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IRON DM 2015 Tournament


Thank you. As far as critiques on my writing, I have a very thick skin. Despite the defeat, I suspect this scenario will be saved by our audience in their arsenal of adventures, in part or in whole cloth. I've crashed and burned in the first round three times now. I know eventually I will get a set of ingredients that clicks. Thanks to Iron Sky for a great match and good luck in the next rounds. Don't feel bad about crushing me on my birthday.

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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Happy Birthday! No guilt or anything. :p

I agree about your setting: I was really worried after I read the first sentence of your entry and simultaneously relieved (because I was competing with you) and disappointed (because my imagination was lit up) when the rest of the adventure didn't match the promise of the opening.

For my entry, I was hoping that Jäger's dramatic Finale to his "tragedy" would stand as "The End" more without calling it out, but given the nature of the competition, being more blatant is probably better. :/ Given how frustratingly difficult I found these ingredients mixed with the word limitation, I'm pretty happy that that was the only one that completely failed.

Thanks Rune for running and judging this whole thing and thanks to Imhotepthewise for stepping up and competing in what was probably the hardest combination of rules(word count) and ingredients I've ever had.

Looking forward to round 2, even if I have to go up against the dreaded Wicht!
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Once A Fool
Thank you. As far as critiques on my writing, I have a very thick skin. Despite the defeat, I suspect this scenario will be saved by our audience in their arsenal of adventures, in part or in whole cloth. I've crashed and burned in the first round three times now. I know eventually I will get a set of ingredients that clicks. Thanks to Iron Sky for a great match and good luck in the next rounds. Don't feel bad about crushing me on my birthday.

Hey, I'm a genuine kind of guy. When I say that I think you're pretty close to crossing over into "feared competitor" territory, I mean it. You've got solid vision, and that's a wonderful place to be able to start from.

Also, in case you were serious about the birthday: happy birthday.


If you check my profile, you'll see I'm telling the truth about my birthday. In fact, the cake and ice cream has given me quite the sugar buzz. Thanks to everyone for the kind birthday wishes!


Might As Well Be Walking On The Sun Recap

In 750 words, there is not the opportunity to dilly dally with ingredient descriptions that scream HERE IS THE INGREDIENT. The onus is on the writer to make his meaning as plain as possible in the shortest way possible. Some of the nuances that the writer is thinking of are not necessarily going to be received by the reader. That being said, I’d like to take the opportunity to expand on the entry.

Faded memory could be two things in Sun. The most obvious is grandfather’s spotty memory that doesn’t give the henchman the warm fuzzies about trapesing down into the earth to escape The End of the surface world. The PCs could be wandering down to dead end caves or wandering around the underdark as food. The second is the memory of the trading station, which was well known until overrun and out of business.

The unasked question was a great opportunity for some role playing to take place. The grandchild has the choice of kissing grandpa goodbye for good, knowing the heat will eventually kill him, or convince him to go along, possibly having to watch him die on the trip and feel responsible for that. In past entries, I have been pinged for not giving the PCs enough to do. Here is a great opportunity to test their “humanity” in making a conscious decision to dissuade or encourage the henchman to ask the Unasked Question. Everyone has the opportunity to walk away doing nothing, and living with the guilt of inaction, or participating in asking that unasked question. The henchman doesn’t want to ask it, the grandfather doesn’t want it to be asked, and the PCs are the drivers either way. The choice is theirs, but, the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

The End is tricky because the story can’t end with “…and everybody died.” The end in Sun is unavoidable and permanent, fitting the bill for The End. The trick was to give the PCs an out. The End becomes a new beginning for a campaign in a new environment.

Dangerous knowledge is dangerous in two ways. The trek to the trading station is dangerous, and the faded memory of grandfather makes taking his advice dangerous. As described above, the faded memory could be flat wrong, leaving the PCs at that dead end cave or as wandering lunch in the underdark. My interpretation is very literal, and probably not as exciting as it could be.

Rats. Rats are survivors and smart. They are clever enough to recognize it is time to get out of Dodge, even if the trip is dangerous. Deer and bunny rabbits are unlikely to realize there is opportunity to survive in the bottoms of caves, so rats are a logical choice. The rats really are not interested in the PCs, but, would have defended themselves if attacked. It was just better for the PCs to use them as cannon fodder on the path to the underdark.

Brown mold falls into a great fit because the need for it to be cold to be effective and a subterranean air conditioner being needed to make the training station safe from the climate change above. The PCs could encourage growth of the mold to block off the passage of those behind them.

Negotiating the paths in the cavern around the sinkhole gives the PC’s some choices to make. Watching the rats may give them some ideas how to make it work.

Had I some more words to work with, I would have described an illithid scanning the thoughts of the party as they reached the trading post to verify the plan of the illithids was working, and the sun was in trouble. This racial goal of the illithid has intrigued me, and this adventure could be a prelude to a whole war against the illithid as they move to finish off the survivors from above and take over the underdark.

A long time ago, WOTC had a Dungeon article in Dragon magazine, I think, there was a mini adventure about a bridge in the underdark that was the pathway from an underground human community who had never seen the sun to the surface world. This concept fascinated me and I’ve played around over expanding that into a campaign. This entry would be a good background for that, where the founding of the community could have been the result of a natural (or unnatural, as it were) above.

Again, I have no sour grapes on Rune’s judgement. The onus was on me to make my ingredients central and irreplaceable and I failed to do that. I will continue to read how the masters do it so I will be better prepared to compete in the future.


Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 1, Match 3: Gradine vs. Wik

Well, both of these entries promise memorable experiences. One is much tighter than the other, but doesn't deliver as satisfying an endgame. We'll get back to that. First, the ingredients:

"Tearin' It Up" (let's shorten this one to "Tearin'") gives us a Tear that is an interesting interpretation, but, ultimately, doesn't really matter to the adventure presented. "Redemptions" also presents the ingredient in a way that seems only to be scenery, but later makes it a potential complication to infiltration. Well done.

The Underground Passage in "Redemptions" isn't bad. It provides an important segment of the adventure. It's there, and it's important to the PCs. The one in "Tearin'" is better. Not only is the interpretation clever, it gives us lots of opportunities to have isolated encounters. Good deal.

I like the Hopeless Quest in both entries. In "Redemptions," it provides a new (moral) dimension to the adventure for the players to explore. In "Tearin'," it is the adventure, itself, which is a great direction to take a zombie apocalypse game, I think. There is one major change that would make it better, I think, but I'll get to that when I start talking about the adventures' structures.

Unfortunately, both entries struggle a bit with Grave News. In the case of "Tearin'," the interpretation is good and it works as a hook, but lacks relevance after that initial hook. And, even there, it isn't exactly irreplaceable. In contrast, "Redemptions" has a very promising take on the ingredient, but there is nowhere near enough detail to easily run it.

Both entries used Traveling Entertainer as a central character. I very much like the idea of a bard who is compelled not to settle down. And a singer who gets drunk and raises the dead on tour seems crazy fun. Plus, echoes of Robert Johnson (and Tommy Johnson, who shared no relation, except for a legend) help sell the character.

I like the Charming Devil presented in "Tearin'," but I don't get enough of a feel for how charming he is. Some examples--especially of how to work the charm on the PCs--would have gone a long way, here. "Redemptions" has a devil whose charm matters--it moves the adventure, in fact.

So, we have a slight edge on ingredients for "Redemptions."

I think this one will be decided by the strength of the adventures. As I said before, one is much tighter than the other. And I blame background for this. In "Redemptions," we're halfway through the write-up before the PCs are even mentioned. Or relevant.

Especially given the extremely limited word-count, this is a really big problem--because all of the details we need to really take advantage of the scenario's significant potential are instead left out to make room for exposition that we simply don't need (or, at least, don't need so much of). Here's a tip: if the PCs can't find it out through investigation, you probably don't need to include it. And if they can find it out through investigation, that's a better way to present it than mere exposition. Let's just cover a few details that would dramatically improve the adventure if they were present:

  • The gravestones: if we had some examples of what kinds of actions shifted the dates and how, we could set up a really intriguing puzzle. Without any details, it's hard to do anything with it.
  • The townsfolk: with so many people enthralled, we have a lot of encounter potential. But no details to help with that.
  • The redemption: this is my favorite part of the adventure and the one that has the most potential to elevate the whole to a truly memorable experience. But we aren't given any clue how the PCs might pull it off.

So much potential, crowded out by superfluous background.

In contrast, "Tearin'" gives us a piece in which it is difficult to tell where the background ends and the adventure begins. This is because it is presented in such a way that PC connections and involvement are implied throughout. This is an efficient and evocative approach. On top of this rests a solid adventure. It looks like a lot of fun right up to the finale, but the ending falls flat, I'm afraid.

If only Shells wasn't willing to sacrifice herself at the end. Suddenly, the scope of the PC's dilemma would become so much greater. And this is where the hopeless quest would take on a new dimension, by the way--because now there's no option the PC's can take that doesn't eat at their humanity.

[sblock]But I think that would be much easier to fix than filling in the gaps in "Redemptions." In this case, the tight adventure we get in "Tearin'" is superior to the other's marginally better ingredient usage and vast potential.

Wik, I'm impressed with your ideas. I just think you spent too much effort (and too many words!) detailing the wrong things. Shift your priorities toward giving the DM the tools to make good use of your great ideas and you'll go far in future tournaments.

This time, however, Gradine advances to Round 2.[/sblock]

Deuce Traveler

I usually follow three rules.

1. Don't let a good idea waste an entry. I really liked the Painful Pun ingredient and had thoughts of using it as the central part of the story. A cursed joke that killed someone after some time unless they found someone to pass it onto. Nothing fit well with this to make a cohesive adventure, so I dropped it.

2. Play to your strengths. I still struggled to put the jovial innkeeper and a desperate gnoll together in a story. A jovial gnoll and desperate innkeeper would be easy, the reverse is hard. So now I thought about a light-hearted romp where you could play an evil party helping a problem among monstrous NPCs. But the problem is that my writing and imagination has often failed with comedy. Since I had trouble with a humorous way to make an adventure that connected these ingredients, I reluctantly started looking at how to put it together in a macabre way.

3. Remember to make the ingredients integral. It's all about the points. If I use an ingredient that is so integral that removing it would make the adventure fall apart, I give the ingredient use 2 points. If I use an ingredient that is not integral, but still well-used, I give myself 1 point there. If I do not use an ingredient, or only use the name of the ingredient for a place or person, then I give myself 0 points there. I then look over some of my drafts, either in my mind or on paper, and the path that seems to lead to the most points is the one I run. I think it over before I fall asleep and start writing it the next day.

One more for when it's done.

4. Never Take it Personal. If I lose, I never take things personal. I've lost plenty of times when I felt I had a better entry (and more when I didn't) than my opponent, but much of this is subjective. Instead, enjoy the practice in writing and be satisfied when you made a solid entry, even when you lose.


Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 1, Match 4: Deuce Traveler vs. LucasC

While they both have some similarities, these two adventures are about as different in play-style as two adventures can be. One has a plot complex enough to feature in an Elizabethan play. The other, a simple--yet sinister--mystery to solve. I have a lot to talk about here, but I certainly don't want to ignore the ingredients, so let's get to them now.

In general, I was disappointed in how most of the ingredients were incorporated, but more so in "The Game" ("Game") than in "The Inn of the Tarnished Mirror" ("Inn"). I think part of this is because the details of the former raise so many questions that often what was probably intended as an important clue simply seems a confusing piece of scenery.

Take New Graves, for instance. I'm not even sure the PCs would ever go there. If they do, can they see the hanging gnolls? They are described as hanging high above the mouth of the waterfall, and the cemetery is at the base of the mountain. But the mouth of a waterway refers to where it joins a larger body of water--in other words, downstream.

This confusion causes problems with the Death from Above ingredient, as well. I really like the concept of it, but if the bodies are downstream, it doesn't make much sense--they are not above, should be easily cut down by the villagers, and shouldn't poison them anyway.

I have to think that what is intended here is that they are hung above the top of the waterfall. But, again, are they visible from the cemetery (or the rest of town, for that matter)? If not, how are the PCs ever going to know to go up there? And if so, why didn't the villagers cut them down?

I don't think the Painful Puns (which are not actually painful) are sufficient to lead the PCs there, even if they do help them identify the oubliette when (if) they do.

Which brings us to the Desperate Gnoll. It certainly has been put in a desperate situation (I assume as part of the game's machinations), but I see no reason why it (or the others) need be a gnoll. And what key does it hold to Magnus's downfall? Knowledge of the gold veins? So what? The fact that Magnus hired a mercenary to kill the gnolls? Isn't that what adventurers do all the time? It feels like an important detail is missing, here.

And the questions keep coming. Why exorcise a demon that is already departed? Perhaps the idea was to ward against it, instead, in which case I can see where the Half Measure of hiring a bargain-basement wizard would be significant to the adventure. If the adventure had anything to do with a demon trying to breach such wards. But this demon lays a trap and has Magnus come to him, making the ingredient entirely irrelevant.

And what of the demon? I like the wickedly gleeful innkeeper persona, particularly as a mastermind for a subtle long-game. But a Jovial Innkeeper it is not, lacking the crucial component of friendliness. And what, exactly, is the game he is playing. If we were given any details of it, we could use it to ensnare the PCs as they get involved with things, but, unfortunately, there's no real indication of its nature. That's an unfortunate missed opportunity.

And then there are the questions that aren't tied to ingredients. Like, how did Magnus's leaving ruin Declan? Why does Olivia hate the demon? Why did she become a mercenary? Why did she hang the gnolls over the waterfall? Why spare one? Why put it in an oubliette? Who built that, anyway? They go on and on. I think we might have answers to some of those, if we had a clearer understanding of the game. But, lacking that, we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves.

How does "Inn" stack up? The New Graves are an important location that provide a lot of potential clues the PCs. The bodies of the murdered victims (especially Raol) can point the PCs toward uncovering the doppelgänger. There, they'll also find the (more paranoid than) Desperate Gnoll whose story can help do the same.

The Jovial Innkeeper serves the adventure in his absence--the doppelgänger can't or won't duplicate his personality (nor his culinary skill) and this, too, is a clue, as are the related Painful Puns (that aren't in any way puns). And, by the way, that drop in food quality? Two hints in one--both a hint at a change in personnel (so to speak) and a change in ingredients.

Speaking of which, that Half Measure (replaceable as it may be in the context of the adventure) points to the same. As do the murder-holes meant to be the Death from Above ingredient (but why place them above the victims? Wouldn't it work better if they were on the same level?).

Some of those ingredients are pretty weak. Some are poor fits. But they all have one thing in common: they're all clues for the PCs to find and figure out.

And that pretty much illustrates the major difference between the two entries; one is filled with questions and the other is filled with answers.

LucasC, there definitely are some good things in your entry. I like how unlikable Magnus is, especially if he is the PCs' patron. I like your hooks, which are all much stronger than the one in "Inn." The multiple objectives that you lay out for the PCs to pursue are also good. And the overall adventure looks like it would be fun. With some work on the DM's part in figuring out the answers to its many questions.

Finally, I like your ambition. The many complications could potentially make for a game that would be talked about for years to come. But I think that ambition probably was the source of your problems. I think that your attempts to complicate your plot compounded the confusion (for DM and players) and I think would likely make running the game very difficult. Also, it cluttered the backstory with things that the PCs would likely never learn.

If I may make a recommendation, it would be this: give your NPCs agendas instead of (extensive) backstories. Agendas are things that PCs run up against. Backstories, by definition, aren't. I think that shift in presentation will lead to tighter adventures with more for PCs to do. With your breadth of vision, the rest should fall into place. I expect, should you choose to compete again, you'll turn some heads.

Deuce Traveler, this wasn't your finest work; I think you know that. But it is a good mystery with a very good structure. I am impressed with how many clues (including every single ingredient) serve to ensure that the adventure progresses--all without actually spelling anything out for the players. The adventure looks fun and very easy to run.

Deuce Traveler advances to Round 2.

Oh, and by the way: Painful Puns + Desperate Gnoll. There was something right there! I just know it!


The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
I think I've spent more time analyzing Tearin' after the fact than I spent while writing it. Truth be told, I'd been thinking about going a different direction than the typical D&D-fantasy route before the match even started, something with an already established world, so I wouldn't have to waste too many words on background elements or world building. Four of the ingredients ended up steering me right towards Supernatural as a setting. Charming Devil and Traveling Entertainer seemed tailor made for a "Devil Went Down To Georgia" scenario, Grave News gave me an iconic "research in a dive hotel room" scene, and Hopeless Quest just in general matched the overall tone of the show. I knew it would be a Gamble (anyone? Anyone? No? Just me?) going with an established setting that might not be familiar with the judges, and I'm not certain it entirely paid off. I was overall pretty happy with the adventure as a whole, despite how much I had to cut out of it (which would have made some of those elements stemming from the ingredients stronger; I cut out a LOT about the zombies) and I'm grateful and excited to be moving on. I feel I learn a lot more, not just about this competition but about writing in general every time I go through this.

I will take a moment to discuss Shells and her arc though. I'll admit when writing that ending just felt like the obvious perfect way to end it. I didn't put any more thought into it than that. After reading your critique and spending quite a bit of time thinking about it, I'm more convinced than ever that it's the right ending. In fact, I couldn't disagree more strongly with your suggestion. I'm not sure it's necessary to go into it here, but I probably spent three times as many words writing about why it had to end that way than I did in the whole adventure. But I'm extremely grateful for the critique, because without it I wouldn't have spent that time and energy thinking about why I was making the choices that I was. The point is I had 750 words to convince you that it was the right way to end it and I didn't succeed, largely because I didn't even think that that might be necessary. The exercise definitely helps me work toward being a more deliberate and in general stronger writer. There's a writing podcast I listen to that often mentions writing action that is both surprising but inevitable. Shells' willingness to sacrifice herself should have been surprising but inevitable. I'm not sure how I would solved that in the word count provided, but then, that was my challenge. And I'll definitely be more conscious of those types of decisions in the future. So thank you for that.

I'm excited for round 2! 1500 words! Time to start adding a little more connective tissue to the skeleton.


First Post
First, let me say, thank you for the opportunity to compete, and congratulations to Deuce Traveler on the victory!

As I approach adventure creation, I try to create a framework from which an adventure emerges. The specifics of that adventure depend on many variables with the players being the dominant one. It is for that reason I spend time on the background, and drawing relationships between the actors.

You state that the presence of so many unanswered questions is a weakness, but I suggest the opposite. It is in these questions that DMs and players find choices. Because of their existence, the adventure to be repeated with vastly different results, it becomes easy for a DM to tie the adventure into their game, they provide opportunities to stitch PCs directly into the action, and they create space wherein each person can add their personal touch. No adventure can account for every possible question, but if there’s enough of a picture, it becomes easy to find the answers.

Thanks for the critique Rune, I find it valuable, appreciate the directness, and can see lots of areas I can improve. You are doing an outstanding job of judging entries.

I have to say, this was fun! I'm glad I got to play and maybe I'll see y'all next year.

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