How do you vote? (voting methods, guidelines, and rubrics)

RPG Superstar™ General Discussion

Marathon Voter Season 9

We are multiple culls in, and I'm noticing a lot of people on different threads talking about the process they use to vote, and some people calling into question different voting practices. I wanted to create this thread a centralized place for people to discuss what it is about an item that makes them vote one way or another.

As was pointed out to me in the comment that inspired me to start this up, we are not here to try and find the right method of voting. We need many different methods to generate the best and most varied list of top 32 designers, and there will always be disagreements as to what aspects of design trump others. Yet I think this will both help voters see aspects of the decision they are not currently considering and let them decide how much credence to give them, as well as future submitters trying to see what makes voters clocks tick, and what makes them hit the snark thread.

So with that, lets hear your voting methodology!

EDIT: As a reminder, while the voting is open please ensure you use the same common sense guidelines observed in the snark and praise threads to ensure nobody is able to connect your specific comments to any specific items. Even when voting closes, please keep that type of comments only to the Critique My Idem thread, and only if solicited by item submitter.

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I use a relatively simple method: which of these two items would I rather see at my table?

Lantern Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Jayson MF Kip

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I don't have bullet-pointed criteria or a rubric. I vote by feel. 90% of my voting is gut reaction. As in, "upon first read, do I cringe? Do I throw both hands in the air and scream 'hell yeah!'?" I want to grok an item- -do I inherently "get it" right away? (I shouldn't have to ask "Why do these shoes help my Perception checks?")

I try and look at it from both a player and a GM's perspective. I try to find its niche. And then I try to picture it outside of its niche. Also, as a PFS GM, I look for rules headaches.

I try to compare cost-to-effect, effect-to-already-existing-effect, effect-frequency, and "the multiple effect" (i.e., what if I dual wield this sword? What if I buy 25 of these consumables? What if every bandit uses one of these in a round?)

I prefer elegant brevity.

Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Janvs

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I hope that this doesn't upset anyone, but I'm a lot less mechanistic than some other voters have indicated they are.

I tend to look for "mojo" -- an item that feels awesome, has flair, or drama, or panache, something that makes it stand out.

I also privilege good writing over almost anything else. Formatting is important too, blocks of text are hard on my eyes (and brain).

Issues like costs and balance are usually the last thing I consider, unless they're especially egregious, though that kind of thing often ends up being a tiebreaker. I almost always vote for the cheaper item, and rarely anything over 50k.

Grand Lodge Marathon Voter Season 9

1. Did you attempt to format everything correctly, I don't care if you made errors or if something small is wrong, but if you didn't try at all it's going to be hard to win me over.

2. Do I understand what you are trying to have this item do?

3. Is it improving something bad or doing something new? If so, good. If not, not so good.

4. How easily can I break this item?

5. How much overlap does it have with things already in existence be they feats, items, spells, class features?

6. Is it overly specific? - i.e. only work for Geisha bards every other Friday, Is it overly general? Constant effect - true strike.

7. How does it compare to already existing items of the same type? That is to say if you make an neck slot item, how does it fit in with other more common place neck slot items. (This may unfairly judge certain slots, but for me it is how I look at things)

8. Gut. Pure oh my god I love this factor. (1 through 7 probably contribute to this, but it also gets the veto, there were at least 2 items in this years contest that won on gut alone, though I believe they've both been culled)

I wouldn't say I think about all of them every single time, but in general that's what I'm looking for in an item.

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

I am part of the group that this is best discussed after the CMI thread opens up. That is just a few days away.

I'll come back with my voting methods at that time (unless I miraculously get the chance to make a map, which I'll need all my extra time for that).

EDIT: Need coffee. 'nuff said.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

And now I feel the need to check my item against all of these criteria :-/

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Petty Alchemy

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First Glance:
Are there formatting errors that immediately stand out? That item loses a lot of goodwill, because to me it means the designer didn't put the time in to get it right. You want to put your best foot forward, so there shouldn't be any major problems in the 300 or less words you submit. Preview how your item looks with a similar item in an adjacent window.

First Impression:
The name of the item.
This is huge! I see the name of your item at least twice, once in bold! This is your chance to draw me, the voter, to your item! The hook! Does the name pull me in immediately? Is it plain? Or is it trite? What do I expect the item to do based on the name, and does the item deliver on those expectations (note: if your item has a plain name but delivers exceptionally or defies expectation in a good way, that's great! But having a great name would be better still).
Last year I made a topic entirely for critiquing item names. I may do so again.

The Crunch:
Is it solid? Is it fresh? Is it exciting? Just being solid isn't enough, this needs to be a highlight of the book rather than a filler item. Is the pricing more-or-less right?

The Fluff:
Does it get in the way of the mechanics, or drown them out? Is it used to explain effects that require solid in-game definitions? Is there more than necessary?

Marathon Voter Season 9

My first step is to check Formatting. It is a respect thing for me. If you do not respect Paizo's requirements enough to abide by them, its hard for me to place myself in Paizo's shoes and see myself agreeing to work with you. Mistakes are simply mistake, and weighed the same as misspelling or typos, but completely ignoring the formatting requirements just seems so disrespectful and unprofessional.

Next I move on to the verifiably correct or incorrect aspects of design. Price is a bit subjective and not perfectly spelled out by the rules but CL, Aura strength, and slot use are. The empirically right answers are out there and I think a superstar level designer will always dig into their items to confirm anything and everything and/or use alpha level readers to do the same. I would rather play in a game where all items work, even if not all of them are jaw dropping and unique (ex. the many perfectly good spell in a can items currently in the game that all my characters happily use), than in a game full of wonderful design that is poorly executed and causes rules issues. It's probably the rules lawyer in me, but internal cohesiveness is just that fundamental to a good game.

Next up is the writing. Can I understand the item easily, and does your writing flow easily through your submission? Would reading a book full of items with this style of writing make me want to tear my hair out? I might get some flack for putting this above the actual idea and design, but I believe all the submitters are wonderfully creative people, and that if hired to freelance they could generate more ideas and designs. However, I don't believe anyone's mastery of prose will magically get better between this submission and the next, and this competition is to create written works. I can't vote for what was in your head, so I have to vote on how you put it down to paper/keyboard.

Then I finally get to the meat of the submission; the actual design and idea of your item. I like under explored area of the design space, but I can just as easily be swayed by an item that performs a more ordinary task in a novel way that inspires me. With the maturity of the system, there is probably a spell somewhere that can do something similar to your items main effect, so most items can be accused of being spells in a can if you dig deep enough. Make it all work together in a way that is somehow both obvious and brilliant.

I tend to be a little hard on items that are too powergame-y and abusable. I won't give examples, just use the logic of wanting things that make the game more fun for everybody. Not just you, and not even just the players, but everyone. Also note that making the game easier, or making "I Win" buttons, even for a subset of encounters, rarely make the game more fun. Items are first and foremost tools used by both the GM and the players to tell a compelling and interesting story.

"Overused" tropes don't really bother me, there is generally a good reason so many people are drawn to items that feature them. They have some powerful connections in our brains, and the good items will show us why they come up again and again. You just need to make sure you fulfill that potential, otherwise you will be lost in a sea of similar items with nothing that makes you stand out. Make sure those token words floating around the snark thread are actually working for you; if they are just included because they are the lowest hanging fruit of the design space or a simple vague description, then they are likely just drawing attention to their use without adding any oomph to the item. This is where the voter fatigue tends to come from. Make sure any word you hear complained about for its overuse is adding real impetus to your submission.

And then, right at the end, right when it's a huge uphill battle to fight back the more errors or weaknesses you have in sections about, there is the magic mojo, that gut feeling I get when I look at your item. It can totally make me veto all my general guideline I have set up for myself and punch a tragically flawed item into a personal favorite. I can't give you any wonderful insight into what does that for me though. I'm a strange person.

TLDR: either be a rules lawyer, or blow me away with mojo and rule of cool.

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

Dear OP,

Would you mind linking to the 'How I Vote' thread of last year? Maybe the other two years of public voting would be useful as well. If, as you say, you can learn from the snark threads of years past, your readers may also find these helpful.

When I get to a PC I will try to add the links myself. :)

Marathon Voter Season 9

That sounds great. Link away!

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I haven't been able to vote as much as I did last year due to the new RPGSS schedule, but here's how I vote. Apologies for the detail, but I'd like to be crystal clear in case someone unfamiliar with RPGSS reads the thread at some point in the future!

1. First impressions. Mostly formatting and templates, but to some extent also the title and the description. Walls of text are bad, lack of formatting is bad. I'm an accidental pedant when it comes to spelling and typos; I try not to overreact to an entry that has such an error, but it drives me nuts.

2. I read the name and the description. What does this item do? What role or hole is it supposed to fill? What is its design goal? How cleanly is it designed?

How I apply these criteria: items that clearly state how they function in the Pathfinder ruleset are good, items that integrate into existing rules are good, items that are easy to understand are good. Items that ignore existing rulings, conventions, or other frameworks are usually problematic unless there's a good reason the designer decided to make the change.

For example, if a hypothetical item creates a transparent barrier, you probably want that barrier to be a force effect and your item should probably refer to Wall of Force, because that is a well-defined, well-supported concept, and that means everyone can look up rules for all sorts of edge cases, like what sorts of things interact with your effect. If you don't refer back to Wall of Force, your item or the GM is left answering the questions of what is the item's hardness/HP? What spells affect it? Can an incorporeal creature move through it? Etc. Your item's effects shouldn't be orphans in the Pathfinder ruleset. (disclaimer: I have not actually seen an item like this in this year's RPGSS, although one may exist that I haven't seen. It is a purely hypothetical example.)

3. Do I think the design goal is worthwhile? Is the item balanced... do I think I can break it? How many edge cases does it create?

4. Would the item see use in low-level play? Would the item see use in high-level play? Would a GM use it or an author include it in a scenario/module/adventure/campaign? How unique is this item? Do I subjectively feel that it is awesome?

5. Does it enhance a suboptimal option, or an optimal option? This isn't a dealbreaker, but I'm more likely to upvote items that promote weaker or lesser-used builds or styles of play than I am an option that makes an already common option even more powerful.

6. Validate item against its metadata--aura, requirements, cost, etc. To be honest, I do not especially check costs. I do sanity check them--are they in the right ballpark?--but I personally feel like cost is something a PF editor should be able to validate, and getting the price exactly right is not hugely important.

7. How much fun do I think this item would be in a game?

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka flykiller

I first check the item text, without even looking at the technical details. I look forward to seeing items which execute a concept in a way that's original but not disruptive to the overall high fantasy feel. This is where I also check the writing: is it clear, evocative, structured and concise? Are any wide-known mistakes made, such as using words improperly? Is the item imagery compelling? It shouldn't be gross or boring or meta-gamey or clearly borrowed from pop-culture tropes. I am generally removed from pop culture, so if even I recognize e.g. a lightsaber, it's an instant downvote.

At this point, if I actively dislike the description of both items, I will just vote for the shorter one.

Next, I check the mechanics. I am far from a rules lawyer, but I tend to avoid dodgy things such as using a skill check in place of a saving throw, or effects without clearly defined limits, or no-save effects. I also usually downvote random effect items.

Only in case where both items rank similarly on those two scores, I begin examining the format.

Finally, if I am still not sure which one I like more, I usually vote for the shorter one.

Sovereign Court Dedicated Voter Season 9

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1. Is it something I would find useful and fun as a player?

2. Is it something I would equip my bad guys with as a GM?

3. Does it do what it does with economy and elegance? i.e. Will it slow down the game more than it enhances the game?

4. Everything else.

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

Criteria: (Not a comment on any specific items in the contest nor does it mean it's an automatic downvote, just taken into consideration.)

  • How much would it annoy me or make me do more work during game and combat as a DM (That's right, keep your Games, I'll keep my Dungeon)?
  • If I wanted to abuse/break it as a player, how much thought did the designer put into being clear about what it could or couldn't do?
  • Does it have a range, does it have a duration, are there mitigators? Can I re-/overcharge this item by using low level summoned monsters as blood dolls or sacrifices every morning or by my allies letting me whack them a few times for minor damage or effects that wear off before being an issue?
  • How easy is it to read? I know that if the item gets selected for public use, adding paragraphs and such is easy enough, but during voting if I have to scan the whole submission for each ability, then I automatically assume you're trying to slip something past me.
  • Does this item actually do something exciting? I don't mind bonuses to skills, but it better do something cool, and it also better not do something cool that requires a skill check at a DC which its bonus trivializes as a way to make it seem like there's a mitigator to it working every time. DC 30 sounds high, but not if your item gives you a +10 and I assume any character is getting at least +6 to +10 on their skill checks at level 1, and your item can't be afforded until level 5.
  • Is this item actually a way to get around a class limitation or other balancing restriction on an ability or skill? Items that create infinite ammunition, more than 5 uses a day, let paladins violate their oath once per day, or are basically full-plate with no penalties for full-plate, those get close scrutiny. This also applies to items that remove exploring/investigation. I want the players to find the crime lord and discover the factions and motivations of the city by interacting with it, not by twirling a sparkly doodad in town square or pointing it at a dungeon entrance and receiving a vision of every trap, secret door, and denizen.
  • I very rarely care about price at all other than in a general 'thousands of gold' range and I don't care what an aura strength or type is unless it's outlandish. I have no problem with a CL 17 item detecting as moderate if its abilities are subtle, even if they are strong.
  • I also don't play Template-moderator beyond how much annoyance I get from trying to read the submission. I am not trying to put myself in Paizo's shoes. Paizo, its employees and the judges all have their own votes like everyone else, they also can alter things like spelling or arrangement if the voters decide they want this item to exist. The item has to be better than its currently paired opposition, in my eyes, when I am voting. I am not here to figure how someone else is supposed to be voting on it.

  • Dedicated Voter Season 9

    I have a very simple checklist:

    1. Does it make my eyes bleed? (added in response to pre-cull items)
    2. Does it add something to the game?
    3. Would I want this in one of my games
    a) As a Player?
    b) As a GM?

    I go as far down the checklist as necessary to make a decision. In the rare event of a tie I look for the option which adds more agency to the game.

    RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8 aka Cyrad

    I judge based on the quality of the design and the designer. If this item looks like it came from a man or woman I can envision having the design aptitude and fortitude to write an entire module, I vote for them. While the competition definitely has plenty of creative people, I've had a hard time finding items that show a designer who can carry himself through freelance assignment.

    Dark Archive Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

    I thought about writing out this long, complicated flowchart of how I vote to attempt to claim that I vote somehow in a scientific manner, but due to laziness and a weird sense of honesty, I feel that it is better for me to say that I always will vote for the item I would feel less guilty or regretful about including at a table of mine.

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

    For the most part, I just go with a gut feeling, influenced by my own aesthetics, how I like to play the game (on both sides of the screen), and whether I prefer one or the other's presentation and style of writing.

    Only when my gut feeling does not indicate a clear winner, do I analyze the mechanics, template, and attention to detail more closely, looking for something to break the tie.

    Marathon Voter Season 9

    I don't necessarily apply these in the same order all the time, but:


    1 - Item concept - Do I like what the item is trying to do, and is it clear what it is trying to do? Is it nicely thematic, or are its abilities scattered everywhere?

    2 - Item usability - It's all very well to have niche items, but there's such thing as too niche. I want to have a character that doesn't need to be designed around the item for it to work (some items I wouldn't mind doing that for), and can feasibly use it at some stage below level 15. Likewise, if it's too expensive (150k+) it's a bit offputting.
    Charges are things I'm not hugely fond of if it's easy to add and remove charges. Or has a lot of them. There's enough stuff to keep track of without needing to figure out how many of the item's 5873088243614 charges are left.
    Finally, it's nice to have items that have a concise and clear focus. If it's not immediately clear what you do with the item and how, it's annoying. Simple items are inherently better at this, but that's not to say long items don't do it well too. Having more than three abilities usually indicates an item that is too complicated to be user friendly.

    3 - Fun-ness - Descriptions and other flavour things fit in here. If it's a nondescript description that's something against it. I'd rather have a lot of flavour than very little. I'm usually a little more lenient for more flavour.
    Also if it's replicating something that's just a feat or spell or class feature, that's not very fun or exciting. Needs a little something extra.

    4 - Mechanics - If it has obvious errors in function, doesn't play by the rules or introduces effects that are gamebreaking for its price, that's not good. It depends a little on the magnitude of it though.
    Giving anybody access to feats or class features I tend to frown upon, unless the class feature is already inherent to the class that will use it.

    5 - Price Comparison - Sometimes, you have this awesome ability. But that ability isn't anywhere near as good as something more boring, such as a +3 club or something. Still gotta sell the item.

    6 - Adherence to template and appearance - Short of being actually unreadable, I tend to be fine with template. I've voted for things with terrible templating over good templating on a number of occasions when they've been better than their opposition.
    I prefer things with some spacing over their text to text blocks, even if it's just putting in some paragraphs.
    A couple of times I've voted for things because they have links, and that's been the tiebreaker. Book references I count as links (but double points if you use both)

    7 - Accuracy - I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel in voting if it takes it this far. This is things like Auras, Caster Levels, spells used and pricing.

    RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Hodge Podge

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    This year, I am pretty streamlined:
    1) Read the title and description block, ignore everything else.
    2) Is it both easy to understand and evocative? Or instead am I getting inexplicably frustrated and having to re-read it several times? Is it a cool idea? Is it easy for the player and GM to implement in-game? Go with my gut.
    3) If it's a tie, use the stuff I ignored earlier as a tie-breaker.

    Point being:
    You can teach the formatting and finer details. It's harder to find cool ideas, clear yet evocative writing, and solid mechanical understanding.

    Star Voter Season 9

    First: Concept, imagination----> MOJO. Mojo is harder to train than rules, etc.

    Second: Would I allow it at the table?

    Third: Technical-----> Did they follow the template? Are they within a reasonable margin of error on CL and price?

    Fourth: Word Count------> Can they explain their concept with an economy of words? I hate reading a description where a writer (whether RPGSS or novels) used 20 words where 5-10 would do.

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

    For you voting researchers:

    2012 and 2014

    I dinnae find 2013. It will be interesting to see what has changed for some voters. :)

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

    My priority list usually goes:

    1. Formatting. It's provided and lends a lot to structure and readability. Plus, it's my first look into whether or not the designer can work within a set template (more generally, this can be seen as working within limitations)

    2. Clarity. If I can't understand what you're saying, or I have to parse it out, I won't vote for you.

    3. Effects. Mechanically SIAC, SAK or just plain uninspired effects won't get my vote because it lacks vision/MOJO.

    4. Flavor. Make me want it. I'm hard to please and when you do, I'll remember you forever. EDIT: And items generally shoe-horned as "Good v Evil" or grotesque are harder for me to vote for, because it limits the type of person that can use it, and getting junk-loot is a peeve of mine.

    5. Cost-to-power. I rarely vote for items 50k and up - they're almost too hard to acquire and don't fall within the scope of general play. Additionally, if I see that you give the world for no money, as amazing as that would be to have, you won't have my vote.

    6. Minutae. Fine-tuned cost, caster level flubs, miswordings and the like are what I use when everything else is equivalent. That's just an attention to detail that I like to see - dat polish.

    Marathon Voter Season 9

    Bad mechanics make bad, confusing adventures. Better a bog-standard dungeon crawl than an Astral Plane exploration where none of the rules, monsters or maps match up—with the former, it's just not doing anything to aid the GM/players in making things interesting, while with the latter, the adventure is actively hindering efforts to have fun. As such, "well-flavored" items that display a terrible grasp of mechanics or game balance (like a hat that, as a pure hypothetical, lets a wizard cast a single spell of any level ten times per day) tell me that the designer does not know how to put his stories into a game and should probably stick to writing novels for the time being.

    So when I absolutely have to choose, flavor takes second fiddle to mechanics. That said, if an item's concept doesn't grab me, it's only going to win if the competition is really bad.

    I don't really care about minutia—an underpriced or overpriced item is only a big deal if it's really drastic, and formatting doesn't matter in the least bit to me as long as I get what you're saying. A bad name usually isn't a big deal, either, though a good name gets you major points.

    One rule of mine, though: I try not to vote for anything that costs more than 40,000 gp. Or at least, with items like that, I'm really looking for an excuse to downvote. You aren't thinking outside the box with a 500,000 gp item. You're just making the box enormous.

    Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

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    So, this is in the order of a timeline, (which things do I do first) not in the order of which things I believe are most important.

    1. Read name of item.
    If it's terribly corny/cheesy/seems too Noun-of-the-Verb-ish, that might play a role in voting, but the odds are low that this will matter at all, and even then only as a tiebreaker. Really. It's very, very hard to be bad enough that this comes into play as a tie breaker, even when I don't like the name.
    It is, however, worth noting that I don't think I've ever used a good name in a tiebreaker as a reason to up vote.

    2. Glance top to bottom - how's the formatting?

    If everything exists and is placed where I expect it to be, this passes. Missing bolds throughout or other things that tell me that the available formatting text wasn't used is mildly annoying, but it's never used consciously to tiebreak. I'm self-aware enough that I realize if you make me work harder to read it, I'm likely to unconsciously down-rate your item. For that reason, if you're missing bolds and have all-capped your item name (as some folk weirdly do) but have everything in the right place, I make an extra effort to read your item through carefully to make sure that I don't fail to give credit to something that's there (like good writing) that I'm more likely to notice when I'm feeling receptive and open to something.

    3. Read for content - what does the item do?

    Is the item in an over-used design space? A wondrous item that is a candle that gives magical light just isn't very wondrous. Candles give light, that's what they do. Making magical light is like giving a sword an enhancement bonus. Okay, it's magic, but it's certainly not showing anything new or imaginative.

    Is the function understandable? If I encounter a corner case where the crunch breaks down, do I feel like I have an understanding of what the writer was trying for so I have some basis to say that something is in the spirit of what the item was trying to do? Or do I only have crunch, and when corner cases come along I just have to rule on the basis of whatever works best for some other reason without any connection to the item's them? This is just another way of testing whether or not I have a feel for the item, and for what the writer was trying to achieve.

    This is the first step in "reading for mojo", but it's not the last.

    4. Read for crunch - how does the item do it?

    Is the crunch understandable? Is it complicated? Does it use effects that will be a pain around the gaming table? People say that they don't have biases, but we all do. If I think an effect is going to be a pain around the table, I'm less likely to use it. Gravity effects are a good example: what happens when the water from the stream flies up in to the air? The area effect of gravity-changing magic doesn't have a stream bed. What about coins? What about dust? Gravity effects that solely affect a creature and not an area are much better, but even they might be unexpectedly complicated, so I make sure to give them a good read. This doesn't mean I down vote gravity-effect items (or anything else) on some auto-downvote basis, but I want to think about whether or not you've thought through the effects of your item, and some effects require more thought than others. If there's a potential difficulty, I want to see some crunch to help deal with that difficulty around the table. I don't even need to like your solution as long as you identified the problems that are likely to crop up and provided a solution that uses Pathfinder-friendly mechanics.

    Reading for crunch is also when I decide if something is over-powered or underpowered. Over or under powering an item can get an instant veto from me, if it's extreme. If it's not extreme, it probably won't come into play at all. If it does come into play without getting a veto, it's as a tiebreaker, when other methods aren't working to distinguish the two items.

    Seeing if you've really thought through your idea is step 2 in "reading for mojo". Part of reading for crunch is making sure your crunch works -that's separate from mojo- but part is seeing how completely you've conceived of the idea, how seriously you take your own magic item. That part is reading for mojo.

    5. Reading for creativity: Let's actually break this down a bit more:
    ...5.1: Is this new? Can it still be identifiably "Pathfinder" in its execution while being identifiably something-never-done-in-Pathfinder-before in its concept?
    ...5.2: Is it blindingly why-didn't-I-think-of-that simple in execution, so as to preclude rules lawyering not out of fiat, but because everyone simply agrees, "yeah, of course this is how this works"?
    ...5.3: Does it utilize themes in such a way that different aspects of the entry all tie together well? The most creative designers will have the look of the function tied to the theme as much as the powers. Some amazingly creative items still leave one without any particular reason why the item had to be a sword, or a hat, or a ...? Does your item have to be a ....? If it just **has to be** the form that it is, then you've better integrated the theme into your item than most. Some designers will even have things like Caster Level tied into the theme. Is it a luck item? Did the designer use a caster level of 7 (or, perhaps, 13)? When I see luck, I start looking for 7's and 13's. If it's an Asian-themed item (especially a Chinese themed item) I start looking for 8's for good-luck items. A hand-held fan of lucky winds? Is the price 8,888 gp? Now we're talking.

    These are all more parts of reading for mojo.

    6. Reading for audience appeal:

    The job is to design game products that gamers will buy. So a very legitimate question is, "Will gamers want to buy the supplement just to be able to use this item at their table?" If yes, that's a good reason to up vote.

    This, however, doesn't get as much up-voting power as one might suspect, however. Some things that gamers consistently want, gamers already have. If your artifact is Yaba Baga's Holy Hovel, and it functions as a secure home to stash your riches that can also move across the landscape and attack your enemies, sure gamers will want it - but they've already got it. The truth is that we each want our character to be special, but some powers are things everyone wants. We get around that by having multiple items that do the same thing. But for my voting purposes, being coveted for what you do alone isn't enough. Being coveted for what you do that nothing else does is better. Being widely coveted for exactly how you do it, even when players are declining many other methods of achieving the same effects - that's worth up voting.

    This is definitely more looking-for-mojo.

    7. Reading for the joy of the word.

    Be an excellent writer. Turn a phrase like record, baby. Conjure imagery for me. Better yet, and far more difficult, use the magic of suggestion to make my own brain conjure your item's imagery. Include references that don't **look like** references. The other day I said (when I thought -correctly- that my item had been culled) something about how I was certain the grapes they serve in the RPGSS greenroom to the top 32 would have been sour anyway. The words "sour" and "grape" don't exist next to each other in this statement, but it's obviously a reference to Aesop when you think about it.

    But here's the thing: you don't have to think about it. The statement stood on its own. The imagery doesn't depend on anyone reading Aesop - it's just enhanced if someone happens to have done so. That reference (and the sentence in which I embedded it) isn't necessarily an example of good writing, but I hope its an example of one thing that can tell a person you're dealing with good writing. Make sure your writing stands on its own, but also give it some depths that won't be plumbed by everyone. You detail every area on the map even if your adventure party isn't going to end up taking part in every possible encounter. In the same way, your writing should reward exploration without dogmatically insisting everyone get each and every one of your references or sub-points.

    If I enjoy reading you and feel compelled to use your imagery in my game, that's another major reason to up vote. With some items I'm happy to use them in my game world, but the decorations on the item change, the material of the hilt-wrap is different, a bastard sword becomes a long sword, an inscription is added or removed, alchemical silver is switched for cold iron, etc. With other items, I don't want to change a thing even as I'm taking it from a context-free internet contest to a specific game world with a specific history.

    Write entries whose items' details are simply unchangeable. Not even (at this point) because it fits a theme, as in step 5.3. At this point, make me want to prevent any and all tinkering with your item because the imagery has too much cool to risk anywhere near a forge.

    8. Rule checks:
    If the two items are in the same ballpark, now is when I check the rules: is the item over-priced or underpriced? What about caster level? Did you use 1st when Bane or Craft Wondrous Item has a higher level requirement?

    9. The extra mile
    This is all about making things easier for me as your reader.

    You might earn points with me by hyper-linking to spells in the construction requirements or description sections. If you reference universal monster abilities you gain some points with me by hyperlinking those as well. I don't want everything hyperlinked, of course. Don't hyperlink every skill. Don't hyperlink "DC" to the paizo glossary of Difficulty Class.

    Do your paragraph breaks come at the right time? Do you consistently italicize the name of your item and the names of spells and consistently capitalize the names of skills?

    This might be a tie breaker, but truthfully it often can boost an item that is in close-but-running-behind position to the front runner. This isn't a huge effect, but I do value the writers that work hard so that their readers don't have to.


    Ultimately pre-first cull my vote is often determined by step 2 because of items that simply don't have everything required - there's no construction requirements, or they don't use the template at all, or some other major error(s) are present that would make the thing hard to take seriously as a finished item worthy of my vote.

    2nd and 3rd cull, my votes are often based on steps 3 & 4, with a decent minority focused on step 7.

    Later in the game - after the 3rd cull and especially after the 4th/5th - steps 5 & 7 are the biggest determiners of my votes.

    I don't know that that tells you that steps 5 & 7 are less important because they actually swing my vote less in the early rounds. I don't know that it tells you that step 2 is more Important since you can't get past the first cull without it.

    I'm telling you how often my vote comes down to one of these, and whether that's in earlier or later rounds, but they're all important. Some are easier - and thus tend to separate the amateur that takes things seriously from the person tossing an entry in without any thought at all. Some are harder to master, and thus tend to separate the experienced from the amateur. Others are my personal biases and thus only separate the items I love from the items I like - but my biases not being shared, they don't necessarily translate into "items that have a good shot at the top 32" and "items that don't".

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

    Janvs wrote:

    I hope that this doesn't upset anyone, but I'm a lot less mechanistic than some other voters have indicated they are.

    I tend to look for "mojo" -- an item that feels awesome, has flair, or drama, or panache, something that makes it stand out.

    I also privilege good writing over almost anything else. Formatting is important too, blocks of text are hard on my eyes (and brain).

    Issues like costs and balance are usually the last thing I consider, unless they're especially egregious, though that kind of thing often ends up being a tiebreaker. I almost always vote for the cheaper item, and rarely anything over 50k.

    I used to have a set of things I looked for, but really, most of it can be taught. Mojo cannot be taught and that's what RPG Superstar is about. Finding the mojo can be hard though.

    RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Tothric

    Since last year, my method for grading has changed.

    Tothric's guide for grading entrees:

    Step 1) Did you follow the template provided?
    This is simple. Did you follow basic instructions? For the most part, people did. But in the beginning there were some entry's that didn't even TRY to follow the basic template. Or they used a different template all together.

    Some templates people made had made a lot of sense for the item they provided. But it was not the basic template. Following the competition rules are not hard, and they give you ALOT of leeway.

    Not Missing this was a red flag. I'm not even talking Aura errors, or Pricing errors, or even not formatting spells here. I'm talking is the NAME in the write place, is the PRICE in the right place. Is the DESCRIPTION in the right place? How about the crafting requirements?

    Step 2) Is the effect cool?
    Basically this boils down to can I use this item? When I read your item: do I get bored? If I read your item, and I'm bored... no amount of good writing can save you.
    When I read your item; can I imagine a particular character activating the item in some scenario?
    A good item doesn't have to be awe-inspiring if it is in fact something hilariously fun.

    Step 3) Does the item make sense?
    There are a number of items, that are VERY CLEVER, but don't make any sense. Either the mechanics or the description jumble it up for me in my head.
    If I read your item, and I feel a Will save VS confusion coming on, I question your item. The spirit of this competition is a lot of small short time-frames to get your work done in. People cut corners to make the entry fit into the 300 word limit, or to submit it on time. Part of being a good designer is knowing WHAT to CUT. If you CUT something and that was the crux of your item... the key term to make it all come together for me, well... it shows you didn't know what to cut. This is perhaps the hardest skill to learn.

    Step 4) Does it tip the sacred cows?
    This is hard to measure. But for the sake of quantifying: Actions don't generally get messed with. If you are mucking with actions; you are reading on dangerous territory. Don't tip the sacred cow.

    There are a few things that are sacred in Pathfinder: Actions per turn, Spells per day, Wealth per Level, Experience points, Class Features (sans proficiencies), Cover, GM vs. Player Roles, GM Fiat, Previously Written Items.

    That is not to say these items can't be written on. You just have to be extra careful around these topics. They are magnifiers for your lack of experience, or your mastery of skill. IF you do one poorly, EVERYONE will see it. It will be glaringly obvious. WAY more obvious than submitting a Ring when Rings aren't in the competition.

    On the other hand, if you write one well, then you are more than likely a superstar.

    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

    I'm going to skip the minutia as how I judge between crappy or mediocre items is mostly which one offends my sensibilities less. Could be power level, price, template, writing style, item name, backstory, or you could simply go too splatterpunk for my tastes. Degrees of offense are considered as there's a different between a blood themed item and a blood orgy.

    I do have a pet peeve for items that cross the line from inspired by to adapted from. Look everyone loves wolverine but if you maked spiked gauntlets that pop out 3 adamantine claws I'm not going to vote for you even if you do so perfectly.

    What I look for and so rarely find is a spark of gonzo sideways thinking tempered with a steady professional restraint.

    The difference between good and Superstar:

    A good item is:
    -mechanically balanced
    -templates properly
    -has an interesting theme
    -solid description
    -gets price and spell list accurately enough

    A superstar item does all of what a good item does and inspires me. A superstar item makes me what to write something around it. A superstar item captures my imagination and makes me smile every time I see it.

    Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

    Tothric wrote:
    Tothric's guide for grading entrees

    Are you sure that's not your guide for grading entries???

    Cuz while I do avoid cows - tipped or otherwise - in my entrees, I don't think it's always a good thing for an entree to be "cool". Most of us actually like them hot. Even us vegans. I think really its just the raw-foodies that like their entrees cool.

    RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Tothric

    CripDyke wrote:
    Tothric wrote:
    Tothric's guide for grading entrees

    Are you sure that's not your guide for grading entries???

    Cuz while I do avoid cows - tipped or otherwise - in my entrees, I don't think it's always a good thing for an entree to be "cool". Most of us actually like them hot. Even us vegans. I think really its just the raw-foodies that like their entrees cool.

    I.. I don't know how I missed that. Man are my cheeks red.

    Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Zahir ibn Mahmoud ibn Jothan

    In the early rounds, meaning before the culls got started, I find voting to be easy. Some horribly formatted garbage I just vote down, knowing there are others looking deeper and willing to notice that the horribly formatted garbage might actually be cool as all get out, but in the end it can't possibly make it into the top couple hundred.

    As voting progresses, I become much more discerning, and less likely to vote down something over a small template or pricing error, but tell me your item costs 1M gp, and it might get the auto-boot.

    As for SIAC, MIAC, SAK, etc. I'm more opposed to the first two than the last, which is why, I suppose I submitted a bit of a SAK two years ago.

    I highly doubt I'll make the top 32, my item just wasn't as thematically appealing and gonzo as much of what I was seeing left in the top 200. Ahhh well, there's always truck driving school.

    Star Voter Season 9

    In order:

    1) Is the formatting correct on first pass? (If yes, keep going, if no, cut)

    2) Is the first paragraph all backstory? (If no, keep going, if yes, cut)

    3) Does it contain a pet peeve such as "blood," "bleed," "bloody" (seriously, I saw an overuse of blood) or a joke item? (If no, keep going, if yes, cut)

    4) Does it tell me what the item does? (If yes, keep going, if no, cut)

    5) Is the cost ridiculously high? (If no, keep going, if yes, cut)

    If by then, the two items are still in the running:

    A) Is one item over 275 Words? (If no, keep going, if yes, pick the other one)

    B) Does an item contain a water related effect? (If yes, pick this one)

    Lantern Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Jayson MF Kip

    Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty okay with Spell-in-a-Can items.

    I know how those work, I understand what they do, they've been playtested already. I don't have to worry [as much] about loopholes in rules that will make the item do something it was not intended to.

    If you want an item that trips foes when you slam it into the ground, why not reference thunderstomp? If your gauntlets of watery punching emit a blast of water that bull rushes a foe, hydraulic push or hydraulic torrent have concise descriptions and already answered rules questions.

    Now, I'm not saying "this item casts hydraulic torrent twice a day" is good design. It's certainly not Superstar design. But if you can evoke the setting, then reference a spell, I think that's pretty solid design.

    Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

    @Jeff Hazuka:

    I think we're on the same page based on your final paragraph. But I did want to point out this:


    If you want an item that trips foes when you slam it into the ground, why not reference thunderstomp?

    Yes. Absolutely. And referencing thunderstomp can easily be in a superstar item. The difference between a spell-in-a-can and a reference to a spell is vast, however.

    One can imagine boots of the lightning dance or something. Let's do this up:

    Boots of the Lightning Dance
    Aura moderate enchantment; CL 9th
    Slot feet; Price 42,000 gp; Weight 3 lb.
    Boots of the Lightning Dance are common calf-high boots of a type made to straddle the gap between walking boots and riding boots. Though their type is common, these boots' appearance is not. Made of pale buckskin with copper rivets and decorated sparking stones that only become brighter in the dark, the boots never fail to attract attention, giving a +2 bonus to anyone attempting to remember the wearer.

    The boots have 7 daily charges. These are usable as a swift action with a quick strike of the back of the heel against the ground. For one charge, the wearer can create a 5' wide, 20' long line of lightning covering the ground. The line is half as long if any of it touches difficult terrain. The wearer can use a 5' step to move to any square along the line from any square along the line. For two charges, the wearer can create a 25' square of sheet lightning along the ground, or a 15' square of sheet lightning if any of the squares are difficult terrain. If all movement is within the sheet's boundaries, the wearer can use a move action to move up to 3 times the wearer's normal movement. The wearer can use any other actions including attacks at any point during movement along the sheet, or even at multiple different points along that movement. This is similar to Spring Attack without the requirement of 10 feet of movement before the first attack (or action). Movement along ground lightning ignores the effects of difficult terrain, however lightning cannot cover squares that differ in elevation by 5' or more. The ground lightning does not damage any creature or object, and lasts for 7 rounds or until charges are spent to create a new line or square.

    After ground lightning is created, a wearer standing on lightning and possessing the bardic performance class feature can start a dance performance as a move action, as if a bard of 7th level regardless of the character's actual level. Concentration checks to maintain a dance performance gain a +4 circumstance bonus as long as the wearer is standing on lightning. Expending a charge as an immediate action during a concentration check for maintaining a bardic dance on a lightning square ensures automatic success on the check.

    While ground lightning lasts, for 2 charges the lightning can be dismissed. If the wearer is standing on a lightning square during dismissal, the lightning collapses into the wearer's square and disappears in a clap of thunder, creating a greater thunderstomp effect (CMB +10) in a 20' radius centered on the wearer's current location instead of a 60' line. Wearers of boots of the lightning dance are always unaffected by a thunderstomp or greater thunderstomp effect from any source.

    Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, expeditious retreat, greater thunderstomp, spell immunity, bardic performance class feature; Cost 21,000 gp

    So this is totally off the top of my head, and I'm sure that there are multiple problems with it (even beyond the obvious that it is one very long item). Certainly it's not superstar.

    But this can serve as an example of the difference between a SIAC and an item that merely uses a spell's description to take advantage of known mechanics and FAQs.

    Note that by stating that it IS a greater thunderstomp effect rather than that it is like a
    greater thunderstomp I can take advantage of any and all FAQs and updates Paizo deems necessary.

    Contrast this with the reference to spring attack. There we have language that it is merely "like" a spring attack in certain respects, not that it IS spring attack in all respects save those specified. This does not take advantage of all Paizo FAQ and other supplemental material ...but if problems exist around a table at least by mentioning spring attack the players and GM have an idea where to start looking for information to resolve corner cases.

    That can be very helpful even when the power is too different to be, like the thunderstomp, the same effect in a different number or configuration of squares.

    Also look at the CMB for a moment. Note that the 9th level requirement is high enough that a caster might be able to cast 5th level spells. However, no 5th level spell is required to create the item. Thus the CMB is +9 (for the CL of the boots) and a further +1 (the modifier for the lowest ability score value that would be necessary to cast the highest level spell in the boots - in this case the 4th level spell spell immunity. Technically I could have used 8th level as the CL for the boots since I only needed CL 7 to cast spell immunity and get the start-a-performance-as-a-move-action feature, and only needed CL 8 for spell immunity to protect against 2 effects at the same time (thunderstomp and greater thunderstomp).

    Given all this complexity, it's very useful to be able to say "And then it creates a thunderstomp, as the spell."

    However, these boots aren't a SIAC. Not only is the primary ability a movement ability, it doesn't mirror expeditious retreat either. There are original constraints and concepts here that make it far from just an item that grants use of a spell X times/day.

    On the other hand, these boots might begin to illustrate a SAK item. But a swiss army knife is made so not merely by having multiple powers, but by having powers that don't seem like they need to be related in any way. Lightning frequently connotes speedy movement. But after the flash of lightning naturally comes the thunder. Tying these two together isn't SAK at all.

    OTOH, throwing in "dance" and the bardic dance features (including concentration checks for bardic dances) is unrelated to lightning. So there are 2 sets of tightly related powers, each set without the need of the other. If there were 3 sets of tightly related powers, but none of the 3 sets were tightly related to any other set, then you're definitely treading SAK territory. As it is, this item is flirting with it, and might get down voted because of that, but probably isn't a classic SAK to most voters.

    Of course, this is all my opinion, but that's what this thread is for. I'm just trying to explain what is and what isn't a SIAC.

    For a good example of a SIAC that nonetheless represents good design, I want to refer you to this one item that creates a shadow-snake whose poisonous bite magically injects a suggestion (as the spell) rather than a damaging substance. The shadow-snake then disappears. IIRC, the snake's body is made up of the words you whisper during its creation - words that constitute the suggestion to be injected.

    I can't find it just now, but the point is that there are ways to build a SIAC that judges (and voters) will like.

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

    I voted on items the same way I intend to critique them. I'll be posting this a bunch soon, but might as well start now...

    My Blog-Post for Fat Goblin Games about "How I am Critiquing RPG Superstar Season 9 Entries"

    Need to send out an email or two, then I'm going to start "practicing for the Critique My Item Thread" by giving the Top 32 + 4 Alternates my critique :D

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