IRON DM 2021 Tournament

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The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Nervous Ted Striker GIF by filmeditor


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... :) )


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
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



The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
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.


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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