IRON DM 2021 Tournament


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Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
@Gradine
My first idea was Petar Pan, but I wouldn't dare to do a medley as you did. Somehow, it works! :)
I've never heard of No thank you, Evil though.

Mine is typical 'evil mage wants to live forever' adventure - the ingredients were difficult to incorporate and be relevant for the adventure.
 
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Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Well this was an amusingly timed thread necro

 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Judging Round 2, Match 2: Neurotic vs Gradine
Seven ingredients, three passes, two adventures, go!

@Gradine and
Pass the First: First Impressions, Highlights, and Cool Bits
Players are the Lost Boys in Neverland? Cool.

The Cheshire Cat is here? Already hyped about the crossover potential.

The jump to Arendelle threw me until I looked it up. Fortunate enough to have not been subjected to Frozen. Some references pinging off of me; yet another contender potentially paying the price for my theatrical illiteracy?

Bit of a jump from "nearby monks" to "the monastery". Took a moment to connect it.

What mead? This is the first mention of mead.

Now we're in Winnie the Poo? Crazy.

Not getting a feel for what the PCs are really doing so far that's cool. So far it's evading some card soldiers and interviewing a survivor that doesn't really know anything.

"If our heroes journey towards the... monastery" - what happens if they don't?

ALL the bees chase Poo away? I guess we are in fairy-tale land.

What if none of my PCs has a talent for hearing?

Why do they care about rescuing Gepetto? What's in it for them? This sounds like a game for kids, but in my experiences actually running RPGs for kids, they're often far more impulsive and murderous than your most hardened band of D&D murderhobos. I get that this is fairy-tale stuff, but throwing in Alice definitely skews things towards deviance from "Alignment: X Good".

Peter et. al. have been trapped by what? Bees?

What's to stop Peter from become the OP GMPC? They still have Tink to rescue to keep them on the critical path, but now they're sidekicks. I suppose these are sidequests of a sort but I think Lost Boys gonna Lost, not necessarily rescue cricketnapped consciences or restore dethroned ice sorceresses. Hopefully none of this peripheral stuff is key ingredients (or they tie in tighter later).

Onanism required a lookup. Pretty significant tone shift now that we have an island of donkeys doing R-rated stuff (Taxass hold-em while drinking muleshine, puffing muleborros plus assturbation?)

Why do the PCs have to rescue Jiminy/Pinocchio? Aren't they here for Tink? With all that opposition, why not just sneak in and rescue her?

What happens if they aren't in time to restore Pinocchio?

Sudden tone shift back to believing in fairies.

As I finish the first pass, I find myself impressed by the clever weave of Disney movies but not, unfortunately, but the adventure itself. We'll see if further passes help.

Pass the Second: How I GM?
Let's follow the critical path: PC Lost Boys fly to Norway → sneak past some card guards → hopefully learn of the Jolly Roger → hopefully find Matthias → get Poo to lead bees away → shrink and rescue Pan → get to Pleasure Island (how? where is it?) → deal with/avoid Pirates + cards or Jabberwock → start Tink Donkey Clap Party (most innocent thing about the adventure sounds the dirtiest) → win.

They may decide to help Elsa or not. They may decide to rescue Jiminy/Pinocchio or not. Presumably they do, but they aren't assential.

So what do the PCs really do? What are the fun things and interesting choices they get to make?
Sneak rolls and minimal clue hunting in town.

Walk to monastery, walk to Poo, (easily) talk him into helping, watch him solve the bees.
Level 2 lost boys free level 10 Peter Pan who presumably takes charge since that's what Peter does.

Maybe help Elsa play War with the Queen of Hearts. (Why should they?)

Maybe help Gepetto talk Jiminy back? (Why should they?)

Somehow (?) travel to Pleasure Island, however they know where it is. Would tie Gepetto in better if he knew the way but wouldn't help them go there without helping with Jiminy/Pinocchio.

Many sneak rolls past pirates + cards/Jabberwock. Failure and/or choice to fight instead = big battle instead.

Convince jaded donkeys to clap.

This sounds harsh even as I say it, but beyond the premise of Disney-movie mashup, what makes this adventure fun? A lot of it is skip-able or low-stakes social interactions plus some sneaking and maybe a fight at the end. Or do they have to fight? It says they can "avoid the island's many dangers" yet they don't find Tinker Bell until Pinocchio is restored and the Island is safe. What if they didn't help Pinocchio and/or chose to avoid rather than fight? They don't get Tink and lose?

This adventure seems like a railroad with one side loop and a parallel track that may or may not be necessary to ride with many false turnouts ("they mights" without real alternatives).

It's premise seems to hang on the Lost Boys being Lawful Good and wanting to help everyone, yet that "innocent" style of play is undercut by mixing in the madness of Alice in Wonderland and the vices of Pleasure Island. Calling out "A Big Adventure for Little Heroes" gives a weak support for PCs being The Goodest Guys at least.

I've tried something similar with mixing movies before (Alice and Wonderland crossover even) with similar results: too much focus on the tie-ins often ruins the movie adventure.

Also, did I mention NPC Peter Pan is following/leading them?

Pass the Third: Ingredients
Lost Boys
: The PCs. Doesn't get much stronger than that, especially since their identity fuels the primary arc of the adventure.

Buzzing Monastery: Buzzing because of bees, monastery because... Norway makes mead? Historical monks made alcohol? But mead was made long before Norway was Christianized so the mead came first, monks came after. But now it's historical stuff in a Disney setting? Maybe having seen Frozen would help this make sense.

Wicked Grin: Cheshire Cat who drops hints and maybe Jabberwocks. Hints at the cards, but they could be replaceable with another Disney villain instead (Iago the Parrot while the Visier conquered Arendelle and used the djini to shrink the monastery). He could be replaced by notes left behind by Gepetto or Tink instead. Weakening it further, his grin doesn't really impact the adventure even if his wickedness might if they haven't fought the cards.

Winter Court: The setting of the second (and relatively actionless) act of the story. Could have been pretty much anywhere.

Salacious Homunculus: Pinocchio who is corrupted by Pleasure Island. A clever use if not a strong one since this whole are is potentially skipable (or maybe not somehow?)

A Void: Pretty sure this is the vacant throne left by Elsa's disappearance. Bound tight with Winter Court but not really with anything else. Since the PCs can sneak past and forget about this part of it.

Innocence Gained: Restoring Pinocchio and Tink at the end. First part is (probably?) skippable, second part is the only way to save her. Both clever uses, even if one might not occur.

Lost Boys is fantastic. Winter Court + Void can be skipped; in fact the adventure even calls this out. Innocence gained is clever as is Homunculus and relevant if we assume the PCs will take on the Pinocchio side quest. Wicked Grin stands in for the Cheshire Cat who is the quest giver and could be dropped or replaced. Hm...

Summary: I'm realizing I'm being pretty hard on this adventure. Maybe it's a spillover of RL stress. Maybe it's that astounding quality of most of the entries so far in this tournament. Maybe it would all make sense if I'd suffered through Frozen. Maybe the adventure is relying on what many franchise tie-in and crossover movies do: rely on nostalgia and like for the brand to paper over any weaknesses in their presentation.

This is Iron DM, however, so hard is good. I could see this adventure being really cool with a few more drafts and more focus put into the PCs choice and action rather than movie references. As is, execution kills concept - for me at least.

@Neurotic with
Uh oh. Right of the bat, I had to hunt for the title. Not bolded, not capitalized. First impressions matter and the first impression this gives is something rushed.

Pass the First: First Impressions, Highlights, and Cool Bits
"free the innocent friar" what innocent friar? "The" implies we already know who it is. "An"?

Atlantes needs the children to rejuvenate what? His urges were pushed into a construct? Or are there plural constructs since there's no "a" before "minor construct". What city?

Read this first paragraph 3-4 times trying to figure it out and feel like there's a first paragraph I missed that would make it make sense. I'm assuming you write the synopsis after writing the rest of the adventure so all the references were clear in your mind without realizing the reader has no idea who, where, or what is going on.

Whew! Fortunately, the background is much clearer and things are making more sense now.

Why do both stories have a monk named Matthias? Is there some monk meme I'm missing?

The strange little creature? What strange little creature? The missing boy?

Oh, "a" strange little creature to be described in the next sentence. This is dropped in the synopsis, but that doesn't give much context.

"[a] wicked grin [that] people... describe as vaguely familiar"? Or are they "wicked grin people"

Following what path? You keep using "the" instead of "a" or "an" which is repeatedly stopping me dead mid-sentence trying to figure out if there's some creature or path that I missed somewhere above.

They are charged with proving Matthias' or the abbot's innocence? Assuming Matthias since the boy was found in his room, but now paranoid I've misread something previous.

What do the monks know about the construct? We know the monks assigned Matthias to investigate but it was the watchman who seemed to be doing all the investigating.

What old sorcerer? Here's another reference to a person we know nothing about. What's the sorcerer's relation to the monastery / town / anything? Do people know he's a warlock? Does he live at the monastery? He's referenced in the synopsis, but not enough to really know anything about him.

The boys were "noble, others common, oldest barely in midteens" or the parents were?

Why do they bait the hornymunculus with young ladies if the warlock is abducting boys?

The PCs have to navigate nobles and functionaries? What does that mean? "Same goes for..." what?

Okay, getting too caught up in the languaging and semantics, losing the adventure. Stepping back to re-read with a more casual eye to see if I'm just tripping down in the weeds.

That helped somewhat even if I still got caught up here and there. Undead fro m the friar's bodies? I thought the friars were still alive? Or did he steal them from the catacombs?

Con save? We're in D&D now?

Here we have the sorcerer's abode again but we have no idea how anyone is connected to the sorcerer. Is he just the city sorcerer? Is he tied to the monks some way?

"The boys, if not killed"... what kills them?

How the heck do they know they have to dunk the hornymunculus and throw it into the flame? With each attack from whom on what? The PCs on the house?

How can the PCs present the hornymunculus if they've thrown it into the void?

Oh, if they freed the boys then the void eats the sorcerer. Got it.

Void mechanics explain it a bit more about what "attacks" means. Usually mechanics make things better instead of worse, but this actually helps.

Pass the Second: How I GM?
Let's walk the critical path:

The PCs interrogate Matthias, parents, and friars → capture the hornymunculus (or don't) → navigate functionaries and do the same for → investigate catacombs → find secret door to sorcerer's abode and fight undead + fey (or don't) OR PCs deduce a connection to the sorcerer's place (or don't) → hopefully they find the Void circle, fight it → (maybe somehow) figure out how to kill it with holy hornymunculus → return to trial with boys = sorcerer eaten by void OR return to trial with hornymunculus = sorcerer + fey fights/runs OR return with neither = dunno (Matthias dead?) → Fin

There's a bunch of stuff to do, but much of it seems to rely on a players succeeding and finding/deducing something that I'm not certain they would with uncertain outcomes resulting.

What happens if they kill the hornymunculus right off instead of capturing it? What if they just don't think of setting a trap for it? How are they supposed to figure out to douse it in holy water to close the void? What if they never figure that out? What if they don't put together the connection with the sorcerer/find the secret tunnel? A lot of frayed bits on the rope marking the path to completing the adventure.

At least it's pretty simple to run and I don't have to keep track of much.

Pass the Third: Ingredients
Lost Boys
: the boys missing from the monastery. The main thing the PCs are searching for and heart of the adventure. Strong.

Buzzing Monastery: Most of the adventure takes place in and around the monastery. We only get a fragmented reference to the business that makes it busy and an obscure mention they have to "navigate" the business. That it's busy is incidental.

Wicked Grin: The grin of the hornymunculus. Mentioned as a property of it but in no ways relevant to the rest of the adventure. It could have a maniacal stare, a protruding tongue, or a wild eyes.

Winter Court: The court arriving for winter absolution. Mostly incidental. The trial is a court case that happens to be happening in winter, but either are fairly weak.

Salacious Homunculus: Central to the adventure, gross, and excellent for both reasons combined. Weakened slightly since the bait is young ladies not young boys. It's foul either way, but would hove closer to Lost Boys if they were it's sole focus.

A Void: The place where the lost boys are taken to fuel the sorcerer's dreams of immortality. Ties closely with the hornymunculus who (for some reason) is the only(?) way to close it and Lost Boys.

Innocence Gained: The innocent verdict for Matthias and the ultimate goal of the adventure. That it might not be gained if the PCs kill the hornymunculus and/or don't put things together weaken it slightly.

Overall 4 fairly solid, integrated ingredients, one window dressing on another ingredient, one incidental and/or double meaning that isn't super strong either way.

Summary: Writing style and presentation matters. So does thinking through how it will play objectively. This adventure was built around a solid investigative frame but fronted by an uneven and crumbling sidewalk, enclosing a wonky floor plan, and wearing a slapdash paint job that makes you wonder in places if it's worth even going inside.

Housing metaphor aside (trying to relocate my business so eating/sleeping/dreaming real estate ATM), this adventure is rough and seems incomplete down to unfinished sentences that cut off in the middle, a background that references things that haven't really been revealed yet, and some pathing issues.

This match is difficult to judge in the worst way: both entries carry serious structural flaws that would almost certainly hamper their quality in play.

The Fairy and The Doll is well-written and formatted, yet the adventure seems fairly hollow under the shiny wrapper. The PCs potentially don't interact with major parts of it then half-way through rescue an NPC who in the fiction not only gives them orders but is likely as competent as all of them combined. If we enforce the players being The Good Guys, they have more to do, yet still the meat of the adventure seems to be transitioning between locales, talking Disney characters into doing things they're inclined to do anyway, and potentially watching them do most of the heavy lifting: Poo and the bees, Peter and the rest of the adventure.

New beginnings starts with a synopsis that confused more than clarified, consistently confused me by using "the" instead of "a" when introducing new things, then obscures an otherwise decent adventure in a tangle of unanswered questions, assumptions, and "what ifs". The critical path - at least as best I can track it - seems to include a mix of talking, exploring, maybe fighting at least.

I'm finding I'm flat on which is the better adventure. I think New beginnings would play better, but The Fairy and The Doll doesn't trip over its own tongue telling you about itself.

This one comes down to ingredients then.

Skimming back over my notes New beginnings takes the ingredients category and, thus, my vote.

Not certain how satisfied I am with this judgment, but with no clearly better adventure (and me being out of time to work on this judgment), it'll have to do.

Neurotic advances by my vote but we'll see what the other judges think.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Can't argue with a lot of the criticism; I even thought to make sure Peter was otherwise occupied for the final battle, but I just plain forgot. A lot of the "cool stuff" the heroes get to do is social interaction (I like to get kids more opportunities to make friends than enact violence) but that's not gonna be everyone's cup of tea.
 
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Wicht

Adventurer
Can't argue with a lot of the criticism; I even thought to make sure Peter was otherwise occupied for the final battle, but I just plain forgot. A lot of the "cool stuff" the heroes get to do is social interaction (I like to get kids more opportunities to make friends than enact violence) but that's not gonna be everyone's cup of tea.
The one time I did a kid's adventure for Iron DM, I strove to capture the feel of a cartoon series, which I think I did but the judges weren't quite sure about various aspects of the adventure because I failed to state at the beginning what I was trying to evoke. You do things differently for a child's game and not everyone has run games for kids. That optional blurb at the beginning of an entry, A Disnified Escape for the Young and the Young at Heart, can do a lot of heavy lifting for you.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
It's amazing how sometimes the more fun an entry is to read, the more it falls apart when it's being judged. All the entries so far in this tourney that I've loved and laughed as I read them have struggled at judgement time. And yet, I've always had to nod and agree with the judges. It may have seemed tough, but it all rang true. Iron DM is a tough deal!
 

Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
I will comment the adventure after other judges give the verdict, just a short explanation for iron sky.
Yes, I know it is unfinished, I wrote it in an hour so not much editing was done. Synopsis got written first, but I already had everything clear in my mind and didn't have time to edit. Real life issues :(
 

My thoughts:

I have to agree with the first judgement, however harsh. I feel both entries are flawed for the reasons mentioned by the judge, and it would not surprise me if the other judges come to similar conclusions.

This is a hard competition and not every entry is going to be great.
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Round 2, Match 2: Neurotic vs Gradine

Thanks to both of you for your entries, for all your work writing these entries -- this was an interesting, provocative batch of ingredients to work with, and it took you to very different places.

So, for today we have The Fairy and the Doll (F&D) and New Beginnings (NB).
F&D is a romp through children's literature with an adult sense of humor (as a lot of these intellectual properties hide in the details), a story of lost children trying to rescue Tinkerbell, all very neatly done. And NB is a darker, more adult tale of corrupt fey and an evil sorcerer preying on the young. Very different expressions from the same batch of ingredients, which is awesome.

I like to start with ingredients, so here goes.....

Lost Boys
In F&D, the Lost boys -- in this case, both literally the lost boys from neverland, but updated to be lost children instead, are the heroes in the story. I did the usage, the update to modern gender inclusion, and the way that opens the door to everything else.

In NB, the lost boys are boys snatched by Atlantes. These boys are victims, lured away by a well-hung homunculus to be imprisoned forever. This is dark, creepy, and thematic.

I think both entries are doing the lost boys well.

Buzzing Monastery

in NB, the monastery is "buzzing" because of all the extra activity related to the coronation. This is a reasonable use of the ingredient -- certainly buzzing with activity is a decent interpretation of the ingredient.

In F&D, on the other hand the buzzing monastery is buzzing because it's in an area of the hundred acres wood that is inundated with bees -- bees which Pooh leads off so the children can discover the shrunken monastery. In this case, the monastery isn't buzzing -- it's small, and in an area that is buzzing, but the monastery isn't. I think it works to meet the standards of the ingredient, and I'm enjoying where things are going at this point in the story, but from a strictly ingredient-use point of view, I think NB does it a little better.

Wicked Grin
F&D again lands this one pretty solidly with the Cheshire cat, a living wicked grin that sometimes has a magical cat attached. The Cheshire cat keeps the plot moving along -- and I imagine a finished version of this adventure, without word course, might have other verses of the cat's introduction to Pooh and the monastery. This is great stuff.

In NB, the wicked grin is the creepy-ass permagrin on the face of the tumescent homunculus. It's good, and I think the persona of this little monster is a very distinct, satisfyingly creepy part of the NB story.

I find myself torn by which of the two uses I find better -- frankly, the use in NB makes me uncomfortable in ways the Cheshire Cat does not, but I don't think that discomfort is a problem -- that little bugger has the potential to be creepy AF, and the cat is more comfortable because it's safer. But they're both good.

Winter Court

NB jumps into this ingredient with the king's Winter Court, which is coming to stay at the monastery and provoking all of the buzzing activity. And it's also the fey winter court that attacks the nobles of the city when the PCs bring evidence of Atlantes' crimes before the court. I'm a little fuzzy about some of this, and it might be that I need to read the entry another time, but the winter court seems to be two things -- the king's winter court (presumably mortal) and the fey winter court, servants of the fey queen of winter and secret allies of Atlantes.

In F&B, the winter court is the court of the kingdom of Arendelle, where once again Elsa has "let it go" to pot. She's AWOL, and the court has been taken over by the Queen of Hearts and her deck of card soldiers. Elsa will eventually need to be freed to restore order in her kingdom as a sort of mid-point goal on the way to freeing Tinkerbell.

In this one, I think I find F&B's use of the ingredient a bit clearer and more satisfying.

Salacious Homunculus

I've already mentioned the Homunculus in NB a few times in this review -- I find the little creature pretty disturbing and creepy, and absolutely works for this ingredient. This is pretty damn good.

Meanwhile, F&B has transmuted the ingredient into a corrupted version of Pinocchio, who is holding Tinkerbell captive and has painted her blue. This is a wild left turn that I loved, and while I find that because of the tone of the rest of the piece it's hard to get Pinocchio all the way to salacious here, and that makes this use just a whisker weaker than the homunculus in NB.


A Void
In F&B, the void is the place in Pinocchio where his soul should be - the lack that makes him salacious. In NB, it's the big bad at the end of the story, the insatiable void that will try to consume the party in the end. Again, I think NB's got a little edge here, but it's tenuous. The use in F&B is nominal, just a sort of word game -- and it's probably arguable that the whole process of becoming a "real boy" is very much the idea of gaining a soul and becoming a person, which sort of makes the idea that the puppet version of Pinocchio would have a lack there read as a little problematic to me. But I'm probably working too hard at it.

Innocence Gained
In NB, Matthias regains innocence by being found not guilty of the crimes truly committed by Atlantes and the homunculus. I'm pretty unexcited about this one -- since Matthias was never guilt of it, he was always innocent, so there was nothing to gain.

In F&B, Pinocchio has lost his innocence because of the influence of Pleasure Island. He feels guilt and feels remorse -- but does contrition really bring back innocence? I'm going to say that while I have some misgivings here, I still think there's more going on here than there is in NB for this ingredient.

So, overall, I think that the ingredients were slightly better used in NB, but that overall the two entries both did an excellent job of weaving seven ingredients into their narratives, and so the result is exceptionally close.

Writing, Presentation, Playability
I mean, let's just come right out and say it as an opening -- F&B is brilliant. At every turn a new IP is dragged into the salad spinner. Peter Pan/Neverland, Frozen, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh. And in most cases multiple elements from each were brought into the storyline, making each clearly invested in the whole. I was amused the whole way and laughed like a maniac at work when I read the "copyright infringement" line.

NB is also excellent, in it's own, very different way. It doesn't have the obvious virtuosity of F&B, but it's telling a dark story with a lot of flavor and tone, pulling together elements that by and large feel natural together despite being so random and diverse. This is less flashy excellence, with a big throbbing boner. It's very good.
Conclusion
In the end, though, F&B's circus act of weaving so many things together is my favorite entry. NB's excellent entry is everything that it should be, and doesn't let us down at all, but F&B's medley of violated intellectual property is just exceptional. I rated NB slightly better for pure ingredient use, but in this case I find that isn't enough of an advantage to overcome the zany brilliance I find in F&B.

So, one vote for The Fairy and the Doll.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Bwa-ha-ha, another split decision so far. That just says these are both strong entries again.

-rg
They both look far better re-reading them without my ultra-critical judge hat on. The creativity and movie-meshing of Gradine's entry also stands out more and the rough-cut nature of Neurotic's admittedly rushed entry doesn't hit me as hard. Need to somehow get to this space for the initial read since that's what I'm going for.

I guess I'm the mean, cynical hard-to-please judge of this competition (doesn't every show like this need one?) That said, I think I do 4 passes next time: one like the one I just did again that's what my first one is intended to do, second on presentation, third on playability, fourth on ingredients...
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I guess I'm the mean, cynical hard-to-please judge of this competition...

Ha! @Iron Sky just admitted that he's Simon Cowell!

I can't wait for his next judgment .....

You better hope that the next judge is blind and can't read what you turned in. I only have a limited number of words in my vocabulary, and not nearly enough to express how truly awful the experience of reading your entry was. If my judging criteria were to pass you on to the next round based on a failure to meaningfully use the ingredients, misuse the most basic words in the English language, and produce an adventure that not only doesn't engage the reader, but actively repulses them? Well, you'd be a winner.

But given that isn't the way I'm deciding this round, I have to let you know that at no point while reading your rambling and incoherent adventure did I find anything resembling a coherent thought, let alone a hook. Every person who accidentally stumbles across your submission is now dumber for having read it. I am not going to announce a winner, but simply state that you are the loser, and may God have mercy on your soul.
 




Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
I have to wonder:

How is it possible that both of these entries have a character named Matthias? Is this a glitch in the Matrix?
I don't know of any specific meme, movie or series that would prompt that. Just a coincidence?
 


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