IRON DM 2021 Tournament


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Rune

Once A Fool
Judgement for Round 2, Match 2: Gradine vs Neurotic

I apologize for the delay in posting this judgement. I must confess, my initial impression of both entries was not especially good. When that happens, I have to take some time to clear my head of those impressions so that they won’t bias the readings that follow.

In this case, I found that those initial impressions — while grounded in very substantive issues — were not especially indicative of the quality of the entries. Which is to say, my opinions of the pieces improved as I dug in.

But I’ll get to all that later.

First, the ingredients:

Lost Boys
Gradine’s entry, The Fairy & The Doll (“Disney”) sets the PCs up as some of the Lost Boys of Neverland, which gives them a built-in hook for the events of the adventure. Also, given the assumed demographic of the players (probably quite young), it seems wise to give them a familiar context within which to include their characters.

Also, of interest: there are more lost children (morally lost) later in the adventure on Pleasure Island. This is a pretty strong thematic connection, because Pinocchio (the film) is a morality play and we’ve already established that the PCs are themselves Lost Children. Thus, a subtle hint that this could also happen to them.

Meanwhile, Neurotic’s New beginnings (“New”) uses the missing choir boys as a main driver of the adventure. It’s good and it works well.

But the thematic use in “Disney” really works, so I’ve got to lean in that direction.

Buzzing Monastery
”New” has a monastery that is central to the action — all of the action. It is buzzing with activity because the impending winter cleansing ceremony draws in pilgrims. It is also preparing for a visit from a Fey court. And, of course, there are the disappearances, which have to be foremost in most conversations. Stacking all of this into one ingredient works well here, because all of the above are actually important to the events that will unfold.

First of all, the increased crowds will likely complicate the investigation by virtue of increasing the number of potential suspects. Second, the ceremony and the visit are both likely to increase tensions within the monastery (and the city). And, of course, the Fey Winter Court is an actual threat to the city. This is only unveiled through the events of the adventure, but surely someone in the monestary has some suspicions that could come out during the investigation.

“Disney” uses this ingredient as one of many important destinations within the adventure. The buzzing part is important because bees, which mean honey, which means Pooh, but also mead, which is important because of Hook’s plot, but also Norway. It works. But it doesn’t really need to be a monastery (despite tradition). And, at any rate, it isn’t as important to the adventure as the one in “New”.

Wicked Grin
”Disney” has the Cheshire Cat, whose role in the adventure is mostly as a sign-post, but sometimes also an instigator. The grin itself? Not so important. Except…

It’s the Cheshire Cat. If it doesn’t have the wicked grin, it isn’t actually the Cheshire Cat at all. The grin tells you everything you need to know about the character and that kind of expositional efficiency seems especially important for running a game intended for very young players.

“New” has its homunculus fashioned with a wicked grin, which is a reflection of the master’s worst impulses (among only bad ones, it seems). Importantly, the physical similarity will become important evidence against him. The wicked grin fits the character very well, but it isn’t particularly necessary in the adventure, as far as I can tell (except inasmuch as it creeps everybody out — PCs likely included).

“Disney” definitely has the edge on this one.

Winter Court
”Disney” has Elsa’s court, within a wintery kingdom. But why? It makes sense, of course, because of Elsa, but the adventure could have used any Disney Princess just as well.

“New” has two winter courts. Both the visiting fey court and the criminal court that Matthias is being tried in are extremely central to the adventure. Or, maybe the two courts are actually just one court? It’s not entirely clear. At any rate, the double-interpretations of “court” support each other, especially given the dual goals of proving Matthias innocent and keeping the Fey from killing everybody. Good stuff.

Salacious Homunculus
”New” makes it’s homunculus a central figure of the adventure, the main antagonist through most of it, really. It’s salaciousness is probably not necessary to the adventure, but it definitely enhances the motivation to find and stop it.

I’m not so sure about “Disney”. By which I mean, the kid-friendly language is so vague (or obscure), I’m not even certain I can identify the ingredient. I assume it is Pinocchio (sans Jiminy Cricket), but I’m really having to read between the lines to see him as salacious. Which is good, of course. There’s really no room for a dirty puppet in this children-oriented game.

But it does mean the ingredient isn’t really here.

A Void
”Disney” gives us a lack of empathy, morals, and goodness within the construct-who-is-Pinocchio. This is an important element of the theme of this adventure and really an interesting interpretation.

The entry reinforces that theme with the other children on Pleasure Island, all of whom have a similar lack, even if they aren’t constructs. This reinforcement is a good element for the adventure, but it also helps fit the wording of the ingredient better. It’s not “the void.” It’s “a void.” The void that matters most to the adventure is Pinocchio’s, but it isn’t the only one.

On the other hand, “New” has a ritual that is opening or creating a void that has the potential to destroy the entire city. It also, amusingly, may end up being Atlantes’ ultimate punishment. The whole ritual scene has a very pulpy feel that will undoubtedly make an awesome set-piece. It is, however, quite clearly more “the void” than “a void” within the context of the adventure.

Another edge for “Disney”.

Innocence Gained
”New” does a fascinating thing with this. Not only does proving the innocence of Matthias provide the initial stakes of the adventure, it also cleverly plays around with what innocence actually is.

Matthias is already innocent. He doesn’t have to gain it; he is it. But the PCs’ goal isn’t to recognize that. Their goal is to prove it. Matthias is going on trial and there is a legal state of innocence at stake that Matthias very much does need to gain. This is very good.

“Disney” is also good with this ingredient. Redeeming Pinocchio is a major part of the adventure and a massive component of the entry’s theme. I am a sucker for a well-used thematic ingredient. This entry ties up three into the same theme. It pleases me so much.

But, on an individual level, I think “New” has the better use by virtue of having more direct relevance to the PCs throughout the entire adventure.

So, where do we stand?
Very even, actually. But the edge goes to “New”, by a quite narrow margin.
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Adventure Stuff
So, what threw me off in the first place?

“New” is very unpolished. There are several parts where it looks like things were meant to be added, but never were. The word-count was not well-utilized; there was plenty of room for added clarity. But the time-limit will get you sometimes in IRON DM. And this time, it clearly did.

I think “New” would have been better served by being up to 59 minutes late. It clearly wasn’t struggling with the word-limit (even the reduced word-limit that being late would impose) and it could really have used some polishing.

In contrast, “Disney” is very polished and quite fun to read. As a story. The problem is, I didn’t approach the entry as a story. I was looking for an adventure. What I got was an extremely linear tour of animated Disney properties.

Those were my first impressions. Was I wrong? Not really. But that doesn’t tell the full story.

“New” is actually a fundamentally strong adventure. It starts with some good investigation and ends with some good action. It certainly has some potential stumbling blocks that a DM will need to navigate and I have a bunch of questions that would probably have been cleared up with more time, but some of them are actually buried in the text we got.

For instance, it took me three read-throughs to notice that Atlantes has built-in motivation to serve the Fey (and use them) because he has a warlock pact with them. I still don’t understand anything about how his ritual is supposed to grant him immortality, but the game-mechanic-rooted motivation goes a long way towards making things work. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another adventure that cared so much about a warlock’s pact, and that’s a shame.

And what about “Disney”?

There are some questions raised in this one as well. In particular, I can’t figure out the villains’ motivations — especially Hook. He wants to sell mead to kids, sure, but why does he need to kidnap Pinocchio? And why do the Queen of Hearts and Hook find themself allied?

I will concede, however, that I probably care more about those questions than the players will.

…Which brings me back to the initial point. “Disney” is incredibly linear. But that’s the point. This adventure is for little kids with little attention spans. I can’t imagine it would even work if it wasn’t this linear. And even within that linearity, there’s still plenty of leeway to suggest different approaches to problems.

This adventure is not for me. But I think it would be a big hit with those for whom it is.

So, who wins?
I think “Disney” does what it’s trying to do, while “New” only almost does. And I think that outweighs the slight edge that “New” has with its ingredients.

That said, I’m just one voice. Time to check the other judgements…

…And, oh boy, I’m the tie-breaker again. To be honest, I’m a little surprised about that.

Gradine’s entry deliberately gives us an extremely linear adventure. It definitely takes a big swing — and the thing about big swings is that they only hit when they connect.

@Neurotic, I’m sorry that real life evidently got in the way of your vision, because the draft we got was already pretty impressive. I don’t think I really have any advice to help you succeed in future tournaments; your works show that you have all of the skills you need.

I think this particular entry’s rough spots are the types of things that would get cleaned up if you had gotten the chance to. I expect it’s only a matter of time before you win one of these tournaments.

But this time, the big swing connected well enough. @Gradine advances to face Wicht in the Championship round.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
IRONDM2021-bracket-finals.jpg
 


Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
So when @Rune said:
Well, I’m glad I’m not competing.
I felt that so hard, and I felt it even more hardly reading each and every one of these judgments, which, I have to say, were some of the three most wildly differing judgments I've ever read for a single match; let alone one involving me. To say it was nerve-wracking would be an understatement. Now, I am glad that I'm competing, but my goodness has every adventure I've read this year been excellent and tough to beat. I feel fortunate and grateful to be returning to the final round, and I'm very much looking forward to getting to write one last full adventure for y'all. I'm pretty sure that it's not going to be all that great for my heart though :p

Now all that's left is to take on.... oh. Ohh. Nuts. Well @Wicht, here's looking to a great final match!

Responding to the critiques:
  • This wasn't my first Iron DM adventure featuring children PCs; but it was the first that was specifically geared towards children players. I figured it would be risky; as Rune points out, none of our judges are really the target audience for this particular adventure. It paid off this time, but it very nearly didn't.
  • I was particularly worried about the "Salacious" ingredient. "Onanism" was a late addition to the Arson, Murder, Jaywalking list at the end particularly to hint a little more at that (without leaning into anything more decidedly icky and inappropriate), but on balance I think I was better off just leaving it out. I am glad that people appreciated the "Copyright Infringement" gag though.
  • The target audience is why I didn't sweat the linearity at all. I tried to put together a good excuse for why these disparate villains were working together, and what their end goal was, but ultimately nothing came to me. I decided that "how cool is it that we're fighting Hook and his pirates AND the Soldier Cards from Alice together? And with Peter Pan?!" was more important that putting together a cohesive, nuanced villainous plan. Not the best excuse, of course, but I'm fine with "the bad guys are bad because they're bad guys" being the extent of what these players have to confront at this point.
  • I'll also note that I specifically had my daughters and her friends in mind; 6-7 year-olds obsessed with Frozen and Winnie the Pooh and protecting nature from this imaginary "black rider" they all made up. The younger the kid, the more likely I am to err on "rule of cool" versus "nuanced and grounded". Probably not a tack I'm likely to take in the future, but we'll see how the ingredients of the future treat me.
  • But also "Lost Boys" "Winter Court" and "Salacious Homonculus"? Lost Boys, Frozen, and the Pleasure Island with Pinocchio on it just immediately sprang to mind. And what does "Wicked Grin" remind one more of than the Cheshire Cat? I don't think I could've gone in any other direction with it. Knowing that I was definitely going to get a lot of the criticism that I got in any case, I was ultimately happy with it.
  • @Iron Sky, one of these days I will thaw your frozen heart* and convince you that PCs that are good and that are motivated by doing the right thing actually exist and are indeed quite common. :p



As usual, the puns** are always intended :D
That was a Frozen reference, for the uninitiated.
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
I felt that so hard, and I felt it even more hardly reading each and every one of these judgments, which, I have to say, were some of the three most wildly differing judgments I've ever read for a single match; let alone one involving me. To say it was nerve-wracking would be an understatement.
If there were ever any doubt about the idea that the judges all do our evaluations without consulting with each other, I'm sure this round has put all of that to bed.

The nature of this competition is deeply subjective, and that's inescapable. But I appreciate that, in the later rounds anyway, we have three of us judging, not one -- I think we get closer to the "right" response that way. And, personally, I'm relieved not to have been the minority opinion both times -- I would have started to doubt myself more than the usual dose my imposter syndrome provides. :)

-j
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
So when @Rune said:

Responding to the critiques:
  • This wasn't my first Iron DM adventure featuring children PCs; but it was the first that was specifically geared towards children players. I figured it would be risky; as Rune points out, none of our judges are really the target audience for this particular adventure. It paid off this time, but it very nearly didn't.
  • I was particularly worried about the "Salacious" ingredient. "Onanism" was a late addition to the Arson, Murder, Jaywalking list at the end particularly to hint a little more at that (without leaning into anything more decidedly icky and inappropriate), but on balance I think I was better off just leaving it out. I am glad that people appreciated the "Copyright Infringement" gag though.
  • The target audience is why I didn't sweat the linearity at all. I tried to put together a good excuse for why these disparate villains were working together, and what their end goal was, but ultimately nothing came to me. I decided that "how cool is it that we're fighting Hook and his pirates AND the Soldier Cards from Alice together? And with Peter Pan?!" was more important that putting together a cohesive, nuanced villainous plan. Not the best excuse, of course, but I'm fine with "the bad guys are bad because they're bad guys" being the extent of what these players have to confront at this point.
  • I'll also note that I specifically had my daughters and her friends in mind; 6-7 year-olds obsessed with Frozen and Winnie the Pooh and protecting nature from this imaginary "black rider" they all made up. The younger the kid, the more likely I am to err on "rule of cool" versus "nuanced and grounded". Probably not a tack I'm likely to take in the future, but we'll see how the ingredients of the future treat me.
  • But also "Lost Boys" "Winter Court" and "Salacious Homonculus"? Lost Boys, Frozen, and the Pleasure Island with Pinocchio on it just immediately sprang to mind. And what does "Wicked Grin" remind one more of than the Cheshire Cat? I don't think I could've gone in any other direction with it. Knowing that I was definitely going to get a lot of the criticism that I got in any case, I was ultimately happy with it.
  • one of these days I will thaw your frozen heart* and convince you that PCs that are good and that are motivated by doing the right thing actually exist and are indeed quite common. :p
Maybe it's something about me, but I've don't think I've ever had a group of players that played good guys... maybe because I run games where they don't have to be. I've had individuals that tried to be good guys, but they almost invariably ended up corrupted by their fellows or died vaingloriously. I also have never played a character that was good aside from Lord Exsixten on L4W who was Lawful Stupid. Played some deeply flawed characters that other PCs tricked or cajoled into doing the right thing, but never a good character.

The Pleasure Island bit is probably what broke it for me as a kids adventure, as carefully veiled as it was...

I've run a couple games for 6-10 year-olds and they pretty rapidly devolved into stealing from each other and/or PVP.

I believe you that such groups are out there in the same way I'm pretty sure penguins are real even if I've never seen one in the flesh (feathers?)
 


Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
I've played/DMed a few morally grey/bankrupt games, but with the exception of a particularly uproarious and unscrupulous campaign of Star Wars D20 (a game that, amusingly, assumes heroics), they've never lasted too long and never felt particularly great. That Star Wars game was enough for me to understand the appeal of a mercenary campaign of skullsuggery, but even then our acts of genocide were usually unintentional (in one particularly memorable adventure we ended up selling out Mara Jade (and incidentally, the entire populated planet we were stationed on) to the Ssi-Ruu to save our own skin... by the end of that campaign we did not have many friends left...)

When I DM though I almost always assume generally heroic PCs, and with my players they almost always don't require me to enforce that rule at all. Oh, they often have other, more personal (and sometimes selfish) motivations, but in the end I can usually count on them to at least try to do the right thing (though I will, at times, throw a good moral dilemma or three at them). We're all generally idealists in real life though, so that explains quite a bit of that.

Oh, and I looked it up; penguins not only have feathers, they have the most feathers.
shooting star GIF
 


Rune

Once A Fool
I don’t personally mandate that PCs be heroic (or at least not amoral) in games I run, but the world will gently steer them in that direction simply because selfish people tend to have a hard time finding friends when they really need it.
 


Wicht

Adventurer
Well, he did say “in the flesh”.
I feel like we should take up a collection to buy someone a zoo membership somewhere... :sneaky:

True story... this year taking the kids to the zoo, three of them (ages 2 and 3 and 5 at the time) were noticeably more interested in the Penguins than the Lions. Granted, the lions were mostly just sleeping, and the penguins were waddling around somewhat comically, and swimming, but when I was a youngin, the African animals were always the most interesting for me to watch. Not sure why that is. But apparently the newest generation (Generation Alpha??? Who names these things?) is very pro-penguin.
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I feel like we should take up a collection to buy someone a zoo membership somewhere... :sneaky:

True story... this year taking the kids to the zoo, three of them (ages 2 and 3 and 5 at the time) were noticeably more interested in the Penguins than the Lions. Granted, the lions were mostly just sleeping, and the penguins were waddling around somewhat comically, and swimming, but when I was a youngin, the African animals were always the most interesting for me to watch. Not sure why that is. But apparently the newest generation (Generation Alpha??? Who names these things?) is very pro-penguin.
I'd say it's from Penguins of Madagascar, but your kids are too young for that by far! Mine are just right, and they are older teens now. My daughter's going into grade 12! Makes me feel sooooo old!
 

Wicht

Adventurer
I'd say it's from Penguins of Madagascar, but your kids are too young for that by far! Mine are just right, and they are older teens now. My daughter's going into grade 12! Makes me feel sooooo old!
My oldest is 25 this year. I have 21 yr old daughter engaged to be married. Wait till you have to start talking to your daughter about how she needs to be setting a wedding date so you can actually budget in her wedding. Anyway, I can sympathize with your sentiment.

But, after having four grow up and heading out to college and whatnot, and having an empty nest for a couple of years we bit the bullet and began fostering. We're waiting to adopt one (currently 6) but also have three in home younger than he, including one turning 1 in two weeks. As my sister observed, it's like my wife and I are starting all over again.

Which means, I am realizing once I think about it that I have been watching children's shows for six decades, counting my own childhood. I can knowledgeably pontificate on the joys and frustrations of trying to watch the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon pre-DVD, Joe vs Steve in Blues Clues, the foolishness of Paw Patrol and how Dino Ranch reminds me of Bonanza.
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
I'm not sure which I find more odd - the idea of never having played with heroic PCs, or not having ever seen a penguin....
:unsure:
Ironically, one of the most moral groups I've had was a crew of Blades drug dealers. When the creepy probably-a-vampire dude who hijacked a lightning tower wanted to sell them ghost drugs in exchange for virgins, I was surprised when they never once even brought up the possibility of actually complying and jumped straight into the heist to break in and mug him.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Ironically, one of the most moral groups I've had was a crew of Blades drug dealers. When the creepy probably-a-vampire dude who hijacked a lightning tower wanted to sell them ghost drugs in exchange for virgins, I was surprised when they never once even brought up the possibility of actually complying and jumped straight into the heist to break in and mug him.
That sounds like a story worth elaborating on!
 

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