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IRON DM 2015 Tournament

Deuce Traveler

Saint Vardan's Comet


Heavenly Body
Fog of War
Sullen Scion
Lawful Good
Any Given Day
Bad Investment

Hook: The heroes are enjoying the court of a stable and prosperous kingdom during a feast in honor of their recent heroics. A comet was seen by renowned astronomers a few days ago and many in the court are debating its scientific or mystical significance. Most of the land's notables are in attendance, when suddenly an apparition of a heavily armored person appears and begins to threaten the assembly, stating that he has come to judge them for the destruction of Elencia, a kingdom that ceased to be centuries ago. A group of heroes must quest to discover evidence on how Elencia fell, the innocence of the kingdoms that have sprouted around its remains, and somehow get to the Vardan to present their case or have their cities destroyed by the comet's doomsday weapons. A demonstration is shown off the coast of the kingdom, resulting in a circle of destruction miles across where sea life and a few fishermen are washed ashore.


The armored man is a canonized knight named Vardan whose religion was wiped out with Elencia, and he resides in the passing comet. Elencia was once a powerful country whose arcane and technological discoveries are only now being matched. It was eventually threatened by an diabolical horde and the kingdom's researchers turned from civil improvements to mighty weapons of war. One final invention was the comet Vardan resides upon to act as a doomsday weapon of revenge in case Elencia fell. The fear was that the land would be swarmed by the agents of evil, bringing about millenniums of darkness. If evil had won Vardan was to destroy their cities, causing a great reset where good civilizations might have a chance to return from the ashes. The knight was chosen because of his singular dedication to see the task through, since it was his trust in the false redemption of his wicked nobleman father that resulted in a great betrayal that had turned the course of the war against Elencia. Vardan agreed to end his family line and be sacrificed, taking a covenant that he would see the deed through once his soul was transferred into an iron golem built to last the journey.

When Vardan returned centuries later all signs showed that Elencia was destroyed. Nations he spies upon seem a mixture of good and evil, though social norms reveal small displays of what are cultural taboos from his time. Realizing he has some days left before the comet swung past the sun and left the range of the threatened world, Vardan sent his message and demonstration in the hopes that some heroes will give him the evidence he needs to stop his attack, not comprehending that he may have needlessly killed sentient beings in the process.

It is up to the DM whether or not information and artifacts about Elencia's ultimate fate are readily available, or if the heroes have to go questing. Whatever happens, Vardan will continually monitor the activities of the chosen champions in order to try and measure their worth. A court inventor, the gnome Whizblast Waterhaus, has been contracted to complete a rocket that she claims will be able to intercept and land on the comet. Vardan warns that the heroes will also have to have magic with them that will allow them to survive in space, explaining that the magical defenses of the comet prevents teleportation and he fears lowering it would allow larger forces to arrive than what a rocket could hold. Whizblast doesn't tell the characters or anyone else that the rocket has a drill for a head, is meant to burrow deep into the comet, and is actually loaded with a powerful explosive charge that will ignite when in physical contact with a ton of metal. The inventor is lawful neutral and has a reputation for supporting liberal policies, but she sees Vardan as too great a threat and herself as a practical woman; the only person capable of rising to this occasion. She does ask to be compensated for the endeavor by being granted mineral investment rights to the comet. Whizblast does feel remorseful for sending the party to their deaths, but a combination of narcissism, greed and opportunism convinces her that she is the hero of this tale.

Whizblast was erroneous in believing that the comet was made of mostly metal, as it is really mostly ice and rock with a small nickel, carbon and iron core and some metal structures on the surface. The rocket does not drill straight into the comet, and goes only halfway in through the ice and rock without contacting metal. The rocket is damaged and torn, allowing the party to leave through the tunnel they just made, but stranding them.

What's more, Vardan's divine magic alerts him to a severe danger that a device on board the rocket holds. He projects another message to the party, ranting and raving about their betrayal, and warns that even if they succeed in destroying him, the comet has been ordered to manufacture squad after squad of clockwork knights whose mission will be to rip their rocket to pieces so that they'll never escape alive. Protestations will be dismissed by Vardan, who will snidely tell them that even if the characters are innocent, then they have been duped by the wicked of their land. They may realize that there might be something foul going on with the rocket, but unless they possess incredible technological skills, they have little way to figure out what the source of the danger is, and even less of a chance to disarm it.

The party must find a way to set-up proper defenses for their rocket for the return trip, and to break into Vardan's sanctum. The comet itself is inhospitable, making traversing laborious, slowed further by squads of strange clockwork soldiers. Vardan is even more deadly, being an intelligent and high-level knight trapped in an iron golem's body, connected via cables to the comet's seat of power. Disconnecting the knight from the seat of power will help if the heroes can slice off the cables.

The heroes can fight their way through clockwork knights, disable the comet's seat, and therefore its weapon controls and defenses, beat Vardan, and either teleport (with the defenses now down) or repair the rocket. If they fail, but are able protect their rocket, Vardan may not kill them if he believes them to merely be enchanted, unwilling agents of the forces of evil. Vardan's knowledge of the heroes' world is limited, but the knight golem tries to make the best guess at which locations to target based on information he finds on the party, his incomplete scrying, and paranoid beliefs on what evil forces sent the characters on their suicide mission. He makes the party watch as he obliterates his targets by dropping large shells of iron and nickel onto population centers, while yelling at them about how it is their fault this happened. He then releases them with enough tools to repair and dig out their rocket, uncaring about his or their own fate and shutting himself down in remorse.

The heroes can fail to protect the rocket, and when enough of the clockwork knights enter it to tear it apart their total metal weight will eventually exceed one ton, causing the ship's sensors to send a signal to Whizblast's explosive charge and blowing up the comet. A forgiving DM might allow for the characters to have two rounds of life left as the comet's defenses fall and allow teleportation again. Whizblast's machinations will be exposed, but she will become a national hero. Financially, Whizblast will be ruined as her investment into the comet mineral rights will not result for much. She hoped that the comet was filled with metals like gold and palladium, so the iron meteors that land will be worthless. But, she will become a powerful political figure for saving the kingdom.

The party may get to Vardan and talk him down. Vardan is a lawful good knight and does not want to attack the cities below, knowing that even if they are indeed controlled by evil hordes and minions, the suffering caused by firing would be immoral. Vardan has had centuries to sit and ponder his potential actions, and hoping to see either a world dominated by Elencian culture or a demonic hellscape that would justify a cleansing. What he has seen so far has made him realize that he has a mission to wipe out evil, but lacks the situational awareness on who the enemy is, where they are, their strength, and whether cleansing is the best course of action. His isolation with only his past mistakes and the sins of his family has also resulted in him becoming socially inept, lonely, fearful of failure and paranoid. Vardan would agree with someone who points this reality out to him, and knowing that he can't be trusted to arbitrate fairly, he is looking for someone to lift his obligation. Supporting evidence of his lack of judgement can be any loss of sentient life that Vardan caused when he conducted his demonstration.

Vardan standing down can be accomplished in one of two ways. First, the party can explain to him what he is scrying and present any evidence collected about Elencia's fate and the innocence of the kingdoms built around the ruins. Convincing arguments and physical evidence results in Vardan standing down and lowering the anti-teleportation defenses on the comet so they can teleport back home. Vardan is not certain what his new mission should be, but he does know that he'll have a few more centuries to think about it as his comet leaves the system.

The second option is for a character of noble intentions to offer to take Vardan's place. Although Vardan doesn't trust the characters as he worries about powerful enchantments and geases, he does explain that his body is immune to such influences. If a character would be willing to swap their spirit with his, the character would combine their knowledge of the world with a non-corrupted mind and make the best determination on whether or not the comet's weapons should be employed. A curious character that wished to retire might actually prefer this fate, living in an immortal iron body with a repository full of Elencian artifacts and books to study for centuries. As for Vardan, no matter the condition of his new host, he will go through a range of powerful emotions as he is returned to a body of flesh. The long years of guilt and obligation that have tormented him will finally be lifted from his or her new shoulders, and for the first time in centuries Saint Vardan will weep.

Further Adventures: Word about the comet and its potential as a weapon of war will attract the powerful, potentially leading to a quest to stop raids upon it. If the world was saved, the results of the adventure will spark a renewed interest in Elencian advancements, with rumors of new, unexplored ruins popping up from time to time. If parts of the world were struck by the doomsday weapons, then entire cities will be wiped out. Even if Vardan only struck cities of irredeemable evil societies, the power vaccuum that results will be the source of great chaos and strife. Further, the heroes could cause a sensation if they safely discover Whizblast's treachery and call her to task. Whizblast has many supporters among natural philosophers and in court, and her actions will seem pragmatic to many. If the heroes insist on a trial, Whizblast will handle herself well and bask in the public attention and drama, coming out even stronger politically and a potential thorn against the characters. If they kill her in retaliation, she will be raised from the dead by loyal patrons and the characters risk becoming pariahs.

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Once A Fool
IRON DM Championship Round: Iron Sky vs. Deuce Traveler

I have a bit of a predicament, here. One of these two entries was very, very late. Once upon a time, that would be automatic disqualification. The problem is, that's just not a satisfying way to win a match, let alone a tournament. Normally, I would try to figure out what the offending entry would look like had it been turned in on time, but I think in this case, that would be nothing.

Concession was offered and not accepted. I have to assume that the reason for rejecting the concession is that Iron Sky wants to win on the merits of his entry, and is willing to risk losing to a better entry if his doesn't stack up. But a huge part of IRON DM is discipline; I just can't completely let it slide.

So, after much deliberation, I've decided that this is what I'm going to do: if either entry is obviously superior, that entry wins. If I have to start splitting hairs to figure it out, I'm not going to do that. The entry that achieved that level of quality within the time limit will win the match and the tournament.

Now, to the entries:

No, wait. I think first I'm going to talk a little bit about the difference between a contract and a covenant. Basically, it's this: a contract is an agreement between two parties that stipulates what happens if one party fails to hold up its end (generally termination of the contract and/or the application of penalties). Like the contract between IRON DM contestant and judge, as presented in the rules.

A covenant has similar expectations, but the failure of one party to meet its expectations neither ends nor nullifies the covenant; even in failure, those expectations are ongoing into the future. The agreement between two IRON DM contestants to compete within the same parameters would be something like a covenant (up to the point both entries are submitted). Now, I'm not trying to harp on this to be mean. Real life happens and it's more important than this game. Rather, I find this is a serendipitous example to showcase a distinction that I intended to make a challenging couple of ingredients out of.

Back to the entries:

"Never Enough Place" ("Never") provides us with a Heavenly Body which is a governing body of deities. This is clever and, as patrons of the adventure, directly relevant to the PCs. This is good. "Saint Vardan's Comet" ("Comet") gives us a comet that both serves as the primary conflict for the adventure and the locale that a major part of the adventure will take place on. This is better.

Vardan's isolation as the source of the Fog of War allows the ingredient to be used both as a complication to the adventure and a lever the PCs can use to deal with Vardan. This, too, is better than the Shroud in "Never" that hides Cassida or the anti-divination devices that keep Maya from being found (although that is important).

However, "Comet" doesn't do so well with the Sullen Scion. The character is great (a lawful good villain!), but its history as a scion is just that: history. I like the scion in "Never" much more (even though she is more petulant than sullen). An emotionally teen-aged demigod? That strikes me as the kind of character that could haunt the PCs for years.

I liked the cleverness of the Lawful Good in "Never" (a commodity that is strongly law-aligned by nature--feels very Planescapey), but it really is just a MacGuffin--and not even an important one. Whereas, the Lawful Good alignment of Vardan is crucial; it opens many doors--and dilemmas--in dealing with the adventure.

Unfortunately, "Comet" doesn't seem to have used the Any Given Day ingredient at all--and if it is in there somewhere, it certainly isn't important. I'm not wholly satisfied with "Never" here, either. The "days between days" interpretation is very intriguing, but calling one eventual one out as the day the PCs figure something out is pretty weak. Still, it's better than nothing...

The Bad Investment isn't very good in either entry, either. In "Never," the impure ordum is every bit as much of a MacGuffin as the pure ordum--until it isn't. In "Comet," Whizblast's investment in the comet's mineral rights barely affects the adventure--and it doesn't end up being a bad investment at all; we are told that, no matter what happens, Whizblast ends up better for it.

I'm not sure that Vardan's sacrifice counts as a Covenant; he doesn't really get anything out of it. Except for immortality, of course, but this is never presented as a boon. The Covenant at Creation in "Never" is nebulous, as well. Not only do we never find out what it is, we never even know who it binds. The deities on one side, presumably, but who on the other?

"Comet" gives us Whizblast's Contract as the means through which this excellent secondary villain enters the adventure, but the contract, itself, isn't very relevant. In contrast, "Never" sidesteps the similarities between covenant and a contract by using "contract" as the thing space is doing as time expands. This makes for a superb plot twist.

Which puts us roughly even on ingredients.

On to the adventures:

I think both adventures would be very memorable for different reasons. I must say, I love the ambition of "Never." It's combination of diverse challenges (admittance into opposed celestial realms, dealing with Cassida, figuring out what's going on, figuring out what to do about it) plus it's fantastic scope make me want to run it, for sure. But I'm a little unsure how to pace it. It seems like it would actually work best as an entire campaign (and there really isn't any reason you couldn't start it off at low levels). I could easily see this thing playing out around other adventures. This is really good stuff.

But "Comet" is really good, too. From the slightly campy premise (Armageddon or Deep Impact, anyone?) to its very un-campy array of moral and practical decisions that the PCs will be faced with, this adventure screams, "fun!" Not to mention the wonderful villains, the superb hooks, and the excellent potential for further adventures. And the clockwork soldiers, of course. Oh so good.

But is it good enough to stand clearly above its competitor without closer inspection?

[sblock]I think so, and here's why: as wonderfully ambitious as Iron Sky's piece is, I think something gets lost in the scope. The main difference between the diversity of challenges and options in "Never" and in Deuce Traveler's piece is that that they are largely isolated (and, hence, linear) in the former, whereas the much tighter structure of the latter allows for each decision to more directly influence future ones. Iron Sky's adventure is memorable because it is an extended bit of amazing. Deuce Traveler's is memorable because it condenses its amazing into a session or few.

Iron Sky, I loved your premise. My initial reaction after first reading your entry was a single word: "Wow." But I think that the execution of Deuce's entry is just so good that, since concession was offered and rejected, I must give him the victory for a truly excellent adventure.

Which makes Deuce Traveler the IRON DM 2015.[/sblock]

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Congrats Deuce Traveler! I thought your entry was fantastic and definitely worthy of the victory.

As always, a few post-mortum observations and clarifications:

First, the Heavenly Body as governing group of deities was actually an accident - my intended ingredient was Maya's Heavenly Body hidden away in Any Given Day.

Second, the ordum wasn't meant to be the investment or even an investment; the investment was Cassida investing the players with powers that seemed good at first then turned around to screw them up.

Third, the ordum timepiece being "unimportant": it is the way the PCs access the demiperiod where Janae hid Maya's body and the resolution of the adventure.

Regardless, what's done is done. My ambitions when doing these things tend to get the better of me and I agree mine would have been a better entry for "Iron DM - Campaign Edition". When I run games, I come up with something like this entry for the whole campaign as a framework, then the vast majority of sessions are 95% improvised/emergent/PC-directed.

I mostly blame having never actually used an RPG adventure and the only ones I've read are the ones in Iron DMs. :p

Thanks so much for judging, Rune, contrats again Deuce Traveler and to everyone who competed! Hopefully see ya'll around next year. :)

Deuce Traveler

Thanks to you both. I will say that once I saw Heavenly Body as an ingredient I decided right then and there that the adventure should occur on top of a comet or asteroid. Accident or not, Iron Sky's Heavenly Body as a council of gods was something I found quite clever.

I actually brushed up against the word limit, but Any Given Day was going to be a stronger factor due to Vardan might have decided to fire off his munitions at any time depending upon what he was observing from the party while he scried them. This would have caused a Cold War-type paranoia among the Court and with Whizblast, giving their extreme actions more justification, and causing a feedback loop with Vardan where he in turn would become more paranoid about their intentions and threatening in turn.

Anyway, a great entry from Iron Sky, and my thanks to him for allowing me to compete despite my tardiness. In the coming weeks, I'll submit a request to help judge the next time we do one of these.


Once A Fool
Deuce Traveler said:
In the coming weeks, I'll submit a request to help judge the next time we do one of these.

Well, not the next time--you'll be defending your title. Perhaps the time after that? :p


Congratulations Deuce! Also, both of these were incredible entries. I very much enjoyed reading them, and I don't envy you that selection of elements. :D

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