Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beast Breakdown, updated

Paizo's Adam Daigle mentioned that each year he judges the monsters contestants submit, he makes a spreadsheet to track things like CR, alignment, size, and type (and any subtypes). With that inspiration, I thought it was worth updating my own previous chart with the monsters created in the 2015 Season.


The following alignments have been represented in Superstar monsters (the number in parentheses is how many were added in 2015):
CG: 2
NG: 1
LN: 2
CN: 12
N: 34 (10)
CE: 24 (2)
NE: 21 (4)
There have been no lawful good or lawful evil monsters, Until 2014, all the monsters had been neutral, chaotic neutral, neutral evil or chaotic evil.


Monsters haven't quite come in all sizes and shapes, with none being Gargantuan or Colossal. That's likely a factor of the CR, which since 2010 have never been allowed to be more than CR 7 (and other than in 2012, were always lower than that).
Huge: 3
Large: 25 (5)
Medium: 37 (7)
Small: 20 (2)
Tiny: 7 (1)
Diminutive: 2 (1)
Fine: 2


Aberrations have been the most common monster type, followed by magical beast. As with sizes, though, these numbers have likely been influenced a bit by restrictions: In 2012, monsters couldn't be a construct, dragon, ooze, or outsider.
Aberration: 19 (4)
Magical beast: 17 (3)
Fey: 15 (3)
Outsider: 9 (1)
Plant: 9 (3)
Undead: 7 (1)
Construct: 6 (0)
Dragon: 6 (1)
Ooze: 4 (0)
Monstrous humanoid: 3 (0)
Humanoid: 1 (0)
Aquatic: 5
Earth:4 (3)
Swarm: 4 (1)
Incorporeal: 4
Native: 4
Extraplanar: 3 (1)
Cold: 3
Chaotic: 2
Evil: 2
Water: 2
Elemental: 1 (1) 
Shapechanger: 1 (1)
Air: 1
Demon: 1
Giant: 1
Kami: 1
Mythic: 1

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Villain Codex II Open Call still open for a few more days!

If you're interested in creating villains for the Pathfinder RPG and seeing them published, consider submitting something in the Villain Codex II open call! The deadline is the 30th. See the announcement here!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Bad Design Alert: Don't create a problem just so you can solve it

Advice: If the premise of an ability is your interpretation of how the rules should work rather than what is actually written in the rules, you're going to be in trouble.

Examples: You're designing a weapon special ability or spell that makes firearms as quiet as bows. Two-handed firearms become as quiet as longbows, while one-handed firearms become as quiet as short bows. Congratulations, you just designed an ability that (from a RAW perspective) does absolutely nothing. Don't get me wrong, I also think firearms should be louder than bows, but since the rules don't support this interpretation, I just house-rule it in my games. (I think it may have been mentioned in flavor text that guns are loud, but nothing in the rules text suggests they are louder than other weapons.)

Another example would be an ability that makes your teleportation spells look like the target(s) turned invisible instead. Or the other way around, when you turn invisible, it looks like you teleported. The problem is that the most iconic teleportation spells, dimension door and teleport, don't describe how you vanish. Does it look like using a transporter in Star Trek? We don't know!

The only teleportation ability (that I remember) that involves a visual description of the effect is the cape of the mountebank which explicitly describes the visuals: "When he disappears, he leaves behind a cloud of harmless gray smoke, appearing in a similar fashion at his destination." If the dimension door spell had the same visuals, it wouldn't make sense to repeat that in the magic item description, so it is safe to assume the spell doesn't have any similar visuals.

Designing an ability like that forces the players to interpret a rules element in a way that is not supported by the rules. Don't do that.

Even though it might seem like you've only created an ability that does nothing (which are annoying but harmless), you may actually also start a huge rules debate, lots of FAQ requests, and whatnot. You've created a precedent that will plague RAW discussions forever. Suddenly, retroactively, you changed how the game works. (Kind of.)

So. Don't. Do. That.

Design stuff that interacts with existing rules as written.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Spreadsheet Magic: Pathfinder NPC design tool

Last year, I blogged about a monster design tool I designed for D&D 5th edition. Using some of the same ideas, I started designing a spreadsheet tool for PF RPG, mostly because it might help freelancers working on projects like the Villain Codex and me when I'm developing the stat blocks. The main purpose of the spreadsheet is to help designers by calculating the most common stats of an NPC, such as hit points and skill modifiers, automatically. One of my main design goals is to make the user interface easy to use, and to make everything relevant fit on a normal-sized screen so you don't have to scroll or flip between tabs.

Let's have a look!

It should be fairly straightforward to use. Green boxes mean that you can enter text or a value in them, while blue boxes are check boxes. Anything with a white background is calculated automatically: your ability score modifiers, saves, AC, hit points, attack and damage, and skills. You even get the stats laid out in the same way they appear in a stat block.

Next time: Step-by-step instructions on the use of the spreadsheet

Friday, August 14, 2015

Art Preview: Villain Codex

Earlier this year, Jacob W Michaels and I founded Swords for Hire Development, a studio that runs projects for third-party publishers that publish Pathfinder-compatible products. Our first project was the Villain Codex, a book of villains that GMs can easily use in any adventure or campaign. The Villain Codex will be published in September by Outland Entertainment.

I received the pencils for the artwork earlier on in the project, and here is a sample!

Sgt. Maybn Blaine (left) and Hadin the Painless (right). Copyright Outland Entertainment

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

RPGSS advice: Discuss your ideas (but not publicly)

It's been a while since my last blog post. I've been traveling and generally busy with a lot of things, but I'm back and it's time to get cracking again. A new season of RPG Superstar begins soon, so I'll be posting some RPGSS-related advice (mini) articles in the coming weeks.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Interview: Legendary Planet Adventure Path Kickstarter

A Sword for Hire interviewed lead developer Neil Spicer about the epic interplanetary adventure saga Legendary Planet! The Kickstarter campaign will run until Tuesday, July 28 2015. The adventure path is compatible with both the Pathfinder RPG and the 5th edition of the world's oldest roleplaying game.

Friday, June 19, 2015

3PP Interview: Richard Moore of Jon Brazer Enterprises

I interviewed Richard Moore, editor for Jon Brazer Enterprises. He discusses JBE's products, working with freelancers, and more!

Friday, June 12, 2015

PaizoCon 2015 highlights

Better late than never! Here are some of my personal highlights from PaizoCon 2015! (Yes, it was awesome!)

Monday, June 8, 2015

PaizoCon Swag Bag: Horned Demon

At PaizoCon 2015, besides having a blast, meeting great people (including the First Sword himself, Mikko Kallio), and learning a great deal about designing for Pathfinder, I also received a bunch of cool merchandise in the convention's swag bag.

Among the many items I was excited to receive were a copy of Wayfinder #13 (there's an item of mine in that issue, by the way), a deck of Pathfinder Cards: Tides of Battle (which I plan to use the next time I run a game), and 2 Pathfinder Battles booster packs!

From one of those booster packs, I pulled out a Pathfinder Battles Horned Demon, and from the other, followers of Lamashtu. Usually, when I post photos here on A Sword for Hire, I select them from my large and ever-growing catalog of existing photos. For today's post, the photos are more current. In fact I took these photos just the other night, using the figures I received at the con.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What the Chase Cards Deck and Social Combat Deck taught me about skills

Last year when I was writing my round 5 adventure pitch for RPG Superstar, I bought the Chase Cards deck because I wanted to include a chase encounter in my adventure and wanted to mine the deck for ideas. This year at PaizoCon, my loot bag included the Social Combat deck, and I was thrilled to notice that the mechanics are very similar to those of the Chase Cards deck. In this article I'll discuss how these two decks have affected the way I see skills as part of encounter design.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

They'll be back!

Remember this contest?

The earth will shake and tremble,
When the monsters return.

August 2015.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quick links list for design advice articles

At PaizoCon, a number of people mentioned they've found my advice articles useful, so I thought I'd make a link list about the articles so that it's easier to find the ones you're looking for. The quick link list is now available in the right pane.

Beyond Mortal Concerns by Ismael Alvarez

In this week's guest blog, Ismael Alvarez discusses epic level adventuring.
Readers, please discuss your experiences with epic / mythic rules in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Monster pitch reviews on Blazing 9

A few weeks ago, I announced a monster pitch challenge in the Blazing 9 thread on If you're interested in monster design, have a look at the reviews (I'm trying to post one per day) and take part in the discussion. There's still two days left until the deadline, so it's still possible to submit if you want a bit of practice for next year's RPGSS, Here Be Monsters, and other design contests!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Emerald Spire Review – Part 2

Here's the second part of the Emerald Spire review, written by guest blogger Neal Powell!

New blog posts soon!

I've been quite busy lately, and haven't been able to post regularly. I'll soon be able to blog normally again, though! I have a few excellent articles written by guest bloggers waiting to be published, and I'll continue writing about archetypes in the near future. I'm also thinking I might do a series of articles about spells because I've designed a few dozen of them recently.

And by the way, the new logo (by Joe Kondrak!) looks pretty awesome, or what do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marc Tassin's Heroes of Thornwall now available!

Last year, I interviewed Marc Tassin about the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter. Last week, the Heroes of Thornwall PDF went up for sale on DriveThruRPG!

The Heroes of Thornwall campaign starter includes an introduction to Aetaltis, the campaign setting, detailed information & a map about the town of Thornwall, a detailed information & a map about the Green Briar Tavern, stats for NPCs, and the Temple of Modren, a Pathfinder-compatible adventure for 1st-level characters.

  • Read the press release here.
  • Check out the product page here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Interview: Steven Helt of the Four Horsemen

This time I interviewed Steven Helt, a.k.a. RPG Superstar 2013 and Famine of the Four Horsemen. Steve was also one of my fellow judges on RPG Superstar this year. He discusses freelancing, Pathfinder Modules, products designed by the Four Horsemen, PaizoCon, RPG Superstar, and more!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pitching Villains

Swords for Hire Development recently announced an open call where you can pitch up to three villain concepts. If your pitches are accepted, you are paid to design those villains for the Villain Codex, an upcoming product developed by Swords for Hire and published by Outland Entertainment. In this article, I discuss what makes a good pitch.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Homebrew Files: A Goblin Snake's Lair (layered full-size encounter map)

click to enlarge
I still consider myself a novice gm, but on February 8th, 2013, I was a true greenhorn about to run my 3rd session of Pathfinder on the 9th (for a party of six second level dwarves). Green or not, I like to be prepared, so I had planned a few encounters and had stat blocks on hand for each group of opponents.

For one of the encounters, I was ahead of the game, with notes and an outline already completed. Since I had time to spare before the session, I decided to sketch and print out my own map for that encounter, full size, to be used at the table. My inkjet printer will print on sheets up to 13" x 19", so it didn't take too many sheets to tile together. Still, I sketched with "light coverage" in mind (you know how it is with inkjet ink). Once I finished the map, I decided to add notes so I could have a smaller cheat-sheet to help guide me through the encounter. I'm accustomed to working in layers, so that part took no extra time.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Heroes of the Wild and Giantslayer 2: The Hill Giant's Pledge released!

I heard the PDFs have already been sent to subscribers, and the print copies should be available soon as well! I wrote a few pages worth of content for both of these products, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing the final products! I'll be sure to write an article about each as soon as I get my contributor copies.


This blog post uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Inc., which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This blog post is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Inc. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit For more information about Paizo Inc. and Paizo products, please visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Swords for Hire Development starts an open call about villains

To quote the official announcement:

"Swords for Hire Development (Jacob W. Michaels and Mikko Kallio) is excited to announce its first project, The Villain Codex. This PDF, being done in conjunction with Outland Entertainment, will feature a series of antagonists for gamemasters to pit against their players. The NPCs will be fully fleshed out, with stat blocks, letting a GM simply drop one into an adventure when he needs a statted-up opponent or build an adventure or even campaign around."

Read more here:

The Land of Living Minis

Here's a 70-minute-long high-definition video slide show to set the mood on game night, or while you work on your Pathfinder designs. Besides miniatures, the slide show includes images of dice and a few other surprises. You may recognize some images that appeared previously here on A Sword for Hire.

  • If you have any ideas about how I could improve or further develop the channel, I'd love to hear them.
  • If you have the connection speed, crank it up to 1080p HD and go full screen for the best experience.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Miniature Silhouettes

Figure 1
These images are examples of a technique that I plan to explore further. As you can see in figure 1, they're photos of the shadows cast by miniature figures on tracing paper. Once I have them, the silhouettes can be mixed and matched, and the backgrounds can be stylized independently of the figures. The last image in the series is an example to show how the photos can be combined to make new scenes (it's also one option under consideration as a header right here on A Sword for Hire).

If I can find the time, I'd like to make a ridiculously large composite image with 100's and 100's of figures—something you could scroll for a long time up and down (below ground), left and right, discovering areas as you go. I always loved the cut-away aspect of the cover art on the original AD&D Monster Manual, so that's part of my inspiration for such a project.

gargoyle, werewolf, watch officer, giant caveweaver spider

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the Design of Firearms, by Garrick "Cyrad" Williams

Guns in D&D seems to divide community opinions. The introduction of firearms to Pathfinder came with no exception. Debates over realism, aesthetics, and mechanics of firearms continue to appear on various forums. However, I did not come to talk about whether firearms belong in fantasy game or whether their portrayals are realistic.

Today, I will approach firearms from a game design perspective, illustrating the design issues of firearms in Pathfinder and how I designed house rules in response to a negative experience one of my players had with them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Interview with a Designer: John Bennett

This time I interviewed John Bennett, who discusses Shadows over Vathak and his career as a designer and developer.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Emerald Spire Review – Part 1

 I recently started an open call for guest bloggers, and here's the first guest blog, a review of the Emerald Spire Superdungeon, written by Neal Powell. The review is published in two parts, here's the first one!

Miniature Showcase: Pathfinder Battles Yeti

In these 4 photos of the yeti from Pathfinder Battles—Rise of the Runelords (#44), I used plaster-of-paris to construct a snowy berm for the foreground and some mountainous shapes for the background. The lighting and atmosphere were contrived to suggest either outdoor mountainous terrain or the inside of a snowy cave.

Click images to enlarge

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Golden Guardian on Paizo's blog

I just noticed there was some discussion about the Golden Guardian on Paizo's blog a few days ago. Thanks for the shout-out, John!

Also featured in that blog post are two illustrations by Marek Madej. I admit I had not heard of Marek before, but I was really impressed with the picture of the kobold (minor spoiler warning!) ...who is an NPC in my Pathfinder scenario.
Naktok (illustration by Marek Madej)


This blog post uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Inc., which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This blog post is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Inc. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit For more information about Paizo Inc. and Paizo products, please visit

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Golden Guardian released

Well look at that! It's a glorious day. :-) Read more about it on the product page on!


This blog post uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Inc., which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This blog post is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Inc. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit For more information about Paizo Inc. and Paizo products, please visit

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interview with a Designer: Jade Ripley

In the Interview with a Designer series, I interview people working in the RPG industry, whether as freelancers authors, illustrators, cartographers, developers, or in other positions. This time I interviewed Jade Ripley who is probably best known for his work with Dreamscarred Press. Welcome, Jade!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Miniature Showcase: Pathfinder Battles Minotaur

The minotaur from Pathfinder Battles—Heroes & Monsters (#30) is one of my favorite pre-painted figures (I have 3). When I first started taking pictures of miniatures, I practiced with the minotaur a lot. You can see a sampling of those photos below, including one that's silly. Also pictured are Pathfinder Battles—Heroes & Monsters: Half-Orc Barbarian (#25) and Pathfinder Battles—Shattered Star: Tower Girl (#7).

The one in row 2, far right, is actually a reflection in water, which is a technique I use sometimes to help achieve an eye-level-or-lower angle when doing macro photography (see the photos immediately before and after it).

Click any image to enlarge 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Superstar effort

Back in January, I wrote about my concerns about falling participation in Paizo's RPG Superstar contest, noting how comments had dropped by about 40 percent from previous years. I urged everyone to stay involved, even if they didn't make the Top 32, and make sure to give the competitors the feedback they want and need to improve.

Now, with the contest is in its final week for the year, seems like a good time to look back and see how we did, and I'm happy to say that participation (at least based on comments) is back on an upswing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Archetypes, part III: Archetype length

I was going to write a much longer post this week, but alas, I've been busy working on a new project and so I'll just discuss archetype lengths this time.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bursting onto the Scene

RPG Superstar finalists Brian J. Fruzen, Monica Marlowe,  Kalervo Oikarinen, and Christopher Wasko have already demonstrated superior creativity and RPG design skills, and I believe they all have it in them to produce professional-quality designs and products. In some sense, they have already arrived as notable talents in RPG design. But, there has to be a winner, and given the prominence of Paizo and RPG Superstar in the industry, the winner most certainly will be bursting onto the scene:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Superstar Adventures

I was chatting with one of the Final Four the other week and it was pointed out to me that I have a horrible track record picking winners when it comes to the Superstar module. Curious, I decided to take a look back through the years to see what I had voted for and how widely my opinion diverged from everyone else's.

It ended up being fascinating. And, since we're in the fallow period of Superstar as we wait for the module pitches to be revealed in one week, I thought it might be fun to take a look at all those previous pitches.

Keep in mind, I only have so much space, so I'm really going to try to narrow these down to the core of the pitch (whenever I can, I'm letting the author do the talking by taking the summary line from the pitch). You're going to have to take a closer look to get all the nuance (as well as some great advice from judges that I think would help any would-be designer when it comes to adventures). The winning module is in capitals.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Archetypes, part II: Going through the original class

In the second part of this series of articles, I'll have a look at the class whose abilities I'm going to replace with new ones.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

One Wraith or Two?

The wraith in these 4 photos is one of my favorite Pathfinder Battles figures. He's somewhat translucent, so I infused him with laser light to suggest negative and/or eldritch energy. The red swirls are d6's tumbling and swooping through the scene while the shutter was open. Of all my figures, I think I've photographed him the most. Orik Vandercaskin isn't bad, either. The face on his shield is well done, and he's a good figure for action shots.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Archetypes, part I: Outlining your archetype

In the past few weeks, I've discussed the different rounds of RPG Superstar -- magic items, maps, monsters, and encounters. The adventure proposal round wasn't a very strong round for me last year, and I'm probably not going to write anything about adventures at this point even though there are many useful things I learned while writing my Pathfinder Society adventure, the Golden Guardian.

Instead, I'll discuss archetypes (which used to be a round in RPGSS), describing my process of designing them.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Designing for Pathfinder: Searching for the Right Words

After designing just a handful of items and monsters for the Pathfinder RPG, I've noticed that when it comes to rules and mechanics, finding just the right words can be challenging. Not only that, rules and mechanics are exactly what you want to get right when you're writing materials for a game. Of course, you want your creative writing to be polished, too, but you can leave a little to the reader's imagination in an item's or creature's description.
saving throws: against or versus?

Search to improve your writing

Choosing the right words for rules text is less of a challenge for experienced designers with a solid mastery of the rules and a strong familiarity with the game's norms and standards. For the journeymen, myself included, one great way to find the right words is to search Paizo's PRD and for some keywords and phrases that are similar to what you're trying to get across, and then analyze the results.

This is true whether you've already written something and simply want to compare it with existing materials of a similar nature, or are struggling to produce or recall the right words. Even if you don't use what you find, you'll likely come across something in the results that helps you find the right words to say what you want to say. If you have all the books you need, and can quickly locate passages relevant to what you're writing, that's a nice bonus, but nothing beats the speed and filtering capabilities of searching with a computer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Superstar 2015: What's Come Before

With voting set to begin in a few hours in the penultimate round of Superstar 2015, I planned to evaluate the proverbial horse race and decide who I thought were the favorites to move on to the Final Four. The truth, though, the favorites coming into the round don't really matter. For voters' purposes, it often doesn't matter what someone's done in the earlier rounds, just what he or she does in the current one. The annals of Superstar are littered with contestants who seem like powerhouses in the first round or two only to stumble before the end and be unforgivingly cut from the contest.

There simply aren't enough votes, so if one of your favorites makes an error or even simply doesn't have the best entry for whatever reason, you're often facing a tough choice. Do you vote for him or her regardless or go with what you think is a better entry? Truthfully, all eight of these finalists could probably put together a good module (as could some of the other Top 32 who didn't make it this far, I'd guess), but at the same time this is a contest and they're being asked to put forward their very best work time after time.

Still, Steven Helt, one of the Round 4 judges, advised us to not "forget to congratulate our contestants and study their previous entries. For some voters, this round may come down to equally cool submissions, weighted by the body of work of previous rounds."

So let's take a look back at those previous rounds. Obviously, all of them had popular items, since we determined the rankings that resulted in them being picked for the Top 32, but that feels like forever ago. We'll go in reverse alphabetical order so poor Christopher Wasko doesn't have to be last all the time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Some thoughts on encounter design

In RPG Superstar, the encounter round has always been one of my favorite rounds. Below are some things I'll be looking at as a voter. It's not an exhaustive list, far from it! But I think the following are some good elements to include. A good encounter doesn't necessarily need all of them, of course.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Wyvern

A wyvern hunting the shores of a still desert lake
I present to you a small collection of photographs of one of my favorite classic monsters, the wyvern. It also happens to be one of my favorite Pathfinder Battles figures.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A dangerous encounter

For eight of the contestants, their Superstar experience is over in a few hours. For the rest, it continues for the last time. By making the Top 8, they've made themselves ineligible for future years, meaning it's now or never for them. (In terms of Superstar, that is; in terms of game design, they've got a great launching pad that they can use to start a career.)

But they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Superstar's encounter round is, in my opinion, the single hardest round of the competition.

First of all, there's that last bit of pressure. If they advance in this round, no matter what, they'll get a contract to write something with Paizo. Do that well, and they've got a good chance to become a Paizo freelancer. If they don't advance this round, though, nothing's guaranteed for them. Sure, they can still climb that mountain, but they have to do it the same way as everyone else.

I think the biggest challenge, though, is there are so many aspects to this round. Unlike previous rounds where they had to create a single item, map, or monster, now designers have to put all those skills together, creating a memorable location, a powerful map (though I wonder what effect this year's map round will have on that part of the challenge), and an interesting encounter that's mechanically sound. Lately there's been another twist as well, as designers have had to add a trap or hazard to the situation. It's a lot of balls to juggle and it takes real skill to get them all in the air in just a few short days (this was the round I was most tempted to use a sick day for in 2014, so I could have that extra eight hours to design).

Looking through previous years, a few of the encounters have really stood out:

Although a lot of the first year's competition feels like almost a different contest than the more modern Superstar, 2009 was a banner year for encounters, with two of my all-time favorites, Christine Schneider's Chase on Charred Ground and Rob McCreary's Monkey GoblinsAttack!

Schneider's starts with a great map and basically gives us a mini game, creating a set of vehicle rules when none were available. The entire encounter has a ton of action — sledding down the exploding mountain in mid-combat — that would likely leave players talking about it for ... well, ever.

Monkey Goblins Attack! starts wonderfully with an evocative name — even the exclamation point works. McCreary created a variant monster (one that is now part of official canon in Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Bestiary) and again gives us a dynamic encounter that involves a lot of motion. The map and location aren't perhaps quite as strong, but this is another one where players won't soon forget their trek through the jungle.

2011's BrokenCrucible Foundry by Cody Coffelt was another favorite, as Coffelt incorporates the chase rules, having PCs race toward his location in pursuit of his villain (chosen from a previous round). While the map is not the competition's most exciting, it's solid and Coffelt made sure it was stocked with interesting features, particularly the forge bucket and molten metal hazards. I think players would be intrigued to discover this location as they hunted for the villainous Tarvin Haddon.

2012 was one of the best years for this round, and I've already called out many of my favorites here in earlier blog entries.

Russell Vaneekhoven's Hungry Mountain Dragon didn't advance, in part because voters didn't think his Golarion lore worked and some other technical problems, but I still think the core encounter — the fight on the crumbling air ship — was an awesome one (one of the big criticisms was that it might never actually get to that point depending on what the PCs did). I remember to this day the time years ago when my half-elf fighter leaped from one sky carriage to another in Eberron and I think people who played this would continue to remember it. I play-tested it with several people from Paizo's forums, and we had enough fun that we continue to play together three years later.

I've previously called out Tom Phillips' Eightfingers Tomb as arguably the best location in any year of Superstar. I downloaded his Pathfinder Society scenario, Hall of the Flesh Eaters, in part just to see more of the Gloomspires.

Steve Miller's Brike Isle, like some of the other best encounters, adds a time element to the proceedings that ramps up the pressure for the PCs. It also in some ways minimized the combat aspect, which is a risky choice but one that paid off here. Encounters shouldn't always be about having to defeat monsters and this kept that in mind. Combined with the gorgeous map, it's always stuck in my mind.

Last year had twice as many encounters as normal and, because only four advanced, featured some very strong ones that didn't advance.

Perhaps my favorite was Andrew Marlowe's Pentraeth House. I thought Andrew (whose wife, Monica, is in the current competition) drew a great map and I thought his use of the previous round's monster (full disclosure: it was my guttersnipe) was excellent. I always like when monsters can be NPCs and I thought he created two of them with unique personalities that suited the original monster write-up while putting them in a slightly different situation than expected. I thought his encounter had some exciting action and loved the social aspect of it. Honestly, we exchanged encounters before they were revealed to the public, and I remember thinking the encounter aspect of his was stronger than my own submission.I remain surprised to this day that it didn't get more support, though going from 16 to 4 made that a tough round for a lot of competitors (myself included).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Daughters of Fury released

The prize module for RPGSS 2014 has been published! Besides the exciting adventure itself, the module also has 28 new magic items and 4 new monsters, each crafted by last year's Top 32 finalists.

My monster round entry, the immured, is one of the new monsters, and Jacob's poltergeist knot is one of the new items. Huzzah!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Some thoughts about the monster round and Pathfinder Online

I've been a bit busy lately -- writing my comments on the 16 monsters, trying to be productive in my day job, and working on a freelance assignment have taken much of my time, and I haven't prepared any particularly thought-out post for this weekend. (Thankfully Jacob and Joe posted really interesting blogs this week, sharing their thoughts on monsters and monster design -- please have a look if you didn't already!) I'll just discuss some recent Pathfinder-related things that I've been up to.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Monster's Essence

As I review the many excellent monsters submitted by this year's hopefuls in the RPG Superstar 2015 contest, I am reminded of just how much there is to consider when appraising and judging a Pathfinder monster. Much more than there is for items and maps, I would argue. Creativity and imagination play a huge role, and then there's style, accuracy and clarity of writing to consider, along with factors such as balance and mechanics. It is a given that some of these aspects can be judged objectively, while others can only be appraised subjectively.

In recent and not-so-recent posts here on A Sword for Hire, Mikko and Jacob have both done an excellent job discussing and addressing the many aspects of a great Pathfinder monster. I can't add anything to their expertise in that area, other than to describe my approach.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dissecting monsters

Superstar 2015 reaches its half-way point today, as the Top 16's monsters are revealed, typically one of the best moments in each year's contest. Monsters are a staple of the role-playing game industry, which is why despite having hundreds and hundreds of them already published in Bestiaries and Adventure Paths and elsewhere, more are created probably every day.

I have to admit, I didn't used to be the biggest fan of this round. I tend to prefer NPCs in my game design, so I preferred when the create-an-antagonist Round 3 challenge was to design a villain. But I've grown to appreciate the monsters more as I followed the contest, and really came to enjoy looking at them as I reviewed the 40 Here Be Monsters entries.

I wrote a bit about how I review monsters for Here Be Monster in September and I'll largely follow that methodology here:

I want an exciting first line to draw me into the monster and let me really visualize it. It shouldn't assume action on the part of monster or PC, though some minimal movement (rising up, or nostrils flaring) is in my opinion OK. This should be, at heart, something I can read when the PCs first encounter the creature so they know what it looks like.

After that, I turn to the write-up. There, I'm looking for whether I'd know how to run the creature if I were to use it as a GM. What exactly that involves may depend largely on the monster and its role. If it's a mindless ooze, I probably need to know more about how it came to exist, what it does in combat, etc. etc. If it's an intelligent creature, I need to know what it wants as much as how it behaves. Does it have a society? While there's certainly a place for monsters that you encounter and immediately enter combat, I like monsters that can also have individual personalities and let you play with shades of gray in your adventures: Do you team up with the evil dragon knowing that its reason for wanting the invading army stopped is much different than yours?

For this challenge, the write-up will also need to connect the monster to Nar-Voth, the top area of Golarion's Darklands. In my experience, many of the Superstar monsters don't truly hit home as Golarion creatures
my guttersnipe from 2014, for example, referenced the Inner Sea, but truly could have been found in any setting. The designers who really make their creature intrinsically part of the setting earn a lot of bonus points from me (I wrote last week about a few who I thought did that really well).

After reading the write-up, I finally turn to the stat block. I'm less interested in the specifics of the numbers than if they feel they're generally in the right location. If a CR 5 creature has an AC that's much higher or lower than 18, I'm going to be looking to see why and if that's compensated for elsewhere.

The special abilities are always the most exciting part of a new monster for me, so it's hard sometimes to save them for last, though I do try. This is where a designer shows off his or her chops, hopefully giving me some new exciting mechanic that plays with the rules in the same way the Round 1 magic items do. If you can manage to do that, chances are you'll have a monster I want to vote for.
A Sword for Hire