IRON DM 2022 The Tournament Thread


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FitzTheRuke

Legend
Agents of the Aerie

Sea of grass; Mountain of ice; Feather wig; Two-headed cat; Truthful mirror; Swindled noble

A series of three quests for youthful players.

Yarakromba, Lord of the Whispertop Aerie, a birdfolk noble, has hired the party to do odd jobs. The lord is so overweight that he can scarcely fly, and the stress of his position has led to constant moulting. His vanity has him covering up the bald spot with a colourful plumed wig. Yarakromba’s court is populated by squabbling schemers. The lord is terrible at telling friend from foe, often takes bad advice, and frets over every small decision.

Quest One:

The party is tasked with delivering a block of ice to Yarakromba’s neighbour, Lord Mudglub of the frogfolk of Bogswallow. They travel from the aerie to the Frozen Peaks, encountering snow leopards, ice-apes, and terrain hazards. From an enormous block, they must break off a veritable mountainous chunk (anything less would melt before arrival in Bogswallow). They have two choices to get the ice out of the mountains: They can capture a mammoth, and have it pull the ice on a sledge, or they can roll it on cut trees into the Swollen River and ride it down the mountain. Both routes have their obvious challenges.

Once down the mountain, the ice will have halved in size. With concern that it will not make the journey, they must take it across the Rolling Plains (the most direct route to Bogswallow). These grassy fields truly roll, like the waves of the ocean, and the rabbitfolk of Underdale have learned to pilot sledge-ships over its slick grasses. A rabbitfolk named Captain Bravebuck can be hired at the Inn of the White Swallow. A group with a mammoth may choose to make the journey themselves, but the mammoth will struggle with the hazards relative to the sledge-ship. Hazards include quagmires, cresting hill avalanches, landsharks, and sledge-pirates.

As they approach the outskirts of Bogswallow, it will begin to rain, further shrinking the ice block. Ice is prized in these humid swamps and various factions will attempt to buy, beg, cajole, or rob the party of all or a piece of it. Some desperate folks might even deserve it. Eventually the party should be able to deliver a piece to Mudglub, who will be happy to receive anything as large as his hand. The frogfolk lord will place it in his bath and sigh in relief from the heat.

He will reward the party with a looking glass that shows the observer the truth about themselves. If the party arrives empty-handed, Mudglub will chastise them for their failure but will remain a gracious host. He will show them the mirror that was to be their prize for success.

Quest Two:

The birdfolk are terrorized by a giant two-headed cat named Greymalkinous. The party is tasked with driving her off from her home in the Yawning Caves to the secluded jungle valley to the west (from whence she came).

Fighting her would be a deadly combat encounter, but one head can be swayed by an offer to play, such as by chasing a light (or a PC dressed as a mouse). The other head will cooperate during play but will constantly try to take things too far by knocking PCs down or threatening to use their claws. Both heads respond well to flattery and praise. If the party manages to survive fighting or playing with her, or convince her by appealing to her ego, she will acquiesce and return to the jungle.

Quest Three:

Political rivals among the birdfolk have convinced Lord Yarakromba to swap his feather wig for a fancier, cursed version, that makes him compliant to their wishes. While the party were off doing one of the other tasks, they used their influence to convince the lord to lavish them with titles, shiny jewels, and gold. By now the party should know Yarakromba well enough to recognize that he’s being mind-controlled.

They may use the looking glass given to them by Mudglub to show him the truth. If they did not get the mirror, they may wish to return to Bogswallow to get it. Lord Mudglub will be easily convinced to lend it to the party to help his friend and neighbour. Alternately, the party might convince Yarakromba if they succeed on two of three social contests, while his enemies send minions, create obstacles, or hire assassins to stop them. If shown the truth, Yarakromba will task the party with arresting those responsible, who will protect themselves with mercenaries.
 

Helena Real

bit.ly/ato-qs (she/her)

The Duchess' Divergent Desires​

Ingredients​

  • Sea of grass
  • Mountain of ice
  • Feather wig
  • Two-headed cat
  • Truthful mirror
  • Swindled noble
A 5e adventure for four 3rd-level characters

Pitch​

Duchess Venphyphara Mistpetal (elf noble, she/they) offers the PCs—through Snuli (kobold bard, they/them), her spokesperson—rich rewards in exchange for performing two seemingly straightforward fetch quests for her. Namely,

  • Retrieving as many feathers as possible from Bucephalus (she/they), the Great Bicephalous Cat-Beast who dwells in the Sea of Grass.
  • Recovering the truthful mirror, a magical item that, as the name implies, reveals the true nature of anything reflected on it. This item resides atop Frozen Fist, a mountain of ice.

Hook​

Snuli delivers the Duchess’ offer, which boils down to,
  • If they retrieve 30+ feathers from Bucephalus, each PC receives 100 gp.
  • If they retrieve 50+ feathers, each PC receives 200 gp.
  • If they recover the truthful mirror, each PC receives a common magic item of their choice.
  • If they retrieve 30+ feathers AND recover the truthful mirror in a timely manner [for you to determine], each PC receives an additional consumable magical item of their choice.
  • If they retrieve 50+ feathers AND recover the truthful mirror in a timely manner, each PC receives an additional uncommon magical item of their choice.
The PCs can choose to complete only the truthful mirror quest. The Duchess will not reward them for completing the feathers’ quest alone, however, because, as Snuli explains, another adventuring party swindled the Duchess with false feathers previously.

If the PCs accept the feathers’ quest, the Duchess (through Snuli) provides each PC with a potion of grass breathing (works like a potion of water breathing, but specifically for the Sea of Grass).

The Duchess’ Motivation​

The Duchess wants Bucephalus’ feathers because they’re the material component to create a fertility wig of feathers, which allows a childbearing person to have a magically safe multiple pregnancy. She wants to ensure her noble lineage’s continuity, sure, but to do so in one fell swoop. She's got better things to do than being pregnant many times!

Snuli knows this, but they wouldn’t share this information unless the PCs earn Snuli’s trust first.

Quest: Bucephalus’ Feathers​

Bucephalus dwells in the depths of the Sea of Grass, a massive extension of grassland turned into a water-like substance as a result of residual magic.

While the PCs are traveling in the surrounding grassland, I recommend using the “Grassland Encounters (Levels 1–5)” table in Xanathar’s to generate random encounters, two times during the day and four times at night.
  • If the PCs are traveling stealthily, you or another player rolls 1d20; on a 1-3, the PCs have an encounter.
  • If they’re traveling at normal pace, the encounter occurs on a 1-5.
  • If they’re traveling quickly, the encounter occurs on a 1-7.
Once they dive into the Sea, the PCs need 1 minute of grass-swimming to reach Bucephalus’ lair, a clearing surrounded by tall, tree-like structures made of grass. The two-headed cat-beast sleeps at the center of this, surrounded by her already-shed fur's feathers.

Use the stats for a displacer beast to represent Bucephalus, with the following additions:
  • Bucephalus has two heads.
  • As long as Bucephalus has two heads, she has advantage on attack rolls.
  • When Bucephalus is bloodied (i.e. reduced to half hp or less), she loses a head and the use of both her Avoid and Displacement abilities.

Retrieving Feathers​

Each PC can spend a bonus action or choose not to move during their turn to recover 1 feather. If a PC spends an action, they recover 1d4+2 feathers.

Consequences​

If the PCs kill Bucephalus, they’re attacked by her seemingly endless progeny. Each round they remain in the Sea of Grass, 1d6 two-headed kitten (use displacer beast kitten stats, with the same modifications as Bucephalus above) appear and viciously attack them.

Quest: Truthful Mirror​

Frozen Fist is an impressive mountain made exclusively of ice. Getting to the top, retrieving the truthful mirror, and getting back down should take the PCs 2 days traveling quickly, 4 days at normal pace, and 6 days traveling stealthily. Also, Frozen Fist should be considered as an “Extreme Cold” environment (cf. DMG, pg 110).

I recommend using the same rules for random encounters as above, but using the “Arctic Encounters (Levels 1–4)” table in Xanathar’s.

The truthful mirror is at the literal top of Frozen Fist. It can only be retrieved by someone who’s not afraid of who they truly are. The item requires attunement and, when attuned, grants the effects of truesight to any creature or object reflected on the mirror’s surface if held by an attuned bearer.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Ah, Iron DM! I spent most of the morning with writer's block and kept doing anything else but write. Then it came to me and I banged it out quickly. It's far from perfect, of course, but I couldn't think of any way to improve its faults without more words. I think it's fun, if a little silly. I hope whoever reads it enjoys it, even if I don't move on.
 




Radiating Gnome

Adventurer
Hey all, Thanks for participating in Iron DM. This is a judgement on round 1, match two, between @FitzTheRuke and @Helena Real.

My style of judgement is a bit less structured than Wicht's - and part of the fun of Iron DM is just how subjective it all is. I focus on the ingredient use as a primary consideration, and then that is influenced by comparative playability, creativity, presentation, and of course a certain amount of "rule of cool."

FitzTheRuke's entry, Agents of the Aerie (Agents) is a sequence of quests on behalf of Yarakromba, a foppish birdfolk nobleman.

Helena Real's entry, The Duchess' Divergent Desires (DDD) provides a pair of quests on behalf of a Duchess who is trying to get knocked up in a big way.

Both are fairly whimsical adventures, which is an interesting outcome, and they're both good fun on a first read. So, let's get down to brass tacks.

Ingredient use​

I evaluate ingredients for how well they are woven into the plot, and how well used they are. I look for ingredient use that is clever, and that makes that ingredient a crucial part of the story -- the details of the ingredient should be so well woven in that an alternative ingredient in the same place wouldn't work. And I just note which entry makes the best use of each ingredient, and which overall seems to have the best ingredient use.

So, here we go:

See of Grass - For Agents, the sea of grass is part of what the party must take while they are trying to deliver their block of ice to Lord Mudglub. It's an interesting setting detail that presents a challenge to the party. In DDD, the sea of grass is a similar episodic impediment, this time a place where the party will have to find and fight Bucephalus, the two-headed cat-beast. The usage is really very similar, but I find that I like the use in Agents better for one very specific reason: it provides a more flavorful, interesting setting. For Agents, the characters have to deal with setting-based challenges, might work with specific NPCs, might get a sledge ship, etc. Lots of choices, lots of interesting activities. But in DDD, while the sea of grass presents some location-specific challenges, many of them are immediately removed by Duchess providing potions of grass(water) breathing to the party. It's an odd dance -- here's a problem, let me solve it for you -- and I think it would have been stronger if the potions were something that the party needed to do something to find/make/earn. So, Sea of Grass goes to Agents.

Mountain of Ice - In DDD, the mountain of Ice is another location hazard that is where the Truthful Mirror is found. In a longer writeup, we could hope for some time to explain why the mountain of Ice was a mountain of Ice -- and why the mirror was there in the first place. It's not particularly strong use. Meanwhile, in Agents, the mountain of ice is the massive block of ice the party starts with, and that slowly melts as they try to make it to the court of Lord Mudglub. I get awesome Mosquito Coast vibes from that quest, and it makes the Mountain of Ice a much more important part of the adventure. So, advantage to Agents here, too.

Feather Wig - in Agents, the feathered wig is actually two wigs -- the initial wig that Yarakromba wears to cover his bald molted pate, and the second one is the cursed one that his rivals try to use to subvert him. In DDD, the feathered wig is created by the Duchess with the feathers that the party recovers from Bucephalus, and that is used to help her make the fertility wig of feathers.

The Fertility wig is a great idea for an item, but what I struggle with is the idea that a wig is used to help someone carry multiple births safely to term. If we were to design an item to do that sort of magic, outside of needing to make an ingredient fit, would it be something worn on the head? It's a fairly awkward choice -- and what the entry doesn't do is make sense of the awkward choice for me.

So, again, advantage Agents.

Two-headed Cat - Both Agents and DDD have two-headed cats used in significant ways. In DDD, we have Bucephalus the Bicephalus cat-beast. I scratched my head at a few things with Bucephalus -- we are never given an explanation as to why this cat-beast has feathers, and while I know the historic Bucephalus's name meant "bonus head", using the recognizable name of a horse from antiquity made me look for horse-like elements to the beast, which was a bit of a misdirection. And writing up this entry I can't tell you how many times a name with "phalus" in its root has led me to mis-gender the beast. At the same time, the Big B presents a fun, interesting challenge -- as do her kittens -- and it's certainly flavorful.

I liked the usage of the two-headed cat in Agents less well -- it's there, and presents a very cat-like set of solutions, but the usage is playful and goofy in a way that makes the silly tone of the adventure for children very silly indeed -- but I don't know that I think that tone matches the grind of trying to get the ice delivered before it melts away completely -- but there are mechanics and playability things there that I'll talk about in a minute.

In the end, I liked Bucephalus best, so advantage goes to DDD.

Truthful Mirror - Both adventures present a mirror that reveals the truth. And, at first glance, they're both just sort of a quest MacGuffin. Agents has somewhat better use here -- because the MacGuffin is a critical tool necessary to solve the third quest, to reveal the cursed wig for what it is. In DDD, there's also a more intrinsic use: the mirror is necessary to validate the feathers retrieved by the party. I think this one is a wash -- no one is using it better than the other.

Swindled Noble - In DDD, the Duchess has been swindled in the past, and that's why she demands the mirror to prove the provenance of the feathers. In Agents, the noble Yarakromba is swindled by rivals and the party must help prove that he's under the influence of his enemies. They're both working, and I don't think either is doing it more successfully than the other.

So, in the balance, I've given Agents the edge on more ingredient use than DDD, about 3-1. They're both doing a great job in a lot of cases, but I think Agents is just a better example of making the ingredients really intrinsic to the details of the story.

Playability, Creativity, Presentation -​

I think in both, the presentation is great -- I think that perhaps DDD could have saved some word count on explaining details of encounter tables, etc. But really both were great.

There are things that I just love -- the grind with the massive block of ice, and the effort to get it to the bog before it melts away is hugely evocative to me -- and at the same time, the challenge of trying to fight the big cat and recover feathers is a terrific scene (although, why not just kill the beast and take feathers of Bucephalus' dead body? Do the need to be harvested while she's still alive?) .

Both have their issues, of course. I found myself really wanting to get some sort of structure for the melting of the ice out of Agents. Like, what mechanic would be used, how will that create a ticking clock. For a short, first-round entry it's not strictly necessary, but the more concrete treatment of the feathers in DDD made me wish for something comparable in Agents.

And in DDD, Bucephalus suffers from the fiat of her having feathers for no apparent reason (other than the need to collect feathers for the wig). We're accepting that she has two heads, but why also feathers? Are both heads cat heads? It would be much more interesting if there were a reason for the feathers -- and I'd have sacrificed mechanical details to have that in a heartbeat.

There's another way we can look at these adventures -- and that's a sort of conceptual economy or efficiency. How many important elements in the story come from things that were NOT ingredients? In Agents, the frogfolk in the bog -- they're a destination, they hold the MacGuffin, but if something else were here, it wouldn't mess up the ingredients.

In DDD, Snuli the kobold bard isn't key to any of the ingredients. I started to say that the idea of childbirth was not important to the ingredients, then caught myself -- the idea of nobility is all about the need for children and the desire to preserve the line, so that IS keyed to an ingredient. So, I think that I have to give an edge to DDD for narrative economy.

DDD is actually marginally more playable, in its present form. While the concrete references to monsters and tables from specific books is not strictly necessary, it does make this entry something I could pick up and run with a bit easier than I could Agents.

So, there are some ways in which DDD is a bit stronger than Agents -- as much as I loved the melting ice and sail-sledging on the sea of grass, in most other ways I appreciated the creativity and economy of DDD better.

Final Judgement
In the end, though, I think the ingredient use in Agents of the Aerie was stronger than that of the Duchess' Divergent Desires. There were things that I really appreciated and even loved about the Duchess's Desires, but they are not enough to overcome the stronger ingredient use in Agents.

So, FitzTheRuke will advance. Helena Real, you're a gentleperson and a scholar, and I am heartily impressed by your entry.

Thanks to both of you for the entries!

-rg
 

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