IRON DM 2022 The Tournament Thread

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IRON DM 2022 Round 1, Match 4
Gradine vs. Snarf Zagyg

A few thoughts up front. Gradine is, of course, the defending champ which makes this round 1 match very interesting. Being champ requires three very good submissions in a row that must be better than whatever the opponent throws at you. There are very few instances of champions making it to the third round in back to back competitions, and only one in recorded IRON DM history of a champion winning back to back years. Can Gradine do it? We will have to see.

Second… I have never actually watched the Great British Bakeoff, and did not know who Mr. Hollywood was until yesterday. I may have to watch that show now, just to feel better rounded, but in this case, the inside jokes are going to mostly go over my head, or else fall flat; but that looks to be an equal opportunity sort of thing here.

Third, on my initial reading and meditation,… I have no idea who is going to win going into this judgment. I know one of them appeals to my sensibilities slightly more, but the weaknesses of the entry may also do it in. This judgment is going to be an exercise in clarifying my thoughts, point by point, and at the end, we’ll see where the points land. I am, as I write this, as in suspense about the outcome as hopefully the readers are.

Let’s get going.

@Gradine offers us “The Sourdough Finisher,” (hereafter Sourdough), an encounter in which adventurers find themselves naked in a rotting jungle mansion attacked by animated pastries.

@Snarf Zagyg gives us “The Great British Snakeoff,” (hereafter Snake), a Cthulhu adventure in which the PCs, television show interns, must discover and stop a nefarious plan to prevent yeasty minions of Yog-sothoth from being unleashed on the world.

Both have some very appealing things. Both have some obvious (to me), glaring weaknesses which, time and memory permitting, we will get in to. Only one of them can win. Which will it be?

Both were turned in on time and were under the word count, though Snake cuts it very close, being only one word short. Let’s look at ingredients, and then discuss the adventures themselves.

The first ingredient to be used was cultured beast, and in each case, the entrants offered us the use of yeast as a culturing agent (understandable since yeast was one of the ingredients) in the creation of the beast, as opposed to the idea of a civilized sort of beast. Both also cheat a bit by making the beasts plural, even though the ingredient was singular. Of the two, Sourdough’s use is the stronger of the two, due in no small part to actually explaining what the monsters are and where they come from. In Snake, the exact relationship between the beasts and the yogurt culture is not exactly explained, though there is the obvious pun which is trying to do some of the work here. I am left wondering if the Yugg-urts are supposed to be some version of Yuggs, which are also white snake-like things, or if that is just a naming coincidence. So slight advantage to Sourdough.

Since we’ve already touched on it, lets skip ahead a bit to the ingredient Fast-Acting Yeast. This was potentially a difficult ingredient, and neither entry used it perfectly, though both used it as a major starting point I am guessing in the crafting of the idea for the entries. In Sourdough, the yeast is the magical basis for the creation of the animated pastry monsters. In Snake, the yeast is connected to the sponsor of the contest, and is of course used in much of the baking. But in neither case is “fast acting” really utilized in a meaningful way, and the yeast itself is kind of unimportant. In Sourdough, the PCs have no interaction with the yeast, it is entirely in the background and may never even be mentioned in-game. In Snake, the yeast will be mentioned a lot, but mostly as background. Yeast is not even used in the final recipe, which is a yogurt cake where baking soda is the raising agent. Still, the presence of yeast in the story line is a bit stronger, PC-wise, in Snake then in Sourdough, so advantage to Snake here, but it’s a very small advantage, and point wise its mostly a wash.

In the ingredient Hidden Jungle, we have another pair of very similaruses of jungle. Interestingly, they are also both poor uses, in my opinion for the exact same reason. For, though both entries are set in a jungle, they don’t actually seem to be hidden jungles. Rather they appear to simply be remote and hard to reach jungles. Which is not exactly the same. I’m going to call this one another wash.

So what about the bewildered gamblers? The gambler in Sourdough is the primary antagonist, and his wager is the reason for the episode. But though the text pictures him as bewildered at a certain scene in the encounter, I am not sure why he is bewildered. Angry, frustrated and worried would seem more appropriate to seeing a group of do-gooders showing up and suddenly defending the ones you were supposed to be killing. The fact that he immediately is said to act also flies in the face of being bewildered. In Snake, Paul Hollywood is the bewildered gambler, and though his gambling debts are the reason for the setting of the show in Suriname, he is also not really pictured as bewildered (i.e. puzzled and confused) but rather as clueless and weak-willed. Again, both entries have similar weaknesses with the ingredient use and both get the same points.

In Last Soiree I also have some issues with both entries, but in this case, they are slightly different issues, and one may only be because of my disfamiliarity with the source material. Lets start with Sourdough where a soiree is the setting for the violence. So far so good, but why is it a “last” soiree? A retired baker may have many more soirees to come. Is last a reference to the fact that some people may die and it will be their last party ever? That seems a bit of a stretch to try and get that, especially if the PCs do their job. So, we have a soiree, but story-wise it is the only soiree, not necessarily a last one. As with some of the other ingredients, I am not sure that the adjectives are being fully utilized in the ingredient use. Looking at Snake, my issue is that I do not know how GBBO presents their bake offs, and it may be a party-like atmosphere, but I don’t necessarily get that from the description offered. But the use of “last” is stronger in Snake, where successive days lead up to a grand conclusion. Allowing for a slightly liberal use of the word soiree here, I have to say that Snake’s use is just a little better as there is the build-up to a final event. So advantage Snake on this ingredient.

And then finally we have the glass sword. Neither are bad uses; neither are perfect uses. The obsidian knife of Sourdough is presented as being the only weapon available to the PCs, a gift from an evil patron who wants to win her wager. The glass sword of Snake is the sacrificial blade posing as a trophy. The necessity for a glass weapon is played up a bit in Sourdough, but its something of a deux-ex-machina, and assuming there is more than one PC, it points to some of the weaknesses of the entry. Also the connection to the Baker Magus’ capitalistic efforts, though alluded to as some sort of clue, is not really developed properly. It becomes an unimportant clue because whether or not the PCs pick up on it, a demon is just going to plop one down in their laps regardless. Why is there not a full set of knives somewhere in the kitchen or on the premises? Why not make the PCs work for the weapon. On the other hand, why does the sacrificial blade in Snake have to be a glass sword? Why not an ancient stone blade? Or a bronze knife? On the other, other hand, story-wise, the inclusion of the knife in Snake seems more integral, so I’m probably going to give the nod here to Snake, though grudgingly so.

Which means that Snake has a very, very small lead, point wise, when we come to the end of ingredients.

As stated at the beginning of this judgment, both entries have some things that appeal, but also both have some rather pointed weaknesses.

When it comes to being able to use either entry, I would judge them to be about equal, though for different reasons. Both present solid ideas upon which an adventure could be built, but both also have some flaws which would hamper this, though in different ways.

I’ll start with Snake. The set-up here is not a bad one. You take a group of individuals, drop them in the jungle and then reveal they are actually being used to help with an arcane rite to summon an evil god’s minions. Snake provides this great set-up, a nice scenario for how it is going to play out from the cult’s perspectives, and even a decent concluding scene. But what we don’t have are ideas for what is going to be happening to the PCs from day to day. We have a beginning and an end, and a path for the NPCs, but we are missing encounters, occurrences and events which might clue the PCs into the whole going on. The PCs are interns but what are they supposed to be doing the first four days while the cult is doing its nefarious deeds? I like the premise well enough to want to know, and maybe even would want to use the premise, but its going to take some work to fill in those details.

Sourdough, on the other hand, is better set up in regards to what the PCs will be doing and why, but there are some problems with how its going to play out. Firstly, as an adventure, its basically a single encounter. The PCs are asked to find a guy, read a note and then find themselves in a jungle on the other side of the world where there is a party. An hour later, cakes and what-not are attacking, the PCs find themselves stripped of weapons, armor and clothes, and then there is a sword that suddenly appears. One sword. For a party of maybe four PCs? Not counting spell-casters, I’m not sure that this is going to be fun to actually play. It is generally better to allow the PCs to show off what they have (saying yes) then to simply nerf them for the fun of it, because this is not always fun for the players. Players don’t like having things taken away from them. It is generally better to start off from a position of nothing and then allow PCs to improve then to suddenly drop equipped PCs down to nothing. As well, if the PCs have magical gear then that gear is going to probably get a save, or some-such, which undoes the premise. There is also the difficulty of level-appropriate encounters. The set-up says that it is low-level, but the big bad is a lich-level wizard? Sure his spells are more appropriate to the kitchen, but still, the PCs are naked, defenseless except for one sword, and probably out of spells by the time he attacks, and he’s fresh full of spells. I can see that ending very badly almost every time.

All those complaints considered (and I want to reiterate that I still see the gems sparkling down in there in both entries), as a plug and play, I think Sourdough has the edge, and its enough of an edge to push it in the point race, just past Snake. For the moment.

So what about the last criteria – the fun factor and personal preference?

Snake appeals to me, but not completely. Because I like Cthulhu and mythos scenarios, I am perhaps a little more critical of them. In point of fact, I have two knocks against the adventure as presented. I like the general premise, the set-up, and even the time-table. But it is hurt by two things. One, it is a little too flippant and not in a way that helps it. There is a certain sloppiness to it. Let me make a number of illustrative points. Fleischman’s yeast, while currently owned by a British company, is marketed, according to Wikipedia, only in the US and Canada. Yogurt Cakes are not made with yeast, but with Baking Soda. And when you start using real people, and real companies, it has a chance of bringing out the worst in a certain kind of player. I would have preferred parody names to real names. Mythos wise, I am not sure why Yog-Sothoth is being used as the big bad and not Yig, and the yugg-urts, though a clever pun, should have simply been yuggs and there should have been a little more motivation then simply cool cannibalism and flesh eating monsters. There also was a missed chance in not better tying in the yeast to the mythos in some way.

On the other hand, Sourdough has an initial appeal to me, but the more I contemplate it, the more it falls apart. It is, in a word, heavy-handed (that might be two words). And not heavy-handed in a good, or subtle way, but in ways that smack the players up alongside the head with the fact they are being railroaded. They read a note and get teleported. Their clothes and weapons falls apart. They have only a single way to attack the monsters. There are no meaningful choices at any juncture along the way to even provide an illusion of control to the players. I like the idea of a baker trying to achieve immortality through the use of magic yeast and a demonic wager, but from the players perspective all we have is a fight with cakes. There is no build-up, no foreshadowing, and again, no choices. It’s a fight they either win or lose, depending, and that’s really it. Granted, they are then stuck in a jungle on the other side of the world. And that is an interesting set-up for interesting adventures, but it’s not this adventure.

This one is a tough one for me. Both are flawed gems, with things that appeal, but also some obvious weaknesses. I went over my various calls a few times, and even went and ate and then came back to reassess. In the end, I keep returning to the idea that The Sourdough Finisher is more of an extended set piece with combat than a true adventure. It lacks a real middle, beginning and end; opting instead to simply plop the PCs into a situation and then throw monsters at them. The Great British Snakeoff is missing a lot of information I would like, for instance a suggestion of clues, and even a handful of encounters or events, but I think in the end, it would probably be the more satisfying to fix up and run. So which one is it?

Looking at the points and the ingredient use, the Great British Snakeoff is going to squeak by on points and Snarf Zagyg advances to the next round.

I am interested in hearing the thoughts of both contestants. I know this is not the end for Gradine and look forward to future entries from them in future Iron DM tournaments.

The Sourdough Finisher
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 7 points
Cultured Beast: 2
Hidden Jungle:
Bewildered Gambler:
Last Soiree:
Glass Sword:
Fast Acting Yeast:
Useability: 4 points
Style: 3 points
Total: 20/30

The Great British Snakeoff
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 7.5 points
Cultured Beast: 1.5
Hidden Jungle:
Bewildered Gambler:
Last Soiree:
Glass Sword:
Fast Acting Yeast:
Useability: 3 points
Style: 4 points
Total: 20.5/30


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Congratulations, Snarf! Now go on and take the crown!

Re: Sourdough Finisher

I was very happy with this adventure for a good long while. I thought I had a pretty clever usage of the main ingredients, as ham-fisted as the last few turned out to be. What I turned in was, I think, a pretty good set piece using the ingredients involved.

What I forgot to do, unfortunately, was create an interesting adventure. A realization that didn't come until, sadly, after I had posted it. All the setup in the world matters for not if your players don't have anything interesting to do.

That, ultimately, is my biggest regret with this piece. I think that, had I given the players something more to do, such as having to do any sort of work or challenge to obtain the sword, that might have been enough. As it is, it's a reminder for me what's necessary to succeed as the competition in these tournaments get ever more difficult. I will almost certainly be back next year as a competitor.

I can't wait to see what you all have in store for the later rounds!

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Hey all! I saw this last night but didn't have a chance to reply - I was helping out the high school marching band during a football game. Yeah, I'm with the band. ;)

First, a big thank you for an awesome round to @Gradine. I was not looking forward to matching up with the reigning Iron DM in the first round. At least I now know that great minds think alike ... and we think of the Great British Bake Off! I really enjoyed reading your entry.

The judging by @Wicht was thoughtful and I can't argue with it.... partly because it was insightful, but mostly because I won and I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth! It's difficult to write a full adventure in 750 words, and I think we often caught between Scylla and Charybdis of either having a fully realized adventure that is more of an encounter, or a longer adventure that is sketched-out and would require some elaboration. Some of the comments (such as what the PC interns were tasked with) made me kick myself, as that was literally my last cut before submission.

The comments about the use of real-world places and items are well-taken, and I am annoyed I made the Fleischmann's error.

I did try to ensure that the ingredients are always used in two ways when I can- sometimes it is obvious and not very interesting (the "glass sword" is both the trophy and the sacrificial sword) while sometimes it might be a little too subtle ("cultured beast" is both the yogurt-based Yugg-urts as well as Armie Fleischmann, who was a stand-in for Armie Hammer).

Overall, though, the critique was spot-on. I know how I would run this - but someone else running it would need to work it up a little.


Overall, though, the critique was spot-on. I know how I would run this - but someone else running it would need to work it up a little.

One general idea for contestants to keep in mind when putting a piece together is that much like the instructions for a game, a written adventure is being written for someone else to use. I watch a lot of board game reviews. And one thing that I have heard mentioned more than once is that if you have to have the game designer at the table explaining what the rules mean, then the rules need some more work. There is a corollary there to good adventure writing.


Small God of the Dozens
That said, I'm going to disappoint by admitting that my first Spelljammer character for the new edition is going to be a Tabaxi Bard. He's going to knock peoples breakables off of high shelves whilst staring at them and daring them to start something.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
That said, I'm going to disappoint by admitting that my first Spelljammer character for the new edition is going to be a Tabaxi Bard. He's going to knock peoples breakables off of high shelves whilst staring at them and daring them to start something.

It's a truism that the Venn diagram of Bard players and Cat lovers is a single circle.

Make of that information what you will.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
That said, I'm going to disappoint by admitting that my first Spelljammer character for the new edition is going to be a Tabaxi Bard. He's going to knock peoples breakables off of high shelves whilst staring at them and daring them to start something.
(I have just made a Tabaxi Bard for a Spelljammer game, and now I fear I must reconsider....)


Round 2, Match 1
J.Quondam vs. FitztheRuke

@J.Quondam and @FitztheRuke, you have 48 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please limit your entry to a title, a list of the ingredients used and 1500 additional words. Remember that if you include descriptions of your ingredients with the ingredients list, those descriptions will count against your word-limit! Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; everything after will be ignored.

The judges will be using to ensure that our counts are consistent.

Please include your list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Please refrain from reading your opponent's entry until after you have posted your own. You are on your honor to do so.

Your ingredients are:
Respected Beggar
Undead Settlement
Wide Depression
Recalcitrant Infant
Garden-fresh Greens
Moldy Tapestry
Smuggled Elixir

Your 48 hours starts now!


CR 1/8
Trouble on Greenhill (for 5e)

Respected Beggar​
Undead Settlement​
Wide Depression​
Recalcitrant Infant​
Garden-fresh Greens​
Moldy Tapestry​
Smuggled Elixir​

When a caravan of mysterious newcomers arrived in the arid quarry town of Gravelwick, they rightfully claimed an ancient burial mound as their ancestral home and built a colorful hamlet among its barrows. These "Ombruans" soon cultivated vast rows of vegetables and established a healthy trade of garden-fresh greens for local wares.

That was two peaceful years ago. But nowadays trouble brews as unusual events are blamed on "the foreigners."

  • A PC hears of the "Ombru," veiled nomads wielding ancient druidic powers.
  • PCs are attacked by (or hear of) spirit-like wolves or thorny awakened shrubs a few miles outside town.
  • A friend wants a gift delivered to the gold dragon, Zuan-zhinde.
  • A PC learns of an great altruist called "The Vagabond."
  • The baron hires adventurers to handle unrest in Gravelwick.

Gravelwick is a bustling town whose many shops can provide most necessary services. Influential personages include:

Baron Dante Macadam (knight)
  • curt, incurious, and mainly concerned with town stability and his own coffers.
  • ambivalent toward the Ombruans, but appreciates the business.
  • hires/rewards adventurers as needed.
Guardcaptain Gorra Coppermaul (veteran)
  • very competent, but overly-deferential to the baron.
  • likes the Ombruans, regards the Vagabond as helpful, and distrusts dragons.
  • helpful to visitors who behave themselves
Important citizens:
  • Castor Spring (noble), awkward but sharp-minded merchant who trades with Ombruans and Zuan-zhinde.
  • Edwina Coyle-Wraithbane (priest), dour and sanctimonious intellectual who believes the Ombruans are malevolent, and the Vagabond is a rabble-rouser.
  • Lady N'Drea Tolo (noble), good-natured and flighty petty noble who openly disdains the Vagabond but secretly pays him for illicit medicines for her baby's incurable colic. (The infant is a changeling!)
  • Lemuel Wynryng (noble), suave businessman who covertly receives smuggled Elixir of Long-life from the Vagabond and sells it for a fat profit. (In truth, these potions induce slow undeath!)
  • Trigg Riggsley (veteran), sport enthusiast and merchant who respects the Ombruans but finds their quietness off-putting.

As long as the PCs are not involved in shenanigans, they can explore without interference. Townsfolk generally appreciate Ombruan contributions, but one-third feel they are "creepy", "too secretive", or "shady foreigners." However, none honestly recalls any crimes, which authorities confirm. Poorer residents speak well of the respected beggar called the Vagabond, a bandaged man with a long-established reputation among destitute urchins, ex-crooks, lepers and other hardship cases.

In truth, the Vagabond is an Ombruan wight named Kizar, long banished from his people's caravan. He came to the barrow mound to hunt for means to ingratiate himself to locals. Years of isolated resentment have corrupted him thoroughly: the motive behind his good deeds is to raise a rebellion.

The return of Kizar's clanfolk severely limits his access to the barrows and forces him to remain inconspicuous. He quietly encourages his followers to instigate violence against the Ombruans to drive them off. Kizar's resources include:
  • two loyal cult fanatic lieutenants: Brother Wilkes, who acts very agreeable but is tongueless; and Sister Caleen, who behaves meekly, but is devious.
  • two dozen commoners, six cultists, and six zombies disguised as lepers.
  • a small stash of druidic magics, mainly for healing and conjuration, including unique single-use potions, ointments, and scrolls salvaged from the barrow.
  • a hidden tunnel to a secret chamber in the Ombruan barrow complex, which contains:
    • the moldy Tapestry of Doors, a huge wall-hanging (8 ft. x 100 ft.) depicting life-size scenes of ancient Ombruan civilization on which large patches of velvety black mold fill the doorway images. An undead creature can part this mold like a curtain and step through into a distant barrow.
    • Kizar uses this tapestry to plunder other Ombruan catacombs of magic, including the smuggled elixirs for personages in Gravelwick.
PCs who interview the Vagabond find him calm and amiable, if sermonizing, and excessively modest. If PCs investigate too deeply, they may be harassed, but probably not attacked outright.

The great burial mound just outside Gravelwick is now called Greenhill for the vegetables growing upon it year-round. At the higher end of the long hill, colorful wagons and pavilions crowd the eight ancient barrows that form the Ombruan hamlet. The hill is encircled by an ancient moat, a wide depression called Thistleditch. It occasionally floods in monsoons, but usually remains dry and impassable with overgrown with briars. Two rarely-guarded footbridges (one toward town) connect each end of Greenhill to the surroundings.

Town encounters:
  • The Vagabond ministers to urchins or an invalid.
  • Animated turnip greens (awakened shrubs) cause chaos in the market. (The vendor received the produce from an Ombruan named Jihan. Two helpful beggars unloaded them.)
  • One night, fire erupts on Greenhill and the narrow footbridge hinders attempts to douse it. How townsfolk respond could depend on the PCs. (Eyewitnesses claim it was a dragon attack, and a couple golden scales found.)
  • Beggars mob three Ombruans on the street. Ripping the immigrants' robes to expose withered bodies, they cry "Undead!" The crowd becomes agitated: their response may depend on the PCs.
  • Several needle blights emerge from Thistleditch by twilight to raid the outskirts of town.
  • In a shadowy place, a beggar surreptitiously deals with a hooded figure. (A cloaked footman of Lemuel Wynryng or Lady Tolo purchases a smuggled elixir from a follower of the Vagabond.)

The Ombruans mostly keep to themselves on Greenhill. They wear undyed robes with colorful sashes and wide-brimmed hats, and always keep their eyes veiled. Their skin is cracked, scarred, and browned by long years tending crops and nurturing wildlands. They have black eyes, toothy grins, and whispery voices. Though reserved, they welcome visitors in barrow huts furnished with low tables, cushions, rugs, and wall-hangings. These furnishings conceal passages leading downward into the burial mound.

In fact, the Ombruans are undead, paradoxically cultivating the life they worship after death. Leaders of the undead settlement are druid-themed wights, while most are simply undead commoners.
Abani Minda, chief speaker
  • terrified that the villagers of Gravelwick are not ready to learn the Ombruans are undead.
  • worries about tensions and openly engages town leaders, although she knows some don't trust her.
  • skeptical of hushed rumors that the Vagabond is undead, possibly even the outcast Kiraz
  • devout worshiper of nature and harvest gods.
Aba Nedju, spiritual leader
  • is a druid-like spellcaster
  • genuinely good-hearted and laughs easily
  • has terrifying visions of a dragon, and fears it is Zuan-zhinde.
Imne, recordkeeper
  • believes all Ombruans should return to "respectable" death as Longsleepers.
  • once glimpsed the Vagabond, and suspects he is Kiraz the outcast.
  • may scheme to goad her people to Longsleep.
Jihan, friendly trader whose flute melodies honor nature.
Ambra, talented agriculturalist who fears the villagers
The Longsleepers are "permanently" at rest, and include the Elders who ruled the earliest Ombruan civilization. If somehow roused, these are very powerful undead.

Ombruans speak little around outsiders, but warm to those who approach thoughtfully. They freely offer hospitality, but will never willingly acknowledge the underground barrow levels. They firmly eject snoopers on Greenhill, and respond violently to intruders caught underground.

Delving the Ombruan village
Each of eight barrows atop Greenhill conceal passages leading to two levels of interconnected tombs where the Ombruans rest, worship, and create their agricultural magics. Enchanted secret doors hide a third level where the Longsleepers rest. The complex is guarded by skeletons, zombies, specters, and wights; as well as molds, assassin vine roots, and druidic ward magic.
Kizar's secret tunnel leads from Thistleditch near the footbridge to the second level. He erected false walls, secret doors, and wards to protect his hideout and the stolen Tapestry of Doors.

Wilderness around Gravelwick
Wanderers expect typical hill encounters, plus:
  • wagon train transporting stone.
  • group of pushy beggars (commoners) asking for alms. (They compare PCs favorably or unfavorably to the Vagabond, depending.)
  • short, intense unseasonal thunderstorm.
  • fey-spirit dire wolves or bloodhawks. (These are conjured by Kizar.)
  • tree blights.

Zuan-zhinde is a recalcitrant infant by dragon standards, a (wyrmling or young) gold dragon living in a crag-top ruin one day from Gravelwick. He is the benevolent but haughty "protector of the hills, who's received gifts from renowned patrons and given audience to pilgrims."
detests condescension from those "beneath" him, and may throw a tantrum if pushed.
  • angrily insulted by bribes.
  • responds well to draconic scripture and lore.
  • childishly curious about humanoids claiming draconic heritage, contacts, or magics.
He instinctively dislikes the Ombruans, who "stink of undeath." Emissaries of the Vagabond press him to violence, but he is reasonable under thoughtful negotiation.

If attacked, he likely retreats, by flight or a well-hidden teleportation circle rigged to disintegrate if approached without a password. His treasure is typical for a wyrmling.

Concluding developments: "What if the PCs...."
  • eliminate the Vagabond? The authorities of Gravelwick and Greenhill are grateful and offer rewards. However, his cultish followers become overtly hostile.
  • destroy the Ombruans? At the next full moon, one revenant per PC rises to seek vengeance.
  • uncover smuggling activity? The guilty citizen or the Vagabond may offer a bribe; otherwise, authorities give a reward.
  • kill or oust Zuan-zhinde? A draconic inquisitor eventually seeks redress.


The Vampries of Dolgan’s Hollow

Respected Beggar
Undead Settlement
Wide Depression
Recalcitrant Infant
Garden-fresh Greens
Moldy Tapestry
Smuggled Elixir

Backstory: Twenty years ago, an elven monster hunter named Malinar led a group that destroyed a coven of vampires, burning their castle to the ground and slaying their vampire lord. A shrewd vampire named Zannifer organized a small group of surviving vampires who fled into the surrounding countryside where they hid from the light and fed on whatever they could capture. When the vampires came upon Dolgan’s Hollow, the locals were understandably terrified. Salvation came from a very unlikely source - the local mendicant - who negotiated a peace with the vampires that lasts to this day.

Dolgan’s Hollow: A run-down village in the Sinking Valley - a wide forested valley between to solitary mountains. The spring runoff flows through various creeks and streams to pool at the valley’s lowest point - Murky Lake. Dolgan’s Hollow is not on any major trade routes, and the Lords of Rottergate - the nearest city, three days travel westward – have long argued whether or not it falls under their purview. It is not worth as much in taxes as it would cost to protect, so the village is left to its own devices.

Note: This adventure can portray the monsters as sympathetic and the monster hunters as the villains. For a more standard set-up, the GM could have the party be agents of the elf Malinar and the villagers be oppressed by the vampires, even living in fear of them. Either way, the tone is up to the table. This can be played as a fun monster-filled romp, or a dark horror with gray morality.

Party (Session Zero): If the group chooses to play the adventure as villagers or travellers allied with the vampires, some can choose to play Dhampir half-bloods. If they are vampire hunters, some should be encouraged to play elves (or Malinar is likely to treat them as ignorant children).


is an elf monster hunter from the elvish land of Estelion. He loathes vampires, who he views as a mockery of the living. He is driven to the point of obsession and has no sense of humour. He rewards loyalty and success but has no patience for dithering or failure.

Zannifer is a vampire who has risen by merit to lead her coven. She convinced the others to settle in Dolgan’s Hollow and to keep peace with the locals. She is polite and regal but is not one to be trifled with.

Ludz is mayor of Dolgan’s Hollow. He was a drunken beggar when the vampires came, living in the stables of the Smiling Cat, the local inn. To save the innkeeper’s wife from a vampire attack, he offered himself in exchange. The vampires took him to the forest to feed but to everyone’s surprise, they began to talk. By dawn, he had negotiated a peaceful settlement.

Piquette is a halfling farmer and new mother who sells her crops at a stall in Dolgan’s Hollow market.

Claydon is a wine importer and smuggler from Rottersgate. He works with the Rottersgate poor to deliver illegal blood to Dolgan’s Hollow. He has been successful at it for nearly twenty years but wants to retire. His son Mattew doesn’t want to deal with small-town vampires and has been leaking information to Malinar’s agents.

These Five Encounters can be played in any order the DM chooses (with the final battle at the end), but the order presented here is designed to build stakes and introduce important NPCs in inverse order of importance.

Swamp Creature – The halfling farmer Piquette has a glorious crop of fresh vegetables this season. She’d be the most successful vendor in Dolgan’s Hollow Market this year if she weren’t struggling with two problems: Her husband Boltan has gone missing, and their son Dav, an infant, has stopped eating, and won’t stop crying. She begs the party for their help. Through investigating the disappearance, the party will eventually find themselves at Murky Lake, at the deepest part of the wide valley, where they will encounter a swamp creature. At first they should assume that the creature ate poor Boltan, but it flees from battle. Though it struggles to speak, eventually they should discover that it IS Boltan, who was infected by a spoor while gathering swamp cabbage. He has been secretly fertilizing his wife’s garden (hence the glorious color of her greens) but he made the mistake of touching his child – who is now infected – and can now only be sustained by swamp gasses. Both can be cured with remove curse or other powerful magic, or the child can go live with his father in the swamp (transforming after three days into a swamp creature).

If the party are locals, they may wish to help Piquette for her sake. If they are working for Malinar, they are in town to search for vampires. A swamp monster is not a vampire, but it will do for now.

Location: Murky Lake Swamp – The lowest part of the wide valley about two miles from Dolgan’s Hollow. The shoreline has a lot of spots for a swamp creature to hide and is dotted with rocks and trees that hide pitfalls and quagmires.

Missing Ring – A wereraven stole Ludz’ mayoral ring. The former mendicant, now mayor of Dugan’s Hollow, left his ring on his desk in the attic of the Smiling Cat Inn and when he returned, it was gone. The responsibility that was given to him when the town made him mayor sobered him up, so it has a lot of sentimental value. He hires the party to find it for him. Eventually they will discover it at the nest of a wereraven in the hills to the east. She gave it to her unruly brood of chicks, who tend to stay in raven or hybrid form. While they are distracted by shiny things, they are quite dangerous when provoked.

If the party is working for Malinar, they will help to ingratiate themselves with the town mayor while looking for vampires.

Location: Hillside Raven’s Nest – A rocky outcropping with a gravel trail leading up to it. The nest is on a ledge near a 30 ft. drop onto jagged rocks. Cover is sparse and the wereravens know the area well.

Smuggler’s Cache – When the blood is delivered to Dolgan’s Hollow, it is left outside town in a regular spot under an elven tapestry. Zannifer brought the old tapestry with her when she fled the elven lands. It is a beautiful work of art that shifts colors with changes of the light. It also makes for excellent forest camouflage. Though diminished now by stains and weathering the tapestry has historical significance and great value to the elves and Malinar would see it returned.

If the party is working for Zannifer, she sends the party to pick up the delivery and they are ambushed by Malinar’s agents. If they are working for Malinar, they have come to ambush the vampires that arrive to pick up the shipment.

Location: Hollow’s Forest Glen – A secluded clearing four miles out of Dolgan’s Hollow. Superstitious drivers refuse to go closer. The Cache is beside a fallen log, under a weathered tapestry that looks much like the forest around it. The treeline provides much cover for an ambush.

Blood Smugglers – In the nearby port city of Rottersgate, Ludz facilitated a deal with a wine importer named Claydon. Already heavily involved with smuggling, they fill empty wine bottles with human blood (purchased willingly from the poor of Rottersgate) and smuggle it through the city’s gates (both to avoid wine tariffs and because transporting blood is illegal, due to its connection to questionable acts such as necromancy.) The encounter occurs just before dawn where bottles of blood are being loaded onto a wagon for transport to Dolgan’s Hollow. Claydon’s son has betrayed his father by informing Malinar of the location.

The party is either working for Zannifer to ensure the arrival of the shipment, or for Malinar to destroy it and anyone involved.

Location: Rottersgate Alley – A steep cobbled alley next to a warehouse, with a wagon and two horses, crates, and a corner that leads onto a main road. Claydon and Mattew are there, as well as two workers.

Final Confrontation – Until now, Malinar has sent agents to do his work for him. His agents have now confirmed that his quarry has settled in Dolgan’s Hollow, so he arrives himself with a small army. The monster-hunters confront Zannifer and her coven at the mayoral manor house, where the vampires have taken residence (while Ludz moved his office to the Inn’s attic). The party can join in on either side, tipping the scales of the encounter one way or the other.

Location: Mayoral Manor – An old manor house with a large tree out front and a low wall with an iron gate. A road loops around the tree and it has a second floor with a balcony.


Woooo-eeee! That was tough. I could not get myself to sit down and write without a billion distractions.

I am moderately happy with it in the end, though there is an ingredient or two that I know I could have done a better job with.

Let's see what the judges have to say about it... I bet I know which ingredients will fail me! (But you never know - sometimes judges like different things about your entry than you do. It's part of the fun!)
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CR 1/8
This round didn't feel as rushed. The bigger word count is significant;y roomier, despite the extra ingredient.

That said, this one didn't come together for me and meandered* widely, despite locking down a basic idea early on. I know my ingredient use is pretty weak on at least two of them, and mediocre on at least two others. I also pointedly made the setting a "quarry town" but then completely forgot to do anything with that! At the very least, the quarry would have made for an encounter set. A big miss, womp! womp!

Oh well. Definitely looking forward to what the judges have to say this round.

* Btw, I really like how focused FitzTheRuke writes his adventures.

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