Friday, January 30, 2015

The Monsters are Coming

RPG Superstar's round 2 map-only challenge is a great way to display, assess and judge the creative talents of the contestants. Those following the contest already know that conceiving and presenting an interesting location in a clear and concise fashion is a critical component of putting together a great module. And, as a voter, it's fun to visualize and imagine adventuring in the cool surroundings and environments submitted by the contestants.

That being said,

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Map keys

One of the interesting things whenever RPG Superstar introduces a new round (which has happened a lot for Round 2, with the challenge including archetypes, organizations and now maps) is the sense of the unknown.
For the challengers, while they've certainly seen maps from encounter rounds and published works, there's no sense of scope of what the maps will look like. Garrett Guillotte wrote a great blog post about the type of maps we can expect, but no one knows for sure. I think a contestant would be taking a huge risk by mapping out Arcadia, for example, but it could pay off. Still, I'm expecting largely location/encounter maps, at a scale where combat can occur.
Even for the voters, there's a sense of unknown in terms of what we're looking for. After years of designing magic items, for example, voters have internalized some of the past critiques: Joke items aren't going to do well, keep history out of your magic items, etc. etc. Here, I honestly don't know exactly what maps are going to earn my votes.
I do know it won't be based on artistic talent. I've posted my concern that that's what people will base their decisions on (in part because I know I have no artistic talent, but I've never had complaints about my own map turnovers). Maps have to be a lot of things, but it's the cartographer's job to make them look like they do in the final products; it's the freelancer's job to make something the cartographer can make into a piece of art.
Consider this post that former Superstar host Sean K. Reynolds made back in 2010, to show contestants what he expected for the maps. Look at his A- map. Are you back? Consider, that's an A- map. Now, SKR notes it wasn't A- for content, which is of course what we should be largely judging on, but I want to keep in mind that this is RPG Superstar, not Cartography Superstar. Just because someone makes a map that looks as good as Pedro Coelho's doesn't mean they're guaranteed my vote.
So what will I be looking for when the maps are revealed?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Notes on judging Round 3

Round 3 is fast approaching, and I've started planning how I intend to review the 16 monster entries. Below is a sort of a checklist I'm going to use, though of course it doesn't cover everything, just the most obvious things. So don't be surprised if I comment on something not specifically mentioned below.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Congratulations, Superstar

After weeks of writing, voting and finally waiting, the Top 32 will be revealed today. For those of you who don't make it, please remember to stay involved in the contest. For those of you who do, here's some of my best advice:

Interview with a Champion Voter: Azouth

And here's the last of the six Champion Voter interviews: Azouth!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Interview with a Champion Voter: William Ward

The fifth Champion Voter I'm interviewing is William Ward. Like myself, he's a member of the Freelance Forge, a community of freelance designers.

Map-making advice: The one-look principle

I originally intended to write a three-part series about map-making. In fact, I nearly finished the second part and meant to post it before the top 32 reveal in RPG Superstar. But then it dawned on me, there's one single piece of advice that in my humble opinion trumps any other advice I could give.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Interview with a Champion Voter: Thomas LeBlanc

Today's interview is with Thomas LeBlanc, who was one of the Top 32 finalists in 2012, when Jacob W. Michaels (one of A Sword for Hire's writers) and myself were also finalists. Like Feros, whom I interviewed the other day, Thomas is one of the very few three-time Champion Voters.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Interview with a Champion Voter: Feros

This time I interviewed one of the few triple Champion Voters, who goes by the name Feros on the Paizo boards. Thanks for the interview, Feros!

Ambush at Copper Gorge

When I gm or play Pathfinder, I like to imagine the action from eye level, which helps me stay immersed in the game. Sometimes, the stats, rules, dice and paper can encroach upon or even eclipse the fantasy and role-playing aspects of the game. When that happens, I turn to my camera and miniatures to get my imagination going.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interview with a Champion Voter: Frank Gori (GM_Solspiral)

While everyone is waiting for the Top 32 reveal in RPG Superstar (and hopefully sending in their Detect Mojo lists!), I decided to interview some of this year's Champion Voters.

The first Champion Voter I'm interviewing is Frank Gori, who is publisher at the Flying Pincushion, a Pathfinder-compatible publishing company.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Update on the Detect Mojo contest

Just a reminder to everyone who compiled a Top-something list: Remember to trim it down to 20 (post-cull) items so you can calculate your mojo rating!

I wish to interview some of the people with the highest mojo ratings (maybe a Top 3, depends on how many people participate), but to make sure the ratings are equitable, please send your list of 20 items to so that an impartial judge can go through your list and calculate your rating.

In your message, please include either your legal name, your messageboard name, or an alias you want to go by. I'll only post the names and ratings of the Top 3 publicly, so if your mojo sensors still needs some calibrating, don't worry, no-one will know your rating unless you post it here yourself.

If you don't want to be interviewed, you don't have to do anything just yet! Just wait until the reveal, then post your rating here or in the thread dedicated for that purpose on the Paizo boards.

Please note, the email address won't be monitored prior to the Top 32 reveal. So if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If you can't be a Superstar, be a Superstar Supporter

Superstar voting ends today. In one week, the Top 32 will be announced, leaving hundreds of hopefuls disappointed.

That's the nature of the beast, but in the last couple years, we've been seeing a lot of those people taking their ball and going home (or, rather, going to the annual critique thread to get feedback on their item and then going home), at least based on comments on competitors' entries.

Last year, the Top 32 averaged 29 comments each*. The number of comments ranged from 10 to 42, meaning the item with the fewest comments had just five people talk about it other than the author and three judges.

That 29-comment average is a 40 percent drop from the previous year, when items averaged 46.8 comments. It would be easy to dismiss that as a one-time aberration — 2013's Round 1 comments were actually right between the number in 2011 (47.6) and 2012 (45.9) — but digging deeper into the numbers, we can see that's not really the case. 

Crunching the numbers on the monster rounds shows the number of comments dropped by a similar 40 percent from 2012 (43.5) to 2013 (25.4) and then dropped even more in 2014 (22.5).  

Moving on to Round 4, in 2010, the encounter round threads averaged 63 responses (ranging from a low of 52 to a high of 84); In 2011, they averaged 54 responses (ranging from 31-76); in 2012, they averaged 45 responses (31-62); and then plummeted the last two years, when they averaged 22 (ranging from 15-29) and 22.25 (10-39) responses. That last number means only SIX people beyond the judges commented on one of the entries.

Now, I think there are various reasons those numbers have dropped, but at the moment they're  not important. What is important is that we offer Superstar support, and here's why.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different: Encounter calculator with a GUI

First, my apologies for not posting anything recently. Most of my time went to finishing an assignment. Thankfully, Jacob and Joe have been able to post some interesting stuff while I've been busy.

Because I didn't have time to write a second part for series of articles about map design, this week I'll instead show you something I designed to make my freelance work easier: An encounter CR calculator with a very visual interface. Let's have a look!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Champion Voter?

I've been casting a lot of votes in the RPG Superstar contest, and reached Marathon Voter status (1000 votes) early in the voting. I haven't kept track of my total, however, so I have no idea how close I am to reaching Champion Voter (5000). Last year, I was certain I wouldn't, and didn't. This year, I'm not so sure. The extended voting period may have put it within reach.

As we approach the end of voting for round 1, let me say thank you to all of the entrants who took the time and effort design an item. I have enjoyed every minute of voting and looking at all of your creative entries.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Superstar surprise: Staves

I'm pleased to see that almost all of my favorite items have survived the dreaded Cull — when Paizo winnows out some of the least supported items from the first weeks of voting — though disappointed that one favorite hasn't yet appeared on the community-compiledlist of entries. I can't say I'm totally surprised as it uses some more niche rules, but I'm hoping it just hasn't put in an appearance yet.

What surprises me most though is that staves are the No. 3 most popular entry. It's no surprise that weapons are No. 1 — Almost everyone in Pathfinder carries a weapon; even a primary spellcaster often has one as a backup, just in case of emergency (at least mine do) — or even that armor is No. 2, but I hadn't expected staves to be the third most popular category. (They were fourth pre-cull, but a lot of rings didn't make the cut.)

Part of my surprise is that staves were dubbed "hard mode" early on. Because they are by definition spells in a can, staff designers were going to have to make sure whatever other abilities their item had really knocked the voters' (and judges') socks off. I think people took that as a challenge, and many of them met that challenge.

The other part, though, is that to my recollection I've never had a single character, dating back some 30 years of gaming, actually use a staff. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Crossing the Ífingr

I hope you enjoy these three variations of a miniature frost giant on a miniature ice floe. That is real ice, real water, and a figure that I've used in my tabletop games. In 90 percent of my photos, the miniatures are still attached to their bases. Occasionally, if one comes loose as a result of normal wear and tear, I take that opportunity to set up shots that would be difficult to get with the base still attached. You can see the other two below, plus a bonus animated GIF.

Looking back at my 2014 as a freelancer

Jacob's post about new year's resolutions inspired me to look back at my 2014 and write a bit about how my freelancing career started, both the ups and downs of it.

A Sword for Hire