IRON DM 2020 Tournament Thread

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The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Judgement for Round 2, Match 2: Iron Sky vs. FitzTheRuke

Wow, these are two very different adventures! And both promise to great fun as well, with a desperate race providing a driving sense of urgency for the players. One of these adventures took... a few more reads to really get a handle on. The other is a fairly straightforward and typical adventure structure, though with its own unique twists. I will say that I'm struggling, at this point, to say which adventure seems to be an early favorite. So, to begin, let's break down each ingredient, and how it's utilized in @Iron Sky's "Postmortem" and @FitzTheRuke's "Race to the Bottom" (hereafter "Race"). I'll note that due to the close-ness of this race at this early juncture, I'll be judging these ingredients even more harshly than I would otherwise. Let this not reflect on the overall quality of the pieces themselves.

Window of Opportunity
If there is one re-occurring theme as I turn over each of these ingredients in my head, it is disappointment. Very few of these ingredients strike me as standouts (though the one's that are!), and quite a few just leave me... disappointed. This is the first ingredient I'll be discussing, and I was disappointed to see both authors taking this ingredient as it is typically used (rather than trying to work in some clever literal window!) Its use in "Race" is perfunctory; the brief opportunities to attack the hag before it flees deeper into the mine. "Postmortem" is more subtle about it, but generally speaking the entire adventure is a "window of opportunity" for the PCs to get a second chance at life. That's honestly a pretty usage, overall. There are some issues there though that I'll need to come back to.

Nameless Things
In contrast, both authors used this ingredient quite well. The term "things" isn't really justified in either piece, but their namelessness makes sense in the context of both adventures. There's a little bit more interactivity with the "Nameless Things" in "Race" (well, at least 2/3rds of the time), but then, a solution presents itself to give these creatures back their names. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though; a condition that the PCs must deal with and solve is a stronger ingredient usage than as a condition to be prevented.

Weird Magic
The "exact wording" nitpicker in me wants to dock "Postmortem" for its "Wyrds", but the etymologist in me will let it slide (as "Weird" descends directly from "Wyrd"). What I'm less inclined to let slide, however, is that the Wyrds aren't synonymous with the Norns. Rather, they're very directly called out as one of the three factions. Specifically, it seems, the faction most closely associated with technology and industry. It's a little cloudy, but then, it's a difficult adventure to parse overall. In "Race", the hag is at least casting magic. It's a little weirder than usual, I guess, but any low-level spellcaster can conjure a Fog Cloud, for instance, ladle or no. The fact that the entry goes out of its way to always refer to the hag's magic as "weird" betrays its weakness here.

Unlightable Lantern
This represents probably the biggest gulf in between the two entries on a single ingredient, and it leans heavily in favor of "Race". It's a fiendishly clever little trap, and its unlightable nature makes it even more likely to be sprung. That it ties directly into the Nameless Things makes the ingredient all the stronger. Meanwhile, the lantern in "Postmortem" is perfectly able to be lit; in fact at least one of the three factions are trying to do just that (and still another probably plans to light it again soon). Had the ingredient been "Unlit Lantern", it would be in the same category as the "Nameless Things" of "Race". Sadly, however, that was not the case.

Occupied Mine
This was one of the ingredients I proposed, and while I didn't share this fact with the other judges, I will say that my motivation for including it was to play directly against the trope of the "Abandoned Mine". As an Occupied Mine, the setting of "Race" barely qualifies. There are a precious few humans huddled near it, but otherwise it was occupied, abandoned, re-occupied, and summarily re-abandoned by these same frightened humans. Thematically, however, the dungeon plays just like any other "Abandoned" mine would, with the appropriate monsters "occupying" it. The mine in "Postmortem" is, on the other hand, quite occupied, and it makes for a pretty fantastic and chaotic set-piece overall, with a slew of meaningful choices in how the PCs might go about dealing with the situation. We'll need to talk about "Postmortem" and meaningful choices later, however.

Old Ways
This one is subtle in "Postmortem"; perhaps too subtle. The nearest I can gather, this is represented by the third faction, the "Freedom" Norns. As an ingredient that will only be directly relevant one third of the time, it's not that great. The other two factions will, presumably, need to deal with this third group (provided the dice don't completely screw over The Freedom Norns), but they honestly seem much more concerned with each other. The ingredient is fairly cleverly presented in "Race", but there's not really much to the role it plays in the adventure. It is, essentially, "the way to go". That's not great.

Faster Car
I was also quite disappointed that neither adventure really has any kind of cars in it. Sure, there are trains, airships, chariots, and minecarts. None of those are cars, however. If I'm inclined to being generous (which I'm not sure I am) one could include the train's "cars" and call the minecarts "cars", as both ingredients do. In this case, there's a bit more of a meaningful choice for the PCs in "Postmortem" in whether they take the time to soup up their locomotive (to which the train "cars" are, incidentally, attached), but that assumes that the PCs (a) side with the Wyrds (which to me seems like the least likeable faction) and (b) aren't running so desperate behind they can't waste the turns and need to pray for a couple of 10's/12's. Because otherwise, mathematically, yes, you make that choice 100% of the time. There's a little bit of a puzzle with whether the PCs will notice the second mine cart in "Race" is faster, but that's the extent of the real interactivity, and mine "car" is even more of a stretch than the train "car".

So we end basically tied on ingredients, and I can't quite say which has the advantage. I even tried doing a Wicht/DT-esque quantitative point system; it came out as a tie. Once again, then, I forced to make a decision based on the relative strengths of each adventure as an adventure.

We'll start with "Race", the more straightforward of the two. If there's one big knock on this adventure, it's that it's relatively safe. Normal. Oh, there's a fun twist with the lantern and the Nameless Things, and the moral quandries of how the PCs deal with them before they learn their true nature. How many do they kill before they do learn? That fun little twist aside, however, there's nothing else to really say about it. It's a fairly bog-standard D&D adventure, for good or ill.

Then there's "Postmortem", which promises to be the kind of colorful norsepunk fever-dream that Thor: Ragnarok (and the Kirby-era cosmic weirdness comics that inspired it) gave us on screen. There's tons of choices, lots of complications and really cool set pieces. The idea of pitting the PC's two most hated dead villains against them again is inspired. Yes, it promises to be a truly great adventure.

And yet, it mostly kind of fails.

The reasons for this failure are many, and the adventure might have survived one or two of them. The moment-to-moment action itself does deliver actually on those promises, as well. But there's too many issues here, and what's most disheartening is that they were mostly unforced errors. Let's go over them, one-by-one.

First, the stakes are muddy at best and pointless at worst. Oh sure, there's the literal "PC's must succeed to get a second chance at life" stakes that probably serve well enough to drive the PCs on its own. But that's just a way to tie the PC's personal stakes into the broader stakes of the story which is... which Norn controls Yggdrasil, I guess? Maybe there's some broader cosmic alignment issues at play here [I gauged the three factions as N (maybe leaning NE), LG (maybe leaning LN), and CN (maybe leaning CG), respectively] but otherwise I can't see any other reason why the PCs should care. Given this sets up the first actual choice for the PCs, it doesn't really help that there's not really a ton to go on as to what the ultimate cosmic consequences of that choice is. And that gives the choice only the illusion of meaningfulness.

We see this same illusion again in the "choice" of how fast to go. The even/odd mechanic is the linchpin of this whole race (and thus the adventure of a whole), and as near as I can tell it's entirely and utterly broken. Whichever die is chosen, the odds are the same to make progress or run into a complication either way. And since each faction is racing to get where they're going the fastest, the right choice is going to always be the die with the biggest numbers. I get that the higher-numbered odd complications are supposed to be more "difficult", but a complication is a complication, and by getting to their locations faster by rolling higher even numbers, they'll end up having fewer of them overall. I'm no math major, so maybe I'm really missing something here. I don't think I am though.

This is what I said about the unforced errors. We didn't need to know the exact mechanic by which the race is settled. In a fully published adventure, of course, it does need to be there. But in this competition we're asking for synopses. If we didn't know the exact mechanism by which it worked, we as readers and judges could have probably inferred a better one than what is ultimately supplied here.

And this brings us to the greatest unforced error in the piece. So much so that the adventure would have been better served going over the word count by, say, 11 words (or even just 6). After all the PCs have gone through, if, at the very end, they ultimately don't succeed, they...... just get sent on another errand? That's... that's it? This ending is so unsatisfying that it renders the stakes, not just for the cosmos but for the three Norns themselves, moot. Ah, can't win 'em all champ. Don't worry about it, it happens, that was just for practice anyway. Now this time what I want you to do is...

I've spent a LOT of time talking about my issues with this adventure. Which one should take as a bad thing, right? I mean, sure, of course. But also, here's the thing. There's so much to talk about with this adventure. Say what you will, but it's not boring. Iron Sky took risks on this adventure, and odds could be that these issues are ones that bother me way more than anybody else (including my fellow judges). Splitting the entry into essentially three different adventures is a tricky thing to do, and while it did hurt with a few of the ingredients, that aspect of the adventure works like gangbusters (when we aren't pretending anybody's going to roll a d4 for speed in this particular system). Again, the moment-to-moment action here is fantastic. It's memorable. And if the players can find a reason to sympathize with one of the Norns over the others, and they ultimately succeed? This would probably be one of the ones talked about for years and years. "Remember that time we died, then all of a sudden we were dropping bombs on that armored train driving up Yggdrasil while fighting off flying Norse chariots?" But as it is, for me... I'd honestly have a hard time caring. I'd certainly want to be not dead anymore, so I guess there's that. But that's a relatively weak motivator, all told.

And I also don't want to short-change "Race" here. It isn't a bad adventure by any means, in fact it's quite good. I wouldn't call it boring, not even comparatively. But it is a fairly traditional, safe, adventure. Iron Sky took significantly more risks, shot for a much higher star, and came damn close to sticking the landing before it all fell apart.

So, that's plenty enough words spilled from me. What, then, is my judgment?

I fully expect to be in the minority on this one when all is said and done, but I have to give the win to @FitzTheRuke on this one.

There's a big caveat here: on the chance that you do make it to the final round, I want to see something spectacular from you. I consider (and again I may be in the minority on this) "Portmortem" to be a bit of a train wreck, but I still almost went with it at the end in spite of myself. It's not going to be enough to give us something solid. You're gonna have to knock our socks off.

@Iron Sky, you and I have had a bit of a history not really getting each others' stuff, so maybe I'm just the odd one out. That's why we have three judges, after all. You don't need me to tell you've created some amazing stuff, and this had to potential to be among it. But for me, the stakes just were not there, and I couldn't get past it. Maybe I'm the weirdo.

This was a really really tough one to judge. Even now, as I'm wrapping this up, I'm still not quite sure I've made the right decision. But I've been sitting with it for a while now, and this is the way that I feel I have to go for now.

For now, we have one more judgment incoming, which may or may not determine who wins this match.
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Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 2, Match 2: FitzTheRuke vs. Iron Sky

I can’t help but get the feeling that Iron Sky’s “Postmortem” (“Post”) is going out of its way to be a challenging read. The mythic tone and the preponderance of obscure terminology more or less ensures multiple readings in order to catch hold of the details within the piece and, in the case of this weary judge, requires multiple definition-checks, lest an assumption of knowledge on my part supersedes the actual meaning of a term.

I still don’t know what “Norsepunk” is supposed to be. Risky gambit, Iron Sky. We’ll see how well that strategy works out for you.

On the other hand, FitzTheRuke’s “Race to the Bottom” (“Race”) is fairly clear and quick-reading. It presents a solid adventure (somewhat reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, what with the slaves and the mine-cart chase and weird magic and all).

It’s got some great sequences that are likely to be talked about for years to come. I do take issue with the presentation of one of my favorite elements within the adventure, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with ingredients:

Right away, I’m fairly disappointed with both versions of the Window of Opportunity. Both entries seem to simply present a frame of time where the PCs can do a thing. “Race” does this with the possibility of combat. Twice.

In “Post,” the window is a span of time that the PCs might have (depending on dice rolls) to prepare for a future leg of their quest.

What a missed opportunity. When the judges present an ingredient than can be interpreted creatively, we’re providing our own window of opportunity for the authors to give us something new. Sure, it may not be the easiest ingredient to fit in, but, again...opportunity.

Now, I am being a little unfair to “Post,” here. The Unlightable Lantern is all tied in with the Fates’ attempts to gain control over each others’ offspring and it’s broken windows are the impetus for them to use the PCs to achieve such (while the PCs take the opportunity to gain favor and be returned to life). I will begrudgingly admit that it is a pretty good implementation, if somewhat buried.

Both entries use Nameless Things fairly well. “Post” presents us with entities who necessarily were never given names so that they could not be effected by the name-based weird magic (name-based, because it has to do with fate!). And these entities are ever-present within the adventure, since they serve both as patrons and antagonists. This is really cleverly incorporated.

But I think I like “Race” better for this one. At first, the Nameless Things seem less important to the shape of things. And I definitely don’t like seeing the ingredients in a cauldron called out, as well, for no particularly relevant reason. That kind of thing makes me think the author wasn’t very confident in their own implementation of the ingredient.

Fortunately, there’s something deeper going on here. The Nameless Things are actually townsfolk who have lost their memories (although the reader won’t know this for sure until the very end of the piece).

This, in itself, is interesting, but because the PCs likely won’t know this, and because the Nameless Things are frequently used to attack the PCs throughout the adventure, we set up a deliciously likely situation wherein the players get to realize that they’ve been slaughtering the townsfolk, likely(?) without remorse (until the reveal).

How about Weird Magic? “Race” gives us magic that is either redundantly weird (in that it is supernatural), or not really (in that it doesn’t seem fate-related, at all). I mean, I guess it’s kind of strange, but then, isn’t all magic? Really, I can’t figure out what qualifies the hag’s magic as weird. I don’ think it isn’t, but I’d like to see some explanation of how — and why — it is.

On the other hand, Weird Magic is integral to “Post.” The fact that it is the magic of the Norns (Fates), inherently makes it weird. The fact that it therefore ties into the importance of names (and, hence, the importance of Nameless Things), is superb. The fact that it all matters to the PCs during the course of the adventure seals it. This is good.

The Unlightable Lantern is a little tougher. In “Race” we have a magic item that is is the tool used to set events in motion (and maintain that motion). Its form as a lantern is significant because it is placed in the mine as a lure. The necessity of being unlightable is a little less clear.

“Post” gives us a form that seems a little macguffiny. I’m not absolutely sure that it is, though. The lantern’s primary intended goal was to search the stars for a way to gain control of the uncontrollable Nameless Things (because: fate-magic). The fact that is unlightable plays a huge role in those entities’ power-struggle (and also prevents it from being used for its secondary purpose: to guide a fleet). I think I’ve got to hand this one to “Post.”

“Post” gets the nod with the Occupied Mine, as well. It could pretty easily have just been the place where the PCs collect whichever macguffin they were after, but there are a couple of things that make this not so.

First of all, the items aren’t macguffins. They each have important rituals that the PCs will need to perform with them that are relevant to their forms. Second, the mine has a lot going on in it, not least of which is an oppressed working-class who are disinclined to aid their oppressors by aiding the PCs.

This presents a refreshing change of direction for the adventure and plenty of freedom for the PCs to work their way around it. Really nice.

In contrast, the Occupied Mine makes a pretty interesting setting for a large chunk of “Race.” It serves as the hag’s lair and works. But it really doesn’t need to be a mine. I mean, we get a great chase sequence out of it, but the adventure doesn’t really care what kind of setting it is. It wouldn’t even really need to be subterranean, except, of course, for the utility of the Unlightable Lantern.

How about the Old Ways? “Race” gives us some sealed paths connecting the coastal settlement with the dwarves’ abandoned mine. They are important in that they get the villain and PCs from one setting of the adventure to the next. I can’t really see how it is important that they are old, though.

If they were still sealed, that would make sense, but they clearly aren’t. And why is that, by the way? Has Frau Klegg been using her Nameless Things to clear the path?

What about the “Post” version? They are similarly the means for a race, but their ancient quality actually plays a significant role in the sequence, as the entry calls out their dilapidated state as the basis for peril (and sabotage). So that works a little better.

And then there’s the Faster Car. I don’t know what a good version of this ingredient would have looked like, but these entries don’t have it.

“Race” gives us a cart that grants advantage on the race checks but the most interesting thing here is that only two PCs can fit in it.

“Post” gives a race in carts that someone will win in what will therefore have been the faster car. Ugh.

“Race” is clearly the better of the two, but that doesn’t make it particularly good.

Okay, so that’s...more one-sided than I was expecting. But that’s only half the story.

Let’s talk about the shape of these adventures:

Beginning with hooks and stakes.

“Post” has the most specific hook imaginable. This tournament has seen adventures that take place after death before (@Pour ’s “Expiation” comes to mind), but I don’t remember any that require a TPK.

I will note that, in general, this adventure seems well-designed to fit in with many different kinds of rules-sets. This is one area where that is less true; I’m not sure how frequent TPKs happen in most modern games.

Still, if it applies, the PCs can’t really say no. (Speaking of which, is there any reason the Norns don’t use the weird magic on the PCs (who presumably have names) to compel them? Or maybe they are doing that?

As for stakes, they are significant right from the start (at least the ones for the PCs are — those being the return to life). Significant, yes. But I definitely wouldn’t characterize them as clear.

After that, what happens? The PCs choose one of three patrons/paths and set about performing a task to further their patron’s ends, while previously defeated rivals from life serve the other two, resulting in a three-way race.

Now, I’m generally somewhat wary of split-path adventures; they often leave a lot of cool stuff outside of the players’ experience (and, in the worst cases, force the players to make an uneducated choice between multiple paths which aren’t equally cool). This is especially frustrating when all paths lead to the same result.

Fortunately, “Post” does a few things to negate these downfalls. First, the different paths only superficially lead toward the same end. Because the Norns are trying to screw each other over, the PCs’ choice will play a big role in who ends up on top (because one of them will, at least for a while).

Another thing it does is let the PCs witness their rivals’ efforts and also mess with them. So, in a way, the players get to experience all of the paths.

And then, there’s something else that helps, too. The presentation of suggested complications, actions, encounters and whatnot is characteristically efficient and evocative.

Because this presentation provides a good variety in a small chunk of easily scanned text, the DM gets a good picture of the types of things that can happen, or what they look like.

They provide inspiration for the DM to elaborate upon, but they also provide an efficient format to convey some pretty important threads within the adventure.

This is all very good stuff. And it allows an adventure that seems on its surface to be fundamentally a fetch-quest to mask a larger and more complex adventure within. That’s really cool.

So why is it so hard to get through?

Those things I mentioned at the start of this judgment? Those are good things. The epic register and the obscure vocabulary? They set a tone and suggest a setting in a manner far more efficient than any descriptive exposition could do. This is impressive.

But it comes at a cost, and that cost is clarity. The adventure is quite good and the entry does a lot right to make it so, but it simply was not very enjoyable to read. I mean, I was still trying to identify ingredients were during my fourth pass.

Frankly, I’m not sure that a casual read would be any better. And I’m especially skeptical that the players are going to follow along when the DM tries to deliver that block of exposition (which the DM has to modify!) at the start.

It’s clearly been polished, but still feels rough. It’s a good adventure, but took me multiple reads to recognize it. I’m conflicted.


“Race” has a pretty decent hook (getting attacked by nameless things) which sets the groundwork for a strong reveal later. Once they get to town, they’ll learn about the stakes of the adventure, and those are pretty good, here. No complaints.

The adventure certainly has some memorable sequences in it (the mine-chase being foremost). And it has a fair amount to do within it, although there are stretches of the adventure that seem somewhat linear.

My main issue with the presentation of this adventure is tied in with its best part. The relationship between the nameless things and the missing townfolk has potential to be a world-class gut-punch, but it needs some fine-tuning.

First, the players have to be given some hints along the way; as the adventure is written, I’m not sure it is reasonable to expect that they could figure things out on their own. How would they? The townsfolk sure don’t know. I guess they could figure it out when they start fooling around with the lamp. But maybe it could be clearer?

Part of that is because the entry withholds that information from the DM, too, until the very end. This means that, even if the DM is wondering if they are the same as they read (as I found myself doing), it’s pretty easy to miss the conformation that they are.

That’s going to make it harder for the DM to lay the groundwork to really make that reveal smart. Of course, a second reading fixes that, but it would have been better to put that information in the DM’s mind far earlier.

This is a pretty good adventure with a lot of potential! I enjoyed it quite a bit.

But I think it’s pretty clear that I can’t recommend it for advancement. Despite my significant criticisms of “Post,” there’s just no denying that it actually is an adventure that shows off the skills of an accomplished IRON DM.

Not only is the adventure deceptively rich, but it’s ingredients are in general well-interwoven with each other. Even so, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think things would swing that way during the first few reads.

@FitzTheRuke, I think you may have overthought this one. Especially on those ingredients, which tend to lean toward cleverness at the expense of correlation. Happens to the best of us. Certainly, I’ve fallen into that trap more than a few times. You’ve shown skill, for sure.

But, more importantly, you’ve got great instincts. I’m not kidding when I say that the fundamental premise of your entry is one of the best things to come out of this year’s tournament, so far.

The hardest part of learning to write these entries is figuring out how to find the connections between the ingredients, especially when they don’t seem obvious.

You may notice that the most successful competitors find ways to let those connections form the framework for the adventure, so they can focus on other aspects of writing. All while making them important to the PCs/adventure, of course. You’ve got that last part down pretty well. The rest will come. It’s never easy, but it gets easier.

With all that said, I’m going to have to go with @Iron Sky on this one.

...But the other judges have spoken, and I’m the odd one out, this time.

Therefore, by a 2:1 decision, FitzTheRuke advances to the Championship Round!

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How interesting to see the judges be slightly divided on this one, and to see them come at this from different angles. It makes me happy to see some more recognition of how original Iron Sky's entry is. I do however also agree with the other judges that the implementation of the ingredients was better in Race to the Bottom. I think whoever wins this tournament has to really come up with something spectacular


Now that Rune has weighed in, I'll add an addendum to my judgement. After explanation by Iron Sky, and more thought I might have added another "point" or two for a few ingredient uses to Postmortem, if I had understood them better, but my judgement would remain the same.

I notice all three of us commenting on the difficulty of the read of Postmortem, and that the ingredients were, in a few cases, not interpreted the same. I, like Rune, had to read it multiple times (9-10 times) to make sure I wasn't missing what the ingredients were supposed to be and that can't be a good thing. I like to think that I have good reading comprehension, but admittedly the mind is not as young and flexible as it once was. Don't assume that what you think is clear in your head is clear to others when writing. Postmortem was a beast to read through and that hurts it because fair as I want to be, there's only so many times I am willing to read something before I move on and assume I have it as good as I am going through to get it.

But that also brings me to how I judge, and one reason that in my weighting, I give as much weight to utility as appeal. Artistry has a place but in adventure design I want my artistry to be married to utility and, in my opinion, part of the art of good adventure design is presenting "beauty" in a manner which is utilitarian. Others have to be able to take your vision and present it themselves in a way that does it justice. A grand epic plan for an adventure may look good in your head, but how is it going to play out on the table? If we were writing novels or poetry, Iron Sky definitely had the more epic, grand vision. If we were judging such things, I probably would have gone the other way. But as an adventure which must be presented by a DM and which must survive on the table, in this case I think the utility of simplicity gets the edge...

Also @Iron Sky,... satisfy my curiosity if you would... did you intend the nameless things to be an actual counsel of powers, akin to a old Nordic style government assembly, or were they meant to be a metaphysical ideal? Or something else?
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I've been extremely busy over the last few days so haven't had a chance to look through either entry in very much depth, but one thing I have to say to @Iron Sky - serious, serious kudos to you for your ambition, originality, and willingness to take a high concept and just run with it. That entry is utterly unlike anything else I've seen in any Iron DM I think.

And I'll see you soon, @FitzTheRuke ...


Moderator Emeritus

EDIT: updated to include 3rd place match
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
@humble minion, thanks for your kind words, even if my tendency to strive towards "ambition, originality" doesn't always serve me for Iron DM.

Which, speaking of, I get what the judges say entirely. Skimming back over my entry this week-ish later, I winced. In my final edit, I actually went through and made the Norn's speeches more obscure and indirect. I also switched from calling everything by its cool Norse names when they were introduced then switching to English names for clarity afterwards and put in all Norse names. My hope was to make it seem more epic and evocative, but as @Wicht said, beauty vs utility matters in an RPG and, considering how close the judgments were, that last "Edit of Obfuscation" I hammered in one keyboard rune at a time may have tipped the victory.

I also definitely committed the sin I warned about in the scheduling thread by having multiple meanings for each ingredient. A friend told me over lunch one day he'd been cheated on 17 times. Once or twice, maybe it's the ladies, but 17? Maybe it's you, dude. Similarly, if one judge doesn't get the meaning I went for, maybe it's them. All three? Definitely me.

Another cardinal sin nailed by spelling out mechanics in a system-agnostic Iron DM adventure: what if they're playing Shadowrun and only have 50d6 at the table? What if they have a rough initial "odd dice" encounter rolling high then will only roll d4s figuring losing the race is better than facing another "11"? If I'd just said "getting the <speed McGuffin> gives you the option of traveling twice as fast for double the risk" it would probably have worked even if the none of the judges agreed that airship cars and chariot cars are listed in the definition of the world. :p

Less specifics, more demagoguery FTW (just like politics?)

The Things were supposed to be political assemblies. I didn't think of this until now, but the closest analogy leaking from my brain might be a coup in Moscow under Communist rule. The Communists steer a vast geographical empire from Moscow but if the ruling heads in the capitol are replaced by a coup of naval officers or an anarchist collective, then the entire government changes. Replace Communists with Wyrd Thing, a vast geographical empire with the fate of the multiverse, naval officers with the "Progressive" Thing, and an anarchist collective with "Freedom" Thing.

If this were a campaign I was running, the questions I'd be trying to answer for myself through play would be "what if all the major events on every world were actually political moves and/or shadow wars between fate-spinners fighting to control and keep in-power a totalitarian regime? What if everything we thought was important was only a tug on the a thread to keep the tapestry of fate on their single loom until the end of time?"

If I'd stayed up the extra hour or two and gave it another objective read over as though I was someone who hadn't spent 2 days swimming in Norse vocabulary, I might have fixed it. If I'd taken my own advice and tightened the writing to bring out a single clear meaning and/or left out the dice mechanics which confused rather than clarified, maybe that would have done it. I could blame family and relationship stuff for getting in the way or my 60-hour work week, but when it comes down to it I got lazy and said "good enough" instead of putting in the little bit extra that might have tilted the finals my way.

Might. @FitzTheRuke's entry seemed to me almost too simple and straightforward to possibly win on first read but "simple" really means "clear" and straightforward means "usable". Not only that, but it promises something I often completely forget about when writing these: fun!

I dumped everything on the entire store isle into a cart, sprayed a pretty can of paint over it, and shoved it towards the judges while he picked exactly the ingredients needed to make dinner. Clean, clear, efficient. Almost any DM with any group could sit down, play through, and have fun with Race while between the obscure terminology, philosophical meandering, wonky mechanics, and unclear stakes, Postmortem sits here cadaver-esque to be analyzed to death... after death.

Thanks @Rune, @Wicht, and @Gradine (hope you're feeling better!) for the critiques! Having played on that end a few times, I know and greatly appreciate the amount of time, effort, and focus that goes into writing a judgment. I think you probably read through it more times than I did, Wicht!

Congratz, Fitz! Good luck in the finals!
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Again, I agree with all criticisms of my piece, though I think I may have been a little too down on it myself when I first posted it (you'll see my rather negative comments, and the name was added last as a tongue-in-cheek double-label.) I wrote the vast majority of it in the last few hours of my time-slot. I think I had a much better idea that would have taken me much longer to write, and I didn't have the time (I can fire off D&D pretty fast, but I've never created a Call of Cthulhu story before, and I'm not terribly versed in the lore - it would have required research to write properly, and I just did not have the time.)

The minecart chase was the only thing that survived from my original ideas, but even that held me up, as I spent far too much time fleshing it out, all of which I ended up cutting for space, so it was a total waste of time.

The second time I called out that the "things" in (her pot) were "best left unnamed" that @Rune found unnecessary (and mildly annoying) was actually a joke! I saw that I'd written those words (with only the intention of suggesting that you probably wouldn't want to eat what's in there) and I bolded them because I found it funny. I understand why the judges mostly ignored it, of course.

I find it amusing that I lost points on the Hag's Weird Magic, when I only made her a hag at all when I read that a Hag (in 5e Volo's Guide) has an entire section that begins: "Over the course of a seemingly endless lifetime, a hag typically discovers or creates several unusual ways to use magic. The weird magic that hags can call upon comes in a number of forms and with various means of activation. Even those who have read scholarly books about hag lore can’t predict what a particular hag might have up her sleeve."

(I probably should have just made up my own thing, rather than to expect that usage to be recognised in my entry).

@Iron Sky 's entry was awesomely ambitious! While I had as much trouble reading it as the judges, I kept thinking "this is great stuff!" while doing it, and I didn't think I'd have much of a chance against it. I'm very happy for the win, in that I get to keep playing, but I feel a bit like I've lucked out! I will do my best to be worthy of the win and give you something better next.

Gonna be tough to beat @humble minion though! I've loved every one of their entries.


I find it amusing that I lost points on the Hag's Weird Magic, when I only made her a hag at all when I read that a Hag (in 5e Volo's Guide) has an entire section that begins: "Over the course of a seemingly endless lifetime, a hag typically discovers or creates several unusual ways to use magic. The weird magic that hags can call upon comes in a number of forms and with various means of activation. Even those who have read scholarly books about hag lore can’t predict what a particular hag might have up her sleeve."

(I probably should have just made up my own thing, rather than to expect that usage to be recognised in my entry).
I have played 5e in one campaign. I must confess to not being as well versed in the edition-specific vocabulary as all that. My current RPG reading is the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, newest Runequest and Pathfinder 2e. I have a wide exposure to a plethora of systems, but no longer the time to become the true master of most of them.

So, yes, at least in my case, it is probably better not to assume intuitive connections made from specific splatbooks. :)

Though, that being said, I understood in this case what you were trying to do with it but it did make it a little generic in its usage.


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
To be fair, I'm a huge fan of 5e, run it, have all the books, and I still didn't make that connection.

Never count on judges making setting specific connections. I've sworn I'm never going to write another Eberron adventure for this contest, and that's for good reason.


To be fair, I'm a huge fan of 5e, run it, have all the books, and I still didn't make that connection.

Never count on judges making setting specific connections. I've sworn I'm never going to write another Eberron adventure for this contest, and that's for good reason.
Yeah, I should have assumed that people wouldn't get it, when I didn't know about it myself until I found it by fluke while looking up the spell "Weird" on D&D Beyond (to see if I could use it), and yet I've read Volo's at least a few times. (I've read all of the 5e books, other than Acquisitions Inc, which I only skimmed.)

I had meant to give it an in-story context anyway, seeing as I don't really intend for the adventure to be 5e per se (though it's pretty obviously so) but I guess I forgot to or I left it out for space.

What can I say, I was in a hurry to get it done.


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

@FitzTheRuke and @humble minion, 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 2000 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 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 1800. Later entries that are at less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 1400. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 1000. 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:

Psychic Scream
Former Parrot
Pink Unicorn
Awakened Witch
Time Stop
Pregnant Moment
Turtles All the Way Down


Got em. That’s a hell of an ingredient list...

Good luck to @FitzTheRuke and may the best me win... ;)
Yup. Them's some serious words there.

Have fun with them, @humble minion! You'll need it! [/smack]

EDIT: Uh... I think I meant to say you're gonna need "good luck". (You're gonna need fun? How does that make sense?) I'm not very good at smack-talk, I see.
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Round 3, 3rd Place Match: el-remmen vs Iron Sky

@el-remmen and @Iron Sky, you have 1 hour (until 3 p.m. EST) to post your entries to this thread, using the ingredients provided. You do not have a word-count, but all ingredients must be used and judges are free to penalize late entries as they see fit. Please do not edit your post once you submit.

Ship Mast
Dinosaur Bandits
Lone Survivor
Golden Egg
Rough Transition
Laser Sword

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