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IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread


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FitzTheRuke

Legend
The adventure absolutely would work with pregens, or a "Session Zero" where the players are told the basic setting and given some connections as either options to chose from, or rolled on a quick random table before they flesh out their characters.

I'm used to playing with people (both here in my PBP games and IRL) who aren't difficult about biting hooks or incorporating adventure-specific backgrounds into their characters. It's a good way to be; the game moves forward fast and smooth.

It might make me write weaker hooks here, though. I'm used to being able to go "this NPC asks for your help!" and everyone answers, "what can we do for you?" without much fuss. They don't need to be cajoled.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
The adventure absolutely would work with pregens, or a "Session Zero" where the players are told the basic setting and given some connections as either options to chose from, or rolled on a quick random table before they flesh out their characters.

I'm used to playing with people (both here in my PBP games and IRL) who aren't difficult about biting hooks or incorporating adventure-specific backgrounds into their characters. It's a good way to be; the game moves forward fast and smooth.

It might make me write weaker hooks here, though. I'm used to being able to go "this NPC asks for your help!" and everyone answers, "what can we do for you?" without much fuss. They don't need to be cajoled.
I actually think assuming Samaritan PCs is perfectly fine, though I know some other judges with more old school sensibilities would disagree with me. For me, all that matters is hooks that clearly communicate meaningful stakes. I think your adventure does that very well; in fact I think I remember calling that out in the judgment (I was mostly talking about the foreshadowing but that was a big part of it). In fact, I would say P3 is probably tied with @humble minion's semifinal entry for my favorite adventure of this tournament, and one that I really do think I'm going to adapt and run someday (probably as a Monster of the Week mini-campaign), which is something I don't usually feel about other writers' entries.

The biggest issue really was the ingredients, for me. Again, we'll see how the other judges feel
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I actually think assuming Samaritan PCs is perfectly fine, though I know some other judges with more old school sensibilities would disagree with me. For me, all that matters is hooks that clearly communicate meaningful stakes. I think your adventure does that very well; in fact I think I remember calling that out in the judgment (I was mostly talking about the foreshadowing but that was a big part of it). In fact, I would say P3 is probably tied with @humble minion's semifinal entry for my favorite adventure of this tournament, and one that I really do think I'm going to adapt and run someday (probably as a Monster of the Week mini-campaign), which is something I don't usually feel about other writers' entries.

The biggest issue really was the ingredients, for me. Again, we'll see how the other judges feel
Thanks for the compliments.

I agree with all your criticisms of it (well, nearly anyway). I read it for one final time after I posted it (when I realized that I'd pasted not quite what I'd meant to) and I saw a lot of things regarding the Ingredients that I wish I'd done differently. (The most glaring being the Psychic Scream getting turned into the DJ's speaker Sonic Shriek - I think that one will cost me the most in the end. I can think of a few ways that I should have tweaked it to make it work better, without throwing it out. And yes, some of the others should have been more fully-involved. I probably spent a bit too much time having fun with the scenario.

I'm pretty proud of the entry overall, though.

I really like how this contest pushes me to do better!
 

Wicht

Adventurer
Judgment for Round 3, Championship @humble minion vs. @FitzTheRuke

We come to our championship match, with two very different entries; one a slice-of-life urban sci-fi-fantasy romp with time shenanigans, and the other a fairy-tale flavored Al-Qadim Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

Our first entry, Pike Place Paradox (hereafter Pike), from FitzTheRuke, takes us back to the heady year of 1999. Located in Seattle, this adventure is almost a mini-campaign, sending the PCs on various side-quests to settle a dispute between NPCs whilst a mad-scientist type keeps plopping various things and people from out of time in front of them.

Our second entry, The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not To Die (hereafter Tale), from humble minion, gives us three hags, one of whom is fated to die at the birth of a child, and who has made a deal with a demon in order to avoid this fate.

Normally, this is where I would note that both were turned in one time and followed the rules, but one of them, unfortunately, in this case did not. FitzTheRuke forgot to include his ingredients (and title) in his entry, and though he posted it afterward, I feel compelled to dock a point for the oversight.

That unpleasant task over, we move on to the heart of the competition: the ingredients.

Our first ingredient is a Psychic Scream. In Pike, we have a DJ that can use his speakers to hurt the mind of the PCs. In Tale, we have a suffering hag, trying to give birth and whose mental anguish affects everyone. Tale, to me is the clear favorite with this ingredient.

The second ingredient is Former Parrot. In neither case do we find a deceased fowl pushing up the daisies, rather we have, in Pike, an ex-gang member from a gang called the parrots (though there is also the off-chance if the PCs are too slow or clumsy to act, that a living parrot becomes an ex-parrot) and in Tale we have a servant of the hags who was a parrot but has been polymorphed into a human shape and who relives his bird life by playing a diving game. As the gang in Pike could have been called anything, I have to give the nod again to Tale. Though technically, the transmuted parrot could have been any other bird, I still think it is a stronger ingredient use.

Both adventures take the ingredient of the Pink Unicorn and give us a plush. The plush in Pike doesn’t actually serve any purpose and is not even a good macguffin, whereas the plush in Tale is actually an enchanted unicorn which provides constant healing. For the third time in a row, I have to give the nod here to Tale.

Our fourth ingredient is an Awakened Witch and once more I prefer Tale’s take, with a hag (one of two options) who awaken to the truth, and in once case awaken back to life from a comatose state. The witch in Pike is somewhat out of place, as every other part of the adventure is urban sci-fi, but she is not really awakened, she just has insomnia and does not sleep until she does sleep and then she sleeps too much and needs woken. There is a possibility of her making peace with a foe, and finding love, but neither of those really suggest an awakening to me. So Tale gets the nod once more.

It is only when we come to our fifth ingredient, that I think Pike might finally have an edge with Time Stop. It’s a slim edge though, as I like the clever idea of having a baby frozen in time on the precipice of giving birth. This, combined with Pregnant Moment, is actually a strong usage, and taken as a whole, both are stronger together than in Pike, where the Pregnant Moment is just a feeling. But the idea of a momentary stop in time giving random PCs extra actions also makes for a nice effect. So, again, I give Pike a small edge on Time Stop, but Tale definitely uses Pregnant Moment better and as both are intertwined in both entries, this keeps Tale still ahead.

Normally, when an entry makes up a new definition for a word, such as Tale does with Swoop, I cringe a little, but in this case as the game so named involves swooping down on a glider its going to get more of a pass than normal. And it is better than the use in Pike, where we have a pteranadon or three making flying attacks against the PCs. So once more, advantage Tale.

Finally we come to the unusual ingredient of Turtles All the Way Down. I do actually like both uses, though they are both very different. The turtles all the way down into a well is a clever play on the words, while the heavy use of turtles, in various forms and shapes, as the reincarnated forms of the hag on her way to her final destination, is also clever. I’ll call this one a draw.

Still, its obvious that Tale has a distinct edge, in my opinion, with its use of ingredients.

So lets see if the adventures themselves make a difference in how things stand.

Tale has the definite advantage with ingredients, so what about appeal and usability. At first I felt that the setup for Tale was a bit contrived, but from the player’s perspective, I am not sure that is going to matter all that much. Tale is a nice solid adventure, and its biggest negative is that the PCs are not going to appreciate many of the nice subtleties of the adventure until after it is over, as they will be thinking they are in a rather minor story-arc with saving a pregnant woman only to find out afterward the involvement of the coven. It might be nice to have some foreshadowing of witchcraft early in the story, so that it does not go suddenly from healing a pregnant woman to fighting a giant turtle with little time for the PCs to wrap their heads around what is going on. But those are minor nits that can be cleaned up as the adventure is fleshed out more. Overall, it’s a very useable adventure, with an enjoyable plot.

Pike on the other hand feels a little more disjointed to me. On the one hand it’s a slice of life adventure with a rather minor feud between opposing businesses set against the backdrop of Y2K. On the other hand it’s a quirky throw the kitchen sink from the past and future at the PCs whenever the action slows down adventure. The Y2K factor doesn’t really become a factor, except as a motivator for the scientist, but he could have just as easily been motivated by the quest to find the perfect ice-cream temperature as he seeks to stop time. The adventure doesn’t really make too much of a connection between the events with the Karaoke bar and the random elements-out-of-time, and the strangeness of it all is going to be very confusing to the PCs as they try to figure out what the mastodon rampaging down the street has to do with the love triangle from years gone by (not much as it happens). I think it is going to be an easy to use adventure, but I am not sure that its going to be an easy to keep the players in the story-line adventure.

What is our final verdict?

Looking over everything, though I don’t dislike the urban wackiness of Pike Place Paradox, I feel that Tales has the better use of ingredients and holds together better as a story and an adventure. In the end, its not all that close for me, and in my estimation, The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not to Die gets the nod.

Pike Place Paradox (Pike)
Rules 5
Ingredient Use

Psychic Scream 1
Former Parrot 1.5
Pink Unicorn 1
Awakened Witch 1
Time Stop 2
Pregnant Moment .5
Swoop .5
Turtles All the Way Down 2 (total 7.5/16)
Useability 4
Appeal 4
TOTAL SCORE 20/34

The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not to Die (Tale)
Follows Rules 6
Ingredients

Psychic Scream 2
Former Parrot 2
Pink Unicorn 2
Awakened Witch 2
Time Stop 1.5
Pregnant Moment 2
Swoop 1.5
Turtles All the Way Down 2 (total 15/16)
Useability 5
Appeal 5
TOTAL SCORE 31/34
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 3, Championship Match: FitzTheRuke vs. humble minion

Well, that was fun. Both “Pike Place Paradox” (“Pike”) and “The Tale of When Grandmother Uzmah Decided Not To Die” (“Tale”) are very good entries, each promising a satisfying adventure to the players.

On the surface, I can’t tell which of the two I find will stand out as the better. Most likely, I’ll have that sorted out by the end. If I don’t, “Pike” provides me a tiebreaker with its lack of inclusion of an ingredient list.

It’s a very minor thing and one that I doubt will ultimately be consequential, but IRON DM is as much about discipline as it is about creativity. All other things being exactly equal, I’ll side with the entry that followed the rules more closely.

Let’s find out if that’s necessary.

Hooks and Stakes:

Although the adventure never states it, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which “Pike” gets dropped into an ongoing campaign. It actively promotes (almost requires?) that every PC be linked with the NPCs (and organizations) within the adventure. Nevertheless, as a one-shot, it should work very well, because it essentially comes with individualized hooks for each PC.

It’s stakes, however, aren’t very significant (or at least, aren’t very evident) for a majority of the adventure (although, if one of the PCs does work for Professor Black, it becomes easier to convey them). The structure of this adventure is quite interesting, but it is kind of a slow burn.

“Tale” provides a hook that is interesting, but raises questions for me. First of all, it’s pretty clear from the mechanics that get called out that the adventure is intended for 5e D&D. This could be a problem, because, in my experience, 5e is more forgiving than previous editions if the party does not, in fact, have a healer, as the hook requires.

That’s kind of minor, though. Most groups probably still will. What I’m having trouble getting past is why the hook isn’t “find out what happened to the 101 missing children.” I mean, even with the strange childbirth ongoing, the 101 missing children have got to be foremost in the minds of somewhere between 101 and 202 adult villagers.

Putting that aside, however, the stakes presented in the hook are immediately evident and should provoke curiosity right away, so that’s good. I just think that burying the lead with the 101 missing children will probably backfire and provoke suspicion of the entire village when the PCs do find out about it. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Plots and Schemes:

There are some other things that happen in “Tale” that raise some questions. Normally, we don’t really need to see much in the way of statistics and mechanics for these entries, but the hags in this adventure seem capable of things that are (far?) beyond those of typical hags.

The Crone is described as an “advanced green hag,” but what does that even mean? The polymorphed unicorn? True polymorph only lasts at most an hour and the polymorphed object has none of its former creature abilities — in fact, its new form can’t remember anything from before the polymorph. Time Stop? Totally different from the 9th-level spell. Are these even innate abilities? Or are they boons granted by the demon?

All of this would be okay, if we had some guidance on how to run them, but we don’t, really. Certainly not enough to know how the hags will handle in combat (which is likely!)

In contrast, “Pike” doesn’t really raise any such troubling questions. I can’t really find any flaw in it’s structure at all, in fact (other than the aforementioned slow burn with the stakes). It’s a really well-presented adventure that does exactly what it’s trying to.

The Goods:

“Tale” is also a good adventure, though. The fundamental scenario is well-thought out and bound to entertain. It draws upon suspense, suspicion, investigation, misdirection, and a healthy dose of monster-movie action at the end — with each stage requiring entirely unique approaches to achieve victory (although “victory” might not be the right term for it).

This adventure wants to be played. It’s atmosphere is evocative and different (even for the setting) and its villains stand out as simultaneously exemplary of their kind and also fresh in their particular brand of wickedness. Frankly, I find that this adventure plays to the strengths of hags as villains better than many (most?) before, officially published and otherwise. Outstanding!

Of course, “Pike” stands out, as well. I described it as essentially flawless, but that doesn’t say anything about how fun it would be. It does look quite fun.

In particular, I like the presentation of a social (love) triangle dynamic that must be navigated during the first part of the adventure, all while a hidden threat advances.

And when the turn happens and the tone of everything shifts from doing small jobs and navigating broken relationships to fighting dinosaurs, robots, and nazis(!), none of it feels too jarring, because time-displaced elements have been popping up all along. Very well handled!

And, can I say, I really enjoyed every single encounter laid out in that final stretch. Good stuff!

All in all, I think “Pike” is the better presented and more developed of the two adventures, but not by overmuch. It really wouldn’t take much effort on the DM’s part to make “Tale” really sing, as well.

Ingredients:

Psychic Scream


The psychic scream in both entries serves a similar purpose, namely as a drain on the PCs’ ability to function. In “Tale” it is directly linked to the main action of the adventure and has the potential to cause a detrimental effect well into the experience. This is good.

In “Pike” it is a sonic attack caused by the techno DJ in a single mission that the PCs might engage in. It works within the mission, but is inherently less integral to the whole adventure.

Former Parrot

“Pike” gives us three former members of a gang called the “Parrots” and, while the gang is pervasive throughout the adventure (mainly because the PCs are supposed to be affiliated), the actual name of it is irrelevant.

“Tale” gives us a polymorphed former parrot who has been tricked into serving the hags. This makes for a very interesting NPC. Of course, it need not have been a parrot, but the choice at least fits the setting pretty well.

Pink Unicorn

The pink unicorn in “Pike” is a plush toy prize for one of the possible missions. It’s not even a macguffin, because a macguffin has to be important to the plot (that is, after all, its only job).

The unicorn in “Tale” is also a plush unicorn, but, in this case, it’s also real. I don’t know why it has to be pink (is it bloodstained or something?), but it actually serves the adventure well, especially if it is returned to form and attacks the hag(s), pushing the PCs to think they have to put it down.

I also wonder if there is some symbolic perversion of the traditional link between unicorns and maidens going on, here. And, if so, can it stand in as a clue? All in all, a very good ingredient.

Awakened Witch

“Tale” gives us an awakened witch in the form of a hag awakened to the schemes of one of her coven. To further drive the theme in, a fury is awakened within the wicked creature. The fact that this role can fall upon either of two witches (depending on the PCs’ actions) in no way diminishes it; both are equally evil, after all.

“Pike” gives the role to one of the major three NPCs of the love triangle; her potions are a major driver of the early action and it is amusing that the PCs will always find her sleeping when they come to call. Amusing, but not very important.

Time Stop

Both entries use this ingredient as an important element in the events of their adventures (and both also link it to the pregnant moment in similar ways). “Tale” uses the ingredient to create the hook and shape the beginning of the adventure. “Pike” uses it to create the turn.

Of the two, I’d have to lean toward “Pike,” because of a couple of things I touched on earlier. First, in “Tale,” the mechanics of the incident are a little fuzzy (as they don’t line up with the spell that shares the name). And second, in “Pike,” it manifests in a way that the PCs will directly experience. Add to that the fact that the event will have been telegraphed ahead of time, and it stands out as a superior usage. Probably the best of the entry.

Pregnant Moment

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough to distinguish this ingredient from the last in “Pike.” In contrast, the similarly linked version in “Tale” distinguishes itself by actually affecting a pregnancy. And, as that pregnancy is at the heart of the entire adventure, it becomes a very strong ingredient, indeed.

Swoop

How about swoop? In “Pike,” some dinosaurs might swoop down and attack. That’s it.

“Tale” gives us a game that happens to involve swooping from a great height with wings on. Its nature seems pretty unimportant to the adventure.

(As an aside, the swoop-game actually raises one more question about the adventure? How likely is it that the PCs are going to play a game with the former parrot to earn his trust while they suspect him of disappearing 101 children?)

As I said, swoop seems unimportant in “Tale.” That is, until the end of the adventure, when the swoopers become an important potential element in fighting the zaratan.

Turtles All the Way Down

And then we get to this one. A very tricky ingredient, because it carries with it some connotations. But I’ll get to that.

“Tale” gives us a turtle-demon of cranky old-age. I’m not very convinced about the necessity of the turtles, here, but using their progressively larger forms to change the endgame is a delightful way to go in this adventure. And the Crone’s deal with the demon is quite appropriately misleading.

“Pike” touched on a less literal implementation of this ingredient when describing time as a series of boxes stacked on top of each other and I think, with a little development, that would have made for a stronger implementation, but, unfortunately, the entry fell back on a more boring side-mission involving lowering turtles into a well.

Here’s why I think the former was a bit of a missed opportunity:

“Turtles all the way down” is a summation of an argument about logically impossible beliefs. More importantly, it is a condemnation of them. It goes something like this: If the world is flat and rests on a turtle, what does that turtle stand on? Answer: a larger turtle. And what does that turtle stand on? A larger turtle. And that one? Turtles, all the way down.

The reason this works in “Pike” is because it can clue in players who are in the know that something isn’t right with Professor Black’s project. It’s based on flawed thinking.

Now that I consider it, I don’t think I’m disappointed about how subtle that is. I think the thing that’s throwing me is the literal turtles in a well that just kind of say the author doesn’t trust me to see the other manifestation or its value.

Be that as it may, it is there and it serves its function in the adventure — and can do so whether the DM recognizes it or not. That’s good writing and it gets the edge with this ingredient.

Ultimately, I find that the superiorly developed adventure presented in “Pike” isn’t so much better as to outweigh it’s competitor’s more pronounced ingredient-usage edge.

@FitzTheRuke, you’ve gotten noticeably good at this over the course of this tournament. You absolutely should take pride in the structurally outstanding adventure that your entry gave us.

I do think you could find ways to make your ingredients more important to the whole of the adventure (or at least to its central through-line).

Even with an adventure structured as this one was, you could probably find some way to make them important outside of the missions in which they appear. Of course, that would cost you some words, but they would likely be words well-spent.

I get the sense that you are just about ready to win one of these tournaments, and (noting that I have not yet read the other judgements) it really wouldn’t surprise me if that tournament turns out to be this one.

However, on the strength of a very good adventure with well-integrated and fundamentally important ingredients, it is my recommendation that @humble minion wins this match.



...And, as it happens, I am in agreement with the other judges with that assessment.

Therefore, by unanimous decision, humble minion becomes the IRON DM 2020!

Congratulations!
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
FINAL BRACKET! Congratulations to @humble minion (and great work, @FitzTheRuke - you are one to watch!)


IRONDM2020-bracket-FINAL.jpg
 
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Yay! Is there a special Iron DM hat or something i get to wear now?

Thanks to everyone who participated in or commented on the competition, that was a lot of fun (especially after the first round once I got in the swing of things and stopped having to go past midnight beating my entries into shape!) It was great reading all of the entries, and I strongly suspect there'll be a few bits and pieces that I steal from them at some point in the future. Especially i wanted to thank to the judges, @Rune, @Wicht, and @Gradine, who end up writing several times more over the course of the competition than the actual competitors do, to less acclaim, and put themselves in the path of various slings and arrows in the process.

My favourite entry over the course of the competition: I was young in the 90s, so for sheer style, it'd be Pikes Place Paradox, by @FitzTheRuke (thanks for a great final match, Fitz, that was very damn close in the end)
The entry of mine I'm most happy with: The Playwright and Praecipua, definitely
Most evocative single use of an ingredient: swimming through the kelp forest to the sunken temple - 'Woods sunlit and shallow' by @Neurotic

Looking forward to the next competition! I wonder if we can somehow manage to enlist 16 competitors for a 4 round comp, like it used to be...
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Yay! Is there a special Iron DM hat or something i get to wear now?
Vaxalon used to have a massive banner in his sig that brashly proclaimed his wins.

For a brief while, I was making badges for the winners, but Morrus had to personally grant them to each recipient and that got prohibitively annoying very quickly.

Of course, you could always change that little blurb under your user name to reflect it.

Most importantly (in my view), you’ll forevermore be identified as humble minion (IRON DM 2020) in future tournament rosters.
 
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