Escape from Moonshell Grotto

Round 5: Submit an adventure proposal

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka King Tius

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Escape from Moonshell Grotto

A treacherous excursion escorting a bookish astronomer into the Sodden Lands leads to a magical grotto of wonders. Waiting inside are curious floating orbs, zealous troglodyte cultists, and a trapped dragon turtle longing for freedom. The adventurers will contend with boggards, lizardfolk, and the swamp itself as they search for astronomical artifacts and a way to free the unlikely terrapin devotee of Desna.

Escape from Moonshell Grotto is a Pathfinder adventure module for four 5th-level characters. By the end of this swampy adventure, characters should reach 8th level using the medium experience track.


During the Lirgen nation’s prime, explorers discovered a large hole in the heart of the country that opened into a vast domed cavern. Regarding the great cavern as a divine gift, the Saoc Brotherhood converted it into a massive orrery, constructing and enchanting large orbs of rare metals to create an immense reproduction of the solar system. When fully charged with cosmic energy, the orbs emit a beautiful celestial melody. Part astronomical research center, part shrine to Desna, the cavern served as a place of knowledge and devotion for generations.

Following the Eye of Abendego’s formation, a great tsunami swept across Lirgen, flooding the cavern and washing a juvenile dragon turtle inside. Though young, the dragon turtle’s large shell kept him from escaping through the cavern’s winding, narrow passageways. Lamont Seracourt, the lone surviving astronomer, raised the dragon turtle and taught him to worship Desna. Over time, the orbs sank as their power faded, and the water’s mineral content leached color from the turtle’s shell and scales. Seeing the pallid turtle swimming among the descending planets in the cavern’s eerie twilight, Lamont dubbed the dragon turtle Moonshell. Now, over a century later, the ghostly white turtle has grown to full size. With Lamont Seracourt long dead, this good-hearted dragon turtle seeks to return to the waters of its youth.

Adventure Hook
A Saoc Brotherhood descendant, Meika Seracourt (LN Human Expert 6), desires equipment and research left behind by her forebears to continue their studies. She hires the party to accompany her to the Starsong Orrery and help her excavate what she needs from the ruins. In addition to standard payment, she offers the party any treasure not directly related to astronomy.

Chapter 1: The Wagon
Starsong Orrery is located roughly twenty miles south of the Black Flow’s westward bend. Departing from Haldun, the fastest route is to navigate the swamps to the Black Flow and drift down the river. The journey, both on foot and by raft, is a perilous and grueling slog. Along the way, the adventurers will encounter numerous swamp denizens and hazards, such as river rapids, will-o’-wisps, and a poorly-constructed boggard dam.

Boggard Dam:

As the adventurers float around a bend in the river, a pack of boggards attack their raft. The boggards’ shoddily-constructed dam juts across nearly the entire river, threatening to impale the adventurers on its spiked sides. While the party attempts to navigate the raft through the small opening to safety, the boggards use their tongues to try to steer the raft into the spikes and knock adventurers overboard.

When the adventurers arrive at the Starsong Orrery, they find the Scalebreaker tribe of lizardfolk living around the oculus. The tribe’s leader, Wild Magri, is currently travelling south with a contingent of warriors to a Terwa Lords’ gathering, and has left Hesseth, his ambitious right hand, in charge. Hesseth regards the adventurer’s arrival as his chance to oust Wild Magri, and will use them to his advantage however possible. Hesseth will permit the party to enter the grotto if they promise to clear the area of troglodytes, allowing the lizardfolk to take control of the turtle. If things turn hostile, the lizardfolk attempt to subdue rather than kill before dumping their victims into the hole, assuming the turtle prefers to eat live meals.

Note: If Meika dies before the party reaches Moonshell Grotto, her map and journal entries can guide the party there.

Chapter 2: The Stargazer
When the Saoc Brotherhood first discovered the cave, they chose not to taint the celestial opening with cranes or stairs. Instead, they discovered a circuitous route to the surface with an entrance several hundred yards away from the oculus. The party likely enters the grotto in one of two ways: through the hole or climbing down the orrery’s old entrance.

The Brotherhood converted any smaller chambers into habitable areas, aiming to keep the main chamber as pristine as possible. A small pack of troglodytes, calling themselves The Risen, now reside in these unflooded areas. Before the Scalebreaker tribe arrived, the troglodytes routinely raided the surface for wildlife to sacrifice to the turtle. Now besieged by the lizardfolk, the troglodytes have gone mad worshipping the dragon turtle, painting themselves white in honor of their false deity. Moonshell, however, wants nothing to do with them.

Entryway Fight:

The troglodytes exploit their knowledge of the narrow caves and passageways. They have lured a pair of tentamorts to wait in ambush by an entrance to a small cave with a steeply inclined floor. Should intruders panic from the tentamorts and rush out the entrance, they slide down the incline into a waiting nest of spiked poles and eager troglodytes.

Meet Moonshell
Any commotion in the grotto draws Moonshell’s attention, and he welcomes the party’s company. If the party falls into the water, he will scoop them onto his back and ferry them to the chapel of Desna. Moonshell tells the party that Lamont Seracourt raised him and taught him the ways of Desna. He longs to return to the sea and carry Desna’s song to the creatures of the deep. Having spent over a century in an astrological temple receiving sacrifices from many tribes and creatures, Moonshell has amassed a sizeable horde, now stashed underwater. In exchange for his freedom, Moonshell is willing to relinquish his entire horde to the party. Once Meika connects Moonshell to her grandfather, she insists they find a way to free the turtle. If the party refuses, she offers more money on top of the turtle’s horde.

Shrine to Desna
While Desnan congregants dedicated this entire orrery to her worship, they also built a chapel high enough on the dome’s wall that it survived the flooding. From its grand balcony, worshippers could view the recreated solar system, a perspective the goddess herself might have from the heavens. This is where Lamont Seracourt lived while he tutored Moonshell. The current residents are a hodgepodge of sacrificed victims who survived the fall and did not succumb to their injuries. Moonshell proudly refers to them as his “flock.”

The Flock:

Laar: A disgraced Scalebreaker with a missing leg, he knows much about Wild Magri, Hesseth, and the Terwa Lords.

Grellus Fetch: A former Sodden Scavenger, Fetch (Old NE Human Ranger 5) has been down here for over forty years. Now agoraphobic, he refuses to help the party unless coerced.

Scuttle: While this bog strider speaks only Aquan, she can lead the adventurers to smaller hidden passageways and secret areas. Scuttle also knows of a hidden underwater entrance to the troglodyte warrens that can catch them off guard.

Astronomy Laboratories
This portion of the grotto is half-flooded and much the worse for wear. Many astronomers drowned when the tsunami trapped them here. Their restless spirits have risen as a variety of undead and haunts. This is where Meika wants to look for texts and astronomy equipment. Literature here will reveal how astronomers created the floating orbs (cosmic energy focused through a farwatcher) and some starting notes on lode motes. Meika or a knowledgeable party member can deduce from the information here that the lode motes can be collected and focused into a levitation crystal using a modified farwatcher. Unfortunately, there is no farwatcher here, but there are references to a nearby Saoc Brotherhood observation tower that housed one. It is a few days journey east of the grotto.

New Monster: Lode Motes:

Lode motes are tiny elemental creatures that distort gravity around them, spawned from concentrated sources of cosmic energy. Like air elementals, lode motes are nearly invisible, but are easy to spot by the debris caught in their orbit. When agitated, the motes coalesce into a frenzied swarm that batters anything caught within. The swarm will pick up any creature perceived as hostile and carry them a great height before dispersing and dropping the creature. Because of their gravitational distortion, they can pick up any creature or object that fits within their swarm.

Chapter 3: The Lantern Bearer
After fighting back through the troglodytes or flying up through the hole, the party sets off into the swamp again. Now higher level, they face tougher challenges, including a hydra ambush and a roving pack of shambling mounds. They arrive at the fallen observation tower, now in ruins. A medusa and her amphisbaenae have taken up residence here, and the adventurers will need to cajole her to give up her farwatcher. She’s not likely to give up such a costly item for free, however, and will demand an exchange of equal goods or services for the rare and expensive piece of equipment.

Chapter 4: The Rider
Back at the grotto, the group modifies the farwatcher to collect the energy from the lode motes and focus it into a crystal. The motes cluster around the orbs, attracted by the lingering cosmic energy still stored in them. In order to properly collect them, the party will need to bring the unwieldy farwatcher onto one of the floating orbs and activate it, all while attracting the increasingly-agitated lode mote swarms. Funneling the motes into the farwatcher while avoiding being picked up and tossed into the water may prove more challenging than fighting off a whole army of troglodytes. Attaching the charged magic crystal to Moonshell allows the dragon turtle to float up and out of the grotto. If the party frees him with good intentions, Desna blesses the crystal and transforms it into a lode medallion.

Unique Treasure: Lode Medallion:

This small silver disk has a black crystal embedded in its center. When placed on an object and activated, it creates a gravitational distortion that renders the object weightless. Additionally, when worn as an amulet, the medallion can project a zero gravity field in a short radius around the wearer, granting them a fly speed and rendering nearby objects and enemies weightless. Both functions are activated using the medallion’s daily charges.

When Moonshell rises out of the grotto, the Scalebreaker tribe scrambles for their weapons, ready for a fight. Regardless of whether the party has allied with Hesseth or not, once they free the dragon turtle, the lizardfolk attempt to capture Moonshell with nets and ropes, attacking the party as they do so. Once clear of the lizardfolk threat, Moonshell offers to swim the party back up the Black Flow in appreciation for freeing him. On the return journey, most swamp denizens steer clear of the dragon turtle, until Wild Magri appears!

Showdown with Wild Magri:

Riding a young dire crocodile, Wild Magri (Lizardfolk Champion Monster Codex 145) and his warriors surge up the river in pursuit of the party and Moonshell. The turtle and the crocodile lock in combat as the chieftain and his warriors attempt to board the dragon turtle’s back and kill the adventurers.

Once the adventurers dispatch the Scalebreaker chieftain, the remainder of the journey up the Black Flow is peaceful. Laden with astronomical artifacts and sodden treasure, Meika and the adventurers bid farewell to Moonshell as he disappears below the surface of the river.

End Notes:

Industrious adventurers may discover other ways to free Moonshell, such as diverting a river to flood the grotto completely. These alternatives will be addressed in more detail in the full module.

The chapters of this adventure take their names from astrological signs of the Cosmic Caravan.

Paizo Employee Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Well done, Jason! You fought through the competition like a champ, and now you’re at the final round. This is the time to reach for the prize and get to see your adventure in print. Seeing your name on the cover of something sitting on a shelf in your local game store or retailer is a pretty amazing experience.

I judged this round focusing on the fact that this round decides which of these four pitches becomes a product on our schedule here at Paizo. I went with my gut and knowledge of the region in which the adventure takes place. (I wrote the Abendego Gulf chapter of Lost Kingdoms, and built upon one of those elements in Undead Unleashed). I also went into judging this round thinking about how this round not only impacts a new writer’s career, but also our business here at Paizo. Voters are going to determine a product that will instantly go on our schedule and will begin using company resources, so I’m thinking about things from a development standpoint but also keeping a keen eye on the question: Will it sell?

So on we go...

Title: I like the action of using “escape” in the title, because it lets me know a bit of what’s supposed to happen in the adventure, but I don’t like the sound of “Moonshell.”

Breakdown: Here I go through the pitch and give my thoughts as I come to them. This is how I would markup a document for any pitch that one of my freelancers would give me.

I supported your weird swashbuckling oyster, but my tolerance for wazoo things in gaming material only goes so far. I'm pretty reserved for the most part unless something really tickles my fancy.

• Boggards, check. Lizardfolk, check. Astronomy, check... Desna-related dragon turtle... <record screech> waitwut?

• You mention a cavern. Where do you see a cavern occuring in this landscape? Wet marshy and swampy areas don’t have a lot of dry caverns.

• The set-up of the orrery in an enclosed location feels close to my Dim Gate. (But it totally makes sense for Lirgen.)

• Tsunamis don't happen because of hurricanes. That's a result of earthquakes. I think the term you're looking for here is storm surge or just flood.

• Oh no! Is the dragon turtle now trapped in a place too small to get out!?

• Your hook is direct, but where does Meika contact them? Does this happen in any city and then the PCs must travel far to start the adventure, or does this happen in a particular Sodden Lands settlement? (I notice that you mention Haldun, so this assumes that the PCs came through Rahadoum to get here. This should be emphasised in your final text should this win.)

• For the trip from Haldun, the boggard raft encounter sounds like fun, and will-o'-wisps are CR appropriate (and a total pain in the ass—man I hate fighting will-o'-wisps, but that’s why they’re rad).

• The other part of Part 1 sounds good too. Lizardfolk are regionally appropriate creatures and that the PCs get to interact with them beyond just fighting is a good touch.

• Trogs are a good enough enemy for the below ground bit, but at CR 1 you're going to have to use numbers or class levels to make them a threat.

• The entryway fight seems like a fun encounter and the two tentamorts are CR-appropriate. I don't see why the PCs would "panic from the tentamorts" however. They shouldn't put up that much of a challenge.

• While I'm still not completely buying the premise, I like the shrine and that there are NPCs that the PCs can meet beyond just Moonshell. However, if there is another entrance to the grotto that the PCs could use, what's stopping the surviving sacrifices from using that entrance as an exit? I mean, one dude's been down there for 40 years!

• Also, including the bog strider means that you'll have to reprint the whole statblock since it's not in the PRD, which takes up space. You have to weigh whether it's that important that the NPC is a bog strider for it to take up that valuable space. They certainly make sense for this region.

• There are a couple of places where you mention general enemies, and I wish that you would be more specific (Part 1: "various swamp denizens and hazards" and Astronomy Laboratories: "variety of undead and haunts"). I see that you are conserving space, but I'd like to know more of what's going to happen in the adventure as far as encounters.

• One challenge with a tag-along NPC adventure is that you essentially are having the GM run a character while the PCs are doing their thing. The PCs also have to worry about keeping the NPC safe. In this case, the real motivator for the adventure is Meika, and if she dies, why do the PCs feel compelled to continue the adventure, especially if she dies before they get to meet Moonshell.

• Lode motes seem interesting, but I don't understand why they're named that. Lode is a geological term rather than one associated with gravity (or astronomy).

• Starting Part 3, you mention that they are fighting tougher challenges like a hydra, but a hydra is only CR 4. The shambling mounds fit that description, though.

• The medusa and the amphisbaena sounds like a good encounter, but the bargaining aspect is way off. The farwatcher written up in Lost Kingdoms is over 120,000 gp, so there's no way that the PCs would be able to exchange equal goods or services at 6th level.

• I don't buy the way the farwatcher is used in Part 4. I included an element of using a farwatcher in the Dim Gate as a way for Meyi Panaho to charge the void crystal, but that was a special case (and a much bigger and differently-crafted farwatcher). Most of those devices are just used as fancy telescopes.

• The process of getting the dragon turtle out of the grotto sounds overly complex, but it seems like it'd be dynamic. The thing that bothers me is that you have to go through that whole process when someone could just cast fly on the dragon turtle. At 5th–8th level, someone can pull that off (or drop 750 gp on a potion and *boom* done. I thought that the dragon turtle couldn't get out because it was too big, not that it couldn't get up to the hole.

• I'm also not a fan of gods spontaneously making normal things into magic items just because a few mortals do a good deed. The gods don't have that firm a hand on day to day goings on in Golarion.

• I know that there's a big fight with the lizardfolk once the PCs get the dragon turtle out of its hole, but that fight doesn't feel like much of a capstone. Getting the dragon turtle out feels like a bigger accomplishment, as written.

• That's something else I was thinking about for this pitch: there's no real villain. There's a problem that someone is paying the PCs to take care of, which includes conflict, but there's no real bad guy.

Conclusion: This adventure has a silly premise, but the encounters sound fun and dynamic. It’s further hindered by the fact that the adventure really doesn’t have a bad guy, but instead has a puzzle, unfortunately, one that’s easily solved in a way that the premise of the adventure doesn’t address. I’ve liked a lot of your work throughout this competition, and if you don’t ultimately win, I hope you continue seeking freelance work. Trust me, getting this far in RPG Superstar means that you’ll have the chances if you take them. If it were my call, I would not green light this adventure.

Scarab Sages Developer

Comments from our other two judges are coming soon!

Liberty's Edge Assistant Developer

Congratulations Jason for making it so far in RPG Superstar! You’ve shown a lot of creativity and some wild inspirations. Being able to please professional judges and the general public says a lot about your talents, and at this point all of you should consider yourselves primed and able to work in the industry, regardless of who wins the final accolades.

My judging philosophy


I’ll be looking over these pitches based on a few things, including originality, how well if fits the setting provided, ease of development, and clarity.

What the “wow” in this pitch? This may be how interesting and new the overall concept is, or how you’ve used the rules to present new challenges.

How well do you know the Sodden Lands, and how well will the players know them after playing your adventure?

How much work will this be to spin into a final, published adventure? Are your maps from previous rounds clear? Do you have a good grasp of the existing rules? Are you introducing new rules elements for your adventure and will they be fun or an added layer of complexity for its own sake? Are you accounting for the new capabilities of 5th-level PCs (like flight).

How well do you present and organize your ideas? Half of writing an RPG adventure is being able to provide the GM all the tools and information she needs clearly and concisely, so she can present them to the PCs as needed. You can be a great fiction writer, or a great rules monkey, and still have problems tell people what they need to know to run an adventure.

New Location
What stands out about your new adventure location?

New Monster
Is your monster fun, original, and relevant to the plot?[/b]

Well... it’s certainly an original take on a rescue mission, I’ll give you that. That said, rescuing a giant, white turtle from a sinkhole feels more like an internet video than a heroic quest spanning two or three levels. It feels like a revisit of Chimera Cove ina lot of ways.

This is easily where this pitch shines. This feels like the Sodden Lands, it’s examining the region’s history and dealing with who and what moved into the void. PCs have to care about the past of Lirgen and the present both of people who escaped Lirgen (since their patron is descended from refugees) and the people who’ve survived in the new marshlands. Lots of fun roleplaying elements.

While I love roleplay elements, they add an extra layer of complexity to writing, developing, and running a game

As a side note, you keep referencing “cosmic energy,” but that’s not an energy type in Pathfinder metaphysics. You’re thinking of Galactus, Devourer of Worlds.

Lots of typoes and misplaced words. This would benefit from an extra edit pass.

Part One
Boggards and lizardfolk definitely fit the theme and location, and I like that getting there is part of the adventure, since most of the Sodden Lands is in ruins these days. The boggard encounter in particular is a fun use of creature abilities in a new and creative way.

I like the added note that the PCs can still reach their destination even if their expedition leader dies.

Part Two
I’m not completely sure how troglodytes “go mad worshipping the dragon turtle,” especially when the turtle doesn’t want anything to do with them. Is it like when boys freak out over a girl not texting them back? Why do they even think this giant turtle is a god?

Also, I’m going to be an a$*$++* here and say: Why rescue the turtle? Maybe the PCs see the troglodytes worshipping it and don’t stop long enough to ask questions. Or maybe they’re greedy murderhobos and just kill it for its loot. What’s the motivation here to build your own flying moon-turtle instead of just stealing its gold and scarpering off back into the swamps?

Lots of roleplaying here; that’s nice. Not really clear why PCs still need to fight the troglodytes or would go back to fighting them, though, once they have the turtle’s protection. For the troglodytes who are complete giant-turtle-fanboys, wouldn’t the turtle carrying these people around and protecting them be a sign that they should leave them alone?

I’m not sure why anyone needs a farwatcher, essentially a giant magical telescope, to arrange elementals in a pattern to lift a giant turtle. I get that we called out farwatchers as existing in Lost Kingdoms, but the idea seems at odd with their purpose

Part Three
More swamp adventures are cool, and I like that you can barter with the medusa for your mcguffin, but how exactly are the PCs supposed to have enough treasure to barter for a 120,000 gp magic item? Assuming they’re 7th level now, a party of four could trade away everything they own and still owe twenty grand.

Part Four
This. This is where the adventure just goes off the rails into silly town. You’ve got a flying white turtle brawling with a giant crocodile. Weird and gonzo is fun, but you have to temper it, and so far this adventure has been pretty gritty and roleplay-focused and realistic with the sole exception of the one thing the entire adventure revolves around.

Getting beyond the tone, why are the lizardfolk trying to kill the turtle you mentioned them worshipping?

Unique Treasure
The process for making the lode medallion is fun and a good part of the adventure, but in the end we already have a ton of magic items that let you fly. Utilitarian, but not superstar.

New Location
Very fun and flavorful and interesting. The history is just a little gonzo, but believable, and what’s happened since makes the grotto an very interesting adventure location. This is probably the strongest element of this turnover.

New Monster
A little gravity elemental swarm that flings you around is a neat idea for a monster.

Final Verdict
There are a lot of good ideas in here mingled with a lot of silly ideas, and even more ideas that would be good with an extra design pass or two. Overall, I think this could be a fun adventure, but I think the core concept and final goal are too silly. I would not pick up this adventure. With a rewrite of the core and finale, keeping a lot of the setting and process the same it would work well, though.

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

I read your entry, scanned the judges comments, and though I think they hit on some issues that need to be addressed (looking to see Neil's comments!) -- I think of the 4 pitches, yours isn't necessarily the most well written-as-is, but I like it the most for numerous reasons.

Some things I like, which for instance Adam dings you on, are that there is no "main villain" == I'm totally fine with that. Sometimes in games, players vs. the environment situations are totally fine. Also, I love that you tagged "alternative methods" of freeing the dragon turtle could and would exist and will be addressed. My friends would likely focus so much more on those things and running the adventure "as intended" would only happen if the GM railroaded a bit.

I think every problem you have is exactly what they pay people like Owen or Crystal to help "fix" and it's not as "been there, done that" as some of the other adventures, nor is it flawed at its core like one that, even a judge, points out makes no sense why the "bad guy" would be doing what they are doing. Without that, a lot of other things become off kilter.

That said, and I think this would negate concerns of "silliness" -- IF this proposal moves on, you missed out on giving ME the player a serious reason to care at all about helping this random dragon turtle, from what I saw. A "serious" rationale for that could negate the "silliness" of the circumstances.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka mamaursula

Congratulations Jason, good luck in the voting!

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

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Jason! Welcome to the Final Round! This is it! An opportunity for you to pitch a (mostly) independent idea for an adventure, win over the voting public, and get a signed contract with Paizo to bring it to life. As someone who's lived that dream, I can tell you that it's a very, very cool experience. And, provided you apply all the lessons you've learned throughout the competition, you can use this contest as a platform for really getting your name--and your work--out there. So, relish the opportunity, soak in the feedback, and, whether or not you win it all outright, take the broader experience of RPG Superstar with you as you pursue whatever freelance opportunities come your way.

Based on prior years, you may know that I like to break my final round judging commentary into two halves. The first assesses your pitch...meaning, how well you sold your ideas within the proposal itself. I think it's important to take a look at that because it gives us a more complete sense of your vision and how well you're able to convey that to your developer (and the broader RPG community) to win them over and green light your work. It also offers a glimpse into how you'd structure your actual adventure, giving us a sense of your capabilities as a storyteller and how well you can tap into elements that will get people excited.

The second part of my assessment will dive into the proposed adventure and whether what you've presented here includes all the relevant pieces to hopefully make a great Pathfinder module. More than anything, that's really the goal here. While your pitch may demonstrate you've got the professional polish, insights, creative writing ability, and organizational skills to entrust you with this type of assignment, it's the core ideas of your adventure which will convince voters to select your proposal as the one they most want to purchase and play at their gaming tables.

So, with all that in mind, let's get down to business and see what you've proposed...

Feedback for: Escape From Moonshell Grotto

The Pitch
Okay. This is the part where you need to sell your proposal to us...which means, you need to write well enough to convince us you know what you're doing with strong, purposeful design choices--a skill you should realize by now plays an important role in pretty much everything you bring to the table if you want to stand out as a Superstar designer. This can include the underlying storytelling, pacing, and plot of your adventure; the choices you make with regards to the level requirement/CRs for various encounters and how they'll likely play out at the table; the number of maps you'll require for your chosen location(s); your sense of Golarion canon vs. how best to support the intellectual property of your publisher; your sense of scope and scale so you can fit everything into the required page-count/word-count; and so on. Basically, your adventure pitch should convince us you've got a good head on your shoulders when it comes to adventure design, and that you're the man Paizo (and the Paizo community) should trust with this opportunity.

Hopefully, the prior rounds of this year's competition (as well as what you've learned by following along in prior years) helped develop an understanding of these things for you. Personally, I think the best approach is to study what Paizo already does with their Pathfinder modules...i.e., how things are structured, how each adventure premise innovates around some new idea or theme, what kinds of limitations they put on you, and what kinds of opportunities they grant you as a writer/storyteller. Likewise, I believe it's important to study the winning adventure proposals from prior years of RPG Superstar to get a sense of how they "sold" the readers, judges, and voters. If you can pick up on all those elements and adapt your proposal accordingly, you'll be light-years ahead of most would-be designers in convincing folks to give you a chance.

So, the first thing I notice when I read your submission is the adventure's intended name. Escape From Moonshell Grotto. I can't say I'm completely won over by it. The main element is the "moonshell grotto" and while that sounds like an intriging location, it's really just a reflection of the dragon turtle's name. So, while I like an "Escape" adventure's potential, I'm not as keen with how the adventure fails to live up to such a title. Really, one of the most useful tricks for selecting an evocative or even iconic name for an adventure is to include either the name of your primary adventure location (e.g., The Temple of Elemental Evil, White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors), or the name of your super-memorable, awe-inspiring villain (e.g., Queen of Spiders, Scourge of the Slave Lords, Crown of the Kobold King). The names of these adventures resonate because they draw upon the things your players will almost certainly remember and reminisce about after playing through them...i.e., the cool location where it took place, or the awesome villain they faced. If your adventure pitch can tap into a name that contains one or both of those things, you're on the right track. I'm not sure you succeeded here. There's nothing about the "Moonshell Grotto" that makes it an important, iconic location that the PCs will identify with a terror-filled dungeon or adventuring site.

So what about the rest of the pitch? The presentation follows a sound structure. Tying the chapter names to the Cosmic Caravan doesn't really elevate the piece all that much, despite the Desna connections. I'm also not as sold on the adventure hook and Meika's inclusion as an NPC ally who could easily become a casualty along the way. There's not enough to fully invest the PCs in the adventure given how you've pitched it, and I'm left looking for more.

The rest of your pitch is okay. You've made very good use of appropriate adversaries for this region of Golarion, interweaving them with possible PC alliances, depending on how they approach each encounter. But, if I'm being honest, the rescue of Moonshell feels kind of uninspired to me. There's not enough there to tie in the PCs and give them a reason to care which dovetails with the overall story involved.

The Adventure
I've written many times before in my advice for RPG Superstar about five key elements which I believe are vital to good adventure design. In fact, I like to use them as a good barometer for assessing how well a proposed adventure will hold up in terms of providing a memorable, entertaining experience. Those five things boil down to: 1) a memorable villain whose goals are a legitimate threat which credibly prompts the PCs to act; 2) a unique and interesting set of locales which provide cool maps, memorable encounters, and innovative tactical/terrain situations; 3) a compelling and interesting plot wherein the villain's goals encroach on the PCs' world in a sustained, threatening manner where they get to become heroes at the center of attention throughout the adventure; 4) some interesting and entertaining minions and NPCs who have a credible reason for working with the villain, existing within the chosen locale(s), and create recurring problems for the PCs; and 5) an interesting, worthwhile reward which the PCs (and their players) will cherish for the rest of their adventuring careers. If you can achieve high marks in as many of those areas as possible in your design, you could have a winning idea on your hands. So, let's see how you measured up:

The Villain: Here's the main problem. There isn't one. Instead, it's a series of lesser creatures and tribal leaders of lizardfolk and troglodytes who pose the most recurring threat. More powerful adversaries loom with the medusa, etc., but none of them are really tied into the plot and the adventuring locale in a way that elevates the adventuring experience with something truly memorable and iconic that the players will take away with them if they play through it with their PCs. For me (and a lot of publishers and gaming groups), an adventure pitch will flat out fail if it doesn't include an iconic villain shaping the story the players get to experience vicariously through their PCs. And, sadly, I think that's your biggest misstep here. A memorable villain is perhaps the most important element of constructing an adventure, because it's the foil the PCs need to move the story forward as they become involved in it.

The Locale(s): This too was kind of a miss for me. I'm looking for an iconic, memorable location the players might recall years later when they reflect back on this adventure. And, unfortunately, there's nothing really amazing here to hang your hat on. Yes, there's this grotto where the dragon turtle got trapped and needs help escaping, but there's nothing especially amazing about the adventuring site itself in how this adventure proposal describes it.

The Plot: This feels a bit contrived. With no villain shaping a credible threat that requires heroic PCs to counter, this is just a freeform sandbox "wander over there, find what we find, something happens, and then adventure!" type of scenario. Yes, there's a quest-giver in there with an interest in retrieving the lost lore of her ancestors...which apparently includes a "beached whale" in the shape of this dragon turtle, but the premise isn't compelling and doesn't hang together all that well, logically-speaking given some of the resources the PCs will have at their disposal at this adventuring level. The proposal also doesn't include enough complicating factors or potential plot twists to make it entertaining at the table...not just in combat, but in a story-stacking sense. This proposal needs a tighter plotline, and a more compelling villain could help with that.

The Minions: Without a true villain shaping the story behind the adventure (both in terms of its background story and the way the plot plays out as the PCs move things forward), there aren't really any identifiable minions that PCs can experience multiple times. Technically, everything else appearing the adventure is a "minion"-level threat just based on how its described. I realize that's not how you probably meant for it to come across. I get the sense that you have it all in your mind the way you'd envision it likely addressing some of these things. The problem is that the adventure proposal doesn't convey it. There are too many generalities here and not enough details to highlight the really "cool" elements that players would get to experience as the adventure played out. You need to identify something grander than this to convince a developer to green-light your idea. And, you can't hold back. You've got to actually define what's going to happen, and describe it in a way that makes people say, "Yes, I want to see that in print! I want to run that for my gaming group!"

The Reward: The reward is kind of lost. The lode medallion has the potential to fill this role, but it's not all that different from an item you could find in the Iron Gods AP as a technological gravity-based device, or a magical artifact the Shory might have crafted. Having something like this appear as a Lirgeni device feels kind of misplaced by comparison. And, even then, I'm not sure it'll take on the iconic magic item PCs will recall from the adventure and cherish over the remainder of their adventuring career.

There are bits and pieces which present elements of cool design ideas, but they don't quite come together into a compelling proposal for an adventure. Instead, this comes across a bit more like a collection of notes for a potential mini-campaign where all of it's note yet fully thought through or defined enough to write up into a full scenario...i.e., kind of the hallmark of a GM who's comfortable winging or handwaving certain design elements in the interests of just keeping a freeform campaign moving so it's more about the PC/player choices than a guided story. Sandbox designs like that can sometimes work, but only if the sandbox is still supporting an interesting plot involving a credible, compelling villain the PCs can engage. That's not really what comes across here. So, it's not tight enough in concept for me to get behind it.

So, as a result, I'm going to say that I DO NOT RECOMMEND this adventure for consideration as the winning proposal for this round. It's possible you might still strike a chord with the voters and they push you through, but I'll be surprised if that happens. If you do win, it'll take a lot of revision and enhancement to bring these ideas to life in a way that creates a product that will appeal to a majority of gamers. So, it'll be an uphill battle. If, however, you don't win, I don't want this critique to weigh you down. You've alreayd demonstrated a significant freelancer skillset in other designs, and that could serve as a springboard to still make your mark in the industry if you want to give it a go. Just make sure that you keep broadening your design experiences by learning from what's out there. Emulate those things to meet the demands of what the gaming community expects, and then, once you've established yourself, start branching out and innovating as you see fit.

My sincere two cents and best wishes on your future freelancing career,

Dedicated Voter Season 9

I'm going to have to side with the minority opinion on this one: I think this is really cool. As a player, I'm not troubled by the absence of a big villain to fight, and I think there is a lot of interesting stuff and dynamic conflict here that really grabs my attention and makes me want to explore this corner of the world. The slowly drooping planets floating above the grotto's water struck me as a particularly compelling visual. I also totally love the idea of a friendly turtle and his ragtag band of misfits taking on the surface dwellers.

My own bias is near impossible to escape, but I find this adventure fresh and appealing. You've got my vote.

I think this is really cool and your ideas are really interesting, but it sort of reads like you wrote this over the course of several days and did not really go back and look at what you had written, so it does not fit together really well. It has so many cool elements, but look at what crystal said about the dry cave in the marsh. Or the tsunami from a hurrican. Some simple research or logical thought could have prevented these. This is my second favorite and makes me sorry that I only get one vote.

I like it a lot. However, I think some of the dots are not as well connected as they could be.

If the troglodytes are insane turtle worshipers, I feel what's missing is a really, really insane tribal leader with class levels. Like, what if the troglodytes were led by a troglodyte cleric or oracle who is a natural albino? Maybe the trogs believe they are doomed if they lose Moonshell; maybe the war leader has even threatened to sacrifice the albino troglodyte if Moonshell ever leaves.

What's up with the lizardfolk? Are they jealous of the troglodytes? If so, what do they know about them and their turtle god? Are they worshippers of Desna? Lamashtu cultists who want to steal the turtle? Is Wild Magri just obsessed with riding things?

A statblock thought: Wild Magri is a Lizardfolk Champion. But the Champion has a dinosaur, while Wild Magri rides a dire crocodile. My first thought was that maybe they will be depicted with a different mount. But crocodile mounts don't even get that big. So, if I'm understanding this correctly, this is a lance-wielding cavalier riding something other than his mount. That's sort of weird.

Reading the judges’ notes directly after the entry is a real treat - it’s easy to get excited about the next iteration of these ideas as our minds fill in the suggested improvements. Jason can learn a great deal from these more seasoned developers, but I’d give him one recommendation: hold tight what brought you this far. Your voice as a designer can run a little pulpy, but there’s charm in that. Isn’t that why you’re here, in the final four? After all, we play role-playing games because they’re fun - so if your players sense an excitable nerd behind the scenes, I think they’ll see something of themselves. Asking whether this will sell is just a matter of knowing your audience. You might not gain a lot of traction among players who like things dry, but for those of us who like a little levity now and then, this is gold.

Some specific points of feedback.

Title: “Escape from” is perfect pulp. It looks like many of the judges are suggesting that designers name their module for the primary villain, or the key place in the story, and in some ways you’ve actually done both - the key character in this story just happens to be something other than a villain. You’re probably getting some pushback here because “Moonshell” sounds too cutesy. Give your turtle a name with a little more mystique and you’re set.

Setting: I don’t altogether understand the skepticism about a cave in a swamp. Would a cave form in a swamp? Probably not. But the defining trait of the Sodden Lands is that this is a previously normal landscape that flooded - making a pocket cavern in an otherwise marshy landscape entirely plausible. So long as the entrances to the cavern lie above the current water line, and the stone isn’t overly permeable, it works. Roughly equivalent to a volcano that’s mostly covered in water - the inside of the caldera could be dry yards below the waterline surrounding it, no? In any case, you really paint a picture with the description of the white turtle swimming through the cosmos, so I’m with you.

About that turtle: The goodly turtle is going to be the most challenging part for the DM running this. Moonshell figures prominently in this little drama, so you’ll need to provide some guidance on his motivations, what he is and isn’t willing to do, and how he relates to those around him. A powerful, benevolent ally is boring without some personality. Has his imprisonment made him depressed? Or a little mad? What’s his journey in this story?

Boggard dam: For characters wearing armor, there’s real stakes in this battle - falling in could mean drowning, plain and simple. This is a nice balance to the hilarity of the boggards using their tongues to pull in the raft. Players will grin, but they’ll sweat too.

Astronomy Laboratories: The magical mechanism by which the items are created is a touch hand-wavy - the whole cosmic-energy farfinder thing - but the Lode Motes are the real gems of this entry. I’m not too sensitive about the name. I can’t imagine the denizens of Golarion have a deep understanding of gravitational mechanics, so why wouldn’t they name this monster after the closest analogue they can imagine? Mass Motes might be more accurate, but it has a bad mouth feel. Anyway, I’m sure someone can come up with another name that works. Assembling the Lode Medallion sounds like a good time, and I like the way that the different pieces of the module start to come together. The laboratory notes suggest what can be built, and how. Once built, the medallion offers a means by which the turtle can escape. Some might criticize this as simplistic, but better a puzzle that your party can figure out on their own than a game that stalls when the players can draw no meaningful connection between the spoils of their early challenges and their endgame.

Wild Magri: Following your climax (the turtle’s escape) with a surprise river-battle on the back of two leviathans is a little unexpected - but wonderfully so! One last challenge, just when your players think they’re safe is a trope for a reason.

Simply The Moonshell Grotto would be my suggestion for the name.

I really like this. I think that it is strong, and fun. There is nothing wrong with a little silly. Frankly I think that we need to maybe stop throwing stones at our glass houses as we roll our dice over here. I think that a little silly is ok in this arena. The important thing is I have fun playing it and I really think that I could enjoy this. This is something that I could see me and my group sitting down with some beers and having a blast playing through this. It is fun, it is catchy and it has my vote!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Mark D Griffin

I’m going to assume that you are, like I was, impatiently waiting on the other side of this screen for anyone to write something about your creative endeavor. That way you know someone read it and really thought about it before casting their votes. So, now that I no longer have a horse in this race, I wanted to provide some feedback for the final four. I’ve already skimmed all the entries, and now I’m going to take notes while doing a more thorough reading. This is the kind of feedback I’d give if I were sent this for comments, so I’ll probably be nitpicky. Keep in mind you did a great job getting here, and your proposal is also great. With some time and elbow grease, every one of these proposals could make an excellent adventure. So on to the notes!

Your first few sentences are probably my favorite of anyone’s. As a GM I’m a sucker for weird NPCs, and a desna worshipping dragon turtle has me excited.

Giant musical orrery sounds like a perfect place for a desnan shrine, and makes sense for the locale.

Do the orbs orbit as they float? I picture them rotating, and I think that’s a cool visual, but it doesn’t say. I really hope these come into play during an encounter.

I wish Seracourt was a cleric instead of an astronomer, then it would make more sense that Moonshell became a worshipper of Desna. Also why didn’t Seracourt leave? Is he also trapped somehow? Was he that attached to this dragon turtle? He apparently had family somewhere, since he has a granddaughter, why didn’t he try to find them?

I love the name moonshell and it ties in the Desna theme in even more, but wouldn’t the turtle have had a name before he got swept in this hole?

Yup, I love this NPC, I want to GM him.

Probably the best hook of any of them, as it ties into the story and the themes of the region. But this sounds like it could be an escort quest through some pretty dangerous places, and nobody likes those. I appreciate that she’s level 6, so she’ll have 30ish health, but there is a decent chance she dies.

I like your chapter names.

It seems pretty foolhardy to travel by raft on a river in a place that is known to be routinely hit by hurricanes, especially if you know there will be rapids. I guess it’ll be faster, but it seems like it would be safe to walk.

The dam sounds like a it would be a neat encounter, although further emphasizes why I wouldn’t raft this river.

I’m not sure what you mean by the lizardfolk “controlling the turtle.” It’s a fairly powerful, sentient creature, how would they control it.

Trogs and Lizardfolk seem a little samey to me. I’m sure they would disagree, but they’re both reptile creatures, and I wish you would have replaced one with something different. Lizardfolk are from this region, so replacing the trogs make the most sense.

I appreciate that you don’t have necessarily have to fight the lizardfolk.

Ah! At least you considered Meika’s death. Hopefully the treasure map will be enough to bring the PCs to the grotto.

How are the PCs supposed to know about the other entrance? Do the Lizardfolk know about it?

Not sure that PCs will panic upon discovering tentamorts. Any tank worth his salt will stand and fight!

I really hope Meika makes it this far, since it’s a sweet reveal that her grandfather raised the turtle. I’m not sold that many creatures of the deep will care about Desna though, although I guess the night sky can be beautiful from the ocean. Being a missionary isn’t always easy.

More neat NPCs! I love the flock, and they have good names, especially the crotchety old evil guy. I assume there is a reason they can’t leave, maybe the trogs? I wish you would have spelled that out.

I’m bummed that you don’t specify what kind of undead or haunts. I realize you were likely bumping against word count, but specifics can make all the difference.

I don’t think you should have used cosmic energy here for a couple of reasons. One it’s a sort of obscure thing in pathfinder, since it’s only really mentioned in Lost Kingdoms and People of the Stars (heck, one of the judges doesn’t even know it exists). Two, the farwatcher at the Dim Gate is basically an entire complex devoted to focusing cosmic energy, and I don’t think that same principle would work here. More on this later.

This is my favorite monster of the 4, what appears to be innocuous floating debris ends up being an extremely deadly threat. It has a good visual, and a mechanic I don’t recall seeing before.

Seems like Moonshell could tell the trogs to let you go since they worship him, or fly out of the hole.

I really like the side quest with the medusa and her pets, but bartering for the farwatcher doesn’t work. I could see her sending the PCs on some quest, but the thing is too costly the PCs to trade goods for it. Also, this much treasure along with a dragon’s horde seems like a lot. Maybe a farwatcher just shouldn’t be used. More on this later.

AH! You use the orbs in an encounter! Excellent!

The turtle can fly with a simple fly spell, and cosmic energy is sort of convoluted, and the farwatcher costs too much. I think you need another mechanic for getting Moonshell out. Like the Lode Motes interfere with flying, and you need to disperse them somehow so Moonshell can get out?

The treasure is serviceable, but not outstanding.

This final fight is pretty awesome. I’d rank it second place behind Charlie’s final fight, but it would certainly be memorable and bad ass to fight a cavalier riding a dire crocodile from the back of Moonshell.

In conclusion:

I’m not sure if it was clear because of the nitpicking I did, but I really like this adventure a lot. I’m actually a fan that the true villain is a cross between the environment and the weather and not some cackling machiavellian character. Obviously those kinds of villains are great, but they’re also featured all the time, and an interesting adventure without one is rare. I think your featured location is wondrous, and just the right size for an adventure this size (some other module proposals feature entirely too many unique locations), which shows restraint. This proposal seems very informed about the Sodden Lands, more so than the rest, and there is little I appreciate more than good research. This will require some rewriting, but I think less than Nick’s proposal, so given all that I will be voting for this proposal. Excellent work Jason and good luck in the polls!

Dark Archive

I think this round will be the hardest to comment on, as the competition was really stiff! Also, this round has the most to take into account, which means my feedback may ramble a bit as I go.

The Name: While I like Moonshell Grotto, 'Escape from' reminds me of a Disney movie. Unlike others, I'm okay with the grotto being named after the dragon turtle.

The Background: As others have pointed out, this shouldn't have been a tsunami that caused the intial flooding, but that can easily be changed to a storm surge or something else that makes sense. Beyond that, I think this is very well written, and creative (though I agree that Seracourt should be a cleric, as well as an astronomer).

Chapter I: I like the boggard dam, and I think you do a good job of setting up the feel of the Sodden Lands. Questions - why do the lizards want to control the turtle? Why are they even here in the first place?

Chapter II: The troglodytes seem out of place here, as no real reason is given for them deciding Moonshell is a god, and that they should worship him. I also don't understand why he hasn't tried to convert them all to Desna, and why they keep sacrificing to him. I do love that he has a flock, though it seems like some of them could have left a long time ago if they wished. At this point PCs would also have access to fly, so getting him out of there may not be that hard for them.
The new monster is probably the best of the top 4!

Chapters III & IV: I like that there's a non-combat option to get what the PCs need, but at this level, they won't have the resources (unless the hoard is significant enough), and I can imagine many groups just fighting for what they want. Maybe if there was a particular standard (for their level) service that was needed that they could provide (but is rare in this area, so worth much more to the medusa)...?
If the PCs do need to resort to using the equipment to get Moonshell out of the grotto, then I think this next part will be interesting for them, and certainly memorable. (Still no reason as to why the lizardfolk want Moonshell though, and why they're willing to fight for him.) The treasure is not the most creative, and Desna stepping in to play a part in it seems like a little too much involvement at this level.
This last battle seems tacked on, almost like you were trying to give us the BBEG experience, even though this storyline works just as well without one. Maybe if we knew why they were so interested in Moonshell, it would make more sense why an absent chief would chase after the PCs, but as written, it just comes across as 'one more thing'.

Conclusion: I like this. I like that it's a fairly family friendly story, one that relies on the PCs 'doing the right thing', as opposed to being (wandering) murdering hobos. However, if that's not what they buyer is looking for (and I know and play with some of those people), they'll move on. Yes, there are ways to make this fit a more evil party, but then that destroys the integrity of the whole, and taints it. If you have a mixed group, that could cause some tension as the two factions want to handle things in different ways, which could make this module not so fun for all involved. Because of this, as of right now this entry is tied for a close second place for my vote. I still have time to alter my decision, so we'll see how I feel once I think on it some more.

As I said in the beginning, all the entries were amazing this year, so even if you don't advance, be VERY happy with your work this competition, and I look forward to seeing what you produce in the future! Good luck!

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

Apologies for the short comment.

Name: Could be better. "Escape from" brings to mine D-list horror, perhaps because I recently played Old World Blues (I can just imagine Dr. Mobius saying it). I like "Moonshell Grotto" though.

Item: I'm a fan of weightlessness effects, though I have to wonder how big the field is to include enemies. I assumed it was just personal to the wielder.

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 Jason, congrats one more time on getting to the Final 4. Let's look at your module pitch, mostly running through and giving stream of consciousness reaction:

Name: I like it. Escapes are always exciting and the moonshell grotto sounds like an interesting place. I like the dichotomy in a moonshell grotto doesn't sound like something I'd need/want to escape from.

I'm mildly intrigued by the description, but not blown away. Background has some intriguing possibilities ... but I'm not sure that freeing a bleached dragon turtle's going to be enough of a hook. I'm already concerned that my players are going to want something more. The adventure hook doesn't set my mind at any more ease -- it's a perfectly serviceable plot hook, but I'd like more options if my PCs are a little less mercenary.

Chapter 1 -- not an exciting name here. As Neil says, names matter.

Beyond that, I'm a little concerned this will in fact be a "grueling slog" as you call it. It feels like it's a lot of "random" adventures (whether they're planned or not) for little purpose other than having adventures. I do like the possibilities with the lizardfolk -- especially that there's this whole other story going on that doesn't involve the PCs but which they can become enmeshed in -- but the writing's a bit odd. You mention they could be set to clearing some troglodytes, but haven't really introduced the trogs at this point. Similarly, you haven't really introduced the lizardfolks' relationship with the dragon turtle itself. (There's also a typo: "Hesseth regards the adventurer’s arrival" instead of "adventurers' arrival.")

Chapter 2 -- Name's slightly better, but still not really inspiring.

I think the trogs are a missed opportunity. There's no reason for the PCs not to just wipe them out as the lizardfolk wanted. It would be better to have set it up for the PCs to have to decide which to support, I think. Similarly, you introduce the flock here, but there's no point to them that I can see (maybe that'll come later?).

I like the monster, I think. Wasn't crazy about the name at first, but I think it makes sense and I could see some fun possibilities with them.

Chapter 3 -- I suspect most parties would just kill the medusa. This feels like a pretty standard adventure here, and while there's nothing wrong with it, it doesn't really inspire excitement. The chapter name makes me wonder if the medusa is supposed to be the lantern bearer and play a bigger role, but the whole thing is pretty bare (I assume because of word count issues).

Oh wait, something about Chapter 4's name made me finally just realize that the chapter names are constellations. Unfortunately, they're still just not exciting chapter names on their own (though does show nice research of Golarion), and I think just needed more tie-ins. It makes me think there's something more here but it's just not quite coming to the surface (no pun intended).

Chapter 4 -- Again, unfortunately, I'm afraid something feels missing. This just seems like such a strange measure to free the turtle. You mention in your end note that adventurers may find some other way to free the turtle and that'll be addressed in the module, but that seems like the crux of the module and a good chunk of it is based on the PCs solving it the way you want them to. I think that's a problem.

In addition, I think the final attack with the lizardfolk feels a bit anti-climactic -- and the Wild Magri really comes out of nowhere.

The magic item doesn't do much for me -- it's an amulet of flight with a little kicker.

I wish I could be more positive about this, but while I see some glimmers of potential here, I just don't think it's executed.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I think that there are a lot of fun ideas here, particularly the friendly Desnan dragon turtle and the Starsong Orrery. Granted, it does need a lot of development - but I believe that it can be done. While all the entries had their high points, the gentle whimsy of this one makes it a winner in my eyes.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Mark D Griffin

Jacob W. Michaels wrote:

Beyond that, I'm a little concerned this will in fact be a "grueling slog" as you call it. It feels like it's a lot of "random" adventures (whether they're planned or not) for little purpose other than having adventures.

I have to disagree with this point. One of the things I love about this adventure is that it doesn't hand-wave how the PCs got to the Sodden Lands or why they're here. This is a dangerous place that isn't traveled to lightly, and the traveling should feel dangerous as well. If your trip to the Sodden Lands, a storm-wracked, uncivilized wasteland, doesn't feel a bit like being trapped in a Jumanji movie from start to finish, then you're doing the place a disservice.

As long as the encounters are interesting and unique, and I have ample evidence to suggest that they will be based on Jason's previous round and his boggard dam, I think Chapter 1 of this adventure is super important to do this location justice.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Mark D Griffin

I know that picking your favorite in this round is pretty subjective, but I wanted to respond to 3 things that I saw the mentioned more than once and offer another opinion.

Why save the turtle?

Honestly, why do we do anything when we play? Why save the aging adventurers of the Golden Watch? Why save Dustpawn? Why save Vegazi? Why save Lady Delbarra Axebringer and her clan? You can only make your PCs relatives or descendants of troubled NPCs so many times before it becomes old hat. Perhaps your games work differently than mine, but if we sit down to play a published adventure that someone paid money for, we have entered into an unspoken contract. The DM has said he has an adventure that he thinks would be fun and is willing to run for the players, and the players agree to play ball. They can of course go about the adventure anyway they wish, but they are going to go on it. If the adventure involves saving an NPC, then they save the NPC. If that isn’t the case, then really I can say why would I ever follow any of the plots of any adventure?

But there is no villain?!?

The rules for round 5 said that you could create and adventure based around a location in the Sodden Lands. Can you have an adventure that doesn’t involve stopping a villain? Of course you can! An adventure needs excitement, danger, obstacles and resolution, all of which this proposal has without a central villain. Plenty of great adventure stories, films, books and games have been told where the antagonist was the environment, the circumstances, or overcoming yourself. Neil in particular seems to think that you can’t have adventure without a villain orchestrating everything, but that seems more like a personal bias than an actual rule to me. Obviously, here Neil’s opinion is inherently worth more than mine, but I still wanted to make the distinction.


This is the one I don’t get at all. A sentient creature was raised by a Desnan worshiper in a Desnan Temple and has lived there for 100 years. Is it silly that the creature worships Desna? It makes sense to me. Is Moonshell an unlikely NPC? Certainly, but those are my favorite kinds! Is he any more unlikely than Arueshalae from WotW? Less so I’d imagine, so I’m not sure what makes him silly.

Wild Magni rides a dire crocodile in a final fight against the NPCs who are currently riding Moonshell. If I described this to my PCs, I don’t think it would be silly, I think it would be thrilling and a little scary. The monster he’s based on from the Monster Codex rides a dinosaur, is that less silly? Is it silly that a dwarven temple animates and lumbers towards a city at the end of Clash of the Kingslayers? Is it silly that a bunch of wizards make a magic spaceship and then accidentally combine with their familiars to make animal creatures in When Doom Came to Dustpawn? These things are all fantastic and unexpected, but I don’t think any of them are silly, and I fail to see the difference between these things. Perhaps I’m a bad judge of this sort of thing, because I like when things get weird. I’m going to agree with Harp Rose and say that perhaps we take things too seriously in this contest.

I realize I’ve gone and written another wall of text, I make a habit of that. I think all the proposals are great, but this one seems like a breath of fresh air to me. It does some things that I’ve seen done in other Paizo material, but at the same time it does some things we don’t see enough of.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Jason, there's something about your adventure proposal that appeals to me in a way I can't quite explain. I don't think it's the best polished entry this round, and I agree there are major issues that need to be addressed during development. Yet, I keep coming back to it.

I really like the core idea here. It feels fresh and unexpected to me, and there's a certain magical naiveté in it. The absence of a major villain is definitely a risky choice, but it is also a change of pace compared to a typical kill-the-bad-guy-stop-his-plan adventure (I admit I'm finishing up one of those right now...). The more I think about the premise of Escape from Moonshell Grotto, the more I'm sure I'd like to play it.

This said, I think this needs a lot more work than some of the other proposals, and you'd really need to revise many aspects of it to make sure a trivial thing like a fly spell doesn't ruin the whole thing. That's a lot of development, to make the necessary changes without losing the soul of this proposal, but I believe it would be worth it to create a memorable, albeit niche, adventure.

Going by my gut feeling... this one has my vote.

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

Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Thanks to your creations for this RPGSS, you established for yourself a strong identity as a designer with a specific style. When I think of Jason Evans, I think of a designer who can give us back the amazement and wonder we usually lost to the ages.

Here, I feel like this is present in the concept of the adventure, but hidden behind lots of not-so-exciting elements.

And the whole feels too simple and "aim straight" for my taste. Though I cannot exactly call it railroady, it leaves a similar impression, while what I like in a sense of wonders, and what I appreciated in your previous creations is the sense of possibilties.

Here, the story itself does not offer that many possibilities for the unexpected or things branching out in surprising ways. The Dragon Turtle being an honest-to-Desna Good and faithful worshipper of a benevolent deity kills many possibilities for complications. This is even needlessly reinforced by Meika wholeheartedly siding with it. What possibilities do PCs have here except doing what is expected of them ? There is no dilemna, no drama, no unexpected twist.

You gave a precious few bits with some of the RP possibilities and especially the 3 survivors, but I would have liked for the PCs to have some moral choices to make or villain to outwit.

That said, I think you have shown that you have a style and flair for the child's wonder. After all a hovering white dragon turtle rising from its grotto to meet the stars IS damn cool. I think you should strengthen that in the future while also opening the possibilities for the PCs to shine. I hope to see more of your work then.

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

You had me at dragon turtle.

I think this has kept me too, though maybe not. I think the various elements are not as well combined as they could be, but the elements all seemed fun & that is important. I didn't realize this until reading Neil's comments, but a villain might have brought these elements together. Certainly a villain holding the dragon turtle prisoner will answer some of Adam's concerns a fly potion will not work in the presence of Dr. Graviton. A villain might also be able to (temporarily?) make the dragon turtle into an encounter. (I still wonder how much digging a dragon turtle could accomplish in 100, 80 or even 10 years?)

But I like Mark's suggestion that a villain doesn't need to be there, or more specifically doesn't need to be a physical presence. It could be a curse, it could be a cult of Ghalunder, it could even be the constellations affecting mere mortals on Golorian as they are wont to do as I write this I am expecting conflict with a lantern bearer to have significance & I won't buy a lottery ticket until the moon reaches the rider. I think a developer could help decide what [villain/force] it is that would tighten this up. I think once that is decided it will come together quickly. But its not there now.

This pitch does need the fun elements to have a path. Is its absence too much to override the fun aspects? I am not sure & I only have a few hours left to decide.... :(

In any case this has given me some fun ideas. Nice work Jason and congratulations :)

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

Wanted to comment on these before the contest ended, but time was not on my side. Congrats, Jason for getting to the top 4!

You've designed a cool proposal very appropriate to the Sodden Lands, and you kept well to swampy themes while avoiding some of the more typical sorts of hazards you have to deal with. The very involvement of an orrery gets me excited :) -- what great potential in a fantasy setting. I love the lode motes, I don't think we have a lot of monsters that deal with gravity.

I did have trouble following your narrative and developing a sense of pacing of the PCs journey, and would like to have had a little cleaner organization. The adventure requires and presumes upon the kindness of the PCs, so to speak, and a more opportunistic party might take this very well off the rails -- while a more timid one, if Meika dies, might not feel the need to pursue the rest of the adventure on her behalf. We can't always presume what players will do but some more delicate threads may need to have been woven in here.

There's still some wonderful imagery and a good mythical feel for this story. Thanks for an excellent performance in this contest, and good luck, when the time comes, on your PFS scenario. I look forward to hearing about it.

Good show, Jason. There were some wobbly bits, but I feel like you really brought it. I think with a little work on the mechanics of getting the dragon turtle out, this could be a really good adventure. I don't really get the "silly" criticism, but you know, different people like different things.

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