Yesterday, I received my first round of design feedback from Sean K. Reynolds (SKR). Before I share Sean’s notes, I have some thoughts on Editors, which might prove helpful to the reader.
In high school, I was fortunate to be in a very strong arts track. Among the skills I developed were drawing, painting and writing. In the visual arts, I was solid, if not spectacular. My writing was good enough to earn me a college scholarship.
Halfway through my freshman year, I changed majors and lost the scholarship because I did not like working with editors. Like many young writers, I felt my work was far too precious to be butchered by editors.
This was the biggest mistake of my professional life which, in truth, had not yet started.
If you are a young writer/designer, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is — learn to love your editor. Her job is to help you make your work the best it can possibly be. Had I learned this lesson 25 years ago, I might be further along in my writing career.
I offer this advice because Sean gave me a lot of notes.
My younger self would have been frustrated. My current self is joyful. Every note is legitimate mistake on my part. If I want to win more paid work in the industry, these are mistakes I must correct. Sean is doing me a favor by pointing them out and offering guidance on how to correct them.
Of all the notes, there was only one which concerned me. I clearly understood Sean’s point, by was worried that making the suggested change would fundamentally change the item’s purpose and flavor. My younger self would have fretted (and perhaps fumed) over this note.
Instead, I dashed off a quick note to Sean which explained my concern and suggested a different fix I thought would address his concern. He concurred.
Imagine that. Two professionals exchanging the ideas to produce a better product. Go figure.
Below, you will find Sean’s unfiltered notes. I am working on my second draft and will share it — along with my point of concern and its fix — in a subsequent post.
- Gauntlets of Redemption
Aura Strong Conjuration (healing); CL 9th
SKR: The words “strong” and “conjuration” should be in lower case (likewise for any aura info).
Paizo has been inconsistent about whether or not to include subschool info like “healing”
- Slot Hand; Price 220,000 gp; Weight 1lb.
SKR: Whatever slot the item uses should be in lower case. Even if it’s just one glove or gauntlet, the hands slot is always “hands,” plural (see glove of storing as an example).
For any measurement — weight, height, distance, and so on — you should always make sure to have a space between the number and the measurement unit. So the Weight for this item should be “1 lb.” instead of “1lb.”
- Description: Forged by a dwarven paladin,
SKR: Although the original gauntlets of redemption may have been forged by a paladin, any character who meets the construction requirements can craft their own. Unless specifically writing a magic item for a setting book and you know the item is supposed to be a specific historical example rather, always write from a world- and history-neutral stance.
In this case, saying “forged by a dwarven paladin” eats up 5 words you could use describing the item or its abilities. Most players don’t care who created the item, they want to know what the item looks like and what it does. Most characters don’t have any way of knowing who created the item in the first place, so that’s useless information that only the GM will ever see.
- these rare gauntlets
SKR: Similar to the previous point: these gauntlets aren’t any rarer than any other magic item with this price, and calling them rare doesn’t make them more interesting to the GM or player.
- were created to lay the undead to rest. Rather than using positive energy to destroy the undead, these gauntlets use it to restore life to the unliving.
SKR: The wearer is granted a +2 morale bonus on unarmed strikes, natural attacks, and combat maneuver checks versus undead creatures.
It’s not clear if this morale bonus applies to the attack roll, damage roll, or both. You probably just mean for it to be on attack rolls and not damage rolls, so I’d phrase it like this:
The wearer gains a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls with unarmed strikes and natural attacks, and on combat maneuver checks against undead creatures.
Note also the use of “gains” rather than “is granted.” “Gains” is active voice, “is granted” is passive voice, and active voice is generally better.
Note also “against” instead of “versus.” They mean the same thing, but “against” sounds less hoity-toity (and PF unfortunately suffers from too much hoity-toity, and the editors are trying to take it down a notch).
- While the wearer has an undead creature grappled or pinned, these gauntlets drain undeath and evil as follows:
Mindless undead immediately cease attacks and submit to the grapple. Intelligent undead must make an DC 19 Will Save or do the same.
SKR: “An DC 19” should be “a DC 19.”
- Each round grappled,
SKR: Is this automatic, or does the wearer have to succeed at a grapple check on their turn? In other words, on round 1 I succeed at my grapple check against an undead, and it is grappled; does it automatically deal with this effect as soon as I complete the grapple check? Or is it more like blood drain, and it happens at the end of my turn if I have a creature grappled? Or is it more like swallow whole, and it only happens if I have a creature grappled or pinned at the start of my turn?
If it’s automatic, that means on my turn I can attempt a grapple check to move/damage/pin/tie up my opponent and this effect occurs.
If it requires a grapple combat maneuver, keep in mind that there are some character abilities that let you maintain a grapple as a move action instead of a standard, which would let the wearer use this ability twice per round.
- the undead is infused with positive energy; essentially Energy Drain in reverse.
SKR: Spells are italicized, not capitalized, so that should be “energy drain in reverse.”
I like the idea of using energy drain as your rules source for this, but “in reverse” doesn’t have a clear meaning and is really easy to misinterpret. I think it is better to bypass the reference to the spell and just duplicate the actual effects of negative levels, like this:
Each round the wearer maintains the grapple, the undead takes 5 points of damage and a cumulative –1 penalty on all ability checks, attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, Combat Maneuver Defense, saving throws, skill checks, effective caster level, and caster level checks (this does not make it lose prepared spells or spell slots). If the penalty equals or exceeds the undead’s Hit Dice, it is destroyed.
Readers will see the parallel to negative levels, but not have to decide what “in reverse” means.
Energy drain is 2d4 levels per casting; so does this give 2d4 “positive levels” per round of use?
- Hit points lost to “positive levels” are nonlethal damage.
SKR: This is a problem because undead are immune to nonlethal damage. The green text rewording avoids this problem.
- As long as the wearer maintains the grapple, there is no limit to the number of levels they can “drain”.
SKR: I think this is redundant (to the default assumption that you can keep using the item unless it says you can’t) and you can cut the above line.
- Should the grappled undead reach negative hit points, their soul is released from undeath.
SKR: Undead never reach negative hit points, they are destroyed at 9 hit points.
It’s debatable (depending on which designer you’re talking to or which campaignworld you’re talking about) whether an undead has a soul, so I’d cut that part. And, because the rules already cover death-from-damage and the new green text covers the death-from-positive-levels-equalling-HD, you can cut the first part of the sentence, too.
- Mindless undead crumble to dust as an ethereal voice whispers “Thank You.” into the ear of the wearer.
SKR: This is cool flavor. You can tighten up the wording just a little bit by saying “into the wearer’s ear,” which saves you two words (important only for the 300-word limit of RPG Superstar).
- Intelligent undead are asked if they renounce undeath.
SKR: This is unclear — who asks them? The wearer? The item? The powers of life?
- If they embrace life, they lose the undead template,
SKR: Many undead don’t have a template — standard ghouls, morhgs, mummies, wights, and so on. So it’s unclear what happens to them… and a whole can of worms trying to explain it within the word count of a magic item (in general, magic items shouldn’t create new rules subsystems). Best to just have the undead die.
You could add a line saying, “the dead creature can be raised from the dead by raise dead” (because normally raise dead can’t do that to a formerly-undead), but that doesn’t really matter in 99% of campaigns, and even if it did matter, by the time you could afford this magic item, you can afford to cast resurrection or true resurrection (which can raise someone turned into an undead). So probably best to not mention it at all.
- their alignment becomes True Neutral and they are restored.
SKR: Alignments aren’t capitalized.
It would seem a little weird that I could kill a paladin, use create greater undead on his corpse to make him a ghoul, then use these gauntlets to reverse his undead state and bring him back as a true neutral character who therefore is a fallen paladin. I see the flavor you’re going for, but it really feels like that makes this more of a plot device than an item the PCs would want to use, and by cutting that aspect you remove a lot of complications (also, if the PCs really wanted that character alive, they could easily afford the 5,000 gp for raise dead, they don’t need it automatically incorporated into the function of this magic item).
- If they attempt to lie to the wearer’s deity or reject the offer of redemption, they are destroyed immediately.
SKR: Overall (and I know I’m repeating myself at this point), I think this makes-you-alive again aspect of the item is a complication you don’t need. I’d cut it, and use the word count saved from it to make sure the works-like-negative-levels text is very clear.
- These gauntlets may only be worn by
SKR: You probably mean they “can only be used by,” otherwise a LG fighter can’t even try them on. Which actually means the item would have a sneaky detect-if-you-are-a-positive-channeler-spellcaster power, which an enemy could exploit “try to put the gauntlets on him… as in, “aha, he can wear them, he must be a good spellcaster! *stab*”
- divine spell casters who channel positive energy.
SKR: “Spellcasters” is one word.
Is there a reason you wouldn’t want these to be usable by an arcane spellcaster who somehow has access to positive channeling, like a healing witch or a white necromancer?
- If used by a negative energy channeler, these gauntlets do not function and the wearer takes 1d6 of fire damage every round until the gauntlets are removed.
SKR: When you are talking about hit point damage, always says “points of damage.” So that would be “takes 1d6 points of fire damage…”
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, Command Undead;
SKR: I think you mean Turn Undead, because Command Undead is the feat that lets evil (negative-channeler) characters enslave undead.
- Breath of Life, Energy Drain;
SKR: Spells are italicized, not capitalized.
Without the bring-you-back-to-life aspect, this item wouldn’t need breath of life.
Because the focus of this item is adding life, I’d choose a life-giving prerequisite spell like heal instead of energy drain.
- Channel Positive Energy (su);
SKR: These sorts of requirements are usually written as “creator must…
… be a dwarf
… be same alignment as …
… be evil
… have 5 ranks in the [Skillname] skill
… be caster level XXth
So this one ought to be “creator must be able to channel positive energy.” (And no “(su)” is needed for that.)
- Cost 110,000 gp
SKR: Ok, on to pricing.
Anything that ends up with a price of over 200,000 gp should be a red flag. Using the “no more than 1/3 of your wealth in one item” guideline, a 200,000 gp item shouldn’t be something a PC would have until at least level 18 (wealth by level 530,000 gp), which means the item is never going to see play in most campaigns (most campaign never reach high levels, and even Paizo’s adventure paths stop at around level 16–17).
Note that if you want to blast a specific undead, you could buy a scroll of heal (level 6 spell, caster level 11, 110 points of damage, DC 19 save for half), which only costs 1,650 gp and doesn’t take multiple rounds. If you really want to bring back that undead as a living person, throw in a scroll of resurrection (12,275 gp including the 10,000 gp diamond material component) and you’re only out 13,925 gp for your trouble… which, compared to your gauntlets, still leaves you with over 200,000 gp left over for armor, weapons, rings, whatever. Or you could have a staff of life for 109,400 gp, which lets you cast heal or raise dead, is rechargeable, and (because it uses your caster level) in the hands of an 18th-level caster does 150 points of damage (because the spell caps at that much), uses the caster’s ability score bonus for the DC (so it’s probably at DC 22 or so), and doesn’t require a grapple check.
For 200,000 gp, you could have a +5 flaming ghost-touch holy undead-bane longsword, which deals a base of 1d8+7 +2d6 holy +1d6 fire damage per hit (and at level 18 you’re getting 4 attacks per round).
So this item is way too expensive for what it does. And much of what it does (the instant-life bit) is a plot device that the PCs won’t care about most of the time.
So you need to rethink what you want this item to do, and re-evaluate that in terms of how PCs would or would not use it, and price it accordingly.
For example, if this were an item that added undead-bane damage to your unarmed and natural attacks, that would be cool (although it would be similar to an undead-bane amulet of mighty fists). Or if you wanted to expand that to to affect all of your melee weapons, or even all of your weapons, that would be fine, too.
And if one of the side effects was “undead destroyed by a person wearing this gauntlets are sanctified and can be raised from the dead with raise dead, that would be a minor ability with some interesting, specialized flavor.
You even could add that you could use the gauntlets to cast raise dead once per day, or (given that they rely on channeled positive energy) maybe it grants the wearer the Ultimate Mercy feat from Ultimate Magic (which lets you expend 10 uses of lay on hands to bring back someone from the dead).
And then, once you’ve changed what the item does, revise the price accordingly.