Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best of Superstar

With five days since voting opened, Paizo's RPG Superstar contest is in full swing. The messageboards are humming — more than 2,500 votes in this year's "ramble" thread alone —as voters sort the hundreds (at least) of items into rankings for the judges. Among them are 32 that will earn their creators entry into the contest, and others that won't survive the annual cull of the lowest-ranked choices.

If you want to be a designer — and I assume you do if you're participating in the contest and reading this blog — I highly recommend voting: There are plenty of lessons to be learned about good game design. That said, it can also be a frustrating process too, as you wade through some items that aren't ready for prime time, some of which keep coming up again and again.

As a little refresher, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the other finalists. Here are a handful that have stuck in my memory over the years, the first ones I think of when I think of the contest:

2008: Samuel Kisko's migrus locker. This one's all about the visuals to me, which shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I don't necessarily recall the item's powers (and considering it was in the very earliest days of Pathfinder, it's really hard to compare these first-year items with today's), but being visual is always the way to stand out. 

2009: Neil Spicer's last leaves of the autumn dryad, perhaps the most famous Superstar item (though part of that could just be Neil's role as a longtime judge). Still, this is the benchmark for how you can make a couple spells-in-a-can be Superstar. And even though this year's contest has changed from wondrous items, those classic rules from Sean K. Reynolds still applies: An item that lets you cast spell x three times a day probably isn't going to make the Top 32 unless the creator does something to make it really stand out.

2010: Matthew McGee's batrachian helm is another one that had really great visuals. It's got nice, clean simple mechanics that are certainly useful — in a couple possible ways — and the name really works for me, even with the uncommon word choice. A couple more memorable ones from this year were Matthew Morris' tankard of thecheerful duelist and Tom Phillips' troll fingers (which still kind of gross me out even as I thought they really expanded the wondrous item space).

2011: Eric Hindley's shadow falconer's glove remains my single, all-time favorite Top 32 item. I was exchanging emails with a friend before this year's contest and we were talking about what three items SCREAMED Superstar, and this is the first one I brought up. To me, it argues for the importance of a core idea and not packing on extra powers that muddy up the central ability. This glove knows what it is and does it well, using simple mechanics and a great visual. I can never say enough about it.

2012: James Olchak's rajah's silhouette again brings the visuals; if you can't see the squashed judge from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," when you read this (along with other similar options), you need to rewatch that movie.

This was my first year being really involved in the contest, so a few more that I feel I have to mention:  Mark Hart's spellblight cage, Ian Studebaker-Gray's silhouette of thephantasmagoria, Mikko Kallio's vexing spirit lamp and Andrew Newton's sticky pugfoot are among what I thought was an especially strong year for Superstar.

2013: James Conder's map of refuge was such a novel idea that everyone knew it would make Top 32 in the first year of public voting. Advice threads have hammered home not to do mapping items, but this turned that advice on its head. Any seafaring campaign should have one of these at some point as a magic item for the PCs to find.

2014: Mark Nordheim's horned helm of the wild stag evoked the wild hunt (a favorite legend) so well to me that it was one of fewer than 20 items on my personal keep list from last year's voting. I thought the powers were unique and meshed well with the form of the item and effect, making it a great overall package. Another couple favorites from this year:Tyler Cowart's jar of mottled clay and Mike Kimmel's earthbind boots.

Now it's your turn. Think back. Which of the items from contests past would have earned your upvote? Any that just didn't cut it for you?

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