Black Dragon's Retreat

Round 2: Create an encounter map

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

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An elderly dragon has carved out this pool in order to soak its aching bones. Disrupting the local fauna, it has attracted the adventurers' attention. The wet mud is difficult terrain and slows movement to five feet in the pit. The methane vents from underground, is odorless, colourless, and flammable.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

John! 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?
Yep. We've got a compass rose, a scale, and even a map key, if necessary. You've also include labels for important areas and elevation information.

Does the map provide a cool setup for a fun encounter?
It's got character. This is clearly a "fight the dragon" opportunity, presumably while it's taking a nice long mud bath to ease its aching bones. The leaking methane vents have the potential to create an extra hazard for fire-wielding PCs. It's too bad the presumed black dragon of "Black Dragon's Retreat" likely won't be using fire unless it's picked up a few spells to do so. But, all in all, there's enough happening here for an entertaining ambush site.

Is the map creative and interesting?
I think the inclusion of the methane gas, the different elevations, and the wet mud create the more innovative aspects here. Presumably, the dragon will still be able to use flight to its advantage, despite sitting in the mud, so the limited map space may confine tracking its movement a bit if that comes into play.

Is the designer's extra 50-word commentary inspiring and useful?
Yes. We get insights into this being a place where dragons have enough room to enjoy mud baths. So, we get an immediate sense of what kind of encounter the map is intended to support. Calling out the nature of the methane vents educates the reader on how that might come into play as an additional hazard.

Final verdict, I think there's enough here to RECOMMEND this map. Who doesn't like a good dragon encounter? This gives us an unusual location for a black dragon (and the terrain may limit some its more swamp-specific powers), but you've helped explain that with the setup in your extra text. This isn't so much the dragon's lair as the location the PCs have identified to ambush it. 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.
A very easy to read map, with clear elevation indicators and features. This would be no problem to create a final map from.

This is a good location that could get re-used quite easily, and the varying hazards and terrain could easily be switched out for other effects quite easily. I also very much like the use of this geographical feature: lava is fun and all, but this is much more exciting to me.

Fun Factor
This would be a blast to run—pun intended. There's a lot of great fun tactics possible here, and I really love being able to use the terrain to my advantage.

Final Thoughts
A not-often used geographical feature plus some built-in hazards and a straightforward text description. I do recommend this map for advancement.

Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

Overall I really like this map. The methane, acid and varied elevation can make this an interesting encounter. As the judges have stated everything is clear and well laid out. My one concern is that a fight here could easily spill out of the flip map and into uncharted squares.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

John, are those clouds? I forget where exactly it was said, but in one of the previous years, there was a comment that you should only include at least semi-permanent things on your map. Powerful magic aside, clouds are not permanent.

I mean, there might be constantly leaking methane or steam, but... that's not said here. All you say is that there is a cloud of methane there.

Even if there were perpetually clouds of methane there, by the time PCs are fighting dragons, they probably have access to gust of wind and could blow them away, so I'd have liked to see what was beneath them.

Also, I don't think the rules said you had to make it a specific Golarion location, but it would have at least been nice to get some idea of specifics here. Like 'this is the black dragon Razazama's lair, in Galt'

All said, it's a dragon's lair. It's neat, and has some fun opportunity for play, but it's nothing that makes my jaw drop.

Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

RonarsCorruption wrote:

John, are those clouds? I forget where exactly it was said, but in one of the previous years, there was a comment that you should only include at least semi-permanent things on your map. Powerful magic aside, clouds are not permanent.

I mean, there might be constantly leaking methane or steam, but... that's not said here. All you say is that there is a cloud of methane there.

Venting methane or leaking methane means the same thing.

Okay, you had me at Active Mud Volcano.

Sigh. This is the second location with Yellowstone inspired terrain I've seen. The other being Elizabeth's Hot Springs Trail. My own map (had I advanced) also had fumaroles and mud pots, in common with yours, and geysers and a hot spring, in common with hers. That just leaves the bacteria mat from my map, with a few more maps left to read... Back to the drawing board for next year.

So, I can honestly say I love your design idea. Your execution is good too. Everything is easy to read. This will probably get my vote.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I like this map a lot for both its excellent visuals and the way it is aptly represented. The blurb adds even more mojo that makes this map part of my Keep list :-)

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

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?

When I first brought this map up, I instantly saw the mountain layouts, the "red" "lava flows" and was like "hey, they made Wasteland again" -- So I was so very happy to see that that was NOT the case. All said, you tag this as a Black Dragon's retreat but as Liz points out, it could be a flip-mat product with lots of adventures set here.

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?

On the one hand, mud isn't really "exciting" on the other hand, you have a map with a rich environmental factor for the players' to deal with. "mud volcano" resulted in no hits on Pathfinder Wiki, though Mud Giants are thing, and Zhen Worms are said to love mud pots in Darkmoon Wood.

So, what do I think of it?

I think you did decent art, that "sells" your idea better than your words. I think your choice to say it's for "black dragons" was wise because some of the voters/judges are focusing on the "encounter" aspect, but others like myself want to see flip-mats too ~ the fact that one map can impress both "camps" of people = Superstar accomplishment. So even though your actual map isn't like "yay, I love it" I think you've done well and good luck this round!

If I had 10 votes, this would be #10. It's just very nice and evocative, and looks very good for an encounter.

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? There’s a number of interesting areas to work with when deciding to approach the volcano at the map’s center, so yes.

Does the map utilize the space well? Yes, this could easily be in the flip-mat line that Paizo produces.

Are the elements presented well thought out and make sense for the environment? Fumaroles! I recently spent a little time researching water science, and the geothermic elements I read about are represented well on your map. This seems like it could be a real place, and each element provides a unique experience with how the encounter is likely to play out. You’ve carefully placed each element to maximize the player’s enjoyment of the space. Nicely done.

Is this a map I would like to use more than once? Absolutely. It’s a fun twist on the volcano location, which is odd, because mud holes are probably more common, geologically speaking.

So, back to the initial question: does this map spark the imagination? I would like the opportunity to use this map and am willing to devote some thinking time to coming up with reasons to do so. There’s more than just dragons that could find a home 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: black dragon aside, their is enough variety, hazards and height to make this worthwhile for multiple encounters.
Vote: Definitely

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

So this is a pretty neat boss battle type map. A black dragon in a landscape that's likely as inhospitable to the pcs as his breath weapon.

There's a nice mix of hazards to negotiate during the battle, and they'll definitely shape players' actions. I do worry a bit about the methane- if it's colorless and odorless, they won't detect it, so any explosion is going to come out of nowhere to them. That won't go over well at the table. I guess maybe it hisses and there could be some sort of DC to know what it is...

I agree it's suitable for all sorts of encounters. It could certainly work as a hellscape, for example.

Nice, fun map.

Dark Archive

I really like this map, and it made my top 10, but sadly I only get 8 votes. Unfortunately, enough other maps inspired me just that much more to edge this out of a voting position. However, I really hope you advance, and look forward to seeing what you bring us in the next round!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka thornnm

A gigantic amount of thanks to the judges and everyone else who commented on my map! I wasn't sure how I was going to do in this round as it was really my first time making a map like this. I'll try to get around to making specific replies tomorrow, after I get my monster submitted!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka thornnm

Been meaning to do a full post about my thought processes, and to reply to the critiques. So here we go!

My original thoughts for a map were leaning heavily towards a cooling lava flow, with a red dragon encounter. But that felt like something that had probably been before, or at least felt a little trope-ey. And then for some reason I had a thought about a black dragon creating a spa for itself. So there we are, a place for a dragon to go when it needs to get away from home. My one big regret was not putting more thought into where in Golarion this could specifically take place.

So, take a black dragon out of its normal environment, but how to make it difficult for PCs to get to it? Add a high vantage point, create some difficult terrain, and add a convenient pit into which it could fling creatures using Snatch (so it wouldn't have to dirty its pool). And add in some more bulky obstacles that can aid the PCs in sneaking closer.

My intention with the methane was that it would vent continuously from underground, thereby making it a fixture, even with wind/wind spells. PCs would get a Perception or Knowledge (nature) check in order to recognize the tell-tale shimmer of the vents. If it was set alight, and since it was being fed from underground, the gas would just keep on burning, which would provide its own fun in those squares.

The fumaroles were a way to provide PCS with cover, while still being dangerous due to the smoke. A sort of high risk vs. high reward scenario.

Thoughts for other encounters here included mud elementals (duh), mephits, mudlords (again, duh), boggards, and possibly even an actual spa that had been abandoned and been turned into a bandit lair. I think that about covers everything I could think of. Again, thanks so much to the judge's for their critiques, and to everyone elsefor their comments and criticism. I can only get better with this much help!

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

I am (slowly) trying to post comments on maps; I recall last season I appreciated constructive feedback so I am trying to return the favor forward.

Congrats on making it into the top 16 with your awesome dragon "spa"!

This is an excellent example of "common adventure location turned unique." We have a lot of need for dragon lairs in adventuring, but all too often, regardless of dragon type, they become your typical caves, with giant hoard-cave in the middle. This really gets us out of that "comfort/cliche" zone and, as you note, this area could also be used for a number of other kinds of monster encounters as well. You've accomplished the difficult task of creating something that is specific enough to have a story to it, while still being variable enough to be reusable.

You also do an impressive job of breaking out of "grid-mode" -- the habit many of us (myself included) have of trying to make even natural features conveniently fit the square grid, with too many straight lines and right angles that probably shouldn't exist outside of certain structures. Your geographical shapes and lines feel very natural, and I'm guessing you did a lot of drafts to figure out placement.

This is a place I'd ask, "but why are the adventurers HERE?" and your 50 word text answers that question; it aalso succinctly provides some basic background and important atmospheric details.

I do feel like some of the coloration is, well, muddy and I wonder if clarity would be improved if your inked lines were thicker and colors contrasted a bit more. Likewise, I wish the text had a white outline or glow to help it stand out from the darkish background. That said, your map is very well laid out, with a useful legend, and it is clear where everything starts and stops. A cartographer could easily generate a final map from this with few questions.

Congratulations again and good luck today!

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