The Ghost of Oakenfield Asylum A Call of Cthulhu Adventure
Princess of the Apocalypse
Missing Puzzle Piece
Franklin County NY, 1933. Senna White was admitted to Oakenfield Youth Hospital for behavioral problems. Soon after, she began having recurring nightmares about a boy: a patient who had died months before her arrival. Over the next month Senna's nightmares grew more severe, and eventually she fell catatonic.
Senna's parents believe something paranormal is happening at Oakenfield Youth Hospital, and have hired the Agency to investigate. The Agency has sent Investigators (the players) to meet with the head administrator, then spend the night and document any paranormal activity.
The troubles began with a jigsaw puzzle of a surreal, caterpillar-like insect. It had been solved and carefully framed, and it decorated the wall of the Oakenfield Youth Hospital's playroom for years. One day a patient named Jeremy Danvers--a boy who loved both jigsaw puzzles and monster stories--took it down and broke it up so that he could solve it himself. In doing so, he broke the seals that held Somnivore, a caterpillar-like demon, bound within.
Soon after, Jeremy began sleepwalking. Somnivore sent him to collect and hide a single piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so it could never be imprisoned again. Its escape secured, the demon began preying upon the dreams of the children...killing Jeremy and two others since.
Dr. Sazada* is the chief administrator of the psychiatric ward. She's been treating her patients with sedatives, believing the children are merely exhausted from persistent nightmares. Unfortunately, drugged children cannot wake...so Somnivore feeds on them endlessly and the children slowly weaken and die from madness. Soon Somnivore will be strong enough to evolve into its final form, the demon Runimoth. This metamorphosis will shatter the boundary of reality and unspeakable terrors will flood our world.
The Investigators will first meet Dr. Sazada. She's deliberately evasive, clearly annoyed that the Agency is involved with her hospital, and insists that "everything's under control." She's lying: in the past week, every child in her ward began having severe nightmares and night terrors, and another child has died. Her treatments aren't working, yet she stubbornly persists with them.
As the Investigators explore the hospital, they encounter sleepwalking children, nurses, the occasional night guard, etc. but are in no danger...unless they fall asleep. Staying awake all night requires a Constitution roll every 2 hours; those that fall asleep must make Sanity checks from nightmares.
Around 3 a.m., the Investigators will be visited by Jeremy's ghost. Make the encounter memorable: describe how their paranormal equipment behaves, the feeling in the room, strange sounds, etc. These observances are their whole reason for coming, after all.
Jeremy will lead them through a series of patient rooms in the hospital. Medicine, Occult, and Spot Hidden checks will reveal the demonic nature of the afflictions, the treatment history and decline of the patients, and their medication schedules. It's clear that Dr. Sazada's treatments are not working and that sleep makes their conditions worsen. Senna is catatonic but talks of Somnivore in her sleep, offering insight into the Occult nature of her affliction.
Next, Jeremy leads them to the play room, and points to a jar on a high shelf; it contains 99 puzzle pieces. Without the original box, the orderlies swept the pieces into a jar and stored them away after Jeremy died.
Finally, Jeremy leads them to the supply closet and points at the air vent near the baseboard. If they pry off the vent grate, the Investigators will find the missing puzzle piece.
POSSIBLE ENDINGS Change medication: If the Investigators convince Dr. Sazada to stop sedating the children and give them stimulants instead, Somnivore will weaken, buying them time until the Agency can send an exorcist. This will not be easy, the prideful doctor is a skeptic of the paranormal and can't simply believe she's truly wrong.
Bind the demon: If the Investigators follow Jeremy's ghost to the missing puzzle piece, they can restore the puzzle and re-bind the demon with Occult, Spot Hidden, and Additional Skill checks as appropriate. While they work to solve the puzzle, Somnivore assails them with sedated, sleepwalking children and disturbing visions.
Fight. If the Investigators fail to bind Somnivore, it evolves into Runimoth and tears a hole in reality. The Investigators must slay Runimoth to banish it and reseal the rift. Jeremy's ghost fights alongside them, assisting with paranormal abilities.
Once the demon has been banished or bound, the children (including Senna) recover in 1d6 days.
Just kidding, if you're a judge you've probably already posted your judgment and this won't have any bearing on your decision.
Welcome! Here's kind of what I was going for, and the route I took to get there, in writing "The Ghost of Oakenfield Asylum".
The players are hired to investigate a haunted hospital, and discover the children there are suffering from endless nightmares. The Investigators must convince the princess of the apocalypse the simple truth that her diagnosis is rubbish, then recover a missing puzzle piece before a demon assumes its final form and destroys the world.
INGREDIENT USE Haunted Hospital: Oakenfield Youth Hospital, which is haunted by the ghost of Jeremy and a demon named Somnivore Endless Nightmare: the children are sedated, and are now having nightmares that they cannot wake from Princess of the Apocalypse: Dr. Sazada. Her name means "princess" in Turkmen; she is an authority figure, and her prescriptions inadvertently hasten the end of the world. Final Form: the demon Somnivore would transform itself into Runimoth Simple Truth: the misdiagnosed exhaustion. All evidence points to the sedatives making the children's conditions worse, but the good doctor's professional pride won't let her admit she's wrong. Missing Puzzle Piece: hidden behind a vent grate, and required to bind the demon. The worst part about putting a jigsaw puzzle together is discovering that it's missing a piece. This is usually only a problem for puzzles that are very old and handed down...perhaps purchased from a thrift store, or in a doctor's waiting room.
OPINIONS My favorite ingredient: the haunted children's hospital. This ingredient practically begs to be used as a setting for a Call of Cthulhu game. The Lore Keeper can do soooo much with it! Sleepwalking children, who cannot be awakened, skulking around doing the bidding of a sleep-eating demon? That's just the tip of the iceberg!
My least-favorite ingredient: simple truth. I struggled the most with this ingredient...I couldn't find a way to use it that didn't look contrived. I'm curious to see what Iron Sky did with it, because the best I could do was point at something obvious that a trained professional might miss. A truth that was too simple to be believed. Even so, it still felt like "Okay yeah so you see, there's this thing over here, and it's like, really true right, so it's simple." ~sigh~
My actual least-favorite ingredient: the 750 word limit. I don't like being restricted to a word limit of any size, but especially a limit of only 125 words per ingredient. The finished product feels too stripped-down to be of any use. My eye twitches every time a judge says "I wanted more information about X."
The most relatable ingredient: endless nightmare. When I was a boy, I used to have terrible nightmares and night terrors (if you don't know the difference, you are fortunate!) I'd wake up screaming and choking, convinced I was being strangled or drowned or worse. I was also a sleepwalker, and I would sometimes wake up to find myself outside in the woods behind our house...or I would wake up in the morning to find mud and leaves all over the carpet and my bedsheets that I had tracked in. Thankfully it got better as I got older, and all but went away when I hit puberty. But yeah, I guess in some way, I've been in Jeremy's shoes. I can't imagine not being able to wake up from a nightmare.
Anyway, that's my entry and I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you end up running it, or cribbing pieces of it for your own tabletop, I'd love to hear how it goes!
The Infinite Cross
A modern supernatural investigative adventure.
•Princess of the Apocalypse
•Missing Puzzle Piece
The PCs arrive at the El Escorial monastery-cum-hospital rooted in the heart of Spain. An old monk leads them through its ancient, echoing corridors to the room of Isabella, the teenage "Miracle Princess" whom tabloids also proclaim “The Female Second Coming”. She lays upon a sturdy wooden bed, her famous "infinite cross" – a crucifix with an ∞-symbol cross-beam – mounted on the wall overhead. She whimpers and writhes in tormented slumber, the same symbol gruesomely carved into her arms and legs.
•Headlines proclaim Isabella's twin sister, Joanna, the "Penal Princess" or “Royal Antichrist” whose serial-killing spree ritualistically butchered all those whom Isabella's many miracles healed.
•Joanna captured Isabella during her spree, both bizarrely found comatose and clutching Isabella's ∞-crucifix.
•A dozen monks lie in comas: all those who tended the Princess regularly the last few months.
•Strange noises, horrible visions, hallucinations.
Joanna's strapped to a chair, catatonic, at the ultra-modern Lugar Oscuro Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
•Faded ∞-crucifixes barely visible under cutting scars on Joanna's wrists.
•Wardens grimly detail a troubled, disturbed youth frantically covered up by the Royal Family until Joanna's serial-killing spree rendered cover-ups impossible.
•Inmates freaking out about sound distortions, nightmares, unaccounted wounds.
•Joanna's guards and many inmates lie in inexplicable comas.
Noone can be awakened by any means.
At either location, overwhelming drowsiness overcomes PCs. If exposed repeatedly/for extended periods, they must make checks of increasing difficulty or slip into comas. Sleeping at/near either location also renders PCs comatose.
PCs crash into a twisted version of wherever they fell asleep:
Monastery: Cracked floors. Malformed statues. Fountains burbling with bile. Distorted, discordant Gregorian Chants. Mad monks assaulting with violent, desperate pleas for release or swinging incense censors billowing poison gas.
Hospital: Flickering, buzzing, source-less incandescence. Endless, squealing, incomprehensible PA summons. Arbitrarily-placed glass walls and prison bars. Panicked guards issuing nonsensical orders at gunpoint. Crazed prisoners cutting impossible symbols into their flesh.
Only forwards or backwards movement is possible as Monastery and Hospital flow endlessly together as opposite sides of a Mobius Strip. Bereft of walls and floors, both end abruptly on either side in gloomy mist. Stepping off the edge results in a fall terminating elsewhere on the Strip. No one can die yet all experience the pain of broken bones, dismemberment, and other wounds. Healing is unbearably excruciating and tortuously gradual.
Where nightmares connect lies an intricately carved floor mosaic, its pieces formed of random, interlocking geometries from monastery and prison. Examination reveals the puzzle's completion but for one missing piece shaped like Isabella's ∞-crucifix.
Isabella roams the Monastery searching for the missing crucifix amid endless, fruitless prayers for God's intercession. The PCs are clearly demons sent by Joanna to plague her. "I can't break through the puzzle nor can I convince Joanna of the Truth that might free her: God is all that is. But if He's real, why did He heal Joanna?"
Joanna hunts the Hospital screaming obscenities at the missing crucifix while committing acts of arbitrary violence on other trapped dreamers. She mocks the PCs as powerless spirits sent by Isabella to sway her. "I can't break through the puzzle and Isabella's blind to the Truth: God can't exist. Why would He heal a worthless, broken thing like me?"
Three ways to solve the puzzle:
•Realizing the puzzle mosaic joins the twins' nightmare minds and the missing piece is a clue that the puzzle must be dismantled piecemeal, not completed. With experimentation, puzzle pieces come apart in a particular order. If completed, all sleepers awaken where their bodies lie though monks, guards, and inmates remain hopelessly insane.
•Convince Isabella the missing piece of her riddle is God's nonexistence: if He existed He wouldn't have healed Joanna only to allow her to commit such atrocities. The puzzle mosaic shatters, nightmares peel apart, PCs awaken with Joanna at the Hospital even if sleeping elsewhere.
•Convince Joanna the missing piece of her conundrum is God's existence: only God could and would have healed Joanna for even she lies within the realm of His infinite forgiveness. Mosaic shatters, PCs awaken with Isabella at the Monastery even if sleeping elsewhere.
If Joanna awakens, she heralds the End Times come and herself the Princess of the Dominion of Hell on Earth.
If Isabella awakens, she proclaims the End Times and herself the Princess of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
If either Princess doesn't awaken, they and the location housing them vanishes, leaving only mist-swirled ruins.
Here's why you wait until the last minute to submit:
I hit "Post", got in the shower, and then realized that somewhere in the editing process I left out a tiny, critical bit of information that may render the crux of the adventure meaningless: Isabella cured Joanna of a terminal illness as her first miracle. It was in an earlier draft, but somehow in re-writing slipped out.
This is one of my favorites I've written so hopefully that omission doesn't completely torpedo me.
That said, can only blame myself if so. Adding the "recording the process" seems simple, but then there's editing, posting on YouTube, re-posting when the upload fails, not working on it when I have a spare minute here-and-there since it's too noisy. It added an hour or two to the process that could have been spent double-checking to see if the most critical backstory element came along for the ride.
Judgement for Round 1, Match 4: CleverNickName vs. Iron Sky
What are these two entries about?
This is the question that keeps echoing through my head each time I read these entries. I have a hunch that the answer to that question is going be very important to the judgement that follows. But I don’t know yet, so let’s delve in.
First, though, I must say that I found one of these entries much easier to read than the other. Even so, both of these entries do so much right that it very well may come down to the ingredient-usages. We’ll begin there.
Anatomy of a Horror Game:
The Endless Nightmare in CleverNickName’s “The Ghost of Oakenfield Asylum” (“Ghost”) is a Nightmare on Elm Street-type scenario where a demon haunts the dreams of helpless children who are powerless to free themselves. Right off the bat, we know that kids have died, so we open the whole scenario with clear stakes. This is good.
In Iron Sky’s “The Infinite Cross” (“Cross”), we are presented with a strange nightmare-plane where multiple individuals congregate (and go mad). This, too, is (initially) inescapable. As an added twist to the idea, the endless nature of the nightmare-plane is reinforced by shaping it into a Möbius strip. This forms a major playground for the adventure and one that the PCs are expected to travel through extensively. In contrast, the nightmares that investigators in “Ghost” will suffer if they fail a check are not described. “Cross” is probably the better usage of the two, but the stakes-issue will come back up later.
“Ghost” clearly has the better usage of Final Form. And I say that mostly because it is the only clear usage. Admittedly, the demon doesn’t have any clear reason to be like a thing that goes through chrysalis, but it’s fun and it really solidifies the full extent of the stakes (while also implying a degree of time-based pressure). This serves the adventure very well.
Meanwhile, I have a hard time identifying the author’s intent with “Cross.” I get the feeling that the ingredient is trying to hang out in the background as a kind of thematic element, but I’m not exactly sure what that might be. If that was the intent, some clear manifestations would have been helpful to latch on to.
The best I’ve got is that the mosaic-puzzle (either dismantled, or completed with the crucifix) is meant to be a manifestation of the ingredient. And because that’s a stand-in for the fragmented/united mind-states of the twins, they are too? And, since the entire adventure is a big puzzle, I suppose the multiple possible endings also count? Maybe. But I am not at all confident in those interpretations.
Simple Truth is also ambiguous — this time in both entries. I suppose, in “Ghost,” it is the truth that the children’s sleepwalking and nightmares are supernatural in nature (although, interestingly, it is not the source of their pre-existing psychological problems). That’s kind of just a guess, though. Could be any number of things. At any rate, none of it seems particularly simple.
This time, I’m pretty sure that “Cross” is trying to work the ingredient into a theme. That theme, however, seems to be that the simple truth is that truth is neither absolute, nor particularly simple. Strangely, the most potent delivery of this theme is one the PCs will never experience.
Only the GM is ever going to know about the multiple endings and the mutually exclusive truths that each would bring about. This is a clever bit of nihilistic commentary, but I’m dubious about how it improves the adventure. Be that as it may, however, the simple truth is that it does the job much better than the “Ghost” implementation.
The Haunted Hospital in “Cross” as part of the Möbius nightmare-plane is evocative, atmospheric, and solid, but I’ll be saying more about how great the presentation of this whole plane is later. As an isolated ingredient, it’s good.
But the Haunted Hospital in “Ghost” is great. It is probably the best-used ingredient in the entire entry. It is, first of all, the setting of the entire adventure. It features hauntings from a ghost (potentially three?), but also nightmares. And it is these haunting nightmares, along with the omnipresence of the setting, that make this ingredient a persistent factor throughout the entire adventure. This is impressively done.
Lamentably, the Princess of the Apocalypse isn’t as well-implemented. Yes, the Apocalypse is a major looming threat in the adventure, and Dr. Sazada does play an important role in bringing it about. But the princess part can only loosely be associated with her role as an administrator and it really isn’t a good description of that. The fact that the author felt the need to include a footnote telling us that Dr. Sazada’s name is “Princess” perfectly illustrates why it isn’t a good usage.
Meanwhile, the Princess of the Apocalypse in “Cross” is...Joanna. But also Isabella? Probably not the latter, since Apocalypse involves the complete destruction of the world?
In either case, the twins are actual princesses, but it doesn’t seem to mean much to the adventure. On the surface. There are some implications that will have significant impact on the PCs as they investigate, however.
The fact that the sisters are royalty (and have always been in the public eye) means that the family has been covering up Joanna’s lesser misdeeds throughout her life. The entry calls attention to this, but leaves unsaid how this will complicate the PCs’ efforts. Even so, it’s there, and it’s fundamental. This is a deceptively good implementation of the ingredient.
Finally, the Missing Puzzle Piece brings each of these entries together. In “Ghost,” it is a literal piece of a jigsaw puzzle that will seal away the world-destroying moth-demon. It is pretty much the focal-point of the adventure. But it’s significance is kind of undercut by the way the PCs are led to it; I’ll get back to that later, though. For now, I’ll point out that the very nature of the jigsaw puzzle-seal raises some big questions in this adventure.
First, the dual questions of who first used it to seal the demon and how was it done are certain to come up. That’s probably good fodder for a follow-up adventure. However, the questions of why this particular method was chosen and why the puzzle-seal was then prominently displayed without so much as a warning to anybody? Those are going to need some thought, and the adventure-as-written is no help.
And why were the pieces of an incomplete puzzle stored in a jar instead of just thrown away? Was the cleaning staff that reverential toward an incomplete jigsaw puzzle? Why?
So, what about the Missing Puzzle Piece in “Cross?” The obvious manifestation is the infinity-crucifix that is missing from the mosaic within the nightmare-plane. But that’s not really it. I mean, it can be, but it can also be a misdirect (because of the relative truth-thing). Also applicable: faith for Joanna or lack thereof for Isabella. Those aren’t really it, either.
Fundamentally, the entire adventure is structured as a puzzle with different possible outcomes, all in flux. The PCs are the missing piece. It is they who will, through their approach and their actions, determine what the final picture will be. And which truth is true.
This is the kind of underpinning that we rarely see in an IRON DM entry, and it always delights me when we do. Because it is interwoven into the PCs’ actions throughout the adventure, it is inextricably intertwined with their experience. You can’t get more relevant than that. This kind of ingredient usage is the kind of thing that elevates the entire work.
Even so, there is a pretty big flaw in the structure of “Cross” that leads to a lot of other issues. This is one time when I’m not sure that the markedly strong edge in ingredient usage is going to be enough to carry the win. We’ll see.
Hooks and Stakes:
“Ghost” really lays out a fundamentally strong adventure with clear initial stakes and intense and equally clear escalation in stakes toward the climax. And it all starts with a very simple, but very good hook.
Or, even before that, the choice of game system. “The Agency” is a pretty nebulous thing to call the PCs’ affiliation, but the system tells us that we’re in for investigation, paranormal and/or supernatural stuff, and world-threatening horror. We are well-prepared to expect the worst and we know that our job is going to be to find out what that is. Hopefully in time to stop it.
Then, the hook is a good blend of the big three motivations: curiosity, greed, and altruism (or do-goodery, if you will). The greed angle isn’t very pronounced in this scenario; all we know is that the PCs are getting paid, but no mention of how well. And the altruism is tempered by the getting paid-thing. But that’s okay. The main one is curiosity, and the premise delivers.
In contrast, “Cross” gives us a more generic modern investigative non-system-specific scenario which is, in itself, fine. Sometimes system-agnostic is the best approach. This time, however, it results in a certain lack of conveyed information that might have been helpful to assume.
That, of course, could be remedied by a good hook, but herein lies our problem; “Cross” doesn’t have any. At all. Our PCs are thrown into the situation without any context and so is the reader. Which means, the GM is going to have to read the scenario through at least once without any idea of what’s going on for most of it.
And why should the PCs care? The lack of any hook of any kind means they aren’t going to have any idea of what stakes there are. Those only begin to emerge as the investigations proceed.
The GM is going to need to come up with something to reel the PCs in and the entry is no help here. An experienced GM can just use one or some of those investigation-revealed clues as a hook, but that probably won’t be immediately evident, either. An inexperienced GM? Well, maybe this adventure just isn’t for inexperienced GMs.
“Ghost” is a very solid adventure that starts strong and ends stronger. This is largely a byproduct of the stakes that it presents and the free-form approach that it takes toward most of the PCs’ investigations (which is, after all, the heart of the adventure).
The fact that the shape of the adventure is all pretty clear (when revealed) works in the entry’s favor.
The allowance for varied endings that depend on the PCs’ approach is also a strong point that help this adventure stick its landing. As I said, a solid adventure.
Less generally, I want to call out Dr. Sazada as a fun minor antagonist. She genuinely believes she is on the side of good and she genuinely believes that she is right. The simple truth (there it is!) that she isn’t reinforces her role as a sympathetic antagonist who must be worked around, one way or another. Lovely.
“Cross” has some really great stuff, too. Once the reader absorbs it, the actual structure of the adventure operates within a framework layered with a complexity that reinforces its surreal final act even while it gives the players the freedom to come to their own conclusions.
This could be overwhelming (though it might be less so with a hook that eased the reader in), but it’s actually all pretty solidly presented. The clues are easy to parse and share the load of exposition that would otherwise be presented in backstory. That’s a very good thing.
And the nightmare-plane’s descriptive prompts are probably the best presentation of a dreamscape I’ve seen in an adventure. They are plentiful and varied. And, they subtly tell the GM and the PCs what happened to the other comatose characters in the real world. Excellent stuff.
Of course, there’s also the puzzle. The fact that there are four mutually-exclusive outcomes (including the fail-state) that will determine the truth of the universe is a fascinating approach. The fact that one of these solutions involves a symbolic sundering of the sister-connection is made all the more fascinating because I don’t think the PCs can possibly come to that solution without first recognizing the symbolism. It’s a really impressive accomplishment.
And the atmosphere of this piece! As I was reading through the entry for the first couple of times, I was having trouble putting my finger on the surreal influences that it was putting in my mind. Finally, I settled on David Lynch’s shows and films. This is the most Lynchesque work that I think I’ve ever seen in these tournaments. A bit darker, perhaps, but still. I think that’s really fun.
Not-So Good Stuff:
There are a couple of things that bother me about “Ghost” and one of them is pretty significant.
The lesser of the two is that we have absolutely no details about how the moth-demon is going to fight — which matters, because it is presented as a very real possibility.
Presumably, it’s meant to be a tough fight, but what does it look like? I’m not saying we need stats, but I don’t even know what kinds of things it does. I can infer flight, but everything else has to be made up out of nothing.
Additionally, we know from earlier that “unspeakable terrors” will “flood through the rift,” but what does that mean for the fight? If players ask for a description is the GM meant to say, “Can’t. They’re unspeakable.”?
A little bit of pre-game prep will resolve this issue, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think it might blindside a less-experienced GM.
That’s the minor issue. A more insidious one is the Jeremy-ghost. Not the character, but his role as a guide through the only part of the investigation that really matters. The thing is, he’s meant to be unavoidable, as evidenced by the fact that neither puzzle-seal, nor hidden piece are likely to be uncovered without him and, even if they are, their significance would be almost impossible to figure out without him pointing.
So that means that, amidst the free-form and interesting investigation that makes the beginning of the adventure so fun, there is a thin stretch of railroad that is the only link to the latter half of the adventure. What if the players don’t want to ride that railroad?
They could just choose not to follow the ghost (they may not even believe it’s real since their sanity will be in question by this point). What then? There’s no way to get to the end, until the moth-demon comes with its hordes of unspeakable terrors. And when that happens, the PCs won’t know what’s going on, or why.
This is a problem, because the fundamental premise of Call of Cthulhu is that the players are supposed to find out about the inevitable horror. That’s where the dread comes from!
So, yeah. Problem. It is a fixable problem, of course. But, again, a less-experienced GM could pretty easily miss the potential looming derailment and they’d be left scratching their head wondering where it all went wrong.
A Fundamental Flaw:
“Cross” has more severe structural issues. It all comes back to the lack of a hook, again. Without it, we lose out on context and initial stakes and, frankly, clarity.
As strong as the foundations of the adventure are, there’s a lot to be confused by in the entry and it isn’t all at the beginning. Throughout the whole, I recognize that their are stakes, but it isn’t always clear what they are (and it isn’t clear that it can be made clear to the PCs).
This culminates in two possible end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios that seem to come out of nowhere. I’ll check again before posting this judgement, but I’m pretty sure that neither the Hell-on-earth, nor the Heaven-on-earth endgame states are telegraphed at any point in the game. Nor do we ever get a sense of how they’ll come about. That prevents them from becoming compelling stakes for the adventure and relegates them to being mere denouement. And confusing denouement, at that.
This is, frankly, a disappointing stumble, because some sense of the possibility hinted at during the investigation (or hook) would really make the interactions with the sisters more meaningful and urgent. A quick inclusion of some clue somewhere would have been enough. Although more would have been better, of course.
So, basically, we have a confusing start and two out of four endings that culminate in sudden unexplained and, frankly, unsatisfying conclusions. After such a fantastic trip through an incredible puzzle-adventure, it’s kind of a let-down.
But within the heart of the adventure? A lot of pure gold. What do we make of this?
What are these two entries about?
“Ghost” is about PCs who are hired to investigate why a bunch of psychologically troubled youths are sleepwalking, having nightmares, and dying. They need to find out that a demon is responsible and need to reseal it away before it gets more powerful and the world is ruined. Pretty clear.
“Cross” is about a good twin and an evil twin who are both comatose and so are all the people that have recently been near them. As this may soon include the PCs, they will probably find themselves in a communal nightmare where they need to determine that the twins need to be united or sundered or converted or something in order to escape, but, really, why not just go insane, because everyone else is doing it and nothing matters? It’s definitely a trip. But is it a fun adventure?
I think, for a subset of players, yes. As a one-shot, it could be a very interesting experience. But I think it’s clear that, for most audiences, “Ghost” is going to be the more traditionally enjoyable adventure, even with it’s central flaw.
Is it that much better? Enough to overcome a 4:2 ingredient-deficit? Still not sure. Time for one more read-through.
I think that “Ghost” almost does it. If it didn’t leave so many nagging questions. If the link between halves wasn’t so linear. If we had the slightest description of what Runimoth is capable of. I don’t know exactly what it would take, but it feels so close!
And yet, a 4:2 lead in ingredients is huge in IRON DM. That’s 4 clearly superior usages of ingredients vs. 2. Not a tie among them.
Further, “Cross” is a good adventure. Most of it goes out of the way to present a clean and efficient scenario that is as simple to run as its shortcomings allow for.
And there is craft in that entry. The type of real honest-to-goodness craft that takes years to hone.
@CleverNickName, you’ve been at this for a long time and you’ve certainly been developing your skills as you go. You’ve demonstrated that you’ve got a good sense for what will make a fun adventure and I have no doubt that some of the things I’ve called out were casualties of the word-limit. I’m not going to give you advice on adventure-writing. You know what you’re doing and you’re clearly on the cusp of winning one of these things.
If I could offer any advice to help you over the edge, it would be to make sure that every part of your ingredients are well-represented in the implementation. And if you can’t do that, at least don’t call attention to it with a name!
Additionally, be wary of making an ingredient a macguffin. Macguffins tend to work better in non-interactive mediums than in adventures, anyway (because PCs like to use things that seem important), but that’s not an absolute.
The problem with an ingredient that is a macguffin is that, by definition, it could be anything. Your puzzle piece treads that line because the puzzle itself also treads that line.
What else? You should look for opportunities to take ingredients that can be interpreted thematically and do it. Now, my fellow judges (past and present) tend not to weigh this type of thing quite as heavily as I do, but it’s a really good idea, anyway.
Here’s why: if you can successfully hang your adventure on a thematic frame that happens to also be an ingredient, that means that the ingredient is necessarily relevant to the entire adventure and, consequently, to the PCs within that adventure. It’s just a matter of efficiency, really.
That’s all I’ve got to say about it. You’ve got the goods, CleverNickName. It pains me to send you home with such a good entry, but I’ve got to side with the ingredients on this one.
I really liked reading The Ghost of Oakenfield Asylum. And a call of Cthulhu adventure to boot. Love it! I would have given it the win, but I understand and respect the final ruling. It truly shows the skill of all of these DM's in coming up with something that would not only make for a fun adventure, but also includes the often very difficult ingredients.
After reading, and loving, CleverNickName's adventure plus the stumbles in my entry I was pretty certain I'd lost. I especially loved the doom-caterpillar and agree with you and Rune that the haunted hospital was fantastic.
Well done too, Rune, on leaving the ultimate conclusion in doubt until the end spoiler - I certainly had no idea who was winning.
With only a smidge over two pages for these initial entries, there's always something that needs to be left out. I chose hooks to focus on the core of the adventure. No solutions, only trade-offs as one of my favorite financial YouTubers likes to say.