I am glad we did this 3rd place match and not just because I won (though that sweetened the deal) but just because win or lose, the exercise itself is the fun and I always find stuff to use from these. That may be cheesy and the kind of cliché an IRON DM judge would ding an entry for, but it is nonetheless true.
I did find it curious that no one took the lone survivor in the crow's nest as the red herring (ingredient-wise) he was mean to be. The real lone survivor is the Jedi-Dino. Oh and snap! I forgot about Saurians from Curse of Azure Bonds! I would have included them! I originally wanted some tool or clue to be in the sunken ship, leading to an encounter to retrieve it and aquatic dinos - but didn't get a chance to develop it or even figure out what the tool would be. .. DOH, it should have been the LASER SWORD.
If I had gone with the Thundarr the Barbarian setting the bandits would have be the dinos themselves. . . but I liked the idea of introducing them as mysterious. Of course, a developed version of this adventure might have included rumors of dino-pirates in other parts of the world - maybe the ship that crashed broke apart landing in different parts of the planet - or there were Golden Egg shaped escape pods? I like those ideas, too - but they didn't come to me until after.
The spelljammer aspect was a throwaway thing (though as I said above I considered making it a spelljammer adventure) and I was thinking more like the classic module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, with the dinos being kind of science fantasy character types put into a sword & sorcery type world (which there is plenty of precedence for from Star Wars to Conan stories).
Thanks to the judges. I look forward to reading the entries and judgements for the final.
Oh, and if anyone is interested in really working to build a simple website archiving and organizing the surviving IRON DM tournaments I am down to try to organize such a thing.
Though playable in any modern RPG, this adventure is for something quirky, action-oriented, and tongue-in-cheek, like Feng Shui.
They story exists in a reality dialed up to eleven. It is set in Seattle in the waning weeks of the 20th century. There is a Starbucks on every corner and people are terrified of Y2K. They have no idea how good they have it.
The game involves social interaction and street-level combat. PCs should be made with backgrounds and features that connect them to various NPCs and locations in the story and should be encouraged to be generally good people, if perhaps a tad morally gray, and they should reflect a stereotypical young adult from the late 90’s.
NPCs and Locations:
Jim Boldrey runs a grubby vinyl store in Seattle’s Pike Place market, next to the fish shop. He styles himself like an aging pirate and he has a macaw named Pete who’s been with him forty years. Pete roosts in the shop and bobs its head only to Rock’n Roll. A PC could work part-time at Jim’s Vinyl, and/or Jim could be their uncle.
In his youth, Jim founded the Pike Place Parrots, a street gang, that was rough back in the day but has grown more community-minded over the years. Sure, they take part in less-than-legal activity and fancy themselves rogues, but they’re not bad sorts. Many of the PCs should be affiliated with this gang, or be friends with another PC who is.
Seiko Murasaki is a widow who owns a struggling kawaii-themed karaoke bar. If Seiko and Jim ever meet, they bond over a love of obscure American musicians. One or more of the PCs should be into karaoke and be friendly with Seiko, related to her, or dating her son or daughter.
Brock Brando is a small-time crime boss who owns nightclubs all over Seattle. Recently he opened a dance club right next door to Seiko’s karaoke bar. The DJ plays hardcore techno so loud that no one at the karaoke bar can hear themselves sing. PCs should be encouraged to hold a grudge against this dance club, due to loyalty to Seiko, or from another event, such as being kicked out by bouncers, sold bad party drugs there, or they have an ex who works there, etc.
Agata Crowley is an aging hippie who practices witchcraft. She makes and sells potions and herbal remedies at her house in a run-down neighborhood. Her craft requires the use of a lot of unusual plants and animals, so she has a large backyard garden, a menagerie, and of course, a lot of cats. She’s a terrible insomniac and she sometimes over-imbibes on her own sleeping potions. A PC could be her assistant and/or her child.
Agata, Jim, and Brock all ran together in their youth as members of the Parrots and they fell out over a love-triangle. This could be discovered by the PCs over the course of the adventure, and it should be possible for to find a way to reconcile one or more link between them (or cause more damage). A big reveal is that 25 years ago, Agata tricked Brock into drinking a reverse love potion to “get him off her back” when she wanted to date Jim. She was inexperienced with potions then, and it went too far. Things never worked out with Jim anyway and they are both over it, but she never got the chance to fix the mistake: Brock hates them both for preventable reasons.
Professor Everett Black is a quirky chronal research scientist funded by Microsoft. He is trying to prevent Y2K through extremely unorthodox means – by stopping time! With only a few weeks to go, his experimental machine is ready to test. He likes to listen to LPs as he works, and he frequents Jim’s Vinyl. A PC could be his lab assistant. If confronted when it becomes clear that his machine is dangerous, he will insist that he can fix the problem by adjusting the “quantum detangler”. He has worked too hard to stop now. Who else will solve Y2K, if not him?
If a PC works for him, or asks about it, Professor Black will explain that time exists as a box, stacked on top of larger boxes, that are in turn, stacked on larger ones, to infinity. Every moment is a new box, stacked on top of the others. His meaning is never entirely clear, but his results speak for themselves.
Over the course of the adventure, the PCs will be asked to do tasks by the NPCs. These can be done in any order (or at the same time if, early in the game, there is not a cohesive party). The goal is to introduce the players to the NPCs, and the PCs to each other, as organically as possible. Interspersed with the more mundane missions handed out by the NPCs, there are random encounters with confused, time-displaced creatures.
Buy Vinyl – Jim asks the PCs to accompany him to a biker bar in Spokane where he expects to meet a dude that will sell him some rare 60’s vinyl. Unfortunately, Brock got wind of this transaction and knows a few bikers that owe him a favor. They try to chase off the seller, break the records, and rough-up Jim and the PCs. Jim will offer his prized leather Parrots jacket to a PC who impresses him here.
Save Pete – As tensions escalate, Brock sends some mooks to trash Jim’s store. Brock has nothing against Pete, but one of his thugs gets it in his head to bird-nap the macaw by stuffing him in a sack. The PCs get there in time, but during the kerfuffle, if the PCs aren’t careful, Pete could be injured or killed. If they save Pete, Jim will give them cash from the till and the weekend off to a PC who works for him. If they fail to save Pete, Jim will close shop temporarily to mourn the loss.
Smuggle Turtles – Agata has a shipment of rare albino turtles arriving by a ship from Argentina. They are stuck on the dock and would never make it through customs. She offers free remedies (healing potions) to PCs who will risk sneaking past dock security to get her turtles out of the back of an Argentinian shipping crate. When they have the turtles, the PCs must deliver them to Agata, who is asleep (she always is when the PCs arrive at her door). They may have to hammer on the door, or if a PC lives there, they have a key. Agata will make her “special tea” for each PC who helped. She will throw in a luck charm to a PC who volunteers to lower the turtles all the way down into a well in her back yard. She says that she keeps her turtles in the well so that they are safe from coyotes, eagles, and crows (who have ‘bad spirits’).
Break the Speakers – On the night of the big karaoke contest, Seiko has had enough of the loud dance music. She hires, begs, or bribes the PCs to go into the dance club and trash its speakers. The PCs must get past two bouncers who style themselves after the characters from the 80’s video game “Double Dragon” (they use elbow attacks and kick you while you’re down) and a crazed DJ who can cause feedback in the speakers to do brain-rattling stunning attacks in a loud screech. Seiko will give the karaoke showdown’s coveted grand prize to a PC who championed her cause. (Judging has always been arbitrary, but the PC must enter the contest to win). The prize is a huge stuffed pink unicorn named Amiko-chan, from the popular anime of the same name. Squee!
Facing Brock - Brock can be found at his office. After the Speaker incident, the PCs have earned his respect and they may get a chance to speak with him for the first time. Before that event, they will have to fight their way in. If the PCs are respectful and work to negotiate it, Brock will agree to a sit-down with any of the NPCs that he has been warring with.
The Sit Down – If Brock and one or more of the NPCs agree to a sit-down, he invites the PCs to join them at a nice restaurant near the Space Needle. This is a chance for the PCs to broker peace – ranging from a temporary cease-fire to total reconciliation. If the PCs know about the reverse-love potion, (or if Agata is there), they can attempt to deliver the antidote (best slipped in a drink). Brock’s muscle is on the look-out for any suspicious activity and will respond aggressively. Consider interrupting this meeting before its conclusion with an encounter caused by the Professor’s Machine.
The Professor’s Machine – While the PCs complete the more mundane tasks, whenever the action needs dialing up, Professor Black will happen, by coincidence, to turn on his machine. Time stops, but not all at once: There is at first a slowing down, experienced more fully by some than by others, then a pregnant moment, as if things should be happening but nothing is. Finally, things rush back to normal. In between, when everything is stopped, an infinity could have passed; who knows? During a time-stop, randomly select a PC to gain an extra turn. Most regular people will assume that they imagined the brief effect. Perhaps it was something that they had for lunch.
Side Effects – Unfortunately, the machine is slowly breaking time and space. When the time delay ends (and the machine shuts itself off), a brief hole in the fabric of time appears nearby (in the greater Seattle area) and something appears from the past – or the future. Occasionally these should be non-threatening objects, like a gaslight appearing on a street-corner, but often they are dangerous creatures:
Pteranodons – Three flying dinosaurs swoop down on the PCs, their opponents, or probably both - if this happens during a conflict. Or if the PCs need the motivation, they attack innocent bystanders.
Mastodon – From out of nowhere a hairy elephant wanders onto the road, causing a traffic jam. Not only does this disrupt a trip that the PCs are taking by car, but any driver honks their horn at the creature, it charges, enraged.
Cave-men – Prehistoric humans appear and freak out from all the lights and the noise. They will start bashing people with clubs, breaking cars, or stabbing people with spears.
Christmas Robot – a twenty-foot robot marches down Union Street. It’s dressed as Santa Claus and most people think it’s great. However, it is in danger of tripping over a public bus full of people and must be led away, stopped, or knocked over.
Cyborg Apes – You heard me. Armed with laser guns. Their motivations are unclear because they are from the far future and can’t speak any currently known language, though they are smart enough that they could. Luckily, they are a small force.
When everything else is done, it should be clear by then that the Professor’s machine cannot safely exist. When the PCs go to confront him about it at his lab, he’s been captured by Nazis. That’s right, Nazis! They want to use the machine for the glory of the Third Reich and must (like all nazis) be defeated. When it’s over, Professor Black will finally agree to destroy his machine.
In the end, the few final days of the 20th century will tick away. If peace has been brokered with Brock, he throws a big New Year’s party at one of his remaining clubs. Otherwise, characters party at Agata’s house, the karaoke club, or another appropriate place. They dance and party (while worrying about the looming danger of Y2K) until the ball drops… and nothing happens.
In the Land of Fate, the youngest hag in a coven is known as the Maiden, the middle one the Mother, and the eldest the Crone. Only the Mother may birth new hags, until one day when the Maiden bears a child, and on that day the child becomes Maiden, the Maiden becomes Mother, the Mother becomes Crone, and next sunset, the Crone finally dies.
On the small tropical island of Qalat, where a hag coven lives hidden among the villagers, the Crone Grandmother Uzmah knows her end is coming and seeks to stop time and defy Fate. She has bargained with the turtle-demonlord Ghommolod - one hundred and one lives sacrificed every year, in exchange for help subverting the cycle of hag life, and a promise of 'Should you be slain, you shall not die but live again and again and again, like unto turtles all the way down.'
Hook: the PCs arrive on Qalat (shipwrecked, or merely en route elsewhere). Once the locals realise a PC is a cleric or healer, they beg them to help Walidah, whose labor is going poorly.
As the PCs approach Qalat village, they feel a deep sense of unease. This gives disadvantage to Perception, Insight, and Initiative rolls for all non-hags on the island. Telepathic PCs (or Detect Thoughts etc) can hear the psychic scream that causes this.
Walidah appears as a young woman in the climatic pregnant moment before childbirth. She is semiconscious and in heavy labor, and the locals explain she has been like this for three days. Walidah (night hag) is the Maiden. Her child has been subject to a time stop enchantment by Uzmah, halting the birth. There is no medical reason for her problem delivering. Magical detection reveals an aura of evil (inherent fiendish) and magic (shapechange) around her, and separate auras of magic around her abdomen (time stop) and around the stuffed pink unicorn she clutches.
PCs who can detect the scream know it originates from Walidah in her agony. This is not a normal thing for a mortal to be capable of.
In attendance is Uzmah (advanced green hag) guised as an elderly village wisewoman. She explains the unicorn was a gift for the child and bears a healing enchantment (true - hags do not kill hags and Uzmah doesn't want to actively kill Walidah or her daughter, just ensure that the birth doesn't take place). This seems to be working - Walidah somehow is in no immediate danger of dying. Uzmah claims she examined Walidah and has never seen a case like this before (also literally true). She plans to wait until the pain drives Walidah to kill her own unborn child for respite, thus keeping Uzmah's hands technically clean. The stuffed unicorn is a real unicorn polymorphed into a child's toy, and compelled to use its healing abilities on Walidah to prevent the long labor killing her. Uzmah would settle for having a third party kill Walidah before childbirth, although this is a reluctant second preference as it would break the coven and deprive Uzmah of coven abilities.
Uzmah will darkly hint at a history of vanished children in Qalat, and imply that Nua'ir, a half-crazed hermit who lives in a dank swamp, might be responsible for those as well as for Walidah's misfortune. She is trying to send the PCs on a wild goose chase after a scapegoat to distract them from treating Walidah.
PCs asking around may learn:
the blacksmith's baby son disappeared less than a year ago (devoured by Walidah to trigger the hag reproductive cycle and bring on her pregnancy)
the two tweenage daughters of Ruqayah (the Mother, annis hag, guised as a brawny tattooed retired corsair) recently disappeared (both reached maturity as adult hags, and ventured off into the world)
the father of Walidah's child is rumoured to be Nua'ir (false, a rumour started when villagers glimpsed them together on coven business late at night)
Nua'ir is a keen Swooper. Other Swoopers find him odd but non-threatening
If PCs don't resolve Walidah's stalled pregnancy within 24 hours of arriving, her psychic scream intensifies. All non-hags on Qalat suffer 1 level of exhaustion and cannot benefit from long rests. 24 hours later, Walidah succumbs and turns her scream inward on her infant, killing it.
To save Walidah's life, the PCs must dispel the Time Stop on her unborn infant. If this is done in Uzmah's presence, she will surreptitiously dispel Walidah's human guise in the hope the PCs kill Walidah once her true nature is revealed. If Dispel is cast on the unicorn, it immediately returns to its natural form and ferociously attacks Walidah (it knows what she is). It can only be stopped by force, but it can identify the three hags in the village and the location of their lair if not killed.
If Walidah and her child survive, Uzmah knows she is fated to die by sunset and resorts to desperate measures. She flees to her lair immediately, kidnapping a convenient villager on the way for sacrifice, and finalises her deal with Ghommolod, preventing her death. If Walidah's child dies, the deal is struck and Uzmah retires satisfied, after trying to fix blame on Nua'ir. However, once Walidah regains consciousness and the full situation is explained her eyes are opened to what really happened (awakened witch). She knows Uzmah owns a Wand of Dispel Magic and could have dispelled the effect herself but chose not to. She invents a story about remembering Uzmah cursing her before her pregnancy went wrong, and begs the PCs to help her avenge her child (if asked whether she is capable so soon after giving birth, she will grimly gesture to the unicorn and say that she is completely healed). Ruqayah, Qalat's strongest warrior, will be tasked by the villagers to assist. If Walidah died, Ruqayah takes the role of the awakened witch, realising what happened and, worried that Uzmah might turn on her next, attempts to use the PCs as cats-paws to kill her.
Nua'ir is a servitor of the coven - a former jungle parrot polymorphed into a human. He lives in the hags' lair - the swampy grotto where they drop their human guises and gather to perform rituals - but prefers high places. He is miserable and depressed - as a parrot he wished he could experience human life, and the hags granted his desire on condition he serve them. But in their service he has seen (and done) all the worst that humanity has to offer, and he only wishes to return to simple parrotdom again. He relives his happier parrot days as best he can by playing Swoop, a popular pastime with Qalat's younger residents. Swoop involves constructing of a set of glider wings (Nua'ir's are made of shed parrot feathers) and using them to glide from a high place, gain speed, swoop close enough to the ground to pick up an item, then regain altitude and glide as far as possible. Swoopers gain kudos for targeting very small, heavy, or risky items, for stunting, and for gliding long distances or though obstacle-ridden areas. Nua'ir enjoys flying again, even temporarily. Qalat's Swoopers are the closest he has to friends, and the best way to gain his trust is for PCs join him in a daring Swoop.
Nua'ir is Charmed by the hags, much as he hates them, and will clam up abruptly (and attempt to Swoop away) if questioned about them. Uzmah has ordered him to 'act guilty', to be a more effective scapegoat. Nua'ir retains his parrot gift for memory and mimicry, and if freed from the coven's enchantment (dispel magic or the death of one of the hags), and if the PCs gain his trust and swear to turn him back into a parrot, can repeat, verbatim and in the hags' own voices, everything he heard the hags say. This includes the terms of Uzmah's bargain with Ghommolod.
Ghommolod is a minor demon lord associated with twisted, resentful old age, hatred of the young, and the selfish desire to live forever. Wizened and defensive, armoured in bitterness, turtles are sacred to him and he is portrayed as a ancient humanoid snapping turtle, wrinkled, gigantic and foul. Grandmother Uzmah has arrogantly underestimated him and overlooked that to him she too, despite all her years, is a despised youth. He will adhere to her bargain literally - she will live 'again and again and again' - avoiding death precisely three times, and rather than in her own form, she will live these lives as 'turtles all the way down'.
The PCs can find Uzmah in the lair. The awakened witch (whoever that is) will indirectly assist the PC fighting Uzmah (hag will still not attack hag directly), but once Uzmah is slain, any surviving hags will turn on the PCs to protect their identities. If multiple hags are present, the vicious accusations and curses going back and forth between them should give the PCs the gist of the backstory.
When Uzmah is slain, her body and magic items disappear leaving only a filthy robe. PCs hear a long dwindling scream as she dies, but another scream rises to harmonise with it. The second scream originates from Uzmah's snapping turtle familiar - now the body that she inhabits, with her wand clasped in one claw and Ghommolod's sigil glowing on its brow. The turtle curses the PCs and Ghommolod in Uzmah's voice, and slowly tries to flee. PCs can kill it easily. This time, as the body dissipates, the fading death-scream harmonises with a terrifying shrieking roar from somewhere deep in the swamp.
Uzmah's second body is an ancient titanic snapping turtle that has spent ages sleeping in stinking black marsh-mud. It has Ghommolod's sigil on its brow, and the wand wedged between its claws. Use advanced ankylosaur stats, with a t-rex's bite attack, a swim speed, and Uzmah's mental ability scores and special actions. Uzmah's new form will stalk the PCs monster-movie style as they retreat through the swamp from the hag's lair. She will fight with ruthless cunning, lay baits and traps, use the green hag's Invisible Passage ability to great effect, and retreat to the swamp depths to heal if seriously injured. If she survives, she will wage a hit-and-run war on Qalat village, seeking to slay the entire population in her rage and hate, striking at night or against lone people or small groups.
When Uzmah's second reincarnation is slain, it once again dissipates with a long scream, but this time the new awakening scream starts up as a slow subaudible rumble, and takes literally hours to reach a deafening crescendo. The island of Qalat is actually a zaratan (the Al-Qadim turtle zaratan, not the 5e elemental zaratan), and this is Uzmah's new and final body. Such a beast awakens slowly, so there is time, but once Uzmah awakens fully (awakened witch) she will submerge and drown all of Qalat. If PCs somehow kill the zaratan, its body will dissipate and all of Qalat's inhabitants will fall into the sea. An Arcana check suggests Uzmah may be expelled from the zaratan by dispelling or purifying the sigil on the zaratan's brow, but if PCs come up with reasonable alternatives (perhaps using Magic Jar, for instance), the DM should be willing to cooperate. The zaratan's head forms a separate island from its body, and as it awakens the water between becomes turbulent and dangerous to navigate in watercraft. If PCs attempt magical flight to reach the head, Uzmah will dispel it with her wand (Nua'ir will tell/remind them about it, if they have allied with him). The best way to reach the head is using Swoop gliders, fighting through charmed seabird swarms on the way, and giant demon-tainted zaratan-parasites (and Uzmah's magic, and the zaratan's vast bite) once they get there.
Once Uzmah is defeated, she screams one last time and doesn't return. It's turtles all the way down to the Abyss, where Ghommolod, the final turtle, waits.
Psychic Scream - emitted by Walidah as she undergoes the torments of continually blocked childbirth, and a clue she might not be human. I needed to do more with this one. What if no PC can hear it? Former Parrot - Nua'ir, the polymorphed hag servitor and scapegoat who may become a PC ally. Poor Nua'ir, he's had a rough humanity. Pink Unicorn - the 'child's soft toy', supposedly a gift for Walidah's child from Uzmah, in reality an enslaved polymorphed unicorn Uzmah's using to keep Walidah alive Awakened Witch - Walidah on recovering after childbirth and realising the truth, also Uzmah awakening in her new bodies Time Stop - the intention of Uzmah to defy the passing of time and stay alive, and the enchantment she lays on Walidah to ensure this happens. Not a strong ingredient for me, especially since my usage of it doesn't really jibe with how the spell of that name works. Pregnant Moment - the agonising final moments before childbirth, where Walidah is trapped. I hope the creative use of the ingredient wording is enough here. Swoop - the swooping hang-gliding sport of the inhabitants of Qalat, used to befriend Nua'ir and to access the head of the zaratan Turtles All the Way Down - in Ghommolod's bargain, the intent of the phrase (indefinite repetition/recursion without end) subverted by its literal reading (you'll be a turtle again and again all the way down to the Abyss). I hope my association of wrinkly, cranky, long-lived turtles with a demon of old age is as plausible/intuitive for the judges as it was for me, otherwise this usage might strike them as arbitrary or artificial.
Well, to be honest I'm not entirely happy with that. I think it'd be a fun adventure, but while I haven't read Fitz's entry, if it focused tightly and relentlessly on the ingredients I reckon I may be in trouble. Just a few too many of my ingredients are all aspects of the same situation around Walidah's childbed (time stop, pregnant moment, psychic scream, awakened witch, and even the unicorn) while perhaps not standing out by themselves very prominently.
One thing I've noticed in this competition is that it's very hard to do complicated many-variable sandbox-type situations justice within the word count. I mired myself in that trap in the second round, and only escaped by binning my entry and starting again very late. But a bit of the same happened here. The childbed scene just has so many moving parts that you can't discuss all the permutations within the wordcount, but ignoring some of them leaves you open to (accurate) accusations of plot holes. What happens if the PCs succeed in helping Walidah give birth safely but in the process discover she's a hag but have killed Nua'ir in the meantime? Just. So. Many. Possibilities. In then end I tried to just cover the most likely ones and leave the rest to DMs initiative/improvisation, I hope it was enough.
Did this really need to be an Al-Qadim adventure? Well, probably not, strictly speaking, much as i love the setting - it could have fitted somewhere more generic, and to be really Al-Qadimy I should have put a genie in there somewhere. But the zaratan is originally an Al-Qadim monster, and parrots fit well in a corsair island story, and the whole theme of the evils of defying Fate and the demon being tricksy with words is all very Al-Qadimy so i decided to go with it. There was originally another wrinkle in there, where the PCs were offered accomodation at Ruqayah's house (in her missing daughters' bedrooms) while they were in Qalat, which meant that later on when they discovered her true identity they'd be stuck in a dilemma given that killing their host is a flagrant violation of the Al-Qadim principle of hospitality. But that didn't survive the wordcount cull.
But at least, in the final round of the competition on a 99% D&D board, i finally actually wrote a D&D adventure, so that counts for something right?
I love the 90's Y2K setting of Paradox. The adventure is especially detailed in its hooks, characters and setting. There are even small side quests before the players reach the final act. I also adore how a stuffed animal or a fancy jacket are quest awards. It has a delightful upbeat mood that indeed feels like the 90s. Several of the ingredients are minor elements in side quests however. I fear the judges may dock some points for that.
Grandmother on the other hand is a lot darker, but it is very original in how it works the ingredients into the plot. The pregnancy bit is a bit wordy, but then again, it is the central conflict of the adventure. There even is a big boss battle at the end, and plotwise I love the idea of stopping time to prevents a child birth, and the bargain with the turtle demon.
The use of Turtles all the way Down is a bit iffy in both entries imo. But it is a very bizarre ingredient. I feel since Grandmother is all about a deal with a demon turtle and Usmahs three turtle reincarnations, its use of the ingredient is a lot stronger.
I think these adventures are pretty much tied for me, but maybe my current state of mind desires a light hearted 90s pulp adventure. The hooks are also so strong and well defined, and I really like the characters.
The first word in the second paragraph in my entry should be "The" and not "They". ("The story exists...")
I meticulously went through every word before posting, and somehow I still screwed it up and wound up posting my second-to-last draft. There's not much I changed at all, but it I definitely fixed that typo. I hope there's not anything else glaringly off. Oh, well!
Judgement for Final Match: FitzTheRuke vs. humble minion
These are both really great adventures, though they both have their own difficulties in actually running them, for different reasons. We'll get to overall adventure quality later. First, let's see how FitzTheRuke's untitled adventure (henceforth "Y2K") and humble minion's "The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not To Die" (henceforth "Uzmah") handle these ingredients.
The psychic scream in "Uzmah" is a pretty important part of the hook in "Uzmah", and it also remains relevant throughout the adventure. That's a good ingredient usage. Is it "psychic?" Ehhh, it's a stretch, but not a terrible one. Meanwhile, I struggle to find this at all in "Y2K". The closest I can see is the DJ in the nightclub battle using an attack that seems to mimic the effects of a psionic blast, but it being like an ingredient is not the same as being the ingredient.
The former parrot in Y2K refers to the former gang members, who named themselves after one of the members' pet, which seemed to relate to the dude's pirate fetish. Individually, those excuses for an ingredient would be pretty weak and easily replaceable, but layered upon each other makes the ingredient stronger. Meanwhile, the former parrot is a transformed minion of the hags in Uzmah, and it's a bit weaker here, as any animal would work. It's tied to a later ingredient, which helps a little, but still, any bird would've done.
The unicorn is a little bit better here in "Uzmah". It's a stuffed animal (for the baby), and a transformed unicorn whose healing powers are useful for the villain's purposes. It also presents a handy NPC to complicate things if its polymorph is dispelled. In "Y2K" it's a prize for a karaoke contest that... might not even happen. A very weak ingredient.
I don't think this works super well in either adventure. It's actually not necessarily going to happen in either. "Uzmah" witch is "awakened" to the truth, which is... a little bit of a stretch. "Y2K's" witch sleeps a lot for... reasons (needing to be awakened, for the ingredient, natch). Doing this is trivial, if at all (the PC might just have the key!). Not great.
Both adventures tie their main plot to this element, which makes it really strong in both. I like the little time hiccup foreshadowing in "Y2K" a lot, and gives it just the slight edge for me in this case.
Both adventures tie this into their Time Stop (which makes sense, given the linkage between Time and Moment). Again, this relates to "Y2K"'s clever foreshadowing, so it gives it just the slightest of edges.
Now we get to the two oddball ingredients I provided for this match. "Uzmah" invents a game called "Swoop", but it does involve swooping, so I'll allow it. Its placement is a little more central (and PC-involved) than in "Y2K", where the swooping pterodactyls make an exceptional set piece, but just really isn't central enough.
Turtles All The Way Down
There's a couple of ways to take this. Firstly, the phrase relates to Flat Earth believers, with the notion that a flat world rests on the back of a giant turtle (ala Discworld), but if you try to ask them what the turtle is resting on, their only answer can be a bigger turtle (and ultimately, it's turtles all the way down). The more literal route would be more in the vein of "look at that pit, it sure is full of turtles". "Y2K" goes this route, and its relation the central plot is minimal, at best. "Uzmah", on the other hand, throws turtles at us like they're going out of style. Most of them feel do not feel at all essential, and the "All The Way Down" language twisting really just doesn't work for me, but the presence of the zaratan ultimately saves it for me in having an actual thematic purpose for there being so many turtles elsewhere.
So, ultimately "Uzmah" takes the edge on ingredients for me, though its closer than my initial reads suggested. "Y2K's" biggest weakness, as an Iron DM entry, it sadly one of its greatest strengths as an adventure. The way the business starts out so stakes that are low and personal, and the way the Time Stop starts intruding into the narrative as foreshadowing, is all genius. But too many of the ingredients are wrapped up in these earlier scenarios, which makes them less central, and thus, weaker as ingredients. If there were a stronger connection between the mad scientist and the PCs' social circle, it would have made a significant difference. As it is, the connection is tenuous at best. The other difficulty here comes from needing the PCs to have these pre-existing connections with NPCs. This is great, normally, but as a DM I prefer to have the players themselves assist with this sort of worldbuilding.
"Uzmah", meanwhile, is also an excellent adventure, and one with a number of very interesting moral dilemmas. Do the PCs really want to help with the miscarriage/murder of a pregnant woman? Even if she's a hag? There are a lot of missing pieces here, and a lot of paths for the PCs to take in solving this puzzle. The problem comes from the fact that the adventure is laid out in a kind of linear, as if the author is expecting certain things to come to pass that may not even happen. If Uzmah is trapped in a tiny, helpless, turtle, why kill her? That only seems to make her more powerful. It feels like this curse would've been more interesting, and fulfilling, had it gone the other way around, but I guess then you can't have that great set piece with the Zaratan.
I thought, going into this, I knew who I was going to pick. Writing this out has made me second guess this. These are both great adventures. Personally, I think I like "Y2K" a little better than "Uzmah" here, It's a slightly stronger adventure, and its structure appeals to me more.
But is that enough to make up for the ingredient deficit?
Ultimately, I have to say no. "Uzmah" is also an excellent adventure with a lot of moving parts and it just did a better job of incorporating its ingredients more centrally.
@FitzTheRuke, you've clearly got a handle on how to do this, and, as we requested, you gave us an instantly memorable adventure. Work on making those ingredients more central to your overarching plot (and tie those disparate elements together in a stronger way), and you'll be back to this final round before too long.
For now though, I have to recommend @humble minion's "The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not To Die" for the Iron DM 2020.
@Gradine 's judgement does not surprise me, really. I knew I was taking risks with my ingredient uses. Some I felt were clever, and others I knew were lacking. Some got lost a bit in editing, too.
Here's my thinking on them:
Psychic Scream - Originally, the dance club was named the Psychic Scream. At one point, I decided that it was too on-the-nose (and I remembered judges saying that using the ingredients as names always brings the question: "Why couldn't they be named something else?") In addition, I tried at one point for a pass that didn't actually use the words of the ingredients, but invoked them anyway. This was too hard, and I felt that judges might miss my references entirely. In the end, I think I should have left the name, and kept the DJ too... I understand that technically, the speakers are a Sonic Scream (and I seem to have used the word Screech instead - this is still a remnant of my attempt to leave the words out. I should have fixed it, I think.
Former Parrot - I started with Jim being the only former gang-member, but with him giving out missions, he seems like he's still involved, really. I like how this one worked out. On top of Agata, Brock, and Jim, being Former members of the Parrots - If Pete the Parrot gets killed, then he's an ex-parrot, Python style.
Pink Unicorn - When the Dance Club was the Psychic Scream, the Karaoke Bar was named the Pink Unicorn. Maybe I should have kept that too. Either way, I knew that it had to be more than just a name, so I came up with Amiko-Chan the popular anime unicorn as a karaoke prize. (And the Sonic Psychic (well, head-hurting, at least) attack from the DJ at the Dance Club.)
Awakened Witch - I just thought it was funny that you had to wake Agata up (you'd still have to wake her, even if you used a key to get in!)
Time Stop - Professor Black's machine was the first idea that came to my head for the whole thing.
Pregnant Moment - There's basically one of these every time the machine shuts off, right?
Swoop - One of my drafts was far more linear than what I ended up with. At that point, the first time stop had a PC noticing a Seagull diving for a clam in frozen mid-swoop. I lost that when I couldn't figure out how the PCs were still moving with Time being Stopped.
Turtles All the Way Down - The term may have been co-opted by Flat Earthers, but it predates them. I had Prof. Black quoting Hume and using the concept to describe how time works (a remnant of that is still in the text) but I couldn't get it to make enough sense (or to be clear enough) that I trusted that anyone would get it. So I went for the obvious. They're turtles. They gotta go all the way down. Yeah, I know, it's not the most inspired, but I think it's cute.
I really enjoyed writing my first entry in this competition, but for the second one, I got too serious about it (in my head) and (as I mentioned before) I took all the fun out of it for myself by second-guessing everything I was writing, all the time, for how it might be judged. I barely made it through, so I decided this time that I was just going to enjoy myself, and if it costs me, so be it.
I think I pulled that off, in that I loved every minute of writing that one. Sure, I probably could (and should) have done another pass specifically looking at my ingredient use (I've done that since, and I do see a whole lot that I could fix). Didn't help that I posted my second-to-last draft, too.
I'm glad everyone seems to have enjoyed the thing, even if it doesn't win in the end. (Still a chance!)
Generally speaking, naming something after the ingredient is seen as one of weakest ways to use it, and sends a red flag to the judges.
The one issue with your adventure is that Act 1 and Act 2 don't tie together very well, thematically. This normally wouldn't be a huge issue, as a general adventure. With Iron DM, we want all the ingredients to feel central to the main adventure. This is why I say that if the two acts felt more strongly connected, then the first act would ultimately feel weightier and the ingredients from that act would feel more central and critical as part of the whole.
This is just me, though. We've still got two more judges, and we all think and judge a little bit differently. I'm excited to see how the rest of them go!
Yeah, i continually make the mistake of focusing a bit too much on the adventure rather than the ingredients once I've gotten the general shape of things sorted, and it continually costs me.
Nua'ir being a former parrot (rather than a random other bird) was entirely planned around him retaining his parrot-like memory and mimicry abilities, and the PCs being able to leverage that parrot-like quality to learn more about the hags. But I tossed that off in half a sentence where it could easily be missed. And of course the setup had so many moving parts that the PCs could easily get the info elsewhere (fromthe unicorn, for instance) which drew the focus off the whole parrot plot. I should have given Nua-ir a parrot girlfriend who tried to enlist the PCs to restore him. Same with the turtles - I spent so much wordcount on planning out the various iterations of Uzmah's turtle shape that I didn't spell out my actual use of the ingredient enough, how Ghomollod tricked Uzmah into assuming that he meant the figurative meaning of 'turtles all the way down' (the infinite unbounded series) whereas what he actually gave her sprang from a literal reading.
And yeah, I knew there were plot holes and permutations i hadn't accounted for, but the possibility PCs not killing Uzmah in her first reincarnation simply didn't occur to me. That incarnation only existed so the PCs could learn the ground rules for the rest of the adventure - she reincarnated, she still has her intellect in her new form, and she crumbles to dust and is reborn when the current form dies. Didn't even cross my mind they might pick her up and stuff her in a terrarium!
Swoop was - by far - the hardest ingredient for me here. It's a single discrete action, so it can't be a recurring theme through the adventure. It isn't really a word that has any ambiguity or multiple meanings ('scoop', or 'sweep', or even 'steep' would have given so many more options!). So damn hard to use. I eventually tried to make swooping a theme of the adventure - rather than a singular swoop. The game Swoop is entirely centred around the act of swooping so i was hoping for some understanding and leniency around this slight re-interpretation, but still i know the judges hate it when you invent something and call it by the name of the ingredient, so all i could do was cross my fingers there.
As for of Pike Place Paradox, if i was to run it, I'd run it as something like a convention one-shot with pre-written characters. It lets your PCs arrive with pre-existing ties to the significant NPCs and each other, and lets you give them additional linkages to the weirder ingredients (turtles, pteranodons...) which'd strengthen the integration of the adventure as a whole. But having to write up a few PCs as well as all Fitz's wonderful NPCs, and still stay within an Iron DM word count? Reeeeaaal hard. Though you could MAYBE pull it off if you made it a solo (or 2-PC adventure). Has there ever been an Iron DM entry that included pregen PCs? It'd be an interesting option, if word count was kind.