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.
(Disclaimer: I've gotten to be friendly with Chris since we competed together last year and have given him some feedback on entries)
Windstrider Mail: Allows the wearer to transform into living wind 3/day.
The Drowning Temple: I loved the central area of this temple, but as I told Chris (and posted), I was a little less of a fan of the area around the main part of the map.
Deeplit: A really evocative monster, I thought, even if the mechanics could at times be a little wonky (with the light points). Loved the visuals of it and felt like it had a great reason for being a new undead.
Harvestweal: In previous years, Death Quaker had posted about how the wondrous item challenge wasn't really her forte. The first year she got a chance to do something else, she's made it so she never has to worry about entering Superstar again. I don't recall seeing this cool sickle, which can cut through plants and wood without pause, which makes me think about not voting next year so you get that "oh cool" moment when the Top 32 are revealed. I really love how it has a defensive aspect to let you get out of entangles that works perfectly with the offensive nature of the weapon.
Town of Griffon Falls: Unfortunately, this was not one of my favorite maps. It was a well-executed town map, I thought, but just didn't bring enough to really excite me into making me want to put it into an adventure or my adventurers into it. Maybe a full write-up would have allowed that, but that wasn't the challenge here. I didn't vote for it (though was glad to see R advance as I'd appreciated her contributions to Superstar over the years and wanted to see what else she could do).
Spiroskek: And this justified that desire. One of my favorite monsters, as I thought it was just so imaginative. I loved the form of it, with the strange wheel and the kek-kek-kek sound. As much as Griffon Falls missed for me, this monster hit the perfect spot.
Fate-binder: This returning javelin could link a line of enemies' fates together, forcing them to share saves. I wasn't a huge fan, I think in part because I didn't pick up on the norn imagery. I think maybe if that had been spelled out a bit more, I'd have liked this more.
Ancient Cyclops Stronghold in the Icerime Peaks: One of my favorite maps, with cute little cyclopes heads pouring water from the frozen heights. I only wish there had been more of it; I'd love to see this entire location.
Dread Glutton: I thought the visuals on this were nice, and I thought it mostly worked mechanically. But I felt like it was a bit schizophrenic, torn between being the grub-like fey creature and the glowing mushrooms it harvests.
(Disclaimer 2: I've been friendly with Monica since her husband, Andrew, and I competed in Superstar. She gave me some advice last year and we were both on each other's "pit crews" this year.)
Spectre Blight: This heavy mace does a number on undead, allowing the user to channel energy into it and leaving incorporeal undead vulnerable to the bearer's companions.
Firebrand's Redoubt: Stronghold of Lady Delbera Axebringer: Another of my favorite maps. I love the axe-like shape of this, which works without being kitschy. I think players would love to explore this or, even better, call it home briefly for some time.
Narrik: This is another one with great visuals, transforming the somewhat silly blemmyas into a scary Darklands creature. I wasn't in love with playing with fear, but Monica does a nice job making all the powers work together.
(Disclaimer 3: Scott asked me to look at his monster and then his encounter after I wrote about his map. We've exchanged messages since the Round 2 reveal.)
Keyhole Stiletto: This dagger, which can cut through force effects, was another one I wasn't a big fan of, as the powers didn't do much for me and I thought the writing needed some improvement ("its true usefulness becomes evident" is among my no-no phrases).
Shadde-Quah Shoanti Cliff Dwelling. Calphiak Mountains: This cliff-face town made up for it, though. It was one of my favorite maps and I was a staunch defender of it. I thought Scott showed a lot of ability to work/think in three dimensions and this seemed like a place that was interesting enough that I would want my PCs to travel here.
Coryphae: A dancing dark fey. I had said earlier that I thought a dark fey could do well and this added in the dancing theme and tied it all together. As Scott noted, his first draft had 10 special abilities/weaknesses, more than Cthulhu, but I thought he did a nice job paring those down to a workable monster.
Fool's Scepter: I didn't care for this jester's-headed rod that gave a Perform (comedy) bonus; could daze foes; and allowed legend lore once per week. The powers felt like a proverbial SAK to me, plus the jester theme just takes me out of the game.
The Haunted Dinosaur Graveyard of Mediogalti Island: I was torn on this map, which had a lot of open space and was based on a location already in Golarion canon. It was a small detail that won me over, these strange black obelisks, which made me wonder what Ben had in mind for those.
Occularictus: This swarm of eyeballs, which could steal an adventurer's eyes, was one of my top two monsters along with the spiroskek. The two of them were good enough that I wasn't able to vote for one of the monsters I'd given feedback on. It's incredibly disturbing and I think a player would remember an encounter with these guys for a long, long time.
Pyroclastic spike: This rod gave its owner an hour of fire resistance three times per day and could call forth a river of lava once per day. Great visual, even if there were some concerns with the actual rules (i.e. lava's really dangerous).
Salvation's End: Visually, this is one of my favorite maps, a partially destroyed tower with a sinkhole. It's small, which limits the area to adventure in, but an encounter here could be very memorable with the multiple levels each open to each other.
Geomaw: This creature lacks a little bit in the actual description of what it looks like (in part because it's meant to look a bit like a cave opening), but otherwise is written really well. The blood lantern ability, emitting red light, is a great way to incorporate visuals into a power. For me, this was competing with the labyrinth weaver to be the No. 8 entry.
Staff of the Prime Mover: With a reference to Aristotle in the name, this staff aimed high and mostly hit its mark. I think there was a lot of discussion about how to make a staff be Superstar, and this certainly showed the way by having the staff's abilities modify the spells it incorporated.
Caverns of Steam, near Dwimovel (Darklands, Sekamina): A nice, well-colored, map of a small Darklands cave system, with a number of possible encounters. I don't know that this is a place I'd need my PCs to go often, but I could certainly see sending them through here once or twice. I'm running Savage Tide and it could easily be inserted into "The Lightless Depths" with minimal changes.
Gloomwasp: This underground wasp that can corrupt light was another of the really good monsters, using new rules along with some neat mechanics. I really liked the idea that it could turn the PCs' light sources against them, though wanted that to take a little less effort on their part, as I don't think it would actually come up all that often.