The Wedding Day Chapel


Round 3: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Belladonna Blue

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The Wedding Day Chapel
==========
Noblemen of Halvon -- if there were any left -- could trace their whole genealogy by wandering the grounds of this abandoned temple. Its high-walled cemetery of towering marble headstones and the gold-embossed names beneath polished skulls in its catacombs are both repositories of aristocratic dead. It was never a large or remarkable temple, but it was favored by Halvon's self-proclaimed elite for not just their funerals, but their services, their weddings, and their tithes, too. This favor showed in the courtyard's sparkling white fountain, in the stained glass depictions of Iomedae's triumphs over evil, in the precious gem- and metal-encrusted 15-foot statue of the goddess peering benevolently over her flock. Yet while the lords and ladies of the burgeoning town nodded their heads to sermons espousing the defense of the weak and service of good, the meager stood outside the shimmering walls only to be scattered by the chapel's esteemed congregation.

When the Red Revolution came to Halvon, the mob invaded the chapel during a wedding, torches blazing. The statue of Iomedae did not animate to destroy the revolutionaries, and the noble guests had just enough time to wonder why before the mob dragged them into the street.

Townsfolk call it the Wedding Day Chapel now, but always in mockery. Hardly anyone remembers the bride's name, but there are slurs and jokes about her scrawled upon the tarnished walls. The temple's windows are broken, the courtyard overgrown, its fountain dry, and the glittering gems and metals are a memory. It rots by the side of a cobblestone street, just like the ruined shells of stately homes beside it. Iomedae's remaining faithful have attempted to organize and reclaim the temple for use, but -- in typical Galtan fashion -- to no avail. Sometimes drunks wander down to the chapel to add to its collection of garbage and detritus, but they return with rumors of devils in the chapel and a woman's screams in the earth.

The "devils" are brother grymps, Saell and Dane, keeping trespassers at bay, and the screaming is a problem they've grappled with for years. To cleanse the temple, they must confront the ghost of the bride. Spared from the mob only to die in terror in the catacombs, she is in the deepest crypt below the chapel. Between the grymps and her await a host of wraiths and shadows eager to receive the brothers, but Saell and Dane can't dispatch them all without help -- and reasonable-minded adventurers are rare in Galt. They can't even put the ghost of the old priest in the adjoining cemetery to rest -- they keep killing him and the corpses he animates for company, but until the bride he hid away is laid to rest, he returns. The grymps can only maintain the status quo, and that much only while Iomedae's connection to the chapel remains; should that fade, the spirits below will no longer be confined. All it takes, however, is a single flame to revive the chapel's haunted past and sever its last fragile link to the divine.

The Darkening (CR 6)
==========
The PCs witnessed a group of intoxicated youths lob torches into the temple from the courtyard, then scatter after a small devilish form flew out and confronted them. Fire flared in the windows and a malignant howl of triumph sounded beneath the earth. The yellow-eyed devil, Dane, besought/ordered the PCs into the chapel, deeply earnest about stopping some darkness from being released, and dove back in through a broken window.

Read the following to the PCs once they open the main doors:
The solid wooden doors bear old scorch marks. They heave open to reveal a regal antechamber in desolate, burning ruin. Multi-hued fragments of exquisite stained glass litter the floor from shattered windows, glistening in the smoldering light of growing flames. Sweeping arches and columns, draped in limp banners, line the sides of the room to a narrowing dais bearing a toppled wooden lectern and a 15-foot statue of Iomedae clutching a broken hilt, her sword crumbled at her feet. The rotten wood pews and strewn debris lining the room burn well, and the flames give a sheen of freshness to the blood streaks and splatters in the aisle. Acrid smoke spreads in a thin haze, but not enough to obscure the crumpled form on the stairs leading to the pulpit. It clutches a short bow and resembles the imp-like creature ahead, but it doesn't move.

The following haunt (2A) is in effect when the PCs enter:

Forsaken by the Light CR 1
XP 400
LE haunt (5-ft.-radius blood splotch)
Caster Level 1st
Notice Perception DC 10 (to see the dried blood and hear distant shouts and prayers)
hp 2; trigger proximity of an open flame within 30 feet; reset 1 day
Effect When triggered, the blood on the floor takes on a fresh sheen and a man's voice sobs, "Iomedae, why have you forsaken us?!". The haunt mimics the effects of a desecrate spell, centering the point of origin 25 feet away at 2E.
Destruction A priest of Iomedae must cast cast consecrate or hallow on the haunt.

The body on the steps (2B) is Dane's brother, Saell. The torches triggered the Forsaken by the Light haunt, severing Iomedae's connection to the temple. As soon as the goddess's presence vanished, the master wraith surged through the floor and surprised Saell, killing him while Dane scattered the townsfolk outside. The wraith then retreated back to 3A and sent its spawn to weaken Dane and lure him down, along with any humanoid friends for the wraith to convert.

The torches are at points 1, 2 and 3 and are the fire's points of origin. Fires have spread one square in each direction at those points. At the beginning of each round, the fires spread to a random adjacent square. Points 2 and 3 are treated as one fire for the purpose of this spread. A PC can fight a fire in an adjacent square by beating the fire with a cloak or banner (like the ones hanging) by making a DC 12 combat maneuver check. Using magic to fight the fire (such as by casting create water or enlisting the aid of an unseen servant) grants a +4 bonus on this check. With a successful check, the fire in that square is extinguished, but the square can still catch on fire as normal in a later round. (Pathfinder Adventure Path #48 pg 25) If the fire spreads to a square occupied by a creature, they are subject to damage per the rules for catching on fire. (Pathfinder Core Rulebook, pg 444)

Creatures:

Dane's personality ranges from surly to insulting, but he loved his brother and is hell-bent on avenging him. He will work alongside the PCs to see the job is done, and will tolerate minor looting to that end. If the PCs ask him anything about the chapel, he knows much of what is in the introduction.

Dane, Grymp CR 4
XP 1,200
hp 33 (R2)
Gear nightsbane quiver (R1)
Tactics Dane will cry out in grief and rush to Saell's side unless stopped (successful grapple check or DC 16 Diplomacy or Intimidate check). If he goes to his brother, the wraith-spawn get a surprise round to attack him. If the PCs keep Dane from charging ahead, he regains his composure; he spends a round taking two of the party's weapons and imbuing them with his ghost touch ability. In the fight, he uses hit-and-run tactics to keep the wraith-spawn focused on him and draw off some of their attacks. If reduced below half his hit points, he stays in the air and pelts the wraith-spawn with nightsbane arrows. He points out his brother's equipment, including a nightsbane quiver, to the PCs and advises them to use it. Regardless of his health, Dane will drop his invisibility to undead and try to draw off wraith-spawn attacking a PC on the verge of death.

The wraith-spawn are all that remains of the bride's groom and family. The master wraith controlling them hates being trapped beneath the chapel and despises the grymps; the spawn carry this malevolence with them.

Wraith-Spawn (2) CR 4
XP 1,200 each
hp 37 each (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 281)
Tactics They will take surprise attacks against Dane when he goes to his brother if they can. Otherwise, they come out of the trap door (2D)and attack the party. One will keep the PCs busy and will focus its attacks one at a time, attempting to maneuver the PC closer to any fires on the map. The other will actively hunt Dane. If Dane falls or the wraith hunting him takes damage from the PCs, it will attack the one who damaged it for a round and resume tracking Dane.

Development: Any PC showing concern for Saell's remains garner Dane's goodwill, but he leaves it to burn rather than risk the body's corruption.

Liberty's Edge Digital Products Assistant

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

Criteria Details:

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

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

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

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

Pitch
There are a lot of “This building is haunted, but not really” encounters in this round, and in this case I think the bait-and-switch sort of works. The idea that the chapel really IS is haunted, but kept at bay by grymps who are coincidentally making it seem haunted. The introduction text is flavourful and quick to read. My only concern is a haunt that's already set off (and will persist for the next two hours) before the PCs arrive on the scene.

Challenge
The challenge on this encounter will be significantly less than the numbers indicate, thanks to the addition of a high-CR all on the PCs' side specifically built to kill incorporeal undead.

Fun
As an early encounter in a longer dungeon-crawl through the underlevels, this could be a fun introduction to a sidekick NPC. As a standalone encounter it's very weak, and there's a strong possibility of the NPC overshadowing the PCs.

Map Design
There's a lot going on in the top floor of this map. Adding columns or walls in a room is a great way to take advantage of incorporeal opponents. I'm not sure how much the fire adds. I'm glad to see the design move away from the standard rectangular rooms.

Overall, the concept and location are very flavorful, but the mechanics are rough and the description doesn’t work well for a standalone encounter. I tentatively do recommend this encounter for advancement.

Cartographer

Decent map with some interesting things going on. Maybe a bit more time could be taken in the drafting of this map reference. A bit messy and a lot to take in with the rendering style. Some of the keyed items are hard to make out at first.

Grid vs walls are very easy to make out, and I do personally like hand drawn references more than drawing program references, even if they are a bit more confusing.

The room designs are different so that is a nice change to see, and having elements like the haunts make it a more unusual type of map to work on. I can honestly say I have not done that many maps like this so the challenge would be fun.

I do recommend this encounter for advancement

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

Hey Victoria, 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
A chapel “re-consecrated” with the blood of Galt’s nobility sounds good to me. I don’t know quite why the nobles expected the statue of Iomedae to animate in their defense, but I’m sure the nobles had more than enough indignant outrage to spare thanks to other developments. Either way, the flavor of commoners killing nobles in fits of revolutionary fervor matches Galt beautifully. The paraphrased adventure hook gives the GM something to work with, though its assumed actions take place no matter what the PCs might do to stop it.

NPCs and Creatures
I like that the Round 2 creature is an ally, especially because of the grymp’s ability to hand out ghost touch weapons to the PCs; this is a good way to counteract the threat of incorporeal creatures at that fragile time when PCs are just about ready to get their first +1 weapons. The same goes for your use of the nightsbane quiver. I might worry about the grymp overshadowing the PCs tahnks to its anti-undead abilities, but its target is incorporeal and thus immune to sneak attack damage; that 1d4–1 damage isn’t at risk of stealing the spotlight. Out of curiosity, how do the wrath spawn attack either of the grymps—especially the surprise round attack against Dane? Aren’t the fey always invisible to undead? Even if the wraith spawn connect, how much harm would they do to fey that are immune to negative energy?

The wraith spawn likely won’t kill any of the PCs, but the ability drain is pretty devastating for 3rd-level characters. With the benefits of the desecrate effect, they’re going to be a little stronger than their CR suggests. On the other hand, the PCs have the grymp’s help. On the other, other hand, the encounter’s already at epic difficulty with fire spreading every round.

The idea of using a haunt here fits, but I’m not following why its effect is the desecrate spell. I can imagine the effect replicating bane or crushing despair as a reflection of the nobles’ feeling betrayed by Iomedae’s uncaring roll as a spectator to their slaughter. Is haunt’s questioning Iomedae a final act of blasphemy? If so, I would love to know that that’s the case. Perhaps the statue would also react? Do the PCs even have an opportunity to witness the haunt’s triggering?

Numbers
Using CMB as a success condition for putting out flames is a new take on things; in my experience, other adventures either allow a Survival check or allow for automatic success. All of your other numbers add up, taking into account my above rambling thoughts on the encounter’s effective CR.

Style
Overall, your text flows well and is free of grammatical issues. There a few stylistic considerations to keep in mind for future projects.

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. Place parenthetical citations before the sentence’s end mark rather than after. Finally, I would shift the creature species in the shortened stat blocks down to their own line (Dane / Grymp/ XP 1,200 / hp 33) rather than including them in the title lines.

Closing Thoughts
I like the background of the chapel, and I like being able to team up with an unexpected ally to fight off something stronger than I might be able to handle on my own. Your writing is solid, and I appreciate the multiple moving parts in the encounter. That said, it seems you may have overlooked the grymps’ invisibility to undead, which undermines part of the premise (Saell’s demise) as well as the tactics that follow unless Dane purposefully drops his invisibility. This oversight could result in the developer’s needing to spend extra time adjusting the turnover to account for the creature’s abilities. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the haunt having already triggered, as the players have little to no chance of knowing that it exists and why.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement. EDIT: See my followup post below.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

wraith have life sense so invisibility should not help them in this case
Also a quick look at the pfsrd it doesn't look like the wraiths con drain is negative energy but i could be mistaken

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

2 people marked this as a favorite.
awata wrote:

wraith have life sense so invisibility should not help them in this case

Also a quick look at the pfsrd it doesn't look like the wraiths con drain is negative energy but i could be mistaken

Completely correct! I rescind my critique of of that feature and believe I could improve my designation to a positive recommendation.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Another great one, Victoria. It's got my vote.

Sczarni

Very nice encounter with good details to make the encounter more memorable. Hope you're one of those who advance. Congrats on advancing to the top 16!

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

Hopefully it's not a Red Wedding recreation!

A very passive description but it is historical I guess.

Kind of similar to the Red Wedding...

Ok I get the shunned feeling of the building...starting to beat me over the head with it.

Grymps are the creatures hiring the PCs? Ok...

Never assume what the PCs do.

First up is a haunt! I think a lot of folk thought that would be the route less taken...but it wasn't this year.

Not sure I like the haunt...why wouldn't you just have a desecrate effect? My biggest problems with haunts is that when they are used they don't get a lot of explanation...especially on how PCs would know about how to stop it. I still have no idea how PCs would figure out how to disarm this.

Why does using create water only give a +4 to fight the fire...why doesn't it put the fire out?

I'm not convinced about the attempt to force the PCs to become firefighters.

And how would the PCs know to stop the grymp from rushing in? This seems like it would almost always get a surprise round attack on the grymp.

Overall, I'm just feeling this encounter. There's a lot of questions and it doesn't quite fit together like it should. I think if you'd cut down on some of the intro you could have spent that wordcount on fleshing out some of the how's and why's of the encounter.


I just learned about this contest, being a long time Pathfinder player but never actually having an account (my GM 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 really like this entry. I think the story is well fleshed out, the setting is interesting and exciting, and I love encounters where monsters are active allies of the PCs, thus allowing them to do more than they could do on their own. A few people criticized the haunt because the PCs may never get to interact with it. As a player, I don't really mind that, I wouldn't question why a haunted graveyard is desecrated. To me it makes the whole scene more dynamic, as do the gradually spreading fires. I don't know how all the numbers fit together (I don't usually run games myself, I just let my GM do all the math), but the judges seem fine with it so it's a go for me.

I watched your podcast and I loved your analogy of "throwing design spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks." I think it makes for off-the-beaten-path design opportunities that could make for a super interesting adventure from a player's perspective. Hopefully we'll get to see that adventure in the next round. 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 story set up is interesting and the nightsbane quiver as treasure is a nice touch.
The Bad: there's little incentive fort he PCs to continue into your dungeon.
The Ugly: This does not stand up alone. You imply a very fun dungeon crawl but that's not what is delivered what's delivered is a speed bump encounter my murder-hobos will 1 round.
Overall: 5/10 - This is about average of what I'd expect most DMs to come up with... For whatever reason the cartography boosts you with the judges but I see some sloppy writing and poor design choices I cannot endorse.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impression: From the name, I'm expecting a creepy chapel, and the map confirms. There's a lot going on with the map-- you have my interest! And it's in Galt-- one of my favorite places in Golarion! Vive le revolution!
Upon Reflection: It's a shrine to Iomedae that was favored by the pre-Revolutionary aristocracy, but those worshipers were delf-centered and hardly lawful good themselves. I like it. I question whether Iomedae would have continued to bless the place with worshipers like that. It reminds me of a real-world abandoned and graffitti-smeared Greek Orthodox shrine that was in the neighborhood where I grew up. On to the encounter: the R2 monster is a quest-giver and ally, which is a pretty solid hook. I don't like that the haunt has already been triggered-- I would have liked that to be something the PCs would have to deal with, and I don't think I would have used the dead grymp as part of the plot. This is also obviously the first encounter in a much larger adventure site, as the real villain doesn't come into play. While I like the unresolved hooks, I thought the point of R3 was a stand-alone adventure. That aside, the combat itself, with the fire hazard and the very dangerous monster for a 3rd-level party is very good. I share Crysta's and John's concerns that the NPC grymp could outshine the PCs if not handled properly by the GM.
Overall: This is a very good encounter, with a few rough spots. I like the originality but have some questions about a few design choices. I can see myself cribbing this encounter for my game, but I'd make a few adjustments. Overall, this is a very strong B+.

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

I really wish I could have had a fifth vote so I could have voted for Wedding Day Chapel. My top three were easy picks, but my fourth was a very hard choice, and I wavered for almost an hour before settling on Robert Brookes' entry.

Victoria: Your writing and creativity are outstanding, and I wish you the best of luck with the voters! I'm hoping to see more from you in the future.

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 Victoria! I like the really atmospheric location, and I think this is a really good use of the grymp. The monster gives the PCs opportunities for roleplaying (e.g., showing respect for Saell's body), as well as a chance to delve into the history you've created. Fire is always a good mechanism for keeping things moving, and there's good use of it here. The one thing I can think of that might strengthen the encounter is a more definite sense of accomplishment (maybe an easier way to put the haunt to rest on the spot?) to make it feel less like a single step on the way to a larger goal. All in all, really nice work!


I really like the set up. The decadent aristocracy get their comeuppance at the hands of an angry mob, betrayed in their hour of need by their beloved deity. That is beautifully done and something that we all like to see happen in this kind of global economy. It is made even better by the fact that the mob folks are not good guys and neither are the folks they kill. I especially love it when the aristos have that dawning moment that they are pigs in the eyes of god, just before they die. My question is, why in heaven aren't THEY haunting the chapel?

The betrayed bride haunting the grave yard is a good story but it is a story that we all have heard before. It can be a really compelling story, but more often than not it just becomes a woman reduced to a sad wedding obsessed thing who can't get over her lack of happy ending. This usually has her appearing in her wedding dress, calling out for the husband she never had, etc. Just for good measure, I would ask, why is her groom not haunting along with her? Was he just not that into her? Why is it always the bride who can't move on?

I would much rather the PC's enter the dungeon to find that the decaying aristocracy has set up some profane version of their old lives that they will kill to keep or can't let go of and I do not end sentences with prepositions.

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

I echo Haladir's comments about not buying a temple of Iomedae in the middle of pre-revolutionary Galt that decedant nobles frequented. Iomedae also doesn't strike me as going for gold and gem encrusted statues.

I found some of the writing and the map a bit confusing and had to re-read them several times. The lead in to the encounter with the PCs witnessing the torches being thrown seems like it belonged in a prior encounter, not this one, which made it hard to follow. This one starts with the PCs entering the chapel. Also, what exactly is on fire? The chapel is presumably made of stone, and was torched when the mob initially attacked it years ago. Maybe a bit of debris, but it doesn't sound like fire is a big threat to the building. Can't the PCs just let it burn out?

Overall it's a good location for an adventure, but the readability needs improvement and there should be less assumptions on what the PCs did leading up to the encounter.

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

The atmosphere created by your backstory is compelling enough to overcome some really choppy prose. The very first sentence was kind of a turn-off: people who don't exist anymore could trace their lineage in this abandoned temple, if..they were here". Always try to use an active voice with a relevant subject.

I really like that the background story highlights the sort of tragedies that the people of Galt are familiar with.

There are some design choices that sort of pucker me: a desecrate spell doesn't extinguish the connection between a good god and her former place of worship. Moreover, this place is left to rot and doesn't see worshipers ever.

The timing of the encounter is: the PCs happen along when some youths try to torch the place. they just happens to throw the one object that activates the haunt, which enables the wraith spawn to attack (except they could have attacked at any time regardless). So the PCs have to go help the remaining grymp. The timing relies on two coincidences and for the wraith-spawn to not want to attack until someone sets off the haunt.

Another issue: why does the haunt desecrate the area? That seems like a convenient plot device for the specific villains, but the family wasn't killed by a desecrate spell. I love haunts, but they should be restricted to spell effects that directly mimic a moment in time when the haunt was created.

Finally, the grymp can tear into the wraith-spawn. He doesn't need the PCs and they don't need to die.

Each entry has strengths and weaknesses, but I think this one has weak prose and relies on double-coincidence.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Belladonna Blue

However the reveal goes today, this has been an event full of surprises, game design education (ABSOLUTELY FREE!), and obsessive forum checking. Also a lesson in self-control as I have aimed to be as silent as the grave in as much of the competition as possible, especially during the voting rounds.

Thank you, everyone, who stopped by and commented on my entry, love it or hate it. (But it makes me very happy if you loved it, obviously.) Everyone who just read the thing I also thank, since my position at the rear of the alphabet was pretty inauspicious this year. There was so much reading to do and anyone who got this far and read my entry deserves kudos.

I have been up against excellent competition through the whole event. I am one of the few with no publishing credits in gaming and probably one of the least experienced with Pathfinder's system, so getting even this far has been an honor.

That said, here is my retrospective on my entry and the feedback:

The Map:
I thought the map was the weakest part of my entry. It's been ages since I've had to sketch out a map. That thing was not a first draft; I spent a huge chunk of a day on it and redrew it three times, and it still came out with mistakes and stuff I'd like to change. I was pretty amazed I turned out fine on that mark.

@Our Lovely Judges:
Thank you for the in-depth feedback. I appreciate that the map didn't kill me (and you guys seem to have actually liked it) and the points made give me a lot to think about for the future. The "do recommends" mean a lot, especially with how sparsely they were given out this round. Mr. Compton, even if you hadn't upgraded your recommendation to a positive one after awata pointed out the lifesense (thank you!), all the points and advice you made were spot-on. You guys are fantastic for dedicating your time and energy to this contest!

Challenge:
I had a hell of a time with the CR for this. I didn't know how much I could arbitrate based on extenuating circumstances; wraiths are tough for a low-level party, but I knew the grymp and nightsbane quiver helped mitigate that. It was just tough determining how much. Originally, the encounter also included zombies and skeletons wandering in from the graveyard every round to harry the PCs, but that was cut due to word count. I agree it might be too easy, but that's also why I made it likely that Dane would get smacked by at least one wraith at the start of the fight. At low hit points, he is less able to body block. I also waffled on making the fire more deadly, but I didn't want to make it too likely that the PCs would die from smoke asphyxiation before the combat even finished.

Fire:
On that note, I cribbed the fire rules almost word-for-word from Shadows of Gallowspire. Finding burning building rules was quite the scavenger hunt. I found the more complex rule set in Twice-Damned Prince, but agreed with the modifications that Shadows made that adding in stuff like smoke would be too deadly for a low-level party. I was not attempting to force the PCs to be firefighters, but I did want to introduce the option to do so if they wished. The fire was there to keep the encounter moving, add a sense of desperation, and to shut off the escape routes so they only was forward. Also, while the zombies and skeletons were still in, there were rules for them catching fire before getting to the PCs and setting them alight upon hitting them. I thought that was fun.

Design:
I tend to think in terms of cinematics and flavor first, and then I strong arm the rules into doing what I want them to do. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it falls down. The haunt aspect was one place where I knew it might trip. I liked the idea of the PCs in a ruined, burning temple, getting clawed at by mindless undead, and fending off the unearthly attacks of foes too strong for them with the help of a creepy new ally. I wanted it to be desperate and with an impending doom feeling to get through the wraiths and down into the trap door fast, before the fire overwhelmed them.

I felt the idea that even an abandoned church has enough general "holiness" to discourage undead was a reasonable one, and I liked the thought that a desecrate spell would be the final straw in severing that connection. I thought a haunt infused with the anger of dead, stuck-up nobility that followed Iomedae without ever actually understanding what that meant was a decent way of triggering that effect; indeed, their own arrogant disbelief that the deity they'd "given so much to" wouldn't save them was the reasoning behind that spell being selected for the haunt. I thought the torch trigger, reminiscent of the mob that stormed the church years ago, was appropriate. It's coincidental, yes, but that is hard to avoid without relying on the "someone asked the party to look into this" fallback, which I wanted to avoid. Perhaps I shouldn't have.

@theheadkase:
Assuming PC actions = bad. I thought about that after submitting, especially when I could have simply rewritten it with some "if the PCs choose to follow..." and omitted the doors description.

The haunt was a clumsy way for me to execute what I wanted, I admit. It wasn't intended to be figured out. Rather, I was pointing out why the grymps hadn't already disarmed it.

The fire rules I took from an existing AP. And the PCs I don't expect to be firefighters -- they aren't really intended to have the time -- but the option is there if they want it. Had I not included rules for putting it out, I rather expect I would have been questioned for that instead.

Dane is going to rush in and get smacked most of the time. That is to keep the CR higher so that he is less apt to take chances during the fight, putting most of the impetus on the PCs. I did want there to be an option to stop him, as all too often when stuff like that happens, someone at the table wants to stop it.

Thanks for commenting. You're one of a handful of people that took a look at each entry and gave meaningful feedback, and -- this year especially -- that's a huge accomplishment.

@Wolf Spirit:
I'm really glad you liked it. The dynamism is exactly what I was going for. I probably did a few too many weird things in trying to accomplish it, but that's how I work. :)

@GM Solspiral:
Ouch. Alright, based on your feedback on my work here and in prior rounds, my writing is clearly not your cuppa. :) I'm not sure what to make of that, as I have conflicting feedback, so that may be something I chalk up to personal preference and, especially with me being the very last entry folks have read, a measure of reader fatigue.

The encounter probably did end up too easy, you're right. The CR determination is tricky and is something I haven't got the hang of yet. My first version of this involved two full wraiths (not spawn), fire, smoke inhalation, a collapsing ceiling, and undead wandering in every round. I thought that might be a little too much and, in the process, may have swung too hard in the other direction.

As for having no reason to continue, I'm at a loss. The exits are on fire, there's undead below that have nothing stopping them from heading into the streets, and there's an NPC asking for help. Short of magical compulsion, I'm not sure what else would persuade PCs to continue.

It's possible they could squeeze out a window and go wait outside for the undead to come out and fight them there, but with the likelihood of the spirits heading out to kill some townsfolk, that just doesn't seem like something a good party would do.

You're also one of the folks I've noticed commenting on every entry in every round, and I want to thank you for that. That's a lot of time devoted and it's a boon to the competition to have you. :)

Iomedae:
A few things were brought up by multiple people, so just clarifying here.

Iomedae is a very prevalent goddess everywhere. She is one that I see typical citizens giving lip service to, regardless of alignment, much like people who go to church every Sunday out of habit and duty but aren't really paying attention. Likewise, a temple is a social center and anything that fulfills that function has the possibility of becoming "cliquish". Like in real life, there's the wealthy churches and poor churches and all manner of distinctions in between.

This church is an example of one that the aristocracy adopted as their little social club, dumped a lot of money into, and liked to hang out in and feel good about "serving Iomedae" despite the fact they weren't doing anything of the kind. I DON'T think Iomedae would approve of her temple being covered in gems and gold, but that particular congregation certainly did. These are laypeople, citizens, not PCs or priests, and as such have no restrictions on behaving badly while claiming to be an upstanding Iomedae follower.

That said, every group of people has exceptions; good groups have bad eggs, and bad ones have their good ones. The temple was constructed in good faith by true believers, and while some of the clergy undoubtedly got corrupted by having gold repeatedly shoved in their faces, at least a few tried to do better. A combination of that old faith and a lingering few good-hearted people was enough, I figure, to maintain enough holiness to still properly be a temple. Just a very weak one it wouldn't take much to break, which is where I started the encounter.

@MyAvatarLooksSoFreakedOut:
Yes. Yes, it does.

Anyway, the bride story is old as time, I admit, but in this case it least made more sense to me. The groom and the bride's family are actually the wraith-spawn; I mention that briefly before the wraith-spawn stat block, but can't blame anyone for missing it.

The story (which would have been detailed in a later encounter if this were a full write-up) is that the priest shut the bride, groom and some of their family in the catacombs during the chaos of the attack on the chapel. He was trying to save who he could and didn't believe the mob would kill him, allowing him to rescue them later, but he was wrong. Once the group in the catacombs realized no one was coming back, the men went looking for a way out and ran into the wraith stirred out of dormancy by the violence, and it killed them and raised them as wraith-spawn. The bride's wedding ring (which I would have written up as an item if this were a full adventure) was intended to have a daylight effect on it, so she huddled up against the trap door and used her ring to keep the wraith-spawn (that used to be her family) at bay until she died of thirst.

I figured that kind of death was a pretty valid reason for her to return as a ghost. It was also the kind of information that had no place in this encounter.

@Joel Flank:
You're correct that the chapel itself is mostly stone, but its supports are wooden. The debris, pews, furniture, fabrics, and wooden beams all burn, and a prior incarnation had the risk of the roof collapsing. (I think I should have kept that.)

I also had the risk of the fire spreading to adjoining buildings, meaning the PCs would emerge from the catacombs to a possible city blaze or to some angry Galtans that are eager to blame them for arson. Or both. Again, unfortunately, information filed under "Not Relevant to This Encounter."

@Steven Helt:
See my responses about the haunt above, but also:

The desecrate spell's secondary effect reads:

"If the area contains an altar, shrine, or other permanent fixture of a deity, pantheon, or higher power other than your patron, the desecrate spell instead curses the area, cutting off its connection with the associated deity or power."

I know it's mostly intended as flavor text to explain countering consecrate, but for the sake of dispelling a last, weak link to a holy site that has kept undead at bay, I thought it worked perfectly in that regard. That's the same reason the wraiths haven't already been attacking -- they've been trapped in the catacombs and not able to enter the church proper.

As for the grymp, he helps in this encounter a lot, but was only intended to make it beatable; as pointed out earlier, the wraiths can still hit him and he doesn't have gobs of hit points. I admit the encounter may still have ended up on the easy side, though.

Too Much or Too Little?:
I've seen this come up in other threads, and I'd like to talk about it here, too.

There's a big question as to whether or not an encounter needs to be 100% standalone or should convey an adventure beyond; clearly I opted for the latter, and that's drawn criticism for failing to elaborate on story events that don't matter till later, for being too much of an introductory encounter, and for not delivering a dungeon. Likewise, several other contestants have gotten criticized for not including indicators of a further adventure after/before the encounter or, if they did as I did, they got similar complaints that I did.

There doesn't seem to be a good answer on how best to set up an encounter this round with regard to making it alone or making it seem to connect. The best I can come with is "it depends" and "hit an immaculate balance."

This may be another place where entries fall down on preferences; some people like a bigger adventure, while others may want the encounter to be ploppable anywhere. All I know is that this seems to have been an issue across several entries.

What would I have done differently?

Probably a different encounter. I'd had ideas before this one involving a sharktopus eating drifters in a vagrant colony under some docks and of miscasters getting set loose in a scroll shop as a cover for a thief to steal an historical artifact, but I actually thought the haunted angle was one not many would do.

I'll be a monkey's uncle, I guess.

Other than that, I might have just had the grymp directly ask for help, maybe with negotiating with townsfolk desecrating the chapel to get them to stop riling up the undead, and then leading into a catacomb clearing later.

Anyway, thanks everyone who got this far. Thank you, sincerely, to my supporters. That any of you believe I belong here next to some truly upstanding talent means more than I can say.

If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer.

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

I gotta say, this was one of my favorite encounters this round, and secretly I was rooting for you to make the final four. Furthermore, I am a stalwart feminist amongst other things, and the fact that the lone female from round 3 made it to the top makes me super happy.

Kill it this round, Victoria!

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

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Victoria,

Congrats on making the top 4. My review might have stung a bit but one cannot argue with results. Success is the best answer to any critic.

Some suggestions if you'd like a better review for round 4.
-Turn it up a little. Swing for the fences a little more when it comes to difficulty.
-Watch the dashes. When I mentioned sloppy writing choices this was one of my bugbears count the dashes in your first paragraph... Then there's the double dashes.
-Remember some people play neutral, evil, or slightly crazy characters. Assuming everyone is trending toward lawful good is a misstep. MY PCs would likely save the kid and maybe snag the other grymp but they wouldn't likely stay in the burning chapel for long, fight the fire, or look to enter the dungeon until the fire burned out.
-Back story reminded me too much of Kill Bill/The Red Wedding. That's where the average GM comment comes from. I know a great deal of GMs that will draw from a source like that for back story or even plot points and encounters. Didn't quite cross the line but it was on the line for me.

Advice overall: You're a good story teller which is your greatest asset in the contest. Bitter widows veil has some serious mojo in the fluff, the chwal told a story, and the wedding chapel played well into the lore of Galt. Your weakness for me is mechanics which could haunt you if you're not careful. I'd make sure I had my gaming group's biggest rules lawyer check everything over as a precaution.

I'm also writing this to you first because you're alphabetical situation :)

Good Luck,
Frank Gori

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

Congratulations. I think the evocative images and the deep background story carried you to victory. Those are things that will really help you pitch an adventure.

My advice for you is to remember the mechanics-side of the game when you are designing encounters. Also, you say you have mixed feedback about your prose, but you are in the finals of RPG Superstar. You definitely owe it to yourself and those who have supported you this far to clean up the descriptive language and avoid distracting sentences.

I think you have what it takes to win this contest and I love that you think cinema first. But now you must bring your A-game with every facet.

Good luck!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7 aka Belladonna Blue

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@GM_Solspiral: That is a really, really helpful chunk of advice. Thank you for elaborating.

Definitely going to up the challenge. Going to try not to go too far overboard, either, and hit just the right balance.

Dashes are my personal writing gremlin and one I forget about until it gets pointed out to me. There's an awful lot of them, aren't there?

There seemed to be a preference for aiming encounters at "good" parties for purposes of the contest, so that's what I worked with. Going forward, though, even if I do aim at "good" parties, I'll try to keep alternative alignments in mind.

I haven't seen the Red Wedding and I don't remember Kill Bill. Inspiration, if anything, came out of Supernatural and my unrealized desire for a Day of the Dead-themed wedding. Unfortunate parallel design?

I have to agree with you that I am being carried on concepts and story right now. I don't think that's enough to get me to the finish. We'll see how well I can prove mechanical acumen in the next round.

Thanks a ton for hitting me up first. The back of the alphabet has been lonely and cold. ;)

@Steven: Mixed feedback meant I'd been getting both general praise and general criticism without anything specific to go on, re: writing. Hearing dashes, descriptive language, and distracting sentences as things to watch does help me, though, so thank you. :)

Thanks for saying you think I've got the chops, but I'd put my money on Mike or Mikko, too. That said, I'm going to do my absolute best, feel no shame if I lose to one of the other fine gentlemen in this round, and go home proud regardless.

Er, figuratively speaking. Because I am at home. But "stay home proud" just doesn't sound right.

Like the other guys, I want to write up about what I've learned for future competitors and to talk more about what this contest has meant to me specifically. That all will have to come later, though.

Thank you both for coming back and expanding your issues/offering advice. It means a lot.

@Christopher: Aw, thanks for rooting for me! Your lighthouse was in my top 5. It was the first one I read and it stuck with me. They make such beautiful creepy sites.

I haven't paid much attention to being the only female here, but yes, it's nice for there to be more gender diversification. I admit I've worried it's factored into the voting, either positively or negatively, but I have to trust that's not the case and keep going.

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

1 person marked this as a favorite.
GM_Solspiral wrote:
-Turn it up a little. Swing for the fences a little more when it comes to difficulty.

Just to keep things in perspective, Solspiral, I gather from your feedback that your players are at least above average in their combat effectiveness ("...anything less then 3 CR above recommended gets murder-hoboed in 1 round by my bunch," as you noted in another encounter discussion). Hard and Epic encounters work really well for some groups, but for others they could lead to overpowering combats that kills the whole team. In my experience, it's easier for a group that wants extra challenge to increase the CR than it is for a casual group to "dumb down" an encounter.

To offer a summarized bit of counterpoint, be careful with those CRs, and consider your audience. It can be a fine line between a frustrating meat-grinder and a cinematically exciting fight against extraordinary odds.

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

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Victoria, I thoroughly enjoyed your Veil and your encounter was quickly one of my top 4. I hope you help make the choice in the final round a difficult one indeed!

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

John Compton wrote:
GM_Solspiral wrote:
-Turn it up a little. Swing for the fences a little more when it comes to difficulty.

Just to keep things in perspective, Solspiral, I gather from your feedback that your players are at least above average in their combat effectiveness ("...anything less then 3 CR above recommended gets murder-hoboed in 1 round by my bunch," as you noted in another encounter discussion). Hard and Epic encounters work really well for some groups, but for others they could lead to overpowering combats that kills the whole team. In my experience, it's easier for a group that wants extra challenge to increase the CR than it is for a casual group to "dumb down" an encounter.

To offer a summarized bit of counterpoint, be careful with those CRs, and consider your audience. It can be a fine line between a frustrating meat-grinder and a cinematically exciting fight against extraordinary odds.

Wall of text on how broken CR is mostly.:

Oh I face roughly 100 years of gaming experience with my bunch. For giggles we decided to try out WotR and they are presently 7th level characters with 1 mythic Tier. In order to challenge them I threw 4 CR 10 Advanced Brimorak Magus 4's at them backed by 4 advanced half fiend hell hounds (CR 5 each) and 4 half fiend Minatuars (CR 6.) Not one of them died or even went below 0. They burned through mythic cheese like crazy but that was a CR 16 encounter they were supposed to run away from.

CR is ill equipped for veteran players and frequently makes no sense. Honestly, I throw minimal CR +3 encounters mythic or no. In fact I'm working on an advanced player CR and considering cancelling my AP subscription simply because what's presented is not challenging in the least to my players.

To underscore my point though all of the following encounters are CR 7.
-A single 9th level human expert.
-A single 8th level half-elf sorc
-A 5th level cleric/1st level cavalier gnome riding a wolf and leading a group of 4 level 2 fighter 1/rogue 1’s.
-A Half Dragon Troll

The last 2 encounters are going to be much tougher then the first 2, especially if there’s a terrain advantage or the last encounters are using particularly good tactics (like the rogues firing bows from cover in the first round for the 3rd one or the half fiend troll using a reach and fly by attacks after breath weapons.) Even so my table would fry either encounter with 4 7th level PCs, typically in 1-3 rounds. At even 4th level the only one that might give them pause is that troll.

The deck doesn't need more stacking. Occasionally a PC dies because the dice say so. Sometimes a GM gets off a double and rend routine with a troll on a character that can't take the punishment. That's ok that that happens, the game gets boring when everyone is playing softball with football pads.

~End Rant

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

Victoria Jaczko wrote:
I haven't paid much attention to being the only female here, but yes, it's nice for there to be more gender diversification. I admit I've worried it's factored into the voting, either positively or negatively, but I have to trust that's not the case and keep going.

Hi Victoria, and once more congrats on making the top 4! I just wanted to say I understand and share your concern; nationality much like gender can be a boon or bane depending on people's perceptions. I really hope everyone votes for the people whose adventures they want to play -- that's why Paizo seeks freelancers, after all! Friends and family are exempt, of course. :)

Thanks for the comment on me and Mike, by the way. Mike is something of a nemesis (I mean that in the most respectful&positive way possible) -- same initials, was also an alt in 2011, has one top32 tag from a previous year, and has also been getting trifectas this year. It's going to be tough, but I also hope you and Robert give your very best so we'll have 4 excellent pitches for R4, and we'll get 4 excellent adventures sometime next year!

Best of luck!

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8 aka DeathQuaker

I haven't had a lot of time to comment on a lot of these lately, but I wanted to congratulate you, Victoria, as I think this was one of my favorite encounters in this round (and possibly the only one I voted for that won, although I liked all of the winners--it was a hard round to vote on!).

(As an aside, speaking as a freelance editor with past experience with publishing companies, the only dashes I would have removed are the ones in the last paragraph. They should be used sparingly, certainly, but don't be too hard on yourself either. You have a solid writing style.)

For what it's worth, and I guess this is a minority opinion, but I actually liked that the haunt was already set off. Often PCs end up coming in affected by/having to clean up someone else's mess. I felt it adds to the atmosphere of the encounter and hints something has been going on before the PCs have shown up, which may force them to pay attention to certain details they might otherwise ignore.

I kind of have an urge to try and draw up your map in Campaign Cartographer (even though that would take away much of its charm) -- but it just looks so very compelling to work with. :)

Best of luck to you in the final round!

Shadow Lodge Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7

1 person marked this as a favorite.
GM_Solspiral wrote:
John Compton wrote:
GM_Solspiral wrote:
-Turn it up a little. Swing for the fences a little more when it comes to difficulty.

Just to keep things in perspective, Solspiral, I gather from your feedback that your players are at least above average in their combat effectiveness ("...anything less then 3 CR above recommended gets murder-hoboed in 1 round by my bunch," as you noted in another encounter discussion). Hard and Epic encounters work really well for some groups, but for others they could lead to overpowering combats that kills the whole team. In my experience, it's easier for a group that wants extra challenge to increase the CR than it is for a casual group to "dumb down" an encounter.

To offer a summarized bit of counterpoint, be careful with those CRs, and consider your audience. It can be a fine line between a frustrating meat-grinder and a cinematically exciting fight against extraordinary odds.

** spoiler omitted **...

Well, you kind of just proved him right, really. Your group IS far above the expected curve of capability and skill.

John's point is that not every group is that skilled, that experienced, or that tactically sound. And when writing an encounter or adventure pitch, you're not writing for those highly-experienced groups, because they know how good they are and their GMs know they need to amp things up for them. It's far easier to scale up an encounter than scale down, especially since the ones who need to scale up tend to be the more experienced and those who would need a scale down are typically less so.

It's good (for you at least) that your group is that good at the game, but not everybody is. And someone writing a submission like this needs to keep that in mind. Publishers almost never write for super-highly-optimized groups. They know GMs and players who play that kind of game can crank up the challenge as needed on their own. They're primarily focused on something that'll fit the basic, or in some cases relatively new, players and GMs out there, who don't have the experience needed to adjust encounters down if something brutally overpowering is presented. There's a big, big, big difference between "sometimes a PC dies" and "the group is TPK'd because they as players don't have the skill or experience to turn a powerful encounter into a trivial one".

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

Mikko Kallio wrote:
Mike is something of a nemesis

Glad I'm not the only one who noticed our eerily similar track records (and names).

Victoria, I was certain your encounter would advance and I look forward to seeing your round 4 entry!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

IT'S A NICE DAY FOR A WIGHT WEDDING!

I like it. Needs work. Intro does not grab me. But the potential of a cool story does.

Less chat, more splat.

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