Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Superstar resolutions

As we sit here on New Year's Eve, lots of people are probably thinking about their resolutions for the coming year. For a number of people hoping to compete in Superstar, those resolutions likely include becoming a professional game designer (which includes freelancing, as far as I'm concerned).

Superstar is, on one hand, one of the best ways to do that. If you manage to be in the less than 5 percent of contestants who get into the Top 32, you're going to have Paizo and plenty of Third Party Publishers aware of your name and a ready forum to show them your work. If you make the Top 4, you have a guaranteed contract with the biggest name in the business.

That said, it's also one of the worst ways to do that.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Workin' in the Coal Mines

Here are 3 variations showing an orc in a subterranean corridor. The walls and ceiling are hand-painted plaster, cast from hand-modeled clay. When I play Pathfinder, I often become very immersed, and imagine all of the action at eye level. Do you picture the action in such an immersive way, or do you stick to the stats, rolls, and mechanics?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thoughts about Map-Making: The Player's Perspective

In this three-part series of articles, I'll discuss maps based on my (admittedly limited) experience from RPG Superstar and freelancing. In the first part, I'll be looking at maps from the player's perspective.

I don't know the specifics of the map round challenge in this year's RPG Superstar yet, but I'll discuss encounter maps because that's the type of maps that I'm most familiar with.

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:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Detect Mojo mini-contest begins!

To keep voters entertained and make voting more interesting, I'm announcing a mini-contest: Detect Mojo! The point of the contest is to encourage fans of RPG Superstar to vote tirelessly but also to vote responsibly instead of just clicking away without thinking.

When you're voting, whenever you see an item you think is going to make the Top 32, add it on your list. It's good to remember that sometimes "what I like" and "what I think will advance" are not the same thing. Try to guess what other voters are likely to vote for, and what the judges are likely to choose.

To make the task a little less arduous and because it's quite impossible to see every single item in the voting, you don't have to pick 32 itemsonly 20. That way it's also easier to calculate your mojo percentage.

How to play Detect Mojo

All you need to do is make a list of up to 20 magic item names you have seen in the voting. Once the Top 32 is revealed, you can calculate your score (see below) and post your score along with your list of items on the Paizo boards. I'll make a thread for the contest sooner or later.

Note: Do not post your list anywhere publicly before the reveal!

Deadline: No deadline as such, but voting ends at 2 PM Pacific time on 13 January 2015.

Eligibility: Basically anyone (except RPGSS judges) can join in on the fun.

Contest prizes: I don't have any fancy prizes this time, but the winner earns the title "Master of Mojo". There are no official referees to check your list before the reveal. I originally planned something like that but decided to go with a more unofficial and relaxed contest. So, the honor system is used.

Each item on your list that makes the Top 32 or comes close nets you a number of points as detailed below.

  • Top 32: +5%
  • Alternate: +4%
  • Top 100: +2%
In other words, the maximum score is 100% (20 × 5%).
  • Note: If an alternate later joins the top 32, your score won't be updated - only the initial ranking matters. 
  • Note: The top 100 category may be something else this year. It's really up to the round 1 judges if they want to reveal which entries almost made it.

Last year there was no Detect Mojo contest, but I did compile a list of 21 items which I'll use as an example. Since the list should have no more than 20 items on it, I'll leave out the last one.
  • Abiding Light
  • Boots, Tower
  • Boulder Thrower's Kit (Top 100)
  • Crown of Webs (Top 100)
  • Ever Beating Heart
  • Fetish of the Frog Queen (Top 32)
  • Gauntlet of Earth Shattering and Elevating (Top 100)
  • Gloves of the Aura Thief
  • Goblet of Liquified Cognition (Top 32)
  • Groundbreaker Cloak (Top 32)
  • Harbinger's Knock (Top 100)
  • Linebreaker's Sabatons (Top 100)
  • Planar Rift Spike (Top 100)
  • Poltergeist Knot (Top 32)
  • Scatterstone (Top 100)
  • Slaying Shroud (Top 100)
  • Specter Net (Top 100)
  • Spellmason's Mallet (Top 100)
  • Star Cinder (Top 32)
  • Tactician's Go-Ke
That's five Top 32 entries (+25%), no alternates, and ten Top 100 entries (+20%) for a total of 45%.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Playtesting a Staff

Playtesting a Staff

It's been a busy week, so today's post is a photo only—I hope you enjoy it. Watch for an animated version in a future post. And yes, those are the sprouts of a sweet potato.

  • Help me with some captions or speech-bubble text—bonus points if it references RPGSS in a clever way.
  • Could this be a new magic item in action, or a spell? How would it work mechanically?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RPG Superstar: Mapping the Way to Victory

By now, you've submitted your item if you're participating in RPG Superstar, which means it's time to start thinking about the next challenge.

Unfortunately, the map round is ironically a little bit of unknown territory. Previous Superstar rounds have certainly involved making maps, but they've always been part of a larger challenge, the penultimate round that also typically required designers to create a location and an encounter. My guess is this round will end up requiring a map and Golarion location, since the latter will also allow contestants to show off their knowledge of the setting as well as creativity and writing ability, but I'm going for focus for the moment on just the map part.

Mikko plans to give some general map-making advice soon (and I recommend looking back at his post about his Round 4 entry in 2014), but there are lessons to be learned too from previous years. Just as you don't want to repeat a magic item in Round 1, it's important to know what past contestants have mapped out so you don't do repeat them.

Here are a half-dozen of my favorite maps from over the years of the contest. I'm trying to focus very specifically on the map itself, so my choices don't necessarily include other aspects of that round's submissions (otherwise Tim Phillips' Eightfinger's Tomb would certainly be included here). I'll go back and look at other aspects of the encounter rounds as we get closer to this year's Round 4.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Magic Item Advice 3/3: aurora's edge?

In the first two parts of this series, I created a very basic magic weapon and then turned it into something with a tighter theme and more creative mechanics. In the last part, I intend to tie the weapon into Golarion lore, to make the theme even tighter.

The changes between versions 1 and 2 were quite substantial, but how many changes did I make after that? Let's have a look at the third version, and I'll describe my thought processes and decisions.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Magic Item Advice 2/3: fire-blossom blade

In part 1, I created a magic weapon called longsword of fireballs to discuss the basics of magic item construction. However, one of the main points of the article was that a sword that can cast the fireball spell is not a Superstar-quality item even though it's useful for some characters and follows the same formatting as magic items in the Core Rulebook.

In this part, I explore ways to make it less of a SiaC and SAK, and to add some badly needed pizazz and flavor to it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Magic Item Advice 1/3: longsword of fireballs

Bobgar the dwarf often wishes he could cast fireball when he's facing a lot of weak opponents. But he's a fighter, and not exactly the brightest or the most charismatic fighter either, so investing skill points in Use Magic Device would be a very long and frustrating road toward fireballing kobolds. Why can't he just have a sword that lets him use fireball three times a day? That's how often Bobgar fights evil monsters on an average day, so it should be enough.

Bobgar consults his wizard friend Lolrond (an elf, of course) about magic items, and the wizard, who knows the rules of magic item creation like the back of his hand, tells Bobgar that creating a longsword of fireballs is possible, provided that the GM permits it.

Let's have a look at the resulting item! (I'm not going to explain why a dwarf would want to use a longsword, though.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

RPG Superstar: A Captivating Tournament

Captivating Tournament (Ex) Once per year, Paizo can conjure an entertaining and enthralling RPG-design contest that lasts for 90 days. During this time, creatures that visit must succeed on a DC 17 Will save or become captivated by the contest's alluring appeal. Until the contest ends, affected creatures have a 50% chance to act normally each hour, otherwise they spend that hour voting on wondrous items or other entries, and posting comments on Paizo's messageboards. Affected creatures with the gamemaster subtype must also succeed on a DC 17 Will save each year or be compelled to design a wondrous item and enter the contest. The save DCs are Charisma-based.

I'm here now, writing my first post as a guest-blogger on Mikko Kallio's A Sword for Hire, because of RPG Superstar 2014. Only a little longer than a year ago, I had never heard of RPG Superstar. I was, and still am, a player and gamemaster of the Pathfinder RPG, but hadn't considered designing for the game. Then, about a year ago, I became aware of the contest during a visit to, and within moments of reading about the contest, I felt compelled to design an item and enter. I shared this enthusiasm with a good friend of mine, and he, too, entered.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writer bios now available

Since there are now three writers on A Sword for Hire, we added a bio page for each of us three, so you'll remember which one is which. :-) You can find the links on the right -->

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So you want to be a Superstar?

Today marks the start of arguably gaming’s most famous contest: Paizo’s RPG Superstar ( Hundreds of gamers from around the world will participate in the eighth annual competition, hoping to get a chance to run the gauntlet and claim the grand prize, a contract to write a module for Paizo.

Entry this year is a little bit of a changeup: Instead of a wondrous item as in previous years, your magic item has to be an armor, weapon, ring, rod or staff. Still, plenty of advice from previous years' open calls are going to be helpful: Sean K. Reynolds' "auto-reject" topics have been available for several years, while Anthony Adam’s exhaustive guide offers plenty to help with mechanics, and I recommend reading through previous Top 32 items and the various Critique My Item threads for more general advice on what voters are looking for. They won't be quite as much of a guide as previously, but there's still plenty to glean from them.

Then, once you've submitted, you just sit back and wait for voting and then for the Top 32 to be announced. Unless you actually want to win, that is.

Even though there are weeks before anyone know if they'll make the Top 32, there's plenty you can do right now to prepare for a Superstar run. And if you want to win, you need to be prepared.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Jacob W. Michaels and Joe Kondrak join A Sword for Hire as co-bloggers

I'm glad to announce that as of this week, two of my fellow Freelance Forge members join A Sword for Hire as co-bloggers. This means that during the RPG Superstar season (and possibly also after it), there'll be a lot more weekly posts than before.

Welcome, Jacob and Joe!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part VI: Name, concept, and write-up

Here's the last part of the monster design series of articles based on observations in Here Be Monsters. From next week onward, I'll start writing about RPG Superstar, which (as the main page currently says) is "almost here".

Anyway, monster write-ups! Before you start writing one for your monster, it's good to consider what purpose the text serves. I think the two main purposes of a monster's write-up are:
  • giving the GM useful facts for building interesting adventures and encounters and 
  • making the entry thematically coherent by explaining and expanding upon information presented elsewhere in the entry.
Let's have a look at a few things that are useful to know about monster write-ups. (And a quick look at monster concepts and names!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Product page for my PFS scenario is up!

As mentioned in a recent update, I'm currently writing a Pathfinder Society scenario. The product page went live just a few hours ago: Pathfinder Society Scenario #6–16: Scions of the Sky Key, Part 3: The Golden Guardian (PFRPG) PDF. It's the first Paizo product page that actually shows my name, so it's a great moment for me. :-D

The product pages for part 1 and part 2 are available, too, written by my fellow RPGSS finalists Robert Brookes and Mike Kimmel.
A Sword for Hire