IRON DM 2023 Tournament Thread

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The problem with writing in haste is that it is easier to leave the wrong impression, so I will say a few words more on my thoughts regarding the entry so as to clarify this point: my judgment was not made because of a difference is playstyles. While I was upfront that certain styles of games are "not my cup of tea," this is not the same as saying I cannot understand, appreciate or empathize with them. I am fairly upfront in my judgment is using "appeal" as one criteria, and this is perfectly valid for it has always been a part of the competition. You can write to please yourself, but it has to appeal to the judge as well if it is to win (I like horror, traditional fantasy, folk-tales, whimsy, and heroics; I cut my teeth on Lord of the Rings when I was 9 and am certainly heavily influenced by it; I also like simple elegance, and a stream-lined presentation that cuts to the heart of the matter while still evoking the proper mood for the adventure). But that's only like about 20% of what I am grading on. And in this case, the lack of appeal to me had a lot less to do with the playstyle and more with problems I saw in the game being presented. For those interested in further ruminations, read on. If you don't care, fair enough.

Firstly, mechanics and Iron DM. For the most part (there are exceptions), too many mechanics are a waste of the author's time, because they are not what is intended to be judged. For instance, it was not necessary for Whizbang to say that the cured orc was a reskinned solar, or that the goose was a reskinned tarrasque. I did not need to know the DC of a particular lock, or anything of the sort. None of that was going to affect how I received the entry, and it just took up words that could have been otherwise used. Whizbang might have scoured a dozen monster books (I hope not) before arriving at those two choices, but doing so would have also used up precious time that could have been used more constructively. Thus my advice, don't insert mechanics into your entry.

This is not to say, however, that I am not competent to judge mechanics. I just don't want to do it when judging an Iron DM contest. Because, if I did, I would have said that I think using tarrasque mechanics with the goose was a mistake, and I would prefer it to be built from the ground up. The tarrasque has claw and horn attacks, and this doesn't translate well to a giant goose. I would have prefered a stomp attack, maybe a rapid peck attack, and some sort of gust attack. But because I was not considering mechanics, I did not have to get into the weeds on what I thought was a misstep, but could just ignore it. However, the more the author integrates the mechanics into the adventure, the more I have to consider them, and if I have to consider them, then the first thing I have to ask is, does the mechanic work to do what is desired. I go from being a judge of adventure-design to being a judge of game design. This is part of what I meant by, "we are starting off on the wrong foot." I can judge game design. There are probably those that can do it better, but if I have to, I do possess the credentials, the experience and a modicum of skill in the craft. But its not really what I was hoping to do.

Let me interject here an observation about game design. And it is true of adventure design as well. The real test of a published rule, or set of rules, as well as an adventure outline, is not whether you, the author, could run it competently with your group of friends, but if you give it blind to a stranger, can they use it exactly as you intended it to be used. If they cannot, then it doesn't matter what your style is, the rules as written have failed to produce the desired outcome. I'll get back to this.

But for now, a sidestep towards the question of role-playing games vs. storytelling games, and what constitutes either according to my working definitions. Some of this is completely arbitrary, a matter of perception and circumstances, but a lot of it, to me, is that, in a role-playing game, the players control characters who act within the parameters of a world so as to interact with one another and with features of that world. But the manner in which this is done and the actual goals of the game matter too. Merely having a character role, and a setting is not enough. And the backstory to a game does not determine what kind of game it is.

For instance, consider this introduction to a game: "October 2, 1900 - 28 years to the day that the noted London eccentric, Phileas Fogg accepted and then won a £20,000 bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days. Now at the dawn of the century it is time for a new impossible journey. Some old friends have gathered to celebrate Foggs impetuous and lucrative gamble - and to propose a new wager of their own. The stakes is $1 million in a winner take all competition. The objective: to see which of them can travel by rail to the most cities in North America - in just 7 days." Now, this sounds like a thrilling sort of adventure. You have characters, a setting, a wager... Only thing is, the game is Ticket to Ride, and it is most certainly not a role playing game. You might pretend, while playing to be adventerous sorts on a daring wager (though I have never seen this, anywhere or by anyone, even in tournaments), but it is still a rummy style-set collection game with area control. Not a bad game, one of my favorites in fact, but certainly not role-playing, introduction notwithstanding.

Or consider this set-up: "The passages beneath Dragon Keep are the most dangerous territory in the Realm. Only the greatest burglars can sneak in, steal from the dragon, and escape to tell the tale. So naturally, you and your fellow thieves have challenged each otherto do just that." Again, that sounds like it could be a set-up for an RPG adventure, but its not. It's Clank, a deck-building racing game.

So, three game-designers are whisked into a tavern, where they are trapped as NPCs, and they must find a way to acheive their personal goal and escape,... that's a nice set-up. I could work with that in an RPG. But then the game is introduced, and I seriously have to question the genre. Because what the players are tasked with is not so much an interaction with the world and each other within given parameters. It is a challenge to design rules which will help them escape. In point of fact, the required interaction with the world is fairly minimal, and their interaction with one another doesn't have to happen at all. They get to develop the rules and then the challenge they want to try. Thus my complaint about the use of the ingredients like the flooded basement. It really doesn't matter because the game mostly challenges the players to create their own fiction. And the fiction is created in harmony with rules so as to achieve a goal. I have serious doubts if this game was ever playtested that the flooded basement would ever come up. I will interject at this point that if you were wanting to convey a Paranoia Style game, with elements of Cosmic Encounter, both games I truly like, I did not get that at all; the game that most readily came to mind as a comparison was Flux.

Which brings me to my definition of a storytelling game. Granted, all RPGs are in some fashion about telling a story, but when I use the term, that's not what I mean. In my view, a story-telling game is a game in which the ability of the player to think on their feet and weave a convincing yarn is what determines who wins. It might be as simple as who tells the most scary ghost story. In the first I mentioned in my judgment, Aye, Dark Overlord, its about being able to craft the best excuse for failure so as to pin the blame on someone else. In the other, But Wait, There's More, its about being able to convincingly sell a product to a customer. Either way, generally someone who is quicker witted and more glib is going to win these sorts of games. The game is less about what story is being told and more about being able to do it better than the next guy. You might disagree with this moniker being applied to your entry, but as far as I can discern, the actual game is to create rules and then a scenario in which the use of the rules allows an achievement of goals. Its not quite the traditional sort of story-telling endeavor, but it gets close enough I think the shoe fits. I don't really get the feeling of a journey from it. I get the feeling of trying to create a system which allows for victory. Which is why I said that it doesn't really seem like an adventure to me. It feels more like a brainstorming exercise.

All of which then brings me back around to the rules, and my assessment of the overall entry. If I am going to judge rules, I am going to discern whether I think the mechanics work as intended. In the your first two entries, I think they did, especially in the second. In this case, I don't think they do. I note that the first two entries used pretested game systems. This one, near as I can tell, does not.

Now, I don't know quite how you envision the game progressing, but if I was a player, and you gave me those rules and set-up, I envision it going something like this.

Round 1. I am given the adventuring goal, and get to go first.
Me: Okay, I have to create a rule and then a challenge. My rule is this: In this world, all humanoids have a 9 to 1 advantage in combat over all animals and things which appear to be animals. So then, lets see... My character, definitely a humanoid, looks out the door and sees the goose blocking his path to the world beyond. Thinking to myself that no silly goose is going to keep me locked up, I pick up my stool and charge the goose to beat it senseless and travel into the world beyond.
Player 2, to my left: Okay, I have to come up with a simple way to arbitrate that. Let's say you roll a d10 and on a 1 you lose.
Me: I rolled a 3. I win. Let's see... what next... hmmm. it says, stop designing your own game and go play Dungeons and Dragons. That seems odd, but ok.

Let me say that I am fairly sure that's not how its meant to go (also, if the quip about playing Dungeons and Dragons instead bothers you, please note, it was your exact words in your entry). But that's how the mechanics are designed and form follows function. Assuming this is not the intent, and I do so assume, I therefore conclude that they are therefore not very useful in conveying what was meant, and mechanically, I think the game falls apart. Part of this, I suspect was haste, and part of it is that writing clear mechanics is not always easy, and it becomes harder when those mechanics are conveyed in what is meant to be a sardonic, whimsical way.

Consider the very first mechanical note in the entry: "GM NOTE- There is no GM. Or everyone is a GM. You’ll figure it out." As far as rules go, this is pretty muddled, and, "you'll figure it out," is a rather big presumption. Again, rules have to be written with the idea that you are not at the table explaining what you meant. If I was not judging mechanics, I would gloss over this, and I initially did on my first reading. But then I am forced to judge the mechanics, and discern how the game is going to work, and I return to this first rule of the game, "You'll figure it out," and its not really a big help. Rules need to be presented straight-forward, and only when you are sure that they are %100 clear should you be willing to interject the humor. Better perhaps would have been: "GM Note: In this game each player takes a turn refereeing the game for the player to their right." Or something like that.

If I was going to go further with suggestions, I would say this... there also needs to be a clearer definition of the sorts of rules meant to be crafted. Can the player who wants to blow up time and space and go back to his job make a rule which states that all characters can cast a greater teleport spell which allows them to hop dimensions? Or can the player who wants everyone to stay in the tavern make a rule that all future interactions with other characters must be mimed? Likewise what are the parameters and intents of the challenges? Some examples might help. Can I make a challenge which says that a mighty wizard with the means to take me back to WotC says that he will do so if I can drink two flagons of ale in a row? Then, as the GM for the turn arbitrates, what are the limits on how much they can change or alter the challenge? In my above example of fighting the goose, can the player to my left add an additional challenge? If not, I am pretty sure I can beat the game everytime in one or two turns. Because, again, as presented, the challenge does not seem to be role-playing, it seems to be scenario creation, and I can do that in my sleep.

Again, this is not really a matter of playstyles. Its an interpretation of the rules as presented, and a best-guess as to how they would play out in the real world when given to me, or another gamer. My judgment reflects this interpretation, not my "bouncing off" the adventure because of style.

So, to be clear. After I explained exactly why I felt the way I did, and declined your offer (and explained why), you explained to me why I was wrong. And your judgment was totally right. In doing so, you provided the unassailable logic of explaining to me how the mechanics of the game actually work with the following example-

Player 1: Declares Rule.
Player 2: Makes rule into a die roll.
Player 1: Rolls die and narrates.
By this unassailable logic, Player 1 WINS!

Of course, that's not the mechanics. The actual mechanics are:
Player 1: Declares a principle. Then declares a challenge.
Player 2: Creates a rule for the challenge. Resolves the challenge.
Player 3: Narrates the outcome of Player 1's challenge.

And as I tried to tell you, the game isn't about winning. But sure, I'm quite positive you "can beat it in your sleep" even while you completely missed both the rules and the point.

But whatever. If you don't understand how insulting you have been, I don't think any further clarification will help. But your further attempts to mis-explain simple rules back to me has been, if anything, even worse.

I'm done.
 

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Wicht

Hero
But whatever. If you don't understand how insulting you have been, I don't think any further clarification will help. But your further attempts to mis-explain simple rules back to me has been, if anything, even worse.

I'm done.
I am very sorry you took insult. I am afraid I must not understand your terms, as you use them, nor how what I described is different than what you wrote, for I do not understand how a principle of play distinguishes itself from a rule, nor how acheiving the stated goals of the game is undesirable. But I too shall drop it, apologize once more, and hope to achieve a better understanding in the future.
 

Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
Thanks for sharing this, Snarf. I often wish that we were able to talk a lot more specifically about what we went through when writing entries (and/or receiving judgement on them). Heck, I'd like to hear more about what it was like writing the judgements, too! The whole thing is a fun exercise, but it is also quite a big challenge. In a lot of different ways.
My entries usually have explanations of details in the later posts. I tend to write the adventure first - and I can be quite wordy. Then if comes paring down to essentials. Occasionally, I take too long or life gets in the way and this cutting comes in a hurry. It leads to parts of the story being unclear or the story jumps from one point to another without clear path between them.

@Snarf Zagyg It happens. In general, something that seems clear to you may get less clear if the story is cut short in wrong places. Or simply doesn't resonate with the judges. You tend to write your own stories with their own mechanics. It may or may not be appreciated or understood. It is a risk you take with writing outside the bounds of common reference system(s).

The story obviously means a lot to you, you spent your time and energy to create something from nothing. Take pride in that!
(But accept that it may not be as appreciated as you think it should. Curse of the artists everywhere ;) )
 

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