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IRON DM 2014 Tournament

phoamslinger

Explorer
by the way, [MENTION=221]Wicht[/MENTION] and [MENTION=62721]MortalPlague[/MENTION], Rune forgot to mention that we're really looking for something REALLY creative and original here...
 

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Rune

Once A Fool
I figured that goes without saying. But since phoamslinger said it, let me also add, don't overthink it, guys!

But don't under think it either! :)
 

Wicht

Hero
Iron DM 2014 Final Round; Wicht vs. MortalPlague

Evil Wizard: Archaxk the Cruel; currently dead but he plans on getting better
Low Level Dungeon: While the Caves of Carnage and the Temple of the Dark Ravine are both low level dungeons in the classic sense, and while the PCs might turn the tower into a low-level dungeon for the adventurers who arrive, this properly refers to the vaults below The Tower of Cruelty
Angry Ogre: Mal the Mauler, he did a job for Archaxk and he would really like to get paid
Pile of Treasure: There's this big pile of gold and jewels in the vaults below the Tower of Cruelty, practically unguarded; if only the PCs can keep it
Help Wanted Sign: The key to a cunning plan to weaken the forces of the Temple of the Dark Ravine, the key to freeing the demon Jihrgfrolm from his bondage, and sure to be a source of 'amusement' to the the PCs during the course of the adventure
Magic Sword: Varlion the Balancer; a mighty magic sword with a split personality; the stuff legends and headaches are made of

Easy Come....​

A “reverse dungeon” Pathfinder adventure for monstrous characters of 1st or 2nd level.

The evil wizard is dead, his servants have been sacked, his tower is practically empty and there's this huge pile of gold just sitting in the basement, begging to be owned....

Background
Near to the Borderlands lies the Forest of Mist, a dark woods, full of monstrous tribes, ancient ruins, and growing evil. Smack dab in the middle of the forest is the Tower of Cruelty, home to the powerful wizard Archaxk. Half a day's walk east of the tower are the Caves of Carnage, ruled over by the Hobgoblin warlord Tromk the Devourer, and half a day's walk west of the tower is the Temple of the Dark Ravine, lorded over by the dark druid Kisxkich, a powerful kobold. Tromk and Kisxkich are old enemies, but the Tower between them prevents overt bloodshed.

Recently, the Forest is full of rumors, all true, that Archaxk the Cruel has sacked all his servants, excepting the powerful Pit Fiend, Jihrgfrolm, who guards the front entrance of the tower. Unknown to the Forest denizens is the fact that Archaxk is ready to take the next step in his journey to lichdom, the drinking of a fatal poison, and he doesn't want any meddling servants messing with his stuff while he is 'dead.' for three days. Archaxk, however, has made some mistakes. Firstly, he is going to forget to turn himself invisible before drinking the poison, which is a minor thing. More importantly, there is a loop-hole in his contract with his demon; a loop-hole which will allow Jihrgfrolm to free himself from the contract. As it is the demon which power most of the tower's defenses, this will leave the tower practically unguarded.

Meanwhile, Tromk the Devourer has devised what he considers a cunning plan which will hopefully rid himself of some undesirable warriors, and which will, even better, rid the Temple of the Dark Ravine of some of its personnel. He plans to get a group of potential trouble-makers (ie. those who might one-day pose a threat to either the Caves or, more importantly, to Tromk's rule) to plant a “Help Wanted” sign in the wizard's front lawn and then make sure, via rumors, that the kobolds of the temple know of the sign.

Synopsis
The PCs are monstrous humanoids native to the Caves of Carnage who, for one reason or another, have run afoul of Tromk the Devourer and who are selected for a daring mission. Tromk tasks them, upon threat of death, with sneaking up close to the Tower of Cruelty, and, while not being killed by the pit fiend guarding the entrance, hammer a “help wanted” sign into the ground. Its something of a suicide mission, but if it is accomplished and the PCs survive, he promises them promotions, food, and masterwork gear.

The PCs arrive at the tower just as Archaxk, who has drank poison, breathes his last. Jihrgfrolm, the demon, seeing an opportunity to be free, and cause some trouble, calls the PCs to himself and makes a deal. If they pay him a nominal fee, he will not only not kill them, but he will hammer their sign into the ground himself. The demon is true to his word, as the new employment frees him from his contract with the wizard. Once free, the demon tells the PCs that the wizard is dead, the tower defenses will be unpowered as soon as he leaves, and that the wizard's treasure can be found on the lowest level of the dungeons, practically unguarded: theirs for the taking if they dare. Then the demon teleports away, back to his hellish home, and the door of the tower swings invitingly open.

Entering the tower, the PCs discover that the wizard does appear dead. Illusions of his body, lying in repose, can be seen in several rooms, though the body itself lies in the upper chambers, the doors of which are magically sealed and inaccessible to the PCs. The wizard has a spell upon himself and the tower which allowed him, when alive, to be seen in, and see into, most of the rooms of his tower, from wherever he was; when dead, the spell automatically projects the image of his dead body into these rooms. The PCs also discover a magic sword, Varlion the Balancer, in a glass case in the front room of the tower, free for the taking. Exploring the tower, the PCs must fight a variety of minor monsters the wizard was using for decorations, but there are no magical traps, no powerful guards, and the lower two floors of the tower and the two dungeon levels are all quite open to exploration. True to the word of the demon, the PCs also discover a huge pile of gold and jewels in the now unlocked vaults of the lower dungeon, the only guards being a handful of cursed skeletons and zombies. However, the PCs do not have any good way of transporting such a pile of treasure once they claim it.

Over the next three days, the PCs are, if they choose, masters of the Tower of Cruelty, a job not without its challenges. There is the ogre, Mal the Mauler, who did a job for Archaxk, and hasn't been paid. There are the monstrous mercenaries who, seeing the “Help Wanted” sign, keep applying for employment. There are the still enchanted objects of the tower, inexplicably turning themselves on at various times: the brooms which sweep the floors and attack intruders (like the PCs), the fireplaces which begin raging uncontrollably (heating the rooms up to uncomfortable levels), the mirror which creates vicious clones of the PCs, the strange vase which burps up a rat every ten minutes (and which if not dealt with creates a rather vicious swarm of rats by the third day). And then there is the group of brave, stalwart adventurers who have read the portents, heard the rumors, and suspect the tower might be ripe for looting. The PCs, if they desire to keep their pile of gold, and their tower, must find a way to deal with each one of these threats.

On the evening of the third day, just when everything seems to have been dealt with (depending on the PC's success), Archaxk the Cruel arises as a lich, a lord of the undead. He's not going to be too happy about the condition of his tower's defenses, and he's going to be even more unhappy if the PCs have spent any of his treasure. However, as a lich, he is past such paltry emotions as anger, and he is in need of some servants...

Cast of Characters
Tromk the Devourer: The Hobgoblin warlord who wants the PCs to undertake a suicide mission.
Archaxk the Cruel: The evil wizard on the cusp of becoming a lich; he's mostly dead for the three days of the adventure, but he's going to get better and then he'll be asking himself some questions about the PCs: like whether they might be more useful breathing, or if they would work better as zombies.
Jihrgfrolm: A Pit fiend with a sense of humor. If he can get gainful employment after the death of Archaxk, he can defeat the contract he has with the wizard. Thus, he is actually quite willing to do a little job for the PCs, like hammer in their sign; though when he hammers in a sign, it stays hammered.
The Help Wanted Sign: Inanimate but with a message to share with the world: the Tower of Cruelty needs new employees. Also, once hammered into the ground by the demon, indestructible and immovable.
Varlion the Balancer: An intelligent +2 Couragous Keen Admantine Longsword with a personality disorder. Most of the time, Varlion operates as a noble LG sword, though he is quite willing to partner with a welder of any alignment and never seeks to dominate them while LG. What he does do is constantly counsel, loudly and frequently, his welder to always take the path of virtue and nobility. However, when faced with conflict, there is a 10% cumulative chance per round of Varlion switching to his second personality: that of a CE weapon which seeks to drink in the blood of its foes. This personality will try to dominate its welder until all the killing that can be had is done (Varlion tends not to kill allies, but he will make exceptions if they annoy him). When the killing stops, the sword reverts to its noble self. Varlion is blissfully unaware of its own mood swings and cannot be made to think about them. Varlion is kept in a glass case in the front room for the tower and is quite easy to claim.
The Skeletons and Zombies: The remains of those who tried to steal from the wizard, now left to guard his gold as something of a grisly joke.
Mal the Mauler: This ogre killed a family of farmers for the wizard, the patriarch of whom had once stolen from Archaxk. However, the wizard never paid the ogre and Mal would like his money. He is angry and quite willing to kill to get paid. Moreover, if he realizes the wizard's treasure is free for the taking, he is quite willing to kill to take the treasure. Only cunning diplomacy or his own death is going to get him to not kill the PCs.
The Kobolds: A group from the Temple of the Dark Ravine, this lot are looking for gainful employment, but are not above larceny and murder if they sense profit in so doing.
The Orcs: Another group looking for gainful employment, they are noisome, loud, obnoxious and can sense weakness and fear. Its hard to decide whether they are a bigger problem as enemies or as employees.
The Goblins: A group from the Temple of the Dark Ravine, these rascals have decided to find a job. Their desire to set random things on fire makes them less then ideal employees, but the only way to get rid of them is to kill them.
The Mirror Images: These mirror-created dopplegangers want to kill the PCs and take their place. Each image, unless attacked only tries to kill the one it is duplicating.
The Adventurers: A group of do-gooders who want to kill the PCs and loot the tower, just for the fun of it.

Complications:
While the adventure assumes the PCs will make the rational decision of guarding their easily gained loot in the easily defended tower, there is always the chance that they devise a way to transport it and set out away from the tower. If this is the case, the cast of characters become encounters in the woods.
 


MortalPlague

Adventurer
Evil Wizard - Mendor
Low Level Dungeon - The carved-out chambers below Ratter's Dell is a low level dungeon (both by content and by location)
Angry Ogre - Gorthog
Pile of Treasure - The pile of treasure
Help Wanted Sign - Mendor's brick
Magic Sword - Whisperion


Beneath Ratter's Dell
A 5th Edition Adventure for 3rd Level Characters

Background
"Raise arms, and they'll respect you."

The words had not been meant for Mendor, the bastard son of Lord Tadros Redding. But in the boy's mind, they sparked a fire. Growing up in the shadow of his older half-brother, Mendor had always longed for respect. And while Jon Redding was groomed to rule, Mendor was pushed aside, alone with his books. When Mendor vanished one night, there was no real search for him; in a few short years, he was forgotten.

For fifteen years, Mendor toiled beneath the crumbled fort at Ratter's Dell, not six hours from his family's estate. He plied his craft, infusing simple items with sentience. If he could not have subjects, he would make subjects. His talents grew, but his animated vassals were not enough; bitterly, he vowed that he would take his brother's estates and titles for his own.

"Raise arms, and they'll respect you."

Taking those words to heart, Mendor began to build an army. He recruited an ogre named Gorthog as muscle. He acquired suits of armor, bringing them to life as a small army of his very own. With ten suits at his disposal, he began to craft weapons as well; swords that would dance through the air and cut down men who stood in his way.

Whisperion was the first, a large blade suitable to strike terror into Mendor's foes. But the sword was a failure; while it could communicate telepathically, it was unable to rise from the workbench. Disgusted, he returned to his books, and bid Gorthog to take it away.

But Whisperion was not keen to be discarded. A crafty weapon, it was able to exert control over the weak-minded Gorthog. It directed him to move about the dungeon, and it subverted Mendor's control over many of his magical subjects.

The betrayal was swift and sudden. When Mendor came to, he was in a cell, deep within his own dungeon. While he was angry at Gorthog's betrayal, Mendor was smart enough to suspect Whisperion's involvement. His spellbook was hidden in his workshop, and the only spell components he had were those for animating objects. Taking up a brick from the crumbling wall, he scrawled a message on the surface and sent the brick hopping for help. And then he sent another. And another.


Hook
The PCs are attacked by a mean-spirited brick. It has writing clearly painted onto one side:

"Help Wanted! Trapped under the old fort at Ratter's Dell! Reward! --Jon Redding"

Jon Redding disappeared two days ago while riding in Mournwood. If sought out, his father will confirm the story, and will offer a handsome reward for his son's rescue. Mendor caught and murdered his half-brother when he stumbled onto the crumbled fort; he is simply using his name to draw in somebody to rescue him.


The Dungeon
Ratter's Dell is a low place at a crossroads in Mournwood. The roads have long fallen into disrepair, and the fort built to watch over them has crumbled. Fifteen years ago, Mendor took shelter in the cellars, and noticed that one of the walls had broken away, revealing a network of caves beneath the ruin. He created servants to help dig out the tunnels, and began to carve a lair for himself.

Whisperion has subverted Mendor's control over most of the animated objects in the dungeon. The animated armor proved resilient to the sword's persuasion, a problem which the sword is dealing with currently. Gorthog, furious at being used by Whisperion to lock up Mendor, is trying to break Whisperion in his chambers.

With all of Whisperion's focus on controlling the ogre and protecting itself, the dungeon is uncontrolled. Animated objects are everywhere, ready to attack if disturbed. Several rugs have wrapped up animated armor, while one portly armoire has barricaded a door against other suits. In Mendor's workshop, his treasure has taken humanoid shape and is playing the role of master.

There are three chief points of interest in the dungeon, which the PCs may encounter in any order, depending which path they choose.


The Workshop
As proof against thieves, the wizard animated his treasure. With both Mendor and Whisperion out of the picture, the pile of treasure has decided to become its own master; it has formed up into humanoid shape, a mass of clinking coins who rattle out a metallic voice to issue commands to the other animated objects. The other animated objects mostly ignore the treasure. It is carrying Mendor's spellbook and wand, and fancies itself a magic user, bustling about the workshop doing 'wizard things'.

As the PCs enter the workshop, the treasure will challenge them, demanding to know their business. It will belittle and taunt the PCs, considering itself invincible. It is receptive to flattery, and can be bargained with for information. It will happily tell the characters that Mendor is in the cells. It has no idea who Jon Redding is. It will also tell the PCs that Gorthog and Whisperion are in the ogre's quarters and insist they go kill Gorthog; It is terrified of the ogre, who it considers its greatest foe.

Should the PCs get into a fight with the treasure, it will fight like a swarm. Waves of sharp coins will slice them. A pearl necklace will strangle any PC it can seize, while a jewelled mace will smack whoever it can. It will throw the wand and spellbook. The wand is a non-magical focus, but the spellbook is a thick, leatherbound tome which hits for 1d6 bludgeoning damage. It will also mimic its master by commanding the armor to "Seize Jon!", oblivious to the specific context of the command. But the armor only obeys Mendor's commands.

Items of interest in the workshop include several potions and mixtures. Sitting on a table, covered in dust is a painting of Jon Redding and Mendor as teenagers, with their father standing behind them. On a different table, in a stack of papers are plans for a telepathic, flying sword: Whisperion. Scrawled at the bottom is 'Useless, doesn't fly'. Additionally, there is a map of the complex sitting on a table (see Handout). The map will try to ineffectively smother whoever picks it up (whichever player picks up the handout first).


The Ogre And Whisperion
Gorthog is in his quarters, trying to break Whisperion. The ogre is in a terrible rage, and is having a one-sided argument with the sword (Whisperion's replies are telepathic).

The PCs will hear Gorthog a good distance away. Should they try diplomacy, Whisperion will force Gorthog into attacking. It should be clear that the sword is not quite swinging the way Gorthog wants it to, which only increases the ogre's rage. While Gorthog cannot willingly let go of the sword, he could be disarmed, which would free him of the sword's compulsion. The ogre could then be convinced to surrender, especially by offering him a shot at the treasure pile (which he desperately covets). If the PCs are more interested in killing him, Gorthog will happily try to kill them right back.

When he imprisoned Mendor, Gorthog took the wizard's keys. They are sitting on a table in his chambers (and could be snatched by a stealthy character). There is a pile of gnawed bones in a corner, and a pile of bloody clothing next to it. Jon Redding's bones and house tabard can be found here. Observant PCs may notice that Gorthog's hands are nicked with dozens of fresh bruises and cuts; he tried to grab some coins and was attacked by the treasure the other day.


The Captive Wizard
Mendor is locked in his cells. He has used most of his spell components to craft his bricks. One brick is currently hopping up to smash against the lock repeatedly. His plan is to play the part of Jon Redding; they share enough of a resemblance for it to work, so long as the PCs aren't suspicious. If they have been elsewhere in the dungeon first, they could piece together that this is a ruse.

His chief goal is to get free. The wizard will say or promise anything to be freed. He knows that Whisperion has control of most of his subjects, but he retains control of his animated armor. If he comes into contact with any of them, he can command them to attend him. If the PCs see through the Jon Redding disguise, he will beg to be freed, admitting that Gothrog must have eaten the poor lordling. He will gladly villify Gothrog and Whisperion to make himself seem less sinister.

If released, Mendor sticks with the PCs until he has gathered two suits of animated armor; bidding them to attack, he will try to escape to his workshop, where he can collect his wand and spellbook (which the treasure will relinquish). He will then set about gathering his animated armor to attack Gorthog and Whisperion.

Killing the PCs is high on his list of priorities, since they know that Jon Redding is dead, and who killed him. He knows the time for action is now, and he needs to strike the Redding Estate by force with his animated armor as soon as possible. If the PCs escape to warn the Reddings, Mendor's plans will be ruined.


A Reactive Dungeon
Constructs don't detect things the way normal creatures do. Most of them have blindsight, which can be effectively blocked by a good barrier; an animated object won't 'hear' what's happening in the next room. Clever PCs may exploit such senses to rest up and recover between fights. While this is a clever approach, it is not without its risks.

The chief risk is Gorthog. He won't be smashing Whisperion around forever. Sooner or later, the ogre will venture forth and roam the complex, magic sword in hand. The chances of this increase, the longer the characters tarry. The treasure pile may also make a foray into the wider dungeon, though the chances of this are lower. Furthermore, it is possible that Mendor's brick manages to finally smash the lock, and the wizard himself begins to move against the party.

Additionally, there is always a chance that something nasty has wandered along the underground river.


The Handout
This is a map of the complex that Mendor drew so he could plan where to place his 'Animated Soldiers'. Every rug pictured on the map has wrapped up the nearest suit of animated armor, and is keeping it held (without dealing damage; Whisperion wants to convert them later). This will not stop them from attacking, chiefly by swinging the rug against adventurers. Enough damage will free the armor. Gorthog's quarters are on the upper level, while the workshop and cells are both on the lower level. The underground river that cuts through the center of the dungeon is slow-moving and easily swam. The chasm in the upper level is directly above it; keep in mind that PCs can see the beaches below and the various entrances to the lower level.


Conclusion
The authorities will pay a bounty for Mendor's capture, especially if the murder of Jon Redding is revealed. Tadros Redding will share a small reward for delivering the bad news, but he is not glad to hear it and will treat the characters with icy politeness only so far as civility demands. As for Whisperion, there are many mages or academics who would pay a good price for such a unique blade. But they must be sought out, and the challenges of handling a sword who can take over one who wields it should not be underestimated!
 

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MortalPlague

Adventurer
[sblock]Wicht, I salute you. That's a top notch entry if ever I saw one. I really want to play in that little monstrous campaign of yours.

I love the vase that burps up rats. :D

Very inspired work.[/sblock]
 


phoamslinger

Explorer
in the final round, a matchup between Wicht's Easy Come (EC), vs MortalPlague's Beneath Ratter's Dell (BRD), here comes my thoughts on the matter...

...before I jump in with the judgement stuff... when there is an ingredient with two or more words to it, I parse both words and ask myself, did it have to be this word used in the ingredient? for example, with the Athletic Airships, did the ingredient have to be an "airship" to make the story work and then did it have to be "athletic"? Gradine's Airship competition worked well with the ingredient with a floating city made possible by the discovery of the airships, and then an old school competition of the ships being propelled by muscle and sweat to make them go. that's one of the things that I look for when I'm judging a match. several times during this Iron DM, the topic of McGuffins has come up, where one or both parts of an ingredient could be swapped out with almost anything else and it would not have had a major impact on the overall scenario. the best ingredient usage is when, if the ingredient is not precisely as named, the entire adventure fails. a long time back there was an ingredient of "brass buttons", which popped off his waistcoat when the NPC escaped through a narrow crevice. if not for that detail, the true culprit would not have been identifiable. that's the sort of solid usage I like to see and read about.

Evil Wizard
- in EC we had Archaxk, a wannabe lich whose lair becomes the locale of the adventure while in BRD we had Mendor, the revenge driven animator of the inanimate. both wizards were evil (one a lich and the other a fratricide) and but did both need to be a wizard? In BRD Mendor is using Animate Object, or some variation of same, which strikes me as a very wizardly way to build an army. but in EC, Archaxk could have been an evil priest going the lich route or some other spellcasting class, and would it have impacted the story at all? not so much. so I thought MortalPlague did a better job with this one.

btw, this particular list of ingredients was all mine, and the challenge was to see what people would come up with that wasn't (help wanted sign in the tavern, enter low level dungeon and recover magic sword from evil wizard with angry ogre guard. reward is pile of treasure.)

with the Low Level Dungeon - I wanted to see what people would do given a set of blatantly obvious ingredients. EC had the lair and vault of the evil wizard beneath his tower, while BRD had a network of caves beneath a ruin. in both cases, a lair close to the surface with relatively low level challenges, intended for a low level group of adventurers. neither entry really broke the mold on this one, but both were still valid uses. a classic usage of "dungeon" is prison. low and level could have referred to a ceiling height and an absence of stairs? a halfling prison in a single story building? just some different ways to approach it.

with the Angry Ogre, why was he ANGRY? Mal the Mauler hasn't been paid. Gorthog is being Dominated by a sword. both are very angry. but why are they Ogres (and not Trolls, Orcs, or something else?) both adventures have a "negotiate or face a tough fight" situation with the ogre, appropriate for the adventurer level in a way that a troll would not have been, while an Orc just wouldn't have been as intimidating. both valid uses again.

...another thing that I like to look for is out of the box thinking. with the Pile of Treasure, both entries came up with something different that you wouldn't normally find in an average game. in EC, this is the wizard's hoard that is so large it cannot be easily moved and, once it's found, it becomes the focus for the party trying to stay in control of a situation filled with complications. in BRD, the pile of treasure becomes a major encounter of its own, with its own motivations and reactions to the actions of the party.

in EC, the Help Wanted Sign pulls complications into the tale as various monsters come looking for job auditions. nice in a sort of reverse situation where the party becomes the hirer instead of the hired. the device to get rid of the door guard on the tower wasn't as strong, since it's mostly a plan by an NPC to dupe the players who have no understanding of what or why it's happening. (I was reminded of the paragraph in the 5th ed DMG about "false action" which this barely avoids.) but in BRD, the animated bricks being used as a help wanted sign / adventure hook mechanism, I thought was really out of the box. show me an adventuring party that's going to ignore a hopping brick as an adventure hook...

Magic Sword... interesting that both used an intelligent weapon to interact with the party as an NPC...

as I've said before, the ingredients by themselves aren't the only criteria I try to look at. in this case, the judgment came down to

[sblock]the last thing that I try to look for, and in some ways, what I believe to be the most important aspect of an Iron DM:

How do the items interconnect with each other?

in Easy Come, the wizard doesn't really interact with the party at all, except as an add on at the end when he wakes up. it's Archaxk's dungeon, and his pile of treasure, but the ogre and the sword both felt like, "ok here's the adventure. and oh, there's an ogre there too. and oh, there's a sword there too. both Mal the Mauler and Varlion the Balancer felt like add ons without really having a relationship with any of the other ingredients. the Help Wanted Sign, while used well to bring complications into the dungeon later on, the whole sub plot with the pit fiend seemed too much like a gimme, where the DM just hands the solution to the players without them needing to sweat a bit first. a challenge where the pit fiend wants the deal, but can't directly explain what how or why to the players would have been a lot more interesting to read (and to play).

so really, only the dungeon and the treasure tied together that well, with the wizard and the sign coming in peripherally at best.

in Beneath Ratter's Dell, the ogre and the sword are in contention against each other. the wizard and the pile of treasure, the ogre and the sword all have motivations and different reasons to oppose the PCs. the wizard created the sword, the animated help wanted signs, the pile of treasure. the ogre wants the treasure. the wizard wants it all. the dungeon, while not really all that big is the site of everything going on.

while I was reading BRD, it seemed like there was a whole cat's cradle of connections. because of that and because of doing a bit better on a couple of the individual ingredients by themselves, I'm going to call this one in MortalPlague's favor.

congrats and good luck with the other two judges.[/sblock]
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Okay, Phoamy has beaten me to the pole position on this one, so I’m going to get this review finished so I can read what he had to say.

This final round, a true battle of Kaiju-scaled titans, obviously tossed in banal ingredients as a twist to let real creativity show through — and I don’t think either entry disappoints. So, this should be a tricky evaluation. We have Easy Come (EC) and Beneath Ratter’s Dell (BRD).

Ingredients. Ah, yes, the sweetest vanilla ingredients.

Evil Wizard - In EC, the evil wizard is Archaxk, the photo-lich. He’s certainly evil, and a wizard, and he’s the keystone of the adventure. What’s fun with him is that he’s very much the hapless victim of a lot of what’s going on — helpless for three days while the PCs have the run of his tower.

In BRD, the evil wizard is also solid. It’s Mendor, evil wizard but again more victim than BBEG, trapped by animated servants that have turned against him.

Ultimately, these ingredients are doing a great job, and playing with the same idea — an ironic turn that leaves the evil wizard on the ropes needing the help of the PCs. I don’t see much room for advantage between the two.

Low Level Dungeon - In BRD, the Low Level Dungeon is literally that. In EC, there’s also an effective low level dungeon, in much the same way. So, not much differentiating here, either.

Angry Ogre - In EC, this is Mal the Mauler, a servant of Archaxk who was not paid and is a problem for the PCs. In BRD, it’s Gorthog, Mendor’s muscle, subverted by the magic sword Whisperion, etc.

Finally we have a slight difference that might be fruitful: in BRD, Gorthog is a fairly important part of the adventure — he’s the weak-minded muscle that Whisperion needs to subvert the rest of Mendor’s animated servants. He’s a critical part of the story, although much of his part in the story lives in backstory, rather than being something the PCs will see.

At the same time, in EC, Mal isn’t a critical part of the story. His irate orgeness could be replaced by just about any other complication — a drunk pirate who comes across the tower. He’s not critical to the overall story beyond being an example of the big layoff that precipitated a lot of the adventure.

So, while Gorthog is more integral to the story, in playing through the adventure I feel like Mal will be more interesting, and give the players a bit more to play with. I don’t know. I think this one may be a wash, too, damn it.

Pile of Treasure - In BRD, the animated pile of treasure is a lot more fun than the EC application, which is just a mostly-unguarded pile of treasure the PCs will end up guarding. So, advantage to BRD there.

Help Wanted Sign - in EC, there’s a literal help wanted sign used to help the pit fiend break his contract with the wizard. In BRD, it’s the help message written on the side of an animated brick.

Both might be fine, but I think I’m going to have to favor the application in EC this time.

Magic Sword Whispering (BRD) vs. Varlion. Both are good. Both are intelligent swords that cause a whole lot of trouble. So, not much advantage here.

So, basically, I don’t find much help in the ingredients.

Beyond the ingredients. we have some issues of creativity and playability.

In EC, we have an adventure that takes the banal, obvious ingredients and turns the whole concept on it’s head. The PCs are monstrous humanoids, sent to try to loot the tower and subvert the wizard, and in the process they wind up becoming the monstrous defenders of the tower, facing — among other things — heroic NPC adventurers who want to loot the place.

In BRD, the adventure - while still subverting many tropes and turning the ingredients on their head, is not quite as subversive. The adventure is still a fairly typical rescue the damsel mission, even if the damsel is a fratricidal human wizard. Because the PCs don’t know they’re rescuing Mendor instead of his brother, the rescue mission feels like a very typical adventure right up to the end — at which point PCs are quite used to the “surprising” twist at the end.

But while on the larger scale EC is stronger, there are some really wonderful reversals in BRD. The walking, spell casting, humanoid pile of treasure is great fun, for example.

In the end, I find judging this match really difficult. The entries are very different, but they're both examples of the finest ideals of IRON DM. But I have to pick one, so...

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…I will cast my lot with Easy Come and Wicht. I find that as a whole I prefer EC to BRD for the lengths it goes to as it subverts the lame ingredients. BRD was really strong, and that pile of treasure especially gives me heartburn over the choice, but as a whole I think the unusual player experience in the adventure — defending a dungeon rather than attacking it, etc — is enough of a creative advantage to win my vote.

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One more judge to go…...
 

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