|Brian J. Fruzen RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8|
Drenchport is far from an idyllic welcoming community, and a vessel such as Heaven’s Bounty would seem out of place if not for its general state of disrepair. Space at Drenchport’s crowded docks is at a premium, yet no ship moors near Heaven’s Bounty. In the months since its arrival, residents of the dour settlement have learned that only the foolish dare to set foot on the Bounty’s weathered planks.
Adrian Voss, a rich Taldan merchant, built Heaven’s Bounty, and though its name might suggest a reverence to the gods, the truth is one of hubris. Voss demanded a vessel to impose his dominance onto the harsh and unforgiving laws of the open water and pillaged the Verduran Forest of materials fit for the task. He paid handsomely to have a magnificent ancient tree harvested as the Bounty’s mast and its occupant, Myrial, a dryad guardian bound to him in thralldom. The tortures she felt as they were inflicted on her tree and the constant agony she now lives in warped Myrial into something darker, but proved beneficial to the merchant captain. It’s said Heaven’s Bounty sailed faster and truer than any other.
The Eye of Abendego is a challenge not to be undertaken lightly, however. Voss met his end skirting the dangerous hellstorm, and took the dark secret of the Bounty’s resilience to the uncharted depths. The surviving crew limped into Drenchport many months ago, paid for a week’s mooring professing the intent to make repairs but disappeared to a man. Attempts to sell the ship have had no success amidst rumors that those who try to buy the vessel meet unnatural ends. The dock master sent a crew to reduce Heaven’s Bounty to flotsam and collect a little profit selling the debris, yet they failed to accomplish the task. Some did not return, and the ship remains an eyesore, a danger and an irritation.
A drifting corpse isn’t news in Drenchport, but grisly discoveries near the Bounty are on the rise. Victims are turning up lacerated beyond recognition. The fact that they are partially eaten doesn’t surprise veterans of the sea, but others point to Heaven’s Bounty, whispering of the horrors its unexplored hold contains.
Unnatural Wrath (CR 6)
The weather-beaten planks of the Heaven’s Bounty groan as it rests low in the water. The ship is led by a figurehead that is broken and splintered, and the head of the once beautiful maiden depicted in the wood is missing. Remains of the rigging are rotting and hang from a single mast at the ship’s center.
The upper deck of Heaven’s Bounty consists of a main deck (A1), a captain’s quarters (A2) a small galley (A3), storage area (A4) and a crew quarters (A5). A set of stairs descends into the lower deck (A6). Large stairs lead from the main deck to the forecastle and quarterdeck, areas B1 and B2.
Prayers are carved deep into the wood over the entirety of the ship. In some areas, the prayers are scrawled over one another, making for near indecipherable scratching. All of these are written in sylvan. Only the mast is unmarred. If the PCs don’t know sylvan, a successful DC 15 Linguistics check or Knowledge (religion) check can reveal that the prayers are principally to Pharasma and the fey lord, Magdh. They call to the gods of death and fate for respite, and condemn them for their cruelty and betrayal.
The wood of the ship is in an advanced state of disrepair, and many of the doors are warped open. All doors on Heaven’s Bounty are good wooden doors suffering from disrepair (hardness 5, hp 10, break DC 13). Attempts to shut the doors result in them popping open again unless braced. A successful DC 20 Knowledge (engineering) check reveals that the alarming rate of decay is unnatural. The porthole (hardness 5, hp 30, break DC 20) on the upper deck is warped shut.
Adrian Voss’s captain’s log can be found in area A2 with a successful DC 15 Perception check. The pages are damp and stuck together. A successful Linguistics check DC 25 can impart some of the details regarding Heaven’s Bounty, its construction and logs of its cargo over the last few years. The former captain’s belongings are smashed and broken.
The lower deck (area C1 and C2) is flooded calf deep with water stained red with blood and counts as a shallow bog. The walls of the ship are visible through the ghoulish mutilated remains of those Myrial has murdered. The unconscious member of the dock master’s crew is there as well. He and the skeletal remains of the Heaven’s Bounty crew are intricately woven between the beams that make up the hull of the ship (hardness 5, hp 5, break DC 14). It’s here that Myrial will engage the PCs by turning loose two lacedons that rose from the former crew. She does so from behind the secret door, detectable with a successful DC 12 Perception check, though she has warped it shut (break DC 13).
Creatures: The shattered dryad, once bound to the service of Voss, achieved some freedom after his death. When Heaven’s Bounty settled into port, she murdered its crew and began to reflect on her existence. She turned to the fey lords and finally the gods, but her pleas have been unrequited, leaving her in a near suicidal rage. She spends her time below deck, hidden in the smugglers cache (area C2).
Though the PCs are not initially aware of her, she is unfriendly and will attempt to make them leave. She’ll warp wood beneath their feet, or open and close doors at random by manipulating the wood that forms them. A door she chooses to close using warp wood becomes stuck (break DC 13). She’ll also use command and confusion when the PCs seem occupied and not likely to detect her voice. Allow Myrial a Bluff check (opposed by Sense Motive) to conceal her spellcasting. If she fails, PCs can make the normal DC 15 Perception check to hear her voice. Once detected, she threatens to bind them to the ship like her previous victims, forcing them to endure the same suffering she has. If she recognizes any of the PCs as divine casters, she’ll tell them their gods won’t answer them on Heaven’s Bounty. If the PCs attempt to console her, allow them a Diplomacy check (DC 22) to improve Myrial’s attitude. Displays of divine magic make her volatile, conferring a -4 penalty to this check. Myrial wants to be free of the broken consciousness she’s afflicted with. Her grasp on reality is tenuous though and she tips into a murderous rage without much provocation.
If the PCs enter the lower deck without improving her attitude to at least indifferent, she immediately becomes hostile and unleashes the two lacedons she keeps bound within the hull with the rest of her victims. If discovered and engaged in melee, she’ll attack the PCs with a dagger made of a sliver of the mast, the bonded tree she still clings to.
Shattered Dryad CR 4
hp 21 (R2)
Lacedons (2) CR 1
XP 400 each
hp 13 each (Bestiary 146)
Trap: While the PCs engage the lacedons, Myrial uses structural mishap to break the mast free of the hull, which triggers the flooding ship trap detailed below. She’ll condemn the PCs, accusing them of attempting to enslave her again, and continues using structural mishap to hasten the sinking of Heaven’s Bounty. She’s eager for the sea’s embrace since the gods and fey lords have forsaken her.
Flooding Ship Trap CR 1
Type mechanical; Perception DC 15; Disable Device DC 15
----- Effects -----
Trigger location; Onset Delay 1 round; Reset none
Effect rushing water (targets adjacent to the mast are knocked prone by rushing water, DC 12 Reflex avoids). The ship fills with enough water to sink in 10 rounds (water increases in depth by 1 foot every 2 rounds), though it will take 10 additional rounds for the ship to become completely submerged. Each use of structural mishap by Myrial advances the water by 1 round. When the water is 4 feet deep, treat the lower deck as a deep bog.
Development: Myrial is prepared to die in the ship and fights to the death if she becomes hostile, making every attempt to drag the PCs with her to a watery tomb. If the PCs are successful at improving her attitude and agree to help her, she’ll assist in repairing Heaven’s Bounty on the condition the PCs first order of business is finding a way to restore her as well. If using the downtime rules from Ultimate Campaign, consider the retrievable goods from the Bounty’s hold to be worth 5 points of goods.
|Crystal Frasier 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.
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?
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.
There are a lot of “This building is haunted, but not really” encounters in this round. In this case, “but its really an evil fey.” I do love the idea of a warped dryad shackled to a ship overall, but I’m not sure the bait-and-switch works in this case, since the evil fey really does have undead servants, so whatever preparations for undead the PCs make will in fact be justified. More importantly, I’m not sure how well this qualifies as an “urban encounter,” since it’s a ghost ship that could be encountered anywhere and has no real ties to Drenchport. The “trap” should also be treated as more of a hazard, since it isn’t something set up beforehand and isn’t the kind of thing players can detect.
The challenge should be appropriate for a team of level 3 adventurers.
The encounter in the hold is flavorful and memorable. I especially love the description of Myriel’s spellcasting to make the boat seem like a standard haunting.
It’s difficult to make a ship map stand out. Unless you tie it in tightly to its surroundings or really deviate from historical designs, it ends up looking like every other ship map. The Heaven’s Bounty is a good ship, but not a stand-out ship. And in this case, 90% of the map is unused and unrelated to the encounter, without any hint that there may be more to the ship.
Mostly because this doesn’t strike me as an urban encounter, I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.
|Robert Lazzaretti Cartographer|
|John Compton Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8|
Hey Brian, 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.
That said, this is a tough round, for we’re going from 16 to four contestants.
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.
A haunted ship sails into Drenchport with a skeleton crew, and since then the eyesore has repelled all attempts to dislodge it. This is an interesting twist on the ghost ship concept. There’s nothing about the setup that contradicts canon, and the rough’n’tumble port city provides a good backdrop for the encounter.
NPCs and Creatures
Myrial’s motives work well for a shattered dryad, and I can see how her harrowing half-year abroad has resulted in her current desperation. You’ve provided her with some unique terrain and hazards to showcase her abilities.
It’s less clear where these lacedons came from. Myrial is unable to create undead, and nothing in the encounter’s background suggests the cannibalism that would result in the spontaneous animation of ghouls. In fact, I don’t think that Myrial has any way to control the lacedons, which makes her as much of a target as the PCs. I see a reference to her unleashing the lacedons, but I’m not quite sure how they’re bound. Are they woven between the beams like the corpses? If so, how does warping the wood further free these undead?
I’m running into some inconsistencies that confuse me. The sailors disappeared after paying the dock fee, implying that they slipped into town and might have sailed out on other ships. It’s a surprise to later find that no, the shattered dryad killed them all. When did she have an opening to do this? Later on, the PCs have a chance to parley with Myrial, yet it’s nearly impossible to know that she exists until the PCs head below deck and spot her secret door; however, she attacks anyone who she sees unless they have improved her attitude, which they can’t do until they know she exists, which they can’t learn until…you get the idea. The warped wood might allow creatures to peer through the deck to see below, but that doesn’t seem to be spelled out anywhere.
The Linguistics DC to decipher the Sylvan prayers is too low; simple messages call for DC 20. The Knowledge (engineering) check a paragraph later seems like its DC is too low, and the following Linguistics check to read a damp journal seems too high.
Keep in mind that spell-like abilities do not have any verbal or somatic components, so Myrial does not need to make any special check to cast quietly. It takes 10 rounds for the ship to sink, but that could be as little as five rounds if the dryad uses her structural mishap ability each round. Between the lacedons’ paralysis, the dryad’s confusion, and the difficult terrain, there’s a lot in this encounter that can slow down the PCs; I anticipate a healthy number of groups could end up making Swim checks to escape.
You text is readable and doesn’t have any major grammatical errors. There are, however, a handful of stylistic considerations to keep in mind.
I recommend being careful about agency—who or what is actually doing the action. “A successful DC 15 Linguistics check or Knowledge (religion) check can reveal that the prayers are principally to Pharasma and the fey lord, Magdh,” suggests that the Knowledge check is actually doing the action. I prefer something like “A PC who succeeds at a DC 15 Knowledge (religion) check realizes that…” Please also capitalize languages like Sylvan.
Avoid the use of future tense, except in dialogue or in exceptional circumstances in which the outcome really is 100% guaranteed. Where you are using future tense, Paizo typically uses present tense, sometimes with the subjunctive or conditional mood. You did a great job of using present tense up until your creature tactics entries. Also, police your use of passive voice (e.g. “Adrian Voss’s captain’s log can be found…”). Passive voice has its uses, but active voice is strongly preferred in all other circumstances.
Good move borrowing from existing rules language by citing the bloody water as a shallow bog. I would add a page citation to make it easier for a GM to find the rule.
This adventure’s concept is clever, but I’m bogged down by unanswered questions, stylistic hiccups, and other quibbles. The shattered dryad has no means of controlling her “allies,” which sets up interesting yet unexplored possibilities. The combat is interesting and complex, yet I’m thinking it might be a bit too deadly for the intended party.
I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.
Wow. I thought this was a really unique and interesting use of the monster, location, and theme. If my group played this, I know we would have a great time and I would scare, but probably not kill them.
I think the combination of sinking ship and paralyzation creates peril in the forefront of the player's minds in a way that even challenging combat does not.
I was surprised the judges were unhappy with this entry as it seems to have so much going for it. The criticism was about technicalities of whether its urban enough, whether the map was complex enough. Obviously these elements matter, but to me the great story being presented here trumps those relatively minor issues.
Congratulations, you've got a good entry, and my vote.
|Kiel Howell RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka theheadkase|
You mention twice in your opening 2 sentences about Heaven's Bounty seeming out of place or no ship mooring near it. But you don't describe it or give much context for why.
Your writing style is a bit...hard to follow. I found myself re-reading sentences to get what should be a simple description.
I'm not sold on this ship remaining with people trying to destroy it. Golarion has cannon or trebuchet or catapaults. Or magic. Or...or...or
Every time the state of disrepair is mentioned I want to know why it hasn't sunk yet.
The captain's log feels superfluous since you give it such a high DC but no benefit for it. Not even specific interesting cargo.
Finally I get a reason for weird decay and disrepair!
Overall, I'm just not digging it. This would have worked better as an actual ghost ship...which would probably explain why it is still floating instead of sunk. I think you had a good idea but the execution falls flat.
|Joel Flank 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|
Not a fan of the rules given for Myrial to conceal her spell casting (even though as SLAs, they don't have the verbal components that need concealing). Since there aren't general rules to use Bluff to conceal spellcasting, why should the shattered dryad be able to?
Also, I found it surprising that when she randomly closes and warps doors closed, she doesn't instead warp all of the doors closed once the PCs enter the hold, prior to triggering the Flooding Ship Trap. Seems like the thing to do before trying to drown all of your enemies, to trap them inside first so they can't simply withdraw and let the ship sink (which really could accomplish their goal of getting rid of the creepy haunted ship from the docks.)
|RonarsCorruption Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9|
|KhaosKontrol Star Voter Season 8|
I'll admit that Brian's submission might not have perfectly met every criteria of this contest. Sure, a boat isn't the most urban location (even though it's docked, and last I checked most docks are part of an urban location...), and that boats aren't the most exciting, unique set-pieces ever. But he went with an interesting and unique concept that I've never seen before.
Pirates on a boat? That's boring and overdone. The boat itself coming to life? Maybe if it's haunted. But this is a creepy, pseudo-haunting that turns out to go much deeper and that uniqueness is what gives this encounter its charm. Come on - who expects a dryad on a boat?
Back in the day you didn't have to match every single rule of the contest to a pin-point - the judges cared more about fun and excitement and awesomeness, and if you had to bend the rules of the contest ever so slightly to accomplish that they allowed it because the item / monster / encounter was cool. This year it seems the guest judges are taking the rules to an extreme and snuffing encounters based on silly, minute details. All three of the judges on this encounter praised this encounter in their own ways, two of them even stating that it seems like a "flavorful", "memorable", and "clever" encounter. However, they all put the hammer down for sort of odd reasons in my opinion.
Brian's isn't the only one either. Half (or over half) of the other entries received unanimous "do not recommend"s from the judges - this should be indication enough that maybe their opinions aren't the end-all that some folks crack them up to be.
This entry has my vote - it's one of the stand-out entries of this round with a memorable setpiece and would lead to a really fun evening of gaming for my group should I choose to run it or something similar. Sure, it's not perfect, but the RPG Superstar contest is about finding hidden talent that's ready to break out into the professional world, and I think Mr. Fruzen's got that. Good luck, Brian!
|frank gori 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 made the shattered dryad your own in a way that for me was unexpected, there's a lot to like here.
The Bad: description was a little repeatative
The Ugly: trade out the lacedons for twigjacks or a weakened wooden golem that once served the captain... the lacedons are boring and predictable.
Overall: 7.5/10 So much superstar potential... as someone who runs a 3PP I really want to get at this and tweak it. There's enough problems to likely box out me voting for this but it is in my head a little more then some of the others... that's a point in your favor.
|Haladir Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8|
First Impression: Intersting twist on the "ghost ship" story. I liked the shattered dryad monster in concept, and this is a pretty good use of it. Map was solid, but not outstanding. Not much connection to an urban setting.
Upon Reflection: I'm not sure what happened to the crew: Did they abandon the haunted ship as soon as it docked, or were they all killed by the dryad? I'll echo Crystal's comment about the lacedons: the shattered dryad has no control or power over undead, so why would they follow her orders? I'm also not sure that you really met the "urban setting" Round 3 requirement-- you could run this encounter as-written if the Heaven's Bounty were found adrift at sea by the PC's ship. (Honestly, if I wanted to crib this encounter for my Skull and Shackles game, that's how I'd run it.)
Overall: I like the setup and premise of this encounter-- that part is very creative. I would switch out the allies to keep with the "cursed wood of the ship" theme. (Solspiral's idea of twigjacks would make sense.) I also would have preferred to see the shattered dryad use more mobility in the fight somehow, so the final showdown doesn't become "fight a monster in a room." B-
|GreySector RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 8|
My initial thought upon reading this is why doesn't the Master of Gales do something about this menace in his demesnes?
I also really dislike new mechanics like "Allow Myrial a Bluff check (opposed by Sense Motive) to conceal her spellcasting." which break core rules.
You also seem to be using the Perception DC for a whispered conversation to hear her spellcasting, when it should be DC 0 to hear the details of a conversation. The magic section of the CRB states that "To provide a verbal component, you must be able to speak in a strong voice." A strong voice, IMO, isn't whispered.
You don't even need to bother with those mechanics, because as far as I can tell you are using her spell-like abilities which don't have any components. As to how to conceal the verbal command of a command spell, I don't think that you can. Maybe if you had a message spell up? After all, the target must still hear the command "If the target cannot understand or cannot hear what the caster of a language-dependant spell says, the spell fails."
|Curaigh Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9|
Well done Brian,
Is the encounter fun? Pretty small area, but since the shattered can affect the whole, I think it works.
Is the encounter difficult to interpret? It will take a few times reading to get the best way to use the shattered, but otherwise its clear.
Does the monster fit? yes, I like the history of the shattered. Lacedons work for her (as much as she can trap and release them as needed) and that is a nice touch.
This way to Dragathoa (I like to see beyond the encounter :) though there is a good history, I do not get a sense of how this encounter works into the adventure as a hole.
Nice work, good luck!
|Brian J. Fruzen RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8|
It’s been a busy week, but here I am to give you a peak into my headspace when I wrote Heaven’s Bounty. I’ll respond to many of the comments and criticisms below just to let everyone know where I was when considering elements of the encounter. Ultimately, I realize that if these things had worked as I intended them, the voters might have been more forgiving. I’ll be taking these criticisms and keeping them in mind with my future design work. Thank you to everyone that took the time to provide me with their comments.
Crystal: It’s true that the PC’s will be prepared for undead if they’re suspecting a ghost ship encounter. They were meant to increase the morbid factor a little and thereby the threat that Myrial poses for potential subsequent encounters with her (she murdered the crew, some of them so violently they became undead.) They're also there to mitigate the deadliness of the encounter a little. By making at least part of the encounter something the PCs are ready for, I hoped to reward them for their forethought and tone down the likelihood that everyone is going to be resorting to swim checks as John fears will happen.
Robert: I realized that using a boat would probably get me in trouble, but I thought the flavor of the encounter would pull it through. I like to take creatures and encounters that my players are familiar with and do something they don’t really expect with them. When the GM starts drawing a map of a boat, most players are going to think they know what to expect. I really just wanted to show that I understand the elements to effective map design, and show that I could make a fun, memorable encounter out of a space that is often considered to be mostly forgettable.
John: You’re right. Myrial cannot actually control the lacedons. I meant to imply this with my word choice, but I probably should have been more direct about it. The idea is that she bound two of the surviving crewmembers into the hull with the rest of the deceased crew and let them starve to death. They woke again, hungry. As ravenous flesh-eating undead aren’t known for their ability to practice delayed gratification, she trusts they’ll attack the PCs first, but is hiding behind a warped door in the smuggler hold of the ship just in case.
When it comes to the warping of the wood, they’re weaved into the hull initially, and she uses the warp ability to loosen the ship’s hold on them, allowing them to slip free and attack the intruders. Myrial’s intention once her “sanctum” is invaded is to free her tree from the boat, even though it means her death, and keep the PCs from enslaving her again. At that point, she’s no longer concerned about the Lacedon’s threat to her.
My intention was that Myrial would be speaking to the PCs from behind the broken floorboards, and that they would eventually stop being fooled by her attempts to scare them off as they explore the upper deck of the ship. Also, the prayers are meant to get the PCs thinking about what’s been living on the ship, and what might still be there. My intention was to get PCs putting two and two together and, if they haven’t discovered the ruse Myrial is playing at, perhaps assume it’s a haunt or ghost that they can calm down by sympathizing with.
I didn’t initially have the bit about her concealing her spellcasting included, but on my last read through before submitting, I somehow got it in my head to include it. I think I meant to touch on the fact that Myrial is meant to be heard by the PCs so they know she’s down there at some point. I lifted the mechanic from Citadel of Flame just to get something in there, and in the process didn’t realize that it wouldn’t have been needed. It was an oversight, and I should probably have left well enough alone that close to the deadline.
theheadkase: It’s true that Golarion has cannon and trebuchet. I would change the “wrecking crew” to a salvage crew to rectify this. They could just sink the boat, but the dock master knows there’s money to be made on selling what’s in the hold, so he’s reluctant to just sink the ship. On that note, I left the actual contents of the ship undisclosed so that the GM could put something useful to his campaign in there, or weave in a hook from a prior encounter. See my comments above for the reasons for the captain’s log. Also, it helps to avoid the trend of good backstory becoming wasted word count.
Joel Flank: I thought about adding a specific tactic about her warping the doors shut on the PCs, but figured just saying “she does everything she can to take the PCs down with her” would be sufficient to imply this. Also, the GM can judge how the PCs are doing and decide if that tactic is necessary or not by leaving it open. My final thought though is that she’s only trying to kill the PCs tangentially to her real goal, which at this point is to keep them from enslaving her again. She’s resorted to ripping her tree free of the ship, causing it to sink so that she can finally be free of thralldom to Heaven’s Bounty.
GM_Solspiral: I considered a wood-themed companion creature, but I wanted to reward PCs that prepped for undead and lower the deadliness of the encounter by adding a somewhat predictable monster. Paralyzing attacks and a sinking boat are a terrifying combination and I also thought it would highlight the corpses in the hull, which I felt was worth driving home for the ambiance. That said, I could see ramping up the cursed wood idea more to accommodate the change in monster type, maybe while toning back the more macabre elements to make it appealing to more groups.
Haladir: Yes, the mobility would have been nice. I considered having her hiding among the crates, or maybe even in a crate, but figured she wouldn’t want to be so close to the lacedons when she unleashed them. Changing the lacedons to something else would remove this conundrum though.
Michael Eshleman: Why wouldn’t the Master of Gales just take care of this? I don’t know. Why didn’t the eagles just fly the ring to Mordor?
That’s all of my thoughts for now. Thanks again for taking the time to read and vote for my work. Making it to the Top 16 is an incredible experience that I hope to repeat next year, but I aim to have some additional design credits to my name by then. Advice given here by judge and voter alike will be invaluable toward that goal. Thank you.
If you'd like to know my thoughts on any other questions that were raised, please feel free to ask.