IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread


Have to admit, that set of ingredients looked unbelievably difficult. Kudos to both of you for getting it done.
Thanks! I groaned when I first saw it, but the general pieces wound up coming together surprisingly quickly. The writing and details took much longer, of course. I think my
sky-captain wound up a gnome
because of yours and Kobold's round. Both entries I enjoyed immensely. (After reading yours I liked it so much that I thought Kobold was in deep trouble, but his was great too.)

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I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
I had one big problem with the ingredients and that was: I didn't know that shallow woods are sparse woods. I tried to draw the analogy "deep woods" vs "shallow woods" as in those are fringes of the wood :)

But my first understanding was kelp forest - thus underwater idea was born.

For cheating death...obviously you could treat it as surviving something - but I always had a soft spot for Prattchets Death. Why, oh, why didn't I write in all caps with each word a sentence "YOU. WILL. PLAY. WITH. ME." :D

For jumping coins I had several ideas: one was "two ingredients with one toss" idea, namely, the guy bets with death for his life on a toss of the coin. The Death calls "Heads" and the coin drops and bounces. And bounces again. And again and jumping coin keeps going never settling, thus keeping the man alive. It would be the despondent marine who realized after centuries that eternal life isn't all that. But he doesn't know how to return (or is unable) to return to the original location.

The island nation isn't strictly necessary. The brother could be any loved one. The challenges in coin rooms are intentionally left unspecified - they could be riddles, remains of former adventurers (undead), some kind of monsters (lunar naga comes to mind) - and the level can be anything since you simply need to adapt monster levels.

There was a lot dropped from the story - about the goddess of light, darkness, dreams and death, about the islanders themselves, what happened to the rest of the marines group, no mention about decreipit ship waiting at anchor (which would be optional, maybe the crew simply left once it was clear no one is coming back)

The riddles take too much to define. The last one with passages is pure logic ones, I'd leave players about 10 minutes real time to come to the solution - it is really not that hard once you stop dividing them in equal groups.

Cold lava was the hardest - is it simply some kind of reverse fiery one (dreamscape can be weird)? Is it basalt/obsidian - cooled lava? But then I remembered reading about volcano on Pluton (or one of the outer moons of the gas giants) - their "lava" is frozen amonia and other cold compounds that "heat up" in the summer to mere -150C thus exploding out of the frozen "ground" - hah! Solved! Cold lava that causes cold and nausea :D
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The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
Judgement for Round 1, Match 2: Kobold Stew vs. humble minion

This has probably been my toughest match for me to judge so far. Let me begin by stating that both of these adventures are very well done. There are some structural issues here or there, to be sure; there's always going to be gaps with such a small word limit. I have to admit, however, that I'm going to be probably a little over-critical of the way ingredients have been used in these adventures. There's nothing too terrible here, but some of the interpretations were being a bit too clever or else altered in such a way as to change the ingredient. This isn't a good thing, and I'd caution all players (either those moving on or dedicated to trying again next year) to take something instructional from this judgment. Let's break down each ingredient, and how it's utilized in @humble minion's "Go Hard or Go Gnome" (hereafter "Gnome") and @Kobold Stew's "Swarming in the Suntower" (hereafter "Suntower").

Flowering Tower
Here we see a sin by subtraction. Note that the active verb "Flowering Tower". "Suntower" gives us a tower, and it is a flower. It is not however, flowering. "Gnome", on the other hand, gives us a tower that is definitely flowering; in fact, that flowering is how the players know they're on the track. I'm not sure why it needs to be a tower, but it's still a fairly strong usage.

Civilized Magic
And here we see a sin by addition. "Gnome" gives us "civilized magicians", which again, you will note, is not quite the ingredient. The Watchers here do want to civilize the magic in question, but that magic is, in and of itself, very uncivilized. "Suntower" gets a bit closer to the mark, but makes maybe one too many leaps of logic, wherein artifice = technology = civilization = civilized. Still, it's not too bad. In both cases, the magic is tied pretty closely to the gnomes. While I can (and have, and will continue to) nitpick at the actual ingredients themselves, it must be said that there's a lot of really great examples here of tying ingredients into each other.

Rampaging Gnomes
Both adventures here use their gnomes as villains. "Suntower's" gnomes both enlarge to fight the party for... reasons. They certainly do more rampaging than the gnomes in "Gnome", at least. Many things come to mind when I think of "rampaging", but chastising drunk horny teenagers and calling the cops on them aren't among them. The gnomes in "Gnome" being (garden) gnomes fits thematically with the setting; one could theoretically replace these gnomes with, say, disguised duergar (would explain the enlarge), but remember above; the gnomes are tied to the artifice bomb (a very gnomish thing), so again, it fits in well enough.

Divine Pestilence
The Divine Pestilence in "Gnome" is far more of a curse than a pestilence, and is in fact called out as such at the end of the adventure. The Divine Pestilence in "Suntower" is also... quite the stretch. I'll sidestep whether Druids are Divine (which has never been consistent in D&D lore), swarms of rats as pestilence (rather than carriers of said pestilence). It works, to a point, though I'm not really sure why they had to be rats in the first place.

Triple Cross
Some behind-the-scenes stuff: this ingredient was originally "Triple Agent". I changed it to "Triple Cross" with the hope someone would run with an alternate implementation of it. Instead we get a straightforward triple cross and a... well, really just two sides double-crossing each other. In "Gnome", Lobdibble tricks the players, betrays his colleagues, and then betrays the players again. It is a legitimate triple cross. On the other hand, I don't really see the that third dimension in "Suntower". The gnomes are tricking and planning to kill the PCs (more as a byproduct of their plan) from the outset. They even seem prepared to deal with them if they actually walk out alive. The PCs can decide to help the druids and double cross, but it's still not a triple cross.

Fool's Errand
"Suntower" turns its entire adventure into a Fool's Errand, until the PCs decide to talk to/help the druids. This normally is a pretty strong use, but the trick about making a good Fool's Errand work in an adventure is dropping enough hints that the PC might figure out and subvert it. We aren't given any reason to question the gnomes at the beginning, and even if they do... it means the adventure doesn't happen. "Gnome's" Fool's Errand suits the terminology a little better, but also presents an interesting obstacle for the player. They either take the bait and end up on the wrong foot when the climax falls, or they realize it for what it is, and in doing so gain reason to be suspicious of the gnomes moving forward. This creates such an interesting role-playing dynamic, and I think is, fundamentally, the best use of any ingredient in either adventure.

At the end, these adventures are relatively even on ingredients; with maybe "Gnome" having the edge on the basis of that strong Fool's Errand. This one is likely to be decided upon the basis on their respective qualities as an adventure.

"Suntower" is a relatively straightforward adventure, with a hook-dungeon-twist-climax structure. "Gnome" is considerably more complex, but complex does not always mean better (nor does straightforward always mean bad). In this case, however, I really enjoy how this one is layered. Lobdibble is a cursed Watcher, and depending on how brushed up on their Buffy lore the players are, is probably someone to be believed. Collecting the future Watchers make it clear these are the priggish, naughty word flavor of Watchers, but Lobdibble is specifically called out as seeming different. This opens the players up for that later triple cross, when Lobdibble turns on the other Gnomes to pretend to the side with the players. I'm not a fan of how the players cannot prevent the first half of the ritual, but it's necessary setup for the climax, which seems like it would be an absolute blast to play through; riling up and encouraging party-goers while keeping them protected from the obnoxious watcher gnomes as well as the actually very dangerous Lobdibble.

Even more importantly, however, is that I understand the stakes and motivations. The Watchers are stuffy and officious and want to corral and restrict what they see to be a wild (and, it must be noted, feminine) magical power. That's pretty bad, especially from the perspective of a typical Buffy RPG character. Add in Lobdibble, whose desires and actions are even more diabolical, and you've got even clearer stakes. The stakes in "Suntower", on the other hand, are muddied. It's called out that the Suntower (honestly I just now got that pun, and I applaud it heartfully) is the rightful home of the rat druids, and it's pretty clear that the gnomes want the tower cleared so they can move in themselves. Except... I don't know why they want it? Or why it even matters? I guess it could be inferred that the Suntower bears some sort of primal magical energy, but even then... what would the Clarke's Third Law Gnomes care for that? It's entirely possible that this explanation existed in an earlier draft, and cut for space. If that's the case, it's something that I at least (not speaking for my fellow judges) would have preferred to have over, say, some of the mechanical information (such as how many rats of what level on how many floors). As it is, I'm hard-pressed to figure out a motivation for these gnomes, nor what the consequences of their success would be.

Therefore, I have to grant the win in this match to @humble minion for their entry, "Go Hard or Go Gnome".

@Kobold Stew, you put up a valiant effort, but it was just missing that extra context that would have made this a much tougher decision for me. That wild climax in "Gnome" would've still be hard to top though.

If you do continue to compete in future years, and I hope you do, I would you encourage you to build on your strengths. You managed to turn what initially to me seemed like a weaker set of ingredients, and built them into a interwoven structure wherein each ingredient bolstered the last. For instance, I could've replaced the gnomes, if not for their connection to the "civilized" magic. The druid rats were a huge stretch for "Divine Pestilence", but put them in a tower made out of a flower, and it works. I don't want to triviliaze that by making it seem like an easy thing to do; it's not. The biggest problem for me is that these two disparate structures didn't fully connect for me. Build on that skill, and you'll be sure to go further in future runs.

As it is though, a congratulations to @humble minion and good luck as you move on to the next round!
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As stated elsewhere, I judge using an arbitrary point system, as it allows me to more clinically analyze my feelings about each entry.
My system is roughly as follows…
Followed the Rules: Wordcount, time limit, etc. (6 points)
Ingredient Use: Were all the ingredients legitimately used as a necessary part of the adventure? (12 points)
Useability: How easy could a GM plop the adventure down into their game? (6 points)
Style: Personal preference – how much does the presentation and adventure appeal to the judge (6 points)

With that upfront, lets take a look at our two entries… going through them point by point.

@Neurotic's Adventure, Chilling with Death (Chilled), presents us with a single locale, an ancient sunken temple to a moon-goddess filled with puzzly goodness.

@FitzTheRuke offers us, Out of the Blue (Blue), a fun little romp searching for a crashed air-ship and its dangerous prisoner.

Both entries are under the word count, and both were turned in on time. I almost docked Chilled for not having a title included with the entry (though I asked for one as it makes writing out the judgment a bit easier). But, on a read and reread of the rules, I didn’t actually see that there was a rule that an adventure should have a title, so I let that slide, and both entries get full marks for following the rules.

Which brings us to the heart of any Iron DM judgment – an examination of how the ingredients were used in cooking up the adventure…

We’ll start with Cold Lava, an ingredient I am going to be somewhat generous towards in that it was a hard one. Both entries cheated a bit with this one, offering us cold substances that weren’t actually lava, but we will grant that literal lava being cold is a hard one to do... In Chilled we have the cold ammonia-odored slush which oozes into the temple complex. In Blue we are presented with the Fickle Phlogiston, which likewise oozes. Of the two of these, I vastly prefer the phlogiston as it plays a greater role in the adventure, being the magical substance which propels the ship, animates the dead, and makes the coins jump. But I will give full points to both adventures for the ingredient. Benevolence. It won't necessarily last.

The second ingredient, the befuddled werewolf, is, in my opinion used better in Blue than in Chilled. While it is befuddled in Chilled, the werewolf doesn’t actually do much but follow the party around and allow itself to be cured. In Blue, on the other hand, if there is a weakness, it is in the befuddled condition not really being played up, though one can imagine the antics of a two headed werewolf trying to decide whether to chase the squirrel or the car. I am guessing, though I could be wrong, that this might be a case where the word count cut out some potential detail. Still, the two-headed lycanthropic ettin presents, in my view a better dynamic than the cursed brother who doesn’t really do much of anything.

The despondent marine is also used better in Blue than in Chilled. In Chilled, he is little more than a descriptor given to a rather generic NPC, and it could have just as easily been a despondent merchant, or a despondent prince, or what-have-you. The soldier in Blue is himself not much more than informative window-dressing, but at least his place in the world is a little bit more relevant to the story.

On the other hand, I find the woods: sunlit and shallow, to be much more evocative in Chilled. The easy path of Blue is just that – an easy path, and only one of two possible routes. It is entirely possible not to even interact with the ingredient in the adventure. The use in Chilled, with the interpretation of a bright, sunken wood in shallow water that must be swam through, was, I felt, one of the most picturesque in the whole adventure, and I heartily approved the use.

Then we come to jumping coins. In magic, a jumping coin is a trick in which a coin appears to move from one locale to another, and I was interested to see how this ingredient would be used. Chilled gives us a game of Checkers with elements of Othello, which is okay, but somehow unsatisfactory to me. The jumping coins of Blue, on the other hand, present a fun challenge if the PCs try to collect them and may be used as a weapon or distraction against the werewolf. I want to give a slight edge to Blue here, but admittedly the game in Chilled is slightly more integral to the story, so its something of a wash.

Then finally we have the ingredient: cheating death. Blue makes the classic blunder of having the ingredient be something akin to background. While Chilled is a bit cliché in having to play against death, with death being a cheater, it is at least something the PCs must encounter and deal with. Advantage here to Chilled.

All of which means that thus far the adventures are about even…

Except one of them is more polished than the other, and far more utilitarian because of it, and for this judgment that is going to make all the difference.

Reading through Blue, I feel like I could take the ideas as presented and use them without too much difficulty. Blue also appeals to my sensibilities, having a decent story-line, the illusion of meaningful choices to make, and a bit of whimsy, which never hurts. The only place where Blue falls down for me is that I don’t particularly like gnomes. But that’s me and I am aware of my prejudice in this regards. There is also, perhaps, a bit of weakness in the two paths offered, especially in that one path allows the complete bypassing of an ingredient, but even here the choice offers consequences. Slow, but with more danger at the end, or fast, with more danger up-front. I like that. The adventure is not epic, but it is memorable.

Chilled on the other hand feels unfinished, and reading through it, I find I would have to answer quite a few questions before I could run it. What are the challenges the party must overcome to get the coins? Why is death hanging around in a temple to the moon? Why is the brother cursed? There is a plenty of theme in the adventure, but some of that theme is disjointed. Too much backstory can kill an adventure. This particular entry however offers us virtually no backstory and suffers because of it. The adventure also suffers because too many of the challenges must be solved in a single way, and I am not sure what happens if the PCs use the wrong coin at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Forcing players to try and guess what the DM/Designer is thinking or wanting can be a bit frustrating, especially in a linear dungeon crawl where progress cannot be made until players get the clues right. I think, with work, this could be a very cool story and a fun game to play through. But as presented, it reads more game notes one might scribble down before running a session, and less like a fully worked out adventure, at least to me. It lacks both a solid beginning and even a solid ending, instead just coming to a stop with the leaving-the-temple-puzzle.

For these reasons, I am giving the win this match to @FitzTheRuke and Out of the Blue. Congratulations!

Neurotic’s Chilling with Death
Followed the Rules) 6/6
Ingredient Use

Cold Lava 2
Befuddled Werewolf 1
Despondent Marine 1
Woods: Sunlit and Shallow 2
Jumping Coins 1.5
Cheating Death 2 = 9.5/12
Useability 4/6
Style 4/6
Total 23.5/30

Out of the Blue
Followed the Rules 6/6
Ingredient use

Cold Lava 2
Befuddled Werewolf 2
Despondent Marine 2
Woods: Sunlit and Shallow 1
Jumping Coins 1.5
Cheating Death 1 = 9.5/12
Useability 6/6
Style 5/6
Total 26.5/30
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Moderator Emeritus
I love gnomes and death that cheats, personally.

I would have really struggled with the "woods, sunlit and shallow" - I get that it is a riff on Frost's classic poem about the death-urge - "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" - but maybe knowing that was actually the obstacle in my mind.

Congrats to Fitz, but Neurotic's entry had a lot of potential and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Edit: For some reason I can't get emojis to work.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
I didn't get the allusion to Frost; I thought the swimming through a kelp forest was brilliant integration of a very difficult ingredient.

Congrats to Fitz, whose jumping coins are fun to imagine (thugh I was sorry the effect was explicitly short lived).


I actually can't normally stand gnomes either, but somehow she turned into a gnome as the airship and it's wild-magic engine got weirder (and therefore sillier). I blame the gnomes in the previous round, which probably stayed with me subconsciously.

The sunlit and shallow woods were also where she landed (the clearing), but that got lost a bit in editing.

Early on, I also had another "cheating death" near the end, where the PCs would cheat death by not getting killed by the werewolf, but it got lost for space as well. (My first inclination was also gambling with a grim reaper, but that had nothing to do with the other elements of my story).

I definitely would have loved to have had some more space to let things breathe, but such is the nature of a word limit, and a competition has got to have limits.

Thanks for the fierce competition, @Neurotic!

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