IRON DM 2022 The Tournament Thread

Radiating Gnome

Iron DM 2022 Round 2 Match 1 - J.Quondam vs FitzTheRuke

This match pits two DMs against each other to create a coherent adventure out of a challenging collection of ingredients. Who can weave them together and create the most interesting, playable, and creative adventure?

We have J.Quondam's Trouble on Greenhill (ToG) and FitzTheRuke's Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow (VDH). Let's dig in and see how these two adventures stand up.

I prefer to focus on the ingredients first, so here we go.....


Respected Beggar
- In ToG, the respected beggar is The Vagabond, an odd wandering beggar who is apparently well-liked among the lowly of Gravelwick, actually a scheming wight trying to steal relics from his own people's burial mounds. A key adversary for the party, he's key to most of what's going on in the adventure -- so the ingredient is prominent, but I'm only moderately happy because the ingredient is a disguise, not a truth -- it would be stronger to somehow see the idea that he's a respected beggar be important, and not just the veil the party will learn to see through.

In VDH, on the other hand, we have Ludz, who is a supremely likable former beggar who is now mayor of the town. He charmed (talked, at least) his own way out of becoming a feast for vampires, has caused some problems as mayor leading up to the adventure and is around as a possible focus for parts of the adventure. Again, this feels like it's close but not quite right because he's a former beggar, and none of the things that happen seem to come from his beggar-ness unless it's bad decision-making, which is not the sole talent of beggars....

Eh, I think this one is a dead heat. No pun intended, although next we turn to......

Undead Settlement - In VDH, the undead settlement is a small coven of vampires, survivors of a preceeding event, and trying to survive in the namesake hollow. They're a key faction in the story, and might be the side the PCs support in the final confrontation. They're not good guys, per se, but they're still vampires. The ingredient works pretty well, and while it's not strictly part of the ingredient, I'm interested in the sort of smuggling trade that has grown up around the vampires -- the urban poor of Rottergate are paid for their blood to feed the vampires in nearby Dolgan's Hollow. And if the party takes up arms to help the vampires, they're supporting that trade in the blood of the poor. I mean, phew! I was worried there would be some allegorical content to wade through....

In ToG, the undead settlement is there, and critical to the story, but I struggle with it just a little bit. The Undead of Greenhill, the Ombruans, are wights. They've moved "rightfully" into the barrows where they're planting excellent gardens and trying to live alongside the living. Their power is a sort of necromatic variant on druidic magic, so, it's a little different. One thing I find a big confusing is the motives of the Wights -- do they really just want to get along with the living? What do they feed on, if anything? What are their goals for the future?

Both are engaging, interesting, and ask some cool questions -- great ingredients for both, so again, no advantage to either entry.

Wide Depression - I'm not going to go into as much detail here. Both use the wide depression as a location. In ToG, the wide depression is a briar-filled dry moat called the "Thistleditch". And in VDH it's the namesake hollow -- and even lower, Murky swamp. Both are using the depression as a location, both play a minor supporting role in the story. I think these are roughly equivalent usage as well.

Recalcitrant Infant - in ToG the "infant" is the wyrmling dragon Zuan-zhinde. This is an interesting interpretation, but infant is much more specific than "young" and the dragon Zuan has goals and feelings and motives that are far too complex to be comfortably labeled "infant". So, this is a bit on the weak side, however fun the dragon themself might be.

In VDH, the infant in question is the son of Piquette and Boltan, who has been infected with Bolton's swamp-thing-ness and who can only feed on swamp gasses, and who therefore is starving. The little swamp thing encounter is one of the core encounters of the story, and Piquette is important in other parts of the story, so this becomes a key moment of relationship building. And, this infant is a true infant -- helpless, unable to communicate, and for all appearances powered by farts.

So, neck and neck for so long, VDH has stretched out and has an advantage over ToG in this ingredient.

Garden-fresh Greens - In VDN Piquette's vegetables are the best in the region, and that's an important part of her business. In ToG the greens are the produce of the wights, presumably rich because of their necro-druidic gifts and because of the fertilizer provided by the barrow. I think the two uses are roughly the same -- a curiosity, a detail, another minor player.

Moldy Tapestry - The moldy tapestry in ToG is the moldy "tapestry of doors" that Kizar/Vagabond is using to raid the barrows of his people. In VDH, the Moldy Tapestry is some loot found in the Smuggler's Cache, a sort of afterthought that might be valuable to elven buyers. While KIzar's tapestry is not a crucial part of the story, it does have some active and engaged impact on the story, which I didn't see in the case of elven tapestry. In neither case the idea that it was moldy didn't seem to matter, but I think the Tapestry of Doors was better, so this ingredient is an advantage for ToG.

Smuggled Elixir - In VDH, the smuggled elixir is the blood from the poor that the vampires need to continue to be good citizens in Dolgan's Hollow. In ToG, the smuggled elix[ir is purchased from the Vagabond, but I don't see where it's developed beyond that. There's a suggestion that trying to root out a smuggling ring might be a further adventure, but I don't think that counts as part of this adventure.

So, I think the elixir in VDH is stronger, so one more advantage to VDH.

The ingredients are both pretty solid in both entries, and while I'm giving a slight advantage to Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow, it's a narrow margin.

Creativity, Playability, and Presentation

Man, these are two solid entries. Both present moral complexity and a great mix of story and minor encounters to make it really work as a D&D adventure.

I really dug the Vagabond as a character -- wight grave robber trying to steal treasures out from under other green-thumbed wights. I mean, what's not to love? I think the village of wights leaves me with some questions, but Kizar is cool.

I dug the Lodz, the hapless mayor that everyone seems to like. I dug the moral quandary presented by the story of blood smuggling to keep vampires docile.

Both were presented well, clearly written and made good use of limited word count to throw a lot of ideas at the wall.

I think they're very close. It's easy to fault each for the apparent unconnected nature of some of the encounters -- The young gold dragon Zuan-zhinde, for example, seems to be not-so-well integrated into the core storyline of the adventure. And in VDH, one of the core factions in the story is Malinar the monster hunter, who oddly enough seems to be a critical story element who happens to be only tangentially connected to any of the ingredients. That's not a concrete problem, but it does point at things that might have been opportunities for more tightly woven adventuring.

So, it's a tough call.

One Judge's Vote:

In the end, I think I favor Vampires of Dolgar's Hollow. Trouble on Green Hill is almost as good in all of the ways it doesn't just match VDH shot for shot. But the couple of things that I preferred in VDH were the slightly better use of the ingredients, a morally ambiguous and interesting story, and a red herring that I really want to believe was intentional.

I mean, Piquette. That's so painfully close to pipette in a story about vampires and blood, and draining blood.... And Piquette isn't at all involved in the smuggling plot -- but players who see that name will be just like me, unable to shake the idea that the DM is being cute and clever and signaling that this is where the smuggling is. Total red herring. If that's not intentional, you must never tell me. Lie to me, please.

So, I'm casting my vote for Vampires of Dolgar Hollow, FitzTheRuke's entry. J.Quondam, you're an excellent competitor and at least as far as my vote goes you were only edged out by a small margin. Thank you both for your entries.


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A tip of the hat to @Radiating Gnome for getting his judgment (which I won't read till I get mine finished) done so quickly. 🤠

One quick insert/reminder as I begin rereading the entries: little notations in the title, such as J.Quondam put in his ("for 5e") count against Word Count. In this case it didn't matter, but it is something to keep in mind.


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
I think, what we have here, are two excellent candidates for the Iron DM Anthology. I love that both adventures have a lot of moving parts, interesting factions, and murky morality. Non-evil undead are a bit of a favorite trope of mine, and both adventures deliver both in spades.

Excellent work by both writers!

Deuce Traveler

Judgement of Round 2, Match 1: J.Quondam's "Trouble on Greenhill" vs. FitztheRuke's "The Vampries of Dolgan’s Hollow"

Judged by Deuce Traveler

J.Quondam's (JQ) entry deals with a town with various factions struggling against one another, While FitztheRuke's (FR) entry sticks the party in between some monsters and their hunters.

I am going to grade each entry on whether or not they made the time and word count limit, each entry's readability, use of each ingredient, and finally the potential for a potential Dungeon Master. Each section has a possibility of 2 points to be awarded.

Accordance to the Rules

Both entries were posted within the allotted amount of time and under the word count limit. Good job!

JQ- 2 points
FR- 2 points

Grammar and Readability

I had to read through "Trouble on Greenhill" a couple times, as opposed to "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow", but that is more of a quibble. They both had correct grammar and were readable. Full points here for both.

JQ- 4 points
FR- 4 points

First Ingredient: Respected Beggar
In "Trouble on Greenhill", the respected beggar is actually a wight with a long-ranged plan. He hangs out with the poor and helps them out in return for favors. He is integral to the entry. Good job! 2 points for this ingredient.

In "The Vampires of Dolan's Hollow", the respected beggar isn't really a beggar anymore. He was a drunken beggar in the backstory, but is now a respected mayor. I can only give 1 point here.

JQ- 6 points
FR- 5 points

Second Ingredient: Undead Settlement

In "Trouble on Greenhill", there is an area of undead creatures that behave as if they are a living community. In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow", the vampires have come up with an agreement (a settlement) with the local town. Both are an acceptable use of the ingredient and I award 2 points for each entry.

JQ- 8 points
FR- 7 points

Third Ingredient: Wide Depression

In "Trouble on Greenhill", the undead are protected by an ancient, dry moat filled with sharp briars. I do have an issue where this isn't all that important to the adventure except as an obstacle. But I ran into the same problem in "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow" where the ingredient is a wide lake at the lowest part of valley, where there is some monster hunting to do. In the end, both use the ingredient correctly but I am only awarding one point to each because the ingredient just doesn't seem to be that critical in either entry.

JQ- 9 points
FR- 8 points

Fourth Ingredient: Recalcitrant Infant

In "Trouble on Greenhill", the recalcitrant infant is a wyrmling dragon who acts as a protector of local hills. Recalcitrant means 'having an obstinate uncooperative attitude towards authority or discipline". The dragon is easy to anger, but I don't see why it would need to view humans as authorities or disciplinarians. Another definition is someone who is uncooperative, but then why in the next sentence is the dragon called a benevolent protector? Further, it's really stretching the ingredient for this to be considered an infant since it can fight and negotiate. I'll split the difference and give this use 1 point.

In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow", there is an infant transformed into a monster that the heroes need to rescue, but because it is probably scared it may lash out or flee, making their task that much harder. I'll give full points here.

JQ- 10 points
FR- 10 points

Fifth Ingredient: Garden-fresh Greens

In "Trouble on Greenhill", the garden-fresh greens are what the undead workers labor upon to appear as if they are still normal field hands. In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hill", they are the produce from a farm dealing with a tragedy. Neither ingredient is hugely important, but they work to tie in monsters to labor in the communities the adventurers are transitting through. Full points to both.

JQ- 12 points
FR- 12 points

Sixth Ingredient: Moldy Tapestry

In "Trouble of Greenhill" this ingredient is a Moldy Tapestry of Doors. On an entertaining note, I tried to look up a Tapestry of Doors and mostly was awarded with Jim Morrison curtains. In the entry, it seems to allow the undead to magically travel through parts of the borrow. The issue that I have is though the mold is thematic, this part of the ingredient doesn't seem to be that important and could have easily been replaced with a tattered tapestry or faded tapestry. I give one point here.

In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hill", the tapestry is from the elves and has significant value to one of the major NPCs, and therefore is a possible McGuffin. It also shares the same problem in that it has no need to be moldy. In fact, it seems to still be colorful with a shimmering display in part of the description, which is a counter to the supposed mold. So only one point here, too.

JQ- 13 points
FR- 13 points

Seventh Ingredient: Smuggled Elixir

In "Trouble of Greenhill", the elixir is a potion being sold that is told to bring long life but actually grants undeath. It's a neat idea and can be used to drive along the plot, but I'm not sure why it has to be smuggled. It seems to be created in the local barrows, so its not like it makes a long trip and there is nothing about guards on the lookout for an illegal elixir. I'll grant one point.

In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hill", the elixir is a vial of specially extracted blood sealed up in wine bottles and illegally shipped out of the city through a smuggler's network. If the authorites discovered what was going on there would probably be some outrage and a larger investigation. I'll grant this two points.

JQ- 14 points
FR- 15 points

Potential for the DM

Neither of these entries are very tight, and there seems to be some added fluff and side encounters added in order to better fit some of the ingredients. In "Trouble on Greenhill", I have trouble imagining a bunch of undead working on a garden in broad daylight and I'm also trying to figure out why the Ombru and the Vagabond can't come to some sort of cooperation. Or if the Vagabond is used to performing good deeds, why he can't shift to a more good character... or if he is a wight, why he doesn't feast on the beggars around him.

In "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow", there are a lot of events that happen, which is perfect for a party of monster hunters, but it seems like a whole bunch of unrelated events. What do mutated plant people, cooperative vampires, and a wereraven all have in common? Not much really, except to act as episodic antagonists in the latest installment of the monster of the week.

All in all, I lean towards liking "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow" as an adventure I would like to run due to being able to send off some adventurers on a monster hunter themed adventure. "Trouble on Greenhill" has better flexibility and potential as I can run it as an action adventure or a mystery or a horror, but as is has more narrative holes for me to try and fill.

Still, I'll award each a point.

JQ- 15 points
FR- 16 points


Good job to both of you. There is a lot to like in both entries, and I can see Dungeon Masters having a good time running either of these for their players. Ultimately, this really came down to the ingredients, and "The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow" barely edges out the win here. Congratulations to @FitzTheRuke for being the one who I award this victory.


IRON DM 2022 Round 2, Match 1
FitztheRuke vs. J.Quondam

As we begin round 2, I am pleased to say that I think both of the entries in the first match are worthy and their creators can be pleased with what they have put forward, utilizing some not necessarily easy ingredients. But only one can win, so let’s examine them and see how my vote (one of three) is going to go.

@FitzTheRuke offers us “The Vampries (sic) of Dolgan’s Hollow” (hereafter Vamps). Not withstanding the apparent typo in the title, the entry is well organized and presents us a credible village setting wherein vampires lurk. Interestingly, Fitz allows for two different approaches to the setting, depending on the DM and the desires of the table: the PCs may either be vampire protectors, or they can be employed to root out the vampire menace, such as it is.

@J.Quondam’s, “Trouble on Greenhill” (hereafter Trouble) gives us a different village, this one infested by Wights. The PCs must uncover the mysteries of the mysterious inhabitants growing vegetables on the burial mound near to the village, and one assumes, discover the real villain who has been causing trouble in the community. As with Vamps, Trouble also presents the PCs with a sandboxy sort of setting where the ending depends on the choices they make along the way.

Both entries were turned in on time, and under word-count. Interesting to me, I have a definite favorite to win going into this, but its close enough that the use of the ingredients could tip it the other way. I think I know how its going to come out, but let’s get to some real critiquing in order to be sure.

We begin our examination of the ingredients with the respected beggar. Looking at both entries, Trouble does a better job with this ingredient than Vamps. The beggar in Vamps, the mayor, is respected but he is, in fact, a former beggar. This relegates the ingredient to nothing but backstory, and not actually anything that the players will have to deal with. On the other hand, in Trouble, we have the villain Kizar, who is also a local beggar named The Vagabond. Now this particular ingredient use, while better than Vamps, is not perfect, as this beggar is only posing as a beggar and is even doing high end clandestine transactions with the nobility. But still, advantage Trouble.

In both entries we have an undead settlement which, depending on the choices of the PCs, may or may not be antagonists. The vampires in Vamps are a more traditional sort of undead, though their settlement could be better described, and it seems like they may mostly be lurking in one house which makes them less settlers and more like community members. But I’ll let that slide and call this one a wash between the entries.

Wide Depression was an admittedly tricky ingredient, and it is not too surprising that both entries basically made it setting fodder.I give the nod here to Vamps for slightly better use, as the whole of the sinking valley provides the setting for the adventure, and in Trouble, the bramble filled moat doesn’t necessarily do anything, though at one point monsters crawl out of it for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

In Recalcitrant Infant, I’m going to again give the edge to Vamps. The toddler who has been infected by his father, and is now poisoned and fussy is a great use of the ingredient. The little side adventure is definitely, to me, one of the high points of the entry. There are also, of course, the ravenlings with whom the party must interact for bonus measure. On the other hand, the wyrmling dragon from Trouble seems only half-baked. There’s a solid idea there, but it hasn’t completely gelled. I am left wondering, for instance, how a gold wyrmling has teleport magic. And I’m not completely sure what the role of the dragon in the adventure is supposed to be, though I get a general feeling its mostly meant as a red-herring. So again points to Vamp.

With garden-fresh greens, we have a slightly harder call. Neither makes the ingredient something that the PCs will necessarily have to interact with in a meaningful way, though both include it in a significant way regarding the story. For most of Trouble, the vegetables are background information, though there is a brief interaction with animated turnip greens that lifts the use. The integration of greens, blessed by the cursed father from the afflicted family of halflings is more creative, but it would have been better if the farmeress had also first asked the party to protect her greens from someone or other. So in the end, I’m going to consider this ingredient about even between the two.

Moving on to Moldy Tapestry, Trouble definitely has the edge. The Tapestry in Vamps could be replaced by about anything, and I don’t even think it’s described as being moldy. On the other hand, the “trapped” magic portal tapestry of Trouble fits thematically, and also segues nicely into potential dungeon exploration of the adventure.

Which brings us finally to smuggled elixir. The elixir of Vamps is a bit of a cheat, and leaves me with some questions. It’s not really an elixir, being the blood needed by the vampires, smuggled to the vampires, but on the other hand, it is definitely smuggled and it is liquid and it does play something of an important lead in the investigation. I wonder though at the viability of transporting blood, and how is it being kept fresh, and do the vampires actually want to drink old blood like that? Assuming story-wise, there is some method of making the old blood palatable to the undead, then we will let some of that be. In Trouble, the elixir plays a part in the background and maybe in an encounter, but the use feels a little tacked on. So, even with the issues, advantage here to Vamps.

All of which, when all is said and done, means that ingredient wise, Trouble has a very slight lead.

Being perfectly up front, though Trouble has a lot of potential going for it, I find for several reasons that I prefer Vamps. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Trouble to me feels like it needs another polish or two, and some adjustment to presentation and tempo.

As I compare the two, and my own personal preferences, as well as how they are put together, I like the general set-up of Trouble, and there are ingredients there that I think deserve more treatment. The trouble-maker in the village, trying to drive out his undead kith from their barrow home, is a good story, and has the makings of a good investigative adventure. The barrows beneath the mound, and the secret barrows connecting to this feel like it could make a good old-school dungeon crawl and properly put together, there’s publishable material here. But it feels slightly undone, and not entirely cohesive, and were I an editor or a publisher getting this submission, I would send it back with some specific instructions. Firstly, put all the backstory up front. It is a sad mistake to make the DM have to discover things reading through the story. Right at the front tell us the Ombruan’s are wights, that the vagabond wants them gone, and that there are secret levels of dungeon. Tightening up the backstory and putting it up front allows then for better presentation of the material after, and likely frees up a few words. I would also say to fix the dragon. Is it a red-herring? Did it really attack the village? It’s a dragon. Make it more significant. And there needs to be a better explanation for why wights, who in 5e are NE monsters who hate all living, are worshipping as a life-affirming druidic community of farmers. Ideally I think the adventure should have the PCs uncover the undead, uncover the truth of the Vagabond, and then have the PCs descend into a dungeon exploration after the Vagabond flees justice. That would be a nice, tight adventure. As it is, the information in the adventure is too scattered and that makes the overall useability of the adventure less than it should be.

This may sound like I am being very critical, but in this case my critique is actually indicative of the potential I see in the submission. Sometimes you see a submission that has flaws, and you move on to the next one. Other times you see the flaws, but you like what you see enough to want to step in and have it done better. That is the case here.

On the other hand, Vamps definitely hits some of my like buttons. The village in the middle of nowhere, harboring vampires, has a lot of potential for story. Though I appreciate presenting the two options for how the PCs might approach, I would actually prefer a third, middle way of bringing the PCs into the village for other reasons, have them uncover the vampires, and then have to decide which side to go with, rather than starting at the beginning on one side or the other. At the same time, we have the hidden gem of the halfling wife with a cursed husband and a becursed child and that there is adventure gold. I love that little scenario. The various side-quests of the adventure, allowing the PCs to interact with the villagers, are well done, and create something of a life to the whole thing. I do think that the actual society of the vampires needs to be fleshed out a bit, as to what they might be contributing to the village, why the villagers have agreed to tolerate them, and so forth. Also the issue of smuggled blood is, as I noted in the ingredients, a bit weak, and ideally that arrangement could be better thought out, and maybe even made a little more sinister so that PCs trying to decide who to side with will have more of a moral struggle before them. And, at the risk of some repetition, the vampires get top billing, but they are not necessarily central to the action. They should have a larger role. But overall, I think I could take what Vamps is offering and run with it, without too much trouble.

In the end, though I think that Trouble has the slightly better use of the ingredients, the overall presentation of Vamps, and the excellence of its scenario make my vote for this match go to FitztheRuke and The Vampries of Dolgan’s Hollow.

Looking at the other judge’s rulings, that makes FitztheRuke the unanimous winner of this match, and he will go on to round 3. We came at it from different angles, but all arrived at the same conclusion.
J.Quondam – for a first time player you have had a very strong showing and I very much hope that you compete again in the future.

The Vampries of Dolgan’s Hollow
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 9.5 points
Respected Beggar: .5
Undead Settlement:
Wide Depression: 1.5
Recalcitrant Infant: 2
Garden-fresh Greens: 1.5
Moldy Tapestry: .5
Smuggled Elixir: 1.5
Useability: 5 points
Style: 5 points
Total: 25.5/32

Trouble on Greenhill
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 10 points
Respected Beggar: 1.5
Undead Settlement:
Wide Depression: 1
Recalcitrant Infant: 1
Garden-fresh Greens: 1.5
Moldy Tapestry: 2
Smuggled Elixir: 1
Useability: 4 points
Style: 4 points
Total: 24/32
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The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Also, The Vampires of Dolgan's Hollow is a great title!
Though notably, not as good as The Vampries of Dolgan's Hollow. :p

In all seriousness, congratulations on an extremely close win by @FitzTheRuke, who gets another shot at the title. I'm always impressed by your ability to fit such long and complex scenarios in the very confined space of an Iron DM entry. I'm excited to see what you come up with for the finale!

Also, excellent work by @J.Quondam. My initial reaction to reading your entry first was "Well, this one's a winner". The competition here is always stiff though. I hope to see you again in future tournaments!


Though notably, not as good as The Vampries of Dolgan's Hollow.
LOL. I'm not sure how that "i" migrated. It's in the right place in my draft in Word. I must have somehow absently dragged-and-dropped it while selecting it to cut-and-paste? I have no idea.

In all seriousness, congratulations on an extremely close win by @FitzTheRuke, who gets another shot at the title. I'm always impressed by your ability to fit such long and complex scenarios in the very confined space of an Iron DM entry. I'm excited to see what you come up with for the finale!
Much appreciated. I look forward to it! I hope that "trying harder" (as I plan to do) does not cause me to over-pressure myself. I always do better when I just have fun.

Also, excellent work by @J.Quondam. My initial reaction to reading your entry first was "Well, this one's a winner". The competition here is always stiff though. I hope to see you again in future tournaments!
Me too!


Round 2, Match 2
Snarf Zagyg vs. Kobold Stew

@Snarf Zagyg and @Kobold Stew, 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:
Cursed Dreamcatcher
Erudite Goat
Destitute Dragon
Devouring Dungeon
Dancing lights
Golden Honey
Cave Paintings

Your 48 hours starts now!
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
A Complete Rules-Lite Game System for Players Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn to Play Other Stuff Good Too

Cursed Dreamcatcher
Erudite Goat
Destitute Dragon
Devouring Dungeon
Dancing Lights
Golden Honey
Cave Paintings

(It might not be a winner, but at least I'm leaving you with something fun.)

YOU ARE A DISCO PARTY ANIMAL. YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE. You are navigating a complicated world of fans, drugs, and disco. The dancing lights, the blinding lights …

You don’t want trouble. You and your fellow sports-friends just want a good time after a hard day of playing your sport for fame and money. And yet … trouble always seems to find you. Aliens, animal/hybrid athletes, undead worshippers of yacht rock, robot narcs with bad blow, living nightmares summoned by cursed relics, that guy 'Chad' who only nods his head to the music, and worse … they all stand between you and your bliss- partying on the dance floor and busting out your insanely superior dancing styles. You might not have a “badge” or “official authority,” but you’re a famous person with impeccable dance moves. People know who you are. THEY KNOW WHO YOU ARE. They are looking to you to keep the party going.

You have three abilities:

FAME How recognizable you are to the commoners you sometimes have to associate with. This is not your brain, just the flame, it puts you in charge to keep you sane.

MONEY How many of your millions are left after your agent, your family, your agent’s family, your drug dealer, your dealer’s family and your entourage have taken their cut. The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees- you have to pay to play.

DANCE You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life. Let the music take control, let the rhythm move you- everybody dance now! Just ... not as good as you.

You have-a 1, and-a 2, and-a 3. Assign one number to each ability.

1. On the field legend. It’s just about the rings.
2. In commercials for brands. What brands? All of them.
3. Social media superstar. More people watch you on TikTok than watch the World Cup.
4. Tabloid wreck. You’re shambolic, and people love to root for you falling (to get back up again).
5. You’re famous for partying with all the famous people. Every rose its thorn, and every ‘gram has its you.
6. Your golden-honeyed voice powers a singing career that has eclipsed both your on-field exploits and your off-field dancing.


1. Moon
2. Booty
3. Natural
4. Void
5. Shadow
6. Running
7. Cha-cha
8. Drunken
9. Crazy-legged
10. Robotic
1. Chicken
2. Hammer
3. Slideriffic
4. Rabbit
5. Faceplant
6. Sidelick
7. Elephant Trunk
8. Elevation
9. Vertigo
10. Shakeyshakeys

1. Path of the Racket
2. Way of the Track
3. Keeper of the Eighteen Holes
4. Baller of the Baskets
5. Oath of the Footballer
6. Art of the Rink

Narrate your actions. If you’re in doubt of the result because it’s something that will solve a major problem or provide you an advantage over an NPC, roll d6x(ability number), so an ability score of 2 lets you roll 2d6. Roll for most applicable ability; if you’re trying to score or bribe someone, roll MONEY, but if you need to intimidate the Erudite GOAT with your amazing dance moves, roll DANCE. In addition, you can trade party favors for additional dice.


4= standard

5=risky stuff

6=woah now!

If the highest dice roll>DC, you have succeeded and you get to describe what happens. If it’s the same, you succeed, you get a pooper, and the GM describes something bad that happens as well. If it’s lower, you fail, get a pooper, get a favor, and the GM describes something bad.

When you fail, if your pooper>highest dice, YOU ARE THE PARTY POOPER. You need to take a break to boot & rally, and reset your poopers and favors to zero.


Set up the first domino for the players and let them start knocking things over. If a situation can’t be resolved by dancing, partying, or asking the NPC, “Do you know who I am?” ask yourself, “Could I make this situation solvable by dancing, partying, or unthinking privilege exercised by someone famous and/or rich?”

1. Studio 54, but more gaudy and less restrained.
2. The Hacienda nightclub, but more psychedelic.
3. The Limelight, but less feel-good.
4. Le Clique, but more acrobats and less clothes.
5. Mudd Club, themed for Mother’s Day.
6. It’s a warehouse. Somewhere. Don’t tell anyone.

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE DISCOTHEQUE? (Roll 2d6 twice, nest the problems within each other)

2. A cursed dreamcatcher inside the disco ball is manifesting the nightmares of the guest into reality!
3. It’s a non-stop party, and no one can leave or stop dancing while the dancing lights play over the dance floor!
4. The kinky dungeon (INVITE ONLY) is being run by ravenous vampires!
5. The paintings in the unfinished rooms of the building begin to animate!
6. Killer robots? Killer robots!
7. Zombie rock lovers want to turn the beat around and bring the club to the soothing sounds of Michael McDonald. So smooth!
8. Aliens are taking over the bodies of the dancers and replacing them one ... at ... a time.
9. A truckload of tourists infected with a terrible plague breaks in and start line-dancing.
10. A mad scientist is going to use the disco ball as a power source for his laser to melt the polar ice caps, but first ... he must clear the dance floor.
11. The spirits and wraiths of those who have partied before begin to appear throughout the club.
12. The Fire Department has been alerted to code violations, except the Fire Department is a cult that worships a dark demon lord.


2. The Erudite GOAT. The mutated hybrid clone of Tom Brady and Albert Einstein is going to bore you to death explaining the scientific basis for great athletic performance.
3. The Destitute Dragon. The head of the Klan hates how disco music is bringing marginalized people together, and is going to destroy the dance and take your money.
4. The Thin White Dude. This cadaverous figure is going station to station and want to kill you and take your drugs.
5. Le Freak. A monstrous abomination that wishes it was chic.
6. The Woodknocker. A scary monster, but not a super creep.
7. Boogie Oogie Oogie. A ghoul with scent of carrion, the look of death, but the taste … of golden honey.
8. Sheena the Punk Rocker. She's going to carry all the kids away from the Discotheque.
9. The Chief of Police. The very very sexy Chief of Police.
10. The Unappreciated Bouncer, resentful of the party people.
11. The hot avatar of a hot god who'd rather spend quality time with you.
12. The uncaring abyss that is the over-forward march of time, and to which we all must, in the end, admit defeat.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Cursed Dreamcatcher
Erudite Goat
Destitute Dragon
Devouring Dungeon
Dancing lights
Golden Honey
Cave Paintings
Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees
Dragons, like goldfish, grow to fit their environment, and consequently the largest dragon floats within the vastness of the astral plane. Kilometers long, it doesn’t age, spends most of its time asleep, and it has existed for millennia, growing. By one measure, it is the greatest of all time, even though most do not know of its existence, let alone its name.

The bees know. For the bees have found its abandoned hoard and have taken it, leaving the dragon destitute.

Sweet Dreams is an outline for a fantasy campaign, in which players encounter a sentient swarm, awaken a dragon, and discover the nature of dreams. Each session should present a memorable visual: the DM should work towards the visual without expecting the players to achieve a specific outcome: it’s nice when the visual can come at a session break, but it need not.

Prologue. At a waypoint, the party share a vision. They explore an unfamiliar cavern: moving rocks; clearing sand. They might be archaeologists, as they come across cave paintings. These shows several figures: though painted ages before, most are recognizable as individual party members on a ragged groundline. Elves and others who don’t sleep (e.g. constructs) are not depicted, but for them there is an amorphous smudge in a different colour (a hint on the nature of dreams). No one has a restful night.

Act One (1-2 sessions?). Travelling overland in a remote and inhospitable landscape (desert, ice, lava flow—somewhere new for the players), the party encounters corpses of lone pack animals, perhaps an occasional humanoid with ripples beneath rotting flesh, shambling in a direction just off their current path. If attacked, they can be destroyed, and out pours a swarm of bees, in the same direction the corpses advance. Following escaping bees or the direction of corpse-travel will lead to a giant throne, on which sits the Swarm. So many separate swarms have gathered, the bees have become sentient, and want to stay that way. The Swarm adopts the casual form of a lonely, brooding monarch, presenting as male. Its resonant telepathic voice, separate from the humming, says, “Take a seat, please. You may call me Lord Dufour.”

Act Two (4-6 sessions?). The Swarm offers to hire the party for a series of tasks (enough for a pattern to emerge, but not so the players become bored). Each task involves combat (clearing an area of the desolate landscape of some monstrous creature) and an engineering problem – taking a giant cable (natural fiber, coiled on a giant spool), and tying it between two points. Those points might be a kilometer apart, the light thin cord, always perfectly measured, needing to be stretched and tied to precise points on other cables.

The Swarm is building a dreamcatcher, cursed because it captures all dreams and not just evil ones. This won’t be obvious initially. As they work within the cables, the party does not sleep properly. Those that should dream won’t. (For D&D, players might roll 1d6-CON modifier at the end of each long rest, and keep a tally; this is their sleeplessness, and while it may have no game effects, its existence may create appropriate concern among players).

The filament they is strong and exceptionally light, and if cut immediately begins to fray (a Mending spell can help)—a valuable treasure.

Payment for the tasks is in golden honey: made not from pollen, but from the dreaming dragon’s gold. The honey tastes transcendent, is very heavy, and needs to be carried in buckets (brought to the players by bee-corpse-mules). Spending it, and transporting it, will be a minor challenge in itself, but Dufour is a generous patron.

Ideally, the players are not initially aware of what they are constructing. Mapping the cords or an aerial view, would reveal the shape. At night zigzagging along the filaments is ball lightning, trying to escape. These dancing lights are dreams of those currently within the reach of the dreamcatcher, and show it working. If cords are cut, the lights scream and go out. If captured, grappled, the one holding the light can choose to fade and emerge at the dreamer’s location. Exploring this can be fun, as players suddenly emerge in bedrooms, etc. The choice (“you see a vision of ---; do you move towards it?”) risks separating the party, but the choice and the fade-time keep it navigable.

Act Three (2 sessions?). At the center of the dreamcatcher, a different light has appeared: brighter, larger, fighting to escape, radiating menace and clearly threatening, signified by low-level earthquakes that grow in intensity and range. This is the dream of the great gold dragon, pulled from the astral plane, for which the catcher was constructed. It is not what the Swarm was expecting: the dream caught is itself cursed, as few can fathom the wrathful imagination of a dragon who has believed for millennia it is the G.O.A.T. Cutting the catcher now causes psychic screams as the escaping dream bursts ever outwards. The dreamcatcher was a means of finding the dragon, and getting to it, but now waking the dragon is the only way to eliminate its dream. Players may choose to work with or against the Swarm at this point, but eliminating the dream is only possible by waking the dragon, which means walking into its dream.

Some parties might plunder Dufour’s hive and the source of honey, seeing him as a foe: they can trace the hive’s labyrinthine path, fighting swarm after swarm, as bees emerge from hive walls to devour the party, though this ignores the threat of the dragon’s dream.

Act Four (6-8 sessions?). The PCs are again in a long narrow cave, and on the wall they see the same painting as before. Not quite the same: if party composition has changed, that is now reflected in the picture painted long before. The ragged groundline is seen to be part of the dragon’s back, on which they stand. There is darkness ahead, the cave’s exit, which leads to a vast rocky plain under a starless night.

This is the dragon’s back. Waking the dragon from the surface is impossible – it is too vast; it has become landscape. Possibly there are mining towns with astral prospectors. To wake the dragon, the party must enter it (choose an orifice) and attack the pineal gland.

The travelling to the base of the destitute dragon’s skull will be most easily accessed from the esophagus, as digestive juices (along the central row in the map below) seep into clothes and armor, and begin to eat the players. The devouring dungeon is a mixture of the biological and the metaphorical (as with Pinocchio or Jonah). Rooms correspond to organs:

.......................................................... lungs – heart
.............intestines – stomach – esophagus – mouth/sinus
........................long tail – lumbar – thoracic – cervical [pineal] – brain

Climbing the spine to the pineal (in the cervical area) gives a destination: exploration combines with combat as the party bypass antibodies or parasites. If the party has some dreamcatcher cord with them, climbing the spine or following an Ariadne-like thread out becomes easier. Once the dragon awakens (momentarily, before settling back down again), the dream-cave that brought the party here will disappear. There are still two ways to return.

If they approach the heart, each character will see the location as their own personal perfect place. Step into the heart, wish where you will be, and behold! You are there. The dragon’s heart is pure, and on your return, you will be accepted and welcomed to whatever degree you truly desire. This is what Dufour wants, to return to a transformed world where bee-ings like it live peaceably and thrive. The party may want to stop that outcome occurring. If any of the Swarm has come with the party (or gone ahead, or followed behind), that is its destination. Anyone who wants a happily-ever-after can have one, a gift from the gold dragon’s heart.

Or they can enter the brain, which manifests as a huge spellbook, lying open on which they walk. On the next page is a library, the dragon’s memory. Each player finds one book they can take with them: a spellbook, encyclopedia volume, magical manual, scroll of secrets. Work with players to ensure each gets one they like. Here also is a goat, chewing away at a single tome, the covers of previously digested books strewn about. The erudite goat is learning with each bite, taking the dragon’s knowledge for itself. The goat is an eternal embodiment of the dragon’s ego feasting on itself. If the party removes the recalcitrant goat, the dragon’s pride will no longer be destructive, and a powerful being enjoys a happier eternity. The goat can be reasoned with, and fawning flattery will motivate it to cast a spell to return the party home.

Epilogue. A responsible party will destroy the dreamcatcher, if it still exists. At their next waypoint, a bee-ing brings them a free round of drinks.

Radiating Gnome

Round 2, Match 2 Snarf Zagyg vs. Kobold Stew

I can't imagine two more different entries than these two -- Iron DM has been turned up loud!

This match pits Snarf Zagyg's Disco Party Athletes (DPA), a rules-light one-shot game, against Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees (Dreams) an extended campaign. Let's see how they did.

Cursed Dreamcatcher

In DPA, while I dig the setup, I'm concerned that the way this ingredient is included is going to be the way many of the ingredients are included --as a possible roll on a table -- so they might not even appear in a given playthrough. In the case of the dreamcatcher, it's not particularly likely that it'll show up (one of the two rolls for what's happening would have to come up snake eyes) and the ingredient places the dreamcatcher inside the disco ball, which makes it less significantly a dreamcatcher. I struggle with this because while this is a fun treatment, it's sort of pushing the need for creative ingredient integration to the reader/GM who runs this, rather than being part of the demonstration of the Iron DM's skill at this sort of integration challenge. So, it's there, but it's weak.

Dreams has a dreamcatcher, and it's a significant part of the story of the campaign, so it's being used in a fairly integral way. Advantage to Dreams.

Erudite Goat

Dreams has a goat librarian living inside the massive astral dragon that makes up the campaign's endgame. Pretty solid, down to the detail by which the goat learns by eating instead of reading -- since that's destructive, it would have been nice to see that matter, but there were only 1500 words, after all.

In DPA we have another situation where the ingredient is on a random table, this time of who's trying to stop the party. In this case, the G.O.A.T. is a hybrid of Tom Brady and Albert Einstein (I'm a Bills fan, and I have hopes that Josh Allen is going to try to take the title from Brady, but only time will tell). And, again, this one result is rare because it requires that one of the rolls comes up snake eyes. It's funny, and I like turning goat into GOAT, but still, it's not really woven in by the entry.

Dreams also uses GOAT at one point, but it doesn't really work hard enough to make itself the erudite goat of the ingredient.

For this, I prefer Dreams interpretation again.

Destitute Dragon

In DPA, the destitute dragon is another potential bad guy, and in this case, Dragon means Grand Dragon, and the clan has come to the disco party to spoil it.
In Dreams, the destitute dragon is the astral dragon that is the location of the final adventure in the campaign. That dragon is also the Devouring dungeon.

I dig the writing that describes the "dragon" and his interest in the disco, but while he's interested in taking money, that's not a feature of being "destitute". So, there are parts of the clan dragon that don't rise to "destitute dragon".

So, again, I prefer Dreams's use in this case.

Devouring Dungeon

In Dreams, the devouring dungeon is the body of the astral dragon that the last adventure takes place in. There's some discussion of how the digestive juices of the dragon start to "eat" the PCs, but nothing seems to come of it. It's a very interesting location, on its own, but a tiny bit weak on the "devouring" part.

In DPA, one of the possible happenings in the disco is a kinky dungeon run by vampires. It's good, and works, and has some of the flaws of the other ingredients presented this way.

Dancing Lights

I mean, DPA is in a disco. There's also a possibility (roll for it) that people won't be able to stop dancing while the lights are going. That's pretty strong.
In Dreams, the lights are dreams that are trapped. Also pretty cool as interpretations go, and this one is tied to the dreamcatcher and other story elements.

Golden Honey

In Dreams, the golden honey is the bee swarm's reward to the PCs for doing their work -- honey made from dragon hoard gold rather than pollen. This ingredient is why the patron and major force in the adventure is a sentient collective of bee swarms, and it's interesting, but the gold for pollen switch is sort of unmotivated or explained.

In DPA, the honey is related to one of the possible baddies -- a ghoul who tastes like honey. Who's going to taste him, you might act. Clearly, I've been going to the wrong sorts of discos all my life.....

Cave Paintings

In Dreams, the cave paintings are part of the seed that starts the adventure. It's a fun detail, but the story could entirely live without it, and there's no explanation of how this cave painting happened or what it signifies.

In DPA, one of the possible happenings is animated paintings in an "unfinished room," which is a stand-in for a cave.

Overall -

I stopped tracking how I felt about each set of ingredients part way through because in all cases the same flaw was hurting DPA. The ingredients were tossed into a random table and that had the impact of only half-integrating them into the story of the mini-game. I'm struggling with the idea that I might be a stick-in-the-mud here, and it was feeling very lopsided so I stopped tracking. I think the ingredients favor Dreams.
Presentation, Playability, Creativity
So, this is the section where I get to say that I really loved reading DPA. There's so much style and voice and flavor in it. It's so good that when I read the section about assigning values to attributes it sounded like the band starting up ("a one and a two and a three and a ...."). This is goooooood.

And the meat of the write-up is mini-game mechanics. The overall disco/famous goons theme is present in that part of the write-up, but none of the ingredients are. There's an exception (the GOAT gets mentioned in an example of how to resolve action), but that's it.

So the part of this writeup that brings out the ingredients is the two tables -- What's happening and Who's trying to stop the party. They fit the theme of the mini-game, but they are not integrated with each other -- that's left for the improvisation of the Gm who runs this. And while that's great for a one-shot mini-game at the table, it isn't really in keeping with the spirit of Iron DM.

Having said all that, I also have some critical thoughts about Dreams. The choice to make this a full campaign and not a more self-contained adventure felt like a way to take the challenging ingredients and deal with the in sequence, but not in a fully integrated way. Rewritten as a high-level adventure set in the body of an astral dragon, most of the ingredients would work as they are, but some of the others would have to be brought into the fold.

Next to DPA, Dreams feels ... not really "ordinary", but it's so much an expression of what Iron DM is that it suffers a little in comparison to something that is so far off in left field.
One Judge's Vote
Having said all of that, it's clear to me that Dreams is the stronger Iron DM entry here. DPA is fun and gonzo and exciting, but it's a mini-game with a few iron DM ingredients tossed in for garnish, and Dreams is a fully integrated, realized campaign plan that weaves all of the ingredients into the story.

I don't want to squash the sort of unusual approach that DPA takes -- I love the idea of the mini-game as an entry. A stronger version might have sacrificed some of the game mechanics word count, presented the table of possible happenings and opponents, and then explained how the author, as DM would approach weaving those together into a story. Or something else that delivers more on the challenge of the ingredients.

The gold standard for a competition like this is that when the story is presented the ingredients should feel like the only possible, obvious choices for the story. When these random ingredients are well integrated we feel like it was serendipity that they arrived together. But if the entry presents them as simply random options that might enter the mix, that's far from that integrated idea.

So, with that said, thank you to both Snarf Zagyg and Kobold Stew. I enjoyed both a lot, in different ways, and you both kick a lot of ass in my book.


Deuce Traveler

Judgement of Round 2, Match 2:
Snarf Zagyg's "Disco Party Athletes" vs. Kobold Stew's "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees"

Judged by Deuce Traveler

Snarf Zagyg's (SZ) entry may be a first of its kind in the Iron DM competition; a very imaginative homebrew RPG that incorporates the ingredients into its suggested plot ideas. Kobold Stew's (KS) entry is fantasy-based, but not typical as it has a dream-like quality that reminds me of something that Peter Beagle or Neil Gaiman may have imagined.

This match might have been the easiest I ever had to judge, but more on that below.

I am going to grade each entry on whether or not they made the time and word count limit, each entry's readability, use of each ingredient, and finally the potential for a potential Dungeon Master. Each section has a possibility of 2 points to be awarded.

Accordance to the Rules

Both entries were posted within the allotted amount of time and under the word count limit. Good job!

SZ- 2
KS- 2

Grammar and Readability

Both entries read well enough. However, I do want to say that there was a lot of energy to "Disco Party Athletes", making it a joy to read. The passage is filled with chaotic ramblings, yet well structured and very readable. This gets the full two points.

"Sweet Dream are Made of Bees" read fine, but added segments that took me out of the narrative. For instance, one passage suggested that 'Each session should present a memorable visual: the DM should work towards the visual without expecting the players to achieve a specific outcome: it’s nice when the visual can come at a session break, but it need not.' This passage is unnecessary and just adds to the word count when the extra words could have been better spent clarifying other parts of the entry. Also, the story doesn't flow well in some sections and I had trouble with the transitions from the party helping the swarm and opposing the swarm. One point given.

SZ- 4
KS- 3

First Ingredient: Cursed Dreamcatcher

So here is the problem with entries such as "Disco Party Athletes". They are fantastic ideas, but not suitable for Iron DM as they sacrifice the ingredients for cool ideas. The dreamcatcher in the entry is just a random plot idea and not integral to the entry. I could easily replace it with something else or ignore it entirely and it would not affect the submitted entry. Zero points.

In "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" the cursed dreamcatcher is a major McGuffin that the entry revolves around. Two points.

SZ- 4
KS- 5

Second Ingredient: Erudite Goat

For "Disco Party Athletes", same critic as with the first ingredient. Zero points.

In "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees", the Erudite Goat is erudite because it is swallowing a massive amount of knowledge but it didn't have to be a goat. It could have been a lion or pig or anything hungry. One point.

SZ- 4
KS- 6

Third Ingredient: Destitute Dragon

Zero points for "Disco Party Athlete". Nice try on being clever on what a dragon is, though.

The Destitute Dragon in "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" I will grudgingly give two points for. I think it is suitable for the creature to be a dragon since there is an implication of power and wisdom, but I may have been able to replace it with a handful of other mystical creatures. And it is not fully destitute but in the process of being made increasingly destitute of knowledge and wealth, but close enough.

SZ- 4
KS- 8

Fourth Ingredient: Devouring Dungeon

For "Disco Party Athletes", nice use of vampires and the kink dungeon, but zero points for it not being integral.

In "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" the devouring dungeon is the insides of a giant creature that just so happens to be another ingredient. I always like seeing these tied together like this. Nice job on the body horror and creepiness. Full points.

SZ- 4
KS- 10

Fifth Ingredient: Dancing Lights

Finally an ingredient integral to "Disco Party Athletes". The music, the fame, the lights, the dance floor. This ingredient is part of the core of the entry and I give it a well-deserved two full points. Too bad it won't be enough for the entry to be 'staying alive'.

The ingredient use in "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" is almost as impressive. The dancing lights are escaping ball lightning moving out of the metal filaments of the dream catching machine. The fact that the ball lightning exists shows that the catcher is working. A full two points here as I can't think of anything appropriate that I could switch this ingredient out for without lessening the section of the entry.

SZ- 6
KS- 12

Sixth Ingredient: Golden Honey

Zero points for "Disco Party Athletes" as the ingredient is part of an optional quest and not otherwise important.

In "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" the golden honey is a tasty and perhaps quite valuable substance that the magical bee swarm gathers from the dreaming dragon's horde. This is steadily making the dragon more destitute. I'm having problems following how it becomes a gold treasure horde in the dreaming, to honey in the physical world, but potentially having the weight and value of gold. It's a neat use of the ingredient but the passage itself could have used work and I'll only award one point.

SZ- 6
KS- 13

Seventh Ingredient: Cave Paintings

In "Disco Party Athletes" there isn't really even a cave for the paint. Zero points.

In "Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees", the cave drawings are completely unnecessary. They may help the party realize that something has gone wrong with dreaming, but this warning could have come from a different plot device such as a fortune teller met on the road or an apparition. Zero points.

SZ- 6
KS- 13

Potential for the DM

"Disco Party Athletes" seems to be a lot of fun and I would definitely enjoy running it as a quick session and one-shot adventure. It looks like a breezy and fun little game that could pass some time with little prep work. Two easy points.

"Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees" has some elements and plot points that I would want to take a few hours to fix up before I ever ran this adventure. Also, the adventure can easily be derailed by a party that doesn't want to explore a cave with weird paintings, or attacks the swarm before talking, or that doesn't trust the strange and creepy swarm because the party fears a surprising yet inevitable betrayal. That said, I love the imagination that went into this. With a couple hours and some rewrites it will be a solid adventure. I award one point.

SZ- 8
KS- 14


Was there really any doubt? Snarf Zagyg purposely sabotaged this entry to give us a truly imaginative gem. Thank you for the wonderful homebrew game and for making my judgement so easy, Snarf Zagyg.

Kobold Stew wrote up a competent entry and easily strides to the final round!


]Snarf sure did go out with a bang. Too bad we won't get to see what he could have done when trying a little harder to win, but at least he got it in! I thought for a moment that he was going to leave us high-and-dry. But, ever the entertainer. I miss him already!

At any rate, I'm looking forward to going up against @Kobold Stew! This should be interesting, as Kobold has the distinction of the only person on ENWorld who I have actually met (although it's possible that some of my store's customers, or even my IRL gang are on here somewhere, but I dunno who any of them are). But Kobold and I actually met up after playing PBP games here. So this one's PERSONAL. (In a friendly way!)


Round 2, Match 2
Snarf Zagyg vs. Kobold Stew

For our pleasure and enjoyment, @Snarf Zagyg turned in Disco Party Athletes (hereafter Disco), not an adventure as such, but a 1 page rules-lite RPG of Dancing, Drugs and Weirdness.

On the other hand, @Kobold Stew offers us a more traditional sort of entry, Sweet Dreams are Made of Bees (hereafter Bees), which is ambitious in its own way, being presented less as a single adventure and more as a complete campaign outline.

I’m going to follow a slightly different format for this judgment because we have two such very different entries and the normal back and forth is not going to work so I will be looking at them singly, on their own merits and then rendering a judgment.

Also, though outside events have interjected themselves into the match, and may have even influenced one of the entries, I am not going to allow that to color my verdict, but will critique as normal using the standards routinely followed for these things.

Both entries were turned in on time and under word-count.

Let’s start by talking about how Disco uses the ingredients given, and in many ways it is this usage which prompted me to look at the two entries separately. The stated goal of Iron DM is to take a set of ingredients and then craft an adventure around them, using them creatively to tell a story. Ideally, the ingredients are used in such a way as to be integral to the adventure. I tend to mark down for ingredients that are back-story, but I also tend to mark down for ingredients that the PCs may never actually encounter; for instance if an ingredient is presented as one of two outcomes of a choice the PCs are called to make, then there is a 50% chance that the ingredient doesn’t actually matter and that makes it less than optimal.

While Disco is in many ways a clever entry which showcases Snarf’s strengths as a writer, the ingredient use is not optimal for this contest. Of all the ingredients, the only one I would give full points to would be dancing lights, which is used as an option the PCs may or may not encounter, but is also infused throughout the theme of the entry.

On the other hand, I would give minimal points for the two ingredients of Golden Honey and Cave Paintings. Golden Honey is used as nothing more than a description of how a ghoul tastes (who tastes ghouls?) or a PC’s voice. and Cave Paintings is morphed into paintings in an unfinished room. There was an attempt to use the ingredients, but they’re both as weak as could be.

The rest, I would generously count as being used, but not much more. They are each used as part of a list of possible things that might happen, but they are in no way integral to the “adventure,” and in most cases the players will never encounter them.

Which brings me to the use of lists in game design, and some thoughts thereon.

Let me first interject, however, and say that Snarf is a good writer, creative, and has an ability to cleverly paint a picture with a twist of a phrase and a minimum of words. His ability to quickly put forth a plausible set of rules for a rules-lite, make it up on the fly, one-page RPG is impressive and shows game-design chops. I’m going to be a bit critical, but it’s the sort of criticism that acknowledges the talent being critiqued.

But concerning lists in games and adventures… Firstly, from a play perspective, in my opinion, tables designed to generate random content and events, which are essentially a kind of numbered list, are good fun and I heartedly approve their use. As a DM/GM they give an ability to randomize the story you are telling and provide on the spot inspiration. They also can add a nice bit of whimsy to a game, which I always like. Random-Table-generated-in-game-content has a place at my game table and always will. I love product which has them, whether it be the many tables of the TOON RPG or the random race generators of the classic Reincarnation spell. But, on the other hand, when considered from a designer’s perspective, lists are a lazy way of telling a story because you are essentially asking the participants to do it for you. And I say this as someone who has put random tables in stuff I have written. Its some of the quickest, easiest writing to do because you simply have to jot down ideas and number them, you don’t have to cohesively tie them together in an over-arching story.

As the whole goal of Iron DM is to take a disparate set of ingredients and find a way to weave them together into a cohesive story, presenting the ingredients as nothing more than entries on a random generator, even if you have given a bit more flesh to the words, is to fail at that central contest goal of fashioning some sort of cohesive narrative.

This means, from a utilitarian perspective, Snarf’s entry is quite useable, but from a contest perspective, its not really a good entry.

That being said, from a personal perspective, I am absolutely not the target audience for this mini-rpg. Some years doing fostering, an adoption of a child who has ongoing trauma, and related matters has made it absolutely certain that the idea of casual drugs being fun and whimsical is not a thing going to ever be accepted in my house. I am certain there is an audience for such material. Cards against Humanity is a thing with a market segment. But it’s a hard pass for my game table. I won’t elaborate too much on this, it is what it is. And were that not a central conceit of the game as presented, I would find it a lot more appealing, for much of the other material is stuff that I would use. But as presented, though I understand the game, and can appreciate its potential, it’s not my cup of tea.

So let’s look at the ingredients usage in Bees. Cursed Dreamcatcher is good, and having the PCs help build the giant magical trap is also very good. The usage of dancing lights ties in nicely to the dream catcher, and overall I approve. This is good use of ingredients, making them interact with one another like this in what feels like a natural way. I am not quite as sold on Erudite Goat, focusing on its latter usage rather than its first casual mention. It feels a bit tacked on and unnecessary, though I do appreciate how the whole of the presentation helps create a dream-land whimsical quality.

The destitute dragon is a bit hit an miss in my opinion. I like the conceit of a sleeping dragon at the center of Dream. It is, in point of fact, a conceit I am employing in an epic campaign of my own I am writing also set in Dream. On the other hand, I get some mixed signals from this dragon. Does it know it is destitute? How does the destitution affect its behavior. I understand that the bees have been plundering it, but then it's able to give gifts anyway. I like the quest to wake the dragon, but feel that the whole doesn’t flow quite smoothly, narratively. Jumping ahead to cave paintings, I get a similar hit and miss sort of feel in the use. I think I sort of understand the dreamy prophecy sort of feel being attempted, but it still feels like it needs a little polishing in its presentation. I’ll try and return to this thought.

The devouring dungeon being the internal workings of the dragon is a neat idea, and though I think the “devouring” is a bit of a stretch, it still appeals to me.

The final ingredient then to consider is that of the golden honey, which though I have some questions about, they’re mostly subsumed by the dreamy feel of the entry, and the process of turning dream gold into dream honey and then using it to pay the adventurers is a nice little use. There is some clunkiness to the presentation, but this is not an ingredient problem so much as a presentation problem.

Overall, I like the general outline of the adventure. I think it is somewhat hurt by two things. Firstly, there was no need to present it as a campaign. In fact, the suggestions as to how many sessions to devote to each part was not only unnecessary, (and eats up unnecessary words that could be put to better use elsewhere) but made me stop and ask if I thought they were accurate. I am not sure this needs to be that long of a campaign, though I can see it going more than a single session. The other thing that hurts it is that it feels somewhat unfinished. Part of this is polish, it could use a bit more editing. Some of it is the uncertainty of the presentation. Consider for instance the sentence: “Possibly there are mining towns with astral prospectors.” Are there or aren’t there? If its your story, your creation... you tell me if there are, or are not. Getting rid of the word “possibly” would both strengthen the entry and help with word-count. Likewise, don’t tell me what “may” happen, tell me what “will” happen. Moreover, some of the connections being attempted, as with the dream-cave before and after, are less than clear to me as to their purpose. Overall, it just feels like it needs a little bit more editing and tightening to truly shine its brightest as an entry.

Still, Dream appeals to me on both a personal and professional level, with the whimsy and the potential epic nature of the plane and this adventure has real potential for a romp through Dream. Also, I really like the title. And the use of bees. Overall, there is a lot of small things about this entry that rubs me right. I just wish it was a bit more polished so it would be a bit easier to grok and use.

I think it should be no surprise, reaching this point, that I think Sweet Dreams are made of Bees is the winner of this round. Not surprising, because I think Snarf knew he was turning in an entry that was potentially fun, but not his best material nor likely to win (and he said as much). But also, I think that though Bees has some weaknesses, needing a bit more polish as I said, it also has decent ingredient use, tying things together nicely into a package with good adventure material. I do think that Kobold Stew needs to tighten his writing a little to be more competitive in the third round, but idea wise, there is a lot to like in what he gave us.

So my vote this round is for Kobold Stew and Sweet Dream are Made of Bees.

Disco Party Athletes
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 7 points
Cursed Dreamcatcher 1
Erudite Goat 1
Destitute Dragon 1
Devouring Dungeon 1
Dancing Lights 2
Golden Honey .5
Cave Paintings .5
Useability: 4 points
Style: 2
Total: 19/32

Sweet Dreams are made of Bees
Followed the Rules:
6 points
Ingredient Use: 11 points
Cursed Dreamcatcher 2
Erudite Goat 1.5
Destitute Dragon 1
Devouring Dungeon 2
Dancing Lights 2
Golden Honey 1.5
Cave Paintings 1
Useability: 4 points
Style: 5 points
Total: 26/32

This means by a unanimous decision of the judges (two in a row), Kobold Stew advances to round 3.
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