IRON DM 2023 Tournament Thread

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
Judgment for Round 2 Match 1: @FitzTheRuke vs @Whizbang Dustyboots

Rules and Readability


Both Whose Turn Is It, Anyway? (hereafter referred to as "Whose") and Traitor's Ruin ("Traitor") were turned in on time. Both entries are well within the word count, and otherwise follow all required rules. Both entries are perfectly readable, and other than a spare typo here or there I did not have see anything to separate the two entries in this regard.

Adventure Flow & Potential
This is my subjective "what did I generally like/dislike about the adventures" section of the judgment. These could not be more different entries; one a one-shot farce featuring real celebrities as PCs, the other a dark adventure that could easily lead to Player vs. Player combat. There is great potential in both adventures for a memorable session. On balance, I would give the slight nod to "Traitor" as a more well-defined, more usable adventure than "Whose", but not by a considerable margin. Both entries, however, have a few key missing details that would've helped as a DM to have.

The Ingredients
There is, at least, the slightest gap between the two entries so far, but as always, this will undoubtedly come down to ingredients.

Ruined Monastery
Unsurprisingly, both entries end up taking place mostly (or entirely) in a ruined monastery. In the case of "Whose", I never really get a sense of why it needed to happen in a ruined monastery, other than ruined monasteries being great places for adventures. In "Traitor", there is a story behind the Monastery and why and how it fell to ruin, and that becomes relevant the more the PCs learn about what's going on.

Silent Chime
Both entries have something resembling a "silent" chime, and while "Traitor's" interpretation is a little bit more clever, it's also mostly there for tone setting, and it has a slightly stronger relevance in "Whose", but no indication that the PCs have any way to interact with it. I call this one a wash.

Face Blindness
I was originally inclined to write this one off for "Whose", where it serves as more a funny background element, but the more the entry called back to it, the more I realize how essential it is to the overall tone of the piece, especially once it starts throwing the NPCs off as well. It's actually pretty good, overall. Still, face blindness plays such a central role and one of the biggest challenges facing the players in "Traitor", that it's ultimately hard to top.

Fighting Words
I am not particularly impressed with either entry on this one, though it is admittedly a fairly difficult ingredient to work with. In "Traitor" it appears to be the phrase the players speak aloud to enter the dungeon in the first place. That's fine. In "Whose", the ingredient mostly boils down to be Chris Rock's catchphrase (a sentence I would never have thought I'd end up writing in an Iron DM judgement). It's not even particularly relevant to the goings on, and seems to exist solely to satisfy the ingredient.

Extradimensional Arachnid
Both entries make this character/creature central to their respective plots. In "Traitor", I don't really get a sense of what this character is actually about. This feels like a huge miss because this is essentially the central antagonist of the adventure. As a DM, I want to know more about her! As it is, I'm not even really sure what it is about her that makes her extradimensional. "Whose", meanwhile, this ingredient is used expertly. They can't not be a spider, because the webs are critical to the plot. They can't not be extradimensional, because that's what allows the real world shenanigans to unfold. And both of these tie into both the PC's and villain's motivations for finding them. Excellent.

The Hanged Elf
The most consistent piece of advice for Iron DM contestants is to consider every word as part of the ingredient. Here, both entries get "Hanged" quite well tied in with their respective Arachnids. This is good. What about Elf? This one is weaker in both entries. The monk in "Traitor" could be just about any species without making much of a fuss, which is a huge missed opportunity considering how easily it would have been to relate the Arachnid in any way to the Drow. This is true in "Whose" as well, where the single-minded pursuit of knowledge and strange intermingling of magic and immortality lend a slightly Elfier quality to the character. So that's two words down. What about "The"? The ingredient was not "Hanged Elf"; it was "The Hanged Elf". How do both entries tackle that? Well, in "Traitor", he's, well, the traitor. So that's not bad. In "Whose", they're ultimately a pretty unique entity, so that's good too. In the end, I give "Whose" the nod here; the Elf is a bit Elfier and they are pretty essential to the adventure's conclusion. In "Traitor", he's an optional encounter with a fairly uninteresting (if useful) reward.

Reality Show
In "Whose", the Reality Show is the framing device. This makes it pretty solidly relevant throughout. In "Traitor", there's a competition, and it seems like it's probably being held for the Arachnid's amusement (if I'm reading between the lines correctly), but that's a far cry from a reality show.

In Conclusion

This is an incredibly difficult match to judge; quite possibly the hardest I've had to weigh in on as a judge. The ingredients are as closely matched as they can be (I attempted a point-based scale, and ended with an exact draw). Both adventures have hits and misses, and while "Traitor" is overall the tighter adventure, the lack of information around its central antagonist is maddening. Is it enough to tip the scales in favor of "Whose"?

Ultimately, I find that it is not quite enough. While "Whose Turn Is It Anyway?" is an extremely fun and clever adventure, its soggy and somewhat directionless middle is just slightly more troublesome than the enigmatic antagonist of "Traitor's Ruin". It comes down to being an easier problem to solve. And so, I have to recommend "Traitor's Ruin" for the winning adventure for the match, and to advance Whizbang Dustyboots to the final match.

And as this has so far been a split decision, this makes this the deciding vote! Congratulations to @Whizbang Dustyboots for advancing to the Finals match.

Fitz, you're the defending champ, so you know what it takes to win this. In all honesty, as much as I have often enjoyed your adventures conceptually, this was one of your strongest adventures in terms of a Iron DM submission. Continuing to work on making those ingredients essential to not just the adventure but to the PCs experience within and you will likely return to this stage again.
 

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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Well fought, @FitzTheRuke! This was an extremely difficult challenge to assemble all of these particular ingredients into a cohesive whole.

And thank you, judges. Ironically, for a contest where the entries cannot be edited, your feedback -- much of it consistent across the judges -- would make for a stronger entry, if I could rewrite the adventure to incorporate it.

My entry clearly suffered from one of those situations where the DM thinks they're telegraphing things that the audience just doesn't pick up on, because it's simply too subtle. The arachnid was meant to be a serial-numbers-filed-off Lolth, hence where she was watching from and who was with her, which helps provide connective tissue for why elf-ishness mattered in the adventure. I had the additional word count and obviously should have made that more explicit.
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
My entry clearly suffered from one of those situations where the DM thinks they're telegraphing things that the audience just doesn't pick up on, because it's simply too subtle.
Yeah, that's kind of the tricky thing about adventure writing; you're creating a piece of fiction (maybe not a story per se, but something with a story in it, or the ability to generate story), but you're also writing what amounts to a technical manual. Your audience is the DM, not the the players.
The arachnid was meant to be a serial-numbers-filed-off Lolth, hence where she was watching from and who was with her, which helps provide connective tissue for why elf-ishness mattered in the adventure. I had the additional word count and obviously should have made that more explicit.
This isn't DriveThruRPG, you don't need to file any serial numbers off! If any direct TTRPG setting material is safe to assume judges will know about, it's default setting D&D lore.

I will say, my instinct in this adventure is for the adventurers to ultimately try to stop this from playing out in the future. But as written, there's no advice on how that would work, or how the spider would try to stop it from happening. The only supported outcomes seem to be "murder everyone at get the fancy ruby" or "convince everyone to quit".

In any case, that's mostly my own personal tastes, which are at least a little relevant to the proceedings. Take what you will from it.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Everyone’s Gone to the Rageture

Ingredients
Scary Stickers
City in a Bottle
Misunderstood Owlbear
Copper Kettle
Sword of Echoing Sin
Uncaring Bears
Silent Choir

GM NOTE- This is a variation on the classic “All Outta Bubblegum”. If you want to play, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

Mechanics

Every player gets 8 sticks of bubblegum. This is their only stat. If they want to do anything that is contested, they must roll a d10. If it involves asskicking, then they must roll greater than their stat. If they want to do anything that does not involve asskicking, they must roll under their stat. Players lose a stick of bubblegum under four circumstances- (1) after every twenty-four hours outside of the City, (2) if they fail a non-combat roll, (3) if they sacrifice a stick to ensure success on any roll (prior to the roll), or (4) if they chew the bubblegum.

Players with zero bubblegum have succumbed to “background radiation” and can no longer succeed at any non-asskicking activities, no matter how simple. They are filled with rage but are able to asskick with alacrity. If all players have 0 bubblegum, then the game ends with them wandering around attacking everything in sight.

Players can stabilize their stat by putting on rad shades (see below), in which case they can no longer lose points over time or by missing rolls. They also cannot sacrifice gum for automatic success.

But they might still eat the gum.


Background for Players
It’s sometime far in the future. No one knows the exact date. There was a terrible nuclear holocaust that destroyed most of the earth. You are sheltered in a small city, surrounded by a forceshield, that keeps out the harmful radiation and the howling desert that encompasses everything as far as knowledge and memory extend.

Outside, in the desert, there are monstrosities. Rage-filled mutants. Voiceless killer dogs and bloodthirsty worms. The desert is death. But life in the confines of the City is not much better; constant toil to keep things working and the numbing loss of people … due to the raids of the mutant hunting parties or the accidents of the machinery that keeps this beacon of humanity safe and fed. Life for most is an endless drudgery of work and procreation, to keep the faint embers of humanity alive.

You have been summoned by the leaders of the City, the aristocracy called the Sleuth, who have a life of uncaring luxury because only they have the knowledge to keep the City functioning. A recent raid has stolen valuable copper reserves needed to keep the electric generators that power the forceshield operational. You’ve been told that this raid was orchestrated by the bandit mutant Grizzlyhoot, an intelligent rage-filled owl/bear hybrid mutant that wants to destroy this last refuge. The Sleuth provides a map to his lair, 20 klicks out, and gives you crude weapons and supplies to survive the trek. Finally, you receive an injection that temporarily protects you from the radiation outside of the City.

You must go out into the desert, find the lair, kill Grizzlyhoot, and retrieve the copper … if humanity is to survive.


The Desert
The map provides directions to the lair’s location. However, within the desert are two challenges that the players will encounter in addition to rage-filled mutants, the constant windstorms, the heat, and the pressure of time.

Roaming the desert are sonic dogs. The dogs scout solo, but if they spot people, they emit yelps in a frequency that cannot be heard, summoning all the dogs in the area. If allowed to, sonic dogs will form into a group and begin silently howling at people in a targeted frequency too high to hear, which, within three minutes, will liquify the internal organs of the target and cause death.

The desert also contains sand leeches. These terrifying four-foot-long critters live under the sand and will burst forth in a furious spray of sand and attach themselves to any exposed flesh… although they prefer the face. If there is no exposed flesh, they will burrow through any material softer than metal in under 10 seconds. Within one minute of attachment, the leeches will have sucked enough blood that even removal after that point will result in the death of the player.


The Lair
Rising out of the desert is a large hill, and the lair is a series of catacombs and rooms that were made in the hill long ago as a government fallout shelter. As the players approach, if they look closely through the swirling sands, they might be able to make out something resembling a tall sword pointing out of the top of the hill.

Within the lair are numerous rooms containing food and various forms of equipment. There will be several bear/owl hybrid mutants, dressed as humans. Some will have weapons, patrolling as guards, and others will be going about doing various tasks. Everyone in the bunker, including Grizzlyhoot, is wearing goggles as part of their uniform (rad shades).

At the center of the lair is a large laboratory with a large copper cauldron, various electronics, manufacturing presses, and some control panels. Grizzlyhoot spends all his time either working in the laboratory or sleeping in a small room off to the side. The copper cauldron is filled with a heated liquid slurry that Grizzlyhoot is working with. If the players empty the cauldron and return it to the City, they will have accomplished their mission.

However, Grizzlyhoot is determined to destroy the City. He has also found and reprogrammed the Sword (Strategic Weapon Ordinance Rig – Doomsday), one of the before-times tactical nuclear missiles that had been used to destroy the world. The Sword is currently on top of the hill and pointed at the City. If Grizzlyhoot is alive when the players leave with the copper, or if he believes that his cause is lost, he will access the control panel and fire the missile at the City, destroying it and everything within 20 klicks.


The Twist
There is no background radiation.

The City is a prison. After the war, the local bears got smart. Real smart. They enslaved the local humans and took over the City. There is no longer even a hint of a memory of this time. The Bears now use humans for labor and food.

The forceshield is part of the Sleuth’s elaborate scheme. There is an energy field that extends from the City and for hundreds of klicks that affects the retinas of humans and distorts human perception. Other humans appear as monstrosities, while the bears appear to be humans. Exposure to the field causes humans to become angrier and bloodthirsty, and eventually so filled with rage that they are unable to think or communicate.

The sonic dogs and sand leeches were seeded throughout the desert by the Sleuth to keep humans in the City, and the other “monstrosities” are just humans who have been in the desert too long. All the forceshield does is provide protection from the windstorms of the desert that the Sleuth created to keep the humans in. Instead, it’s the electric lights within the City that afford some protection; allowing humans to continue to see each other correctly, while the Sleuth remains hidden in plain sight, all while affording respite from the rage. The only protection for humans outside of the City is either the Sleuth’s injection, engineered to wear off over a short span of time, or the rad shades, which will shield the eyes from the radiation and reveal things for what they are.

Grizzlyhoot and the others within the lair are humans, sent from an enclave far beyond the desert to liberate the City. Grizzlyhoot needs the copper cauldron’s specific chemical properties to make more rad shades and start a revolution within the City to overthrow the Sleuth and destroy their machine; the Sleuth uncovered this plan and sent the players to kill Grizzlyhoot under the ruse of recovering the copper. But bears, even smart bears, don’t care about the copper or the humans.


The Believer
One player is (secretly) given the role of the Believer. This player will know the truth, but for reasons (up to the player) the player has decided to support the Sleuth, even knowing that they do not care about the player or humanity and will sacrifice themselves or other players to support the mission.


Notes for Running the Game
The mechanics of the game mean that groups that go combat-first may never learn the truth; on the other hand, do not drop hints about the goggles. The players will be viewed as hostile agents of the City when they enter the lair but they can change that perception. Grizzlyhoot will fire the Sword, but it will be a last resort; the scars of the sins of our forefathers will likely cause him to hesitate.

If the players learn the truth and join Grizzlyhoot, then they can attempt to overthrow the Sleuth and smash the control images, smash the control machine.

Also? Make sure it’s good bubblegum. Temptation is a heckuva thing.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I will say, my instinct in this adventure is for the adventurers to ultimately try to stop this from playing out in the future. But as written, there's no advice on how that would work, or how the spider would try to stop it from happening. The only supported outcomes seem to be "murder everyone at get the fancy ruby" or "convince everyone to quit".

In any case, that's mostly my own personal tastes, which are at least a little relevant to the proceedings. Take what you will from it.
Yeah, when I write horror-inflected adventures (which is surprisingly often, for someone who isn't a real horror fan), I tend to go pretty nihilistic. But anticipating what players would try to do about the situation is key.

When I run convention games, I playtest them first to learn what players may do and then incorporate all of that into the "final" version of the adventure. Obviously, that timeline doesn't work here, unless I somehow arranged to have playtesters standing by, ready to go.
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
The Dooms of Songport
A D&D adventure

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


The reward for a mission the PCs just completed awaits them in Songport, City of Choirs. Emerging from a forest, PCs witness a formation of singing warriors fighting a rearguard action to allow a woman to flee, the warriors standing against a seemingly-endless horde of myconid Underdark monstrosities.

Songport is gone. The outlines of individual large buildings indent the ground as though the city just disintigrated or vanished. Only cellars and lower foundations remain visible.

The warriors' songs shred fungal creatures by the score, but the formation is overwhelmed and myconid horrors chase the woman into the forest. PCs following her face running battles against them until they catch up to her. She fights with sonic song attacks and an echoing bronze sword. This is Lati an apprentice bard-warrior of the Choir. She's the last survivor of Songport and begs their help getting to their homeland or "all will be lost." She promises they "a fortune in copper" and double their original reward.

If PCs let her die and loot her corpse instead, they find a bottle containing a miniature, living city. The bottle's effectively invulnerable. She also carries a map and scrolls bearing the Songport Council's declaration to "relocate back to Songshore, there atone and right ancient wrongs, to be delivered and restored by the Choir."

Heading to Songshore either via Lati or the map leads to the Shattered Grove: a dense, primeval forest closing in on the ancient, overgrown road to their destination.

Dangers: losing the trail, druid-set pits, traps, and snares, falls into overgrown cellars swarmed by myconid creatures, and attacks by animal-monster hybrids such as cockatrice, manticores, and gryphons.

The road ends at a murky lake. Exploring around it, they pass through areas riddled with Underdark tunnels, scattered with ruined buildings, countless myconids, and groups of silenced banshees attired like ancient, dead members of the Choir. The PCs learn from Lati or find ancient carvings telling the tale of Songport emerging around the lake from a song-shattered bottle, then being re-bottled later fleeing some doom.

To break the bottle and restore the city, they need the Choir's bottle-breaking song; Lati alone can't hit the needed layers of resonant tones.

Anyone drinking from the lake or any streams running from it gains a microbial fungal infection; Con failures against it result in increasing levels of paranoia and violent outbursts. Anything infected that dies returns as a deranged ghost.

Local druids in wild shape spy on the PCs as they travel, eventually intercepting them and demanding to know their business. The druids decide the PCs might serve as a neutral party for an impasse they have come to. They offer healing, a safe place to rest, and rewards if the PCs help.

The druids lead them to Mirror Ring, a collection of monolithic standing stones scrawled with ancient runes circling a gleaming, mirror-like pond. There, they learn of a recent proliferation of monstrous hybrid animals like those they've encountered.

These creatures' emergence split the druids into two factions: the Naturals believe the new creatures are monsters and should be purged while the Inclusives angrily declare the new creatures are part of nature and should be protected.

The Naturals remain the majority, worried about the unnaturally-expanding populations of hybrids, the proliferation of myconid creatures, and corruption of the lake. They also quietly worry about the Inclusives' increasingly unyielding and violent rhetoric. They want to purge the hybrids so they can return to fighting the fungal corruption.

The corrupted Inclusives hold a darker view. Infected with the microbial Underdark fungal spores spreading through the waters of Songshore Lake, they've become increasingly paranoid, violent, and hostile. They don't realize this; they think the Naturals have grown scared and closed-minded. They believe excluding monstrous and fungal creatures from "nature" borders on sin. They also resent the "belligerent encroachments on the Shattered Grove" from nearby kingdoms and want to use the myconids and hybrids as weapons to "protect their borders" by striking against civilization.

The druids couldn't agree to a course of action, but agreed to bring in the Shattered Grove's largest and most powerful animals to a Conclave and, via Speak With Animals, let them decide what should be done.

The Naturals ask PCs to find Grayfur, strongest of the solitary, roaming bears. The druids haven't been able to find him. PCs without Speak With Animals are given a wand or amulet granting it. As a reward, the Naturals offer an ancient copper artifact they took from the ruins; the copper kettle could cleanse the spring feeding the lake and also cure any infections PCs have.

The Inclusives covertly approach any infected PCs, offering them the kettle (they really want the PCs to take it elsewhere) plus looting rights for the first kingdom they destroy. They give PCs sticky parchment slips painted with deformed skulls to attach to any bears they find then drive the owlbears that will create to disrupt the Conclave.

Finding Grayfur is difficult: the bears roam the hills and mountains, are solitary, and, even with Speak With Animals, generally don't care what the druids or other animals are doing. Off-hand, they reveal where Grayfur's territory is, now hunted by a huge owlbear they think killed him.

Infected PCs wanting to slap stickers on the grizzlies find it challenging as bears are standoffish and anger quickly. Once "owlbeared", Speak With Animals garbles communications since they're only half animal, increasing the difficulty in getting the ornery owlbears to care about attacking the Convlave.

In Grayfur's territory, the find a huge owlbear chasing down another bear. This is sticker-transformed Grayfur. He wanted to mate with the other bear and can't figure out why she's running away. As PCs misunderstand him (see above), he grows increasingly angry and violent. A Wisdom/Spot check reveals a sticker on his flank, but getting it off challenging due to 1) it's matted into his fur, 2) he's likely angry and fighting them at the time, 3) the Inclusives imbued the stickers with Fear spells triggered when anyone attempts to remove them.

Removing the sticker transforms Grayfur back, but they still must convince him to join the Conclave while he'd rather eat, nap, or find the female bear. He doesn't see why he should be bothered with "druid business."

Presumably the PCs manage to bribe, cajole, entice, trick, or otherwise get Grayfur and/or a collection of hostile owlbears to the Mirror Ring. This either starts the Conclave or an attack disrupting it.

Whichever druids they worked for give them the Copper Kettle. Water poured from it functions as a powerful anti-microbial tonic, curing microbial infections if drunk and cleansing the corrupting fungus if poured into a water source. Water from it does damage like holy water but against myconids.

Lati says they can't wait for the Conclave gathering/battle to finish as Songport's inside the bottle she carries. The people inside aren't in stasis and eventually will suffocate, starve, or die of dehydration.

She gives them the Sword of Echoing Sin. When drawn, the surroundings echo with sounds of any sins committed nearby. If used on an enemy, their sins echo out. Used on Choir banshees, the sword echoes their voices with hints of their doom:

♦Ancient Songport's greed led to over-harvesting of rich copper deposits
♦They did so in spite of warnings that the magical copper caged an ancient evil
♦Their preoccupation with their greatness led them to miss the microbe's infection of their sacred fountain
♦They thought they were too powerful to be corrupted by the fungus
♦The Choir thought they could easily put down the growing corruption; most were slaughtered, rising as banshees
♦They were completely certain the new-forged Sword would harness the banshee's screams as weapons, but it instead echoed their sins
♦Their greatest heroes boasted they'd save everyone by using the Kettle and cleanse the infection, but they died in the attempt
♦Broken, the survivors bottled the city and fled their failure
♦The druids arrived certain they could contain it, but grew corrupted

These clues also lead them towards the fountain itself, heart of the infection.

At the massive fountain, they face hordes of myconid horrors, silent banshees, and Inclusives with monstrous "pets" seeking to stop (or convince infected PCs to join) them. PCs see Inclusives making the stickers by dipping parchment in the corrupted fountain water, then smearing the back with fungal slime to make them sticky.

Purifying the fountain cleanses the waters of the infection, restores the banshee Choir's voices, and turns them to the PC's side. Kettle water poured on stickers dissolves them and restores the animal, and if poured into an Inclusive's mouth, it restores their faculties and sanity.

When the battle is won, the ghosts of the ancient Choir sing the resonant tune that shatters the bottle, then the banshees find release. The city spreads back to full size around the lake. The PCs retain the Kettle and Sword in addition to the promised rewards.
 

Radiating Gnome

Adventurer

Round 2 Match 2 @Snarf Zagyg vs @Iron Sky


And the next battle of the heavyweights begins. We have Snarf Zagyg’s Everyone’s Gone to the Rageture (Rage) and Iron Sky’s The Dooms of Songport (Dooms). Should be a good match.

So, let’s start with the ingredients.

Ingredients​


Scary Stickers - In Rage, the closest thing I’m seeing to “stickers” is the sticks of gum used in the game mechanics. I could be missing something, but that’s all I’ve found on a couple of read-throughs. I don’t mind the idea of the game mechanic itself, it sounds like fun, but it’s a stretch to make this fit the ingredient.

In Dooms, we have classic stickers — sticky parchment slips that (I think) will transform bears into owlbears. The one on Grayfur is even imbued with a fear spell, making it literally scary. It’s very on the nose, but it’s certainly a solid use of the ingredient. So, advantage to Dooms.

City in a Bottle - In Dooms, the city of Songport is literally in a bottle, and restoring the city is one of the main points of the adventure. Rage, on the other hand has a city that is a prison created by bears — a city that has trapped humanity by convincing them that the outside world is dangerous. Dooms is on the nose again — while Rage’s bottle is metaphor. Or, perhaps I’m meant to read it as the city’s being “in the bottle” is represented by the cauldron that holds the city’s fate. Either way, it’s a step away from clear to me. Maybe I need more coffee. For this ingredient, I’m going to call it a wash — but as I work through this I’m worried about a trend in each entry. In Dooms, I’m worried that the ingredients will be presented through a very kitchen-sink sort of method — all of the ingredients are present because the adventure makes room for everything to be there — which can work, but it risks being too big, too unconnected, and chaotic to also be a tight adventure. In Rage, I’m worried that what I’m seeing is I’m going to have to squint to see the ingredients represented in the adventure, that the use will be overly figurative and metaphoric. And, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good twist on ingredients when it works. But I hope it all works.

Misunderstood Owlbear - Both adventures have Owlbears. In Rage, we have Grizzlyhoot, the owlbear leader of the faction outside the city. In Dooms, we have Grayfur, the sticker-morphed bear turned monstrous owlbear that can be reverted to his natural form if the PCs can get the sticker off his back. So, while we both have owlbears, it feels to me like there isn’t a lot that is misunderstood about Grizzlyhoot. The humans are deceived by the magic and deception that keeps them believing in the radiation, but that isn’t really the same thing. Grayfur is not himself, his rage is a product of the sticker that made him an owlbear, which fits misunderstood a bit better. So, advantage to Dooms.

Copper Kettle - In Dooms, we have the Copper Kettle, the magic water thing that can purify the fountain and restore the city. It’s there, for sure, but again, I found this one a bit disappointing. We’ve attached the word copper to the kettle, but it doesn’t ever seem to matter that it’s copper. And we are calling it a kettle, but it doesn’t ever matter than it’s a kettle and not some other sort of water bottle. A kettle’s specific purpose — to boil water — doesn’t seem to come into the equation in a significant way.

There’s a similar challenge in Rage, where the copper kettle has become the Copper Cauldron. It’s the the source of the material that Grizzlyhoot uses to make “rad shades” and if it’s emptied and returned to the city humanity can be freed. Once again, it doesn’t ever seem to matter that the cauldron is copper, and in this case it’s not even a kettle. I’m feeling REALLY pedantic when I grouse about the idea that a cauldron and a kettle are not the same things — I mean, they’re both used to boil things, right? But, I’m not charmed or amused by the sleight of hand in making one into the other in this case.

Feeling blah about both entries on this ingredient, I’m going to call it a wash.

Sword of Echoing Sin - In Dooms, there’s a sword. It’s given to the PCs by the bard who gives them the mission, and it’s magic reveals the “sins” committed nearby. Cool, useful in the story, and on the nose again. In Rage, the sword isn’t a sword. It’s a missle that has an awkward anagram naming it sword, and it’s “echoing sins” is that it’s a relic of the war that destroyed the human world. And, just to prove that humanity isn’t the only petty and destructive force in the universe, Grizzlyhoot uses the S.W.O.R.D to destroy the city if the PCs succeed.

I find myself echoing previous comments here. Naming a tactical nuke “sword” doesn’t make it a good fit for the ingredient. So, again, advantage goes to Dooms.

Uncaring Bears - So, Rage has bears. Owl/bear hybrids, mostly referred to as bears, but bears nontheless. Let by Grizzlyhoot they’ve enslaved humanity through trickery, and they don’t particularly care for human problems. Totally got this ingredient.

In Rage, the bears are there, and they’re also uncaring. They need to be coaxed or otherwise convinced to help the PCs find Grayfur.

I think both really work, which is a relief, but I also don’t see one as stronger than the other, so it’s a wash.

Silent Choir - This is the sort of ingredient I love to see what contestants will do with — the obvious negation in the concept needs to find expression where it makes sense, etc.

In Dooms, the silenced choirs show up in a couple of ways, most specifically in the guise of the packs of silenced banshees dressed as members of the choir. While I have questions about the threat posed by a silent banshee, it still works in a solid, on the nose way.

In Rage, the closest thing I found to this ingredient was the sonic dogs, who appear along at first but if they get started the rest of the pack arrives. I’ll take it as a stretch, but the challenge here is that the sonic dogs are a tacked on ingredient that doesn’t really connect to the story outside of being a speed bump to set the scene for the PCs. So, acceptable but not especially strong.

So, advantage to Dooms again.

Overall, I’ve clearly been a lot happier with the use of ingredient use in Dooms, which is a pretty strong recommendation, but that’s not the only thing that matters, of course. The ingredient use in
Judges note: Rage is the sort of thing that has me continuing to go back to the entry hunting for some subtle use I've missed, and I'm the first person to admit that it's entirely possible that I HAVE missed something, but it probably shouldn't be so hard to find them if I have missed something.

Creativity & Playability​

I’ve come down pretty hard on the way I felt like ingredients were being used in Rage. But the story, and the game, is pretty good — a nice tight little one-shot, playable and creative and fun. I snickered at Rad Shades. I wanted to understand a few details better — like, if there is no background radiation, what are the rad shades filtering out? The rad shades have very concrete game effect, so there must be something in the world of the story that they shield the wearer from.

Meanwhile, Dooms, is a bigger, more expansive sort of story, probably an entire arc of multiple sessions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can make an entry feel looser. And I think that’s evident here. I understand that the players need to navigate the space between the two rival druid factions, and that somehow Songport became part of that ongoing struggle. Songport is on the Songshore lake, which the inclusives see as the source of the fungal sports that are causing so much havoc, but the inclusives seem to be in support of that? The inclusives trapped Songport in their bottle (notably not destroying it) because they think humanity is encroaching on the natural world

Having said that, I dig the natural/inclusive axis of the adventure, and I think that it would be fun to see how various tables approach this — arguably, the inclusive side, while presented as the villains in this piece, is the side that cleaves closer to the more accepting liberal cultural politics we enjoy today — until they start explaining that they want to use these hybrids as shields against other enemies — so, essentially second class citizens at best. Between genocide (nautrals) and abuse (inclusives), what’s the right choice?

That’s a spicy meatball. Good times.

Final Vote​

I liked both adventures, but I don’t think it’s a surprise at this point in my review that I was more taken by Dooms. Between more successful use of ingredients and a very engaging socio/political situation, I think it’s the stronger of the two entries.

Rage is still an excellent piece, and I’d love to sit down at a table and play it — and I don’t even like bubble gum (would that give me an unfair advantage?)

Thank you, Snarf and Sky!

-rg

Edit: Mea Culpa
I need to add to this a note that indicates that I've had my mistake pointed out to me -- that my definition of kettle was too narrow and inaccurate, and I was unfair to Rage over the use of Cauldron for Kettle.

My reading of things did not make the ingredients use a close thing, so giving too little credit to Rage did not unduly impact my final decision, but I thought I should put in a note here. Of course, the nature of Iron DM is that it's subjective -- which is why we have three judges for all but the first round.

So, I should have done better. I appreciate the opportunity to learn.
-rg
 
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Wicht

Hero
Iron DM 2023 Round 2 Match 2
@Snarf Zagyg vs. @Iron Sky


Of all the rounds I have seen thus far in this year’s Iron DM contest, this was the hardest one for me to decide which one I liked better, Snarf’s “Everyone has gone to the Rageture” (hearafter Rage), or Iron Sky’s “The Doom’s of Songport” (hearafter Songport). One of them, I think, did a better job with the ingredients and one of them definitely appeals to me more. This one is going to be a very close decision on my part.

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

Looking at the ingredients, I will acknowledge we had some tricky ones, and I was interested to see what would be done with them. Both entries went in wildly divergent ways with each of the ingredients, showing the breadth of possibility in linguistic interpretations.

For instance, our first ingredient, Scary Stickers was interpreted as very deadly leeches in Rage, and as literal magical stickers in Songport. While the stickers were more integral to the plot of Songport, they were definitely more frightening in Rage. I am going to call this use a draw, and am satisfied with both offerings.

Not so with the city in a bottle ingredient. I think the city in the bottle in Songport is the better use. While I understand the stretch that makes the isolation of the city in Rage a “bottle,” the act of carrying around an actual whole city in Songport, with the understanding that the lives of the interior population is in the hands of the PCs, is a much more powerful use.

With the next ingredient, Misunderstood Owlbear, I am not completely happy with either use, but neither am I completely unhappy. It’s a bit of a wash, and for similar reasons in both. The owlbears in each entry are both misunderstood. In Rage, it is presumed that the owlbears are villains, when in fact they are the plucky good-guys. In Songport, it is thought that the owlbear killed a bear, when in fact it is the bear. So far, so good, but… in each case the owlbear is not really an owlbear. In the first it’s a human under an illusion, and in the second, it’s a transmuted bear. So, again, a draw.

Copper Kettle, likewise, has similar issues in both offerings. In Rage, the cauldron used to make the rad shades is copper, and a macguffin used to drive the character’s actions. In Songport it is the magical pitcher used to cleanse water. In neither case do I think it particularly important that the kettle be copper. And in neither case do I think it necessary that it be a kettle. So both are in my opinion weak uses.

Edited to add: Having finished my own judgment and reading Radiating Gnome’s, I want to interject a disagreement with my esteemed colleague on the use of cauldron and kettle. A kettle being any vessel able to boil water in, a cauldron is rightly defined as a kind of kettle. I don’t find Rage’s use here to be a cheat; I will note as a counterpoint that I think its actually Songport which plays loose with kettle, as I read Songport’s copper vessel as being more of a pitcher. Still, other than that I think Radiating Gnome and I had very similar takes on each ingredient.

In Sword of Echoing Sin, I think Songport has the definite better use, even though I think its not all that creative of a use, as its just taking the words of the ingredient and applying them in a very literal way and smashing it into the story. But the sword which fills the PCs in on the backstory is a sword, and it does bring up the mistakes of the past. On the other hand, the sword in Rage is not a sword, it’s a missile, and though it does reflect on past errors (nuclear annihilation), it seems a bit of a stretch for the ingredient use.

I’m going to actually, in uncaring bears, give the nod to Rage. The uncaring bears in Songport are just that, bears that don’t care, I’m not sure that makes them all that different from any other bear, if you were to ask your typical bear about elections, the speed limit, or the price of butter in Mongolia. Bears just don't care about the questions that plague us. So really, the uncaring bears in Songport are just typical bears. On the other hand, the bears in Rage are the true villains, without pity for the lives they manipulate and ruin. My main beef with Rage’s bears is I am not sure why they have to be bears, other than the ingredient called for it. They could just as easily been the descendants of house-cats, bees, or three-toed sloths. But I still give this one ingredient to Rage as being better used.

Which brings me then to the Silent Choir. In both cases I think there are problems with the ingredient use. The silent choir of Rage, the howling dogs which attack with a frequency too high to hear, are not really silent, nor are they strictly speaking a choir. On the other hand, the silent banshees of Songport, are perhaps a choir, but the goal is to make them not be silent. In both cases I see and understand the use, but I’m not really moved by either ingredient.

So all that being said, I find that on the whole, Songport definitely has the lead in ingredient use. The ingredients in Rage take the words and seem intent on twisting them in some way so as to make them mean something unique. In one case, the scary stickers, I think this works. Mostly though, I think it just makes the use weak, and one one case for sure, the Sword, I am tempted to award no points at all for the ingredient. On the other hand, Songport seems to read each ingredient as literally as possible, and while this makes the story presented as a whole feel less organic and more like a motley of disconnected ingredients, it does mean that each ingredient gets used in a respectable way.

But this brings me to the fact that I personally like Rage much better as an adventure. I will fully confess that I frequently am less than completely enamored with the attempt to make each Iron DM entry a stand-alone indy game. I think, typically, it hurts the entries. In this one case though, I think Snarf really pulls it off and presents a working adventure, with its own set of internal mechanics that do a good job of presenting the story. This is one I would like to actually play; and I think as well the story mostly works. As far as an adventure goes, I think Rage has the clear advantage.

Songport feels all over the place to me, with fungal invasion, warring druids, a city-state with a past. I think if I ran Songport, my players would end up confused at some point, and losing track of what it is they are supposed to be doing. This is not to say I think the adventure to be without merit; but I definitely think it needs tightened up, focused better, and presented more cleanly.

So personally, I like Rage better. Songport has the better technical use of the Ingredients. Which one wins?

In this case, by the very narrowest of margins, I am going to have to go with Everyone has gone to the Ragetur, and my vote is for Snarf Zagyg to advance.

I see that once more Radiating Gnome and I are split on this (though mostly, I observe, in agreement about the general merits of each), and so once more it falls to Gradine to resolve the tie.

Everyone has gone to the Rageture (Rage)
Follows Rules 6
Ingredient Use

Scary Stickers 2​
City in a Bottle 1​
Misunderstood Owlbear 1.5​
Copper Kettle 1​
Sword of Echoing Sin .5​
Uncaring Bears 1.5​
Silent Choir 1 (total 8.5/14)
Useability 5
Appeal 5
TOTAL SCORE 24.5/32

The Dooms of Songport
(Songport)
Follows Rules 6
Ingredients

Scary Stickers 2
City in a Bottle 2
Misunderstood Owlbear 1.5
Copper Kettle 1
Sword of Echoing Sin 1.5
Uncaring Bears 1
Silent Choir 1 (total 10/14)
Useability 4
Appeal 4
TOTAL SCORE 24/32
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
I have read both entries and analyzed their relative ingredient use. I will try to have my judgment posted tonight; if not then I will get it posted around Noon-1 PST when I have a break in the trial. Once again either condolences for making you all wait for either a final judgment or a foregone conclusion!

I can tell you that between Iron DM and a criminal trial, I know which one I prefer to be serving judgment in!
 

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