Arigen's Antiquities


Round 3: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

Arigen’s Antiquities
==========
Arigen’s Antiquities was once a staple of Oppara’s Grandbridge district. Specializing in only the finest and most exquisite art objects of ancient Taldor and Osirion, the shop was a favorite among adventurers looking to sell and wealthy collectors looking to buy. Whether one was in the market for an antique suit of Taldan armor or a canopic jar imported directly from Sothis, the antiquities dealer Arigen Abradon could always provide. Sadly, following tales of the strange and gruesome demise of the store’s owner two years ago, Arigen’s Antiquities closed suddenly and indefinitely. Rumors now circulate that the once-grand emporium’s basement, where Arigen kept his greatest finds and where he met his grisly end, is now inhabited by malevolent spirits. The structure has since been condemned and Oppara’s local guards are better paid to see to the city’s nobles than explore potentially haunted buildings.

The Reginell Family Reunion (CR 6)
==========
The air, dry and musty, reeks of moldy canvas tarps, oil paint, and packing straw. Light from the shop level above filters down the stairs and into the cellar, casting dim illumination across the cluttered space. Wooden crates of various sizes are stacked haphazardly about the basement floor and relics of Taldor and Osirion lie scattered about. Life-size portraits rest against various surfaces: dusty, long-neglected, and barely visible in the shadowy gloom.

The cluttered basement of Arigen’s Antiquities is 60 feet by 45 feet and has no light sources to speak of.

A1. Curious Blood Splatter
Not far from the stairs, a large, dark red splatter stains the cellar floor. The dried blood, long since spilled, leads deeper inside the dimly lit cellar.

Four portrait phantoms, each bearing the likeness of a member of the dishonored Reginell family, now haunt the basement of Arigen’s Antiquities. Having laid dormant for centuries, the phantoms awoke when the antiquities dealer uncovered their portraits in the basement of his store, having purchased and forgotten about them years ago at an estate sale of the Reginell family’s distant descendants. The Reginells were found guilty of war crimes during the Grand Campaign against Qadira over 200 years ago and, in death, their spirits cling to the former glory of their once-great line. Arigen met his end at the hands of the portrait phantoms who have since claimed the store’s cellar as their own. Both Arigen’s Antiquities and the historical treasures it contains are inaccessible to the public so long as the portrait phantoms of the Reginell family remain.

Each of the following portraits of members of the Reginell family are Medium-sized and rest haphazardly on the floor, leaning against crates or the cellar’s stone walls. Small, engraved gold plaques on each frame bear the name of each painting’s subject. A successful DC 15 Knowledge (nobility) or Knowledge (local) check reveals the infamy of the Reginell family. A successful DC 20 Perception check for each portrait (except for that of Lord Brimley) reveals that the subject discretely holds a falcata in one hand.

A2. Narcis Reginell
The corpulent man in this portrait wears garments more commonly seen on children than grown adults. Unnaturally rosy cheeks and lips belie the subject’s desperate and clumsy use of cosmetics, which create an unsettling contrast to the man’s dark mustache, crinkled nose, and scowling brow. Overall, the piece is unsavory to behold.

A3. Lady Viviana Reginell
The stately middle-aged woman painted here is clothed in only the finest Taldan garments of white lace and crushed blue satin. An intricate maze of powdered white hair rests atop her head and pearls festoon every piece of ornamental jewelry she wears. The artist honestly portrayed the subject’s fading beauty and her sad, but winsome eyes seem to stare off into the distance behind you. Her portrait evokes a profound sense of melancholy.

A4. Vicereine Lavennia Reginell
The woman pictured here bears a serene, understated sort of beauty. Short brown hair frames a heart-shaped face of pale skin and large chocolate-brown eyes. A mantle of golden fur adorns the trim of her sapphire dress. Her deep-set eyes seem to meet your gaze, no matter your vantage.

A5. Lord Brimley Reginell
Labeled the family patriarch, the imposing figure painted here has the bearing of king. A tremendous white beard and curled mustache flashes in stark contrast to the subject’s dark, polished armor. He holds a falcata in one hand and a helm with blue and green feathered plumes in the other. The man’s dark expression is difficult to gaze at for too long.

A6. The Osiriani Sarcophagus
The flattened, bloody corpse of a gentleman, once in his late fifties, lies inside the sarcophagus. A successful DC 17 Knowledge (local) check reveals his identity to be that of the late Arigen Abradon.

Unless their paintings are attacked, the portrait phantoms remain hidden in their portraits, waiting for Lord Brimley to attack first, at which point all four phantoms emerge to cut down intruders into their realm. If a creature begins to inspect the blood trail and follows it back towards the sarcophagus, the phantom portrait of Lord Brimley waits until the creature is distracted before emerging from its painting and attacking from the shadows.

Creatures: Each member of the Reginell family has blended into his or her respective portrait. The portrait phantoms only emerge and attack intruders once the patriarch, Lord Brimley Reginell, begins to attack with either an ambush or the choking hands haunt.

Haunts: A variant of choking hands triggers when a creature comes within 5 feet of Lord Brimley’s portrait.

Development: The portrait phantoms of Lady Viviana and Vicereine Lavennia prefer to flank with one another while Narcis and Lord Brimley divide and conquer, trying to split groups of enemies to weaken their resolve. While destroying the portrait phantom’s painting does not damage the creature who bears its likeness, doing so for Lord Brimley’s automatically ends the choking hands haunt.

Portrait phantoms (4) CR 5
XP 400 each
hp 13 each (R2)

Variant choking hands (CR 3) (Pathfinder Adventure Path #43 66)
hp 13; Weaknesses damaged by fire and slashing weapons
Effect As choking hands, except that the temporary hit points gained from the haunt’s vampiric touch are added to the portrait phantom of Lord Brimley instead of the haunt itself; Destruction Defacing or destroying the painting permanently ends the haunt.

Liberty's Edge Digital Products Assistant

Hi! I’m Crystal and I’m one of your judges this round. I’ll be looking at your encounter not just as a GM and writer, but also as a professional cartographer, to see how much fun it would be to run and if the map helps or hinders the experience. For a little background, I’ve been writing for RPGs since the late 90’s, and am the author of The Harrowing and Pathfinder Adventure Path #80: Empty Graves, and I try to apply the standards of pitch, challenge, fun, and map design to my own writing just as I’m applying them here.

Criteria Details:

Pitch
Is the idea clear, evocation, and easy to sit down and run without a lot of extra prep time. If it needs extra prep time, is it worth it? This also includes whether or not the formatting adheres to Paizo’s standards.

Challenge
Is the challenge level-appropriate? Does the presumed challenge players face match up with the numerical CR? If not, is there a good reason why not?

Fun
Is the encounter going to be memorable, or is this just a speed bump on the way to the treasure room?

Map Design
The map doesn’t need to be vitally important to an encounter, but it should never, ever ruin an encounter. And if the map or environmental elements can add to the flavor of an encounter, or give players more options, all the better.

Pitch
The pitch on this one is very simple: Go in the room and fight four monsters. There’s nothing in the setup the really to hint at the Reginell family or why their portraits are in this basement beyond that Arigen purchased and forgot about them. As a result, they feel like a random encounter rather than anything thematically tied to the location, even with so much of the word count dedicated to fleshing out their backgrounds.

Challenge
The CR is mechanically appropriate for the encounter.

Fun
You fight four monsters in a rectangular room.

Map Design
The map is very polished, but the basic design is dull. It’s a rectangular room with a few crates stacked around. This encounter does not require a map and the map does not add anything to the encounter.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

Cartographer

Nice map reference, very finished looking, but not very exciting design. The encounter idea seems a bit typical.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

Paizo Employee Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Hey Mikael, congratulations on making it to the top 16.

I am the developer of Pathfinder Society Organized Play, which means I see lots of short adventures and self-contained encounters over the course of a year. It’s a developer’s job to read through, revise, and fact-check pretty much everything, so it’s tough to boil down what I’m looking for into a couple of clever headers. Essentially, I’m approaching this round like I would a scenario turnover, which involves marking up a copy of your encounter and providing feedback on what you did and how you might improve—my teaching experience in action.

My Style:
Since tone is a little hard to express while in this medium, I encourage you to read my comments in a friendly way; it’s how I intend them. As I warn many freelancers, I ask the question “why” a lot. Sometimes I do this because I am legitimately confused. Sometimes I do this to get the freelancer thinking in a certain way. Sometimes I know what the answer is, but I want to illustrate that there’s not enough information for the GM to understand what’s going on.

That said, this is a tough round, for we’re going from 16 to four contestants.


My Criteria:

Setting: Does your encounter fit in Golarion? Is it an urban encounter? Is the CR appropriate for the setting and the encounter? Is it clear how a GM might use this encounter?
NPCs and Creatures: How well did you incorporate the Round 2 creature into your encounter? Does it feel like a natural fit, or was it forced? Does the creature have a chance to shine? Do your NPCs fit in the location? Do their motives make sense? Is there an opportunity for roleplaying (appreciated but not essential)?
Numbers: Are all of your statistics and calculations correct? Are your skill check DCs reasonable?
Style: Did you watch Paizo’s styles, both in terms of writing and formatting? The more closely a writer can match Paizo’s styles in the turnover, the easier it is for me to develop. The easier it is for me to develop, the more eagerly I assign that author more work.

Setting
Aha, so that’s where all of the art objects go when my characters liquidate their hard-earned loot! You’ve done a good job of including Taldor flavor through the paintings, which highlight several classic tropes and motifs for the region. Because this takes place in an antiquities-laden basement, as a GM I feel comfortable adjusting the treasure found within to match my campaign’s needs, whether that involves finding an ancient key, uncovering a buried text, or extracting the ashes of a dead sage from an urn.

This encounter used only a fraction of the words available, which is a testament to conciseness but could be troublesome when freelancing. Keep in mind that while writing too much means that a developer needs to cut text to make it fit on a page or spread, including too little means the developer needs to write more just to fill up the empty space. When freelancing, I would aim to use 85–98% of your word count, as that range gives the developer plenty to work with and enough flexibility to add a little to shore up any issues.

I find myself asking a lot of questions as to what else you might have done with that space, and I’ll ask some of them a bit later. Why hasn’t somebody else moved into the building? Who technically owns the building and its contents? Are there next of kin who long to liquidate the relics as part of their inheritance? Why is there blood at the base of the stairs? Is it Arigen’s? Might there be a minor investigative component to this encounter in which the PCs can find two or three clues that explain Arigen’s demise (giving investigative PCs a moment to shine)?

NPCs and Creatures
I like the appearance of the individual portraits. You create four flavorful characters, yet I never get to experience any of that flavor beyond their appearance. When I read the descriptions, I was silently betting that the portrait phantoms would bicker with one another as only 200-year-old family members can, blaming each other for their downfall (all while hacking at the PCs). This—or something like this—feels like a missed opportunity.

The tactics are good, and I like how the phantoms follow Lord Brimley’s lead. This draws the PCs into the encounter area rather than trapping them near the stairs where they can’t appreciate the location. I also love how the portrait subjects are hiding their weapons. Although the phantoms’ strategies work well, the haunt is severely hampered by its limited area of effect. As written, the haunt is able to affect a mere 10-ft. by 15-ft. area, which is a tiny fraction of the encounter area that many PCs might never touch.

Numbers
This is an epic-power encounter—“merely” hard if the haunt never comes into play. Epic encounters can be overwhelmingly difficult for low-level PCs, and like an encounter with lots of poison, the portrait phantoms’ flattening ability is very dangerous when these creatures travel in packs. The falcata’s critical threat range and multiplier make this a potentially very deadly fight capable of knocking out a PC in one or two hits. Depending on the assignment, a developer might need to cut some of the difficulty. Because the Round 3 guidelines allow epic encounters, I don’t intend to hold this against the encounter.

Style
As a whole, your text is clean and reads well. I recommend the following to polish what you have. First, watch out for subject-verb agreement, particularly in less obvious corner cases (e.g. “Each of the following portraits of members of the Reginell family is Medium-sized and rests”). Avoid second person in read-aloud text. At least in Pathfinder Society, the less an author assumes the feelings, location, and actions of the PCs, the less likely it is that the read-aloud text will need to change to adapt to the PCs’ choices and idiosyncrasies. Finally, be careful about agency in your sentences, which is to say what is doing the action. “A successful DC 15 Knowledge (nobility)…check reveals…” suggests that the skill check—not the PC—is doing the work.

Closing Thoughts
This is a solid encounter that would have benefited from using more of the word count to round out the background and bolster the creatures’ flavor even further. Even though the map provides some good tactical options and looks good, it boils down to a rectangular room.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

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

Antiquities shop...hmmm could be interesting.

Haunted...a popular approach this year.

The cellar is dimly lit? You mention there are no light sources to speak of above that.

Ok, 4 portrait phantoms with a nice backstory. I like it so far. I also like that the paintings are just laying around and not hung on the walls.

A2 is a disturbing image. Well done.

A5 is good. A3 and A4 are good but not as evocative as A2 and A5.

Ooooo I like the tactics you describe in A6.

And a haunt based on the creature's power. Nice.

A rectangle room is a little boring but there's stuff in it at least. Not the most interesting map but there's a possibility for a wealth of interesting items in it (which I think you sort of missed out capitalizing on).

Overall, the encounter is interesting but the space is a little flat (no pun intended). Weak keep for now.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Arigen’s Antiquities seems to be a flavorful, interesting location where the party will fight some interesting and challenging monsters. I'll ignore that this encounter presumes the PCs already have a reason to investigate a haunted house - there's a bigger problem at-hand.

PCs-will-never-know-itis.

Not the most graceful name, but the point is, most parties will get the hook that a wealthy merchant's house might now be haunted. They will go in, get ambushed by the monsters, kill them, search the room and then leave. Virtually all the setup you do is extrenious. The PCs have no reason to care what the portraits look like except to differentiate which one has been hit so far. Even if they made the check to discover who the portraits were, they have no reason to look into it any further.

Now, if this adventure presumed that the PCs took the portrait phantoms with them and then started selling them around town... that would be an altogether different and more interesting beast.

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

Well done Mikael,
Is the encounter fun? Four monsters in a room, though I appreciate they have a history together. Could make for an interesting RP.
Is the encounter difficult to interpret? Nope, though the hook needs work.
Does the monster fit? Very much so. I have to wonder if the phantoms can move their portraits and if so expand this to the shop.
This way to Dragathoa I like a little more backstory, but I felt this lacking. Not a part of the assignment though so can't hold it against the entry :)

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

The Good: Map is on point, you went for an "epic encounter" which is the only ones I might use as anything less then 3 CR above recommended gets murder-hoboed in 1 round by my bunch.
The Bad: 1 rectangular room?
The Ugly: Where's the jack in the box? I'm looking for a rolling ball of flaming monkey poop and I'm not finding it here.
Overall: 6.5/10- Doesn't suck but I suspect that isn't going to be good enough.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impression: A haunted antique shop? Okay, I'm thinking somewhere between Friday the 13th: The Series and Gallery of Evil. The map confirms this. Hmm... the map is pretty but not terribly interesting.
Upon Reflection: Just enough backstory to let the GM know what's going on, but nothing more than that. We don't get much Taldan flavor other than the descriptions of the portraits-- which themselves are very well-written. The haunt and the tactics described will make this a very challenging encounter for most parties, but it works well, and it would be a very interesting fight. I will second what John said-- including banter between the phantoms would have made the fight more interesting.
Overall:The map isn't terribly exciting. While the fight with the phantoms will probably be an interesting fight, the location doesn't really add anything. This is a solid encounter as one room in a larger adventure, but as a stand-alone it doesn't really grab me. I'm giving it a B-.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

Hi Mikael! I like the flavor of this encounter, and a good GM could make the space feel really appropriately creepy. I think the encounter could be improved by some more attention to possible character interaction with the portrait phantoms, or something for them to do other than merely attack and fight till destroyed.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

Overall this is a serviceable encounter, with some really great descriptive writing for the details of the portraits. Unfortunately, there's a lot missing, and it sounds like you had the word count to address at least some of these.

First, why are the PCs there? It's been 2 years since the Arigen died, so what's causing the PCs to explore his haunted store? Give me some hooks - did someone hire them to get access to something in his store, did they research that something's down there they need?

Second, what's actually in the basement other than the paintings and the sarcophagus? I know that you're not supposed to have put in treasure this round, but it seems like you're missing an opportunity to put cool stuff (forget it's value as loot) in the room. Also, additional details on what's in the room would help disguise that the portraits are the real important thing.

Finally, what happens next? There's no indication that this encounter leads to anything at all. Put in a hidden journal of Lord Brimley that leads to a hidden treasure vault, or reveals some family secret about why they committed the war crimes, which sheds a different light on things.


I enjoyed this encounter. It would be easy to drop into any urban setting, and it could serve as a solid transition into a larger adventure with a few tweaks.

A keeper for me.


Mikael has shown himself to have a lot of talent and this submission can be a solid addition to a larger work with personal touches by a DM. I do agree that it is doesn't have a needed 'sparkle' to really stand out. B-


I have to say, when I think fantasy role playing adventure, I don't usually think, let's go antiquing. That said, I would be much more likely to go antiquing if I could be promised a good monster brawl when I got there. I am coming at this from a story perspective, not really a gamer perspective, but I feel like there is going to be a high risk of damage to the goods since this is basically a four-bulls-in-a-china-shop set up. I think I would love to watch this scene play out in a movie, but it might be a headache to play out on the board.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

Hi everyone!

With the third round most certainly over at this point, I'd like to offer my thanks to those who commented on my encounter (judges naturally included!) for your thoughtful critiques, insights, and observations.

In retrospect, I see now the bevvy of missed opportunities that I had set up, yet failed to deliver on (portrait phantoms bickering mid-combat, why didn't I think of that!?!). I also agree that I erred too cautiously on the side of realism for the map and ended up defeating myself with a boring layout.

I'll confess, one thing that tripped me up this round was not having a good sense of what I should address with my word count. The same goes for not knowing the degree of influence I could exert over how the PCs arrived at Arigen's Antiquities and what would result from their actions.

In general, I would say that my cautious nature (a flaw as much as it is a boon) was my undoing in terms of both the map and the encounter design at large.

Still, I am very proud to have made it into the Top 16 and I am more grateful still for each and every piece of feedback. I truly feel that while Arigen's Antiquities was my best work, that it faithfully represented my values as a designer and Pathfinder gamer.

I hope each and every one of you will provide the Top 4 contestants with equally insightful remarks in the final round of the competition.

Thanks again!

Mikael

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Mikael Sebag wrote:

Still, I am very proud to have made it into the Top 16 and I am more grateful still for each and every piece of feedback. I truly feel that while Arigen's Antiquities was my best work, that it faithfully represented my values as a designer and Pathfinder gamer.

I hope each and every one of you will provide the Top 4 contestants with equally insightful remarks in the final round of the competition.

Thanks again!

Mikael

You should be proud! "Arigen's Antiques" is quality work, and is certianly on a par with or exceeds many published encounter areas in quality and creativity. Making it this far is an accomplishment in itself. My understanding is that you're now on the radar of 3PPs, and possibly Paizo, as someone to consider for freelance work.

You've made it much farther in RPGSS that I ever had!

The exposure you've received, and the feedback you've gotten should really help you hone your design skills even more.

I expect to see your name in design credits in the future.

Good luck!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

WOW, I just caught a glaring typo in my last post. So much for my editing skills...

To correct myself, what I meant to say was that Arigen's Antiquities was *NOT my best work. -_-

I did give it my all, however, so perhaps saying it was my best was a Freudian slip. The world may never know.

Thanks again to everyone for your feedback!

And thank you Haladir for putting the competition into perspective. I fully intend to get my name out there and continue to hone my design skills further.

All the best,

Mikael

EDIT: Also, I meant "air" on the side of caution, not "err". Though being to cautious was erring, I suppose. :)

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

Hey Mikael,

I'm trying to get around to commenting on everyone's encounters.

I think previous commenters have hit the most salient points, and I'm sure you've kicked yourself for the shortcomings here. Now you know for a future Superstar run that you've always got to go big, which is a lesson I learned in R3 a couple years ago. It's always better to err on the side of boldness than caution in the contest, I think.

One note I do want to add is I really like most of your names (the exception being Brimley, which makes me think of Wilford Brimley). I think that's an area that can really set tone and feel in a game, and I thought you did a nice job picking names for your portraits (and Arigen). I also like that one of the flat portraits is actually corpulent at the same time, which I thought was a nice touch (and great choice of word).

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