The House of the Serpent's Hand


Round 3: Design an encounter

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

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The House of the Serpent’s Hand
==========
In the eastern reaches of the Brazen Peaks, the small town of Akinash lies in a secluded valley lush with spiny shrubs and tall grasses. A comfortable distance both from the gnoll holds of White Canyon and Pale Mountain and from the capitals Sothis and Katapesh, Akinash attracts people who seek a quieter life. The town center is dominated by a sandstone shrine built by local monks of Irori to venerate their late grandmaster Sahasranama, a Vudran guardian naga. She devoted her last decades to teaching local residents the arts of healing and a form of unarmed combat known as the snake style (Ultimate Combat). The shrine’s many serpentine motifs, just as its name – the House of the Serpent’s Hand – symbolize these arts.

With this building as their headquarters, the Iroran sect flourished for generations. However, breaking the “one law” of Katapesh by sheltering a number of escaped slaves brought the sect to a sudden, brutal end. The building lay abandoned for a long time, its history nearly forgotten. However, recently it has fallen into the hands of a cult following a mysterious figure called Musa’id, the Serpent's Son.

Musa’id, an imposter maw (R2) orphaned at birth, spent much of his young life traveling Garund to find the truth of his origins. A terrible hunger he could not deny followed him wherever he went. All he knew of his ancestry was that his adoptive mother, an Osirian caravan prostitute, had found him near a place where the great purple worms of the Black Desert occasionally surfaced.

His fortunes changed when Bakhta, one of the many self-proclaimed prophets of Katapesh's Lower City, witnessed him devouring a young calopus in one bite much like a large snake might. She fell to her knees in happy tears, repeating the words "the serpent's son". The enigmatic ravings of the charismatic woman convinced many people, including Musa’id himself, that he was indeed a prophesied descendant of Sahasranama. She gave him a charlatan’s symbol (R1), and Musa’id performed little miracles with it, believing it to be part of his legacy. His following grew quickly. Musa’id also grew into something truly monstrous, as there was no shortage of food for the false prophet.

Most of Musa’id's followers are not evil, just severely misled and cowed into submission. The rituals performed at the newly "reclaimed" shrine have become increasingly elaborate. A combination of prayer, pesh, displays of minor magic and gore leaves the followers awed and addicted.

Encounter Setup: The son of an important ally goes missing, and the trail leads to the shrine. As the PCs push through a throng of followers, they realize that the ceremony is about to reach its climax. The PCs must act quickly or the young man will die.

The Serpent’s Son (CR 5)
==========
In the flickering light of countless candles, people sway back and forth, and the air is thick with incense and prayer. Standing on a massive, hand-shaped ledge, a wild-haired woman feverishly recites incomprehensible syllables. Twenty feet below, a dark pool glistens with soft reflections. At the far end of this long hall, a serpentine statue looms menacingly. A young man lies bound and motionless atop the serpent's head.

The PCs start the encounter in the crowd-filled squares behind the dashed line. See Core Rulebook 436 for rules about moving through and influencing crowds. The PCs may attempt DC 15 Diplomacy or Intimidate checks to ask people nearby questions about the cult. However, after three attempts, they simply ignore the PCs. The followers are so euphoric and transfixed by the ritual that each successful check only elicits a short response. A DC 12 Sense Motive check reveals that their mesmerized state also renders them incapable of any violent reaction. A DC 20 Perception check reveals that the incense masks a second smell – pesh. However, a short-term exposure has no notable effects on the PCs.

The hand-shaped ledge resembles a variant symbol of Irori that the snake style sect used. The hand’s posture mimics the head of a snake (DC 15 (Knowledge (religion) reveals this connection). Monks would leap into the snake-infested water to prove their mettle. A Knowledge (engineering) DC 15 or Perception DC 20 check reveals the middle finger is badly eroded (see Hazards).

The water in the pool is 10 feet deep and calm (Swim DC 10). The surface is 20 feet below the hand-shaped ledge but nearly level (Climb DC 5) with the floor surrounding the serpentine statue and the narrow ledges on either side of the pool. These ledges can be traversed at half speed; full speed requires a DC 15 Acrobatics check. The walls of this hall are built from large sandstone blocks (Climb DC 15). The sconces on the walls are sturdy enough to attach a rope or grappling hook. The pool is teeming with vicious-looking but mostly harmless snakes (DC 15 Perception to notice; see Hazards).

The massive granite statue depicts the late grandmaster in a coiled, meditative posture. The coils require a DC 10 Climb check for Medium or smaller creatures to climb, while Large and larger creatures treat the squares as difficult terrain. Carvings at the base show the grandmaster biting and using her tail to strike, trip and choke her enemies, overlaid with images of humans imitating these forms. A DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check reveals that the creature depicted is a guardian naga, while a DC 15 Knowledge (engineering) check reveals a Vudran influence in the design.

Encounter Timeline

After three minutes have passed or the PCs spring into action, Musa’id enters and starts walking up the statue, following the spiraling path. Upon reaching the top, he does the following unless the PCs stop him:

  • Round 1: He awakens the bound man, who responds with screams,
  • Round 2: drenches him with pesh-laced wine, all the while reciting prayers,
  • Round 3: transforms,
  • Round 4: speaks a disturbingly inhuman, final incantation,
  • Round 5: catches the screaming man in his maw, and
  • Round 6: devours him in one bite.

When Musa’id transforms, read the following:

With sickening cracks and pops, the body of this man begins to grow and elongate. His white robes tear off his body, revealing mauve blotches that spread on his skin and harden into purple, chitinous scales. His mouth widens to cover the entire face, as hundreds of needle-like teeth burst from within the gums of the gaping, cavernous maw.

Creatures:

See the map for starting positions. As long as the PCs do nothing suspicious, the fanatics do not move. There are nine more fanatics posted outside, but the crowd makes it impossible for them to notice the PCs’ actions.

Bakhta CR —
XP —
hp 11 (Storyteller, GameMastery Guide 272)
Tactics Bakhta takes no actions besides babbling incoherently. She makes Swim checks if necessary.
Gear

Fanatics (3) CR 1/3
XP 133 each
hp 8 each (Foot Soldier, GameMastery Guide 286)
Melee Scimitar +3 (1d6+3/19–20)
Ranged Composite shortbow +2 (1d6+2/×3)
Tactics The fanatics defend Musa’id. They use ranged attacks as long as possible.

Musa’id, giant imposter maw CR 4
XP 1,200
hp 42 (R2, with the giant template, Bestiary 295)
AC 16
Melee bite +7 (2d8+6 plus grab)
Ranged vase +0 (1d4+4 plus difficult terrain)
Tactics Musa’id sheds his human guise at a tactically opportune moment to maximize the element of shock. Thereafter, he attempts to swallow a PC whole, or failing that, he snatches a vase in his maw and throws it at a PC or censer.
Gear charlatan's symbol holding a wand of cure light wounds (5 charges)

Hazards:

Falling finger (CR —) The part of the finger marked on the map falls down if more than 150 pounds of weight are placed on it. Creatures that fall into the water take no damage, but they may attempt a DC 13 Reflex save to jump into an unoccupied square.

Snakes in the water (CR —) Each creature that starts its turn in the water must make a DC 12 Will save or be shaken for 1 round. This is a fear effect. A successful save makes the character immune against the effect for 24 hours.

Special Terrain:

Censers: Knocking over (move action or attack vs AC 8) a censer creates a smoke cloud (as obscuring mist except 10-feet radius; duration 3 rounds). The pesh-infused smoke causes mild, pleasant hallucinations (fascinated for 1 round; Fort DC 11 negates).

Vases: If a vase is broken (AC 6, hardness 2, 1 hp), an adjacent square of the attacker's choice turns into difficult terrain. If used as an improvised thrown weapon (1d4 bludgeoning damage plus difficult terrain), a vase is a two-handed weapon for a Medium creature. If the attack misses, treat it as a thrown splash weapon to determine where it lands and breaks.

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
“Fight a snake cult to stop a sacrifice” is a classic fantasy bit, so it’s always fun to see it revived. The setup and background are flavorful, and the setup is fairly well-described. Overall I think this is a very flavorful encounter with a lot of things to do.

Challenge
The encounter isn’t likely to be as challenging as the CR makes it out to be. As much fun as the imposter maw is (and it was one of my favorite monsters last round), it is not a strong ranged combatant, and PCs are likely to open up from the far side with bows and spells rather than cross a snake-infested pool.

Fun
As I said, it’s a classic trope, offering several options for PC actions, with a monster than transforms halfway through the encounter.

Map Design
I love love love this map, from its snake-head entryway to its meaty palm to its naga pyramid. It’s fun and evocative and offers players a lot of room to stretch their arms in a fight. The only drawback is, I think it’s a little too big for the single encounter.

The setup is good and the map is great. The mechanical problems are minor and easy to fix. I do recommend this encounter for advancement.

Cartographer

Yeah this map reference is very cool, I love the concepts and style, this would be fun to work on. There is a lot going on here, maybe a bit too much for the size of the map, but still really fun to look at and imagine. Everything is very clear and easy to read, and the style does already evoke the feelings of a cool adventure in my mind.

I do recommend this encounter for advancement.

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

Hey Mikko, 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
We have a drug-addled cult built around a shapechanger who is its unlikely prophet. I find it very refreshing that a shapechanger in charge of a cult is for once not a villainous mastermind but is rather an accidental leader that is simply riding its wave of success. The setup for the encounter involves not only a combat but also a throng of semi-coherent onlookers that give the GM a neat way of responding to the PCs’ “heretical” interruption of the ceremony. There are a lot of cool elements here.

The variant cult of Irori has good flavor and doesn’t conflict with any of existing canon. You’ve also brought in some nice Katapesh flavor. You’ve made up a small town, which is fine, but it seems like the town is really an afterthought; an obscure monastery in an isolated area makes a lot of sense on it’s own, and it’s presentation barely relies on there being a nearby urban center.

NPCs and Creatures
I like that there’s a skill challenge that the PCs must overcome to reach the main encounter. Some characters will have trouble making the physical skill checks necessary, and in practice, I think you could see some frustrated players with wizard, cleric, and similar characters. On the other hand, rogues, barbarians, rangers, monks, and the like have a chance to shine. The secret doors offer some means for a character with a high armor check penalty to make it across, but…I don’t see any Perception check DCs to find them. Keep in mind that the party will likely be split up during this encounter as a few PCs cross quickly and the others spend all six rounds trying to reach the other side. This could impact the effective CR, especially since the ranged attacks by the fanatics could really hurt a climbing or balancing PC.

Regarding the crowd of cultists, what do they know about the cult, and what will they share? You reference a Diplomacy check to ask questions, but it’s not entirely clear what these people know and how much they can say. Can they relay what the ritual entails, thus giving the PCs a sense of how much time they have before Musa’id eats the sacrifice? Your creatures entry notes that the cultists do not respond unless the PCs do something suspicious. What is suspicious to a drugged cultist? Some guidance here would be great.

I applaud your use of concise but interesting hazards. Nothing is lethal, yet all of them add to the encounter in a small way. The snakes in the water hazard is particularly amusing, and I appreciate that you chose to make a creature shaken, which penalizes its skill checks to swim.

Musa’id is a fairly straightforward combatant, but you do give it an opportunity to use both of its special abilities in the encounter. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of how you used this shapechanger in a novel way.

Numbers
There are lots of skill DCs, and all of them seem reasonable for a 3rd-level party. I’m glad you included lots of options for crossing the water, though you are missing the secret door information.

Style
Overall, I spotted no major grammatical or stylistic issues. I recommend being careful about agency—who or what is actually doing the action. “A DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check reveals that the creature depicted is a guardian naga…” suggests that the Knowledge check is actually doing the action. I prefer something like “A PC who succeeds at a DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check realizes that…”

Closing Thoughts
I really enjoyed this encounter. It has a variety of solutions to a skill check “puzzle” and give the PCs a reasonable amount of time in which to reach the main encounter area before risking failure. The atmosphere is intense and makes for a dramatic encounter. I question the urban ties, but I leave that to the voting public to decide.

I do recommend this encounter for advancement.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

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John Compton wrote:
“A DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check reveals that the creature depicted is a guardian naga…” suggests that the Knowledge check is actually doing the action. I prefer something like “A PC who succeeds at a DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check realizes that…”

That's good to know. :)

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6

John Compton wrote:
“A DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check reveals that the creature depicted is a guardian naga…” suggests that the Knowledge check is actually doing the action. I prefer something like “A PC who succeeds at a DC 20 Knowledge (dungeoneering) check realizes that…”

I'd prefer notes like this in scenarios to be even more clearly labelled:


  • Knowledge (dungeoneering) DC 20: the creature depicted is a guardian naga

If information like skill checks were listed like this in scenarios, it would reduce word count and we'd likely never hear that GM prep has to involve highlighters ever again (much to every online GM's delight).

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

Congratulations on get three up votes from the judges!

I was a little skeptical when I first saw the map (had not previously come across a big hand in the middle of a map) and also when I saw the imposter maw. However, you really pulled this together in a way that makes me just say wow. Great scenario, great writing, great job! This really fires up the imagination.

Definitely getting my vote. I want to see more of your work.

The Exchange

Great work, Mikko.

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

Evocative name!

YAY MONKS OF IRORI!!! Seriously thank you.

Oh nice background!

Charlatan's Symbol worked in. Well done on it.

And a high sense of urgency.

You've done some great work with the crowds and how this feels. Seriously digging this encounter.

You've got some odd parenthetical issues on the DC 15 Knowledge (religion) section.

A wealth of knowledge checks!

This is how you do a timed event in combat!

Imposter Maw! And cool little stats for the fanatics and the storyteller.

Overall, well done. I don't have any real criticisms and I think this is a pretty shining encounter.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Mikko, I liked your entries for earlier rounds a lot, and think that Immured was one of the best monsters in round two.

Now after going through these encounters, I'm liking this one the most. You're also one of the very few to receive three votes up from the judges, congrats! The map is spectacular, and as I've done some cartography commissions myself, it's exactly like one I'd want to receive as a map submission. Background is awesome and the encounter itself is a nice combination of skill checks and combat.

This is a very well executed encounter, and I'd love to see what you do with the module pitch. You have my vote, 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: The map alone could sell me on this. The writing and design are classic and sets me to a Conan state of mind which is a good thing.
The Bad: Not buying broken pottery making difficult terrain, I also see no point in an NPC that stands there chanting to no effect, why waste the word count?
The Ugly: My players can beat this at level 1... they's likely light the whole place on fire and wait for the big bad to come out and shoot it with ranged attacks until it is dead. The rescue element would need to be one with a fairly big payoff to get them to not do that.
Overall: 9/10 - I love this. You used r1 and r2 to your advantage and I love that you templated the r2 entry that was a clever move. The cool map and setup makes this a very solid contender for my vote. I have more reading to do but wow.

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

GM_Solspiral wrote:


The Ugly: My players can beat this at level 1... they's likely light the whole place on fire and wait for the big bad to come out and shoot it with ranged attacks until it is dead. The rescue element would need to be one with a fairly big payoff to get them to not do that.

I personally disagree completely with this statement. If "Son of an important ally" isn't enough to easily weave into a story where the man needs to be rescued and not casually tossed aside with the collateral damage then I am at a loss as for what might be. Family member of a PC might give some players more motivation, but that in itself is overplayed and unoriginal. If not for rescuing a critical NPC's son, why else might the PCs be at this long forgotten temple anyways? Who would have even sent them?


I just learned about this contest, being a Pathfinder player but never actually having an account before now (my GM usually takes care of all the published stuff, I just come to play). I'm looking through some of the entries, both from this year and the last couple years, and I thought I would contribute some thoughts.

I think this submission best fits the requirements of the round. My group has never experienced the Irori monks or this region of Golarion, so it took me a few tries to get through the intro just due to inexperience. But looking closer, I think this entry has everything the round was all about. An interesting location (and map) with an interesting antagonist that uses previous material in an exciting way, all wrapped up into one encounter. A few other people have really zeroed in on the specifics so I won't repeat those here. Overall, really great work, and given this and your past entries I think you very much deserve to make the top four. Good luck!

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impression: Wow! From the title, I'm thinking some kind of dojo; from the map, I'm thinking some kind of cult of the snake god. And I'm right! It's a tried and true plotline, but there's a reason why it tends to work!
Upon Reflection Great map! It's really old-school in design. The visuals of the encounter make me think of the movie Heavy Metal-- which is a good thing in my book. The "infiltrate the cult of the snake god" is a plotline that's been done many times, but it's so iconic that it generally works. I like that the antagonist is more or less a dupe rather than an evil mastermind. The encounter area has a whole lot going on-- social interactions, hazardous terrain, drug-fueled fog, a pool of snakes, and a statue of the snake god. It would be a blast to run, and I think it would be lots of fun to play as well. You did a great job incorporating Golarion lore. I think you did an excellent job using both a Round 2 monster and a Round 1 magic item-- it's the first Round 1 item I've seen in Round 3 so far. My only quibble is the setting: it's not particularly urban. This shrine could be in the middle of nowhere.
Overall: This is a very strong entry, and my favorite so far. It would be a blast to run, and a whole lot of fun to play. A+

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 Mikko! This is a really cool encounter. It's a bizarre and memorable location, and the encounter is very alive and engaging. Things happen: the PCs can make them happen, they can stop them from happening, or they can happen regardless. Yet it's all still manageable. I like that there's a crowd to deal with, as well. Great work!

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

Great encounter. You took a fun but flawed monster from R2 and created a set up that makes it work beautifully. The map and terrain/hazards of the encounter make for a memorable scene, instead of the standard "you enter a room and must fight the monster".

I think you missed having the drug addled cultists be a crowd for terrain purposes to further hinder the PCs though as they start the fight. Being drug addled lets you have the crowd stay in place the whole time as well, rather than running away once the fighting starts, as most crowds tend to do when used in play.

Also, kudos for providing a clear hook to get the PCs involved. While there's no explicit continuing the adventure section, it doesn't take much to expand the monastery's undescribed rooms, and to have a subterranean section which hasn't been disturbed by the current cult.

One last bit, I was excited to learn a new word when you included "calopus", but was disappointed when I couldn't find it on dictionary.com.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

After reviewing all of the Round 3 submissions, I have cast one of my votes for The House of the Serpent's Hand.

Good luck, Mikko!

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Crystal, Robert, John, Pedro, Avatar-1, Kenton, Andy, theheadkase, Salama, GM_Solspiral, Papasteve08, Wolf, Haladir, Sam, Joel, and everyone else who supported me and voted for my entry, thank you!

I put lots and lots and lots of time and thinking into this entry and there's so much I want to say about my process, the stuff about Katapesh & Osirion that I read about (the newest Wayfinder was one of my sources), mapmaking and what books, movies and video games I used for inspiration and and and...

However, if my name is among the four that advance, I want to be as ready as possible, so it's time for me to pack the cultists' loot and move on. I intend to revisit the House of the Serpent's Hand after the 28th (or much sooner if I don't advance). I also want to share all my experiences and thoughts about this whole thing, so I intend to write a series of articles about rounds 1, 2 and 3 once this whole thing is over. If I win RPG Superstar 2014, I'll also write an article about round 4.

And just like the previous round, here's some concept art about how I imagined the serpent statue would look like. I left out a lot of detail from my actual map on purpose because I didn't want to make the cartographer's job harder. My idea was that the surface of the statue is covered in scale-shaped granite cobblestone.

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

If you don't advance the contest is rigged.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
GM_Solspiral wrote:
If you don't advance the contest is rigged.

Agreed! I think this is the strongest entry of the semifinal round, and it's also a fan favorite.

Great job, Mikko!

(Oh, and I like your new avatar better. The old one was creepy!)

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 say we plan a revolt if this doesn't go forward. We'll storm the raptor caves. Some of you may die...but your children and your children's children will remember your names when RPG Superstar comes around again.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Thanks guys! :)

I know I did well, but hubris is dangerous, so I try to remain nervous and wait until the reveal before I celebrate. :)

And yes, Iomedae is lovely. And the previous avatar is already... how should I put it... so passé. :D

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 7

You'll be advancing, Mikko. Your entry was my favorite for sure. I hope to see you come up with an amazing pitch so that I can play in it someday soon!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Congrats, my friend!

You made a great encounter and it was a blast playing through it, so you definitely deserved a spot in the Top 4.

You're not making it easy for me to try and catch up next year, hopefully you'll make it even harder in the final round. :)

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

You know, after studying abroad for a semester, my sister recently expressed the sentiment, "It seems like all the coolest people are from Finland." Case in point, I suppose. You've been knocking them out of the park since round 1 and I don't see you letting up any time soon.

Knock 'em dead, Mikko!

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Steven T. Helt

You've done a great job this whole contest, Mikko. Congratulations and good luck. I think we have four capable winners, although I'd put you and Kimmel at the top of the list. I'm think us voters are standing on high ground with the four of you. Can't wait to see your adventures!

Good luck and get kraken!

Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Mikko, I readily admit I was not a fan of your wondrous item; but likewise acknowledge that your encounter won me over. I want you to help make the final round as hard-fought as possible!

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

Alright, a very quick round of replies and thanks before I commit my 100% focus on round 4. Although round 3 went well for me, there were many valuable lessons I learned this round, and I hope I continue to improve and round 4 will be even better. :)

WARNING: a huge wall of text

Spoiler:

re: A classic trope

This is exactly what I aimed for. I took some of my favorite elements from Conan the Barbarian, Indiana Jones, Frank Herbert's Dune, and H.P. Lovecraft and combined it with some more modern themes in an attempt to make it feel both classic and fresh.

re: Lots of things to do

Again, one of my design goals. I play many different kinds of games, including video games such as Diablo 3, and the vases for example were inspired by that game, I just changed them enough to make them suitable for PF in general and this encounter in particular. Design tip: Include terrain the players can interact with. Use things from other games you like, just change them enough to make them fit the overall theme of the game.

re: CR lower than it looks

I was actually worried I'd include too many things that are basically CR -- but when combined with the water, archers and time limit would make the encounter too difficult for the CR. We playtested it with moderately optimized pregens and the players beat it but not without difficulties. One guy was K.O'd but everyone had fun and the challenges felt appropriate for the characters, so I went with that CR.

re: Loving the map design

I actually inverted the design paradigm I normally use. Normally I choose a concept, then try to think of abilities/effects/stuff that fits. This time I decided I'll make a frigging awesome map, no, THE best map of this round. Then I decided why it was built and so on. So I wanted strong visual elements -- snakey corridors, big hand, spiraling snake. And then figured out how they could all fit together in flavor. It took a lot of time and research but in the end it all seemed to mesh together nicely and I was happy with how it turned out.

re: Map clarity

The map you can see is the third version. I practiced, experimented and changed things until it was easy to read but also sufficiently pretty.

re: Not a villainous mastermind

I got this idea when I was reading the Katapesh Guide and the newest Wayfinder. The Doomsayers' Stand sounded like a nice place where you could find a suitable person to lead a cult. The woman is the real leader here, Musa'id is just a fool who is completely happy with the situation. Originally I wanted to make Musa'id the real leader, but the guy simply doesn't have the Cha to pull that off. Imposter maws are usually loners anyway, so he needed a very good reason to expose himself as the monster he really was. Thinking you're a god or a prophet would probably be enough to cause that kind of a change.

re: Secret doors

I didn't think of them so much as a part of the encounter, just a part of the location. Much like I didn't describe the living quarters, etc. If this was an adventure, I would have been able to describe all these things in detail as well.

re: Physical skill checks

I took great care to include sconces (so you can attach ropes), ledges and other things that help the heavily armored characters. The DCs were also reasonably low. Also, D&D / PF is also about teamwork -- a more mobile character can help the clumsier ones. In the playtest, the wizard who didn't want to jump down immediately gave ranged support to those who were already closer to the enemy. There were a few rounds here and there that a character spent swimming or balancing on the ledge, but overall, everyone had something to do to contribute.

re: Straightforward combatant

While one of my favorite monsters in R2, I knew the maw had a number of flaws and I think that's what made it a more interesting challenge to use in this encounter. I like it how the whole situation changes when he transforms. Suddenly the terrain that in previous roud gave Musa'id cover suddenly becomes your ally. He can move faster up the snake statue, but coming down is slower. And the vases had a double purpose -- to give the maw more things to do with his maw, and also to let the PCs use them to slow him down. With the vases and censers, you suddenly have a lot of battlefield control options that both the baddies and the PCs can use.

re: Skill check format

Thanks for the tip! Unfortunately it takes a few words more to phrase it that way, so I guess a liberal use of shorthand is recommended. About skill DC tables, Avatar~1, I discussed this with a friend who's a long time fan of Paizo. He said he remembered they used to have tables for that, but they gave up using them because they take up more space. Fewer words, yes, but also more space.

re: Charlatan's symbol

This item grew on me, and it was just perfect for the concept. Think about it -- imposter and charlatan mean nearly the same thing. How could I resist. :P

re: Knowledge checks

I love it when a module gives the GM little details about the location. I love it even more when the module gives the GM a mechanical way (i.e. skill checks) that allow you to share those little details. :)

re: Styles of play and setting the place on fire

Alright, Solspiral and I already discussed this in pm's and he made some good points about different ways of playing the game. But of course, in this contest and in Paizo's products in general (excepting adventures for goblins and such), the standard assumption is that the PCs are good or neutral, and they are there because of the plot hook [i]or]/i] an equally good reason. So designing for moderately optimized heroic parties is a good idea in the context of this contest even if the difficulty level isn't high enough for experienced players.

re: Broken pottery > difficult terrain

I agree that a vase might not be enough. But the rule of cool wins here I think -- it makes for a hell of a lot more interesting encounter to have "bombs of difficult terrain" at your disposal. :) Same goes for the censers though I guess no-one complained about those. :)

re: Old-school map

Just like the story / scene, I wanted a map that combines old school & new stuff. I spent a lot of time on learning how to draw maps and did a lot of benchmarking to get new ideas. Tip: For a nice old school feel, learn "dysoning". It's fun and not very hard to do at all. :)

re: Not urban

Yep, you're right. It's a building you can reasonably well place anywhere. I'll definitely make sure that my R4 entry fulfils all the requirements perfectly, not just technically.

re: Drug-addled crowd

In an earlier draft I had something like "treat them as a crowd (CRB xx) except they react to threats one round later than they normally would". But I removed it, because well, you don't interact with the crowd a lot after the first round of combat.

re: Calopus

It's an animal native to Katapesh; you can read more about the calopi in in various Katapesh sources and the PF wiki. I guess I should have italicized it!

Also, thanks thunderspirit, I'm glad my entry won you over! Christopher, Kalervo and Tyler, it's very encouraging to hear that from you, this year's top 32 and top 16! Steven, thank you very much! I've been studying your entries from last year very carefully, analyzing what things made them Superstar. And it seems be working!

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

Mikko,

Congrats on making the top 4. I'm not at all surprised to see you here in the top 4 as this encounter was undoubtedly boss.

Some suggestions going into round 4.
-Stick to your strengths. You're mechanics might have been called into question (mostly the pottery bomb bit) but don't overstress that. Your writing is very strong and this round plays into that strength.
-Familiar but fresh. You will win tons of votes if you can make a fresh take on old favorites. I used that tactic for my run on Kobold Press' blog and it brought me an audience. It's a solid design choice.

Advice overall: Momentum is on your side. I lost you in the top 32 shuffle, The Deck of Falling Houses was interesting but mechanically off in my opinion. You got my attention with the Immured and this last round was in my opinion a clear winner. You climbed the mountain the trick is staying on top.

Good Luck,
Frank Gori

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