I about have my judgment done, but life calls me afk and I will therefore have to get back to it in a few hours, and clean it up and make sure I am sure in my thoughts. I'll just say that this one is pretty close, and a fairly tough call for me, for reasons which will hopefully be explained.
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: 1
Bewildered Gambler: 1
Last Soiree: 1
Glass Sword: 1
Fast Acting Yeast: 1 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: 1
Bewildered Gambler: 1
Last Soiree: 1.5
Glass Sword: 1.5
Fast Acting Yeast: 1 Useability: 3 points Style: 4 points Total: 20.5/30
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!
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.
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.