Ice Dam

Round 2: Create an encounter map

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

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This dam was conjured by Baba Yaga to expand land access to the Linnorm Kingdoms during the Winter War. If destroyed, the river would cut off Irrisen’s western front and allow the Blackravens of Hagsreach to retake vital territory. Ice trolls and a white dragon guard the dam.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Nick! Welcome back to the mapping round! It's everybody's favorite skill to put to the test, right? I can hear groaning from somewhere, I'm sure. Before I get into assessing your work this round, I'm making it a point to highlight for the voting public what they should be looking for in these map submissions. While some competitors will likely have access to snazzy computer software to produce a map that's almost ready for publication from the get-go, this isn't Cartography Superstar (though it'd be cool if that was ever thing, too, right?). Instead, the goal here is for a designer (someone usually more focused on writing) to pair his vision for adventure and encounter design with the rendering of a map which an actual cartographer can turn into a final map for publication.

That means, the designer needs to get enough into his or her map turnover that the cartographer can make sweet, sweet magic with it. And, believe me, there's nothing more amazing than envisioning a cool encounter in your head, writing it up, and then seeing a cartographer produce an amazing piece of mapping art to go alongside it. To make sure the cartographer can do that, you have to be clear with what you've drawn so they can interpret it correctly. If you're not clear, that makes your developer's job harder, as they have to go back in and correct things...consult with you on what those squiggles are meant to represent so they can inform the cartographer...or, in the worst of cases, completely redraw something if what you've given them is unusable or uninspired.

So, voters! Listen up! Please assess the maps these designers have provided as "first drafts" which a cartographer would then turn into a final map. Look for whether or not all the information is there to inform the encounter or location the designer has given us. Determine if the location would make for cool play at the game table. Rate the creativity behind it all. And, lastly, consider how well the designer used his or her 50 words of additional text to inspire or refine what they've given us. That's what I'll be trying to do in the feedback that follows.

Does the map provide enough information?
Yes, mostly so. There's a compass rose, map scale, elevation markers, and an extensive map key. There's also lots of detail here. One thing I feel is missing is some labels for various sections of the dam that are separate from one another. The crenellated wall and huge doors are probably a lookout location, for instance, while the inner barracks is another area and the stairs leading up to the ice wall with the crucified Ulfen warriors is probably another. If you were writing up this location, I assume you'd do each of those areas as its own numbered location, so might as well tag them as such on the map whether or not you choose to include a legend identifying them.

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
Yes. Absolutely! It's a strategic ice dam in Irrisen that helped them dominate lands once controlled by the Linnorm Kings. You can already imagine axe-wielding PCs scaling their way onto this thing in order to assault its guardians like a bunch of vengeful murder hobos. Let's roll up some characters and storm the place!

Is the map creative and interesting?
Yes. The elements of the dam with the dual spillways are cool (especially the rendering of the witch-faces on the wall). The crucified Ulfen warriors hold forth the promise of a possible rescue before some hardy soul succumbs to such torture. Or, in more gruesome circumstances, perhaps the remains can be reclaimed before the winter witches do something even more nefarious with them.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
Yes. It tells us exactly what this location represents, and firmly ties it to Golarion lore. There's more than enough here to inspire us. In terms of enhancements, I only wish there was more room to expand the stronghold guarding the dam so it's a larger dungeon, but that's the limited map space at work, not you. I'd also have liked to see a nod towards a raven aerie somewhere in here so the witches would have their aerial spies available. And maybe some mirrors for the Irriseni mirror sight spell to aid with communication between this strategic outpost and the witch who rules over the region now.

Final verdict, an inspired piece that gets the most mileage it can out of the map space. I liked it quite a bit, but I may be better positioned than most with my knowledge of Irrisen and capable of reading more into the piece than some others. The required elements are still all there, though. And it's a very creative, inspiring choice to reach for something as ambitious as an ice dam in Irrisen. So, I'm perfectly comfortable saying I STRONGLY RECOMMEND this map to advance. Good luck in the voting and I hope to see what you can bring us in Round 3.

But that's just my two cents,

Community Manager , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Hello there! I'll be one of the judges for this round, and I'll be looking at a couple of key points for your map: readability, usability, and how fun this would be to run as GM. For some background, I helped found the Wayfinder fanzine before I started working for Paizo, and have done work as a freelance cartographer.
This is certainly a memorable location—and what a text description to accompany it! Your handwriting is a bit difficult to read, and I would recommend typing out your legend instead. The details all tie into the setting (crucified Ulfen warriors) and you instantly get a feel of how this map should look.

While I wouldn't be likely to use this outside of its initial adventure, this would be very straightforward to recreate on a Flip-Mat.

Fun Factor
Oh there's some fun here all right, and any number of nasty tricks that a jadigwa could come up with. Icewalking creatures would have a field day here, and a necromancer reanimating the crucified warriors? Chilling.

Final Thoughts
A delightful locale, with its intent delivered both in the map and in the text. I do recommend this map for advancement.

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

Awesome location and map! I'll refrain from further comment given my obvious bias, but I think this one's a winner!

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

Good job, Nick. It looks like a great setting for a fun encounter.

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 9

Like it...

Could I use it and Convert it myself ...Yes

Shortfall...the 7 Inch by 24 inch Legend...Space that could have been utilized for more Map details.

Dark Archive

My ice sorcerer approves! This map is VERY cold even (see what I did there???)

Organized Play Developer , Star Voter Season 9

First of all, congratulations! You made it to round 2! I commend you for being part of this contest. You worked hard and took the risk of putting your ideas out there on display for all to see and critique. I salute you.

I'm no map expert, but I have played and run a few games, and when I look at a map I can tell if it is interesting, if it will be useful/functional in the type of game I'd like to play, and if it's readable. I will judge your entry on those criteria.

This is a strong map for a few reasons. You managed to use detail here, some to provide artistic flavor even, without causing a sensory overload. While this map isn't simple, persay, I think it wold be fairly easy to recreate on grid paper without a lot of fuss.

I like that you included the significance of this location and what its destruction would mean in your description. Most contestants thought to include interesting historical tidbits, but you told us why this place matters, and to whom.

Cool map. ;)

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Nick, this.. Wait, didn't I comment on this one earlier? Must not have submitted it. Ah well.

Anyways, this is a nice map. I like how you play with the 3D space, and I can see a lot of detail. Unfortunately, while cool, I started having trouble picking out what was at what hight compared to what, because every twenty feet there's an elevation change.

It's brave to do such a vertical map, and I haven't decided if I like it or not. A 3/4 view from the front or side would have gone a long way in improving your clarity here. Especially considering how much of your map is given over to the legend.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Good job Nick.

I like the map, looks like a fun and interesting location. I wish you had utilized more of the space, but it looks like you'll squeak into my top-8.

good luck!

I shouldn't give you extra credit for the polar bear rug and the Ice King spouts, although I really like that.

Mainly, I think about a cartographer rendering the "steep slopes" you indicated and I think you have a map with real distinction here. It's very clear, but is designed with some sense of three dimensions. And it does, indeed, look a lot like major dams I have seen in real life. So, good show all around.

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

I’ll start by telling you what I think a good map does. It sparks the imagination of the viewer. It whispers stories of events yet to come and invites a GM to spread their toes in a sandbox of creativity. It presents mysteries that need to be solved and beckons players to open every door, delivering on each area’s promise that more adventure awaits ahead. There are some technical elements that can help.

Is it readable? Yes.

Are there multiple choices for the PCs to make? If not, does the map present a path for the action to flow in? The fortified nature of the dam makes for some fun pre-assault planning. There’s consequences for approaching from either way, which makes for a dynamic concept. Players won’t be sure what they’ll find in the cave, which adds to the suspense.

Does the map utilize the space well? I agree that the key could have been scaled back a little bit to make room for some terrain below. I’d like to see the broken remains of armies that have tried and failed to take the dam left behind at the base of its walls.

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? Accepting a smaller key could have meant turning this map on its side and making more space for underground rooms. Having just one big room makes me wonder where all the other defenders of this place go when they’re not patrolling the wall. The variable elevations seem realistic and will provide some interesting combat variables.

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? If the Ulfen warriors have a statue-like appearance in the final copy, then this could be used as any snow-covered dam. Baba Yaga’s heads, if drawn well could be explained away as a reference to something else easy enough.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? I want to create adventures for this place, and I can think of many ways to lead the players here. Its very nature adds heavy importance to whether the PCs succeed at whatever their task is. Yes, it stirs the imagination.

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

This map makes me think very much of Kaer Maga and of that other dam in RotRL, so I do not find it very original actually.

The blurb is nice as it lends a sense of credibility and Golarion-history to the location.

All in all, it feels a bit dull to me. Lackluster.

Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

A fight here could easily be a memorable encounter as the players try to infiltrate and climb up before being detected.

I love the use of three dimensional space here. And I love that the dam is made of ice, which means that it could be really challenging terrain to walk on. The dead folks and the hags give it a really strong flavor. Not only do you want to destroy the dam just to fight the badies, destroying the dam has far reaching implications for some apparent conflict nearby. It's a map with a hook, which is really and impressive feat. I love this and it has my vote for sure.

That being said, your handwriting looks like a font out of a childrens book.

Dark Archive

I really like this map, and I can easily see there being a race to destroy the dam while also fighting the baddies. This is well thought out, and everything needed is there. It made my top 10, but unfortunately I only get 8 votes. I wish you luck, and I really hope we get to see what you can do in the next round!

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka DLandonCole

I was idly thinking of what I would do if I made the second round, and I had the idea of an ice dam; this is far, far better than what I had in mind. Within half a minute, I can think of a bunch of interesting adventures here. I really like this.

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

My first and probably last day to look at maps before voting closes. So here be the short version critique.
++ is awesome, +- good with a few shortcomings, -+ icky but some cool parts, and -- not a fan.
Initial reaction: cool!
understandability: ++
visuals: ++
adventurous: ++
inspired: I can see other adventures happening here, with the overflow as water hazards, lever to opperate, sneaking up the backside of a cliff, and the like. Crucified Ulfen is a nice touch.
Vote: Definitely
Nice work Nick

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

Apologies, these critiques of maps and Top 32 items took too long, and I'm just not going to be able to do my full write up for your map.

I think you map, as it is, would make a good flip-mat product. It doesn't have to, but I think a superstar would have done that AND had an evocative encounter hinted at.

At first, I wasn't fond of your map. But looking closer, I see some subtle design choices you made and I appreciate how well you were able to render an area that is three dimensional so well on to a 2D map.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

On my first pass through, I didn't give this map enough credit. Looking at it now, I'm impressed with the efficiency and clarity with which it presents a complicated location.

Plus, you know, an ice dam is just cool on its own.

If I'm reading it right, it looks like the spillways can be used as a defensive measure outside the crenellated wall, which is cool. I also like that it's tied to a larger strategic goal. Gets you into the story of it.

I do agree the key could be smaller and the real estate used for more coolness. Also maybe a pointer to the lair of the white dragon.

This isn't just cool, it's ice dam cold.

Evocative location, multiple levels, intriguing details, the possibility of bullrushing people off a dam into ice cold water. I like it. Good job, Nick.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

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Hello folks!

Now that the gag order has been lifted I wanted to graciously thank everyone who voted for and/or commented on my map. Every comment from the judges and the voters gives me greater insight into what makes a design work, and I strive to incorporate all of your excellent feedback into my future projects.

As part of my RPGSS experience, I'm hoping to revisit all of my entries and provide a short narrative explaining the thought process and design choices behind my work, as well as addressing questions or critiques from among the comments.

I have been sitting on this idea for 2 years now, expecting to use it in the encounter round. I drafted several mechanisms for using the dam in a "final boss" style encounter, but once I saw Owen's announcement that maps would be provided for round 4, I decided to trim down my idea so it would work as an independent map. I will refrain from discussing the details of my intended encounter, because I have a sneaking suspicion that the "provided maps" for round 4 will be entries from round 2 and I don't want to pull an inception anyone who might use my map.

My general goal was to create a map where the location was itself a player in the encounter, rather than just a backdrop. I wanted a site that functioned as a narrative set piece that demanded PC interaction, and since adventurers tend to gravitate towards murderhoboing, I picked a location where destroying the infrastructure would have drastic consequences. I picked a relatively fragile building material (ice), and from there the allusion to the Winter War arose. Big thanks to Neil, Liz, and Jezebelle for calling out the narrative as a strength of my entry!

Now to address some of the sticking points:

The legend: I agree, the legend is way too big. This was a consequence of my artistic insecurities: my natural handwriting is very small and cramped, so in an effort to make it more legible I expanded the legend to, as Harp Rose puts it, "children's book" proportions (incidentally, I laughed out loud when I read that). With more time and computer experience, I probably would have typed up and reduced the legend so I could expand the map eastward.

Difficulty interpreting elevation changes: As Ronarscorruption points out, this map is extremely 3-dimensional and it can be difficult to decipher the elevation changes. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil of the location; a dam is vertical by nature, and I don't trust myself to do a 3/4ths or 3-D sketch justice (especially since the main structure is just a wall, so even with an isometric view it would be difficult to illustrate well). Some people liked the 3-D design, so I probably wouldn't change this in a newer draft and trust that a professional cartographer would do a better job capturing the nuance of a vertical structure.

Missing components: A pointer towards the white dragon's lair (RD Ramsey), labels for the rooms (Neil), a raven rookery (still Neil) and a communicating mirror (also Neil) are all excellent ideas that I would be happy to include. In a new draft I would probably dig out the big natural rock attached to the northern edge of the dam and convert it into a "communications tower" that would include raven spies and Irriseni mirrors.

Dams have already been done: TRB pointed out that RotRL already has a dam, which makes the site seem less inspired. Someone else brought this up to me in the drafting stage, but I decided to go ahead with it because even though a dam exists in PFRPG, I still consider it less cliche than more traditional fantasy tropes (castles, crypts, temples, etc.) and therefore worthy of exploration.

The spillways as defensive mechanisms: RD Ramsey, you are 100% correct - opening the spillways creates a moat to help protect the main gate, and breaking parts of the dam causes water to empty through the main gate's "emergency spillway," designed to help wash out any other intruders.

Thank you again for all your invaluable feedback, and I hope I get to unleash my monster in round 3!

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