Journey into Midnight


Round 5: Submit an adventure proposal

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Journey into Midnight

Residents of Senara have long looked to the Whispering Wood and told stories of the horrors that lurk in its shadowed depths. Those shadows grow darker still beneath their feet in the heart of Nar-Voth’s Midnight Jungle, where a world both alien and merciless is poised to erupt into the city’s streets. The monks of Whisperwood Abbey are missing and the player characters are asked to investigate. The journey that follows takes them from the lightless halls beneath the abbey and into the untamed wilderness of the deep.

Journey into Midnight is a wilderness adventure for 5th-level Pathfinder Roleplaying Game characters. The PCs will descend into the depths of Nar-Voth to track down the missing monks of Whisperwood Abbey, where they’ll test their resolve against the ferocious inhabitants of the Darklands. By the adventure’s conclusion, a party on the medium experience track could reach 7th level.

Introduction

Bramblebuck Ale is a delicacy enjoyed by many along the trade routes that tangle their way through Cheliax, intro Druma and beyond. Carts laden with the brew emerge from the doors to Whisperwood Abbey weekly, a product of the toiling monks that live within its sheltered walls. Like all noteworthy recipes, the secrets to this one are closely guarded. Few would suspect that the monks received ingredients from an exiled duergar gardener living in the caverns of Nar-Voth. When the duergar failed to deliver his monthly batch of dried candy-cap mushrooms, the monks of Whisperwood Abbey tried to brew their ale with a substitute ingredient. They failed to reproduce their famous concoction. Concerned for the economic prosperity of the abbey, the monks ejected commoners from the abbey’s walls and ventured into Nar-Voth to discover the fate of their supplier.

A world both beautiful and dangerous teems beneath the streets of Senara in the form of Nar-Voth’s Midnight Jungle. Caverns laden with moss and fungus track their way from the dense tangle of the Scar Thicket all the way to the doorstep of the Court of Ether. Decades ago, a tense agreement between the duergar and the Court of Ether allowed a small viridium mining operation on the edge of the Midnight Jungle. Though the operation collapsed when the duergar were discovered forging cold iron weapons, the ruinous settlement known as Kaldendairn remained mostly undisturbed until a lone duergar found refuge in its buildings years later. Striking up a mutually prosperous agreement with the monks of Whisperwood Abbey, the duergar lived a relatively comfortable life of solitude and toil until the clash of two warring races forced him to flee into the surrounding caverns.

Vegepygmy are rarely known to live peacefully amidst the myriad of life forms that inhabit Nar-Voth and even resort to conflict between their disparate tribes. The Stonecaller tribe enjoyed control over their own small patch of the Midnight Jungle until a roaming troupe of flail snails appeared. Counting mold and funguses as their primary diet and having no way to communicate with the vegepygmy, the flail snails killed and consumed many of the tribe before encountering a patch of the tribe’s deadly and transformative russet mold. What might have been a brief but tragic interlude between unfamiliar species turned into a frothing hotbed of hostility when the russet mold claimed its first victim.

Raised communally from batches, flail snails rarely recognize familial bonds. Yet when two emerged from a single egg, both bearing identical patterns on their shells, they forged a lasting bond unfathomable to others of their kind. One of the twins fell to the russet mold, birthing two vegepygmy in its place. The remaining twin, turned toward a path of vengeance routed the Stonecallers into Kaldendairn where they drove off its duergar occupant and later killed the monks that came to investigate.

Left to their own, the vegepygmy posed little serious threat to Senara, but a voice from the deep whispered honeyed words into their chieftain’s ear, promising growth and protection. A root dragon named Venixial found her way into the caverns of Nar-Voth from the First World and sees great potential in the vegepygmy and their explosive reproductive process.

Getting Involved

There are many routes to lead players into Journey into Midnight. The local Master of Blades Tolsis Tuvadorn employs bounty hunters and adventurers to control creatures of the Whisperwood. The abbey’s problems could draw similar attention. The PCs may have an acquaintance that lived at the abbey working with the monks, or perhaps were sent by a local tavern owner to discover what happened to his latest shipment. If your campaign is already located in the Darklands, the players may hear of the Whisperwood Abbey’s plight from one of the few surviving monks that now wanders the Darklands, desperately looking for a way back to the surface.

Chapter 1: Going Down!

Whisperwood Abbey is a modestly sized monastery in Senara, a city within the borders of the Whisperwood in Cheliax. Predominantly occupied by those of devilish descent, Senara is not a stranger to the shunned and ostracized. The monks of Whisperwood Abbey offered the people a place to quietly reflect on the world and their place in it. Though numbering only a handful, the monks maintained a modest living performing transcriptions for residents of Senara, teaching martial arts to those who showed a talent for it and brewing their famous Bramblebuck Ale.

Within hours of taking the assignment to discover why the abbey’s doors have remained suspiciously closed, the PCs are traversing its eerily empty halls. There’s no sign of a struggle or any evidence that the monks had intended to vacate. Descending into the cellars, the PCs find the latest batch of Bramblebuck Ale. Sampling the brew reveals that it is bitter and quite unspectacular, nothing like the reputation it had earned. Probing deeper, the PCs find an open vault door that leads to small room with a large hole in the floor. There’s a large winch and support structure that holds a series of chains that extend into the cavernous depths below.

The PCs can retrieve the platform from the cavern floor by turning the winch, though doing so reveals that the mechanisms of the elevator are starting to rust, causing the chains to screech as the platform ascends and descends. About 70 feet below the abbey the tunnel opens into a cavern, the floor of which is another 40 feet below that. A pair of dire bats (Bestiary, 30) and a bat swarm (Bestiary, 30) attack the PCs on their descent to the cavern floor if measures are not taken to make the delve quietly.

A number of smaller tunnels lead out from this cavern, but one has clearly seen more use than the others. Following it deeper, the PCs encounter fire beetles (Bestiary, 33) (included to give PCs a chance to have a less detectable light source and reduce the chance of random encounters as they explore the Midnight Jungle) and steadily increasing plant growth, eventually coming to a wider section of the tunnel where many (but not all) of the deceased monks hang from the ceiling in large masses of thick red fungus. The center of the room is dominated by a large patch of russet mold (Bestiary, 273). Tampering with the mold or the monks causes the vegepygmy (Bestiary, 273) gestating in them to burst forth, three of which flip through the air and assume snake style stance as they land, having assumed some of the talents of their hosts (LN vegepygmy monk 2). They fight defensively, giving other vegepygmy a chance to flee after they crawl from their hosts.

Kaldendairn, the nearly abandoned duergar mining post and current home to the vegepygmy Stonecaller tribe waits at the end of this tunnel.

Chapter 2: Location, Location, Location!

The six small buildings of Kaldendairn are carved into the sides of a large fissure extending hundreds of feet through Nar-Voth, and all but one were repurposed long ago by the lone duergar inhabitant named Grower. The fissure’s floor is flooded out, fed from waters that seep through the soil and stone above. The fissure’s ceiling is a mass of thickly threaded vines and roots. Exploration of the outpost reveals that most of the buildings are now incubation dens for a white-tipped mushroom with a sweet odor and taste, very similar to the famous Bramblebuck Ale. Making their way undetected among the buildings is difficult, especially if vegepygmy arrived to warn the tribe of the PCs disruptions. If found, the vegepygmy attempt to swarm the PCs, eventually sending their two best fighters against the PCs, a pair of nearly identical vegepygmy (N vegepygmy fighter 4) who both wield flails and armor taken from their flail-snail host. Should one of these warriors fall, the vegepygmy chieftain calls off the horde and attempts to communicate with the PCs. He tells them that they were driven from their warrens by the relentless pursuit of the flail snails and offers to move on should the PCs find and eliminate them. This is a lie and PCs have a chance to detect that the chieftain is charmed, though he refuses to admit that the effect is anything but his newfound faith in the “verdant god,” what he affectionately refers to Venixial as. He also informs the PCs that they were not able to bestow their transformative gifts to all of the monks and can point the PCs toward the tunnels the vegepygmy suspect they fled down, drastically reducing the time it might take to find them.

The PCs can explore the surrounding areas in any order, though each direction contains deadly challenges. Exploration of each can take anywhere from 16 hours to 4 days, a time drastically impacted by the PC’s survival skills and alliances made with denizens of the area. The GM should roll on a table for wandering monsters during this time.

The Broken Corridor

The viridium mines covered an impressive area for such a small operation, owing largely to the use of natural tunnels the duergar were able to follow as they mined. Most of these are ancient lava tubes but others are naturally occurring stone fissures, dried up underground waterways and caves that connect to the secondary tunnels of Nar-Voth. Following this maze-like network could eventually take travelers to the outskirts of the Endless Gulf.

This area as well as the tunnels immediately surrounding Kaldendairn poses a potentially deadly threat to the PCs as viridium taints the water in the area. Drinking the water in either Kaldendairn or the Broken Corridor poses the same risks as being struck with a viridium weapon (Ultimate Equipment, 52), though the PCs have a chance to notice the water filtration devices used by Grower in Kaldendairn before the substance poses a threat to them.

Encounters found in the Broken Corridor include traversing deadly fissures, collapsing mine tunnels, and a run-in with a duergar expedition looking to reclaim the mine. They’re armed with jars of ochre jellies (Bestiary, 218) that were meant to help clear the overgrowth from the Midnight Jungle. The expedition’s leader orders the jars hurled across the narrow gorge toward the PCs and taunts them until it appears as though they’re about to win, after which he flees into the tunnels beyond initiating a chase scene. He has one of the monks captive and intends to sell the tiefling on his return to Hagegraf.

Queen Frilogarma of the Court of Ether ordered Selenus (CE female lampad necromancer 7, weakened slightly to adjust CR) to keep an eye on the duergar miners from a distance and she eagerly vents her frustration at the task by attacking the PCs if they survive the encounter with the duergar. She and her giant crawling hand companion (Bestiary 2, 59) attack as the PCs return to the gorge.

The PCs also discover the fate of Grower, the monk’s mushroom supplier. Turned from his home by the invading vegepygmy, Grower wandered the Broken Corridor imbibing heavily as he went. In his inebriated state he became lost and accidentally triggered a cave collapse. Now his corpse wanders the Corridor as a deeplit (R3). The rattling of his empty mug against the stone walls attracted the attention of a cloaker (Bestiary, 47) which drifted up from the narrow gorge and now rides the deeplit, exploring how they can use their abilities to mutual benefit.

Eternity Bluff

Supplied by the river system above, Eternity Bluff consists of a collection of small underground lakes that empty into one another over long unbroken and steadily flowing falls. The lowest of these shallow lakes is warmed by underwater lava flows, visible from above as a network of glowing vein-like patterns beneath the steaming water’s surface.

Encounters in the Eternity Bluff consist of a wayang traveler (LN male wayang monk 5) searching for a master monk he heard lived in the area. On learning that PCs are on a similar mission, he challenges them to a friendly match. He is unaware that the monk he is seeking is actually an ancient flail snail. The PCs also find a bulette (Bestiary, 39) blissfully soaking in the hot waters. Disturbing the beast causes it to attack, breaking the floor as it leaps from PC to PC, causing lava to superheat the pool as it fights.

The PCs also discover the location of another monk, who has taken refuge in a cave laced with mnemonic crystals (GameMastery Guide, 245) beneath the base of the falls. She is meditating with what appears to be an ancient flail snail, but is actually an awakened giant slug that was living among the flail snails with the aid of a magic item that allows it to communicate via slime, an item it gives to the PCs hoping that they can find and calm the flail snails.

Unique Treasure: Slimeworn Strap:

This glistening headband allows the wearer to grow a thin layer of mucus that when touched to similar membranes or residue allows for temporary telepathic communication. PCs can use this to read and write flail snail slime trails, though it confers vulnerability to salt.

The Mulch Fens

The Whisperwood forest floor is the location of an immeasurable amount of decaying plant matter, some of which is pushed deep underground where it feeds the cavernous tunnels known as the Mulch Fens. Towering columns of fungus grow from the damp, muddy floors while the ceiling above is carpeted with layers of moss and bioluminescent mold.

Those entering the Mulch Fens must first swim through the flooded, murky tunnels leading from the fissure floor of Kaldendairn. The entrance is guarded on one side by underwater green slime (Core Rulebook, 416) planted adjacent to phosphorescent fungus to trick swimmers into believing they can surface for a breath. On the other side wait a trio of flail snails (Bestiary 3, 118) waiting to kill anything that emerges from the pool. The monk that fled to this area made it deeper into the Mulch Fens but fell to a patch of midnight morel (The Worldwound, 29) that could endanger the PCs as they investigate.

The surviving flail snail twin, Twice Born (CN flail snail bloodrager 6) resides in the Mulch Fens as well, waiting for the opportunity to visit its rage upon more of the vegepygmy that sundered its familial bond. Its anger allowed it to twist its magical nature, becoming an aberrant bloodline bloodrager. It visits all its rage on the PCs if they claim to represent the vegepygmy.

The PCs also encounter the rot grub (GameMastery Guide, 245) infected remains of one of Venixial’s unfinished meals.

Optional Location: Starlit Grove:

GMs looking to expand the Journey into Midnight can include the Starlit Grove as an optional encounter area. Some of the largest trees of the Whisperwood have roots that dig deep into Nar-Voth. The ceiling of this chamber is thick with such growth, and the center is dominated by a dense thicket of roots extending vertically through the chamber. Through those roots, onlookers can see the twinkling of starlight beyond, for nestled within is a portal to the First World.

Chapter 3: Jealous God

Returning to Kaldendairn, the PCs find that the vegepygmy sent scouts of their own into the surrounding tunnels to wake their “verdant god.” Once roused, the root dragon Venixial is not pleased that the PCs interfered with her growing horde of loyal followers, whether they destroyed the colony or dared to openly converse with them. She flies into a jealous rage and begins to tear down the root supports for the fissure’s ceiling, letting large chunks of debris and torrents of water flow through the small settlement. The PCs can climb the cavern walls to confront her, or find another way, like riding on the backs of the flail snails. Once above, the PCs can leap from vine to root while combating the dreadful wyrm.

New Monster: Root Dragon:

Root dragons are found in the First World where they are at home among the titanic trees and thick undergrowth. Their dark, rough and irregularly shaped scales camouflage them well in such environments. They shed their wings annually during the cold season allowing them to burrow underground easily. During other seasons their wings match the color and appearance of leaves, beginning green and darkening to brilliant shades of reds and oranges. Their breath weapon is a cloud of spores that take root and grow in those that breathe it, causing entanglement and choking. Plant creatures are immune but can be charmed instead.

With Venixial defeated, the remaining vegepygmy scatter and pose little threat to Senara. The Master of Blades orders the opening to Nar-Voth sealed, but it won’t be long before the Whisperwood Abbey attracts new acolytes from monasteries in Isger. Continuing the campaign in Nar-Voth could mean more monks were abducted by the duergar or dark fey, requiring PCs to venture into other Darklands realms to save them. The Starlit grove could draw more agents from the Court of Ether to the region, requiring a response from Senara’s adventurers.

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 the proposal (as with the other three adventure reviews) focuses primarily upon how the adventure fits into the Inner Sea region, and how interesting the adventure sounds as a whole. I'm going to present feedback with very little sugar-coating as well, since I've always held that frank and honest feedback is more valuable.

Feedback for Journey Into Midnight

The Basics
Title: A pretty plain title. Considering the outlandish nature of so much going on in the adventure, the title feels mundane and underwhelming. If this adventure wins, I’d likely try to find a better title for it…
Location: Another adventure set below Cheliax. I might want to look into next year specifically asking RPG superstar proposals to deliberately NOT be set in the same region as upcoming Adventure Paths, just so we can get some variety in our adventure locations. I’d hoped that by requiring these adventures to be set in the Darklands to avoid that. In any event… the portion of the adventure that takes place above ground should be minimized, if not cut entirely. Spend as little time in the monastery as possible before letting the PCs descend into the Darklands.
Plot: The central plot—that a popular drink is made from ingredients harvested in Nar Voth and that when the source of those ingredients goes missing the monks send PCs down to investigate, is pretty unusual and flavorful. Once things get going, though… there’s not a lot of compelling things to KEEP it going. It just starts feeling like lots of various underground encounters, without a story to hold them together other than “keep exploring.” Consider working subplots into the main plot to address this. Focusing more on tracking down scattered monks might be a good way to keep things interesting… Alternately, presenting the Midnight Jungle as a sandbox region to explore with lots of quests to accomplish within might work too.

The Good

Spoiler:

1) Wow… I’m pretty impressed with your use of flail snails. These are tough creatures to use without things coming off as just silly, and you’ll have to tread carefully when writing this adventure to avoid that pitfall.

2) A fight against a bulette whose actions and burrowing weaken the environment is a neat idea… but take care involving lava in a 5th level adventure! That stuff BURNS.

3) The slimeworn strap is an interesting idea for a magic item, and one that will help the PCs learn more about the weird in this adventure… but who would make these? Not flail snails… I don’t see them as being big into crafting magic items… both because they warp magic but also because they don’t have hands. It’d be neat to see some sort of element of some culture in this adventure have more interactions with flail snails and thus give a reason for something like a slimeworn strap to exist in the first place.

4) Exploring an established location in Nar Voth is, in fact, what I’d prefer, and the Midnight Jungle is an excellent choice.

Development Challenges

Spoiler:

1) I’m not fond of the duergar exile being the source of the monks’ secret ingredient. There’s plenty of other non-evil races to choose from that’d do better, especially if you choose a more obscure or unusual creature. Why would a duergar WANT to help the monks? This would have been a good place to tell me a bit more about how and why this duergar is so “off model” from what I’d normally expect a duergar to do. You can’t just drop in a duergar in such an unusual role and not expect me to question if you really understand what duergar are about. He needs a REASON to not be evil and to cooperate with others, and I’m not satisfied you’ve given him one.

2) Vegepygmies is the plural form, not “vegepygmy.”

3) It’s always best to start an adventure with a single hook rather than a host of them. Pick one hook and you’ll save space by not trying to overdo things. It’s always better to spend as much words as you can on the adventure than on what happens BEFORE the adventure, after all.

4) If the monks have regular traffic to and from the Darklands, it’s unlikely that there’d be dangerous monsters like dire bats lurking right there so close to their basement; the monks would have likely driven them off.

5) Vegepygmies don’t actually ever “retain” their birth corpse’s talents or skills. They aren’t templated creatures like that. They CAN gain levels on their own, but freshly born ones are just plain old vegepygmies; they wouldn’t be monks. And they can’t be anyway, since freshly born vegepygmies aren’t lawfully aligned. Furthermore… they don’t automatically have knowledge of the region or their own kind further down a tunnel, and as such wouldn’t know to “flee down the tunnel to warn their tribe.” In fact, their instincts are to protect the patch of russet mold, so the first vegepygmies the PCs encounter wouldn’t think of running anywhere; their mold is right there, after all.

6) “Grower” is a pretty silly name. Avoid using names that are words like that in most cases for most NPCs. An NPC named “Grower” is more likely to get made fun of as a farmer or something by your players than treated seriously. Of course… if you WANT your NPC to be a joke and a source of comedy… that’s fine. But that’s not the goal of this NPC as far as I can see.

7) Vegepygmies can’t talk, and hinging an important plot point on having one of them needing to communicate with the PCs is dangerous. Make sure there are more ways for the PCs to learn what’s going on than talking to a creature they’re not likely to be able to easily communicate with in the first place.

8) The first two chapter titles, like the adventure title, are pretty dull. The third chapter title is pretty good.

9) Ochre jellies are big. They wouldn’t fit in jars that could be easily carried by duergar… even in their larger form. Green slime’s a better option for this type of stunt.

10) That wayang is WAY far from home. Not sure he’s the right choice of creature to include here. A wayang should be a MUCH more important part of an adventure set so far from Tian Xia, not just a glorified wandering monster.

11) You normally can’t awaken a giant slug. Also, you already have intelligent philosopher poet snails in this adventure. A talking giant slug is too much.

12) Midnight Morels are unlikely to be encountered outside of the Worldwound.

13) As a creature that can’t talk and lacks hands and warps magic… a spellcasting class is in fact a poor choice for a flail snail. In fact… they’re so weird and alien that ANY character class is a weird choice. It’s better to just advance their hit dice to make them more powerful.

14) Adding a portal to the First World is too distracting; don’t do it.

15) “Root dragon” is not a direction I’d like to see dragons go to. “Root” seems not powerful or frightening enough a word to put in front of “dragon.” Furthermore, this is a Darklands adventure, and that means that it’s weird to have First World creatures. I’d rather see a Darklands themed monster as the leader of the vegepygmies.

Final Thoughts
You’ve found a pretty interesting way to utilize flail snails, which is surprising. The rest of this adventure, alas, feels a bit scattered; the encounters are all over the place and the plot is a basic “run around and gather the missing treasure” type plot; replacing the “treasure” in this case with missing monks is an interesting idea… but in the end, the adventure’s story isn’t all that compelling to me. These all kinda make the adventure lack focus, and that makes it difficult for me to imagine it as a fun adventure to play, unfortunately.

I do not recommend “Journey Into Midnight” for consideration as the winner of RPG Superstar 2015.

Paizo Employee Modules Overlord

First, congratulations on making it to the final four! And, thanks. I know I put you through the wringer on a number of these challenges, and I appreciate the effort you've put into all these rounds. Without your hard work, there's no contest.

Also, don’t take any of the comments below to indicate I think this adventure pitch is bad. It's not. You've proven you deserve to be here, and I am going to respond with straight talk commentary and assume you can absorb that professionally, given how well you've done so far.

Now, on to judging!

Since James Jacobs is ably handling the Big Picture concerns, I can just judge based on how easy I think the adventure would be to develop, and my opinion of the concepts and presentation! I don’t want to ask voters to read too many long comments, so I'll keep my comments concise.

Title: "Journey Into Midnight" sounds too generic. I literally could not remember it from minute to minute. It doesn’t tell the GM anything about the adventure, and is unlikely to spark player's imagination.

Introduction: This doesn't feel like most adventure set-ups, and that's good. It also doesn’t feel like something PCs are going to be particularly determined to fix or proud of advancing through until quite late, and that's a problem.

Chapter One: There's really no need to spend more than 1 or 2 encounters here. Move on to Nar-Voth asap.

Chapter Two: If the vegepygmies aren’t the real threat, the PCs spend a lot of time dealing with (and likely killing) them.

Chapter Three: This ends up sounding like the dragon would have just ignored the PCs if they hadn’t already killed a bunch of vegepygmies, and that's not compelling. A major villain should be proactive, moving forward and causing problems, or at least being an obvious and growing threat.

The plot of this adventure is the first problem, and it runs through a lot of lackluster motivation. I love the flail snails, which surprises me, and a lot of the locations sound interesting, but the entire idea of what motivates the PCs and the stakes if they fail needs to be revised.

I do not recommend "Journey Into Midnight" for consideration as the winner of RPG Superstar 2015.


I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the finalists. In my role at Green Ronin Publishing I have certainly seen my share of adventure proposals and can say that I think crafting adventures is one of the most difficult parts of designing in the roleplaying games arena. My comments are coming from the perspective of someone who routinely has to weigh in on balancing creative concerns with larger business strategy issues.

I found the initial premise of the favorite brew becoming unavailable a fun twist on the "meet in a bar, get hired for a job" trope and kept wishing that the proposed title played up that idea more. Then not only the brew but the brewers themselves go missing and I was ready for some good old investigative adventuring. Unfortunately from the first encounter I was given pause by details that just didn't seem to fit: if the monks are regularly getting shipments of their secret ingredient via the platform and the cavern below the abbey, why is the mechanism left to rust and disrepair? If raising and lowering the platform causes noises that cause dire bats and a bat swarm to attack, wouldn't the monks have seen to that situation lest it interfere with their supply long before the situation they disappeared to investigate? As it read, the proposal seemed to offer up encounters that occurred too randomly and without enough connection to the offered plot: could the monks really have kept to a regular brewing schedule (assuming regular deliveries of their secret ingredient) when fire beetles are poised to attack at any time on their main transit route and the caverns rife with fungus and aggressive molds? The proposal seems to assume that the PCs will continue to explore the larger area long after the initial question of what happened to the brew and the brewers is addressed, at least at a surface level (the majority of the monks are dead and hanging from the ceiling amongst the fungus in Chapter 1).

Without significant revisions to better create a through-line for the adventure, and to better engage and motivate the PCs, I cannot recommend this adventure for RPG Superstar 2015.


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Needs a better title.

Strange Brew?
To Snail Beyond the Sunset?
Flails, Snails, and Ales?

Sovereign Court

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RJGrady wrote:
Flails, Snails, and Ales?

Best - title - ever.

Champion Voter Season 6, Champion Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Champion Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Congratulations on making the Top 4! Well done! I’m going to be very honest and straight up in my review here. Please understand when I seem harsh that this is designed to be constructive rather than to malign. I think all four finalists are excellent designers with many great ideas!

The title suggests an introductory adventure to the Darklands, and to some extent this adventure is that. But aside from the entrance to Nar-Voth through the monastery, there is little in what has been written to suggest the wonder of crossing a threshold into a new world. There lacks the sense of the deep underground that differentiates Darklands adventures from standard dungeon adventure.

Alright, I’m not sure how exciting or unique this adventure is going to be based on the summary which seems to be a rather typical “investigation of a structure leads to dungeon crawl” form. Not very original in base plot. There doesn’t seem initially to be much on the line other than the drying up of a source of ale. While important from a socio-economic sense for the community of Senara, this doesn’t strike me as very important or interesting as a goal. I applaud moving away from save the town/village/person/world scenarios we usually get, the chief goal of the adventure has to be more than monetary gain as hirelings to spark my desire to run such a game for my players.

I like that more than one way for PC involvement was thought of, but there seems to be very little effort placed on this. Most of the hooks are the same: hired by some third party to investigate the disappearance of the monks. Adventure Hooks have to be fairly divergent so as to appeal to a broad group of PCs and reasons for being in the right place at the right time. There just isn’t enough variation here to cover possible alignments and motivations.

The use of titles like “Location, Location, Location!” turns me off: attempts at humor just make me feel that the adventure isn’t serious in nature. While an occasional light romp is fine, there are very few modules put out by Paizo each year which makes each of them something of an event. The plotting has not struck me as being all that interesting, especially when compared to submissions from past years. The use of conventional plotting and lack of serious tone is leaving me flat.

The fact that vegepygmies are among my favorite monsters should be helping here, but it isn’t. One of the creepiest things about vegepygmies is the way they communicate: through drum beats and stick clacking. The ticking and booming through the dark can be very unnerving to a party of adventurers and sets an intriguing mood. None of this is used; in fact, the vegepygmy chieftain communicates with the PCs, but no mention of how is given. Talking? He shouldn’t be able to. Something is off here and requires some explanation. I’m ignoring the fact that the plural of vegepygmy is vegepygmies: that can be corrected easily enough though it is distracting.

Flail snails as a significant participant in the story is a highly questionable choice. While flail snails have a fascinating back story given them by Paizo and it is a bold choice, they work better as enigmatic random encounters or as a quest for esoteric knowledge. This placement as a faction in a struggle for territory is out of place with their nature. Still, this is the very first time I have ever seen them used in a major way within an adventure and could be—with some small adjustments—be made into a very cool story.

The optional encounter area is alright, but perhaps should have had an encounter briefly touched upon to give a better understanding on how it is to be used. As it stands it is just a corridor connecting this area to the fey. Ultimately not very inspiring.

I like the root dragon; it is a cool and interesting new monster. Using it as the main foe isn’t bad, but as written there seems little foreshadowing of this seems like a tagged on encounter rather than the cause of the troubles. Whenever there is a big bad, they should have at least some effect on the events that led up to the adventure. Otherwise they lack the depth that great and memorable villains have.

In the end this isn’t a very inspiring adventure, with a main foe that is irrelevant to the buildup and a threat that, once dealt with, really changes nothing. The surface world is not really threatened, the monastery isn’t back in business, and few of the monks can be saved. Why would the adventurers bother?

Sadly this adventure proposal lacks an evocative spark or solid enough story for me to want to play or run it. As such, I will not be voting for this entry.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
Title: A pretty plain title. Considering the outlandish nature of so much going on in the adventure, the title feels mundane and underwhelming. If this adventure wins, I’d likely try to find a better title for it…
Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Title: "Journey Into Midnight" sounds too generic. I literally could not remember it from minute to minute. It doesn’t tell the GM anything about the adventure, and is unlikely to spark player's imagination.

I'm just surprised no one has mentioned how close it is to being identical to Pathfinder #18.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Champion Voter Season 6, Champion Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Champion Voter Season 9

I really like the idea of the root dragon. A primal First World take on dragons. Best part of this submission, just needs a new name.


THE SECRET INGREDIENT (which of course is imagination) would be a tasty title for this finely crafted, Top shelf Adventure! This submission is rich with favor, full of back story, and brimming with graphic depictions of the flora, fauna, and villains dwelling in the murky, immense, untamed jungle beneath the Abby. The canvas the author paints gives the adventurers and GM the panorama tableau surrounding the narrow path that the party must travel to complete their mission. My imagination got a big gulp of the taste and favors of this place, and teleported my mind, with extreme gusto, into the very clever story and interesting characters (especially in such a short summary). I believe without "a lot going on" in the setting around the adventure, the place would not be a jungle. It would be closer to a petting zoo.... or nature preserve, neither of which would present a challenge to seasoned party of adventurers. I enjoy adventures were some content parallel to the mission is present, which is non mission critical, and which must be avoided by a clever party. The close proximity of these story element parallel to the core mission give a non-unified, over confident, and poorly equipped adventure group license and opportunity to stray from the core mission. Such a departure from the objective will ultimately avail the party the chance to slowly kill themselves by wasting resources/time on unnecessary tasks. Some of my favorite memories at PATHFINDER events are waiting for another PFS event group to finish an adventure, one that I had already participate in, to find out if my PATHFINDER friends strayed from the mission goals and fought a big bad monster that they could have avoided (Ghenett Manor comes painfully to mind). I agree the chapter titles need to be modified. I like the idea of incorporating a growing threat. How about.... if the monks have been bribing the Root Dragon with a barrel of ale every two weeks (You have all heard of Root Beer right?)to check the dragons aggression. If the Secret Ingredient (again a good title for this adventure) is not found, then the ale cannot be produced. Without the ale the monks will be unable to prevent the Root Dragon (that lush) from attacking the Abby! In summation, the author colors a vivid back drop of reality and overlays the mission setting atop this rich environment. The author mixes up and pours, a heady adventure "tALE" that I am certain my gaming group would thoroughly guzzle to the frothy dregs. Cheers to the winning submission!

Star Voter Season 8

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm basically just an average GM, and I spend much more time reading adventures than actually playing them, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

When I heard the words Midnight Jungle, I was excited. That name just screams awesome.

Unfortunately, once I got to the body of the submission the writing got a bit lackluster. Part of this is the writing style itself - there's still a fair amount of passive voice for so late in the competition, some of the sentences are choppy, and the Introduction section especially is in need of good transitions.

As a monster, dragon or not, the Root Dragon is a really cool creature. I love the way it sheds its wings. The final battle sounds awesome and climactic, with debris flying everywhere. Unfortunately, the encounters before that are lackluster. There are little glimmers of interest, such as the way the vegepygmy monks try to defend their comrades, but some of the encounters are nothing more than a bland location and a Bestiary entry.

There are elements of this proposal that have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the writing quality and the filler encounters in between make me doubt your ability to pull it off, and I am less interested in the adventure as a whole.

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

Congratulations Brian!

Almost cliche title, I came here last.
Unique hook, and probably appropriate for a 5th level party that may or may not be up to saving the world just yet. Finding the missing monks seems more adventurous, so I think the hook is all that needs to be. This should be the meat of the adventure, but I feel like it is just a way to add vegepygmies. Those are fun critters but are they will be a little repetitive after a while. EDIT: an advanced relative that does retain memories/skills and ability would let the encounters be varied a little more. Ahhh... here we go "new monster: Root Dragon" Not what I was hoping a vege-dragon is a potential niche for a new monster.

I love PFs flail snails. Every time I have run Bestiary Bash I hope someone will bring a sorcerer flail snail. EDIT: JJ pointed out the main problem: no hands requires a meta-magic feat to cast spells, meta-magic feat requires caster levels to get, but I digress. I think their presence is excellent. More importantly I think their involvement is well done here. These snails have a story with an interesting antagonist that with clear motivation. I agree it needs a better tie to the lost monks/secret ingredient, but this could be worked out. (They captured the Grower for his cultivating skills(?). Likewise the slug, needs a better tie in (wildshaped druid?) but only for the sake of the magic item. The slug could be a racial rival to the snails, and a benefactor to the vegepygmies (new monster: club-slug :P) Maybe that story got cut in your editing.

I like much of this but I think it is going to take more development to be a complete adventure.

I hope I get to see you bring us flail-snails in the future!

Thanks for a great ride this year Brian, good luck!

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

Hi Brian,

First of all, congratulations on getting to the Top 4. Unfortunately, like others, I found your pitch fell a bit short, starting right from the introduction.

I start with Bramblebuck Ale. OK, clear enough. Then I kind of back into the introduction of the sole duergar. It's linked to the first section, so I see how they tie together, but I felt like I was oddly reading it out of chronological order. And then I get into vegepygmies and ... flail snails? Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that. And I'm afraid it makes me immediately wonder what's going to go on here, but not necessarily in a good way. Finally we introduce a dragon but I think the section fails to really link all these parts together and give me a strong coherent plotline. That problem of a lack of a overarching plot carries through.

(I was torn on the plot hooks. On one hand, this doesn't feel like the most urgent of adventures. On the other, beer would probably get a lot of characters interested as much as anything would. :) )

I also feel like a lot of the adventure is somewhat "empty." That may seem strange, because you give a lot of encounters, but they feel largely random and not tied to a larger story for the GM and players to discover. Chapter 1 is a strong example: The first part of the adventure is going to be exploring this monastery, but there's nothing there. Other than the bats and beetles, there's little for the PCs to do until they finally get to the hanging monks. I like that image, but I'm not sure it's enough to pin the whole chapter on. Now maybe if the monastery itself had some of the vegepygmies, players might wonder what's going on and get invested, but that gets away from the adventure being set in Nar-Voth, which was the goal.

Chapter 2 is sandboxy, but again, it feels a bit empty to me. Other than the one plot with the vegepygmies, there's no real reason for the PCs to be exploring much this area. The Broken Corridor, for example, solves the mystery of Grower, but the PCs might not be aware or even care about Grower and I think there's little they can do for him at this point (my guess is they'll simply kill him, though I suppose they could try to bring him to the surface...). You do introduce some NPCs, which I appreciate, though I probably would want to see them higher level, so they prove more of a challenge to the PCs should it come to combat.

And then we get back to flail snails, which have a large role in the adventure. My problem is I don't think the players I typically have will really buy into that. To me, it's just too incongruous a monster, though I do appreciate what I feel was the big risk you took to use it. I see other people saying flail snails have a bigger role in Paizo's setting, but unfortunately I'm not aware of it (and my search of Pathfinder Wiki revealed nothing).

Unfortunately, I think I just have trouble buying into the events you've presented or really caring about them. I think it would feel like a really long side quest more than a memorable adventure culminating in a battle with a dragon. Good luck, though.

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

Most of my comments would echo the other judges (especially JJs) with a few additions of my own...

I was never big on vegepygmies and your adventure doesn't sell me more on them. They seem more like an annoyance at this particular point, and they have funky rules to work around (like no speech and as JJ pointed out, would think the monk's body is their "home" etc.)

I like that you went for adding flail snails, but it seems... poorly done. Not terribly done, but just under developed. Also, your one specific extra magic item does stand out as odd, and while it's interesting and even necessary for communication with the snails, or understanding their poetry, etc.... I don't know. Getting access to their thoughts and desires by reading their poetry ruins them a little unless they're extremely well done.

In the end, it feels like you added all the things you thought were cool and blended them together writing an adventure that connects those cool things (monks, flail snails, wayangs, vegepygmies, etc.) but that doesn't equal a cool adventure. None of these choices feel organic or nature except the vegepymies and those are my least interesting element.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

I'm pretty much on board with what others have been saying. It felt to me like you were having a hard time deciding how sand-boxy to make the adventure, and ended up not tying everything together strongly enough as a result. I also agree with earlier posts suggesting that you'd have been wise to play up the whole "special brew" angle more prominently throughout; I myself would probably have tried to find a villain or antagonist of some kind that wanted the secret ingredient for its own purposes, and made that a big part of the adventure.
As for the root dragon, I think the idea has more legs than some of the judges, particularly because it resonates with mythological images of wyrms gnawing at the root of the Great World Tree and the like, but your take on it didn't tap into that angle very much.
I don't think I'll be voting for this one, but I thought your work just kept getting stronger as the contest carried on, and I'm hopeful we'll see some public work from you before long!

Scarab Sages Star Voter Season 8

So, after reading through this adventure, I can say that it's not perfect. There are definitely some things that can be improved, and some areas where the author can grow. Personally, I think the adventure looks like a lot of fun and the type of thing I'd like to sit down to. I'll fully admit that I'm the type of adventurer who likes the "uncanny" and really enjoys unique, off the beaten path adventure types, so this sort of adventure is my jam.

However, I'm more concerned about the criticisms levied by the judges. I feel like a lot of the critique provided is not assisting and some of it is flat-out wrong. Now, I understand that this is more or less a “side project” for our illustrious Paizo overlords, but when you’re looking at a high caliber contest like this and judging the work of passionate (if slightly under-experienced) writers, it seems unfair to make the sorts of criticisms I’m seeing here:

James Jacobs wrote:
I might want to look into next year specifically asking RPG superstar proposals to deliberately NOT be set in the same region as upcoming Adventure Paths, just so we can get some variety in our adventure locations. I’d hoped that by requiring these adventures to be set in the Darklands to avoid that.

Didn’t the finalists need to get approval via pitch before this entry was created? If so, why was it allowed then? It seems odd to blast someone for knowledge beyond their grasp.

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James Jacobs wrote:
A fight against a bulette whose actions and burrowing weaken the environment is a neat idea… but take care involving lava in a 5th level adventure! That stuff BURNS.

I think that’s probably why it was said that it superheats the water. Lava is very powerful, but lava underneath water causing it to boil would just end up being… boiling water. Seems much more manageable by a 5th level party (though still potentially dangerous), and in my opinion a very cool visual… “lava glowing deep under the water, causing numerous bubbles to rise up and disturb the surface of a once warm pool of water to a boiling roil”:

” http://www.d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/environment/environmental-rules” wrote:
Boiling water deals 1d6 points of scalding damage, unless the character is fully immersed, in which case it deals 10d6 points of damage per round of exposure.

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James Jacobs wrote:
If the monks have regular traffic to and from the Darklands, it’s unlikely that there’d be dangerous monsters like dire bats lurking right there so close to their basement; the monks would have likely driven them off.

I’m honestly a bit baffled by this one. There are so many possibilities as to WHY there would be a creature here that it doesn’t even seem like a point to make whatsoever. Perhaps the dire bats were being fed by the monks, and now that they’re gone the beasts are hungry and angry, attacking the PCs when they show up. Perhaps the bats simply moved in during the few days / weeks since the monks have gone missing (you know, like normal bats do in every day life. Ever gotten bats in your attic or chimney? Nearly everyone ever has at one point or another. I mean, come on.

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James Jacobs wrote:
“Grower” is a pretty silly name. Avoid using names that are words like that in most cases for most NPCs. An NPC named “Grower” is more likely to get made fun of as a farmer or something by your players than treated seriously. Of course… if you WANT your NPC to be a joke and a source of comedy… that’s fine. But that’s not the goal of this NPC as far as I can see.

Ahem…

” http://www.d20pfsrd.com/psionics-unleashed/races/duergar” wrote:

Note On Names Duergars abstain from traditional naming conventions, often viewing names as a pointless exercise in a doomed world. When young, they are ‘child,' and then become ‘woman' and ‘man'. Amongst the other races, they often take on a name because their companions ask them to; this name is often matter-of-fact and describes their perceived role in the world.

Names Hammer, Smith, War, Hunter, Tailor, Shieldbearer, Slayer, Hatemonger

Grower doesn’t seem silly at all. It seems quite normal for a duergar name, actually. (NOTE: this is a third party notation, but having used the d20pfsrd to get to it, I can see how such a conclusion would be made as well. However, considering there is no “official” naming convention via Paizo material, it works)

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James Jacobs wrote:
Vegepygmies can’t talk, and hinging an important plot point on having one of them needing to communicate with the PCs is dangerous. Make sure there are more ways for the PCs to learn what’s going on than talking to a creature they’re not likely to be able to easily communicate with in the first place.
”Brian J. Fruzen” wrote:
Should one of these warriors fall, the vegepygmy chieftain calls off the horde and attempts to communicate with the PCs.

Bolded for relevance… it doesn’t say they talk to the PCs, it says they try to communicate. Writing is communicating. Or gesturing. Or a plethora of other methods as well. Sure, elaboration towards such would have been nice, but it’s not hard to draw such a conclusion from what we’re given, and a finished product would most certainly include such.

Admittedly, it would have been good for Brian to include an alternate way of getting this info too, but non-verbal communication with creatures to try to gather information is interesting and different, in my opinion.
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”James Jacobs” wrote:
Ochre jellies are big. They wouldn’t fit in jars that could be easily carried by duergar… even in their larger form. Green slime’s a better option for this type of stunt.

Wow… where to start here?

” http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/oozes/jelly-ochre“ wrote:

Split (Ex)

Slashing weapons, piercing weapons, and electricity attacks deal no damage to an ochre jelly. Instead the creature splits into two identical jellies, each with half of the original creature's current hit point total, rounded down. A jelly with 10 hit points or less cannot be further split and dies if reduced to 0 hit points.

Now, while it does not explicitly say such, I think it’s a fair assumption to make that split ochre jellies would weigh half as much, and probably take up less space too. It’d be easy to split an ochre jelly into a few bits and then jar up the off-shoots. That would actually be pretty interesting in my opinion.

Also…
”http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/monsters/ochreJelly.html#ochre-jelly” wrote:
Notes in a long-forgotten tome mention a burial practice used in faraway places that resembles cremation. Instead of burning the corpse to ashes, the practitioners seal the body into a stone sarcophagus with an ochre jelly so it can dissolve the body. Afterward, the morticians place the ochre jelly into a large canopic jar, complete with a bronze plaque naming the deceased.

It seems not only quite easy, but practical, to jar ochre jellies.

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
That wayang is WAY far from home. Not sure he’s the right choice of creature to include here. A wayang should be a MUCH more important part of an adventure set so far from Tian Xia, not just a glorified wandering monster.

Why? What makes a wayang so special that it can’t be included here? This sounds like personal preference… and as such, not very legitimate criticism.

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
You normally can’t awaken a giant slug. Also, you already have intelligent philosopher poet snails in this adventure. A talking giant slug is too much.

Uhh… a druid capable of casting awaken, with the Vermin Heart feat, casts it on a giant slug … What am I missing here? It looks very easy to awaken a vermin, if you’re a druid capable of casting 5th level spells with a single feat. Also, “a talking giant slug is too much” is more personal preference rather than critique. I think it sounds really unique and cool.

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
Midnight Morels are unlikely to be encountered outside of the Worldwound.

So, just because the material was printed in the Worldwound campaign setting means you can’t find it elsewhere? Why? The material doesn’t say as much.

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
As a creature that can’t talk and lacks hands and warps magic… a spellcasting class is in fact a poor choice for a flail snail.

I… I think bloodragers can do things other than cast spells, right?

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
Adding a portal to the First World is too distracting; don’t do it.

Why? It seems like “distracting” and “interesting” are interchangeable here or something. Geez, far be it for an adventure to pave way towards… more adventure…

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”James Jacobs” wrote:
“Root dragon” is not a direction I’d like to see dragons go to. “Root” seems not powerful or frightening enough a word to put in front of “dragon.” Furthermore, this is a Darklands adventure, and that means that it’s weird to have First World creatures. I’d rather see a Darklands themed monster as the leader of the vegepygmies.

Again, I have to disagree. I think having an otherworldly creature ruling over the simple vegepygmies is perfect. Also, I guess you’re not familiar with terrifying creatures like treants (ents)? From a non-PF example, the fight scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers around Isengard was terrifying. I think a plant-infused dragon is pretty awesome and totally in-line with the flavor of this adventure.

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”Owen K. C. Stephens” wrote:
This ends up sounding like the dragon would have just ignored the PCs if they hadn’t already killed a bunch of vegepygmies, and that's not compelling. A major villain should be proactive, moving forward and causing problems, or at least being an obvious and growing threat.

It would have chewed up word count, but it would have been awesome to have signs of the dragon scattered around the adventure… large claw marks torn into cavern walls, strange root-like outcroppings in unnatural areas (results of the root dragon’s breath weapon), etc… in fact, I’d imagine such description would be in a finished product.

In addition, the adventure clearly states that the root dragon is upset with the party regardless of outcome, including simply interfering with them via communication / alliance.
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Let me reiterate my earlier sentiment: this is a contest, for fun, which can nonetheless have an impact on the future of these prospective writers. Criticism is great, and constructive criticism is even better. However, in many of the things I outlined here, these don’t qualify as constructive in any way. It’s disappointing to see it go down this way, but ultimately… this was a good adventure. Of course, there can only be one winner, and perhaps this one didn’t stack up against the competition. But at the end of the day, if you have to rely on flimsy arguments, incorrect statements or straight-up biased commentary, what good does that do for our contestants?

Paizo Employee Modules Overlord

On a broad note, let me say that at the pitch stage, we're dealing with people who have already proven they are a cut above average, and have very few things like game mechanics with clear right/wrong issues. As a result, most constructive criticism IS going to be matters of opinion, and the opinions of people who actually green light adventures for noteworthy RPG companies (speaking of James Jacobs and Nicole Lindroos, not myself) are something anyone who wants to be a successful freelance writer should take very seriously.

Put another way, even if Grower was a culturally appropriate name for a duergar that doesn't change the fact that it's silly, and is likely to be a source of ridicule. However, we've named Duergar NPCs before, and they don't take the form of the 3pp material you reference. In fact if I thought the name had come from referencing a 3pp source, that would have been another mark against this pitch - never assume 3pp material applies to Golarion. Since we have War-Marshal Brithuan (the duergar leader of the Nar-Voth community of Fellstrok), there's no reason to think Grower is even appropriate to Nar-Voth duergar.

As for my specific comment, I stand by my assessment that it under-uses the main villain. Her plot is only described as "sees great potential in the vegepygmy and their explosive reproductive process." There's no sense of her end goal, no suggestion the PCs will learn about her until she explodes onto the scene, and no sign of her until that moment. Yes, an end product could add those things, but the pitch should mention such elements since they are the entire reason there's an adventure, and form the motivation and PC expectations of the final villain. I have no reason, from this pitch, to believe such elements will make it into the final adventure unless I add them as developer, and that's a major failing of the pitch.

As I said, there are things I like about Journey into Midnight, but overall the pitch lacked some crucial elements, and I disagree with most of your criticism of the criticism.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

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First let me express how thankful I am for the opportunity to participate in this contest again. I don’t expect to win, but it’s been a fun ride and I’ve learned a great deal. I didn’t really understand the nuances of making a proposal (see sections below) and if nothing else I hope that the improvement I’ve shown from my encounter entry in 2014 to my encounter entry this year will show everyone that provided me with feedback that I will make great use of it. My next adventure proposal, wherever that might be, will be stronger for the kindness you’ve all shown me in offering your opinions. Thank you.

Below you’ll find insight into my thought process while designing this adventure proposal. I regret that some of the intent I had didn’t translate to the proposal very well and I’ll fully admit that to be a failing with how I wrote it. In trying to assemble the nuts and bolts of the proposal, I left too much of what I wanted to convey to hang on too little, a mistake I won’t make again. I hope you’ll find my thoughts on what went into this entertaining though.

Names: Naming is one of the areas I spend a lot of time deliberating, and is usually the last thing I decide on. I did not expect any of the names I listed here to remain throughout the design process. I thought Journey into Midnight was the closest to being a finished title, with a simple elegance that almost came too close to just outright stating what the adventure was about, and in that regard could be seen as a little boring. I had glanced at the Second Darkness AP early in this year’s contest and must have subconsciously picked up on the title Descent into Midnight. The Google results didn’t turn up anything of significance so that’s the title I went with. Obviously it’s near identical to a product Paizo already released and it needs to get changed. Alternatives titles that I feared would be criticized as too outlandish were The Bramblebuck Beckoning and The Tale of the Half-Fiend’s Brew.

Other naming issues included the name “Grower,” which I settled on after reading an entry about duergar naming conventions on d20pfsrd, which was the only notation I could find about what kind of names duergar have. I thought it was silly too, but the idea that they just named each other after their jobs made sense to me given the worker nature of their society and I didn’t dig deeper to find more. Obviously I should have.

I gave a lot of thought to what kind of names flail snails and vegepygmies would have. They have no spoken language which presents some interesting problems when it comes to naming them. I look forward to pondering this issue at greater length regardless of the outcome of this contest.

Theme: Nar-Voth is described as being 0-2000 feet below the surface, so I wanted to play up the idea that this is an alien world still influenced by things from the surface. Not being able to speak easily with potentially hostile life forms was meant to be a continuing problem and a central mechanism to making this strange world hit home with the PCs. When the vegepygmies “attempt to communicate” (I was very specific with my wording in the proposal) with the PCs it represents a defining moment for the players, when they are first given the opportunity to realize that things work differently in the Darklands and attempt to work through it, or continue to murder everything in sight as adventurers sometimes do. The players can succeed in their mission regardless of the style of adventure they pick.

I wanted to highlight Nar-Voth as its own world, separate from the world above, but still close enough to be heavily influenced by it. That and its underground wilderness themes were what set it apart from Sekamina and Orv, in my mind at least. I thought the roots and the rotting vegetation of the Whispering Wood above as major influencing factors in this subterranean world would help to convey these ideas and remind players how dangerously close Nar-Voth actually is, even while the creatures that live there demonstrate how alien they are when compared to the surface. It’s an entirely different world, happening just beneath their feet.

Monsters: If the encounters seem somewhat disconnected it’s because I wanted to convey a sense of exploration while the PCs spent time underground. I didn’t accomplish this as masterfully as I would have liked though. Elements of each area were meant to influence things taking place in the other two areas. A situation in the Mulch Fens would give the PCs something to do or react to in both the Eternity Bluff and the Broken Corridor. This would help players gain a sense of forward momentum and reasons to explore each of the other areas. While I knew that’s where I wanted to go with it, I wasn’t able to fully realize how within the time constraints of the contest.

I didn’t think I needed to go into the motivations of each and every monster in the proposal, though I certainly could have. The dire bats are there because the monks kept them as pets and fed them to ensure that denizens of Nar-Voth couldn’t easily gain entry to the lift and the monastery above. I was going to make the wayang a Pathfinder (who are swarming the Inner Sea Region if the local PFS meta is any indication) looking to chronicle the monk’s wisdom. A 9th level druid with the vermin heart feat can awaken a giant slug, and sent this one on an expedition to learn more about the flail snails, equipping it with an item to aid in communicating with them. I didn’t think the word count limit warranted going into the backstory of every creature at this time, though I would have developed those motivations for a final product and explained why the encounters work the way they do. Did bats in a cave and rusty chains really need to be explained in a short proposal? Ok.

The vegepygmy monks were something I wanted to surprise players with, while simultaneously making vegepygmy a challenge for 5th level adventurers. I realize that memory-stealing vegepygmies are something unusual and would have liked to suggest that they be made a variant of the standard vegepygmy. I wasn’t sure that was allowed by the contest rules though, as we were told to create an original creature. I didn’t want to risk being told that a variant vegepygmy wasn’t original enough, or that I wasn’t allowed to have two new monsters. I see that others created similar variations though so I should have just called it out in the proposal as an added feature. I’m still not sure if that would be acceptable or not though.

I also tried to use the upcoming Dungeons Deep Pathfinder Battles miniature line as a source for inspiration for the encounters, because I like having a use for cool new minis. This may have exacerbated the somewhat scattered feeling of the encounters, but I think I could have tied them together a little more in the processes of fleshing out the adventure.

Villains: I understand the idea that a proper villain should be a motivating force behind events in the adventure and give PCs something to actively work toward overcoming, but I also don’t think that always needs to be the case. In this instance, I was wanted to incorporate evidence of the dragon’s presence throughout the exploration of the Midnight Jungle, giving the players a sense of growing dread with the realization that there’s something big and very bad down there with them, something they haven’t seen yet, something none of them knows about. This kind of reveal can create tension throughout the survival-nature of the adventure and still foreshadow a great fight at the end. I felt a primal, First World “root” dragon would fit in perfectly in Nar-Voth, thanks to the surface-world influence of the Whispering Wood root system and the ecological nuances of the new creature. I get that personal taste in style could influence one’s reaction to this though and respect the judge’s decision to disagree.

The First World dragon is something I only developed after two iterations of my first idea were rejected as being “highly inappropriate for lower level play.” What can I say? I like big theatrical encounters that make my characters vow to retire if they make it through mostly in one piece. An ill-fated persistence to make the idea work anyway could have been at fault for this whole proposal not coming together as well as it should have. I know better too. Sometimes it’s best to let go and refocus on a new idea, but I really wanted to make the flail snails work and ultimately trying to retrofit the first idea probably just clouded my creativity and the proposal suffered for it. Originally they played a much more influential role, with the aberrant bloodrager flail snail being the villain against the backdrop of something much larger. I’m still pretty excited about the original idea though and will probably write it up anyway just for fun.

As a side note: I made the lead flail snail an aberrant bloodrager so that it could benefit from being twice as fast as any of its brethren (movement speed 20!), have additional reach and rage. The thought of a blisteringly fast berserker flail snail made me deliriously happy and I thought it would be a fun surprise for players after they thought they figured out the flail snails in earlier encounters.

Final thoughts: Please feel free to message me if you’d like to know my thoughts on something I left out. I’ve had a great time participating in RPG Superstar again. I look forward to offering feedback to others next year and show the same courtesy others have afforded me this year and the year before. I am ever grateful for the efforts put forward by the staff at Paizo and the RPGS commnity.

Again, thank you and happy gaming everyone.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka mamaursula

What a great pitch! Thank you Brian and good luck!


What can I say? It was a good pitch, and certainly could have won. Congratulations on a good run with a strong finish.

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