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

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 2, Match 1: Wicht vs. Dragonwriter

[MENTION=221]Wicht[/MENTION] and [MENTION=54988]Dragonwriter[/MENTION], you have 48 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to 3000 words. Please include a list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Neither the list of ingredients at the beginning of your entry, nor the title, will count against this limit, but everything else (including any definitions or descriptions of your ingredients that you may wish to include) will! 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:

End of the World

Unearth

Diplomatic Immunity

Artificial Intelligence

Wise Fool

Impossible Dream
 

Wicht

Villager
The Crystals of Monassan

The Crystals of Monassan

Background
Two thousand years ago, near to where the city of Hillsfold now sits, there was a mighty city, Monassan, ruled by three wizard-lords: Ingazan, Vonshpin and Celieena. It was a prosperous city, filled with wonders and beauty, the greatest of which were the arcane creations of the cities own rulers. Chief among the discoveries and inventions of these three were the chryslins, arcane crystals powered by the winds of magic which, when attached properly to an inanimate object, granted movement, a semblance of life and a limited self-awareness to the object so powered. Each of the chryslins was attuned to a particular aspect of the magical winds, being necromantic, evocative, divinary, etc., so that the objects powered could be fashioned to have particular abilities according to the school of magic they were attuned to.

It was Celieena who first took the use of the chryslins to the next stage of development, fashioning what she called necrispikes, arcane iron implements powered by seven chryslins, which, when placed in the skull of a dead body, animated the bones of that body. But the necrispikes were more than mere servitors. The arcane union of seven chryslins granted true sentience. Ingazan soon followed suit, merging seven chryslins together into a single crystal, so that the crystal so created likewise had sentience. He called his crystal creations the quarl, and, though they lacked arms, legs, faces, or any organic feature, they had the power of levitation and telepathy and the full ability to interact with the world around them. These two new “races,” despite their intelligence, were used as little more than slaves for a hundred years.

Meanwhile, Vonshpin was not idle. Jealous of the creations of his comrades, the wizard spent many years ambitiously creating his own servants using the chryslins. What he ultimately created was a trio of entities called the psypossessors, bodiless entities made entirely of thought and completely loyal to their creator. Though they could exist incorporeal and insubstantial for an indefinite period of time with no ill effect, the true power of these creatures was their ability to enter a body, taking full control of that body, for as long as suited them. When Vonshpin's co-rulers discovered what he had done, they feared the result and commanded that he destroy his work. He refused and a war broke out; a war which destroyed the city.

In the aftermath of the destruction, the quarl banded together and traveled northward, eventually settling in the icy wastelands of the arctic north. The necrispikes traveled east into the desert lands, where after five hundred years of nomadic wanderings and, countless wars of survival, they established the city-state of Ivensand. As the necrispikes and quarl fashioned new lives for themselves, the ruins of Monassan were lost to time, buried by a volcanic eruption and the subsequent course change of the Kiliasus river.

Yet the heritage of the city of Monassan lives on. It lives on in the necrispikes and the quarl. It lives on in the three immortal psypossessors who even now roam the world. And it lives on in a strange psuedo-world named Aisgun, a creation of Ingazan trapped in a pocket of the plane of dreams within a larimar globe. Ingazan sent his most loyal followers and a good number of the citizens of his city into this world right before Vonshpin unleashed the great cataclysmic strike which ended the war and Monassan in the same fell stroke.

As our adventure begins, the site of Monassan has been rediscovered and an excavation of the city has begun.

Adventure Synopsis
The PCs, having recently dealt with the problem of Weeping Oak, are heroes of Hillsfold and thus it is only natural that they are asked to meet with some of Hillsfold's newest visitors, ambassadors from Ivensand and from the Confederal Kritarchy of Iceborn. These ambassadors are in the city, each delivering a great deal of money to help fund the excavation of the ruins of Monassan. The PCs have an opportunity to meet with the ambassadors at a party, but not all goes smoothly. A man named Kojnor Salamdar is also in town. Salamdar is rumored to be one of the four richest men in the Kingdom. He too is financing the excavation. Salamdar appears to be habitually drunk. He is loud, boorish and often outrageous. He surrounds himself with sycophants who appear, if it is possible, to be even drunker and louder than Salamdar himself. But things are not what they appears. Kojnor Salamdar was possessed at a young age by one of the three immortal psypossessors. This particulary psypossessor is cany and powerful, but also not a little insane. He has an interest in the ruins of Monassan, but he also hopes to create great troubles for the necrispikes and quarl, whom he hates with a passion. Salamdar instigates trouble so that one of the ambassadors, the necrispike, kills a young lady at the party. The ambassador has diplomatic immunity, and claims self defense but it is still something of a scandal and the PCs are asked to deal with it, if they would, to smooth things out, preferably with tact. In the course of this, they have opportunity to interact with both ambassadors, and it is possible that the PCs become suspicious of one or both of the ambassadors and their intents.

Shortly thereafter, several workers involved in the excavation of Monassan are killed and the PCs are subsequently asked to take part in securing the ruins, killing the dangerous monsters that have moved into the ruins and investigating for any treasures or cultural artifacts. The ambassadors are openly and especially interested in the discovery of any chryslins, and though the PCs might be suspicious of their motives, they offer to pay well for any chryslins found. The investigation of the city does reveal several of the automated creatures used by the inhabitants. Many of these creatures, powered by one or two of the arcane batteries, are now dangerous. The city ruins are also occupied in places by subterranean creatures which have migrated up from the underdark and there are countless arcane booby-traps, remnants of the war which destroyed the city. As the PCs explore the city, they unearth, hidden in a buried tower, and protected by many dangers, a great blue crystal sphere which radiates powerful magics.

This larimar globe is taken into Hillsfold and housed in the city museum for study. The PCs whether or not they have a hand in uncovering its secrets are soon made privy to the realization that there is a world hidden within the sphere. The sphere contains a pocket dimension of the plane of dream, a fold of that plane twisted upon itself. The PCs are asked to reach the world and see what it holds. Magically transporting themselves into the sphere they discover they must accomplish three impossible tasks: they must defeat an unkillable army, they must cross an eternal sea, and they must climb to the top of an endless stair. Each of these tasks can be accomplished through willpower and altering the dreamworld so that reality and perception is changed. The unkillable army can be entrapped, the endless sea can be crossed by going under it, and the endless stair can be scaled by shrinking the tower holding the stair so that one can simply step atop the tower. To discover these truths, the PCs must learn how to manipulate dream if they hope to succeed, going so far as to dream-burn some of their own dreams and aspirations to empower themselves in the dream-world. Once the three challenges are overcome the world within the sphere is unlocked in dream, the PCs can visit it freely whenever they wish. The hidden world is called Aisgun and the PCs discover that the descendants of the followers of Ingazan live peacefully (or close to it) thereon. These inhabitants are eager for news of the world of their ancestors and the rulers of Hillsfold are quick to offer an alliance with the new world.

But trouble manifests in a clumsy attempt on the lives of the PCs and an attack on the crystal globe holding the world of Aisgun within it. This attack is a decoy attack by Konjor Salamdar to point suspicion at the two ambassadors who also appear eager to develop relationships with the descendants of Monassan. In the ensuing political chaos, Salamdar, in his hate and madness, hopes to find an opportunity to truly destroy the globe. The PCs are, true to their role as heroes of the city, asked to guard the globe and thus they are there when Salamdar's minions attempt to place the globe in a sack of holding and drop it into a portable hole, an event that would surely destroy the small world, the artifact, the museum and possibly half the city. If the minions are thwarted, they point the way to the true villain. Salamdar, his cover as a harmless, rich fool gone, tries to flee, but it is possible for him to be caught and maybe even killed. If this happens, the psypossessor is able to find a new body and try again, creating an ongoing threat. The citizens of Aisgun alone of all the creatures in the multiverse, have knowledge of the psypossessors and the cause of the war that destroyed Monassan. They can reveal that there are three such monsters at loose in the world, having had two-thousand years to manipulate events to suit themselves.

New “Races” and their Motivations
A necrispike is an implement of iron which is powered by seven internal chryslins, three of which are necromantic in nature. The exact configuration of the other four chryslins determines the initial abilities of each individual necrispike. When a necrispike is placed into the base of a skull, near to the spine, the bones of a skeleton are animated by the necrispike. If the host skeleton is destroyed, the necrispike can be placed onto a new skeleton, retaining its full knowledge and own personality. There were originally two thousand necrispikes who escaped the destruction of Monassan. Today there are only twelve hundred left. Though the iron necrispikes are hard to destroy, such a thing is possible and with the passing of years, their numbers have diminished. The necrispikes rule as the undying lords of the city-state of Ivensand. They rule over the descendants of slaves they freed. necrispikes in public, clothe their skeletal bodies with heavy garments and ornate helmets. necrispikes hate slavery and seek to destroy it wherever it is, a thing that makes them unpopular in much of the world. Nevertheless, though feared and hated, they press on, doing what they can to make the world a better place. They have devised methods of fashioning new necrispikes, but they lack the ability or knowledge to make new chryslins and so see in the uncovering of the city of Monassan a way to swell their ranks.

The quarl appear as floating crystals, a foot in height. Though each quarl has different powers based on the attunement of the seven chryslins used to create each one, they each possess the powers of levitation and telepathy. Lacking arms, legs or any other features, the quarl are a psionic race, creatures of almost pure intellect. There were originally six thousand quarl who fled northward; today only a third of that number remainas they are even easier than the necrispikes to destroy. Having no need for heat or food, the quarl live in the frozen north, in communities of ice. There they study and seek ever for new knowledge. The quarl believe that if they could learn to fashion chryslins, they could learn how they might grant themselves the ability of procreation, a thing they earnestly desire. They seek within Monassan both chryslins to study and perhaps clues as to their own creation. The quarl, though highly intelligent, have few emotions and relate poorly to races that do. Their interactions with various races have often led to conflict in the past because of their lack of empathy and inability to grasp the nuances of various social mores. Nevertheless, they, in their own way, are a peaceful group, desiring only to be allowed to study and meditate in peace.

Vonshpin created the psypossessors by taking the energy of seven chryslins and freeing them even as he combined them to create incorporeal creatures of pure energy. He created three such creatures and enchanted them to be completely, to the point of fanaticism, loyal to himself. Though powerless when disembodied, their abilities when in a host body continue to increase and grow with every passing year. Before Monassan was destroyed, Vonshpin sent his servants out into the world to escape the destruction he was about to unleash. Each of the creatures has kept abreast of the activities of their two brethren, but have acted independantly. The one called Kojnor Salamdar has sought the path of wealth, and has achieved it so that he controls, either openly, or in secret, more wealth than any other living man. Much of this wealth is arranged so that, even if he is killed, he can claim it after taking a new body. Though he acts the fool, he is always open to money making opportunities. He sees within the excavation of Monassan the opportunity to gain access to great secrets and arcane devices which can be resold. At the same time, he is glad of every opportunity to thwart the necrispikes and quarl. When the globe containing Aisgun is discovered, he resolves, in his hate to kill every descendant of Monassan living within the globe.

Concluding the Adventure
If things go wrong, it is possible that a great many people die and the world is thrown into turmoil. If the PCs thwart the attempt to blow up Aisgun, they are once more heroes, on two worlds, but they have made a powerful enemy and unearthed the presence of two other similar entities at large in the world. Learning how to destroy the psypossessors is an adventure in itself. The resolution of relations between Hillsfold, the necrispikes and the quarl are also going to very much depend on the actions and opinions of the PCs. Ideally the PCs gain new allies, but potentially there is the opportunity for political intrigue and even war. And then there is Aisgun, a world in need of protection, rich in resources, and ripe for a rich alliance with Hillsfold, if the PCs can manage to arrange such a thing.


End of the World
The world of Aisgun, held in the dream pocket within Ingazan's larimar globe, faces destruction at the hand of Kojnor Salamdar, who is, in truth, a cryslin psypossessor, one of the three races created in the ancient city of Monassan.

Unearth
The city of Monassan lies buried in the hills east of Hillsfold and while aiding in the exploration and excavation of this city, the PCs unearth the larimar globe which holds the world of Aisgun in its depths. Secondarily, the actions of the PCs help unearth the existance of the cryslin psypossessors.

Diplomatic Immunity
The city state of Ivensand, ruled by the the cryslin necrispikes and the Confederal Kritarchy of Iceborn, in which dwell the quarl, have each sent financial support for the excavation of Monassan, their birth-city. The ambassadors who brought these funds have been granted diplomatic immunity.

Artificial Intelligence
The three wizard-lords of Monassan, powerful and creative, fashioned chryslins, which were capable of giving motion and limited awareness to inanimate objects. They also discovered methods by which 7 chryslins could be joined into a single self-aware brain capable of thought, reason and learning. Through these methods, they fashioned the necrispikes and the quarl, as servitor races. One of their number, Vonshpin, in secret fashioned a third race, the psypossessors, as assassins and spies.

Wise Fool
Kojnor Salamdar appears as nothing more than an extravagant playboy and he plays up his reputation for foolishness. Many see his extravagant expenditures to aid in the excavation of Monassan as simply one more lark. But in truth, Salamdar is ancient and canny, and is the true villain of this tale.

Impossible Dream
The dream pocket in which rests the world of Aisgun is protected by a set of dream paradoxes which prevent easy entry to the world. Meanwhile, the necrispikes and the quarl have born, over the thousand years of their existence, unbearable sorrow, great loss, and untold prejudices. They have each, in their own way striven to create a place for themselves in the world, through courage and sometimes sacrifice.
 

Dragonwriter

Villager
IRON DM 2013 Round 2, Match 1. Dragonwriter's Entry.

The Unending Cycle
By Dragonwriter

Ingredients:
End of the World

Unearth

Diplomatic Immunity

Artificial Intelligence

Wise Fool

Impossible Dream



A very-high to Epic level adventure suited to closing a campaign and/or creating a new one. Preferably there has been some questioning of the reasons and methods of the gods by this point in time.

Background
The Sentient Construct Arkaz was created ages ago and abandoned. None took responsibility for creating it, none wanted it, but all feared it. As it wandered world and plane, it watched from afar the actions of gods and mortals. Arkaz watched as mortals killed and tyrannized in the names of their gods. And it came to believe the world would be far better without any gods, dreaming of freedom for all from such ruthless masters.

It took time, but Arkaz has established itself as a diplomatic envoy from a god of Logic and Reason, Verix, on Mechanus and kept its agenda secret within its artificial mind. It has begun to weaken the mightiest of the gods as it travels through their courts, all before it unleashes its ultimate plan…

Adventure Synopsis:
The PCs, as some of the mightiest heroes in the multiverse, are called upon by a minor deity of Balance to investigate what has destabilized the realms of several gods. The PCs will interact with various extraplanar entities and learn of Arkaz. They will have to unearth its secrets and plot and chase it to the End of the World where it enacts the final part of its grand scheme. The PCs will be faced with either killing Arkaz or joining it, leading to very different states for the world.

The Hook:
When the PCs are together, they all feel a sudden, sharp pain behind their eyes before collapsing to the ground. During this period of unconsciousness, all of them feel themselves standing upon and within nothing while looking at the world. The world begins to break apart before their eyes, followed by the sensation of their own bodies being shredded by the apocalypse. Then everything reforms before they awaken one by one. Each hears a whispered name -- “Amz” -- which the knowledgeable among them know as a minor god of Balance.

Meeting Amz:
Amz is a deity of Balance and embodies that concept entirely. While Amz is not mighty, due to a lack of worshippers, Amz is respected due to his commitment to Balance. She never takes sides but always seeks to preserve the Balance. It is for this reason Amz is concerned about the imbalance caused by the weakening and pain afflicting some of the mighty deities. Amz requests the PCs be his envoys to the other gods to unearth what is the cause and how to stop it. She suggests the party seek out a major deity who largely aligns with the party and has, naturally, been targeted. Amz does, however, provide a complete list of the affected deities -- this should be a number of the strongest, extreme-aligned gods, with a scattering of weaker ones all across the spectrum.

The Courts of the Gods:
While the PCs have a form of diplomatic immunity for how they handle their interactions, they will receive different welcomes based on the god they visit. They have also been cautioned not to abuse their immunity and safe passage by Amz.

Each god and their realms are demonstrably weakened -- the palaces are tarnished and crumbling, the god is lethargic, and the normally-vibrant power is noticeably diminished. Friendlier deities will be unable to converse for long, but will convey what information they can. Deities with whom the party members have poor relations will be less helpful, but they will accept the claim of agency for Amz and speak a little. The most important piece of information and the two things all have in common are that the envoy Arkaz recently passed through their court, as did the Divine Jester of All Courts, Harleckee. Arkaz is currently making visits at other courts, as is Harleckee. The former will reject any attempt to see it while Harleckee is quite willing to chat (see below).

Meanwhile, evidence about Arkaz’s actions is also needed to be found. Nothing has come about primarily because Arkaz also has a form of diplomatic immunity and is considered above suspicion.

Harleckee:
The Jester-Demigod is another being who takes no sides, like Amz, and as such is welcomed at nearly all Courts. The nature of a jester also has allowed Harleckee to gather quite a lot of information and wisdom, though he doesn’t share knowledge about the various gods for whom he plays -- a wise choice. While the Divine Fool won’t talk about his “clients,” Arkaz was never a client and as such is fair game. However, Harleckee doesn’t like to speak plain. He’ll often babble nonsensically before tossing some helpful tidbit into the mix. Some usable examples to pepper into the nonsense are:
  • “The Metal Man waits beyond what he seeks.”
  • “Gods are nothing without men while men are nothing without gods.”
  • “Dig in the Earth to find the source of the Metal. But where did the Man come from? For that, look within the Sigil.”

Evidence:
Examining the Courts Arkaz attended as envoy clearly points to something invasive causing the trouble, and the affliction only began shortly after Arkaz left each time. If the PCs ask about detaining Arkaz, they face strong opposition without ironclad proof, as the envoy of the God of Logic is largely considered beyond suspicion. Searching further reveals more information regarding the link between gods and the worship and belief of mortals and something is disrupting this flow of energy, weakening the gods. The PCs may find one such Disruption Engine (treat as a Minor Artifact) in the realm of a deity… then the first god dies of “starvation.” (The DM is suggested to choose a minor deity who was afflicted early.)
It is during this investigation that Arkaz should send a hit squad of god-hating allies to stop the PCs or at least keep the Engine from their hands. There should be a very weak piece of evidence here, such as a piece of metal similar to Arkaz’s construction or a note with an initial on it. If accusations are made, Arkaz points to the doubtlessly long history of violent and impulsive actions compared to its own long, honorable service to Verix. Logic indicates it should be believed, especially as it holds diplomatic immunity and the so-called evidence is pathetic.
Attempts to use divinations or compulsions to make Arkaz speak the truth should fail due to its nature as a Construct. Its artificial mind protects it from any sort of attempted incursion or manipulation.

Discovering the Origin of Arkaz:
If the PCs talk with Harleckee, they may get the good idea to seek Arkaz’s history. The Jester’s hints should point them to Sigil, where a meeting with a high-ranking official or information broker (or, if they play their cards right, one of the Lady of Pain’s assistants) can point them to the site where Arkaz is believed to have been created long ago. It is, however, long since built over and buried under eons of construction. If the party is willing to spend the time to manage it, they can find and excavate the ancient laboratory over several days (even with the aid of magic). But the longer they take, the worse the gods fare.
If they do excavate the ancient lab, they can find old etched metal plates in Draconic explaining some of the process of creating Arkaz. There are also notes regarding the creator’s contempt for the gods and how this experiment proves even they do not have total mastery over life. There are also rudimentary designs for something akin to the Disruption Engine, though these are clearly in a different hand and much less aged (though still very old) than the experiment records. In this second handwriting, they can also find ruminations on the limits of the world, the writer’s lack of place in any world, and how to bring the uncaring gods to their end by ending all mortals.

Ongoing Events:
While the PCs are engaged in various things, deities should be clearly worsening in condition. They begin pointing fingers at each other for being the source, especially to gods still unaffected. Wars erupt on the Material Plane as the gods send their followers to war with each other. The PCs should be contacted by various monarchs and officials pleading for their assistance. The pleas should grow more and more heartbreaking and desperate (or angry and vengeful) as time goes on.

As time goes on, things become more troublesome. Arkaz may send another team of killers after the party if it feels they are becoming a threat. If the party attempts to accuse Arkaz while in the domain of another god, it again refutes them. If they present the evidence they have collected, it will become consternated, protest, then attempt to return to the domain of its “master” before anything can be done. Even if the PCs do not cause such a stir, Arkaz returns there regardless, after one last attempt to kill the party through intermediaries.

The party should eventually make their way to the realm of Arkaz’s god, either from their own conclusion or perhaps further hints dropped from Harleckee. Once there, they discover the God of Logic has been murdered. The corpse has been prevented from joining the Astral Plane and instead used to open a gate to the End of the World, in this case a literal place beyond the planes from which to observe the event of the same name (just as Harleckee said). It should be clear Arkaz has gone through the portal.

At World’s End:
Going through the dead god’s gate to a place that should not exist is not a pleasant experience for mortals. They plummet through the void, feeling their entire bodies shredded away as in the dream so long ago. Then the party appears face-down in a cold metal floor. Arkaz stands a short distance away with its back turned to them.

“Now you have experienced something akin to what I experienced at my creation and when I realized the loving gods cared nothing for a creation such as me. Could I not worship them like a mortal? Yes. But as I am animated by magic, not blood, I had no place in their creation.
“Not that their creation fares any better than I did. Mortals wage war on orders of their caring, loving gods, throwing their lives away for beings so far beyond them they shouldn’t even recognize one another in the same existence. So as you can see, I found a way to end it. And we will watch it here from this Un-Earth.”

Further speech could well explain Arkaz’s rationale and methods, though these should always come back to Logic. It is nearly impossible to provoke an emotional reaction from Arkaz, as its created brain simply does not process such information in much of any capacity. If they ask about the kill-squads, Arkaz responds, “Logic asserted you were a potential threat. As in all things, Logic was accurate. It further dictated the logical way to handle a threat was to remove it. However, you are no longer a threat, so further attempts are unnecessary.”

Arkaz is perfectly happy to speak, viewing the party as the nearest equals to itself for having reached this place. As long as they remain peaceful, so is it. It is happy to explain how and why it has done what it has done. The highlights are along these lines:
  • “A mind of metal is not as one of flesh. Logic demonstrated the gods were the problem, but they were untouchable. The way to strike the gods was then, logically, to strike at them through their source of power. Without faith, they have nothing and become nothing.”
  • “The Disruption Engine was a theory I devised some time ago. It was a way to cut off the power source of the gods, according to the theory, and it seems to have worked.”
  • “Now the gods have no power. They cannot protect the source of their power and their tyranny will end. As the world ends, so do all the gods. A new world shall be made, free of them. This is the only logical way to free the people. This is… my dream.”
  • “From here, we can manipulate the building blocks of a new world. I spent centuries designing it to perfection. And as you are the only beings to have reached this, I offer you a choice. You can join me and help create this new world. But if you do not help me, I can only expect you intend to oppose me still. That cannot be tolerated.”

If the Pcs question how to stop it, Arkaz says simply, “There is no way. Logic dictated I allow no possibility of stopping the process. The ending of the world has already begun. You mortals may take pleasure in knowing you have a… how do you say? A marvelous view for the event. But do not worry. We are beyond the end of the world. We will be untouched. And it will be for us to make the world anew, free of the gods.
“From here, we can manipulate the building blocks of the world. I spent centuries designing it to perfection. And as you are the only beings to have reached this, I offer you a choice. You can join me and help create this new world. But if you do not help me, I can only expect you intend to oppose me still. That cannot be tolerated.”

If the PCs ask about putting the world back together, Arkaz states it is possible, though why anyone would do so is illogical.

Clearly, the two chief choices are to assist Arkaz in making the new world and coming to be worshipped as the new gods (rendering Arkaz’s dream impossible to ever accomplish) or to try to kill Arkaz and put the world back together as they see fit. While the party may figure out something else, these are considered the most likely courses of action and will be addressed.

Joining Arkaz:
Arkaz would clearly prefer the party to join it. If they ask why their divine casters are not a problem, it will respond, “One follower is not enough to sustain any god. And the trauma resulting from the world’s end will destroy most of them outright. The remainder will quickly wither away.”
If the party does accept this offer, they will have a hand in creating a new world. The area Arkaz has constructed for them allows manipulation of the aether, the destroyed world, and the purest elements to make a new world and imbue it with whatever life they see fit. Unfortunately, it does not take long after the construction of the new world before the party and Arkaz are viewed as gods by whatever sentient races they may decide to create/recreate. Arkaz will again attempt to destroy the world and make it anew, free of gods, never realizing that such an outcome is impossible.

Fighting Arkaz:
Arkaz is extremely powerful and should prove at least a Very Difficult challenge for the party. As a Construct, it is immune to many effects and has also benefitted from long-term exposure to deific energy. It should be very difficult to affect with magic or harm with weaponry due to high resistances of all sorts. Further, it has considerable command over the location everyone currently inhabits. It will cause the metallic surface to churn under the party’s feet, attack them with slashes and blasts of various sorts (all high-damage) and reshape it to protect itself from area effects or cut off spellcasters.

While the battle is going on, the DM should describe the world breaking apart in the distance. Tug on the player’s heartstrings as much as possible, pointing out any connections the party may have to the world, events and locations in their lives with strong connections to other people, family and friends and the like, all the work they have done over time brought to nothing.

And as the debris from the breaking world grows closer, Arkaz’s creation can reach out and manipulate this debris, turning it into massive, deadly weapons against the party.

Wrapping Up:
If the PCs kill Arkaz, they will still be facing a destroyed world and dead gods. It will be up to them how to remake the world, either by putting it back the way it was (with some possible changes) or making a whole new one. If they join Arkaz, the choice is clearly to make a new world, which presents its own set of challenges. Either way, the party has the chance to drastically change the entire world with their subsequent choices and this provides a way to close out a campaign while opening the door for another.

Adventure Summary and Detailed Breakdown of Ingredients:
The party must Unearth the plans of an Artificial Intelligence, partly accomplished by speaking with a Wise Fool, as it is manipulating Diplomatic Immunity while attempting to bring about the End of the World from the End of the World to realize its Impossible Dream.

[sblock=Detailed Breakdown]
End of the World: Goal of the Artificial Intelligence, and location where it awaits said event.

Unearth: The PCs finding evidence about the Artificial Intelligence, both by investigation and by literally unearthing its ancient laboratory of creation. Also the name of Arkaz’s creation to manipulate the remaking of the world.

Diplomatic Immunity: Granted to the PCs for pursuing the Artificial Intelligence. Also used by Arkaz to avoid allegations.

Artificial Intelligence: Arkaz, the Sentient Construct seeking the End of the World.

Wise Fool: Harleckee, the Jester of the Gods, spouts wisdom amid nonsense.

Impossible Dream: The Artificial Intelligence seeks the end of the gods by making a new world. But the new races, free of the gods, will simply seek new ones.
[/sblock]
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 2, Match 2: Deuce Traveler vs. Radiating Gnome

[MENTION=34958]Deuce Traveler[/MENTION] and [MENTION=150]Radiating Gnome[/MENTION], you have 48 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to 3000 words. Please include a list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Neither the list of ingredients at the beginning of your entry, nor the title, will count against this limit, but everything else (including any definitions or descriptions of your ingredients that you may wish to include) will! 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:

Weeping Willow

Trust

Sinking Ship

Beginning of Time

Nobody Special

Unlikely Appointment
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Weeping Willow
Trust
Sinking Ship
Beginning of Time
Nobody Special
Unlikely Appointment

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”― Fred Rogers
This is an adventure intended for a modern game with magical themes; I'm writing it with Dresden Files RPG/FATE in mind, but it could just as easily be played with D20 Modern, Savage Worlds, or any number of other systems. It could be adapted to be played in D&D. The adventure requires some good roleplaying and heavy use of social conflict mechanics, so whichever system is chosen should have good tools for those sorts of encounters.


The Hook.

The players are detectives, mercenaries, or in some other way available for hire. One day, an appointment notice appears (in a format appropriate to the setting) but the strange thing is that the appointment is actually scheduled for the day before.

After the announcement appears, time starts to behave oddly. When they aren't looking, it seems to start jumping backwards. First a few minutes, then a few hours. They still experience time heading in the right direction, but every time they look around it's actually earlier.

Eventually, the phenomenon will take the back in time enough to make it time for the appointment that had been scheduled.

The Unlikely Appointment

So, the appointment is with Chris Cringle. Cringle is a heavyset, white-haired man with a pocket watch he is constantly fiddling with.

Cringle explains that he must hire them -- needs their services to take on a monumental task that only they can help with. They are uniquely able bring about the changes he and his masters believe are necessary in the world.

He asks that they follow him through their closet door - which now leads through a shimmering veil into an otherworldly forest.

If the players refuse to follow, time starts to behave normally, but as they go about their day, but everything seems to be going wrong for them -- trusted tools break, simple tasks go wrong, and so on. Every once in a while, Cringle will wind up in a location they're visiting and ask if they've reconsidered.

The Conifer Exposition

The passage from the closet leads through what turns out to be a curtain of weeping willow leaves to the canopy under a large willow tree. Cringle signals for them to be quiet, and leads them out from under the tree an into a grove of pine trees. One of the PCs (whomever is most nature-associated) feels a slight pull to not leave the canopy of the tree, but it passes quickly.

This is no normal forest. The sky above is pitch black -- even without stars -- although there seems to be enough ambient light from unknown sources that the PCs can see clearly.

Cringle begins to explain, showing them his watch, which now has a blank face. He's whispering. "We are at the very beginning. This is the start. In a moment time will begin, and all things will begin again.

"I took you from a version of time -- a possible timeline -- called the Age of Sorrow. Your existence is a series of misfortune and sorrows -- broken up with just enough break between sorrows to make each one a new surprise. Your lives are misery, whether you know it or not -- because that great willow we passed beneath is the elder god who has mastered time.

"Your prophet Lovecraft came closest to the truth -- his visions of distant, dispassionate elder gods were based on visions he had of the Tree of Sorrow. He saw the hanging leaves as tentacles, his visions of the collective sorrows drove him mad.

"There is an opportunity, however. A weakness in the structure of the Age of Sorrows. A moment when the survival of a vitally important person can change everything, and roll back the age of sorrow.

"One thing you need to understand about trees on your world. They're plants, yes, but what they are really is a physical manifestation of a glance from one of the elder gods, the Ur-trees. You ask yourselves, all the time, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound -- that's actually a pervasion of a terrible truth of the Ur-Trees. If sometime happens away from trees, it is not observed. It is lost in time.

"There are many sorrows that take place in your world, over the eons, but most take place within the purview of the trees. But one important one took place far from the eyes of the trees. The sinking of the Titanic.

"That is where you must go. There is a man there, an incredibly important person who you must ensure survives. A journalist, champion of the people and the power of the press to balance the abuses of the wealthy and powerful.

"His survival will wreak dramatic changes to the timeline -- both forward and backward. So far from land, and the view of the trees, those changes will happen unnoticed for long enough to unmake enough of the Age of Sorrow that this unmaking will be impossible for the UrWillow to stop.

"Your mission is to board the Titanic, find him, and convince him to board one of the lifeboats. He must make the choice to board, not be forced to board, so you must get him to trust you, convince him that he's important enough that the world needs him to survive."

First Trip to the Titanic**

The PC are sent via a Fir Tree Gate (similar to the Willow gate they came through -- a sort of portal outline by branches and leaves) to docks where the Titanic is preparing to disembark. Cringle gives them a pinecone and explains that they can use the pinecone to open a gate back to the beginning once their task is complete.

They have to try to acquire tickets find some other way to get on board.

Once on board, they can make their way around the ship and encounter several key personalities -- The Astors, Maggie Brown, Ben Guggenheim, and many others. There's room for some other encounters here -- perhaps Leo DiCaprio's character is here, and the PCs can make sure he actually survives, too! -- or maybe they will steal that big blue sapphire for themselves.

It's possible, with first class access to the ship, to become acquainted with Stead***, who is a powerful, charismatic man and excellent storyteller.

When the ship strikes the iceberg, things get exciting. Anyone who happens to see the iceberg (on deck, on the bridge, etc) will see a shadowy Willow Tree there one moment, but it will be gone the next (probably just a trick of their eyes, right?)

The ship is taking on water, and the first class passengers (women and children) are being put on life boats. William Stead is there, helps put several people on lifeboats and even gives away his lifejacket.

Then the PCs seem to shift out of phase, and shadowy creatures appear that they must battle on the sloping decks of the sinking ship.

Once that battle is complete, they phase back in, and must convince Stead to board a lifeboat voluntarily. Doing so via violent means (hitting him over the head and dumping him into the boat) will not result in his survival -- if he's not convinced to survive at the expense of others, he'll regain consciousness shortly after the PCs dump him into a boat and give up his seat for someone pulled out of the water. He'll cling to the side of the boat, then, until his feet freeze into blocks of ice, and he must allow himself to sink. The PCs will discover that they've failed when they try to return, and will have to find a way to go to the life boat and convince him to get himself aboard again.

Once he's float and safe, the PCs may have one last phased-out battle, then can use the pinecone to return.

Back at the Beginning

Once back in the Elder UrTree forest, the PCs are able to see the unraveling of time, a process that starts slowly in one leaf of the UrWillow, then spreading like an unraveling sweater. It goes faster and faster until the tree is reduced to a sapling, at which point an elderly Chinese woman appears*.

"What have you done?"

The Willow Exposition

The PC can explain themselves as they like, then the UrWillow Woman shakes her head sadly. The tree begins to grow again, behind her, and they are aware of time going forward. The branches of the tree no longer droop, but stretch out to the stars that blink into existence above.

The UrWoman beckons the PCs forward, and they are treated to a vision of a new world, a future without sorrow. An eden of sorts, but humanity quickly becomes a lumpy, obese slugs that do nothing but eat and procreate and sleep. Time passes, and nothing happens. Nothing advances. Nothing changes. The time-tree doesn't branch.

"What the rebellious Firs called the Age of Sorrow is the Age of Man. It is only in overcoming challenges, facing adversity, standing up to evil, in which mankind reaches it's full potential. The Firs have used you to put a stop to all of that.

"When there are sorrows, your people --ordinary people -- rise to the occasion and become heroes. Whether the sorrows are manmade or natural, always there are the helpers, the heroes. Without sorrow, your people have no divinity. No grace.

"You must go back and restore the Age of Man."

Back to the Titanic

This time, the PCs are delivered to the Iceberg. When the ship strikes the Iceberg, they bound across and enter the ship, out of phase with the people on board. They remain out of phase (for the time being).

They must travel through the ship, while the people are being put on lifeboats, etc, and find their former selves, just after convincing Stead to board the lifeboat.

This time, in the out-of-phase battle, they must face themselves (the DM runs the characters from the previous timeline, using their own stats) and defeat themselves to return to "reality" and be able to interact with the people on the ship.

Then, they must convince Stead to give up his seat in the lifeboat to nobody special -- a mother from second class, a nurse from Albany, NY, anyone who is not an important person and who is handy. They're actually arguing in this case against the arguments they made to Stead to get him on board the lifeboat in the first place, but have a slight advantage in that it was his natural inclination to give up his seat. Still they're asking that he accept that he die at sea.

Once he's convinced, and steps back off the lifeboat, the players shift back out of phase, and Cringle appears before them, backed up with a squad of anthropomorphic pine trees.

Cringle's appearance becomes less and less human each round of this final battle -- becoming more and more demonic and tree-like. He monologues about the players ruining everything, and it becomes clear that his plot was not to save humanity, but to denude it, ensuring that the world would remain safe for trees for all time.

Return to the Beginning, One Last Time

After defeating Cringle, the PCs can return to the Beginning of Time to have one last meeting with the UrWillow.

They find the elderly Chinese woman sitting beneath the tree, crying. She greets them with a weak smile, and they turn and see the grove of pine trees is dead. Nearby, the grove of pine trees is a charred, dead wreck. There are signs of the wounds given to Cringle and his allies on the trees there. All of the trees there are clearly dead, and as the players watch they turn to ash and blow away.

She explains that Cringle and his partisans were trying to change time and eliminate the threat that Man represents to trees.

"Your time is the beginning of the end for my race, they believe. And it is truly a time of suffering. This is why I weep.

"The trees are being cut back, many more places are cut off from our purview. We can no longer see into the hearts of many of your cities. You live further and further from us, and spurn our influence. Cringle sought to reverse that through deception and trickery. Now he and his kind are lost forever.

"Go back and protect the trees in your time, and know that we are watching over you as well."

The PCs should be, at this point, still in possession of the pinecone. If they turn it over to the UrWillow Woman, she will weep with joy. "A seed survives, the can be restored).

If they don't give her the pinecone, they return to their own time with it. Everything will be basically back to normal, but there are no evergreen trees. And have never been. Cheap wood products are made out of other materials. They can plan the pinecone at some point, and that effort will restore it to the timeline as if it had always been there -- but if they don't think to do so, they'll live in a world without cheap wood furniture and christmas trees.

Ingredient Use:

Weeping Willow - The UrWillow, the anchor of the Age of Sorrows, and the anchor of the timeline
Trust - The PCs must win William Stead's Trust twice during the adventure -- the second time arguing against themselves.
Sinking Ship - The Titanic.
Beginning of Time - The beginning of time, the time/place where the PCs talk to Cringle about the mission, and the UrWillow about undoing the damage they've done.
Nobody Special - the person who, in the end, takes the place William Stead could have had in the lifeboat.
Unlikely Appointment - The hook, an appointment with Cringle set for yesterday.


Notes:

*Willow trees are chinese, originally, so I made the UrWillow a chinese woman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salix_babylonica#Horticultural_selections_and_related_hybrids
** More info on the Titanic to flesh out the adventure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic
***Stead is a real personality, and he really did die on the Titanic. He was possibly slated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. He had been an advocate for changes to child labor laws, journalistic oversight over government, and so on. He was the father of Tabloids, for better or worse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomas_Stead
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Deuce Traveler's Entry for Round 2, Match 2: Deuce Traveler vs. Radiating Gnome

Title:
Time, Truth and Trust

Ingredients:
Weeping Willows => Ideal trees for blocking desert soil erosion. Used by Inan the Grand Merchant to sustain his famously large plantation which feeds much of the Cities of the Plains. Site of first confrontation against Tiam’s forces, but on land.

Trust => Property interest of Inan that is supposed to go to his bastard child, Syra. Lost in a storm due to a sinking ship. This trust is Inan’s way of breaking his agreement with Tiam without truly breaking it.

Sinking Ship=> Vessel containing Inan’s property trust, coming from lands unknown. Site of second confrontation and the party’s challenge against Tiam, but on the sea.

Beginning of Time=> Moment and place that started civilization for the Cities of the Plains. Site of agreement between Inan and Tiam. Site of third and final confrontation in a place between order and chaos.

Nobody Special=> Syra, a poor commoner who happens to be the bastard child of Inan and inheritor of his trust. Her vulnerable life makes her sympathetic to the plight of others and an ideal candidate for Inan’s inheritance.

Unlikely Appointments=> Party members appointed as guides and heralds to future demigod, Syra and party showing unexpectedly to decision on Inan’s property during debate on inheritors, and Syra’s appointment to deity-hood.

Background:
News quickly spreads in the region of the recent death from old age of a rich and famed merchant, resulting in the lesser local plantation owners, merchants, and nobles squabbling over who will inherit his quite valuable property. The dead merchant imported acres of salix babylonicas, also known as weeping willows, and used them to block the ever invading desert winds which had been strangling the local agriculture in recent years. This act, and his purchase of previously valueless land, resulted in him developing a huge plot of land that fed a third of the local population and helped the area grow in wealth and power. When he purchased the land many decades ago, he annotated in the government records that a legal trust would be brought from across the sea at the chance of his death, though no ship has yet appeared.

The characters have an orphaned friend named Syra who seeks them out. She talks about having a strange vision of a man calling her his daughter and telling her to travel to his estate, guarded from the desert sand by weeping willows. There she is to claim ownership of his property. She insists that the dream was real, despite the heroes wondering if the turmoil from recent happenings has affected her mind. Syra causes a commotion upon her arrival to the estate and her proclamation of being the heir to the merchant’s property. But the estate owner had many portraits and busts made in his own likeness, and it is quickly obvious to all that Syra looks like a younger, feminine version of the deceased. The merchant was not all he seemed to have been, and so the real adventure begins after Syra causes this commotion. A sudden, huge sandstorm rises over the weeping willows and slams into the plantation, with desert horsemen riding in along with it, intent on slaying Syra.

Campaign Notes: This adventure can be placed anywhere, as Tiam and Inan could be local powers, and their long battle may only affect a small region. The adventure should take place in a high fantasy campaign area that includes a nearby port and fertile area bordering desert. Because of the nature of some monsters and the fact that travelling funds may be required, character levels should be at least level five or higher, with the Dungeon Master increasing the encounter levels to match the party’s abilities.

Written on a Plaque in the Foyer of the Merchant’s Estate: “In the days of chaos, there were ignorant men, fearful godlings, and Tiam, the Ever-Hungry. Tiam could never be sated, for there were fewer and fewer godlings and men to eat as she could not contain her appetite. But one day, Tiam made a deal with the weakest of godlings, Inan the Trickster. Inan would become a man and teach them to grow food, hunt, and populate so that one day they would be so numerous they could serve to feed Tiam’s hunger. Tiam would bind herself to a promise not to eat man or godling until the now mortal Inan would die of old age, and therefore guaranteeing escape from Tiam’s great hunger in reward for this service. Tiam thought herself clever, for how very short is a man’s life compared to a god. But the trust was broken by one, and the other was betrayed, and earth and sea shake with the roar of a god’s rage...”

Adventure:
The party members will be as surprised by the sand storm and dervishes on horseback as the other assembled notables, though they are in a much better position to defend themselves if they escorted Syra while armed. The desert horsemen will make their murderous intentions obvious as they hack at those assembled, screaming threats and demanding to know which one is Syra. The adventurers should realize that their commoner friend is in mortal danger and needs protection.

Once the initial attack is dealt with, the heroes will hear crying and screaming in the storm-covered line of weeping willows and see one of them being felled. A second group of raiders is hacking furiously at the base of the protective willows, trying to do as much damage before retreating. These warriors are accompanied by nature priests/druids maintaining the sand storm and serving as the religious leaders of the tribesmen. If any of these religious leaders are killed, they will be found wearing holy symbols to Tiam, goddess of chaos. Likewise, a local knowledge check of moderate difficulty can be used to recognize the attackers as being from a tribe that worships Tiam.

Alert characters will realize that it was the line of trees that were crying out in pain, and if anyone can talk to plants they will find out that the attackers hate them for keeping the desert at bay. They will also say that the raiders were talking about how sea creatures serving Tiam struck at Inan’s ship at a famously dangerous reef, damaging the vessel fatally, and that it is slowly sinking along with Inan’s property trust, naming Syra his heir. If no one can speak to plants, the party can question any wounded or captured raiders, who will laugh and brag using the same information. Finally, a scroll written in strange, aquatic script may also be found on a raider detailing the attack on the ship and its dire situation.

At this point it should be obvious that there is more going on than initially thought, and they are going to have to go after the ship and save its contents. Syra will also demand to come, knowing that it is not safe to stay behind due to political machinations from those wanting the merchant’s estate and cultists following the order of Tiam to slay her. Syra is a commoner with low status and few rights, and knows her best chance of survival is with the party despite the danger they are facing.

The party will have to find means of marine transportation and navigation, but when they manage to do so they will find the ship impaled on the infamous reefs and slowly taking in water. A nearby storm can also be seen in the distance, so whatever the heroes decide to do will have to happen fast. Days ago, the sahaugin servants of Tiam struck at the same time that a series of huge waves slammed into the ship. The assailed crew was unable to recover the ship and it eventually crashed into the reefs, though the sahaugin were beaten back by the dying keeper of Inan’s trust.

When the party arrives, the sahaugin realize that the situation is quickly moving out of their control and they attack both the party and the party’s vessel with magic, spears, and pet sharks. The heroes will have to fight them off, and then fight through another group of the monsters in order to explore the sinking ship. Eventually, they will discover the nearly dead Behrain, a water mage and an old friend of Inin. He will apologize to Syra for his failure to reach her in time and the danger to her this failure caused. He will speak cryptically about how things seemed a good idea in a past time, how long friends of Inan were able to keep a good bluff going, and Inan having one trick left for the world. He motions for Syra to open a small, nearby chest. No healing magic will work on Behrain, and if tried he will smile grimly and tell the heroes that they are witnessing the dying of an era, and such magic will not work on those that helped usher it in. He also states that Syra’s appointed champions have bested Tiam an both land and sea, and now she must be bested in the place between order and chaos.

Behrain will die and the winds will be whip up in alarming speed, driving the distant, strange storm closer to the sinking ship. Druids can use their powers to hold it at bay for awhile, but it is clear that the storm is not natural and cannot be pushed back forever. Any attempt to pick open Behrain’s chest will fail, as it lacks a lock. However, it will open at Syra’s touch, creating a doorway to another place and whisking Syra and the party away from danger.

The chest is either a doorway to the Beginning of Time or the Beginning of Time is inside the chest. The Beginning of Time is a place, or a moment, or both. Whatever the reality, the party finds itself standing at the same place where Inan’s pact with Tiam was made. Tiam’s physical avatar and Inan’s shade are also present.

It is at this time that Inan meets Syra for the first time and explains that she is talking to his accumulated memories of agriculture and land cultivation, the last remnants of him left as a gift to her. He had evaded death through old age for as long as his god-like wit and penchant for tricks enabled him to do so, but nothing lasts forever and Tiam’s creeping influence was always going to eventually win out. But if Syra accepts his accumulated knowledge, a part of his divine spark will live on with her and she will take his place, becoming a demigod and keeping Tiam at bay through the pact agreed upon long ago. The shade of Inan also explains that it is important that Syra is the one to take up the spark, as she is a commoner without special powers or status and will therefore strive to find more ways to advance civilization and ease the burdens of mankind.

Tiam urges Syra to leave the spark of divinity alone and let it fade into nothingness. She explains to Syra that Inan might not have broken the law of the pact, but he broke its intent. Tiam cannot act directly upon the earth until Inan’s divine spark is gone, and man will continue to run roughshod around the world if not culled. Unless the party intervenes, it should be clear that Syra will decide to help mankind, and bind Tiam once more at the Beginning of Time by taking up her father’s mantle and heralding a new era for the Cities of the Plains.

Tiam won’t take this lightly. As Syra attempts to absorb the divine spark, Tiam lets out her rage and calls upon beasts made of chaos to attack the party for the third and final encounter. Once victorious, Tiam will disappear and Syra will return the heroes to the campaign world once more. It is up to the Dungeon Master whether Syra will take residence at her father’s earthy estate or if she will disappear and lay low to escape Tiam’s machinations while devising new inventions to help the people grow food and find water. Agriculture and civilization will continue to advance to the benefit of the local populace.

If Syra is killed during the quest or gives up the spark, the land will begin to suffer wild seasonal changes that make it more difficult to plant crops. The cults of Tiam will grow during this confusion, and heroes will be needed to hold back the encroaching chaos.

Either way, new adventures will beckon.
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Nicely done, DT.

[SBLOCK]
I wasn't seeing a way to tie these ingredients together as a D&D adventure -- you've done it well. ;)
[/SBLOCK]
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Radiating Gnome, I had a lot of problems thinking this one over, but wikipedia saved me with this:

"Peking willow is a popular ornamental tree in northern China, and is also grown for wood production and shelterbelts there, being particularly important around the oases of the Gobi Desert, protecting agricultural land from desert winds."

I always wanted to write something that could be used in Al-Qadim.

Yours would be a fun romp and I'd love to play in it.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
I saw that, too! I almost went the same way, but I couldn't figure out how to make the trees gender work in the story and gave up on that line of thought.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 2, Match 1 Judgement: Wicht vs. Dragonwriter

Let me start out by saying that this was a very difficult match for me to judge. I'll get to the reasons for this later. First, I want to talk a little bit about the rules. With a 48 hour time-limit, I expect to see more polished entries—entries that have been given extra consideration and extra editing. Put simply, a 48 hour time-limit is a lot less challenging than a 24 hour time-limit. To balance this out, there is a word limit, which, in the second round, is 3000 words. And Dragonwriter's entry, “The Unending Cycle” (henceforth, “Cycle”) clocks in at 3009 words (not including the title or ingredient list at the beginning). I didn't even include the byline in the count. This is with Open Office, which counts “--” as an individual word (there were five of these), but counts two words separated with a slash as a single word (there were several instances of these).

Dragonwriter said (in the scheduling thread) that the piece clocked in at 2995, but I can't figure out how how. I tried very hard to figure out where the extra 14 words came from, but I just can't. In the end, I have to go with my count. So, now I get to figure out whether or not those extra 9 words are that critical to the entry. I guess the reasonable thing to do would be to mentally chop off the last 9 words of the entry. Fortunately for Dragonwriter, those last 9 words didn't really add anything at all, they were merely part of the formatting used to help me (the judge) navigate the piece.

And, anyway, Wicht didn't exactly follow the rules, either (nor in his first entry). There was no easy-to-reference list of ingredients at the start of his entries, even though both ingredients-posts specifically asked for one. But it doesn't really matter. I bring it up only because we're talking about rules, here. In the end, I'll call it a wash. This time.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about ingredients, shall we?

Wicht's entry, “The Crystals of Monassan,” (henceforth, “Crystals”) gives us a potential end of A world. It's an interesting world, though, and, more importantly, it factors heavily into the actual adventure. “Cycle” has a true End of the World and also did something that I was hoping to see—it used the ingredient as a location. But, as flavorful as this was, it really didn't matter much to the adventure, except as a set-piece and a(n admittedly very interesting) moral dilemma posed at the very end. If the PCs actually had a way to alter the fate before it happened and/or didn't have a way to make it inconsequential after the end of the adventure, I would have happily given the edge to “Cycle,” but as it is, I can't.

And that brings us to Unearth. In both entries, it is used to represent the type of normal investigative process that one could expect in an adventure. In the case of “Crystals,” it is more literal, but they are both a bit standard. In addition, “Cycle” refers to a place as an “Un-earth,” which is exactly the clever kind of interpretation I was hoping the ingredient would invoke. Unfortunately, that “Un-earth” is simply another name for the first ingredient (the location, that is). That's a problem. In order for two ingredients to successfully apply to one thing, they have to be substantially different in some way!.

Diplomatic Immunity factors in both entries in a similar manner, as well, but favors one adventure over the other. “Crystals” presents some interesting role-playing opportunities with its murderous ambassador(s). Meanwhile, “Cycle” once again gives us the hint of a promising scenario by giving the PCs diplomatic immunity—as well as their foe. And yet, I'm not sure I see the point, as far as the adventure is concerned. Arkaz doesn't really need it—he will soon be too powerful for it to matter. And the PCs could get into a lot more trouble without it—which would be a good thing for the adventure.

And, hoo boy, do we have some good stuff with the next ingredient! “Crystals” gives us not one, but three races powered by artificial intelligence (well, really, two). These are some interesting and well-thought out cultures—but there is a bit of a problem, here. The one race that isn't so much an artificial intelligence (the psypossessors) as a dominating intelligence is the one that features in the adventure. The rest is really just background. “Cycle” does a much better job with this one. The coldly logical Arkaz is a great villain (although I would have liked to have seen more actual reasoning in his arguments. Just saying that something is logical does not necessarily make it so.). Even better, his logic is flawed—which, in itself, is a kind of artificial intelligence.

And it gets better with the Wise Fool. No, not the Divine Jester in “Cycle”—that character didn't really add very much to the adventure at all. Arkaz, again, steals the show, here, proceeding on a course that is entirely logical and yet, so very foolish. It's really almost a theme, at this point, which leads to a nice payoff when the PCs are faced with the decision at the end whether or not they want to play along. It's like a baton—the title gets to be passed around.

Okay, okay, "wise" isn't exactly the right word here, but I'm willing to let it slide, since “Crystals” has an imposter fool who is cunning, crafty, scheming, and clever, but does not exhibit discernment, judgement, or discretion, nor any special knowledge—except about his foes. And anyway, the divine fool in "Cycle" actually is wise.

Finally, the Impossible Dream. “Cycle” chooses not to use a literal dream, but, rather, to make the main foe's motive an impossible one to achieve. Clever, but as much a weakness as a strength, because it doesn't really factor into the adventure at all, until the very end. And by then, the players may not even realize that it is impossible (or even what the motive really was, to begin with).

“Crystals” gives us an actual dream-world, in a globe. Impossible! It gives three impossible trials (which, unfortunately, are all solved in the same manner). And, more subtly, it also presents themes of class-inequity and strife throughout that echo a certain novel-turned-musical...

So, “Crystals” does a marginally better job with the ingredients, but for some reason, I had a hard time with it. It's just such a mess! Much like the second ingredient, reading (and re-reading and re-re-reading) the piece is like an excavation. Buried in it somewhere are some real gems.

But, Dude! Most of your entry is background information or information on races and their motives (in other words, more background)! And most of that is only indirectly relevant to the adventure! And there really is a lot going on in this adventure on top of all that! Lots of potential adventure during and lots of hooks to pick up on when it concludes!

What's most heartbreaking, I think, is that, with some more time spent on the entry (which you had!), it would have been so much more refined! It's simply too ambitious in scope for the short amount of time you gave it. It felt like it was well over the word limit, even though it wasn't.

“Cycle,” in contrast, was a tighter piece and very well-polished. It was much more pleasurable to read. The problem is, I don't think it would be as fun as the other to run or play in. Don't get me wrong, it does look fun (even though it gets fairly linear and heavy-handed in places—including the hook). But there is so much more going on in “Crystals” that I think I could do more with it—even though it would take much more work to make it work. Add to that the marginally better ingredients-use...

Dragonwriter, I've really enjoyed your work, thus far. You're very good at writing for the reader (as opposed to writing just for yourself), which is very much appreciated. You're clever and creative, which are great qualities for an Iron DM Contestant. I do think there is room for improvement in two particular areas, however. You should trust the players (and the DM) a little more. You have a definite tendency to rely on heavy-handed techniques for progressing the adventure. Also, you have a tendency to rely on the cleverness of your interpretation to carry your ingredient, which, much as it is appreciated, is not enough. The ingredients ought to have a tight relationship with each other, but the also (importantly) need to be relevant to the PCs—and in a significant way to the players.

Wicht, for those of you who don't know, is pretty much the definitive “Veteran Iron DM.” One way or another, he has participated in pretty much all of the EN World Iron DM Tournaments (most often as a contestant). For this reason, alone, I'm sure he knew immediately that this wasn't his best piece.

But, for all of its flaws, it was fundamentally interesting and well-conceived. And, of course, used the ingredients to somewhat better effect. As much as it surprises me (and it does--if I had only read the two entries casually, the verdict would be quite different!) Wicht advances to the Championship Match.
 

Dragonwriter

Villager
Congratulations Wicht! :)

It was great fun getting involved this year, and it was a marvelous learning experience.

I actually hadn't even thought of that interpretation for Wise Fool applied to Arkaz. Which is really so much cooler than the Divine Jester I cooked up.

And thank you for the advice, Rune. It is very much appreciated, especially as I have rather little experience writing up adventures. As a DM, I tend to get a (very) rough idea of things and mostly improv from there. (Plus, my players have tended towards the slow and indecisive end. :p) So this was a huge shift for me and I will do everything I can to apply the words of wisdom in the future. Especially since I'm looking forward to next year's competition. ;)
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Congratulations Wicht! :)

It was great fun getting involved this year, and it was a marvelous learning experience.
Glad to hear it!

I actually hadn't even thought of that interpretation for Wise Fool applied to Arkaz. Which is really so much cooler than the Divine Jester I cooked up.
The Divine Jester was actually a more precise fit, but the theme kept popping up. It couldn't be ignored, even if you weren't actually intending to use it as such.

And thank you for the advice, Rune. It is very much appreciated, especially as I have rather little experience writing up adventures. As a DM, I tend to get a (very) rough idea of things and mostly improv from there. (Plus, my players have tended towards the slow and indecisive end. :p)
As do mine. Some prompting may be necessary, but I try very hard not to start with an idea of where things will go in the first place. For me, that means open-ended, nearly sandbox structures for adventures. But, even when I'm using something more defined, I definitely don't want the players to ever feel like they have no choice in a matter. I don't necessarily mind if they don't like their choices, but that's another topic, altogether...

So this was a huge shift for me and I will do everything I can to apply the words of wisdom in the future. Especially since I'm looking forward to next year's competition. ;)
Wonderful! The tournament is enriched by strong contestants like you.
 

Wicht

Villager
Thank you judge (and ouch). I will endeavor to take your words to heart for the next and final round.

Its sorta funny. I know that too much backstory is not good, but I felt justified in it with this one, mainly because I did not think of the race motivation as backstory but as necessary for what I perceived to be a role-playing heavy situation. Nevertheless, admonition received and accepted. :)

Well played Dragonwriter, your adventure was very epic, and had it not been so linear, I suspect you would have easily won (though I really like the chryslin idea as well and thank you for your kind words about that particular idea). I look forward to seeing what you can produce in upcoming contests.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Its sorta funny. I know that too much backstory is not good, but I felt justified in it with this one, mainly because I did not think of the race motivation as backstory but as necessary for what I perceived to be a role-playing heavy situation. Nevertheless, admonition received and accepted. :)
I would think that having to justify it to yourself should have been a warning sign. :p Anyway, I agree that motivation is very important to include for NPCs, but there are more interactive ways to do it.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 2, Match 2 Judgement: Deuce Traveler vs. Radiating Gnome

Jeez, Radiating Gnome! I can't help but think there's gotta be some way to cut down the length of that block of exposition... :p

But nevermind that, right now. Let's look at the ingredients:

In Deuce Traveler's “Time, Truth and Trust,” (henceforth, “Time”) has a very effective use of the Weeping Willow ingredient, using several of them as the focus of one of the (quite exciting) encounters of the piece. It's good (although the weeping that they do is really just crying out in pain—that could have been a little better). But, Radiating Gnome's untitled piece (let's just call it “Age of Sorrows” or just “Age” from now on) has such a memorable character for this ingredient—and when she weeps, it is meaningful.

In “Time,” the Trust is used as an inheritance—a divine spark that makes for a very interesting MacGuffin—but it is fundamentally still a MacGuffin. In “Age,” trust is something that the PCs must earn from Stead...and then they must earn it again to undo the first time. Nifty!

The Sinking Ship in “Time” makes for a very interesting encounter location and provides nice contrast with the desert (while still keeping the thematic storm). “Age” uses the familiar Titanic over and over again as the primary focus of the action. This was a good decision for brevity—no need to waste space on description, here. What I'm not quite sure about is...why is the Titanic (or, really, why is Stead) so important to the time-line? What could Stead have possibly done (had he survived) that would prevent humanity from existing? I'm sure, if I were a player, that would be the first question I'd ask. And there's no answer. I could pretty easily come up with something, but I'd rather not have too in the first place.

The Beginning of Time we see in “Age” is a wonderfully flavorful time/place that has strong impact on the whole of the adventure. In fact, it almost serves as a sort of home-base for the adventure. On the other hand, “Time” uses the ingredient as a kind of divine meeting-place. This usage doesn't quite work so well, because, frankly, it doesn't matter at all. They (the PCs and Syra) don't even get to witness Inan's pact being struck with Tiam, so why call it the Beginning of Time, anyway? It might be before time, but it's not the beginning.

And, as for Nobody Special, “Time” gives us a commoner who becomes divine—a girl who is the inheritor of an important trust. She's a friend of the PCs (a hook I found to be fairly cumbersome, incidentally) and, hell, she's got a name. None of this points to her being “nobody special.” I wasn't really impressed with the use in “Age,” either (simply as someone who gets saved--and then doesn't), but at least it worked. “Nobody special,” in that context, is pretty much anyone who isn't Stead or the PCs.

Finally, there is the Unlikely Appointment. The unlikely appointment of Syra to divinity in “Time” works well enough, but calling the PCs' protection of her such is stretching it. Saying that the interruption of a meeting is an unlikely appointment really doesn't work. In the end, throwing the ingredient around a few times and seeing what sticks only dilutes the impact of the only actually decent use of it. An ingredient can be successfully used in a recurring manner, if it is being used to illustrate a thematic foundation of the entry. That is certainly not what we've got here. In contrast, “Age,” uses the ingredient only once, as a very intriguing hook—one that would be very difficult to pass by. It is potent and immediately relevant to the adventure and the PCs.

And then there's the rest:

“Time” is a well-constructed and exciting adventure—simple enough to run easily, but open-ended enough (throughout) to feel large in scope. “Age” is, underneath its complexity, actually pretty linear—but linear isn't necessarily a bad thing. The clever structure pretty much requires a certain bit of it and “Age” does it in a manner that may not even be noticed by the players. There is one part (previously unmentioned) that could have used some clarification: the shadowy figures that the PCs fight in the first place are presumably the future PCs (that's clever), but the adventure doesn't even allude to that until much later. A little bit of clarity would help the DM a great deal, here.

Deuce Traveler, your adventure is really good. Maybe not quite as good as your round 1 entry, but still, one that I definitely want to run. This is the part where I give advice for future tournaments, but, there's really no reason to give Deuce any. He's the defending champion for a reason; he's good at this.

But the nature of this tournament is that, sometimes, your good stuff goes up against someone's great stuff. And that's what Radiating Gnome delivered. While it may not be perfect, this piece has so much brilliance in it, it's really hard to quibble. It's ingredients are superior and the adventure, itself, is one that the players would probably never forget. Radiating Gnome knocks out the defending IRON DM and advances to the championship round.
 

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