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.


Contestants had to write Your proposal an urban adventure outline for level 3 characters set in one of the following Golarion settlements: Bloodcove (Mwangi Expanse), Caliphas (Ustalav), Corentyn (Cheliax), Diobel (Absalom), Katapesh (the city), Nisroch (Nidal), Pezzack (Cheliax), Riddleport (Varisia), Solku (Katapesh), or Vigil (Lastwall).

Corentyn, situated where the Inner Sea meets the Arcadian Ocean, boasts a flourishing slave trade.The Order of the Chain oversees these dealings, but the Hellknights are not incorruptible. Resistance groups and criminals take advantage of their greed to smuggle slaves through the city. When a ruthless crime lord implicates the PCs in the murder of several Hellknights, they uncover a plot to destroy the resistance from within.

When the Watchknights of Vigil cannot catch an elusive criminal, a knight approaches the PCs with a risky proposition. As undercover operatives, they follow clues through places high and low, and uncover a plot involving Vigil's ancient enemies. Time is running out as the PCs prepare to face a cunning enemy that seeks to plunge Vigil into turmoil.

Mikko and I have worked on a couple projects before (and probably will do more later) and it may well be in part because I backed his module. I liked Lastwall as a location, and I really liked the villain Mikko pitched, with her classic ends-justify-the-means motivation.

The PCs will travel to the remote Chelaxian city of Pezzack during a time of civil uprising, encountering revolutionaries, the Chelish navy, Hellknights, the mysterious strix, and battle shadowy adversaries from the ancient past in order to prevent a twisted evil from being unleashed.

A new tribe rises in the Hold of Belzken. Its dark matriarch is not yet prepared to confront the crusaders of Vigil, but the infernal powers she called upon for her strength force her hand by demanding a prize she let slip years ago. There are devils in Lastwall, and the nightmare of an organized orc tribe looms with Hell's puppet strings attached. A mysterious half-orc woman is at the center of these troubles, but can the player characters discern why before more of Vigil's crusaders and citizens fall to the Daughters of Fury?

While I love the intro, which I've quoted here, I thought there were some problems writing-wise in the rest of the pitch that made it difficult for me to follow (I remember stopping the first time I started reading it and having to come back to it). I also thought the PCs felt a little peripheral. (That said, I'm waiting for my shipment of the module — which I somehow missed including in my last order — and am eager to look it over and run it.)


The only requirement was that the adventure be for 5th-level characters.

Matthew Duval's The SevenVeils Masquerade
The followers of Sivanah have hidden away a secret world in the heart of Quantium. When the border between worlds thins on the eve of the Seven Veils Festival, the heroes find themselves trapped in the middle of a grand masquerade. They must navigate illusory realms and thwart the ruthless ambition of their host's rakshasa apprentice if they want to save the other guests and escape. When the veil is lifted at the festival’s end, will they find themselves safely home or lost forever in a world of illusion?

When yet another shipment of sun orchid elixir disappears on its way to Pashow, the desperate Emir Guldis secretly seeks help to locate the missing convoy. Pashow cannot endure much longer without the elixir’s gold, under risk of insurrection and conflict with Aspenthar. To avoid famine and war, the PCs must follow the missing caravan’s trail through the deserts of Thuvia. Their quest leads to a city erased from history, and into the millennial dream of its slumbering ruler

A retired cadre of lifelong adventurers, the Golden Watch, meets every year to embark on their latest "one last adventure." As the aged travelers prepare for their annual reunion in Cassomir, one of them disappears amid signs of foul play. Concerned for their missing friend, the Watch asks the player characters to locate and retrieve him before their anniversary celebration becomes a mournful wake. The challenges before them will test every bit of their mettle as they fight to save the Watch and rid Cassomir of an insidious evil.

It turns out I have actually supported winning modules, as I backed this one, which was renamed Tears at Bitter Manor when it was published. I loved the retired adventurers angle (which I noted reminded me of Gail Simone's quirky Welcome to Tranquility comic about a retirement community for superheroes and villains). I also really liked that the bad guy was an alchemist, which took advantage of one of the at-the-time new books from Paizo.

A key stolen from the Arcane Library of Tar-Kazmukh awakens the dormant guardians of an ancient vault. Its keeper has imprisoned the librarians in their own institution demanding the return of the key and those responsible for its theft as ransom. Can the heroes recover the key and return the thieves in time to rescue the hostages?


The only requirement was that the adventure be for 9th-level characters.

Galt is a nation on the edge. For decades, Galt has been eaten from within by sedition and protest. Invariably, whenever a new revolutionary flame sweeps across Galt, its spark is struck in Woodsedge. Radicals, abolitionists, and anarchists of all stripes call Woodsedge home, and a fresh generation of nascent treasons are furtively nurtured within its borders. Now there is a new rebellion growing in Woodsedge, a rebellion not of men and ideas, but of lost souls and hammered steel.

An unknown expedition to the stars returns to its point of origin—the unsuspecting village of Dustpawn. Strange disappearances and a blazing object in the sky mark the beginning of trouble for the sleepy village. Can the heroes save the villagers from fiery doom, reality-warping creatures that view the citizens merely as experimental animals, and a horrific threat from beyond the stars?

I hadn't expected to like this one as I was thinking Mike and I had different tastes in gaming, but I thought her perfectly blended the sci-fi and fantasy elements and came up with an intriguing pitch. I don't remember for sure (and my comments aren't completely clear) but I think this was the module I ended up voting for, making two years in a row I backed the eventual module winner.

The PCs must find missing travelers held captive deep below the waves of the Steaming Sea, where they learn that slavers have already taken the captives away for sacrifice. Tracking their quarry to a small island, the PCs confront the leader of the slavers and find the missing travelers. Just as the rescue seems complete, the entire island begins to sink and the PCs must choose to take their prize and flee or to stay and save hundreds of lives from sacrifice.

A power-hungry sorcerer, her adventuring companions, and a band of giants have overrun a monastery of Desna and captured its priests. The sorcerer plans to open a long-sealed portal to the dreaded demi-plane of Leng, where she intends to sacrifice the priests to awaken an entity of inconceivable evil. Can the heroes survive the horrors of Leng and stop the sorcerer before she can rouse the Scarlet God?

This adventure pitch changed the rules for Superstar as James Jacobs revealed in his critique that Tom had inadvertently designed something too close to an adventure Paizo was already planning, so much of the module would have to be changed in development. Even so, it appeared to be a popular choice that was really hurt by that problem. Since then, contestants send an "elevator pitch" with a brief outline of their plans that James Jacobs must approve before they can write the full pitch so a similar situation never arises again.


The only requirement was that the adventure be for 4th-level characters.

When a rift in the sky spills out a corrupted Shory city, the PCs are called on to save the day. The adventure includes details on the Shory city of Venlor and its locales; ranging from slums known as The Dregs, to the tops of the four huge towers that loom over the city. As the PCs explore the city they will uncover a plot of war and subjugation. To free the mongrelmen, protect their town, and send the city from whence it came they will have to confront the cruel morlock, Lord Kracht, earn the alliance of the mad wizard, Gek, and finally put an end to the once-noble brood of King Tiepolo.

When orphaned children in the war-torn nation of Isger begin avoiding the church of Asmodeus and clergy that have taken them in and a priest is found murdered, the PCs must investigate and try to figure out what's happening.

This was my first year where I was aware of Superstar and voted. I supported Isgeri Blood and Orphans' Tears, I think largely because I really liked the shades of gray involved in working with the church of Asmodeus. I noted in my comments that I was still learning about Golarion at the time and Cheliax/the concept of the church was one of my favorite aspects, especially early on.

Night itself has been banished from the valley of Karpad, by edict of its baron. Mystic flames keep out the darkness, but fear remains. For a decade, neither man nor monster troubled Karpad’s peace. Now, a broken promise and an unspeakable debt have turned the very shadows against the valley and its lord. With townsfolk disappearing one by one, can the heroes protect the people of Karpad from otherworldly vengeance?

Renamed The Black Mirror for publication, this was my No. 2 choice at the time.

The PCs find themselves in an old World's Fair style location, where they must deal with trouble merging from the laboratory of a deluded astrologer who uses a mixture of magic and decaying Alkenstari technology to explore star configurations in an effort to save his homeland. Unfortunately, he's caught the attention of entities from beyond the Dark Tapestry, who are exerting their influence on the region as a prelude to eventually coming through to Golarion. 


There were no requirements for these modules.
Vindar Salashi did not bat an eye when a mysterious foreigner began wooing his daughter. He did not shed a tear when he learned of their hasty elopement. But, when he discovered that they had made off with his most prized ship, the Mastrien Slash, the merchant lord cried for blood. Now, the pair of young lovers have run aground in the necromanctic realm of Geb, and the man asking the heroes to mount a rescue cares more about recovering his lost property than he does about the fate of his only offspring. Wreck of the Mastrien Slash is a tropical wilderness adventure for 8th-level Pathfinder Roleplaying Game characters

Crime of the century! A major House of Absalom falls victim to a heist of legendary proportion. One of 12 sacred artifacts created by the god Aroden is stolen from a nigh invincible vault. Through the machinations of an ambitious minor house, a coven of powerful night hags now possesses a cornucopia and from their fortress on the Ethereal Plane they intend to sell it to the highest bidder. Their asking price is nothing less than mortal souls. This is an urban and extraplanar adventure for 10th level characters.

Too long have the secret Vudran cult of killers known as the Yast-Maala (Ebon Destroyers) gone unpunished for their crimes of murder and assassination. Too long has the Isle of Jalmeray suffered from their deadly machinations. The Thukur of Jalmeray has outlawed the cult, and received in response an ultimatum stating that if he doesn’t revoke his edict, he and his family will die before the month is out. Now is the time to bring down the Ebon Destroyers! A Pathfinder module designed for four 8th-level characters.

A millennia-old artifact resurrects an ancient city from the depths of the sea, and the race is on to plunder the riches of a forgotten age! The heroes must overcome dangers past and present, including bloodthirsty pirates, hungry sea creatures, and the city's horrific last living survivor if they wish to uncover the mystery of the resurfaced city and survive to tell the tale. From Time's Depths is an exploration-oriented dungeon adventure for 6th-level characters. The PCs should be 8th level at the module's conclusion.


There were no requirements for these modules.

When a number of ailing barbarians erupt in violence in the middle of a market, the PCs must intervene. Afterward, they agree to help determine what is happening to the tribe, and journeying into the tundra and eventually a primeval jungle in an ice cavern, where they discover the cause of the affliction affecting the barbarians. The module is for 8th-level characters.

It's always hard to judge when you're reading pitches several years after they've already been voted on, but this one has always stuck with me. I suspect I'd have voted for it, as I think it just has a lot of very cool elements (PCs getting to joust on mammoths and dive with rocs? Riding dinosaurs? Yes, please.) And, yes, I realize what its competition was. I thought this was a really strong year all around, and any of the four could have been excellent, honestly.

Fifty years ago, two great wyrm dragons—one silver and one red—clashed over the ocean in a cataclysmic battle to the death. Both were mortally wounded and died on a remote tropical island.  Though both dragons are long dead, their warring spirits linger in the Ethereal Plane.  The PCs arrive on the tropical island and learn of the continuing struggle between the ethereal spirits of the red and the silver dragon. The heroes must survive the dangers of the island long enough to discover and stop a nefarious plot of the red dragon rider, Matron Dra'naga (female, lizardfolk, red draconic sorcerer, 10th), who now leads the red dragon's brood of surviving offspring (four juvenile red dragons).  Dragonrest Isle is an adventure designed for four 9th level characters.

A devastating hurricane has struck Magnimar! The City of Monuments reels from the blow, and another storm is gathering in the Arcadian Ocean. These storms are not natural, and thousands of Magnimarians are counting on brave adventurers to quell the oncoming onslaught of murderous wind before the city is brought, crumbling, to its knees. The PCs will have to out-maneuver politicians, slog through stagnant swamps occupied by shape-shifting frogmen, and battle the vile Boiling Sisterhood on the ocean floor among the massive pilings of the Irespan before their goal is realized. Can they do it? Or will the Boiling Maiden's retribution be final? The module is designed for four 8th level characters.

The hardy gnome race crossed into Golarion from the primal First World during the Age of Anguish, leaving behind all they once knew. But when a shunned gnome bleachling travels a forgotten path to the realm of his ancestors, he unwittingly releases the sinister Fellnight fey imprisoned there millennia ago. Their dark queen, Rhoswen, now turns her gaze upon the forest town of Bellis, weaving a cloying mist among the trees and trapping all behind a veil of shadow. Can the player characters brave the mist and stop the queen before she permanently makes them part of her domain? Realm of the Fellnight Queen is a wilderness adventure for four 7th-level characters.


There were no requirements for these modules.

This heroic, swashbuckling adventure sets the Level 13 PCs on the run, framed for a high-profile murder – and into a desperate, high-seas chase after the villainous agents of Onuyaka, the All-Seeing Eye. Monstrous sorcerers and swordsmen in service to the Machiavellian ogre mage seek to uncover the Shard of Hell’s Heart, an otherworldly artifact hidden deep in the lost tomb of the Dark Titan Kothari-Khasis, ancient Chosen of Asmodeus. Racing these brigands to the strange and haunted Isle of Shattered Godhood, the PCs must face horrid monsters, deadly traps, unexpected betrayal, and the bloody memory of Kothari-Khasis himself.

This module will set the heroes against the gods’ blind wrath in defence of a dwarven city-kingdom. During the course of the adventure the PCs will cross swords with dwarvish valkyries, fight giants freed from the underworld, unravel an ancient secret, and explore a remote monastery. What starts as a casual dungeon crawl, will turn into a frantic pandemonium as the monastery is imbued with divine life to wage war on the city the heroes might choose to protect or even aid to destroy. Ultimately, the PCs get the chance to slay not one, but three kings in attempt to end this madness and write the final lines of an ancient tragedy.  This adventure is intended for 10th-level characters.

Traveling to a remote but opulent pleasure palace, the 16th-level PCs become embroiled in a power struggle between rival genies, uncovering a web of spying, corruption, and a diabolic conspiracy that threatens to explode into a major crisis.

It is the time of the Concordant Eclipse, a rare astronomical event when Golarion, its moons, and nearby planets are in conjunction, a phenomenon that happens once every 2,333 years. From across Golarion, sages and astronomers have flocked to the desert nation of Osirion, the best place from which to watch the eclipse. But wonder and excitement turn to fear and trepidation when the sun does not return at its appointed time, plunging Osirion into never-ending night. Recently translated inscriptions from the tomb of one of Osirion’s oldest pharaohs tell of a similar unearthly nightfall ages ago that was only prelude to an invasion by aberrant alien horrors from the Dominions of the Black. Fearing obliteration, the pharaoh asked his advisor Ibennu-awi, known as the Resplendent Phoenix, to save Osirion. Ibennu-awi, a wise archmage and theurge without peer, crafted a powerful artifact called the Burning Phoenix Staff, which he used to banish the supernatural darkness and the otherworldly invaders back to the Dark Tapestry. The Burning Phoenix Staff has been lost for centuries and the Resplendent Phoenix himself is long dead. But perhaps his victory could be repeated if the Staff can be found. Hired by the temple of Sarenrae, goddess of the sun, to find this lost artifact, the Level 8 PCs are directed to a reclusive wizard and sage named Rashidi who has dedicated his life to researching the mighty archmage’s legendary relics, known collectively as the panoply of the Phoenix. As they prepare for their journey, the PCs are ambushed by barghests in the service of Zon-Kuthon, god of darkness. Defeating their attackers, the PCs discover evidence that the cult of Zon-Kuthon wants to seize the panoply for themselves and take advantage of the preternatural twilight for their own sinister purposes. The PCs take part in a frantic camel race across the starlit desert, through sandstorms and territorial lamias, to reach Rashidi’s tower before the cult.

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