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IRON DM 2013--Entries, Judgements, Commentary, & Trash-Talk

Radiating Gnome

Something Wicked Comes to Mars

Successful Enterprise
Insufferable Ally
Something Wicked


Any system which provides for multiple settings/times (so 3.5e D&D/D20 Modern/D20 Future; FATE, Savage Worlds, GURPS, etc).


This adventure is written as a one-shot, ideally at a convention or other setting where multiple tables are playing. This writeup with present the two table version. (Additional tables could be added if word count allowed.)

The slot is promoted and signed up as two different games, one called "Something Wicked Comes Back" and another called "Dinosaur Safari."

During the course of the session, the two tables will be mixed, then at the end they will join together for the final battle.

Dinosaur Safari Intro

This adventure starts with a team of steampunk/victorian era hunters and tourists preparing to go on a time-travel-empowered safari to hunt dinosaur. The PC's arrive, meet their guide, and set off through the time machine to the age of dinosaurs.

Shortly after their arrival, they are beset by a pack of raptors and it becomes clear the encounter will turn deadly very quickly.

Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud to the Rescue

A strange kite blows into the scene -- stitched together from many different bits of cloth, each one decorated with an open, fanged mouth. Riding it - tied to it's tail, is a skinny, bald, pale. In a grating voice (Leonard Nimoy doing a Gollum impression), he calls out to the group "Quickly, grab onto the tail, I'll get you out of here!"

Anyone who fails to grab on is killed by raptors.

Something Wicked Comes Back Intro

The adventurers start as people attending a traveling carnival. They are investigators asked to check out the carnival because young African American kids have apparently been going missing.

They arrive, start asking around, and find themselves cornered, surrounded by clansman and evil carnies -- too many of them -- who seem bent on killing them.

Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud to the Rescue

A strange kite blows into the scene -- stitched together from many different bits of cloth, each one decorated with an open, fanged mouth. Riding it - tied to it's tail, is a skinny, bald, pale. In a grating voice (Leonard Nimoy doing a Gollum impression), he calls out to the group "Quickly, grab onto the tail, I'll get you out of here!"

Anyone who fails to grab on is killed by clansmen.

Once they've grabbed on, they are whisked off into the sky -- in a swirling wind littered with autumn leaves. Yelling, Moundshroud introduces explains to them that their services are needed elsewhere in time. Oh, yes, and on Mars.

The Real Exposition

They are traveling to Mars in the year 2085. The red planet has been colonized for ten years, and the settlements are growing strong, thanks to an incredibly powerful powerplant called Bradbury Station, which is powered by a tiny quantum singularity.

The Singularity provides so much power, and is so stable, there has been unlimited power for the colonists, and as a result, the company that created it built a holographic amusement park around it (as a Star Trek Holodeck), also called Bradbury Station, and celebrating the works of it's namesake, Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury Station is a huge success. The quantum singularity at the heart of the plant provides more power than the entire mars colony can use, and the colonists love the park, in part because it lets them visit memories of lives back on earth.

However the power source is not benign. It's more than just a power source, it's a means for creating passages in Spacetime. The builders only discovered the ability of the singularity to create passages through spacetime when the singularity inadvertently became a portal to an extra dimensional prison containing a demonic presence. The Presence came through from the other side and infested the park -- turning the attractions against the people within the park.

The park is now sealed off.

The park administrators are now using the portal to find help, with the help of the Artificial Intelligence that runs the park and controls most of the holo animations -- those that have not been possessed by the presence.

Moundshroud himself is a animated figment, a character from a book called The Halloween Tree. He will be their guide, and the voice of the AI.

Navigating in the Park

The amusement park is like disney world, but dedicated to bringing the works of Ray Bradbury to life. There are areas dedicated to his major settings -- Mars (the version he imagined), many locations named for stories that are variations of early 20th century earth, etc.

At this point there are two groups, each riding in on a kite with their own version of Moundshroud. On the way in, the two vortexes bearing the kites collide, and the groups see each other. Then the kites veer too close to each other, and the tails get tangled. When they pull apart again, the two parties have been re-shuffled. (Roll randomly and send half of the players from each table to the other table, even those whose characters didn't make it out of the first encounter).

Replacements (Only if some PCs didn't make it out of the first encounter)

As the PCs are getting their bearings, slim figures approach from the "Bradbury's Mars" part of the park (one for each missing pc). When they arrive, they look into the eyes of characters who had originally been with the missing character, then shapeshift into that character.

The players of the dead PCs then take over again, and continue to play as if they'd survived the first encounter, with one change: As an action, the shapeshifter can become any other party member who has died (either in first encounter or since).

The Opposition

They are pursued by the Illustrated Man and a team of Firemen. In each location the Illustrated Man animates a different set of tattoos that bound out and challenge the PCs. Some are beasts (lions, wolves), others are human but just as deadly (serial killers, etc). These threats are backed up by Firemen.

The Illustrated Man is the primary avatar of the Presence (though, if defeated, he'll be back in the next scene). In each location the Illustrated Man animates a different set of tattoos that bound out and challenge the PCs. Some are beasts (lions, wolves), others are human but just as deadly (serial killers, etc). These threats are backed up by Firemen.

The Firemen are soldiers with flamethrowers. They especially like to burn anyone carrying books or paper of any kind.

The Ingredients

The two parties must gather four of five ingredients, then meet at the carousel for the final battle.

Moundshroud describes the five available items they could gather. They must have the wine, because that's what will drive the evil presence out of the Singularity. But, with two versions of MoundShroud, the two parties will be able to collect three other relics.

The Relics are: Dandelion Wine (required), Fog Horn, Scythe, Insinkerator, Golden Kite. They' won't be able to get all five, so they'll have to decide who goes after which relic. Moundshround can tell them what the rough date and location of the relic is (the setting of the story it's being taken from) but little more.

  • Dandelions Wine (From Green Town -- the early 20th century midwestern town that was the setting of many of Bradbury's stories) -- One team of PCs must travel to the town of Green Town to retrieve the Dandelion Wine from the Spaulding family -- the grandfather bottles it during the summer. The Illustrated Man and Firemen follow the PCs through and challenge them in the streets of this town while they recover the wine.
  • "The Fog Horn" (Mid 20th Century Maine Coast)- Fight a sea monster, a huge Kraken bring back the Fog Horn - Here the PCs must face a sea monster that is in the process of destroying a lighthouse -- once the Kraken is defeated the horn can be recovered and the PCs can return
  • The Scythe (From Early 20th century Kansas farm country)- A poor farmhouse in the middle of kansas. The PCs must recover a Scythe from the farmer. The Illustrated man, again
  • The Murderer's Insinkerator (Early 21st Century American City) - travel to a near future world to recover the garbage disposal of a man who is currently in an institution, after having destroyed all of his devices (computers, phones, radios, etc) with his garbage disposal.
  • The Golden Kite (Medieval China) -- Travel to ancient china to recover a kite -- actually a town wall in the shape of a kite. A section of the wall will do.

Moundshroud travels with both parties, serving as their guide & communicator between the two groups, and as a sort of greek chorus, narrating the action in his horrible, broken voice. He's quick to point out faults and report that the other group is doing far better.

The Final Battle

Once each party completes the second encounter, they make their way to the carousel at the heart of the park. The singularity -- a remarkably small power source, is housed in the control room at the center of the carousel. Gaining access means fighting their way to that control room, working through mechanical and digital security.

The two parties arrive at either end of the large open square that holds the carousel, where the Illustrated Man & his pets, as well as plenty more Firemen, are there to keep the PCs away from the singularity. There is no shortage of opponents, who keep being replaced when they are destroyed, so the PCs will need to use their recovered items and tactics to succeed. The horses on the carousel itself are animate and make the challenge of making it through to the center difficult.

The challenge in this encounter is to deliver the Dandelion wine to the center of the carousel - inside the control panes there is the singularity.

  • The Fog Horn can be used to draw all enemies towards it (it takes an action to operate the horn -- after it has been operated, every non-PC creature on the board must move towards the fog horn on it's turn.
  • The Scythe can be used to Strike down living opponents
  • The Insinkerator can be used to destroy robots, devices, and machines (including the horses on the carousel).
  • The Kite will carry two adjacent characters to any spot on the map as an action.

The two parties start on opposite sides of a large map, with the structure holding the Singularity at the center. Getting to it will require reaching the superstructure, opening the shields and dampeners that contain it, then going in to use the wine


Once the Dandelion Wine has been used on the singularity the Presence will be expelled from Mars and it's influence over the park is removed. Moundshroud can return the PCs to their own time and place, and Bradbury Station can go back to powering and entertaining the Mars Colony.

Ingredient Use
  • Anachronism - The player characters are actually pulled out of different times (actually stories) and don't belong in the time they're operating in.
  • Successful Enterprise - The powerplant and amusement park on mars, Bradbury Station.
  • Figment - The Illustrated Man, and the tattoo-summoned creatures it calls forth are the imaginary figments of the evil Presence
  • Insufferable Ally - Carapace Clavicle MoundShroud, the PCs guide through the adventure.
  • Something Wicked - The Presence/The Illustrated Man
  • Singularity - The power source at the center of the amusement park -- and also the gate to the Presence's Prison

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Once A Fool
Championship Match Judgement: Wicht vs. Radiating Gnome

Oh boy. This is going to be a close one. It appears as if I find myself faced with the age-old IRON DM dilemma—whether to rule in favor of the superior ingredients use, or the better adventure. To make it more difficult, both entries are actually really close in both categories.

I'll start with the ingredients:

In Wicht's piece, “The Luck of the Mighty,” (henceforth, “Luck”) the Anachronism, or, rather, anachronisms, manifest themselves as armies of the dragon-villain. Warriors of the past—and the future. Other than to add flavor to the adventure, this seems not to be that important to the adventure, however. If the armies were anything else, it would play out just the same. This is doubly regrettable, because it actually seems to weaken the significance of the Actuality Hook, which could have been an interesting focus for the adventure. Radiating Gnome's “Something Wicked Comes to Mars” (henceforth, “Something”) does a much better job with this ingredient. In this case, the PCs are the anachronisms—a far more compelling use!

The Successful Enterprise in “Something” is far less compelling. It makes for great scenery (and plays in with the carnival setting that the title implies). But, in the end, it's really only scenery. “Luck” manages something more potent, if far less predominant. The successful enterprise of the cheating gambler, Leon Talstiv, is but a small section of the adventure, but it changes everything. The only problem here—and it's a big one—is that it's set up to be inevitable. I think the scenario would play much better if the PCs actually had a chance of foiling it.

In “Luck,” we are presented with not just one Figment, but a choice of one and a palace full of them. While flavorful, the importance of the Morphic Palace is really only atmospheric. Don't get me wrong—it's great atmosphere—but, again, really just scenery. And calling a sword made of negative energy a figment is a stretch—although, because it's negative energy (void?), I can see it. In the end, though, the ingredient suffers from being stretched too far. It's not a thematic ingredient, so I suppose I'm meant to pick whichever one I like best.

“Something” gets around this by actually making it a thematic ingredient. And, in a rather clever—if gimmicky way. Yes, there's the Illustrated Man and his tattoos. There's Moundshroud and the amusement park, itself. These are mere echoes of the whole adventure, however. The unusual convention scenario is a bit of a gamble, but, I can see it being pulled off successfully—trick the players into thinking they are playing two separate games (a meta-figment, if you will). Mix them up, split them up again, then combine them at the end. It could work.

Regrettably, “Something” doesn't quite pull off the Insufferable Ally. First of all, I'm really not sure how Moundshroud qualifies as an ally—aside from serving as a deus ex machina in the early (split) scenarios, he mostly just spectates and taunts the players. I don't even get a sense of just how he is insufferable—we definitely needed to be shown more. In this sense, he is infuriating, but not necessarily insufferable.

Meanwhile, “Luck” shows off it's strongest ingredient, here. Levortin “I really love how his name is used to convey his character” Goldmanse VII comes off as truly insufferable ally throughout the entire adventure, first as an incredibly annoying super-NPC, and then as a total liability. Brilliant! That's one great character!

...Which brings us to the uninspired, Something Wicked in “Luck.” Okay, it is interesting that the villain is one of the psypossessors alluded to in Wicht's round 2 entry (in case you all didn't notice, all three of his entries form a sort of short adventure-path). The thing is, this one isn't given nearly enough attention to feel fleshed out and interesting. Even it's motivation seems kind of weak.

On the other hand, “Something” takes the ingredient and runs with it. I find it interesting that the piece went so thoroughly toward Bradbury, rather than Shakespeare, with its inspiration. As a villain, though, the Illustrated Man in this entry is not well enough defined—neither in personality, nor motivation—to really qualify as interesting. I find this particularly strange, given that hewing a little closer to the thematic elements of the inspiring source material actually could have helped. Ultimately, there's a lot of homage, but it isn't tied together well enough to feel more than superficially thematic and the ingredient—which is meant as a theme for the entire piece, suffers for it.

And then, there's the Singularity. In “Something,” it is used as a power-source for the amusement park that also doubles as the means of transporting the PCs through time and space on their grand scavenger hunt. This usage works. In “Luck,” it is similarly used as the Actuality Hook—the means through which the dragon amasses a needlessly anachronistic army. This usage is fairly weak—but it's really more of a throw-away, anyway. There is a singularity that is the focal point of the entire adventure (really, the main challenge of the entire adventure)--and that, of course, is the gods-blessed (and cursed) Levortin “Seriously, this is a brilliantly efficient way to convey personality” Goldmanse VII.

So, that's it. The ingredients in “Luck” are, in general, a little more cleverly implemented, a little more tightly interwoven, and a little more inspired than those in “Something.” The adventure is a little linear (on its surface), but looks fun. Meanwhile, “Something” has a very creative approach to the structure of the adventure—and looks like it could be a ton of fun, in a Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure kind of way.

I like it. But it's not enough. It's just far too sloppy—really, unfinished. I feel like the ideas in it could really have shaped up into something special, but the entry really needed another pass of editing. There are sections that are incomplete, a lot of the really good ideas are under-developed (like the hooks; they really should involved some PC decision), and details that would help the DM run what could be a challenging setup are often lacking. It feels rushed. Frankly, I think this entry was just a little bit too ambitious and it didn't quite work.

Radiating Gnome, you know your stuff—and your continual willingness to push the boundaries of what an entry can and should be is commendable. Your skill at doing so is remarkable. But, the thing about taking risks is, sometimes they don't work out. Them's the breaks.

And, anyway, Wicht's adventure is actually a little more complex than it at first appears. That bit I said at the beginning about having to choose between better ingredients or a better adventure turns out not to be quite accurate. On the surface, the adventure is just a trek to collect some tools and then slay a foe. That's pretext. This adventure is really about getting along with an unlikeable NPC because you have too—something that (in my experience) most PCs will go to great lengths to avoid throughout an entire campaign. In its own way, this adventure presents no less of a paradigm-shift in adventure-expectations than does Radiating Gnome's entry. The difference is, this one is (mostly) polished and just very well-presented.

Congratulations, Wicht. You are 2013's IRON DM!

Radiating Gnome

Crap. Always a bridesmade.

Congratulations, Wicht, on a well-deserved win.

I didn't have time to write down any notes about writing my entry beforehand, but I think you're right on in your critique, Rune.

In coming up with my plan, Something Wicked and the singularity, of all things, put me in a place where I needed to be working with Bradbury as the inspiration. The anachronism led me to the dual game/convention gimmick, which I thought was fun, and I had intended to have a third table as well. I fell in love with the idea of placing the adventure on Mars, because of Bradbury's Mars connection -- but also because so much of his writing was about 20th century america, the amusement park there would be a nostalgic look back at home for the colonists.

But, by the time I'd committed to putting it all together, things started to really feel like they were unraveling for me. And it's all Ray Bradbury's fault.

Bradbury was a serious writer -- a science fiction writer, but not really a writer of escapist adventure stories. He wrote mostly about human beings dealing with human problems on a sci fi canvas. And, as it turns out, that can become very difficult to stitch together into amusement park exhibits and adventure settings.

So, in trying to finish up this entry, I felt like I was trying to put icing on a cake that was falling. I'd prop up one area, and something else would collapse. MoundShroud just felt wrong to me. I needed him -- he was the character that fit the need I had for traveling through time and space, and he was my best bet at insufferable ally, but he was too much of a cartoon for the rest of this -- his texture didn't fit. He's cartoonish and silly in a piece that has none of those textures anywhere else.

It started to feel like Bradbury was working against me. That jerk.

Sunday night, I'd been working on it trying to fix things up, and I reached a point where I knew I had really big problems. I could have tried to go back to the drawing board at that point, stay up until the wee hours and try to come up with something different, but instead I took one more gamble. Usually, when I get stuck like this, if I sleep on it, I'll come up with a solution overnight -- just getting away, sleeping, tends to shake things out for me.

Usually. Not this time. I woke up and I still had the same problems. So, I spent my last few hours trying to get the icing on the fallen cake just right, and turned it in.

No regrets, though. It was a gamble worth taking. I still think the convention gimmick was a fun one to use, and the Anachronism ingredient made this a perfect time for that kind of schtick. And looking back at the choices I was making -- running with the idea of an amusement park in the future that, in many ways, is looking back at our world -- it's a fun idea. And, I'm sure that in about three days a few more things will click into place and I'll know what I should have done. But gambles don't always pay off.

So, congrats to [MENTION=221]Wicht[/MENTION], again, and thanks to [MENTION=67]Rune[/MENTION] for running the show!



Once A Fool
To be fair, I think that the multiple-table scenario wouldn't have felt like a gimmick if you had had the time to edit more and to add some helpful details. It felt more like an outline of how to organize the game than a fleshed-out adventure. It was very ambitious--so much so that it was clear you would have preferred another day to work on it.


Thanks Rune for running the show this year!

And RG, I would have been quite satisfied to have lost to your entry. I sort of "pre-judged" the two entries before Rune did and, ingredient wise, came to much the same conclusions as he and decided the final verdict would probably fall down to judge-preference. The idea of a whole adventure revolving around a holographic Ray Bradbury themepark was quite a good idea and I would have liked to have seen it better fleshed out.

The word-count (of which I am a huge fan of in Iron DM) was a big factor in this one. It, by its very nature, forces hard choices on how to present your material. Going into this one, I knew I wanted to do a continuation of the little mini-series of adventures I had started, and that I wanted a psypossessed gold dragon to figure into it. The gold dragon had come to me when doing Round 2, and though I did not bring it into that one, I thought it would make a good villain. That being said, after reading the list of ingredients, it was the insufferable ally I focused on first and much of my brainstorming had to do with that character. The anachronism was originally going to be soldiers brought in from the past, but that expanded as I developed the idea of an actuality hook. The twin ingredients of singularity and anachronism lent themselves to a primary direction, one adopted by both myself and my opponent; although I decided early on that the singular nature of the insufferable ally would be a good double ingredient.

As can probably be seen from reading the entry, the something wicked and figment ingredients did not get the brainstorming love the others did (I was driving, there was a cop involved, and my wife was a little upset with me when I confessed what I was daydreaming about). But more than this, the word-count meant that I had to stop adding to (I ended up cutting out about 200 words after my first draft to bring it below word count as it was).

I am pleased that the judge realized that the true point of this adventure was not in defeating the bad-guys, but in dealing with the luck of the insufferable ally (hence the title). I am equally pleased that I got to tie in the adventures of three different rounds into one another (that has been a goal of mine). And I am looking forward to defending the title in the next go around.

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
Hey folks! Just an update on what happened to Quadrial's Tower, my entry that disappeared a while ago.
It's in the newest issue of Pathways! I've got an (excellent, I'm told) interview in Pathways #32, but Quadrial's Tower appears in Pathways #33 (and got props from Endzeitgeist, which is always nice).

Check it out; Pathways #33 and all the other issues are pay what you want (which can be $0) and free, depending on where you look. Snazzy artwork included!

Good luck to all of next year's contestants! Thanks again!

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