Ketterak, the Burning Village

Round 3: Design an encounter

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

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Ketterak, the Burning Village
In the southeast Five Kings Mountains near the border of Andoran, the once-tranquil hamlet of Ketterak now sits on the precipice of destruction, its inhabitants threatening to tear the village apart even as fiery death looms below.

For centuries, the dwarves of Ketterak prospered, their income from the mines enhanced by a steady stream of visitors to Hearthwater Tarn, the nearby warm-water lake. The discovery 30 years ago of what was heating the tarn — a rare lode of the skymetal siccatite — changed everything.

Word of the find spread, and prospectors flooded the village to stake claims on the riches below. Not long after, the mines were set ablaze: An alchemical process meant to quickly extract the precious metal instead somehow ignited the siccatite. No one knows who was responsible — longtime residents blame the "outsiders" while the newcomers blame "old-timers." Twenty years later, the raging belowground inferno still burns, slowly spreading as siccatite veins throughout the mountain ignite, spawning deadly gases and sinkholes that threaten everyone above.

On the surface, cracks in the mountains emit a hellish glow at night. Sturdy dwarven homes cluster in the village center, though fissures and holes mar the once-fine cobblestone streets. Rutted dirt paths lead to the outskirts of town, where haphazard human homes have grown room-by-room from the ramshackle huts the new prospectors quickly put up when they arrived. Piles of rubble and vacant sites mark where the ground collapsed beneath buildings, destroying them. Hearthwater Tarn boils in the height of summer, the mountain stream leading out of it reduced to little more than a trickle.

Tempers in Ketterak burn almost as hotly as the land. Though half the population has fled since the fire began, scores of others hold on, refusing to abandon their homes or cede any potential riches. Some even claim their rivals stoke the fire in an effort to force everyone else out, at which point they will extinguish it and claim sole possession of Ketterak and the siccatite.

Encounter setup:
Over the last four days, longtime dwarven residents have been found dead in their beds each morning. Passed off the first two days as tragic circumstances, rumors and accusations began flying as the deaths continued, and the village teeters on the knife-edge of all-out violence. Optimistic dwarven Mayor Halda Stowt and the tenacious halfling merchant Kefin Alcombe, self-appointed representative of the newcomers, each enlist the PCs' aid to solve the mystery. Over the course of the investigation, the PCs learn that no one has seen dwarven herbalist Oldusk Haff since before the deaths began. They head to his home to learn if he's another victim, or perhaps something worse.

Oldusk was in fact the first to die: He was in his basement workshop, when a sinkhole opened beneath the stairs and trapped him inside. Overcome by bad air spewing from the hole, he suffocated to death, rising shortly thereafter as an immured. Enraged that none of his neighbors answered his cries for help, he began sneaking into their homes and suffocating them in their sleep.

Haff's Remedies
Glass windows on the front of this two-story stone building of dwarven make let light shine into a large room full of plants. The shop appears well-maintained, with vines curling up trellises along the outside walls. A wooden shingle hangs above the door; on it is painted a pestle crushing a green herb in a mortar, with the words "Haff's Remedies" in Common at the top and repeated in Dwarven at the bottom.

Oldusk Haff's home and shop, in one of the older buildings in the village, is beautifully made and well-kept. However, with a successful DC 20 Perception check, PCs who search outside find small cracks spreading up the western wall near the building's center. A DC 15 Knowledge (engineering) or Craft (stonemasonry) check reveals the damage is likely due to a sinkhole opening beneath the home. PCs who earlier saw the sinkhole damage to Mother Folgrit's Sweets get a +2 circumstance bonus on this check.

The shop has 1-foot-thick masonry walls with glass windows, and smooth stone floors. The doors are simple wood and, unless otherwise noted, are unlocked.

H1: Greenhouse Shop (CR 1)
The scent of mint and other herbs permeates this warm shop. Containers of plants line the front walls where south-facing windows allow generous sunlight. A door on the far side of the shop stands closed and a heavy curtain hides the back area from sight.

Only Oldusk has been in this room, where the herbalist worked with customers, since his death. A DC 20 Survival check reveals Oldusk's tracks in the thin layer of accumulated dust and pollen leading from the door to a strangely dust-free 5-foot square in the center of the room. The area (marked with a dotted line on the map) is where Oldusk uses his breach ability to open a portal in the floor to get in and out of the basement.

A bell on the front door rings whenever the door swings open or shut. If it rings, or if any of the PCs fail at Stealth checks opposed by Oldusk's Perception check (which suffers a -10 penalty due to the intervening floor), the immured, who waits in the basement below, becomes aware of them (see his tactics in this circumstance, room H8).

Trap: Oldusk set up a bell on the door to alert him when customers enter.
Door Bell CR 1
Type mechanical; Perception DC 18; Disable Device DC 18
----- Effects -----
Trigger location; Reset automatic
Effect When anyone opens or closes the door, a hand bell rings, which is audible throughout the building.

Bad Air The room is full of bad air (CR 1) (Game Mastery Guide 244) emanating from below, which makes it hard to breathe. If the PCs leave the outside door open, they get a +2 circumstance bonus to their Fortitude save to resist the effects of the bad air, which then disperses in 1-4 hours.

H8: Basement Workshop (CR 4)
The wooden stairs leading down to this rough-hewn room lie broken in pieces around a sinkhole in the floor. A work table, covered with mortar, pestle, and other tools, dominates the center of the warm, humid basement. Mushrooms grow in long troughs along the edges of the room, filling the air with the earthy odor of soil. Above them, wooden shelves with containers of herbs, dusts, and ointments line the walls.

Oldusk liked to work in the privacy of his basement workshop to avoid interruptions. He was just leaving when the sinkhole opened late at night beneath the stairs, trapping him underground, where he suffocated in the deadly gases from below.

The ceiling of the room is 9 feet high, with walls of rough hewn stone and a smooth stone floor. The table is 3 feet high, letting the immured easily reach the ceiling, which is 1-foot-thick stone. The troughs along the walls are 1 foot high, filled with soil and mushrooms, while the shelves contain ingredients for a variety of remedies. The workshop is dark, the candles having been snuffed by the immured's aura. The staircase broke when the sinkhole opened, leaving a drop of 7 feet to the floor (see Hazard, below).

Creature: Oldusk spends his days in the basement where he died, working futilely on cures that he no longer has the talent to make since his transformation to undead. If the PCs arrive at night, Oldusk is here, either preparing to leave on or having just returned from another death-dealing visit to a neighbor.
Oldusk Haff CR 3
XP 800
Immured (R2)
hp 26
Before Combat If Oldusk hears intruders above, he scrambles onto his work table or a mushroom trough and reaches up to use his breach ability on the ceiling, targeting a random PC. The PC must succeed at a Reflex save vs. DC 15 or fall 10 feet into the basement below.
During Combat If alone in the basement, Oldusk tries to drag a PC through his breach in the ceiling. He batters opponents with him in the basement with nonlethal damage, preferring to make their deaths linger so he can listen to them gasp futilely for air.
Morale Defending his home, Oldusk fights to the death.

Bad Air The basement is full of bad air (CR 1) spewing from the sinkhole.
Sinkhole Treat the sinkhole below the stairs as a five-foot patch of quicksand (Core Rulebook 427), except creatures that enter it must succeed at Escape Artist checks instead of Swim checks. The squares around the sinkhole are considered difficult terrain.

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:

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.

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?

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.

While the village is flavorful, with it’s uncontrollable underground fire and the slow collapse of its structures, Ketterak doesn’t really seemed tied to Golarion at all, and the one encounter presented doesn’t really tie into Ketterak and its dilemma all that strongly either. The mystery aspect and the tension in the village don’t really come into play, since the encounter specifically points the players to Haff’s front door. That’s a lot of word count that could go towards fleshing out the encounter beyond “fight a single monst in this one room.”

The impromptu pit trap using the immured’s breach ability is actually pretty clever, and can spell a lot of trouble for the lone PC he grabs if no one jumps into the opening after their teammate, and the sinkhole at the base of the stairs will further keep this lone monsters form being piled on. The bad air hazard isn’t like to affect PCs, since they’re unlikely to spend a full hour inside the house.

The encounter is pretty and makes fun use of the new monster’s special abilities.

Map Design
Over half the map is taken up with a map of the town and the mines, neither of which are relevant encounter, and what space is dedicated to the shop depicts and entire floor the PCs will never need to interact with. The basement layout where the fight will take place is good; it’s not a typical box, but could be larger or have multiple rooms to better take advantage of the immured’s maneuverability.

My biggest complaint is that this write-up and map are about the village, not the encounter. I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.


Map reference is ok looking. Maybe a bit more care could be taken in the line work. Some of the features going on would be interesting to finalize in a map, but maybe not necessary to the encounter.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

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

Hey Jacob, 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.

I’m sensing some strong Centralia, Pennsylvania vibes in this encounter, which makes sense given your geographic proximity. Tragic as that town’s demise was, the concept makes for a great location. The conflict between the dwarves and everyone else works for the location, especially given the huge source of income that the hamlet’s sitting on. Siccatite is even more expensive and rare than adamantine, and that’s saying something. What’s more, it’s skymetal, which makes its presence several hundred feet underground rather strange. This is something that would have to change during development, and hopefully it’s something we could catch earlier in the outlining process.

There’s so much extra map in this turnover that this seems to be part of a larger adventure that would continue in Ketterak. While those prospects could be fun, it’s more than I need for this encounter; there’s just no call for the PCs to go running around the mines or the hamlet for this encounter. I also get the impression that you have pulled this encounter from a larger adventure based on the reference to a sinkhole near Mother Folgrit’s Sweets. Again, I appreciate know that you can spin a much larger adventure, but for a stand-alone encounter, these references are distracting.

NPCs and Creatures
The immured’s creation and behavior make sense, and I find some amusement in the 5 Intelligence undead futilely attempting to continue its alchemical work. The hazard makes sense for the location, but I question whether or not the PCs will ever actually need to make a Fortitude save; they’re unlikely to spend more than an hour searching the place before triggering the combat.

The bell on the door is a nice touch, especially considering an immured’s hatred of noise. Given the DCs and the number of groups that would search the door for traps, I’m going to guess that more than half of all groups will ring the bell, knock on the door, or fail the Stealth check. This signals the immured, whose tactics call for him to attack fairly soon—essentially once a PC is more than about 10–15 feet from the door. As a result, you have lots of rooms in this building, and the PCs are very unlikely to visit any of them before the undead villain attacks. As a result, the rest of the map feels superfluous.

Your calculations are good, and you have accommodated several situational modifiers into your calculations, such as the penalty on Perception checks made through a floor.

Your writing style is very close to Paizo’s, which is great news for a developer or editor. The text is clean, readable, and demonstrates a command of the conditional sentences that are so essential when describing options that the PCs might or might not take.

Closing Thoughts
I am very conflicted on this encounter. On one hand, you’ve presented a neat area and shown great command of Paizo’s styles. Your guttersnipe was clever, and I would really like to see how you do in the next round. On the other hand, your encounter makes suboptimal use of the map, uses a hazard that’s unlikely to matter, and (at least in terms of where I’m feeling the cool-factor) seems to struggle with itself as to whether it wants to be an encounter or a regional gazetteer.

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 have to disagree with the judges on this encounter.

I really like the setup for the location of the encounter, a very cool town-about-to-melt-into-the-ground type of thing. The strife between the two groups of townfolk allow for some great social encounters leading into the actual encounter of the immured.

This does contain a lot of potential future encounters or an entire module scene...I like that in this one. The encounter stands by itself and makes good and clever of the immured, including how it was formed.

This is definitely a keep for me!

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

Blackdamp Hollow my bonus location from last year's Round 5 Adventure pitch was also inspired by the Centralia mine fire. It seems a burning subterranean dungeon grabs peoples attention but unfortnately its not really an urban encounter.

Its a shame you really squandered your map space on the whole town and the mines. You probably should've just focused on the house, maybe had it slide into the sinkhole and upper mines making this more of a search and rescue turned tragic undead encounter. The fires could've made the alchemical lab prove more of a hazard than the bad air as well. Good luck this round.


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: You use the monster in a clever way which is vital for me.
The Bad: the hazards are indeed meaningless
The Ugly: End of the day this is one fight with one monster. You have a great backstory and an interesting set of locations. I can see the seeds of something really good but the encounter got a little lost in the shuffle.
Overall: 8/10 - It's fairly strong in the mix of what I've read thus far but I have more then 1/2 to read still. With 75% being cut I'm not sure this is going to make it. If there were a top 8 you'de make it in my opinion, top 4? With the judges giving you the triple down its a longshot. But I suspect I'm far from you're only fan.

Dedicated Voter Season 8

Have to echo some of the comments made here, I love the imagery of the Burning Village and thought it was an inspired way to create / introduce the monster of the encounter... In the hands of a good GM, this would be awesome to play.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impression: Hey, it's like that abandoned town in Pennsylvania that sits above a burning coal mine! I'm in!
Upon Reflection: You spent a lot of time on the maps of the town and burning mine. You could have used that map space for the actual encounter area. I will echo what John said about veins of skymetal in the ground-- the stuff usually falls from the sky (hence the name). I think the hazards you presented aren't terribly meaningful for the length of time that the PCs will be there. I did like the unusual tactics that the monster uses. But, in the end, the PCs will just end up fighting a monster in a room.
Overall: A lot of intriguing setup for not much payoff. The setting itself is very strong, but the actual encounter is less so. I would have preferred the gases from the mine to have a more immediate effect than the bad air hazard-- perhaps a low-grade inhaled poison? All in all, I'm giving this a solid B.

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

Well done Jacob,
Is the encounter fun? Yes, the immured pulling someone through the floor is a great start up. My PC's will have to earn their way into the encounter, but once they are all together it will not be too difficult. (that first PC though... :)
Is the encounter difficult to interpret? Nope.
Does the monster fit? yes and follows the less common 'accidental'
formation of the critter. Bad air and snuff are good combination & the trapdoor seize can really scare that first victim (flat-footed, fatigued, prone & falling damage in a worse case scenario :).
This way to Dragathoa (I like to see beyond the encounter :) Definitely a lot of cool stuff going on here. and any presence of starmetal is sure to keep my player's interest. EDIT: @John & Haladar: a perfectly circle lake SCREAMS impact crater to me.

EDIT: EDIT: my question about bad air removed.

Nice work Jacob, good luck!

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 Jacob! I've clearly run out of time to make quick comments on all of the entries before voting closes, but I just wanted to say I loved this encounter location (and I'll fess up to bias, since one of the ideas I had for a R3 encounter was based on Centralia). I think the encounter itself works well, too, though the judges' point about the focus maybe being a little too heavy on the location vs. the encounter are well taken. Nice work - got my vote!

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

First of all, thanks for the comments, everyone. As always, I really appreciate them, since that's how I can get better. Obviously I'm disappointed none of the judges recommended me for advancement, but thanks for those who gave me their votes regardless.

Post mortem:

So what happened? I think the big thing was I really focused more on the location. I was inspired by a question that I've seen in previous years: What have you added to Golarion? I knew I wanted to add something that I hoped people would remember and maybe want to go to or make the site of an adventure and not have it be a location in an already existing city. Tom Phillips' Eight Fingers Tomb, which was so memorable an adventure site, really served as a model.

As several of you noted, I was indeed inspired by Centralia, which is a really fascinating story (for anyone interested in reading more about it, I'd recommend David DeKok's "Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire." I have to admit, Scott, I'd forgotten about your Blackdamp Hollow, but even then, I think what makes Centralia so fascinating isn't just the underground mine fire. It's the town above it, where just last year (two years ago?) the last handful of residents won a federal lawsuit to keep the government from forcing them out of their homes. These dozen or so people STILL refuse to leave their homes, even though everything around them is a wreck and they could find themselves at serious risk of death, even if their homes are on the far side of the town from the fire and deadly carbon monoxide. It's just ... wow. (Especially since I buy into the idea that they did accidentally cause they fire in the theory DeKok lays out.) For me, it was getting that feeling of the village above that I wanted to capture.

The first take on it had the fire caused by a dragon (a spawn of the Five Kings Mountains magma dragon Moschabbatt) who'd come looting and whom the village had managed to trap underground -- not realizing he had a couple magic items that would keep him alive. He basically kept breathing fire, since that was all he could do. A couple reviewers said it felt too much like "The Hobbit" (ironically, I went with dragon since I thought doing a flame creature would feel too much like the scene from "The Lord of the Rings," but I hadn't pegged on the Smaug connection at all) so I switched to skymetal. Siccatite fit perfectly, I thought.

I was more concerned that people wouldn't buy into the metal itself actually igniting, but that didn't seem to be a big concern. As for it being underground, I didn't think I had it so deep that it wasn't believable to have crashed from outer space. As Curaigh noted, I intended the round tarn to be indicative of an impact crater. I was more concerned about the veins of it stretching through the mountain, but again figured it could have spread some on impact (I went back and forth on making it a coal mine, but that just felt like I wasn't diverting enough from the source inspiration and even though they do mine coal in a few places in Golarion, it didn't feel fantasy enough for my taste).

As for the map, that seemed to be the biggest criticism and I have to admit it was one that frustrated me. I don't think it really took away from my map of the encounter itself. I was happy with that area and what was presented there -- obviously if I were just doing an encounter, that's all I'd have presented. But though it's the encounter round, the rules say to "describe a new urban Location in Golarion, a Map of that location, and an Encounter for that location," and I felt like I did that. I felt like my location was Ketterak, with the map, and then the encounter for that location was set in one shop/house inside, which I also gave a map for. I don't know, perhaps I overthought that, but I felt like it giving room for the Ketterak map didn't take away from the Haff's Remedies map. (Again, several other encounters in past years have given glimpses of the larger dungeon/area outside the actual encounter space even though I did take it a bit further.)


As far as the encounter itself, some thoughts on that:

The bad air got me a bit. I actually had a line in the earlier drafts that it wasn't likely to pose a threat in combat but could come into effect if the PCs spent more time investigating in the house. I didn't actually include the CR for the bad air in the encounters, but I guess that got overlooked. Definitely kicking myself for that. I put the bad air upstairs because I thought it could cause some PCs to start holding their breath earlier, which would effectively start the counter earlier for running out of air when it mattered with the immured.

I went back and forth on having the bad air interact more with the immured's snuff ability. My fear was while it takes a long time to get to the point of suffocation, once you do, it happens REALLY fast. With potentially one PC ending up alone in the basement fighting the immured for a few rounds, I didn't want it to be a literal death trap.

The other thing that killed me was the line in the rules "Do not use customized monsters or hazards that do not already have a stat block from a Paizo source if the effects of the variation cannot be summed up by adding one line to the stat block ..." I had what I thought was a FAR more interesting sinkhole all set up when I saw that and I went back and tweaked it down to basically just be quicksand (which wasn't quite what I wanted). Honestly, I went back and forth on just ignoring that, since I had the word count, but in the end, I thought it was more important to stick to the parameters of the assignment, since that's what we'll be expected to do as freelancers. The quicksand worked, even if I didn't like it, and that's what was important.

I went back and forth on including another monster, but couldn't find something that I thought was low enough level for third-level PCs that would fit there and that Oldusk would have been able to handle (garden ooze came closest). I could have hand-waved it in there, I suppose, but it just didn't feel right to me. I thought the different tactics and usage I was making of the immured's powers were going to make the encounter memorable enough. I also debated dropping in a second immured -- Oldusk's wife -- from above, but I felt like I was making the encounter location too large (the rest of the house was there to show I could draw it, and obviously I could have detailed it, but I thought that *was* going beyond what the assignment required/wanted/needed).

Oh, and of course I wanted the house to actually sink the house onto the PCs, but at third level, I that just too much of a killer move. If I had to do it again, I might have worked it slightly differently to have it trap the PCs if X happens (I went back and forth on giving Oldusk a jar of mottled clay, so maybe if that had gone off by the staircase, knocking down a few more supports?) so the bad air might actually have come into play. Again, though, I was very cognizant of the PCs being third level and thought that might just have been too much of a challenge for them -- they'd potentially just be stuck waiting to be rescued themselves.

Anyway, those were my thoughts on the round. Please feel free to add any additional comments or criticisms; I'll be happy to reply to 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

Despite the triple thumbs down by the judges I think you're going to land in the 3-5 range and may well have more work to do. Smoke mephits would have solved your problem methinks. They could be hanging out in the bad air, hear the commotion and come see what's going on and maybe join the fight, retreating to the area of bad air to regen if they got hit too much.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

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Jacob W. Michaels wrote:
Tom Phillips' Eight Fingers Tomb, which was so memorable an adventure site, really served as a model.

You honor me, sir. :-)

Condolences, Jacob. But do not despair! We've seen you before and we'll see you again. That's the funny thing about this contest: you just can't keep the good/tenacious contestants out.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Definitely the most underrated entry in R3. I'm sad to see you didn't advance. But I know you'll be back next year, unless you manage to make yourself ineligible in the meantime. :)

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

Thanks for the kind comments, guys, they're much appreciated.

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

Since you gave my encounter a post-mortem, I wanted to return the favor!
Disclaimer: I do not have nearly the same prior freelancing or contest experience that you do. I am also not familiar with Centralia, or perhaps even more embarrassingly the Five King Mountains of Andoran (I've played Pathfinder ruleset for forever, but always in a homebrewed campaign setting, so my Golarion-fu is sorely underdeveloped at present, which I've been avidly correcting since making the top 32). Still, I hope I can give you some useful ideas!

What I liked
I will echo Mikko Kallio and say that I think this may have been the most under-appreciated entry of the round. The fact that you still made top 8 (we may not have the actual tallies, made top 8, let's be real here) despite receiving three no's from the judges is testimony to the strength of your writing. This is why I am not a fan of the judge's recommend/not recommend system (which I ranted about a bit in the Top 32 Guildhall thread); I respect the fact that Paizo should have their influence on who will be writing material that they have to publish as per the parameters of the contest, but I think you would have gotten a lot more love from the votership if they all actually sat down and read your entry, instead of just scrolling down to the judges' comments and counting yes's the way Tyler described. Seriously, the prose is amazing: vivid descriptive language, engaging tactic descriptions, active verbs, and all just oozing with the village's flavor. Really a work of art, in my humble opinion.

I also think your use of the immured was spot on. Oldusk's origin story, motivation, ambient behavior, and battle tactics all fit the monster's function to a T.

What I liked slightly less
I think you might have made the opposite mistake that I did: you put a sizable amount of words into explaining why the PCs are where they are, what their clients's motivations are, and the political backdrop of the town as a whole. I may be biased in the other direction, since that's what I did and I got dinged quite a bit for it, but all that setup strikes me as more full adventure stuff; this is one encounter, so get the PCs to the action ASAP. They're there because that's where the action is, and there seems to be plenty of action to go around in Ketterak.

I also think that including so much information about the surrounding town and the mines, none of which pertain to the encounter at hand, may have lost you some points with both judge and voter. That method did indeed work for Eightfingers' Tomb (one of my favorite past submissions too), but Tom was writing for very different judges whose styles and interests were already pretty well known. What Clark Peterson interpreted as hooks for extra adventure Crystal and John probably would have seen as distractions from the task at hand (like they did with yours), and since you're detailing a whole town rather than a big dungeon, I think Crystal and John might have been right in this case.

I share your hesitations about the bad air. I've tried many times to use it as a hazard myself, since it's realistic and low-level, but since it has such a delayed onset it's very difficult to incorporate as a challenge well. My opinion: since you've already given us the map of the whole town, use it! Make Oldusk's entire neighborhood choked with bad air, so the PCs can't escape it just by opening the door. I mean, it's on top of a mine spewing poisonous fumes, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility to have bad air in the entire section of the town, even if it is outdoors. I think that makes it much more hazardous and engaging for the PCs. I think GM_Solspiral's suggestion of smoke mephits is also a good one.

I think you were wise to not have the whole house fall on the PCs. I agree, that's a bit much for them to handle at level 3. But that doesn't mean you can't have some other thematically appropriate event occur at the site. A tremor from an underground explosion that shifts some of the scenery, a burning or poisonous plume shooting out from a vent previously blocked by a piece of setting disrupted by Oldusk or a PC, something to make the encounter area come alive.

To reiterate what I said on my own encounter thread, you had a really terrific entry and you should be super proud of your run this year! I think that you were probably edged out by judges who simply had different tastes from last year's and the fact that, let's face it, Mike, Mikko, Robert, and Victoria had truly outstanding entries. Neither of those is a reflection on you or your ability; it just wasn't in the cards this time around. But like others have said, you've been here before, and I'm a gorgon turd if you're not here again in the very near future. Each time you fall down you get back up a little tougher, a little wiser, and a little more determined, and one year you will come back with so much creative power that no one will be able to stop you (that's how I felt about you during this year's monster round already). So once again, best of luck, and I look forward to someday sharing in your inevitable success as a fellow competitor and designer!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

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Christopher and Jacob, I'm certain both of you will be back.

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

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Mike Kimmel wrote:
Christopher and Jacob, I'm certain both of you will be back.

Thanks, Mike! ^_^ Looking forward to going through the gauntlet in Blazing 9!

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Locke1520

Jacob I really liked this encounter and I had hoped at least one of us would make it through to the next round. I really thought for a while you might make it.

I'm pulling for you to make a three-peat and sweep this thing next year!

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