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

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 1, Match 3 Judgement: Radiating Gnome vs. EP

I'm going to start off by expressing some disappointment in how a few of the ingredients were used in both of these entries. Not all of them; there were some very well-used ingredients in both, but, in some cases, uninspired. Maybe ingredients like “Point of No Return” and “Fork in the Road” were harder than they looked to me.

The Introverted Aboleth of “Curse of the Unwanted” (henceforth, “Curse”) is a great character. I mean, how often do you get to feel pathos for an aboleth? But as an ingredient, I never really got a sense of its abolethness—which would be fine if I felt that it had done away with schemes and slaves because of its introversion. But I didn't get that sense, either. Instead, it just felt like the aboleth was hiding because it was wounded and scared. While that makes for an interesting character, it didn't quite live up to the ingredient.

In contrast, “The Sermon of Kingfish VII” (henceforth, “Sermon”) has it locked down. Kingfish dominates all of his subjects (slaves) to such a degree that he even moves them around at whim for his sermons. This answers the question of why an introverted aboleth would surround himself with slaves (even at a distance) nicely: the slaves are not sentient to the aboleth—they are merely furniture. Add to that, the extremely isolated nature of Kingfish—so much so that he walled off his entire island with a hurricane—and we get a real sense of how an introverted aboleth might still be terrifying.

“Sermon” uses Fork in the Road as significant choice that the characters must make leading to their confrontation with Kingfish. The decision that the characters make have consequences. This is good. But, these decisions aren't even mutually-exclusive! It's possible for the PCs to do both? That might be better for the adventure, but the ingredient suffers for it; it is fundamental that when you come to a fork in the road (assuming it's not cutlery), you must choose one path.

At least “Curse” uses the ingredient more meaningfully. Again, it is a choice, but, here, it is a theme, as well. The denizens of the Lonely City must choose between their natures or to build a civilization. The PCs must choose between the typical problem-solving style and a peaceful acceptance of this new monster-nation. And they must choose again between fulfilling their (probably pointless, but lucrative) quest and mercy. I know I insinuated that this ingredient was used poorly all around earlier, but that's not the case, here. This one is well done.

And yet, while “Curse” has a Lonely City, it doesn't feel very lonely with its new inhabitants running around in it. “Sermon,” on the other hand, does. The city in this piece is isolated, lonely, desperate, oppressive...and to make matters more fun, the PCs are very likely to blend in—which might make them feel a bit isolated, as well! A lot of the character in “Sermon” comes out in the city, itself, and that always helps in bringing an adventure to life.

But the Point of No Return in “Sermon” is nearly meaningless to the PCs. If that point is the beginning of the adventure, the question raised is not “are we ready for this”, but simply “do we bother with this?” Functionally, it works, but it would have been better to see the ingredient pop up a little later in the adventure—once things were already in motion. Unfortunately, “Curse” doesn't even give us that. The ingredient here is only used as part of the hook—and not even one that the PCs have influence over. I think. I'm a little fuzzy on just how the ingredient manifests in the first place. Which isn't good.

And, here I run into a problem. I liked the Inspirational Sermon used in “Sermon.” It served as part of the framework upon which the adventure was built. I found it inspirational. But it clearly was not inspirational to the participants—they were only there to get fed! Nor was it even supposed to be—Kingfish cared so little about inspiring the masses that he took control of their very seating arrangements! “Curse” implements the ingredient more faithfully, but I find it somehow less intriguing. Which is odd, because I actually love the direction that it takes the adventure. I dunno. Maybe it's all the pre-scripted speech. Makes it feel more linear than it actually is. Just not my style, I guess. Can't penalize the piece for that.

So, how about the Changeling? “Sermon” has a great character in the form of Anter—who changes his very state of mind to keep it safe (although I do wonder where all of the alcohol is coming from), and who changes from friend to foe as the story progresses. He really helps bring the monstrous nature of the aboleth home. But I think I like the Keeper in “Curse” even more. Here is a shapeshifter who wants to change everything! The goblinoid's nature, the status quo, the very perceptions of the PCs! Now that is making the most of an ingredient!

The adventures:

“Sermon” is wonderfully atmospheric (in a creepy and oppressive way) and a tight adventure with a lot of adventure potential going on. “Curse” explores themes that I enjoy in my games. I see a lot of potential for this adventure—and for future adventures! But, as much as I enjoy it, I have to admit, it just isn't as tight as the other adventure—and there isn't nearly as much for the PCs to do.

I thought I knew the winner of this match before I started writing this judgment. But, as sometimes happens, the articulation of certain points caused me to reassess. In the end, I find that my reassessment matches up with my original assessment, but it is quite a bit closer than I thought. Alas, a couple of very inspired ingredients and a very inspired scenario are not enough to outweigh a well-crafted adventure with more tightly-woven ingredients.

EP, you've got the goods, and I look forward to seeing you compete in future tournaments, because this was a very fine piece. If I could give you one bit of advice for future tournaments, it would be this: work a little bit on tightening the adventure up—and giving the adventurers more to do. I think there's room for improvement with the ingredients, as well, but I also think that, with a little refining of the adventure, that would fall into place.

Radiating Gnome advances to Round 2.
 
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Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Ouch. You know it's Iron DM when even winning a round stings a little. ;) Thanks, Rune, and EP, excellent entry.

Since Rune has been asking for a look at how we wrote our entries, I wrote this one up tuesday after I posed mine -- before I saw Rune's review.

[sblock]

The Introverted Aboleth seemed like the obvious big bad… I immediately paired him with the changeling as his servant, although the initial ideas I had there didn't look much like the final version.

The sermon, as a writing exercise, resonated for me with the introversion of the aboleth, so those two went together. I imagined that obsessive writer who wants nothing to do with the world, only wants to work on his project. You know, what we wish George RR Martin were more like, so he'd write his books faster.

Lonely city gave me the audience for the sermon, and ideas for the situation started to come together.

The ingredients I had the hardest time with were the Fork in the Road and the Point of No Return. In part, they frustrated me because they were conceptually so close to each other -- a fork in the road may well be the point of no return, at the same time. Since I didn't think I wanted to have one element that tried to cover two ingredients, I decided to separate them as much as possible in the adventure. So, one comes at the beginning, the other at the end.

I'm not super happy with either of them, to be honest. The point of no return is a throwaway -- the adventure would be just fine without it.

The fork in the road, though, is a bit better. It's not in a literal road, but it does present the party with a choice -- the path to the ritual, or the path less traveled. My idea is that the players might take the hint from the backstory they've been given, and see that the untraveled path is probably the path to the introvert. In retrospect, I gave the party little way to suspect that they could split up and take both paths, and actually have some sort of advantage, but since this is NOT the point of no return, there's no reason they couldn't do a little scouting and figure that out for themselves.

Early on, I had the idea of using "fork" as a trident -- and somehow putting a trident in the road in one scene as a way of smirking and covering that ingredient. There just wasn't a good way to make that work in a good, organic manner, so I gave up on it -- but I retained the trident (as the symbol of the order of clerics serving Gremtilosse) for the fun of it. Part of me hopes that readers see that and groan to themselves Oh noes, he's going to stick a trident in the road and call it a fork in the road, how lame - and then be pleasantly surprised that I didn't go there.

Writing it up, I was very mindful of the way I judge: I'm not a big fan of heavy backstory in these entries, especially if it's backstory that the players don't encounter. There are important pieces of information in the backstory for the players, so I made sure that I made my background for the adventure as limited as possible, and I also basically hand that information to the PCs in the handouts (in the hook), so they have access to most, if not all, of the information in the backstory.

It's also a drag to write about Aboleths, who technically have both male and female parts and are "it" rather than "he" or "she".

Word count isn't an issue for this round, but I like the practice. IMO good editing and judicious use of bullet points improves readability and can seriously cut down word count without having to give up meaning or story elements.

In the end…. I'm not totally happy with it, as an entry. My use of the ingredients was not as good as I would like. I expect to take a beating for Point of No Return, for sure, and perhaps for Fork and for Lonely City. Some readers may not see the sermon as "inspirational" -- even though it's intent is to literally imbue the Aboleth with spiritual energy (the inspiration is actually for the aboleth, not the audience). I think it works, but it's dangling out there for interpretation, so we'll see how that goes. My changeling isn't as strong as it could be, either -- his changeling-ness could be pulled out of the story (it's actually more important that he's drunk than it is that he's a changeling).

I like the story as a whole, I think it would be a fun adventure to run. I like the idea of the city besieged by it's own ruler, the forced faith as a power source, the order of monks running the city. There are opportunities for all kinds of interaction (environmental encounters, social encounters, fun roleplaying for the DM with the drunk changeling, and plenty of combat encounters) and the potential for a complex final battle on two fronts. But, though inspired by the ingredients, it's possibly not the best use of many of them.

Gotta love Iron DM.
[/sblock]

-rg
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I see that your assessment more or less matched mine in many instances. I guess that means you knew better on some of those ingredients! :)
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
I see that your assessment more or less matched mine in many instances. I guess that means you knew better on some of those ingredients! :)
I knew I was going to get a lashing, yeah. But, you know, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. ;)

-rg
 

Rune

Once A Fool
[MENTION=6726030]Mike Myler[/MENTION] and [MENTION=54988]Dragonwriter[/MENTION], you have 24 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please include a 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.

Your ingredients are:

Point of Origin

Transcendence

Aberration

Death Spiral

Sentient Prey

Tasteless Joke
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
I wanna make sure I'm doing this correctly - do I need to put in statistics and the like, making a fully playable adventure short of nothing but maps, or am I doing everything except ​for the statistics?
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Mike, you can put in statistics if you want, but it'll most likely be wasted space and time. As far as the judgement goes, I'd much rather you spent that space and time polishing the rough edges off of the entry. Basically, put in what you need to in order to present your adventure clearly. Leave out everything else.
 

EP

Villager
D'oh!

It was a blast to write and it came down to the wire (or that's how I'm going to read it) and a worthy challenge from the Gnome.

I'll post my thoughts and stuff later on when I have a bit more time on hand.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
Point of Origin - The Asmov Ore is located (and thus, the collective hive-mind race) in the mine behind the tower.

Transcendence
- Asmov Golem (CE being of destruction and wrath) --> Asimov Spirit (LG being of pure light)

Aberration
- If the golem doesn't do it for you, the only other creatures in this module are all of the Aberration type.

Death Spiral
- The mining tunnel is a literal interpretation of this, as the spirit is 'bleeding out' as it goes farther down.

Sentient Prey
- The golem is getting hunted by the players AND the players are getting hunted by the Aberrations!

Tasteless Joke
- Too obvious for me to comment on.
-------------------------------------------------------------------


Quadrial's Tower

A Pathfinder adventure designed for four to five characters levels 3-4 by Mike Myler.

...has been temporarily removed. Currently it's being put through the editing and layout process with Rite Publishing to be released in Pathways!

Don't worry, Pathways is free, but because legal watch-a-ma-hooz-its it can't remain posted up here. As soon as it hits the presses I'll make sure to come back and provide a link to the issue containing this adventure!

PS: ENWorld's Iron DM 2014 will probably get a few more contestants next year so start polishing those adventure writing skills now!

EDIT: And now it's out! 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.
 

Attachments

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Dragonwriter

Villager
IRON DM 2013 Round 1, Match 4; Dragonwriter's Entry

The Mortal Coil
By Dragonwriter
A short side adventure intended for a high-level fantasy game. Written with D&D 3.5 primarily in mind.

Ingredients:
Point of Origin

Transcendence

Aberration

Death Spiral

Sentient Prey

Tasteless Joke


Background:
Some time ago, an experiment was attempted deep within the vaults of the mind flayers. This experiment had immense power poured into it in the hopes of a favorable result – the establishment of a mind flayer tadpole within the brain and body of an immature aboleth. This audacious undertaking was successful, but the resulting creature was an aberration among its own kind, abominable to its creators who immediately tried to kill it. Unfortunately for them, this new being was incredibly powerful and it managed to escape their clutches, determined to prove its superiority over all races. It took the name Zuxrashothikt and began to hone its innate, immense magical and psionic power.

It eventually devised a way to decidedly prove its superiority: by transcending mortality and becoming like unto a god. Zuxrashothikt acquired a Sphere of Annihilation as well as a Talisman and created a powerful focusing beacon for the energy needed to fuel its transformation. Zuxrashothikt determined that a spiral was the mathematically perfect method for this focus. It also concluded that it needed the minds, bodies, and even the souls of sentient creatures to power its mighty magic, abducting them through various forms of magical means, often made by Dominating mages into creating such things for it.

Zuxrashothikt’s Plan:
Zuxrashothikt has managed to alter the Sphere of Annihilation to produce a kind of necromantic energy and is using it to collect the souls of sentient mortals killed within the dungeon lair. The dungeon itself is laid out in a spiral infused with the death-energy of the manipulated Sphere, branching out while also allowing the energy pulled in along its course to focus at its point of origin, the Sphere. The souls of slain sentients fuel the coming ritual for Zuxrashothikt to transcend its form and become a god. Meanwhile, the flesh and brains of the slain provide earthly nourishment to it.

Zuxrashothikt has spread various methods of capturing mortals around the world, primarily in the forms of writing. A number of these take the form of joke books, due to Zuxrashothikt having a little knowledge of mortal humor from observations and a few captives it Dominated into service before making them a part of its ritual. As humor is a decidedly sentient concern, this helps to ensure only such creatures are brought to fuel its ritual.

Adventure Synopsis:
The PCs will be abducted by one of Zuxrashothikt‘s methods, specifically an enchanted book, and deposited within his dungeon home. They will make their way through the spiral dungeon to a final confrontation with the aberrant creature. If they are successful, they will be faced with a choice regarding the immediate future of the ritual.

The Hook:
At some point, the PCs will receive through any number of means (such as finding it on a table in a tavern, in a pile of treasure, or even lying on the street) a book bearing the title Fantastic Jokes to Amaze and Amuse with the addendum on the cover of, “Share Me with Friends and Family!” Examining it with Detect Magic reveals no aura (it is under the effect of a Magic Aura spell or equivalent), while a stronger examination should prompt a secret Will save against a high DC. When someone opens it to read, they find jokes that fall far more into the crass arena. Such jokes are along the lines of the following:
  • How many elves does it take to replace a candle? Just one. Elves burn great.
  • What do you do if you see an elf drowning? Throw him his wife and kids
  • How are dwarves and babies alike? They both small like dung.
(The DM is encouraged to come up with other, equally-bad jokes, especially directed at PC races.)
Reading this book actually activates the magic held within, which forcibly teleports (no save) the reader and any nearby sentient creatures (effectively, the rest of the party, plus any civilians/NPCs you wish to drag along as DM) to the outermost edge of Zuxrashothikt‘s dungeon.
[sblock=Regarding Allusions to Events] The DM is encouraged to, if possible, make mention over time of things in line with Zuxrashothikt‘s plan, especially people disappearing. As completion of the project nears, more powerful sources are required, so over time the mentions of people disappearing should go from peasants to low-power individuals or groups to mid- and high-power mortals.[/sblock]

Coiled Death:
The joke book’s teleport deposits the party in an arched, curving hallway of great size with a wall near their backs. Only one path is before them. Everyone can clearly see a crackling black-purple beam of energy above them stretching away around the curve of the path ahead and into the wall behind them. When the energy enters the wall, it spreads out in a broken, spider-like or cracked-glass manner. This same effect is noticeable permeating the walls throughout the dungeon. Knowledge checks focused on Arcana can identify the energy as similar to that of a Sphere of Annihilation, but the energy has been manipulated and twisted into something different.

Detect Magic spells can also obtain information regarding extremely powerful Abjuration- and Necromancy-based magic prevalent throughout the area. The Abjuration seems similar to the field produced by a Dimensional Lock and will prevent any form of teleportation or other extraplanar travel, but the source seems to be the energy beam coursing near the ceiling. The Necromancy can be identified as something extremely close to the Soul Bind spell and likely affects everything in the complex. If PCs attempt to further examine the effect, allow INT or WIS checks to obtain hints regarding the effects leading to the conclusion that the Bind is connected to the energy beam, funneling the captured souls into the beam which then derives further energy from them.

[sblock=A note on the environment]
It is strongly encouraged to highlight the weirdness inherent within the spiral. Such things as the stones quivering as if alive, pools and tendrils of stinking, brackish slime, and unnatural growths are excellent examples and embellishment is a great idea.
Two especial highlights to include are: mention of clusters of eyeballs on stalks growing out of the walls. These are the way Zuxrashothikt monitors its prey, using its innate telepathy to contact the clusters. The other is how the energy of the Sphere has managed to permeate everything native to the dungeon and its construction – the reason these things survive when the wall of death-energy moves through the spiral to force the prey along its path. Also, prolonged contact with the walls will begin to annihilate the contacting person’s life force. Damaging the walls will cause the death-energy to spill out and directly harm the PCs.[/sblock]

If the PCs are lingering too long at the start, the energy pouring into the wall behind them solidifies into a barrier and slowly pulls away from the wall and toward the PCs, forcing them down the path. The curve in the walls draws them in its spiral, closing down as they follow the path. The energy beam siphoned off of the Sphere remains perpetually above their heads. The party should encounter a few Moderate to Difficult encounters during this time, preferably with creatures that are soulless, non-mortal, or non-sentient. Stone or Greater Stone Golems, Advanced Elder Black Puddings, and Nightwalkers are all appropriate possibilities (with supplemental books, the options naturally increase, such as an Advanced Gloom Golem or Advanced Greater Shadesteel Golem).

During this, the party should also find scattered pages of research notes and journals kept by Zuxrashothikt. These detail various things about its history, its process in divining the way to its goal, the methods it has undertaken, and the end result it hopes to achieve and where. These are written in a jumble of languages (primarily the Aboleth language and the mind flayer writing form Qualith, but also with plenty of Draconic and Undercommon), the only way Zuxrashothikt finds itself able to truly express its thoughts, so far beyond normal ability and also extremely fractured. Here are some examples of possible writing fragments to be uncovered in any order:
  • They cast me out, fools, mongrels. I am the logical evolution of both races, even if my genesis was forced. They call me abomination; I call them underdeveloped. My superiority will demonstrate itself in time.
  • The energy has coalesced and is nearly enough. The spiral’s perfection has focused all it can to the center. Now it needs more powerful source material. Stronger mortal souls are needed… and more fulfilling nourishment.
  • I will use this Sphere to fuel my transcendence of this realm. But I will need to alter its being, as my own has been altered…
  • The spiral is the method to focus the energy of the trapped souls. With the Sphere, it can expand itself over time as the captured energy increases. It is also an efficient use of space.
  • My greater being will be demonstrated soundly by this: I will become a new being, transcend this malformed body and any hint of the mortal realm, and become a god. But I must determine how to power this transformation…
(These are merely suggestions. The DM should feel free to alter them and create new ones.)

The PCs should eventually reach the center of the spiral and the monstrous master awaiting them.

The Showdown:
Zuxrashothikt awaits the PCs in the spiral’s center and the point of origin for all the deadly energy throughout the dungeon. It is completing the final steps to its Transcendence ritual. Though it expected the last souls collected already, it is nothing if not confident in its superiority.
[sblock=Describing Zuxrashothikt]
Zuxrashothikt has a body structure that is a strange melding between that of a normal humanoid-based Mind Flayer and its unusual host body. This has caused several changes in physiology. Its cranium is greatly enlarged and veins and the brain itself can clearly be seen throbbing beneath the soft skin. It has three baleful eyes vertically stacked on its forehead. Zuxrashothikt has a large humpback from which protrudes a sizable dorsal fin. Four long, extremely flexible arms practically drag the ground and whip about more like tendrils than rigid bone-based extremities. A malformed split tail hangs down behind Zuxrashothikt’s legs. Finally, brackish mucus covers its entire body.[/sblock]

The great central chamber takes the form of a large dome. Carved into its walls is a conglomeration of symbols of the arcane in a variety of languages similar to the scattered papers found before. Knowledge (Arcana) checks ID them as designed to focus energy in a location, control the Sphere of Annihilation floating in the middle of the chamber, and surpass corporeal form.

Zuxrashothikt is reading from a great tome, focusing the Sphere for the final phase. The Sphere floats suspended perfectly in the center of the room (as mentioned above) and has a wealth of tendrils reaching out. These entwine in the spiral of a multi-helix before merging completely into the conduit seen throughout the rest of the spiral.

Zuxrashothikt now attempts to destroy the PCs so their souls will finish powering its ritual. It should be completely aware of them so no Surprise Round is in effect. It has twisted the Sphere and mastered it well enough to force the Sphere to lash out every 5 rounds (this count should begin powering up on Round 1 of combat). This attack takes the form of a spiral, striking characters standing in certain squares throughout the room. Zuxrashothikt always knows the perfect place to stand to avoid the tendril, and any characters who make a DC 28 INT or WIS check can find out the same information. Taking such places causes the tendril to pass them by harmlessly. PCs who do not take safe positions must make Reflex saves (DC 28) to avoid the tendril as it passes through their square.

Zuxrashothikt should provide a Very Difficult challenge for the party. It has immense Arcane and Psionic powers, as well as many of the natural abilities of both Aboleth and Mind Flayer. These include such powers as Enslave, Slime, and the innate Psionics of the Aboleth as well as the Mind Blast, Improved Grab, Extract, and innate Psionics of the Mind Flayer. Zuxrashothikt should also have many levels in Wizard, Sorcerer, or Psion to further accentuate its casting nature. It should focus primarily on mental control and personal defense (many of these latter should already be in effect when the PCs arrive) while also attacking with potent effects. Its INT and CHA should be extremely high, making the DCs fairly difficult for the PCs to reach (rolls of 14+ at least, for its stronger attacks). Zuxrashothikt will fight to the death.

Aftermath:
Should Zuxrashothikt kill the PCs, their souls provide the final dose of power necessary to fuel its transcendence. It will become a new minor-deity(-equivalent) and embark on a crusade to destroy, absorb, or convert every inferior being in the world. Which boils down to every living sentient.
Should the PCs kill Zuxrashothikt, its own soul will complete the energy reservoir. A PC can take the tome it was reading and either end the ritual (which shuts down the Sphere’s power) or complete the invocation, allowing the PC to transcend mortality and achieve a state akin to godhood (which completely drains the energy of the Sphere).
[sblock=Regarding the Choice] The DM is strongly encouraged to make the possibility of godhood enticing, but also convey to the PCs the danger of corruption due to the immensely Evil means through which this energy and rite were created. Whether or how this corruption does occur is entirely up to the DM, but slowly turning a PC-become-new-deity into a villain is an intriguing possibility.[/sblock]

Either choice causes the Sphere of Annihilation to stop powering the complex. This makes the entire spiral immediately unstable, and it begins to collapse in on itself. Luckily for the party, the power maintaining the teleportation blocks also ends with the Sphere’s energy, allowing such methods of escape to be possible. There is also a tunnel leading up to a suitably-dangerous part of the Underdark (or campaign equivalent), hidden through cunning means from passerby, which is one way Zuxrashothikt went into the rest of the world when absolutely necessary. The party can make its way home from here through any means the DM deems possible.

Summary of Adventure Ingredients and their Connections:
A book of Tasteless Jokes transports the party to the Death Spiral dungeon lair of the Aberration Zuxrashothikt, where it hunts and kills Sentient Prey to fuel its ritual of Transcendence to take place at the spiral’s Point of Origin.

[sblock=Detailed Breakdown]
Point of Origin: The center of the Death Spiral, where the captured soul energy of the Sentient Prey is focused for the Aberration, Zuxrashothikt, to complete its ritual of Transcendence. Site of the final battle.

Transcendence: The goal of the Aberration’s ritual, powered by the souls of Sentient Prey. Focused and attained at the Point of Origin of the Death Spiral.

Aberration: Zuxrashothikt, the villain of the adventure is an Aberration in Type and in nature, being aberrant to its own progenitor species. Created the Death Spiral for focusing the captured soul energy of Sentient Prey, where it will attain Transcendence at the Spiral’s Point of Origin.

Death Spiral: The dungeon lair of the Aberraion Zuxrashothikt, which focuses the soul energy of Sentient Prey to fuel the Transcendence ritual that will occur at the spiral’s Point of Origin.

Sentient Prey: The PCs and various other mortals the Aberration Zuxrashothikt has slain in the Death Spiral to fuel its ritual of Transcendence in the spiral’s Point of Origin.

Tasteless Joke: The contents of many of the books which the Aberration Zuxrashothikt has scattered around the world. It is designed to ensnare Sentient Prey and send them to the Death Spiral, where they are killed and their soul energy captured and focused in the spiral’s Point of Origin to fuel the ritual for Zuxrashothikt’s Transcendence.[/sblock]
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 1, Match 4 Judgement: Mike Myler vs. Dragonwriter

Once again, we have one entry that is a lot more polished than the other. I suppose I could be grateful that with the trouble we've had scheduling this last match I've got two entries to judge, at all. But this is IRON DM. It's got a time-limit for a reason—it's supposed to challenge contestants' skill and discipline.

So what am I looking at, here? “Quadrial's Tower” takes us on a journey as a sentient golem turns into an enlightened spirit. “The Mortal Coil” throws PCs into a death-trap, where they ultimately confront an aberrant mindflayer intent on becoming divine. One of these adventures is much tighter than the other, but they both have some fundamental problems.

Both adventures are strikingly linear (even if they spiral). This isn't necessarily bad design, but it does mean that the DM's options are no less limited than the players. In the case of “The Mortal Coil,” (let's just call it “Coil”) that doesn't leave much, because the adventure is little more than a single scenario in the first place. Sure, it's a super-creepy and fun scenario, but it's still just a single scenario. “Quadrial's Tower” (I think I'll call it “Quad” from now on) has slightly more going on, combining a chase with another chase, so the PCs get to simultaneously be hunters and prey.

The hooks in both adventurers are pretty weak. In “Quad,” we're given a standard, wizard-is-missing-go-find-him hook. “Coil” uses a more interesting, but heavy-handed and, frankly, only slightly more interesting get-trapped-by-a-book hook.

And then “Quad” presents another problem—once the PCs figure out what happened to the wizard—fairly early on—they have no real motivation, save curiosity, to finish the adventure. This could be enough if they were being presented with clues that their actions were leading to the enlightenment of the golem—but they aren't! All they have a chance of knowing is that every time they destroy the thing it comes back bigger. And just as murderous.

On the other hand, the PCs are presented with an interesting option at the end of “Coil.” After they have killed the Mind-Flayer-Thing, that is. Getting there is an atmospheric trip, but it there isn't much choice in the matter. Once they kill the aberration, however, they are presented with an interesting opportunity—and not without cost. Light at the end of a long, spiraling tunnel.

I've been pretty harsh, so far, but there are some things that I definitely liked in both entries. I'll focus on those a bit before we get into the largely disappointing uses of the ingredients. First, “Quad” has some very good flavor text. Now, understand something: I say that as someone who generally has no use for flavor text. I almost always present the players with their surroundings in a more free-form and, sometimes, subtle way. But this stuff is very evocative. It makes me wish the rest of the adventure was written in the same style and tone. You know, instead of having all of those stat-blocks dominating the second half. Still, the stat-blocks may well be useful for someone running the game. So, there's that.

“Coil” has a great feel to it. It's weird and creepy and, somehow, also haunting. I like what I see there, I just wish there was more to see. I also like how well-formatted and how tight the scenario is. The background tells only what it needs to. Sblocks are used as side-bars to condense the entry. It was easy to read. It doesn't feel like there's any wasted space.

And then there was some stuff about ingredients:

I have to say, I felt that there were a lot of missed opportunities in these ingredients. Some of these ingredients were ripe for creative interpretation, but...

The Point of Origin in “Quad” is nothing but a mine in which the Asmov Ore is found. It's relevance to the PCs is completely nonexistent. In “Coil,” it is the center of the death spiral? That's it?

Transcendence is one of those thematic ingredients I like so much. I like them because they have a lot of potential for weaving into and throughout an entry. They're the kind of thing you can hang an adventure on. I almost got that with “Quad.” Almost. It felt like that was what was supposed to be there, but it was, unfortunately, mishandled. In order for the PCs to get a sense of the golem's transcendence, they need to actually see it happening—and not just the physical enlargement. If an alignment shift from Chaotic Evil to Lawful Good is in the works, let the PCs in on it! And if it's coming about because of the PCs' actions, they need to see that, too! Otherwise, it's just wasted potential!

And what about “Coil?” As motivation for the aberration, it works, but it's a little dull. Once again, it isn't something the PCs have any real interaction with, except to stop it. But it really could have been any ritual that needed to be stopped. Transcendence need not have factored into it. Once the aberration is dealt with, however, it gets interesting. The PCs have the opportunity to complete the ritual themselves and become just as wickedly divine as the aberration would have. That's interesting!

The Aberration in “Coil” is both an aberration in D&D terms, but also an aberrant. I was hoping to see something like that. Unfortunately, the fact that the aberration is an aberration doesn't factor into the adventure at all—it is merely motivation for the NPC. But, at least, it's clever (and flavorful). Sticking creatures with the aberration sub-type in a dungeon and having them hunt the PCs (as “Quad” does) isn't that creative a use of the ingredient. Now, if the golem were an aberration (as implied in the entry), that might have worked, but I saw no way to actually take the golem as such. The metal, for instance, was specifically described as being/causing any golems made from it to be Chaotic Evil. That could so easily have not been the case and the ingredient would have worked.

And that leads to some disappointment with the Death Spiral, as well. First of all, for those of you who don't know, this is another ingredient with multiple definitions. Not only is it a figure-skating technique, but it is used in to describe a situation in which insurance costs rapidly increase because low-risk policy holders change policies or drop them altogether. It has, of course, a similar meaning in gaming: a character acquires penalties through failure (often in the form of wounds), that make success (and, frequently, survival) increasingly less likely. Both entries chose to go with a more literal interpretation. I'm fine with that.

What doesn't work for me, however, is what “Quad” does: having a golem die of natural causes in a spiral dungeon and calling it a death spiral. “Coil,” on the other hand, actually has a very interesting take on the spiral dungeon with death in it. It actually sucks the life out of those trapped in it. Good thing, too. Because that's pretty much the entire adventure!

“Coil” uses Sentient Prey as fuel for the transcendence. On the whole, it's not bad. “Quad” has the PCs hunt a sentient while being hunted, themselves. That has good adventure potential, right there.

But where's the Tasteless Joke? I've read “Quad” thrice, now. Still—nothing. The best I can figure is that the name of the killer-golem is supposed to be the joke. But it's only tasteless in that it seems to reject themes that Asimov pretty consistently explored. “Coil” actually includes some (pretty tame) tasteless jokes. I can't say I was terribly impressed with the implementation of them as a (heavy-handed) hook to start things off, but, hey...it's something.

Mike Myler, you have some strengths that you can build upon for future tournaments. First of all, your vision was a good one. Having the PCs chase a foe while being chased makes for a potentially fun scenario and following the golem as it grows up has great potential, as well. Not to mention a good way with words! If only some more time had been spent in exploring and polishing these elements—and if only the relationships between the ingredients and their relevance in the adventure had gotten a bit more attention...I feel like a second attempt would capitalize on some of the good things you've got buried beneath the surface. That said, I'm afraid that second attempt can't happen in this tournament. Dragonwriter's entry utilizes the ingredients better, and is a tighter, more usable entry. Even if it is a little too small.

Dragonwriter, I loved the feel of your entry, but, please, give us some more, next time. And, if I may offer a little advice, pay a little more attention to the ingredients. They are what they are for a reason. Think about several possible interpretations and the implications that they would have for the adventure as a whole. Figure out how these implications might impact a bunch of PCs who blunder into them. You showed some skill in doing this already, but I think you're capable of more. Obviously, this advice applies to all of the other remaining contestants, as well. Dragonwriter advances to Round 2.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
Congratulations Dragonwriter!

The Point of Origin in “Quad” is nothing but a mine in which the Asmov Ore is found. It's relevance to the PCs is completely nonexistent.
The wizard's tower is also the point of origin for the golem, but I wasn't sure where to go with this anyway. I suppose I SHOULD have stuck with most literal definition of the term. My bad.

Transcendence is one of those thematic ingredients I like so much. I like them because they have a lot of potential for weaving into and throughout an entry. They're the kind of thing you can hang an adventure on. I almost got that with “Quad.” Almost. It felt like that was what was supposed to be there, but it was, unfortunately, mishandled. In order for the PCs to get a sense of the golem's transcendence, they need to actually see it happening—and not just the physical enlargement. If an alignment shift from Chaotic Evil to Lawful Good is in the works, let the PCs in on it! And if it's coming about because of the PCs' actions, they need to see that, too! Otherwise, it's just wasted potential!
I suppose so!

Sticking creatures with the aberration sub-type in a dungeon and having them hunt the PCs (as “Quad” does) isn't that creative a use of the ingredient. Now, if the golem were an aberration (as implied in the entry), that might have worked, but I saw no way to actually take the golem as such. The metal, for instance, was specifically described as being/causing any golems made from it to be Chaotic Evil. That could so easily have not been the case and the ingredient would have worked.
I thought having a golem that can grow was already different enough from any other golem I've read about, but I guess some tentacles wouldn't have hurt.

And that leads to some disappointment with the Death Spiral, as well. First of all, for those of you who don't know, this is another ingredient with multiple definitions. Not only is it a figure-skating technique, but it is used in to describe a situation in which insurance costs rapidly increase because low-risk policy holders change policies or drop them altogether. It has, of course, a similar meaning in gaming: a character acquires penalties through failure (often in the form of wounds), that make success (and, frequently, survival) increasingly less likely. Both entries chose to go with a more literal interpretation. I'm fine with that.

What doesn't work for me, however, is what “Quad” does: having a golem die of natural causes in a spiral dungeon and calling it a death spiral.
By the end of the tunnel any PCs in Quad are going to be subjected to (on average) 8 saves on that table, and I kinda thought the latter effects were already pretty brutal. Next time I'll make sure not to overlook the integration of themes so haphazardly and make sure to really drive things home.

But where's the Tasteless Joke? I've read “Quad” thrice, now. Still—nothing. The best I can figure is that the name of the killer-golem is supposed to be the joke. But it's only tasteless in that it seems to reject themes that Asimov pretty consistently explored.
I found the entirety of my joke tasteless, but humor is a harsh and fickle mistress!

Mike Myler, you have some strengths that you can build upon for future tournaments. First of all, your vision was a good one. Having the PCs chase a foe while being chased makes for a potentially fun scenario and following the golem as it grows up has great potential, as well. Not to mention a good way with words! If only some more time had been spent in exploring and polishing these elements—and if only the relationships between the ingredients and their relevance in the adventure had gotten a bit more attention...I feel like a second attempt would capitalize on some of the good things you've got buried beneath the surface. That said, I'm afraid that second attempt can't happen in this tournament. Dragonwriter's entry utilizes the ingredients better, and is a tighter, more usable entry. Even if it is a little too small.
Thanks! My way with words, almost assuredly, is why I land any gigs at all. :)
 

Dragonwriter

Villager
Written before the Judgement:
Okay, as to the creative process, I find it something difficult to describe. In this case, most of the scenario came simply as a burst of inspiration. On seeing the ingredients, most of them clicked together very quickly to my mind; only one remained difficult to integrate.

The Aberration struck me immediately as the unsurprisingly traditional creature which began as a Mind Flayer. I pictured it trying to Transcend its form into something even greater, and attempting to achieve this result by killing Sentient Prey in a Death Spiral, with the energy generated focused at the spiral’s Point of Origin. I kid you not, this was formed in my mind within about 15 minutes of seeing the ingredients. Only the Tasteless Joke eluded me.

I moved on, focusing for a little bit on the connections between the other elements and how to make them work together as well as I could, as well as thinking about the format of the adventure. I settled on a plain old simple side dungeon and was thinking of potential Hooks when the idea to nab the party by tricky magic came to me. The way to disguise the magic was through a book of really, really bad jokes. I felt this was a fairly poor way to work in the ingredient, but it was the best I could think of at the time. And with the time limit on my mind, I decided to just run with it, even with the railroady nature of the thing. It was only meant to be a side adventure, after all.

As I was writing up the basic framework, an idea regarding the Aberration came to mind – what about a double-meaning? My thoughts went to ways to make an Aberration in both type and spirit, eventually leading to the abominable hybridization of Aboleth and Mind Flayer that came to be named Zuxrashothikt.

It went on from there in the same basic style. The rest was mostly thinking up weird window dressing and how to describe Zuxrashothikt, which pretty much entirely came about by simply thinking of what the Monster Manual’s picture of a Mind Flayer crossed with an Aboleth would look like.

………
After reading Rune’s Judgement:

Thank you for the critiques and advice. I knew I was going to take a hit for the poor implementation of the Joke. And looking back, I can see how I could have done more with the Point of Origin, like at least making the dungeon created in the same place as the bad guy’s Point of Origin or something useful to manipulate there in the Showdown.

I think the biggest thing preying on my mind was the time limit. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time in the evening to devote and absolutely none the next morning, so I was really focused on just trying to finish up what was effectively a (maybe) second draft. This also played a large part in me keeping the scope of my scenario much smaller, as I didn’t feel I could comfortably tackle a larger adventure and make it of competitive quality with the time constraints.

All that said, I’m glad you enjoyed the style. It was fun to write. :) It might be something I come back and expand upon at some point in the future for one of my games.

I will do my best to put your advice to use in my next round. And I’ll make it bigger (the 48 hours will help). :D

………
[MENTION=6726030]Mike Myler[/MENTION]
When I saw how much you got done in those few hours, I was really worried. Your evocative style, clever Asmov Golem rebuilding, and strong mechanical explanations were really well-done, IMO. It was great competing against you, and I hope to see you in the tournament again. :D
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I thought having a golem that can grow was already different enough from any other golem I've read about, but I guess some tentacles wouldn't have hurt.
Sorry, I should clarify. I meant if the golem was an aberration as in "different from other Asmov golems"--if, for instance, it was chaotic evil while other Asmov golems were not. You could easily have done this, but, instead, went out of your way to specify that all Asmov golems are inherently evil. I didn't really understand the decision to do so. Hell, making the golem's chaotic evil nature an aberration would have even have made the transcendence more meaningful.

By the end of the tunnel any PCs in Quad are going to be subjected to (on average) 8 saves on that table, and I kinda thought the latter effects were already pretty brutal. Next time I'll make sure not to overlook the integration of themes so haphazardly and make sure to really drive things home.
Okay. Point taken. That's pretty subtle. I enjoy subtlety, but I've definitely learned (the hard way) that you can't rely on it completely in IRON DM. Much better to layer it in.

I found the entirety of my joke tasteless, but humor is a harsh and fickle mistress!
Sorry, dude. It's not that I didn't think it was funny. I completely missed it! Unless that's the joke. In which case, kudos--that's pretty subtle, too.

Thanks! My way with words, almost assuredly, is why I land any gigs at all. :)
Plus, I noticed that you know how to use a semicolon; little things make me happy.
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
I will do my best to put your advice to use in my next round. And I’ll make it bigger (the 48 hours will help). :D
...Yeah...about that...I think you'll find that the word-limit will make that difficult. Actually, your entry was a pretty good size (although I didn't do a word-count this time around). It just didn't have enough adventure in it. You're an efficient writer, so I'm sure you can pull that off.
 

Dragonwriter

Villager
...Yeah...about that...I think you'll find that the word-limit will make that difficult. Actually, your entry was a pretty good size (although I didn't do a word-count this time around). It just didn't have enough adventure in it. You're an efficient writer, so I'm sure you can pull that off.
The "bigger" was meant as "bigger in scope." This one was pretty limited, so the push will be to make it more expansive while still keeping my writing, as you said, efficient.
 

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