The Petrified Plain – 1332 Words


Round 4: Design an encounter

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

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The Petrified Plain
Flip-Mat: Battlefield
==========
When Geb turned an attacking army of warrior women to stone in 4329 AR his spell also blighted the land in the area. The expanse of petrified statues and dead earth is now known as the Field of Maidens. Located just south of Geb on the Mwangi border, it serves as a constant reminder to any who would dare invade his kingdom.

The leader of this failed invasion force was the former pirate queen Mastrien Slash. As a final punishment from Geb, Mastrien alone retained her identity and with it the knowledge of her failure. When the Field of Maidens was vandalized by a shipwrecked crew five years ago, her head was taken as a trophy—broken at the neck from her body. Still capable of speech, her head was smuggled across Geb across the Mwangi Expanse to Bloodcove. She was traded from pirate to pirate and ship to ship as an exotic curio, circuitously making her way north, past the Shackles and through the Arcadian Ocean before arriving in the PCs possession.

The PCs are the first people the pirate queen has encountered that agreed to help solve her plight. In exchange for finding a way to free her and her army from Geb’s curse, Mastrien has promised them the location of her treasure from her time as a pirate. She has led the PCs through the Mwangi to the Field of Maidens in the hopes of finding the rest of her body. If she can be reattached to it, and turned back into flesh, she’ll be one step closer to freeing her sisters.

To this end, before arriving at the Field of Maidens, Mastrien guided the PCs to her long-abandoned army encampment a few miles south of Geb. There the PCs uncovered a cache of scrolls including: a scroll of break enchantment, a scroll of remove curse, and two scrolls of stone to flesh.

The most direct route to the Field of Maidens from the Obari Ocean passes through this petrified river crossing. Even here, a mile south of the Field, plants refuse to grow in the crystalline earth left in the spell’s wake, and visitors to the site find themselves haunted by disquiet visions of the dead, or even the dead themselves.

Anyone passing through the petrified terrain is visited by phantom sights and sounds of battle. They might hear the occasional whispers of women murmuring or brief clash of steel on steel followed by an immediate silence after. A spectral warrior woman rushing up the hill could appear, only to vanish a moment later; curious plumes of dust hanging in the air above fossilized tracks.

Echoes of the Silenced CR 9
==========
A single stone bridge overlooks a dried riverbed and is the only structure standing in this no man’s land. Veins of salt deposits spider the earth where once water flowed, shimmering when rare beams of sunlight find them. Fractured and brittle soil extends in all directions, and breaks into thin flakes underfoot. Any vegetation that once grew here has been replaced by crystalline imitators. Petrified trees flank the bridge, while rigid grass, reminiscent of animal quills, carpets the ground. Dozens of small mounds of rubble litters the bridge and the slope of the northern hill. The ruin of an ancient battle stretches to the north where hundreds of statues are silhouetted along the crest of the hill.

On the map, the top edge is cardinal north. If travelling from the coast, the PCs approach along the eastern road, between the dry riverbed and the southern hill. Upon inspection, the various piles of rubble are easily identifiable as shattered statues. Of peerless craftsmanship, they all resemble ancient Garundi warrior women.

Creatures: This desolate battleground recently spawned a hungry fog. Appearing as a low cloud of green mist, it listlessly wanders the empty field north of the bridge and the large petrified tree. Upon sensing any activity it drifts south to investigate.

A pair of wights also inhabits the wasteland. Formerly Mwangi hunters, they rose as undead after their horrific deaths here—a combination of triggering the haunts and succumbing to the hungry fog.

Wights (2) CR 5
XP 800 each
hp 26 (Pathfinder Bestiary 276)
Before Combat The wights remain motionless below the bridge, only coming to unlife when anyone draws near.
During Combat Having learned that the hungry fog empowers their tired flesh, the wights move inside it should they become severely damaged.
Morale The wights fight until destroyed.

Young Hungry Fog CR 5
XP 1,600
hp 45 (Pathfinder Bestiary 3 152, 291)

Hazard: Two haunts have manifested here as a result of Geb’s petrifying magic. The first manifests as the PCs pass by the southern hill, where the pirate queen Mastrien Slash once rallied her warrior women to battle. The second manifests as the PCs reach the middle of the bridge, as they see a spectral vision of Geb’s terrible power as he turned her army to stone. Anyone in possession of Mastrien’s head is immune to the ill effects of any haunts they witness here.

Broken Promises CR 4
XP 1,200
CE haunt (30-ft.-radius)
Caster Level 7th
Notice Perception DC 16 (to hear a group of women whispering)
hp 8; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 day
Effect The barren wasteland vanishes as the vision of a lush tropical jungle appears in all directions. Dozens of armed women ready for battle stand attentively before a red-haired woman wearing a tricorne that addresses them from atop the nearby hill. “My sisters,” the manifestation shouts, “now is not the time for us to waver! Now is not the time for us to quit! Our new home lies but over that hill, we need only take it and be done!” The apparition draws her sword and raises it up, and unifying cheer crescendos from the assembled crowd before fading. This apparition fills witnesses with a sense of self-doubt brought on by broken promises and failed goals. As the manifestation ends, any who fail DC 14 Will save are affected by a crushing despair spell.
Destruction This manifestation is the result of Geb’s ancient curse, and cannot be destroyed until his curse is lifted.

Calcifying Wind CR 5
XP 1,600
CE haunt (15-ft.-by-50-ft. bridge)
Caster Level 5th
Notice Perception DC 20 (to see the sky shimmer with a green aurora)
hp 10; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 day
Effect Along the northern slope, spectral images of hundreds of warrior women blink into existence, charging up the hill in battle. As they reach the top, the sky turns a blackish green, and a wave of sickly green light roils down the hillside and out across the bridge. The women shriek in horror as granules of stone begin to cover them, spreading across their bodies and silencing them as their flesh is replaced by stone. Those who witness this event feel their own skin begin to grow ashen and harden as the manifestation fades, and are affected by a calcific touch spell (melee touch attack +5; DC 16 Fortitude save for partial). Until it is neutralized or destroyed, the haunt continues to affect everyone present on the bridge with calcific touch once per round for four rounds.
Destruction This manifestation is the result of Geb’s ancient curse, and cannot be destroyed until his curse is lifted.

Development: Once the PCs have survived the dangers here, they are free to approach the Field of Maidens without further interruption. Once the PCs reach the crest of the hill, the enormity of the Field becomes apparent. Hundreds of statues of strong Garundi women litter the arid swath before them. Mastrien warns that other maidens will not hesitate to attack if the PCs draw too close, and advises them to keep their distance until they find her headless statue. Once they do, it’ll be a not-so-simple matter of navigating the petrified army and reuniting Mastrien with her body. Then, they’ll need to contend with Geb’s curse as they attempt to undo his spell.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Walter! 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 Petrified Plain for your location, which seems out of sync with the bridge/river/battlefield map you've selected, but your read-aloud description helps adjust that image by turning it into a dry riverbed connected to the petrified soldiers of the pirate Mastrien Slash. Meanwhile, we've got Echoes of the Silenced as your encounter name, which feels appropriate given the backstory. Even so, this feels like a bit of a stretch, and while a creative re-use of a given map for a slightly different purpose than what's depicted, I'd have prefered something closer to the actual map.

Creative Ideas: I'm torn here. It's partly inspired to reach for something as integral to the Inner Sea Campaign Setting as the petrified maidens of Mastrien Slash, and yet, in some ways it also feels like you're leveraging the creativity of that existing material more than offering something new on your own. And, the use of the actual head of Mastrien Slash as the precursor to the encounter comes off as equally bold and potentially overreaching. As for the actual encounter details, the hungry fog, wights, and haunts feel appropriate for the area, but it seems like a lot for all of it to be rolled up into a single encounter. I do like the calcifying wind haunt quite a lot, though.

Writing Ability: You're fairly good here. The read-aloud text and descriptions of the haunts are both quite evocative. So, you've got that going for you.

Mechanics/Gameplay: This writeup relies on a lot of lesser CR creatures to boost the overall encounter. But at CR 9, we're probably looking at 7th level PCs taking on this fight, and the individual creatures they'll face are significantly weaker than the PCs themselves. So, it may be a fairly “easy” CR 9 encounter for them. It might have worked better if you went with a single “major boss” monster and a lesser “lieutenant” to accompany them rather than spending so much of the encounter XP on lesser threats that may not pose a concern.

Professional Polish: Everything is mostly tight here. The wights should still be listed as CR 3 (despite there being two of them...i.e., the roll-up of the CR is at the encounter level, not within the short stat-block itself). And typically, the Hazard paragraph would be up above the stat-blocks along with the Creatures paragraph. You'd do the same with a Trap paragraph, as well.

Recommendation: Taken altogether, I felt like this submission had some interesting elements going for it, and some other things holding it back. The backstory was a bit of a stretch for me, and the creatures in the actual encounter may not live up to the overall CR in actual gameplay. The writing was good, though, and the professional polish is decent with just a couple of minor missteps. So, I'm going to put myself ON THE FENCE. If the voters see you through to the next round, bring the heat with your adventure pitch.

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

Hey Walter, 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
You’ve chosen a very ambitious path, which is to say you’ve taken an important figure in Golarion canon and not just had her play a role in the adventure’s background; you’ve actually beheaded her and featured her as the lynchpin for the whole thing! From a developer’s perspective, that means the encounter can either be really amazing or very off-putting depending on how well the adventure uses that major slice of canon. It’s something I’m willing to wait to judge until after I’ve read through the whole submission, and likewise I’ll revisit this point at the end of my feedback.

This encounter takes place toward the end of the PCs’ long journey, and it looks like this is a major obstacle before they reach their destination. I like that you’ve presented the tools to succeed (i.e. the scrolls) and taken some time to describe the surroundings. Admittedly my inner archaeologist squees a bit at the consideration of what geological evidence might be left behind by a necromancy-blasted curse, and salt deposits spiderwebbing a dry riverbed sound about right.

NPCs, Creatures, and Traps
You have a nice synergy going with the hungry fog (whose engulf ability does negative energy damage and whose Fortitude save staggering effect is not going to affect the undead) and the wights. I do have my concerns that the wights won’t strike accurately enough or pack enough hit points to present a solid threat, though perhaps just the risk of a negative level is enough to make PCs wary of provoking attacks of opportunity to move away from the fog.

However, there are some unanswered questions about what actually drives the PCs to use the bridge and trigger the haunt, especially if they spot the wights and just start raining arrows on them. The same goes for the hungry fog, which listlessly meanders toward the north end of the map but only has a fly speed of 15 feet. This is the trouble with any ambush on a wide open field, and the creatures’ exposure in a region where everything is shoot-on-sight makes it unlikely in my mind that the encounter will play out as intended.

Haunts are great for telling the background of an adventure site, but you have fulfilled a lot of that need by having the PCs carry around the head of the heroine who launched the entire campaign! The calcifying wind haunt is by far the stronger of the two from a narrative and mechanical standpoint, and I would probably cut the broken promises haunt during development. On a related note, is there a reason to cross the bridge? There’s no water in the riverbed, and I didn’t see anything within that would stop a PC from crossing wherever he pleases. If that happens, the haunt never shows up.

Numbers
There aren’t any skill checks to speak of, but the haunts’ numbers are all quite reasonable. What is the DC to spot the wights? Does hiding under the bridge given them any special advantage on Stealth checks?

Style
Your writing is pretty solid. Pay special attention to passive voice (there is lots), and find ways to scrub it from the text. When you have as strong of read-aloud text as you do, you don’t want passive voice to leech the excitement from the other sections.

As minor quibbles, the Hazard section should really be called “Haunts.” Also, the wights’ CR should be 3, not 5.

Final Thoughts
Something as extraordinary as reuniting the severed, talking head of a pirate queen general to her body to potentially undo Geb’s army-shattering curse and uncover a [presumably] legendary treasure trove sets the bar pretty high. From a developer’s standpoint, though, so much of the wow factor relies on writing new canon for a major figure and incorporating her directly into the adventure, rather than inventing a new character or storyline. Admittedly, being able to assimilate existing lore and incorporate it into an adventure is a key skill for any Paizo writer. I just don’t know that an encounter—even one that’s a piece of a greater adventure—does it justice; it feels too big somehow.

The creatures in your encounter synergize well, and one of the two haunts is really fun. Its these that keep me on the fence about this encounter’s advancing to the final round.

Dedicated Voter Season 9

The Petrified Plain:
Description:

Very good; I’d love to work this into a campaign based on the description alone.

Encounter (Echoes of the Silenced CR 9)

In stark contrast to your description section your intro here is passive (in that it does not pull the PCs into the description), with some choppy phrasing.
Choppy phrasing continues periodically throughout. Rather than saying the wights come to unlife, i.e. spawn from the dead, it would be more accurate to say they animate, i.e. move.

If they wights are together, thus CR 5 instead of CR 3, why list their XP as 800 each? I like how the party’s travel down the road is like being on a guided tour of a museum. I’m generally against railroads, but I think this is a good exception.

Given the Cinematic and staggered presentation of the challenges I would categorize this as between to CR 7-8 rather than 9 (playtest pending).

I’m generally a fan of the execution, but there should probably be more interaction between the head and the haunts (Perhaps with Mastrien egging the party towards the bridge for some reason). Otherwise the premise falters a bit, since the party will want to try to circumvent the haunts.

Resolution: Appropriate for what is basically just a travel hazard; better integration into the overarching story would be appreciated.
Grading Rubric:
Is the general premise interesting and believable?

Yes.
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)?

Partially; you started off strong, and then gradually fell farther and farther behind.

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

Yes.

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?
Yes
• Are the conflicts leading to the climax varied in nature?
Yes
• Are they thematic?
Yes
• Are they difficult enough to entice players without overshadowing the climax?
Yes
• Is the climax appropriate?
Yes
• Does it encompass (and/or respond to) different avenues pursued by the players?
Yes
• Is it challenging?
Not for the CR, but within the context of the encounter, yes.
• Does it set the tone for a memorable resolution?
Yes.
• 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?
No.
• Is it fulfilling (to the plot, to the characters, to the players, to the NPCs and setting)?
Yes.
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?

Yes.

Are the maps well labeled (clarity/concision)?

Yes

Does the description support/is it appropriate to the map?

Yes, and it’s the only attempt to fully develop this particular map into an encounter; well done.

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?

Yes.

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

Yes, indeed this is the entire theme of the encounter.

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)?

Yes.

Did the encounter surprise me (good or bad)?

Yes; I was not expecting the history lesson to be so integral.

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

Yes.

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 For me the highlight reel is a good backstory and the talking pirate head that if played by me will be going thru PTSD, useful but also a little insane. As a player I'd totally try and grab that stone maiden army somehow but that's the kind of player I am.
The Bad Multiple haunts annoys me as does the negation by carrying the head.
The Ugly I like juggling multiple elements but this is still too busy and a channel focused character is going to wreck this pretty hard as literally everything on the board takes damage.
Overall Geb is one of those love or hate elements. I like the ingredients you chose but not how they have been put together and I'm having a hard time quantifying why. My tentative grade is an C-

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

You picked a pretty cool location for the encounter, I just feel the encounter did not do the location justice. The description of the Field of Maidens provides a medusa that could have been a better thematic fit.

The creatures you selected mesh well, but the fog wouldn't pose much of a threat in such an open area. Plus, the fog starts at the North and wights under the bridge.

I dislike the setup for the adventure. Having her head shipped from Geb to the Shackles via the Mwangi seems highly improbable. If she is trying so hard to return, surely whoever went to the trouble to move her head that improbable route would likely help her in exchange for wealth.

There is also the disjunction of the Pirate Queens spirit animating the head and sustaining a haunt...

Why is the calcifying wind haunt limited to the bridge?

p.s. Nitpicky Point: The Field of Maidens is on the southern border of Geb. But is it on the border of the Mwangi or Holomog? The description from ISWG makes it seem like Holomog, but there is no definitive map of Southern Garund yet...

Dark Archive

I'm going to divide my feedback into two parts - encounter, and story. Since others have already addressed mechanics and formatting, I'll skip those unless I feel something needs to be called out.

At the level the PCs will be when they fight here, the creatures are on the weaker side, as they will most likely be fought independently unless you have a particularly ill equipped group. Two haunts seems a little much, and the first is by far the weaker (creatively). The second haunt is the real star of the entry, and my favorite part of the whole thing. However, if the PCs don't take the bridge, it sounds like they never encounter it.

You've done a good job of giving us the background of the location, but the setup seems a little farfetched to me. It's difficult to believe that no one up until now has taken the pirate queen up on her offer, especially since her head traveled so far in the interm. As John pointed out, you're using some well established canon in this entry, which is always a big risk depending on how well you can incorporate it, and where Paizo plans on going with it in the future. I feel it also doesn't highlight your creativity nearly as much as creating your own people and circumstances would.

Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about this entry. I really like the second of the haunts; the rest feels less inspired. The location is cool, and introduces the players to an important setting in Golarion, but I feel this entry didn't make great use of the possibilities. With only two votes this round, I'm not sure this will make my keep list. However, you've been a strong contestant up until now, so I would look forward to seeing what you bring us in the next round. Good luck!

Dedicated Voter Season 9

I have now had the chance to play-test this (7th level party).

The Slayer held the head, and scouted well in advance of the party, triggering the haunts to no effect. He saw the fog at the other end of the bridge, and decided to run past it. The Swashbuckler decided to bypass the bridge, discovering the Wights before they had the chance to act. The cleric stood in the back channeling energy, and Yoon decimated the fog from afar with her pyrokinesis.

In all this was a below average difficulty fight. I liked the writing and backstory development from the haunts but overall I found the encounter unexciting and unmemorable. I recommend two things going forward: Give the players more agency in the story to help tie them in, and if you use many smaller parts to create a high CR encounter then either give them a severe tactical advantage in terms of positioning or use smaller parts closer to the party's actual level.

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

Hello Walter!

This is the 3rd of the Encounters I had the pleasure to playtest, thanks to Trekkie running it.

The party was a Cleric (run by an inexperienced player), a Swashbuckler, a Stygian Slayer and a Kineticist (Yoon the pregen, run by me). We were all level 7, and started each encounter at full strength. I had skimmed all the encounters on the day they were released, so there were still some surprises in store.

With that said, how did your encounter go?

The setup was interesting, though it was weird that pirates ignored Mastrien’s promise of treasure, content to just have the head as a curio.

Trekkie has described how the encounter went to some degree, though the Cleric did move forward to engage the hungry fog and Yoon took some burn to kill it quickly, while the Slayer and Swashbuckler handled the two wights below with no issues. The cleric took a little damage, but that was all (besides self-inflicted burn taken by Yoon, but that’s an expected price of being a Kineticist and she still had more effective HP than most party members).

A lot of cool flavor in this one, but as mentioned, the head might’ve guided us via the bridge. It would’ve been cool if the haunt could be tackled on the spot as well, but we couldn’t really interact with it. Giving us the scrolls was a nice touch, but ultimately we got to save them for later in the campaign.

I think this could lead into a great campaign, but it's so competitive with only two votes. Not sure if this one will get mine, but I do want to see more from you.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Arkos

Rather than simply being an encounter, this is clearly a midpoint in a larger plot arc. And a cool plot arc at that! This isn't just a random one-off. The party is here for a reason, and I think that you've done a lot to develop some eeriness and weirdness in this moment.

I see that you had shout listed as the link for your first haunt, and that would have given those two haunts some meeeeean synergy. The creatures are then kind of an obstacle to deal with while the haunts are trying to turn folks to stone and tear them apart. The change to crushing despair turns the party back towards the enemies, who are likely a little weak to be a real threat. Which is sad, because I really liked where the ruthlessness was going!

I spent a long time considering where my second vote would go, and this encounter made it ahead on the strength of the larger storyline and plot. Great work!

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 Walter, congrats on getting to Round 4!

I'm a bit torn on your encounter. On one hand, the Field of Maidens is a very, very cool locale. However, it's very cool because of what Paizo's created. I wish you had focused more on the petrified plain, which I think you created and that actually does add to the campaign setting. It's got some neat visuals and I think it'd be a fun place to set an encounter, but you don't mention it until the fifth paragraph and it gets very short shrift compared to the Field of Maidens itself. I love the writing in "Veins of salt deposits spider the earth where once water flowed, shimmering when rare beams of sunlight find them." "Spider" is a fun verb choice and *this* is a location that feels like it could have been as cool as the Field of Maidens itself.

I think using Mastrien Slash's head was a risky, interesting choice. On one hand, I think it's intrinsic enough to the campaign setting that players who know Golarion well would be really excited to do something with it -- especially if it could be to bring her back to life. It shows you know your canon. On the other, so much of this again relies on existing story that I'm a little less sure what you can bring to the table. I also wonder if it might be stepping too much on Paizo's toes, though John doesn't seem to think it crossed that line.

I'm afraid I don't think I'll be voting for this, but I'll be curious to see what you pitch -- and if it's as ambitious -- if you advance. Good luck.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

This encounter has great points and aims for the legendary top but this ambition ends up tripping its focus and efficiency.

It is an excellent idea (and shows guts) to tackle such a fascinating yet underdeveloped location as the Field of Maiden.

But the talking head, while inventive, is too much. It is honestly unnecessary and lays the "legendary events, places and people" theme too thick.

The background is good but it is the haunts that make or break this encounter.

As is, the broken promise is contradictory : why would an inspiring rallying speech end up creating doubt and fear ?

Thje calcifying wind, on the other hand, is spot on. Immersive, inventive and cohesive with very good effects.

I regret that the head apparently gives the PCs a free pass against the haunts and that the appropriate scrolls are just at hand to reverse the effects (very very unlikely). Having the PCs actually suffer a lasting condition for which they would need to find some cure opens up far more possibilities for excitement and adventure.

That said, I really like what you have done with the whole concept and the calcifying wind haunt and put this encounter on my alternate list :-)

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

Why this location? So I sorted all the published Paizo scenarios and modules by location, and there were a few that hadn’t been touched on: Geb, Mediogalti Island, Nex, and Thuvia. I decided to pick from there to design my encounter. I think that the “Red Mantis assassin” thing has been done to death (at least locally), so I passed on the island. I don’t know much about Indian culture / Thuvia, so I passed on that. And between Geb and Nex, I don’t find Nex to be very exciting. The next step was to find something “Geb unique” that I could tie into. Read through my ISWG, the story of the Field of Maidens was very cool. It was between that and the Harlot Queen’s Organs, until I saw that the Organs were actually artifacts, which puts them way out of the CR 6-9 region.

How does this encounter fit into the story? I picture this being the end of part 1 of a module, or the end of a multipart scenario, or the end of a homebrew session, but not the end of the story arc. The PCs have a few encounters getting here (maybe one en route, a couple finding the cache) and then climax not at this encounter, but when re-attaching the head. Then something goes awry (sinister laugh), and there is more adventuring to be done still.

So why not make that “final” encounter and submit it? It would be on a distinctly different map, use creatures from Inner Sea Bestiary (petrified maiden), and possibly have a unique undead as well.

Why this CR? / It seems to easy I followed the Gamemastery Guide for its guidelines on designing encounters around CR. And since we could get DQd for submitting a non-CR 6-9 encounter, I followed the math as accurately as possible. Personally, I would have liked to replace the wights with a ghost, and made the hungry fog not young, because I think that would still make it a CR 9 fight (challenging for level 7s), but because of the haunts it would have made the map CR 10+, which I thought would have disqualified me. Basically, because I wanted to have haunts as a storytelling mechanism, I ate up my CR budget.

As it is, regardless of what the GMG says, I think this map is more CR 7-8 than 9.

I also gaffed on the listing of the wights CR (as both judges pointed out), but I was following the example stat block provided, where multiple arachnogoblins did change the CR number, and then the XP provided was per each. However, it seems this example was for an unique encounter statblock, and not for monsters in an encounter statblock. So my bad there.

Why these haunts? I believe that haunts are things players almost universally hate. And I think that’s because they are handled incorrectly a lot of the time. I think haunts should inform story, and in that regard, given the cool story I was connecting to, I wanted to use haunts to show the players what had happened. I decided on having two, one before, one after, and using both to show the PCs how the Field was created and how Mastrien had failed her people. Positioning of the second haunt was dependant on the map I was provided with, and while I did realize that folks could avoid it, I imagined that people would move to it and examine the rubble piles there. The other easy change would have been to put the Mwangi hunter corpses on the bridge itself, thus enticing players to investigate. Originally, the haunts were harder, but I didn’t want people to be discouraged by the haunts (as I’ve seen happen in PFS time and time again), so I lessened the pain of the first haunt (to the detriment of my votes last round, it seems).

I disliked that having Mastrien’s head negated the haunt This was something that I went back and forth on a lot. But I wanted the PCs to get the story of the haunts, even if they succeeded their saves against them (because otherwise haunts won’t display to players that succeed). So giving the PCs a single “get out of jail free card” seemed like an easy way to do this. If I had spent more time developing this idea (it was my second thought for submission), it probably wouldn’t have made it through the ultimate cut.

Why these creatures? When developing the location and the story, I knew I needed a hungry fog. Originally, it was just the single fog, but then I wanted to include an intelligent undead that knew to use the fog for protection. I really wanted a ghost, but that broke my CR budget, so wights were the next best thing. I looked through every page of the 4 bestiaries, and they were the best I could get and still be below CR. I didn’t include the DCs to see the wights, because I assumed GMs would look up their stats and make stealth checks themselves, or take 20 because they’ve had ample time to remain still.

You tried to do too much with this / Relying on canon like this is a crutch Isn’t swinging for the fences the point of RPGSS? I originally created a robust encounter for the tavern map, but I didn’t submit it because it wasn’t superstar quality. And it never would have been, because it was just an encounter at a few buildings. So I tried to do something unique with the map provided (making it a fossilized river bed), put it in a rarely explored location (Geb), and have it tie into Golarion in a way that hasn’t been defined yet (Field of Maidens: described, not defined). I used existing game elements to explain the story in an encounter-driven way (haunts), and used bestiary stock monsters in tandem to try and make a memorable fight with otherwise easy to defeat creatures.

I’m fine with getting docked points for trying to do too much, and can understand why I got knocked for lacking professional polish. I think that professional writing habits can be taught, and creativity can’t. I’m happy to have submitted unique ideas every round and that my harshest criticism is that I’m not a professional writer, because I’m not (yet). But the more opportunities I have, the better I’ll become.

So I’d like to thank everyone that voted for me and everyone that provided feedback. RPGSS has been a great experience this year and I’m relieved I won’t have to compete in it again—the level of entries has been getting better each year. Heck, this time I was running against people that already had a half dozen published works to their name! The only downside is that you guys don’t get to hear my sweet Round 5 pitch :P

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

Initial concept of the head not finding help until the PCs is unlikely Here's what I had written down as background for that point.

Quote:

Two years ago, after a white squall shipwrecked him, a privateer named Braum Axegrinder washed up on the shores of eastern Garund. With what little supplies he could muster, Braum headed inland. At first, Braum was elated when he came upon a field of countless statues made of immaculate white stone. Making short work with his axe, he decapitated one of the statues, figuring the unparalleled craftsmanship of the head alone would be enough to barter passage back to sea. It wasn’t until the rest of the statues came to life and turned on him did he realize the unholy nature of what he had uncovered. Head in tow, he fled deeper into the southern reaches of the Mwangi Expanse.

Months later, after successfully traversing hundreds of miles of jungle territory, Braum successfully arrived at the outskirts of Bloodcove only to be murdered for his prize in the lawless streets. The maiden’s head now sits on a shelf in a Bloodcove curios shop, waiting for the right person to find it...

I thought that the head would have tried to convince the people in Bloodcove and the Shackles to help her return to Geb, but that the pirates would have assumed a) she's lying, b) that's really far away, c) that Geb is a super-dangerous place, or d) sure we'll do that--and then they get attacked by another ship and the head changes ownership. Essentially, like Paddle to the Sea, she's along for the ride until the PCs somehow come into possession of her.

Broken Promise is contradictory The idea there was that Mastrien delivered her speech to rally her warrior women, but because they were so utterly destroyed by Geb, her promise to them was a lie that haunts the spirits of them to this day. Essentially, there's the hype of the speech followed by the realization that her efforts were a failure, which crushes your spirit.

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

I think it's actually good that you didn't do the fog+ghost, as that would be a pretty frustrating combination for martials.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

Isaac Volynskiy wrote:
I think it's actually good that you didn't do the fog+ghost, as that would be a pretty frustrating combination for martials.

CR budget not withstanding, level 7 characters should start facing things like that on a more regular basis. Obviously, not all encounters should be 50% martial damage monsters, but every now and then it's ok.

I was running some level 8s through Council of Thieves the other week (first Pathfinder system AP) and they had to fight an incorporeal rat swarm that did STR damage every round they were in it. Pretty stupid CR 4 creature.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Walter Sheppard wrote:
I was running some level 8s through Council of Thieves the other week (first Pathfinder system AP) and they had to fight an incorporeal rat swarm that did STR damage every round they were in it. Pretty stupid CR 4 creature.

Yeah, there's a similar encounter towards the end of Battle for Bloodmarch Hill (first installment of the Giantslayer AP). Our group had a real hard time with it.

Dedicated Voter Season 9

Ghosts are more of a plot encounter or mini villain; since they can only be put to rest by accomplishing a mini-quest arc one would have been ill suited for your encounter.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

Trekkie90909 wrote:
Ghosts are more of a plot encounter or mini villain; since they can only be put to rest by accomplishing a mini-quest arc one would have been ill suited for your encounter.

I don't agree with this as a hard and fast rule. Defeated and put to rest are two separate things. One of the maps that made it into the top 4 had a vampire, which can only be put to rest in a manner similar to a ghost. So clearly having to ultimately defeat the creatures in the encounter wasn't a requirement for top 4.

I do think that having a ghost for no real reason in my encounter would have been a poor design decision, but having some more difficult undead than the wights would have made the encounter more challenging and possibly more rewarding. I was using a ghost as an example of such an creature.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

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Nick Wasko wrote:
Walter Sheppard wrote:
I was running some level 8s through Council of Thieves the other week (first Pathfinder system AP) and they had to fight an incorporeal rat swarm that did STR damage every round they were in it. Pretty stupid CR 4 creature.
Yeah, there's a similar encounter towards the end of Battle for Bloodmarch Hill (first installment of the Giantslayer AP). Our group had a real hard time with it.

As a GM and player I despise shadows.

They are always irritating creatures that are way to powerful for their CR. In Rise of the Runelords you fight I think 3? at level 4ish. And in Council you fight a theoretical infinite amount in book 2 if you don't disable a trap that's hidden behind a secret door in a room that's already puzzling. Heck, Thornkeep has a shadow and a wight in the first floor (where players are level 1-2). Energy drain instantly kills level 1 PCs -- no save.

That's pretty douchey.

Dedicated Voter Season 9

I find using plot monsters (such as ghosts) simply as part of an XP budget to be in exceptionally poor taste and agree with you there. So much more impressive when they're actually integrated into the story like they're supposed to be; Vampires are different, since putting them to rest is supposed to involve violence - also note that Lorylai was traveling with her coffin, negating much of the usual plot to such creatures.

On the other hand, you could have reworked the first haunt into a ghost and added a lot of depth to the encounter, so I was hasty in my immediate dismissal.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka WalterGM

Yeah, the standby of "if things were different they would be different" continues to hold true for me :P

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