• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread

log in or register to remove this ad

The Playwright and Praecipua

Dark Paragon
Name Level
Binary Suns
Stuck Elevator
Cursed Sword
Bardic College
Redundant Ogre

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu adventure

Owlsley College is an old, highly respected English university, one step below Oxford and Cambridge, that has fallen on hard financial times. Funding has fallen, heritage buildings require maintenance, and the curriculum's historical focus on philosophy, classics, and literature means it attracts fewer students than rivals emphasising tech or business.

Professor Andrew Ffoulkes (the Redundant Ogre) is head of the Department of Shakespearean Studies (the Bardic College), and Shakespeare is his life. Irascible and much-feared by students, he was recently informed that the department was to be closed and merged with the larger Department of Literature, and that he himself was to be made redundant. He took this badly, locking himself away in isolation in the Department's building, burying himself in the old folios and editions that he loved and managing his dwindling Department by scrawled memos while the last postdocs saw to what teaching duties remain.

Deep in the Department's archives, he found a truly ancient folio containing verse scraps from no known Shakespearean work, but which unmistakably bore The Bard's style. Dated just before Shakespeare's death, it is entitled 'The Arches of Praecipua', and contains fragments of a tale of the Great Old One G'Qaroc, the Blossomer in Darkness.

Hook: a pawnshop owner contacts the PCs (or their superiors assign them the investigation) when someone pawns a peculiar sword

The sword is of unknown design, material, and provenance, obviously used but in good condition, but is oddly proportioned and balanced if intended for a human wielder. It is inscribed with markings that resemble writing but are in no human language. The sword is a relic of Praecipua, and is cursed from its long association with that place. If the sword is ever in complete darkness, one of G'Qaroc's Blossoms will emerge from it. This is a feeding and sensory appendage of G'Qaroc, and desires only to consume. Any organic material it encounters in the darkness will be attacked and devoured; inorganic material might be shredded, tasted and discarded, or arranged in disturbing patterns.

The pawnshop's books reveal the sword was part of a parcel pawned by Stewart Coulthard. Coulthard runs a shady low-bid contract construction and maintenance firm, and will brush off questions. Investigators asking his other employees can discover that the other items in the pawned package are personal belongings of Pamir Mashwani, a laborer who nobody has seen for a few days. Coulthard brusquely assumed Pamir had been deported as illegal, and decided to sell his belongings to make extra cash. He doesn't know where the sword came from, though Pamir's co-workers remember him looking unsettled and pale the last time they saw him, and refusing to talk about his current job.

Coulthard's records indicate that Pamir was last contracted to the Department of Shakespearean Studies at Owlsley College. The purchase order was signed by Professor Ffoulkes, for 'miscellaneous remodelling' of the 5th floor.

The Department is housed in an ugly and deteriorating 60s-era six-level office building. Entering the foyer reveals the elevator has a 'No access by order of Professor Ffoulkes' sign on it and the only stairs (the fire escape) are decrepit and collapsing. There is no student presence. A largely-empty staff guide pinned to the noticeboard names Ffoulkes as head of department, with phone number (no email address) supplied. Nobody answers it. Messages left in Ffoulke's mail slot are removed but not responded to. Next most senior listed staff member is Ronica Marshall, a research fellow and acting deputy head. She is contactable, though her office is in the more modern Literature department building. She can tell the investigators:

  • the old Department building is a dangerous derelict and is in the process of being abandoned. There's no reason to be remodeling it
  • students and classes moved into the Literature building long ago. Only Ffoulkes, archives, and paperwork remain
- Ffoulkes rules ironfisted over the tiny department
  • Level 5 is long-unused tutorial rooms
  • She knows nothing about the remodel. Ffoulkes told her nothing - her research focuses on post-colonial re-interpretation of Shakespeare and he despises her for it
  • Nobody has seen Ffoulkes for weeks. This is not unusual. His office is on level 6.
  • The fire escape has been broken for a long time, but there was nothing wrong with the elevator last time she checked

The elevator works, but no matter what floor is selected, it'll proceed to level 5 and then get stuck. The floor readout doesn't work and there's no floor number at the destination, so PCs may not notice this.

Level 5 (the Name Level) was completely remodelled by Pamir. It's rough work, dusty exposed structural members, piping and naked drywall - Ffoulkes demanded form and speed over finish. Pamir knocked holes in walls to create passages, blocked corridors with rough drywalling etc. The entire level's layout has been modified so the floorplan traces a sinuous sigil that is the name G'Qaroc - there are no side passages or intersections. PCs mapping the path they walk here must make a sanity check, and can make a Cthulhu Mythos check to recognise the name. Walking the path to the end, they reach a storage closet. The door opens to the desolate city of Praecipua - walking the Name of G'Qaroc opens the way to where the Great Old One dwells.

Praecipua is an inhuman city on a faraway dead planet. It is a multilevelled maze of stone archways, pillars, walkways, towers, and bone-dry aqueducts casting a crazed mosaic of shadows in the light of the Binary Suns in the starless sky above. The air is windless, cold and dry but breathable. Small piles of disturbingly proportioned weaponry lie around, swords and less recognisable items from when the inhabitants fought their losing battle against G'Qaroc's Blossoms. Pamir retrieved the sword from here once he finished his work and inadvertantly walked the Name. Obsessed by what he had seen, he went back the next day and was devoured by the Blossoms. PCs can find his inorganic possessions - glasses, credit cards, phone components - arranged in an uncanny pattern beneath an archway. Anything retrieved from Praecipua carries the same taint as Pamir's sword.

G'Quaroc has wholly consumed Praecipua. Nothing organic remains on the planet. G'Qaroc itself - the Dark Paragon - lurks on the unlit side of the planet, continually moving and seeping into the places where the light from neither sun reaches. Unless PCs have researched G'Qaroc, they'll learn this the hard way when Blossoms spring forth from places where the latticework architecture of the dead city blocks the light of both suns. The only way to avoid this is to monitor the movement of the suns and the criss-crossing shadows cast by the city, and stay in the light always. Praecipua is in a bowl-shaped valley centred around a large open ampitheatre where thousands of rows of spectator's benches surround a great stage. On the stage is a lectern, holding a completed copy of Shakespeare's 'Arches of Praecipua'.

Ffoulkes senses the presence of this work, and obsessively seeks to retrieve it and chant its verses to the world. It will be his vindication, his (and Shakespeare's) final triumph over the beancounting modernity that had no place for him. Walking G'Qaroc's Name dozens of times has warped him physically and mentally - he is a huge twisted long-armed shambling horror now, grey-skinned and clawed. Unnatural darkness envelops him.

Level 6 can be accessed via the elevator shaft, breaking through the level 5 ceiling, climbing the outside of the building, or by the crumbling remnants of the external fire escape. The windows here are covered with lightproof shielding, and all lightglobes smashed. Ffoulkes is here, muttering Shakespearean verse under his breath and mingling it with fragments from the Arches (San check to hear). He attacks anyone with a lightsource, seeking to extinguish rather than kill initially. Level 6 is lightless, but if a PC recites a line of Shakespeare Ffoulkes is compelled to complete the couplet, and can be located by voice using this method. He can be herded with bright light (from torches or broken windows). If cornered, he will smash through the floor or climb spiderlike down the elevator shaft, walk the Name, and flee into Praecipua on a final bid to retrieve the complete Arches. PCs can find the partial copy of the Arches in his office, along with his diary, scrawled maps of Praecipua and notes on a pathway to the lectern that avoids the Blossoms.

PCs may thwart Ffoulkes' return by destroying enough of Level 5 so the Name is no longer meaningful, or else can confront him in Praecipua. Ffoulkes' primary focus is on the complete Arches, but he will fight in self-defense or furiously if the Arches is damaged. Downed PCs will be crippled and laid in Praecipua as helpless offerings to G'Qaroc as the two suns set and perfect darkness approaches.

There is another complete copy of 'Arches of Praecipua'. It lies in Shakespeare's grave, interred in a lead casket next to his unnaturally swollen and misshapen skeleton.


Moderator Emeritus
The Fate of the Firebird* (a spelljammer adventure)

Bardic College
Cursed Sword
Binary Suns
Name Level
Redundant Ogre
Stuck Elevator
Dark Paragon
  • A one-shot, all the PCs being different types/multi-classed bardic students accompanying their faculty advisor to investigate the S.S. Symposium
  • The party is hired by the bardic college to accompany Igor Alerut to investigate (perhaps with the promise of rare magic as reward)
The Music of the Spheres Bardic College is well-known throughout the cosmos for training bards and sages, with a reputation for teaching and preserving all kinds of music and lore.

The party accompanies Professor Igor Alerut to investigate what happened to the S.S. Symposium, an enormous spelljamming ship. The ship— is a combination conservatory, museum, and zoo—houses a “Semester at Space” (think “Semester at Sea”) program. It went missing with a dozen bardic grad students and its professorial captain, Hallward Alme.

Explaining that scrying the ship/occupants has had limited success, Alerut brings the party to a distant Crystal Sphere in one of the college’s Hammerships. Now closer, he uses a magic sword he brought with him from the school to detect for the ship. The S.S. Symposium is found in a figure-eight decaying orbit amid and around a strange smallish binary suns. One sun (Hemera) shines with radiant energy, the other (Erebus) glows with negative energy.

The Symposium’s orbit around both suns takes 60 hours. As the PCs arrive, the ship is about to begin its loop around Erebus (within an hour it’ll in the corona). It leaves Erebus’s corona after 25 hours and reaches Hemera’s in another five. On its return approach to Erebus, it will plummet into it.

As the ship does its figure-eight orbit different sides of the ship face the radiant or negative sun, creating different effects, including sudden reversals of gravity. The top decks face Erebus as it circles it, and the lower decks face Hemera when it circles it.

While in Erebus’s corona during the first circuit, undead in the upper decks are bolstered and energy drain attacks are stronger. On a second circuit of Erebus, the entire ship will be under this effect. While in Hemera’s corona, the non-corporeal undead in the lower decks temporarily dissipate and any corporeal undead of less than 8HD are destroyed. Furthermore, a Deva appears and explains about the phoenix egg and how celestial laws ban it from acting directly. He may send some lesser celestial creature to aid them, but it disappears when re-entering Erebus’ corona.

Professor Alerut is a runty half-ogre who overcompensates for the common view of ogres. Thus, he is articulate, refined, book-learned, and a bit haughty. He has a lovely singing voice. Unfortunately, he has also under the sway of an evil intelligent cursed sword (the one he claims detected the ship). In reality, the sword is calling the shots, and manipulated Alerut into suggesting Hallward seek out the binary suns. The sword speaks telepathically to the wielder.

The Symposium is a huge ship (Use a real-world ocean liner map as the basis) with multiple thematically name(d) levels (Decks). The Hammership can land atop the Symposium to access it from a hatch on top, or land on the open Lido deck in the upper front. Alerut will insist they make their way to the engine room in a rear lower deck to find Hallward.

As he and the party make their way through the ship, they will find various specimens set free and/or changed into aberrations. They will also find the bardic grad students transformed by the influence of Erebus into various undead (with bardic features).

Each deck is a set-piece of one or more rooms or habitats ruled over by one of the thematically-appropriate undead grad student bards.

Some of the decks include:​
  • Lido/Aquatheater: Orca zombies.​
  • Queen’s Deck (Formian “Ant” Farm) - imagine a spectral formian bard!​
  • Symphony (rehearsal spaces, costume rooms, etc)​
  • Deck 13: Cursed Magical Instruments guarded by gibbering mouthers​
  • Promenade: A gallery of many stalls showing off art and music of different places and cultures​
  • Celestial Gala: Magic shutters give a panoramic view in a ballroom with dancing ghosts.​
At some point before getting to the Engine Room, Virxorex and the Drop-Outs arrive in Smalljammer to exact his revenge on Alerut.

Virxorex is an ogre-mage with a crew of disgruntled former students who want to stop Alerut and hopefully kill him. Virxorex was also a professor at the bardic college, but his areas of expertise overlapped with Alerut’s, leading him to being a Redundant Ogre. Thus, he was not given tenure, as the college board preferred the obsequious Alerut to the cutting and aggressive Virxorex. His research has led to the same conclusion about the results of the phoenix egg entering one of the suns (see below). He does not care so much about preventing the destruction but wants to foil Alerut’s plan and get evidence to get his job back. Virxorex assumes the PCs are in on Alerut’s plan and is not one much for explanations.

As the party makes their way through the ship encountering the various set-pieces, they can either flee Virxorex or try to make a stand. Alerut explains that there is no reasoning with the other ogre and if the party makes a stand, he makes a run for the engine room while the PCs “hold him off.” He might also try to get “lost” in the confusion of a battle, like in the Formian maze. Otherwise, if the party makes it to the Engine Room, Alerut will suggest they make their stand outside and hold the doors closed while he goes in and tries to “fix” things.

The Engine Room also serves the throne room of Hallward in his new Crypt King form (give him bardic powers and some other undead guardians). He uses his Crypt King powers to separate and confuse the party, teleporting them to different decks. The transformed Hallward will recognize the sword and not harass Alerut, and the professor will clearly not attack the undead here. A party teleported to different parts of the ship will have to regroup and maybe try to ally themselves with Virxorex.

The engine room holds a spelljamming helm drawing power from a large red egg that pulses with white and black fire. The egg holds a paragon phoenix: legendary fiery bird who is the apex example of the interconnection of creation and destruction/substance and void, whose immolation helps spread life. Disconnecting it will not stop the ship, but still requires powerful dispel magic or some extreme effort physically remove it (the feedback should be strong enough to have a chance of killing whoever tries).

The room also holds various clockwork mechanisms controlling the ship’s sails, fins, and rudders. But the actual controls have been destroyed. At the back of the room, an inspection will reveal that the ship’s elevator (the horizontal fin that controls the ship’s altitude) is sticky, perhaps contributing to the decaying orbit. Unfortunately, trapped in the gravity well as it is, the Symposium cannot be broken free, but Alerut plans to use the cursed sword to make sure the elevator remains stuck, pivoting the ship into a more rapid descent into Erebus in the process.

Ludocrat is a sentient sword—a destroyer of constructs and machinery and was forged from Erebus. It is a +4 weapon that deals 4d6 extra damage to constructs and can emanate an anti-magic zone around itself. Constructs struck by the sword must save or be destroyed outright! Whoever grasps it must willingly give up their soul of compassion (become CE) to pull it out of any machine or construct it has been stuck into and submit to its will. The anti-magic zone should mean that a PC will have to do it themselves. This will allow the elevator to be moved back just beyond its original position but cannot avoid the ship’s ultimate fate. It will now crash into Hemera. The sword wants to return to the void, hating all life and machinery (even after life is gone, machinery can continue). It takes pleasure from doing its part to destroy the very foundational machinery of the universe (crystal spheres). The sword will try to dominate its wielder to get the ship to crash into Erebus. A humbled but insufficiently repentant Alerut will be freed if this happens.

The egg hatches when the Symposium crashes into one of the suns:

Erebus: The egg explodes into a Dark Paragon phoenix, instigating a reverse “big bang.” The bird is made of flames of negative energy, sucking in all the contents of the sphere until it shatters, causing cascading explosions of phlogiston that will have cosmic implications. Anything within 1000 miles of the sphere will be destroyed.

Hemera: Explodes into a Radiant paragon phoenix seeding new life throughout the Crystal Sphere (think Star Trek II). However, anything within the sphere will be destroyed in the process of creating whole new ecosystem and creatures to be studied. Leading to a desperate escape scene.

Conclusion: This should be a hard adventure, with good chance of total failure (thus the one-shot recommendation).​


Once A Fool
My short response is this: we do like to see entries that are well-developed, well-edited, and well-presented. Polished.

It is incumbent on the author to determine the specific organization that will work best within the parameters of the tournament.

My slightly longer response can wait until both entries have been submitted.
Now that both entries are in (but still unread), I wanted to add:

The purpose of a title/sub-title is to tell the reader something about what follows.

If you’re clever, you can get those sub-headings to carry some of the expository load. Or help save you words elsewhere on descriptive atmosphere. In short, they can actually save you words. In capable hands, they become a tool for efficiency.

Thus, like any other part of an entry that conveys information, they get counted in the word-count.

In contrast, IRON DM saw it’s first trigger warning in an entry this year during Round 1. After a quick discussion, the judges unanimously determined that trigger warnings should not count against that limit (although the entry in question was under the limit either way).

Here’s why: Such a warning is being offered as a courtesy to readers (not necessarily the judges) in a context where the author can never know who those readers will be.

Further, the kind of information conveyed is not in a form that can be used to shortcut exposition in an entry. With a caveat that, if an entry does use a trigger warning to provide that kind of descriptive information, the judges reserve the right to count any such portion of a trigger warning against the word-limit.


Moderator Emeritus
I guess I see your point. <grumble mumble kicks rock>
sad arrested development GIF


Moderator Emeritus
Dark Paragon - the possible outcome of the phoenix
Name Level - the Decks of the S.S. Symposium
Binary Suns - Erebus and Hemera
Stuck Elevator - the rudder on the Symposium
Cursed Sword - Ludocrat the Evil Sword - plan to destroy the clockwork of creation.
Bardic College - Hires party, but also the ship itself is classroom
Redundant Ogre - Virxorex (fired from bardic college)

So I immediately got stuck on the elevator (har-har). I needed to figure out a scenario that included an elevator and if I wanted to do something D&D/fantasy related an elevator was gonna be harder to incorporate. At first, I thought I'd set the adventure in an asteroid trapped in the gravity well of a binary sun that dwarves had mined, and there'd be a stuck elevator to get down to the center the PCs would have to get past some way. But then I was like, "A sun is a just a star, and if I have another dwarven mine and star like in round one, I am gonna lose." Then I was like, "What about a grain elevator in silo?" But couldn't make it work in my mind.

So I jumped to dictionary.com to look up other definitions of "elevator" and thus the idea of a space/air ship with a stuck one popped into my head - the decaying orbit came out of that thought.

The redundant ogre was easier, because I knew I would use the British use of the term to reference lay-offs or downsizing. And an opponent who wants to kill the person who took his job but also get evidence that will help him get his job back seemed fun (in a sort of, I've been unemployed for over a year way, so I might be projecting 🤣) and once I had that the bardic college being the place he worked it made sense - adding the variation on a "semester at sea" program struck me as perfect - now the bardic college both hires/sponsors the PCs and the ship itself is part of the bardic college.

The space-liner ship orbiting the binary suns in a decaying figure-eight (infinity and beyond!) seemed cool - and the timed aspect of the effects was cooler in my mind. I wish I had the time and resources to actually map out the Symposium's orbital trajectory over time.

Name Level was difficult because, while I know it from older D&D editions, making it work in a non-meta way was tricky. I think it was probably my weakest ingredient, but looking at the model of a super cruise ship, the names of the decks struck me as an appropriate application of the ingredient - adding the themed aspect and the "thematically appropriate undead bards" (I giggled with glee when I typed that phrase) strengthened it some. I really wanted to have more detail about every deck, but there was no room. I think having Hallward be a Crypt Thing also supplements the ingredient - as the PCs could be teleported to different areas. Originally, I had a note about how Hallward will teleport them to areas of the ship that are ironically appropriate for trying to kill the PC (different themed decks).

The Dark Paragon meant there should be a LIGHT paragon (at least in my mind), so having a phoenix that can hatch into one of two different kinds of paragons, but the egg was used as a power source, seemed great. I didn't get to add the bit about how the egg also refreshes the spelljamming ship's air envelope - so if it is removed the air in the ship will begin to get befouled - though not for many hours. What I really wanted was a final desperate escape scene at the end as ship plummets into one of the suns and the egg hatches/explodes. I see the PCs trying to get back to the hammership or stealing Virxorex 's smalljammer and taking off.

The last ingredient to come together was the cursed sword. At first, I was gonna have Igor Alerut just be evil - but why would he want to destroy the ship and the crystal sphere? So having him taken over by the curse, and using the swords anti-machine powers to further jam up the elevator seemed the way to go and allowed the PCs to interact with the ingredient rather than just fight him while he wielded it. Another detail that didn't make the cut was that the sword thought it'd survive the Dark Paragon hatching and be able to continue to try to find ways to destroy more "mechanisms of the cosmos." I also wanted to give the sword a backstory involving the massacre of tinker gnomes and their clockwork guardians - but alas no room!

But in the theme of giving something up to perform something greater (like the phoenix does), I liked the notion of a PC giving himself up to the sword to do it - but I did not want them using a construct or telekinesis to do it. Speaking of constructs, an earlier and longer version referenced construct guardians unaffected by Erebus's corona.

I also wanted to detail more about Virxorex and the Drop-Outs (how awesome is that name?)

Finally, the name of the adventure comes from mashing the title for the story included in X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont & John Byrne (among others) in which Jean Grey dies (the first time) - "The Fate of the Phoenix" - and Igor Stravinsky's 1910 ballet "Firebird" (which was also adapted in Disney's Fantasia 2000)

tl;dr version: "Win or lose, I am just happy I got to type the phrase 'thematically appropriate undead bards'."

Remove ads