Hakima Ajit's Balcony

Round 2: Create an encounter map

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

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Blazing red décor bedeck this gaudy balcony. Rajah Ajit Kulkarni, leader of a small independent Vudrani nation and disguised hakima rakshasa, often leads prey his here. In battle, the rajah takes advantage of the fifteen-foot tall staircases and thirty-foot drop awaiting enemies pushed over the southern balcony.

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

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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.
The map is quite easy to read. A minor nitpick would be given the palatial feel of the balcony, the relative narrowness of the stairs seems unlikely. Also, given the emphasis on the floor pattern, I hope it actually does something in the encounter. The text does give me an important clue on how to add details to the final map (Vudrani decor, for example).

This looks like many a BBEG sanctum, and that's always useful to keep handy. It would easy to be recreate on a Flip-Mat—except for that floor design.

Fun Factor
This is a straightforward map, and a lot of convenient open spaces for AoE attacks...which can be pretty boring. I keep going back to that floor design, and I want it to do something exciting.

Final Thoughts
The best part about this map comes in the text description and that makes me keen to see a final version of it. But for a gaudy balcony, it's missing a lot of details that could make better: statuary to hide behind (or bring to life), settees, curtained sitting areas, potted plants. I do not recommend this map for advancement.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

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Donald! Welcome 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, but it's quite minimal. The requisite compass rose and scale are noted, and we get a map key to help explain some of the shaded areas and features depicted on the map. Curiously, we get next to no explanation for the amazing spirograph inscribed on the floor.

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
Not all that much. The implication in the accompanying text is that this is where a BBEG rakshasa carries out murders by pushing his victims over the balcony...for a 30-ft. drop? If this is a hakima rakshasa (which roughly means a rakshasa "lord"), a 30-ft. drop off a balcony is going to be no big deal to the level of PCs he'd be facing in an actual encounter here. So, other than that, this is a giant open space on an opulent balcony waiting for a fight to break out, presumably with some large area effect spells and abilities.

Is the map creative and interesting?
Not at all for me. There's not enough here to inspire very much. Details and variations in use are sorely lacking. Now, if this was a rakshasa's estate along with the balcony, then maybe we'd have something. But as-is, this doesn't come off as very creative. There's nothing here I haven't seen before or couldn't easily imagine for any wealthy nobleman's estate in any other urban adventuring location. And, it's really not all that interesting.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
No. This submissions leans on the coolness of a hakima rakshasa to carry it, but relying on a balcony and long flight of stairs to carry out his murders feels like a letdown. It really doesn't do much to elevate the map, and rather than inspiring the reader, it actually does the opposite because of all the missed opportunities it implies in how such a villain and map could have played off one another more than what we have here.

Final verdict, the core idea behind this location is uninspired and though technically proficient in execution, kind of boring and short-sighted. I'm unfortunately going to have to say that I DO NOT RECOMMEND this map to advance. Regardless, good luck in the voting, and we'll see if the voters disagree and carry you forward to Round 3.

But that's just my two cents,

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

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Liz, Neil, thank you both for your expert insights and critiques. You both showed me areas where improvement is needed. I will make sure to carry that advice on to future submissions and projects.

Again, thank you both!

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

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Donald, that's so pretty!

Unfortunately, though, once I got over the dazzling floor design, I realized that this was, basically, a gigantic, empty room. I mean, I guess there's a ledge at one end, and two pillars, and some stairs... but that's it. The middle 90% of your map is empty space. Not so much as a bench for people to sit on, or use as cover, or.... or anything.

If this were re-done in black and white, it would quickly become visible that this is just a big, boring, empty space.

Sovereign Court Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

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My two cents...

The rajah is a powerful man, and he'd be concerned for his personal safety. I'd expect to see some secret escape route, as well as his apartments and that of his harem or treasure room. I think you could still maintain this grand open balcony with it half the current size, and include all these details too. A map like that would get a load of use from my group, who recently took on a rakshasa in a similar setting. Heck, I know it would be the map I’d go to for every king, wizard-prince or similarly powerful NPC the party comes up against.

Sczarni Star Voter Season 9

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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.

I really like the intricate design on the floor, but unfortunately I think that's where you spent most of your time and energy. There's not a whole lot to this map but open space. It's not a bad map; it's definitely clear and I'm sure a great encounter could happen here, but there's no interesting features or hazards to make it stand out from the crowd.

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Take away the rakshasa story, and this is basically the set of Hello Dolly, just people in funny clothes walking up and down staircases.

Sovereign Court Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

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Hakima Ajit's Balcony limerick!

A balcony high in the air,
invites you to come if you dare.
Though, wide open space
makes it real tough to face
any mage you'd encounter in there.

Donald, once again, congrats on round 2! Unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree with a lot of what's already been said about your map. Up to and including that that design in the middle is awesome, but just cries to be utilized in some way, shape, or form.

Lots of wide open space for magey-explosions can make for tough times, but this room is very Boss-battle appropriate.

Nice work overall, though! ^.^

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

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Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I was really wondering what I was looking at here. And I admire you for this hand-drawing. I deeply regret that you only used it for decoration and not as a springboard for your creativity.

Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

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The coolest thing about this map is the symbol on the floor. Unfortunately that doesn't actually have any impact on a fight or maneuvering through this open room.

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Liz Courts wrote:

This looks like many a BBEG sanctum, and that's always useful to keep handy. It would easy to be recreate on a Flip-Mat—except for that floor design.

Actually, the floor design would be extremely easy to reproduce for a flip mat, since it would have been generated by following a specific set of steps for drawing arcs/circles/lines and then colouring in certain areas based on the patterns. I drew lots of stuff like this when I was 9-10 years old and they are surprisingly easy to do once you know the procedure.

Something to keep in mind if you want to spice up your BBEG sanctum flip mats.

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

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Not much to say on this one. It's basically a big empty space with no real choices for players to make. No exploring, no decisions, pretty much no effect on any combat or other encounter that could take place here.

Dark Archive

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I agree with others that the floor design is gorgeous, but that's about all this map has going for it. A wide empty balcony may be appropriate for a final mage boss fight, but it also makes for a boring location as the outcome of battle will be decided solely on who wins initiative, as well as AoE spells, and thus could be set up anywhere. Give us a reason the fight has to happen here, and the encounter will be the better for it. I wish you luck, and hope to see what you bring us in the next round!

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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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? It’s just one big room, so not really. I suppose they could go right, left, or straight up.

Does the map utilize the space well?

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? You mention that it’s meant to be paired with a rakshasa, which is a CR 10 creature, meaning PCs will be at least 6th level when they fight it and thereby have access to fly. That could break the encounter, but at least it would be requiring the use of one of the highest level spells a party is likely to have access to. As the party get’s higher level though, stairs become less and less of a hindrance. There are doors on the left and right, next to each set of stairs, but non on the far side of the room. Rooms like this are built to show off, and that usually means having the best view of the entire room upon entering it, which would be at the south side, opposite the door on the north. Also, the balcony serves as a place to address those entering or gathered below. There needs to be an entry hall opposite the balcony to sell me on the idea that this room actually serves a purpose. Finally, there needs to be more here. The floor design is intricate, which is nice. Your use of color is appropriate for the occupant, but you could have included additional elements to make this more interesting.

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? Easily. I play a lot of Pathfinder Society, and I’ve learned that Pathfinders attend a lot of dinner parties. Social encounters could use a room like this often, so I expect I could get a lot of mileage out of this map.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? I need a little more to work with. This is a good start, but it’s not quite there.

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

As voting is almost over, I just wanted to drop in and thank everyone that posted comments, critiques, and feedback. I really appreciate you all taking the time to look at my map, read the description, and voice your insightful views. Every comment was helpful and useful.

Thank you again. :)

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

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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: meh
understandability: ++
visuals: +-
adventurous: -+
inspired: I really hoped the design in the middle was some cool hazard, too much dead air.
Vote: Probably not

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

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I don't have a long blog-post to connect to for my map round comments, so I'm shooting off the cuff here.

But going to try to comment in three areas for each map. These are totally my opinions, and like with the Item critiques I offered, I think you should feel free to defend your design (AFTER THE ROUND ENDS, DON'T DQ YOURSELF!):

Would it make a good Flip-Mat or Map Pack product?
In a post about Round 2, Owen called these out to be "flip-maps" which in my mind says it could (doesn't need to be) a generic map in either the Flip-Mat or Map Pack lines from Paizo. Would yours?

This is a specific map by set up, but it could easily be added to the flip-mat family of maps. I wish you'd made it to more clearly connect to other maps, but I'll point you to Theater. This does what you wanted to do, but better.

Is it interesting enough place that I want to play?
Even if it weren't a "generic" map, but also if it is -- is it most importantly a map of a place I would care to play in?

I'm not going to bother connecting to the specific places you call out. It could be a lot of places and if you don't think it could, then I think you chose poorly. If you meant for it to be a lot, I wish you'd have made that clearer.

So, what do I think of it?

That 80 foot diameter symbol is neat, but I wish it was very lightly done, so that the fact its one big space was clearer. I wish you'd set up doors on the sides etc or rooms of some sort, so that for instance this was used as a ballroom, etc. Maybe point out in your 50 words that you could use map packs to release tables and chairs and such and then use it for dining hall, dance floor, etc. Alternately, if they ever reprint Theater, I'd love to see this on the otherside of that map.

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

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Since the voting period is over, thought I would come and chime on the one, big thing many people brought up.

When I created this map, I did have an intent for the large Spirograph, what that intent was matters little. I took out the purpose because I felt that it was going over the line of inserting tactics and making it into the encounter round. I think that was a bad judgement on my part.

I am glad that many people wanted the design to serve a purpose. I am glad that it got people inspired to want something to happen. I am not an artist, but I am pleased to have had that effect on people. Thank you again to everyone that dropped by to comment. :)

I think whether I submitted my original map (was told it was too dungeon-like and not very original of an idea) or the original description to this map (fine, the spirograph traps souls) there would have been little change in the line-up that will soon be announced, except for comments focusing on something different. There were many great maps and descriptions from great designers. A perfect execution of my idea(s) would still have been hard-pressed against the talents displayed this year.

I want to take this opportunity to tell the 16 moving on, great job on your work! Have confidence in your abilities and don't sell yourself short.

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