adventure using the medium experience track.

Since the signing of the Kerse Accord, the Kalistocracy of Druma has eclipsed their former lords, the dwarves of the Five Kings Mountains in both prominence and wealth among the nations surrounding Lake Encarthan. This rise in power and status is no mere coincidence to the followers of the prophecies of Kalistrade, merely their destiny fulfilling itself.

One of the most fervent believers in the superiority of Druma over the dwarf kingdoms is Vianella, Banker of the Countinghouse of Abadar in Peddlegate (LN female human aristocrat 4/ cleric 5 (theologian)). The ambitious Kalistocrat is the daughter of the powerful Archbanker of Kerse and a popular political figure successfully negotiating several advantageous trade contracts with the city’s stubborn dwarves. Vianella’s research for the trade talks uncovered a vague reference to what she believes is a priceless cultural and religious treasure held by the dwarves belonging to Druma. The faded contract dating back to the Kerse Accord, purports the Resplendent Bureaucracy commissioned the dwarf wizard Eodrakk, master limner of Tar-Kazmukh to illuminate a vellum scroll with precious metals and powdered gemstones. The completed masterpiece contained a hitherto unrecorded prophecy by the First Prophet Kalistrade. Eodrakk mysteriously withdrew from public taking the scroll and locking himself away in an extradimensional vault along with several other priceless written works eventually transforming into a lich. Records of the lich Eodrakk Tomehoarder are now rare and only mentioned in whispers among the sages and librarians of Tar-Kazmukh, though never to outsiders.

Intent on uncovering the lich’s vault Vianella spent a small fortune consulting with otherworldly beings before acquiring the description of the vault’s key, a gilded folio hidden in plain sight among the rarities collection of the Arcane Library. Utilizing her corrupt political network, Vianella tasked the local Mercenary League Captain to commission a group of thieves to steal the folio from the Arcane Library and uncover the location of the lich’s vault. The thieves successfully reached the vault, secreted away among the shifting “Lost” libraries but their intrusion awakened the dormant guardians left by Eodrakk to defend his treasures. Its primary guardian, an advanced crypt thing wizard 5 (scrollmaster), dispatched three of the interlopers but one managed to escape with the key. Preparing for the thieves inevitable return, the Scrollmaster placed guardians and traps throughout the Library while abducting the tattooed librarians known as the Blue Warders one by one, imprisoning them in Eodrakk’s vault.

The following day visitors to the Arcane Library found an emblazoned parchment upon the levitating corpses of the human infiltrators at the entrance. The Scrollmaster’s ransom calls for the return of the key and those responsible for its theft lest every Blue Warder slowly die. Fearing the collective loss of centuries of knowledge and expertise the Sage’s Guild of Tar-Kazmukh immediately dispatched a representative to post a reward for the return of the stolen rarity and a bounty on the heads of its thieves at the dwarven embassy of Peddlegate, the nearest human city.

Book One: Peddlegate, Druma

Chapter 1: Dwarven Embassy, Undercity
Intrigued by a posted bounty at the dwarven embassy in Peddlegate's Undercity, the PCs meet with Igmar, the Sage’s Guild representative. The Guild offers a sizable reward for the return of a gilded folio stolen recently from the Arcane Library and a bounty on the heads of those responsible for its theft. Igmar stresses the matter is time sensitive and when recovered, the folio and its thieves must be delivered directly to Tar-Kazmukh as the authorities in Peddlegate may assert their jurisdiction and delay any extradition. The nervous sage gives the PCs descriptions of the dead thieves, the folio, and a warrant though canny PCs may notice Igmar is withholding information. If pressed the dwarf reluctantly reveals the details of the hostage situation.

Leaving the embassy for the Uppercity to begin investigating the PCs may notice a patrol of Mercenary League soldiers tailing them instructed to observe and report on any “adventuring types” visiting the Five Kings embassy. The PCs have the option of confronting the Blackjackets, questioning them, fighting, or losing them in the warren of the Undercity’s tunnels.

Finding the thief and discovering who ordered them followed are all challenges the PCs must overcome in Peddlegate. Successful Diplomacy checks to gather information about the dead thieves reveals the name Narsio of Xer (N male human rogue 4 (burglar)), while a Knowledge (local) check informs the PCs the group used the Pick & Quarrel tavern as a meeting place and Blackdamp Hollow, a dangerous mine outside of town as a rendezvous and drop site. Further Diplomacy or Knowledge (local) checks reveal the name of the Cassodan, Mercenary League Captain of Peddlegate (LE male human fighter 6).

Chapter 2: The Pick & Quarrel, Uppercity
Collecting the reward from Blackdamp Hollow, Narsio of Xer is at the Pick & Quarrel tavern spending his dead associates treasure and toasting their afterlives. Tracking down the exiled Razmiran burglar, the PCs find he no longer has the folio and refuses to return to Tar-Kazmukh. Narsio’s many friends among the staff and patrons begin brawling with the PCs to aid his escape attempt.

Unfortunately a patrol of Blackjackets waits outside the tavern ready to grab the thief for Cassodan who has learned of the bounty. The watch officer charges Narsio with robbing the Countinghouse of Abadar and threatens to arrest the PCs as accessories if they interfere. The Officer directs PCs displaying the dwarven warrant to Captain Cassodan’s office. If they allow the mercenaries to take Narsio they may follow (or track) the patrol to the Countinghouse instead of the city jail.

Chapter 3: The Countinghouse of Abadar, Uppercity
By day, exotic peacocks wander among the topiaries and statues in the opulent public courtyard of the Countinghouse while acolytes offering money changing and lending services are watched over by the Mercenary League. Cockatrices stalk the manicured grounds by night when the iron gates are closed while arbiter inevitables, Blackjackets, and acolytes patrol the halls. Once the evidence points to the Countinghouse, the PCs can attempt infiltrating one of the most secure compounds in Peddlegate or talking their way in by requesting an audience with the Banker.

Once inside the PCs eventually encounter Vianella, Banker of Abadar and Captain Cassodan. Vianella avoids admitting involvement right away focusing blame on Cassodan. If the PCs believer her bluffs, she instructs Cassodan to return the folio which he states remains at Blackdamp Hollow. If the PCs follow him they are ambushed by Blackjackets who attempt to force them into the hazardous mine complex. If the PCs see through her lies she turns the tables admitting responsibility and asserting her right to recover a priceless cultural heirloom from the dwarves. She sympathizes with the unfortunate plight of the Blue Warders, but reminds the PCs the guardian is an evil undead abomination. She attempts to bribe the PCs, utilizing her pet carbuncle’s abilities if necessary, into destroying the vault’s guardian, rescuing the librarians, and retrieving the lost prophecy of Kalistrade for her. Failing that she releases the folio (and Narsio if captured) warning the PCs she is a terrible enemy to have. If her protectors are defeated she states her father, the Archbanker of Kerse already knows her plans should she go missing or be found dead, and will bring every means at his considerable disposal to bear against them.

Blackdamp Hollow (Bonus Location):
Two miles north of Peddlegate lies the abandoned mine complex known as Blackdamp Hollow. The mine once produced a steady stream of coal until the miners broke into a gas pocket causing a violent explosion. Fires smolder deep below the surface and noxious vapors periodically belch from the mine as burning skeletons and beheaded, the remains of the accidents victims, find their way out of the lower mines to wander the area. Elders tell tales of Hot Rolgar, a forge spurned brooding in the fiery depths collecting the souls of fools entering the Hollow to appease Droskar and end his suffering.


Dragon Road (CR 7)
Once the PCs retrieve the folio and take Narsio, Cassodan, or even Vianella captive they must then travel the roughly 50 miles between Peddlegate and Tar-Kazmukh. On the road an advanced wyvern allied to Vianella sent to retrieve the folio and exact revenge (or to help her escape) attacks the PCs. If the PCs chose to work for the Kalistocrat the monster is merely looking for a meal. During the chaos the captives will attempt to escape.

Book Two: Tar-Kazmukh

Chapter 1: The Sage’s Guild
Arriving in Tar-Kazmukh the PCs meet the Sage’s Guild elders who thank them for returning the folio and its thieves. The Guild pays the reward and bounty promised but offers to double it if the PCs deliver the folio and prisoner(s) to the Scrollmaster and rescue the Blue Warders.

If the PCs accept the offer the Sages describe the Arcane Library’s layout explaining it has a limited awareness of creatures within its wings and their worthiness to enter the “Lost” libraries. They also provide the PCs with wardstones to bypass some of the Library’s passive defenses. Failing too many of the Library's tests of knowledge or skill results in being returned to the Great Hall.

The wardstones are used to grant a +5 circumstance bonus to specific skill checks used to exit rooms in the “Lost” libraries of Tar-Kazmukh.

Chapter 2: The Arcane Library
The Arcane Library of Tar-Kazmukh fills a great cavern shaped by chisel and spell over centuries into a wonder of the dwarven kingdoms. The depository of knowledge draws wizards, sages, and experts from the Lake Encarthan region and beyond. Most visitors see only the Library’s Great Hall and its adjoining tunnels. Beyond lay the “Lost” libraries, chambers sharing the same general dimensions differing only by their wall carvings depicting the room’s subject matter. Shifting magical walls of stone separate these chambers, though some exist in extradimensional spaces. To enter these sequestered archives a visitor must have the proper permissions and pass tests of knowledge or skills relating to the rooms subject. Usually Blue Warders guide visitors, their long years of study and mystic tattoos allowing easy passage. Occasionally trusted visitors are given wardstones to allow entry without a guide. The Library itself shunts those who lack a guide, permission, or the requisite knowledge skills to pass the tests back to the Great Hall, though some rare recorded cases tell of people marooned in a “Lost” room succumbing to starvation or thirst.

PCs examining the folio find it is a primer on the virtue of charity and the sin of greed written in Ancient Thassilonian. The folio holds clues to finding the lich’s vault and the path through the Library to get there. Narsio reluctantly guides the PCs from the Great Hall along the path his group took if forced. However they must contend with the Scrollmaster’s surprises including new magical traps and guardians in rooms that previously held none.

Examples of Lost library chambers:

Arcane Archives (CR 6)
Hundreds of stone scrollcases and spellbooks line the niches of this room. Parchment, papyrus, vellum, and other writing media cover the tables. Here and there jumbles of scrolls lie heaped in small piles.

Creatures (New Monster):

Scroll Golem CR 3
Scrolls used repeatedly by apprentices learning to scribe sometimes gain an ability similar to a wizard’s arcane bonded item, able to cast a single spell written on itself once per day. Arcane colleges and universities use these scrolls to teach the construction of true golems to students. Scroll golem bodies are typically made of scrolls with calligraphic spells such as explosive runes, sepia snake sigil, or even symbol spells. Divine versions typically utilize a glyph of warding.

Scroll Burst (Su): Once per day the scroll golem can use the spell imbued on itself to affect all creatures in a 15-foot cone.
Like other true golems, scroll golems are susceptible to certain spells. Erase slows the golem for 2d6 rounds dealing 1d12 hit points to the golem (no save). Spells with the [water] descriptor cast upon the scroll golem suppresses its scroll burst ability for one day.

Chamber of Cartography (CR 5)
This room features shelves and tables filled with maps and charts of the land, sea, and sky. Graven images of the Sky Citadels adorn the stone walls. Slowly spinning at the room’s center stands an enormous globe depicting Golarion’s continents cast in bronze with raised mountain ranges and gemstones representing cities. One round after entering the globe animates trampling the PCs under its bulk.

The Reading Room (CR 6)
This lavishly appointed room boasts leather furniture to sit and read upon. Several lecterns stand scattered among the shelves though three exquisite marble pedestals prominently display hefty gem-encrusted tomes. The books are not what they seem animating when the mimic posing as a couch attacks.

There is a chance the PCs encounter the Scrollmaster checking on traps and guardians. If attacked the crypt thing uses teleporting burst followed by a quickened dimension door to escape. If presented the key and prisoner the Scrollmaster speaks, “Deliver the ransom to my master’s vault and the hostages release is assured.” It then uses a quickened dimension door to leave.

There is also a chance the PCs encounter Vianella and six Blackjacket officers even if they took her offer. With time to study the folio and take notes before the PCs claimed it, she learned the path and decided to retrieve the prophecy not trusting it with nonbelievers. If attacked the Kalistocrat attempts to enter the next chamber covered by a pair of mercenaries delaying the PCs.

Use Vianella’s group if the PCs are having an easy time of encounters. If not defeated or captured before reaching the vault she enters the chamber alone attacking the PC holding the folio.

Chapter 3: The Vault of Eodrakk Tomehoarder (CR 8)
When the PCs enter the lair of the Scrollmaster, it stands upon a raised dais before a rune carved stone door. In addition the Scrollmaster placed two invisible and paralyzed rust monsters in the wings of the chamber. If creatures entering the chamber do not present the key and its thieves immediately or if attacked the Scrollmaster releases the rust monsters from their paralyzation (a standard action), readies a scroll shield, then uses a quickened dimension door to reposition near a spellcaster. PCs hesitant to turn over a prisoner on moral grounds find the Scrollmaster unflinching in his demands and continued refusals prompt the Scrollmaster to attack.

If the PCs turn the prisoners over, the Scrollmaster it claims the key, opens the vault, and places the thieves in oubliettes the Blue Warders currently occupy releasing the librarians. If the Scrollmaster is destroyed the PCs can use the key to enter the vault.

From the entrance a raised stone walkway circles halfway around the vault ending in stairs to the lower portion of the chamber. A half dozen iron grates in the floor open into deep cells where the weakened Blue Warders cry for help. A great stone throne at the center of the bowl shaped room sits before a mithral lectern upon which perches an ancient illuminated scroll. The vault’s niches and alcoves surrounding the throne are filled with all manner of exotic writing tools, fabulously colored inks in bejeweled vials, spellbooks, scrolls, bowls of gem dust, sheets of gold and platinum foil, marvelous pigments, and several other wondrous items. When a creature sits upon the throne a magic mouth activates:

”For surviving my guardians choose one item from the vault except the accursed scroll. Let it be known Eodrakk Tomehoarder has taken interest in you.”

The Script of Avarice
The parchment on the lectern is no prophecy of Kalistrade, it is a curse written by a Runelord of Greed of Ancient Thassilon. Creatures reading the parchment become living gold as the iron body spell at CL 20, however at the end of the duration they must make a DC 20 Fortitude save or become a golden statue as the spell without the ability to revert to their normal body. The initial save DC increases by +1 each time the parchment is read until the save is failed. Creatures may attempt a DC 20 Fortitude save each day to break the curse effect requiring 3 consecutive saves. This curse is especially potent against creatures with greed or avarice in their heart (dragons, greed dwarven racial trait, order of the cockatrice cavaliers, prophets of Kalistrade, thieves, etc.) who take a –4 penalty to the saves. Those thinking the statue is gold find it is merely iron pyrite if broken apart damaging the afflicted creature as appropriate.

Should any thieves survive the PCs may hand them over to the dwarves for justice. Vianella is returned to Peddlegate but is removed as Banker for causing a major political incident. Cassodan and Narsio are sentenced to 5 years hard labor in the Undercity mines of Peddlegate for their part in the incident. If the PCs decide to keep the folio or the script of avarice, Eodrakk Tomehoarder learns of it and may send minions for them. Conversely the folio could aid in tracking down the lich’s current location.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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

Feedback for The Scrollmaster's Ransom

The Basics
Title: Not bad, although the word "Scrollmaster" raises a relatively tiny red flag (see Development Concern #1 below). It's also pretty close in construction and meaning to "The Dragon's Demand," which will be coming out the same year. Not a huge fan of the title for these two reasons. If this proposal wins, I strongly recommend a title change to “The Wizard’s Ransom”—it’s a much stronger and easier to say title that doesn’t require knowledge of archetypes from Ultimate Magic to recognize.

Location: Excellent, but challenging, choice to set the adventure in Druma. We've not done much in this nation yet, and so it's ripe for development, but by the same extension there's not a lot of established themes in published products to build off of.

Plot: The adventure’s plot seems overly complicated, but for all the complexity, relatively little seems to happen. It’s also confusing—is the adventure about rescuing thieves or bringing them to justice? Is it about returning a stolen object or fighting an undead overlord? And the most interesting parts of the storyline (a dwarven wizard, a prisoner transport, and a spooky haunted mine) seem to be things that the adventure doesn’t really want to explore. Frustrating.

The Good

  • 1) Blackdamp Hollow is not only a cool name for a dungeon, but it sounds really atmospheric and interesting, with some neat monsters and a spooky history to it. Also, having a forge spurned show up again after all this time is pretty cool. Alas... see Development Concern #7.

  • 2) The idea of escorting prisoners from one city to another is an interesting idea for an entire series of encounters, or even a whole adventure. Alas... see Development Concern #7.

  • 3) I quite like the concept of a dungeon that you need to open up not by bashing down doors but flexing your knowledge and using your intellect to open up new areas.

  • 4) The idea of a dwarf lich is cool. We don’t see enough dwarf liches in adventures. Including, unfortunately, this one.

Development Concerns

  • 1) As mentioned above, the word "scrollmaster" is a slight concern. The Pathfinder Society already has a title called "Master of Scrolls," and I'm a little worried that "Scrollmaster" is too close to that. An easy enough change and something of a nitpicky concern, but an easy enough one to fix (even though it would require a revision to the title). And yeah, I get that “scrollmaster” is an established archetype for wizards... but it still feels awkward and strange to me to give that word such prominence in a title.

  • 2) The proposal has some awkward sentence constructions in there, with tense shifting and the like. Some missing apostrophes (one of my biggest editorial pet peeves). Many of the sentences are too long and/or awkwardly phrased. Lots of infinite-verb phrases and dangling participles, even some flat-out misused words. There’s incorrect use of commas, be they strangely placed or just missing entirely. For example, take this sentence from the end of the second paragraph of the prologue: Eodrakk mysteriously withdrew from public taking the scroll and locking himself away in an extradimensional vault along with several other priceless written works eventually transforming into a lich. What was mysterious about his withdrawal from public? Did the “other priceless written works” eventually become a lich? I get what the sentence is trying to say, but the way it’s constructed is awkward and difficult to read. A comma could probably stand to be in there somewhere too. Or take this sentence from the end of the last paragraph of Chapter 1: Further Diplomacy or Knowledge (local) checks reveal the name of the Cassodan, Mercenary League Captain of Peddlegate (LE male human fighter 6). Why does this matter? There’s no context or information given as to why learning Cassodan’s name is important, only that it can be learned. And what’s that “the” doing before “Cassodan?” Is “Cassodan” a title? If there’s a lot of cumbersome sentences in a finished proposal... it doesn’t matter if the adventure’s plot and encounters are brilliant, because each sentence like the one above is one the developer has to take apart and re-write. While I can’t assume that the final turnover would have similar problems if this proposal wins, it doesn’t fill me with confidence to see writing like this in the proposal.

  • 3) Whenever I see the word “prophecy” appear in anything for Pathfinder, an alarm rings in my head. Part of the reason we “killed” prophecy with the death of Aroden is because the use of prophecy in fantasy stories is cliched, and it’s particularly difficult to utilize in an RPG, where the storytellers (the writer of the adventure and the GM) don’t have full control over the main characters of the story (the PCs).

  • 4) We don’t subdivide our adventures into “Books.” Just use chapters.

  • 5) It’s always really risky to have the NPC giving out the quest to the PCs at the start of an adventure be someone who’s trying to trick the PCs, because that’s an excellent way to derail things from “let’s go on this adventure” into “let’s find out what this sage is hiding!” PCs are a naturally suspicious lot, and they are quick to distrust NPCs. And when they distrust NPCs, they don’t want to go on quests for them.

  • 6) Archetypes are better for PCs. When they start appearing on lots of NPCs in an adventure, I start to get annoyed because suddenly I need multiple books open at once to run each NPC. Use archetypes sparingly!

  • 7) It’s frustrating that the first truly interesting sounding adventure site, Blackdamp Hollow, is indicated to be a “bonus location.” A place like this deserves to be a main location of an adventure! I would rather have one of the cities in the adventure be the bonus location and have Blackdamp Hollow be a fully-detailed encounter area. It’s also frustrating that an interesting adventure element—the escorting of prisoners over a 50 mile journey—is essentially boiled down to a fight with a wyvern.

  • 8) With the exception of Blackdamp Hollow... all of “Book One” seems pretty dull and frustrating to play through.

  • 9) Wyverns are only Intelligence 7. Sure, they can talk and all that, but they hardly seem an appropriate creature to choose to send on a mission to retrieve a folio.

  • 10) We already have wardstones in the game, and they’re pretty important. Especially in the very year that RPG Superstar 2013’s adventure is going to be published. If a wardstone is in an adventure and it’s NOT one of the Wardstones that helps bolster the Worldwound border... you need to re-name your magic stone to something else.

  • 11) There’s not a lot of interaction between the dwarves and Thassilon, since during the time of Thassilon, dwarves were still living in relative secrecy deep underground, below the orcs. As a result, I’m not too keen on having a Thassilonian text be such a big part of an adventure about dwarves and set in Druma.

  • 12) Not a fan of the scroll golem. Golems work best when they’re higher CR in my opinion. Furthermore, this creature doesn’t function as a golem; it’s not created in the same way as any other golem. I’m even having a bit of trouble imagining how a scroll golem might look without imagining something that a match or a knife can’t kill in a heartbeat. This is a case where a possibly workable new monster idea is kind of ruined by its name, and if this proposal wins, I’ll require the monster to be renamed to something like “scroll guardian” or “scroll savant” or something that doesn’t involve golems and their built-in assumptions at all.

  • 13) There doesn’t seem to be much going on in this adventure—some likely frustrating investigation at the start and then exploration of a neat sounding library where a lot of the rooms have monsters in them for no other reason than to attack the PCs doesn’t sound like there’s enough going on in here.

  • 14) It feels to me like the lich Eodrakk Tomehoarder wants to be the main bad guy of this adventure; it’s frustrating that he’s nothing more than a spooky name.

  • 15) The introduction of more runelord elements is out of place in an adventure set in Druma.

Final Thoughts
This proposal’s greatest weakness is, unfortunately, the technical side of the writing. There’s a lot of grammatical errors in the proposal and awkwardly constructed sentences, and that doesn’t fill me with confidence. Having to re-write entire sentences for clarity while developing is not something I’m looking forward to. Furthermore, the inclusion of Thassilonian elements frustrates me—not only because Druma has no real connection to Thassilon, but because here was a chance to explore a relatively unexplored part of Golarion but instead we find ourselves back amid Varisian themes, arguably the MOST explored part of the world. It’s possible that a lot of the problems in the proposal are the result of a rushed or last-minute creative process, but I can’t assume that.

I do not recommend "The Scrollmaster’s Ransom" for consideration as the winner of RPG Superstar 2013.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

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I had a mid-sized response written out, but James hit all the main points I was going to make. Druma is a good choice for your adventure because we haven't really explored that country, but you didn't really exploit that connection and instead gave us ties to Thassilon. There's a lot of awkward sentence construction in the proposal. The adventure didn't really grab me in the beginning.

Scott, you've done a great job in the competition this year. You're a favorite of mine, and you had a very strong voter support in every round. I don't think this proposal is an example of your best work. Maybe you were rushed, or maybe writing adventures isn't your strong suit (which isn't a reflection of your rules knowledge or even your talents as a GM). And that's okay, many of our go-to authors are great for magic items, monsters, and other rule elements, but aren't the best choice for adventures. That's why we have this competition--to identify potential freelancers for many different design projects. No matter how R5 turns out, I'm going to want you to write for me in some capacity--and I'm normally assigning stuff like monsters, spells, magic items, feats, and other rules content, so that works for me.

If the voters choose you to be this year's RPG Superstar, you're going to need to buckle down and and proofread everything you write, just to catch those missing commas and strangely-worded sentences. You have a talent for Pathfinder design, but it's easy to hit a snag when your task is 3,000 words instead of 500 or even 1,000.

I do not recommend this adventure proposal for RPG Superstar 2013... but maybe the voters will see something I'm missing. Good luck!

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

Initial Impression: Sure, it's my old school bias but I am loving the secret library/lich/dungeon vibe here. Uhm, ok, you got me all excited about how you were going to work a lich into a CR 5 adventure, only to discover you never do more than tease me with him. I actually like the title and I like the concept. I would have liked to see the bonus location, the awesome mine dungeon, worked more into the adventure. I think you missed an opportunity there. I also need to comment on your writing. This isn't your most clunky, but even the public in prior rounds has taken you to task on some of the strange sentences. Now, I'm of the Gygaxian school of convoluted writing, so I don't hold it against you a ton, but this is Pathfinder and there are more modern expectations on a freelancer that I think you have consistently not met (that we have consistently forgiven). Not learning that lesson, though, is something to take into account. I'm going to have to give these some thought and provide further comments. Best of luck and good work Scott!

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

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Final Analysis: Scott, I've considered all of the submissions and really thought about them relative to each other. I love so much of what you have done in this contest. You know I am a huge fan. But I'm not judging you, I'm judging your submission. Having considered all of the submissions, I can't recommend this one for a couple reasons. The writing/proofreading. James and Sean discussed it and I won't belabor it but I agree. I don't think what you show here says that you are ready for a full adventure. Doesn't mean you won't be in the future, in fact I am pretty sure you will. I expect to see quite a bit of your work in future Paizo products. Also, this submission just seemed to meander a bit and lose it's way. Some of the coolest things were not well utilized or were merely teases. I get the sense, as did the others, that this was just not up to your normal final draft standard. I understand. This is a grueling contest and as I have said before I don't think I could win it. Plus, if I'm being honest, I think once you strip away the teasing coolness, the adventure itself was just the least compelling of the group. And when you combine that with serious grammatical re-writes, I'm not excited about that as a developer/publisher.

Listen, your run has been a great one. No doubt. But in comparison to the other submissions I don't think this one is as good and it shows a lack of readiness to take on a full adventure.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND this submission be considered to win RPG Superstar 2013. Best of luck in the future!

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

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Premise and Style: Missing items and hostages and thievery, in a complex caper style set in city and an awesome tomb-library. Hmmmm. Tricky. Very tricky.

Writing: This sort of heist and urban adventure is wonderful stuff, but it requires super-clear writing, careful use of transition, and a rock-solid, short synopsis that serves as a key to guide the reader. The level of the prose here isn’t up to the task of making a complicated plot easy to grasp. I found myself flailing around at a couple of points in the text, trying to keep it all straight. The 500-word prologue seems to suggesting that off-stage matters and NPC goals will be more important than the PCs. This is one of my big hesitations about this one—the PCs are largely cogs in big chunks of it, serving the ends of others. Doable, but at some point the sense of achievement needs to be stronger.

Novelty/Originality/Cool Factor: There TONS to love here: scroll golem, the shifting wall library, the desperate Sage’s Guild and rich description of treasures offered by a magic mouth, and a brawl at the thieves’ den and disputed arrest. Heck yes, that is meat-and-drink to any tabletop gamer. Even the Script of Avarice is a fine bit of non-treasure, full of crushing disappointment.

Entertainment & Plotting: Some bits are way more entertaining than others—and a lot of this convoluted adventure runs on rails, no matter what the PCs decide or who they work for (sort of a structural problem with a lot of heist/hostage sorts of adventures). Trade disputes are usually pretty dull: this is no exception. Lost tombs, shadowy pursuers, and prophecies should be thrilling, but there’s also bankers, the prisoner handoff to the Scrollmaster (I think most groups will flub that and default to combat), and other elements that could easily go wrong. I think the degree of complexity isn’t completely fatal to the adventure, but it could be a struggle for a lot of groups to get to a satisfying finale here.

Recommendation: I want this to work because it’s a loaded with cool bits. Unfortunately, I don’t think it gels into a clear adventure doable in the space available, and it may simply suffer from a lack of focus on the best elements. As Sean points out, while this pitch does not quite gel, it's clear you've got talent and design chops, just maybe more suited to another area of game design.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND this adventure advance for RPG Superstar 2013.

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

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Congratulaions Scott,

I like a library setting even though it might seem overdone-specifically extra-dimensional ones. The shifting rooms are a good idea & brings to mind libraries/repositories using shifting shelves to maximize space. A room full of paper treasures makes sense to have a rust monster guardian. The Scroll-golem is really cool, as is a dwarven lich. It's plot feels a little disjointed, but I will wait on final judgement until I have read all four entries.

Good luck!

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

Stealing a page from Clark-narks playbook I'll be posting a first impression then a more in depth review. We'll start with 3 basic questions before moving on reading everything and giving a detailed review.

First Impression:
At its heart roleplaying games are about telling an entertaining story that the players get star in. Does your proposal do that? Its a dungeon crawl with allot of obscure. Not feeling it.

Would I enjoy playing it? Maybe, I like elements like the scroll gollem or scrollem as I'd immeditatelly rename them.

Would I enjoy running it? Ack, I'm probably going to steal the scrollems, but shifting rooms are a PITA to deal with on a flipmap... No which sucks you were walking in as my favorite.

Star Voter Season 6

When I saw this sentence from Sean I was not sure if he was being a smart-ass or not! :) "If the voters choose you to be this year's RPG Superstar, you're going to need to buckle down and and proofread everything you write, just to catch those missing commas and strangely-worded sentences."

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

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Invariably, any critique of typos or grammar is guaranteed to include the very problem you're pointing out.

Also, I drink. A lot. At work. On Sundays.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6 aka Transylvanian Tadpole

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The Scrollmaster’s Ransom


-My favourite two titles were The Seven Veils Masquerade and The Scrollmaster’s Ransom.
-I love the term Kalistocrat (although perhaps that’s from established lore).
-Infiltrating the Counting House sounds like more fun than sneaking into a civic building has any right to be! It’s cool to have compelling adventure going on in a location that isn’t necessarily the Terrible Castle of Absolute Evil.
-Pick and Quarrel tavern – I really liked this name. Plus you get to have a brawl there, without the brawl being an arbitrary ‘everyone starts hitting each other because that’s what happens in a tavern’ affair.
-Vianella is a compelling enemy. I can see her having an influence on a campaign well after the PCs have sewn-up The Scrollmaster’s Ransom and moved on to adventures new.
-I think Scott’s proposal had some of the most evocative locations of the four. The Counting House, the Arcane Library, Blackdamp Hollow are all really well drawn. If I was a cartographer I’d be salivating. I also think Blackdamp Hollow is the best extra location presented, and is also well integrated into the adventure (although see below for the ‘but’)
-Wow, an Indiana Jones style rolling ball trap that’s a giant globe of the world. Awesome!
-Good links to further adventures, notwithstanding you’re in the library full of ancient tomes begging to give up their secrets.

Not Necessarily Good

-A chilling absence of commas making some sentences clunky to read.
-Looks like visiting Blackdamp Hollow is fairly inevitable. Is it really a bonus location then?
-Getting attacked by animated books seems somewhat farcical.
-The final showdown doesn’t seem quite as cool as what has gone before.


-Rust monsters! You’ll set the forums aflame with the outcry!
-Also, a scroll golem! A couple of years ago I created a scroll golem in an adventure I ran where the PCs infiltrated the Green Room, a library in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. My golem had a spellbook for a head which it used to work magic as well as firing sharpened, dart-like quills at its adversaries. I included some paper golems I found on some forum page somewhere, which were basically malicious paper planes which attacked in swarms.

After Reading Judges’ Comments

James – my feeling is that The Scrollmaster’s Ransom sounds cool and intriguing, whereas The Wizard’s Ransom is rather yawn inducing. There’re loads of wizards out there. Scrollmasters, not so much. Plus it alludes to the library based fun within.
-Mind you, James has a lot of pertinent but rather painful points to make.
Wolfgang – the GM in me also loves ‘fine bits of non-treasure, full of crushing disappointment!’

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

A lot of cool stuff going on here. I love Blackdamp Hollow. Seems like a place ripe for adventure. I'm also a fan of the scroll golems. It's true that, as James said, they don't feel quite like golems, but they're a very cool monster concept. I agree with some of the judges' comments that it's hard to get a sense of how the adventure as a whole hangs together. All in all, a lot of good, creative ideas in here, things I would want to see in an adventure I was playing or running.

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

Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Invariably, any critique of typos or grammar is guaranteed to include the very problem you're pointing out.

Also, I drink. A lot. At work. On Sundays.

On one hand, I'm like, he has to work Sundays? That sucks. On the other I'm like, allowed to drink at word and working for a gaming company! Best. Job. Ever.

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Okay, I'm not going to reiterate everything covered so well in the other posts, but what I can try to do is provide some food for thought on things you could/might/should have expounded upon/included.

Why should I go get some prisoners and escort the 50 miles risking their escape? Here I am, looking at a building which has occupants and the target of my quest - a key. The PC in me says - break in, duff over the people holding the key, get key, leave!

So the motivation of the adventure is, for me, needing a little more investment into making the required actions the most desirable actions for the party.

Then we look at this further, and this is where I think you could have taken a less trodden path to be really cool and original - what if the dungeon, as said previously by others, becomes the focus of the module - as the route into the library itself - i.e. a catacombs "get in from below" sort of thing. (For my fellow Whovians out there, one of the entrances to Rassilon's Tomb - ref: Doctor Who - The Five Doctor's) being the source of this suggestion.

And then taking the catacombs and mixing the library element to make the whole cohesive - the catacombs are filled with rare/dangerous books - with a new creature type that turns illustrations in books into living weapons/encounters.

Taking that oblique angle at common themes is one of your strongest points seen in earlier rounds and seems to have gone awry in this round, that's my opinion.

That said, I do think you will go on to be a superb contributor and freelancer to Pathfinder and the gaming hobby in general - I'm so jealous (just in case you couldn't tell).

Unfortunately, my wallet didn't twitch or want to open for this one as it currently stands.

Star Voter Season 6

Lots of very stealable elements in a clunky plot. If you wrote a book of bits - with an editor/proofreader - I might buy it.

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

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Mudfoot wrote:
Lots of very stealable elements in a clunky plot. If you wrote a book of bits - with an editor/proofreader - I might buy it.

I think this is the most pertinent comment on this adventure proposal. Scott, you have awesome ideas as we have seen through prior rounds, your names are cool and I do like the scroll golem/construct.

As a module this didn't particularly grab me, but it wasn't my least favorite of the four. I like the central premise, but it lacked a "wow" factor I really need to vote for. Good luck and congratulations on making the top 4 - I look forward to seeing more of your stuff in future...

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka primemover003

Well with the voting period over I want to thank all those who voted for me in this round and all the ones leading up to now. Its been a great run this year, even more enjoyable than my first deep run in 2011.

No matter how things shake out tomorrow it's been a dream of mine since I first started subscribing to Dungeon in high school to write for the game I love playing. First my nightmare boots made it to Ultimate Equipment and now I get to write a PFS scenario at the very least! I might just have to dust off my level 2 Taldan bard from season 0 to play a few scenarios from this season!

--Hopeful Vrockstar

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

I'm unfortunately disappointed with this adventure proposal. There's some good - for instance, it's an interesting setup in an interesting part of the world - and there's some bad - for instance your scroll golem doesn't feel like a golem.

But what really gets me is the formatting.

You've been in RPG Superstar twice so far, so I have to assume you've at least read a Paizo adventure. I've never seen one formatted the way you've set your proposal up. Books divided into chapters? An Interlude? (or possibly two, if you include the bonus location)

It doesn't feel like you're putting forward work the way Paizo does things. It sounds like you're using someone else's format, which bugs me. A lot. Or perhaps that you're trying to imply that you should write two adventures here instead of one. Putting yourself forward for something new is good - but this feels like you're stretching the intent of what the contest is for.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka primemover003

RonarsCorruption wrote:

I'm unfortunately disappointed with this adventure proposal. There's some good - for instance, it's an interesting setup in an interesting part of the world - and there's some bad - for instance your scroll golem doesn't feel like a golem.

But what really gets me is the formatting.

You've been in RPG Superstar twice so far, so I have to assume you've at least read a Paizo adventure. I've never seen one formatted the way you've set your proposal up. Books divided into chapters? An Interlude? (or possibly two, if you include the bonus location)

It doesn't feel like you're putting forward work the way Paizo does things. It sounds like you're using someone else's format, which bugs me. A lot. Or perhaps that you're trying to imply that you should write two adventures here instead of one. Putting yourself forward for something new is good - but this feels like you're stretching the intent of what the contest is for.

Other than R5 of previous RPGSS I can't say I've ever seen a pitch. Even among the other R5 entries there isn't a set format which honestly I had the hardest time with. Each round before the last is very structured, but the last one is not. I know that threw me more than anything. I kept looking over the winning proposals from the previous years over and over but it didn't gel into a recognizable format for me.

As for how I ended up formatting it, I was going for how many novels are split up into books and chapters seeing as much of my adventure would be set in a library. I guess that's what I get for trying to be clever. Its obviously not how paizo formats modules, but it is how I tend to format adventures when I write out my own outlines. I format by major location such as cities or regions, then encounter locations.

I. Peddlegate (Druma)
A. Dwarven Embassy, Undercity
B. Investigation, Undercity
C. Pick & Quarrel, Uppercity
D. Countinghouse of Abadar, Uppercity

This was my first crack at pitching an adventure to anyone. My ideas have never gone beyond outlines before so I've never polished them into something anyone would actually sit down and read. I've formatted magic items for my players, I've written out monster statblocks hundreds of times, and encounters are really some flavor text, statblocks, and incidental information like hazards, tactics, and events.

Putting all of those elements together is a LOT tougher than it looks. Like Clark has stated many times before, we're not professional designers yet.

--Vrock and Awe

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I just want to say that your Bonus Location is imho the best single idea in this round. This has evoked so many pictures in my mind I could put together an adventure just based on the few words you gave me here.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka primemover003

Blackdamp Hollow was actually a last minute inclusion in my proposal to fill the bonus location element. While it could be visited in the scope of the adventure outline the actual dungeon beneath would be a significant side trek.

The forge spurned Hot Rolgar was the mine foreman who ignored signs of bad air in the mines and pushed his reluctant crews to keep digging. It was his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the signs of danger that killed over 50 miners that fateful day and cursed them all to rise as the burning undead.

The Scrollmaster's Ransom offers an exciting adventure. If I have enough coins, I will unlock a lot of characters like in trap the cat. Your post is so good. Keep doing it.

Hope the blog grows and brings more good articles. Wish the blog more and more success and continue to inspire the community. Go to -> Drift Hunters try and see how it is.

I sincerely hope that more people would take advantage of the excellent and important forum that you share. wheel spinner

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