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IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread


Moderator Emeritus
I have read both entries. I am mulling. I shall probably continue to meditate upon the entries for the remainder of the year and then next year post my judgment.
Oh Wicht is judging? I thought it was Rune since he gave the ingredients. Just want confirmation so I can update the bracket!

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Oh Wicht is judging? I thought it was Rune since he gave the ingredients. Just want confirmation so I can update the bracket!
Round two and three features all three judges participating each match. The winner of each match will be the one that gets majority approval (either two out of the three judges, or all three judges unanimously). Ingredients were likewise picked by all three judges.


Moderator Emeritus
Round two and three features all three judges participating each match. The winner of each match will be the one that gets majority approval (either two out of the three judges, or all three judges unanimously). Ingredients were likewise picked by all three judges.
Reading the rules. . . or rather, reading the rules and than having them immediately escape my brain. . . is my weakness.

Match 2 thoughts and reflections, spoiler tagged for judges' benefit...

Wow, that was tough. My main problem was reconciling the different genres that the different ingredients obviously hinted towards - Binary Suns lends itself to epic sci-fi, stuck elevator to low-level modern-day, ogres and cursed swords towards fantasy. I thought about a WH40K adventure for a while, but reluctantly discarded the idea because WH40K ogres are called by the more trademarkable name of 'ogryn', and I wasn't completely sure the judges would consider them the same thing. @el-remmen's use of Spelljammer was clever - I didn't think of that at all, though I'm not familiar with the setting so I probably couldn't have done it justice anyway.

As I posted in the other thread, I completely threw out my entry with about 5 hours to go and ended up writing a new one from scratch. The discarded one was a D&D adventure marinated in obscure Realmslore - the Binary Suns were the intertwined and rival FR sun gods Lathander and Amanautor, a cursed sword had led a converted priest of one to lose her memory and regress to a time when she was the priest of the other, and her prior self's bardic associates included an ogre who was now redundant ... but after fighting with it for ages I realised I had 1200 words setting up an overly large and messy cast of different NPCs and their various goals and motivations and what actions they'd take if certain circumstances arose, but still had to write the actual adventure, and that looked like it would be over after one brief fight and possibly a conversation. I slept on it on the last night, and woke up with the final entry pretty much fully-formed in my head. It's not going to be as polished as I'd like unfortunately, and I can see some of the weaknesses of it very glaringly, but it's certainly better than the previous dog's breakfast.

Dark Paragon - G'Qaroc, the Great Old One who exists where there is perfect darkness. Not one of my stronger ingredients - it's a prominent feature of the adventure, and there's no shortage of darkness, but i needed to emphasise the Paragon bit more
Name Level - I'm kinda proud of this one. Level 5 in the old Department of Shakespearean Studies building. A literal level of a building that has been converted into a name.
Binary Suns - The twin suns of Praecipua. I tried to use this in conjunction with Dark Paragon - one sun casts regular shadows, but under binary suns there's a special sort of darkness - a paragon of darkness - where the light of neither sun reaches. I put in a line about starlight not reaching Praecipua either to try to emphasise the concept, but the writing here needed more polish and I'm not sure i got the message across adequately.
Stuck Elevator - The elevator in the Department of Shakespearean Studies building that brings PCs to level 5 and then grinds to a halt. I needed more word count to make this feel properly ominous, it was meant to be part of a weird and unnatural 'pull' directing the PCs towards the door to Praecipua. But structurally, it does mean that the PCs are very likely to walk the Name and see Praecipua before meeting Ffoulkes, which is important.
Cursed Sword - The alien sword that Pamir retrieves from Praecipua. One of my weaker ingredients. Sure, it's a sword and it's cursed, but its swordness isn't important to the adventure. That's one of the things I would definitely have tried to fix up if this idea had come to me earlier and I'd had more time.
Bardic College - Owlsley College and the Department of Shakespearean Studies. This was one of the last pieces to fall into place for me to make this entry hang together - it was a hard fit for a Bardic College in a modern setting, but a college department devoted to study of The Bard ... that could work.
Redundant Ogre - Professor Ffoulkes. @el-remmen and i both had the same idea here, the ogre being a redundant employee from the college. Originally i was being metaphorical and Ffoulkes was merely an ogreish personality, and that part stuck around, but I ended up giving him a mutated ogrish form to go with it.

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Wicht's Judgment of Round 2, Match 1
@humble minion
vs. @el-remmen

In this match we have two very interesting submissions, each evocative in their own ways. I find, as a personal note that while I like each of these, each of these submissions really trouble me with their problems, but they trouble me in such a way as to make me want to fix them, rather than just toss the idea aside. In its own way, that’s a good thing, because it tells me that each of these scenarios has definite potential. But which one has the greater potential? That is the question we must answer.

Our first submission is Humble Minion’s, The Playwright and Praecipua (Playwright), a Call of Cthulhu submission. On the one hand, I am a big fan of the genre; on the other hand, that is going to make me in some ways a bit more strict in my assessment, because I want my Cthulhu submissions to be done right, or not done at all.

Our second entry is El-remmen’s, The Fate of the Firebird (Firebird), a Spelljammer adventure. I only ever dipped my toe in the Spelljammer multiverse, back in the day, but I always wanted to get the right group together to really explore the material. Is this entry good enough to rekindle that interest, or is it going to remind me why I never did?

Both entries were turned in on time, and both entries are under the word count, using all the ingredients so we are good there as far as following the rules. So lets look at the ingredients.

Our first ingredient is Dark Paragon. A paragon is a perfect example of thing, and dark would seemingly imply an evil or malevolent such example. Both our submitters certainly interpreted dark in this way. I must be frank, that in neither entry am I exactly thrilled with the use of the ingredient. In Playwright the dark paragon is the dread Blossomer in Darkness. But there is no real explanation of why this entity is a dark paragon, or what it is a paragon of? Evil Flowers? Soul sucking madness? Now certainly, as a title, its not a bad one, and I don’t think it is one that I have seen possessed by other entities, so kudos on thinking to apply it in this way, but we want more than Lovecraftian prose for ingredient use, we want the ingredient to mean something. In Firebird, we have a potentially better use of the ingredient, maybe, when the paragon phoenix becomes an anti-matter, undead paragon phoenix of death and destruction, but… If the PCs play their cards right, this entity never shows up… So I am going to give each adventure partial points here, but it’s a wash as to which I think is better.

The second ingredient is Named Level, and here there is definitely one use better than the other. In Firebird, we are given multiple levels of an ocean-liner like space-ship, and they bear such generic names as Promenade, Deck 13, etc. None of these are particularly important, they are just potential set-pieces. Nothing wrong with set pieces but I am less than impressed with the use. Which named level is actually important? Any of them? None of them? On the other hand, the idea of walking a sigil like name through the level of a building so as to unlock a gate is rather clever, and I am very pleased with the use of Named Level in Playwright so definite advantage here to Playwright.

Then we come to Binary Suns, and here the situation is flipped. The binary suns of Firebird provide a time-table for the adventure, changing effects within the adventure and a potential denouement, one way or the other, to the adventure. In Playwright, on the other hand, the binary suns are just window dressing to let the PCs know they aren’t in Kansas anymore. Definite advantage here to Firebird. The twin suns, with their different powers is definitely one of Firebird's strongest ingredients, in my opinion.

Likewise with Stuck Elevator, Firebird has the better use than Playwright. In Playwright, the stuck elevator is not an obstacle to overcome, but merely a convenient way to trap the PCs for a while on the 5th floor. In Firebird, however, the PCs must unstick the craft’s elevator in order to avoid a fiery death in one sun, even though the ship will still end up plummeting into the other sun. But at least the phoenix will be reborn more positively that way, and it definitely plays a role in the adventure. Now, having said that, as a note for down the road, the idea of an elevator to steer a ship which is powered magically and steered through arcane means seems a little bit of a stretch. Most spelljammers are flying boats with a rudder on the bottom and no practical wings to speak of. Telekinesis doesn’t really need elevators. Still and all, Firebird gets the nod on this one.

Which brings us to Cursed Sword. This ingredient provides something of an impetus for both adventures. As an intelligent, suicidal psychopathic sword in Firebird which is intent on getting itself immolated in the sun of its birth (How do you forge a sword in a negative energy sun? One wonders.), the spelljamming sword is both a villain and a tool to be used. The sword in Playwright, on the other hand, is the hook and also one of the dangerous mysteries that the Investigators must unravel and survive. More than just window-dressing, the curse of the sword offers one way to die gruesomely as well as some insight into the mystery the PCs must unravel. The introduction of the sword, however, showcases to me one of the weak spots in the sword, and one of those areas where my editorial and writing instincts just made me want to step in and fix it. A pawnshop owner calling the PCs is just so… blah. It would have been much better if, for instance, the sword had been found at a gruesome crime scene, and the PCs had been called in as experts to try and identify it. Or perhaps it gets linked to one or two gruesome deaths before the PCs encounter it in some pawn shop, with a history that makes them want to find out more. Likewise the description of the sword says too much – “oddly proportioned and balanced if intended for a human wielder,” is just so non-poetic, telling too much. “With a hilt too large to be easily gripped and possessing a shape that made it seem as if the hand meant to wield it might have possessed more than the normal number of fingers,” would have been more provocatively Lovecraftian. The sword description just bugged me with how it was presented. But in the end, I call this ingredient a wash as to superiority.

In Bardic College we have an ingredient where I have to give the edge to Playwright. As a setting, a college building devoted to the study of Shakespeare gives us background, a place to explore and clues for the ogre to come, and its weaknesses. In Firebird, on the other hand, we have the Bardic College as being the place the PCs come from, but if this is indeed a one-shot, its not a place we are ever going to meet or really care about.

And then finally we have the redundant ogre. I must admit I am partial to this ingredient, as I was the one who supplied it, and it made me laugh evilly ever time I thought about it. I had high hopes as to how this ingredient might be used. Sadly, in both adventures, I feel like it could have been better. The professor at the heart of playwright becomes an ogre, true, but his redundancy is just background, and not really central to anything the PCs are going to have to deal with. Likewise in Firebird, we get a villain who is technically a type of ogre, but again his redundancy is just background, and not something to be dealt with. In each case we have an ogre, but I really wanted more to be done with the redundancy bit. So again, here we have a wash… Though let me just mention the interesting coincidence of having both ogres being college professors.

As I look down through the ingredients, I have to give the most slightest of edges to Playwright, but just. So we are going to have to go on and see how useable and appealing each of these entries are.

I am going to deal with personal appeal to me first. I like the set-up in Firebird, with a large spell-jammer, locked in a decaying orbit around two twin suns. This is a cool idea, especially with each sun making changes to the environment. I think this would make a great setting, and I want to see more done with it. I do think the table-setting is a bit clunky and lacking a bit of polish. Why did the negative energy sun turn all the NPCs into undead while at the same time, not threatening to do the same to the PCs. Why allow the positive energy sun to simply wipe a good number of the undead out, and if the undead were going to get wiped out, why are they still around when the PCs show up, assuming the ship has already done at least one orbit around both suns? How long has the ship been stuck there before the PCs arrive? Likewise, why only allow the PCs 60 hours to explore. The decaying orbit makes for a nice countdown clock, but it would have been cooler to allow the PCs a chance to experience the change from one setting to the other more than once or twice. Then we have the introduction of the redundant ogre to add a complication, but the explanation simply makes me go, “huh?” How did the redundant professor know that the ship was in a decaying orbit and that the sword planned to kill everyone? Why is the ship stuck in the first place if the sword, who masterminded all this, wasn’t even there? So the cool factor of the setting appeals to me, but the set-up lacks elegance and knocks down the entry a point or two.

And then we have Playwright. As I said, already, a Mythos setting rubs me the right way, and this adventure does several things just right for that setting. We have the cursed item which is both more and less than it seems. More because it is cursed, but less because the real danger is not from the sword, but rather from the entity using the sword as a gate. Likewise, walking the name of the level to open the gate is a very cool idea. The entry is marred somewhat by two things. One, as already mentioned, the hook is weak and could have been played up better. Secondly, the importance of finding the professor on the 6th floor, the question of why the professor is on the 6th floor rather the 5th (I know, his office is there), and why do we even need the 6th floor in the adventure anyway… This part of the set-up feels clunky, a little contrived, and less than organic. The adventure is going to hit a snag right about there, I know it, and I think it could have been avoided. So I am going to dock Playwright a bit there. Still, Playwright has just a little bit of an edge as far as appeal to this particular judge.

Which brings us then to useability. How practical is each adventure as far as use in gaming? In some ways, Firebird has the cooler action-set-pieces, with more scope for the imagination, with levels changing from negative to positive and then back to negative again but in some ways, I think this hurts it, because on the one hand, the adventure is very ambitious with its set and then it presents such a rather short time-table to explore that set – just three adventuring days. Unless the floors are too easy, then exploring multiple levels is going to take multiple days, but if the floors are too easy, they become less satisfying. Then there is the whole introduction of the drop-outs which is going to further slow down the action and I think it just needs some work to make it actually playable, especially as a one-shot, which means in four hours real time, which, from experience allows for only about 5-6 meaningful combat encounters. So as a practical thing, I am not sure it quite works. I want to see it work. I also want to see some explanation for things like the stuck elevator, why the ship got trapped in its orbit, and how did the ogre-magi know about the cursed sword. I do like the idea a whole lot, almost enough to sit down and try to figure out how to make it work, but it would take some work and playtesting I think.

On the other hand, Playwright presents a rather doable sort of adventure. There are a few rough spots, such as the hook, the 6th floor, and such. But again, I like the idea quite a bit, and wouldn’t mind sitting down, trying to figure out how to make it work, and I think I could do it with Playwright a lot easier than I could with Firebird, and in the end, still finish up with an adventure that the players will enjoy and remember for quite a while.

So all that being said, my judgment, as one of three judges, is that this round goes to...
humble minion, and The Playwright and Praecipua. We will have to see what the other judges think though… (and contestants, please wait until the other judges weigh in to argue too vociferously)

The Playwright and Praecipua (Playwright)
Rules 6
Ingredient Use

Dark Paragon 1
Name Level 2
Binary Suns 1
Stuck Elevator 1
Cursed Sword 2
Bardic College 2
Redundant Ogre 1 (total 10)
Useability 5
Appeal 5

The Fate of the Firebird (Firebird)
Follows Rules 6

Dark Paragon 1
Name Level .5
Binary Suns 2
Stuck Elevator 2
Cursed Sword 2
Bardic College 1
Redundant Ogre 1 (total 9.5)
Useability 4
Appeal 4.5
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Once A Fool
Round 2, Match 2: FitzTheRuke vs Iron Sky

@FitzTheRuke and @Iron Sky, you have 48 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to a title, a list of the ingredients used and 1500 additional words. Be aware: if you include descriptions of your ingredients with the ingredients list, those descriptions will count against your word-limit! Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; everything after will be ignored.

The judges will be using Wordcounter.net to ensure that our counts are consistent.

Please include your list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Please refrain from reading your opponent's entry until after you have posted your own. You are on your honor to do so.

Entries that are between 1 and 59 minutes late will have their word-limits reduced to 1350. Later entries that are at less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 1050. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 750. Entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the judge with consent from the match's opposing competitor.

Your ingredients are:

Window of Opportunity
Nameless Things
Weird Magic
Unlightable Lantern
Occupied Mine
Old Ways
Faster Car


Final Form
Apologies for the delay in my judgment for R2M1. I have been dealing with some health issues that have sapped a lot of my energy. I have read these entries multiple times, and have a pretty good idea about what I want to say, I just need to be able to sit at a computer long enough to type it all out. My hope is that happens tomorrow, Monday at the latest


Once A Fool
Apologies for the delay in my judgment for R2M1. I have been dealing with some health issues that have sapped a lot of my energy. I have read these entries multiple times, and have a pretty good idea about what I want to say, I just need to be able to sit at a computer long enough to type it all out. My hope is that happens tomorrow, Monday at the latest
I hope you are on the mend and feeling better soon.

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
A post-TPK, "Norsepunk" adventure​

Window of Opportunity
Nameless Things
Weird Magic
Unlightable Lantern
Occupied Mine
Old Ways
Faster Car

And... TPK
The PCs are dead. As they teeter on the edge of oblivion, a trio of voices speaks: “We three the Norns of your births and namings. We three cast the runes, wove into your names the Wyrds pulling you ever towards this fate. We a single strand held unwoven that you might perform one task unbound by fate. Your doom may yet be unraveled, rewound, respun. Swear by your birth names to aid and it shall be so.”

If/when they agree, each voice makes a plea:

• “I am Hersker, Norn of the Wyrd Thing ruling the World Space from Møtehall-upon-Yggdrasil. Our Thing knits the Wyrds weaving history and future such that all destined to transpire does so. This duty we've performed since the Beginning; should you aid us, until the End shall we continue.”

• “I bear no name but represent a Thing that would replace the Wyrd Thing strangling the World Space with rails of iron, controlling everything touched by Yggdrasil's roots, and entrapping all named beings in their webs. With your aid shall we fill the Møtehall with a more enlightened Thing, the snarled, dark web they spin for their own ends re-knit as elegant tapestry.”

• “I and my Thing likewise bear no names, pursuing neither establishment nor replacement, but freedom. Aid us in breaking these Things seeking control from above. The Norn once again shall stand free, weaving the fates by their own wisdom. No Thing shall ever again grow so large that all futures and pasts lie upon a single loom.”

Whichever Thing the PC's choose, their spirits descend into vast space, the impossibly vast Yggdrasil dominating the center. Its upper branches hold up the starry heavens, its roots anchor in the depthless void, entire worlds and worldlets tangle in its roots. Whichever Norn they joined presents a highly skewed/propagandized version of this brief:

The Norn of the Wyrd Thing sought ever-more control and so commanded the Dvergr to build Stortlykt, the Great Lantern, hung from one of Yggdrasil's highest branches directly above the Møtehall where the Wyrd Thing assembles. They planned to shine its bright beam upon the stars, studying sidereal influences to uncover means of steering the fates of nameless creatures unaffected by Wyrd name magics.

The Norn's offspring – purposely left nameless to prevent rival Norn from using Wyrds to manipulate them – formed their own Thing and secretly built a fleet of airships. Using Stortlykt's light, they navigated the treacherous, misty expanses of the World Space, prepared to take Stortlykt for themselves and overthrow the Wyrd Thing. The ruling Møtehall Norn unearthed this betrayal with no time to spare, desperately weaving a Wyrd preventing any being called Norn, Dvergr, or Jotun from entering Stortlykt. Their cannon fire shattered the Lantern's windows and the howling, high-altitude winds snuffed its flames.

Their now-unguided fleet scattered and lost in the mists, the nameless Thing fractured in tween: one Thing seeking means to relight Stortlykt and relaunch the assault, the second seeking Stortlykt and Møtehall's complete destruction.

Unbeknownst to the PCs, whichever Things they didn't join foresaw their decision. Two of greatest foes the PCs have ever slain accepted similar offers...

Each faction possesses unique transportation:

The Møtehall controls a vast, run-down network of railways built atop Yggdrasil's roots. The team (PCs or returned foes) working for them descend to a dilapidated train station at Yggdrasil's base. Given a locomotive engine plus coal and passenger cars, they're ordered to the Stålholder Mine to replenish stocks of golden thread depleted warding Stortlykt. Thread gold obtained, they must return, enter Stortlykt, and add the Møtehall Norn's names to the gilt runes to allow members of the Wyrd Thing entry and control of Stortlykt.

Rail perils: railways sabotaged by the other Things or worn by age, confusing tangles of rail junctures, attacks by airships/chariots(see below), coal spillage/depletion, overheated locomotives, hungry railway-bridge trolls, rebellious Dvergr/Jotun engineers/servants.

Those working for the “Enlightened Thing” materialize aboard a rugged airship, its single long car snugged tight against the balloon frame while many wing-mounted propellers jut from each side. They must fly to Stålholder, moor their ship, obtain a rare radioactive ore that glows far brighter than any bonfire, somehow contain it, navigate to Yggdrasil, enter through the Lantern's broken windows, place the ore inside the mirrored chamber, and hold until the fleet arrives.

Air perils: ever-changing hurricane-force wind currents, thick mist banks crawling with nightmare creatures and beguiling illusions, sabotage/infiltration by rival Thing agents, balloon punctures, broken rigging, falls.

Those aiding the “Freedom Thing” form on a remote worldlet, there given chariots like those used by the Norn before the Møtehall built the railways. Train tracks cover the tops every root strong enough to support them, forcing adaptation. Yggdrasil's wood contains dense quantities of iron for strength so the chariots now utilize strongly magnetic ores for horseshoes and chariot-wheel rims, allowing them to ride any side of the highly-ferric roots. Magnetic hobnails keep riders stuck to the chariot cars' iron floors.

Their team must race to the Stålholder, obtain rare rivestål ore whose metal – seversteel – is capable of cutting anything, forge an ax, then push on to Yggdrasil to sever the branch supporting Stortlykt. When it falls, it should also crush the Møtehall and break the Wyrd Thing.

Charioteering perils: weak/narrow roots, misleading shortcuts, exhausted horses, lost wheels/horseshoes/hobnails (especially while riding upside-down), attacks by airships, Jotun soldiers, armored tank-trains.

Each Thing's team needs 20 progress to travel from Start→Stålholder then 20 more for Stålholder→Yggdrasil/Stortlykt.

Each roll, players may select a speed from d4(slow/careful) to d12(fast/reckless). On even rolls, they make that much progress. On odds, they instead face a peril with higher numbers being more dangerous/depleting.

Whenever the PCs roll, the GM makes a roll for both other Things' teams. Instead of facing an encounter/difficulty on odd numbers, rival teams add odd roll results to their strain. When strain passes 20, that team must recuperate, skipping the next roll to recover 10 strain.

Leaked glimpses and rumors of other teams' progress will increase tension and urgency.

The Stålholder's worldlet hangs tangled in the Yggdrasil's roots. Rich in strange, valuable ores, it forms a critical component of the World Space's economy. When PCs arrive, they find entire clans of Jotun worked half-to-death by the oppressive Møtehall gathered from all across the World Space to occupy Stålholder in protest, convincing the Dvergr miners to strike and join them. They swear they won't leave until Møtehall listens to their demands for wealth redistribution, fairer economic and political policies, and accountability for Wyrd abuses. To enter/exit/navigate Stålholder's works, PCs must negotiate with, fight, sneak past, enlisted the help of, or otherwise bypass them.

Once inside, what they search for depends on their Thing.

Wyrd Thing: extract golden ore then mold it to threads. Optionally, also procure red coal to boost their train's speed.

“Radioactive Thing”: find the radioactive ore, extract and contain it safely. An occupying Dvergr miner suggests they rig it into the airship's turbine for a faster, if far more volatile, means of propulsion.

“Seversteel Thing”: obtain rivestål ore, forge a seversteel ax. Optionally, also collect a more-highly magnetized ore to reshoe horses and re-rim the worn chariot metals to speed future progress.

Stålholder perils: gas pockets, angry Jotun vandals/looters/saboteurs/rioters, hostile Dvergr miners, cave trolls, draugar, crumbling tunnels, agents from both other Thing's teams racing through the mine on their own missions and/or sabotaging PC efforts.

Once they've obtained what they came for, the race is on to Stortlykt. Teams taking one roll's-worth of time to upgrade their transportation (red coal/nuclear turbine/re-shoeing and -rimming) may roll d20(faster/crazy) on the leg to Yggdrasil.

Statistically, the PCs will likely arrive with the other teams a few race rolls behind, giving them a short span to work at their goals before the others arrive.

If rival teams arrive first, roll d10 per PC race roll and, on evens, complete one task (below). PCs splitting up to interfere with other team(s) plans might halt or delay them, giving the PCs an opportunity to complete their own tasks.

Whenever PCs invest significant time in a task while at Yggdrasil, make a race roll for the other teams. Upon arrival, rival teams split between hindering PCs and completing their own tasks.

Wyrd Thing Tasks
• ascend Yggdrasill via cramped tunnels, malfunctioning elevators, rickety, windblown, exposed stairways
• descend the massive chain supporting Stortlykt
• ritually inlay golden runes into the lantern chamber

Airship Thing” Tasks
• evade defensive flak from Yggdrasil
• enter a broken window in extreme wind
• install the radioactive stone and hold until the fleet arrives

Chariot Thing” Tasks
• breakneck ride up Yggdrasill amid fire from platforms/branches
• reach Stortlykt's branch, find the weakest point, begin chopping
• hold position until it's severed

On success, PCs are returned to several minutes before their TPK.

If another team succeeds first, the PC's Thing demands another task...


Final Form
Judgement for Round 2, Match 1: humble minion vs. el-remmen

Due to the nature of my convalescence I've had a lot of time to reflect on these two entries. Both are quite good adventures, which make extremely different takes on these very tough ingredients. I will say that, on initial read, one of these adventures stood out a little more to me, and repeated readings have not shaken me from that initial judgment. However, this is a contest primarily about the ingredients. So let's break down each ingredient, and how it's utilized in @humble minion's "The Playwright and the Praecipua" (hereafter "Playwright", because I am not typing that other word dozens of times) and @el-remmen's "The Fate of the Firebird" (hereafter "Firebird").

Redundant Ogre
Right away we see that this was going to be a tough ingredient to use. How to make a Redundant Ogre, rather than a Redundant Orc or Redundant Elf? "Firebird", sadly, doesn't answer these questions. In truth, we could do a quick Find+Replace of Ogre with Elf and have to change little; using Orc would require no change at all. "Playwright" wisely veers from D&D/folklore to use the workplace definition of Ogre (and one that seems especially prevalent in academia, though that may just be my own experience), and it works great. There's a problem here too though. Ffoulkes may have an ogrish personality in the background, but by the time the players interact with him, he's not the put-upon academic chair he once was. Whatever twisted creature he's become, it's certainly not an Ogre in any definition I'm familiar with. Virxorex could very well have been any race in contrast to Alerut, but at least the PCs have to deal with him in some way while still, ostensibly, being an ogre. And he does present an interesting challenge/opportunity to the PCs, which adds a great wrinkle to the adventure. Still, this ingredient in "Playwright" does tie into Ffoulkes' motivations and actions, which the players do need to deal with, so it's not too bad here.

Bardic College
Both authors here went the term in the academic sense, and wisely connected it to the "redundant" aspect of the previous ingredient. That's a good weaving of ingredients together. That said, do the colleges in nature need to be particularly bardic? And I think that both authors do an okay job of selling that. The clever twist of Bardic = Shakespearean in "Playright" is appreciated, and while some knowledge of the Bard's works can help the investigators out here, I had hoped for some of the later challenges to be more related to that Bard. "Firebird" gives us many interesting musically themed set-pieces, but the connection is a bit more tenuous here. I'll come back to this later.

Dark Paragon
This one is close, but ultimately it goes to "Playwright". The clever use of darkness as recurring aspect of the antagonistic being, as well as how it ties in to the Binary Suns puzzle in how the investigators need to cross the Praepicuasidoai (I got called to task a few years back for adhering to Eberron naming conventions in an Iron DM entry, no I'm not still bitter about that why do you ask?). "Firebird" similarly ties its Dark Paragon to (one of) the Binary Suns, but again the connections are more tenuous.

Binary Suns
I've mostly covered how I feel about these in the above entry. The suns are obviously a bit more present in "Firebird" and contributing to the ticking clock that lends the stakes and urgency of the adventure, so that does make it a stronger use overall.

Cursed Sword
This reminds of the "Divine Pestilence" ingredient I had in the previous match I adjudicated. In the case of one of the uses of that ingredient, it was more accurate to call what was there a "curse" than a "pestilence". Similarly, the sword in "Playwright", while providing clever investigators some measure of knowledge, is less central to the story, and more importantly not really cursed in the way I understand that to be. Infected might be a better fit? Meanwhile, "Firebird's" sword is definitely cursed and constantly present as the main antagonist of the adventure. It even asks of the PCs a difficult sacrifice, which leads to the probably the best moment of "Firebird". I have a lot of questions about this sword, things I'd like to know but that the adventure doesn't see fit to answer, but I'll get back to that too.

Stuck Elevator
I went back and forth on this. The elevator in "Playwright" that takes the investigators where they need to go and essentially traps them there is a staple of the genre, but doesn't offer much in the way of actual interaction. On the other hand, I went back and forth a lot on whether an "elevator" controlling a ship's "altitude" makes much sense in, you know, space. But ultimately, Spelljammer's gonna Spelljammer, and I could wrap my head around it. The way this ties into the sword and suns above (and the choice/sacrifice one of the PCs must make) makes this a pretty solid ingredient use. But again, there are questions unanswered that leaves these connections fraught.

Name Level
Perhaps the strongest ingredient in "Playwright" and the weakest in "Firebird". Valiant effort, but as I've pointed out in my previous judgment, if you have to change the ingredient to make it work (in this case, changing "Name Level" to "Named Level") it changes from the ingredient we gave you into something else. Meanwhile, the power of names and shapes in Cthulhu mythos are very prevalent, and "Playwright" puts it to get effect here.

All told, we're fairly close on ingredients, with maybe the slightest of edges to "Firebird" here. It's interesting, because while I've read and re-read these entries multiple times, and even gone over each of these ingredients over and over in mind, it took the writing of this to change my initial impressions of these two adventures. I had originally sold "Firebird" short here, but really writing this out and seeing the ways the ingredients play together, and the variety of interesting choices and puzzles, makes this a very strong adventure indeed. Perhaps even more interesting than the fantastic but fairly linear "Playwright".

One would think that, given these past two paragraphs, my choice for winner is going to be pretty obvious. But I keep coming back to those tenuous connections, and all of those questions I had. In "Playwright" every element serves the piece thematically. Nothing seems out of place. It's like a well-put together jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle in "Firebird" on the other hand, seems like it was completed by Winston. Some oddness and out-of-place-itude is to expected given Spelljammer, but apart from the Bardic Ogres, and maybe some of the musical undead, there's nothing here that wouldn't be out of place in a more traditional fantasy adventure. No... where these elements most seem out of place is with each other. Part of this is a structural thing; the Deva appearing to exposit at the PCs about the phoenix egg is also the first time we, as the reader, learn about this egg, which doesn't even get explained to us, the reader, until the end of the adventure. Some of it is some very confused world-building. Why would a sword, forged in a sun of pure negative energy, be ultra-destructive to constructs, of all things? Shouldn't it particularly dangerous to beings of positive energy like... life? But it feels necessary here in the way its used to gum up the works. Why does Alerut need to sword to lead him to the Symposium? Is that an unlisted power of the sword? Does Alerut already know, considering he's set up all of this from the start? Does the sword know it, and only tells Alerut? And let's go back to the egg. Where did it come from? Why is it what powers the Symposium's Helm? Why doesn't the Helm just work on its own, like with other Spelljammers? Why does it have such specific reactions when introduced to these specific suns? If there's a connection between the phoenix egg and these suns (and perhaps both tying to the sword) it would begin to clear up a lot of these loose connections. But try as I might, I cannot find it within the text. Which is a shame, because these three items form the linchpin of the story the adventure is trying to tell. These connections could have provided context clues to how to solve the final conflict. Instead, a literal deus ex machina (at the beginning of the story even!) to essentially spell out what's going to happen. It's a disappointing wrapping up of what is otherwise a very strong adventure.

But is it enough to sway my ultimate judgment?

Let's take another look at the ingredients.

On the surface, as individual elements, "Firebird" has, perhaps a slight edge. But really, only in quantity. If I were attaching more specific numerical quality, I would guess that would tilt the balance back towards "Playwright". That's because all of the puzzle pieces fit so nicely together, thematically. "Firebird" does a nice job tying its ingredients together to, but the connections are not natural. The pieces don't really fit together, thematically. And while some of that can be chalked up to the gonzo nature of the setting, many of these ingredients relate to the thematically and tonally confused climax that, is in all ways, deadly serious.

And sadly, that makes the difference for me.

@el-remmen, you've probably judged more of these contests than I've even been a part of. I have no doubt that you'll grace us with your presence again, if this is in fact your last round here (there's still two other judgments to go, and I haven't even read the other!). We'll have to see how the other judges feel. In either case, I'm in no position to give you advice here. Instead, I'll wish you the best of luck.

This judgment, then, goes in favor of @humble minion and "The Playwright and the Praecilum" What you've done is weave together a difficult set of ingredients into an incredibly cohesive, interesting, and fun adventure. Other than your missteps with Cursed Sword and Redundant Ogre (which was clever, but buried in backstory not particularly relevant to the players), you did a lot of things right here. Even the other ingredients you lost on, you only lost because @el-remmen used them better than you. And you're never going to win them all. This was a definite step up from your previous entry, which was pretty good in its own right!

In either case, I'm excited to see what either of you bring to the final round!
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Moderator Emeritus
Congratulations to @humbleminion.

As soon as I read his I knew I was in for a tough match, but I thought I could pull it off because I thought my adventure gave more opportunity for the PCs to interact with the ingredients, while HM's seemed more about the theme and setting. Oh well, each judge weighs what they think is most important.

As for all the questions, after the first round I figured answering questions was not that important given the word count limit - it is just impossible to answer or even suggest an answer in many cases (esp. as something as complicated and immediately irrelevant like "how does one make a sword from negative energy?"

But I can answer one question, about the elevator right now: In space or not, a ship moves up and down relative to other things and itself - and also spelljamming ships land (or at least some of them do) as opposed to the controls that point it left or right.

Funny that all the things I thought were cleverest or coolest about my entry were either not mentioned by the judges or judged against me. Oh well.
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