Ustradi Sunken Ruins (Mana Wastes)

Round 2: Create an encounter map

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Thrawn007

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All that remains of this ancient Gebbite ceremonial outpost and battle site in the Mana Wastes is a single multi-tiered shrine, a crumbling stone road, and tower foundations. The petrified trees are the only other sign life once existed where magic tainted Ustradi flood waters now create a lifeless swamp.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Robert! 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. It took me a moment to find the scale, but it's there just under the compass rose. Take a look at other maps by Paizo and try to emulate their style than sticking with this one. As portrayed, it almost look like another elevation marker at first. The map legend is useful and you kept it from cluttering things up too much. That makes your map seem cleaner and most cartographers would be able to work with it more quickly. The other labels inside the map help further an understanding of what needs to be depicted, and you've done a decent job of that yourself with your mapping tool. The one thing that bugs me a little is the explanatory text about the green mists and the dead water, but it's clearly important to understand what those regions of the map contribute to the encounter. You misspelled "emanating" though. :/

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
We've got a swampy, sunken ruin with surrounded by nauseating "dead" water, concealing green mists, and a pretty creepy skull still generating necromantic effects despite being in an unstable region of the Mana Wastes. What more could you ask from a contested region in the war between Geb and Nex? We're pretty much looking at a single encounter location here, but assuming the dead are going to be rising from the water or emerging from the mists, and there's plenty of battlefield effects in play with difficult terrain and concealment, I'd say it's got the potential for a fun one. Even more if wild magic effects come into play from the Mana Wastes or the skull.

Is the map creative and interesting?
Mostly, yes. I mean deep down, it's a single encounter location, but the conealing green mists and hazardous water give it more of a flow from spot to spot on the map. And the high ground of the shrine is destined to appeal to PCs should anything emerge to attack them, but who knows what that eerie skull may have in store for them. Is it a Gebbite artifact? Is it a demi-lich? Or is it something entirely different now from the warped magical energy of the Mana Wastes? Pretty much anything could unfold here. And that's lots of room and variable terrain effects for it to play out.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
Yes. Setting this in the Mana Wastes clinches the vision for the encounter area and ratchets up the drama. The ruined tower, cerermonial outpost, and Gebbite shrine must have served a purpose. The fact that the area surrounding the skull is the only thing to have survived the tower ruins and sunken swamp also inspires the GM. So, I get what you're after here, and it works.

Final verdict, I'm not always won over by single encounter maps because it can sometimes waste your page-count for maps when you have so many other locations to include, but this one works, and I'm going to RECOMMEND it. Mostly, it's because I'd like to see what else you can bring to future rounds, but the base premise of this map is sound, as well. So, good luck with the voters in seeing if you get to move on to 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.
Very clean and straightforward. I would have very little trouble turning this into a final map. The text notes on the map don't have much to do with the appearance of the map; rather, they should be included as part of the adventure text.

A half-sunken ruin in a swampy morass could easily be re-used elsewhere. This would also be easy to recreate on a Flip-Mat as well.

Fun Factor
This has enough interesting details that I could think of several different adventures that could be placed here. The terrain effects would also be an interesting twist, and the petrified trees useful cover (or to push onto enemies, or cross the water safely, or or or).

Final Thoughts
It's deceptively simple map, but the placement of its location in the Mana Wastes is definitely a plus in its favor. I do recommend this map for advancement.

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

Nice work Robert. I can envision an engaging encounter here.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Thrawn007

Thanks once again to all for all the great feedback.

Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

I can picture all sorts of terrible evil that the players could face here and have an interesting encounter.

I try not to picture all sorts of terrible evil that I could face here and have a terrifying encounter.

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

One of my favorites.
I loved your item, and this map is awesome too.
I hope i get to see what kind of monster you come up with.

Good Luck!

This makes me want to re-watch Krull. Good job.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

Robert, you kept your focus here really tight, and to your benefit. I really like the shrine in the swamp, even if you hadn't tied it to the mana wastes. As it is, I can absolutely see a great, unfolding encounter at this site with all sorts going on.

And that's really what the round is about, no? Sure, we could talk about your map being pretty, or how it offers some interesting terrain choices. Both are true. But, more importantly, it makes me want to play there. Props.

I really look forward to seeing what you give us in future rounds.

Nice. Probably one of my votes.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Whoo. I like this map very much even though the text on it is not as precise /concise as it should be and could have been avoided or put in the description. I especially enjoy the mix of variety and consistency in the elements you added. I put this map in my Keep list.

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? PCs can approach from different angles at their own peril, or try to get a better look at the shrine from the nearby hill.

Does the map utilize the space well? Yes. It’s an overland encounter location, which are easy to have a lot of wasted space on, but you mostly alleviate that problem by including hazardous mist and sprinkling in some eerie locations that make the PCs ask questions about what was here before, and what happened to it/them.

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? The ruins aren’t really sunken, as you depict the tower foundations, which would be submerged if the region was sinking and floodwater was seeping in. It’s likely trails would have linked the stone road to the towers as well as the shrine. Trees are only present on the boarders of the mist, which is a clever touch. Are there dead trees inside the mist?

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? There are evil shrine map packs and swamp flip mats that could serve purposes similar to this map, which means I would only need this map for this specific encounter. The giant skull is an old trope and limits re-usability.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? There enough things going on in the map to get some ideas flowing, but not as many as I’d like. That's mostly due to the really simple structure of the shrine and somewhat random placement of the additional features, like the collapsed stone golem. A little extra could have pulled this map so much farther. Still, it's pretty good work.

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

A classic setting. Who doesn't want a skull idol in a necromatic swamp?

Though the most intriguing thing to me are the petrified trees. Imagining how those may factor into a combat situation is interesting.

The mists could add a dimension too, keeping the players from seeing much of the area at any given time.

I get what you mean with the successive +5 ft marks on the shrine, but I think it's clearer to give reference to a 0 ft level, so then +5, +10, +15 and so on. I don't know if that's official Paizo style, but it does seem to be the most common method.

The tower foundations don't seem like the most fascinating places, at least not without some text attached to them. As it is, they're the places of interest along the edges, but they're pretty much unknowns, and a bunch of stone isn't inherently cool.

Not a bad map, though. Some fun, creepy scenarios to play out here.

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: took me a minute, but the green water is crossable and a hazard. Nicely done.
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.

I don't know if it has "enough" but it certainly could be good enough for a generic flip-mat style map, and then I'd see a couple of different adventures here. It would go well with some existing swamp maps too

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Thrawn007

Now that round 3 is turned in, I want to give the same kind of write-up I did around my first round entry.

Why did I go with this map?


This was not my first choice for a map. Actually, it was my 4th choice. Before I entered an item, I made sure I had at least an outline for what I wanted to do in every round "just in case" I advanced that far. I actually have multiple entries sketched out for each round so that when twists come, I hopefully have something to work with. The 30x24 map was really the defining characteristic of this round, and I felt the format wouldn't do my top 3 choices for maps justice, so I got down to choice 4 of 6 to flesh out and enter.

I love Nex, Geb, and the Mana wastes, and if the top 32 submissions are any indication, I'm not the only one. The mana wastes were immediately on my shortlist for maps.

I felt going with a swamplike environment was actually a little bit of a risk if someone were to call me on it. The wastes are mostly deserts and badlands, with hilly terrain on the inland side of things. However, it has this creepy magic and disease infested river, so I felt it wasn't a stretch to invent a valley that flooded at some point, and remained flooded after. I wanted things to investigate as well as various ways to fight battles. Making it the ruins of an old Gebbite shrine/fort/settlement fit the bill there.

Swamp, Bog, Marsh or Fen?


Believe it or not, I spent over two hours figuring out the final word of my 50 word description. I read multiple sites on the differences between types of wetlands, worried that if I used the wrong descriptor, I'd get called out on it, and it might turn voters against me. (I really wanted to call it a fen, but that would have been incorrect.) Obviously a better use of my time would have been spellchecking emanating and making a better scale that didn't blend in and almost get me disqualified.



Workshopping was helpful in round 1. It was vital in round 2. The map I likely would have handed in without getting feedback would have been inferior to what I ended up with. I started with black waters instead of green misty waters. Although I liked that thematically, it made the map much harder to read. (They were actually a really, really dark green, but they were hard to distinguish from the trees.) A lot of details of the map didn't stand out enough, so the change to green was very necessary.

The second big change was moving the shrine. I started out with the shrine at the northern edge of the map, which made the swamp more of the focus of the map. However, some astute players stated they'd rather fight at the shrine, and having multiple approaches would make a fight there more exciting.

The skull was actually a last minute change to tie things more to Geb. I was going to make the skull an opening to enter the temple, but I decided that wasn't a detail that I needed to include on the map. Anyway, making sure there was something interesting on top of the shrine was needed, even if it was a bit cliche.

Putting the text boxes actually was the result of feedback as well. First, the open areas of green mists/water aren't exciting, and second, getting more information on the map would help get the vision of the location to the voters and judges better, and if someone (like Neil) didn't like the text boxes, I would just have to ask for forgiveness later, and hope it had more positive than negative impact.

If I had to do it all again


Obviously, I'd fix the typo, but overall, I'm pretty happy with this entry. It's pretty much the first time I touched photoshop in 10 years. (I had to dig through my closet to find my computer that had an old version installed.) I was really set on hand drawing my map, but for the swamp, I thought I could get a better more organic look using photoshop filters, and it would allow me to layer things to change the composition of the map until I was happy with the layout. I probably wouldn't use that method on interior maps, but I really liked it for exterior mapping.

One thing that didn't come across in the map, is I picture the rest of the ruins under the swamp. Only some of the high ground sections of things remain. I would probably make some changes to the ruins themselves to convey this better. I actually removed all my collapsed walls because I felt they cluttered the map too much, but based on some of the comments, that might have been a mistake, and is something I'd at least have to consider if using a version of this map in the future.

I actually built layers of the ruins pre-swamp and tried to make the flooding and erosion patterns make some sense as I "aged" the area. I took some liberties removing some stuff that cluttered things up after that process, and that was when the walls left the map.

Thanks once again for all of the comments. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone has in store for me in the next round.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Robert Thomson wrote:
Putting the text boxes actually was the result of feedback as well. First, the open areas of green mists/water aren't exciting, and second, getting more information on the map would help get the vision of the location to the voters and judges better, and if someone (like Neil) didn't like the text boxes, I would just have to ask for forgiveness later, and hope it had more positive than negative impact.

This is exactly the kind of risk-taking that I believe to be the hallmark of a great designer. I hope you will awe us with your monster :-)

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Thrawn007

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One thing I didn't discuss in the design process above was the decision about unique locations vs a generic battle map. I really wanted to do a "flip-mat" under this format. Although I was designing around a specialized environment, I being able to reuse the map was really important to me, and the first couple drafts of the map that I did included some elements that were tailored to my location, but everything was left generic enough to run as multiple locations. My 50 words were even split between the specific location and what it could do as a generic location for other adventures. I wanted to show I could design flip maps as a side thing, even though I'm not a cartographer.

The really strong advice I got was that I would be better served to focus my words, time, and map to one location, and not worry about how it would play as a generic flip mat. The result was the map I presented, which is a tighter design, with much better focus. I'd have likely regretted it and not advanced if I simply went with the generic map. It would have had nice terrain, that would have been useful for battles, but I hope the final map inspires encounters as much as it serves as a location you can place encounters in. In the end, that's the difference.

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

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.

Congrats on making it into the top 16 with your creepy ruins map!

I'm biased in a weird way on this one, as my round 4 entry last season also involved a shrine surrounded by magic-twisting emanations, so obviously I think it's a fantastic concept. ;) (And to be clear, your map and concept is still sufficiently different from mine that I am not claiming you took my idea. :) For one thing, your location is way better.)

I love a good ruins map, and you've delivered well on this; the swampy setting adds to the ruined nature and the spooky aberrant mists helps it stand out above being generic. The little details REALLY make this also come alive: the abandoned campsite, the golem bridge, the towers all add touches--as well as usable encounter features--that help give this a storied feel.

Your 50 word text grants potential GMs additional narrative potential and help explain to an extent why what is where.

Visually, there is a lot strong here in that you've made it clear what is what, and aesthetically of course you obviously focused on creating creepy ambiance. However, the atmosphere does come with a cost of everything being too dark. You did manage to still keep everything clear, but this darkness and lack of contrast can potentially conceal important details (it's hard to make out the smaller petrified trees, for example). (Some professional artwork, including published flip mats, are also too dark in the name of "ambiance" and end up being useless because dry-erase marker doesn't show up on them.) I also feel like, if anything, aspects of the image are too symmetrical. I'd like to see the shrine perhaps a little more off center (make room for more hazard spots), and especially the road more curvy -- in a swamp, or area at least near a river (where terrain can be bumpy), such a straight road seems unlikely.

I like the presence of the towers in terms of having additional ruins/structures/difficult terrain, but it's entirely unclear what they would have been actually for. I realize space is limited and those aren't the most important items of detail, but if they're there, as a GM I want to know how I can make use of them. It's also odd that the tower bases are there, but not stone having crumbled away from them nearby. I'd love to see a toppled tower with a still usable stairway to an underground passage or something to add more potential for adventure.

And potential for adventure is a concern for me, in spite of how cool the idea of this place is. You succeeded indeed at making the place look totally lifeless, but in that, then I wonder what creatures visiting creatures might encounter. I can imagine things trapped underneath the shrine or what have you, but THIS is the encounter map, and when thinking about possible encounters, I want to include possibilities for creature encounters if not fights. The possible presence of undead is there but I'm not sure where they might be dwelling particularly. Of course that stone golem might unnecessarily stand up. Don't get me wrong--there IS potential here, in terms of mystery and general creepiness and opportunity for exploration. I don't need specific encounter suggestions per se but I do want to think about what indeed can be found here, including possible intelligences, and that's not clear to me just from this map.

This is still a very clean, creepy, cool map that I'd personally love to make use of at some point and would, indeed, make a good flip-mat location (since you said that was one of your goals). Congratulations and good luck this round.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Thrawn007

Thanks for the detailed feedback.

Looking forward to answering some of the comments, but since we don't know what the rules are yet for round 4, and I could potentially be put in a position where the answers to some of this could be "explaining" round 4, I'm going to hold off until I'm eliminated or until after round 4 to get into a detailed discussion on this.

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