Flintyreach Cliff Harbor Ascent

Round 2: Create an encounter map

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka mechaPoet

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Two tunnels at the top of the cliff lead to arrow slits hidden by troll skulls. The middle of the path contains a landslide hazard, which will crumble into the landslide landing area if too much weight occupies its area (such as from creatures standing there).

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Stephen! 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?
It took some analysis, but yes, I think I got it figured out. There's a compass rose, scale, legend, and a massive amount of elevation markers. One minor quibble here: make sure you put the map's scale indicator somewhere other than the actual adventuring area. Keep it down where there's solid stone, open ocean, or at the very edge of the map so it's out of the way. Lastly, as comprehensive as your legend is, I was still wondering what the two large blackened areas at the south extending into the ocean are meant to represent? Are those docks? Solid stone? Something else?

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
Maybe. It's apparently an ambush site with a natural landslide hazard awaiting anybody traversing the long cutback trail to reach the clifftop. Personally, I don't prefer maps done this way, because serving this type of back and forth trail pretty much tips the GM's hand that something's going to happen during the ascent. As soon as I start drawing a map, every player assumes it's going to be a combat map. And, if I don't immediately start describing the action, they'll go into high alert, checking for traps, looking for enemies, etc. So, with this map having no other major features to it other than a gauntlet to run up the hillside, there's very little else to get the players to let down their guard a bit. So, this map pretty much says ambush and it's sole purpose for being. Everyone's going to sense it, from the GM to the players, as soon as it's presented.

Is the map creative and interesting?
Actually, yes. Despite the "enter here, exit there" running of the gauntlet, there are the interesting arrow slits hidden by the troll skulls to create a field of fire for defending the cliffs. And the natural landslide area is very likely to slow down PCs who try to quickly close with any snipers. High ground likely goes to the enemy, as well. So, there's the potential for a clash on the cliffside and a general melee, too. But, aside from that, I think it could use a bit more character, as well. There's no cave or campsite or fortified area anywhere within site, and I'm left a bit more interested in what's at the top of the cliff than just the ascent to get there. So, I think maybe you missed your greatest opportunity to really kick it up another notch.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
Definitely useful and inspiring. It helps explain the arrow slits hidden by the troll skulls, and that's a core element to this map as a combat encounter area. The landslide area in the middle of the path is called out, but I also wish it gave us an idea of how much weight triggers it. Otherwise, it's just GM fiat as to when it presents a hazard. In all honesty, I think these 50 words could have been spent on letting us know more about the circumstances around why this cliff is guarded the way it is...as well as a hint or two towards what can be found at the top, even if it's not depicted. The actual information that is conveyed here could probably have been marked on the map by calling the tunnels at the top "arrow slits" and indicating a trigger for the landslide.

Final verdict, at its core, it's another ambush site. But stylistically, it has a few more elements going for it than just a stretch of road through a wooded forest. There's character behind it, so I'm going to put myself ON THE FENCE for now. I suspect at least a few voters will appreciate the surprises you've provided to challenge the PCs, so good luck and I look forward to seeing if you make it into 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.
Upon initial glance, I thought the cliff edges were a road, mine cart rails, or something else entirely. Widening the cliff edges would help in reading the map better. Some lines indicating the shore edge would also be helpful, and I'm not sure what the grayed-in areas at the bottom of the map are supposed to indicate.

A winding cliff path down to the ocean certainly has some reuse value, and the placement of the skulls could have a bunch of fun magical traps attached to it. It would be easy to recreate on a Flip-Mat.

Fun Factor
The addition of the landslide hazard is a nice touch, and I love the idea of sniper tunnels. A grease spell or coating the path in ice buildup from a cold sea would definitely change things up.

Final Thoughts
It's an ambush site, but what's the goal at the bottom (or top) of the map? It's unclear. I do not recommend this map for advancement.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Stephen, I really liked your map at first glance, but thinking in what the judges said, I have to agree - its a bit too obvious.

Now, obvious can work sometimes, and as a combat map obvious is implied... But I'm not too sure. There's no reason the PCs can't be caught off guard already partway up the switchback trail, by the trap for instance, before you draw the map. Which makes it more interesting.

Of course, I'd loved for you to hint at something like that - or who is using this trap or why, or what's nearby.

As to those big grey things... I had assumed they were embellishments for the legend, frankly. But it would have been nice to know what they are for sure.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

It took me some time to get what I was seeing, but I must say that I really like it, as well as the idea of both landslide and sniper tunnels. This could be a great unusual location for an ambush. The fact that I want to use this location now that you have shown it to me is enough for me to put this map on my Keep list :-)

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

On the strength of your open call item, I was looking forward to seeing your map at some point. I appreciate the use of color to illustrate how the map works as opposed to providing artistic flair, which would be the cartographer's responsibility. I also appreciate the clean and clear grid.

Aside from Neil's theory of being an ambush location, this map also depicts an interesting location for a party to defend from a coastal assault. The wide range and varying utility of combat options presented by the sniper tunnels and arrow slits forces the defenders to choose which points to defend, and the landslide hazard becomes a tactical weapon to lure foes onto. The 50-foot elevated sniper tunnels would be great for picking off flying foes, and a couple traps or spells of the combatants' choice could change the flow of battle completely.

There's no explanation of the giant gray bars at the bottom, which is unfortunate (especially as they appear to be unnecessary). It's good that you put elevation markers where you did as well, as the 50-foot southeastern cliff looks as tall at a glance as the 10-foot inclines. A little more polish on the presentation could avoid that problem.

Beyond that, this has more of the feel of a flip-mat than an encounter map. That's fine—it fits the rules' requirement for "a map designed for a specific encounter, or one useful for a variety of encounters"—but you lean toward the latter at the expense of flavor. It feels more like a wargaming map than a RPG map, and it might as well be anywhere—nothing ties it to Flintyreach.

It's kind of intriguing, but I find myself questioning whether all those 20 foot drops really only slope 2 feet outward.

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka mechaPoet

Thank you all for your feedback!

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

Like Neil, I think as soon as this map comes out, players are thinking "ambush." And I wonder why what looks to be a prepared trail up from some docks ends in a ladder. And why they didn't just build traditional fortifications up top rather than sniper posts. And that landslide trap looks like a one-time thing.

So I'm getting conflicting signals about what this location is supposed to be. On the one hand, it looks constructed. On the other, it's defended like it just happened to occur to someone.

All that said, it's much more interesting than the usual ambushes we see. It's not Monkey Goblins Attack! level, but it's not a random forest road either.

Outside of the docks or whatever they are, the meaning of the map is obvious, and the terrain levels are marked just enough without overdoing it.

I dunno. This map alone isn't enough for my vote, but it's not a *bad* map, and your Round 1 entry was one of my personal favorites. So I'm filing this as a maybe.

Dark Archive

I wasn't thrilled about this map at first, but it's growing on me. Every time I see it, I like it a little bit more. It doesn't inspire me like some of the others do, but it's well laid out, and I can easily see where you were going with this. I think this would end up being a memorable encounter for the PCs, though I'm not sure they would ever revisit this map once they won the day. I'd say this map has made it into my top 16, but unfortunately I only get 8 votes. I wish you luck, and hope to see you in the next round!

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: +- (what are the big black things at the bottom?)
visuals: ++
adventurous: ++
inspired: steep incline means the players will have to be aware of their movement/maneuverability, with a few traps & hazard. More traps can be added.
Vote: Definitely

Way to show voters that the black & white simple drawing can make a map more about encounter than artistic merit. :)

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 an "ok" flip-mat product. It doesn't have to, but I think a superstar would have done that AND had an evocative encounter hinted at.

Part of your problem is rendering a three-dimensional space in two dimensions and having it be "fun" but still make sense. I'm not sure yours manages that.

The Troll Skulls make me think of shutes and ladders and I am not sure why they are added (Trolls' heads aren't that big, so are these stone?)

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. The slope markings aren’t on your key, but it’s easy to figure out what those lines mean. Including the name of your map above the key might have helped as well.

Are there multiple choices for the PCs to make? If not, does the map present a path for the action to flow in? PCs are going up, or going down.

Does the map utilize the space well? A big hill requires a lot of space. I don’t feel any is wasted here.

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? There are elements present to create some surprises on the trail, and that’s good. I wish there were more. The troll skulls were a great idea, and make me wish there were other elements, like hanging cages, maybe a nook with a campsite where defenders have cauldron on the fire. The trail ends curiously close to the shoreline, so supply wagons may have trouble maneuvering the slopes. I’m not sure that’s a concern here though in the situation you outlined.

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? Sure. A steep slope could make it’s way into a lot of situations. The skulls could be placed there by people looking to ward off trolls, or by trolls giving tribute to their fallen. In other words, this map could work with the players defending or attacking.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? I like the tribal feel to the fetishes placed on the trail and that makes me want to create something to explain them. The notion of needing to take a high hill off the shore is an engaging one, and I can envision some uses for this map that would stick in the players memory. I still wish there were more than rocks and skulls though.

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka mechaPoet

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Again, thank you all for your feedback. I wanted to offer some responses, since I can see my entry left people with a lot of questions.

The basic concept of the map was a defensible cliff and/or ambush site. I've always had a soft spot for those levels/boss fights in video games with a single, long corridor (with helpful obstacles to duck behind) that has to be navigated to reach an entrenched baddie at the end, and that kind of stuck in my head--obviously I couldn't do a long gauntlet in these more rectangular dimensions, but a switchback cliff serves a pretty similar purpose!

I think that's what got me in trouble, though, because I was attached to the tactical idea of this terrain first and looking for places in Golarian to place it in second. Flintyreach is a rocky island that seemed like it would fit the bill, but the only thing tying this map there (loosely) is the troll skulls, which are a reference to the clashes between the half-orc city of Averaka's giant slayers and their (unfriendly) troll neighbors. I think I also kind of got it mixed up in my head with some other islands in the Ironbound Archipelago, which the ISWG references as having their inhabitants defend invasion from the cliffs.

I appreciate everyone who had praise for my map, but I also agree with the various criticisms. There are the unidentifiable rectangles (they are supposed to be jetties, but I'm a big clod and failed to label them), the lack of indication of who set this up and why, and in general it's short on features to inspire or excite people who aren't as interested in just the tactical terrain of it.

What it came down to, I think, is that I just don't currently have the map-making practice to bring the right level of polish to this kind of entry. It took me forever just to figure out how to draw steep cliff paths from a bird's eye view, which is time I could have spent on alternate drafts, or ways to really tie this into Golarion. I'll be stepping up my game for Superstar 10, though, and I hope to be back next time!

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

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I didn't have a chance till after the top 16 was announced to comment on these, but I remember last year really appreciating any constructive feedback I got, so I am trying to return the favor.

Congratulations on making it into the top 32 and for putting such a strong contender in the map round.

What I like about this map is you put a lot of encounter potential and different kinds of danger into a fairly simple concept/area. You've put a lot of thought into the kinds of things can happen here, and this is a location that despite your placing it in a single place in Golarion, it could be used for a number of different places (I just found recently an AWFUL map I made awhile ago of a switchback path down a cliff in the Darklands -- adapting what you made here would have been far more useful!). I like you thought to put a sniper there because he can take care of those pesky flying creatures and PCs that may not be stymied by the rest of the terrain.

I am surprised to hear you lament your "polish" abilities because this looks very polished to me in many respects -- the grid is clear; the lines dark, clean, and precise; the details obvious and understandable. You use minimal color to good effect to outline key areas. As you say, drawing a cliff area is hard, but I think you rose to that particular challenge.

Your text as it is, is fine, though as noted I wish there was a little more detail as to what was there and why -- and why PCs might need to travel through this dangerous area. More hooks are always good (something I learned in last year's map round). What you can't put in the text you could put on the map ("ogre witch's lair" (or whatever) in a label can change the possibilities of what might happen right there).

I am amused to see you mentioned video games because when I first pictured this, I thought of "Donkey Kong" and similar, except I was picturing PCs climbing the cliff while trolls or giants stood at the top throwing boulders instead of barrels. And that is its appeal and also, I think, a bit of its downfall -- it just lacks that narrative OOMPH that makes it stand out from a more standard "cliff hazard"/"player character platformer."

Trust your instinct for tactical terrain--that you have down VERY well--and focus on hooks and potential story, and you will do very well if we see you again. Good job.

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