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IRON DM 2011--Rules, Entries, Judgements, & Commentary

BriarMonkey

First Post
Round 1, Match 3: anest1s vs. BriarMonkey
1093 Words


Ingredients:

Remedial Enchanting
Puzzlebox
Slave Auction Block
Grasping Horrors
Reluctant Champion
Bag of Holding

Slavers of the Ancients

An adventure for D&D 3rd Edition (3.5) or Pathfinder.

Background:

In ages past, a vile group of interplanar slavers, known as the Noth Garag, architected a huge slaving empire based on their abilities to effect planar travel. While known for trafficking in slaves of all races and types, they were also known for their ruthlessness. To the Noth, a slave that didn't sell quickly enough, or was thought inferior, was often executed on the very slave auction block that sought to sell them.

The Noth employed various magical implements, such as the Slavers' Puzzlebox, to help with the capture and transport of slave fodder.

Eventually, a multi-planar consortium staged a protracted war against the Noth Garag. This war saw the destruction of the slavers, their cities, and their trade. However, many of their tools were lost in the conflict, and remained unaccounted for.

Set Up:

A cabal of followers of Asmodeus have rediscovered some of the Noth's texts and work. They seek to exploit their knowledge and usher in a new era where they are the masters, and all others are slaves to that will.

While the cabal has recovered some magic implements, they have not been able to figure out how they all function - with one exception. A Slaver's Puzzlebox has been found as well as the slave auction block that it is keyed to. This puzzlebox has been loosed into the mortal world through a reluctant champion of Asmodeus, Garrick Hale.

Hooks:

The PCs may discover, or have heard, one or more of the following rumors:

People in outlying areas have reported seeing strange apparitions and gangly creatures. Whenever a sighting is made, someone in town has gone missing.

A stranger, heavily armed and armored, has been seen travelling from town to town, claiming to be in search of a "cure". Coincidentally, by the time he has left town, several people seem to be missing.

At the home of a well respected inn keeper, a former adventurer himself, a strange puzzlebox was found when the constable went looking for him, and never did find him nor his family. The puzzlebox disappeared however.

After townsfolk have gone unexpectedly missing, an oddly dressed cleric often arrives in town, making inquiries as to the missing people. He never stays long though.

An strange man, both in manner and appearance, has been seen frequenting taverns. This man often plays with a puzzlebox while sitting alone with his mead.

Details:

Garrick Hale
Garrick is an Anti-Paladin, in the service of Asmodeus, and a member of the cabal. When the puzzlebox was found, he enthusiastically took up the role as the bearer of the box. In this, he roamed, rather aimlessly, from town to town, invoking the box so that new slaves could be acquired.

While at first he championed the cause, he eventually became disillusioned with his role, as well as the impact of the cabal's activities. The use of the box also started taking its toll on his mental state. This has gotten to the point where he is looking for an "out" to his situation. He reluctantly continues to bear the burden of his champion role in the cabal, and continues to carry out his duties - but, his activities have slowed as he tries to find a way to atone, and be free of his service.

The Cleric
The cleric is Damion Deous, also a member of the cabal. Of late, there has been some concern over whether Garrick is up to the task at hand. With misgivings of their champion, Damion has been appointed as a task master. It is his job to follow after Garrick, without his knowledge, and ensure the box is being put to its proper use.

The Slavers' Puzzlebox
This square is crafted from part of a Noth slaver's auction block. These blocks were always constructed of granite, with inlays of obsidian - and the puzzlebox is the same. It weighs only a pound, and measures about 6 inches to the side. The obsidian is inlaid in highly ornate patterns, and at times appears to be moving.

The box's primary function is to open a gateway back to the auction block that it was made from. This then allows the "harvesting" of slaves, which then brings in its next function - the release of Grasping Horrors to effect the harvest.

These horrors appear vaguely humanoid, with horrifically elongated appendages. Ghastly white or yellow in color, they have only superficial faces or other discerning marks.

The puzzlebox can be activated in a couple of ways. First, if the proper sequence is known, that sequence can be used to align the various symbols across the box. When aligned, the box then opens, creating the portal. Within 1d4 rounds of the portal opening, a number of Grasping Horrors amble out of the portal and proceed to grapple any creatures within 90 feet (generally 2 horrors per possible target). The horrors will subdue or grapple anything they can in order to pull them back through the portal. If a horror pulls its prize through the portal, the victim is deposited on the auction block.

Alternatively, if the puzzlebox is within someone's physical control, every 4 hours a check needs to be made to see if the box has been sufficiently "enticed" so as to open the portal (a 10% chance + 5% per consecutive 4 hours).

In either case, whomever is holding the box will be ignored by the horrors.

Possession of the Slaver's Puzzlebox has some additional effects. As an evil device, every day that one has the box, a Will save must be made against a DC of 26. If the save fails, the possessor becomes severely depressed and withdrawn, which manifests as though the possessor was fatigued. Remedial enchantments, such as remove curse, will remove the effect on that occasion.

Should the puzzlebox be stored within a Bag of Holding, the box will be unable to function properly. It will not be able to create the portal, and thus, no Grasping Horrors will be summoned. Additionally, the Will save per day will also be suppressed.

In order to permanently disable the box, remedial enchanting is required. This is normally accomplished by a mage deconstructing the item (about 2 days of work) while a cleric aids with curse removal and holy energies. Note that during this remedial enchanting, the enchanters will be subject to the alternative possibility of the box opening.
 

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anest1s

First Post
Ingredients:

Remedial Enchanting
-That is needed to cure the past Champion.
Puzzlebox-That holds the Remedial Enchanting outside the Demiplane.
Slave Auction Block-Where slave Giths are sold.
Grasping Horrors-The illithids that the adventure is about.
Reluctant Champion-The past Champion.
Bag of Holding-The way to the Astral Plane.

The Call of The Procreator

A short adventure for low level characters, designed with 3.5e D&D in mind, but adaptable to any edition. Can be used as an intro to a much bigger campaign, depending on players decisions.



Intro

Very few beings know that Mind Flayers come from the future. But how they came to exist at the first place? The PCs are going to witness part of their making, and maybe part of their fall.



Hooks


  • After looting the remains of a battle between Giths and Illithids
  • After meeting the past Champion who gifts it to them
  • After searching an old tomb and finding it there
  • Gaining it by any other imaginable way


the PCs come to possess what looks like an ordinary bag of holding.


The adventure starts there.


Background

A powerful ancient wizard long ago started a crusade against the illithids, trying to save the humanity from the inevitable extinction . By terrible and evil magic he studied the minds of humans and illithids, gaining a horrible reputation doing it. He became a lich to avoid insanity and gain the longevity he needed. He then formed his master plan against the Flayers. Naturally, he needs now the help of the PCs.




One Strange Invitation

Any PC with any ranks on Concentration, upon touching the bag realizes that it has an outside pocket he hadn't noticed before, closed with a decorative Gamboge coloured button . Inside is a book. Any other PC will notice it if it is shown to him, but someone with psionic powers can't perceive neither the pocket or the book, even if it is literary rubbed on his face. This is a protection against illithids.


The first page reads:
The fact that you read this, means that you are greatly needed.

If you value anything or anyone in this world; be it a person, an item, an moral, an idea, pleasure, power or even survival, you will need my help as I do yours.

For a great danger lingers over our world, endangering everything mortal.

I won't lie. You will risk life, soul, and sanity in this fight.

Cryptic this message as it is, its only an invitation.

If you turn the page, accepting the invitation, know that you will have to witness things few mortals ever do.

But please understand, this invitation wont be after the next sunrise.

Choose your destiny wisely.

Signed,
Terhan Cenoman
(Optional: Who is Terhans background can be discovered if you let the PCs more time to decide, and resources to do so)


  • By turning the page, they learn that they have to turn the bag inside out, and follow the Gamboge. They are warned that they should hurry.
  • By not turning the page, the next day the book, the pocket and the magic of the bag, all dissapear.

If they follow the instructions, they are thrown to the astral plane like trough astral projection-but their bodies are stored within the bag, and the bag then dissapears. Then they have to follow the Gamboge coloured pools.

If one PC dies in the Astral Plane he loses one ability point from a stat of his choise and everyone is forced back to the material plane. Practically this bag is almost as good as astral projection, but for the low level PCs this is needed. This works only for the PCs sinse the bag chooses its owners.


In the astral plane, feel free to pull random encounters, so that the PCs will get used to that plane.
The bag after the end of this adventure may lose its power gradually - make sure the PCs know how to survive till then.


Back in the Future

After the PCs find their way around the Astral Plane, they arrive to the small Demiplane they were invited to. They find themselves on a small island within a dark lake, in a giant lightless cave. A portal is behind them, while a natural bridge connects the island to the nearest side of the cave. Anyone touching the mass of the liquid takes 1 INT damage per round


Small black tentacled creatures are levitating in and out of the lake constantly, in a hypnotizing pattern. On the wall of the cave where the bridge leads, lies a sceletal figure embedded on it. This is Terhan. This cave is his brain.


In a brief talk with the PCs, thet learn that

  • The illithids came from the future after their near destruction
  • They think they will dominate all, and will if allowed
  • He studied them when they first appeared
  • He was great enchanter and necromancer
  • He became cruel and unhuman trying to cover his inability to fight them.
  • He found a loop to destroy the illithids.


He explains that the illithids traveled back here to make sure they will survive. However what if they fail at the future, exactly the way they failed before, even with the help they have already given themselves? Then they are effectively trapped in a time loop, while the rest of the world goes on without them.


He is here to make this happen.


(The following information can be attained by agreeing to fight with him, or with a Diplomancy check.)


If asked about the lake, he explains that he is creating the first Mind Flayers here. He grands them the powers they already have, and the weaknesses that will lead to their fall. Weakness to the Sun. Weak links with the Arcane, and its side of enchantment. Hunger for mental energy. Weakness to the undead.
He tries to find how the world will be when they will fall, and create them weak enough to do fall. He tries to make them weak enough, so he can battle them until then.


He pushes the creatures into the Lake, that feeds them- and then examines them one by one. Then he changes them. Somehow those creatures believe in him, and from having enough followers he is close to becoming a god. Not that he is not powerful enough anyway.


He plans to send them back into time, when he will be able to.


Possibly he is the one that made the Mind Flayers. But even if he stops, someone else will have to make them- the evidence is that they exist.


Then he offers them to become his Champions, sinse he can't leave the cave and he needs help. He is willing to nagotiate some kind of payment for their service.
If they refuse, he will make them swear thet they will never talk about it. And if they try to break their promice their memories will be lost, by a powerful spell he casts on them.


If they agree and then try to betray him, the same will happen- but he will also promises revenge.


From now on, they can talk to him by writing on the book, and he can reply through it.


One Old Deal


''Before you make your decision, there is something I need you to do for me. I will reward you for this help, even if you won't follow my crusade.''
He and his last Champion had a deal. That when would feel that his servitude time was over, he would be granted a normal life again. Now, after aions of serving, he wants to fight no more. He wants to live the mortal life he missed living.


Right now he is an undead too though, and with the secrets he knows this is impossible. The PCs have to transport Terhans magic out of this Demiplane, with the help of a magic puzzlebox they are given, to the Material Plane, where the last Champion is trapped, and activate it in front of him.


(Optional Quest: Finding the Champion may prove difficult. He can't just stand there waiting for the PCs to save him after all.)


The puzzlebox carries two powerful spells. One that will restore the past Champion back to life, and a powerful enchantment which will erase his memory for ever. They are stored within the box in the form of music, which plays after the cube is solved (solving it is like winging a music box, and after playing the cube is unsolved again). The box looks like a d6, having pressing points equal to the number of an actual dice side each side. There are 3 ways to solve it. Roll a dice and see what number is up, then hand out sodukus with a number of boxes equal to the other sides (if 1 or 6 is rolled, you hand out one 2*2, one 3*3, one 4*4, and one 5*5 sodukus). Or an intelligence check to solve each soduku DC3*side. Or if they roll the cube like a dice in the ground it is solved by itself. The nature of the dice reflects the nature of the multiverse, and thus it has the properties of a d6.

After its solved, 1d6 ability points are given to the PCs and drained from the past Champion. That is their reward.


If they have decided to never return to Terhan, the invitation is withdrawn. The puzzlebox is gone along with the bag.


The illithid slave market


''Good, I see you are back. You have made your choice I take it. I have a very important mission for you.''
He explains then to the PCs how important the rebellion of the Giths was, against the illithids. However it is still unknown how it ever was possible for them, to overcome the mind control of the illithids. He suspects that the Giths are a time paradox, like the Mind Flayers. However its risky to let it happen by chance- the reality might change. He asks the PCs to travel to a parallel dimension, where probability is reality. There, they will buy Gith slaves, from the Mind Flayers that prevailed there. Then they will return with the outcome of their research.

(Optional Quest: The PCs have to help him cast the spell in some strange way, its not something trivial after all)



After the spell is cast, they find themselves in a parallel world, in Mind Flayers bodies. They have to find their way to the Slave Auction Block, and buy some of the most broken minded Gith slaves. They have to act fast and act naturally, or they risk getting discovered by an elder brain. How they will get the info about the Giths is the hard part. They have to steal an illithid mind recording device, and record their mindstate. Good PCs may feel they have to save the giths of that dimension, but thats impossible. After that, they have to return, along with their sample.

Of course the sample can't follow them back. But the needed information is recorded within their minds, from where Terhan can get it if they agree.


What happens next


If the PCs never accepted the invitation, nothing really happens.
If they saved the Champion but they refused to take his place, they keep their memories. This allows for a different kind of plane-hopping campaign, because they have already been introduced to the Astral Plane.
If they agreed to join him, then they have to fight the illithids in many ways. They will have to interact with other strange creatures and organizations, to try to make piece between Githzerai and Githyanki, etc. Many things need to be done after all for the illithids to fall. To follow this path to the end, the PCs will have to become undead at some point.


(Optional: Terhan returned from the future and poses as the God of the flayers, supporting his own past plans from within)
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Iron DM Judgement Round 1 Match 3: Briarmonkey vs Anest1s

Iron DM Judgement Round 1 Match 3: Briarmonkey (Slavers of the Ancients) vs Anest1s (Call of the Procreator)

Well, I'm a little behind with my judgement (stupid day job) so let's just jump right in without screwing around......

I'll make one note by way of preface -- I make it a point to refer to the entries, not the entrant, as I talk about what works and doesn't. You're both obviously creative DMs with interesting ideas, and flaws that get called out (if any) should be seen clearly as flaws in this specific sample, hastily produced and with other challenges as well, and not as any sort of reflection or statement about you guys more generally.


Ingredients:

Remedial Enchanting -I figured this would be an interesting ingredient to see how it was used -- a combination of terms like this that is unusual or unlikely tends to be a spotlight moment for creative efforts.

In Slavers of the Ancients (SA), the remedial enchanting is the means by which the puzzle box device can be disabled. The usage here though is only technical -- when the enchanting is described it's actually deconstructive (while enchantment is usually treated as creative magic, not destructive magic). It feels like the term was tossed in at the end to satisfy a sixth ingredient, and it does not managed to be convincing, truly remedial or an enchantment, and just doesn't really satisfy me.

In Call of the Procreator (CP), the remedial enchantment is not much better, though. The ingredient guide declares that the remedial enchantment is "that is needed to cure the past champion" -- but if that statement were not there I doubt I would have been able to find the ingredient in CP. With my attention drawn there, it's still very hard to see. The puzzlebox bears the two enchantments that are used to restore the champion (one brings him back to life, one erases his memories). It's there, but it's weak, and the presentation problems with CP don't help make it clear (more on that later).

In the end, CP is closer to the mark, but I wish both had been stronger. Advantage CP.

Puzzlebox - The puzzlebox was an important dingus for both entries -- no surprises there.

In SA, the puzzlebox is an infernal device that contains a gateway to the interplanar auction block. It plays music, summons grasping horrors, and can make like difficult for it's bearer, but it doesn't really behave like a puzzle box much in the entry. Apparently there are combinations that can be used to make it play specific music, but other than that, the puzzle of the box doesn't seem to be an important part of the use of the device.

In CP, the puzzlebox is also a bit of a disappointment. It's the item that is passed along to the PCs so they can restore the champion, but it could be anything -- and the fact that it's a puzzle box is represented by giving the PCs soduku puzzles to solve.... now, it may be bad luck to have a judge who doesn't like this kind of representation of puzzles, but I don't think that a math puzzle that has nothing to do with the in-game puzzle is a good, evocative, immersive way to engage the players. I wouldn't like a word search or crossword puzzle any better. IMO, puzzles like this need to be tied back into the game -- a jeweled cube that is essentially a rubik's cube might have worked, but this one doesn't really work for me.

Advantage SA

Slave Auction Block - SA appears to make use of the auction block. It's tied magically to the puzzlebox. But, unless I'm missing something in the way the entry is meant to play out, the adventure never really reaches the location. It's entirely possible that the PCs could recover the box and disable it (or just stash it in a bag of holding) and never be sent to the block. And if they are sent to the block, it's not clear how they get back home, if they do.

In CP, on the other hand, the auction block is an actual location the PCs must go to, it's truly an auction block, and the PCs need to do things there. Advantage CP.

Grasping Horrors - Both entries have grasping horrors covered pretty well. No advantage to either.

Reluctant Champion - another example of the conceptual combination that should really drive some creativity, and once again I wasn't excited with either usage.

In SA, the Garrick Hale is a disillusioned servant of the cult of asmodeus, but I don't really see, in the entry, how he manages to be much of a champion. In the course of the adventure, he mostly wanders around opening the box from time to time -- hardly behaving like a champion.

In CP, once again we have to take it as a given that this champion is a champion. We don't seem him doing anything that makes him a champion, he's just a servant the way Garrick Hales was in SA. But, in this case, the reluctance isn't even really there. He had an agreement, basically sold his services to Terhan, but that doesn't make him reluctuant.

So, weak as it is, advantage to SA.

Bag of Holding - In SA, the bag of holding feels like an afterthough, tacked on as a possible solution to the problem of the puzzlebox. The PCs don't necessarily find one, but if they happen to have one, they could use it. That's not really an ingredient.

In CP, the bag of holding is part of the hook -- not the strongest use, but it works. So, advantage CP.

Ingredients Overall: Neither SA or CP really used ingredients in a way that made them sing to me -- my reaction was a lot more "okay, I guess that counts" than "whoa, that's awesome/clever/cool". Maybe it was a tough batch. In the end, I've given 3 advantages to CP vs 2 to SA, so CP has an edge, but it's far from commanding.

Playability/Usability

Here, perhaps because of the limited time to prepare entries, both had some problems.

In SA, everything is pretty clear, except I don't have an especially clear idea of what the actual adventure is meant to be. A situation is created quite clearly -- people disappearing, cultists and grasping horrors snatching townsfolk, and so on -- but even if the adventure is meant to be a sort of sandbox where the PCs can run off in just about any direction they like, a paragraph that discusses some likely possibilities would have helped a lot. Right now the entry reads like a good pack of source materials that contains everything but the actual adventure.

In CP, we have a more conventional presentation of the adventure -- the Pcs are asked to do things and we walk thought a fairly linear path. But CP has problems of it's own. No, I don't want to be a pain in the ass about typos and minor problems, but I spent as much time trying to unravel what CP was trying to say as I did appreciating the ideas. As the entry goes on, it seems to get less and less coherent -- and when it starts talking about the time loops and other things that are confusing to begin with, the lack of clear presentation makes it very difficult to tease out the thread of what's intended. The presentation doesn't need to be perfect, but when it gets in the reader's way, you've got problems.

In the end, I think I'd have an easier time using SA -- I'm clearer about what's going on and it seems like I could drop it into an existing game with little hammering, but the advantage is slight.

Creativity

CP takes us on a much broader, more involved story, including extraplanar travel, time loops, and so on. Pretty heady stuff for an adventure designed for low level characters.

Iron DM is based on Iron Chef -- the contestants are given ingredients and they whip up a meal. They come up with cool, interesting ways to highlight those special ingredients in the dishes that they produce.

What you don't really see on Iron Chef is a contestant, given the ingredient "ham steak", using the ham steak ground fine and sprinkled lightly over prime rib, because the contestant felt like cooking prime rib, even though that wasn't the primary ingredient.

That brutally confusing analogy is sort of what I feel like is going on in CP. The ingredients have become garnish and embellishments on a plot that has nothing to do, organically, with the ingredients themselves. None of them are truly intrinsic to the story that's being told.

I find the illithid time look thing really confusing -- the lich is both creating them and trying to destroy them? They've traveled back in time to the current time to make sure they survive? I'm still not sure I get it, really, and I've read the entry a half a dozen times. I find myself trying to puzzle out the loops within loops that seem to be there, and I find that whole challenge frustrating because the whole time-travel element is completely unnecessary to the entry, and has nothing to do with any of the ingredients.

In SA, on the other hand, the adventure setup we're given sticks pretty well within the realm defined by the ingredients -- the things that the PCs will (apparently) spend most of their time interacting with are the key ingredients. Again, without a discussion of how the adventure will play out, it's just conjecture, but I feel like the creativity displayed there, in it's limited way, is a little better than the more broad, anything goes creation that is CP.

Conclusion.

I think it's probably pretty clear that I wasn't jazzed by either entry. I'm leaning towards SA, but the lack of a clear discussion of how the adventure plays out strikes me as a pretty big flaw. I don't think it was for lack of room in the 2000 word limit -- maybe I'm just dim and missing something.

CP had a slight advantage in using the ingredients, but margin there was really thin, and in every other way I've favored SA. I'm going to give SA the nod, so Briarmonkey advances.

Thanks to both of you though -- I know you're both new competitors, and the first time through is a real trial by fire. I think you both have some very strong promise. Briarmonkey, take the time to spell out the path of the adventure for the judges, even if it's meant to be a sort of sandbox adventure format. And Anest1s, I hope you'll be back in future competitions -- you have the right idea, but if you would stick a bit closer to the ingredients, not wander so far, and give yourself time for a editing pass before submitting your entry, I think you can be a tough competitor in the next contest.

-rg
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Round 1, Match 4: [MENTION=1830]Waylander the Slayer[/MENTION] vs. [MENTION=6676736]Pentius[/MENTION]

Ingredients:

Hive Queen
Hidden Watchtower
Righteous Wizard
Crystal Axeblade
Unending Pursuit
Lover's Leap
 

anest1s

First Post
:p I agree with the judgment on my entry, mostly.

I hate riddles, but then again I hate more puzzles that aren't puzzles, so I just went for the soduku thing- not that I would actually like it in a game environment, but on a failed int roll its easier to solve a soduku than solve a rubik cube (hell that was my first thought :p haha). Clearly maybe there was a better idea I should come up with- but I just couldn't!

The champion is reluctant in that he was to choose when his service would end- if I had space to write more I would have more of his backstory. Well actually, I think I should just have shouted it instead of only mentioning it. Next time I guess ;)

A general mistake I now see. I made the adventure to need the Ingredients, but most of them weren't the adventure themselves.

About the linearity...
I kinda failed hard at that part.
In my actual games I just give options, and build the world depending on what the PCs want.
Here, I thought that a DM would follow the same tactic. So I made a linear path, only meant to be played by players who wanted to play in a path like that.
However a DM who is used to play linear adventures, usually does so because of lack of time to create an interactive world. He can't depend much on my adventure to force his players in the path. On the other hand a DM who plays sandbox will find it too linear for his taste.
So yeah, that was a major flaw.

About the typos etc, well I can't say I noticed them :p I suspect it is because I had no spell check and good enough knowledge of the English language to cover the absence.
I blame the confusion on the word limit though- I can explain something if I want with words I know how to use well, but not if I don't have the space to do so! So yeah, my weakness, but I will shamelessly blame the word limit too :p

_________________
Now, I don't want to edit my entry, but I feel its a waste not to explain the loop.

1.Mind Flayers come from the future
2.Wizard learns about them
3.Wizard fights them and loses
4.Wizard learns they are from the future
5.Wizard thinks, if future mind flayers are here, then after the point they returned there wont be any of them
6.Wizard slowly brings mind flayers to fall
7.Mind flayers go back to (1.)
8.World without mind flayers

One of the ways the wizard chose to fight them, was to be the one who created them and imbue them with flaws, making sure they are who they are now, and stabilizing the time. He can send them back to where they were first born when the mind flayers will travel back to the past.

Confusing. But the less confusing options were a Hag brothel and a Choker infested town. So yeah. Better you confused than me kicked in the face ;)
______________________________

Seriously though, now that I am out of competition, I think I can suggest the limit to go up. I have a feeling that the adventures I read are worse than what they would be without the limit.


Congrats to [MENTION=95387]BriarMonkey[/MENTION]
Dude make sure you win this. Then I will be able to say that the last Iron DM was the one that bested me :p Seriously good luck!
 

BriarMonkey

First Post
Thanks. I appreciate the critique, and do feel it's valid. Going into this I thought I had plenty of time, but as I mentioned, work suddenly took a turn and I've had late nights. Not an excuse, but for me, it's hard to be creative, or cohesive, when I can't relax and let things flow - things get rushed and awkward instead.

Anyway... Since what, the early '80s (?) I've had a sandbox style of GMing. While I was learning, in the late 70s, I did do a lot of modules. With modules, you have a beginning; a stack of bits in the middle, normally laid out to connect the beginning to the end; and an end. With my GMing style, when I create an adventure, I create a rough skeleton - the rest tends to get fleshed out during play. Thus, instead of a module's start - content - end, mine have a pile of bits. Everything dealing with the start, end, and actual flow of the bits depends on the characters' interactions and how they move through the environment. It's kinda like Lego. I supply the bricks, the characters supply how they are fit together. It's all very open and allows for a lot of diversity.

Having said that, it turned out that my very style was my greatest difficulty with this challenge. It was trying to put my ideas on paper such that they made sense and tried to give enough that the adventure was self-evident. Obviously, that failed. It sounded good in my head - but that didn't translate.

Moving forward, while I don't think I'll get as hung up on that notion, I do need to keep in mind that if it's not on paper, no one knows what I am thinking. So I need to do those transitory statements; those elements to provide guidance as to the idea and flow.

Just my two shekels for what it's worth.
 

Alomir’s End
A D20 Adventure for 7th level Characters

Ingredients:
Hive Queen- Alomir; imprinted with the mind of the Formian Hive Queen.
Hidden Watchtower- Thornspire; remnants of the Formian Queen’s Watchtower, unknown and hidden.
Righteous Wizard- Alomir, whose righteousness got him tossed of a hill, and can be appealed to by the party.
Crystal Axeblade- Dakkor- Dark Crystal Axeblade responsible for Alomir’s “mind meld,” and a useful tool for the Party.
Unending Pursuit- The Looped Defense Tunnel within Thornspire where the Formian Defenders pursue the PCs relentlessly
Lover's Leap- Alomir’s End; suicide point and key location to the adventure.


Thornspire erupts from the vast flat lands, reaching to the skies, like a spike thrust into the earth by god’s hand. Sitting atop this curious formation is the town of Mistfall; its natural beauty and wondrous nature a beacon for the rich and powerful. Yet this idyllic town has been beset by a rash of suicides, unexplainable in nature. Will the PCs be able to unravel the tragedy that consumes the town, or will it consume them?


Synopsis: The PCs investigate a rash of suicides that have beset the town of Mystfall. Their inquiries lead them to a singular event from the past; the suicide of Alomir- a mage and worker at one of the local Inns. Investigating this event reveals the history of Thornspire as the remnants of a Formian Colony (or any hivemind type creature preferred by the GM) and takes party deep into the heart of the Colony, where they will confront a transformed Alomir.


Background: Alomir, a common bastard half elf and wizard of little note, made the mistake of falling in love with Liandra Krane, daughter of Viktor Krane-the most powerful noble in Mistfall. His relentless pursuit of Liandra won him her love, but also the undying enmity of Viktor; in an exclusive community like Mistfall, marrying beneath your class was not an option. Viktor convinced himself that the wizard had bewitched his daughter because the righteous mage had refused all bribes. Viktor, along with Sherriff Roland Hoff and others had Alomir tossed into the ravine that runs through the edge of town known as the Crag (ever since known as Alomir’s End). The Sheriff promptly investigated, and prompted by reports of “eyewitnesses,” concluded that the death was a suicide.

Alomir didn’t die; he fell through the loamy earth, and found himself buried within Thornspire. To his surprise, he was surrounded by large, labyrinthine tunnels plastered with strange adhesive. He dragged his shattered body through the tunnels, finally coming upon remnants of a large battle; chamber was littered with exoskeletons of antlike creatures, and strange humanoids; the largest exoskeleton embedded with a still intact axeblade that beckoned the mage.

Dakkor, the axehead, is a Dark Crystal Gythzerai forged weapon that absorbs the sentience of the last creature killed and imprints the psyche onto the wielder; powerful when fighting hivemind creatures. Psychic energy surged through Alomir upon contact, enveloping his mind. He felt and sensed the singularity of hivemind, and the Formian Queen’s will imprinted itself on Alomir. He felt the presence of the remnants of the scattered hive, his mind commanding and compelling the servitors, and over time, creatures of similar more primitive nature. His mind slowly degraded, intermixing the will of the Hive Queen with his righteous anger, his magical powers increasing.
Now his mind reaches out to the beloved of those that wronged him, compelling them to jump off Alomir’s End; if the fall doesn’t kill them, the maws of his servitors will .


Hooks:

- Sherriff Roland Hoff contacts the PCs for help. He offers them a fair reward in solving the mystery.

- One of the Parties’ acquaintances is missing while on vacation in Mistfall, prompting the group to investigate.

- While vacationing in Mistfall, the party sees a suicide (attempt) first hand:

Part 1- No Rest for the Weary
The Party is relaxing in the Fluffy Pillow, a posh inn, when they meet Alisa Krane, younger sister to Liandra. Alisa is vivacious, adventurous, and a hard partier, and engages any of the PCs she considers to be interesting. If interested, she invites the PC for a stroll; compelled to go to Alomir’s End. She has been frequenting the area recently, drawn to it. If questioned, she says it’s a secluded and a romantic spot [note that she is the first jumper]. She kisses the PC, smiles, winks, and then jumps off without warning.

Developments
A Sense Motive [DC 20] check reveals that something’s off with Alisa’s behavior. A Spellcraft Check [DC 15] reveals that she is being unduly influenced. The spell effect is exactly like Dominate Person except with greater range. Alomir can only use this ability 1/3 days due to his unique condition.

The PC can act in whatever manner to prevent her from jumping; if stopped, she will struggle to be free, including screaming. The PC will have to explain his actions to the town guard and the Sherriff unless Alisa’s compulsion is broken. She can’t recall details but mentions a strong compulsion and feeling an alien presence within. If/when the PC is cleared of charges (either by a “free Alisa,” Diplomacy, when the next suicide happens), Viktor or the Sherriff will ask the PCs to investigate.

If Alisa dies, the PC is taken into custody and interrogated. Further, the PC is confronted by a distraught Viktor Krane. However, the next (Jason Hoff, Roland Hoff’s brother) suicide makes the Sherriff reconsider his decision, and he’ll also ask the PCs to help.

A Sense Motive Check for both Viktor [DC 30] and Roland [DC 15] intuits that there appears to be something deeper troubling them. Alomir/Hive Queen also becomes aware of the PC at this time.


Part 2- Building a Mountain out of an Anthill
There are multiple ways of investigating the suicides:

Roland Hoff-Sherriff: A tall and hefty man with a bouffant, Roland is gruff and direct, and has the habit of rubbing his hands together when nervous. Roland will vaguely touch upon Alomir and events of the past, hand waving it as being unimportant ( “some brokenhearted sod that jumped off”); he won’t mention anything about Liandra. If confronted about this at a later time, he confesses to hiding the identity saying that “it was long ago, and the girl has been through enough.”

Alisa Krane (if alive): Alisa was young when the events of the past happened, yet she does recall her sister’s broken heart and the death of Alomir. She doesn’t know much about the relationship and will accompany the party if asked, and can direct the party to her sister Liandra who is married and lives nearby.

Liandra Krane: Liandra is contently married, with a son; she is horrified by recent events. If accompanied by Alisa, she will quickly open up, otherwise, the party will have to convince her to open up (DC 20 Diplomacy). She repeats her conviction of Alomir’s righteousness. PC’s (Perception check-30) notice that her son has a slight elvish cast to him (he is Alomir’s son); if pushed on this gently, she will confess to this fact.

Viktor Krane: Viktor claims he is unsure why his daughter killed/ tried to kill herself. He does have enemies who he will freely name (red herrings-and left to the GM to elaborate). If confronted about past events, Viktor shuts up. However, if Alisa is alive, the party can convince Viktor to reveal the truth (diplomacy-DC 30), made easier if Alisa/Liandra herself makes the appeal (DC 25) focused on their safety.

Other information: The locals are reluctant to talk about past events, but if convinced, they’ll inform the party of relevant past. Nature oriented party members will note an unnatural and profuse ant infestation; some who behave oddly, “following” them. The resident crazy also mentions seeing an ant horse carrying off sheep.


Part 3- Into the Crag
When the party investigate Alomir’s end, they’ll notice medium sized Insectoid tracks, leading into the crag. As they climb down, they’ll be swarmed by ants (perception DC 15 to notice before hand-Ant Swarm).
Thornspire is the remnants of a guard tower of the Formian Queen that sheared off a Formian City. Therefore, the interior of the tower is riddled with various defenses. The key defense is a large “endless looped” tunnel system used to disorient any that entered the tower; there are hatches within the tunnel that can be opened by Formian defenders by using scent spray. The tunnel system is also vibration sensitive; the GM should play up the alien nature of the place.

Defense of the Guard Tower
The remaining Formian forces are much smaller than they once were:
- 6 Workers
- 4 Warriors
- 2 Taskmasters
- 3-5 Ant Swarms
The GM should ensure that the Formians take advantage of their hive mind and coordinate the defenses in concert. They also take advantage of the sometimes vertical nature of the passageways. Note that the Formians prefer to capture rather than kill outright.

Developments
The bottom of the crag is smooth and crystalline, with a circular opening. The party notices sudden movement within, moving away from them. The whole set up is a trap, as Alomir has been observing the PCs through the servitor ants. The opening will be sealed in once the party enters the tunnel.
Once in the tunnel the Formian Defenders attack the PCs through the hatches, and just as quickly existing, pursuing them relentlessly. They track the PCs easily using their vibration sensitivity, and will change tactics, like dragging off one PC and closing the hatch. The easiest way to “escape” the relentless pursuit is to find a “hatch” and use the scent glad from a dead Formian to “spray it” open. Alternatively, a kind GM may allow the PCs to break one of the hatches.

The hatches from the tunnels lead to spherical rooms and chambers, now rigged with pitfalls and similar traps. Other chambers include remnants of a hatchery, an “art” room with wondrous crystalline structures that appear to defy gravity and a scent room with devices that emanate enticing odors [stinking cloud effect for humanoids]. Note that the “hive” does not have the advanced capacities it used to have due to the passage of time, and Alomir being the “hive queen.”

The main chamber is a large spherical structure with a newly rebuilt chrysalis like hive queen chamber where Alomir/hive queen resides. Alomir has taken on some physical and mental characteristics of the Formians; his skin is red tinged and harder, mandibles protrude from his mouth, and antennae grow from his forehead; his movements are also skittering. He wears Dakkor- the Crystalline Axehead around his neck. His wizardly powers have become formidable though not as much as a Formian Queen; spells limited to those the Queen knows for 4th level and below, other than Dominate Person ability.

Direct assault on Alomir is difficult, since it is likely that the defenders will retreat here to protect the Queen. There are alternate tactics that will work as well:

-Appealing to Alomir’s righteousness like pointing out that he killed/ is trying to kill his beloved’s sister [3 Diplomacy checks DC 70 total), with an additional +15 bonus if his son’s existence is made aware.

-Spellcraft check of DC 30 can ascertain the nature of the Dakkor, snatching Dakkor drastically reduces Alomir’s power and his control of the Formians.


Conclusion
Even after they defeat Alomir, the PCs are sealed in. Clever PCs can control the Formians via Dakkor to lead them out; however, prolonged use of Dakkor slowly erodes the PC’s identity. It’s up to the party how they handle things with Alomir and how much of his actions expose, the same goes for the actions of Viktor Krane. Viktor tries to kill Alomir if he is made aware of the mage’s existence. Alomir plots vengeance of a more direct nature if left alone.
 

Pentius

First Post
'Til Death Do We Part
Ingredients:
Righteous Wizard
Hive Queen
Crystal Axeblade
Hidden Watchtower
Unending Pursuit
Lover's Leap

Synopsis:
Til Death Do We Part is an adventure written for a party of characters of roughly 14th-16th level using 4th edition D&D rules, though it should be convertible to other systems easily enough. The adventure consists of two main parts, recvering the lost axe from Tanner, and stealing Lydia back from the clutches of an Aboleth.

Hook:
Either the party should come across the village of Timbervale in their travels, or Timbervale should be a few days' travel from a larger town that the party is in/goes through. The party is contacted by a man named Abner. In late 20's, his loose, rune-inscribed robes, crystal-tipped staff and ink-stained fingers mark him as a wizard. Bags under his eyes, unkempt hair and the wilted appearance of one who has suddenly lost weight mark him as a man fallen on hard times. Initially, Abner tries to tell his entire tale in a rush, but takes a deep breath and explains his situation.
His wife, Lydia, has been abducted by an Aboleth in a rare surface sighting near their home village of Timbervale. Divinations reveal her to be alive, but tell little else. Abner has been straining himself, and his credit, trying to devise a way to rescue her, but despite being a skilled wizard, he is a poor fighter. His main hope had been an axe with a crystal blade, a traditional wedding gift in Timbervale. Abner admits that he always thought it a silly tradition, but after his wife's abduction, the ornamental axe took on meaning, and he has used his magic along with what he could learn of Aboleths to forge it into a tool that could cut through whatever foul enchanments and, here he shudders, modifications the Aboleth may have made to Lydia. As a symbol of their wedding, he can also use the axe to trace his wife, important since the Aboleth's lair is well concealed.
However, the reagents he used for the axe he requisitioned on credit from Breg Tanner, a local mercenary and occasional black market dealer. Abner has not been able to make his payments, being consumed in his work with the axe, and when Tanner's men came to collect, they took the axe as payment. He promises the party finder's rights on any treasure in the Aboleth's lair, noting that they often have valuable spell reagents. If the party contains a ritual caster, he offers to let them copy his entire ritual book, containing a variety of rituals often pertaining to water and purification from levels 1-15. If the party agrees to help, Abner urges them to start immediately on retrieving the crystal axe.

Tanner's gang is located outside Timbervale, near a current logging camp, but in a recently abandoned one. They make camp in one of several old watchtowers, which even with Tanner's man there, looks abandoned until the party comes into the camp, and someone succeeds on a medium DC Perception check. Even Abner is unsure of their precise location, since they move often, and can only lead the party to the right logging camp. If the party tries to get info from the logging camp or the village, they can gain a reasonable idea of which tower it is with an easy DC(for the camp) or hard DC(for the village) streetwise check, as Tanner's men are often hired by the loggers to handle threats from the forest. Once the party finds the tower, they must decide how to approach Tanner and his men. If the party found Tanner's tower right away, they can catch the mercenaries relatively by surprise and their disorganized nature will make any fighting or stealing easier. It will also give them a +2 circumstance bonus on any attempts at negotiating with Tanner for the return of the axe, since he will respect them for finding his tower easily. If the Pcs do not find the tower quickly, the mercenaries are well organized in case of a conflict, and fighting or thef become harder. Negotiation is still a valid tactic. The entrance is guarded by Sten, a human with a cocky attitude, and Clammy, a big, yet level-headed orc. The two are persuaded easily enough to allow an audience with Tanner, if they are approached evenly. Any attempt at violence or underhandedness leads even Clammy to be closed to the idea of negotitation. Tanner himself is an especially cunning half-orc who is never seen without his trusty bulldog, Stubbs. Stubbs is the main impediment to theft, evading him effectively requires a Hard DC Stealth check. Should battle be joined, Tanner leads his men from the front, and the whole gang works well together. Should the party try to negotiate for the return of the axe, Tanner will first try to get them to pay Abner's debt, a matter of 25,000 gold(or gold equivalent to a magic item of the party's level). He will also accept the party leaving something as collateral, but is a shrewd haggler, and will not accept any collateral he can't recoup his money on.

Once the party has acquired the axe, Abner can use his Magic Map ritual to locate the entrance to the Aboleth's lair, which appears to be a small, yet empty patch of swamp. The entrance is a watchtower, hidden by illusion. It can be detected by means of Arcana if the party tries to Detect Magic, or by a medium DC perception check. If neither of these is sufficient, Abner can cast Banish Illusions, but the ritual takes an hour to complete, so he will not use it from the onset.

Once the tower is revealed, the party can enter easily. The entry is guarded by a few Skum, but they are weak and Lydia is not among them. Their main function is warn the rest by way of piercing screams. Once inside, the party must race to find Lydia in the slimy chambers beneath the tower before the Aboleth can foil them. It is a powerful adversary in its own right, and if it finds the party a hard fight(level+3-4) will ensue. The chambers are laid out in a simple 3x3 pattern, with Lydia in the left chamber of the third row and the party entering in the middle of the first row. There are also regular patrols of Skum in the hallways, that though easy(minions only) will hold up the party. The Aboleth(use Aboleth Slime Mage, from MM) will use Skum minions to keep a line between itself and the party, firing from the back row and using its Dominate ability to keep melee combatants away from itself, or to pull ranged ones forward. It begins in the right side of the third row, but will move slowly toward any sounds of battle. In Lydia's chamber, she is connected to a large pool of slime by four tentacles that are imbedded in her shoulders. The chamber contains a number of Skum and the pool gives rise to a fresh one to three each round. Lydia fights weakly as well, though she is rooted to the spot. A character with the crystal axe can use it as a standard action to sever one of the tentacles. When all four are severed, Lydia will regain herself and stop trying to attack the party. She will also be mobile, though she will lack the strength to fight any more. If the Aboleth comes upon the party after they have rescued lydia, it will attempt to grab her, but will not kill her. When bloodied, the Aboleth will try to flee, taking Lydia with it if it can. In the Aboleth's chamber are a number of valuable(if slimy) reagents for spells as well as an underwater tunnel leading down into the depths of the Underdark.

If the Aboleth escapes, it will surely plot the party's downfall. If it escpaes with Lydia in tow, Abner will allow the copying of his rituals, but will try to persuade the party to press the pursuit. The underwater nature of the tunnel likely makes this a separate adventue, though.

Ingredients:

Righteous Wizard: Abner, the plot hook and npc patron
Hive Queen: Lydia, the object of the quest, a young woman turned Queen of Skum
Crystal Axeblade: enchantment breaker, homing beacon, wedding gift.
Unending Pursuit: Abner's search for his wife, possibly unended by the adventure's end, and possibly continued by an angry Aberration.
Hidden Watchtower: Tanner's outpost and the Aboleth's lair, one has a concealed watchtower, the other is hidden in a watchtower.
Lover's Leap: Abner leaps into danger to save his love, and the party must leap into slime to do the same. This one was a toughie for me, I'll admit.
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Round 1 Match 4 Judgement: Wayland the Slayer Vs. Pentius

Round 1 Match 4 Judgement: Wayland the Slayer Vs. Pentius
Judge: Radiating Gnome

I'm running late again, so lets just jump right in. I'll be referring to "Alomir's End" (AE) and "'Til Death Do We Part" (TD).

Ingredients:


Hive Queen - AE doesn't have an actual queen of the hive per se, but her mind is imprinted onto Alomir's by the magic of the axe, Dakkor. It's an interesting solution to the challenge of the ingredient -- I have some questions (I'll get to them later) but it works for the sake of the ingredient. For TD, the hive queen is Lydia, enslaved "queen" of the skum that serve the aboleth. It's a bitter stretch from the ingredient -- while aboleths dominate and enslave the minds of their victims, it's not quite the same thing as a "hive mind" in my opinion, and lydia isn't quite a queen, either. It's interesting, but calling her a hive queen is pretty thin -- certainly more thin than that in AE, so advantate AE.

Hidden Watchtower - In AE, the adventure location is a tower than was part of the fomorian queen's city. It's hidden, because no one in Mistfall has any idea that's what it was before it was the strange land formation their city sits on top of. It works, I guess, but those details don't really add much to the story -- that detail could be removed from the story without impact. In TD's case, there are multiple watchtowers -- a few ruined ones and an invisible one that is used by the Skum. While I'm not a fan of trying multiple uses, the primary use (the illusion watchtower) covers the bases well enough. I find myself wondering, though, about the watchtower part of the ingrendient. In this case it's an active watchtower, and it's invisible, so presumably the PCs are observed by the Skum while they approach. Once the tower is revealed, the screams of the skum guards are meant to be enough to alert the others, but if it's really a watchtower, wouldn't that alarm already be raised by the time the PCs have entered the tower? Anyway, both have towers, but at least TD's tower serves it's sentry duty in some fashion, so I'll give the advantage here to TD.

Righteous Wizard - Both have wizards, Alomir and Abner. Alomir does not really seem righteous to me. He's tossed off the spire because he won't stop pursuing Liandra, not because of any sort of righteousness. Abner's motives also are not righteous -- he's also driven by love (for his wife) and not some sort of moral or social code that could be labeled righteousness. No advantage for anyone here.

Crystal Axeblade - In AE, Dakkor is the blade of a crystal axe that imprints the mind of the last enemy killed by the axe onto the axe's bearer. It's a pretty cool artifact, something that has a lot of potential. It seems to me that it would need a little development, especially if it's something that the Pcs will be able to pick up and use. How much of the original mind is left when the imprinting takes place? What does that "imprint" really entail? Must the axe strike the killing blow? Another issue for me is that the axe isn't really an axe during the course of the adventure, just a bit of heavy and dangerous-sounding neckwear (don't trip!).

The axe in TD is an actual axe, and is used to sever the tentacles that tie Lydia to the Skum, freeing her. It's serviceable, but not truly integral. It could be removed from the adventure and the PCs could remove the tentacles with a standard action each without the help of the axe. So, even with it's problems, I do favor AE's crystal axe. Advantage AE.

Unending Pursuit Well, yeah. Unending pursuit should be unending. Alomir's pursuit ends when he's tossed off the cliff -- even though he survives, he stops pursuing Liandra, and instead seeks revenge. So, when the adventure actually starts, the pursuit is over. In Abner's case, his pursuit is ongoing, and in the end of the adventure, assuming the PCs manage to rescue her, it can finally end. For a pursuit to really be unending, I'm not sure that I like that it ends, but at least that pursuit lasts through the entier adventure. Advantage TD.

Lover's Leap - AE's lover's leap is actually a false lover's leap (since Alomir was thrown), but that's a trivial distinction, it works. TD tries to make do with a sort of figurative leap, as it's described in the ingredient breakdown at the end, but it's pretty clear that AE's use is better. Advantage AE.

Creativity - Overall, these are both pretty cool adventures. If we look at the independent of the ingredients, they both seem like they'd be cool, interesting advntures to play. I have questions about both -- I already mentioned questions about AE and how the magic of the Axe works (if Alomir's mind has been taken over by the Hive Queen's, why does he still seek revenge?) but I have similar questions about TD. Why would the Aboleth have taken the risks inherent in venturing up to the surface to capture Lydia in the first place? She doesn't seem special at all? Abner is the one with the power in the family, right? If aboleths are so crazy smart, what is so special about this girl? And if she's special, why isn't that an important part of the adventure.

In the end, I think both need a little more development, but they both work pretty well. No advantage to either on creativity.

Playability/Desire to Use - I find that I'm drawn to AE more -- I'm interested in the alien setting of the Formorian hive, which seems to be a lot more "natural" than the Aboleth's 3x3 complex which seems to be less "natural", more artificial, a dungeon level rather than a habitat. The PCs end up with an interesting artifact that has cool ramifiactions for future play, and the detective work seems a bit more interesting than the simple delve that TD offers.

Conclusion - It's pretty close all along, but AE made slightly better use of the ingredients and the adventure seems a little stronger to me. So, @Walyander the Slayer wins, and advances to Round 2.

Thanks to both of you -- [MENTION=6676736]Pentius[/MENTION], your entry was very good, and very well could have come out on top. Thanks for your entry!
 

Thanks RG. I cut out chunks of what I wrote to accomodate the word count. I agree with your criticism, especially the "Righteousness" of the wizard.

Re:-Drakkor is meant to be a Psionic Axehead (hence the Dark Crystal). A weilder's mind imprints with that of the last slain; in most cases, this will mean access to memories and "mental" abilities ( with an increasingly difficult will save on a daily basis to be able to maintain ones identity apart from the last slain). Alomir has lost his identity though it is intermingled with that of the Hive Queen; it's a merging of the two, rather than the Queen's mind taking over completely (hence why the party can try to get him back to "sanity" by mentioning his son etc.). Due to the merge, his "drive" for vengeance has been incorporated with that of the Hive Queen.


Hidden Watchtower: The "Unending loop" and other traps exist because it's a watchtower; had a lot more detail on this but had to cut it out due to space constraints [odd scent based trap, piston pumelling etc.)

Unending Pursuit: Dual use; the primary one being the unending loop trap that the Formian's use to chase and kill/capture the PCs. Originally I had Alomir still pursuing Liandra, leaving odd gifts and such but had to cut that part out in getting to less than 2k word limit.


Either way, it was a fun exercise, and Pentius did a great job with the ingredients as well! Thank you for taking the time out to judge; hopefully i can be a bit more creative the next round!
 

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