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IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
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.

Not sure I understand what this is in reference to. What deus ex machina at the beginning of the adventure?
 

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Gradine

Final Form
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.
Yeah, I figured that out and gave you the point there. Spelljammers do, after all, have both a top and a bottom.

And I totally feel you on how frustrating it is when the judges don't grok the cool stuff you're pulling off.
Not sure I understand what this is in reference to. What deus ex machina at the beginning of the adventure?
I'm referring here to the Deva who appears, tells the players all about the egg, and leave, never appearing or referenced again. It took me out of it, and was a red flag for me that it was even deemed necessary.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Race to the Bottom

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


Background:

Many centuries ago, dwarves built a mine under a mountain by the sea. They dug upward, from their underground kingdoms to the higher parts of the mountain. When there was little left to be had (by their standards), they abandoned the place and sealed the ways that led back to their lands. Two entrances remain: A lower, secluded cove where the dwarves once loaded ore onto hired ships to trade far away, and one high in the mountains, discovered decades ago by humans, who built a small mining town nearby to dig out what little the dwarves left behind in their last, highest tunnels.

Unfortunately for the townsfolk, a few months ago, a greedy hag named Frau Klegg discovered their mine and took over the miner’s quarters, occupying it as her lair. Further, she began using her weird magic to enslave - first the miners themselves, and then the rest of the town - converting them into nameless things that do her bidding. What few townsfolk remain cower in fear that they will be snatched up and enslaved.

Magic Items – Frau Klegg has used her weird magic to create three magic items:
  • Unlightable Lantern. A normal-looking lantern apparently full of oil. In truth, it holds stolen memories. When a creature attempts to light it, they must roll an appropriate saving throw, or lose the memory that they attempted to light the lantern, and other memories: The first time they fail, they lose a childhood memory and the name of an object in their possession. If they attempt to light the lantern again and fail, they forget their own name, and the names of others. On a third failure, they forget all knowledge and language, only retaining the most basic ability to remain alive. As a side-effect of the hag’s weird magic, their bodies begin to mutate. Over the following day, they become a Nameless Thing.
  • Klegg’s Ladle. A large ladle made of a twisted hardwood. A creature who uses it to stir a pot can choose: 1) the food therein becomes poisonous; 2) anyone who consumes the food is charmed until the following dawn.
  • Folding Boat. Frau Klegg keeps this hidden under a rundown wharf in the secluded cove as part of her escape plan.
The Adventure:

The PCs are travelling by a mountain pass that goes past the town. Just as they spot the town ahead, they are attacked by 1d3 Nameless Things - a strange, hairy, long-armed humanoid that tries to subdue one of them and take them up into the mountains. The town is mostly deserted. The few cowering townsfolk who are left will ask for help, explaining that these creatures have been stealing folks and taking them to the mine. They offer a modest reward and appeal to the PCs better nature. If they refuse, the townsfolk will treat them as best as desperate people can but will take every opportunity to ask them to reconsider. When the PCs leave, they will be attacked by 2d4 Nameless Things.

If they subdued a creature during either encounter, it simply moans and mumbles incoherently. If they track where the creature was from or where it was going, (perhaps because a PC or NPC was taken), or if they agreed to help the townsfolk, they will eventually find their way to the mine.

The Mine:

1) Entrance. The mine is closed by a wooden gate, which is left unlocked.

2) Dark passageway. From the gate is a long, slowly curving passageway. Frau Klegg keeps her Unlightable Lantern hanging from the first support beam, with a flint and steel on a lower peg, to tempt any villagers who arrive to try to light it.

3) Miner’s quarters (hag’s lair). The mine is far enough away from town that miners stayed in shifts, occupying these quarters. Frau Klegg has turned this into her lair, furnishing it with desiccated plants and mummified animals. She keeps an enormous cast iron pot cooking on a low fire. Many things best left unnamed have gone in this pot, which she happily stirs with her ladle while singing nonsense.

4) Minecarts. Six minecarts are stopped here on two parallel tracks that head up and down into two tunnels. Rubble lies strewn about where the downward tunnel was sealed but is now broken open.

5) Newer mine. The upward direction of the tracks takes you to the until-recently active mine worked by the town’s miners. Nameless Things now occupy this mine, doing the hag’s bidding.

6) The Old ways. The downward direction leads to the old dwarven mines, unused for centuries. There may be many interesting adventures down there, but nothing is left worth mining.

The Hag:

Frau Klegg is no fool – she recognises the threat of adventurers right away. She will try to avoid combat, offering them ‘stew’ from her pot (stirring with her ladle). There may be a window of opportunity for the PCs to get in a few rounds of combat, but if she can, Frau Klegg will grab the lantern, her ladle, and/or some other treasure, and flee into the mine. She will get into the first minecart and speed off into the Old Ways, cackling. If the PCs don’t want her to get away, they will have to follow.

The Chase:

It is best to handle the minecart chase abstractly, in 3 to 5 stages, with a skill check relevant to a hazard at each stage. The dwarven mines are immense, and the entire trip takes about an hour. Regardless of trouble along the way, all minecarts will arrive at the cove within minutes of each other, unless they don’t arrive at all. The overall path of both tracks head along a central corridor with many side-tunnels. Frau Klegg has travelled this route enough times to have perfected the task. She travels at a steady pace and succeeds at all checks relevant to the chase.

Start Your Car:

The minecarts were once clamped together in a train but are currently detached. Each car can hold up to two medium creatures. Though the overall grade is downward, in some places it is flat (or even travels upwards) so that the cars slow down enough to get out and push. A PC must make a strength check to push the car onto either of the two tracks to get it going. The second car that the PCs push onto the track is the faster car. By some fortune or design, it has grown less rust on its wheels and runs smoothly. Anyone using this car has advantage on all checks made to increase its speed.

Hazards:

Though the dwarves built sturdy cars that will not leave their tracks, many other hazards occur along the way. Examples include: 1) a disturbed swarm of bats that attack; 2) low-hanging partially collapsed ceiling that must be ducked; 3) debris on the tracks that slow the cars; 4) the hag switches the track behind her so the following cars move into a side-tunnel (where they stop, but can be pushed back to resume the chase); etc.

A Window of Opportunity for combat will occur when the tracks travel into an immense open cavern. The cars slow on a long stretch of flat track, with the two tracks diverging around a deep crevice. Frau Klegg’s car will slow first, allowing even the slowest car to arrive in the area. Set the car’s relative position based on their handling of previous hazards. After four rounds of combat, if she has not been beaten or otherwise stopped, Frau Klegg’s car will travel into the next tunnel and the chase is resumed.

The Cove:

Abandoned for centuries, the docks and trade-buildings have fallen to decay. Frau Klegg tried to trade here with some smugglers a few weeks ago, but when she didn’t like their offer, she murdered them, burned their ship, and raised them as zombies. If she makes it to the cove ahead of the PCs, she will gather a group of 3d4 zombies (all that remain) to attack the party at the mine’s exit. She will do whatever she can to get to her folding boat. If she gets it into the water and the PCs are still chasing her, she will use her weird magic and stir the water with her ladle (if she has it) or a paddle (if she does not) and create the effect of a fog cloud to mask her escape.

Endgame:

If the PCs manage to defeat Frau Klegg, they can gather the three magic items and a substantial treasure besides. If they possess the Unlightable Lantern, they can determine, after a short rest, that they can destroy it by placing it in a sufficiently hot fire (a cook fire, or a smith’s forge). This will return the memories to the townsfolk and end the weird magic curse that has turned them into Nameless Things.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
That was hard. Like really hard. The title betrays what I think of my entry overall, though I don't hate it in the end as much as I did for 90% of writing it. I really bit off more than I could chew. It wasn't the Ingredients - they were relatively "easy" compared to last time.

The ingredients immediately made me think of doing an Investigative story set in a Western. I loved the idea of it. Somewhere along the line, it turned into a D&D game, which I didn't want to do (weirdly, it could even be a sequel to my last entry). Then I was hit with severe writer's block. I've never had writer's block before. It's not that I didn't have an idea where the story was going, it's just that every word was somehow painful to place down. Every. Word. I have no idea why.

On top of that, I lost all of Saturday to work, and most of Sunday to family demands. (The last Sunday before both my wife, and my two kids, all go back to school, though much of that is still online.) I don't mean to make excuses, really. It's just that I really enjoyed writing the first entry. This one? Not so much. It was okay, and I do appreciate having had the opportunity.

In the end, I'm basically satisfied that I didn't embarrass myself, but I don't hold much hope of winning (I have yet to read my opponent's piece but I assume that the reigning champ can beat what I posted).

I hope some of you at least enjoy it well enough!

...And I hope the judges are feeling kind.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I'm referring here to the Deva who appears, tells the players all about the egg, and leave, never appearing or referenced again. It took me out of it, and was a red flag for me that it was even deemed necessary.
Ah! But that was not at the beginning of the adventure, that was 17 hours after the party arrives and assuming the ship gets that far. I added it because I figured if folks were still around that long they might want some more clues. In truth, I could not figure out a way for the PCs to learn stuff except for general investigation and talking to people (most of which probably would not want to talk to them).

As for the egg as engine, I figured it was a solid source of energy and Alerut knowing Hallward used it, is what led the sword using Alerut as his tool for getting the egg in Erebus. I know a lot of this stuff would have been better developed in the entry, but I had to risk very bare bones and hope the judges figure it out.

I think part of my issue is that the adventures I come up are very much like all published adventures in my eyes: a mess of cool stuff in a cool loose framework to bring together in play. The word I'd use to describe it is "capacious." ;)
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I think part of my issue is that the adventures I come up are very much like all published adventures in my eyes: a mess of cool stuff in a cool loose framework to bring together in play. The word I'd use to describe it is "capacious." ;)
I feel the same way. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure our judges would brutalize most published adventures, and well they should.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
I forgot to mention - my brain would NOT get off of trying to explain mechanically how the minecart chase should play out. I didn't have the time, or the space (word count) to actually do that. Reading my entry over, I see that cutting what I had written out, left the "faster car" a little weak. It was by far more, the faster car, when there was more there about how to overtake the other cars.

I don't actually like including game mechanics in the entry - for one, they are probably more useful if they're system agnostic. For another, AFAICT they are supposed to be adventure outlines, so if you did have a specific game in mind, the monster CR (or equivalent) and DCs, etc, would be, in my mind, something that you determine in a later pass.

In addition, I'm a GM who likes players to have as much control over the story as possible, so I don't like to decide "what happens" too much - but here, I don't have the word count to write too many If...Then... statements to cover all the things I can imagine happening. It'll take me some practice to learn how to get as much of that into my entries using as little words as possible. I'm not there yet.

Hey, I should go easier on myself. I've only written two of these so far, after all.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 2, Match 1: el-remmen vs. humble minion

Anyone who has read the other two judgements for this match already knows the outcome. One might wonder, then, why I should bother going through the effort to present a redundant judgement of my own?

Two reasons. The least significant being that this judgement was written before reading the others.

The second is more fundamental to my role as a judge. But it will require a bit of an explanation.

To begin with, a judgement ought to be a thing of value to the match’s participants. My responsibility as a judge is to provide that value in the form of honest and analytical critique. My job is to break down entries, see what works and what could be developed further. And then to reconstruct it to see how all those parts work together.

What a judgement offers is certainly opinion, but it is opinion rooted in a reasonably deep analysis, given the time-constraints of the tournament structure. This is a great deal of effort to go through, to be sure, and would be hard to justify if the only point were a redundant judgement. But that simply wouldn’t be fair to the contestants.

See, when someone steps up to the challenge of being a competitor in an IRON DM match, they are putting their creativity and their skill on the line for critique. This is an endeavor that requires courage, time, and no small quantity of energy from the competitor. This holds true for neophytes and seasoned veterans alike.

By stepping up to meet the challenge, and by following through, the contestants earn the deep-analysis of their entries. As a judge, I owe them that work. The actual opinion? Less important than the analysis, except inasmuch as it is a byproduct of it. But, well, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

With that said, I’ll rewind to before I knew what the other judgements would be:

This is going to be a tight match. Both entries are excellent. So much so that I would be equally unsurprised with a unanimous decision among the judges or a split decision in which mine is the minority.

Both of these entries are worthy of securing their author a spot in the championship round. But only one will. Let’s begin.

Hooks and Stakes:

Despite the overall quality of both adventures, I must say that I found the hooks from both entries serviceable, but somewhat lacking.

In the case of “The Playwright and Praecipua” (“Play”), we are given a scenario where the PCs are either directly contracted, or assigned by superiors to investigate the pawning of a peculiar sword, but we aren’t given any indication of what about this sword is so unusual as to warrant the investigation in the first place. If the shopkeeper was looking for an academic appraisal, or if the sword had killed the shopkeeper in the utter darkness of night, we’d have a considerably stronger hook.

In “The Fate of the Firebird” (“Fate”), we are given two hooks that either have the PCs investigating from the outside of the educational institution or, in the case of the one-shot scenario, from within. Of the two, I find the one-shot version more compelling (and it would probably make a great convention-game), but in both cases, there isn’t really enough information presented in the hook to engage the players’ curiosity. Which is a shame, because the actual adventure presents plenty of curiosities.

How about stakes? Both adventures build stakes nicely throughout and both culminate in stakes that are satisfyingly high by the end. But only one entry kicks things off almost immediately with stakes interesting enough to lead the players further in. With “Fate,” we know almost immediately that the S.S. Symposium is in a decaying orbit and about to pass through a negative-energy sun’s corona within the hour.

Meanwhile, the players in “Play” are unlikely to know that anything is truly amiss until they get detoured to the wrong floor in the Department of Shakespearean Studies. Unless the PCs find themselves in someplace totally dark with the sword, which would be bad.

Of course, they could store it in something with no interior light, like a briefcase or box. That would be an interesting development, assuming the storage container is made of organic material. Presumably it becomes just a sword again the moment it eats through. That may even be the likely course of events, but it’s far from a given.

Innovations and Renovations:

The actual meat of these adventures could not be more different in presentation or expectation.

“Play” is a tightly organized piece that seems somewhat linear for a good portion of it (in part, I think, because many of its clues are presented within the narrative, which makes them harder to scan for). But it really opens up when it crosses over from investigative horror to survival and — just maybe — desperate heroism.

The transition is so smooth that the players probably won’t even notice the peril their characters are in until they’ve walked right into the center of it. That’s nice.

I do wish there was a little more guidance for how to telegraph to the players that the elevator stopped on the 5th floor, but this is a minor quibble. Personally, I’d probably give them some time to talk (or stand silently) in the elevator, interrupting occasionally with a vocal “ding.”

After four (or five, because it’s an English university?), I’d just stop and let the players eventually come to the conclusion that the doors aren’t going to open. If they aren’t talking, I’d probably indicate that they could feel when it came to a stop.

Something like this seems necessary, because I don’t think the players have any reason to suspect that they’ve been diverted in the adventure-as-written and they, therefore, won’t be as able to create a plan involving the 5th-floor.

With that said, I still find the misdirect very clever and the otherworldly city it leads to feels alien, desolate, and suspenseful. And then, suddenly, terrifying. The scenario that follows as the PCs try to outrun the darkness is great stuff. It could be hours (in-game) before they get the chance to return home!

Once they do, I’m not sure that monster-Ffoulker’s obsessive motivation to return from Praecipua with a copy of Shakespeare’s lost play is going to become clear to the players, but the necessity of keeping any object from that place away from Earth should at least be obvious. Good stuff!

(This section does raise some questions, although I’m not entirely certain that they need answers within the scope of the adventure. Did Shakespeare leave a copy of the play in Praecipua? Did he make a copy of a play that was already there? If the latter, why is the play in Praecipua written in his language and style? These strike me as good questions to follow up on in a future installment. If such is even a possibility, of course.)

Fun-House Factions:

“Fate” is a lot less cohesive, but is an incredibly dynamic adventure. Given that a majority is essentially a fun-house-adventure-style romp through the decks of a massive spelljamming ship, one could jump to the conclusion that the adventure will fall back on some silly clichés. This is reinforced somewhat by the prevalence of bards throughout.

But beneath the surface lurks an adventure as rife with factional politicking and betrayal as it is stacked with action. And, unlike most fun-house adventures, this one is laced with a dark undertone that works to subvert the potential clichés.

I’ll start with the factions. There are, of course, themed factions for each deck of the ship (kind of like the gangs in The Warriors). On top of that, there’s Virxorex and his Drop-Outs who serve as complicating antagonists, but, delightfully, aren’t wrong.

Finally, there’s Alerut and the cursed sword, Ludocrat, who controls him. Alerut is a bit of a redundant villain, but the sword is an excellent one! No reasoning will be possible with it and anyone who wishes to remove him from the machinery will immediately become a villain, themselves. Good stuff!

And that very fact turns the inevitable betrayal of the PCs by Alerut into a mere precursor to the betrayal that must necessarily split the party if they try to save the ship! Excellent!

Of course, the fact that it won’t actually save the ship is a bit of a problem, but it will at least lead to a better (and slightly escapable) outcome. I do wonder what happens if the players just take the egg and leave, though. Anyone still on the ship dies, but, other than that...nothing? Is that what victory looks like in this adventure?

That kind of brings me to my biggest issue with this adventure. Most of the adventure is action-packed, chaotic, and extraordinarily fun. But after all of that, the endings all seem like kind of a let-down. Even as a one-shot, I’m not sure that they would satisfy. The most climactic — the escape from crashing into Hemera — results in all life within the sphere being wiped out and replaced. And what do the PCs have to show for it? Other than, maybe, survival?

Maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe it’s all about the journey. It’s not like the players reminiscing years later are going to be talking about the rewards, anyway. They’ll be talking about the crazy twists and turns along the way, right? If that’s the case, this entry absolutely delivers.

So, which adventure is better? They both absolutely accomplish what they set out to do. I don’t think I can contrast them on their merits. My quibbles with each are minor.

That means it’s time for a look at...

Ingredients:

Right away, we are confronted with a disparity. The Dark Paragon in “Fate” will only come about in one of the end-game scenarios — and by the time it does, the action of the adventure is already effectively over.

Meanwhile, the Dark Paragon in “Play” is so overwhelming a presence in the entry that it almost stands out as its own (completely unrelatable) character. Given that it pretty much exemplifies what we fear about the dark, it fills the role as a paragon especially well. This is clearly the superior implementation.

“Play” hits in a big way with Name Level, as well. The inadvertent (and/or purposeful) tracing of a sigil (the name, G'Qaroc) as a means to transport to the dead city is very clever. The misdirect tying in the Stuck Elevator is likewise very good.

“Fate” doesn’t stack up, here. This is the entry’s weakest ingredient. The multi-tiered themed levels of the “dungeon” are very fun, but the actual names are fairly meaningless to the adventure.

On the other hand, the Binary Suns are well-utilized in both entries. In the case of “Play,” they might seem like mere set-dressing at a glance, but they actually play an important role in the light-chasing sequence by amplifying the unpredictability of where the shadows will emerge in this alien place. It helps the whole sequence look more fun. In a terrifying way. It does make me wonder where G'Qaroc really comes from, though. Surely it’s not native to the planet with two suns?

As much as I like that manifestation, I have to give the edge to “Fate,” here. Where “Play” uses it’s Binary Suns to create a great sequence and really amp up the alien feel of the dead city, “Fate” uses them to create the stakes for the entire adventure, and then give it shape. Very well done.

The Stuck Elevator is also well-used in both entries. Here, again, I really like the way “Play” ties it in with the Name Level to provide the turning-point in the adventure. And, yet, here again, “Fate” uses the ingredient to set the stakes and shape the entire thing. Once again, that earns the edge.

The Cursed Sword in “Play” is pretty good. At first it seems as if the object pawned doesn’t really need to be a sword, but it becomes clear later that the reason it is a sword is because the inhabitants of Praecipua had fallen fighting a losing battle against G’Qaroc and it would have been stranger for a terrified Pamir to have come across anything else just lying around.

The curse itself has a lot of potential for fun shenanigans and sets up the future-danger of letting Ffoulkes return with the play. That’s all very good.

But “Fate” gives us an evil intelligent Cursed Sword (in the traditional D&D sense) that is also cursed with a nihilistic outlook (and, hence, agenda). And it’s just a great villain!

Since both entries use the ingredient in ways that are significant to the shape of the adventure and directly relevant to the PCs, I’m inclined to consider this ingredient a draw, but I’ll lean toward “Fate” simply because the “Play” version may not actually be around for much of the adventure (depending on what the PCs do with/to it), but the “Fate” version will be there from start to finish.

“Fate” gives us a Bardic College that does not really seem to matter much to the adventure. Sure, it helps to flavor everything (oh so many bards; they’re everywhere!), but pretty much any institution of learning would do.

The Bardic College in “Play” is more clever and more central to the goings-on. I think the choice of Shakespeare wasn’t entirely necessary, but is entirely understandable. I do wonder if Christopher Marlowe wouldn’t have fit the adventure a little better; Doctor Faustus could have been autobiographical!

And, even then, you could have played around with theories that Shakespeare was an alias of Marlowe, or that Shakespeare stole his work. But that’s me on a tangent. At any rate, “Play” uses this ingredient considerably better than “Fate.”

And then there’s the Redundant Ogre. Both entries have a good handle on the redundancy. But neither really needed the ogres. Which is kind of the point, I guess, but still.

In the case of “Play,” we’ve got a professor whose department is being annexed into another. It is true that he is described as an unlikeable tyrant whom nobody misses when he effectively goes missing, but he isn’t really described as being brutish. And even if he was, it’s not something the PCs ever deal with.

Later, he’s transformed into a giant, misshapen-thing that works great within the adventure, but the form doesn’t matter. I don’t think “ogre” is what comes to mind, and even if it did, it could have been a giant spider, or a wraith, or...well, pretty much anything.

Meanwhile, we have in “Fate” two ogres, each redundant in their own way. Which is a nice way to play with that part of the ingredient! In the case of Virxorex, the ogre is redundant in that he has been replaced by Alerut. In Alerut’s case, he is used within the adventure as a villain, but is redundant in that capacity; the true villain is the sword, and it has no compunctions about using a new wielder.

This is good stuff, but the ogre-ness doesn’t really add anything to the adventure. Sure, their personalities are informed by their ogre-ness, but that’s about it. They could just as well have been humans with the same personalities.

(As an aside, I found myself wondering which edition the adventure was using. I assumed 2e, but I couldn’t be sure. Anyone coming from 5e or 4e probably wouldn’t know that Oni used to be called Ogre-magi. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters all that much, but I was curious.)

I don’t think either entry gets this one. Which means, we appear to be pretty much tied at this point. Well, I did say it was going to be close, didn’t I?

So, what now? Here’s where I take a step back and look at each entry with a broader view. How do the individual pieces work together? How fundamentally integrated is the craft? How proud of the whole would I be if I had written it?

One of these entries is very, very, very good.

The other exemplifies everything I try to do when I’m the one in the hot-seat writing an entry.

The isolated ingredients are only part of the picture. “Play” uses them in such a way as to interconnect them into a tight web in subtle ways that help to tighten the whole adventure. Not only does this more-or-less eliminate space for plot-holes, it also provides a strong framework for the numerous clues to be spread out (all of which move the adventure forward, by the way).

@el-remmen, you obviously know what you’re about; you did, after all, start this whole thing! There are precious few entries that I think your entry would fall to.

But @humble minion has really stepped up their game in this round with a down-right artistic entry that is just about as good as it gets. It is the kind of entry that gets better each time it is read.

...And, thus, I return to the future to declare that, by unanimous decision, humble minion advances to the championship round!

Congratulations!
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I enjoy the Judges critiques as much as I enjoy the entries themselves. I find them to be an immensely helpful learning tool, both for writing more of these entries, and for writing adventures generally. I don't think either of my entries would have been as good (such as they are) if I had not read the critiques of the earlier matches before writing.

There's a drawback to that, though: It may have been one of the reasons that I had such a hard time writing the latest one - I kept second-guessing how everything would be judged, until I was no longer enjoying myself. When I began to run out of time and just had to get something on the page, I had to let that go.
 

Wicht

Adventurer
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.

The sword question was just a rambling sort of question which had no bearing on anything one way or another. :)

As for the Elevator, I was willing to cede it for the purpose of the adventure, and I do know that the ships move up and down... but I couldn't remember if the original Spelljammer rules talked about this at all relevant to actual physical mechanics. I have a memory that each ship has a helm powered by spells, and looking at the pictures, the illithid ships had these frilly wings, but a lot of them were just boats in space sans wings. Magical flying ships that don't need wings to fly don't need elevators or rudders to steer either. If it was all telekinesis, then, much like the typical ufo of yore, the ships just move where you want them, however you think of them moving. To put it another, way, does the sail on a spelljamming merchant vessel actually do anything in space? I simply could not remember and a brief google search did not educate me further than my initial memories. I suppose I could have dug out my spelljammer box set, and seen what it said but that level of research seemed unnecessary as, again, I was willing to allow it as necessary for the purpose of the adventure. Nothing says every spelljammer has to work exactly like every other one anyway.
 
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Wicht

Adventurer
I enjoy the Judges critiques as much as I enjoy the entries themselves. I find them to be an immensely helpful learning tool, both for writing more of these entries, and for writing adventures generally. I don't think either of my entries would have been as good (such as they are) if I had not read the critiques of the earlier matches before writing.

There's a drawback to that, though: It may have been one of the reasons that I had such a hard time writing the latest one - I kept second-guessing how everything would be judged, until I was no longer enjoying myself. When I began to run out of time and just had to get something on the page, I had to let that go.
You can only play to the judges so much. In the end, you need to be satisfied with your own work and learn to speak with your own voice. Granted, trying to write a pastiche in the style of a favorite author has a satisfaction all its own; but I think such an exercise should be the exception, not the rule, and in the end is just a part of trying to learn your own style.
 

Thanks and commiserations to @el-remmen - that one was very very close and could have really gone either way, unanimous verdict or not. After reading your entry i thought using Spelljammer to square the fantasy/sci-fi circle of the ingredients was a stroke of genius and that your Binary Suns and Cursed Sword would be really hard to get past.

I can't argue with any of the critiques of my entry. My ogre wasn't precisely and literally ogre-y, so that was always a bit tenuous and i knew the hook was weak. The adventure was originally a Delta Green story, but I dumped that because I didn't want to deal with all Delta Green's setting-specific tropes, but one thing Delta Green DID have was a bunch of somewhat crazed superiors who sent you on weird missions with no or insufficient explanation, and my hook was a holdover from that. Having said that, what I should have done is relegated the last paragraph about Shakespeare's grave (which adds cool factor to the whole thing, but isn't structurally necessary) to a separate codicil post outside the judgeable portion of the adventure to reclaim wordcount and improved the hook a bit. @Rune seem to have been absolutely reading my mind on this adventure when it came to translating what I actually wrote into the vision I had in my head, and their mention of what happens when the sword is stored in a sealed container is exactly how i envisioned it, and what i should have used for the hook. The pawnbroker keeps the sword in a locked safe or the sealed boot of a car or something and Eldritch Hilarity Ensues.

I did want to address a couple of questions that @Rune made though, because i thought of them at the time and while i couldn't explicitly talk about them in the adventure due to word count, knowing about it does add to the thing as a whole.

The Bardic College in “Play” is more clever and more central to the goings-on. I think the choice of Shakespeare wasn’t entirely necessary, but is entirely understandable. I do wonder if Christopher Marlowe wouldn’t have fit the adventure a little better; Doctor Faustus could have been autobiographical!

(This section does raise some questions, although I’m not entirely certain that they need answers within the scope of the adventure. Did Shakespeare leave a copy of the play in Praecipua? Did he make a copy of a play that was already there? If the latter, why is the play in Praecipua written in his language and style? These strike me as good questions to follow up on in a future installment. If such is even a possibility, of course.)

I deliberately chose Shakespeare partly because Shakespeare is The Bard with a capital 'B', and so was a better fit for the 'Bardic College' ingredient. But it did reach a bit beyond that. Lovecraft and his work of course have a well-founded reputation of racism, and i wanted to flip that about in this adventure a little. So rather than the standard Lovecraftian story construct where some funny-looking foreigner secretly practises unspeakable rites that horrify good honest white anglo-saxons (and heaven help us if a white man breeds with one of these awful creatures!), I tried to make it the other way around. Poor Pakistani immigrant Pamir is a victim twice over, exploited and stolen from by shonky white managerial type Coulthard, and used and discarded to madness and death by Ffoulkes. And the sane, sensible presence is Ronica (who is in my head of Afro-Caribbean descent - Ronica is a common Jamaican girl's name according to Google, and her surname Marshall came from the legendary Barbadian cricket player Malcolm Marshall, and she studies colonialism into the bargain). And of course, what's more emblematic of high Anglo-Saxon culture than Shakespeare? It amused me to make him a twisted warlock writing unspeakable tomes, and spreading his taint to new worlds, rather than the taint coming to Good Old Wholesome England from without....

Besides, if you're running a CoC game and you can't do anything with Shakespeare's tomb, then you're not trying. And the circumstances of his death remain unknown (mutated into a Ffoulkes-like ogre and taken down by agents in Walshingham's employ, probably, who then went back and purged the unholy bits out of his plays, which is why the chant of the three witches in Macbeth, for instance, is clearly stylistically different to everything else in Shakespeare ) The inscription on his grave: ''Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To digg the dust encloased heare, Blest by the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.'
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
The adventure was originally a Delta Green story...

I've been thinking about running it in Delta Green! My usually IRL game, now on Zoom loves to play short Delta Green games between longer D&D campaigns. It seems like the perfect lengths, and would probably take us two to four sessions (depending on how much I flesh out to build ambiance.)
Lovecraft and his work of course have a well-founded reputation of racism, and i wanted to flip that about in this adventure a little. So rather than the standard Lovecraftian story construct where some funny-looking foreigner secretly practises unspeakable rites that horrify good honest white anglo-saxons (and heaven help us if a white man breeds with one of these awful creatures!), I tried to make it the other way around. Poor Pakistani immigrant Pamir is a victim twice over, exploited and stolen from by shonky white managerial type Coulthard, and used and discarded to madness and death by Ffoulkes. And the sane, sensible presence is Ronica (who is in my head of Afro-Caribbean descent - Ronica is a common Jamaican girl's name according to Google, and her surname Marshall came from the legendary Barbadian cricket player Malcolm Marshall, and she studies colonialism into the bargain). And of course, what's more emblematic of high Anglo-Saxon culture than Shakespeare? It amused me to make him a twisted warlock writing unspeakable tomes, and spreading his taint to new worlds, rather than the taint coming to Good Old Wholesome England from without....

At least two of my players (probably three, actually) would absolutely notice and love that about it.

As an aside, when I read your entry, I laughed out loud and told my wife about how you'd used "redundant ogre" right from the start. As a student, she liked it. I thought your use of both definitions were really clever.
 

I've been thinking about running it in Delta Green! My usually IRL game, now on Zoom loves to play short Delta Green games between longer D&D campaigns. It seems like the perfect lengths, and would probably take us two to four sessions (depending on how much I flesh out to build ambiance.)
Wow, thanks, that's a massive compliment! If you do ever end up running it, please let me know how it went, I'd love to hear about it.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
The new standings, halfway through round two:

IRONDM2020-bracket-rd2.5.jpg
 

Wicht

Adventurer
Judgment for Round 2, Match 2
@Iron Sky vs. @FitzTheRuke


Wow. One of these entries is definitely easier to grok than the other. But does that make it better, worse, or not really matter in the end. Let’s find out.

Our first entry, Iron Sky’s Postmortem (hereafter TPK) aka. Death Race in the World Space, is a post death extravaganza boiled in Norse myth and served with a side of steam punk. The terminology and presentation takes a bit of getting used to, but in essence, the PCs will have the chance to aid powers and potential powers to somehow wrest control of a mythic lantern for control of the universe by engaging in a scavenger-hunt/race.

Our second entry, FitztheRuke’s Race to the Bottom (hereafter Hag) is a more typical offering which also features a race as the PCs pursue an evil hag through old dwarven tunnels. This entry is less ambitious in scope than its competitor, but is also somewhat tighter and easier to follow.

Both adventures were turned in on time, and were under the word count. So let’s take a look at what they actually offer us, beginning with

Lets deal with the ingredients in the order the were given to the contestants, beginning with Window of Opportunity. In TPK we have a broken window in the lantern which the PCs will have to try to enter, if…, and this is I think an important point,… if they are working for the Enlightened thing and flying an airship. Otherwise, as far as I can tell, they will never encounter it. As might be clear in my judgments to date, I find ingredients which may or may not be encountered by the PCs a less than optimal use, and in this case it only has about a 33% chance of ever getting used. In Hag, we have two uses of a window of opportunity, both a bit less literal, but also more within the normal range of the term’s meaning. The second use in particular, as a few moments of battle in the midst of a mine-car race, is a bit scripted, but also highly cinematic. The DM has to hope, of course, that the window passes before they defeat the hag so that they will have to fight here elsewhere. But I think Hag has the clearly better use of the ingredient.

Then we come to the rather interesting ingredient of Nameless Things. I think that Hag has something of an advantage in this ingredient as well, but it’s a closer thing and requires a bit of explanation because in some ways TPK clearly works harder with the ingredient and at first glance the nameless things of Hag seem rather generic, being simply monstrous humanoids without names. Yet,… yet… yet, TPK works too hard to be clever and in a rather rare instance of this, undoes some of its own work because of its offering of a secong go at the ingredient. At the same time there is an elegant kind of poetry and tragedy to the simplicity of Hag’s use. What I mean by this is that the Things in TPK are initially a reference to a kind of counsel; at least, the Norse Things were gatherings for the purpose of governance and I am assuming that this is the implied meaning in TPK; though I must admit it is never spelled out and I am making an educated guess that we are meant to accept the classical understanding. And two of these Things are indeed by design nameless so as to not be subject to magical control. If this was the only use of Thing, we would be good and I might give it to TPK even though it’s a bit muddy that this was the intended meaning. But as we go on in the entry, we then have Thing used in reference to the English idea of a thing, meaning an item. And our attention is called to this use rather pointedly and yet none of these things are unnamed, rather they all are given named characteristics. What these additions manage to unfortunately accomplish is the creation of confusion in the mind of the reader as to the meaning of the first use of Thing as a Norse style counsel. If using a Norse term, stick with that use of the term for the sake of clarity. On the other hand, the things of Hag are humans who, through strange magics, have lost their identity, their humanity, and even their very memories. They are individuals who are bereft of all that makes them who they are, with names stolen by magic, and humanity further stripped away. The fact that the PCs are going to kill many of these things, only to, one hopes, discover what they actually were, that they did have identities and families, becomes a rather powerful thing. So again, advantage Hag.

Which brings us to Weird Magic. Here I have to give the slight advantage to TPK. The weird magics of Hag are mostly just weird because the author says they are. In truth, by most rules as written, there are pretty standard explanations for most of what is done. We shall assume that what is meant is that she calls upon energies that are different from what most other wizards call upon as they bend the laws of time and space. TPK takes a risks by interpreting weird as wyrd, meaning fate magic. Its not a perfect implementation of this, but the whole matter of the PCs having a chance to undo fate is stronger than what Hag offers, so in this case the risk pays off.

But on the Unlightable Lantern the advantage swings back to Hag, which has a rather glorious little malevolent magic item in the lantern, which when it is attempted to be lit, steals your very essence, a little at a time. The lantern in TPK, on the other hand is hard to light, but not actually unlightable, especially as the whole quest of those following the path of enlightenment is essentially to use a radioactive substance to “light” the lantern. Not being able to burn a flame in a lantern due to the wind is not the same as not being able to light it. Though one does wonder whether there is not a simpler, arcane way of lighting the lantern then bringing radioactive ore into it.

On the matter of Occupied Mine, which is truthfully one of the easier ingredients we have something of a wash, as both adventures offer mines which are suitably occupied and integral to the adventures.

And then we come to Old Ways. This is a tricky one because in TPK, the use of the ingredient is not spelled out explicitly (unless I am missing it), and we have to search for the ingredient. But the entirety of the adventure is basically asking the PCs to choose sides between the old rigid ways of doing things, or the new, more innovative and free-form ways. In Hag on the other hand, the old tunnels are just that: old tunnels. I have to give the advantage to TPK here.

And then Faster Car. In Hag we simply have six cars and one of them is providentially faster than the others. In TPK the PCs have the chance to upgrade their vehicle so it becomes faster. In neither case did I think it was particularly a good use. Which is a shame, since, as both adventures are a race, I think more might have been done with the ingredient. So we’ll call this one a wash.

As we get to the end of the ingredients, Hag has a definite advantage, but not an overwhelming one,… so lets move on…

Let’s talk about…

In the matter of useability, I think that Hag is the clear favorite. There is a lot going on in TPK, it is presented in a somewhat muddy way (the result of time constraints I am guessing) and each choice of the PCs at the beginning requires a whole different set of plans on the part of the DM. Essentially there are three adventures here, each running side by side with the other. You also have the matter of the DM having to run not one, but two other teams of powerful individuals, and, on the part of the poor DM, this whole scenario would likely end up being something of a nightmare to plan and run. The hook is very situation specific, but once it is taken the PCs have little choice but to follow through, one would assume. One remaining problem with useability is that it assumes a longer running campaign, with preknown enemies who are also dead. This makes it a rather niche offering, certainly not suitable for a wide variety of groups.

All that being said, once I did Grok all that was going on in TPK, I really liked quite a bit of it. It’s a bit outside my normal area of play, but it is well done and decently thought out, and gives a wide variety of choices, at least initially as to how the PCs want to go within the adventure. There’s a great deal going on, and most of it is fairly interesting, with a fair amount of opportunity for roleplaying. It is a case where the more I read it and understood it, the better I liked it.

Hag on the other hand, is more linear, but it does not necessarily lose much because of that linearity simply because the action keeps moving. The setup requires the PCs to make the choice to investigate, but all things being equal, though the hook is a bit weak, it will probably work most of the time. And once the PCs are in the adventure they are likely to see it through to the end. My main complaint about it is that as a scenario, its actually a little on the short side. This is not totally bad, but I am left wanting just a little bit more. On the other, other hand, the rather horrific discovery by the PCs at the end that the monsters they have been killing were in fact the missing townsfolk is horrific enough to be worth the price of admission. It may be bad of me, but I really like that twist.

So where does that leave us?

TPK is a bit of a mess on first read, and I had to really work to get it. Some of that may have been a limited amount of sleep fogging my brain a little, but I think a lot of it was simply presentation and the use of terms both archaic and non-standard so as to require both research and assumptions as to their meaning. But once I did make it through, giving it two or three good rereads, it started to come together, and I found a lot there to like. My final impression was far more favorable than my initial impression.

On the other hand, Hag is easily understood, and if anything is almost too simple. But the ingredients are well used, and they tie together in a nice cohesive package. And a lot of that simplicity is hiding some rather well put-together ideas, such as the unlightable lantern, the true identity of the nameless things and the nice little cinematic mine-cart chase. There are a few weaknesses here and there, and aside from the emotional impact of the reveal at the end concerning the true nature of the monsters, I don’t know how memorable it will be a month after it has been played through.

Still, when all is said and done, FitztheRuke and The Race to the Bottom are the winners of this match in my estimation. We’ll see what the other other two judges say, whether they agree with me or not…

Postmortem (TPK)
Rules 6
Ingredient Use

Window of Opportunity 1
Nameless Things 1.5
Weird Magic 1.5
Unlightable Lantern 1
Occupied Mine 2
Old Ways 2
Faster Car 1 (total 10/14)
Useability 3
Appeal 5
TOTAL SCORE 24/32

Race to the Bottom (Hag)
Follows Rules 6
Ingredients

Window of Opportunity 2
Nameless Things 2
Weird Magic 1
Unlightable Lantern 2
Occupied Mine 2
Old Ways 1
Faster Car 1 (total 11)
Useability 5
Appeal 5
TOTAL SCORE 27/32
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
@Wicht I'm glad to see you got that bit!

I definitely intended their very likely slaughter of the poor cursed townsfolk to shock the players, in particular if they figure out how to cure them in the end. I think it's the right balance - if they save some of them, they can easily be forgiven (by the townsfolk, the law, or themselves) for the mistake, but they could also feel true remorse. A good opportunity for role-playing, I think.

I get what you mean about the Faster Car in my entry. I cut more than I thought I had from what made the third minecart faster than the others. It wasn't until I read my entry again a few days later (I submitted it with something like 15 minutes to go, in something of a rush) that I noticed that I had left much of it out. (I also noticed a bunch of other tweaks I should have made, naturally.)

I agree with, and appreciate all your criticisms of my entry. Thanks for the nod.
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Herein lies the risk of having several options for each ingredient. The main window of opportunity I intended was the chance PCs have to act if they're efficient with the race and get there before the other teams. The main old ways I intended were the decaying railways though I'm glad you liked the use I didn't really think about. I'm also not sure what the named things that weaken the ingredient are... I don't think I ever used the word thing unless it was for a Thing. The various ores collected to complete the relative missions?

As for using the race rules, all the GM needs to do is roll a dice once for each rival faction whenever the PCs do and note progress or strain for the other factions. I'm not sure how I could make the race much simpler than that?

If you think thinks and sees the world the same way you do, read an Iron DM judgment I guess. :p

Regardless, thanks for the critique, @Wicht, I definitely learn something from every judgment!
 
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My thoughts on the last two entries:

I like how the two entries couldn't be more different from one another. Postmortem went unexpectedly deep on its lore and setting, providing a type of adventure that is really unique in its structure. I'm a bit sad its originality didn't earn it more points, though it is hard to disagree with the critique regarding the use of the ingredients.

Race to the bottom on the other hand is fairly mundane as far as adventures go, but also pretty straight forward to run because of it. It is an easy plug and play adventure in my view. Simplicity can be a good thing. Its use of the Unlightable Lantern is also very strong, and very reminiscent of classic TSR modules.

Fitz already expressed some of his disappointment with his own entry, and his writers block. I can see what he means. It is not exactly an entry that blew me away. But, I do understand the adventure easily, and I feel it is something just about any DM could put in their campaign as a side adventure, without much trouble. In that respect, I think the mundaneness actually did it a lot of favors. Structurally, it is a solid and cohesive adventure. Not spectacular, but easy to run.

Postmortem impressed me more. But if I had to choose which of the two to actually run as a DM, it would probably be Race to the bottom. I love the bitter irony in the name of the adventure btw.
 
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