MurderbloomIn November 2007, in a thread named "Losing items" I wrote: "A major part of the challenge was that we had no idea of what the judges like." My item, and everyone else's I guess, were stabs in the dark. That of course changed (at least for R1) because the judges started posting advice on the RPGSS forum.
A drow sorceress, tales say, created the first murderbloom when her affection for a lover turned into jealousy. The petals of this ordinary-looking rose open when a command word is spoken. If the rose is touched thereafter by anyone who does not first speak that same command word, it quickly withers and crumbles into a crawling mass of hairy, poisonous spiders. The spider swarm attacks and pursues any living creatures in its vicinity for 6 rounds, after which the spiders scatter.
Faint conjuration; CL 3rd; Craft Wondrous Item, summon swarm; Price 300 gp.
In the same post in the "Losing items" thread I also wrote a lovely, though very controlled, Hitler rant about how the judges liked stupid monkey-themed items, etc. Thankfully I can now look back and smile at this earlier version of me, knowing that I've come a long way since then. I still think monkey-themed items are silly, but I also understand that in this contest and in RPG design in general, I cannot only design material that I personally like; I also have to know what other people like.
Let's have a better look at murderbloom. What went wrong and what I got right.
- The name could be better. Tacking two words together to form a new word works sometimes, but there are many better ways to name your item.
- With SKR's advice, it became abundantly clear that magic items shouldn't have backstories. Too bad I didn't know that when I hit the submit button. This is actually something where wondrous items are different from monsters, villains, organizations, etc.
- Describing your wondrous item as ordinary-looking is usually a bad idea because you want to make your item interesting, not boring. Here however, I'd say it makes sense for it to look ordinary because it's a disguised trap.
- Speaking of which, the judges later said a wondrous item should not be a trap. There have been items that have made the top 32 that are technically traps, such as assassin's rose, so it's not a hard-and-fast rule.
- It's also a spell in a can and a monster in a can, though at least it has a slightly unusual activation mechanism. As is often the case with SIACs, the mechanics are pretty tight and easy to understand because I was just reusing stuff.
- I've used the passive voice "...a command word is spoken", which I probably copied from a DMG item. Lesson learned: The only thing worth copying from the CRB (or 3.5 DMG back in the day) is formatting, but even the formatting isn't 100% correct for RPGSS because the contest has its own template.