Advice for future rounds / years from a GM perspective


RPG Superstar™ General Discussion


I've seen some really good items, so far.

But I've also seen a lot of items that make me cringe because:

Poor/inconsistent grammar: It makes me cringe, but I'm a frequent reader/writer and married to a woman with an English degree, so I may be more sensitized towards this than other people. The descriptions as written would make me sad to see them in a book at my table.

Lack of proofreading: Some of the items I've seen were clearly edited in their descriptions. Which is great, you should be doing that. But after you make changes, you should read your description to be sure it still makes sense. I've a seen a few sentences that do not make sense as written, and I immediately stop considering that item. If I have to rewrite the item description for it to make sense, I'm certainly won't be allowing the item in use in one of my games.

Mary Sue items: These items are way overpowered. I realize items need to be cool and stand out from the crow, but if I look it from a GM perspective and think 'No way would I ever allow that in any of my games' then you probably went overboard trying to shoehorn extra abilities into your entry. This is probably the one that makes me saddest, as there were a number of items I would have up-voted except the designer decided to tack on just one last ability that either pushed it too far for me or just didn't make sense with the rest of the item's abilities.

That said, there is some really strong competition this year and I've seen a number of items I will probably use in future games even if they don't make the top 32.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies, Representative - D20 Hobbies , Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

On the overpowered deal. I think it is a balancing act. You need to be overpowered to get the populace vote and get in the top 100. Then you need to be written in a way the judges can say "I can see how this can be toned down because it is too powerful."

So you need to be overpowered in a way that can be easily nerfed without losing the "appeal" of the item.

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

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My biggies would be:

Turn the tables: When designing an item, strongly consider what happens if when a GM gives it to any appropriate CR opposition/BBEG. Would it suddenly change/unbalance the likely outcome of the combat/encounter in the bad guy's favor? When a bad guy uses it to undo/negate certain classes'/martials'/casters' attacks and core abilities, is it going to piss the players off, or make them say "Whoa, that was cool." or "Wow, tough fight."? If a bad guy uses it, does it completely undermine a character's (and that player's) agency? If you don't like the answers you get, re-think (or discard) your item. SuperStar items should be really cool/evocative without being overpowered.

No thieving/undermining/outshining other classes: If you want to gestalt or multiclass, fine. If you want to play a class that gives up some abilities to gain a balanced set from another class, play an archetype (or build one). If you want your non-rogue class to do roguish things, don't give them an all-in-one Roncomatic Magic Macguffin Rogue-in-a-Can/Rogue-Army-Knife (or Magus-, Bard-, etc.). Pick your favorite class to play; now imagine another PC gains a magic item that makes the best/core abilities of your favorite class redundant? How would you feel as a player?

"It's simple: Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It's slow death.": Ask yourself if any sane character would really spend five or six figures in gold for an item that works spectacularly well in very few corner cases, and mediocre in all the rest. Maybe it would save your PC's butt from an bard or skald opponent in some circumstances, but if it's next to worthless against a slayer or druid or wizard, is it really worth plunking down that much gold? If a more generalized item would usually work much more often in a broader range of circumstances, wouldn't the experienced PC choose it 99 times out of 100 instead? If you have a problem with a past game circumstance or a GM's ruling or another player's actions, don't try to "win" by crafting a SuperStar item.

When "just for fun" isn't: Maybe you don't think of SuperStar as a job interview or a stepping stone in a making Pathfinder RPG products. That's fine, do it for goofs or for fun or to kill time. But many of the entrants do take the contest very seriously as a foot in the door to bigger and better development opportunities. If your submission comes across as half-assed, "didn't care", doesn't follow the game rules, or in any other way unprofessional, don't be upset and gripe about it when your item is disqualified or dropped in the first culling. For all the snarking and jokes, the judges can tell when someone put in the effort and when someone didn't bother. If you are going to have a serious reaction to the results, then make a serious effort to compete.

Edit: Cranky slaad is cranky.

Sovereign Court Marathon Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I like all the above advice. To elaborate on Turn the tables and Mary Sue Items:

If you make an item, and are really excited to use it as a player or a GM, make sure you can wear the other hat and see how the opposite would feel about it. (And if you're not excited to use it as a player or GM, it's probably not something you want to enter anyway)

GMs should show an item to their players and ask how they'd feel about a BBEG having it.

Players should show an item to their GMs and ask how they'd feel about players running around with it.

I've seen plenty of items this year that I thought were great, except for little things that the GM in me saw immediately and went "no it's unforgivable if it does that bit". A player excited to use it wouldn't notice unless the GM brought it before them and went 'hey, all my named NPCs are gonna use this against you from now on'.

Most notably, anything that has no limit on how often it may be used to do a cool effect. Cause that effect won't be cool when every turn or encounter the player/monster goes 'I do this'.

Personally, I think an item is in a sweet spot when both GMs and Players can be excited to use something, as well as readily see ways to deal with it if they had to. Without just breaking or taking away the item.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Ixxix

James Risner wrote:

On the overpowered deal. I think it is a balancing act. You need to be overpowered to get the populace vote and get in the top 100. Then you need to be written in a way the judges can say "I can see how this can be toned down because it is too powerful."

So you need to be overpowered in a way that can be easily nerfed without losing the "appeal" of the item.

While I respect your opinion, I have to say I disagree with you. The point of the contest is to prove you can design well. To appeal to the masses this involves making an item that is neither under nor overpowered. if it is underpowered the populace won't vote for it. If it is overpowered then even if it makes the top 100 judges aren't going to like it. It isn't a editors job to bring the power level of an item in line, its the designers.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies, Representative - D20 Hobbies , Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Clay Clouser wrote:
if it is underpowered the populace won't vote for it. If it is overpowered then even if it makes the top 100 judges aren't going to like it. It isn't a editors job to bring the power level of an item in line, its the designers.

I think you need to change underpowered to "just right powered" and then you and I agree. I don't think the populace votes for anything but the overpowered items. So your whole objective is to get the populace vote so you are in the top 100 and then be "fixable" by the judges/developers so they don't auto pass on you.

Granted, my opinion is mostly based off looking at the items that were entered last year and the ones that made top 100 were basically the overpowered ones and all the good well written "normal" or lower powered items tended to not get into top 100. At least in my opinion.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Ixxix

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I think that's the exact thing we disagree on. I look at the top 32 from last year and I don't see overpowered items or judge comments about being broken but fixable. I see well designed and balanced items. The public will vote for a well designed balanced item with good flavor over an overpowered item. Even just reading the critique thread for this year you see a lot of players and GM's complaining about how they would never vote for such a powerful item. Balance and flavor are the name of the game.

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

An overpowered item, regardless of whether an editor can fix it, gets marked against (and often downvoted) by me. An item can be/should be cool and evocative and "wow, why didn't I think of that" without being overpowered. Getting power balance can be tough, but then that's what helps decide a SuperStar.

Now if something in the item makes me think the designer has that creative spark to bring something new and fun and evocative to the table in future competition rounds (and future products), I'm willing to consider overlooking the overpoweredness of a single Round 1 item.

Marathon Voter Season 8

This discussion covers my exact thoughts (and fears). For my own item, I feel it is pretty well balanced for the expected levels where it would be obtained. And it's that exact balance that I worry won't get the public vote, especially after seeing all these other items. So many people are raving about a number of items, and some I feel I know which they are referring to, and I feel so many of them are overpowered/underpriced. And it worries me about my own chances to progress in the competition.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 8 aka Angry Wiggles

I'll admit that this is my first year entering, but I have a few thoughts from reading over entries and blogs on the subject.

Do something new: This is a competition to find the real superstar designers. As such, it shouldn't be enough to do something well. An item is not a superstar item just because it is good at what it does, it is a superstar item because it fills the design space with something that was not there previously. Put something on your weapon that isn't damage. Put something on your staff that isn't spells. It's risky, but I believe it will pay off more often than not.

Say everything you need to say, and say it clearly: Nobody should know the rules about your item better than you. This is especially true when there are debates or ambiguities on how they work. Say exactly what your item does and how it does it, leaving no doubt in the reader's mind. If your item encounters any difficult rules spaces, or unusual circumstances can change how it works, you should account for those in your description. If there are too many of these to fit in the item's description, it may be necessary to reconsider part of how the item functions. Clarity is a mark of a good designer.

Be brief: Now that you know everything that you need to say, figure out how to say it in less words. You know the rules that your item involves, so reference them instead of repeating them. You know the common pitfalls and exceptions to those rules, so account for those as quickly as possible to avoid confusion. This helps avoid cases where your item becomes an odd exception to a general rule, especially if that was not intended. It is a commonly repeated quote that "A designer knows he has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away". So long as you can still say everything you need to say, Make that the heart and soul of your design strategy. Say what you need to say. Say it clearly, cleanly, and as elegantly as you can manage. Then be done.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Ixxix

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If your item is well balanced and has a good strong flavor/theme you will be fine.

Marathon Voter Season 8

Angry Wiggles wrote:
Do something new:

I want what I don't have, and something I can't find a substitute for gets to dictate the non-negotiable price of "one upvote each time".

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

Gennerik wrote:
This discussion covers my exact thoughts (and fears). For my own item, I feel it is pretty well balanced for the expected levels where it would be obtained. And it's that exact balance that I worry won't get the public vote, especially after seeing all these other items. So many people are raving about a number of items, and some I feel I know which they are referring to, and I feel so many of them are overpowered/underpriced. And it worries me about my own chances to progress in the competition.

Yeah, I designed my item similarly. I'm very curious now if that lack of DBZ/Bay'splosins will sink it in the end. If it doesn't make this Round, especially if it doesn't survive The Cull(s), I'll be posting it in the critique thread for a brutal (and hopefully, critically informative) deconstruction.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies, Representative - D20 Hobbies , Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Clay Clouser wrote:
I think that's the exact thing we disagree on. I look at the top 32 from last year and I don't see overpowered items or judge comments about being broken but fixable.

The first item in top 32 if I remember correctly was item number 38. The last was item number 89. They only look at top 100 of votes and select the best 32 in top 100. To get to top 100 you need to thread that needle.

Yes we disagree on whether or not they thread that needle.

Dedicated Voter Season 8

Good Design: Making the player feel the item is awesome while retaining enough limitations that the game is still a game. If a player isn't choosing what to do each round, and is instead "pressing win", then it's not a game anymore.

(PS to the OP: my wife's degree is in English and I'm a professional writer - and I still forgive the fiddly bits. I have to... or I'll go nuts.)


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What's your item? Answer in the first sentence of the description.

What's awesome about it? Answer as soon as possible after the first sentence.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Boxhead

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I'll add one piece of advice- this contest is for magic items, not monsters, spells, feats or anything else (at least in round 1). If you cannot make your item without explaining a new country, spell, or whatever, then it isn't the right item for Superstar.

If I strip out the country, hero, spell, monster, etc. from your item, is it still cool? Or is it a +X weapon?

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 8

My games are usually for one (sometimes two players) with one character each. Sometimes there are helpful NPCs sometimes there are not. I therefore tend to lean towards an item design that provides some cinematic POP! Getting the player engaging is what it is all about and not everyone can adventure with a band that covers all/most of the bases in terms of PC abilities. So....I am not quite as quick to poo poo items that in a bigger group might appear to tread on the toes of another class. There has to be room for good items that cater for differing styles and level of game play. The item has to feel right. I'm considering the items based on the WOW factor first (and then biffing them if they reach the irk factor threshold).

Dedicated Voter Season 8

Well I can't talk for people with English degrees. They might make it harder than Classical Philologist degrees. For one, I probably have an unusual tolerance for "strange" grammar - if Plato does something more crazy (in Ancient Greek) and that's okay, then so long as I can reasonably understand what you're trying to tell me, I might simply mentally move around words until it makes good sense. In the time it takes to read the sentence anyway.

However, when the languages impedes my tolerant reading enough that I have to read carefully, I'm suddenly looking for every little error and judging it - because, honestly, I read thousands of year old texts with no word order, if it doesn't make sense to me, chances are something is horribly wrong.

In other words, decently written with minor grammar errors or spelling errors might not be terrible - but why not get it right? It does not take forever to at least do a simple check up. If you have grammar or spelling problems (and still really want to be in a writing contest), then cool. I know people, who do write well in spite of having a hard time with it. They work extra hard and spend time having others help them read through the text though. If you're serious about this, even in the slightest way, then make that tiny effort.

Also, from a GM point of view, be always - always - aware that while participants in the contest try to be designers, the design is meant for players and GMs - for me, mostly GMing - and I look at whether an item (or later, other entry) would be something I want to allow my players to get their fingers on. Ever. And if it isn't, then I probably will not like it. Not in the least.

But then, I guess the majority of what I can say here has been said before.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8 aka Jrcmarine

Don't get married to your item. Last year I had an item all prepared that I had worked on for a long time. The day before the deadline I had a new idea and created an entirely new and different item than my original item.

When an idea hits you, don't be afraid to run with it. The other advice I give is to bounce your idea off of friends throughout the entire creative process. It isn't their item so they will see errors you are overlooking. They also will help you flesh out and refine your ideas.

And finally... Bring the flavor! Make your item do what it does in an interesting manner.

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