Scheduling Thread for the IRON DM 2020 Tournament!


Once A Fool
The time has come around again. Do you have what it takes to succeed in three grueling rounds of intense and competitive adventure-writing, in order to become this year's IRON DM?

What is IRON DM?

The founder says it best:

el-remmen said:
Simple. We get 8 people willing to play (and 3 alternates). I pair people off as competitors and give them a set of 6 "ingredients".
The ingredients are elements that must be used in the designing of a scenario/adventure - which should be written up in overview form - players can be as specific as they like - but detailed stat-blocks and the like are not weighed as heavily as uniqueness and playability of the ideas.

The results are then judged by me and the winner moves on to the next round. . .
That's the basic structure, but times change and the rules evolve. A more accurate and detailed set of this current tournament's rules will appear later in this post.

First, though, an introduction and some history of this tournament, one of EN World's oldest traditions:

Who are we?

This year's tournament will be coordinated and judged by a panel of three judges:

Gradine, one of last year’s judges and the IRON DM of 2017.

Wicht, a competitor from the earliest days, a seasoned judge, and the IRON DM of FALL 2002 and 2013.

Rune, a once-frequent competitor, the IRON DM of SPRING 2002, and a not-infrequent judge of tournaments past.

What's the history of this tournament?

Back in 2001, before the current incarnation of these boards, Nemmerle threw together the first EN World Iron DM tournament. Contestants each had one hour for each entry. By the next year (my debut), it was 24 hours, which remained the case for several years.

Soon after the first EN World tourney, tournaments were being held at other sites, as well. The now defunct Nutkinland held a few. And, as Nemmerle was a founding member of the semi-secretive Rat Bastard DM's Club, it was only natural that tournaments happen there, as well. The judges for the EN World tournaments have almost all come out of that club, as well. Of late, as that club has gone into hibernation, judges are recruited from among past participants (particularly those with strong showings).

If any previous contestant is interested in being a future judge, send me a PM with links to the tourneys you participated in and we'll consider you.

Anyway, back on topic: there were a few years (2006 through 2008) when EN World saw no tournaments, simply because the RBDM Club had a public forum for a while, and nobody ever started them up over here. But the RBDM Club moved and became private again and in 2009, IRON DM returned to EN World.

And here we are.

How can you find the old tournaments?

And then there's the IRON DM Anthology. This is a collection of entries from the above tournaments that are particularly usable and/or inspiring. Note that many of them did not win the matches that they appeared in and should not necessarily be used as models for winning a match. Still worth a look, though, especially if you've got a game coming up on short notice.

What are the rules?

The Basics:

The tournament is set up in a single-elimination bracket style, with each match determined based on scheduling availability among the eligible contestants within the match’s tier.

Each match consists of two contestants given a single set of ingredients with which to construct a brief adventure or adventure synopsis in any game system or genre. You should waste neither time, nor words, on overly detailed stats, but you should also not assume familiarity with any given system or genre. Explain what you need to explain, and stop there!

These entries will be evaluated on their own merits and those evaluations will then be compared to determine the winner of a match, who will then proceed to the next round.

All matches will be given a time-frame to submit the entries within. An entry that is late will still be accepted, but with a penalty applied to its word-limit. Late entries that are less than 1 hour late will have their word-limits reduced by 10% (meaning, for example, a first-round entry would have its word-limit reduced from 750 to 675, which is harsher than it looks). Entries that are at least 1 hour late, but less than 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced by 30%. Entries that are at least 1 day late will have their word-limits reduced by 50%. Entries that are at least 2 days late may be disqualified at the discretion of the other competitor and judges. Entries that exceed their word-limits will be considered to end once they reach that limit; we will ignore everything after.

Obviously, you really want to avoid being late, especially in the first round, but life happens, and sometimes you just can't make it. In such cases, you should take the extra time (before your next threshold) to polish your entry with your new word-limit in mind. It won't be easy, but you might still win. Even if you don't win, you may at least find the judgement enlightening for future IRON DM tournaments!

Entries are expected to make good use of all of the ingredients submitted. The ingredients should be creatively applied, well-integrated, and fundamentally necessary to the adventure that they are used in. This is the crux of the tournament, so don't think that maybe (for example) doing a good job with three ingredients will be enough, as long as you can craft a better adventure! I wouldn't count on it, if I were you.

Finally, matches have traditionally (but not always!) had exactly six ingredients. This will not be the case in this tournament. The list of required ingredients will get longer as the rounds progress!


All entries are to be submitted with the list of ingredients at the top and are not to be edited, once submitted. Let me repeat that last part: DO NOT EDIT YOUR POST, ONCE YOU HAVE SUBMITTED IT! Check your work before you send it in. Then check it again. We will not look favorably upon any entry that has been edited and may penalize the entry as we see fit, including, possibly, outright disqualification. Part of the challenge of IRON DM is in the development and use of discipline in editing and time-management.

Please do not expect us to follow links within your entry. You may include links for others to follow if you choose to do so, but understand that any information that is necessary to the entry must be in the actual entry. We will be reading each entry multiple times and, thus, unlikely to also be willing to go outside the entry to find context for it. More importantly, expecting outside sources to carry the load of exposition very much defeats the purpose of the word-limit.

Along those lines – I reiterate: we will be reading each entry multiple times. Please don't make that difficult for us. Don't bore us and don't make our eyes bleed. Please.


Each of the first-round matches will have a single judge. The second- and third-round matches will have the full panel of three. As I said before, each entry will be judged on its own merits and then the two competing entries' critiques will be compared for the final judgement. In the latter rounds, the majority opinion will determine the victor. Different judges have traditionally had different processes to arrive at such outcomes – for instance, some may use a point-based grading chart, while others may prefer a more abstract analysis.

We will endeavor to be Nemmerelesque in our judgements – critical, but also fair and constructive in that criticism. It's tradition. Even so, please understand that not everybody will agree with every decision that we make – that's the nature of the game. Traditionally, trying to figure out what the judge will want to see is all part of the game (though not necessarily a recommended strategy) – and that can lead to some undesired outcomes. It can sting sometimes (believe me, I know!), but it is a game. Let's have some fun with it!

That said, those wishing to gain a little insight into the judges’ thinking will need to do a little research to do so, but the information is out there. Be warned, though! We may have changed our thinking on some of these things within the last couple of decades!

Round 1: The Crucible

All matches in the first round will have a 24 hour time-limit! All matches in the first round will have six ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in these matches will have a 750 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! That may not seem like a lot, but I assure you, it's even less than you think! Contestants who win their Round 1 matches will proceed to Round 2.

Round 2: The Refinement

All matches in the second round will have a 48 hour time-limit. These matches will each have seven ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in these matches will have a 1500 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! Contestants who win their Round 2 matches will proceed to Round 3.

Round 3: The Tempering

The third round match will also have a 48 hour time-limit. This match will use eight ingredients, all of which are to be used in each entry. Entries in this match will have a 2000 word limit, not including the title and ingredients list. Any descriptions or definitions of ingredients included with the list will count against the limit! The contestant who wins this match will become the IRON DM 2020!

Scheduling, Discussing, and Spectating:

Once all contestants have signed up, this thread will be used only for scheduling the matches.

The tournament thread will be used to list the ingredients and the judgements for each match, as well as the entries, themselves. Commentary will also be welcome in that thread, but, please, if you are commenting on an entry that has not yet been judged, hide that commentary with spoiler tags,
like this,
so that the judges can view the entries with fresh eyes!

If spectators would like to play the home game, please feel free to do that in another thread.

One final note:

Once these tournaments have been completed, we try to archive them on these boards for posterity, and so that the adventures can be run or plundered by future Internet generations. We make no claim of ownership over the entries, but we do request that you do not remove or alter your entries once the tournament has concluded.

Who can enter?


@Iron Sky, as the current IRON DM, has automatic entry into this tournament. The field is open to everybody else!

So, I gotta ask:

Are you creative enough?

Are you disciplined enough?

Are you good enough?

Sign up and prove it!

Our Contestants:

1: Iron Sky (IRON DM 2009, 2019)

2: el-remmen (IRON DM SUMMER 2003)

3: FitzTheRuke

4: CleverNickName

5: practicalm

6: humble minion

7: Neurotic

8: Kobold Stew


1: LongGoneWriter

2: Deuce Traveler (IRON DM 2012, 2015, 2016)

3: As Needed
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I am looking forward to working as a judge again this year.
I have missed being a part of this competition over the last couple of years and I look forward to seeing a fine batch of entries.

I want to take a moment, as a judge and a past contestant, to offer my advice to would be contributors.

Word limits are not an obstacle, but a tool to keep yourself in check. Be descriptive but pithy. Let the reader's imagination do some of the work.
2. You are writing an adventure summary, not a module. You don't need stats. You don't need many game terms. Focus on story not rules.
3. Adventures are not backstory. Don't waste so much time on backstory that you fail to incorporate the adventure. (Seriously. Its a common mistake, so be careful of the trap.)
4. Game adventures are not novels. Make sure there are actual choices for the characters to make. Its going to be their story, not yours. Let them tell it. Avoid deus-ex-machina, aggressive railroading (the best railroads provide an illusion of agency), or villainous monologues.
5. Neatness and sensible formatting (including breaking your writing apart into the classical tropes of backstory, adventure summary, plot hook and encounters) go a long way towards readability. Don't make the judges eyes bleed.
6. And as you get confidence, try to write for your audience (in this case the judges). Your writing should please yourself but that only gets you so far.

For those wondering about what appeals to this particular judge, let me add...

I like elegant more than I like epic... not that there is anything inherently wrong with epic, but elegant will always trump epic for me.
b. I am an old-school neo-gygaxian DM. I like Lovecraft, Howard and Tolkien. My RPGs of choice are Pathfinder 1e, Call of Cthulhu, Toon, and Paranoia.
c. My appreciation for elegance includes an appreciation of a well-turned evocative phrase. This includes puns.
d. I want to see ingredients blended in a wholistic, organic way, with each piece supporting and enhancing the others.
e. I have historically judged by assigning points to a set of criteria and will do so again this go-round.


Moderator Emeritus
I am having a great time going back and reading former competitions. But I have two questions floating around in my head:

1. How the heck did I come up with SO MUCH STUFF in each of those entries?
2. How the heck am I gonna stick to the "new" word count limits given my penchant to write SO MUCH STUFF?

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