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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


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So if we can't or shouldn't share our specific entries, let's talk about the challenge in general.

I went for 2nd tier, deadly because it offered the most versatility in effects and damage for me. At the lower tier it felt like the PCs would be pretty boxed in as far as countermeasure options went. At higher tiers it almost seemed pointless since PCs have so many avenues open to them.
I went with second tier as well, with effects that start as dangerous and scaled up to deadly. I wanted them to be mechanical, rather than magical. As much as I love magical stuff, I feel it's overused in D&D and sometimes a crutch.

I included a trick along with my trap, because traps feel very old school and the trips/tracks dynamic was prominent back in the day. (See the pool room in In Search of the Unknown.)
 

Yeah, I started on Thursday night with a "Steam Mephit Baths" trap that I'd halfway worked up for another manuscript I've been hacking away at. Then I realized that (a) it was not tied to current D&D lore, and (b) I might want to use that for my own project (which has a couple fun complex traps).
Steam mephit baths sounds like a great idea. Boiling player characters to death isn't done very often, but is really evocative and, eventually, quite scary.
 

Also, unused idea: a necro-alchemical machine that pumped out more and more powerful undead every round until disabled. I decided it relied too much on fighting monsters to be a good example of the form, but I will definitely use it in another project.
Endless monster generators are great. I love anything with a ticking clock element, because my adventurers kicking back and not feeling like they need to take care of a problem really saps a game of a lot of energy, IMO. (My trap actually has the ability for player characters to do that, though, if they figure out a key component of a trap can be ignored if they take the right steps. I view that as a reward for good play, though.)
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Steam mephit baths sounds like a great idea. Boiling player characters to death isn't done very often, but is really evocative and, eventually, quite scary.
Sounds like you're speaking from experience. ;)

Yeah, I also have a Wall of 99 Flameskulls that's pretty gonzo. Both that and the Steam Mephit Baths ask/answer a similar question: "when do monsters become more like traps?"

While XGtE's complex trap rules are a bit mechanistic and rigidly defined, they're actually just codifying a type of scene that – at least speaking personally – I feel like I improvised a lot of during back in my AD&D days and some of my more inspired sessions in recent years.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Nice! I went all out with a level 11-16 deadly threat. That was a little crazy, but I liked how it encouraged me to be right at the edge of my DM comfort zone (which stops at about 13th/14th level).

I couldn't decide on what difficulty to make my trap, as it seemed like it could be fun for any level, so I included a little table at the end to show how the trap can be adjusted for different level tiers.

I have no idea if that helps or hurt my chances, but I really liked it.
 

I couldn't decide on what difficulty to make my trap, as it seemed like it could be fun for any level, so I included a little table at the end to show how the trap can be adjusted for different level tiers.

I have no idea if that helps or hurt my chances, but I really liked it.
That's one thing I like about the trap rules in 5E: They gave us explicit knobs to turn to easily scale things up or down.
 

Reynard

Legend
I went with second tier as well, with effects that start as dangerous and scaled up to deadly. I wanted them to be mechanical, rather than magical. As much as I love magical stuff, I feel it's overused in D&D and sometimes a crutch.

I included a trick along with my trap, because traps feel very old school and the trips/tracks dynamic was prominent back in the day. (See the pool room in In Search of the Unknown.)
Mine was a mix of mechanical and magical elements because I wanted to include the option for some PCs to just punch some stuff until it stopped working along with the skills or spells countermeasures.

Mine only escalated a little and practicality won't escalate at all because some trap elements can be "turned off" in the process.

It is still deadly, though and I feel bad for anyone encountering it at the lower end of tier 2. 😛

Did anyone else include a "DM Guidance" call out? My trap suggested a particular mitigating spell and I wanted to call special attention to how it interacted with the trap.
 


So I started without any preconceptions, rolling on the complex trap tables in Matt Finch's Tome of Adventure Design, and then once the specific setting site from Mordenkainen's popped into my head, I was off designing my own thing. Glad that I worked it from the ground up – I don't think I'd have come up with the trap I did without going through the whole process with a fresh start.
My inspirational material were videos on traps from Matt Colville, Dael Kingsmill and the Questing Beast. None of them gave practical advice I used, but I used their overall philosophy in my design, which is also largely baked into WotC's complex trap rules as-is.

I also kept Dael's "us vs. them" idea in mind, in that my trap is intended to keep thieves out (or dead), but the space is still usable for the trapmaker. (As opposed to, say, an Egyptian tomb where fake side tunnels cave in and are forever after sealed off.)
 

Reynard

Legend
My inspirational material were videos on traps from Matt Colville, Dael Kingsmill and the Questing Beast. None of them gave practical advice I used, but I used their overall philosophy in my design, which is also largely baked into WotC's complex trap rules as-is.

I also kept Dael's "us vs. them" idea in mind, in that my trap is intended to keep thieves out (or dead), but the space is still usable for the trapmaker. (As opposed to, say, an Egyptian tomb where fake side tunnels cave in and are forever after sealed off.)
I was surprised at the dearth of decent investigations into the Xanathar's rules on YouTube.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
My inspirational material were videos on traps from Matt Colville, Dael Kingsmill and the Questing Beast. None of them gave practical advice I used, but I used their overall philosophy in my design, which is also largely baked into WotC's complex trap rules as-is.

I also kept Dael's "us vs. them" idea in mind, in that my trap is intended to keep thieves out (or dead), but the space is still usable for the trapmaker. (As opposed to, say, an Egyptian tomb where fake side tunnels cave in and are forever after sealed off.)
Yeah, those are all good videos. I particularly liked Ben's break down on Questing Beast – I thought that was particularly lucid and well-presented.

Totally, I think your mindfulness about the trap's designers and its intent will only help your entry!

Out of curiosity, how many active vs. dynamic vs. constant elements did you guys use in your traps? And did any of the components of your trap break from that organizing schema?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Mine was a mix of mechanical and magical elements because I wanted to include the option for some PCs to just punch some stuff until it stopped working along with the skills or spells countermeasures.

Mine only escalated a little and practicality won't escalate at all because some trap elements can be "turned off" in the process.

It is still deadly, though and I feel bad for anyone encountering it at the lower end of tier 2. 😛

Did anyone else include a "DM Guidance" call out? My trap suggested a particular mitigating spell and I wanted to call special attention to how it interacted with the trap.
Nice, I also did a mix of mechanical and magical.

I think including DM Guidance and a leveling sidebar like you did will really improve your entry in the eyes of their judges. It was one of the things I initially wanted to include, but the word count battle was real.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
I submitted mine. I also did second tier, because it's a good place were the PCs can handle a trick trap but also not just completely ignore it. Mine was pretty much all magic, but I tried to include options that non-magical people could do.

I interpreted "lore" as being a paragraph at the start similar what the ones in Xanther's had like "this was built by yuan-ti."

Out of curiosity, how many active vs. dynamic vs. constant elements did you guys use in your traps? And did any of the components of your trap break from that organizing schema?
I had a little bit of each, but the main threat came from the active element. I tried to stick to the way the Xanather's ones were organized. I'm not sure if they're judging on that, but figured I'd play it safe.
 

Out of curiosity, how many active vs. dynamic vs. constant elements did you guys use in your traps? And did any of the components of your trap break from that organizing schema?
One active and one dynamic threat for the main trap. The trick was essentially to simple traps working in conjunction. If the party ignores the trick, they don't come into play. (But they're going to be really tempted to get involved with it until the healer starts yelling at them about the dynamic component of the main trap.)
 

I interpreted "lore" as being a paragraph at the start similar what the ones in Xanther's had like "this was built by yuan-ti."
Yeah, that's about what I did. Two sentences where I said "this trap was made by brand new minor NPC, who lives in established mega-dungeon where he'd fit in great, and this is what he wanted to accomplish with this trap."
 

I've entered a lot of writing contests in my time. I am really looking forward to seeing the winning entries, which I hope we see as soon as possible after the D&D Live announcements. In my experience, a chunk of winning entries in writing contests are "huh, that feels comparable to mine; I wonder what made this stand out to the judges" and a chunk of "holy crap, on my best day, I never would have come up with that."

I've also been a judge in writing contests, and often, what makes something stand out is impossible to plan for. If everyone submits extremely similar ideas (and the way the Xanathar's trap section is laid out, I bet there's going to be a ton of overlapping ideas), the most unusual ones will stand out, even if they're not objectively "better."

On the other hand, it needs to be something that can be parsed relatively quickly, as each of the judges is going to have an enormous pile to dig through. I know that by the end of an eight hour day of looking at entries, I'm fried. I can only imagine how rough it'll be for the judges a week or more in. Since they're judging based on order received, this will likely advantage the people who submitted theirs on Thursday or Friday.
 

Reynard

Legend
I've entered a lot of writing contests in my time. I am really looking forward to seeing the winning entries, which I hope we see as soon as possible after the D&D Live announcements. In my experience, a chunk of winning entries in writing contests are "huh, that feels comparable to mine; I wonder what made this stand out to the judges" and a chunk of "holy crap, on my best day, I never would have come up with that."

I've also been a judge in writing contests, and often, what makes something stand out is impossible to plan for. If everyone submits extremely similar ideas (and the way the Xanathar's trap section is laid out, I bet there's going to be a ton of overlapping ideas), the most unusual ones will stand out, even if they're not objectively "better."

On the other hand, it needs to be something that can be parsed relatively quickly, as each of the judges is going to have an enormous pile to dig through. I know that by the end of an eight hour day of looking at entries, I'm fried. I can only imagine how rough it'll be for the judges a week or more in. Since they're judging based on order received, this will likely advantage the people who submitted theirs on Thursday or Friday.
On that note it feels strange they wouldn't "shuffle" all entries regardless of when during the window they were submitted.
 

On that note it feels strange they wouldn't "shuffle" all entries regardless of when during the window they were submitted.
It's the first year they're doing this. They will likely change some components of this contest in future years.

EDIT: They might also be bluffing, to encourage people to submit earlier and beat the deadline. I saw one person on Twitter who tried to turn theirs in too late.
 
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ersatzphil

Explorer
Yeah, that's about what I did. Two sentences where I said "this trap was made by brand new minor NPC, who lives in established mega-dungeon where he'd fit in great, and this is what he wanted to accomplish with this trap."
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.
 

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