RPG Superstar Task – Design a Wondrous Item – Description (1 of 3)

Right, time to start on that description.

The first thing we should do is review the general layout of existing designs in the target system, and at the same time keep the criteria set for the design in mind.

For this tutorial, this will be for Paizo’s RPG Superstar Round 1 item design.

If we look at each prior year’s Top 32 entries, all available on line, we can see a general pattern that consists of a short description (about 10% of the allotted words on average), followed by the main exciting power (about 60% of the word count) and then durations, recharges and / or secondary effects (around 30% of the word count).

Now, before we begin, there is one important fact about your design. It has to be fun. Simple as that, you can be as shiny as you can, as technically proficient as possible with the templates, use all the correct wording as laid down by the core rulebooks used for reference, it can be clever, it can be intricate, it can be deadly, useful – but if it isn’t fun, it isn’t going to work.

One of your routes to making any design fun is the choice of language and how you inspire the players imagination. This is probably the most difficult aspect of games design. It can’t be taught. It has to be worked at, all the time.

Item Description – The Short Introduction

So, we have our base item name, and our template, so let’s begin with that short description. Note that with this tutorial, we are building the first draft of the item. The wording, the imagery, the powers, the game balancing, the trials and tests, the feedback all come later. For now, let’s just get our first cut started.

Note that our base item defines the slot, so we can fill that part of the template in too! Don’t invent slots, use the existing slots of the system. In this case, we have a head slot item.

Here’s where we stand so far, placed into the template with the description broken down into what we will be aiming for:-

[b]Defiant Scuttle Earrings[/b]
[b]Aura[/b] ZZstrength ZZschool; [b]CL[/b] ZZth
[b]Slot[/b] head; [b]Price[/b] ZZ gp; [b]Weight[/b] ZZ lbs.
[b]Description[/b]
– evocative item description ( target around 25-30 words) –
– cool effect in game terms ( target between 100 and 200 words – the maximum for the whole design is 300 words, inclusive of template markup!) –
– secondary powers, durations and limitations ( target around 60-100 words depending on how much we need and what word count we have remaining) –
[b]Construction[/b]
[b]Requirements[/b] ZZfeats, ZZspells, ZZotherrequirements; [b]Cost[/b] ZZ gp

For the base item that will be part of the description, in prior parts of this tutorial, I decided on this

“…considering the core theme, there needs to be an awareness of the attack that we are going to effect. Thus, it makes sense to make the item a pair of earrings, as this closely relates the item to one of the senses of the wearer and so fits the synergy of that slot. This also means that I now have a delicate item that can be described in a hopefully beautiful and evocative manner…”

Nothing like setting myself a hard target! For our cool effect, I decided on this…

“… when you are in melee and are struck by a critical blow, the item activates causing you to scuttle quickly, turning with the blow and allowing it to deflect or miss either negating the critical aspect or making it a miss altogether.”

Limitations, hmmmm, there will be some. We can’t have it negate everything because that would be bad for game play. I think these will become clearer as we work on the main core power description.

OK, at this point we are ready to start, so let’s start with our ear-rings description. This needs to be simple but evocative, have no back story or history – it should just describe the item as it appears, tastes, feels, looks, sounds. Note that you never put basic materials in the construction, they always appear here in the base item description. So, my first cut stab is :

Delicate diamond encrusted golden shells with red ruby strands forming miniature crab legs reaching out from the shell form this elegant pair of ear-rings.

Not bad, a bit clunky, but a good first try to have as a starting point. Remember, this item will undergo multiple reviews, feedback and revisions, so try not to sweat the details or shoe hammer the words at this point, right now we just need to get our thoughts down into the design structure. Then we can look at it critically.

The thing to note here is that we have no history, no background detail, no “worn by Princess Gerta of the Ice Kingdoms of Kelah-wah-nah”. Remember from our discussion of the item description (see the latter half of this post, the section labelled Description – Breaking it Down),  adding history, back story, linking to home campaign characters or places will work against you in the public vote. Don’t do it unless you are asked to do so. Even then, you should stick very close to canon and the publisher’s world.

So, our first cut description is 24 words, not bad at all length wise. Placing it into the template we already get the feel of an item being born:

[b]Defiant Scuttle Earrings[/b]
[b]Aura[/b] ZZstrength ZZschool; [b]CL[/b] ZZth
[b]Slot[/b] head; [b]Price[/b] ZZ gp; [b]Weight[/b] ZZ lbs.
[b]Description[/b]
Delicate diamond encrusted golden shells with red ruby strands forming miniature crab legs reaching out from the shell form this elegant pair of ear-rings.

– cool effect in game terms ( target between 100 and 200 words – the maximum for the whole design is 300 words, inclusive of template markup!) –

– secondary powers, durations and limitations ( target around 60-100 words depending on how much we need and what word count we have remaining) –
[b]Construction[/b]
[b]Requirements[/b] ZZfeats, ZZspells, ZZotherrequirements; [b]Cost[/b] ZZ gp

Hmm, this post is getting long, so let’s break this into a multi-part tutorial on description. Next post we start on describing the cool effects of the game, and then a third part will cover closing the description and reviewing the wording being used and how it fits the existing style of the publisher.

Once we have those two posts, I will then have a more general post talking about passive writing and how it hurts your item design, and then we will move on to examining the construction parts of our item which in turn define the caster level and aura of the item.