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[IRON DM] Spring 2004 Contest Thread FINAL JUDGMENT POSTED, CHAMPION ANNOUNCED!

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
First Semi-Final Round: Nemmerle vs. CarpeDavid

Wag the Dog

This adventure can easily be scaled for characters of any level, or could even be used to bring a party through several levels depending on how the DM chooses to break-up the adventure in terms of time.

This adventure is more of an open scenario that allows for the PCs to become involved in many ways, or simply choose to not become involved at all and go along their way, though the actions of the antagonists in the adventures will have wide-reaching social and political implications if they succeed.

The City-State of Gamorea has enjoyed over a hundred years of relative peace. It grew from an outpost on the western shore of the continent to a great sprawling city, with satellite outposts; keeps of its own that defend the borderlands from invasion by the sea-raiders of the island of Tilo, the orcish barbarians of the northern hills and the dead men of the southern salt flats.

However, all these years of peace and prosperity have begun to take its toll. The city-state itself is over-populated, dirty and rife with disease. Unemployment is at an all time high, and the disparity between the rich and poor grows starker with each passing season. Last summer, riots and fires threatened the city from within, and as winter is about to turn to spring the people who rule the city have come up with a plan to handle it.

The City-State is ostensibly ruled by an oligarchy of noble families, but only the most naïve do not realize that the real power are The Dwellers of the Forbidden City. This network of thieves, smugglers, assassins, usurers and merchants gain their name from the euphemism for the shady side of the city’s life and politics. The underbelly of Gamorea is called the Forbidden City, for the network of criminals are very careful who they allow into their circle and who is allowed to profit from the darker side of things. It is also the nickname for the secret guildhouse located in the city’s expansive underground tombs in which the founders of the city are entombed.

The real leader of the city and mistress of the thieves guild is an unlikely person that goes by the name Queen of Spiders. This large matronly woman named Zelda (Exp10) can be found cooking in the noble district at a fancy in called the Golden Cockatrice. Her title as head of the guild has two meanings. One, ‘spider’ is another name for trivets (the three pronged metal racks pots are put on when placed in hearths to cook), and she is a master cook (maxed out skill ranks, and skill focus (cooking)), moving pots and bowls and saucers around with great speed and dexterity, and all the time a finger to her mouth tasting this and eating that (explaining her girth). However, she has also gained her power through information, and ‘spider’ refers to her network of informants that hang like a web over the city. No one of any importance of power does not come to Gamorea without her knowing, she knows every rumor, every scandal, every affair, every misuse of funds, and she uses this information to keep tight control over the noble families that supposedly rule the city (but always through intermediaries, ironically most time she is cooking for and serving them), and playing factions against each other. (her other class skills should be Gather Information, Diplomacy, Various Knowledge skills, bluff, sense motive, etc… )

The Plan

The plan to save the city is to manufacture a war that has its origin at one of the keeps on the borderlands. These keeps are small, enclosed towns, with a bunch of farmland around them (or in at least one case, mines) out on the edge of the frontier. When these were first established (and for years afterward) these were extremely dangerous places, often being raided by orcs or worse, but those times are mostly gone. Except for the occasional orcish pillaging party that burns a farm, or an ogre highwayman, the surrounding area is considered basically settled. Now the Keeps are satellites sending goods back to the city and staging points for groups of adventuring explorers who explore the northern orc-lands, or the Gray Sea Coast.

The war will serve several functions. 1) Give a jump to the economy as weapons, equipment and other goods need to be created in large amounts thus creating more work, 2) Give the people of the city an outer enemy to be concerned about, and thus be distracted from more local woes, 3) allow an excuse for martial law and conscription of young men to send to war, thus helping to lower population, buckle down on (unorganized) crime, and more easily detain citizens, 4) the various outposts have made noises about independence for some time, and a war and the resultant reaction of defense from the city would help reinforce the advantages of remaining loyal to the mother state. In other words, all of this is done with the best of intentions, as the thousands that will die in the near future are meant to keep thousands more from dying in a more distant future, and to prevent the chaos of the collapse of the mini-empire. However, there are other benefits as well, like 5) an increase in refugees from the keep will allow the Dwellers’ slaving interests to snatch more people to sell to the eastern city-states, for example.

How the PCs Become Involved

Since this is such an open scenario how the PCs become involved in the possible action will determine a great deal about what direction the action goes and at what point in “the plan” they will start to put two and two together.

-- The Leak: If the PCs have spent time in Gamorea, they could be approached by one of their contacts to the underworld, a snitch or a fence they have used in past who has heard about the plan to have one of the northern keeps destroyed. However, he has family that lives there and offers the party his life-savings to go there ahead of the attack and get them out. If the party mentions trying to stop the attack, he will balk – saying that it is best not to mess with the Dwellers of the Forbidden City. If such an exchange takes place, the news may get back to the Queen of Spiders, and she may send representatives of the Assassin’s Knot to stop them (see The Assassin’s Knot below). This hook will make it a ‘race against time’ type of adventure.

-- The Old Employer: Someone the PCs have worked for before is a noble and/or business man in the city with a reputation for honesty, who has become suspicious of the machinations of the Dwellers, and or the preparations of his fellow business for increased production, or very simply he has already been approached to take part in the plan and has balked. Regardless, when the PCs go to see him, he has been killed by the Assassin’s Knot. The PCs may feel compelled to investigate his murder, and perhaps they can find some cryptic notes or journal entries that give clues (a reference to the city’s Final Enemy being from within the city itself). If the DM wants to really make it interesting, if the Queen of Spiders know of the PC’s meeting (which she probably would) she might try to get them accused of the murder. This would make it an investigative adventure, with the PCs trying to stop the conspiracy and clear their own name.

-- Unwitting Pawns: This hook might work for a more neutrally-aligned party (or perhaps even an evil party if you are into that). The party could be hired to escort a delegate to the northern orc territory. While ostensibly to work out a pact with the barbaric humanoids, the sorcerer sent speak with them is really making the final arrangements for the attack with the orc chieftains, including giving them maps to one of the keeps and secret ways in through caves below. The party could find out about the plan one way or another (DM fiat) and then either feel compelled to stop it or reveal the conspiracy. This would make the adventure a kind of behind enemy lines kind of thing, as they try to stop the orcs preparations for war (or could easily link up with the “Against All Odds” scenario). Or if less than scrupulous, they might go along with the plan only to be back-stabbed later when it is decided they cannot be trusted to keep their mouths shut.

-- Against All Odds: In this scenario the party is asked the high priest of a local temple to intervene in the attack. Perhaps through divination (a warning that the city’s Final Enemy will come from within the city itself), the priest has discovered the plan, and knowing he and his church do not have the power to stop the Dwellers of the Forbidden City directly, he asks/hires the party to go to the keep with fore-knowledge of the attack to prepare the people there for the siege (though convincing them the truth of the coming attack might be a whole other challenge). In this scenario, the party’s tactical skills will be put to the test as they make a plan for the defense of the keep, and/or lead sorties out to harass the building orc forces before they arrive. Again, the Queen of Spiders, might send her assassins to deal with the party before they arrive at the keep, or even to attack them in the keep itself. Of course, the priest himself will likely end up dead.

Of course, a DM willing to juggle several hooks and plotlines at once should be able to mix and match from all of the above, getting the PCs involved in several interlocking ways is always better in terms of getting them to actually take part in the adventure without feeling railroaded.


The Assassin’s Knot: This is the name for the assassination arm of the Dwellers of the Forbidden City. The name of these assassins is well-known and they are feared. When a businessman, noble, townguard or some other person disobeys the Dwellers, the assassins are sent to deal with the situation, leaving their signature mark, the The Assassin’s Knot – this entails cutting open the victim’s throat and pulling the tongue out through the hole in the neck and tying it as if some kind of necktie on their chest. More than once a shop-keeper has come to open up to find a worker or family member hanging from the eaves in such a state – a warning they will not soon forget. Once the PCs’ aactions come to the attention of the Dwellers they can expect a visit from the Assassin’s Knot, masters of stealth and cruelty.

Regardless, of how the PCs become involved most likely the adventure will conclude (or draw out into a campaign-length conflict) with them investigating the Dwellers of the Forbidden City and trying to either destroy them (and thus destroying a lot of what keeps the powder keg of the city-state from popping) or coming to some compromise with them, either through bribery, blackmail, or offering some kind of counter-plan that is more profitable for all involved. This is an opportunity to have PCs explore the dark underbelly of a city, and get involved in some grim n’ gritty low fantasy nastiness.

One possible scene could even bring the PCs to consult the Queen of Spiders, hearing that she traffics in information, but not knowing (as very few would know) that she is the mastermind behind the whole thing, and as her servers come into her kitchen to get trays of food, they are also passing notes, codes and other commands to people at certain tables.

Particularly diplomatic PCs might be able to convince the orcish barbarians that they are being manipulated and will be destroyed in the process.

It is possible that the PCs could fail to stop the orc attack, but still escape (either never having gotten there on time, never going to begin with, or going, fighting and then running away) in which case they might still be embroiled in the underworld machinations of the Dwellers. In this case, one scene the PCs could possibly witness (depending on how they become involved in the adventure) is a great crowd at the steps of the Council Building listening to some statesman giving a great oration about how the orcs are the Final Enemy that stands against true freedom and prosperity for the City-State of Gamorea. Soon after there will be public support not only for retaking the Keep on the Borderlands, but for pushing into the orc territory and conquering it to expand the holdings of the State.


Conclusions:

There are far too many different conclusions and areas for follow-ups to list here and keep below 3000 words (which is what I am trying to do), as this is such an open scenario the DM has to be ready to deal with some variety of ramifications, many of which may be disastrous for the PCs and/or Gamorea. The PCs could become fugitives and/or freedom fighters. They might lead the Keep on the northern Borderlands into open rebellion, and maybe be sent as delegates to recruit the other keeps in the war of secession. Of course, there will be representatives of the Dwellers there as well, and the PCs may repeatedly find themselves hunted by the Assassin’s Knot.

The party might foil the plot, gather help of disgruntled nobles and get rid of the Dwellers of the Forbidden City only to have to deal with the eventual collapse of the city.

They may foil one plot, only to discover there was a back-up plot involving one of the other keeps. In the case of those PCs who believe the ends justify the means, perhaps the force of orcs destroying that one Keep was stronger than the Dwellers first realized, and they have jeopardized others, or be a danger to the city itself.

Review of Ingredients
---------------------------------
Keep on the Borderlands – One of several satellite keeps that mark the outer influence of the City-State of Gamorea
Queen of the Spiders – A master cook, Mistress of a Thieves Guild
Assassin's Knot – The assassin arm of the Dwellers of the Forbidden City Thieves Guild.
Dwellers in a Forbidden City – Name of the Thieves Guild, named for the City’s Criminal Underworld.
Final Enemy - The city has become its own enemy in a long line of antagonists after years of relative peace and prosperity.
Best of Intentions– The war is manufactured for the long term good of the City-State.
 

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carpedavid

First Post


SEMIFINAL MATCH ONE: Nemmerle vs CarpeDavid



Ingredients:



  • Keep on the Borderlands
  • Queen of the Spiders
  • Assassin's Knot
  • Dwellers in a Forbidden City
  • Final Enemy
  • Best of Intentions
When Lady Jorougumo, the Yellow Spider, left the safety of Castle Yume to accept the hospitality of Eimin, the Lord of the Dead, it was with the best of intentions. She hoped to begin a dialog that would bring peace to the spirit world, allowing the ephemeral tapestries created by her dreamweavers to bring joy and happiness even to the pale spirits that inhabit the Forbidden City of the Dead.



Alas, when she arrived at Yominokuni, Lord Eimin's oni army slew her entourage and took her captive. Now, Castle Yume is besieged, and the spirits that carry the dream tapestries to the mortal world have been captured. Only the dreamweavers and Jorougumo's most dedicated servants remain behind the impossibly high walls of Yume, waiting in vain for their Queen to return.

The Siege of Castle Yume

An adventure for 4 epic or near-epic level PCs.



On the border of the spirit world and the mortal realm sits Castle Yume. Behind its high walls, Lady Jorougumo's servants, giant celestial spiders, weave silk into the tapestries of dreams. These dreams are then carried into the mortal realm by a host of spirits, who deliver them into the minds of all slumbering creatures. Now that Lady Jorougumo has been taken captive, and the castle besieged, dreams have stopped flowing into the mortal realm.



Without dreams, sleep becomes ineffective. The entire populace of the civilized world is beginning to suffer from sleep deprivation, causing a dramatic increase in the rate of accidents and violence. The peasantry is beginning to panic, and for good reason - for without the return of dreams, they will all inevitably go insane.



Each morning, every creature that normally dreams must make a Fortitude save (DC 15) or become permanently fatigued. Fatigued creatures must make a save or become permanently exhausted. Those that are exhausted for more than a week begin acting as if under the influence of a permanent confusion spell. For each day that the siege continues, the DC for all saves increases by 1.

Hooks

  • Several of the spirits in Lady Jorougumo's entourage managed to escape the blades of the oni army. They have been surreptitiously traveling the mortal realms, looking for heroes powerful enough to free their Queen. They may approach the PCs, either directly, or though dreams (in which case, the PCs would be the only ones having dreams, which should strike them as significant).
  • The local noble lords are likely to have their hands full with a frightened peasantry, and may turn to the PCs for assistance in tracking down the cause of the problem.
  • If the group contains a Shaman, or a priest dedicated to Lady Jorougumo, they will notice their powers begin to wane. Communication with the spirit world will reveal the actions that have taken place there.
  • The PCs may begin suffering the effects of fatigue and exhaustion, themselves, and set out to find the solution.
NPCs

Lady Jorougumo is the queen of the dreamweavers, the celestial spiders that spin and weave dreamsilk into ephemeral tapestries. She normally appears as a demure, middle aged, human woman dressed in an exquisitely woven, silk kimono. Her true form, however, is that of a huge, celestial spider.



She is genuinely interested in spreading peace throughout the spirit realm, and believes that bringing dreams to the spirits of the dead would help to establish harmony.



Lord Eimin, an oni, is the ruler of Yominokuni, the Forbidden City of the Dead. He is known as the Final Enemy, since the spirits of all noble samurai are given one chance to best him in combat. Those who are successful are permitted to return to life, while those who fail become permanent residents of the city. He wants Castle Yume so that he can expand his territory and launch invasions into the mortal realm.



Eimin is a huge oni, standing 20 feet tall and weighing over two tons. He is always encountered dressed in samurai armor, and wields a huge, black katana.



The Assassin's Knot is a tangle of celestial dragons that spend eternity chasing each other's tails. They are the lords of murder and death, and used to be the rulers of Yominokuni. Several millennia ago, they were overthrown by Lord Eimin, who they now reluctantly serve. They are now on the lookout for any opportunity to betray him and take back the City of the Dead.

Encounters

  • Castle Yume guards the border between the spirit realm and the mortal realm. It is currently besieged by Eimin's army, which is lead by the Assassin's Knot. The PCs may attempt to break the siege by force, which, while possible, is likely to be extremely difficult. The army is 10,000 units strong, and filled with oni and other creatures native to the spirit realm. Even if they are successful, they must still retrieve Lady Jorougumo from the Forbidden City of the Dead.

    If the PCs are familiar with the history of Yominokuni, they will know that the celestial dragons were the previous rulers, which may lead to negotiations with the Assassin's Knot. If this occurs, treat the Assassin's Knot's initial attitude as hostile, but give a +4 bonus to any diplomacy checks that include an offer of assistance to overthrow Eimin and retake the city.
  • Yominokuni is the Forbidden City of the Dead. With the exception of the oni who serve Eimin, only the spirits of the deceased are permitted in the city. While the oni army is besieging Castle Yume, Yominokuni is relatively undefended, as only Eimin and his personal guard remain.

    If the PCs try a direct assault on Yominokuni, they will have to deal with Eimin's personal guard, Eimin himself, and millions of angry ghosts of the city dwellers. While death is a dreary existence, the city's inhabitants are all very loyal to their lord, and they will not take kindly to the living invading their city.

    If the PCs attempt an assault before breaking the siege on Castle Yume, Eimin will recall his oni army, which is likely to trap the PCs between a rock and a hard place. If they attempt an assault after breaking the siege, Eimin will hold Jorougumo hostage - and is perfectly willing to kill her to defend himself. If the PCs have the Assassin's Knot on their side, many of the city's ghosts will refrain from attacking, because they were subject to the dragons' rule before Eimin, and feel a sense of loyalty to them as well.

    The other option for the PCs is to try to negotiate with Eimin for the release of Jorougumo. He will negotiate with them through one of his oni advisors. They will not be permitted inside the city, and any attempt to enter will be met with force, and the cessation of negotiations.

    Treat Eimin's initial attitude as hostile - if they sway his attitude to friendly, he will release Lady Jorougumo, but will continue his siege on the castle. Only if they manage to sway his attitude to helpful will he recall his army. If the PCs have attempted to use any force against Yominokuni, they will suffer a -10 penalty to any diplomacy checks. If they have already broken the siege, they will gain a +10 bonus to any checks, due to intimidation.
Resolution

  • To be completely successful, the PCs must restore Lady Jorougumo to her position in Castle Yume. They must both break the siege on the Castle and free her from the Forbidden City of the Dead.
  • The PCs can be partially successful by freeing Lady Jorougumo, even if the siege is not broken. By freeing her, and helping her to establish a new stronghold, her dreamweavers can resume their activities, thereby restoring dreams to the world.
  • If the PCs attempt an invasion of Yominokuni after having defeated the Assassin's Knot, and are successful in defeating Eimin, they will become the new rulers of the City of the Dead, and the oni army will be under their control.
Ingredient Recap

  • Keep on the Borderlands - Castle Yume - Lady Jorougumo's keep between the mortal realm and the spirit world.
  • Queen of the Spiders - Lady Jorougumo, queen of the realm of dreams.
  • Assassin's Knot - the tangle of dragons that works for Eimin.
  • Dwellers in a Forbidden City - the oni and spirits who inhabit Yominokuni.
  • Final Enemy - Lord Eimin.
  • Best of Intentions - the fateful mistake that lead to Lady Jorougumo becoming captured.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I think CD and I went about as opposite as you can get in terms of feel of teh adventures we came up with.

It'll be an interesting judgement, I'm sure. . .
 
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Wulf Ratbane

Adventurer
SEMIFINAL MATCH ONE- Nemmerle vs CarpeDavid- JUDGMENT

CD uses very vivid imagery and, in nearly every case, uses the ingredients in unexpected ways—unique ways that are supported by a clever interpretation of the ingredients. I especially like the Keep on the Borderlands, on the border between the mortal and spirit world; and the Assassin’s Knot, the group of celestial dragons who chase each other’s tails; he goes so far as to call them a “tangle” of dragons.

Let’s not forget Lord Eimin as Death, the Final Enemy. Very nice.

Yet already I’m worried that all that style and cleverness is hiding weakness. I like it too much already and I haven’t really got any idea how it feels as an adventure. Lots of style, though. Awesome style.

As adventures go, I have to admit up front I’m no fan of “epic” level adventures. But I won’t hold that against CD, as there’s no requirement that the level of an adventure be included, and the entry still works even with that line struck from the record.

One last tip of the hat to carpedavid, and that’s for his mechanic on sleep/dream deprivation. Very nice. Publishable, I would say!

Let’s get something out of the way first, nemm. Here another entry once again begins with an admission that the PCs may “simply choose not to become involved at all and go along their way.” That doesn’t sound like the beginning of much of an adventure. As I said before, either make your hooks so strong that there’s no doubt, or don’t mention the possibility of failed hooks at all. Presenting a scenario that plays out without the PCs isn’t an adventure; that’s a story. I suggest that it’s better to present your hooks and let the chips fall where they may, than to say to the judge, “My hooks are weak, but here’s a pretty story anyway.”

But as I look closer, it seems that nemm’s hooks ARE the adventure. He has a section marked “How the PCs Become Involved,” following which are several short adventure synopses, each of which uses the same backstory as a springboard to action. It’s an interesting and effective organizational scheme for an entry.

Nemm shows equally creative use of the ingredients. The imagery he weaves of the Queen of Spiders is very good: multiple images such as the trivets, her multi-limbed frenzy of activity, and most especially, her “web” of informants. Having them pass notes to informants in their dinner—very clever.

It’s not unusual for the “abstract” ingredient to be the most difficult. I think both entries struggled with this as neither presented the Best of Intentions in a way that was very apparent to the PCs. I know it’s difficult to have a tangible experience with an intangible concept, but I think both could have done better with this ingredient, because both really relegate the best of intentions to the backstory.

Both entries use the Keep on the Borderlands in ways that are roughly equal. If I had to choose based on style alone, CD’s use is clearly more creative. It’s probably not necessary as a tie-breaker, but I also find CD’s Keep more essential to the adventure as presented, and more likely that the PCs will need to travel there. Nemm presents a couple of ways that the problem can be resolved without a trip to the Keep, whereas in CD’s entry it’s an almost indispensable stop along a trail of clues.

With regard to the Dwellers in the Forbidden City, both entrants seemed more concerned with clevelry working the name “Forbidden City” into the entry without dwelling too much on the actual Dwellers therein. Both entries use The Forbidden City as a euphemism for the Underworld—though two very different uses of that term. I almost feel as if both entries used Underworld as their ingredient, here. Well, chefs make ingredient substitutions all the time. I am tempted to give the edge here, again, to CD, largely on the basis of style, but in the end I think nemm’s Underworld is presented with more opportunities for the living.

CD clearly has the edge where the Final Enemy is concerned. I really don’t buy nemm’s suggestion that the city-state is its own Final Enemy, and in any case that withers under CDs use of Lord Eimin, Death, as the ultimate final enemy.

Only two ingredients to go, and here the scales start to tip heavily to nemmerle.

CDs Queen of the Spiders, the Dreamweaver, is a very strong image—the first in a long series of well-crafted images. CD really set the hook in my cheek with this first image (I’m a bit of a sucker for Japanese mythology, and there’s more than a whiff of Shogun in this entry). But ultimately, nemm’s Queen of Spiders is the more active ingredient. CDs lovely queen is a plot device; nemm’s is an adversary.

I also loved CDs Assassin’s Knot—that tangle of dragons—but they seemed to be more of a knot and not so much a group of assassins. Once again, it’s great, creative use of an ingredient to build imagery, and I think that perhaps if they were actually sent out to intercept the PCs, actually acting as assassins rather than simply having it be a detail in their mythology, it would have been much stronger.

Even so, I doubt that simple tweak would have surpassed nemm’s Assassin’s Knot. The Colombian necktie, literally a knot, used as the calling card for a group of assassins who call themselves a knot. Pretty damn near flawless individual use of an ingredient.

But for all his individual ingredients stand apart, for some reason nemm’s entry doesn’t seem overall as singularly cohesive as CD’s. Perhaps it’s the consistent imagery CD uses; perhaps, in saying less, CD says more.

Ultimately I award this round to
nemmerle. CDs entry was attractively presented, without question semi-final material that would have beaten many other entries, but nemms’s was clearly the meatier of the two. Again, I think CD’s entry has a consistent style and cohesiveness that is superior, but I find nemm’s entry stronger as an adventure. Substance over style today.
 
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Wulf Ratbane

Adventurer
SEMIFINAL MATCH TWO: Zappo vs Enkhidu

SEMIFINAL MATCH TWO: Zappo vs Enkhidu

Ingredients:

Protected Forum
Clever Troll
Sticky Thread
Hivemind
Game Day
Ongoing Campaign


You have 24 hours from the post time of these ingredients to post your entry.

As the boards are wonky, make sure you give yourself extra time for lag.

Do not read your competitor's entry before posting; do not edit your entry after posting.

Make sure you post a list of your ingredients at the beginning of your entry. You may wish to add a short, one line summary of how you use the ingredient in your entry.

Brevity, grammar, and clear formatting are appreciated.
 





Wulf Ratbane

Adventurer
Zappo said:
Wulf, you are evil. And these are just the semifinals!

I don't get it... How are these (meta-thematically linked) ingredients any more difficult or evil than any other random batch of ingredients?

:boggle:


Wulf
 

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