IRON DM 2021 Tournament

Regarding Fools Rush In:

I am really impressed by how well this entry makes all the ingredients fit together. Not a single one feels out of place.

I do wonder about the various competitions where success or death are the only outcomes. Surely when running this adventure as a DM, you have to account for the possibility of failure? A bad roll of the dice shouldn't immediately end in death, unless I misunderstood?

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Iron DM 2021 – Round 3 Wicht vs. Gradine​

Frozen Island
Last Chance
Shape-shifting Grifter
Professional Killer
Unidentified Wound
Illegal Speed
Secret Shop
Ethical Dilemma

Denouement of a Dying Hunter
A modern tale of the supernatural in a world of monster hunters. Suitable for a one-shot adventure or as a campaign introduction.

Opening Scene: A narrow road northwest of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is January. A cold rain falls from gray skies. Ahead a single-lane steel drawbridge crosses Chaplain Lake. On the other side is Solus Island and the village of Solar, home to a dying monster hunter.

The PCs are each drawn to the Island by a connection to Thomas Middleton, according to each PC’s backstory. Each, aware that Middleton and his wife are monster hunters, received a letter similar to the following:

Friend, I’m dying. I’ve had a good run. I’ve fought hard, but with mercy. Still, I have some things to set right. I need your help before I run out of time. I’ve arranged a room for you at the Lonely Roost Inn in Solar. My daughter will meet you. -Tom M.

A bridge keeper, huddled against the cold in his little booth, lowers the steel drawbridge for each car, waving them across the bridge. As the tires bump onto the road on the other side the bridge is raised behind them.

Backdrop: Solar possesses four streets, a dozen houses, a general store with a gas pump, a church, an Inn, and a two story brick building which was once a school. The entirety of the island belongs to the Middletons, who have converted the school into their own domicile. The village occupies a fourth of the island, the rest is comprised of craggy wooded hills. The drawbridge is the only egress from the island for cars. There is a small empty dock. The rain which falls on the first day turns to freezing rain overnight. By morning, the whole island is covered with an inch of ice. Six inches of snow falls the second night, covering the ice. The drawbridge is inoperable for three days due to the ice.

Cast of Characters
  • Thomas Middleton A monster-hunter, dying of pancreatic cancer. A grateful leprechaun, a time-shifting haunt, and some wise stock-investments twenty years before Tom was born have made Tom quite wealthy. He and his wife intended for Solar to be a retirement community for hunters but an unfortunate encounter with a werewolf forced them into seclusion and an early retirement.
  • Rachel Middleton Tom’s wife and longtime hunting partner, now suffering from lycanthropy.
  • Sara Middleton Tom’s daughter; she lives above the general store, operating it and the Inn. She maintains a discreet webstore which sells weapons and equipment to active monster hunters.
  • Alice Tyler A medical doctor and a very old shapeshifter. Alice can sense when one of her patients is about to die. If such a patient has no family, hours before their death, Alice assumes their form and cleans out their bank accounts. Discovered by the Middletons during a hunt, they decided she was doing no harm to anyone and didn’t kill her. Now Thomas has requested a favor of her, in exchange for her continued safety. For a few days, she is going to pretend to be Tom Middleton.
  • Romus A professional assassin and a shapeshifting salt-eater. Romus is a monster who got away. Now he has been hired by Thomas to kill Alexander Dark. Romus does not know who has hired him, or realize the island is owned by monster hunters. Romus has the ability to take the form of someone known by his victims, killing them by sucking all the salts from their body. He is proficient with firearms and hand-to-hand combat.
  • Alexander Dark A meth-addicted hunter rightly suspected of nefarious deeds.
  • George Dylan and Robbie Wright Together, with Thomas and Jack Lincoln, they unearthed a dark power in Mexico. During that hunt, Jack and George were both hospitalized, and after, the team split up. Thomas believes either they or Jack Lincoln are actually the powerful demon which got away on the Mexico-hunt.
  • Jack Lincoln (La Diabla Negra) A powerful and blood-thirsty demon which has been wearing the form of Lincoln for the past twenty-five years, La Diabla Negra wants to eat Thomas Middleton’s heart, but is afraid to do it while Tom is alive as he has the power to hurt and even kill it.

Act One: Hunters Bring Death
The Lonely Roost Inn. Set across the road from the Solar General Store, the three-story inn boasts ten suite-sized rooms on the second and third floors, a large dining room on the first floor, with seating for fifty, and a very modern and efficient kitchen

Scene One: A Gathering of Crows
The PCs are cheerfully greeted at the Lonely Roost by Sara, and given rooms on the third floor. Already present are Dylan and Wright. Lincoln, Dark, and Romus each arrive later. Towards suppertime, Rachel arrives to help with the cooking. Tom arrives for supper, though it is not in fact Tom, but Alice Tyler in Tom’s form.

Romus drives a motorcycle and is wearing the form of deceased actor Alfred Ryder. He introduces himself as Alfred Rome. PCs might note that he is interested in the names of the other guests, but does not dine, instead going to his room, after greeting everyone present.

Alexander Dark spends some time talking to the other hunters, but the PCs get a very sleazy feel from him, it is clear none of the other hunters like him, and he soon exits for the solitude of his room on the second floor. Tom/Alice, Rachel, Dylan, Wright and Lincoln spend the evening reminiscing about old times, including their last hunt in Mexico.

If questioned as to why everyone is there, Tom/Alice assures them all that their questions will be answered tomorrow after everyone has a good night’s sleep.

Scene Two: Death in the Night
A horrendous scream of pain and agony awakens the various guests. As they gather in the hallways and stairwell, two individuals are missing: Alexander and Romus. Their doors, both on the second floor, are locked. Sara sleeps above the general store, but left a number by which she could be reached in case of emergencies. When the rooms are entered, Romus’ room is empty; Alexander’s room contains his corpse.

Act Two: The Salt-Eater Trap
The Empty Houses of Solar. A dozen modern houses, with wide yards and picket fences, scattered over three different streets comprise the village of Solar. The houses are furnished, with running water, electricity, and even wifi. The entirety of the island is covered with ice: driving is impossible; even walking is treacherous.

Scene One: A Gathering of Clues
Alexander’s body has a curious circular puncture wound on his neck, and the body appears partially desiccated. The room and luggage contain various drug paraphernalia, as well as enough Meth to kill a horse. There is also a laptop, which, if hacked into, contains videos which appear to show Alexander torturing and murdering women.

Sara proves surprisingly helpful. She has video footage showing Romus entering the room, and then a quarter of an hour later, a female figure wearing Romus’ clothes exits the room. Sara can also, after a couple of hours of research identify the killer as a shapeshifting salt-eater, a rather obscure and rare monster. It can killed by silver, but cannot cross through water. The drawbridge having been up all night (a fact the guests had not been told previously, means that the killer must still be on the island.

Scene Two: Hunt in An Empty Village
The older hunters let the PCs take a lead in hunting Romus if they desire (good practice). Initially, tracking across the ice is difficult, but later, as snow begins to fall, it becomes easier. Romus’ motorcycle is near the raised drawbridge. It is suggested by Lincoln that the PCs hunt through the houses, and the three friends will hunt through the woods behind the houses. Sara elects to go tell her parents as the ice knocked out cellular service.

The PCs will eventually discover Romus hiding in one of the houses, and once cornered, the monster begins a gun fight until he runs out of ammo, after which he tries to flee. If given the opportunity, he will attempt to pick off the PCs one by one, preferably by taking the form of Sara Middleton and catching them alone. The monster is not affected by the cold or ice, but a successful hit with a silver bullet will kill the monster.

Unbeknownst to the PCs, La Diabla Negra kills Wright and Dylan while they are searching the woods, eating their hearts and hiding the bodies.

Act Three: The Glow of the Heart Gem
The Middleton domicile. Built as a school, this impressive stone building is architecturally reminiscent of a castle. The rooms have been modified and the interior looks very homey, though with lingering traces, especially in the layout, of the school it once was. The basement, entered via a door which only be unlocked by the handprint and voices of the Middletons (including Sara) was once a bomb-shelter, but has been repurposed to keep Rachel secure during full moons. There is a second room, heavily fortified, with a second such lock, which serves as a cell for the transformed Rachel who cannot open the locks in her werewolf form due to her hands and voice changing. A secret door, with a similar lock, on the first floor conceals the Middletons arsenal and weapons shop. This room is fully stocked with everything a monster hunter would need to make and arm weapons to kill a variety of supernatural beasties.

Scene One: A Gathering at A Deathbed
Once Romus is dead, the PCs are summoned to Tom’s bed in his quarters in the old school building. PCs should be shocked to see him so ill when they saw a healthy form of him only the day before. He explains the ruse, telling them not only how he wanted to rid the world of both Dark and Romus but that there is another, more dangerous threat, one that he awoken in Mexico: La Diabla Negra, an evil which can only be killed by the possessor of the Heart Gem, which he alone discovered in Mexico during the same hunt. The Heart Gem’s power resides within him and will only be passed on to the one who kills him, or to any monster which eats his heart after he is dead. Tom knows one of the three who hunted with him is Diabla Negra, but not which one. Fear of the gem is what kept the demon from showing itself and Alice’s job was to make the monster fear he was still healthy. Tom wants the PC who killed Romus to kill him and absorb the power of the gem. If the PC kills him, an energy passes from Tom’s heart to the heart of the PC. If the PC refuses, Tom and Rachel are heartbroken: the back up plan is for Rachel to take Tom with her into her cell in the night, for it is a night of the full moon.

Scene Two: The Devil Comes in the Night
No matter the PC’s decision regarding Tom, they are encouraged to help fortify the building in anticipation of the demon’s arrival after sundown, for it is stronger at night. The PCs are shown the secret workshop and arsenal. Before night falls Rachel locks herself in her basement shelter.

The demon attacks with shapeshifting guile and savage fury but the possessor of the heart gem can defeat it. The question: is that person one of the PCs or is it the werewolf locked in the basement?

When the demon is killed, surviving PCs are each offered one of the houses on the Island. Alice, having quit her hospital job, also moves to the island and opens a clinic for injured hunters.


I am not quite as happy with this entry as with my previous two, but of the three this is also the one I can most see myself as using in the future.

The scenario is obviously most influenced by the television show Supernatural and the Cortex game of the same name could be used to run it. It would also work in a world such as the one from the Monster Hunter Inc. novels, or just in a modern urban fantasy world.


I really wanted to do a scenario like the one above, but in a more fantasy setting and tried very hard to make it work in my head but just could not get Illegal Speed to work out in such a setting as an ingredient.


Moderator Emeritus
Regarding Fools Rush In:

I am really impressed by how well this entry makes all the ingredients fit together. Not a single one feels out of place.

I do wonder about the various competitions where success or death are the only outcomes. Surely when running this adventure as a DM, you have to account for the possibility of failure? A bad roll of the dice shouldn't immediately end in death, unless I misunderstood?

You are 100% right - but the time and space did not allow for me to include/develop more options in that area. 🤷‍♀️


Final Form (she/they)
Eternity at Sea
A Solo One-Shot Supernatural Mystery

Frozen Island
Last Chance
Shapeshifter Grifter
Professional Killer
Unidentified Wound
Illegal Speed
Secret Shop
Ethical Dilemma

The Familiar Warmth of Blood on Your Hands
You stand blankly, staring at a man who could be your twin. He clasps your left hand with his. In your right hand is a dagger, placed squarely between the ribs, buried deep in the meat beneath. His face is a vision of relief, as if you have lifted a heavy burden from him. “It’s up to you, now,” he says, then slides off your blade and slinks to the floor, dead.

You open your left hand. In it is a pocketwatch, the “12” replaced with the image of an hourglass. In that moment, memory comes flooding back. The ship. The detective. The heavy lurch as it slammed to a stop, sending you flying. The pain and heat and void as all were swallowed by the explosion. And then you are back here, in your room, a dead body at your feet.

You are a doppelgänger, fleeing heat from the continent on a ship bound to the new world. A ship whose fate is now in your hands.

The Danger
Rel, a murderous sea kelpie has snuck aboard. She has murdered the young socialite, Matilda Ravenswood, and has been masquerading as her she watches the end. Three hours prior to the beginning of the first loop, she murdered the ship’s captain with his own hakapik. She has set the ship on a high-speed collision course with an iceberg, and sealed the entrance to the bridge.

There is also a quickling named Faoch. This situation amuses him, so he has chosen to interfere, leveling the playing field.

The Detective

Matthijs Marsch is a famous detective, with a reputation for solving the unsolvable. Faoch slipped him a magic pocketwatch, which when the owner dies will continuously reverse the flow of time by up to an hour. The watch was set for the moment of the explosion (11:00p) and each loop begins no more than an hour before that.

The Journal
Marsch’s journal contains his notes, and he has narrowed down a list of suspicious individuals. These are:
  • Matilda Ravenswood - The young heiress, traveling alone
  • Garrett Spencer - journalist, hard to pin down. Involved?
  • Arthur Rider - An infamous gambler, keeps returning briefly to room
  • Tatiana Kamstra - A socialite known for cycling through husbands
  • Jan Kamstra - Tatiana’s current husband, a coal baron
  • Octavius - Last name unknown, keeps to himself
  • Herman Langley - The ship’s bosun, with a violent past
The journal also contains his notes on the watch, and a crude drawing of the captain’s body with markings indicating his wounds; a large, wide gash in his chest and throat, and a heavy fracture at the base of his skull. He does not appear to have identified a weapon, nor a way into the bridge,

The CMS Eternity
The large cruise ship was bound for the new world with roughly a thousand souls aboard; thanks to Rel’s interventions, it will never arrive. At 10:58p, the ship will strike an iceberg at full speed, rupturing the hull and causing fires in the engine room. Two minutes later, the fire reaches the fuel, causing the ship to explode, killing everyone still aboard.

Marsch was the first to discover the captain’s body, and hid it in his own room. Rel wanted to revel in the passengers’ panic; she now resolves to watch them all drown. She is unaware of the coming explosion, and is killed by it at the end of each loop.

The Pocketwatch
Appears, at first, to be a normal pocketwatch. As time moves forward, the minute hand moves with it,as expected. The red hour hand does not move at all. When a loop ends and restarts, the hour hand moves ahead by two hours.

Faoch can be found in the captain’s room from 10pm to 11pm. He will not hide from the doppelgänger. Faoch will confirm details about the watch and the time loop. Faoch will explain that this powerful relic defies the laws of space-time, and cannot be used indefinitely. If the hour hand reaches 12, its power will end.

Faoch makes a proposal. Faoch will rewind the pocketwatch two hours (a single loop) every time the doppelgänger brings him a secret about someone else on board. He can do this no more than 6 times; any more loops would break the laws of physics and causality entirely.

Faoch will not reveal any details about Rel,

The Suspects

Matilda Ravenswood/Rel

Matilda is the selkie Rel in disguise. A beautiful and richly dressed woman. At 7:00p she killed the captain with his own hakapik, a tool with a thick hammer head for clubbing seals, and a hook on the other end to carry their corpses. She has tossed the murder weapon overboard while cutting loose the life boats. Matilda wants to watch the land dwellers panic as they sense their end at hand.

In normal conversation, Matilda discusses the plight of seals. She’ll find a few sympathetic ears, including Tatiana and Jan. If questioned openly, Matilda acts incensed and storms away. She will spend the remainder of the night in her quarters, coming out only after the iceberg is struck.

Matilda is in the entertainment deck from 10:00 to 10:30. Matilda will dance with the doppelgänger in any form. She has knowledge of doppelgängers but does not immediately suspect the player unless it gives itself away. While cornered on the dance floor, Matilda can be questioned for the length of a song; the best bet is the tango the band performs from 10:12 to 10:16. The doppelgänger must still be cautious; Rel will relish the chance to match wits with a worthy opponent, but any direct accusation will cause her to smack the doppelgänger and storm off to her room, as above.

Secret: Matilda is a selkie in disguise
Secret: Matilda is responsible for the ship’s destruction

Garrett Spencer
A journalist from the mainland whose skin the doppelgänger was wearing when it boarded the ship

Secret: The real Garrett is dead, and the doppelgänger boarded the boat with his visage.

Arthur Rider
In addition to being a gambler, Rider is a prolific dealer in drugs of all kinds; from opiods to amphetamines. He spends most of the evening attempting to sell to others, leading buyers back to his room each time.

Arthur is cocky, and a solid liar. If he is caught by anyone he considers to be a figure of authority, he will play it off as no big deal. At the next opportunity he will race outside, toss his supply overboard, and try to find a lifeboat. When he finds none he panics, and returns to his room for the night.

Secret: Arthur is a drug dealer

Tatiana & Jan Kamstra
Tatiana is a beautiful but aging woman in her young 40’s; Jan a loud, boisterous, coal baron only a few years her senior. They appear happy together, but both are maintaining a facade. Tatiana has hired Octavius to kill her husband, as he has done for her several times in the past. Jan’s persona quickly changes when he believes himself to be alone. He is paranoid, and with good reason; he swindled his former business partner Gerald out of his share of their business; Gerald then died by suicide. The ghost of Gerald has been haunting him ever since, appearing only to him, but he is otherwise harmless.

If questioned together both are friendly, with both of them laughing off the deaths of Tatiana’s former husbands as mere coincidence. Tatiana can be pushed to storming off to her room if pressed, which Jan will not react kindly to. Separated, they will do their best to avoid company altogether, and will rush along any questioner.

Secret: Tatiana has hired someone to kill her husband
Secret: Jan is haunted by the ghost of his business partner

Called the Skullsmasher in the papers, Octavius is a murderer for hire who is very good at what he does. His signature is a single killing strike to the base of the victim’s head; quick, efficient, painless. His goal tonight is to kill Jan and dump his body overboard without causing any suspicion. He will tail Jan until he is sure they are alone and kill him with a single strike using the bosun’s club.

Octavius will not answer questions, and will walk away from any questioner.

Octavius is the Skullsmasher
Secret: Octavius has been hired to kill Jan

Herman Langley
Langley is the surly bosun of the Eternity. His job is to patrol the ship and resolve any maintenance or security issues. He normally carries a billy club with him, but it has been stolen by Octavius before the loop.

Langley has a sordid past; he spent the last fifteen years of his life in prison for murder. He has served his debt and is looking to put his past life behind him.

Langley arrives at the bridge at 10:07p, he instructs a fellow crewmember to find the captain but not alert the passengers. The crewmember fails to find the captain and does not return. Langley remains guarding the bridge door until the end of the loop; it will take a lot to convince him to leave his post.

Secret: Langley has served prison time for murder in the past.

The Bodies
If the doppelgänger finds the captain’s corpse first (Marsch stowed it in his own room), it can determine the slash to the throat as the killing blow, and the blow to the back of the head was made post-mortem. Langley, if shown the corpse, will posit that the murder weapon was likely a hakapik. He can describe seal clubbing, and has heard stories of seal hunters being found dead with similar wounds.

At 10:45p, Jan’s body will be found with Langley’s billy club next to him. Passengers will track down and accuse Langley, mobbing and killing him and anyone else who tries to stop them. He will likewise be accused of the captain’s murder, if his body is found by Rel (10:35p) before the doppelgänger.

Saving the Ship
Langley knows the way into the bridge: an air vent. He will not reveal this information unless he is given permission by the captain. If the doppelgänger has seen the captain’s body, he can attempt to play the part, but it’s a difficult task to mimic a person you have only seen from a distance or dead, and Langley has a suspicious nature. Langley can be shown the captain’s corpse, to convince him of the captain’s death.

The air vent is too small for a normal human to fit. The doppelgänger will have to revert to its true form to squeeze through. If Langley’s trust has not been earned, Langley will immediately suspect the doppelgänger of being responsible and attack, overpowering the doppelgänger. To earn Langley’s trust, he must be helped in solving the captain’s murder. By gaining Langley’s trust, he will only grow hostile, not violent, upon learning the doppelgänger’s true nature. This is a major risk, as an angry Langley might reveal its nature to others.

Deal with the Devil
A doppelgänger not willing to put its own neck out for the people on the ship might seek another way. There is another: Rel, the selkie, can free them together. She must first be convinced that she is trapped in a time loop, and that if she stays she dies, and that if the doppelgänger stays she will still remain trapped forever (a lie). The doppelgänger must be very careful not to reveal too much information. If Rel learns that the watch is responsible for the time loop, she will attempt to steal the pocketwatch. If she succeeds, the doppelgänger will have one last chance to save the ship before the end.


Final Form (she/they)
I have a feeling I'm getting to get slammed for more than just one ingredient usage. Also, loathe as I am to dip into the same well twice, the "shapeshfter grifter" and "professional killer" clues got me back in that doppleganger murder mystery mindset. This time, on a boat! In a time loop!

I had a lot of fun coming up with this, and ultimately I like it a lot. Is it a great Iron DM entry? I'm not so sure, but my gut tells me no. I got too stuck on several of the ingredients, and I worry I've de-centralized too many of them. My gut's been wrong before though. I haven't read my competition yet, but knowing who it is, I'm fairly certain I didn't do enough to win.

I guess we'll have to see!

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Judgment for Round 3, 3rd-Place Match: el-remmen vs Neurotic

Crazy busy week (brother's house burned down) so am setting a judging challenge: one hour to write? One hour to judge! Edit: Posting this exactly 1 hour later. Go me!

Going to play this faster and looser than ever. Also going to be playtesting "Mean Judge" for this judgment; nothing against you, for entertainment purposes only.

Read-only first pass. Write after.


This sucked less than I expected.

Most of the worst grammar offenses seemed to be piled in early, an outer wall of anti-capitalization with spikes of extra commas and the longest sentence ever complete with a hyphen.

I expected to be disappointed by an adventure about bards and I was disappointed. Mostly because it's about killing bards which in most games I've played is the optimal use for them so you can re-roll something useful.

Let's sum up the adventure: "A group of PCs bards (or worse, bard-wanabees) enter a contest they think is about music but is really about feeding the magic blood box that powers the mecha that lets the king feed more blood to the blood box that will let him conquer his neighbors." And you thought the box caused confusion.

PCs consume poison, may be beaten to death if they aren't funny, and have to pretend like they know cool stuff or die. Like being an Iron DM judge. They also start practically naked and can't leave until the contest is over; more similarities to judging. ;)

Aside from someone having to play a bard, I don't hate this adventure so let's go to ingredients and see if that can be fixed.

Let's make it into an entirely straightforward and non-un-anticonvoluted sentence:
"Fools Rush In to the Feast of Fools, including the PCs and other rando bards engaged in a contest that's really about feeding a Weapon in Waiting Mecha sitting in a Magical Workshop holding the anti-music music box that creates a Fading Dreamscape." Got it? Good.

So the focus is on the contest and the box which none of the ingredients quite center on. Mecha in Waiting in the Magical Workshop that creates a Dreamscape... okay, why does it have to be any of those things? Unicorn to Be Summoned from the Enchanted Grove that creates a Drug Stupor could be swapped in without too much bending.

If the PCs figure out the Feast is poisoned, would see them doing whatever they can to skip it as would anyone else who's not an idiot. Oh wait, these people apparently chose to make bards...

Fools Rush In then wobbles like a drunk at a party full of narcoleptics as the sole "strong" ingredient.

With that butchered judgment, let's move on to

Goody. "The Adventure" starts 60% of the way through the entry after the mini-novel about dream Queen gem Awoken King Mist urines. Just after the section where PCs find out they're imprisoned sucide-soldiers. Hey, at least they get to pick why they're prisoners! Hooray, player choice.

Wait, so they get to make up why they are evil, then they're promised freedom if they do good, then are set free? Why should these evil players help if they're already free? Why not use the nuclear laser robots to conquer Dreamplace? They can't talk about their mission but why not just march their Mist Mecha the direction the Formains came from and leave them to it?

Let's assume that the unlikely-to-be-heroic heroes go along with it. What do they do? Get mission, get geased (always a great way to ensure player compliance), then travel for 10 days through... why 10 days? Does anything happen? Anyway, they get power suits which don't matter because it's the gems needed to beat the ̶T̶r̶a̶d̶e̶ ̶F̶e̶d̶e̶r̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶'s Formian's drone army. Is... is that it?

Maybe I'll be vaguely impressed by the ingredients:

Like the adventure, it looks like these ingredients were pretty much tacked on to the end of the story. We have Mecha as Weapons in Waiting to protect the Fading Dreamscape from Formain Fools that Rush In to become a Feast of Fools for each other while the PCs kill them on their way to bringing a crate full of McGuffins to the Magical Workshop to save the Snorefields.

Feast of Fools Rush in dangles by floss and duct tape. Weapons in Waiting/Mecha are probably made in a workshop, but these are called out as being technological with laser nukes not magical. Focus is also on them being hidden, not waiting (even called out as Hidden Weapons). Why do they have to be Mecha again? How does that tie to dreams?

Fading Dreamscape is the King of this nebulous realm of ingredients, central to and place of action for everything like a dance hall heavy on the dry ice with only a couple nerdy kids at the edge playing with their Transformers.

Drunk guy vs empty dance hall. Fight!

To be fair to both these adventures, I didn't fall asleep and I'm really, really tired right now. Desires to gouge my eyes out never quite manifested into maiming myself into monocular vision either. Two points for both already!

So who wins? I could belabor the point and stretch it out here to build suspense, weighing strengths of this vs high points of that, but these adventures didn't burden me with any of those so it'll go faster.

Fools Rush In reduces the bardic population so it and @el-remmen win.

Dropping Evil Judge persona, some cool stuff in these adventures.

Fools Rush In's mayhem, murder, and backstabbing would make for a great low-level "funnel" style adventure with PCs dying in horrible, funny ways left-and-right then jumping in with one of the background NPCs. The subversion of the premise, the various challenges, suggestions for alliance/deal making, and twist that it's all about feeding the Karne Box is awesome.

Ingredients were a bit weak, but can't expect much more than the first coat on a quick idea for these 1-hour challenges. That you came up with an actual funny, multi-layered, playable adventure in that time is impressive.

The Great Dream suffered from backstoriosis. With the meat of the "adventure" tucked behind the PCs, there's not really that much left for them to do: get mechs, get gems, go home, maybe fight?

That said, I loved the setting with the Mists and guardians. I was hoping they'd be on the border fighting bizarre, horrible incursions from nightmare realms bordering the Kingdom or launching rescue missions to save people from dream invasions by sleep haunts or something. Could be a pretty cool game right there. Unfortunately, it didn't quite make it into the entry in time as cool as the concept is.

Judgment remains the same as above if for different reasons.

I've even played a bard once... because his stats were too godawful to play anything else, sure, but I've done it! Was hoping he'd catch a stray arrow and die, but somehow survived the whole campaign only to have his head cut off and kicked down a mile-deep hole in the final session. C'est la vie.
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I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
You complained about lack of sleep on the last judgement. Good luck with the insomnia, whatever the cause. I know it can be debilitating. :(
I hope your relatives are OK, the house can be rebuilt :(

I expected to be disappointed by an adventure about bards and I was disappointed. Mostly because it's about killing bards which in most games I've played is the optimal use for them so you can re-roll something useful.

LOL :D I actually like bards because you can make anything - and always be useful (but not THE BEST)
I tried in 3.5 (hard), PF (fairly easy with archetypes), 5e (super-easy, primary caster) and PF2 - easy to twist the expectations (CHA penalty dwarf bard? Sure!). Always fun.

Wait, so they get to make up why they are evil, then they're promised freedom if they do good, then are set free? Why should these evil players help if they're already free?
Why not use the nuclear laser robots to conquer Dreamplace? They can't talk about their mission but why not just march their Mist Mecha the direction the Formains came from and leave them to it?

Obviously, because the gems will explode if they don't help. The King is desperate, not stupid :p

These judgement is funnier than both entries :p
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Once A Fool
Judgement for the 3rd-Place Match: Neurotic vs. el-remmen

Before I get into the critique of these entries, I want to emphasize for the authors and audience that I have had much more time to analyze these entries than the contestants had to write them. That’s important to keep in mind, because the act of dissecting a work can often seem harsh when taken out of it’s context.

What these contestants were tasked with — and achieved — is something most of us have never even attempted. Myself included.

The very fact that we have two imaginative entries that inspire and are coherently functional is in itself an impressive achievement on the part of both authors.

The critiques that follow are not indicative of a lack of quality. They are simply a necessary part of the process of judgement.

Stakes on Hooks

To sleep, perchance to dream.
Neurotic’s entry, The Great Dream, (“Dream”) gives us a serviceable hook in time-honored tradition of compelling PC prisoners to risk their lives. It works well, and obviously has a tied-in motivation (freedom), but I’m a little disappointed in the implementation.

Specifically, the non-criminal part of the qualifications that the King is looking for are so ubiquitous that I think they would apply to most adventurers with any significant amount of experience behind them. The hook could have been just that and would be better for this adventure specifically, because it would make it easier for this adventure to be used as part of an on-going campaign. Which is something the setting very much wants to be.

As for stakes, these are strong and their effects are felt early and often. This is good for the adventure and would be good for the continuing campaign, if that were likely to happen. I’m not so sure it is, but I’ll revisit that assessment later on.

You gotta fight for your right to bards be.
On the other hand, el-remmen’s entry, Fools Rush In (“Fools”), has a more applicable hook, because it doesn’t assume the PCs are specifically suited for the task they are given. They may be, but if they aren’t, they will be faced with an even more interesting challenge.

Additionally, the hook assumes that the PCs have some helpful information up front (the existence of the magical workshop), which provides the players with a constant goal to work towards should they ever question their next step. And it does so in a non-linear kind of way.

Significantly, much of the necessary expositional underpinnings for the adventure are loaded into the hook. If the PCs know that their task is to thwart the King’s nefarious ambitions, they will also know that he likely doesn’t really intend to end up with a bard at all, particularly one with legal protection.

This means of delivering information is both efficient for the entry and for the DM attempting to run the adventure. Furthermore, the stakes of the adventure are introduced clearly from the very start with the hook and consistently reinforced as the violence of the event steadily increases.

Wherein I’ll catch the un-conscience of two Kings.

Bard to the bone.
”Fools” has a very compelling villain, whom we are given enough insight into to make his malevolent glee a constant presence during the event. This is fun. Add to that the insane reality-show environment that is being deliberately cultivated and the tensions will certainly be high.

The adventure’s structure is basically very solid. Survive a few events, make some alliances, survive some rivals, sneak off to find the workshop, and ultimately defeat the King’s golem. This is a very interesting scenario, strengthened by it’s non-linear presentation and emphasis on player-driven solutions.

Unfortunately, there are a few areas where this doesn’t work out as well. A few of the events very much want some examples to help the DM out. Especially the puzzle competition. As well, the contests that amount to succeeding on skill checks to avoid getting shot seem an ironic combination of lethally punitive and boringly implemented. And I have absolutely no idea how the DM is meant to determine how many laughs a joke gets. Perform check, maybe?

I have more to say, specifically about the implementation of the feast, but it ties in to a couple of ingredients, so I’ll get back to that in due time.

On the whole, a well-conceived and impressively implemented scenario.

Nothing really matters, anyone can see.
“Dream” is less tight an adventure, and certainly has less going on within it. It does have the potential for so much more, but the meat of the adventure is essentially: travel to the border, find the weapon-mecha, fight the formians.

The simplicity of this scenario is not a knock against it. It is a solid structure, and does not expect any specific approach from the PCs, thus avoiding much of the linearity that would likely make such simplicity unsatisfying. I especially like that the travel portion is meant to be an exercise in attrition.

(Although, I note that, between the travel-attrition and the use of formians, this adventure is clearly not meant for 5e D&D, as neither are supported without some work on the DM’s part – which this entry has no help for. That might be important information to call out early on.)

That said: simple, but solid.

And the setting!

“Dream” has inadverdently hit upon a conceit that floods me with fond memories of my first 3e D&D campaign, which was also based around characters native to a Dream constructed by a dreaming deity. Of course, that is a pretty broad superficial similarity, but it turns out that the setting “Dream” gives us is specifically (yet surely coincidentally) tailored to set specifically my imagination on fire!

Since this judgement isn’t about me, I’ll forgo providing details, but I did want to bring my old campaign into this for one specific purpose:

“Dream” has within it a solution to a problem I never was able to fully solve while running that game, lo those many years ago. Specifically, even with charts to help, the constant emphasis on shifting the surreal environment was a mounting improvisational burden on the DM as the campaign progressed.

“Dream” does not preclude such methods, but provides one simple — yet crucial — source of relief. “Dream” hands the power to make small changes within the environment over to the players. Which, while tiny, is also huge. Not only does that take pressure off of the DM’s creativity, it does so in a way that increases the players’ investment into the setting.

When I say that I find this to be elegantly brilliant, understand that I am speaking with the weight of over two decades behind the sentiment.

This is the primary reason that I find the setting wants to be a campaign. The evocative and imaginative details that comprise the setting only reinforce that core truth.

But that’s where the disappointment sets in. Unless I’ve misread it, this adventure seems to nihilistically expect that the PCs will fail to prevent the formians from destroying The Dream. They are endless, and the PCs are not.

I can’t imagine this would be a satisfying conclusion for the players to play through, but besides that, it feels like a great waste of an opportunity to further explore the beautiful concepts and mechanics that the setting has to offer. Oh well.


Fools Rush In

I’m not convinced that the formians in “Dream” count as fools, being controlled by a hive-mind, and all. The dominated or charmed soldiers that fight for them might qualify quite a bit better, however. In either case, this isn’t really relative to the adventure until the very end.

In contrast, “Fools” uses this ingredient as the initial scenario and the multiple definitions of “fools” that are applicable are quite appreciated, as well. Bards hoping to be court jesters rush headlong into a perilous situation despite ample evidence that they should not. And, once they do, they spend much of that time in a hazy dream-state, fighting amongst themselves as their true peril gains in strength.

This is an exceptional ingredient usage.


”Fools” has a very interesting golem which the King can store his soul in to wreak havoc on the bards he so hates and, eventually, the neighboring kingdoms he probably isn’t on great terms with, either.

For quite a while I couldn’t figure out why this was a mecha, though, when a remotely controlled golem would be far more practical. After all, the very act of placing his soul into the golem is twice-perilous. The body remains comatose, and the destruction of the golem can’t be good for the inhabiting soul.

Eventually, it occurred to me that this villain doesn’t care about practicality. He is sadistic, malicious, vindictive, and petty. He likely had the magic jar feature built in for the sole reason that he wants to experience the carnage first-hand. He is a delightfully single-minded villain, whom the players will no doubt relish in defeating.

“Dream” provides a collection of mecha that are intended to be used in the upcoming war against the formians. Other than their ability to see into the Mists, I don’t know why these weapons need to be in the form of mecha.

I can think of one reason they could have. If the mecha could protect their operators from the domination and charm effects of their formian foes, this ingredient would make a lot more sense. But we know that they don’t, because our first introduction of one is an attack from a presumably-dominated soldier.

Another one for “Fools”.

Weapon in Waiting

”I also was not quite sure why the mecha in “Dream” have been hidden away for so long. At first. This was tied into my initial confusion as to why the border’s failing needed to be kept secret in the first place.

But it is actually extremely important, because the malleable nature of the setting means that it’s frightened denizens will subtly shape the world with their fears. This effect will be cumulative, and, indeed, may be the actual reason for the dream’s ultimate destruction.

“Fools” uses this ingredient very well. The charging golem is a looming threat for the entire adventure, and the PCs have a chance to find that out early enough to change their approach to defeating it.

Both adventures tie this ingredient in tightly to the stakes of the adventure and I would be inclined to give both equal weight, but for one thing. Ultimately, the weapons in “Dream” won’t matter, if the PCs are doomed to fail anyway.

Thus, this one goes to “Fools”, as well.

Fading Dreamscape

”Fool” uses the fading dreamscape as an interesting complication within the adventure. In particular, this ingredient keeps the fools confused in order to (among other results no doubt amusing to the spectators) ensure that the fools continue to eat after the first feast kills a bunch of them. This is pretty good. It is also tied into the protections around the golem in the workshop, which is also good. That it is fading because its source is charging the golem is also a fun detail to note.

Of course, this is the strongest ingredient in “Dream”, as it is, after all, the setting and stakes for the entire adventure. This ingredient provides the framework and the drive that moves the adventure and is, therefore, excellent.

Feast of Fools

”Dream” does far less well with this one, however. The carrion on the field, first of all, is only a feast of fools inasmuch as the “Fools Rush In” ingredient lived up to its name. Furthermore, the carrion doesn’t particularly seem to serve any purpose, other than scenery.

On the other hand, “Fools” makes the feast an important nightly event that is intended to both thin the crowd and instill an unhealthy (but appropriate) paranoia.

I think it could have been better if, in addition to the randomized lethal poison, all of the other bards’ meals were drugged with hallucinogens. It just seems like that would make more sense than loading so many features into one magical music-box.

But that’s just an idea, and not even a mutually exclusive one. The implementation we have works and matters. Repeatedly. Indeed, the resulting paranoia may even be constant.

Magical Workshop

”Fools” gives us a magic workshop that is central to the action in a couple of ways. First, it is an actual place the PCs can find and encounter the golem (and its protecting music-box) in. Additionally, the PCs will be searching for it from the very start, so it’s existence will be be present in their minds, even before they locate it.

Superficially, the magical workshops in both entries serve a similar purpose for their Kings, but the one in “Dream” doesn’t really play into the actual adventure.

Even if the PCs can visit it (which seems unlikely or impossible), they don’t need to, as they will be given dream-gems by the king (which, by the way, can they even use against the Mist?). And I don’t know what they would do there if they did visit.

Another ingredient for “Fools.”
…Which brings us to…

As much as I love the setting “Dream” has given us, and as functional as the adventure within it is, I do think that “Fools” is a well-conceived adventure that has quite a lot for the players to do packed within it’s castle walls. The strong ingredient-use seals the deal.

Let’s see what the other judges have to say…

…The judges are fully aligned, for once!

@Neurotic, this time around, I do think maybe I have some advice for your future attempts. You have consistently shown in your works a skillful and imaginative mind. In this very quick entry, you have also given us a glimpse of brilliance.

I would suggest that you embrace your strengths. When you have an idea that has the potential to be transcendent (as you did within this entry), lean into it! Develop it. Build your entry around it. Give it a chance to flourish!

I very much look forward to seeing you compete in future tournaments.

This time, by unanimous decision, @el-remmen wins this 3rd-place match of The IRON DM 2021 Tournament!

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
You complained about lack of sleep on the last judgement. Good luck with the insomnia, whatever the cause. I know it can be debilitating. :(
I hope your relatives are OK, the house can be rebuilt :(
Sleep normally not a problem, just had a ton of balls in the air and stress (trying to find a new venue for my business when rents are now 60% more for 60% of the space in worse locations) before his place burned and tossed another couple balls in. Fortunately he lives alone and the firemen got him out before he died. Check your smoke alarms; his was dead and nearly so to was he.

Insurance set over a decade ago when homes were far, far cheaper and brother never thought to get it updated. Total value may not even be enough for down payment on a new place now. :/

Thanks for your concern. We'll get through and figure something out somehow!

Side note, will try to get to the final matches later this week.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm just going to say this regarding the excellent entries we have been seeing-

When bards lose, everyone wins!

Now, I think I have to start work on my Bard/Paranoia mashup; I'm fairly certain that Bards will make excellent troubleshooters.

PS- I saw your update as I was posting this. @Iron Sky ... that's a lot to deal with. I think we all forget that it's not just the pandemic, it's a lot of the knock-on effects that people are dealing with. Stress is high. Hope you (and your fam) keep doing well, and that you get some measure of solace, and not added stress, from this. :)

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