Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Serpent's Stash, part I: Murderbloom

Let's go back to 2007 when the first RPGSS was announced. A friend of mine told me about the contest and I submitted something... the best item I could come up with! (Note: We used the 3.5 rules and formatting back then, so the entry looks different from the current format.)


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 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.

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.
Other than that, it looks ok. It's an awful item by today's RPGSS standards, but I think it was a decent shot back then, considering I had no idea what I was doing. :)

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