IRON DM 2023 Tournament Thread

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The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
IRON DM 2023: Round 2, Match 2, Snarf Zagyg vs Iron Sky
@Snarf Zagyg and @Iron Sky, 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. 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.

Entries that are between 1 and 59 minutes late will have their word-limits reduced to 1350. Later entries that are at less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 1050. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced to 750. In addition, entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the judge with consent from the match's opposing competitor. Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; I will ignore everything after.

Your ingredients are:
Scary Stickers
City in a Bottle
Misunderstood Owlbear
Copper Kettle
Sword of Echoing Sin
Uncaring Bears
Silent Choir

Happy writing!

Radiating Gnome


Iron DM Round 2 Match 1; FitztheRuke vs Whizbang Dustyboots​

It’s semi-final time, and that means the judges are a panel. So, this is just one judgment of three that will evaluate the efforts of the DMs.

In this round, we have FitzTheRuke’s Whose Turn Is It Anyway? (Turn) versus Whizbang Dustyboots’ Traitor’s Ruin (Ruin). And I love that the two entries are so very, very different, given the same set of ingredients. Turn is a raucous comic plane-hopping farce, and Ruin is a grim, identity-stealing dungeon. Should be easy to judge, right?

Since neither seems to be breaking any of the holy standards of Iron DM, let’s jump right into the use of ingredients.


Ruined Monastery - In Ruin, the ruined monastery is the core setting for the adventure, a monastery turned dungeon. It works pretty well, although nothing about it being a monastery really felt necessary — the ghost at the end is an abbot but could have been a baron in a castle, etc. So, good use, not great. Turn, similarly, uses the monastery as a location with little or no detail that makes it important that this was once a monastery. So, we’ll open up with a draw on this ingredient.

Silent Chime - In Turn, the silent chime is the way the Gith commander is made aware of the presence of the PCs — this is technically used, but it’s interesting to note that the PCs will never experience that chime — so this is exceptionally thin use, only part of what the DM experiences in the adventure. In Ruin the silent chime is actually the fallen and broken bell in the bell tower which still vibrates at a frequency that can be felt and not heard. It feels a bit tacked on here, too — the adventure doesn’t need that detail at all, but at least it’s something the PCs will experience. Advantage to Ruin.

Face Blindness - This is the first ingredient that we have really meaty use in both cases. In Ruin, face blindness is the result of the Shroud Identity spell cast on the PCs as they are teleported into the monastery, essentially masking the identities of everyone in the monastery. In Turn, it’s the repeated annoyance of the DM/Chris Rock, who can’t keep whose turn it is straight thanks to his trauma-induced face blindness.

They’re both well-used. At first blush, I prefer the use in Ruin, as the kitschy repeated gag, in Turn, seems like it is more annoying than effective (eliminating it would not hurt the story at all), but I need to factor in the idea that, for Turn, this actually is Face Blindness and not a mask. In Ruin, as cool as the new spell is, and its effect, it’s not making people blind to faces, it’s masking their faces. So, it’s a bit wobbly as a use of the ingredient.

So, I’m going to call them a wash at this point. I’m starting to sound indecisive.

Fighting Words - In Turn, we have kitsch again — the Chris Rock DM announces the start of every battle with “Those are Fighting words”. I can hear that in his voice, and it furthers the idea of this DM as an annoying problem. In Ruin, on the other hand, the use of “fighting words” appears to be the various things scrawled around the ruin. They’re not literally fighting, but they are part of the trap of the place that forces fighting. I’m going to give the advantage to Turn on this one, for the sake of the more clear use of the ingredient.

Extradimensional Arachnid - So, in Ruin the extradimensional spider is the primary audience for the activity in the monastery, while in Turn, the Spinner is the imprisoned and exploited arachnid at the end of the adventure — the thing that needs rescuing. I actually really did the idea that the spider needs to be rescued, not defeated. At the same time, I liked the idea that the arachnid observer in Ruin was watching from all reflecting surfaces — that’s a lovely detail. I think, in the end, for this ingredient, I like Turn better, since the arachnid is a critical part of the weave/tangle setting and the plot of the story, while in Ruin it’s the being responsible for the trap and the challenge, but there’s not a lot that makes it necessarily an arachnid. So, advantage to Turn.

The Hanged Elf - In Turn, the hanged elf is the last step of the player’s quest to get home. This comes after the rescue of the Arachnid and the boss battle, and feels like it is sort of wedged into the story here. In Ruin, the Hanged elf is the abbot of the monastery, the betrayer who let the forces of evil into the monastery in the first place. Actually, I don’t know that he’s the Abbot, just a member of the community, but he happens to be hanged in the Abbot’s chamber. They’re both decent applications of the Hanged Elf ingredient (I was hoping for someone to play around with the hanged/hung thing my old writing prof used to natter on about), but neither feels stronger than the other.

Reality Show - In both cases, the situation the PCs find themselves in is a sort of reality show. In Turn, there’s an audience at home that is watching the players play the game, and in Ruin, there’s the extradimensional audience that is watching through reflections. I think for flavor reasons, I like the presentation in Ruin better — mostly because the observers, even though they’re extraplanar, they’re part of the world of the game, and we can imagine the characters facing off against that spider at some point in the distant future.

So, that means:
  • Turn: Fighting Words, Extradimensional Arachnid
  • Ruin: Silent Chime, Reality Show
  • No Advantage: Ruined Monastery, Face Blindness, Hanged Elf
And that’s a dead heat, for me.

Creativity, Playability, and Final Judgement.​

I love both of these entries. And they’re so very different, which is exceptionally cool. I like the idea of the sort of gonzo one-shot that Turn presents a lot, but the flavor of that isn’t usually to my taste. At the same time, the more serious and traditional Ruin is more to my taste, but I was left with some questions after reading it over a few times.

For example, there’s this potential for serious chaos in the monastery when the PCs who arrive and can’t recognize anyone. It’s not clear to me if the shroud of the character and the character’s double look the same, compared to other characters and doubles. Or does every figure in the chambers of the monastery look vague and indistinct from each other — in which case, how do the characters decide who to kill, who to trust, etc. I think that the confusion and bloodbath are the point, but it seems very hard to play without coming up with some really interesting interventions at the table — like not letting players look at the table unless it’s their turn, swapping out random number tokens for the character’s tokens for everything except their own token, and so on. It seems like the only way for the party to succeed without a lot of PC death is for all but one character to quit — and that’s cool and all, but to really get the theme right there would need to be a lot of fog of war — players unaware of what other players are doing, doppelgangers trying to trick the players, players disappearing by saying “I quit” too soon, and then not being there for the fight (unless they decide to re-enter).

Also, I’m curious about the impact of the writing on the walls being in Elven. Like, let’s imagine that the character that can read elven speaks the words and is transported into the monastery. That leaves the rest of the party outside? Maybe they’re trying to join by sounding out the words or trying to repeat the phrase phonetically from memory?

Turn, for all of its antics and repeated gags, is possibly more playable — at least, the chaos is contained to more manageable things like whose turn it is, etc. I find the path of action to be fairly direct and clear, which is playable but limits player-generated chaos, too. And we all love the chaos.

They’re both very creative — I think I prefer the sort of creativity in Ruin — really nice confusion and atmosphere, I get the feel of the doomed monastery. I think they’d both be very memorable, with a lot of stories to tell afterward.

In the end….
… I think I’ll cast my ballot for Ruin. I love them both, and in the end it’s more of a flavor thing for me than anything else — I think I prefer the claustrophobia and the feeling of being watched in Ruin to the hijinks of Turn, and I like the way the reality show audience is really a part of the world of the game (albeit remote) better -- even with the questions above about how it would play out.

So, that’s one vote for Whizbang Dustyboots — but will I be the minority report?


I like the idea of the sort of gonzo one-shot that Turn presents a lot, but the flavor of that isn’t usually to my taste.
Believe it or not, Gonzo is not to MY taste either! I just find that the incongruities of the Ingredients always make my Comedy flow.

In the end… I think I’ll cast my ballot for Ruin.
Fair enough. I really didn't get a chance to give it a polish, so I think that is VERY fair! Thanks for judging!


Iron DM 2023 Round 2, Match 1

@FitzTheRuke vs. @Whizbang Dustyboots

For the first match of our second round, we have two adventures, each centered around the idea of a reality show featuring adventurers. Surprisingly, to me, neither adventure went for an X-crawl style game, opting instead, in the case of FitztheRuke’s “Whose Turn is it, Anyway,” (hereafter Turn) for a game within a game comedic reality jaunt, and in the case of Whizbang Dustyboot’s “Traitor’s Ruin,” (hereafter Ruin) for an arena style , confused identity, free-for-all for the viewing pleasure of a demonic reversed-she-drider and her friends.

We shall score them using my usual system, and both being turned in on time and under word count, both get full marks for following the rules.

I will add an observation that Turn was only 2/3rd the length it could have been, and there was plenty of space for more detail. Ruin was closer to full word-count but in some ways felt shorter than Turn. This was in large part I think to the fact that Ruin spent almost 300 words detailing a spell, which while an interesting sort of thing, was not really necessary. This is a good time to mention that contestants don’t get bonus points for monster stats, spell write-ups, magic item write-ups, or any such thing. That’s not what we are looking for in these judgments. We want the outline of an adventure, not the full write-up of the adventure, and certainly not all the stat blocks for that adventure. Also while you are free to specify which specific edition you are writing your adventure for, generally that is not going to matter all that much either.

Let’s get into looking at the ingredients, the use of which is at the heart of this contest.

Our first ingredient was “Ruined Monastery.” In both adventures, the monastery is the chief setting of the action, but in neither case is it much more than a generic locale that just happened to once have been the homes of some monks. They are both fairly generic excuses to have a dungeon. I don’t have too much more to say then that the ingredient was checked off in both cases, and neither one really made me take notice of the ingredient use.

The second ingredient, silent chime, in Turn, is equally as uninspired as the first, being a silenced alarm spell. Likewise, in Ruin, there’s a bell where the ringing of it is still felt but not heard, but other than presenting something of a ghostly atmosphere, I am not sure what purpose it plays in the adventure. I’m not really seeing an advantage either way. In Turn, the alarm has a point but the players never notice it; in Ruin, the players notice it, but there’s not much point to it.

The third ingredient, “Face Blindness” is used a bit more creatively in both adventures, though I think I am going to give the advantage to Turn, in that the face blindness of Ruin is not so much face blindness as just changed faces, which is not quite the same thing. I am not completely sold on how the face blindness of the DM’s DM character is going to play out in game; is there going to be some sort of mechanism by which people are forgotten, or is it just completely arbitrary and at the whim of the guy running the guy running the game? Still, the idea has potential for some interesting situations, and shows an attempt to use the ingredient in a way that will affect the PCs.

When we get to the fourth ingredient, fighting words, I have to again give the advantage to Turn. The idea of a disembodied voice using a catch-phrase to initiate combat, and thus completely ruining any element of surprise (on either side) is novel, and thematically fits the adventure. In Ruin, I had to read the adventure a few times before deciding that the fighting words must be the words which conjured the PC into the monastic arena, but I can’t really see them as fighting words, because there is the possibility the PC doesn’t fight, and the words don’t necessarily precipitate an immediate fight.

With the extra-dimensional Arachnid, again the advantage seems to me to belong to Turn. The spider thing in Turn is the reason the PCs are drawn into the conflict, and is likewise the macguffin driving much of the plot. On the other hand, the spider-woman-demon of Ruin is seen only through puddles, is, I presume, the disembodied voice during the adventure, but doesn’t really do much, and doesn’t need to be a spider demon thing at all; it could just as easily have been a crocodile god, a puppy devil or a classic type V demon who is making a profit selling tickets to other demons to watch mortals slaughter each other. I wish there was some better motivation and explanation for what is happening to the PCs in Ruin. Too much backstory is not good, but I feel like no backstory is worse.

When we come to the hanged elf, I am not super thrilled with either entry, though if pressed, I slightly prefer Turn’s, though I find the idea of “hanged,” somewhat nebulous in Turn, and the whole of it seems like an afterthought tacked onto the rest of the story. It feels extraneous. In Ruin, the hanging elf feels to me like a use of the ingredient which has the potential to be something, but which just sort of falls flat. On the one hand, it doesn’t really have to be an elf, it could just as easily have been a dead dwarf, a dead halfling, or a dead ratkin. On the other hand, all the PCs have to do is cut the rope to free the ghost? That seems… anticlimactic. There’s no real conflict or challenge to the encounter, just cut the rope and reap the rewards. So advantage Turn, but not in any meaningful way with this one.

We come then to the final ingredient, and I’ll give both entries full marks for their use of the reality show as a reason for the adventure, though I wish the reason for the affair was actually explained in Ruin.

Getting to the end of the ingredients, it seems clear to me that Turn has a clear advantage over Ruin, but before passing judgment, lets talk about the useability of the two adventures. How well would a DM be able to take either entry and run a game with the idea. Both of the offerings suffer a bit in this area in my opinion. Ruin is, in some ways, the easier to run, but in practice I think the central conceit of the adventure, the PCs not knowing who each other are, and killing one another off unwittingly (at least I think that is meant to be the central conceit) is not going to play out as intended. There’s only four areas of the monastic arena and the Players sitting at the table are going to know who is who and are going to have a hard time separating character knowledge from player knowledge in such a way as to allow themselves to kill their fellow PCs. The dopplegangers make it a bit more confusing, but only a bit. And the whole “I quit” as an escape route… as soon as one PC figures that out, they all are going to know how to end the episode… and doesn’t it seem a bit out of character for evil demonic beings intent on watching mortals slaughtering each other (which I assume is what is supposed to be happening) to give such an easy escape clause? Then we have Turn, and while the idea behind the scenario is a cute one, reading through the adventure I kept getting the feeling this would make a good novel (Quag Keep?), short-story or even television episode, but I am not sure how it is going to work as a game. The DM has to pretend to be a different DM? The narration of this is going to get confusing. And the poor DM (like me) who doesn’t feel all that confident doing four hours of a Chris Rock impersonation? Sure, Scottish Dwarves and French Elves I can do. But I am not sure I could pull of a passable Chris Rock. So cute idea, but I am not sold on how well again it would work in practice. So as far as usability, both of them, as I said, suffer in my estimation.

So which one appeals to me more? And this is a harder call for me. I think, if Ruin had a better presentation, more backstory, less spell detailing, a few more encounters and the like, I would appreciate it better, but I find it more than a bit empty as an adventure. In short the PCs are teleported into a dungeon where they are expected to fight each other unwittingly, and they will also, likely fight their own dopplegangers. And at anytime they can chicken out and leave… That seems to be about it. No way to confront their captors, turn the tables, nor are they even likely to get the loot assuming they figure out the plot and escape.

On the other hand, I find the comedic elements of Turn to not be my cup of tea. The comedy seems to forced, and too likely to miss with most groups. Forcing a player to roleplay a celebrity knowingly roleplaying a character is asking a lot. With a gonzo group of improv players who do theater work on the side its probably going to be a truly great game. With most others its going to devolve into a standard dungeon crawl and the window dressing that is the voice of Chris Rock is going to get handwaved as understood as they figure out their strategy for the next room.

So I think that I should like Ruin better, but I don’t, but its not really because Turn appeals to me, so maybe call this one a wash as well.

If you have read this far, the end result is not too surprising. Ingredient use, in my estimation, is the deciding factor, and I will vote for FitztheRuke to advance to the final round. Which means, as I look at Radiating Gnome’s opinion, Gradine gets the tie-breaking vote.

Whose Turn is it, Anyway (Turn)
Follows Rules 6
Ingredient Use

Ruined Monastery 1​
Silent Chime 1​
Face Blindness 1.5​
Fighting Words 2​
Extradimensional Arachnid 2​
The Hanged Elf 1​
Reality Show 2 (total 10.5/12)
Useability 3
Appeal 3

Traitors Ruin
Follows Rules 6

Ruined Monastery 1​
Silent Chime 1​
Face Blindness 1​
Fighting Words .5​
Extradimensional Arachnid 1​
The Hanged Elf 1​
Reality Show 2 (total 7.5/14)
Useability 3
Appeal 3


The DM has to pretend to be a different DM?
Yeah, that's really fair criticism, and I knew it when I posted it. It was a bit of silliness and I probably should have done something better instead.

On the other hand, I find the comedic elements of Turn to not be my cup of tea. The comedy seems to forced, and too likely to miss with most groups.
That's ALSO fair. I really didn't mean to actually USE my Chris Rock joke write-up. The only thing I really liked about it was the title! The whole thing just got away from me, time-wise. I mushed my two ideas together in desperation and didn't get to flesh-out a few ingredients as much as I'd have liked. I had the words left to do it, too!

IF I get another chance, I'll try to do better.

Ruined Monastery
Silent Chime
Face Blindness
Fighting Words
Extradimensional Arachnid
The Hanged Elf
Reality Show

Reckon i might have gone the horror route with this ingredient set. PCs as goobers filming a 'most haunted places!' reality show in a ruined monastery, where on moonless nights when the wind gets up a ghostly bell tolls silently and summons pale lovecraftian spiders from Elsewhere to eat people's memories...


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
I have written my judgment for Round 2 Match 1, but it is such a close decision that I am going to sleep on it and see if it still sits right in the morning. My apologies if, as I expect, this has been a split decision so far and my vote will make the difference, for the additional wait.


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Reckon i might have gone the horror route with this ingredient set. PCs as goobers filming a 'most haunted places!' reality show in a ruined monastery, where on moonless nights when the wind gets up a ghostly bell tolls silently and summons pale lovecraftian spiders from Elsewhere to eat people's memories...
Oh man, "idiot TV ghost hunters get trapped in an actual haunted building" is one of my favorite genres of horror movie

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