Laboratory of Unraveling Arcana – 1393 Words


Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Helena Handbasket

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Laboratory of Unraveling Arcana
Flip-Mat: Haunted Dungeon
==========
Acolytes of the demon lord Abraxas crave forbidden lore and dark magic—the scholars of Scrivenbough in Nex are no exception. For Sub-Riddler Vorresh, temple librarian and expert on arcane theory, the Mana Wastes’ magical corruption represents a source of power just waiting to be harnessed. Six years ago, Vorresh led a group of Scrivenbough researchers into the spell-blasted desert and established a concealed subterranean laboratory in order to study the region's unstable magic. The complex is located in a narrow, sheltered ravine approximately 50 miles south of Ecanus, near the trade route to Graydirge.

Recently, the laboratory received unwelcome visitors: a merchant and her bodyguards. Off course after an attack by mutant bandits and seeking shelter from a freak storm, they stumbled into the ravine and uncovered the laboratory’s entrance. The laboratory’s denizens slaughtered most of the intruders, but captured the merchant and two bodyguards alive for questioning… and experimentation.

Riala Sorn, the ostensible merchant and current prisoner, is actually a Nexian spy carrying encrypted documents procured in Geb. When Riala didn’t arrive on schedule, Dunn Palovar, the leader of Ecanus, grew worried. It would be simple to send a large force out to search for her, but he didn’t want to alert agents of Geb or his rivals among the Council of Three and Nine. The mission required a small team capable of tracking down the missing spy, retrieving the critical documents, and returning with both. So Palovar, via a series of intermediaries and using a smokescreen objective (rescuing a beloved writer and her priceless manuscript), employed the PCs.

After an arduous trek through the Mana Wastes, the PCs locate the mutants’ ambush site near the trade route. Then, using tracking skills or the coerced assistance of an injured bandit, the PCs follow Riala’s trail to the laboratory’s entrance: a set of weathered doors set into the cliff face. Little natural light reaches this section of the ravine due to its steep, narrow sides and a rocky overhang. Unless they carry a light source, by the time the PCs reach the entry chamber (forty feet beyond) darkness surrounds them.

Venom Drips in the Darkness (CR 9)
==========
Tattered coils of papery snakeskin cover the sandstone floor of this large chamber, mounding in the corners like dirty snowdrifts. A cavernous opening pierces the eastern wall while, to the west, a stone staircase climbs to an open doorway. Sibilant echoes and a faint rustling fills the musty air.

The map is oriented with north at the top and the map scale is one square = 5 feet. PCs enter from the north, through the 10-foot-wide hall opening into the chamber with stairs. There are no light sources in the entrance chamber, nor in the areas directly to the east and west.

Entrance chamber walls—and walls throughout the complex unless otherwise noted—are made of hewn stone. The thinner section of western wall, however, is masonry and contains an arrow slit approximately halfway down its length. Additionally, the eastern room’s walls are riddled with Diminutive tunnels leading to snake warrens closer to the surface. The holes make excellent handholds; it takes only a DC 15 Climb check to scale these walls. Floors are smooth stone. The ceilings in the entrance chamber and eastern room lie 30 feet above the floor, but the western hall’s ceiling is only 10 feet high. The first staircase landing is 10 feet high and the second landing is 5 feet higher.

Since the researchers have not left the complex for several days, snakeskin has accumulated on the floor in the entrance chamber and eastern room. The crackling husks impose a -5 penalty on Stealth checks; creatures that do not walk on the floor, and those moving at less than half speed, do not suffer this penalty. A DC 10 Perception check reveals that most foot traffic leads from the stairs to the entrance chamber’s northern exit. A DC 12 Knowledge (nature) check indicates that the molted skins come primarily from venomous snakes, though a DC 18 Knowledge (planes) reveals that many of these snakes are also fiendish. Furthermore, if the PCs succeed on this Knowledge (planes) check by 5 or more, they also realize that minuscule markings covering the skins form Abraxas’ demonic glyph. Though sound echoes slightly in the entrance chamber, it is obvious that the sibilance and rustling are coming from the eastern room.

Creatures: Turlik, a dwarven cleric of Abraxas, is fervently devoted to the laboratory’s efforts yet often serves as a source of ridicule from other Scrivenbough scholars due to his dim intellect. The researchers post him to guard duty to keep him away from their precious experiments. Turlik currently stands watch, grudgingly, next to the arrow slit in the hall to the west of the entrance chamber.

A single undead shadow—the result of an experiment gone horribly awry—waits inside the first staircase landing. The researcher responsible for the shadow’s creation used a command undead spell to control the creature, gaining another guard for the entrance chamber. The fact that its presence disturbs Turlik is an added bonus.

The area’s main guardians wait 10 feet inside the eastern room: an enhanced skinstitch and a swarm of fiendish vipers. Vorresh himself created the towering monstrosity known as a skinstitch, using the flayed skins of disloyal or failed Scrivenbough scholars to make the creature’s shell and stuffing it with the crumpled remnants of those scholars’ discredited theories and poorly-researched essays. Over time, the construct integrated coils of snakeskin into its form; these wisps trail from the creature like dirty bandages or decayed grave-wrappings. The human skins that remain still bear fragments of arcane formulae marked into their surface—Scrivenbough scholars often record spells or secrets onto their own skin—and a meticulous search might uncover a snippet of value. Inside the skinstitch writhes a mass of fiendish vipers sent by Abraxas to reward the efforts of his disciples. Over the years, these vile serpents have interbred with local snakes, though the nearby environment has not been drastically affected since the Wastes create their own dangerous mutations.

Since Turlik and the monsters in this encounter area possess darkvision, they rely primarily on intruders’ use of light to alert them. If PCs are stealthy and do not carry a light source, they could surprise the guards.

Hazard: One of Vorresh’s early successes was controlling a small area of warped magic similar to a dweomersink. This magic-dampening field fills the northern half of the entrance chamber (including portions of the stairs) from floor to ceiling. Worshipers of Abraxas, and those carrying unholy symbols of the demon lord, are immune to the effects of this hazard.

Enhanced Skinstitch CR 6
XP 2,400
hp 52 (Bestiary 4 246)
Tactics The skinstitch moves to attack PCs in melee, pursuing enemies and fighting until destroyed unless commanded otherwise. Selected members of the laboratory staff are able to command the skinstitch (Turlik is not one of them), though the creature will not attack the shadow, serpents, or any worshiper of Abraxas unless they attack it first.

Fiendish Snake Swarm, Venomous CR 5
XP 1,600
hp 37 (Bestiary 294, Bestiary 3 249)
Tactics The swarm spills out of the skinstitch as it approaches the PCs; the swarm fights to the death. The snakes remain near the skinstitch to benefit from the construct’s nest ability.

Shadow CR 3
XP 800
hp 19 (Bestiary 245)
Tactics The shadow focuses its attacks on divine casters and fights until destroyed.

Turlik, War Priest CR 1
XP 400
hp 21 (NPC Codex 44)
Domain & Gear Replace Destruction domain with Magic domain and greatsword with warhammer.
Tactics If he has time, Turlik casts magic weapon on his warhammer, then uses hand of the acolyte to attack PCs. When brought to 7 hit points or less, he attempts to flee and warn the laboratory researchers.

Minor Dweomersink CR 4
XP 1,200
Effect As a dweomersink (Game Mastery Guide 244), except the caster level for the dispel magic effect is 5th and magical energy is not released in destructive bursts.

Development: If Turlik escapes, the complex goes on the alert and PCs can expect to face waves of angry researchers (primarily clerics, rogues, wizards) and experiment-warped creatures. Vorresh remains deeper in the laboratory, extracting information from Riala by torturing her with a new and particularly-unpleasant manipulation of warped magic.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Bill! Welcome to the Top 8! All your hard work has paid off for you, and now you find yourself on the cusp of having a shot at the top prize. From here, you've got a major opportunity to really impress a lot of folks and secure yourself some bonafide freelancing opportunities, not just with Paizo but other third-party publishers, as well. The trick lies in putting forth your best work to show us that you belong. By this point, you should have learned a lot of lessons, and now, we need to see how well you've incorporated them and how well you've learned to apply them. In fact, encounter design is the primary precursor to adventure design, since it incorporates your storytelling ability, how to synergize your idea with a playable map, your stat-block ability, and a host of other elements of game design which really start to bring it altogether. So, let's go through your encounter and see what you've got.

Name: Naming still matters, even at this stage of the game, and you've gone with the Laboratory of Unraveling Arcana for your location, which works just fine given that it lies within the Mana Wastes...and Venom Drips in the Darkness for your encounter, which I'm less enthusiastic about, but it certainly hints at the whole fiendish snake-connection you've worked up.

Creative Ideas: The use of the skinstitch and the fiendish snake swarm is pretty inspired. I came away feeling like that was the best part. You spent a lot of words detailing the background of the location, though, and it hints towards much more interesting things (involving Vorresh and his mutant cult) than what this encounter offers. I've seen a number of competitors in RPG Superstar do this during the encounter round. They feel compelled to do justice to the lesser encounter when a bigger swing for the fences using the final encounter would have sold it more. But, what you've given us is rich in detail. The poor dwarven cleric of Abraxas who's picked on by his fellow cultists is both humorous and rich with roleplaying potential if captured. And, the addition of the dweomersink as a unique hazard affecting this location helps elevate things a bit.

Writing Ability: This is pretty decent. It reads well, but also wanders through quite a bit of backstory explanation to get across the reason for the PCs venturing here, most of which didn't really elevate the piece very much. Personally, I came away feeling like those words could have been used to better effect. I'd also caution you against using a phrase like “one square = 5 feet” in the midst of a sentence. Substitute “equals” for “=” or leave out that statement altogether and let the scale on your map do the talking for you.

Mechanics/Gameplay: As-written, it's a CR 9 encounter that relies on the strength of a CR 6 skinstitch and a CR 5 fiendish snake swarm to sell it. The CR 3 shadow and CR 4 minor dweomersink help to further complicate things, but Turlik is hardly a speedbump as a CR 1 adversary (since most PCs going through this encounter will be 7th level at a minimum). In fact, the notion that Turlik even attempts to attack the PCs made me cringe when I read it. The odds of him surviving are very low in the midst of that kind of battle, and it ruins the chance for a fairly interesting interrogation of an enemy NPC.

Professional Polish: This felt more suspect to me. The Tactics lines you've included with your stat-blocks aren't the standard way of presenting such information and that wasn't included as part of the template to follow for this round. Typically, the Tactics section of a stat-block include 3-4 separate lines (Before Combat, During Combat, Morale, and optionally, Base Statistics). Everything else is mostly on point, though.

Recommendation: I've got some minor CR concerns for this encounter, but I like the general idea behind it. The dynamics of the location, its inhabitants, and the variety of adversaries keeps it interesting. storytelling that flows both from the background of the location and the current encounter situation. Writing could be tightened up a bit, and the same is true for the professional polish. So, I'm going to put myself ON THE FENCE. Let's see how the voters feel and what more you can bring in the final round, if they put you through.

Paizo Employee Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

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Hey Bill, congratulations on making it to the top 8.

I am the developer of Pathfinder Society Organized Play and the Pathfinder Society Open Call, which means I see lots of short adventures and self-contained encounters over the course of a year. It’s a developer’s job to read through, revise, and fact-check pretty much everything, but I have attempted to distill my feedback into several major headers. Essentially, I’m approaching this round like I would a scenario turnover, which involves marking up a copy of your encounter and providing feedback on what you did and how you might improve.

My Criteria:
As a developer who works on many adventures, I’m always considering how much I would need to work on an encounter to develop it and prepare it for publication. It’s certainly important for a contestant to create something that wows the judges with creativity and flair, but a submission can tip into the “recommend” or “don’t recommend” depending on how much editing and general revision is necessary.
Setting: Does your encounter fit in Golarion? Is the CR appropriate for the setting and the encounter? Is it clear how a GM might use this encounter? Have you clearly explained or referenced existing rules for any hazards and terrain features included in the encounter?
NPCs, Creatures, and Traps: Do the foes you selected contribute to the encounter and its theme? Do they feel natural or forced? Do your NPCs fit the location and provide enough context for a GM to run an encounter from start (a hook) to the end (when the PCs question any captives)? Do any traps or haunts fit the encounter? Do they add to the encounter?
Numbers: Are all of your statistics and calculations correct? Are your skill check DCs reasonable?
Style: Did you watch Paizo’s styles, both in terms of writing and formatting? The more closely a writer can match Paizo’s styles in the turnover, the easier it is for me to develop. The easier it is for me to develop, the more eagerly I assign that author more work.

Setting
A bit of Abraxus is always welcome, and you’ve dug up some canon I didn’t remember reading—nice find! You’ve also struck a nice balance between just enough backstory to make a compelling premise and not so much backstory that the players will be confused.

I really like the flavor of this area, from the snake-sized tunnels to the cast of husks that you’ve scattered about and incorporated into the central creature. Also, congratulations for being the only one to use the Haunted Dungeon map.

NPCs, Creatures, and Traps
Normally when I think of a disciple of a god of magic, I think of someone with impressive mental stats and arrogant poise. Turlik defies that stereotype in a fun way by trying very hard to be something he’s not—subject to the GM keeping it tasteful. I also like that he serves as a warning system, providing an additional tactical element for the PCs to consider, even though Turlik presents virtually no threat to any PC who is likely to encounter him. Can he use Hand of the Apprentice through the arrow slit (I like the image of a warhammer flying out while he fervently shouts, “Magic!”)? How far must he run to effectively warn the rest of the compound that there are invaders?

The skinstitch is visually wowing; I really want to order art of this guy and put it on the cover of an adventure. His swarm is also thematically spot-on, and as a swarm with some energy resistance, it’s likely to pose a threat even to higher-level PCs. The shadow makes far less sense, and its appearance seems very forced. Sure, it’s a different type of tactical threat, but it also has no obvious purpose from the players’ perspective. Cut it.

This is a great place to include a dweomersink. Well played.

Numbers
The DCs are all reasonable—quite approachable and easily overcome for a typical mid-level group.

Style
Overall this reads well and would not require too much work from me as a developer. One thing I’d like you to consider in the future is skill agency, which is to say what is actually doing the action. Take a look at your fourth paragraph in the encounter area, and you’ll see that you present the skill checks as revealing information. It’s preferable to frame this from the PC’s perspective so that they’re doing the action (e.g. “A PC who succeeds at a DC 12 Knowledge [nature] check knows that…”). It’s less jarring for knowledge checks than it is for more physical skills.

Final Thoughts
I enjoyed this encounter. You have a good sense of how to take a stock monster and flavor it to really fit a theme, and this extends to your read-aloud descriptions. You try to do a little too much by adding the shadow, but the rest is strong enough to survive the extraneous undead.

I do recommend this encounter for advancement to the final round.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Helena Handbasket

Thank you for your time and feedback, judges! I will be happy to respond to questions when playtesting/voting ends.

~Bill~

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

A more detailed comment will come later, but on a first reading...

Gah! This is super-creepy! Well done on the flavor and atmosphere!

Dedicated Voter Season 9

Laboratory of Unraveling Arcana:
Description:

Interesting and well written; it’s more GM prep than something I can share with the PCs to try and tie them into the adventure. Remember, an encounter is about showcasing the players, not the NPCs. Talk to, and of them.

Encounter (Venom Drips in the Darkness (CR 9)):

Nice flavortext; some description of the actual entrance would have been appropriate. Since most stealthy characters will move at less than half speed anyways (to avoid the normal penalties), an acrobatics check to negate the snakeskin penalty might have been more appropriate.

A source of ridicule denotes someone who ridicules others; a source for ridicule denotes someone who is ridiculed by others.

The premise of your encounter is very passive for the PCs; you spend almost all your time describing the NPCs; this is what your tactics section is for. The body of your adventure should provide the PCs with different avenues of play.

Resolution: More fighting, or more sneaking; not really a resolution.

Grading Rubric:
Is the general premise interesting and believable?

It’s engaging but not interesting; believable.

Does the setting description bring me into the gameworld, so that I see the encounter through my character’s eyes (or the NPC’s eyes if I’m the GM)?

Yes, as a GM.

Do I have adequate descriptions of all the different setting pieces to run the game without a hitch (objects, setting, NPCs, enemies, traps)?

Yes; at least as pertains directly to the encounter. Much of the map is ignored.

Does the encounter draw the party into a conflict on their own terms, give them agency up to the climax, and allow a conflict resolution ideally setting up or concluding a larger plot-arc?
No.
• Are the conflicts leading to the climax varied in nature?
N/A
• Are they thematic?
N/A
• Are they difficult enough to entice players without overshadowing the climax?
N/A
• Is the climax appropriate?
Fight or Sneak; typical for a rescue mission.
• Does it encompass (and/or respond to) different avenues pursued by the players?
Not meaningfully.
• Is it challenging?
The Dweomersink is likely to complicate matters; everything else would die in 1-2 fireballs.
• Does it set the tone for a memorable resolution?
No.
• Is the resolution thematic and appropriate to the challenge (both difficulty and nature)?
No.
• Does it encompass (and/or respond to) different avenues taken by the players?
Not Meaningfully.
• Is it fulfilling (to the plot, to the characters, to the players, to the NPCs and setting)?
No.
Are the NPCs, Monsters, Traps, Enemies and Allies introduced in a way which supports the overall encounter and leaves me interested regardless of being player or GM?
No; there’s no build up or suspense. The fight is relatively straightforward.
Are the maps well labeled (clarity/concision)?
Yes.
Does the description support/is it appropriate to the map?
Yes.
Is everything organized well, so that I can find anything I need in a moment and figure out its placement in game?

Relatively; I’d need to do a little prep ahead of time to have everything ready to go.

Does the encounter teach me something new about Golarion, and the encounter’s specific setting?

No, the premise does more than the encounter.

Can I play through and enjoy it without extensive background knowledge; if not is this knowledge included for me?

Yes.

Does the encounter inspire me to do better in my own games and if so is it easily adaptable to them (as Player, GM, and Designer)?

No.

Did the encounter surprise me (good or bad)?

No.

Does the environment play a part of the encounter, and is it well integrated?

No – it is well integrated. I’d have liked to see more development of the handholds and other features to provide the players with more game options.

Effective use of tactics and morale?

No, it’s very basic.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

This year my intention is to give a first impression on each encounter then run them with a few friends to see if my impression of the encounter changes.

Also I'm not reading any other comments before hitting this with my first impression write up. I'm partly curious how it holds up to my later impression and what the pros have stated.

I'm going Good, Bad, and Ugly with a tentative grade. I'll post final grade after running.

First impression:

The Good Okay so this might actually be a challenging combat huzzah for that because most of these won't be for my players. I like the mix of tactics that will need to be used to win at this.
The Bad See the ugly now add the "skin" theme you're running with as being a little off putting as well. Also if the dwarf is behind arrow slits taking pot shots at the party make the main weapon ranged and the dwarf halfway good with it.
The Ugly There's a level of Goleran immersion that wanders into getting so self referential it becomes hard to approach and off putting. The first 3 paragraphs of this (with no links to make it more approachable) just irritated the heck out of me. Meaning you have one hell of a hill to climb for my vote.
Overall Mechanically it has nice touches and I wish you did more there then what you did with the backstory and that primarily informs on my score here. My tentative grade is a D


I like the visuals and the challenge selections, but this encounter just feels a little underbaked to me.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Champion Voter Season 6, Champion Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Champion Voter Season 9

Poor Turlik, I knew him little. He has to know he can't stand up to anyone who could take out the other creatures. Would have been better for him to observe for a round and flee. I doubt he would survive one turn, or possibly one hit at the party's level.

I like the Mana Wastes, the idea of a secret lab there is cool. I like the inclusion of the dweomersink, as it adds character to the encounter.

I really like the presentation of the skinstitch and the snakes. I didn't like the inclusion of the shadow or Turlik.

The encounter area description was really cool, but it had extra unnecessary bits. Detailing the snake holes in the wall cool, but listing a useless Climb check? Maybe Turlik should attack through the arrow slit you detailed and did nothing with.

The setup of the beginning locations for the enemies makes little sense and the same for their tactics.

Overall, I really liked the idea of your encounter, but your writing needs some work. It feels like you added extra unnecessary filler. A more indepth boxed text would have been nice.

Dark Archive

I'm breaking my feedback into two parts - encounter, and story/background. Others have already pointed out any problems with formatting and mechanics, so I'll avoid those unless I see something not already called out.

As has been already mentioned, at CR 1, Turlik is unlikely to survive (with his placement) unless the PCs make an effort to capture him, so I'm not sure why his tactics aren't just to immediately run and report. If he was watching from behind the arrow slit, and was using it for cover while shooting the PCs, him staying to fight would make more sense. I also feel like the shadow was mostly thrown in to bring up the overall CR, though you did at least give a reason for it being included. Your real strength and main attraction is the skinstitch, and the snakes, which are certainly memorable. Even if the PCs have an easy time of it, I think they'll walk away remembering the creepy thing they fought, and I agree with John that it definitely needs some art! I also believe the dweomersink fits in well here, and you made good use of it.

As to the story and background, I like the buildup as to why the PCs are here, but you also include all this other information that's not relevant to the encounter, and give no real way for the PCs to discover it within the scope of this fight (unless the are able to avoid killing Turlik, which is doubtful based on the setup). I personally feel that in this round the encounter should be the main focus, since it's what we're supposed to be voting on. While interesting backstory is good, if I'm left wanting to see what's at the end more than dealing with what's in front of me, then the encounter is not the success of the entry.

You obviously have a serious creative streak, as proven by the skinstitch and the backstory, as well as your previous entries. I wish you had spent more of that talent on making this one encounter awesome, and less on the backstory and BBEG that the PCs will never know about. With more entries left to read and only two votes, I'm not sure if this will make my keep list. However, I would like the opportunity to see what you come up with for a module, as I enjoyed the storytelling in this entry, and so I wish you luck!

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I like this encounter very much.

The intro is impeccable and rife with hooks.

The description is quite creepy and provides the right context for the encounter.

I agree that Turlik's role should be expanded as that is one possible hook that you have not really developed beyond making the NPC interesting enough that people want to see more of him. Which is already a sign of great potential ;-)

I also agree that the shadow feels a little bit forced here and something else, or a strengthening of the other monsters/hazards, would have likely fit better.

That said, I like how you took the monsters and hazards and made them your own, both by altering them and mostly seamlessly integrating them in the setting and context of the encounter.

And I love the attention to meaningful details you demonstrated within the whole description.

This is most definitely on my Keep list :-)

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6 aka Transylvanian Tadpole

One of my favourites!

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

Hey Bill,

Congrats on making it to Round 4 of the competition.

I'm impressed right off the bat with your location. I think there's a reason you're the only one to choose this map, but you managed to do it justice and make a neat location based on it. I think it does add a neat spot to the campaign setting, though I do wonder if it's mostly just a villain's lair that won't get used again once the PCs have made their way through it.

You've got some nice readaloud text -- the mounds of snakeskin is a nice/gross image that really paints a picture.

I really like the choice of the skinstitch as a monster -- I don't think it's one I'd have reached for, but it works really well and helps make that fiendish snake swarm even more dangerous. I also like the dweomersink a lot; we've got lots of haunts this round (which are lots of fun), but it's nice to see someone reach for another hazard instead.

This is definitely in consideration for one of my votes.

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

Congratulations William!

I think this shows you've earned the Top 8 slot.

Story: Yes :)
Character: Yes, from the person the party is looking for and the party's employer. The experimenters are interesting (but we don't see them). Tulric's guard duty assignment is interesting, but not something the players are likely to know or care about, (it is not a motivation they can affect).
Player options: Yes with several different critters and especially with different critter types, the players will have a lot to do. Most of it comes to beat-stick, but the hazard should make the player's sweat at least a little, and hopefully take them out of their box. :)
Mechanically right: Yeah, 6 & two 5's should be fine, and the dweomersink should slow down (balance) some of the magic. Tulric is one of those those and at CR 2 he seems out of place.

Keep. Overall, I like this & could get a vote. Nice work. :)

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Helena Handbasket

Thanks to everyone who commented on the Laboratory (and my previous entries)—your feedback and kind words are much appreciated!

I am sincerely grateful to have been a part of RPG Superstar. I want to thank Paizo, the judges, my fellow competitors, and—of course—voters who have supported me throughout the contest.
Though my Superstar journey has ended, I'm not done learning and plan to continue with game design in the future.

Once again, Thank You!!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Helena Handbasket

p.s., I will respond to your encounter comments soon (the next couple of days).

~Bill~

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Helena Handbasket

Sorry for the delay! Here are some answers/rambling responses to your concerns:

Background:
There is too much background info for this encounter. My error: I was writing as if this would be a module, not a single encounter, so I put in extraneous information that—while it may (or may not) be interesting—doesn’t contribute significantly to the encounter. Reining myself in and learning to edit mercilessly are skills I need to develop.

Map Choice/Encounter Overview:
When examining the three maps for the first time, I gravitated toward the bridge map—it seemed to be the most adaptable to a variety of encounters. I ultimately chose the dungeon map since it better suited my location idea (subterranean laboratory).

The name of the encounter is a bit ornate, isn’t it? I wasn’t sure if it was evocative or overdone, but it appears to be the latter.

When I was designing the encounter, a tiny voice (in the section of my brain I shall now call the “Spicer Region”) told me to go for the final, BBEG encounter. I didn’t listen, and see where that got me? :)

I agree that the encounter doesn’t provide the PCs with many options besides: kill enemies or sneak past (and I doubt many players would choose the second option). Of the enemies I included, I’m pretty happy with the skinstitch and the snake swarm (both thematically and as forces to challenge the PCs). The shadow, well…I should never have included it (not in this encounter, at least). I’ll write more about Turlik in his own spoiler section, but suffice it to say, he is woefully underpowered.

Turlik:
Alas, poor Turlik! The PCs never knew him (they were too busy killing him in one round ;)

I like the idea behind Turlik (and I think several of you did as well), but his CR and tactics leave much to be desired. Ditching the shadow would allow Turlik to be a higher level—that would be the simplest fix, allowing him to survive long enough to make an impression (and possibly be interrogated or tricked into providing information). One reason I included the shadow was to show how the researchers bullied Turlik. I didn’t show, however. I told. GMs reading the encounter would get it, but there’s no reason PCs (or players) would. Besides, the skinstitch’s presence should disturb Turlik more than a shadow (after all, the skinstitch is a grisly reminder of the price for failure/incompetence).

A more-challenging Turlik might get away with the tactics I presented, but, as written, I agree it makes little sense. As far as making hand of the acolyte attacks through the arrow slit…I never thought of that. I assumed he would stand in the doorway at the top of the stairs in order to attack. I don’t think an arrow slit would be big enough to attack through (especially with a warhammer). The arrow slit is a holdover from an earlier iteration involving an archer, though I left it in because it seemed logical to have a place to watch the entrance from improved cover.

Since Turlik isn’t too bright—and has a chip on his shoulder that could encourage foolish bravery—he might attack invaders rather than immediately fleeing to warn others (or noting PC tactics/abilities, then fleeing, as a smart guard would do). He’s definitely wise enough, however, to quickly realize he’s overmatched, so I think he would flee after one round of combat. This assumes he survives one round, which (as you have stated) he probably wouldn’t at his current CR.


* * *
As with my kravyad follow-up, I’m sure I could ramble on further if I let myself. I hope this clears up a few issues you had. I doubt I answered or responded to all of your concerns, so if you want more clarification, please let me know.

Thank you again for taking time to read and comment! And thank you for helping me grow as a designer—some lessons are tough to learn, and I know I have a long way to go, but I truly appreciate your feedback and support!

Community / Forums / Archive / Paizo / RPG Superstar™ / Previous Contests / RPG Superstar™ Season 9 (2016) / Round 4: Design an encounter / Laboratory of Unraveling Arcana – 1393 Words All Messageboards

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