The Faceweaver’s Workshop – 1353 Words


Round 4: Design an encounter

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6

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The Faceweaver’s Workshop
Flip-Mat: Pub Crawl
==========
The body of a minor nobleman named Altos Xeran recently washed up on the shore of the Absalom docks with the skin of his face flayed off and much of the remaining flesh eaten away. The body would likely have never been identified had it not been for the recognition of a birthmark on the ankle and a subsequent speak with dead spell. The young man’s spirit admitted that he had visited a brothel near the Puddles and reported that the last thing he saw was a strange man with a patchwork face.

The boy’s spirit has passed to the Great Beyond, but his parents have placed a bounty on the head of the killer. Investigation both magical and mundane points the PCs toward a pub called the Fifth Flagon, which has been abandoned ever since it partially collapsed in the earthquake of 4698 AR.

Just north of the Flagon lies another abandoned establishment called the Green Eel. Beggars huddled around a fire outside that building indicate that they have heard strange noises coming from the ruined building to the south, though none of them have summoned up the courage to investigate further.

Both of the Flagon’s exterior doors are locked with good quality locks (DC 30 Disable Device check to open). An alarm spell on each doorway is in effect at all times except for the four hours immediately following sunrise. Attempting to open either door during this time without first dispelling the magic will trigger an audible alarm which will alert the inhabitants of the Fifth Flagon of the intrusion.

In addition to the doorways, the Fifth Flagon can be accessed in several other ways. The collapsed southern wall opens to a 15-foot drop into the ocean. Although slippery from the ocean spray, that surface can be scaled with a DC 25 Climb check. The windows are boarded up, but anybody who makes their way to the 20-foot high roof can make a DC 20 Perception check. Success reveals loose shingles that can be removed as a full-round action to allow access from above. This Perception check increases to DC 25 if the PCs approach during the night.

Lair of the Faceweaver (CR 8)
==========
Read or paraphrase the following when the PCs enter the main hall of the Fifth Flagon (the bottommost building on the flip mat):

The smell of stale bread and cheap ale still lingers in the air of this establishment, mingling with the scent of decaying flesh and rotten wood. A pair of corpses lies on the tables in the middle of the room, each skinned from face to navel. A third central table holds strips of bloody flesh, sewing tools, and a woodworker’s awl. Over a dozen different wooden masks hang on the walls, each one wearing a different expression and many sporting patches of decaying skin that have been sewn onto them.

Creatures: The Faceweaver is a soulbound mannequin inhabited by a man named Relos Suzain. Relos’ wife Esmerelle created the mannequin as his body succumbed to illness. However, this lease on life only bought them a few more years, as Esmerelle herself perished shortly afterward in the earthquake of 4698 AR. Unable to take any form except a wooden mannequin or the visage of a dead and lonely man, Relos has become obsessed with creating a new identity for himself. After years of failing to find a permanent means of transformation that he could use, Relos succumbed to madness, killing and skinning people so he can wear their form. Even if a mannequin with a patchwork face could pass as human, however, he has yet to figure out a way to properly preserve the skin and always needs to replenish his patchwork disguise with fresh corpses.

The Faceweaver currently wears the wooden mask that serves as his soul focus. This mask sports fresh skin that covers its cheeks and forehead. The eyes glitter with orange gemstones and the carved mouth is permanently fixed into a wide grin.

The Faceweaver has two companions, a pair of ghouls named Yatos and Zarren. Seeing an opportunity for fresh meals with little work needed, the ghouls serve as false friends to the mannequin, encouraging his murderous activities. Zarren dresses in tattered wizard’s robes, claiming to have been a sage in life and insisting that the Faceweaver is on the right track so he will continue bringing in new corpses for the ghouls to feast on.

The Faceweaver (NE Soulbound Mannequin) CR 7
XP 3,200
hp 85 (Bestiary 4 248)

The Faceweaver’s Tactics If he has time to prepare for battle, the Faceweaver casts levitate on himself. He opens a fight by using enervation against any obvious ranged experts or spellcasters, then engages in melee. If he grabs an opponent while within 10 feet of the pit trap, he attempts to drag his foe to the pit so he can expose them to the rot grubs within. If reduced to 15 hit points or fewer, the Faceweaver takes one round to grab as many masks off the wall as he can and then flees toward the pub’s collapsed wall, diving into the ocean below. The mannequin will not pursue foes that flee the building, but will begin to pack up his workshop so he can seek a new location to work from.

The Faceweaver will stop fighting if he is presented with a long-term way to assume a new identity, such as a hat of disguise or an illusion or polymorph effect that can provide him with a permanent new form. This requires a DC 24 Diplomacy check and evidence that the PCs will make good on their offer. The ghouls have no interest in letting their meal ticket go and will do their utmost to foil any chance at diplomacy.

PCs who come to a peaceful agreement with the Faceweaver and who succeed at the Diplomacy check by a margin of 10 or more may even convince him to surrender peacefully and answer for his crimes – after all, Relos wants a new life, even if that happens to be the life of a criminal.

Ghouls (2) CR 1
XP 400 each
hp 13 each (Bestiary 146)

Ghoul Tactics The ghouls attempt to flank with each other to increase their chances of striking a paralyzing blow. When one opponent is paralyzed, they will move on to another. If they can’t close to melee, they flip over tables to provide cover. One of them will then throw tankards, plates, and other improvised weapons while the other attempts to sneak close enough to strike with his claws. The ghouls fight to the death and will pursue fleeing creatures if they think they have a chance to get a kill.

Trap: The northern entrance of the Fifth Flagon leads right to the common room but is never used by either the Faceweaver or the ghouls because the floor immediately inside the entrance has grown rotten and brittle. The ghouls have found some use for it, digging out a pit and using it as a storage place for corpses they wish to save for later. The pile of bodies has attracted an infestation of rot grubs, and anybody who falls into this pit becomes exposed to the parasites.

Corpse Pit CR 4
Type mechanical; Perception DC 20; Disable Device DC 20
----- Effects -----
Trigger location; Reset manual
Effect 10-ft.-deep pit (1d6 falling damage); DC 20 Reflex avoids. Creatures who fail their Reflex save become infested with 1d6 rot grubs (GameMastery Guide 245).

Development The beggars near the Green Eel will not enter the Fifth Flagon but will seek aid from the city watch if the battle spills into the streets.

If the PCs convince the Faceweaver to surrender, he removes his current mask and takes down another one from the wall. This mask is one of the few that does not have patches of decaying skin woven onto it. It is a simple wooden face with a soft, contented smile. In this case, award them XP as though they had defeated him in combat.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Charlie! 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 Faceweaver's Workshop for your location, which seems a bit contrived as it's dependent on the villainous monster that lairs there, and I doubt the locals call it that. Meanwhile, we've got the rather repetitive Lair of the Faceweaver as your encounter name, which makes more sense within the context of the encounter vs. the location. Personally, I'd recommend The Faceweaver's Workshop as the encounter name, and then make the location name “The Fifth Flagon” since that's what the locals call it.

Creative Ideas: Now we're talking. There's a lot of creativity on display here. A soulbound mannequin has taken up the name of The Faceweaver and it's skinning the faces of its victims to find a new identity for itself? Creepy. He's also got a pair of ghoulish tagalongs who like to feed on the bodies he discards? Even more creepy. This is something important that I think a lot of RPG Superstar competitors miss, but you've nailed it. This round may be testing your ability to give us a compelling encounter set within an interesting location, but you haven't forgotten the importance of a memorable villain whose very presence pervades everything else. And you've got that in spades here.

Writing Ability: It flows well. Everything made sense. I didn't have to go back and re-read anything to avoid confusing myself. The read-aloud text is appropriately mood-setting and invokes a variety of senses. Well done.

Mechanics/Gameplay: This encounter feels tighter, mechanically-speaking than some of the others. And that's because it doesn't rely on a slew of lesser CR creatures to boost the encounter. Instead, it puts the CR 7 villain center stage and then throws in a small wrinkle with the ghouls and the corpse pit. Of course, at an overall CR 8, we're probably looking at 6th level PCs taking on this fight, and the party cleric can probably eliminate the ghouls very quickly even if they make their save against channeled energy. It might have worked better if you went with a single ghast or a “lieutenant boss” to accompany the soulbound mannequin in this fight, taking it up to CR 9 instead.

Professional Polish: Like a handful of other competitors, you've included a paragraph with your stat-blocks to define each creature's Tactics. That's not really the standard way of presenting such information, and it wasn't included as part of the template to follow for this round. Typically, the Tactics section of a stat-block includes 3-4 separate lines (Before Combat, During Combat, Morale, and optionally, Base Statistics). So, you'll want to bone up on that for future reference. When in doubt, emulate the style Paizo uses in their adventures. Or, just explain the base tactics in your Creatures paragraph for the encounter location.

Recommendation: Taken altogether, I felt like this submission had some strong elements going for it. The backstory is fitting. The villain is memorable and even redeemable if the PCs can convince him to surrender. The writing could still use some shoring up, and the professional polish can be enhanced during development. So, I'm going to say I DO RECOMMEND that this designer advance to the next round. Lets see what kind of adventure pitch you have in mind.

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

Hey Charlie, 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
The Puddles is an underused section of Absalom, much like Beldrin’s Bluff, and I’m glad to see it getting some attention. Big cities like Absalom provide cover for big killers like the Faceweaver. Everything in the story checks out, and I really like the little attentions to detail like the cliff being 15 feet tall to give the 10-foot pit trap enough clearance.

NPCs, Creatures, and Traps
I appreciate the Faceweaver’s motivations, which provide the PCs a way to resolve the encounter with minimal combat. That said, his being the most powerful of the combatants may result in varying player reactions, as once he’s on the PCs’ side, the fight with the ghouls might as well be hand-waved. The encounter might be a little stronger if the ghouls were closer to the Faceweaver in power so that a viable threat still remained even if the PCs were clever and diplomatic.

The trap has some nice flavor, though I really dislike its location. By being just inside one of the two entrances, it creates a barrier to anyone trying to enter the room. However, the ghouls and mannequin have very few ranged options, so rather than give the foes any particular advantage (e.g. slowing down melee threats), the pit slows down the encounter as a whole. In fact, if the PCs have strong ranged capabilities, the pit would help the PCs rather than hinder them. It would be more effective if shifted a square or two south.

Numbers
The numbers check out, though I have mixed feelings about how the pit does or does not contribute to the CR as noted above.

Style
It’s clear that you’ve been doing your homework. You language when describing skill checks is pretty good. Make sure that you’re emphasizing what happens on a successful skill check, and I would phrase the condition for talking down the Faceweaver by saying, “If the PC exceeds the Diplomacy check DC by 10 or more…”

There are two grammatical/stylistic trends I want to caution against: using future tense and relying on passive voice. If you scrub those, you’ll have a cleaner turnover that matches Paizo’s styles even more closely.

Final Thoughts
This is a fun serial killer encounter that includes not only a rather weird culprit but also a pair of undead that have been egging him on. I like it.

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

Dedicated Voter Season 9

Faceweaver’s Workshop:
Description:
Boys don’t usually enter brothels; young men or adults.
Encounter (Lair of the Faceweaver (CR 8)):
I’m surprised that Frankenstein’s monster chooses to make himself a pretty face instead of trying to make a companion doll for his wife. Maybe the nearby brothel has something to do with that.
Relos seems unhappy with undeath; I would have preferred a ‘release into the afterlife’ optional ending.

Grading Rubric:
Is the general premise interesting and believable?

Believable if a bit tired.

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.

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

Yes, although it’s a little unclear to me where the trap is in the room.

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?
• 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?
Generic Fight
• Does it encompass (and/or respond to) different avenues pursued by the players?
Somewhat since diplomacy is an option.
• Is it challenging?
Potentially if the trap goes off without a hitch and the ghouls get off a paralyzation or two
• Does it set the tone for a memorable resolution?
No.
• Is the resolution thematic and appropriate to the challenge (both difficulty and nature)?
Yes.
• Does it encompass (and/or respond to) different avenues taken by the players?
Yes.
• Is it fulfilling (to the plot, to the characters, to the players, to the NPCs and setting)?

It’s fulfilling to half the NPCs and half the plot; either the PC let the guy go (having talked him down), leaving the murdered boy un-avenged or they kill patches (who’s basically a moron).

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.

Are the maps well labeled (clarity/concision)?

Reasonably.

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?

Yes.

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

No.

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 mentioned, it’s just not integrated into the encounter.

Effective use of tactics and morale?
Yes.

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 Good choice of monsters and cronies and I like the individual motivations displayed. Map fits. You offered an alternative to combat that will pretty much make it super easy and I appreciate that there is an option.
The Bad Use of environment/trap is sort of a lame duck to me, I feel like the map demands more moving parts like a fight or chase that moves from building to building or perhaps an ambush on the street from multiple directions forcing the party to split to deal with multiple threats. This is my favorite of the maps and I'm not sure you used it's potential.
The Ugly No red Herrings in an investigative scenario? No use of the Golem's ability to disguise itself and talk? You could have gone ripper trope and had it caught in the act of killing, then it runs to another area activates it's disguise ability and tries to throw the party off the scent, maybe with it's ghoul ally providing a distraction?
Overall I see lots of cool potential here but it's sort of on me to make the encounter memorable as your tactics and set up are too open ended to really make it pop. One one hand that's commendable as you've left some space for a good GM to color in but on the other the point of having pre produced adventures is to make it super easy for a GM to run, I have to put work in to make this pop (but I will.) My tentative grade is a B+


I'm a big Tim Burton fan and this just seems like the right mix of ooky-spooky. It also has the best CR balance of any of the entries. But why not advanced ghouls, to at least make them better speed bumps?

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

Your backstory shows you either researched really well or you know Absalom in depth. Nice to see. No complaints from me about the setting.

I like Faceweaver. A well thought out and presented character. You messed up a bit when you said the mask is his soul focus, but in the development he changes masks. I feel there is also a missing story to the latter mask.

The ghouls do little to advance the encounter, but do serve to advance the motivations of the Faceweaver.

The development feels weak, mostly when compared to the detail provided throughout the rest of the encounter. I am guessing this is where you ran up against the word count hazard of this round.

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

Congratulations Charlie!

I think this shows you deserve the Top 8 slot.
Story: Yes, and a good one :)
Character: Yes, even the ghouls have motivation, well done. :)
Player options: Yes, from entering the building to splitting the foes (bonus for a non-combat option).
Mechanically right: There is a huge descripancy between two CR 2 & a CR 7. The ghouls will be a speed bump (paralyzing touch excluded) if the party fights the mannequin. They will even less if they convince him to turn himself in.

Strong story with nice tie-in to the critters. Strong keep. Nice work.

Dark Archive

I'm going to divide feedback into two parts - encounter, and story. Others have touched on formatting and mechanics, so I'll avoid those unless I feel something needs to be addressed.

I like that you gave a way for PCs to talk their way around Relos, though I have trouble seeing any good aligned group going that route based on what they see when they walk in the door. The backstory gives good reason for some to try to redeem him, but unfortunately there's no good way for the PCs to find that out in the middle of combat (if they go in guns blazing). If they do manage to get him on their side, then the ghouls might as well just run because they can't truly believe they'd win, and there are easier meals out there. I also agree the trap placement seems a little inconvenient for all involved, and would annoy PCs and GMs alike. Beyond that, good job.

As far as the story goes, I think you did a good job here. You gave enough info for the setup, as well as what might happen after, but this encounter is the star of your entry, and not just a speed bump to the next, bigger thing.

After reading and reviewing all the entries, I think I can safely say this gets one of my two votes. Congratulations, and I look forward to seeing what you bring us next round!

Now to figure out which of the other two entries I'm leaning towards gets my second vote...

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

I enjoyed this. It read very well. I was initially hesitant at the 'monster wearing someone's skin' trope, which gets used a lot in Pathfinder, but the Faceweaver had enough personality to stand out. There's a lovely Frankenstein vibe to the encounter. I like the possibilities for redemption, and how the ghouls' are exploiting and encouraging Relos.

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

Despite initial ratings this ended up with my second vote.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16 , Dedicated Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Petty Alchemy

I didn't get to playtest this one, though I definitely wanted to. I especially like how it has more than one solution, and they all seem like they would be equally satisfying.

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 Charlie,

Congrats on getting to round 4.

I really like what you've done here, and I think it'll be getting one of my votes.

I think your read-aloud text was excellent. You brought in other senses nicely, and painted a pretty horrible picture of this place that I think could creep some players out.

The Faceweaver has a nice story behind it and could be a fun murder mystery for a session or two.

I do with the location added a little more to the campaign setting. This is a villain's lair that'll be used once for this encounter and then likely won't really ever be mentioned again, but I think the other aspects of the encounter outweigh that.

Congrats again and good luck with the voters.

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

Congratulations!

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