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/her)
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/her)
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!

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