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D&D General Win The Title of D&D's Best DM

WotC is running a competition called the Dungeon Master Challenge. Similar to Paizo's old RPG Superstar contest, it features various design rounds which whittle down the contenders until only one remains.

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The winner gets a trophy and some D&D products worth just over $2K.

Note: your entry becomes the property of WotC, which can use it in any way it wishes, even if you don't win. They don't even have to credit you for it. Be sure to consider this when deciding whether to enter.
  • The first design challenge for a 1,000-word entry is Thursday June 17th, and contestants have three days to submit their entries. This round is open to everybody who qualifies (18+, in one of a list of countries).
  • 10 contestants will then proceed to the next round in July, which is an elimination stage with various weekly 1,000-word design challenges.
  • Three of those will go on to the final challenge in September, which involved being a DM on a livestream, judged by a panel.
 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Hrm. I got pretty specific with mine - I wrote a trap set by Kazerabet from the 2e 'Complete Book of Necromancers' and tied her to Valindra Shadowmantle from 'Tomb of Annihilation'. I have no idea if I've helped or hurt myself by being so specific, but I had more fun thinking of the who and the why of the trap than the trap mechanics themselves.
I really like that. It didn't occur to me that the Island of the Necromancers (that was its name, right?) would be relatively close to Chult, but it obviously is.
 

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Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
The 3-day limit, as opposed to giving a week or more, was no doubt a deliberate attempt to limit the sheer number of entries. Having the entries due on Father's Day may have been deliberate for that reason as well.

The obligation to follow the Xanathar's format for me made it more challenging to stay under the word count - because that format requires some redundant copy.

But the time limit, the word count, the lore thing, and the Xanathar's format (which is not one I've ever seen use in any WotC adventure - or indeed any adventure, ever) all form a "can you follow the directions" element of the test. Given the number of entries they'll get, it's necessary to blanket disqualify entries for not adhering to that stuff.

I submitted mine on Friday because I was leery of the implied "if we get too many entries we'll stop reading them" bit in the rules.
 

But the time limit, the word count, the lore thing, and the Xanathar's format (which is not one I've ever seen use in any WotC adventure - or indeed any adventure, ever) all form a "can you follow the directions" element of the test. Given the number of entries they'll get, it's necessary to blanket disqualify entries for not adhering to that stuff.
A lot of that can also be automated. Anything with more than 1,000 words goes into the disqualification pile. (Probably 1,050 or so, to allow for people's names and contact information.) Not using the key words for the Xanathar's structure, disqualification pile.

The lore thing can't be automated, but yeah, I'm guessing this is both a directions following test and also a way to make these a tiny bit more publishable, should they choose to do so. (I'm guessing they might stick the winners into an Extra Life PDF or something.) Forcing the writers to at least think about it likely added some extra polish to the entries. Once I knew where my trap was located and who built it, that ended up influencing both a mechanical element of the trap and several descriptive elements.
 
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ersatzphil

Explorer
I really like that. It didn't occur to me that the Island of the Necromancers (that was its name, right?) would be relatively close to Chult, but it obviously is.
I think 'The Complete Book of Necromancers' very technically had it as part of Al-Qadim? I could easily be wrong. However, I do think the best bet for bringing it into 5e was Chult, regardless of the 'actual' geography of the Realms.
 



ersatzphil

Explorer
But the time limit, the word count, the lore thing, and the Xanathar's format (which is not one I've ever seen use in any WotC adventure - or indeed any adventure, ever) all form a "can you follow the directions" element of the test. Given the number of entries they'll get, it's necessary to blanket disqualify entries for not adhering to that stuff.
I have to admit, trying to follow the Xanathar format was kind of eye-opening to me. I had never noticed, as example, that abilities like Strength and Intelligence are always capitalized in 5e books. It'd be really interesting to get ahold of their style guide.
 




Parmandur

Book-Friend
Yeah, but training myself up on Father's Day weekend for the skill I have the least of was just impractical.
Using a less used skillset as the entry challenge actually makes a lot of sense: that way they can narrow down to a select group with a wider than average skillet from word go.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Using a less used skillset as the entry challenge actually makes a lot of sense: that way they can narrow down to a select group with a wider than average skillet from word go.
Very true. I think making traps fun is sort of at the heart of being a DM. Not necessarily the writing and the specific format – those are just tools or a framework that anyone can learn – but at the conceptual level. Because a complex trap is all about how to take something that could be seen as onerous or punishing and turn that into an exciting play experience.

It made a lot of sense to me that the challenge started with a complex trap.

How do you make a trap encourage creative thinking and spark those ah-hah moments for players?
How do you make a trap elude to story elements (i.e. show not tell the narrative)?
How do you make a trap that involves all the players at the table?

Remove the word trap from any of those questions and replace it with "encounter" or "negotiation" or what have you, and that's touching at the very heart of what DMs do.
 

Very true. I think making traps fun is sort of at the heart of being a DM. Not necessarily the writing and the specific format – those are just tools or a framework that anyone can learn – but at the conceptual level. Because a complex trap is all about how to take something that could be seen as onerous or punishing and turn that into an exciting play experience.

It made a lot of sense to me that the challenge started with a complex trap.

How do you make a trap encourage creative thinking and spark those ah-hah moments for players?
How do you make a trap elude to story elements (i.e. show not tell the narrative)?
How do you make a trap that involves all the players at the table?

Remove the word trap from any of those questions and replace it with "encounter" or "negotiation" or what have you, and that's touching at the very heart of what DMs do.
Yeah, that was a fun part for me, coming at the puzzle and making sure someone other than the rogue and cleric had something do throughout, although in some cases, some of the players might not be happy for me thinking to include them. Definitely the same muscle I try to use when planning out future campaign developments, to make sure everyone has something to do throughout.
 

M_Natas

Explorer
I made a complex trap for lvl. 1-4. Higher levels could disable parts of my trap design easily by magic (by design). It is a mages vault and the mage was supposed to be able to get her stuff from it.
Lorewise I only used stuff that was published in 5e to be on the safe side. But I had to cutnmost of the lore out, because of the length restriction. My first draft was like 1400 words - I had to cut a lot. Making a design with 7 active elements maybe wasn't the best choice :D
I hope I didn't make to many miastakes. English is not my native language.
 


M_Natas

Explorer
Seven active elements! Were they high damage? If so, you may have created a Tier 1 Tomb of Horrors. :D
They follow the damage according to XGE for traps. So they do 11 (2d10) Damage. But every element is in a different Area of the room. But in order to defuse the trap, at least one party members needs to be in one of the areas.
 


M_Natas

Explorer
Oh, nice. That's got a CRPG feel, in a good way.
Yeah, I had video game mechanics in mind. Like - how can this trap be realistic (like, why would anybody ever built it), but also why is it solvable for player characters. So it ended up to be a vault and the traps are the unlocking system. And who puts in the wrong combination or tries to break the trap activates it.
 

Reynard

Legend
Yeah, I had video game mechanics in mind. Like - how can this trap be realistic (like, why would anybody ever built it), but also why is it solvable for player characters. So it ended up to be a vault and the traps are the unlocking system. And who puts in the wrong combination or tries to break the trap activates it.
Emphasis mine.

I went with the single best reason: terrible, cruel, evil posthumous revenge against would be tomb robbers!
 


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