The Temple of Aroden's Glorious Return


Round 3: Design an encounter

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7 aka Tamago

The Temple of Aroden’s Glorious Return
==========
The Temple of Aroden’s Glorious Return, located in the city of Valarma in western Andoran, did not fare well when the god Aroden failed to return gloriously as prophesied. A terrible earthquake struck the town on the day Aroden died, which caused the tower of the church to collapse and crush the significant portions of the building. Unfortunately, the high priest of the temple, a woman named Melesra, was in her chambers in the church basement when the building collapsed. She was buried alive, and eventually suffocated under the rubble.

In the weeks immediately following the collapse, locals avoided the temple for fear that it had been cursed. With the cornerstone of the temple district gone, most of the local businesses were forced to move or close, and the district became disreputable. Over time, several mysterious disappearances near the temple strengthened the superstition that it was cursed or haunted, and local residents now go out of their way to avoid the temple. Thus, it has remained abandoned for the last 108 years.

About two weeks ago, a small band of thieves decided to take advantage of the local superstition and use the temple as their new hideout. However, the superstitions were not entirely incorrect. Melesra had become a terrifying undead creature known as an immured. Although the PCs do not yet know what happened, the thieves have already been killed by the former high priest, who now hungers for the breath of more living creatures.

The adventure begins when the PCs arrive at the temple in search of the bandits.

Outside
The outside of this ancient temple shows signs of heavy weathering, and has obviously not been maintained in many years. The tower has collapsed, and the remains of a gigantic holy symbol of Aroden – a winged eye – have smashed through the north wall of the building. The large brass-plated double doors on the west side of the building are closed.

The main entrance is locked, but can be opened with a DC 20 Disable Device check, or smashed open (Hardness 10, 20 HP, Break DC 23).

1. Sanctuary
Light filters in through the collapsed ceiling, where the cathedral’s tower has fallen into the sanctuary. Pews lie scattered and smashed throughout the room. The musty smell of dust and mold makes the air inside heavy.

A DC 15 Survival check reveals tracks visible on the dusty floor. The tracks lead into the Cloak Room and from there down to the basement.

If the PCs make their way to the east side of the sanctuary, near the base of the collapsed tower, describe the ominous creaking and shifting of the structure. A DC 10 Knowledge (engineering) check is sufficient to realize that the area is no longer structurally sound.

2. Cloak Room
Empty coat racks indicate the original purpose of this room. A spiral staircase leads down into the basement.

The staircase leads down to area three.

3. Storage
This storage room has been ransacked, and the only items remaining, such as candles and cleaning supplies, have little value. A spiral staircase in the southwest corner leads back to the ground floor, and a closed door occupies the north wall.

The band of thieves has walked around the basement enough that their tracks are no longer distinguishable here. There are no light sources in the basement other than what the PCs bring with them.

One of the bandits was a Sorcerer, and set a magical trap on the door handle to warn his allies of anyone approaching.

Trap:
Sound Burst Trap CR 3
Type magic; Perception DC 27; Disable Device DC 27
----- Effects -----
Trigger touch (alarm); Reset none
Effect spell effect (sound burst, 1d8 sonic damage plus stunned for 1 round, DC 13 Fortitude save negates stun); multiple targets (all targets in a 10-ft. spread, centered on the door)

4. Hallway
The air in this long, dark hallway is thick and oppressive. A shattered glass vial lies on the ground near the northwest door.

The vial contained holy water, which one of the bandits tried to use against the immured.

5. Kitchen
The large fireplace on the eastern wall and the long counter and pantry in this room indicate it was once a kitchen. A spiral staircase in the northwest corner leads up.

As the PCs enter this room, a few rats who have been feasting on the food left by the bandits scurry out of sight.

The kitchen appears to have been recently used. The pantry is stocked with fresh food, and the fireplace, though cold, contains fresh ashes.

The staircase leads back up to the sanctuary, but it is blocked by rubble and impassable.

6. Choir Room
This large room appears to have once been a rehearsal space for the church choir. An old harpsichord occupies the southwest corner. The room’s chairs have been pushed up against the east wall to make room for the two bedrolls laid out on the floor. Both bedrolls are surrounded by a circle of salt. An arrow is embedded in the east wall.

After the death of their leader, the other two bandits foolishly tried to create a protective circle using salt from the pantry. It had no effect on Melesra, who killed both of them (one in this room, and one in the hall as he tried to escape). The arrow was shot by one of the thieves, but it missed the immured.

The harpsichord in the corner was once quite valuable. Now, however, at least half its strings have snapped, and it would require massive restoration to be playable again.

7. Office
This office contains a chair and a desk. There is a tangled bedroll lying on the floor next to an opened backpack whose contents are spilled out onto the floor. An empty scabbard lies next to them.

The bandit leader claimed this room. He was ambushed by Melesra in the middle of the night, and dragged into the rubble in area nine. A DC 13 Perception check is enough to notice a few drops of blood on the floor, further evidence of the struggle. The contents of the backpack comprise a rogue’s kit (UE 70).

The desk is water-damaged, but contains old church documents such as birth and death records and financial accounts.

8. Choir Storage
This cluttered room is packed with all manner of items, from ancient choir robes to stolen jewelry and polished silverware. A bookshelf on the western wall is filled with water-damaged sheet music.

The thieves have been using this room to store their loot. It currently contains art objects and trade goods worth 1,500 gp.

9. Counseling Room
This room must once have been cozy, but now the stench of mildew from the rotting tapestries hangs in the air. A desk and chairs occupy the west side of the room, while two mouldering armchairs sit near the collapsed east wall. Between them lies a shortsword.

The sword was dropped by the bandit leader when he fell unconscious after being dragged into this room from area seven.

The eastern wall of this room has collapsed, and the rubble is impassable without significant effort.

10. Sewing Room
This room is stocked with fabrics of various colors. A number of rolled-up tapestries rot on the west side of the room, while moth-eaten altar cloths and robes hang on hooks along the walls. A crushed sewing table is in the northeast corner of the room, near a partially-collapsed wall.

Breathless Battle (CR 4)
==========
Creature: Melesra has heard the PCs and when they enter this room to investigate, she attacks. The immured begins by using her Breach ability to open a rift in the east wall, next to the door. Unfortunately for both Melesra and the PCs, the removal of the wall causes the structure to shift, causing debris to rain down on the combatants (see Hazard, below). Melesra attempts to drag a PC back into area twelve to suffocate.

Melesra CR 3
XP 800
Immured (R2)
HP 26

Hazard: If Melesra removes any portion of the east wall of this room using her Breach ability, the resulting loss of support for the structure above causes debris to rain down on anyone within 10 feet of the breach (including the immured). All affected creatures take 3d6 points of bludgeoning damage. A successful Reflex save (DC 14) halves the damage.

11. Storage Room
The collapsed ceiling in the northern part of this room allows some light and fresh air into the otherwise dank and musty storage room. Numerous religious items were once stacked neatly here, but many have since spilled onto the floor.

12. High Priest’s Chambers
This room has totally collapsed. If the PCs excavate this room, they will eventually find the bodies of the three bandits who were killed by the immured.

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
There are a lot of “This building is haunted, but not really” encounters in this round. And this one is actually haunted. The pitch for this one seems awfully grandiose for a trap and a single monster sleeping in the basement. It’s a fairly standard quick dungeon crawl

Challenge
The numbers shake out fine, and the immured’s breach ability should keep it from getting boxed in and let it move easily around the basement. I’d like to see a note about how PCs can aid a comrade trapped in the collapsed room on the off chance it happens

Fun
Nothing about this particular encounter really stands out, but I really like the little clues left behind by the bandits’ presence. It shows good forethought.

Map Design
This map is a huge case of missed opportunity. Up top you have this great, atmospheric setting of a ruin temple with half a collapsed tower dividing it in half. It’s got broken boundaries, multiple levels, hazardous terrain. But the big fight takes place in a 15x15 room in the basement. It’s a good idea for a map, but its potential isn’t used.

It's a tight, mechanically sound encounter, but it's not superstar. I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

Cartographer

Nice looking map reference, everything is clear and easy to read. Cool idea, but seems like a lot of atmosphere and it isn't really used properly for the encounter. Sort of shame because this would be a cool final produced map.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

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

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Hey Emmanuel, 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
Sure, I’m open to stumbling into a semi-haunted temple of a fallen god to chase after bandits who died tragically! The destruction of the temple works with what we know of the disasters that followed Aroden’s demise. I spent a few minutes searching through Pathfinder Player Companion: Andoran, Spirit of Libery trying to find the city of Valarma only to realize that you made it up. A good rule of thumb is only to make up small features that wouldn’t have shown up on a regional map; villages, ruins, waterfalls, and wooded glens. Having a city pop up in a region we’ve detailed pretty heavily is really odd, even if you did it to avoid introducing a major ruined site in an existing city.

The ground floor has a fairly interesting map, and I would rather have had an encounter here than in a series of rectangular rooms.

I like having multiple rooms with quick descriptions that also contain minor clues of what lies ahead or what transpired earlier. I can understand your interest in denying the use of Survival to follow tracks here, but some of the events (such as the bandit leader being dragged off) seem like they should be exceptions.

NPCs and Creatures
The setup for the immured is good and fits well with its ecology and behavior. Unfortunately, this encounter earns the same criticism I’ve received a few times in Pathfinder Society scenario development: there’s some neat background as to why the enemy exists, but there’s little to nothing in the adventure that explains why the enemy exists. Give me some physical description of the immured. Is she still wearing some semblance of her Arodenite vestments? Does she have a holy symbol? Is the holy symbol damaged in the same places as the tower above? Did Melesra leave an excited journal entry lying about that records her anxious excitement at the prospect of Aroden’s return and how she would pray in her chambers in anticipation? All of these could help to relay the story to the PCs without explaining it outright, granting them the satisfaction of discovery.

The immured’s tactics are reasonable, but I do question one facet of its breach ability. The ability says it can go through a two-foot thick wall, which is far less than Melesma would need to clear to escape her grave. Can an immured keep more than one breach open? Can it line them up end-to-end to create a larger breach?

Your hazards and traps have some oddities. It’s strange that the sorcerer created a trap that uses a divine spell. Given the damaged state of the basement, does sonic damage have any further effects? The final hazard also causes some problems, for although it might harm a few PCs, it’s statistically likely that it will knock out almost half of the immured’s hit points.

Numbers
Most of your DCs are fair and reasonable. I have some concerns about your encounter’s numbers as noted in the section above.

Style
At times your sentences are a little choppy (I first noticed in the read-aloud text for area 6), and these passages could use some more compound sentences, complex sentences, and/or transition words. Please also avoid single-sentence paragraphs (such as in area 5); combine these into one paragraph with transition words to improve the flow.

There are a few smaller areas for improvement to keep in mind in future projects. First, there’s no need to capitalize the word sorcerer unless it’s part of someone’s title or name. Second, watch out for tricky subject-verb agreement pitfalls, such as treating group nouns as singular words (as in “…a small band of thieves decided to take advantage of the local superstition and use the temple as its new hideout.”)

Closing Thoughts
The premise of this encounter depends on the villain being able to create large breaches in the rubble, which may or may not be possible. The location has some interesting architecture, but the encounter itself takes place in a secluded corner of the basement. I appreciate that there’s some lead-up to the encounter that builds atmosphere, but it’s not enough to overcome my other concerns with this project.

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

I'm going to guess Immured based on the intro. Wouldn't be surprised...such a lovely creature.

So the PC's are searching for the bandits...but why?

I want a tiny bit more in the top description section...something on who's looking for the bandits and why.

I'm also a little put off by a simple rectangular basement. For a building (especially a church) dedicated to Aroden's glorious return...the building is kind of boring. I would have expected the building to be shaped as a winged eye.

I like the holy water one of the bandits tried to use. Cleric bandit?

Fresh ashes? Recently used? More than likely the immured would have killed them before the day the PC's get there...

Some more different treasure than "art objects and trade goods" would likely be here.

Just a regular shortsword?

Overall, I'm not wowed. It serves it's purpose but is kind of forgettable since most of the information about how the bandits died and the history of the high priest would never be found out. Only the GM would know that info as written. Pass for now.

Dedicated Voter Season 6

Emmanuel

I really like this encounter.

You have a very interesting map as well as a good background of the temple. As well as a nice second basement floor.

I think the map and the creature combination really have synergy.

It feels very Greg Vaughan.

I like the idea that you isolate the PC’s down to a dungeon, where the immured can have total control grabbing and dragging PC’s to their doom. I think this is a perfect place to unveil the immured.

Now the hard part, I like that the immured can drag a player to his doom it works on many different ways. Let’s say a PC was lured to area 12 the High Priest Room, would they suffer some effects from a the Cave-in/Collapse Hazard, if you would of included a statement of an effect of 1d6 non-lethal per minute it would of really worked. Additional hazards such as Brown Mold could have been used in rooms 8 and 11.

Atmosphere - to play up on a darker design it would have been nice to get a description of light effects. I can totally see PC’s going into the temple during the day, then describing the isolation as they went into the dungeon, only to have the immured drag a PC into the High Priest’s room, having the PC get stuck in a hazard pinned staring at the light above.

I do think the trap/hazard hurt you in word space, I think if it included a couple spiders hiding in area 1 it would of helped the horror effect.

I Do recommend this encounter for advancement!

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

On one hand, I really love how you went beyond just describing one room to set your encounter. On the other hand, like many other adventures, it suffers from PCs-will-never-know-itis, a major cause of wasted wordcount.

I also am sad to see after so much setup how little of the building is actually used. It would have been great to see the immured stalking the PCs through the building, leading them to the final showdown where it (maybe deliberately) tries to knock the whole building down atop them.

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: Neat Goleran tie in, I can dig the map, hey a sound burst trap instead of a haunt way to break that mold.
The Bad: All that for a 1 monster fight?
The Ugly: The dead rogues are wasted design.
Overall: 6/10 - has the seeds of something really good but needs some serious love to up the stakes. If the three rogues each with a different lead stole something from a pc or important npc or took a poisoned arrow shot or something then led the party into a chase scene through hazards in the fallen temple ending in triggering the immured encounter and a 3 way fight you might have something...

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impression: A ruined temple of Aroden haunted by the former prioress? Great concept! I like the map, too, especially the ground floor. The idea of a big fight around a collapsed and decayed giant holy symbol of a dead god really grabbed me!
Upon Reflection: I'm going to agree with Crystal and John: You have a very intriguing map, but confine the meat of the encounter to a single square room. I wish you had played the combat encounter to the strengths of the map. All of the trappings of a creepy and mysterious ruined temple to a dead god are just window dressing. Which is a shame, because you could have really had something with that.
Overall: I think you left too much on the table by not using the visual strengths of this map. Instead, you used most of the word count to flesh out a perfectly servicable but uninspiring dungeon area. And in the end, the party just fights a monster in a room. It's not bad at all, but it's nothing terribly original. I'm giving it a B-.

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

Emmanuel,

I'm going back and trying to comment on everyone's encounters now. I hope more people will circle back to you, since I think you (as all the contestants did) put a lot of work into your entry and really deserve to hear what more people think of it (I'm actually a little angry on your behalf that only five people beyond the judges gave you feedback).

Hey, this one actually resembles my own encounter, with both of us using immured who were changed into undead after being accidentally trapped.

I think your map is both good and bad. I love the upstairs section. That's cool, and it looks like that holy symbol is in mid-fall still (at least it does to me). And then you get to the basement, which is pretty much rectangles (other than room 12 and the one wall of room 10). It's a shame, since I'd love to have some sort of encounter on that upper section.

Ironically, where I got dinged for only describing a couple rooms in my location, I think you went overboard in the other direction. By giving yourself so many rooms and describing them all, you cost yourself more room to delve deeper into other parts of the encounter. Personally, I thought that also cost you a bit in your overall location background, which seemed a bit lackluster to me. A ruined temple's certainly a classic trope, but I just didn't buy the residents all deciding the place was cursed. You also repeat a couple words in the early description (collapse, for example), which made it come across as a little stilted.

On the other hand, I love the hazard you incorporated, which I thought was a neat effect of the immured's ability. I wish I'd thought of something along those lines.

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