Iron DM 2016 (The Complete Game Thread!)

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Round 1, Match 2 [MENTION=67]Rune[/MENTION] and [MENTION=92511]steeldragons[/MENTION].

Your Ingredients are:

Bad Lead
Fang of Mercy
Cracked Road
Leech Mining
Wax Seal
Huge Pumpkin

You have until noon EST tomorrow to produce your entry. Good Luck, and please remember not to edit your entry after you post it.

I will be the judge of this match.

For my complete judging process so there are no surprises:

[sblock]My definition of "Adventure": a tool designed to reduce the time and effort required by a GM to run quality RPG sessions. If you create an adventure that saves GMs creative energy before and in-game, significantly reduces the amount of prep-time required, and produces fun and a great play experience at the table, you have succeeded. If it fails in any of these, it has failed as an adventure.

I will read your entry multiple times, asking myself the following questions as I read and answering them in my judgement of your adventure. The questions are roughly in order of importance with the ones in italics generally worth about as much as the rest put together.

First Pass - Initial Appeal: Does it have any "cool factors" - things that will elicit "neat", "cool", "awesome", or, best of all: "wow!"? Does it seem like an adventure that would be fun to play and an interesting premise to pitch to players? Is the entry fun to read or at least easy? Is the adventure clearly understandable? Is the editing appealing or at least legible? Are there typos?

Second Pass - Play-ability: Do the players' choices or, at the very least, their presence in the adventure matter? Is all the cool stuff buried in the backstory or do the players get to see it too? Would this be fun and exciting to run? How easy (or difficult) would this be to GM? If it is linear, does it hide it well or will players complain about railroading? If it is more free-form, is there still enough structure that the GM can still run it without a ton of extra effort?

Third Pass - The Rules: Was it turned in on time? Is the word count within limits? Are any ingredients used in an especially creative way? Was it clear what each ingredient was or were any obscure or vague? How essential are the ingredients: if I changed the words in any ingredient, would they no longer work? How interwoven were the ingredients with each other and how essential was each to the adventure? Aside from their main use, were any ingredients used in other clever ways?

Comparison: Once all three passes are complete on each entry, I will compare each entry's First, Second, and Third passes individually. Whichever I deem is stronger on two out of three will advance to the next round.

Notice in the Third Pass that I'm a stickler for the rules - many "real life" contests and/or writing gigs have strict submission requirements, miss those and it likely doesn't matter how cool your stuff is they'll likely chuck it. Typo in your query letter? Deleted. Miss the electronic submission deadline? Link disappears. Sure, this is just a "for fun" contest on the internet, but this is IronDM, not CopperDM; you know what you signed up for.

I will be using the word counter linked above, remember you get your title and the ingredients list for free.[/sblock]

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Steeliest of the dragons
Thanks [MENTION=60965]Iron Sky[/MENTION]. Looking forward to it.

Have at ye, [MENTION=67]Rune[/MENTION]. See y'all tomorrow.

Happy creating to all of our fellow competitors!


Iron DM 2016 Round 1, Match 1

SPOOPY SCARY SCAREAWEEN” (LongGoneWrier) vs. “The Treasure of Char” (LucasC)

Firstly, when I judge, I use something of a personal scoring system to help myself weigh the various factors and criteria when deciding between entries.

[sblock=A Summary of Wicht’s Iron DM Scoring System, patent pending]
Followed the Rules: Wordcount, time limit, etc. (worth 6 points)
Ingredient Use: Were all the ingredients legitimately used as a necessary part of the adventure? (worth 12 points)
Useability: How easy could a GM plop the adventure down into their game? (worth 6 points)
Style: Personal preference – how much does the presentation and adventure appeal to the judge (worth 6 points) [/sblock]
And as I look at these two entries, I am thankful for that system because, at the start, I am not quite sure which I prefer… I think I know, but there is doubt.

Both entries are, to me, marked more by their weaknesses than their strengths, and the primary weakness I see in both is very similar. This is not to say that they don’t have their strengths, because they do, but in adventure writing (for other people) there are certain things you should never, ever do, and both of these adventures touch upon one of those role-playing third rails…

But we’ll get back to that.

Let’s get some book-keeping things out of the way. Firstly – did the adventures follow the rules?

Both were turned in on time. Both were just under the word count. And both presented the ingredients at the top. So full marks to both adventures for playing by the rules. Good job there.

Next, let us examine the ingredients and how well they were used in our RPG dishes. Did the DMs craft adventures worthy of the ingredients or were they just carelessly tossed in?

Let’s start with opaque window. I deduce in “SSS”, the moon itself is the opaque window through which the very powerful wizard scries the town below, a bit like the moon in The Truman Show, a particularly favorite movie of mine. I’m of two minds about this ingredient use, because on the one hand, it is a powerful image. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily something that is going to really affect the PCs, except to be noticed in passing. But as an ingredient, it’s use is far better than the use that we see in “TToC.” In that entry, the opaque windows are really nothing more than, pardon the pun, window dressing. They could have just as easily been any other building material, and I can’t tell it would have made any difference.

The situation is somewhat reversed with the next ingredient, dancing Jack-o-lanterns. Here I think it is “TToC” that has the better use, with the monstrous entities being the lopped of heads of prior explorers and would-be-thieves. In “SSS” the creatures could easily be replaced by any other ghoulish sort of entity and it would not make much difference to their function or reason for being.

Then we come to the rude Necromancer. I must confess that I am not really that fond of either use. In “TToC,” while the drunk necromancer is indeed rude, the fact he is a necromancer is really irrelevant. He could be any rude individual at the bar, with secret information, and it wouldn’t change anything. Jack might be considered as a stand in – he is obviously more necromantic in his dealings, wiping out an entire kingdom, but he is not presented as being rude. He just wants someone to apologize to him. Deranged he may be, but he doesn’t fit the bill quite. The necromancer in “SSS” is indeed a “necromancer” and could be a compelling character, , fearful of being accused, and willing to raise the dead to defend himself, and that is all great, but when we read his description, the first thing that we read is he is polite, but in a smug way. Polite is normally the opposite of rude, even when smug, but… the use is still marginally better.

The next ingredient is Dread Pestilence, and here again, “SSS” is better. As with the windows, the pestilence in “TToC” is mere background. The PCs do not actually interact with it in a meaningful way. However, in “SSS” it affects everyone and is a central element driving the adventure. In a similar way, the silver idol of “SSS” has far more of a role to play in the adventure, protecting the holder as it does, and being the source of the plague. The silver idol in “TToC” is not so much an idol as it is a guardian. The idea of the souls being bound to it is interesting, but not really integral. More could have been done, I think, with the idea, but it wasn’t. And if you plop a traditional Sphinx down as the gate guardian instead, what would be different? I think it would play much the same role, in exactly the same way.

Then finally the dangerous score. I will be brutally honest that I think the ideas of numbers floating above the heads, as in “SSS” is too “gamey,” and too modern. Some other indicator, other than floating numerals would be more evocative, and just as effective. But the idea is still intriguing, and would provide for interesting RPing as the PCs analyze others through the numbers, and would be so analyzed in return. In “TToC” the score is really just a macguffin, a goal to reach, and a bit of wordplay. And then, in the end, it is not the score that is dangerous, but the journey to reach it. I think here again, “SSS” edges out its competitor.

As I analyze the scores for ingredient use, “SSS” is clearly in the lead over “TToC”

So let’s talk about useability. And here is where I have to talk about some of the weaknesses of the adventures, as presented, because it really is at the heart of the problems I have with both. Firstly, neither adventure really addresses which RPG system they are meant to be run with, which I think hurts “SSS” more than it does “TToC.” System doesn’t always matter, but then again, a choice of system also speaks somewhat to the expectations of the adventure. A Toon Game is going to be very different in expectations from a D&D/Pathfinder adventure, and yet again from a Supernatural sort of system. On my initial read through of “SSS” I got a modern fantasy sort of vibe, but I think it may be meant to be a standard fantasy setting. But the whole numbers over the heads is sort of cartoony, and you could run the thing pretty well in Toon, as something of a slap’n’dash cartoon. The use of the modern spoopy meme also points to a somewhat comical intention. But its not spelled out, which hurts it.

But that’s not my real problem with either adventure (though I think in the case of “SSS” if it had been a Toon adventure, or something similar, the other problem would also be solved). If the adventures are meant to be run straight, the real problem is with the protagonist of each. In each case the writer has made the same basic mistake of making the villain unbeatable. They are nothing more than reverse deus-ex-machinas, and not very subtle ones at that. The power of the wizard causing all the trouble in “SSS” is godlike in his power. The shifting of a whole town, the massive amounts of illusions, the mind-control… it’s all a bit much. It would have made much more sense to just have made him some sort of trickster god, and left it at that (which made me think of the whole Supernatural adventure angle). “TToC” has a similar problem, though it is a problem I approach from a slightly different viewpoint. In this case, the adventure seems to me to clearly be meant for a traditional fantasy setting, but who the PCs are meant to be is never quite made clear. Are they low level folks fresh off the farm caught up in an epic romance? The dangers suggest characters more powerful. But if they are meant to be powerful, then why is the bad-guy so unbeatable? The ending becomes unsatisfying, at least to me.

Then there is the scope of the adventures, and the presentation. “TToC” is really just a journey adventure. The challenges presented in detail are potentially interesting, but are presented as being either unchallenging because of cleverness, or overly challenging because of numbers. I know the word limit is, well, limiting, but I am not sure it was used to best advantage. Too many unimportant things are dwelt on, such as the drunk at the bar, but details of the actual adventure are glossed over too quickly. “SSS” on the other hand is very sandboxy, and some of the people presented are interesting, but more could have and should have been done to present a variety of other challenges. It is a bit too chaotic in presentation, which would make trying to adapt it somewhat chaotic as well. For a chaotic adventure to be run well, it is necessary that it be well organized.

As is, I think both have potential, but as presented, both need work to be more useable.

And so we come to style. Right up front, The Treasure of Char appeals to my instinctual tastes with its fairytale like atmosphere and background. The sleeping princess, even as a literal babe, has appealed through the ages for a reason. However, the PCs might be a little miffed to be expecting money and wind up with a baby princess. But, I think where the adventure suffers the most is in its linearity. It is a story the PCs are caught up in, and there is an expectation that it will play out according to script. All adventures telling a story must do this somewhat, but here it is too heavy handed I think. On the other hand, Spoopy Scary Scareaween did not immediately grab me, because, if I am to be honest, the word Spoopy just rubs me all sorts of wrong. I also dislike all-powerful NPCs. If you are not a god, then you should have limits. PCs don’t like facing DM fiat when it is so heavy-handed. But moving past that first distaste, I find that there is a lot to potentially like about this adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I think it needs a lot of work, and it needs to decide what kind of adventure it wants to grow up to be. But it has room to grow to be just about anything it wants. I still give “TToC” a slight nod style wise, but I don’t dislike “SSS” quite as much as I first thought I did, and I think it could grow on me even more with just the right polish.

Which leads me to a verdict, and it’s not the verdict I thought I would have reached when I started. In this case, the victor belongs to the entry that used the ingredients the best – which is Spoopy Scary Scareaween. It was close, but this round goes to our newcomer – LongGoneWrier. Congratulations and good luck in round 2.

LongGoneWrier – Spoopy Scary Scareaween
Followed the Rules 6/6
Ingredient Use 10/12
Useability 3/6
Style 3/6
Total: 22/30

LucasC – The Treasure of Char
Followed the Rules 6/6
Ingredient Use 7/12
Useability 3/6
Style 4/6
Total: 20/30
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[MENTION=6857996]LongGoneWrier[/MENTION] and [MENTION=6762606]LucasC[/MENTION] - feel free to pontificate on your entries now. :)

Oh wow. I didn't think I'd knock out one of the old guard like this. Gotta say, LucasC, i really dug both the jack-o-lanterns being ex-adventurers (I may or may not be stuck relishing Curse of Strahd right now), and the twist on "treasure". A nice reminder about why people go adventuring.

As for "pontificating", I've been in too many creative writing workshops to defend my ugly baby all that much. I actually could have sworn that system agnosticism was part of the point of these contests? But if you want me to ground it in a specific system, in all likelihood it'll default to D&D unless it's clear otherwise (mention of deckers/crane clan/etc).

Finally, sorry for the general "spoopiness" ( last time I use it, I swear!). I saw "dancing jack-o-lanterns and immediately assumed there was a dancing pumpkin skeleton meme reference in there.

I had a blast working this out, and am looking forward to the next round. Thanks, LucasC, and thanks, Wicht, for putting me through the paces!


I actually could have sworn that system agnosticism was part of the point of these contests?

Yes and no. We are open to adventures belonging to any system, and high-fantasy is the default, but we have had adventures for any number of systems. As I said, just stating a system provides expectational constraints on the reader and grounds it somewhat. When using a minimum of words, such as here, broad strokes that provide deliniation and assumed details can be a benefit to the writer.


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Yes and no. We are open to adventures belonging to any system, and high-fantasy is the default, but we have had adventures for any number of systems. As I said, just stating a system provides expectational constraints on the reader and grounds it somewhat. When using a minimum of words, such as here, broad strokes that provide deliniation and assumed details can be a benefit to the writer.

As a point of curiosity; typically there has been a byline or subtitle that signifies the system and the expected level; e.g; "A high fantasy D&D 5e adventure for 4-5 6th level adventurers"). Would such a byline be considered part of the title, and thus exempt from the word limit? Or would it need to be counted?


As a point of curiosity; typically there has been a byline or subtitle that signifies the system and the expected level; e.g; "A high fantasy D&D 5e adventure for 4-5 6th level adventurers"). Would such a byline be considered part of the title, and thus exempt from the word limit? Or would it need to be counted?

I would count it in the word count. It is providing information about the expectations of the adventure. Likewise, as a couple of us found out the hard way last year, any descriptions accompanying the word list also count against word count.

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