On Fertile Ground


Round 4: Submit an adventure proposal

Lantern Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

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ON FERTILE GROUND
 
Revolution! Twice have high ideals and the fires of rebellion turned the remote city of Pezzack in western Cheliax to ashes. Twice have the people spilled their blood for liberation from the clutches of House Thrune. With the revolution reduced to embers, new blood comes to stoke those old flames and inspire the people of Pezzack to shake off their Chelish yoke. Yet the transformation the Knights of the Bleeding Rose offer the people of Pezzack may not be the one they have been yearning for, and if the truth behind this new revolt is not discovered, what rises from Pezzack's ashes will be a living nightmare.

On Fertile Ground is a Pathfinder adventure module for four or more 3rd-level characters. The PCs will travel to the remote Chelaxian city of Pezzack during a time of civil uprising, encountering revolutionaries, the Chelish navy, Hellknights, the mysterious strix, and battle shadowy adversaries from the ancient past in order to prevent a twisted evil from being unleashed. By the adventure's conclusion, a party on the medium advancement track could reach 7th level.

Introduction

Over eight thousand years ago, the Jistkan Imperium was at the height of its power. In this age a Jistkan philosopher and naturalist named Savradamas studied the evolution of the natural world. Savradamas’ belief that the will of humanity to advance and empower themselves in their comparatively short lifetime was evidence of an evolutionary superiority . She believed that by pushing humans through great suffering, to the brink of its capacity to endure, a perfection of form could be attained. Ridiculed by her peers and eventually ousted from Jistkan academies for proposals of inhumane experimentation, Savradamas receded from public view.

In isolation Savradamas discovered the entities known as kytons — seekers of perfection much like herself — and saw in these former residents of Hell a kinship. Inspiration struck Savradamas on how to forward her own agenda of evolutionary progress and she commissioned a containment device — a great interdimensional laboratory called the Crux — constructed in the Jistkan city of Rachikan (what is now south-western Cheliax.) Savradamas deceived the creators of this engineering marvel as to her intentions, and on the eve of the Crux's completion conjured a group of kytons, using them to capture the Crux's creators and drag them inside her nondimensional refuge. Here the mad philosopher sealed the architects and herself in with the kytons.

Discovering the aftermath of Savradamas' handiwork, the Jistkans feared that she and the creatures within might one day escape, and buried the Crux far from their land in the hopes that her insanity would be forgotten. The Jistkans appointed the native strix as wardens of this forbidden place in exchange for a promise to leave their lands alone.

Thousands of years after the fall of the Jistkan Imperium, much of its history lays forgotten and buried under ruins of conquest. The strix continued to watch the burial site of the Crux, even as settlers pushed them out, founded a city, and nearly unearthed the Crux twice over. Each time the strix would burn Pezzack to the ground in attempt to honor their pact.

Two years ago, rumors of a Jistkan ruin somewhere below the remote city of Pezzack reached the Pathfinder society, and a pair of agents — Paeri Alarcus and Sofriel DeMare — were dispatched to discover the truth in the hopes of beating Cheliax to the prize. The few Avistani ruins of Jistka detail a patchwork history of their culture and the society has been eager to unearth them at any opportunity.

Pezzack, while not officially under the rule of house Thrune following a civil uprising in 4710, is none the less sealed behind a blockade of Cheliaxian naval vessels. Smuggling themselves into the city with the help of Pezzacki rebels, Paeri and Sofriel followed the rumors of the Jistkan ruins to their source and eventually made contact with the spirit of the last person to unearth the ruins, Indageous Vonor, a rabble-rousing playwright who died during the night of Second Ashes. With his spirit's knowledge, the Pathfinders discovered the Crux.

Too hasty to discover the secrets contained within the Crux, the Pathfinders unwittingly released the kytons sealed within. Paeri barely escaped with his life, but Sofriel was dragged inside the Crux by the kytons. Driven mad by what he had seen, Paeri returned to his safehouse in Pezzack and committed suicide out of fear that the kytons would return for him. With none the wiser of their release, the kytons began systematically kidnapping the homeless living in Pezzack's sewers, dragging them to the Crux where a transformed Savradamas experimented on their still-living flesh, transfiguring them into broken souls (Bestiary 4) under her command.

Over the span of five months Savradamas learned, via her captives, the state of the outside world. Plotting to turn all of Pezzack into her own private laboratory, she and her kyton allies plotted to bring the whole of Pezzack to the deepest depths of mental and physical torment, using the hope of revolution to fuel the desire for change, only to make the path a twisting one that leads not to freedom, but transformation.

Those warped by Savradamas donned ancient Jistkan armor retrieved from the ruins to cover their mutilated bodies and block their baleful gaze. Taking the name Knights of the Bleeding Rose from an ancient Jistkan military order, the servants of Savradamas appeared in Pezzack one month ago and were mistaken for agents of the goddess of revolution, Milani, and have aided the rebels in organizing a resistance. Heralded as champions of a free Pezzack, the local rebels were woefully unaware of their saviors' true machinations.

Getting Involved

There are several possible hooks to get players involved in On Fertile Ground. The characters could be hired by the Pathfinder society to discover the fate of Paeri and Sofriel after they failed to report back their findings. Alternately, the PCs could be hired by a trader seeking to establish business with the people of Pezzack, or a smuggler looking to slip goods into the city. The PCs could also be looking to assist the rebels of Pezzack in liberating their city, or inversely be allied with the Hellknights, acting as spies to root out rabble-rousers like the Knights of the Bleeding Rose.

Sidebar: On Fertile Ground in Council of Thieves:

For GMs looking to expand the middle chapters of the Council of Thieves Adventure Path, On Fertile Ground could be set in as a side-quest following the conclusion of The Bastards of Erebus, where Arael sends the PCs out of Westcrown to Pezzack to make an alliance with the rebels in the city. On Fertile Ground touches on many thematic elements present in Council of Thieves, and the kytons here could be used to reinforce the presence and themes of shadow plane denizens encountered later on in the adventure path.

 
 
Act I: Remember the Embers
 
 
The adventure begins with the PCs outside of Pezzack on the open water. Depending on the nature of their business in the city, they will have options to either discuss passage into Pezzack aboard the Chelish vessel Reprisal with Military Governor Vedra Swandannac or smuggle themselves into the city, disabling or sneaking past sentries in order to do so. PCs who successfully deal with Vedra might also be offered a sidequest to root out subversive rebels.

The PCs follow up their leads in a sandbox fashion: If they are searching for missing Pathfinders, they can canvas the city and attempt to track down where Peri and Sophiel were last seen. If they are working on behalf of a merchant or smuggler they can introduce themselves to “mayor” Brucks of Docktown. PCs interested in assisting the rebellion can find a rebel contact. These actions generate sidequests to grant the PCs additional rewards.

During their investigation the PCs come across a group of Hellknights dragging citizens from their homes, searching for the Knights of the Bleeding Rose. In this encounter the Hellknights are ambushed by insurgents. The PCs are free to choose a side in the conflict, or attempt to mediate between the two sides.

The PCs may be offered to meet with either the Hellknights (led by Paralictor Ordell) at their garrison or the Pezzacki rebels (led by Amalia Wraxton) at a safehouse. Both the Hellknights and the rebels have information on the Pathfinders' fate, if they are searching for them, and both are willing to share it provided the PCs assist them. Furthermore, these factions can aid in establishing a way through the blockade for merchant vessels if that is part of the PCs' motivation. Each faction asks the PCs to spy on the other in return for this aid, resulting in the PCs needing to infiltrate one of the factions' headquarters.

In the Hellknight garrison the PCs can discover information regarding a Hellknight that disappeared in the city, and learn that the Hellknights do not know where the Knights of the Bleeding Rose came from or how they snuck into the city. However, the missing Hellknight was researching the Bleeding Rose and the rebellion would want to find him and discover what he knows.

In the rebel safehouse information shows that the rebels do not know where the Bleeding Rose’s base of operations is either, or where they came from. However, the rebels know the missing Hellknight’s last known location.
 
 
Act II: A Rose's Thorns
 
 
The PCs travel to the entrance to the Guts — the tunnel network below Pezzack — searching the area for the missing Hellknight and discover that the strix were in the area when the Hellknight disappeared. Ultimately, this leads the PCs on a search to find where the strix live, and on finding that information they journey beyond Pezzack to Devil's Perch to get answers.

The journey to Devil's Perch is a perilous one, fraught with natural hazards and wilderness encounters. The PCs are ultimately confronted by a group of strix near their settlement and must negotiate for information with their representative, Shassak. The PCs learn that the Knights of the Bleeding Rose ambushed the Hellknight and dragged him into the sewers. The strix also share an oral story passed down by their people of the first "wingless" settlers — the Jistkans — who dug a great wound in the land and buried a strange metal and glass box within. The ancient strix swore a covenant with the Jistkans to protect this site and prevent anything or anyone from unearthing what was buried in return for being left alone. Each time the strix have burned Pezzack down it was out of obligation to this pact, as they feared the ruins uncovered.

The strix repeatedly warned Vedra about this pact, but she dismissed their concerns. Furthermore, the strix believe that Pathfinders recently unearthed the ruins and swear to burn Pezzack to the ground a third time. The PCs can try to negotiate peaceful resolution with the strix or otherwise violently deal with them.

When the PCs return to Pezzack and report their findings (to whatever faction they are working with) they discover that the situation has deteriorated. Vedra decided that the current state of affairs cannot continue, and is planning a full-scale invasion of the city to quell the rebellion. While word of the PCs discovery from the strix is taken under advisement, it may not be enough to stop the looming confrontation set in motion. The PCs can attempt to negotiate with the city’s factions for a delay in hostilities so they can uncover the truth of what is happening.

Optional Location: Driserak:

Driserak is a small, walled fortress residing on the plane of shadow where Pezzack is on the material. Serving as an embassy for Nidal in Cheliax its ruler, Lord Dzorshas Salvuriel (LE elf oracle [shadow] 9), was placed here as punishment for political failures in Nidal. The residents of Driserak are interested in Pezzack's fate, but remain spectators. A GM looking to expand the scope of the adventure could bring the PCs to Driserak to investigate whether Nidal is somehow involved in the recent events.

 
 
Act III: Into the Crux
 
 
The PCs use information gained in Act I (or begin their search now) for Paeri and Sofriel, leading them to a meeting with Brucks in Docktown. Brucks knew the Pathfinders were in Pezzack, but was uncertain of how best to deal with them. He knows the location of the safehouse they were using that hasn’t seen activity in months, believing that they may have left the city.

At the safehouse the PCs discover Paeri's suicide and confront his tormented spirit, now an allip accompanied by malevolent haunts. Journal entries detail Paeri's descent into madness and describe horrors he witnessed below the city. Entries from Paeri's initial research details how the Pathfinders found the ruins and leads the PCs to the remains of the Glass on the Hill to speak with the spirit there.

On the way to the Glass on the Hill the PCs are ambushed by members of the Knights of the Bleeding Rose who have learned of their investigation and try to capture them. When the knights are defeated, they are revealed to be hideous broken souls.

Arriving at the playhouse, the PCs use information from Paeri's journal to recite lines from Abrogail I, a play that indirectly caused the deaths in this haunted site. These outlawed verses spouted once more arouse the vengeful spirits of the former mayor of Pezzack and his Hellknights who were slain in the massacre years prior, now risen as an advanced poltergeist guarded by phantom armor (Bestiary 4) hellknights. The PCs are aided in this encounter by a beneficial haunt of Indageous’ spirit. Once these creatures are put to rest, the PCs speak to Indageous’ ghost, who shares the location of the Jistkan ruins and treasure including a litany of bravery. The players are also presented with a sidequest that can put his soul to rest by ensuring that the seditious play his student Amalia wrote, Abrogail II, is printed.

Unique Treasure: Litany of Bravery:

Litanies are one-use wondrous items, similar to scrolls, activated by a Perform check that emulate bardic performances. A litany of bravery acts as the inspire courage bardic performance.

From here, the PCs venture below Pezzack and navigate dangerous sewers and the ancient Jistkan ruin-come-fortress of the Knights of the Bleeding Rose. If the PCs didn’t broker a cessation of violence between the Chelaxians and the rebels before entering the sewers, an all-out conflict erupts in the streets above. When they reach the inner sanctum of the Bleeding Rose, the PCs confront a transformed Sofriel DeMare and other broken souls.

The PCs discover the location of the Crux and retrieve Sofriel's notes from the ruins and discover the terrible fact that the Crux can only be shut and locked from within. If the PCs have made a strong alliance with the Hellknights they are joined by Paralictor Ordell who has come to their aid. If they have made strong alliance with the Pezzacki rebels, they are instead joined by Amalia Wraxton. PCs who have been able to negotiate a truce between both sides could be aided by both NPCs inside the Crux.

Venturing into the Crux, the PCs find themselves in an otherworldly realm of sadism and torture. The kytons present are unusually inquisitive, with many just as likely to converse with the PCs are they are try to flay them alive.

Clever PCs can converse with Pahdamal, a pellicior kyton who has been trapped in the Crux for thousands of years, gladly entertaining the PCs and willing to discuss the nature of his kind. Pahdamal also explains the layout of the Crux as well as how to find Savradamas, and the architects of the Crux who are imprisoned here.

If the PCs seek out the architects they discover their insane forms locked away within dark, dungeon chambers. The architects can tell the PCs how to lock the Crux, a process requiring a willing sacrifice to stay behind and seal the structure from within. Observant PCs can uncover a secret scrawled by the architects on the interior walls of the Crux as they went mad and by way of a Linguistics check or similar means, piece together their true meaning: a method to destroy the Crux once and for all.

Finally, the PCs must reach the heart of the Crux and confront Savradamas (LE human broken soul alchemist [vivisectionist] 10) and her kyton allies in a gruesome surgery theater. Savradamas is a great threat, but this battle is one that must merely be survived long enough for the Crux to be sealed or destroyed. Truly powerful PCs who have completed every sidequest and gained allies could potentially defeat Savradamas and greatly increase their chances of everyone escaping the Crux alive.

New Monster: Pellicior Kyton:

The pellicior is a new, seductive kyton that tempts with gifts of power at the cost of self-mutilation. Pelliciors possess an ability called Flensing Boon that, when used on a willing target, allows them to take ability damage to one of their physical ability scores (represented by horrific mutilation) in exchange for an increase in one other physical ability score and one mental ability score. Pelliciors entice mortals down a path of self-mutilation and discovery.

New Monster: (Template) Ascetic Outsider:

Ascetic outsiders are reclusive, monastic versions of their kind that dwelled on the material plane for so long they changed forever. Some are contemplatives, others exiles, and all ascetic outsiders gain the native subtype and lose the extraplanar subtype. Ascetics chose a specific site on the material plane (such as a cathedral or a monastery) and gain bonus spell-like and supernatural abilities while in or near that location (similar to a kami's ward [Bestiary 2] ). Ascetic outsiders that move too far beyond their bonded site or have it destroyed suffer debilitating damage that can kill them.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

First of all, congratulations on making it to the final round! That's an accomplishment in and of itself! My review of this proposal (as with the other three proposal reviews) focuses primarily upon how the proposal fits into the Inner Sea region, how interesting the proposal is as a whole, and any potential changes/trouble spots we’ll need to have addressed should the proposal end up winning. I'm going to present feedback with very little sugar-coating as well, since I've always felt that frank and honest feedback is more valuable.

Feedback for On Fertile Ground

The Basics
Title: It’s a workable title overall, but not particularly exciting. It doesn’t use made-up words or sound too derivative of other adventures, but neither does it really in and of itself get me intrigued by what the adventure is about, where it’s set, or what sort of encounters/foes will star in the adventure. It CERTAINLY doesn’t make me expect a body-horror themed adventure with kytons in it, which means it’s not really the best title the adventure could have.

Location: Pezzack is a cool location, and the adventure does an excellent job capturing the feel and themes of the region.

Plot: The plot of this adventure is really interesting and compelling. It feels really expansive and epic and significant, with lots of ancient secrets and iconic organizations and people to interact with—all of which feel specifically “Golarion” and not generic fantasy. Of course, that also presents a problem as well—not only does the adventure seem too ambitious for a single adventure (in terms of scope and word count), the adventure seems fundamentally higher level in theme than what was asked for.

The Good

  • 1) Savradamas is a great name for an ancient scholar. And the character herself is a really interesting and compelling villain. The inclusion of kytons in her story is really compelling as well.
  • 2) The Crux is a cool name for a cool location, despite the fact that extradimensional dungeons/demiplane dungeons are among one of the most frequent of tropes in adventures.
  • 3) Kytons and their associated creatures are a really interesting bad-guy race, one we’ve done things with here and there before but never really as the focus for an entire adventure. I’m eager to give them their time in the spotlight; excellent choice for bad guys, even if they’re kind of powerful foes to throw at a low-level party.
  • 4) Oooh... phantom armor hellknights! Nice touch!
  • 5) The inclusion of several significant NPCs as possible allies in the adventure (Amalia Wraxton, Paralictor Ordell) is great; gives the GM some characters to roleplay and build personalities and relationships with PCs.
  • 6) Surgery theater: this is an EXCELLENT location for an adventure’s climax. Great choice!
  • 7) The Ascetic Outsider template is a really unusual and interesting idea. It opens up a lot of design space for stories, and also has some weird implications—not the least of which being that an outsider who gains this template and becomes a native outsider can now be raised from the dead.

Development Challenges

  • 1) Adventures that take place inside of extradimensional demiplanes separated from the rest of Golarion are unusually common; they seem to pop up in every other AP, and they often end up being featured in RPG Superstar proposals. In short... setting your adventure in an extradimensional space isn’t really innovative, and all too often it’s something an author does only to force particular play styles by saying that this demiplane doesn’t allow certain effects or spells that would otherwise instantly solve the adventure to function. One thing I ask authors to consider is to look at an adventure involving an extradimensional location and be honest—does setting the adventure there add more to the adventure than it takes away from it (and takes away from player options?). That said, as I mention above, the Crux is a cool location. Just be aware of the pitfalls of extradimensional spaces as dungeons while creating the adventure!
  • 2) Further... involving otherplanar sites, even just a demiplane, in low-level adventures can cause unanticipated problems. Especially if something happens to lock a PC in the plane—with no way to planar travel until 9th level and the cleric gets ahold of plane shift, planar travel effects can suddenly and unexpectedly derail or end campaigns. Handle with care for low-level adventures!
  • 3) Pathfinder Society involvement: This is not a Pathfinder Society Scenario, and thus involving the Pathfinder Society as the primary quest givers and triggers for the adventure aren’t really appropriate. Given feedback from the Shattered Star Adventure Path, it might even be a reason for some players to lose interest in the adventure! It’d better if the rumors of this Jistkan ruin came to the attention of some other group, if only so we could spotlight them instead of one of the groups that we’ve talked in great depth about.
  • 4) Savradamas is a really compelling villain... but the magnitude of her accomplishments and the nature of her allies (kytons) suggest encounters and plots that are well above what one would normally suspect to be for 3rd level characters. That, combined with the fact that the adventure has elements of national import with the PCs running blockades against the Chelaxian government make the whole plot feel more appropriate for a higher level adventure, perhaps 6th or 7th level. After all... a kyton is CR 6, and this adventure BEGS to have an encounter with more than one of them, which is, at minimum, a CR 8 encounter...
  • 5) In my experience, it’s best to offer one way to get the PCs involved in adventure, not multiple ways, since every additional “getting involved” hook is a chunk of text less for detailing the adventure itself.
  • 6) Sandbox adventures are cool, but they eat a LOT of wordcount. It’s tough to balance that with the fact that you want any one play experience of an adventure to be able to convey an adventure’s worth of play. In other words... if you give the PCs multiple reasons to go on the adventure, and then spend equal time talking about how each of those reasons can lead to the adventure’s plot... well, remember that any one group is only going to use one of those starting plots, which means that all the wordcount you spend detailing the ramifications of other starting plots is more or less wasted content for any one group. It’s much better to give one reason to start a sandbox adventure, then let the bulk of the adventure’s words support that one start—this way, the players get to pick and choose what parts of the adventure they explore and don’t get “locked out” of some encounters simply because they weren’t linked to their starting point. Furthermore, it’s good to give multiple reasons to go to a location—that way, for example, if there’s a Hellknight fort, some groups might infiltrate it via stealth to learn the info they want, some might use diplomacy, some might do a frontal assault, and so on.
  • 7) You split up the sections of your adventure into “Acts.” We don’t use this phrase for our adventures—we use “Chapter” instead.
  • 8) There is a LOT going on in this adventure... I worry more than can even be contained in a 64 page adventure. Optional locations like Driserak should be cut entirely from the adventure as a result.
  • 9) The word “litany” is already in use in the game as a classification of spells introduced in Ultimate Combat. Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of creating magic items that simply replace existing class abilities—it’d be more interesting for an item to augment a bard’s bardic performance abilities than to simply allow anyone to do a bardic performance. The litany of bravery will need to be renamed and reworked into something different as a result.
  • 10) The implication that the only way to “win” this adventure is by sacrificing a willing person to stay behind and seal the Crux from within works well as a story element in a novel or short story, but works terribly in an adventure. The PCs are supposed to be the stars of the show, and that means forcing one of the players to fall on the sword and give up his character just so the adventure can be completed is not good. The alternative of relying upon an allied NPC to be the one to take the bullet and stay behind isn’t much better, since if that ally has become a beloved friend of the party, that also leaves a sour taste—but perhaps worse, that casts that NPC into a heroic martyr role which can easily overshadow the PCs’ accomplishments and role and lessen their impact. The adventure will be stronger if the PCs have to travel into the Crux to shut it down but don’t have to sacrifice a member or an ally to do so.
  • 11) Adding a new kyton to the adventure is good! Alas, the niche and role for the pellicor is pretty much already taken by the ostiarius kyton from Bestiary 4—it’s a kyton that’s all about luring mortals to join them in their pleasures and pain. Now... that’s not to say that there’s no room for a similar new kyton... but check out the ostiarius first to make sure it’s not the better choice. If it is, that’d free you up to do a different type of kyton as a new monster. ALSO: Note that we generally name our kytons, in something of a bit of blasphemy, after the names of religious jobs—this is something of a nod to Clive Barker, of course, who created the cenobites for Hellraiser. We’ll want to look at renaming this new kyton, perhaps.

Final Thoughts
Overall “On Fertile Ground” is a very interesting and compelling adventure, one that I’d love to run or play or develop. There’s a lot of cool locations and memorable characters, a nice mix of roleplay and combat, urban and wilderness and dungeon, and the sandbox elements appeal to me. All of that does make me worry that there’s simply TOO much going on here—I could honestly see each of this proposal’s 3 acts being their own 64 page adventure, and that’s obviously beyond the scope of this single adventure. Furthermore, it feels higher level than one for 3rd level PCs. If this adventure wins, I’ll likely have you build it as a 7th level adventure so that the foes the PCs encounter (kytons, etc.) are not only going to be less of an instant kill, but allow you to have the PCs encounter them more than once. I’m also thinking the name’ll need to change to something a bit more compelling than “On Fertile Ground,” which made me think it was an adventure about farming or druids or the like. Something like “Requiem of Flesh” or the like. In any event, an adventure about kytons, ancient maniacs, Hellknights, strix, and Chelaxian rebels? Excellent!!!

I recommend "On Fertile Ground" for consideration as the winner of RPG Superstar 2014.


Congratulations, Robert! "On Fertile Ground" is a strong proposal, and should make an excellent adventure.

Like James, I feel that the title is a little weak, and the adventure is extremely ambitious; there is a *lot* to do in this scenario. My advice would be to remove a locale or element (maybe the playhouse?) to provide more space and attention to the central element of the story--the Crux and the Bleeding Knights. I worry that in such a big, sweeping adventure those elements will be forgotten by players for sessions at a time as they're engaging with other parts of this interesting scenario.

Some of the strongest points of "On Fertile Ground" are:
- It's the best sandbox of the adventure proposals, and offers the players a great deal of agency over the story.
- The choice of faction between Hellknight or rebel is very well done, the best such decision point for the players in the four finalist proposals.
- There is a strong mix of monsters and NPC villains. Urban adventures sometimes forget about the Bestiary, and "On Fertile Ground" avoids that drawback.
- The Crux is a great locale for an adventure climax. In my opinion, "On Fertile Ground" has the strongest end scene of the four finalists. As James notes, it probably doesn't need to be extraplanar, but that's a minor fix in development.

When I look at an adventure proposal, I want to judge it not only on what it is as proposed, but what its potential is. "On Fertile Ground" offers a very high ceiling in my opinion--it's good now, and it could be *great* with just a little trimming. It has an excellent story, good pacing, good decision points, and the best finish of the four proposals. That's enough for me.

I *STRONGLY RECOMMEND* "On Fertile Ground" as the winner of RPG Superstar 2014.

Contributor

Hi, Robert! I enjoyed reading "On Fertile Ground" and thought it was an excellent proposal. I have a few comments for you to consider, both for this proposal and for future writing. I’m approaching my judging from the perspective of a freelancer who’s had to learn some hard lessons over the years. I hope my comments encourage you and help improve your writing as you continue in the RPG industry.

REVOLUTION! Your first paragraph got me seriously pumped up. Yeah! Fires of rebellion! It’s a great opener and full of zing. Then I got to the last sentence—the characters are supposed to reach 7th level by the end? This is just one module. I think you’re promising a bit more than you can deliver in 30-odd pages. The ability to estimate level advancement comes with experience, but you can also track the XP your adventure delivers in a spreadsheet or on some scratch paper.

Then I got to the Introduction (which should be “Adventure Background”) and, wow. It’s long. Background is important but what’s really important is where the PCs come in and what they can do. Keep the background as simple and straightforward as possible. For example, your first paragraph could read,

Quote:
Savradamas, a student of the 8000-year-old philosophy of Jistkan at the Jistkan Academy, believed great suffering led to ultimate perfection. Her dedication to this unusual philosophy earned her the ridicule of her peers and eventually her expulsion when her inhumane experiments came to light.

This is by no means better writing (quite the contrary), but paring down serves two purposes. First, it focuses your prose on what’s really important so the GM can easily understand what’s going on. Second, it frees up word count for more exciting parts. My proposed change saves you 66 words; do that three or four times and you’ve got room for a whole extra encounter!

You can still use interesting prose as you edit your work, just be mindful of how much space you’re giving to each element and how vital it is to the overall piece.

The Crux sounds super cool. I’m already wondering how the heck a party of 3rd-level adventurers is going to play a role in this. Act I is nice and open, with plenty of directions for the PCs to go in. Act II is more focused, with more of a dungeon-crawl feel. I like that variety. Adventures that are all dungeon-crawl are tedious, but adventures that are all sandbox can feel overwhelming to me. I like having the crawl after the investigative action. You have a great grasp of pacing and mixing up the style of encounters to deliver a fun experience. Again, though, this section seems beyond the scope of what was asked. Delving in the Guts (note to self: great adventure name) plus an overland journey to Devil’s Perch seems like an adventure all in itself.

And you have a play! I love plays/poems in adventures. They give a real sense of history to the world. The climax of the adventure is fantastic, very vivid and I like that the PCs only have to hold off Savradamas, not necessarily defeat her. She’s a cool villain and kytons don’t get used nearly enough.

I'm not crazy about the title. The word "fertile" in a title makes me think either the adventure will contain plant-monsters or something to do with pregnancy. Might I suggest the alternate "Delving in the Guts"?

My biggest concern, and I’m afraid it’s pretty big, is the size of your adventure. I’d say your adventure is pretty big too but it’s actually huge. This could practically be its own Adventure Path. Writing too much is almost as bad as writing too little, and if your editor says “we need a 3rd-level adventure to fit 32-40 pages” and you turn over three modules’ worth of work, it’s a problem. You write elegantly and you clearly understand pacing, conflict, and structure. The best change you could make to the adventure is to pare it down.

Congratulations on your excellent entry! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I see why you made it to round 4. Your submission didn’t quite reach the top of my list, though, and so I do not recommend “On Fertile Ground” to be the winner of the 2014 RPG Superstar competition.

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

Amber Scott wrote:

Hi, Robert! I enjoyed reading "On Fertile Ground" and thought it was an excellent proposal. I have a few comments for you to consider, both for this proposal and for future writing. I’m approaching my judging from the perspective of a freelancer who’s had to learn some hard lessons over the years. I hope my comments encourage you and help improve your writing as you continue in the RPG industry.

REVOLUTION! Your first paragraph got me seriously pumped up. Yeah! Fires of rebellion! It’s a great opener and full of zing. Then I got to the last sentence—the characters are supposed to reach 7th level by the end? This is just one module. I think you’re promising a bit more than you can deliver in 30-odd pages. The ability to estimate level advancement comes with experience, but you can also track the XP your adventure delivers in a spreadsheet or on some scratch paper.

Then I got to the Introduction (which should be “Adventure Background”) and, wow. It’s long. Background is important but what’s really important is where the PCs come in and what they can do. Keep the background as simple and straightforward as possible. For example, your first paragraph could read,

Quote:
Savradamas, a student of the 8000-year-old philosophy of Jistkan at the Jistkan Academy, believed great suffering led to ultimate perfection. Her dedication to this unusual philosophy earned her the ridicule of her peers and eventually her expulsion when her inhumane experiments came to light.

This is by no means better writing (quite the contrary), but paring down serves two purposes. First, it focuses your prose on what’s really important so the GM can easily understand what’s going on. Second, it frees up word count for more exciting parts. My proposed change saves you 66 words; do that three or four times and you’ve got room for a whole extra encounter!

You can still use interesting prose as you edit your work, just be mindful of how much space you’re giving to each element and how vital it is to...

Amber, remember that these proposals are for 64-page adventures, not 32. Even still, this proposal is probably still too ambitious. I love the story, though, and it's a possible winner for me.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

I really like the ambition. It is a grand, epic story. I don't mind the huge jump in levels; if anything, it seems a validation of the kyton ideal: through pain and struggle, advancement. It hits a lot of tropes that I like, though I would like them to deal with the Knights earlier in a friendly manner (which is possible through the rebel route, I suppose.) I like the chatty kyton, who should be able to deliver a lot of exposition.

Definitely in my Top Two with Mikko.

Contributor

Tyler: The book is 64 pages but not the adventure. The rules state "Paizo’s Pathfinder Modules are 64 pages. The winning adventure will be approximately 32-40 pages in length. The remaining material for the book will be filled with additional content appropriate for the adventure and its location, such as monsters and magic items. (Paizo will provide this additional content. Some of this additional content may come from earlier rounds of RPG Superstar 2014; if so, the authors of that content will be paid for their work and credited in the module!)"

I really enjoyed this proposal and its scope didn't immediately knock it to the bottom of my list. In the end there were others I liked more. :)

RPG Superstar Season 9 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Congratulations on making it this far, Robert! I've been a bit of a lurker throughout this contest since I didn't want my comments to come across as propaganda on my brother's behalf, so this is the first round where I feel I can contribute my opinions while voting is open. Following your rise from alternate to top 4 has been a real treat, and I'm looking forward to see what you've brought to the final round.

Things That Got Me Excited:
The writing throughout this proposal is superb. The best Pathfinder modules are the ones that you enjoy reading just for the sake of reading them, even if you never play them. This proposal is certainly a good read.

I love that you have so many moving parts in Pezzack, so there is no way for the PCs to avoid getting caught up in the action. It's complicated enough to feel like a real revolution, but simple enough that a GM could easily track changes and improvise new scenarios when necessary. Pulling off that level of plot-weaving while still maintaining a sandbox feel is really impressive.

Tied to the intricate plot, the NPCs are really well characterized. I could see my group forming a strong relationship with either Amalia or Ordell. Since roleplaying is a huge part of our games, that is a big plus in my book.

Reading about Paeri's fate gave me goosebumps. I personally think the allip is an under-appreciated monster, and you use it masterfully. In the same vein, using a beneficial haunt to even the odds against the poltergeist is a cool twist on an old trope, so hats off for that.

Things That Got Me Worried:
The optional location raised some red flags for me. After your marvelous job characterizing the strife within Pezzack (and the overarching threat posed by the strix), the Nidalese embassy seemed tacked on. I know it's extra and the PCs may never set foot there, but I feel even an optional location should have something to really contribute to the overall plot, and this just doesn't do it for me. More concerning to me, though, is that a fortress on the Plane of Shadow ruled by a 9th level oracle seems pretty inaccessible to a 3rd level party (who can't even access plane shift or other forms of planar travel yet). Even if they made it to Driserak, it seems like they would be totally screwed. It has the potential to make for some interesting roleplaying, but I would have preferred to see an optional location where the PCs could have a bit more influence and staying power.

Following up on the "tacked on" comment, I actually felt that way about several of the required elements in this proposal. The littany just gives a bard class ability to non-bards, and as James mentioned the pellicior is very similar to the ostiarius. These seemed like cheap outs to cover the mandatory elements of the pitch, which is alarming to me. The one exception was the Ascetic Outsider template, which I thought was a very nice touch and I'm curious to see how you would design it.

The Crux strikes me a dangerously overpowered. Sure, they only have to survive while the crux is being closed, but Savradamas will have powerful minions (a standard kyton is CR 6) and 3 levels (or more) on the PCs and their allies. If they focus their attacks on the poor soul who has to stay behind to seal the Crux (you implied that maybe everyone could get out alive, but I'm not sure how), survival seems like a long shot, and then the sacrifice is dead so no one escapes. For PCs starting at level 3, this looks alarmingly like a TPK. Furthermore, as James Jacobs pointed out, "winning" will likely require the players to sacrifice either a PC (great for paladins who like roleplaying, lousy for everyone else) or at least one NPC with whom they have developed a relationship (which would be a sore point for my players, and likely others as well).

I like the title, but it is very disjointed from the story, which is misleading.

Overall:
I was initially captivated by the engaging plot and masterful writing offered by this pitch, but upon reflection I feel like it has a few warning signs. The optional location is intriguing, but completely tangential. The villains are cool, but they are too powerful. The scope is awesome, but enormous for a single module. Overall I got the impression that this adventure was an idea you had been sitting on for a while, and you tweaked it enough to fit the contest requirements and crammed in whatever mandatory components weren't already there. That makes me worry about future design scenarios involving square pegs and round holes and whatnot.

That being said, this proposal has a lot going for it and the problems I brought up can likely be worked out development. With a little polishing this could be a really fantastic adventure. I'm not sure I will vote for it, but I would not be sad to see you crowned RPG Superstar 2014.

Good luck!

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

Congrats on your final round entry. Of the three I've read so far, this one does a much better job of grabbing my attention with things that make for exciting adventures, between digging up ancient ruins of dead civilizations, to the creepy and great kytons, and a city on the brink of civil war. I could have done without the stryx though. That part feels tacked on, despite the stryx being a feature of the region. I don't think that there's a need to include every element of a city/region just because an adventure is set there. There's enough going on with the revolutionaries, the crux, and the knights of the bleeding rose stirring the pot.

For a proposal, there's way too much background. I sort of had to force my way through it to get to the good stuff. It might be an appropriate amount for a final product, but felt your word count could have been better used fleshing out more encounters or something.

I'm torn about the mismatch between the required level for the submission and what you're describing here. On one hand, I was disappointed with all of the restrictions on this round, and the fact that you broke them by turning in what was effectively a 7th level adventure makes it somewhat unfair to reward for that with my vote. On the other hand, this is far more interesting of an adventure proposal than what some of the other entries were.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

Hey Robert,

I'm going to go through these doing my best not to read any judges/other voters' comments (though I'll admit I've glanced at a few). My thoughts will pretty much be stream of consciousness.

I think you had my favorite title, so I'm excited about that. I think some of the complaints about "of the" or even "of" titles can be overdone (after all, "Realm of the Fellknight Queen" is a great title), but at the same time, I think titles not using that construction just have an extra pop. So nice job there. (That said, coming back to this after reading everything, I'm not 100 percent sure it works -- I kind of expect some massive plant threat to be looking here, or something to grow in this ground of the city and that doesn't happen.)

Pezzack, huh? Can't say that was an area that really inspired me, but we'll see how it goes. Your initial paragraph gave me a very Galtan feeling, but Galt inspired a lot of what's happened in Pezzack, so I think that works OK.

Jistka. That's cool; an area I was playing with in my module idea. There's fairly little information still about the ancient empire, so it's fertile ground to play with ... no pun intended. Kytons didn't feel like a perfect fit for Jistka at first but it's kind of growing on me. We know they treated with devils, so kytons seem to make some sense, and they're a lesser-used outsider. I'm not sure strix work as well -- they don't feel like they have any Jistka connection to me -- but I'm not sure of my Golarion canon in this case. I guess I'll wait and see what James Jacobs has to say about it (if anything). I like the strix, though, and would love to see more use of them so hopefully your idea fits with canon.

Love the sidebar about setting it into Council of Thieves. I don't know if that's something TPTB will like, but I think it shows awareness of the product line and other things going on in the campaign setting.

Act I: I really like that you don't assume the PCs' actions or side. I think that's smart design. It could add some to the page count and mean there's some material that's not used, but Paizo did a similar thing in one of the Reign of Winter adventures, and I think it works here. That said, I am concerned about some of the sandbox elements before the ambush; at least from the pitch, it feels like you're sort of leaving the GM to come up with a lot on his own, and I'm not 100 percent sure you are going to give him enough to run whatever could develop in the sandbox from whichever hook he/she chooses for the PCs.

Act II: Mysteries are tough, and I'm a little concerned with what you've got here. You simply say the PCs discover the strix were in the area, but there's no idea how. I love running mysteries, but they take a lot of work. I know when I run them I really tailor-make them for the players and the PCs, and I'd really like some more idea of what clues the PCs get. What happens if they don't pick up on the strix? Or are the strix going to end up being a big flashing neon sign? I'm also concerned about what if the PCs react violently every time they meet the strix -- how will they get the information they need to get?

The optional location seems solid to me, though I'm not 100 percent up on my plane of shadow knowledge. It does seem a bit high-level for the PCs; it feels like something I might use down the road if the campaign were to stay in Pezzack, but definitely outside the scope of this adventure. Still, that probably fulfills the purpose of a bonus location, so it works for me.

The new magic item doesn't really do much for me, though. There are already litany spells, to start, but it's also just a class feature in a can. Just didn't feel very Superstar to me, unfortunately.

Act III: If conflict breaks out above, does it affect the PCs? I feel like that should have a more immediate impact on them but mostly it just feels like colorful background here. There's no consequences to the PCs failing to avert disaster in Pezzack. Is time running differently in the Crux? If not, it seems like the PCs could end up foregoing lots of the role-playing scenes because they don't have time with the city burning above, or could take their time only to emerge to nothing but ashes.

I'm also not a fan of an NPC companion for the final venture into the Crux. Are they there to be the sacrifice who stays behind if the PCs don't suss out how to destroy the Crux? That seems obvious and kind of anti-climactic to me. I think their presence risks overshadowing the PCs (I see Amalia's seventh level in Towns of the Inner Sea, while I don't know that Ordell's stats are listed anywhere -- I think he's created for this pitch?). Still, that final battle sounds pretty brutal, with a 10th-level foe AND her allies, so the PCs may need some help.

But just as worrisome, I'm not sure I understand that final fight. You write, "this battle is one that must merely be survived long enough for the Crux to be sealed or destroyed." But wouldn't the former keep the PCs stuck inside too? I'm just not clear on what you're thinking with this final fight.

I've still got one more pitch to read (plus read the judges and everyone else's comments), but right now I'm on the fence on this one. I think there are some cool ideas and it's about time a New Hampshirite won Superstar, but I'm not sure it all quite comes together for me.

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

Amber Scott wrote:

Tyler: The book is 64 pages but not the adventure. The rules state "Paizo’s Pathfinder Modules are 64 pages. The winning adventure will be approximately 32-40 pages in length. The remaining material for the book will be filled with additional content appropriate for the adventure and its location, such as monsters and magic items. (Paizo will provide this additional content. Some of this additional content may come from earlier rounds of RPG Superstar 2014; if so, the authors of that content will be paid for their work and credited in the module!)"

I really enjoyed this proposal and its scope didn't immediately knock it to the bottom of my list. In the end there were others I liked more. :)

Ah, fair point, Amber. James' review mentions the 64 pages several times, and I had just read his review before yours, so I got thrown off. :)

Star Voter Season 8

Love this pitch. Probably getting me vote. Great job!

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

Congratulations again on making it this far, Robert! No matter how things pan out, Paizo will be lucky to have you onboard as a writer!

Looks like my brother got to this one first, and we have extremely similar tastes (being twins and all), so I won't reiterate anything that he's already said.

I really liked the title; not grabby, perhaps, but more subtle than most.

Love love love love love love love the ascetic outsider template!

Although I agree with James Jacobs's reservations about the scope of this adventure the way it's written, I gotta say I loves me a good sandbox. Almost everything I homebrew is sandboxy in nature. I like how you touched on some things that could be elucidated in the publication, but left plenty up to the buyer to expound as well. It kind of reminds me of 3.5's Expedition to the Demonweb Pits in that way, which I think is cool: it gives buyers who want a springboard more than a blueprint a reason to purchase your product.

That said, I'm worried that the whole demiplane schtick drifts too far away from what the adventure is supposed to be: an urban quest for 3rd level PCs. I think if you kept things more contained within Pezzack, which you designed to be a very playable city sandbox, you would have had a much more holistic proposal.

Great job, Robert, and best of luck with the voters!

Dark Archive

Hmm... another proposal that has a really weak title, IMO, and it's also misleading; I was expecting a druid/fey-themed adventure.

There seems to be a lot of stuff going on in this adventure, but at its core is a rather cliched story that would IMO better fit a novel than a Pathfinder module. Or maybe I've just run too many "ancient-ruins-buried-under-the-city" type of adventures for my group? Anyway, another type of kyton... *groan*... haven't we already got a dozen of those?

The Crux reminds me of the Asmodean Knot, except someone must sacrifice his/her life to seal it. And if you've got good-aligned clerics or paladins in the group, their players might feel compelled to give up their characters anyway, even if there WERE willing NPCs present. That is just bad design, IMO.

The only thing I liked is the organization built around the broken soul template, but even so I think it fits monsters better than "standard" humanoid NPCs.

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

This is an excellent proposal and was my second favorite, Robert - Victoria's adventure was just much more interesting to me, if not as strong developmentally. You have done excellent work throughout the competition, and your encounter oozed elan, grabbed with the theme and showed you really have the writing chops to master the form.

While I was torn between this and Daughters of Fury I had to read and reread each of the two competing entries. To be honest, I feel torn still - I think you are the better designer - but here your submission is simply not as interesting.

So this really comes down to whether I vote with the big picture in mind or whether I speak to creativity (as subjectively perceived by me, of course). And each voter comes to their own decision about that, or not as the case may be.

Good luck Robert, and I'm sure we will see much more from you in the future.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Got my vote!

Sorry Robert, I am going to abstain from commenting, but I do think this is best template of the four from which to develop an adventure.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Arkos

Robert! This is a great proposal! You've got a misdirect lined up as the investigating PCs realize the true depth of the problem, which leads into a "fight the ancient horror" style of conclusion. I like your item, I like the revolutionary theme, and I like your final template for the Ascetic Outsider.

I will say that I'm glad the plan is to push PCs towards 7th level, because the end of this feels epic. And when I think of 3rd level characters, it's tough to pull off epic without handing out a Macguffin.

I'm a big fan of factions and allowing PCs to have different adventures based on who they choose to support, but I've got plenty of players who would look at a choice like the one you present and say "Can't I just talk to both groups and gain all the benefits? I've got bluff." Codifying that a little more seems very important.

Anyway, player agency and a misdirect, wrapped up in some of my favorite themes? This proposal heads right up to the top for me. Excellent work.

(Also, not for any parallel brainspace reasons, oh no, but I really want to send you my first draft!)

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Mark D Griffin

I didn't always like your work in the previous rounds, but that was a problem of style more than design. Though I thought your Disir came out on the strong side, it was still not a bad monster, just not my kind of monster. What I'm trying to say here is that I didn't come into this round expecting to vote for you, but I still thought you were a good designer.

Then your proposal blew me away. I love it. This is exactly the kind of thing I would want to read and run, or play through as a character. It's weird and creepy and it hits all the right notes for me. I know there is some criticism that there is too much in this proposal, and that is a valid criticism, perhaps one that I should take into consideration. But I'm not going to, because if this was an AP, or a group of 3 modules I would totally buy them all. Congratulations Robert on an excellent pitch that I am definitely voting for.

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 on making it to the final round of RPG Superstar. You have some worthy competitors but you've done great getting here.

The title of the adventure is a little lame. You want a title that jumps off the shelves at consumers and makes them say "Ooh! What's THIS?"

I love kytons. That is a creepy set of monsters to throw at a party, and having them organized by a like-minded mortal who went mad from the proffered paradigm is fun. I do worry that too many adventures have villains that essentially echo megalomania or insanity, but there are a lot of those villains for a reason.

If your proposal wins, I hope Paizo decides to amp the levels for starting and progressing through the adventure. Your assignment was to write a lower-level adventure, so some might say you didn't do a great job within those parameters, but the scope of the module is grand, and fun, and deliciously dark. If it wins on those merits, a higher level publication makes this a better module.

I'll choose a winner and announce my decision in the winner's thread. 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

On Fertile Ground
The Good: I like you tried to tie it in with an AP, I like the choice to go with Chellax, and your writing is simply the most polished.
The Bad: PF Society, I'm just not that into you...
The Ugly: Not into your treasure choice though the monster seems intriguing.
Overall: Strong round contender, weakened by being a little far reaching for a 3rd level adventure. Personally I'm for more challenge then Paizo standards... but I do not know with the other voters. Body of work vote for me Round vote I think is between you and Victoria.

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

Congratulations Robert,

There is a lot of story here, which is good. My players like story. It doesn't feel particularly adventurous, but that might be presentation--I wished different encounters were drawn out a little better: is breaking the blockade a chase scene, a battle, or is it a single diplomacy check? Is the strix an encounter or is it a skill check as another example. There may be too many side quests, or rather they could be called out as necessary to the adventure. I think not clarifying these has made for a strong sandbox to play in, but if its not a part of the it could be wasted words for some of my players.

Neat idea on the treasure, but not too exciting. The critter seems OK, thugh again the template feel of it leaves some of the oomph out.

That said the sandbox option is one of my favorites and you have done a good job creating one. Especially in the use of allies in the final battle. Most of my players are cagey enough they would work for both and that is a great option for them. I think you have done well to have two parallel potential adventures, working for one of two opposing forces. Very well done.

Keep, but a weak one.

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

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The strengths of this adventure are the sandbox element and the terrifying cinema of kyton. I think every entry did some things well, some things not so well, and some things better than any of the other three. But when I think of the one I want to play in, it's Fertile Ground, but with a better name.

Lantern Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Thank you to everyone who voted for me and believed in the fun-factor of On Fertile Ground. I'm going to keep this brief as I am still on pins and needles in anticipation.

That said, for those curious about the title, it's a reference to an obscure Hellraiser quote.

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