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:
Control your emotions: Getting into the Top 32 is incredibly exciting. With everyone congratulating you, it's easy to feel like you're a celebrity. Remember, though, it can all come crashing down in just two short weeks. Don't get overwhelmed; buckle down and do the best design you can for the next round. Also, as good as you feel right now, remember it's really easy to feel completely crushed when you put up something you're proud of and none of the judges recommend it to advance, or if the exit poll isn't going your way. I don't believe a single Superstar has won with unanimous suggestions to advance from every judge in every round; some have even had to overcome rounds where none of the judges recommend they advance. It sometimes feel like it's not worth working ahead on the next round when you don't have universal acclaim, but that's just putting yourself even further behind the 8 ball if you do move on. Keep an even keel, not getting too high OR low, if you want to do well.
Watch what you say: Part of controlling your emotions is watching what you say. Rules forbid contestants elaborating on their designs during voting, and contestants have been disqualified for skirting too close to the line. It's really tempting to justify designs but you just need to shut up. And it really is good practice for freelancing — it's tough not to talk about upcoming work when you're excited about it but the publisher isn't ready to announce it. Beyond that, remember everyone — including potential employers — is watching you, even in the traditional Guild Hall thread devoted to past and present competitors. You want to put your best foot forward.
Say "I'm sorry" ahead of time: Not to get personal, but do you share your bed with anyone? If so, and you're anything like me, you may want to apologize in advance to that person for some nocturnal restlessness. My mind races as I'm trying to fall asleep and I end up jumping out of bed half a dozen times to check on ideas — has what I'm thinking of been done before? Is coal-mining a thing in Golarion? Do any monsters feature a power involving "flensing" or is that a word/power I can use for my entry? On a related note, keep pen and paper close at hand so you can jot down notes to yourself without having to get out of bed.
Plan ahead: You need to focus on your next design challenge, but don't put get tunnel vision. I was surprised last year that we needed to have our initial adventure pitch (the bare bones outline to make sure we're not at risk of parallel design with something Paizo's already working on) ready before Round 4 began and had to quickly come up with/flesh out my idea. Start thinking about what kind of adventure you might like to pitch if you get that far. Same with monsters and encounters. Even if you don't advance to that round, you might be able to turn the idea into some other project down the road. I eventually wrote what would have been my 2012 module pitch for AdventureaWeek.com.
But don't lock yourself in: The caveat to the prior piece of advice is you don't know what the "twist" will be for upcoming rounds. The adventure I'd been mulling over in 2014 wasn't set in one of the cities Paizo asked for as a location last year, so I had to start over from scratch. In 2012, I'd come up with a nice little CR 2 monster, only to have the challenge be for a CR 7 monster. I don't think inability to adapt doomed me there (I didn't really understand how to design a monster at that point), but in both situations I had to adapt quickly. Be ready and able to change your plans on the fly.
Take some time off: Superstar is a whirlwind, especially when you don't learn the round's "twist" early. You're going to pack game design into every single spare moment you have. That said, make sure you give yourself a little time off between rounds — or even between finishing a draft and then editing it — to decompress and let your mind wander. For me, that means playing Civilization III, but maybe it's going out for brunch, spending an hour with a book, watching "Flash," whatever you need to do. Your design work will be stronger overall for the break.
Have fun: Superstar involves a lot of pressure. Make sure you enjoy the experience too. I still think of my 2012 run as some of the most fun I've ever had with gaming.
Swing for the fences: Finally, and I think most importantly, make sure you swing for the fences every single round. You don't know when or if you're ever going to get this chance again, so make the best of it. I remember when I filed my 2012 monster (again, not knowing that I didn't know how to design a monster at the time) thinking that it was probably an RBI single. I thought it would be a solid monster that would let me advance, but even as I submitted, I knew it wasn't a home run. I did my best in 2014 to make sure I didn't make that same mistake; even with Ketterak, which didn't let me advance, I was proud of my work and thought I'd submitted something that had a real chance. To really stretch the baseball metaphor, it may have ended up being a long foul, but I'd tried to hit a home run. If you're going to get knocked out of the contest, do it with something you're proud of.