Iron DM 2016 (The Complete Game Thread!)

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I have amended my judgment for the match between LongGoneWrier and Deuce Traveler.

When I did word count, I used the same Word page, just cutting and pasting one entry over top of the other, and that must have somehow, when LongGone's was deleted not reset the word counter properly. Next time I will know to simply make sure to use two separate pages to make sure the electronic word counter does not get confused. That's the only reason I can think of for my computer giving me such a bad read on the numbers.

I want to reiterate that the improvement I saw from the first entry by LongGone and his second was extreme, in my estimation, and I think if he sticks around and tries again next year, he has as good a chance as anyone.

I have a meeting tonight (working on reworking the bylaws for our local Horse Committee for our fair) I have to chair, and I don't know how much time I will have to do a judgment on Match 2, but if I can I will get to it, and if not, it will be the morning for me.
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I want to reiterate that the improvement I saw from the first entry by LongGone and his second was extreme, in my estimation, and I think if he sticks around and tries again next year, he has as good a chance as anyone.

You can bet your sweet cans I'll be back next year. Razzafrazzin' word count razzafrazzin' not reading the rules clarification razzafrazz.

Actual hats off time to DT. Let me know if anything like this happens any other time of the year, I had a lot of fun.


With Lwaxy's judgment in, in the matter of [MENTION=6857996]LongGoneWrier[/MENTION] vs. [MENTION=34958]Deuce Traveler[/MENTION], we have Deuce officially advancing with a 2-1 judge split.

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Match 2, Round 2 Judgment

In the process of judging, I've learned alot. A ton of that is about what makes an adventure good and how to write them better (looking forward to applying them next year!) and I've figured out a few things about judging. What is important and what isn't, what to focus more on and less on, and hopefully how to do them in less than four hours (Edit: nope, still six). We'll see with this judgement.

The system will be similar to the last one, but I'll be breaking each adventure into six scoring areas, discuss them individually, then total each separately and compare them. Ingredients have gotten more importance since this contest is kindof about them. Whichever has the most points wins. If there's a tie, I'll take bribes.

Here's my new list:

Readability: How easy/hard is it to read? How engaging/distracting is the writing? Does it the writing help or hinder? 10 pts
Cool: How much "cool" stuff is there? How creative is it? How much of it have I seen? 10 pts.
Playability: Will the players likely be bored or have fun? Will it be easy to run? 10 pts.
PC Relevance/Agency: Do the PCs actions have an impact on the world of the adventure? If they don't show up, what changes? 10 pts.
Choices: Do the players get interesting/difficult choices? Do the choices they get effect the adventure? Is it a railroad? 10 pts.
Rules: Was it on time and under word count? 10 pts.
Ingredient Strength: How essential was each ingredient? How creative? How integrated was it with the others? 5 pt./ingredient.
Ingredient Weave: How well are the ingredients tied together? 5 pts.

Total: 100 pts.

[sblock=Like Clockwork]Readability: Right off the bad the first paragraph is switching between past and present tense. It isn't the worst I've seen, but add in that it toggles unpredictably between telling us broad big-picture things like what we're doing here to dropping specific physical details about the environment. It's jarring. The in media res start can work (jumping right into the action), but the difficult reading was a hurdle I didn't clear on the way in.

Once you get past the start, the writing gets a bit better, but there is very little variety in sentence length or structure, giving it a monotonous feel. The writing is mostly passive "they will" "he is" "he has" "there are".

The lack of bold or size changes to differentiate them from normal text makes the headings more of a distraction than an aid. That there are two headings labeled "Aftermath" and both have periods doesn't help set them apart.

I know life intervened to hack 7+ hours off Imonhotep's creative time, but it unfortunately shows. 4/10 pts.

Cool: The above is sad, because the urban fantasy/steampunk secret agent Moscow setting is awesome. Seriously. Add to it I've never read, heard of, or played anything remotely close to it knocks it up to the top of the cool scale. The closes I can think of is Scythe. 10/10 pts.

Playability: This is where the writing and adventure layout (or lack there of) trips me up. There's no hook, no bullet point summaries, the headings are camouflaged, action stirred in the middle of descriptive paragraphs... this looks tough.

Let's see if I can break down what the PCs do: the adventure seems to start when they find Miklos, chat, then they either fight the Russians Brits who come to grab him or let them take him. There might be a horseless carriage chase.

If they save him right off, the GM comes up with some sort of complications for them getting to the Queen of England (I.E. The rest of the adventure). This is somewhat of a weak point as the adventure generally assumes this doesn't happen and you'd be improvising pretty heavily to stretch this part to a full session.

If the Brits captured him, the PCs hopefully captured one or got a body, otherwise it seems like the adventure is over: they failed. Take a shot of Absolut.

If they tailed the Brits or otherwise got the location, maybe pretend to by zombie workers to get close, infiltrate the building, tussle with Russian agents on the stairs, potentially with a three-way battle royale across the half-built building. Finally, they face the same sort of exit and trip to England, hunted by spies from two rival countries.

That's pretty rad. Probably the coolest cluster of scenes I've seen in the tournament this year.

Unfortunately, most of this hinges on the PCs failing to save Miklos right off the bat. If they had shown up right when as he was nabbed instead of before, then there was a chase or whatever, it would work better and avoid the risk of most of this really cool scenario being missed. 5/10 Pts.

Choices: Okay, so let's look at the choices PCs make.

They decide whether to jump and to try to save Miklos or let them take him (since there's no initial explanation of what the PCs stakes are or why the hell they are in Moscow tracking this triple agent down, we can't assume they leap right in). Then they might have the choice of how to interrogate a Brit agent if they captured one (which depends somewhat on the system as some it's difficult to subdue vs kill). Next is how to infiltrate the compound. Lastly, how to get Miklos out.

The first is unknown, the next is unpredictable. The next is better and the last one has the most choices but unfortunately this is at the cost of being fairly undefined and, thus, almost entriely up to the GM. A couple ideas would have made this more solid ("he has a plane, but... then there's the sub he stole, but... then there's the fake identity papers, but...") 5/10 Pts.

Rules: On time. Wordcount good. 10/10 Pts.

Ingredient Strength:

Balancing Act: Navigating narrow scaffoldings and ladders in the Safe House. This is a fun use, the PCs get to interact with it directly. Pretty good. Unfortunately, it could be something like a Dangerous Scale up the side of the building instead. 3/5 Pts.

Demonic Coin – The Puzzle Box made by a demon. That one coined the term is a cool use of the ingredient (don't google Xatross Khan by the way – top searches are this thread, early 20th century film scripts, and porn links with appeals heavy on "veiny" and "immense"). Only problem is he coined the term for something obscure that is never referenced again and the fact that he was a demon is irrelevant. He could have been a sentient slinky for all the effect the artificer's demon-ness. Cool, but not the strongest. 2/5 Pts.

Zombie Merchant – his zombies are what matters, not he himself. He's also not as much a merchant as an overseer or foreman, I.E. his important quality is he controls the zombies, not sells them. This is weakened a bit by the fact that PCs can completely ignore him and do their own thing if they want. 1/5 Pts.

Triple Agent
– This was perfect. He's got a secret mission from the Queen, hunted by both the English and Russian secret servivces, he's the heart of the adventure. As good as it gets. 5/5 Pts.

Puzzle Box
– this is neat, but it would be stronger if figuring out the puzzle was somehow important. It's main function was to be a portable safe and there could have been a combination or secret key just as easily. If Miklos didn't know how to solve it and the PCs had to figure it out, it would have been much stronger. 2/5 Pts.

Blood-Red Star – how they identify Miklos and... it's poisoned I guess? Neat that it's a secret weapon, but this could have been almost anything. A hair pin, a set of cufflinks, anything wearable with a point. Also, you either get this being relevant or Horseless Carriages being relevant. I'm taking the Carriages since they are cooler (see below). 1/5 Pts.

Horseless Carriage – these fit the theme well, but aside from part of a cool chase scene that may or may not happen, they were relevant the rest of the adventure. They also could have been "horsed" carriages, wagons, clockwork hoverboards, steam horses, whatever. They do fit the setting well, except... automobiles were common enough that they wouldn't have been refered to this way post-Bolshevik Revolution when the Red Star would have been a relevant symbol. 2/5 pts.

Ingredient Weave: Lets try to sum up the adventure using all the ingredients in a sentence.

As the PCs meet with a Triple Agent wearing a Blood-Red Star and carrying a Demonic Coin(ed) Puzzle Box, agents riding Horseless Carriages attack, potentially nabbing him, the PCs hopefully following to the safe house where they might use a Zombie Merchant to sneak to where they must perform a Balancing Act to rescue him.

The weakness starts at the first italics. Many of the ingredients can be bypassed entirely if the PCs succeed early on. In writing that sentence, I also discovered that only the Triple Agent is really essential. Let's rewrite it and see:

As the PCs meet with a Triple Agent wearing a Long Hairpin and carrying a Slinky-Crafted Portible Safe, agents riding Steam Horses attack, potentially nabbing him, the PCs hopefully following to the safe house where they might use a Construction Foreman to sneak to where they must perform a Dangerous Scale to rescue him.

Hrm. 1/5 pts.

Summary: This adventure is right on the threshold of awesome. If you ever feel like writing an adventure to try to sell (and/or a setting to sell), polish this up and use it because the promise of being arcane secret agents running around early 20th century Europe in land ships and air ships and whatever... yeah. Count me in.

Maybe I'm a snob, but this is one of the few times I've read an Iron DM entry and wished I wasn't in the middle of a campaign so I could rip this off and run a campaign based off it. I'm not saying this just to be nice because I don't really do that, so know however Rune's entry is (I haven't read it yet) and whether this wins or not, this is one of my favorite adventures I've seen in all the years of Iron DMs I've run.

Unfortunately, the contest isn't just on what turns me on creatively and I have to give points for other stuff, so the points I'm awarding have very little to do with how much I'd like what this adventure can become with some editing.

Total: 51/100 pts.[/sblock]

[sblock=Puzzle Box]I'll preface this with four comments.

One, I love Dungeon World.

Two, how you're going to create an adventure for a game whose shtick is "0 Prep" intrigues me.

Three, Campaign/Adventure Fronts are one of those things that I love as a concept but find clunky and more of a hindrance than help when I've actually tried to use them in Dungeon World games. I'll try not to let this influence me.

Four, I hope for your sake my fellow judges get (or are willing to look up) how fronts work or you may have just doomed yourself.

That out of the way...

Readability: The first paragraph is key in any written work (especially for a theoretical paying audience), so I almost always talk about it. This one didn't grab me the way I hoped it would. The first sentence? Yes! But... are some planes living things? The whole plane is a living thing or is that a metaphor for places where life is? The archaic structure of the last couple sentences jarred me a bit.

On to the second paragraph. Which plane does "very" refer to? Death's Kingdom or whatever plane we assume is the normal one? Is he wounding the plane AND capturing souls or are the wounds caused by capturing souls? The sentence can read either way. Does the ichor rain only when Death's Kingdom is assaulted or are the attacks just the cause of the ichor that falls all the time?

Then: "Elsewhere, beyond the mortal veil, in a domain of demonkind, three mighty demons reside, bound by immortal curse to work in precarious harmony--an unholy trinity." 6 clauses separated by commas and a hyphen. I felt my brain start churning with each punctuation mark, desperate to be sure I was keeping track of everything.

Okay, so I'm not a huge fan of the opening of the adventure that is supposed to hook me. At the end of my last judgement, I spewed out a hopefully more helpful than pretensious 4am bit on levels of writing. At the end was "7?) Poetic". The "?" is because the poetic nature tends to make people either to click with it and call it pure awesome or your writing totally turns them off and impedes everything you're trying to create. This did the latter for me, in addition to confusing me about what was going on.

After the opening, it's like a switch was flipped and the writing becomes clean and clear for the duration.

The layout of the front was clean and well organized.

I'm not sure if the Cerberus section could be written better or if there was just a bit of an overload trying keep track of all that Cerberus was doing. 7/10 Pts.

Cool: Cerberus trying to serve triple masters is neat. Dark ichor leaking from Death's house zombifying the world is pretty cool. Stars being holes to other planes is awesome (and my favorite part of this adventure). It also manages to be neat spin on zombie apocalypse (no small feat with how saturated our culture is with zombpocali). That said, a fresh zombie apoc campaign is like fresh teen-angst anime; you might hear it's the best one this year, but that doesn't mean you want to get involved with it. 6/10 Pts.

Playability: It's Dungeon World, so by default most of everything the GM is creating off the cuff as that's the core assumption of the system. So we'll focus on running this front. Unfortunately, you've stumbled into my issue with Fronts.

I like the idea of giving a mechanical framework to outside forces running "in the background" in the world, but in practice I find referencing them in play cumbersome and intrusive, especially since Dungeon World is pretty much the only RPG I run more walking around the table instead of sitting behind my computer. I have a more streamlined, less mechanical version of fronts that I've been using in my campaigns for years, so they came across as a step backward rather than forward. Maybe they are better than what I use and I've just never quite groked how to use them in play...

My bias against fronts aside, my main playability issue with this is how complicated Cerberus would be to run. Let's look at what I need to remember to run Cerberus:
♦ He's compelled to follow orders unless they conflict
♦ He creates zombies and sells them (trading in corruption)
♦ He wants a spell book to extend his zombie control (so he can undermining society and civilization)
♦ He's trying to wrest control of zombies and overrun the world with them
♦ He's collecting souls (but doesn't keep Sagacity on him unless he's collecting souls)
♦ He can sell the PCs a waterproof carriage

Okay, so let's try putting the moves he can use all in one place.
•Slaughter an innocent.
•Encourage violence among mortals.
•Strike a bargain that results in carnage
•Pay a finder's fee for the delivery of a mortal.
•Throw a mortal into the Bloodfields.
•Trade in corruption.
•Capture a mortal's departing soul.
•Dominate the meek.
•Command zombies to protect Sagacity.

At some point that seemed to shift from "look at all the cool things I can have him do" to "what the hell is he even doing at any given point?" What does his day planner look like? I guess he waits for traders to come along to do zombie-in-zombie-out exchanges with or to just throw into the Bloodfields, occasionally dominating his zombification "volunteers" before slaughtering the more innocent ones to take their souls before tossing Sagacity to his zombie page and starting some carnage somewhere... right?

Also, how do we know he's capturing a soul? This is never explained – unless there's some visual clue for the process, better hope the group has a Wizard.

The adventure is fairly usable assuming a decent Dungeon World GM is running it (harder than it sounds). Only issue is I'm not sure Fronts – even elaborated as this one is – can even truly count as adventures due the explicit assumptions of the DW "engine". 6/10 Pts.

PC Relevance/Agency: Here's an advantage of Fronts – we know exactly what will happen if the PCs don't intervene: A zombie apocalypse or one of three flavors of demonic rule (one of which being... a zombie apocalypse). That's pretty significant. Having Death tell them they will do this ensures they will most likely get involved in the first place.

In some ways this almost seems like cheating for this section, but that's how DW Fronts work by design. 10/10 Pts.

Choices: So what are the PC's choices? Here's where choosing DW might be an issue for creating an adventure. So what can the PCs do in this adventure? Answer: anything they want, including ignore it entirely (though the character who died might be making a mistake) – that's pretty much DW's credo. Make situations, see how PCs react, shape the world based on those decisions and move along until the next decision point.

So, what sort of framework do we have to somehow narrow the nearly infinite space of omni-choice to something that makes this question relevant? The best way I could find it was the final paragraph to give us how we open Sagacity: get balance of power between the demons (not sure exactly how that occurs – are the three not balanced at the start? Or does that mean get rid of them or maybe balance their power with the other demons out there?), kill a ton of zombies, balance zombie debt (does this mean wiping out all the favors people owe Cerberus?), or atonement for bringing people in (so the PCs need to go sell some people to Cerberus then atone for it? Strange. Maybe that means bring in others who have done it and force them to atone?)

The only one of these that I can figure out is killing a bunch of zombies. Or maybe killing Cerberus might do it? I guess I don't know what "things are in balance" really means, so... huh.

I'm kinda at a loss at how to score this one so I'll give you, say, seven points for using DW where player choices are almost all that matters and holding off the others because I can't figure out how (aside from mass zombie killing) Sagacity exactly works. 7/10 Pts.

Rules: On time. Word count good. 10/10 Pts.

Ingredient Strength:

Balancing Act – Balancing the power between the demon lords that are running Cerberus. I think this is Cerberus' attempts to balance the needs of his three masters which is the heart of the Front. A pretty clever combo with Triple Agent. Not sure if PCs would be able to figure out this is going on though. 4/5 Pts.

Demonic Coin –
coins from demons. Originally I missed that you can use them to hire the carriages, which makes them stronger than I originally thought. They are especially demonic because of what you have to do to get them (though they could also be Necromantic or Slave coins). Only issue I see is that there's no reason to have coins except at Cerberus himself since the only way you can spend them is wherever he is anyway (for carriages and zombies). 4/5 Pts.

Zombie Merchant – Cerberus trading in zombies. Exactly what you'd expect, right at the heart of the adventure. 5/5 Pts.

Triple Agent – Cerberus' convoluted requirement to follow all three demon princes. Interestingly this isn't really the spy term since he can't betray one over the other, so he's an agent as in someone working for them. Like an insurance agent... except the opposite. 5/5 Pts.

Puzzle Box – Sagacity, holding the captured souls. I was so hopeful when there was a riddle... too bad there isn't a puzzle that actually has to be solved by the players, just a quest to complete to unlock a roll. Sure it's an INT roll for a thing called "Sagacity", but it's only a puzzle because you said so. It could be a Corrupted Relic stolen from angels and made to hold souls that can only be completed by a quest, completing a holy ritual, and making a roll.

Also, why doesn't Cerberus just keep Sagacity with him and scoop souls all the time? Can he only get them when they are nearby? Does he have to see them? Wouldn't he see them all the time since the portal to Deathland is right overhead? Like looking for airplanes at an airport. It might be a mystery to the world, but it would be helpful if the GM had a hint of how it worked. 3/5 Pts.

Blood-Red Star – At first I thought this was just window dressing, but the PCs could follow it to the Bloodmire and it is the source of the zombie ichor. Its color is mostly by decree despite the ties between blood and death. Changing ichor into "Death's own blood" would have made the bloodiness essential instead of just thematic. 3/5 Pts.

Horseless Carriage – Something for the PCs to ride to get through the swamp without being necrophied – which they need to get Sagacity. Can't be pulled by horses (except undead horses). Requiring they use Dcoins to purchase it made it much more rat-bastardly.

Why does Cerberus sell these at all if the only things in the Bloodmire are zombies he wants for himself and that guard Sagacity? If the PCs find another way to shield themselves because they don't want to pay his price, they'll ignore this entirely. 2/5 Pts.

Ingredient Weave:


The PCs seek a Triple Agent Zombie Merchant in the midst of a Balancing Act between three masters that trades zombies made beneath the Blood-Red Star and traded for Demonic Coins that might be used to buy a Horseless Carriage help steal the Puzzle Box.

Let's try replacements:

The PCs seek a Triple Agent Zombie Merchant in the midst of a Balancing Act between three masters that trades zombies made beneath the Mourning Star and traded for Zombie Coins that might be used to buy an Undead Carriage to help steal the Corrupted Relic.

The might is the main weakness in an otherwise pretty strong weave. 3/5 Pts.

Doom-by-zombie has been done so many times, it's hard to get a fresh take on it. This is as close to that as I've seen in a while and seems like it might be interesting despite heavy undead-fatigue. I ruled pretty hard on the Ingredients (and other things, I guess), but taken individually and together these are among the strongest ingredients I've ever seen in an IronDM entry.

I'm still a bit conflicted about how DW and Fronts fit into this contest since they are a different beast than adventures in 95% of RPG rulesets I've seen. This one is fleshed out enough that I'm pretty sure it qualifies it offers a lot of grist for the GM mill in the Portents and Moves, but still...

I definitely see an advantage of going full-Frontal, allowing you to focus on weaving things together and leaving the GM to figure out the nitty-gritty specifics on the fly.

Total: 75/100 Pts.[/sblock]

[sblock=Conclusion]I have to admit, I was inspired by @Imonhotepthewise's Like Clockwork(Clock) more than @Rune's Puzzle Box(Puzzle). This contest isn't about what I like, however, but about what is the better-crafted, better-written adventure and Puzzle was that by a significant margin.

I would have liked to see what Clock might have been if life hadn't intervened and definitely let me know if you ever turn it into anything more Imonhotep.

That said, Puzzle was the work of a master IronDM-worker. Rune's been around the block and has the adventure-crafting chops to prove it. We'll see how my fellows handle his Front-loading, but for my judgement at least, Rune has it.[/sblock]
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