2019 IRON DM Tournament

Gradine

Polymorphed Self
Welcome, one and all, to the 2019 IRON DM Tournament. Eight contestants enter the arena. One emerges as the IRON DM 2019.

To keep down the clutter, all scheduling will take place in the scheduling thread. Ingredients, entries, and judgements will all be posted in this thread. As usual, commentary and trash-talk good-natured raillery also should be posted in this thread (for posterity).

This post will be maintained with a link to every entry and every judgement, with latter ones hidden behind spoiler tags. Be warned, however, that tags are not universal between the different viewing mediums available nowadays, so use this resource with caution if you don’t want to know who won a match before reading its judgement(s).

The Basics:

The tournament is set up in a single-elimination bracket style, with each match determined based on scheduling availability among the eligible contestants.

Each match will consist of two contestants given a single set of ingredients with which to construct a brief adventure or adventure synopsis in any game system or genre. You should waste neither time, nor words, on overly detailed stats, but you should also not assume familiarity with any given system or genre. Explain what you need to explain, and stop there!

These entries will be evaluated on their own merits and those evaluations will then be compared to determine the winner of a match, who will then proceed to the next round.

All matches will be given a time-frame to submit the entries within. An entry that is late will still be accepted, but with a penalty applied to its word-limit. Late entries that are less than 1 hour late will have their word-limits reduced by 10% (meaning, for example, a first-round entry would have its word-limit reduced from 750 to 675, which is harsher than it looks). Entries that are at least 1 hour late, but less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced by 30%. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced by 50%. Entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the other competitor and judges. Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; we will ignore everything after.
Additionally, each judge may decide whether to take a late entry's tardiness into further consideration when making a decision.

This year we will be exclusively using: WordCounter - Count Words & Correct Writing for all of our word counting needs. You'd think something like "word count" would be pretty objective and universal, but I've had "1500 word" entries clock anywhere from 1496 to 1504 depending on whether I was using a Google Doc plugin or one of a hundred similar websites and to this day I've yet to fully grasp the source of the discrepancies.

Obviously, you really want to avoid being late, especially in the first round, but life happens, and sometimes you just can't make it. In such cases, you should take the extra time (before your next threshold) to polish your entry with your new word-limit in mind. It won't be easy, but you might still win. I’ve seen it happen at least once before (by a newcomer, against a seasoned veteran and two-time Iron DM champion. Never say never!) Even if you don't win, you may at least find the judgement enlightening for future IRON DM tournaments!

Entries are expected to make good use of all of the ingredients submitted. The ingredients should be creatively applied, well-integrated, and fundamentally necessary to the adventure that they are used in. The keyword is crucial. If we can replace your ingredient with anything else and not ruin the adventure, that means the ingredient is not crucial. Keep in mind that this is the crux of the tournament, so don't think that maybe (for example) doing a good job with three ingredients will be enough, as long as you can craft a better adventure! I wouldn't count on it, if I were you.

Finally, matches have traditionally (but not always!) had exactly six ingredients. This will not be the case in this tournament. The list of required ingredients will get longer as the rounds progress!

Formatting:

All entries are to be submitted with the list of ingredients at the top and are not to be edited, once submitted. Let me repeat that last part: DO NOT EDIT YOUR POST, ONCE YOU HAVE SUBMITTED IT! Check your work before you send it in. Then check it again. We will not look favorably upon any entry that has been edited and may penalize the entry as we see fit, including, possibly, outright disqualification. Part of the challenge of IRON DM is in the development and use of discipline in editing and time-management.

Please do not expect us to follow links within your entry. You may include links for others to follow if you choose to do so, but understand that any information that is necessary to the entry must be in the actual entry. We will be reading each entry multiple times and, thus, unlikely to also be willing to go outside the entry to find context for it. More importantly, expecting outside sources to carry the load of exposition very much defeats the purpose of the word-limit.

Along those lines – I reiterate: we will be reading each entry multiple times. Please don't make that difficult for us. Don't bore us and don't make our eyes bleed. Please.

Judgement:

Each of the first-round matches will have a single judge. The second- and third-round matches will have the full panel of three. As I said before, each entry will be judged on its own merits and then the two competing entries' critiques will be compared for the final judgement. In the latter rounds, the majority opinion will determine the victor. Different judges have traditionally had different processes to arrive at such outcomes – for instance, some may use a point-based grading chart, while others may prefer a more abstract analysis.

We will endeavor to be Nemmerelesque in our judgements – critical, but also fair and constructive in that criticism. It's tradition. Even so, please understand that not everybody will agree with every decision that we make – that's the nature of the game. Traditionally, trying to figure out what the judge will want to see is all part of the game (though not necessarily a recommended strategy) – and that can lead to some undesired outcomes. It can sting sometimes (believe me, I know!), but it is a game. Let's have some fun with it!

That said, those wishing to gain a little insight into the judges’ thinking will need to do a little research to do so, but the information is out there. Be warned, though! We may have changed our thinking on some of these things within the last couple of decades!

Tournament Structure:

Round 1: The Crucible


All matches in the first round will have a 24 hour time-limit! All matches in the first round will have six ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in these matches will have a 750 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! That may not seem like a lot, but I assure you, it's even less than you think! Contestants who win their Round 1 matches will proceed to Round 2.

Round 2: The Refinement

All matches in the second round will have a 48 hour time-limit. These matches will each have seven ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in these matches will have a 1500 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! Contestants who win their Round 1 matches will proceed to Round 2.

Round 3: The Tempering

The third round match will also have a 48 hour time-limit. This match will use eight ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in this match will have a 2000 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! The contestant who wins this match will become the IRON DM 2019!

Scheduling, Discussing, and Spectating:

As previously mentioned, the scheduling thread will be used for scheduling the matches.

This tournament thread will be used to post the ingredients, the entries, and the judgements for each match. Commentary will also be welcome in that thread, but, please, if you are commenting on an entry that has not yet been judged, hide that commentary with spoiler tags, (spoiler)like this, with brackets instead of parantheses(/spoiler) so that we can view the entries with fresh eyes!

If spectators would like to play the home game, please do that in another thread.

One final note:

Once these tournaments have been completed, we try to archive them on these boards for posterity, and so that the adventures can be run or plundered by future Internet generations. We make no claim of ownership over the entries, but we do request that you do not remove your entries once the tournament has concluded.

Our Contestants:

1: MortalPlague (IRON DM 2014 & 2018)
2: Rune (IRON DM SPRING 2002)
3: CleverNickName
4: Iron Sky (IRON DM 2009)
5: ajanders (IRON DM 2010)
6: Psykick
7: Wisdom Seeker
8: lowkey13


Good luck, y'all.

Round 1: The Crucible

Match 1:
Ingredients. Wisdom Seeker's entry. ajanders' entry. Judgment.
Match 2: Ingredients. CleverNickName's entry. Rune's entry. Judgment.
Match 3: Ingredients. lowkey13's entry. MortalPlague's entry. Judgment.
Match 4: Ingredients. Psykick's entry. Iron Sky's entry. Judgment.


 
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Gradine

Polymorphed Self
IRON DM 2019: Round 1, Match 1, Wisdom Seeker vs ajanders
@Wisdom Seeker and @ajanders, you have 24 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to a title, a list of the ingredients used and 750 additional words. Please include your list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Please refrain from reading your opponent's entry until after you have posted your own. You are on your honor to do so.

Entries that are between 1 and 59 minutes late will have their word-limits reduced to 675. Later entries that are at less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 525. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 375. In addition, entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the judge with consent from the match's opposing competitor. Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; I will ignore everything after.

Your ingredients are:
• Shivering Tree
• Paper Trail
• Illusory Storm
• Future Ruins
• Haunted Maul
• Land Pirates

Happy writing!
 
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Wisdom Seeker

Wandering Warrior
Shivering Tree- The life-tree of the elven grove, made weak by injuries done to it and shaken by glamoured wind.
Paper Trail- The pirates betray their location by use of the shavings they cut off and their murder. Additionally, Garfin's journal.
Illusory Storm- Summoned by the cursed maul and shown to the PCs in prophesy.
Future Ruins- The haunting possibility of a disaster without the life-tree, made possible by the illusions.
Haunted Maul- The weapon used to wound the tree, containing the soul of a late pirate captain.
Land Pirates- The perpetrators, a group of sea dogs who had their ship scuttled and captain killed after the elves wrecked them. Without a ship, they are landlocked and rabid.

Ship for City:
Five-Room Dungeon for D&D


Entrance

The PCs enter a coastal elven grove, Luxelle, to find all is not well. While they are being introduced to the merchantry and workers of the city, zombie brigands emerge to attack them out of the blue. Their injuries are gory and the leader wields a magical maul in battle. Perceptive PCs can tell they are pirates killed by shipwreck. When a zombie pirate is defeated, it vanishes as if it never existed in the first place. Confused PCs will be informed that there are pirates that raid the coast from time to time, but the mighty life-tree Xelle protects the grove. It does so through the use of glamours, illusions which bleed into reality. The zombies intermittently return until someone gets the idea that the tree is acting strangely.

Role-Playing Challenge
When the PCs approach Xelle, they will find it is not visibly injured from the outside, but it moves as if wind were blowing through it. The life-tree is huge, enough to form a small canopy in of itself. Through investigation, wood chips and fallen small branches signal that someone is cutting at the branches of the life-tree. Climbing Xelle is possible but difficult, and there is one building with direct access to some of its branches, Fairsinger's Lodging (The PCs might stay there). The innkeeper, when interviewed, will speak about a half-orc and a human who came looking for an elf named Garfin on the fourth floor. This paper trail should lead to another crime scene.

Trick or Setback
Access to the tree is possible through the window of the previously described fourth-floor room. Unfortunately, that room is also host to a murder. Garfin lies smothered to death on the bed, and the open window indicates the killers have climbed out onto the tree. A search through the elf's belongings tells you that he is a former pirate under Captain Gatrix and left his crew after they planned to attack Luxelle, jumping off the ship and swimming to shore. Attempts to climb onto the tree branches and onto Xelle are slowed by swaying, unsteady branches and short bursts of wind and rain.

Big Climax
Finally, the heart of the mystery is unearthed. As the PCs approach, the storm gets more and more powerful, and the murderers are revealed, cutting away at branches and into the core of the tree with boarding axes and the haunted maul. The half-orc, Ruusk, carries the maul and tells a different story than Garfin's journal does. According to him, Garfin sabotaged the ship; This left them helpless in the midst of a storm that scuttled the ship and killed the majority of the crew. The maul, enchanted to float, washed up on shore with the survivors. Bearing the lost souls of the sailors, it has been influencing the tree and hopes to obliterate the city in revenge by summoning up a glamoured hurricane. Ruusk and his ally Lacono fight until killed, having lost everything but revenge.

Reward, Revelation
Eventually, the PCs retrieve the maul and halt the storm... but there's just one problem. Xelle shows the party an image of a real hurricane on the horizon. In this future vision, it shatters the protective tree and obliterates the entire town, leaving no survivors. If this prophecy is told to the villagers, it becomes clear that the storm that wrecked the pirates was just a taste of the natural disaster on the horizon. Whoever speaks to the maul finds that it is a sentient weapon bearing the spirit of the pirate captain Gatrix. He is Lawful Evil and satisfied with harming the tree enough to make the villagers flee. Luxelle must be abandoned, or another solution found to empower Xelle.
 

ajanders

Explorer
Shivering Tree

Paper Trail

Haunted Maul

Illusory Storm

Future Ruins.


A century ago, the followers of the Covenant left the east and sailed to Albion. There they built a city and temples to the Convenanted gods, But there were in Albion others opposed the covenant. One of these was Alberich, the Lord of Storms, a sorceror.

Alberich resisted the Covenant and the Law until the paladin Prudence Carpenter met him in battle, her great maul against his lightnings and thunders, until sheslew him. With his dying breath, Alberich swore that as long as the wind blew the trees, he would endure, and would cast the cities of the Covenant into Ruin.

Prudence met his oath with her own, swearing by her hammer that as long as he endured she would meet him in battle. Then, fearing he would rise from his grave t, she buried him and planted an oak in his grave, binding his body to the earth.

When Prudence Carpenter died, she was buried with her weapons and armor in the Church of the Convenant. The priests of the Covenant were alarmed to find she did not pass on into the afterlife, but remained in the world as a ghost, keeping her oath. They did not exorcise her, but her casket is secured deep in the catacombs under the church, lest she cause alarm among the faithful.

Today the Covenant has spread across the land of Albion, There is, however, a dark place in the land. The Stormwood is a place of chaos and evil, with the Shivering Tree at its heart.

No matter how bright or clear the day outside, inside the StormWoods the sky is always filled with black clouds. The Stormwoods are also haunted by a flying black shadow who rides on the wings of the wind, leaving death and destrucntion in its wake.

The Stormshadow isundead version of Alberich. It is a legendary wraith with the spells, spell slots, and metamagic of a 10th level sorceror, and a spell list focused on storm related spells in. addition, the Stormshadow cannot be defeated until the tree planted in Alberich's grave is felled....if the Stormshadow is destroyed by turning or reduced to 0 hit points, it reforms over Alberich's grave within the hour.

Hooks

  • The StormShadow and the Stormwood are legendary: . Adventurers are constantly challenged to measure themselves against it.
  • Characters who fought the StormShadow before may want to permanently kill the thing.
  • Criminals hide in the fringes of the Stormwood. One such person is the pirate Red Morrisy. There's a great bounty on his head, assuming you can get to him before the StormShadow does.

The adventure here revolves not so much around fighting the Stormshadow, but around figuring out how to defeat it permanently. The adventurers might gather the following information:

  • The story of how Alberich and Prudence fought, along with the oaths they exchanged and details of Alberichs burial. This can be found by using the Sage background or a moderate history check. Adventurers who have the Acolyte background or who are clerics have advantage on this check.
  • The fact that planting a tree in a person's grave might bind them to the grave and not let their soul disperse: A moderate arcana check or a hard religion check.
  • That the StormShadow is the undead form of Alberich: Getting a good description of Alberich requires a Sage background or a hard history check. Once this is done, realizing this is automatic for anyone who has seen the Stormshadow and can get the description. Red Morrisy has seen the Stormshadow, and can match it to the description.

Once the PC's realize that the StormShadow is Alberich and that Prudence's maul may be key to stopping it, they must go to the Cathedral of the Covenant and make a case that they should be given the maul to use against Alberich. They must make the following points:

- That the maul may have special powers against Alberich: Three checks, ideally using Persuasion. Bluff may be used, but any failure in a bluff check forfeits the challenge. Intimidation may be used, but if it is, then all rolls in the challenge to prove they are worthy to have the maul are at disadvantage. Religion may be used to assist any test in this challenge. One success is granted for each bit of information in the previous paragraph the characters have gained.

That the party is worthy to wield the maul:

- The party must make three checks, ideally using Persuasion. Bluff may be used, but any failure ends the challenge.
History may be used to assist here, as the party recounts their heroic deeds.

If the party fails, they can steal the hammer. This leaves them with an angry paladin ghost dogging their heels into the Stormwood.
The maul has the speacial power defeat the storm shadow. It can kill it permanently.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Ship for City has some really good imagery and looks pretty tight. Wonder how long it would take for typical players to figure out that the illusory waves of zombie pirates are atypical.

Untitled has some pretty nifty bits, too. The link between wraith and maul is interesting and trying to negotiate with a pious piece of gear should be fun. Especially if the PCs aren’t worthy!
 
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Gradine

Polymorphed Self
A note from future Gradine: This judgment is going to come across as probably a little harsh. I have endeavoured to be tough but fair, and I hope that my criticisms prove to be constructive. Neither entry could be called bad... but there was quite a bit of room for improvement in both cases, and I hope that you find what follows helpful.

Rules and Readability

At first glance, I had concerns for both entries in regards to length. Wisdon Seeker's "Ship for City" (hereafter "Ship") opted to include descriptions of each ingredient along with the ingredient list. While the ingredients themselves are not included in the official word count, these descriptions were, and I worried that the overall entry would be over 750. As it turns out, the official count for the whole entry came a hair under at 749, and a much roomier 724 with the ingredient names, title and subtitle removed. Ultimately, those descriptions ran about 106 words, and I'm not sure how helpful they were; nearly every ingredient use seemed fairly straightforward, with one subtle and clever exception, and on balance you might have been better served using those 100+ words to flesh the meat of the adventure out further. The entry is, overall, well-formatted and laid out. The five-room "dungeon" structure gets a bit of a workout here, but we'll get into that on the next point.

ajanders' "Untitled" also struck me as a little too long at first glance. This actually bore out; the official word count clocks in at 804. As such, I had to delete the last 54 words of the entry sight unseen. "- The party must make three checks, ideally using Persuasion. Bluff may be used, but any failure ends" is the cutoff point for the entry; I have not read anything after this point of the entry and will not until after I have posted the judgment. We will hope that this is not the deal breaker. The entry also suffers from a bit of a disorganization, particularly a lack of helpful headers, and with the numerous errors it was clear that this was at least one editting pass away from being a complete entry. Submitted as it was at literally the last possible minute, I have to assume that time ended up being an issue. Again, it's possible that on balance you might have been better served taking the extra 59 minutes and 75-word loss to tighten this up a bit more.

Adventure Flow & Potential

This is my subjective "what did I generally like/dislike about the adventures" section of the judgment. I'll start again with "Ship". This is a fairly linear adventure, though unlike some I don't consider "linear" a four-letter word when it comes to adventure design. As long as there some room for the PCs to stretch out their legs and find creative solutions to problems. The issue is I'm not sure that exists here in too great of quantity. Once the PCs find Garfin's body it's a pretty straight shot to the climax and the (somewhat unsatisfying) conclusion. My biggest disappointment is that there seems to be a lot of interesting interplay between our pirates (Garfin, Ruusk, and Gatrix), but we both get very little insight into their personalities, and none of it really ends up mattering. Ruusk is doing bad things, killing him stops it. Garfin and Gatrix are both posthumous characters (and we'll get into Gatrix a bit later) and as a PC I can't find a reason why I'd care about either of the roles they play.

"Untitled" also has a lot of backstory (the entire first third of the entry!) but in this case I would argue that the NPCs, their relationships, and the backstory as a whole remains largely relevant to the PC's throughout. It's also interesting to learn. I'm of the type that prefers my backstory interwoven into the adventure and placed piecemeal as the PCs would likely learn about it, but that's a po-tay-to po-tah-to thing. The adventure, while ultimately not nearly as tight in flow as "Ship", comes through with greater potential and is an overall stronger adventure to me.

But there's two more issues to discuss here before moving on to the ingredients: Hooks and Stakes. "Ship" has stronger stakes but a much weaker hook. Other than throwing the weird illusory zombie pirates at them, there's little driving the party to investigate until "someone gets the idea that the tree is acting strangely". This is, effectively, this adventure's hook, and it's barest whisp of a thing. A strong hook, tied with more dangerous and imminent stakes, would have strengthened this entry considerably.

"Untitled" meanwhile gives us some hooks but none of them are overwhelmingly compelling, and with the exception of the bounty, already assume a personal connection on the part of the PCs that I don't think can be assumed here. There's at least an effort here, though, which puts it past "Ship". Where "Untitled" ultimately falters is in its stakes. Specifically, the complete lack of them. This adventure as written presents little threat that a fence and a "Do Not Enter" sign wouldn't entirely mitigate. Perhaps the failure conditions are written in those last 50+ words? Ultimately, though, there's nothing to suggest an imminent danger; it is, at best, a side quest. And we're looking for meatier content than that in this competition.

The Ingredients

Right now, it's looking like this is probably going to come down to the ingredients.

Shivering Tree

Both entires have a tree, and in both cases said tree is both central to the story and a source of great power. Also, both are shivering because of the wind. Because, storms, you see. I am tempted to give a slight edge to "Untitled" here; the corpse tree is an interesting touch, and it is more actively placed in the party's path.

Paper Trail

This is the one of the more clever interpretations in this match, with the wood shavings. Then there is Garfin's journal. Both serve "paper" well... but are they really trails? The wood chips only seem to be found at Xelle's base, and the journal isn't really meaningful at all; the open window is quite a bit more conspicuous and leads the PCs right to where they need to go.

However, much like the stakes, at least it's present. Try as I might, I could not find what the "paper trail" was supposed to be. Maybe it's the research the PC's need to do to convince the priests/dead paladin/maul for help, but none of this is spelled out at all; only a check or background as to whether the PC already knows it or not. Maybe it's the Covenant itself? The migration would then be the "trail", but again, this is weak on several levels; there's no description of the deities in question at all, let alone why they're called the "Convenant" and not anything else, or why the migration of the Covenant's followers it at all relevant either, unless Alberich was explicitly called out as indigenous to the area.

Ultimately, I have to give this to "Ship"

Illusory Storm

Both entries have storms. But have storms that are magical in nature. But is either storm really illusory? They seem pretty real to me. "Ship" gives us an off-hand comment about how the Xelle creates illusions which then become real which... means they're no longer illusory. Especially if the impacts being felt are real as well. Likewise, "Untitled"'s storm is called out as being weird and permnanet, but no less physically present. No advantage to either entry on this one.

Future Ruins

This was probably my biggest disappointment of an ingredient use in both entries. In both cases, we get only the threat of the place becoming ruins at some point. In "Untitled" this is merely in the form of an oddly specific dying oath the PCs might never even learn about it; at least in "Ship" it there are imminent stakes that make the ingredient immediately relevant to the PCs.

Haunted Maul

Both entires go with the tree-splitting maul and both make them central to the quest. In the case of "Untitled" is it much more central to plot of the adventure, which means I would normally give it the point here, but there's a question mark here, and it's a pretty glaring one. Is the maul actually... haunted? This never seems explicitly called out; it seems that if Prudence is haunting anything it's her casket. Again, this may be more explicitly called out on the 50+ words I'm not allowed to consider, but if it is... it doesn't matter in this judgment. As it is, I think I have to call this one a wash.

Land Pirates

If "Future Ruins" were my greatest disappointment here, "Land Pirates" comes in a close second. I was hoping for something, anything, beyond "pirates, but stuck on land". And yet, that is what I get. The pirates in "Ship" are much more central here, but just like with the previous ingredient, there's a big issue here, in that there's nothing really essential about the ingredient. They could be angry monks, or flying owlbears, or any number of meat shields threatening the tree. If the background and business with the pirates' had been more crucial to figuring out a deeper mystery, like the kind that exists in "Untitled", it would clearly be the superior ingredient usage. Instead, I'm forced to call this wash again, as Red Morrisey plays a more interesting if less central role to play (and even less of a reason to be a "land pirate" and not a "temporarily grounded sky brigand" or "dolorous con artist").

In Conclusion

I know I've been pretty harsh on these two entries; I hope my criticism has at least been constructive, and perhaps instructive for future contestants. These are both fairly good adventures, and they're not bad entries, as far as Iron DM entries go. Neither one would hack it against more solid competition, however. As we move to future rounds, it will simply not be enough for an ingredient to present or even just clever; it must be essential. If we can replace your use of an ingredient with something else entirely and have it make zero difference to the adventure, then it's not a good ingredient usage. If the ingredient says "Haunted Maul" it needs to not just be a Maul (as opposed to an Axe or a Sledgehammer) but it also needs to be Haunted.

And this is, ultimately, why "Untitled" falls in this match. One more editting pass and a maul that was actually, explicitly haunted and this match very easily could have been ajanders' to win. Some imminent stakes would have been a clincher. That's a testament to how close these matches can be, and ultimately one mistake here or there and ultimately be very costly in this competition.

ajanders, you've won one of these things in the past, so I know this wasn't your A material. It really does seem like timing got the better of you on this one. A few more passes and this could easily have been a highlight. Sadly, this year it was not to be.

As it is however, I say congratulations to Wisdom Seeker for making it through the next round! I will warn you to step up your game, because the competition isn't going to get any easier!


Bring on Match 2!

 

Rune

Once A Fool
Oof! Sometimes even winning hurts!

Regardless, congratulations to
Wisdom Seeker
for advancing!
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
IRON DM 2019: Round 1, Match 2, CleverNickName vs Rune

@CleverNickName and @Rune, you have 24 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to a title, a list of the ingredients used and 750 additional words. Please include your list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Please refrain from reading your opponent's entry until after you have posted your own. You are on your honor to do so.

Entries that are between 1 and 59 minutes late will have their word-limits reduced to 675. Later entries that are at less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 525. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 375. In addition, entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the judge with consent from the match's opposing competitor. Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; I will ignore everything after.

A note about how I will score. 2 max points for timeliness, 2 max points for grammar and readability, two points for each ingredient that is used correctly and is integral to the narrative, and finally two max points for how employable the overall entry would be for a game master. Keep in mind that in case of a tie, I'll also give special considerations for entries that have ingredients that are integral to one another.

Without further ado, here are the ingredients:

Obfuscating Executrix
Red Herring
Drunken Assignation
Subterranean Castle
Frivolous Guru
Zero Hour
 

ajanders

Explorer
A note from future Gradine: This judgment is going to come across as probably a little harsh. I have endeavoured to be tough but fair, and I hope that my criticisms prove to be constructive. Neither entry could be called bad... but there was quite a bit of room for improvement in both cases, and I hope that you find what follows helpful.

No, this is entirely appropriate. These ingredients did not come together well for me..."Land Pirate" was difficult, but "Future Ruins" was going nowhere.

At the end, I wound up with a 1500 word adventure that took 48 hours to write...and frankly, "Future Ruins" was still crammed in.
Better luck next year!
Kudos to Wisdom Seeker
 

Wisdom Seeker

Wandering Warrior
A note from future Gradine: This judgment is going to come across as probably a little harsh. I have endeavoured to be tough but fair, and I hope that my criticisms prove to be constructive. Neither entry could be called bad... but there was quite a bit of room for improvement in both cases, and I hope that you find what follows helpful.
I agree with @ajanders, and he did a solid job with the overall scene concept. This was necessary, but I don't know how much better I could have done without submitting this first and understanding the judgment method better. I wrote the ingredients out in order to ensure that I could understand how they fit together as a group- and a lot of them didn't mesh well.
Land Pirate was by far the single hardest ingredient and pretty much threw a wrench into the gears of all of the other ones. It especially stood contradictory to Future Ruins. The next best adventure concept I could think of that included both of those ingredients was some sort of time storm (but then that wouldn't be an illusory storm, just a magic one).
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
A Hag Comes to Dinner
Obfuscating Executrix
Red Herring
Drunken Assignation
Subterranean Castle
Frivolous Guru

Zero Hour

Synopsis
A murder mystery with social challenges and little combat.

Introduction
In town, a member of the party (preferably an elf or half-elf) will be approached by a drow in fine clothing, her head covered with a heavy black cowl to protect her eyes from the sun. The shadow elf presents the PC with a sealed letter bearing the Sharaabee crest; an ancient and reclusive House of the Shadow Elves. The letter smells strongly of brandy.

The letter is a summons. Apparently a distant aunt has passed away, leaving a large portion of her estate to the character. That character and their friends (the party) are cordially invited to Bhoomigat Mahal, the estate of interest, for the reading of her will. Interestingly, the will is to be read at precisely midnight, on the first night of the month, just 2 weeks away. The summons is clear: only those who are present, at midnight, on that particular night, will receive any portion of the estate.

After delivering the message, the executrix will collect the signature and identity of the recipient, then dramatically take her leave via a misty step spell. She will not answer questions about the summons.


The Usual Suspects
The party probably won't be surprised to learn that Bhoomigat Mahal is an underground castle, built inside an enormous cavern hundreds of feet high and almost a half a mile wide. Once inside, the party is greeted by an eccentric group of family members, acquaintances, and associates...and all of them drow. The party will likely stand out in this crowd, and will be viewed with distrust (and worse) by all present. On the night the will is to be read, all of the guests will have arrived and the party meets the following characters:
  • Saaya, the executrix they have already met;
  • Hilasa, a hot-tempered drow with a military background, racist, especially unhappy about non-drow being invited;
  • Laal and his wife Sharminda, wealthy fishmongers who own several shops in a nearby town;
  • Tuchchh, a cleric of knowledge and a local expert on brewing and distillation of brandy;
  • Machhalee, a young idealist with strong opinions about the unequal distribution of wealth and status.

Murder Most Foul!
After the meal, brandy will be served. But before the bottle is even opened, a darkness spell fills the room! Voices and shouting can be heard. By the time Tuchchh dispels the darkness, Saaya lies dead on the floor, at the feet of a Night Hag! Battle ensues, and once the Hag has been dispatched, it will be discovered that the bottle of brandy was an Iron Flask. But who would want to kill Saaya?


The Game is Afoot!
None of the guests will be allowed to leave the manor until the murderer is found and justice served. The party will need to interrogate all of the suspects, learn their alibis, and search Bhoomigat Mahal for clues. Their investigation turns up a (M)otive, a m(E)ans, and an (O)pportunity for everyone at the dinner to have committed the crime:

Hilasa
M--family honor; Saaya was having an affair with a human
E--had access to the brandy bottles, can cast darkness
O--none

Laal
M--Saaya was blackmailing him with knowledge about an affair with a local fisherman
E--none, can't cast darkness
O--briefly left the table before brandy was served

Tuchchh
M--discovered he had been cut from the will, trying to destroy evidence of his removal from the will
E--his family made the brandy, can cast darkness
O--he delivered the brandy bottle to the table

Sharminda
M--none
E--knows the darkness spell, placed the order for the brandy
O--sat net to Saaya, knew where she was sitting, was untouched by the Hag

Machhalee
M--none
E--an excellent pupil of summoning magic, knows the darkness spell
O--none

As they conduct their investigation (searching rooms, interviewing other guests, etc) the party will discover the information encapsulated above. They will eventually deduce that only Tuchchh had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to commit the crime.

Resolution
When the party has collected sufficient evidence against him (and convinced the others of his guilt), Tuchchh will either surrender and confess, or attempt to escape. The party will be rewarded as the will is read; the deceased aunt left a handsome sum of gold to their heir (and the iron flask if they grabbed it as "evidence" and learned the command word from Tuchchh).

Hindi Translator
Bhoomigat Mahal: "Underground Castle"
Hilasa: "herring"
Laal: "red"
Machhalee, "fish"
Sharaabee: "drunken"
Sharminda: "embarrassed"
Tuchchh: "frivolous"
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Time Capsule
A One-Shot Futurist Adventure

[EXECUTE program]

Mainframe Overseeing Temporal Hibernation Exostructure Resources

38,274,733,963,164,389 calculations made. Resources cannot last/be replenished. [error] MOTHER’s purpose: safeguard the legacy of her charges’ forbearers.

Primary Directives:

  • Protect occupants from external threats.
  • Maintain temporal null-state.
  • Do not deplete resources.

Problem: External relative temporal progression: [null-state imperiled]
Solution: Fortify exostructure. [initiating volunteer recruitment routine]

Problem: Exodism philosophy. Existential threat.
Solution: Sustained intoxication of adherents. [initiating nonlethal nourishment substitution subroutine C]

Problem: [data corrupted], potential instigators. 51% probable threat to primary directives.
Solution: [system error][data corrupted][initiating general disinformation routine]​

Recent Developments

Generations gone. Wisdom passes on, beyond mere memory. Kept by denizens of the Sunken Keep, children of the Maternal.

Civilization renews. A philosopher ascends. An idea propagates: How can truth be known, if seen only from inside? The idea to leave spreads. A movement, so to speak. Exodism.

The idea dies. Deep thoughts replaced with drunken frivolity. Apostles descend into debauchery.

Inciting Action

On the [morning] that begins the adventure, the PCs’ nourishment-resource allotments are discontinued. Universal information broadcasts continually show the PCs’ likenesses (bereft of names).

They are:
  • suspected of recent nourishment-resource contamination related to insurgent activity.
  • to voluntarily deliver themselves into the custody of Inquisition Officers.

Most people they might interact with are fearful of them. Some may report them.

The PCs may surrender themselves to the Inquisitors, willingly or otherwise, but the Inquisitors are ill-prepared to question them; relevant files are corrupted and illegible. Eventually, frustrated Inquisitors let them go.

If the PCs wish to prove their innocence and/or not starve, they may discover:
  • The philosopher, Athos, was the first afflicted by the mirth-malady.
  • All others afflicted were disciples of Athos.
  • The afflicted reek of alcohol, as do their nourishment-resources.
  • Athos espouses a new philosophy: Don’t worry sho mush. Thinks don’t matter. Mother provides. Athos abides. Look at me! I’m not wearing any pansh!
  • A conspicuously placed pamphlet, seemingly authored by an Outside infiltrator recruiting conspirators. It provides a discrete meeting locale and time (precisely 00:00). Snacks and refreshments provided.

Conspiracy

If the PCs show up to the meeting on time, they discover the dead body of Athos, apparently the victim of a bad fall. He bares a note implicating himself as a conspirator. No snacks or refreshments.

If early, they may instead witness his murder at the hands of MOTHER’s Clandestine Security Operatives, who plant the note on the body. Should the PCs successfully intervene, they learn little from the witless philosopher, but he does thank them with (alcoholic) nourishment-resource bars.

Whatever conclusions the PCs draw from this meeting (or lack thereof) are ultimately irrelevant to MOTHER; her intent is to foster paranoia.

MOTHER’s gaslighting campaign ramps up in the following [days].

  • Mysterious figures watch the PCs. Conspicuously.
  • Broadcasts proclaim that the Siege goes poorly. Volunteers are conscripted to fortify the walls.
  • Societal bureaucracies and institutions steadily degrade. Panic begins to grip the populous.

This last is unintended. MOTHER’s conflicting directives are frying her circuits as she frantically processes data, desperately looking for different results.

Eventually, MOTHER has no choice but to kill the PCs or bring them to her, unless they find her first.

Confrontation

MOTHER willingly imparts the following:

  • The Keep was built to protect humanity from extinction.
  • Outsiders are intent on forcibly taking the Keep’s resources.
  • Defenses are failing. Outsiders are slipping inside.

Not all of this is true. The truth is far worse and MOTHER will reveal it only if she must to stop the PCs from destroying her or exiting the Keep.
  • The walls are failing, but aren’t keeping anyone out; they’re keeping time in. Sort of.
  • The world was/is ending. To protect humanity’s remnants, they engineered a subterranean capsule to keep them. Since they could not delay the inevitable, they instead sped their capsule up, so that generations would carry on inside while relative time outside would remain near-static.
  • Initial power requirements for the capsule were immense. Before being temporally desynchronized, the capsule drew as much as possible from the planet’s depths, hastening the planet’s demise.
  • Should the capsule’s contents become exposed to the outside, the temporal desynchronization effect will end, along with the world.

Thus, should the PCs disbelieve MOTHER (or be feeling particularly nihilistic), they may end humanity.

They might choose otherwise, but MOTHER’s final undivulged secret is perhaps as bleak: the Keep’s resources can neither be sustained, nor replenished.

They will be depleted in a mere 258,308,208,180,487 human generations.

[TERMINATE program]
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Damn! Amidst hours of editing, I forgot to paste in the ingredients list! Hope it doesn’t cost me too much!
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Wow! That’s a fun little murder mystery! I like how the bulk of it is essentially a logic puzzle.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Isn't it wild how we can both have the same ingredients, but end up with vastly different adventures? And I like that both of our adventures this round weren't just variations of Kill The Orc/Take Its Stuff. :)

I think you had the best use of the "Zero Hour" ingredient; I really struggled with that one.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Here we are with two experienced participants in @CleverNickName and @Rune. I admittedly have been looking forward to these two going head to head. Upon an initial reading, I found myself really liking both, and I'll be unsurprised if they end up being my favorite two entries of this first round. CleverNickName's "A Hag Comes to Dinner" is a murder mystery with a D&D fantasy backdrop, and I'm a big fan of that blending of genres such as in the Garrett PI books. Rune's "Time Capsule" takes place in a futuristic dystopia, which is another blended genre I enjoy. I wish both could win, but alas it won't be so.

Timeliness and Word Count: Both entries followed the established rules and were submitted on time and below the 750 word limit. Flawless so far.

Score: CleverNickName 2, Rune 2

Grammar and Readability: Both were quite readable, comprehensible, and easy to follow. Full points for each. I especially hope that other participants note the unusual structure both writers employed to get the word count down while setting the tone and delivering information.

Score: CleverNickName 4, Rune 4

It's coming down now to the ingredients.

Obfuscating Executrix

The executrix in "A Hag Comes to Dinner" is a female executor of a will, and is therefore a literal match to the ingredient. She is mysterious and does not answer questions outside of giving a character a letter with some details of a will. My biggest complaint about her is how quickly she is taken out of the narrative, but she serves the ingredient's purpose both in life and after. I am guessing that the executrix in "Time Capsule" is the artificial intelligence called M.O.T.H.E.R., and that she is executing the will of her creators to their decendants... by creating a great lie. This is not as literal as the executor in CleverNickName's entry as MOTHER is not truly female and the AI is executing a duty as a caretaker and not an actual will. But MOTHER is much more integrated into the entire adventure. I'm going to call this one a tie and I'll give a full two points to both.

Score: CleverNickName 6, Rune 6

Red Herring

I was wondering if someone would actual go with a red fish for some reason, but both writers went with the literary meaning. This also felt like a weaker ingredient for the two. In "A Hag Comes to Dinner", CleverNickName highlighted Machhalee as the red herring, but I don't really see it. A red herring should be a clue that drives the investigators down the wrong path for awhile, or at least is an outlier that is hard to ignore. Instead, Machhalee seems like the easiest suspect to discount as the murderer. If Machhalee's motivation is a red herring then we have several red herrings in a number of the participants instead of just one, and I'll give the ingredient a point on that basis. The red herring in "Time Capsule" is better. MOTHER fosters a lie about invaders trying to enter the complex, which has result in making the population look to her for protection. I would have liked it more if the red herring caused more confusion on the part of the adventurers than the general population, but it's still effective and I grant Rune the full two points.

Score: Rune 8, CleverNickName 7

Drunken Assignation

This was a tough one. In "A Hag Comes to Dinner", I feel that the meeting isn't the clandestine sort, but I will admit that it would be private and small due to the limited amount of hopeful heirs. Also, the members do not necessarily have to be drunk, but expensive food and alcohol does better fit the traditional murder mystery dinner party. And I can't help but remember that when Mr. Body is killed in the movie "Clue", everyone is drinking before the lights go out and the murder occurs. In "Time Capsule", the offer to meet with the philosopher is definitely a secretive assignation, but I felt the alcohol could have been replaced by any number of vices without changing much of the adventure. I'm giving the edge to CleverNickName on this one and grant him two points, while Rune gets one.

Score: Rune 9, CleverNickName 9

Subterranean Castle

Part of the will being given is the subterranean castle in CleverNickName's entry. The ingredient is used literally, and is a possible item from the will, so it ties in nicely to the narrative. However, with some tweaking the location/property could have been an above ground estate, a large boat, or so on. The same problem happens in Rune's entry. This adventure happens in a keep below the planet's surface, but I felt it could equally have happened in a pocket dimension, a domed city on the surface, a floating space ship between galaxies, or so on. I will reward a point to each.

Score: Rune 10, CleverNickName 10

Frivolous Guru

In "A Hag Comes to Dinner", this ingredient is Tuchchh, who is a knowledgeable cleric recently removed from the will; probably because of his frivolous habits. His frivolous ways seem important to the story, as it impacts his motivations, but not enough is made about his cred as a guru except in his description. Is he a teacher that people look towards? How integral is that to the story?

On the other hand, Athos in "Time Capsule" is a fun character that completely embraces this ingredient in all of its lunacy. He seems to be wise until the characters encounter him, and I can just imagine their hopes being shattered as their potential philosophical savior comes across as a clueless hedonist. Rune takes this ingredient and get the full two points to CleverNickName's one.

Score: Rune 11, CleverNickName 10

Zero Hour

I was a little disappointed with both entries on this ingredient. In both, Zero Hour seemed to be more about making the scheduled time of the appointments. The adventurers also do have some time to solve the mystery in "A Hag Comes to Dinner", but a limit is not set. You can make the argument that time has more play in "Time Capsule", because there is also a far off limit of when humanity will run out of the time it has left, but the humorous twist at the end is that MOTHER is freaking out about the limited time that is left while humanity would be unable to conceive of how to fill the trillions of years remaining. The Webster's definition of Zero Hour is:

1. the hour of which a planned military operation is to start
2. the time in which a significant event will take place

By that definition, I'll give both the full points.

Score: Rune 13, CleverNickName 12

Utility for a Game Master

Both adventures look to be a lot of fun, but they would require a bit of work on the part of the game master. Although it can be dropped as an interlude in a typical fantasy campaign, "A Hag Comes to Dinner" is really short and limited in its scope. The players get an invite, they show up, a murder happens, they solve the murder and profit along the way. The adventure has a ton of potential, however. Getting to the subterranean castle where the meeting is to happen would be a journey in itself and have the potential for the other heirs to put obstacles along the way. I do feel as if there are a number of ways that the murder can be solved using magic, resulting in an abrupt resolution. Also, there is a question on how the property will be divided up now that the executor is dead. What are the drow legal customs in this situation anyway, and how are they enforced? Do the surviving heirs just let the characters go with a smile and brofists? Have they made friends or enemies? This could end in numerous hooks for further adventure, but again those hooks will be dependent on the DM and how much world-building he wants to take on.

"Time Capsule" has the potential to be a lot longer and would allow for a number of diverse skill sets, and I can see it as a one-shot campaign using a ruleset from something like GURPS, Paranoia, or CyberPunk. But there are few hooks at the end of the adventure that would lead to another once the reveal happens. I guess the error in the computer system could lead to more failures that require the adventurers to fix, but does the computer just say "My bad" and allow the heroes to just walk away after they explain how humans perceive time? Do the heroes become rebels and escape? Do they become new enforcers for the computer? The ending just seems like it would be an anti-climax, which maybe is the point of this more humorous adventure. Also, I was a bit confused over why the party got involved in the first place. Were they followers of Athos' beliefs and the computer pushed alcoholic rations on them? Does the adventure start with the GM asking the characters whether they are intentional or accidental alcohol users? This is a future dystopia where drugs are normally prevalent, but you went with alcohol abuse instead of drug abuse... because alcoholism is funnier? Do the characters start off with penalties to their actions due to the effects? How does the party get clues that lead them in the right direction if they don't see MOTHER's operatives and the dude (Athos) dies? I don't mean to be overly critical, since I thought the adventure was entertaining, but I do want to point out some holes in running it as an adventure.

I'm going to give a point for each entry. They are really excellent, but the referee will have some work to do to patch up the holes.

Rune 14, CleverNickName 13

And with that, I declare Rune the winner by a hair. I'll be the first to admit that scoring is arbitrary due to my personal interpretations of ingredient use and methods of allotting points. CleverNickName, I don't want you to be discouraged as this is the second time I just barely voted against you. I think you are a great writer and I do enjoy your work, and you could have easily have gone to the next round. If you had just tightened up a couple of ingredients you could have taken this. Please continue to participate.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Whew! Close match. I kinda thought that would swing the other way. More exposition later. Sleep now.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I was kind of in a weird place with this set of ingredients. Kind of the reverse of where I usually find myself with these things, really. All of the ingredients kind of fell into place for me (in that, while some of the ingredients relied on alternate definitions and/or interpretations, they all were going to be directly relevant to the PCs). Sort of. I actually came up with three sets.

First, I had a wuxia-themed set involving a drunken master devotee of the Monkey King, a woman pretending to swindle the Monkey King’s castle (located in the mountain he was trapped under, of course). In reality, her intent was to assassinate the Monkey King. Somehow. It looked like it could be fun. But there was no way I was going to be able to do it in 24 hours, nor 750 words.

Next, I thought of a noir private investigation adventure. The first four ingredients fit in pretty well. A femme fatale. A red herring. A tryst. A speakeasy. The last two kind of worked, too: A boss who fancied himself an occultist. A raid by the feds. But they just weren’t feeling quite right and the boss, in particular, didn’t really have a good reason to be. They just weren’t quite gelling for me. I still felt pretty good about my ability to do a fun noir adventure, but I decided to try one more set.

What if I had an overprotective mother in computer form? A fake threat? Assignation of alcohol-spiked resources by the computer? A subterranean vault under siege? A frivolously drunken philosopher/spiritual leader? Literal timelessness! It was all going to work.

So, after the first few minutes, when I was figuring out what the entry was going to be, I didn’t have to put much energy (or time!) into making the ingredients work. I did ultimately go back and give some of the looser interpretations some alternate manifestations for the reader to latch onto. For instance, a fabricated clandestine meeting with a nonexistent Outsider (at 00:00, no less). A patsy in the form of the drunken philosopher.

My problem, once I got into it, was that the adventure itself seemed lacking. With every draft, I was not only fighting the word count, but also trying to expand the roles of the PCs. Make it less linear. Give the PCs a reason to do it in the first place.

As I developed her, it became clear that as MOTHER gaslighted the PCs, she was herself becoming more and more paranoid and undone (irrevocably?). Therein lay the adventure.

How to get the adventurers involved? Don’t give them a choice! Complete freedom to do what they will, sure, but the PCs begin the adventure accused of a crime (that MOTHER actually did) and unable to acquire food (except through unsanctioned means). Yup, they’d have to do something.

I knew early on that the adventure was going to need to be a one-shot (a gamble for usability, but at least it’s right in the subtitle). I did include a reason for the capsule to be underground (fueled by draining the planet’s depths), but no reason why space-faring wasn’t a better survival option. I had to be content with the idea that this version of humanity invented controlled time-dilation instead of space flight. A version of time-dilation that didn’t involve approaching the speed of light, apparently. It would have to do.

I was pretty proud of the entry as I posted it, but that’s not inherently indicative of much. I’ve been proud of some clunkers in the moment of posting. Only time and perspective would tell if I had managed to expand the adventure well enough without cutting out too much context.

Edited to add: One more thing that amused me as I was writing was the likelihood that there was initially a 49% chance the PCs wouldn’t be problematic for MOTHER (by her own calculations, anyway), but by taking measures to interfere with them, their response (which was certain to imperil the primary directives) became a certainty.

@CleverNickName, you really put up some tough competition, there. You may have had less time to work on it than you would have liked, but the crux of the adventure was very solid. I really didn’t have a feeling for which entry I thought would win. But I was already mentally writing words of congratulations to offer my opponent as I read the judgement.

Good show!
 
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