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IRON DM 2021 Tournament


I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
Interesting, your comments seemed to build the other way, that Worm competition was more playable and solid. I expected it to win.

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Wow, Cold Crown reads like it could be published. But both are amazing entries. It surprises me, given the tight word count and tricky ingredients, that both contestants are able to establish a whole setting and cast of characters.
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Radiating Gnome

Interesting, your comments seemed to build the other way, that Worm competition was more playable and solid. I expected it to win.
I know. For long swathes of writing the response, that's where I thought it was going. I was literally on the fence the whole time, and had a version of the final result section that went the other way, too. These are both entries that should win.

Radiating Gnome

Wow, Cold Crown reads like it could be published. But both are amazing entries. It surprises me, given the tight word count and tricky ingredients, that both contestants are able to establish a whole setting and cast of characters.
Having been around both of these creators through these competitions for a long time, I can say It's no surprise at all. Wicht and El-remmen are of the old magic, the deep magic. Even when el-remmen was gnashing his teeth over the struggle to come up with an entry, I knew his would be strong in the end.
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Two great entries.

....Slightly disappointed that el-Remmen didn't work in some Simpsons references given the title. Did I miss them?

Both adventures:
10/10 for adventures.
0/10 for 80s movies references.

Final tally:
Diplomacy's Cold Crown: 1999 Brosnans out of a fortnight of Calhamers
Don't Have a Cow, Man?: 419 Hemingways punchily reciting 140 Brannigans

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Word count forced me to cut out all the Cool Runnings allusions. 1993, but there you are.

In fairness ... eighties, nineities, naugties, whatevers ... THEY ARE ALL THE BEFORE TIMES!


Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Judging Round 2 Match 1, Wicht vs. El-Remmen
Three passes: casual reader looking for cool bits, GM looking at running it, Iron Judge weighing ingredient use, interlinkage, and creativity.

Vaguely stream of consciousness, hopefully more coherent as more sleep procured.

First up: @Wicht with

Pass the first (hopefully fast skim for cool bits and readability):

Read the opening tagline a few times. Gigantic diplomacy and fast worms? Huh.

Extra commas in second sentence?

Phrasing here is slowing me down a bit. I get the "epic old times" feel you're going for, but lurching and rereading. I've totally done this before (more self-notes for next Iron DM).

The heroes are called by whom?

Daring deeds sound right up most PCs bailiwick; wise action though? A bit more dubious.

After stumbling a bit on the lead in, getting the giant cast with quirks, goals, and tidbits to bring them to life is awesome.

I'd rewrite "From the moment the PCs enter the Jarl’s Hall, they are surrounded by danger and intrigue" to "Danger and intrigue surround the PCs from the moment they enter the Jarl's Hall" since the next sentence describes the Hall not the danger and intrigue. Little bits like this slowing things down and driving re-reading.

White dragons basking in glacial sunlight is awesome.

Uncertain about DPs currently, but we'll see. Edit: giving a fixed number then no numbers for exactly how much each thing is worth is meh.

The princess using the PCs is great, as is PCs having to parse out each giant's motivations and faction.

Ice worm bobsleigh FTW. Sounds fun.

First skim through impressions: sounds like a great high-level adventure. Action, diplomacy, racing, back-room politicking, sabotage. Phrasing threw me here and there, but once I got the feel for it everything smoothed out. So far so good!

Pass the second (GMing this thing):
I have seven main personalities to track; would be helpful to have some sort of org chart with the relationships to get it all in one place. That they have distinct personalities, goals, and some personality traits is great. Amazing how a simple adjective can give so much leverage when grappling with how to run NPCs: "cunning wizard", "nefarious tribal elder", "flirtatious young princess" gives you a hint of bed to grow them from.

Still not sold on DPs, especially when given hard targets and no quantitative guidance on how to award them.

I really like that the GM is given something immediate to launch off with: the princess starts flirting with somebody. Really helpful since it gives both players and GMs an "in" to the court without either side having to wing something. That the princess isn't directly aligned towards or against the PCs ultimate goal is even better IMO.

When throwing these names around, it would be helpful to tag them with reminders. "Frostmage Isholter" "Crooked Hirokol" or the like to keep track. Especially when you say "Koltabl arranges for his worm... to be stolen": Koltabl Sr. or Jr.?

The events also give a nice mix of activities - any characters into the court politics and deal-making have plenty to do while the more action-oriented PCs (this is D&D so probably most everyone) can still aid the ultimate goal but still compete, break things, race, etc. Excellent balance.

Throwing in little incidents like the crown and Hirokol pushing them debtwards with easy credit spice things up and can throw in some variety if PCs are stalling and/or things are going too well.

The final FightRace seems epic and an sweet climax for the adventure.

I don't D&D anymore, but if I did I could run this.

Pass the third (ingredients):
Slippery Slope: the ice chutes for wormsleighing. Straight-up literal slippery slopes. Solid.

Morale Check: multi-use with Koltabl senior overcoming his fears plus taking down Hirokol (probably inter-related). Uncertain about this ingredient since there's to check (unless you mean estimation?) rather PCs making good cases and successful CHA rolls to change morale.

Limbless Beast: Frost worms. They are plural, but that the PCs have their own makes it stronger.

Heavy Crown: Interesting incident even if heavy on the incidental rather than central. Crowns of some sort (usually wreathes) were often given in ancient times as race prizes, so ties in a bit more than I originally thought.

Subpar Hero: Koltabl Sr., subpar both due to rival sabotage and his shame. He's less a hero than a champion which weakens it (heroes arguably about overcoming, not winning), but he is excellently subpar.

Vanished Behemoth: Koltabl Sr.'s self-stolen mount. Tied closely with Tomorrow's Match. Stolen more than vanished; a spell disappearing it might make it stronger, but still decent, especially since it's tied in with other ingredients so thoroughly.

Tomorrow’s Match: the final match when the above happens. Not terrible, but probably the weakest ingredient.

Summary: Another impressive entry in a tournament full of them. The neat ties between ingredients, NPCs, and character's objectives is among the best I've seen in an Iron DM entry even if a few ingredients themselves could be stronger.

The adventure promises all sorts of challenges mixed with plenty of open-endedness for players to navigate their own path through plus key events the DM can fall back on to keep things on the rails. That the PCs have other means to achieve diplomatic ends makes this one of the best diplomacy-based F20 adventures I've ever seen.

el-remmen, you've got your work cut out for you.

On to @el-remmen with

Pass the first (hopefully fast skim for cool bits and readability):
D&D 3e? Oddly specific and, nowadays, super niche. Edit: there's a reason.

Called out the heavy crown without saying why it's heavy.

"The rules for these combats are obscurant, reinforced as religious doctrine, and to be respected without compromise, lest the world fall back into chaos, and men are forced to fight their own wars." 5 commas? Also, obscurant is a new word for me. Cool.

More extraneous commas inserting themselves to chop up sentences.

Heavy crown again without why it's heavy.

Now a hyphen to weld another awkward sentence together.

Jumping to a description of the behemoth seems out of place here since we're just told it was vanished.

Limbless beast not capitalized, then capitalized. Here a description of it seems useful as to what it is, but we don't have one.

At this point the coolness of the kaiju city-state battles clicked with me. I have no idea yet what any of this has to do with the PCs (not a great thing this far through the adventure).

"Nations thrive while common people suffer." My favorite sentence so far summarizing how this works; paints the whole system with an epic, brutal brush. Imagining a continent full of city states like this who war with kaiju brawls instead of armies.

So, rebels split between city folk and country folk? Trying to figure out what the city folk's plan is since they're doomed.

Ah, the PCs are them. This is a cool campaign start: "You've overthrown and murdered Beastmaster Xovorax the Vile. His hot blood drips from your hands and splatters the Ivory Throne. As the palace guards flee, the cheers of the battered rebel remnant tatter to silence as the realization of the city's impending doom crushes down upon you. What do you do?"

Wanting to jump into ingredients here with the mechanical subparness but restraining myself.

Morale checks are awesome and tie nicely into the "Nations thrive while people suffer" bit: a ton of you are probably going to die, but if you live not only will your fields come back richer than ever, but here's a stimulus check to help get you going again. Cut off the stimmys, cut off any hope and good will of people being crushed by the system (no comment about any RL similarities).

The Sophie's Choice-nature of these options is also too real (hyperinflation vs deflationary collapse vs zombie economy anyone?) Anything they pick will result in somewhere between hardship to disaster with anything involving war and violence. This setting is about the most grim and brutal I've seen since Dark Sun.

That they have choices is helpful, even if they are pre-set. What if the PCs want to somehow unite the two city states into one then form cells to infiltrate all other city states to break this dystopic cycle or something else they come up with?

Pass the second (GMing this thing):
Here enters the big weakness of "choose one of these options" adventures: even with the disclaimer of "PCs are free to choose whatever course of action they deem best" that three options are then detailed will push most GMs towards one of the them.

If players channel into one, discard roughly two-thirds of the actual adventure you've just read and prepped. If they go their own way, now you're improvising. Having done this myself, another note to self for future competitions. If you've never judged and plan on playing again, I highly recommend slipping to this end of the contest to see everything in a different light.

This isn't any sort of put down on the options themselves: infiltrating and overthrowing a city, hijacking a wagon of runestone cash, or playing King of the Monsters with a tarrasque all sound great fun and any would provide an entertaining sub-adventure of its own.

#3 would be strengthened if the PCs were forced to pass the crown between them during the match; I think this may have been your intention but it's not clear. It also skews the adventure pretty highly for non-participants: you get to pilot Godzilla vs Manda while making save vs Death rolls while you get to herd peasants and maybe get crushed to death. Gritty and harsh, yes. Fun? Dunno.

Pass the third (ingredients):
Slippery Slope: the risks if the players take option 2; maybe things fall apart. That the slippery slope might not occur if the PCs take another option weakens this greatly even if the slippery slope itself is cool (and awful).

Morale Check: I love this ingredient for reasons given above. That said, it also suffers from the same big weakness of this adventure (choice-dependent content irrelevance).

Limbless Beast: The amputated rival kaiju. A huge threat looming over the entire adventure yet also an ally they could flip. Strong.

Heavy Crown: A crown heavy in reality and also crushing in what they must do with it. Also strong and cool (and terrible). And might be skipped; see big weakness.

Subpar Hero: The players. Subpar mechanically to make them actual commoners (the election of 3e makes sense now) yet they must try to save their city in spite of their frailty. Pretty cool.

Vanished Behemoth: Their Kaiju, to be summoned by the Heavy Crown. That the PCs could actually run it makes it better. That it's gone and all that's protecting them from the Limbless Beast better still.

Tomorrow’s Match: An inexorable pressure cooker of inevitable death and destruction lurking just over the horizon. Literally since it comes with the new day. Excellent use, best I could have hoped for with this ingredient.

When watching Netflix or Prime with my wife, the highest praise I can give a move or show is "this makes me want to write." She sighs and goes to bed while I stay up until 2am scribbling down ideas, arcs, characters, and situations.

This setting is terrible in all the best ways. Life is cheap, overlords sacrifice the best-and-brightest to giant monsters keep the other monsters at bay, and the PCs best hope is to choose a path of destruction that might leave them alive atop the smoking rubble heap piled at the end. Though initially pretty skeptical due to grammars, this one grew on me, sparked my imagination, and makes me want to write.

Diplomacy's Cold Crown is fantastic in both setting, premise, and execution. Giant politics, backstabbing, games, treachery, and action wrapped into a neat package. Ingredients are well used, well united, and generally integral and immutable. A few ingredients seem a bit weak or tertiary, the DP mechanic is unclear, but the whole ties together in a way some professionally published adventures might envy.

Don't Have a Cow, Man? rocks one of my favorite settings I've seen in an entry: a bleak world of sacrifice, war, and worship ruled by fickle gods and tyrannical beast masters. The ingredients individually are clever, spot-on thematically, and connect together in a web with few weak threads.

If I had to choose whether to run a game set in glacial giant land or a war-ravaged monster-haunt, I'd almost certainly choose the latter. Princess Mononoke meets Dark Sun plus Godzilla vs High Level D&D with level-appropriate foes. Not a dis on Wicht's A-grade adventure, just a recognition of how evocative, creative, and compelling I find the world el-remmen threw me into for the hour I spent brooding through it.

This tournament, however, isn't about the setting I like most. It's about writing badass adventures.

Both of these qualify, but where Diplomacy's Cold Crown throws the PCs into an obstacle course packed clearly delineated opponents, potentially allies, key events, and options on how they want proceed towards the end goal while Don't Have a Cow, Man? drops PCs into a battlefield where PCs must do whatever it takes to survive, but their course will probably be one of the main exits the GM has prepped.

Almost every element of Diplomacy's Cold Crown is relevant and the PCs will interact with it directly, which can't be said of its opposition with any two of three ingredients left behind depending on pathing. Ultimately, this efficiency of content creation, presentation, and usage catapults Diplomacy's Cold Crown past Don't Have A Cow, Man? while the latter is busy ladling generous, evocative portions of potentially irrelevant action onto the GM's plate.

All that said, it was a pleasure to read and judge both these entries. I nominate both for the Iron DM anthology, but am only able to nominate one of you for advancement to the finals.

That one is Wicht.

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Just read Radiating Gnome's judgment. Looks like we're 1-1 so this one could go either way (which makes sense considering how good both are). Looking forward to seeing who moves on!

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