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IRON DM 2021 Tournament

Rune

Once A Fool
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.
Glad your brother’s okay! Hope all is well before long!
 

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Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
@Rune I caught that the setting with endless formians on its borders is doomed only after I posted it. But the time constraints are harsh and full implementation dream gem technology brought back to the king and moving/restoring the border of the kingdom wasn't described.

Mecha are a tech from before the dream...and losing to formians simply wakes The Queen and the whole kingdom drops into the "real" world...which could be a campaign unto itself.

But in such a setting I would play with Queens waking as extra powers of the dream gems or extra PC/king power for altering the landscape. And only after they fail several times or insist on fighting would I wake her.

If you watched the pacific rim...that was the idea of formians...you cannot realistically fight without some other final solution

Thanks for the brilliance part:D
 

Rune

Once A Fool
@Rune I caught that the setting with endless formians on its borders is doomed only after I posted it. But the time constraints are harsh and full implementation dream gem technology brought back to the king and moving/restoring the border of the kingdom wasn't described.

Mecha are a tech from before the dream...and losing to formians simply wakes The Queen and the whole kingdom drops into the "real" world...which could be a campaign unto itself.

But in such a setting I would play with Queens waking as extra powers of the dream gems or extra PC/king power for altering the landscape. And only after they fail several times or insist on fighting would I wake her.

If you watched the pacific rim...that was the idea of formians...you cannot realistically fight without some other final solution

Thanks for the brilliance part:D
Interesting take, to be sure!

In my campaign within The Dream, the question of whether or not to wake the Dreamer was the major philosophical divide. The Dream was gradually being consumed by a nightmare, but nobody could really know what would happen if the Dreamer was wakened.

Many believed that ending The Dream would end everything within. That is, the entire universe.

Which is all to say, there was a nihilistic quality to that campaign as well.
 


Wicht

Adventurer
Batman (reading a cryptic missive) Riddle me this… Why is the army like Iron DM?

Robin Because in both you have to hurry up… and then you wait…

Batman Exactly old chum. And where else do you find war games and people waiting in lines?

Robin Holy Warhammer, Batman! The Riddler is going to rob Gen-Con!

Batman Right again. Let’s go!
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Tom Petty Waiting GIF
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
All right, this is is, and if I move my ass I can be the first one with results in again. So, lets start doing the brass tacks dance.

We are here to judge the final match between Wicht's Denouement of a Dying Hunter (DDH) and Gradine's Eternity at Sea (EAS). There are eight ingredients, there was a lot of time and a lot of words allowed, so I expect that we're going to see some rock-solid entries.

Ingredients
Frozen Island
In DDH, this is Solus island, the setting for the story. It's wet, cold, and frozen. Does the job.
In EAS, this is less clearly used as an ingredient. I think that this is meant to be covered by the Iceberg, which is not an island, and that feels like I'm missing something. Maybe it's the way everyone is frozen in an island of time because of the pocketwatch? I'm not sure. I'm going to keep an eye out for something I've missed, but for the time being, this is a strong advantage for DDH.

Last Chance

For EAS, again I find myself having a hard time seeing this ingredient in explicit use. The whole groundhog-day nature of the adventure presents a situation which presents multiple chances at the way things happen and play out -- there are six chances available to the party, each of those chances rolling time back two hours, letting them go over the same ground several times. I found some of the time jump stuff confusing -- more on that later.

Meanwhile, DDH presents a pretty clear last chance - Thomas Middleton, the dying monster hunter has one last scheme to try to use the players to finish off two final monsters that escaped him during his life. Perfectly solid, so advantage to DDH.


Shape-shifting Grifter
There's a LOT of shapeshifting and doppelganging going on in these two adventures. In DDH, there is Alice Tyler who is a shapeshifter, Rachel is a werewolf, Romus is a shapeshifting salt-eater, and Diabla Negra is a shapeshifting demon in Jack Lincoln's form. Of all of them, only Alice really fits the mold of a grifter -- her scam that cleans out the bank accounts of dying patients gives her that attribute and meets the standards of the ingredient, but it never really seems to matter for the story, so it's pretty weak.

In EAS, the player is a shapeshifter, as is Rel, the sea kelpie. Again, it's hard to put the "grifter" label on either of them. The player character is fleeing "heat" on the continent, but that doesn't appear to be important to the story. And Rel is a murderer and avenger, but that's hardly grifting. The best fit for grifter in the story is Jan Kamsra, but he's no shapeshifter.

Since they're both weak, I'm going to call this one a wash.

Professional Killer
EAS has a stated professional killer - Octavius the Skullsmasher. DDH has Romus, the first monster, professional salt-eater and assassin. They're both good.

Unidentified Wound
This was clearly a difficult ingredient. There are mysterious wounds in both entries, and both are eventually identified, but when they're first discovered they're a bit mysterious.

In DDH, the circular wound created by the salt-eater attack is certainly unusual and mysterious. It's the more interesting of the two wounds, certainly -- but in the end, finding out the nature of the wound and what killed Alexander, but knowing about the salt-eater's special attack does not appear to help move the story along. That's not strictly necessary, but stronger ingredient use will make that possibly important to the story.

In EAS, the mysterious wounds are far less mystical -- the wounds created by the hakapik. What I like about this is that the other murder going on -- that committed by the Skullsmasher -- makes a nice red herring, because of the heavy blow delivered with the hakapik to the captains skull. So, while being killed with a hakapik isn't as sexy as having all your salt harvested through your neck, it's more important to the story, so I think EAS has the edge on this one.

Illegal Speed
In EAS, Rider is a drug dealing with a load of drugs to sell -- until he dumps it overboard.
In DDH, the first victim Alexander is a meth addict -- and while that gets illegal speed into the story -- and perhaps a red herring for the investigation with the load of drugs and paraphernalia in his room. They are both minor factors in the adventure, so I don't think I prefer one to the other.

Secret Shop
In DDH, Sara Middleton runs the secret store for monster hunters out of the island's general store., Later, it seems the store is in the old school building, which everyone is fortifying to try to deal with the Diabla Negra threat.

In EAS, the secret shop stretches the "shop" idea a bit -- Faoch "sells" backwards time jumps so the players can try to figure out the mystery again, and the currency he accepts is the secrets of the other passengers. That's pretty fun, and I think I like it a little better than the use in DDH, so we will call this one for EAS.

Ethical Dilemma
In EAS, the ethical dilemma is not as clear to me as I would like it to be. At the end of the entry, there's the description of the alternative solution -- the way Rel might be convinced to save herself by freeing everyone. But that doesn't really feel like its a central ethical dilemma. Perhaps the role of the doppelganger itself is meant to be an ethical dilemma, but I find it all weak for this ingredient.
In DDH, the story ends with a choice put to the PCS -- they can kill their dying friend and absorb the power of the Heart, or they can refuse, which will force the NPCs to go with plan B, and give it to Rachel.
So, that one is clearer and effective, so advantage to DDH.

That gives DDH a one-ingredient edge over EAS. Pretty thin, but it's there.

Writing, Presentation, Playability

They're both great as standalone adventures. I want to play both of them.

EAS reads like the plot to a murder mystery weekend that would be a whole lot of fun to play. I like the NPCs, the various plotlines, the details of where clues can be found and what can play out, etc.

I did find the write-up confusing in parts -- the time loop thing is ALWAYS going to be a challenge to present effectively. One thing I found confusing is the idea that the clock rolls back two hours with each time jump -- but all of the action (except Rel killing the captain) that happens takes place between 10 and 11. And the time jump goes back two hours from the moment that the player sells the secret to Faoch, and that might roll time back even further before 9 pm. It's possible, I suppose, that the players might be able to prevent the captain's murder entirely by being on hand to stop Rel from killing the captain at 7 pm -- and that will require several jumps.

It's always fun to think about these loops -- and the idea that this doppelgager PC is going to be able to move around in time and try to solve the murder -- that could be fun play. And it's good that there are a lot of way to imagine saving the day -- stopping the captain's murder is one thing, but getting onto the bridge and diverting the ship is another etc.

I think I might have understood more clearly that part of what the adventure is expecting the players to do is gradually step back to earlier timeframes is if there were more events detailed earlier than 10pm. Word count may be the culprit there, but as it stands, everything the players need to figure out, and all of the things they will interact with are in that last hour.

So, I think this one is daring, convoluted as any time-jumping adventure must be, and looks like a load of fun. But the writeup has challenges.

DDH, is a simpler story, even if that's just by virtue of not adding time travel to a cast of shapeshifters. I like the gathering of old allies, the double monster nature of the story, the whole setup mostly works (although there's some stretches for the sake of ingredient use I could have done without -- again, why does it matter that Alice steals from dying patients?)

The adventure feels atmospheric, exciting, playable, and fun. While the name of the demon (diabla negra) might be read as a bit problematic, the reveal, the anticipation of the attack on the schoolhouse, everything just would be a lot of fun to play.

Final Analysis
EAS flies awfully close to the sun for an Iron DM entry -- shapeshifters, time travel, bargains with fey creatures, murder mysteries -- this is not the sort of thing that word limits mix well with. And what has been presented is solid, playable, and fun.

DDH takes fewer risks, and it shows -- the adventure is tighter without being too much of a railroad ride. And, it did make somewhat better use of the ingredients, as I read the entries.

So, for my selection, I pick Denouement of a Dying Hunter as the better entry, and that means one vote for Wicht as the 2021 Iron DM.
 


Wicht

Adventurer
While the name of the demon (diabla negra) might be read as a bit problematic,...

As I doubt you are worried about potential Copyright infringement with the song bearing a similar name by Cristiián Cardiz, nor the halloween costumes of the same name, I am assuming you are referring to the potential for English speakers to read the spanish word for black as meaning something besides black. I had considered that possibility, which is one reason I changed the demon to feminine from masculine so as to be able to change the adjective as well. Ebona (spanish for Ebony) just did not flow as well, and made the demon sound to my english ears like some sort of disease instead. The name however is not problematic in Spanish, and merely means the black she-devil. I just couldn't bring myself to have a blue devil (La Diabla Azul sounds like she is a star of a local futbol team), nor a pink devil (La Diabla Rosa conjures images of a cheap supernatural romance novel) as the villain. I suppose I could have got more creative and gone with something like La Serpenta del Valle de Sombra de Muerte, but I really liked the simplicity of the original name and besides... Word Count.


DDH takes fewer risks, and it shows...
That's a fair cop.

Once I gave up on trying to craft a gritty fantasy nior spy drama homage to Mark Lucas' Night of Fear (Dungeon Magazine; issue 28), which was one of my go-to starter adventures for a long time and always a blast to run with new players, and realized I was going to do something modern, shapeshifter made me think of Supernatural. But I was also thinking of something suitable for a starter adventure. So I leaned into both, making it the sort of plot you could use with new players, with memorable moments that would stick in the mind, but simple enough to follow without getting confused. I also formatted it like a television episode, which is I believe how the Supernatural RPG formatted its adventures; but that also certainly affects the adventure style making it seem a bit tamer as regards "risks."
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Judging Iron DM 2021 – Round 3 Wicht vs. Gradine

Slipping into Evil Judge persona:

Final round; this time for all the marbles. Actually, you don't even get marbles... why are we all doing this again?

@Wicht and
Sick Burns After Reading
Stuck on a frozen island with a bunch of shapeshifters and a demon. Sounds like holidays as a kid... barely joking.

Oh good, I get to remember nine NPCs, several of whom are shapeshifters and/or who lie about their names. Nice.

Good news, the NPCs start to die off like monster hunters on a demon-haunted frozen island, but until then I'm five hunters, a werewolf, a shapeshifting demon, and two types of shape shifters of which makes up a fake name for the guy he's impersonating. I'm going to change the names in Scene One to illustrate:

"The PCs are cheerfully greeted at the Lonely Roost by Jakwe, and given rooms on the third floor. Already present are Jimbo and Chuck. Joe Bob, Grumby, and Reeve each arrive later. Towards suppertime, Sally Joe arrives to help with the cooking. Wally arrives for supper, though it is not in fact Wally, but Easter McGale in Wally’s form.

Reeve drives a motorcycle and is wearing the form of deceased actor Sals Lamont. He introduces himself as Sals Italy. 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. "

Got all that? Yeah, me neither.

Romus has three different names to track just right there: him, who he's impersonating, then the pseudonym he uses. To help you struggle to keep track, they're often referenced by first or last name randomly. Alexander Dark = "Dark", "Alexander", or "Alexander Dark".

New scene? Jump back to the cast list to see who the hell everyone is again.

Speaking of, if George, Robbie, Jack, and Thomas split up after the demon hunt, why are they all together here? Hunter retirement community coming true?

Second pass consumed
Mostly figuring out who everyone is and what they are doing. Let's hazard another pass to see if the PCs actually get to do something fun.

Show up → "sup" → murder → corpse → Sara's got all the answers → old hunters let PCs search Island → one-shot no-scope Romus → Tom takes a plot dump on them → NPC murder? → demon gem crush.

And then we come to the "and then" plotting. The PCs arrive and then someone dies and then Sara gives them answers and then the hunters tell them to fight the monster. They kill it. Tom drops the demon bit leading to the PCs making a difficult choice and then the monster shows up.

Essentially one choice in the adventure assuming they don't choose to risk the river once everyone's getting salt-drained and heart-eaten. Rest of the time the PCs just happen to be there while things happen around/to them. At least when they switch to doing hunter stuff they get to... oh wait, the NPC hunters are helpful enough to drop the choice info and direct the hunting. The older hunters let the PCs take the lead, from which we can infer that if the PCs don't the consequence is the old hunters step in and make sure it happens.

So the NPCs likely direct or supply key data for the investigative parts (people are so helpful probably don't even get to make my social rolls) but at least we get some epic monster fights, right?

Fight one:
GM: "Romus rams a mag into his M4 and chambers it loudly. Come get me you-"
PC: "I shoot him. Nice, got a 22 to hit. 11 damage minus ten since these silver bullets suck is 1."
GM: "Okay, with cover, I guess that's still a hit. You graze him, he laughs and-"
PC: "Wait, didn't she say a hit kills these things?"
GM: "Oh... yeah. Um, I guess it's dead then."

We have (gun)fight one where the PCs kill the baddie with one hit and (un)fight two against a demon one of the PCs can presumably slay readily especially with a National Guard armory worth of fighty bits plus an anti-demon gem while the other PCs are useless OR, worse, they are all useless and the NPC werewolf does the job while they just try not to get killed. Fun.

What happens here if the PCs don't show up? Same people die, Sara and fam probably kill the shapeshifter since they're experienced hunters with an arsenal then Werewife (next DC superhero movie) soaks herself in tears before killing her husband and soaking herself in demon blood. PCs are helpful/disposable to the NPCs at best and have front-row tickets to the s#!7show at worst.

Ingredients
Frozen Island
setting. Frozen + Island keeps them from leaving. Solid, like ice.

Last Chance Tom/Thomas/Thomas Middleton's last chance to kill the demon. Ethical PCs/players might not take it, thus removing themselves from killing it.

Shape-shifting Grifter gets trickier. The above two were immediately obvious without even re-reading but we have three shapeshifters confusing things up here. Alice/Tom/Alice/Alice Tyler is maybe the grifter with "I see dead people's bank accounts". Romus/Alfred Ryder/Alfred Rome sucks the salt from his targets, but he's more of an assassin so probably not him. Jack/Lincoln/Jack Lincoln/La Diabla Negra is mostly a demon. Must be Alice/Tom/Alice/Alice Tyler then. That's she's a grifter is mostly backstory since no grifting goes on in sight of or involving the PCs.

Professional Killer Romus/Alfred Ryder/Alfred Rome vs Alex/Alexander/Dark/Alexander Dark, though I suppose both are professional killers just one kills people for a living the other kills monsters (with killing people as a hobby). A diverting mid-plot likely presumed to be the main story but turns out to be a surprisingly unrelated branch jutting off the dying tree of the adventure. A red herring salted extra heavy.

Unidentified Wound the strange puncture marks on Alex/Alexander/Dark/Alexander Dark's body where salt is sucked out. Nifty way to die, less nifty that Sara identifies it for them.

Illegal Speed Meth. Alex/Alexander/Dark/Alexander Dark's less grisly habit. If one of the monsters was super-fast and the Meth was magically-enhanced with the PCs having to decide "Do I take this drug and have a fighting chances against Methmonster but meth OR do I risk getting ripped apart by a literal speed demon without it." Instead, this just says "this is a bad guy" then goes on to have zero relation to the rest of the adventure.

Secret Shop Sara/Sara Middelton's shop that mostly serves as an arsenal since the PCs don't actually buy anything. Ties nicely into the mythos of hunters, less so as an ingredient especially when she just tells them about it and seems to just let them borrow stuff instead of buying it.

Ethical Dilemma being to kill Tom/Thomas/Thomas Middleton and kill the demon or be powerless against it. Unfortunately, if they kill him then they can kill the demon but if they don't Werewife kills him and does it. I'm sure in the moment any remotely scrupulous PCs will find the decision agonizing, but in hindsight the demon dies either way. This ties with Frozen Island as least sucky ingredient (with the salt-drinking shapeshifter obviously being the suckiest).

Summary
Premise stirred my excitement, execution mostly killed it.

Stumbling on, we come to @Gradine 's
First Loop
The intro really sucked me in. Stumbled a bit on Matilda and haka... kapik... hakapik, then smoothed out. Things get faster even if exactly who is who slips away here and there. Fortunately, context clues help tune me back in. End fascinated and a bit bewildered.

Second Loop
Intro sucked me in but with questions. This is familiar, but who is it who dies on my blade? How does the detective relate to any of this and what do they do? I've found their journal with a bunch of notes... is Marsch the person I killed?

Also, why do I need to break into the bridge? Everything passes so fast trying to absorb this I missed it; mental note to figure out why the vent is necessary to get to the bridge next time through. Everyone has secrets, but are these all incidental and useful only to give me more time or are they directly related to the solution in some way?

Third Loop
The person is my twin, so presumably I'm killing the reporter I'm pretending to be as I come back through time an hour.

Don't know how I missed the "sealed entrance to the bridge" the first two loops. Sealed how? Is there any other way to break in? How about smashing one of the bridge windows? What happens if I go disable the engine or figure out a way to jam the rudder sideways instead?

I'm assuming the silkie bails before the ship blows up but haven't seen it.

Why am I questioning all these people when I know I need to get into the bridge? Would I maybe be better off improvising better battering rams or rope ladders or the like until I find something that works? If it was booby-trapped too then I'd probably give up faster and realize this is a social/investigative puzzle not an action/B&E one.

Wait, am I Marsch now? I'm getting the implication that's what's going on but haven't figured out for sure. Who am I? Why did Marsch hide that captain's body? Or was/is that me? Did I do that? I thought I was the reporter?

Ah, silkie goes boom. Amazing what you miss when you are reading quickly and not going back.

Does Faoch go boom too?

"Faoch will not reveal any details about Rel,"... why does this sentence end with a comma? Is there more there that I'll find on a later loop? Did I delete it somehow?

Wait, Reltilda chucked the hapi... hakapaka... hikipaki... murder weapon overboard? Don't they find it later? Ah, it's the bosun's billy club. Reading this fast is revealing inherent reading comprehension fails.

Final answer (assuming B&E is off the table) is solve the murder of the captain to get Langley's trust to get the vent info. What if I'd just spent the whole time searching the ship for other ways in instead of doing social deduction? If there's an air vent into the bridge, presumably there are other air vents I can observe elsewhere and make the deduction. I know I can fit inside one in my "natural" state after all.

Providing a second way out (seLkIE) helps and is nifty, but would have liked to see the "50 break the window rolls" or "100 search rolls" methods addressed.

Fourth Loop
Now that alternate approaches have failed (why not succeeded?), let's try social. Know we need to solve this murder and even failing can provide secrets to literally buy more time.

Why did I kill myself? Didn't I die in the explosion?

Going to assume I'm the detective now, not the reporter.

I start hitting people up for clues:
♦Faoch tells me about the watch: secrets for time.
♦I dance with Matilda, maybe learn she's a selkie and blows up the ship.
♦Somehow I learn I am (used to be) Garrett.
♦Arthur tries to sell me drugs.
♦Somehow I get Tatiana and Jan to spill their murder/ghost issues even though they won't talk separately.
♦In some way I learn Octavius is the skullsmasher who kills(ed) Jan.
♦Langley the ex-con bosun is the key; solve who killed the captain (Selktilda) and he gives me the vent. How do I do that since the weapon is gone and Rel/Matilda won't talk?

Assuming I somehow do this and get vent info I can die this time if it's too late and I'll go straight there next time around.

Or I somehow talk Rel into helping... wait how does she fix it? Does she know a way in or how to unseal the bridge?

Let's assume I've solved it so I can move on to

Ingredients
Frozen Island
Iceberg deading ahead. Playing on the extra frozenness to make up for depreciated islandness (is that a word?)

Last Chance Eventually, the PC might run out of attempts (or Rel steals the watch) and have one last chance to fix things. Statistically, anyone who's going to win this adventure will win before their last chance which weakens this.

Shapeshifter Grifter I'm the shapeshifter and pretending to be someone else. Since the "pretending to be someone else" definition of grifter is already covered by shapeshifter, we need to focus on the grifting part... which we don't really do since we're mostly a detective. This one packs extra punch on the shapeshifter hand to compensate for the relative griftlesness (I feel like I've made up 5 words this judgment...).

Professional Killer being Octavius who is at best a red-herring and worse background since he doesn't kill anyone essential to the story. I guess he could use up a couple loops if the PC fingers them as the captains killer (or just pins it on them if that satisfies the bosun I suppose) and he does hold a time-refuel secret so he's not completely irrelevant.

Unidentified Wound the captain + clubbing + cutting. Sounds like the life of a troubled metropolitan 20-something. That aside aside, the captains wounds are the key pieces of info towards tracking the killer and ties in the bosun, Octavius, and Rel. Since Rel ditched the weapon, it doesn't help tie it to her but does supply a decent chunk of grist for the investigation mill.

Illegal Speed proves to be another relatively irrelevant bit unconnected to anyone else. Even in evil mode I have to give credit for how clever collecting secrets is proving as even seemingly irrelevant dead ends are rewarded mechanically with do-overs.

Secret Shop the quickling literally trading in secrets; a brilliant use of the ingredient that also ropes the game structure and even the most irrelevant-seeming ingredients to the adventure's mast. As hard as I'm trying to be snarky and critical here I'm at a dead end. This is genius.

Ethical Dilemma that I think lies with the alternate way out via selkie. It doesn't specify the way out so I assumed with my few loops she'd fix the ship but now realizing she'll just bail and take the PC with her. Adding to the dilemmaness (is that a thing?) there is a risk of Rel screwing the player if they take that route and get instant karma.

Final Loop
I'm finding I can't find enough bad things to say about this adventure so will wrap it up. Sure, I've heaped a pile of questions around the bridge/vent/sealing deal, but with a few clarifications (like a clever clockwork booby trap on the door or something) they could be pretty quickly swept away.

Dropping the cranky mien and squinty demeanor I'm both relieved and disappointed that I have so clear a winner in mind; you'd hope in the finals to have two brilliant pieces of GM-work going against one another and in this final it seems we only have one. Even the best Iron GMs (which both Gradine and Wicht certainly qualify among) can have RL time constraints, ingredients that don't mix, or just end up with judges that don't click with what they wrote.

I really loved the setting and premise of Denouement of a Dying Hunter; trapped on a frozen island with a salt-sucking shapeshifer and an ancient demon is just cool. This potential was hamstrung - in my potentially flawed opinion like everything I'm saying - by a strong sense that the end result would be the same with or without the PCs present. Helpful NPCs also make for boring investigations since it removes them as obstacles to be overcome on the way to solving the mystery and when they volunteer to jump in to do some investigating themselves plus will happily give the players the tools to win, it turns the spotlight firmly away from the players. Add in two gimmicky fights that seem (if I understood correctly) to be insta-wins if you have the right McGuffins of silver bullets and demon-slaying gems.

The ingredient use isn't terrible like I made it out to be while in evil mode either. Sure some could be stronger and/or tied into the adventure more securely, but against most entries it would still win. But it's not against most entries.

From its opening in media res start through my fifth looping read-through, Eternity at Sea grew on me more and more. With a little clarification on what "sealed" means plus methods of eliminating (or making equally interesting) other ways into the cabin plus a bit more thought on how exactly you "solve" the murder to the bosun's satisfaction, this adventure could be among the best Iron DM adventures I've ever read, judged, or competed against. Groundhog Murder on the Titanic as a game with every bit of info not only narratively but also mechanically important. Most investigations' red herrings or interesting-but-useless bits of NPC backstory are fascinating but irrelevant at best or frustrating at worst yet every bit really, really counts.

In play, I could see getting an actual watch and giving the PC one hour of real-time each loop, then manually adjusting the hands for each failure or secret spent as they restart. Just got a little chill thinking about how cool that would be.

I nominate Gradine for Iron DM 2021 Champion.

Final judges note]I'm really glad I chose to judge rather than compete this year. Taken as a whole, I'd say this years' entries were among the strongest I've ever seen, especially that killer batch of first-round entries. That round is brutal and yet even many of the losing entries this year would have dominated the first round of past tournaments. If you lost it doesn't mean your adventure or writing/GMing skills were bad, you just had killer competition this time around.

I also learned a ton while pulling everyone's adventures apart to figure out what made them tick; if you haven't judged I highly recommend it in future years!

Lastly, playing Evil Judge was fun and hopefully entertaining. I hope no one took offense. While I greatly over-exaggerated the degree of criticism I did try to keep most of it as constructive and on-point as possible. If I saw something that seemed questionable, I called it out, just via the mouthpiece of a pretentious jerkbag. My hope always while judging is to helping everyone's GMing, adventure writing, and writing get stronger (including my own), never to tear down or offend.

Congrats to whichever of you ends up as winner and everyone who competed!

-Evil Judge, out
 
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Wicht

Adventurer
Two judges have read my piece the same way - that the shop run by the daughter is the same as the workshop in the school, so I must not have been as clear as I should have been. These are two distinct uses of the word shop - one is an online store, and the other is a workshop (suitable for altering guns, loading bullets, sharpening knifes, turning stakes on the lathe and that sort of thing. The former is a business and the latter is a private arsenal. When two individuals read it the same way, then there is a good chance the problem is in the presentation, so mea culpa.

And so once again, Rune is the Tie-Breaker. I knew when I read Gradine's piece that the judging could go either way and would largely depend on the tastes of the individual judges, so not at all surprised here. Still... cue Tom Petty... :) )
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
the ingredient that also ropes the game structure and even the most irrelevant-seeming ingredients to the adventure's mast.

Now, I know my Iron DM history enough to know that's a burn, but not enough to know to whom. In any case...

america burn GIF

 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
And my thoughts/responses

Ideally, this adventure would have 1000 more words to spend on a section that details what's happening in what room and at what time, as well as to add for clarity to other bits that I had to cut for space, including:
*Faoch knows what's going on and will bail if he senses failure
*At the beginning of each loop, you return to your (the reporter's) room, knife in hand, the detective dying in front of you, groaning "It's up to you, now." The best time loops always restart on a memorable moment; the ur-example being "I Got You Babe" in Groundhog Day
*Rel, being a Selkie, can just jump off the ship and swim away. The doppelgänger can convince her to leave and to take it with her. The player and the main villain escape, and everyone else on the ship still dies. This
*There was also some folderol about the bridge locking from the inside and Rel being able to make it out through the vents.
*If I had even more room, I would elaborate on other solutions to the puzzle, such as pinning both murders on Octavius, finding the vent on your own (this tied into Rel leaving water around the vent she exited from). I decided to try to narrow the focus on the social/investigation puzzle instead, knowing that other solutions would be possible.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts later, after the last judgment.
 


Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
2nd derivative meta-judging? ∂Iron/∂DM? Iron Judge?
New competition idea: we take a piece of history, an iron dm entry from the archives...and judges then compete in how bad can they trash-talk it.

Another set of judges then judges the trashing :D

It could also be fun to have everyone take one of their own entries (especially the really early ones) and tear them apart. I've looked back at a couple that I even argued with judges over and don't know what I was thinking.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Judgement for the IRON DM 2021 Championship Match: Gradine vs. Wicht


We come at last to the final showdown. Two seasoned veterans — each an experienced IRON DM — vie for this year’s title. As one could expect, given our contenders’ pedigrees, the adventures presented are both exceptional in quality.

Interestingly, both adventures have the trappings of a murder-mystery, although that isn’t really an adequate description of either entry.

I’ll begin with the ingredients.

Frozen Island
Both entries make this ingredient an important element of the adventure. In Wicht’s Denouement of a Dying Hunter (“Denouement”), the island is the setting for the adventure, which is specifically important because it prevents Romus from leaving for supernatural-water-crossing-prohibition reasons.

The icing of the island (especially its drawbridge) also isolates and traps everyone else on the island, which adds an element of survival to the already strong stakes of this adventure.

Meanwhile, in Gradine’s Eternity at Sea (“Eternity”), the frozen island is the iceberg that dooms the ship. And because it happens over and over again, it’s impending manifestation is a constant looming presence for the PC.

Does it need to be an iceberg? Maybe not specifically, but the fact that it is tells us something important about the adventure: the freezing waters ensure that escape by jumping overboard is not an option.

Both of these ingredients are very good.

Last Chance
”Eternity” provides a last chance for the PC to save ship or self in the final trip through the time-loop.

The entry specifically calls out the last time through that the PC will get if Rel gets the stopwatch. The stakes are certainly high at this point, but the ingredient works for other paths, as well.

The last chance in “Denouement” is Thomas’s attempt to use the PCs (and other NPCs) to kill Alexander, Romus, and the demon.

This forms the framework of the adventure and is therefore a better use.

Shapeshifter Grifter
Both entries provide a plurality of shapeshifters, though only one in each is a grifter. In “Denouement” this is Alice, who plays an interesting role in Thomas’s plan.

Her grifting does not seem particularly relevant, but for two things: she owes Thomas a favor and that favor manifests as a deception to lure the demon into action. This is pretty good.

Meanwhile, the shapeshifter grifter in “Eternity” is the PC. The shapeshifting is part of what makes the hook work. I’ll get more specific about the hook elsewhere, but the opening act of imitation plus murder is a convenient entrance into an initially contextless scene.

The grifter part doesn’t really come up, except in the potential method utilized to investigate the mystery that surrounds any hope for survival. Langley or Rel, especially, are going to need a deft touch in exploiting their confidences.

This is inherently integral to the PC and is therefore superior.

Professional Killer
The professional killer in both entries serves a similar purpose: to complicate and misdirect the PCs’ investigations. In the case of “Eternity”, this is done by throwing suspicion and peril on an NPC whom the PC may need help from. In “Denouement”, the killer serves as a distracting bit of action while the demon kills off the other hunters.

These are both about even as ingredients.

Unidentified Wound
”Denouement” uses the unidentified wound as a clue to determine the nature of Romus, so that the PCs can effectively hunt him down and kill him. That it is not actually the PCs who will be doing this research is a little bit unfortunate. Rather, the research is done out of frame by Sara, presumably while the PCs are chasing other leads.

In “Eternity”, the unidentified nature of the captain’s mortal wound appears even less significant. However, the fact that it is mentioned in Marsch’s notebook means that the PC will learn of it almost immediately. This is good, because that means the unidentified nature of the wound becomes a mystery that the PC can pursue from the very beginning.

Thus, this ingredient serves a very important purpose within the adventure.

Illegal Speed
This ingredient seems to be nothing more than coloring of a sleazy character in both entries. In “Eternity”, the drugs don’t seem particularly relevant, except that they are a secret that can be obtained and bartered. Such as it is. I wonder, though, if they would even be illegal out at sea?

At any rate, the meth that Alexander is addicted to in “Denouement” at least helps paint a somewhat clearer dirtbag, but it is completely undercut by the serial killings.

The ingredient is unambiguously present in both entries. But that’s about as far as that goes.

Secret Shop
I’m not sure why Sara’s monster-hunter supply web store needs to be secretive in “Denouement”. I recognize that the shop itself is important, because where else are the PCs going to find silver bullets on this island?

In “Eternity”, the PC can uncover secrets in the course of investigation and sell them to the quickling in exchange for more attempts at saving self or ship. It is a bit of a stretch to call this a “secret shop” when what is really on sale is time. The secrets are just the currency.

Even so, the actual role in the adventure is potentially crucial to success and, at the very least, absolutely a huge part in driving home the supernatural nature of much of it.

Despite the stretch, I’ll have to lean toward “Eternity” on this one.

Ethical Dilemma
I had high hopes for this ingredient, because a good ethical dilemma enriches any adventure it is in. Are the ones we get here good?

“Eternity” has this for an ethical dilemma: The PC must choose between convincing Langley to help so that the bridge can be accessed and the ship saved (at considerable risk to the PC) or working with (and deceiving) Rel to save the PC (and Rel) at the expense of the rest of the ship.

This is a good dilemma, but it isn’t exactly an ethical one, because it doesn’t force the PC to choose between two equally problematic ethical decisions. It is clear that one of these is ethically right and the other is wrong. That’s the entire point of this kind of dilemma. The right choice is the harder one.

“Denouement” gives us this: In order to ensure that the demon is defeated, one of them must kill their friend, or make his werewolf wife do it.

That is a fine ethical dilemma, but I’m not sure that the consequences of the decision will really be felt in the adventure. Except in that the PCs may not even be involved in the defeat of the demon at all. And even if they choose to kill Tom, only one of the PCs will be able to hurt the demon.

The dilemma seems good, but its fallout doesn’t seem satisfying to me. But that’s a structural issue. As far as the ingredient goes, “Denouement” has the edge with this one.

Hooks, Stakes
We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!
The PCs in “Denouement” are invited by a dying friend to socialize among some strangers and solve the inevitable murder that happens on the first night. It’s such a classic, it borders on cliché, but it has enough variation (and immediate intrigue) that I think it avoids that trap.

Having avoided it, the set-up immediately sets a tone appropriate to the genre(s). Furthermore, observant players will quickly note that they can not leave, which should create a note of unease that will persist throughout the adventure’s events, just beneath the trappings of mystery.

The stakes of the adventure are presented in the letter, as well. Tom needs to finish some business before he dies and he needs the PCs’ help. The details will emerge through play, but the stage is set for a good adventure right in the hook.

We are not so different, you and I.
The hook in “Eternity” was confusing to me at first. This, it turns out, is as it should be.

The doppelgänger begins play in a completely contextless act of murder. Almost immediately, the PC gains context with possession of the pocketwatch. Once that is established, the notebook fills in some of the gaps while also providing several leads to explore.

As with the other entry, the stakes are present from the very start: imminent destruction and only a few chances to set things right.

This hook is specifically tailored to the scenario. For this adventure, the initial lack of context and the subsequent rush of it really makes the whole thing catch on the player’s curiosity. I can’t really imagine the player who wouldn’t buy in. This is a very effective hook.

Morph-monsters, mysteries, and murders most foul.
I’m on a boat.
”Eternity” has a fairly complex structure, designed to be repeated multiple times as the player explores new avenues in the attempt to find a solution to the puzzle that dooms the entire ship before running out of attempts to do so.

This is a very interesting layer added to the time-loop genre (such as it is). Instead of presenting the time-loop as a trap that must be escaped, “Eternity” presents it as a tool for survival. Doing so — and limiting the uses of said tool — neatly bypasses one of the potential perils of a time-loop scenario. Specifically, a growing frustration as the failed attempts to escape accumulate.

This entry does something else that really helps to mitigate this. By providing a way to purchase more attempts with secrets that will be uncovered naturally during the course of play, the player is given tangible achievements along the way, each a minor goal within the larger framework.

This is one of those games that is meant to be an unforgettable experience, richer in the retelling than in the replaying. Probably an ideal convention game, or a good game to pull out and play with a friend on a rainy day.

Certainly, the presentation is a little confusing at first; the complex shape of this adventure is not made immediately clear for the GM any more than it is for the player. Somehow, that seems appropriate for a time-loop.

There is one area that I think would serve the adventure well if developed a little further, however. The only information we have that Marsch knew the PC (in some capacity) is a scant note in the notebook about the PC’s assumed persona.

This does nothing to suggest why the game begins with his murder, but I think things would be richer if the PC could discover that Marsch had been on to the doppelgänger and had confronted the PC, thus leading to his murder.

Of course, that could still be true, even if the notebook doesn’t suggest it.

More challenging is the air vent. I can’t figure out why Langley would even think of this as a helpful means of entry to the bridge if it is too small for human use.

Which means he isn’t really helpful to the PC. At least not intentionally.

Ultimately, though, that seems like a relatively minor fix. He could just casually mention it, after all, assuming his guard is lowered enough for casual conversation.

On the whole, this is a truly artful adventure that wants to be played once. And remembered forever.

Better run, better run, faster than my (silver) bullet.
”Denouement” gives us a more traditional murder-mystery frame, although there is certainly some action that unfolds along the way. This is a layered and rewarding structure, that incrementally builds to an intense climax that ought to be quite fulfilling.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure it really will, because it seems as if most of the PCs (if not all of them) will be relegated to minor roles within the climactic fight, at best distracting the demon while the one character capable of defeating it (a character who may be an NPC, by the way) does the actual work.

This could be handled deftly by a skillful GM who foresees the issue and provides satisfying challenges for the other characters to engage in during the fight. But this is a fine line to walk and this adventure doesn’t really give any help to a GM in doing so.

I don’t think this makes the adventure any less cool. What it does is require just a little bit of preparation ahead of time, just to account for the lack.

Last time through the loop.
”Denouement” is an excellent adventure with ingredients that, overall, reflect the skills of a veteran. There is a lot of style in this adventure and that style is mostly presented subtly, which is my favorite kind. This is an impressive effort to cap off an impressive run through this 2021 tournament.

In this match, in my estimation, “Eternity” hits all of the right notes and does it with a slight ingredients-edge, as well.

But, I’m just one voice. Let’s just take a quick look…



…Tied again, huh? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

@Wicht, you know your business. No point in me trying to give you advice, or anything. I think you’ve had some particularly strong entries in this tournament, even for you.

However, after a somewhat weaker second round, @Gradine really hit their stride in this final match. Sometimes it just works out that way.

By a 2:1 margin, Wicht claims the 2nd-place title.

…Which means that Gradine is the IRON DM 2021!

Congratulations to both of you for exemplary showings.
 



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