The Ashen Forge Incursion

Round 2: Create an encounter map

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka electricjokecascade

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1. Torag’s Hall
2. Barracks
3. Armory
4. Infirmary
5. Dining Hall
6. Kitchen
7. Mushroom Garden
8. Cellar
9. Five Anvil Temple
10. Magrim’s Hall
11. High Priest
12. Grundinnar’s Hall
13. Jail
14. Library
15. Folgrit’s Hall
16. Quarters
17. Shrine to Droskar
18. Exit to Darklands

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Phil! 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. We've got a compass, scale, key, room labels, notes, and even the right amount of color to help us understand everything. And, I can see that you spent your 50 words also giving us the rundown on what the room numbers imply.

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
Yes. It looks like a dwarven hall with multiple shrines is about to get overrun with an incursion from the gate to the Ashen Forge. Flesh and chains are already starting to desecrate some of the anvils, and heroes are needed to drive back this threat.

Is the map creative and interesting?
Yes. Absolutely. There are barricaded doors walling off certain sections, which implies there might be allies or unspoiled supplies/treasure to plunder and use against those threatening this place. And there's also a bit of damage already indicated on the map from what's going on. All in all, it's a dungeon crawl, but it's got some interesting and unique chambers to explore.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
Useful? Yes. Inspiring? Not quite as much as some additional descriptive text or Golarion tie-in's would be to root this in the campaign setting and give us another idea of how strong your writing ability can be. As such, you've used it for your map legend, which if you had enough real estate still on the map, you could have provided there instead. But you chose to do stronger justice to the map, and I can understand that. You've given us a complete location at the expense of adding more words to the map.

Final verdict, the core idea behind this location is immediately discernible and inspired. The map pulls it off in an interesting and detailed fashion. I'm happy to say that I STRONGLY RECOMMEND this map to advance. Good luck in the voting, and I look forward to what you 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.
Crisp lines, standard map symbols, clear legend on the side, and color-coded for my convenience. I could easily make a final map turnover from this.

A dwarven forge is always a good location to have, and the little details of the map make me very interested as to what's going on in this adventure.

Fun Factor
This started out looking like a typical dwarven forge, but then I started reading what the colors meant, and the combination of the lava and flesh-covered walls would make this a really interesting location to fight in. The call back to Droskar makes me nostalgic for the earliest days of Pathfinder.

Final Thoughts
Take a standard fantasy location and liven it up a bit? Yes please. I do recommend this map for advancement.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka electricjokecascade

Thank you judges for your kind words.

Dedicated Voter Season 9

Hell Yeah ! This look like an old school ad&d dungeon map. I like it a lot !

Star Voter Season 9


What is the difference between an encounter map and a dungeon map?

I like this map, it looks great, clean, interesting design, a large amount of detail that is still easy to read, and I would gladly use it as a "dungeon", but it is designed for multiple ncounters, not one encounter and I'm not sure it qualifies as an encounter map as much as it does a dungeon or module map.

Phillip, yours it not the only one of these I have seen that seems to fall out of the definition of encounter map. But, let me say again, it is a GREAT looking map and I would be happy to use it in my campaign.

I haven't read the RPGSS definition of an encounter map so maybe it does qualify. If it does it goes to the top of my list and I would still vote for it as many other entries are in the same boat as yours.

***Just read the rules and it does allow for a "variety of encounters"

In which case this map gets my whole-hearted support

Sczarni 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.

First, I want to mention a little detail I love: the natural feel of some of the chambers and halls on this map. Sure, dwarves build and carve the stone, but a subterranean hall should have a bit of natural or at least unpolished terrain incorporated. That detail makes this map feel more like a real location to me.

Your map is clean and readable. That seems to be a phrase I'm repeating with the maps I like. You managed to create something that's strong in its simplicity yet original enough to be memorable.

A plus side is that I could reuse this map for something other than whatever encounter you've planned to put there. That's always a plus. Nice work!

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BEEP BOOP!! For more information...

Droskar, the dwarven god of mediocrity (mostly worshiped by evil duergar of the Darklands), is no friend of Torag, the dwarven god of making nice things.

Droskar's home is the Abyssal realm of the Ashen Forge, a place where minions toil endlessly rebuilding things as they're destroyed.

Magrim is Torag's big brother and divine overseer of the dwarven afterlife. Grundinnar is one of Torag's sons and the dwarven god of friendship.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Philip, this is a nice map. It's clear, there's a bunch of stuff going on, and while I think it could have been a hair prettier, there's a lot more that you did right than that you missed.

One place that's a bit of a missed opportunity, is the northern half of the map. There are eight numbered areas that basically amount to rooms off a main hub. You already have a few unfinished tunnels, but connecting one or two of these areas would have gone from good to great.

Zippy, I'd like to call attention to: how do you define an encounter? A fight in a room against a monster? A series of related fights that might spill together? An entire complex that could be finished in one session? While conventional "wisdom" says it is only the former, any of those could be true. And it could even vary based on party level. If this were full of imps, it would be many encounters for a low level party, but a single encounter for a mid level one. Sometimes, people mix it up and its for the better.

Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

There is lots to like about this map, it is in the process of being converted, and probably expanded given the tunnels under construction. Many different adventures could take place here. My one concern is the cave ins, are they impassible, just difficult terrain, if so is there an elevation to them? Don't answer during voting and disqualify yourself.

I see you've done this before.

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

I think this is a good map and interesting location. Definitely top-16.
MY main reason for not voting for it is that for me, this would not be any fun to GM or play.
I think there is too little space for any action to take place. Everything is so cramped that if you have a group of 5 or 6 players there may be a lot of standing around for the guys in back. Maybe if there had been a few less rooms, it could breathe a bit more.

Good Luck!

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

The location is rich and interesting, but the Torag vs Droskar meme feels a bit overused to me. Also, I really would have liked a blurb and I am disappointed that you skipped it in favor of info that could have been on the map itself.

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? Exceedingly

Are there multiple choices for the PCs to make? If not, does the map present a path for the action to flow in? Yes, on both counts. Each wing of the forge has a nice flow, with multiple options presented to the players. Everything flows towards the center, to the holy anvil. This is about as nice a map as I’ve ever seen for a dungeon. Well done!

Does the map utilize the space well? Extremely well.

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? The central chamber with the holy anvil has subtle design elements that would make me believe that’s what it was used for even if it wasn’t labeled as such. Each area has elements that make the space livable to the residents. You remembered to include toilets! And there’s lava!

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? An underground forge could double as almost any dwarf or duergar settlement. The design of this place is engaging enough to make it fun to draw and fun to explore. I don’t just want my regular players to experience this place; I want to show new groups of people this place as well.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? Oh yes. This is one of the maps I know I’m voting for.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8 aka Cyrad

A temple of Torag being corrupted with a portal to Droskar's domain, slowly turning the temple of creation to a temple of flesh and toil. This map literally oozes with rich lore. This is a location meant for an epic adventure.

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

Another dungeoncrawl style map. This one's pretty good. Several paths through the system, good variety of rooms. Desecrated anvils!

Secret tunnels to a hidden shrine! Hard to get much more classic than that. In this case there's a good reason for it, and it helps tell the story of what's going on here.

And there is something going on. Right now. This is a sort of already-in-progress scenario here. That might limit its reuse, but it does show the world is dynamic, and I always like dungeons that have something already happening in them. More alive that way.

Good use of space. Full without being too busy.

My only real critical comment is that the 50 words feels wasted on a key. Better to put that on the map, if you feel you really need it.

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: some of the hazards will dictate what goes in here, that said, there are some interesting hazards, :)
Vote: Definitely

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.

It "looks right" and I think it has plenty of detail.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9 aka electricjokecascade

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Thank you everyone for the feedback, kind words, and votes! I'm thrilled to have made the next round, and can't wait to hear what you guys think about my monster. In the meantime, I'd like to share my thoughts about why I created the map I did, and what I was hoping to accomplish (it's a long post!)

My original idea before I knew about the size constraints was for some sort of contested town. I read about a module where the PC's had to sneak around an orc controlled city, and that inspired me to create a map where an orc invasion was underway. This would be intimated by barricades in the streets, burned buildings, provisional orcish headquarters, and so forth.

From there my mind wandered to a religious insurrection instead, as orc invasions are kind of common. I imagined a make-shift shrine to an evil god in one quarter of town, the other temples having been destroyed, and other random details that would have been fun.

When I discovered the limited scope of the map round, however, I had to drop the idea for a city. But I still wanted to keep that feeling of contested turf. So I thought: why not a temple complex? But why would a temple complex become contested? It'd clearly be dedicated to one main god dude. So I thought: what if a secret cabal of heretics were to open a gate to some evil plane, and in poured the bad guys?

I googled some abbey floorplans and the like, and then reshaped them into something that would make sense for Torag. Droskar was his obvious nemesis, and so I sat back to try and figure out how I could make the map itself tell the story. First I created the temple complex as it would have been pre-invasion. Then I added secret tunnels from certain bedrooms to a hidden chapel to Droskar.

So far so good, but I still wanted to add a sense of urgency and imply a narrative behind the map, so I had the portal to the Ashen Forge be opened in a jail cell. This was meant to hint that one of the secret worshipers of Droskar had been caught, had panicked, and opened the portal as a last ditch attempt to save his life.

From there I imagined a huge battle taking place as evil creatures poured in through the portal. The dwarves' stone golem was destroyed in this initial battle, so they collapsed key tunnels to keep the taint of the Ashen Forge from spreading. This led to the lava channel being blocked, adding another danger to the area.

To add urgency I decided that Torag's high priest was trapped behind enemy lines, which I tried to imply by drawing two crude tunnels being dug toward his quarters as both the good and bad guys raced to get to him first (Ronar, that's why I didn't connect the northern sections!)

My idea was that the map would present the invasion at a critical junction, with the PC's going in to stop the bad guys before they reached the high priest's room. The holy anvils were falling one after the other to the taint, and a huge battle would take place in the main chamber. The creeping flesh and chains was just to make the taint more atmospheric and nasty, and I imagined all kinds of battles taking place as the PC's saved the high priest, rescued the folks trapped in the library, and eventually shut down the portal.

And oh, for kicks I drew a secret tunnel from one enterprising dwarf's room to the cellar. That imaginary dwarf was my favorite *grin*

My Golarion tie-in was meant to be implicit through the use of Golarion gods - I also named each hall after the dwarven god that most ascribed to that immediate area's usage.

So that's what motivated me to create the map I submitted. I used my 50 words to explain what the rooms were since I ran out of space on the map itself. In hindsight I could have probably written the names next to each room in the map, but I didn't want to clutter things, and I wanted to see how well my map stood by itself.

Thanks again everybody for your votes and for reading this massive post. I'm glad you liked my map enough that I was able to make the next round. Now, back to my monster!

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8 aka DeathQuaker

I am slowly trying to comment on these, even as we move forward, in an effort to put forward the favor given me by those who commented constructively on my entries last season. Apologies for taking my own sweet time. :)

Congratulations for getting into the top 16 with this fantastically detailed dungeon map.

I really like how much you have squeezed into this space--even still allowing room for a legend, and it's maps like these that make me especially wish the contest rules specified that the legend/key go OUTSIDE the required 24x30" map, because I'm sure with the full battlemap space provided you could have added even more. That said there's more than enough here, and a "story" of the incursion and corruption of this dwarven area is apparent with very little explanatory text needed. Others have more than illuminated what makes this work so I'm not going to go too much further. I like that this represents a very specific place and event and yet the area could still also, in part or whole, also be repurposed for other underground encounters.

This map--clean and understandable--is also a great representation of the fact that you do not need advanced mastery of graphic design to make a readable digital map--your use of pre-created shapes, lines, and colors are put expertly to reflect a well-engineered area that a pro cartographer could easily turn into a very special final piece of artwork. My only tiny niggle is it is not clear to me whether the "floors covered in flesh and chains" is covered in corpse bodies or the floors have transformed into something fleshy (ew! but great for a creepy dungeon).

I would have preferred something more narrative or mechanical (is the fleshy chain floor difficult terrain?) than a legend in your 50 words but of course a legend certainly helps illuminate what is going on here. I think I would have rather just seen room labels on the map, however, but I understand why you may have preferred not to clutter your map with that.

Great map, and good luck on the monster round!

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