Iron DM 2016 (The Complete Game Thread!)

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Edit: no auto save, the message I just posted about it being eaten is all it brings up when I go back. Ah well, such is life I guess (or suck is life in this case)...
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
If you go to reply, your text box might have a tag asking if you want to restore an auto saved version. Happens periodically (not sure how often). Also happens when you preview the post. Don't know if it happens in all browsers, though.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Right click, hit Undo until the text comes back? No? Usually works for me (though I've only recently discovered it).

I'd really like to see the ten page version. ;) I kid! I kid! Whenever you can [MENTION=60965]Iron Sky[/MENTION] . We'll live/be here.
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
I'm now writing this in OpenOffice so the Invalid Token monster doesn't eat another massive post. Ugh, so hard to get fired up to start writing when you've just spent hours on something and it is just gone. *Sigh* This will be much more concise, perhaps for the better as in case I was rambling in the last version.

Before I dive in to each adventure, know that these ingredients are... sub-optimal. This is my first time judging and my ingredients selection was bad enough that after I posted them and I thought about what I might do if it was me competing and realized just how hard (using a nicer word) they are. At least you both got to suffer equally.

Also, as a judge I will be expecting interesting, complete, and easy-to-run adventures even though as a past competitor, I know how brutal and limiting the 750 word count is and that what I'm expecting is practically impossible given how limiting that is. If I come across as harsh, it's because I'm expecting more than it is reasonable to expect from a couple pages.

[sblock=Bloodletting]
Appeal
Does it have any "cool factors" - things that will elicit "neat", "cool", "awesome", or, best of all: "wow!"?

The first sentence is an amazing hook. The jack'o'lantern wards went from "neat" to "cool" when I looked up that people actually used them to ward off evil spirits. The wailing cracks along the road, the name Bloodsmith (the reality let me down somewhat), fighting in an acid-choked mine, all this was pretty neat.

Does it seem like an adventure that would be fun to play and an interesting premise to pitch to players?

The first sentence is an amazing pitch and would sell most groups right off. Let's see what the players get to do: they show up, ask some questions, end up halting (or leading, being PCs) a mob to execute a "vampire", they are contacted by naga druids (I'm assuming) that tell them to go get back the fang (I'm assuming), then they fight a dragonborn and a couple "spies" (their primary activity is kidnapping/abducting, not spying) in a mine full of deadly vapors. Sounds like a pretty fun session or two.

They might even face a tough decision trying to determine (and convince the villagers) whether there's enough evidence to kill a man, which makes for good gaming.

Is the entry fun to read or at least easy?

The poetic language is a great way to save words and mostly works well, though occasionally it comes off a bit stilted. It is generally a clean, straightforward read.

Is the adventure clearly understandable?

And this is the major place the adventure seems to fall down. After the actor-saving (or -staking), do the druids contact the PCs? It's not a huge assumption, but it isn't explicit exactly how the druids meet up with the PCs. If the PCs don't help, does the adventure end? That one isn't too bad, compared to the next one.

The sentence where the adventure broke for me was "Compelled by geas, a condition of her mercy, to return ere a month has passed and compelled also to never be parted from the fang wrested from her maw." The villain is compelled (by whom?) to return the fang in a month taken from the naga as a condition of mercy... mercy for who doing what? And this villain subdued(?) the guardian naga (a creature of legend with a band of guardian druids bested by an alchemist and two spies) that a group of 2nd level PCs are then expected to defeat in an acid-laced mine? If the fang is going to be returned anyway (in less than two weeks), why do the druids care that the PCs get it back now? If the druids care enough to return the bodies of the townsfolk, couldn't they drop a note that said "Ware the murdering kidnappers in the mine"?

I've read it about five or six times now and I still don't know what the hell happened between the Bloodsmith and the naga in the first place.

Is the editing appealing or at least legible? Are there typos?

Editing is clear, headings split the space well, bullet points are used well. Didn't notice any typos.

Playability
Do the players' choices or, at the very least, their presence in the adventure matter?

So let's see what happens if the players don't show up: everyone in town is killed (or run off – I don't know why people would stay after half the town has shown up dead), the actor is staked, the naga gets her tooth back, and the Bloodsmith is murdered by some warlock for messing up his rituals with crappy blood. Essentially, the PCs matter for keeping the town alive and (maybe) saving the actor, though being PCs they might stake him themselves. It would be a bit stronger if the tooth didn't already have a return clause and the Bloodsmith wasn't pretty much already doomed. Still, I've seen much worse.

Is all the cool stuff buried in the backstory or do the players get to see it too?

One advantage of 750 words its there's very little backstory to bury stuff in. The PCs presumably hear some version of the hook, get to see the jack'o'wards and most of the other stuff, so I think this is pretty solid.

Would this be fun and exciting to run?

The PCs would probably have a blast, at least up until the point where they've saved (or murdered) the actor and the druids show up and let them know it had nothing to do with it. Some parties might think it's a cool twist, but others might just ask "so why didn't you show up to tell us this before the actor was put on trial?" There's no real personalities to interact with in town aside from the actor, the naga is somewhat interesting, and a battle in acid mines amid a blood draining alchemy getup would probably be pretty cool.

How easy (or difficult) would this be to GM?

As short as it is, it seems pretty cut-and-dried. You'd have to make up some townsfolk, figure a personality for the naga, and make up your own story for whatever the hell happened between the Bloodsmith and the naga though.

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?

If you allow the PCs to investigate around town however they want, it will feel pretty open. After that (assuming you figure out how the druids work), its just a straight shot to the show down.

The Rules
Was it turned in on time? Is the word count within limits?

Yes and yes.

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?

Let's tackle these all together by going through each ingredient, then all as a whole:

Bad Lead – this was used about how I'd expect it to be and it was clear where it was. This one is fairly immutable for word replacement, though you could potentially leave it out entirely and instead of the red herring have the PCs investigations lead them to the mine instead of being "saved" by the nagites.

Fang of Mercy – the fang itself used as a syringe was unexpected, though you could have had it be a hollowed bone for a similar effect. I have zero idea how the "Mercy" part fits in. It was pretty key in the adventure.

Cracked Road – aside from the town being on it, the road is pretty unimportant. We don't even know explicitly if the mine is on it, so theoretically the PCs could come cross-country, then head out away from the road to the mine. The fact that the road is degrading is presumably because of the corrosive vapors from the mines, though the lack of a line saying "the Cracked Road leading to the mines" makes it unclear what the road corrosion has to do with the mines. Again, I can figure out this is probably what was intended when it was written, but explicit is better than hopefully implicit. As is, you could leave this out entirely and only lose a bit of (albeit neat) flavor about the wailing rifts near it.

Leech Mining – at first I thought this was pretty clever and when I first saw Bloodsmith I hoped it was some mad alchemist using chemicals to extract blood iron to make stuff. Alas, there isn't really mining going on, and even if you use it as an analogy, mining is usually going for the useful bits, while this guy seems to be purposely removing the essence so the "tailings" can be sold as a scam instead. I guess the essence is being leeched out (changing the meaning slightly and removing it from mining), but it begs the question why doesn't this dude just sell legit "Blood of Innocents" if there's such a demand for it? This is the heart of the adventure, however, so it is at least pretty central.

Wax Seal – I'm assuming the "spies" are nicking the candles for this from the jack'o'lanterns (do they ever spy? It seems like they mostly steal and kidnap) to make this – another implicit that would be better explicit – and wax being used to seal liquids in has been done for ages. Interestingly, the other thing people used to use to seal stuff was Lead, and I wondered when I was first reading if there might have been "Bad Lead" in the mines that would hold up so they had to use candle wax instead. This ingredient would be a bit stronger if the "spies" were actually mentioned stealing candles – especially since people skimming this to prepare for the game might miss it. Otherwise, solid use.

Huge Pumpkin – while the pumpkin itself isn't super strong – it's just a thing that gets destroyed to show Things Are Bad (and why is it destroyed? Do the jack'o'wards actually work? Why was this a threat?) - it does bring in the cool jack'o'lanterns and handily tie this ingredient to the Wax Seal. Making them jack'o'lanterns make this pretty irreplacable, at least for the modern "pumpkin-only" conception of jack'o'lanterns. A better use than I originally thought.

As for tying them together, my favorite way I've seen judges do this is try to make the simplest sentence they can to tie them together. Assuming my assumptions of things not made explicit are correct, here's my go:

The PCs arrive on in a town where folk are being kidnapped, follow one Bad Lead before following the Cracked Road to an Bloodsmith Leech Mining blood from villagers via the Fang of Mercy patched with Wax Seals made from candles purloined from jack'o'lanterns like the one that was to be made of the destroyed Huge Pumpkin. Not the cleanest sentence ever, but at least you can make one... I've seen some where it's a stretch.

I'd say the Fang, Seals, Leeching are intricately tied together and fairly essential, the Huge Pumpkin itself is less so but for the jack'o association while the Cracked Road (as is) is decoration and the Bad Lead, while one of the better sets of scenes in the adventure (the only ones where players have to actually make a significant choice) is pretty much unrelated.

Aside from their main use, were any ingredients used in other clever ways?

Each one had a sole use, so this one is pretty cut-and-dried.

Summary

Given the word limit, the adventure is not bad. If it weren't for the unfortunately key backstory and finale transition sentence being so crushingly unclear, this adventure would have been pretty rock solid, especially given how b̶a̶d̶ hard the ingredients were. The hook had me totally sold, but unfortunately, like a great trailer for an entertaining movie with a massive plot hole near the end, it left me disappointed that it didn't live up to its full potential.

And yes, this is the concise version. My original was almost double this length. Maybe losing everything wasn't a complete waste.
[/sblock]

[sblock=The Horror Harvest of Hoargath]
Appeal
Does it have any "cool factors" - things that will elicit "neat", "cool", "awesome", or, best of all: "wow!"?

The writing of the hook isn't especially compelling, essentially "go to the place, find the dude, and get rid of him." Once you get past it however, the fighting a giant pumpkin mind-controlling villagers with its tentacle-creepers? Cool. Stumbling across lizardfolk harvesting leeches in a swamp? Also pretty cool.

Does it seem like an adventure that would be fun to play and an interesting premise to pitch to players?

Hey, how about hiking through a swamp to kill a wizard in a tower? Premise not especially compelling, but at least gives a pretty exact idea of what to expect. That said, I can see players enjoying the battling the puppeteer pumpkin or staring at leech-farming lizardfolk in utter bemusement and trying (with frustration at the language gap) attempting to figure out what they are doing. Getting over pits (cracks) is a staple for these presumably low-level PCs, and fighting vampires is good fun. It's general idea is pretty simple, but it probably has enough different bits to keep players interesting.

One significant drawback: while the adventure is simple, I believe any good game is about player choices, the more torturous the better. This adventure offers one significant choice: do we go on it or not? More on this later.

Is the entry fun to read or at least easy?

There are some good bits of description like the giant pumpkin vines and the weird leprechaun-in-suspension inside the huge squash. Using "you" instead of "they" was also somewhat off-putting as presumably the reader is the DM and not the players (cheaters!); why would the DM be seeing this stuff? That said, the writing is clear and it was a quick read.

Is the adventure clearly understandable?

What's up with the leprachauns? I really have no idea. I even looked up leprachauns in an attempt to figure out what they meant. What do they have to do with vampires? The Squash Creeper is clearly related to the vampire via the leprachaun hint, but what is its purpose? Guard the edge of the swamp? As a GM I could use a sentence of backstory explaining that (the 10 words it would cost you would be worth it).

Otherwise, this adventure seems simple, clear-cut, and linear. Sometimes people say that word like it's a bad thing, but I think the d4 swamp gives it just enough of that exploration vibe that players probably won't notice or care. You don't watch formulaic sitcoms expecting startling new developments, but that doesn't stop billions of people from watching them.

Is the editing appealing or at least legible? Are there typos?

The large headers are great for visually separating sections of the adventure.

However, the (likely) unintentional double-spaces between paragraphs - a common artifact when copying from a document - put a slight delay that probably isn't intended and give a couple bits unnatural emphasis that probably wasn't intended such as the Yellow Squash Creeper and giant leech sections. The giant gap in the middle of #2 breaks the flow of that section considerably.

Playability
Do the players' choices or, at the very least, their presence in the adventure matter?

Okay, so what happens if the players don't show up? The Squash Creeper keeps collecting villagers, the lizardfolk keep collecting leeches from the swamp, and the vampire goes about her business. The last two don't seem very pressing (I'd think most people would be thrilled the vampire has settled for leeches over necrophying townsfolk!) though I guess since Mercy created the Squash, she might make more. Not a ton of real urgency once the killer pumpkin is put down, though if the players are determined to put down Hoargath, they'd probably go for it.

So they need to be present at least, but aside from what to do with the lizard folk, they PCs pretty much make no interesting (non-tactical) choices. If instead of rolling a d4 they had to choose a path, say, one on a cracked road swarming with stirges and the other through a seemingly empty swamp, at least they'd have the illusion of some control.

Is all the cool stuff buried in the backstory or do the players get to see it too?

The most interesting parts are the ur-pumpkin and the leech farmers, so, yes. There isn't much room for backstory here, though I could use a tiny bit about what Mercy's plans are with the squash and what's up with the damn leprechauns.

Would this be fun and exciting to run?

It is fun in the way an action movie is fun. We're not going for anything momentous, just having some interesting fights in varied locations. I think it doesn't promise much, but what it does promise, it delivers almost exactly.

How easy (or difficult) would this be to GM?

Almost trivially easy. As long as your players are down to go kill an evil wizard in a swamp anyway.

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?

Aside from the minor variety in the swamp "exploration" this adventure is completely linear. It would still make for a good one-shot in the way delves do, but it is one d4 away from a complete railroad.

The Rules
Was it turned in on time? Is the word count within limits?

Yes and yes.

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?

One-be-one:

Bad Lead – this was fairly creative, an evil lead golem. Unfortunately, it could have just as easily been an iron golem. Its "lead-ness" is recursive – it's lead because it's slow and heavy because it's lead. There's nothing in the adventure that makes it have to be lead. It also could be removed from the adventure without anyone knowing it was ever supposed to be there.

Fang of Mercy – this one is kind of a cop-out. Both of the words are proper nouns, the names of things, neither of which are exceptionally related to their owners. Sure the tower is kinda like a fang and Mercy's seal has wolf fangs on it, but there is no actual fang and no actual mercy. They are the final destination of the adventure which makes them somewhat essential, but there's no requirement even that it be a tower in the swamp – it could just be a cave, a big rotten tree, whatever.

Cracked Road – the main path to the tower, it is both a road (easier path than natural terrain to a destination) and cracked (enough that it is inconvenient). It's also decently interesting (who builds a road into a swamp?) This one is rock solid (no pun intended).

Leech Mining – this one was pretty clever and creative, but one slight quibble is that the mining was no more mining than you would mine apples to make apple juice. Leech Harvesting would be more appropriate. Unfortunately, while it is a cool episode, you could remove it without even noticing (if you roll the Road before the lizardfolk, you would, too).

Wax Seal – the seal links the pumpkin to the tower, letting the players know that they've gotten to the root of things. On the pumpkin it also seals it closed, making it more essential that it be a seal and not, say, a banner. You could leave it out, but at the detriment of tying the first and last encounters together (though the damn leprechauns perform the same function).

Huge Pumpkin – as much as I like how this ingredient is used and that it is referred to as a pumpkin, it is called a Yellow Squash Creeper – yellow squash being significantly different from pumpkins. There is no essential pumpkinness to it that couldn't be replaced by any other large, rinded, vined plant (other squash types, watermelon, etc). There's also not a clear link between what squash and vampires have to do with each other.

So let's try a sentence: The party heads into a swamp looking for the Fang of Mercy, on the way facing a Huge Pumpkin bearing Mercy's Wax Seal, then maybe encountering some Leech Mining before they find the Cracked Road and fight a Bad Lead golem at the Fang. Herein lies a difficulty – none of these ingredients really tie together well. I know that is partially an issue with the p̶o̶o̶r̶ difficult ingredients I selected, but this sentence is essentially an "and then" plot (like the new Star Wars, incidentally). They fight a big pumpkin and then they find some leech harvesters and then they find the road, etc. None of these necessitates the next one or even usually ties into it in any indelible way.

Aside from their main use, were any ingredients used in other clever ways?

As far as I could tell, they were all single use.

Summary

This adventure's linearity makes it simple, easy, and yet lacking depth, like a B-action movie you can watch in the background while doing your homework, texting your significant other, or working on your taxes. You don't have to think which, for many TV-watchers may be a plus, but for games removes much of their underlying game-ness. While many ingredients are clever and interesting, they do it almost entirely in isolation from one another. At least it never makes itself out to be anything but.
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[sblock=Comparison]
When I said I lost the whole judgement, I lied somewhat in the heat of the moment: I lost everything above this when I tried to preview it to make sure my sblocks were working. So, as of right now, I have no idea which adventure won.

Rune's Bloodletting (hereafter Blood) offers a compelling hook leading to a decent adventure with surprisingly well-connected ingredients then explodes near the end due to the most important sentence in the adventure being devastatingly unclear.

Meanwhile, steeldragon's Horror Harvest of Hoargath (hereafter Horror) never sets itself out to be anything more than a little side-jaunt, exactly fulfills its expectations, while leaving its ingredients standing apart with only the faintest threads connecting them.

Let's see how it plays out:

Appeal
Cool factorsBlood's hook was great and the jack'o'lanterns were pretty neat with a bit of research but players don't directly interact with either. Horror's battle-pumpkin and leech farmers they PCs run into first-hand (assuming correct dice rolls). Blood had a few other decent bits that were interesting, but not enough to bump this above a draw.

Other Appeal - Blood had great formatting, an interesting "trial" and atmospheric boss fight, and an excellent hook. Then it trips and falls flat right near the crescendo with a naga-fight-fang-theft-misuse-villain-geas-mercy-mine-hunt. Got it? Me neither.

Horror's formatting was not as clean, had a decent hook, a cool fight and a few other set piece battles, a strange swamp scene, and jogs on seamlessly right to the boss fight.

So Blood had easier formatting, a better hook, and overall more interesting language. Yet it also had the nega-naga debacle that stymies up the backstory, the key to understanding what the whole thing is about, so...

Blood had most of the cards, then dropped them at a key moment. On first glance, it would be the one I'd pick to run... except for the parts I have to intuit and the little part where I have no idea what the hell the back story is. That major tripping point almost gives it to Horror, but then I realize that one of my two favorite scenes is only going to happen 50% of the time or so. The naga confusion is still strong enough to give this section to Horror.

Playability
Players matter and have choices – In Blood, the players are saving villagers and the rest sorts itself out. However, they do a decently interesting choice and a few minor ones.

In Horror, if the PCs do nothing, the psychic pumpkin steals more villagers and the vampire presumably just keeps doing her thing. They get only minor choices at best.

Other playability Horror is much more linear, but also much easier to run. Horror does pack more drama in simply by having more scenes (pumpkin, lead golem, vampire, 2-3 of quicksand, leech, stirge, road) vs (investigate, actor, naga, mine).

Players are about equally essential in both adventures, though Blood does (for some reason) build in the naga-fang-return and Bloodsmith-comeupance automatically into the adventure, reducing the role of the PCs. I like the extra scenes in Horror, though most are just quick filler battles and one of the most interesting scenes might be missed. I'll give this section to Blood by a slice since there is almost a complete absence of meaningful player choice in Horror.

Rules
Time and word count – Yes.

Ingredients – It comes down to this.

I think Blood's ingredients about half were both strong and key to the adventure, with the others a mix of strong and removable or weak and key.

While Horror's ingredients were weaker individually (though generally more creative), it is their lack of interconnection that really cinches this one. Blood had the Fang, Seal, and Mining that were all heavily intertwined, with the pumpkin also vaguely connected. Horror had a weak link between the pumpkin and the seal.

Blood takes this section by a decent margin.
[/sblock]

[sblock=Conclusion]
Closing thoughts (tl;dr of the above):

Blood was generally the more interesting (from DM and player standpoint), more richly worded, and more vague and unfinished-feeling adventure. If it weren't for the (perhaps unintentional) bit of player freedom gained by the Bad Lead/actor hunt, even the much stronger usage of ingredients wouldn't have saved it from that one crippling sentence that stopped me cold every time I read it. I was impressed by how well Rune tied the ingredients together.

Horror was clear-cut, simple, and felt absolutely complete as is – a significant statement given the 750 word limit. However, the lack of interconnection between ingredients made them individually dismissable. If there had been even one significant player choice (even a semi-informed path A or path B through the swamp) you probably would have taken it, steeldragons.

Well done to both of you either way. It was brutally close on both Appeal and Playability and another judge might have called it differently. In all the years of IronDM, I've only had one set of ingredients that left me totally cold at first glance and these were worse than that.

Well-played @steeldragons, congratulations @Rune!

Rune advances to round 2.
[/sblock]

Yeah, this is the shorter version.

I'm going to bed.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Congratulations, Rune.

Oh well. There's always next year. Look forward to reading the rest of the entries and future rounds.

Interesting [maybe] that there was a period in the writing of this that I was thinking of going full on "Cult of he Reptile God" and use a naga for Mercy instead of a vamp. That wouldn't been kinda funny.

RE: Horror
All of the things that were mentioned in the judgement would have been GREAT/nice to have or do...while it was consciously meant to be pretty straightforward/linear on purpose.

It's not possible (for me), in an coherent way, in 750 words. The very first run through of the "overview" took me to 660 words. hahaha! After chopping that BACK (not even the final version), my initial severely self-limiting complete write up came to 1044 words. Everything was significantly more descriptive. Then there was an additional segment of the adventure that got chopped (and might have been that connective element, IronSky was looking for). The swamp encounters, initially was a d8 (instead of d4). Would either of those things had made it seem less linear? Probably not significantly, no. Though it seems I should have left the Leech Mine a separate encounter (as it originally was) to insure the PCs would HAVE to run into it.

It was, as Iron Sky noted, a simple delve that was intended to be a simple delve...a "5-room dungeon"...in a swamp, basically...but also something that could, hypothetically, be used as is or rolled into a larger more involved/further campaign.

I guess my hopes that the leprechauns might be picked up as a secondary meaning for "bad lead" was a miscalculation. They originally had a lot more going on. But the "What are the leprechauns for?!" frustration of Iron Sky means, I suppose, they worked as intended on the "engage the players/make them wonder" level I was also going for... getting the players to ask that same question would/could fuel any number of future scenarios.

On the Golem: I'm sorry it wasn't tied to anything, but my first reading of "Bad Lead" in my head, immediately sounded as "led" [the metal]. I noticed right away, "Ohhh. bad 'leed.'" The error amused me, so I just went with the bad 'led.' Just thought it was funny.

The tower was going to be individual encounters per floor. Monsters had (severely truncated: AC, HP, attacka nd damage I think) stats. That all went the way of the dinosaur to get me to, roughly 820-something. And the rest was rewording and re-rewording and/or deleting sentences...and then a few more...and a few more...and lots of things (like any hope of explicating what Mercy is trying to do/accomplish) got thrown by the wayside. Fortunately before I even had to worry about it because I already knew I was way over.

One thing, it seems I could have left in was the giant leech carcass strapped to the slab in the tower originally had "vegetative tendrils grafted to it." i was hoping leaving the seed and vegetative bits in the jars in the lab, maybe it would come across anyway. (the leeches were really just snacks: so, there, again, challenging the players, "Why is the vampire eating leeches? Maybe she's not evil? -she totally is and would rip your throat out as soon as look at you- but make the players wonder.) But at 756 words, you have to make the tough -judgement- calls. I needed those 5 words gone...or something else (that, ultimately, I deemed more important) wasn't going to be able to make sense. Would they have made a difference? Maybe not.

The minefield that is editing.

ANYwho, thank you [MENTION=60965]Iron Sky[/MENTION] for your thorough analyses and reasoned judgement. Thanks and congrats again [MENTION=67]Rune[/MENTION], again, for the round. Good luck in the next one.

WRITE ON, IRON DMs!
 

Rune

Once A Fool
[sblock=Self-Analysis & Commentary Written Prior to Judgement]So, I started out by brainstorming an adventure in which an unscrupulous mine-owner was trying to sell a depleted iron mine and needed to fake production from the mine. He was testing giant leeches on miners (providing bodies for a mystery hook) and then using a giant lodestone to pull iron from the blood. Then, he captured a cloud giant to start for real. Unbeknownst to him, the giant, having been shown mercy from a naga in earlier days, had adopted a new philosophy, becoming a vegetarian. Unfortunately, options for giant varieties of vegetables are limited, so the giant was anemic. Brilliant!

But very problematic. The giant and the naga's backstory were convoluted and added nothing to the adventure--and it gave the PCs nothing to work with. Even finding a way to give the PCs all of that exposition would take hundreds of words that I couldn't begin to afford. And it wouldn't matter. The cloud giant had to go.

The mine-owner was boring. And his plan was stupid (like, he couldn't have come up with a more convoluted plan to acquire trace amounts of iron if he tried). And he didn't even need the leeches to do it, anyway. Ugh. Gone.

I wanted to keep the visuals of the leech mining operation (a play on words with "leach mining," but I'll get back to that). And I still needed a way to make the naga's mercy relevant. Thus, the villain was the recipient of said mercy after snagging a trophy from the naga since the naga only cares about guarding something he was never interested in. Great! But way too much exposition, all of it detailing history, and none of it stuff the PCs could use. It had to go.

Instead, I hinted at its existence, gave the DM hooks to build on and focused on providing levers that the PCs could actually pull on. A gamble, but one I had to make. Fortunately, the naga gets two castings of geas per day and nothing in the spell description prevents someone from being simultaneously affected by multiple geasa. Finally, the mercy element had something the PCs could grab on to.

Now, all I had to do was trim 400 words, or so. I adopted a staccato tone (that I sometimes use for other reasons). I cut more and more exposition. I did my best to suggest atmosphere as efficiently as possible. And I made sure that every single bit of information the PCs could come across was a clue to something that was going on. But, I didn't call them out. There simply was no room in my word count to do anything but trust the DM to see them and use them as desired. That was the foundation upon which I built the adventure.

This was a tough set of ingredients. "Leech Mining" provides instant cool imagery, but nothing it suggested made any actual sense. Mining for leeches? Why? How? Mining by leeching? For what gain? The only thing that kind of made sense was that whatever the product, it wouldn't be profitable unless it was very overpriced. Added to that, I wanted to sneak in some connection to actual leach mining (a process by which acid is poured into ore to form a solution from which minerals are extracted). Tricky.

"Fang of Mercy." At first, I made it a magic item (constructed from the naga's fang). Basically a MacGuffin. I tried naming the naga Mercy because of her show of it. Cheesy. Finally, I had to settle for a loose connection between the actual fang, the villain, the naga, and the PCs. Much more of a reach than I wanted it to be, but it kind of works if you squint hard enough.

"Bad lead" This is actually the only element I knew was staying, in its final form, right from the start. And it's a red herring. I kind of folded this one over on itself, as well. Sanguine is a bad lead because he is a bad-boy leading actor as well as being a red herring. Clever. Except that, being a red herring, it is unnecessary to the adventure. Unless...I then fold the adventure back in on him! Exactly the kind of scenario I'd like to run (although I could totally see my players saying, "Screw it. He's a vampire. Let him die!").

"Huge pumpkin" provides atmosphere and insight into the town, but it also serves as a clue to what's been going on. As such, the PCs' interaction with it is subtle, but not nonexistent. We'll see how that goes. Likewise with "Cracked Road."

Finally, "Wax Seal" was pretty easy to incorporate from the start. Once I knew I was working with blood, I could find a place for a nonporous seal. Only problem was: boring. I thought about doing something like a blood elemental kept at bay by the seal, but I couldn't afford the words to stat it up (same reason the Bloodsmith is not a spell caster, by the way). I settled for making the seal integral to the villain's work. Still kind of boring, but at least it gives the PCs something to mess with.

All in all, this is hardly the best entry I've ever put forth. It is perhaps a slight bit too ambitious for its word count (and this was the stripped-down version!). But I think I could enjoy running it. Or playing in it. So that's good. [/sblock]

[sblock=Having Read the Judgement:]Ya know, it never even occurred to me that I had written in a built-in eventual solution to the town's problems (if anyone remained by then) via the two geasa on the Bloodsmith. My actual intent was a little dumber: the Bloodsmith had to return within the spells' durations so the naga could recast them. That, and the geasa were intended to be usable by the PCs as leverage against the Bloodsmith, if they chose. Very unclear, though. Oh well.

For anyone actually trying to run this thing, the backstory of the naga's mercy to the Bloodsmith doesn't matter to the adventure, which only cares that it exists. However, insight into the two characters' motivations would certainly make running them easier. There is room for DMs to come up with something better, but here's the simple version:

  • Bloodsmith seeks out naga for rare alchemical ingredient (fang).
  • Bloodsmith manages to wrest fang from naga. Somehow.
  • Naga beats him down pretty handily, because: naga.
  • Naga spares Bloodsmith's life because Bloodsmith is not interested in the grove she guards (her sole reason for existing).
  • Naga's mercy is not unconditional (because the guardian naga is not just good, but also lawful).
  • Two geasa compel the Bloodsmith to return (with the fang--meaning no use as an ingredient) before the duration runs out (in retrospect, with different wording, this could have been handled with one geas). This was meant to act like a parole period. Good behavior would mean extension of the parole. Bad behavior--probably not.
  • Implication is that being unable to use fang as an ingredient forces Bloodsmith to fake potency of his product.

It also never occurred to me that a DM might have the druids intervene in the mob scene; I left much unsaid, but it seemed clear enough to me that the druids didn't do that kind of proactive stuff. Eh. Might actually help the adventure if they did show up.

The whole second act with the druids is actually skippable. If the Bloodsmith's servants (why are they spies? Because the Monster Manual doesn't have stats for stealthy thugs and I didn't have room to quibble) capture a PC, or if the PCs follow/interrogate them, they might lead them strait to the mines. Following the cracked road would also lead them there (though, admittedly, I only implied that). Things would be much easier for the PCs if they met the druids first, but it isn't crucial.

On the subject of subtle clues: it actually doesn't bother me that the DM might miss their significance. As long as they are presented to the players and all point toward the advancement of the adventure (as they do in this case), the players will certainly find some thread to follow further into the adventure.

Finally, regarding the mundane nature of the Bloodsmith. I hated to do it. The adventure would have been so much cooler if his bottled blood was the real deal. Only problem was, it made absolutely no sense. Why couldn't his customers just save themselves the money and get the blood on their own? Fixing that would require that the Bloodsmith be very powerful and probably a spellcaster, which would cause so very many problems that couldn't be fixed in 750 words. Silver lining: if the Bloodsmith had already worked out a distribution network, there are lots of hooks the PCs can follow leading out of the adventure.

All that said, I can't really disagree with the judge's critiques. Especially the big one. In my defense (such as it is) these were a very tough set of ingredients, especially for a 24-hour, 750-word entry! Thanks to [MENTION=60965]Iron Sky[/MENTION] for a well-reasoned, well-articulated judgement! (And just about the right length, too!:p)

Anyway, good show, [MENTION=92511]steeldragons[/MENTION]. I don't think I've seen a more action-packed adventure squeezed into 750 words. And creepy! That pumpkin scene at the beginning grabbed me, too!

If you had done any one of the following two things, I think you would have beaten me:

  • Linked your ingredients more.
  • Provided some meaningful options for the PCs.
[/sblock]
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
steeldragons said:
On the Golem: I'm sorry it wasn't tied to anything, but my first reading of "Bad Lead" in my head, immediately sounded as "led" [the metal]. I noticed right away, "Ohhh. bad 'leed.'" The error amused me, so I just went with the bad 'led.' Just thought it was funny.

Almost certainly not a mistake. When it comes to creating ingredients for IRON DM, the more possible interpretations, the better. It encourages more diversity between the entries, inspires more creativity, and makes the ingredients more interesting as ingredients.
 


Wicht

Hero
Almost certainly not a mistake. When it comes to creating ingredients for IRON DM, the more possible interpretations, the better. It encourages more diversity between the entries, inspires more creativity, and makes the ingredients more interesting as ingredients.

My first instinct on reading bad lead was to think of the metal also. There is definitely no rule that says you must interpret the word according to any one, single definition.

Reading the judgment, and thinking of the ingredients, gave me some ideas of my own about how to incorporate them... I offer these as a fan of the contest, not as a judge or a critique of the entries themselves.
[sblock=Wicht's use of the Ingredients]
The Leech Mining makes me think of some sort of magical worms that travel incorporally through the ground and can be trained to harvest metals and gems... Perhaps one of these worms swallowed some lead metal, contaminated by a creature of chaos sleeping in the earth. The leech-worm, mutating into something monstrous comes crashing to the surface, and must be defeated. Now, though, those same energies are seeping up, following the magical path created by the worm, and these energies begin to mutate the local vegetation just as they mutated the leech-worm. Animals eating the vegetation grow into savage man-eating versions of their former selves. The pumpkins especially are affected and begin growing to monstrous proportions. A single patch threatens to crush the whole mining community, and strange giant beetles crawl within the vines, making homes in the gourds. Investigation eventually leads the PCs down onto a cavernous path, one containing many dangerous cracks and crevasses that must be traversed with care. At the end of which is a great stone double door, bound with brass, and sealed with a powerful wax seal, stamped with a mysterious sigil. The beast beyond is an ancient, monstrous entity. It lies sleeping within an ancient chamber, stymied by the seal on the door, and many such seals within, a large number of which are made of lead. It can only be slain by the sacred sword known as the fang of mercy. If the beast of chaos is not slain, the entire region may soon be overcome by the monstrous energies slowly seeping up through the ground. [/sblock]
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
One thing I could have disclosed earlier that may make me a challenging judge for these forums: I don't play 5e D&D, never have, likely never will. After burning out of 4e, I walked off into level-less, skill-based games (like EPIC RPG) with a dabbling of more narrative games (like Dungeon World) and never looked back. I've played 15 years of D&D and know most of the tropes, but you hinge something on the specific mechanics of a 5e monster, I will fail you. That said, your theoretical adventure-purchasing audience includes brand-new DMs that couldn't spot the glabrezu at the neighborhood vrock-party, so maybe that's not all bad.

I stated in the beginning of my judgement that my response was going to probably be harsh as I was going to hold the adventures to an unrealistic standard (one I consider much more reasonable and reachable with round 2 and 3's higher word counts), but I did hold both adventures to that standard equally.

@steeldragons, I realize Horror was essentially a 5-room dungeon, but it was missing several things that I think would have made it a great 5RD:

A) it really only had 3 rooms with a couple potential (I.E. random) side-rooms: 1) the entrance guardian(pumpkin), the road(a hallway with some pits), 2) a second guardian(golem), and 3) a boss fight. Everything else lay at the whims of Fouramid, the god of triangular dice.

B) some sort of non-combat encounter that really challenges the players' minds - a puzzle, tough choice, a seemingly impossible situation that makes them sweat and think. The quicksand was essentially a simple trap (roll to notice; failing that, roll not to be pulled in; failing that, there might be a touch of player creativity if no one has a rope or the right spell prepared), the lizardfolk encounter doesn't require any interaction (players might simply say "they don't seem hostile, let's push on") and the swamp was just difficult terrain. Two of those three are potentially missed in the random path generator as well.

C) It also lacked a major twist and/or reversal. If lizardfolk had been a required encounter and the PCs needed fresh leeches for some reason to take out the vampire who had melded with a lead golem, that would have been interesting and set the players scrambling. Or if the lead golem was an unstoppable alchemical contraption fueled by leach-husks like a corn-husk-fueled ethanol bio-fuel engine, then maybe they could cut off the fuel source and bypass it, or something other than a fight in a field, a walk through a swamp, a fight on a bridge, and a fight in a room.

In short, it challenged the characters (rolling dice, using up resources), but never really the players: they just had to sit back in their seats on the murder-hobo train until the next stop to kill some things. Making the pathing random made this potentially even worse.

Having 1d4 events and with only 1 required hurt the adventure. Think of a DM prep perspective for someone using this: they need to know what happens at each end of that d4 and if the DM rolls "Road" on the first shot, your adventure (designed to save them prep) has just made them waste three encounters worth of reading and planning, in addition to skipping one of the most interesting scenes.

As for making the players wonder about the leprechauns, that's great - just don't make the DM wonder as well. Remember, the DM is getting the adventure to save them time and creative energy and now they need to figure out what the deal with leprechauns is since you never said. Sometimes, on the spot like that, a satisfying answer is in short supply.

Lastly, I thought the Lead Golem the sort of cool, creative use I was hoping for (the metal is spelled "Lead" too). Only difficulty is there was no reason it needed to be there and with nothing tying it to any of the other ingredients...

@Rune, my criticism of the naga bit is the same as steeldragon's leprachaun but on a much larger scale. You seem to say the backstory doesn't matter to the adventure. This may be the case with extraneous fluffy stuff that the PCs will never need to know, but in this case, that sentence is explaining to me - the DM running it - what the hell is going on. That the same sentence is also the last before the transition to the mines, which made it the last chance to explaining how and why they are going to the mines. It also fails to do this. If that sentence had been clear, my job would have been much easier, but it almost cost you this first round all on its own.

It doesn't help that even after your post-ruling explanation, I still don't get what is going on. If the naga wanted her fang back and was able to geas him, how about "give me my damn tooth now" for a geas? Why does mercy for his unwarranted assault on her extend to letting him keep the tooth he knocked out? What did the naga expect the Bloodsmith was going to do with her fang? If she trusted him so little that she had to double geas him, why did she even let him take it in the first place?

Maybe the DM doesn't need to know all this if everything goes smoothly and the PCs do exactly what they are expected to (like that ever happens), but what if they start asking more questions? It's like watching a TV show where cool stuff is happening, but you eventually realize the writers are just making it up as they go (*cough* Lost *cough*) and suddenly it suspension of disbelief is suspended.

Also, if the druids aren't proactive enough to drop a warning note to the villagers, why would they be forward enough to track down a group of armed vagabonds and try to convince them to help? The lack of transition as to where and how the druids enter the picture make the whole druid chunk the anchor around what was otherwise a pretty good adventure's neck.

For players missing some clues, that's fine, normal, and business as usual, but the DM has to know or they look like an idiot and the game might even break when a player figures everything out first and catches the DM off guard. If you've ever played a game with someone who knows the setting better than you, you have an excellent idea what this is like. Ever run Forgotten Realms for someone who has read R. A. Salvatore's everything and you've only skimmed a couple chapters of the campaign setting? Run a Star Wars RPG with a player who owns Star Wars Trivial Pursuit? That on a small scale.

The last words I'll say about my opinion on these two entries are this:

Blood set out for an ambitious goal (a mystery investigation) and crashed hard near the end thanks to the giant plot hole / poorly explained and/or thought out scenario that anchored the whole deal.

Horror set out for a much more modest goal (a short delve) and succeeded in the barest fashion in large part due to lack of player challenge.

Both of these are far better than I'd bet 90% of DMs out there could do with the ingredients, time-, and word-limits that were set and you were the ones willing to put your best efforts out in the public eye to be gutted. Don't take my critiques mean I'm not impressed with either of your efforts or the courage it takes to subject yourselves and your brain-children to criticism in the name of pushing yourselves to be better writers and GMs.

I'll save the rest of my words for tonight's judgement.

Edit: spelled steeldragons' name wrong.
 
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